Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reaching out

Today we spent much of our time reaching out to a variety of local and national government officials. Since our project spans the gap between e-Government and its constitutional, legislative and regulatory underpinnings, we have a broad range of technical and legal within the government who we need to interview in order to ensure that our recommendations are relevant and actionable. Given our short time frame, it's already remarkable how many meetings we've been able to coordinate at relatively high levels. I know that if the tables were turned, I'd be deleting emails and sending calls to voice mail left and right. Fortunately, that hasn't been the case here.

In parallel, we're developing detailed interview documents that spell out exactly what information we need to get from each stakeholder, and doing our own research via the web to determine what some of the answers are likely to be, and what other answers can be brought from outside the country as global best practices to benefit Kenya. It's massive, but fascinating reading for my inner geek as we compare e-government legislation in Norway, the U.K., Finland, Australia, the U.S., South Korea and others.

OK, enough work talk, here's another piece of local color. Luan, Nimeesh and I had lunch in Nyeri again today, at another second story cafe, this one open air. The heat of the day and omnipresent dust was not enough to erase the enjoyment of drinking in the sights and sounds of this bustling small town. I'm confident that there's no corner like it in the US anywhere - bumper to bumper cars, people milling about, in front of storescape that is devoid of brand names, each one hand painted with the proprietors name above it, none of them busy, but all of them eking out a living. Below the balcony was a man tending a small, crowded coop of chickens, and an even more crowded cardboard box of chickens, which led me to jibe that my colleagues lunch would at the very least be fresh.

A trip to a bank to make the deposit for the group's weekend safari led to an experience with the always flexible closing time. 3:10 can become 3:00 with a kind word, and we walked into an ultra-modern Barclay's Bank which seemed to defy the space and time around it, as if it was a portal to a first world country.

The negotiations at the bank took longer than we expected, we had already taken a leisurely lunch, and it was hot, so we decided to grab a cab back instead of walking. For 200 shillings (about $2.50), it seemed a reasonable luxury. My rudimentary Swahili was enough to identify and procure a vehicle (cabs are not marked anywhere in Kenya that I can tell, but certainly not in Nyeri). Fortunately the cardboard on the passenger side floor was sturdy enough to keep my feet from touching the street. As we drove up the main road, I was dismayed to see the driver pull into the Koboil gas station on the corner. I questioned the customer service wisdom of fueling up with a car full of passengers until I glanced over at the driver's side dashboard and realized that it was amazing that we had made it to the gas station, given that the needle was firmly on "E". Sure enough, the driver asked for his fare at this point. He took 100 shillings and put it in his pocket, and gave me back the other 100 shillings to give to the service attendant, enough to buy 1 litre of gasoline. His fuel gauge ever so slightly buoyed by the stop, he ferried us back to the Green Hills front gate. And here's the good part. He then gave me his cell phone number in case I ever needed a cab again in Nyeri. This is to say, that this guy who sits around the center of town waiting for the rarest rarity of a cab fare, so much so that his means of livelihood and transportation stands on the verge of uselessness with vapors so evanescent that the kilometer each way to our hotel would stand a fighting chance of exhausting them, who can spare only one quarter of a gallon of gas at a fill-up, nonetheless has a CELLULAR PHONE which he will fund and maintain even at the risk of disabling his only apparent source of income. I have nothing more to add.

We returned immediately to work upon our return, this time choosing the grassy plaza as our "office". A sudden rain forced us inside, and the rhythmic patter of the rapid drops on the corrugated tin roof made the passing shower sound more like a typhoon. It mostly drowned out the noise of the absurdly sonorous aerobics class though, and provided a steady soundtrack to our furious work efforts, which carried over to a brief dinner and then back to the bar for a few more productive hours.

Next will be my first Shabbat in isolation in Nyeri... more to come.


  1. If the cell phones are like in Ukraine, it costs nothing but the electricity to charge the to receive calls. All outgoing is with pre-paid money. The phones are prevalent even with the orphans and those incapable of supporting their families so the kids are taken away.

  2. Ooooh, why didn't you fill up the taxi guy's gas tank? You would have made a buddy for the time you're there...

    Glad you got to experience an African downpour, not sure if we'll have any rain when you come to Kin.