The following are excerpts, remarks and rewrites from my handwritten journal detailing
the events leading to and during the missionary trip to Kenya through Building Bridges Ministry,
as described by Mike Moore. For those web-savvy individuals who are familiar with Google Maps,
here are Selected Kenya Trip Locations pointed out from an overhead, zoomable satellite capture
of the greater Nairobi area.
Entry for March 14-15, 2008 (I think)
We had a meeting on the Monday before our scheduled Thursday departure for Nigeria so we could pack the supply duffel bags and got word the stateside Nigerian embassy had still not sent our passports back. They were delaying much too long and had suddenly decided for us that we weren't regular tourists and needed extra paperwork. Plus, they jacked up the processing fee up $90 each on top of the original $150 and said they wouldn't take responsibility for the new rates not being posted to the website yet. The visas weren't to arrive until Thursday morning, which was the day we were supposed to leave in the early morning. Nonetheless, we packed for the Thursday flight for Nigeria. Mom and I were getting last minute items on Wednesday, and upon arriving back at her house found a note on the answering machine asking me to call Jess about important news (I also later discovered Lynda had stuck a note to my front door asking me to call, cleverly secured by bubble gum). We had intended to call anyway to check on the passport/visa status, so I gave him a ring. The conversation basically went:
"So you haven't talked to anyone yet?"
"Are you ready for this/sitting down?"
"Sure, what's up?"
"We're going to Kenya."
Follow this link for some backstory on the initial decision to go to Kenya, having to change it because of the various and sundry post-election hullabaloo, and making the call to change it to Nigeria.
There would be a meeting Thursday afternoon to repack for Kenya and offer any more details. Naturally, mom had an aneurysm, two strokes, flipped three lids and spawned approximately twelve types of cancers simultaneously (all benign, thankfully) upon hearing my retelling of the news. The violence-frenzy had simmered down now, kids were going back to school, bus routes had reopened, shops resumed regular business and things were largely back to normal. I stayed up all night wrapping up a few online projects and eventually went to bed around 9am. I woke up around 2:30pm expecting a call from Jess about when the meeting would be to wake me, so I checked my email to discover there was a meeting at 3pm. Went to the meeting and helped repack the duffels, when we got the news that we'd actually need to leave Dallas on a flight at appx 8:45pm that eventing in order to make it. I phoned mom to ask if she was at a stopping point at work, so we met at her house to get things set. Dad was there watering the yard (somehow being off work at 4pm-ish) so I had a chance to hug good-bye before I left so swiftly. We gathered up last-minute items and scurried away to my house to get other last-minute items before zipping off to Lynda's again to make the 5pm time meetup. Mom got to meet Emily's mother, who goes to the same church she does (First Baptist) and they were able to share the stressload of the recent whirlwind of changes. We packed up, and Robert mercifully exchanged out 50-dollar bills for those that didn't have one, in expectation of the Kenya visa process ahead. I hadn't planned for an extra $50, but my church had taken an offering for me and raised $75 which covered it nicely. We zipped off after a group hand-in-hand prayer, and managed to practically teleport to Dallas at a record 1hr:15min trip. On the way, though, I mentioned the God's Smuggler writer, Brother Andrew. While trying to smuggle bibles into the Iron Curtain many years ago with a car so filled with them that they were coming out the windows, he prayed, "Lord, you have made blind eyes see, please make seeing eyes blind," and I remarked we ought to repeat it in regard to the police radars perhaps. All of the police cars we saw had already pulled someone over, so we can thank management upstairs for having directed someone to take the fall for us to pass through undeterred (I hope they all got warnings).
We checked in and loaded up after an hour wait or so, and 2½ hours later we were in Washington DC at Reagan airport. We got all our junk and headed for the exit to find a bus to ferry us to Dulles, another DC airport. However, the drivers of the ferry buses waiting for us went into a fit trying to decide who was going to take us, which included some yelling in a heavily-accented voice to a radio operator who didn't handle the information he was trying to get. A feud between off-duty bus drivers trying to make a few extra bucks and another driver who was actually on duty erupted, at one point involving loaded bus doors slamming closed after being opened to unload the baggage, and a cellphone being slapped out of another's hand, which flew high into the air and cracked over the concrete some distance away. Some on-duty police officers and security personnel were on the scene within a few heartbeats. Another pleasant-voiced and calm bus driver pulled up shortly after the ensuing battle was waged and politely helped us reload all of our junk and gave us a straight, no-nonsense, flat rate for taking us to Dulles, and did so nicely with only minimal hassle. On the ride over, the "Dallas to Dulles" remark was devised. We were so tightly squished into the one ferry van that we were smooshed in with suitcases and fellow travelers alike like a clown car. When the doors were finally reopened at our destination, the chilly breeze was welcome (although "being crammed into a backseat with four girls" is not something I'd necessarily say was particularly unpleasant! heh)
The architecturally impressive Dulles airport in DC was from that moment a mock hotel for us, as many took up camp while we waited for the Ethiopian Airways desk to open. I broke out the camping cot Dad had rummaged through his camping assortment to find, offering it to anyone who needed a lie-down and didn't want the dusty floor. I stayed up all night writing and making sketches of the Dulles interior. There was a coffee shop open downstairs called "Guava & Java" where I got a Cheese & Egg Panini, a "Frost" Gatorade and a Strawberry & Cream-Cheese Croissant for $10 total, and they hit the spot. I took some pictures with my 3D camera (has three lenses, and pictures are developed in a special way that creates depth-perceptive effects when looking at the print) of the column-dense downstair check-in terminals that we would later pass through again upon return. Played a few of many future UNO games with Shae and Garrett while listening to country music via Garret's portable minispeakers, after trying to pass the time by rolling around in an unoccupied airport wheelchair as they played Go Fish.
As the airport began to open up again, I undid the cot and got everything squared back away in time for the window to open for us. We got checked in with minimal delay, but had to wait another 3-4 hours, as the 10:00am flight was delayed until 11:15am. We stopped at a Moe's for lunch and I got a Two-Cheese Omelet. The tablecloth was paper, so I drew "J'ai besouin d'omelet du fromage deux, madamoiselle, s'il vous plait, comprend" in block letters to pass the time waiting for the grub. It was nummy. Jess paid for all of us, and we were off to find our gate to camp nearby. While waiting, I walked well over a mile down our particular half (starting at gate D-23, all the way down past the A gate, which ended in an under-construction section that reminded me of the Tom Hanks movie, "The Terminal" where he refinished the section himself. Later I reluctantly set down for a nap on the floor partially under the row of chairs until 1HR 'til time to board up. Called mom to give a status update before we left, and instead of walking onto a plane, we filed into a peculiar trolley vehicle that held (presumably) all of the plane's passengers in one compartment. It looked somewhat like a subway with leather hand-holds drooping from an overhead bar and seating along the sides. As we were carted across the tarmac surface to the section where our plane was docked, we saw other ferry vehicles of similar dimension. The mini-trip around the tarmac reminded me of a few levels of Halo 2 where you're transported underwater by an automated room. I didn't think there was even a driver at first, since the route we were taking seemed too choreographed by lines in a path, but others reported seeing one. We docked again and the vehicle rose up in the air with its own lifting mechanism and we all filed out to go in through another terminal to reach our plane. Soon we were on our way to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, via Ethiopian Airways.
The plane itself was a Boeing B 767, and I was in 27H, an aisle seat in the center section. Each seat had its own monitor installed into the back of the headrest, so the person behind you could have their own screen to themselves. There was a complimentary airline pillow, airline blanket for you to use, as well as a no-charge set of headphones that came with a disposable set of ear cushions that you installed yourself, as well as a baggie containing a free-to-take set of Ethiopian Airways socks, a toothbrush and tiny tube of toothpaste, and one of those elastic-banded sleep masks. I kept mine in the package just for show-and-tell purposes. We had to return the blanket, pillow and headphones.
This was my first experience with airline food, and I must say it was pretty good. The tray covered most of the drop-down tray-table, and had little plastic tray-bowls covered in a disposable plastic blister to keep the food fresh. There were 3 or 4 meals consisting of a heated entree covered with an aluminum cover (such as fish, lamb, beef, omelette, etc), a bread, a variety of cracker, a dessert, a fruit or salad, and an appropriate butter/dressing/cheese packet. The food was, for the most part, decent and tasty. I had to skip a few of the desserts since they were kiwi, and avoided a few things I didn't know what were. One rice dish on the way back had almonds mixed in that was too tedious to pick out (and the rice tasted like almonds anyway), but I'd say the meals were overall pretty nice considering their small portions and necessity to be packed small for feeding such a large cabin crew.
On the DC-Addis flight, the middle section was occupied by me, Sherry and Garret. Sherry was able to find a more spacious section with empty side-seats, affording Garret and me an empty middle seat where we could lie sideways or pile bags into for better room. There was a "technical stop" in Rome, Italy, but you could only see city lights since it was at night, and no particular familiar structures lit up. We didn't get off the plane, but a bunch of guys who had movie-star looks came on the plane in dark blue worksuits that had "Aeroporti de Roma" embroidered on the chest pocket. The stewardesses were particularly pleasant to the eye, but didn't know the greatest amount of English (and the pilot announcements were near-indistinguishable from the gobbledy-gook announcments they made in another language beforehand, whereas I only caught a few unimportant words like "the" and "flight" but none of the needed details.
The personal monitors showed a selection of items at your personal command, from movies (Rush Hour 3, a Garfiend movie (CG animated), Daddy Day Camp, Mr. Woodcock, and some romantic movie I'd never heard of (surprisingly). You could also listen to audio channels that had 2 or 3 middle-eastern singing music, a classical station, a rock station that played obscure hits, and a few others. You could also bring up a flight-details visual channel, that had an overhead vew of a map with a big plane icon in the middle that showed how far you'd traveled and lots of other details. It showed the outside air temperature (which reached -68F once), relative land speed (that reached around 905 kph at once), head/tailwind speeds if any, estimated time until arrival, time flown so far, distance in miles/kilometers back and forth, the northward arc path the plane would take, and a few other trivial-but-interesting notations, like a topograpgical angle so we could see the mountains rendered as we approached Addis.
The new set of stewardesses that boarded on the Rome flight weren't half as cute, but apparently the pilot crew was so good that I completely slept through the takeoff. We were halfway across the "MER DE TYRRHENIAN" (according to the french version of the location details) when I came to, after realizing I'd nodded off during the emergency video we'd already seen in DC. At least two people remarked to me about a book I had lying out to read ("Three Cups of Tea" about a missionary who planted schools in the Middle East), which spawned brief conversations, concluding with respective blessings for a good trip. One man, who was a speaker traveling to another African country for an engagement, said he'd heard about the book from his mother no less than a few days prior, and another woman said she'd just finished reading it (although I was only 9 pages in, at the time) to great acclaim. The woman and her (presumably) husband (both of north European descent) had two children with them of African descent who called them mommy/daddy and had good English, so I wondered to myself if they were going back for a visit, perhaps, but didn't press it.
Our next flight was supposed to board at 0915, but the arrival time on the status screen was listed as 0925. We made it with plenty of time to spare, as the other plane had waited since there were a lot of people on the Addis flight that needed to get on the Nairobi flight besides the 10 of us. I got seat 15H on the Ethiopian Airways plane (different one, same model), which was right behind a wall (facing it) so I had loads more leg room for a nicer trip to Nairobi. That flight was fairly uneventful, and I had by then grown fairly accumstomed to the changes in air pressure. I was beginning to feel fairly queasy, though, and the lines for the rest room seemed precariously lengthy. My handwritten journal began getting a little messy by this point, as the tremors had started to act up, my vision had begun to get splotchy (but resumed within a few minutes).
Thankfully we arrived at the Kenya airport in good time, but I had to make a mad dash for the restroom to see a man about a rhinocerous before I could get to the Kenya visa desk, and ended up having to toss my passport and $50 bill under the stall door to Robert on the other side so they could get it stamped while I was wrapping things up (good thing I had packed a roll of TP in my carry-on, I must say). Feeling much better, I trotted merrily out and passed through the visa terminal without a hitch. We walked down some stairs to a wide open luggage retrieval area that was done in oranges and reds. While waiting for bags to come out (every single one made it, unscathed as far as I could tell) Lynda pointed out a few caged-up sections of luggage that were remnants of baggage that was overflow from the election conflict that had been as yet unclaimed in the ensuing rush to skip the country. There was cage upon cage packed to the brim with suitcases and baggage, more than I would wager could fill a standard hotel room to the ceiling by volume.
We were met by two guys we'd see every day of our stay, Henry and Martin. Martin was a tall native African with stylish and nicely tailored clothes that were simple but yet very sharp. Henry was a shorter African native who had squinty but piercing eyes and more than half the time had a big smile on his face that was very welcoming and a joy to see each morning when he greeted us to begin the day anew. Both are the Building Bridges' eyes, ears, hands and feet in Kenya, and both greeted us with open arms and hugs. It is common there to hug with head to the right, then hug again going left, as I experienced many times over the trip, and to handshake with the standard shake, then the common thumb-muscle pressing each other with wrist bent up, and back again. I noticed some people would shake firmly and lightly grab your shaking forearm with their left hand, so I tried to doing this a few times getting a "oh, you're serious" kind of reaction from their facial expression in doing so as if I had just spoken a whole Swahili parapraph with fluent pronunciation. We loaded up the bags and headed out into Nairobi toward the Amani ("Peace" in Swahili) Conference Center.
Oh dear, the traffic. They do actually issue drivers' licenses, but I'm honestly wondering what exactly that test is like because there were very few familiar actions of traffic organization that we're used to. The fact that the steering wheel was on the right side of the car, and we drove in the left lane as regular right of way was much beside the point. I had seen someone reading a Kenya newspaper in the airport headlined, "Kenya Traffic Chaos" in big bold letters, but I just figured it was about jams or something, until I was actually in it. It was instead a lot less organized -- like bumpercars, but without as much bumping.
I only saw one or two accidents personally, but it seemed like there should have been way more, as in a word I'd describe the entire traffic experience as the most culture-shocking aspect than anything on the trip. Cutting you off was, instead of rude, a fact of life. If you saw a gap, you took it. If you needed to get into traffic at a T intersection, you just nudged your nose out into the slowly moving line until someone was forced to let you in for their own fear of crashing into you. If you needed to turn off at a T intersection, you didn't wait at the edge of the T to turn 90 degrees -- you drove into the oncoming lane if no one was there, then made a 45 degree angle from the wrong-direction's shoulder and over the shallow curb and through the grass (if there was any). I didn't see but maybe 3 or 4 traffic lights in all of the major downtown Nairobi area (comparable to some dense industrial and commercial sections of Dallas) but round-abouts reigned supreme. If you wanted to get into the slow-moving (but somewhat steadily chugging) swirling vortex of terror, you had to force your way in using your vehicle as a ram, employing the threat of crashing as your primary method of getting people to move out of the way for you. Some people went so far as to bother using a turn signal. Large city buses would frequently cut you off, and big semi's would often blast their thousand-trombone horns right in your ear if you were in the way.
About 70% of the vehicles were Isuzu, with not a Ford, Chevy or Dodge in sight for the entire trip. There were Verassas, Toyota TX Prados, Isuzu [NPR, NKR, NHR, ELF, TX and Forward] models, Nissan URVANs, Mercedes Actros, FOTONs, Renault 18-wheelers, TATAs, SCANIAs, and FAW Fighters, not to mention the Mitsubishi Canters, dozens of various Datsun pickups, a few OMNi Cargos, and a few Defenders, most of which I'd never heard of. Every once in a while there was a familiarish 4runner J, Subaru Outback, Corolla, but no or very few Hondas that I could tell. Apart from those, half of the vehicles on the road were a variation on the Toyota "HIACE" model (looks like this), which would serve as our transport van for the entire trip and held up pretty well save one incident I'll describe later. I am seriously considering Toyota for my next vehicle. Most of them were bus-type versions with the available destinations painted on the side, including the phrase "14Pass" (which at first suspected may have meant some kind of prepaid toll system, but later found out to mean it carries 14 passengers).
We could barely get all 10 of us in one van, much less 14. More than a few times during the miniature road trips we would take, I would see someone run from the street and jump into a pushed-open door on the left side (where the driver would sit normally to us) and wonder how the vehicle could possibly have been moving if there was no one in that seat, just to realize the driver was on the right side. It kept surprising me with curious frequency, though. There were only a couple stop signs despite the dozens and dozens of intersections, but no one drove over what seemed to be about 25 mph by my guesstimation so there was was not really at all a chance of getting T-boned because everyone moved slowly but steadily.
Many of the large city buses looked like they had been heavily customized, but not in the shiny chrome sense -- but in the welded-upon with varying thicknesses of metal plating for reinforcement and spray painted to match, and had lots of strange stickers on them that were professionally cut-out words in a specialized design. Some of the stickers' wordings didn't make any sense despite being in English. I'm guessing they were just designations for each bus so owners could tell them apart, or perhaps some other unspecified context in which the phrase "POPCORN AWAKE" might make better sense. Jess said the van they used last time had "Ice Cream Dream Machine" on it with an "Over the lips, straight to the hips" subheading. Not at all surprising.
Less worrisome than close shaves was the desire to avoid potholes, and people would quite frequently and with all fearlessness drive into oncoming (but creeping) traffic to avoid larger potholes. Businesses along the more major roads and lighter commercial areas ranged from bystanders selling bundles of sticks, bananas, random things like cigarette-lighter adapters, to shops lined end to end (some consisting of no more than a tin roof on 4 wooden poles) abutted to each other but selling wildly different products (being fabricated on location in the background) -- from metal furniture, to pool tables, upholstered furniture, ramshackle fruit markets, fine wooden bedframes, softwood lumber, masonry stones, and loads of other odds and ends.
Litter lined many of the streets -- and not like the random soda can or lotto scratch off tossed to the side like here, but piles and mounds and hills of trash, in heaps (similar to the large mounds that snow plows pile up in the norhern US). There was scarcely a mound without someone rummaging through it and at least 3 or 4 large heron-type birds picking through it also, right next to the rummagers. Who knows what in the world a man was going about collecting fully-chewed-off corn cobs for. One clever gentleman stood in the middle of a slow-moving pothole-bespeckled road right in the middle of a series of large holes, so that when vehicles came to a rest waiting for the person ahead to move, he was exactly at the front windows of the people up front to which he could ply his trade.
There were people walking everywhere, from right in the middle of the street just having a conversation (moreso in the slums than the city), and ching-ching bicycle bells ringing this way and that. The vendors alongside deeper into the slum areas consisted of someone who knew how to do something, and was selling that skill for a few Shillings per service rendered. One shop had a Playstation 2 in it, powered by a shoddily spliced electrical line tied into the shack, that people could come play for a fee.
A great many of the shops looked distinctly like what you'd find in a flea market here, such as an open-air market selling various bits of individually wrapped candies, to various land-fill pilferings as miscellaneous kitchen utensils like a random ladle, a plastic spatula, a collection of dirty thermoses, dented metal pans and dozens of plastic cups all strewn about randomly on a particularly unsanitary blanket.
The billboards along the roads were very impressive, being of taller-than-wide dimensions loosely resembling an entire magazine page proportionally and in that fine of a quality (but having approximately the same width as billboards here). We saw no other soda advertisement than Coca-Cola, and a margarine product "Biddy's" also dominated. There were ads for Barclays (financial) and Dawanol (medication). There were Shell stations, and others called Kobil, CALTEX, and Libyoil. We saw a shop with very dirty awnings that were so grimy you could barely make out the "Hooters" logo while downtown, and also walked past the Hilton Nairobi later in the trip.
Upon arriving at the Amani Conference Center, it was a much-welcomed sight and would become a much-welcomed sight upon arriving back each day. The neatly trimmed lawn was of mostly wide-bladed weeds, but kept fairly nice. A tall white bell tower stood alongside the vaulted ceiling of the sanctuary when you first drove in through the guarded and usually-locked thick hinged steel gates. The angled parking lot had a peculiar asphalt pattern, and checker-colored right-triangle-shaped curbs with the lawn trimmed back a foot from the rim.
The rooms section continued fluidly from the rest of the center's areas, in moderny design with red brick-tiled floors, beautiful white columns, light blue room doors with the locks that have a keyhole you can see through. The rooms were a soupy dismal yellow, but were firm concrete through and through, with the exterior being white painted cinderblocks that they actually pulled off rather well there. Each room had two beds resembling twin-size (though many beds were of un-uniform dimensions, room to room, loosely twin-size) and by total chance I got one that was long enough that my feet would not hang off. Above each bed was a mosquito net that hung from a cuphook screwed into a shelf perched well above the bed that I could stand on the bed without bumping my head on it. The net hung from the hook in a wide cone shape that met a round circular piece so the net would spread out evenly. I was able to tuck the ends of the net underneath the edges of the bed while I was resting upon it to create an impenetrable shield from mosquitos, providing none of them were already on the bed when preparations were being made. Garret and I stayed in Room #14 on the ground floor, while others were scattered around the rest of the ground floor, which only numbered in about 25. The rooms opened toward the interior of the building, but the hallways were open-air (with a distance of perhaps 10 yards in between) and had a middle garden-like area where stood a palm tree and a few presumably native low-lying bushes and trimmed grass, each section with its own lockable gate for double security.
There was an issue of a misplaced suitcase when we got to Amani, so Jess and a few others went all the way back to the airport, but luckily located it in the Lost-and-Found, safe and sound. The group ate at 7pm each night in a dining facility that was part of a seperate structure but connected by a lovely walkway with the same style of brick tiling and white columns and hanging baskets of plants on either side as well as flowers and small shrubs lining the edges of the path. If you stopped to look toward the backyard from the walkway connecting the sleeping chambers and the dining hall, there was an exquisitely gigantic palm-like tree but with splintery bark on its sturdy trunk base on a small hill, that towered above everything else and seemed to grow taller and taller as you neared it.
March 16, 2008 (Back To Top)
We got up around 8am and ate breakfast in the dining facilities, a routine we would repeat every day we were there. There was usually a very dense bread of white or wheat, poached or boiled eggs, a peculiar sausage with a crispy exterior, butter, unlabled jelly, and steaming-hot water for coffee or chocolate mix that you made yourself. I initially didn't think I'd go for hot chocolate so early in the day especially being so muggy, but it actually hit the spot on most mornings. This particular morning we had boiled eggs (boiled without putting salt in it, someone noted) but my hands were too shaky and could not be steadied enough with the fine motor movements required to peel the shell off them for all the tremors I had, so Lynda peeled them for me, noting that her son also has the tremor issues. The fact that he works on oil rigs is a bit of inspiration to me, because I've been avoiding brute-strength labor type jobs for fear of fumbling the equipment, as some days I have difficulty holding a fork steadily to eat from.
We loaded up our carry-about bags we would take (most taking a backpack, I took a red shoulder bag that had backpack-like zipper pockets on the side) and met out by the van, which we would also do every day. We met Martin and Henry again, and another guy Joseph (who has the looks of some American actor, it seemed) who would be quite the driver in the days ahead, bravely navigating the precarious dirt roads and chaotic streets. Jess assigned me a camera (Kodak Easyshare DX6490) that takes pictures beautifully despite my shaky hands. Garret loaned me a watch (to avoid using up my cell phone battery since I didn't bring the charger so I could call when we got back in DC weeks later) on the condition that I give it away at the end. Garret also had a knife handy that I used to tighten a loose screw on my eyeglasses frames as one of the lenses kept coming out all the way from WF to Africa and I was afraid I might lose it somehow, so thankfully that worry was well solved. We first went off to Mathare ("muh-THAH-reh" rolling the R), another slum of Nairobi. It wasn't really that far away, and actually seemed more like just a neighborhood or what could be marginally considered a housing division, than another town necessarily -- although the quality of living was overtly different.
When driving through the slum areas to our first destination of Mathare, there was no shortage of munchkins who, upon seeing a van full of light-complexioned riders, would shout out in a chorus, "ha wa yu! ha wa yu!" ("How Are You") to get us to wave, and jump up and down with big smiles when we would wave to them. Smells varied greatly, from fresh sewage mingled with deliciously aromatic grease-sizzled bready tortilla-type foodstuffs called Chapati. I'd taken a few dryer sheets that I kept in my pockets both as a home-remedy solution to mosquito repellent that doubled as a makeshift breathing filter when held up to the nose to navigate certain overwhelming patches of foul air. Once at the place we would park, the MCEDO-Beijing school that also housed a church, we were greeted by the workers there and met quite a number of folks we would later meet with repeatedly. We explored the area for an hour or two, just walking around meeting and greeting people and visiting nearby churches just to witness firsthand what a church is like there. Some of them were no bigger than my bedroom, but with a dirt floor, were oddly shaped (with uneven sides) and made of wooden poles nailed together, with sturdy (but slightly deteriorated) tin of varying colors nailed to them with roofing tacks. The weather was sweaty-humid with a few nice breezes.
There were a few very fancy homes high upon a cliff in the distance, overlooking leagues of square miles in shacks and rickshaw-driven alleyways. On the way back to the MCEDO-Beijing spot, we walked by one lady who'd come out of her shelter to show us her baby, and it was the lady they'd met on a previous trip who had named her then newborn daughter "Pastor Jess". It was for some reason too difficult to explain that Jess's first name was not Pastor, so the name was kept as is, and Jess got a picture with the baby again, who was healthy and doing well. One guy, Jacob, who works at the MCEDO center impressed me very much with his knowledge of both Swahili (Kiswahili, to them) and English and was quite inquisitive with very insightful questions. I would like to send him pictures of America (as he requested them) but I'm not certain what exactly I might send, since the climate and landscape varies nearly incomparably even within the same state, considering Texas has mountains, deserts, lush forests, canyons, gullies, rivers, waterfalls, wilderness, dense urban and industrial cities, light suburban neighborhoods and sparse farm plains alone, not counting all the other states in the US. I got to shake hands that day with both tiny and large, lethargic and energetic, limp and bold alike.
The MCEDO-Beijing building itself (donated by a Chinese humanitarian group from Beijing some years prior, according to a large framed certificate in one of the offices) was fairly impressive compared to most of the surrounding wood-and-tin that dominated the neighboorhood. It was mostly thick unpainted concrete and had two floors, each having a couple of school rooms apiece. Immediately inside the short steel doorway (that I banged my head on more than once, making a large gong sound and getting looks), there were two offices on the right and left in a short hallway, which then opened into a common area with a dirt floor that was perhaps 15 yards wide and 5 yards deep. A handful of roosters pecked the ground here and there. There was a concrete staircase to the right, which led up to more classrooms. The classrooms had a number of wooden bench-desks that seated 3 or 4 each, and most rooms had 10-15 desks, two chalkboards (with uneven, jagged/rough, splitery edges instead of the metal border we're used to, and no chalk-rail at the bottom), and a concrete floor. The second floor had no ceiling but for the roof timbers and rafters.
Later we ate lunch (something resembling hunks of beef, a cooked cabbage/slaw, and a mound of sticky-rice) back at MCEDO-Beijing where we'd just had a lively church service in one of the upper rooms with clapping and singing, some singing by us (and signing by Sherry), and a nice sermon by Jess about the responsibility that comes with blessings. One fellow interrupted partway through to ask for prayer about needing blessing, with teary eyes, and the sermon was paused to pray for him as needed. Another boy came forward at the end to be saved, and another girl (Jillian) came forward about needing schooling items to be covered, which Kali from our group offered to cover.
We later visited a "Dr. Osoo" (pronounced "Oh-so") who ran a tiny "Duka La Dawa" (Duka = Shop, Dawa = Medical) clinic on into the denser shantytown area of Mathare. Dr. Osoo was in an article that Lynda had read about in the news and it just so happened that we were able to visit him personally. He had been swamped by AIDS/HIV women and children who were assaulted during the recent conflict. Many of the structures like the MCEDO building and a nearby Presby church that was raided are of impressive construction, despite the jury-rigged tin structures that dominate the landscape -- but they provided a great outlet for resources both material and spiritual alike to their immediate areas. Dr. Osoo's tiny clinic was a two-room shack, with a deceptively nice interior (despite the run-down-ish appearance of the front) and had white walls made from what appeared to be white-painted boards but joined at irregular intervals, as if pieces of a giant puzzle with straight-edged pieces. Simple wood couches outlined the small waiting area no bigger than half of my bedroom at home, and the one-room patient examination room was just slightly smaller. The floor was slightly slanted inward, the ceiling was curved like a cistern, and a single light bulb lit the cozy room.
We spoke with one lady who worked at a nearby shop who was pulled out of her establishment and mercilessly sexually assaulted right out in the open street by seven attackers. Dr.Osoo, witnessing the assault, offered himself as a replacement to prevent further harm to the woman, but the violent men declined, on the reason that the doctor was an asset to the community -- which perhaps may have actually made sense in the frenzy they'd worked themselves into at the time. I had heard of this mentality (and was comforted by it to some obscure degree) in that, had we visited while violence still continued, the warring tribes would not harm any good-doers like missionaries or tourists because both sides recognized the value of those peoples as vital community assistance -- but apparently did not value their own respective citizens who simply have a different preference to leadership. We later visited the woman's soda shop for a drink, and bought 10 sodas from her.
While drinking our sodas, an incisorless man got my attention with a wave and told me he was a "satan" compared to me, and that I looked a lot like Jesus because I had a lighter complexion, long hair and a goatee/mustache, and an "I Love Jesus" shirt on. I told him he was no demon, and he seemed perplexed that perhaps, in fact, he wasn't. He then began murmuring in a slurred English that was knee-deep in a Swahili-like accent (but not Latin, as a demon-person would according to Hollywood) that I could no longer understand what he was saying, and Henry saw the exchange and came over and spoke a lot of Swahili words really fast and the man walked off realizing I had no Kenyan money.
I finished my Orange Fanta (a Coca-Cola product, no less) and handed the glass bottle back to Jess, who poked it back into the small vending window of the shop that had to be no bigger than most American closets, but heavily fortified and made of metal. I took many pictures of the architectural shape of the buildings and how they'd been constructed and clever methods for keeping them upright with styles ranging from simple roofing nails pinning wavy-tin sheets to lashed-together wood poles, to more intricate and insulating mud-wood-and-stone walls that better kept out the elements.
We made our way back and into the van, which ambled itself back up the steepish slopes of Mathare's outer rim with Jess at the helm (who, despite our groans of agony at swerves and taking speed bumps somewhat swiftly, did far better than any of us could, and most of our wailings were generally directed at the consistent deluge of traffic chaos that we were mercilessly dealt with each passing block) as we made it back to Amani to rest and to process all of the things we saw that day. On the way back one of our guides (Henry/Martin/etc) noted that the local moonshiners we saw made their product with something that started with "skooma", which I thought was funny because that is the name of a drug in a game I play at home, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. We later learned of a vegetable that is grown locally and used by many people for food called "skooma-wiki" (pronounced that way, spelled differently I'm sure) that literally means "to push a week", that is, it will keep you fed for a week until you can find a source of meat. I was told by more than a few guys there that I was an unusually handsome guy, which I thought was weird, while 2 or 3 other guys told the other Mike in our group that I looked like Jesus.
Each night at 7pm, we would gather in the dining hall for the evening meal (which was usually some combination of rice, on-the-bone chicken, starch, collard-like greens, spaghetti, and a soupy gravy) and discuss favorite memories for that day. We usually either brought our own drink -- bottled water that we bought locally (as the taps would beset us with various tummy grumbles had we partook) and sprinkled/shook-up with Crystal Light packets, or drank the stir-your-own coffee or hot chocolate. We never really got to eat lunch there, as we were always out-n-about in the field, and would just normally snack on whatever we had at the time like beef jerky, cheese crackers, and whatnot.
By now my little living area was already as messy as it always was at home, but shelves were not plentious, so I had a good excuse =P Each room had it's own bathroom, with a regular Western toilet, a standard sink and mirror, and a shower that stood in the corner. The floor was all tile, and had a lip at the threshold of the door to keep water from seeping in -- which quickly became an issue. The shower was nothing more than a depression (½-inch deep by about 2½ ft wide, with a slatted drain cover) in the tiled floor with a shower curtain that hung around slightly wider than the depressed surface, which meant all of the water that deflected onto the curtain landed instead onto the raised tile surface of the rest of the bathroom floor so by the time you were done, you'd need to squeegee the rest of the bathroom dry once you were done, except no squeegee was at hand and could at best just swipe miniature waves of water toward the depression with your bare foot, or try to drag a used towel along to push the water back toward the drain. All in all it wasn't quite so bad -- considering we even had a shower to begin with, the alternative being using a ladle to pour cold water over your head from a bucket.
The showerhead itself was much higher than I am (the reverse being true in most hotel rooms) and was, itself, the heating element for the hot water. This took some getting used to, because the switch to turn on the heating element was located outside the bathroom door (on the hinge side, not the knob side), requiring someone to stand outside to turn the heat on, and to turn it back off when it got too hot. Some of the girls reported their heating element didn't even work, so they had to take cold showers all the time or use someone else's. Ours worked for the most part, but sometimes would get scalding hot at a moment's notice, and other times would barely heat up at all. Not that I'm complaining necessarily =P
I slept all night from 8:30pm to 7:15am that night, and Garret reported that I snored softly but inconsistently, but I was out like a light, as I'd pre-lagged myself by sleeping in the day time stateside before we left, so I'd already be adjusted when we got there.
March 17, 2008 (Back To Top)
I was a bit grumpy for much of the day with my long hair not going the right ways and kept getting tangled, the insistent humidity coming in from all sides, and the tremors causing their usual fusses with failing to holding things still and dropping stuff. I'd awoken around 4AM with buzzing in my ear that would not go away even with the net in place properly. Instead I roamed the halls for a little while and found the other Mike watching CNN on a static-y television in the entry area near the office (not far from my room). I joined him for a bit and caught up on journaling efforts as the sun slowly crept up. I took a perfectly temperatured shower, though, and came back into the TV room, where Lynda sat and we chatted briefly about this and that, including what future career I might settle into (I had considered photography since I was so happy about the picture quality from the camera I'd been assigned) and we discussed my preferences on childbearing (as in prefering to have zero) and why, and she prayed with me about finding a mate with likeminded goals and about picking a career that would glorify Him best, and I felt pretty refreshed.
After breakfast, Jess gave me the camera back with the card freshly wiped and stored on the laptop to begin anew. We rode to and visited Korogocho and a church that had been burned to the ground. It had been a wood-pole-and-wavy-tin structure, and the tin was taken away. The surrounding structures reminded me a lot of the levels from Half Life 2, with big chunks taken out of random buildings, pieces of this that and the other mixed with rubble lying here and there. We spoke and prayed with the pastor of that church, and off we were to another area, a school with a big blue metal door and a light blue painted interior with a concrete u-shaped building with an open-air middle, the big door being at the top gap of the U. The classrooms branched off the central open area, and many crowded in trying to get superballs and beaded bracelets we handed out. We also gave them an aired-up volleyball to share and keep.
While driving down the crowded market streets, a man began riding on the back of the van and we had to wave him off. He came up next to the van by one of the open windows asking for chocolate, and reached his hand inside in a plea for food. Just as we were about to give him a bag of cheese fishies, he grabbed at the arm of the group member who was seated immediately there (Emily) and dashed off with her digital camera, in expert quickness. It all happened so quick it took close to a minute to figure out what was going on and stop the van, and by then he'd vanished into the crowd with a cloud of dust.
From then I decided to put the camera Jess assigned me down into my red satchel for safe keeping, for fear that another passerby might attempt the same thing. She seemed fairly shaken up by it, and I must admit I was too and from there had a great difficulty trusting any given villager. After parking the van in an open area some ways down, and nearby a branch of St.Michael's School that would eventually become very familiar, we collectively decided to lock a lot of valuables in the van and have a guide keep watch while we went to visit a feeding program area and try to find a fellow named Daniel who Jess and Lynda had known from earlier trips.
I'd left my flavored water in the satchel as well, and became thirsty part of the way through the feeding program we got to participate in after handing out superballs and beaded bracelets to the kiddies who'd gathered around, so me and a few others that needed to retrieve something went with a guide back to the van. When we got to the van everything seemed like normal. We were mistaken that there had actually been a guard to watch the van, as there was not, so I got the entire satchel out and we walked back to the feeding area. Upon arriving I dug into the satchel and could not find the camera. I dug through everywhere thinking it may have simply sunk to the bottom during the walking trip back to the feeding place, but it was nowhere. I alerted Jess, and he and I both walked all the way back to the van (the route to and fro now fairly familiar) to find that one of the window latches was missing (unsure if it had been there before) and that the camera was not there at all. We walked back to the feeding area loaded up with every backpack and bag we could find so no one else would try to pull something again, trudging along in a bit of a tizzy, irritated that such a thing would have been done.
I was again discouraged by the outright dishonesty (or perhaps, my impression that a lack of dishonesty existed). I was tempted to speak some kind of cursy-omen-something upon the thief, but instead decided that something good might come out of it instead of hastily jumping to the negative. Jess later remarked that all around us was poverty and struggles to find something to eat, and what we got upset about was a missing camera, to put it in further perspective.
Back at the feeding area, we'd next visit a soccer-ball making factory of 3-4 employees that could make professional-looking soccer balls and we ordered a few of them from the ballmakers as gifts and to help support the economy of the local area. A woman who lived in the concrete house the soccer ball maker worked in had just had a baby two days prior and was up and about doing the daily routine. The baby's name was "Kofi Anan", after the former UN guy who led a bunch of the peace talks after the election donnybrook. Upon returning to the van toward the end of the day, Emily realized someone had rifled through her billfold and dumped everything out of it into her purse (that had been in the van) also, and that several large American bills were missing, but nothing else. I suspected we were all collectively somewhat discouraged that the very peoples we'd come to help would raid our van and pilfer only a few expensive pieces, but there were still many people we did not know and many we would never meet.
It hit me a little hard that the camera I'd been assigned (that was taken) was Jess' favorite camera that he'd taken on many of his worldly travels and taken thousands of important photos with. The paltry amount that a thief could have sold the camera for would never have come close to the amount of money that could have potentially been raised for the cause by showing people stateside the striking images the camera took, and that just wasn't something that could be easily communicated. Lynda and Jess' friend Daniel (who was an artist and sign-painter by trade) learned of the theft and vowed at the time to find the thief before sundown, which gave me some hope, as he knew a large network of people within the area and could find out if anyone could.
Despite this, we also visited the branch of St.Michael's nearby and had a pretty good time. Classes were in session as we watched and some smaller kids were taking a test by going to the front of the class and pointing at chalk-drawn images and saying the English word (like a Richard Scarry book) for them aloud, and the class repeated the word for the picture (which was written underneath). After completing the test, each one sat down and the entire class erupted in a clapping song beginning with, "Well done, well done" that we got on video, that seemed like a very clever confidence builder by having the class sing you a collective praise after your success. They also had clapping songs for days of the week and months of the year.
At some point we had also been walking along and located a boy tending a garden and we gave a bunch of seeds to him to plant that I'd brought along after the most recent duffel-packing meeting stateside and not being able to find a place for them where they wouldn't be crushed. I'd taken them home and packed them, thinking surely someone could use them. After giving some to the boy, we ventured on toward another pastor's concrete community building of the familiar U-shaped structure but this time multiple stories tall with a staircase toward the curve of the U. We prayed with many of the people there in encouragement to keep moving forward with their lives, as they were people who were displaced from the conflict. We gave them all the remaining seeds and they were delighted. While there, we briefly surveyed the land the government had granted BBM to use for the new medical-vocational-elementary school.
March 18, 2008 (Back To Top)
The vast majority of the day was spent in the small neighborhood of Pastor Elly's home and church, repairing a worn tin roof section. Robert, Steven (a local), Klumpp, and Daniel (the artist) did the vast majority of the work, first tearing out the old wavy tin metal roofing that needed to be replaced as I periodically held the precariously flimsy tables stacked atop each other as a scaffold, as Pastor Jess was off to someplace in Nairobi to secure tickets for our way back home. There was a delicate but handsome flowering tree with bright pink blossoms greeting us from above as we entered the alcove.
After chatting with Abraham (Nicholas' son) about the difficulties of starting a registered business in Kenya (which was largely political, being that most businesses had some close tie with a local politician that could push paperwork through but the slum area had such a dearth of exposure to politicians, it was difficult to create a significant enterprise), Nicholas invited me on a short walk around the neighborhood and we visited his home. Along the way, he asked me what the poorer sections of America were like, and I had some difficulty describing them, in that they were practically nothing like the structures here -- in that many poor could simply live off the standard free services of the major city (getting water from free public water fountains, seeking shelter from massive 24-hour stores, and dumpster or panhandling for food as needed, else the poorer sections of the cities still had some variety of a house in various states of disrepair, yet nothing so similar to the wood-pole-and-tin-surface shantytown structures of their slums.
It was also impressed upon me that "slum" wasn't a word that was used with hesitation for fear of making an insult necessarily, but was used instead as matter-of-factly as calling a door a door. Nicholas' house was one amongst the hundreds of other indiscriminately fashioned tin structures, although it had a short door through which one needed to pass to enter his particular neighborhood's section. The inside's layout was fairly familiar by then: draped with hanging cloth upon hanging cloth to act as a doorway, a one-roomed house of no more than 400 sq.ft tops. A fluffy couch, a coffee table about a foot in front of it, and two fluffy recliners facing the opposite side of the table were squashed into the room, with a dresser of some sort bordering one end of the table, with enough room to walk inside on the other end, and one solitary light bulb, hanging from a cloth-draped ceiling.
We spoke briefly about this and that, and Nicholas impressed upon me to take back with me the image of what it is like to live in his neighborhood. On the way back to Pastor Elly's section of the world, I misstepped, sending my black-booted foot sliding into the drainage trough that carved its way eventually toward the river. Nicholas led me back to the alcove entry door, and washed off my boot with a nearby cloth under a solitary piped-in tap faucet the community shared. I murmured to myself a reference to Christ washing the feet of his disciples.
On the way back, a local or two had come looking for me, reporting that I was missing on a BBM team meeting in Pastor Elly's house for a short lunch. Up until that point, Pastor Jess had ribbed me about finding a spouse in Kenya and that there was a local woman who was looking for a husband. She came in as I was getting comfortable in Elly's house for a nice rest, and there was naturally plenty of good-natured "well there you go" gestures, and the lady (Judy/Judith) and I got a photograph taken of us and I put an arm around her and laid my head aside hers to complete the gag. She was a very headstrong gal and had a young child who was being taken care of elsewhere.
In the background played what at first sounded like a cellphone ringtone, but turned out to be a musical greeting card left open. After another session of getting back to work on the roof and adding a new support pole while the new shiny silver tin roof was laid and nailed in place with roofing nails, many of the neighborhood women had prepared for us a nice feast of sticky rice, burrito-style chapati wraps, a beef stew, lettuce/cabbage, and some other local vegetable. They were prepared in surprisingly nice cookware, the sort with the white interior, chrome rim and faded yellow outer surface also bearing a frilly design, like the kind my mother used to own some years ago. We dipped our own on to bright white thin stoneware plates that had a blue border about a half-inch around the inside of the edge. It did get dreadfully hot that day and was often the case that to escape the heat and find a comfortable chair one needed to move inside where there was no wind, but for a cool breeze one needed to be outside but standing or squatting on a random porch stone.
On the way back to the conference center, we found ourselves in a traffic jam ("jom" as the locals pronounce it) and when we finally inched forward to the cause of the delay, over a half dozen men in camo and wielding AK-47s waved us on through as they tried to manage the mess. Arriving at Amani again was a relief -- not from the sense that I was glad to be out of the incessantly impoverished atmosphere per se, but into a cooler-temp, well-lit, place to lie down or take a shower. Due to the jam's delay, we were not able to take as many people to a radio station interview as we'd hoped, which was OK with me because my strength had been sapped. I was too tired to put the mosquito net out that night and just slept unshielded.
March 19, 2008 (Back To Top)
Nursing a severe headache from the evening prior, Klumpp opted to stay at the Amani centre while we went out into the field, which later afforded many of us an opportunity to make "jokey-joke" remarks later to him about staying behind, which we all meant in good fun and it seemed to be received in the context of a good-natured rib. I spent much of the day writing as usual, on a squarish, blocky, winding staircase that faced the St. Michael's school in Korogocho (locally referred to as Koch, for short) as most of the guys worked on making plans for a two-stall latrine that would span an existing hole just to the outside right of the school's rear passageway.
As kids would periodically gather outside around us between class sessions, I made a ninja star out of a random piece of street paper and snapped it like a bottlecap and suddenly had an audience. One of the munchkins retrieved it and I snapped it again, and the process repeated a few times until I'd drawn the eager ogling of no fewer than 30 pairs of eyes. Garret got the idea to make paper airplanes and pulled out a notebook of fresh paper. When Garret threw the first plane, it sailed quite far and was to the outright astonishment of the wowed youngsters. We made a few more but none would pay attention long enough to teach them how to make their own -- which we later reasoned may have been a good thing since we hoped they would not begin using school book pages as airplane material later.
The immediate area had an "Annex/Medical Clinic" which is actually just a window of a concrete building with a front surface that is painted white and has services listed on the front like, "Lab Services, Ovuleoctory, and Gen. Treatment" in red. One local gentleman was scooping out the decomposed accumulation of raw sewage in the old latrine hole by hand (literally, with his hands) and dumping it into a plastic bucket, while another took bucketloads to a large tin barrel mounted on a kind of jury-rigged cart they would later wheel off to the river to dump and bring back up for another load. We were paying him for the task, which is quite brave of him if you ask me. Everyone in the area seemed mostly friendly, but I wondered if anyone knew about the stolen camera and money so we could get a lead before we departed. We originally had intended to return on the 26th, but it appeared the 28th would instead be the departure date due to the availability of ten tickets on a single flight.
Emily and Kali discussed with many of the local student girls about what food words they mutually recognized, indicated by bright smiles and repeating it in agreement. Martin's son, Martin (hence referred as Mini-Martin) spoke at length with Shae regarding election stories. There are many types of clothing the kids wear, most all of it in fairly good condition and washed well due to the cleanish tap water and plenty of soap at markets. The people seemed largely clean and eager to find subjects for laughter. They seem to wear both long and short sleeves regardless of the weather, perhaps from being so acclimatized. My mood seemed less affected by the surrounding economic status than simply the state of the weather at any given moment. The people are just as friendly as anywhere, though perhaps moreso to us as we are somewhat of a celebrity status.
The kids seem to run the lay of the land freely as long as they're home for dinner. Even from ages that would barely seem capable of reading, they seem to have the run of the neighborhood to go here and there as they please with few parents in sight. I suspected that the density of child predators may be either remarkably thin or otherwise simply more preoccupied with scrounging for basic necessities than with roaming the streets seeking out those whom they may devour, but later read in a BBM newsletter that the latrine we were building acted partly as a safeguard from kids getting kidnapped having to go find someplace to do their business outside of the school while away from home during the day.
We changed spots briefly as the guys took a break, to make our way back to one of the makeshift offices next to the feeding area, where a number of the teachers had gathered for something resembling a business meeting. On the way there, Kali handed me a green sheet of paper that one of the St. Michael students had written as a brief autobiography up until that point, involving realizing his immediate family was not actually his birth parents but an aunt, that she struggled to care for him and in a good-intentioned gesture to get him a job in the city, actually was abused by his new employer physically and emotionally before finally escaping and through various means able to find a hefty dose of peace and an outlet to learn at St. Michael's.
At the meeting we attended, there'd been some kind of misunderstanding between the school admins about what would be funded -- the impression seemed to have been that if an inquiry was made about how much something would cost, then it was presumed that BBM had intended to fund it regardless of the cost, whereas instead it was simply an inquiry. The piercing, squinty eyed Henry really impressed me with his profound calmness and ability to quell a building tension with a soft and surprisingly reasonable solution. One of the admins asked Kali if she would make the closing prayer, and she took us by complete surprise with a remarkably cumulative and all-encompassing prayer that quite frankly resulted in a round of applause afterward. Robert gave Daniel (the artist) an LED-flashing Texas necklace to remember us by and he seemed really glad to get it.
I had been feeling guilty about not being able to help out with a lot of the labor aspects, but Robert reassured me that everyone had a role to play and that he enjoyed the labor aspects but had some degree of difficulty with writing things down at the end of the day to recall in years ahead, which I am more than glad to provide (if not in an overly wordy fashion ;D).
We later went to the area where we'd given away the vegetable seeds, to also give out loads and loads of baby clothes. We had attempted to organize the inflow of women and children before it got out of hand, with little sucess. Families just kept piling in and in and in despite a call to close the gate. Soon few of us could barely move in the entry way so retreated temporarily to a home that we used as a sorting area to select an item and then find someone in the crowd to toss it to. I helped organize some clothes into piles as Lynda and Jess grabbed from the piles and made gestures to people in the crowd to catch, and tossed them directly.
After the supply of clothes had been exhausted (sizes that would fit their kids, anyhow), we were on our way out when a man showed up with his arm in a cast. It turned out this was the man who had been taken to the morgue for dead, but had woken up while inside and escaped. We got to meet the fellow personally and took a few pictures, being a kind of local celebrity that had made national news headlines. He had bright cheerful eyes and a broad smile that would be very easily recognizable.
As we were leaving, Lynda dug into her bag being unable to find her sunglasses. She was going back into the gate and made a hand gesture like sunglasses in search for them, but instead was brought a toddler (Clinton Otieno, a girl) who was reportedly blind and did not seem to respond to visual movement when we tried to talk to her. We laid hands upon her, some in the back laying upon those closer to the girl, and prayed for both and improvement in sight as well as circumstance. It turned out that Lynda's sunglasses were in her bags the entire time, but the moment provided the chance for an otherwise missed opportunity to pray for the kid. The pastor of the community there later e-mailed me back reporting Clinton Otieno to be in good health, seeing and responding to visual clues like any normal kid would, and asking for a bible.
Soon after, we traveled back to the Amani Centre and got freshened up to go out to eat and for what Lynda described longingly as, "ice cold Coca Cola." I actually combed my hair this time, though kept it tied back as usual. I related the story to our Nairobi friends about the Mathare gentleman calling me a Jesus look-alike, and they had a bigger laugh than I expected it to be.
I rode in a seperate car to the restaurant, "Books First!" which was actually an interior upstairs floor overlooking the Nakumatt Mega and part of the larger Nakumatt chain. On the way, it appeared we would get stuck in another jam so my driver, Joseph, opted for a different route. After we'd gone this way and that, in a pattern I could scarely be able to recall, I looked around the car and realized I was the only one of our group aside from locals. Joseph had driven me, Garret and Robert to many places before, and I knew him to be trustworthy, but nonetheless the yammering of my mother came to my ears, "Now don't you go off in any places seperated from your group!" and I imagined the fun it would be to relate how I'd done exactly that, driving around in the chaotically disorganized traffic of downtown Nairobi in a Subaru loaded with native Kenyans I'd known less than a week. At one point Henry, who was with us, got out of the car and began walking, anticipating another jam ahead. The other fellow with us also got out, and Joseph motioned for me to follow them, as Henry waved the c'mon gesture. "Oh great," I thought. "Not to mention having been driving in the chaos of Nairobi traffic, to now actually be walking around the streets of Nairobi with two locals I'd known less than a week, ducking in and out of stores."
It turned out we had actually driven up alongside the Nakumatt Mega and Joseph was having difficulty just getting in the parking lot. The group had already ordered by the time we arrived at the table, and I ordered Chicken Chimichangas that turned out to be pretty good, albeit a touch spicy and fairly crispy. While waiting for the food to be brought out, I was busy trying to figure out a quicker way to mentally convert Kenya Shillings into American Cents, and divided 100 by 65, to come out with roughtly 1.3 (but it ended up being a semi-lengthy long-division problem with along repeating series) and Garret noticed me scribbling math onto the napkin and remarked, "Are you doing math for fun?" and we all had a cheerful but brief discussion of the nerdiness of a few of us in the group. After chowing down, we explored the Nakumatt Mega briefly, as Jess located an inexpensive source of bottled water for the group, and I browsed the candy aisle looking at the weird brands.
Robert and I walked around looking for a circular saw, as Nakumatt Mega had, according to Henry, "everything you needed to build a house" from the raw materials to the furnishings. We also browsed a postcard rack, noting that they were all Safari-related, but also supposed that postcards of the slums would not as likely sell so swiftly. Upon finishing up the shopping, it began to rain really hard when we gathered at the exit waiting for the van to return. It had been driven off by Martin to get a tire replaced, so we waiting slightly longer than we expected. Emily and Kali had both worn white shirts, so for the purposes of modesty and future opportunity to make jokey-jokes at their expense, they donned inverted plastic Nakumatt sacks and even took a picture with the Nakumatt elephant mascot near the doorway.
It began to get dark, and while waiting we met someone coming into the store who seemed rather friendly to us that was actually another pastor in the area we had not known of, and he greeted us warmly and welcomed us to Kenya, saying he'd heard us on the radio and wanted to find some way to help, so we referred him to Henry to see if there was any concern he could help meet. The van had arrived by then and was parked in a surprise underground parking garage we'd know idea was even there, so we loaded up.
Many of the group had apparently had a sizeable dose of Kenya chocholate, and the late hour combined for a rowdy van-load as Martin weaved us to and fro in the dark Kenyan traffic, on wet roads no less. I was more preoccupied with the harrowing traffic than the merrymaking inside the van, combining giggle fits and jokey-joke making. Someone saw the word "Arboretum" and asked the group what that meant, and searching for a good description, I blurted, "You know, hydroponics, indoor horticulture, like a greenhouse," and was from then dubbed "Michael T.," for Thesaurus, to many chortles.
One thing I realized on the way back was that Martin, who has 3 kids, now no longer has the authority to yell at kids making a rucus in the backseat after having dealt with our sugar-rushed group while he drove through the slick and dark streets -- but that now I, too, had no such authority to accurately claim that any given traffic situation stateside is worthy of being irritated of, considering my experience with the outright lunacy of Nairobi traffic.
We returned safe and sound, and Garrett noticed a lizard in our room when he came back in, which I saw also. I felt a little better with the lizard in the room, in that they generally eat bugs, but also considering I have a little lizard that lives under my mailbox that usually only comes out when it rains, too -- so it felt a little more like home that night.
March 20, 2008 (Back To Top)
A few of the bunch, except me and Garret, had gone to a house of lepers and saw two that were crawling up the street to meet them. One woman, Dorothy (the other, Mary) was a blind leper with a child still to care for, and they were prayed after, the story later recounted to me by a teary-eyed Sherry. Garret and I arrived at the L&J St. Michael's via Joseph's driving and waited around and met with kids and sat and spoke with them, most of them just hanging around waiting for school to begin. The latrine's hole had filled up with water from the previous night's rainstorm, and was being bailed out for a while, but we still needed to wait for the hole to be dug out wider and with some left still to dislodge from the bottom.
I spoke with a boy named Reagan who needed assistance with his education fund, with the story that his mother died in 1995 and his father was a painter who didn't make enough to maintain his tuition. I asked him to write down his story (as I generally am not keen on agreeing to such matters in a verbal context) and bring it back with the numbers and amounts needed, so I could organize what could be done. He was probably early teens and I'd seen him writing school papers from before. After some time of walking around and catching up on previous days' events to be recorded, I went in the school to watch some of the classes in progress being taught. One was a math class being taught by Domnic Milla, and told him the algebra that we learned was not taught until a later age for me (and Kali nearby agreed) and he was surprised.
Kali, Emily and I introduced ourselves to the class, answering a bunch of questions about ourselves and asking a few of the kids, utilizing Milla's retelling of the question to the kids in their denser accent. Kali and Emily went off to other things, as I began drawing a picture of the USA and Texas, for them to see and talked about how we traveled here and at what stops. They taught me many kiswahili words and phrases that could be helpful. We later took a brief trip down the road to try to help someone move, or to pay her rent, but she was not at home to help out.
The primary cell provider here is Safaricom and even little slum shops declare in painted letters their safaricom scratch card wares to "top up" your phones. I mainly stayed at the side of the road writing journal notes, reading one of the two newspapers Martin bought me while at Nakumatt Mega, or making sketches of the interior of the rooms I'd been in the days prior. While in the school watching the classes being taught, Garret later recounted that a rat had dashed into one of the classrooms and scurried about the floor -- but instead of getting up onto the chairs as we'd expect Americans to do, the students mobbed the rodent and stomped it to death themselves, something he was quite surprised to witness. While taking a break in the van to cool off a little, Daniel (the artist) taught us a kiswahili tune (more like a lullaby) to the tune of "Oh, how I love Jesus" (with roughly the same translation) that goes:
" ah, mi na ku penda // ah, mi na ku penda
ah, mi na ku penda // ma naa wani penda mimi "
Robert, Jess and Martin walked to the new land and met a number that had been known to be hired troublemakers, cooking underneath a tree. They had a 3-gallon tin cooking various and sundry chicken parts like a head with the eyes still in, and dozens upon dozens of chicken feet strewn out on a cloth on the ground, and would pour the mixture into liter containers. They offered Jess and Robert some but could barely lift it to their mouths from the idea itself of the contents, but asked the men there (who welcomed them as they approached, after Martin slipped them a few bills and Jess gave them his leatherman fold-up utility thing) what they thought about the school being built on the land right next to them, which they agreed was good. The subject then arose that the building would also have functions of a church, and a gentleman presumed to be the leader claimed to be a Christian and approved of the idea. Caterpillar is to donate a water storage unit (elevated for pressure) and a backup generator would be acquired to keep power in case of loss.
The guys had bought a circular saw at Nakumatt but the generator we had (Honda, ran surprisingly quiet) didn't have some correct amount of something, amperage perhaps, so the cut speed would be inconsistent. They trimmed the cord and spliced on a new plug (the original being Australian) so perhaps the second attempt would be more successful. Turned out Kali's iPhone worked in that area (though later discovered to cost around $2/minute to use). [nothing else written down for this day].
March 21, 2008 (Back To Top)
After a fierce downpour the night before, the air was cool and Pastor Elly surprised us with a breakfast present of fresh Chapati to go with our hot chocolate, toast, eggs and soapy-pillows (sopapillas).
Chapati, I later researched when trying to recreate it myself, is actually an East Indian staple food that also happens to be prepared frequently in eastern areas of the greater Africa region. It's made of a particular type of flour called "chapati flour" and can be purchased from specialty Indian groceries here. I recreated a version of it that tastes remarkably similar to the type we tasted, using 1 cup wheat flour and a half-cup of white flour after following the guide from this video recipe. It takes a while, but the taste transports me right back to Kenya and the roadside vendors we bought them from for around 10 KSH each as a midday treat on occasion.
On the way to Mathare, we stopped by a gathered catholic procession of singers, singing a soft tune led at the front by a white-robed man carrying a wooden cross. Nicholas tried to translate with his near-indiscernably heavy accent that the crowd was repeating, "This is the Lord, our Savior" in Swahili, and later, "Not our will Lord, but yours," in some pre-rehearsed simple tune. Most of the crowd seemed to be, by the looks of their dress, just your regular everyday common person -- not a fancy-dressed churchgoer you'd figure would be there were we stateside.
After following them for a while, we walked on ahead around a bend and stopped at a small forest section between the high pass we'd come from and the highway down below, for an impromptu service as Garret read to us a few scriptures and we sang a song or two, to celelbrate good Friday.
We later made it back to the MCEDO-Beijing School building, and the team is building a door for a meeting room, previously just used as an alcove for various storage purposes, underneath a concrete staircase. Garrett played soccer with a bunch of the local munckins and teens, using large rocks as goal post markers. Upon scoring a goal once, Garrent hollered loudly and thew off his shirt and waved it around, to the great amustments of the players and spectators.
We visited a fairly nice church (relatively) slightly up the hill from MCEDO, on the opposite side from the Presby church that had been ransacked by the violence months earlier. They played some drum tunes for us and we clapped along. Jess told me Henry asked if I could draw for them a large world map to show where we have come from (but we never got around to doing that, may have to do it here stateside). A rooster kept crowing in the background, and exploring the lot of the MCDEO building I found that several roosters had taken to roaming about the lower floor, and I got a good chance to see some up close, and they looked like any standard rooster one might find stateside. At one point while outside watching some of the others play with the kids, a local jokingly chased Emily out into the front, holding a rooster with its wings pinned back.
At one point, a ball was being kicked around that had been made from a plastic sack tied around some other round bundle of trash and it had rolled into the mud. I was walking by and the ball got kicked my way and went through my legs just above the knee, but managed to make two big mud splotches on the inside of my khakis. I looked up in the direction it came, and the entire schoolyard fell silent as the girl who'd kicked it came running up to see what happened, and stood there aghast, mouth agape. I dismissed it as OK, nothing to worry about. She seemed very relieved, so I walked to a short concrete fence and sat on it, picking up a stone to try and scrape off what I could. Without much luck, I walked into MCEDO and found Jacob, to see if he could get a cloth I could use to wipe it off and he came back with a small handkerchief and I wet it in some nearby clean water from a bucket and got most of it out, and it dried relatively quickly.
After doing some sawing on the now-working circular saw and using it to square up a not-quite-square door, the ladies who had gone to the market just arrived and Kali prepared for us a large batch of guacamole from the purchased bunches of tomatos, avacados, onions, green peppers, and limes. There was also a nice batch of Chapati that really hit the spot, and a bundle of super-sweet bananas to hit the spot. Me and Klumpp looked through a bunch of Kali's photos from the preview screen on her big Canon Rebel XTi (with Speedlite 430EX flash) and they were magazine cover quality, I swear.
Later on, Elly, Garret, Sherry, Emily, Joseph and a bunch of kids sang songs (one of them, "the Big Big House" tune) out by the van, Sherry doing the motions once, and Shae sat with about 15 kids near the short dirt cliff face talking with them. Elly had been trying to teach some song involving a falsetto-pitched "lulululu" sound and when one of the girls tried it, there was much laughter.
Earlier Garret had drawn a line in the dirt a few yards away from the short cliff, facing it, with an empty plastic water bottle perched on a small indentation, and he and Shae taught the kids to try to throw a few of the abudant small stones scattered everywhere to knock it over, and occupied the group like a carnival attraction for quite a while. Once the bottle fell over everyone cheered that they'd collectively knocked it over, and many ran to set it back up so it could be knocked over again, most of the time waiting for everyone to get behind the line anew.
On the way back to Amani, a number of farewell-wishing munchkins began crowding the van as we were trying to drive out on the bumpy dirt roads, and noticing that the van was getting mobbed by kids that could get hurt if they got in the way, Joseph slowly inched up in his car behind us, parked and quickly snuck up behind them, bent over and arms outstretched, coralling them away by surprise, to the amusement of those in the van. Upon returning to Amani, Emily and Kali both dashed up to Joseph in the same posture in thanks for keeping the kids from harms way, and he cracked up.
After freshening up, there were three people in the entryway to visit with us just as we were about to take a walk to the local CALTEX gas station for a slightly-cool soda. One was the main host of a radio station that gets no less than 2 million listeners each night (with a goal of 5 million), and a lady who's the executive director for a counseling firm largely responsible for counseling many who were impacted by the post-election fuss. I really learned a lot during that brief talk, re-confirming the untapped and unrecognized intelligence that is present in not simply the slums, but in every person, the untapped artisanship, beauty and raw skill for much-needed positive action, limited by opportunity to employ those great things.
March 22, 2008 (Back To Top)
After the usual bread-egg-hot-chocolate breakfast, we traveled again to Korogocho to resume work but also to clean up much of the land the school would be built upon. We each gathered a stone from the land and made an ebenezer-like altar around which we gathered to pray in thanks for the land and to seek blessing upon it for the upcoming structure to be built and flourish. Soon, men with long machetes chopped the grass short, and we used plastic bags already scattering the land to gather up the other bits of garbage into a big pile. A few of us got a turn at swinging the grass blades (as it were) with limited success. We burnt a few piles of the rubbish and the land looked much better.
It was here that we also met another man by the name of Henry, who was a warrior of the Maasai tribe. Jess later told me that rumor had it that Maasai tribe members were given a stick when they are born and that they keep it (later trading it for a wooden club weapon) for the rest of their lives and are generally known for being security-type people. Well this guy was definitely someone you wanted to be your friend. He looked wiry, but he just had a kind of friendly fierceness about him, and a keen dexterity and advanced knowledge of when-to-hit-where techniques and deft use of a wooden club that closely resebled a femur's ball joint (but was made of wood, I got to look at it). Most of the time he kept a sternly serious, sweeping glance over the area, and a sideways glancing eye keeping our local area on serious lockdown. I got to speak with him for a bit, and he demonstrated just an exceedingly impressive sense about himself that put my confidence in him to a very high degree in the few words we spoke. He remarked that if he saw anyone getting close to us that didn't belong there, he would be there like lightning to handle it. A few of the other teachers from St.Michael knew of him, and heaped renown upon respect for him to me in passing, say that this is the guy you definitely want to hang around as his loyalty is beyond comprehension. After having become a bit wary from the thefts earlier and being slightly more on edge the past few days, this guy was a welcome sight and put me at a much greater ease, and impressed upon me as one of the most significant figures of anyone I met on the entire trip -- a model for someone whose reputation was specific, focused, and commanded great ease with anyone who had known him on friendly terms.
We traveled back to the school (on foot, and it was a very long walk for me, it seemed) to finish off the latrine. I had a pretty good conversation with Mini-Martin about topics ranging from American economics to Native Americans, and was introduced to his sister Rose (nothing short of a knockout).
Later I got to teach Milla how to "Word Mine", an exercise where one counts the letters in a particular word and makes smaller words using those letters. After demonstrating the concept with EXAMINATION, there were a few words he didn't recognize (and I withheld even before that a few English words so obscure few Americans know, anticipating having to explain their intricacies) like EON, MOTE, and TOME. We then tried doing one independently on JERUSALEM. I had to explain what ALMS were, as well as MARE and RUSE, but he did find a few words that I had completely overlooked. I suggested it as a possible bonus-points kind of game to play with students, with some kind of incentive for the person with the most correct words and his eyes lit up with the possibility, with far more interest than I expected. It's a game I really enjoy and was glad to pass it along.
After finishing up the latrine and installing doors for privacy, we headed back out to Amani, and after dinner went to a Nakumatt for snacky items and bread/grape-juice for the upcoming Easter communion. I got a Milkybar, Mars bar, and an Aero ("Have you felt the bubbles melt?") and they were all pretty good. Afterward, I received word that I should call home, so I did so on Jess' cell to tell mom we were OK and we'd be home by that Friday. We played a game of UNO and went to bed around 10pm.
March 23, 2008 (Back To Top)
Got up around 7:15am for breakfast, and then we headed out to Easter Sunday on the new land. For me, it was quite possibly the most dreadfully long and unpleasantly humid Easter service I've ever been to, and did honestly fervently pray silently that it would at least sprinkle to give us some much-needed cooler temps. It was partly cloudy, and the slight breeze really stood out when a huge fluff of cloud obscured our area in the sun. Jess, anticipating that the neighboring pastors' introductions of each other might make it last too long, interjected and got things rolling.
After some singing and various performances done by locals, I walked around toward a slightly more secluded spot of the area as the communion was brought out and distributed. Later, the food that had been prepared was brought out (rice and beans, free for everyone present) and I struck up a conversation with Michael, a teacher from St. Michael. He had noted my standing area and walked over, noting that a number of the nearby trouble-makers had approached the group (the club-wielding guard Henry I described earlier was present here also). Michael complimented me on my choice in places to stand, in that I had a good view of everything was going on and suggested that if I ever picked up on a suggestion that things were getting out of hand with the presence of the local trouble-makers, to signal him and he would scurry in the direction of the potential scuffle, since he lived in a close-by neighborhood to their usual hangout and had so many dealings with them he knew most if not all of them on a more personal level and could reason quite effectively.
I got a chance to relate one of my favorite fables of a rancher of unyielding patience, as another of the teachers came up and began listening to my tale. I only knew part of it, but enough to create the pattern properly for repeating the tale to others, and offered to e-mail the complete tale once I returned to the states and could look it up.
They remarked upon my ability to more easily tan than the others, upon which I remarked that I was not fully white, at which they took sudden interest. They had no apparent knowledge of any history of America involving natives (or many other races than black and white) that had existed on the land prior to the establishment of America, and I told of my mixed racial background in that regard (of which was physically evident) and I gave them a very brief history and described many of the nomadic tribes that followed buffalo herds so immense that no herdsman could control them and they moved about of their own collective will to find better climates and greener pastures, and how the natives utilized every part of each buffalo -- for food, to make tools or jewelry from bones, water pouches from the stomachs, etc. and they seemed riveted.
One gentleman came up to me to say goodbye for the day, noting that it was likely soon to begin raining. I had felt periodic sprinkles but didn't have much reason (or means) to depart since the rest were still there, so I shook his hand and waved him goodbye. Not long after that it began to rain.
I've been in some fairly heavy downpours in my time, but these raindrops felt as if they were in a size range from golfball to balled fist each and they smacked hard. The group that had been gathered for Easter services scattered, with all of us from Texas making a mad dash for the van. At one point Klumpp and I attempted to seek the shelter of a little section of wall that, for a few moments at least, provided some degree of protection from the painful rain since it had been falling at an angle that the wall successfully blocked, but as Jess and some others ran past, we soon realized the angle was changing and getting heavier, so we also bolted for the van. After we'd all gotten inside and the rain had somewhat calmed down, we were preparing the depart when a pastor came up to Jess' window curious nearly to the point of frustration that we were leaving. Perhaps if he'd had the context that often in the case of a rain-out in Texas, the event is over for the day. What everyone else had done, however, was simply seek shelter in a nearby church building (St.Meshak of Dandora) and resumed the meal that had been interrupted.
Realizing this, we got back out of the van and walked to the church instead. There had also been a reporter from a local news station present and got a few brief video interviews with some of our team, and later it turned out that Robert's made the Kenya news that night. While inside the church (which was essentially a pretty large timber-and-tin one-room cabin with a slightly raised platform and podium for speaking at the front), I got to speak with a boy who might have been 13 years old, who had his little brother with him. He said his guardian had died in the conflict and it was difficult to find food on a daily basis and asked for money. When I told him we didn't give money outright like that, he said he could take a check to deposit. I told him it we could better help him by finding a church for him to seek help through in the area, to insure they could more easily find food each day, he seemed disinterested. I suggested he speak with Lynda and pointed her out. Moments later, he spoke with Sherry with the same story, unrelenting in his goal to get free money just for the asking. I wondered how many people thought that had been our intention, to just hand out funds willy-nilly.
After the crowd had dispersed (and we got some of the remaining food for ourselves to eat there) one of the neighboring pastors who ministered to the displaced garden-growing bunch asked us to come to their area again for a thank-you gift for the women. We walked over there and met in the same room we'd earlier used as a sorting space from the crowding-in families. When we were all seated, he said a few words and brought in a number of large pieces of woven cloth with faily intricate designs, each one unique, that had some version of "God is not of anger but of mercy" on the four borders, in Kiswahili. Elated, we went back and hung around the van for a while, and Em spoke with Mini-Martin about what music they liked. Rose was also there and they both chuckled when I mentioned my favorite music group was Infected Mushroom.
At one point Garret and Kali began chasing a little boy around one of the pickups and his giggle made many of the nearby shop owners smile and laugh. When the boy came out from behind the truck, he stuck out his tongue before being chased again and tickled when caught. We drove back with the BBM Henry pinned between me and Jess in the front and we dropped him off before heading back.
Shortly before dinner at Amani, Jess, me, Shae and Robert sat before a fuzzy TV in the entry way half-watching 7th Heaven, and after supper drove to Nakumatt again. I got a Vita-C candy (made by Halls, incidentally), a 9-shilling bag of salted puffed corn, another candy bar, and a T-shirt (499 shillings) after discovering there was a second floor I had not noticed before. Back at Amani and games of UNO, we broke for bed around 11pm. Garrett and I sat up talking until at least 1230am, then I took a walk as I was not sleepy.
It was on this walk that I realized that a mosquito seemed to keep buzzing around my ears. However, after making a number of laps around the small area, I realized it was coming from only one common cardinal direction each time I turned a corner, and realized it was actually was actually the sound of vehicles zooming past on the nearby freeway at a pitch that was near imperceptibly similar to a buzzing mosquito. I finally went to bed around 1am, but didn't end up sleeping much. I didn't have much trouble with mosquitos buzzing anymore, because I could often pause for a moment to triangulate where the sound was coming from and realize whether it was just traffic or really was an insect, often being just traffic.
March 24, 2008 (Back To Top)
On this Monday morning, we took a trip to Thika ("THICK-uh"), which was a slightly longer drive than normal -- but partly because the BBM Henry that was with us perhaps misunderstood that we needed directions there and after driving 30 miles past it remarked, "Didn't you want to go to Thika? It was back there." We U-turned and Jess started out driving on the side of the road as we would commonly in America, which was the wrong side before recalling that it should have been the left. We had to stop and ask directions from a mostly-toothless newspaper vendor. There are apparently very few signs that indicate where or whether one needs to turn one way or another, you just have to know where to go, unless they are posted by individuals or businesses. A few major streets had names, based largely on private signage of businesses, like So-and-so Road Clinic.
We eventually found it and after getting oriented, we were able to locate our destination there: the Salvation Army School for the Physically Disabled, named Joytown. After realizing it was still a holiday in Kenya (they celebrate Easter Monday also and people are off work) we had initial difficulty locating an admin to search for a particular resident, a girl (Angela, daughter of Nancy) for whom we pay the school's tuition costs as a sponsorship program. I was very uneasy there, but we got to see where many of the residents stay (which are all children and teenagers) and sleep (each with a mosquito net identical to the ones at Amani) and met a few of the dedicated teachers that operate in the school with profoundly ceaseless determination to remain there and help them -- I know I would get burnt out very quickly.
Kali played with a boy in leg braces, and a few of the others had these interesting wheelchairs that seemed like freeform metalsmithing, made from various pieces that essentially did the job needed, each having a unique design as if tailor-made to the kid. The architecture of the buildings was impressive, and quite atypical from the rest of the shanties we'd seen during the past week that Robert and I both remarked about the nice unnecessary touches the builders had made that made their appearance more pleasant.
Up until this particular day I'd seen only one white guy (a portly professor-looking guy at the Nakumatt Mega, and an Asian dude the previous night at another Nakumatt), but this day we went out to eat at a modern restaurant that looked like something out of Six Flags, the "Nairobi Java House," and I had a cheeseburger with spiced fries for 440 shillings. There were many touristy looking folks there, and we met Martin along with Maggie, who is the BBM Kenya treasurer. After eating, we explored the small mall area connected to the restaurant, and I got $45USD exchanged to Kenya shillings at 62KSH/1USD at "Junction FOREX Bureau, Ltd" (backed by Western Union).
I bought another Kenya shirt for 500. Then we traveled to a Korogocho soccer field to watch Elly play in pastor-league soccer match. There were a few kids there who I came to refer as the glue-heads and they kept pestering Jess for money and I tried to shoo them off, but they kept at it. I asked Henry to see if he could shoo them away and he found a stick and kept security detail when they got too confrontational and he was my hero for the day. I nearly lost my temper a few times and personally would have escorted the youths to the gate if it were my say, but I trusted Henry's judgment.
It started to sprinkle so we retreated to the van again, and as the games wrapped up we departed after taking a few snapshots with a Polaroid camera. When we returned to Amani, an Amani vs. BBM volleyball match had been scheduled and eager to get more journaling in, I set up a chair at the net line and kept score as I wrote down the day's events. Amani won both games (21-11 and 21-16) but there were good saves and good volleys on both sides. After the 7pm dinner, we played UNO in the entry room as the TV room we'd normally relaxed in had been occupied, and later Jess used Garret's minispeaker set to play a bunch of the preloaded content on his mp3 player and Shae knew practically every verse to most of the songs, most of which none of us were familiar. We hit the sack around 1030pm and I slept very well.
March 25, 2008 (Back To Top)
Garret and I were actually the first ones into the breakfast hall at 0715, a rarity. That morning we were driven by Martin to a section of Mathare North where the BBM Henry works, and few of the roads seemed at all something any of us stateside would attempt to drive through, but the brave Toyota Hiace made it through just fine.
He works at a small school, and we got to see his computerless desk and assistant, and gave out superballs and bracelets to the students there. Klumpp attempted to give a few superballs to a lady who was on the fourth floor of a nearby building, by throwing them up into the air. He also saw a hair salon school having classes nearby as we were about to leave, and walked up to them to see if they would try to weave his hair (that is, lack thereof) which made many of the students nearly toppled over in gape-mouthed laughter. Next we headed downtown, parked near a Children's Driving Course and walked around the tall buildings. There was a Hilton Nairobi among other skyscrapers. We'd split up around then, while Martin and four others go exchange currency while the rest walked down to the Ethiopian Airways office trying to get the itinerary for the trip back. The others met us there in the air-conditioning-less office, and we soon walked back toward the van.
We instead stopped into a building and on the second floor visited a Chinese restaurant. This was one of my most peculiar restaurant experiences for the simple fact that it was disturbingly humid inside with no air circulation. The waitresses hardly spoke a syllable, and only after coming around to take our order did they inform us that two thirds of the menu was not items they prepared, but were served at another restaurant location elsewhere. So, we had to pick something else from a very short list of items, but the food turned out really good. I just got a bowl of soup as I wasn't that hungry. We were seated at a large circular table with a proportionately large lazy susan in the middle and when the food was brought out (over a period of about 45 mins, me being last) everyone shared each's order with one another so no one was without. It was probably the best Chicken Noodle Soup I'd ever eaten, and was a surprising amount of actual noodles and chicken for the meager price of around 120 shillings.
On the way to the van we walked through a very large inner city park with grass cut really close like a golfing green, but all over the entire park. An interesting thing about this park was that as we walked though being appx midday, there were many businessmen and commoners alike lying on their backs (the businessmen had taken off their suit coats and laid them nearby) taking a nice break or a nap in the breezy sunny weather, scattered about. As we walked to the edge of the park, we noticed an outdoor smoking section that was roped off -- and outside, no less -- where a handful of smokers had congregated and were smoking that Jess and I both remarked as funny. Returning to the van, we drove to a drive-through zoo park (akin to Arbuckle Wilderness in nature, but much more architecturally impressive) but they wanted too high of a price for foreigners (while some locals could get in for free).
So instead we went to another public park that was surrounded by dense forest, but had a small population of monkeys that you could interact with personally; no cages. There were a number of simple food-item vendors that were meant to feed the monkeys with, and many of them knew how to get a monkey to sit on your shoulder and take food from your hand, which many of us did.
Afterward, we navigated the continued traffic chaos thanks to Martin's incredible swiftness and made it to the mostly open-air market. It wasn't as good of an experience as I was hoping it would be, but a second trip I am confident would be much better, having known now how to deal with the shop owners. There were many sellers and every single one was deliberately overquoting prices in an attempt to get you to bargain with them (or trick you into paying an absurd price). I made off with a hand-carved, varnished dark wooden letter opener for 220 shillings, bargaining the lady down from 1600. I thought I'd gotten a pretty good deal, until I saw the prices others got for their items. Robert managed to get a giant glazed stone bowl, about as big as a family-sized pizza with intricate patterned inner surface for a mere 300, among other things.
Content with our market purchases, we went back to Amani for dinner, a few games of UNO (where an Amani worker Vincent joined us and surprised us with his amazing shuffling and dealing prowess, despite the fact the cards were too sticky-feeling to us from the humidity and hard to deal. He caught on to the game pretty quickly and his was English was pretty good even with a heavy accent.
March 26, 2008 (Back To Top)
Things were starting to wrap up. Pastor Elly joined us for breakfast and everyone left the Amani center in the van but me and I rode with Joseph. Joseph's car was making this horrible clicking sound and he pulled into the same Shell station we always stopped at. Turned out a prior wheel replacement was the wrong size and it was making the differential pop as the rear axle spun at different rates. It gave me a chance to catch up on writing, while we waited.
Joseph decided it was taking too long to change (after a good while had passed) so we loaded back up and drove to Korogocho for a few goodbyes, popping and clunking all the way down from Mathare North, past the familiar store we kept stopping for bottled water at, and right up to the usual square we were now quite familiar with. We got a bunch of photos with now-good-friends, and Daisy (a toddler girl we'd befriended, mostly with Garret) ran away in tears after learning we were leaving. We'd taken a picture of the two and given the developed photo to her slightly older sister who would take it home to leave for their mother in safe keeping for Daisy as a keepsake.
Many of the teachers called us into the "well-ventilated office" and gave each of us a bracelet, the kind you bend open to put on (similar to those magnetic health bracelets) and mine fit pretty well. It was made from metals harvested from the Koch dump and recycled. They also gave some of us a sealed brown envelope (including me) which I later opened and it was a postcard from Milla thanking me for teaching the class and for teaching him the new game.
After saying our final farewells and getting loads of picures, we then headed for a town called Githurai ("GEE-theh-RIE", with the G as in golf and rolling the R), where a sister school of Wichita Falls' Christ Academy was. On the way, however, there was a curiously loud PLUNK! noise after going roughly through a few dips that put the van off balance, and we didn't want to drive further for fear we might blow a tire as the fender was scraping on the tire.
From there we walked down some quite precarious mud paths that meant certain mudsoaked clothes with a misstep to one side into the greenish sewage trench, or to the other side into the mud-puddled dirt roads. About a half-mile later we arrived at Christ Academy of Githurai, and after handing out bracelets and superballs, were treated to an introduction of all the teachers, a meal of rice and beans prepared by the schools' cooks, and a few singing numbers by many of the children at the Academy. One of the teachers noted that he taught the French language.
I later spoke with him as we were leaving and he said many refugee kids from neighboring French-speaking countries knew no other language, and he was having difficulty finding French texts to use to teach them properly. I told him I would try to help out in that regard once I returned, by seeing about mailing out a few French guidebooks, vocabularly books, and instructional materials if I could find any suitable.
Martin had arranged for the van to be towed, and we walked about 3km to the garage where it was being repaired and it was presently being worked on as we arrived. With three men working on it in record time, repairing a broken U-bolt on the rear passenger (left side) spring, the total bill came up to about 2000 shillings -- in the neighborhood of a mere $30. We'd had Joel (Pastor Elly's son) with us for most of the trip, so we dropped him off and headed back for supper and share-time, before our regular UNO match again, this time with Vincent again. Afterward, we gave him the UNO deck to remember us by, since there would not likely be a good occasion to play again.
March 27, 2008 (Back To Top)
I was completely packed by 10am, the day we were to leave. We left to go pick up Daniel but got in a jam and had to turn back. We were going to get him to take us to a hospital to see a guy who took Jess' camera after getting into a fight, being seen talking to Daniel about the whereabouts of the camera and attacked by friends in on the theft and being badly injured needing many stitches. We had to abort the trip and headed back instead to Amani as Sophia and Martin had arrived to meet us.
We went from there to the nearby Nakumatt to get some misc supplies, but I discovered they didn't carry ziplocks or zipties. I did get a Nakumatt reusable fabric bag (70 KSH) and a Nestle Lion (90 KSH) to prove that I did encounter a "lion" while in Africa. At the Nakumatt Mega's "Books First!" restuarant again, me, Klumpp and Shae shared a family-sized all-meat pizza. It began pouring down rain as we ate, making it 2 for 2 that visiting Nakumatt Mega resulted in a downpour.
Afterward, we were driven back by Martin (the rain had let up) with his superior driving maneuvers to Amani Centre, where we loaded up our junk and said a number of goodbyes. I gave away my extra unused soaps and toiletries, as well as all but one pair of khakis, to Sophia who gladly received them. We paid for some extra bracelets that we'd ordered from the guy who gave the ones to us at St.Michaels, and he also included a brass ring for each of the guys as an additional thanks for that order, plus another free bracelet that expanded with sliders, all made from Koch recycled metals. We said the any remaining goodbyes and were loaded up and off to the airport.
That trip, in itself, was a harrowing adventure, because we were already somewhat late and needed to get there fast. Thankfully the Mighty Martin was driving us again, a ruthless and fearless driver who will push through any space no American would even consider. At one point we were in a large jam that seemed hopeless, on a 2-way, 2-lane road (one each way). What does he do? Drives in the oncoming lane when no one is coming, and drives in the wrong lane's shoulder when someone oncoming going the correct way approaches. He danced the Toyota Hiace through parking lots and even down a guarded private road that required a pass through 2 security checkpoints with a road blockade arm that lifted after Martin spoke with them briefly. We finally got into the airport with 30 minutes to spare.
The guard at the gate before entering the parking lot asked Jess where he was from, and responding, "The USA" the guard said in America they make you wear your seat belt, which he wasn't at the time but humorously waved us though. We only had to wait a short time for the luggage truck to catch up to us, and off we dashed to check in. We went through 2 security checks and the final visit through the Kenyan visa gate to get our exit stamps. We promptly were asked to walk down the outdoor steps (not a covered walkway) made of wide-stepped slightly-sloping-forward stairs to the tarmac then back up one of those old-movie drivable staircases that led up to the plane's door and half glad, half sad to be on the plane at last.
It was a Boeing 767-300 again, though it had no seat monitors. Since the plane was so sparsely populated, Sherry (who was seated next to me, us in A and C seats) moved to the adjacent three-seat section where no one was sitting and got the whole section to herself. I was happy with the two-seat section I got in exchange for her move.
The food on this flight to Addis was pretty good again. There was a thick chocolate pudding with a whip-cream dollop and tiny chocolate sprinkles. The Main item was a rich-chicken dish with a tasty sauce, some saltine-style crackers and a roll that really hit the spot.
At the Addis airport, I had to see a man about a lumpy wet rhinocerous in a hurry, and when I was done I took off my brass ring (that I had grown quite attached to) to wash my hands since there was no drain plug and I didn't want to lose it down the hole. I had placed it on the far left sink, but had to walk to the far right sink to find a soap dispenser that worked, washed my hands there, and wiped my hands and left -- leaving my ring on the sink by mistake. Only after doing some shopping in the overpriced airport "duty free" sections did I realize the ring was gone, and after checking back again discovered it was not where I'd put it. I tried to ask one of the lady attendants standing outside (who I had informed most of the soap dispensers were empty upon leaving the first time) if she'd seen a ring but she seemed to indicate that she didn't. I tried to ask someone else that looked like they worked there if there was a Lost and Found area, but they didn't seem to be aware of such a thing. The lady I spoke with flagged down a passing consumer to help translate, who knew very good English, and I related the story. We walked back to the original attendant, and when asking in the correct language, she got very defensive but said she didn't know where the ring was or anything about it.
I thanked the English speaker, who suggested I try the information desk about seeing if anyone turned it in -- but when I returned to our gate (which was on the way to the info desk), Garret was waiting for me to hurry up and go through security again to get on the plane, so I never got a chance to check with the desk.
The Rome flight was decent, with me and Garret seated in the far right two-seat with our backs to one of the walls. The others had tried to scout out empty seat sections where there seemed like a lull on people boarding, but eventually the plane was mostly loaded and everyone returned to their original assigned seats. Kali was the only one of us to get an empty neighbor seat, so as Garret sat with her for a while I got the empty chair benefit and wrote down stuff in the journal, being able to relax for a while to catch up. BBM took up the entire row that I was on, with Lynda, Shae, Jess, Emily, Sherry, Garret and me in order across from window to window.
March 28, 2008 (Back To Top)
At around 8am I woke up from a nap on the Rome-Dulles flight, swooshing above England at a relative 742kph land speed, with 7 hours and 45 minutes to go. The breakfast was a honeybun, jelly on a roll, fruit chunks and pineapple juice. When we finally landed at the Dulles airport in DC, we loaded into one of those trolley vehicles again, which took us to a terminal that led directly into the customs line as I called mom to tell her we'd landed safely. Thankfully the line was very short -- only those of us on the plane, although the roped-off sections allowed for probably 15-20 planeloads of people.
I ate my Nestle's Lion in the line, pleasantly surprised it had not melted during the trip. I sent a few texts saying we were in customs at that very second.
I watched what all the others did when they went through customs, and all they did was hand their passport and flight ticket to the operator dude at the counter, he typed some stuff and stamped a few things, and handed it back. When my turn came up, he typed some stuff but paused, saying, "Hmm, that's strange," and then yelled calling for another security officer to come over to look at something. The security guy told him to retype something or whatnot and after like 2 minutes of rechecking stuff, I asked, "Something weird?" "Yep," was his only reply, stamped some stuff, and handed my passport back. Happy to just be done, I didn't press it further, but at the time I suspected he was just messing with me. Anyhow, we went through another checkpoint area where a guy looked at our passport and asked us a few questions we'd already answered on a customs sheet they passed out on the plane before we landed that we needed to fill out. All of us but Sherry was waved through, and she got to go through an additional detailed check of some kind.
We waited for her out in the hallway (which was the same hallway we'd walked through when stopping by the coffee shop on our way to Kenya) and we all met up at the next flight desk to get our junk checked in for the flight to Dallas. All checked in, we were very noncommital in deciding to eat at an Old Dominion Brewery. We lounged on the carpet outside the Old Dominion and I read a Washington Post (made par on the Scrabblegram) I'd bought, and the US Weekly and Life & Style one of the girls had bought.
Two interesting coincidences -- when I was ordering from the Old Dominion menu, I realized the minipizza was called an "UNO Cheese Pizza" only after I was handing the menu back and had glanced at it. The Jumble Crossword's final unscramble's solution was someone by the name of MALDONE (which was the name of someone we'd met and remarked as being unsual for that area).
We flew out of DC on an "Embraer 170" after a delay from a potable water machine. After making a few origami stars of varying complexity and the brief munchies served, fell asleep, later waking about 30 minutes to land with a terrible bellyache and dizziness. We landed, met with family who had come to receive us, and I rode with the last of us remaining (Sherry, Lynda, Jess, Robert, Klumpp, Garret, Me) on the luggage ferry bus to our parking outpost, and Jess and Robert brought their vehicles around. We loaded everything up, and headed out. We stopped at an open drive-thru restaurant and I tried to have a drink of something, but couldn't seem to manage so well.
On the way back, we had to stop once or twice so I could commune with the bulrushes concerning my bellyaches, but we made it home safe and sound at the stroke of midnight. I slept the night at my parents' house, too tired to do anything else and glad to find some good deep rest in a very comfortable bed!
It's been nearly a full month since I've been back at the time of this edit, and I've been able to communicate with a few of the people we met there over email. Most people who have email there have a Yahoo account, but computer access is fairly limited and mainly only by through public terminals, and even those have disturbingly sparse bandwidth. I still frequently drink water mixed with Crystal Light out of a two-quart bottle that I continually re-use. I've Facebook friended a few from the trip, and, although have no immediately plans for a return voyage, still have the mind to return someday.
Any additional remarks after family and friends have read this (or others on the trip who wish to clarify something) will be posted here at the end. For questions or comments, feel free to contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org and mention the journal in the subject ^_^