Saturday, May 18, 2013

And then there was Thursday...

Remember Janet – the Maasai woman in the village of Ikiloret in the Rift Valley, with whom I co-teach English in her village….well, after trying to track her down for nearly a month…we had concrete plans to visit her in Ilkiloret on Thursday. I made plans with a taxi driver to meet me in Ngong and then we would stop for Grace and John at the farm in Kimuga. I needed to pick cash at the ATM in Ngong. (This ATM only works one in three times that I try to use it. So of course this time being only the second try out of three this week it didn’t work. Supposedly the network was down). So I bought a few groceries and diapers for Janet and went to meet the taxi driver. We talked briefly about how going to Ilkiloret is always an adventure so one can never make plans for the rest of the day because one never knows what will happen or when you will return. That was foreshadowing of what would be a very
interesting day.

We picked up Grace and John a little after 10 am. Grace need to stop at Kimuga Secondary School which is about a mile from their house on the road to Ilkiloret to drop off a check from a donor. The principal wasn’t in but the deputy principal was. Grace explained what she needed and it still took nearly 15 minutes for us to get a receipt.

I’m not sure if I reported this or not… Janet was nominated to be the MP (Member of Parliament for Disabled People)! She also had a baby boy named Evans on April 23. If that date sounds familiar, it’s because that is MY birth date! This is a lot of change for the better in Janet’s life!

But that also means a lot of change in Wezesha By Grace’s ministry. Without Janet, or another interpreter, there is no need for me to go to Ilkiloret. We are praying that we find someone to fill Janet’s rather large shoes in her community. Preferably a woman as we would like to continue the legacy she started of women’s leadership in the Maasai community.

After our detour to Kimuga Secondary we were back on our journey. There has been a lot of rain in the Rift Valley this rainy season, so the “road” is horrible! We are hoping that Janet’s being an MP will shine some light on this forgotten region of the country. I use the word “forgotten” because if you look on maps of Kenya, the road to Ilkiloret and beyond is paved! It was supposed to be paved 10 years ago, but I’m guessing either the project was never funded or the money was eaten along the way!

People are buying up this harsh, thorn-ridden; semi-arid land like it was gold. As soon as the road is paved prices will skyrocket. 

This is the yard outside the school building in Ilkiloret after months of heavy rains. This is a semi-arid region!

The drive that used to take an hour and a half, now takes a good 2 hours. We are dusty and hot when we arrive. I greet the Maasai women who are outside Janet’s manyatta and her father, the former chief. And then I go into Janet’s manyatta. 

Janet feeding Evans in her manyatta.

It takes a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the dark. They had done some renovations to the Manyatta and moved a few of the walls back so that Janet has her own room. I hear Evans crying and hold him for a moment after greeting Janet. He’s tiny! He’s all of two weeks old and 2.5 kilos. I’m so used to my 6.6 kilo Baby Tamara - Evans feels weightless!

Grace doesn't have huge hands...Evans is just that tiny!

Grace comes in and we begin to talk about Evans and her days in parliament and what it’s been like there. Janet is a private person. Neither Grace nor I knew she was pregnant.

In that half light of the manyatta I thought about the three cultures seated there together: Janet, the Maasai; Grace, the Kikuyu; and me, the American. I thought about the rarity of this combination of women working together. I thought about how much cross-cultural learning went into every one of our meetings. Even though Janet and Grace are both Kenyans, their cultures are vastly different. Grace has spent most of her working life with Maasai. Janet’s father considers Grace, Janet’s other
mother. “When she’s there (Nairobi), she is yours.” He says. “Watch over her and let me know how she’s doing.”

No matter how old we get or how lofty our positions in life, as long as our parents are alive, we never stop being their children.

We are served tea by Janet’s real mother, whose name still escapes me…I have always just called her mom. A while later she comes and tells us to move to the mabati house next door because we will be served lunch and the chief wants to meet with John and Grace and Janet.

We eat a lunch of beans and potatoes and chapati. (You know you are part of a Maasai family when you visit and they don’t cook you meat. They don’t have to impress you. You are one of them. Their everyday food is good enough for you!) It was delicious! Then I went outside and sat under a tree with Joyce, a Maasai woman with a 7th grade education whose English is good enough that we can communicate. She was using the beads from a necklace that broke to remake it. I asked her if she’d
make me one. She said yes. So I will buy the beads and design a pattern that I like and leave it at a certain supermarket in Ngong and she will send someone to pick it. Postal service – Maasai style!

A man whom I had met earlier that day drove up on a motorcycle. I asked Joyce if he’d take me to the school where Rebecca [the young Maasai women with whom I stay when I teach in Ikiloret] was attending a meeting.  This man never had a formal education but had picked up a bit of English. He was very interested to hear when adult classes would start again because he wanted to attend!

Rebecca and I walked back to her house together. I have a box full of my “Ilkiloret clothes and toiletries” that I keep at her house. I used to have a bed there too, but it was Grace’s and she needed it so she took it back. And now with Baby T at home and Milly back in school, I’m not able to spend the night in Ilkiloret even if I resume teaching there. Milly goes to school from 7 to 11 am every morning, so I am on grandma duty during that time most days.

After Grace and John’s meeting with the chief, we start the slow process of saying goodbye. Once we say we are leaving it takes between 15 to 25 minutes to actually leave! We get in the car, plus one, an electrician from Kiserian who had come to fix an aerial on a house nearby. If you’re wondering how you can run a television without power…you can. It’s called either solar or a car battery! But a good aerial is key!

Now it is really a good thing that we have this young man with us, because we stop before the big hill out of Ilkiloret to get a bag of charcoal, which he ends up carrying to the car. (They make charcoal in this area). We have to dismount 5 times from the car climbing out of the Rift Valley because of the steep and rocky hills and the car bottom will scrap when it is weighed down.

Grace got a call on our way back to Kimuga, that two big planes had landed in her neighbor’s field. So we went rushing home to see what was happening. 

Giraffes are just part of the landscape in this part of Kenya.

As we neared Grace’s house we saw a giraffe 30 feet from the road. The children on their way home from school walked by it as if it was no big deal. As we were taking pictures of the giraffe we heard the whirring of a jet engine, so we continued on past Grace’s house and found two giant Kenyan Army helicopters in her neighbor’s field. We ran back into the field and stood along the fence to watch them. The first one lifted off and flew over our heads. The second one lifted off and flew in the opposite direction. Then a few seconds later the one which had taken off first came back and flew over us again after the other one. I’m sure it was just some sort of training exercise but it was a pretty spectacular site for this small village! 

Kenyan Army Pilots take a break in a field in Kimuga village.
The second helicopter in the field had a cargo bay.

Grace gave me a two-liter coke bottle filled with milk from Maasai land as we were leaving her house. Maasai milk smells smokey! So I boiled it and Milly and I each had a cup of fresh smokey milk while I made dinner!

So that was my Thursday. What did you do?

Update: A man who used to teach adult education in Ilkiloret has agreed to take Janet’s place and teach classes. Grace and I will meet with him and the district adult education coordinator next Wednesday to see the way forward. God answers prayer!