Friday, February 17, 2012

A Night to Remember

In most parts of the world Valentine’s Day equals roses, chocolates, fancy dinners, and romance… my V-Day was filled with love of a much different kind.

First order of business on Tuesday (Valentine’s Day) was to ask Grace if I could take the metal folding bed from the sitting room of the apartment where I stay to my newly created space in Ilkiloret. She said yes, so the first part of the plan was a success. She told me later that I had to take care of that bed because it was the bed she took with her to college!

The second order of business was to get said bed to Ilkiloret. There are public vehicles that travel daily to and from Ilkiloret. They come from Ilkiloret in the mornings and return at night. So my only option was to take the bed down Tuesday night. I went to Ngong and looked around for a vehicle, the first driver I found was conman, so I said I would wait until afternoon and go to the stage where the vehicles wait for customers and see if I could persuade one of them to come to Grace’s house to pick up the bed.

As I was walking to the cyber café to make some copies for literacy class on Wednesday morning I ran into my friend Richard and stopped to talk to him and Moses, one of my learners from Ilkiloret came up to say hi. Which consisted of him holding my hand for a long time but not say much. I asked him through Richard if he knew a driver who would help me get my bed to Ilkiloret that evening. He told Richard that James, my host in Ilkiloret, was in Ngong, and he would meet me in the cyber and help me find a driver.

James showed up a little while later. Dennis, who runs the cyber told James about my predicament in Swahili and James said I should meet him back at the cyber at 3 pm and he would find a vehicle for me. Nice. Problem solved. God is at work in such wonderful little ways... running into Moses was a small miracle!

The next order of business was to buy two big heart-shaped marble cakes and two bottles of pineapple juice mix to take to Janet and Rebeka’s families in Ilkioret for Valentine’s Day. I didn’t think much of the gesture. But you would have thought I’d won the lottery and brought them the money! They were so excited! But more about that later.

I met James at 3pm and went to the stage where he found a conductor and a driver, Simon, who I happened to know. The four of us went to my house and picked the folding bed, the mattress and the big bag of food that I normally bring to Janet and Rebeka on the back of the piki piki.

We got back to the stage and the vehicle began to fill. James crawled out of the front of the pickup and an old man got in next to me. After a while he got out again, making a big production about it. It seems another one of my learners, Leah, had injured herself (a long jagged gash above her knee and was on her way home from the hospital. She got in. I asked Simon if I should get in the back of the pick-up but he dismissed me. So as long as I wasn’t told to get out, I stayed put. I know what riding in the back of a pick-up on this road is like having done it once or twice before and it is SO hard on my back. It’s not much easier in the cab, but at least your not inhaling dust.

The old man was not very pleasant and when he got out I saw more of him than I wished too... many of the older Maasai men don't wear anything under their shukas. Shukas are blankets wrapped around the body and held in place with belt. Most of the younger generation wear shorts.

After the accidental flashing incident, the ride was fairly uneventful until we got to the second hill. The bottom of the hill is very steep so most of the men got out and walked up the hill. At the top of the hill we came up behind the vehicle that had passed us at the bottom of the hill and a herd of livestock coming at us head-on. We sat patiently while the dust swirled and the cattle passed. Then all the men got back in the vehicle and we were on our way again.

Just before the small town of Sakeri (where electricity and phone network end), there is a dry river bed, past it someone had dug a trench for something that was just wide enough to trap our rear tires. Once again everyone piled out. Even me this time. A bit of conversation occurred and then the pick-up was pushed out of the trench.

By this time the sun is even with the horizon and seeing out the dust covered windshield is a problem. But Sakeri is only minutes away and we will stop there to unload and reload. The trip to Ilkiloret in a private car or on a motorcycle takes between an hour and fifteen minutes and an hour and a half. We are getting close to the two hour mark and we still have at least 20 minutes to go.

After dark and two and a half hours on the road we arrive in Ilkiloret. I’m charged 600 Kenyan shillings for the journey, about $8. Not bad.

My Maasai family appeared out of the dark and ferried my belongings to the house. The floor of the addition has not yet been cemented so my bed is put next to Rebeka’s on the cement floor. I made my bed. Brought groceries and cake to Janet’s home (I remembered my headlamp so the journey was easy), and came back to our crowded little manyatta for dinner. We had ugali and greens and beens for dinner and then made juice and toasted the best family and the best Valentine’s Day ever. It was quite spectacular if I do say so myself!

Yeah there were flies and wood fire smoke and I was dusty and sweaty from the journey in the pick-up. But the flies go away at night and the dirt can be removed with a wet-wipe bath and heart-shaped cake and pineapple juice are all the sweeter when surrounded by family.
Happy Valentines Day!


Rebeka had told me early Wednesday morning that after lunch we would be washing clothes. But at lunch she pointed to the Maasai Integrated Development Initiative (MIDI) and said, “food today.”

I saw some other women walking toward the shade tree in front of the MIDI pump house. I thought it was probably some kind of food distribution, but didn’t think MIDI did that so was wondering where the food was coming from. When we arrived there I saw that the bags were from the World Food Program (WFP).

A bag of corn flour (unga) from the World Food Program.

I had been to another food distribution day that was held at the primary school a while back those bags were from the US Government. I’m still not sure who does what here. I’ve always wondered how these programs functioned. How areas were identified for food distribution…something I will have to look into.

I’ve never had the opportunity to be part of the crowd though, so I pulled up part of Eunice, one of my learners, food sacks and waited along with the rest of the women for the names to be called out.
Women wait under a tree for their names to be called to receive food rations from the World Food Program.

While waiting Janet’s aunt came walking up to the group, an older woman she immediately began talking loudly and captured all the women’s attention. It was obvious that she was humorous as the women all began laughing. At one point she was standing above me and I took the photo below of her. She loved it. Wanted everyone to look at the photo of her! We all know people like auntie who can walk in a room and immediately be the center of attention. Janet told me later she can even make people laugh while she is praying. “We have to tell God we are sorry for laughing after Auntie prays,” Janet said… she was laughing while she said this.

Auntie doing her thing, keeping the women entertained.

One of the young mothers got up to get her food and left her daughter Abby with another woman. Abby is a good-natured child who is full of smiles. Her mother is an absolute joy too. I adore Abby and take every opportunity to play with her.

Abby, seconds before she burst into tears.

The women bring their own containers for food.

Mama Janet is one of my favorite people. We can't utter a word to one another except greetings in Maasai. But I was literally in tears when she returned from a couple of weeks away visiting Janet's sister. I can't explain it - but this woman is mother earth. She has this amazing magnetic spirit. I am drawn to her as if she was my own mother.

The children here are getting used to me, some of the little girls from Janet’s compound followed me home on Wednesday afternoon and we played a form of Simon Says by doing all kinds of funny things in a line in the front of Rebeka’s house. But one of the little girls stepped on a piece of wire so I applied a Band-Aid and put her on my back and took her home. What is it they say…it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

Learning Never Ends

I’ve been reading a book entitled “Adult Literacy: A Handbook for Development Workers,” I’ve really enjoyed reading it, but have to admit we really need to retool our program. The first step will be to gather everyone interested in literacy classes and find out exactly what they want to learn and the logistics of learning. The learners who are currently in my class have been getting the word out. They set the date for Feb. 29. I’m really excited for the meeting.

One of the things the book said was that adults tend to learn better when they sit in a circle or a semi circle. So on Thursday morning we redesigned the class. I explained the best I could to Rebeka that I needed James to come help me organize the class. To my delight James arrived and we were able to re-organize the class quite nicely, using mostly gestures, as we were the only two people in the classroom and we don’t speak a common language.

The semi-circle classroom layout.

Learners talk with Janet after class.

My learners aren’t the only ones learning. They teach me something new every time I’m there, whether it’s a word or a custom or a way of doing things. I often feel like they are teaching me far more than I will ever be able to teach them.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Preparations for the Big Day

We had class on Wednesday morning with 12 students attending. Five young women were trying to master the alphabet A through H. A is for apple, B is for ball, C is for cow, D is for dog, E is for egg, F is for feet, G is for goat, H is for hand. I think we went through those about 50 times…they had the most trouble with apple, egg and hand. We still don’t have them down but I don’t think we’re far off now.

I have been searching for an ABC chart to hang on the wall. I finally found one…just one problem…it was printed in India so f is for frock and x is for x-mas tree…I kid you not! I made an ABC chart that they can take home and study from…I tried to use items they have in their everyday lives…y for yacht is not one of them!

Classes ended and preparations began. The yard continued to be picked up; brush cut, rock piles leveled or moved, a makeshift rock wall in front of the school was built and a tree stump cut down that had been left when we built the school. While that was happening cooking pots, firewood, rolling pins and chapatti stools, and wooden stirring sticks started appearing from out of the horizon. When school ended Rebecca got her nephew Silas who teaches at the local primary school, to organize the kids who live in the area to carry plastic chairs home from the church. Women appeared from every direction and began peeling potatoes in the old classroom.

Have you ever noticed how many men it takes to do a job that one man can do alone...just saying.

It's about a mile walk from the church to the adult classroom...some of the kids carrying chairs were really small. Talk about a community effort!

Women at work!

These women came with a couple of jeri-cans, 99 plastic plates, and a huge pot.

Janet moonlights as a hairdresser.

Even the kids got into the act help pick up the yard…although I think Eliza spent more time rolling in the sand pile, as evidenced by her nearly white legs and sleepy state in the evening.

James, Eliza and Ezekiel, his children and a small boy not wearing pants, pickup stones leftover from construction in front of the classroom.

Eliza spent the rest of the afternoon rolling in a pile of sand. Her exhaustion shows.

When it started to get dark I headed back to Rebeka’s. Silas was cutting sukuma (kale) in the kitchen manyatta when there was a big commotion outside. Silas, James and I ran out of the mayatta. The bulls were fighting, horns locked and were pushing each other around the yard. Dust was flying everywhere. Silas grabbed a stick and went to try to break them up. We didn’t realize until later is that he was still holding a bunch of sukuma in his hand.

We are having alpha male issues. One of the bulls is sick, the former number two bull is trying to take advantage of the situation.

In Silas' right hand is a stick. In his left is sukuma he had yet to cut.

We ate that sukuma for dinner…I tried not to think about how dusty that sukuma had gotten while taking a tour of the yard in Silas’s hand. I hope he didn’t swat one of the bulls with that hand!

The Morning of the Big Day

In February of 2011 when we had suspended construction in Ilkiloret, it seemed we would never see this day. But on Feb. 9, 2012 we officially opened the Ilkiloret Adult Education Centre!

I was up early and had a brisk shower before hurrying off to the school. I started by cleaning the windows. The insides get dirty from the dust that plows in when we open the windows. The outside gets dirty from the school children who press their noses and fingers and foreheads against the glass when they pass by the building. I swept the floors and then went out to photograph some of the preparations.

On my way to check out the slaughtering of not one, not two, but five goats, I noticed there was some activity at my house. Some fundis has removed an end wall of our house!
Rebeka said, “We add room for you.”
“Sweet!” I said. “I’ll bring a bed.”
“Good,” she said.
Done deal.

Temporary housing means that repairs and additions can be made quickly!

I left for school a little before 8a.m., when I came home to investigate around 9:30 this is what I found.

My new room sans floor...hey, cement is a project in and of itself! No worries it will be ready before I arrive with my bed next Wednesday!

Then I headed over to check out the slaughtering of the goats. I’m a farm kid, but slaughtering has never been one of my favorite events on the farm. Adult learners Steven and Paul were doing the slaughtering when I arrived. Number one goat was history, already skinned even. His head was hanging in a tree! I saw his stomach contents emptied, some parts of him consumed alfresco, Number two’s throat was cut while I was there, then they drained it’s blood into a blue jug that I’m sure I’ve drunk porridge out of on occasion.

Goat number one had already met its demise when I arrived on the scene.

Goat number one was a rather handsome fellow don't you agree?

Paul and Stephen have some mad butchering skills... the Masai are so humane in their methods. I want to learn more about how they learn these skills and other traditions of the Masai.

I didn't actually see anybody drink this blood so I don't know exactly what was done with it...another question for Janet. I did see Stephen cut out a part of the goat and give it to another guy who popped it right in his mouth. Num?

Stephen extracted some part of the goat and smiled and started walking quickly toward me so I vacated the goat slaughtering area and made for the makeshift kitchen behind the school.

A bladder maybe...Stephen was pretty intent on me touching it..."soft" he said. I said no thank you. I'm brave. I really am.

This is much more my speed. Mashed potatoes, tea, and a boiling caldron of I don’t know what all supersized for the event.

Mashing the taters.

Not sure what was in here, but this is the closed real life example I think I've seen of a boiling caldron!

Chapati making in mass fascinates me. Ten packets of flour, oil and water and women up to their elbows mixing the ingredients. I’m convinced these women could do some amazing mass baking – maybe a charcoal oven is in their future. I have so many income generating ideas swimming around in my brain!

Chapati mixing and kneading at this level is a team full contact sport.

Actually it looks kind of fun.

By cooking team is made up of one person making the dough into balls another person rolling it out into a circle and the third frying it over a small three stone fire.

When Rebeka had finished mixing the chapo, she went to wash the floors in the class. Around 10:45 I went to wash some plastic chairs and coordinate getting them from the classroom to under the trees outside. We didn’t think everyone would fit into the classroom. We only use about a third of the chairs for class right now so most of them had not been moved since they came off the lorry. DIRTY!
We got them cleaned and out the door of the class just as the visitors arrived.

Everyone was in their finest attire. Including the White Masai. I had on Masai earrings, necklace, four bracelets and a belt that functioned and a place to carry my camera case. Janet gave me a string of beads that covered my torso like a web. It was awesome! I need one of my own. I think it probably costs a lot it was beautiful!

One of older women learners in my class loves to take pictures with my camera. This is one of her better shots!

The Big Event

Time is relative in Masai culture. Don't try being in a hurry in Ilkiloret. Nobody cares.

The event was to begin at 11a.m. Grace and John and Anika (Give Us Wings rep) and her brother Joe and John Shonko and Rev. Wangeci, WBG board members, the district adult education officer and his deputy for the area arrived at around 11:30.

They toured the building and took tea, and we eventually started the program around 1:30! Not quite 2/3 of the seats were filled at 1:30. Entertainment was provided by various groups of Masai singers including a group of adult learners and two of my adult learners read a welcome “in English!” Then there was a message by Rev. Wangeci encouraging the community to attend class because, “knowledge is power.”

Some of the adult learners in Ilkiloret entertain the crowd at the Grand Opening with a song.

Isaya, a learner, reads "in English" a welcome message.

Rebeka, also a learner, reads the second part of the message.

Reverend Wangeci preaches an inspiration message to the assembled guests.

A series of speeches followed. Grace led by talking about how the Ilkiloret outreach project of Wezesha By Grace came to be. Then Anika read a speech by Mary Steiner, founder of Give Us Wings. Then I talked about the building construction. The total cost for construction was 680,025/= KES ($8,193).

Grace introduces Anika Walz, the Give Us Wings representative and her brother Joe who is visiting her.

After that Janet’s father spoke, then a few other community members and a few local politicians, who made varying degrees of promises - elections are coming up soon. ;-) And then the district adult education officer spoke.

Janet's father, who gave Wezesha By Grace the land where the classroom is located, addresses the audience.

In the 20 minutes district adult education officer spent walking around after he first arrived he decided to make us his special project. First he will get us the appropriate resources, part of which will involve partitioning the classroom and giving us a library. Then we need to fence this land and get a youth center up. Then we need to get more teachers here because there are obviously young mothers here who dropped out of school around grade 4 to be married off and they need to finish school. And we need to be a registration centre for students who want to independently register for the state exams.

He had told me all this while we were waiting for the meeting to start…so while I had his attention I said, “You know my first concern is that Janet is compensated for her work here.”

He hemmed and hawed for a minute and then said, “Our department doesn’t have any more funds for staffing, but because she’s a woman and she has a disability, I can to talk to the temporary teachers department and social services…I’ll find money for her.”

Score one of the White Masai girl! My politics out of the way for the day, I sat back and enjoyed the speeches...all three hours of them!

Even though I’m pretty sure that Grace wasn’t thrilled with him making all these announcements during his speech without consulting her, they are actually related (he is John’s nephew) so she can’t be too harsh about his lack of subtlety.

At about 4:45 we made for the classroom to unvail the plaque and then it was time to plant a shade tree in honor of Mary Steiner and her daughter Shawn Whelan, founder of Give Us Wings.

Anika unveils the plaque dedicating the classroom.

And the plaque says:

A tree is planted in honor of Mary Steiner and Shawn Whelan, the founders of Give Us Wings.

A little after 5pm we sat down to eat! The food was typical Masai fare. Rice, potatoes, chapatti and meat…not a vegetable or green in site. But they did have nice fruit for dessert!

I piled in a safari van that Grace had rented for the day and headed back to Ngong with the visitors who had come for the day. We had said they would be home by 3:30 – I arrived home shortly before 8pm.

Exhausted but with a certain energy still flowing through my body that I couldn’t quite explain. Maybe this is what it feels like to have a baby…all the pain of construction, dealing with the laborers, negotiating for the materials, transporting it all back in forth - now that it’s over, it was all worth it…I think I might be able to do this again!

Now where did I put that forewoman hat?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Visiting Day

It's not jail...but boarding school in Kenya can be akin to that the food is bad and the accommodation below par. But visiting day at any boarding institution is about two things seeing family and eating mom's home cooked food. Okay their happy to see their family but they barely acknowledge you until after they've eaten!

My mission committee at First Presbyterian Church in St. Cloud, MN along with individual donors responded in earnest to my plea in the November Chameleon's Tale newsletter for education funding to send five primary age orphans to boarding school.

Now Soni, Sitelu, Lenkai, Njoki, and Shiko (their nicknames) are enrolled at Joram GM Academy in Matasia, which is about 15 minutes by car from Ngong. Both Judie and Omondi also go to school there. So it was quite the party, when Mama Jeri, their matron at the farm, and Grace's grandson's Ian (13) and Brian (3) and I showed up on visiting day laden down with stew and chapati, salad with Marsala chicken, fruit salad and apples and oranges. We feasted. And then if you're Sitelu, you just keep right on eating. He is 12 and tall and skinny and we don't know where he puts all the food he eats but man can he put it away.

Sitelu eating again.

Sitelu also managed to loose his flip-flops so I bought him another pair and wrote his name in big letters along both sides of both shoes...he was only slightly amused.

Njoki is the oldest of the kids at 14 but is only in 1st grade. She was kept at home by her mother who wanted her to care for her six brothers. Njoki took a spill from the swing set three days before and knocked out a tooth and did some damage to her mouth. Her mouth was wired up a bit but it didn't stop her from eating!

Njoki carefully eating her lunch.

Njoki's wired mouth!

Soni (Mary Muthoni) is 13 and in class 6. She didn't like her old school and was gushing about boarding school. "Auntie we read (study) all the time. I love it here." Soni was sexually abused by a family member and has lots of trust issues along with other psychological issues. But she is such a joy. A sweet, soft-spoken girl with a heart of gold.

Chatting with me and Mama Jeri after lunch.

Moses Lenkai is the youngest of the bunch at 9 and is in class 3. He came to stay with Grace when he was five and his mother died. She had never been married, so he and his three siblings were given to area children's homes by his uncle. Moses is a joker and clown but with a sensitive side. He is always giggling!

Lenkai enjoys an orange after lunch.

Ten-year-old Shiko has an infectious smile. She is Brian's caretaker at the farm. She is very sensitive and pretends to be shy but is actually very outgoing and silly.

Shiko (Alice Wanjiko) relaxes after lunch.

We ate and played and met their friends and laughed and caught them up on what was happening at home. Fun was had by all.

Ian has some mad juggling skills!

Visiting Day with the Kimuga orphans at Joram GM Academy.

Even Judie, my rather moody teenage daughter, had seemed to turn a corner. All my, "you have to make the best of it," speeches must have paid off...or better of her friends gave her the same advice and as long as it didn't come from me, she got the message loud and clear...ahhh teenagers!