The whole bloc team (Peter, Paul and I) have safely arrived in Nairobi now and are working furiously towards the opening of Maker Faire on 26th August. We met up at Hotel Jaffers last night to swap stories and discuss what still needs doing before MFA kicks off.
The hotel is located next to the Bus Station in Nairobi, the downside of which is that the matatus start (loudly) touting for business at 5am, right under the hotel. But the upsides are the view over the Bus Station and market, which feels, and at rush hour sounds, like the heart of the city. At rush hour the extremely orderly queues for buses home stretch for hundreds of yards around the edge of the square, although Peter tells me that they move quite quickly (you wait for ages then four buses come at once kind of thing).
The other upside is that directly underneath the hotel is a rabbit warren of alleys and arcades full of tiny stalls from which you can send emails, use the internet, get your shoes shined or photocopy your passport. However at least 60% of the stalls must be related in some way with mobile phones – there’s a plethora of stalls selling new handsets, pay as you go SIMS and lots of much more DIY activities such as unlocking handsets and fixing phones. These stalls are always busy, the tiny counters covered in phones in varying stages of being dismantled – DIY Kenya indeed.
The mobile phone is a huge industry in the country – 47.5% of the population own one according to Kenya Update and it would seem that access to mobile phones far outweighs access to computers and the internet . Before knuckling down to preparing for MFA, I went on a trip to the Maasai Mara National Park to see the spectacular wildebeest migration (or as our guide pronounced it, Wylde-e-beasties) and even out here, where water is carried for miles from the nearest source, the Maasai herd their cattle with a spear in one hand and mobile somewhere under their shuka (traditional, brightly coloured, often checked blanket). Electricity is intermittent across the countryside and lots of people have none at all, so I’d wondered how people, charge their phones. I spotted the answer on the trip back to Nairobi when I noticed tiny shops offering the service.
The mobile is used everyday for phone calls, SMS (the word ‘text’ seems to be used too but less often) as well as banking, transferring money and to a lesser extent, accessing the internet. Peter tells me that the students at the College used Facebook, but on their phone rather than a computer.
Before I left the UK I got an email from Hamilton, a Trainer and Designers at NairoBits Digital Design School, who had a similar plan for MFA – to help makers sell their wares online. We’re going to be meeting up over the next few days to put a plan in place to work together at MFA, so I’m fascinated to find out how he works with the (comparative to the UK) lack of access to both computers and the internet.