#6 Visits

#6 Visits

I awakened at 7 this morning and thought I would be a lazy bum, sitting in my bed, answering emails.  Before I knew it, it was 8:10 and Catherine (Life Bloom) and assistant, Wanjiro were at my door.  There I was, pajama’d, teeth unbrushed, hair uncombed barefooted.  Oh well!  I had briefly forgotten they were coming—no, I hadn’t actually forgotten, just lost track of time.

I fixed them tea and toast, and we began to talk about the issues of women, Life Bloom, fund raising, Archbishop Ndingi (boys high school) men/women and who knows what else.  It was lively, as always with them, funny, serious, sad, inspiring and never enough time to share all we wish.  We discussed fund raising for LB and the event they have planned for this coming Saturday.  Catherine has been fascinated with the potluck fund-raisers we have done for Kenya Help.  Their event is a catered dinner at a nearby hotel.  They hope for 150, and have about 55 yeses so far.  Because this is a new idea in this culture, I will speak briefly about the donation traditions in the US.  It’s not that there is no money in Naivasha.  There is a solid middle-class group, but supporting worthwhile institutions has not been much in vogue.  LB is out to change that!  If anyone can do it, it’s Catherine and Wanjiro.

I forgot to take a picture to include in this email, but there will be other opportunities.  You certainly missed nothing by having no picture of me!

By the time I cleaned up the kitchen, got showered and dressed and got my stuff together it was 10:30 and I was late.  Neither Fr Kiriti nor Ben happened to be going up that way—in fact both were in/on the way to Nairobi.  Fearing I’d have a repeat performance of Sunday’s matatu ride, I called Fred, my trusty piki piki driver.  “I’m coming right now”, which is what he always says—whether he’s at his station right down the road or 10 miles away.  Fortunately he was right down the road and by the time I had walked out to the road he was waiting there.

I met Fred in 2006, when I made the momentous decision that I had to try riding on a piki piki.  How could I claim to have had the Kenyan experience w/o that?  At that time he was driving a rented bike and a pretty shabby jacket, but he also wore a helmet, so I figured he cared about his own safety—so mine too!  Ever since he’s been my man.  He appreciates my business, charges me fairly and drives slowly, especially over the frequent speed bumps on Kenyatta Road.  He now has his own bike, a better jacket and still wears his helmet.  He still takes good care of me.  In fact on Saturday, as I was walking back from my Safaricom visit, he happened along and brought me home.  Wouldn’t accept a fare, just did it to be nice.

It’s a long ride to the school, but his new bike has a padded passenger seat.  Previously his bike caused major butt-fatigue.

After teaching Jecinta’s form 4’s so she could run an important errand in town, and observing a lesson by Simon in form 1, I decided it was time to visit Damaris.

Damais is a seamstress who has sewed some of the dresses I’ve gotten here.  She began a women’s co-op, called Talent Taps, which I wrote about extensively last year.  I hadn’t even called her yet, have been so busy, but she was home, so I hopped a matatu and rode down to what I remembered was the stop by her house.  But it wasn’t quite right, so after a call she came trotting out to the road to escort me to her house.

One of her sewing ladies was still there.  I was pretty sure I had met her last year, but I meet so many.  ACH!  I can’t remember them all.  However, when Damaris mentioned her name, Margaret, I recall we had bonded over the shared name.

In the year since I last saw her, she has registered he group, comparable to our non-profit status in the US, had business cards printed up and has been busily marketing the tote bags her ladies make.  They have sold over 500, many in a nearby hospital.  It’s a teaching hospital with lots of comings and goings.  People have loved her totes.  Here are a couple of pix.

Margaret and Damaris with totes

She served us tea while we caught up on each other’s activities.  I’m not sure how much of it Margaret caught, but she was nonetheless attentive and all smiles.  I mentioned that Draeger’s will be doing a Kenyan cooking class in San Mateo October 16—partially as a fund raiser for Kenya Help.  She hopped up and trotted out a great apron.  Immediately I knew I would bring at least one back for the Draeger cook to wear.  Here’s a pic.

Damaris in her apron

It was wonderful to see her again.  She’s a lovely woman who has dedicated her life to helping women find ways to support themselves.  She wants to meet with Anita Dippery, KH board member and quilt maker extraordinaire when Anita comes in July.  My guess is that those Talent Taps ladies will soon be producing incredible quilts, with Anita’s creative energy and ideas and their own determination.

I’ve been tapping away at this computer since I got home about 5 ½ hours ago.  Am now going to read and then sleep.

Another long but wonderful day.  What a gift to be able to come here every summer.



#5 Visiting Day at SFG and Animal Park in Nakuru

#5  Visiting Day at SFG and Animal Park in Nakuru

I’m writing this Monday evening, June 28.  Yesterday was parent visiting day at SFG.  I wanted to be there to greet parents.  Jecinta-pr tells me that when I did that last year the parents were very appreciative.  So about noon, accompanied by Julia, I headed for the main road to catch a matatu.  We got one very quickly, which surprised me, as not too many people travel on the weekend.  It was about ½ full, so I was hopeful it wouldn’t turn around to try getting more passengers.  No such luck, not too far up it turned around.  OK, I’m used to that.  It got a couple more passengers on the second run, but NO!  It turned around the second time and then a third time!!!!  A man and woman who had just got on complained very loudly.  The matatu stopped and the tout (conductor) yelled and gestured, “Get out!”  They did!  We went all the way down and then just sat there—for 15-20 minutes.  I was getting very exasperated, you can be sure!  Finally I yelled at the driver, “Driver, we need to go”  “Now!!!!”  He totally ignored me and it was another 15-20 minutes before we finally got underway.  ACH!!!  I was totally bummed!

Small parent/student groups were sitting on the grass all around the soccer field.  The mothers had cooked favorite foods and carried to the school.  Some were just a mom and her daughter, other groups had parents, aunts, uncles, siblings.  Feeling like I needed to be in loco parentis for Victoria I had looked around my kitchen to see what I could take.  Ended up with a goodly supply of Trader Joe’s chocolate squares—the big 1# 72% cocoa kind—an apple and some cheese.  Not a great treat, but if all you’ve been eating is rice and cabbage, it looked good to her.  O

Of course the hardest part is the many girls who had no visitors.  Some live very far away and some have no parents.  So sad!

I began making a round of the groups, greeting parents, asking the girls to introduce me to the family, making a bit of small talk—surprised myself at how easily I chatted.  Many of them invited me to share the meal, but I wanted to greet as many as possible.

I could feel myself getting sunburned on my neck.  Doofus!  I forgot to put on sunscreen in the middle of the day.  But fortunately Fr Kiriti arrived after maybe an hour to take Victoria and me to Nakuru to the wild animal park.

It’s maybe an hour’s drive, along a very good road, which only a few years ago was so pitted with HUGE potholes and I dubbed it the Road from Hell.  Later I went on the road to Maasai Mara, which is even worse, if possible, but I couldn’t think of a worse name than Road from Hell.

But yesterday it was a smooth ride and we arrived about 4, in time to see the animals feeding before nightfall.  There were baboons at the gate, a large family, with babies hanging from Mommy’s underside or riding on her back.  As we drove we saw many gazelles, dink-dinks, zebras, water buffalos and antelopes.  Then all of a sudden was a huge rhino, calmly gazing right by the side of the road.  I was again struck by the unlikeliness of that face, with the horns and beady little eyes.   Truly ugly!  Not far off we saw a big giraffe and a couple of wart hogs.  What a day!

Fr Kiriti and Victoria at animal park

Candidates for “Ugly Man” contest

…and the winner is… (You can submit your votes)

We stayed the night in the Pastoral Center, where we were very grateful for mosquito nets, as they were voracious and many.  In the morning Victoria and I braved the market while Fr Kiriti went off for an appointment with the bishop.

I have been to this market in the past and found the hawkers to be persistent and aggressive.  I had warned Victoria to be very firm, “No thank you”  She was great, polite but firm, and possibly because it was still early, they didn’t swarm around us as much as in previous years.  She found some bargains and I saw many things I would love to buy to bring back to sell.  But most of the things I really liked were stoneware and much too heavy to carry in my suitcases.  One of the items Victoria wanted is called a lesso, which is just a brightly colored cloth with African designs.  I asked the seller how much.  “Fifteen hundred shillings”.  “Oh, no, that’s way too much.  I’ve bought those in Naivasha for ksh 300!”  The poor woman’s face fell.  She thought she had a real sucker on the line.  We settled for ksh 400, which was more than any Kenyan would have paid, but wasn’t a total cheat.

(next day)

I literally fell asleep with my fingers on the keys at this point.  I woke up to 3 pages of ttttttt

Arriving back in Naivasha I was eager to read my emails.  Plugged in the modem.  Didn’t connect.  Tried again.  Didn’t work.  At this point RATS seemed  totally inadequate to express my frustration, so off I went, computer in bag on my shoulder, to Safaricom.  As I walked down the road I heard “Margo”, and there across the street in her pharmacy, was Joyce, my friend, whom I had not yet seen.  Had to wait for a huge line of trucks, piki-pikis bicycles, matatus, cars and taxis, but finally came a break.  We greeted and hugged on both cheeks, as is the Kenyan way.  I told her my story, and explained about m-pesa, the program whereby I can buy airtime for about 1/3 the cost.  She decided she wanted to know about that, so we hopped into her car and went off toe SC.

It’s funny when I walk in now.  The watchman greets me like an old friend and I’m sure the people there are all thinking “Now What?” or “ACH! Her again!”  But like true Kenyans, they smilingly greet me and send me to the back counter where problems are addressed.

Luck was with me as the Mac specialist for the whole country happened to be in town.  He immediately assessed the problem, which was when I signed up for m-pesa, my modem needed an up-grade—which, of course, no one had mentioned.  It’s a year old and m-pesa is a new program.  It took a few minutes, but eventually was accomplished.  Next problem?  We’ll see.

Love to all,


# 4 Saturday at SFG

#4 Saturday at SFG                                                                        June 26, 2010

After writing #3 I hustled out to the road to catch a matatu and was pleasantly surprised when one came right along.  Because I take the Nairobi line, I often must wait except for the busy times early in the morning and in the evening.  This was 11 am.

The driver looked at my backpack.  “Are you a doctor?”  “No, I’m a teacher.”  “Thank you very much for doing that job.”  This was the first time anyone had said that.

I was a bit worried, b/c there were only a few passangers.  They can’t afford to drive to Nairobi w/o a full load, and sure enough, up the road a bit they turned around to drive up again.  People stand by the road and use hand signals to indicate which line they want.  After a second run I wondered whether I’d ever arrive.  In fact, as they were about to turn around again for a 3rd run, several passengers disembarked.  The driver was very nice, telling me perhaps I should get off too b/c there were mechanical problems.  This was his way of saying it might be a long time before he got a full load.  I stood by another lady and very shortly an almost full vehicle arrived.

Stopped to let someone off, I noticed a small child looking at me very intently.  I waved, but no response.  The mother and another lady, however, returned my grin and waved.  Mzungus are still a puzzlement to the little ones.  Staring is not considered rude here.

At SFG I found some form 4’s in the classroom.  Someone asked me to help her with a calculus problem.  ACH!  It has been 10 years since I sat in Jerry Brodkey’s class, relearning the calculus I’d studied in 1954.  This isn’t very heavy duty calculus, so slowly it came back to me, but I couldn’t figure out why the area turned out to be negative.  Will have to ask Jecinta.  Next Mary asked me yet another calculus problem.  I was flummoxed, but together we worked through an example and figured it out.  By that time the lunch bell had rung.

I ate lunch in the dining hall with the girls.  Had a bit of guthieri and some bread, while I became acquainted with the 2 girls who were nearest me.  They are shy with me, but will warm up in time.  The new ones aren’t quite sure what to make of me.

Was happy to see Victoria smiling and sitting with Teresia.  Not sure what she was eating, b/c the guthieri did not agree with her a few days ago.  Otherwise she’s definitely part of the group.

After lunch I toured the new dorm.  Learned the 3rd house name is Aberdare Ranges, which is a mountain range near Mt Longenot.  Mt Longenot is not far and is climbed by the students every year in November.  New Dorm looks beautiful.  Saturday afternoon is general cleaning time, so the girls were busily scrubbing floors, washing windows, cleaning classrooms, sprucing up the whole compound.  Each girl has her assigned task and b/c tomorrow is visiting day, they were doing an especially good job.  Also toured the “sanitarium”, which is Esther’s baliwick.  It consists of her office, an examination room with a nice table and a ward for girls who are ailing.  Proud of her new digs, she showed me each cupboard and cranny, after introducing her assistant, a student whose name I’ve already forgotten, and who’s responsibility it is to keep the area spotless, which it was.

I neglected to mention the kerfuffle at the end of yesterday’s event, when a student from Longenott was thought to be from Kenya Help.  This tipped a very close score to KH.  The Longenott girls complained and the issued was cleared.  Unfortunately this was not until after I had awarded the cup to KH.  ß

Below are a few pictures I took yesterday.  Sadly, my unfamiliarity with my camera caused most of the pictures to be too dark.  Haven’t tried to look at the video yet, but am not hopeful for my own efforts.

Jecinta-principal and math teacher

Peter Muigi–deputy principal

Sr Janet–teaches biology and geography

Effie–Miss St Francis Girls, 2010

# 3 Who’s Who and What’s What

#3  Who’s Who and What’s What

This is for new readers, who may not be familiar with terms, people and institutions

Mzungu person with white skin

Matatu public transportation van, theoretically carrying 15 people, but I’ve been on with as many as 22

Piki piki motor bike.  A common way of transportation when in a hurry and have no time to wait for a matatu.

Guthieri (best guess at spelling) very common dish of maize (heavy kernals), beans, cabbage and onions.  Hard for mzungu’s to digest!

SFG St Francis Girls (School)

SFX St Francis Xavier parish in Naivasha

LB Life Bloom Services International Naivasha based organization which provides support services for commercial sex workers and abused women and children.  Founded by Catherine Wanjohi For more information see www.lifebloominternational.co.cc.

Mji Wa Neema (MWN) orphanage in SFX compound—my home

Fr Kiriti pastor of SFX

Jecinta SFX parish social worker

Jecinta SFG principal and math teacher

Peter deputy principal

Paricia English teacher

Sr Janet teaches biology and is counselor at SFG

Julia matron of MWN

Agnes assistant to Julia and to Jecenta

Paul seminarian assisting Fr Kiriti

Thomas volunteer from Netherlands who figured out how to get me on line (my hereo!)

Esther matron and nurse of SFG

#1 On the Road Again

Sorry this is out of order

#1  June 19, 2010  On the road (air) again.

And so the trip begins again.  This is my 6th visit to Naivasha.  Each time it’s a zoo getting out of the house.  Make sure there is enough food for the cat.  Did her potty pan get cleaned out? Did I cancel Netflix and newspaper?  Get house ready for renters.  Packing, packing, packing, books for little kids, books for big kids, books for me to read, calculators and of course stuff for me for 2 months.  This year I decided to indulge my chocolate habit—four of those 1# Trader Joes chocolate bars, the 72% cocoa, the real stuff.  It’s like mainlining it!  I permit myself 3 squares per day.

No wonder my bags are so heavy!  Yesterday I came to the sorry conclusion that I wasn’t going to make it with only 2 suitcases.  Trying to be efficient I decided to stop by Sears on my way back from San Jose, from picking up Victoria Bohin, my 17-year old traveling companion from Portland.  Of course I’m looking for the biggest and the cheapest, which wasn’t what they had on sale, but I thought maybe one would do.  As I approached the checkout I suddenly remembered I had done the same thing last year, had gone to Marshall’s and bought a crappy, cheap bag, which had gone with me to Kenya and back and was now residing in a back closet!  ACH!  Again I am reminded of the vagaries of aging.

This morning, thinking I had all the space in the world, I’m happily stuffing books and shoes.  I call upon Victoria, who does crew and is very strong.  “Weigh yourself with and without this suitcase.”  Uh oh.  The permitted 22 kgs is equivalent to about about 48 #.  RATS!!!  “Can you weigh this suitcase”  OK, a few #’s under, transfer, repack, reweigh.  It’s crazy, but in the end, I managed to get in virtually everything, plus packing up my backpack and purse.  With 10 minutes to departure time, I hopped into the shower!  Yup!  It’s last-minute-Margo again.  I always manage to make it, but I do manage to make it exciting for myself.