Day 9 – Saturday 28th 

On our final Saturday and our last day in Migori County we had a late start and got to relax by the pool for the morning before heading out on a Lake Victoria boat trip in the afternoon. We took our packed lunch us and headed off. It was another very hot day and my stomach was feeling the effects of the malarone, the remnants of the sugar or something unknown. I can only stomach toast, rice and bananas at the moment but it’s keeping me going. 

Okay so this boat trip. We’re definitely getting an authentic experience. It’s a rickety looking long boat with car seats for seating. They’re not exactly bolted into the boat either which adds to the ricketiness. But we set off into Lake Victoria and it is gorgeous. We’re halfway in and I notice the man who was sunning himself at the front of the boat come down my end with a bucket. And…. He starts scooping water out of the bottom of the boat. Water that had risen a bit while we sailed off from the dock. Luckily I was used to the Kenyan way of life at this stage and just went with the flow, pardon the pun. If the boat were to sink, well, I had my life jacket and would accept a bad bout of something similar to food poisoning as my fate. We didn’t sink though and made it back to shore, loaded ourselves back into the bus and got back to the hotel for dinner and a couple rounds of cards. Tomorrow we were off as early as possible as the earlier we left, the more time we would get on safari!!! How exciting. 

Day 8 – Friday 27th Exhibition Day

It’s exhibition day!! The batteries for the cameras and audio equipment are charged, we’ve made sure to have a big breakfast today so that we have the energy. We’re meant to pick up a few of the community members and students from the secondary schools that will be performing at the exhibition along the way. This thing is meant to start on time at 10 but I highly doubt that (I’m typing this with a smile on my face) because Kenyan “on time” and my “on time” are very different. I’ll report back later once the day is finished.

Wow, what a day. The kids were so brave, so amazing and talented. We got some great footage of them performing their pieces on modern day slavery in partnership with CM4K. There were loads of parents, politicians and members of the community who came to watch and listen. One message in the children’s performance was troubling though and was quite tough to watch. They were advising girls against abortions and in the performance the girl who had an abortion due to a teen pregnancy, died as a result. So the message we got from that was you will die if you get an abortion which if it is done unsafely can be the case. When Peter got up to speak at the end he mentioned safe abortion and how changing the mindset around this might be something to look at. I noticed a few people walk out. This might start a conversation and we are by no means here to tell people how to live their lives but by suggesting it then maybe this will empower those who do agree with safe abortion to speak about it and lobby for change. This is also the reason for the community radio station and why it is so important. 

Some more beautiful children came up to us today and told us how we were more beautiful than them again today. I have to admit this did bring me to tears when I walked away. But before doing that I made them promise that they would tell themselves that they were beautiful every day. I didn’t know what else to say and I couldn’t bear them having this belief from quite literally the start of their lives. I’m not trying to save anyone and I know that the issue needs to be combatted in a much bigger and different way but I hope it does change and they believe that they are beautiful and they don’t need to compare themselves to anyone. 

It was time to say goodbye to the University of Rongo student after a fun, informative and collaborative week. It was lovely getting to know some of them and I wish them all the success and happiness. We said goodbye to the amazing staff that fed us for almost 2 weeks. Their labour of love every day was always much appreciated and they really kept us going. And that was it. On to the bus back to the hotel and on to one of the last legs of our trip. 

Day 7 – Thursday 26th Cham go Wadu Day 3 

I felt a bit weird after yesterday. It was so nice to meet some of the village people but it definitely felt uncomfortable when we we lined up in front of them and they were so happy and excited to see us. A strange reaction on my part you might think, but it felt really strange to be celebrated when I felt like I hadn’t done anything significant and I wasn’t really bringing much other than myself and a willingness to collaborate and learn. Maybe that’s all I needed to warrant such a warm welcome but it definitely didn’t feel right, especially since we couldn’t stay longer and speak with them on a deeper level. 

We were going back out into the community today, this time to meet the schools performing at the exhibition and get a little taster of what’s to come. I don’t really know what to expect from the exhibition. Obviously it will be based on modern day slavery within the community and bringing awareness to the various issues under that. But I’m not 100% on how it all will be executed. I guess I’ll find out today 🙂 

It’s later on in the day and we’ve just gotten back to the university starving, dehydrated and quite tired. Today was a long, hot day and lots of travelling. The plan was to visit 3 schools which we did, but we were to be back at 2pm and as is the way in Kenya, things ran over late. The heat definitely got to us a bit today. We got loads of content though. I spoke to some of the secondary students about life in school and what they wanted to do once they graduated university. Some of the kids were really talented and so passionate about their art form and were presented themselves and their schools very well. I spoke to kids who wanted to be journalists, teachers and nurses. We listened to poems, watched short plays and heard speeches all about some very real topics that happen so close to home, to their friends and their community. Some of it was quite hard to watch because it was clear that issues such as child labour, child marriage and young pregnancy was something the children were familiar with. It was something that was affecting people they knew getting a proper education and experiencing childhood. It was sad that we got to leave them after they had been brave enough to put themselves out there in front of strangers and go back to out hotel to process something that the community had to deal with. I feel bad saying that it was an emotionally draining day. What made it that bit sadder was seeing a group of young, beautiful, smiling children greet us with joy and fascination as we left the last primary school and tell us that we were more beautiful than them. They compared their skin to ours and it was truly upsetting for children as young as five to have that belief. Again, we were being celebrated for no reason. I’m off to bed now as we’ve another long day tomorrow at the exhibition. 

Day 8: Visiting Schools in Chamgiwadu

We set off nice and early this morning, with the aim of a strict schedule to visit 3 schools starting at 10 and ending at 2, so we could have a late lunch and spend the rest of the day relaxing. I have to say I was a little sceptical about this optimism, judging from the delays in previous days. We were already late by the time we arrived at the first one, but we got the cameras set up for the presentations. We had decided to split the 2 cameras between the Rongo students and us to try and get them more involved so they didn’t feel like we were too controlling. The aim of the day was a rehearsal of the performances for the exhibition tomorrow, so we watched various acts throughout the day, ranging from poems, plays and even stand up comedy.

The highlight was at the second school, where a group performed a ‘tragi-comedy’ about the dangers involved in teenage pregnancy and black market abortions. It was great to watch and see all the other kids reactions to it. I actually feel like I learnt a lot from this about the local views and laws, which shows how these alternative mediums can be great ways of highlighting issues.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the day went on much longer than 2 due to the travel times between schools and the length of performances. By the last school I was pretty exhausted from the hot Kenyan sun and having not eaten, but I enjoyed the interactions and the lovely scenery we saw along the way.

I think we are all struggling with the role we were playing here, with yesterday’s feelings of imposter syndrome and we were worried about the impact we were having on the young children. As we were leaving the last school, we were greeted by a large group of school children. A few of the young girls were saying that they weren’t beautiful compared to us. It’s hard to see these post-colonial identities imbedded at such a young age, already idolizing white skin and western beauty ideals. We all discussed these feelings of guilt we had at the end of the day, and I’m really glad we’ve established such a strong support network for each other as I don’t think I’d be able to do this without them. I feel so lucky to have such a great bunch of people on this trip with me!

Day 7: Community Meeting with the Chief

Sometimes all the planning you can do can be undone by things out of your control. The plan was to leave by 9, but unfortunately most of us have been hit by a bad stomach. The theory is that it was street sugar cane we had on Sunday, which most people now tell us was a terrible idea! It was bound to happen eventually, but it delayed us leaving on time. In the end everyone decided to soldier on as we wanted to experience the community. We had to change to a bigger bus at the university, but the driver went to fill up the tank and disappeared for about 2 hours. It was frustrating to wait around without any idea what was going on, knowing that the community members were there waiting for us. Eventually the bus turned up, and by the time we got there it was already 12:30. This time however, Kenya’s relaxed attitude to time seemed to work in our favour, as most of the villagers, including the chief, were late anyway! So at least we had time to set up the cameras properly, and this time we rearranged the hall to fix the bad lighting.

The villagers began to arrive, and as a way of apologising for being late, we fed them our lunch which they seemed to appreciate (although it did mean we were a little hungry all day). I learnt that the swahili word for banana is ‘ndizi’ from the Rongo students, which I will attempt to remember. Since the chief was still held up in another meeting, we decided to start without him as there were a fair few people waiting to speak. The villagers and speakers all introduced themselves one by one, and said a little bit about themselves and why they wanted the community radio station. I found it a little hard to listen to them and focus on the camera, but hopefully I can watch it back. What they were saying was very interesting and heartfelt though, and it’s clear they want this radio station!

At this point unfortunately, it became clear that Katy, who had felt the worst this morning, was really unwell. It was really difficult to carry on working while I could hear how she was just outside the hall, but Ellie was looking after her so we decided the best we could do was just give her some privacy. During a break, me and Anya spoke to a local young guy who was getting his identification. It was quite insightful in seeing how local people saw the western world and often dreamed of moving there. The chief turned up eventually and spoke a bit about the need for the radio, and how they couldn’t wait much longer. t was good to see someone in a position of power get behind the idea. Peter decided at this point to cut it short so we could get Katy to the doctors, but it took a while to leave as we had to stay around a chat to the locals. Eventually we got going, but had to stop in at a school that were waiting for us. What was supposed be quick 5 minutes to show our faces, turned into a much longer presentation with talks from local people about the project. It was quite overwhelming as we’d all had a long day, and we all felt a bit of imposter-syndrome from the way they welcomed us and treated us. Eventually we got back to the university where Katy could get checked on, and headed home to rest (and swim) after a long day.

January 31

Today was our last day working. We worked with the Machakos students and met the deputy vice chancellor, who happened to be Jerry’s wife!

We got shown the campus by the students, who were so extroverted and convivial. They showed us trees that they were planning on planting and how they worked closely with the community. They were so enthusiastic about us being there that I wish we had more time with them.

After that, we went to the community in Machakos to meet the community members and listen to speeches done by government officials and community members. Some women also sang which was beautiful. One woman also demonstrated some of their tools and how they used to use them, which many people thought was hilarious; loads of people were doubled over laughing. I don’t know why, but their joy was still contagious.

It was beautiful and overwhelming to be that welcomed into such a different culture. I was so appreciative that they wanted to share with me about how their lives have been impacted by serious issues.

After lunch, we went to speak with Machakos staff and the county council about issues we heard about. It felt so good to voice the issues we were told about and stand up for those we were partnering with and give them all the credit they deserve. I felt so proud of everyone. We all spoke, we stood up for all the reasons on why we came and topics we believe in. It was the perfect way to end the trip.

I will always be grateful for these people and their support. It’s amazing to know I have lifelong friends now.

January 27

Today was the exhibition day. We were supposed to be there by 10:00 and finish at 1:00… and you’ll never guess what happens next.

After arriving at 12:30, we set up the cameras and audio equipment with the Rongo students so we could film the exhibition. It was a mix of speeches and the school’s students skits. I enjoy collaborating with the students, and so I am glad that we got to do that, especially today.

Government officials, staff, as well as Peter and Jerry all spoke at the event. It was very hot, so we all sat under big striped tents that were positioned opposite of each other. We ate afterwords and left pretty soon after we finished eating. We had to drop off the students and staff we had picked up.

We ate dinner with the Rongo students and said our goodbyes. I really enjoyed working with them, and so we hugged and took pictures before we got into the van to go back to the hotel.

January 26

Today was Thursday and today we visited three different schools. We were going to see the events that the students were putting on for the exhibition tomorrow. The plan was to visit five schools, spend 30 minutes at each one, drive 20 minutes in between, and finish at 2:00.

You’ll be shocked to discover that we ran atrociously behind; I don’t think we even got to the first school until 12:00. Setting up plus the first presentation took well over an hour and I think it killed everyone off. That bus is my enemy; it is a malign prison that traps us in a mausoleum of heat. In other (less melodramatic) words, it was super hot on the bus and we had to wait for a long time.

The presentations at the schools were very good, but I find it difficult to listen to young children talk lightly about such horrible issues. They don’t deserve it, they shouldn’t even know about some of the things they’re discussing. It just makes me even more determined to pay attention to the work I’m doing while I am here and really listening to what the community members have to say.

As good as all the presentation were, Peter told the driver and those organizing the day that we were done after 3 schools. We didn’t have food or water all day, the disorganization was reaching a new high, we just needed to go back to the hotel.

The worst part by far was the little girls who crawled through the barbed wire to shake our hands, touch our arms, stroke our backs, and praise us for how beautiful we are, and the minute we say that they’re beautiful, they said, “No we’re not, we’re black.” They also refused to shake hands with Flo or any of the Rongo students and their reasoning was because they were black.

We cried together about it. It was a blatant causation of centuries of messaging that whiteness is superior, but to see it so undisguised, so overt, shocked me and broke my heart. It still does, writing this now. I think that memory always will.

The pain and uncomfortably is something that is special in of itself. I need to choke down that discomfort like a medication that is vital to my health because I believe it is integral to experience these darker elements of life in order to be better equipped to combat them in the future. It was centuries in the making for those girls to fully believe the words they were saying, and it is going to take years to undo these effects of colonization that has infected these people. I just want to make sure I am a part of that change.

I feel grateful that we went, though. I want to connect with people as much as possible before I leave.

January 25

Today presented us with some issues. The first being the driver dropped us off at the University of Rongo and said he’d be back in five after he refilled the gas in the bus. That five minutes turned into almost 2 hours waiting for the driver. I felt so so guilty that the community members were waiting for us and had started to leave. 

Applying my own experience; I am someone who immigrated to somewhere that is fraught with awful stereotypes about the people in my country. I feel like I am constantly trying to explain to people that no, everyone is not an awful bigot, and that my country is huge and there are plenty of amazing people there. English people can think Americans are fat, bigoted, and stupid, but the worst part about all those stereotypes is that hate is a disease that has spread in my country, and obesity and education are linked often with the growing class divide and socioeconomic issues. Acknowledging those ugly truths is hard for me  because I don’t want people to think of Americans like that. 

The Kenyans have gone out of their way to be hospitable because they are excited to share their culture and their land with us. They want us to love their country so much. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be, how much humility they must have, to be able to share their communities experience about issues like FGM, child marriages, etc. To pull back the curtain and have the courage to share not only with each other but with strangers is incredible and courageous. Another reason why I felt so guilty. 

Once we got there, things were still a bit disorganized, but it was worth it to here the women speak, and to hear the community members speak. It gave me that feeling again – that feeling of “Right, this is why I’m here“. I am glad we filmed it, that we got a chance to show them without words about how much we care about what they’re saying, because we do.

So thankful for everyone on this trip. Everyone feels the same as I do, and everyone is here for the right reasons and to work. I honestly can’t imagine a better group of people to do this trip with.

After the community members spoke, we had some waiting time before the chief arrived. This was much to Katy’s dismay, because during the time that the community members were speaking she got really, really ill. I felt so badly for her, especially because I know how much she cared about this project that she now couldn’t take part in.

After the chief spoke, we had to rush our next activity, which was going to a community meeting where the chief introduced us to the community and spoke about why we and the Rongo students were there.

We spoke after about the uncomfortably about how we were sat in chairs at the front, next to the chief, and the Rongo students had to stand at the back. It felt like a power imbalance and felt invalidating to the fact that it was a partnership; the Rongo students should have been up there with us. I chose not to sit because I didn’t want to visual confirm that.

Again, I feel so grateful that we are in this together, because trying to articulate these difficult feelings can be challenging, and to have people that can be empathetic to this and are experiencing these things alongside me is really meaningful.

January 24

Today we went to Cham Gi Wadu for the first time. We didn’t get there on time at all; we were supposed to get there by 10 but the bus arrived around 12, so we stayed for lunch at 12:30 and left after.

We took the bus there and the the views in Rongo are amazing. It’s like everywhere you look is another amazing picture – I think I said that already in a blog but I don’t care, I’ll keep saying it because it is so true.

Once we got to the community, we set up cameras and audio recorders with the Rongo students to capture the social workers Pamela, Jayne, and Jane speaking about the community radio and its impacts. Hearing them discuss their issues was moving and it grounded me back to why we are here, why I’m here; to connect with these people and document their stories. The issues that they struggle with are things that I can’t even comprehend, and I am so deeply moved by their vulnerability and strength to stand up for people who don’t have a voice and make a change. It is so powerful that I get to be a part of it, even if just in a small way.

After they were done speaking, we packed up and headed back to the university for dinner, and then headed back to the hotel.