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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Movie Nights in Mnyenzeni - Bret's April Journal, Part 6


Our dinner at Kombo Mwero’s home was nothing short of delightful.  He is a gracious host and genuine gentleman.  He has lived in Nairobi for 35+ years, but decided to construct a home on one of the hills overlooking our area in 2009.  Mr. Mwero comes from a family where his father had three wives, so the roots are spread wide in our area, and Mwero is a common name.  This particular Mwero ended up in Nairobi almost by mistake, and ended up making it in a major way.  The invitation to join him for dinner was a treat for our entire group and the food prepared was very appetizing.  We brought my iPad and a mini-projector system that Burt brought along and showed the new Koins for Kenya movie “Purity.”  It’s a wonderful story documenting the first girl ever from our service area to achieve the number one position in our secondary school, and go onto university, where she continues to excel. 

The African guests, as well as the help from the kitchen, and a few neighbor kids all watched in a trance.  The story unfolded in front of them, seeing one of their own on the big screen, filled with wisdom beyond her years, inspiring all who looked upon her.  Tears were shed at the moving account of this phenomenal girl, and an enthusiastic applause erupted at the conclusion. 

Steve Quesenberry and I decided to ride motorcycles up to Majengo since the van was so cramped.  Now that the evening was over, the reverse trip was in order.  Our new motorcycles were shipped to the village from the U.S. because they are sporty and built for rough terrain.  However, a small oversight is that these performance bikes don’t have headlights, and as pitch black as things get here, they are day-only bikes.  We rode in front of the van on the way home, using the headlights as our guide, dodging potholes and washed out areas as we moseyed along.  Q’s bike suddenly sputtered, then died in the middle of the road.  He was out of gas.  I pulled aside with Q, sending everyone else back to the Koins Center with our driver to get some fuel and drop the group off.  Q and I stood silently under a tangible blanket of thick darkness, laughing at our ironic situation while absorbing the stunning beauty that the stars provided us.  We sang some rock and roll tunes, chuckled more, and waited for our rescuers, hoping they would take their time. 

The groundbreaking for the new school at Miyani is going to be a popular event.  That community has not enjoyed a groundbreaking since we constructed the Sean Michels School for our special needs kids over 4 years ago. 

A load of lumber arrived for desk-making, and bags of cement for more blocks.  With classrooms going up in Bofu and Miyani, and a new office at the KCC, our crews will be heavily engaged until the end of summer, and everyone wins when that happens.

Since schools are now on their break the Koins Center is a focal point for the university students.  Throughout the day these stellar young adults will drop by to visit Steve and I, to our complete delight.  We have watched these spectacular kids from their latter days in grade school, and now to see them obtaining university degrees is as rewarding as anything I have experienced in our work here.  Shy girls have blossomed into self-assured women of substance and culture.  Boys from the bush, with little social sophistication, returning home as refined intellectuals is stimulating to the soul.  It truly stirs the emotion as these young men and women vocalize their appreciation for Koins and their respective sponsors.  A young Muslim girl named Furaha (foo-rah-hah, meaning happiness) stopped by today to pay her respects.  She said something very prophetic while being interviewed by Burt Matthews.  He asked her what she would be doing if she didn’t receive a Koins scholarship, and she replied quite succinctly, “I’d be working in the fields.”  Then she continued talking about her sponsor, stating “With Bill Hardy I have no limit.  Without him, I have no possibilities.”

Hundreds of villagers showed up for the ground-breaking at Miyani, and similar to Bofu, when the dirt began flying, all we could do was stand back in bewilderment at the effort put forth to get this project started.  There was hardly room to move in the trenches, as men and women alike wielded their tools, chipping away at the baked soil.  Chatter abounds and laughter is plentiful as our superstars prepare the ground for footings and foundation.  In less than an hour, the job is complete with the construction ball back in our court to begin the pouring of cement……by hand, of course.

Five of our university students arrived shortly after dinner to pay their respects.  Moses, Sherrill, and a couple others also passed by since we are the center of attention.  Burt pulled out his mobile projector and we showed the Purity movie on the outside wall of the KCC.  More convened, and the Koins Theater entertained for the next 90 minutes between the Purity movie and episodes from the series “Earth.”  We lacked only popcorn.

It’s only 25 miles to Mombasa and the rain has really caused them problems.  Although we’ve not been completely dry, we need the water badly and all we have had is hot, gusting wind.  I was told that the same winds that pulled pieces of thatch roof from our village huts knocked down a series of tall billboards along the road to Mombasa.  Our sturdy roof rattled vigorously, but withstood the blustery assault.  Every day without rain has serious impact on all of our activities, so everyone is pleading to the heavens in unison. 

Mama Mishi smiles without reservation and loves to laugh aloud.  She is an industrious lady who farms the typical staples, but has also found that raising a certain type of tree used in the making of telephone poles provides extra cash every few years.  She has been exploring additional methods to provide for her abundant family of 8, even asking me for ideas.  I noticed she had raised three beautiful turkeys, which are expensive here, and asked why this could not be a revenue source.  She didn’t have the required knowledge to get serious about it, nor the resources to provide the protection and feed to raise proper broods.  I invited her to the KCC to meet with our poultry experts and be my partner in this enterprise.  Her face exhibited the excitement of this notion.  Patrick outlined the required tools, supplies, and numbers of birds that would be required to get serious about this business.  Mama Mishi and I agreed who would be responsible for each line item.  Her items required significant sweat and preparation, while mine was only funding.  Within a few a week we’ll have our initial flock within the confines of our turkey farm, so put your Thanksgiving order in now.  Mama Mishi plans to pay the medical bills for her 15 month old who suffers from Down’s Syndrome with her share of the proceeds.  I plan on eating turkey when I’m staying at the KCC.  It’s a great partnership.

The drill arrived to the excitement of everyone in our group and in the village.  Within 5 feet of piercing the surface, we found a layer of solid, inflexible rock.  The first meter and a half went like butter, but the next 10 inches required the rest of the day of unrelenting gnashing by the diamond-tipped drill. 

The Tuttle’s and Scott’s both came to the village today from LDS Humanitarian.  The Scott’s have visited our area on several occasions, while the Tuttles had only heard about us.  We showed them our facilities, discussed our activities, and even watched the drill in action together.  The church is looking carefully at the drill to see if it’s something they want to be involved in, so this was a great opportunity to see it working in such a rural setting, with the driving force being the local villagers who make it work. 
The Redd’s also came today from Mariakani where they are establishing a dairy, of all things.  The concept is great, and we’ll do anything we can to help them, so hopefully they can find a way to get the necessary momentum to create a replicable business that maybe we can imitate.

My partner in crime, Steve Littlefield, departed shortly after the rest of the crew, the difference being is that he is headed for the states.  He has worked diligently to establish new protocols and reporting for our financials, handing over the reins to Leah for this massive obligation.  Safari njema, rafiki yangu.

Burt, Spence, Scott, Jake and I all went for a late afternoon run together.  I cannot imagine what 5 alabaster-skinned guys looked like to the villagers we passed as we clomped along the uneven pathways towards Vikolani.  We ran to the spot where our Youth Expedition will be located, then down to the watering hole where they will fetch their bathing water.  On well-worn trails we traversed some freshly plowed fields as the sun began to set.  Our pace quickened as we realized darkness would be upon us soon.  As we passed through Mnyenzeni we saw a perfect setting for a village movie.  After dinner the painted wall of a fallen house became the town’s one and only theater, featuring the Lion King.  There was no advertisement, no advance notice.  The movie was set up, and the play button was pushed.  Within minutes we had over 50 kids seated all around watching the film in total amazement.  When mothers came looking for their children, the recognizable groans from disappointed kids could be heard.  We were major contributors to their delinquency tonight, so we’ll begin our next movie a little earlier.  What a fantastic evening to watch a movie under the stars, especially when the patrons had never seen a movie before.

BVL

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bofu Groundbreaking, Mombasa Chaos, Life in Kenya


Bofu (boh-foo) is a larger village like our central village of Mnyenzeni.  It’s 7 miles away by road, but only 4 if you take the small paths that connect the web of villages around here.  In Bofu they have a secondary as well as a primary school, both of them trying to catch up to Mnyenzeni’s schools.  Curt and Sue Tingey have gathered funds from friends, family, and innocent bystanders to help lift Bofu closer to their goals by constructing another set of much-needed classrooms.  The Koins team jammed into our rented van and headed to the groundbreaking ceremony that was planned.  We arrived to a huge gathering of the community, all interested in getting busy and getting the project started.  The corner pegs had bright strings indicating where the building walls would go.  We have outlined so many classrooms around here that our staff can measure our standard classrooms with their eyes closed.  Steve gladly took the pick in his hand and drove it deep into the soil (about a ½ inch because the dirt here is like smacking asphalt).  He repeated the same process several times to the exuberant cheers of the villagers who came to help.  He stepped aside and Leah took her turn.  This was not the first time this girl had thrown a pick, and dirt began to fly.  I’m sure Steve softened the ground for her. Within a minute everyone who had shown up began mauling the soil with their hoes, shovels and broken picks.  Within 5 minutes the outline was clear and strings removed.  Only 40 minutes after groundbreaking the work stopped.  Many hands make light work had no truer example than at Bofu today.
Steve asked to have us driven to a school where we have never worked before, even though the existing school is within our service area.  The road to Nunguni (noon-goon-ee) is not a road, but a 4-wheel drive route through bristly stubble and coarse, rocky landscape.  We arrived to a silent courtyard and empty classrooms as school ended last week for a monthlong break.  The walls of this rustic village school were of rock and mud, with floors exclusively dirt.  There were a total of three desks at this school of 250 students, with two of their classrooms serving multiple grades – one teacher standing at one end of the classroom while the other trying to teach from the opposite end.  The school needs serious attention, so a meeting with them will be in order.
Upon returning back to the main dirt road from Nunguni, the Area Chief had to return to Bofu to the right.  The Koins Center was to the left, but the bumpy road had several of us wanting to stretch our legs and back, so we got out and began walking.  Steve and Buffalo walked together, and even though I was in long pants and button-up shirt, I began running, thinking that I would continue until the car picked us back up.  By the time I reached Chikomani, over 20 minutes later, the van had not arrived, so I ran down the hill towards home, dodging rocks and thorny bushes along the trail.  I actually made it back to the KCC before the van, overheated and sweating like a team of horses.  A cold bucket shower with a frozen water chaser saved me.  No more afternoon running for me, thanks!
Quick trips to the dispensary often provide spectacles of activity that would be impossible to witness in the U.S.  During my last trip here I was able to help in the birthing of a little boy.  Secretly I hope for something just as astonishing, but today there is only a dislocated elbow of an older woman who fell, and a sick young man with symptoms of the flu.
As I walk back to the KCC I visit with several villagers from the area.  I practice my best Duruma greetings with them, and they find it extremely entertaining as I stumble through the succinct progression of their repetitive exchanges.  It would be nice for me if the whole thing didn’t change throughout the day, so the morning greetings are different from the afternoon or evening.  Throw in the plural context if you’re speaking to more than one, and it turns messy real quickly.
A firestorm of electrical activity keeps the dark night sky jumping, but no rain today.  Perhaps we’ll be fortunate tomorrow.
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With the SRA and Koins bringing their staffs together, further aligning our organizations, coupled with all the changes we have made in our board, we have had a lot of table time going over an abundance of mutual objectives.  In very short order I am certain the progress of our agricultural programs will accelerate, advancing our communities in nutrition, scholastic achievement, and commerce.  Our path will be paved with a lot of exertion, but once realized, it will surely become a super-highway to a much higher life and health standard for all involved.
The trip to Kinango is 36 excruciating kilometers of bad road, washes, and stone avoidance.  The math tells us that even though it’s less than 25 actual miles, it required 90 minutes to reach the headquarters of our school district.  We met with the D.O. - District Education Officer (Superintendant of Schools) to discuss our mutual plans for the Koins Service Area.  Our construction activities need to match the agenda of the D.O. so we can always insure the correct number of teachers with our corresponding buildings. Mr. Kimani is a younger man with the “can do” attitude that is beginning to creep into the old bureaucratic mindsets of inaction.  He must work within the confines of ceremonial politics, but his determination to drag his constituency forward is refreshing.
The road to Kwale traverses Shimba Hills, an animal sanctuary thick with trees of every kind, providing refuge to its inhabitants.  I have made this journey on several occasions, and all I have to show for it is a bad photo of a warthog heading away from me.  The road shows no improvement over what we have been on, but once we reach Kwale we hit pavement.  It’s full of potholes and uneven patches, but it’s a far cry from what our last 60 miles has been.  Kwale sits perched atop a hill that flows down to the Indian Ocean.  The scenery is stunning, but it’s no place to plan your vacation.  From here we take the coastal road to the southern part of Mombasa.  Luckily we arrived to functioning ferries, so we drove aboard the rusty vessel and she escorted us across the channel leading to Mombasa.
Steve and his entourage of SRA staff came from the village in the north and we convened at the Bank of Africa.  The process by which signatories are changed from the old guard to the new and creating two new accounts was baffling.  I have closed commercial real estate deals with less documentation and procedural hullabaloo than this, but there is simply no option……and the truth be known, we were in an air-conditioned office.
Like a group of associates going out after work, we closed the bank down.  I was given the keys to drive as this was going to be an adventure trying to reach the village at this hour.  Mombasa has one main road leading north towards Nairobi.  The road is single lane most of the time, but riddled with obstacles all of the time.  Throw in the traffic component and our trip back home will surely be two hours, with the distinct possibility of turning into three or four if the single lane road experiences even the slightest mishap along the way. 
Drivers are beyond aggressive here.  In all actuality they are very alert and quite astute behind the wheel, but chaos rules.  The jam began early, and the line of dusty trucks exiting the city clogged the single artery of the city.  With oncoming traffic reasonably light, we spent more time in the other lane than our own.  When vehicles met us we simply went to the shoulder of the opposite side of the road.  Police officers at the major intersection leading out of town (Steve calls it Malfunction Junction) try and maintain some semblance of order, but it is a free-for-all that boggles the mind.  As I approach the intersection on the other side of oncoming traffic, passing cars in all directions, I don’t even receive a second look.  I’m not causing a jam, so they don’t even pay attention to us.  This major road has no asphalt even though the Chinese “repaired” it just three years ago.  The only thing that remains from their work are the large stones that were to provide a base, which now act as tire-puncturing devices.  This is a four-wheel-drive rally road that must be traversed by commercial vehicles, buses, taxis, and Koins for Kenya vehicles.
As I place my thoughts on paper, I sit solitarily in the dark, my computer screen the only source of light for miles.  A small choir of frogs sing in the distance while two geckos fight on the wall above me.  Now that the lights have been extinguished, their buffet of insects has closed for business.  Unfortunately I have become the focus for every kamikaze bug and I am inundated with creepy-crawlies of all sizes, so my day ends via default.
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Leah’s baptism by fire begins early and appears relentless throughout the day.  Anthony is here to provide backup, but Leah is learning the ropes in rapid fire bursts.  Her stern discussions with soft undercurrent demonstrate her leadership abilities.
The morning clouds protected Rick and I as we bustled down one of the many paths leading away from the village.  Although he’s been here in the village for several days, he has not experienced our area.  We crossed the gully near where the baby was found and began following three village women carrying their early morning water buckets back to the village.  I bid them good morning in Duruma, and they gladly responded in kind.  We chatted as we walked with them, learning that they were headed to Majengo, only a mile away.  We headed up the hill to a peaceful family village consisting of 11 small huts.  As we approached, Rick was given the warm welcome that I have come to love from these people.  “Karibu” (welcome) is heard over and over from young and old.  Two younger ladies, carrying babies on their hips, entered the village court to greet us.  One spoke English very well, telling Rick she had completed primary school but lacked funds to continue into secondary.  She was so articulate and bright that I was curious why she had not qualified for the Koins scholarship.  She had finished primary school a year or two before our program had started, so she had no options available to her.  She returned to her village, got married at 16, and now has 4 beautiful children helping fill the compound with all the other kids.  Although she is content with where she is in life, who knows what would have happened if she had not slipped through the cracks.  The possibilities are endless to imagine.  Now all we can do is hope that she has food and her children grow without too much sickness.  With luck on our side, we will educate her children.
The clouds began to distribute their wares over our valley, so we turned back towards the center.  We walked down into the thick coconut grove, taking shelter under a massive mango tree.  As we waited for the heavy drops to lighten I could hear familiar whistling above our heads.  If it weren’t so melodic I would think a strange bird had taken refuge in the palms above us, but I knew it was Chirima (chee-reem-ah), the local harvester of coconut beer.  He spends his days in the tops of the trees tapping the young leaves for their nectar high in the canopy above.  The sugar content is so high that the white liquid ferments in a day within the small, dirty jugs he attaches to the stems.  I’ve never seen Chirima without a smile on his face and the sweet sound of a happy bird coming from his puckered lips.  He doesn’t appear to be intoxicated, but a man this happy is suspicious when his mode of making a living is brewing illegal elixirs here in the village.  He shimmied down the tree like a fireman responding to an alarm, greeting me with his normal cheerful disposition and hearty handshake.  His English outperforms my Swahili, so we gravitate to that mode of conversation.  Business is good, his family is healthy, and his trees are performing well.  Life is good.
The hair on my head has grown past the stubble stage.  It’s difficult enough to maintain facial hair in an orderly fashion here, but with all my meetings with the local leaders, I’m forced to stay clean shaven.  I hardly notice the graying wool on my cranium becoming bushy until an African reaches out and rubs their hand on it to feel the thin carpet of spikiness.  Out comes my dulling blade, and while showering in our open air stalls, I polish my head as best as I can.
Kombo Ali, the first student from our area to receive a scholarship, visited his favorite white man, Steve Littlefield.  Nancy and Steve have sponsored Kombo from the first day, providing additional benefits to this hardworking boy to support him and sustain him. Kombo’s father was bitten by a puff adder several years ago, dying from the lethal injection of toxins from this feared serpent.  His mother would not succumb to the cultural traditions of this tribe, rejecting the uncle as a replacement husband.  She was kicked out of the village, having never returned.  The children remained behind with the rest of the clan, and Kombo was not able to attend secondary school due to the tuition.  Steve and Nancy fell in love with him during one of their expeditions, and now this valedictorian is finishing his accounting degree and his American parents could not be more proud.
George Kihoro, the current chairman of the Kenyan board of Koins, also made the trip to the village from Kinango.  His new assignment as head teacher in Kinango has restricted his daily involvement with us, but his heart and passion remains as sturdy as ever.  Someone new will take his place as chairman, but his experience and wisdom will remain firmly with us as a board member.
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I was running on the main road when a car approached me from behind.  It slowed down considerably as it neared, but always staying behind me.  I moved over, and it still didn’t pass.  I curiously turned around to see that Kombo Mwero was the driver.  He is the former Minister of Agriculture of Kenya, and one of my original friends from the government.  He has constructed a nice home within our area, and was on his way to a meeting when he saw a large, white guy running and was ascertaining if it was me.  It’s always good to see this classic man, one of great honor and dignity.  He was kind enough to invite me to his home for dinner in a few days, which I declined since I would have many guests and needed to make sure they were fed.  He requested that I bring the entire group with me, so now I’ll be able to share this wonderful guy with everyone.
As I chose another path to return to the village I came across a family burial plot.  I hoped that it was not considered trespassing as I looked at the hand-etched headstones.  An old man of 47 years was the largest above-ground sarcophagus on the plot.  Several others with only dates of death were scattered in the small area, along with simple piles of stones which demarcated a burial place. In all there were 17 individuals buried here.  It is Duruma custom that anyone killed in an accident be buried away from the family plot to make sure their bad luck doesn’t result in any other accidents.  I’m sure the stories behind the individuals entombed here would be moving since dying of plain old age is a rarity.
I ran into the man we found a few days ago with the severe leg wound sitting in front of his workshop today.  No matter how sick he might be, he is the breadwinner for his household and therefore has no choice but to work as hard as he can.  He has cut out the metal heads used for hand hoes with a hammer and chisel.  He methodically pounds the heads into their final shape, then pummels the edge until it becomes a sharp blade for cutting through the earth.  He is too weak to go out looking for the proper wood that is used for the handles, so he sends someone.  His work is precise and his tools hand-forged for strength.  I ask what it costs for one, the reply “240 shillings.”  I asked if I were to buy ten, the quick answer, “2,400 shillings.”  Although this amounts to $3 per hoe, I negotiate aggressively because I wanted to buy more than one.  We settle on 200 shillings per hoe and I order 20.  He can make 5 per day, so 4 days from now I can pick up my hoes for a total of 4,000 shillings ($50).  He probably makes 70-80 cents per hoe net profit, so at 5 per day he can rake in up to $4 for his work, a very nice living around here.  The hoes will be given out to the top performing women of our agricultural programs, and they will think they have struck gold.  Everybody wins.
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As I was running the other day a man called my name from the field where he was planting corn seeds.  I waved until he asked me to stop, which I did.  I needed a break anyway.  He came to me and told me that he wanted me to come to his village so he could give me his biggest chicken.  This is a great gesture, but I wondered why such a random act.  He then explained that it was me who had helped his wife during child birth a couple of months ago.  He went on to explain that since they named him “Bret,” the boy had grown strong and healthy, and he believed this all tied together.  I graciously acknowledged his kindness, but told him that I was the one blessed by his son having my name.  Well, today I was summoned to the front porch where the man, his young wife, and little Bret awaited me with a flailing chicken in a plastic bag.  These people cannot afford to extend such gifts, but their desire to give it to me could not be curtailed.  I sent Bret home with a new blanket and his parents received one of my gift bags filled with corn flour, sugar, rice, and some wheat flour.  Mine is a gesture of kindness, while there’s was a gift of the deepest appreciation.  I cannot match that.
Since arriving here I have received several chickens one goat, one hand-woven hat, and a piece of coral from the ocean.  I have had several of the boys named “Bret” come and visit, and have employed one of them to make marbles out of clay for our group to take home as gifts.  He’ll make a tidy sum, we’ll have a great story to tell, and everybody wins.
There is truly nothing better at the end of the day than taking a shower in the Koins shower stalls.  The African night is a spectacular site with thousands of bright diamonds scattered overhead.  The far away sound from villages can be heard as you wash and prepare for the night.  Tonight I found a passenger that I picked up somewhere along my travels.  He was small, but extremely uninvited.  I felt his presence as I scrubbed today’s dirt from my skin.  Unfortunately where he decided to attach himself to me was particularly unsettling.  What was even worse is that the possibility of having someone willingly help me remove the tick would be improbable.  Luckily he had only been there a short while and had not begun feasting on my blood yet.  As he struggled with all his might, holding tightly to the flesh he so badly wanted to chew on, I plucked him and systematically crushed his body with my fingernail.  After what he tried to pull, only one type of punishment fit the crime………at least in my book.
BVL

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bret's April Journal, Part 4

Kenya’s landscape is crisscrossed with geographic boundaries called districts, sub-locations, etc., and now with the new constitution, counties will be the main dividing lines of the country.  Kenya’s people are also carved up by 42 main tribes.  There are Christians, Muslims, and Hindu wherever you go, and they all live peacefully together…..for the most part.  Although they are human and prefer staying with “their own,” they inter-marry between tribes and religions, often changing their religion to satisfy the family requirements of one of the spouses.  Johnson, our driver, was raised a faithful Christian.  Deep down he remains a Christian, but he practices Islam because it is the common belief that the children are to be raised in the religion of their mother, and she is a devout Muslim.

Needless to say, there is a great pride about one’s roots.  The only thing that comes close in the U.S. is college football, where school pride brings out the most spirited behavior.  Our schools compete daily with each other, most often on the academic front.  The end-of-term results are watched like a heated Olympic event.  Headmasters of our schools, who are all comrades engaged in the same fight, secretly desire that their friend down the road falters so they can overtake their position with their school. 

Several years ago a sparkling family, The Michel’s, came to our area after sponsoring an entire school dedicated to their son, Sean.  Their little boy was a special needs child, and suddenly passed away at a young age during a family vacation.  The legacy for their special boy would be a wonderful oasis for special needs children throughout our area.  There are no facilities or programs for these unfortunate children, so they are mostly ignored, and never receive the opportunity to develop academically.  Our collective favorite at the Sean Michel’s School (known around here as the SMS), is a boy named Beja.  He has cerebral palsy, and until the SMS was constructed, had been placed on a grass mat in his home and given food to live.  He never went to school, was never invited to play, nor was he able to assist his parents in the fields.  Although his mother loves him, the weight of providing for her other children simply does not permit her the luxury of caring for him.  There are no buses to carry him to a school, or programs that could help him along.  He is a bright, beautiful boy with a happy, loving spirit, alone in an uncooperative body, stuck in a country that cannot care for him.  The SMS embraced Beja, and dozens more with similar situations, giving them a comfortable place to stay, and a staff to attend to their needs.  The SMS is located next to one of our primary schools where our special children are taken for daily instruction in a normal classroom setting. 

Lisa and Rowe Michels, and Beja, star of the SMS

Over the last couple of days some of our children were taken to Mombasa where competitions were taking place for the special needs kids.  The larger town and cities have schools dedicated to the special needs children, but this was the first time anyone from this part of the bush had participated.  Because the SMS is recognized as a Koins school, the community was anxiously awaiting to hear the results of “their school.”  With great pride the talk that is quickly spreading throughout the village is that 3 girls and 2 boys have qualified for the national competition held next week in Nairobi.  These are children that have never been to Mombasa before, and now they are having the red carpet rolled out for them to compete on the national stage, and the government that has ignored them is sponsoring each of them to make the trip.  Their counterparts in the classroom have never imagined going to Nairobi, so upon their return the stories will be plentiful, and these special needs kids will most certainly be in a spotlight that will not dim quickly.

Our schools are closing for the end of the term.  Many of the teachers take college courses during this month off, going straight from their classrooms to various campuses throughout the country where they will study day and night, cramming a semester worth of studies into one month.  Prior to their departure they must correct all the final exams, tabulate the results, and turn them into the headmasters of their respective schools.  Today we had some drama up in Miyani when the results were made public.  We had a girl that had been number one in her class since day one.  Now she is in 8th grade, and making a strong name for herself.  Last January when I was here I challenged one of her male counterparts, a young man named Dete (day-tay) to try his level best to overtake her.  He shook his head as if this wasn’t going to be possible, but I promised him a goat if he pulled it off.  I’ll be going shopping for a goat because he actually caught girl-wonder and beat her by 8 points.  Now I feel horrible because she cried all day with the news that she had been dethroned.  However, Dete discovered that he could push hard and achieve the unachievable.  Maybe I’ll buy a goat for her, too.

A day in Mombasa is like having your teeth cleaned with a Black and Decker cordless drill and a wire brush.  I keep trying to find something appealing about this city of almost 2 million, but it has escaped me for ten years.  The beach area is fantastic, and the sand is as inviting as anywhere I have vacationed, but this city on the coast, which is actually an island, has zero appeal.  Unfortunately, it serves as the gateway to Eastern Africa with the largest port along this coast.  Anything we need for construction, expedition supplies, or groceries, you have to go to Mombasa.  We did meet the District Officer there and had another nice meeting at the end of the day, so yes, there is a silver lining to our black cloud of the day.

Returning to the village late at night to the sound of funeral drums in the distance is never a good sign.  Oddly enough, on one ridge there was some kind of party going on, while on the absolute opposite end of our basin we must have lost someone.  I’m sure I will find out tomorrow the story behind this unfortunate event.

Mike Bumstead from the Institute of Self-Reliance Agriculture finally joined us in the village late tonight.  He is here to finally see what all the talk is about with his organization’s speedy rise with their programs in Kenya.  He will also visit with Leah since she will assist with the management of the SRA as part of her Executive Director position with Koins.  Good thing she is full of energy and desire because nothing short of that will fill both of our needs. 

Runs in the early morning are probably wonderful experiences for those who get after it.  After 4 hours of total sleep, I wasn’t going to be one of them.  We had work to do, and instead of doing what I had planned, I was squeezing every single moment of mattress time that I could. 

Goats needed their vaccinations, and a meeting with a potential sewing center manager kicked off our day.  Mike finally gained consciousness about 8:30 and wearily stumbled out onto the porch to assess his whereabouts in daylight.  We had forgotten to give him directions around our center last night, so he admitted to watering one of our plants in front of the center during the night.  His wasn’t the first, that’s for sure.  Our he-goats are busily keeping up with the demand in the tight quarters of our pen where 31 available females are needing attention.  Now I understand why certain parts are so prodigious with this particular breed.

One of our happy billy goats

We skipped breakfast and went straight away to the “shamba” (gardens).  Mike was truly amazed at the work that has taken place since Koins embraced the SRA programs.  He soaked in all the various activities, greeting the many ladies (and one man) working to grow the food according to their program.  Citrus groves and fruit trees, the digging of the fish ponds, and the goat and chicken houses are now in full swing.  Once our bore hole is drilled and fresh water is pulled begrudgingly back to the surface, the Garden of Eden will re-emerge in this dusty village.

The tractor is plowing every day, and breaking down with something just as often.  A ball-bearing went this morning, but our guys tore it down, and we took the pieces to a shop in Mazeras.  It was repaired and back on track in a matter of hours, with parts and labor crushing our pocketbooks at $36.  I’m not sure you could get a spark plug changed in the states for that amount of money.

I’ve lost the keys to Leah’s ATV, and we’re not talking a small misplacement.  They’ve been gone for three days, and now I’m even convinced they’re outta here.  I have no idea, and we have only one set, so Leah may be learning to ride a motorcycle soon so she can get around after I’m gone. 

Our afternoon walk took us up towards the giant baobob trees on the ridge at Chikomani (cheek-oh-mah-knee).  Mike enjoyed the interaction with the villagers, their kind greetings, and genuine friendliness to us.  He looks at everything through agricultural possibility lenses, sincerely desiring to assist these people.  We ran across the girls who came the other day to pick up blankets.  They were going down to pick up water from the pond at the foot of the hill, not far from where they live.  They restated how much they enjoyed the blankets and thanked us profusely.  Oh how I wish the ladies that made those blankets could see the light in these ladies’ faces when receiving, or later talking about, their blankets.

As night fell upon us we hastened our pace.  As we passed through the last small set of homes before entering the compound, Bwana Mwero sat in front of his house and called to me.  I could barely see him in the dark, but as I neared I could see who it was.  This is a man that has assisted us on so many occasions they are without number.  His children have attended our schools, and he has always tried to show his support through working on our behalf.  His trade is a blacksmith, making small hand tools for the area.  It is not uncommon to hear the sound of his heavy-handed hammer striking away at a molten piece of iron, molding into something that will help feed a family.  As I greeted him with a firm handshake I asked him how everything was.  He stated that he was doing well except for the wound on his leg.  It is rare that someone would talk about a wound unless it was serious, so I inquired further.  He lifted his loose-fitting pants to reveal a shocking site that caused me to take a deep breath.  This was not anything like what I could have even imagined.  This man had a gaping hole in his upper leg, and was receiving no medical treatment. 

Untreated wound

We remained at his place for 10 minutes or so, but really had to get back as visibility would soon be nil. Within minutes we had reached the dispensary and found Joy, one of our nurses, filling her water bucket.  We asked if she had even known about Mwero’s leg, which she had, but stated that she had never seen, nor treated it.  I was dumbfounded, but at the same time it didn’t surprise me.  Upon finally arriving back at the KCC I couldn’t get the picture out of my head, so I asked Yama if he knew about it.  He said that he did, but didn’t know that it had become unusually large.  I showed him a series of photos that I took, and then he plainly stated, “yeah, that’s what people with AIDS have around here when their immune system cannot fight off an infection.”  These are difficult lessons to learn when involving someone that you’ve known for many years.  Yama and I will go see him tomorrow to urge him to come to the clinic and begin the available drug treatment for his virus.  The sadness of the situation is really when you realize that the probability of him telling his wife that he is sick with HIV/AIDS is negligible, and she will end up with similar results. 

I prepared dinner for the small group – Italian, of course – and the evening was quickly winding up.  Mike was heading quickly into a comatose state, and I’m not far behind.  Ambien, anyone?

The nearest LDS Church to us is on the north side of Mombasa, so we leave at 8:50 so we can arrive in time for the 10:00 meeting.  The morning was so dazzling that I could not sit around, so I left the bustle of the Koins Center and went for a brief run (all of mine are brief).  As I crossed the river bed I ran through a coconut grove into a grassy area where goats were grazing.  Two young billies were jousting with their stubby horns, practicing for the time when it their turn at leading the herd.  Out of breath and near cardio infarction, I crested the hill near Chikomani, taking a rest as I was greeted by some young children playing marbles with their hand-made spheres of mud.  I continued down the other side of the knoll towards Nunguni (noon-goon-ee), a place where we have never really been, but one that has natural beauty and fertile soils…..and a school that badly needs our help.  They’ve never partnered with us, so we have yet to extend our assistance, but we have heard they are saving their funds to start engaging us.

As I jogged along the small pathway above the village I rounded a sharp corner, innocently startling three small children.  The two older ones ran quickly up the small slope into a small clutch of huts, but the smallest of the three, little girl of perhaps three years, shrieked so loud that it frightened me.  Almost immediately a young father bounded out of his hut after hearing the screams of his daughter.  He looked at me with disdain, recognizing that I was the cause of his daughter’s panic.  I quit running, and mustered the best Swahili greeting I had “habari ya asabuhi.”  He didn’t answer, but came back asking me in English “who are you.”  In trying to keep with his tongue, I answered, “mimi ni Baba Bret (I am Baba Bret).”  With that he looked even more sternly, then asked me again.  I repeated it more clearly, thinking he had not heard me.  With a slight relax of his face the tone turned friendlier as he inquired if I was the Baba Bret with Koins.  “Ndio (yes),” I replied.  With that he commented, “You are the ones who have made Mnyenzeni so beautiful.”  It’s difficult to say when words this simple have ever made me more proud of what we have accomplished.  “Nashakuro (I am grateful)” I responded.  I wish I knew how to tell this man of meager means that his words of encouragement had filled my day.

Just over a mile away I stopped at Mama Fatuma’s house.  They looked worried as I came into their small compound, red-faced and gasping for breath.  Samantha and Rumba were the first to extend warm greetings to me.  These two stars are both at national schools since their performance in primary school was above all others.  They have come home for their term break, and to see their academic achievements, personal growth and maturity is beyond inspirational.  Rumba, a handsome boy with a deep smile took my hand and walked me towards the newly plowed field.  As we stopped, far enough away where others could not hear his words, he articulated his gratitude for what Koins has done for him.  He stated that without his scholarship, pointing at the dry earth in front of us, his mind would be wasted turning soil with his hands.

Samantha will be our next female superstar.  Confidence has purged her shyness as she willingly gives me a tight hug.  She is in Purity Mrabu’s shadow, our first girl to go to University from the area, but Sammy’s focus on even higher performance will push her to new heights.  So far Samantha has straight A’s, and around here these are hard numbers to achieve in one class, let alone 8 at a time.

One of the many carvers at Akamba

It was getting late so I turned back to the KCC.  I arrived in time to take a shower, dress quickly, and start the car as everyone piled in.  My deepest appreciation turned to the man who invented air conditioning.
After church we stopped at the Akamba Village where dozens of wood-carving craftsmen produce works of art with their rudimentary tools.  We needed to pick up a few items so off to the shops we went.  Mupa Matano, a 12 year old girl that I’ve known since she was a toddler, came with us today.  She is Rumba and Sammy’s little sister.  A day in a car, going to town is an exciting event, so when I extended the invitation, there was no hesitation.  Tusky’s is a large store that caters to the European crowd.  We entered and her eyes lit up.  She had never been in a building this large, especially one with so many items on the shelf.  She didn’t even know what anything was, but enjoyed watching us select them and put them in our trolley cart.  I could see her sneaking a glance at the packaging, occasionally picking something up and reading the label, trying to determine what it might be.  I asked Leah and Emily to take her upstairs and buy her a nice top.  Utter delight would be an understatement on Mupa’s reaction.  Everyone was hungry so we ordered from the food counter.  Both Emily and Mupa ate their chicken burgers slowly and methodically, careful to not waste a bite.  Mike bought ice cream bars and handed one to each member of our party.  Mupa was hoping to save hers until she went home.  She didn’t understand the word “melt” until we unwrapped the bar and it immediately began dripping down her tiny, black hand.  We told her to quickly to begin eating it, which she did.  She discovered ice cream that hot afternoon, an experience she will never forget.  On our way home, even Emily, the queen of our kitchen who lives in the village, said that this day was possibly the best day of her life.  How’s that for a little perspective?

Mama Emily and Ester, cooks at the KCC

A downpour of rain turned the Koins Center into a giant snare drum.  The rain fell at a crescendo, crashing down from low level clouds.  It would subside, then attack all at once in full force.  Villagers scattered for cover as I watched the scene unfold from the comfort of my Adirondack chair on the protected front porch of the KCC.  A motorcycle passed, back tires spinning and slipping into the ruts of the rough road.  He didn’t make it past the center before he had bogged down, then fell over in slow motion because the foot he extended to the ground also slipped on the slimy, clay mud.

An older gentleman from the village, with heavy drops running down his face from the falling rain, walked deliberately towards Anthony and I who were sitting on the porch of the KCC.  Yama sensed there was something urgent by the man’s body language, so he rose and barked to him in Swahili.  He was soaked to the skin and looked odd to me as the only person out in the rain.  The man stopped and answered Yama, turned and walked back in the same direction from which he came.  Yama looked at me and ordered me to follow him, so I did.   Something was terribly wrong.  Thankfully the rain has softened to a mist.  We carefully chose our steps and walked only 300 yards from the front door of our place.  The man who fetched us stopped dead in his tracks, said something to Yama in Swahili, and would go no farther.  Yama turned once more to me, disgusted and upset, and said that the man had found a body just a matter of yards from us in the thick, thorny brush.  We had continued for only a few steps, when Yama stopped and audibly sucked air into his teeth in distress.  As I looked over his shoulder I saw a small bundle ahead of us.  As I got closer I saw the two small feet of an infant baby peeking from the bottom of its tattered, blue blanket.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the newborn could possibly be alive, but by the coloring of its tiny toes and feet the gates of heaven had already been opened for this innocent baby. It was an ugly beginning to a wet, gray morning.  I felt guilty for not doing anything, but police were on their way and this was a crime scene, probably  of a young girl who had an unwanted baby.

Kevin’s Creek, named after the guy who helped us construct our dam across this small, seasonal stream, was flowing nicely with the arrival of the rain.  I wanted to see it in action, so I placed my best mud shoes onto my feet and headed slowly down there.  There is a massive baobob tree standing sentinel on the east side of the dam.  As I arrived a slow drizzle came down again, so I tucked myself under the protective umbrella of the tree and watched the world for a moment.  I saw a young boy flipping rocks upwardly into a nearby coconut tree with a makeshift slingshot.  At first I thought he was just too lazy to climb the tree and was retrieving the fruit through an alternative method.  It was then that hurled stone struck and dropped a black bird.  The boy nonchalantly went over and picked it up, and continued on, looking up in the trees for his next prey.  Our own little village Robin Hood.

BVL

Monday, April 16, 2012

Dr. Paul Johnston, BYU Nutrition Professor

Dr. Paul Johnston is a Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He is also developer of the "super cookie." In this talk he explains how the forces of agriculture and nutrition can come together in the form of a "school garden" to provide better nourishment for young people in Kenya.



On April 5, he gave this talk in Park City, Utah that was part of a conference convening in Berlin, Germany by the Gates Foundation on world health and hunger.  His talk was made available by streaming to Berlin.  The talk dealt with his international nutrition class' interaction with the children in Kenya serviced by Koins and SRA.


This is a great summary of the nutritional difficulties faced by the children of our service area of Kenya.  Dr. Johnston has visited Mnyenzeni, and established a relationship between his Nutrition classes at BYU and the young students in Kenya, analyzed their diets, and helped establish nutritional needs and the efforts of a school garden in Gona to better meet these needs.  It is a great example of how his expertise, the input of his students, the experience of Self Reliant Agriculture (SRA) and the facilitating of Koins has worked together to successfully improve the diets of this test group of students.  With the expansion of the rotational farm project through the cooperative efforts of SRA and Koins, we hope the future of the children of the Mnyenzeni area will be a brighter and healthier.

Many thanks to Dr. Johnston and the SRA for their willingness to work with Koins. 

Asante Sana!

IVL

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Meeting in Vikolani, Bret's April Journal #3

This is another installment from Bret, who is in Kenya for a few weeks.  Next week another expedition group will join him, but for now he is introducing Leah to the community and doing all that can be done to prepare her to take over the position of Executive Director of the Koins board in Kenya. 

Technology is blessing we did not have available to us while in Kenya during the early years of Koins.  Now cell phones are commonplace, and the internet is available, although it is still sketchy, as is cell service at times.  So far this trip, I have been able to speak with Bret daily. I am always glad to receive his emails that share the activities of his days while in Kenya.  Hopefully he will be able to share some photos soon.  IVL
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Replacing the man who has been the face of Koins for the last decade, one of their own, one with childhood friendships and students that he taught as children now raising families of their own in the area is not an easy task.  Leah has been thrown into the deep end and is swimming like a champ as we travel around the area, meeting educational leaders, law enforcement directors, village elders, and everyone in between.  We have had no shortage of group assemblies, and I’m sure Leah is beginning to feel like a GOP candidate, but these are necessary functions as Koins makes their transition.

The billowy clouds coming from the west, with their soaring columns of ruffled frames, indicate a chance of rain.  The prayers on the ground implore that they find a home directly over us and pummel us with precipitation.  A cool breeze washes in with the late, gray afternoon, bringing relief to me and a bone-chilling 78 degrees to this cold-blooded community.  As I went for my afternoon walk over hill and dale, visiting the many family clusters dotting the dry hillsides, whatever items of clothing are available are placed on their bodies to stay warm.  I walk around with a t-shirt and safari shorts, looking to them like I’m going to a Polar Bear Plunge party.

I crossed the dry bed of the Mnyenzeni River and headed up the opposite side.  I was on unfamiliar paths, but children greeting me by name indicate that I’m still in my area.  The trodden path lead me to an uncharacteristic village, with tidy huts placed in organized rows, and many large stones placed in an orderly fashion for sitting in a variety of places throughout this tiny hamlet.  The children scurried around, afraid of their visitors, but announcing I had arrived.  Soon the village center was crawling with mothers and tiny babies, toddlers, children and the white-haired elderly.  As each exited their hut to come and greet us, they looked upwardly to determine the condition of the skies.  They systematically pulled their kangas around their shoulders to shelter them from the bite of the wind.  Million dollar smiles filled their faces as they greeted the first white man to ever set foot on their soil.  Although the children were dying with curiosity, their fear never allowed them to come any closer than a distant handshake.

A young woman dressed in colorful robes and headdress greeted us.  She knew me from the primary school where she attended until the age of 13.  Her education ended when her test results didn’t permit her into secondary school.  She followed the typical alternative - returning to the village, working the fields, and marrying someone from a neighboring village.  She announced she was 17, as she adjusted the bundle on her back, revealing the frail baby cradled in its wrap.  The infant’s beauty was astounding as she opened her coal black eyes to see who had caused her shuffling.  She was cold and searched to retreat back to the warmth of her mother’s back.  Winter is coming south of the equator, and small children who are already weak are often the victims of a mild cold or flu.  Combined with exposure to malaria and water-born illnesses, I could only feel hopeful that this darling child would someday be one of the children calling to me from afar. 

A stiff wind caused a visible shiver from the baby, so I told her mother to come to the Koins Center in the morning and I would provide her with a thick, warm, cozy blanket.  Since I leave my belongings here, my bags when I travel are always filled with needed supplies, equipment, or other goods.  My cousin Leigh, as well as my sweet niece, Katie, organized a multitude of blankets to be made specifically for this purpose.  We usually reserve the blankets as a small reward to the women who come to the safety of our dispensary to have their babies instead of remaining at home.  However, I couldn’t resist inviting this mother to come and collect a blanket for her baby.  There has never been a smile so wide when she realized I was offering her one of our well-known blankets.  She said that she was so excited that she would not sleep that night, and wanted to come early to the KCC, so I told her as early as she wanted.  I am fully aware that she’ll be there as I exit my bedroom.  I’ll have a blanket for her.

The District Officer in this large area is the top law enforcement official, but responsible for keeping order when dealing with disputes, land issues, community development, and alike.  Our D.O. is one of the few females with this steep position, and having Leah as her counterpart in the community was truly a treat for her ears.  She provided Leah with deep insight and wisdom from someone who came here from afar, a different tribe, and a woman placed in a leadership position in the middle of the Duruma people.  I sat and watched our green executive absorb the words of wisdom from this seasoned veteran.  They will be friends, and the relationship between her office and Koins will surely be strengthened.  The long road Leah will travel with Koins is being paved, thus far, by wonderful people like Madam Gloria, the District Officer.

The brawny clouds remained silent throughout the evening, without spilling a drop on our beckoning fields.  The churning of soil by hoe, oxen tillers, and the Koins tractor is the order of the day around here as everyone prepares for the rains.  It will be soon when the seeds will be going into the ground, and that’s when every single prayer from each individual mouth will be directed upwards pleading to heaven for their vital rains.

Mmmmm good, brown beans and rice for dinner.  A lukewarm glass of water as a chaser, and I’m off to the showers to scrub off anything that has attached itself to me during the day.

………………………..
With the assistance of a small, white Ambien pill, I finally enjoyed a full night’s rest.  The crowing roosters, gurgling he-goats, or noise of the village interrupted my slumber.  I am officially on Kenyan time.
Much of our objective for this expedition is to prepare for our summer activities.  Today we met with the village of Vikolani (vee-co-lawn-ee).  Yama, Buffalo, Tuku, me, and Edison (our agriculture specialist) made the trip on foot as a vehicle cannot reach there.  Leah came with us to be introduced and take part in the planning process we have specifically for this village.  We thought we were meeting with a few village elders and representatives from the women’s group.  Upon our arrival at the Koins-constructed primary school, a couple of hundred villagers had gathered to greet us and make us feel welcome.  With colorful dress, clapping hands, and songs of gratitude, we were seated under the sprawling branches of a Neem tree, one that has provided shade for weary travelers for over a century.

Our plan is to have a youth group come and live within the community.  They will build a hut similar to those where the villagers live.  A garden is being planted now that will provide harvest of native plants upon our group’s arrival, and our kids will rotate the garden and replant the soil.  They will serve this community and live amongst them, herding goats, fetching water, planting vegetables, and preparing traditional meals – side by side with the people from Vikolani.  We needed property where two huts could be erected.  It was happily given to us.  We need them to dig a pit where a latrine can be constructed.  We were promised a pit 15 feet deep since we will construct it near the school so the children will finally have a place to go.  Up until now……..well, let’s just say you had to watch where you were walking.  Land for a garden that would be dedicated for our use had to be donated.  No sooner was the request made that it was granted, and the location of the garden is in the center of the most fertile land in the village area, plush with coconut trees and green grasses.  These grateful people have been served by Koins, and whatever we needed to achieve our goals was given.  The fortunate young adults who will join our expedition in July will forever have Vikolani in their hearts, with memories that will last a lifetime.

We arranged for Leah to sponsor a lunch for all of the Koins staff, meeting each of them formally and addressing them as a group.  There is no question that she will earn their respect, and they will give it freely as she works at their side.  The laundry list of things to do seems endless, but the foundation stands firmly, ready for Leah’s blocks to be placed.  Her abilities will only improve our work to this point, making our humble organization even better than it is, and this community is getting excited about it as they see Yama standing so firmly behind her and cheering her on.  I asked the women’s group in Vikolani if they were happy about seeing a woman take over.  It was if I had announced the winning lottery ticket number and their group was the owner. 

Although I know the villagers love me, when I go for a run the children laugh out loud.  They’ve never seen me run, as I never have before over here.  Some of the younger kids will actually run with me, occasionally uttering jokes in Duruma, sending everyone that is with us into fits of laughter.  These are Kenyans, and they know how to run.  However, the men near my age group have quite a different reaction, and although they wonder why I’m working so hard, they encourage me.  Here is today’s conversation that I found so funny:
Villager – “Baba Bret, you are running?”
Me – Ndio (yes)
Villager – “Are you in a hurry to get somewhere?”
Me – Apana (not really)
Villager – “Then why do you run?”
Me – (Blank look and a shrug of the shoulders)
Villager – “Baba Bret, walk and enjoy the day.”

I felt like taking their sage advice, but since my bride is back home killing my times at altitude, if I don’t run here I’ll never be able to catch her.

Night falls like a thick blanket here.  It’s quick, and becomes dark in just a few minutes time.  There are no light poles that kick on to illuminate your way, or solar walkway lights that provide some sort of direction.  It goes black, and you had better have excellent vision in the dark or a flashlight, because there are no options.  Tonight the frogs have started singing.  Why now?  There were no rains today.  I guess another Ambien is going to be required.

BVL

Monday, April 9, 2012

Bret, April Journal #2, Arriving in Mnyenzeni

As I begin this entry, I gyrate my 45 inch fan towards me and crank it to high.  I'm not so hot that I need the air flow, but a 30 mph wind sure keeps the bugs off of me when the computer is the only light within a mile of here.

At less than a thousand feet above sea level there should be more air here than Purina has puppy pellets, allowing me to enjoy a longer, less arduous jog along the dirt roads of our area.  For some reason the level of oxygen this morning resembled that of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and my leisurely run kicked my grits.  Old women carrying bundles of sticks on their head passed me as I puffed my way up the hills.  The ruts in the road, the large patches of sharp stones, and the herds of goats all required a great deal of circumnavigation.  From how I felt at the end my 3 mile run, it must have equaled 17, so I’m good for another week.  I have never run here in Kenya, and to people who live and breathe running I must have looked like a total ignoramus plodding along at laughable speeds.  They may find this humorous, but let’s see them wolf down three twinkies and a large diet coke while driving down the road with their knees, and then we can talk!!

Our late arrival last night necessitated a run to the stores of Mombasa today for supplies.  As we negotiated our way along our dreadful thoroughfares, Anthony pointed out several pieces of broken plastic on the far side of a ravine.  I have passed this way a thousand times, admiring the rugged beauty of the cascading rock formations of this tiny gorge.  It was less than a week ago that a bus traveled this road, overcrowded and in a hurry to reach its destination.  It had just become dark as they peaked over the top of the hill leading down towards the main river that flows through this area.  The driver was new and had never taken this road, but he had driven many similar roads in his career.  As they came to a series of deep potholes the driver pushed on the brakes so he could slow enough to go around them.  The brakes failed, forcing the bus to hit the deep holes, catapulting the passengers from their seats.  The grade became immediately more abrupt and the aging bus picked up steam.  The driver could not hold the road, but tried valiantly to keep the bus under control even though he was going through fields and bush.  With the faint light of the moon he could see an upwards hill in the distance and headed in that direction.  He ordered everyone to hold on as they panicked in their helpless situation.  He avoided a tree, then another, and just as he thought he was going to begin going up the hill, the bus lunged over the edge of the small gorge where we had stopped, smashing into unforgiving rocks on the opposite side.  The driver was killed instantly.  Eight others were dead before help arrived.  Anthony arrived on the scene moments later on his way home and was shocked at what he saw.  Friends bleeding with broken bones and cracked heads.  One woman was holding her own intestines in her arms as she was sliced open when flying forward in the cabin from the back rows and then bludgeoned on a luggage rack.  Yama called our other board member, Buffalo Mwangi who was only a few miles away and cried for him to bring his truck quickly.  This same bumpy vehicle that was used to bring Leah ‘s belongings to the village had become an ambulance.  More than 30 people were loaded into the dirty flatbed and began their tortuous ride down the rutted, jarring roads of this area.  Within 24 hours 4 more had passed from their injuries, with another half dozen still in critical condition.

Fanny works in our dispensary, logging excruciating hours in order to serve her fellow villagers.  She has been trained as a lab tech, and uses our microscope and testing equipment to properly identify malaria and a few other common diseases that, prior to acquiring said microscope, regularly went mistreated.  She and her 4-year old daughter were on that bus.  Her little girl is always calling to me and waving from the small, makeshift classroom across the tiny road from our center.  She wears her little, purple, checkered uniform so proudly, commonly sporting a new style of braid from her mother’s skillful hands.  Fanny broke her spine in the accident, but did not sever the cord.  She had a broken leg and minor cuts, but will heal with time.  What will never mend is her shattered heart, as her beautiful daughter was buried two days later.  She was one of the passengers who was killed instantly.  Now, where only dry dirt and yellowing shrubs were once visible, a large piece of broken plastic marks the spot where the overfilled bus had this horrible incident.

A trip to Nakumat is like going to Costco without a plan……it can last for hours.  We made it as fast as we could, but grocery shopping for a large group who will arrive next week takes a lot of time.  We have to plan for the short term, then purchase those items that will last until the expedition is over.  Leah got her first taste of how Anthony and I have done this for several years.  I think she’ll improve upon it quickly, among other things.

We had to repair a flat tire at Mazeras, but with the amount of punctures these people experience, taking a tire off the hub, removing the nail that caused our leak, repairing it and placing it back on the car took a total of 20 minutes.  That doesn’t seem too blistering fast until you realize that there was not one piece of power equipment involved.  Hand jack, lug wrench, and tire irons………no zippy lug nut remover, hydraulics or air pressure machines.  All by hand.  With the mechanics charges and 25% tip, we drove out of there for $3.50.  Sometimes it’s just too good to be in Kenya.

When we arrived back at the KCC, Buffalo’s truck was sitting out front being unloaded.  Leah quickly went to the room where she will be staying and began nesting.  She didn’t know where everything would ultimately go, so she just oversaw the general area stacking of boxes and furniture.  She will be very comfortable in her new home with more space than she had in her old apartment in Nairobi.  Once everything is placed, she’ll be happy to host her first visitors.

As darkness fell the Kenyan board of Koins was assembled at our favorite spot, on the front lawn of the KCC.  We gathered our chairs in a circle and reunited for the first time since January.  A lot has happened in that span, so the next couple of hours was filled with laughter, catching up, and serious business.  Leah was invited into the circle after we had conducted our regular business and voted unanimously and exuberantly as the newest member, and incoming Executive Director of the Koins for Kenya Board.

Dinner was served as I wrestled with attempting to connect to the internet.  I never did eat, but that’s not uncommon when I come to Kenya.  I don’t know why, but this place is a great diet plan for me.  I don’t mind their food, and quite enjoy many aspects of it, but I somehow lose my desire to eat.  Resetting and restarting everything provided some relief, but the connections here in the village are abysmal, at best.  Now, with everyone well into slumber and my daily duty fulfilled, I will take my bucket shower under the starry skies, slink under my mosquito netting, and see if I can catch a few hours sleep before that friggin’ rooster starts his daily routine.