Tomorrow, the founder of Koins for Kenya, Bret Van Leeuwen, will be honored at a Red Cross Heroes luncheon. Here is a video spotlighting Bret and the work Koins is doing in Kenya.
While Bret is the face of Koins for Kenya, there are many who spend countless hours and sharpen their talents doing Koins work. We salute you all.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Sunday, April 24, 2011
We have a newsletter to share with you! There has been a lot going on in the past several months, and this newsletter covers a lot of that information. Projects, expeditions, scholarship programs, new programs and fundraising ideas. Read all about it, and if you know of someone who might be interested in what Koins is doing, send them a link.
And a big thanks to Becca, our BYU intern, who helped us put this newsletter together and take care of some of the technological issues of getting it published.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
|The Wasuita's and their first patient, Joseph Shanga|
Dr. Michael Wasuita and his wife Betty were the 1st dentist team to visit and do humanitarian denistry in Mnyenzeni and Bofu as a part of the Koins for Kenya Foundation.
|Line of patients waiting to see the dentist|
It was a very educational and rewarding experience. The part of the opportunity that appealed to us was that we would be able to alleviate some serious discomfort for people who didn't have too many options other than endure the pain. Our first patient had a dangling fractured front tooth he had dealt with for two months. He could hardly eat anything for fear of the pain. We were able to see 65 patients and extract 50 teeth. It was essential to have the help of several people to explain the procedures, especially nurse Naomi Price. We did learn a few Swahili words but we couldn't have provided the service we did without the help of interpreters.The people were very accepting of us and welcomed us. Some had a fear of the needle used to administer the anesthetic and wouldn't let us treat them. Some had problems that needed a drill for back up which we did not have.
|Dr. Wasuita and a patient in makeshift dental office|
Two things that surprised us in Africa were the garbage that laid around and was ignored, mostly in Mombasa and that so many people in Mnyenzeni had cell phones that lived in mud huts with dirt floors. We were very impressed with the character of the Kenyans. They seemed to have a deep but humble pride about themselves. We didn't see one tear during all those extractions.
We enjoyed the children, their singing and dancing,their happy and joyful attitudes so happy but yet so primitive. We saw a school yard full of children playing soccer with a ball made out of wound up string. We felt very rewarded for the time we spent there and wouldn't hesitate to do it again.
Mike and Betty Wasuita
We know the villagers of the Koins service area appreciated the simple dental work the Wasuita's provided. In an area where there are no dentists, you can only imagine the relief having a painful broken tooth pulled would provide.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Steve Q. is Jami's husband, Jami is on the board for Koins for Kenya, serving as our Expedition Leader. This is Steve's first trip to Kenya. He is accompanied by his son, Ted, who is working on an Eagle project while he is there. Although this is a long entry, it is beautifully written and well worth your time.
March 21, 2011 (Amsterdam, Monday)
It has been an amazingly smooth and uneventful flight so far. We left Salt Lake City on Sunday morning, flew to Chicago in a small plane. Had a 1.5 hour layover, no problems, then boarded our KLM 747 to fly to Amsterdam. Lots of room on that big jet, and the flight was not full. It was a nice plane, with full games and movies to keep Ted occupied. I had a nice window seat (which I prefer when I am going to sleep on a flight). I put on my eye shades, my ear plugs, my neck brace, took an Ambien and I was out like a light, waking up an hour or less before we touched down. Perfect! The wonder of Ambien.
When we flew over the North Sea, there was a very low and thick cloud layer. It was clear where we were, and you could see for so far. England was on one side of the Channel, and the Continent on the other. You could imagine fighters dogfighting here during WWII. It was really cool when we descended through the clouds.
The past few days have been a whirlwind. Trying to get all my work done (pretty much did that). Helping Grace get some paper done (until late night Friday and Saturday). Watching BYU in the first couple of rounds at the NCAA tournament. BYU won twice to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in 30 years. I will miss the next 2 rounds, but that is okay. Packing until 1:00 am, only to realize the next morning that I had packed 5 bags instead of the allowed 4. Oops!!! But we eventually got it together. My only hope now is that all 4 of our bags (filled with medical supplies, teaching materials, and our personal stuff) makes it here, through numerous transfers.
On our flight from Chicago to Amsterdam, we sat in front at these 3 people in their late 20's. One was from England, and worked for Cisco Systems in Amsterdam (he was American) and one was a Romanian from Chicago who owned a business in Romania and went to school in the US. The other was a young British guy who works in Chicago for a British company. Such an example at what a small world it is, how interlocked our economic interests are.
Ted is doing great! Happy, easy, low-maintenance. He is the perfect travel partner. I am so glad to be doing this with him.
Jami was full of last-minute instructions as we drove to the airport. I hope I can remember everything! I am trying to stay focused on my class, my seminar. I hope I can pace it right. I hope I can speak slowly and clearly. I also need to say some words at the microscope ceremony, and remember to mention Charo who died when Jami was here in August.
Africa. Haven’t been to this continent since 1996, I believe. 15 years ago. 15 eventful years. It feels right to be here. I have a lot cooking at work, but there is never really a good time. There is a freedom of letting go, and just letting things just happen over in the US, not worrying about business, or my overhead payments, or Daniel’s basketball, or the kids schooling or marriages. I will clear my mind of these things, and make the most of this amazing opportunity.
Nairobi Airport, Monday night
As I flew over Africa (from Egypt to Nairobi) what strikes me is the absence of electric lights on the ground as I look out my window - no ribbons of roads, no towns gleaming like jewels. Total darkness. The “dark” continent, they used to say. From the ultra-modern airport in Amsterdam to Nairobi airport is like traveling back in time. As you de-plane, the jet-ways are not the new collapsible kind, they have fiberglass walls and aged carpet. No advertising. Everything is pretty old, with a sprinkling of new technology, like scanners and computers, here and there. But the building infrastructure is really bad. Asbestos floor tiles. Drywall nailed up without tape, texture or paint. Chairs that look like they were torn from airports in the western world in the 60's and 70's and brought here. The concrete work looks like it was all done by hand. Smell of toilet and BO everywhere.
Yet, there is a lightness and happy quality of the people. Everyone we have dealt with has been competent and friendly, no bribe attempts. One guy tried to “help” us with our luggage in a very pushy fashion, but that happened to me in Italy, so it is certainly not an African thing. The Nairobi news on television is full of editorial and economic and trade news (which I am watching on a small flat screen which looks out of place in this run-down airport).
Ted is exhausted. He barely slept on any of the flights. Perhaps 2-3 hours on the way to Nairobi.
We meet up with the people we are visiting with in Nairobi, Mike and Better Wasuta. They seem tired and nice. He is a dentist, and they are from Utah, up near Ogden.
March 22, 2011 (Mnyenzeni, Tuesday)
I am sitting in front of the KCC (the Koins Community Center, where we eat and sleep), watching school kids walk by in their pink and blue uniforms. They stop by and stare at me every once in a while. Some of the girls carry their books on their heads. It is almost 6:00 pm . The sun is setting. The cooks are cooking. The dusty warm wind is blowing. So many smiles. Noisy, too.
This is a busy place. There is a kitchen where several people are working on dinner. There are lots of other people coming and going, doing their business (usually associated with Anthony Yama in some way; he is the Koins director over here).
We arrived in Mombassa around midnight. A really old airport. We managed to get all of our bags and hooked up with the Koins people. They drive us through the darkness and chaos of Mombassa. Strange smells - open sewer, burning garbage. Very hot and humid. We are so tired.
As I write, there are about 15 little kids over to my left trying to get my attention, calling “jambo, jambo” which means hello in Kiswahili. They are very cute and persistent.
We got to our hotel. It was very nice and had air conditioning. Ahh... We basically just got to bed. I had a hard time sleeping. First, a headache, then a stomach ache. I was thinking about taking an Ambien, but think it was too late. I don’t know how long I lay there, thinking about Africa, thinking about home, hoping it would all turn out well. Ted fell immediately asleep.
Woke up as the bright sun burned through a crack in the curtains. Very bright, equatorial sun. Got Ted up and we went to breakfast. Found Kendy there and we ate our breakfast with her. Eggs, pancakes, fresh fruit. Then we walked along the beach, the beautiful white sand, the Indian Ocean. But soon we attracted a bunch of young men, all who wanted to sell us stuff. That got old quick.
So we packed up (after watching, of all things, “September Issue”), and drove to town. We picked up lab supplies and went to a money exchanger. Mombasa is a sprawling third-world mess. Garbage everywhere, people everywhere. Cars driving, crazily (on the left, British style). A lot of non-functioning and old infrastructure. Stop lights that don’t work. Rutted roads. Old buildings. I saw this sign on a concrete wall that said “no dumping”. Right above a pile of garbage, five feet high. Burning garbage all over. Not a feeling of danger, just a feeling that change will come slowly. So many people just sitting around, too. I wonder what the unemployment rate is?
After that, we drove out of town, toward Mnyenzeni. We stopped by an AIDS clinic on the way, where I provided AIDS supplements from Mike Eisinger’s company, for trials. I hope it works out.
Then we drove along this long, dirt road (maybe 11 kilometers) to the village. It was hot and dusty. It was nice to arrive and be warmly greeted. We met many people, and I can’t remember all their names. It was so good to see Anthony again. So nice to feel his hug.
Ted and I went for a walk down to where the river would run, if it were not so dry. There are so many children here. They always follow along, just far enough to feel safe from the white visitors, but not in any way trying to hide. They just can’t help themselves. Later, Ted and I played football with several of them and that was fun. They absolutely did not get it, but it was fun.
Ted got a tour of the shop where he is going to work for the next ten days. We saw the “shower” - a wood frame with plastic bags nailed (pretty much) around it. You use a bucket of cold water and just do the best you can. Saw the toilet, which looked great until a frog crawled out from under the rim while I was using it. I didn’t have heart to flush ... These showers will be interesting. Everything is so . . . intimate here. You sleep, eat and shower in close proximity with everyone.
There is a monkey here, in a cage, but no other “wild” animals. Dogs and cats seem scarce, too (have not seen one). We saw a monkey at the restaurant in Mombasa.
It is really cooling down a lot, now that the sun is down. The sun looks amazing as it is setting. Big and orange.
So tomorrow is the big seminar. I hope I can pull this off. I hope I can communicate well. I hope I can be full of love. So many questions. Will they enjoy the materials? Most important: will it make a difference?
Oh, last thing to remember - I saw this kid, 5-6 years old, and he was happily playing with 2 toys - a stick and a crushed 2 liter plastic bottle. Biggest smile on his face. It is a different world here.
March 23, 2011 (Myenzeni, Wednesday)
I must have been very tired, as I fell asleep around 6:00 only to wake up around 8:30. Dinner was over. Swahili lessons were over.
Last night I didn’t sleep very well. Had a hard time falling asleep, and waking up several times. I think it was mostly because of the heat. It is very humid and the night time temperature was at least in the 80's. We are in a cinder block building with no air conditioning, really bad air circulation. There are 4-5 of us in a big room - Ted, me, Buffalo, Chakaya, Anthony and a couple of other people. I had to go to the unlit bathroom and scared the”guard” who walks around with a bow and arrow. Later I learned he dips the tips in some organ of some kind of wild animal and the arrows are supposedly pretty deadly. That will discourage nocturnal bathroom visits.
I got up and was had a breakfast of a peanut butter and plum jelly sandwich. Ted had cereal. After a while, Ted went to work at the shop on his school desks. He is doing this for his Eagle project (along with bringing the medical supplies, etc.). He was mostly cutting and planing wood today, working with some older guys in the shop. He worked hard and was dirty and sweaty at the end of the day. At 9:00 a.m., no one was here for my seminar. By 10:00, there were 2 people here (we were supposed to start at 9:00). At 10:30 there were 9 people here and we started. By the end of the first session. There were perhaps 25 or more people, a respectable number. Today we did early US history, trying to draw out lessons about democracy and good government, about holding leaders accountable, and especially about the power of one individual to make a huge difference (this is the theme of the seminar).The seminar went well, so far. It took a while for people to start asking questions. They are pretty inscrutable, though. I think they liked it. They loved the leadership games. These are games that I took from CLAS in Provo, used to teach teamwork, leadership, and communication. For example, we had a group of 12 or more people holding a rope that was tied into a circle. They had to shut their eyes and form a perfect square with the rope, on the ground. It required communication and teamwork.
After this, I watched Ted work a bit. Then I somehow fell asleep. I feel a lot better now.
I have had no communication with the USA today. I hope all is well.
As you walk around the village, what you notice (see and hear and feel) is the absence of water, its preciousness. The rivers are dry. The water pipe which comes here from somewhere is only filled with water every few days or so. People have to walk further and further to find water. Such a basic and precious commodity. It is hot and dusty (humid, but it still feels dry as far as usable water).
As I sit there, Anthony and Mike Wasuta are arguing about politics. The Wasutas are very conservative. It is kind of funny. Anthony is so passionate, but I am not sure if he is just egging Mike on, or if he really feels so strongly about the US political situation. At the same time, Kendy and Buffalo are discussing the status of women in Kenya. It arose from a request by Buffalo to have Mama Emily get him a glass of water. Kendy said that he could easily do it himself. Buffalo says that women LIKE getting men water, that it makes them happy. Buffalo is comfortable with a very subservient female role, and Kendy is, well, very modern in her sensibilities.
I took my first “bath”here tonight. They have this wood frame with plastic bags (black) stapled to it. Rocks on the floor. You bring a basin of cold water and pour it over yourself. No soap. No shampoo. Cold water (which, with the heat and humidity, is refreshing). No wash cloth. But afterward I feel like a million bucks. It is so hot that even as the cool water runs off your body, you immediately start sweating again.
There are geckos here at night. Silent, pale, big-eyed. There is much of the village that reminds me of Hawaii. Weather, flora, fauna. Pace of life.
It seems a bit cooler. They brought a fan in the sleeping area tonight, and that made a difference.
I think I need to incorporate some geography into my presentation tomorrow. They lack some basic geography. Not just US geography, but world and historical geography.
It feels so good to have that dirt off my skin!!
I talked to Lauren, Jami and Leigh tonight. All seems to be well at home today.
March 24, 2011 (Myenzeni, Tuesday)
I took an Ambien last night, and I slept so good, so deeply. Woke up early but felt back on track, more acclimated. I wonder if this humid weather makes one more tired?
It is night time. Ted has been playing with a group of 10 or so children off and on for the past hour. He was taking flash pictures, which just freaked them out, and delighted them. Then he got this headlight-flashlight, and kept running out there. It is fun to watch. In between, we played Phase 10 (once with Betty joining us) and ate an amazing dinner (a spicy rice dish called Pilau and fresh mango). The diet at this time of year is so very starchy. Noodles, rice, potatoes. Ugali (corn meal paste). Fresh mango and banana. And we drink a lot of water.
I keep getting bit by insects. I hope not by a malarial mosquito.
Today was day 2 of the seminar. We started at 9:30, better than yesterday, but still not on time. We made it through Ronald Reagan and the Cold War. They asked more questions today. The tennis ball game was very effective in our leadership games. It had to do with dividing the work and focusing only your task, and thus being more effective. They definitely get the game-metaphors. I am getting to know the group better and better. I think it is inspiring to them and they are starting to believe in the power of one. The question is: Will they remember after I’m gone?
As I sit here and write, I am dripping with sweat. It is so humid.
After the seminar, Anthony took me to the ceremony for the lab and the microscope. It was pretty neat (but long winded). I loved the dancing and singing, and colorful clothing that the people wear. Reminded me of jazzed-up Native American vibe. Long (boring) speeches. Maybe because they were Kiswahili. Anthony had me give a few words about Charo (who died here when Jami and Leigh visited last summer, under a tree not far from where I write) and need for the lab. It kind of went on and won, but then Anthony took Ted and I to the lab and we got to look at the newest blood tests that the new microscope had been used for, for malaria. We toured the lab and the spot for the new clinic. There were so many people waiting for service. It was kind of pathetic.
I understand that 80 blood tests for malaria were performed this first day. This is such a big deal. Now, when people have certain symptoms (high fever, cramping, etc.), they can have their blood tested, and one can see if they have malaria, and what stage it is in (i.e. how much malaria is in their blood). When necessary, they can get sent to the hospital in Mombasa, and if they don’t have malaria, then valuable and scarce malaria medicine, that might have been provided in an abundance of caution, can be spared for those who really need it.
Then Ted and I took a long walk to Wind Ridge School, in Chikomani. Maybe 1.5 miles each way. You could see a long way in every direction. We walked back through little villages of mud huts, parched, thirsty-looking.
Now we are having more raging discussions about the way women are treated in Kenya, around the table on the patio of the KCC. There are about 6 Africans, and then there is Kendy. I am just observing. The old Chief Tuku and Buffalo kind of supports the “old” ways, women very subservient, actually more like servants when you consider it objectively. Chief Tuku has 3 wives. The men claim that their women like carrying water for mile on their heads, and cooking and cleaning all day under really difficult conditions. Kendy and I presented another view. It was interesting to discuss it. The Africans just can’t imagine (they claim) a world where “women act like men.” After we are done, Anthony comes up to us and tells us that his wife is not the traditional African wife, and in fact is much more of an equal. I love Anthony.
I feel like I am starting to get in the swing of things now. I am over jet lag. I am almost done with my seminar and it has gone well.
Africa is such an interesting place. You kind of get used to the poverty. But you wonder if this place can be fixed. The problems run so deep– they are essentially institutional and almost tradition at this time (like wide-spread corruption). The people get kind of cynical and jaded. But they plod on.
March 25, 2011 (Myenzeni, Friday)
Seen on a drive to Mombassa:
- cresting a hill, looking down to the river (what is left of it), and seeing 15 or so colorfully- dressed women walking, down the hill, with huge water containers on their heads, each with a baby on her back, some carrying additional bags. It is hot (90+ degrees), humid and dusty. They walk 3-5 miles each way.
- the infrastructure is in terrible disrepair, guard rails are twisted and useless, sagging to the ground. Roads are full of pot holes. The few stop lights I see are not working.
- while Anthony is visiting a friend in the hospital, I have a long, wide-ranging conversation with our driver, Omar. He has a wife and 2 children. He is a sweet man, 37 years old. His mother and father died of AIDS. He comes from a family of 12 children. Seven are dead. Several from AIDS. Several in child birth, one from throat cancer for which the family could not afford any treatment and that sister just wasted away. All his grandparents died before he was born. He said knowing your grandparents is extremely rare in Kenya because of life expectancy. Yet he is not bitter, not at all. He looks at the bright side of life. He smiles and laughs easily, he seems hopeful.
-driving by the slums of Mombasa. Poverty so extreme. People curled up under bushes, under a water fountain (dry), on patches of ground. Everyone is so skinny. If you are sick, you have no place to go. You will die.
-man driving motorcycle with an impossibly large load of logs on the back, loaded perpendicularly, sticking out 3 feet or so to each side.
- resourceful businesses everywhere. People sell everything – pieces of scrap, pieces of vehicles and motors, nasty old fruit and shoes and clothing and anything under the sun. These people would pick through our landfill and think they had hit the jack pot. We throw away so much that would be treasured here. I wonder how the slums operate. No water. No bathrooms. No power. Nothing. Just 4 walls, perhaps a roof. So many people. Disease, poverty and ignorance must all rule the day in the slums. Desperation. Hopelessness?
- driving through some smaller villages, near Mnyenzeni. I see some kids playing soccer. Their ball looks to be some rags put into a soft and taped together. They play happily. Nearby are baby children, seated on the dirt, naked. The parents are sitting on crates or pieces of wood, in front of mud huts. They look at us languidly, but not unfriendly. We must be quite a sight, two white people driving by where few are seen. I would like to sit down and talk to them and get to know them.
But the Nakumat market was amazing, clean, well-stocked with anything you could want to buy. - food, drink, medicines, newspapers, appliances, clothes. Just a step outside was poverty. Even saw some white people at the store!
Today was the last day of my seminar. I slept great last night. No Ambien. Woke up close to 7. Had time to review my notes, ate breakfast, Chapati and peanut butter and honey. Their honey is horrible. People started filtering in. We started around 9:30. We did the “magic carpet” game, which was about taking a new direction, and doing things differently. We talked about charity and had a great discussion about the common good. We talked about Dead Aid, empowerment vs. dependency, Africa’s problems and how to solve them. Then we discussed and reviewed the new Kenyan Constitution. We had a wonderful discussion. It was the best part of the seminar. For some, they realized for the first time how great their Constitution is. For others, they had visions of what could be, a land of justice and equity. And it COULD. It is truly up to them.
Kendy just cracks me up. She jumped into our discussion about how the Kenyan Constitution limits marriage for a man and a woman. She talked about gay marriage, how it is such a big issue in the US. The Kenyans just laughed. They could not comprehend the concept of a man marrying a man. It did not compute!! Then later, on a break, she was explaining to another guy about what a sex-change operation is, what a transvestite is. It was so funny to see the look of incredulity on his face.
Overall, the seminar was fun and met my expectations. I think it kindled something in some people. It will be very memorable to all of us. I feel a sense of accomplishment. An official school guy came today and will certify the seminar so that the teachers get credit and can help the teachers get further certifications, pay raises and promotions. They were so happy about that.
These people need good news. They need empowerment. They need faith that things can change, that corruption can be defeated, and that there are good honest leaders out there somewhere. I wish I could go all over an give this seminar.
Then we ate lunch, and then Ted and I went spontaneously with Anthony and Omar to Mombasa. Running errands, basically. It was nice to spend some hour with my friend Anthony. Ted is so easy to travel with. He is observant and low maintenance. He is having such a wonderful experience. He finished his 10 desks today and they will be delivered to Miyani school on Monday.
|Ted working on desks|
|Ted working on desks|
|Ted building desks|
|Some Seminar Attendees|
|Steve and village locals|
|Ted with donated medical supplies for Eagle project|
This trip is just so great. It has already exceeded my fondest expectations. I love being with my new and old Kenyan friends. I can’t wait until tomorrow.
March 26, 2011 (Mnyenzeni, Saturday)
Let me describe some of the people here:
Elud: He is a small guy, with an extremely sincere smile on his face at all times. He is very interested in everyone being happy and especially the visitors. He smothers you with affection. For these first days, he doesn’t want Ted and I to go anywhere without him. It makes me smile, seeing him hover around. He hugs everyone so kindly, and is kind of a glue that seems to bring everyone together. I am not sure of his exact role here with us (the visitors from the US), but he always seems to be around. I know that for Koins he is the scholarship coordinator.
Anthony Yama: He reminds me so much of my dear departed friend Rod Dial. A shaker, a mover, a can-do guy. He has such a deft touch with helping people. He knows how to get people motivated and moving. I loved watching him lecture my seminar people about coming on time. He knows when to push, and when to hold back. I also enjoy listening to him argue and debate things. He can make his point with a smile on his face, without offense. He is special. I have hope for Kenya when I consider Anthony Yama. He is a remarkable human, and has a great future ahead of him.
Omar: our driver, and a very skilled driver. Mellow, focused. quiet but observant. Pleasant but never fake or fawning. When he smiles, his whole countenance radiates. Steady and dependable. Has experienced tragedy, but keeps on going.
Buffalo: At 60 years old, very old for a Kenyan. I love the man. He is focused on helping the young and seems to know many of them (there are so many young people). Successful, doesn’t have a shamba, but has a small store. His wife is declining in health, has diabetes. He is wise and a leader. I am glad he is on the Koins board in Kenya. You can tell he loves people. He is patient. He will answer my many questions, and treats them all as if they are worthy of his time and attention. He is the kind of father-figure every community needs.
Kendy: it is really her name, named in Jewish traditional way, after her grandfather, Kenneth. She is 23, very poised and self-confident for a woman at her age. Very culturally adaptable. Just fits right in, even though she is 5'10". Very kind at heart, caring about individuals, not afraid to speak up. Fearless in a non-attention getting way. I am so glad she is here to lead us, to explain stuff, to show us the way. She is white, Bret’s second cousin or something like that, from Santa Clarita, north of LA.
Today we drove around quite a bit, in the heat, all over the place. We got up, ate, and headed to Taru, where the nearest public library is to the village (perhaps 40 km away or more). 40 km is a universe away in Africa. Most of the villagers’ lives run in a very small circle, without vehicle, limited to how far they can walk. In other words, no one from Mnyenzeni is ever going to use the Taru library.
But it was good to see it, such as it was. I learned that an American family started the library, and somewhat sponsors it (more on this later). The library is located in a rented space, perhaps 15 feet by 8 feet, in a block building. There were about 3 sets of bookshelves, each with about 4 shelves. Perhaps 200 books, total, mostly children’s books, mostly in pathetic condition. There were 6-7 kids there, a couple sitting on a bench, some on the dirty concrete floor. Most of the books were in English, a few were in Kiswahili. The librarian was a teenage kid, who works there trading his time for a scholarship to high school. He was diligent, and kept track of the books in a paper notebook, handwriting what was out and what was in. It was a valiant effort by this young man, with good intentions by both the sponsors and by the teenage librarian. But it was totally inadequate. It was like an inviting-looking oasis in the desert, and when you get there you find a muddy hole with a few muddy drops of water. I am sure it started with good intentions, but without careful planning for the future. What happens when books wear out? Who will run it in the future? Who cares about it? Who supervises it? Where is the accountability? It could be SO much more. So, in that way, it was kind of depressing. Isn’t that a sad thing in life, when you seen a good idea badly carried out?
|Inside Taru library|
Then we drove to a secondary board school (Taru) nearby, to visit the library. It had a professional librarian (a beautiful, competent, surreally calm, young woman with a degree in library science). She was so on top of things, took pride in what she was accomplishing. Again, not many books (but much more than the public library).
It is amazing how amazing our little Salem library would be, here in Africa. Mind-boggling to these people. A computer to use for the public to search the internet and connect with the outside world. Books. A clean, comfortable place to read the daily newspaper. It would not be hard to do something amazing. A building with a very small locking office. A large reading room, lined with bookshelves. A children’s reading room with simple yet comfortable furniture (of the type I saw for sale on the streets of Mombassa for a song). And a classroom for literacy training. Three rooms would likely do it. People would think they had died and gone to heaven.
But this is my dilemma with Africa in general. Why is it that such an idea (such as building a library) would or should start with me, why do Americans need to always start things? Why don’t the Africans make the plan and just ask for help as they need to finish? Is it our job to come over and tell them how to live their lives? It is quite confusing. Am I helping or hurting with my desire to build a library? Will there be anyone to follow through and keep it going? Even Anthony will not be here forever.
But then I consider the Carnegie libraries found in many small cities and towns in the U.S. They were just given and they were greatly appreciated, needed and used. That worked in the U.S., and Kenyans are obviously no less worthy than we were to receive such a gift. They deserve it even more, for all they go through.
And perhaps a library can start the changes that need to be made for things to truly get better over time.
Sometimes, some Africans are looking for a handout. They have been trained well by the actions of the West in the past. I am sure I would be the same way in their situation. I am sure that progress comes at what looks like a glacial pace over here. I notice the Kenyans are very tuned in to what is happening in Egypt and Libya and other places right now, the revolution, the rapid change. They are watching, they are wondering if that could happen for them. They all know that Kibaki is corrupt. They have their doubts about Raile O’Dinga. They want change, but they are somewhat timid in their thoughts about how to bring it about. The familiar is comfortable, no matter how bad it is.
I am watching Kendy and Anthony haggle over money and it is interesting to listen to. I hope it all adds up!
After the libraries, we drove back to the KCC. Had lunch. Read a bit. Then grabbed Kendy and drove to look after the albinos. Jami has been very involved in trying to help this small boarding school that is trying to protect the albino kids in the area, whose bodies are valued on the black-market and who could be kidnapped and killed, even by their own relatives. It is outside the Koins area, but Jami has been working with this lady from Holland. First, we were going to visit the parents.
We were led by Elihud to the first village. We got to the first place, a mud hut ( with a beautiful view of Mumbassa) and met the first kid who we had been told (by Elihud) was named Hwanamisi. But we found out she was really named Zuhura. Confusing! So we drove further, on a tiny road, to another remote village. Eventually Omar was driving our van on a little path upon which one person could walk, then he just had to stop and park under a tree, and we walked. We went past a spring where many people were filling their water containers. You got the feeling that not a lot of white people made it out this way! People were separating and grinding corn in the traditional manner. Found the mother of 2 albino children (I recognized her from pictures Jami had shown me). And we gave her a gift of corn meal and flour. But no kids– they were still at the albino boarding school (unlike the first kid, who had come home). And she was REALLY the mother of Hwanamisi (who we found out is really called Fatuma, and who has a sister called Hwanajuma). Confused yet? So it was pretty much a waste as far as finding out about how things were doing at the school (but we did make progress on the name issue!).
I notice that although English is an official language of Kenya, the ability of people (especially out in the boonies) to speak and to understand can be surprisingly limited. They all speak fluent Kiswahili (of course) and a tribal language or two, like Duruma. And then they all might speak some English. The English in this village was kind of like my Spanish ability, something I learned to a limited extent 40 years ago in school.
So we drove ALL the way back, stopping by the borehole (well) to see the many people being blessed by the water (another Bret miracle out here). One laby said that without the wall “we would be dead”. It is hard to fathom, without being there, the fundamental issue of water, how it is always there, a daily consideration. There has never been a day in my life (other than traveling), before I came here, that I couldn’t turn on a faucet and have clean, drinkable water. Did I ever count that as a blessing?
|Villagers at well, one of few reliable sources of water right now|
Now we are back at the KCC, the sun is setting. Ted was blowing soap bubbles and the kids went crazy– it was awesome. He just finds a new way to entertain them every day. He just delights in them.
I am sitting here talking with Chief Tuku, and we are sharing our fears about the rising generation of young Kenyans in the area. Such a wise and wonderful man. I guess it is a universal truth that changes happen with the rising generation, and the older generation has problems with the changes. Change is scary. Older and wiser people understand that not all changes are good. Tuku worries about traditions being lost, and he worries about the families. He wants to hold on to a world that might already be gone.
I learned 2 Kiswahili words today “visuru” which means “good” and “vibaya” which means “bad”. Patrick, the son of Mama Frida, taught me while we were playing Phase Ten. At times he seemed to be “getting” the game, but I don’t think it quite sunk in. Ted and I just started letting him do whatever he wanted, and it was fun. Patrick seems quite attached to Ted already, and keeps inviting Ted to come to his house (which is in the next village to the south, quite a walk).
I want to get a dental chair and light for the clinic. Build my library (dedicated to Rod Dial).
I love this place.
March 27. 2011 (Mnyenzeni, Sunday)
Another long, interesting day.
I nearly have a beard. It stopped hurting today (it has grown long enough to stop curling inward). It is so grey. It is filling in nicely. It makes my face sweat. And it collects dust. I can’t remember if I have ever gone 8 days without shaving. It has been a long time. I have flirted with the idea of growing a beard. But I probably won’t. Just not me.
So, I have talked to Jami most nights on my international cell phone, Lauren sometimes. Leigh once or twice. I am going to hate my phone bill. But if you move around, you can find spots with pretty decent coverage (especially over by the showers).
Today we got up, ate, then all piled in the car and rushed to Mombasa to get to church by 9:00 am. Of course, church didn’t start until 10:00 a.m., which we only found out when we got there.
So we instead went to the Akamba carver place. The Akamba are a tribe, and they have cornered the market on wood carving. It was very cool. I bought something for every member of the family. There were so many items - all hand carved. Animals, figures, masks, bowls, jewelry. It was just really neat and it felt authentic. And the prices were amazing.1
We were late for church (arriving during announcements). We had to sit in our inappropriate clothing, in the first 2 rows (which I really don’t like, and it seemed disruptive to the meeting, in such a small place). I had a baseball cap on and felt so out of place, self-conscious. But there was a sweet spirit in the meeting, a nice story told (badly) by the very nervous first speaker (a newish member of the church). It went like this: a father had to tuck his son in bed. Usually his wife did this. She usually read to her son a book, with no words, just pictures. The son would correct the dad as he used different words than the mother. He got annoyed. Finally, he asked “who is the boss, the leader of the family, who is right?”. And the boy said, “you are, father”. The father was pleased and asked how he knew this, and the boy said “because mother told me.” But you could barely understand the story, and there was no reaction from the audience.
So, the next speaker on the program simply did not show up, so the branch president gave a very good, spontaneous talk, and gently re-told the same story and did such a nice job. Very inspiring, quoting Pres. Uchtdorf and others from recent conferences.
I went up after sacrament to the branch president (who had spoken) and profusely apologized for our appearance. I wish we could have slipped in the back of the meeting, but there were no seats (as we were late . . . .). The leaders were (of course) so very gracious. The prayers at the meeting were so good. The music was played off of a CD.
We get back to the village and Patrick is waiting for us. There was some misunderstanding and his family thought we would spend all day with them. It is 4:00p.m. at this time. So we put on our walking shoes and off we go with Patrick to Viculani, about 2 miles away. We walked through several villages, attracted many children, and made it to Mama Frieda’s. The road is dusty and washed-out from the rainy season, full of nice places to trip or stumble. We pass so many mud huts, and dreary little places. Goats everywhere. Children playing everywhere, happy. The boys that are 16-20 tend to just stare sulkily at us, but any kid younger than 15 will engage us in some way. I wonder how odd I look, this tall white man with very white skin (remember, it is winter back in Utah), with an equally white kid, striding up through their villages.
It was so nice to visit a real Kenyan home, and visit with people who feel like long-lost friends. Jami and Leigh both spent much time at this house in the past. Ted saw Patrick’s room and I sat in the living room and talked for 2 hours or more with Mama Frieda and her husband Josephat. It was so nice. So many children around (both their own and curious neighbors trying to crowd in and see the walangos– white people). Eventually a lamp was lit, as it was getting dark. We talked about so many things– family situations, politics, schools, etc. It is amazing how much in common an attorney from Utah can have with a teacher in Viculani. I am sure they would have felt the same way had they visited our house. I was glad to bring them some gifts, including some special salt from Utah.
Such a hard scrabble life they live. And they have a nice big (relatively) stone (not mud) house. Dirt floor. No power, sewer, water. Dusty. No furniture (mat on the floor and folding chairs). They made us bread and tea (the bread had some bugs in it). Mama Frieda brought a chicken and for us ready to kill it in front of us for dinner, but I was able to spare the bird’s life! It got late (10:00?) and we needed to go home. It is just amazing to hear this man, who is a school teacher, talk about worrying if they can find any water to drink, now that their cistern is dry. It is a narrow edge between life and death. If a child is sick, you carry him many miles to a clinic, if it is open. No hospital for 30+ miles at least.
But their is a great dignity and strength, a survival instinct, in these people. They have great passion. Their families are great. They have hope and love in their eyes. And they have us.
|Ted, Patrick and his little brother, John|
Ted and I walked home in the dark, accompanied by Josephat and Patrick. We begged them to let us walk home alone (I thought it would be a great adventure), but they just smiled and kept walking with us. Africans can be so stoic. You have to remember that there are NO electric lights, and by this time, most of the huts are dark. It is pitch black. We walked along a narrow dirt path, often with shrubs on either side, often passed by people going the other way. I was very worried about tripping or turning an ankle. Ted thought it was a riot. This little corner of the universe is lovely at night. So dark. The stars seem so bright, so close. You sense the villages around, but don’t see them. It is like a dream.
Tomorrow is our last full day in the village. Hard to believe. It has been amazing. I feel that we have a special connection with Mama Frieda’s family. I will always think of them. I am privileged to have slightly entered their lives. How do you forget effort like this? How do forget poverty and want like this? How can you not deeply respect people who work SO hard for everything in their lives, and never complain? I have this feeling every day that I am in the company of extraordinary people, people worthy of true admiration and emulation. People who are, well, “real” in every sense of the word. T.I.A.
There is really only one thing I miss from the US. The feeling of being clean. I am always sweating, dusty. Hair unkempt and gross. I miss soap, shampoo and hot water. But that is all besides the loving touch of my wife and children. And maybe a Café Rio cheese enchilada with hot sauce!
March, 28, 2011 (Mnyenzeni, Monday)
A long hot dusty day of driving. This might be what it feels like to work for the U.N. Little places in the middle of nowhere, one by one by one. The same looks on people’s faces, especially when challenged by white people seeking answers to hard questions.
I woke up at 5:00. When Patrick (Mama Frieda’s son) came to pick up Ted. Off they went to school - a 45 minute walk. I was so proud of Ted for his willingness to try new things, to interact with people his age. He is an amazing kid and I am so glad we have had this trip together. It is a walk of several miles to the Miguneni school where he will be attending today.
I think I fell back asleep (I am 100% sure) after Ted left.
I got out of bed and read until we all left for the albino school in Kibandaongo, many miles to the south. It is a long, long way. It had rained in that area. In one place, the dirt road went through, what had been a dry river bed. It was running with water at least 1-2 feet deep, red muddy water. Omar (our driver) looked at it, took a deep breath, and ripped right through. I felt like I was on an Indian Jones ride. It was steep and muddy on the other side and we started sliding back down into the water, the wheels spinning on the mud. But then the wheels caught and we cheered and we made it up the hill slipping this way and that up to the top where it flattened out, and then eventually to Kibandaongo.
|Albino School Dorm|
|Albinos at Kibandaongo|
Kibandaongo is a little village, with a small mosque, perhaps the size of Mnyenzeni, maybe smaller. There is the albino dorm, next to the public school. There had been great concerns about the facility, the program and the students and it comes to be that the fear was well-founded. There were only 9 albino kids there, we were told, although I saw only 4-5 (and it is not a big place). There was little food, little water, no security at all– not even a locking door. Not much there at all. A “volunteer” lady live in the little office and supposedly cared for the albino children. We talked to the principal of the school and others. It was disturbing. Even the school was in a bad shape - termite ridden, etc. It was hard to get square answers. It was hard to know what to do. We have some money that has been donated to help the albinos, but how can we use it and know that it is all going to help these kids in this place that is far from the Koins action area? We could build infrastructure, but is the program going to be operational without someone in charge? I got the feeling that no one really cared for these albino children, but that they were only perhaps a source of some assistance that could be latched onto by others, with the albino children an afterthought. Maybe I am too cynical. T.I.A.
|Two albinos at school|
After that, back in the car and off to Gona. Another long drive. There Kendy did a pen-pal project and I looked at the library. I took some pictures. The pen-pal project involves kid from classes in Utah schools that send a bunch of letters, and Koins matches them up with classes in Kenya. Kendy does a good job of helping the kids in Africa understand the unfamiliar words in the letters (like skiing, snow boarding, blizzard, tubing, jet skiing, etc.), so it is a group language lesson at the same time. It does help make the world smaller, and it is amazing sitting in this minimalist school room with a bunch of Kenya children and thinking about what the lives are like for the kids on the other end of the letters– if they only could see what I was seeing at that moment. I wish we could bring them all together.
|New Cistern at Gona Primary School|
Then we drove to Miguaneni, the school where Ted was. When we drove up, we saw him eating lunch with a huge group of students. He was enjoying himself but was very hot. We did another pen pal project , toured the school with a very proud Buffalo (who is a teacher there). It was fun to watch Ted interact with the students. He said they all wanted him to help with English on their pre-tests for the state exams, and they were amazed that he knew every answer to every question (it is a form 6 class, and he is an 8th grader, a couple years older than the students). After looking at the library and other rooms, we went out in the yard, and some of the kids put on an African dance and song thing. It was cute, and not too long. I saw one of Mama Frieda’s kids in it (a girl). They made us come out and dance with them. Kendy was really into it. I was extremely sheepish. I am not even a good dancer in the US, much less in traditional Kenyan dance.
Then we went to Miyani, which is on the road back toward Mnyenzeni. There we toured the schools (a large primary school and the Sean Michaels school for handicapped kids). We saw kids sitting on dirt floors at school and then we saw a very cool thing: a class filed with the very desks that Ted had built, already in use. How grateful the school administration was for the desks. They shook Ted’s hand profusely and thanked him. We saw many classrooms today where the kids are sitting on dirt floors. Some sit on concrete floors. It is so hard to write, so hard to learns, from the floor. Ted did a good thing. I am proud of him.
|Teacher in classroom, no desks|
I am so thrilled with what Koins is doing here. Building schools, helping kids learn. They are making a HUGE difference. They really have it down, and are empowering and not creating dependency in any way. And most of all, they are creating relationships, all the time, relationships of trust, of love and friendship, bonds that are almost unbreakably strong.
I knew several of the teachers at Miyani (from the seminar, from KCC), and we had a great time talking and laughing and reliving the seminar. We watched the kids play soccer (Ted and a mob of school children) while Kendy did yet another pen-pal project (she certainly has a lot of determination– I just couldn’t sit through another one). Ted just seems to enjoy whatever he is doing on this trip. Never a complaint. Always doing something. I feel like he almost could have come over here without me and done just fine!
Then we drove to the KCC, giving about 5 people rides from the school - there were 11 people in the van. I love how everyone cooperated around here. People are picked up and ride for a short way in the vans. People stop and talk. It feels . . . vibrant. Cooperative. The Koins area is visibly different from other areas that I have visited. Better. Moving ahead. Busy. I want to be a part of it.
Now I write, we are about to discuss the library. I asked to run down the whereabout of Jami’s nativity sets that we ordered from a local wood carver. And, sadly, I need to pack. I started to let my mind wander to work back in Utah today, for the first time in several days. It seems so far away, yet I know that Friday. I will be snapped back to harsh reality. I wish I could just live here forever and help this community, be a part of it. It is an amazing corner of the world.
As we drove, I looked out at the brown and dusty earth. The green mango and coconut trees, the mud huts, the dusty roads, the graceful, quiet women. The smiling, chattering men. What a place. So far from where I come from. Such a wonderful place. Such a good people. I am so privileged to be here. What a forgotten corner in the Lord’s vineyard. Such potential. Such desperation and struggle.
Tomorrow we leave here, and it makes me sad.
March 29, 2011 (Tsavo West National Park)
We are at this lovely lodge perched on a hillside, looking north. Ted just swam in the pool as it grew dark. I watched a lone giraffe walk from west to east, perhaps a mile, in the dusk. It got cooler tonight. There was lightning in the east and north, so we came in. Dinner is in 30 minutes.
Last night, our last in the village, was so bittersweet. Kind of chaotic. Kind of stressful. Kind of sad. Kind of reflective. I talked to Jami and she just stressed me out with a huge list of things to do, check on, etc. Suddenly all this stuff started showing up at the KCC, that needed to be brought back to Utah. Besides our clothing and personal stuff. It was amazing. These two 2 inch-thick mahogany boards, each weighing 25 pounds. All kinds of envelopes, carved stuff, packages. I finally got it all packed, then 100 handbags show up. 100!!! I start trying to get rid of everything I can. A pair of shorts. Socks. Anything possible. My bags are overweight. Stuff is being crammed into pockets I didn’t even know existed in my bags.
I had anticipated a quiet night of goodbyes. Not to be.
We had a Koins for Kenya board meeting, to discuss the library. At the middle of this chaotic evening. We sat in the dark, on the lawn at the KCC, and talked about it. Kendy took notes. Elihud, Buffalo, Naomi, and Anthony spoke. Anthony led the discussion. He asked for my input. My concerns were that (1) I wanted this to NOT be my library, but their library; (2) what would the community bring to the table; (3) what would the government bring to the table, and (4) how does it sustain? You can’t just build a library and stock it with books. Books wear out, and someone needs to always be in charge, every day it is opened. There is only 1 library in Mombassa, a city of 700,000+. One library! There are no functioning libraries outside of Mombassa that anyone knows about (and I am not counting the ridiculous Taru library, or the libraries found in each school, none of which is even close to functional, in my opinion. There are so many challenges. Yet, benefit would be so great! A place of learning and interaction. A community center. A place for children and old people. A lit, quiet place to study. A reading and literacy center. I basically left it in their hands. I believe that I can make it happen with their input and guidance, but it needs to be their thing, their lead. I did enjoy the good tone and substance of the discussion–very collaborative, and Anthony does get to the point.
The room we are in is tiny. A fan circulates the air, a wall-mounted oscillating fan. There is a bare bulb on the wall. Casting shadows across my paper. There is a holey, inadequate mosquito net around our two beds. But it will do. I miss our more homely accommodations at the KCC, although at least the mosquito nets are functional! It is hard to leave my friends there.
So, we got up early this morning at the KCC. I had one last chapati for breakfast. Right before we left I found a secret pouch in one of our luggage where I could cram the last few handbags. I felt pretty good about that. Got the last receipts to bring back. We said good bye to many people. One teacher from Miyana came to say goodbye and tell me how much he was impacted by my seminar. Came all that way, just to see me. He said that he thinks it made a difference, and I hope he was not just trying to make me feel good.
Patrick brought by a note to give to Leigh, who he remembered from last year. So cute of him. I unloaded some of our stuff on him ( gum, a poncho, a spiral notebook).
Well, off wen went, driving toward Tsavo. Buffalo got a ride with us (us being Ted, Mike, Betty, Omar and myself) to the highway. We turned north and drove for a couple of hours. Stopped at a roadside shop, which was set up for rich tourists. The same bottle of Coke that was 25 shillings (30 cents) in the village was 150 shillings (in other words, six times more). The same carved animal set that I bought for 100 shillings at Akamba Carvers was 4500 shillings (45 times more). And so on. The people there were pushy, mean, manipulative, and make me sick. It was such a scam, preying on tourists who did not know better. Probably the low point of the trip.
Then to the park gate, and we started our safari. It started very slowly, searching eagerly in the bushes and seeing very little of anything. But eventually we saw warthogs, ostriches, zebras, gazelles, oryx, impala, elephants, giraffe, Cape buffalo (water buffalo), jackal, lions, vultures, elan, many birds, colorful lizards, baboons, monkeys and many others that I am forgetting. Waterbuck. Various deer-looking creatures. Big 4-5 foot long lizards.
The most interesting moment of the safari was in the evening of the first day there. We were driving about, and we came to a line of about 7-8 other vans and Range Rovers. They were stopped. We snaked between the vehicles to the front, and found a mother elephant with her baby. They were on opposite sides of the road. The baby was kind of oblivious to what was happening. The mother was stopped, and somehow had decided that the line of vehicles was a threat to her little one. So, every few minutes she would charge the nearest vehicles, and everyone would quickly reverse and back up for30-40 meters until she stopped. Once the baby was watching and then the baby charged the nearest vehicle. This lasted for twenty or thirty minutes, and we were going backward. I started to tease Omar the driver about what a sissy he was, how he lacked “man parts” and so on. He was just cracking up (probably never having received a string of American insults on his manhood). I got him so riled up he just took off fast and zipped right by the mother elephant, when her back was turned. By the time she realized what had happened, we were 100 meters past. We stopped, and the mama looked at us, then back at the other vehicles who were still timidly lined up and backing up. We were whopping and hollering and congratulating Omar. It was fun. Eventually, several of the other vans gained some courage from Omar’s brave dash and followed suit. But not all . . . .
Ted swam in the pool after that, and I read my book by the side. The sky was very threatening, lighting in the distance, the feel of rain in the air. It was dusk. We had the pool to ourselves. When the lightning hit on a mountain a few miles away, Ted about leaped out of the pool and we went and had dinner, and called it a night.
The safari feels surreal and touristy. So many white wans driving around, people from all over the place, mostly Europe. There is a fence around the park, so it reminds me a lot of the SD wild Animal Park. - it looks just like it. It feels like Jurassic Park when you see a giant giraffe loping by, or a herd of zebra. Unreal. The real Africa, before the West screwed it all up, is gone. This park, thus, is kind of fake, a fleeting memory of what once was. But if it allows Kenyans to make money and to take pride in something unique to their country, then I am okay with it. I just don’t know if I will make it out to such a place again. I think Ted enjoyed it a lot, though, and that is also rewarding.
Tonight we are sitting on our beds and playing Scrabble on Ted’s I-Pad. There is no TV or radio, no phone. No wake up calls, but rather a wake-up knock on your door. My beard is so long. I really want to cut it off, as it makes my face so warm. But I could get used to not shaving.
Tomorrow is the big plane ride back to the States, and life goes back to normal. But my heart, or a part of it, will remain here in this desperate, dusty, place, where water is scarce but the people are real.
March 30, 2011 (Plane from Mombasa to Nairobi, Wednesday)
One thing I have learned during this trip is how ugly people can be without really thinking about it. I am sure I have done it myself. You always have to think about what you are saying. I just cringe every time I hear someone criticize something African, right in front of Africans who take some pride in their homeland. Obviously, the roads are bumpy, the weather is hot, and the food is not what you get back home. But you don’t need to repeatedly and constantly point that out! Some people just have no cultural sensitivity, period. They just think that “their” way is the best way and perhaps the only way. But there are many ways, and we can learn much from others, and we need to take every opportunity to do so.
Today we woke up at the hotel in the park. Kind of a hard night, woke up, odd dreams, thinking we had missed our wake-up call. Then we did get up and had breakfast with the Wasutasts. Then some more safari (I just don’t have the attention span for a safari, just too boring for this boy). Then lunch at a very touristy restaurant. Then the long drive back to Mombasa from Voi. I mostly read in my Vince Lombardi bio and looked at the African landscape rushing by. We saw a nasty car accident. The driver who looked like she caused it was a white tourist, and she looked scared and distraught. I would be scared to drive here, on the left side, with little by way of traffic rules.
It rained much of the way. Mombasa was still the same, and I always feel a sense of sadness as we drive through the slummy, stinky neighborhoods, with so much need. We were able to say good-bye to Anthony and Johnson. Omar took the Wasutas to their motel (they were leaving the next day early in the morning).
Now we are in the air flying to Nairobi from Mobasa.
Ted is in a great mood, happy about the wonderful trip he had, happy to soon see his friends back home. This trip was everything I hoped it would be for him and I think he has changed. I think he will be haunted by Africa and will look at life differently.
I miss Mnyenzeni and the people there. I picture them right now, sitting around, eating dinner, the last school kids walk by, the sun setting. The evening rhythm of the KCC.
But I am also looking forward to especially seeing Jami, to seeing the kids (and grandsons and sons-in-law). To reclaim work. To start on the next Kenya project, to push the library forward, etc. I guess I am officially in the Kenya club now!
I hope I can sleep on the next leg - Nairobi to Amsterdam. It seems like this trip has ended so quickly. I really wish I could have experienced this with Bret. His spirit is evident all around the Koins area. He is respected, but you can tell that the Africans feel that Bret respects them, and that is the key around here. They trust him, and they talk a lot about partnering with Koins on projects. It is true that every once in a while, an African will straight out ask for something, and you kind of recoil from it, but in the big picture, Bret has changed the entire vibe of the Koins area. It is a vibe of industriousness, of taking charge of your own life. It would be so fun to cruise around here with him, and see it through his eyes, to see the progress that he has seen.
I have witnessed three Africas on this trip.
The first is what I will call “Tourist Africa”. It caters to tourists, and business people flying in and out of Kenya on “big” deals. The African people are in the background in Tourist Africa, part of the scenery mostly, hosts and hostesses, performers, room cleaners– quiet, meek, obsequious. Things are all at European prices. Things are kind of fake. All is clean. This is the Africa featured in the flight magazine on Kenya Airways - gleaming glassy buildings; long, sandy beaches; beachfront condos. Lots of air conditioning. It is the phony faux-remote safaris, the expensive gift shops, and the prospectus for high-end real estate developments. It is the all-you-can-eat buffets at the tourist motels which to me mock the poverty, need and near-starvation going on just miles away. No rural Kenya has any stake in Tourist Africa, unless they are lucky enough to be a cook or room cleaner or driver (like Omar). People who only witness this Africa have seen something that really doesn’t exist, much like someone thinking they had seen the United States after walking down Main Street in Disneyland.
The second Africa is “Slum Africa.” You find this not only in the big cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, but also in other cities along the highways. This is a hellish place, often stinking of burning garbage, and filled with images of want, desperation, poverty, violence and disease. Stinking. Decrepit. Crowded. An air of danger. Cunning and needy eyes staring at you from the shadows. Beggars everywhere. People crowding the window of your car trying to sell you bottled water (of indeterminate origin) while you get gas. The infrastructure is either failing or non-existent. The services that humans need– clean water, road repair, doctors, banks, etc.– are not in evidence. Death feels close by. Garbage is burned in the streets. Emaciated cattle and goats eat the garbage, and will later be eaten by people. Everything is for sale– every possible bit of junk and scrap is set out and ready for sale. The people look haunted and hopeless. You see few children. AIDS is rampant. There is no joy. This Africa is kept out of the sight of businessmen and tourists, as it might disillusion them. And I get the feeling it is ignored by the political power structure as well. There is nothing they can take from it. People who only witness this Africa come away despairing, hopeless, cynical, and disheartened, even traumatized.
The third Africa that I know is “Rural Africa,” the Africa of Mnyenzeni, of Mama Frieda and Josephat and Patrick, of Taru and Miyani and a thousand other little hardscrabble villages where people hang on to their lives by the narrowest of margins, day by day. Dirt floors are swept out and somehow kept “clean.” Children make do with hand-me-down clothing lovingly washed by hand by their mothers. Meals are taken as families, made in traditional ways, simply, with much work, gratefully, with everyone very aware of the amount of work that went into the meal. Every day is full of work, especially for the hardy, graceful, stoic woman, from morning to night. Traditions are honored. Song and dance have their place. Smiles are often seen and laughter is often heard. Children are everywhere– energetic, curious, frenetic, smiling, sometimes shy, sometimes bold, always watching, playing with whatever is at hand. There is pride in a mud house, in a simple community school, in the accomplishment of a child. There is great dignity. There is a fierce desire, often in spite of poverty, disease and difficulty that we in the U.S. have a hard time understanding, to progress, to better things. People who witness this Africa are seared to their very soul, and can never forget, and consider themselves brother and sister to their village friends and acquaintances.
Asate Sana, Steve. You have envisioned Kenya in a way I have seen few express it. IVL