2016 – #7 Life Goes On

This is Monday and I have not posted for 3 days, so will try to fill you in. Friday, my friend and fellow KH board member, Alison Staab, arrived from the US. We were about 5 minutes late getting to the airport, so I found her standing with her suitcases, totally unruffled. If it were my first trip and no one was there to meet me I’d be plenty ruffled!!!! But Alison is a trooper.

2016- #7 Alison arrives

It was evening before we got back to Naivasha, and she was very tired, so we had a quick dinner and she was off to bed.

Next morning she was up bright and early—how early I don’t know b/c I was not up early. I am definitely an owl. We had a leisurely breakfast, then walked down to the corner to get a paper. When we got there we decided to walk further, ending up with a nice long hike, dodging piki pikis (motor bikes), matatus, buses, cars, donkey carts—the usual hazards, but it was fun to show her a bit of the town. We walked over the to Catholic Bookshop, where she bought some math textbooks. She is also a retired math teacher, so we hope to become the dynamic duo in the math department. We’ll see.

Later in the day we drove to the Naivas supermarket, which is fun just to wander around in. They have everything. After that we walked over to the big open air market to buy mangos, avocados, tomatoes, onions, bananas. The market is huge and ever so lively. I love going there and Alison was enjoying comparing it to markets in So.Sudan and India, both of which she has visited.

2016 - #7Saturday Market

In between were drop-in visits from friends, all of whom wanted to chat (and so did I), but finally it was time to meet our dinner guest, Betsy Rose, who was visiting a new mother in the district hospital right across the road. I haven’t written about Betsy, who arrived just 3 days after I did. She has been staying at the house Fr. Kiriti arranged for me to rent. At first I felt bad about abandoning her there, but she assured me many times that she really appreciated having a large space all to herself. A Berkeley resident and folk singer, she has devoted her life to women’s singing circles and the empowerment of women. She came here as a guest of Catherine Wanjohi of Life Bloom and has sung with groups all over the Naivasha area, school children, women of LB, in the men’s prison (where she had a wonderfully positive experience, even “jamming” with men in their own guitar group), the women’s prison, and the girls of SFG. She has been traveling the world for 6 months, making a video of girls singing songs like We Shall Overcome, Welcome to the Circle, How Could Anyone Ever Tell You, You Are Anything But Beautiful (from the gathering of women in Beijing in 200X-can’t remember), Gather The Women Let the Circle Begin, We Are the Women Giving Birth to Tomorrow, We Are Sending You Light to Heal You, to Hold You and more. Often the girls make up their own verses which are pertinent to their lives. Betsy will be sharing it with all of us sometime after she gets back to Berkeley and I’ll be glad to pass it on to all. She left Sunday for Liberia where she will be singing with the women who were responsible for ousting Charles Taylor. If you have not seen Pray the Devil Back to Hell about what the women of Liberia did, I highly recommend it.

Here are Alison and Betsy at La Belle a local restaurant with good food and reasonable prices. We had a wonderful chat and report on all Betsy’s doings. She particularly loved singing with the girls of SFG and they loved her too.

2016 - #7 Alison and Betsy

Sunday morning was Alison’s first Kenyan mass. She was inspired by the wonderful singing and the energy of the congregation, but especially she loved the children who dance down the aisle 3 or 4 times during the mass. Some look to be only 4 or 5, but they DANCE!!! Mass here is generally 2 hours, which is a long time for someone used to ½ that time. The pews are hard and despite having Jim’s to hold me up, my backside begins to complain well before the last hymn. Maybe I’ll bring a cushion some Sunday, but I suspect the people will not understand (Kenyan backsides tend to be better padded than mine!) After mass we walked down to the corner to buy 2 copies of The Nation. We both like the Sudoku and X-word puzzles. Julia and the children are glad to get 2 copies when we are finished with them. All the kids here love to read the newspaper. Afterwards it is used to light the fires in the kitchen stoves.

Sunday is the day people come by to visit. This day it was my dear friend, Regina Muchimi, whom I first met in 2005 at Archbishop Ndingi, where she was a cracker-jack math teacher. She is no longer at Ndingi, having been hired for a government school. It’s about 1 hour from Naivasha near an area called Kinegop, where it rains a lot and is often COLD. Regina has a daughter named Jenny (about 13) who has always been very shy with me, although Regina tells me she thinks Jenny will be much more comfortable now that she is older and understands English better. The way I’ve tried to woo Jenny is with peanut butter toast, which she loves, as does her mother.

At dinner we enjoyed entertaining Joyce, a good friend of mine and member of the board of Empower the World foundation (ETW) which is the NGO established here to receive and disburse funds sent by Kenya Help. She, her husband Charles and the 2 children, Travis and Precious arrived promptly at 6:30 for a spaghetti dinner. My kitchen is very small. Judy once described it as a “One butt kitchen.” We had to pull the table away from the wall to seat 6 people around it, which meant we were even more squeezed, but despite the limitations of space we had a wonderful visit. Joyce is an entrepreneur par excelance, while Charles is a thermo geologist, currently earning a PhD in Iceland, where there is plenty of thermal heat, as there is in Kenya. He is home for a couple of months before returning for his next year. When the children (about 6 and 8 maybe) began to get restless with all the talk, I opened the suitcase of books and told them they could each choose 2 to keep. That kept them quite busy for the rest of the evening. Thank you, donors of those books. They are worth their weight in gold here!


2016 – #6 We Bury Magdalene

I’ve shared enough of my sadness, so I will write about the customs surrounding death. Even as I cried, I loved seeing how the people step up to ensure the deceased is properly honored, celebrated and sent on her way.

The morning began with viewing the body outside the mortuary. Joseph, our youngest, was nearby. I grabbed his hand, asking him to keep me from stumbling, but mostly because he looked so lost and forelorn. I thought I was taking care of him, but as we exited the gates, he pulled me back just in time to avoid walking right into the path of a runaway donkey cart!!! So who was taking care of whom? Naturally I thanked him—made him feel like a big man, and I meant it. He really saved me.

We headed down the hill towards town, maybe a 10-minute walk to a gate where others were gathered. We had to wait for another funeral to finish and leave, which happened shortly. Inside, people milled around until the priest arrived. There were some prayers and then 8 women lifted the coffin, singing beautifully as they and placed it on a large cement block. All coffins here have a small sliding door, which, when opened reveals the face behind a glass window. Those who wished, lined up, walking slowly by. I happened to be near Esther, the former matron of SFG, who knew Magdalene very well. We grabbed hands and joined the line. I needed that view for closure, but having seen, I wanted to go back up and sit in the church until the funeral mass began.

Some of you may remember way back, maybe 9 or 10 years ago, when Fr. Kiriti was the parish priest in NVA. One of his many accomplishments was to complete the new church, which had stood, incomplete for perhaps 15 years. Of course they needed pews, so he invited parishioners to dedicate a pew to a loved one. I gave a pew in memory of my husband, Jim. It has a small brass name plate noting it is in his memory. I sit in it every Sunday and every Sunday I think of his little joke about the skunk in church, sitting in his own pew. It makes me smile in memory of his funny ways. I often have a little chat with him while I sit there.

So, of course I wanted to sit in Jim’s pew. I sat for quite some time, alone with my thoughts, while the people gathered outside. Then the coffin was carried in by men of the parish, followed by the singing women. It sat in the aisle at the front, covered with gorgeous wreaths of roses and the picture that I showed you yesterday. The pews filled quickly. Julia and some of the kids joined me, but then we were all ushered to the front—except I could see there wasn’t really space for me, so I sat alone in Jim’s pew—just him and me.

Five priests were on the alter—the 3 who are assigned here, another named Fr Michael and of course, Fr. Kiriti, who had been “Dad” to Magdalene and all the kids for 9 years. It was quite an impressive send-off, with each priest performing part of the ritual. One thing that I noted was the parish priest (the boss) was not the main celebrant. He assigned his assistant, Fr. Stephen and took a back seat himself. He’s a very humble man in many ways, with seemingly no need to assert his authority when it’s not necessary. Fr. Kiriti gave the homily. It was in Kiswahili, so I could only observe how passionately he spoke. I’m told it was a wonderful talk.

Antony and Theresia, the 2 main founders of Mji Wa Neema, spoke, as did the president of the parish council and others. The last was Patrick, one of the residents of MWN, who had been a classmate of Magdalene and a very close friend. He was impressive! He must be about 21 and always seemed rather shy to me, but today he spoke with confidence, never losing his composure. He ended by singing a wonderful song to her and did it beautifully. I never realized he sang so well and later I had a chance to tell him how impressed I was.

Finally it was over. This time boys from MWN carried the body of their sister to the hearse. I ran back to my car and drove it to the front of the church where 5 of the kids piled in, including “Big Esther” (meaning she is the older of the 2 Esthers) and her 2 ½ year old son—who screamed his head off yesterday whenever I came into view. I had asked Tabitha to sit in front with me b/c I wasn’t quite sure how to get to the cemetery, which is perhaps ½ hour away. On her lap sat Johnson, the small boy. He looked and looked, but didn’t cry this time, possibly because Tabitha was feeding him yogurt, which he seemed to enjoy a lot.

It was a lovely day when we left Naivasha, possibly 68 to 70 degrees. I had bought 2 umbrellas yesterday, but left them at home, so when we were approaching Mt. Longenot, where the cemetery is, I was dismayed to see a heavy mist with its accompanying cold. ARGH!

As we were driving along, I was trying to remember which mountain was Longenot. When I pointed at one they said no, it was the other. “What’s the name of this one?” “Margaret, I think.” “My mountain? Who knew?” It is appropriately unimpressive, smaller by far than Longenot, but I will remember we are namesakes.

It was a short drive into the cemetery from the main road, but another of those muddy, rutted, roads that threatens the axels every few feet. I was busily dodging matatus, people, piki-pikis (moterbikes), but no donkey carts this time. I parked the car, only to discover that one of the girls didn’t know how to open a car door. Imagine, she’s in her 2nd year in high school! I had to carefully explain how to unlock it (she’d pushed the lock) and how to open it without tearing off the handle.

We walked across the uneven field to the freshly dug grave. We gathered around while the singing women again carried the coffin to sit on a gurney beside the open grave. Six feet is really deep and I often wonder how they dig them so precisely, with straight sides and square corners. It must take some training to get them so perfect. As we stood there, the mist dropped lower so that while it wasn’t raining, it was wet and cold. I remember registering it was cold, but not feeling the cold. After more prayers and more wonderful African singing, the coffin was lowered into the grave. One of the wreaths of roses was presented to the grandparents, the other stayed on top of the grave after it was filled in. Each person walked by adding either a shovel-full or a hand-full of dirt. When all had done this, several men, including Fr. Kiriti shoveled in the rest of the dirt, mounding it up carefully, smoothing the top for the wreath. Lastly we each were handed a rose, which we planted on top. Three hundred roses were donated for this. If her spirit was there, she surely felt very loved and honored. Then everyone walked back to the cars and matatus, leaving her there, alone.

As I returned to my car I thought of Our Town. Here was a newcomer to be oriented by all the others who preceded her. Go well, Maggy. We love you.

2016 #5 Hard Day

I’ve just returned from a mass in Magdalene’s memory. It was the regular Wednesday evening mass, which I never attend, but of course this time I did. In the front, just below the alter, was this picture of her—so beautiful, young, vibrant—so full of promise. It was taken 2 years ago, the last time Judy came here. We made it a point that summer to take a picture of each child with the 2 of us

2016-05 Magdalene

You can see that I just cropped Judy and me out of the picture. What was left of a great portrait of Maggy, as they sometimes called her.

2016-05 PastedGraphic-3

Seeing that picture on a small table with a candle burning beside it truly undid me. I hadn’t cried for her yet. When Julia and I were in the hospital and got the news I was so concerned about Julia I didn’t really acknowledge my own sense of loss. But there in the quiet of the church it really hit me. I haven’t been this sad since Jim died.

Tomorrow is the funeral mass and burial. I just hope I can hold it together through all of that.

More of the kids came today, Tylon from Archbishop Ndingi, Evelyn, Tabitha, Beatrice and Joyce from SFG. Later I’ll share dinner with all of them, but for now, Julia is attending another planning meeting, this time about tomorrow’s program. Every night for the past 5 days, people have met, first to accept donations to cover the cost of hospitalization for 5 weeks, and also for the costs of the funeral and burial, then to plan.

That’s how they do it here when someone dies. Those closest to the deceased gather funds. People have been very generous. Not only was Magdalene beloved, but also people understand the grandparents have nothing. The practice is to bury a family member in the land if they have any, but the grandparents have none. She will rest in the city cemetery, where she will join Queen who died 5 or 6 years ago. Queen had been born HIV positive. She hated taking the ARV (anti-retroviral) drugs and eventually refused them. She didn’t last long after that. Her picture is in the dining hall. The one of Magdalene will join it there, atop a cabinet.

Sorry this is such a downer, but I just needed to write this to move on. I promise to be cheerier once this is past. Sigh.

2016 #4 Finally Home

Wednesday, June 15

After collecting Magdalene’s sisters from school and taking them to Mji Wa Neema, I knew I had to move back here. Most of the kids will be coming home, either this weekend or before the funeral and I want to be here with them. At first I thought it would be here for a week, so I packed up what I thought I might need and headed off. Just as I left the house, it began to rain, lightly at first, then steadily—not the giraffe’s and elephants of a real African rain, just cats and dogs. Since there was nothing to eat in my little house, I had to stop at the Naivas, the wonderful supermarket here. It’s like the old Target or Brentwood, where you could buy anything and everything, food, of course, cookware, school supplies, and upstairs, clothing (including shoes), appliances—-stoves, refrigerators, washers, dryers, microwaves ( you name it) toys, linen. It’s truly one-stop-shopping and it does a land office business all day, every day.

In addition to all that, I had to get a new gas canister for cooking, but—OH NO!—they don’t take the particular gas canister I brought back (although I could swear it’s the same one I bought at the Naivas last summer). The staff were so kind and helpful. They pointed me across the road to the shop I’d never known, that sells propane gas. The canister is really heavy (even empty) and a very nice man carried it across for me. By that time the elephants and giraffes were falling thick and fast. Wow! What a rain. I made it just in time. The shop lady was just leaving, in fact a very helpful young man called her from her car. Transaction accomplished and the young man carried the full canister back to my car. ARGH! What a night!

By then it was dark and I missed the turn into the church. The electricity had gone out, so there were no street lights, only the glare of the headlights, most of which were blinding me with their high beams. Not sure why they do that. Maybe they’re just not aware. But finally I pulled up to the gate of the children’s home, got my suitcase and groceries out, stumbling through the gate and the mud to my little house.   I was soaking wet and very tired.

Unpacking what I needed and finding Julia to help me put my bed together took over an hour. My mattresses (yes I have 2) were on end to keep off the dust. It took some doing to right them and the installation of the bed net was another ordeal. My bed has a frame (like a testor bed), but the wood used was not smoothed, so trying to slide a net over it is like trying to put a nylon stocking on a log. But at last the bed was together and I fell on it. Didn’t even get inside, just lay on top with my wonderful faux fur coverlet and was asleep before I knew it.

In the morning I felt a calm serenity that told me one thing. Now I was home!

Of course, being home means I have internet connectivity problems, the refrigerator isn’t working (the man was so come at 2, but never showed), there’s no place to put anything and naturally I’d left some necessities at the rental house. Oh well, that’s the proof I’m here.

Monday June 20

I’ve moved back to Mji Wa Neema permanently. Now I’m happy. That other place just wasn’t me.

I have my modem working so internet when I want it, though slow, the refrigerator now works and I have almost everything back here. The repair man came Saturday. He determined the problem was the timer that controls the defrosting mechanism. Consequently the freezer hadn’t defrosted for months! The freezer compartment was totally iced, and the drain lines all clogged. What a mess1 He began putting pots of hot water inside, but that was taking a long time. He mentioned he was supposed to report to Panda Flower Farms, so I sent him on his way, figuring waiting for ice to melt was right up there with watching paint dry. Four or 5 hours later he was back. By that time my kitchen was awash in yucky water. As soon as I swept it out, more had run out of the refer. By about 6 pm he announced that the ice was gone. He expertly removed the offending part, installed the replacement, cleaned up the refer (but not the very muddy floor) and was ready for the next job, which was to repair the shower in the other room (Judy’s) in anticipation of arrival on Friday of Alison Staab—math teacher and member of the Kenya Help board. She will be here for 3 weeks and already I’m figuring out how the 2 of us can support the math teachers. He was able to repair the heating mechanism without having to replace it, saving me many shillings. Fr. K had encouraged me to buy a new refrigerator to the tune of $700 to $1100. The repair was $35. I’m a happy lady and I’m so glad to know Joseph, who made all this happen—a gentle young man, very willing, who stayed until 8 pm to get things fixed. And he fixed the outside light by my door, making navigating a very narrow sidewalk a bit less hazardous.

On Sunday afternoon, I just couldn’t stand having no emails arriving nor going out. I knew there was wifi in the rectory, so headed down that way. The priests were all there relaxing after many masses. They were so nice, welcoming me, giving me a comfortable seat and the wifi password. I had 41 emails on my KH account and 114 in my junk email, ads, political stuff, petitions etc. As you can imagine, it took awhile to work through the 41. The 114 just went off to trash in the flick of a mouse. A number of friends and blog-readers had written, wondering whether I am OK. I am and now even better, with my modem.

Earlier in the day I felt like my house was a 3-ring circus. People just kept coming to see me. I had told many that I wasn’t accepting company until next weekend, after Magdalene is safely put to rest, but still they came. That’s really part of the fun, but…..

Today I was up early to get to school, arriving shortly after 8, only to learn this is the week of mid-term exams and there is no teaching going on!!! ARGH!!!! However, I found my old desk in the staff room and began marking the exams I had been given by Fr. Nguluia. He is the new parish priest and a math teacher, as well as a very nice guy. I hate marking papers, but it was good b/c I could see where the weaknesses are—and there are some glaring ones. I’m still not finished, but I made a big dent in it. Since the girls will finish mid-terms on Thursday and go home for a 4-day break on Friday, there is no big rush. I’ve showed him my graphing calculator and he really drooled over it. So before I left school I grabbed 4 from the stock given to SFG by Texas Instruments some years ago, and took them home to replace the batteries and make sure they were working. He gets one and the others are for new math teachers. Now all I need do is find time for a workshop to show them some of the incredibly clever features.

Later this afternoon Julia came in, asking for pictures of Magdalene for the burial program. Since I have some 10,000 pix on the computer, you can see that it’s a very long job to scroll through them. However we found quite a few, from which she selected 12 to take to the planning committee for their choice. We ran across a video of girls dancing, with Magdalene front and center, really shaking her bootie. She was a great singer, dancer and all round performer. She loved the stage.

Now I am sitting in my bed, ready to sleep. I’m not including pix. Too tired.

2016 #3 – Delivering Fr. Kiriti 2016

Today is the day Fr. Kiriti was to report to St. Paul’s outside Nakuru. We both had errands in NVA (Naivasha) so that by the time we were ready it was lunchtime. We decided to stop at a new restaurant just on the edge of town, owned by our good friend and Empower the World (ETW) board member, Joyce. It is small but nicely painted with round tables for 4. Joyce was not there when we arrived, so we ordered, hoping to get off quickly, but before our food arrived, Joyce came in, very surprised to see us. She is quite an entrepreneur, having opened another restaurant in Nairobi at the university. Due to student unrest, it is currently closed, but she hopes to reopen soon. The food was good, but service slow. Those who know Fr. Kiriti will not be surprised that he offered his suggestions (!!!)

With us was Hiliary, the new social worker for ETW, who was along to drive me and the car back to NVA after we delivered Fr. K. He’s a really nice young man, with a great smile and fun sense of humor. On the way we tried to cover all the topics we hadn’t thought about yet. It’s not as if Fr. K were going off to Siberia, not even as far as his previous assignment in East Pokot, but it is a good distance—about 1 ½ hours. Turning off the main road, we drove maybe 5 miles on a nicely paved road, then turned off on the familiar washboard road for about 2 miles, finally arriving at St. Paul’s. It is quite rural, but not dry and arid like East Pokot. This is a lush, green, abundant area with lots of rain, and as if to welcome him, the skies opened up as Hiliary and I were about to leave, raining giraffes and elephants—a real African rain. I was glad Hiliary was driving and he did it with great skill.
2016-02 pic 1 Hilary

St. Paul’s church is beautiful (sorry I didn’t get a pic, but I promise to get one when I visit again.) The stonework design is intricate and so well built. As with St. Francis Xavier in NVA, the parish compound is quite large. The rectory, on the other hand is old and perhaps built by Mrs. Winchester. It’s hard to imagine what the architect (if there was one) was thinking. Fr. K hadn’t sat down for 10 minutes before he began talking about improvements he wanted to make. He really loves designing and remodeling—maybe a frustrated architect under the clerical collar. Mostly the place needs a good scrubbing and probably a good coat of paint. He is joining one other priest, whom he described as very hardworking. That’s important when you are Fr. K’s assistant! He was just going out as we were driving in, so I barely met him, but I liked his manner, open, warm and humble.

2016-03 pic #2

The rain lasted about 10 miles. We were suddenly out of it, long before we arrived NVA, which badly needs it. I dropped Hiliary, picked my new shopping bags from Joyce and was heading home when suddenly I thought, “Ummm, this is Wednesday, Rotary night. Off I headed to the NVA Sports Club, Rotary’s home. I was too early, but several members were there, including president, Pauline, who greeted me warmly. I didn’t stay, but will plan to be there next week.

I have not yet written of the great sadness we are all feeling at the passing of 24-year old Magdalene, late of Mji Wa Neema. She was born with a virtually inoperable hole in her heart. She managed it very well, but about 1 ½ months ago things went downhill.

Upon arrival Tuesday, when I went with Julia, matron of this children’s home, to visit her we were led to a private room where we were informed she had died the night before. It’s very odd that no one was notified, but that wasn’t my major concern at that moment. Julia collapsed into my arms, sobbing inconsolably. She has mothered all 35 of those children so lovingly.

Magdalene was a very special girl, a highly talented singer, dancer and actress. Her life ambition was to be on the stage. She was always the leader whenever the children were called upon to perform, which was often. This is so sad.

2016-03 Magdalene 2014 #2

It’s just fortunate that I was here and that I have the car. Today we went to SFG to collect Magdalene’s sister, Mary and then to Naivasha Girls to collect another sister, Margaret. The girls are at a loss. Magdalene was the oldest, to whom they have looked for guidance all these years. I took them all back to Mji Wa Neema to be with Julia. I will be moving to my “house” there tonight and stay until the burial, next week sometime.

The girls have grandparents, but they are very old and unable to care for them. At Mji Wa Neema they had many advantages, the most important of which is education. The grandparents would never have been able to afford that. They were lucky to have food. Kenya Help has sponsored all the children as they move through school. Seeing these 2 sisters, not only orphans but also having lost their elder, I am so glad they have the opportunity to go to school. The grandparents will not last a lot longer and then they’ll be alone. But all the MWN children are like family. They refer to each other as brothers and sisters. The girls will always have them and of course, Julia, who is Mom to all of them.

2016-03 Magdalene 2009