The KEP base house in Kisii is on a hill, high enough to be tough to walk up to, and low enough to be tiring to walk up from, that overlooks some of the appealing forested hills around the town. Ben and Gloria, the local kiosk owners, are just around the corner – they seem never to sleep and always cheerfully serve us soda at any hour. We have a permanent guard/night watchman and the amazing Castan who cleans, cooks and generally pampers us and proves his worth in operating the shaky double pump that has left many of us shivering in the shower when the water has cut out. One large living room with deceptively hard sofas and chairs, a kitchen, two bedrooms for coordinators are on the ground floor, and a series of large dormitory-style rooms are just above. It is hardly the lap of luxury – peeling paint, moldy walls and a leaky roof that created a mini-river on the floor of our room whenever it rains are some of the less appealing features! But with (sometimes) warm showers, a pair of flushing western toilets (as long as the pump is working) and the company of the other project workers it is a welcome refuge.
Over the course of the first week (Tuesday 30th to Thursday 2nd) that we spent training for the project, the simple Kisii house truly became a temporary home. We cooked, washed, relaxed, discussed the project, read, played and, whenever the roof leaked, fought the incoming water, together. Collective excitement to be in such a far-removed location was mixed with anticipation and apprehension and being about to be thrust into what was built up to be a wilderness (Eramba turned out to be very comfortable). Having spent less than half a day as a full group before the trip, having the opportunity to get to know one another better was a perfect break from the somewhat repetitive training. My introduction of Mafia on the first night created a group of addicts, some more willing than others, but all have resigned themselves to the game.
By the Thursday night everyone was eager to get to their project school and we had only a restaurant and a bar separating us from an early start. Unfortunately the start necessitated buying a replacement phone, a heavy trip to the market, and organizing a transfer of money having stupidly forgotten my debit card. But the previous night was fun nevertheless if a tad surreal – from a discussion of the American dream, education and moral relativism to gossip about potential project worker romance and then from negotiating the bride-price of Buffy (one of the coordinators) in cows with some Kenyan friends to the number of children her prospective husband would want (twenty!). The food was what we were coming to recognize as typically Kenyan – ugale (maize flower boiled slowly) chapattis, goat and beef stew, beans and tomato salsa with several different types of rice. We the moved from the restaurant to the bar to experience a combination of 90s dance music, Tusca beer and the sometimes alarmingly keen and sweaty bumping and grinding of the Kenya men. Interestingly, although homosexuality is illegal and generally unmentionable in Kenya, men are far less physically reserved around each other, preferring to dance with the male mzungus than the women. This extends to holding hands on the street and applies to grown men as well as boys. Sam embraced the male dancing with gusto – he proudly presented us with his arm that had the numbers of two Kenyan friends scrawled across and explained that he’d secured an invitation to a tea factory.