A little bit nippy


I’m just back from our fourth summer-kick-start break in Portugal. The weather this year was significantly windier than in previous years – to the point where, having not “anchored” the ever-present inflatables in the evening, I ended up getting up in the middle of the night to make sure they hadn’t blown away. I was pretty sure, at the time, that they would be far afield, but they were only just the other side of the pool.


joel at Silves castle

A rain storm was threatening as we went around Silves castle and enjoyed the brooding skies over the surrounding countryside. We ducked into Rui’s for a fish-based lunch and by the time we emerged it was raining like it was the end of the world.


I must have not been a gardener last time we went to Caldas do Monchique, because I don’t remember the carpet of nasturtiums that was all over the place. I narrowly avoided having a full-in Granny moment, as one of my favourite pictures of my mum with Lily was taken here when we came to Portugal when Lily was a year old. Mum would have appreciated the nasturtiums as well. She used to put the flowers in salads. Bless.

We managed a couple of visits to one of my favourite restaurants as well. The boys like it because of the artwork, but I like the food (quite key) and the service – they always look after the children very well, and it’s definitely appreciated.  The place is Onze – well worth a visit if you’re in the area.

The high winds made for a lot of good wave-watching. I find being by the sea very restful, even when the waves are crashing into the rocks, so long as I’m a good distance away… In the picture below there is a 10-foot drop immediately behind Lily, caused by the choppy sea of the past few days. The sea that night was calmer than it had been for a while. And, I appreciate the colours are probably thanks to rampant pollution, but I really like. A lot.

We had a couple of awesomely warm days before I came back, so the front of my legs is nicely toasted. Fingers crossed the guys make it back OK – there are French air traffic controllers grumbling which caused switch-over problems last week.

So, I’m back in the UK and planning a plant-a-thon for this afternoon. It’s fair to say it’s a little bit nippy compared to Portugal. And not as sunny…


So long, and thanks for all the fish…

Today was the last day here in Kenya for 3 of the 4 of us, so we held a sports day with all three schools (nearly 850 students, the baby & nursery classes didn’t attend). It was a study in organised chaos. but the children seemed to have a lot of fun.

Once everyone was tired out and covered in a thick layer of dust, we said thank you and goodbye, and crossed everyone back across the busy main road to get back to school.






Afterwards we were invited to the house of Elosy, the head teacher of Glad Kids for a “goodbye party”. The teachers had all grouped together to make us a lovely meal. Once we had all eaten, the heads and deputies took turns to express their thanks to us, and we were given a lovely gift from Lizpal of a Masai shawl.


And so we’re having (yet another) quiet evening in, uploading photos & finishing off a few jobs.

It will be very odd to get back to freezing temperatures and being with people I’m related to. Oh, and non-lethal driving, tasty food and not having children shouting “hawayooo!” at me in the street.

Dutch guests and bus fare arguments

Yesterday, while at the giraffe place ( or it might have been the elephant place) the others met a Danish woman who is with some Dutch engineers, who expressed interest in seeing what we are doing. Phone numbers were exchanged with a promise to be in touch. I think at the time Ken, Vish & Emma were trying to shake off a pushy Canadian called Keith who had pushily tagged along with them, so they were probably hoping for no follow up.

As it turns out, they are quite keen, so we met up with them in Karen this morning and made the second matatu journey as a group of 11.

The matatu negotiation generally goes (while in the middle of a crowd of people who are all trying to have the same conversation with you):
“You want matatu?”
“Yes. Racecourse. How much?”
“50 bob”
“Not mzungu prices, mkenya”
“Uh… 20 bob”
“Thank you, that will do nicely kind sir”
Then we get in the vehicle.

We had this conversation, only it was a bus-sized vehicle rather than mini van and there were 11 of us. The agreed price was 10 Bob (140 Bob to the £, to give some context).

When Vish tried to pay for us, the chap denied any knowledge of the verbal contract that had been made and refused to be paid until he was paid the right amount. This dispute was unresolved at the point where we wanted to get off, and the guy’s way of dealing with us was to not let us off the bus. Some of the other passengers backed us up, otherwise we might just have coughed up the £1 or so. At one point, the one where I was next off the moving-again bus, the passenger by the door was holding on to me to stop me from hurting myself jumping off the bus. It was all very exciting and clearly the image we want to convey to guests…

We went to Lizpal first, where Vish and I offloaded the job of dishing up food to our guests while we sat in the shade drinking soda…

The children are super-well-behaved – this queue pretty much wound up going all the way around the corner into the main courtyard of the school. The new holey spoon we bought last week appeared to work a treat as well. making sure that all of the children get the right amount of beans compared to rice & stew-gravy.

Work is underway at Glad kids to build their new kitchen. A suspicious amount of work was carried out between the time of our arrival and when we left compared to what must have gone on beforehand… but we’ll see. Hopefully if we keep popping in it will all be done before too long…


Emma was copying names into the health book we are setting up to track the childrens’ growth, and two little heads kept popping up to say hello.

(In case you think we actually slacked off all afternoon, I should tell you that Vish and I took new photos of all the staff for the charity website, and Vish helped take the visitors on a walking tour of Lenana. While I sat on my butt at the school. Um. Oh, no, then Emma and I took staff photos at Excel. So not so much slacking.)

I’m going to miss the celebrity status in a few days…

In training for Solihull

Today’s plan was elephant orphanage and giraffe …place.

I’m aware that this probably makes me sound like a terrible person, but instead, I decided I needed a day sitting on my arse. My leg was sore, and I was stiff and covered in bruises, so I elected to stay in camp and relax instead. After all, I have a weekend away in Solihull planned for February and I can’t just plunge into that stuff without any training…


I got this far on the sock I’m currently making, and have now realised that it’s too small and I don’t like it. I’ve undone it, and am now going to knit a pair of Skew socks.

Wahoo glub glub ow

We went whitewater rafting today.

To cut a long story short, it was exhilarating and both more and less scary then I expected.

My least favourite moment was when I fell off and the boat capsized half way down a multi level rapid and made my way down the rest independently, thinking the whole way “safety swimming position!” So that I didn’t die from head injuries.

Next least favourite was going backwards down a 6 foot drop. Emma fell out that time, but we held on to her.

My favourite was all the other rapids where they weren’t as bad as they looked and we didn’t fall out.

I’m burnt to buggery (all the suntan lotion washed off during hour 1 – did I mention I fell in?) and have one elbow that’s significantly more pointy than the other one, and I’ve lost a stud earring (boy, am I glad I took my map reference ring off!), but I’ve spent a shit-load of adrenalin, and had an awesome day.

Oh, and I finally got some knitting done in the 4 hours we spent journeying to & from.

Am now nursing a Tuskers, and debating whether I need to eat before crashing out in my bed…

Ps I gather pictures will be up on the porridge and rice site before too long. With any luck there will be a spectacular view of my big green arse as I fall off the boat.


today has been a long one of a lot of walking, and I have a lot of stuff to type up so I’ll be brief.

We stopped of a John’s house first thing (John is the PaR rep in Kenya, he lives just by Excel Emmanuel) where I gave the t-shirt and toy that Lily has sent for John’s daughter Mary to Mary’s mother Christine. They seemed very pleased, and I apologised that the t-shirt was probably too small for her already.

After that, John took Emma and I to visit two prospective new schools. We walked a really, really long way, for about half an hour or more, through a number of districts of varying savouriness (several large dumps, many foetid ditches, a series of building materials salesmen, a large formal high school). At the first school, he teacher was away at a meeting so we went to another school a short matatu ride away where the head teacher was there. She seems lovely, was very open in her answers to us, so we will report back to Ken. Then we went back to the first school where the head still wasn’t back. Two of the teachers talked to us instead and were able to answer most of our questions. It was also good to get an impression of the school from the staff’s point of view.

They both seem like lovely schools doing good work – I just wish we could help both of them.

After that we made our way back to Excel and had some lunch – rice with bean stew and a big pile of fresh mango.

Ken and Vish have made progress on the water tank front so it loos like we will be able to get water tanks into both Glad kids and Lizpal this visit – fingers crossed!

We then did more walking to go up to the shopping centre at Junction where there is a Masai market every Thursday. There’s a lot of the same stuff on offer, all lovely but there is a lot of haggling to be done. Ken did some hard negotiating and it’s fair to say he didn’t leave as a popular man. I got some small trinkets for the folks at home, but to be honest most of it goes against my new tidy home policy, so I left a lot of stuff where it was. I met an arsenal and a Man U fan, so I was able to use the excuse with both that they were the wrong kind of red for me to buy from them… although when I said I was a Liverpool fan to the Man U fan, he said “You’ll never walk alone” which suggests he does at least occasionally watch the Premier league. Even if it did come across a bit sinister…

The matatu on the way home were fun. On the first we had no head room so I was constantly worried about being brained. The second one, it was basically dark when we caught it – it had to be ush-started onto the road by 6 blokes, and then the headlamps kept giving out, so the driver was hanging out of the window and tooting for much of the way.

Still, we are back, showered and I’m elevating my sore leg which gave out mid-afternoon but had to keep going nonetheless.

This entry is not brief. I’m going to stop here as I have 5 pages of notes about prospective schools to type up….!

Bloat & float

So, last night we went to Carnivore. You are set up with sides and a flag, the staff bring round skewers of meat and basically fill up your plate until you surrender and lower your flag.

The meat was tasty, included quite a few exotic cuts such as ostrich meatballs and crocodile, but I think the ones I enjoyed the most were the spare ribs and the beef.

The grill area is lit to make it look as evil as possible.


On our way out, I realised I had failed on the all-feet-photo score since Turkey, and as Jake left early hours, this was pretty much our last chance.


This also gives us the chance to show off our lovely new shoes, gifts from the staff at Excel Emmanuel – Jake, Ken and I wore them to go out.


The staff also gave us beaded wristbands – they read “THANKS PAR”. My plan is to not wear mine to visit the schools as it doesn’t look like it will wash easily. Expect to see it on my return!

This morning we researched nutrition so that we can tweak the food the children are receiving in order that they have all the nutrients they need, in particular iron and vitamin A. One sweet potato per child per week more than gives them enough vitamin A, but our difficulty is that the Kenyans see sweet potato as a breakfast food, and regard the idea of putting it into stew as bizarre beyond belief.


We headed to the schools to try to see lunchtime at Lizpal, but we were too late. Then we pottered through glad kids where the children were all very pleased to see us, and then on to a meeting at Excel. We discussed nutrition with the head teachers, the Vish and Emma headed off to try to find how we can acquire fee worming tablets. We know that the WHO have an agreement with GSK to supply enough tablets for free for the whole population of Kenya, but finding out how to get them is proving non-trivial.

I stayed at Excel and went through some more computer stuff with Mary and Titus – I’ve set up a spreadsheet to help them track school fees income, so the next few days will be spent making sure they understand how it works, and how to extend the data the pivot table covers. Fingers crossed I have the skills to help them understand… Next step is expenditure, including teachers salaries and water bills, etc.

Part way through the afternoon it started raining. It wasn’t raining too hard when we left Ndongo, but by the time we got off at Galleria, where we were due to meet the others, it was hammering down properly tropically.

The route home was very muddy, and mercifully we were offered a lift by a priest with a big car. Sadly a new trench has appeared in the road outside the lodge, so we had to walk the last 100 metres or so in pretty much ankle deep mud. And it’s still raining very hard. We can expect to be very muddy by the end of tomorrow. I’m predicting that Glastonbury got nothing on the mud we will encounter…

Another busy day (Monday)

Breakfast at Lizpal

Yesterday was the first day for PaR breakfast at Lizpal School. Ken was very pleased, as it turns out, everything could have happened without us there. John, the PaR local rep, got to the school early, made sure the food had been delivered, and made sure everything was prepared to schedule for the uji to be dished out at around 10am. We got to step in and take the glory, basically, by dishing it out. The children are asked to bring a cup from home (they are all plastic of some kind) but the school provides some for the children who don’t have. The teachers get to have some as well. Other than me and Jake accidentally pouring some over each other’s hands (turns out, it’s quite hot) it all went smoothly and there was plenty to go around.

The chorus of “hello!” And “thank you!”, in particular from the littlies, was really very touching.


After breakfast we went to Glad Kids to hand out school bags to the year 7 & 8 children – these are the last 2 years, but it’s impossible to put an age on the children as their ages vary a lot. The children attend school when their parents can afford it, so some are as old as 19. Remember these are Primary schools we are working with…

The picture above is where high-five-ing the children pretty much turned into a “Life of Brian” moment where the kids just all hung onto Jake’s arms. He’s been missing the gym, so I helpfully pointed out this could be a good moment for some weight lifting (lateral lifts, anyone?)


This is what happens when you ask for their best funny faces.



Winnie The Pooh and the Productive Day


Today we went to Lizpal School, the latest Porridge and Rice school. As we came into the school courtyard, nearly the whole school had come out to greet us and cheered loudly. They then all lined up to get a sweet… and were incredibly well behaved about it.


Next we handed out bags which have been donated by The Royal Society of Surgeons for GB & Ireland (conference left-overs – if anyone knows someone who has over-ordered on any kind of bags – do get in touch!) for years 7 & 8 (ages from 12 to 19, depending on how many years the parents could afford school). They are so grateful for these bags – they are super-simple, but Mary, the deputy at Excel, says that these are really good bags – they hold a lot and are strong. They have been super well received.


In the picture below, the lady in the photo is Grace, the deputy head at Lizpal school. I’m really pleased that we got a picture of her smiling, as in all of the other photos, she looks very serious.



After this, Jake, Ken and I went to Glad Kids, which is essentially just over the road/dirk/track/sewer-lined footpath, to hand out sweets there. We interrupted lunch, and it was good to see the children enjoying their food.



All I can say is, there’s always one… I asked the children to do their “special pose” (one of them was boxing at me) and Jake felt compelled to join in.


This is Evelyne, the cook at Glad Kids, doing the washing up in what passes for a kitchen just now. The plan for Monday is to at least kick off the process of building them a covered kitchen area so that when it rains, they aren’t getting watered-down stew.

In the afternoon, we split groups further and Jake and I went with Mary and Beth and David to buy pots and giko (charcoal burner) for Lizpal. David drove us to a market/extended fabrication works near the centre of Nairobi. I was instructed to leave my bag with the others, and keep a tight hold on our valuables.

It’s possible this may come under the heading of “places where Steve would prefer I didn’t go”. But don’t worry, we were quite safe – I just didn’t want negotiations to go “28,000 …and your camera”.

What is the place like? They make all kinds of stuff out of metal. So, think of a metal fabrication works that you’ve either driven past, or been in, and then think of something 10x10metres with the same equipment and people and no health and safety laws, and then think of something less civilised. And then pack 20 of these into an area the size of the centre circle of a football pitch. It wouldn’t be out of place in a Lord Of The Rings movie… And I don’t mean the bits involving elves.

The first conversation happened within 2 metres of 6 people banging metal with hammers, in a basically dark room, with Mary translating initial “‘OWMUCH?” between Jake and the chap. After we walked away the first time, negotiations moved out onto the street, which was cooler and had the advantage that you could at least hear what was going on.

There was much bargaining, including a brief visit to a second outlet round the corner, where they would do us the deal we wanted, but not the size of giko we needed. Also, we said a number, then he said “make that be the price”, he went away & came back asserting a price 2,000 higher. Deep sigh. I slightly felt we were taking the piss asking for a spoon to be included, but we ploughed on.

We’d realised quite early on that Ken had pulled another “wise” move on us in that the budget he had given us (and thus the cash) was 10,000 less than what had been paid last time. This means that we got the best deal yet – 27500 shillings for 3 pots, 1 lid and 1 big Giko. Go us. I like to think it was a team effort. Ken maintains he could have got lower, but then he would. Of course, once the deal was done, we were their new best friends – much hand shaking and waving.

After this, we made our way back to the camp, stopping briefly on the way to pick up a snack at the frozen yoghurt shop. I include this picture mainly to make Joel jealous, Emma’s hand is included for reference and, as a nearly-qualified nurse, she would like you all to know her hands are usually much cleaner than this.


too… many… titles…

We thought that the luggage being checked through to Nairobi would be the worst element of the journey here, but several new contenders have entered the field.

Emma & Ken were sat with an american who didn’t stop talking for the WHOLE DAMN FLIGHT. I heard Ken talking about an hour before arrival, and marvelled that he wasn’t asleep as I gather he usually sleeps on planes.

We were all seated in an “A” seat, which meant that no-one was officially sitting next to each other. Given that we were first in the queue on Monday, either everyone else came from elsewhere & checked in online or the chap checking us in did it on purpose because of the luggage allowance fracas.

We landed at Nairobi at about 4am. Or it might have been a little later than that. Debate is now raging. Here we are reunited with our luggage.


It took a while to get to the hotel because of a very long car park payment queue, and big holes being dug in the road where our accommodation is meaning that we were 200 yards away but had to do a 1 mile-ish detour. We arrived, and Ken marched purposely to Dorm A, where we had been told we would be put up, only to find 4 of the 6 beds occupied.

Oh dear.

Ken tried to go Full Ken on the night porter, but he ran away and basically hid until the day staff turned up. During which time we invaded the restaurant and ate breakfast.

So. After a couple of hours fitful kip we were up and preparing to head to Excel Emmanuel for a full team meeting.

We caught matata (a cross between a bus and a taxi – all very safe, nothing to see here) to Karen, the high class buzzing hub of this side of Nairobi – some of the houses would not have looked out of place in Formby and evidently cost about as much as the same house would cost in Ham. Then we caught another matata out to where the schools are, from which there was more walking to John’s house (the PaR representative in Kenya) which is a street away from the school.

I have no photos from “out & about” because my phone had died and the big camera feels too ostentatious to be whipping it out in general public, but I tried to make up for it once we were at the school.

It was a lovely meeting. There are 3 schools that PaR currently work with, and each was represented by the headteacher and deputy head. The meeting covered some important principals of working with the charity and reinforcing those principals and the reasoning behind them. Ken’s big reveal was a new-to-them donated laptop for Excel Emmanuel.

It’s fair to say, they were delighted.


Mary was so delighted that she did a dance – sadly I wasn’t quick-witted enough to catch this on film, but I’m sure you can use your imagination.


Also, I told Titus off for always looking super-serious in photos. Here he is not looking serious (Titus is the one on the right. No idea who the chap on the left is).

The school is doing awesome work – there are about 150 students crammed into teeny-tiny classrooms – for the benefit of my work colleagues, our small meeting room (R2/Rutland) would be a step up. I’ll try to get photos presently, but today I was occupied handing out sweets. Two of the children were spark out on their desks, and some of the younger kids looked really too young and too small to be in formal education – I suspect that when I ask, they will be a couple of years older than I think, which is heartbreaking. However, they seem happy and apart from the sleeping, to be enjoying school (at least, they did today)…


Another heartbreaking moment was when we were leaving, Mary, the deputy at Excel Emmanuel, gestured to the alleyway outside the school. It looks like this.


“We are so grateful to Ken. This was so awful before he sorted it out.”

I had no words, and just thanked my lucky stars that there wasn’t rain to reanimate the dried-out bits. It *is* much better, but in no way could be described as “actively good”.


The school entrance from the schoolyard.

PS. There are several titles I thought of for this post, but none really seemed to fit. Suffice it to say it’s been a really full day of new experiences. Also, I banged my head twice and now have a big lump on the left side of my head where I walked into the side of the school where the eaves changed height. In fairness to me, I was distracted by the much-improved open sewer I was walking along at the time.