#33 Maya & Peter marry

Sunday, Sept 4, 2012

#33 Maya and Peter marry

Yesterday I went to Karen, a posh Nairobi suburb, to attend the wedding of Maya Perkins of East Palo Alto (EPA) to Peter (can’t find his name), of Kenya.  Fr Kiriti performed the rite.  I met Maya’s mother, Pat Foster, well-known and beloved in EPA, last October at the behest of Henry Organ, good friend and KH board member.  Forty-six friends and family members traveled from the US to meet with Peter’s Luo family and friends.  It was a splendid event and I was so happy to be there.  A nice surprise was the presence of Mary Flamer of EPA, mother of Terri, who was in my first class at Menlo Atherton in 1983.  I haven’t seen Terri in some time, but we used to keep in touch.  Her mother was given the honor of blessing the food.

Catherine Wanjohi had also met Pat when she was in the US, so of course she too was invited.  The 3 of us drove the 2 hours through farmland, small villages and the outskirts of Nairobi.  I never tire of seeing the animals—goats and sheep mostly, with cows and still a few wild zebras—the activities of the people, walking, talking bargaining, farming, riding their bicycles, piki-pikis—just doing their normal stuff.

Good thing I’m not trying to make my living in photography, I didn’t take a picture of the bride!  I did take a picture of Catherine in front of this beautiful church.

Here are Fr Kiriti, the groom and his brother, awaiting the happy bride.  The wedding was late in starting, which meant we had to leave shortly afterwards.  We did make a short appearance at the reception, just long enough to enjoy the food, a lovely combination of Jamaican flavors from Maya’s tradition and Kenyan foods from Peter’s.

Arriving back home, I “received” visits from Cyrus and Monica.  You know about Cyrus, but perhaps Monica is new to you.  She is in form 2 at Naivasha Girls, the only school that scored better than SFG in the 2010 KCSE!


Monica is bright and hard working and likes to come chat with me.  Like Cyrus, she has big ambitions, wants to be a dentist.  Two years ago in class 8 she did an impressive science demo for her siblings at Mji Wa Neema.  Math and science are her best subjects.

We reminisced about the first year I was in Naivasha, 2005, when I went up to the orphanage to meet the children.  Four of the girls insisted on escorting me back to the rectory, where I was staying at the time.  It took me a few years to get to know all of them and to get their names straight.




This is Monica, now in Form 2 at Naivasha Girls, in her uniform, with Jecinta (social worker) on parent visiting day.  Naivasha Girls is a national school, accepting top students.  It is always a top performing school and the only one in the district to outdo SFG in the KCSE.  SFG takes those students who don’t get into national schools.

What is it about this place that holds me so close?  The approach of my departure has been a weight on my shoulders, increasing with each passing day.  It’s not that I don’t want to be back in the US, seeing my family, whom I always miss, and my friends.  My bed at home is much more comfortable, my house more convenient, shopping easier—life is easier, yet I wish I could stay here until I get really tired of it.  Maybe that’s what keeps me coming back.  I haven’t gotten my fill of all I love here.

(Sunday, Sept 11, 1 week later)

I am now home now and trying to put my body and brain on PDT, not an easy task.  I arrived Tuesday, Sept 6 after a 5 hour flight to Dubai, where I spent the night and 15 hours to SFO.  I’m still trying to stay awake past 9 pm and stay asleep until 7 am.  I have one more email that I began before I left, but haven’t finished.

If you are interested, Kenya Help and I were featured on the Greatest Person of the Day section of the Huffington Post several days ago.  Here is the link



#32 Such Good Things

Thursday, Sept 1

#32 Such Good Things

Following Fr Makarios to visit his project this morning, I thought about the many projects I’ve seen this summer and on other visits.  His is St Therese Develop-ment Center, a safe house for abused children.  He began just a year ago but has made incredible progress.  His bishop gave 33 acres for the center.  He has had to raise the funds to develop and build.  He’s on the right, with Innocence, the architect and over-seer.

The plan as well as the implementation is impressive—rooms with large windows so it’s light and airy, nice kitchen and dining/multipurpose, separate areas for boys, girls and volunteers, of which he hopes to attract many to work with the children.

A drip system is in place in the shamba (garden), he has a bore hole with piping to fill the water tower (background), a pond which will eventually be a fish farm, and many other thoughtful (and green) features.  He’s considering using composting toilets, which make perfect sense here.  Otherwise he has to put in a drain field, which would be much more expensive and not nearly so eco-friendly.  I like his work and his manner, no nonsense, very straight-forward, sensitive to the needs of children.  The land is far enough from town to be very open, peaceful and quiet.  As you see, the vistas are broad, with few trees, as it’s very dry.  In time he will have trees, fruit as well as decorative to provide shade.

Observing the men at work on the water tower (left) I thought of the Tower of Babel and wondered whether it was built in a similar manner.  The men are shoveling mortar up one step at a time, working in a unison that probably is not planned, but they just naturally fall into it.  There will be 2 tanks, one on top of the other, with living and office quarters below, on the first 2 levels.

Innocence has done a fabulous job of design.  I had not met him before, but he told me he also designed Upendo Village, next door to SFG, which I have dubbed the Taj Mahal, because of the nice design features.  I will be eager to see this finished project as well.

Coming back to town I stopped by Life Beads of Kenya, the workshop run by my friend, Minalyn Nicklin, who trains and employs HIV+ people.  She is a tender-hearted woman who loves each and every one of her people.  When I arrived, she told me her daughter, Sandy, has been hospitalized for 7 days for an as yet undiagnosed condition, possibly Kawasaki’s Disease (I think that’s the name).  While we talked, Sandy appeared, sleepy and sweaty, to tell me how much she was sleeping and how she had no energy.  She’s a darling girl of maybe 10.

I thought about Sr Cecilia’s school, about which I wrote (#17) when I visited it, about the addition to the district hospital, for maternity and other women’s needs, the project of Cindy Berkland, an American nurse, in conjunction with Panda Flowers, here in Naivasha.  It’s not yet complete as fund raising is going slowly, but when it opens, it will be state of the art.

Front view of new women’s wing of district hosp

rear view

I wrote recently about Helping Hands (#23) a nursery school that welcomes children with disabilities and Marcus’s project (#13), a primary, K-4, as I recall in the KCC slum.

In addition to these great projects, I see building going on all over the area.  Despite famine in the north, continued reports of graft and corruption (though the government is slowly addressing those issues), poverty, unemployment, alcohol and drug addiction, drought in some areas, flooding in others, power outages, sugar shortage (BIG problem here—Kenyans love their sugar), bad roads and on and on, I see so much progress, so much life, hope, courage and love.  This country is making great strides and I am so privileged to be part of it.


#31 Pix n Other Stuff

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

#31 Pix n Other Stuff

I had forgotten to get pictures of the 3 girls who are now happily seeing in class.  Here they are:  Elizabeth, Mary and Carol.  I noted a change immediately in the attention and involvement in the classwork, now that they could see.  I’m just sad they had to wait so long.  Despite the handicap, Mary has always been among the top 3 performers in her form.  Now I’m looking for #1!

I also took a picture of Christopher, the quitter.  He went 2 days w/o smoking and was so proud of himself.  He put his name on the board, with 2 hash marks, indicating his feat.  However, the weekend proved too challenging, so he had to erase the marks and begin again.  Nonetheless he is determined to beat it.  He’s a very nice guy and a great teacher (physics and math), full of enthusiasm, ready to embrace new technology, willing to help the girls, and just as full of smiles as the picture indicates.

Thus I am sad to report that he will be leaving SFG to return to school.  As good as he is at teaching, he wants to become an engineer.  He was unable to complete his training b/c he had to pay school fees for his younger sister.  She is now completing form 4, so he can go back to school.  It is touching that many people sacrifice in order to send siblings to school.  Everyone understands the ramifications of not completing high school, so most are willing to sacrifice, knowing that someone sacrificed for them.

One of the teachers has recently developed a seizure disorder.  She had an episode during a car trip several weeks ago.  It was probably somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of petit mal to grande mal and left her exhausted.  She went to a Nairobi neurologist yesterday and was given new medication.  The moment she walked into the staff room this morning I knew something was wrong.  She could hardly walk, eyes unfocused.  We sat her down to wait until Ben (accountant) was ready to go back down to town and could take her home.  I went along to show him the way, as she was getting more and more out of it.  We had to support her on both sides to move her into her house, which she shares with mom and 2 sisters.  I was worried that the medication was too strong or that somehow this was not a normal response.  Couldn’t think of what to do, but later it occurred to me to call Joyce, a newly minted pharmacist.  I just wanted to check it out with her, but she is so nice.  She offered to visit the teacher and we made a date for right after I finished my last class.  School matron, Esther, went along so that she would know as much as possible about the situation.

When we got there in the late afternoon, the teacher was feeling a bit better.  Joyce did a pretty thorough assessment and will monitor it until she gets better.

(2 days later)  She called me today to say she is cutting down on the medication and will see her neurologist ASAP.

I must say, I manage to get involved in a lot of scenarios that seemingly have little to do with math teaching.  Not sure how I manage it, but ….


#30 Another Day in Nairobi ‘N Other Stuff

Sunday, August 28, 2011

#30 Another Day in Nairobi ‘N Other Stuff

Today was the last opportunity to visit the Maasai Market before I leave. It’s held in a parking lot in downtown Nairobi, so can be open on weekends only. I went with Jecinta (sw) who is a bargainer. We planned to go immediately after mass, but as luck would have it, the mass was long. I even left early, which I almost never do, asa mzungu can hardly escape unnoticed! The mass was to celebrate the final vows by Sister Mary of this parish. The custom is to have a big mass, huge reception afterwards and then a gathering of all the nuns and priests who have attended. I attended one in 2006 and found it fascinating, but alas, it was not to be this time.

The ride to Nairobi is 1½ hours and it wasn’t too bad going. Read on to know how not lovely the return trip was. One funny incident occurred as we neared the station. The matatu stopped to let off a passenger. I happened to be in the seat by the door—the one that must be vacated before anyone gets off or on. There was a tout there, who thought maybe I wasn’t nimble enough, so rather rudely told me to sit further back. “No, I’m going to sit here with my friend.” This met with a scowl. “Don’t give me a hard time!” “I will give you a hard time!” “And I’ll give you a hard time back!” This ended with laughter from both the tout and me. He must have thought he could browbeat this old mzungu, but he didn’t take in personally when I didn’t back down.

It’s a bit of a trek to the market. I wrote about it before, but I still am amazed at the traffic including cars, buses, trucks, taxis, matatus, people, bicycles, carts, piki-piki’s, all missing each other my nano-meters. The sidewalks, where they exist, are very narrow, roughly paved, potholed and jammed. Jecinta led the way and I dutifully followed, always careful to look BOTH WAYS, b/c even after all this time, in a pinch, I am not sure which direction the traffic will come from. And sometimes it doesn’t matter, b/c it’s coming from both directions in the same lane!

Finally we could see the fenced parking lot and —Oh no! There were cars in it and no market! Ach! What was I to do? Should have bought more the last time I came, although we were so loaded down with purchases we couldn’t have carried more. And then…oops! We were looking at the wrong parking lot. Next to the one with cars was the one with the market. A sigh of relief!

I am such a dope for forgetting to take my camera! The market is jammed, busy, colorful and full of great stuff. We spent maybe 3 hours trudging, looking, bargaining, walking away when the prices were too high and evading the more persistent hawkers who pester mzungus. I bought things I hope people will like. Some things I’ve bought before, like salad sets with animal handles, lovely carves bowls, 1 nativity scene (but can get more), purses, and much more, including some cutenesses— always fun.

Immediately as we approached the gate we were accosted by a young man who thought he was going to be our guide (and would collect his shillings from any vendor we bought from). However, he got the same short shrift the tout had received, and as we walked on by I heard him say, “I’ll just wait for another American mzungu!” We both had a chuckle from that.

The bargaining process is not my favorite part, but sometimes we reach an amicable price. The vendors are very dramatic. “Oh madam, it is not possible.” “Because you are my customer (we had just walked up to his stall) I will give you a wholesale price” (which is generally twice what he’s willing to sell for). We saw one crèche set, not very well carved and not as large as some I’ve brought back before. Since we hadn’t seen others, we asked the price. “For you I’ll offer at a very good price.” “What is that very good price?” “Ksh 4500” “What! I’ve bought much better sets than that for a bit more than ksh 3000.” Face falls, shocked look of disbelief. “No madam, is not possible.” “Ok, it’s all right,” as we walked away. Later when he saw us buying from another vendor he came over to offer it for the 2000 he had scoffed at 15 minutes before. But “No, the one I bought here is much better.” Needless to say, he was disappointed, but in fact the second one was better.

Each purchase is a major discussion. Sometimes I was perfectly willing to pay what the vendor asked. They are just folks, trying to make a living, but sometimes it was clear they were gouging. That raises my hackles! We wandered up and down aisles, not daring to stop too long lest the owner accost us and offer us “a very good price.” Everything is tempting and I always wish I knew what people would like to have. Here is a picture of our purchases, laid out on the bed in my “guest room.” It doesn’t look like much, but it felt like a lot when we were dragging it all back. I wish I could have bought more of those brown and black purses. They are very nice, but bulky and can’t be folded like the ones woven from native grasses. In addition I have other items in suitcases plus the 2 suitcases we sent home with someone else a few weeks ago—which I have to go to Pasadena to retrieve.

At the matatu station (stage), the tickets indicate which vehicle to board. As ours backed into the loading space, the other, more experienced travelers pushed forward to get the best seats, while Jecinta and I, so loaded down we could barely push through the impossibly narrow aisle had to take the very back seat. I “won” the corner. The windows never close tightly, so as we got out onto the highway, where the driver demonstrated his having trained at the Bat-Out-Of-Hell Driving School, the cold wind came in on my shoulder and neck. I was jammed into the seat that has reduced foot space due to the wheel covering, my lap was full of parcels and I was so cold! I tried bunching up my jacket against the window, but nothing would block the wind. It was the longest 1 ½ hours!!!!

Back home at last, Jecinta and I brewed some tea and reviewed the day. On the whole we felt we’d done well. Then I had to drive her home, back up towards SFG. In the meantime, Catherine had called and wanted to bring someone to visit me. My kitchen was sporting Mother Hubbard’s cupboard, so had to stop at a small market for more milk for tea. I didn’t think to get some biscuits or other goody. In Kenya visitors are always fed, especially if they arrive at meal time, but I truly had nothing and I was bushed!

The visitor was Samantha, a young Stanford grad student whom Catherine had met in Uganda at a training on using small water testing kits—a great boon for small rural communities. After the training, Samantha had come to Kenya to learn more about Life Bloom and had fallen in love with the program, as is so often the case. Catherine is hoping she will give more visibility to LB in the US.

We chatted over tea for maybe an hour before they went off and decided I didn’t need any dinner. I’d just flop on my bed and maybe have some toast or something later. As I was clearing away the cups, my phone rang. Fr Kiriti was wondering why I wasn’t at the rectory for the party after the party after the mass. I had known about the party but had not understood that I was invited. Since I’d left mass early, I was embarrassed to show my face, but off I trotted. The call was something of a command performance. Only as I walked in did I become aware I was dressed in my jeans, which I had worn to Nairobi so I could wear my sneakers. Oh, I was a charming sight!

I was amazed at how many of the priests and nuns I knew, including Sr Helen, an old friend who had come the night before and had  stayed in my guest room. Here she is sitting on my bed for a few more minutes of catching up before we slept.

She is here from her station in in Jamaica, where she works with HIV patients, does counseling and prevention  education. She is totally dedicated to her work and goes wherever she is told, doing whatever she is told.  We met several years ago when she was briefly stationed here in Naivasha, doing HIV work.

Back at the party, I talked to all the old familiar faces and introduced myself to those I didn’t know. The food was great, although by the time I arrived it was greatly diminished. Fortunately there was  lots of salad, which I crave, being too busy (lazy?) to prepare it for myself.

As soon as I could gracefully leave, I slipped out, trotted back to my room and fell into bed. After all,  Monday was another day of teaching.

Best, Margo

If you no longer wish to receive these messages, click reply and type “Please remove.”

#29 What a Great Day!

Friday, August 26, 2011

#29 What a Great Day!

Wow!  My classes went so well today.  The girls are positive, enthusiastic, involved and most of all they are learning.  We’ve talked a lot about feeling confident, taking a stab at a problem, even if they think they don’t know how to do it.  It’s easy to praise them and they love it when I say, “Wow!  Aren’t you smart!” or “Pat yourself on the back!”  Last week a bought a bag of lollipops, and once in awhile, not every day, if one of them speaks up, especially the ones I know are the most fearful, I award them a lollipop.  It’s amazing how such a small thing has boosted their morale.

Their biggest problem has been fear of doing the wrong thing, so they would do nothing.  On the mock KCSE that they took in July, the math performance was BAD.  I did a lot of the “revising” with them and when they saw how easy the probability question was and that they’d lost 10 big points on it b/c they were afraid to try, I think they began to get the idea that maybe they can do math.  It is an uphill battle with them b/c in elementary school there is so much drudgery they really hate it.  The love it when I tell them how much I hate long division and multiplication.  That’s not really math, it’s arithmetic and it’s one reason the calculator was developed.  Math is about thinking, recognizing patterns, making connections with concepts previously learned.  The form 4’s told Fr Kiriti this evening that they are feeling much more empowered!  Is that candy for the ears!

A few days ago I noticed a form 4 girl who was peering and squinting at the board and was immediately reminded of 14-year old me, who didn’t realize that other people could see much better than I could and that I needed glasses.  When I spoke to Jecinta (p) about it she told me of 2 other girls who need glasses.  Why wasn’t something done?  Africans are often philosophical about such needs.  I’m so aware of my differences with that.  If something doesn’t work, I want it fixed!  Not now—yesterday!  It’s the way I was brought up.  Everything worked in our house b/c my father knew how to fix things.  This was a problem needing to be fixed, so I asked who had the authority to permit me to take them for eye checks.  Esther (matron) arranged it and off we went.  They were very quiet and I wasn’t sure how they were processing the whole thing.  In retrospect, I think they were a bit overwhelmed to actually be getting glasses, with the prospect of being able to see, of not having headaches, and feeling eyestrain.

On the way I explained that the price of the lenses is fixed, but there was a great range in frame prices.  “This isn’t about looking beautiful, it’s about being able to see.”  Fortunately the least expensive frames were quite nice.  Each girl was tested and chose a frame.  We had hoped to get the glasses today, but all three have complicated corrections, so the lenses must be made in Nairobi.  That in itself confirmed the need.  We’re hoping to get them tomorrow afternoon or Monday at the latest.  Two of the 3 are on scholarship and the single mother of the third girl struggles to pay the fees and is in arrears.  The scholarships from the US (almost all of them are) include a cushion for just such needs and I am so happy that these girls who have struggled for 4 years b/c they couldn’t see well are at last being helped.  One of the girls, a very shy one was close to tears as she got out of the car back at SFG.  Her appreciation was more than evident.  Later Jecinta (p) told me she is one of the top students in the class, usually 1, 2 or 3.  Imagine how much more she might have learned had she had glasses from day 1.

I’ve suggested that the school might do a preliminary eye test each year—the one with the E’s.  That’s how it was discovered that I was quite near-sighted.  The test was administered by the teachers every year and in 8th grade I suddenly couldn’t do it.  Anybody know where I can get one of those old E charts?  They’re all done with mirrors and fancy machines now.  But if we had a chart, it could provide the initial indication that further testing is needed.

After the test, done in an office right across the road from the church compound, I thought I’d give the girls a treat, so we went to the small outdoor market where I like to buy my produce from women who eke out a living selling veggies and fruit.  I thought they’d like an orange or a banana.  SFG can’t afford fruit very often.  But no, 2 of them wanted avocado.  Ach! How would they eat an avocado, I thought.  Hmm, the vendor produced a knife and they cut quarters.  OK, why weren’t they eating them.  “Oh, we don’t eat them without salt.”  Salt!!!!  Who puts salt on avocados??  However they had to be eaten b/c students are not permitted take food into the school (to reduce the attraction of rodents and roaches).  So we trotted up to my little house behind the church, where they happily salted the avocados and we were on our way.

These 3 weeks, from August 16 to Sept 5 are called “tuitioning”.  That’s b/c the parents must pay extra for this compulsory time to review previously learned material.  It’s a great system in some ways, particularly for math, science and languages, courses where the material builds on itself.  But sometimes the girls come late or not at all, instead, reporting on Sept 6 for the beginning of the 3rd term.  Such was the case for a girl from Mji Wa Neema who went home (we thought) at the end of the 2nd term for the 2 week break before the tuitioning.  Only she didn’t come back.  No one could contact the family and everyone was concerned about her.  When her mother died several years ago, she was sent out after completing 7th grade to be a house girl.  Somehow Jecinta (sw) learned of it and “rescued” her, bringing her to live in the children’s home.  This is highly unusual, but the girl really wanted to go to school.  Her father was absent from their very rural home and the older brothers didn’t really care about her.   That was all the more reason to worry about her safety.

Jecinta (sw) and Julia (matron) even went to the house, a 2-day trip.  Everyone denied knowing where she was and seeming not too interested.  Jecinta, however, smelled a rat.  So when the girl showed up at the home last night, everyone was quite relieved, but more than a bit peeved.  She had gone to stay somewhere with a female friend, but had worked for a man to get funds for her shopping.  It’s hard to imagine not having money for toothpaste, tp, soap etc, but this is the plight of the girl.  She hadn’t told anyone of her plan, nor where she would be.

I have to say I really lit into her.  Not only was she irresponsible, and even disrespectful to those who have cared for her, let her come to the home, blah, blah, blah!!!  I don’t think this will happened again and I think she didn’t realize the importance of being able to contact her and the necessity of her being in school.  What’s more, her scholarship covers the shopping.  I’m not sure why she didn’t know that.

There are 3 male teachers who smoke.  I can smell it on them, and I’ve talked to them—even cut out a newspaper article about smoking and bladder cancer..  Two of them want very much to quit, but anyone who has ever smoked knows how hard it is.  I started when I was 14 and smoked for 12 years.  The only way I was able to stop was to convince myself that the reason I wasn’t having babies was b/c I smoked.  Every time I thought I couldn’t stand it, I’d ask myself, “Well, what do you want—a cigarette or a baby?”  The answer to that is very clear!  When I told them they were shocked, stunned and aghast to think I had ever smoked (me too) but also impressed.  I told them it really helps to have something like that.  One man has a darling daughter, maybe 2 or 3, of whom he is so proud.  I asked him whether he wanted to see his daughter grow up.  Did he want to know his grand children.  Every time you want a cigarette, think of that.

The other is not married, so I asked him whether there was something that important to him.  He thought for awhile and then said, “I want to be as old as you are and as energetic as you are.”  I felt humbled and almost in tears.

I asked him whether he had any at home and he admitted he had 2. I said, “Throw them in the toilet!”  He looked totally shocked.  If I’d said stuff them in your grandmother’s mouth, he couldn’t have been more stunned.  Cigarettes are bought by the each here, sh 5, (a tad more than $.05), so I handed him sh10 and said, “I am buying your 2 cigarettes, now throw them in the toilet.”  It was funny and we both laughed but I could see that would be a big deal to him.  “I’ll try”, he said.  “Just do it!”, I said in my best Nancy Reagan voice.  That was yesterday.  Today I asked whether he had done it.  He admitted he had smoked one—hadn’t even thought about our conversation, but then he remembered and he did throw out the second one.  And then he thanked me so sincerely for helping him see ways to stick to his decision.  I won’t go into it all, but I had lots of ideas, having done it myself.

He’s such a great guy, a very enthusiastic teacher, who, unfortunately will be leaving SFG to return to school.  He wants to get a master’s in engineering.  My guess is he’ll do engineering for awhile but return to teaching.  You can tell he really loves it.

But in light of his returning to school, I asked him whether he’d like me to show him all the cool things about the unit circle.  “Yes” he said, so I made a really nice one, all color coded and he loved seeing all the patterns and how easy it is to use.  My final threat was that if I smelled smoke, I would take away his unit circle.  That’s bound to do it!!!

Already I am grieving about having to leave.  This has been such a good year.  I’ve been happy, have felt successful in many ways and I do love being here.  This is as much a home to me, as Menlo Park is home.  I have just 10 more days.  I plan to make the most of them.

All for now.