Home from home

The journey to Kome was quite a bit tougher this time. We were delayed on the first ferry for two hours and when we got to the other side it was obvious they’d had quite a bit of rain. Mostly there isn’t quite space for two lanes of traffic to fit easily on the road, because the road slopes down at the sides so much. To add to which the buses deal with their loss of steering ability by travelling down the middle of the road (at high speed), with no intention of moving for anyone or anything. We made the decision when coming out to Africa this time to not take any unnecessary risks, and that means avoiding rushing when driving. Thankfully, despite our decision to take it easy on this journey, we had no problem getting the next ferry.

It was so nice to be able to actually stay in our own house on Kome. It really helped the children feel settled. There’s just enough space in their room for both their beds and they were very excited declaring their own sides of the room! The house is almost finished and looks pretty good, apart from the absolutely filthy walls. There were some sketches on the walls and the children added a fair few of their own during the week! The walls will be cleaned and painted next time, so hopefully they won’t be too disappointed to find their drawings gone!

The main purpose of the next few trips to Kome is to just get used to how life works on the Island, to get to know people and to work on our Swahili. There are some interventions that we’re hoping to promote on the island and the plan is to use them ourselves and model their use to encourage uptake. One is a tippy-tap (http://www.tippytap.org/). This is a simple tap that works by hanging a bottle on a rope, there is a hole in the body of the bottle for water to come from and a string tied to stick at the bottom. By standing on the stick the bottle is tilted and you have a basic hands free tap. A bar of soap is also tied to the bottle or nearby branch. The second intervention we plan to use is SODIS (http://www.sodis.ch/index_EN), this is a way of purifying water using UV by placing clear plastic bottles of water on the roof of the house and leaving the sun to do its thing. The bottles rest between the corrugations of tin roofs (which the vast majority of houses have here). Third, is a fuel efficient cook-stove. These stoves use less fire-wood and produce less smoke. In order for these interventions to be attractive they have to work for us, and that is where I think we need a bit of practice!fuel efficient stove

The tippy-tap worked OK, but wasn’t the most convenient – we probably should have checked the instructions online first because I don’t think the holes were in quite the right place and at one point I got an unexpected shower when the string broke! The water is a definitely a challenge. Due to a miscommunication, water hadn’t been collected for us when we got there, which was quite late in the day because of the various delays. Lake water needs to be stored for at least 24 hours for the schistosomiases to die, so that was already a lost cause. Sitting for that time also helps the dirt to sink to the bottom. The water was also pretty dirty and it was only when we asked someone to re-stock the following evening that we were told that the lake water is much dirtier in the evenings. Being there helped me realise how much life revolves around water. You don’t notice how much you use when you run a tap and how much you appreciate that the water coming out of it is at least relatively clean. Collecting lake water is a major part of daily life on the island. After letting our water sit for a while we decided the untreated water wasn’t clean enough really for washing our dishes (after using it a few times), so tried adding water treatment to it. Unfortunately the treatment sank straight to the bottom and needed stirring, thus mixing all the sediment back in. It’s such a lesson of trial and error. We now know to remove the clean water from the top and treat that! Water collecting and cleaning is definitely time consuming, and takes a fair bit of thought.

It’s also the top level water that needs to be used for SODIS, because UV can’t effectively kill germs if there are lots of particles in the water blocking it. This means that water needs to sit for about 24 hours and then be SODISed in full sunlight for about 8 hours (two days if half the sky is covered in clouds) before we can use it. So for this to work for us for the first few days of our trips the process would have to be started before we get there, so realistically we’ll only be able to partially use this method. We already know we can get along with SODIS from our timie in Iringa where we treated rainwater collected from the roof, so we plan to model something similar on kome- using plastic tanks and gutters to store rain (which will still need to be treated because of e.g. bird poo on the roof).

We have a camp shower, which really made a difference. It’s effectively a big black bag that you fill with water and leave in the sun to warm up. It was nice to have a warm, if brief, shower in the evenings! On our first day I walked into the toilet/washroom and was immediately greeted by several faces in the window that had climbed up to watch the ‘white woman uses a pit latrine’ show. Thankfully the house we moved into in Mwanza had double curtains on several windows (four instead of two), so we’d brought a bunch with us. This made a huge difference to the quality of my life at that moment!

The final challenge was the fuel efficient stove. Simon is pretty handy, being a Queen Scout and all, so this was a job with his name all over (despite it being a bit countercultural for men to be involved in cooking). We didn’t have great success. Simon did make some bread using a fire-top oven, and boil some water, but we found it quite smoky – not a great example for a reduced smoke cook stove. Perhaps the wood was a bit wet, but whatever the cause someone actually came to try and sell as charcoal telling us they’d seen all our smoke, and that coal would be much cleaner. This kind of goes against the point of the stove, so again we need to do a bit of problem solving! We cheated a bit and took a small one ring gas stove. I’ve felt a bit torn about this because the advice is to use the intervention you are promoting. But equally there’s no point trying to pretend the fuel efficient stove is ever going to be easier than a gas stove and honestly the need for sanity will always win the argument in my mind!

Some of the successes of the trip included getting to know our neighbours a bit – we shared food with our immediate neighbours a couple of times. I had been sort of dreading having to eat ‘dagaa’, the local very small fish that are dried across the whole coastline of Kome and then boiled and served in the very fishy smelling sauce. It turns out though, that when you’re staying there and everything is fish, from the air you breath to the lake water you boil and filter, that actually there’s not much contrast between the general environment and the fish itself and it actually tasted pretty good. Tabitha was a big fan. It’s cooked with plenty of salt too, which your body craves in the heat.

The local children enjoyed spending time with our children and by the end of the trip instead of calling out ‘Mzungu’ (foreigner) they were calling out ‘rafiki’ (friend), which was really nice for Tabitha especially. It would be lovely if she could make a couple of friends who can enjoy her friendship without having to constantly touch her to see what she feels like. I think there is potential with some of the girls who are a couple of years older than her. Reuben may have a harder time as it’s harder to reason with children of his age!20170928_121008

We had one of the pastors over for dinner one evening and managed pretty much the whole time in Swahili, so that was encouraging, although there’s still a lot of work to be done on language acquisition! We’ve had meetings with the heads of the surrounding villages and people seem fairly well informed about why we’re there. We had several people come to ask when the health project will be starting. My background is public health and I do believe that’s the best way I can be most useful on Kome, but it is challenging that inevitably people have come knocking with immediate medical needs. I’m grateful to be working with the RICHI clinical officer, who I can refer people onto. I suspect though that they’d love to see a fully qualified doctor, but unfortunately most of the time that isn’t possible.20170929_183436

We’ve budgeted to go to travel to Kome twice a month and we just need to work out the logistics of it. To be honest the five day trip took its toll a little. With washing dishes in a bowl on the floor, cooking down low and handwashing some clothing, my back was pretty achy. We definitely need to get a couple of low stools to sit on! Equally the journey there and back is pretty spine jarring. There’s quite a lot to pack as we don’t have enough duplicates to stock both houses so the packing and unpacking is a bit of a mission, not to mention having to leave at the crack of dawn both ways. Simon easily did most of the workload and had all the signs of being exhausted when we got back and spiked a fever the next day. As for me, I used my forward facing phone camera as a mirror while we were there. It has an automatic setting to detect your age. It’s usually pretty much spot on for me, but when I looked in it after one particularly bad night on Kome it suggested I was 51! We’ll need to work out a pattern of travel that works for us. Hopefully we’ll be heading back next week, but it may be towards the end of the week, rather than at the beginning.

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