Tea, Milk And Tailoring
After quite a few days in Kericho with its pavement tailors, I continued with my plan to stay at the Naiberi River Camp near Eldoret as it comes highly recommended. The sun was shining on departure, so here are some photos of the tea estates around the town.
Although it's not far from Kericho to Eldoret, two hours they told me at the hotel but longer on my loaded bike, there's some sort of subtle change in the landscape on the way. It becomes less open, more wooded, and the tea plantations disappear. This was all tropical rainforests until the British cleared it to grow tea.
Closer to Eldoret the farms become quite traditional English-looking, and this is the centre of Kenya's dairy industry. Which explains why tea served in any sort of hotel, restaurant or cafe in this area is usually made entirely with milk, or sometimes half and half milk and water. A little strange but easy to get used to.
If the British brought tea, milk and tailoring to Kenya, and to virtually all their other colonies, there's a forth thing they also brought. And it's hardly ever encountered without those first three being present. In fact, it has been developed and refined in some of those ex-colonies (India and Africa spring to mind), until it's now almost an art form. Answers on a postcard, I'll reveal all in a later posting.
Part of the recommendation of the Naiberi River Camp is the welcoming nature of the Indian owner, Raj. And he certainly is welcoming, and interested in all your travels and plans.
His reaction to mine was to tell me to coninue into Uganda and around Lake Victoria in line with my original idea.
"Of course it's wet all around Kericho, that's why they grow tea there. But you've been over a 10,000ft ridge to get here, and crossed the Equator, and it's much dryer from here on. It'll still rain occasionally, but never for more than an hour, usually less, and then everything dries quickly afterwards. As you've found further south, nothing dries out after the rain has stopped. Something to do with the old rainforests. You'll be fine in Uganda."
So what do I do now, or rather where do I go?
I had spent a while in Kericho studying the maps and found an interesting-looking route from the Tanzanian border south of Nairobi to Lake Malawi, nearly all on "un-tarred main roads", with a tarmac alternative (the road via Dar es Salaam) if needed.
Well, the Naiberi River Camp seemed a nice place, the camping and facilities were as good as people had said, so I stayed a few days to see what the weather brought.
And I continued to find it's easy to photograph the common wild birds in Africa, so here are some more pictures from Naiberi River Camp.
I had tea and an oil change. And an air filter change as well. That has to be done pretty regularly up at these altitudes to give the engine a chance of sucking in sufficient air. It still has a little difficulty breathing on some of the higher roads around here. This bike has a washable air filter so the procedure is to remove the dirty one, fit the previously cleaned one, wash the dirty one in petrol then oil it with engine oil just the right amount to trap the dirt, and wrap it up ready for the next change. A messy job but has to be done.
Then Raj accosted me.
"Here's my card, I'm a director of the clothing factory in town. Look at the name.
"When you go into town stop by and I'll show you around. A lot of our machinery is from England."
The name of the factory was Ken-Knit Ltd, so it had to be done.
It was huge. The size of many football pitches, employing 1,500 people.
And stuffed full of spinning machinery, bobbin-winding machinery, weaving machinery, knitting machinery, nap-raising machinery, embroidering machinery, and of course, sewing machines. A mechanical engineer's delight. I wished I'd taken my camera.
Each machine wasn't just a single device, a single loom for instance, but massive multi-operation things. The machine for winding bobbins wound about fifty of them at a single push of a button, and there were about a half-dozen of those. The knitting machines knitted ten sweaters simultaneously, but didn't stop when they were complete. They knitted a sort of joining hem then commenced again at the necks of the next ten sweaters, so ten continuous rolls of sweaters rolled off of the machine. These were then loaded onto one of the embroidery machines which stitched a school badge onto each sweater in the roll, ten rolls simultaneously, all at the click of a mouse button on the selected badge design.
A lot of the 1,500 staff work in the hand-finishing hall. Where, for instance, the completed sweaters arrive, having been machine-cut into individual garments, to be sewn up at the neck and hem where they were previously all joined together.
It was a pretty noisy place, particularly the weaving hall where a big batch of blankets was rolling off the broad looms. I searched my head trying to remember who invented the flying shuttle. I remember being taught at school that it was one of the most significant inventions ever, but couldn't remember the inventer's name which became part of the name of the device. 'Arkwright' rings a bell, making it 'Arkwright's Flying Shuttle'.
I wonder if he had any idea at all of how readily and easily his invention would lend itself to computer control so that a line of ten massive blanket looms could be controlled by a single chip. And not a Lancashire fried chip at that.
There was one place in the factory that was a haven of quiet serenity and calmness. And Godfrey, my escort, (Raj was out on business at the time I stopped by), seemed to have particular pleasure in steering me there. We entered as though entering a church.
It was the maintenance machine-shop. Inside was the gentle precision activity of turning spare parts on lathes and drinking tea. About six sophisticated lathes and other regal machines filled the room, and Godfrey answered the question that had puzzled me during the visit.
Out in the main factory I had been checking the makers' nameplates on the various machines, looking for the English specimens.
But Godfrey often told me, "Made in Germany."
Or, "Chinese," if it was modern with a computer attached. One such oriental machine was a little amazing.
As well as ready-made clothes, the company makes balls of wool for sale in wool shops. This machine wound the balls from large bobbins of yarn. About twenty-five at a time, the colour and weight of the balls being selected by a mouse-click, and the machine then weighing each and every ball as it was wound at supersonic speed, stopping dead when 50 grams was reached.
Then a complete contrast at the labelling machine where each ball of wool had a paper band wrapped and glued around it with brand name, colour and weight printed on it. That machine labelled one ball at a time and was controlled by three operators. "Made in Germany," said Godfrey.
So where was the English machinery that Raj had mentioned, or was he just being kind?
It was here in the maintenance machine-shop. Various lathes and milling machines from back home looked as though they may be as old as the factory, from the fifties. But still giving stirling service, said the proud Hindu shop manager.
Eldoret is also the processing centre of this milk production region, so there's a milk factory on the edge of town with a little sales hatch in the yard where you can buy all sorts of cheese, including Stilton and 'English', and butter, ice cream and milk. So I set off to find it. And had an ice cream in the yard while heavy lorries delivered and carted away large loads of traditional milk churns.
European-style cheese is more or less unknown in East Africa, but here it is for sale in this little backwater on the edge of Eldoret. And I realised why, now that I had found it.
Those heavy milk lorries that come and go all day, seven days a week, have to negotiate about a quarter mile of dirt road to reach the factory. Now dirt road, heavy lorries and rain mean one thing.
When the milk reaches the factory, it is already half turned to cheese and butter.....
The short access road truly is a rollercoaster of mudholes, ditches and ridges, all part of the journey.
I stayed a while at Naiberi until various locals, and the overland tour leaders who use the campsite, convinced me to continue around Lake Victoria. So I set off for Bungoma, about the last place to stay before the Ugandan border.
The internet's a wonderful thing, enabling me to look up 'flying shuttle', to find it was invented by one John Kay from Lancashire. Which definitely wasn't what I was taught at school.
So I looked further and found that his flying shuttle was mechanised thirty years later by Edmund Cartwright. But in the late fifties schools were teaching it as "Cartwright's Flying Shuttle." I wonder if that has something to do with the fact that John Kay was vilified and driven from England to France (where he died in poverty) because his invention robbed people of jobs in the textile mills of north-west England. That, I suppose, wouldn't have been a good thing to teach in schools - that if you're clever enough to invent something the same could happen to you .........
Posted by Ken Thomas at June 06, 2010 01:07 PM GMT