With George on his way home from Nakuru, there’s nowhere for me to be early. Over chai, I ask the children if they would like me to make scrambled eggs for them.
I make breakfast… scrambled eggs with sauted onions… which we eat with chapati and store-bought bread. The twins get creative. Paulette makes a sandwich with peanut butter, mixed fruit jam and my scrambled eggs. Paula picks out the onions -she’s only ever eaten onions that have been basically caramelized as part of sauce for stew – she’s not a fan of these slightly cooked onions.
From morning to mid-afternoon, we spend our time reading, writing, learning Kiswahili and English, and making lists with each child of things that would make life more efficient here for them. Irene once told her father that he needed to “work smarter, not harder.” He brought it up in his sermon on Sunday and so that’s our task.
We look for things that will save both time and money. Like personal metal water bottles with tight sealing tops (Lavender and Irene settle on silver for the men and purple for the women in the family), a 5-gallon water bottle “pump top” so everyone can get their own water without having to find someone else who can lift the water bottle (or risk spillage of water!) – this eliminates the need to buy individual bottled water for use at home or on the road.
Another agreed-upon time and money saving object is a gas table top stove (two burners with a small grill in between for making chomya – grilled meat), which costs around $70. This eliminates the time factor involved in starting fires (inside and outside the house) and cooking things over fire. Plus it reduces the upper respiratory issues that come from breathing in charcoal and fire smoke on a daily basis. Anything that saves time also creates time for studying and for moving farm projects along faster, so this is a win-win-win.
I begin working on cost benefit analyses of all the house and yard projects, looking first for more money savers and time savers. Things we can put to work right away here. George sends a handyman, Richard, to install instant hot water heaters on the shower heads (very inexpensive). Reduces cost of charcoal, and the above-mentioned water heating time. Getting internet at the house – right around $60/month – we’ve spent more than that in the past two weeks on beverages and fries, with visits to the Westside Hotel to use their internet.
We also look at simple things that can make a difference – like helping the twins stop using everyone’s electronics without asking which drains batteries AND uses up precious pre-paid data. With nearly daily storm-related electrical outages, people charge their phones and then suddenly find their phones are dead or near dead when they need to use them or need them with them to travel to town or when using Mpesa to pay for things. We decide investing in a charging bank will be a good idea. A $55 expense that ensures when George is traveling or the electricity goes out, he can recharge his phone so he is reachable by the children, Naomi or the schools.
We explore all the ways people can conserve their batteries and reduce using phone service data – like making sure you’re on wi-fi at home, and closing all apps and open screens on your phone so they don’t drain the battery in the backend. For the two older iPhones that don’t have SIM cards, I show Irene and Leon how to put their phones in “airplane mode” so the phone won’t continually search for service.
All my years of teaching “Break the Debt Cycle – For Good!” and showing people how to be mindful of their expenses in ways that don’t diminish their lifestyle, are truly paying off!
We talk about the cost of each kilowatt of electricity (15 Ksh, or $0.15 per kWh, plus nearly $8 in monthly VAT taxes and service charge, according to Kenya Power) and every drop of municipal water (the first six cubic meters (roughly 264gallons each) are 300Ksh or $3.00 apiece, after that, prices drop to a maximum of 150Ksh per cubic meter.
When we look at how it takes 17,000Ksh ($170) to keep each of the twins in school each term, it may not seem like it makes a huge difference to watch our water and electricity consumption. I remind them of Benjamin Franklin’s advice “a penny saved is a penny earned.” Every shilling saved gets us closer to Irene and Leon being back in school. Or making it possible for the twins to get bikes, or Keith to get new headphones, or Lavender to get a microscope, for example. Or for us to move forward cost-saving farming projects.
We talk about switching off the electrical outlets, and unplugging all but the refrigerator and internet to save money. We buy power strips with multiple universal outlets so each outlet on the strip can be individually turned off to reduce electricity leakage.
More Kiswahili lessons, all chores done and lunch has been eaten. It’s nearly 3pm now, and George calls me and asks to speak to me privately. I step outside and he shares that he’s had a health incident in Eldoret. Something going on with his stomach. A kind man got him to the hospital after he pulled off the road doubled over. He already reached Naomi, whose brother James made his way quickly to the hospital. George says they’ve run some tests and given him some medication. They’re just waiting to make sure he has no adverse effects and then James will be driving him home.
I tell the children George has been delayed in Eldoret and will be coming home with a surprise for them. They are all exceedingly fond of their Uncle James. The last time I saw him was 12 years ago when Naomi invited George and me to dinner at her home in Nakuru. James was living with her while going to university. He’s grown now, with a wife and 3 children.
After a full day of chores and brainwork, we’re all ready to take naps. Everyone crashes – me hardest of all. I wake a few hours later to find Leon in the kitchen making chapati and Irene prepping for dinner. Leon asks if I know how to make chapati. I don’t, but am very interested in learning. He’s just about finished making the dough, so he begins teaching me how to roll out the chapati.
Leon shows me how to pinch off a small handful of dough, just enough to fill the palm of your hand like a baseball. Following Leon’s guidance, I roll the dough between my palms, creating a thick dough rope. I then roll the rope up like a pinwheel, as if I’m making cinnamon buns. With a little flour on the counter, and a wooden rolling dowel, I roll the pinwheel out into a circle, about the size of a corn tortilla. Once we have a half dozen made between us, Leon turns his attention to the griddle, which has been heating over the open charcoal Jiko. I continue rolling while he starts cooking – many hands truly do make light work, especially in Kenya.
The chapati cooking process is brilliant. You begin with a single chapati which you sizzle on the griddle until dark spots begin to form, spinning the chapati around on the griddle from time to time. When it’s properly browned on the first side, you flip it by lifting an edge with a fork to keep from singeing your fingers. You then top the flipped browned chapati with an uncooked chapati and use that cooler dough to turn the bottom one. The pattern repeats until you have three chapatis stacked on the griddle cooking, warming, finishing. The pile grows until all 17 of our chapati from this batch are perfectly dimpled, flaky and chewy.
While I wait for the rest of dinner to be cooked, I am told by the twins that it’s time for my first test as a Kenyan student. The pressure is on. I finish my exam and Professor Keith kindly grades my work and makes some helpful observations for me about grammar and spelling. My results are 50% – I am an average Kenyan student! Whew!
George and James arrive around 10pm. He’s going to be just fine – a bit of stress from all the excitement is all. We have a late dinner, finishing around one a.m.