Bluffers guide to Kakamega

On the way to Kakamega

How can you really get to know a place and especially in two weeks?

The answer is that you can’t but this bluffers guide might help you if you ever go to stay with Andrew and Lucy. This is our “distilled” wisdom from staying there! Lots may be wrong. You may well be able to add other things. Much of this gave us some help in a) keeping a sense of humour and proportion and b) stopped us getting into too much difficulty

Before you go

There are a number of things that you can get/ buy/ organise before you go. These will include:

  • wet wipes (large)
  • hand disinfectant
  • flipflops/crocks
  • Torch (for the power failures and to see the guard dogs prowling the compound at night)
  • Brown or brown ready trousers and shorts
  • For women wear clothes that are easy for squatting in (the toilet factor)
  • Sun protection
  • Deat
  • small first aid kit
  • A flask keeps drinks cool
  • Depending on season a pac-a-mac can be useful

The weather is warm. There are only two seasons – dry and wet. It is warm, very warm. In Feb when we were there it was consistently over 30c each day.

Attitudes to encourage

  • Washing Bowl

    Have counselling for phobias before going

  • Practise washing in 2″ of water
  • Practise squatting for the toilet (pre-ski exercises are good)
  • Realise that cold showers (or any shower at all) is a luxury not a necessity
  • A high dirt tolerance – its only dirt

Andrew and Lucy’s

  • The rats in the roof are really squirrels (honestly – it feels better that way)
  • Gecko’s are good – they eat mosquitoes
  • Tell people that you are a pastor – they get VIP treatment
  • All westernised food is luminous (e.g jam or marmalade)
  • The food you eat will be better than most other people’s and more plentiful – remember that before you even think of saying you don’t like it or you leave any on your plate.
  • Water supplies are erratic – don’t waste it and use dirty water to flush the toilets. Remember Ken Livingstone’s mantra – “if its yellow let it mellow, if its brown flush it down”

Places to go

Little Home is very near to Lucy and Andrew. It is useful to remember both to tell people dropping you off or to go for a drink. Little Home looks run down from the outside but is a small haven at the back. Look out for Calvin – the Catholic waiter (it tickles me that a Catholic is called by the name of a leading member of the Reformation)

Swimming pool at Golf Hotal

Golf Hotel. This is THE place to go to relax. It is good to create some space to do so. It can be very intense and hot and exhausting. Its a good idea to use this as a place of refuge – to have a drink and a swim and a shower (cold). We all found it very useful. The food however is the worst I have ever had – you can order the same thing on subsequent days and its totally different! They have two cooking settings – burnt and cinders.

There are a number of supermarkets in town. The one we used most was Yako’s (just down from the Golf Hotel).

mama watoto and internet cafe (on left), kakamega

There is a reasonably decent internet cafe (less than 1p per minute) near Mama Watoto supermarket. The keyboard keys tend to stick and it can sometimes be very slow – but its usually ok.


Main Road near Andrew and Lucy, Kakamega

There are a number of ways of getting about. Remember most roads are not like they are in the UK. They are in far worse repair and crossing the road is complicated.

Walking across kakamega golf course

Walking – great during day light hours. The nicest way into town is via a path that cuts through over a field and along the golf course. We tended to use this route at least once a day. It takes 25-30 minutes from Andrew and Lucy’s. The school is about a 2 hour walk – not recommended. The Training centre is about 25 minutes walk.

Buda-buda and tuk-tuk

Buda-Buda – This is the bicycle with a seat on the back. Really cool women ride it side saddle. Most of the rest of us hang on for dear life (they have small handlebars for passengers and foot rests. Should be 30 /- to/from town. Usually ask for 50/- – settle for 40.

Motorbikes – just don’t. Not a good reputation


Tuk-Tuk – Just like in other countries – its a three wheeler designed and licensed to take 3 passengers. We had 4 in ours and then the driver stopped and took on another alongside him in the front!

Taxi – What it says on the tin. Its about 300/- from town – but you can fit at least 5 in a taxi licensed for 4! Good for night runs.


Matatus – mainly driven by mad drivers. Not too bad when the roads are bad but as soon as they get to a good piece of road – prepare to be scared. Used to go between towns. We used them on our first and last days.

RUSH bus – small buses driven by RUSH drivers. Used to get us to/from parts of the project etc.

Basic Swahili Guide

Jambo – means hello. Can use it on anyone you pass – in fact you can use it all the time to complete strangers.

Advanced Swahili Guide

  • Habari – means hello. The usual answer is Mzuri – which means fine.
  • Bwana Sufwaye – Praise the Lord. Answer Amen
  • Lala Salama – Goodnight
  • Kwa Hairy – Goodbye
  • Labda Badaye – Maybe later
  • Asante Sana – Thank you
  • Karibu – Welcome

Other Swahili words constitute part of the Swahili degree course!


Lady at side of road

The people that we met were very warm and generous. People are always interested in you. Be aware that western people represent rich people. They perceive us as wealthy and able to help them. You can’t help everyone but you need to remember that the vast majority of people you meet are far worse off than you.

It is advisable not to go out at night except in a car. Full stop. It is why most places have guard dogs.

Remember that Kenyans want to give answers that they think will please you. Try not to ask straight questions – ask questions which give you information but don’t require a commitment from them to something. They will have competing demands (especially Andrew and Lucy) and they may well stop doing something important to please you on something minor.

People come before tasks. Society there is HIGHLY relational. If a visitor comes at 8am, just as you are leaving, the expectation is to give them food and drink and listen to them – for however long it takes. Get used to it. Its not wrong, its different. They run on African Time.

When people, especially strangers, ask you to there home they are not merely expressing interest and hospitality they may well use it to get you to help them – medical bills, schooling etc etc


There are 120/- to the pound. A beer in the golf hotel is 130/-. Their food prices change every day as to how they work it out but you are likely to spend under £5 on a meal (though whether you can eat it or not is more debatable .

Joan, will tell you that you only need about £50 when you are in Kakamega. Absolute rubbish. There are the beers to buy, the clothes to have made, the taxis. Then there are the gifts to be bought and the crises to face. I defy you to say no to Lucy when she shows you children with no shoes and the need for a few pounds to buy shoes for them – etc etc

Hopefully my fellow travellers will be along to add to these pearls of wisdom!


8 comments on “Bluffers guide to Kakamega

  1. Rosie Edser
    February 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    If going with small children

    *It’s only worth using seat belts if the seats are actually attached to the floor of the matatu/bus.
    *if you’re going on a Boda Boda, put the child in front of you and choose a cyclist not wearing flip flops. And rememebr the Swahili for “slowly” is “poley poley”
    *take Top Trump cards and reams of paper for the endless games of hangman; discreet enough for occupying them in the 3 hour church meetings.
    * oh and with all the soda just forget about their teeth for the fortnight.. oh and forget about trying to keep to a particular bedtime too, in fact be prepared to cheerfully surrender control of almost every aspect of their routine!

    *If you’re male take out your earring as it means er something else there

  2. Harvey Edser
    February 28, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

    Will, I’ve uploaded quite a few of our Kenya pics to Flickr:

    Is there any way I can add them to the Springfield Church Flickr stream?


    • Will Cookson
      March 1, 2011 at 9:22 am #

      Hi Harvey,
      Sure we can. Ana can upload them for you – or if she is unsure I can do it for you.

  3. Brian Hodge
    February 28, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

    Thank you for all the advice!! Very useful – there is no Golf Hotel near us at Matayos so no swim….

    We are hoping to take a group next year…..



    • Will Cookson
      March 1, 2011 at 9:25 am #

      You may have no where to swim but the most important part for us was a quiet place to have a drink and to be able to withdraw from everything – a place of sanctuary if you will. So for us Little Home next to where we lived helped as well.

  4. Rosie Edser
    February 28, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    oh yeah and 100Kenyan shillings (about 80p) seems to be the average unskilled labour day’s wage for working on the land all day. gulp!

  5. Angela Baker
    February 28, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    This is brilliant, (OK so were the other blogs too, but this is really concise). What an eye-opener! I’m sure there are lots of things about British life that you’ve really come to appreciate again in the last 48 hours or so, (flushing loos, non-burnt grub etc).
    Well done for surviving the challenges!
    Can’t wait to see Andrew & Lucy next week.
    God bless,
    Angela x

  6. jez
    March 12, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

    Great post thank you, helpful guide to comi.g to Kenya for mzungu.

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