26 Visiting and Visitors

#26-2013 Visiting and Visitors 

Hmmm, I really wanted to spend some one-on-one time with Stephanus and Joy Venter, but they are busy kids—he’s a musician and she’s a swimmer.  Well….maybe I could do the hated drive to Nakuru, once again taking my life in my hands.  My friend Agnes Mwamburi, who lives in Nakuru, had said she would come visit me on Saturday.  Aha! The two-birds-with-one-stone excuse!  Oh, yes, and I could pick out some more of their taka taka earrings.   AND Fr. Kiriti was in Nakuru.  This would be the perfect opportunity for him to meet these folks, whom I knew he would love.  Not just 2 birds, but 4!!!  “Hi Lydia, I’m thinking about coming to Nakuru on Saturday to spend some time with the kids.  Would that be convenient?”  Lydia never says no to anything, I’m convinced.  So after delivering a packed suitcase to Mary Fry’s hotel down by the lake—so her friend, Nora, could take it to the US on her 2-suitcase allowance, I struck off for Nakuru, this time not going out of town the wrong way!  I’m getting to be such a big girl! 

The road was jammed with the usual snails disguised to resemble trucks, dare devil matatus, and speeding private cars, jockeying for position to overtake the trucks at the first opportunity.  I confess to being part of that contingent.  No donkey carts on this road. 

It takes about 1 hour and soon I was approaching Nakuru.  The Venters live on the close side and I thought I would recognize the turnoff and did—about 10 feet too late.  ARGH!  I had to make a u-turn on that busy highway.  Wait, wait, wait, “Oh, yeah, here’s a chance.  NO!!!!, that piki piki shot in front of me just at the wrong time.  Wait, wait, wait.  Now?  No, not enough space.  Wait, wait, wait.  OK, NOW!”  Well, that wasn’t much of a nail biter for my plucky readers.  Obviously I made it or I’d be writing this from my cloud! 

The turnoff is a hairpin, narrow, rutted and lined with small shops.  “Oops, can’t go empty- handed.”  It’s not done here and besides, they have fed me and whoever happened to be with me several times.  They have 9 mouths to feed, plus the menagerie—dogs, rabbits, LARGE lizard, snakes (they’re very small and eat only eggs).  What I didn’t know is they have now added a cat, although Lydia was an avowed cat hater—until tiny, black “Tiger” wormed her way into Lydia’s heart.  She was given to one of the small boys who immediately HAD to have her.  Lydia bit her tongue and agreed.  Now Tiger gets the pick of the kitchen leavings and is beloved by all-particularly since she has caught and consumed 2 rats.  She’s not much bigger than a rat herself. 

I stopped at a tiny shop to purchase tomatoes, carrots, shelled fresh peas, and a popo, local lingo for papaya.  I was greeted by Bella, the small dog and the frantic barking of the big dogs, fortunately penned away during the day.  All the kids came to give me big hugs, and of course Lydia and Wilco.  It seems like we’ve known each other for years.  

They’ve moved the taka taka earring “factory” to a small outbuilding just outside the kitchen door.  There I found more delightful earrings, but not very many I and teasingly complained that she’d been selling my merchandise to others.  It’s wonderful how they practically walk out of the house.  Everyone who sees them immediately loves them, all the more after they learn they’re made of flattened bottle tops. 


Joy, in addition to being a swimmer, is a pastry baker par excellence.  She was preparing a South African delicacy, while I observed the process.  First a flaky dough is pressed into muffin tins (not the ones the earrings are baked in, I was assured).  Stephanus played sous chef for this job.  They were then filled with a dab of apricot jam and topped with a mixture of beaten egg white and coconut.  These are baked in a very tiny oven but they came out perfectly – which seemed a miracle to me, who burns everything if I don’t use a timer.  


Lydia claimed a bit of oven time to bake some yummy rolls, while making a hamburger stew and a salad.  As we waited dinner, she must have noted I was salivating over Joy’s goodies, b/c she murmured into my ear, I think you could taste this one.  It has a bit of a flaw in the crust.  The crust looked perfect to me but you can be sure she didn’t have to offer twice.  Oh, my, a taste of heaven.  Just a perfect 2 bites.  She said someone had ordered a dozen from Joy’s Delights, her part-time bakery business, and since the recipe made more, she thought Joy would send me home with some extras.  Plus, we each had one for our dessert.  What a treat to be with them. 

Just as we finished, Fr. Kiriti called.  He was given instructions to the turnoff and Wilco sped off on his mini motor bike to lead the way back to the compound.  Like me, Fr. Kiriti was immediately charmed by the family, minus the snakes, for which he has no love!!!!  He toured the earring factory and saw the other imaginative items they make.  Then Agnes called to say she was at the junction (which we assumed was the same turnoff).  “I’ll go get her.  Kiriti, go with me, I want you to drive the car to see whether you think it’s OK”.  (He’s very fussy about his cars.)  Off we go to the turnoff.  No Agnes.  “Agnes, where are you?”  “I’m at the junction.”  “I’m at the junction, too, but I don’t see you.”  I hand the phone to Kiriti and they animatedly converse in Swahili.  “She’s down at another junction,” as he swings onto the road.  He spots her on the other side of the road and now it’s his turn to make a u-turn.  He, too, is finally successful and while we’re getting there he says, “Margo, I think there are 2.  No, 3, now 4 of them!”  To myself, “Wait, she’s spending the night and I have 2 bedrooms.”  ACH!  This is going to be interesting.  Moreover, I had some stew left over from Wednesday night when I’d cooked for an army (Catherine and her 3 children).  I’d fed Kennedy with it the next night and still had enough for 2, but definitely not for 5, 3 of whom were healthy young folks with healthy appetites.  Think, Margo! 

Back in the Venter’s compound, tea was ready.  Fr. Kiriti took off, claiming he needed to meet with the priest in his home parish to arrange a mass to celebrate, then prepare his sermon.  I was indeed presented with some of Joy’s delights.  We said our goodbyes, and all 5 piled into my car.  

On the way, my head was problem-solving.  Aha, I’ll fix hamburgers—no cheeseburgers—American style.  Back in Naivasha, I pulled into the parking, handed Agnes some money and pointed her in the direction of the butchery across the road for the minced meat, while I headed into the Naivas to see what I could find there.  Yes, they had buns that would do nicely, catsup, even pickles and mayo, but no lettuce.  Oh well, this would have to do.  Turning into the church compound, I parked again and we crossed to the outdoor market where I bought tomatoes, carrots, watermelon, bananas, popo, and cucumbers.  Finally at home, I put everyone to work in my small kitchen.  “Here, you get to scrape the carrots and cut them into strips—like this.  You can do the cucumber strips, you get to make the hamburger patties—like this, thin.  You get to make cheese slices, you cut the buns, you slice the pickles,” (which turned out to be sweet, not dill) and I tried to light the broiler—no luck there, it went out the minute I closed the door.  Oh, well, I’ll try the toaster.  Hmmm, the tops are too thick and burned a bit, but we made do.  

Two of the younger set were Agnes’s son, Musa (form 2) and her daughter, Fatima (form 4).  The third was Joy, a university student doing an internship with Agnes’s organization.  They were all delightful, everyone joining in and being very observant of the process.  My pan held only 3 at a time, but finally all the food was ready and we sat down.  

They loved the hamburgers!  Agnes is so busy with her women’s groups and her peace and reconciliation committees that the kids often must prepare the evening meal.  They declared that hamburgers would definitely be added to the menu.  

Right in the middle of dinner, someone came bursting through the door.  It was Cyrus!—oldest of the Mji Wa Neema kids, now a 22-year old second year medical student.  He had come down from Nairobi to see me, but seeing I had guests, withdrew until later. 

It was lots of fun, kind of crazy, but great.  Agnes talked about her P&R committee and having had a meeting with judges and all sorts of bigwigs.  Evidently the kids had not realized what major work their mom has been doing.  She thanked me later, “My kids now have a much better understanding  and appreciation of their mom’s work.”  After dinner the kids cleaned up the kitchen, the dishes and even mopped my floor, while Agnes and I repaired to my tiny bedroom, where the only place to sit is my bed.   I leaned against the headboard, while she lay at the foot, head against the side wall and we began to catch up.  She is one tough lady and is fast becoming SOMEBODY in the P&R world.  She was so successful in reducing the tensions in Nakuru in the last election that she has now been asked to come to Naivasha to work her special magic here. “It’s too complicated to explain all she did, but I was greatly impressed with her perseverance and her creativity in addressing a very complex situation.  

The kids were welcomed in the orphanage.  Many of the residents are home with extended families for the August break so there was plenty of space.  I had had no time to put sheets on the bed in the other room for Agnes, so I left them for the kids, who manfully (womanfully?) did that chore, though they must have thought I was a very strange hostess. 

Agnes and I might have gone on all night if Cyrus hadn’t texted me, “Are you guys finished yet?”  Agnes was tired anyway, so I got Mom and kids all squared away.  Then Cyrus came in for our annual talk-fest.  


 I am his sho sho (grandmother) and he always comes to share his year, the struggles, the successes, his dreams and his agonies.  He will be finished in a couple of years, then hopes to get an internship in the US.  When I mentioned I live close to Stanford, a 10-minute bike ride, he got very excited.  Then he got REALLY excited when I reminded him that one of his sponsors works for Genentech.  He is very interested in pharmacology and hopes to specialize in something, the name of which I can’t remember pharamco-something-or-other.  Dreams are wonderful and I do hope he can realize his.  He’s a great guy, bright, passionate about medicine, idealistic and wanting so much to move his country forward in whatever way he can. 

You are tired and so am I, but this story goes on and on—more visitors.  Will need to write part II, “Son of Visiting and Visitors”, tomorrow.  Otherwise this will be a book, not a blog! 




#25 We Grow Slowly by Slowly

#25-2013  We Grow Slowly by Slowly

The kids were early again today.  I was a lazy bum, getting up late, then showering and washing hair.  They had already rearranged the tables and were sitting expectantly when I arrived.  All were there, plus 2 more, an SFG form 1 and her form 1 friend from another school.

I had decided to let the students demonstrate the word problems I had given them.  They did a good job and were very proud of themselves, except the last 2 were more complicated so I took over.  We had to talk a lot about them but in the end everyone had a smile, so I knew they got it.

Then we talked about logs!  Oh my, they have so little understanding.  But we slogged away, talking about a variety of log questions and soon the small smiles began to appear.  I felt sorry for the form 1’s who have never heard of logs, which are forms 2 and 3 material.  However, they were very game and said they had followed.  We will certainly hit this again tomorrow.

I almost had to shoo them away at noon, nearly 3 hours later.  I’ve never had such an eager group and it’s really fun.

Catherine texted me in the middle, saying she was training a new group of peer educators, women in sex work who volunteer to educate their colleagues regarding gender-based violence and other issues of great concern to them.  Because they were such an open group, she and Wanjiru decided I should join them.  Since they were meeting quite near, I hopped over after my favorite lunch (peanut butter sandwich, banana and yogurt!)  Wanjiru is wonderful the way she talks to the women, straightforward, respectful and able to discuss even very sensitive issues easily.  It makes the women more comfortable when the issues that make them feel ashamed are brought out and shown the light of day – particularly abusive relationships.  Every one of them had been married at one time or other, all had left the abusive partners.  One older woman was heartily applauded when she told her story of getting fed up with abusive treatment.  She beat up her husband, then packed up and left!

I spoke to them of the sisterhood of all women, each helping others in what ways we can.  They laughed when I mentioned I have told Americans that they are not sex workers b/c they love sex.  They are there because they have children to feed, rent to pay, school fees and medical costs to meet.  Although I was fortunate to have a very kind and loving husband, I am well aware of the damage to one’s self-respect done by abuse, especially from a lover.  I talked about my work with girls, hoping to save them from the desperation of the streets.  Then I invited any of them with high school aged children to bring them tomorrow to Mji Wa Neema for my math workshop.  Most have younger children, but some will come.

I don’t have a picture b/c they are sensitive about being identified with their profession.  But I will tell you they are like any PTA, just a group of women.  There is nothing about them to identify them with sex work.  No one had a scarlet A on her frontice.

Afterwards I walked down to the area of town where most of the shops are (downtown Naivasha?)  It’s probably ¼ mile, but the way is rocky and one must ever watch for marauding piki pikis, donkey carts and matatus, runaway bicycles and whatever.



One of the teachers had asked me for a picture so he wouldn’t forget me.  I told him he wouldn’t forget me with or without a picture, but I’d try to get down to the photo shop to get one printed.  A roving photographer had taken a nice pic of Maya and me, so he gets 2 for 1!

Maya had asked me to give that picture to another teacher, but I have it posted to my refrigerator with a magnet and am loathe to part with it, so having it scanned and copied serve a dual purpose.  Moreover I can now send it to Maya to add to her 500 or so pix she took while here.

ImageI met Joyce to see whether we could find a certain fabric for cloth shopping bags in a local shop, but no luck.  She will need to go to Nairobi for it.  She thinks little of it and doesn’t mind going, but of course I have to pay her fare, about $6.25, which would be a lot for someone supporting herself by sewing.

By that time it was sprinkling and I feared that before I got home I’d be soaking.  You may recall yesterday it rained elephants and giraffes (that’s how it rains here – no cats and dogs!)  I approached a piki piki.  “How much to the Catholic Church” (remember, this is ¼ mile).  “Fifty bob (about $.60).” “No, it’s more like 20 bob.”  “No I won’t take you for 20.”  “Ok, I’ll find someone who will.”  A bit further on another guy, “How much to the Catholic Church?” “Fifty bob.”  “No it’s more like 20” “Ok I’ll give you a discount, 40 bob.” (quizzical look from me), “That’s a mzungu price.”  (big chuckle), “OK, I’ll take you for 30 bob.”  “Done” and I climbed on.  It’s not that I mind the extra amount, but I get really tired of paying twice (or thrice) as much as a local.  Sometimes I bargain them down and then pay their original amount, making sure they understood it’s the principal, not the cost.  Most of them are very nice and this one was no exception.  He wanted to know what I’m doing here, since I’m obviously not the usual tourist and clearly not a teenager traveling or doing overseas volunteering.  We chatted on the way, each pleased with the transaction.

The sprinkle disappeared before we even arrived.  No elephants and giraffes today!


24 Shughili Shughili

#24-2013 Shughili Shughili

I’ve used this term in the past-it means miscellaneous.  That’s what this report will be.

First of all, my “tuitioning” has begun.  The group is very small, just 9, but a great group and the size makes it easy to ensure everyone understands.  I have 5 boys who are sponsored by Mary Fry’s Bloom Where Planted organization.  They’ve been moved from a very bad school (not her choice) to a much better one, but find themselves very behind in math.  Two are the Ventner children – remember them, the Afrikaner couple from Nakuru who adopted 7 African children?  They make the taka taka earrings, which you are going to love.  The other 2 are Selina, a form 3 at SFG who lives here at Mji Wa Neema and Miriam, the younger sister of Jane Doe.  I wish there were more, especially girls, but I’ll take what I can get.  I realized when I awakened last night that it would have been smart to have it announced in mass.  If the parents knew, the kids would be here.  Oh, well.


Selina, Daniel Eric, Samuel, Miriam


Miriam, XXX, Japheth, Sephanus, Joy (Ventner dad in background)

Yesterday morning, day 1, I was ready at 8:45, tables arranged, new boxes of chalk and new eraser at the ready, smile on my face and eager to go.  9 am arrived, 9:10, 9:20—oh, my, maybe no one is coming.  9:30 they arrived, promptly on African time.

As usual, I asked them to think of the topics they find hard.  Quickly we had a list of 8.  They were very quiet and attentive at first, not sure what to expect, but as time went on they began to relax and I could see they were liking the day.  I had to invite them for a tea break 3 times before they stopped working.  They were back in their seats very quickly, ready for more.  The 5 Mary Fry boys had been brought by James, her wonderful helper, who said he’d just brought them so they could see where we were.  They’d be back tomorrow.  Oh, no, I urged them to stay, which they did.  They had no paper, pens, books, calculators—nada, but fortunately I always have plenty of those.  Today they arrived fully equipped, even with newly purchased calculators a al Mary.  As usual I had to admonish them not to use the calculator when they could use their brains.  “God gave you a good brain and expects you to use it.”

Because everyone was late, I suggested in the future we begin at 9:30.  I’m happy to have an extra ½ hour to sleep, but no, this morning they had all arrived by 9:10.  That’s OK, I was just happy to see them and to know they were eager to learn.  Every year it’s a different experience.  This is the first time I’ve done it outside of Ndingi.  But this is very handy for me, just about 10 feet from my doorway.

I’ve always been careless, thinking more about whether the kids were understanding my explanations than whether I multiplied 2 X 3 and got 6.  (Sometimes I get 5!) But today I made so many dumb mistakes, mostly arithmetic, but some just writing the wrong number, I had to laugh.  We’ve now dubbed them “Margo Mistakes.”  ARGH!

We’ve talked about finding the volume and surface area of the frustrum of a pyramid (look it up!) and about solving a system of equations—guaranteed to be on any exam.  The surface area is always hard for kids and these are no exception.  However, feedback that I’ve received from Mary and from the Ventners indicate they are getting it.  The Ventner kids are particularly challenging b/c they have been home schooled and evidently have not followed the Kenyan curriculum.  Yet they will need to pass the KCSE, so must face even the useless topics as well as the good ones.  They are great kids, serious, hard working and very grateful.  We’ve agreed that on Thursday they will stay later to try to bring them along.

Tomorrow we’ve agreed to talk about logarithms, always a bugaboo for students where ever they are.  Everyone agreed that would be a worthy topic.

Catherine had told me the Life Bloom ladies were having a therapeutic dance workshop in the old church building offered by some volunteers from Holland.  She had encouraged me to come, but I couldn’t go until I finished my math class.  So I trotted over to the church, greeting ladies whom I have known for years.  I walked over to a group outside the church, being taught what turned out to be a self defense class – something very important to any woman, but particularly pertinent for sex workers who are often brutalized.  It was being taught by a wiry young man with dreads, whom, after I heard him speak for few minutes, I knew to be African American.  “You sound like an American”.  “I am”.  “Me too.  I’m Margo.”  He is a photographer, name of Ric Francis, from LA, Peru, and now in Nairobi; used to work for AP but got tired of that.  He’s working on a photo-journalist story about Life Bloom, which should be great!  If he sends me information, I will send it on to my readers.

As we chatted, Catherine appeared, telling me that daughter, Laura, was in the car, having just been released from school for August break.  Catherine needed to talk to the leader of the dance group, so I went over to greet Laura.  She and her brother Louis are great fans of Margo’s grilled cheese sandwiches, and I figured she’d be hungry, and indeed she was.  After calling to Catherine, “I’m kidnapping your daughter,” we went to Margo’s house where we had MGCS’s with sliced tomatoes, tea and fruit.  “I have some errands to do; do you want to wait for mom here?  You can sit here at the table or sit on the bed in Maya’s room.”  “I’ll sit on the bed.”  I went off to my room and suddenly felt tired, soon falling asleep.  I was vaguely aware of the rain beginning, but before long could hardly doze through the very loud thunder and the pounding rain.  The power went off of course and in the meantime Catherine texted she was sending someone to fetch Laura.  I looked in on her and, sure enough, she was sound asleep, thunder notwithstanding.  Kids are always exhausted when they leave school.  We agreed I’d let her sleep until the rain stopped, then take her home.  About ½ hour later, the rain having slowed to a drizzle, Trizah knocked my door.  Laura awakened and we hopped in the car.  After dropping them I needed to hit the market, as my cupboards were bare as Mother Hubbard’s.  Going in that direction I saw 3 LB ladies walking along.  “Anybody need a ride?”  “We’re just going down by the round-about on the way to Nakuru (about 1 mile)”  “OK, hop in.”

On the way back from that I passed the big outdoor market, where I stopped for produce.  As I walked in, feeling sorry for those poor ladies, many of whom had no tarp over their goods, nor their heads, I noted several who seemed to be laughing at my bare toed sandals.  Yes, they were getting wet and muddy, but then my toes been wet and muddy before.  It’s not terminal.  “What are you looking for?”  “Tomatoes”.  “Over there.” “No they’re too green” (they were GREEN).  Further on I found some riper ones.  “How much?” “Four for 20.”  Never 5 shillings each, always “4 for 20”.  “OK, I want 12”.  Even the most unlettered can calculate that’s sh 60.  She started to pick green ones.  “No, I’ll pick them.”  She reached for the ubiquitous plastic bag.  “No bag, I’ll put them in here,” indicating my lovely African cloth shopping bag, which I always carry.  I bought onions, bananas, and a watermelon, about all I could carry, and picked my way among the mud puddles to the gate and back to the car.  Then on to the Naivas supermarket, where I replenished my bare larder and, evading the guy who sells note cards and always wants me to look at them (they’re not very interesting), lugged my heavy bags to the car.  On the way home I saw Julia (matron at the children’s home) walking to her afternoon/evening class.  She is studying Information Technology, and has been working very hard.  I find her studying in the dining hall every day, except now she has been displaced by my class.  “Need a ride?”  I was beginning to feel like a taxi, but Julia is so good to me and wonderful with the kids.  It’s a treat to be able to do something for her.


Julia with Simon in the kitchen

Now it is dark, Simon has come in several times while I type, once to show me his latest practice math test (78% this time, going up) and again to borrow a screw driver.  He loves to fix things and I think next year I will bring him some tools of his own.  Maybe I’ll just give him mine and bring new ones for myself.  Then Evelyn came in to get the paper, carrying a big butcher knife.  “Is that for self-defense in case I attack you?”  Giggles.  Evelyn is in class 8, so must be 13 or 14, but doesn’t even reach 5 feet and looks to be about 8.  Many of the kids here are small for their ages, not because they aren’t fed here—they eat huge plates of food each day—but either because they are genetically small, or possibly they were vastly underfed as small children before they came here.


#23 Schools Close for August Break

#23-2013 Schools Close for August Break

I haven’t written for some time because school was about to close for the month of August and I wanted to get to as many form 4’s as possible to review their mock math exams.  As is always the case, the results were broad, from really good to really bad.  This has triggered much problem-solving thinking on my part as I realize there are girls whose math skills are very low.  I’m wondering why I (or anyone else) didn’t target those girls 3 ½ years ago and focus on them.  I know for myself, I do love teaching classes and I enjoy the girls for whom math is fun.  But if we want to bring up the results of the school on the KCSE, we have to work with those girls whose scores are low.  DUH!  I’m not implying the mock exams results were bad, they weren’t, but there were individual results that make me cringe.  So I have been reviewing the first paper (there are 2 for math) with the math-strugglers.  And I’ve learned a lot and thought a lot.  My plan for the future is not to teach classes so much, but to get a list of the girls who struggle with math, especially the form 1’s and see if we can’t pull them up at the outset as well as form 4’s b/c their performance has such life implications.


Students assemble in quad in preparation for August break

One of the last girls I saw late yesterday afternoon was particularly painful.  She’s very quiet, not wanting people to realize how poorly she does in math.  Yet I felt that if she had been given the kind of tutoring I do at home, it would have paid off very well.  I don’t mean to imply at all that the math teachers here are at fault.  They work very hard, but because they teach so many classes, they don’t have much time for individual remediation.  That’s why it’s important for me to step into the gap.

The math teachers and I have discussed this at great length, trying to see what they can do, as well as what I can do in my relatively short stay here.  They plan to develop a diagnostic test for the new students upon their arrival.  The contents will be those skills and concepts they expect students to know from class 7 and 8.  They will analyze the exams not only for each student but also for each skill or concept to determine where are the weaknesses.

Keep in mind that our students are in the 300-350 (some a bit higher) on the KCPE (8th grade exit exam-500 points).  We don’t get the top students, but the girls we do get are bright enough to be very good at math.  I’m wishing it was already June 2014 and I was just arriving to begin my stay.  As it is I am very happy with my 9th summer visit here and feeling sad that it will be over in 3 weeks.

Well, I trust I will be leaving.  You may have read about the huge fire that destroyed the international arrivals terminal in Nairobi.  It closed down the airport for a day, stranding people in all sorts of difficult situations.  Now they are using the departures terminal for both, which is bound to disturb flights both coming and going.  The paper this morning was full of articles, some of which are positing that it may have been arson.  A few days ago all the duty-free shops were unceremoniously kicked out.  It wasn’t done nicely, shops were just torn apart, looted and destroyed—by officials!  Retaliation is a big thing here.  If someone steps on your toe, you feel you must step on the whole leg.  ARGH!  It’s so Old Testament.

Today the students left very early in the morning.  By the time I arrived about 10:30 just one girl was left sitting on the rock edge of the planting area in front.  Her brother arrived to pick her shortly.  I found almost all the teachers and support staff-groundsmen, gate men, librarian, lab tech, cooks, matron, everybody busily preparing an end-of-term feast.  They had slaughtered a goat and a sheep and were happily cooking it, preparing ugali, chipatis, stews, a traditional dish of mashed potatoes, corn and peas (don’t know the name) and lots of vegetables.  For the most part, the men prepare the meat over a grill, then bake it in the big bread ovens and the women prepare vegetables and chipatis.  Everyone pitched in and had a wonderfully relaxing time.  A big deal was making sausage, filling the intestines with a meat mixture, wasn’t quite sure all that went into it.  The stomach was filled with blood, then boiled.  Some thought it a great delicacy.  I took their word for it, as did Pauline, my good math teacher friend.


Grounds man, gate man and math teacher (Christopher Murimi) making sausage

It made my heart sing to see the staff mixing and working together, relaxing and enjoying themselves.  Many will spend their holiday in school working to complete a degree, some will visit families, some will be on duty for a week, as the school is never left totally empty.  Ruth Kahiga will be there most of the time, although I’m sure she will want to spend some of the holiday with her husband, whom she sees only on weekends, as he works far from here.

Image Image

Mary Oguta (biology) carries veges, Esther (matron) looks on. Pauline (math) slices tomatoes.

When the food was prepared we gathered around tables in the dining hall.  I’m always astonished at the portions of food that Kenyan’s eat, so I had to serve myself, but even at that, I had a hearty meal and loved being included in their festivities.  Afterwards they turned on music and everyone, including this 77-year old danced with the joy of feeling free.  A lovely day.


About 4 it began to rain and it POURED.  I was concerned about the car’s getting stuck in the mud on the dirt road.  Ever-thoughtful Esther, the matron, covered me with a large umbrella as we went to the car.  As I was going out, 2 of the gatemen asked for a ride as far as Ndingi and pronounced themselves lucky.  I felt lucky that I would have 2 strong guys to push my car out of the mud, should I need it.  We slipped and slid a bit, but we made it up to the tarmacked road and I breathed a sigh of relief.  As I drove along, the rain diminished until by the time I got home, a distance of about 5 miles, the ground was perfectly dry.  Just now, 3 hours later, it rained here a bit, but has now stopped.

The weather has been COLD, such that I have worn every warm item I own and still wrapped myself in a shawl and/or scarf.  At school the wind blows through the staff room and library like there were no walls.  At home I have a banana tree outside the bedroom window.  To my knowledge it has yet to produce its first banana, but the wind makes the leaves rustle, sounding like rain.


My writing was interrupted by the arrival of Simon, class 8 student and very hard worker.  He brings his math exams, which they have every few days as they are cramming those kids for the KCPE.  We talk about the problems he has missed.  Today he brought the questions, but his answers have not yet been marked, so I worked out the questions and indicated which ones I agreed with and which not.  I’ve now given him back the paper, questionable answers circled in red, with instructions to redo those and come back prepared to argue with me.  He struggles a bit with math, but is very determined.  Later he came in wanting to know whether I had a cord they could use with their very old and cantankerous TV.  I didn’t.  But he comes in all the time to borrow a hammer, pliers or screw driver, my roll of duck tape, a special pen, or whatever.  He loves to repair and construct.  I’d love to see him in engineering, but I’m not sure he can make that.  However, he and I will continue to plug away at it.


#22 Found Time and What I Did With It

#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.