Winding down in Amagoro

We only have 2 more days left in Amagoro before we begin our trip back home to WV. 

This last week has been quite hectic.  Zach and the Elewana Project have partnered with Computers for Africa based out of the US and Kampala, Uganda.  This week 70 computers showed up at the Mission House and we spent the week helping to set the computers up in 7 schools.  These are the first computers to be deployed in these schools.  The Elewana Project pays for the computers, training, and support.  All the schools need to provide is a teacher to be trained and a monthly Internet fee to help defray the costs of the internet.  The computer systems are older model Pentium III and Pentium IV series, but they are greatly appreciated by the schools who have no means to purchase any model of computer.

The local area netword (via radio) is starting to take shape.  We surfed the Internet from Kakapel, Kenya.  Kakapel is where earlier in our trip the first radio tower was constructed to get the signal from Bungoma, 16 miles to the East.  The other school that currently has internet is Katakwa.  Next week a tower will be erected in Kocholia to provide the High School there internet, and from Kocholia, Amagoro will get a feed to the Internet as well.  The Amagoro feed will provide Internet to 3 schools, the Elewana Project offices, the Mission House, the Bishop’s house, and a few other sites.

I’m sorry we won’t be here to see that happen, but I’m sure we will hear Zach’s shouts for joy all the way from Africa.


Transportation options

Zach has given us the fundamentals of transportation options in Kenya, and their relative pecking order on the roads.  But first
some basics of traffic laws in Kenya.  If there are laws, they aren’t followed.  That makes driving in Kenya somewhat
nerve racking. The term used is defensively aggressive.

Amagoro is on one of the main truck routes
from the port in Mombasa to Kampala Uganda, so there are lots of trucks.  The trucks are at the top of the pecking order and go where
and when they want to, at least until they get to the border (more on that a little later).  Next come the large buses.  The two main
routes are Kampala to Nairobi and on to Mombasa, and from the border town of Malaba to Mombasa.  These buses are the Greyhounds of
Kenya. They go fast and only yield to the trucks.  Zach has Toyota Land Cruiser with a large reinforced steel bumper.  The bumper
gives the Land Cruiser a spot above the main form of vehicle transportation, the Matatu.  A Matatu is a Toyota manufactured
van that is designed to seat 7, but has been modified to seat 14-16.  Zach says that Matatu drivers are crazy, but are the most
skilled drivers on the road.  The Matatus travel from town to town picking up travelers along the way.  The matatus rarely go off
the main road because the side roads are too rough for the vans to travel.  Cameron is the only one of us to travel in a matatu.
He has been taking it when he goes to the local hospital.  There are relatively few private vehicles here, and if you don’t have
a bumper like Zach’s, then you fall in line behind the matatus.  The vehicles here take an absolute beating from the roads.
Even the main highway has spots that most cars can’t navigate due to huge ruts and grooves in the pavement, so a 4 wheel drive
high clearance SUV is what you see most of the time. The piki piki is next form of transportation.  A piki piki is a small
chinese built motor cycle with a 125cc engine.  They have a large seat, and I have seen a many as 4 people on one.  The piki piki
drivers typically wait at the matatu stops waiting for passengers that need to travel off the main highway.  They are by far the
most numerous motorized vehicle on the road. The final mechanical means of transportation is the bicycle.  These are the workforce
vehicle in this part of Kenya.  They carry people, water, wood, gasoline, beds, food, basically everything.  Since most people
live off the main highway, the bicycles are quite prevalent on the side roads.  The other main form of transportation is walking.
There are always lots of people walking along the roads.  If I were to guess, the number of people walking outnumber the total
number of passengers riding the buses, matatus, piki pikis, bicycles,
and private cars.

When we traveled to Uganda, the main highway was in much better condition.  The side roads were basically the same rutted dirt
roads.  A person we met on the raft trip, who has relatives living in Uganda said the Ugandan roads get worse the closer you
get to The Congo border.

Going through the border was not too hard for us, but the paperwork required for Zach’s Land Cruiser takes a while to sort through.
The hardest part of going through the border was getting across the bridge into Uganda.  The bridge is a two lane road with trucks
buses, matatus, piki pikis, cars, bicycles, and people all jockeying for position.  Since we have been here, we have
seen the line of trucks backed up from the border to past Amagoro, about 4-5 miles waiting to get into Uganda.  So when this happens
driving can get entertaining because all the other forms of transportation still want to move.  So you have a two lane highway with
little or no shoulder, with a line of semi-tractor trailers parked for 4-5 miles in one lane.  The other single lane now has the
buses, matatus, cars, piki pikis, bicycles, people walking, sometimes cows, a few donkey carts and the ever present chickens
going in both directions.  An interesting point to note is that I have not seen any accidents yet.

Will, Alexis, Bree, and myself had an interesting issue when coming back into Kenya.  The exit stamp that the Ugandan customs
stamped on our passports had 15-Jul-2011.  It should have said 31-Jul-2011.  We didn’t notice this and the Kenyan customs
said they cannot accept that stamp, since the Uganda entry stamp had the 29th as the date and you can’t go backwards.

They were unyielding, so we had to go back to Uganda to get a correct stamp, but now there was a bad traffic jam on the bridge
so we all took piki piki rides back to the customs office in Uganda to get the correct stamp.  Zach and Cameron didn’t have
this issue because they were in a different line.  With the new stamp, the Kenyan customs agent was satisfied and stamped our
passports so we could get back into Kenya.

I have taken a lot of video of driving around Kenya, and when I get back I post some clips to show what I have been talking


Power outages

It has been an uneventful day in Amagoro. We have been without power for most of the day, and it just came back on here. It is 8:00PM here in Kenya. Sorry for not posting more, but I just haven’t had a chance. Tomorrow is Education day for all of the district schools, and students from all of the schools will gather to sing songs, perform dances, and give speeches. I will take lots of pictures and videos and will post them once I’m back in the States. We will leave the event early and travel to Uganda to spend the night in Jinja, at the headwaters of the Nile. The next morning we will take a raft trip down the Nile. This wasn’t on our agenda, but the opportunity came up, and we decided take advantage. Hope all is well back home, and we will see you all in a couple of weeks. ..


Tower update

Hello all,

I wanted to give you a tower update.  As of this morning, both towers have been constructed.  A 100 foot tower at Kakapel (Albert Erikrapa Secondary School), and a 50 foot tower at the mission house in Amagoro.   The workers from the internet provider attached the antennas and ground wires and radios to the masts, and we began testing/pointing the antennas.  Hopefully by tomorrow we will have the connection working to Kakapel and the neighboring school at Katakwa.

I’ve added some pictures to my facebook page.  It takes several minutes each  to upload even low resolution pictures, so sorry for not having more posted at this time.  Hopefully once we get the higher speed internet working, I will be able to upload more pictures of the trip.

Due to drought conditions in the Northeast and towards the coast, Kenya Power has announced rolling blackouts because the water level in the hydroelectric reservoirs is running critically low, and the backup generators are in disrepair.  Starting tomorrow, we will have power turned off from 6:00pm until midnight each night.  I’ll keep you posted on how that goes as well.

Cameron and Will are still  having a great time as you can tell from their blog postings.  We are all busy, but everyone is enjoying their visit here.


Constructing a radio mast part 1

This first week I have helped Zach where ever I can on the Internet expansion project he as started for the schools in the
surrounding region.

Basically the plan is to beam a radio signal from an independent network provider in Bungoma ,
google maps coordinates 0.566756,34.560685 (enter these numbers including the comma in the google maps search box), to
a school in Kakapel (0.672797,34.353156).  The distance is approximately 20 miles.  Kakapel is one of the highest elevation
shools in the region, so the hope is that Kakapel can then be the hub for several schools.  From Kakapel, shorter distance lower
cost radios will be used to extend the internet to schools no further than about 7 miles away.  One problem we are running into
is the hilly terrain is causing some line of  site issues.

The first steps of the process is to erect ratio masts.  Kakapel’s will be a 120 foot mast.  A 50 foot mast is also being
constructed at the Mission House where we are staying.

The construction process is quite different than what we experience back home.  Zach has hired a local “general contractor” named
Titus, and he is someone who knows people, and is someone Zach can trust.  Titus’ role is to go around finding workers, supplies,
and transportation for the project.

I will describe the effort here at the mission house so far.  On Wednesday, the location of the mast and the guide wire anchors
were layed out in the backyard.  The central base needs to be 4ft X 4ft and 5ft deep.  The guide wire anchor holes need to
be 2ft X 2ft and 4ft deep.  The four holes will require about 5 yards of concrete.  Titus contracted two locals to come and dig the holes.  Using
a large hoe and shovels, the four holes were dug in about 2 hours.  While they were digging, Titus was out trying to find sand, large
gravel, cement, and water.  NThe first to arrive was the sand in a cart drawn by two donkeys, then gravel came by truck.  The cement
comes in 50Kg bags (110 pounds), and those showed up on bicycles.  Finally the water had to be found and brought to the mission house.
I think it required around 60 gallons.  Bicycles were used for this as well.  3 water cans were used, so it took several trips to gather
the water.  No other work happened on Wednesday.


Once all the supplies were gathered, the mixing of the concrete started.  The workers cleared a patch of ground about 10
feet across by removing the top layer of grass.  There a layer of sand, followed by gravel, and topped off with cement were
layed down.  These materials were dry mixed first, and then water was added.  After the first batch of concrete was prepared,
the holes started to be filled using a wheel barrow.  This process was repeated until the angle iron guidewire hooks and the
steel mast base were firmly seated in concrete.  This took most of the day on Thursday.

On Monday, Titus and Humphrey (who works for the independent internet provider) will begin erecting the mast.

Later in the week, we hope to begin some initial tests.

I’ll post some pictures when I can.


Luggage has arrived!

Zach took Will and I to pick up our luggage today in Malaba, Kenya.  Malaba is a border town on the Kenya-Uganda border and is about 4 miles from the mission house.  It will be nice to have some variety in our clothing.

Will has been spending his time going to the local schools with Bree and Alexis.  In the morning, Cameron goes to the local health clinic, and in the afternoon he joins Bree, Alexis, and Will at one of the schools.  I will have them update their blogs with some details.

I have been assisting Zach on the network expansion project he is trying to get started here in the Amagoro region.  In a few days, I will post some pictures of the progress so far.  My network access is slow and expensive at the mission house, so I have to wait until I get to the church office before I can upload much data.  Network access is worse in most of the schools.  They basically can only use low speed USB cell modems.  If this expansion project is sucessfull, the Elewana Education Project will be able to provide  high speed internet to the local schools and surrounding communities that rival our network speeds back home.

This afternoon we are heading to a school that has no access to electricity, and relies on solar panels and batteries to power their computer lab of 5 computers.  The Project hopes to be able to erect a radio tower here as well to help with their network reliability.

Stay tuned…


Luggage update

After spending the night in London, our luggage decided that it really wanted to see more of the world before catching up to us
here in Amagoro.  So all four bags took a side excursion to Mombasa.  I think they got the idea from the movie Inception,
where Cobb was chased through the streets of Mombasa.

In reality, the Nairobi airport had no landing lights for the night flights, so the flights were diverted to Mombasa, which is
on the east coast of Kenya.  We are in the far west of Kenya so who knows when they might show up.

I feel sorry for the passengers.  After an 8 1/2 hour flight from London, they now were going to be bussed to Nairobi which is
a 6 hour bus ride.  If the roads are anything like they are in the part of Kenya, it won’t be a relaxing ride.

I hope to hear from the airlines this morning to get a status update on when we will be reunited with our stuff.

Luggage on Holiday

Well, we made it to Nairobi last and made it through passport control to get our entry visa without any issues, and we didn’t have to wait too long in line.

However, all of our luggage was still in London, and if what they tell us is correct, the bags are on this evenings flight.  The problem is we are on the far western edge of Kenya.  They assure us that they will get us the bags.

Hopefully they will get them to us in the next 2 or 3 days.

Here are the coordinates of where we are staying.  

0.634272,34.330111 Copy and Paste into google maps to see where we are staying.  I’m having trouble getting links to work.

The vacant land to the left of the house with the red roof, is where the mission house was built a few years ago.  The Satellite image is about 5 years old.

Tonight we have dinner with the Bishop, then tomorrow we will begin our work with the Elewana Education Project.


Last minute details

Friday, July 15th:

We have all of our luggage packed and are getting ready to travel to Romney, WV to pick up Cameron at his senior church camp at Peterkin.

Tomorrow we fly out to Amagoro, Kenya to spend almost a month with Zach Drennen and the Elewana Education Project.


Cameron and Will are very excited about this mission trip, and having this opportunity will be life changing experience.

We will strive to update this blog as frequently as possible while we are there. We will also try to post pictures showing our activities.

More to come… Brent