"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

Building Futures, Inc.

Building Futures, Inc.

Friday, February 5, 2010

05/02/2010 8:53pm

OK, I'll start by saying that I'm not deeply hurt that their are only two followers. Thank you both. Huge prizes await you upon my return!

Today started out like any other 1st day in Kenya. It followed an evening with 4 hours of sleep, and it caught up with me tonight. But I'll get back to that.

When you have to take cold showers, you just do it. After about 2-3 days, you get used to it. As I stood in the shower this morning, I turned on both valves. They have a HOT and COLD, but it's just for show. You need them both for water pressure. Nothing worse than a cold shower with no pressure. Anyway, I stood there trying to psyche myself up for it. I touched my hand to the water, and yup, cold. I counted, "1... 2... 3..." took a deep breath, and prepared myself for the icy... HOLY CRAP THE WATERS HOT! YES VIRGINIA, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS! The first time ever! I was absolutely elated. I didn't want to waste it for the other guests, so I was still very brief, but if this was any indication as to how the day was going to be, it was going to be a great day!

During breakfast conversation, I looked at Jim and said, "Stop!" He looked at me puzzled, because he was in the middle of a story. I said, "Hot water." High fives immediately followed. Apparently he had a similar scenario play out. We finished breakfast, and began our walk to Mbaka Oromo around 7:30am. We walked through the Maseno University campus (it was the first time I walked this route), and it was nice. There was a cool breeze, and for the most part, we were walking under the canopy of huge trees. A lone monkey wandered across our path, but it quickly scurried into a thick pack of bushes. It's a pretty campus, and students are constantly walking to and from buildings. Along the way we pass many small kiosks selling everything from cell minutes (most Kenyans pay as they go) to mandazis (the Kenyan equivalent of a donut). They are small shops where you can make copies, or buy tomatoes. Many "Habari asabuhi"s were exchanged. As usual, every single "How's you morning?" was followed with, "Nzuri sana!" "Very good!"

The path to the front of the school is an incline, and the school is hidden behind a large hedge row. Well, at least it's hidden for anyone under 5'10". The school grounds looked amazing. The only children outside of the classrooms were the preschoolers, and as soon as they see us, they flooded into the doorway to peek. In the background of the elementary school, on land slightly higher, sat the beginning of the secondary school that began 6 months ago. The first block of classrooms was full of students, and the second block was unoccupied because the concrete floors and walls were still curing. We sat with the Headmaster, William Kabis, for quite some time, and exchanged stories-updating each other on our families. Teachers slowly came and went, and once again we were met with huge smiles and firm hand shakes. A traditional Kenyan greeting consists of a hand-shake, and while you're still holding the other persons hand, you lean toward them and touch heads on each side... it's almost as if your touching their temple with your temple. First the right side, then the left. After that, the hand shake releases. I had asked about my friend Samuel who's family donated most of the land for the primary school. He was a tall man, almost as tall as me, but built like a brick house. On my last trip, he was infirmed and was ill for quite some time. He had become a shadow of his former self, but I was happy to hear that he was back to about 80%. I didn't see him as we first walked up to the administration block, but while I was talking to Jim outside, I spotted him. I began walking toward him, and at about 50 yards, he realized it was me. "My height!" he shouted. He decided to forgo the traditional Kenyan greeting, and the bear hug that ensued lasted about 2 1/2 minutes, and may have cost me a rib or two as he pounded on my back. He's back to 100%. The smile never left his face as tears formed in his eyes. I hadn't seen him on my last trip, so seeing him healthy now was wonderful. He was heading out to pray, so I told him we would have tea very soon. One more hug and a back pounding and he was on his way. I think Jim may have taken some video because he expected this to be a special meeting as he watched me walk away. He was right. Samuel and I formed a pretty tight bond every since we met 5 years ago. I'm already looking forward to seeing him again.

Jim and I, along with William, went to look at the new secondary school classrooms, as well as the site for the dispensary. I was outside taking pictures while Jim and William spoke to the students. I entered the room just as they were finishing, and as Jim introduced me, they all began laughing. It was then that I realized that I was standing about 2" from William... he's about 5'4". I looked down at him and put my arm around his back. That got the teacher laughing, too. We surveyed the parcel of land that was purchased and discussed the additional buildings needed, as well as their priority. A kitchen will go up next so that the students don't have to walk back to the primary school to eat. They also need desks. They're currently using desks they borrowed from the elemetary school... that means upwards of 3 students to each desk. It's not appropriate for high school, though, so we'll be heading to Kisumu tomorrow to try to find as many as we can... they need between 100 and 120. The money's going to be diminishing rapidly at this pace.

We then inspected the plot of land that was purchased to support the dispensary. The brush had been cleared, and a couple men were working on burning out the stumps. The one they were working on today was from a huge tree that had about a 5' diameter. Can you imagine cutting down a tree that size with nothing but a machete. Well, they did it, and I've got the pictures to prove it. If I can figure out how to post pics, I'll add some tonight.

After that, we said our goodbyes and began the walk to Chuolembo where we'd pick up a matatu and travel to the Grail Center. This was the place we stayed at the last time Jim and I were here. First, I should bring my other follower up to speed on a matatu... Andrea's the other follower, and she already knows. A matatu is a mini van that designed to hold 13 people uncomfortably. I've never been in one carrying less than 20. The most I've ever experienced was 23. That's precisely why we spent a portion of our time looking to buy a truck. The matatu is nice to get the local flavor, but like the Hubbab Bubba that my daughter snuck into my bag, it loses it's flavor after awhile.

We arrived at the Grail Center, and Margaret (the woman who runs it) was already preparing lunch for us. She makes a good kuku (chicken). We spoke briefly about their most recent projects, as well as family updates. The Grail Center is loosely (and somehow) affiliated with the catholic church. It's a women's empowerment comunity that teaches school to only women, and also helps them learn a trade. It's a beautiful compound. Maragaret went back to cooking, and 3 minutes later Jim was asleep sitting up on the couch. To his defense, the chairs were comfortable. He got a 20 minute power nap, and woke up to kuku, ugali and sakumawiki. We already covered the chicken. Ugali is a staple in Kenya. It's somewhat akin to the lumps you might find in cream of wheat... except it's made from corn. It's a hard substance that's used as both bread and a utensil. It's always served at a balmy 450 degrees, so if you're not careful, you'll burn your finger tips off. sakumawiki is a green leafy vegetable that's mixed with onions and sometimes tomatoes. It literally means, "to push through the week," so it's something like a poor man's greens and beans... minus the beans. And the greens are shredded. OK, it's nothing like greens and beans, but again, it's a Kenyan staple, and quite tasty.

We left Margaret and proceeded to visit some students that we have sponsors for. Both attempts were unsuccessful, so we'll have to try it again later in the week. We then headed for Kisumu to look for a used truck. We stopped at several "dealers," each of whom were not really sitting on much inventory. We saw a Pakistani man, a Hindu woman, but we felt the most comfortable with a Kenyan man who's grandfather was among the first settlers here. When we went to meet him, Jim was first and said, "Habari asabuhi." "Good morning." Seeing as it was 4pm, the man started to laugh and said, "Ajioni" "late afternoon." That got everyone laughing. I said, "Well, he did just recently wake up." The best part was his name. Most children will shout "Mzungu!" when they see us coming. It literally means "eastern european," but ostensibly it means "white man." Well this guy was Kenyan.... and a dark Kenyan at that. Ironically, his last name was Muzungu. That got us all laughing again. Although he was the most personable and informative, it was his name that we took as a sign to stick with him. We'll be going back later on to see what vehicles he has for Jim to choose from.

We then ran to the Nakomat to hit the cyber cafe. Jim went to get online, and I ducked into a safaricom store to see about a different modem in the hopes of utilizing Skype. I bought the modem, Jim got his emails, and we left to meet one of Jim's friends, Feena, and go to Mamba's for dinner. Mamba's has the best chicken in this province, and perhaps in all of Kenya. It tastes like barbecued chicken you'd get form your own back yard, and the chicken is plum and juicy. It's served with french fries, and goes very well with a Tusker (Kenyan brewed). As it turns out, Feena is short for Josephine. Her parents called her Feena, and it stuck. She actually was the woman that sold Jim his motorcycle last year. After dumping it about 20x including one broken ankle, he's moving on to four wheels.

With our bellies full we began our ride back to Maseno. We had the same driver all day, and he's been very good. Despite the fear as he drove us back, I still had trouble staying awake. Kenyan roads make our potholes look like a table top. They average anywhere from 3'-5' in diameter, and can be upwards of 10" deep. Once it gets dark here, it's pitch black. There is no ambient light. None! So we're driving back, passing vehicles, trying to avoid these enormous potholes. Then he started talking on his cellphone. It was an interesting ride. At times, my fatigue had me seeing double. We dropped Jim off at Darenja Mbile (where the Grail is... along with his motorcylce). He was going to bring it back to the guest house. Don't worry, there's no way in hell I'm getting on it. That was 30 minutes ago, however, and he still has not returned. I'll start getting nervous in another 30.

Despite the exhaustion, I wanted to see if this new modem was any better. It seems to be faster, but I'll have to wait for the weekend to test it out with Skype. Everyone's at school now. I'm happy to be able to talk to Andrea on the phone before falling asleep. If I'm lucky, Jim will return while we're talking, and I can go right to sleep.

We'll see.

Tutaonana kecho

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