Kenya Autumn 2013

13th - 26th October

Callum Mayfield summarises his experience in Kenya.

So, that was Kenya Autumn 2013. A quite incredible trip that took to some fascinating places, opened our eyes to some wonderful and thought provoking sights, introduced us to many new friends and undoubtedly left us with some unforgettable memories.

Our time in Kenya got off to a rocky start, with rocky being the optimal word. The supposedly 4-5 hour trip to Kisumu took us double that, including two solid hours vibrating our way along the temporary surface between Kericho and Kisumu. 

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First impressions of Kisumu, were that it was not a wealthy place. Having come from the comforts and pleasantries of the UK, Kisumu seemed a much rawer, basic and harsher place. While still maintaining the appearance of a functioning city, everything seemed more chaotic, in-your-face and essential. The market which we passed everyday was a bustling muddle of semi-permanent stick shacks with all kinds of wares on offer as people did what they could to make a living. The main distraction seemed to be a bus full of Westerners (us) occasionally driving by, which was met with intense stares that were very often followed up with a wave and a beaming smile. It struck early on in the trip that just because many of the people we encountered were living below, on, or very close to the bread line, it is a fallacy to assume that they are continually unhappy. Waves and cries of 'Jambo' followed us throughout the country and smiles and laughter were evident in day-to-day live, despite often hard living conditions.

Having said, the largest number of smiles were always apparent when we turned up for cricket coaching or to visit an orphanage. I'm not going to revisit each school or orphanage but there were two highlights in Kisumu that particularly stood out. The first was the day we were ambushed by 700 highly excitable primary school kids (see the blog entry 'Quick, head them off at the pass!'). It's a truly unique and somewhat terrifying experience having that many children streaming towards you, but boy was it memorable. As we stood looking at one another across a sea of heads and registered each other's mixed looks of panic, joy, excitement, disbelief and awe, I think we all realised that few people have experienced being the unannounced entertainment for hundreds of excitable African kids all desperate to come and shake your hand. Singing, chanting and even just bouncing around when surrounded by that many people makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and will not be forgotten by any of us I'm sure.

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The second special place that we visited in Kisumu was HOVIC, which is a project that helps slightly older kids with difficult home lives find their way back into society, offering them a safe environment and access to counselling in order that they can start to travel their own path in life. Our short time there was clearly a release for the troubled kids that we interacted with and the enthusiasm with which our silly games were undertaken was heartening. However, it was David who had perhaps the most memorable experience while we were there as he provided fatherly support to one of the older boys, Salim. Away from the noise and games of the rest of the group, David and Salim played catch and talked, with Salim taking the chance to unload onto David. The conversation went deep and at times wasn't easy, but just by being there David had given a young man the chance to open up and get reassurance that he had hope going forward. It's those kind of moments that stay with CWB volunteers and reaffirm the justification for the work the charity does.

With Kisumu complete, we moved onto Busia, which turned out to be the toughest and most challenging part of the trip. If we had thought Kisumu was poor when we first hit Kenya, we had a whole new perspective when we rode into Bumala, the town we were staying in. Little more than a stopping point on the way to the Uganda border, the town consisted of few amenities and fewer hotels. Our hotel was the sole building of note in the small but hectic town that clung to either side of the main road. Located on the key oil route through East Africa, the town is harsh and unforgiving. Life in Bumala is seriously hard, with the locals hoping to put food on the table by selling whatever they can source to those passing through on their way to more prosperous places. In Kisumu you got the impression that the street sellers were making a living, albeit an extremely modest one, from their day-to-day trade, whereas in Bumala each sale equated directly to that days meal.

Our time in Bumala was taxing on the team. The heat and local food were highly energy sapping, we spent four days coaching at the same venue, ran a tournament for 200 kids simultaneously and were exposed to much greater suffering than we had seen previously. Many of the children we came into contact with were from rural settlements that literally consisted of mud huts with no access to many basic amenities such as electricity. We had the chance to experience this firsthand as our local contact Dun invited us to his clan's village for the afternoon. It was fascinating to understand the difference in culture and we were given a particularly warm welcome that included traditional dancing and food.

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There were also encouraging signs from a cricket perspective, including us turning up to our first coaching session to see the local kids playing a game that largely resembled cricket as we know it, albeit with a few more reverse sweeps. Cricket Kenya had recently distributed plastic Kwik-Cricket equipment to several schools in the area and, although still in its infancy within the region, cricket had begun to take hold at the grass roots level. However, there is still a lot more to be done and we aimed to leave a lasting impact from our trip by leaving plenty of kit with the schools to help continue promoting the game.

Our final stop took us to Nakuru, which is now a well established destination for CWB in Kenya. After our time in Busia, Nakuru was a relative hi-tech, thriving metropolis. Having had to leave Gellers along the way and with Saf making a pre-arranged earlier departure, we were suspecting that the last part of our trip might see us stretched in terms of numbers. However, we got lucky. Our local contact in Nakuru was PJ, who is an ex-Kenya international and was part of the team that played in the 2003 World Cup semi-final. He is also the coach of the local under-19s team and he drafted in a number of his current players to help out with the coaching. This was particularly helpful given the difficulty we had in getting even close to the requested number of kids and the extremely long outfield we had to contend with at one school. Our time coaching in Nakuru was short in comparison to Kisumu and Busia, with only a day and a half of school and orphanage visits, but with all the additional coaches joining the team we had was a really positive and energetic end to our time in Kenya.

Away from the coaching, there were also a few memorable moments and highlights. The boat trip around the shores of Lake Victoria to see wild hippos was awesome and resulted in probably the best photo of the tour courtesy of a group of local fishermen bathing in the lake. Our trips to Derick's and Charles' (our bus driver) houses provided us with a fascinating insight into Kenyan home life and generosity, while the afternoon spent at Dun's family village showed us the more traditional aspects of Kenyan culture. Those of us who elected to spend a free afternoon in one of the national parks were also lucky enough to tick off a few of the big five. Finally, I think all of us will remember fondly the good nature of the people we met throughout the country and the warm welcomes we received continually for our two weeks there. I can't speak for everyone, but I know I for sure would love to return.

KenyaAutumnTeam2013The Team

Carl Ferguson – Project Leader
David Gelling – ECB Tutor
Beth Jones
Sarah Hickman
David Dunn
Safdar Butt
Ian Stocker
Callum Mayfield

Further Information