I have been neglecting writing longer posts for the past week or so. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking. I have. But I have found myself doing more and thus not having as much time to sit down and sort out my thoughts.

Work started and I hit the ground running. Lots to do and see; many people to talk to. My days are easily filled, and I’m impressed by the speed with which Nairobians seem to be able to accomplish things (as compared to other places I’ve been in Africa).

Until yesterday, I was staying with all of the Kenya Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) who happened to be in Nairobi for training. Among the volunteers is my friend Daniel, with whom I took MIT’s D-lab class and traveled to Ghana, and my friend Emily, who played rugby with me freshman year at university but we otherwise ran in different circles.

I know it seems strange to travel halfway across the world to see people that you knew from home, but I quite enjoyed my time with the PCVs. It was great to catch up with Daniel and Emily and learn about their projects. But it was also great to meet all other volunteers, most of whom have incredibly interesting life stories and thoughts. It certainly is a self-selecting group.

img_0657-2Daniel talks about making charcoal out of agricultural waste at every chance he gets.

I considered joining the Peace Corps for a bit, and this stay certainly taught me more about the organization. First, I learned that most PCVs find training frustrating. It is often not applicable to field work, and the speakers are usually quite poor. You can certainly tell the difference between people who have spoken in public before and can field questions vs. those who simply read from PowerPoint slides. Additionally, many volunteers complain about lots of unnecessary organizational bureaucracy that can often inhibit productivity. Everyone has a different site and different conditions; there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and unfortunately that’s how Peace Corps treats its many sites, countries, and projects. Add this onto many excessively precautious safety rules, and you have a lot of suppressed criticism among PCVs. But note that you won’t read about any of this criticism on their blogs, because the Peace Corps staff monitors them all.

In addition to taking advantage of the PCVs’ free housing and food, I also came to some of their training sessions. I attended their visit to KickStart, IDE’s competitor in treadle pumps. KickStart has been the most successful treadle pump distributor in Africa. They call their pump the Super MoneyMaker, and their marketing is widespread. Their other technologies, however, leave much to be desired. They have focused so much on the Super MoneyMaker that they don’t put any effort into further research and development.

img_0652-2This brick press, for example, costs around US$1,000, which could be significantly reduced if they cut away all their excess material (also, Emily and Eric say “hi” from the background).

I interact with a lot of Kenyans at my job, so it was actually quite nice to spend so long with the PCVs. No one seemed to mind my leeching, and I did repay them a bit by doing a charcoal burn demonstration, presenting on appropriate technology and recycling, and giving everyone heaps of movies from my hard drive. I’d call it even.