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10 Day Mini-Trip: Bondo and Siaya

KENYA | Friday, 29 June 2012 | Views [1422] | Comments [1]

Hello friends family and loyal followers! 

Edit: New Video Posted on how Asian and "Western" countries are pursuing their interests in Kenya through aid allocation! Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXRcJKdqrRw&feature=plcp

It's been a while since we updated the blog/added any videos. That's because for the past 10 days or so we decided to ditch most of our stuff in Kisumu and take a short trip up north west to the Bondo and Siaya districts. We wanted to go up there because of two projects: Dominion and The Millennium Villages Project. Here's a little bit about both:

1- Dominion is a US company that has leased land from the Kenyan government for up to 50 years. They produce rice that they grow on Kenyan land through the work of Kenyan employees, and sell it locally in Kenya. They have the intention, supposedly, of being a "developer," coming in to help the area become more developed, but they're also a company. So it begs the question of which of their job titles gets the priority. We thought we'd check it out. Turns out people have a lot to say about Dominion- A lot really positive, a lot really negative, and some in the middle. Hopefully we'll have the video out in a few days.

2- The Millennium Villages Project is an initiative started by Jeffrey Sachs and the Earth Institute at Columbia University to combat specific aspects of development like the percentage of people living below a dollar a day, child mortality rates, increasing the number of girls in school, etc.. The Millennium Development Villages began basically as an experiment, for lack of a better word, for the most efficient way to achieve these development goals.

We had both heard about the Millennium VIllages from the US, but in Kisumu some people mentioned that there is conflict between Sauri (the village receiving the project's attention and funds) and the villages surrounding Sauri (who do not receive any project attention and funds). The hope of the Millennium VIllages is that once one community develops, a spillover effect will occur to the surrounding villages, but we have heard that in the meantime people in the surrounding villages are not happy. Sauri is the first Millennium Development Village, started in 2006, and is near Lake Victoria… therefore, how couldn't we check it out?    HOWEVER Cal ended up getting sick and we had to get back to Kisumu because we only had a week of Malaria meds on us. So stay tuned for more on this project- Hopefully we will return next week. 

But here is a short (?) synopsis of the past few days! Whew!

Tuesday June 19: 

Today we went to lunch with a friend named Natalia, who is a masters student from the US working for an organization that works with sex workers. She brought along one of her co-workers named Dennis, who has written more proposals to start his own NGO than you could count. We went to a place called the Laughing Buddha, which is a really nice restaurant that serves Western food for expensive prices… It's the place where all the white people go. We generally try to avoid these places (both for the money and the principle of it), but if we were invited there for a work meeting, it is what it is, eh? …. But DID we enjoy that meal!!! We split an oreo milkshake, hummus and pita, and a pizza? Wow. And on top of the amazing food, Dennis provided us with contacts in the Bondo and Siaya that were invaluable in our week to come.  

That night Natalia and a bunch of the other masters students from the US invited us to come out and watch the Ukraine vs. England game at a pub with them. Cal made a bet with Sam, one of the other US students, that Ukraine would beat England (yup). She lost 100 Ksh. 

Wednesday June 20: 

We woke up this day and realized that if we stay for Kisumu for a few more days, we would have been here 3 weeks (!!!). So we made preparations to leave for Bondo and Siaya. We each brought one backpack to Kenya this summer, planning to carry it the entire time so we don't have to leave it unguarded in a hotel. Although the goal was minimalistic packing, they're heavy bags. After just one day of interviewing with that backpack on, your back feels like it could crumble. Not to mention the difficulty in fitting two people on a motorbike with two bags. Additionally, sometimes it feels obnoxious to each plop down a decent sized backpack when trying to present ourselves like humble US citizens.  SO for our trip we packed only what we needed for a week- A shirt and a pair of pants each, a handful of meds, bug bivys, and our video equipment, and packed it in one backpack.   We left everything else with a friend named Shelby in Kisumu.  

Thursday June 21:

A day of traveling. First thing in the morning we bought banana bread and headed to the internet cafe to see where we were going! Decided to go to Bondo first. The ride took about 2 hours. The moment we arrived we already felt better being there as compared to Kisumu. It's WAY smaller, less urban, has dirt roads, less people, less air pollution, more chickens… our kind of place. We met a woman who worked at a supermarket and asked if she knew cheap places to stay, she told us she owned a place behind the discount store that was 600 KSH (7 bucks) for a night- We found it and stayed there. Minimal lodging, all we needed. 

Friday June 22:

 We wake up in Bondo and try to hit the streets for some interviews! We are sitting on the side of the road eating some breakfast when a man, named Hezekiah, approaches us to sell us phone credit. We try and ask him if he knows about Dominion or the Millennium Villages Project, and somehow he thinks we're talking about church (?) and his Australian friends (?), we tell him we don't know them. Somewhere along the line Evan ends up giving him his number, and we have heard from him every day (yes- every day) since. 

The woman from the supermarket the day earlier didn't know either Dominion or Millennium Villages, but suggested we talk to the NGO across the street. We do- They are the Bondo Farmer Field School Network (BFFSN), who basically try to teach sustainable agriculture to communities in the Bondo District. They receive no international funding so we didn't think they were pertinent to our project interviews. But we chatted with them for about an hour about our two projects of interest. They said we'd have to go more north to reach Dominion. In regards to the Millennium Villages, they didn't know much, except that they give people in Sauri seeds for free, and that people living in Bondo were wondering why they weren't chosen to receive free seeds. 

We then went to get lunch at a restaurant in town and were greeted at the door by a VERY exuberant woman named Jenalis who could not have been happier to have two mzungus (white people) walk into her shop. She was so friendly and welcoming and just wanted to know all about us and what we were doing and really just wanted to talk. We ordered fish after confirming the price and she let us into the back room of the restaurant where a whole table of her friends were eating there. At the table sat Emily, assistant chief of the town of Bondo. The main duties of chiefs include mediating disputes between community members and the government. They're on the grounds government officials. So if land rights issues comes up (which often did with Dominion) the chief would be the person to mediate. She was a great person to talk with. You'll have to watch our videos to find out more!!


After an hour or so, Jenalis brings out three huge cokes in glass bottles and asks us if we want any. We decline saying we're all set- We don't really have it in our budget to buy huge sodas every day. Then she asks if she can have one.  Cal responds, "Sure…. " kind of confused, and continues by saying, "… you don't have to ask me, Jenalis… this is your restaurant!" And all of her friends laugh. By this point she has already opened the coke and is opening the other two while she says "No no I'm asking so that when you see it on your receipt you won't be upset with me… So it's okay?" But by this point she's already poured everyone sitting at the table glasses.  The point is not that we didn't want to buy her a coke. Neither of us are bothered by buying a good friend a soda/coffee/beer… even lunch. The point is that it was assumed that we would buy it for them, and that there was not even room for us to say no. So after we questionably consented, Cal said "It's fine, Jenalis, but we are just students, and we didn't order sodas because we don't have enough money to order big sodas every day." 

I understand that a lot of white people travel abroad with tons of money. But really we are just two young 20-year-olds who are in/just out of college, don't have jobs, and couldn't even afford to be there on our own pockets. I didn't want to start any conflict with the soda incident, but I said something because I felt that if every white person lets it be assumed that they have tons of money, the image of the very rich white person continues. It's not good for the world, I don't think. Westerners start to lose their depth as individuals. And do we really want interactions between Kenyans and Americans to be reduced to mere ATM transactions?  

 At least we got interviews with everyone at the restaurant while they drank their cokes!

Dennis (from lunch with Natalia in Kisumu) gave us the number of his friend Ken who volunteers for the Center of Disease Control (CDC) which partners with Kenya Medical Research Institution (KEMRI). So Ken shows up at the restaurant and we hang out with Ken for a while and find out that he's a really solid guy-- Because he's friends with Dennis he worked his butt off for us calling everyone he knows in his phone book who is pertinent to our project and set up several meetings a day for us.  He's also a student studying political science, so the project itself is intrinsically interesting to him. Neither of us have ever met anyone like Ken- whether in the US or Kenya. 

The same day Ken brought us to the CDC/KEMRI headquarters where he works and introduced us to everyone. Got us several interviews with members of his organization. 

In fact, his boss Hermon was named after a mountain in Israel, coincidentally a mountain that Evan happened to climb 3 or 4 times while in the army. Hermon couldn't believe Evan had not only heard of the mountain but had spent a lot of time there, and Evan agreed to send along photos when he got back to the US. Hermon's dad was a government official for years on end, so instead of interviewing himself he said his father would be much better suited and we got his contact information. 

We also got to interview a man named Edward, the coordinator for a local development organization. He was the first person we interviewed that talked about conflict between donors- As in, the US and China competing for influence, and the negative effects that has on Kenya.  He also provided us with valuable contacts in Siaya at the Friends of Yala Swamp, a network of NGO's that help to advocate for the community members living near Dominion's property. 

That night we stayed at a place called Rozala which had the biggest bed in the history of big beds. I think you could have fit eight normal sized human beings in that bed. No picture could accurately capture the size. There was also a fan which made Cal very happy. 

Saturday June 23: 

We woke up and met Ken in town. Travelled to a town outside Bondo called Usenge to meet several of Ken's contacts for interviews. Travelled to another town called Usigu, meet Hermon's dad (used to be a government official for years). Ken invited us over to his house to meet his family and eat lunch, which we did. Met Ken's wife named Maureen and their beautiful baby named Ryan. We also met his sister, Jennifer, who is a new contact in Kisumu! Ken took us back to town and helped us negotiate a fair price on a motorbike to Siaya. Amazing motorbike ride- About an hour long. "If this doesn't restore your spirits, I don't know what will" says Evan. And he was right. Breathtaking. And there's nothing like that wind in your hair.  Made it into town by 6:10 (It's pitch black at 7:00), grabbed some food, then headed to a hotel.

Sunday June 24: 

Woke up in Siaya in the Mwisho hotel. We learned from Abdul, Cal's old mentor who is from Siaya, that the owner of the hotel works for Dominion- Hmmm interesting! We learn he is staying at the hotel and agrees to meet with us. The owner's name is Joseph who is clearly in the very wealthy class of Kenya. He owns 5 acres of property which includes the huge hotel, a gas station, banks, and several other businesses. He is the main contractor for Dominion, and could not speak more positively of the company. He said Dominion pays what they would in the US, so he makes much much much more building a bridge for Dominion than he would building the same bridge elsewhere in Kenya.         That night Evan shaves his beard! 

Monday June 25:  

Cal doesn't feel too good when we wake up but we take a motorbike into town for our Friends with Yala Swamp meeting. We meet Vincent, the representative who is a really gentle guy and really willing to interview. Before beginning he brings in his colleague Mike, who is a government official, to join us. Mike asks us for our permit for this research. We tell him we don't have one, and that this isn't exactly research… He interrupts us and basically reprimands us for not following the proper protocol of Kenya.  He says that if we want to show up and make these videos in Kenya we need to have government permission. "I couldn't just show up in your country and start doing whatever kind of research I want, could I?" Well, yes, after the visa step is done, you really could.  Mike claimed that in Kenya we could be arrested if someone wants to see our permit and we don't have one.  Vincent didn't want to have his face recorded on video after that-- But he offered to take us around Dominion the next day without Mike around!

Mid-way through the interview Cal feels like she has to pass out. She has a fever. 

Tuesday June 26:  

Cal starts becoming well acquainted with the bathroom. Now Evan has to go the interviews to Dominion all by himself and Cal has to stay in the room. This is probably the first day in a month we spent apart the entire trip. 

Cal's June 26: 

Because we went lightweight I didn't bring a book or anything else that could entertain a sick person besides my iPod nano that has 40 songs on it. At least I brought the Cipro (the drugs to make you stop diarrhearing).   So I learned how to make playlists on my Ipod- I now have a resting playlist, a sleeping playlist, a workout playlist, etc. I got to Level 7 in "Bounce," one of the games that comes with my Kenyan cell phone. I read the Bible in the hotel room. I learned how to put speed dials on my phone. I learned the lyrics to Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel by repeating the song over and over again. I also pooped 13 times- Go Colgate! I  had a really productive day. 

Evan's June 26:

Today was rough! After we decided that it was best for our project to continue with the Dominion Farms interviews and video footage, I took a long motorbike ride with Vincent (from Friends of Yala Swamp) around the massive farm. He told me all about the various conflicts between the "investor" (Dominion) and the community. Cattle herders lost pasture, water was often fenced off which caused locals to cut holes in the fence, churches were built and set up by Dominion and many never took off, the wells Dominion dug and bathrooms they built were not maintained or were built without community involvement, etc. Along the way, Vincent introduced me to several community leaders. Apparently locals around the farm are interviewed quite often- Dominion seems to be a hot topic- so some did not want to be seen on film. Additionally, community members have had their opinions later edited to represent the bias of the video maker. Gah! I started thinking that I might be creating more conflict by asking for interviews- not the goal!

Luckily I was able to interview some community leaders, and after hearing so many negative opinions about Dominion over the past few days, I was surprised by what they had to say- watch our videos to see why! At this point, Cal started texting me that she was running out of supplies- namely, water and toilet paper. So Vincent gunned his motorbike back to town (scary!) and I picked up some things in town for Cal. We spent the rest of the evening catching up and entertaining each other.

Wednesday June 27: 

We traveled from Siaya back to Kisumu.  Evan called Vincent in the morning who helped us find a "car", ended up pulling up to our hotel in a fully loaded matatu instead. Of course. But it saved us going down to the stage, bartering, and sitting/standing in the sun for hours. So he was a huge help.    When we arrived in Kisumu the hardest part lay ahead- Getting to the hotel from the matatu stage. Because Cal hadn't eaten in three days she passed out in the sun, so Evan laid her on a cement block to go call some transportation. As if a healthy mzungu doesn't already attract too much attention. The overall journey took 4 hours, and it was a miracle on elm street that Cal's bowels lasted the whole time. Cal was very tired back at the hotel and slept the rest of the day. Evan went to go get the rest of our stuff from Shelby's. That night they ordered from the fancy hotel because they thought they deserved it and were way under budget- Cal ordered Bruschetta and it stayed down (er, up, rather?), Evan got a delicious stir fry! 

Thursday June 28:

We decided to take a rest day from our jam-packed 10 days! 

So for now we are getting back to the videos and are home based in  Kisumu for a couple more days. Hopefully the videos will be up soon from Bondo/Siaya about Dominion, and we'll be getting back to Siaya for the Millenium Villages on our way to Uganda next week! 





Just caught up with all your videos and blogs, Evan and Cal (and I watched and read ALL the way through!). Can't wait to meet you someday, Cal! Stay safe!
Evan's cousin Laura

  Laura Joseph Jun 30, 2012 2:44 PM

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