#18 – Many Events, Cont’d

In addition to everything going on here, I’ve been dealing with a letter from the IRS telling me I owe over$12,000 in back taxes and threatening mayhem if I don’t pay up by August 6.  My tax preparer emailed me a Power of Attorney form, which had to be printed in Hillary’s office (I have no access to a printer) signed, scanned and sent back.  Of course the IRS had made a mistake (Oh sorry, we didn’t notice….. ARGH!). I had known all along it would be OK, but was nonetheless greatly relieved when she wrote “case closed”. 

Then there was the phone call from one of my 8 renters, complaining that one of my cats has twice pooped on his bed. Yeah, pretty annoying, but really a message, “I’m not a happy kitty.”  What can I do from 10,000 miles away?  I just hope they are OK when I get back.

                                                                           Monday, August 5, 2019

Today was the big day, first day of Math Camp (nee tuitioning).  It began about 6:30 am when Lydia arrived to go with Julie and Niki on safari to Maasai Mara.  I wasn’t quite awake enough to entertain, but soon their driver arrived and they were off. 

Saturday I had arranged with Fred, one of the workers here to unlock the 3 rooms in another building where there are 3 blackboards, and make sure there was a table—all ready for this morning.  “I’ll take care of it”.  This morning—-3 rooms locked, no table in one of them!!  GRRRR!  These were the rooms for forms 1, 2, and 3.

Students began arriving at 8 am for our 9 am beginning. I had made a big deal about timeliness, “It starts promptly at 9 am—not 9:05”, but I didn’t expect 1 hour early.  Linda and Miriam, two very top math teachers from SFG arrived to teach forms 2 and 3, while Margaret, Mary’s older sister, marine bio major and very good at math, agreed to teach form 1.  I chose form 4.  That group meets in the Mji dining room, just steps from my door and besides I love teaching the form 4’s.  I figure that if I organized this and am paying the other 3 teachers, I get to teach the level I want.

About 15 form 4’s showed up, a bit fewer than I expected, but if history is any predictor, I could have 50 form 4’s by the time the 2 weeks are over.  I think there were over 40 in all, but haven’t added up the numbers.  We began by talking about some topics I’d need to use to discuss other topics down the line, surds (square roots) and the beginnings of logs.  Too bad more people weren’t here for the intro.  Oh Well. 

After we all finished I offered to feed Linda and Miriam an American lunch.  “Ever tasted a grilled cheese sandwich?”  Neither had and they told me they didn’t know how to use cheese, so had not eaten it. They watched intently as I buttered the outsides of the bread, putting sliced cheddar in the middle and using my great griddle.  So glad I bought that.  Just like Lydia a few days ago, they gingerly tasted, then ate with gusto.  Realizing I would need to offer lunch for 10 days, I wondered what to do for tomorrow.  “Do you like peanut butter sandwiches?”  Linda, grinning, “I’ll eat the peanut butter before it gets to the bread!!”    Agreed, BNB for lunch tomorrow.  What after that?  Tuna sandwich?  Hamburgers? ACH!!!  10 different lunches? That greatly exceeds my cooking capacity. I’ll willingly accept ideas from my readers.  Oh, egg salad sandwiches, ham and cheese.  More?

I’ve not written about our visit to the Maasai Market.  Several weeks I went I with Mary Fitzgerald on a Tuesday.  Who knew the Tuesday market is smaller than Thursday market?  As always the traffic was at a standstill, so Hillary, our stalwart driver, took a “short cut”.  As we came around a corner I saw something I’ve never seen in Nairobi, an honest to goodness American style stop signal!!!  I exclaimed and Niki, who, as a first-time visitor, is photographing everything, sticks the camera out the window to get a good shot.  OOPS!!!  Three female cops are suddenly all over us, yelling, “Why are you taking a picture of us, pull over right there, you’ve just committed a felony, you must proceed right to the Millimani court, blat, blat, blat”.  They grabbed her camera and continued to berate all of us. 

Hillary, feathers only a bit ruffled, responds, “Why are you yelling at us, where should I pull over (there is no possible place)?” I jump out of the car, calmly (NOT) explaining, “She’s here for the first time.  I pointed out the stop light, she took a picture of the light, she didn’t want a picture of you, she’s photographing everything, as tourists do, blat, blat, blat.”  Of course they just wanted a bribe, but when they saw that wasn’t forthcoming, the 2 calmer ones pulled the really aggressive one aside, returned Niki’s camera and waved us on.  Julie and Niki were frightened, and maybe I should have been, but I’ve been pulled aside before.  I knew they weren’t going to take us to court, much less to jail and I knew they were looking for a bribe from naïve tourists.  They had no case.  Yes, police don’t want their pictures taken, don’t want to be identified for good and bad reasons.  I wished I had said, “Tourists are Kenya’s major source of income.  Why are you berating 3 tourist ladies who clearly aren’t interested in you?  Do you think your government would condone this mistreatment?  What are your names and badge numbers?”  There is a lot of talk in the papers of toning down the aggressive police and firing those caught seeking bribes.  They didn’t ask for one, but it was clear to me and Hillary that was what they wanted.  Julie and Niki didn’t know that and I’m sure they were imagining themselves confined to a small, dirty cell along with all sorts of other miscreants.  Was I taking a chance?  Maybe, but I am not going to be bullied by some snippy cop!!!  I also know they weren’t going to arrest mzungus (actually, the plural of mzungu is wzungu).  On to the market.

As we drove, we talked about it as another adventure.  I always try to see these annoying incidents as that—another story for my blog, another thing to tell my grandchildren from my old rocking chair—whenever I get to my rocking chair days!

The market was big and noisy.  It’s held in the top floor of a multi-story parking facility, so that every sound echoes between floor and ceiling.  Maasai dancers perform for about 10 minutes every hour, with loud drums and singing.  Makes it hard to think, let alone talk to anyone.

I had some business with Njoroge, the man  from whom I’ve bought crafts for years.  We had to sort out some issues and I needed more of his goods.  Earlier this year he had suffered a severe hand cut (bad scar) which prevented his making his usual stuff, so he had very little merchandise, compared to previous times.  I bought almost everything he had, which probably allowed him to leave early—not a bad thing.  Julie and Niki wandered around, following my advice, “look for at least ½ hour, don’t buy anything until you get a sense of what’s there.”  The magnitude and variety of goods is overwhelmingand if the hawkers sense the least hesitation they are all over you like flies on old meat. However, as J and N began to see what they wanted, they were reluctant to bargain.  I butted in a few times when I knew the initial asking price might be as much as 5 times what the seller was willing to settle for.  He/she was hoping to glom onto an innocent tourist who had no idea of the value. 

When I first went to markets back in 2005 and 2006, I had Jecinta, the social worker (a ruthless bargainer) and Ben, the then-accountant for this parish and our driver.  They told me many times, the hawkers would say to them in Kiswahili, “Why are you helping this Mzungu?  Tell her to settle for more and we’ll split it.”  They would patiently explain, as I already had, that it wasn’t for me, I wasn’t buying to take home to sell for 10 times what I was paying, that all the money would come back to Naivasha to pay school fees (and initially to build a girls high school).  Almost all immediately changed, many thanked me for doing what I do and then bargained in earnest. 

Julie and Niki thought I was ruthless, but they’d never met Jecinta.  SHE was RUTHLESS!!!  Sometimes I’d say to her, “Jecinta I don’t need the rock bottom price, I just need a reasonable price,” which would make her mad.  I did want the sellers, mostly the women, to make a reasonable profit. I just didn’t want to feel fleeced. Two years ago, I let myself pay way too much for some merchandise.  The seller’s stall was just next to Njoroge, so when I returned last year, she recognized me.  When I refused to even look at her items, she learned the hard way.  I’ll never buy from her again. 

John has gone to Nairobi to reunion with some people he used to live with, while Tylon, one of the Mji kids studying to be an auto mechanic, has arrived to talk to Hillary, and get squared away for the September term.  We’ve had so many people in my “one butt kitchen” that we could hardly move. Whoever sat at the corner spot could reach the water dispenser and the refrigerator without moving.  At the other end the sink was easily accessed as was the stove.  Today we are just 4.  It will seem very small.  Mary and Margaret are preparing hamburgers on their own.  I’ll be eager to see how they do.  I have shown many people how to prepare them.

(after dinner). The hamburgers were great, even though the girls couldn’t find dill pickles in the market.  The ones they bought were OK, but not the real thing. When we finished, I excused myself, making them promise not to do the dishes—I would do them later, after dealing with email.  Now I can hear the water running and the clink of dishes.  Oh well, I do hate doing them.  I tried, but I think they don’t mind doing them  If they did, they wouldn’t do it.

Mary, who is a big tease, argued with me. “Tell me 5 reasons.”  “1-it’s my turn. 2- my fingernails need to be cleaned, 3-you made the dinner, 4-I’m a nice lady (yeah! Right!).  You’ll need to think of #5.”  I guess they’re doing the dishes because they couldn’t think of #5 either.

#17 – Many Events

I haven’t posted for more than a week and it’s not because I’ve had nothing to write!Au contraire, I’ve been too busy to write.

I think I’ll work backwards.  I had yesterday all planned to the micro-minute.  Should know better than that by now and I soon found the world was not following my schedule.  Sigh! I had understood the SFG staff would be meeting in the morning, only to arrive to a virtually empty compound, the students having left for August break the day before and teachers gone home. Lydia was  busy in town, the room where my desk is was locked.  I’d been asked by a former student to pick her exam results, but the only person around, the accountant, didn’t have the key to Lydia’s office nor the authority to give me the exam results.  Pretty much of a loss.

OK, I’d drop by Minalyn on the way home to pick up a backpack for one of the Mji kids, Margaret who is Mary’s older sister.  Call Minalyn.  She’s in Nairobi.  OK, Catherine and I had agreed we would get together in the afternoon so I could see Michael, Lucas and Joseph.  Call Catherine.  She’s on the way to GilGil.  Boys are someplace in town.

OK, I’ll go home, have much to do and by that time, I’m hungry.  Eat something.  Talk to a very troubled young girl for over an hour, hoping I’ve been of some help.  She leaves. I start the blog, type about 10 words when Lydia arrives with the exam results.  She’s hungry and wants to talk.  I make her a grilled cheese sandwich and hot chocolate.  She’s leery of the sandwich until she takes the first bite. Then she smiles, proclaims it “sweet” (yummy) and we talk.  By the time she leaves I have to start the pizza sauce—but I have no souschef.  RATS!!!

Chop 3 onions, the remainder of the garlic, 10 tomatoes, 1 green pepper. Saute onion and garlic, add toms and pepper and a glop of each of the herbs I can find in the cupboard, plus some bay leaves, which Julie and Niki (to be introduced later) have brought from home.  Oh yeah, there is he ½ can of tomato paste left from the last batch of sauce.

Sauce burbling away on the stove, I dig out the dishpan to mix the dough. Find flour, yeast, sugar, salt, oil, mix together  Oops! I need to light the oven so I’ll have a warm place for the dough to rise.  Hmmm.  John has always lit the oven for me.  Which buttons do I push???  Ten matches later the oven comes alive.  I am greatly relieved I didn’t blow myself up.  It’s a “difficult” oven, which, you may recall has no temperature regulation. Pray.

Sauce cooking, dough rising, I return to my room to write several emails, hoping to help the troubled student.  By now it’s late, Julie, Niki, John, Mary and Tylon (another Mji kid who dropped by the previous day and spent the night) all return from a great afternoon, walking all over town and down to the lake where they had an exciting boat ride among the hippo population of Lake Naivasha.  I’m not sure I want to do that—ever—but it’s seen as a fun activity for families and tourists here.

I put one pizza together on my new cast iron grill and another on the oven pan that comes with the stove.  We’d found mozzarella cheese in the Naivas, added shredded cheddar and parmesan cheese from Trader Joe.  Back to my room while they bake.  The one on the grill is perfect—I’m getting really good at this, except I don’t know how to twirl the dough to make it nicely round and even.  Oily fingers must suffice.  The other one is slightly burned on the bottom, but we all eat until stuffed.

Back to my bed to finish my emails, but too tired to do this blog post.

Now I realize I need to write you a short synopsis of the past week, beginning with the SFG board of directors meeting on Friday, July 26.  The 10 am meeting began at 11.  Everyone was late because they know everyone will be late and the meeting will not begin promptly.  Seems kind of circular, doesn’t it?

Lunch is brought in at some point, but we don’t break.  I get myself some tea and try to eat an apple quietly, not an easy trick.  The meeting is a bit contentious and goes on and on and on.  We finally break to eat at 5:30 pm!!!!!  I didn’t stay to eat.  Too tired. 

Saturday Hillary and I drive to Nairobi.  My next 2 visitors, Julie Schatz and Niki Theil are arriving at 6:10 am Sunday.  I have arranged to spend the night with Sr. Irene Loina at her convent.  Hillary, a former seminarian, will stay in his old seminary.  Many of you know Sr. Irene, who organized the Alternative Rites of Passage (ARP) among the Pokots.  She has just returned from Tanzania, where she expanded a medical clinic for HIV+ people, about 90% of the population in that area, as well as installing a water system for the clinic and the local people, saving the women countless hours of water toting.  It makes me tired just to hear all she has done and plans to do.  She’ll be coming to visit as soon as the US embassy gives her a visa so you can all hear from her mouth. 

We have a wonderful vegetarian meal from their garden, including the freshest lettuce you can imagine.  Her sisters are very welcoming and friendly.  Next morning, bright and early, after a lovely breakfast of eggs from the convent hens and homemade breads, Hillary picks me to go to the airport. Arriving he checks the airline ETA only to discover the plane is 2 hours late.

Since Hillary hasn’t eaten, we head for Java house, where I have “white tea” (with milk) and he has a full breakfast.  We note the plane has landed and try to estimate the time it will take to get through customs and all the other arrival details, then head back to meeting spot. 

Julie is a fellow Rotarian from Menlo Park and a financial planner (including mine) and Niki is her business partner.  Julie came last year, but this is Niki’s first visit.  Like all the rest of us upon first arrival, she is full of questions and is thrilled to be in Africa. 

The drive to Naivasha passes through many typical scenes.  Great freeway until it runs out and we detour through a small settlement, dirt road, but much to see, back on the older road, through slum areas, farm land, up to the edge of the Great Rift Valley, where the views are spectacular and the hawkers relentless as we stop for a photo op. Niki is over the top with so many impressions.  She loves it, as does Julie.

Finally back in Naivasha, they settle in their sparse and modest accommodations.  They’re really good sports, sharing a small room crammed with 2 beds and 1 frilly pink bed net that doesn’t quite cover the beds.  They love John and Mary and vv.  I can see this will be a fun visit.

Monday we visit St. Francis and meet Lydia, forming yet another mutual admiration society.  The students are all in exams, but J and N get to meet and talk to some during a break. They have brought books, mostly novels, many of them classics. Evidently Niki put out the call to friends to clean out their bookcases, with a generousresponse.  Lydia is delighted as they leave the boxes with Alex, the accountant, to be entered into the system.

From SFG we’re off to Minalyn’s Beads of Life Kenyawhere we all buy many of her beautiful jewelry pieces and other items.  One of her workers is a master leather worker.  I ask whether he can make me a backpack purse like the one I use, but not lined in black.  I love that purse, but can never find anything in its dark innards.  He takes careful measurements and pictures from several angles.  Minalyn is a master repurposer of materials.  The purses are made from recycled SWA seats.  You can imagine the leather has to be strong to hold so many behinds for so many miles! 

I’ve gotten only through Monday (this is Saturday), so to be continued.

#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.