Mama said there’d be Months like this

Hey kids and kiddos! Its been a month of months. Working in a developing country can definitely put you to the test emotionally and physically. But its when we are tested that we truly see how strong we are.

Current Projects!!!

Mt Kenya Honey-
We are rolling in honey literally. Ok maybe not literally that’s just crazy. But currently we have harvested the most honey that this area has seen in 3 years. And  that’s a pretty sweet feeling. I went out to Kisimu to visit my PCV friend Deidra Duncun who works with a EcoTourism cooperative called Rafiki (it’s the baboon in the lion king and also means friend in Swahili). One of their big activities is bee keeping. One of the things that they have done really well is developing contracts for their beekeepers. Contracts to pay for the hives( with honey) and contracts to sell back to the cooperative. I took the 10 hour bus ride (on three different buses) then a 2 mile walk to get to her cooperative. It was very cool to see all the work they were doing there. And I made some good contacts. While I was away the Mt Kenya Honey Board met and decided that they did not like the logos that we had developed. They scraped the whole label, logo and all and had 3000 labels printed with a real photo of Mt Kenya. It is these moments in which you are left with a complete what just happened feeling. These new labels will have to work but I

am not sure how to brand this honey now as we have no real logo. I also found out the other day too that our bottles leak and we need to take actions to find new bottles and caps.

There has also been a big problem with our honey crystallizing too quickly. Our customers want to have liquid honey. I have been doing a lot of research and certain plants give the bees certain pollen that is certain to make it crystallize faster or slower. Aka the speed of
crystallization depends on the pollen. You can also cook the honey and it will remain liquid but it takes all the good nutritional stuff out. We wanted to experiment with adding small amounts of water to see if this could help. More on this later.

Football Family and MYSA-
Football is in the air! I have been speaking with several people back and forth about getting some of our boys out here in Naro Moru involved in a training that is going on in December. This training will teach them first aid, coaching, and refereeing. It will also explore leadership roles and mentoring. I hope to have about 8 of our teenagers go through this training. After the training we will explore setting up the league come January with a league consultant from MYSA. Good things are coming.

Matumba Arts-
These guys have been doing a great job and can barely keep up with their work load. I really want to help them develop a marketing package but currently I am worried about over reaching what they are able to do. You don’t really need marketing if you can not even keep up with the demand that you already have! We have raised prices on
almost everything across the board and are now really just focusing on following the money.

The Mt Kenya Guide and Porters-
Its been a long time coming! We have been waiting on our registration that has finally come through. We are now currently working on getting our Executive Summery together. After this we will start to seek funding while holding a meeting to elect a board of directors for the Guide and Porters Association. More on this later too!

Really and truly life here is good and I am happy and proud to be on this adventure. I have just signed up for another full marathon- the world aids day marathon also out in Kisimu. This will mark my 8th Full Marathon. Just nuts. Still in the process of writing an article about the last race, the Lewa. It will be submitted to runners world, readers digest, and a few others.

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I think that I also figured out what I want to do with myself when I get back to the states but I am going to leave that as a cliff hanger so you guys will just have to tune in next month.

Thank you all for your continued love and support. I could not do this without all of you. Take care and be well!

J

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Working Hard for the Shillings

Dear Readers,

This first paragraph has been written to express and convey my love of the avocado. It is the world’s most versatile food. Sure you can use it to eat and it is nutritious and delicious but that’s just scratching the surface. You can use it as a gift to appreciate a loved one. You can use it to get stains out of your clothes and your pets. Unripe ones can be used in sporting events or to defend yourself against an attacker. Don’t have a star for the tree come Christmas?  Avocado skins can be used to make a perfect addition to any Christmas tree. And no deodorant before a date? NO PROBLEM. Avocados have been tested to release a scent that is pleasing and masks odor. Most people think that dogs are mans best friend but I surmise that in fact it’s the avocado.

Avocado,

Josh

I can not believe that it is already time for another exciting installment of Kenyan Days of Our Lives. This month has rocketed by. At the beginning of the month I had the pleasure of joining Charles (my supervisor) as he guided a group called World Challenge from the UK who came to climb the Aberdare Mountains. World Challenge is a program that gets kids to raise their own money to travel to far away places and experience different cultures. They are usually around the age of 15 and they have to book their own transport and organize their entire trip.  Pretty amazing. I had to be properly vetted to go on the trip- Peace Corp sent me this letter that basically said I am a nice guy and as dangerous as a cute cuddly puppy. The trip was a 5 day hike up and down from the summit. The scenery was amazing and a little wet most days. The kids did really well and I came out with plenty of new ideas to redesign and readjust our packages for World Challenge. I also was able to take lots of photos that we can use on the website. BONUS!

Later the next week my great friend Deb Cox of the Red Cross asked me to come up and do some basic business training for some of the Red Cross Volunteers up in a place called Isiolo. Isiolo is a sun parched, dusty, tumble weed of a town and it is what I imagine a western in Kenya would look like. Training is at HIGH NOON now DRAW a chart of supply and demand…The training went well and I think that despite my best effort they actually learned something!

I have written an article about the Lewa Marathon that I want to start to send out to several newspapers and other publications. I will post it after this blog! If you know of any publications that might be interested in receiving it email me at Diondurst@gmail.com.

 

Electricity has been a time consuming process and we are still trying to cross all our T’s and dot all our lower case j’s. Especially before I put the money on the table to get this process going. I think that the installation will happen in September. Lightswitches!

Project check’em up!

 

1. Bees- We have hit a sticky spot with our honey. We have passed all of our health code certification tests (called KEBS) but the Kenya Health Board must be knitting us a pillow with the certification on it because it has almost been two months since we passed our tests and no certificate. You can not be sold in stores until you get said certificate- no exceptions.

Thus far this harvest has been the most successful harvest that we have had since the infusion of cash from US AID 3 years ago. There has been an issue with our farmers selling to other venders to make higher profits. The problem is that we have given them hives, bee suits, training, and a professional bee keeper that makes rounds to each apiary each week. We are buying honey at 300 kenya shillings per Kg. Than we process it, package it, and transport it to sell it at 400 ksh. Other venders are buying at as low as 150ksh per Kg- it was our goal to raise the industry buying numbers to put more money back in the farmers pocket. But the farmer can just cut us out and sell it at 400-500ksh to their own customers. It will be poorly package usually in used soda/ liquor bottles. Contracts are hard to enforce at best and repossession will land you in a world of hurt as most people see it as their property now and will defend it. So we are kind of in a Pickle. A sweet honey pickle. More to come on this soon.

2. Bamboo Farming

Our seedlings are finally ready to set out and find a good home. We are currently looking around to see if we can find some responsible parents for these guys who will take the time to really nurture them. The problem with bamboo here is that some years ago bamboo was so over harvested the government made it illegal to harvest bamboo. 1 stick of bamboo could land you in jail for 10 YEARS. And then you have selfish disrespectful panda bears just eating it like IT GROWS ON TREES.

The government repealed the law but it is not well known that the law doesn’t exist anymore and there is a stigmatiziam that follows bamboo around. I think that we need to put together a tree hugger campaign to relearn that loving bamboo is ok. Thus far it has been a bit of an uphill very tree less road.

3. Energy Saving Jikos and Carbon Credits

This project has been put on hold for the time being. Our investors pulled funding because well they went bankrupt. It was hard to argue with that. We already have a lot of money tied into this project but I am weary of the company that has been trying to organize our Carbon Credits initiative. They were very eager to help in the set up (which was super expensive) but when it started to come close to the point that they would be paying us for our carbon credits- a little less eager to help. In fact, just straight hard to find anyone that wanted to chat.

Matimba Arts- These guys have been super busy and really starting to put some amazing products together and they are flying out the door. We have raised the prices on many things and we still can not keep up with demand. They have been so busy that our last few meetings have been cut short just so they could keep working. This cooperative has so much potential to grow and grow. It has been hard to find people that can sow professionally. The quality of their products are unreal and are even sold in up scale lodges now. I want to help them put together some marketing packages to approach more lodges and commercial entities. I need to have a sit down with them soon and see what our next steps are but it will probably involve finding new labor and developing our marketing packages. GAME On!

Football Family meets MYSA

All the Peace Corps who were in my group were  called into Nairobi for our 16 month medical check up where they drawl blood, take our weights, and check us for worms. But this provided me with an opportunity to finally have a meeting with MYSA. What an amazing organization. MYSA stands for the Mathada Youth Sports Association. Mathada is the second biggest slum in Nairobi consisting of 13 districts, and currently has 25,000 teenagers involved in the MYSA program. What MYSA does is it teaches the teenagers to ref and organize their own soccer games and tournaments. They also organize community service events that engage in learning about the environment, orphans, and disabled people. For each game and event the children attend they are given a certain amount of points. At the end of the year the top 500 points /kids are given scholarships to go to school. Its completely run by the kids and its amazing the leadership skills they have and the way that they are able to work in teams.

Currently, MYSA does not operate out of Nairobi but they have been wanting to organize some satellite leagues to see if it can work in other places- which is almost exactly what the Football Family Franchise was going to be. I am trying to arrange some MYSA training for about 8 of the guys in Naro Moru which will happen in December. The training will include first aid, refereeing, and coaching. Then I think first of the year we will have a man come from MYSA and help us put the structures in place to get this whole thing going.

The other day I had my friend Erin give me a call and invited me to a music festival that was being held in a place called Navasha. It was the weekend that I was headed back from Nairobi and it was on the way home. I do not know what sparked the next idea but regardless it happened. The same day I went to Matimba Art and asked them to make me into a 7 foot banana that I could wear at the festival. They were excited and up to the challenge. They took my measurements and 4 days later I picked up a hand tailored custom fitted banana costume. Truly an amazing costume to behold. For fun I wore the outfit to my dental and medical examinations as well. The dentist office, whom I had never had the pleasure of meeting, I do not think was ready for a 7 foot banana man at 8:30am. I filled out my paper work and had my teeth cleaned and got some amazing photos.

Later I was robbed and lost my camera. It seems life is not without a sense of hilarious irony.

I wrote this on my way to the police station and wanted to share:

I was pick pocketed today and I was disheartened and angry. Confused and wanting to understand why. But then I remembered something. Its only money. My family and friends are in good health as am I. I love my life and am blessed in the people I have in my life. I am also fortunate to have the outlook and attitude that I have. My life was not threatened and these things can be replaced. Many people live for money and things but it is love, admiration, and respect will always make your life great. Not things, not money. Live to build and experience new relationships and places. Be weary of your priorities.

The festival was amazing and we had a great time. There were many photos taken and I will post as soon as they come in! And my sister is coming to visit in OCTOBER. How cool is that? I think that she might be in for quite a culture shock but I am so looking forward to it.

That’s all for now take care and be well my friends

J

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Wheels on the Matatu go Round and Round

7.25.2012

Thanks for tuning in again this week to hear the infamous conclusion of Adventure Josh’s cunning July Rescue. Did he make in across the canyon? Did he rescue Maid Kelly from the train? Well our story begins something like this…

Whoa! Even I want to know what happen to Maid Kelly! Just another day here waking up in Kenya and gee golly its raining again. Making washing clothes/ dishes kind of a pain. When I have to wash things outside its like I am playing in the rain but its really work. I am starting to put together a short video series called “This African Life” that will show you how I wash dishes, clothes, bathe, and a few other silly things that I experience through out the day. Its been fun to do but I think my neighbors must think that I am crazy as I am talking to myself (perhaps more than usual)!

Our first Kenyan race, the Lewa Marathon, was a beautiful and brutal race that happened on June 30th. Lewa Downs is a Game Preserve that has any animals that you could imagine. They fly helicopters to scare away dangerous game for the runners. I still was able to run by zebras, giraffes, and a few Kenyans!

Its hills, heat, and elevation has lead it to become rated one of the top 10 hardest marathons in the world. I had 5 other Peace Corp Volunteers come out and we raced as a Peace Corp Team with our sweet PC Jerseys. Mark, Jenny, and Deidra did the Half Marathon and Izzy, Anna, and I did the Full Marathon. Only 1,000 people ran the race, and only 200 people of that did the Full Marathon. (But of those 200 only 115 people crossed the finish line.) Everybody on the team did great and put in a valiant effort. I crossed the finish line in a little over 5 hours and was pleased to still be standing! It was an amazing experience and I was happy to have accomplished it. I have begun to write a few articles about a few Americans running with Kenyans that I want to send to a few local publications back home and a few Peace Corp publications as well. There is another marathon in December- The World Aids Day Marathon but I have not decided yet!

I’m #1…. Literally! 🙂

At camp, before the marathon

Group photo after marathon

Soon after the Marathon I had wonderful family vacation with Mom and Jeff in Italy for a little over a week. Two days after the race I boarded a plan and traveled 30 hours to meet Mom and Jeff in Rome. More than anything it was just wonderful to see them and spend time with them. Don’t get me wrong- being in Italy catching up is pretty amazing. We traveled all over hitting Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, Venice, and finishing in Milan. I think my favorite place on this trip was Cinque Terre. It was like a small lazy beach town that was carved out of the mountains. So peaceful and beautiful. I took videos of the tides coming in and out so when stress comes I will just loop these videos till the power goes out! Thanks Mom and Jeff for a wonderful Trip!

Venice

Cinque Terre!

Cinque Terre

Spanish Stairs… in Rome

I will add that I experienced quite a culture shock coming from Kenya to Italy. While sitting in Rome I watched two girls argue over which $100 perfume they should get- meanwhile I am thinking that would feed a family of 4 for a month here (in Kenya). In Europe and in the States we work to play and have nice things. Here most people work to meet their very basic needs shelter, food, and water – perfume be damned!

Project Check up!

1. Mt Kenya Honey
We have successfully passed our KEBS Certification (Kenya Health Codes) and are awaiting our certificate so we can start labeling our Mt Kenya Honey. We have concreted a specific logo and are now trying to figure out if we want to do it as a clear label or a black and
white label. We are also designing nice wooden point of sale stands to hold the honey near the checkout counters at a few of the stores. The stands will have a removable sign if and when honey goes out of stock. Harvesting has been going well but a little slow. We have harvested 150 Kilograms of honey so far. Just this amount is the most honey that has been produced here in 3 years! I am very excited to see how much more we will harvest in the next few weeks.

2. Mt Kenya Adventure Co
Still trucking through the website. Have been mainly trying to figure out which safari companies to work in conjunction with so that we seem like a more well rounded company. Many people want to climb or hike rather than sit in a car and see animals for a bit!

3. Matumba Arts
The arts center that makes everything from pillows to couches is going really well. I gave them homework while I was away on vacation to figure out how much time and cost was going into each item. Each of the employees has been given a little book that they track all the costs and time. It has been a real eye opener and many of the prices have started to go up. We have also decided to cut out a few of their product lines- such as paper and jewelry. This will allow them to focus more on their sewing and painted products. Also, because there is such a good profit margin in their furniture section we have begun to see about expanding that line. Thus far, everything is going really well and I am very proud of these guys.

4. Football Family
We have made all sorts of connections to many of the various football leagues and associations all around. Even have connections with the British Military here now. My next step has been a rather tough one as I really need to set up a meeting with MYSA (Mathada Youth Sports Association) who love to work with organizations such as the Football Family. They are based out of Nairobi, but we (PCV) are not allowed to travel too, which has been a problem. I really think that they are the key to seeking funding and guidance for the next step. I am not sure how to tackle this issue just yet.
Last thought! It is interesting that I was never really aware of the poverty that is in the rest of the world. You see it in movies, and read about it, but until you live it and see it in person, the concept is truly hard to grasp. Most of the world does not live the way that
we do (Americans) and they live with far less than we ever could imagine. We all need to appreciate our lives and surroundings a little more because there are people in the rest of the world that will never know the supreme pleasures that we have had our fingertips every day.

Remember how lucky you are to be what and where you are. There are people here that would make huge sacrifices just to live the way that you live everyday. Be happy and appreciate yourself and those nearby.  That’s all I got for now!

Much love to everyone, Take care and be well!

J

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Life on the Kenyan Run

Life gets lived an old wise lady once told me and its as true today as it was then. June has zoomed by and I am trying to figure out where it got off too. I had my birthday on June 12 and my supervisor Charles, Peace Corp kids Rachel and Robin, and our friend Helen (who also had a June 12 birthday) and I went out on a game drive / safari to see elephants, zebras, giraffes, and everything else you could imagine. What a cool way to spend your birthday.

I taught some business basics classes the other day- had about 20ish people show up. It was really my first time teaching adults and it went surprisingly well. The classes were over 3 days and were a few hours each. I tried to make it very interactive and really enjoyed working with these guys. We had quite a mix from rural farmers to business men!

Josh the Teacher

The other big news of the month is the impending LEWA Marathon (on June 30th) in less than 2 weeks. My friend Sara and I ran a 20 mile run about a week ago and we finished in 3 hours and 17 minutes! Too cool. Then yesterday I ran 10 miles on the main road (I run on the main road a lot because most roads become impassable when it rains) and I finished in 1 hr and 17 minutes. I feel like Flash Gorden- dad was teasing me to try it carrying 50 pounds on my back- the weight I have lost here. I politely declined! Thanks to mom, jeff, kat, and robin the marathon jerseys that I designed and printed in the states arrived and they look great. There will be 6 Peace Corp Kenya kids in this race- 3 full and 3 half. Very excited about it! Then after the race I have 3 days to rest and its on to Italy to see Mom and Jeff for a few days!

10 mile RUN TIME

Its so funny the speed at which things move here. I can not stand to sit idle for long which is a hard road in Kenya! Take for example the Guides and Porters Association. We applied for a certificate to officially become a group which is the first step before you can apply for funding. That process though has take almost two months and put that project at a stand still. The bamboo project has had down time as we are waiting for the bamboo to grow. The jiko (stove) project is been slowed down as we have made and dispersed 600 stoves out to the communities. Now we have to wait and see if it deceases their wood consumption and revisit, and resurvey the community members to apply for carbon credits. But when you have 12 projects a few speed bumps just means you can move to another project until you can come back to work on that other project later.

Projects worked on this month:

  1. Bees!

The bees project is going really well and we have now completed the business plan complete with financials. We have also established an extension officer that is making rounds to the 30 apiaries. He has been able to bring the low colonization rate up to 70% and we are expecting almost 10,000kgs of honey in the next 4 weeks. This will be the most honey that this region has seen in almost a decade if all goes to plan. Deciding on a Logo for the Mt Kenya Honey Co has been a bit of a nightmare. Each farmer/ business man has his own opinions of what the mountain should look like. I have produced several logos but it is getting close to the time where we will need to print something soon! Then this week I will help design the label and purchase a barcode for the bottle. Then we have to keep on our KEBS process (health code needed to sell in stores). The KEBS process has been going well its just been a tedious process. I also want to begin to develop some point of sale kiosks for the bigger stores for our honey.

  1. Football Family:

We now have a proposal written for the football league:

Currently, there are a growing number of young adults (age 13-18) who have an interest in football but no means to play it. The Kenyan Football Federation caters more to middle income families leaving no football league for the lower income families in Kenya. Our goal is to set up our own football franchise named the Football Family, which will allow girls and boys to join a league with little to no capital investment. In addition to keeping these young adults preoccupied and out of trouble we seek to use football as a vehicle to teach these them practical life lessons and give them real life experience that they otherwise would not have access too. These experiences will come in many forms some of which will be weekend volunteering visits to places such as orphanages, handicap centers, and various environmental efforts.

The young adults who join the league will be asked to sign a contract that their guardians will also sign that will state that they will sustain the absence of alcohol and drugs while being involved in the league. Each practice and match will start with an oath and finish with a prayer. Through working with each other in this positive environment they will learn the importance of cooperation, pursuing goals, and the determination it takes to achieve your dreams.

Our ambition is to approach larger companies such as Puma, and Adidas to seek equipment that can be purchased at cost and develop grants to purchase those equipments. A coaches salary will also be required of each franchise as it will be the coach who will direct operations and set times and venues of practices / matches. Eventually, we desire to make these leagues self sustaining and not dependent on donor contributions.

The main focus of the Football Family Franchise is to create a way that every young adult in Kenya can enjoy football and experience lessons that can be taught throughout it.

Additional programs that we want to develop through Football Family include:

  1. Adopt a Player- Football players of a similar age range within the UK and the USA will have the chance to “Adopt” a player here in Kenya. The football family abroad will donate money to the girl or boy for shoes or other equipment in exchange for a handwritten letter and photos every 3 months. The cost of postage and printed photos will be covered by Football Family.
  1. Big Buddy Program- Football players on the senior team will be asked to mentor one of the players on the junior teams. Progress reports will be kept about each of the big buddy teams.
  1. Coach Training Programs-Developing other coaches in other areas who can start their own Football Family Franchises.
  1. Sustainability Effort- Investigating ways that the players can make money to support themselves

This proposal was presented to several people that manage the British Army Team here and have been looking to reinvest in the community. It was also presented to the Zytes Foundation at Puma who fosters local programs and have been involved in the football scene here. We have a meeting with Jenga of the Zytes Foundation on this coming weekend- fingers crossed!

3. Kenya Adventure Company

The website still continues and has been a beast. It is 10 pages and growing and details trips from mountain climbing to camel rides and safaris. We have to start approaching safari companies to see if they would like to work with us. We will give them the trips and take a small finders fee for the recommendation. Money for nothing is the MTV way! The website is being developed in parts as we are finishing writing all the content. Media is the next step! Coming soon to a website near you!

4. Matumba Arts

Always room for one more project. There is a local art center that does amazing work and is exceptionally creative. I think that they are doing too much though with 7 completely different product lines from furniture to throw pillows. I want to work with them to increase profits, decrease product lines to 3 or 4, and really nail down how much we are making off each product. More on this next month.

I wanted to close this blog with kind of a cool few experiences that I have seen here. I have always loved people watching- seeing what people are doing, how they are dressed, how they carry themselves. Just interesting. But if you are keen and aware you will realize even though our circumstances can be literally worlds apart- some things for us humans will always remain eternally constant. Watching little kids play hide and seek laughing until they fall down, watching a father teach his little girl how to ride a bike for the first time. The intentions and expressions of these individuals are just as real as the same people doing the same things back in the states. Humans are separated by distance, race, religion, and sex. But we are universally united by our desires, our ambitions, and our quest to make things better for ourselves and others. We are all equals regardless of the circumstances that we are born into, or those events that befall us throughout our lives. Make a special effort to appreciate everyone in your life big and small. Period.

J

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Water water everywhere!

5.06.2012

Holy moly kids. It’s raining again as we truck through our short rainy season. It is usually sunny till around 2 or 3 o’clock, then the clouds open up and it rains all night. The mud here is unreal and as you walk it piles higher and higher on your shoes, till you are like 8 feet tall (only a small exaggeration). I will note though a Kenyan can walk on a muddy trail in white pants and not get an ounce of mud on them where I usually look like I crawled to work!

Today is 11 months in Kenya, living without electricity, water, and indoor bathroom/ shower. I have lost 58 pounds (4 pants sizes) to date and am the lightest I have ever been since I was 12 years old. I look like a different person! I have been increasing my running mileage and am currently at 14 miles. I was able to run from my house (in Nuro Muro) to Nanyuki and then half way back before I was too dehydrated to keep on keeping on. I carry my water with me but need a refill at about 12 miles. I have been running later in the day to get my body used to the heat and sun which stops people from finishing the Lewa Marathon. The Lewa is June 30th and it runs through a game reserve, past zebras, wildebeest, giraffes, and other bigger animals. It has been gaining popularity as one of the cooler marathons in the world but also has earned a top ten hardest marathons in the world. The heat, hilly landscape, and altitude are all reasons that it is so hard. Fortunately, I live 2,000 feet higher in elevation than Lewa and the hills here are a bit bigger because I live on the side of a mountain. Ideal for some hardcore marathon training!

Work has been going well and these last few weeks I feel like I am trying to just keep up with all these projects. Check it out:

Primary Projects:

Bees/ honey:
Coming up quick! Harvest season is upon us and we should be harvesting 8,000kgs of honey in this next harvest (really the first time that we have had a productive honey harvest in the last 4 years). Then we have also started our kebs certification process (like passing health codes in the states, so we can be sold in stores) and building a room that meets their strict cleanliness requirements. We have ordered the bottles but I have to buy a barcode and put the labels together to get everything ready to be packaged and shipped. I also want to check back with my farmers to see if there is any additional equipment needed. Then to review the business plan that I wrote a few months ago…

Bamboo:
I just attended a 2 day value chain seminar on the benefits and reasons for growing bamboo. There is a huge demand for it and it has over 2,500 uses, including building furniture and even bikes. We have 5 farms that are working to produce seedlings to start this project. We hit a wall when we started with a species of bamboo that was not used to the cold weather here and there was a virus (bamboo has no immune system to repel sickness) which killed off our whole first batch. But I think that we got it right now! These last bamboo seedlings have been doing much better- I believe the goal is 750 seedlings to start.

Bamboo here has had a hard life- back in the early 1980’s the bamboo was harvested so much and so often that the government put a ban on harvesting it, that remains till this day. So strict that one pole of bamboo could land you in jail for 10 years. It has created  astigmatism of people avoiding bamboo at all costs even though it is not illegal to grow your own bamboo and use it. In the last 3 decades, people have forgotten about bamboo but we are bringing it back! It grows silly fast and uses little water. It is also good for preventing soil erosion. These two things have led us to become friends with bamboo again and I think that bamboo deserves a second chance-don’t you?

Jikos (stoves)/Carbon Credits:
We have performed a week long survey finding out how much wood local families use when cooking or heating their homes. Then we have started to design our own new custom energy efficient stove called a jiko here to help reduce the amount of wood that is used in those processes. If we can get our stoves into 600 homes, than we qualify for carbon credits. Carbon Credits is essentially a process that says if you can protect an area or reduce processes that harm the environment (in this case wood burning and deforestation) then they award you credits/ money if you can make those efforts sustainable for at least one year.

These are the Jikos

Kenya Adventure Co.:
John and Charles’ mountaineering company has come a long way. I have been continually impressed by the level of service that they offer. We have been working mostly on the website, there has been so much content it has taken a while to write all of it. Now, the guys are reviewing all the data and then it will go to the developer. I have been having issues finding an insurance company that will cover our mountain hiking trips. Most providers will only cover you to 15,000ft but the point that we climb to is 16,000 feet. More research needed! The last part is to figure out how to accept credit cards, in general, and also on the website.

Guides and Porters Association (GPA):
We have held all of our awareness meetings and they all went really well. We have the Kenya Wildlife Service on board, which will require that guides, porters, and cooks be certified to a specific level of skill and competence that will be decided by the GPA. This association will also standardize wages, weights carried, offer first aid, CPR and financial management classes. They will also be responsible for doing risk management on the mountain. Out of the 2,000 guides and porters, there is a group of 60 individuals who do not want to join, for their own reasons. We have a meeting with them soon to see if we can get them to join. However, if everything goes to plan they will be required to join our association regardless of the outcome of the meeting. The next steps are to elect the committee to run the GPA and then they will elect a board of directors. Then these two committees will decide how we proceed.

Secondary Projects:

Football (soccer for you kids!)- Symon, a football coach, approached me about starting to put together our own football league, because the costs of the one that does exist, we cannot begin to afford. Most of the kids that are playing soccer are playing without shoes, pads, and sometimes they play with a ball made of plastic bags. I want to write a proposal to get them soccer balls and eventually shoes and pads. It will be a slow road because it is very dangerous for some kids to be playing with cleats and some playing barefoot. We are starting with 130 registered kids who are between the ages 14-18. Symon wants this to be more than just a league of play, he relates football to math and other subjects. It will also become a vehicle for the boys to do volunteer work on the weekend with disabled people, orphans, and a variety of environmental projects.  It seems like there is a lot of funding for youth football and girls football in Kenya. My goal is to start with the boys league then later, have them help me develop a girls league after we have a formula that works. Girl’s football has not seen a lot of positive feedback because of the house chores that are required of most girls here. They do not have nearly as much free time as the boys do. I have given myself 2 weeks to put together a proposal that Symon and I will begin to sell our league to organizations such as FIFA, Adidas, and Puma.

Peace Crop Nutrition Plan- I have always been interested in learning about healthy eating and why certain foods make us feel the way they do. As I have been shedding more and more weight, I have been curious about why the diets here have such a huge impact on our overall health. I already have a solid background in nutrition because of all the marathon running/ training I have accomplished. You have to eat perfectly to run almost 30 miles! Two other volunteers, Louis and Lorenzo, have been helping me compile a nutritional plan for all of Peace Corp. We had a chance to meet a few weeks ago, in at the Ultimate Frisbee Tournament, but we needed a little more time. I am very excited to put together this plan that will include a guide to general nutrition, exercise, and motivation!

Business Basics- This is an idea that Blake and I have slowly been developing. We want to create a very user friendly ‘business basics package’ to help the non-business volunteers. There are even some business volunteers that do not have backgrounds in business! More on this later…

Lily Pond- I have been working with Stacy PCV and Katy and Gareth, the owners, of the Lily Pond Arts Center. The restaurant was having trouble so Stacy and I went in and did some consulting for them. In the past few weeks Katy and Gareth have made some amazing and wonderful changes. The restaurant has now become a happening smoothie and coffee bar. The gift shop has become a bar and lounge (called The Pond) which has been quickly gaining popularity. We even had the Kenya Boys Choir come and sing there last Saturday (who played for President Obama)! Not bad for a place that’s only been open a few weeks. Gareth is the guy who is helping us develop the Kenya Adventure Co. website, so we come full circle in the helping game. Both of them have been wonderful to me and I feel very lucky to be a part of all this. Next step is to begin to develop the arts programs that Katy is very excited to begin. We were going to develop a CBO (Community Based Organization) called Hearts for Arts, which will create art programs for the community.

“The Pond” at the Lily Pond Art Center

 

Whew! So that’s about the majority of my workload for now! I am leaving today to do some work with the UNDP (United Nations Development Project) for a few days in a place called Embu. They disperse funding for many of the local development projects in the area. Then next week I will be teaching my bee and bamboo guys 3 days of business management classes.

Life gets lived! Just staying above the water and riding the wave! Here’s a few recent photos from the Adventures of Josh!! (More blog to read below!)

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The Lewa Marathon is coming up quick (June 30) as is my Birthday (June 12)! Then in the beginning of July I am heading to Italy for about 10 days to see my mom and my new step dad, Jeff! Very exciting. Then in August, I have a hiking trip planned to the Abadare Mountains, where I will be working as a representative of the Kenya Adventure Co. to learn more about our British World Challenge Program.

On a side note! I was thinking today how we can live next to people every day but not understand truly how their lives are. I think that I have been hypersensitive to it because I have friends at both ends of the spectrum here. My neighbors live without electricity, water, windows, have dirt floors, and cook outside. Then I have friends that live a more western-style type of life; driving cars, electricity, running water, playing video games on their TV, basically the life I left back in the states. But it’s true; I don’t think that we realize how good we really have it.

This is a website that is pretty eye opening: http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats

These facts blew me away:

  • Half the world lives on $2.50 a day
  • 80% of world lives on less than $10 a day
  •  ¼ of the world (1.6 billion people) stay without electricity
  • A mere 12% of the world’s population uses 85% of its water, and these
  • 12% do not live in the Third World.

So count your blessings and appreciate your life! Problems are not as bad as you think when you have perspective. Love to all of you,

Take care and be well

-J

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The Only Electric that I Experience is the Electric Slide

Clean shaven, and smiling I came literally running into March. The
main projects on the horizon are building the website for the Kenya
Adventure Company and working a bit more with the Guides and Porters
Cooperative. The website is going well but there is so much work to do
to get it up and running. I completed the layout and even drew it out
so the website developers could start working. Now comes the masses of
content about Mt Kenya, Mt Kili, and several other places. It has
taken way longer than I thought that it might. The constant power and
internet outages in town have been a big hurdle with the website as
well. I save lots of documents to the computer so I can keep working
even when the internet is out. Power is another beast all together- I
do not have power at home so when it is out in town my laptop is a big
paper weight or a huge coaster. I will let you guys know when the
website goes live- it will be one of the better websites for climbing
Kilimanjaro and one of the only websites for climbing Mt Kenya. We
will also offer a Masai Mara trek where you will eat, sleep, and hike
next to real life Masai Warriors for 7 days. I am also helping develop
a camel trek where you will ride a camel for 5 days and stay at farms
and ranches while traveling north from Mt Kenya.

The Guides and Porters Association is going well. We had our third and
final meeting in a town called Chigoria with a fantastic turn out. The
Kenya Wildlife Service was there in numbers and even a few politicians
showed up. I had the pleasure of speaking in front of the group,
explaining my goals for the Association and my background…in Swahili.
For those of you that may be afraid of public speaking, doing it in a
different language is something all together more terrifying/
enjoyable. I air high fived my self after that one. All the pieces are
coming together for this group and all the people with the power to
make the decisions are on board. At the end of all this there will be
risk management for the mountain (making sure there are procedures for
emergency situations). As well as standards for wages, weights
carried, and a certain set of criteria to become a guide/porter/cook
which will be verified through a card they will present at the gate.

This week, my buddy Stacy is coming to visit and we are doing some
consulting for a place called Lily Pond which is a Community Art
Center which is having trouble getting people to come play. We have so
many ideas it is kinda crazy. I really want to build a large checker
board set and a picnic area. The checkers will be the size of a man
hole cover. Awesome.  We also want to redo the menu for the restaurant
and work on some of the other services that we will offer. I will keep
you posted as we develop a plan.

I am super stoked for Easter this year- there are 10 of us that are
getting together and entering into a ultimate frisbee tournament out
on the coast. I think there are 12 teams that will be competing. I
think im going to have to show these guys what super crazy American
Flash Gordon speed looks like. Been marathon training at 7000 feet!
Bring it on! Then I will stay with a peace corp named Lorenzo for a
few days and begin to develop a international peace corp nutritional
plan. Its my hope that it will be given out to all Peace Corps
Volunteers- learning to eat is so important especially when you do not
have access to certain foods. I am really excited about doing some
more research and developing this plan. I can take requests if anybody
wants a copy of it later. It will cover topics such as vitamins and
minerals, how to cook your food, calories and portions, glycemic
index, and how to avoid certain health problems. I also will explore
the differences between cardio and strength training and performance
nutrition.

The Lewa Marathon is coming fast June 30th! There are 3 Peace Corp
Kids doing it plus me! This is their first marathon and my 6th- but
training here is so much harder than in the states. I live at 7000
feet and the area is extremely hilly. I ran a 12 mile clip the other
day and it went really well. I was tired but not like delirious.  I
want to try and develop some Peace Corp Running Jerseys so we could
look like a team. I have had the idea to send letters and photos back
to our hometown newspapers with an article about how we have been
further integrating into Kenyan culture through running. Most of the
natives around here have never really seen a white guy running down
the street but they are very excited about it and very supportive. The
kids will even run with you as long as you don’t take them too far
from their homes-they don’t get tired, they just have other things
that they want to go do.

I installed a big wooden gate in my backyard fence and repaired some
of the barb wire fence that encompasses the property. There are a few
Kenyan guys that have been building this place next to mine where my
landlord is building an addition to keep some of her overflow stuff.
They would just come out and watch me build- an foreigner doing his
own building- again just crazy. Labor around here is so cheap that
they people with money (from my experience here) do very little manual
labor. Its only $2 to have all your laundry washed, 40 cents to have
50 pounds of water hauled ¼ mile, and if you make 3-5 bucks a day in
general you have a good job.

Peace Corps Volunteers have a rough time because you can not explain
that you are living on a similar wages in similar circumstances and
you don’t really have loads of money. I get asked for money from young
to old maybe 10 times a day. Sometimes I take the time to explain what
I am doing but it wears on you after a while. I wish that I could help
all of them but money without direction is not a help. It seems that
is the problem with most relief aid in developing countries. A company
will come in and give $50,000 to a group of poor people and expect
them to develop it into a viable way to generate a living. But its
human nature- If you know that you can get free money then you just
keep applying for Aid money and hoping you win the lottery! There are
a handful of people that really take it and use it to produce a
sustainable way of life but I would say ¾ of people that receive free
cash blow it on things that don’t need and then apply for more.

That’s why I really believe in what we are doing here- its your time
that these people need, not your money. It’s a huge hurdle that we
have to climb though- many people think that your volunteer is here to
just apply for grants for you. I feel very fortunate that my
supervisor Charles respects me and has been very kind to me. I am
super lucky for everything that I have here and am still excited to be
living this adventure.

I have had many questions coming in from soon to be volunteers and
people who want to know things like how I bathe without running water
in a rural mountain community. You all are welcome to write me
anytime- I will respond to each and every letter that comes in. Thanks
so much to everyone’s love and support. Couldn’t and wouldn’t be here
without it! Everybody take care and remember to take time all the time
to appreciate what you have and appreciate those around you that make
your life great.

Take care and be well

J

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Reaching new heights

2.15.12

It’s that time again- to read and marvel at the great feats of the only boy in the world with a magical monkey tail. Our story comes from out in outer space where peanut butter comes from. There once was a boy names Joshua and he lived inKenya. [Enter Joshua]

Hello Boys and Girls!

Time is just flying by! Officially just passed the 8 months mark for living inKenya. It’s pretty crazy to reflect on. The honey business plan is moving along. I put together some financials for the plan and now we have a meeting next week to try and put together an action plan the bees. First step getting production up from ziltch to ziltch and a half!

We have had a few meetings with all the guides and porters here in Naro Moru and then in Nanyuki. I met with a few hundred guys in each town. We are developing an association to unite all the guides and porters in the MT Kenya region. This group will standardize wages, weight carried, and offer classes in financial money management, first aid and CPR. So far it looks very promising. The Kenya Wildlife Service (who run the park) are even on board. This is the first step to helping develop this park to be a safe, organized, and profitable place.

I actually just got back from climbing MtKenyawith a few other Peace Corps just a few days ago. It was so cool to be able to finally climb the mountain that greets me every morning.

Mt Kenya National Park is truly the biggest underutilized secret ofKenya. It has huge rolling hills, big cliffs, the biggest gorge in Africa, an abundance of crystal clear lakes, and the second biggest mountain inAfrica. The only real park presence is the front gate. After that there is almost no trace of human existence. There are no trail markers, maps of the park, trash cans, bathrooms, and only a very few bunkers.

This is a very two sided coin here. The park I would say is on par with that ofYosemiteand capable of bringing in a great deal of tourists/ money into the area. But you need to balance the amount of people that come in as to not disturb the delicate eco-system. The people that run Mt Kilimanjaro have really let the eco-system just tank to make money. There are very few plants there and almost no animals. I don’t want this to be MtKenya’s future. I am really curious to talk to some of the Forest Rangers and Park people in the states to learn howYosemiteachieves the balance of foot traffic and protecting the eco-system. There is a way to do it I am sure. I think that this could be my sustainable project that I could give the people here. A productive park will help all the businesses around here and pump money back into the local economy. Plus the park will be safer (with risk management systems) and it will get the recognition that it deserves while doing it in a way that makes the environment happy.

The climb was amazing and it felt good to stand on top of the world for a little bit. I went with 7 Peace Corp girls and was the token male of the trip! All the girls did really well and everyone made it to the top. Charles (my supervisor) and his company did a wonderful job at keeping us fed, rested, and on track. I was very impressed with their customer service and was excited with their level of service. I think it would be very realistic to put them up against the American and British climbing companies. All we need now is a sweet professional website (I’m currently sketching it out and have a meeting to build it on Tuesday) and some web optimization. Hopefully the designs will be done by the end of this weekend and then I have no idea how long optimization takes.

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There are definitely some days that I feel a bit overwhelmed with all these projects. I guess you just do what you can, the best way you know how and that’s all you can do. I do not know if these things will continue to be sustainable after I leave or if the time of 1 guy for two years is enough to change the lives of many in a positive way. I really hope so! Here’s for a genuine college try!

Last but not least- in my spare time I have started to put together a full scale Peace Corp prom, for some time probably in May. I want staff and volunteers alike to attend and I am searching for a conference hall and a band. All proceeds will go to helping Gender and Development Programs here inKenya. All I need now is a powdered blue tux. Game on!

Much love to all of you

Joshua!

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