"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.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Monday, November 19, 2018

Holy mackerel, what a day!  I woke up and took some pictures of Mara Springs Camp.  They were obviously taken this morning, because it was dark when we arrived.  Breakfast was a Kenyan pancake (more like a folded crepe), beans w/peppers, sausage and a fried egg.  I’m still not sure what the red juice was, but it was pretty tasty.  
Our first stop this morning was the maternity. I was excited to see the facility - it was empty the last time we were here.  I’m also looking forward to seeing our friends.  The first meeting will be with the doctors, then with the Area Chief (a government position), then with the local Chief (village elder).  When we arrived the Chief Kasoy (area chief) was already there.  As was Haret (or contractor), William (the maternity chairman) and a small group of men and women.  7 masaai appeared from behind a tree and before I could say a word, they began singing and dancing.  When they finished, I applauded and thanked them, “Asheoleng” (ah-shay-oh-leng).  I was wrong; they weren’t finished.  I was called to join them.  Oh boy.  Isaac had my phone, and I don’t know if he was taking pictures or video.  I don’t have the courage to look just yet. Fortunately, it’s very rhythmic and I my height meant that I didn’t have to jump as high.  This particular song/dance combination spooked Karen when she first saw it.  In her defense, it was at night and they came out of a jungle doing it.  I shook hands with each one thanking them.  Rather than leaving, they went back behind the tree the emerged from and sat in the shade.
We began to tour the facility with the doctor stopping in each room for a quick expalanation of where we were and what they did there.  The entire group followed along – 4 men and 4 women.  This is probably the only time these men have ever seen these rooms.  Normally, they wait at home.  You should have seen them when I was trying to explain the stirrups to them.  It was like they were chewing on something sour and not being permitted to spit it out. The facility looks great.  Every room is well appointed with all the necessary items to ensure a safe delivery.  When we exited the 2nd birthing area, I noticed that Isaac was holding my camera, and another masai was holding my phone taking pictures. I’m not sure what photographs we’ll have for this part of the day.  Perhaps we’ll both be surprised.  We continued through each room until we ended at the entrance once again.  Just inside sat several large equipment containers. This was a good sign!  The government has been very receptive to the maternity center and as such have supplied refrigerators, incubators etc to aid in deliveries.  They were making room for them when we arrived.  We also found out that electrical lines should be run soon. That will allow the hospital and the maternity to have 24hr electricity.  At that point, they’ll have the solar panels as a backup.
The only problem remaining is still concerning the entry gate from outside the park.  Currently, if anyone needs to come to the clinic in an emergency, they have to pass through the park gate which can be very difficult; especially at night.  If we expand the walk-in gate to accommodate a vehicle, it will eliminate having to go through the park entrance and ultimately make everyone job easier.
I also am anxious to get back to Narok to see Vivian Mpetti or her replacement at the government office.  Although they provided the necessary furniture and supplies, they have not yet built additional staff quarters.  That was part of the deal.  We’ll see if we can’t catch up with her tomorrow.
Chief Kasoy, me, Haret,
Mama Nomkipa & Isaac
We went inside to talk about the necessary hoops we would have to jump through when expanding the gate.  The park warden has to give the approval, as does someone from the county government. We can’t have those conversations, however, until a surveyor inspects the site and writes a report.  That report is necessary before we can move forward. They’ll be working on that this week. As we began the conversation, the Village Chief arrived.  He was surprisingly silent during most of the conversation, but gave us his “blessing” when we finished.  Haret and Isaac are taking care of “next steps” along with Chief Kasoy.  He continues to be quite popular within the government and is eager to help us.  We headed back outside and I talked with Chief Kasoy some more.  He wanted to make sure I deliver “thank yous and appreciation to all your donors” for all the work that has been accomplished here. Some more women arrived, and one of them opened a bag and took out two shukas.  She put one on me and one on Issac.  She also put a necklace on me.  “Now that you are Masai, you need these things.”  Kasoy does a great job translating back and forth.  After thanking them for their hospitality and kindness, they went on their way and we returned to the conversation.  As we were talking, a motorcycle arrived with a masaai woman on the back.  She was smiling before she even got off the bike.  It was mama Nonkipa!  She is one of the mouthpieces for the women of this region.  She’s also the lady that spoke with Andrea and Karen during the last trip.  Fortunately, Chief Kasoy was still there to translate. “Where are Nalatuasha (Andrea) and Nyamnyak (Karen)?”  “Tell them I love them.”  “Please tell them I wish they were here.”  “Please tell them to come back soon.”  Those two made a good impression on everyone… just as you’d expect.  We talked for a bit talking about our next trip. She then started talking to Kasoy in a more stern tone.  He smiled and turned to me saying, “She says she is not leaving until she knows when you are coming back and we have a date for the maternity grand opening.” February 20th… let’s do it February 20th.  She laughed loudly and gave me another hug.  I told her that Nalatuasha and Nyamnyak sent me with a hug for her.  She laughed and embrased me again.  I then told her that the next hug she gets will be from the girls themselves!  After the translation, she clapped her hands and through her head back in laughter. We said our goodbyes, “Olaseri!” and she was about 100 yards away when I realized we never took a picture together. They called to her and she immediately turned around.  Once we explained why she was back, “Nalatuasha will be very upset if I don’t come back with a picture,” she laughed again and took my hand leading me into the clinic. We took pictures outside the entrance to the maternity.  It was a good spot to do it.  We took a series of photographs, some of which had me squatting down.  They really seem to like when I make myself small for them. Now, another “Olaseri,” and she was gone.
We went back to the front and talk with the village elder, Mr Tira. It was a short conversation.  He was late because he had to walk his cattle to water, and now he had to get back to them.  Olaseri!
We got back into the vehicle, only this time Haret and Francis joined us.  Francis is a masai that knows Haret well.  We went to a very small restaurant called “Rex” and had a soda and talked some more.  In back were 2 tables each with 4 chairs.  They were the only tables under cover, although their was no chance of rain.
This time the conversation was about construction for Sarena Secondary School. His price is high compared to other quotes we got, and he was able to close the gap during the conversation.  I think we may need him to get even closer, though.  There are definitely advantages to sticking with the same contractor; the biggest one is trust.  He’s a good builder, and he’s been doing it for 10 years.  When he told me this I said, “What?!  Did you start this company when you were 8?”  He looks to be in his early twenties.  “No, I’m 34.”  If we were at the fair, he could have taken any prize on the top shelf.  
Each of us had a soda, and by the time we were done with the sodas, we were done with the conversation.  We dropped off Haret at his shop.  No “olaseri” this time, because we’ll see him tomorrow on our way back to Narok.  Francis stayed with us for the ride to Orbama – a large, nearby Masai village.  We had 30 t-shirts and 20 dresses to hand out. Unlike the process at the village last year, this was madness.  We were inundated with children of all ages.  Francis did his best to help, but it wasn’t easy.  Nobody got hurt, but the shirts didn’t get distributed in any sense of an orderly manner.  I held the dresses and handed them out one by one ensuring that they fit the girl that received it.  When the bag we brought was finally empty, Isaac called everyone over to take a picture. Although some did not return, we had a pretty good showing.  It also showed us the results from the mayhem created.   Some of the Masai men were wearing the t-shirts we gave away. Isaac, Francis and I were all disappointed with it, but see the smiling girls made all the difference in the world. These may be the only dresses these girls ever have. 
We left waving out the windows as we drove off.  We dropped off Francis who lives in a different village and proceeded to drive into the Entumoto Conservancy to find a spot for lunch. Mara Springs packed a box lunch for us. It was good timing, too, because I was getting hungry.  It was well after 1. Isaac found a shady spot on the other side of the pool where the animals gather to drink.  The drought meant that the term “pool” was grossly overstated.  There was water, though, and it’s the pretty much the only spot I’ve seen it.  Zebra, antelope, gazelle, warthogs, spring buck, topi, and a group of giraffes that just came sauntering out from behind some trees.  God, they are magnificent.  Isaac stopped the car so we could take it all in.  This place is amazing.  How anyone can hunt these animals is beyond me.  Hunting here is illegal and the penalties are stiff.  You could spend the rest of your life in a Kenyan prison.  It makes me want to fly to South Africa and slap someone. 
We moved on up the hill and parked under the canopy of a solitary tree. I was very curious to see the contents of the box, and much to my surprise, Isaac pulled 2 bags from the box. He handed one to me and kept the other. I opened it slowly, and the first thing I saw were salt and vinegar potato chips.  You know, there are very few things in this world that I really won’t eat.  Yup, salt and vinegar potato chips are right up there.  I placed them on the bonnet (hood… ya gotta love the British) of the car and went back in for more.  A chicken leg wrapped in tin foil, a small pack of milk biscuits, a mango juice box and 2 napkins.  I’ve never seen a sandwich here, so that was my first choice.  It was a triple decker.  Some of the stuff inside was unidentifiable… certainly meat, but still a mystery.  The top section had vegetables; cucumbers and tomatoes along with the mystery meat. The bottom section had something else. I’m thinking it my have been chicken, but I wasn’t sure.  I got halfway through when the contents suddenly changed. I should say that I tasted something that I didn’t realize was in there. What goes well with all the aforementioned ingredients?  Peanut butter!  Seriously. At this point, you’ve got to finish it, so I did.  I washed it down with the chicken leg, followed by the mango juice.  I stopped tasting cucumbers and peanut butter 30 minutes later.  We packed everything up and headed for the rescue center.
Its official name is the Masai Development Project.  “Rescue Center” is a much more descriptive name. They help prevent girls from being married under the age of 18.  The ramifications of that are huge.  By preventing them from getting married, they’re also saving them from FGM (female genetal mutilation).  Shortly after marriage many women will be circumcised.  James and Ruth are the two people that run the facility.  They are both Masai and have 73 girls under their care. We’ve been visiting the center for the past couple years and have become greatly enamored with them.  We drove past what seemed to be an endless 6’ electric fence that surrounds the compound.  Once inside the gate we made our way to the to the structure furthest from the entrance.  As we pulled up to the office, James was standing there on the phone, gesturing for us to come inside.  When he hung up we should hands.  I should tell you that each time you greet another man, the hand shake is always the same. It starts with your right hand raised (almost like your taking an oath), then your hands slap together loudly and you clasp each others thumbs.  You then slide that into a handshake.   Then you slide back to the thumb, and back into your standard handshake.  Usually, your hands will remain clasped for the first few sentences before there are any signs of a release.  The process is repeated when departing.  James is a good hand shaker.  It’s the loudest slap every time.  We sat and talked about how he’s been and how the center is doing.  In the last few weeks they’ve brought in 7 girls. Three of them are 6, two are 7 and one 8 and one 9.  Can you imagine?  No, you can’t.  I see it and still can’t grasp it.  We had been talking for about 45 minutes (updating on Andrea and Karen and talking about our next trip, as well as what their current needs are), when the founder, Jan, opened the office door and stepped in.  Her hair was predominately white with a touch of gray here and there. The girls must love it.  She had pale eyes and a soft expression.  I rose to shake her hand and introduce myself. “I know who you are,” she said, “I’ve hear a lot about you and your family.”  Isaac did the same.  We no sooner sat down when she started thanking us for our generosity.  We must have talked for 2 hours, sharing stories on how we started and where we are today.  She is a religious woman, and her faith guides her in all her endeavors. We have that in common.  She says God guides her, I say the Holy Spirit… potato, potahto.  Ultimately, it ends in us doing good for those that need it; simply because we can… because we are called to do so.
We talked about the challenges we’ve faced and the triumphs that keep us coming back.  We shared our doubts about continuing and the (often) strangers that provide us with the strength to carry on.  We will surely do what we can to help them.  The work we do next door at the secondary school will help.  We can also provide items to help with the more career oriented education they provide to the girls.  When we finally finished, she asked if she could pray before we departed. “Absolutley!” I said.  Her words were inspiring as I blessed myself at the conclusion.  We walked out of the office, but before she disappeared behind the building, she called to Ruth to come and say hello.  It was nice to see her as we missed her that last time we were here.  She asked about Andrea and Karen, and told me to send greeting to them.  Then she called to another young lady, whose name currently escapes me.  She is the gold standard and shining example to all the girls in the facility.  She arrived here when she was 8.  She went through the entire program that culminated with her college education. She has now returned to give back to those that gave so much her. When the girls see her, they say things like, “Can I be free like her one day?”  I likened it to the arrival of the nursing students from St. John Fisher college. On of the unintended consequences of them coming here is that young girls look at them and realize that with education, they can hold positions of authority and respect.  It’s amazing to see them stare at these young women; there eyes filled with awe.  It’s wonderful… one of the many gifts we receive while doing this kind of work; and those gifts are many.
James accompanied Isaac and I to the great hall where most of the girls were gathered.  This time it was James that did the translating.  He asked the girls if they remembered me, and they immediately responded, “Ah-dahms!”  That was immediately followed with words I did no understand.  James said, “They wahnt to know way-ah yoo-ah wife and daugh-tah ah?”  They clapped and smiled when I said we’d be back in February.  That seems to be the recurring theme.  We only spoke briefly before departing.  They giggled every time I said anything in Ma’a (the language of the Masai).  Before that, though, James called out the new girls to come and say, “Hello.”  These little things, I can’t begin to fathom the depths of their fear as they transitioned into this place.  We’ve seen it first hand, and the love the older girls show to the new, younger arrivals is a thing of beauty.  This place is needed.
We pushed off and headed to Entumoto.  The last Kenyan bed I’ll sleep in on this journey.  Despite all the wonderful things we’ve accomplished here, I can’t wait to get home.  It’s hard being away from Andrea and the kids.  I miss them terribly.  Two more days, and all will be right again.
We arrived at Entumoto when the sun was still up.  I was grateful for that.  I’d have some time to blog before coming down for dinner.  The staff here came to the car and said hello and welcome back.  When I got to the top of the stairs, John was waiting with my paperwork.  John!  When we met him last year, he was a boy.  Now, I was staring at a man!  I told him as much, and he thanked Isaac for his growth.  Truly, the change is remarkable.  He is chatty and charismatic and oozes a confidence that was previously lacking.  I can’t wait for Andrea and Karen to see him.  The rooms here are spectacular.  It's a canvas tent and although the pictures are great, it doesn't do them justice.
I went to my room to get some blogging done when Andrea called to talk a bit.  The timing was perfect.  It’s amazing how energizing it is to hear her and see her.  When I think back to the time we started, before the cell system blossomed, before wireless was readily available, I wonder how I did it.  That doesn’t matter, we’re doing it together now, and I’ll see her shortly.  Time here passes quickly.  It certainly will tonight.  We’re leaving the Entumoto at 5:45am in the hopes of finding a Rhino.  Then back here for breakfast, a visit to the park warden, then Haret, then another contractor, then drive to Narok, see Veronica… wow it goes on and on. I’ll just wait until tomorrow’s blog to let you know.
 I came down for dinner and met some of the other guests; all of whom were from the US... kind of.  A young couple from Denver (Derek & Amanda), and a small family from New Zealand by way of Miami & Orlando (.  Both of them were wonderful!  They had heard about some of the work we do here and asked a lot of questions during dinner.  I'm afraid that I spent way too much talking and periodically reminded them to eat so their food didn't get cold.  They were very kind with their comments and Amanda volunteered that her specialty was social media, a space where we are sorely lacking, and she volunteered to help.  I gave her one of my business cards (thank you, Andrea, for always reminding me to bring some with me) and I am certain she will contact me when she gets back to the states.  Both groups will be returning home on Wednesday (although they're obviously not traveling together).  Fortunately, I finally stopped speaking and the conversation turned to favorite animals, their guide Abraham, and everything they've seen so far.  We laughed quite a bit and I completely lost track of time. After an absolutely delicious dinner, I returned to loading pictures and blogging.  I got a lot done before realizing that I was missing a large section of photographs.  Duh, I left my camera in Isaac's car, so I waited until this morning (it's Tuesday) to load them and get this posted before everyone wakes up back home.
In the spirit of keeping up with some of Isaac's favorite quotes of the day, here's a story from dinner.
said her favorite animal was a frog, but because there aren't many here, she went with a giraffe.  Isaac said, "We have frogs here.  If you want to see one, just look for a Hammerkop bird.  The eat frogs, so if you see that bird, you will surely see a frog."  I said, "Isaac, do you realize that you just told her to find this bird so she can watch her favorite animal be devoured?!"  The laughter must have echoed through the valley.  

When I travel to Kenya alone, Karen sends a stuffed animal with me... always.  It's been happening for years, and this trip was no different.  I think this particular twiga has been here before.

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