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!