Posts in About Mtwapa
Kenyan Plastic Bag Ban

In Kenya, plastic bags have long been a big part of everyday life.

Of course larger shops provided plastic shopping bags to their customers but many smaller shops and market sellers also used plastic bags to package their products, anything from grain to take away chips. In addition, a lack of access to adequate sanitation facilities means that the very poorest used plastic bags as a makeshift toilet alternative.

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Disposing of Plastic

The plethora of uses for plastic bags combined with a lack of universal waste collection meant that plastic bags were disposed of in the street. Much of the plastic ended up in large makeshift dump sites but not all of it.

On my first trip to Kenya I vividly remember being on the back of a boda boda, winding through the streets which cut between the tightly packed housing. All was going well until we turned a corner into a market street where one of the traders had decided to start a small fire to 'dispose' of some rubbish. As cool as anything, the driver dodged around the mini blaze and carried on but I coughed and spluttered on the back of the bike, having not quite mastered the art of holding my breath as we passed through the thick black smoke being emitted from the burning plastic.

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Burning Rubbish

The plastic which does not get burnt in the middle of a market is all too often eaten by livestock which are left to roam the streets and forage for food. A study by the UN Environment Programme found that between 10 and 15 percent of animals coming through an abattoir had plastic in their digestive track and in one case, 2.5kg of plastic was removed from a cow's stomach. When livestock eat plastic it can be very dangerous for their health (as discussed in this Kenyan news paper article) or it could possibly be entering meat destined for human consumption.

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Goats grazing in a dump site

In September 2017 the Kenyan government took the bold move to completely ban the use of any plastic bags.

Initially, there was some scepticism that the ban would be enforced as the government has proposed a number of similar bans over the years, all of which failed to work. However, this time the government was serious and proposed a number of very serious punitive measures with fines of up to $38,000 USD or a maximum of 4 years in prison. These measures have effectively stopped all production and import of plastic bag, so whilst there has been some use of existing stocks, bags are drying up.

For some of the families supported by Milele this has presented some challenges. Mama Steven for example has been selling her charcoal in small plastic bags, we initially worried that this would scupper her business but to her credit she found an innovative solution! Mama Steven collected a number of containers which matched her existing plastic bag sizes and she now uses them to measure out charcoal for her customers to take home in their own reusable pot... ingenious.

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Charcoal packing

Early evidence seems to be suggesting that the ban is working, people have adapted to the change and the bags which have been littering the environment for years are slowly being cleared away. I believe that that this world leading plastic bag ban is a good thing for Mtwapa and Kenya, humans are resourceful beings and if one option is removed we are very quick to find alternatives.

Perhaps the UK and the rest of the world can learn from Kenya.

When it Rains it Pours…

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.

Its a river - not a road!
Its a river - not a road!

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...

but perhaps I’m just an optimist.

Every cloud... Mama Saidi makes the most of power cuts!

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!

Mama Saidi with Simon and her solar panels
Mama Saidi with Simon and her solar panels
Food Shopping in Mtwapa

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!

The smaller of the 2 Tuskys Supermarkets in Mtwapa

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.

A fruit and vegetable market on Mtwapa's main road

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.

Buying cooked fish

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.

Maji Man hard at work

The Maji Man's cart - if you look closely you can see the squares of metal on wire attached to the wheel

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.