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.

Saturday 21st & Sunday 21st January

Not too much to report for this weekend. It was largely intended to give the students some time to relax, acclimatise and prepare themselves for what would be a week of hard slog in hot and sometimes frustrating circumstances but with a lot of satisfaction, discovery and joy.

The plan for today was to visit the Thimlich Ohinga Archaeological site – a UNESCO World Heritage site of a dry-stone walled settlement built in the early 16th Century. In all the years I’ve been coming to Rongo, I have never visited this site, so I was very excited. Located around 46Km from Migori Town, this site provides insights into the history and culture of the Luo peoples. We set off with a packed lunch in hand and drove for around and hour to an hour and a half, largely off road, to reach the site. We picnicked under the shade of some trees. As we were eating, we saw a dog skirting us. As a mad crazy dog lover, I went over and started sharing food with him. Slowly but surely his trust began to grow (many Kenyans, especially in rural areas, have a totally different relationship with dogs to us – I can’t help but think they are missing out) and he started to edge towards us. One or two students started to feed him with bits of food till eventually, he was lying happily amongst us. Anya named him Lentil – perhaps in honour of his colouring but probably in honour of the lentil and veg samosas in our packed lunches. Whatever the reason, it seemed appropriate. Mind you, Lentil’s owner and tour guide – seemed totally bemused when I told him his dogs new name – as they don’t name them.

The tour started with an introductory walk around a mock-up village used to explain the social structure and familial hierarchy and customs of the time. We then set off for a really interesting inspection of the protective stone wall and the village ruins within. Libby sat this out under a tree as she was feeling a little ropey. The nap seemed to do her the world of good because she was much improved on our return. The village tour was fascinating and I was in my element as I love this stuff. The setting in the woods just added to the enjoyment – mind you those trees would not have been there in those days as the guards placed strategically along the wall needed to be able to see advancing enemies in order to prepare for battle and defend themselves.

Leaving the site, we were taken on a rather long ‘short-cut’ and after about 46 minutes we found we were just entering Migori Town. We stopped stocked up on some provisions, which for some included Kenyan cream buns, and then headed ‘home’ but not before another delicious meal on campus.

Sunday morning began by being awoken by what I can only describe as religious caterwauling (I mean no disrespect to their beliefs but it is bad – as I type this a week later over breakfast waiting to leave for safari, I am listening to it all over again and it is still bad). The morning was one of relaxation and chilling, with a visit to Homa Bay and Lake Simbi beyond that to see the flamingos and hear the myth of the lake. As I had a lecture to prepare for the next day, I left the students in the care of Prof Jerry and the driver. You can read the account of the visit from the students. On their return we had dinner on campus and returned for a quick drink and bed.

Friday 20th January

Firstly, apologies for running behind the students’s posts. There is so much to organise for this trip and the Community Exhibition is tomorrow (Friday 27th). I’ll catch up eventually but this is a really great but exhausting trip and I am not getting any younger 😉

We took a relaxed entry into the trip’s work. We were scheduled to meet with the VC of Rongo University – Samuel Gudu – at 10am, so we left Treat House around 9.45 to arrive on time. As we arrived we discovered that the VC had been called to Nairobi for a discussion with government ministers and officials and that a group had commandeered the media centre (booked for CM4K for the week) for PhD research presentations and that they were in full swing. Prof Jerry & I found somewhere else to hold a planning meeting and we gave the students the morning off to explore campus. They basked in the sun for a while and then found the huge tree on the periphery to wait, chat and probably doze in the shade.

Lunchtime was soon upon us and we had the first of what was to be an amazing meal, which catered for most diets – simple but oh so tasty. I have to observe here that I am always struck by the hospitality and generosity of spirit and practice of Rongo University when compared to the University of Brighton on the 4 occasions we’ve had return visitors from Rongo.

Don’t get me wrong the accommodation in the community is always great and those hosts do a wonderful job but on campus I have to print tickets with a value that the visitors aren’t able to exceed. It’s the ‘oh sorry you can’t have that that’ and ‘can you swap that out’ that is embarrassing and demeaning.  Our visitors never complain but I see these things and can’t help but compare. Similarly, we are always taken everywhere in Uni transport but here I either have to pay for transport out of my CM4K fundraising budget or out of my own pocket. Perhaps that this is about values and culture? Mind you the last time was several years ago and with new management things may change but with the cost of living crisis, who knows? It’s reasonable to note, I think that Rongo is a university in a marginalised rural environment in what is quaintly termed a lower-middle income economy and the financial situation there is worse than here but they do the small but important things well and so much better than Brighton.

After lunch we met our Kenyan students for the first time. Jerry addressed them and then I gave a brief lecture about the history of CM4K together with my personal vision of its future. We then sent the students of for ice-breaker games so that they could get to know each other. This is always an interesting and very important part of the project. Students start off quite nervously but within minutes they were laughing and hollering……..and I smiled because I knew all would be well in the team.

The final part of the day centred around group exercises. Normally, I mix groups but today I wanted each group to hear and think about the other’s worldviews. I sent them off to discuss what community means to them (Jerry had been concerned that community as a construct is often equated to tribe here in Kenya). As a second task I asked them to think about the roles and significance of community radio in their worldview of community. What emerged from this were 2 really inciteful and thought provoking presentations when back in plenary. The Kenyans’ presentation was certainly more emotive but the thoughts from the two groups were certainly not dissimilar, which was interesting. There followed a really interesting discussion as I tested and probed their arguments. To be honest, we’d have probably still been there if I hadn’t brought things to a close for dinner. However, it was an excellent start to the project. One that filled me with joy and hope. As an educator, I love that feeling when young people display their potential in this enthusiastic manner.

After an excellent dinner, we went back to the Treat House, freshened up then sat by the pool and chatted over a beer before I headed up to bed leaving them to play games and enjoy themselves.

Thursday 19th January

I awoke with a sense of excitement and trepidation. This was the first Community Media 4 Kenya trip to Rongo in 4 years. A lot had happened in this period. Over 2 years of the Covid19 pandemic and ensuant lockdown as well as a road traffic accident in Nairobi and 4 major reconstruction surgeries on my arm. I’d been in Nairobi for 2 days making plans and awaiting the arrival of the students. Would these students be as enthusiastic as previous groups I’d taken? Would the community not have become disillusioned and moved on due to the enforced break? How would Rongo University, our initial partners in CM4K (there are 2 more universities waiting to join up with CM4K – Machakos & Kibabi), receive us? Much had changed at Rongo since our last visit. Isabel Zattu a founder member of CM4K from Rongo had completed her Master’s and had gained promotion in another job at Kibabi University. Jerry Agalo, former Dean of the School of Infocoms and the main driving force at Rongo had retired but was now teaching part-time and Professor of Outreach & Community Research. It felt like a tipping point. Either we would move on and CM4K would evolve and live up to its pre-Covid potential or it would fade into a natural passing. 10 years of amazing people and experiences through which we have been able to share knowledge, transform our worldviews, learn much and make many friends.

As I pondered these matters, I prepared to meet the students at Jomo International Airport, Nairobi for our internal flight to Kisumu, where Jerry would be waiting for us with a University bus. As I walked from the carpark to the arrivals gate, I saw the student group walking outside into the waiting embrace of the many taxi drivers, sales-folk and scammers that accost tourists as the arrive. I smiled to myself, having danced that jig many times over the years. I got to them and we all smiled and I urged them to bring it in as we embraced in a rather clumsy group hug. They were certainly excited and please to be here. Their trip was not without incident as Rachael’s case had been left in Istanbul. This was to prove to be a 5+ day saga, that I will leave to Rachael to share. Except to say a special thanks to Okope & Jerry who took 7 hours out of their days to drive to Kisumu and collect it when it finally arrived.

The flight to Kisumu was uneventful and we met Jerry & Charles (driver) on time. We stopped at a bank in Kisumu so they could withdraw money as well as a supermarket to get water and provisions. The trip to Rong was filled with excitement and yells of glee and joy as they snapped as many pictures as possible of the new environment and scenes of rural life that the cramped minibus would permit. We were all glad to finally arrive in Rongo at the Treat House Resort. I have stayed here many times and the staff and I have become very close over the years. The students disappeared to their rooms for a deserved sleep/rest, although some did venture into the pool for a short swim. I bought them all dinner and the traditional first ‘pint’ before finally retiring to my room for a well-earned rest. I had forgotten how fielding the bombardment of questions from excited young people could drain you but I went to sleep with a smile on my face as I was getting a good feeling about the group.

Thank you.

Good evening. 😊

Ah, you thought that you had heard the last from me? Well I am here to say that you have not, muhaha! I have been back in England for an entire week now, and before life gets too hectic, I just wanted to take a moment to say one last, big, GIANT thank you.

Being a part of CM4K has truly been one of the most amazing, life changing experiences that I will forever cherish. This project is phenomenal for so many reasons, and one of those reasons for me has been meeting you all. If this project did not exist, I would have never had the chance to know you, and that thought makes me incredibly sad. Each and every one of you are wonderful, and I see only good things in your futures. I am excited to carry on following the progression of CM4K, to watch it grow, develop, and I hope to be there at the grand opening of the Radio Station – I don’t want to miss it for the world! We have contributed to something amazing, never forget that. Your hard work will never be forgotten.

So once again, thank you all. I hope that I do not have to wait as long as I have to meet you all again. This isn’t goodbye, it’s see you soon!

Luca. 😊

Last day of editing…

Finally the last day of editing has come! As much as I love editing videos it was becoming very stressful for me as I felt very anxious about the amount of work load there was to do. I am an awful person to handle stress, especially large work loads when it is meant to be group contributions.

I found this day particularly useful as I was able to complete all the editing I was meant to do. I found this day particularly tiring as I woke up in a can’t be bothered mood and wanted to get my energy back by staying in bed, all the field work and early mornings had caught up with me. I woke up with stomach pains which later left me and because of it I was considering staying at the Pastoral Centre to sleep off the pain and exhaustion. I knew how important the work we were doing was and how it had to be finished by Wednesday, and the the editing I had to do I didn’t want to pass on to anyone else. With all this I was pretty moody that day… sorry guys!

As usual the weather was hot and I wanted nothing more but to stay outside and soak up the son and forget about the work load. Sitting in the hot classroom I was becoming agitated with my work and I knew how important all this was. In all truthfulness I was being short tempered and I had to keep to myself after lunch and say very little and just focus on my work, which thankfully I was able to complete before the day was over.

Last day in Cham gi Wadu

It was our final day of being out in the community of Cham gi Wadu. Being in the group where we capture establishing shots, our first place of visit was Kanyimach Primary School. Knowing the task in hand I set my group off to gather all vignettes and establishing shots. Visiting schools is always my favourite part of fieldwork, because not only do I have a lot of fun gathering establishing shots but also because the students we visit are always so excited to our presence. It is nice seeing almost everyday what our handwork is going towards and how beneficial our work will be in the future for the people of Cham gi Wadu.

As usual the children surrounded our camera and wanted to be photographed, it’s always nice to see this cooperation from them as it makes the final videos recorded worth it to edit and put together in a final cut. The second place we visited was Kanyimach Mixed Secondary School. Once again here my group and I went off and gathered all the necessary establishing shots we needed. And we visited Kanyimach S.D.A. Church. My favourite place to film was definitely Kogneya Shopping Centre where I got to explore and film the different shops and produces the market offers for the cpmmunity. The was a butcher, hairdressers, shoe repair, shops to buy fizzy drinks, motorbike repair garage. All in all, today was a successful shoot particularly for my group as we collected a lot to make a successful vignette and got our group task completed very quickly. All that is left is to edit what we have gathered from today on Tuesday.

Salon day!

I anticipated and waited patiently for this day as it was the day Hafsah and Katie were getting their hair braided. We did our usual routine of going for breakfast which we were met with sausages and as usual the dogs from the campus were our morning conversation and if there would be a sausage left so Luca can feed the dogs.

Mama Isabelle took myself, Hafsah, Katie, Lydia, Fiona and her 2 girls and baby Isaac to the hairdressers. Having all of us girls together cracking jokes and just being away from the boys we could be girls. The braids turned out amazing for Hafsah and Katie, and we gave Katie a new name for the day; Shenice, with 4 mixed raced babies. I loved spending time with the girls as our crazy personalities entertained the hairdressers to distract them from the tedious time they were spending doing hair.

We returned to the Treat House to meet the boys and there we feasted on a meal of chips, omelette, sausage, beef and samosas. Chips was very much needed that day as were all craving a familiar food from home.

Us girls spent the rest of our time seated on the grass doing catwalks we entertained each other until we were in stitches from laughter. Thinking the day couldn’t get more eventful and hilarious, a fight broke out between a married man and his wife, who had discovered her husband was at the Treat House with his girlfriend. This was such a thrilling event for us girls, especially Mama Isabelle who knew the married man and sent me and Halima off to watch the show go down.

The conflict sent us girls in fits of laughter and comparing it to the television show Love & Hip Hop, and what would us girls do in both women’s situation. It definitely got us girls excited for hours as it was hilarious watching how everyone in the resort ran to watch the fight and seeing the crowd from the public gather. Mama Isabelle wanted it captured on her phone to tell her friends, she was very quick to call her friend and update them on the event. And when we returned to campus for dinner she had already told all the women staff in the kitchen who laughed and laughed.

Lake Simbi

Today we went to Lake Simbi. The journey was as usual with lots of laughter and picking on one another to distract ourselves from the hot bus we are always travelling in. The journey was about and hour and half and I was greatly anticipating to arrive at Lake Simbi, as I really loved Rusinga Island and couldn’t wait to see another beautiful place in Kenya. On our journey e drove through the political rally which had attracted a large crowd, the reason for this rally was held by the NASA coalition which is headed by Raila Odinga who is an opposition leader, against the Jubilee Party.

It was amazing to see everyones passion for the political rally as they were shouting in the streets to our bus to the Kenyan students who also supported the politician and they were supporting someone who wanted to make a good change for Kenya and its people.

Arriving to Lake Simbi your eyes were met with the most amazing lake, it was large as expected with blue water covering the mass of it. The circumference of the lake was unimaginable and my first thought I had was, theres no way I am walking around that lake as it’ll take days, lool. Funny enough, whilst standing beside the lake I witnessed a woman walk the entire area of the lake and I totally praised her, being she wasn’t a young woman and she walked at a slow pace she waled the entire area. When I asked why she was walking the area, I was told that it was common thing to do. The lady walks the entire edge of Lake Simbi, and once she’s completed the walk she then collects the water and takes it to her church, where they use it for healing purposes.

Whilst seated beside the lake we were told the old myth of Lake Simbi a folk tale told by the people of the area. The tale told us about how the law came to be, the healing purposes of it which many people of the area believe and the environmental facts about the lake. Listening to the tale I did get lost as I didn’t think it made sense and had many potholes within it.

All in all I did enjoy seeing Lake Simbi as it was pretty to look at and I did not dare go near the water regardless of its believed healing purposes. Instead I took in the views and the nice breeze that was in the air. The day was lovely as always and it was nice having all CM4K students present.

Ending the day by removing Halima’s braids was funny as all of us girls took part and made many jokes within the process.

Extra editing day

As Luca had mentioned in his blog on Wednesday he was worried the video group weren’t having enough time to edit all videos gathered, especially considering there was only 2 of us editing from our group. I thought this was a nice comment to make from Luca as he was aware of what task we had to had how we had to produce a lot of work quickly for Wednesday next week. Because of this, the fieldwork we were supposed to go on today was pushed back to allow us a day to edit.

This day was more than useful to me as I got a lot of work completed and began new video edits and was able to give Peter all that I had completed as far. This day allowed me to catch up on edits and make any changes that needed to be made. Even though I had a lot to do the day was a drag especially due to how hot it was I became tired and wanted escape outside for some fresh air. Unfortunately, this blog is short but mostly due to my day being spent on editing nothing else happened. But I did appreciate the consideration for editors, if this day wasn’t given I don’t think i’d have gotten as far with editing as I did .