#19 2014 Bush Medical Clinic

Sister Irene, David (driver) and I sat in the front of the ambulance, while Sr. Modesta rattled around the back. First we drove to Chemolingot, a town consisting of 2 intersecting roads, each with shops for about 2 blocks. At 10 am, it is a quiet, dusty down with a few dogs and fewer people about. Then it was another excruciating 9 km to the district dispensary, where the back was loaded with equipment—baby scale, microscope and a few beat up tables and chairs— and supplies, child immunization record books, various medications, etc.

19 muddy river

Then off we went to the middle of Pokot land. It took more than an hour of very tough driving to arrive at a lovely shaded glen near a river that was dry as a bone 2 days ago but today was flowing with brown, muddy water.

My first need was to find a good bush to squat behind. Having taken care of that we wandered about looking at the landscape and waiting for the people to show up for clinic. Slowly, one by two they came, mostly pregnant women and nursing mothers. Interspersed with these arrivals were old women, whom I later learned, are the local midwives.

19 Ladies on log (Large)

We sat around for awhile before Sr. Irene began talking to the group, explaining who would get portions of the sack of maize we were carrying. First priority was the frail elderly, both men and women. Sr. Irene had gathered a list of some 20 folks, most of whom showed up at sometime during the day. Next would be the pregnant mothers and those with nursing babies. Pregnant moms only got maize if they had a prenatal exam. Nursing moms got it only if the baby was weighed, examined and immunized.

The moms all sat in a row on a downed log, holding their sleeping babies, nursing them if they fussed. Sr. Irene showed me a device used like a bottle. It was a small gourd in which they collected their breast milk. She giggled when she explained the covering was a goat scrotum. People are very creative!

19 mother feeding child

They’ve also devised baby backpacks made of goatskin to which arm straps have been attached. They’re quite adept at putting even very small babies on the skin, placing the arms and legs inside the straps and slinging it onto the back.

Everyone who came was stick-thin. Arms and legs seemed to be only small bones with no muscle. Yet they walk many miles everyday, the women to fetch water and wood for cooking, the men tending the animals. The old walk slowly, but the young women stride off briskly, baby on back. Everyone carries a stick to ward off snakes and the men (ONLY) carry a small stool, maybe 6 inches high, with a 6 inch square seat. I wish I had taken a picture of one.

Most of the women wore typical broad beaded necklaces, but one lady had a necklace that loosely wound around her neck. I could see a wire protruding from one end. She carried a knife and a stick from which she cut identical beads, then stuck them on the wire. She must have added several feet to her necklace as she sat during the day.

I wasn’t quite sure how to be helpful, but did some baby weighing for starters.

19 Margo weighing baby

Then I noticed Sr. Modesta talking through an interpreter to the midwives seated off far enough away so their discussion couldn’t be overheard. When I joined them they were having a lively talk about FGM. It turned that many oppose it. They claimed the men insisted on wives being circumcised. Sr. M was very straightforward, telling about the problem of infection as well as major problems when giving birth. Many utero-intestinal fistulas occur as a result of FGM. The women know this but have been afraid to confront the men. They explained that the fathers are not around when the women are giving birth so have no idea how painful and serious it is. After much discussion they said they thought the older women had the right to tell the elders (men) more about it to enlist their help in discouraging the practice, which is outlawed in the Kenyan constitution, but the rural people ignore that. It was quite an animated discussion, with one woman, clearly a leader in the group, eyes flashing, pointing her long fingers, making her points, with the evident agreement of the others. They talked about herbs they use for various problems, getting the milk started, constipated babies, etc and I thought about my favorite book, The Red Tent, in which the main character was a midwife with an impressive knowledge of birthing and herbs. These ladies have knowledge that could be used in the greater world.

They also held some very odd beliefs, one being that a mother should be denied water for a week after giving birth. ACH! I explained to the translator that sufficient water is necessary to replace the blood lost in childbirth as well as for milk production. To my surprise, they listened. Sr. Modesta said later they appreciated my information. I do know that advice from the aged is prized and while I never told them my age, it’s pretty evident. Even the oldest was not as old as I am, but they’re bodies are worn out at 40, so they all looked very old indeed.

Afterwards, we talked about training the midwives so they’d be more aware of the signs of impending problem births. Because women begin giving birth as early as 12 in this society, many died along with their babies. If they’d had better care, many would survive. The women had asked that a hospital be built in their area. We suggested the people should build it, a simple place, and that the nuns who attend them could be trained, even to do cesarean sections. As it stands, the nearest hospital is to far, and the roads so bad, they can’t get there and the mothers die.
19 midwives

Love to all
= Margo

A Vision for the Future—Girls Get Glasses through SFG

From #29 What a Great Day! & #31 Pix n Other Stuff – August 26, 2011 and August 30, 2011

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.

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!

#18 2014 A Visit in East Pokot

#18 2014 A Visit in East Pokot

Monday’s drive from Nakuru to Maragat was long but uneventful, except for the traffic bumps, some of which I didn’t see and got quite a jolt—maybe b/c I was listening to a good book on the ipod. Once my ipod slid off the seat. I pulled over to pick it up and happened to be right in front of 2 ladies selling honey. They happily rushed over to make a sale, for which they would charge a mzungu lady way too much. Before I even registered what was happening, I had picked up the pod and sped on, leaving 2 very disappointed ladies. I could have bought some honey—I know Fr. Kiriti likes it in his tea, but before I processed all that, I was too far.

Fr. Kiriti found me in Maragat. I followed him to the Catholic Mission compound, where we lunched, moved my things into his truck and were off with only a quick stop at a small stand to buy fruits and vegetables. This is a very fertile area and evidently Maragat has received sufficient rain because the produce was plentiful. Later I would learn that around Kositei parish there had been little rain and the maize harvest had failed.

As we drove along, the landscape became drier and more desert-like. All along we’d see herds of goats, sheep, a few cattle, and on occasion domesticated camels. Cacti abound—the ones with the small fruits that I think Latinos use to make a traditional alcohol. Here they are just consumed for food. Other than that acacia bushes are about all that grows.

18 desert 2


Finally we reached the compound. The air was humid and HOT, and I was very happy to arrive. It’s full of sounds of bird, including roosters who seem unclear on the concept—they announce the dawn all day long! Three geese trumpet the arrival of any stranger.

18 three ducks

Once I thought they were attacking me, but they backed off when I stamped my feet and yelled at them. Ducks quack and chickens cluck occasionally and the shower outside my room drips constantly

This is the week of the mobile medical clinic being here. Srs. Irene and Modesta are the mainstays, accompanied by an intern, Bro. Hillary. Irene is diminutive, quiet-spoken and very sweet, so we were quite amazed when I snake (cobra) showed up behind the kitchen and Edward the cook called for back-up. They first tossed a pan of hot water on it, then went at it with a stick. Sr. Irene pushed everyone aside and proceeded to beat the $!$%#$ out of that snake! He was a goner. She picked up the body and draped it over a branch—maybe as notification to all other snakes, “This is your future if you dare come into this compound.” This was the first time in my 3 visits here that a snake has dared to enter.

Brother Hilliary, Fr. Kiriti, Sr. Irene, Sr. Modesta

18 Brother Hilliary, Fr. Kiriti, Sr. Irene, Sr. Modesta

Just after dinner it began to sprinkle and before we knew it we had a real African downpour, the sort I once described as raining giraffes and elephants. We ran for the house and were drenched, but it felt so good. It rained far into the night and I remember waking briefly to hear the river rushing by. Earlier in the day it had been almost non-existent, just a few puddles of muddy water. Now it is evening again and I don’t hear it, but it may rain again. Fr. Kiriti tells me that fording it was impossible today. If it rains much we might be marooned here. That would be a bummer, as we are returning to Naivasha on Friday to attend the board of governors meeting Saturday morning. This gives new meaning to “God willing and the creeks don’t rise.”

Today (Tuesday) I helped Fr. Kiriti finish his financial report. He has learned EXCEL, but it’s not his favorite activity. I think he is greatly relieved to have that small burden taken from his must-do list. Later in the afternoon he went to check on the condition of a guest house near the church. Sr. Irene had announced last night that there was a possibility of some visitors. They would be driven here, but she was requested to return them to Nakuru. When she asked for a donation to cover the petrol, they demurred. I was reminded of my first visit when I was totally clueless about the needs of the clergy here. It would cost her some $50 in petrol to take them back. However, after seeing her go after than snake, I am confident she’ll get her $50 and maybe a lot more.

I will be going out with the mobile medical clinic tomorrow, so will have a full report in #19.

iResizer= Margo


#17 2014 Dinner with Friends, Talent Show and off to Nakuru

#17 2014 Dinner with Friends, Talent Show and off to Nakuru

After all the driving around, shopping for Talent Show Day (TSD), including picking the bottle caps, I had just enough time to shower and be off to La Belle, a local restaurant with pretty good food and not outrageous prices. I had invited Anastasia and her husband, Mwangi for dinner. You may recall several weeks ago I wrote about going to dinner at their house, taking David Kamau, very bright high school student from Mji Wa Neema. They are both engineers with Ken Gen and will be mentoring David. I wanted to meet with them to talk about that, although we talked about so many things.

We all arrived exactly at 6. I had prepared myself for their arrival on Kenyan time by bringing a book to read, but in fact they were standing outside the restaurant as I drove up. Talking with them was an old friend, who had happened to see them as he was on his way to their house for a surprise visit. He introduced himself as Fr. Nick. Since this was my dinner, I felt free to ask him to join us, an offer he didn’t hesitate to accept.

He’s a young priest from a neighboring diocese who has been their good, good friend for a long time. After I learned all that, I knew my instinct to include him had been right and he turned out to be very interesting and a lot of fun. In fact we sat there for 3 hours, talking and laughing until I felt I had to leave to get back. La Belle is only 5 minutes from home, but I don’t like driving here at night. I collected the bottle caps that La Belle had saved for us from our afternoon visit and was off. Of course the drive home was totally uneventful.

Next morning SFG was alive with activity. Everyone rushing here and there, intent on some very important errand. I had promised they could use my camera, as well as the video camera which Craig had purchased for use here. TSD was scheduled to begin at 9, but at about 9:45, when it hadn’t begun, I suddenly realized I had left the charger for my camera at home and the battery would never survive the 100’s of pix I knew they would take. Off to home, get charger and back to school, having just missed the opening.

There were wonderful traditional dances, songs, skits, modern dances, acrobatic performances and long waits between same. They day was wonderful but my sitting apparatus was definitely worn out before the end. In fact, my whole self was worn out and at about 3:30 I asked Esther if I could take a nap at her house. I was literally asleep by the time she had let herself out of the house to go back to TSD.

Fortunately a 1-hour nap revived me, so when time came for teachers to perform I was up to the challenge, although my offering was very different from others. I called up all the Mji Wa Neema girls to help me and as they came forward, wondering what in the world I had in mind, I explained that in my world, parents read to their children at bed time. In my case I also sang, not so much to my children as to my grands, and one of their favorite songs was about a small bear named Winnie-the-Pooh. I’d taught that song to the kids at the home many years ago and they always sing it with great gusto. It was fun and everyone accepted out offering with much clapping and noise.

The grand finale was the selection of Miss St. Francis, accompanied by much screaming for favorite candidates. I finally saw the purpose of the bottle caps, whichhad been attached to the train of a gown to make a rattling noise as she strutted her stuff. They all strutted like any pro in the Parisian couture. Many of our girls are stunningly beautiful, statuesque and sexy. My heart went out to the 1st and 2nd runners up. The others were back stage, so could show their disappointment, but the “also-rans” had to stand there, each wishing it were she getting the sash, the tiara, the bracelet Janet and I had chosen the day before and the screams.



Finally the bedlam settled so the judges could announce the winning class. Of course the form 1’s had no chance. They’d never experience TSD, so this was their learning opportunity. The big contest was between forms 3 and 4. It was very close, but form 4 won and the jumping up and down, dancing, high 5’s, screaming nearly brought down the house. There was no containing the excitement until it ran its course. I was given the honor of presenting the big prize, which was 3 small pastries they evidently cherish, because when I pulled off the cover bedlam again broke out. And then everyone was crowding around Miss SF and wanting pictures. Words can’t describe the excitement and energy. It was like the end of the World Series or the World Cup—especially after Ruth announced there would be no night preps, but that 1 hour after dinner was over, everyone was to be in bed. That one really brought down the house.


One of the many great things about TSD is that it comes right before exams for forms 1, 2 and 3 and the mock exams for form 4. It’s a perfect way to get out the tension, wear everyone out and then send them to sleep. By Sunday they would be back in the classroom, assiduously studying, but hopefully more relaxed.

It was dark and after 7 by the time I was able to gather my camera and beat a hasty retreat. ACH!!! What a day!

Sunday I had to get ready for my visit to East Pokot and Fr. Kiriti. After mass and breakfast, I finished up most of the packing and waited for Ludwin to arrive for a short visit. She’s one of the first students to be sponsored to university. She had wanted to major in engineering, but had missed the cut-off by 3 points, so instead majored in accounting and finance. I had not seen her for several years and had wondered how she was faring and only saw her this time because of a chance encounter with her mother. As happened to me, Ludwin had lost all her contacts and didn’t know how to call or email me or her sponsor.

She had been in the last Archbishop Ndingi class to include girls, which means she graduated in 2006. It was great to see her. She looks wonderful, loves her job, which is with a credit checking firm based in Nairobi, but her area of responsibility is Malawi and Rwanda. This is a new job, so she is spending many hours, but her eyes really sparkled when she was describing her work and how much she enjoys it.

Ludwin brought along John, also a Ndingi graduate, although I didn’t remember him. He is an entrepreneurial type. Right now he has a worm farm, which may not sound like much, unless you are an organic gardener. Then you will know how valuable those little critters are. John grows the worms to keep himself alive while he makes independent movies. He’s even done one starring Ludwin and is thinking about doing something with the story of SFG.

We had a lovely visit and I was so happy to reconnect with Ludwin. She tells me she has been supporting children in a children’s home, and now promises to “pay it forward” by donating to Empower the World, to enable more girls like herself to go on to school.

Finally I had to bring the visit to a close, to get ready to go. I had to run up to SFG to retrieve my camera charger (having a hard time keeping that), fill the car and check the air pressure, which was low in all the tires. Petrol has gone up again. I paid $5.14 per gallon!!! (Over $50 to fill the car)

Had imagined Sunday afternoon would be an easy drive to Nakuru, but the road was full with the usual slow trucks and all the rest. I was concerned that I’d left so late it would be dark before I arrived and in fact it was almost 6. My plan was to stay with my friend Agnes, but she was called away to Mombasa to her 90-year old mother. She assured me her daughter Fatma would take care of me. As it turned out, her husband, James was just returning from a trip to Uganda. He stopped at an easy to find hotel, where I picked him. It was very nice to have a guide to their house, which I would have been hard-put to find on my own.

James and I chatted while Fatma prepared a wonderful dinner. He is a professor of Kiswahili and Linguistics at Nairobi and has recently been made dean of students. The latter is very challenging, as students here are demanding and often go on strike. It is providing many learning opportunities for him. Agnes and James’ oldest son, Karama, was also there. He is in University, studying communication and media. Fatmas is waiting to enter university. She has not been told which school she will attend, but hopes to study international relations. She is named after Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal, but her parents thought Fatima sounded too middle eastern, so they spell it Fatma, but pronounce it Fatima.


Now it is Monday morning. I am writing from my bed, but will now dress, eat and be off to East Pokot to visit Fr. Kiriti for 5 days. I’ll drive to Maragat, which isn’t a very demanding drive, as I recall. I’ll leave the car with the nuns in a convent there and will ride to Kositei with Fr. Kiriti. That is a drive and a half. Roads go every which way across the bush. Once I asked him how he knew the road when it either wasn’t there at all or there were many choices. “The road is in my head,” was his reply. Well, it’s not in my head, so I’m grateful he would drive to Maragat to pick me. He has a very old truck. My car would give up after the first 5 miles!

Story Time

From #3 Leave-Taking, Visit to SFG and Visitors – June 12, 2012

Shortly after I retired to my bed to begin this blog, there was a shy knock on the door. “Come in. Who’s there?” In came Joseph, the youngest child here in the orphanage and his best bud, Jackson. I had met Jackson on Sunday when he came to sit with Judy and me in mass. He snuggled right up to me, although we had never met and when I put my arm around to cuddle he snuggled even closer. His clothes are tattered and in need of a bath, as is his body, but he is so engaging those issues don’t seem to matter.

As they appeared in my door way, each holding 3 or 4 books that Judy brought and has left on a chair in our entry for anyone to read (and bring back!). They looked so cute I asked, “Would you like me to read you a story?” Jackson reads very well, but Joseph has not yet deciphered the coding. He’s in first grade and everyone is concerned about it.

Two heads nodded. “Take off your shoes and climb up with me” I said, patting each side. Shy giggles. Off came the shoes and soon we were settled in, reading books about bridges, bears who became friends, “A is for Africa” and one of my favorites, “The Little House”.

I first met Joseph and his older brother, Lucas, last summer when they came to join us at Mji Wa Neema. Their father had died some time ago. Mother was HIV positive and died last summer while the 2 boys helplessly looked on. Neighbors had notified Jecinta, who collected them and brought them here. Joseph used to run to me for a hug whenever I’d appear in a doorway, spending much of the rest of the time crying and sucking his thumb. Now he is in school, still sucks his thumb, but finding Jackson seems to have alleviated some of his loneliness. Lucas had been a wonderful brother to him, but is dealing with his own loss and grief.

Stories like Joseph and Lucas’s really bring home the tragedy of the AIDS crisis in Africa. J&L are among the lucky ones, landing in a loving environment, where school is encouraged, food is plentiful there is a very loving group of (now) older brothers and sisters who have taken them under their collective wings. There are literally millions of children who don’t have a loving orphanage, with a warm bed (don’t have to share, even) sufficient food, clothes, school and lots of love.