#9 Scarves, Millimani High School and Nairobi + Margo’s BIG DRIVE
I really can’t keep up with all the adventures and am cherry-picking the ones that seem the best to share.
Last week was the 3rd annual scarf giving day for form 4’s. Thanks to Anita Dippery and her gang of “knitting elves”, as well as my own fingers, I arrived with over 60 scarves, enough for each form 4 and each new teacher who didn’t get one last year. As a courtesy I offered Ruth Kahiga, our new principal, the first pick. Unable to make a choice, she talked me out of 2. Esther, the matron and dear friend, had not received one last year, so I asked Ruth to call her into the office. It was evident from her face that she wondered what was going on, but when I explained she had the privilege of 2nd pick, she beamed as only Esther can beam. I had forgotten to bring my camera, so I have no pix of this part of the event. We borrowed one from Peter Murigi, deputy principal, for the rest of the ceremony, but the person taking the pix was even more of an amateur than I.
I wished I could wait until the next day to bring my own camera, but the day was so cold!!! It was the perfect time. I was freezing, myself, and the girls were all in sweaters and jackets (called jumpers here).
We gathered all the form 4’s into one classroom. They were very excited, each having chosen a number, 1 to 50, determining the order of choosing. Most of the scarves were made from bright-colored, fringy yarn and were very popular. Most of my offerings were made of granny squares, with which I used up baskets of left-over yarn. To my surprise, they all were chosen too. I had had just enough white, red, green and black (Kenya flag colors) for one scarf, which was “scarfed up” immediately. It was actually a bit of a mob scene.
Note the patches on the sweaters. They were designed by the students, sketch sent to me and then to my daughter in San Diego. During my last visit there she took me to DOVE Professional Apparel, a uniform business she once owned, where the manager arranged for his provider to make them. I brought 1000 patches in my suitcase and everyone loves them. They’ve been termed “very smart”, high praise indeed.
Fast forward to yesterday (Monday). Heather, my young guest, spent the day with 2 Life Bloom, staff members, Wanjiru and Teresia, visiting the women’s prison and the beginnings of the learning center LB is constructing. I joined them in the afternoon for a visit to Milimani High School, situated along with Milimani Elementary School, right next door to us. In fact, Mji Wa Neema shares a wall with the play ground.
The reason for the visit was to introduce the high school students to Heather, whose women’s group at her church in Tacoma, WN, has sent funds to purchase “sanitary towels” for girls at the school. This may seem the most mundane of gifts, but girls miss several days of school each month for lack of funds to purchase them—or even worse, sell themselves for money to buy. This school serves the teenagers of the Naivasha slum and other poor kids. When money for food and rent is absent, sanitary towels have a low priority.
Among the many works of LB is talking to students about making wise choices in life, to tell them they are loved, unique and worth every effort to bring them to responsible adulthood. The 300 +/– students were crowded into a double classroom, cheek-by-jowl. We sat almost knee-to-knee with the front row. They sang their school anthem for us, and as Wanjiru, Catherine’s wonderful second in command, spoke to them they were rapt. They soaked her words like thirsty sponges and her words were truly inspired. Heather, too, received that same attention (at 4 pm, from kids who had been in class since 7:30 am!) She is a a pastor and speaks very movingly. Her message is full of God’s love and how enriched we all are when we are loving to each other. As they talked both to the boys and the girls I pondered how important it is that the boys come to understand what the girls must endure with their periods and their poverty.
I talked about the mythology of girls and math and asked how many liked math. A few hands were tentatively raised, but soon many hands came up. It turned out that the woman whom I thought was the principal is the math teacher, with 5 sections of more than 80 students each. Talk about dedication! She had not realized I was also a math teacher, but immediately invited me (insisted) to spend a day teaching her students. That will happen next week, I think.
Catherine had been called to a meeting of the water board, of which she is the new chair, so was unable to join us until we were almost finished. She walked in the door and the room expoded with joy. Both boys and girls whooped to see her. She comes as often as she can to listen, counsel and spread her encouragement. She is a gift to all.
I was very impressed with the students at Milimani High. They so exemplify the struggle to get ahead in this town. We may question the means by which they find the money to buy uniforms and pay school fees (even this school is not free), but they are desperate to get the education they know is the only road out of the slums. I’m truly looking forward to teaching them.
Heather was scheduled to return to Nairobi to met up with friend, Njeri. We decided rather than find someone to babysit her on a matatu, we would combine her trip with ours to the Maasai market where Judy and I go to find the fun things we sell at home to support our various causes here. Ben, the accountant, agreed to drive my car and to be our chief haggler, and Julia, the children’s home matron, went along too. In the past we had taken Jecinta on these jaunts, but Ben proved to be every bit the bargainer that Jecinta is. Again, I forgot my camera, but fortunaely Heather took some pix.
My problem is always “will I be able to get this home and can I sell it for enough to make it worthwhile?” I found some wonderful nativity scenes set inside beautifully carved gourds. I bought only 3 and wonder how I can transport them, as they are a bit fragile. Other nativity sets were so cute, but I knew they would be crushed creches long before they reached SFO.
After several hours our purses empty and arms loaded with treasures, we called it a day, agreeing we would come again. I had decided to expand my driving range—not in downtown Nairobi, which is a nightmare, but just out of that main traffic. We stopped for lunch in a little café I know and afterwards I took over the driving. Judy was gripping her seat, not, she assured me, because of my driving, but that of all the others, particularly the ubiquitous matatus. However it didn’t take long before my 60+ years of driving kicked in and I felt quite comfortable. The 4 lane high way gave way to 2 lanes and before I knew it, we came out of the highlands and came down to the Great Rift Valley. We were soon back safely in Naivasha and Judy could breathe again! Nap time.
#8 A Walkabout in Naivasha and a Visit to a Kikuyu Chief Sunday, June 24, 2012
Yesterday Njeri dropped Heather off with us, then went to Nakuru to visit her brother and her 3-month old niece. We grabbed our every-present cloth bags and headed for the “old supermarket”, my one-stop shopping center in those early years. I had not seen it yet this year so it was fun to wander up and down the aisles and reminisce about the old days. Much has changed in Naivasha, but the old store remains much as I remember it from 2005 – the narrow aisles, the up-ramp to the back of the store, the hardware off to the left. Upstairs is shoes and clothing, bedding and linen, appliances and furniture.
It’s a long trudge back up the hill to our little house. I wanted to go via the back alley again for old times sake. There was one area that I used to avoid b/c it was where the glue-sniffing street boys hung out. However I haven’t seen any of that this year. I know efforts are being made to get them off the streets where they commit petty crimes, mostly theft, to support the glue habit. Several organizations have established homes where they try to rehab the boys and get them into school. I’m sure I’ll learn more about this as time goes on. Anyway, we trudged up through the alley, along the plastic strewn by-ways, stepping over muddy ruts and potholes. The smells are sometimes pretty strong, but very familiar. A lot of building has occurred in this area, but the passageway remains open, so we got to the lower gate by the bore-hole. The parish pumps water through a device that removes about 85% of the excess fluoride from the water and sells it at a reasonable price. Much is sold through boys/men who fill 2 50-gallon containers then peddle the water as they drive the donkey carts through the residential area. It’s so painful to watch how they beat those poor animals as they struggle to pull the heavy carts. Unfortunately the full barrels go uphill and the empty ones come down.
Earlier I had called my old friend Simon to see whether it would work to come visit him — it would.
I met Simon in 2005 when I first went to Ndingi. He was one of 4 math teachers. During that visit and in subsequent years I grew very close to 3 of them. Simon particularly took care of me, bringing tea every day at 11 and a plate of lunch (always more than I could eat) a couple hours later. I visited his classes, along with those of Regina and Cecilia, taught some lessons, discussed math issues and teaching techniques.
None of them is still at Ndingi. Regina teaches up the hill in Kingangop, Cecilia is in Narok in Massailand teaching at a girls school, and Simon has left teaching. Several years ago he applied for the job of chief and was hired. It is actually a government position mainly to provide arbitration at a local level to resolve disputes w/o recourse to the courts, which is costly, time-consuming and subject to great corruption. He has a small office to which he reports each day, accompanied by his elders, generally 2 or 3. Sometimes it is very difficult b/c he is young (40’s). If the disputants are older and they don’t like the decision they may refuse to comply. By Kikuyu tradition, it is not the place of the young to dictate to the older. Even the presence of the elders may not force them to accept the decision—particularly in disputes over land. There are laws concerning most of the disputes and he is quite assiduous in consulting the law. However many of the people in his area are ignorant of the law. On occasion he must call upon his police assistants to enforce.
We drove up past SFG to where he lives. He came running up to the road to greet us and ride up to the small village where his office is. Here is a picture of the 2 of us in his simple office. Note the picture of the president of Kenya on the wall behind his desk.
He is quite a remarkable man, with a beautiful smile, a ready wit and a fair mind.
Going back, he invited us to his house for tea and to visit his family. I had met them all last year, but Judy and Heather had not. His wife was in the middle of her laundry, out in what one might call the driveway. She’s a very welcoming person who put aside her chores and seemed genuinely pleased for our visit. Here is Simon, his daughter, friend, wife and son.
Upon learning about Heather’s adoption of an Ethiopian child, he quipped, “Why are you going to Ethiopia? I’ll give you one of mine!”
He showed us the house 10 feet from his that he inherited from his mother some months ago. He is renovating and expanding it to fit his family better.
Judy and I produced a great dinner. She cooked and I made the salad. Njeri had brought us 2 big bags of goodies, mostly wonderful produce, mangos, avocados, lemons, eggplant, asparagus as well as a can of coconut milk and some mango chutney. We ate early so that Heather and Njeri could leave before dark (7pm at this time of year). Fr. Kiriti is very cautious about being on the road after dark, so I didn’t want them to take any chances.
This morning they joined us for 8:30 mass, but went back to their fancy hotel by the lake for breakfast and to view the animals. They’ve seen giraffes, hippos and waterbucks from very close. Lake Naivasha is known for the hippo population. They leave the water and come up to the grass to graze in the evening. They are very dangerous, so the hotel management does not allowed guests to walk around w/o a guard. Last night they were maybe 15 feet from a mother and child, but the animals were bent on their dinner and paid no attention.
Njeri has now returned to Nairobi and Heather has moved to a much humbler accommodation in the rectory, in the room Judy used in the early years, before we moved up to the children’s home. We all took a rest time and now Judy and Heather are preparing dinner. I am staying away b/c I am catching a cold and don’t want to infect them.
All for now,
#7 What a Busy Week!! Friday, June 22, 2012
I wonder sometimes why I take on some projects. I’ve spent all my spare time writing up solutions to some very hairy problems. Two weekends ago a team of 10 girls went to a very prestigious girls high school for a math competition. They came back very low, having met such hard questions and not doing well at all. As I read over the questions I wondered how many of them I could solve. But in true Margo fashion, I decided they needed to see them worked out, as many as I could do, b/c even though some of them were inappropriately hard, it would possibly provide them with some ideas. Well—have I sweated over those damned problems!!!! I finally finished the form 4 questions yesterday, having found at least one that was impossible with the tools they have, and several others with answers that clearly didn’t work. I also saw that they put a number of the worst problems at the beginning. Our girls were not savvy enough to read through to find the easy ones, but slavishly struggled with just a couple and got virtually no points. So sad. Now I’m working on the form 3 questions and just realized this afternoon I have misinterpreted the information. I’d really spent a lot of time on it, only to see I hadn’t read carefully. ACH!!! Why do I do this to myself?
Yesterday Judy and I went to Nairobi with Joyce, the woman who has sewn so many of the bags I’ve brought back. We wanted to choose the fabrics and besides, it’s fun to go. I recalled how exotic it sounded to me when I came those first few years. Wow! Going to Nairobi! Now it has become kind of old hat. It’s not so bad if I ride with Fr Kiriti, although the way he hurtles down the hair-pin curves on his favorite mountain road turns what few brown hairs I have left a standing-straight up gray. With Joyce, we have to take a matatu. How I always end up in the back seat is a mystery, but they are the worst.
Our driver was very good and we made it in about 1 ½ hours, a good pace. Joyce took off with Judy and me trailing behind like a couple of housegirls. We had to keep her in view, b/c we were lost 2 minutes after leaving the matatu. We searched through 5 or 6 fabric shops, all run by people from India, who have cornered the fabrics market here. Some are very welcoming and some are very sour and need to take some classes in customer service and making the clientele feel welcome.
The choices were hard. We saw so many wonderful patterns, I could have bought 3 times as much as I did. We got some really pretty ones. I hope all of you will agree. Be thinking about those folks on your gift list who have not yet received an African shopping bag. Even here we get comments about how beautiful they are. We never let them put our purchases in plastic bags. Some just don’t get it, but one young man said, “I like you guys.”
I was wearing my sweater of Kenyan colors and a flag on the front. Lots of people noticed and some commented, Habari Kenya (welcome to Kenya). But it didn’t cut any ice with the matatu riders coming back—rear seats again. Only this time the roof was so low I banged my head on in. I knew that 1 ½ hours would leave my neck permanently crinked. I actually complained, like the ugly American. The man in front of me, got up and switched. The only solace I felt for being so selfish is that he was much younger than I am. Sometimes the gray hair and wrinkles are an advantage, as generally the sho sho (grandmother) is treated with great respect. here
Upon returning, we remembered we had to get a new gas canister from the supermarket, as ours was empty. We trudged down to get the car, completely forgetting we had to take the empty canister back. “Oh well, I’ll just pay the deposit. They’ll refund it when I return the canister in a day or 2”. Oops! The deposit was over $35! Yes, I will get it back, but I shelled out a lot that day. Julia, the matron here at Mji Wa Neema, installed it for us and later the “gas expert” showed up to try to discover why our house smelled like gas. It turned out the oven knob had been turned slightly, but there is no pilot light. Fr. Kiriti had always told me the oven had never been connected to the gas and gave me some poppycock about how it was hard or couldn’t be done or something. Well, it is connected and we leaked out a lot of gas, which was why our cylinder was empty. So now maybe we can bake once in awhile. AND our house doesn’t smell like gas any more.
Today was very special—made so by the visit of Heather James, whom I first met when she and my son Mark were 3 –year olds in the same nursery school class. Her mother and I have been good friends for more than 40 years and I have loved following Heather’s adventures, which include spending 2 years in the Tibetan Plateau of western China. There she worked with an agency promoting health and education. She is also the pastor of a Presbyterian church in Tacoma, WA, and is in Kenya awaiting finalization of her adoption of an Ethiopian 2-year old.
We arranged for her to speak to the students, who were rapt. Heather’s pastoral experience were clearly in evidence. She speaks so well, funny, serious, deep but never boring.
Heather is a guest in Nairobi of her Grinnell College friend Njeri Gakonyo who also accompanied her to Addis Ababa and drove her to Naivasha. They joined Judy and me for chicken marsala, beautifully prepared by Judy, who loves to cook. Lucky me. It was so good to catch up with Heather and to get to know Njeri, who works for the UN agency headed by Kofi Annan (can’t remember the name) but it focuses on conservation and the environment. She is also chair of the board of the Green Belt Movement, begun by Wangari Maathai. She’s a pretty high powered lady, you can believe.
After they left, Simon came in to complete a project he and several of the other boys began last night—building a periscope for a school assignment. They came to borrow our floor, as the one in their dining hall is being replaced, thanks to Judy’s good efforts.
The other guys evidently had given up, but Simon is one of those special kids. Even at an early age it was clear that this boy would go far. Here he is last night, at the beginning of the project. It couldn’t proceed to the end until Judy bought some mirrors for them today. Tonight he completed is and it works great! This is Simon, with Evans in the background—another great kid.
Enough for now.
The following blog is from Judy Murphy. Judy and Margo have been friends since childhood. She was a social worker in Portland, OR, before retiring and has been member of the board of Kenya Help for a few years. In “retirement”, she’s made nearly many trips to Kenya as Margo. She focuses her efforts on the Mji Wa Neema orphanage and working closely with Jecinta, the parish social worker.
Thank you Judy for all you’ve done / all you do!!!
June 19, 2012
Dear Friends and Family,
There are so many wonderful experiences and things happening that I don’t know where to start. But I guess I will start with Fr. Kiriti’s leaving.
He was scheduled to leave on the 9th of June but the Bishop had not and still has not named a replacement so he did not feel comfortable leaving without that in place. He is so loved by everyone and he was so busy finishing up all his projects etc, attending parties and visiting his family that he would run from one thing to the next. The children had him for dinner last Sunday. Julia and Agnes made a great dinner. Margo and I bought chickens and fruit, the kids wrote poems and songs. So, after dinner Jecinta asked each of the children to say something and that was the hardest part, most of them and us were in tears, they could not sing their songs or recite the poem. He is the only father they have known and he has a real relationship with each of them. He bosses them, he yells, and he hugs and loves them and they know it.
The man is extraordinary. The church he has built is beautiful, the parish organization is exceptional and it will be just fine without him but he made it happen.
Since he has left things are still getting done, windows in the orphanage were replaced yesterday, a door was put on a room that hasn’t had a door forever, the kitchen sink was finally hooked up and the new floor in the dining room will be replaced starting tomorrow. Most of these were things I wanted to do but I did not think we had time before he left. It’s like he is hovering overhead finishing all the tasks. I love it!
Jecinta and I are still working on placing the young mother on the grandmothers land. We went to the rescue center to meet with the social worker there. The rescue center is designed to house abandoned children. There are probably 40 children there. They are fed and clothed but not sent to school. It is cheerful, the kids are clean and well clothed and the social workers work with the mothers or parents to place the children back with their families. Nancy’s children have been there for over a year, The 4 year old could not walk or talk when he came but is doing well now. Nancy has seen the land, knows we are building a house and providing food and household supplies and she is in agreement with the plan but will have to closely followed. She has not had the three children at one time. I am hoping the grandmothers will help her to get settled and welcome her. There are other children in this little community for the children to play with. this situation needs a lot of prayer.
Monday: Ann the social worker and David the rep from the NGO picked us up and we went shopping for the materials to build the house. He David knew a business where we could order everything we needed and they would deliver [by donkey cart no less]. It is amazing how they do things so quickly. This included aluminum sheets for the roof, posts, rafters, side poles and horizontal poles. door locks, nails and material for the pit toilet. The house will be made of mud and sand bricks which Jecinta thinks we are going to work on too. We will provide the household things she needs: beds, mattresses, cooking utensils etc. She is very fortunate to have this much help.
After shopping we drove over an hour on the worst roads to the grandmothers land to see if the existing house had been dismantled, which it hasn’t. The woman who was there left. The house is hers but not the land. Jecinta will give them a deed to the land when they have been there 5 years and she was not here long enough. We arranged to have the house dismantled, it is made of aluminum sheets, and set aside for her. We also took food for the big family next door who have 10 children who are always hungry. Bread and bananas. It is beautiful up there, I just wish it was more accessible.
The kids are busy studying for midterms so 3 or 4 come over in the evening for math assistance from Margo. She teaches all day but is willing to help anyone who comes. Some of the children have learning problems some are so bright. They love to hang out with us, go to the store, run errands, take our garbage, etc. I love saying the rosary with them in the evening. I hope they do well in their exams.
Well Jecinta is going to meet me in a few minutes so I best wind this up. We are going to Nakuru on school business, a long matatu ride. I forgot to say that Margo bought Fr. Kiriti’s car so we do have transportation at times. It is much faster.
Love to all.