Out of Africa - Kakamega forest

Kakamega forest is Kenya's only tropical rainforest and, we were told, used to be much larger than it now is. We visited a government run tourist station and paid for a 2 hour guided tour along the Mama Mutere trail.

Whole forest relative to Mudete

detail showing the Forest Station and Rondo Retreat

Our guide Nancy beside tea plantation bordering the forest

R gazing at...

...a monkey - we saw many

H climbing the void in a strangler fig tree

The strangler fig tree grows around its host which eventually gives up the unequal struggle and dies, leaving a chimney within the fig, which our crew climbed up.

Atop the observation tower, strictly unsafe to climb

The tower overlooks a clearing north of the station (see map)

one of many

Having done the forest we checked out nearby Rondo Retreat hoping to have lunch there, but reckoned it was too expensive. A really nice place though, so very well kept and so very colonial in style.

Hot water system at Rondo Retreat


Out of Africa - Lake Victoria

We travelled in a boat like this

Early on in our visit we enjoyed a two hour boat ride on Lake Victoria starting at Hippo Point just south of Kisumu.  As with all my blog posts you can click on the images to increase their size.

Showing the Kisumu inlet

Lake Victoria is the world's second largest fresh water lake by surface area, after Lake Superior in North America, and is the head of the White Nile. Our boat journey took us a few miles south of Hippo Point and thus wholly within the relatively small inlet in the lake hosting Kisumu, and yet even this part of the lake appears immense.

Our tour guide

Fishing, and the distant shore

Fish market, Dunga beach

That which we came to see

Personally I found the surreal almost lack of horizon more stunning than the hippos. After all you can see hippos in any zoo but the misty flatness was peculiar to Lake Victoria. I am reminded of those sky-sea-scape scenes in the Life of Pi, a film which I found intensely beautiful even if the plot was slightly odd. I would gladly watch the film again just to gorge myself on those scenes.

No sign of the distant shore

No sign now of even the horizon

All about me was flatness and infinity, an endless panorama... 
(from the novel by Yann Martel)

Yann's sentiment expressed in the film Life of Pi


Out of Africa - To Build a School

View from the road

The school room and S making worksheets

Washing hands before lunch

Like I said our primary reason for the trip was to encourage and help with the school project J and S are setting up which you can read about in their words here.  Kenyan building standards are something else and, J's general vision being to redeem, we spent some while removing cement that the builders had kindly splattered over the window frames, in readiness for painting. We also installed electric lights in the school room and a gutter system with tank to store rainwater from the church roof for hand and dish washing. Previously all water had to be purchased and brought in. Now only drinking water will have to be purchased, at least until the tank runs dry which it quickly will in the dry seasons. Here in Ireland we take potable water on tap for granted but there in Africa very few would have this privilege.

Sister B collecting rain water

It rained heavily just after we erected the gutter but before we fed the outlet to the tank. Dinner lady Sister B filled up all the containers she could find with water from the spout and you can see her here braving the downpour. Such is the value of water.

Our gutter system and storage tank completed

Whilst working at the school we participated in the school food prepared faithfully every day by Sister B. A typical lunch is beans and rice and the children put away vast portions this being their main meal of the day. B somehow manages to add interest to the flavour by adding maybe onion or tomato. I couldn't manage all of the portion.

The beans come mixed with dirt and sticks so have to be sorted

Mid-morning every school day B dishes out her legendary "porridge" which I suppose is a mix of various grains. For some of the kids this will be the first meal of their day. It reminded me of my childhood attempts to make "tea" by mixing builder's sand and water and adding grated chalk as "milk". The texture was gritty, like sand, and the taste bland. I manfully finished my first day's mug-full but thereafter declined much to the amusement of Sister B. On the other hand R declared every meal he participated in during the trip as being wonderful and I applaud this sentiment. He is, after all, a growing lad.

Downing B's porridge

My portion

Asked what might be the next major need for church and school, I figured it would be better loo's. At present there is a corrugated iron "shed" with two cubicles, each with sort-of tiled floor with a hole in the middle discharging into a pit beneath. For men to urinate is one thing, but how the Kenyan women often with flowing dresses or robes manage I find hard to imagine. But they do, and succeed, for this arrangement is common. Of course the children also use these loo's and perhaps do not aim quite right.  Inside there is no electric light, no loo paper (you bring your own), no window, and lots of smell. I took pains to arrange my motions to avoid times at the school.

Nap time in the main church building

After lunch the children all take a nap, giving the teachers a break to prepare for the afternoon lessons. Seeing them all on their foam mattresses reminded me of Lewis's dufflepuds asleep.

Hand wash station with our newly installed tap

You'll see our new tap in the picture above. Outside taps like this have to be locked because of the high value of water, even that collected from a dusty roof! Note the swings J designed and erected in the background.

Out of Africa

View from my office

Our road

After being turned away by Dublin airport closing due to snow, we re-booked for two days later thinking all would be well.  It wasn't. After trying everything including prayer we ended up being taken on the back of our tractor to the N81 main road where we were met by an old friend who had agreed to drive us from there to the airport. A small miracle I can assure you. Even on the main roads the journey was not without challenge as some parts on the way to Naas had been cleared only to single vehicle width with drifts either side as high as the car. But we made it, and we figured that our trip to Kenya was providential given the opposition that had been thrown at us: the freak weather, difficulties re-booking through our booking agent, neighbours who told us it was impossible...

And now our two weeks is up and I'm back at home, "we" being myself and my companion R. The joy of walking out of Dublin Terminal 1 into cool fresh Irish air! Nearer home the road-side snow drifts have not yet fully melted and there is still snow on the mountains.

Data and time shortage prevented me posting whilst in Africa but I took loads of photos of which I will share a few publicly in due course.

Our entry into Kenya was at Nairobi airport. Would be visitors note: in addition to purchasing a single-entry eVisa for US$50 ahead of time, on arrival you need a ball-point pen to fill in a buff coloured form. No-one tells you this has to be done, but if you get to the immigration officer without it you are turned back and have to start over. And there are no spare pens to be had: if there had been they would have been stolen.  Armed with passport and both these we got in line again for immigration, then moved on to the baggage reclaim hall, and thence to customs. They had run out of customs declaration forms but this didn't seem to matter. But first do any currency exchange at the desk on the left before customs - it is run by a bank and is kosher. The customs official wanted to see inside our cases: we had various gifts for J&S and their school which the official wanted to tax at 50%. Argument ensued: he held his ground, but after making the point very clearly that we couldn't just bring in anything, he walked away with a smile on his face. That action I later confirmed means "I'm turning a blind eye so beat it". Beat it we gladly did. The next challenge was to find the correct domestic terminal (there seem to be several). Would be visitors note: don't try to figure this one out yourself, just ask a few people: most are very helpful. This way you might save yourself walking aimlessly. The second person we asked turned out to be a self-appointed porter who, I give him his due, did a good job with our heavy cases. I tipped him 200Ksh and he almost leapt for joy. J later suggested 50Ksh might have been more appropriate as 200Ksh is a typical day's wage. For the uninitiated 100Ksh is approximately 1$US, a bit less than 1 euro.

Hebron Community Church, Mudete

From Nairobi we flew into Kisumu (a cinch compared with Nairobi) where we were met by my son-in-law and his pastor who drove us to their homes near his church in Mudete Market. We were duly fed and watered by my daughter S and found our beds and slept off our long journey.

First impressions of East Kenya? Relief to have arrived at last in one piece and with all our bags. Chaotic and exceedingly bumpy driving conditions. Warmth of welcome by all we met. Green vegetation (I had expected everything scorched, but it is the wet season).

The reason for our trip? To visit, encourage and help J and S in their efforts to establish a pre-school and possibly primary school attached to a church in Mudete and to get a flavour of Kenyan life so as to better appreciate and pray for what they are doing now we are back home.

The rest of the story I will spin out in subsequent posts. Because if I wrote everything in one post you'd have given up reading long ago and then my efforts would be wasted as so well expressed by Dilbert.


Into Africa or not

Here I am on the end of the blower for the umpteenth time - actually Ali has done the brunt of the telephone work. All because we happened to select outward trip dates that coincided with a storm called Emma from the south and a cold wind called the Beast from the East which together was Bad.

We spent most of yesterday in vain at Dublin Airport and are now back at home trying to sort out alternative travel arrangements,

Africa, here we come - even if temporarily thwarted!


Generation gap?

A stock photo that kinda sums it up

Increasingly I find there is a distance between the younger generation and the likes of myself. I don't have any problem seeing them as fellow citizens, even down to Jacob's age (18 months) but it seems that they see me as old and fuddy-duddy.

And it seems like there is a different value system now-a-days to what I was used to growing up.

As a general rule it seems to me right to eat all that's on your plate, bones excepted. And the menu was conservative when I was a boy. It was, after all, not long after war rationing and food was not taken for granted. Now-a-days it seems like folk habitually leave stuff on their plate.

I have always regarded a decent film, play or concert to be sacrosanct. How can They eat popcorn or pick sweets out of a crunchy plastic bag? How can They check their cell-phones in the row in front of me, bright light in my eyes, or talk to their neighbours? To me this is utterly unforgivable, and yet the practice is common now-a-days. It is almost as if the cinema is the place you go to eat popcorn and slurp Coke never mind the film in the background. Whereas I want the very best audio and visual experience, I want to immerse myself to the full. The same with a good book, or listening to recorded music. Which is why I generally do not listen to music - the conditions here are seldom favourable.

When I was young it was commonplace to have the national anthem at the end of a performance. Imagine that happening now! Not that I am wanting that back, it was always a little awkward not knowing whether to stand or stay seated.

Or in a church meeting. Our meetings are typically an hour and a half, shorter than the average movie. Of course there will be exceptions but is it really necessary for youngsters (I do not mean parents with young children) to go out of the meeting for a reasonably long time I suppose to go to the loo, or make themselves coffee (they sometimes return coffee in hand)? My bladder is not so strong now-a-days and yet I can usually make it through without recourse. Isn't a Christian meeting kind of sacrosanct? How can They follow what the preacher is saying if they are absent for 5 or 10 minutes?  I find it hard enough whilst listening all the time.

And screen time. Of course when I was young there were no iPads and the like, but there was TV and there was the cinema. But in my family these were strictly rationed. No TV at all until I was in my teens, and then just a few TV shows a week. Maybe a couple of trips to the cinema a year. But now-a-days the kids are watching movies or playing computer games every day.

Maybe this generation gap I detest is on my side as well as their's, after all.


Willand in February

Another trip to visit Ali's mum, this time with family C&O, T&P, J&M and S&K. You'll find family pictures in Facebook leaving this blog to just record some other events.

On the way down there was a bad crash on the M5 closing both carriageways for most of the day, so we diverted (with most of the rest of the UK it would seem) through Taunton and past this amazing church building.

St Mary's church Taunton

fantastic detail of tower stonework

I managed three runs, the third very short fitted in between a marathon shop at Morrisons and picking up the rest of my party in downtown Tiverton. During which I took the following photos ending with a shot of the formerly ellusive river Exe.

Bradfield House in early morning light

Bradfield chapel

Culm water meadows

The river Exe at Tiverton
The marathon shopping list might not seem that long but the items were disparate and it was a bit like playing hide and seek. One membefr of staff, noticing my perplexed look, asked if I needed help. I declined and managed to haul in all the items in a mere 40 minutes. I'm thinking of a new TV show in which a team of husbands are given identical shopping lists (like the one below) and sent off to separate supermarkets in towns they have never before visited. The first to complete is the winner. Numerous variations come to mind.

twin pack Morrisons' own brand tiramisu, no other brand will do
Morrisons' breaded ham slices
Morrisons' shepherd pie fresh microwavable
box of paracetemol capsules
box of Melba toast
two bananas
dark chocolate butter biscuits with no palm oil
300ml single cream
300ml double cream
frozen petis pois
one carrot
tin of pears NOT in grape juice
Great-Grandma-afternoon-tea sort of cake


Busy busy

All work and no play makes me not write blog posts.

I'm teaching three mornings a week now, plus the necessary marking and preparation time, doing less but still some electronic design, working on various building projects in the house here, and various other calls on my time including my regular barefoot runs. And things like eating and sleeping. And thus the week fills up. Not that I'm complaining - I prefer being busy than idle. Or maybe the reason for no posts is lack of muse. Or is it just this cold and wet time of the year? Or is it due to recovering from a combined cold and flu thing that has lasted almost four weeks?

But I'm off to Africa on 1st March - to visit my daughter and son-in-law who are there for an extended period setting up a church-sponsored pre-school.  That should provide some blogging material if nothing else does! Although barefoot running is not recommended in rural Africa due to nasty worms that burrow into and live beneath the skin. On the whole then, cold and wet as it might be just now, Ireland has a lot to offer. No snakes, no dangerous animals, no malaria, and plenty of mountains, lakes, rivers and beaches where you'll meet only the occasional and like-minded person, if anyone.


Justification for my last post

Following two reactions to my last post, infinitely more than |I usually receive, I thought I should explain where I was coming from.

Like I said I saw the picture, minus its frame, waiting with stuff to be chucked out. I was aware that it had been in the loft gathering dust for a long time. I have no idea what became of its frame. I could have reclaimed the picture but had I done so I would have had to hang it in my bedroom or store it somewhere. It would not have suited our bedroom decor and I couldn't imagine Ali wanting it, or where would I store it and for why? In any case I didn't want it for myself - except as a memory. So I cemented the memory by photographing it and let the substance go.

I don't know where it is now. I could ask, and would if it were seriously wanted, but I don't want to make whoever disposed of it feel bad. Like I said, I am not sentimental about it. I myself chose to let it go.


Initiation rites

Now there arose up a new generation in the community which knew not Aunt Mary. And behold they found the picture she bequeathed us and consigned it to the rubbish heap.

Mary purchased this picture as a gift for us because she it tickled her fancy and I guess because the Dove is iconic. And so it became in a little way "a part of her". For many years it occupied a prime location on the first landing until Those In Control replaced it with something of Their choice and it was relegated to the loft. And then there was a grand loft clear-out.

It used to be said that there were three initiation rites for those who would become members of this community.  The first was to endure turkey plucking, yea verily to actually enjoy it. Every Christmas a team would go to a neighbouring farm and pluck untold numbers of turkeys. Some of our young people could pluck several per hour. I went a just couple of times: the stench was diabolical, I could hardly stand it. My contribution was not more that one turkey in the whole day. Otherwise I did my best to be very busy with other stuff when turkey plucking came around.

The second was to endure our annual convention and the third was to endure a visit from my Aunt Mary. But she wasn't all bad. Just a little embittered around the edges from life's experiences. The war that took the man she loved, and in her later life her subjection to her parents which ended in nursing her mother until she died of cancer. After her parent's death she continued to live in the family home... well, you can read about the gory details here.

I found the picture sans frame in a pile on its way to the trash and managed to take a few photos, but on inspecting them realised I needed to try harder to reduce reflections. But when I went back the picture had gone. Such is community. A good thing I am not sentimental about such things.

You will see the glass is mirrorred around the border, and the picture itself is embossed so that the reflection changes as the viewer moves position.  So here's the best I can do as a testimony to Aunt Mary's life. I can only apologise for the bit of me (holding the camera) that is visible.

Community is...

... sharing viruses.

A nasty cold and a flu-like virus has been ravaging the community. How can anyone escape? If this is unity I'm not sure I want it!


The day I almost killed a little boy

This morning I was on the BBC news web site and happened on a true story entitled The day I accidentally killed a little boy I read it all and cried. Because of what that woman suffered and my being able to identify at least in part.

Long ago when I worked in London I was part of a car pool and one morning I was driving my friend and myself to work. I was in a built up area, cars parked tight either side, I was thankfully within the speed limit. A boy darted out between two parked cars on my right. I slammed on the brakes but even so could not avoid hitting him and he was thrown across the road. There was the mother, the police, the ambulance, a lot of hanging around until we learned the verdict - a few bruises and that was all. The relief! But I was still in shock. At what might have happened. It was not my fault any more than it was the fault of the woman in that story.

Alas, how easily things go wrong
A sigh too much or a kiss too long
And there follows a mist and weeping rain
And life is never the same again.


X marks the spot

I left Willand just before 0700 with newly acquired LED headlamp installed to ward off vehicles, it being dark at that hour. The weather was thankfully warm and dry just as forecasted the previous evening.

My track: 14.3 miles average 5.22 mph

The reason for the lower than average average speed was the ascent out of the Exe valley which was mostly at walking pace on account of the state of the path, the gradient and my limited zeal.

First sight of Tiverton

Grand Western Canal basin with ducks

Although dawn started to happen soon after I left, it was still fairly dark when I reached Tiverton, witness the above pictures. For those interested the canal terminates in Tiverton in the basin shown. It is still navigable along this part of its reach and there are occasional house boats moored.

Detail: X marks the river Exe

The X marks the chosen goal - I have no photographic evidence of this river as this would have required clambering down between trees and it was enough just to get there. So you will just have to take my word for it. That - I DID RUN FROM WILLAND TO THE RIVER EXE AND BACK! All by myself.

Here I left the Exe Valley Way

The Exe Valley Way follows an existing road southwards from Tiverton to this point where I turned off it: the river itself is the other side of the fields in this picture. My chosen route followed a muddy bridleway ascending steeply across farmland.

The ascent was stony and not kind to bare feet

Looking back over the Exe valley

Looking forward to the dawn

This communications mast was at the highest point in my run (marked 236m on the map) making it worthy of a picture. But I could not stop to investigate - I was already running late and had to get back and be washed and breakfasted before the gang arrived.

Mast at summit near Gogwell farm

The reason for the run was because I had a quest. The reason it had to be early morning was in the knowledge that the the rest of the day would be taken with a Cox family reunion. Coffee and cake at Knightshayes, lunch at home, afternoon chit-chat in the Grandma's lounge, all topped off by steak and kidney pie à la Alison followed by ice-cream and chocolate sauce (also à la Alison).

Family reunion at Knightshayes coffee shop