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Friday, September 14, 2012

Fist Bumping on the Streets of Eldoret

We arrived in Eldoret, Kenya on Sunday Sept. 9. Michael picked us up at the airport with a driver from IU. Liam and I were feeling both excited and exhausted, having gotten up the past two mornings very early to catch our flights. It was awesome to finally be back together and our excitement increased as we drove towards our new home. We have taken a nice  house from a Canadian woman, Lori, and her family, who are on their way home ,  so it is already all set up and ready to go. It is in a nice neighborhood about a 20 minute walk from downtown Eldoret. It's a little fancier and bigger than I was expecting but Michael chose it over the others he had seen partly because it is already furnished which makes life a lot easier considering we don't have a vehicle. Also, downtown Eldoret, it turns out, is quite noisy and coming from our country life we don't mind a little quiet! It'll be fine and since Lori is staying with us for a few weeks as her contract ends, we have the added benefit of her knowledge, generosity, and expertise with all the new things we would normally have to figure out on our own: utilities, good drivers, places to buy bread and cheese, market women who are good to shop from, using Mpesa, the cell phone banking system, etc. There are a lot of things to figure out and having her around and experienced is a big help to me!

Soon after we unloaded the six suitcases that Liam and I had brought along, we decided to take  a walk downtown in order to get a little oriented. Since we will be without a vehicle we need to know our way around...We walked by Liam's future school, which is about 25 minutes from our house on a fairly treacherous road. It is very muddy on the roadside and the shoulders are not good nor are there good sidewalks, so for a newby it feels a little like you're taking your life in your hands. Michael was a good leader on the path and cautioned us many times when to move out of the way, step down, or go quickly by a large puddle( it has been raining every day recently even though it is not officially rainy season)! It made me more than a little nervous due to my anxieties about falling or tripping, as there are also a lot of stones on the path. A bit like hiking in the hills of Brown County but surrounded by crazy traffic. Traffic includes many motorcyclists, some carrying big loads, bikes, matatus (overpacked vans) which are their public transportation and bicyclists. There are also your random cows and many pedestrians carrying whatever you can possibly imagine!

We perservered and made it to town which was bustling but according to Michael "nothing compared to during the week". Well, that it is where the culture shock really began! Not sure how to best describe Eldoret except that it is very poor and packed with people trying to make a living out of little. Having been to developing countries before, I was not so shocked, but I could see and feel Liam's shock in his face and body language. It's rough. We wandered around and were stared at a fair amount and followed by several young men wanting either money or work. Michael is a magnet for young men it seems and of course he is gentle and friendly with all of them...We mostly followed, a few paces behind, because it was taking all of my energy anyway, just to navigate and not twist an ankle. The mass of humanity on the streets,  and the number of young kids wandering without shoes and covered in dirt, some of whom were clearly on something, was making a big impression. Liam was pretty sad by the end of the first visit to town. Poverty of this degree is just something he has never seen in real life and learning how to deal with/process it is hard for anyone with a heart.

We had to go back to town the next day to get Liam's school supplies and uniform. We were told that he should not come until he had his uniform, so that was our priority. Getting him to appreciate the need for a uniform was challenging but in the end we did get it (after two visits to town, on foot,  to get his trousers fit correctly) and he looks darling, of course! Michael, once again, was immediately followed by several young terribly destitute looking kids. Liam and I were behind him because you can't really walk abreast as the path is too narrow, as are the sidewalks, and too many obstacles in the way, like people selling wares, trash, etc. So Michael who had the day before told us that we can't possibly give money to everyone who approaches us, hands kid #1 100 Shillings, which is a lot for them, and very little to us. Then kid #2 comes up and Michael hands him 100 Shillings and admonishes him to go to Taimani House which is a center for street kids that he is supporting. We made it a few paces up the street towards the school supply store and kid # 3 comes up and holding on to Michael's arm, walks along with him, like his new best friend, pleading for more money. Michael explains that he had just given out 200 shillings, we had quickly determined maybe wasn't the best tact in a little huddle right after kid #2 had flown off. So, Michael Greven, being Michael Greven, he pats the kid on the back and starts walking him to the nearest grocery store because what the kids really need (besides a bath and a change of clothes!) is food, not money, which they may end up spending on glue for sniffing. Yes, it's true and it has become a new passion for Michael to chastise merchants who sell it to them!

 Meanwhile, back to the story...Michael very sweetly, guides this boy, whose name is Kennedy and is now certainly Michael's new best friend, to the grocery store, and lets him pick out food for the day and for his friends too. Liam and I are waiting amid many stares (we had already received many knowing looks as this little guy accompanied us along the street) and after about 10 minutes Michael and Kennedy come out. Kennedy is gleaming holding a bag of roasted chicken and hot potatoes and something to drink. He approaches us with a big smile and fist bumps us all as he swings his way back out onto the street holding onto his bag of goodies smiling like he'd won the lottery, which clearly, he had!

Well, that was an eye opening day for all of us. One cannot be but overwhelmed by the poverty here and at the same time the friendly smiles and greetings of most everyone on the streets is touching. As we told Liam, our goal is  to be as kind as we can possibly be and to treat everyone well. In fact, if were up to me, we would take a group of kids out for food every time we come to town. Once word gets around that the big white guy with the grey beard and pink shirt comes to town frequently, that may be what happens! He certainly cannot travel incognito very well...There are a lot of kids here, as most of you are aware, who are homeless and/or orphaned, so I will be spending my free time helping them in any way I can. I am working on finding my way in this new yet very familiar world.


  1. Oh my gosh, Liz, just loving this!

    In my envy of the trip, which is usually, on the part of the envier, pretty two dimensional, I of course forgot all the emotional WORK this kind of a move entails. Seeing that poverty up close and personal is incredibly painful and the immensity of the "what to do?" overwhelming.

    Thanks a lot for doing this blog. I will be your most faithful reader and fan! Love you,

  2. Ok, I've this was the first post I read and I'm already in tears. Miss you guys! Is Liam keeping a journal? Maybe that's in your next post...keep it up!

  3. No, I'm going to be your most faithful reader! Awesome writing, Lizzie! Can't wait to read more!

    I think Michael's idea of buying food for the kids is excellent! He may have to do it every time, but hey, that's what will help them the most (as long as you can afford it).

    I can't find any pictures posted yet except your smiling face under "my complete profile."

    1. Patrick:
      Please e-mail me at
      and help me out with this damnable security crap for Liz's blog!
      I am normally good at computer stuff, but it's impossible for me to pass the creepy security things!