Sometimes things work better than expected, and at less cost than you might think. Sometimes things work worse than expected, and at times not at all.


This is the electrical box in my apartment. When I moved in I had over 3 kW-hrs of electricity on the meter. Now, as you can see I have 0.39 kW-hrs left, and it is Saturday evening. While it is clearly true that I am running out of electricity, is not for lack of trying to buy more.

When the team of University housing people toured my apartment, I asked how to get more electricity. “Oh, that’s easy,” one gentleman said, “Just use mPesa and recharge the account.” “Okay,” I said, “How do I do that?” “Just put mPesa money on your mobile phone account and then use that to pay. You can do that anywhere you see a green mPesa sign in town,” he said. “Asante,” I replied.

I went to the Safaricom store and put 1000 Kenyan shillings (Ksh) on my new mPesa account, about $10. They gave me instructions on how to use a SIM tool to pay Kenya Power. I came home and followed the instructions. There are a series of fields to fill out, and one was “account number.” I did not know my account number, but my friend Richard suggested it might be the number on the meter box. Richard also lives in National Housing, but has a different meter box with different instructions. I put the number on the box in. The money transfer failed, and failed again.

The next morning I called Kenya Power and explained my predicament. He said, “You must come down.” “Where are you located?” I asked. He said something like, “Asawana mana place.” “Could you repeat that?” I asked. “Asawana mana place,” he said again. “I am having trouble understanding you. Could you speak more slowly?” I said. “Asawana mana place,” he said exactly as he had said before. “Okay, fine, I will find you,” I said shortly. Kakamega is a small place. Almost everyone knows where everything is and what it is called. It is difficult for them to understand that I would not know where Kenya Power was located or where “Asawana mana place” was. The gentleman on the phone thought he was speaking plainly enough.

While it is true that most of the time I ride my bike, sometimes I walk. At times I take another option. Just outside the gates to National housing there are usually a cadre of piki piki drivers, or motorcycle taxis, just waiting to take customers. It is a 5-7 minute ride downtown for 50 Ksh, or 50 cents. As I approach the security gate, they seem to read my mind, and one pulls up. “Where to?” the driver asks. “Kenya Electric,” I say. “Where?” he asks. “Kenya Electric,” I repeat. “I do not know where that is,” he says. “Kenya Electric Power Company,” I say. “Oh, Kenya Power. Hold on,” he says as we take off.

We arrived, I paid my 50 Ksh, and looked around. There was a large metal blue gate, open, with security guard sitting at the side. Behind the gate was a two story industrial building. There was no sign. “Kenya Power?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. I entered and went to the window that said “Pay Bill.” I waited in line, then asked how to pay my bill. “What is your account number?” she asked. “I don’t know,” I said. I showed her the meter box number I had written down. “You need an account number,” she said. “Talk to that man,” and she pointed to another line of people. I waited in that line and talked to the man.

“I would like to pay for more electricity,” I said. I live at National Housing and that is my meter number,” I said as I handed him the piece of paper with the number written on it. He looked at the number with no recognition of what he was seeing. “I took a picture of of the meter box with my phone,” I said. “Would you like to see that?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. He looked at the image and said, “That is not your meter number, that is your meter box number.” Please go to the meter department and they will explain things to you. He pointed down the hall.

I walked down the hall and found the meter department. Three of the staff were discussing something and I waited for them to finish. I sat down in the empty chair and explained my predicament, and that I had an image on my phone that might help. “Let us see it,” the man said. I handed him my phone with the image of the box. “You must input commands into the meter box to see your meter number. We will show you how to do it,” he said. They handed me a pamphlet with four distinct meter types, each with different instructions. “We do not know what type of meter box you have, as they all look different,” he said. “You will have to try the different instructions until one works, and then it will display your meter number. Then use that number to pay with a token or mPesa.” “Asante,” I said, and left.

I took a piki piki home and followed the instructions. On the second try I keyed in 804# and got a response. “141406” lit up on the screen, and then “10453.” But which was it, or was it both together. I tried paying mPesa with 141406. Failed. I tried with 10453. Failed again. I tried 14140610453 and it worked. I received a confirmation text that Kenya Power had received 500 Ksh from the mPesa system. Awesome, I thought. I waited for the kW-hrs on my meter to increase. Nothing. I wondered how long it might take. That was yesterday, still no increase, and the number continues to steadily decrease.

Yesterday morning Dr. Okenwa-Vincent said that an important administrator wanted to meet with me. This was the man in charge of securing my work permit, the gentleman who said that he needed to see my original O.D. and Ph.D. diplomas, which I did not have. “When?” I asked. “How about now, are you free?” he asked. “Sure, let’s go.” he said. We walked a few buildings away and entered his office. Dr. Okenwa-Vincent asked if the administrator was in. “No, he is in a meeting.” the receptionist said. “When might he be back in?” Dr. Okenwa-Vincent asked. “After lunch at 2pm,” she said. “Thank you, we will try back later.” he said.

After lunch I saw Dr. Okenwa-Vincent, “Would you like to try to see the administrator again?” I asked. “Sure, let’s go,” he said. We walked over. It was 2:30pm. Dr. Okenwa-Vincent asked if the administrator was in. “No, you just missed him. He was here then stepped out.” the receptionist said. “When might he be back?” he asked. “A half-hour,” she said. We walked away. As we were walking, he reminded me that I needed to request for time off to visit Tucson and go to the Academy meeting. “How do I do that?” I asked. I had sent him an e-mail a week earlier requesting the time off. He replied stating that my format was wrong and I would have to fill out some forms. “Go the the University Bookstore,” he said, “And they will give you copies of the forms.”

I went to the University Bookstore and paid 30 Ksh for copies of the university forms. As I walked away, I read the instructions. “Fill out in quadruplicate,” it clearly stated. I did not even know the word quadruplicate existed. I counted my copies and there were only three. I walked back and paid another 10 Ksh for the other copy. I took the forms back to the clinic. Jennifer, the clinic receptionist, saw me looking over the forms. “I can get you carbon paper to put between the pages so that you only have to fill out the form once,” she said. “That would be great,” I responded. She went away for a few minutes and returned with three slips of carbon paper. I had not seen this stuff since elementary school in Cassville, Missouri in the 1970s. In case you don’t know what carbon paper is, it has one shiny side and one dull side with a dark blue tint. To copy what you are writing, put the carbon paper between two slips of regular paper, dull side down. Then whatever you are writing will show up in dark blue ink on the bottom paper. I slipped the three carbon papers between my four forms and started writing.

After I filled out my page I would submit the paperwork to my boss, Dr. Okenwa-Vincent, the Dean of Public Health, Biosciences, and Technology, and then the Vice Chancellor for approval, each in sequence with all four forms. Dr. Okewa-Vincent was in and he filled out his section then signed the forms. Jennifer took the packet to the Dean who filled out his section and signed the forms a few hours later. I carried to packet to the Vice Chancellor’s office. “We cannot accept this from you,” the receptionist said. “What would you suggest?” I said. “You must take the forms to the Registry. They will put it in your file and then walk the forms here to the Vice Chancellor’s office,” she replied. “Where is the Registry?” I asked. “In the Registrar’s office, next building on your left,” she replied. I walked to the Registrar’s office, found the desk with the sign “Registry” and handed the packet to the receptionist. She looked through the packet. “Thank you,” she said, “We will forward this to the Vice Chancellor.”

I walked back to the office of the important administrator I was supposed to meet. He was in. I was to sit down and wait until called. Ten minutes later I was called into his office. I had decided to keep things light. This was the first time I had met him, after all, and wanted to make a good first impression. It was not his fault that I had brought the wrong documents because of my ignorance of the Kenyan system. It was not his fault that the Kenyan government did not accept official transcripts. I complemented him on the university and the excellent Kakamega weather. He smiled and was pleased.

“And I just wanted to apologize for not bringing the proper documents,” I said. “I did not know the Kenyan government did not accept official transcripts from the University of California, Berkeley.” “You have official transcripts?” he said. “Why, yes, I ordered them directly from Berkeley.” I showed him the adobe pdf document on my computer. He studied the document. “Where does it say you completed your Ph.D.?” he said. “That’s right here,” I indicated with my finger. “Doctor of Philosophy in Vision Science Degree Conferred December 20, 2001,” it read. “And what is all this?” he asked. “Oh, those are the specific courses with the grades listed, the coursework I completed for the Ph.D.” I answered. “Impressive,” he said. “It was a lot of work, but well worth it to get the Ph.D. and do my work for the last 13 plus years,” I said. “Do you have a CV?” he asked. “Sure I forwarded that two months ago. I have a copy right here,” I said. “Well, in that case,” he continued, “Just make a copy of the transcript along with your CV. On Monday, we’ll make the application. Bring me two passport photos and I will carry the application to Nairobi in a week.” “Thanks,” I said.

“And by the way,” he said, “I simply cannot see with these glasses.” “Let me take a look,” I said as I held out my hand to take the glasses. I held them up and looked through the lenses. “Ah, I see what is going on,” I said, “You have good distance vision but need help with near work. The progressive lenses you had made were set too low so you do not get the reading power you need. I could help you out with that,” I said. “Next week?” he asked. “Yes, next Monday or Tuesday I can check your vision and get you going in the right direction,” I said. I thanked him and said I’d drop off the documents Monday morning. My work was done. It was late Friday afternoon and I could relax.

I woke up this morning concerned about the electricity in my apartment. The reading was down to 0.50 kW-hrs. I have noticed that many offices are open on Saturdays so I had breakfast and completed the hand washing of my dirty clothes. I hung them out to dry, then got ready to go into town. I walked to the gate of the National Housing complex and caught a piki piki downtown. As approached the office, two people were reading a sign posted on the blue security gate. The office was now closed on Saturdays it read. I went to Tuskys, did some shopping, and made the copies of the official transcript and CV. I headed back home around 2pm. I was getting hungry. I got a call from Richard who said there was a soccer game on, and would I like to meet at Golf bar to watch it. “Sure,” I said, and jumped on my bike for the 12 minute ride up the hill.

Golf Hotel, Restaurant, and Bar is a fine establishment with 1970’s architecture, lots of straight lines with a nice pool. The grounds are well kept up, brilliant green grass with bushes and many large trees, some of which I recognized from my rainforest walk last weekend. It is clean, well run, and with an courteous staff. They open up the pool to the community for a 200 Ksh fee on weekends, and there were about 20 children and adults splashing around having fun. The bar is on the second floor, with one side overlooking the pool, the other with a view of the parking lot and grounds.

I ordered a cheeseburger, fries, and a coke and settled in to watch the Chelsae – Arsenal match up. Richard joined me a few minutes later. He was the only person rooting for Chelsae in the place, that was packed with mostly young to middle-aged men. He ordered a beer and I too ordered one after I finished my meal. Chelsae won 2-0.

I said goodbye to Richard and headed down the hill on my bike. A half block past the Kakamega General Hospital on a narrow paved lane, I saw a group of people crowded around a man lying on the ground. His bashed motorcycle laid next to him, leaking oil. I pulled up, parked my bike, and stepped over to see if I could help. He was out cold, with many cuts and abrasions on his arms and shoulders. People were trying to revive him. I could see a large abrasion on his left forehead. It was bleeding slowly and starting to swell.

I said, “He needs to go to the hospital.” While I am not a medical doctor, I am well trained in first aid. Every two years I take a first responder’s course that teaches CPR and other skills. I know that head injuries can be deceptive and deadly. Anyone with a head injury must be seen by a physician. Of course, he could have a broken neck, and moving him could be dangerous also.

I noticed a small sedan stopped 20 feet away. I walked over and saw a woman sitting in the driver’s seat. “If it is possible, could you take him a half block to the hospital?” I did not know if he would regain consciousness or if we should move him, but wanted to check out the possibilities. “Yes,” she replied. As I walked back, I was also thinking about having someone run up to the hospital to get an ambulance. There is no 911 service in Kakamega. I got back to the man and they had him up on his feet. He was dazed and unsteady, wavering back and forth. The crowd kept him up. I noticed he was a very large, muscular man.

Just then a passenger van with a side door pulled up, just feet away. I asked the driver, “Would you take this man to the hospital?” He was silent. “Yes or no?” I asked. He said he would. The group guided him toward the open side door. All of the sudden, the injured man looked back at his motorcycle on the ground and mumbled something. He turned towards the bike, almost falling down. I said firmly, “You need to go to the hospital. We will take care of your piki piki.” A piki piki driver backed his running motorcycle up to us. The injured man sat down on the back, still wavering a bit. I wondered if it was good idea for him ride in his condition. I imagined him falling off, but he was on the motorcycle and holding on. “Okay, go, but go slow,” I said to the driver. They took off slowly and steadily, the injured passenger holding on. Another motorcycle driver started walking his damaged motorcycle up to the hospital. “Will you take it up there?” I asked. He said he would.

As I walked back to my bicycle a crowd of children came up to me. “Hello!” one boy said. “Hello,” I replied. They smiled and seemed very excited about the whole thing. I rode my bike back home and made a cup of coffee. I sat down and thought about what had happened. The group of people seemed most interested in getting the man up and on his feet, while I had insisted that he go to the hospital. At the hospital there would be charges, although I suspected they would be minimal, and a piki piki driver would not have much money. I had a responsibility to follow up, and I wanted to see how he was doing anyway. I grabbed 5000 Ksh that I has stashed away, $50, and headed up the hill.

As I rode past the scene of the accident I could clearly see what had happened.


There was a large speed bump, partly to slow traffic and partly to divert water off the road. It was up where the couple was walking. I knew from experience that that particular speed bump was the largest of the four on that block. I rode up to the speed bump.


The piki piki driver, going down the hill with speed, had hit the speed bump and been launched off his saddle, possible forward onto the handlbars. I could see a gouge mark in the asphalt where perhaps a foot rest had hit. As he tried to control his bike, it skidded side to side but he could not keep it up. He landed 15 to 20 yards past the speed bump down the hill.


I entered the hospital to the right. I was hoping I would not have to visit him at the place the sign indicated on the left. I asked the security guard where he might be. He said, “Casualty Care.” I parked my bike and followed the signs to casualty care. There was a large dark waiting room with examination rooms on the left. A child sat on a exam table with a bandaged foot. I approached a well dressed man sitting at a small desk with a hospital chart in front of him. “Did a piki piki driver come in with a head injury? I was there and wanted to know how he was doing.” I said. “A big man?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. “He was here and we dressed his wounds, but he left,” he said. “He had a pretty bad head injury, and was unconscious when I first saw him,” I said. “Yes, I examined him, but he did not want to stay,” he said. “Okay,” I replied. “Are you the daktari?” I said. “Yes,” he replied. I introduced myself, we shook hands, and walked back to my bike.

When I got home I called the Kenya Power Company. I talked with a man and explained my situation and how I could not pay for more electricity. He said, “I am in my office and will be here until 9pm. Come in.” I grabbed a piki piki downtown, trying not the think about what could happen on a piki piki. As expected the big blue gate was locked. I called the number I had dialed just 15 minutes earlier. It was busy. I waited a few minutes and tried again. Busy. I waited a few minutes and tried again. The phone rang but no one picked up. This continued for another 20 minutes until I decided to leave. It was dark now and there was no way I was going to catch a piki piki. I walked the half hour home, using the flashlight application on my mobile phone. I snapped this photo on my way home of several small roadside shops near the Kakamega General Hospital. The green storefront is one of many mPesa places (you can click on the image so see it in higher resolution).

As you can see, I continue to move forward, trying to get the hang of how things work. I might not have any electricity in my apartment when I wake up in the morning, and then I will see what happens when things don’t work.

Update:  Sunday, 20 September, 2015. I was down to 0.10 kW-hrs when Richard stopped by my place. He recommended that I call Kenya Power again, but this time I called the national number not the Kakamega number. Wow, what a difference! The operators spoke fluent English with a polished British accent. They quickly figured out what had gone wrong. I had sent two mPesa payments of 500 KSh each, and had the confirmation texts with time and date sent. The issue was that there was a 562 KSh back payment due from the previous tenant, so my first 500 was sucked up immediately, and the normal notification did not get sent. The second payment of 500 did generate a “token” number, using the remaining 438 KSh, but the normal text message with instructions did not go out because of the divided payment, part back payment part for my “token.” They gave me the token number which I then entered into my meter an now I have over 36 kW-hrs of electricity. Yay! That should last me a long time, perhaps months.

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