Sunday, October 31, 2010


Back at Tizi camp, this is likely our last trip to Mal Tisa and Karero.  This has been our little home away from home.  We spent the night discussing various strengths and challenges in Kenya.  That is to say, we have been wrestling with and talking about our experience of what we understand to be strengths and challenges.  I say this with great humility as a mzungu who has only been in Kenya for 2 months.  I remember struggling with something similar in JVC…struggling with owning and reflecting upon my understanding of my lived experience. I was working in an AIDS hospice, which was very difficult at times.  For months upon end I refused to acknowledge my own sadness and grief because I did not think I was “worthy” for such feelings. After all, who was I to be sad or to grieve when the real suffering was occurring in the lives around me.  Well, time (and many months of therapy) revealed to me the absurdity of this egotistical way of thinking and I finally embraced my own experience of the life I was living.  As I finally came to realize, who was I not to be sad or to grieve?

That being explained (again to myself) I now embrace my understanding of my lived experience in Kenya.  It is hard.  Life is hard here.   There is development happening all around, but a bit of chaos throughout as various organizations work at different paces with many projects left unfinished. Most days are spent waiting, mixed with moments of hard work.  There are so many uncontrollable factors and the idea of a plan is laughable.  Poor roads, lack of supplies, unpredictable weather conditions, and, unfortunately, unreliability influence every project.  One thing holds true, the women work so hard.  They cook, clean, farm, chop wood, sew, make jewelry, and raise the children.  I struggle with the treatment of women, particularly in rural Kenya (as we have not spent much time in Nairobi so am unable to speak to urban gender roles). I can get behind clear role separation, but it is difficult to accept the lack of conversation about the role definitions.  Many of the women have no voice.  They have no options if the man drinks away the money or sleeps with other women.  There is no recourse.  I struggle with the tension between that which I can accept as “cultural” and that, which, in my opinion, is simply wrong.  I see hope in the younger generations and I believe the key is education.  I have started to teach health classes at Oloile Secondary School.   I am teaching these young adults about health, reproduction, contraception and disease.  We have started a health club, with the hope of empowering young men and women to become health consultants within their own families and communities.  My next step is to work with the young women to create a women’s group.  I would love to share discussion around individual and communal esteem so that women feel confident and entitled to stand up for their rights. I know there are exceptions to the rule, but I have seen only few of these exceptions.  Young females are at a disadvantage in society due to their gender as well as their age.  The youth grow up in a hierarchical system in which corporal punishment is liberally utilized…and without explanation. I often wonder if these kids and young adults know and understand why they are being beaten.  Do they really learn a lesson?  Do they learn not to be late because it is irresponsible and a reflection of character, or do they learn to be punctual so they are not beaten?  I think the latter.

And so are some of the challenges.  In the midst of the challenges, we are repeatedly overwhelmed with the hospitality and generosity of the people.  As I have mentioned many times before, there is bold spirit among the people.  Their resiliency and perseverance in the face of corruption and poverty continues to humble me.  It is beyond words. I always hate to generalize.  For every generalization, there are many contradictions.  But, I embrace my understanding at this time with an open invitation to learn and to grow in my insights. 

We are off to Karero now, going to check on the clinic and do a bit of work.  We are looking forward to visiting with the community and, of course, falling asleep to the sounds of hyenas.  My fear of hyenas has diminished a bit now that I have had my first black mamba sighting!  It occurred last week in Kimana and I am trying very hard to forget that snakes exist in Africa.  I think the Poisonwood Bible scarred me for life!  Anyway, we are off to the bush.  Hope to write again soon.

Monday, October 25, 2010

More pictures

Karero clinic before

Karero clinic consultation room before
Karero clinic after some cleaning, scraping, and painting

Consultation room after
Ahh, Mombasa

Dinner in Mombasa

Tyson's beautiful family - Tyson, Mama Nasieku,
(girls from left to right) Rachel, Siente, Nasieku

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The rains have come

     Another silencing rain, the first in Kimana since we have been here. It smells of freshness. If renewal had a scent, this would be it.  Mombasa was breathtaking. The Indian ocean is clear turquoise and salty.  We sat for hours reading and talking, sipping drinks and enjoying fresh fruit by the water.  It was certainly a different experience of Kenya, one we were happy (and very privileged) to enjoy. We were both grateful, however, that the beach was not our only experience of Kenya.  We are now back to our home in Kimana, enjoying the comfort of family.
      It is like a summer vacation that is rained out and the whole family (or town) is stuck inside one room.  Everything stops as the dusty roads flood and huge drops fall continuously.  We made it to town before the rains, and now it simply pours.  We sit in the “Paradise Hotel” with about 20 other people, sitting in the dark with flies all around.  The hotel is a one-room restaurant with a balcony.  The door leading outside is open and a thin white sheet separates us from the water and the light that makes its way inside.  You can feel the warm humidity all around and just have to surrender to the stickiness that pervades every inch of your body.  Painted portraits, mirrors, posters decorate the wall.  The images range from country cottages, city streets, a white baby in a cup of lettuce (in the style of Ann Geddes, unfortunately!), and a life-size poster of a white Jesus proclaiming the way, the truth, and the life.  There is no rhyme or reason to the arrangement. In fact, I wonder if there was an effort made to make it as disorderly and freestyle as possible.   There is the smell of grease, fried meat, and dust.  Several anonymous voices fill the room with constant conversation. I can hear the Maasai.  There sentences always sound like songs, continuous without pauses.  Mothers yell instructions to the little ones and I can hear little feet dragging across the room.  It is perfect.  There is energy all around.

Sitting in this hotel, I cannot help but think about how this little room is a microcosm of our experiences in Kenya.  The surroundings are often a bit disorderly and, occasionally, a bit unattractive in appearance.  But, the insides are full of spirit.  There is life in the midst of what may appear from a distance as lifeless.  There is bold spirit and relationship as thick as the humidity that permeates our surroundings.  We often find ourselves contemplating the slow change of pace in Kenya.  The rains make me realize that business life may operate slowly, but there is never a shortage or "slowness" of spirit.  There are always conversations to be shared and, of course, hot chai to drink.  Faces often stare at us blankly, but with curiousity.  The moment you say “jambo” or “habari” the stares soften into smiles and, almost, an awakening as if he or she did not realize they were in the midst of an intense gaze, and they respond with a sweetness that appears genuine and happy to make the aquantaince of someone new.  We are humbled and grateful to be surrounded by such a welcoming majority.
The reality is that I have had to rely on all my senses to understand this community and, when it comes down to it, I will only be able to access the surface this time.  I wish I knew the language better and I finally I have a little glimpse into what it would be like to be a minority who cannot communicate. We are so lucky so many people here speak English, but it would be great to be able to converse in the native language...ah, little by little we learn.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Back in Kimana

We made it back to Kimana safely and have enjoyed being back with Tyson's family.  It was like coming home.  We are grateful to have such a wonderful family welcoming us into their home and taking care of us.  Our work in Kimana varies daily.  We have been eager to complete some projects at Oloile secondary school, but we have had some setbacks or delays as we wait for additional funding for the projects that need to be completed.  It has been a long waiting process, but we are assured the funding is finally available and that Mike should be able to dive into the projects by next week.  The school is absolutely beautiful, but needs a bit more work in terms of repairs as well as new buildings.  I have been working at the Kimana clinic.  I have been able to spend some time working in the maternal/child/family planning clinic assessing expectant mothers, providing birth control, weighing babies, and doing HIV testing. In addition to working at the clinic, I have been preparing to do some health teachings at the school. I will be teaching health classes two days a week, mainly focusing on reproductive health, disease, and pregnancy.   I am eager to get into the classroom.  The teachers are happy to have a foreigner come and teach about reproductive health, especially some of the more conservative teachers.  One teacher explained that much of the reproductive health material is still very taboo and he personally prefers not to discuss these subjects.  This frightens me a little…but is not suprising. The same is true in much of America. 

We have decided to take a little time away to explore another part of Kenya, and to do a little processing away from the daily work.  We are headed to Mombasa tomorrow.  It is a bit last minute, but we thought this would be optimal time as we wait to start the work at the school.  It is hard to believe we have already been here for nearly 8 weeks!  We are eager to see another part of Kenya.  Of course mike is very excited to get into the water. I will write more soon.  Some sort of ant just crawled into my computer...we will see how this one plays out:)

Much love to all of you!

Friday, October 8, 2010

A women's revolt

We made it back to Karero with the paint earlier this week (slightly different color again, but what can you do!). We returned to Karero to find a bit of an uproar among the women.  They finally united and took a stand against the men of the community.  As in many places of the world, alcoholism is a problem among the Maasai community in Karero.  The men purchase various types of alcohol from the local shops, including a somewhat lethal homemade mixture. They have been squandering their money on alcohol rather than spending it on food for the family.   So, the women all decided to walk out of their bomas together to leave the men to care for the children and animals.  They gathered at the local shops that sells the alcohol, surrounding them and forcing them to close.  They threatened to throw away all the alcohol. They came together in the night singing, praying, and yelling; calling women out of their bomas to join their struggle.  They spent the night together and sang into the morning.  We woke around 5am to songs in the distance.  What an amazing experience to witness!  I am so proud of these women. They were ultimately victorious, forcing at least one of the shops to pour out all its alcohol and promise not to sell in the future.  The women celebrated by slaughtering a goat for themselves. They found a common voice and made a positive change in the community.  Unfortunately, we returned to the shop a few days later and they were still selling alcohol. We hope the women will continue to stand against such ridiculous behavior and, hopefully, things will change little by little.

We completed the painting at the clinic. It looks so much brighter.  We left Karero yesterday.  We will return in a few weeks to check on things and do a few more repairs.  We spent last night at Tizi camp (the place we normally stay near Mali Tisa after we leave Karero before heading back to Kimana). I had a couple of adventures with some large cockroaches last night and this morning.  Unfortunately, Mike had to both fall asleep and wake to my screaming.  Last night, I lost my battle trying to catch a cockroach.  It fell down beside my feet and sent me running around the room a bit.  Then, I woke this morning to observe a large cockroach inside my mosquito net crawling right above my feet.  I screamed and jumped to Mike's bed.  Mike continues to remind me of these events and it is only 9am!  What can I say, it is not that I am afraid of the critters, but cockroaches are just gross little creatures.  I don't like them crawling on or near me.  I suppose it is better than snakes or hyenas...not sure, the jury is still out.

Last, but not least, it is important to mention that Mike spotted a local man wearing a Seahawks hat yesterday in Namanga.  Seattle sports are being well represented in Africa.  Let's hope for a better Seahawks performance this weekend.  Go Huskies!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Another week in Karero

It has been a busy week and I cannot believe it is already October! We are almost done painting the clinic, but we ran out of paint for the floor.  We actually bought the shop out of paint last time we were in Tanzania, but hopefully they will get more today.  We are headed back to Namanga and Tanzania today to stock up and then, hopefully, finish our project and head back to Kimana.  

It was a pretty eventful week in Karero.   The week started with an amazing rainstorm on Monday night.  It was a typical hot and windy afternoon when rain clouds suddenly blew in overhead.  Within minutes, the entire place was covered in water.  It reminded me of thunder showers in Houston where it would transition from sun to a rainy flash flood in a matter of moments.  The rain was so loud and forceful... silencing really.

A man appeared at the clinic during the storm.  A woman from his boma miles away had been laboring all day and was having pains.  Unfortunately, she could not get to the clinic by that time and we could not get to her due to the rains and the flooding.  We set out to her boma early the next morning.  Faith, Joyce, and I entered into the small dung and mud house where the woman had given birth.  She had successfully given birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl, but was still in quite a bit of pain.  Her uterus was still about 2 fingerbreadths above her umbilicus and was not contracting back to where it needed to be.  I examined the baby who looked wonderful and strong.  I cleaned her, tied the cord, and encouraged mom to breastfeed as much as possible. Joyce and I both examined mom.  Joyce gave her some oxytocin and we both massaged the uterus a bit.  By the time we left, the uterus had already started to descend.  We checked on her later that night and she was much improved, smiling, and feeling better. The baby was breastfeeding well.  We were incredibly happy and thankful that they both survived the experience and were recovering.  They asked us to give the baby an English name.  We named her  “Mary.”  I think the name holds great strength.  

I  have much to learn about this traditional Maasai community, but over the last few weeks I have come to believe that the women possess great strength and fortitude.   I am still processing the complexities and challenges of its structure and gender roles.  More on this as I find the words.  We feel extremely blessed to be immersed into this community so quickly.  Working with Staff of Hope and Tyson, in particular, has allowed us to dive in and begin building relationships with the traditional Maasai community in Karero as well as the larger and more diverse communities in Kimana.  We are grateful to be able to work alongside members of the community, but also just to share in the daily flow and struggles.

More later. Must go now on the search for paint.  We miss you all and hope you are enjoying the fall.