Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Kenya thus far!

"If there's one city in the world you wanna avoid, it's Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. Travelers call it Nai-rob-me, because it's like, a right of passage that you'll get robbed there", is what a British guy I met in Central America a few years ago told me. He was one of those 50 year old dudes who had been traveling since he was 18; and, even Lonely Planet calls it Nai-robbery, so I wasn't too keen to spend much time there.

I arrived just after midnight from Dubai and was picked up by a guy named Brian from Couchsurfing; he wasn't such a bad guy, and Nairobi wasn't such a bad place, yet he 'robbed' me for all he could. In the few days I stayed with him, everything we did was financed by me; all buses, beers, bottles of spirits, meals in restaurants, snacks, food for cooking at someone else's house, money to get his phone fixed, unwanted taxis ("your safety is paramount to me") etc etc. He occasionally bought me a token bottle of water, thanks man. I told him numerous times I was low on cash because I'd been away for so long, yet this didn't stop him. One night he went out, got blind, came home at 4am, made me and another couchsurfer pay for his taxi, yet he'd lost the hoodie he'd borrowed from the other couchsurfer. "But my mum bought me that hoodie", Oliver said; it's ok, brian replied, have this t-shirt i got for free from Orange, the telephone company. Luckily I've blocked and deleted him from facebook so I don't think he'll read this.

He waved me goodbye as I left for rural Kenya, promising to pay me back for everything next time I was in Nairobi; an empty promise I assumed. When I arrived in Homa bay, 8 hours by bus I checked my bank balance and half of it was gone; someone in Nairobi has my account details and bought a lot of stuff! Commonwealth bank are still investigating it, and they've frozen my account! Ha! So Nai-robbery lived up to it's expectation. Anyway, from Homa bay I came to my place I'd be working, Sargy Community Development Group, on Rusinga Island. My job/goal was to establish/help with a microfinance project; that is, supposedly being in charge of 10 women who have small businesses, and to assist with loans from the bank and whatever. Their businesses are mostly terrible, for example, a few of them buy fish from fisherman and re-sell it, making about 7c profit a day.

Myself and other people working here came up with some ideas, eg to take a loan to buy some chickens and sell the eggs and stuff. The idea of microfinance is that aid/charity is unsustainable, and microfinance aims to make poor people independent from foreign aid. After four weeks of having meetings with banks, speaking with local farmers, having numerous discussions with other people working here, the women concluded that they don't want a loan, they'd prefer for us to just give them the money for free. A "risk free business", the owner of the company told me. Well, that goes against the whole idea of microfinance, doesn't it?

Instead, therefore, I came up the idea of us building a very low cost vegetable patch (about $2.50) for the women, and they sell the vegetables and they would reimburse us for the materials when they sell the vegetables. They don't like that idea too much, because it requires them paying us back. Yet, we think we can convince them to agree to it this weekend when we speak to them again. Of course, we could just give them the money for free, I mean it'd only be $25 between 3 people; yet if Africa one day wants to be independent from international aid, perhaps it starts with small scale things like this. Well; maybe anyway.

Anyway, I guess I've just painted a pretty bad picture of this country. I must admit though, I seriously love it here. The locals are great people, I'm working with great people (a German dude and a Croatian girl), I play soccer most afternoons with local kids, and I'm on an island in Africa. I'll be here for another 3ish weeks before I fly to Cape town, South Africa, for 10 days and on to Perth where I'll find a car and head back to Sydney.