Jambo Jambo Jambo

3 Aug

Now I can say it – “Jambo Nairobi!”  I touched down in Kenya at 9pm Tuesday night.  Want to guess how many employees there were processing VISA purchases for 100+ people? Two. Speaking of two, it took more than 2 hours of wait time to exit the airport as a result! Scott and his assistants (3 Kenyan twenty-somethings) greeted me and drove me to my staying place for the night –  Savelberg Retreat Centre, a guest house run by Catholic nuns. 40hrs after my departure from home, I had finally made it to my destination. For $13, I enjoyed a night’s rest in a tiny room and breakfast in the morning, which consisted of white bread and peanut butter. The nuns are strict – breakfast is from 8:00-8:30am, no exceptions!

Here is a picture of my room –

As I am writing this post, I have just experienced my first full day in Nairobi. A taxi driver picked me up at the self-proclaimed “Nun Motel” in the morning and we met Scott, one of his assistants Robert, three Caucasian visitors (Mac, a media company CEO who has lived in Kenya, his wife Martha, who grew up Kenya, and Kevin, an American insurance company CEO) and Scott outside the US Ambassador’s residence.  Scott has been showing these CEOs around town and setting up meetings for them. They are helping the Kenyan people in many ways, one of which is a donation of Quickbooks accounting software to the MFI I will be working with, Maono Economic Development!

We visited the MFI I chose not to work with, KADET (Kenya Agency for the Development of Enterprise and Technology). We met with the branch manager, Susan, who talked for 2-3 hours with us. She is confident, well-spoken, and painted us a picture of how microfinance operates in Kenya. KADET lends to individuals who are required to sign up in groups of 5-10 other borrowers in case one borrower defaults. KADET lends to people that are more poor than who the average MFI lends to (and certainly the average commercial bank) – the co-borrowing is a protection against the added risk of these loans, like the lack of collateral.

Kenya is miles (or, I should say, kilometers) ahead of other African nations when it comes to the development of microfinance services. For example, the “M-Pesa” mobile banking system allows loan funds to be transferred electronically to a cell phone! In some ways, Kenya is technologically ahead of the United States.

Next, we met with two clients of KADET. We traveled to a very poor slum to visit them – the sights of children with illnesses and dirty, smelly pathways was hard to take in.  One of the clients owned 6 cows and plenty of other animals (including rabbits!), which make him “rich” relatively to the Kenyan poor – but his place was not much to look at.

Here is a picture of that client (and Mac, one of the visitors) –

As we were leaving the slum, lots of children were begging me for a photograph! They were too cute to turn down…

After the meeting with KADET, Scott’s assistant Robert helped me buy a cell phone! The phone cost $69 (phones ranged from $25-$200) and with no contract or fees of any kind, it costs 4 cents/min to call any number in the United States. All I do is buy a 500 Schilling (under $6) card to add $$$ to my phone balance. Scott & Robert estimated that 75% of Kenyans have a cell phone and it is very inexpensive to buy and use one.

The phone is a Nokia that also includes 3G internet access, deducted at less than one cent a minute! I never would have guessed that Kenya would be the country of my first smartphone ownership!

We met the most popular gospel singer in Kenya tonight for dinner. Scott is good friends with him and one of the visiting CEOs runs a media company dealing with commercial broadcasting – he wants to faith-based television/radio programs available to a broader base. The singer, Kanjii Mbugua is also a preacher at a prominent church in Kenya and makes yearly trips to California to preach there.  When leaving the restaurant, we heard one of his songs playing on the radio! Note from dinner – tomato tree juice is DELICIOUS – tastes like a mix between a tomato, a pomegranate, and Sour Patch Kids. Mmmmmmmm.

Here is a picture from that dinner. From left to right – Njogu (one of Scott’s assistants), Scott, Mac, Martha, Kevin, Kanjii, Me

My first day was much different than what my typical day in Nairobi will be over the coming year.  First off, I wasn’t working! Secondly, I was treated to a couple of meals at nice restaurants at the grace of the visitors. Nevertheless, I am having a great time so far and look forward to what tomorrow has in store!


3 Responses to “Jambo Jambo Jambo”

  1. Claire Paniccia August 18, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

    love the picture of the kids 😛 and tomato tree juice??? sounds worth trying. yay traveling!

  2. njones12 December 23, 2011 at 10:30 pm #

    Hi there,

    I’m about to travel to Nairobi and am staying at the Savelberg Retreat Center for 10 days. What did you think about your stay there? The price is pretty unbeatable…but I want to be semi-comfortable and also make sure I have space to store my laptop, cameras and other valuables.

    Let me know..Thanks 🙂

    • Ben December 24, 2011 at 4:07 am #

      Hi Nicole,

      You couldn’t have picked a better place. It’s 100% safe – run by nuns! You can store all your valuables in your room, but buy a suitcase lock to add extra security to your belongings. Also, on days that I left my laptop in the room, I would keep my key instead of leaving it at the front desk, as no one enters your room to do housekeeping.

      Again though, I stayed there 2 weeks and felt perfectly safe.

      In terms of the price, you can find guest houses in town for $5 a night, but the added cost of Savelberg is well worth it.

      Safe travels,

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