Doing this project in Kenya means a whole new environment and a culture that differs a lot from our own. For this reason we decided that we should go for a hike to explore this unknown environment. Next to being a terrific team building experience, we would like to go beyond our daily route and familiarize ourselves with where we actually are.
So, the four teams, Michiel, Beata and Andy took off to conquer the unknown hills of Kenya.
We started at the entrance of Andersen Trust, and proceeded onto a narrow enclosed dirt road. Quickly the green fences opened up and we were greeted with an amazing view of the Kenyan farmlands divided by untouched forestation. Then we entered through a small road through a local farmer’s maizefield. Whilst walking through the maizefield the road became steeper and steeper. Suddenly the road opened up and we arrived in a remote village on top of our first conquered ridge. Here we took a small break, talked to the locals and decided where Andy would take us next.
Proceeding down the ridge we were again greeted by the maizefields on our right and the amazing Kenyan hillsides on our left. When we reached the deepest point of the valley we were completely surrounded by hillsides that were covered in farmlands. We found out that it is hard for a group filled with white people to proceed through these lands without being noticed. When the local children found out that a group of Wazungus (white people) where walking through their neighbourhood, we quickly became a western attraction. Despite all the prying eyes from the locals we quickly conquered our second ridgeline. Here we had to take a decision; take the long road to the caves, or the shorter road and be home soon. Obviously we decided to take the harder route because we didn’t come to Kenya to do a half-assed trip. We proceeded over the Kenyan farmlands to reach our newly set destination. Crossing a couple indigenous Kenyan villages we stumbled upon a very helpful group of men. These men agreed to guide us on the road to the caves. These guides showed us a cave that even Andy didn’t know about. This cave was located on top of an amazing green hillside with a stunning view of all types of landscapes.
After having a break on this hillside we went down and our guides left us. Now we were on our own and the hardest part of the journey was yet to come.
Walking through the farmlands is all fun, but the real challenge began when we started to scale the highest ridgeline to reach our destination. For some unknown reason we strayed from the path and ended up in thick forestation where our progress was slowed drastically. The steep hill, thorns, vines and mud were no match for us and we persevered to a rock wall. We all knew that we had to find a way to go over or around this obstacle.
The best shot at reaching the cave was the climb up this vertical wall, which might have been the biggest obstacle of this trip. Nonetheless we were not going to let this single rock wall send us back without entering the caves. With blood, sweat and tears we reached the top of the rock wall where we were greeted by this natural miracle. Having to overcome all these obstacles made this achievement even greater.
Life continues, and so does the project. After the amazing day we had on Sunday, the working week began with two office days on Monday and Tuesday. This Tuesday we decided that we have way too little exercise during the office days. That was why Corné and I started to do some hard core “Insanity workouts”. And insane it was, by the end of the session we were both completely broken down. But this was the beginning of a ritual that brings the team members closer together. Further along the week we were accompanied by the curious kids of the next door Orphanage. They were peaking through the door all week when we were doing this. I invited them in which resulted in a lot of laughter and joy.
After two days of preparing we started our first field-day this week, here we started measuring the current houses and compound. We do this to plan the new house(s) with greater precision and effectiveness.
The following day we processed the retrieved information and prepared the next day, where we mapped the entire community around the family compound. Our goal was to map the environment. As we were walking through the small alleys, dark clouds started gathering above our heads. We were forced to hide from the rain, together with six locals.
We asked them what they did, and they are all farmers like all the other men in this area. These friends are competitors during the harvesting season, which is a month from now. They all grow the same crop, mays. The prices fall drastically when everybody is harvesting, you can harvest mays once a year. One farmer said; ‘you’re poor if you don’t have some land to farm.’
Some of the men agreed that they would like to learn something in building. Could this create jobs for people? At least they could build their own house independently one half of the year, when farming does not demand a lot of time. They explained money is the problem: ‘look, we’re still building houses of clay! We’re so poor!’ ‘So what do you want’, I asked. ‘Cement would be good, but it is so expensive’, the man explained.
They look up to us as westerners, Wazungu’s. We have money and money matters. I explain them that we have abundance on concrete and cement. We build amazing buildings with it. This causes our air to be polluted, our environment to be destroyed. ‘These are very nice buildings, in a destroyed environment. You have clean air. Do you know that in order to solve this problem, people in Europe are researching this clay you’re pointing to. New buildings are build with it as a solution for the future. It’s not about the material, it's about the development of the application of it, I explained.’ One of the farmers says: ‘We just dig a hole in the ground and we put a pole in the ground. Than we fill the whole again. This is inside the wall.’ I explain this causes rot after a very small time where the column touches the ground. ‘I know, these houses don’t last very long. There are some houses in Kapkoi though, totally made of soil. They don’t use wood as columns. The man told me, their secret lies in the soil they use, and they add soil from a termite hill. These houses last 30 years easily!’
Suddenly our minds were merging, we were thinking in the same direction. We think these people need more examples what they could do with their environment. Instead of following the west into a concrete jungle, an environment of self-destruction, we have a clean slate here. I’m able to explain to them the mistakes we made, and prevent them from doing the same.
Nobody likes to use thatch here, why? Fire hazard. They are afraid that their house will catch fire; there are many examples of this. This happens because they cook on a fire in the kitchen under a thatched roof, this is why they use corrugated iron sheet. ‘Where does this come from’, I ask. Nobody knows. How nice would it be to let someone farm this grass, produce a high quality grasses, because the grass that is available here is a worthless quality. You need to change within three years. People will buy this grass to make a roof and there should be someone who knows how to do this, another job. We have thatched roof in The Netherlands too, you just need to engineer this well. Think about this detail. We don’t use it because it is too expensive. We order Reed from China, while we have the best quality of Reed in the Netherlands, but the people are too expensive! What bullocks! But this is reality..
‘So what kind of amazing soil you have then’, one of the farmers asks. ‘We have clay, you’re able to make an amazing building material from it, solid hard bricks. You can build stories high buildings with this material. Unfortunately, without adding a lot of energy to the process of making, it is worthless building material. Your soil is much better for environmental friendly building material
We would love to explore this material with you, and think about the possibilities. Yes we will have to buy materials. Money will be an issue and this it will stay. You think Wasungu’s are rich and we can help you by bringing money. But think about it: I will give a kid some candy. Obviously he will like this, he is happy, the candy is delicious! But the candy is gone in 5 minutes.. The kid opens his hand to get more candy, but I’m gone. I leave the kid with a desire he’s unable to satisfy. This is not development, this is the creation of problems. Money is your problem! It will not be the same money that will set you free and make you more independent. Your mind is able to do so. Merging our minds together will make us both richer. You will have to teach me something about your environment. I would love to share my knowledge about building with you in order to build on our future, yours and mine.
The following Saturday the filmmaker Thanasis wanted an interview with us. This interview was completely different from what I expected from an interview like this. This interview gave Corné and me the opportunity to tell about our findings in the field. But next to the things we found in the field, there were also a lot of questions about how we think we are influencing the community and about the bigger picture. One thing that I noticed during the interview was that Corné and I have very similar opinions and standpoints on a lot of different subjects.
After having finished a hectic week with all sorts of activities we were invited by Michiel and Beata to have a barbeque. This would completely round up this amazing week.