#9 2014 We visit the Nairobi Market

June 26, 2014

#9 2014 We visit the Nairobi Market

Judy was sick this weekend, but has now recovered in time for us to visit the Maasai Market (MM) as planned. We had invited 2 friends, Joyce who sews the bags and Damaris who owns the African Bag Shop and who taught Joyce to sew some years ago. The night before I had left my car in the Rectory yard for Kebe to check out the tire pressure, oil, etc, so I wasn’t surprised to see him at my door early next morning to get the key. What did come as a surprise of the bummer variety, was his later announcement that not only were the brakes shot, but also it needed new plugs and something else I didn’t recognized. “But we’d hoped to leave for Nairobi in about an hour.” “The mechanic will come get the car and he is very fast.” He was right on that count. By 11 o’clock the car was back and I was $70 poorer, but the car was in great shape and we were on our way.

Lest you worry that I might be so foolish as to try to drive in Nairobi, something akin to driving in NYC, only w/o traffic lights, I will assure you that we had engaged Ben, a fabulous driver. As we drove along he asked me which market I wanted to go to. Hmmm, for all my planning I hadn’t thought about the fact that it’s not every day and the venue is different for different days. ACK! But not to worry, Ben knows everyone and before I could venture a guess, he was on his phone checking where. Bad news! No market on Wednesday. But not to worry, we could go to the jam of little shops where James Njorge plies his wares along with many others. It’s a rabbit warren of narrow passages and small shops, every one of whose proprietors is my sister, my best friend and has exactly what I want. “Just step in here, sister, sit here sister and I will show you.” It’s a trip!

But before we stopped there, we had to go to the fabric shop section, a crowded place where Judy and I each grabbed the hand of Damaris or Joyce while trying to cross streets teeming with conveyances of every description. Scramble across we did until we came to the shop Joyce and Damaris knew well. Oh, my what a variety of bag fabrics! Judy and I each had an agenda of what we needed, so we had the owner (actually owner’s son as I later learned), Quiresh, as well as Tom, the clerk, busily helping us. In the past, fabric shop owners (Indians have cornered that market here) had been curt, even surly at times, but Quiresh was courteous and very helpful, once he understood our needs. We bought A LOT of fabric, enough to keep Joyce and Damaris burning up their machines for a good long time. As I was leaving, I thanked Quiresh for his service and told him of my previous experiences. He will definitely get my future business.


9. Tom Cuts Judy's fabric

9. Quiresh with customer

Going back to where Ben had parked, we walked by the bus loading area, which I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the bus where I had observed a wheel barrow being hoisted on top of a bus already loaded with empty jerry cans and who knows what else.


9. bus loading

Now off to the other shops, where I found Njorge, wait for us. It was he whom Ben had called for market information. Maya and I had met him last summer at the (MM) in the shopping center that was bombed not too long ago. That one has not yet re-opened. He had invited us to visit his farm/workshop to see how the nativities and other items are made. (see blog #13, 2013). We had a wonderful visit, meeting members of his extended family from a 6-month old to 95-year old grandmother, all living within the family compound or nearby. Knowing pretty much what I wanted, he and I got down to business in a hurry. He gives us fair prices and is a very nice man. We, on the other hand, have given him a lot of business, so it behooves him to treat us well. He didn’t have enough of the items I wanted, so will send a package by matatu, or possibly bring them himself. He apologized for the broken items that came before Christmas and promised to make restitution, so all was well and I found myself sucked into a shop opposite, run by 2 sisters. They had nicely carved wooden animals, and another thing I wanted, which is jewelry made from paper beads. Not only was she my sister and dearest friend, but also she was friends with Njorge and thus would give me very fair prices. Maybe they go to school to learn this patter—everyone uses the same line!

However, I ended up buying beads and animals from her and hope to get some earrings. I’ve written my house renter to take a picture of the ones I have b/c I stupidly didn’t bring them, thinking I’d get more here. I thought they would be easy to get, but without the whole market, I was limited. Too bad, b/c everyone loved them.


9. Bead lady in her shop

Our delay in getting away was now limiting our shopping time. I had to be back by 5 to get ready to speak at Rotary Naivasha in the evening, and if we tarried, we’d be caught in the unbelievable afternoon jam. But wait, on the way out I spot a shop carrying purses and clutches, both of which I wanted. Again, the proprietress does the decorative work. She doesn’t make the purses, but I could see half-finished decorations around, so I believed her. One does need to have ones doubts turned to a high frequency in this business. She is a young girl, very sweet and probably new in her shop. I ended up buying from her also, while the young woman in the shop opposite waited for what she hoped was her turn. Her disappointment was sadly evident when I told l her I had spent all my money—which was true. I felt very sorry, but actually she had nothing in her shop that I would have bought anyway.

So back we piled into the car and off we went, tired but pretty pleased. I know I will need to go to the market itself sometime during the summer, but I got a lot accomplished. Judy and I will go to Nakuru on Sunday and can browse the market there, although the hawkers there are so aggressive that it’s not a pleasant experience.

I had planned to treat Ben, Damaris and Joyce to lunch, but time was growing short and Ben wanted to clear Nairobi ASAP. He thought I had meant a place further into town, so when we passed the place I had actually meant, it was too late to turn in. Communication is always tricky here, even though Ben’s English is excellent. Sometimes words mean different things here. Oh well. I asked whether there weren’t other places on the way back, but he didn’t know any he would recommend. People here don’t stop for lunch like we do, (which may explain the enormous portions I see them eating for dinner). There are small eateries along the way, but not where he’d feel comfortable taking Judy and me. But as we approached Naivasha, now almost 4, my hunger was getting my attention and I began to notice signs for the Chicken Inn. “Would that be a place we could stop?” Maybe he was feeling the hunger too, because he turned into what was a very US-like fast food place, serving chicken and chips or pizza and for all the world I thought I must be back on the 5, running down the spine of California. We quickly chose our favorites, Judy a hamburger, which she thought was every bit as good as at home and the rest of us rotisserie chicken with chips, all very tasty to our hungry selves.



#8 Message from Judy

Hi friends and family,

Sorry it has been so long but I never seem to be close to a computer at the right time of day.  My visit this time has been much more varied in activities with Jecinta not here. I am not just visiting the social work cases and walking hills.  I miss her terribly and everyone knows it and has helped to keep me busy.

My big concern when I came was the Mji Wa Neema.  There are only 4 children here on a daily basis and 2 are in 8th grade. Fr. Kiriti and Jecinta did not want to bring in more children. We met the chairman of the parish at Mass last Sunday and they were meeting right after Mass so he invited me to say a few words. I introduced myself and explained that I had been involved with the orphanage since ’06 and had raised money to improve the site, assist the children with their needs, plan outings, buy shoes, etc,etc.  Then I left.  The chairman contacted us and invited us to a meeting with the children’s home committee on Tues eve. Margo, Ann, the social worker for Empower the World, Agnes the social worker for the home and myself attended.  I just explained what the place and the children meant to me and what a special place it was, how well the children learned to cook, clean, take care of themselves and the smaller children.  They all consider it home and return when they have holidays even the ones in university. Margo and Ann also spoke and praised the parish for their support. Several members spoke and the group thanked us and also expressed their interest in keeping the orphanage open. They are aware of the need in the community for more children to have homes. We are to draft a vision and mission statement and present it next week.  I feel we have accomplished our goal. Now we need to convince the pastor that we need a community social worker to assist in the process and deal with the needy in the community.

We visited the home Fr. Makarios built to accommodate 40 severally abused children between the ages of 4 and 15.  He is an amazing priest from Canada who can do anything. The bishop gave him the land, they grow food, have a cow {pregnant] a school, a community health clinic, accommodations for volunteers. Of course they won’t know the success of the program until the future. He is quite a guy and has accomplished more in two years than anything else I have seen since I have been coming. If I typed faster I would describe more but I don’t have time.

We visited a site that Catherine Wanjohi is building near Fr M’s site. She has a foundation called Life Bloom, she has rescued sex workers, offered counseling training etc etc and the women are turning their lives around.  They are building a vocational school AND THE WOMEN ARE MAKING THE BRICKS.  It was amazing to see.  They are being paid for their work and are loving it.  More about that later.

The battery is low on the computer so I want to send this of off and I need to write to Ralph Vranizan,  his daughter-in-law Jennifer lost her battle to cancer.  Please pray for their family.


#7 So Many Things Happening

Friday, June 20, 2014

#7 So Many Things Happening

It’s hard to keep up the writing about all the things we are doing. We spend so much time doing I have no time for writing, but here goes for the past today.

I’ve been here for more than a week and have hardly taught any math! I’ve taught 2 sessions of form 1 B and one of form 1A. Today I taught Form 4 A for the second time but when I went to form 4B the teacher said he thought I’d forgotten, so he planned something else. ARGH!!!

Maybe it was good b/c it gave me a few minutes to read emails and to retrieve some pix for Ruth Kahiga for possible inclusion in the new school brochure. She and I spent almost 2 hours going through my more than 6000 pix to see what she might want.   I hope to bring back a stack of the brochures show. Ruth needs them to take to Mombassa for the annual meeting of school principals. Yes, the very same Mombassa where el shabab has been running rampant. They will be there for a week and I hope el shabab has other things on its mind!

I have given graphing calculators to the 3 new math teachers and today we had our first session on all the great features. As they began to get comfortable with getting around, what some of the buttons mean and the power it has they got more and more excited, but I know from personal experience it’s better to give them a small bit, let them play with it, then give them some more. Otherwise it is pretty overwhelming. These calculators, so common in our US secondary schools are virtually unknown here. Such a shame b/c they reformed the secondary math curriculum, taking out a lot of the drudgery and allowing time for more interesting stuff. I’ve dreamed of a reformation of the math curriculum here, but I’m about to wake up from that dream and see it disappear as dreams do. RATS!

After the picture marathon, I gulped down my lunch and hopped in the car. Took Ruth to town to get a modem, after exacting a promise (almost signed in blood and sworn on her mother’s grave) to be more conscientious about email. I will push her to get help from Elizabeth, the secretary, who is quite handy with a computer. Stopping by home to get some money I found Daniel Kantai, formerly one of the Mji Wa Neema boys. He left here under a cloud not entirely of his making and let’s just say he fell out of favor with the powers that be. Judy and I, ever the mothers, have always loved Kantai and have missed his impish mischievous ways. He’s a nice kid and has now moved to Nairobi to live with an aunt. Some of his relatives were paying school fees, but the uncle lost his job and can no longer pay. He came to see Judy and then to talk to me. We are hoping to get his fees paid so he can get back to school. We called in the new social worker, Ann, whom Judy is now working with. They (Ann, Judy and Agnes) will go to the aunt’s home, to the school and verify that he’s in a good place. If so, we can sponsor him. It’s only about $200 to let him finish form 4 and take the KCSE. It’s this sort of thing that brings us back. Sometimes we can cut through the barriers and make things happen.

While Judy and I talked to Kantai, Wanjiru from Life Bloom came with a young woman, Janet, who had just been released from prison. Catherine had wanted me to hear her story and I must say I was incredulous, as I suspect my readers will be after I tell it. It is Job-like.

Janet has 2 boys, 5 and 7. She was working in a salon, doing hair and supporting her boys when the owner announced her husband had been transferred and she wanted to sell the business. Janet raised the money and bought the salon, but soon afterwards her older boy, then aged 3, was kidnapped. She searched and searched for him, the business went down and she was out of a job as well as missing the boy. He was gone for over a year when her mother heard a radio announcement that some kidnapped boys had been discovered in a certain area and pleading with parents of missing children to come find out whether they could identify any of the children. Sure enough, her son was there, but was so traumatized that he had stopped speaking.   He is now speaking, but still is not up to age level emotionally nor in his behavior. He has never been to school. So here is this single mom with a traumatized son, and no job, so she went to work in a saloon, tending bar. She had been there just a month when the police raided the bar because the owner had allowed his license to lapse. Owner was not there, so they arrested Janet. That in itself seems crazy, but they tried and convicted her, claiming she should have known the license had lapsed. She was jailed for 1 year. At that point I was fuming, but there is no recourse except for her to pick up and move forward.

Fortunately at the time of her release, a group of Life Bloom women were making a visit to the prison and encountered her. As they learned her story they realized she needed a good deal of support, in true LB fashion, took her under their collective wing. As she recited her story to me in Swahili, translated for me by Wanjiru, I could see she is traumatized herself and has no idea what to do now. Her boys were with the grandmother while mom was imprisoned. We talked about how to get help for the oldest boy, perhaps at Helping Hands School, which I have visited several times. It serves physically disabled children, but I’m not sure whether they also serve the emotionally disabled. We also talked about St. Teresia’s center for abused children, built and run by Fr. Makarios. (Will write about that sometime) It’s a residence center, which she wouldn’t want, but maybe he could take the boy for counseling on a day basis.   We just brainstormed anything we could think of. Wanjiru is a real cracker-jack and will follow up to see whether anything can come of this.

After hearing her story and talking about possible approaches, I invited them into our house where Judy and I have our stash of donated books and some small toys. I gave her some beginning readers and Judy gave her toys for the boys. We don’t have a lot to offer but I think it helped her to know someone cared about her and wanted to help.

This left only a brief time before the meeting of the Mji W Neema children’s home committee. Judy had requested they meet so she could plead her case for taking in more children instead of closing down the home, since there are just 4 left, 2 of whom will go off to high school in January. Judy is nothing if not dogged. She is one determined lady! She spoke from he heart and she was heard. While they didn’t make a decision tonight, we felt very confident, as person after person spoke that they wanted to keep it open. It’s not as if there aren’t many, many orphans needing a home like this. In the end a number of members talked about how much they appreciate all we have done. They thanked us profusely. We promised Kenya Help educate any new children as long as we can. How long that may be is questionable, but we are a couple of determined old broads. Did I mention that we met in 1954 when I was 14 and she was 15. We learned we shared a birthday and have been friends since then—60 years. Sometimes I think we are the Energizer Bunny, we just keep going and going!

I apologize for no pix. I was so absorbed by all of the day’s events I didn’t give the camera a thought. Promise to do better—sworn in blood on my mother’s grave!


Love to all, Margo

#6 Life Bloom and Prisons

Life Bloom and Prisons


As you encounter the two women released from prison on Wednesday, I wish to share just abit of our history with Naivasha Prisons (am sure you know bits and pieces, and you have visited that place quite often, but I need to share this.

Way back in 2006, when we made our maiden entry to prison to visit the women prisoners (I had never known there was a women’s wing until then), what we desired to do was offer counselling and “rays of hope”.

Then it occurred to us (thanks for the staff who shared many details), that most of the women were jail birds, small little offences, most of them related to “negligence” of children, or “sourcing for their children upkeep” in the wrong ways, or the social push to be married that often push women harming their “husbands’ or their “husbands adulterous partners”.

Creativity….innovations….how could we offer a more comprehensive program which prepared the women for life after prison more appropriately and was also deter them from coming back to prison?

Thats where you found us.

We engaged in a campaign within Naivasha and beyond. We called upon our women friends to visit the prison with us, and to bring with them any item that could help set up a hairdressing unit. We got more than 200 packets of weaves, we got blow driers, combs, hair rollers, cutex…….most of those who donated are teachers within Naivasha town, and business women. yes, I got my 4 plastic chairs which I valued very from my house. The prisons administration fund-raised to get iron sheets and timber and the male prisoners put together an iron sheet walled room.
A salon was born. Janet, who you will meet and interview this afternoon, is a beneficiary of that project. And lo and behold, you should see the corn-rows the women in prison create on each others heads…! Amazingly creative.

Then we begun to source for books, exercise books, chalks, and a “black board” was created in that open space….and literacy lessons begun. This year, the prison will present the first candidate for the KCPE (Class 8) examination. You need to meet this young girl (I guess she is about 20 years) imprisoned for all the wrong reasons….but true she broke the law. She is a beauty and a Spirit!

And then there were children….children below 4 years of age finding themselves in these surrounding because of their mothers’ mistakes. On our last visit this Wednesday, there were 20 of them! Children! Many people have brought in gifts and toys and love and hope…and all.You, Heather, Gemma etc have all been there through Life Bloom, left your mark. Mukami’s Nairobi group have been there more than once. And of course celebrating the International Women’s day in 2011 and this year with more than 40 students from St Pauls University of Nairobi, a group of Women Pastors and two of their professors, isnt a small thing! Love, hope healing name it……all flooding through those barricaded gates at the prison, defying all odds and the flow can still be felt thousands of miles away….

Then there is the Water and Sanitation project. We received our first training in Uganda through Global Women Water Initiative. Our first stop was the prisons. Susan, Wanjiru and Phiona took this project to Prisons with a thud! And guess what? They now purify their own drinking water using the Bio Sand Filters.

One Wednesday every month, Trizer visits the prison for counselling and to receive updates on new arrivals or those released, majority of who join our program for purposes of integration into the community and their own.

As Life Bloom and her partners get to the conference in Sept, and the commissioning of the OSC, the women who have had experiences in prison will be a key target. Prisons administration whispered to me that they wouldnt be able to sponsor Janet or any other ex-prisoner to the conference. And I thought, maybe by telling her story, someone might want sponsor her and a few other of our women who have been in and out of prison. We are targeting sponsorship for at least twenty of the women, (now I am smiling because reflectively, I think more than 80% of our women have been through prison). Do you remember what I shared a few years back, a remark by Mr Patrick Mwenda, the Officer in Charge of the Naivasha Maximum Prison? He said to me: “Catherine, if you dont see one of your women for some time, always make sure that you check with the prison, that is most probably where they are”. And he was right! Ha ha !

Dear, I think a Spirit has got hold of me…..and I can write about this forever…because it is just flowing…flowing…and flowing.

Meeting Janet on Wednesday, the smiles, the hope,,,,,the beauty I experienced in her presence has driven me to this. Amazing that we met at the barricaded gate when they were just about to leave, we wouldnt have met if we had tad taken one more minute on our way.

Margo, its is possible, women can still “recover” and sustain their human face in the midst of great adversity…like imprisonment. Tell the story!

Love and blessings.

Next time I read emails is Sunday.

Off I go to the village till Sunday.

-Catherine Mumbi Wanjohi

# 5 A Day at SFG and A Visit to the Life Bloom Site

Tuesday, June 14, 2014

# 5 A Day at SFG and A Visit to the Life Bloom Site

Yesterday (Monday) was my first real visit to SFG. I now have an official desk in the staff room and have been getting to know my new colleagues as well as enjoying the ones I already know.

I’ve written about some of the changes that have transformed the spirit in the school. Another thing I love is that aphorisms now decorate the eaves all around the inner quad. Everywhere one looks one finds an inspiration. Here are some examples


5. Aphorism 1

5. Aphorism 2







5. aphorism 3







I still have not taught any classes, but did meet with a scholarship student whose sponsor sent some help. This girl has no help from home and was in dire need of almost everything, soap, toothpaste, TP, pads, pens. After I left SFG I went to the supermarket and bought a big bag of supplies for her. Generally when the students return from a holiday they come back with everything they will need until they go home again. There is no place nearby where they can shop and besides they are not allowed outside the school compound unless accompanied by a staff member. If they run out of something, Esther (matron) has to take a matatu to town to purchase for them. To be sure, this is combined with other necessary errands, but it is a big inconvenience for her because the school has no car.

I actually didn’t stay too long, having stuff to do in town (like buy new batteries for graphing calculators) and at home (like arrange for our shower heads to be replaced—instant hot water, but they burn out. Not fond of cold showers). I am scheduled to begin with some classes tomorrow. I’ll also begin to show the new math/science teachers how to use the graphing calculators. Several years ago Texas Instruments gave me 30 calculators to give away. We actually don’t give them to the teachers to keep. If they leave, they have to give up the calculator.

Today we made a visit to the Life Bloom site to view progress and to see the brick maker donated in honor of a mom who had worked with her hands her whole life. Her daughter thought mom would have loved donating the brick maker. I had hoped to be able to make a few myself, but it is not a job for an old person. It takes a team of at least 5 and all the work is physical and back-breaking.

5. Screening the dirt

First the sandy material must be screened to use only fine particles. It’s then mixed at about 30% cement to 70% sand, plus water.

5. brick maker 1

The mixture is shoveled into this device

5. scraping off excess sand:dirt:cement

Excess mixture scraped off. Then the big handle is swung up to press the material into a brick.

5. Removing finished brick

The finished brick is removed and set in the sun to dry.

5. Today's bricks

Today’s bricks made by about 1 pm. Trizer says they can make 60 – 100 bricks an hour. These will be used for the outer wall. Later, they will make them to sell, so make money to fund phase 2 of the operation.

5. Proud worker

This is one of the proud women, working along with the men on this part of the building process.


It is truly inspiring to see what this dedicated organization is doing for the hardest hit women in this corner of Kenya. I get teary-eyed just thinking about how many women Catherine has touched in a very deep way. She is truly a saint!