Leapfrog in Donyo…..

….and the most beautiful dumpster of the world.

In my first Kenya posting I wrote about how strange it is to visit a place without any real live expectations beyond the usual clichés. Writing this now feels even stranger, because the events and feelings I will try to communicate are a week old. That’s a bloody lifetime for me. Since then so much has happened, with seldom a moment for true introspection. In a way I’m not the same person I was 5 days ago. Anyhow, I will try to write about Donyo as I would have in real-time.


One of the reasons for this journey – at least for travel companions – is the evaluation of a project their NGO leapfrog realised together with the local DISC initiative. Originally founded by Charles Ochieng as a project for the advancement of kids through sports – teaching them confidence and taking them off the street – DISC runs a number of programs today, including a communal microfinance scheme and organising scholarships abroad for especially talented youngsters. Leapfrog teamed up with them to provide basic computer training in a rural environment, shipping hardware and conceptualising the courses. The second course is just finished, and we’re here to get a feeling for the impact, plan the next steps and meet the wonderful people running the show in Donyo.
Donyo is a small town in Thika county about 85 km northeast of Nairobi.


[Interlude] On a stopover in Thika I experienced another taste of Kenyan efficiency as I waited 30 minutes for the others to exchange some cash; not only was the cashier counting in super slow motion, but  she and her fancy anti-fraud-currency-checking-machine believe our new Euros are fraudulent. So, if you’re ever in Kenya and you have a schedule, take your estimates of how long something should take and then double them- better yet, triple them, just to be on the safe side.! [Interlude]


We leave the extremely well built highway to take a dirt road for the last couple of kilometres and I get my first whiff of rural Africa. In the distance looms a mountain with lots of dust and red earth surrounds. Dwwntown Donyo is a busy local hub, with some shops, including the ever present butcheries hanging their wares from a rafter in the ceiling. There are lots of motorbike taxis. I feel completely out of place, the rich white guy slumming in Africa, so I just concentrate on my role as the unofficial photographer for the time being. We receive a very warm welcome from Charlie, Victor and Tush  who already know my mates from previous visits and I start to unwind.  For the next two hours I have not much more to do than to get a sore arm from holding my steadycam. After the meeting we take a quick look at the computer lab across the street and then we head off to see some people who took the course. To do that, we hire a veritable fleet of boda-bodas..


[Interlude] Boda-bodas are sturdy motorbikes with an extra-large seat with enough room for the rider and two passengers. Oh boy, how I love these things; as far as motorised short-distance transport goes, these things are close to perfect. They were first used on the kenyan-ugandan border to ferret people the short distances between checkpoints from border to border, hence the name.


We rumble over washed-out dirtroads letting ourselves be thoroughly shaken. Even at the end of the dry season the country is incredibly green. Come April, most of these roads will only be navigable with a serious 4×4. We stop in the middle of nowhere and enter a small compound to do a short interview with a young mother who took the computer course a year ago. The interview is held in Swahili, so I just get the general gist of things. One thing that strikes me immediately is how shy everyone is. While out on the streets people stare openly pointing fingers and yelling “Mzungu, how are you?” Clearly invading their homes and asking questions puts people at unease. To be honest, in this case it was quite impossible to assess the impact the course had on that young lady, since she hasn’t really been able to put her knowledge to use thus far due to the demands of everyday life keep her busy almost round the clock. This feeling is reinforced at our next interviewee’s place, although this property is considerably bigger than the first, with some cattle, quite a bit of land and about a dozen people living there.


In the evening we spend about an hour searching for a suitable hotel in Thika; there is something always wrong with the first 6 or so. In the end we find a nice place with four beds and a toilet with no door. It is one of the uncounted buildings that is being extended vertically, so before we go to bed, we sit on an unfinished roof with a spectacular view over the town.

Next day, more interviews. In total about 40 former students come to the centre to fill out a questionnaire. They are seated in two rows in the backyard of the computer lab, not as shy as yesterday’s cohort and particularly amused by me and my steadycam. Later I learned that they had been joking about how I resembled the hunchback of Notre Dame. I wonder how they know about that movie! Most of them are kids between 12 and 17 and I get the feeling that the program had much more impact on these youngsters, since it inspired quite a few of them to aim for a career in IT-related fields. Since they, unlike the mothers we met yesterday, are not yet as burdened by the demands of everyday life, there’s a good chance they will put their knowledge to practical use. The next steps will hopefully include the purchase of a generator and the inclusion of a commercial cyber-cafe to make them independent of donations in the interim.


While the others are wrapping things up, I become the centre of attention for a couple of boys, who are all very fascinated by my gear. My Bluetooth speaker in particular is a huge hit and these boys just love to pose for the camera; one of them wants to be an actor or comedian. We teach the students “how are you” in German and Swahili, before we head out for a short walk to fourteen falls.


Just like other places I have seen in Kenya since, these waterfalls are among the most beautiful places I have seen in my life. Maybe 150 m across the river drops down, throwing up foam that looks like butterflies dancing in the setting sun. Downriver people are fishing and in the middle of the stream there is an island connected to a tolled bridge… There is garbage everywhere. Wherever you look there is plastic washed upon the rocks from upriver. In general it seems Kenyans are not really appreciating the natural beauty of their country- wherever there are more than a handful of people it’s dirty. OK, I get that you focus on other things if you’re poor and environmentalism is something you have to be able to afford, but it is a shame nonetheless. Overwhelmed, sad and dirty we get back to the village and I get my first barbecue Mbuzi. Goat tastes a bit like sheep and this one came without sauce and was extremely stringy. If you’re a foodie and/or coffee lover Kenya won’t really be your kind of place. All the good coffee is exported and everyone is drinking instant. The food is mostly meat and carbs in the form of maize, chapati or rice. More or less everything is deep fried and vegetables are few and far between. Mostly it’s some kind of coleslaw and a tasty stew of curly kale and onions. Fruits are cheap and fresh though- Bananas, pineapples, apples and Mangos are really good and can be had nearly everywhere.

Next up: Lake Naivasha and Hell’s Gate National Parks;  hippos, birds and monkeys...

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