The first semester of my master-program of “Agricultural sciences in the tropics and subtropics” was just about to be over, when I already left to the tropics: to Kenya. During the semester I worked as a research assistant in a university project about solar milk cooling. In the semester break beginning of March I was then send to Kenya, to coordinate the installations of two new systems. They were part of a project to assess the business model behind the technological innovation: to check if the benefits of the systems are high enough to cover the system costs.
I arrived in Nairobi late in the night, then, after some hours of sleep I continued to Kisumu, at the border of the Lake Victoria, in the western part of Kenya. Temperatures were of course a bit challenging, from -10 °C in Stuttgart to a sudden +30 °C, but I wouldn’t complain. Arrived in Kisumu Airport I met with a colleague, Georgia from South Africa, who partly works as a consultant in the project. A driver named Cosmos (who also already drove around colleagues in former missions) drove us the next days to the different installation points in rural areas in the north. I still wonder if his name was really Cosmos, I kind of doubt it =D
- Georgia and I arrive late in the evening at our booked hotel in Kitale. Georgia (with a huge experience in travelling and hotels in Africa), asks at the check in for two quiet rooms, far away from the generator. We are asked to have a seat in the lounge, someone would come to do the registration. They bring us some delicious Chai (tea with milk). We are tired from an exhausting day. 20 minutes later, a receptionist comes with some papers to fill in and disappears. We fill the documents and wait. We are tired. And hungry. The receptionists have some discussions and phone calls going on at the reception. There seems to be some trouble. After ten minutes of waiting we bring them the papers and tell them that we would like to get to our rooms. They want to see our passports and ask us to please have a seat and drink some Chai. We do so. A 20 minutes later they want to bring us to the rooms. We hear the sound of a generator. Georgia eventually mocks about it and tells that “this is why you always ask for a room far away from it…”. The receptionist seems to feel a bit uncomfortable. We arrive to the rooms, they are basically next to the generator. The rooms seem to vibrate. We kindly ask to get other rooms (it was kind of a big hotel). They tell us they are all booked out, these would be the only ones. We tell them that they either find us other rooms or another hotel and go to eat in the restaurant of the hotel. The food is delicious. We see some guest moving around with luggage. One hour later, the receptionists tell us that they have two quiet rooms for us. We are happy.
For three days we interviewed about 20 farmers at the two installation sites about their household and milk situation. Filling out the questionnaires was super interesting, to get an understanding of the farmers living situation, income and expenses or the way the they see the cooperative societies. The interviewed farmers had different integrated mixed farming systems with some lactating cows and for example chicken, some fields of maize, beans, other vegetables, bananas, improved grasses for the animals… As an ongoing agricultural student, everything was so interesting!! We also had meetings with the dairy cooperatives, where the collected milk is delivered to discuss the next steps of milk collection and delivery and the monitoring they would do.
- Georgia and I are invited by Peter, the ex-manager of the dairy cooperative, to have dinner and some drinks. He brings us to a super nice local restaurant. After some food we go into the basement, where a club is situated. We have some drinks and some nice talks. He gets to know that I like Latin music. He mentions that he knows the DJ and disappears. Two minutes later: Despacito! The next 5 songs are also Latin hits! In the beginning the Kenyans look a bit surprised, but in the end they also seem to like the new style of music.
- After the time in the club, Peter brings us back to the hotel. His wife calls (she tried before but there was no network connection in the club). Peter explains her that he went with his European guests to have dinner and some drinks. As a proof, he passes me the phone to talk with her. I speak a bit to her. She seems very angry. “I don’t want you to hang out with my husband anymore! You are breaking our marriage”. I pass the phone back to Peter.
One of the interviewed families offered me, to spend the days of the installation of the solar cooling system on their farm, to avoid long ways of transportation everyday from and to the hotel. In the end I found myself living almost two weeks at Florence’s farm. It was such an amazing time. I participated in the everyday activities, stand a day on the field planting maize, lived without a mirror and washed myself and my laundry out of a plastic bowl, the toilet was an earth closet in the garden, I milked a cow (at least I tried), fed the chicken, slaughtered a chicken, ate Chapati, Ugali and Sukuma Wiki, was the entertainer of the grandchildren, repaired a bike, had a food poisoning and went to a rural hospital for a Malaria test, spending half a day in a church (the worship is “kind of different”)… and of course: coordinated the installations of the two solar milk cooling systems.
- Florence has four turkeys, on male and three female ones. They lay delicious eggs and look quite funny, especially when the male turkey constantly tries to impress his girls. One day, one of the girls has some problems with her feed, she doesn’t want to walk anymore and if so, she hobbles.
This night, we have turkey for dinner.
Solar panels provide power for a freezer, where a daily 16 kg of ice is produced. The ice is then put into a special ice compartment, which is put in the insolated milk cans, into the fresh milk. By this, the milk (40-60 liters) is cooled down after milking and overnight or during the transport to the cooperative. This intervention aims to reduce the spoilage of milk and to create a higher income, as also the evening milk can be marketed the following day.
- -Do you have brother or sister back in Germany?
-Yes, I have an older and a younger brother!
-You have two brothers? I heard it is forbidden to have more than two children in Germany.
The installations were performed by a local company. The two technicians were super friendly and we spend quite a while on the two farms were the systems were put. In the end, the systems seemed to work and the technicians left back to Nairobi. The next day I realized, they don’t work (they just consumed energy from the batteries, but once they were discharged the system stopped working). After a whole day of troubleshooting I finally found the error: the connections coming from the solar panels to the charge controller were switched. Once the polarization was in correct order the ice production finally could start and the first evening milk was delivered by the farmers and – the next day brought to the cooperative.
Do you have another Laptop back in Germany? I was thinking of you would leave your laptop here, as, you know, I don’t have a Laptop?
- A pastor friend and his wife visit Florence’s place. They want to get some chicken to start their own chicken business. We go to a neighbor and buy 30 chickens. Already there, the family invites us into their house. We have some Chai. We pray, the pastor blesses the house. We walk back to Florence’s place. I carry 10 chicken, 5 per hand. Florence and the pastors wife arrive a while later. One of their chicken escaped during the way, they first had to catch it.
As the milking at Florence’s farm took place at 4:30 in the morning, I also got up kind of early every day. After the milking and feeding of the animals, there was time for breakfast: Chai, some toast, eggs, sometimes avocado. Super delicious. Then I would continue the day with my own activities, for lunch we had the leftovers of the day before (mostly Ugali, Sukuma Wiki, chicken, Chapati, sometimes fish, sweet potatoe…). Dinner was around 8 PM, together with the Mexican telenovela, “Despertar contigo” the family used to watch. They already saw it but however we all got very emotional, when Maia discovered she was pregnant with her ex-boyfriend Pablo (who is still in love with her), but he told her new boyfriend Frederico to be the father, while she doesn’t really love him and and and… =D When the telenovela finished at 9 we all called it a day and went to bed.
- -Kilian, from where do you get your milk?
-From the supermarket!
-Ahahahahahaa. Milk from the supermarket you are so funny. From where do you get you eggs?
-From the supermarket!
-Ahahahahah. From where do you get your bananas?
-From the supermarket!
Once the installations on both sites were accomplished, it was very difficult to finally say goodbye to the farmers I spend so much time with. Thanks to my mission, I had the opportunity to see so much of the regions in the northwestern part of the country. The persons I met all welcomed me so warm-hearted. Also, all the other person I met during the day of getting from A to B by local transport, by going to the market were always so helpful and friendly. Of course, you have to get used of being watched all the time and to children calling you “Mzungu” and getting crazy about you.
- I stumble over my feet. The Kenyans around: Sorry sorryyyy!
- The technicians are installing the system. A teacher (who is also active in the dairy cooperative) passes by with his class of children to visit the system and make some publicity, so that children tell their parents about the possibility to drop milk at the system. I measure the temperature in the fridge with a thermometer. The children watch me with big eyes. I measure the current coming from the solar panels with a multimeter. The children watch me with even bigger eyes, they are astonished. I feel like a wizard, pulling more and more rabbits out of my pockets, the audience is thrilled. I get out my phone and take a picture of the connection. The children watch carefully. I switch the camera and take another picture…
I headed back to Kisumu, where I finally had a day on my own, without any work to do, animal to feed or children to entertain. My flight to Nairobi was the next day, so I visited the Victoria lake, the Hippo Point for the nice view and had a fish in a restaurant. After two weeks I saw the first white person (and I probably stared at this person as I was always stared before).
- To get back to Kisumu from the Kitale region, I take the public transport. The matatu driver promised me three times his matatu is going directly to Kisumu, without any stops, in this very vehicle. After one hour of drive, I have to leave his vehicle but the next one is already waiting for me. My old driver gets paid from the new driver, my journey continued. This happened once more until I finally arrive in Kisumu, where I then pay the third driver the money I bargained with the first driver.
The next day I then left to Nairobi, where I had a meeting with some old colleagues from the GIZ. As my hotel was situated close to the airport, the way into the city center by taxi took a good hour, with medium traffic. The way back after the meeting and some souvenir shopping was then during the rush-hour. It took 3 hours, to get back (for 25 km), with parts in between, where the taxi just stood for 15 minutes without moving at all. With an annoyed driver and very high temperatures, not the most chilled ride…
- I stroll back to Florence place after a work at the other installation site. On the road there are some school children going into the same direction. Me: Habari (how are you). They: Mzuri (good). They speak English. We chat a bit. They share their sugarcane with me.
When I arrived back in Germany the next day, it was snowing. It took me 15 minutes from the Airport to my place. Noone stared, noone called me „Mzungu“. My fridge was empty. I first had to go to the supermarket.
- Me: We want to have chicken at the house of my parents.
Florence: Chicken are good. They are easy to handle. How many do you want to keep? 50? 100?
Florence: Ahahhaha three chicken, you are crazy. What do you want with three chicken? You know what? I give you three chicken, you bring them to Germany!