Thursday, July 16, 2009

Kenya trip, Arriving in Busia and book delivery!

We arrived in Busia at 5:30 in the morning and somehow made it to the hotel that Maria had booked for us, Farmview. It’s a bit out of town and does indeed have a view of farms. It’s also next door to Busia’s sewer treatment plant, which is sometimes called “the beach of Busia” and is a hit for dates on Valentine’s day.

The first thing we did was sleep. The next thing we did was walk through the fields on our way to the one paved road. Within minutes, I took a step off the path and sprained my ankle. Luckily, I have an ace bandage in my pack left over from spraining the same ankle almost exactly a year ago in Ecuador.

In any case, we finally made our way to town and visited with old friends. Maria was anxious to see us, so we got the two suitcases full of books and went to the library. With us, the suitcases, Maria and two of her friends, there was barely any room left. It’s such a small place, the library. There was a student sitting there studying. When we started pulling the books out, he noted the lack of economics books. I immediately pulled out the entire IPD collection and piled them in his arms. If he takes all that in, he’ll be Jose Antonio and Joe’s perfect protégé!

After the merriment surrounding the books, we sat down with Maria and Alice, someone who had been working on the library project for some time. We went over all of our activities since the spring, showed pictures of the fundraiser at Galapagos and the bike ride to Coney Island. They were thrilled that people in the US care about the library in Busia—they really had trouble believing it.

After the fun stuff, we told them all the things we had been worried about. We talked about the benefits and fallbacks of working with KNLS (see Ariel’s blog). We talked about sustainability issues and consistent opening hours. We talked about community ownership and—the biggest issue of all—land.

Maria and Alice told us about the politics of the town, and how building the library would fit in to those politics. Busia is located on the edge of Teso and Busia districts—this is two different tribes, the Teso and the Luhya. The dividing line has never been completely clear to me, but basically the one paved road that runs through town demarcates the lands. The library would of course be open and welcoming to everyone, but which side of the land we ultimately build on will ultimately send a signal about whose library this is, and could determine what kind of political support we get.

We also got to see what work they had been doing at the library. They had put a partition up which made the library look a lot smaller. On the other side of the partition, they were planning to offer computer services. They only thing they lacked was computers. The other innovation was that every book was catalogued in Microsoft Access, with title, ISBN numbers, authors, etc. There were 686 books total. We had just brought over 200 more.

The meeting was long and good. After we left them at the library, we went over to the internet café where we were shocked to find that wireless internet had hit Busia! We were all ready to take out our laptops and plug ourselves in when Jimmy, the owner of the shop, greeted us. We remembered each other from when I lived in Busia, and we told him about the library. He was immediately excited and took us on a walk to visit the areas he thought would be good for land. He’s great, very entrepreneurial, and had been the one to introduce wireless into Busia. We roped him in. He agreed to put some books into both of his shops, not to lend out, but to advertise for the library. He also agreed to come to the stakeholder meeting that we’re having next Tuesday to help generate ideas. If we can get all of Busia’s Jimmy’s on board—the good hearted, smart and driven people in Busia, the project will be all set.

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