Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Hakuna matata = No problem

We wrapped up work with WEEC on Monday with a long brainstorm that was quite taxing. It is the second time that we have run the final brainstorm and after modifications made since the first time we tried it we feel like the results were much stronger. Better phrased questions and a clearer target helped us out considerably, but a much larger group than the first time prolonged each stage. Afterwards Jon used the Spanish phrase for third time is a charm, "la tercera bala vencida" so apparently its universally accepted that brainstorming with Life in Africa is going to be the "just right" bowl of porriage for us.

We woke up Tuesday at 5am to make the 7:30am bus out of Nairobi but didn't leave until 8:30am. Jon pushed for a stop in Nakuru to take a short trip through the national park there and break up the day long bus trip. We hired a taxi to take us through and just 10 minutes outside of the town we were within dying distance of a rhino and a cape buffalo. I'm sure that a wildboar, zebra, gazelle, antelope, baboon, flock of flamingos, etc could have also killed us but there wasn't quite as much fear in the car upon seeing those. The taxi was a Datsun 120y from the early 70's. Our driver claimed "old is gold" and wasn't worried about blazing his own trail across the plains. We laughed that there was going to be quite a fight between the three of us for the one loose window crank in the car when we spotted a lion and tried to roll up the windows.

Rowland picked us up in Kisumu after the second leg of the journey. EasyCoach is the preferred company to use for this trip. Their motto is, "Experience dignity!" By the time we arrived we were so dignified it hurt. We don't hold Easycoach responsible though because there can be no smooth passage over this road. Making fresh tracks across the park in the Datsun was comparibly much smoother.

Today we are training Rowland on the Kiva website and have already clocked an hour with only one journal entry and two repayments made thus far, and Rowland types quite fast!

We will be in Kampala by sunset. It feels like going home.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Masai field visit

if you can't see it click here: see video

A video can paint several pictures...

The Bush

When Kiva said they wanted to work in rural areas that must have been only an initial roll out because they have pushed out beyond the rural areas into the bush. ICT projects often refer to reaching the last mile and even the last meter. Kiva has achieved last millimeter. We are outside of Nairobi working with the womens economic empowermen consort WEEC and had the opportunity yesterday to visit some of their Kiva businesses. From the main office we (Jedidah, Moses, Carl, Jon, Cale, David, Daniel) drove 40km away in a small van out into Maasai territory. We drove until the paved road ended and then continued on a dirt road until it ended then we got out and began walking. We walked along an existing trail until the trail ended and then we just followed David (a WEEC microfinance officer) into the bush. We trusted that he knew where he was going although we could not see any establishment on the horizon. We collectively decided that this was certainly not rural because in the rural areas children run towards the car and what we experienced were children running away from our car.

A horrendous drought last year in Kenya devastated the Maasai who lost large numbers of cattle and Kiva loans are allowing them to rebuild their herds. David told us that his fathers stock went from 100 to 3. One Maasai Kiva loan recipient told us that her business was doing very well and that two of her daughters were currently attending university, studying medicine, and not married. Jedidah was particularly thrilled with this news as Maasai girls are often married off very early and are not able to attend school.

Those of us with cameras politely asked to take pictures and at one point when I pulled out my camera Joyce, a Maasai woman, pulled out a cellphone. She had full coverage. Hopefully the video will tell the tale of the tape.

We saw the earliest wildebeest visitors to the area who will continue to arrive and push into Tanzania. Beautiful animals. The trip really made clear some of the struggles that MFI's are facing in terms of reporting the details of the businesses to the web. David typically does this visit from his office 17km away by bicycle and stores the update material on paper until it he make a trip to the head office on Mondays to deliver it where it can then be posted by Herbert to the web if there is a connection. Otherwise the story is transferred to a flashdisk and taken into Nairobi an hour away where it is uploaded at an internet cafe where the connection is fast enough to upload larger photo files without an unnecessarily long wait.

Cellphones are emerging as an appropriate tool to facilitate the MFI's work with Kiva and distances and decentralized operations are hurdles that we will have to tackle in order to create a reliable and affordable solution.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Rowland for MP

Eregi is a small village outside of Kakamega in Kenya. There is no electricity and no connectivity excluding Rowland’s pub. Fortunately we were his guests while we were there, unfortunately his connections was 16k. So although there was plenty to report we had to wait until Nairobi to post.

Rowland is a consummate host, and an incredible asset to the Kiva family. We woke up no later than 6:30am each day and were kept busy for 4 days straight. He managed to weave us accomplishing our research goals in between a schedule of pub visits, funerals, recently ordained catholic priest celebration, bullfight (bull vs. bull), bullfight afterparty, trips to the Southern hemisphere, meals with friends, meals with Kiva beneficiaries, a trip to his farm house, Champions league final, checkers, bean harvest, and I am sure I am forgetting a few things. Oh yeah this was all accomplished while Rowland campaigned for an MP position with the Orange Democratic Movement. We will know by Friday if he dethroned the Banana party incumbent.

Because Rowland is managing only five businesses, on his own, he is a unique case for us in terms of what technology is necessary to facilitate Kiva at that scale and in that location. Rowland only thinks big and this in combination with his background as marketing director for Kenya Brewing Company meant that he was an excellent collaborator during the creative session that we held with him. Outside of any scheduled project discussions the conversation drifted to Kiva several times to discuss interesting possibilities or challenges to be met in the future.

Rowland was a nice break from Africa. He mentioned several times that he was not a traditional African. With only two children how could he be. He had a progressive and worldly perspective drawn from his travels and studies abroad in India, 20 years ago! A Kenyan in India! Our time was well spent. We only hope that we reciprocated soe value for all that we gained.

When we make visits to the Kiva sponsored businesses we are met with deep gratitude although we have done nothing yet to contribute to Kiva. We represent and idea that we now see first hand is changing lives. It feels good.

Jon Cale friendship report: STABLE

African music lessons

We left Soroti one week ago and with that Soroti's children. We received some music lessons though...

if you cant se video click here

Monday, May 15, 2006


This morning Rogers (Carl's life support system) wanted to show me something outside. I stepped out and found a chicken. He asked if I wanted it roasted or fried for dinner.

Jon and I ran one of the first brainstorming sessions that Soroti, Uganda has ever seen. I ran into town with Helen on the back of my bicycle (Alfred's bicycle) to find a big flipover pad of paper and some twine to hang it up on the wall. We armed everybody with a pad of post its, a pen, colored sticker dots and cookies. I'm not sure what I expected. I've participated in many a brainstorm and run a few myself but typically with other designers who know the routine.

We started by giving an introduction to what designers are here for. We are problem solvers. Our training involves learning methods to identify problems, which explained the incessant videotaping this week, and skills for creating solutions. We showed them the short video clips that we had edited down from hours of video to explain where we had identified problems. In some cases the solutions were pretty straightforward and in others not so clear. We had them identify the problem and propose solutions. Everybody contributed. That was the rule and we enforced it. We had 12 problems identified and although it was a long session the Kiva staff here in Soroti stayed tuned in and I think they understood what we are here to do and they helped us to do it. There were nine of us in a small hot room with no fan because we turned off the generator in order to be able to hear the sound of the videos playing on a laptop. By the end of the session the wind had started to blow in through the window cooling us down and signaling a storm and shortly thereafter it poured. I claimed that our storm begat a storm.

Moses called me late last night to tell me how happy he was with the session. He said that the staff stayed after chatting about it after we went home. Jon and I chatted excitedly about it on the way home and planned for another short session tomorrow.

We came home to find Rogers roasting chicken and bananas. We ate well.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Running on fumes

We are living our lives around batteries and chargers here. It takes our collective foresight to plan for enough battery power to battle with the grid power inconsistencies. Although its time that Jon and I start to consider all of our gadgets as team items we are still more than happy to blame each other for failing to keep cameras, cellphones and laptops well charged. Its hard to adapt to planning well in advance. The cell phone may have a days charge left but if we let it run out we often enter a 24 hour period without power. We have quite a stockpile of rechargable batteries which helps to power cameras but its the internal batteries that kill us. I'm going to be the guy who wont listen to your battery complaints when I get back, if you have them. I will tell you think about the children in Uganda who own cellphones and what they face on a daily basis.
On another note yesterday I ate a chipati and bean lunch before our hike for 20 cents. Which is cheap by Ugandan standards. I took a photo of the meal with my $200+ camera. It crossed my mind that I could print out the photo 1000 times and hand them out as meal tickets and then sell the phone to pay for the food, but then i had to consider the blog content. For each picture I post I save 1000 words.
I wrote this originally in gmail and sent it to myself then copied it here and anticipated adding a beans photo but I realize that I havent downloaded the photo from my camera so for now just imagine. I added this part by lantern light and now its time for bed.

Kiva site in context...

We have been going through several hours and hours of video tape observing the Kiva site in context. Tomorrow we expect to go through the issues that have been detected together with all the team in order to look for improvements.We hope to make it clear what we have been doing and make them part of the solution finding process.We will try to push the idea that technology should follow their natural thinking and not them being transformed to fit technology. Let's see how it works.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


Jon and I spent a crashcourse month preparing the trip and developing materials and this past week was our first experiment with real subjects. The purpose of the week was to gather as much information about the organization as possible in terms of their vision, number of members, roles, hardware, software, day to day activities, hierarchy, company culture etc. We learned very quickly that the structure of the materials we created was hopeless and flexibility would be our greatest ally.
I likened our experience with context research this week to trying to dress an excited child. We came with all of the clothes and assumed that we would begin with the underwear and finish with tying shoe laces but in the end we were most efficient when we kept a shoe in one hand and a hat in the other to fit them on whenever the chance arose.
Kiva's Soroti office has been very gracious in hosting us and it has been our challenge to learn as quickly as possible how we can best take advantage of our time here. Some of the culutral differences within the organization have kept us busy trying to understand and respond to. Our behavior has also been a subject of discussion. Alfred asked candidly, "why do you drink (so much) coffee?"
Me and Jon finished the week with lots of good material to review although that sometimes brought us very close to tackling the child to tie the laces.


Today was a tour day. We visited Sipi falls (behind the child) with Carl's new car. We had a local 15 year old guide named Martin show us around and in the end he offered to bring us to the "less touristic" waterfall which required an exciting walk back through a small village and plantation. We even had a short shower in one of the falls.
I was left behind playing with some local children but I realized they were not really playing (but acting) when after some time they said: "give me something" .

In the meantime the guide told that if I like children so much I should get one: "is easy for you..." he said.

more pictures from the day at CBA.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Business name: Boda Jon

Today we followed Helen and Alfred as they did fieldwork. They made visits to four Kiva loan beneficiaries to check on their development. We tried to shadow their activities to get a better understanding of this part of the process of updating the information about businesses that is later posted to the Kiva website. We are the only white people I have seen in Soroti since our arrival so I can imagine that it was difficult for Helen to imagine that we were invisible, as I asked her to do, but by the fourth stop on our route I felt like she understood.

Because all the processes related to Kiva working with entrepreneurs in and around Soroti may not happen in an average week we suggested to role play some of them. Jon and I dreamed up a business idea and then ran through the application, acceptance and uploading processes with Helen and Alfred. Their willingness to submit to the taping and performing of the tasks was really exciting.

Jon and I decided on a transport business. In Kampala the boda bodas operated on motorcycles but here in Soroti they use Jupiter bicycles from India. They are well maintained, well decorated, all steel and extremely handsome. I thought the Dutch bikes were nice but one of these would cut right through a Dutch bike in a head on collision. Our loan money will be used to buy a bicycle trailer that will allow us to transport large items like furniture and machinery. We think there is a market for these services as car hire is too expensive.

Alfred thinks we may be on to something. He mentioned that there is an annual bike race that happens between Mbale and Soroti and the winner receives a new bicycle. It is about 100km between the two cities. Our plan is to win it with the trailer behind the bike. We think the publicity will be great for business.


We are already "all in" on our project. 23.30 and still typing. Yesterday we had computer training in the Soroti office of Kiva. We learned (and taught) how to post and update a journal on the new Kiva website. It is difficult to understand the computer familiarity of users until you don't observe the screen for some time while they are an e-mail. We went for a couple of beers to the guest house down the road after work. Ugandan soap-opera on TV: a complete ethnographic experience.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

NO doesn’t exist in Uganda…

Ugandan’s are reluctant to say no. If you take a Boda-Boda (moto-taxi) and you ask for a place they will first get you on the motorcycle then they will figure out if they know where they are going. Last time we asked carpaccio as starter in a restaurant, they brought us mozzarella. We said that we didn’t order that: they answered that electricity was gone and they couldn’t use the machine to cut the carpaccio. But they brought mozzarella. You can take it or you can leave it. We also went to make business cards at a print shop. We had the illustrator file and the pdf file. We entered a really tiny shop and against the back wall there was a person surrounded by another 4 people in front of a computer. We ask if they could make business cards. We gave them the usb and the guy opens the folder. They invite us to pass behind the counter because someone wanted to eat his lunch on the counter. The computer doesn’t have illustrator so they basically can’t work with it. Anyhow the guy continues opening and closing the file, open, close, refresh, close, open, right button open with… The guy next to him looked like the boss, and he looked confident in his employee. We could have stayed there for hours if we didn't suggest to the guy that we come back with the Microsoft Publisher file he needed.

It is difficult to do research and get the real context and user information we want to know. They partly will answer what you want to hear or what they think you want to hear. We are trying to find creative ways to discover the real thoughts and real struggles of the people. We have a lot to learn in the process.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Meeting the neighbors

We came home to Carl's house after a day of work with KIVA Africa in Soroti and we sat outside on the porch waiting for the power to come on. The neighbor kids gathered together in groups to sit and stare at the three white guys. It was a bit too much for me and Jon. We had to go shake some hands.

In this corner of Kampala

The first question that Sebbie (top left) asked me was, "Where are you from?" The second question was, "Are you fit?"
After I found out that he was a boxer I asked him where he trained and if I could come watch. He told me to meet him where we were standing at 10:00am the following day and he would take me. I showed up and together with his friend Obie Twice we walked across town through the labyrinth of Oweno market then outside of town out past the scrap sellers. There was a nasty looking dark cloud in the sky and I asked if we would make it without getting caught in the rain. He assured me that we would. When we finally cut back between two small woodplank shacks into an open courtyard with a long one story concrete church the cloud was above us. The steps were filled with a dozen guys who headed inside when Sebbie arrived into a large room with a stage. Once we were just inside the rain came down hard for an hour. Training went on just as long before Obie came over to tell me that he was in terrible shape and he had a fight soon. I thought I would get a picture of him and asked the trainer ("the iron bomber") if he would mind. I told him it would be good to have for the poster. Once I had taken Obie's photo the other members of the club trickled over to pose as well and in the end I had shot everyone. The trainer then introduced me to another club's trainer who asked me about my availabiltiy the following day. Jon and I were leaving but I set up an appointment for the end of the month. Sebbie invited me to attend a big fight in Kampala with his club once when we get back. Can't wait.

Trip to Soroti 5 hours...

We headed towards Soroti on Monday. 5 hours of bus drive from Kampala if everything goes well. We jumped on to the bus and waited, and waited, and waited till the 73 seats were full (+ some additional children). Before the bus started a woman approached us and asked if we were Jon and Cale. Moses, our contact in Soroti had sent her to take care of us. The bus started and the shaking also. Some bumps in the road put our ass up in the air. Food was offered in every stop through the window: fried chicken, beef, corn, water, coke… After around 3 hours of driving the bus stopped: mechanical problems. We got out of the bus and the conversation starts around the “muzungus” (us). People are very eager to talk to us and we like it. The bus never started and we took a “matatu” (shared taxi) to Soroti. Total drive: 9 hours. Moses was waiting for us.

Floating around the source of the Nile...

We went rafting on the source of the Nile on Sunday. Floating on such amount of water feels just like being nothing. 6 hours of going down one of the biggest (and hottest) rivers in the world. If you want to have a feeling of what rafting is this is a good place. During the calm parts of the river we just let our bodies float in the immensity and while doing this a huge amount of water started pouring from the sky and we just continued floating, the water in the river was hotter than the rain.

It feels kind of strange though to go in such a boat and watch local people cleaning their clothes in the same water. We were wondering what crosses their mind when watching “muzungus” floating in the raft...

Friday, May 05, 2006

There is no power... where are you from?

We visited the Ugandan Cleaner Production Centre today. Marcel was visiting them from TU Delft and did a presentation of the Design for Sustainability program of our faculty. We presented our project and received some interesting feed-back. We also talked about ecodesign projects they are working on in different industries around Uganda. On our way back we walked around Kampala looking for an internet cafe. The first one we asked answered: "we are having technical problems..." the second one:"there is no power, where are you from". Power shortages are becoming a common issue, no surprised face anymore.

Joder Jon!!!!!

Hey everybody! Sorry if you tried to call us last night and couldn't reach us.
Jon and I shared a boda boda to head across town to have dinner with Brita and Ian. We got split up from them in transit and found them waiting for us in the parking lot. Jon realized then that his cellphone was missing. OUR cellphone! This is the phone number that we had just printed on 100 business cards earlier that day, and the phone where Jon had his Dutch and Spanish SIM cards stored. We gave the phone a call and reached Alex who told us that he found the phone on the road when he stepped on it and would keep it for us until tomorrow. He was busy with chores at home and told us to meet him at the hotel where he was a security guard. Jon met him early and they agreed on a reward, half of his tuition fees for the year. After the meeting Jon went over to the textiles district not far away and had zippers added to the pockets of his jacket.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

This is my life! Kampala life! Uganda life!

Last night there was a full bill hip hop extravaganza. The hip hop ambassador of Uganda performed before we saw the main event, GAZZA from Namibia, a five guy troupe with dance routines, two flava flavs, and a power outage. We danced until we were sticky.
Today is a full work day. Business cards are being printed as I type. The technology that we bought is working out well. The printer was very impressed with the external hard drive and wanted to make an order with us. My Mp\P3 Player is working out very well for interviews. No one seems to mind being recorded which is great because it frees mean Jon up from having to madly scribble down notes.
Mulo had mentioned that Martin would be a great contact here in Kampala and indeed he was. Our contact list doubled in size and he brought along Edwin and Julius from Voyage Online Limited. I think these contact will help us to fill up the empty period in our schedule for early June. Today marks the day when we have thus far met with one member from the government, academia, the private business sector and a KIVA partner. If the response thus far is an indication of what we can expect during our time here then me and Jon are going to be busy and well supported.
Arsenal vs. Barcelona May 17th. Arsenal supporters and paraphernalia are everywhere here so Jon and I are going to have to represent a tope!


We had an interesting conversation today with Martin O'Really a professor in Microfinance from Martyrs Univeresity. The value of Kiva was easily perceived and he gave us lots of contacts to work on. We were invited to a summer-programme in the end of the month where we will present our project to some interesting microfinance people. Networking level is growing, we will have to figure out how to answer to all this in an efficient way.


There are several ways of transport here. Matatu is the one shown in the picture, cheap compact taxi wherever you are whenever you want. Anyhow the most flexible way is the boda-boda a motorbike taxi that takes you anywhere, even within an inch of your life. The Matatus are rented daily and will stop for anyone along the road while the driver and money collector work in tandem soliciting riders, one with the horn and the other hollering. They are very gracious in delivering musongus (white people) to their final destination. 5 guys collaborated to help ensure that we arrived at Life in Africa across town.


We went out from Life in Africa and we found a cinema on the street. Today's movie: Gladiator. They even have a over dubbing in the local dialect: one guy with a microphone translates all the movie... Enjoy!

Life in Africa

Yesterday was a first working day. Great deep intocontext introduction. We visited Life in Africa which gave us a great view on what is a community based organization. We talked about their operations and issues with technology and micro-finance. We had a tour on some of their other projects and we experienced the great atmosphere of the group. During the tour Cale was helping with some bracelet manufacturing, his design background allowed him to pass the quality control. We will visit them again in around a month and spend a whole week following their day to day operations. We hope to get a hands on understanding of the most important issues they handle.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The IKEA of Uganda


My jaw was open the entire ride from Entebbe airport to Kampala. Videos and pictures can only help so much to paint a picture. The woodstove smoke is strong and the birds are loud. Jon's role play tools need some more development to adequately prepare visitors. It was very exciting to have a place to go immediately upon arrival and catch up on some missed sleep. Before we could call Brita we got poured on and that was at the point where we had just been dropped off without a clue where to find a phone to call her. We paid a passerby to use his mobile to get in touch with Jon’s friend Brita.
We are staying in Malenga, an area where every aid organization on the planet has a post. If you are white you are either with an NGO or doing missionary work or a combination of both. The weather is hardly weather at all. It’s just perfect with a nice layer of humidity to help our skin recuperate from the dry Dutch climate. They tell us that the daily rain is welcome here because it tames the dust that would otherwise be floating everywhere.
We are in touch with several of our contacts here and have already postponed our first meeting with Martin O’Reilly from the microfinance program at Martyrs University. Its for the better however because he is going to bring along an IT colleague to join us when we meet.
When Jon sees something notable he taps me on the shoulder and says “blog.” We are planning to share as much as we can here, but we have already experienced the limitations of the internet. Jon got halfway through uploading a video to post and the electricity went off in Kampala. I saved my text to the desktop and we went across town to the market. When we saw the signs were illuminated again we came back and now I’m ready to try again. We are both excited to communicate so we will try to post as often as is Ugandanly possible.

A day in Kanpala

We had some walking around today in Kanpala. We had lunch in a place were 10 people were working while 5 were eating. Rice, smashed banana and beef. Cola for Cale milk for me all for 2 dollars. Not much talking during lunch, just observe what is going on around. The girl serving us is excited with her mobile phone, together with other girls around (each with their mobile). There is not much difference on this compared to Europe, mobile phone is the teenager toy everywhere. But here you can recharge it easier, there are recharging booths every 50 meters. And we go to the market: mango, passion fruit, banana...

No words no pictures

Yesterday first day of trip, we landed at 5 in the morning. Humid and hot temperature, clothes are too much. While waiting for the visa we see the biggest insect we have ever seen in our life. The body starts getting used to the humidity and feeling good. We got our visa and looked for transport to Kanpala. First choice Taxi, second choice Matatu (shared bus taxi with other 15 people). The Matatu stops on every corner to take people and leave people. A really flexible way of transport. And the documentary starts, 1 hour of Matatu from Entebbe to Kanpala: Cale can't close his mouth (I can't close mine either) and we stay attached to the window looking to the reality in front of us. Everything is changing its definition: is that a car? Was that a house? Is that a... And we just smile