Kwaheri Kisumu

Location: Jomo Kenyatta National Airport in Nairobi (or at least when I was typing this I was)

Yup, we have already left Kisumu. Where did the time go? Obviously there are mixed emotions attached to leaving, just as there are when anything comes to an end. I am very excited to go home and see my family and friends. I’m excited to wear shorts, drink water from the tap, have people be on time, take a hot shower, and to understand what people are saying around me- all things I quickly learn to take for granted. But I feel like I am leaving just as things are getting started.

Actually, I know I am leaving just as things are getting started. Yesterday, on our last day, the foundation for the rain water tank was laid. As with most things in Kenya, the project was behind schedule, but the efforts put into it were astounding. The community of Kanumbya desperately wanted to get the tank done quickly, but, as always, life got in the way. In the last two weeks there were three funerals in the community. When there is a funeral, things just shut down. Also, funerals are expensive. To raise money for a funeral, the family throws a harambee, which is many things. First, it’s a Swahili word translating to “Let us all pull together”. Second, its Kenya’s national motto. Third, and most important to this post, it’s a fundraiser in which those raising the funds each give a motivational speeches to the community until the money has been raised. Before the three deaths in the community, we had planned to do a mini-harambee in order to fund the rest of the tank. But by the time we go to the date it was planned for, last Sunday, the community was tapped.

Betty, one of the group leaders, was waiting for me at the church where the meetings were held that Sunday and apologized profusely that no one had shown up. We discussed our options and decided to move the Harambee to Wednesday morning, when the community had some time to recover. However, I knew this meant I would not see the tank finished. Which, you know what, is absolutely ok. It’s the community tank, not mine. As long as the community saw the end result, I’ll count it as a success. Plus, the promised to send me pictures, so technically I will “see” it.

Having reconciled this minor disappointment, I went to the Wednesday harambee. The goal for the community was 25,000 ksh for security in case things were more expensive than planned. The actual amount they needed to raise was 21,000. They raised 23,500 ksh. I was so excited to hear that number. Honestly, I have no idea how they did it. Looking at the record of their community micro-loans, people never asked for large amounts and therefore never returned large amounts. The effort they put into this harambee was awesome.

On Thursday we worked on getting the materials together and marked out where the tank was going. Friday we laid the foundation. They wouldn’t let me help build, which I was also disappointed about. I was really hoping to actually do some work, but they just handed me a shovel and took my picture so that I could tell people I help build. I can’t lie to you, dear readers. But, once again, it was a community project. I can only do what the community lets me do. After witnessing their efforts and working with Joy, both my host mom and now project manager, I am positive the tank is left in good hands. When they send me a picture I promise to post it here.

As a continuation of the project, I am looking into fundraising for a brick compressor for KMET to own. The amount of time and money saved from actually owning one is immense. And A LOT of communities in the area want water tanks. The interlocking brick compressor can also be used to build more stable toilets in the community, houses, and other structures. It weird to think that some squished mud in the shape of a block could empower a community so much. According to Joy, the machine costs about 67,000 ksh- just under 1000 USD. I’ll keep you updated on whether or not I can actually get this fundraiser going. Gettysburg Harambee? Maybe.

Also on Friday the office held a small goodbye party for the Heston Interns. It was really sweet with lots of picture taken and some singing.

It still doesn’t feel real that I am leaving. Probably won’t until the 13 plane trip from Dubai to NY.

Update from home:
13 hours on a plane was exactly what it took. No updates on the tank yet. It’s strange to be home. I’m happy to be back, but it feels like a vacation rather than a return. And I’m still jetlagged. When I hear about the tank I’ll do a final post!

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