Monday, October 13, 2008

Monday 15th September 2008 – Mitedi’s big hole

Mitedi is our favourite community. It is almost entirely run by women, and there is no man to be seen during the day, which is why everything works like clockwork. The school and clinic built by the Haller Foundation are very well maintained. The current project at Mitedi is the construction of a biogas digester, which will provide the premises with electricity (which is not available at any of the communities we visited). The ladies were instructed to dig a 2.1 m deep and 3 m wide hole, and so they did. Aaron needs to go to Mitedi quite often because he is helping with the construction of 2 dams there. As soon as the children of the community stop crying ‘jambo mzungu’, they bring out a ball for a game of football and Aaron joins in. The game normally consists of everybody running after the ball, young and old, girls and boys. Last week we decided to buy them a real ball because their ball consisted of plastic bags tied together with a string. The children were so excited when they realised the ball can actually bounce, but the excitement was short-lived because after less than half an hour the ball had already burst. Nothing beats the plastic ball in the African fields.

We are two weeks into Ramadan, but only today did Mohammed realise, and he decided to start fasting. He can only eat after sunset, it is quite amazing that a man so old still manages to fast for so long. Fasting is generally broken at 6 pm, when you find him sitting in his chair with food, tea and dates at his side, and waiting for Aaron to tell him that is time to start eating.

Saturday 20th September 2008 – The beach clean up

Every year the Haller Foundation organises a clean up of Nyali beach, a few kilometres south of our cottage. We joined Gideon, Jonathan and a large number of school kids this year (we should be ashamed of ourselves as we have never participated in a beach clean up in Malta!). The event was very well organised. We were given gloves and plastic bags to clean the beach, and a t-shirt, bag and pencil as a souvenir. We spent a few hours collecting all types of rubbish, predominantly shoes and polystyrene, which at the end amounted to about 1 ton of waste. Some of the kids danced and acted in front of the mayor of Mombasa, who delivered a speech and handed money to a group of mentally disabled children, an act that we still do not know how to interpret.

Sunday 21st September 2008 - Mombasa

After several attempts we finally made it to the second largest city of Kenya. We took a matatu early in the morning and headed straight to Fort Jesus, which dominates the harbour and is Mombasa’s biggest tourist attraction. The fort was built by the Portuguese in 1593 to control their Swahili colonies, but it changed hands several times in bloody sieges during the following 200 years. We had the whole fort to ourselves, which allowed us to admire the thick coral fortifications, the museum, a whale skeleton (quite random!) and wall paintings. We also managed to walk around Mombasa’s old town, where the houses have ornately carved doors and fretwork balconies, but all this walking made us hungry. Quite unfortunate, as it was still Ramadan and ALL restaurants were closed. Somehow we managed to find a cheap eatery serving a hideous hamburger with half cooked chips, but it went down fine with some weird tasting fanta. Catching a matatu back was easy, getting back home was not. After tackling the heavy traffic in the city centre, the matatu broke down and we had to walk all the way back to the cottage.

Tuesday 23rd September 2008 – The power of ignorance

During our visits to the outreach communities that we carried out with the medical team we realised that people who live in the developed world are not richer because they have more material possessions, but because of the education they get when they are young, the easy access to information that they have and the resulting capacity for good judgement. The people of these communities are illiterate and lack basic education. In comparison to other communities they are privileged to have a doctor and nurse visiting them once a week, but the number of patients has slowly been decreasing because of rumours, which are totally untrue: e.g. the medical team was not treating the patients well or that it was not giving the correct treatment. It is common for girls to have 5 children by the age of 22. Florence the nurse sometimes delivers a talk to the communities, but when the theme is family planning, the community members ask her to stop talking. They do not want to hear about it because they want to continue having as many children as possible.

Another example: a few months ago the government started providing mosquito nets to families in the district of Kilifi to the north, in order to curb malaria, which is a major killer here in Kenya. After a while many people started to return the nets because they said that the nets had bad spirits or that they were talking to them during the night. Others decided to start using the mosquito nets for fishing.

Thursday 25th September 2008 – The fate of Kenyan thieves

On our way back to the office today we saw a naked man, completely covered in mud, walking along the street. We were told that he probably was a thief. As the efficiency of Kenyan police leaves a lot to be desired, Kenyans generally take justice into their own hands. This man was probably caught red-handed, stripped of his clothes and beaten. Some thieves are less fortunate. Last Monday a thief tried to steal a TV from a house in the morning. He was caught in the act by the neighbours who beat him up, tied him and set him on fire. Luckily for him the police arrived in the nick of time and arrested before he burnt to death.

Friday 26th September 2008 – Circumcision and the wedding

The Minister of Health here in Kenya (one of 40 ministers by the way) has recently encouraged men to go for ‘the cut’ to reduce the risks of HIV/AIDS. We have not been able to verify this claim yet, but health clinics all over Kenya are now overcrowded with young men wanting to undergo the operation. In some remote villages, young men in groups go around looking for uncircumcised men and if they manage to find one, they carry out the operation themselves.

Alfred, a 21-year old Luo from Kisumu, came to the Haller Foundation clinic to undergo a circumcision operation. Lennox the doctor asked us to be the official photographers of the event – only in Africa would somebody ask us to do so! So we sat there for about 20 minutes taking photos of Alfred’s bloody private parts whilst he was trying to seduce Florence the nurse and occasionally twitching in pain. Lucienne almost fainted a couple of times. Alfred was lucky to have his operation done at the clinic, as many Kenyans go for group circumcisions where no anaesthesia is administered and where the same knife is used. It turned out that prevention of HIV/AIDS was not the only reason Alfred had this operation. At the end of the operation he claimed that he finally felt like a real man and that his girlfriend would be very proud of him.

A number of European couples like to get married in the bush. On the same day we also had the opportunity to attend a wedding of a British couple who got married at the sundowner at Nguuni sanctuary, with the sunset silhouetting the giraffes, elands and oryx in the background.

Saturday 4th October 2008 – Snorkelling the Mombasa Coral Reef

Two new visitors joined us at the cottage – Urs and Manuela. They are from Switzerland and they will be living with us for a week. They are here on holiday and today we joined them on a snorkelling trip to the Mombasa Marine Reserve. The coral reef is not in the best condition, but the quantity and variety of fish that live there still surprised us – zebra fish, angel fish, eels and many others of which we cannot remember the name. The journey to the reef was also exciting. The means of transport was a wooden boat with a glass bottom, and an engine with a pipe that feeds from a can of fuel. The thin string attached to engine needed to be pulled a number of times before we managed to depart.

Sunday 5th October to Tuesday 7th October 2008– The Shimba Hills and the invisible elephants

Hubert, or Hubi, is a Swiss notary that came to visit his friend Dr. Haller in Kenya. We met him at our cottage when he came to say hello, and we could not refuse his kind invitation to join him for 3 days at his cottage on the Shimba Hills, some 2 hours south of Mombasa.

Today we made an early start, and at 6:30 am we were already on the way in a pick-up truck. The south of Mombasa is separated by an estuary from the mainland, so to get to the other end you need to cross the sea on an old, rusty ferry. Hubi may be one of the kindest people we have met, but at the wheel he is very sharp and determined driver, which is what you need to be here in Kenya if you want to go across Mombasa city. Two hours later we were already at the cottage, which Hubi built a few years ago. It is actually an eco-lodge, because electricity is generated by solar power, rainwater is harvested and the toilets are dry. And it is beautifully designed, with gorgeous views of the Shimba Hills Natural Reserve to the west. Being Swiss, Hubi had everything planned for us. We had coconut to drink and then a lunch with Swiss cheese and sausage. In the afternoon we visited Matanu’s house and his family (one of the Haller Foundation’s employees) and then went for a short hike at the border of the Shimba Hills reserve. Hubi and Aaron managed to spot a couple of elephants through their binoculars, Lucienne could not see a thing.

After a huge breakfast, we joined Ali on 3 hour hike to the Shimba Hills National Reserve. Hubi stayed at the cottage working on his organic farm. Ali is a local who was born and raised in the Shimba Hills, and he knows the park like the back of his hand. He may not be able to read, but we can spot or hear elephants from hundreds of metres away. We made down to the valley bed of the park (which is somewhat illegal) where we discovered some petrified wood, and walked along to try to spot elephants or buffaloes. We get close to a bull elephant, and we could hear him crushing tree branches as he moved through the forest. We decided to run away because it was slightly dangerous, and instead managed to spot baboons, colobus monkeys and sable antelopes. Ali then took us around his village, where children ran towards us and would not leave us alone. We then walked back to the cottage and still Lucienne had not seen an elephant. This evening it was our turn to cook, but before we did so we planted 3 albizia lebbeak and 4 eucalyptus tree seedlings. We hope that they will grow into beautiful trees and that we will still find them here if we ever manage to return.

Tuesday was our last day at the cottage. Feeling sorry that Lucienne had not seen an elephant yet, Hubi drove us to the Mwalunganje Elephant Sanctuary, which is located in the middle of Cha Shimba River valley and is run by a local community. The setting is beautiful, but I have no idea how people can reach it without a 4-wheel drive. The track that meanders across the park area is 30 km long, and after 1 hour we had not managed to spot a single elephant, in spite of the fact that there should 150 of them here. We did manage to spot wild boars, baboons and beautiful birds, however. Lucienne by now had started to think that elephants did not exist. We even stopped at a travellers’ lodge where elephants are not to walk by everyday, but as we had our lunch there was no elephant in sight. As we drove back to the gate, however, we found about 30 elephants walking slowly by the river. A marvelous sight indeed, especially watching the mothers taking care of the young, elephants scratching their back, others covering themselves with soil and dust, and feeling sorry about the emarginated older elephants.