Wednesday, July 2, 2014
#12 More News of SFG plus some adventures.
Ruth has shared some pictures of a visit some of the girls made to the Naivasha prison for men. Through their fund-raising by eating no meat during lent, they earned money to take soap to the prisoners. They also learned some things about what goes on in that institution. One of the prisoners, serving a life sentence for murder is a former high school principal. He runs a high school within the prison, staffed by former teachers who have been incarcerated. There are men preparing to sit for the national exam in both elementary and high school and one who is studying for medical school. I’m not sure exactly how that works, b/c usually medical students go for “attachment”, which is short term work in some medical institution.
Today was Scarf Day, in which every form 4 girl received a hand-knitted scarf from someone in the US. The “knitting elves”, organized by Anita Dippery, gave me some 65 (? Can’t remember the exact number) scarves to present. This is a big event. I asked the 2 class prefects to formulate a plan to reduce the chaos that usually accompanies this event and I must say they did a great job. The girls have sent a hug THANK YOU to the elves.
Time passes. It’s now Sunday evening and I’m trying to remember all the things we’ve done since then.
School closed Thursday for midterm break. Judy and I took advantage of the time to visit the Kitendo Children’s Charity (KCC), which happens also to be the name of the slum where Marcus Rive established a pre-school for children of the KCC slum. You can Google his name and the project for more info. Both of us had visited it 2 years ago and were so taken with Marcus, so earnest, hard working, self-effacing and dedicated to the 50 little imps who populate the school. We saw 3-year old children learning to form their letters, taught by a smiling loving teacher whose name has moved on from my memory. They seemed so happy and of course our hearts melted.
The original building were of scrap wood, but now new buildings with concrete floors, iron-sheet siding outside and painted with bright colors inside have replaced them. The kitchen is large and airy, and the new dining room is painted with cute African animals and has old school desks where the children sit. Marcus has arranged with a local land owner to use the fields adjacent to the school site to grow beans, maise and greens, providing most of the ingredients of the lunch served. For some children it is the only meal of the day. I wish you could see the plates of food these tiny kids put away—enough to feed an NFL lineman!
On the way back we were stopped at a police checkpoint. These are common here, but more so right now as the media has been warning of possible violence tomorrow. It looks to me like most of the violence is in the media and not the people, but security is very high right now. Here was my experience.
“Hello, madam, may I see your driving licence?” “I don’t have it with me.” “You don’t have it with you? Where is it?” “I’ve left it in my room for fear I could be highjacked and would lose my licence.” “Oh my, this is a very serious offense, madam.” “Would you like me to go home to get it? I live in the children’s home behind the Catholic church in Naivasha.” “I think I need to talk to my boss.” Over comes a big burly guy, the type who expects to intimidate, expect to be in charge and doesn’t take any guff. We go through the same routine. But then Judy reminds me that I have a copy of my passport in my purse. He looks at it briefly. “This identifies you but we need to know that you have been properly licensed and can drive safely.” “I have been driving for more than 60 years.” That gets his attention. “Over 60 years? How old are you?” “I’m 78.” “What year were you born?” “1936” He doesn’t seem to be too swift in the math department. He can see that I’m not intimidated and am willing to answer all his questions respectfully. His assignment is to catch possible troublemakers and we seem like very unlikely candidates. We can see him mulling over the situation. “Maybe if you could give me a little something we could work this out.” I’m thinking of Fr. Kiriti and his refusal over the years to pay a bribe. “I have been coming to Naivasha for 10 years. Here is my card. The foundation I direct has built St. Francis Secondary School for Girls and we sponsor many poor kids who would never be able to attend school without our help. We leave a lot of money in Kenya each year, but we give it to children who are hungry and in need of education.” “I’m hungry too.” “You have a salary.” Plus I’m thinking of the ksh 100 the cops get from every truck and matatu driver who must stop at their checkpoints—every day we see them. “I’d really appreciate it if you would permit us to give our money to children who really need it. I promise to carry my license from now on.” And he let’s us go.
Ben told me today the law states that a driver without his license has 24 hours to produce that licence. If he/she complies in that time there is no penalty. I didn’t know that when I was stopped, but I wasn’t going to be intimidated by that guy.
Friday we went to Nakuru to visit my dear friend Lydia Venter (see #21, 2013 blog). I hate driving to Nakuru, on a 2 lane road full of slow lorries, dare-devil matatu drivers, cars, donkey carts (but not too many) and an occasional baboon (but we didn’t see any this time). Sometimes a cow will wander into the road as well. I feel wrung out from the 1+ hour drive. We stopped at he produce stands in the little village on the road to where Venters live. Lydia’s husband, Wilco, has had to return to South Africa for a year to work because not being a Kenyan citizen he is not allowed to work here. Although they live on a shoestring quite comfortably, they do have 7 adopted African children who need shoes, clothes, schooling—that takes a mighty big shoestring. It was wonderful to see her again and hear her news. One of the oldest, Joy, loves to bake so is taking an advanced course. We saw the dummy’s of the cakes she decorates and were suitably impressed. We had a lovely lunch with all the kids, except one who was having a terrible teen day and making up his mind whether he was going to run away (didn’t want to do his chores). Later he decided he had a good deal going, ate his lunch and offered to do the dishes.
Lydia is obsessed with using waste materials (taka taka) to make useful items. Her latest idea is to melt down plastic into blocks for stepping stones. They are surprisingly heavy and (she says) take a lot of plastic to make. She has people who pick up the ubiquitous plastic litter and we have now promised to do our share. She hasn’t been making the flattened bottle cap earrings that I wanted to bring back. Wilco was the one to attach the wires and so far she hasn’t mastered that skill. But she has promised to learn and make some earrings for me before she leaves for a month in So A to visit him. In the meantime she is like a crazy lady raising 7 kids and making all sorts of crafts.
We got back in time to shop for the food for Judy’s traditional chop stick dinner. This time they served spaghetti, not easily eaten with chopsticks, despite the Chinese penchant for noodles.
The kids were having a great time. The girls who go to SFG were all there as were some of the high school boys. David Wekesa had arrived from his communications school in Nakuru, making us about 22 in all. I had written to Cyrus earlier, hoping he could join us, but not being very confident. He’s the oldest boy now finishing his 2nd year in med school and half-way through the meal, when the kids were introducing themselves to Fr. Mwangi, in pops Cyrus, right out of the ward of the Nairobi hospital where he had been on rounds, and looking fabulous. That stopped the meal as everyone ran to hug him. He hasn’t been back for a long time and is big brother to them all. He’s the role model, the guy who shows that even orphans can succeed.
He always wants to come talk to me his unofficial grandmother, so after the meal he came into our kitchen for the annual chat. He loves med school, and is working very hard. I haven’t quite figured out the system, but he has branched off to pharmacy, not to be a pill dispenser, but to do research on new drugs. He’ll finish that in 2 years and thinks he will then work for awhile, to earn money so he can go back to school to finish the medical training, which was his original dream. Like in the US, the whole process to become a doctor takes many years and he doesn’t want to depend on sponsors for such a long time. As always there was lots to share on both sides until finally at 1 am I had to go to bed. So good to see him.
Yesterday (Saturday) Judy had organized a trip to a hotel up about 7-8 miles out of town where she children here at Mji Wa Neema could swim, rides bikes play on swings, jump on a trampoline and have a great lunch, complete with roasting a goat. I joined them for awhile, but had to leave to attend the installation of new officers for Naivasha Rotary. We had been warned of dire consequences if we were even one minute late. It was to begin at 1. Dutifully I arrive at 12:59 to find virtually no one here. Ah, I forgot about African time—very casual (although the regular Rotary meetings begin promptly). It finally got underway at 2:30, after Juanita, the incoming president, told us this sad tale. Two goats had been purchased for our meal and were kept at Juanita’s house, located in the middle of a nice subdivision (aka estate). About 3 am a big commotion awakened her and her husband. They went outside just in time to see a leopard kill the second goat. The whole town has expanded enormously in the 10 years I’ve been coming here. There used to be hyena’s around at night sometimes, but a leopard????? I haven’t seen any wild life around here in the past few years, except zebras.
Poor Juanita had no sleep. She had to scurry about to find 2 more goats, but when it got underway it was a very nice occasion, with great food and excellent speeches. Sometimes Kenyans confuse quantity with quality at speech time. If they don’t have anything to say they cover it up by talking longer, but the Rotarians talks are pithy and good.
Some of you have said they’re reading scary things about Kenya. I want to assure you it was 90% media hype. Even in Nairobi, there was probably less violence on Monday (big rally day) than is usual. So far as I have heard, absolutely nothing untoward occurred in Naivasha. I spent the day being a lazy lump, which I needed. I’ll write about some of the other things we have done, but for now, I just want to get this one off.