Start of village research

Our research here in Nyanza has ramped up to high gear, and I depart tomorrow – making the 5 hour road trip back to Nairobi, before flying home via Amsterdam. At this point, our surveys are underway, and our systems seem to be working, which is a huge relief following months of planning.

After training our 7 enumerators first in a conference room and then in a village close to where we are all staying, we began our research yesterday with our target sample. We split in to two teams – one led by Richard (a Kenyan from Kisumu), the other by Ruth (an American doctoral student from UCLA). In the morning, after breakfast, our trusted project manager, Jessica, provided each enumerator with a scratch card worth 50 Kenyan shillings – less than 60 US cents – for everyone to load credit onto their phones to pay for calls and text messages later in the day. She also handed out water and a snack, and organized a crate of sodas to be served later to our hosts. Each day, each enumerator is equipped with a folder containing the names of the households they are scheduled to interview; a set of questionnaires; a pencil and sharpener; and a die for a random selection that takes place during the interview.

Ruth and I drove in one car with James, one of the enumerators, who we needed to help translate Luo, while the other three from her team followed in the car behind. We drove for about an hour on a mostly good road, except for a few crater-like potholes right in town, until we reached the designated junction. At that point, we turned onto a fairly solid dirt road until we got to another town, and then we began our journey on some of the rockiest, bumpiest roads I’ve ever seen or experienced. The terrain was lush and hilly, absolutely gorgeous, but the ride was as far to the opposite of smooth as I can imagine. There were no signs or maps of any use – and we just kept asking along the way where to find the village elder. Finally, we arrived at a small church, and I insisted that the car could go no further – the rocks jutted out of the ground so sharply that the risk of a puncture became too great, and we could certainly walk faster than we were traveling.

We walked out of the vehicles and proceeded along the road, and phoned ahead to the elder’s wife that we had arrived. The homesteads generally contained a few small residences, which tended to be made out of mud, and with metal roofs. As always, children stared and yelled out with smiles, “Mzungu (white person)!” Down the road, we met an older man with a cane – the elder. We greeted him with handshakes and followed him to his place. It was a decent walk of about 15 minutes, on what would be the terrain for the day – rocky, dusty, narrow roads, passable to my mind only by foot, but apparently also by bike and motorbike.

When we arrived at the elder’s home, we met his wife and a few others, in addition to the random semi-domesticated animals just hanging around, and we explained our project. As we hoped, the elder directed our enumerators to the general direction in which they would find the households to be surveyed. It was quite a sight to see these young people – all rather stylish, the women with nice shoes and big sunglasses – head out into the overgrown terrain in search of interviews without any hesitation, as all of them had spent much of their lives in some type of small village.

the village elder directs enumerators

Ruth and I remained with the elder, and we explained that later in the day we would like to hold a discussion with himself, and perhaps 4-5 other people who were also leaders from the community – religious leaders, someone older, someone younger, and at least one female. Part of our research involves gathering “village-level” information in addition to the household-level survey, and our goal is to obtain that through these types of elite discussions. He said that should be no problem, and we agreed that 2pm would be a good time. We also asked – Ruth speaks excellent Swahili, which along with some English on their part was enough to communicate – where the nearest public primary school could be found, and he pointed to a place over the hill behind us. I saw a path, and feeling comfortable in the district after a few days, I figured we would just carry on in that direction on our own, but he walked with us. We stopped to shake the hand of a blind man, who sat in front of his hut, wearing a long pink and rather tattered Ralph Lauren button-down shirt, surrounded by a few small animals tied to stakes to keep them from roaming. We continued through extremely thick corn fields, up a hill, and through an ongoing labyrinth of ever rockier paths. I had not realized that my shoes were at least a half size too large until this walk, when I found my foot coming out of the shoe.

rocky road

The terrain continued as rolling hills, with magnificent vistas, and we passed more acres of maize and some cassava fields. A few were just being tilled. We passed some houses with people outside, and as always, they were friendly and greeted us with smiles or a handshake, as everyone does around here. A few men were walking with goats tied to ropes, and we proceeded to the school, as I was thinking what a trek this would be for a young child each day.

homes along the way

Finally, we reached a more open dirt road, which Ruth proclaimed a super highway, as we were finally on solid ground, and one could imagine a car passing here, and apparently it was where one would catch a bus to another village or town.

After about 45 minutes of walking since we left the elder’s home, we arrived at the primary school, which like the other schools we have visited here, looked as if it had been placed on an imaginary set, the scenery was so beautiful. It was lovely to see the kids all playing outside, several teachers sitting under a tree, and one class singing. On the other hand, like at several schools we visited, there was not much obvious teaching or learning going on. As is our protocol, we spoke with the head teacher, but also with an English teacher who was a senior teacher and seemed happy to participate in our interview. We learned of the poor pass rates, that the school had no electricity, just pit toilets, no food for children, and that many others in the village tend to drop out early. As beautiful a place as this was, and as smiling as the kids’ faces were, the situation was downright depressing. To be sure, as our incredibly smart and resourceful enumerators can attest, many Kenyans emerge from such conditions prepared for secondary school and then university, but one can see that the challenges are enormous. In a country that claims English as an official language, which is taught in school, few seemed to comprehend at all.

In one class, the children sang to us – it was a treat. This was a seriously remote village, and despite the inconvenience we pose everyone with our research, which we can only hope will be useful to them in the grander scheme of things, the teachers and students were incredibly gracious.

We finished our interviews and headed back with the elder to his village. Along the way, we encountered his son – aged 41, but unlike many others we’ve met of his age, he did not seem much older. He spoke excellent English, and walked with us back, explaining that he would join our meeting. We passed a trading center, consisting of a few wooden stalls, that would be occupied only on a market day.