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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

1 comment:

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