Friday, December 31, 2010

The day that was...

Written Dec. 26, 2010 - posted Dec. 31, still 2010.

Am listening to Latin music on my itunes, cooking mashed potatoes and glazed carrots, to go with the roasted chicken my daughter bought this afternoon at the Halal restaurant. We eat at this particular establishment quite often. (They have the best roasted chicken in all of Ngong.) When Judie went in today to buy chicken for dinner, they asked her where her mother was… meaning me. You know you’re part of the community, when you become Mama somebody. I’ve been called Mama Judie before but only in the village where everyone knew us… being a city Mama is something else entirely!

Yesterday, Judie and I attend PCEA (Presbyterian Church of East Africa) Enchorro Emunny Church, Ngong Parish. We didn’t know exactly when it started, so we went for a 9 a.m. English service, only to find out that it began at 8:30, luckily the English service ends at 10:30 so we still had another hour and half to worship. And, wisely, they don’t greet the visitors until about half way through the service when everyone finally arrives. We were recognized as visitor – obviously – I was the only white person in the congregation. A very nice usher woman came over and pinned white hankies on our shirts that had the church insignia on them. We didn’t have to introduce ourselves (typically Presbyterian – we don’t want to embarrass the visitor – although the big white hankie on your chest – well… I was feeling a bit… silly.) Anyway, Judie and I now deducing ways in which we can be visitors repeatedly, to collect 5 hankies so we don’t have to buy the ones required for boarding school. Not sure how the nuns at her Catholic School will take to her Presbyterian hankies…

I am a keen observer of the church pew - mostly because my boney backside is very particular. I was pleasantly surprised to see the inch and half thick velvet covered pad on each bench at PCEA EEC Ngong Parish. The pew pad is a Presbyterians way of saying we like to be comfortable when we worship. That said, there is a universal problem with Kenyan church pews. They are very short. They come to about the top part of your thigh when seated. And I have to say, even with the cushion (and I’ve been to churches where no such cushion exists), I was fighting to find a comfortable position. A very short pew does make you sit up very straight, but what’s the point if you can’t concentrate because you feel like a pretzel. I should not be complaining, a few years ago I attended a Catholic Easter service that was 4 hours long and we were seated on backless benches! That one required numerous “bathroom breaks.”

Interestingly, not one person spoke to us when we left… not sure about Kenyan church culture, but plan to be annoyingly present at PCEA EEC Ngong Parish, so they’re just going to have to get used to this mzungu. And maybe someday soon they’ll talk to me, and very soon after that, they will be calling me, “our white sister!”

FYI – the sermon was quite good.

After church we rushed home to change clothes and head to South C. That’s a neighborhood off Mombasa Road in Nairobi that is mostly populated by Muslims, and my friend Glenda and her family. She is the Auntie to Buddha, my Kenyan nephew for the past ten years since his birth (in the USA). Buddha (his real name is Ibrana), grew up on Maine Prairie Farm also known as the Hasslen Homestead. At the ripe old age of 5 years old, his mama sent him back to Kenya to live with his Dad and siblings. Which broke my parents hearts (mostly because I have not done my job and supplied them with any tangible grandchildren). Judie is here for at least the next three years and is grown – too far away for them to spoil her too much.

However, in an attempt to get myself off the hook and supply my best friend Abla with a much needed extended family, I have given them a “Buddha II” in the form of Abla’s recently born son, Nathan Kossi. They love him to death and there is no chance of Abla shipping him off anywhere… so I think I’m outta the woods for the time being.

Okay – back to South C and the Buddha Man. Buddha and his uncle Daniel came out of the development to meet us. Buddha is growing so much, but he’s still got that mischievous streak and his uncle (Glenda’s husband) who is the dictionary definition of stoic, says he’s hyperactive. But he’s still the all time greatest kid around. Still loves to read and is always number 1 or 2 in his class. I had forgotten my camera so we don’t have any photo updates!!! I’m ever so sorry. My mom is going to strangle me!

Sorry this was posted so late... I was enjoying writing in the comfort of my living room... however then you have to come to the internet cafe to send and it's been a week of VERY quick internet visits.

Am making a vow right now to get better about posting photos. Not promising it will happen right away, but I will start actively taking photos specifically to post - how's that?

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Christmas Request

Wezesha By Grace (formally known as Adopt A Village in Africa/Kenya) has the following children who are in need of sponsorship:

Hannah Semarian & Grace Nenkoisa are primary aged Maasai girls who are both hearing impaired. They both attend Tania Special School for children with disabilities. Their school fees and upkeep come to $600 per year each.
Caption: Hannah is on the left and Grace is on the right.

Hannah Semarian is going into Class 3 (3rd grade). She was born into a large family, and they didn’t know what to do with a deaf girl, so they left her at home. Maasai don’t believe in educating children with disabilities.

Grace Nenkoisa
is going into Pre-unit (Kindergarten). Her father wanted Wezesha By Grace (WBG) to take her brother to Form 1 (9th grade) and take another brother to hospital. He wanted to leave Grace at home because she was deaf and he thought educating her was a waste of money. WBG believes in educating the girl child and asked to educate Grace.

Raymond Karioki Waweru , 18, was orphaned at the age of 13. His parents went to work one day and never returned. He heard the bus they took to work had an accident but he doesn’t know any more than that. The landlord soon evicted him and not knowing any relatives he was forced to live on the street. He went to the office of children’s services and was placed in various homes and schools until he ended up with Grace at Kimuga Farm. Despite all the pain in his life, Raymond is a joyful and kind person and an excellent student. He is attending Machakos Boys Secondary School and will enter Form 2 (10th grade) in January. Raymond found out a few days before Christmas that the NGO who was supporting him does not sponsor children who are 18 years and older. Raymond will need $1,200 per year for the next 3 years to complete secondary school.

Peter and Sylvia are siblings. Their older siblings Ann and James have completed high school and Ann has completed a college diploma in Social Work. James just completed high school and would like to go to college. A church in the USA had been supporting the orphaned siblings for the past six years. That sponsorship has ended and Peter and Sylvia still need to complete their education. They both live at Kimuga Farm.

Peter Njoroge is going into Form 4 (12th grade) at Ilngaroje Secondary School, a boarding school in the Rift Valley. His school fees and upkeep come to $1300 per year. Peter is looking forward to his last year of high school. He performs well at school and is a very gentle and hardworking young man.

Sylvia Mwihaki Mugure is going into Form 1 (9th grade). She will receive the results for her Class 8 exam next week. She is a very good student and we are expecting her to get called to a nationally ranked school, which will be very expensive. We are anticipating that it will cost $2,500 for her education fees and upkeep per year for the next 4 years. Sylvia is an amazing young woman. She is an avid reader. I brought books to start a library at Kimuga Farm and Sylvia has read almost all the books I brought. She is especially interested in books about African Americans. She read “Roots” in 3 days. It would be heart breaking for her not to be able to continue her education.

When they found out their education was no longer being sponsored they did not get bitter or angry. The four siblings got together with Grace and her prayer partners and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for the church that had sponsored them for the past six years and then they prayed that where a door had been closed, God would open a window.

Hannah, Grace, Raymond, Peter and Sylvia are exceptional young people, who don’t have the luxury of parents to support them. They truly believe that the Lord will fulfill their dreams through someone whose heart is touched by their story. This Christmas give the gift of a bright future. Give the gift of education, so the world can benefit from these talented and brave children of God.

The Day Before Christmas

Spent an hour or so sitting in the sun in the backyard reading "Eat, Pray, Love" with lemon juice in my hair. I got brave last week and went to Karen to get a haircut. A guy named Freddie cut/shaved my hair. So I told him to shave the back a bit - but I think he didn't hear the "a bit" part, because I'm basically without hair on the back of my head. Anyway, lemon juice turns the white hair yellow, the part that should be "brown-er" will have to wait until I can go to Diamond Plaza in Nairobi... that's where all the good Indian stores are - then I will buy henna and will have smart, albeit very short hair.

I was a bit put off by the first section of EPL where Liz is in Italy. Was a bit too yuppie to hold my interest, but this yogi stuff in Indian is fascinating. Would like to get to the point where I can just "be" with God.

It's Christmas eve and I'm at the cyber. Judie is home writing Christmas cards. We have to do a little shopping this afternoon. So we have some treats for tomorrow at the farm. Most of the children have gone to visit a relative. Grace's biological children (at least two or three of the five) will come to the farm as well as the three orphans that didn't leave and Judie and I. Not sure what we will do, but am sure we will have fun. I will definitely post a Christmas photo.

Judie and I will hopefully go see Buddha on Sunday.

I sent out a Christmas request this morning. We have five children whose sponsorship has been discontinued and school starts in less than two weeks. So I may post it here too.

Judie and I are having a wonderful time together... it seems that she is growing out of her teenage angst somewhat. Although I still see flashes of it. We talk very openly about boys and sex and the future. She is a solid person. Her world has a lot of black and white and not a lot of gray. She is incredibly compassionate. One of the youth that lost their sponsorship is an 18 year old named Raymond. Raymond and Judie are both going into 10th grade. Raymond is really stressed out about not having school fees and Judie keeps telling me, "Mom, we have to pray for Raymond, what's going to happen to him, he's so stressed." And I tell her we'll pray and God will take care of Raymond, because if there was anybody who deserved a break it is Raymond. He's been on his own since he was 13. And you would think that would give him rough edges, maybe a weariness that he wears like a coat. But Raymond is nothing like that. He is tender and kind and honest and hardworking. He reminds of a lost puppy who only wants to be loved and cared for.

Okay, so I'm going to post the request letter next. You have to understand how badly these children want an education and how hard they will work to succeed. I almost think we have things to easy in the "west," we take things like education and food and shelter for granted... we take our parents for granted. We have so much and we don't appreciate it enough... Stepping off soapbox...

Here's hoping your holidays and safe and happy! May God Bless and keep you all!

Peace & Blessings,

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Climbing small mountains

It's hard to say why I enjoy myself so much in Kenya. Where I live there is no running water and rolling blackouts. Getting anywhere requires extra - ordinary measures. After avoiding piki piki's (motorcycle taxis) for the first month and a half I was here (in deference to Grace's fear of them), I have now embraced them fully as the cheapest and most direct way to get anywhere. Even to Ilkiloret, a 33 km trip over very rough roads. Not a particularly brilliant move on my part! I was wrapped in a blanket of dust when I returned. That and I had a nice little case of the runs while there. I was attempting to negotiate with a Maasai business man, who was attempting to screw us over in the most subtle of ways. An hour and a half of negotiations left my stomach in knots and then there was the ride home. That was the second job for Monday.

I woke at 5 a.m. that morning to prepare tea for Omondi's uncle who came and got him from Western Kenya for a visit with his grandmother. He arrived promptly at 6 a.m. after taking the night bus from Kisumu.

On Tuesday morning after attempting to find sand and ballast for the building project and getting a ridiculously high quote, Anika decided we would halt the project until she could come next week. So I went home and picked Judie and we went to Karen to retrieve my computer. I have been trying to get a modem to work with it without success. Bluetooth through my cell phone does work so may just have to stick with that.

Yikes - have to be some where in ten minutes... have to tell you about my new haircut though!

Friday, December 17, 2010

My apologies...

Just to say I've been busy seems like a cop out, but seriously people... I've been busy! The first week of December I had Judie and Charles Omondi (orphan from Nyaoga, who now lives with Grace), in Ngong at Grace's "city" house. First of all, Ngong is more like an anthill or a bee hive than a city, and second of all saying city house makes it sound grand and it is very humble. Judie and I were both sick the first week of December but still managed a good bit of activity.

We went to Judie's cousin's graduation from nursing school (with 20,000 other people) yes you read that right... we never even saw her cousin and we were lucky that we eventually ran into her relatives from Meru. We left there early to go meet my friend British (Abdirahman Muhummed's brother), who took us to his apartment in Eastleigh to have dinner with his family. We had a lovely time and then British took us "shopping" in Eastleigh, which is a predominately muslim part of the city. I asked Omondi if he thought we were still in Nairobi and he looked at me like I was crazy. "No mom," he said. "This isn't Nairobi." It's supposed to be the best shopping in all of East Africa. I wish I could have a spy camera, so I could show you just how amazing Eastleigh is...I think I could spend a week there just people watching and not get bored! There is so much to look at - there is this kaleidoscope of

Saturday Dec. 4, was Sammy Kinga'tua's wedding. Sammy is my Kenyan brother. He and his new wife Gladys live in our compound now. It was a wonderful day and I have about 300 photos to prove it. Will try to remember to post some soon. I was invited to the after party in Karen at a night club. When I returned home at 2 a.m. all the Kingatua family members were gathered in the living room having a meeting. One of the family members was sick and had refused to go to the hospital for more than a year. More on that in a bit.

On Sunday I went to church with Grace, her daughter Elizabeth was invited to preach at Grace's church. She is a nurse by profession, but is also an amazing evangelist and gospel singer. Church was good but after the first two hours on a very hard bench I started to get tired!

On Monday the 6th, Anika, the program director for Give Us Wings, an organization that partners with Grace, came to meet with Grace about a building project GUW wants to do for the Maasai women in the Rift Valley. She was here for two days.

On Tuesday afternoon, I took Grace's sick relative (who had been persuaded in the course of the family meeting to seek medical treatment) to the doctor. I took her to another appointment on Wednesday morning and then took Judie to Karen to have some fun. I had taken Charles back to the farm on Monday.

On Monday I also went to Waso with Anika and Grace. It's a Maasai town about 65 kilometers from Ngong in the Rift Valley. I have never seen so much garbage scattered around on the ground. Plastic bags blanketed the ground for miles in every direction. I'd like to strangle the person responsible for the invention of the plastic bag... I think it may be the beginning of the end for human life as we know it on this planet... (ahem... getting off soapbox).

On Thursday we had a board meeting for Grace's non-profit which is called Adopt A Village In Africa. We are in the process of changing the name to Wezesha By Grace, which means Empower By Grace (grace of God and Grace Kinga'tua)... you really can't go wrong with that combination.

Contracted a bit of food poisoning at the board meeting I think... anyway on Friday night I attended a gathering of InterNations (a website for expats) in Westlands, Nairobi. Had a lovely time, but still had headache and upset tummy from food poisoning.

Spent weekend at the farm dealing with some issues of some of the older orphaned children. On Monday, I met the fundie's (mason and foreman) in town and we purchased supplies for the building project and piled them all in a lorry and hauled them down to the construction site... it was kind of fun. Except for the part where the lorry kept almost overheating... it's not easy to find water in the Rift Valley! I will go down again and pay some of the day laborers and supervise a bit.

I've been at the farm today Thursday. Some visitors came to spend time with the kids. We had a lot of fun. Came home to the Ngong house by myself. So had to fix dinner for myself. I'm getting quite good at omelets! Tomorrow I will go to my friend Dennis's wedding... December is wedding season in Kenya.

Okay... that is a brief update... again I apologize for giving y'all the slip for three weeks... I will try not to let it happen again.

I haven't put much in about the work I've been doing in between all these activities... but it is complicated and not nearly as much fun to explain... so maybe will just keep you in the dark a bit longer...

Sorry about the snow! hehehehehehehe!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Movies and Showers

Judie and I set off for the movies Saturday morning before 10 a.m. - The movie was at 12:30, but it looked like rain and the bus we take tends to take strange diversions that don't ultimately leave you where you paid to go, so leaving early is never a bad idea. We arrived a few blocks from our stop (jam avoiding diversion)as it started to rain. We pulled out our umbrellas and weaved our way through the slow-moving-smog-encased-traffic. The temperature had dropped from the time we got on the bus. I exchanged money (80/= to the dollar) NICE! Then I did a little email and grabbed a snack and went to see Judie's first movie EVER! We had a choice between Harry Potter and Step Up 3. Since Judie had only read one Harry Potter and I (sorry those of you who are fans) severely dislike H.P., so we saw Step Up 3 - the 2D version. It wasn't bad as movies go and I like pretty much any movie to do with dancing. Judie was in awe of the big screen and the loud surround sound.

My friend Jacqui met us in the mall parking lot after the movie. She invited us to Sammy's fiance, Gladys' bridal shower. Jacqui went to run and errand first and Judie and I had a proper lunch. Judie had chicken and chips... if she had her way, I think she would eat chicken for every meal! They don't get it at school. I had a salad... A SALAD... and it didn't make me sick, I was over the moon!!! I so miss salads, well, I pretty much miss everything that's not starch!

Jacqui returned and we went to Magiwa Estate to a woman named Grace's condo where the party would be held. Judie and I have stayed at Magiwa with my friends Wawira and Joe, so we knew the area (and the house layout) well!

The shower was a surprise! Gladys was thrilled! It was actually the first time I met Gladys. The party was lovely and educational. Especially for Judie who got an earful about relationships, sex and strange Kenyan relationship customs that I must admit were news to me too! Lots of good advice was given and snacks eaten and fun presents... Then Gladys and her twin sister Emily and Emily's boyfriend took us back to Ngong. I'm not sure when we got home but it was around 8:30 and Grace had cooked for visitors earlier in the day, so we all had to eat (again). We had a nice visit.

And you would assume the day was pretty much over, but as I climbed into bed next two Judie, she started talking... she got on a roll and then I would drift off and I'd hear... "Mom, Mom! Are you listening?"

God, I love that kid... but I wish we had the same internal clock!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday

Literally! It rained most of the night.

Did laundry this morning... it hasn't rained yet, so hopefully I will get my clothes off the line before the sky opens up again.

Am in town, Judie is getting her hair braided, oh Abla, how I wish you were here to braid it!

I spent the morning with Geofrey who was in Nairobi for a meeting and wanted to come to Ngong to meet Grace and try to once again convince me to come work with him... he makes me a bit tired with his persistence.

I have finally caught up with my email so I'm off to check on my kid... and bring her more to eat. It takes six hours or more for them to make her hair... poor thing... I don't envy African women their hair woes.

Thinking about taking Judie to the movies tomorrow... she's 21 and never been to the cinema. Me thinks it's time!!!

Rebecca - I'll email you soon! Have to run!

Shuttles, piki pikis, taxis, matatus and a school van on the way to Meru

I had planned to catch a matatu into town (Nairobi) at 9 a.m. on Tuesday morning. Veronica - one of Grace's many "children," who is my age and a "house mother" at the SOS Children's Home in Eldoret, is on leave and staying at Grace's house in Ngong - was also going to Nairobi and said would go together but first... a doctor friend of her's was coming to check an infection in her nephews eye... the doctor was late and then two other people appeared with eye problems... including the young man bringing 10 jeri cans of water... amazing! Everyone was checked out and the doctor was good enough to give us a ride to Karen where we caught a matatu to town. \

I was nearly an hour late! My friend Ken was waiting and we picked a shuttle to Meru. A matatu is different from a shuttle in that a matatu stops every two feet and a shuttle is direct! Matatus also overload the vehicle. So a vehicle that is licensed to carry 14 - may carry as many as 22 or more - with luggage!

The first part of the journey is on Thikka Road which is under construction... the journey that usually takes an hour took two. In five hours, I'd arrived in Nkubu, about a half hour before Meru, where I was to meet with Geofrey, a man I met in Chogoria that has a micro finance NGO.

He really wants me to work with him... doing public relations, marketing, etc... he also wants to partner with other organizations. I told him that I was committed to working with Grace, and that once we got her organization straightened out she might be able to partner with him.

After my meeting with Geofrey, I went back down the mountain (Meru is in the foothills of Mt. Kenya), backtracking an hour or so to Katharaka, to the home of Mercy Nyaga, the headmistress of Judie's primary school and my very good friend. I spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights with her.

I took a piki piki (motorbike taxi) 6 km to her home. Her husband died in September. We had a really good talk the first night. She is one of my closest friends in Kenya.

I got up early the next morning and the Ntumu Primary School Van took me to Embu an hour further down the mountain, to meet my friend Paul, who works with a US-based non-profit who has established an orphanage outside Embu. When I last visited him in Feb of this year the orphanage was still under construction. Now there are 18 children living there. A 71-year-old women from Massachusetts runs the orphanage. She's truly amazing. I had a wonderful time!Left there at 5p.m. and was back up the mountain to Katharaka by about 7:10 p.m. - picked another piki piki and went back to Mercy's.

On Thursday, Thanksgivig, I once again got in the school van to head up to the main road... this time with a peace corps volunteer named Clare. She was on her way to Maua to celebrate Thanksgiving with some other volunteers. I was on my way to Ruiga Girls Secondary School, to pick Judie, my daughter, up from school. Kamau, the best cab driver and my good friend, from Meru met me at the Equator (literally, my daughters school is on the equator), to give me a lift down to her school. We had to wait a ridiculously long time for her to get cleared by all her teachers as I'm going to find her a different high school closer to Ngong.

In the meantime I called her auntie and asked them to come to Meru town (from Nkabune) where they live, because it had rained the night before and the road to Nkabune is horrible after it rains. We picked a box of Judie's belongings that Ken had kept for her in Meru and then I took Auntie Jane, Jojo (grandma), Judie and Kamau and I out for lunch for $17.50 and we ATE! Roasted Goat and Chicken - yum! The place is called Zulu, if you ever need a dining recommendation in Meru.

We dropped Auntie and Jojo at the stage to Nkabune and then Kamau took us to the stage where we picked a shuttle back to Nairobi. We left Meru around 2 p.m. and arrived in Nairobi around 6:30 p.m. Then we had to take a taxi to Ngong because we had Judie's box (trunk) from school. My friend David had arranged for a taxi driver to meet us. They carried Judie's box about 10 blocks to the taxi because the stage is too congested!

When at last we arrived home around 8:15 (lots of jams on Ngong Road)... I paid the taxi driver 1400 Kenyan shillings... which was the all the money I had left in my wallet and happened to be the exact fare!

Was completely exhausted by the time we arrived in Ngong but stayed up a few more hours to call home for Thanksgiving!

I'm so thankful for my beautiful daughter, for the opportunity to be here with her and the opportunity to work with Grace. My heart is SO full!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Random thoughts

Okay, It's nearly 5 p.m. on Monday evening... I feel like hell. I have a nasty cold, runny nose and lots of sneezing. But lets back up because I don't think I've posted since last Tuesday...

Wednesday was in Ngong, Thursday at the farm - came back Friday afternoon... went to graduation at Nairobi Pentacostal Bible College on Saturday... that's the second time I've been to a graduation ceremony there. It wasn't anymore exciting this time but it was better than going to Nakuru for a wedding with Grace and company... they left at 5 am and returned about 9:45 p.m. - No thank you!

It was the wedding of the son of Mama Jeri, the woman who cooks and takes care of children at the farm. I love Mama Jeri and her family, but couldn't imagine all the sitting and riding around that would be involved. As it was I spent a lot of time in jams (traffic jams) in Nairobi. They are doing lots of road construction on some major atteries in and and around the city and it's a mess (think a stronger word here)!!!!

Basically you have to add an extra 30 to 45 minutes to wherever you want to go. Matatus (overloaded public transport) take the shoulder, head into on-coming traffic, even detour from their routes to make better time.

It hasn't rained (during rainy season) in quite a few days. I got out of a station wagon that had stopped to give us a ride out of the valley from the farm to Ngong. The front windows were open and I was a shade darker when I arrived in Ngong! I had just showered too...

I took photos of my room at the farm and the shower room... will post them next week.

Last night, Grace brought me a cup of tea and some vicks-like stuff in the middle of the night... I got up to pee a while later, (you have to go through three latched doors to get out - so you have to be proactive about going to the choo). There was a full moon so I didn't even need a flash light outside. I saw something moving on the other side of the fence about 30 feet away. It was a giraffe. I stopped and it stopped and we just stood there and looked at each other... I had been proactive about getting out of bed, but not long enough to spend more than a 30 seconds communing with this giant of the animal kingdom. He/She was gone when I came out of the choo...but what a great 30 seconds that was... if I hadn't been sick and Grace hadn't brought me tea in the middle of the night... I might have missed out... maybe there really is a reason for everything!

I'm heading to Meru tomorrow. Judie gets out of school on Thursday. I will see some friends in Nkubu and Chogoria and then head to Meru on Thursday. Gotta go home and drink some tea and try to kick this cold.

Will post from the road if I have time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Nairobi - Tuesday - Day Four

Got up early to catch a ride out of the Rift Valley - 40 minutes of standing on the side of the road before a truck came by with room for us in back. A young Maasai man started chatting me up until mama Grace said, "You ask a lot of questions." The ride was pretty quite after that!

Arrived in Ngong just in time to see the bus David told me to take pulling out of the stage. Waited about 10 minutes for the next one. Got to Nairobi and called David. "I'm at the Hilton." I said. (where we'd agreed the night before to meet). "Didn't you get my text," he said. "I told you to get off in Hurlingham." Me, "Oops."  "I'm coming," David said.

So he arrives I climb in his safari van and we start driving. I call the man I'm supposed to drop off some stuff for at a down town barber shop, give the phone to David so he can get the directions. He hangs up and points out the window... this is the building. HA! I didn't gloat but how wild is that! We ended up, because of my not picking David's text... exactly where we needed to be to deliver the package. The spirit was moving.

Funny thing is we had to go around the building to get to the entrance... the traffic in Nairobi is so bad that I got out at the beginning of the block, because we were not moving, went half way down the block to the building, delivered the package on the first floor and was back at the van before David was at the other end of the block.

We then went to meet British, the brother of Abdirahman - a friend in St. Cloud. Abdirahman had sent me with a phone for British. You can jeri-rig american phones to work here. I brought an old one of mine too and British took it with him to get them both "fixed". He also insisted that I come to his home and have dinner with his family soon... so excited... Somali food!

After doing some shopping and making sure my debit travel money card worked and a little email, David dropped me off at Jacqui's. We had lunch at Prestige Nakumat on Ngong road. Nakumat's are like Walmarts in the states. I hung out there waiting for my friend Allan, who is this amazing young pastor. He then insisted on escorting me back to Ngong, which was fine with me because David had given me a huge bag of stuff I had let with him in February and I had to lug it back to Ngong. Had a great time with Allan.

Grace decided we should stay in Ngong because if was getting late. I cooked stew for Grace and her son Sammy, who is getting married in a couple of weeks. Then talked about business, because Sammy has connections in the media community in Kenya and we will need some assistance with getting a new website up and running. Another reason we didn't go back to the farm is that a fundie (worker) came Tuesday to put a ceiling in my room to keep any other rats wth ninja ambitions from ambushing me while I sleep!

I made banana pancakes this morning Wed. and then came to town to get to work on contacting the Kenyan NGO coordinating board, with some questions about changing the name of Grace's organization. I was also able to meet up with Lilian's son Calvin. He is Buddha's older brother. (That's a long story for those of you new to the blog - check out older posts for info on Buddha). He was in Ngong for the birthday of one of his classmates. Other than that, I've been attached to a computer at the cyber.

I can see outside from where I'm sitting and the sun is out so I'm rushing home to wash the clothes that I left in the bag at David's - they're all musty smelling.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Arrivals and relationships...

The second flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi was uneventful. But as always, I'm ridiculously tired on the second leg and can't keep my eyes open... which means I don't sleep when I get to Nairobi at night!

We landed a few minutes early and I got through customs with no problems. Found my luggage quickly and exited to the throng that is the international arrivals gate at Jomo Kenyatta Int'l Airport. No David. David is Grace's son and almost always picks me up at the airport. This time he is there but outside and the nice lady at the taxi stand let's me use her phone... his vehicle wasn't working so he has brought his girlfriend Jacqui and her car. She didn't know David was picking me up... we have been friend's since the last time I was here, so it was fun to surprise her. Jacqui is a 27 year old widow. Her husband was shot during a car jacking. I actually met him, before I knew her. I ended up staying at Jacqui's apartment Friday night and attending her nephew's first birthday party on Saturday afternoon. Then we met David and Grace and John in town and went to Kimuka. They had been at a Dowry meeting of a friend of David's who lives in the states. What did the groom have to pay for his bride you ask? One hundred goats, only!

The children were all in bed when we got to Kimuka, but all got up to say hello to me. Including Charles Omondi who I have known since he was about nine months old. I had him moved from his grandmothers home to Grace's orphanage. Charles is now 9 and his 80 year old grandmother could no longer control him... and he was doing poorly in school. Charles is thriving now. And exclaimed when I walk in, "Mom, you're here." He then gave me a big hug and did a little dance.

I read the crime novel I bought in the airport already. I have one more novel to read, "Eat, Pray, Love" and another couple nights of very little sleep before my body catches up with my mind and realizes we are in a new time zone... so will be out of reading material quickly.

I brought lots of books for the orphans so will make due reading theirs until I can find more for myself.

My feet are freezing from sitting too long so I'm heading out of this cyber cafe... peace!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Diet and Exercise

So I've been here three full days and I've run two of them. Yesterday, I didn't get up until about noon, so I ran about 2 in the afternoon and it was too hot. I probably only ran for about 12 minutes, but on a gravel road up a very long hill in the heat, it felt like enough. Today I ran a little before 7 a.m. It was overcast and I ran the same direction... I went a little further over the hill and then turned around, I past the farm and kept going trying to run for 20 minutes. I heard footsteps coming up behind me fast and sure enough some Kenya runners who train in the Rift Valley came flying past me. And then there were more coming the other way. They are so impressive! Lean and powerful and not even seeming to break a sweat. I don't try to keep up but I do quicken my pace a bit when they come past as to not look like a complete idiot.

As for food, I have already solved one problem with the food at the ophanage. I bought Royco, which is like spicy beef bullion and salt As you can imagine, cooking for 20 or so people twice a day - seven days a week is a chore and the choice of inexpensive foods is limited... so my meals thus far have consisted of starch and cabbage. One meal was rice and potatoes... I kid you not. But it least it has some taste to it thanks to the Royco! When Grace gets low on funds, spices are one of the first things to go - so as is the custom in Kenya when you go home you take food. I took salt, Royco, sugar, cooking oil and tea.

I'm basically surviving on LaraBars. If I was staying in Ngong town I could buy/cook my own food, but at the orphanage I don't want to eat too differently in front of the kids. Kimuka farm is 11 kilometers down into the rift valley from Ngong and they have no refrigeration at the farm. Makes life interesting...

I however will be out of LaraBars (the best Gluten free granola bars ever) in a couple of weeks - so I making a care package list. Packages can take a month or more to arrive so it will need to be sent soon. It will be nice to know that when I run out there will be more on the way.

Okay, that's enough about food... it's making me hungry, although today I've eaten pretty well, a one egg omelet, a banana, and a banana bread Lara Bar... and it's only 11:15. I do miss my green smoothies though! Morning just isn't the same without them... neither is my run which could use that extra shot of energy.

Intuitive head covering and a ninja rat...

This is possibly not the best place to start my blog, but it is the most immediate in my mind. I am staying at the orphanage with Grace and John and the kids. Which is great... will tell you about that later. However at 4 am this morning, 55 hours in to the 3 months I am planning to spend in Kenya, there was a big thud next to my head on the bed. There is a beam that runs above my bed and it is now also know as the Rodent Super Highway. Yes folks, that's right a ninja rat (with bad aim) did a swan dive off the beam and nearly hit me in the head. I can't see any of this because it's pitch black in my room. So I jump out of bed and grab the flashlight (no electricity yet at the farm) and there goes a three inch + tail ninja rat scampering across my along the side of my bed. I let out one scream to which John asks from the next room, "What's wrong?" "A RAT!" I yell back.Silvia, one of the orphans, comes in from her bed room to try to find it but its gone. (At least I hope it was gone.) Grace comes in and puts rat poison under my bed. She asks emphatically, "will you be able to sleep now." "Absolutely Not!" I said.

Interestingly enough, I had the night before, slept with my black shawl over my head like you might put a newspaper over your head in a rainstorm. Mostly because the pillow Grace gave me to use is more reminiscent of something a Geisha would sleep on and not the soft pillow I'm remembering fondly on my bed at home.
So the shawl became both pillow and head covering... I didn't know how necessary the head covering would become. Also had I been laying a few inches to my right facing the wall, the rat would have landed on my head.

So I probably won't get much sleep until that rat (drinks the kool aide, so to speak) but I thankful for one very important thing... It wasn't a snake! Those also make an appearance once in a while under someones bed. And I missed the lice epidemic that swept through Kimuka (where the farm is located) recently.

So God is good! And life goes on.

And to my pastor who once referred to my travels as glamorous - think again!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Half Way

Ahhh Amsterdam - It's 1 a.m. my time and 8 a.m. in Amsterdam. I am never able to sleep on the first leg of the journey. This one was no different. Sat next to a nice man from Scotland who now lives in Minnesota.
Landing was a bit freaky - strong winds caused lots of turbulance.

Watched two movies: Salt and The Joneses

Am addicted to a new video game called Shanghai! Played during the turbulance to distract myself from my bouncing stomach.

Yikes - internet time is up.... uploading NOW!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Return: T Minus 18 days and counting

On November 11, I will board a plane bound for Amsterdam and then Nairobi, Kenya.

There's no plan this time. There is a list of things that must be accomplished but no plan as to how or when said things will be completed. I like it that way. No hurry. No anxiety.

Not like the next two weeks... which will be frenetic movement, planning and packing toward the goal of getting on the plane.

The literacy program for African refugees in St. Cloud has really taken off. Lots of volunteers involved, new students, two new staff to take over where I left off. It feels like a good time to leave and a really lousy one all at the same time.

My latest volunteers are two young Somali men who taught English in a refugee camp. They are eloquent, and energetic and engaged.... I'm not just alliterating - they really are! I'm so excited we have found each other. They will be an excellent addition to the literacy program, and will help my peace of mind, even though I'm leaving the program in very capable hands... it helps to know that M and K will be here too.

The living room is scattered with literacy program materials that need to be organized and delivered to Mary B. who will hopefully be able to make sense of them. Passing of the torch will be a slow process, but when all is said and done, I think it will be cathartic for both of us.

It looks like the rain has stopped... must go run.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


I prefer to say back. Headed back to the states. Because really, home is where the heart is and my heart is with Judie. It's not that I don't love my family and friends in the states. It's just that I so miss the family I have here when I'm there. If I could divide myself in two... well, I can't.

Today is my last day in Nairobi. A quick sprinkle of rain came early this morning but now it's hot and sunny. I will run some errands and say goodbye to some friends today before heading to the airport with David around 7 p.m. My flight doesn't leave until 10:50 p.m. but the traffic is bad during the week... so it's better to be safe than sorry. I've had to run to catch the plane here before... it's no fun and with a bum ankle...

The ankle by the way is better, still multi-colored, but I can walk normally on it.

I'm not ready for the cold and the ice and the snow and the monotony of winter...

Leaving a bunch of stuff here makes me feel that I will be returning soon... one can hope. Now I know how Judie feels when I leave - there is a certain sense of melancholy that hangs in the air.

It's time to say goodbye again...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Blue toes and paper stars...

I woke up to find that two of the toes on my right foot were blue. Now when I sprained my ankle I don't remember my toes being involved... but maybe they just felt left out because the rest of my foot is so colorful?

I wore the bandage this morning but took it off to get a pedicure, so my multicolored foot is exposed for all to see... my pants are really long so you actually can't see much and I put the bandage back on but I might mess up the pedicure... oh predicaments...

I arrived in Nairobi yesterday from Uganda. It was not a bad ride except for the 2 1/2 hour traffic jam in Nairobi. We come in to town on one side of the city called Westlands and the bus station is on the other side. I could have gotten off in Westlands, but I didn't have my A to Z road atlas of Nairobi with me and I didn't know I was actually pretty close to where I stay.

I carried 400+ paper stars with me from Uganda that were made by members of the Maari group for the GUW fundraiser in April. Mary said they were just three small bags... hmmm... when all was said in done there were six not so small bags. So I bought a carrying bag that zipped and insisted on carrying them on the bus.

I wrote Mary a request in my best Kenyan English to buy another suitcase so I could get them home unspoiled, but I think I've managed to pack them in the luggage I have. But I will have to leave a lot of my stuff here. I figure that's a good excuse to come back sooner rather than later!

I've spent most of the day at the mall... I know... not my natural habitat. But I had a ride here in the morning and I needed to change money and do email, and it would cost more to take a taxi home and then another taxi to Glenda's, so I became a mall rat for a good 4+ hours. YIKES! I hope I'm not damaged beyond repair!

Am now waiting for my friend Dennis to arrive and then we will got visit my friend Glenda (Buddha's auntie).
Tomorrow I'm going to church with Ken. We are going to a church where my friend Gerald is the pastor. His new wife Pelagie is from Rwanda. She is stunning and one of the nicest people you will ever meet. We will have lunch with them after church.

I like these kick back and have fun days... now if I could only get my toes to be their normal color!!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Five minutes later...

Five minutes after I posted my last entry about Uganda, I walked out of the cyber into the dark street and stepped of the curb and sprained my ankle. It's not as bad a sprain as I had in Mobasa a few years ago... but it will definitely slow me down!

I failed to mention the state of the streets and sidewalks in Tororo or that fact that there are few street lights. The concrete (if there is infact concrete sidewalks) is often cracked and/or full of holes. The streets are not much better. In the dark it is treacherous to say the least. I was going to take out my flashlight but we were only walking across the street...

Dr. E gave me some stinky gel and wrapped my ankle and told me to stay off it as much as possible. Then Beckal, my translator and Lawi (with GUW) and I went to breakfast and then did two interviews in the slums and now I'm doing email. Will grab a snack and then go back to my room to put my foot up for a bit before going to see the Nyio Ber houses that I haven't seen since they were constructed.

Pray for me as I leave the cyber - you never know what can happen in 5 minutes!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ode to Uganda...

Well, I can't really call it an Ode to Uganda... because I'm not familiar with all of Uganda... however, Tororo, Uganda, I know well.

So let's rephrase. An Ode to Tororo!
I bank with Novo. A nice Indian man who changes money out of his hardware store. It's like walking into a Bollywood movie. There is an aisle down the middle of the shop surrounded by a U-shape of desks. Busy workers pound on calculators and computers, barely registering your presence. Novo sits at the desk at the top of the U. He smiles when he sees me. "Where have you been? You've been gone too long." he says to me. The small talk commences. Then, "How much do you want to change?" I tell him how much money I want to change and he asks what demoninations I want it in. 50,000, 20,000; 10,000, 5,000, or 1,000... I leave Novo's shop a millionaire!

The money isn't the only thing that is different here. Food is called different things.
Ugali is posho
chai is milk tea
Food is starch (ugali, chapati, rice, potatos, matoke, etc.)
Soup is (meat, chicken, fish, etc.)

The people here are much friendlier than in Kenya. They will tell you that is because the English colonized Kenya and the English aren't very friendly either.

Tororo has grown leaps and bounds since I left. Novo and the rest of the Indian community have made money hand over fist ... and not completely legally from what I've gathered. But there are new hotels (not owned by Novo) and businesses and it feels less like a sleepy dusty village and more like a bustling town.

You do have to be extra careful as a pedestrian here. There are bike and motorcycle taxis everywhere and car taxis too. And then there are the matatus and private cars... and there are no stop lights in Tororo or stop signs for that matter... you really have to be vigilant. I have been driving in Tororo and it's not as bad as you might think sans traffic rules. I haven't hit anything yet. But Lawi has been doing most of the driving and tomorrow he is going to Kisumu. Will plan for tomorrow later! :)

My assignment here was to take photos of the Maari group. It is a group of disabled people who Give Us Wings is hoping to move out of the slum where they are living into new homes on their own land. GUW did this with the Nyio Ber Women's group a few years ago and it has been very successful. However, putting up a housing development, however modest it may be is still a huge financial undertaking!

I have been interviewing members of the group on video and photographing them. Many of them are disabled because they contracted polio as children. It is really frustrating to think that their disability is 100 percent avoidable and that vaccinations were not available to them, even though they were available in the west.

Most of them live in slums just outside Tororo. They make home brew in the slums and the air is thick with the smell of fermenting molasses. In many cases it is the only place they can afford to live. And rents even in the slums are increasing.

The progress and new businesses in Tororo has brought more people, putting demand for rental houses at a premium. This is forcing people to pay so much of the income for rent that they are unable to pay school fees for their children.

Tororo is hot. Beyond hot really. And when it rains, it's as if the sky opens and all the water rushes out at once. I've never seen rain like this.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the lorries (big trucks). There is a cement factory in Tororo (owned by Novo) and the trucks that haul cement are everywhere!

Did I mention it was hot...

Friday, February 5, 2010

Ngong... frustrations and rain

Spent Wednesday in Ngong. Did laundry at Grace's, looked at her computer to see which programs she had as she wanted me to do a newsletter, a brochure and an email update for her (in three days!). She had publisher but we needed to be able to pdf the files I create so she can email them. This would be an easy thing in the states, you just download a pdf program. Grace doesn't have internet access at home so her son Sammy brought a prepay modem from Nairobi. Almost everything is pre-pay here! We had trouble installing the modem correctly. We get it installed and then try to add credit and then it says we have less credit than we've added. Then we I try to open Word, the computer throws up an error message and we can't get it to reboot. Yes, I killed the computer!

Back to the internet cafe to try to do the things she wants in Word so that the whole world can open them without pdf. That was my original plan, but I got excited by the possibilities that didn't in the end yield any results! Was only in the cyber for about an hour before we had to leave to go sleep at the farm. On the way there I realized I'd left my flash drive (which contained all the photos I'd taken so far) in the cyber cafe! Yikes -  we made a mad dash back to the cyber as it was closing in 5 minutes and there was my flash drive safe and sound! Amen and Amen!

The farm is at Kimuka, which is 11 kilometers down into the Rift Valley from Ngong. The ride there is dusty or muddy depending on the time of year, but the views are majestic and humbling all at once. Going down at dusk is my favorite time to go because the Ngong Hills look as if they have been painted by an artist. I don't know where Kimuka begins and ends because there is really nothing there. They have cemented the floors since I was last there which is nice. But the flies could practically pick you up and carry you away. I can feel every board under the two inch think mattress and the wind howls at night like you are in the middle of a hurricane, but it is by far one of the most peaceful places on earth. The children who Grace and John have taken in who live there fill the house with laughter.

After a dinner of ugali and native greens (there is some bush plant that is edible - it's a bit bitter but good), I gave the children the cards that the children at First Presbyterian had made for them. And then they were able to make cards to send back to them. They had a great time and loved seeing the picture of all they kids they were making cards for. We had a great time!

The next morning at breakfast they were treated to juice and bread and butter that I had bought for them in town. They don't often get bread and rarely get juice or butter so this was BIG! They also drank tea, which they drink every morning. They come home for lunch because their school doesn't have food available right now.

In the morning, John and Grace and I went to see the 30 foot square by 10 feet deep water hole they had dug to harvest rain water. They are not able to use it yet because the don't have money to buy the pump or pipes to get the water to their field or garden yet. Then we walked out to the 10 acres they own and where they want to cultivate hay to sell to Maasi herdsman. Because of the short rains in the area, herdsman often have to buy hay during the dry season.

It was VERY hot. By the time we got back we needed to sit under a tree and drink some of the leftover juice and relax a bit. It was close to lunchtime so we ate lunch with the children and then called a taxi driver to take us back to Ngong. He showed up an hour after we called him and just as it started to rain. By the time we got back to Ngong the streets were muddy. They dropped me at the cyber so I could continue doing work for Grace, by then it was about 4 p.m.

Grace came and picked me at the cyber later and we took a matatu home. It's a very short ride but well worth the 10 shillings when you are tired!

Am still trying to get a bus to Uganda. It leaves at 8 a.m. tomorrow. David will hopefully come get me some time tonight and bring me to Wawira's so I can repack for Uganda. I guess I will have to buy a ticket when I get there tomorrow... I hate not booking in advance - I can't do 9 hours in the back of a bus!

Judie to School

I took Judie to Ruiga Girls Secondary School on Tuesday morning Feb. 2.

Justin, our cab driver was a 1/2 hour late. Which actually turned out to be good because the school hadn't set up for admission when we arrived. It was 45 minutes after they said you could start arriving!

We checked in, she got her uniform, things were going smoothly until they asked for the receipt from the bank - oops! I had forgotten that in Nairobi. It took me many minutes to convince them that they could call the bank and confirm the money was there and also that I would send the receipt when I got back to Nairobi!

Then we said hello to the headmistress who was arriving at school as we had finished the admissions process. We proceeded to sit in the taxi and eat some clandestine food. (Bananas and simsim and something that is like peanut brittle.) Outside food is not allowed at school. But I didn't know when they would feed my baby that day and I was going to make sure I didn't leave her hungry!

Justin took a few pictures of us and then we said goodbye again. I feel like we say goodbye a lot! Immediately after leaving her I felt the energy drain from my body. I still feel weaker without her by my side. Who knew I could become so attached to this other person, that I don't feel like myself without her. God really knows what he's doing! I love my girl so much! I really miss her!

The rest of the day was spent on a mad dash to Nairobi. The shuttle ride was fine - got to Nairobi around 4:14p.m. Julius met me at the stage and then we sat in a Nairobi jam trying to get to Upper Hill to Amina's office. I picked what I needed from Amina and then we went to David's house to pick the bag of stuff I needed to bring to Grace's and then back to Wawira's to quick repack for 3 days in Ngong. Julius decided I needed to meet his workmates also... was very tired and don't know that I made the greatest impression. Arrived in Ngong after 7 p.m. Grace and John had also just arrived home so we made tea and then dinner, so it was after 9 p.m. when we finally ate dinner.

Sweet sleep!

Friday, January 29, 2010

A village a day...

In an attempt to not leave anyone out on this trip, I traveled to Kisii, Kisumu, Nyaoga and Kagamega in four days. This is no small feat. I also drove about 200 km of the trip in a manual car in and out of the Rift Valley. Yes, you could say I was bragging. I loved it. Still haven't gotten up the nerve or had the opportunity to drive in Nairobi.

Judie and I and my friend Julius (whose car we traveled in) left for Kisii Monday morning. We arrived in Kisii Monday afternoon and went to see Buddha. He was initially very reserved. But the old Buddha came back in no time. He's such a great kid. And his Daddy said he would like Buddha to go to high school in the states which makes my parents very happy! We spent the night with Buddha at his father Josiah's house. Then we took Buddha to school in the morning and continued on to Kisumu... I think I may have already blogged about this... anyway... we met my friend Dorothy Awino for lunch in Kisumu. She took us to a lakeside cafe on the Shore of Lake Victory.  It wasn't much to look at but whole fish is one of my most favorite things in the whole world and it was phenomenal. Dorothy is an activist. She has about 7 jobs. Each of which she does will so much grace and resolve you would think she gives it all her attention.

We took her to a meeting in the afternoon because her car was in the shop and then stopped to check into the Green View Guesthouse in Kisumu East which is right around the corner from where Sally and Elijah (GUW Kenyan staff) stay when they are in Kisumu. When we got back into town Mary Steiner and the rest of the GUW volunteers and staff had arrived in town so we went to meet them. They were having trouble finding accommodations so we hung out with them until they finally got rooms at the Sunset Hotel. It's supposed to be fancy, but it's government run and reminds me of the communist presence in Cuba. Bare essentials.

While the wingers were meeting and settling in Judie, Julius and I went with Joe Nyagah (who does transport for Mary) and is my good friend... I stay with him and his wife Wawira in Nairobi) went to have drinks at the Kiboko Bay Resort down the roadaways from the Sunset Hotel. Talk about the opposite extreme in accommodations. It was beautiful. If I ever have a decent amount of money, I'm going to stay there for at least one night. It was so amazing. The rooms are tented... it's so romantic.  Then we went back to the Sunset for dinner with the GUW gang where Mary and I discussed what photos and video she wanted me to take in Tororo and then we took Sally and Elijah home on our way to Greenview.

On Wednesday we headed out for Nyaoga. I drove from Katito to Nyaoga through Kendu Bay. Yes ME!
We arrived around 11 a.m. did some laundry and had a snack and then headed out to visit people in the village. I first visited a dani (grandmother) that lived in the same compound with Auntie Jane, one of the GUW members who died this year. No one else was home in the compound because it was market day, so we kept going. We saw Margaret and her twin grandaughter's Mary and Molly who are about 6 months old. We made a big circle around the village, I was able to spend time with Nick who is the husband another GUW member, Rose who died last year. Milka and Nina were home and we gossiped about the goings on in the village. Then I ran into Bernard whose children I'd seen earlier. He was widowed to years ago. Both he and Nick are HIV positive and on ARV's and doing well. Then Bernard went and found James, whose wife Everlyne I've blogged about before. My family helped me take her back to high school. She got pregnant in high school and had four children before going back to school. She is now in college and we are all so proud of her. She never stopped believing she would return to school. She interpreted for me when I did GUW surveys in Nyaoga and we have become like sisters... maybe too much so...she told her husband that the only way he could have a second wife was if it was me. Yikes. James took me to their new home. They built on the land James inherited. He said he plans to build a bigger house their someday soon, with a room for me and another one for Everlyn...oye veh! That wasn't our last stop for the night. We still had to visit Justina, Charles Omondi's grandmother. She is 80 something and is the sole caregiver of 9 year old Charles who is a somewhat wild child. He would make a great street boy, and that is precisely what we are trying to avoid.
The plan with Justina's okay, is to take him to live with Grace Kingatua in Ngong. She runs an orphanage and she and her husband have righted the paths of many a wayward youth. We of course have to figure all of this out in the next it is my parents that will pay his school fees and my availability to transport him from Nyaoga to Ngong that will determine our schedule.

Thursday we stopped to see Everlyn at university in Kagamega and then headed back to Nairobi. Driving was fun but I was plum tuckered out by the time we reached Joe and Wawira's about 9 p.m. Every time I am exhausted Judie is talkative. She chatters away at me and then gets put out when I can't carry on a conversation... I can't understand how she is never tired! Anyway, someone else's home never felt so good after four day of a different bed every night.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Well, the whole time I'm in Africa, I'm pretty much in transit... but we have put some miles on in the last five days.

Judie and I took a shuttle (public transport) from Meru to Nairobi on Saturday morning. Julius, my internet friend, met us at the stage (bus station) and we then found my friend Allen in the mass of humanity that mills around the bus stage in Nairobi. We all went out to lunch and had pizza and burgers of all things. Then Allen went home and Julius drove Judie and I to my friend Wawira and Joe's house. Neither of them were home. Joe was with the GUW volunteers - he runs a tour company and is assisting GUW with transport and Wawira is a media mogul and was out at a shoot in Nakuru. Judie and I made ourselves at home with their two children, Ivy, 10 and Matt, 2 and the maid. Julius and I went out for a coffee and to get to know one another a bit better. Which is a good thing since we are traveling together for a week.

On Sunday, we went to see my good friend Bea, who has been living in Kenya for the past 4 years. She is Italian American and has adopted a Kenyan girl named Zawi. We had a wonderful afternoon. We went to a Ethiopian restaurant and then to Bea's, where she emptied her closet on us, since she is returning to the states in April and won't be able to take all her things. Then we went for a walk to a park. It was quite lovely. Then laden down with bags of clothes, we went to the YaYa shopping center to meet our friend Ken, who is now in Bible college in Nairobi.

It was a lovely day! Wawira was home when we returned and it was great catching up with her. My friends here are more like family.

We left Monday morning for Kisii, where we were able to see Buddha. (More about that later). And then after taking him to school this morning, we continued on to Kisumu, where we are going to have lunch with my friend Dorothy in a few minutes.

It's hot here! I love it!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A trip to the gym

Mercy Chidi is a year older than I am. She and her husband are the founders of Ripples International. They have three biological children. An adopted daughter who five. And a daughter like Judie who is psuedo-adopted. She is in high school.

Mercy started going to the gym 4 months ago and loves it. She wanted me to go with her. Not being one to turn down a new experience, I gladly agreed.

There are a few things I neglected to figure in... first and foremost... the altitude here is much higher and therefore the air is much thinner. Second, I was getting over a cold and still not 100 percent and third, I had a slight bout of diarreaha the night before and was a tad dehydrated. The combination was humbling. I was fine until the wiry man conducting the class added a move in which you turn around... thus disrupting the fog in my head and dissiness ensued. I went to the back of the class gulped some water and sat down until the room stopped spinning... then continued, albeit with less enthusiam.

The next day I bowed out. Mercy of course called me lazy. The day after Mercy had a breakfast meeting in Nairobi so she wasn't around. Thank God. I only have one maybe two more days here... I will leave the next gym experience or not in God's hands.

Big girls...

Best laid plans always change... it's important not to get to attached to what is supposed to happen next. Wednesday, for instance we were supposed to go visit Ruiga Girls Secondary School. The headmistress called to let me know she was ill and we should come the next day. We called Justin (the best taxi driver in Meru) and changed our plans so he would come in the afternoon and take us to Nkabune. Judie did laundry and I went to Ripples to help Victor the communications director with their annual report - it seems no matter where I am there is an annual report waiting for me :)! In the afternoon Justin took us to Nkabune, where Judie is from.

Now I know in previous years I have have written about the road to Nkabune because it is quite frankly not a road, because that would imply that it was actually passable. Nkabune road is notorious in Meru... when people describe interior roads in other villages they always compare them to Nkabune road. It took us about an hour and a half to drive about 12 miles. First we went to Judie's grandmother's compond. Justin actually drove there... I've always gone most of the way from the "main" road on foot... but Justin's Toyota Carolla is magic  and invinsible and well, there just are no words to describe his skill as a driver.

Anyway, Grandma wasn't home. So we went to the market to Judie's auntie's hair salon to let her know we were going to pick the box that Judie left with her.

The "box" is what every boarding school student takes to school. It's a big metal box that locks. You keep all your personal items in it. Getting just the right box is a big deal.

When we got back from Nkabune Wednesday evening, I sent Judie and Justin to buy a box... in this case being white impeds the price negociation, so I stayed in the car.

Judie said that her auntie's house was, "just off the road," it turned out to be about 3 km off the road, luckily we had employed Justin the magnificent taxi driver who never complains and delivered us everywhere we needed to go.

Last but not least we went to find Mary Kathambi, four years ago she and her grandmother came to the convent where I was staying looking for medical care for Mary, who we later found out had stage 4 AIDS. She was small, covered in sores and her skin was a shade of grey I had never seen before.

Today, Mary is nearly as tall as I am, her skin is clear and bright and she is healthy and in school. I took her to Ripples International who enrolled her in their program for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC) program. They provide support for her educational, physical and pyschosocial needs. Mary is in a peer support group with other children who are living with HIV/AIDS.

Mary has always been a moody child. So I'm never sure what to expect when I see her. I haven't been able to see her in about a year and a half because Nkabune road was impassable the times that I was here before.

Judie walked ahead of me into their small compound. And then Mary saw me through the door and I heard a shriek and then a few more and then she flew past Judie out the door of her small hut and into my arms. We hugged and laughed for what felt like forever. I didn't realize how much I had missed her or even how much she meant to me. We didn't stay long because we didn't want to keep Justin waiting. We took picture and delivered all the things we bought. Food and hygiene products mostly. We also took orders for what they still desperately needed. Grandma Ruth need shoes, Mary needed a backpack. We will leave them at Ripples and they can pick them up the next time they are in town.

Justin I think knew at this point that he was going to get a nice big tip, so he agreed to accompany us to the Nakumatt, which is a bit like our Walmart. We bought about $60 worth of "stuff" Judie would need for school. Then we had tea at the cafe next to the store and Justin took us home.

Later that night after sukuma and ugali (yum), and after Judie had unpacked the old box and packed the new box, she came in the room where we sleep in bunkbeds and said, "Mom, I feel like sleeping with you." If I hadn't been so tired, I might have melted into a big puddle right then and there. But instead I let her lay down with me for a minute and then told her that neither of us would get any sleep if we crowded onto my bunk.

Getting that much love from two such extraordinary young women in one day, filled me up to over flowing. I can't imagine life getting any better than this!

Not just another Thursday

Today is the day! We found a secondary school for Judie! I told her as we were leaving the school, "I want to do a - we found a school dance."

I won't go into all the details about entering high school in Kenya, only to say that it is not an exact science, more like a free for all, where I have to admit that being white has its advantages.

Judie didn't get great marks on the KCPE national exam, but she was called to three different district schools. One was a mixed boarding school, which was fine for primary, but not ideal for high school; another was a girls boarding school even further down in the bush than her primary school which was 6 km down the mountain; the third was a school that starts the year by breaking the rules. They call five classes of girls the first term, when they have only registered three with the government. So they chase away two classes in the second term. They just use the first term to get extra money from the students. Judie had wanted to go to this school because her friends were going there but mom (that's me) said only as a last resort.

So today we went to visit Ruiga Girls, a boarding secondary school just outside Meru. It's beautiful, not too far into the bush, the headmistress is wonderful, the secretary is bubbly and very kind, some lady from the kitchen came up and said she wanted Judie to be her daughter too. "Fine, I said, she already has so many moms, one more can't hurt." Judie immediately relaxed at Ruiga, I could see she was comfortable and did I mention it wasn't too far into the bush! I have paid all the school fees for the year  and the bank in Meru and we bought almost all the supplies she will need yesterday. The best part is that she will enter school on Feb. 2. Which means I will have plenty of time to go to Uganda and do my work for GUW. Ahhh! The Lord is good!

Judie and I have had our share of laughs looking at the requirements for the schools. The schools deep in the bush required that you brought a panga (machete). I can't be 100 percent sure what they would use a panga for, but our favorite taxi driver Justin said it was for them to help clear the compound - you know - life skills training with a dangerous weapon!

In order to not make one REALLY long post, I'm going to write a few smaller ones to try to catch up from Sunday... they won't however be in any kind of order... so bear with me. Am too hungry to do things in a chronilogical fashion at the moment. Too hungry because I missed morning tea time, not because I haven't been eating... Lord, have I been eating!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

At home in Meru...

When I called to tell Mercy we were on our way from Embu to her house in Meru her response was, "Good, just come home." I can't explain what it feels like to know that there is somewhere half a world away where not only am I referred to as a sister and an auntie but is my "home." I met Mercy Chidi while working on a story about HIV/AIDS for the UN news agency IRIN NEWS. Mercy and her husband Chidi run an organization called Ripples International. They got their first funds in 2004 and started a baby home, a home for sexually abused young women, a dispensary, an HIV/AIDS program for children, a mobile clinic, and HIV/AIDS awareness programs... among other things. Now they are building a hospital. Yes. They are amazing!

Last night we arrived late and ate a quick dinner and went to bed. This morning we sprinkled Chidi with water because today is his birthday (I have yet to figure out that custom), and then went to church and later out to lunch for Chidi's birthday.

Tomorrow morning Mercy and I will go work out at her gym... I've never been to the gym in Kenya... this will be a new experience.... one of many, I hope.

Head Cold From Hell... A Farmer's What?

If there is such a thing as barely functional, that is how I would have described myself on Thursday night. My new friend Julius drove Judie and I to Baraka Home on Thursday afternoon after lunch. Julius, Judie, Ryan and I had lunch with Peter Kimeu of CRS and GUW Africa Board fame. He really is an amazing man.

I got to know Julius a little better on the drive. When we arrived at Baraka Home, the orphanage run by James and Irene - Kenyan's who now live in Minnesota, they were ever so gracious, but my head was one big soupy fog - I sloshed through the next 5 hours. We had dinner with the 18 orphan girls who live at Baraka. I could barely keep my eyes open as we did introductions "before" dinner. James gave me some allergy medication and I slept through the night for the first time since I arrived in Kenya.

I had agreed to photograph the girls for Irene so at 6 a.m. the next morning I got up and took headshots and a group photo of the girls. Feeling only slightly better - I'm sure the girls don't have a very good impression of their visitor. Sorry girls. I will be in better spirits the next time I visit!

Then Irene accompanied us to Embu to meet Paul Maringa. I met Paul in the Amsterdam airport in December of 2007. We have kept in touch randomly as he is the general manager of the building project for a US-based non-profit called An Orphan's Dream. They are building an orphanage outside of Embu. You can check them out online... just google An Orphan's Dream.

We toured the building site which was incredible and spent most of the day exploring the site and Paul's homestead... this being only my fourth day in Kenya and my first really spending time outside... I forgot to put on sunscreen... so yes, I have a Farmer's Tan!

After the tour and then headed to Paul's mother's house, where his family had gathered and prepared a meal for us. (They had exactly 24 hours notice that we were coming!) They were so wonderful! They showed us their homestead, the crops they had planted, houses they were building... And then Paul took us to his sister's house to sleep for the night. She lives in Matendeni Camp which is housing for KenGen, Kenya's hydroelectrical generation company staff. We had dinner at the staff club. The club is located in a semi-arrid region, but they have trucked in dirt and exotic plants... it was absolutely beautiful and lush. Judie especially liked the huge heated swimming pool.

I again slept through the night with the help of the allergy pills. Woke up Saturday morning feeling pretty good and my nose had ceased to be a faucet! Paul, his friend Moses, his sister Margaret and Judie and I headed out to tour Masinga dam (I think that's how's it's spelled). It was constructed by the Saudi's in the 60s (I'm not quite sure about the date). Anyway, because of the drought the water has receeded considerably. There were still some beautiful pictures to be taken, but hydroelectric power is not the savior it used to be in Kenya.

We then went to Kiambere Power Station. Margaret, Paul's sister, works for KenGen, so we were given the royal treatment which included a tour of the guts of the power station. It was really eerie, especially when the man giving us the tour turned the lights off instead of on... being 150 meters underground in the dark is not a warm fuzzy feeling! The set up was very interesting. It is all computerized now so no one works underground anymore. It's a perfectly preserved 1950's world. Only one side of the station is working because there is not enough water to warrant using both sides.

After the tour we ate at another camps club and then Moses and Paul drove Judie and I to Meru - which is a two hour drive from Embu! I can't believe how generous Paul has been. He has become a very good friend. I'm sure his project will be a wonderful success. He has the energy and determination to see it through.

I know he was brought into my life by God, because I only have flown the Amsterdam to Boston flight once in all the times I've come to Kenya and that is the flight I met Paul on. It had to have been divine intervention!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Day 3?

I left home on Monday... it's Thursday and I'm already confused as to what day it is and what day I'm going where...
Not knowing where you're going to sleep that night when you get up in the morning would be disconcerning but somehow it always works out so I've ceased to spend much time worrying about it. Yesterday for instance, we ended up in the same guest house as Ryan, the new director for GUW. Ryan, Judie and I were the only guests there last night. It was quite nice.
Judie and I will be traveling to Baraka House this afternoon. It is a home for girls whose parents have died of AIDS. We will spend the night there and be there most of the day Saturday and then head to Embu to another orphanage that is run by a Kenyan man I met in the Amsterdam airport a few years ago. And then it's on to Meru.
I think Meru is the next time I will be able to access email.
Judie still doesn't know which high school she is going to be called to. She is on pins and needles agonizing about it. The headmistress from her elementary school - who took care of her during most of this past holiday school break - is going to go with us to get her settled at school. Which is a huge relief for both of us.
I am still fighting a nasty cold that has now been compounded by my physical adversion to the pollution that hangs heavily in the Nairobi air. I'm excited to head for the mountains and the clean air that comes along with it!!!
Well Ryan is done with his emailing so I'm going to cut this short and go join him. We have already checked out of rooms at the guesthouse - so we have a long day of hanging out ahead of us, before going our separate ways this afternoon.
aka Maks

The same but different...

Met lots of interesting characters in the tin can over the big pond and again over Europe and Northern Africa. People are so interesting and surprising. There's something about the intersection of sleep deprivation, confined spaces and alcohol that makes for fascinating sociological insights.
I woke up this morning to the sound of rooster welcoming the dawn and then silence and then the Muslim call to prayer from the mosque not far away... and then the roosters decide to chime back in and then there is the sound of the big lorries rushing by outside my friend's small flat in a working class section of the vast sprawl that is Nairobi, Kenya.
Jet lag prevented me from getting even the slightest bit of sleep, but I crawled out of bed feeling surprisingly refreshed or was it the psuedo warm bucket shower ... not sure, but I feel better than I usually do after 24 hours of transit.
David (best friend) and I went to pick up Judie (my Kenyan daughter) in Upper Hill, where Nairobi Hospital is located. She had been staying with a classmate's family for a few days and the mother, Amina, works for the International Refugee Committee (also in Upper Hill). Then we went to buy a cell phone.It cost me around $40 for the phone, charger, SIM card and enough minutes to last me for about a week.
Now all I have to do is plan the rest of my stay in Nairobi...
So far we are meeting the new director of Give Us Wings tomorrow morning and visiting an orphanage I brought a ton of stuff (that could have been bought here) for. We will stay overnight there and will hopefully be able to upload a few pictures from our time there.
It is 1;13 p.m. and I can feel jet lag rearing its ugly head... my eyes feel heavy, my back is starting to ache... maybe it's time for a nap!

Friday, January 8, 2010

5 days to bliss

So bliss is a strong word... Kenya is after all a developing country, but I can't begin to explain how my body and soul physically react to being... home. Hey, I know I'm white and I really have no business calling Kenya my second home... but there is really no other way to describe the sensation of being there.

For those of you who haven't followed my blog in previous years... you can check out the archive of blogs from previous trips at

I don't have any idea how often I'll be able to blog on this trip, as I don't have a set itinerary at this point... or for that matter a place to sleep when I arrive. But I do have faith that between my God and my Kenya family - something will materialize.

First things first! I have not finished cleaning out my office at the church. FYI - Never leave a job and plan/pack for a trip to Africa at the same time. There are not enough separate comparments in my brain to hold all the small yet very necessary details for both ventures.

Peace and Blessings to all my St. Cloud friends! See you in about 6 weeks!