Winnie The Pooh and the Productive Day

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)…

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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.

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“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”.

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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.

Istanbul, not Constantinople

One of the *many* interesting facts we learned today was that Istanbul means nothing and was chosen as the most diplomatic new name for Constantinople that they had to choose from. I can’t remember who “they” is, and at the moment, if you are reading this , you have better access to google than me – so if you’re interested to know more, someone else on the Interwebs can tell you more. This post should be read with the underlying soundtrack of They Might Be Giants’ song with the same name as this post, because it’s been whirling around in my head for most of today.

Today’s epic began last night when, after we had waited for the luggage for 20 minutes, it turned out, it what been checked in to be automatically transferred to Nairobi. Subsequently we have concluded that, given the amount of luggage we have…

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…this is a good thing, as lugging it to the accommodation & back again, and downstairs to the room in the middle of the night, would have been a nightmare. However, had we known that we wouldn’t see the luggage until Nairobi we would have packed differently. More than one of us would have packed pyjamas. I would have had 2 pairs of knickers in my hand luggage instead of just one. We would all have put a towel in. And possibly some shampoo & deodorant. We asked the guest house very sweetly if they would be willing to let us use a towel, as we unexpectedly didn’t have our luggage… so they supplied a single hand towel. Between 5 of us. I won’t reveal who showered from the group, but given the resources, it wasn’t all of us.

So, having had a fairly ropey night’s sleep where we mostly went to sleep too warm and woke up too cold & reaching for blankets, we set out for a day’s sight-seeing. Our accommodation has been purposely well chosen to be well located for a lot of the major tourist attractions. We climbed up the hill and found ourselves at the main plaza between Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. We ignored both of these and headed straight underground to The Cistern. How exciting, you ask, can a big watery hole in the ground be? It turns out quite enchanting if not actual excitement-filled. It’s huge, about 2-ish feet deep (an approximation – I’m happy to be corrected) with water which has a lot of fish in it. Some of the fish are pretty large (length of your forearm, if not longer) and I can only assume that they have either been introduced or invaded since the cistern held the main water supply for the city. In the far end of the space there are two carved Medusa-heads at the base of 2 of the columns. There is apparently much debate as to the significance of them. My money is on there was spare stone knocking about and, as it would hopefully be deeply submerged in water most of the time, they didn’t bother chipping the existing carvings off.

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On emerging, blinking into the light, we headed over to the Blue Mosque (and on our way were offered many exciting tourist opportunities in many languages) where we were warned we only had a short window to look around before mid-day prayers. We headed in, heads covered in some cases, but no trousers rolled up and all shoe-free (the carpets were very cold – I’d suggest their fabric committee consider some kind of underlay upgrade) . The interior is lovely – blue patterned tiles throughout and clearly very well maintained. Of course, some tourists completely missed the “no tourists past this point” sign & had to be shepherded back to the correct side of the barricades, but we were of course impeccably behaved. Ken even resisted the temptation to go and argue with the Islamic advisor who was ready to educate the curious.

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By the way out, and not *really* given much significance, I’d say, was a gold and silver model of the tomb of the prophet given to the Turkish Government by Saudi Arabia. I’m assuming it’s real gold & silver, given who it’s from. If it was found to be made out of FIMO you’d be incredibly disappointed.

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There is another model in the courtyard outside of the mosque itself, which looks like it’s made out of bronze – altogether more charming and clearly less revered as the case it’s in has quite the condensation problem – this is the only angle I could get where the view wasn’t obscured by model rainclouds.
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From this temple of reverence we went to The Grand Bazaar. It’s possible I may be jaded, but the stalls weren’t super-compelling – individually the stuff was pretty and clearly you were somewhere other than Wigan Indoor Market, but a lot of the stalls had the same goods on them. We had a coffee/tea in order to get change for the loo, but other than a key ring for Vish, the traders were largely untroubled by us. From there we headed to the spice market, where we were told the best Turkish Delight was to be had. The streets on the way down to the shore were actually a lot more interesting than the bazaar for me – a wider variety of stalls, and a *lot* more people. In negotiating a rate for souvenir TD, Ken was in his element. In the end, we got a good price and the chap’s life story (he’s a Syrian refugee who was 18 months shy of graduating – he’s thinking Germany is a good plan for education completion).

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So, from there we went back up the hill to Hagia Sofia, which started as a church, became a mosque, and is now a church again. When it became a mosque, the intricate and opulent mosaics were covered over with Islamic decorations and non-decorations in the form of marble panels. There is rescue/restoration work in progress in the form of chipping back plaster-work which is controversial all over again, especially as Saudi Arabia still consider the building to be a mosque and are getting very sniffy (bombastically sniffy, I’m told) about Moslem things being removed.

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By this time we were well overdue for lunch, so we stopped at a restaurant around the corner from the hostel. Enjoying the lack of nut-intolerant husband gazing at my food, I had a pistachio kebab, which was actually beef-based, but with pistachios included. And very tasty it was, too.

And now, we are at the airport waiting for our flight to Nairobi. I feel a bit nervous at this stage – having never been to Africa before, it’s hard to know what to expect. I’m thinking heat, dust, and smells. And probably no sleep, given that we leave at nearly 8pm on a 6+ hour flight.

This won’t be posted until I have wi-if and enough time to add photos, which won’t upload until I have wi-fi. Apologies for the delay.