Week 2 – Kenya

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

This is the second day in a row that John has been down in the courtyard, calling cadence with the children.  “Hooaah! Airborne! All the way! One mile! No good! Two mile! No good! Three mile! No good! Four mile! No good! Five mile! Airborne!”  I’m sure the neighbors wonder what kind of school we’re running here.  I wish I could capture all of this on video, but you’d just have to be here to really see how precious the interactions are with the kids.  They all line up behind him and march, squealing with delight.  “Left, left, left, right, left.”

He also found two pieces of wood in a stack made by the carpenter who is building chairs for the classrooms.  He told the kids it was a crocodile, slapping them together like the jaws of that fearsome creature, slowly creeping toward them.  How joyful they were as they screamed and ran from him!

This is also the second day in a row that there has been a birthday celebration. Yesterday, in the baby class, Barack turned three and there was a tiny little birthday cake for her which the teacher cut into little bite-size pieces and fed to each child.  The teachers have told the parents that if they are able to provide a small cake, the school will provide the juice and have a little party.  The children are joyful, as they have never had parties like this before.  Barack is in the upper left-hand picture below. No one was reaching or grabbing, just waiting their turn.  I didn’t see a single drop of juice spilled among the 24 children in this 2-3 year old class.

You may be thinking that it’s really cold here based on the way the children are dressed, but, to me, it’s a perfect 70 degrees, perhaps just a couple of degrees cooler in the morning, but perfect.  They consider this chilly and admonish the children every day to be sure and wear their jackets to stay warm.  I also think that 80 degrees feels scorching hot to everyone here.  Amazing how accustomed we are in Texas to radical changes in temperature, and think nothing of it.

This morning we joined the weekly outing to the market to purchase vegetables.  Typically, it’s just the school administrator who goes.  She walks quite a distance then catches a taxi to a market, far from here.  (This is not a huge thing to her, having grown up in the “rural” and having walked 14 miles each direction to work each day after she finished college.)  Buying food for 82 children is quite a chore, and by the time she’s finished, she has to rent a pull cart to pull all of her purchases back to the closest taxi.  (That’s her in the red and white striped sweater.)

This was our first stop, for cabbage.  As we approached, the lady on the left greeted me, saying, “Hello, Mary!”  I was wracking my brain, trying to place her.  Then John arrived.  “Hello, John!”  Then I was sure we must have seen her before.  Our host was stunned, asking her husband, had he called her to tell her about us.  He didn’t have a clue how she knew our names. Our host surmised that she must have just called us by the most common American names she knew.  I’m not sure, I just know that it was mind-blowing!

This woman was a woman after John’s own  heart, sitting there, shelling peas!!!

We are absolutely the only white faces around, and people look at us with a great deal of curiosity, but when we smile and speak to them, their faces burst into glorious smiles.  Some will pass by us and simply say, “Praise God!”  Others issue greetings of “Jambo” (Hello), or “Karibu” (Welcome), or “God Bless You!”

For the most part, they are very shy.  Whenever I take their pictures, I then approach them, showing them the image on the screen of my camera.  They are so very happy!!!!  Most duck their heads and grin, almost embarrassed but obviously pleased.

This is what our administrator must walk through, pulling her cart of purchases, to make it back and find a taxi.  There are closer markets, but the prices are a bit higher.  Her cart is like the one on the below; this man is hauling water to sell to people who have no running water.

By the way, it hasn’t been raining here.  This is a result of broken sewage lines.  When the rainy season comes, I can’t even imagine what this would be like, but the children have to walk through much worse than this to get to school.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Today we went on a “walkabout,” in the words of Crocodile Dundee.  First we met with several children in the office at school and took their pictures in sibling groups.  Then we went out into the neighborhood with several staff members to where the children live.  We visited with the parents, all members of the newly formed PTA, and had the opportunity to tell them how God had somehow placed their children on our hearts, halfway around the world, in the middle of Texas.  We offered them hope, assuring them that we would return home with a renewed determination to be the conduit through which God can pour His blessings out on them.  It is so clear that we are not the ones effecting the change in these children’s lives.  It is God!  His blessings have been heaped up and are spilling over through the help of precious friends and family, and our generous church members.  It is only after being here, on the ground, that we really grasp how desperate their lives are and what an incredible change has already taken place since we were able to move them to The Pink House.  The sights were disturbing and heart-warming at the same time.

In the middle of the last picture, you can see the building where the school was housed until December, when we were able to move them to The Pink House.

Once we were inside some of the tiny cubicles carved out inside these buildings, we found warm and inviting homes, immaculately clean and tidy.  The couples we met were full of joy, thanking God for their daily blessings, and wanting the best for their children.  They are thrilled to be able to send them to our little school.

The picture above is of Grace and the first couple we visited.  Their names are Pauline and Walter.  They have one nine-year old daughter named Laura.  Walter’s greatest concern was the lack of books.  The children are anxious to bring books home with them to study, but there simply aren’t any that the school can afford to let out.

After our visit, Walter walked with us through the neighborhood for a while, asking us about our ranching operation in Texas, very interested in the way we raise deer and cattle.  He has taken courses in animal husbandry, but finding work in Nairobi in his field of interest is impossible.  Most of these people are “casual workers,” what we would call day laborers.  They are not lazy!  They go out every day looking for work, but jobs are scarce because so many people have moved into Nairobi from the rural area as a result of drought and famine.  They come here, looking for work, hoping to improve their lives, only to find squalid living conditions and little hope.  Walter finds work occasionally as a rock mason, making a hundred shillings a day, the equivalent of approximately $1.20.  To put this in perspective, a loaf of bread costs about 40 shillings, a cup of milk costs 30 shillings, or a dozen eggs, 140 shillings.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that if he is lucky enough to find work three or four days a week, putting any food on the table is a challenge.  To have their daughter fed at school is a blessing from heaven!

To my knowledge, this is the only school in the slums offering an affordable education, including meals, to these needy children.  The Kenyan government provides “free” primary education, but the closest government school is over five miles from here.  In addition, the public schools are not without costs.  Unless the family can pay for uniforms, lunches, and supplementary textbooks, the children are not allowed to attend.  That leaves these poor children without hope for a future.  Even the other private neighborhood schools close to their homes charge fees, require uniforms, and do not provide meals.

Word has spread about the quality of education here.  Just since we went out and visited these homes, there have been parents who have shown up at the front gate, begging to have their children admitted.  This little house is bursting at the seams with the children who are already here, and we have had to impress upon the Director that if he continues to admit more students, the conditions will become worse and worse, and the quality of education will go down, at least while we are in this limited space.

When we found this house in December, it was just days away from completion – divine timing.  As I have said, we moved he and his family into the upstairs flat and the school into the downstairs.  They have considered trying to find another place to live so they can expand the school into the second floor.  We have suggested that rather than disrupting their lives again, since it is so beneficial for them to be right here on site, that we approach the landlord about the smaller unit on the third floor.  It was built as a space for a caretaker to live in, but by the time they found this house, a Muslim man had already rented it.  The Director has already spoken with the owner and we are supposed to meet with him soon.  Perhaps the owner and the upstairs tenant can be convinced to vacate the space when the term of the lease is up.  That way, we can move the 3rd and 4th grade classes into the upper rooms, along with the school office.  It would be quieter up there, away from the hubbub and excitement that accompany the younger children.  If we can hold the enrollment at its present level, and spread the students out into the rooms we would vacate downstairs, the situation will be greatly improved.  I don’t know yet how much more in rent and utilities will be required if we can obtain this additional space, I only know that everything we have been able to do so far is from God, and He is able to provide, if this is His will.

Right now, there is construction going on next door on a five story apartment building – two flats on each floor.  This picture shows the scaffolds that have been put in place, encroaching on the staircase of The Pink House.  Perhaps you can see the pink door at the very top.  That’s the third floor apartment I’m talking about.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Today we are home-bound, as the car we were able to rent in advance is out of commission.  We had been having problems with the battery, and yesterday the alternator finally went around the bend – right in the middle of a busy road.  And I’m talking BUSY!  We were able to push it over to the side and people came running to help.  In Kenya, the poverty is so great that no little deed goes unpaid.  By the time we got home, we had spent 750 shillings on jump starts and assistance.

The rental of this car was negotiated for us by an amazing young man named Kenneth Chomba.  He is 20 years old, already through college with a degree in finance, but has a heart for helping the less fortunate.  He works with an organization called Be the Change Kenya, training young adults in these impoverished areas to help with a generation of orphans.  I had been put in touch with the director, Natalie Finstad, months ago through a series of contacts.  She is originally from Houston, and came home to the U.S. several weeks ago to speak to various groups and individuals, both in Texas and in Boston.  A divine appointment put us on the same flight from London to Nairobi, and we had a chance to visit at length before our arrival.

By way of explanation, one does not simply call up Hertz or Budget Rent-a-Car around here.  It is necessary to find an individual who owns a car and is willing to rent it out for a period of time.  The Director had met with Ken on our behalf before we came and had drawn up a rental agreement.  Ken came today with a mechanic, checked the car out, jumped the battery, and drove away in it to have the alternator replaced.  This turn of events gave us a chance to hang around the house, get some things done here, teach a Bible study during the Friday afternoon closing ceremony outside in the courtyard, and just enjoy hearing the children.  (Believe me, with 82 of them, you hear them all day.)  You may have seen this picture on Facebook, but hearing Papa John tell his animated version of David and Goliath was a treat, even for me.

The Pink House is located not far from the previous location, in what was once Masai Estate.  We see them coming and going when we are out and about – quite a sight.  Bear in mind, these pictures were taken just a block or two from the school.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

These next pictures are of the two young men working on the apartment building next door to the school.  It is owned and being built by a Muslim family, and they have hired Ali Abdow, on the left, to watch over Paul Otieno, on the right.  Paul is the building superintendent, a lovely young Christian man, so full of joy.  Ali, also, is a delightful young man, a Muslim born in northern Kenya.  His dad was born in Somalia.  He and John have had wonderful, lengthy discussions about politics, radical Islamists (those who cover their entire faces with a veil vs. those who leave their faces revealed), and about the fact that there are loving people all over the world.

On this particular morning, we were waiting on the return of our car and had lots of time to visit with Paul and Ali.  I made them honorary Texans, pinning one of the red, white, and blue Texas-shaped lapel pins on their shirts.  I had my Bible with me, as we were going to be gone all day and I thought I might have the chance to read for a while.  They noticed it, and Ali said, “Ah, that is your Bible?”  I said yes, and told them that it was 34 years old (much older than either of them).  They were amazed.  Ali said, “I like this Bible.  I love the Old Testament.  It is very much like our Koran.”  He went on to say that killing is prohibited in the Koran, and that all of these extreme Islamists are operating in direct opposition to its teachings.  I hope to have the opportunity, after more chances to visit with him, to tell him why I love the NEW Testament so much.

I have so much more to write about – camel sightings, roadkill hyenas, the Ngong Hills of Africa – but that must wait for another day.

We are so happy to hear about all the rain that Central Texas has received this past week.  We haven’t had any rain here, but then the temperature never varies from around 70 degrees.  (Read it and weep!)

Love you guys!

Mary Catherine

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