When I think about the Kenyan climate the first thing that comes to mind is the sunshine and the accompanying heat. Starting everyday by smothering myself in factor 50 sun cream and trying to cover up where possible to avoid the impending doom of sun burnt skin. The sun can also have the power to sap your energy and even make you ill but if prepared, it is perfectly manageable.
Rain on the other hand can be completely overwhelming. In Kenya it is dry for the vast majority of the time, which means the land becomes dry and dusty. A light smattering of rain is hugely beneficial as it clears the air and reduces the dust; but more often than not rain comes in gigantic waves. It feels like all of the water in Kenya is stored up for several weeks before being dropped over the space of a few hours. The water is deposited so quickly that the dry land is unable to absorb it effectively and the sparse drainage systems are quickly overwhelmed meaning impromptu streams appear as if from nowhere and cut off frequently used roads and paths. What was once a maze of a town suddenly becomes even more difficult to navigate and it is all too common to hit a dead end and be forced to make the choice between waterlogged shoes or trying your luck with another route.
Alas, when packing for a trip to the equatorial country of Kenya I seldom remember to pack my raincoat and waders. Which means that when my patience is exhausted and I attempt to venture out I become soaked through in 5 minutes flat and often end up having to apologise for leaving damp patches wherever I go.
In all likelihood this is just a consequence of being unprepared and I should be as diligent in my preparations for the rain as I am for the sun…
Recently Mtwapa has been hit by lots of power cuts regularly throughout the day and night… this sounds like bad news doesn’t it?
Not if you run the only Solar Powered mobile phone charging stop in Mtomondoni!
Mama Saidi is making the most of the power cuts by charging extra when there is no power elsewhere in the town!
Her fledgling business is growing steadily and Rieder is supporting her to continue managing the savings to provide for her family. He is also looking into other locations for the family to live at her request, so that she has more passing trade.
We hope that soon she will make enough to pay kindergarten school fees for Simon, Saidi’s younger brother. Stay tuned for more updates soon!
Mtwapa is a town of contrasts; whilst the vast majority of the town is comprised of simple concrete and mud construction homes there are a small number of luxurious creekside mansions. This is also true of the food shops; luxury supermarkets and shopping malls sit alongside local shops, home made kiosks and traditional markets.
There are a couple of modern supermarket chains and shopping malls in Mtwapa which flank the main road. With their neatly stacked shelves and polished floors, these shops wouldn’t look out of place in a European city and like their international counterparts, they sell almost everything but at a high cost! The families we work with don’t use these shops, not only are the prices very high but the air-conditioning makes the whole shop very cold!
Thankfully, there are many other local shops and mini supermarkets to choose from. These shops generally offer a good range of products but shun the more expensive international brands in favour of Kenyan shopping trends. For example, bottles of cooking oil can be bought but it is cheaper if you bring your own bottle – most people use small water bottles but any container with a lid will do!
If you are looking for the most cost effective way to shop then markets are the way forwards! Each market area tends to specialise in a specific type of product e.g. fruit and veg, fish or clothing. The fruit markets are a sight to behold, each stall is a rainbow of colour filled with a wide range of seasonal exotic fruit and vegetables. Prices are also truly seasonal, towards the end of the year when the mango crop is being harvested a mango can cost as little as 10 shillings (about 8 pence), but in low season this can soar up to around 100 shillings! This means that families change what they eat depending on the time of year, this helps to minimise the cost of their food bill but it also means that they are always eating tasty fresh food direct from the field rather the bland imported variants we have to put up with in Europe.
Most of the families we work with a eat vegetable based diet which they occasionally supplement with fish or even more rarely, meat. Meat is available from butchers or supermarkets and in contrast to western cultures, meat on the bone is valued much more highly then filets. This is because the vast majority of Kenyan meat dishes require the meat to be stewed with the bone to make a rich broth.
Being close to the sea, Mtwapa has a wonderful array of fresh fish which can be bought from fish mongers (known as fish butchers) or at the large sea food market. In the more rural part of Mtwapa where electricity and fridges are uncommon, most families do generally not buy fresh fish and instead prefer to buy small pre-cooked potions from local vendors. This is one of the many things that Mama Umi cooks at her food business.
As you move further away from the main road, shops and large markets become less common. The are replaced with small convenience kiosks which pop up on street corners. The kiosks (known as Kibandas) sell small amounts of fruit, vegetables, dry ingredients and cooking essentials.
Finally, water. The lucky people who live near to the main road have the option of mains water, this needs to be treated before it can be drunk but this by far the most convenient water source. The majority, without plumbed water, have three options, the first is to dig a well (very expensive to dig the hole and after all that the water could turn out to be salty), second is to install a large water tank which can be filled by a water company or finally buying from the Maji (water) man.
Maji men push big carts with 8 heavy water containers all around Mtwapa. They all have pieces of loose metal attached to their wheels which make a distinctive clattering noise as the cart is pushed, letting the residents know they can run out and buy water. You can buy any type of water from the Maji Man – from washing water to fresh drinking water and it is very reasonably priced. You pay for the water then the Maji Man lugs the container into your house and fills your bucket, taking the empty container away again to be used tomorrow. Even the drinking water is affordable, largely thanks to the Dutch Water company and their foundation Stichting Waterpas which provides water to schools and orphanages around Mtwapa. Thanks to them, we rarely meet a family who cannot afford clean drinking water.
We hope this gives you a little bit of insight into the way people buy food and water in Mtwapa and helps you to understand a little more about the childrens’ lives.
Amy and I have been visiting Mtwapa for almost 10 years now and that got me thinking about some of the things which now seem completely normal but were the most surprising / exciting things when we first arrived. For me, I think that transport is one of those areas.
The vast majority of Mtwapa’s residents do not own their own car but instead use the vast array of public transport options which cater for both short hops and long journeys. In this article I’ll talk about a few of the most popular options which are part of daily life for our kids and their families.
Probably the most common and useful form of transport in Mtwapa is the Matatu. A Matatu is a small public bus which officially holds 13 passengers although if the traffic police aren’t looking the number has been known to rise (on a particularly busy day we had 32 people on the bus).
I remember the overwhelming sense of trepidation I felt the first time I boarded a Matatu, worrying that I would not be able to squeeze my way through the cramped and crowed bus to reach the solitary free seat at the back or that as a newbie I would end up paying way over the going rate. But with time, the whole process has become normal and I can now slide my way into a tight spot (and almost always avoid sitting on another passenger on the way) and, now that we know the standard costs (which have been raised only once in 10 years), paying is simple too.
For our kids, matatus are a way of life. For any journey that takes them out of Mtwapa it’s likely a matatu will be used and there seems to be no restriction to the amount or type of luggage you can carry – over the last few years we’ve seen a sack of live chickens, 50% of a motorbike and chainsaws without a guard (which handily slides under the seats).
Matatus are great, but they can only get you so far. There is a large main road running through Mtwapa (see the photo above) which is made of tarmac but the majority of roads running into the residential areas are rough dirt roads and many are not wide enough for cars nevermind matatus. This is where Boda Boda come in.
Boda Boda are bikes (or more commonly motorbikes) which can be flagged down almost anywhere in Mtwapa. They charge a flat fee of 50 Kenyan Shillings (about £0.40) and will take you anywhere in Mtwapa; with a little negotiation you can go further afield but it’s not to be advised as a bike on the main road is very exposed to the wrangling of the matatus and lorrys.
The first few times we came to Kenya we would generally try and avoid boda boda as we could never be sure if the rider would have much experience or even own a licence. But there were times where there were very few alternative options and we had to bite the bullet. Before long we were bouncing through the winding streets of Mtwapa holding on just a little too tightly!
Although the boda boda are officially allowed to carry just one passenger it’s not uncommon to see the rules be bent a little. When demand is high it’s not surprising to see 3 or 4 adults crammed onto a single bike. More recently the traffic police have cracked down on over crowding but that doesn’t stop the riders being ambitious with their loads and a particularly note worthy sighting was a broken motorbike strapped to the back of another motorbike – how the rider wasn’t continuously pulling a wheelie I’ll never know!
Over time, the number a quality of riders has increased and we now regularly hope on the back of a bike if we’re tight for time or are going a particularly long way. They are generally pretty safe (on the back roads) and you can’t argue with the price!
Boda Boda have a really interesting history and got their name from carrying goods across the Ugandan border (Border Border became Boda Boda). The BBC World Service made a radio show about Boda Boda earlier this year and I’d really recommend giving it a listen if you’re interested.
To anyone who has traveled through Asia or parts of Africa, the Tuk Tuk will be a familiar sight. The slightly odd 3 wheeled vehicle combined with a noisy (and often underpowered) engine which provides it’s name.
Tuk Tuks are used when ever a bike cannot carry the load but the destination is not on a matatu route. Tuk Tuks are my least favourite form of transport, they lack the speed and agility of the boda boda but provide little in the way of comfort – especially when they are a little older and their suspension has seized up!
Their saving grace is capacity, they take 3 passengers (sometimes a few more) and as much load as can be piled on top of the canvas roof. We have used tuk tuks when distributing nets and food parcels and we would not have been able to do it any other way. Some ingenious people have modified tuk tuks to make them into light goods vehicles – coke cola have a fleet of these which keep fridges stocked all over Kenya!
There are obviously more types of transport (coaches, taxi and handcarts to name a few) but these are the most popular ways to transport people in and around Mtwapa and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the combination can be used to get you almost anywhere in Kenya… for not very much money!