Another beautiful day. Katie and I had breakfast at about 8am, and we started off toward the school at 9. Although we like to leave by 7am to avoid walking in the heat, the weather is cooperating by providing overcast skies, and a gentle breeze. It wouldn't stay like that for the entire day, but much like when this journey began, Someone's watching over us.
The group was made up of the following members: Katie and me, Rick & Tim, Mark, Brent, Dan, Erin, the other Katie, Harriet and Jim. As always, the walk was filled with some short stories, some not so short stories, and much laughter. Despite the cloud cover and breeze, it was still hot, and when we all removed our backpacks, a damp sweat mark was left wherever the pack touched your body. the walk was constantly ineterupted by friends, and strangers, who came out to greet us, and thank us for our return. Katie, Brent and Tim learned quickly that if you take a child's picture, then show it to them on your camera, you make a friend for life. It was wonderful watching there faces light up as much as the children's did.
The children would run up to us, and call out in english, "How ah you?" The "you" went up an entire octave, and always made us smile. Then came the hand-shakes or hand slaps. It was also nice to see everyone trying out a little Kiswahili. Rick, Katie and Brent were become comfortable in asking, "Habari?" (how are you) Dan has been here before on a previous video making trip, so his voice was heard as well.
At about the halfway point, we saw Samuel. This is the man that first called me "my height." He's about 6' 3", and strong as an ox. I yelled his name, and he dropped is bike, threw his arms around me and proceeded to crush every rib and vertebrae in my body. As he hugged me and pounded on my back, Katie let out a high pitched, "Oh!" It definitely wasn't something she was expecting. I introduced him to Katie, "My first born." More gently, yet still pretty firm, he gave her a great big hug, and welcomed her to Kenya. He then slowly moved through the crowd doing the same. He was kind enough to bring it down a notch for the women, but he was merely storing up the power for then next guy he grabbed. Although they felt a bit awkward to them, and they stiffened up a bit, I'm sure it will give them a lasting impression. Samuel always does. He continued on to Maseno to have his "car" repaired. Samuel has this wonderful way of referring to his possessions. His "car" is really a bicycle. When he asks you to come to see his "office," he really means his shamba (garden). His office is right next to the school, and we saw his corn before we saw the classrooms. The stalks had to be 7-8' in the air! We passed a lot of corn on the way to the school, and this, by far, was the biggest and healthiest maise we saw. Once he was done welcoming us, he continued on his way. Katie took a lot of pictures of the greeting, so I'll get them from her to post. On we marched.
We came up over the ridge, and Jim and I were behind the group due our obligatory "hello" to Mama Helen who lives about 100 yards from the school grounds. When the group came up over the ridge, they were in awe at the beauty of the school. Much of it is due to it's location. It is literally in the middle of nowhere, and the off white walls and blue trim is a stark contrast to the lush greens of this countryside. Three young female students immediately came out to greet them with smiles and hand shakes. We entered the compound and stopped to say hello to some of the faces peering through the windows. Kenyans are very soft spoken, so you get used to listening for them. I heard the occasional, "Ahdahm," (which is how they pronounce my name) so I would walk over to say "Jambo" or do the equivalent of an American childs "knucks." They call it "gota" pronounced "goat-ah." I warned them all to make sure they turn their knuckles down when they hold them out because some boys try to drive their knuckles into your hand, and if it isn't positioned right, it can hurt a little.
We then went to see William, who, as always, was full of smiles. William met our son Kevin when he was in the states last year, and today he met Katie. He was very excited, and told us that his wife Priscilla is anxious to meet her. Although we make it a point to see Williams family on each trip, I didn't have time to see them in February, so I really must stop by on this trip. We entered the library next, and a young classroom had recently entered and were all reading colorful books. Tim and Katie sat right down and started talking to the children. I got some nice photos.
A tour followed meeting all the visitors, and the tour began at the dispensary site.
The concrete slab was quite large, and trenches were dug around it to accommodative the water flowwing down from the hills behind the school. It was a great opportunity for photographs. Dan was intermittently taking video to be used for our short fundraising clip. The younger travelers found their way to some enormous stones that are heavily peppered throughout this region. It was here, while standing on the slab, that Katie declared that she had her own version of "my height."
Don't let his size fool you. William is a formidable individual. He took us over to the secondary school (high school) and we toured some of the buildings. The entire group kept repeating the same phrase. "This is really cool."
We then returned to the primary school for some chai, gound nuts (peanuts) and ndizi (bananas). This would be enough to hold us over until we got back to the guest house. After we had finished, but before we left, William had all the students come out for an assembly. They formed a large square in the courtyard, and began to sing and clap. While everyone waited for William to come out.
He said some words thanking our return, and welcoming the new visitors. William then started to introduce everyone to the children. Katie was first. Of course, a joke had to be made. "Do you believe that this girl is the first born of the Tallman?" That got everyone laughing. He then proceeded to give Katie her Kenyan name. She can now introduce herself as Katie Akinyi, and she can tell people that she's a Luo. Everone clapped and cheered, while Katie simply grinned from ear to ear. It took me 3 years before I got my Luo name, and she managed to do it in 3 days. Katie was the only one who was singled out for that honor. William then went on to introduce everyone else. Although they could have, no one spoke after they were introduced. Then Rick was introduced, and he couldn't help himself. I've spent a lot of time with Rick over the last couple days, and he will never turn down an opportunity to speak. I smiled when he began talking because although everyone in attendance speaks english, he was speaking as if they were all relatively deaf and slow. You know what I mean... when you see someone who speaks broken english, you can't help but get louder when you talk back to them, and you slow down your speech whether they need you to or not. His words were kind and compassionate, commenting on the work that we've accomplished here, as well as how much the students and faculty have done. I have no doubt that this experience, although only two days into it, has deeply moved him. William then called Jim and I to say some words. We kept it short, and told everyone that we'd see them tomorrow when we return with the nurses.
Then we began the walk home.
As we left, I stopped to take a picture of the basketball hoops we purchased on behalf of Sean Shortlseeve. Our families are friends for many years. Sadly, the Shortsleeves lost their son Sean when he was just 7 years old. They wanted to do something for the elementary school children at Mbaka Oromo, and that's when a basketball court was decided upon. Sean loved sports, and although ice hockey was his passion, this seemed a bit easier to attain... or so I thought. I've been trying to get this built for the last 3 years, and I was quite angry that metal poles had still not been fastened to the backboards, so the rim was tilting to the left. Little did I know that in a couple minutes, anger would be the furthest thing from my mind. I stopped and spoke to the children gathered around the hoop and explained to them who Sean was, and how special he was, and how he brought them this basketball net. Just then, Katie, who was standing next to me, said, "Oh my God, Dad, look down." Standing underneath the basketball hoop was a 10 year old boy named Alex. Alex is a kind and handsome boy and I've been taking his picture every year for the past 5 years. He participates in most sports, and plays the drum when the choir sings. Something about him has always struck me, and this time was no different. Alex was wearing Spider-man sweater. Spider-man was Sean's favorite super-hero. I wouldn't be surprised if tears were rolling down your cheeks as you read this, because they're certainly rolling down mine as I write it. The next time I return with a photo album, these pictures will be in it... along with a picture of Sean.
The sun had burned away the clouds, and although the breeze remained, it wasn't enough to prevent us sweating on the return trip. Similarly to our walk in, our walk out was full of strangers stopping us to say hi. We took a shorter route back to the main road, where we had matatus take us the rest of the way to the guest house. Now, although Jim and I have been walking this path for years, we still come across people we haven't met. And occasionally, we come across young children who have never seen a white person. To a toddler, this can be pretty scare. Case in point: Katie. Not very intimidating, but we came across to very young little girls walking together. I don't imagine they could have been more than 4 or 5. The older one is pictured below. In any event, much like the trip this morning, Katie greeted them with a huge smile and bent down saying, "Hi!" This poor little girl starting screaming immediately and recoiled. I was laughing hysterically, and Katie just stood up and said, "Oh. Oopsie!" and continued walking, which obviously made me laugh even more. It's happened to Jim, it's happened to me, and now it's happened to Katie.
We finally made it to Chuolembo, where we grabbed cold sodas and waited for a matatu. Jim and I try to do everything possible to avoid these things like the plague. They're mini vans that are suppose to carry a maximum of 14 passengers, but I've been in some that have had over 22. It's absolutely crazy, but they can all now say, "I've done it." I don't think they'll be eager to do it again. They were crammed in pretty tight. Luckily, it was only a 10 minute drive. We spilled out of the matatu, now only minutes from home. Nobody was at the front desk, so some people waited in the foyer while others went outside. I laid down in the shade on the cool concrete. Yes, I started to dose. I woke up when overheard everyone saying goodbye to Brent who began walking back to the Maseno Club alone. I jumped up, not very gracefully, and called to him to wait. I made sure he got back safely, checked out their accommodations, and returned home. While I would not have expected Brent to have any trouble finding the club, it can sometimes be unnerving to have people speaking to you in kiswahili as you're walking along a path. It was no big deal, and occurred without incident. I then sought refuge with pillow (Katie asked if they were filled with sand), and fell asleep for about 2 hours. Nice. I woke up when people were talking about going to dinner. Everyone was going this time, so despite an early decision to stay in, Katie and I joined them. And I'm glad we did, because we sat at a small table of 8, and the conversation was about world travel, politics, history, and culture. Katie was in heaven. She was making commentary and asking questions. At one point one of the grad students said, "Tell us if this is boring you." When they were reminded that she was a history major, the conversation continued. Rick's wife was constantly trying to get rick to stop talking to give someone else a chance, and he kept responding with, "OK, this is my last story about Vietnam." He didn't finish the story because Marilyn protested again. I said, "OK, I have question. Can you tell me your story about Vietnam." Everyone sighed except me, Rick and Katie. It was pretty funny. Marilyn asked that I not encourage him... too late.
We finished a wonderful meal, and headed home to prepare for tomorrow. We have a long day ahead of us, and I'm already falling asleep intermittently while I write this, so I'll see you all tomorrow. Tutaonana kecho