"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.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Tuesday - Wednesday, June 26-27, 2017, Part 1

Tuesday PM – Wednesday, 6/27/2017

So, I think I left off at dinner on Tuesday.  We were given assurances that Leia would not be inconvenienced with our coming over for dinner (we were told we were having leftovers from lunch).  We were going to pick up Veronica, Isaac’s sister-in-law, so that she and Karen can get acquainted before working together on Wednesday.  Veronica is a special-ed teacher at a local elementary school.   We had a job to do first.  Isaac’s built a beautiful compound for his family.  It is safe, secure and a key source of income.  He’s built 3 apartments within his plot that are attached to his home.  It’s a marvelous set up and I promise to post a picture in the very near future.  Now back to the story.

We sat around a coffee table as Leia brought out the food.  Their daughter Tatiana had arrived home from school and was sitting with us quietly.  Karen was clowning around with her and laughter was the only sound she made.  Although Isaac had said we would be having leftovers, we were treated to carrot, pea and goat stew.  We listened to stories as we ate and before long it was time for desert.  Karen had packed all the necessary ingredients for s’mores, and reached down next to the couch to retrieve the bag of marshmallows that were sitting next to the couch.  She wanted to show them to Tatiana, but it was too late – there was already a tear in the bag.  Tatiana sheepishly smiled as Isaac told us that she had already eaten 3 of them.  It wasn’t long before Karen was kneeling over a small fire (that Leai was using for cooking) and browned the marshmallows on a stick that Isaac cut from a tree outside.  I watched as each of our hosts tried a s’more and smiled wide as the gooey marshmallow slid down their face.  It was a very fun to watch.  We gave some additional gifts to Leia for hosting and Veronica for working with Karen.  We’re really looking forward to tomorrow when we go to Veronica’s school.  There are close to 1,500 students enrolled – that’s a big school, certainly bigger than any one we’ve visited before. 
We headed back to the hotel with Tatiana in tow.  She sat quietly in the back with Karen as we drove through narrow, incredibly uneven dirt roads that meandered through groups of shops and homes.  Sleep would come easy, but it wasn’t meant to last.  Andrea had a cold when we left, and it wasn’t showing any signs of letting up.  She still had a persistent cough and a very soar throat.  She was also kind enough to share them with me, although mine were nowhere near as bad.
We’re in a large room with two queen beds, so when one of us wakes up, usually all of us wake up. On average it takes a couple hours before we fall back asleep.  I’m not waking up because of my cough.  I’m having a tough time with the time change.  I wake up at 12:30 (Kenya time) and lie there staring at the ceiling (through the mosquito net) for a few hours before I return to a state of slumber.  Next thing you know, it’s 6am and the alarm is hitting me over the head.
The hot water has always been reliable here, but we didn’t turn on the heater soon enough so Andrea took one for the team.  Cold showers that used to be the norm on these trips has become less common. Not for Andrea.  We didn’t let enough time lapse between turning on the heater and turning on the water so she had a cold shower.  The good news was that it heated up before I got in the shower!  Yay me!  We were supposed to leave at 8am so Karen can begin co-teaching, but she wasn’t feeling well this morning.  We got some food in her, but her stomach was still bothering her, so we had her lie down for a while to see if things improved.  They did, but not until closer to 10.  We began the route to the school (whose name currently escapes me) and found Veronica waiting for us inside the school grounds.  This is a huge school… huge!  1,500 students in an elementary school is a lot of kids.  They met the car at the gate and continued to follow the vehicle until it came to rest in the back of the compound where the Special  Education classroom was.    We got out and were greeted with hugs and smiles like never before!  These pictures say more than my words ever could.
As procedure dictates, we went to see the headmaster of the school (although this one was a headmistress).  Outside Madame Helen’s office, on the concrete veranda, knelt 3 young boys.  It looks like somebody got in trouble.  They will kneel there until the teacher who caught them emerges.  Hopefully it won’t be long, and hopefully we’ll be gone before a potential caning begins.  We chatted with the Helen and praised her for the condition of the school and its grounds.  We talked about curriculum and their plans for the future.  Before departing we thanked her for allowing Veronica to work with Karen, and presented her with a new Kenyan flag.  Although she had taken a call, the deputy teacher was elated to the flag!  With a tooth filled grin he held his hands in the air and clapped them together as he rose from the chair.  As far as Helen’s phone interruption; it happens.  You could be in the middle of a sentence, like we were, and if the phone needs to be answered, it’s answered.  It’s hard to get used to, but they mean no offense by it.  It’s just the way it is.  Karibu Kenya.  We then headed for the classroom… walking by the three small children awaiting their fate.  I don’t mean to sound flippant about caning.  It’s a part of their culture and most people above the age of 18 will tell you that they were glad they were caned so that they learned accountability and discipline.  Mind you, they weren’t happy at the time, but in retrospect it was a necessary part of their maturation.  In all my years traveling here I’ve never seen one, but I have heard one.  It’s something I don’t care to hear again.

Watching Karen interact with these children was remarkable.  I watched as she identified the needs of each child and compassionately connected with each one.  Andrea, similarly, opened her heart to them as they embraced.  I could go on and on about these encounters… I continue to replay them in my mind, and smile as if I was in that moment all over again.
The classroom was spacious for this small group.  Veronica was patient and kind and you could see that each child held a place in her heart.  Her co teacher, who was standoffish when we met him, became this smiling, playful, and engaging parent as he entered the classroom.  You can’t judge a book by its cover.  They showed the same feelings for Karen as they worked together in the front of the room.  Karen immersed herself in the class.  It didn’t matter whether the challenge was mental, physical or emotional, she behaved as if she’d known these kids for years.  Andrea had the same look of pride in her eyes that I had as we watched her work.
Isaac and I had an appointment with Vivian Mpetti (the local district official who has been working with us to get this maternity center built) so we left Andrea and Karen at the school and drove a short distance to the government offices.  Vivian was pleased to see me and the feeling was mutual.  We sat and talked about how things are progressing, all-the-while thanking us for our involvement.  I gave her a small token of our appreciation and she beamed with excitement. We reviewed the timing of the completion of the project and the ramifications of the upcoming election.  Her position is an appointed one and depending on the incoming government she could maintain her position, or she could be moved… or she could be sacked.  She assured us that the government’s commitment would be fulfilled prior to any of that happening.  Is a token of her appreciation, she said, “The least the government can do is return your kindness.  I will make sure that you and your family never have to pay park fees when coming to Masai Mara.”  Wow!  That’s a big deal!  I expressed our gratitude and told her we’d be praying that she remained in the seat behind her desk.  We said our goodbyes and returned to the primary school. 
The children were on a short recess so we watched them play and interact with the other children in the school.  Their classroom is obviously set off from the main classrooms, but they have plenty of time to interact with each other. 
We watched another lesson and departed when the class was ready for another break.
We then drove to a small restaurant for some lunch where Isaac ordered barbecued goat.  The goat here is very good, but I added an order of rice and beans just in case the girls preferred something else.  They did.  They each popped a small piece into their mouth and tried to maintain a poker face.  They didn’t.  Andrea looked at Isaac and I and said, “I’m good.”  Karen, on the other hand, shook her head saying, “No. Nope. No, no, no.”  Her face was contorted in the same manner when she eats fish.  She will eat fish as long as it doesn’t taste like fish.  Apparently this goat was too “goaty” for her.
There is a curio shop next door that during a previous visit quickly became my favorite one in the entire country.  They the standard fair; small soapstone bowls and animals, beads and bracelets etc, but they also had beautiful items that I have never seen anywhere before.  Kim is the owner, and he smiled wide as he saw me through the window when we pulled in.  I stopped in while we waited for lunch and picked out some items, then asked him to have several more made.  We laughed as I reminded him that I wasn’t interested in haggling.  He smiled and said that his friend James would handle the pricing.  James was an older masai who was short and had a pronounced limp.  He patiently went through each item and wrote the price on a piece of paper.  The numbers were outrageous.  He then ceremoniously handed the paper to me and so that I could write down my counter offer.  I looked at the number then looked across the store at Kim.  He was smiling, and laughed as I shook my head.  I turned back to James and said, “James,” but before I continued he interrupted and said, “No, no, no.  This ees what we do.  You tell me you-ah price.”  I continued, “James, I’ve been coming here for over 10 years, and I know how this works.  I know what these items cost.  I know the low price and I know the high price, but I also know the fair price.”  We were both already laughing by this point.  I wrote down my prices and waited.  James said, “Oh-kay.  Thees one…”  He pointed to the first item and began telling me the redeeming qualities of rosewood.  I laughed and said, “This is ebony, not rosewood.”  He threw his head back and laughed.  “Oh-kay, oh-kay,” he said.  “James,” I continued, “I can buy this in Kisumu for 4,000ksh, I can buy this in Nakuru for 500…” and so-on and so-on.  Ultimately, I paid a quarter of what his starting price was for everything.   I would normally joke around with them and spend a good hour doing it, but we are pressed for time. 
We packed up our things and moved on to the school that Isaac’s children attend.  It wasn’t far away.  I’ll continue the story later and get this one posted… I’m sorry for taking so long, and try to post things more timely.  I’m old and tire easily.

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