July 13, 2018
Yesterday Hillary drove us to the Maasai Market for my annual junket to buy treasures for our craft shows. Mary and Kathleen were quite overwhelmed, as I was by the first few times I went. The hawkers are very aggressive, in 1 of 2 ways. Either they try to overwhelm one with their insistence—really pushy—or they are your best friend. Both are hard to deal with. I spent most of my time with James Njoroge, from whom I have bought great stuff for many years. I bought a few things from the woman in the next stall. I use “stall” loosely. All items are laid out on cloth on the floor, as the market is held in the 4th level of parking in a 4-story mall. There are no permanent structures, just a vast floor.
Next I looked at some very nice fabrics, beautiful shawls. The consessionaire wanted way more than I was willing to pay but did come down in her price. After I left, I still felt conned, so I consulted with both Hillary and Njoroge, who agreed I’d paid too much. I asked them to explain to her that I’m not a tourist, nor am I a shop owner/exporter-importer. All the money raised from the crafts come straight back here to pay school fees. Njoroge was great. He told her straight out that her prices to me was too high. I acknowledged that it put him in a bad spot, as this woman is his market/neighbor every week. His take was it was OK if she is mad at him. He believes in our work and gives me very good prices. I never have to bargain with him.
Upshot? She actually refunded some money, although she tried to get me to take more items instead. I said NO to that one.
It’s pretty intense and exhausting, so we hopped on the elevator down to ground floor where there are several restaurants, one local, then Mcdonald’s, KFC, pizza—only thing missing is Taco Bell! We opted for the local Kenyan place, which had a very nice, international menu—I had a Mexican-style salad, Mary had shwarma,Kathleen had Bar-b-que chicken, all of which were very tasty and not at all expensive.
Fr. Kiriti had asked us to stop by a special shop to get altar candles—not sure why any old candles can’t be blessed and used—but on the way we encountered the mother of all traffic jams. On a main road with but 2 narrow lanes, a truck had broken down in our lane. Traffic streamed by in the opposite direction, but we sat. And we sat. And we sat, until finally someone began directing traffic, holding up the cars going the other way so we could pass around the truck, which by then was busily off-loading its cargo. Even after that the traffic was terrible, with main roads intersecting, often with no lights or even stop signs. Cars, trucks, matatus, pedestrians all vie for the chance to squeeze through. Like always, eventually we arrived, got the candles and were on our way—obviously I’m not writing from the jam!
We dropped Hillary in his community of Kaoli, just outside Naivasha on the road from Nairobi, arrived home and all collapsed, tired but happy. Around the table at dinner we did show-and-tell with our newly purchased treasures.
Today I had promised to teach an early (for me) class and was pushing myself to get out, but so much to do just to leave the house! Remember to take back the rest of the scarves for those who didn’t get one, take pencils for the other form 1 class I didn’t get to, backpack, keys, jacket, turn things off—finally ready. But then the usual problem coming out of the church driveway onto the often very busy road with the usual slow trucks and matatus, as well as piki-piki’s darting in and out, as well as pedestrians running across or just walking on the side of the road. It takes every bit of my concentration to arrive safely, which I did, but (RATS!!!) 3 minutes late. I rush to the classroom, only to hear a male voice teaching. Check the schedule. OH miracle of miracles, had the time wrong. Was actually 7 minutes early.
The day was full, teaching, consulting with teachers, arguing with the form 4 teacher about an answer—I finally convinced him—and comforting a girl in tears. As I was putting my things in the car to leave, I stopped to greet a mother with her daughter. It’s not at all common for a parent to visit a student, so I was curious whether there was a problem. It turns out the girl was a form 3 transfer from a school where there were some trouble-makers. The girl wanted no part of that so prevailed on her mother to find another school—SFG! She really likes it, but is struggling with math. SFG math classes were far ahead of her old school and she was getting frustrated. Can you imagine how happy they were when I told them about the free “tuitioning” in August as well as offering to help her as much as possible before school closes for the August break. The mother is a nurse in Kijabe Hospital on the way to Nairobi, where she works in the palliative care section with mostly terminal HIV patients. I gave her a ride home, after which I picked Hillary to take him to his birthday dinner.
I had suggested a place I know, but on a hunch asked whether he had some other favorite place to eat. He did! We went to a very nice place nearby, where I had never eaten. The 4 of us had a wonderfully relaxing meal (although I’m convinced they had to slaughter the chickens out back before they could prepare our food). I didn’t have anything very exciting for a gift, but I did let him choose a scarf from the few left over from scarf day and gave him one of my beloved TJ chocolate bars—organic, fair trade, injectable strength, which I brought to support my habit, lest I develop the DT’s from withdrawal. He loved being wined and dined by the 3 of us and we loved doing it.
I had very carefully scheduled each of my 4 expected visitors to come at least 1 hour apart so I could focus on each one. Instead, one showed up at 9, one at 9:30 and the 3rd shortly threafter. ARGH! Not sure whether it was their mistake or mine.
Michael is an old man who helps needy kids, riding his rickety bicycle from far away. He had told me last week that he wanted to come see me and immediately I knew what he wanted and it wasn’t to visit with me. He’s a very sweet man, but he goes on and on until I want to toss him out. I keep waiting for the pitch and it always comes. In the past Judy and I used to help him out, but that just encouraged him to come back for more. I may be a Grinch, but I have enough children I help and I do it by educating them. That’s what I believe in—the old—teaching them to fish rather than giving a fish. I can’t save everyone in Kenya!
Next came David Luther, whom I’ve known since 2006. Through no fault of his own, he just missed being able to attend university on the regular admission program and I’ve felt bad about it ever since. He’s a very bright guy and a hard worker. I promised him this year I would sponsor him. He is so excited to think his dream might come true. He wants to design websites and in a way I think it’s good that he couldn’t go to school in 2009. Not sure how much web design was available. Even now he had to search to find a school that offered a bachelor’s in CS.
Next came Diana to whom I’d promised beads I’d bought, as well as some that either I don’t wear or were broken. She and her sister supplement their meagre school support by beading. Both are self-taught. I’m hoping they can come up with some new designs for the beads I bought, ½ price at Michael’s some months ago. I had carefully put them all together in one bags and stored them in a place where I could easily find them—but only if I could remember where that place was!!! I searched and searched, getting more and more frustrated. She was about to give up and go back home, empty-handed and disappointed, when I said, “let me look in my room one more time.” There, behind my door, on a small chifferobe (hmmm, my spell-check doesn’t know this word and I am pretty sure it’s not right. Oh well!) I have some hooks. Under something else I’d hung on the same hook was the bag of beads! Whew!
Cyrus, oldest young person to grow up here at Mji, had promised to come down from Nairobi today to see me. He and I have had a lovely friendship. He has no family and he loves having a Sho-sho (grandmother). He’s in his last term of medical school, having suffered a year delay due to a strike by the instructors at Nairobi U. He says he didn’t waste that time, but found internships, so continued his education with on-the-job training. He looks good, seems confident and is, of course, eager to be finished. He then needs to do a 1-year internship before he is finally Dr. Cyrus Kariuki. He really wants to become an oncologist, but in this system must finish the initial 5 years first. After that he wants a master’s and then possibly to study in the US.
I took him to the same place we had gone to last night. He and I have always had our “long talk” to catch up—the grandmotherly advice as well as a lot of laughs. He takes his place as first-born of the Mji family very seriously, which generated much discussion about several of the boys who have lost their way. Generally most of the Mji kids have succeeded in school and are moving on either to university or out into the world as adults. But two of them in particular just have not. We didn’t find any solutions to their problems, but shared out concerns.
I always look forward to seeing him, each year noting a continuing maturation of spirit as well as moving into manhood very well. Great guy.