16 January 2009

Greetings from Malava

Today's blog is brought to you from 5,535 ft in the Kenyan mountains.  It is here, situated next to the parish house, that I will call hope for the next year.  My town is Malava and it took no short jaunt to make our way to the rural Western province.  Unfortunately, due to an extensive day of travel, I was unable to write last night. Do not fret my eager readers, for I will bring you a comprehensive two day "super blog" that will surely satisfy your craving (and you have no choice).

Thursday began with a 6am wake up and by 7 we loaded up our all bags and traversed through Nairobi to the Akamba bus station.  With tickets in hand, we awaited for the nod from the 'conductor' to place our bags under the bus and hop on.  To Sister Mary's delight, she was also traveling back to Malava with us, the bus was one of the new Akamba busses.  Now, stop!  This is not 'Kenya New.'  The bus was a coach bus that was only about a year old and was much better than any greyhound bus I have ever ridden.  The seats were comfortable and you were able to pull the two seats apart to give more room to your neighbor.  The bus was clean and was a good start to what we knew to be a long day of sitting.

Beforehand, we were warned a few things about traveling from Nairobi to Malava.  First, the bus ride would be very bumpy.  Second, we would have one single stop to use the bathroom three hours out from Nairobi and, more importantly, six hours from Kakamega (where we were to be picked up by Sr. Catharine and drive 45 min to Malava).  Last, the toilets in the bathrooms "up country" are "Asian."  With this knowledge, I knew that it would be vital to ration my water so as not to have an accident.  I decided that my .5L bottle would be sufficient, and I packed a few peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch.  This would be my sustinance for just about 10 hours, but I was determined to only use the bathroom when we stopped.

As we got to the outskirts of the city and I was feeling relaxed on the new bus, the pulsing sound that a cell phone signal can make over a radio interrupted the blaring Christian tunes.  Being my curious self, I peered forward to find the guilty party and noticed that it was not a passenger but the driver.  Intrigued, I watched the driver as he would switch between phone calls that he was making an fielding.  It is never to see a driver on a cell phone in any situation, but it is more disconcerting when the offender is your bus driver and you are in Kenya.  He finally hung up and seemed to be focused on his driving when we came upon a bus stop.  He slowed down, pulled to the side, stopped, and then turned off the bus.  The conductor then walked back and spoke Swahili to the forward passengers.  Since we all only know English we had no idea was going on.  Finally, he made his way back and walked past all of us to Michael and said meekly, "We have to change bus, this is broken."  So much for a new bus!  After a 45 minute wait on the bus our new coach arrived and we loaded ourselves on as quickly as possible.  The new accommodations were not as nearly as nice, but we were just ready to get back on the road at this point. 

Not too long after we made our way into the mountains and were given our first look at Rift Valley.  The valley is so great that it Begins in Israel and drops through Africa like a deep gash in the earth's soil.  It is this stretch that people generally associate with Kenya.  Not because of the beauty of the valley itself, but the people who inhabit this cut of earth.  Often, we will see and hear about the famous Masai tribe (they are basically the only tribe you have ever seen when Kenya is shown, and don't say that you do not know what I am talking about because you have all seen the 'jumping Africans").  It is also one of the hottest regions in all of Kenya.  I was unable to take any good pictures of the Rift Valley due to the fact that we were moving and the windows did not want to cooperate.  I suggest that you Wiki the Rift Valley or Google it.  It is unlike anything that my eyes have ever seen.  The mountains seem to spread apart only for a moment in some sort of Moses and the Red Sea sort of way.  Emerald grasses ripple the landscape while clouds cast grand images as if some great being was making animals and the sun was a projector while the earth was the screen.  This grandeur was later contrasted by the passing of the IDP villages of Kenyans who, after a year, have still yet to return to their homes.  The violence last year is mostly ignored, but there are still people who live out of tents throughout the west.

At the first bus stop, the bus was boarded by a group of men who were trying to sell  corn on a stick.  They walked up and down the aisle to make their sales pitch, all the while the bus began to role forward.  Strangely, the bus was not going very fast and the men began to disappear down the stairs.  Common sense kicked in and I realized that they were jumping off the bus.  I looked out my window at the sight of a man holding three sticks-o-corn in one hand while he jumped and backpedaled with the momentum of the bus.  I watched as three more performed the same acrobatic move with an awkward grace.  I came to the conclusion that these men were sell practiced.  So, they must have either been forced to try jumping off a moving bus alone, or Kenya has the worlds greatest corn on the stick apprentice training.

Along the way, we were able to take in the beauty and the largess of the country.  We got to see Zebras as they just walked about, and people walking to work or school.  What I have noticed about the children is their school uniforms.  The schools of Kenya make their students wear the nicest uniforms.  Boys and girls are to wear uniforms, determined by the school, that include a button down shirt and slacks/skirts.  The younger boys wear shorts, but EVREYONE wears a sweater.  It is 80 out, and all of them have sweaters.  I am talking wool ones.  The kids look very nice, but I don't know how they do it.  In fact, tonight, the watchman for the Sisters commented that it was so cold today.  It was at least in the mid 60's with a gentle breeze, likely warmer.  I guess temperature is relative.  Anyway, it is quite the site to see all these kids walking on the side of the road in their uniforms.  As we rode along, the uniforms changed color, but the basics remained the same: slacks, button down, sweater (some even wore ties).

I was taken in by the scenery as we kept traveling, but it was the town of Kericho that made the most significant impression.  After awhile, seeing the same thing can become a bit tedious and uninteresting.  While Kenya is certainly beautiful, there are large portions that are exactly the same.  After hours of dessert mountains and villages we arrived in Kericho.  It is here that dessert became fields of green that extended beyond sight.  Here is where Kenya produces tea.  There are other areas in the country, but Kericho is only tea.  Endless fields of tea were only interrupted by the plants where the tea was processed and the paths that would through so that kids could run freely and immerse themselves in the tea.  Beyond the pure beauty, I was excited to see that I would be living near tea fields and know that fresh tea would be a possible acquisition.

Shortly after, we passed through Kisumu at 3:30pm.  This was to be the must fun portion.  Essentially, the trip from Nairobi to Malava is like a wash cycle.  You have the gentle rise, then the harsh cycle, break, relentless agitate, rest.  The hour before Kisumu was the cycle.  You head became the switch to beat the dust off the back of your seat.  Each great bump would toss you up and gravity would pull you to a crash.  Kisumu was a break and a mental respite for the next 2 hours of constant discomfort.  This stretch involved less severe bumps, but far more consistent.  Once in Kakamega, we boarded our car with Sr. Catharine and headed to home in Malava.  After a 45 minute shaking, we pulled into the parish home and into the back where my house was situated.  We were given a quick tour, Michael and I threw down our stuff, and we went to the Sister's house for dinner.  After dinner we came back, unpacked a bit and rushed to some overdue sleep.

I will save a special blog for our house because there is so much to be said and shown about our abode.  I have yet to take any pictures and I want to be sure to include them so you do not have to keep relying on my attempts at illustration through prose.

This morning, we went to the Malava market with Sister Judi to buy some vegetables and beans and to find out what vendors we should use.  Judi showed us around and then we were cut loose on the market.  Michael and I decided on getting basics because tomorrow we go to the much bigger market in Kakamega.  We made a quick stop into St. Julie's Center to say hi, and then returned for lunch.  Lunch was, you guessed it, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  We peeled and bagged our carrots, discussed all the wonderful Kenyan dishes we would soon cook, and enjoyed the mild day. 

The girls came back and we went to the orphanage where Michael and Jean Jones will be working.  As we arrived the children, all 180+ of them, were gathered outside waiting for us.  They stood quietly as we were taken to the back office to meet the founder of the center, Rose, and her assistant, Rose.  After introductions, we went back out to meet the kids.  Still quiet (I mean nobody was talking), they began to all tap their feet in unison and sing a song of welcome.  After singing the first song, the began to do what I can only describe as a shuffle where they stepped from right to left (again in perfect unison) and sang a second song.  To finish, they recited a poem.  I was dumbfounded by how well behaved these kids were.  I had a classroom of nine boys who could never be quiet, but there in front of me was an entire school who did not even fidget (that includes the youngest who were no older than 4).

With all our traveling done for the day, we returned to the SND compound to relax before dinner.  Seizing the opportunity, we went on a walk around the grounds.  On our stroll we ran into a few groups of kids who were fascinated by the strange looking mzungu's.  They loved to practice their English with us.  The last group we saw was on the main road in front of the compound.  The others decided to walk around to say hi, but I just went through the field to see them.  We said hello and most wanted to shake my hand.  One girl, the youngest, I could tell was a bit scared of me.  She did not want to come near me.  The youngest boy was confused.  He did not know if he should be scared or excited, so he stood dumbfounded.  One of the girls then brought him over to shake my hand and he lit up the moment his hand touched mine.  I talked to them for another minute and then Jean, Michael and Sue reached the road and had begun to walk towards the children.  Upon seeing the group of three white people, the small girl turned and ran what I would think to be the fastest her feet had ever moved.  The poor young boy just burst into tears.  Water flowed down his face rapidly as he let out great sobs.  We knew it was not good to stay.  It is a strange power, or I don't know what to call it, to reduce a child to tears simply for being white.  We are all so different from anything that he has ever seen that it scares him.  I can understand why this can be upsetting, but I hate to see people cry let alone be the cause.  I am beginning to feel as if I am some sort of 1920's circus sideshow freak.  I hope that I get used to it, or that I can come to ignore it.  However, it is unsettling to have everyone always looking at you and to have to be completely self aware at every moment.

Tomorrow is Kakamega (a post you will possibly see with this one, depending on when we get internet).