Work until you pass out
The second half of the week was just as busy as the first.
On Wednesday morning, we met with Japeth from the Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) at the World Bank. The Bank is located in Upper Hill, amongst many large corporation and NGO headquarters, and was a humble 4-5 story brick building. We went inside (after a cursory security check — I was nervous about the large fruit knife in my backpack, but they didn’t actually check it), and headed to Japeth’s office.
Japeth told us his view of the sanitation ecosystem, and explained the importance of working with the local government. He said that the WSP’s role is primarily to coordinate the many players in the sanitation space, and to publish reports on sanitation in East Africa. He was happy to provide us with some (very dusty) copies of some of the reports they’ve produced recently, which we eagerly snatched up for later reference.
One of us thought that his finishing remarks were a bit blindly nationalistic, but I thought they weren’t necessarily that emotionally charged. Basically, he mentioned that NGOs are usually against the work that the government does in sanitation, and complain that it’s not up to standards. However, this is mostly because the more work the government does, the less work there is for the NGOs to do — essentially, their raison d’etre is eroded the more the government accomplishes. My guess is that the truth is somewhere in between (the government does a sloppy job at times, but NGOs really are worried that need for their services is slowly declining)
We were scheduled to meet with a representative from the Ministry of Agriculture, but the meeting was cancelled as we were about to step into a taxi, so we walked the hot, dusty streets in our formal wear in a search for lunch.
After lunch, we headed to meet with Henry from Technoserve. He was very helpful in sharing his thoughts on both sanitation and the fertilizer markets. He gave us several good contacts in each area, and sent us on our way with plenty of concrete next steps. On our way out, we met wtih the director of Technoserve Kenya who was very interested in biogas and sanitation, and recommended a few more people to meet with us. The only reason we were able to meet him was because I wanted to stick around and take advantage of the first wireless I found in Kenya to make a Skype call to my dad.
That evening we met up with Maia, a Kiva Fellow on her way to Ghana, as well as the other fellows. We had some amazing Indian food, rivaling the best that you can get in the states, and then headed to a bar, which just happened to have Karaoke every other Wednesday night. What luck! Needless to say, we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly (see the rapping gangstars below) and were amused at the Kenyan penchant for 80s love songs and 90s alternative.
Thursday morning we met with Suraj, an Acumen fellow and all-around amazing guy. Suraj is currently working with Peepoople (name explained in a minute), and recently finished some consulting work with Ecotact. Peepoople is an organization started by a Swedish architect that is trying to make flying toilets safer by eliminating pathogens inside. Flying toilets are a phenomenon mostly seen in crowded settlements without proper sewer systems: someone defecates in a plastic bag or on a piece of paper and then throws it outside (maybe in a trash heap or a nearby drainage ditch). Peepoople has developed a bag that eliminates all pathogens using a small urea packet, with the aim of improving the health of the residents without needing to alter their behavior.
Suraj let us know about all the difficulties of working on the Peepoople project, and gave us the inside scoop on Ecotact’s toilets in the Mathare slum (my understanding: it’s not working anywhere near as well as they would like). We could have talked for hours with him (and probably should have), but we had another meeting scheduled, and had to take off.
We headed over to a nearby business complex, where we met with Tom, the founder of Climate Care (now known as JP Morgan Climate Care). Climate care is an organization that deals in carbon credits and CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) projects. They’ve been very successful in their field (thus the buyout by JP Morgan), and Tom definitely knew what he was doing. Tom explained the basics of the carbon credit program (scolding us once for not having read the website before coming — but hey, what do you expect when we have such limited internet?), and went into detail about the difficulties of working with all the different stakeholders. My final takeaway was that for a project of our size, there is absolutely no point in looking at carbon credits as a revenue source. We’d be in a much better position to take advantage of the credits if we were a large, established organization saving over 15M tons of carbon a year.
Without time for lunch, we then headed out to join a UNICEF conference on clean water. We took a matatu (Kenyan crazy bus with too many people and loud music) to the US Embassy area. We weren’t sure of the exact location, but we figured we could find the place by asking around. Unfortunately for us, everyone gave us different instructions, and we wandered up and down the hilly UN/US Embassy area in the hot sun (in our dress clothes) with little success. After about an hour of walking, we found a tour operator who knew the place, and offered to take us there for a couple dollars.
We arrived at the Lord Errol restaurant (Ani commented that it looked someone thought the colonial period wasn’t over), and found the conference room, where someone was finishing up a presentation on their technology. In a very fortunate turn of events, they broke for lunch and said that they had a few cancellations, so we could eat too. It was perfect given that we were starving and thought we’d have to wait until the end to get some food. We talked to a few guests, and met a young guy working on a chlorine dispenser project we heard about back at MIT. The passionfruit juice was amazing, and the lunch was great.
After lunch, I found myself dozing off to less-than-excellent presentations by people working for various NGOs in the clean water space in Kenya. There were only 3 non-Kenyans, and one left early. Although the content itself was fairly straightforward, we learned a lot about the inefficiencies of Kenyan meetings. Some of the stranger things they did included asking all the questions first, then allowing everyone to answer in turn, and speaking to the room in barely audible voices. Some of the powerpoint presentations with their crazy animations were downright hilarious, and the speech from the Minister was one of the most awful, self-promoting and empty pieces of rhetoric I’ve heard (he then promptly left to go do something “important”)
(sorry for the low quality — this camera is on its last legs)
We managed to escape the meeting early and got a ride with one of the ladies from a solar water cooking company. We then packed our bags, had a quick dinner, and hopped on the night bus to Mombasa to stay at the orphanage where Dave’s mom currently works. I was so exhausted I fell asleep and only woke up when the cops stopped the bus and did an ID check on all the passengers.
Stories about the weekend in Mombasa will have to wait for another time, but to sum it up: it was hot, I got sick, the girls at the orphanage were a rambunctious but lovable bunch, and snorkeling helped ease my ailing stomach.