Our Farm Exit
We had planned to stay at The Farm for six months if needed. It would obviously depend on the number of guests, the duties required and also if the resort stayed open due to COVID restrictions.
We arrived on the stated date and while we were a little surprised at our accommodations, a safari tent, no electricity and a drop loo, we were undeterred and ready to make the best of this great opportunity. I guess there were some red flags, now that I look back…the elusiveness of the owner, with very little communication over the year since we had agreed to the assignment; her brief greeting when we arrived, no briefing once we had settled in… in fact very little communication at all.
The first problem that we had to solve was our hot water situation. Our first shower on the day of arrival was tepid at best and we thought it might be because the young volunteers had used most of the water. However, the next day it was colder and the day after colder still, in fact, downright icy! So Marcel took a look at the solar panel and saw that it had been connected incorrectly. A notification to the owner did not result in any action, and then she left for a short vacation, so Marcel not being one to sit around, contacted a plumber, paid him to do the work and we eagerly anticipated the hot water. The guy had to solder some pipes together, but did not have an extension lead long enough to reach the panel; neither it seems did the guys at the farm. He had to get his iron hot at the farthest point of the extension lead, then run like crazy down to the solar panel before the iron cooled, to solder the pipes. What should have taken an hour at most took almost a full 8 hour day. Finally done, we seemed to have warmer water the next day, but alas, the next day it was cold again. After much investigation, many lies being told and more phone calls, Marcel managed to find out that the system was furred up inside and no hot water was able to get out of the tank. It had to be dismantled, taken to Nairobi, cleared, and then returned. In all, it took 3.5 weeks for us to get hot water. During this time we had used showers in any vacant cottage, plus the outdoor shower so we didn’t smell too bad.
The kitchen area was situated under one of the cottages. This was an old kitchen with wooden cupboards, had two fridges, a two gas burner, a small gas oven, a sink with a very loose tap and no hot water! It was pretty grimy and the equipment totally lacking for a commercial business. We came to notice that there was only one spatula in the whole place, and that was partially melted. There were no cooking spoons, wooden spoons, only one small hand mixer, saucepans and frying pans with very loose handles and deeply ingrained with grease, no sieve, no measuring jugs… I could go on. We didn’t really see how bad it was until the kitchen was moved from this location to the new kitchen at the pool house.
Over the first week or two, Marcel and I identified several areas that needed considerable improvement. There were not enough sheets at one point and they were still on the line drying an hour before guests were due to arrive. Coffee presses were leaking and broken, only 3 being useable; not enough cruet sets, not enough cutlery, much of the equipment and linens needed replacing. So when we approached the owner her response was ‘there’s no money’. Mmmm….
The battery power for the resort was very lacking. There were not enough solar panels to keep the batteries charged and on several occasions we ran out of power. The owner’s answer to this was to stop using the one washing machine that serviced staff, guests and twenty plus beds, plus all the towels and cleaning cloths. Everything would have to be handwashed, and oh by they way, no one can charge their phones! On hearing this, I was ready to pack and leave and I had to give myself a few hours to calm down and re-assess. We decided that as the owner was going away for a couple of weeks, and it was running up to Christmas and New Year, and we did not want to be defeated yet, we decided to concentrate only on the guests, making sure they had what the needed and not worry about the other areas that were lacking…after all it wasn’t really our worry or responsibility, but we did feel that we could help point out where improvements could be made.
I guess there was some money. A film crew arrived to make a promotional movie of the resort, which was also in memory of her late husband, who had died suddenly last year. The photographer was a real jackass, throwing his authority around, ordering the staff to drop what they were doing and be a part of the film, with twenty and thirty takes of a shot. He did not ask to use the staff, and I had a few choice words with him about not commandeering the staff while they were working as they had guests to attend to, and to let us know where he would be on the resort filming so we could avoid the area and plan how best to service the guests and ensure he had the people he needed. He was not happy about my interjection and Marcel had to speak to him again when he took over the dining room, one hour before dinner. He threatened Marcel! Telling him to ‘watch out’ and that he would be calling the owner directly….I’m sure he did, but she never asked us about it…???
Then puppies arrived. Two lovely Great Danes. This had been eagerly anticipated by the owner, so much so, we had all had to come up with names for them. I couldn’t think of anything other than ‘solar’ and ‘power’, or ‘kitchen’ and ‘equipment’ or even ‘sheets’ and ‘towels’. But Monty and Clemmie bounded around the pool area, while guests were eating, peeing and pooing to their hearts content. Marcel and I completely ignored them….puppies were not on our agenda!
The kitchen was on the move! The staff manager had received a call from the owner while she was on her 3 week holiday with her new boyfriend, advising that the kitchen had to be moved to the new kitchen in the pool area. Now, the new kitchen was full of stainless steel equipment….unfortunately not much of it worked. The oven did not light, only three of the six gas burners worked, but they were uncontrollable; the cooler fridge was using too much power so it was turned off, out of the two fridges moved from the old kitchen, only one worked. There was a large bain-marie, but no plug so could not be used to heat. The sink had a leak, which was directly above an electrical socket and the whole unit was on the wrong tilt so the water did not drain down the plug hole. Also, no hot water connected. This was just the kitchen, where only the cooking was to take place. Downstairs through the dining area was a dishwashing room, also with no hot water connected, no glass in the windows and no shelves or surfaces, just one very large sink. Next door was the ‘prep’ room, also with no water, no electricity, no surfaces and no glass in the window. This is where all the food was to be prepped, then carried through the restaurant to the new kitchen. I was dumbfounded to learn that she expected the kitchen to be moved and in operation that day! We did it, but if health and safety had arrived the whole place would have been closed down. Eventually the dishwashing room and kitchen received hot water, but it was never enough to keep up with the dishes. Those dishes were in fact kept on plastic tables, with no glass in the windows, along with all the fruit and veggies in the next room, also without windows…critters and bugs had free range of the food, not to mention the dust that was blowing in. Some glass had eventually been installed but the room should not have been used for food prep, or for storing crockery until it had been completed. Only then did we really discover the extent of the poor equipment that the chef had to use. How he managed to cook what he did with what he had was a miracle.
There was artwork in the process too! Large picture frames where molded into the wall of the pool house where naturally artwork would be placed. We came to learn that an artist had been commissioned to paint for these 6 or 7 panels. I think this and one other piece of information that we came to learn about, was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back for us.
The staff were only on 40% of their salary due to COVID. This, of course, is something that has been happening all over the world and with the uncertainties surrounding the virus, this is to be expected. However, the staff also were lacking in drinking water…. The community pipes were blocked, and had been for three weeks. No-one seemed to be able to fix them, but neither had anyone provided them with water; they were having to sneak water from the large bottles in the bars and kitchen. The owner, when she finally found out, said they could drink the bore water, she would get filters…. Their quarters did not have electricity… the converter for the TV had broken many weeks back. They could not charge phones, watch TV in the one room provided for recreation. There was no lighting in this room, no chairs, tables or surfaces. Basically an empty concrete room with a TV that could not be used. The solar water tank had a leak and was depositing a lot of water, so the solution seemed to be, ‘turn it off’ rather than fix it. Hence the staff did not have hot water to shower in. The owner did not provide food for the staff. Rather they had to buy their own and cook it (she did provide a two ring gas burner). However, they were working long hours, sometimes up to 17 hours a day so had little time to purchase food and cook. I’m sure they were taking the left over food from the kitchen, and quite honestly, I didn’t blame them. Tips had not been paid out since we had arrived, 7 weeks prior, and we had collected a lot of tips for them, initially giving the cash directly to the owner, but then deciding that they should go into a locked petty cash box. Bills had not been paid. The grocer was owed a great deal of money… the fruit and veg guy who would come daily on his motorbike had not been paid in months. While she was away, the internet went out, because she had not paid the infrastructure bill for the extension when the pool house was built….the list goes on.
Finally, on her return from vacation, a new manager started. He was a pleasant enough guy, and after talking with him it appeared he had been hired to make the place profitable! He told us all the ideas he had where money should be spent, where money could be saved and the where things needed to be re-designed. We nodded our heads and said we had already had all those ideas, presented them to the owner, only to be told ‘there’s no money’.
A meeting was called! The owner sat us all in a circle and asked us to give ONLY positive comments. I started. I talked about the staff and how hard working they were; how they had managed to service a full house over Christmas, but that it might not be possible to sustain if they did not get what they needed. I was confronted with a palm and ‘I do not want to hear negative comments!’ This went of for almost an hour, all around the room, then back to me again where I had to say even more nice things… it was brief. And again! This time I passed. We did finally get onto the items that needed discussion. They were acknowledged but no solutions presented…the new manager was there to do that.
Meeting over, Marcel and I duly greeted the next set of guests only to be told that the owner ‘wanted a word’. Oh dear….she told us that we appeared unhappy and she did not want to hear negative things. She waffled on about how this was Kenya and we had to ‘let it go’ ‘nothing is perfect’. I explained that she needed to know what needed attention and she said she was ‘perfectly aware’. My response was ‘then why is nothing being done’. Her new ‘expert’ was going to solve those problems. Clearly this was not working! I lost it and told her that she did not care about her staff, that nothing seemed like it would improve because ‘there’s no money’ especially now that she had just been made redundant from IBM! There were now also 3 volunteers, 2 caretakers, 2 managers plus another two ‘artists’ in residents who were also expected to take care of guests, due in the next week or two. What were our roles? There were more staff and volunteers than guests and now that she would not be away or even working, we knew that things would become unbearable with her sudden irrational decision making. It seemed that she thought as long as there were enough people around, problems would somehow be resolved. We knew we couldn’t work like this. We were done! We left the office, went to the tent and packed our bags! The relief was palpable.
We stayed with a neighbor and learned so many more disturbing things. We are not sad to be gone; but we are very sad to leave the staff, who are really stuck at the moment. There were teary farewells, but lots of great text messages and we will be seeing them again in the next couple of weeks when we head back that way to finish some sightseeing.
I’m sad we couldn’t stay longer. The setting was beautiful, the staff, guests and volunteers all amazing and we loved what we were doing. We met great guests, who all gave us their emails and we have been in touch with some of them while in Nairobi. We are not quitters by nature, but the situation became stressful and unworkable.
Never ones to be down for long… we have other plans!!!!