November 12: A Trek to say the least… November 12, 2013

Posted in on November 12, 2013

We are back after our first day on the job so to speak, more of an orientation day really, but I wanted to send a picture (below) of the job site as we found it today. Quite amazing in all respects and nowhere near what we had expected to find, in fact much more of a challenge than one imagined from the accounts of past volunteers, pictures and videos on the DWC website. 

Firstly we were prepared on this trip with gear for warm weather with work shorts and maybe a pair of long pants thrown in for protection from the bugs only. Little did we know when most turned up in shorts for our first day’s expedition that the team would be sent back to put on long pants for protection from the stinging nettles, several layers for some warmth and rain gear also as we were heading into a rain forest. Who would have known that weather in Africa at what is the start of their Spring could be so cool, nor would we have had any inkling of the sort of conditions we we’re faced with today.

The village was quiet warm and dry when we started out and in fact was the same on our return several hours later. Nothing had changed. The smiling faces of the young happy children greeted us on our way to and from the work site with the greeting “Jambo” or Hello. It was a holiday today and for most of the week for younger children as the older ones are writing their exams today.

We started off as a group of seven volunteers and our local guides, Peter, James, Faith and the project coordinator Margaret. Both of these ladies were in light canvas shoes and dressed in long skirts heading to the work site for the day. As an aside, apparently there is a cultural tradition here that the ladies cannot wear pants after their first son is married unless their husbands’ concur. Odd and not practical, but so we are told.

It was warm and humid but not overly so when we left the village. We walked to the job site from the village which is about elevation 1050m above sea level to the base of Mt Kenya going up maybe 100 m or so I’m told. Our trek was on foot which will be the daily routine, and is about 12km return into the valley which is in a rain forest at the base of Mt Kenya.

When we finally found our way to the water distribution pipe at the base of the valley it was pouring rain, cool and a quagmire of mud. I say “found our way” as we literally almost got lost foraging our way through the rain forest trying to find the work site. Our group of four were trying to a take short cut, with a guide I might add, to catch up with the others whom had gone ahead. Our delay was a result of unfortunately losing one member of the Toronto team (my roomy Sue) to a bit of fatigue, altitude sickness or maybe the effects of the malaria drug we are not sure. What a shame for Sue but for her own well being it was best to stay behind, as hard as that would have been for her I’m sure. 

Our trip down the slope was uneventful thankfully but had its challenges and hazards along the way. It was steep and slippery and as we traversed the lower portions of the valley it dropped suddenly to the river on the downward side with open trenches from the previous water line installation on the side slope which had become overgrown and was somewhat hidden. One had to watch one’s foothold and take a welcomed and helping hand often.

The river at the base of the valley flows very swiftly down the mountain, having gathered its volume from both rainfall and the glacial melt from the glaciers at the top of Mount Kenya. The water at the intake is clean but silty and this water is used currently both for irrigation and domestic water supply. Some of water is stored along the way down the mountain in various water tanks to which people walk to to get their water.

The water distribution system that serves the community starting at the base of the mountains is in a deeply carved valley and it was installed originally in 1970. It is now in need of enlarging from 8 in to 10 in diameter to increase its capacity and service to the community and the steel pipe is being replaced with PVC. Sections of it must be dug up and the trench varies in depth from a couple feet to 6ft plus, but some sections of the pipe are readily visible on the surface or even suspended in places. However it is all in need of replacement over the course of the project and over time. But things don’t happen quickly here so we have discovered, thus the phrase “hakuna matata” meaning no problem, or “Sawa Sawa”, its OK.

We all returned safely to a warm sunny afternoon, a late lunch and an opportunity to write of this experience in our journals. But our clothes and boots remain wet and saturated with mud hopefully to dry before the fire tonight as tomorrow is another day.

Some may opt tomorrow to take on a different task, and one that is equally as beneficial to this community. It entails an ongoing reforestation project and tree planting effort. But others are destined to take on the challenge of some hands on excavation tomorrow in the river valley as shown in this photo.

To all those that read this, we feel perfectly safe here and well looked after by the staff at Mount Kenya Leisure Lodge where we are the only guests at present. The rooms are adequate but cool, hot water isn’t necessarily guaranteed, but at the end of the day we can crawl into a bed warmed by a hot water bottle that had been slipped between the sheets while we were dining.

We have been welcomed with open arms and nothing but smiles from those in the community. The native people here are very friendly, open and laid back for sure. As I said things don’t happen fast. The addition to the lodge and a pool were started in 2008 and still are not complete and I doubt will be anytime soon from what we saw happening today. Just as an observation, so many buildings we saw on our route in fact looked abandoned ( maybe even condemned before completion), but perhaps may have been under construction for many years. It seems most obvious that there is no such thing as a Building Code in Kenya or in this County nor any evident signs of worker safety regulations witnessed by the rickety “twig” scaffolding we saw on the side of the half completed buildings.

Anyways, this will be a trip of great memories, new friendships, and fun yet challenging experiences. if today’s events are any indication.

Beth Halpenny  DWC Participant  Kenya, November 2013

Posted in on November 12, 2013