# 15 Why Are My Days Here So Crazy?

July 24, 2017

I don’t think one day so far in my month-and-a-half stay has turned out just the way it had looked through the morning light.  Days at home aren’t like that.  Because this is Monday, cook’s day off at the rectory, he doesn’t bring my paper.  I must walk down to the gate, which is all of about 4 minutes (if I’m slow) to pick it.  Actually if I could go in my pj’s I’d be fine with that but I fear I’d scandalize the community,  so must dress.  For me the height of luxury and self-indulgence is to spend at least an hour doing the Sudoku and the X-word over a leisurely breakfast, then get dressed (or not) and face the day.  So today I had to throw on the jeans and a shirt.  Not a big deal in the long run.  But as I walked down, I saw Lucy, looking quit miserable.  “Lucy are you OK?”  “I’m fine.”  “Are you sure?”  Then the story came out. She’d been thrown from a piki piki 2 days ago and wrenched her back, was scraped up a bit and possibly had a damaged toe.  Lucy hasn’t lived at Mji for some 5 or 6 years and you may well remember that just last year she had a real break-through in understanding the many mistakes she has made.  At 22 or so she has 3 children and no source of income.  Empower the World has now taken her back to salon training, which she had left because she had no one to care for her children when they were sick.  I brought her to my house, asked her some questions, fed her some breakfast, gave her Ibuprophen and put her to bed with my hot water bottle.  I called Joyce, who is our medical counselor, who advised taking her to the district hospital right across the road. 

While all of that is going on, Ruth is trying to get my attention about a letter she needs to write and could I help her?  (Can you put it on my table?)   I’d asked Hillary to come at 10 so we could do some things Fr. Kiriti had requested.  I haven’t brushed my teeth, washed my face, combed my hair—-nada.  Hillary arrives and walks Lucy to the hospital, I get my 2 days of dirty dishes washed, read Ruth’s letter, wash, brush and comb.  Take a deep breath.  Oh yeah, have to finish packing to be ready when Fr. Kiriti arrives to take me to Nakuru to visit my dear friend, Lydia Venter. 

By the time Hillary returns I’m done and ready to work on our job.  Lucy comes back and seems to be a bit better, either from the Ibuprophen or the hot water bottle or perhaps that and the TLC.  We refill water bottle, Lucy leaves, Hillary and I get our job done and it occurs to me that it’s lunch time.  “Are hungry?”  Hesitantly, “Well, yes.”  Have you ever eaten a grilled cheese sandwich?”  “No.”  “Everybody loves grilled cheese sandwiches.”  Hillary watches as I slice the cheddar, butter the bread on the outside and plop it into the hot frying pan, where the bread toasts crisply and the cheese melts.  Just then Mungai walks in, smells the sandwich and sits down.  Now I have 2 more people for whom a grilled cheese sandwich is a favorite! 

Fr. Kiriti arrived to have lunch and time to tak, then drive me to Nakuru.  I had come with my laundry list of things to discuss and he had his things to tell too.  It’s the first time we’ve had to really talk since I came and all through lunch and the ride to Nakuru more things kept bubbling up. 

I was on my way to visit one of my favorite families, the Venters, who are a South African couple with 7 adopted mixed-race children.  Actually the oldest aren’t children any more.  Only the 2 youngest are still at home.  I met them years ago when I admired some earrings on display in the salon where I have my hair cut (and will do so again on Wednesday).  You may remember the story of the taka taka earrings, made from flattened bottle caps and other bits of detritus.  Lydia is incredibly creative and is at her best with found items of little or no value.  She turns everything into art pieces, which I wish I could bring back. 

Maki, the eldest lived in South Africa for 3 or 4 years, but has come back to live nearby with her brother, Stephanus (#3).  Maki has learned to make soaps and is getting quite a bit of business. 

From left hibiscus soap, lemon grass, ACH can’t remember the kind that looks like cheddar cheese (it’s not)  The pieces in the pink mold are still curing, a process that takes about 1 week if she does the hot method or 6 weeks if she uses the cold method.

I showered with her charcoal soap this morning and found it quite nice.  Lydia tells me charcoal has a lot of healing qualities.  What I noticed is that it lathered nicely, was quite hard (so would last long) and didn’t leave my skin gray, as one might imagine.  I was hoping to get some to bring back, but evidently she had a big order and has none on hand. 

Joy, #2, has gone to South Africa for a time, where she is learning even more about baking.  She had opened Joy’s Delights to sell her wonderful cakes, donuts and sweet breads here in Nakuru.   However, since she is a South African, she was not allowed to run a business so had to close.  Lydia and Wilco are missionaries and have finally been able to register their foundation here in Kenya, so Joy will be able to run her bakery under the foundation, as part of her profits go to support the schools the foundation runs.  The next 2 children are in boarding schools, so I’ve not seen them, while Timothy (14) and TD (9) are home schooled.  It’s the most loving family and a joy to be with.  Only downside is that Wilco, being also South African, so unable to work in Kenya, spends 3 of every 4 weeks in SA so he can support his large family.

I spent 3 days with them, although I think it was a bit hard for Lydia.  Her life is always busy and hectic, particularly when Wilco is not there.  She has a volunteer, Rose, from Holland, whom she has to juggle, along with the children and me.

More on the visit in the next post. Here we are at dinner the first night I was there.

Rose, Teday (9), Lydia, Stephanus (19) and Timothy (14).

#14  Observations from a Different World

July 23, 2017

I just looked it up, 9586 miles San Francisco to Nairobi and it is truly a different world in so many ways—and just the same in as many ways. 

This is Sunday and I had set my alarm for 7 am so I’d have plenty of time to shower, wash my hair and get to mass, just in case it actually began at 8:30, which it occasionally does.  I don’t like to be late, because I love to sit in the pew labeled In loving memory of James P. McAuliffe

Often we have a chat as I sit there.  But this morning just as I was about to hop (?) out of bed, the power went off.  Hot water here, comes from the showerhead, not hot water heating tank.  No power, no hot water.  RATS!!!  Oh well, I’ll loll in bed for a bit longer.  7:45, the power returns and I calculate whether I’ll have enough time.  Fast shower and shampoo, toss on my clothes, walk down the path to the slate walkway along the side of the church to the parking lot where the young members of the congregation sell copies of the day’s readings for 10 cents.  I always get one because I have a hard time understanding the readings here.  I even have time to join the others waiting for the 7 am mass to be over, after which there is a stream of those going in, dodging those coming out, in a totally disorderly manner.  This is a big church. 

Actually it is huge, with maybe 50-60 rows, each with possibly over 50 spaces.  Its’ not that full, but there are a lot of people each mass.  While waiting I meet Francis, Catherine’s friend and am grateful for his steady hand going up the broad steps.  Since my fall, I am none too steady going up and down stairs and regularly resort to grabbing a hand, hopefully belonging to someone I know.  Inside I look to see whether Jim’s pew is occupied.  Whew!  It’s not.  Many years ago I asked that it be 5 pews back and in the center so I can see and hear.  Fr. Kiriti immediately saw to that and even though Fr. Kiriti is long gone from here, Jim’s pew remains 5 pews back, center aisle. 

For some reason this morning I notice various hair styles.  Almost no women in front of me (all choir members) have gone in for those fabulous braid styles.  Maybe they are no longer in.  About half the men shave their heads, the others have possibly a millimeter of hair—all of which makes that of the man directly in front of me more noticeable.  It’s a modified afro, graying.  He wears a graying beard as well, Lenin style, and John Lennon glasses.  Only later do I realize the reason I thought him Ethiopian is that he looks a lot like pictures I remember of Haile Salasse, long-time Ethiopian leader and leader of their independence drive.  For those of you too young to remember, he spoke to the UN, asking for help so forcefully he was dubbed The Lion of Judah. 

Mass begins and down the aisle come the dancing children in 2 lines, boys in one, girls in the other.  The lead dancers are the best ones, with the quality diminishing noticeably down the line.  The lead boy is especially limber, literally throwing his body forward.  Then come the altar attendants, not altar boys—some are girls—the two seminarians and finally the priest, someone I’ve not met.  The service is very formal, event scripted, and I miss the more informal mass of the Thomas Merton Center in Palo Alto.  It’s also long, almost 2 hours.

I can follow the readings with the paper I bought, and fortunately the priest’s accent isn’t too strong, but even at that I miss words, so some of the message.  Always 4 pre-selected members of the congregation come forward to pray for the church, the country, the children and ??? (I‘ve never picked up what the 4th one is for).  Despite the use of a microphone, I could barely tell someone was speaking, let along, follow along.  I do understand prayers are not being sent to me, so maybe is doesn’t matter whether I’ve understood.

Another difference is the collection.  No baskets passed here.  There are metal boxes, maybe 2 1/2 feet tall by a foot wide and 10 inches deep, generally 4 or 6 of them, each bearing a very large padlock.  Members of the congregation rise, row by row, filing forward to put their folded bills or coins through the slot.  It’s totally obvious if someone doesn’t go forward, so there is some degree of pressure to have at least a ksh 10 coin (which makes a loud “clink” until enough bills pad the bottom to muffle the sound).  It’s 10 cents.  Anyone making a “clink” is immediately revealed.  Better to add a ksh 50 bill.

All through the mass the choir sings the most wonderful harmonies.  I don’t know whether they won yesterday’s competition, but they often do win.  Jim’s pew in directly behind the last row of bases.  Although I don’t know the words to many songs, I hum along just the same. 

The people are dancing in place, with clapping and waving the forearms to certain songs.  Even the clapping is different.  Americans clap by bringing the hands together in the front.  Kenyans clap by swinging the whole bent arm forward and together, then marking the off-beat by bringing the elbows sharply back.  The dancing is a swaying motion, shifting weight from one foot to another, even lifting the feet.  It’s all very energetic, particularly with so many people.

Lay people help to distribute the communion, but first they have entered the sacristy to don long white robes over their clothes and hang very large gold crosses on gold chains around the neck.  People shuffle forward for that too.  At the end the chairman of the church council invites people to come forward with their sadaka, which is their tithing.  The priest receives their envelopes (brown for men, white for women) then sprinkles all with holy water in blessing.  Finally come the announcements.  Again, I have a hard time understanding, but it doesn’t matter, as none involve me.

Mass over, I make my way across the church to a side entrance where the steps have a railing and off I am for my breakfast.  I’m stopped by the older sister of Lucy, one of our first scholarship recipients.  She’s now a nurse and doing very well.

The picture was taken several years ago, from the entrance as people left.  At that time “ushers” didn’t let the newcomers surge forward like they did today.

It’s 10:30 and I’m hungry now.  I quickly prepare my bran flakes, make my malaria tea and chow down, trying to work the Sudoku, which is particularly hard today.  Actually not as hard as yester-day’s, which defeated me.  No sooner do I finish than Mungai comes in to say he wants to take his new goodies home.  Accompanying him are the other 2 Davids, Wekesa and Kamau. 

Finally about 2 pm I get to rest and promptly fall asleep.

#13, Mungai is Launched, a Choir Competition and a New Connection

July 22, 2017

Since it’s Saturday, I was eating a leisurely breakfast, when Mungai knocked my door, came in and sat as if he lived here.  I was momentarily taken aback, but then he announced,

“Margo I need your advice.  I want to move from Mji Wa Neema and live independently.“  Wow!  That’s a big decision, but appropriate, since he’s no longer a student and is employed .  “I’ve found a house,” (usually means what we would call an apartment) and I want to know what you think.”  “Ok, how much is the rent?”  “Ksh4000.” (about $40).  “OK, how much are you earning  right now?”  “Ksh16,000.” (about $160/month).  “Hmmm, yes that seems OK.  The rule of thumb is no more than 1/3.  This is only ¼, so well within that limit.”  He smiles.  “Have you had breakfast?”  “No.”  “What do you generally eat?” (as if I didn’t know they all eat bread for breakfast.  The only bread I have is in the freezer, but my refrigerator is rebelling again, so it’s not very cold.  I stick 2 pieces in the toaster, get plate and mug.  “I have 2 smokies (sausages) in the refrigerator.  Would you like them?”  Smile and nod.  Soon I’m eating my bran flakes with hemp seed, chia seeds, grated coconut and pecans sprinkled over, while Mungai happily munches his bread, drinks his tea and enjoys the smokies.  He has a temp job with the water company, doing sanitation inspections.  He has been interviewed by HR and he’s pretty sure they will offer him a permanent job, with presumably better pay.  He’s one of our success stories.  You may recall he graduated from Jomo Kenyatta University just after Alison arrived.  He’s somewhat quiet, thoughtful, bright, hardworking and generally great guy. 

I inquired about a girl friend.  Yes, he has one, but she’s not THE ONE.  He thinks he’s not ready for about 5 years (I think he’s 22 or 23).  Clearly he wants to be sure he is able to support a wife, has a good job and some degree of financial security.

“Now I want to go pay my rent.  I won’t move from Mji Wa Neema until Sept, when Margaret and Mokami go to school, but I want to begin renting now.”  He goes off to take care of the rent and to buy a bed.  Certainly an important requirement. 

I get myself ready to go to SFG where I will finish teaching factoring trinomials to form 2 west. (factorizing, it’s called here).  David returns, excited that he’s getting it together and I drive him up the road to his place.  He wants to mop it.  He also wants me to see it, but I’m already late. 

At SFG we work on factoring and have a conversation about the future, what each girl envisions for herself, etc.  Finishing there, I call Mungai and agree to stop by to view his new digs.

It’s 2 rooms, no water, no bathroom—must be a communal one, but he is proud of it.  As we walk into the compound, 5 or 6 small children come shyly up to touch me (shake hands) and look with their wondering eyes.  Two follow us into the rooms as you see.  The only furniture is the new bed, on which lay the bedcovering and sheets.  He needs a covering for the window, chair, oh, so many things, but for now, he wants to go get a “mopper”. Julia would be very proud of her “son”, who knows how to mop, make his bed, wash his clothes, cook and generally take care of himself.  Not all Kenyan men can do that.

Back home I find the church compound awash in choir groups, each with its special color of dress and shirts.  They are everywhere, practicing so the air is full of their music, even the courtyard of Mji Wa Neema.  As I write, the singing wafts through my door.  Today is choir competition day.

Catherine was in the church compound for a meeting with a group supporting a new church, with a medical dispensary and a bore hole (well) in Turkana, very near East Pokot, where Fr. Kiriti spent 3 years.  She came for a “brief” visit, but with us it’s never brief, but in the end she had to tear herself away to return to her group, which includes Francis, her new man of the hour.  They hope to marry if Fr. Ngaruiya can be persuaded to advocate annulment of her marriage to Joseph.  He is reluctant, urging her to take 2 weeks to try to rekindle the marriage.  He doesn’t understand Joseph has moved on with another “wife” and 2 children.  He doesn’t support the 2 children he and Catherine have, except for school fees and they are in the process of divorce.  She and Francis are much more sympatico but they can’t marry in the church without the annulment.  ARGH!!!  I thought Pope Francis had eased that process, but perhaps the news has not traveled this far south. 

While I was at SFG, I received a call from a lady named Jecinta, who wanted to talk about the “tuitioning” I do each August. I had suggested she come see me at 5 and at 5 she promptly turned up.  She had said she knew me, but I think I’ve not seen her before.  I may have met her at a parent visiting day when her oldest daughter (class 2011) was there.  SFG doesn’t even have parent visiting day anymore.  Her younger daughter, currently in form 2, had asked me to call her for permission to attend the tuitioning and as I explained it to Jecinta, I could see she favored the idea.  As we talked, I learned she works for the Kenya Wildlife Service and immediately my mind went to Kantai, whose dream is to drive big machinery, for which he is trained and has a certificate.  Without connections, it is very hard to get a job, and how many connections can an orphan have?  So I told her about Kantai and as I talked, she became more receptive, understanding how we have supported the kids of Mji Wa Neema and understanding how important that is.  Next thing I know, she wants to talk to him.   I call him but Ach! he’s at Mungai’s new digs.  I briefly tell him, “Come now, Kantai.  Run!”  “I’m running right now.”  He arrived, totally out of breath, and I let them talk, because it’s easier in Kiswahili, even though both are pretty fluent in English.  Besides, I really need to wash my dishes, some of which have sat for 3 days! 

(Mungai on the left, Kantai and Jecinta)

But in fact, they slip into English and we explore ideas.  She knows people at KenGen (generates electricity from thermal energy).  If I understood correctly, they are opening a new site and will be taking on new workers.  She says 800 applicants have been interviewed, so we’re not holding our breath, but the more we talked the more enthusiastic she became.  Please say a collective prayer for Kantai.  He’s shy and has no idea how to promote himself.  As much as I encourage him to be a self-advocate, he still lacks the confidence. 

Jecinta leaves and I take Mungai to select his housewarming gift(s).  He has nothing.  We go to Jaama where we select 2 spoons, 2 forks, a plate, a bowl, cups and glasses, a pot, some knives, cutting board, bucket and basin for washing and a set of baskets held together, sort of like shelves, to keep things on.  Tomorrow we’ll get a propane tank to which a cooking surface can be attached, so he can prepare food.  It’s a start and he loved picking new items, all blue, which turns out to be his favorite color.  Catherine has promised to buy him a couple of plastic chairs and some other necessities. 

I can see I need to do the same for Kantai, who has his own room, but I suspect not much else.  He comes to Mji to eat most nights.  He has picked jobs from time to time, but it’s hard to get steady work and when he does, it’s generally low paying and back-breaking.  I so hope Jecinta can connect him with something permanent.  What I’m trying to teach all of them is to network and put themselves and their abilities out to everyone.  It’s hard for them.

#12  A Nairobi Adventure As We Take Alison to the Airport

July 18, 2017

Today is Tuesday, Alison’s departure date.  The plan was to go to the Maasai Market to fill up her 2nd suitcase, have lunch in a nice Nairobi restaurant, drop her early at the airport and be back in Naivasha by about 7.  As you have no doubt experienced, people make plans and God laughs. This morning the paper was full of reports about the expanding cholera epidemic in Nairobi, even in fancy restaurants. (It doesn’t help the situation that nursing are striking in all public hospitals!)  We conclude that eating in Nairobi is not a good idea, so turn to our best back-up lunch (yeah, peanut butter sandwiches).

We had time to run to the Naivas for some apples, water, juice and our favorite digestives, not-too-sweet cookies which the kids love, as do we.  Because Margaret and Mokami (Tabitha) of Mji Wa Neema had asked to go with us, we made more than enough for all.

Hillary arrived right on time, Josephat finished washing the car and we were off.  The car was well-loaded with Alison and the 2 girls in back, her suitcases in the boot and me in front to chat with Hillary.  First stop was the newly opened craft shop of James Njorogi, whom I met many years ago at the Maasai market.  He has always had new and interesting items, designed by himself and made at his family farm, where perhaps 20 family members work to craft his clever items.  He has always given me very fair prices and I’ve bought a lot of fun things from him over the years.  I was not disappointed, he had several new things, which I hope my readers will like as much as I do.  We chatted and haggled over a few prices, picked out what I wanted and set up a plan for him to find other things I wanted, but knew he could get them for a better price.  Of course I forgot to take a picture!!!  But here’s one of Njorogi at the big market last year.

As 1 o’clock approached I began to feel hunger pangs and upon poling the troops, learned that everyone else had them too.  Was there a small park somewhere in Nairobi where we could eat.  No!  (I knew that).  We’d have to eat in the car.  But as we drove along I remembered going to the seminary where Hillary spent some 8 years before deciding on a job shift, and the lovely parklike areas around it.  “Would it be possible?”  Yes, it would and off we drove.

It’s in what I suppose might be called a suburb of Nairobi called Karen.  It’s particularly green and lush, even in this drought and the grounds were wonderfully peaceful and beautiful—an assessment by the monkeys who frolicked around the flower beds and trees.  Hmmmm, I hadn’t remembered them.  They would not be welcome at our picnic, but stealing our PNB sandwiches.

As always, it’s nice to have friends in high places.  Hillary talked to a friend who invited us to use their dining room.  In fact, Hillary and the 2 girls had a traditional lunch, offered to all of us.  Alison and I had our PNBS’s.  The buildings are high ceilinged and graceful, very welcoming, but soon we were off to the market, this one held in a shopping mall I didn’t recognize.  There weren’t a lot of venders, not like the previous markets.  Njoroge said he wouldn’t be there because the other venders see his new designs, and 3 months later they are selling their knock-offs.  However, Margaret and Mokami had never been to the market and loved looking at all the displays, as well as watching me buy.  I’ve done it enough now, to have a sense of what is a Kenya price vs a mzungu price and I don’t hesitate to ask for the former.  I tell each person as I bargain about what I do with the items I buy and where all the money goes (back to Naivasha to pay school fees).  I didn’t hurt that the 2 girls were with us, as I explained they were 2 of the almost 200 beneficiaries and are both now waiting to begin their post-secondary education.  Prices plummeted and many people thanked me for what we do.  The sun was hot at I began to feel light-headed, so at several stalls I asked to sit while we bargained.  The small notebook I carry in my purse has notations from last year about what I’d paid, which gave me a good idea of what was possible.  People were very kind and we moved through the shopping pretty fast.  Nonetheless, it was getting late and the airport was far off.  Because we were now loaded with stuff, we took the elevator down to the parking level—first time for both Margaret and Mokami (who couldn’t bring herself to look out the window as we went down.  Too scary.

Nairobi traffic is unbelievable, but Hillary is a very skillful and aggressive driver, getting us through the worst of it fairly quickly.  At the airport we looked for the right terminal, International departures, and finding it, I point to a parking lot entrance, we immediately found a spot and set about filling up Alison’s second bag.  We gave her a good-bye hug and off she went with her loaded cart, while we piled back into the car.  It was then the Hillary told us about the officer who was complaining that our entrance was actually an exit and he had broken the law!  I’ve had experience with the airport police in the past and know them to be particularly aggressive in enforcing “the law”, regardless of how trivial the offense.  As he was explaining it, I saw the officer, signaling Hillary to get out of the car and come to him.  Hillary is no dummy, he signaled the officer to come to the car, which he did.  He demanded to see Hillary’s driver’s license, but again, Hillary was no fool.  He didn’t say he didn’t have the license, but  he didn’t produce it either.  The guy was pretty aggressive, so I took over, “It was my fault, officer, I told him this was where to turn in  (true) and I’ll be happy to take over the driving.”  Whereupon I produced the photocopy of my International Driving License.  No, no, that would not do.  He was the culprit and he must produce his license.  “The law states a driver is required to produce his license when requested by an officer.”  “It also provides that he has 24 hours to do so,”  I countered.  By this time he had been joined by a female colleague who perhaps had a slightly higher rank, because he backed off and she took over.  “There was no sign saying ‘Exit only’ nor ‘Do Not Enter’.  We didn’t realize it was an exit.  No one was driving out and no one was inconvenienced in any way.”  (me)  “There’s a bump right before an exit to slow down the traffic and the driver should know that!” (she)  Later I noticed a bump right before the very next entrance!!!  Back and forth we go, Hillary sitting there, not saying he doesn’t have his license, but not producing it, and I realize we’re not getting anywhere.  We’re not paying a bribe (which is what they wanted) and they thought they could get away with it because I was a naïve old mzungui.  NOT.  Finally I look over the rims of my sun glasses in my best school marm manner and repeat, “No one was in the least affected by this.  It is really such a big deal?”  All the time staring right in her eyes.  She knew damned well I knew she was asking for a bribe and she could see I wasn’t intimidated.  “We’d really appreciated it if you would let us proceed back to Naivasha now.  It’s a long drive and we are tired.”  And so they did.  As exited the exit, Hillary said, “I have my license, but I wasn’t going to give it to them.  They just take it away and you have no choice but to pay up.”  “ I knew all along you had it.”

By that time it was after 5 and the traffic getting back to the Southern Bypass was Nairobi traffic at it’s best, cheek by jowl, inching along, no one conceding a millimeter.  Eventually was hit the bypass, stopping for “petrol” at a station Hillary knew of that had the best price in town.  Sure enough it was almost ksh 5 per liter less than I’d paid in Naivasha 2 days ago—approximately $.25 per gallon.  To be sure, gas dropped 2.2 shillings 2 days ago, but this was a real bargain!

On the road again, the hunger pangs again arose and then I picked the scent of PNB.  Ah, yes, there were some left over, which the girls were eating in the back.  We all had a ½ (maybe the girls in back had more) and we finally arrived home at about 8:30, tired, but unscathed!

This is now Friday night and the first time I had to find some pix to include. I have a few others, scenes along the road.

This is a donkey cart to deliver water to homes with no hookups.  To the right is charcoal, the making of which is illegal, but I guess selling it is not!

As we rode along, I was aware of how many animals were grazing along the road.  No need to use herbicides—goats, sheep, cows and donkeys keep the area cropped clean.  The animals seem to make it back home safely.  Rarely do I see one tethered.  Maybe there is someone tending them in the background.

People standing by roadside, waiting for a matatu, with big loads are common sights.  Small shops abound in clusters.

This is a display of fresh produce, mostly cabbages, onions, potatoes, tomatoes, all beautifully arranged. They are all along the Nairobi road

The woman is carrying her child on her back, legs hanging out lesso wrapped around the kids butt to hold him/her in.  This one looks old enough to walk, but maybe they have a long distance.

#11 The Story Continues

July 11, 2017

It seems I am dealing with a time crunch all the time.  Alison leaves a week from today and will take home an empty suitcase if we don’t find some craft items for her to take.  We have not been to the Maasai market for our usual goodies.  When I finally go I’ll have too much stuff to bring home.  ARGH!!!

In an effort to fill that empty suitcase, we went with Joyce to the small fabric store here in Naivasha.  The fabric choices for the shopping bags are limited, but Joyce offered to go to Nairobi where there are many shops and a wide variety.  She knows what I like and is very willing to go.  I offered to pay her for her time, but she didn’t seem to understand that idea.  I had to explain that if she goes to Nairobi for me, she’s not in her shop earning money.  Oh.  Now she gets it.

I met Joyce Muthoni in 2006.  At that time a local lady had offered to teach women to sew and Joyce was one of the first to sign up.  She wanted another way to support herself and her 2 children.  In time she was able to save enough to purchase her own machine, which she plied in her very small “house”.  Several years ago she opened her own shop, small, but her own.  If you have a shopping bag or tote from Kenya Help, you’ve been part of Joyce’s success story, because every year I buy bags from her.  Over the time she had improved the original design, learned to make them very strong and easy to carry.  I use them here and I use them in the US.  Here is the picture I took yesterday in her shop.  Next to it is Milka’s shop, where she sells used clothing, jewelry, do-dads and stuff.  They met in Life Bloom and remain very good friends, each minding the other’s shop when one needs to be gone.  I took several pix of them in their shops but my photo program is misbehaving and has evidently eaten them.

Leaving Joyce, we drove out to St. Theresa’s children’s center, established by Fr. Makarios to help badly abused children recover and eventually move on with their lives.  He’s an Egyptian priest, from a Canadian order that must have some deep pockets because the buildings are wonderfully designed and built.  The best architect/contractor in town has done all his work and it is top drawer.  I so wish we could have afforded him for SFG.  I wanted to talk to Fr. M because a friend of mine in the US has connections with a group of US dentists who want to come to Kenya to do pro bono dental work.  Would you believe that Kenyan dentists don’t want free dental work done, even for people too poor to ever afford their services?  They get backed up for weeks, until sometimes a problem that could have been quickly solved becomes a case of dental extraction because it wasn’t treated promptly.  So public facilities a problematic, but St. Theresa’s has a clinic, available to local people in addition to the children and in it one room is dedicated to dental work.  It looks like any dental office in the US, with the reclining chair, pull down light, spitting bowl, x-rays, electric drills—the works.  (Again, my photo program ate the pix) I wanted to see whether he was interested (he is very much) and to discuss how it might work.  My hope is not to be the middle man (woman), but to connect Fr. M with my friend and eventually with the dentists themselves.

Mission accomplished, we move on to the Life Bloom One Stop Center (OSC), which is near St. Theresa’s, but maybe 5 miles from Naivasha proper and way, way off the road.  Oh, my, what a road.  Wanjiru (Catherine’s co-worker) was directing me, but all I saw was a bunch of cow trails, leading off in all directions.

We came here so Alison could see the One Stop Center and to deliver gifts from Betsy Rose, who came here last year to visit and sing with the ladies of Life Bloom.   She happened to be present at the birth of a baby girl, whose mother, Julia, named the baby Betsy.

Betsy Rose had sent several really cute outfits to Baby Betsy, plus a toy and some earrings and 2 necklaces to Julia.  Julia was overcome.  Here she is trying very hard to compose herself after seeing the jewelry. I had the impression that she has received few gifts in her life.  I don’t know a lot about Julia, except it’s that same old story of abuse, pregnancy, abandonment, despair.  Baby Betsy is small, but at 1 year +  she is standing up, ready to walk any day.  She has big brown eyes with which she carefully surveys her world.  (right: Betsy models her new duds.)

With the help of Life Bloom, Julia and baby Betsy will somehow survive, but that story repeats itself endlessly the world over and it has from time immemorial.  I ask myself, when will we put a stop to it?  When will we help women so they give birth only to the children they want and can care for, teach them skills to support themselves, help them regain their dignity and self-respect, instead of vilifying them for accepting the last resort—selling their bodies to survive?

Back at St. Francis it is lunchtime and soon we are surrounded with questioners.  At one point I had 8 form 1’s all wanting help with various topics.  Neither of us have visited the form 1 classes yet, but right after lunch we visited to 2 form 1 classes, where Alison presented each girl with a mechanical pencil—a tradition I began the first year of SFG in 2007.

That was yesterday.  Today, (Tuesday) we went to visit and teach at Ndingi, where the staff had prepared a schedule, 3 classes for each of us.  We had time to chat with the principal, tour the grounds (much more extensive than SFG, but so rundown.  It was fun to teach the boys—their energy is very different from the girls.  Of course the SFG girls are used to our being there, but to the Ndingi boys, we were pretty much of an anomaly.  I do love going there.  It was where I had my first experiences of teaching in Kenya.  Today brought back many memories.

And now we have a visitor, Sr. Irene Loina, whom I met some 5 years ago in East Pokot, where she directed a mobile medical unit going far out into the bush to educate women, especially midwives, about safe birthing practices, do immunizations, pre- and post-natal checks, and distribute meager rations of food to new moms and the elderly.  Her major accomplishment and her passion is the coming-of-age program she designed for Pokot girls that didn’t include FGM.  Three years ago, 135 girls became women without the circumcision—an amazing accomplishment because she was able to enlist the cooperation of the families (steeped in their own traditions and totally out of touch with the rest of the world), the chief (who is a woman!! And very supportive of this program), Fr. Kiriti, also a big supporter and many others.  But there was a spoiler, an old Irish priest who resented her success with the people, somehow felt she had infringed on his little fiefdom and caused her nothing but grief.  He went to the bishop and to her mother superior, making untrue accusations, which eventually backfired on him, but Irene’s order pulled her from East Pokot after that and broke her heart.  On her way back to the motherhouse in Nairobi, she stayed a night with me and cried her heart out, sitting at my table.

The silver lining is that one of our Kenya Help donors has supported her to do a master’s degree in Project Planning and Management.  She will finish soon and hopes to expand her coming of age program to all of the young women of the Pokot community, a pastoralist tribe living over a large part of northwestern Kenya, as well as to other tribes still practicing FGM.  Her order does not want her to move to East Pokot, but to do her organizing from Nairobi, perhaps teach some classes in Catholic University of East Africa.  There is a lot of unrest in East Pokot and her safety could not be assured.  Those deaths not attributable to the violence that’s common there, come from starvation due to climate change causing drought.  No rain in 2 years.  None!

Tonight we discussed the possibility of her coming to the US to speak about the needs in that poor, rural area and to educate us.  If any of my readers knows of organizations or groups who would be interested in hearing this really moving story told so passionately by Sr. Irene, please let me know.  She’ll come sometime in the spring for about 1 month.  She is a force to be reckoned with, all 5 feet of her!