"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, January 3, 2018

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Andrea, Karen, Sergio and I don’t leave until 11:59pm tonight.  Sam leaves at 8pm.  We got up early to make sure that we had plenty of time to do some shopping before we freshen up at the Royale in Karen – that means a 7am departure.  As always, that’s the plan. 
We left at 8am. 
First stop was the Sekenani Gate.  Immediate recognition – Nalatuesha!  Mama Maria was the first to approach, and three or four women trailed close behind. Each of them was smiling and waving hello as they came forward for a hug.  It was nice to see Maria one more time before heading out.  She was the one who came and sat at Andrea’s side during the meeting.  She is a calming presence among these women and the same followed through to Andrea.  We snapped a couple quick photos of them before turning our cameras to Karen and John.  John was the young Masai that offered 25 cows for Karen.  He had dimples like Karen, as well as a wide smile, but it’s just not happenin’.  Karen and Sam clowned around with him for awhile before Karen gave up her St. Bonaventure baseball cap.  I’ll be sure to check if he’s still wearing it when I return in the spring. 
We all headed back to the car and Maria was still wearing her smile as we pulled away.  We were in a different vehicle this time, with a different driver.  Paul was behind the wheel of the big Land Cruiser.  This vehicle will certainly handle the bumps much better than our first foray down the Mara Road.  Having an extra body in the car, however, did not help with the luggage space… though we managed.  Karibu Kenya.
The ride down the Mara Road was  like driving on the Audobon compared to the trip when we arrived.  Paul was quite adept at navigating the larger potholes, and the grooves in the road that loosened your teeth on the way in were virtually nonexistent.  There was one pit stop along the way.  It was at the only curios along the Mara Road, and it was a nice one.  They had some beautiful pieces that I wanted to buy while everyone used the restroom.  I finally got them to agree on a price, so I went out to the car to get some cash.  When I returned to the store, the price had tripled.  I simply turned and walked out making sure that the shop owners could see the cash in my hands as I took larger strides toward the vehicle.  Before I closed the door, they were both next to me with yet another price.  They had come down a bit (not enough to consider), but remained nowhere near the agreed upon price prior to the baitand-switch.  I said, “Ah ah, Tokeni!” as Paul started the car.  “No, Move!”  They did.
We were cruising, and got back to Narok in under two hours with our teeth and spines in tact.  Another quick stop to see Sharon before continuing on to Nairobi.  She waited for us at the restaurant next to Kim’s curio shop.  I know that it’s not named, “Kim’s Curio Shop,” but I can never remember the name of the place.  I know everyone that works at the restaurant and the gift shop, but the name always eludes me… or I’m just getting old.  We drove to the back of the restaurant where Sharon was sitting with Veronica.  They had been to the hospital in Nakuru to get glasses for Sharon, but she wasn’t wearing any when we got out of the car.  She met us with big hugs and smiles as Veronica informed us that the glasses would be ready on Tuesday.  She quickly pulled out her phone and showed us some pictures of Sharon wearing black-rimmed glasses at the hospital as she was being tested.  We can’t wait to see how the real ones look, OR how well she sees with them!  Her mother was there too, along with her younger sister.  Her friend was their with her mother, too.  We hadn’t met her before, but she was in a similar situation as Sharon.  She was 21 and enrolled in the special needs school because there was nothing else available for her… at least not within her family’s means.  We learned that she was masai, while Sharon’s family were Kalenjin and her name was not as easy as “Sharon.”  She was called Nasinkoi.  Told you, not as easy as “Sharon.”  She was just as sweet as Sharon and their bond was apparent.  We brought her and her mother into a small meeting room behind the curio.  Also seated around the table were Veronica, Sharon and her mother, Karen, Sam, Isaac and Sergio.  We spoke to Mama Joyce (Nasinkoi’s mom) first, and asked her if she thought her daughter would like to go to school in Nakuru with Sharon. Before Joyce could answer, Nasinkoi shouted, “Yes!”  The rest was easy as everyone held their smiles, occasionally hiding them behind a hand held up to their face.  We had some tea and continued to talk with everyone.  Veronica’s son and daughter were also there, but they played on the swing set that was behind the curio shop.  When we finished talking with the girls and their mothers, we ventured back out onto the dusty area separating the gift shop from the restaurant.  Veronica’s children joined us as we said our goodbyes.  We were sending two students to a vocational school specifically designed for children and adults with Down’s Syndrome.  The girls were the only ones that were more excited than us!  After assuring them that we would take care of all the necessary fees and find them sponsors to continue there studies, we loaded back in the truck.  We had one more surprise in store for us.  Veronica’s parents happened into the same lot to go have lunch after attending mass.  This was a fortunate meeting that ended with an invitation to come to their home for dinner when we returned.  We have to stay for a month to accommodate all the meals we’ve been offered, but personal experience tells me that Veronica’s is a must.  If Veronica cooks that well, her mother must be pretty darn good, too…  we’ll be sure to keep you updated on our Kenyan version of “Top Chef.”  We love that show.
Back to the road, back to the Rift Valley.  Although quarters inside the vehicle were tight, just about everyone had fallen asleep again.  I was gazing out the window as we came upon one of the larger towns we drive through.  This town holds one of our usual “stopping points.”  It’s a restaurant that has nice bathrooms and reliable food.  Paul turned to Isaac who then turned to me and said, “Should we stop?”  The head turns continued as I looked back at everyone.  With the exception of Sam, everyone was out cold, sleeping on a mixture of travel pillows and suitcases.  Sam glanced back at me.  I said, “We stop now, or travel another 45 minutes to the next restaurant/bathroom.”  She looked at Karen and Andrea and said, “Let’s let them sleep.”  We got about 100 yards past the restaurant when everyone, as if on cue, opened their eyes and began to stretch.  Seat backs and more suitcases made it someone difficult, but they all managed.  I quickly told them what the options were,  and normally the bathroom was ranked higher than a meal.  This time, though, they said, “Keep going.”  By then we had come to a T in the road and it was bustling with people selling their wares.  We made our left and headed toward the climb up along the Rift Valley.
I’ve made this journey many times and I have never seen someone so adept at navigating this road as Paul - who Andrea has grown to call Mufasa – which he likes.  The name suits him.  Broad shouldered, barrel chested and wide smile.  The earth moves a little when he laughs out loud.  Behind the wheel, he was brilliant.  Climbing this mountain in a single lane with the oncoming traffic stacked up like cars waiting for the train to pass can be harrowing.  The average speed is probably 25mph, but it seems much more when you have a lorry carrying a shipping container coming at you.  Those trucks can’t go as fast, so the ones climbing the hill are averaging 15mph and the ones coming down are trying to maintain 15mph.  There are no areas to pull off if your brakes fail - no shoulder to speak of, either.   He, quite safely, weeved in and out of traffic shaving at least 30 minutes off what turned out to be almost a 3 ½ hour drive.  The curved sections of road were the most daunting.  Curve to the right and you could see the traffic coming, but turns to the left were completely blind.  We watched several vehicles force their way back into their single lane as trucks were bearing down on them.  It’s like a slow motion, 10 second game of chicken.  Except the little guy always loses and retreats back into the lane they came from.  Inches often separated the loser from the winner, but everyone we saw left without a scratch. 
We finally made it to the outskirts of Nairobi and taller buildings began to come into view.  We had made it to the next stopping point.  This one I was not familiar with, but Paul/Mufasa was.  We pulled into a spot in front of the restaurant, a couple feet off the road.  Everyone slowly fell out of the vehicle to get their bearings before heading in.  To the left was a section where people were washing cars and doing mechanical work.  There were 4 large bays and every one was occupied by a vehicle and 2 workers.  We knew we were in the right place when we saw a car with not one, but TWO New England Patriots decals proudly displayed on the rear window.  I chatted with the mechanic about the owner for a bit before coming back to the crowd who found a seat inside.  They first tried an outside area, but that was “reserved.”  Even in Kenya.  Inside was more quiet.  There was only one couple in the bar area where we sat, so we pretty much had this area to ourselves.  The girls wanted anything but goat, so we got some fries and vegetables.  Don’t worry, we still ordered goat.  We laughed and smiled as we traded stories.  Mufasa finally opened up and started holding court.  His stories were always lively and held our attention… even after the food came.  He told us about a Kalenjin wedding he attended, and spoke of one of their more unusual customs.  The husband and wife cane each other until one submits.  Yep, you heard me.  They smack each other with a ¾” thick piece of wood until somebody says “uncle.”  The mean cheer on the groom and the women cheer on the bride.   Ahhh, lamour.  Terrifying.  None of us could imagine anything like that and informed Paul and Isaac that the law doesn’t really like it either.  That turned into a discussion on Kenyan customs that would not be allowed in the US.  Walking along the highway – not allowed, you’d get a ticket.  Sleeping on the embankment of a highway – ticket.  Selling items in the streets – ticket.  Assaulting your bride at the altar – jail.
Just before the goat arrived, in walked another moster of a man, although he was much younger than Mufasa.  He looked to be of middle-Eastern decent and walked in as though he was expecting to see people he knew.  He abruptly stopped, removed his glasses, and in perfect English said, “Are you guys the Patriots fans?”  We erupted in cheers as he extended a greeting and informed us he was in Kenya visiting his family but now lives in Boston.  It was a brief stop, but a very welcomed one.  He departed saying, “Go Brady!”  Again, met with cheers.
Then came the goat.
The first one was delicious – rib cage and all.  The second round (yes, there was a second round… and don’t judge me) was even better.  “This meat is softer,” Paul said as he passed the plate toward us.  Fun fact:  In Kenya, “Soft” = “tender.”  This was, without a doubt, the best goat I have ever had.  It was absolutely delicious…  and the girls weren’t having any of it.  I don’t say that as if it were a command, they chose not to try it.  It would probably make more sense to say, “they have tried goat in its various forms and have not come across one that they liked so they have suspended all goat tasting.”  No matter, more for Sergio and me.
We returned to the vehicle and returned to the road headed for Karen (the town, not the daughter).  We stopped at our new, favorite gift shop where the same faces met us.  “Love Birds Gift Shop and Curio.”  The name says it all.  They gave us bags to place items in, then sent us on our way to browse.  Sam, Sergio, Karen and Andrea each had bags.  Andrea and I finished first, then Sergio, then Karen and last, Sam.  Trying to dicker over all the items would have been impossible, so we broke it into 4 transactions.  We didn’t have a lot of time so I tried to speed things along.  I finished up with Sergio and left him to haggle over a couple hundred Kenyan shillings.  Next I did Andrea and mine – easy peasy.  Then came Karen.  Not bad, but they were starting to wear me down and I was getting tired of hearing the same responses from the previous two sales.  “The carvers are on strike.”  “Please give me something.” “Okay, okay, name your price.”  They were like a broken record and we needed to get to Sam to the airport.   After several departures, and begging to return to the shop, we finally agreed on a price.  Things were quickly bagged and we were on our way.  While I was haggling, the rest of the crew sat outside with water or soda and planned out the remainder of the day.  Sadly, there would not be enough time for the giraffe park.  We decided to head to the Royale Hotel in Karen and Paul and Isaac would take Sam to the airport.  We waited in the vestibule for them to return.  It was much longer than we expected, but when they did we quickly went to our rooms and freshened up.  We had an opportunity to nap, but nobody took it.  At least Karen, Andrea and I didn’t take it… not sure about Sergio as he was in the next room.  We were busy shuffling the itmes in our bags to include the things we bought at the curio (along with some of Sam’s things as she ran out of space).  We got it all in, then showered and headed back to the front of the hotel as we waited for Isaac and Paul to return.  Once back, we loaded up the truck  and headed out for dinner at a local mall restaurant.  It was next to a place called “Javas” which is a local chain… there’s even one inside the Nairobi Airport.  I can’t seem to recall the name of this one, but the food is always good.  We sat down and ordered and Isaac and I went to a nearby ATM to sort out some last minute bills.  I had to pay for the vehicles we had been using, as well as a few other items.  The food came shortly after we returned and the next thing we knew, we were headed for the airport.  It’s been a whirlwind trip – short, but we accomplished a lot.  We said our goodbyes to Isaac and Paul and waved as we entered the screening area.  Although we’re always sad to  leave, we’re ready to go home and anxious to get back now that the last journey has begun.  Nairobi, Amsterdam, JFK, Rochester. 
  Traveling was going well for everyone.  We sat and had a coffee/chai at Starbucks in the Schlipol Airport while we waited for our next flight.  Exhaustion had already begun creeping up on everyone, as did the excitement to be back in our own beds… and eating anything except goat.  The flight boarded uneventfully and we were on our way to the states.  We separated from Sergio at immigration and quickly made it through to baggage.  We got our bags and moved quickly through the airport to get to our domestic flight.   It’s amazing how much faster you can get through customs & immigration.  Those kiosks are wonderful!

We left a modem and phone with Sam so that she could keep us updated with her whereabouts as we travelled. We caught up with her (at least her messages) in Amsterdam.  Traveling was going well for everyone.   I snapped these two pictures in the gift shop at the airport.  The Dutch believe in "Truth In Advertising."

We sat and had a coffee/chai at Starbucks in the Schlipol Airport while we waited for our next flight.

The bags were already tagged through so all we had to do was drop them at the appropriately marked, “BAG DROP AREA.”  Then through security one more time and the waiting began.  We waited longer than we wanted to but we had no choice.  Flight delays.  We knew we were in trouble when we weren’t called to board 30 minutes before the flight.  I quick peak outside showed us why – no plane.  That’s kind of important.  Karen fell asleep and I was incredibly punchy.  Sergio had his nose in his phone.  Andrea was holding strong.  Don’t know how she does it.  She held Karen’s head in her lap and waited patiently for the plane to arrive.  I went up to see how much longer.  The Delta rep was incredibly helpful.  “It won’t be long.  The plane is in range.”  I’d have felt better if he wasn’t spinning around in his seat as we talked.  I expect that from a 6 year old seated at a bar (yes, unusual scenario but you get my point), not from an adult customer service rep.  “Very informative,” was the only thing I could muster as I walked away.  It would seem that “within range” means “about 20 minutes.”  You know, like “a few” means “3.” 
We finally boarded and I’m pretty sure I was asleep before the door closed.  Andrea updated me when I woke up as we landed.  “Yes,” she said, “you were snoring.”  I didn’t care a bit.  Still exhausted, we texted Kevin who was already here in Rochester waiting.  As we passed through the exit, there he was.  There’s something about seeing a loved one when you come off a trip.  It’s especially nice when they greet you inside the airport.  I could have cried.  He hugged his mom first, then Karen.  He gave a firm handshake to Sergio before I was able to drop my bag and give him hug.  We then ventured downstairs and waited for our bags before stepping out into the cold night air.  It felt wonderful!  Thankfully, he drove home.
We’ve been back for quite some time, and I’m sorry that it’s taken so long to post the last day.  I know that you’ve grown accustomed to me typing these daily.  Frankly, so have I.  I’ll blame it on age and my ability to deal with fatigue.  I will continue to try to improve on the timeliness of these posts, as well as posting things that we learn about the ever growing list of projects and friends that we meet along the way.  TTFN.  Tata for now.  Happy New Year, everyone!