The Wheels on the Bus to Marsabit

(Note – Date of bus trip, Wednesday, May 13th)

Today, we left for Marsabit, a small community in northern Kenya, along with Partners for Care staff and students from Mount Kenya University to treat local school children who have been infected with Jiggers. Jiggers are tiny parasites that burrow into open skin, particularly under finger and toe nails, and can cause a loss of nail, toe deformation, or even gangrene.

We are all very excited about our trip, but first there is the twelve hour bus ride to get there. There isn’t a whole lot to say about a day spent on a bus, so, I decided to write a song to make our bus drive more interesting. I call it “The Wheels on the Bus to Marsabit”.

The wheels on the bus to Marsabit go, “Seriously? 4 AM?”

The wheels on the bus to Marsabit go, “What’s my latitude? Oh that’s right. Zero!”

equator

The wheels on the bus to Marsabit go, “Wake up, Andrew! Only six more hours.”

Andrew Asleep

The wheels on the bus to Marsabit go, “So…dirt roads from here?”

dirtroad

The wheels on the bus to Marsabit go, “Cough! Cough! Cough!”

kerriandmebandana

The wheels on the bus to Marsabit go, “Are you sure we are going the right way? There are camels everywhere!”

camels

The wheels on the bus to Marsabit go, “Almost there, Travis.”

Travissleeping

The wheels on the bus to Marsabit go, “HOLY $%#&! That was a big pothole.”

The wheels on the bus to Marsabit go, “There is a paved road right there. Why are we not on that?”

pavedroad

The wheels on the bus to Marsabit go, “George, stop taking pictures of people sleeping!”

sleepingonbus

The wheels on the bus to Marsabit go, “Phew. Made it. I’m getting to old for this…stuff.”

The Kenyan Landscape

Family farms in a mountain valley in Machakos. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

Family farms in a mountain valley in Machakos. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

The day after we arrived in Kenya, we traveled to a small village near Machakos, a mountain region forty miles southeast of Nairobi. The hilly terrain provided a great birds-eye view of dozens of terraced family farms and river valleys.

Part of the GAP Greif team in the mountains at Machos

Part of the GAP Greif team in the mountains at Machakos.

Sunrise on the drive to Marsabit, just north of Nairobi. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

Sunrise on the drive to Marsabit, just north of Nairobi. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

 

The drive to and from Marsabit (http://bit.ly/1PuDgo6), 327 miles northwest of Nairobi, provided an amazing opportunity to see a large swath of the Kenyan landscape. We left the house around 6am, stopped briefly in Isiolo (http://bit.ly/1cMkQxh) and Merille (http://bit.ly/1FvOunC), and arrived in Marsabit around 6pm. Our actual drive time was 10.5 hours to cover 327 miles. The first 257 miles were paved, until Merille, where the pavement stopped. There was another swatch of pavement between Merille and Marsabit, but it was only about fifteen miles long.

Travel speeds on the tarmac (the more common term for asphalt/paved road in Kenya), could reach 50-55 mph, but there were dozens and dozens of speed bumps that slowed us down. Installed in common pedestrian and livestock crossings, the speed bumps alternated between the normal single humps we see in the US, and a series of 2, 3, or 4 smaller bumps in succession that required the bus to come to almost a complete stop to avoid throwing the passengers in the back out of their seats (which still happened to those of us in the back from time to time, anyway). There were also multiple police checkpoints marked by roadblocks and tire spike strips because the highway we were on is the main road up to Ethiopia. The checkpoints were predominantly used for vehicles traveling south, to prevent illegal entry from Ethiopia, but the bus still had to slow to a crawl or complete stop to weave around the spike strips or wait for the police to remove them. It took us about five hours to reach Isiolo, 167 miles from Nairobi.

Mount Kenya and farmland, near Nyeri between Nairobi and Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

Mount Kenya and farmland, near Nyeri between Nairobi and Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

Kenya is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. We traveled from the lush green landscape of Nairobi, through grassland dotted with trees, up to Nyeri, where we saw Mount Kenya to the east. Isiolo marked the start of the drier landscape, turning to desert reminiscent of the Southwestern US all the way up to Marsabit. The town of Marsabit is the capital of Marsabit county. The town sits in a forested area on an extinct volcano, Mount Marsabit, but the surrounding area below the mountains is desert.

Camels by the side of the road Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

Camels by the side of the road Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

 

Most of the other travelers – students from OSU, Mount Kenya University, and PFC staff – slept for the early part of the trip, but I only napped for an hour, I couldn’t bear the thought of missing out on the opportunity to soak up the amazing landscape.

The view from the Hula Hula school in the mountains of Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

The view from the Hula Hula school in the mountains of Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

 

I was able to capture quite a few nice pictures after the rain stopped, and the water dried off the windows. I took even more once I realized that my window opened, and it was warm enough to do so. (Overnight temps are in the 60s here, so it is a little chilly for us to drive with the windows down, and positively freezing for the Kenyans who bundle up in scarves and parkas during the overnight hours!).

 

Desert landscape south of Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

Desert landscape south of Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

North of Isiolo, the landscape turns to brushland and eventually to desert. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

North of Isiolo, the landscape turns to brushland and eventually to desert. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A river on the route from Nairobi to Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

A river on the route from Nairobi to Marsabit. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

Farmland north of Nyeri, near Mount Kenya. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

Farmland north of Nyeri, near Mount Kenya. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

Lush green landscape outside of Nairobi, en route to Masai Mara. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

Lush green landscape outside of Nairobi, en route to Masai Mara. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Several days later, the drive to Masai Mara National Reserve gave us another opportunity to see more of the country. The drive to Masai Mara first took us north west, and then south west, towards the border with Tanzania.

A "cactus tree", which is actually a type of euphorbia, the same family as Poinsettias. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

A “cactus tree”, which is actually a type of euphorbia, the same family as Poinsettias. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

 

 

 

Again, the landscape was lush and green as we left Nairobi. Fertile farmland gradually became more desert-like as we traveled west, and finally turned to grassland dotted with trees and hills inside the park.

The grassland of Masai Mara National Reserve. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

The grassland of Masai Mara National Reserve. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

 

The park is somewhat bowl-shaped ringed in parts by large ridges, one of which separates Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya from the Serengeti National Park of Tanzania. There is no man-made border between the two parks, and animals move freely between them.

The Mara River, with a crocodile in the foreground and a hippo in the background. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

The Mara River, with a crocodile in the foreground and a hippo in the background. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

 

 

Every July marks the migration of the wildebeest, who travel from Seregeti to Masai Mara. They cross the ridges and the Mara River for a few months, where they gorge themselves on the tall grasses, then mate before returning to Serengeti to give birth and repeat the process the next year.

A view of the Rift Valley in Kikuyu Escarpment Forest, Kiambu, Kenya. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

A view of the Great Rift Valley in Kikuyu Escarpment Forest, Kiambu, Kenya. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

 

 

 

 

 

The drive to and from Masai Mara also took us through the East African Rift portion of the Great Rift Valley, which stretches from the Red Sea to Mozambique.

 

 

 

Our next adventure will take us to the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for us on the shores of the Indian Ocean!

A panoramic view of the rift valley in Kikuyu Escarpment Forest, west of Nairobi. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

A panoramic view of the rift valley in Kikuyu Escarpment Forest, west of Nairobi. Photo by Alison Schwalbe

A Poem about a Kenyan Desert

We thought that traveling would be really neat,

We didn’t know that we would be cleaning feet.

A mission trip was outside our project scope;

But, understand the people – that is the hope.

I gathered my thoughts on the bus ride home,

Here is the result: I wrote a poem

Bus Group

The trip began by boarding a bus,

There was barely enough room for all of us.

The twelve hour journey was crowded and rough,

The road was not paved, by the end we’d had enough.

Scenery

Twelve hours of bumps and a whole lot of dirt,

Limited water and food made my head hurt.

But this trip it is not about all of my woes,

We must get the bugs out of kids’ toes.

Pastor Hirbo greeted us with his famous smile.

One look at his face and the trip was worthwhile.

Jiggers bite the feet and burrow into the skin,

Over one million are effected, where do we begin?

We knew we would be with medical staff in Marsabit

But, we didn’t know that we would be a part of it.

John_Andrew_Me Cleaning

Apprehension was high and nerves were shot,

MBA students yes, but medical students we were not.

We broke into groups and were shown our tools,

Some drove and some walked to the nearby schools.

Wash, soak, rinse, then dry-

The vaseline makes the jiggers go bye.

Ryan Treating

My shoes are red and covered in dirt;

But, that’s nothing compared to how my heart hurts.

We arrived to help make Kenya jigger free

I didn’t know how much it would affect me.

Bus at Village

The kids were strong and tried to smile,

But, the treatment was painful and took a while.

The sight of one boy made my heart break in two,

The jiggers got to his feet and he didn’t know what to do.

Boy with gloves

The shame on his face and pain in his eye,

A lump came to my throat and I started to cry.

I got comfort from my team; we worked as one.

We were committed to help until the treatment was done.

The last step in the process is putting shoes on their feet,

The one-for-one model from Skechers, which was pretty neat.

Putting on Shoes

At the sight of the shoes, the kids formed a line,

All of them wondering – will one of those pairs be mine?

Shoe line

More kids than shoes, a sad realization-

How can we truly help this great nation?

Over 300 were treated with kindness and care,

And jigger prevention they are now well aware.

We debriefed from our days and said our goodbyes,

The impact of this experience was truly a surprise.

Jake Carrying

 We started the journey a bit distressed.

As we leave, we are feeling overwhelmingly blessed.

Farewell to Marsabit and it’s desert air,

This brief look into our trip; I’m glad I could share.

 

May 15 – 2nd day in Marsabit

May 15 was our second day in Marsabit.  After the first day of learning what to expect and interacting with the local people, we were much more comfortable and eager to help.  I was teamed up with my OSU classmates Kerri and Akshay, along with Partners for Care members and Mount Kenya University students to go to another local school to treat jiggers and to pass out shoes.

The school we went to was visited the prior day by another team, and therefore didn’t require treatment of jiggers. Our mission was to pass out all of the shoes.  One of the teachers assembled some of the lower grades, since we had only smaller sizes of shoes to hand out.  It was pleasing to hand out new shoes to the children, especially since the vast majority of them were wearing shoes that were in very poor shape.  However, it was sad when some of the kids had bigger feet than the sizes of shoes we were handing out, in which cases we didn’t have anything to give them.  Still, we handed out 267 pairs of shoes to the school which was a good deed in itself.

Students showing off their new shoes

Students showing off their new shoes

Prior to the trip, many of us were skeptical about the value we would bring, as well as the twelve hour bus ride it would take to get there.  However, after the second day of interacting with the community and personally seeing the smiles on the many faces that were helped, none of us regretted the trip.  It was an experience that all of us will cherish and is something that I personally will think back on when I think my life is tough.  It was a great lesson in the fact that happiness comes from within.  If the people in these communities, who toil everyday for the basic necessities of life that many of us take for granted, can be happy and grateful, who are we to not be?

First day in Marsabit

Thursday May 14

After a relaxing rest at St. Stephens Church guest house, we woke up to an early breakfast before heading out into Marsabit County to treat children infected with chigoe fleas, more commonly referred to as “jiggers”.  The fleas live in the ground and burrow into their host’s feet (and sometimes hands) to nest and lay eggs.  Besides being incredibly painful, the parasites can cut off the blood supply in toes and cause gangrene. To combat this menace, we split into four teams comprised of OSU students, faculty and students from Mount Kenyan University, Partners for Care (PFC) staff members, and members of St. Stephens Church.  The PFC staff members led each group and explained how to treat jiggers.  First, you wash the infected child’s feet and hands before soaking them in a potassium based solution to kill the fleas.  After soaking the hands and feet, they have to be dried and covered by petroleum jelly or Vaseline.  PFC also had BOBS provided by Sketchers for us to distribute afterwards. These shoes will protect the children from reinfection.

The entire group ready for day 1.

The entire group ready for day 1.

I teamed up with Andrew, Molly, and Santiago to travel to the remote village of Parkishon. We hit the ground running and our group leader, George Okell, got everyone into place. Twenty-three children and one adult from the village came out for treatment.  After finishing in the village, we moved on to the Parkishon primary school and treated another twenty-one kids.  The school used to be 90% infected until Pastor John Hirbo from St. Stephens began working tirelessly in Marsabit County to eliminate the jigger infestation.  Senior PFC staff and faculty from Mount Kenyan University visited the County hospital in the afternoon and were told that the government is almost prepared to declare Marsabit County jigger free.

John checks hands in Parkishon.

John checks hands in Parkishon.

Santiago and Molly treat kids from Parkishon Primary.

Santiago and Molly treat kids from Parkishon Primary.

It was a long and tiring day, but this was a truly amazing experience to see different groups come together to combat a serious public health issue with a methodical and sustainable plan.

Molly outside of Parkishon Primary.

Molly outside of Parkishon Primary.

Water: Every Drop Counts

Every day I wake up to the alarm of my cell phone, go to the bathroom and brush my teeth. I turn on the hot water in the shower and let it run for a while, so that it reaches a comfortable temperature. I usually take 10 minutes in the shower, but sometimes it might be longer depending on my schedule. I put some clothes on, and go to the kitchen to prepare my breakfast. I like scrambled eggs and cereal. I usually wash the dishes after eating, and again, I let the water run for a little while until it gets warm enough. Finally, I brush my teeth for the second time in less than an hour, and I’m good to go.

What I just described is definitely not a typical routine for people in Machakos, a small village east of Nairobi, Kenya. After our team visited this village last Saturday, I can’t help but feel ashamed of myself for how much water I waste in just one morning when I’m home.

Women of Machakos sourcing water

Women of Machakos sourcing water – me just looking

A great portion of the day for women in this town is spent accessing and transporting just enough water for their very basic daily needs. This endeavor requires walking for miles several times per day to reach a water source. After reaching the water source, the hardest part begins: transporting it back to their houses. They typically use plastic jerrycans. As my teammate Jake explained in his blog, jerrycans are not the best…that’s when the Greif packH2O comes into action! Please see Jake’s May 12th post to know more details on our project.

Trying to carry a jerrycan filled with water - Woman of Machakos helping me with balance!

Trying to carry a jerrycan filled with water – Woman of Machakos helping me with balance!

Carrying water with the PackH2O is still hard - but much easier and safer than using jerrycans

Carrying water with the PackH2O is still hard – but much easier and safer than using jerrycans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our project to understand what it takes to have the Greif packH2O assembled in country is going very well.  Usually we get work done from the “Partners for Care” house (where we are staying), but yesterday we went to the closest mall (called “TRM”) for a change. We stayed in Nairobi Java House (restaurant-café) and worked there for about 4 hours. Among other delicacies, I had two delicious juices that reminded me of my tropical home country (Colombia!). One of them was a super fresh Tropical Mix consisting on passion fruit, pineapple, and banana. The other was an amazing Minty Pineade!

Greif PD Team @ Nairobi Java House

Greif PD Team @ Nairobi Java House

Visit to Coca-Cola Kenya HQ & Mount Kenya University, May 11

On Monday, we had a meeting at Coca-Cola’s Kenya headquarters with Bob Okello, Group Execution Manager for EKOCENTER in Africa. EKOCENTER is a Coca-Cola initiative to provide solar-powered centers in the most rural parts of Africa so that locals can enjoy amenities that people in urban areas take for granted such as electricity, WiFi, and TV.

Greif Kenya GTM & PD, with PFC staff and Bob Okelo at Coke Kenya HQ

Greif Kenya GTM & PD, with PFC staff and Bob Okelo at Coke Kenya HQ

Mr. Okelo shared many great insights about the unique characteristics and challenges of marketing and distributing Coke in Kenya. Coke uses Micro Distribution Centers (MDC) for the “last mile” distribution. In this system, a Kenyan owns a MDC and is responsible for purchasing and distributing Coke products to about 120 retailers (or kiosks) in their geographic area. Coke has “Key Accounts” staff who call on every single retailer/kiosk in their area at least once a week to verify stock, check on the kiosk’s relationship with the MDC, ensure that merchandising and displays are to Coke’s specifications, etc… It is amazing to me that Coke account representatives visit every single, tiny kiosk in the whole country on a weekly basis.

Mr. Okelo provided some good insights into a possible model for our PackH20 project, especially because tracking the packs and ensuring proper training and monitoring of end users is so crucial to verifying that the packs are serving their purpose as a health product. He also touched on the importance of incentivizing MDC owners to serve far-away and tough-to-access locations to ensure that a Coke is always “within an arm’s reach of desire.” Similarly, PackH20’s vision is for everyone in the world who needs a pack to have one, so it will be useful to explore an incentive structure to ensure that even the most remote and marginalized people in Kenya are able to get a Pack.

Both Greif teams and PFC with Mount Kenya University students and lecturers on MKU main campus

Both Greif teams and PFC with Mount Kenya University students and lecturers on MKU main campus

 

After we left Mr. Okelo, we went to the main campus of Mount Kenya University to meet with some lecturers and students in the nursing and MBA programs. We paired off and took tours of the school.

 

 

Mount Kenya University main campus

Mount Kenya University main campus

 

Mount Kenya is one of the largest universities in the country, and is set up somewhat similar to OSU, with satellite campuses to serve students in other communities. While their MBA program only has 8 or 9 students, their nursing and doctor of medicine programs are much larger.

 

 

Church in Nairobi, Kenya, May 10

The trip so far has been a whirlwind. We’ve been moving nonstop since we landed, starting with our first meetings at 8 or 9am, followed by dinner meetings at the house with local NGO and business contacts, and wrapped up by daily debriefings and planning sessions that last until at least 10pm. Things may wind down a bit as the trip progresses, though, based on our calendar.

Traffic in Nairobi makes it incredibly difficult and time-consuming to move from meeting to meeting

Traffic in Nairobi makes it incredibly difficult and time-consuming to move from meeting to meeting

We’ve front-ended most of our local meetings so that Connie, the PFC founder, could attend these before leaving for the US at the end of this week. One of the biggest time sinks is how long it takes to get anywhere. Traffic is crazy in Nairobi! Imagine when people are jostling to get to the front of the crowd at a concert, but here everyone is in a car. Miraculously, no one seems to actually hit anyone else.

On our first Sunday morning in Kenya, five of us walked with Justus (one of the PFC staff living in the house with us) to his church in the village a half-mile away from the house to do some cultural exploration. Church was what I expected- very lively with lots of singing, dancing and excited praise. This was a combined service, holding both members who usually attend the Swahili service and those that come for the English service because the pastor was announcing his 5-year plan for the church. This service was held in English with a Swahili translator, and the choir sang both English and Swahili songs. The corrugated tin building held around 350 people, and about 80 children.

"Hibari!" - Andrew, Team Leader for Greif Kenya Go-to-Market introducing our team to the Church congregation

“Hibari!” Andrew, Team Leader for Greif Kenya Go-to-Market team, introduced our team to the church congregation

The kids were very excited about seeing foreigners. Our seats were perpendicular to the kids’ rows, and just two feet away, so the kids were all clambering to high-five us and shake our hands when everyone was instructed to greet and welcome their neighbors. I winked at one little boy during a quieter part of the service, and from that point on, every time he caught my eye he’d close his right eye and smile at me, holding his right eye shut. It was so cute.

Alison from Greif Kenya Team Go-To-Market, was invited on stage to dance by a visiting singer at the Nairobi church

Alison from Greif Kenya Go-to-Market team, was invited on stage to dance by a visiting singer at the Nairobi church

 

The pastor had invited a singer from his old church to come sing for the congregation at this service. At one point, she pulled three people from the crowd to come dance on stage to “break the barriers” between her and the crowd, and then she walked over and pulled me up on stage! I felt like Kenyan “Idol”, because at least a dozen Kenyans jumped up from their seats to take a smart phone picture of the white American girl dancing on their church’s stage. It was a really neat experience.

A Business Day in Kenya

After an eventful weekend, we started the week with a number of business and informational meetings. It was so interesting to see the differences between the American and the Kenyan corporate worlds! Our first visit brought us to downtown Nairobi. The trip itself was an experience. The drive took us through the lower part of the city, which was loud, busy, and extremely chaotic. There were people positioned between the cars selling various items in the streets (apples, exercise equipment, sunglasses), and crossing the street as a pedestrian seems to be a sport; you must get across as fast as possible to avoid the cars!

We arrived at our first meeting and were welcomed with a very familiar logo:

Coke_Group

We met with Bob Okello, the Group Execution Manager for Ekocenter in Africa. He provided valuable insight into distribution channels in Kenya and the best ways to make use of them. In his role, he has worked to help Coke bring safe water to people in various regions of Africa. We explained the water pack and asked many questions to help guide our project.

Coke_OHIO

From Coke, we drove about an hour to Mt. Kenya University. We were greeted at the gate by professors and students who were excited for our visit. Our team leaders headed to meet with the Vice Chancellor while the rest of us socialized in a conference room. Following a group meeting and explanation of the waterpack, we buddied-up with business students from MKU for a tour of the university. It was so interesting to see similarities between Fisher and a business school located on another continent!

MKU_OSU

Finally journeying home, we had dinner and then met with MEBS for some guidance into the import processes at the Kenyan port. We wanted to learn more about the tax codes and how they might impact the importing of the PackH2O into the country. This information is very valuable for our project and the recommendations we will give to Greif. They were extremely helpful: able to answer all of our questions and to provide some tips moving forward. After a productive, yet exhausting, day, we all fell into bed beneath our mosquito nets.

Final Post: What We Learned

We all did a writing exercise about what we gained from our experience here in Ethiopia, and what we will leave behind. The following are our anonymous responses.

tapestry

tapestry

  • What I gained: Accepting that I don’t always want to be adventurous; sometimes I need to relax and be comfortable.
  • What I will leave: Expectation of how I “should” be; the idea that another aspect is better than how I really am.
  • Leaving in Ethiopia my ignorance of the poverty that I thought only existed on TV.
  • Taking with me the understanding of what “being present” really means.
  • Gained friendships and new ops frameworks.
  • Leaving behind impatience and beautiful landscapes.
  • Taking away: Many new friends, new experiences, and a greater appreciation for life.
  • Leaving behind: Timidity within a group and not trusting my instincts.
  • I am taking with me a much better understanding of real difficulty, hardship and poverty.
  • I am leaving behind inflexibility, impatience and selfishness.
  • I’m leaving behind my short fuse and tendency to make small things into a big deal.
  • I’m taking an ability to be resilient and more humble.
  • Taking with me:
    Hope that people from different beliefs CAN get along and this world CAN BE a better place. Belief that poverty is NOT an impediment to generosity and hospitality.
  • Leaving behind a body of work that may serve to save an unknown child’s life on some unknown day.