FMS 2014 Fellow Corey Stout landed in Nairobi recently to begin her field assignment as a Project Manager for One Degree Solar. Corey, whose Kenyan nickname is “Mac Truck,” shares her most recent adventures in the field:
What is an SQ?
My move to Nairobi is official: resident of Trafford Court in Kilimani, two minute commute to work, and occupant of our home’s SQ. What is an SQ, you ask? Wise question, I tell you. And wise question that I did not ask. Although you may think that SQ stands for square feet, which makes complete sense (at least for some…or one), it is in fact the abbreviation for Servant’s Quarters. Needless to say, I was in for a treat when I moved into my “room”, the SQ or Servant’s Quarters of our house. While I have a knack for small rooms, I am getting used to the world of the tiny. The SQ’s 7x7x7 measurement does not take into account the 8 car batteries, which take up 1/3 of the room, and serve as the backup power for the rest of the house. Fortunately, a metal cage surrounds the batteries (they can electrocute upon touch…this finding may or may not have been from personal experience), so I have created a makeshift closet/clothes steamer by placing hangers around it. And to think that everyone thought Sophie was the crafty one in our D.C. apartment. DIY has basically become my middle name.
During my first night in the SQ (apparently you do not even refer to it as a room…let alone your room; while it may be a faux pas to say “my SQ,” I have no qualms about reminding my roommates that I hold the keys to our backup power), I decided to test the shower in the adjoining bathroom. The “bathroom”, which is attached directly to the SQ “bedroom”, consists of the basics: a toilet, sink, shower head and facet. There are no floor or wall dividers around the shower head or facet to separate the “shower” from the rest of the bathroom and the rest of the bedroom is only divided from the bathroom by a door. Confused? Just picture a minimalist’s heaven. While I am not new to the concept of shower heads in a bathroom without a shower, I am new to double checking that a drain exists prior to exfoliation.
Meeting the Roommates
Halfway into my ice cold shower, I heard a loud thump. Luckily, I did not have to waste any time dealing with shower doors (serious feng shui) and quickly opened the door of the bathroom to see that the SQ was completely flooded…and my only clean outfit for my first day of work had fallen from its “closet” and was drowning. I had not yet had the pleasure of meeting my five roommates nor was I aware that they were all male (again, who would have thought to ask such questions?), but I made my presence and estrogen known. With a neon pink towel, soaking wet hair, and a trail of soap suds, I ran to the main house (since the SQ is obviously separate), startling Mark, David, and Andrew, who were just about ready to dive into their Indian takeout. Alas, as the true gentleman that they are, they abandoned their chicken masala and instead dove into the SQ pond, rushing to get towels, switching off the backup power (opps), and helping to mop up the water, which had begun to rush out of the SQ into the driveway. Night and SQ saved. Note to self: always make sure that your shower has a drain (and use any SQ flooding as an excuse to shower in the the main house, which has hot water…très luxurious).
Despite my first night’s mishap, I have gotten used to the SQ, settled into my job, and fallen in love with Kenya. I am working for One Degree Solar, a solar energy company that brings power to households, schools, and business without access to electricity, and overseeing our plans to scale within Kenya and across East Africa. As cheesy as it sounds, I still have to pinch myself each morning that I am actually here and working for such an exciting company.
The Making of the “Mac Truck”
Finally, five short, but essential, updates to get you fully up-to-speed on my life (whether by blood, water, or beer, this is what you signed up for, after all):
- My boss has coined me the “Mac Truck.” He claims the nickname is from my abrupt body rotations and tendency to bump into anyone/anything in my path (i.e. I still have not regained horizontal head/neck movement), but I have stopped throwing out my chocolate wrappers in his trash can.
- Up until yesterday, my brother thought I had moved to Accra, Ghana (and we only discovered this because he had looked up flights to come visit…I still have not decided whether the points for a visitation attempt negate this “mistake”).
- I have already signed up two customers to purchase One Degree Solar’s BrightBox, our flagship solar kit that can power four lights, 10 phones, any USB device, and a radio for up to 24 hours (cue “wowza!”): Sudanese refugee camps on the Northwestern border and Mark, the mango seller outside of my office. I made the sale to the refugee camps by pitching our product to an international aid organization and I made the sale to Mark by convincing him that my mango consumption will pay off his BrightBox in a month. Though the pitches and quantities purchased differed, I am equally proud of both.
- I have already set off the fire alarm twice in our house (popcorn burns so easily), broken our living room speakers (re: Mac Truck bullet above), and woken up the next door neighbors with my persistent use of snooze in the morning (our security guard had to knock on my window to kindly ask me to “please wake up, Miss. Query”), but fortunately my roommates are forgiving and have accepted me for the liability that I am (I wish I could say the same about my neighbors).
- The amazing Elyse Lipman came to visit last weekend. We took motorcycles to Karen (a beautiful suburb named for Karen Blixen, author of Out of Africa), fed giraffes at Nairobi’s giraffe sanctuary, bonded with orphaned elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, and safaried in Nairobi National Park (black rhino spotting included!). Am I rubbing my new backyard in your face? You betcha.
Any and all visitors are welcome!! Miss you all!