#22-2013 Found Time and What I Did With It
After I finished being a lazy bum this morning and wrote #21, I went to visit my friend, Simon, about whom I have just written. On my way I thought about the sights here that are so different from the Menlo Park, Palo Alto scene. The roads are 2-way, with fast traffic among the slow moving trucks. People are walking by the side, crossing (sometimes at the risk of life and limb), goats, sheep, cows and occasionally a herd of zebras are grazing, women carrying heavy loads (rarely men), kids in school uniforms walking home, dogs, herdsmen with their flocks, moms with babies on the back, lots of open space, but more and more being farmed or with houses or small shops. Naivasha is changing, growing out into the “suburbs”.
Simon is at home, enjoying an “off”, meaning his annual 1-month leave. It was wonderful to see him, still smiling warmly in welcome and giving me a big hug. He has now completed the house he was building last year, and we sat in the outer room. The inner is their living room, in which shortly a meeting was to be held (more about that later). Julia, his wife, served us a tasty goat stew with ugali, first bringing a pitcher of warm water and a basin for washing hands. She held the basin and carefully poured the water – very much a part of the meal scene in a Kenyan home. I asked why she didn’t join us, but Simon explained she was a founding member of a women’s group, which was meeting that day. This is a weekly event, at which the members each bring a small amount of money. They have an account where the money is held until they decide how they will grow it. He said there are some 30 such groups in the area of which he is chief, some women, some youths and some for men. Often a group will buy a plot of land and either develop it with rental housing or hold it until the value increases (happening very fast here). Careful check is kept regarding how much each member has contributed so that when they decide to reap the profits, each gets exactly his/her proportional share. They all know how to calculate that, as it is a regular question on school exams.
As we sat there, one after another the members appeared, looked through the open door, seemed puzzled and then went to another door, not understanding why this mzungu was sitting in the usual meeting room talking to the husband, who usually disappears during this time. I asked a lot of questions about the chief’s duties. They are many and varied, sometimes even dangerous. Essentially he acts as an ombudsman for minor disputes over land, domestic issues and such. He has a council of elders who go back several generations, further than he (probably in his 40’s). In every dispute there is one side that is unhappy with the decision and sometimes will claim he has been bribed. He is actually one of the most ethical persons I know, lives very modestly and is quite humble. I asked whether he sometimes must be Solomon and he related a case in which ownership of a tree was in contention. After conferring with the elders he said his decision was to cut down the tree and give the firewood to a distant school. The woman agreed that would be OK, while the man said no, he had planted the tree. Simon/Solomon knew the man was the owner and permitted him to cut it down and keep the wood. Sound like a familiar story?
He is busy all day, every day, one case after another. In the evening it’s not unusual for a knock at the door to reveal disputants who simply cannot wait until tomorrow to settle. If he is perceived as unfair or bribable, he may be threatened. That hasn’t happened to him, but he knows of a neighboring chief whom angry losers in a case tried to burn alive is his house. The man got out, but with burns. Family got out safely. He asserts and I concur that being a chief is much more challenging than being a math teacher, although he loves the job.
As I got up to leave I wanted to take a picture of him (for this missive) and of the ladies investment group. I asked whether he would interpret for me, but he demurred, saying his wife would do it. He is not allowed in, other than to ask whether I can greet the ladies and take the pic. There were about 10-12 women, several with small children on lap, consulting some papers. I introduced myself and told a bit about how I knew Simon from teaching with him at Ndingi in 2005 and how he had taken on my comfort, seeing that I had tea, lunch, a chair etc. Now, I said, I teach math at SFG, which is about 2-3 km down closer to Naivasha town from them. Julia did I great translating job (I think).
Leaving, I decided to stop by SFG to tell Ruth something he had explained to me. I mentioned about the thugs trying to break into school a few weeks back and that while they were alarmed and fled, the police never came. He said the proper procedure is to alert the area chief, who happens to be a woman (!) in the next small community down. When a chief calls the police they do respond, as they work very closely with the chief.
Ruth happened to appear just as I arrived and had a few minutes for me. She told me a very sad story. Several days ago in Nakuru thugs had broken into the home of some fairly wealthy people. The police had been alerted, had stationed themselves inside the house and shot to death all 6 of the thugs as well as the innocent driver of the taxi they had hired. That driver was the father of one of our form 4’s. Ruth had withheld the information until today so the girl could finish her mocks, but was at that moment in the dining hall with another of our form 4’s whose father died just recently. This is not an unusual situation here, where life expectancy is much shorter than in US.
She also told me that the student senate had decided they wanted to contribute to the harambe being held here in the church this Sunday to raise money to build a hostel within the compound. They had picked up on something Maya had said and something she taught them. Maya, I hope you are reading this. On Saturday they will bake cookies and extra loaves of the famous SFG bread to sell outside the church on Sunday. They will also offer shoe polishing. All profits will be contributed to finish the hostel.