Friday, 17 July 2009

Eramba Introduction

Come Friday (2nd) with everyone slightly jaded, we frantically packed and waited in the Mushauri café for our deputies to collect us – the heads were at a conference in Mombassa. Over a plate of fried fish, rice and chapattis we met Mr Samuel, the charismatic, energetic and highly intelligent deputy of Eramba, whose enthusiasm from Kenyan politics and secondary education became immediately apparent. He had studied literature and then journalism and passionately discussed the need for Kenyans to learn to resolve conflicts peacefully, with particular reference to the 2008 election violence when politicians allegedly abused tribal differences for their own personal ends. Most importantly, he was keen on KEP, its aims and its methods, as he demonstrated over the course of the following week as he became our most dynamic partner in the school.

Another matatu ride, this one even more bumpy as we were traveling on small rural tracks rather than roads, we passed through Mirani and were kindly taken straight to our compound (Kiamoncha). It is owned by Mr Ouko, the chairman of the board of governors – he is apparently close to retirement though he has aged remarkably well and is a highly respected figure in the community. He teaches medicine in Kisii and continues to practice when he can, not to mention his five children, four of whom are already working in their father’s profession. The compound is a community project and holds a few small workshops with ancient Singer sewing machines, a small sapling nursery, a block of primitive long drops, a single ceramic crouching toilet, and our house. Built in brick and covered in white paint, our four rooms (two bedrooms, sitting room, and dining/kitchen/washing room) are all very comfortable. Mr Ouko had gone to a lot of effort to provide everything we need – chairs, mosquito nets from the local health clinic perfectly fitted for our beds, a gas stove, basins for washing and paraffin lanterns. The thick smell of the fuel has already become synonymous with relaxing evenings spent reading.

Over the course of the following days (Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th) we explored Eramba and its surroundings, adapted to life without electricity, running water or toilets and made an immensely useful friend in Dennis. Eramba is no transport hub – Mr Samuel had kindly arranged for the matatu to take us directly. We decided to walk to Mirani (about 50 minutes) through the characteristic Kisii tapestry of green farmland and met two figures of note – a man who turned out to be mad and followed us for some minutes, and Esta, who invited us into her house. She showed off her cows, chicken, simply-furnished low-roofed house, complete with cheerful Christmas decorations (a common cheap form of ornamentation) and, like every other house we had been to, a poster of Barack Obama.

It is hard to underestimate the deeply-felt pride that all Kenyans take in the fact that the most powerful leader in the world is, in their minds, from their own country (he is firstly a Kenyan, then American). Any mention of his name is guaranteed to bring a beaming smile to the face of anyone who is listening – the mantra ‘yes we can’ seems to have a popular following here, encapsulating the ambition many Kenyans feel to better themselves and their country. He also represents the ultimate ‘big man’ who has risen to such a position of status and authority. Obama T-shirts, caps, sweets and even songs are everywhere. The excitement at his election must have been electric - just as the atmosphere will be when (or perhaps if) he visits Kenya again. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, Obama was actually condemning Kenya for failing to pass significant economic reform, not to mention the judicial furor associated with the post-election violence. In his recent African visit he made a point of not coming to Kenya, landing instead in Ghana.

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