Saturday, 2 July 2011

Living the Days of Our Forefathers

At the beginning - solid ground.
And the dust starts to fly. Kitengela is in a bit of a drought.
These men know how to do manual labor! It is amazing how efficiently they pace themselves.
The foundation is dug with mattocks and shovels. Our friend Paul came to help for the day.
With burning blisters from the mattock, Kale switches to the shovel.
After our first day of construction.
Let us not forget all this work is done under the hot, hot sun.
An onlooker.
The contractor. A very kind and skilled man.
Cementing the stone wall. Our new friend James also works as the school security guard.
Slow and steady the walls are coming up.
In the last few weeks we are starting to understand a bit of what our grandfathers must have felt when they told us "we built this country with our bare hands" with such pride. Knowing nothing but our country as developed it is hard to appreciate the ones who started from scratch. Here in a developing country the men we are working with now will be a part of those grandfathers telling their grandchildren that they helped build this beautiful country. I don't think they even realize the greatness of their contribution. They are doing much more than putting food on their family's table. 

We have enjoyed working with the men and learning the intensity of manual labor that goes into their buildings. Not one machine has been used aside from the trucks that deliver the supplies to the site. A job that would take a few hours with a bobcat at home to excavate took us a few days with mattocks and shovels. The cement is all mixed by hand. Each stone chipped to the proper size and shape with a hammer. You get the picture. Kevin Lajeunesse - you  would fit right in. It's more work but it also employs more people; in Kenya it can be difficult to find work even if you are skilled or educated.

We are a bit sad we won't be able to see the final product as we leave for home in less than two weeks but it just means we will have to come back some day to see all the exciting changes that are taking and going to take place at Noonkopir Primary.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Big Dreams Start Somewhere Smaller

Time is flying. When you go somewhere for a few months you think you have so much time to do so many things. Our trip is half over and although we have had experienced much and spent good time with people, we at the same time feel like we have done small things (yes mom, we try to do each with great love). Before we leave though we did want to leave something at one of the projects request.

The Health Center although appearing quite shabby at the time is soon to be well established as a new building along with all the equipment needed has been donated by donors from South Korea. They are just waiting for a few final touches on the new facility to move over from the cracking walls of the old building. The nurses are well trained and staffed. Aside from the odd time I have witnessed patients not able to get the care needed it pertinent time due to the lack of a medical transport system to a hospital. My biggest challenge at the center is the direct and impersonal approach of many of the nurses toward the patients. My challenge in the next month at the health center will be trying to encourage an attitude of compassion and empathy. There are a few nurses who are exceptions and although I can't always understand the full of the conversation I can tell the difference it makes with the patients when they are treated with thoughtful care.

Anyway, back to the original thought, since the health center, resources wise, has been taken care of, we decided to focus on a gift for the school. After conversation with the principal at the school we decided it would be of benefit to build more classrooms. The school right now has 800 students and 8 classrooms; that is 100 students per class! Classroom management is a challenge and often resorts to a cane. Also, each new semester families line up to get their children in school as Kitengela is a fast growing community, there is not enough room in the inn to accommodate all the children; the principal has to turn them away. When the government employees come around to audit the school they don't look at the number of students per teacher but the number of classrooms per teacher. That is 1 teacher per 100 students. The school does have a few extra teachers as there are a few trees on the school ground that since they produce shade can be considered a classroom. When you walk into a classroom there is little space wasted. 3-seater desks run wall to wall with just enough space inbetween to pass and often have 4 seated. There is no room for any teaching aids/tactile tools; there is a chalk board and notebooks. Most of the kids are eager to learn but often get distracted by the close quarters - it is very easy to chat quietly or poke your neighbor. Development of the school grounds has been a goal of the school's but with a more than tight government budget it hasn't been possible. The dream is to build a two story building on the west side of the school ground eventually if  funds allow. The principal tells us this new classroom will be a start towards that dream and give hope that the dream may be built in the future. We would love to see the school someday have a library, art/music room (neither of which are in the primary school curriculum at this time) and kitchen along with additional classrooms. It's intriguing to watch the kids at school; they often don't get to do things for imagination, exploration or enjoyment at school. School is very bookwork oriented. You give them a reading or picture book  - ten kids crowd around it,  a guitar - they all want to touch it and eagerly learn new songs, a new ball - they all flock to the field to fight for a chance to kick it. The cheers and shouts for something new is a sweet, sweet sound. Kale and I with the help of donations from the Daognam family and Bri and Jo have decided to donate and help construct a classroom - we start construction this coming week. It is going to be hard manual labor under a hot hot sun but the cheers of the children will ring in our hearts and keep them pumping. We hope to get it done in the next month to celebrate the final product with the kids - our hope is that we can run the project  more on the muzungu side of time.

We are sorry we haven't been able to post pictures. They take eons to load. We will maybe try to post a few on a lazy day soon.

The boys don't get on well with Kale at all.
 Every Wednesday we have Health Club:
 Health Club boys working on their first aid posters.
The kids were so proud of their posters. They don't get much time to do art and such creative activities.
 The Classrooms:
Mr. Sukuma-wiki (Kale in Swahili) teaching class 6.

Digging holes for new football (soccer) posts.
The school grounds. After each day at school they gather for a short assembly and prayer. 

The kids find many ways to entertain themselves. You should see them flip off tires!

A boy whose family has come as refugees from Sudan.
Striking a pose. The kids love the camera.


Friday, 20 May 2011

BitterSweet Tourism

We know, we know, we are the most infrequent bloggers. We apologize. But let us not dwell on that small detail. The fingers are caressing the the white-out marked letters on the ol' net cafe keyboard now. Alot has happened since we last wrote, it's a little overwhelming to think of writing a blog. Deep breath, away we go.

We have been here for over a month now and we can't believe how time has flown by. With the slow moving/layed-back culture of Kenya we feel like we are only starting to obtain some sort of routine. It doesn't help that we have been away almost every weekend for various activities. We have yet to work a full week of work as we have  had to take most Friday afternoons off for travel time and sometimes miss Monday morning for travel depending on whether or not light permits us to travel home on Sunday nights. This past weekend we ventured to the Maasai Mara for a Safari. In Kitengella we are volunteers, on the Mara our foreheads are stamped "tourist".

At first we felt guilty that we signed up for the Safari and were afraid that we may not even be able to enjoy ourselves as we think of how many people in our community will never experience much outside keeping there home and family. There are many ways to experience and find enjoy in life though. We have seen that over and over here. As we bounced in the seats of our Safari van, after popping a gravol in (Kenya driving is bad enough when you are on a road), we can't help but forget the rest of the world and have our breath taken away by the majestic life around us.The land scape is just what you would picture of Africa. Mainly dry lands with scattered flat-topped trees; there are animals everywhere and I mean everywhere. I don't think there was an animal we didn't see. You don't drive far without seeing some life form. It's like my wise father says: "when people pay to shoot with their cameras  and not their guns, it helps preserve one of the world's great ecosystems. The cats were our favourite; they have such swagger. We had a few good laughs quoting Leslie's "what a cat" under our breath.

On the second day we were able to visit a Maasai Village. Their way of life is so intriguing. They truly preserve their tribal culture; minus the cell phones and jerseys under their traditional cloaks. This particular village is unique in that it hosts people from the safaris on a daily basis. The benefit - the people speak English and can explain much of the cultural traditions. The downfall  - it felt a bit too much like a tourist site invading the simplicity of their lives. As you enter the village they sing you a welcome song and do a little dance. They introduce you to the trees which each serve a purpose. There are trees from sandpaper to toilet paper. And the texture of each are much like the products we use. You then share a cup of blood together (this is where I chose to be the tourist photo snapper and Kale got to be the tourist consumer). What they do is tie a rope tightly around the neck of the cow serving as a tourniquet and as the vein bulges they shoot it with an arrow until the vein is punctured and the blood pours into the cup. They tie the rope around the puncture spot to stop the bleeding and bottoms up. Their diet consists of blood, meat and flour. Kale's kind of diet - my kind of weight loss program. After the blood feast they invite you into their homes which the women make of mud and sticks - these women work! There is one window for a streak of light, a small room for the children, a small room for the parents, and a small room for the baby goats or cattle to protect them from prey at night. They tell us that just the other night they lost a cow to a cheetah. So after you get to know these people (our host was the Chief's son Alex), they invite you into their home and allow you to ask as many questions as you want about their living...then it is business time - off to the market area of the village. Long story short Kale and I are not meant to be barterers. We did steal the shoes off of four of their feet but we paid a generous price for our goods. The income they get from the goods doesn't go to an individual but the village as a whole so hopefully it will be put to good use. We enjoy the Maasai people and hope to visit another village not as tourists but as friends.

After a four day weekend of Safari we realized how much Kitengela feels like home now. We were eager to get back. But of course when you really want to get somewhere there will be a delay. Van troubles!! We were delayed a couple hours and by the time we got to Nairobi our Safari guide Mike didn't want us to travel back in the dark. There was no room at the inn's of Fadhili host houses so us little lost hobos phoned our wonderful new friend Grace who welcomed us into our house with open arms. Another nights sleep til we reach our Kenyan home town. Home sweet home away from home.

We will try to mind the gap a bit between blogs.

Our Safari Crew - Kudos Driver Jackson is hilarious. It was no monotone discovery channel tour. 
 Our hut for the night - a luxury with a hot shower! At night Masai men keep guard as you fall asleep to the sound of laughing hyenas.
 Jumping during the welcome song.
 Making fire with no match, no lighter, no gas - just sticks and grass. 

There were to be more photos except that the camera battery died. Uploading does not take as long as we were told. We will charge up and add more. 

Here are the more:
 House made of mud and sticks. They are made by the women when they get married.
 Bought shoes right off his feet!
 Toilet Paper - Masaai style.
Let it rain. Fresh.
It's no Eatery on main double latte.
After math.
True hosts walking us back to our accommodation.
White Masaais.

 This is a "what a cat" moment.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Too Much Heat For This Eskimo Friend

My last day at the clinic was a scorcher.
I was working in the antenatal area doing prenatal assessments and immunizations when we heard a piercing shriek from the other side of the health center. I looked up from my book work as the other nurses laughed at me and said "it's a delivery". Maternity being my favorite area of nursing I jumped at the opportunity to participate in a delivery. As I enter the labour room which consists of two bare stretchers, a broken incubator, an outdated suctioning system, an old rusty weigh scale and some other miscellaneous birthing supplies, they dress me in a heavy orange gown and get me to put on gloves. The mother is alone so another nurse volunteer from Australia and I try our best to be her support people with reassuring touch, eyes and words that she can not understand (oh how i wish I could speak Swahili). I will not go into the details as I think even though in Kenya, I shall maintain confidentiality. Let me just say Kenyan woman are remarkably strong. There are no pain killers used here for childbirth. I guess when you have no other option humans can endure a lot. The baby is born, dried, weighed and wrapped. I suggest skin to skin but the nurses don't seem too receptive. Maybe next time. My Aussie nurse friend leaves to get some air as the room is quite stuffy. I stay with the mother as the nurses finish caring for her. My friend comes back and but a few minutes later I feel heat crawling up from my toes and I start to leave the room and tell her I am feeling dizzy. She takes my gown off for me and tells me she was feeling the heat when she left the room too. I go outside and lean on a half wall, the grass below me is spinning. The next thing I know Sally is holding me up saying my name and trying to help me to the floor. I wake up and sit down against the wall. She tells me I had a little faint and goes off to get me a bottle of water. I sit there waiting thinking, how did that lady deliver a baby in this heat? I have never fainted before, it is a strange feeling leaving the world for a few seconds but you do feel much better when your body reboots itself. My water arrives and I drink it quite quickly. Sally sits beside be and goes: "well, at least you didn't pee yourself". We laugh. She said I looked so pretty and relaxed hanging over the half wall. I think for the next delivery I will leave the gown on the hook.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Eyes Opened

After a whole day and a half of work in Kitengela, we are already off again to another community. This weekend we are taking part in Fadhili's outreach program that they try to run twice a month. These are the community's we visited:

The KCC slum. It has been nicknamed this as it is situated by the Kenyan Creamery Corporation. Here there is a New Zealander man named Marcus who was one of the original 5 volunteers who worked in this slum when Fadhili first started hosting volunteers. He has now returned and has been living at the KCC for almost two years. He seems to be well respected in the community. The slum is just as you would picture it. Large families living in small tin houses which they have built out of wood and corrugated metal. Resources are limited. There is no sewage system but a whole in the ground. Water is a long walk away and comes at a cost. You can only imagine the struggles and these are only a few of the issues with living in a slum. The main priority of most volunteer work in slums is education mainly for the children but they do try to hold some teaching sessions for adult also on pertinent issues. In the KCC the volunteers have built a school for the young children and are trying to register as an NGO so they can arrange for sponsors to send the children to primary and secondary school. They run a feeding program through the school so the children are sure to have at least one meal everyday. They have started encouraging the woman in the KCC to run small businesses to help sustain their families. We visited one woman who along with other women in the community makes jewelry out of recycled magazines. There has been discussion of establishing a water reservoir but the hope is that no slum is permanent so they try to build things that are temporary and movable. I understand the philosophy but when you here that these people have lived here for 31 years already I think I would be a yea sayer for the tank. Things do seem to be moving forward here though and the programs they have in place seem to be fairly well established. We enojoyed reading, foot racing, singing, dancing and playing games with the children and then we were on our way.

A baby in a bucket. Content as can be.

Where there is a muzungu and a kenyan child, there is a hand being held.

Singing, dancing and playing games.

Showing off his guns. Made of pure Ugali power.

Food for give-away.

Hell's Gate:
I am not sure why it is called this as it is actually quite beautiful as I imagine Hell would not be so. This wasn't apart of the outreach but more about seeing the Kenyan sites. It starts out with a 7km bike ride; we thought the roads were bumpy in a bum is still numb; three days later I still have to sit a certain way. Plus the bikes well they weren't top quality. Half way to the Gorge we stopped to view Pride Rock where they tell us that the classic movie The Lion King was filmed. I loved their wording as Lion King is a cartoon. When we reached the gorge we had a slurp of H2O and started our hike. I love Tom's shoes but they are not the best for hiking on smooth rocks that in some places are wet. A beautiful hike though aside from the shoe choice. On the way back some rode in the Matatu and others biked. And of course for some insane reason I decided to bike. Although pain came with every bump there was a sense of achievement when we made it back. Plus it was astonishing to be so close aside the wildlife as they started coming out as the day cooled. We came face to face with Zebras and rode past warthogs, water buffalo and gazelles. I felt like Pocahontas but on a rickety bike.

People kept laughing at my hat. I am not sure why but passing one guy I heard some utterances of "circus".

Internally Displaced People Camp. This is the home of many people who fled their homes and farms after the post-election violence in 2008. A community of people got together and bought a plot of land, subdivided it into plots and had to start a new life completely from scratch. There is more work to do here but the community seems to truly live together and help one another. Some live in tents made out of cloth materials such as recycled rice bags; the homes have been patched over many a times but still leak when it rains. And oh the heat. You can escape the sun but not the heat. Some have now ungraded in the past year and have houses made of mud with corrugated metal roofs, the are much cooler and spacious. Volunteers have encouraged people to start making things to sell to generate some income. There are a variety of things you can buy form different people: bags, bracelets, ornaments. They do seem to rely quite heavily though on volunteers buying the items more so than locals. A lot of work has been done here both by locals and volunteers in the past year. A school has been built along with a feeding program. Every child gets a cup of Ugi everyday (a sweet porridge made of flour, water, ground nuts and soybeans). The older children must walk 30-45mins everyday into a near by town to go to school. The most recent project was done by volunteers who donated money to buy piping to tap into the government water supply and have a holding tank for water for the days when there is no government water. The volunteers hired locals to do the piping work and building of the tank. The tank is almost completed and then the people will have a constant supply of water not only just to drink but will also help them be able to grow a wider variety of vegetables for consumption and selling. Although they are doing better each day they still rely on the outreach every two weeks as we hand out flour and vegetable fat. We also gave the children some of the balls we had collected from Carpenter High and Jonas back home. It is amazing how a simple ball can make the children flock. We were really touched by the hope and hard work of this communtity. We wish we could have stayed longer to ask people their stories.
A typical IDP tent.
A JSJH volleyball.

Garbage Slum: The home of this community is self explanatory. They live on a garbage dump. You could imagine how pleasantly all of our senses were stimulated. The smell of rotten food. The tickling of 50 flies legs crawling all over your body. The sight of garbage (ironically with a beautiful view of lake Nakuru straight across the way). The sound of children laughing and playing seems unfitting but this is their home. Their livelihood depends on what the people of Nakuru dispose of. Along side the biggest, most viscous looking bird scavengers they collect food, bottles, clothing, grocery bags which they disinfect and weave into beautiful bags to sell, and any other items that hold value. For the bottles they have to collect 1kg worth to earn a mere 1 shilling (one banana costs 5 shillings). A volunteer bought some pigs one year that have multiplied but because of the pigs diet they can not sell them to any of the large company due to heath regulations so they are bought by small buyers for about 1,500 shillings (a pig is usually worth 15,000). There was a school built by volunteers at one time but it is now in shambles so volunteers are now teaching the children in a near by  open field. This has it's challenges as it is hard to keep attention in an open field the children just want to run and play. They are hoping to rebuild a school soon as well as organize sponsorship for children to go to boarding school. If you are interested in sponsoring a child we can give you the information to do so. I think it is something like $700 a year. They have 20 children sponsored thus far. It is tough to know what to write about this place and it's people. The challenges of the people and the people trying to work with them are astounding, I can not list them all. The circumstance is shocking but more so is their joy. They were so grateful when we helped bandage a few people's wounds and handed out food. They sang and danced a thank-you song.

The outreach weekend was in a nutshell eye-opening. We did small things like food relief and playing with the children but we felt a little strange; like tourists of peoples homes. We have seen the main struggles and needs that people can face here in Kenya. Now we are eager to get our hands dirty. Hopefully now we will not only be able to see but also respond as our stay in Kenya continues.

I apologize for any typing mistakes. I did not have the time to read it over. Cheers.