Saturday, October 02, 2010

Project monitoring trips

The past two weeks I have gone on some more monitoring trips, this time to Coast Province, to check on some more of the projects we're funding.  These projects are also for dealing with, or preparing for, drought - we classify them as Disaster Risk Reduction - but instead of boreholes these projects are focused on capturing and saving rainwater for the dry season.

The first set of projects we looked at were gutters installed on the roofs of schools, with the water from the gutters directed into big storage tanks.  In many of the villages we went to, that rainwater is the cleanest water they can get - otherwise they're getting water from the river, which can have all kinds of bacteria and parasites in it.

Our NGO partner is also building latrines at the schools and piloting giving some plastic latrine slabs to villages, to try to improve sanitation and reduce disease.  Without the latrines, people just go off into the bush to use the bathroom, and then when it rains the drinking water supply (mainly the river and sometimes some shallow wells) can get contaminated.  So latrines may not be flashy and exciting, but they are important.  And they seem to be a big hit in the villages - in some places where they only have latrines at the school, which are supposed to be just for the students, everyone in the village is coming over to use them.  It's not exactly what we were hoping for - the ideal is to get people interested in latrines and then they go and build their own.  But I guess it's a start.

This past week the main thing we went to see were rock catchments- basically big rock mountains popping out of the desert, and then our NGO partner build short terrace walls on them the water coming down them when it rains into a dam at the bottom, from where it can be piped into storage tanks and saved for the dry season.  I was really impressed with these projects and the villagers were so excited about them - it almost made me want to become an engineer so that I could be the one out there running around on the mountains and designing the catchments.

But then again, one of the rock mountains was so steep that I don't want to be the person having to climb up and down that one (although I did do it once).

We got to participate in handing over ceremony for a rock catchment project that was just finished, where the NGO formally hands over the project to the village.  It was a pretty cool ceremony, complete with traditional dancing and a hygiene skit that reminded me of Peace Corps.

And then my favorite part: my colleague who we all tease about becoming a politician someday got to practice his speechmaking skills.  (Also, I was relieved that he didn't make me do the speech.  Instead, I danced with an old lady - but no photos of that one, sorry!)

 You can see more photos here and here.  I've got some more trips coming up the next few weeks - maybe enough to satisfy even travel-hungry me!  

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Role model?

I'll write a proper post later about my trip this week, but I just wanted to tell this little story first:

At one of the schools we were visiting, the kids were especially friendly (and very excited about having their photos taken, even though they didn't smile for the picture).  They were hanging around and playing while we were trying to inspect the water tank our partner is building for the school, and one of my colleagues told me that the boys were teasing a couple of the girls (who chose not to be in the picture), telling them that they should study hard so that they could grow up to have a fancy job like me.

I never thought of myself as being a role model like that, especially not just by showing up, but it was really nice. So I told the girls that the boys were right, if they study hard they could get a job like mine too.  I told them my (maternal) grandparents were from poor farming families (these kids are pastoralists, but close enough, they can relate), but they worked hard and my parents were able to go to school and become teachers (which, besides nurses, is the highest status profession the kids come into contact with on a regular basis), and they worked hard and helped me get a good education, and now I'm a diplomat/aidworker.

So that's my happy little story for the day.  I'll write about the rest of my trip soon.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Elephants and giraffes

Yesterday I went to the elephant orphanage and giraffe center on the outskirts of Nairobi.  I got to see lots of cute baby elephants and feed a giraffe out of my hand.  I really wish I could ride a giraffe, and I asked if that's possible anywhere, but the guide said giraffes are too sensitive and won't stand being touched, much less ridden. Too bad.  But here are some pictures for your viewing pleasure!

I'm going on another monitoring trip this week to check on some more drought relief projects.  Should be interesting!

Friday, September 10, 2010

This is what I do in my job

Lately, I've been spending a lot of time reading quarterly reports from our partners.  For example, last year OFDA (the office I work in) gave money to several NGOs (non-profits) to do projects in areas of Kenya that were affected by drought, to help people survive without hopefully having to migrate or sell off all their assets (mostly animals) to be able to buy food.  And now, every three months the partners have to send us reports telling us how the projects are going and what they've accomplished.  So I've been spending the last few weeks reading the reports, making sure that the partners are doing what we agreed they would do at the beginning, that the projects are more or less on track, and that overall US taxpayers' dollars are being well spent.

Also, I go to a lot of meetings.  Lately, a lot of the meetings have been about the weather and forecasts - for example, what regions have had good rains and therefore have had a good growing season for crops and subsequently the people are better nourished, and what areas haven't had good rains (or have had too much rain which caused flooding), leading to poor crops and malnourishment.  And then all this information helps us to figure out where people are in need and where we should be implementing projects.

So that's a snapshot of my life in the office.  I'll be going out on another project monitoring trip in a few weeks, inshallah.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, a few pictures from my trip last weekend to Lamu, an ancient Swahili town on the Kenyan coast:

You can see more pictures here.  Credit for all the best photos goes to Diana.

Monday, August 30, 2010

I work really hard

Kenya's new Constitution came into effect on Friday (now known as Promulgation Day).  There was a big ceremony in Uhuru Park, attended by Kenyan and many other leaders, including, unfortunately, Sudanese president and war criminal Omar Hassan Al-Bashir (who's been indicted by the International Criminal Court, which means as soon as he landed in Kenya the Kenyan authorities should have arrested him).

So Friday was declared a national holiday in Kenya, which meant U.S. government employees here got the day off.  So my friends and I celebrated by going horseback riding out in tea plantation-land.

You can see more pictures here.  It was so, so much fun, and I am hoping to make this a regular weekend activity.  I was super sore afterwards, though!

Then yesterday I went on another embassy-organized trip to a place called Bomas of Kenya, which is kind of like the Kenyan version of colonial Williamsburg.  The government set it up in the 1970s when they saw that the country was really starting to develop and change, so that Kenyans wouldn't forget their cultural heritage.  Of course there are lots of tourists that visit, but it's mainly for Kenyan schoolchildren to see how their ancestors lived.

They have traditional huts from different areas of Kenya; for example, this is the style used by many ethnic groups along the coast of Kenya:

Besides the traditional houses, at Bomas you can also see performances of the traditional dances of the different ethnic groups:

You can see more pictures of Bomas here.  Unfortunately the lighting in the auditorium wasn't great, and it was only towards the end that one of my friends pointed out that sometimes the pictures will actually turn out lighter if you turn off the flash.

Then yesterday I went hiking at Mt. Longonot, which is not just a mountain but a volcano!  I've never been to one before, so it was very cool.  In the morning it was very foggy, so we couldn't see much, but we finally got some good views at the very end of our hike.

You can see more photos of Mt. Longonot here.

It may not seem like it from this blog lately, but I do actually do some work in Kenya on occasion, when I have time in between all the fun stuff.  I'll write about it soon.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Finally my car is here!  I'm so excited to be able to go places now, without having to spend a million dollars on taxis or beg for a ride from other people. 

Tomorrow I have to get the oil changed and take care of a few other maintenance things, since it's been sitting on a boat for almost two months.  But after that, I'm going horseback riding and hiking and all kinds of fun stuff!  I feel like a teenager getting my first car (although in actuality I didn't get my first car til I was 21 and in grad school).

I just drove it from work to home today.  I thought I'd gotten used to the whole driving on the left side of the road thing just from riding in cars around here, but it's definitely going to take a little getting used to as a driver.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

World Humanitarian Day

In case you are still wondering, this is what my job is about.  (Although the video makes it look a lot more exciting than it is most of the time).