Saturday, 27 August 2016

Friday: rounding things off

Our third early start was still not rewarded with a sighting of elephants. The Rangers assured us that they were in the park in good numbers, but we were left in doubt of this. Numbers of elephants have been severely affected by poaching, and it was mentioned that an elephant was found caught in a snare inside the park this week. Ronnie and I felt that there were probably fewer elephants around. Add to this the challenge of a vast park with large tracts of forest, and there are plenty of areas where they can remain hidden, if this is what they choose.

We reluctantly left Shimba Hills Lodge, with hopes of returning. I exchanged email addresses with the owner; she may be interested in stocking animals made by the Noah's Ark ladies, and I have said I will send her photos of these.

We enjoyed our journey back - there were lots of interesting sights, and good conversation with Patrick. He and his family live in Bamburi, which adjoins Utange, and I told him of my project. He in turn is going to tell his wife, who was trained as a salonist.  The hope is that she and a group of women may form their own Sacco, which I in turn will be able to support.  I asked Patrick about cashew farming in the area and he told me that there are not many cashew trees around Bamburi.  However, in Kilifi, where he comes from and has relatives, he told me there are forests full of cashew trees.  One of my original ideas (which I believe was given by God) was to help develop cashew farming as a means for people to grow a cash crop.  However, the cashew nut grows inside a hard shell and is encased by acid, which makes extracting the nuts both difficult and dangerous.  If Patrick can enthuse a group to form in Kilifi, I may be able to help them in the future by buying a cashew processing machine.  This could be a very good cooperative venture for the area.

Back at Severin, it was a rather protracted process to get access to both of our rooms. However, I filled the time in a most enjoyable fashion by having a long and very relaxing massage. While talking with Rehema, the masseur, I explained what I had been doing.  She told me that she had been the treasurer for a group of women who were saving together to start up a poultry business in Shanzu - another of the neighbouring towns and part of Utange sub-county.  However, she said, the group folded as the women were reluctant to save regularly.  I gave her my contact details and encouraged her to look at starting up a new group and registering as a Sacco; this may be yet another group which I can help.

Then it was time for a last meeting with Juma; I gave him the money for Gladys' chickens and for the materials for his family to build their own chicken shed. Hopefully the money will extend to a few more chickens as well.
Patrick came to pass on business cards and we had another farewell photo:

After an emotional parting, Ronnie and I went to do our final present shopping in the hotel shops.  In this we were both successful; I also indulged in another picture (sorry, Will!) which is beautiful.  It looks like marquetry but is in fact made from banana leaves.  I chatted with Hassan, the owner of the shop, for some time about his support of local artisans and crafts people, and told him of the work I have been doing with the Noah's Ark ladies.  He too may be prepared to stock some of their toys for sale.

The day ended with our final Severin dinner.  I went to sleep feeling that today was filled with God-given meetings which have encouraged me about the future of my work in this area.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Thursday: safari day 2

Another early start to the day today. Our first game drive was at 6am. As we left the lodge it was still dark, but by the time we reached the main road it was fully light; the changes between day and night happen really rapidly here.
For the first part of our drive there were no animals to be seen, but then we happened upon some Impala and other animals followed swiftly. We saw bushbuck and hartebeast again, along with more water buffalo and warthogs. Then we had the magical moment of the drive, spotting the very rare Sable antelope. Shimba Hills is the only place where they can be found in Kenya, and Patrick told us that there are only two groups of them in the park - and we had seen one of the groups.

Back for a delicious breakfast, followed by another game drive - this time to the elephant reserve, about a half hour drive down the road. Sadly we didn't see any elephants, or any new animals, but the drive itself was through gorgeous countryside and I took many photos of the most unusually shaped (to my Western eyes) trees.

During lunch we were entertained by the tree squirrels, which fee from the railings and feeding table alongside us. I also spotted the monitor lizard I had seen swimming in the lake on the previous day, and the fish eagles continued to catch our eyes.
The evening drive was enjoyable - we spotted sable antelopes, bushbucks and Impala again, along with the ever-amusing warthogs and impressive water buffalo. Sadly, still no elephants or giraffes, despite Patrick's best efforts. Back to the wonderful lodge for another fabulous meal - and this time we had bush babies visiting and enjoying our offerings of bread rolls!

Wednesday: Shimba Safari Lodge

It was an early start to the day! Frances and Will were leaving on safari at 6am, and Ronnie and I at 6.30. We all said our goodbyes, and went our separate ways. Patrick, our safari driver, picked us up on time and off we went!
The journey to Shimba Hills was very enjoyable. Crossing on the Likoni ferry was a novel experience, and both Ronnie and I were amazed to see thousands of foot passengers emerging from a tiny ferry.
Once over the river, the terrain and housing changed, with the feel becoming more and more rural. It was great to be right out in the countryside relatively quickly. Although we saw only two deer as larger animals on our first game drive, we saw lots of wonderful scenery, marvellous butterflies and birds. The birdsong was fantastic.

We travelled to the beginning of the path to Sheldrick Falls, where we were escorted by an armed ranger down the 2km route. What a 2km it was - up and down uneven dirt tracks - but surrounded all the time by marvellous vegetation and fantastic sounds.

When we got to the falls we knew how worthwhile the journey had been, as they were magical. I even climbed up to stand behind the water.

From there we retraced our steps. This was easier than the route there had been, but we were very tired by the time we got back to the van! We were also very hungry after such an early start. Patrick drove us to our lodge for the next two days.

 Shimba Hills Lodge is magical. It is set in the safari park and overlooks a lake.

While eating a beautifully prepared meal we watched a fish eagle diving to the water and baboons fighting on the other side. A forest squirrel, which was both red and grey, patrolled the dining room in search of scraps, while baboons strolled down to the lakeside.

Following the meal we had some rest time. I spent part of this on my tiny balcony, and the other part on the seating at the end of the forest walkway.

Then it was off for our second game drive, and this time we saw more animals. We saw Impala, bushbuck, hartebeast and warthogs. We also had a magical encounter with a small herd of water buffalo, where we got really close and then they crossed the road in front of us. We heard lots of beautiful bird song and saw many birds too - weaver birds, bee eaters and scores of swifts.

After another wonderful meal at the lodge we were more than ready for bed and I fell asleep to the sound of crickets and bull frogs.

Tuesday - roller coaster day

Today was a roller coaster day - some very difficult parts and some really good ones.
We began the day with the last of our seeing sessions. When we arrived at Noah's Ark, I was so excited to find that two of the ladies had begun making patchwork bags, using the scraps of fabric left over from other projects. Florence told me she had stayed working past dark the previous night, using the solar lamp I had given the group, and she had a completed bag outer and lining. Another of the ladies had the front of a bag made. They looked lovely in the lesso fabrics.

The ladies worked really hard, and by the end of the morning we had a number of completed animals.

I bought two of the bags they had made prior to our arrival - one made around a basket and the other made from recycled plastic bags, which will make a great peg bag. The price I was given was rather high, but I was happy to pay it to encourage them.
While at Noah's Ark I had a phone call from Festus. He explained that the charcoal had not been delivered and would not be ready until the next day as there was so much to pack. That had several consequences - I would not be able to distribute it that afternoon, I had no way of letting the ladies who were turning up that afternoon to collect it know that it would not be ready so they would all turn up anyway, and I would not be able to hand it out on Wednesday due to our safari. Fortunately Festus had the African "hakuna matatu" (no worries) attitude and said he would tell the ladies to return the following day and he was happy to distribute the charcoal then.
From Noah's Ark I went to Casuarina House as planned (after promising to return briefly on Saturday to say goodbye) to meet Christopher who was preparing to build a chicken shed and a water tank with pump for me. He had already quoted me for the materials and I had explained that the water tank in particular was at the top end of what I was able to do for any one person. He came back to me with an increased price, because the couple wanted to raise the water tank in preparation for when they built a house, and I told him I was not able to add that to the cost. He then came back to me with another increase, this time to pay for the electricity to the pump. As the couple had previously told me that would pay for the electricity connection I again refused to pay for this. The third call was to give me a total cost which added 16000 KSH (£130 or so) to the cost of the pump, for his labour. This was what we were meeting to discuss.
He began by saying the labour would be 10000ksh. I pressed him on how many days work would be involved and he said three. I questioned the total as I had previously been informed that the daily rate for a skilled labourer was about 800ksh. After some discussion, which brought the price for the labour down to 6000 KSH, I said I would not be able to pay that and that he would have to just do the chicken shed and not the pump and tank. Eventually the price came to something much more reasonable, but I found the whole process difficult and upsetting.
Fortunately my final outing of the day was much more positive - a real high, in fact. Zachariah took me to see Phanice, the young lady I sent money to so that she could set up a market stall. She was so warm and friendly and so grateful. Her shop looked lovely; she had decorated it, added a sign, and had a great mix of new and second hand clothing.i bought a necklace (made by her sisters) and she gave me one she had made herself. What is more, I discovered that her mama, Rose, is part of the Noah's Ark group and has been attending my sessions!
I enjoyed a brief swim back at the hotel, and then some quiet time in my room, before going to reception to meet with Patrick's wife and youngest daughter, Jane. Patrick's wife was very pleased with the fabric I had brought for her and with the 20 solar lamps I gave her to either sell or rent out.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Interesting tour

Monday morning was occupied by our fourth sewing session.There were fewer ladies today and that made everything much easier. Many have nearly completed what they are making. The sewing machine caused some frustration as the thread kept breaking. After some discussion over dinner tonight, Ronnie, Sue and I decided to try some of the thread I brought from England as we think the thread I bought in Mombasa may be the problem.
Frances had an interesting chat with Mary where she learnt that Mary was trained as a tailor at Bombolulu as she had a bone condition which made her disabled. That tied in well with a conversation I had with Florence who said she would like the ladies group to make the uniforms for the pupils at Noahs Ark.
While the sewing was progressing, Phil took the committee to get the approval of the chief for their Sacco. Will went with them and photos will follow.
After the sewing session, Will and I went to Nakumatt while Phil took the ladies in to Mombasa to obtain government approval for their Sacco. This was also a successful expedition and included the group meeting the larger salvo which will provide them with training and support.
In the afternoon, Patrick had arranged for use to have a tour of the Severing Sea Lodge kitchens.

 This was really interesting and proved to me how well facilitated the wonderful food here is. We had enjoyed kingdoms on several occasions at dinner, and in the butchery (where Patrick works) we saw one prior to it being prepared. We were told they are locally caught and brought to the hotel - and this is a small one!

Resting on my veranda, I enjoyed watching themes at their usual antics.
One more day here and then we are off on safari. There will most likely be a two or three  day pause in this blog on Wednesday and Thursday as there is no WiFi at the lodge we are visiting. I will try to update on my return on Friday afternoon. (Ronnie was correct in her comment below and I have edited this accordingly!)

Monday, 22 August 2016

A different sort of busy

Not "busy doing nothing" but Sunday was a less intense day.
We began with church at Utange Baptist, where they have an English and then a Swahili service.

It was lovely seeing the boys Sue had worked with trying to use what they had been taught on the keyboards.

I wasn't expecting to be called up to the stage, let alone to be asked to speak, or to be prayed for, and felt rather a fraud on all three counts. It was kind of them though.  The Casuarina children sang a song Jess had taught them which was lovely.

After the service Rose found me to give me the dress I had ordered from her. I am so pleased with it that I will at some point produce a photo of myself wearing it. She wouldn't let me pay for it; she said that I had blessed her by giving her the sewing machine and fabric and now she wanted to bless me. It was a real blessing and the dress fits perfectly. Incredible to know that she made it without a pattern.

Debbie took Phil, Sue, Will and Frances back to Severin while Ronnie and I met up with Juma to go to visit his home. It was a lovely walk in the sunshine; we saw a pair of men cutting up a dead tree which Juma told me would be sold as firewood. We also saw a group of young lads thoroughly enjoying fresh coconuts, which made me quite jealous!

However, my jealousy didn't last loo long as, when we got to Juma's house (which I found with only a few redirections) his brother Karissa, who is home from High school, had climbed up one of the family's coconut trees to cut some down. He proceeded to cut the open for us and we enjoyed the fresh coconut milk. He then split the shells so that we could share the fresh coconut flesh.

After that Juma took ion a tour of his home and to,d us more about his family, before showing us all the improvements he has made to his mamas stall. He has extended it and rethatched it and the family have been experimenting with selling different items. Juma explained that the green vegetables are bought quite a distance away, north of Mtwapa, where they have an abundance, then brought back to Utange where they are few and can be so,d at a profit. They also have some jewellery made by another brother, Eric (of which I bought some) and some posters. I had brought along some solar lamps for the family to sell or rent, so they will go on the stall as well, as will the beans and rice at a later point. I thought it was excellent that they are trying out different lines to sell.

We asked Juma to find out the cost of a chicken shed - their hens are breeding but the chicks are often eaten by the crows. They don't want a very large one and Juma could build it himself.

We visited Salama to see the progress made since I bought her some more tools. The salon had been rearranged since my previous visit and looked impressive. The straightener and hair dryer are working well but not the kettle so it may be necessary to return this to Nakumatt.
Ffter those excursions we returned - relatively early - to Severin, and a swim in the pool and a dip in the ocean, before I returned to my room to enjoy some more monkey antics.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Fish and feeding!

Another action packed day here in Kenya with lots of wonderful memories stored up for the future.
This morning Will, Frances, Ronnie and I went out on a glass bottom boat. We decided to go with the Severin hotel diving team, Barracuda, and we were so glad that we made this decision. The equipment was top class and they looked after us so well. 
The trip began with a very long walk through the water and along sandbars to reach the boat. The tide was out, the water pleasantly warm and never got much above knee depth, but it was a good workout and beat aqua aerobics any day!

Once we reached the boat

we sped off for 15 minutes towards the reef,

where the fish were attracted by bread and we watched them through the bottom of the boat.

 Then we slid into the ocean. I have only snorkelled once before and it took me a little while to get the hang of it, but once I remembered not to breathe out through my nose (it made the mask steam up) and took off my flippers, it was wonderful. I was directed over the reef (which was so close to the surface that at one point I scraped my knee on it) and saw the most amazing fish.  I identified Angel fish, zebra  fish and a puffer fish as well as many other species I did not recognise. Many of them were huge. It was wonderful to see them darting in and out of the coral. I just wish I had taken a waterproof camera to photograph them!
When the others had returned to the boat I was still in the water, and was able to feed the fish myself. I held bread and they came and ate from my hand. Magical.
Then we rode a little further out and came to the part of the reef which is dead and forms a barrier to the main ocean. Here I was transported back to childhood rockpooling as we wandered across, peering into pools and identifying amazing things. We saw numerous sea urchins - both small and large, some with ferocious looking spikes. We handled starfish which looked like plastic toys - grey and bright red. The sea spiders were fascinating; the sea cucumbers slightly disturbing! We saw cowrie shells which had inhabitants, crabs and sea anemones. One sight which took my breath away was a clam, buried in the rock, which closed up when the water was disturbed - I was warned not to put my fingers too close! It was a wonderful experience.

After returning to the hotel for a quick shower and change of clothes, it was time to head off for Feed500. Debbie and Paul picked us up in the van. The usual mass of children was awaiting our arrival. Today I handed plates to the servers which was a moving experience. For the third week in a row there was enough food for children to have second helpings, which were enthusiastically received. 

The maize was handed out. Because some children who were due to receive maize were not present, Festus had the unenviable task of choosing 16 extra children from those who remained to receive food. 

We then headed over to Casuarina House; I chose to walk with Jess through the village rather than go in the van. However, the route we had used previously had been fenced off - but Jess and I found a gap in the fence and crawled through, much to the amusement of the locals!

Back at the house, the children sang to us - and we to them; a rendition of Swing Low Sweet Chariot. This was greeted with enthusiastic applause; apparently it was the first time visitors had ever sung  to the children.

Sue took five of the children off to have a keyboard lesson. Will took photos of all of the children and staff  to update the charity website. Phil walked with Jess to Noah's Ark to pick up some paperwork for the ladies' SACCO application. I got a photo of all of the children with the sewing machine I bought for them all. All those at Casuarina House were really enthusiastic about the machine, and it wasn't long before some of the children were trying to use it. I had a go as well, and managed to get the hang of using a treadle, which gave me great satisfaction.

We finished off the bags which Mariam, Jess and Tina had started. Monica was missing some of her fabric so I have undertaken to find it for her at Noah's Ark and help her to finish her bag on what may be my final visit this trip to Casuarina House on Wednesday. 

I spoke to Festus and arranged for him to order the charcoal for those women who requested it. He also translated a message which I will text to them, to tell them where and when they can collect it.

It was then time to return to Severin. I intended to get a lift to Nakumatt to withdraw more charity money but was just too tired and instead spent a pleasant time relaxing before dinner. Tiredness is catching up with me at this stage of my time here, and I recognise the need to relax - but also to finish off all the things I have set in motion

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Microfinance and looking forward

Will has made a new friend - the hotel cat has apparently adopted him. We are sure this is not in any way cupboard love, despite Will's habit of feeding the cat with sausage, bacon and cheese! 

Another busy morning today began with our daily drive to Noah's Ark for our sewing workshop. However, this time we stopped on the way at Casuarina House to deliver the sewing machine I bought for them yesterday. We picked up four children - Gereza, Mariam, Monica and Tina M - who wanted to come to sew today, along with Jess.

Phil returned to the hotel to type up the membership list for the SACCO; He was impressed with the amount of work Florence, Emily and Esther had already put in; this is a very committed group of ladies.

Will went off with two young men from the village for an introduction to Utange which he said was very enjoyable and informative.

The sewing went well, though it was a challenge at times to manage 12 different patterns. The group had been described to me as a sewing group, but many of them have very little experience in sewing. If I had realised I would have been less ambitious with the patterns, but I am sure we will get one version of each animal competed this week. I introduced some very simple bags today, and gave Florence a book of small projects which they can investigate after I go.

The inventiveness of children with their toys here is very impressive.  here are two examples - a young lad with a bag made of plastic bands, and children who found an old tyre.


On our return, Sue and I met with Susan, a teacher from Utange Primary School. This was a really positive meeting as we discussed various ways in which we could potentially help the school, where classes can be as large as 118 pupils. We talked about helping parents to earn their own income, recruiting volunteers from the UK, funding the purchase of more computers and sponsoring an additional teacher. All are feasible from the school's perspective. It was good to talk with Susan, who had some excellent ideas and was refreshingly non-grasping in her approach - we really felt that she did not want to take advantage of us and what we might be able to offer.

This trip has really helped me to see ways in which I can use the money I raise to greatest effect. I am enthused by having learnt about the approach to microfinance offered by the setting up of cooperatives called SACCOs and intend all future funding to be delivered through these groups.These will enable me to pay money into a cooperative's bank account, but this money will then be directly transferred to a supplier to pay for the goods which are needed. What is more, this system provides support and accountability for the group, through local officers. Working through groups will be much more efficient, allowing equipment to be shared between individuals. It will be interesting to see how the Noah's Ark group develops and whether other groups will be formed. I am very hopeful that one will rise up around Utange Primary School. I intend to make a new section about SACCOs on this blog when I return - I am so grateful for the expertise and leadership Phil has provided in introducing me to the concept and helping this first group to get off the ground.

After a quiet afternoon we ended the day with cocktails and dinner and, in my case at least, an early night.