"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.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Saturday, February 28.2016

It’s 11:49pm and I’m wide-awake because there is a pack of dogs howling outside my window.  I’m sure I’ll get tired eventually because today was a very busy day.  So much stuff happened that I’m completely confident that I won’t even remember everything from the last 18 hours.  Well, here goes…
Breakfast was at 8am, and we were planning to leave by 8:30.  My eyes were opened by 5am, but I wasn’t coherent enough to think about grabbing my computer and typing Friday’s events.  Instead, I tossed and turned until about 6 when I decided to get into the shower.  I flipped the switch for the heater on the showerhead and 2 seconds later, “click.”  The power went out.  “That figures,” I said to myself.  It was a reminder of my time with Jim (Nowak).  He used to say that we were getting spoiled when we got too used to having electricity and water.  When they weren’t available, we would groan, but in most cases it was no different than the people were serve.  At this point in the trip, I had definitely become spoiled.
I asked for a basin of hot water that arrived at my door within 5 minutes.  I had to jog my memory to make sure that I used the water as efficiently as possible.  It’s been quite some time since I’ve had to clean up with one of the plastic basins.  I was glad that my recollection was accurate.  Without getting into the details, I’ll proudly say that I had about of quart of water left when I was finished. 
I had packed all of my things the night before, knowing that after our trip to the Masai Market, the packing may have been a wasted effort.  Depending on how much I purchased, I would need to unpack my clothing and carefully wrap the breakable to keep them safe for the trip back to the states.  I thought it would make it easier to just insert the items… it wasn’t.
The Masai Market looks like it always does - wooden shops side by side for 100 yards on both sides of the road.  As soon as you exit your car, everyone’s your friend.  “Hallow my friend, come see my shop!”  “Eet eez free to look.”  Fortunately, I’m familiar with most of the shop owners so I know who to avoid.  John and I both walked down the small hill next to the road and Beatrice was the first to come greet us.  She’s moved from a prime location to a much smaller one.  Sadly, the quality of her merchandise has gone down, too.  After walking by a few of the shops, you get a sense that everyone’s got the same items.  For the most part, that’s true.  I can spot the new pieces pretty quickly… I’m not sure what that says about me.  John walked into a shop, and I followed with Job close behind.  It took all of 30 seconds for me to realize that John can handle himself.  It can be a bit imposing sometimes and people are usually grateful for the help.  The shops are usually close to 6 feet wide; some are even smaller.  There’s one aisle in and it’s the same aisle to exit.  One inside, the shop owner follows you and pretty much boxes you in.  Once he’s got his prey trapped, he begins handing you things asking if you like it, “I give you good price bruthah!”  Usually, the price start with a 100% markup, and I enjoy bartering.  I’ve been going there for 10 years, and I still barter with same people over the same items, and we almost always have a laugh while we’re doing it.  Job tried to bounce back and forth between the two of us to keep us on schedule.  No such luck, and it was my fault. Soapstone and rosewood are the materials of choice here, and I can’t wait to show of the goods when I get home.  I also want to see what John had purchased.  I only really saw him purchase one item, and I got one too, so I won’t ruin the surprise for either of our wives.  We filled our backpacks, and filled some additional plastic bags, and loaded everything in the car.  We were 1 hour behind, and lunch would be the victim.  One last story before I leave the market portion of this day’s events.  John bought something from a woman that was 50 KSH.  She said she didn’t have change and went to another shop only to return saying the same thing.  Ultimately, the woman returned and asked John if he had a hundred.  She explained that if she gave him the 100 ksh note, we’d be able to settle up the difference.  John said, “Yes,” and handed over the bill.  Then, the woman said, “here’s your change,” and handed him a 50ksh note.  John left, got into the car and said, “I think I just got taken for $20.  He did.  The woman made of with 50KSH of his money.
We headed back to Maseno and headed to see Mercelyne and her mother, Mama Rembo.  Mercelyne was a girl we sponsored through secondary school.  She’s one of our big success stories, currently enrolled in Nairobi University on a full scholarship.  She’s a very bright girl whom we’ve seen grow from a shy, meek little girl to a strong, confident young woman.  Her mother is a wonderful lady who worked tirelessly to put her children through secondary school (high school), a luxury she never had an the opportunity to take advantage of.  They live very humbly in the US equivalent of a very small one room studio apartment.  It’s about 10’ x 15’ with a sheet strung across the ceiling to make it appear as if there were two rooms. John enjoyed their very much.  Mama Rembo is always very animated and happy to see us; and she loves visitors.  She’s recovering from a car accident, but doing very well.  She sent Mercelyne for some sodas, despite John’s gracious decline.  “You cannot be a veeseetah and not take sahmtheeng.”  Karibu Kenya.  While we waited for Mercelyne to return, Rembo began recounting her story of how we came to know of her daughter, and how her prayers were answered.  It’s a story that she clearly loves to tell.  Mercelyne came back halfway through and sat next to me.  I leaned over and said, “How many times have you heard this story?”  She smiled wide and whispered, “A lawt.” The sodas went down quickly and off we went, but not before Rembo presented me with a gift.  She had purchased a dress for Ann and a shirt of the same material for me.  I immediately put it on which made them very happy.  I kept it on for the rest of the visit.  We brought some things for them, too and they were both very pleased with their gifts.  Rembo showered us with blessings as we departed.

Next on the agenda was the clinic at Mbaka Oromo.  It’s a short ride from Mercelyne’s home.  I’m disappointed that we didn’t get a chance to walk to the school.  I think John would have really enjoyed it.  People come out to say hello whether they know you or not.  There’s usually a few children that are terrified of you, but most of them just yell from wherever they are when they see us, “Mzungu!” “White man!”  He’ll still get a taste of it as we walk around the compound.  John Ogugo and Dan Otieno were sitting on the clinic stairs when we arrived.  They bright white smiles were good to see as we embraced after a strong handshake. John was also greeted with smiles and Kenyan hugs.  We said our goodbyes in front of the clinic knowing that they were already anxious to have us return.  They asked about each of our children by name, as well as Andrea, then asked John about his family and why they weren’t there.
They wanted us to see the clinic almost immediately.  They’re very proud of the work that they’ve been doing in keeping up with the facility.  We started with the pharmacy, which was John’s favorite.  They made shelving for the storage closet and the shelves were packed with drugs.  It looks like the government is finally stepping up their game.  John stayed and looked through the items inquiring about some, recognizing others.  He suggested that some of them be kept refrigerated to extend their shelf life.  He ended up staying in the pharmacy with the woman in charge while we continued the tour.  He caught up to us about 3 rooms later.  This was the check in room.  They showed me where they replaced tiling and floorboards as well as repairing the maternity shower/bathroom and finishing the ceiling boards.  They’re really keeping up with things, and that’s good to see.  We entered the check-in area where there was an adult scale (in kilos, of course).  I think John Ogugo stepped on it first, followed by me, then John, then Dan.  When John got on the scale, John Ogugo yelled, “You only have one foot on!”  The Johns laughed as both feet were placed on the scale.  John Ogugo then put his hand on John’s shoulder which elicited a “Hey, he’s pushing down to add weight!”  It was quite a comical exchange.  We laughed as we entered the last room.  In case anyone was curious, I was not the heaviest.
The next room was being used by a team from another NGO named Ampath.  They specialize in AIDS prevention and care.  A team had been sent there to work within the community, and they were already well established.  They were holding classes and screening patients in the hopes of one day eradicating the disease.   Before we left, John Ogugo asked to take a picture of the “three Johns,” and I obliged.
When finished, we walked back outside and the doctor gave John a tour of the house.  Thes couldn’t be done until the three John’s got together for a picture: John Osler, John Angugo, and Dr. John.  It was a great idea and great picture.  While John was in the house, Mannasse was showing me the work he was doing on the compound.  He planted two umbrella trees; one more me, one for Ann and is currently studying for university exams next week.  He’s excited about them and we’re all pretty confident that
We crossed the new bridge over to the secondary school where we looked at the new construction going on.  It’s not work that we’re responsible for, though, as we built the classrooms and the latrines.  The government is building the lab because of the success of the school.  John was interested because of his pharmaceutical background.  We then headed back to the car.  John got there before us because we walked over to Sam’s house to say hello to his sons Ben and Alex.  They were the only two around, so we didn’t stay for long.  They are both doing well. 
Before we saw them, though, we went to see Susan and Emmah.  Their grandmother Esther greet us as we entered their compound.  Small children seemed to emerge like the occupants of a clown car at the circus - they just  coming and coming and coming.  We were introduced to all of them one at a time, and their corresponding parent/parents. The children were lined up along the perimeter of the room with Esther sitting across from me.  Emmah and Susan were to my left.  Andrea had supplied me with a couple of bags full of items for both of them.  Danton wasn't particularly thrilled with the idea of not getting gifts, but such is the problem when you bring gifts for someone.  Once you get it once, you should always get it.  I'm not sure if it's flawed thinking because of the culture or perhaps his age, but regardless, the result was Danton being disgruntled.  The girls on the other hand, were quite happy with their gifts.  I'm sure they'll be wearing the dresses and shoes the next time I see them.  
As we approached the gate to the clinic, John was standing there waiting for us.  He insisted that we visit the church before we leave, and we more than agreeable.  John’s faith is very important to him, and he knows that mine is, too.  There are certainly differences between our faiths, but there are many more similarities.  We stepped inside and he said a prayer referencing the Mark’s Gospel.  We stayed talking a bit before moving on.  We headed back to the Peacock, hungry, thirsty, and exhausted.  We took a little time to pack the objects we purchased at the Masai Market, then got back in the car to drive to Kisumu Airport for our flight to Nairobi.  While we were there, I purchased a ticket for Job to fly from Kisumu to Nairobi on Tuesday.  The cat’s out of the bag now, so I can tell you.
Job is flying back to the states with us!  He’s understandably excited, and we are as well.  Originally we were going to surprise Karen, but it was just too difficult to coordinate everything.  He’s flying back to JFK with John and I, then he’ll be coming with me to Bonita Springs, where Andrea and Karen will pick us up.  He’ll spend two weeks with us there before we all head back to the cold.  He’s more nervous about that… snow is foreign to him, but not for long.
On our way back to the Peacock, we saw Joyce, a dear friend of Andrea’s.  I had the driver stop the car so I could get out and greet her.  We were both very thankful for the brief visit in the middle of the road. She is a special lady and Andrea will be glad our paths crossed.
We left Kisumu and arrived safely in Nairobi where we were picked up by Onesman (pronounced Oh-nes-mahn), a friend/colleague of Isaac’s.  He drove us to the Royale Hotel in Karen, a beautiful and affluent suburb of Nairobi.  We’re much closer to Wilson Regional Airport, so we’ll get to sleep a little longer tomorrow.  Sleeping on this trip has been extremely difficult for some reason, so I’m always greatful for a little extra opportunity.
We had to rearrange our bags so that would only have small bags to bring to the mara.  The planes are tiny and can’t accommodate too much weight, but we’d do that after some dinner.  After checking into our rooms, we headed for the restaurant where Kevin and I ate the last time we were here.  We had barbecued goat, chips and Tuskers.  The beer came quickly; the goat and fries did not.  We sat chatting while we waited, rehashing the last several day’s events.  The place wasn’t very crowded; there were 5 people sitting at the bar watching soccer, and a girl in the corner playing music.  She played traditional Kenyan music (she was a DJ, not a musician) that was probably a few decibels above where I would have liked it to be, but the sound had to make it outside, too.  It was poorly lit like most restaurants here, but it didn’t bother us at all.  We laughed a lot!  The food came about an hour later (karibu Kenya) and it was delicious.  The conversation came to a screeching halt because we were too busy chewing.  It was  a lot of food, but it didn’t stand a chance.  They also brought us this tomato/onion dish that was fabulous.  That was one of the first casualties sitting on the table in front of us. 

We left the restaurant with our bellies full and our eyes starting to close.  When I was ready to retire, these dogs started barking outside my window – they were the same dogs I referenced earlier. It sounded like a huge pack that was literally right below my windowsill.  In all actuality, they were probably in the next home’s courtyard.  Regardless, it was crazy loud and went on for an hour.  Eventually I fell asleep.  We were having breakfast at 7:30 and leaving at 8 for our flight to Keekorok.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Friday, February 26.2016

Sorry for the delay, but we're in Kenya.  Although the modem that I purchased worked perfectly in Kisumu, it's horrible here. The wifi that they have available at the camp reception is spotty, at best.  I've been wasting time trying to include pictures, but there's just no time to load with the poor internet connections.  I think the pictures are important, but they're just going to have to wait.  Here are my words... photos to follow...

We’re taking a drive to Kakamega today to look at an primary (elementary) school that is in need of some assistance.  I haven’t been given any information besides that, though, so we’ll have to do an investigation while we’re there.  Our friend Noelle Shinali is meeting us en route to ensure that we find the school without getting lost. We had some visitors at breakfast, though.  This monster spider came down from the ceiling, then we saw some nasty wasps that Job told us to avoid at all costs.  He then added that if we get bitten by one, the remedy is to, “pour the urine of an old lady on the bite.”  Note to self: avoid the wasps at all cost.  Then we saw more angry bees outside!  It was a day full of critters!

First, though we’re going to Agulu Primary School.  It’s become one of my favorite spots in Nyanza.  The teachers are wonderful and the children are even better.  The headmistress showed me a trophy that she won for being the 
Most Child Friendly School in the district, and it shows!  We talked with the staff for a while before touring the grounds and speaking to the students in their new classrooms.  It was wonderful.  The classrooms were immaculate with no broken window-panes!  The children were respectful, polite and engaging.  We walked around a bit and talked to some of the children playing in the courtyard.  There was a young boy sitting alone on the veranda in front of the ECD building.  He was clearly sick... runny nose, bloodshot eyes; the poor boy just looked so sad.  I sat down next to him and place my head on top of his head and spoke softly in his ear telling him how beautiful his school was and how smart he and his friends were.  He remained expressionless as I continued.  Although I've been to the school many times, some of the students are still a bit uneasy around white skin.  I continued on to other students playing with them, saying "Gota" (go-tah) and giving fist pumps.  "Gota" means "hit," so in essence, we're telling them to give me a fist bump.  It's a got it's own little twist, though, because the larger the child, the harder the "bump."  I would pretend that they hit would hurt me because they were so strong, and that would usually cause them all to laugh out loud and point at me.  That's always a show stopper.  We returned to the main office where I was given a present – a large quantity of a very ornate material with traditional Kenyan design.  It was so that I could have a shirt made for me, and a dress for Andrea.  “Break out the sewing machine, honey!”   Oh, I almost forgot! John taught them how to play thumb war.  You should have seen it; it was awesome.  They were saying, “One, two, three, four, I declayah ah thumb war!”  Seconds later, there was a winner and a loser… and much laughter from the participants and the onlookers.  John was calling me the pied piper after I finished juggling for the children, but he had a bigger crowd listening to his instructions intently, and cheering with laughter when it was over.  They send their well wishes to my family and our donors, and then we were on our way to Kakamega.

Before starting the long journey, we thought we save time and stop at the equator since we were driving by.  This marking for the equator used to be a large monument erected by the Lions Club of of Kisumu. Now, however, there’s a restaurant, a car wash, and a couple of guys that show you how the water on one side of the equator flows down a drain counter clockwise, while it flows clockwise on the other.  We snapped some pictures and went back to driving.
We drove for an hour with intermittent phone calls from Noelle letting us know where she was and where we’d meet her.  We pulled off to the side of the road to check for directions before moving further.  Job went in to a store to grab some cold waters while John and I dealt with a drunk looking for money.  We tried to carry on a conversation with him, but he didn’t speak English.  Much of his dialogue was relegated to, “I’m hungry,” “Whiskey,” “America,” “Whiskey,” “Whiskey,” “I need work,” “Whiskey.” That went on for about 5 minutes before Job emerged and we continued on.  We drove for another 15 minutes to the spot where we to find Noelle.  We did not find Noelle.  We tried calling, but she wasn’t answering.  By the 5th attempt we were getting frustrated, then we learned why she wasn’t answering the phone; she drove right past us on a motorcycle – never even pumped the brakes.  We pulled out of the lot we were in and began the chase, honking our horn as we got closer.  We finally caught up to her and jammed her into the back seat with John and Job.  Kenyans are used to tight quarters, especially when it comes to mass transit, so although I’m sure she was comfortable, I’m not so sure John would say the same.  Even if it upset him he wouldn’t say anything.  He’s pretty open to just about anything and has been an absolute joy to travel with… we’ve been laughing a lot.
We finally made it to the school, and much like when we first came to Mbaka Oromo, the students were very apprehensive.  The more rural the school, the greater the likelihood that they haven’t seen white people.  Such was the case here.
The grounds were owned by the church, which also served as an office for the teachers.  They are currently only teaching through form 7 (7th grade).  They have 4 classrooms that are in good shape, and 3 that are absolutely horrible.  They were given land about 100 yards away where the government constructed 3 much larger classrooms, although one of them was being used as an office for the headmaster.  Actually, things didn’t feel quite right.  Why weren’t the new classrooms being utilized?  Why were they building latrines near the classrooms that weren’t utilized? If 300 students were registered, why did we only see about 50?  Why was the headmaster’s office 100 yards away from the vast majority of students?  Why wasn’t there much teaching going on?   Why couldn’t the headmaster provide me with test scores for the enrolled students?  There were way too many questions left unanswered.  Unfortunately, that’s the way it goes sometimes.  We’re not going to spend money just because we have it.  It doesn’t work that way.  The foundation for our work is finding very high performing schools in deplorable, unsafe conditions.  We also require the community to participate, and this schools participation rate is below 20%.  I’m not sure this one fits the bill.  John gave some unsolicited comments later in the evening, and they did nothing but support my position.
Everyone got back into the car and we dropped Noelle off closer to her home.  We talked about the pad project en route.  This will require some more investigation, but it would appear that they’ve hit a snag regarding materials.  Wicking cloth is just not available, yet that’s what works best.  I told her I’d be talking to her within a week to get more information and resolve any issues.
We said our goodbyes and headed back to Maseno.  I’m writing this on Sunday, and to be honest, I have no idea what happened next.  I think we ate dinner at the Peacock but I’m not 100% sure.  I know I was falling asleep on the way home because I woke up when Job and John tried to take my picture.  At this point, let’s just move on to Saturday.