#14-2014 Now Something Is Going On
July 12, 2014
I was without email and internet for a day and ½ with DT’s beginning to set in. I thought it was b/c of transferring my email to a new server, but in fact, it was my own fault. My modem had run out of credit and I didn’t understand how to read the balance report. I stopped by the Orange shop this afternoon (Orange is my modem provider) and “topped up” my credit—prepaid usage. It’s quite cheap here. I bought an original ksh 1000 ($11.75) 5 weeks ago. Have just topped up another 1000. The money here sounds like so much, but the conversion rate is about ksh 85 to $1. I often use 80 for an estimate b/c I can usually divide, or multiply, in my head, depending on which way I’m converting. With the top-up I’m back in business and responding to all the emails that came in.
Things have been quiet here, as I said in #13, but yesterday Agnes told me about Lillian, her dearest friend from childhood, whom I met at the dowry payment celebration. We hit it off and chatted at length that day. I had promised to call her to arrange a visit to the flower farm where she works, but it turns out that she injured her leg quite badly and has been hospitalized for 2 weeks. That’s bad enough, but she has 2 small boys, ages 3 and 6, and since she is an orphan with no siblings and no husband, she had to call on a cousin to go to her house to care for them. She thought she would just be treated and released, so had left little money—only ksh 300 ($3.50). She didn’t not call Agnes until yesterday, when the cousin called her to say there was no food in the house. In actuality, there was NO FOOD. They ate the last of the rice for lunch. Her cousin, whose name if Nite (I think) had called Lillian in desperation and in desperation Lillian had called Agnes. It’s times like this that I am so glad I have a car. It does make addressing situations like this so much easier.
I grabbed an extra jar of peanut butter from my cupboard and my ever-handy cloth shopping bags as well as 4 kids books from my dwindling supply. Stopping at the supermarket, we loaded up on basics, cooking oil, flour, rice, eggs, green-grams (dried peas, a staple source of protein here) milk, TP (always a need!), sugar (Kenyans must have that), etc. We agreed we would buy produce at a local shop, where prices are generally cheaper and which are run by women trying to support themselves. We had also bought some immediate food, something I thought would be a treat, called kabob. They are tubes of egg, flour and oil, filled with meat and veges then fried. Kenyan fast food. It turned out they are spicy, but the kids ate them anyway, even though I think they tingled their tongues more than they are used to.
The drive was down the road toward Nakuru, then turn off towards the lake and then turn off again onto one of those roads so full of ruts from recent rain that we had to detour several times to find a passable route. Several times a “canyon” or maybe a “canyonette” several feet wide and more than 1 foot deep would appear. It made for creative driving, so say the least and I am grateful that Fr. Kiriti invested in a RAV 4, which sits high and takes a terrible beating on these roads. In addition to the usual sheep, goats and cows, this is one of the few times I’ve seen pigs rooting about in the garbage strewn everywhere. We spotted 2 sacked out on a big pile off to the side. Eventually we arrived at Lillian’s very humble “house”, which is really a room, maybe 12’ X12’ in an area known as Kabati. It’s a very poor area. I hesitate to use the word slum, b/c it is pejorative, but I am casting about for a euphamism. Like many “houses” this is one of 10 or 12 such rooms, built facing each other across a narrow courtyard where residents wash, hang clothes, cook on a charcoal-burning jiko, and where children play.
In this particular courtyard there must have been 20 little kids, mostly boys, between 2 and 6, all running around, kicking an empty plastic jar in lieu of a soccer ball and generally behaving like little boys the world over. Nite met us at the door and was clearly relieved to see us bringing food. She is 20 years old and very sweet. She didn’t finish class 8 b/c she got sick. Her parents have died and she lives with a lady for whom she works (house help, it’s called), but the lady is willing for her to return to school in January to repeat class 8 and take the KCPE. With luck and if the lady is still willing, she can then go to a day high school in her home area, up north from here. If the lady isn’t willing, I hope Agnes will help her apply to Empower the World for support. ETW is the NGO that administers the KH money.
The house was spotless and although the boys were a bit dirty (they’re boys, right?), it seemed to be recent dirt. She washed their hands before they ate the kabobs and it was clear they are used to that procedure—pouring water from a pitcher over the hands into a waiting bowl. They ate, then ran outside again, came back in with their friends, who gaped at the mzungu. When I got out the 4 little books it all came to a screeching halt. They LOVED the books—just little soft cover, preschool books about animals and maybe a little story. The 3-year old sat reading his book (upside down) with great interest and when another boy tried to grab it away, responded with great umbrage, “it’s mine, don’t touch!”—in Swahili, of course, translated by Agnes. I had forgotten my camera (so what else is new?) but Agnes took some cute pix on her phone. I asked her to send them to me, but she said she had to buy “bundles” in order to send pix. Don’t ask—I have no idea what that is. We could see the boys were being well-cared for in their mother’s absence and I’m sure Agnes has now reassured Lillian on that count.
As we left, we made our way through the wet wash hanging on the lines and were accompanied by a retinue of kids, all saying, “Bye mzungu, how are you mzungu?” So heart breaking, but they looked happy, well-fed and cared for. Yet I know that unless drastic changes come about soon, they will grow up, lucky to finish class 8, have no skills, no job opportunities and a bleak future. It makes me very aware of the enormous limitations of what Kenya Help can do in the face of the need. This is just one area of poverty among many in Naivasha and Naivasha is just a small pocket in the whole of Kenya—which is a small corner of Africa. I just have to remember that it’s better to educate a few kids than none, but how will those few be chosen? Mostly by luck of coming to the attention of Ann (the very pregnant Ann), the new Empower The World social worker. The need is so great and the Kenyan government seems not at all up to the task. The sad part is that Kenya is one of the most forward nations in Africa.
Back we went through the rutted, narrow “streets”, now crowded with older children coming home from school as well as myriad adults, each intent on his or her errands, and others standing around with nothing to do. I was painfully aware of how unusual a car was in this area, much less one driven by the likes of me, as I heard kids all over, “mzungu, mzungu, how are you, mzungu?” Agnes reported one was very excited b/c I waived. ARGH!!! I makes me so uncomfortable. It should not be like this!
Getting a haircut is always problematic and my hair was beyond hope—had to have it cut. I had hoped Ben would be driving to Nakuru this past week and I could hop a ride with him, but that didn’t happen. I called Shamin, the woman who has cut it for all the time I’ve been coming here, to see when she might have an opening. No answer. OH NO! Has she retired? I called Lydia Venter, who also is cared for by Shamin. Lydia assured me Shamin was only away briefly and this morning she called me. She could take me at 11 am today. Could I make it? It was 9:30 and I was reading the paper in bed. Suddenly springing into action, I washed, dressed, ate and was in the car by 10, knowing that the drive to Nakuru takes a minimum of 1 hour. I hate that drive, with all the trucks on mostly 2 lanes. I am like steel by the time I get there—so tense. As usual I missed the turnoff. The traffic makes in near impossible to look to the side and still watch for people running across the road, truck, cars and piki-pikis turning off or turning on and all the rest. Had to drive maybe 2 km to the round-about then back the other direction. I called Shamin who reminded me it’s just past the Hindu temple and when I got there, she was standing at the roadside, waving at me, having walked down to be sure I didn’t miss it again.
Generally I see her only once each summer, but she always welcomes me with a big smile and hug. Here is a picture of her with Jecinta, taken last year.
I swear she has not aged a day in the past 10 years. She is part Arab and part African. In addition to her beautician skills, she is an instructor in an exercise class. She is slim with well-defined muscles—great body. I didn’t ask how old she is, but her son must be close to 30 now, so she must be in her 50’s or close. Amazing. She finished in record time and her next client had not appeared when I left, even though I arrived at 11:30.
Feeling about 10 pound lighter, I left Shamin’s shop and headed for Lydia’s. Can’t possibly go to Nakuru w/o visiting her. To get to her, I have to turn onto another narrow dirt road, lined with little shops, most selling produce. I always stop to load up on whatever looks good, as Lydia feeds me very well and I know times are tough. Turning down another narrow lane I see some kids ahead, one sitting in the tire track. I’m going about 2 km/hr, and eventually they notice me. As I come even with them, I recognize one of the boys. “Are you Lydia’s boys?” “Yes.” “Hop in.” which they do. It’s not far to the house, but they’ve come from school (Saturday!) and are tired, grateful for the short lift.
I can see Lydia is frazzled. She has a big order of taka taka to be picked up tonight and of course, she feels the pressure to make the 40-50 pairs of earrings I hope to get from her. You may recall she and her husband, Wilco (both Afrikaners from So. A) have 7 adopted African children and he has had to return to So. A. b/c he’s not allowed to work here. Trying to support themselves on taka taka has proved impossible. She is here with the kids and clearly missing him. She’ll go Aug 3, for a month, and he will come back at the end of the year, but it’s very hard. This is the first time she had owned up to the stress. She had been out working on the art stuff for tonight’s order, so I sat in the living room reading a book I had fortuitously stuck in my purse. Lunch was served and was great, as is always the case at her house, and I took my leave. She protested briefly, but I could see she didn’t have time for visitors. I wish she had told me when I called her, but that’s not her way.
Now I’m home, and happy to have my email back. I had had one moment of panic this morning when I dropped my phone and it went off. I pushed every likely button, but the screen stayed stubbornly black and I realized I was without any communication. RATS!!! In desperation I held down the ON button and YES! The finally screen came alive. Had to enter my pin and couldn’t find the little card it’s written on, but the brain kicked in. It was as I remembered and I was in business again—at least the phone was working.