First Day of Bike Tour (Kind of) and Week in Review

The last week a lot has happened, but it’s been pretty difficult to get decent enough internet to make a blog post. Rest assured though, I am getting lots of pictures and some video as well. I have figured out a worst-case scenario for getting sound that will be pretty decent, but I’m also heading to Kisumu on Thursday so may be able to get the cables I need there.

So, working at the bike shop has been going pretty well. When I arrived there were very few bikes, no work bench, a box of random used parts, and a warehouse filled with broken rims, half dismantled bikes, and mostly cockroaches, bats and other animals and insects. We come in every day at around 9am, and I work with the shop manager, TIllen, trying to get the shop organized and running a bit more like a real bike shop. The first week has gone a bit slow, but we are now using repair tags, have parts organized into buckets, and got the approval to build shelves, a work bench, and a place to hang tires and rims. The shop is really under-staffed as Tillen is the only employee, and he is also the grounds keeper, so he spends half the day running around fixing random other things. Even though there aren’t many bikes, fixing the couple dozen or so that are here is challenging as there are very few replacement parts, and not many tools. We have one volunteer named Sam, who is also taking my class, and he has shown up every day at 9am with us, learning and assisting in repairing bikes.

Our classes meet in the afternoon, from 2-5, and there are 4 students, including Sam. Classes are going pretty slow, as there were elections last week, and everyone takes the day off. However, the ballot boxes never showed up, so they were postponed three days in a row, which means everyone just sits around and waits for them. The elections here seem to be a giant mess, and people are pretty unsure if their votes will actually be counted. People walked miles to go to the voting polls on Thursday, waited around all day, only to not get the chance to vote. Making the trek several days in a row to maybe get the chance to wait in a huge line and vote means that a lot of people don’t actually get to vote. Most of the women in Malamasa (the village I am staying in) seem to spend all day cooking, cleaning, farming, and taking care of the children and don’t have the time to spend three days waiting for ballot boxes.

Anyways, the elections kind of screwed up the week and it was a slow start, but I think we’ve picked up where we left off and are making some progress. I hope by the time I leave Tillen will have some good ideas to keep moving the shop forward toward being a sustainable local business. Our trip to Kisumu on Thursday should be very useful as we’ll be visiting some other shops to see how they are run.

Life in Malamasa has been going well, although I haven’t slept well the last few nights because a goat gave birth behind my hut, but the newborn died. So for the last two straight days the mama goat has been crying very loudly right outside my door. I tried chasing her off three or four times during the night, but she keeps coming back. This morning she seemed to be losing her voice, so maybe she’ll shut up tonight. I’ve been eating so much chapati, I can’t see myself sustaining this diet for too much longer before I get sick of it. For now I still like it though. It would be nice to have rice a little more, so I plan on stocking up on some stuff when I get to Kisumu, and maybe I’ll do some cooking.

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This weekend I got to do a few cool things, mainly ride my bike! On saturday I checked out the Suba Peace Museum. There isn’t much there, but it was interesting to see in person a lot of the old tools and things used in every day life from centuries ago. We then rolled on to a place called Governor’s Camp, which is a fancy resort on the other side of the Island, which supposedly costs $900 a night. It was pretty nice I guess, but I didn’t get to see any of the monkey’s I was promised, as they had retreated up the hill in search of fruit. I was disappointed.

On Sunday Lindsay, another EK volunteer, and I decided to ride our bikes all the way around the Island. The batteries in my GPS died, but I’m guessing it was between 40-50 miles on some pretty rough terrain. The road is very new, and apparently only a few people have actually ridden all the way around. It was super chunky rocks, with a mix of red clay, white sand, smooth dirt, single track, and some straight up mud. It was maybe a little adventurous for Lindsay, who ended up going over the bars halfway through and taking a good fall. She was okay.

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We stopped at a few farms, eating mangos, bananas, passion fruit, and drinking tea, meeting people and seeing the other side of the island, which I have to say, its a bit nicer than this side. We met some fruitarians from Russia and Holland who live in a more remote part of the island. They showed us around their camp and it was pretty interesting to see other “mzungos” on the island. Everywhere we went kids were chasing us, yelling “how are you?” and gathering around when we stopped. Even though it was just a day trip, it definitely felt like I was on bike tour and made me get very excited about heading to Rwanda.

The last place we stopped was Nyuquery, a beach town on the other side of the island. Lindsay had met a man named Jimmy Carter (yes, named after the former US president), who is a paralegal that started a mobile human rights organization that goes around the district promoting human rights. He also is the treasurer or an orphanage and we met some of the orphans who he is training in carpentry. We got a tour of the workshop, got to sit down and have some sodas, and hang out with the kids for a while. Everyone wanted me to take their picture, so I’ve decided that I need to gather the best ones, put them on a thumb drive, and leave them here at EK so the locals can stop by and see them after I leave.

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