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Friday, November 30, 2012

Alternative Christmas Gift Ideas From Our Family to Yours!

Here are Five Alternative Gift Ideas  for Christmas that will make a REAL difference in the lives of Real People that we know here in western Kenya!

1. 1.  Purchase a Maji Safi water filter for a family or a children’s home. These cost about $15 apiece and are good for 5 litres  of filtered  water per hour.  Many families do not use clean water and others  boil their water but they have to use wood or charcoal, both of which create green house gases, cost money and are bad for their pulmonary health.
2.  2.  For $200 you can sponsor a primary school child to go school for one year at Bidii Primary the school where we are helping to raise money to build a new school. This includes uniform and books. *
3.  3.   Purchase a solar light for a family without electricity so that the kids can study after dark, etc. Solar lights are for sale in Eldoret for $25 and there is abundant sun!
4.  4.   Make a donation towards the borehole which needs to be dug for Bidii Elementary. It has been assessed that the grounds for the school will accommodate the water for the school but a borehole (a well, basically) needs to be dug in order for the children and the school to have water. The total cost for the borehole will be $2500.00.
5.  5. Sponsor a child to go to school in a children’s home in Eldoret or Kitale to go to school or just make a donation towards the schooling of a child. The annual cost for primary is around $200.00. There are 2.5 million orphans in Kenya and many many children’s homes  struggling to take care of them. Most of them have funding issues and they all must pay “fees” for sending each child to school and for uniforms, and textbooks.Often only the kids who are "sponsored" get to go to school.

If you have any desire to give a gift of this sort, please send a check in my name with whichever one you’d like to support on the memo line c/o Kathleen Leason 660 Terrace Lake Dr. Columbus, Indiana 47201. We are happy to send you photos of kids, children's homes, etc. so that you have a photographic verification of your generous gift! At this point, we do not have a 501 (c) 3 set up nor do the AMPATH related Children's homes. There is a fund through IU Foundation for the abandoned babies center where I am working. If you write a check to IU Foundation for this purpose write: " IU Foundation/Sally Test Center" and hopefully those funds will make it to the center.


*There are photos of the school, grounds, and children on my blog site, The post is called “A Warm Karibu for Us”

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Is There a Lowe's Around Here?

As people who have spent a fair amount of time in hardware stores over the years, both the big box kind and the little old neighborhood variety, we tend to look for/in them wherever we are. Not surprisingly, there are no Big Box hardware stores in Eldoret, Kenya (there is a grocery store that is verging on that status but it is Kenyan) but there are lots of small hardware stores.  At face value, that seems really awesome. However, we have had a few small projects and incidents occur which have made the existence and convenience of something like a Lowe’s more appealing than one would expect. Yep, we, who generally have disdain for  big box stores in general and complain of their ubiquitous existence at home, have actually LONGED for Lowe’s recently. Menards would even do in a pinch!
One reason is that our drill broke. It actually exploded, or got fried, or something. I am not sure, as I was not there, but the tale that is now told is a sad one. Michael and Liam both love our drill. It’s cordless and strong enough for most household projects; HANDY, you might say.  And we hauled it and its charger all the way here, even having it nearly confiscated at customs in Nairobi. Anyway, it was the wrong voltage for the electricity here, so we bought a transformer to charge the battery. We looked and looked for the right one in all of the little electronics shops in town and finally found one which we were promised would do the trick.  It did not.  In fact, it had the opposite effect. So, we have been without a drill since that unfortunate day. A very sad state of affairs in this small project-minded household.
 Recently, Michael and I went on an excursion to look for drills, in case they might have one similar to our now dead one, in one of the many hardware stores in Eldoret. We went to what is considered the “best” one, i.e. it has the most stuff. No, it was not even close to Menards or Lowe’s. It did have drills, though, and screwguns (another favorite of my menfolk). However, they were SO expensive it was kind of shocking, and , even weirder was that they weren’t new! They were refurbished and all were over $200.00. A similar drill at home would cost about $60.00. Although discouraged, we did find this hefty pricing illuminating. Due to the cost, we probably won’t buy one and we have lately found out that IU has one that we may be able to borrow, so we are fortunate. Also, a new friend  who does maintenance work for children’s homes and has Liam help him build playgrounds,  has loaned us one for our current big project at our house (a basketball goal… see attached photos).
Aside from noting the availability and pricing of small hand tools, there are a lot of things going on here which as builders, or “construction people” we notice. There are a few mysteries for us here, though, aside from the price of tools.  Take for instance the current public works job that has been going on outside of our house for the past week. It is a wonder of a job. We walk by every day and we wonder…what is going on here? Michael has done a lot of road work in his career and his observation of this one is that it is mysterious.  
Coming from the US where everything is designed to be as efficient and easy and convenient as possible, almost to a nauseating extreme, there are so many things that go on that just don’t make sense to us, yet they are totally accepted as status quo.  We know that a lot of it has to do with availability of equipment, materials, etc, but what is surreal is here in Kenya,  they seem to be struggling with what seems like basic stuff,  yet they are quite advanced in the more high tech fields, like internet access, moving money by telephone, and cell phone technology.  The contrast/conflict  between the modern world and the developing world is all taking place right here. There surely is a reason why but we have yet to figure it out.
Take for instance,  when the guys were  working on the road outside our house. Now, first of all, they were digging everything by hand, which is fine, slow going, but fine and pretty precise. Digging dirt out of the sides of the road with shovels and pickaxes, and then carrying the dirt with broken down wheelbarrows to where I am not sure. Using sticks as markers. Not sure what the end goal is, but it seems they are going to pave this little lane to our neighborhood and that it must be part of the city’s  overall “public works” projects. And it certainly employed a lot of men.  All good. But, someone hit a water pipe, the main water pipe to our neighborhood, and then there was water flowing everywhere in large quantities. I happened to walk by then, and found them struggling to stanch the flow of water with the most handy of dandy things, Plastic Bags and electric tape (which Liam had given them upon request). The flow was  strong so I was pretty sure that this was not going to work for very long and I mentioned this to Michael who went out and found out who was responsible for the broken pipe so that we wouldn't get charged. They lost a lot of water. The work continued throughout the day and the plastic bags were wound and rewound around the pipe. By the end of the day, no one had come to fix the pipe and the plastic bags were holding….I just hope they don’t bury the bags on the pipe rather than actually fixing it. Michael says they may not have the tools or materials. (this is day 5 and the pipe has yet to be fixed. Glad there is not a drought anywhere in Kenya right now! Ok, day 6…the pipe is fixed and buried….let’s hope it holds!)
Another fine example of this surrealism  is that there are a million, or at least 30, small Indian owned hardware stores downtown. However, they don’t carry all of the various materials that one might need for a building project! We have been trying to get the materials to put up a basketball court for 10 weeks. Michael bought a hoop, at the school supply store, then had to go have it rewelded because it was not welded well at the back. Then Liam cut a piece of plywood that we had found for the backboard, and painted it. Then we had to go find two 2x4 8 ft. boards to nail to the fence posts so that they can hold the backboard up. Well, that turned out to be an interesting effort. We walked around downtown and went to 5 or 6 “hardware” shops, and no one had “timber” for building. Finally we ran across a store owner who directed us to go the “fundis” who build stuff and buy the wood timbers. He said no one else in town would have them.
So we wandered into this interesting little area of “fundis’ who were working on cars, taking out whole engines in a greasy mess, sawing wood, making coffins ( handily you can get one made cheap right there in that little zone!) making clothes, etc. We found the guy who seemed to own the saw and there were boards! Yea! So we had a long broken Swahili-English conversation about purchasing two 10 ft. boards that he would have delivered (we hoped) to our house, since we don’t have a vehicle, all for $10. We left pleased that we had found the boards but not at all sure that we would get them anytime soon. They did arrive later that day, pushed by a laborer, on a dolly, about 3 miles to our house. The final thing that we needed, besides borrowing a drill from someone, were some bolts, to hold the metal rim to the backboard and the boards to the fence posts.  Because of the weight of the backboard and the posts, we needed special bolts and wood screws. These turned out to be hard to find as well. Michael and Liam visited at least 5 little hardware stores in town, none of which carried bolts or screws. There was one store that had a bad selection of screws which were flat heads and according to the familial experts, they “blow” because you might “break your knuckles” using them!

Anyway, the backboard is up, the neighborhood children are deeply involved in learning to shoot, and it is all good. It is just interesting coming from small town America, where almost everything is easily available, to big town Kenya, where it is sometimes hard to find the most basic of things. Most people who can, depend on local labor for projects like these but since we are normally “do it your selfers” that did not occur to us. And who would be better at this job than a couple of Hoosiers?  Certainly if we had done so it may have taken a lot less time because the local folks may have known sooner where to find stuff. However, it is good from our perspective to go through such an experience to really get a handle on what the folks here have to deal with on a day to day basis. Something that would have taken maybe a day at home has literally taken us 10 weeks here. Partly because we don't have a car, but.... I think all of our “handy” friends would get a kick out of visiting these “fundis” in town and seeing what the trades people are doing. It is eye-opening and gives you a whole new appreciation for Lowes!!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Parellel Political Seasons (Post US Election)

One of the interesting things about being in Kenya this year is that they are also having a General Election, but not until March 2013. This is the date that the government is being held to but they have changed it a couple of times already. There is skepticism in the press as to whether they will be ready.  Of course , since their system is Parliamentary it is quite different (the organization of the government ), yet it is truly democratic, in as much as the popular vote decides the winner and there are a lot of parties represented. This election is a very big deal for them for many reasons. For one, it is for all MP positions in the national government  (210 or so) as well as for President and Vice President.  Secondly, and most importantly, Kenya has the specter of a very serious violent reaction to their last general elections in 2007-2008, which scarred the country quite a bit (especially in the west) and is a central theme to most of the articles that I’ve read in the local papers. Those elections were considered to be rigged and so obviously so, that people went berserk after the President was named and he and his people decided to swear him in in secrecy during the night.  This was a clear indicator that something was fishy and it did not go over well.  The violence was very damaging to the reputation of Kenya as a leader in East Africa and a country on the move forward.  There’s a lot of information in the news and online about this period of time if you want to read more about it. Currently, here, we don’t see much evidence of tension but there have been some unpleasant events at political rallies in various parts of the country.
 Since we don’t see television, it is only through the newspaper and through conversations with local folks that we are able to glean much information about the upcoming elections.  People who we know keep telling us that they are confident that the elections will be peaceful because Kenyans realize that a violent aftermath would, once again, be terrible for the country on many levels. Last time this happened, in 2008, it affected the tourism industry which is a large part of the Kenyan economy, and it caused enormous ripple affects all over East Africa since Kenya is a major trading route between the coast and other East African countries.  The people that we know who are confident of a peaceful election tend to be educated and have a deeper understanding of the broader troubles that such violence can bring. They are also not people who get involved in such activities. Whatever the basis for their optimistic attitude, I sure hope they are correct!
A few weeks ago, while we were at the market, there were several very boisterous “parades” or “rallies’ supporting various local candidates for what they call “by-elections” which I gather is like a local primary election. Despite the fact that we read the local paper religiously, it is difficult to understand exactly what is going on and which MP belongs to which party, etc. It was sort of exciting but also due to the last election’s violence, I think people are on edge a bit because they are uncertain how things are going to pan out in the streets. Several MPs and others behind campaigns have gotten into trouble for “hate language” already.  Although the national candidates and the newspapers are touting free and fair elections with NO VIOLENCE, with a large segment of the population undereducated, poor, and frustrated with the powers that be, it is hard to predict.  So, we are waiting to see as well and we might take a little trip during the elections in order to avoid any nasty issues that might happen.
Unfortunately, the Kenyans still have a fair amount of tribalistic tendencies, and that is what motivated the last election’s violence. It’s very sad to me, because as an outsider, non Kenyan, I only know that folks are Kenyan, and only if I ask can I know which tribe or larger group they are from. I never ask because it is unimportant to me. People are people, right? From our perspective,  they are all Kenyans  and should be working together to improve this nation. However, due to the number of different tribes and peoples here, and also the history of colonization and abuse by the English and other western powers, and their relatively recent independence and foray into democratic processes, it’s not as simple as that. I find that when questioned, Kenyans don’t really want to talk about it in depth. They attribute the last round to “jealousy” or “inequity” which seems like sort of generalized blanket justification. We are sort of perplexed by the whole topic since we don’t know that many people well yet, can’t speak the local languages well yet, and are not deeply ensconced in the work world yet. Michael may get more clues to this issue when his project actually takes off.
When I reflect on the recent elections in the US it is not so very different than what goes on there still now. Perhaps it is just human nature for people to be “against” someone who is not their own kind. I personally don’t find this a particularly progressive way to think but it certainly was evidenced in the US before the election with effigies of President Obama being hung in public places (not just in the south folks, it happened in Indiana too!) or racist epithets being sworn around. In other words, in our own election, many people were less focused on the issues of the day and what the candidates were truly about than they were about what color they were or what religion they espoused.  So again, it seems it must be just the human/societal evolution issue again. We can be thankful that our actual transitioning does not beget a violent reaction in this day and age.
Now that the elections in the states are over and the concession speech by Romney and acceptance speech by Obama made, the Kenyans are interested in our process even more. Of course they are so happy that Obama won both because he is considered their “native son” and also because he is a person of color and “a good man.”  The people whom I have spoken to about our election think that we are ‘so peaceful” and that they should try to mimic us but in the same breathe, when asked, say that they “would never” vote over party (tribal) lines…curious, but not overly surprising I guess in their evolution as a democracy. The topic of our peaceful transition has been in the paper every day since our election as well as how important it is for their politicians to really work on improving things in this country rather than just becoming politicos for the sake of their big egos. I hope for this country that they can really achieve peaceful, non corrupted elections and begin to make the transition into an administration that is truly representing the needs/hopes/desires of their countrymen and women.  It is a long haul, without a doubt.

Rural Life and Food

liam and dennis building compost bins

good job!

garden progress

Since we have been “farming” in southern Indiana for several years now we are always interested in how it is done in other places. Our farm is quite small in Ogilville, but we consider it a farm nonetheless because we produce vegetables which we sell to clients and at the farmer’s market. Of course we are working against the grain in the states since most farming there is on an industrial level, but the support for small farms does seem to be growing.  However, the small or family farm is actually an almost extinct phenomenon in the US with only about  1% of the population farming in 2012 as opposed to about 18% in the mid 1950’s.
In Kenya, about  75% of the population  is still rural. People tend to be farmers or pastoralists, depending upon the traditions of their tribe.
We have had the opportunity to spend time outside of Eldoret, considered the 5th largest city in the country, and the countryside is quite populated.  Most farmers have small plots, but this totally depends on how the land has been distributed within a family. Like a lot of traditional cultures, the family’s property is divided among the male children, so what has happened is that if a father has a lot of sons (people still have big families for the most part out in the country) then the plots become smaller and smaller as one generation passes it on to the next. Therefore, you have a lot of small subsistence level farms, many of whom are barely squeezing out a living on these very small plots. The only industrial farming we know of so far is the tea industry, which is in a different region from ours, and coffee as well, both of which were imported by the British.  There are several large wheat farms nearby and there are 15 mills in the entire country. There are dairy producers  who sell their milk to a cooperative locally and many  people are growing food to take to the market in abundance.
newborn calf on farm

corn drying

farm family

huts in village

more housing

looking down on farms

farms everywhere

market stand near our house

another farm property

market haul
Kenya has a lovely climate but of course some years are better than others and that all depends on the rain.  There are 2-3 seasons here , the dry season, which traditionally has been from late Nov-March, then the rainy season from April-July, and then the season of “light rains” which goes from August-Nov. Nothing is really as predictable as it used to be, just like at home, so these seasons are changeable. This variability in seasons which farmers depend on make it  very hard. Some things are definitely universal.  Farming, if you haven’t experienced it yourself, is very hard physical work, especially when it is not industrialized. It’s even harder here where it is not even mechanized for the most part. Many  people still use animals for plowing and do all the other work by hand. It is basically back breaking work, but I swear these people are so physically strong it is sometimes unbelievable what they can do!
In any case, they seem to be able to grow a lot of varied crops, but the staples, at least in western Kenya are:  corn, kale, carrots,  onions, potatoes, and cabbage. You can also find beets, eggplant, zucchini , plum tomatoes (I have yet to see a round tomato) green beans, dried beans, and chard quite readily. In western Kenya, they  eat a corn mush called “ugali” made from their ground corn for almost every meal. They also have a green vegetable called sikumawiki which is basically shredded up kale stir fried and on the side. Kale grows like crazy here. So, this region, the Great Rift, is quite good for certain crops because it is cool, but not for others because it is too cool (no freezing but it is not hot all the time). The soil is completely different than our soil at home and we have been marveling at it since we put in our own garden a few weeks ago. It is red, for one, and very stony, and it is “loamy” as opposed to our dense clay in southern IN.  I think loamy soil means that it has sand in it which makes it easier to grow root crops but it does not hold water very well. So, we will have to water when the hot season comes on (we are catching water with a big tank). Also, weirdly, there are no earthworms. Almost no bugs at all. This just confounds us because we count on earthworms at home as an indicator of health soil!
The point of all this is that the farming is done quite differently than farming in the States. It is hilly here also, since it is in the Great Rift area and as I mentioned the soil is quite stoney. A lot of the geographical phenomena in this region are the result of volcanic activity so the areas down in the valley seem to be very sulphuric and there isn’t much farming going on there presumably because of that.  What is funny is that they are farming all up the hills to the base of the cliffs. Farming and pasturing. So you have to imagine how much work goes into hauling crops up and down these steep hills and the amount of effort it must take to work against gravity while plowing and cultivating! They leave no arable spot unturned though. You see corn growing in the oddest places, between rocks, in gulleys, all around huts, etc, as they are trying to get every possible morsel of corn out of their planting as possible. 
I guess this is the true definition of subsistence farming. You farm the land that you have and you try to grow enough for your family and to be able to sell a few bags at the market. It does not seem an unpleasant life, although it does seem extremely physically exhausting. Add to that the effort to find wood or charcoal for burning in order to cook and do laundry, and the money that it takes to send your kids to school which is now required. It adds up. Some of these folks live so far away from basic amenities like shops or clinics or schools, they also have to walk quite a ways if they need anything extra. Oh yea, and water! If you have crops you have to have water. In fact if you have kids and maybe a cow or goat you have to have water too. So you might be lucky and have a creek nearby or the river, but you also might have to haul water. Yikes! It’s exhausting just thinking about it.