Friday, March 16, 2012


Peris is a 50-something grandmother who comes to class occasionally. I like her because she tries very hard and can laugh at herself. On Thursday, we were doing math and Janet called me over and said Peris needed to learn how to count to 10 and could I help her. I didn’t think it would be too difficult because women who are illiterate tend to be able to memorize things quite quickly.

Peris grasped the numbers 1-5 quickly, 6-7-8 were beyond her abilities though. Whenever she couldn’t remember a number she would say eleven. I showed her where the number 11 would go if we kept counting and said eleven aa (aa means no). But no matter what strategy I tried the go-to number was eleven. We made it through 1-10 once but I think that was a fluke, because the next time we tried we got 9 instead of 7 and 11 instead of 9. That was after 30 minutes of practice.

She did however always remember the number 10, which I guess goes to show it doesn’t really make any difference how you get to 10 as long as you get there. I’m sure when we begin to count up to 20, eleven will still give us problems but at least it will be in the ballpark.

Wind, Dust, Damage

When I arrived on Wednesday I saw that the roof had blown off the building where the hay is stored. Rebeka said it had happened on Tuesday night. She said it made a lot of noise and scared everyone. It looked like some of the materials could be reused, but it would definitely have to be re-inforced this time.

Roof Wreckage.

More roof wreckage.

That big hill the roof landed on is an anthill. Imagine your surprise had you been an ant in that hill when the roof came crashing down!

Hay Shed sans roof.

Speaking of materials being reused. Nothing goes to waste in Ilkiloret. A Masai man whose home was torn down in Embakasi came back to his family home in Ilkiloret and was able to piece together a home for himself and his family from the leftover pieces of mabati and boards from the construction of the classroom. We got rid of the pile of building supplies in our compound and a family got a new home.

The spare part house.

Besides the 40-minute downpour a few weeks ago, Ilkiloret has been without rain and the dust storms come out of nowhere every time the wind picks up. The picture below is what they look like. They look ominous from far away, but when one is upon you and you have nowhere to take cover, they can be dangerous not just make you really dirty!

The Quest

Anika, the Give Us Wings representative and I are going back to the US within a month of one another and are both bringing back jewelry from Ilkiloret to sell. This week I picked jewelry for Anika to take back. One of the women who makes very nice jewelry didn’t come to class so I went to her boma (homestead) to look for her. It was supposed to be a simple quest as Rebeka was going to accompany me, but we got our wires crossed and I lost her in the bush, so I decided I would go by myself.

Lorna’s families boma is behind the local primary school. I ran into Lorna going to fetch water near the school grounds. She asked one of the young boys to come interpret for us. We went back to her manyatta and she started to make tea, which I declined because it was getting late and she still needed to fetch water. I looked at her jewelry, picked what I thought would sell. She makes bottle openers from a stick with a screw in it and beads the handle. They actually work! I’m bringing some home to sell. We walked back toward the school where she had left her jeri-can.

Then I met up with some other learners who were walking toward the classroom and walked with them a little ways.
Then they walked off toward the reservoir and I walked toward the MIDI sign way off in the distance.

I saw Rebeka’s black t-shirt and red and yellow leso in the distance and walked toward her. She was talking with another woman and then we started walking home. On the way home she told me that Lorna was her step-sister. Her father had 4 wives and 27 children. The first and second wives had 10 children each. Rebeka is the daughter of the second wife. She has eight brothers and one sister! The third wife had four children and the fourth wife had three children. We had this conversation in three languages!

I went to visit Janet and bring the jewelry I had collected from Lorna. Janet is recording what I’m taking and I will bring money to pay the women from Anika next week. Janet’s mother was making tea, and insisted I stay for tea. Janet asked me to come on April 23rd. I asked why on the 23rd, she said she would tell me later. I asked her if she had found a husband for me and that’s when I was supposed to meet him. She just laughed and said no. April 23rd is my birthday so that would be a good present.

Kidding people!

I forgot to take pictures of the jewelry but will do it when I lay it all out for Anika next week and insert those photos in this blog. Mea Culpa!

Ilkiloret Daycare

Hanna and her baby girl.

Most of the women learners in my class have children, many of them have young children, which means babies in class. They usually sit on their mother’s laps or on the floor.

This week Hanna’s daughter fell asleep and Hanna got creative and made a little bed for her on an overturned table.

Another little girls mother was sitting under the tree outside after class making beads and her daughter used the bead bag as a pillow.

Who needs playpens and sleeping mats…

Pikipiki Fashion

Njenga my pikipiki (motorcycle taxi) driver is 23. I know this because I asked his age, but also because of his behavior and sense fashion.

This week when he arrived I asked him if he had heard of the song “YMCA” by Men At Work, because I was fairly certain if they did a revival and he auditioned he’d be a shoe in! He arrived clad in a bright blue hard hat. Now when he bought his new motorcycle it came with a helmet, which he refuses to wear because his head gets too hot. I guess scarves wrapped around ones head like a turban and shawls wrapped around ones head like a shiek breath more than a helmet. However, I can’t really see the point of a hard hat…it would fall off long before he hit the ground and even if it stayed on he could tear off an ear if he hit the wrong way.

We do cut a fetching image, he in his blue hard hat and me in my dust colored scarf, and lets not forget the red Obama bag attached to the back of the bike.

This week he arrived 2 hours late because Grace had called him and told him our meeting scheduled for that afternoon had been canceled. He said he came later because now I didn’t need to hurry back to the meeting. Never mind that the time he was supposed to pick is the time he picks me every week. He also has a short attention span… last week I told him to pick 80 shillings worth of sukuma and 60 shillings each of onions and tomatoes. He came with potatoes instead of onions…never mind that I always buy onions and tomatoes to take to Ilkiloret. I have never taken potatoes.

I often wonder what life would be like if we all lived in our own little worlds… I get a glimpse ever so often by getting caught up in “the world according to Njenga.” Which isn’t such a bad place to live as long as you don’t have your own agenda, and as long as you have headgear that can rival his.

Another view of the rocky road we travel!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Learning and Teaching Masai

The learners in my class get pretty excited when I learn new words and phrases in Masai. And since most of the learners in the class are not able to read and write in Masai we have started teaching them to read and write Masai in conjunction with English and Kiswahili.

I can now tell people I am going to Ngong - "Nilo Ngong" and that I drink milk - "Aok kule".

The learners can read those words in Masai and know what I am saying when I say it in English. It's fun to be both the teacher and the learner!

Here are a few pictures from class...I try not to get into learners faces with my camera too often...
Eunice copies the Masai words and the English translation into her notebook.

Mary brings her son to class...he's not very fond of me yet, but I'm working on him! Most of the learners carry their folders in plastic bags. A group of woman at First Presbyterian Church has offered to make them bags! Can't wait to see the learners faces when they see them!

Mary prepares to head home, loading her sleeping baby boy on her back.

Kenya Through A Keyhole: Oasis

I’ve shown you lots of images of Ilkiloret with thorns and sand, but after I went to the network tree last week, I looked up and saw what could only be light shimmering off water. So I walked off in the direction of the oasis to see if I could get some pictures of something other than dust. There are lots of man-made reservoirs in the rift valley and a few that are were formed naturally. It was the time of the day that made these pictures so otherworldly – just before dusk.

As I walked up to the water, the scene took my breath away. There were no animals there when I arrived, no people even - just peaceful water. I heard some one chopping with a panga and looked up – there was a speck in the distance someone chopping down a tree for firewood. Their hand went up, so I waved, we were too far away to greet one another. I wandered around the edge of the oasis with my camera.

Then in the distance I saw a line of cows making their way single file toward the water. I waited for them.

Bottoms up!

I don’t think they felt the same reverence for this oasis I did, but they were fed by it too. God fed my soul and their thirst with the same water. A twofer! Go God!

Kenya Through A Keyhole: Riding with Njenga

A friend said he would like to see more of what my life and my environment is like. So here is the first installment of “Kenya through the Keyhole.”

Riding with Njenga

Most people commute to work by car or bus or train or on their own motorcycle through loads of traffic and get to work with a stress headache and caffeine stains on their expensive suits.

I ride to work on the back of a motorcycle in jeans that are covered in dust by the time I reach my destination. My view is of the Ngong and Magadi Hills.

The obstacles to the journey are livestock, wild animals and rocks. I arrive at work with a feeling of peace for having ridden through a wild, stark, stunningly beautiful landscape with only my thoughts and prayers to keep me company. And of course Njenga mumbling every so often… “this is not a road!”

This week I took a photo of our shadow as we drove along. The shadow behind me on the bike is a big plastic shopping bag that I carry food and school materials in. It has photos of President Obama on it. It’s kind of like my bummer sticker!

TV Anyone?

For someone who doesn’t spend much time watching TV its amazing what I’ve gone through to get my second-hand 14 inch TV to work.

(An interesting aside: out of curiosity I measured my TV screen and it is exactly the same size as my computer screen).

The reason for needing a TV is that when my kids are home from boarding school they use my computer to watch movies, which means I can’t work when they’re home. Solution: Buy a cheap TV and DVD player and have child-free work time!

When I first moved in the “electrician” who was here said he could install my TV antenna. He worked on wiring it for three hours and then said he would come back tomorrow to put it up. He came back with the caretaker the next day. They attached the antenna to my balcony and when it didn’t work they told me I needed a booster. So I bought a booster, he put it on and I still didn’t have reception. He said he would be back and never turned up again. I mentioned this to Sam, the landlord’s son, he said he could fix it. After two weeks of starts and stops with Sam, yesterday he showed up with his cousin, Alex, who is a professional (which means I had to pay him labor). He fixed it in about an hour without using the booster! I can’t return the booster, I tried that last week when Sam told me that it was a knock-off. So Sam said we could go back to the shop together and trade it for something I needed. I can’t think of a thing I need at an electrical shop, but we'll have a go anyway.

So now there is a wire that goes through a window on my 2nd floor balcony and up to my antenna that Sam mounted on the roof. Progress?

I get great reception on about 4 channels and a couple where it's iffy and then another two that are pretty snowy, but the sound is good. Yeap, that's progress!

TIA (This is Africa). I have long since given up my American standards for professionalism, time efficiency and quality of work. There’s nothing I can do about it so why blow a gasket. Besides, then I’d just have to find someone to fix said gasket.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Big Meeting

A new classroom in Ilkiloret has all kinds of implications. One of them is that we can use this time as a jumping off point to go in a new direction. Now that the district literacy officer is involved and we have access to more materials, it was time to get more learner input. What do you want to learn, when do you want to learn it, what are your concerns or suggestions about how we should proceed?

After being told many times that there would be many people in attendance, exactly 10 showed up. They however were very helpful. Only a few of them can read and write in Kimasai. The district literacy officer gave us some literacy books in Kimasai. And the learners wanted to use them. So we will use the lessons from those books to also teach Kiswahili and English. It will be a lot more work for Janet and I but hopefully hearing the same lessons over and over again will help them retain the vocabulary in the different languages. The meeting was so good in fact that at one point the learners erupted in spontaneous applause.

We also discussed pricing and quality control of the beaded jewelry the women make. Anika will take some to the states with her for the Give Us Wings Silent Auction in April and I will take some with me in May to sell to help support the literacy program.

The women discuss the pricing of jewelery.

I am also trying very hard to learn a little Kimasai. The next day I was leaving class early and said over my shoulder as way of explanation, “Alo Ngong.” Which exactly translated means, “Go Ngong.” So I’m not fluent quite yet, but everybody understood what I meant. Feels good to be able to communicate…even if it is baby talk!

Weather, Wild animals and one friendly cow!

Omondi went back to school on Monday and Judie went back to school on Tuesday and I went back to work on Wednesday. Njenga my pikipiki driver came and picked me up as usual. I had to make a quick stop at the cyber so we were a little late getting started on our journey…but if we had been on time I would have missed my close encounter with some very majestic giraffes.

Male giraffe on the left side of the road.

At one point there were giraffes on either side of us on the road, but we stopped and the females crossed to road to the side the male was on.

This giraffe, I'll call her Curious Georgette, stopped to check us out.

Then Georgette rushed across the road to join her friends.

Just before we got to the small town of Sakeri, Njenga said "Giraffes!" I peered around his shoulder and sure enough a hundred yards ahead of us on the side of the road were 8 giraffes. The male was on the left side of the road and the females were on the right. We got close enough to photograph them. (I wear my camera on my belt just for these kinds of photographic emergencies.) And then all the females paraded across the road in front of us. It was magical. After chameleons, giraffes are my favorite animals and seeing them every so often without a barrier between us is thrilling! They are graceful gentle giants. I love being in their presence.

As we got closer to Ilkiloret we could see that they had significant rainfall in the area recently. Even before class started there was thunder in the distance.

By early afternoon as Rebecca and James worked on their new mayatta, the sky darkened and the thunder intensified.

At about 2:45 the skies opened up and dumped rain on us for about 40 minutes. Non-stop cats and dogs with even some hail thrown in for good measure.

For Ilkiloret this kind of water all at once is epic. The bad news is that the addition to James and Rebecca’s home where I stay leaks.We had to move all my things in a rush.

The new part of the house hasn't yet been cemented and the roof leaked over my bed so we had to remove the mattress. Three kids, my mattress, and Rebeka and and I sat on her bed while the storm raged outside.

The good news is that the classroom building doesn’t leak! There are some run-off issues around the building that will have to be addressed, but the building weathered the storm perfectly! Janet had been waiting for me to come and was inside the classroom during the storm and said not a drop of rain entered!

I walked out to the network tree later in the evening to survey the damage and call Njenga to see if it had rained in Ngong. The thorn tree next to the network tree has fairly decent reception.

Rebeka told me to wear flip-flops instead of my canvas shoes. I’m glad I did because I ended up walking in the small river that had formed in order to not get my feet stuck in the mud.

My feet and legs were full of mud.

One just has to pray that one doesn’t get some kind of worms because of walking in this water. There are cows everywhere and cow business (if you get my drift) everywhere, so the water is contaminated with all kinds of good stuff. I try not to think about the nastiness of it all and instead dwell on how much fun mud can be.

For those of you who have been to Ilkiloret, this is the dusty path that leads from the main road back to the adult education classroom. Forty minutes of rain and there is a river in place of the path.

We had ugali and sukuma and potatoes for dinner. Rebecca sat outside and peeled and cut up the veggies. One donkey and one cow in particular were very interested. The cow was extremely friendly and after she kissed my camera lens with she posed for a photo.

Best cow photo I’ve ever taken by far! I have to find out her name from James so I can title the photo appropriately.

I decided to leave Ilkiloret a bit early to avoid any more weather that might be on the way. I made another trip to the network tree in the morning to call Njenga to tell him to come at 11am instead of 1 pm. At 11am I was at the road – Njenga was no where to be seen so I decided to start walking. An hour and a half later, I got to the place where there is regular network coverage. I called Njenga he was only a few minutes away from where I was. He had gotten a puncture and had to repair it on the way. When we got back to Ngong I stopped at the post office to see if my license had arrived. There was a parcel slip in my box so I was pretty sure it had arrived, but I didn’t have ID with me so we were forced to go back to my house to pick it so I could get my ID. Another exercise in futility! But I am now the proud owner of a Kenyan driver's license!

Positively Presbyterian

Saturday, February 25, the church I attend in Ngong, PCEA Enchorro Emuny had a walk to raise money for a manse for the pastor.

The majority of Kenyan’s are not particularly physically fit, so watching them warm-up for the walk was a bit comical. But everyone was in good spirits and we all had a lot of fun.

Members of PCEA Enchorro Emuny Church, warm-up their muscles for the 12K walk to raise funds for a manse.

The PCEA Enchorro Emuny Primary School Band started us off.

We marched behind them through town. We all church T-shirts on. It was very festive.
Omondi is the one with the orange baseball cap on sideways...always the rebel!

I had bought Omondi sport shoes for school the day before in the market, but when he took them out of the bag on Saturday morning we discovered they had given us two left shoes. So we had to take a detour from the festive part of the march to go to the market and exchange the second left shoe. We took a short cut to meet up with the group, but ended up at the back of the pack, so we had to walk and job to get back in the middle of pack. Omondi spent the time dashing to and fro with his friends. Judie stayed with me for the duration.

Judie warming up for the walk.

It was a beautiful day to walk, but windy and dusty, and no real oasis in site, contrary to this sign.

Omondi’s behavior went down hill all day. We went to see the child psychologist on Saturday afternoon and she managed to calm him down a bit. We still have a lot of work to do to get rid of all the demons he carries around, but we’ve made a start.

New Apartment!

I’ve only ever lived on my own in Kenya one other time. I wish I could find those pictures. This is definitely a big step up! My last apartment was one room with a shared toilet in the hallway. I cooked on a camp stove. I had a bed, a bookshelf and a plastic tiered contraption to keep my food and cooking supplies on.
This apartment has three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a kitchen with a refrigerator and a stove. A balcony on the front and a small one attached to the kitchen with a laundry sink on it. Big change!

My bedroom in the new apartment. It has it's own bathroom and built-in closets. Finally some storage space for all the suitcases!

There are no appliances in apartments when you buy them here. I got lucky. I bought my stove from a friend who sold it to me cheap and I bought the refrigerator from a pawn shop! I love to cook! I'm so glad to have a adequate kitchen to do it in!

The living/dining room has windows across the front of it. I still don't have curtains... am hoping for some soon!!!

The one thing I appreciated about my little room. It was a whole lot easier to clean!

On moving day – Sunday, Feb. 19 at 4pm, I called the man whose pickup I have used in the past to take small loads to Ilkiloret. Dan and his partner were extremely efficient! They took my bed apart and got all my things out of Grace’s house in one load. The new apartment is lovely and very secure! Which was my first concern. I wanted a place I would feel safe. The house was however filthy and needed lots of minor plumbing and electrical work done. So the next few evening were spent with men working on various things in the apartment.

My life packed up and awaiting the movers in Grace's living room.

Having a space of my own has been such a blessing already. It feels so good to have roots and privacy and a place to call home!

I moved in on a Sunday and my kids came home for mid-term the following Thursday for five days. Lots of upheaval for children who have grown up as orphans is not a recipe for a peaceful vacation from school. So even though it was good upheaval it still made for some unforeseen bumps. Out of the five days only one was a complete disaster! But by the end of the day things were heading back in the right direction.