Thursday, January 20, 2011

Doors and Windows

There's a saying, where God closes a door he will open a window. Let me tell you, God is opening some serious windows in Ngong!

We have quite a few children at Grace's who are not sponsored. Four of the children are lovingly referred to as Ann's Family. Ann is the oldest sibling. She has scars from burns over 60 percent of her body. Her mother, who was a drunk, threw boiling water on her when she was a small girl. She came to Grace first and then her three siblings, James, Peter and Sylvia followed. I think they've been with Grace and John for six years. Ann and James have graduated from high school. Peter is starting his senior year and Sylvia is entering ninth grade.

In December we found out the church in Minnesota that had been sponsoring them had withdrawn its funding. Grace called her prayer group into action and called Ann's Family and told them it was time to pray for a window to open. We prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for the church that had brought them this far and then we prayed for the path to take them forward to be made clear.

A month later Sylvia's school headmaster called and asked if Sylvia had filled out a scholarship form from Equity Bank. No, we said she hadn't, we didn't know about the program. He told us that it was the last day to apply and we had to hurry. A flurry of activity occured, Ann went to pick the application, Grace went another way and Sylvia another. Everyone convened back at the Ngong house to fill the forms and then the were rushed to the bank by the 4 pm deadline.

The scholarship pays for all four years of high school education. If the student gets a C+ average or better and chooses not to go to college they will have a job waiting for them at Equity Bank. Only 600 students from throughout the country will be chosen.

We found out two days ago that Sylvia was to be interviewed. Yesterday she and Grace spent hours waiting to be interviewed. There were more than 50 children there and they were only choosing 6 girls and 4 boys. They were told if they were chosen they would have to be ready to go to a four day orientation by 8 a.m. the following morning. And that those chosen would be called in the evening.

Syvia and I were cooking dinner and Grace was taking a nap in her room, when Grace got a phone call telling that Sylvia had been awarded a scholarship. Grace came in the kitchen and told us and we immediately began screaming and jumping and hugging one another and shouting, Amen! It was quite the celebration.

Then we went immediately to the living room to say a prayer of thanksgiving. We also prayed for Laton who we were told through email from the US, had been sponsored for at least one year in school.

Sylvia didn't have any clothes with her so we raided Judie's boxes and my supplies and then we went to the corner shop for a toothbrush, etc. We also bought black currtent soda so we could have a toast! During dinner we called EVERYONE to tell them the news.

God is truely great!!!

Funeral and beyond

At 6:30 a.m. Saturday, January 15, the King'atua family piled into David's safari van (Sammy driving) and headed to Nakuru where Ann was to be buried. It's a beautiful trip!

I was supposed to be the official funeral photographer. We first went to the mortuary for the viewing. Ann looked awful - why they had a viewing I'll never understand. Fayth, Ann's niece fainted and a couple of other people almost went down. But other than that it was pretty uneventful.

The trip to the burial site was long and the last part was over VERY rough bush roads (and by roads here, I mean paths). Two of Ann's siblings live on this land and there is a plot set aside for Ann. So according to Kenyan Kikuyu tradition, Ann was buried on a piece of that belonged to her. And here I would have put a very nice picture of the grave BUT my SD card got spoiled and I couldn't get the photos off it. So now the SD card is with the computer guys that have been trying to get a modem to work on my computer. Let's hope their recovery software is successful, because thus far they have not been able to get a modem to work on my computer.

Luckily, another family member with a very nice camera was taking pictures, so they have photos if mine decide to reside for eternity on my spoiled SD card.

I actually had a very nice time at the funeral... well, minus the fact that the speeches went on forever (in Kikuyu) and the preacher man didn't even know Ann and was completely full of himself! Her church dictated that he be there... much to the disappointment of the family.

I enjoyed my usual status as token white person, which truth be told, I don't even notice much anymore.

We arrived back at the compound in Ngong at 8 p.m.

A few days later I was in the Ngong Hills Supermarket (one of many small supermarkets in town) and the cashier made small talk with me (this has never happened to me). She asked how the burial went? It was nice I answered... but as I left I thought to myself. How did this lady know I attended Ann's burial? I sometimes forget I live in a fishbowl. People are constantly telling me... I saw you walking in Ngong, or talking with so-and-so, or buying such-and-such. It's kind of like being a celebrity with none of the perks!

I live about 300 meter off the main road into Ngong down a treacherous hill and yes people drive down it. Along the first 50 meters of road and just outside my gate are small kiosks (shops). For the first two months I lived here people barely acknowledged my existence or stared or made comments under their breath. But recently something has changed... maybe their just got used to seeing me around, but all of the sudden we are friends. They smile and wave, we greet one another, it's nice. I've noticed that there are not many wazungu who live here... I don't actually know of anyone else who lives in Ngong... although their probably is.

In other news...
I got an email today that another one of our children has a sponsor - at least for this year!
So Grace Laton, a Maasai girl, who is going into Form 1, will go to school!!! I spent last Monday taking her to see two high schools in Nairobi. One was absolutely horrible. It was under construction, but it looked more like a war zone. The other one was very nice... a bit too nice, kind of stuck up... if a school can be stuck up. We won't be sending her to either one of those. The only thing I gained that day was a severe backache from hours of riding in 6 different matatus!!

Oh and I stopped by the offices of the Kenyan NGO Board and completed the last step in the process to change the name of Grace's organization from Adopt A Village in Africa/Kenya to Wezesha By Grace. Wezesha is Kiswahili for empowerment.

Judie's school was attacked by thieves. The students were all safe in their dorm. The thieves made their way through the school compound to the convent where they stole money from the nuns. The shot and killed one watchman. Scary stuff! It seems the convent was having trouble with their alarm system and didn't get it fixed by closing time on Wednesday night. So it would seem a possibility that somebody linked to the alarm fix-it guys tipped off the thieves. Hmmmm...

The rest of this week has been devoted to getting ready for our first board meeting with NEW members and working with the accountant to get the year end financials done. Those of you who know me well, know this is NOT and I repeat NOT my area of expertise. But I CAN type and make copies and bind reports! So while not fodder for blogs, it has kept me most busy!

Pray for me this week as I get ready for the BIG meeting. It's Saturday at 10 a.m. so you will all be sleeping, so Friday prayers are welcome!

I had not seen photos of all the snow in Minnesota. But my friend Terry Gydesen, that fabulous MN photog, had some great ones on her Facebook page today... so thank you Terry for showing me what I am NOT missing!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An Ode to Ann

Kenyatta Hospital is not a place you want to end up. Each ward has 10 beds. You might have a broken leg and be next to someone dying from AIDS. I walked into ward 7B Room 1. Auntie Ann was in the second bed on the right as you entered. At first I didn’t even recognize her. I had seen her the previous Tuesday and she had looked sick but not like this… this was what you look like when you’re dying. And I could tell immediately that Ann was in fact dying. But this being Kenya, we don’t talk about that. We ask God to heal her and yes, that would be the best of all outcomes, but looking at Ann I can see that we are beyond prayers… her body had given in and her spirit is waiting to be called home.

That was Sunday evening. When we left the hospital around 7 p.m. Ann was still alive. Kenyatta doesn’t let family stay overnight, even with critically ill patients. We: Grace, Fayth her daughter, Aunt Lois, Rachael, Ann’s daughter and I get on a matatu for the 40-minute ride back to Ngong. Aunt Lois lives in another part of Nairobi but it is unsafe to travel alone so she comes back to the compound in Ngong with the rest of us. Fayth and I have been at the hospital since about 12:30, Rachael came around 2p.m. Grace and Aunt Lois around 3 p.m. We all smell like that unmistakable stench of a hospital ward. Only worse. I’m told Kenyatta used to be worse (hygiene wise) but I have a hard time imagining worse than the bathrooms I used while there… my feet stuck to the floor of the stall and in front of the mirrors there was standing water on the floor. I find it hard to believe that anybody, even visitors leave Kenyatta healthy.

This morning I awake before 6 a.m. to Grace and Aunt Lois quickly getting ready, I crawl out of bed and make them some tea and fruit to eat before they leave for the hospital. Grace calls at around 8 a.m. to tell me that Auntie Ann has passed. I go to tell the rest of the compound the news. And then we wait for Rachael to return from taking her daughter, Gracious, to school so we can tell her that her mother has died.

So this is what it feels like to be part of a Kenyan family…to sit with my cousin while she wails at the death of her mother. We try to console her but everything we say seems so empty. We spend the morning together… Gladys, Sammy’s wife makes tea, the man who brings water to Rachael and Gladys’ homes comes, offers his condolences to Rachael and then goes back for water for me. Rachael and I go to find someone to hire to do laundry. I don’t have much, but Rachael has piles… too much for one person to do. I help Rachael take the linens off Ann’s bed. Life moves forward, even as we want it to stop just for an instant to let us absorb this tragedy… it pays no notice… life keeps moving.

I find Rachael in her room when I return from the cyber. She is holding a letter she sent her mother when she found out she was pregnant with Gracious. She shows me photos of Ann from before she was sick. One was taped on the wall. “She kept it there to remind her of what her life was like before.” Rachael says.

I think to some extent we all keep mental snapshots of what life was like before - that big event in our life that changed everything - some of us hope to go back, some of us want to forget… what we mustn’t do is cease to live and act in the present. This, right now, is all we have.

Ann lived in denial of the diseases that took her life. She died needlessly. We all have things we deny about ourselves. Some we may be barely aware of, but they inhibit our true potential. Our humanness is our greatest strength and our biggest downfall. It is our kryptonite.

Ann Nyambura died of complications to TB and AIDS at 6 a.m. on January 10, 2011. She was 47 years old, which happens to be the average life expectancy in Kenya.

Ann, I hope you are finally at peace, resting with your maker. I will think of you fondly always. With love, Jessica

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The bush and back..

The shoe on the left is what happens when you spend two days in a Maasai village in the Rift Valley. The shoe on the right is after it was bathed in laundry water.

Everything that can go wrong will, but as this is Africa... usually everything comes out how it was supposed to anyway... not sure why that is... it just is.

So without going into great detail lets just say, life is never dull. I asked the safari company repeatedly (the guy is a friend of mine) to send a bigger vehicle. He sent an 8 passenger safari van for 6 people and their lugguage... which normally would be fine. But when you put the Give Us Wings rep and me and Grace in the van and all the supplies that need to go to Ilkiloret and I had to transport 7 fundies (construction workers) down also... Well it equals two trips.

The volunteers arrived in Ngong around lunch time and at my favorite Halal restaurant. The driver took them to Kimuga Farm where they would spend the night and then came back for the fundies and me and two wheelbarrows we had to have repaired. Well after much discussion it was decided that the wheelbarrows wouldn't fit in the safari van and a motorcycle should be called to transport them.

Piki piki taxi ferrying our repaired wheelbarrows to Ilkiloret, 33 kilometers on bad roads, down into the Rift Valley.

The poor man may never be able to have children after this ride! We follow him down to make sure he is able to complete the journey. With only one bad wobble he reaches his destination. Now at this point I have sms'd Janet, who is our liaison there to tell her I'm coming and to ask her to find a place for me to sleep, but I have no idea if she's gotten the message, as there is no cell coverage there. Ah, but there is a certain tree by the road where if you sit under it you can find network. I'm serious. They sprinkled a little network and it grew into a nice shade tree cum phone booth. I will take a photo of said tree the next time I'm in Ilkiloret.

So we arrive and I find out that I will be sleeping at Rebecca and James' home which is just next to where we are building our classroom. I have forgotten my watch and I turned my cell phone off to conserve the battery, so I have no idea what time it is for about 15 hours. Janet and I make a program for the volunteers for the following day. Then I head over and hang out at Rebecca's house. She speaks only a few words of English and a bit more Swahili, so we mix what little we know in common and get by just fine. She makes tea and I dig out the cashews I bought just before we left Ngong. She and I and her two children (I'm not sure even now exactly how many she has, but these two are the little ones - Ezekial and Eliza), and one of Grace's orphans Laton, enjoy them while Rebecca prepares dinner. I'm not sure what to expect for dinner. The Maasai have recently started to grow crops with drip irrigation but it is dry season and there is nothing in the fields.

While dinner is cooking, Rebecca brings me her and James' school books. They are studying in the adult education program. They study math and Kiswahili and a little bit of English. I am planning to teach English there one day a week and then Janet will help me with Kiswahili in the afternoon. I will spend the night and get the early vehicle to Kimuga where I can meet with Grace and play with the kids when they get home from school, spend the night at Kimuga and head back to Ngong. Not sure when said plan will start, but I'm actually looking forward to it.

When dinner comes it is ugali (hard porridge) and milk. And by milk I mean fresh from the cow, I mean squeezed right from the teet into my cup(kikombe). Kikombe means cup... which is one useful word that I will not forget from my time in Ilkiloret. It was delicious. The best milk I've had in a long time.

I sleep on a sleeping mat in a sleeping bag on the floor of Rebecca's home. It's seriously uncomfortable and I don't actually fall asleep until dawn. But I tell Rebecca that I slept well and thank her profusely for letting me stay in her home.

The American Give Us Wings volunteers arrive and find us in class learning math, they join us for about an hour and then we all go to a community meeting. The main thrust of this volunteer trip is to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. But they have also all fund raised to build a permanent classroom/community room in Ilkiloret. The fundies have built the foundation. The volunteers will help start the walling.

The fundies at work early on Wednesday morning before the volunteers arrive.

The idea is a nice one, but ridiculously expensive due to the transport costs of moving materials over such bad roads. So we had money to build through the volunteer's participation. But I haven't heard yet when construction will resume. I get calls from the fundies and material suppliers daily... "when do you need my services," but all I can tell them is that we have to wait.

So the community meeting goes well, we sing, we introduce ourselves, we give reports about the hegoat and shop projects in Ilkiloret and the volunteers talk about raising funds for the building and then we talk about how it will be used.

And then we break for a lunch of pb&j sandwichs, bananas, oranges and cookies. Then each volunteer is paired with an interpreter and a host family for a day-in-the-life experience. Which is only a few hours but it gives them some one-on-one contact with community members.

Then they come back for a traditional Maasai goat roast with ugali and sukuma (greens). The Americans barely eat anything. Okay, so I understand that they are about to climb a mountain and need there guts intact... but it still makes me a bit, I don't know... I, of course over indulge and love every bite.

We sit out under the stars (which are second to none in the Rift Valley), until it gets too windy and then climb into tents for a better but still not a good nights sleep.

The next day the volunteers build the classroom in the morning and I run around and work on logistics, clean up the area we used for cooking and storing our food, make sure fundies are paid, etc. The Maasai women bring their jewelery and have a small market before the volunteers leave to go back to Kimuga and then on to Nairobi.

Rebecca and her family have worked tirelessly to help us cook and clean. I owe her big time. I buy a small beaded basket from her and tell Janet I will bring her food when I come to stay with her.

Then we wait until 3 pm for the safari van to come back and pick us and take us to Ngong. We are dirty and tired. When I finally reach home I find out that our electricity has been shut off because we didn't pay the bill. I guess it got overlooked in all the holiday happenings. Now electricity is not so necessary when you cook on a gas cylinder. I heated water and took a bucket bath...which is how I bath everyday... and then heated up some leftover rice and beans. By 7:30 pm it was too dark to see my hand in from of my face, so I went to bed and slept for 12 hours. Guess I had some catching up to do...

On Friday I got up, did laundry and went to town to figure out how to pay the electric bill - not that this is my job... just that it happened that I was the most available person around. David, Grace's son, told me how to get the balance via SMS. Which I did. Then he said that he had a friend at the electric company who if I MPesa'd him the money (+ the reconnection fee) could pay our bill. I'll tell you about MPesa later - it's really quite awesome. Anyway, I figured out all that. Paid the bill and Saturday around 1 p.m. they finally turned our electricity back on.

That's all I have to say for now because I've spent the last almost 3 hours at the cyber and this chair was not made for marathon cyber sessions.