30 January 2009

Electric Bussing Chickens (in order)

Kakamega consumed most of today's activities.  Sue and I had a lucky day off.  While Michael and Jean were done at noon.  It also happened to be Lori's birthday.  Lori is a volunteer at the orphanage with Michael and Jean.  She is a Malava veteran and hails from Atlanta.  Her birthday wish was chicken and fries, a request which we all had no problem meeting. 

We were visited by our laundry girl ( I cannot remember her name) and I set about to take care of a few chores before going to Kakamega.  One of which was to change the outdoor light bulb.  We have a light that is outside the front door and illuminates the courtyard at night.  Last weekend, the light bulb went out.  Judi brought us a new one on Tuesday, but Wednesday morning I discovered that it had in fact exploded.  This morning I found some old bulbs and figured that it would be good to give them a try with the hope of saving some money.  I set up the ladder, placed the bulbs on the window ledge, and climbed tenderly up the shaky ladder.  When I made it high enough to remove the bulb I reached up to remove the broken skeleton.  Bulbs here are different.  Some screw in like standard US bulbs, but others have a smooth end which slides into the fixture.  Two short prongs protrude from opposite sides.  Meant to be aligned on the fixture, pushed with a little force and rotated so that the light stays in place.  Because of this, it can be a little troublesome attempting to remove or install the bulb.  I had trouble reaching high enough to the end of the bulb because it had no more glass.  Seeing a solid metal strand, I placed my pointer finger against it and began to push while my thumb followed suit to push on the one adjacent.  This action caused the completion of the circuit between two filaments of a light bulb attached to a fixture which had been left on.  Electricity poured through my arm to realize the power of the circuit.  My had drew back in an instinctive reflex that seemed to equal the speed of the volts invading my nervous system.  After a moment of deep breaths and the realization that I had stupidly electrocuted myself but was fine, I turned off the light.  Do not worry, I am quite fine.

Sue came by shortly after and we jumped into a matatu.  The matatu's in this area are much smaller than the ones in Nairobi.  They race each other from stop to stop and attempt to corral customers like a farmer does with sheep.  Fortunately for us the second matatu was not too crowded and the conductor insisted that I have a front seat for my legs.  What ensued was a forty five minute joy ride in the most frenetic way.  It was my first trip in a local matatu down the minefield that connects Malava and Kakamega.  I had forgotten how nice it is to sail down the road with the windows open at a blistering 45 to 60 mph.  The ride reminded me of skiing (which I miss).  The pot holes are like moguls that most cars seem to do the best to dance around.  The ones that try the hardest tend to have the least success and the slowest trip.  There are a few who just barrel down in a relatively straight path paying no mind to what is in front.  Our driver was one of the rare few who could dodge each of the potholes while accelerating between each stop.  It is a graceful chaos that I have only witnessed a few times.  Charlie used to ski in this manner, but I think that Bode Miller is the best model.  For those who have never seen him in action it is real treat (a reeeeal treat - anyone?).  His movement is void of any actual control.  Body and legs disagree the entire descent in ugly speed.  Each gate is an aiming point meant to be passed as closely as possible with the intention of getting by and laying waste to the stick.  Skis pitch and catch with no apparent consistency or even intent.  All that matters is making it to the destination in the speediest manner.  As you watch this take place you are torn between feelings of desperation, reverence, bewilderment, repulsion, awe, and disdain.  Envy appears only for an instant to leave a stimulating wonder.  It is not one of those, you-don't-want-to-look-but-you-have-to moments.  Once you see Bode ski, you will make sure to watch him as often as possible.  That was the matatu.  A terrifying joy-ride down the road to Kakamega.  The driver was swift as he powered through the terrain.  It is important to note that often this style of driving and skiing can lead to an accident, but it is great when all goes right.

In town we did some very serious food shopping.  Frozen meet and cheese filled my backpack (and a few lesser important foods) plus two new rugs for our concrete floor in the house.  Lunch was late, but worth the trip.  Fried chicken and french fries sent down by passion fruit juice.  To finish, ice cream and birthday cake (plain cake with no frosting).  We secured the last of our supplies and a few Tusker's to celebrate the week.

I believe it was Sartre (sp?) who said something to the effect that, "hell is other people."  Whoever said that was only half right.  Hell is a matatu ride from Kakamega to Malava.  We boarded what we believed to be a spacious matatu.  Jean, Michael, and Sue sat in the back and I in the first row (not the front).  At the time to leave the comfortably full matatu began to inch forward as the driver called at his conductor to board.  The conductor dashed over and gave the nod to at least five more people to hop on quickly.  Seats meant for three were transitioned to four.  With the matatu so full that the door could not be closed, we began.  As if it was not full enough.  A man waved us down after a couple hundred yards and joined the pit.  I was slotted between two women who were either very drawn to me or just were not willing to attempt to inch away.  The driver, knowing that his matatu was full determined it best to drive with a head-down-running-at-a-brick-wall-full-speed madness.  He tossed the wheel from side to side like some 1940's actor driving a stationary car while the passing reel of film in the background creates the feel of a real car.  He found it best to jerk you about and just as a part of your body, say your head or elbow or shin, came to rest upon a hard object, he would find a pot hole that would drive said body part into said object.  Then there was the odor.  Showering is not a frequent venture in these parts, but the smell in this matatu was the worst.  It was not the worst in the makes you feel sick sort of way, but in the relentless sort of way.  The smell hung like laundry across your nose.  Ever present.  Just as you think that the wind has caused a change within, you have that small reminder to bring you back to the reality.  Sadly, this was not as repulsive as having the conductor reach over my shoulder to collect the fare of a passenger up front. No smell, just the dampness of his armpit as it rest upon my left shoulder.  My shirt absorbing every drop of perspiration that made it through his cotton polo.  It happened twice and it was worse that I described.  Just as we were nearing Malava, I turned to see the frightening sun setting in the mountains.  It shone a menacing red that bled across the sky to show that my trip was not just dream.  I had always been told the saying, "red sky at night, sailor's delight," but I now know that to contain as much truth as the existence of Santa.  It was almost as if the sun and moon had switched, for I could see its face as it leered over the valley off to the mounting clouds with a knowing that by setting all restrained bugs will be set free.

Home, we watched Pulp Fiction and enjoyed two beers.  It is late now.  Goodnight.

29 January 2009

Hot Shower!

After two weeks of struggling with the solar shower, I was able to enjoy my first actual hot shower since Nairobi.  We have had some warm showers, maybe two.  Mostly it has been slightly above or at room temperature.  When that comes from a small shower head (or I should say, a plastic cone with about 10 or so holes attached to plastic tubing whose pressure is based on gravity) the shower is miserable and leaves you feeling marginally cleaner.  I can now say that this is the cleanest I have felt since in Malava.  It also happens to have been on my busiest day of work.

The morning started early, 6:30, with a bathroom call and a terribly unsettled stomach.  Most mornings, I wake up to my stomach doing its best flu impersonation.  This had begun to subside until yesterday, when it started at 4:30am.  I was able to hold myself in a small ball, which is probably big by most standards, and sleep until 7.  Today, I was awakened by my stomach wishing that it was the rooster or the cow as the cause.  I considered resting, but I figured that I would pop two pepto tablets and get on to work.  Thankfully, this was the right choice.  By the time I arrived at the SJC everything was back in order.  Some pangs lingered, but I was put to work immediately.  Judi arrived with a bunch of lumber and beckoned for the Toms to get to work.  Tom and I, I am not schizo  Tom is another person, were put to the task of making new stairs for the center.  Before today, to enter the property of the SJC you had to hike up a short but steep incline.  There are a few foot holes, but as the mud begins to take over the dirt each step becomes one closer to a face plant.  If it is trouble for able-bodied individuals to make it up this incline that it is nearly impossible for the children with CP to ascend.  The morning was spent sawing wood for the steps, applying a stain, nailing the wood together, cutting the steps, placing the frames and adding struts.  I can say that for the first time chai time was an actual break from constant work.  I finally earned my chai and mendazi!  After break we finished up the stairs.  Monday we will build a plank/bridge to span the distance between the road and the stairs.  All the roads are severely crowned due to the rains that will come in a few months.  I am told that the sides will be two full rivers of water because of all the rain.  The bridge will allow people to cross the water and access the stairs without getting wet.

As if that was not enough, I finished the work day by spending time with Joy and Neto to learn how to do the monthly finances.  Since we are not open on Fridays, today is the last day of the month.  We totaled the receipts for the month, checked them against the logs, and checked that against the money.  All basic accounting tasks that are now under my control.  I am now to keep the books, manage the accounts, and administer travel expenses to clients.  All in all today was a great day.  I will then get the petty cash expenses from David next week, log the information in excel spread sheets, and finally enter all information into Quick Books.  It is a nice feeling to have a bit of responsibility, let alone the task of operating and monitoring the day to day finances.  I am not the one that will pay employees and things like that, but I think that I have a nice niche at the SJC.

The afternoon was left to some laundry, boiling water, and reading Infinite Jest (just keeps getting better with each sentence).  Our friend William, who I have mentioned without name in previous posts but I now feel it is fine to say his name, came by to say hello.  We spoke of Kenyan politics and he taught me a bit about how the system here works.  Although the circumstances of our friendship began under rather un-ideal means, I have been enjoying hearing what he has to say.  I have privy to conversations between adults about Kenya, but it is important to speak to someone who is my own age.  He has lofty goals of making it as an MP.  I hope that his strong beliefs will not fade and he will justly serve his constituents.  He will return to Uganda soon, but I am sure that he will remain in touch throughout the year.

In news, the Nakumatt in Nairobi suffered gas explosion.  Nakumatt is the Kenyan Walmart.  They are building one in Kakamega, which I hope will be open within the next few months.  A gas pipe burst in a loud bang and ignited shortly after.  The fire trucks arrived 30 MINUTES after the incident.  Traffic on the Uhuru parkway prevented the trucks from arriving at the blaze in a timely fashion.  When there, it was discovered that most hydrants did not work.  As a result the building burned down.  I have heard of only one death and five people missing.  It is really sad when something like this happens and the structures in place prevent help from arriving when it is needed.  I can't help but feel a bit concerned when I hear about these stories in Kenya.  I am not confident in the country if something was to go wrong to me or near me.  I am not one to generally worry, but it is not terribly reassuring in the least.

Cleaning our Gutters

watch here or on youtube

28 January 2009

Lightning Video

I can now bring you the video I made of the lightning and thunder from a few days ago.  Enjoy.
I will continue to use youtube because it is easy whenever I post a video.  You can see my channel if you click here.

For My Favorite Sister

"I have yet to be mentioned in your blog and I am among the few that actually read it daily."

Alright Julie, here is your time to shine.

This post is just for you.




A lioness does her best Ele impression.




Thanks for reading,

Brother Tom

Shoo Shoo


In the middle of an average work day, Michael texted me to say that he and Jean would be done early today and if we were interested at lunch at the petrol station.  The petrol station is where you can go and have some fried chicken.  All the sisters have made mention of the restaurant next to the station  to rave about the wonderful meal you can purchase.  Sue an I agreed to meet at 1pm for lunch.  After the clients were done we made our way to the station.  Since we were early, we thought it would good to take a walk into the Malava forest.  We had been told to go there by one of the sisters (I do not remember who) because it was a good place to see some animals, it was close, and it was free (unlike the Kakamega rainforest).  Above you see a picture taken from the outside. Below is a Vervet Monkey.  Monkey2I did my best to take a picture of it with my camera, but it was not too close.  I have another picture below this one of another that I took a bit later on our walk that is not as clear at this size, but if you click on the picture it should be much better.  Watching them hang out and jump from tree to tree provided entertainment for some while. We continued monkey1through the forest saw a few birds from the distance, but nothing to report or photograph due to distance and lack of time.  However, we did find a plant that I have dubbed as a "Stegosaurus Tree."  As you can see, it is a bare tree covered in barbs.  Just like the tail of a Stegosaurus.  I have seen steg plantbranches of it on the ground elsewhere, but I now have evidence that it is not just a plant or a vine but a tree of barbwire.  No bird can perch upon this tree.  Lastly, just outside the forest we saw this brilliantly colored butterfly.  I have read that there is an abundance of butterflies in the butterflyKakamega rainforest and I should be able to see some around Malava.  I do not really like butterflies all that much, but if they are anything like this one I will surely enjoy the rainforest.  I will also admit that I am partial to the combination of deep black and electric blue.  Any animal of these colors I will automatically like.

We made it back to the station at one and decided to sit down to have a soda and wait for Michael and Jean.  45 minutes passed and with no sign of the two I called Michael.  He answered cheerfully from our house under the assumption that we would meet be meeting there.  The miscommunication was revealed and corrected when Jean and Michael arrived at somewhere around two.  Lunch was worth the hype and extremely cheap (about $3 for chicken, cabbage, chapati, and a soda).  Thus ended a nice afternoon.

The rest of the day will be left to reading and relaxing.  Dinner than maybe another movie.  Last night we watched Blade Runner, #97 on the AFI top 100.  Pretty good, but I do not see how it is top 100 material.

   girls in window

As a bonus.  The girls who bother us all the time came back last night to say hello.  I snapped this picture as one was telling us that she does not like Michael because he always says, "Shoo Shoo!" to them.  They like me for God knows what reason.  I think it is only because I do not shoo them away, but I have not been the most gracious host to them either.

Update: They are here at 4:37pm again.  Watching me on the computer as Michael ignores them and corrects tests.

Update 2: To take care of our problem, Michael tossed water at them -- and it has only been moderately successful.

I hope it is snowing wherever you may be!

27 January 2009

Tuesday's Terrible T Storm

A hurricane-like storm rages outside as I bring you today's blog post.  Power has been coming in and out while rains defy gravity and travel parallel to the now swamp grounds.  A great river rages next to our house of run-off rain with tributaries that break off whenever given a chance.  To threaten the integrity of the river and cause total aqua-chaos.  Meanwhile, Michael and I sit patiently listening to the BBC news as our light does its best rave impression strobe.

Today, Sue and I did more of the same and more of nothing.  We filled out the charts when the families brought the cards.  Wrote a few receipts for membership fees and travel expenses.  The day started slowly, but then a group of clients came in in a continuous flow of children.  The day was consummated by chai and bread. 

Then it was back to relax before our meeting.  We sat and pondered great things such as the existence of God, the Catholic church, US politics, and international relations.  Tired from the philosophical workout, we purchased some sodas and played travel scrabble (thanks Rose!).  That brought us to 3pm and time for the meeting.  Finally, we were able to hash out all the roles for the four of us (Sue, Neto, Joy and myself).  Sue and I will be responsible for the daily bookkeeping and secretarial affairs.  That will free up Neto to focus solely on play therapy.  Joy will continue to be involved in the individual families and do check-ins as needed.  I have been given the unofficial responsibility of accountant.  This means that I will be entering all the data from each months expenses into the computer.  I will also act as carpenter for the SJC.  I have been commissioned to make some therapy seats and toys.  This will be an after hours job that will keep me busy in the afternoons. 

To boil this all down, day to day I will continue to do what I have been doing.  Which is not a whole lot, but now I know what my role is.  As each month comes to an end, I will have my accounting duties.  Various other tasks will be treated on an as needed basis.  After a month, we will evaluate and look forward to how Sue and I can help with grants and funding.  I am happy to have a few defined roles within the SJC.  At least I know what is expected of me.

On a lighter note.  As Sue and I were walking back from work, a started talking to me as if we knew each other.  Politely, I shook his hand and walked.  Listening to what he was saying.  He followed my stride for stride.  Chatting with a slur, unrelenting to my attempt to leave the conversation.  He ultimately stopped me and began to express his distress.  I had gotten on the bus earlier this morning and then he saw me walking from across the street.  I had lied to him!  Completely confused and overwhelmed by the odor of cigarette smoke curling out of each letter he spoke.  I stood dumfounded to this man.  His shirt was unbuttoned, suit dirty and oily.  It was clear that he had been past drunk well before noon.  He insisted that I apologize for lying to him.  If I was a gentleman, I would admit I was wrong and say sorry.  He was only looking out for the two of us.  How could he help us if we did not tell him where we were really going.  I insisted that I did not know him.  I said that I had not been in a car today and he must have confused me with my friend (Michael).  I would not say I was sorry because I had done nothing wrong.  Realizing that his attempt to elicit penance was fruitless, he asked if I could spare a bit of pocket  change.  At that, I kindly and curtly informed him that we had to go and have our lunch.  Good day sir!

Last thing today.  People have been emailing me with questions and whatnot.  I want to make sure that I am informing everyone about as much as possible.  Therefore, I will begin to also post my answers.  I had not thought about simple things such as what I eat each meal (asked by my mother).  If you ask questions via comments or email, I will be sure to answer them in an expedient manner.

Tree!Dr. Seuss tree - This tree is outside the SJC and must have been dreamt up by Dr. Seuss.

Birds1 lesser striped swallow (taken by myself on Michael's camera in our courtyard)

Birds2 Black and White-Casqued Hornbill (taken by me on my camera from our courtyard)  Ugly, huh?

***You can click on any of the pictures to see them larger.  I am using smaller sizes on the blog to save memory space and ensure that they are in fact uploaded.  Internet explorer seems to only show my page in black and white, but the images are supposed to be in color.  If you click on them, they should appear in color.  Someone please tell me if this is not true and I will do my best to fix it***

26 January 2009


Lightning storm_0001 No video, but I did get this image from the video I took.

I will try to get it up, but the connection is far too unreliable to make any sort of promise other than my effort.


Monday Means Work

...to some extent.

Today was as productive as the days were last week.  Sue and I sat around trying to learn about the way that the SJC works with the goal of figuring out what we can do for the next year.  So far, all roads lead to grants.  The prospect of this is exciting, but we have another meeting tomorrow afternoon.  This will involve Sister Judi, Sister Joy, Neto, Sue and myself.  Finally, we will hash out all of the responsibilities that need to be fulfilled by the four of us (Judi not included in the four).  I have come to understand that Neto is responsible for the day to day operations and leads play therapy.  Joy does administrative work to keep track of all the clients and to make sure that they are still coming for therapy.  If not, she goes to the homes to determine why.  That leaves funding for Sue and I.  Sure, there are probably things we can do here and there.  Such as book keeping during the day, but this will likely be the majority of our work.  I am ready to have something to do where I can feel like I am making a contribution to the center.  Thus far I feel like an observer who is trying to learn about the center with no real intention of making a contribution. Polepole. Polepole.

The afternoon involved taking pictures of birds with Michael's camera, making potato chips, taking out the trash, and again being mobbed by the group of girls.  The girls saw me from a distance and ran yelling something I could not understand.  I realized that they wanted to have their picture taken, again.  I refused and they revolted.  I ran for the cover of the house, but they are so small that they can fit through the gate.  My last resort was to barricade myself in the house and ignore them as they screamed and yelled through the windows.  I dealt with it for awhile but my patience wore off suddenly and I bust out to sternly instruct them to leave.  Obviously, this only half worked because I do not speak Swahili.  They got I was upset and quieted down, but did not leave.  I decided to give up and just sit and read.  I snatched my book and sat to read when I heard them say something to the effect, "He has a bible."  For some reason they thought I had a bible and dashed off.  Out of only what I assume to be fear of disturbing a man reading the bible.  I hope this is true and I will have an easy way to get rid of them in the future. 

Taking out the trash is a bit different in Kenya.  There are no trash men that come and pick up your trash.  In fact, there are no landfills for trash.  If your trash is compost, you have a heap or toss it into a garden or the ground.  Paper and plastic goods are kept in waste baskets until they are full.  Once topped off, you empty the waste onto the ground and apply fire.  Yes, trash is burned here in Kenya.  Sorry all of you environmentalists, this is not the place for you.  It is not China, but there is nothing to protect the environment.  In fact, the trucks emit a disgusting cloud of soot from their exhaust.  Fortunately for people on foot, the government passed a law a few years back that says truck exhaust pipes cannot be in the back.  So where do you think they moved the exhaust?  To the side of course.  "Which side?" you ask.  The side of the road makes most sense, preferably in your face as you walk.  It is more disgusting that you think.  The smell makes me sick.

We enjoyed a lightning storm tonight yet again.  I enjoy the weather here.  It was cool this morning, comfortable in the afternoon, and a solid t storm at night.  I am attempting to post a video of the thunder and lightning from tonight.  I hope it works!  I also was able to take some pictures of some magnificent birds.  I will get them up as soon as I can.  We have a nice couple who have made a nest in our storage portion.  They sing back and forth each morning and perch themselves on our clothesline as we sit in the afternoon.  Names will come soon.

Weekly projects:

  • Get a cat
  • Get a rug
  • Make a sweet bed couch

25 January 2009

Easy like Sunday Morning

Sunday began in an odd manner.  Jean mistakenly took our keys last night when she left to make her way home.  She grabbed them off of our table thinking they were hers, pocketed them, and walked home with Sue.  It was not till later that she realized that she had and extra set.  This produced a phone call informing us that we were keyless.  What that meant was we had to lock ourselves in for the night and await Jean's arrival for our keys in order to be able to go to church.  As the music began to commence mass, we heard a distant, "Hoti!" as Jean appeared to liberate us from our own home.

Mass was as beautiful and unintelligible as last week.  I am starting to build my Swahili vocabulary, but I cannot understand a thing when normal conversation is taking place.  Sister Judi gave me a copy of the mass in Swahili with notations to translate certain passages.  I was able to to find some of the parts of the mass, but I was still lost.  Finally, I realized that things were so hard because the mass was completely different.  No, not the language.  Every chance the people could sing, they sang.  The parishioners hardly ever responded as I am used to.  Instead, it became a new song.  The apostle's creed: a song.  I certainly will not complain.  The singing is by far the best part.  The dancing girls are close behind, but the music is king.  It is probably my focus because I am lost the entire time and it becomes the one moment where I do not have to try to get what is going on any longer.  I hope that I can video tape at least a part of one mass to be able to show you what I am talking about.  I will insist that any visitor come to Malava for Sunday mass.  It is that good.

During mass, when it is time for the collection, two people stand at the front of the alter with baskets.  This is not like in American churches where you have a basket to pass or an usher to reach the basket wand.  No, the collection is in one place and you have to walk up there and give in front of everyone.  Once the time to go has come, the outside pews pour out in an orderly line.  People pass quickly and drop a few shillings into the baskets.  You are compelled to donate.  When this moment came, Michael and I looked at each other to ask if either of us had remembered to bring money.  His blank look was all I needed.  Without hesitation, I sprang up (which is not that fast) and ran out of the church.  I stormed through the house to commandeer the change on my desk.  I leapt out the door, locked up, and made it back to glide into the line with a few shillings for each of us.   I imagined myself to be some sort of agile cat as I ran back and forth, but I was more likely a goofy mzungu trucking in and out of church.

Post-mass we all met with Sister Phyllis to do a little check in.  We had the triumphant return of our guest from Thursday only to extend a short meeting into a Kenyan affair.  He launched back into his whole story and spared no word from his sentences.  I feel that sometimes I write too much here, but man oh man could he speak.  I find him to be kind, but just far to longwinded for my liking.  When this finally broke the girls left and we were set about the house doing various chores.  I should mention that our main objective of the week was finally accomplished today.  A young lady bearing a note from Father Jossphat (the spelling is now right but it is pronounced Ja-HO-sa-fat).  In it, he told us that the young woman before us would be of great service to our laundry situation.  Michael and I agreed that it would be best to find some laundry help and our savior had arrived.  We set up a plan for the laundry and reveled in our wondrous accomplishment as she went on her way. 

At 2pm, we made our way over to the girls for Sunday brunch.  Jean, I believe, came up with the idea to have a collective Sunday brunch for the year.  She decided to cook first.  Preparing us spaghetti and a homemade meat sauce.  This was accompanied by garlic bread and watermelon.  To travel over to the SND compound, we thought it best to bike over.  A terrible idea.  The bikes have been a constant source of problems and I was finally able to experience them.  The mountain bike that I tried first made it two rotations before the pedal fell off.  It fell off on Friday when Jean was coming home from work and we thought that we repaired it before we left.  Clearly, we were wrong.  Next candidate was the "Kenyan standard bike."  That means that it is a road bike far too small for someone of my height with the seat at the lowest setting.  Lets just say that riding the bike put me one step closer to joining the Big Apple Circus.  This meant twice the amount of work just to pedal and absolutely no control over the steering.  I attempted to ride it for awhile and gave up, sweaty and frustrated at my fruitless efforts.

Fortunately we had a fine meal and a pleasing conversation.  We returned to the house with the goal of eradicating our ant colony.  Doomless, we set out to experiment with a new method: boiling water.  Michael set up some water to boil and once it was done he strategically poured it down the holes of the colony.  Generally, I have no problem with animals of all kinds, even bugs, but ants are no good.  Particularly when they are African tank ants who cannot be destroyed, and they have decided to start a colony outside your kitchen window.  We knew our efforts to be successful when not more than a minute after dumping the water a full scale exodus began.  Ants rushed out carrying food and whatever they could find.  If George Costanza was in there, he would have knocked over the queen to get out!

Pleased with ourselves, we enjoyed the remainder of the afternoon reading.  I began "Infinite Jest" by David Foster Wallace.  I have only read about 10 pages, but I am already hooked.  His style is what I could only wish to be able to emulate.  I now see why people love his writing and this book.  The night finished with a viewing of "Yankee Doodle Dandy."  Now we have completed two of the AFI top 100 movies and will proceed in ascending order until we reach number one.  It was quite entertaining and a dramatic change from "Ben Hur."

Now to sleep and back to work.  The dogs are barking.  It is time to go to bed.

Ah, I also wanted to mention that we had a thunderstorm.  It was just above us we could enjoy the display of lightening and the symphony of thunder.  The lightening is as spectacular as anywhere I have see, but the thunder.  Oh the thunder.  It does not strike in a piercing blow, but builds from within the deep clouds and builds in a crescendo to finally blow out its last breath.  Each strike of thunder lasts for at least ten seconds.  It makes for an enjoyable storm and causes Michael to yell at the clouds, "I love Kenya!"


24 January 2009

Around the House

Courtyard1CourtyardHome Back1 Back of houseKitchen1 KitchenNeighbors34 Side/GatesRain Buckets1 Rain BucketsStove1 StoveWater Filter1 Filter

Various Pictures


  Leopard Grrr

Lions Lazy Lions

Tea1 Tea

Tea2 Tea

Tea3 More Tea

Unicorn Unicorns are real!


Read carefully...bathrooms found in Malava

"Take our Picture!"

Girls ran to have picture taken  I was walking around the parish grounds with Michael's camera. Capturing pictures of the various birds when these girls came flying at me.  I ran for cover into our gate and they came upon us yelling, "Take our picture!"  I obliged their request and snapped the adjacent photo.  As you can tell, they were both pleased and had no trouble hamming it up to the camera.  Take note of the one with her arms crossed on the far right.  She was determined to have all the girls pose with her, but they were far too excited to comply.  After I took three pictures, I turned the camera to show them and I was mobbed by the girls.  Now I know what it is like to be Justin Timberlake!  Michael shooed them away and we shut the gate.  However, they remained poking their heads in the gate holes (as seen on the left).  The next commands came as, "Help me some juice!"  This continued for a bit and we just ignored them, listening to the BBC as it transformed us back to the 1950's.  We enjoyed an adaptation of a new book into a radio program.  Part of it took place in the 50's, and it was a throw back to a time when there was no tv.  Which in our case is presently true.  The program was campy, yet captivating enough to maintain our attention.  I hope that this is on each Saturday afternoon, it will be a good way to pass the time in the afternoons.

Earlier, we ventured into town.  I think I should point out that town is like 1000 feet from our house.  To walk to town literally takes a minute, and the market is five.  We are situated off the main road that goes through Malava and right next to what seems to be the largest intersection.  As I was saying, we were on a mission to find a person to do our laundry.  We saw signs for laundry and figured it would be worth a try.  This is not due to laziness, but because it is time consuming, water wasting, and yields semi-clean clothes.  We figure that we can save time and water by having someone do it that has more experience.  We went to the place where it said laundry and realized that it was inside of a bar.  Being a little skittish, we determined it best to avoid the bar and continue our search.  We made our way through town to see various shops where we could ask the price of goods and write them down.  I have made a spread sheet of the price of goods and foods that we have seen and asked about.  This will give us an idea of expenses and will also make us better at getting good deals.  Only one store in Malava has things with price tags, the rest is just haggle till your face turns blue.  By asking the price of goods, we know a starting point and are able to play vendors off of each other.  This is done to help alleviate the "mzungu tax."  Everyone will way overcharge us because they think we are rich.  We picked up a few things and came home to relax.

One item we bought was an old favorite: Doom.  We have a hornets nets, Michael   DoomAnt Colony (2)2   a bees nest, and a major ant colony.   As you can see above, Doom was well needed for all the ants and Michael has deadly aim when it comes to the wasps.  We were both ready to run at a moments notice, but even African tank wasps were no match to Doom.  You could say that they were Doomed from the start (laugh now).

 Neighbors41 To finish tonight's entry, I would like everyone to meet the parish cow.  I do not know her name yet, but I am starting to hate her.  This morning, parked in front of my room window, she felt the need to moo as loudly as possible.  This continued for over an hour and I finally got up.  I checked my phone to the horror that it was only 8am.  I place most of the blame on the rooster who decides to start his wake up call at the crack of dawn.  I am convinced that he is determined that as long as he is awake, everyone else should be as well.  His call continues all day long.  This then angers the cow, who responds in kind.  Feeling left out, the goats get in the action and the chickens just bob their heads to the music.  The afternoon is for the turkey's and the birds who litter the air with the most beautiful and accosting sounds I have ever heard.  Night, as always, is left to the symphony of the crickets only to be broken by the nasty rooster.

Tonight we finish Ben Hur and relax to the sound of the rain.  Whenever it rains, it does not joke around in Kenya.  Last night, all of our buckets were filled to the top with rain.  This is great for the crops that are in desperate need of water, the wells that have been dry for months, and our rain take which is now full and saves us the trip to the well.

Good night and Good luck.

23 January 2009


..my new mantra.  Polepole.  Slowly Slowly.  Maybe if I say it a couple hundred times a day I will be able to begin to adjust to the slowness of Kenyan life. 

Today was the yearly meeting for the St. Julie's Center.  The goal was to review the objectives from last year and form new ones for 2009.  Sue and I were given fair warning by Sister Phyllis about the fact that meetings can be unbearably slow.  After speaking to her and having been told by everyone that things were slow here, I felt that I was mentally prepared for the pace.  False.  The meeting began at 9:25.  First, the minutes from the previous meeting were read and discussed.  This was not a good start for me.  Since this was my first week, I am still learning about the center and pretty much had no idea what the heck they were talking about from the minute the meeting started.  Luckily, this was a relatively quick section and then it was on to the real meat of the meeting.  Neto was in charge because he had been the previous meetings secretary.  He was to determine the pace of the day.  It turned out to be excruciatingly slow.  I do not wish to bore you with all of the details of the meeting.  I had to live through it and I would not wish that meeting upon my enemies.  Everyone in the center is great, but Kenyans have a certain way when it comes to having a discussion.  It goes like this:  a person brings up a topic and then makes a comment about whatever he/she feels should be changed.  From there, a second individual jumps in to make a comment as well based on the previous persons ideas.  Without realizing it, the second person echoes the sentiment of the first and in the process completely confuses the rest of the group.  Therefore, the first person must clarify her position, the second must do the same, and still nothing happens.  A third person will jump in attempting to alleviate the situation only to make it even worse.  You are then left with a frustrated group who does not understand what each other is saying when in fact, all agree on the same thing.  Finally, someone happens upon an explanation that makes sense to all and we move on.  This pattern continued throughout the day.  We took a break at 11am, resumed at 11:40am, and were done by 2pm.  Roughly five hours of meeting and discussing could have probably been reduced to an hour.  I think there are two things that were working against us.  The first being, that I think this is the way that people here tend to have discussions.  The second is, that English is not a primary language for the Kenyan staff.  What may usually be a slow process becomes tedious due to a language gap.  That is not to suggest that the staff members do not have good English, they speak and understand very well.  Rather, I want to stress that it becomes harder to understand another person when he is speaking your second language.

Fortunately for us, today was market day in Malava.  I can't say that I love buying food fresh off the dirty ground, but market day is a fun experience when you consider the people you get to interact with.  Everyone wants to sell their goods to us, and everyone has basically the exact same food: potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and beans.  Some have exotic foods such as carrots, garlic, and mangos.  Now that I have a slightly better understanding of the value of the Kenyan Shilling, haggling is fun.  My approach is to find what I want, make a very low offer, get the counter offer, then say, "you might as well rob me for that price," and walk away.  This gives me both an idea of what the vendor wants for her item, but also usually leads to them making a sudden price drop as a start to turn my back.  It is a game that you have to play with the vendor to get the best price.  Despite my method, which I think works well, I joined Michael as he used his.  For it brought me great pleasure to watch him as he would walk up to a vendor with a 10 KSH piece and say, "I only have 10 shillings.  How many of these (pointing at whatever he wants) can I get?"  Every time he did this I could not help but turn away in laughter.  10 KSH is the equivalent to about 15 cents in USD.  For Kenya, it can get you two mangos or a couple of tomatoes.  10 KSH is not worth too much, so making an offer of only 10 KSH is ludicrous.  However, he was met with success as well when it came to making a deal. 

His greatest achievement, one which I hope to emulate, has been to get a pair of flip flops for 70 KSH.  As you all should know, I love flip flops.  They adorn my feet as often as possible.  The fact that I can get them so cheaply is titillating in of itself, but these are no ordinary flip flops.  The flip flops in the Malava market are hand made out of tire rubber.  How? you ask.  A man will fit the person by measuring his/her foot and then cuts out a sole from a car tire.  He then fashions straps. nails them onto the sole, and hands over a high quality pair of tire flip flops.  I swear that we will start a new fashion trend when we return.  I mean if people actually will go out and buy bags that are made out of car seat belts, tire flip flops will certainly become the Beanie Baby of 2010.

Side note - We began our countdown of the AFI top 100 movies of the past 100 years tonight in order from 100 to 1 (of the movies that I acquired ~90).  Tonight was disc 1 of number 100 - Ben Hur.

Happy Friday and have a great weekend!

No big plans tomorrow.  Gotta continue to examine and explore the town to get an idea of what is available.

22 January 2009

Work, Visitors, and the Butcher

After a rewarding day with Judi yesterday, I was treated to a dinner creation by Michael that he likes to call "Loaded Irish Ugalli."  LIU is mashed potatoes plus boiled tomatoes, hot dogs, onions, and carrots.  Thus far, this is a favorite of our creations.  Tonight's dinner involved our first journey into Kenyan beef.  There are plenty of butchers in town to choose from.  To be one, you must have a sign that says "butcher" and beef.  Generally the best ones will have it hanging in view so you can see where your meet is coming from.  Many of you are imagining meet hanging on hooks that is ready to be used as a punching bag by Rocky, but you are sadly very far away from the truth.  What hangs is not prepared, but fresh from the cow meat.  You can see how it once was an animal and smell that it is certainly no longer alive.  Do not worry, flies keep the it company as well as the butcher himself.  You order your meet, he lops off a piece of "fillet," weighs it, bags, wraps in newspaper, and hands over.  Thoroughly disgusted, we left with a heap of meat.  It was used tonight to make Kenyan corned beef and cabbage.  Once completed, we enjoyed boiled cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes, and rubber.  I can now say that I never intend to buy meat that is not frozen again.  Hot dogs were great last night and I am willing to pay the extra when I want meat.

As for today, Sue and I spent the day making notes on what we want to discuss for tomorrow's meeting.  The staff at St. Julie's waited for us to have their yearly planning meeting.  Fortunately, this will give us the chance to express what we believe that we can help accomplish with the center.  There is a significant need for organization of records and the acquisition of funds.  Sue and I believe that we are able to at least begin to move in a direction so that they can better help themselves.  We holed up in the office for what was a rather slow day in terms of clients, and brainstormed what we think we could accomplish.  I will not say too much about what we brainstormed because it was expansive and conjecture.  Hopefully, tomorrow I will be able to explain how these ideas have become jobs and tasks for the year.

On a lighter note, we had a visitor this afternoon.  By we I mean that I had a visitor and Michael came in at the very end to save the day.  A young man who introduced himself to us on Monday as a church member came over well dressed and and ready to do business.  I had a feeling that he was going to ask for a favor when he indicated that there was a few things he wanted to talk over with us, but I could not just say that he was an unwelcome guest.  So, he came and we sat down in the house.  He explained his upbringing, being one of four and having divorced parents.  His secondary education had been paid for by his older brother who is now an assistant principal, but now he wants to go to college and is in need of money to go.  To assure me of his credentials he brought a portfolio of work and certificates that speak to his dedication as a student.  He showed me his achievements, written work, and commendations.  A very intelligent and savvy guy, he wants to study to be a lawyer.  He also went out of his way to make sure that I knew he was who he said he was.  That brought out first his school id, then his Kenyan id, birth certificate with a copy for me, and finally his passport.  Of course, he allowed me to examine them.  Putting on my best Worcester bouncer face, I examined each document as if I knew what to look for other than his name, birthday, and birthplace.  Unable to come up with a reasonable excuse, I could only tell him that I would have to discuss with the rest.  But, just as we were finishing, Michael and Jean came back.  Knowing that it was best to leave, Jean darted off and Michael was thrown into the abridged version of the young man's story.  Being quick of mind and short on patience, Michael told him that we were unable to do any work outside of our sites as per our agreement with CMMB and NDMV.  With that an hour ordeal was ended with a very short response by Michael.  We advised him to talk to the Father, whom he knows well, and the SND's who may be in a better position to help him.  I do honestly believe that he wants to study, but somehow people continue to think that we are there to solve all the problems of the community.  In doing so, we are to help any person that has a need.  I wish that it was that simple, but we cannot do everything.  There are so many needs for this town let along the St Julie's Center.  Our focus can only remain on the task at hand despite what may be a honorable plea.  I really hope that he is able to get some sort of support to get a higher education.  He seems to be smart and driven to do the necessary work for college and beyond.

To change direction, the Daily Nation was covered in Obama stuff yesterday.  I forgot to mention this, but it was crazy.  The entire national section was just stories about Obama.  There was also a special insert about the inauguration.  I would estimate that a good 60% of the stories in the paper from yesterday were related to Obama.  There are a few articles that try to calm the expectations of the people, but when you have a paper that focuses solely on the American president, it becomes hard to make it seem as if Obama is not going to save Kenya.  Kenya must realize that it is a long way from the United States, and people will not all of a sudden flock to the homeland of the president.  That is not to say that this country does not have a lot to offer, but you can go to the beach and see animals for a lot cheaper than just the airfare to Kenya.  Europe, maybe there is a chance, but I really don't see American tourists jetting off to Kenya for a vacation.  This is also compounded by the fact that the Kenyan government is corrupt, Malaria is an issue, there is no drinkable tap water, hospitals are a worry (especially blood transfusions), and the infrastructure is rotten (to be kind).  I will be the first to say that this is a beautiful country with wonderful people and everyone should come who can, but it is just not reasonable.  All that will come of this is dejection on the part of the Kenyan people and further mistrust with our government.

Things continue to worsen in Zimbabwe and the DR Congo.....Keep your ears to the ground and keep reading the news.  This region of the world is hanging by a thread.  I think a significant amount of violence will break out in at least one country this year.  Even in Kenya, you can get the feeling that things are held together with Scotch Tape.  It will not take much for this all to crumble.  Somehow, the people have come to forget/ignore what happened last year.  When you mention it, every person loses his or her vibrancy.  What happened was terrible, but it just ended and life resumed.  Unresolved problems will always simmer under the surface waiting for the chance to boil over.

Witnessed a lightening cloud that was like the beginning of "It's A Wonderful Life."  Just turn the star angels that are speaking to each other, flashing with each word back and forth, into clouds.  A great conversation between who I can only imagine is Zeus and maybe Mars (I just like the name).  Either way, it was surely the Gods at work trying to decide if rain would come tonight (the answer is no thus far).

Good night and good day.

A bit random today, huh?

21 January 2009

First Pair of Shoes

At eight this morning, as I was preparing to head out to work, I received a call from Sister Judi.  She said she was going to visit a few schools today and asked if I would like to tag along.  Without hesitating, I leapt at the opportunity to spend a day "out in the field."  We met at the road around 8:45 and began the drive to Kakamega.  In the back of the car was a young boy with CP named Kevin and his grandmother.  He was at St Julie's on Monday and I had remembered his parent saying that he was going to school for the first time this week.  As it turns out, Judi was driving him to the boarding school this morning.  We made the 45 minute bumpy ride into Kakamega and Judi said that Kevin told her that he needed a new pair of shoes if he was to go to school.  Barefoot, Kevin was to place his tiny feet into their first pair of shoes.  Once in town, we went to the shoe store.  Kevin was carried in (he is unable to walk on his own) grinning the whole way into the store.  I could see his mind at work, telling himself that he was not there to look any longer.  He was there to get his first pair of shoes.  The saleswoman came over and Judi pointed out the standard black shoes that all of the school children seem to wear.  Kevin's foot was measured and the lady disappeared to get the correct shoe.  With a box in hand, the lady returned and Kevin let out a glorious cry at the very sight of the container for his shoes.  He beamed as the lady removed the shoes and slipped them over his toes and carefully around his feet.  If you wanted to actually define happiness in a way that is real, I would say Kevin's reaction was more pure than the word itself.  Feet clad with shiny new shoes, Kevin was the king of the world and ready for school.  We brought him over to the school, checked in his supplies, and introduced him to his first wheelchair.  A natural on wheels, Kevin was not shy to use his new method of transportation to explore the school's hallway.  I spun him around a bit as he showed off his sly smile that is punctuated by his tongue, a mini Michael Jordan.  We said our goodbyes and dropped of his grandmother to catch a ride home.

Next up was Mumias, which is sugar cane country.  You knew that there was a large business because of the fact that the road was in great shape.  That is in terms of Kenyan roads.  It was not perfect, but not a single pot hole.  As you can imagine, a large sugar company operates out of the area and makes sure to keep the roads for the sake of its trucks.  On the other hand, sugar cane grown in Malava is placed by hand onto trucks that go over pot hole infested roads.  This gives anyone with a sweet tooth the chance to grab a piece off the back and enjoy as he/she walks.  In Mumias, trucks are much bigger and are loaded by machines.  The roads are so well kept that the trucks can go 80 kmh, which is far too fast for anyone to steal any stalks.  Sugar is the main crop, as I said already, but is so significant that everyone grows it rather than food, such as maize, that is far more practical for their needs.  However, a cash crop is always hard to pass up.  So fields of sugar cane it is! 

30 minutes later we were at the Mumias Primary School for the Deaf.  We met the headmaster of the school, Judi paid for the tuition of two Malava based students, and we got a general report on how they were doing.  To enter a school full of deaf children was a riot because their reactions were wild when I entered the grounds.  They violently waved their hands in rapid signs to signal that I was here.  Since they could not talk, they just stared.  The brave few waved, but most just stood in shock.  Barely able to lift their hands to utter a single sign.  I could not help but laugh at the ludicrous situation.  As we left, a few ran to the gate to catch their last glimpse of me as I left.  The did not wave or even move save the pushing of shrubs away from their faces to see us.  Next door to the primary school is St. Angela's Girls Secondary School for the Deaf.  This time Judi wanted to inquire about a girl attending the school.  As we waited I was forced off into another room by a school board member at the insistence that I sit in a chair.  It seems that I somehow offend people when I stand and wait.  We sat in a separate room, the man and I, and made small talk about the school.  The headmaster came in and swiftly ushered us into her office.  Judi was still busy, so I remained with the two of them for about 10 minutes.  Fortunately, they were kind enough to carry a conversation in English.  They discussed the teacher's strike that began on Monday. 

In Kenya there are two competing teachers unions: KNUT and KUPPET.  KUPPET made a deal with the government last week, but has a very small membership.  KNUT had yet to make a deal and angered by the deal with the competing union called on a strike.  What this meant was that nobody was to go to teach.  Kenya seems to have an us-vs-them mentality, so anyone who was to go to teach would be taken as a supporter.  Private school teachers are not unionized, they are paid by their schools.  However, they cannot go teach either, for it will be seen as support for the government.  The headmaster was telling us that the schools teachers had been coming to work, but would hide in the library.  When strikes occur for Kenyan teachers, sadly it is a regular occurrence, those on strike patrol the schools and beat up teachers who go to work.  On Monday, a group came around and asked the guard if any teachers came to work.  He replied with a simple no, and then was threatened to be beaten if he was proved a liar.  He invited them in to look around, but the group declined.  The school determined it best to keep the teachers in the library for safety reasons.  If a group was to return, they would look in the classrooms and the teachers office.  Meanwhile, the girls have been left to teach themselves and make trips to the library when help is needed.  For the public school children, each morning they travel to school and are told there is no class.  Many stay and play soccer and other games on the school grounds.  Others wander the streets.  Nothing bad has come of this around here, but it is not good for children to be left to their own devices during the day.  After awhile, they can only begin to get in trouble.

Judi entered the room as we finished the discussion about the strike to ask about the girl.  The headmaster said that she would be welcomed to the school if she wants.  Having completed the days tasks we set back for the 1.5 hr or so ride back to Malava.  I am glad that I was able to go with Judi today.  I was able to see how else the St. Julie's center helps the children as they get older.  It also gave me the chance to get a better understanding of what is needed at the center and how I can help.  Hopefully, Sue and I will begin work on raising funds for the center.  Little has been done so far to secure much needed money for what is a valuable resource for the greater Malava community. 

We made a pit stop in Kakamega before driving home. I bought the Daily Nation to see what coverage it would have on the inauguration.  To little surprise, the cover had a large picture of the Obama's as our new president was inaugurated.  It is still a bit strange to see a new president.  More so on the cover of a Kenyan news paper. 

Rain has come for the third day in a row.  Giving us more water in the rain tank and water for the crops.  Last night, I awoke to pouring rain at 1am.  The rain swelled as a great torrent which rose and fell like gales waves to overwhelm and comfort me as I laid peacefully in bed.  I had never been awoken to a more thunderous calm that last night.  I slept well after.

It is now time to make dinner.  Have a great day my faithful readers!

20 January 2009

Farewell to Bush from Kenya

I bring you tonight's blog as Michael and I listen to BBC Africa's coverage of the inauguration.  They have had very thorough coverage that spans the great continent where large parties are taking place.  I would love to have been able to go to Kisumu, the large city that is only two hours from me and also less than two hours from Obama's family village, but safety is a great concern and being out at night is just not possible.  Dark means inside and that is that.  

All I want to say about the inauguration is that whether or not you voted for Obama, we should be happy to live in a country where power can change without corruption or violence.  Kenya's last election took place a year ago and involved a significant opposition party that many believe won the election.  When the party in power forced the election commission to certify the election in its favor, violence erupted.  I spoke to an American girl who is also staying in Malava through another program about being here during that time.  She told me about how she did not sleep because of the gun shots outside and when the state department called she was told to either pack up enough supplies for a month and lock her self inside or flee immediately.  Once packed, she traveled with the people she was with to Kisumu airport.  Along the way, she saw numerous upside down matatu's and burning buildings.  What happened in Kenya tends to be the norm for many countries throughout the world.  I do not consider myself to be a patriot or any sort of super American lover (country first anyone?), but we do have a very stable system.  I hope that we have elected an intelligent and poised leader, but we can always choose someone else in four years.

Ok enough rambling and back to yapping about myself.  Today was a far better day at the St. Julie's Center.  I worked with two children.  The first, who had mental disabilities, worked on counting and alphabet games with me.  He was easily able to count (in English and Swahili), but he could not identify numbers out of order.  The same for the alphabet.  Order was no problem, but when I quizzed him on letters he had no idea.  I was told that not long ago he could not even say either in order.  After working with him, I played a little soccer with a boy with CP.  His right leg was far weaker, so we kicked the ball back and forth to help him not only use his weaker leg to kick, but to also use it to stabilize while he kicked with his left foot.  That all brought me to 12:30 (nothing really starts until 9:30 or later).  At that point all the children had been seen by the therapists and it was time for tea and bread. 

I have not said anything about the famous Kenyan Chai.  It is prepared by mixing milk and water and boiling both together.  My father always said not to boil milk.  Well, Dad, they do it here and it works out just fine.  This is then added to black tea, strained and finally sugar is added (a whole lot).  Pour that into a thermos to keep hot and enjoy at your pleasure.  It is very very very sweet, but I am enjoying it so far.  I still prefer my "strong" tea, as they call it.  That is just black tea without milk or sugar.  When I told the people at the center that was how I take my tea they all recoiled in chorus to the thought of "strong" tea.  This is a daily staple for a snack.  Along with buttered bread, this has essentially become my lunch.  It is filling and free, so I will certainly not complain.

I enjoy tea time because it gives everyone a chance to gather round and just talk about whatever moves us.  Today, we had a two pronged discussion.  The first of which involved the English Premier League.  Since my brother and cousins are Chelsea fans, I have adopted them as my team knowing that it was basically the only sport that mattered in Kenya.  David and Neto are both Manchester United supporters.  Unfortunately, Man U sits in first place and Chelsea in a close third.  We traded jovial barbs about each others team, but I was outmatched because I was alone and my team was not in first (for those who may not know, this is the Yankees-Red Sox of English Soccer).  The second topic revolved around American and Kenyan politics.  Since Obama is always on the tip of everyone's tongue, he naturally came up in conversation.  Surprisingly,  Bush is not held in contempt here in Kenya.  In fact, I was shocked to learn that people support the actions of the United States in Iraq.  Evidently the connection to Obama is one that is deeply rooted in national pride, but also in a true belief that he will be a better leader.  I thought everyone to blindly support Obama because of his Kenyan roots, but that is not the whole truth.  People see him as an inspiration because they agree with what he says and believes.  This is only catapulted by the fact that there actually can be a good leader who is African.  Leaders here have been a trail of disappointments, but Obama really does give hope to an entire continent.  I can say that I am guilty of thinking the people of Kenya to be unintelligent.  It was not something that I thought outwardly or even purposefully, but I find myself surprised when I have thoughtful conversations with Kenyans.  I now realize that there was something within me that held myself in some sort of superiority.  It is this very thing that I wish to destroy, but it is disheartening to realize that I am nowhere near to where I think I am. 

After chai and discussions I went back home, made two trips to gather water, boiled some, cleaned the gutters just before the rain started (two days of solid rain!!), and made dinner (fried potatoes, onions, carrots and eggs).  Michael and I enjoyed a fine meal as we listened to the BBC and discussed our days.  He commented on how "domestic" I am because I am constantly working on various things around the house.  I think that is fair enough because I always feel that something can be done around here and I just go ahead and do it.  Things are well here. Michael and I have built a good rapport so far.

Obama just finished his speech and people are dancing and singing in Kisumu right now.  How wild is that?

I will finish with random thoughts and quotes.

Today I learned four Malava customs (I was told these before, and many others, but I will only mention them when they actually happen):

  1. Woman breast feed when the baby is hungry, even if they are waiting inside of a public building.  A mother just pulled down her shirt, popped out her breast, and the child drank away (very contently I must add).
  2. You shake everyone's hand whenever they come into the center.  Even people who you know or have seen the day before.  As people come to work, they make their rounds shaking hands.  This is a standard greeting for all occasions.  If you see someone you know on the street, go over and shake his/her hand.
  3. People expect you to come and visit when they tell you where they live.  I ran into the foreman from the SND compound (who I have met a few times) this afternoon.  We said hello and shook hands (also when you know someone better than an acquaintance you give a sort of high five hand shake where you swing from high with a large smile and interlock at the thumbs).  He then said, "Tom! Why have you not come to see my house?"  Taken aback, I stammered and said, "Oh, right.  Where did you say you lived?"  That was a dumb thing to say because he had already pointed out his house that is next to the SND compound.  He was kind enough to remind me and I said I would go by and see his home later in the week.
  4. Guests are always welcome, and will stop by at any time.  Kenya does not really operate on a schedule.  Therefore, people will come by unannounced to introduce themselves, and as illustrated before, people expect you to just drop on by at any time.

There was a terrible crash between a bus and a cargo truck between Mombassa and Nairobi where 24 people died.  Both of the vehicles ran into each other head on and were wrecked.  Ironically, the bus company was called Smash Co.

After Aretha Franklin sang, the BBC anchor said she had just performed, "This my Country 'Tis Thee."

I have a new favorite phrase.  It used to be "Mind the Gap."  Which can be heard blaring throughout the subway in England.  It has been replaced by "Top Up Here."  When you want to go get minutes for your cell phone you go to basically any shot and "Top Up."  So, today I needed to add some money to my phone.  I went to a shop around St. Julies to "Top Up."  It is a very fancy sounding phrase that gives no indication as to what you are actually doing.  In fact, it is redundant because the top is generally up.  You would think that someone would have come up with a better phrase that that, but then I would not be able to enjoy seeing signs EVERYWHERE that say "Top Up Here."

Good night.

19 January 2009

Happy Birthday P Ruth

HI HOOOOOOOOOOO! (just imagine a dwarf singing it)

And it is off to working I now go.  Today was my first day at the St. Julie's Center and I did a whole lot of watching and nothing.  The center "opens" at 8:30, so being my punctual self on his first day of work, I was there 10 minutes early.  The gate was locked.  I waited in the shade and a man came on a motorcycle.  He jumped off and introduced himself as Tom.  Tom had the key to the gate, but not the center.  As we waited for the person with the key to show up he showed my his motorcycle.  Within 2 minutes of talking he not only offered to teach me how to ride it, but also said that once I have learned that I can use it at my leisure.  I have never been on a motorcycle in my life, and I do not plan on starting on the pothole-filled roads of Kenya.  Although, I would think it to be fun to learn how to drive one as long as it is done on a field and I have a helmet.

The person with the key to the center showed up, and we entered and I stood and waited patiently until nine.  During this time I met some of the staff and shook hands with a few of the waiting families.  Sister Judi and Sue came via car and then a "tour" of the facilities began.  I say "tour" because the entire center is no bigger than my classroom that I taught in last year.  In this space there is a therapy room with two tables, an office, an storage space for therapy games, and a main room for people to wait ant the children to have their play therapy.  This is basically how the center works.  A mother (sometimes father) and child arrive and wait inside to see the therapists.  During this time, the child does play therapy with whichever set of toys has been assigned to him or her.  For example, a child who needs work with fine motor skills will have Legos.  The therapists (there are two) call in the families and treat the children.  After our tour, we participated in play therapy.  I worked with a new child who had sight and cognitive problems.  We played with a cylinder that had bells in it and then played catch.  After that, Sue and I were invited into the therapy room.  We watched as the two therapists worked with children with cerebral palsy.  Using glycerine as a warming solution and lubricant, the therapists worked the children's limbs to help achieve a full range of motion.  During this time, they explained exactly what they were doing and why.  Many of the children we saw had CP.  Sadly, one boy came who had suffered a very severe accident a year ago where he was burned on his left side.  The hospital did such a poor job that his left arm is unable to have a complete range of motion, his hand is completely set upwards (imagine pulling your hand back at your wrist as far as possible), and his fingers are curled under.  Neglect by the doctors caused all of these problems so take place.  At the center, the therapist worked on the boy's hand and shoulders to help regain the range of motion for each.  He is supposed  to go to surgery to fix the two problems that have been hard to overcome due to severe scarring (to be as sensitive as possible, the burns are so bad that there are parts on his elbow that are white.  Clearly he suffered third degree burns in some places).

In between, Sister Lucy gave us some Swahili lessons.  After watching the therapy, we were invited to have some tea and bread.  We sat and spoke to Sister Joy as we happily ate and drank.  When we finished it was 1pm and all the children had been seen.  Joy said, "We can go now," and the day of work was over.  I left with a feeling of disappointment.  Not because it was not a good day, but because I do not see what they need me to do at the center.  The therapy is done by professionals, the play therapy is done with the parents and supervised by Neto, all that is left is the paperwork.  While there is certainly much to be done in terms of paperwork, as Sue put it, "There is enough work for one person to do as a part-time job."  Unfortunately, there are two of us.  I am sure they will find things for us to do while at the center, but I am concerned.  I do not need to jump into some world saving job, but I would like to be able to help at the center.  Presently, it does not appear that I can even do that.  It is my hope that tomorrow I can write that I was an idiot and jumped too quickly to a conclusion (as I often d0).  One thing to look forward to is the fact that we will be able to join Joy when she does her home visits.  She travels most days to the homes of the families to see what is going on at home and how that environment could be contributing to the problems of the child (or helping).

In the afternoon I began the very lengthy process of making dinner.  After soaking the beans in water overnight, I had to boil them for roughly three hours (maybe longer, I did not keep track).  While I waited, Sue helped me cut up the potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and onions.  I then cooked the carrots and potatoes, drained them and added everything together.   I added a bit of water, chili powder and taco mix.  All in all, it turned out to be a pretty decent vegetarian chili stew.  To go with it, I made my first venture into Kenyan cuisine and made some Ugalli (boil water and add maize flour).  Dinner was quite filling, and left us with more than enough for a few more days.  However, the entire process of cooking dinner easily took 5 hours. 

Simple living ain't so easy.  We are in constant need of water, and cooking really starts from scratch.  There are no canned or prepared foods here.  I say this only to illustrate the reality for the majority of the world.  What will come off as bitching and moaning is just my attempt to illuminate the fact that I had never realized how much I took for granted very simple things.  For example, I can go to the grocery store at home and buy beans, vegetables, and spices.  Mix all together, add water from the sink and cook.  Food and water dominate my existence, and I can now see how it is very hard for someone to just go out and get a job.  If there was more than two of us, we would need a person to take care of these chores.  In fact, the sisters in Nairobi have to do this.  One sister had the main responsibility of washing and cooking for the group.  That was full time work.  She did a lot more than just that, and also worked outside of the house.  But, I want to show how it can be hard for people to find work if there is no time in the day.  I also do not want to preach, but be thankful.  Be thankful that water is so easily accessible.  Please, do not waste your money on bottled water when the tap is just fine.  It takes a full day for me to prepare 5L of drinkable water.  Tap water is so cheap and easy that it is silly to use anything else.

While cooking, the four of us gathered here and we were joined by a group of Sisters and people from the town to teach us a bit about culture.  It was very helpful to hear from people who not only lived here but represented the tribe of the area.  One thing that I have come to learn is that the people here are very very slow (polepole as they say which means slowly slowly).  Conversations drag on with lots of awkward silences.  This seems to be accepted an normal.  You enjoy each others company and the conversation will progress in a natural manner.  Moments that would always lead to an end at home linger like the hot air that will not go away.  It is finally broken by someone speaking, but like that constant heat, it comes back with a vengeance at the moment you think you have defeated it.

It also rained, finally, for awhile today.  This is great because we are in desperate need of rain.  It also provided water for the rain tank that is gathered from water off of our roof.  This will give us more washing water.  It is too early for the rainy season, but we can only hope that more rain will come like today.

18 January 2009

Water Owns my Life

Today we were left to our own devices, and it was a busy day to say the least.  After we learned to fetch water yesterday from the well, we began to filter the water overnight.  When I awoke, I began to boil our first batch of water.  In order to have clean water we must do the following: 

  1. Walk to the back of the priest's house with jugs to transport water.
  2. Pull rope with 10L plastic jug attached up 50ft deep well.
  3. When the jug is at the top, pour water into your jug using a funnel to assure that nothing is spilled.
  4. Lower jug on rope with some water remaining so that it will sink more quickly and fill up (this step requires a little bit of maneuvering with the rope to help the jug fill up in a more quick manner.)
  5. Repeat Until jugs are full.
  6. Carry home.

From there you are left with two options. You can either pour the water in the filter for the drinking water, or in one of the mini trash can buckets for shower/hand wash/clothes wash/dish wash water.  If you choose choice one, you must await for the water to go through the super slow filter, pour it into a pot, and boil for 10 min.  Once the water is cool, bottle it and store it in the fridge or shelf.  If you choose the second option the true fun begins.  In order to wash your clothes you must (after gathering water of course) find three containers.  The first must be larger, to hold your clothes as they soak and you shake them around in soapy water.  The second, is mid-sized and is where you wash out all the dirt and soap from the first.  Last is a small one for a second clean wash to make sure that you really got the soap out and that your clothes are actually clean.  After the clothes soak for about an hour in the first bucket the process begins.  In total washing, what would be considered a small load, took about three hours.  The left over dirt water we saved as our flushing water for the toilets. 

I should mention, in passing, that we do not have a standard toilet in the house.  We have two bathrooms with non-working sinks and showers along with a hole in the ground that we are told is a toilet.  We made one bathroom the shower room and the other the toilet room.  Fortunately, Sister Judi fashioned a makeshift wooden toilet to place over the hole in the ground.  So far, it is a sturdy contraption.  It is in need of a solid coat of paint to add an extra seal, but it has served us well for the past few days.  When you are done, you flush by pouring water down the hole.  A few pours and one for good measure and you are set.

Back to the water!  The remaining non-filtered water is saved for our shower and washing hands and dishes.  Our shower is a solar shower.  It is a black bag that you fill with water that has a hose and a spout that disperses the water in a shower-like form.  We had trouble keeping the shower hot.  The water would be scalding by mid-day, but back to room temperature at night.  However, today we finally had success.  In fact, I am writing to you after having just taken my first warm shower in Malava.  I cannot really say that it was hot, but it was certainly very warm and refreshing.  Again, thanks to Judi's innovativeness, we had a hand made contraption to keep our bag warm.  Judi made a hot water insulator out of two cardboard boxes, tin foil, and newspaper.  It kept the water hot when we stored it earlier today and proves that Judi should probably have a show instead of Bob Villa (or at least be on HGN or one of those networks).

In between washing clothes and gathering water, we peeled potatoes.  The entire process of treating water, peeling potatoes, and washing clothes kept us busy for roughly six hours.  I only tell you how long it took because for at least three hours we had an audience.  A group of neighborhood boys taking in a relaxing Sunday found their entertainment at our front gate.  The stood and watched us as we washed our clothes and peeled potatoes.  They would chat a bit to each other, but did not say much.  On occasion they would laugh about something we would say or do, but Michael and I just continued on doing our thing.  We thought they had left when they turned up at the gate on the opposite side of our courtyard.  After a few minutes, they returned to their position leaning against the front gate trying to see what we were doing.  It is awkward to have an audience watching intently as you peel a bunch of potatoes, but I just had to deal with it.  They were not bothering us at all, so we just let it be. 

We finished up, cleaned up, and made our way out to the SND house which is a 30 min walk away for our last dinner prepared for us (tomorrow we are on our own!).  Along the way we were met with the standard, "How are you?" that every child seems to know.  One group even shouted across a field of at least 100 yards to ask, "how are you?"  At this point it is funny when all the kids give us this attention.  They want to try out their English, and those who are bold enough will come over to shake our hands.  Kenya is extremely formal, and you shake EVERYBODY'S hand (I will illustrate this better in a bit).  Everyone has been kind to us, especially when we are walking about in town.  To get an idea, just think about when you pass a person on the road in the middle of your town.  If you do not know them, they will almost always continue on to wherever they are heading.  Sometimes, you have that awkward moment where your eyes meet and out of courtesy you smile or maybe even give a whisper hi.  The next time you go out and pass a person, imagine that every one greets you.  Maybe does not shake your hand, but says hello.  Children stare at you as if some sort of mutant has grown on the side of your face, and most will call to you from any distance.  If they cannot get a clear view of you they will run, and I mean run, to catch up just for a glimpse of your face.  That is every time we leave the house.  It is both the best and worst thing to happen.  I hate to be the center of attention, but I do appreciate the generosity of the people of Malava.

That brings me to what I saved for last even though it happened at the start of the day.  Since I again live next to a church, we went to mass this morning.  It was in Swahili, so I did not understand much (although I got the gist of what was going on because a Catholic mass is still a Catholic mass in any country).  Despite this issue, the mass was rather enjoyable.  It began with the pitch perfect singing of the choir and school girls.  They moved from note to note with an effortless swoop like that of a hawk as it dives and returns from water with its meal.  The music was alive and stirred within me in a way where I could swear that I felt my very soul move.  This all takes place as a procession of what I can only call flower girls parade in dancing and singing along to the music in two lines of 7 or so girls each.  The Father and co. followed and took their place on the alter as the song continued and the girls lined the sides of the alter continuing to dance.  The mass part was biblical, but again the music came and the girls continued their dance.  Even some of the parishioners got in the act and danced in their pews.  Each song was like this (some without the dancing girls) for the remainder of the mass.  The songs were longer and always welcomed as a break from not understanding what was being said.  During the mass, one young boy had his two eyes fixed squarely on Michael and I.  He would not turn his head for any reason.  When the songs were taking place and everyone was clapping, he would clap along with his head still turned at us.  When it was time to offer a sign of peace we told him to come over so we could meet him, but that soon lead to a procession of handshakes.  Initially, we shook each others hands as well as the people around us, but then the a few of the elder Malavans came by to greet us.  This led to a full on assault by the school girls.  Eventually, it resorted to them walking in a line down the pew in front of us to shake all of our hands.  After learning what it was like to be a politician, mass resumed.  To finish the mass, Father Johosaphat (sp?) called the four of us forward to introduce ourselves to the parish.  We introduced ourselves with the help of a translator to everyone.

Tomorrow is the first day of work.  I have to be there at 8:30 and I have no idea what they will have me do.  Good day (night for me) to all.

Thanks for the emails of support and to those who read.  I am still adjusting to conveying my life to the internet, but I will get better at this.  I promise.