Where You See Lions 4: Who’s Nostradamus?

The predictability of the weather in Western Province has proved an unexpected but welcome addition to my trip. I know that everyday at 4pm it will start to rain. I know that everyday at noon is will be dry and hot outside. I know every night will be cloudy (except for those rare, clear, and stunning nights without light pollution). This consistency can be charming and infuriating. I know everyday when I am trying to get a matatu home, it will be raining. But I also know to bring a raincoat in the mornings. It’s an interesting mix of both.

In contrast, the people of this country are not nearly so reliably predictable. Last week, I managed two workshops at two different locations near Kakamega. The locations were Burkura and Lugari (click on the map on the right–Kakamega, Lugari nad Burkura are circled). The workshops were concerning theater and microfinance. However, the reactions, experiences, and evaluation couldn’t have been different.

Burkura is a small town up a steep hill about 20kms outside of Kakamega town. Luckily, it’s only about 5kms from the village I am living, Shibuli. Nevertheless, it takes a good two hours to travel up the bumpy, treacherous and frequently cattle-prone road that leads to Burkura. In order to reach the Community Based Organization (CBO), which is not located in Burkura but in a smaller village called Matioli (which I’d like to point out was not related to me that first time I went to see the CBO) you must take another matatu and then a boda boda. The scenery is beautiful and on a clear day, you can see Mount Elgon from up there.

Nevertheless, what I discovered in Burkura are youth groups desperate for information and motivated to put acquired knowledge into action. They read Shakespeare with vigor, wrote plays with enthusiasm, and participated as often as possible. The Burkura CBO became a model, to me, for how Kenyan CBOs should behave. If nothing else, the fact that the people were friendly definitely helped.

However, Burkura has a merciless side to it as well. On the final day of the workshops, as I quickly tried to patch up loose ends, it started to rain. And it didn’t stop. Because the roads in Kenya are unsurprisingly dilapidated, paved roads are difficult to maneuver in the rain. A dirt road is nearly impossible. So when my bodaboda decided to stop a mile away from the matatu stop, I had to press on with the other volunteer and wait for three hours in the rain for a matatu. So it goes in Kenya. (We called a cab).

The following day, I went out to Lugari. Lugari is much farther away from Kakamega (about 30 miles), and it took five hours to get there. Unfortunately, the trip should only take three so I was late. Lugari was a disappointment on every level that Burkura was pleasure. The participants were immature, the director was only concerned with getting his hands on some muzungu money, and African Time took new levels of tardiness.

(Now, African Time deserves a moment of explanation.  Obviously, this refers to the way people observe time in Africa. If you plan a meeting for 9am, people begin to arrive at 10am. You should be able to start the meeting at 11pm. You will receive your final stragglers arriving around 1pm, when you’re trying to leave.)

Now, these two experiences should have not been too different. I had the same number of participants from the same organization with the same workshop. But this is how it goes in Kenya, Sometimes things work fabulously and sometimes they fabulously fall apart. This is not an indictment of one CBO and accolades for another, but simply an example that, here, things never work the way you think they will. People are unpredictable; fortunately, the weather is not.

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