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Fran’s Kenya Diary – Sunday 15th January 2017

This is our last middle of the night start to get to airport. Online check in has failed again, so we get there a bit earlier to be safe. The check in at machine in terminal doesn’t work either, mild anxiety at this point. I realise we don’t actually have anything resembling what you might call a ticket, only the boarding passes from the outward journey that have the booking code on them. We go up to the desk and there is no  problem, so don’t know what all that was about, very mysterious. We have quite a while in the airport, sitting in a nice café which only gives change in dollars, which is quite weird.

The flight is in the day time this time, though we are not next to the window, so can’t see that well. There is turbulence again over Lake Nasser. Half way home is just before Cairo, so more or less half the trip is Africa and half is Europe and the Mediterranean. We have been reading about freezing conditions and heavy snow in Europe all week, so I am a bit concerned we will freeze to death on the way home, I only brought one thick hoody with me and no coat, just for surviving this bit of the journey. We find the bus and get home, seems to take forever after sitting on a plane all day, get a taxi at the bus station and we’re home. Everyone has survived, even Alfonz the chameleon.

Back home

So how do I reflect now on my hopes before we left? Has my flame been relit?

I am amazed at how all the contacts with people relating to using Ruby Cups came together. That was certainly not due to my organisational skills as I left it all until the last minute due to my screwiness and it was beyond fortunate that everyone was available to fit into the packed schedule we already had. I think we found out everything we needed to know from the different people and it all fell into place perfectly. This is what we have learned to recognise over the years as the hand of God. Have I actually managed to be useful? I really hope so. It remains to be seen what will transpire with the rather more complex situation we unearthed in Kibera than we had been expecting. If God is building the house, and He certainly seems to be, the the building will be strong and lasting.

Revisiting the stark choices of daily life for so many in Kenya has left a deep impression after this visit. We have been before and seen these things, so it is not factually new to us, but maybe we are in a different place ourselves to respond to the lives that have touched ours this time. I feel humbled to see the determination so many people here have to make good choices for their lives and discipline themselves to persist through unimaginable difficulties. That was Peter’s message to the young offenders, that they need to make good choices. Think of Joachim getting his maths degree, Sharon’s sister holding a huge family together or all the staff of the medical centre serving that community despite the uncertainty as to when they will get paid. For people here, their choices often are literally about life and death, whether from HIV, violence, starvation or spiritual death from hopelessness, maybe dulled with drugs, or 1001 other things. That irritating phrase that older generations trot out, “You don’t know you’re born” seems disturbingly apt. I think that is my big lesson from this trip – learn to make good choices when things are difficult. I don’t do that now, I think I wimp out rather easily on many things as soon as it stops being easy. I can work hard when I am inspired and fulfilled, but what do I do that’s genuinely hard? I take the easy route, the extra biscuit at the drop of a hat. Trainspotting 2 is out as we get back. The original film had a signature song “Choose Life” that I once used as a sermon introduction. That’s what I need to learn now, choose the narrow path when it is difficult and not be so easily deflected.

Choose life.

 

All posts in this diary series:

Preparation

Getting There

Arrival

To the Village Via the Tractor Dealership

The Health Centre

Village People

Choices: Kibera and Kabete

Women's Issues: Cups, Confidence and Cake

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

Home

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

Fran’s Kenya Diary – Saturday 14th January 2017

We get up at a more civilised time as the traffic is less bad on a Saturday. We go to the SYN office via the bank. We arrive promptly at the bank at 5 to 9, but then discover the bank does not open today until 9:30. We are supposed to be at the SYN office at 9:30 for a surprise birthday celebration for James. I have been instructed to bring a change of clothes for him as chucking water all over him is claimed to be a traditional practice. The bank finally opens and Peter does what he needs to do.

We are going to be late for our meeting with Camilla of The Cup Foundation, but none of us can find her number anywhere. I have forgotten my phone, which in any case has no data available and she didn’t reply to all in the email with that has her number in. James’ laptop obstinately refuses to connect to the wifi despite Hirum giving it the password multiple times. Eventually, I manage to log on to my gmail account on Peter’s laptop, but the email is reluctant to show itself even then for some reason, I get there in the end and we phone the poor woman, who has been waiting by the DC office to pick us up.

The team are still keen to do the whole birthday thing. There is a big cake and they have all made cards for James. There’s some cool Kenya renderings of Happy Birthday on the laptop. We really are too late though for the drowning as we are already messing Camilla about, so James escapes.

Jamie’s birthday cake

The team all made birthday cards © Lee Pitts Photography

Birthday cards © Lee Pitts Photography

We get into the car with Peter – Zainab and Lucy are both coming to this meeting too. We drive up to the other end of Kibera where Camilla’s office is and she spots us arriving, then leads the way to her small office. She has another colleague with her and we all squeeze in. As she is also working in Kibera, we are hoping that her experience of the particular cultural and practical issues in this location will be particularly valuable. Camilla and her team have not heard of SYN, so we tell them about the work and especially the Jitambue clubs. She asks which schools we work in. When we tell her, she says she has been in every school in Kibera, including those, distributing cups to all the girls throughout 2015 and 2016. There is a long list on the board behind us of every school, the number of girls receiving cups and other details. This comes as a bit of a shock to all of us as none of the girls in the SYN clubs have mentioned this to anyone. Lucy was a pupil at Star Rise and did have a session about cups, but never received one to try. This was some years before Camilla’s recent mass distribution. Zainab had also heard of cups being around in Kibera, but never come across one herself. Camilla surmises that girls are selling the pads we are giving them. There is a culture of taking – many organisations appear distributing free stuff and they get very used to taking whatever they can, which is hardly surprising. We wonder if maybe they are not using the cups. All the previous conversations we have had point to sustained ongoing support being essential for good levels of cup adoption. Camilla feels that those in Kibera are more desperate than other communities and will find a way to make the cups work for them. Their programme is to give the cups out and to take 3 sessions in the school over 3 weeks, including material about the cups themselves and how to use them, also more general reproductive and sexual education and human rights. Camilla is keen for all the organisations working in Kibera to get to know each other and we can see why from this conversation. There probably is a tendency for individual NGOs to go into a situation with their own agenda and objectives they must fulfil to satisfy their funders. We conclude our meeting and thank Camilla for her insight. Peter and the team will have reconsider what to do next. What had seemed like a simple plan has just become a lot more complicated.

We suggest to Peter and Zainab that they may be able to discuss the situation with some of the lead members of the clubs, those who run the sessions in the weeks when SYN team members are not there. If they ask non-judgmentally what the situation is, maybe they will answer honestly. If the girls are using cups, then what are they doing with the pads? They are likely to have many needy family members who could use them, who are not in school, or they could be selling them. If they are not using the cups, do they still have them? Maybe SYN could support them in learning to use them successfully. If they no longer have them, would they like to try again with more support? They will need to do this research before deciding how to continue.

We return to the SYN office and meet up with Lyonne. He takes Peter’s car to take us on our afternoon of sight-seeing. Peter meanwhile goes with Chris for cow negotiations. Lyonne takes us from Africa’s largest slum, Kibera, to the posh suburb of Langata where the Giraffe Centre, a popular tourist destination, is located. The car gets scratched by a very impatient motorbike trying to squeeze through a gap that isn’t there while we’re stuck behind a bus blocking the road. We stop off at the Galleria Mall in Langata Road for some cash, then continue following the screenshot map to the giraffes. The road is looking very unpromising and suburban and Lyonne thinks we must have gone wrong as there are no giraffe signs, but we remember it being in a very quiet area from the previous times we have been, then we pass the botanic garden as we expect and find the giraffes just where the map said. Lyonne is a professional photographer who makes his living from photographing events like weddings and parties, but his hobby is wildlife photography, principally big game animals. He has never been as close to giraffes as you are at the giraffe centre. There is a large paddock where the giraffes come as they please, with a 2 storey building with a balcony where visitors can stand to feed them. Giraffes are highly evolved eating machines and will headbutt anyone who is not offering them food. They have very long tongues that go searching for the biscuits the centre provides. Lyonne is particularly taken with their huge eyes. There is a thorn tree behind the fence kept as an example for the visitors of the giraffe’s main food in the wild, the thorns are seriously large.

Giraffe

Lyonne meets a giraffe

Giraffe eye © Lee Pitts Photography

They’re friendly so long as you feed them © Lee Pitts Photography

Giraffe food

We noticed on the way in a sign for a nature trail through the woods opposite the centre, so we have a pleasant walk, including a bright bird posing for James and Lyonne and some wart hogs exploding from the woods onto the path and disappearing. Lyonne isn’t so used to trying to photograph smaller animals and birds, but seems to enjoy having a go at them.

We also see an amusing array of solar panels on a side building. Normally our panels in the UK are lined up like soldiers on parade all facing the same way, but these are at all different angles, one directly upwards and two either side facing slightly into the middle – this is the equator after all and the sun wanders from one side to the other through the year.

Local bird, maybe an olive thrush

Woodland walk © Lee Pitts Photography

We had a lovely, relaxing afternoon © Lee Pitts Photography

Wacky solar panels

There are more of Lyonne’s pictures on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Leepittsphotography/

We continue on to the botanic garden. There is a sign by the gate saying “No paparazzi” – probably about the greatest contrast conceivable after spending the morning in Kibera. The gardens get hired out for parties, there is a kid’s birthday party going on today, so presumably that’s where the paparazzi come in, either that or they are trying to get the latest gossip about the bouganvillea. Lyonne looks a bit more lost here, not sure how to take photos of plants. James finds some mouse birds flitting about, but they don’t pose nicely, and lots of great plants, and a tiny beetle.

Hibiscus

Small blue flower

Leaf

Twisted stems

Beetle

We return to Prestige Plaza to wait for Peter, dozing in the car park. Peter turns up eventually having had a successful afternoon. The result is 15 cows. That sounds a lot to us. We go home via the city centre as it is now dark and not safe to take usual route through Kibera. We discuss Copts as we pass a Coptic Mission Hospital in Ngong Road where Peter’s children were all born.

We have dinner with Peter’s brother, Milham and his wife, Jackie. Jackie is a psychiatrist and on strike, like all doctors in Kenya have been for the last 40 days. The government reckons they are going to replace the striking doctors with doctors from India and Cuba, no doubt another part of the president’s discussions on his jaunt to India earlier in the week. Indeed Jackie says they received dismissal notices that day. They are also threatening to jail the union leaders for allegedly calling an illegal strike, even though they have given far more notice than they are legally required to. There follows much venting of frustration about the government and the elections in August. There is amusement about the new president of Ghana whose inauguration speech blatantly plagiarised an assortment of American presidents’ inaugurations. Is he not familiar with Melania Trump’s humiliation at the Republican convention? There is more mirth about the embarrassment to Kenya’s president who attended the funeral of a prominent Kalenjin politician, Mark Too, in Eldoret, only to find that all the speeches were conducted in the local language which he, a Kikuyu, does not speak.

Jackie and Joy

We finish the evening similarly to yesterday, with family prayers, but tonight, this includes goodbyes as we will be leaving early in the morning to catch our flight. I have been attempting to check in, but without success, so will probably have to do it at the airport. Joy does some more singing and Baraka pulls out the stops with all the memory verses ever learnt. Then we go round everyone with some reflections on the week and thanks and we all pray.

Milham, Peter, Julie, Abby and Baraka

All posts in this diary series:

Preparation

Getting There

Arrival

To the Village Via the Tractor Dealership

The Health Centre

Village People

Choices: Kibera and Kabete

Women's Issues: Cups, Confidence and Cake

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

Home

Women’s Issues: Cups, Confidence and Cake

Fran’s Kenya Diary – Friday 13th January 2017

We get up early again to miss the traffic. This time, we see some buffalos and very distant gazelles from the bypass. We loiter again in Java at Prestige Plaza until Zainab arrives around 8:30. She is coming with us to our meeting with Amaia from Ruby Cup, but Peter has not told her what the meeting is about, so I tell her a bit about our ideas and she looks quite anxious.

We drive to Westgate Shopping Centre – that’s the one where the 2013 Al Shabaab terrorist attack took place, resulting in 67 deaths, many more injured and huge damage to the building with three floors of the five  storey mall collapsing. It was closed for almost two years but has been completely rebuilt now and is like any other shopping centre, though the security looks a bit more serious. We discover that Java here has let us down by closing, so we switch the meeting to ArtCaffé. We find a table outside on the terrace and there is an excellent weaver bird colony in large tree across the road.

We meet Amaia from Ruby Cup who is delightful. Peter tells her all about Swahiba and hands over to Zainab to describe the Jitambue clubs that she leads. We explain that SYN has been buying disposable pads each month and that this is becoming unaffordable and limiting the scope of the work, as there are many more girls waiting to join a club. Zainab also talks about the education programme they have around reproductive health, also self-esteem, purity and other topics relevant to teenage girls in the slums. Ruby Cup like to partner with organisations who offer this kind of education and are able to support girls in learning to use the product so that they stick with it, as it can be harder in the first instance to get used to. Ruby Cup don’t just distribute the product without this kind of infrastructure. Golda  of Golden Girls Foundation has shown clearly in her work that take up is improved in the areas where most support is available.

Amaia produces her sample for Zainab to look at. She seems quite alarmed by the size, so I find my samples, which were a pair of both the larger and smaller ones. Zainab looks less anxious at the sight of the smaller one. Many girls and women are initially quite unkeen on the idea of the cups when they first hear about them, but experience shows that once they have used them for a while, they are very likely to prefer them to alternatives. Amaia agrees, her mother-in-law nagged her for years to try one and she declined, but now loves it and that certainly echoes my own experience. I only tried one when I started to think about it being a possible solution to SYN’s cost problems and felt morally obliged to try something I was considered inflicting on others, only to discover the superiority of the cup to alternatives I was used to. These cups are certainly not some second-rate solution suitable only for those with no other choice, they are a genuinely excellent product. Manufacturers of disposable products have a vested interest in making sure sales  do not take off and cups of this kind are rarely seen in mainstream retailers in the west, or only in small displays in the least prominent positions where they are available at all, such as in Boots.

Ruby Cup are currently at full capacity for their “Buy one, give one” model for donations through their existing partnerships, but do have a supply of cups already imported into Kenya available for NGOs to buy at cost price. This could certainly be a possibility for SYN, at least initially. Experience suggests that schemes should start small, Golda suggested getting a small number of the most adventurous girls to try first, then they will tell their friends and they will all want one. One key factor is that the trainers need to be users themselves to be able to pass on experience about the details of practical issues that will arise. This is where Zainab seems particularly alarmed and I make sure Peter grasps that this is not something he can push the female staff about if they are unhappy. Zainab says she is feeling less anxious after the discussion than she did in the beginning. We leave feeling very positive that this is a direction that looks eminently realistic.

Discussions at ArtCaffé

We go to SYN office. We talk to Lucy about the meeting and I leave the two women with two of the Ruby Cups, Amaia’s sample that she left with us and the smaller one I brought. I keep the larger one for Julie to try.

I go with the team to a lunch time Jitambue club in Star Rise and realise I am giving the whole lesson, not just a 5 minute slot. I talk to them from the outline about self-esteem, about learning to be happy with their appearance and not comparing themselves with everyone else and especially not with magazines, as they are often fake and photoshopped. I ask them if I look skinny and they laugh, but photoshop could make me look skinny I tell them. I find myself telling the girls about being made in the image of God – where did that come from? I hadn’t thought about that beforehand and it seemed very natural here. I talk about needing confidence to accept constructive criticism e.g. in my job as a scientist, you get a lot of criticism from reviewers when you write a paper. I was impressed as a student by more experienced people who were able to accept those comments and be glad that their paper would be improved. If you have confidence, you have the capacity to improve. You need to trust that the person criticising you is trying to help you and not just put you down. Learn to distinguish between the two.

Meanwhile, James is visiting a recording studio run by the Baptist Church in Jogoo Rd somewhere, but takes forever to get there and back, so does not have much  time to look at the music. He meets a famous Catholic recording star who is working there and has many intense theological discussions with Pastor Joseph Cho whose church runs the studio and is coming back for the SYN board meeting planned for the afternoon.

Baptist recording studio

Peter and I go to Cake Plaza, next to Prestige Plaza shopping centre just off the Ngong Road, for the meeting. Pastor Ken Aringo arrives after a while. He has had a dreadful day already, helping another pastor friend who has been car jacked in his own driveway and forced to drive his car where the assailants tell him. Fortunately for him, his car ran out of fuel after only half a km. They have been in the police station 5 hours this morning. Pastor Ken wonders why this other pastor persists in living in such a remote suburb which always makes him nervous when he visits, even in the daytime. Ken has to go to another meeting. Julie arrives and also Pastor Joseph Cho with James. Doughnuts are had – this is Cake Plaza after all. There isn’t really a meeting as such.

We go home, aiming to leave before 4 when the traffic gets really bad, though actually it is less bad today as half the population stay out drinking on Friday night and don’t go straight home from work. We stop by at the supermarket near Peter’s house and buy a 20 tonne tractor jack and grease gun – don’t you have these in your local Aldi? We also enjoy generally wandering round trying to identify the strange vegetables and being impressed by the very large number of different types of bean available.

What kind of beans would you like?

Is this a puffer fish? Or a thorn melon?

Arrow root – this appears not to be a small tub of powder

We are home at a sensible time for once and the kids are around. This must be the first Peter has really seen of them all week since before we went to the village. I feel rather useless not doing anything to help with tea, but there are already about 5 people in the kitchen doing stuff. We meet Lyonne, who is going to take us out tomorrow afternoon. The original idea tomorrow afternoon was for a family afternoon with Julie and the kids, doing some touristy things, but no-one told Julie. She is going away with work for the next two weeks to Kilifi, which is on the coast somewhere and she needs some new clothes that will satisfy the local customs. Peter has to go with Chris to do the whole cow thing with his fiancée’s family.  It turns out the elephant sanctuary Peter was thinking of sending us to is only open for one hour a day from 11-12 as a concession to tourists, it is really a conservation organisation, so we will not be able to get there from the meeting we have tomorrow morning in Kibera. The giraffes will be open until 5pm. And there’s a botanic garden very close to the giraffes that’s open until 8pm. We take screenshots of google maps as Lyonne does not know these places. I also remember to leave the last of the Ruby Cups with Julie, who looks excited about it and sits reading the leaflet.

At bedtime, we have family prayers. Peter asks the children a little bit about each of their days. Abby is learning a new word each day at nursery. Duck is her current favourite. Joy is in charge of singing. She leads a song and everyone joins in. James manages to pick it up and join in, but I just watch and listen for the most part. Baraka is in charge of the memory verses. I do better here. He leads reciting them and everyone else joins in with him. We all pray and say the grace.

All posts in this diary series:

Preparation

Getting There

Arrival

To the Village Via the Tractor Dealership

The Health Centre

Village People

Choices: Kibera and Kabete

Women's Issues: Cups, Confidence and Cake

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

Home

Choices: Kibera and Kabete

Fran’s Kenya Diary – Thursday 12th January 2017

We are up early again to miss traffic, so Peter and Julie still haven’t seen the kids since we got back. We look for lions from the bypass, as you do, but don’t see any. The new bypass is a wonder of a modern highway in Nairobi and runs along the southern edge of city next to the boundary of Nairobi National Park. This has a bit of a fence which is apparently electrified, but doesn’t look that substantial to me. Lions were getting out into suburban roads during the construction of the bypass, but are allegedly shut in now.

We then cut through Kibera to the Ngong Road, our first view on this trip. Kibera, or Kibra, means forest, and was an area of land assigned to soldiers of the Nubian regiment who served in the British colonial army. Although the Nubians had the land, they were never recognised as citizens and have been stuck on the fringes of society. They have become the landlords of the slum. As the settlements are officially illegal, they have been ignored by the government and never received any basic services such as water, sanitation, electricity and schools. After the disputed December 2007 presidential election, there was serious tribal violence in Kenya, especially in the Rift Valley. Kibera is very mixed tribally, with different areas dominated by different tribes, and was one of the hotspots of the early 2008 violence after those elections. Work started on a new constitution after this, with the original regional provinces being dissolved, leaving a single tier of administration at the level of the 37 counties. The new constitution defines amounts of money to be devolved to each county to prevent central government official preferring their own tribes unfairly. It also finally gave citizenship to the Nubians, and hence Kibera now has voters and is of interest to the government and services are starting to appear very slowly. The government even has a programme to build new high rise housing to rehome the residents of Kibera, but the rent on these homes is too high for most Kibera residents, so those who are allocated one of the new flats simply sublet it to someone wealthier! We see these new blocks as we leave the bypass for the Kibera road.

Kibera from the bypass

Rooftops of Kibera

We loiter in Java in Prestige Plaza Shopping Centre in Ngong Rd for breakfast and go the Nakumatt there for food for two food parcels and snacks for the detention centre visit this afternoon. We then head to the SYN office and meet the staff. There are 6 staff, 2 women, Zainab and Lucy who run the clubs for girls, and 4 men, Chris, who has been with Peter longest of all of them, Hirum, Kelvin and another Peter. Zainab is half Nubian and grew up in Kibera as a Muslim, becoming a Christian in her teens. This caused a predictable falling out with her family, which is better now, but she lives by herself in her own house. She hopes to train to be a nurse. Lucy also grew up in Kibera and was herself a member of a Jitambue club in Star Rise Academy in Kibera. Both women grew up in Kibera schools, they know perfectly the practical and attitudinal issues the girls face in their everyday lives. Chris is engaged to be married and Peter will be busy on Saturday afternoon supporting him through the formalities of that process. The other Peter is a Kikuyu and has quite a different look from the others. The cultural mix in the team seems healthy to us given Kenya’s tendency to relapse into strong tribal factions.

SYN office

Chris, Zainab and Lucy

Kelvin and Hirum

SYN team meeting at the office

We visit 2 families in Kibera with the food parcels. We meet up with 2 men who are going to watch over us as we walk to the two homes. The families are those of 2 girls from the Jitambue club who have been identified as being particularly needy. The 2 girls have been excused school for the morning and will be going back straight afterwards. The visits are aiming to meet and encourage the families as well as deliver practical help. First of all, we go to Dinah’s home. She lives with her father, Ronald and older brother, Joachim. Ronald works as a security guard, but his passion is tailoring. He has a foot-powered sewing machine and is making made-to-measure clothing as a second job, as well as being an activity he loves doing. Joachim recognises Peter from when he was in a First Priority Club in school. He is now at university studying maths and would love to do a master’s degree. Ronald is also a pastor in a local Kibera church, and Peter invites him to a pastors’ support meeting that they run. Although they are living in the middle of Kibera in a primitive house, they now have an official electricity supply, but also an unofficial one, and they have a TV. They seem to be a very positive family. After talking to the family, we present them with the contents of the food parcel and pray for them.

Ronald and Dinah

Ronald with his sewing machine

Ronald’s home

Then we depart for Sharon’s house and Dinah leaves us to return to school. Sharon is one of about 12  siblings, with the eldest sister looking after the household. This sister was initially very upset when we turned up at her house,  thinking that someone coming who had something to do with Sharon’s school must be chasing late school fees. Their mother has had to return to her village for a family matter. Their father died some years ago. Sharon’s sister completed school a year or two ago and is now without work, staying at home. The eldest sister worked to obtain a driving licence, of which she is very proud and showed us. She had hoped she would be able to get driving work, but is always told she doesn’t have the necessary experience. There is a small boy also in the house, which I assumed the mum had had with a new man, but later am told is actually the child of the sister who recently left school and has probably had to practise prostitution to get by. As before, we present the food parcel to the family, who look a cross between delighted with the contents and a bit embarrassed. We pray for them and go on our way. On the one hand I feel very awkward at this very direct giving and receiving of a gift, but reflect that part of the point is not just to transfer the physical benefit of the donation, but also to build a relationship with the family, which would not be achieved with a more anonymous form of donation. Having dispensed our two parcels, we return to the office through the chaotic streets full of all of life, families with washing out, children running around, all kinds of businesses selling everything you need, even laptop repair shops, phone shops, food and services, open drainage channels its best not to examine at all closely, rubbish everywhere, cows eating the rubbish, chickens, you name it.

Sharon’s family

Sharon’s home, with her elder sister

We regroup at office and Zainab gives me the material for the Jitambue club we will be visiting the following day. I agree to think about something relevant to share for a 5 minute slot during the session. Then we travel to Kabete to the young offenders institute via a petrol station with some food for lunch. The tractor is having problems. One of the rear tyres is flat after 2 days. Peter wants the dealer to replace it as it was obviously defective when supplied. It also transpires the tractor was supplied with no jack or grease gun. Many phone calls and arguing happen as we drive around. Peter tells us he uses extra English words when trying to be assertive in such situations, they sound impressive. This is the kind of task he could not leave to John, the tractor manager in the village. John can handle the day to day bookings with the farmers and make sure the tractor is operated and maintained correctly, but not negotiate with dealers and insurance agents.

We arrive at the young offenders centre in Kabete, which is on the northern edge of Nairobi in a rather pleasant and peaceful location. The accommodation blocks are set amongst gardens with a large lawn areas. If boys have come here from places like Kibera, it might well seem like paradise, with regular meals thrown in it’s likely to be the best place they’ve ever lived. Maybe a peaceful location away from normal life is what they need to reflect on their situation and respond positively. We speak to one of the boys as we arrive who turns out to come from the same village in Siaya county as Chris. This boy says he is 15 and stole some beans. This is a national centre with the worst juvenile criminals from all over Kenya, so it seems likely that is not the whole story, but it’s hardly surprising if he doesn’t want to tell a bunch of random strangers who have just wandered in. He doesn’t look anything like 15 to me, all the boys look very young, but when asked later on, all are between 10 and 15. There are 103 boys there on this day. None of them come across as hardened criminals, more like lost little boys, but presumably they have done some pretty heavy stuff to be here. The centre is run by social workers rather than the prison service and the administrators are very pleased to have a group like SYN who will come and work with the boys and encourage them. They are all here for three months for assessment. They may be sent back to their families, to a children’s home, sent to an approved school (like Borstal) or enter the prison system. We see a list of rules on the wall which are not especially onerous, but some appear quite strange, like always using their proper names. This is apparently very important as gang culture encourages them to hide behind nicknames and deny their true identities. There is also a rule requiring them to only speak in Swahili or English, to stop them conspiring in cliques in their own tribal languages that the staff may not understand. We were asked not to take any pictures, but here is one from another site.

SYN have a rolling 3 month programme of sessions so that the boys will get the complete course during their time, though they may be starting at any point. The boys gather on the lawn in the shade of some tree for today’s session, which is the first in a new series and is on the fall of man from Genesis 3. Let’s all blame the nyoka (snake) for everything we do and not take responsibility for our disobedience. Is that a good idea? Peter talks about how your choices matter in life, how he nearly stayed with a group of 6 boys as a teenager but chose not to. We think he is building up to telling us they are all in jail now, but no! They are all dead now. He also dwells on obedience, which has our western sensitivities racing – what if the person in authority is the problem, if your parents are telling you to do bad things, then obeying them is not a good idea. Ultimately, obedience is to God and His ways. He talks about the Book of Proverbs counselling against laziness, that the slovenly will live in poverty and if God is telling you to get out of your bed and work hard, you need to obey Him and do it. I reflect on this, my deadly sin is not so much sloth, but gluttony. I am unhealthily overweight and have no control over food. I think part of me thinks it is such a trivial first world problem to have too much food that I don’t take it seriously, and it’s not really like I am depriving anyone else of food at home. Thinking of it in terms of gluttony and self-indulgence, as spiritual qualities, rather than just a health issue, strikes me hard.

We break up into groups of about 16 for a discussion, with one of the team in each group. We ask them some questions and they also ask some. Zainab is leading my group and she is talking to them mostly in Swahili. She asks them a question very matter-of-factly and about 7 of them put their hands up. She says to me she just asked them if any of the want to be saved. It is the same in the other groups. They take down all their names and pray for them. They will be given Bibles on the next visit. Then we distribute the fizzy pop and muffins, there is a shortfall of pop as we had catered for 96 boys, there must be more new arrivals since last time, so those at the end of the line get double muffins in compensation.

I am very struck by the stark life choices that face people in Kenya. Traditional Christian morality that can seem quaint and archaic in a western context becomes so much more meaningful here. Choices here often do mean the difference between life and death quite literally, whether from gang violence, AIDS, starvation, the spiritual death of hopelessness or 1001 other things.

We finish the session and leave for home, which is a long way across the whole city in the rush hour. We hit the really bad traffic as we get to the southern bypass as there is still some building work going on finishing it off and there is single lane traffic. It gets really bad as we come off the bypass and we sit in jams for ages before pausing at a supermarket for a few groceries. As we come out, Peter notices that the previously slightly dodgy nearside rear tyre looks a lot flatter than it did. It transpires that all petrol stations have service centres that can fix stuff like this and there is one just around the corner, so we go there. The mechanic phones for a second hand replacement tyre from a supplier and it is couriered by motorbike immediately. The mechanic is discussing US politics with us and seems to think we are American. We try to persuade him we are English. Half an hour maybe later, the new tyre is being fitted to the car and we are on our way again, if you can call it that, trying to decide which jam will be least bad. We get home about 8:30, just as Julie is arriving back from work on a motorcycle taxi. She has forbidden Peter to have a motorbike as they are too dangerous, so she gets some grief for this. Kids are already in bed, so Peter and Julie will have to wait another day to see them. We have a late dinner and collapse.

All posts in this diary series:

Preparation

Getting There

Arrival

To the Village Via the Tractor Dealership

The Health Centre

Village People

Choices: Kibera and Kabete

Women's Issues: Cups, Confidence and Cake

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

Home

Village People

Fran’s Kenya Diary – Wednesday 11th January

We get a lazy morning again today. We have breakfast, then clear out our room and wait for Peter and Julie. The wifi is back on, so we catch up on contacts and photos. We arrange to meet Amaia from Ruby Cup at Westgate shopping centre on Friday. She too cites the awful traffic as too bad to attempt getting into the Central Business District that we originally propose before 11:30, which won’t give us time to get to Kibera afterwards for a lunch time Jitambue club. I also get a reply from Camilla of The Cup Foundation in Kibera, who is coming home from Christmas in Sweden on Thursday. We arrange to meet her by the DC (District Commissioner’s) office in Kibera, which is close to her office, on Saturday morning. Neither she nor any of her team have heard of SYN, but the area they work in is in a different part of Kibera which is predominantly Nubian. The Olympic Estate end where Peter’s work is concentrated is largely Luo. She is keen for all the people working in Kibera to get to know each other and work together more.

Peter and Julie return having had a shelter built for the tractor to make it less visible to passers-by. We return to the village and James has time to have a really good look round the clinic and meet the various staff and talk to them about their work. He talks to the administrator and accountant about the difficulties claiming all their fees from the government, something his own practice manager understands only too well. He sees the cupboard full of anti-retrovirals and meets the staff member who chases up all the HIV patients and gets them to come to their appointments. He meets the pharmacist and observes that her shelf of drugs has quite similar things to those we use at home. The lab technician is a temporary person in for the day while the usual member of staff is away. The receptionist not only books the patients in, but checks their weight, height and blood pressure routinely when they arrive. James also gets to talk to the clinical officer and sees the delivery room, where typically 3-5 babies are born each week. As a result of the clinic’s increase in status to a nursing home, they now have a weekly visit from a doctor from the local hospital every Saturday. I am surprised that they have been able to recruit all these staff for a rural clinic, many of whom are highly qualified, but am told that they were mostly unemployed previously and there is no problem finding the staff they need.

Administrator in charge of chasing up all the claims

This lady is in charge of the finance

Hilda is the receptionist

HIV administrator

Anti-retroviral cupboard

Laboratory

List of lab tests

Clinical officer

Pharmacy supplies

Delivery room

These three workers provide security, HIV follow-up and general estate management

The clinic is having to operate from the generator this morning as there has been an interruption to the mains supply. They need mains to drive some of the high power equipment such as sterilisers. The village has only recently acquired a mains supply courtesy of a connection from the neighbouring village of Kogelo, home of Mama Sarah Obama, President Barack Obama’s step grandmother.

Generator

While James is doing his medical stuff, I offer to help Grandma cook lunch. It turns out Grandma is not cooking lunch herself, there are various of the women – Rachel who is Pastor Enos’ wife and expecting her 5th child in a month, Perez who is training to be a primary school teacher and Selene. They are making chapattis and lentils for lunch. The kitchen is a separate building to the side of the main house. There is a  fire with 3 large stones in one corner where Selene is tending to the lentil dish and a primus stove that is being used for cooking the chapattis. I get to roll them out, the mixture has already been made and divided into portions in a plastic bowl. The trick is to turn them over very often to get them round and “not looking like a map of Africa”. Rachel cooks them faster than I can roll them out. Perez gets a day off and chats and takes pictures on her phone, which feels like a weird collision of high and low tech worlds. She is training to be a primary school teacher, which is a 2 year course. Secondary training is 4 years.

Making chapattis with Perez, Rachel and Selene

After making chapattis, Paul takes me out to demonstrate the operation of the aquaponics. The fish and vegetables are being produced to provide nutrition for the hospital patients. A Sunflower solar pump is hooked up to the pipe system around the fish ponds. It starts pumping water from the pond into the vegetable troughs, which get fertilised by the nitrogen from the fish waste in the water. It then drains back down the plastic sheeting into the pond, now cleansed for the fish. The pump should be running all day around the 4 ponds, but due to the poor rains and lack of water, this can’t be kept up. All the fish have been corralled in a single pond, with the other 3 left dry and the pump is not being used. The vegetables are looking rather feeble. The 4,000 fish were purchased 3 months ago as fry from a local supplier and are not that big yet, so hopefully they will survive in their overstocked state in the single pond until the March rains come. I talk to Pastor Chris about the time the prophet Jeremiah was thrown into a dried out cistern when he annoyed the king. What they need is a cistern – a big water storage tank underground to harvest the water in the wet season. Pastor Chris is very sympathetic to this idea, but Peter is wanting to get a deeper well dug mechanically. Grandma’s well, which is almost dry now, is at the limit of manual digging at 92 feet deep.

One of the four fish ponds

Sad-looking vegetables

We also enjoy looking round at the ordinary life of the farm. We particularly enjoy the strutting cockerel, who clearly owns the place. He is patrolling the farm supervising the large harem he needs to keep in check. There are maize kernels drying in the sun. You can tell when they are dry enough from the sound the make. They will be milled at the local posho mill, which can be heard working away close by. The cobs and stalks of the plants are all used to feed to the cows. There is another small plantation of trees here being grown for timber.

Strutting cockerel

Maize kernels drying in the sun

Maize stalks are kept for feeding to the cows

The cobs are also kept for the cows

We have our last meal at Grandma’s, enjoying the chapattis and lentils that were being made earlier. Two market researchers come round from Ipsos wanting the political opinions of the residents of the village. James asks for a picture of Grandma in her house and all her stylists fuss round her pulling her clothes about until she looks her best. We say goodbye and head back to Kisumu for our flight. Peter needs to get the car washed before we take it back. As the airport is on the near side of Kisumu, we will not be going into the city to find a car wash there and so we stop again by the equator sign, this time to take advantage of the services of Equator Car Wash. We get half an hour to chill waiting for the car washing. Peter pays them with Mpesa, a mobile phone text payment service that is available everywhere in Kenya. Many small shack-like businesses along the side of the road apparently in the middle of nowhere have Mpesa logos, also taxi drivers and individuals of all kinds. We drop the car off at Kisumu airport and check in for our flight.

Dana Joan

James saying goodbye to Dana Joan and Pastor Chris

The smart new terminal has electronic screens above each check in desk displaying the logo of the airline for that desk. The Jambojet logo is very low resolution, looks like they just gave the airport the one off their website and now it’s being displayed on a massive screen. We are a bit late already and this is when Julie discovers she no longer has her ID card. She is able to check in with her government employee card, but will have to get a new ID card as soon as possible. The flight back to Nairobi is on a proper Jambojet aircraft this time, a prop plane, travelling via Eldoret. Jambojet operates Bombardier Q400 aircraft. It feels very juddery and frightening, but has no doubt being doing this for many decades quite happily. The safety announcement is quite specific about any water that we could possibly land in should there be an emergency – that would be Lake Victoria. The airport is next to the lake and take off is over it. We land at Eldoret 20 minutes later, then take off again after another 20, no mention of possible water landings this time. It feels very strange sitting on a plane while half the passengers get off, and a load more get on, more like a bus. It is 45 minutes to Nairobi. There is a delay being assigned a gate and another getting out of the airport as all vehicular traffic is held at the front concourse. This is due to a “VIP arrival”. Peter and Julie think this must be the president, though it turns out he is in India, trying to improve trading relations and also exchange coaching expertise in cricket and athletics. The taxi ride home takes a traffic avoiding route along the ring road, then up through Embakasi along a road with speed humps which are too large for the taxi, which ends up grinding the underside of the car with increasingly disturbing noises all the way along. We are home late and the kids are all in bed now.

All posts in this diary series:

Preparation

Getting There

Arrival

To the Village Via the Tractor Dealership

The Health Centre

Village People

Choices: Kibera and Kabete

Women's Issues: Cups, Confidence and Cake

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

Home

The Health Centre

Fran’s Kenya Diary – Tuesday 10th January 2017

Today is the day of the great plaque unveiling for the new ward that we helped fund at the Ashburn Ohuru Medical Centre. Peter has told us the ceremony will be at 11am.

The new ward

Inside the new ward

We get up for breakfast at 9. I investigate a jug of thick, brown stuff that I think may be some kind of gooey hot chocolate, but it turns out to be millet porridge. Peter and Julie disappear to sort some stuff and must have had lots of problems as they come back a lot later. The ceremony is not going to be at 11! We investigate the nocturnal clanging and it turns out to be a well outside our window with a chain that accelerates as the bucket gets going, then stops again. Due to the poor rains, the water table has lowered and the well only just reaches water now. It dries out after several people have taken water, then recharges over the next few hours, so people are having to space out their water taking throughout the night.

Millet porridge

Peter and Julie have been busy,  getting a gate fitted across the entrance to their field. They have also investigated getting a culvert for the gateway to channel the water that is currently in a ditch across the entrance. We chill at the guest house, but there is no internet as they are reliant on a mobile connection.

At last, we are ready to go. Even when we do arrive, there is a certain amount of milling about before we get going at a kind of African 11am, or even village time 11am (more like 1pm). There are numerous people gathered in the waiting area of the health centre, including the staff, the board and several local pastors. We both spot a glossy ibis stalking up and down the grass in the background. There are many speeches, all translated to/from the local language Luo as we go. Pastor Enos prays for the health centre and the dedication. Pastor Chris talks about the sacrifice of the staff, who aren’t always able to be paid, and gets them all to stand up and introduce themselves. The cleaner and cook look particularly shy, like they don’t feel as though they count as proper medical staff. I tell Pastor Chris afterwards that cleaning and nutrition have become big issues in our hospitals and they should know how important their work is. Peter talks about living in the village as a child, and about his uncle who died of malaria trying to get to the town for treatment. He gets Grandma (Dana) to come up as he commends her generosity in donating her land for the building of the health centre. She talks about how she spoilt Peter when he was a child and how she didn’t make him go to school when he claimed he was a bit unwell. Julie talks about Peter being a dreamer, who has these mad ideas then makes them happen. James talks about the similarities and differences with his health centre in the UK. I tell them about how it was snowing the first day Peter came to live in our house, strongly suspecting that Luo will not have a word for snow, which it doesn’t. I also tell them how impressed we are with how much good use they make of every small thing and that they work very hard with what they have, that they have all invested such a lot in the success of this place and we thank them for allowing us to be involved in a small way – erokamano.

Speeches

Dana

James’ speech

Is there a word for snow in Luo? Thought not!

Then everyone moves out to the new building, singing and clapping as they go. I make no attempt to clap in time with Africans, that is well beyond my capabilities. There are more prayers as we unveil the plaque, feeling a bit weird at the celebrity status we have been awarded.

Praying for the new ward

The plaque

We have a quick look around the clinic and the fish farm, with a promise of more time tomorrow to have a better visit. It’s late afternoon now and we need to go into Siaya. We check out the new gate on the way, with me teetering about the field in my fancy shoes. Then we carry on to the town. Peter finds a roadside café and leaves us to have a drink while they go and attend to some more business. They need to get a new phone for the tractor manager to contact clients. Julie thinks this is when she lost her ID card. ID cards are needed for many transactions in Kenya, including such things as purchasing a new mobile phone. The health centre keeps ID cards of patients who cannot pay their bills. If they need it to make a transaction, the supplier is referred to the clinic for verification. As they are so essential, everyone does have them, though you might imagine in slum and tribal areas, this might not be very enforceable. People who do not have documents like birth certificates, such as older people like Grandma, are vouched for by elders in their community when obtaining their IDs. One of the posters in the health centre urges new parents to register their babies with the plea from the baby, “Who am I? Please register me.”.

Posters in the health centre, including the bottom left appeal to register babies.

More posters

Try telling our patients to be patient!

The next part of the project that needs more funds to complete is the construction of a morgue. Currently, people have to take their dead to the hospital in Siaya. It will have a capacity of 16 bodies. Local custom dictates that several days elapse before a funeral to allow family to be gathered. The morgue will use a form of embalming so that it will only need some simple air conditioning, not refrigeration. The power requirement will therefore be modest and the service will be much cheaper and more convenient for  local people than using the hospital, but will make a good profit to support the clinic.

Part-built morgue

Dinner is chicken, with rice and ugali again. Grandma still doesn’t come and eat dinner with us, though she does come in later on and we show her our old photos from our previous visit, with many people who are either older now, children who have grown up and got married or gone to university, some people who have died since then. The family are very excited to see these pictures. They also love one of Peter holding our daughter, Lily, who was born while he lived with us as a student. She is 14 now.

As we go to bed tonight, the clanging doesn’t seem at all annoying now we know what it is, and that people are having to come out in the middle of the night just to get their water.

All posts in this diary series:

Preparation

Getting There

Arrival

To the Village Via the Tractor Dealership

The Health Centre

Village People

Choices: Kibera and Kabete

Women's Issues: Cups, Confidence and Cake

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

Home

To the Village via the Tractor Dealership

Fran’s Kenya Diary – Monday 9th January

We get an Uber to the airport at some time with a 5 or 6 in it, can’t exactly remember. We discuss the morality of Uber with Peter, who seems unconvinced. The Jambojet (yes, that’s a real airline) aircraft has been replaced by a Kenya Airways one which is larger and faster, so we only take half an hour to get to Kisumu. I’m not sure if this is a last minute replacement or a genuine codeshare. The cabin crew just about manage to dispense a croissant and coffee in this time. We are all in separate seats around the back of the aircraft. James is next to a man who appears to be a western Buddhist monk, who prays out loud throughout the flight, especially loudly when a galley trolley breaks loose during the safety talk and the steward nearest has to decide whether it constitutes a greater risk to safety than abandoning the demonstration. He decides  it does, then also tries to secure a flapping overhead locker which resists taming. Buddhist monk does not look at peace. I want to thank him for praying for our flight, but feel too awkward.

Kisumu now has a terminal building, completed in 2012, which is a great step forward from when we last flew there, 24  years ago on our way to Lucy and Simon’s wedding. Peter gets a hire car from an uncle (there are very many uncles) and we head for the city and the coffee house. The car gets checked by a security man before we can park in the shopping centre car park.

Kisumu’s smart new terminal building

We continue on the next leg of our Java crawl of Kenya with some very un-Kenyan chocolate croissants and discuss what we are hoping to take from our meeting with Golda. James and Peter disappear outside and I tell Julie about the idea of the menstrual cups as a possible alternative to the expenditure on sanitary pads. She has never heard of them and I show her the sample I brought for just such a reason, furtively hiding it under the table. She  looks a bit alarmed, which is pretty typical for most women on first sight, but those who have used them swear by them and would never go back to the disposable alternatives. These are no second rate solution to dump on those that can’t afford anything else, or just for hardcore eco-mothers, like washable nappies. We also discuss welfare systems in Kenya and Julie’s work. There are pensions for old people and a benefit for severely disabled people, but that is all. We discuss the relative merits of means tested and universal benefits.

Peter and James return with Golda and her husband Ben who runs the Golden Girls Foundation with her. She is an amazing woman who has numerous projects on the go in Masogo, which is Ben’s family home and hers too now. She is highly organised and has taken time to understand the issues in the community and engage the people to express their own needs, not those perceived by outsiders. She has distributed several thousand Ruby Cups over the last 5 years  over quite distance in her rural area. She gets out her sample and is happily waving it around showing it off to everyone. She is an MBA and has put in place a highly organised programme monitoring the uptake after various time intervals and has understood the practical and cultural barriers to acceptance amongst both the users themselves and their wider families. It is therefore important to engage men in the education so that they are not concerned that their wives and daughters are furtively doing something they might find to be a problem. She has shown that the take up is highest in the areas close to the centre of her operations, where most ongoing support is available, and is reduced in the more remote rural areas where they are not able to be as often. There are all sorts of beliefs and reservations about the product, such as is it a form of contraception, will it cause sexual stimulation, will it take away a girl’s virginity and many others. For her, she sees it as vital that the cups have a positive branding, being seen as “cool” and not as something for poor people. We wonder if that might be less of an obstacle in Kibera, where people are more needy. As with other organisations in this line of work, they participated in Menstrual Hygiene Day, marching through their area to encourage people to be more open about the topic of menstruation, not to regard it as taboo or shameful, but a normal and natural function. The taboo is so strong that pre-pubescent girls often know nothing about menstruation until it happens to them. They then think something terrible must be happening to them when blood suddenly starts flowing from their body and are bundled off to an aunt to explain things to them. We thank Golda and Ben for sharing their wealth of amazing experience so freely.

Discussions in Kisumu

It is still only around 10, and we head next to the tractor dealership, CMC Motors. Peter has bought a tractor as a business venture whose profits will be used to support the ministry of SYN. It is a New Holland TD80 with a 3 disc plough. It is to live in Grandma’s village and be hired out to local people for ploughing their land and other related activities. They currently hire tractors from neighbouring Kalenjins who charge higher rates, so this will benefit the local people and make money for Peter to invest in his ministry. There are two growing seasons in the year, so it should be kept very busy. It has been bought largely with a donation from the Fellowship, but also some of Peter’s own money and another donation. It is very high tech, has a tachograph affair that sends details of all activity to Julie’s phone so she will know exactly how much money she should be receiving from its work. She will manage its finances, with a local man John who is in charge of managing the bookings and maintenance. Peter’s business plan is that this tractor will pay for itself in a year and they will be able to buy a second one. Sorting the tractor  takes some time. There is a problem with the insurance, but eventually it all happens and the tractor is off on the back of a lorry to the village. We depart too in the same direction.

Peter and Julie with the new tractor

The tractor is equipped with a 3 disc plough

We have a nice stop at the equator for a bit of minor tourism in front of a large blue sign. The roadsides are all full of all kinds of stalls and businesses. You can’t go far without seeing a posho (maize) mill, where dried sweetcorn kernels are ground into coarse flour to make Kenya’s staple dish, ugali. In the towns, the market places are bustling with activity with every kind of product and services being traded. One thing that strikes you when coming from a “developed” country is the self-sufficiency of the rural areas. You can get all kinds of things made and done in the local towns, which in the UK would probably need a trip to a large urban centre.

The Equator

Roadside scenes

We stop off just before Peter’s grandma’s house at the land he has bought for his retirement home. He has already planted some trees as a pension fund. The tractor is already here! We get a proper look at it and meet John, who is going to be managing the day-to-day work of the tractor, taking bookings and making sure it gets to clients and does a good job for them. The tractor is going to live here and Peter (another Peter) who lives here and manages our Peter’s land, is going to watch over it when it is parked up. Peter and Julie discuss where the tractor should be parked, away from the track leading past the property and where it will not interfere with any trees and crops. Then there is a discussion about the tractor, that the exposed pipes on one side would be better protected by a panel, which John proposes to have added. Greasing the joints is also discussed. Then, we all pray a blessing on the tractor and its work in the community.

Peter and Julie’s pension fund

John, the tractor manager

Praying for the new tractor

We check in to the Distinction Gardens Guest House close to Peter’s grandma’s. Last time we visited, 10 years ago, we stayed in her house, but because both of the rains were bad last year, she is stressing about not having enough water and Peter thinks it will be easier for her if we all stay at the guest house. Kenya has an equatorial bimodal climate, that is, there are two rainy seasons in the year in the spring and autumn: the long rains in March-May and short rains in October-November. Both were quite poor this year, with many crops struggling and a shortage of vegetables particularly. The situation is extremely bad in parts of the country that are usually drier anyway and are now suffering proper drought conditions, such as the northern Rift Valley. We have a nap – all these early mornings and lack of sleep are starting to take their toll. While we are napping, we discover that Peter and Julie have interviewed and engaged a driver for the tractor.

Distinction Gardens Guest House

We go to dinner at Grandma Joan’s house in Bar’Agulu village. A village here is not how we conceive a village, a small cluster of dwellings close together, possibly with a shop or pub. It is more a continuous scattering of family homes with a relatively small amount of land attached to each one. We meet Pastor Chris and Pastor Enos, who are Peter’s uncles. Pastor Enos is the pastor of the church in the village here. Pastor Chris was the pastor of a church in Nakuru, which survived the violence of 2007 when the rest of the family abandoned their home there. He said when people came to burn the church, they all recognised some of their own relatives being cared for in the church school and turned back. He came to the village when the health centre opened 5 years ago to manage it. We have a quick look around the health centre, which is pretty quiet by this time of night. We see the different wards and rooms. There is one lady in a ward receiving some treatment. The building of the new ward means that the clinic has been moved to a higher government designation of “nursing home”, which means that it has facilities for a significant number of inpatients, not the same meaning as in the UK.

Grandma Joan’s house, with the kitchen building next door

Bar’Agulu from Google Maps (the yellow star is Grandma’s house)

Peter’s uncles, Pastor Enos and Pastor Chris

There are lots of other relatives around that Grandma has taken in, and even a few who aren’t relatives that she had pity on anyway. Peter and I watch some geckos on the back wall of the house as we wait for dinner to be ready. Two geckos size each other up, then one bites the other on the neck. Are they going to fight, or something else? They turn out to be a boy and a girl. They also eat a few flies, just to remind us of their wonderfulness.

Geckos

We go out with Pastor Enos to visit a widow and her family. She lives with 3 of her teenage grandchildren whose parents are dead. One of the girls, Mercy, is doing very well at secondary school in form 4. There are 8 years of primary school, which is now free in Kenya, and 4 years of secondary school, which is not free. Peter and Julie are helping her with school fees as she is so able academically. We take the family a food parcel and pray for her. We talk to them about how they are doing. The old lady gives us a chicken (gweno) in return, which I am given to take away. The poor thing is shaking a lot.

Wdow and her grandchildren

Shaking gweno

Dinner is chicken, with rice and ugali. Grandma doesn’t come and eat dinner with us. We discuss the climate and poor rains last year. Pastor Enos is very angry about the political situation, with the president making an executive order to require all voting to be manual, not adopting the electronic systems that many believe would counter alleged fraud, with suggestions that 2 million illegitimate votes were cast in the last presidential vote. This is particularly interesting given the recent accusations of hacking into US electronic voting systems, with people there suggesting sticking to the old-fashioned system may be safer. We compare the education systems and the requirements to be admitted to university.

Back at the guest house, we hide under our voluminous mosquito net and settle down. From time to time there is a very mysterious clanging noise, it is repetitive and speeds up, then slows down and stops, often accompanied by barking. Maybe there is a very frustrated dog tied up to a metal post. We are plenty tired enough not to be kept awake though.

All posts in this diary series:

Preparation

Getting There

Arrival

To the Village Via the Tractor Dealership

The Health Centre

Village People

Choices: Kibera and Kabete

Women's Issues: Cups, Confidence and Cake

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

Home

Arrival

Fran’s Kenya Diary – Sunday 8th January 2017

The African coast, around Libya/Egypt border, is almost exactly half way. There’s not much to see as it’s night the whole way, but the relief map on the flight tracker highlights the Ethiopian and Kenyan highlands and the rift valley beautifully. There’s quite a bit of turbulence around Abu Simbel. We reach the northern edge of Lake Turkana and so are now in Kenya. The flight level has been slowly rising through the flight from 37,000ft to 41,000ft. We land 40 minutes early, at 4:20am. The altitude is registering as 1625m as we taxi down the runway. The main part of the city is over 1800m, higher than the top café in the Swiss ski resort we visit every year. This means that although Nairobi is virtually on the equator, the typical temperatures are around 13 degrees C lower than at sea level. A large part of the country is on a huge volcanic dome, with the Rift Valley cutting through the centre that is full of lakes and volcanoes. The Rift Valley is not that deep, compared with the elevation of the dome, so even places on the floor of the valley such as Naivasha are at very high elevations.

Great Rift Valley of East Africa

The airport is very empty, no queues at immigration, so we’re through very promptly. The e-visas we got before we left are fine and we have to have our finger prints taken by some fancy gadget at the immigration desk. There’s no sign of Peter yet as we are so early, we manage to persuade the taxi drivers we really are being picked up. Then he appears out of the crowds and we have arrived.

Peter pays for his parking at some kiosk, which turns out to be a cunning plan to avoid the queues at the automatic parking barriers at the main exit. He has some back route out for those who have already paid their tickets. The traffic in Nairobi is horrendous these days. There are millions of destitute people living in slums, around 60% of the city’s population, meaning that the typical resident of Nairobi is a slum dweller. However, somewhere else there are clearly plenty of people who can afford cars. There are Chinese hoardings as we reach Mombasa Road – a manifestation of the main economic power in the country. Stuff here comes from the Far East or the Gulf. The roads are being developed quite rapidly. While this should in time be a good thing, there is extensive construction work underway which makes the traffic even worse than before it started – think Metrobus on steroids.

When we arrive at Peter’s house, everyone is still asleep. Julie will be taking the kids to church for the 8:30 service, but Peter will stay at home. We have a nap, we haven’t really slept at all on the flight, just dozed a bit. We wake up later and Julie and kids are home. We meet everyone, even Baraka the oldest of the children was only a bump last time we came. The kids seem to like their presents. There are also Sharlyne and Emmanuel living with Peter, assorted young adult relatives studying in Nairobi and helping out with the kids and chores.

Abby and Joy

Emmanuel and Sharlyne

Later in the afternoon we walk to the nearby Greenspan Mall for some groceries and to have a coffee at the Java Coffee House. There are security guards checking our bags as we enter the shopping centre and airport-style metal arches, something we are to see everywhere during the week. I imagine this is what Belfast was like in the 70s. We are to become experts on the entire Java network in Kenya in the next week as Peter appears to have shares in them. They have no carrot cake, which is a source of great disappointment to Peter. We go to the ATM to get enough cash for the trip to the village and have to mess about with multiple cards to get the whole lot. With an exchange rate of around 125 Ksh (Kenya shillings aka “bob” – one for the teenagers there) to the pound, you come away with wads of notes in a rather disturbing fashion.

We have dinner with Peter and Julie, everyone else has had their tea at other times and places. The children are remarkably useful, laying the table and generally being very helpful with things around the house. How does that happen? We have never managed to persuade our kids to do anything useful, though we have often thought it would be a good idea. We have to get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow to fly to Kisumu. We get a reply from Golda of the Golden Girls Foundation near Kisumu and arrange to meet her at 9 in Java Coffee House, Kisumu, next to Uchumi.

All posts in this diary series:

Preparation

Getting There

Arrival

To the Village Via the Tractor Dealership

The Health Centre

Village People

Choices: Kibera and Kabete

Women's Issues: Cups, Confidence and Cake

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

Home

Getting There

Fran’s Kenya Diary – Saturday 7th January 2017

We pack and make sure everyone is OK. I have written instructions for Grandma on getting the kids to school in the morning and feeding them, the cat and the chameleon. The kids have got into a pattern of expecting lifts in the morning to school, which I find ridiculous considering it is less than a mile away. The school is mega strict about lateness and gives everyone who is even slightly late detention. Joel was getting so many we took pity on him and now we have got stuck. Grandma can’t give them lifts, so I am hoping this will break the cycle.

I write a long email to Ruby Cup, only for it to mysteriously delete itself just before I am ready to send it in the rush to leave. I have to give up as taxi arrives to take us to the bus station. The taxi driver is a Pakistani Kashmiri who has just spent 3 months in his family village in Kashmir, so understands very well about the difference in the ways of life between Bristol and a third world rural area.

We get the National Express bus to Heathrow. It’s still hard to believe there isn’t a train service to our main airport, but there you go. It’s a long time since I’ve been to Heathrow, you forget quite how sprawling it is as the bus trudges all the way around the perimeter road to get to Terminal 4.

And so it begins

I booked an early coach in case the online check in didn’t work and we needed the full 3 hours, but it worked fine, so we have quite a while at the airport to chill and get some presents for Peter’s children. We find a Lego police car for Baraka and a girly Lego house for Joy, along with a Concorde model for the family. We also get a Paddington bear for Abby and look around the other shops for a Paddington book to explain who he is. One shop has a nice kiddy version of Paddington. We are wondering how much English Abby might understand. The shop assistant asks us where we were going, and when we say Nairobi, she tells us she is from Tanzania. We explain our question and she replies that, in her opinion, Kenya are much more advanced than Tanzania as they now teach in English at all levels of school, whereas Tanzania still use Swahili in primary school, as Kenya were doing last time we went, 10 years ago. So we decide Abby will probably be OK with the book, especially with someone reading it to her to explain it, and buy it.

Then I frantically try to email as many people as I can on Heathrow wifi. I manage to mostly rewrite my long message to Ruby Cup and another to Golden Girls Foundation, listed on Ruby Cup website as a partner based in Kisumu and one to The Cup Foundation, another Ruby Cup partner who work in Kibera.

We take off at 5.25pm on Kenya Airlines 101 – 8 hours to Africa. Nice airline, I enjoy the food and the fact that the veggie meal is a standard option, then follow the map as we leave Europe. I put Brian Eno’s new ambient album on to try to induce a decent state of doziness, which works reasonably well.

Kenya Airlines

All posts in this diary series:

Preparation

Getting There

Arrival

To the Village Via the Tractor Dealership

The Health Centre

Village People

Choices: Kibera and Kabete

Women's Issues: Cups, Confidence and Cake

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

Home

Preparation

Fran’s Kenya Diary

This series of posts contains my reflections on our visit to Peter Abungu in Kenya, one of the Fellowship’s linked mission workers. We were only there for a week, but it felt like a very long week, full of experiences and learning, hence a whole series of posts to capture what happened.

We are not going to Kenya for a holiday, though it is sure to be an amazing experience. We decided quite on the spur of moment while Peter was with us in September. I talked to him again about the problems of the cost of supplying reusable sanitary pads to all the hundreds of girls in his clubs, and this time we thought, well surely we can do something about that and find out more about the Ruby Cup model in Kenya. We are going to see Peter’s work and also to see if we can investigate the feasibility of his Jitambue project for teenage girls switching to Ruby Cup. They supply the pads now as girls in the slums typically cannot afford to buy them and therefore have nothing, making do with anything they can find, rags, rubbish or whatever. The issue first became apparent to them when Peter’s organisation, Swahiba Youth Networks (SYN), started schools work and soon realised that large numbers of girls were not turning up each week. Upon enquiring, they were told that they had their period that week and did not want to leave the house due to lack of suitable provision. This issue is actually very common all over the third world, with teenage girls missing large amounts of secondary education (and presumably older women struggle with the same issues too). Jitambue currently has around 700 girls and cannot accept any more because it is limited by the cost of the pads. There are around 3,000 girls on a waiting list. Using Ruby Cups would take away the ongoing cost, though they are more expensive to purchase in the first instance. Ruby Cup do donate cups for free at the rate they are able to sell them in the west. The obvious question is could you maintain suitable levels of hygiene in a slum or other location lacking modern sanitation, but  research indicates this is not a problem e.g. Africa Population and Health Research Center Policy Brief 20 and  Mason et al, 2013 study in rural western Kenya.

Ruby Cup

SYN have also tried washable cloth pads and these actually present more problems as girls are not able to dry them satisfactorily due to not wanting to air them in a publicly visible place, so they get mouldy and the girls get infections. We want to contact Ruby Cup and organisations that are already working with them to gain experience and find out whether Ruby Cup would be satisfied with the support offered by the Jitambue clubs to girls starting to use the cups and adopt Swahiba Youth Networks (SYN) as a partner organisation, and gaining as much experience as possible from people already involved in this type of work.

I have researched quite a bit of these issues and aim to contact some of the people involved, when I hit one of my screwy episodes. I realise eventually that I have gone into the same self-sabotage mode that I did when trying to complete my PhD thesis. I really want to be useful (like Thomas the Tank Engine) and don’t feel like I deserve to be, so I keep not doing anything about trying to contact anyone about discussing these possibilities further.

On a broader spiritual level, I have been thinking for some time about lighting the flame of my faith. I feel quite lost spiritually, I have been drained by many things but not refreshed and have lost touch with any sense of the reality of faith. 18 months ago, I went on a Christian retreat called “Reconnecting to Earth” led by Tess Ward and Matt Freer and felt strongly at the end of that that I needed my flame relighting, maybe like the pilot light on a boiler. At the last service of the retreat, we were all asked to bring something from the garden, and as the conker trees were in flower, I brought a conker flower – a candle, to represent this prayer. At a recent Advent Taizé service in the cathedral, I not only failed to light my own tealight at the appropriate point in the service, I actually lost the whole of my candle into the big candle trying and put it out too! I am hoping that the much clearer spirituality that is manifest in Kenya will touch me too and help me in the right direction.

All posts in this diary series:

Preparation

Getting There

Arrival

To the Village Via the Tractor Dealership

The Health Centre

Village People

Choices: Kibera and Kabete

Women's Issues: Cups, Confidence and Cake

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

Home