I spent the better part of the past week in western Kenya checking out the scale-up of IPA’s Safe Water Program. This is one of the development interventions that IPA has evaluated and declared a “Proven Impact” project. One of the things a lot of folks don’t realize about IPA is that when something does work we’re pretty big on seeing it go to scale – so instead of reaching a study sample of maybe 500 or even 5,000, taking the same intervention and trying to reach entire districts, countries, or even regions. It’s exciting stuff but brings with it it’s own set of challenges.
Those four days were really the first time I’ve spent in Kenya since I studied there in 2008. It was really nice to be back – I guess I can’t say whether it’s just a little change of pace from Uganda or whether there’s actual some intrinsic difference but it was refreshing nonetheless. I can understand maybe a third of the Kiswahili spoken around me, which is a third more than I understand of any local language in Uganda; the food is definitely better; tuk-tuks are awesome; fewer calls of mzungu in the village; and a little bit more of a spring in the step.
One interesting thing – crossing the border from Uganda to Kenya you fill out a 5 by 7 inch immigration card which they barely glance at before picking up the rubber stamp and attempting to punch a hole in your passport. However, returning to Uganda through the dusty little border town of Busia you now receive the same high-tech treatment promised at any international arrivals terminal in the States. Metal detectors, fingerprint scanners, the little camera, 3M passport scanners, computers, the whole works – which works fine until the internet goes down, which of course it does at regular intervals. It’s also just amazing to see what the government of Uganda is spending funds on these days.
Perhaps the biggest indication that I was back in Uganda was getting cut in the queue by a full grown man who then looked at me and said, oh, I’m sorry, as if he hadn’t noticed that he had been standing behind me for the last five minutes.