July 22, 2017
Since it’s Saturday, I was eating a leisurely breakfast, when Mungai knocked my door, came in and sat as if he lived here. I was momentarily taken aback, but then he announced,
“Margo I need your advice. I want to move from Mji Wa Neema and live independently.“ Wow! That’s a big decision, but appropriate, since he’s no longer a student and is employed . “I’ve found a house,” (usually means what we would call an apartment) and I want to know what you think.” “Ok, how much is the rent?” “Ksh4000.” (about $40). “OK, how much are you earning right now?” “Ksh16,000.” (about $160/month). “Hmmm, yes that seems OK. The rule of thumb is no more than 1/3. This is only ¼, so well within that limit.” He smiles. “Have you had breakfast?” “No.” “What do you generally eat?” (as if I didn’t know they all eat bread for breakfast. The only bread I have is in the freezer, but my refrigerator is rebelling again, so it’s not very cold. I stick 2 pieces in the toaster, get plate and mug. “I have 2 smokies (sausages) in the refrigerator. Would you like them?” Smile and nod. Soon I’m eating my bran flakes with hemp seed, chia seeds, grated coconut and pecans sprinkled over, while Mungai happily munches his bread, drinks his tea and enjoys the smokies. He has a temp job with the water company, doing sanitation inspections. He has been interviewed by HR and he’s pretty sure they will offer him a permanent job, with presumably better pay. He’s one of our success stories. You may recall he graduated from Jomo Kenyatta University just after Alison arrived. He’s somewhat quiet, thoughtful, bright, hardworking and generally great guy.
I inquired about a girl friend. Yes, he has one, but she’s not THE ONE. He thinks he’s not ready for about 5 years (I think he’s 22 or 23). Clearly he wants to be sure he is able to support a wife, has a good job and some degree of financial security.
“Now I want to go pay my rent. I won’t move from Mji Wa Neema until Sept, when Margaret and Mokami go to school, but I want to begin renting now.” He goes off to take care of the rent and to buy a bed. Certainly an important requirement.
I get myself ready to go to SFG where I will finish teaching factoring trinomials to form 2 west. (factorizing, it’s called here). David returns, excited that he’s getting it together and I drive him up the road to his place. He wants to mop it. He also wants me to see it, but I’m already late.
At SFG we work on factoring and have a conversation about the future, what each girl envisions for herself, etc. Finishing there, I call Mungai and agree to stop by to view his new digs.
It’s 2 rooms, no water, no bathroom—must be a communal one, but he is proud of it. As we walk into the compound, 5 or 6 small children come shyly up to touch me (shake hands) and look with their wondering eyes. Two follow us into the rooms as you see. The only furniture is the new bed, on which lay the bedcovering and sheets. He needs a covering for the window, chair, oh, so many things, but for now, he wants to go get a “mopper”. Julia would be very proud of her “son”, who knows how to mop, make his bed, wash his clothes, cook and generally take care of himself. Not all Kenyan men can do that.
Back home I find the church compound awash in choir groups, each with its special color of dress and shirts. They are everywhere, practicing so the air is full of their music, even the courtyard of Mji Wa Neema. As I write, the singing wafts through my door. Today is choir competition day.
Catherine was in the church compound for a meeting with a group supporting a new church, with a medical dispensary and a bore hole (well) in Turkana, very near East Pokot, where Fr. Kiriti spent 3 years. She came for a “brief” visit, but with us it’s never brief, but in the end she had to tear herself away to return to her group, which includes Francis, her new man of the hour. They hope to marry if Fr. Ngaruiya can be persuaded to advocate annulment of her marriage to Joseph. He is reluctant, urging her to take 2 weeks to try to rekindle the marriage. He doesn’t understand Joseph has moved on with another “wife” and 2 children. He doesn’t support the 2 children he and Catherine have, except for school fees and they are in the process of divorce. She and Francis are much more sympatico but they can’t marry in the church without the annulment. ARGH!!! I thought Pope Francis had eased that process, but perhaps the news has not traveled this far south.
While I was at SFG, I received a call from a lady named Jecinta, who wanted to talk about the “tuitioning” I do each August. I had suggested she come see me at 5 and at 5 she promptly turned up. She had said she knew me, but I think I’ve not seen her before. I may have met her at a parent visiting day when her oldest daughter (class 2011) was there. SFG doesn’t even have parent visiting day anymore. Her younger daughter, currently in form 2, had asked me to call her for permission to attend the tuitioning and as I explained it to Jecinta, I could see she favored the idea. As we talked, I learned she works for the Kenya Wildlife Service and immediately my mind went to Kantai, whose dream is to drive big machinery, for which he is trained and has a certificate. Without connections, it is very hard to get a job, and how many connections can an orphan have? So I told her about Kantai and as I talked, she became more receptive, understanding how we have supported the kids of Mji Wa Neema and understanding how important that is. Next thing I know, she wants to talk to him. I call him but Ach! he’s at Mungai’s new digs. I briefly tell him, “Come now, Kantai. Run!” “I’m running right now.” He arrived, totally out of breath, and I let them talk, because it’s easier in Kiswahili, even though both are pretty fluent in English. Besides, I really need to wash my dishes, some of which have sat for 3 days!
(Mungai on the left, Kantai and Jecinta)
But in fact, they slip into English and we explore ideas. She knows people at KenGen (generates electricity from thermal energy). If I understood correctly, they are opening a new site and will be taking on new workers. She says 800 applicants have been interviewed, so we’re not holding our breath, but the more we talked the more enthusiastic she became. Please say a collective prayer for Kantai. He’s shy and has no idea how to promote himself. As much as I encourage him to be a self-advocate, he still lacks the confidence.
Jecinta leaves and I take Mungai to select his housewarming gift(s). He has nothing. We go to Jaama where we select 2 spoons, 2 forks, a plate, a bowl, cups and glasses, a pot, some knives, cutting board, bucket and basin for washing and a set of baskets held together, sort of like shelves, to keep things on. Tomorrow we’ll get a propane tank to which a cooking surface can be attached, so he can prepare food. It’s a start and he loved picking new items, all blue, which turns out to be his favorite color. Catherine has promised to buy him a couple of plastic chairs and some other necessities.
I can see I need to do the same for Kantai, who has his own room, but I suspect not much else. He comes to Mji to eat most nights. He has picked jobs from time to time, but it’s hard to get steady work and when he does, it’s generally low paying and back-breaking. I so hope Jecinta can connect him with something permanent. What I’m trying to teach all of them is to network and put themselves and their abilities out to everyone. It’s hard for them.