"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.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sunday, February 19th

OK, I was wrong.  Andrea and Karen didn't fall asleep at 1am.  Apparently, they were still eating chocolate and talking at 3am.  How they found the strength to get up at 6am and then walk 5 miles with heavy packs is beyond me, but they did... smiling all the while.

It was the usual breakfast at the Guest House - a fried egg with toast & olio.  We brought some more essentials - Starbucks Blonde instant coffee, peanut butter, grape jelly, cream-of-wheat, granola bars.  The jelly and peanut butter were a hit, and I was thankful for the cream-of-wheat.

here's a roommate of ours

We said our goodbyes to Betti and started on the road around 7:30am.  We passed by the small daycare outside the guest house.  There were only about 7-8 children there, but they were still curious about us, although a bit more subdued than usual - there's strength in numbers.  They stuck their little hands throughout the chicken wire that bordered two sides of the area where they played to shake our hands, although it was more likely that they just wanted to touch our skin.  They called to us as soon as they saw us, "How ahhh you?  I am fine."  They put a lot of emphasis on the "you" so you can't help but smile when you hear it.  We would continue to hear from everyone we passed on our walk who was under the age of ten.

We walked through the gate of the university, crossed Busia Road and reentered the campus on the other side.  Sariba is the town across the street from the university, but the busiest part of the town is closer to the southern gate.  We passed by the piki piki drivers (motorcycles used to shuttle people between two points), and continued walking past the different areas of the university.  We finally came upon 4 story dormitory.  This was located right at the point where we leave the university through a narrow gate.  Girls were outside doing laundry in a basin before hanging the clothes to dry and climbing back up the four flights to get to their rooms.  The stairs were more of what we would consider a fire escape; external and made of metal, but this was a winding staircase... all four stories worth.  We pondered what college students back in the US would think of this set up, and then made our way to the gate.

Once through, we were in a town similar to Sariba, although I don't recall the name.  The women are sitting in front of their small huts selling their wares - everything from peanuts to mandazis to bananas.  Corn is cooked on the cob over an open flame, and sold the same way.  I said, "Oyaorhei" (pronounced Oh-yah-oh-ray, and it means "good morning") as I came through the gate.  The older women love to hear you speak Luo.  They are the predominant tribe in this area, and it means a lot to them that you try to speak their language, and not just kiswahili.  I know just enough Luo to get me into trouble.  They respond in kind, then I ask how they are, "Idhi Nahdi?" (ee-dee-nah-dee)  "Adhi amber!" they'd shout (ah-dee may-bear... with a rolling r at the end).  Then we'd all smile and laugh as they continued to speak Luo, and we would continue to walk.

It was a warm day, but not too bad... probably in the high 70s by the time we made it half way.  Andrea and Karen would stop periodically to say hi to children who would come running out of their homes to say hello.  They'd both squat down so as not to scare them, then wait until the children would come closer.  Many hands were shaken, and many smiles were shared.  The group slowly broke up into smaller clusters simply because some walked faster than others and we ended up stopping more frequently.  Despite the distance between the groups, you could still hear conversation going on between everyone.  Yes, the younger ones were further in front.  Nancy and Dave were practicing their kiswahili, saying "Habari" to everyone!  Richie was joining in with Ann and Karen saying hi to the younger ones... he's a big dude, so he squatted down, too.  Ryan was quickly embracing all things Kenyan... trying to speak as much Kiswahili as possible, and speaking it confidently.  Sue was speaking her share, too.  DJ and Holly, who had been to Kenya 6 years ago, seemed to be enjoying their return.

School was not in session, so our goal was to break ground on the living quarters for the dr/nurse that would be living there and working at the clinic.  It gave us an opportunity to quietly enter the school and the clinic grounds without too much attention.  It also gave us a chance to visit Jim's memorial without the usual grandiose exercise that accompanies such visits.  First we crossed paths with Mama Helen who lives a few hundred yards from the school.  Famous for her peanuts as much as she is for talking in the 3rd person.  "Mama Helen welcomes you. Aye!" she'd say shaking her hands in the air... I'd probably equate it to sparkle fingers.  Hugs for everyone.  We then moved closer to the school  where Job was waiting.  Samuel, who lived directly across from the courtyard was up working on the duplex with the fundis, so we dropped our packs and rested a spell.  John Ogungo, chairman of the Clinic Committee,  came through the space between the primary classrooms to greet us.  I re-introduced Andrea and the girls, then went around to everyone else - something that I failed to do with Mama Helen.  Nancy's introduction almost startled him.  He stopped and looked into her eyes and sat motionless for a moment.  He was very pleased to greet her.  Andrea pulled me aside and suggested that the family be given the opportunity to visit the memorial alone before everyone else came along.  That was a good idea.  Nancy thought so, too.  I walked them over to the memorial that was made, and John had tagged along.  By then, Samuel had also joined us giving everyone strong hugs before we walked away from the group.  John began talking at the site, as Kenyans do, so I let him go for a couple minutes before I called him and Samuel away.  I explained that Jim's family wanted some time alone, and they understood.  We walked back to where the other were sitting.  They'd been joined by some children who lived nearby and saw us there.  We stayed and talked with Sam and John.  Nancy, Dave, DJ and Holly emerged from behind the school after awhile.  It was then that we began our walk up the hill to the clinic.

The fundis (laborers) were digging out the are for the duplex.  We would later learn how hard the soil was! The entire Clinic Committee was there, so we had a brief meeting.  John promised me that he wouldn't talk much, and by Kenyan standards, he didn't.  I was grateful.  He introduced everyone on the committee one at a time, and then spoke for a short time; welcoming the group and giving thanks.  He then called on me to  introduce everyone in the group, which I did.  Then I gave my thanks to the committee.  They've been working incredibly well together, functioning as they are supposed to function.  They are sharing ideas and have really taken ownership of the project.  Everyone on the committee has a voice, as opposed to one person making all the decisions and keeping everyone else out of the loop.

We wandered the grounds for a little more while we waited for our "van/matatu" to come get us.  He was late.  Karibu Kenya.  Eventually he made it and we all piled in and headed for Kisumu.  We only had to get out once to push.  There's a steep hill with a lot of small rocks, and well, there was no way we were getting up that hill in this van with these tires.  Everyone got out, and the guys got behind the van to push.  I warned everyone to be careful (as the van slides backwards before it goes forward).  The push worked, and only DJ took a small tumble, but it was enough to tear the pants he wore.  Another story to add to the pile!  We then proceeded to the Kiboko Bay for lunch.  It turned out to be a late lunch.  But it was delicious.  We then loaded back into the matutu for the short ride to the market.


We then headed over to the Masai Market to buy chachkees (not sure I spelled that right).  Stone and wood carvings, paintings, jewelry, bowls, chess sets... they have it all!  Beatrice runs the second shop on the right, and she's always been pretty fair, so I led the group to her.  For the most part, each little shop has certain items that are available at every other shop.  You really have to look to see what items are different. They begin calling you into their little store (they're about 5' wide) and asking you to buy something.  It can be a real pain sometimes; especially if you can't say, "no."  Everyone emerged unscathed with bags of things to bring back to the states.

From there, we headed over to Nakumat Mega City - the equivalent of WalMart in Kenya.  We grabbed some extra water, I grabbed some cell minutes (as well as asking what I needed to do to fix my modem), and everyone basically looked around to see what the store had to offer.

We once again loaded everyone in the matatu and headed back to Maseno.

Dinner was peanut butter and jelly for those who were hungry.  Everybody was pretty tired, so most just went to their rooms.

I tried my best at trying to get the internet connection to work, but it would still be another day before I figured it out.  Tomorrow we walk back to the school.  The children will be there this time.  We're all looking forward to it.

February 18th - The Arrival

OK, I realize I've been very late in posting these, but I've been having internet problems, so I apologize for not getting these up in a timely fashion.  I'll try to play "catch-up" as fast as I can.  We leave for Masai Mara tomorrow morning at 6:45am, so don't expect much.  We had a long day... but that's a story for a later post.

We arrived in Kisumu at about 6:30on,  Job was there to greet us along with George, the man who got us the transportation.
Not surprizingly, the driver (George) showed up in a matatu rather than a van like I had requested.  Job was disappointed, but we were a captive audience with few alternatives.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

17-18/February 2012

We were a group of thirteen.  Seven of us had been to Kenya before, and six had not.  There were various reasons for the journey;
... break ground on construction of the living quarters for the dr/nurses that will staff the clinic
... begin a program to teach young girls feminine hygiene so that they are able to stay in school rather than being forced to stay home
... visit friends we haven't seen in over a year
... see why a friend/an uncle/a brother dedicated so much of his life to the people in this spot on the other side of the world.

Our group included the following:
- Ann and I and our daughters Katie and Karen
- Our good friend from Boston, Richie
- A returning RN from the 2006 trip with the St. John Fisher nursing students, and her son - Sue & Ryan
- the vicar from our local church, Fr John
- a former student of Jim's, who then became a co-worker of his at Fairport High School, Amie
- Jim's sister Nancy and her husband Dave, and their children Holly and David James (DJ)

Our trip began from several different locations.  While the majority left from Rochester at 6am, Katie and Richie left from Boston at about the same time.  Holly got to sleep in a little bit more, as she lives outside of NYC.  Katie and Richie met us at the JetBlue baggage area, and Holly joined us at the Emirates counter in the international terminal.

Off we go.

We entered through the 3rd security checkpoint for the day and began our 2 hour wait for the first leg of our trip - a 12 hour flight to Dubai.  I sat and answered some last minute questions from Holly, DJ and Nancy before heading over to the business lounge for a quick bite to eat.  The time passed quickly and before we knew it, we were on our way.

Emirates is a wonderful airline that I began using 5 years ago.  I've never even considered using anyone else... it's no wonder that they're constantly ranked in the top two airlines in the world.  The movie/tv selection is always great, and it wasn't long before I began looking to see what I was going to watch first.  Amie and Andrea were not so lucky.  Amie had a picture but no sound - she would eventually figure out how to initiate the close captioning, and she seemed ok with that.  Andrea was not so lucky - no picture/no sound!  Just a black screen... for 12 hours.  Ugh!  We contacted the steward who assured us that he'd get it fixed.  He tried for the next hour to do so.  First, they started by trying to reset her tv.  Nothing.  He then tried to reset the row (which included mine).  Mine came back same as before.  Sadly, so did hers.  He then tried reseting ALL the screens in 1st class and business class.  We sunk a bit lower in our seats as people looked around to see what the problem was.  Still nothing... hope was dwindling.  Lastly, he reset the ENTIRE PLANE!  Again, Ann was left staring at a black screen.  Meanwhile, we tried to watch movies together - she with the right ear plug, and me with the left.  We watched The Way, which was a phenominal movie.  I balled my eyes out at the end.  The ending snuck up on me, and I wasn't prepared for it, but still a great movie.

After sometime passed, the steward returned, and the apologies began immediately, and continued through the remainder of the flight.  Damien (I believe that was his name) offered us his laptop to watch some movies.  Ann declined, so he began to apologize as he served each meal, snack, and drink.  He explained that the airline was notified and that we should be hearing from a customer service representative.  The next flight was also alerted and we would certainly be getting operational screens for that flight.  By this time, we were actually beginning to feel bad for him!  About an hour before we landed, he came back to our seats with a peace offering.  He brought a bag of various items from 1st class (playing cards, pens, shaving kits, travel mirrors, candy, Emirates pajamas), and another bag that contained a bottle of a French red wine and a bottle of Dom Perignon.  As he walked back to his sitting area, Ann and I looked at each other because we both knew that their was no way these bottles would make the trip to Kisumu... and their was something inherently wrong with drinking champagne considering the work we were doing.  I returned the bottles to him and explained that we weren't able to accept them, although we appreciated the sentiment greatly.  He was interested in hearing more about the schools and the children we serve, and later came back with another idea.  "How about some coloring books for the children?  We have them for the children that fly, so maybe I can get some for the children you help?"  If we had room in our bags, we probably would have taken all that he had.  Unfortunately, we didn't.  He smiled and apologized one last time before we left the plane to take a shuttle bus to the Dubai terminal.

Most wandered the terminal for the two hours.  It's the only place that I know of where you can buy everything from an MacBook to a huka pipe... all under one roof.  It didn't take long for our next departure time to arrive, and we were off to Nairobi. 

This was a slightly smaller plane for the 6 hour flight to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, and yes, Andrea's screen worked this time.  It didn't matter, though, because I think we slept most of the way there. 

Nairobi, as usual, was sweltering hot.  We made it through immigration quickly, then onto baggage collection.  This time we were sure to grab all the bags.  We triple-checked just to be safe, then headed past customs and across the street to the domestic part fo the airport.  There, we sat on molded plastic seats drinking a cold drink (mostly Tusker's).  We talked about the flight here, as well as what to expect when we arrived in Kisumu.  Questions came at a pretty good clip, and that made the time pass quickly.

The plane to Kisumu on 540 (that's the name of the airline) was hell.  The air vents didn't work, and it felt the fuselage captured the heat and humidity of Nairobi and sealed inside with us.  Karen suffered for it.  She ended up getting sick rather than simply passing out.  The steward on this flight spent more time trying to avoid eye contact with us that helping.  He was quite good at the former... not so much on the latter.  The guy couldn't even come up with an airsick bag.  Schmuck.

We got off the plane, grabbed our bags and found Job and George (our driver) waiting for us.  This was the first moment of foreshadowing for this trip.  George came in a matatu rather than a van, and there was no room for luggage.  This is Kenya.  There are no guarantees here, so you just have to roll with the punches.  I thought that I made that clear to everyone traveling... time moves at a different pace here, distances are not measured accurately, but at the same time, the Kenyans don't want to disappoint you.  It's not because they're not trying, it's just the way it is.  Plain and simple.  Literally.

We sent the luggage in another car wth DJ while we followed behind.  Betti and Roda (at the Guest House) had prepared dinner for us so we could eat as soon as we arrived.  That worked out well.  We first checked into our rooms then met down the hall in the dining area  which consisted of two small rooms large enough for a rectangular table in each.  One table sat 6, the other, 8.  We ate until we were full, then collapsed into our respective rooms. 

Andrea, Katie and I shared the room next to the kitchen, and Katie had a single next to us.  Richie was on the same side as us - the others occupied most of the rooms on the other side of the building.  That was the side that had hot water and operational showers.  The rooms on our side had no hot water.  Our room also had no operational shower.  Karibu Kenya (Welcome to Kenya).  Although we were orginally given room on the other side, Andrea wisely suggested we take the two closest to the kitchen.  They're often up quite early cooking, and she didn't think it was fair to subject the newcomers to the early morning clanging of dishes.  Ritchie took in stride as if it were part of the entire experience.  Indeed it was.  We were relieved to know that Nancy and her family had running hot water, as did John, Amie and Sue & Ryan.

We planned on getting up at 6:30am the next morning so that we could begin our 5 mile walk to the school by 7:30.  Everyone said goodnight; not everyone slept.  Karen and Andrea seemed to talk all night.  I tried to connect to the internet for the next couple hours, unsuccessfully.  They were still talking when I gave up. They were too excited to see Samuel, but more importantly, Susan, Emmah and Danton (the children who instantly became attached to them during our last trip). I kept falling asleep while trying to get my phone to work.  I would wake up with it in my lap, my neck straining from the weight of my head as it fell forward.  They were still talking.  Everyone in the room finally quieted down by 2am.  6am came quickly.

Monday, February 27, 2012

SAMAHANI! (sorry!)

First, I think I must apologize profusely for not posting these while we were still in Kenya.  We started off with problems connecting to the internet, and finished off with fatigue that prevented me from accomplishing anything.  I would begin to type, and wake up to find that my finger was pressed on a single key, resulting in 5 pages of the letter “i.”  It was quite frustrating for us, and disappointing for those of you back home eagerly awaiting stories about not only everyone’s day-to-day activities, but quite simply, everyone’s safety.  By now you know that everyone returned home safe and sound… although delayed.  I assure you that I had nothing to do with that part of the trip.

I guess that means that this blog will be something like a Terrentino/Pulp Fiction layout… we’ll start toward the end first, then move to the beginning before finishing up with the last day in Kenya and our flights back to the US.

The return home from Masai Mara worked out well.  We had 14 travelers and chartered a flight for 13.  That meant that I would leave 45 minutes ahead of everyone else to assure that I was at Wilson Airport before they arrived.  We all left Entumoto at the same time (9am) and headed for the dirt strip at Keekorok.  The 45-minute ride went quickly, and was filled with engaging conversation with Dennis our driver.  We spent the day before with Isaac, so we switched with the other group today.  Andrea, Katie, Karen, Richie, Sue & Ryan and John were in the car with me.  We talked about Kenyan’s view of Tanzania and visa-versa (more on that later, or earlier, depending on your point of view).

We got to the landing strip at 9:45am, and the plane arrived 15 minutes early at 10am.  We took off shortly thereafter… unfortunately, by the time Holly asked for a group picture, it was too late.  I had said my goodbyes to Isaac, hugged everybody, and gave Andrea a kiss.  “I’ll be there when you land,” I said.  As the plane turned around to prepare to take off, they were on the side opposite my seat.  Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get one last glimpse of Ann and the children before the plane lurched into the air in a rapid ascent.  There were two more stops before I would reach Wilson Airport in Nairobi.  Ann and the rest of the group were leaving 45 minutes behind me.

Now, let’s get back to the beginning…

Saturday, February 18, 2012

February 17th-18th... half way there

Everyone's exhausted.  Literally.  We're sitting in Dubai, and we're whipped.  All this after flying for 12 hours and doing nothing.  You wouldn't think we'd be so tired, but we are.

Nancy, Dave, Holly and DJ along with Sue and her son Ryan are wandering around the Dubai airport; taking in the scenes and looking in shops.  The McDonalds and Starbucks were a  bit out of place, but they were the busiest places.

Andrea, Katie, Karen, Richie, Amie, Fr John and I are sitting in the Emirates Lounge trying to muster up the strength to chew... on sliced cant elope and pineapple.  It's official, we're pathetic.  The flight here was relatively uneventful.  Andrea's TV screen had no picture, and Amie's had no sound.  Emirates is very accommodating, so they tried to reset both tvs.
No luck.
Next, they had to reset all the TVs in 1st class and business class.
Last resort... reset every TV on the plane...
Still nothing.
After a litany of apologies, they stopped trying to fix it and went about their business.  Amie managed to get closed captioning turned on, so she was able to watch movies via subtitles.  Andrea's stayed blank.  That also meant that she couldn't move here seat into a position where it was comfortable AND she wasn't able to watch movies or tv.  She never complained once.  We plugged both our headphones into my jack and watched The Way together.  First of all, great movie.  I was a puddle when it ended, and continued have tears flowing until about 15 minutes after the movie was over.  It struck pretty close to home, and the timing was pretty uncanny.  It reminded me of the last time I was here with my family to spread Jim's ashes.  I sat and watched the movie loving every minute, but the last 10 minutes really snuck up on me. I should have seen it coming.  Fortunately, we had visene and tissues... no worries.

After the movie ended, the flight attendant returned with another apology.  This time he came bearing gifts.   He was so distraught, that he brought us a bottle of Dom Perignon and a bottle of some French Red.  The second bag he handed over had a bunch of swag he got from the first class cabin.  Playing cards, pens, mirrors, shaving kits... it was all very nice.  We accepted it graciously before realizing that there was no way were going to get this all the way to Kisumu, not to mention the fact that there's something very wrong about drinking Dom Perignon while we tending to impoverished kids.  As he emerged from the first class cabin again carrying another bottle of Dom for Amie, I gently signaled him to move back into the galley so I could talk to him.  I expained our situation, and he again was very apologetic.  He seemed moved by the work we do in Kenya and came back one more time to offer us all the coloring books we could carry.  He's lucky we didn't have any space in our backpacks.  Fortunately, we already have those mixed in with the other school supplies we're carrying... along with three 4' duffle bags filled with sanitary napkins.  That story will wait for another time - probably tonight.  Yes, it's a funny one.
Our next flight leaves in another hour.  This is all I have so far. I'll fill you in on more tonight after we arrive in Maseno.
Thanks for all the well wishes, prayers and support.  You're all with us.