20 Miles Never Felt So Far

Montana is a big state, and after five years of living there, a four hour car ride has become fairly easy for me. Also, spending my summers in Colter Bay, Wyoming, where you are an hour drive from a grocery store, I've perhaps come to take for granted how easy it is for me to travel large distances. 

So when I was at home planning this trip to Bungoma, Kenya, 20 miles to the nearest church branch did not seem like it would be a challenge at all. When I lived in Wyoming I would drive the 45 miles to town to go to church so twenty miles seemed like nothing.

After a short time of being in Bungoma I realized how 'Western' my perspective had been. At home I have my own personal car where we have nice paved roads. Traveling truly is a great luxury that most people in this world do not have. 

Our journey to Misiqu for church:

I was not sure how long it would take and I did not want to be late so we left the house at around 8:20 for church which was scheduled to start at 10.

"We will definitely make it on time!"

Walking around 4 blocks we get to one of the main roads of Bungoma and on the corner we wave our hand in the air to stop a small van they call a Matatu. This first Matatu takes us around 2 miles to another town called Kanduwi. That small leg of the journey cost 20 Kenyan shillings. (In March 86 Kenyan shillings could buy you 1 US Dollar.)

Form Kanduwi we have to find another Matatu headed to Eldoret, but we get off 15 miles down the road at a town call Webuya. Navigating the Mutatus is a little bit tricky. Every drive wants you to get in their van and there usually is around 6 vans lined up. You are also trying to get on the right Mutatu. The one that is going where you want go and one that is almost full so you don’t have to wait for it to fill.  If the Matatu is not full it might take 20 minutes (or a lot longer) to fill up, but a Mutatu is never full! In Kanduwi everyone might have a seat, but on the way to Webuya we pick up more people and some how find somewhere to put them. It is a van that is made to carry around 14 people at the most, but they pack in around 20 people!
Furthermore, children don’t get a seat - if they are with you they must sit on your lap. Once there are a couple people in every seat they place small wooden boards across the isles so a couple people can sit between the seats. From Kanduwi to Webuya is 100 Kenya shillings per person.

We get dropped off at main road outside of Wabuya where we have to walk several blocks up to the next Mutatu that will take us up to Misiqu. Wabuya to Misiqu 50 Kenyan shillings.

Once in Misiqu it is the real challenge finding the right building. Just trusting that the map on is right we headed north to where we think the church might be. It is no good to ask anyone, because no one knows what you are talking about. Walking up the street we get close to where the church should be hoping that there is a sign or something to let us know we are in the right area.

Then I see it a few yards ahead a black singe that says The Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints.

"No way? We found it!"  Only ten minutes late! Depending on your luck and walking speed the journey takes around 2 hours each way. And it hits your wallet too!  
20+100+50=170 Kenya shillings x 2 for both Daniel and I 340 KES. ($3.93 USD) And that's one way to get back is another 340 KES! 

8 USD may not seem like a lot but for the people here that would be a large amount of there income to go to church every week. Remember that the GDP per capita of Kenya is $1800 compared to America's $51,000!!! And don't forget about all the time wasted sitting in a hot, cramped, minivan on a bumpy road!

Here's a fun fact; for every 1000 people in the USA there are 797 cars. That's the 3rd highest in the world after Monaco and San Marino. (And those two, in some ways, shouldn't even count as they're small, tax haven, city states in Europe.) 

In Kenya there are 24 cars per 1000 people. Ethiopia, where we're going next week, has only 3 cars per 1000 people. 

The darker the color the more cars per capita. 

The darker the color the more cars per capita. 

Roughly speaking, if you own a car, you're in an elite minority that makes up about 10% of the global population. 


I can see how families have to save up for years and years to try and get enough money to make it to the nearest temple. It goes to show how unique the way we live in America really is. Its easy to think that the culture in the USA is the default way of living but I'm afraid nothing could be further from the truth. I just feel blessed that we found the branch here and that going to church at home is not such a challenge. 


Stats can be found at: or all over wikipedia. 

Ways to Get Around!

Traveling around Kenya is an enjoyable experience, and not just because of the friendly people and the vistas, the variously chaotic modes of transportation are just as enthralling as the people and places they take you to. Though not always cheap or quick Kenyan’s public transportation system is always an adventure.

Very few Kenyans have personal vehicles and so most people rely on one of these four transportation methods to get around:  

1.     A Matatu is usually a small Nissan van that looks like it’s lived through a war or two. They’re often decorated and decaled with the driver’s music and religious preferences though recent legislation has limited the customization that could be done on matatus.

Matatus usually follow a set route between a few location but will only stop when waved down and as a rule – there’s always room for more. When first built most matatus were probably fitted with no more than seven seatbelts. Double that is the standard number of passengers for a busy route.

I find the most interesting thing about matatus to be the hustle of their drivers. Since they’re paid per person they have a great incentive to get you on their matatu, now. This means they’re likely to shout, honk, and hiss at anyone on the street who might need a ride. Their job is complicated in that passengers want to leave as soon as possible but the drivers don’t want to leave until they’ve filled the van. Its hard to fill your matatu when the biggest incentive for a passenger to board is it being already full. Luring the first few people into an empty matatu requires a special kind of person – I don’t envy their work!

2.     Piki pikis are motorcycles that also tend to stick to main routes but will take you anywhere you want to go – for a price. They are more expensive than matatus and depending on the driver’s linguistic abilities and the obscurity of your destination you might end up somewhere new!

And just because it only has two wheels doesn’t mean it can only carry two people: I have seen 4 people on one piki piki!

3.     Boda bodas are my favorite way to get around. They are heavy-duty bicycles from China or India with cushion seats over the back wheel. Boda Bodas are often decorated extensively with colorful paint, flags, bells, and dozens of reflectors. They provide a nice quiet ride to anywhere you can provide directions to and they’re cheap. You might feel guilty bargaining too hard on a hot day though.  They’re a lot of fun though!

I like it so much I want to start a boda boda business when I get back to the States. I’ll give people rides around the Tetons for, say, 50 bob from Beaver Creek to Moose?

4.     Route 11 is the least exciting and most common mode of transportation. That is, walking. The 11 refers to two legs walking the route to your destination. Kenyans seem to have a love-hate relationship with walking that means they’ll sit and wait for hours for a ride somewhere if a ride is possible. But when a ride isn’t obvious they’ll think nothing of walking 5km to work and back each day. We probably average about 5km walking everyday here in Bungoma. 

-Dan & Whit

The Trash Outside

The Trash Pile Outside Our House by Whitney Mickelsen

I think there are at least three ways of handling trash in this world.

1 - Out of site out of mind. Taking it far out of town and burying it.

2 - Doing what we can to recycle it. Putting an honest effort into making our impact on this earth as minimal as possible.

3 - Where you are is where it stays. Just tossing your trash in the gutter without remorse.

In Kenya it is defiantly the last of the three.  Here there is no infrastructure to collected garbage. So the only option is to just throw it on the ground where ever you might be at the time.

If you know me, you know I hate littering with a passion. So the first time I dumped our house garbage in the little garbage pile outside our house (where everyone in our little apartment complex puts their garbage) I felt me heart break a little. There are dozens of these informal dumps around town and none of them are pleasant. I felt terrible just throwing my garbage on the ground! At first I didn’t know if I could do it, but how else was I going to get ride of it?!

So on our way to dinner one evening Daniel and I dropped our bag of trash in the pile and on our way back home I was amazed. We had only be gone an hour but our small trash bags were either gone or had been searched through for what could be salvaged. Both people and animals make use of these garbage piles so its always a surprise when we come around the corner before our house and come face to face with a new critter who’s scratching through the garbage.

Over the past two weeks of living here in Bungoma I have see people, dogs, cows, pigs, chickens, and goats shuffling through the garbage! Often the animals are unaccompanied and I wonder where they come from. Today I was surprised to see three frisky pigs having a great time rooting around with no one in sight. Later when I went by they were gone – where did they go?! But my favorite is seeing the mother chickens scratch vigorously at the trash so that their chicks can scurry and peck up the bugs!

All this has led me to conclude that hiding our garbage a few miles out of town under some dirt isn’t all that much better than tossing it on the side of the road. The garbage is still there, still in the environment and still on this planet. We took natural materials and made them unnatural and now we don’t know what to do with them. Burying it isn’t a solution it just makes it easier to forget about. At least when the garbage is in the open we get to see cute animals! I think we should focus on reducing our use and getting better at reusing – that’s the real solution.

Even if you don’t see it, your garbage is still just the trash pile outside your house; the only difference is you can’t see it from the window like we can.

All content created by Daniel Lombardi. Copyright 2017.