As you might have noticed, the subtitle of our blog fails to specify our location beyond the continental level. This is not because we are pandering to the demographic back in the US that believes Africa is one country, but rather because we expect to have adventures beyond just Uganda.
And so it was that this past week I travelled to Pokot county in western Kenya. To get a sense of how remote this area is, consider the time it took for me to get there: The first part of my journey, from Kampala to the border town of Malaba took only three hours and one matatu (minibus taxi) ride. The journey from Malaba to the town of Kapenguria, which is a shorter distance, required five different matatus and about six hours (this is not including the hour or more spent at the border crossing).
So why was I visiting such a place, you ask? Our good friend Michael Kimpur lives there, and he started a school called Daylight Center, which Faith and I have been supporting as donors and Board Members. I had been hoping to visit Pokot for some time, and just planned this trip on a whim less than a week before departing. The place where Michael lives is on the edge of the highlands, just before the the ground drops down into the hotter and more arid lowlands. The highlands of Kapenguria are the only place where the Pokot people have taken up agriculture; the lowlands can’t support such activity so the people there are still pastoralists or nomads.
My image of life in such a place was that there was probably a comforting but monotonous predictability; that each day would be like the day before which was just like the day before, which in turn was similar to what a typical day might have been like for many years prior.
This is probably true for some people there, but my experience with Michael was that every day was unpredictable. Indeed, one of the biggest events of my time there didn’t even seem to be in the original plan for the day. But that morning, Michael got a call saying that the member of parliament (MP) for that constituency was in a nearby town and we found out there would be a sort of town hall meeting in the area later that day.
I knew that this meeting wouldn’t be exactly like a town hall meeting held in the US (for one thing, there would probably be fewer crazy people), but I still wasn’t fully prepared. I’ll leave out tales of all the waiting around and cramming under a roof during the rain since those are both just a feature of life in East Africa. Let’s skip to the good part.
It’s worth noting that no occasion of any importance in Africa can simply start. Much ceremony is required to inaugurate the event, and the meeting with the MP seemed to be of particular significance so the amount of ceremony required was great indeed. Different classes of school children sang songs to start; then followed a whole slew of tribal dances. To see some videos of the dancing, visit my facebook page.
Most of the people who spoke during the meeting were asking for what would probably be called earmarks in the US: a paved road to their villages, money for their schools, etc. But what was most shocking to me was that at the end of the meeting, the MP and his staff actually distributed cheques to the representatives of various schools! My first thought was “corruption!” But there’s actually a remarkable amount of transparency in the process; the amount that’s given to each school is announced, so the headmasters of the school can be held accountable by the community.
There’s plenty more to say about my visit, but since one purpose of my visit was to finally see Daylight, I’ll save my experiences there for Michael’s Daylight Blog.