Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Masai Land

After returning from Nairobi two weeks ago, Lily and I spent the beginning of the week on follow-up work and preparing for our little vacation at the end of the week. From Wednesday through Saturday we visited Isaac, our Masai friend.

Isaac is the founder of the first international chapter of the Student Movement for Real Change. He came together with some fellow university students in 2006 in an attempt to address the poverty that surrounds them. The Student Movement receives many requests to open chapters in Africa and the rest of the world, but we do not yet have the institutional capacity to support international branches so most of the requests go unanswered. This did not matter to Isaac—all he needed was a name and a website to add credibility to his efforts. Together with his community, he formed a Masai dance troupe that gives performances at hotels and events for fundraising. In addition to other fundraising activities, he sends Masai beadwork to SMRC, which is then sold by our US chapters. He used the money to purchase desks and supplies for schools in rural areas, and most recently to support friends in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. Of all our chapters, Isaac actually raised the most money in 2006-2007!

Isaac took us to his homeland to meet his family. He attends university in Nakuru, where he is majoring in Economics and Math (we get along well...), but he spends his holidays at home with his mom, dad, 24 siblings, his dad's four other wives and countless cousins. The family welcomed us into their homes with astounding generosity, and Lily and I now have our own Masai Momas! (Wives number three and four, respectively).

The week is full of amazing memories--far too many to attempt to describe here. One of my favories was "hunting".

On Friday morning we got up early to go hunting. First, we dressed up in traditional Masai garb, which was actually pretty comfortable (for me—Lily was significantly less happy with her outfit). Hunting involved running around the bush with our cameras making fools of ourselves and laughing hysterically. They dressed us up in ceremonial outfits, not hunting clothes, but we tore through the bush nonetheless. They were about the least effective hunting clothes ever: they were as bright as possible, jingled with every step, and severely restricted Lily’s movement.

On Saturday we walked to Nairobi. Poor Isaac told us on the first day that he doesn’t like hiking, but all we did the whole time we were there was run around in the bush then walk all the way to Nairobi. It was a beautiful hike up out of the rift valley to the Central Highlands. The contrast between the ecology of valley and the highlands was stark, as was the contrast between the lives of those living in the regions.

We met Emily and Abdallah in Nairobi and came back to Mombasa via night bus.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Greetings from Kenya!

I am happy to update you all on the Student Movement for Real Change’s water and sanitation project in Kayafungo, Kenya and also on my life here in Kenya! We arrived here at the start of April, and there is much to report. For a summary of what we have been up to, read this post. If you're interested in way too many details, the other posts here are for you.

Now is a critical time for Kenya. The two major political parties recently agreed on a cabinet, a crucial step for power-sharing. People here and international observers expressed concern that the power sharing agreement would unravel if President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga could not agree on a cabinet. The overwhelming sentiment among our Kenyan friends is that both parties need to put this power struggle behind them and let Kenya continue on its path. The reaction to the joint cabinet is mixed: many are frustrated that it is large and without much rhyme or reason, but many are just happy that the parties agreed on something!

Despite the political uncertainty, we have had a productive start to our trip. The government is currently conducting an engineering survey for a critical pipeline that will supply water for our project. Our proposal is to build two distribution pipelines off of a large tank that will serve 43,000 people in the Kayafungo community. In order to do so, the government must ensure a reliable supply of water to the tank. It is therefore very encouraging that the government is completing this survey! We will keep you updated on its progress. We have met with all the major players involved and everyone is committed to making this project successful.

The other aspect of our project is sanitation improvement. Here, our focus is on health promotion workshops and latrine and hand-washing station construction. We visited the community las week to meet with the leaders and to begin deciding who will become the local sanitation experts through our train-the-trainer workshops. It was wonderful to see everyone and their enthusiasm to participate!

The rainy season is late in coming this year, and the Kayafungo community is suffering as a result. Water pans and dams are drying, and everywhere we went there were young girls and their mothers walking dry roads to fetch water. They are desperate for clean water, and we hope that our sanitation training and latrine construction will help ease the health burden until the government completes their critical pipeline.

Chagua amani (choose peace – a slogan of Kenya),



Many of you have inquired as to the security in Kenya. While traveling always involves risks, I do not feel unsafe here. I face little to no threat from the post-election violence. Mombasa was actually an island (literally and figuratively) of safety during the instability. Mombasa does not have the ethnic groups that were primarily responsible for the violence, so most of the demonstrations were political and most of the violence was over-retaliation by the police. There was some looting and stone-throwing, but this occurred in a relatively predictable and focused manner; most rioting occurred when the local Members of Parliament were around and would disperse around noon when they left.

One amusing story has to do with the looting. There was some opportunistic looting following the elections and several shops were broken into. The story goes that some disgruntled shopkeepers started a rumor that a witch had cursed all of the looted goods. One looter was running away with a television on his head when the witch cursed him, and the television got stuck to his head! So you should really return any looted goods, before the witch curses you, too!
The amazing thing is that a lot of the looted goods were actually returned. There is a quote by the police chief in the paper saying, “If only it were this easy everywhere…”

(If I ever see the man with the TV stuck to his head, I promise that I will take a picture).

Unaccounted For Water

Our Friday meeting (4/4/08) with the CWSB was informative. They broke down for us most of the major projects they are considering and went through the general layout of water supply in the Coast province.

Our proposal is to build distribution pipelines in Kayafungo, Kenya. Kayafungo is a rural location in the Kalifi district of the Coast province. The groundwater is salinated, the above-ground water-sources are seasonal and the rainfall is concentrated in two short rainy seasons. These factors make piped water the only complete solution for the Kayafungo community. The ultimate source for piped water would be Mzima Springs—a source of great pride to Coastal Kenyans. Mzima Springs is located in a national reserve that is apparently rather beautiful (we are planning a trip out there next week!).

Water from Mzima Springs travels 200 km to Mombasa on the Mzima Springs pipeline, which was built in 1953. We would take water off the Mzima Springs pipeline at Mariakani, which is about 10 km from Mombasa. There is currently a pipeline being built from Mariakani about 17 km to a hill called Mwijo, where there is a 1500 cubic meter tank being constructed. The problem is that the pipeline to Mwijo doesn’t have enough pressure to make it up a small hill a couple of kilometers after Mariakani. The government is currently engaged in building a giant, empty tank and a pipeline to nowhere.

To fill the tank, it would be necessary to entirely re-do the line they are currently building and replace it with a high-diameter pipeline pressurized by an even larger tank near Mariakani. This larger tank would fill overnight off of the Mzima Springs line so as to not deprive Mombasa of critical water. The capacity of the Mzima Springs pipeline has dropped dramatically in recent years due to “unaccounted for water” and Mombasa does not receive consistent water supply—water to the entire city of Mombasa actually cut out while we were in the meeting and was out for most of the afternoon.

Unaccounted for water is a generic name for leaky values, broken pipes, theft or any other un-paid-for water. Unaccounted for water is generally combated through effective maintenance. Maintenance requires capital, but if you are not collecting money for your water, you don’t have capital. Thus is the cycle borne: corruption, theft and poor management lead to under-collection of revenues, under-collection leads to fewer maintenance and expansion projects, without maintenance, infrastructure degrades and leaks increase, which leads to even greater under-collection…

This is illustrated by a story told to us by a Mombasan friend. In Mombasa, there are people who push huge carts full of 20 liter jerry cans around the city to sell for use in the home. People who don’t have reliable water supply from the city fill up tanks on their roofs with these jerry cans at a huge mark-up. The local water service provider could under-cut these carters and install cheaper water in the homes, but they don’t have enough capital to do so. The service provider’s revenues are based on how much water they sell, but they collect for only 50-60% of the water that passes through their pipes. The reason? The carters have poked holes in the pipeline and steal their water. I don’t know if this is true or not, but it certainly sounds plausible.
Another thing working against the CWSB is that their tariffs were set in 1999. This may not seem like very long ago in the States, but inflation in Kenya has been significant since that time—prices for certain goods have increased by as much as 100% since the elections. Thus, the revenues they do collect are too low. Raising tariffs, however, will simply encourage more people to steal.

As they told me this story, I thought of my work for NERA Economic Consulting. One of the things that I do at NERA is help to set the tariffs for electric and natural gas service providers. We deal with many of the same issues at NERA, although we are removed from the on-the-ground impact of our work: I don’t go to the service territories of the utilities we work for to see if their electricity is more reliable after one of our projects. It was a strange moment when, sitting at the table with the CWSB engineers, I realized that one of the primary reasons we are having trouble getting water to Kayafungo is poor tariff design and bad regulation in the Coast Province as a whole—which is exactly something I would work on at NERA.

Week 2: Water

The other major accomplishment of Monday and Tuesday was finding a lid to our water tank. The overwhelming purpose for us being here is water. I therefore find our own water situation amusing. Our water comes from a borehole in the little ally behind our house (and next to a latrine). There is one large 2500 L tank on a shodily-constructed platform that is fed by the borehole. There are then several smaller 800 L tanks around the platform (and even closer to the latrine). To get water, we first connect a tube from our lower tank to the platform and climb up the platform to open the valve. We are now filling the lower tank. But, to get water to our plumbing, we have to pump it to the second tank on the roof. So, after connecting the platform to the ground level tank, we have to turn on a pump, the switch for which is in the kitchen. Now, you have to go to the roof to check to make sure that the top tank is filling properly. But don’t dally too long or the lower tank will overflow. After about an hour of running up and down four flights of stairs, checking levels, adding purifier, and turning switches on and off, both tanks are full. Huge pain.

So the point of this story is that the top tank was missing a lid, so anything and everything could fall into it. Apparently, people here aren’t too concerned about that because about half of the tanks that we can see from our roof are missing lids, and it’s next-to-impossible to find one in a store. We started off looking at PVC and piping stores. No luck. We moved on to electric stores and hardware stores. Still no luck. We got motivated and found some specialized tank stores. They don’t sell lids, but they might be able to order one for us if we can wait… Most of Monday and Tuesday was consumed by this quest. At sunset on Tuesday, I reluctantly resigned… but happened to wonder in to the last hardware store in a 5-block radius that I hadn't tried (we happen to live in the Hardware District, by the way). I halfheartedly inquired about lids to tanks—just the lid, not the tank—when before I knew what was happening the guy handed me the lid off a display tank for just 300 bob. I ran out of there before his boss could notice. As I ran off, he yelled, “Wait, wait!” so I moped back, ready to hand the lid back over. Instead, he pressed a bolt into my hand, so I could attach it properly. It was a triumphant moment when the lid fit the tank perfectly and our water supply became contained.

Week 2: Cooking

4/6/08 to 4/9/08

The major events of Monday and Tuesday were cooking and finding a lid for our water tank. Most of Monday was dedicated to finally settling in to our apartment in a serious way. Lily, of course, produced several exacting lists for us to complete, and we checked off items with great success. There were two items that were proving impossible, however: a jiko (small stove), and a lid for the 800 L water tank on our roof that we draw our tap water from.

One of our major goals here is to not get sick. To this end, we intend to cook much of our own food. To cook, we need a stove. We went to every little stove-mart, giant mega-mart, and petro station (they sell stoves, for some reason…) in Mombasa, but none had the model that we had arbitrarily decided was the ideal.

Having made a list containing the item, “jiko,” we were so confident of our success that we invited a friend over for dinner. At mid day, we reluctantly decided that we should inform him that we may not be able to cook dinner, because we likely won’t find a stove in time. His response was perfect: Oh, I have an extra one—why don’t I meet you to help you shop for ingredients?

So, we cooked. Or more precisely, Lily and Mohammed—the friend with the jikco—cooked, and I cleaned. We had boiled potatoes with onions and a stir-fryish arrangement of vegetables (with lots of garlic, in honor of our Executive Director). Cooking is a bit more of a process here than it is in the States. To start with, it’s about a million degrees out, even after dark. Also, our kitchen is tiny. Our jiko is tiny, too, but not so much so that it can fit in the kitchen with two people and two cutting boards. So the jiko’s new home has (temporarily, I hope) become the living room.
We turned all of the fans down to let the space heater do its work while dishes and scraps began piling. This leads to the next major issue, which is ants. There are lots of them. Rather, there were lots of them. After heating the living room to over 90 degrees at ten o’clock at night we were delirious enough (both nights) to forget to turn the fans back up to eat. Eventually, we realized and we pealed ourselves off of the couches to start cleaning, which is a process. If you don’t get every scrap of food that might have ever fallen anywhere, the ants attack—this means scrubbing, wiping and mopping about 1/3 of the apartment (which is actually pretty spacious—I’ll probably write about that later).

I am proud to report that, after 1 ½ hours (each night), we defeated the ants. We got home today from a two day trip to find only two scouts in our kitchen, with not a single train anywhere in the house.

Wednesday, we ate out….

Week 1

Week 1 – 3/29/08 to 4/5/08
One week into my journey, I am both excited an apprehensive about what will be accomplished while I am here. The first three days were spent traveling—first to NYC, where I was hosted by two wonderful friends, then on to Newark, Amsterdam and Nairobi. The travel was unspectacular. Nothing lost, nothing stolen, nothing broken: successful travel. I had never been to Europe before, but unfortunately I only had a couple of hours at the airport.

We arrived in Nairobi a little after sunset and were met by a cultural affairs officer from the US Embassy, which made things incredibly easy. We just hopped into the waiting SUV (which had a primo parking spot) and were brought to our hotels. I have never been to a country where driving is done on the wrong (left) side of the road before—slaloming through traffic in the dark was an intense introduction. It wasn’t so bad when we were driving straight, but every time we turned onto the left side of the road I wanted to shout.

Tuesday was our first full day in Kenya. I was somewhat jetlagged in the afternoon, but we had an excellent morning meeting with Emily and Abdalla. Emily is the founder of the Muthaa Community Development Foundation (“MCDF”) and Abdalla is a sanitation expert brought on for our project. More to come on them later (they are amazing!).

We spent most of Tuesday wandering around Nairobi running various errands, including trying to secure a research permit from the Ministry of Education. It took us three tries, but we finally got the permit the following day (everyone was amazed at how fast that way, but it seemed very slow to me!). After getting the permit on Wednesday, we went to the MCDF office to talk about the implementation of our sanitation grant. We worked right through lunch and didn’t even notice until the sun started setting. MCDF is going to be a pleasure to work with.

Thursday brought us to Mombasa after a security briefing at the US Embassy. After arriving, we were met by Dr. Sur, a Mombasa Rotarian. Dr. Sur wanted to discuss the possibility of introducing microfinance into our project, which was fine, except that he parenthetically mentioned that the Bahari-Mombasa Club still hasn’t submitted the forms necessary for us to receive our funds from Rotary International. We will meet with them later this week to try to speed this process up as much as possible, but it looks as though the sanitation intervention may not begin until after I depart.

The next day we met with the Coast Water Services Board, the government authority responsible for water in the Coast province. I was under the impression that we were just going to go chat with one of the engineers we work closely with, but it turns out that he is on leave as well. So instead, we met with the rest of the team we would work with. It was a bit of a difficult meeting, but by the end we were all on the same page, so it was useful.

The weekend was dedicated to cleaning and settling in to our apartment. The apartment is very comfortable and actually stays (relatively) cool. It sits between two large mosques, so at prayer hour we get to listen to the prayers broadcast for all to hear. Right now, I love having the soundtrack, but I’m thinking that it may grow old before I’m gone…

Saturday, April 19, 2008



This blog is a collection of chronicals, thoughts, comments and diaries on Ryan's time in Kenya working on the Kayafungo Water Project. Some are appropriated for general consumption, some are too long for even his mother, and others may be incomplete. Good luck!