Tag: environmental sustainability

The Bus Trip

Water Lily

You see road trips still excite me! Maybe not as much as they used to when I was 5 years. This morning I found myself at the bus stage way before time. I have learned over years that time is important for me, even if it is not so for many others I interact with. Well, for a bus that is departing at 7am, 6.30am seemed ripe! Short version of the story is that we left at 7.36am. This was not without a few exciting moments. Buses issue tickets. Tickets have seat numbers. why people don’t like looking for their seat is far from hilarious and is borderline to annoying. I like the window seat not too far from the front. And this is where I was. This way, I feel under control. I don’t have to be brushed by everybody walking down the aisle and I am the one who controls the opening and closing of the window. A little luxury. Headboy – Headmaster kind of thing. After loads of shifting, disappointed intonations and pouting, we get underway.

The first minutes of the bus ride are intensely soothing, partly from the relief that we are finally moving and partly from the monotonous purr of the turbo engine. I strive to stay awake to get a last glance of home, knowing that I am heading down the same highway. Perhaps I may just see my daughter, son or my wife, or the neighbor, or the neighbor’s kid, or anybody who knows me, and in that odd instance call or wave. I have a short flashback to the days when people would come and wave goodbye beside the road when you were traveling. You had to sit on the left side, open the window, stick your head out so that your face was easily recognized. The tricky bit was that everybody had their head sticking out and so “your people” would have the hard task of identifying which torso was yours. It was a great outing those days. I go unnoticed this time. I fall half asleep, fueled by the crying child, the chatting of women, the incessant chatter of travellers on their phones in different languages that makes for an excellent cacophony of discordance, that my hardly tone-deaf ears cannot stand.

two and a half hours later, the bus stops over in Narok. We have already covered about one-third of our journey. People scramble to disembark, but I stay putt. I don’t believe in stopovers unless you need to use the bathroom. I take out my packed snacks, really pleased with myself to have made plans. I look at the calory load on the label and I am happy to gobble down some crisps, digestive and some soda. Contrary to my ideals, these stopovers stir a level of “food excitement” for travelers and for sure, they start walking back into the bus carrying black plastic bags oozing with the aroma of fries, sausages and all sorts, drenching the limited atmosphere of the bus. If you know the nostalgic aroma of fries, chicken and sausage that lives on Moi avenue or Tom Mboya street in Nairobi then you know what I am talking about. This concoction is nothing to desire at 10am, and furthermore in a public bus filled with other miscellaneous scent ranging from cheap perfume to groundnuts. The black plastic bags hauling the food is what get the better of my attention. Environmental disaster! The bus does not have any disposal bin and as for the people, I am not sure whether they know any better regarding waste disposal. The bus recommences the journey.

As sure as the sun rises, plastic start flying across the windows of the bus. Each satisfied soul takes turns to throw his, filled with plastic bottles and whatever is left over from their meal. I don’t understand who put in our minds that waste is a bad thing that needs to be as far from you as possible. Maybe they would have remembered to tell us that you need not generate it then you won’t have it! My heart bleeds, I feel the need to stand up and “preach” and I do just that!

I think of the Nairobi buses where you have preachers aboard with their sermonette, those who flog their bush medicine for nothing as much as a word, the people who are begging for a cause, and I imagine myself in the same bus, and what I should say! “Everybody listen up!” I take the plastic soda bottle I have and lift it up. “This my friends, is plastic. Good for holding your soda, good for reusing if you needed some water. However, this piece of *item* takes only 20 years to reintegrate into the environment. If you throw it out of the window, it first will stay where you left it until your new baby boy is about 20 years old. Meaning he will go to preschool, nursery, primary and secondary and perhaps still be able to collect it as a souvenir before he goes to college. The plastic bags you are throwing out of the window are useful for the moment but if you could have carried a container from home, you would have only needed to have the fried served into that. It takes planning and execution to think about your environment. It costs you less to plan to save the environment and indeed it will cost your future generations even less and ensure they can enjoy the same resources you enjoyed.” I sit down. Feeling well satisfied.

The only missing link is that all these was contemplated in the heart, but the gut did not allow me to execute this mini-lecture. Something can be done and needs to be done. Maybe I’ll get there one day.

As the bus speeds away, I stay lost in the thoughts of the myriad of ways we could approach environmental education. The purr of the bus draws nearer, the chatter of the women stops, travelers still stay loud on their phones and the children laugh and chatter with glee. I drift back to my half-sleep, crowded with thoughts of the risks to society because of environmental decay.

Nature’s Touch – the irreplaceable value

Lake Kanyaboli
Lake Kanyaboli

One of the greatest gifts of life is to be able to dream. When I was younger, I wanted to be a bus driver. I dreamed of being able to sit behind the mighty behemoth and pacing around like I own the world! My dream was ever strung around reversing the truck with multiple trailers. Let me say that this dream were short-lived as LIFE gradually replaced it! The realities of process as well as cause and effect! That said, the brighter side is that these dreams were replaced by even grandeur ones; traversing the world, being UNEP boss – ha!  but was quickly limited by numerous challenges and fraught with dangers, that I equally dreamed of. Nowadays, I change the world a word at a time!

Recently I visited Lake Kanyaboli, a satellite lake on Lake Victoria in Siaya County. The scenery was beautiful, the nature pleasant, fresh air intoxicating and I just imagined myself sitting by the side of the lake with a book, taking stock of the changing moments, the rising of the sun, the innumerable bird species, the glistening waters, unadulterated environment, the fish, the people as they scramble to collect water amidst the livestock and the distant hills across the lake that constantly casts its shadow over the waters.

I met a man, Charles, who works with his hands! He is a craftsman, designing crafts out of papyrus which is abundant around the lakeside, as my eyes would say. His story is one of resilience, belief and hard work. He learnt the craft by tagging on to a man he met selling woven chairs off his bicycles on the dusty rugged roads of his village. He persuaded him to teach him the craft and for more than six months he would be an apprentice under him, stirring early in the morning everyday to  harvest papyrus, a task which initially left his hands bloody and his back sore. Not to give up, he would quickly and efficiently accomplish this duty to ensure that he had time to observe and learn the actual art of weaving. To cut short the long story, he now has his own business that provides him with a means of putting food on the table and taking care of his family, running for more than 10 years now. He enjoins the services of two women who help him meet his demand.

For Charles, it has been well over the years but now he feels threatened by expansion of Agriculture and increased destruction of the swamp areas around lake Kanyaboli. His only hope is that he will continue to have the opportunity to run and expand his business. I also hope that he teaches the craft as an inheritance to his children.

Papyrus at Lake Kanyaboli
Papyrus at Lake Kanyaboli

For me something slightly different ticked off! As I watched him twisting together the tapestry of his product, I could almost see a radiance on his face and a twinkle in his eye. He enjoyed what he was doing. There was a subtle state of comfort that prevailed making his work seem so effortless yet also a constant exertion stemming from the effort put leaving him with beads of sweat streaming down his cheeks. He seemed very in touch with the papyrus reeds that they almost seemed to know how to respond when he touched them. The swinging of hands, poking of holes and pulling of reeds almost produced a rhythmic cadence to a silent song that will never be sung.

For more than ten minutes I sat there in silence watching him and wondering what value he places on this papyrus. If the whole swamp is destroyed, it seems obvious what he would loose. In the same step, I reflect on the serene beauty that surrounds me just outside the door of Charles’ workshop. I look around at those living here going on with their daily chores, quite oblivious of my ways and thoughts. I smile and dream. What would this place would look like many years from now. A complete environmental disaster? Or a renewed Gem? It is only the many who live in these surrounding that will determine its future.

As it is for them, so it is for you and me. We can only reach where our dreams go! We can only dream of what we see, what we hear and what we know. Our lives are inextricably linked to nature, we come from it and we go back to it when we die. The dash in between our nascence and obliteration what we can dream of. I am dreaming of a better world, a better people and an even better next generation.

As I settle back into the car, I dream that if I would come back as a man (again) in my next life, then I will be a cobbler! Take care of people’s feet and let their feet take care of them.

Climate Change or a Change in Climate




Over the past three weeks, it would almost be “legal” to tell someone bon voyage as you part ways in the evening! Why? Flooding – caused by torrential rains. Nairobi, Mombasa and Narok have made news but the more peripheral regions have not been spared either as some have suffered mudslides and  to some extent flood related disasters. Well, it would be great to interrogate the issues in detail, but here’s my take on the matter.

When I first visited Nairobi many years ago and became acquainted with the city, I remember encountering several swamps in Kileleshwa, Karen, Nairobi West, Upper Hill, Madaraka, Loresho, Ngong, you name it! The green-leafy suburbs was not a name just for the sake of it! It was green and leafy.

Fast forward to 2015, the concrete jungle is being intricately fitted with cement and brick for good measure. Every inch of the land is measured for its worth as real estate rather than for the ecosystem functions that it performs, among them flood regulation! Our architects give a great after-thought to Nature-Design, asymmetrically assigning more effort to energy conservation including lighting and heating. Solar on the rooftop and grand window spaces for maximum lighting is misconstrued for eco-design.

Don’t get me wrong here, prudent use of energy has its role in environmental sustainability, but nature design by far engulfs a holistic sustainability approach that includes food provision, flood amelioration, cultural and recreational services, as essential ecosystem functions.

If Design was to consider these, then we would for one prefer to open our window and enjoy the sunlight, fresh air and amazing view from our apartment, houses, workspaces or coffee shops or we would probably take the opportunity to walk out, take a hoe and enjoy tending the kitchen garden behind the house, sit on a park bench and have our snack lunch, or enjoy the absolute pleasure of interacting with a squirrel, a bird, or a perhaps a waterbuck grazing by the reedbed. All thanks to nature conservation within our spaces.

However, what we have ended up with is locked doors for our children to ensure that the dangers of the outdoors remain unknown to them. For example broken glass, or some polluted element that could turn a Business-As-Usual day to Business-Unusual day! Shut windows grilled with grizzly iron or glazed with heavy blinds to keep out the eyes of nosy neighbors, whose window by the way is two metres away. Constantly lit bulbs, not in the name of ambience but occasioned by the large shadows cast by adjacent skyscrapers, perpetually keeping the room in darkness and all you ever experience of wild-life is the stray cat that is forever sneaking into your kitchen to grab a bite off the leftovers, and the pestering rats that continually spatter their tiny feet on your ceiling in the still of the night!

Silently, nature asserts itself when in one night of heavy rains, it looses the memory of its route. The swamps and reedbeds that once use to slow it’s pace is a house, an office or a parking lot. Places where water once went through are no longer “valid” pathways, ground seepage is no longer available since our driveways and exquisitely tart with bamburi cement product and therefore only discharges the water to other lower lying quarters. The streams are rife with with paperbags, plastic bottles and sediment so that stream flow is halved. The endpoint? You who are lowly and meek (literally) standing in a pool of water half-way through your house or having your car float for a change. Not as good as a rest this one!

Generally speaking, we experience one heavy downpour once in four years, in Kenya. The third and fourth year of this cycle tend to be drier with less than average precipitation. So, where we should place our effort during the in-between years is in building some personal and institutional resilience, and integrating nature designs, into our architectural tapestry. Land use planning should constantly consider nature designs, a concept that will put us ahead of time when it comes to Climate Change Adaptation. For now, we can contend with the change of climate by moving to higher ground.