#16 – A Day at the Doctor

I’m changing a name because this is an intimate story about “Susie”.  First thing I know yesterday morning, having spent several hours gratefully responding to my lovely readers who actually wrote to me (thank you), I find Susie in the kitchen with Mary (Mji).  Both speak very quietly, particularly Susie, whose English is pretty limited. Eventually I get out of them that Susie isn’t feeling well.  “What seems to be the problem?”  She puts her hands on her abdomen, telling me of pain, and then admits she has blood in her urine.  Not pink urine, frank blood in her urine.  She’d gone to the district hospital (DH) Monday, where a Dr. Ben had examined her, given her “medicine” plus a prescription for something else (she didn’t know what), but she didn’t get it, of course b/c she had no money. Did she tell him?  No.  He had told her to come to his Longenot office the next day (yesterday) for some injections. I was suspicious and decided to cancel my time at SFG to take her, about 10 miles away on a road I was willing to drive. I must admit, I’d had to speak rather harshly to myself, to get my priorities straight, as that was also the last day I’d be able to help students during their free time (50 minutes) between lunch and afternoon classes.  “MARGO, frank blood in the urine is not minor!”  Off we went.  The doctor had told her to get to Longenot (presumably by matatu, for which she had no fare), call him and he would take her to his office.  Again my suspicions are roused.  We get there.  He talks to her on the phone, but she doesn’t get it.  I talk to him, but he can’t understand me.  We ask a passerby.  “See that green building over there? (pointing) that’s a clinic.”  Getting “over there” is not easy.  The highway has about a 6 to 8-inch edge, except in a few places, where it’s possible to drive down a “ramp” without endangering an axel. I must also navigate crossing the road, lined on both sides by huge semi’s. ARGH!! 

We make it “over there” to the green building, only to be told that Dr. Ben’s clinic is “down there” by a green car, then turn left and go about 100 yards down the road.  Except I couldn’t see how to get “down there” without going on the road, dodging the semi’s, and hoping to find a ramp in the right place and not blocked by the parked semis.  I go too far, must make a u-turn, come back, say to hell with it, and navigate the edge (axel holds).  In the meantime, the green car has moved away.  RATS!  But, in fact, there is a road (sort of), with a sharp right turn about 50 feet from the highway and then a left, and VOILAanother medical clinic.  I resume breathing.  It is, indeed, Dr. Ben’s office.

Inside a small room is a desk, with a woman seated behind it and a small boy, maybe 2 sitting on top, contentedly scarfing down French fries (here known as chips), which he is very sweetly sharing with another boy, maybe 3, standing at the desk edge, greasy hands outstretched. Another woman sits on a bench, child strapped to her back, chatting with the behind the desk lady, who, as I later learned is the receptionist, mother of the boy and wife of Dr. Ben.  The second woman turns out to be mother of the greasy handed chips eater.

In a room behind is another desk with a young man who must be some kind of assistant.  Dr. Ben is nowhere in sight, but he’ll arrive “soon”.  “Soon” is like “not far”, meaning the wait will be long, or the distance is not near.  It’s 2 pm, and he tells us ½ hour, next guess is Dr. Ben will arrive at 3.  Dr. Ben arrives at 3:30.  Ready to eat nails and spit them in Dr. Ben’s face, I quickly decide that I like him and he seems to be relatively competent.  He explains that Susie needs IV injections of an antibiotic, which isn’t available at the hospital, which is why he wanted her to come to his office.  I cringe when he pokes for a vein (ungloved!), requiring several pokes before he’s successful.  Susie is anguished with pain (I see it in her face), but makes no sound.  “Susie, it’s OK to say ‘ouch’”. She doesn’t.  “It OK even to cry” I do see evidence of a tear. He slowly injects the fluid, withdraws the needle, wipes the spot with alcohol on cotton and prepares to leave it (and the other pokes) uncovered.  “Do you have any plasters?” (band-aids). Evidently not, but he calls the assistant to put the cotton on the injection site and hold with some tape.  Even my remote memories of medical procedures tell me this is not good and later, I gently (yes, I was) tell him that I was very uncomfortable with his ungloved work.  “Oh, I’m used to it.”  OH #@!#!@%!$%. I give up.

Now he proceeds to give her 3 different sets of antibiotics, 2 to be taken 2 X and one 3 X per day.  I ask whether he has instructed her to drink lotsof water. No, he hasn’t, but now he tells her she must drink at least 3 liters of water a day.  (Me)  “Susie, do you have clean water to drink at your aunt’s?”  “No, we drink tap water”. ARGH!!!  I determine I will have her stay at Mji, at least for the duration of her treatment so she can have good water, but also so she can get her next 4 injections at the DH from Dr. Ben who will take his supply in his pocket. 

One of my initial thoughts had been that Dr. Ben wanted Susie to come to his office where he could charge her for all the meds. He had explained that none of the antibiotics she needed was available in the DH, but he has stocked them in his office.  Longenot being on the truck route from Nairobi, he could get them easily.  My suspicions dropped dramatically when he said the whole works, 5 injections, 3 rounds of antibiotics, office visit—all totaled ksh 1600 ($16), which I paid without a blink.

As we drove back to NVA, I elaborated on his assertion that because she had allowed the UTI to be untreated for so long, there was a possibility the bacteria could cause blockage of her fallopian tubes, thus rendering her infertile.  I had asked Hillary earlier whether ETW covered medical expenses for Mji kids as long as they were in school, so still supported by ETW.  He hesitated, but conceded it should.  I need to look into this more.  I asked Susie whether she knew that.  “No.”  Something to explore and discuss at the Mji reunion.

I tell her she should stay at Mji for the 2 weeks of treatment, to which she readily agrees.  She needs to return to her aunt to get her clothes.  I assume shell come back that night, but now it’s the next day, 3:30 pm and I’ve not seen her.  I don’t know whether she’s gone for her injection, whether she had begun taking the oral meds (with non-bottled water!) or whether she is even coming back, although I believe she will.  I hope they all have really strong immune systems!!!!!

Mary Fitzgerald is leaving us today, going to spend 5 days in NBO with Sister Carren, her good friend and an MD. Presumably they will be doing hospital visits.  Because plans to volunteer in the DH, as she did last year, have not worked out this year, going with Sr. Carren will fill that desire.

Tuesday being her last night, Mary offers to treat us all for dinner at the Buffalo Mall, including Fr. Ngaruiya, who offers to drive.  While we hang around, waiting for dinner time and Fr. N to return from a mass, Mary has a visitor, another Mary, who is the palliative care provider at the DH.  Part of her job is to develop support groups for cancer patients and caregivers.  Not content with just traditional groups, she has arranged for them to learn various crafts, by which they earn money to help pay for the care. Mary C is full of energy and love for her work, is quite engaging and at one point brings out a small rug, made by one of the support group members as a gift for Mary F.  It’s cute (I’m wishing I had one for beside my bed).  Then she tells me they’ve made many and will make more (pulling out pix from her phone to show me patterns).  We agree she will bring samples next week and I will buy some to bring for our craft events.  I’m hoping our donors will love these cute rugs made to support cancer patients and their care givers in NVA.  In fact, if that happens I will arrange for more to be shipped, since my suitcase capacity is limited.  Mary C. and I exchange contact info and I leave the 2 Mary’s to continue their conversation.

Mary F. wants to eat at Java House at Buffalo, despite my reports of mediocre food and SLOW service.  Feeling tired and a bit grumpy, I am a bit ungracious in my concession.  The food was delicious and service prompt.  Mea culpa

Now it’s Wednesday.  Sr. Carren has offered to drive from NBO to pick Mary, but must go to a hospital first.  Mary guesses she’ll arrive about 10:30 am.  It’s now 3:40 pm, with no word from Sr. Carren.  Mary has been hanging around, waiting, wishing she’d gone over to the DH to say goodbye.  Oh well. This is Kenya.

Update:  Mary has reviewed Sr. Carren’s note saying she would come Thursdayon her way to St. Mary’s hospital (beyond NVA from NBO).  OK, that answers one question.  Next Joyce shows up to report Dr. Ben forgot to carry her injection antibiotic, so she had gone to Longenot where she got it.  She is to remind him tomorrow.  Not sure why he doesn’t just put it in his car.

#15 – Just Another Sunday

Not!  I’ve been itching to get into the bookshelves in the Mji dining hall.  They are stuffed with outdated text books, exercise books, pages of old newspapers, miscellaneous junk—nothing relating to the current curriculum.  I enlisted (coerced?) John and Mary to help me dig into them.  It seems that a lot of books were donated to the home, stuffed into the bookcases and forgotten.  They’ve sat there moldering for a long time.  Initially I thought we could have a gigantic bon-fire, maybe like the Nazis in the 1940’s, but then it occurred to me that even if the books are no longer used, English is still English, Kiswahili has probably changed little, 6 X 7 is still 42.  Maybe some families would like to have them for their kids to review during the holiday. I called Odhiembo, the catechist, who came running between masses.  “Yes, keep them.” and out he ran again.  There were also agriculture books, arts and crafts, home science for grade school. We nixed those, but Odhiembo will have the final word. The tables were piled high with books and other stuff. We sorted out by course and grade, stacking them tidily at the end of the room.  We filled up a good-sized trash can and a large gunny sack but still there is junk left.  Then I attacked another set of shelves at the end of the room, finding old cups, plates, bowls, a beatup kettle, lunch containers, and the lid to a water pitcher I’ve been looking for—treasures all!  It was pretty heavy work, and the shelves were dusty.  ARGH!!  I was getting dirty and tired, but suddenly remembered I’d promised to make pizza for all of us and Catherine tonight.  I dragged myself and John to the Naivas, to get ingredients, then had only about ½ hour to rest before time to get started.

I’m not sure I wrote about the flat round, cast iron piece I bought to cook pizza on, as well as hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches.  Mostly I bought it after the first 2 pizza attempts were pretty bad, burned on the bottom, stuck to the oven pan.  No, had to have something better.  Slowly I’ve been seasoning it and I have to say, it’s getting good and black, the way cast iron should be.

Googled a recipe for the dough, finding a video, short and sweet.  By the time I got the kitchen orderly, ingredients all lined up, and the beginnings of the sauce bubbling on the stove, Catherine arrived.  She watched the video, watched me make the dough and got very excited about making pizza with her kids.  I did buy a small bottle of pasta sauce (couldn’t find the pizza sauce), adding lots of tomatoes, green pepper, onions, garlic and generous sprinklngs of every herb I could find in the cupboard, basil, oregano, parsley, mixed herbs, rosemary, but alas, no bay leaves.  While the dough rose, the pot of sauce simmered and we chatted.  It was so good to have an extended time with Catherine. Even though we’d spoken a week ago at some length, there is always so much to say. 

Finally it was time to spread out the dough, which kept springing back, thanks to the generous amount of oil I used.  I reallydidn’t want it to stick again.  Everyone watched every move I made—felt like Julia Child—Catherine diligently taking notes.  The sauce was thick and tasty, we had cut up thin slices of ham (no sausage or pepperoni here), adding small slices of pepper and green olives.  Can’t get parmesan cheese, but found mozzarella and cheddar.  I must say, it looked totally authentic when we stuck it in the oven. 

I think I’ve mentioned there is no way to control the oven temp.  Since the recipe suggested 450° F, I figured, just turn it up as high as it goes and hope for the best.  Twenty minutes later we opened the oven and it was gorgeous!!!  Perfect!!,—particularly if one likes thick crusts.  Since nobody here knows about pizza, except Mary Fitzgerald, no one complained.  I tasted like real American pizza.  Italian???? I think they would not have claimed it, but since Mary’s Irish, no one here to tell me it’s not authentically Italian as well.  The only downside is John and Mary, both dill pickle fans, were thumbs down on the green olives.  I had lots!!! Theirs and mine.


I must have been as tired as I’d felt last night.  Slept until after 9.  Had to run find Fr. Ngaruiya to get his OK on our dining hall project. Fortunately, he was fine with having Odhiembo distribute the books, but balked a bit on giving one of the shelves to SFG, which I was hoping for.  There are all sorts of math models I’ve had built over the years, pyramids, cones, cuboids, frustrum of a pyramid and a sphere (bought that already made). They’re all piled up in a corner of a math office, along with boxes of old papers that can’t have any current relevance.  In addition, there must be 6 or 7 cast off keyboards, stuffed in a box with other junk. Working on getting that sorted and stored—or even better, tossed.

At school during their after lunch study time I wandered into a form 2 class to talk about something we don’t teach in the US and while I could figure out how to do it, I wasn’t sure my way was the Kenyan way.   Turns out it was, but I kept making dumb mistakes. ARGH!  Maybe my classroom days are over.  In the end, we did correctly answer the question, but by that time the teacher for the next lesson was waiting outside the door for me to leave.

Up from SFG (away from NVA) is a school for street boys.  I learned about it years ago from a math teacher who volunteered there.  I was hoping it could provide a volunteer opportunity for one of our Mji guys who needs a chance to settle while he sorts himself out.  He caught a matatu to SFG and we were on our way.  OMG!! What roads, like I’ve described in the past, dusty, potholed, rutted and going every which way X 10!.  When we finally found it, the gateman peered in, and ran off to see whether the director would see us.  He would.

Had a very nice talk with Simon Kuria, who has been there for 9 years working with boys from the streets, mostly orphans.  They are in school all day, just like the Mji kids, so we didn’t see any, but we did see the dorms, kitchen, a huge garden, and the goats and cows they keep.  I was very impressed with the facility, much nicer than Mji, which always ran on a shoestring, hope and a prayer.  It turns out that my friend, Minalyn, is on their board, Simon knows Fr. Kiriti and lamented the passing some 5 years ago, of Jecinta Gakaku, our beloved social worker. We had a fun “do you know?” session.

At last we took our leave and went bumping and weaving back on that terrible road.  UHOH neither David nor I had noticed the place where we had turned and where we wanted to turn back to get to the highway.  “Is this where we turned?”  “I think so.” Bump, swerve, scan the landscape, dotted with low scrub.  “Hmm, I don’t remember this view of Lake Naivasha.”  David, “I think we took the wrong turn.”  Back bumping and swerving (all the while I’m stressing over the possibility of a broken axel or flat tire), but now we’re not sure where we made the wrong turn.  In a word, we were LOST.  Ahead we saw a young man walking along.  David made inquiries in Kiswahili, and suggested we give the guy a ride, letting him direct us.  We drove and drove, ARGH, I knew we were nowhere near the highway we’d left on coming. On and on, making wrong guesses about which piece of a Y held the fewest DEEP potholes.  It was a driving nightmare, but finally, up ahead, I could see the highway!  YAY! Except when we got to it, it was a totally different highway.  By the I’m convinced that it was topologically impossible to be where we are from where we began. However, I know where NVA is on this road.  The young guy hops out and we thank him. Back towards town on a smooth road, but this road requires going through the main part of town.  About a mile away, we hit TRAFFIC, like 5 pm 101 traffic, 5 mph traffic.  Turning from the highway, up the main road that leads to home requires the skills of an NYC cabbie.  I do it! (OK, Margo, you can breathe again). But this jam is even slower and everywhere matatus and piki piki’s are dashing in and out, people walk across, between cars, not even looking.  They have to navigate this every day, although I think even the natives will admit this jam was a doozy.  We inched along so slowly it didn’t register on the odometer.  Finally, a block from where I have to make a right turn (across the traffic in this left side driving country), we see the problem.  At 5:05 pm, the street repair crew is busily filling the holes they made last week.  So far as I could see, nothing was done to require these holes, but it definitely kept the crews busy!

Now we are at the right turn, leading to the church gate.  A line of cars, trucks and the rest sit, not moving for as far as I can see.  In the meantime, I am holding up everyone on my side.  Then opposing traffic begins to move and some angel realizes he loses nothing, not 5 second, to let me by.  Ahhhh! Safely through that gate and up around to Mji.  I’m totally exhausted.  It’s 5:30 pm and I’ve eaten nothing since my 9:30 am breakfast.  I give David some money to get home and head for the refrigerator. Oh yes!!!  Two thin slices of ham from last night, cheese, the last 2 bread slices in the bag and some dill pickles.  I’m in heaven!

And so it goes!

#14 – Unsubscribing

The wifi network for the parish has been out for a week, but thought I was OK with my small modem.  But then my modem stopped working.  Just now I realized I’m probably out of credit.  I’m writing from SFG where wifi is working fine.  WHEW!  Had quite a pile of email awaiting, but alas, none from my readers. 

I’m wondering whether people have grown tired of my musings and are just deleting them.  If that’s the case, please email us at kenya.help.us@gmail.com and ask to be UNSUBSCRIBED.  It’s a bit of a bother to send out my posts, since the list is long.  We would love to pare it down to actual readers.  In the past I’ve heard from readers, but this year, very few.  I’m also aware that sometimes my writing gets boring or repetitive.  Sorry, I send whatever my muse brings to me.

Since there are no Mji kids living in the home anymore, except John, Fr. Ngaruiya rents the rooms out for various groups.  Currently there are maybe 20 – 30 young people studying nutrition, or so I thought they said, who are in town to take exams.  They’ve been here for 5 days and have been quiet and busy, but last night one came back late, leaving the gate to the Mji compound open.  The security dogs kept by the parish, got in, dumped over a trash can and this morning trash was everywhere.  John, bless his heart, has cleaned it all up.  The students will go home this afternoon, returning on Sunday afternoon for their 2ndweek of exams.  They will be made aware of the problems they caused!! 

Mary Fitzgerald, Mary (from Mji), Hillary and I went to the Maasai Market on Tuesday.  Little did I know that the Tuesday market is not the one I’ve used many time (that’s a Thursdaymarket, much bigger). My usual vendor doesn’t go to the small market. RATS!!!  However, I did buy some really nice earrings, some stoneware bowls, puzzle maps and other items.  I’ll go again in 2 weeks, taking the guests I’ll have then, Julie Schatz, Kenya Help board member and 2018 visitor, and her business partner, Niki. 

It’s a bit of a hassle driving there.  Nairobi traffic is like NYC, so Hillary took a “short cut”.  Evidently there are only long cuts in Nairobi, but we finally arrived.  Mji Mary had never been to the market.  In fact, she has been to NBO only a few times in her 18 years.  Njeri, another KH board member, a Kenyan visiting her family, joined us and is bringing home nearly all I bought.  I think this year I will have no problem getting all the crafts home. If anyone knows of something they’d particularly like, do let me know and if at all possible, I’ll get it.

The markets are held in various malls in NBO.  This one happened to be on the top, so outdoors and much quieter than the big one, which is on a floor of the parking and very noisy, especially when Maasai drummers and dancers perform, which they do every hour.  It’s deafening!  But, of course, fun to watch.

Afterwards we ate at a burger place, which was another big treat for Mary. She then wanted to go to the school she will attend to pick up her application forms, which must be done in person, then officially stamped, after one’s ID documents have been scanned.  We were finally able to contact her Mji brother, Evans, who had offered to meet her at the matatu stop and show her the ropes. We found the right transport from mid-NBO, and put her on, hoping for the best.  All worked according to plan, but it was after 9 by the time she arrived (starving!) back at Mji, papers in hand.

Wednesday was Scarf Day at SFG.  Despite my very clear (I thought) instructions to the prefects, they weren’t ready and the impatient form 4’s had to wait outside the library door.  I’d brought both Marys to help.  Mji Mary having graduated SFT in 2018 knew the ropes and of course all the form 4’s, who had been form 3 when she was here, were very happy to see her.  It went better than some years, meaning it was less chaotic.  I’d threatened the “shoppers” who want to pick up every one of the scarves, turn around to get advice from friends still waiting for their turn, and generally not thinking of the ones with high numbers, eagerly watching a favorite scarf, hoping no one with a low number would select it.  The threat was, I’d pull out the shopper, who would then wait until the very end to select.  Turned out to be pretty effective!  One of the high number students suggested I do a turn-around next year, beginning with the high numbers.  Might do that!

All new staff members get one too, but still I had maybe 15 left. Sometimes I give them to special kids who need/want one and the rest I save for next year, always wondering whether there will be a next year. 

Next we stopped at Life Bead, Kenya, about which I’ve written in the past. Minalyn Nicklin has a workshop for HIV positive people, who find it hard to get a job.  In addition to teaching them craft skills, she makes sure they receive a nutritious meal and pays them while they learn.  She’s wonderfully warm and has helped so many, including a number of orphaned babies she has raised.  In a true miracle, she and her husband were given a very large plot of land on which the donor built them a beautiful large home and workshop, with plenty of space for a garden.  It’s not too far from SFG.  She is truly a craftsperson herself, showing us many beautiful earrings, necklaces, bracelets, purses and “stuff”.

I was really impressedwith the size and quality of the new house. Before they’d lived in a ramshackle house on the grounds of the Naivasha Sports Club.  The work room/class room was a add-on, jammed into a very small space. Now they have 2 stories, with an open balcony, large kitchen, airy family spaces.  A separate building houses the crafts, beautifully displayed and reasonably priced.  Beyond that is the room where they make leather goods, using repurposed Southwest Airline seat covers!!!!  Behind that is the beading room, sewing room and space for other crafts, along with western style toilets.  One smaller room housed someone’s motorcycle!  A separate building provides medical office space for her husband’s practice, part of which is caring for the HIV + people who work and learn there.

They don’t have a large garden yet, but will soon.  I don’t know the benefactor, but he must be a very rich saint (is that an oxymoron?).

I asked Lydia whether she would allow Minalyn to bring some of her wares to SFG for the teachers to “shop”.  The women often admire my earrings (sometimes asking to be gifted with same), so I think maybe they’ll be interested.  It doesn’t happen often that vendors are allowed in, but when they are, teachers often buy.

#13 – Sometimes It Doesn’t Pay

This was one of those days when I conceded it didn’t really pay to get out of bed.  I woke up reasonably early, but just couldn’t get myself going.  I’m not a morning person—just leave me alone until I eat my breakfast, complete the sudoku and the X-word.  Then I’m ready to be a human.  Before that, well, it’s questionable.

Lots of interruptions this morning.  I’d like to believe that’s what caused my Sudoku mistake, which I never found. Bad start!  Answer emails, write new ones, get together the stuff I would need at school.  That doesn’t sound like much, so why was it 11 am when I finally got into the car—but without my watch, earrings, medallion I always wear, rings, and most important HEARING AIDS? ARGH!!! 

Got to school with the electric adapter, you know, that grey thing that allows a grounded (3-prong plug) to plug into a 2-prong socket.  Mary Fitzgerald had brought that, along with another graphing calculator with the special adaptation to plug it into an overhead device.  Must have spent an hour just trying to get the overhead I brought about 10 years ago, all plugged into the adapters and converter (240 to 120) so it didn’t blow out the bulbs.  The adapter didn’t quite fit the plug—had to force that.  Then the converter wouldn’t plug into the electric sockets here. Ready to go home at that point. Finally found a power strip that I could force the plug into. 

If all that is Greek, don’t fret, it just is a list of my frustrations.  Why can’t things just work the way we think they will??????

On Saturday, I had come to school to teach a certain topic and had made up some questions for the girls to practice.  Only today, as I finally got the overhead to turn on, I sat myself down to work the questions I’d given them, only to realize what I thought would be nice numbers were not at all, AND like a bolt, it hit me there was a much easier wayto do those seemingly messy questions.  Like I said, not sure it was worth getting out of bed.

Next I wanted to take a picture of the final piece of the overhead, broken by someone who forced a knob too far until it broke.  No way in the world to get one here, but my good friend, Gregg Whitnah, from MA thought he might be able to find one.  Get the parts all set up to send a picture—-OH RATS!!!—the battery in my camera has run down.  I’d charged up another at home, but failed to put it in the backpack. 

Sit down to eat my lunch, specially made for me by the kitchen b/c I really don’t want ugali.  Hmmm, vegetables, with potatoes and rice—lots of carbs and (first bite) TOO MUCH SALT!!!  At that point decided to go home, get the new battery and a peanut butter sandwich. 

Meanwhile Mary Fitzgerald is having her own frustrations.  The wifi at the rectory, which we are free to use if we want to go there, hasn’t worked for several days.  No one seems to know why.  They call someone, only to learn that the bill hadn’t been paid!  Since I’m going back up to school, tummy full, new battery in camera, Mary asks can she go with me to use the school wifi. 

She gets connected, I get my picture and we go back home.  All I want is ½ hour rest. 

½ hour later, I go outside to find that Joyce, one of the Mji kids, has arrived and wants to stay—for how long?????  Next thing I know, David Wekesa (another Mji kid) has sailed in. Instead of 4 for dinner, it’s 6. I’d planned to make spaghetti sauce from scratch, but my pots are not very big.  I put David to work cutting up some stew meat, Mary (Mji, not Fitzgerald) cutting up onions/garlic and Joyce the tomatoes.  We dump it all in the pot, which is almost at the rim and let it simmer. I dump in basil, oregano, mixed herbs (whatever that is) tarragon, parsley and whatever I can find in the cupboard.  Biggest pot has the noodle water, which takes forever to boil—propane doesn’t burn nearly as hot as natural gas.  David announces he must catch the last matatu at 8. 

We sit down for dinner, 6 of us in my tiny one-butt kitchen, having had to borrow 2 chairs from the Mji dining hall.  But for all that, the sauce was good (not great, I thought) but more than just edible.  The noodles and sauce seemed to feed us all and we chatted about how everyone’s day had gone.  Needless to say, my report was not joyous!  At 7:50 David dashed out, with John to see him to the gate, Mary F began to wash the dishes, Mji Mary and Joyce cleaned up the table and put it back in its proper place and I excused myself to my room to recover.

Suddenly an idea.  Ebay!!! Sure enough, ebay had the part I need at a reasonable price and no shipping fee!!!  Had it sent to my next visitor, wrote to Gregg that he was off the hook, wrote to visitor that part is coming, worked 4 of the 6 questions, using the easy way, talked to Fr. Kiriti, arranged with Hillary to go to the Maasai Market tomorrow, taking both Mary’s and meeting Njeri, one of our Kenya Help Kenyan board members, in country to visit family.  Details all taken care of (but of course I’ll forget something tomorrow!!!) settled in to see whether my muse has returned from 1-week holiday. You can decide for yourself, whether this was boring and useless or muse-inspired.  My vote is the former.

Had intended to end there, but realized I’d not written about Njeri and her 2 darling children, Jumo (boy, 8) and Wamu  (girl 6).  They visited Fr. Kiriti Friday evening, then Saturday went to a resort to swim. Turned out the pool wasn’t very warm and the showers were COLD.  Kids enjoyed it, though.  Our plan was they would come for dinner. Njeri is a vegetarian, but told me in confidence the kids would love an American hamburger.

Off to the Jaama supermarket, which has really nice mince meat (aka hamburger), get same, buns, milk, bread (had forgotten the freezer was full of it). My math-brain must also be on vacation, because I bought ½ kilo of HB, sure it would be more than enough, forgetting that’s about 1 pound.  For 5 people????  NOT! Jumo down his in one gulp.  “Is there another burger”. Alas, there was not! Did he want some of his mom’s ugali (“Oh yes, the kids love ugali!”) he didn’t.  Felt like a terrible hostess, particularly when Mary F had suggested we buy some fresh made French frys and I had nixed it—no, there’ll be plenty!! NOT

John loves little kids, and both Jumo and Wamu delighted in the attention of this “big boy”.  They played on the teeter-totter, threw a ball around, giggled a lot and had to be coaxed into dinner. Tight squeeze as always.  I’d asked Njeri whether her kids liked cheese on the burger, Jumo yes, Wamu no. So 4 with cheese, one without.  We sit everyone down and of course Wamu wants cheese!  Oh well, I didn’t mind my cheeseless burger.  We rounded out the dinner with the box of biscuits (aka cookies) I’d bought, thinking they’d last us the week.  Nope, all gone, but Jumo’s tummy was full and all were content.

I wanted to show off SFG to Njeri and kids, so Sunday they stopped by on their way back to Nairobi.  It took Jumo all of 15 seconds to spot the basketball hoop and go running to find a ball. Students are free on Sundays, relaxing in the sun until they saw the 2 kids.  Quickly a bball was found and Jumo was a happy camper, swamped by girls twice his size, but giving him the ball to shoot.  Wamu, on the other hand was uncharacteristically shy and hid behind mom, until at some point she agreed to be loved by a large band of girls. 

Wanting Njeri and Lydia to meet I called.  Lydia soon joined us with her 2 visiting grandchildren, about the same ages as Jumo and Wamu.  Lydia is a true Kenyan lady, who can’t imagine having visitors without feeding them. Off we went to her house to have mandazi’s, which were delicious, and fresh-made potato chips.  It was the only thing that would tempt Jumo away from the bball court.

It was a lovely visit.  Njeri was impressed with the school and with Lydia, the kids had fun and got their tummy’s full.  They went back to Nairobi, while Mary and I went back home to relax. 

#12 – A Visit with Catherine

My dear friend, Catherine Wanjohi, has been in Scotland, only returning a few days ago.  This afternoon has been our first opportunity to talk more than just a brief “Hi”.   As is always the case there is much, much more to talk about than time to do it.  Sigh! 

In Scotland, she attended the International Association of Community Developers (IACD).  She is the poster child for community development and was so recognized by being elected vice-president.  In 2016 she attended this conference for the first time in Minneapolis, where she was appointed Kenyan representative.  In 2018 she was unable to attend, but was appointed (in absentia) Sub-Saharan Director

This year she was elected vice president of the association, a MAJOR recognition of her as the founder and leader of Life Bloom and of the wonderful work Life Bloom has done.

For my readers who are not familiar with that stellar organization, let me give you a history. 

Catherine was the principal of a girls’ high school when she was moved to begin counselling sessions for commercial sex workers.  It’s a long story of how that came about, but it did and in time she saw the grinding need those women have for help, recognition, love, support, counselling—you name it.  Catherine, who has a master’s in counselling, along with many other degrees and trainings, established an organization which could grow exponentially, by training women with high potential, though not the educational documentation, to do counselling, help women set up small businesses, make sure they get regularly tested for STD’s and if positive, take the necessary medications.  “You will NOT leave any more AIDS orphans here.  You will be tested regularly, you will take the ARV’s, you will send your children to school (especially your girls) and you will love those children.” No one can know how many children still have their moms because of Catherine’s admonitions. 

I met her in 2005, my first year here, at the arrangement of Fr. Kiriti. We bonded almost immediately and have been like sisters ever since.  Although I am older than her mother and she is younger than my children, we have that sense of being sisters. 

There is much more to be said about Catherine and Life Bloom Services International (LBSI), some of which you will find at www.lifebloomservicesintl.org 

In addition to her loving service with the women of Naivasha, Gilgil, and Nairobi, Life Bloom has been in the forefront of the fight against HIV/AIDS. She has designed and implemented educational programs over a very wide area, including programs to teach men how their promiscuous behavior spreads the disease to their wives.  Often the infected wives are accused of infidelity and abandoned by the husbands who infected them. 

In addition to the incredible gift of herself and LBSI she has taken into her home and her heart the 2 youngest Mji kids, 2 boys whose mother did not hear the message, did not get tested, did not take the ARV’s and left 2 wonderful boys orphaned at a very young age.  Because at one time she worked at Mji, the older one knew to bring his younger brother here when the mother passed.  Julia, the matron, took them in, fed them, clothed them, gave them warm beds, sent them to school and gave them the unlimited love she gave all the Mji kids. Slowly they adjusted to their new life situation.  A few years later, the then-parish priest decided to close Mji, Julia moved to the US, having accepted the marriage proposal of a Kenyan man living there. Another mother lost to these 2 boys, as well as all the other Mji kids.  Enter Catherine.

Initially she agreed to take them in for about 10 days between when I left here 3 years ago and when school took up.  Mji kids who had no place to be during school holidays would stay here as long as I was here, these 2 boys among them.  When I left, they went to live with Catherine and 2 her biological children + a Mji boy she had previously adopted.  Now she had 5 children, 3 who had experienced major losses. Only a heart as wide as Catherine’s could take them on.  As a tribute to how she has raised her other children, it was they who said, “Mom, we think the 2 boys should join our family.”

Mothering 5 children plus being the LBSI leader, and major fund raiser is taking its toll on Catherine.  The financial position of LB has always been fragile, which means her own salary is iffy. Not good for a mom with 5 children!!! One of our Kenya Help donors has taken on paying school fees and other financial needs of the 2 boys, but even at that, the drain, financially and emotionally is great.

Hence our meeting today.  We had only an hour.  The most compelling issues are the children, 4 of whom are teen-age boys.  We talked, shared, laughed and cried (at least inside) at how much the 3 who are orphans are going through.  The 2 boys who lost their biological mother and then Julia have expressed fear that somehow they will lose Catherine.  It’s very hard for them.

I’ve learned over the years here that at some point every one of the kids who either lost their moms to illness or were abandoned, have experienced great anger.  Many want to search for their fathers, find out why that man left them and their mothers. It’s raw and compelling.  I think it’s universal that we want to know our biological beginnings.

We plan to meet again to see whether we can set up ongoing, solid financial support for Life Bloom.  Are there foundations, federal or international bodies who would support this vital work?  We know the names of many, but how to get their attention?  It’s too important to let LB die, but that could happen if Catherine burns out. 

And so, dear readers, I’m not asking you to give financially to LB, although such would be welcome (I’ll include how you can do it at the bottom). What I’m really asking is do you have any connections with groups who can understand how vital this work is. With proper backing, this work can spread to other countries with still growing AIDS infection rates.  At least in Kenya, the infection rate is dropping, in no small measure due to the work of LBSI.  I know there are federal funds (or there were, pre-Trump) and I know there are churches, civic groups, individuals and foundations who would be grateful to find an organization all set up, ready to move out to address the AIDS crisis in ever growing circles.  The structure is there.  Isn’t it unbelievable that money is all that is stopping it. 

I know that this issue is a big part of the Gates Foundation program, but how to bring LBSI to their attention?  How about Face Book, Google…. I know there are 100’s of foundations, but I don’t know how to address them and I haven’t the time nor the energy to pursue this worthy goal. 

How to donate to Life Boom:

Umoja Presbyterian Churchin Tacoma, WA has agreed to be the fiduciary sponsor for Life Bloom.  Thus any donations made through them will be deductible to US donors.  They will send 100% of donations to Life Bloom, a very generous offer.

Donations will be booked and handled by Marlene Hayden.  Checks should be written to. Umoja Presbyterian Church, with “Life Bloom” entered on the memo line

This last part is vital, because like any church, Umoja receives many donations, so must know to direct donations to Life Bloom.

Checks can be sent to

        c/o  M. Hayden
        POB 44402
        Parkland, WA  98448