In my last message, I told you that "murakozi" means "good morning" in Kinyarwanda. It doesn’t! It means "thank you." So obviously, my grasp of even the few words I thought I knew is still tenuous. Anyway, "murakozi" to all of you who wrote in response to that message. It was great to hear from you.

Before I visited Rwanda in February, I knew little about the country. After spending a week there, I know that I have barely scratched the surface. The photos remind me that the seven days that passed like a dream were real. The memories are joyous, warm, amusing, and haunting. I’ve been thinking about Rwanda since I left, and I’ve been "feeling" Rwanda, too.

In the Mombasa airport two weeks before we left for Kigali, I found Philip Gourevitch’s book "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families: Stories from Rwanda". I had seen the book before, but had not purchased it. This time I did. I read it while I was in Rwanda, while I was traveling through the towns Gourevitch mentions...Butare, Gitarama, Ruhengeri, Gisenyi, Kigali. I finished the book a few days after I left Rwanda and then began reading it again. I’m not sure why.

Maybe because I’m stunned at how little attention I paid to the genocide and the war as they were creating one of the most tragic chapters in the history of humankind. The killing was systematic throughout the entire country and the people from each town through which we traveled can tell gruesome and painful stories. I tried to imagine what it must have been like when the stories were just being "written" Kigali, in Butare, in the river we crossed, in the hospital where we were to hold the clinic, in the neighborhood in Kigali where we slept. Then I dig for memories from 1994, in the days before I had any interest in Africa. What memories do I have of the reports that I heard (but didn’t really listen to) on NPR on my way to and from work? All I can remember are the words "Hutu" and "Tutsi", strange sounding names in a country about which I knew nothing. I didn’t even know where Rwanda was and didn’t bother to look it up on a map. I unconsciously added this story to others in the category of "Conflict In Africa, Over There Somewhere" and went on with my life. And I didn’t think about it again until John and I went to see "Hotel Rwanda" about 14 years later and left the theater in tears.

We met many Rwandans who were not born in Rwanda but in Zaire, (now Democratic Republic of Congo), Uganda, Burundi or Tanzania. There had been incidents of ethnic violence off and on in Rwanda since 1959 and many Rwandans had fled the country in the 50s and 60s. There is a long buildup to the events of 1994, and I outline the history in the back of my book, trying to understand the sequence, looking for something that makes sense. Over time, everyone in the country, and Rwandans outside the country, too, were affected in one way or another.

I don’t think I imagined a reticence and a detachment in many of the people we met, as if there is something they’re not saying, and in any conversation, no matter where it starts, if it goes on long enough, the genocide comes up. You can feel, in the living, the tangible impact of the lives lost and of the spirits that haunt the country. The world powers did not care to fight genocide in central Africa in 1994, and the reason, or excuse, that is given in the case of Rwanda is that the entities that could have done something about it could not agree on a definition of the word "genocide" that would have empowered them to take action. No one was willing to empower the UN or anyone to act.

Last June I read a newspaper article about Rwanda that described the great steps President Paul Kagame has taken to lead the country out of the ruins in which it was left after the war. Rwanda now enjoys low corruption it is punished severely, the education system is good and there are new schools throughout the country; The roads are wonderful, people are encouraged to build houses of the local brick instead of the traditional mud, and while we were in Gisenyi, the President and was also there meeting with government officials about how to reduce dependence on foreign aid which is currently at 51%. Foreign aid has been pouring into Rwanda since the war and the number of NGOs still working there is staggering. There are also many who have come from other countries, including Kenya, to work or start businesses there.

Rwanda is clean...the last Saturday of every month is clean up day, and everyone is required to clean their homes, their yards and if they don’t have trash for collection at the end of the day, they are penalized. Rwandans love President Kagame.

But the article mentioned that there is still some tension about "genocidaires" who returned from exile in DRC after the war, pardoned and welcomed home and some of the RPF soldiers who did more killing, in the name of stabilizing the country than necessary and that Kagame is reluctant to bring to trial some of the RPF soldiers who participated for fear that the attention and proceeding might stir up emotions still simmering just below the surface. For now the country is stable, and the feeling is "let sleeping dogs lie". Words from Gourevitch? This may be part of what we feel.

Some things I did learn about is small. So small that on most maps the name "Rwanda" doesn’t even fit within its borders. The name is usually placed in one of 3 of the 4 countries that share its border...Tanzania, Uganda or Democratic Republic of Congo. The fourth, Burundi, is as small as Rwanda. Rwanda is also incredibly beautiful. There are roughly 8,000,000 people in the country.and 95% of them are farmers. Education is highly valued and there is a push now towards technology and young man told me that Rwanda is a leader in Africa in the area of fiber optics. Another young medical student told us that he is learning to do surgery from surgeons in other countries who can watch the surgery on a television screen and guide him in his technique.

In my last message, I left you at the bus station in Kigali. Our friends Tim and Carol and their friend Nitin, a Kenyan Rotarian who owns a business in Kigali and spends two weeks out of every month there, collected us at the bus station. We spent the night in a lovely neighborhood just a few blocks away from the President’s house and the next morning, Jordan and I went for a walk to gawk at the impressive homes and the lovely vegetation surrounding them. We were awaiting the arrival, from Nairobi, of team member Francis Nzioka. Francis is the first Kenyan recipient of the LN-4 hand. After four years with his hand, Francis is an expert at demonstrating its use, helping to fit hands on new recipients., answering questions and helping the recipients get used to their new hands. As we all drove to the bus station to catch our bus to Butare, we drove past the "Hotel Rwanda", a lovely hotel whose real name is the Hotel Milles Collines (Thousand Hills).

It took us about two hours to reach Butare. We crossed the Ruganwa River on the way out of Kigali and followed the smooth but crowded road up and down the lovely hills and through the villages of Kabgayi and Ruhango. In Butare, Leonidas, a member of the Butare Rotary Club who was helping to organize the clinic, met us and took us to the Mont Huye Hotel, named for the hill on which Butare sits. We met other members of his club at a nearby restaurant for dinner. As we sampled Primus, the Rwandan beer, others joined us and we added additional tables as the group grew in size. The administrator of the hospital, some of the staff and the orthopedic specialists joined the group and we shared brochettes (skewers) of goat meat (one each) and half of a roasted banana (one each). It was a small meal, by western standards, but it was satisfying nonetheless. Most of the men, they were all men, spoke French and English. It was fun to try to speak French, and to watch the words pop into my head after 49 years! Je suis enchantee to faire votre connaissance. Je m’appelle Gwen Meyer. Comment appelez vous? Pretty elementary, but I was thrilled to be able to communicate my pleasure at meeting them even in a minimal way.

Back at the hotel, I was ready for a shower, but after undressing and turning on the tap, I discovered that there was no hot water and there was no bath towel, either. I dressed and went to office and did my best to explain the situation in French " Je n’ai pas l’eau chaud" , "Je n’ais pas" towel (with drying gestures). Amazingly, the woman understood and told me in French that the hot water was not working and that they would bring me water in morning...what time would I like it? A few minutes later, someone brought a towel to my room.

At 6:30 am, the agreed upon time, a young man, running, brought a large bucket of boiling water for my bath. The black bits floating in it looked pieces of leaves or grass that had fallen in at some point. I now had most of the ingredients I needed for my bath..... hot water, cold water from the shower head, a 3’ x 3’ square plastic shower floor insert in a corner sans (French for without!) shower curtain; a large plastic basin, a bar of soap and a towel. I’d have to pour out some hot water to add cold and I hated to throw away hot bath water. Should I pour some in the basin and add cold to that? Should I sit in the basin, like a bathtub? The visual image of me squeezing myself into the 1 ½ ft diameter round plastic basin made me laugh. Even if I decided to do this, I had nothing to scoop the water from the bucket with and nothing with which to pour the rinse water. Or, should I use the basin to mix cold and hot water, stand on the insert, soap up and and then rinse from the basin with my hands? I decided to sacrifice some of the hot water and add cold from the shower, stand in the basin, and splash water from the bucket with my hands, trying to avoid the black bits. At the end, the bathroom, which also contained the toilet, was wet

The flip flops...(I got smart the second day and cut the top off of a water bottle to use as a scoop).

The next morning, we were taken to the Butare Hospital where the clinic would take place. The clinic came about because of Christian Rusangwa who had seen a LN-4 display at a Rotary conference and asked Tim and Carol to come to Rwanda. Christian is the president of a Rotaract club in Butare, the group for young people up to age 30. the Butare rotary club also helped to organize and support the clinic with the hospital administration. A number of young men and women from the Rotaract club participated in the clinic and we found them to be delightful young people. Christian and Claude were medical students, Gilbert was studying journalism and others IT. They were funny, smart and dedicated to the project. took time out from classes to assist during the week long clinic.

We congregated at the Orthopedic clinic and as Tim and Carol went through the boxes that they had shipped from the US, people were beginning to gather on benches on the porch. Some with one hand, some with both missing, a mom with a baby on her back, and woman with no hands and a disfigured face...machetes had chopped people in the face and hers was pulled together. They were silent waiting. We all went to the medical school conference room. Francis did a presentation, telling his story about the loss and then the hand 5 years ago. He was one of the first recipients. The hopefuls were attentive.

after a tea break, they were invited into the room and each person had someone fitting a hand. I worked with a old was hard to tell...he picked up a cup and the smile on his face...used a pen....Jordan was videotaping us and the man picked up my camera and with his new hand, took a photo of Jordan videotaping us.


Murakozi! Amakuru?

Greetings are often the first words we learn when we visit a foreign country. "Murakozi! Amakuru!" means "Good morning. How are you?" in Kinyarwanda, the national language of Rwanda. Jordan and I learned these words and a few others during our week in Rwanda in February. Rwandans also speak Kiswahili, English or French, which because of the Belgian and French influence, was the language children learned in school. Recently, French has fallen out of favor and English is being taught instead. We got by well in English, but there were times when I needed to use my minimal competence in Kiswahili and even my 7th grade French to communicate.

The trip to Rwanda began as an invitation last December from Rotary friends of John's and mine. Tim and Carol, who live in Ashland, Oregon, work with the Ellen Meadows Prosthetic Hand Foundation, a California based organization that produces a prosthetic hand called the LN-4. The LN-4 is given free to recipients, mostly in developing countries. Tim and Carol were planning to visit the Butare Hospital in southern Rwanda in February to conduct a week long hand clinic. They hoped to give 100 hands to Rwandans, who had either lost their hands in accidents, during the war, or who had been born without hands. I immediately accepted the invitation to join them.

Since this was to be my first trip to an Africa country outside of Kenya, I decided to take the bus to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. It would be much less costly than flying and would provide a great opportunity to see Rwanda and Uganda from the ground. The decision was fortuitous because when Jordan arrived, he was eager to come along and travel by ground suited us both financially and as tourists.

On the morning of February 13th, we boarded the bus in Nakuru and set off on the two-day journey to Kigali. Samuel had booked us on the Royal Akamba Coach, a "premier" bus that cost a few shillings more for extra leg room, fewer passengers, more comfortable seats and maybe a better safety record. It cost about $25 to Kampala, Uganda, where we would spend the first night.

As soon as we were on the road, an almost toothless elderly man in a navy blue suit stood up at the front of the bus and began to pray in Kiswahili. His voice was loud enough to reach the passengers at the rear of the bus and he held a small bible in one hand. My first thought was that this prayer was customary on cross country buses because of their dismal safety record. Perhaps he was praying that we would arrive safely at our destination. I wasn't so sure this was a good omen.

People didn't pay much attention to him, but on the left side of the bus, a woman wearing a red head scarf raised her hand above her head and nodded as he prayed. When we passed through Elburgon 25 minutes later, he was still praying and she was still nodding. I decided that he was probably praying for more than our safety. Finally, his voice became softer, his words came more slowly, and he breathed his final "Amen". Then he started down the aisle, smiling and greeting people. He stopped at the woman with the red scarf, took her hand and prayed with her for a few moments, then moved on to the back of the bus.

The conductor had been working his way down the aisle punching tickets. When he came to us, we gave him ours but instead of punching them and handing them back to us like he had done with everyone else, he studied them for bit, smiled apologetically and told us we were on the wrong bus. This was the Executive Akamba not the Royal Akamba. The Executive was also going to Kampala, but it was the "chicken" bus, not the premier. Both the Executive and the Royal had arrived at the Nakuru station at the same time, and we had simply boarded the wrong bus! But, hakuna matata! It wasn't a problem. The Royal was on the road just ahead of us and we would catch it in Kisumu where we could change buses. At that point, it probably didn't really matter...we obviously hadn't known the difference! But the conductor said we'd be more comfortable on the Royal and he'd help us with the move.

For the next two hours, we drove through Western Kenya towards Kisumu and Lake Victoria. The ride was lovely, through steep hills and valleys covered by what is left of the Mau Forest, through farm land plowed and ready to be planted as soon as the rains come and past hilly fields that appeared as if someone had thrown a giant blanket of light green cabbages over them. In the town of Chepseon, the donkey market was in full swing. In Kericho, the tea capital of Kenya, the brilliant green tea fields were stunning, and along the road men sat with hammers and stones in their hands, making gravel. We traveled through areas inhabited by the Kikuyu, Kalenjin, and Luo communities and as we descended to the lake, the hills gave way to flatlands with extensive fields of sugar cane.

As we pulled into the bus station in Kisumu, we saw the Royal Akamba parked just in front of us. All the passengers were off having lunch, and the conductor said we had 15 minutes to change buses, eat our lunch and use the bathroom if we needed to. He carried our bags to the Royal and helped us find our really was much nicer! We ate the lunch we had brought with us and then went to look for the bathroom, which required asking for directions from several people and finally having one young man guide us down the street, through a shop next door to the bus office and down an alley to an outdoor one-holer. There was a line...a nun in a brown habit and two other women, and I was afraid the bus would leave before I could get back...but it didn't.

Sometime in the early afternoon, we crossed the border into Uganda at the town of Busia. All passengers got off the bus, which drove on across the border to wait for us on the other side. While we stood in line to have our passports stamped, we filled out forms for departure from Kenya. Then we walked maybe 100 yards to the Ugandan customs office where we stood in another line and filled out a form for a $50 single entry visa into Uganda. The whole process took about an hour, and then we walked to the bus, where a customs official was waiting to check our passports as we boarded.

The border crossing was a crazy scene. This is one of the main highways from Mombasa on the coast of Kenya to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi,and Sudan and the road is packed with huge cross country trucks, buses, matatus and cars going in both directions. At the border, long lines of vehicles waited side by side as papers were processed and drivers purchased food and stretched their legs. We were surrounded by an overwhelming presence of noise, dust, heat, garbage and changers sold Uganda shillings to those entering Uganda and Kenya shillings to those entering Kenya. Hawkers carried colorful plastic buckets out of which they sold bananas, peanuts, candy, chapatis, hard boiled eggs and bottled water. Small shops sold fruit, sausages, yogurt and cakes to customers. Disabled people on crutches, in wheel chairs and riding special bikes competed with the dirty, ragged street children for handouts. It was a relief to get back on the bus and be on our way.

For the next many miles, the road was under construction and we endured the bumps, delays and dust for several hours. We were traveling around the northern end of Lake Victoria, and the landscape was flat and swampy. We passed rice fields, marshes and thousands, maybe millions of banana trees. Where Kenya's staple food is maize, Uganda's is the banana. The Ugandans roast bananas or cook and mash them to make "matoke". They also make banana wine which has an extremely high alcohol content and has the consistency of a very thick, pulpy fruit juice and a taste I can't describe. Two sips were enough.

The presence of so many banana trees colors the landscape a dark green. As we drove into small villages, the green would give way to bursts of color from shop signs, the bright clothing of the women, and things drying on large plastic sheets spread out on the ground in the beans, white maize, brown coffee beans. Leaving the villages, it was green again...bananas trees, patches of forest, bananas trees, swamps, banana trees, forested hills, banana trees, garden plots, banana trees, coconut trees, banana trees...

Everywhere, bananas! Huge green bunches for sale by the side of the road or in the backs of trucks going to market, small yellow bunches hanging in shops, and green bunches still hanging from trees. There were bananas on the roofs of cars and buses, bananas on matatus, bananas fastened to the tops of the tanks of petrol trucks, bananas on the backs of bicycles and motorbikes and donkeys and bananas on the heads of people walking along the road. Bananas everywhere!

Another thing we saw in great abundance was bricks. The clay soil, at least in this part of Uganda, is ideal for brick making and so most of the houses and other buildings are made of brick. The structures are covered with a layer of plaster, making the walls smooth and neat looking. The brick makers worked in outdoor "factories", putting the clay in wooden forms, then removing the wet bricks and stacking them to be baked. They leave holes in the bottom of the stacks for firewood and cover the whole pile with soil. These factories, with stacks of freshly baked bricks for sale were all along the road.

By late afternoon we entered Jinja, the Uganda town which straddles the source of the Nile River, where water coming from beneath the ground flows out into Lake Victoria. The sun was setting as we crossed the long bridge that spans the water. It was difficult to see much but it looked beautiful in the diminishing light.

When we reached Kampala, we were to be met by Peter Lusembo, a friend of Samuel's who would take us to a hotel and then pick us up in the morning to deliver us to the station for the bus to Rwanda. Peter asked us to get off the bus at Mukono Town before we reached Kampala saying that it would be easier to collect us in the small town than at the city station. He would watch for our bus to pull into town, and would pick us up where we got off by the side of the road.

These buses travel very fast and make very few stops...usually only ones that are scheduled. If you ask the conductor to let you off somewhere along the way, he and the driver are usually happy to oblige. But you have to be quick and be ready at the door with all your belongings when the bus stops. The stairs are very steep and high, and the top steps are so tiny that you can't fit an adult foot have to turn your foot sideways. So getting off quickly with your belongings is a real challenge. Especially in the dark. I asked the conductor if the bus could stop at Mukono Town. He agreed and said he'd let us know when we were getting close.

As dusk fell, the bus slowed to let a woman from the back of the bus with a small baby get off. She made her way down the aisle with several large bags and stood at the top of the stairs...but without the baby. When the bus stopped, the conductor helped her down the stairs with her belongings, then he ran back to her seat, picked up the baby and ran back down the aisle with the child cradled in his arms. He descended the stairs, handed the baby to the woman and jumped back on the bus as it took off.

A few minutes later, the conductor motioned Jordan and me to come forward, so we grabbed our bags and made our way to the door. The bus would be letting us off in pitch dark in a strange town and we hoped that Peter had seen us come into Mukono Town. The bus pulled off the road, the conductor opened the door and motioned us out (hurry! hurry!) and we got off in front of a row of buildings. As the bus pulled away, a white SUV pulled up and it was Peter.

The traffic was terrible driving into Kampala. One lane in each direction served the many, many vehicles trying to get in and out of the city. From Mukono Town, a suburb, it took us an hour to reach the city. Kampala is built on seven hills, and though we couldn't see much, we were aware of going up and down a few times before we reached the hotel Peter had chosen for us.

From the outside, the hotel was attractive with Indian decor, an outdoor patio with lights strung between the trees and several tables of guests enjoying the lovely evening air as they ate their meals. Peter asked us if $20 for a room for each of us was okay. Since we didn't have Ugandan shillings, he paid for the accommodations and food and we gave him dollars...$25 each for a room, a meal of chicken and chips and a warm beer. The inside of the hotel was non-descript bordering on shabby, and we walked up 5 flights of stairs in semi-darkness to our rooms. The shower (hot water!)was welcome and washed away the dust and grime from the day and my room had a balcony with a view of the city. Not bad for $20!

February 14th, Valentines Day. The view from my balcony in the morning was lovely. The hotel sat on top of one of the seven hills, and the valley below was filled with mist. People walked by on their way to work and it reminded me a bit of the hill towns in Italy. As I walked down the many stairs to breakfast, I saw from above a group of shirtless young men in the lot next door, marching in about 8 rows, 3 abreast, with long sticks over their shoulders. Peter told us later that that was the local defense militia practicing their maneuvers.

We ate a quick breakfast and I didn't notice until I had my first sip of chewy coffee that instead of putting out the usual can of instant coffee the staff had set a can of ground coffee on the table for guests. They had run out of instant. As we left for the bus with Peter, I noticed the large sign at the front of the building with the name of the hotel... Le Grande Chez Johnson Hotel.

Peter drove us to the Jaguar bus station a few hills away, and we were able to see a little of Kampala. We had no Ugandan money and weren't able even to buy a bottle of water for the trip, so I asked a young man at a phone kiosk if he would take some Kenya shillings in exchange for Ugandan shillings. He would, so I gave him 200 ksh for which I received 4000 Uganda shillings. With this, we were able to buy water and a lunch of chapatis and peanuts at the gas station where we stopped at midday.

Leaving Kampala and all of its traffic took us quite awhile and I enjoyed looking at the shops as we made our slow way out of the city. The most interesting were the tailoring shops for handmade women's clothing. Each shop displayed its specialty fashions on mannequins lined up on the front porch...usually from 3 - 8 of them wearing different styles of dresses. All the mannequins were white. In front of one shop, four Ugandan women sat in chairs drinking tea in their traditional outfits with a row of white mannequins behind them posing in their finery.

As we moved toward the Rwandan border, the hills grew in size and became more numerous. Farms reached from the lowlands to the tops of the hills every inch terraced so that each hill was sectioned by parallel lines from top to bottom with crops planted at each level. We also saw herds of "ankole", the Ugandan cattle with the longest horns I've ever seen on an animal.

We passed several very long market buildings made of concrete with individual stalls. From one end to the other, different products were grouped. At one end, bags of charcoal had been stacked, followed by mangoes, tomatoes, oranges, kale, cabbages, onions and ending with huge green bunches of bananas just cut from the trees. Bags of dried beans nd coffee also had their places. Behind the produce, men in white coats stood at long concrete charcoal barbecues, grilling goat and lamb meat on long skewers.

By mid-afternoon, we reached the Uganda-Rwanda border. The process was the same as before, only it was a lot less chaotic. After having our passports stamped, we went back to the bus, where we found our luggage spread out in a line on the ground. A Rwandan customs official waited for each passenger to open his or her luggage so that he could look for...plastic bags! Rwanda has outlawed plastic bags, and it's illegal to bring them into the country. Out came my green plastic laundry bag, the black plastic bag with a pair of shoes, and the orange plastic bag with a pair of sandals. We were happy to comply! After being in Rwanda for a few days, we became used to seeing people carrying brown paper bags instead of plastic.

From the border, we had another 2 hours before we would reach Kigali. After becoming accustomed to driving on the left side of the road in Kenya and Uganda, it felt strange to switch to the right side as we entered Rwanda. I wondered what it would feel like to be sitting on the right side of a vehicle and driving on the right side of the road. It didn't seem to bother the driver as we curved around hills through a lovely river valley.

Rwanda is called the "Land of 1000 Hills". Since leaving Kampala, the hills had steadily increased in size and number until in Rwanda, they were very tall and close together.It seemed as though we were always going either up or down and turning to the right or the left as we navigated up and over and around the hills. Tall eucalyptus trees lined the roads, which were smooth and in very good repair. Sometimes, it felt a bit like a roller coaster ride...crawling up a hill and shooting down the other side, sometimes careening around curves at the same time. With no guard rails and a sheer drop off at the edge of the road I found myself holding my breath on several occasions.

Ninety five percent of Rwandans are farmers and every inch of arable land is under cultivation. Tea fields on the valley floor continued for miles and then suddenly gave way to rice paddies. Each of the hills was terraced from bottom to top, with crops growing on the terraces.

We arrived in Kigali at 6 pm. The city sprawls across a narrow valley, from the top of a hill on one side of the river, down to the valley floor and up to the top of the hill on the other side. Brick houses were stacked on terraces on the hillsides and again, I was reminded a bit of the hill towns in Italy. As we waited at the bus station for our friends to collect us, we watched the traffic swirl around us and the dusk begin to deepen.

Salama sana

Salama sana!

We awoke this morning at 6 to find the power off, which meant that the water pump was not working, either. Our four candles, attached to the lids of empty coffee cans as a base, provided enough light to boil the milk for coffee and cut up a pineapple. There was plenty of water in our "emergency" bottles so hakuna matata! It was growing light outside, but to open the shutters would have invited the cold breeze to enter so we drank coffee by candlelight and the day began. Shortly after dawn, the power and water were back on, and now at 11 am, the sun is shining and birds are singing outside. A few minutes ago, a little robinchat hopped in the open front door, walked around under the furniture and then hopped through the sitting room, on through to the kitchen and out the back door. I guess he didn’t find anything of interest.

I’m waiting for my ride to Molo...Samuel has been delayed this morning, trying to catch up on work that piled up over the past week while he and his daughter Jane were entertaining visitors from the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. The Foundation, which is part of the larger Slow Food association, was founded in Florence in 2003. It "coordinates and supports projects worldwide, but its most significant commitment is focused on developing countries, where defending biodiversity not only means improving peoples’ quality of life, but can mean guaranteeing life itself. The Foundation’s main project, both economically and organizationally, is the Presidium Project. There are currently 300 Presidia in 47 countries around the world, set up to protect small producers and save quality artisan products. The foundation helps to improve production methods, train producers and develop the local international market for their products." (from the Foundation brochure) Examples of these projects are the Wenchi Volcano Honey in Ethiopia, Tibetan Yak Cheese in China, and Abjosh Raisins from Herat, Afghanistan.

As Slow Food members, John and I had never heard of these important projects until we went to the Terra Madre meetings in Torino in 2004 and 2006. We were surprised to learn that Slow Food is not just about getting together to enjoy good food with other members, but that these Presidia projects were in place all over the world to support local farmers and artisans. It’s been exciting to see some of these projects at the Salone del Gusto in Torino during the Terra Madre meetings, and to read about them in the Slow Food publications. We think that this is a really important part of the Slow Food movement, and I had an opportunity to learn more first hand here in Molo.

As a recent graduate of Slow Food’s University of Gastronomic Science in Bra, Italy, Samuel’s daugther, Jane, is hoping to be able to use her training here in Kenya to work with local groups that are producing food products specific to their regions. She identified 3 food communities in the Molo area as projects that might qualify as Presidia projects by Slow Food. she did research on a specific type of green pumpkin, a local chicken with a bald neck and on the stinging nettle, all of which are grown and harvested by local farmers and then wrote a project proposal which she submitted to the Foundation. Last week Serena Milano and Jean Luca from the Foundation arrived to visit these and other projects that NECOFA supports here in the Molo area.

Jane invited us to go with her a few days before their arrival to visit the groups and to offer the farmers an opportunity to practice their presentations on us. The farms were far apart and we spent all day traveling and visiting, but we learned a lot and had a great time. One aspect of the presentations was tasting the products. For the chicken presentation that meant killing the chicken. I couldn’t watch and we didn’t have time to wait for it to be roasted, but I did hear later that it was delicious.

The visitors also came here to Michinda to see the 4 K Club school garden which FKSW supports, and the chicken project which FKSW funded in August. John Kariuki, a young Kenyan who is one of the three international Vice Presidents for Slow Food, was also here for the visits. I haven’t heard the final decision about whether or not the chickens, pumpkins or nettle will become Presidia projects, but it sounds like the week was very productive.

Speaking of food, many Kenyans sell produce and other edibles from small shops which they own. They also sell any and every other kind of item imaginable. Many, many people are entrepreneurs, and these small businesses constitute a significant portion of the Kenyan economy. You can find little shops in small towns, big cities and all along the roads in between. The shops might be in large clusters outdoors or they can be tiny adjacent spaces in a building beside the road. You might see one little kiosk miles away from any others, set up in front of a house where the owner is selling cabbages, or potatoes, or onions from their own garden.

Shops may be freestanding structures, constructed of wood, mud, stone, brick, plastic sheeting, corrugated metal roofing...anything that can accommodate a roof and a counter. Doors may be part of the structure, but many shops are not sturdy or secure enough for a door, so the vendor packs up everything at the end of the day and takes it home for the night. Some shops sell a huge variety of things, not necessarily related. Some may have only one product, like shoes or clothing. Other shops may have just a few items for sale, like a bunch of bananas and a few mangoes. Many shops stay open after dark, hoping for a few last customers, but many don’t have electricity. I love driving through a town at night and seeing the golden glow from the paraffin lanterns in these shops, like twinkling stars that have come down for a visit.

The other day, on the way back to the office after lunch, I saw a small kiosk between the restaurant and a petrol station at the edge of the parking lot. It was painted the bright Safaricom green of the Nairobi based mobile phone company. I needed to purchase air time for my phone so I stepped up to the window. The kiosk was about 2 feet square, made of wood, with a wire screen across the front and two steps up to the window. Inside, a young woman stood, and she smiled as I approached. I asked if she had a 1000 shilling Safaricom card. She said that all she had were two 250 shilling cards. I bought the cards, and she closed up shop for the day. I wondered how long she had been standing in her tiny kiosk, waiting to sell those two cards, and if she had sold others earlier in the day. I also wondered how much she had made on my 500 shilling ($6.25) purchase and if that would buy food for her family for the evening meal.

Every shop or business has a name. Some are combinations of people’s names, like the JoyPat Driving School, or the MaryDan Butchery. Other names are remarkable for their creativity and often defy a "logical" interpretation. But I know that each and every name is derived from something meaningful to the owner and can give a potential customer (or bypasser like me) a hint about what is, or has been, interesting enough to the proprietor to give the name to his or her shop. I am often entertained as we travel from place to place on long rides just by reading shop names. Some of my favorites so far on this trip:

Back to Eden Grocery
Pimple Pub
Blessed Budget Base Furniture
Beverly Hills Butchery
Rapture Machinery
Sunrise Cake Clinic
Mama Woolly Hair Salon
Dimples Restaurant
Born Winner Car Rental
Bubbles Butchery and Canteen
Hilarious Mascot General Store
Sweet Banana Hotel
Mongo Bongo Furniturers
Chill Out Beauty Salon
Fruitful Vision Center
God’s Favor Cafe
Radiant Supermarket
Nameless Bar
Silent Restaurant
Uncle Sam’s Kinyozi (barber shop)
and my current favorite...Dirt Foe Laundry

For those who don’t own a shop, driving a matatu, the small 12-15 passenger mini-vans which serve as long distance cabs, provides income for many young men. I’ve only seen two women drivers in all the thousands of matatus on the roads, and John and I rode from Nakuru to Nairobi with one of them. Matatus are eveywhere, speeding here and there, weaving in and out of traffic, trying to reach their destinations as quickly as possible. They all have names, too, and the name is usually written in large letters on the side doors or diagonally across the back window so as not to block the driver’s view. "Blessed Ride", "Fish Bone", and "Barack Obama" are some we’ve seen recently. Jordan was surprised the other day to see a matatu in front of us with the name "JORDAN" in large purple letters on the rear window. But I think the name that has given us most pause was one we saw in Nairobi last month with the name "Titty Twister" adorning the side and rear doors.

Here in Molo, another of my favorite businesses is the portable samosa cart. Samosas are small, deep fried triangles of dough filled with meat and/or veggies. They’re delicious and we often have them with tea in the morning or afternoon as a little hot snack. You can find samosas everywhere, including on the street in little samosa carts. These are ingenious vehicles. They look like a cross between a little car and a baby buggy, with a windshield of glass at the front, behind which the steaming hot samosas are displayed, three wheels, and a long handle like baby buggies or lawnmowers have. The carts are pushed by men in long white coats, like a doctor might wear. Built into the body of the cart, beneath the samosa compartment, is a little drawer which serves as a charcoal burner to keep the samosas warm. There is even a "tailpipe" for the smoke from the charcoal. You see the men in the morning heading out along the side of the road with a cartful of golden brown samosas, selling for 10 shillings apiece ($.08), and at the end of the day, hurrying back to someplace with their empty carts.

One thing I forgot to mention in my last message was our Inauguration Day Celebration on January 20th here in Elburgon. Our Terra Madre Safari group arrived back at the Hotel Eel in the afternoon of Inauguration Day from a four day trip to the Masai Mara game reserve. We took showers and convened in one of the hotel conference rooms, ready for the Inauguration, which was to be televised live at 8 pm Kenyan time. The hotel staff had brought in a television and set it on the bar. Tables with white table cloths ringed the perimeter of the large room. Samuel had said that he had invited a few friends and that the NECOFA staff would come, but it looked like he was expecting far more guests than that.

We took chairs right in front of the TV and as we watched the dignitaries in D.C begin arriving for the event and the huge crowds gathered on the mall, the Hotel Eel Conference room began to fill with people. There were at least 50 guests, the women wearing traditional costumes or dresses and many of the men in coats and ties. The headmaster and teachers from Michinda School were there with their spouses, and many others, whom we knew and some that we didn’t. As we ate the delicious dinner prepared by the hotel, Kenyans and Americans together shared great delight and high hopes as President Obama was inaugurated.

Samuel then rose to suggest that we celebrate the historic event with some muratina, a traditional Kikuyu drink made with honey, water and the fruit of the muratina, or sausage tree. One of the older men had prepared a batch of muratina for the occasion and someone produced the large plastic keg from behind the bar. We had seen these fruit in the Masai Mara hanging from trees but had no idea that they had any value as food or drink. The sausage serves as the fermenting agent, can be dried after brewing a batch of muratina, and then used over and over. The custom is to drink muratina from a cow’s horn, and so Samuel passed out the few horns that he had been able to bring and the brewer immediately filled them from the keg. The rest of us filled our glasses. It is also the custom to take a sip of muratina and then spit it on your chest. This is considered a blessing. So, all together, we raised our horns and glasses to President Obama and sent our wishes and hopes for a long and prosperous Presidency. Then all together, we spit on our chests.

We danced the rest of the evening to African music, forming long trains around the room and having a great time. We Americans had some instruction from a few of the young people who didn’t think we moved quite as fluidly or gracefully as we should. After a few glasses of muratina, though, they seemed content with our progress as we did our best to keep up with the pace and the grace. As the number of dancers slowly dwindled, we headed for bed after a joyous, and unusual, evening.

Now, back two weeks to the beginning of this trip...on January 8th, four days after our arrival in Kenya, John and I and two of our Terra Madre Safari participants traveled to the community of Edonyio Sidai, about 2 hours south of Nairobi. Edonyio Sidai is one of the five communities in which FKSW has been been supporting education since 2004. At that time, the 35 nursery school students at Edonyio Sidai attended class in the community’s church. The school committee’s first request was for a nursery school classroom. In 2007, FKSW provided the materials and labor for the classroom and when we visited last year, we were able to see the handsome new stone building. But we also had a surprise...the community had built a second class adjoining the first so that the first graders could also stay in the community for school instead of walking several kilometers down the Rift Valley escarpment to the only primary school in the area. We learned then that the community planned to build additional classes for the 2nd and 3rd grades, too, and when we arrived there in January, the next two classrooms were underway.

We have seen the Edonyio Sidai community become increasingly involved in the education of its students. The parents have now built a playground and play equipment, a traditional Maasai mud and stick building to serve as the school kitchen for the nursery feeding program, and toilets for the students and teachers. They have also paid for teacher training for nursery teacher Moses Kipaliash and hired a second nursery teacher to help with the growing number of students. Impressed with this effort, the FKSW board agreed to the committee’s request to provide the materials and labor to complete the fourth classroom and to install a water catchment system for the school. The water system, which consists of gutters and a storage tank to catch rainfall, is now in place, and the community has finished the 3rd classroom. It will be necessary, however, to raise additional funds before we can help to complete the last classroom. FKSW also supports twelve students from the community with scholarships to attend primary school.

In December, Samuel, delivered scholarship funds to the 22 students FKSW supports in the two communities at Archer’s Post and Kachuru in Central Kenya. Although John and I really enjoy visiting these communities, they are quite a distance from Nairobi and the trip easily takes 4-5 days. We had decided not to take the Terra Madre Safari participants there this year, and so asked Samuel if he might visit the communities for us. We all agreed that it would be advantageous for him to meet the members of the school committees, the students and the parents since he does the coordination and communication with them when we are in Oregon.

Samuel decided to make the trip an "exposure" opportunity for several people to travel along with him to a part of the country where they had never been. Lucy and Rose who are NECOFA staff, Anastasia, a woman from the Karunga Women’s Group (a Molo Wool Project participant), and Stanley and Grace, two members of the Kirepari community that FKSW supports at Lake Baringo were the five lucky travelers. Anastasia called home every 20 minutes or so to tell her family members about what she was seeing as they traveled. They had to stop to buy her more airtime when her phone ran out of credit. When asked for her thoughts at the end of the trip, she said that she had never imagined that an uneducated person like her could ever "go touring". Before the trip, she had thought that "she didn’t know anything or have any skills", but after visiting the harsh environment and meeting the pastoralists in the two communities, she said she realized that she knew a lot and was very lucky to have the life she does. Stanley Lemukut, the chairman of Kirepari community had similar comments...he realized after visiting these isolated, arid communities that even though Baringo is not an easy place to live, they "have gold there...the lake on which we live and all the water we will ever need." Lucy and Rose also expressed amazement at how people live in other parts of Kenya and how harsh and desolate the environment can be. They could drive for many miles without seeing a house, a person or even an animal. All agreed that their own living situations, as challenging as they might be at times, were significantly better than what they had seen and that they have "no right to complain about anything."

Samuel has previously provided these "exposure" opportunities to members from the Kirepari community at Lake Baringo with unexpected results. In December of 2007, he took a group of 15 men and women from Baringo to the Busia Agricultural College for a week’s training to learn about different agricultural projects, like beekeeping, chickens, biofuel and raising bananas and other crops. He also arranged for an "exchange" visit for the women from Kirepari to visit another women’s group at Lake Bogoria to see the kitchen gardens they were growing. The Kirepari women and one man came back from these trips so motivated and enthusiastic at what they had seen, that they started a community garden and individual household gardens on their own, even though agriculture is not a part of their tradition. They are now also raising chickens and providing training to others on the island who wish to follow their example. Before the visits, they were not even able to imagine these activities as part of their lives, but in an environment where fish is their only dependable food and where a large percentage of the population suffers from malnutrition, they are improving the quality of not only their own lives, but of others’ as well. FKSW has provided funding for these "exchange" visits, for seed for the gardens, for pumps to irrigate the crops and for the chickens at Kirepari.

The fifth community with which FKSW has been involved is Aitong, in the Masai Mara. There, 6 students receive scholarships to attend primary school from FKSW donors. We are not able to visit the community on every trip to Kenya, but Kicheche Safari Camp, located nearby, manages development projects there, and so we bring the scholarship funds to the project coordinator and she brings us photos and letters from the students.

I leave Kenya for home 3 weeks from tomorrow. I want to write as much as I can while I’m here... it’s so much easier...and so I’m trying to send out a letter a week. On Thursday, we go to Lake Baringo for 3 days and there will be a lot to tell after that visit, including the report on the medical camp which took place a month ago now! I also want to write about our trip to Rwanda...maybe in the next letter. The letters become an archive for FKSW and are the only journaling I do, so I figure I might as well share them, especially because many of you have asked me to. Because I only sent the first one last week, I’m trying to cover 3 months in one and I know that makes each one very long. So read what you like and leave the rest, or ignore completely! But thank you for letting me share these experiences with you and thank you to all of you who have supported FKSW over the years, and continue to support us today! It is because of you that we are here and even have these wonderful stories to share!

Kwaheri ya kuonana.


Habari za siku nyingi?

Habari za siku nyingi?

How have things been these many days? Today is the beginning of the ninth week since John and I arrived in Kenya on January 4th, my 61st birthday! I’m writing from our Kenyan home-away-from-home, the little house on the grounds of the Michinda Boys Primary Boarding School in Elburgon. It has been home for 4 months out of the past year, and although very basic, it lacks nothing. Clean, running water (most of the time) comes from a bore hole behind the house (the pump has been a bit capricious but we’ve learned to fill every spare water jug and pot while it IS running and so have enough water for coffee, drinking, cooking and bathing when we want...laundry has to wait). The water was out this morning when I woke, but just now I can hear it bubbling back into the tank...we’ll be able to do laundry today.

We have electricity which has been very dependable, except for the night before last when it cut out after dark...and it WAS dark! The window shutters and doors on the house are heavy wood...there are no screens, so when they’re closed after dark, the house is pitch black. Our headlamps provided adequate light for the regular evening game of Scrabble, but candles are now on the shopping list!

The school uses our back yard for garden space, and although the last crop of cabbage, spinach and kale has been harvested, there are enough volunteers plants that we have tender spinach and kale with almost every meal.

Our purchases from town include eggs, fruit, onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, cereal, coffee, tea, peanut butter, jam, sugar, olive oil, salt, bread, peanuts, rice and toilet paper, bath soap and laundry detergent. With these ingredients, we’re able to make simple meals that keep body and soul together and taste great! We cook in a round pot (sufuria) on a propane tank that sits on the floor...all meals are one pot meals, which cuts down on dishes. Daniel, the young man who cares for the school’s cows, brings us fresh milk in a large kettle every morning...probably half a gallon...and we consume it all in our cups of tea and coffee each day. The milk is warm when it arrives, and we boil it before we use it. Without refrigeration, which we don’t have, it lasts easily for a day, sometimes more.

Doing laundry is one of my favorite tasks here. On a daily basis, clothing doesn’t really get dirty so much as it becomes impregnated with dust. Dust is everywhere! Unless one cleans everyday, dust accumulates in a steadily thickening film on tables, window sills, counters, floors, furniture, dishes, towels, and in hair and clothing. You may not be able to see it in the clothing, but you know it’s there. The proof comes at laundry time. After filling a bucket with water from the outside tap, pouring in a little OMO detergent and swishing the clothes around a bit in the suds, the water is almost black! After washing my fleece jacket the other day, there was / mud/ in the bottom of the bucket. I used to think it was dye from the fabric...the clothes just couldn’t have been that dirty! But since I’ve been washing the same 3 or so pairs of pants and 3 shirts I’ve been wearing now for 2 months, I’ve realized that it can’t be’s dust! You can imagine how satisfying it is to know you’ve removed all of that dust you didn’t know was there and then hang the clean laundry in the sun to dry. On a clear day, the sun is hot by 8 am and the clothes dry quickly. After hanging the various articles on the line in the backyard, I find myself at the clothesline, checking each piece like I would a dish on the stove...feeling, turning, readjusting so that the towels are behind the shirts and not blocking the sun’s rays, turning the pants upside down to expose the fabric at the waist to the heat, gathering up the dry articles and folding them...only to realize that anything I wear today will be back in the bucket tomorrow, even if I’ve only sat in the office or ridden around in the van during the day...even if I can’t see the dust, it will be there.

I don’t like doing laundry at home, so discovering that I love doing laundry here in Kenya has been a revelation. How can this be? I think it’s several things. Here, everything one does seems to take a lot more time. Cooking, bathing, laundry, shopping...each activity requires preparation time...boiling the milk for coffee, heating the water for a bath, shopping for food at the general store, the fruit stand, the vegetable stand, the butchery for meat, and maybe picking greens from the garden for the next meal. You don’t hurry the process. While one is bathing, doing laundry, or boiling milk, there’s no multi-tasking, no anxiety about what happens next, what one is/ not /doing at the moment, or what one /could /or /should/ be doing instead. There’s time to just "be", to focus on the activity at hand and enjoy it as it happens.

I find myself wondering..."what is it that keeps me so busy at home, running from one thing to the next, stressing about all the things I haven’t done and still need to do? If I’m not doing all these things (at home) while I’m in Kenya, if they’re simply not happening because I’m not there, are they really all that important? What /are/ these things that take up so much time anyway? And, as the Kenyans are fond of saying, "at the end of the day", is my life, or anyone else’s, better for all the busy-ness I’ve engaged in?" Really? Interesting questions. I haven’t yet been able to reproduce in Oregon the equanimity and "slowness" I enjoy so much here. But I keep trying.

During the month of January, John and I were joined by four friends from Oregon for the inauguration of Terra Made African Safaris, our new collaborative effort with our partners in Molo from the Network for EcoFarming in Africa (NECOFA). Terra Madre refers to the international Slow Food meeting which takes place in Torino, Italy every two years. In 2004, at the first Terra Madre meeting, John and I met Samuel Muhunyu, the coordinator of NECOFA and of the Slow Food Central Rift Valley group. In 2006, we reconnected in Torino at the second Terra Madre and agreed to visit Samuel in Molo on our next trip. Out of these fortuitous meetings grew our partnership. Samuel and his staff now coordinate and manage our projects in Kenya in our absence and provide us with guidance and support in all of our activities.

The new Terra Madre African Safaris provide an opportunity for people to come to Kenya, to visit our projects in Molo and other parts of Kenya, and to have a wonderful time while doing it! On this inaugural safari, we spent several days visiting the groups and projects supported by FKSW and NECOFA in the Molo area and at Lake Baringo. We spent four spectacular days in the Masai Mara, the game park in southern Kenya that constitutes the northern portion of the Serengeti National Park. We also had an enjoyable day at Lake Nakuru National Park, a morning at Lake Bogoria where the baby flamingos come to eat and grow, and then in the last week, flew to the coast to spend some days at Lamu, the oldest Arab town in East Africa. Then we enjoyed several beautiful days in Kilifi, a a small town south of Lamu, also on the coast.

Our visitors returned home at the end of January and John left for Oregon on Feb. 8 after attending a week long strategic planning workshop led by the NECOFA team. We learned a lot and were able to use our new knowledge to organize our work and plans for future projects. I’ll be here in Molo until March 31st working with NECOFA and continuing with FKSW projects. This month’s schedule is already full.

Just before John left, Jordan Roney, a young man from Eugene joined us. He is here for 2 months to work with Samuel and NECOFA on various projects and also to experience Africa. He’s having a great time and it’s wonderful to have his help. Currently, he’s working on a "program" for other people, young and older, who want to come for a longer period of time than the typical safari and have an experience like his. His work will provide a before-trip orientation for participants and give them a better idea of what the experience will be like. We’re also working on a similar packet for the Terra Madre Safaris.

In the next "Kitu Kidogo Kutoka Kenya", I’ll write more about some of the highlights of the past 2 months: projects that have been completed or are currently underway, including a medical camp that we held for a day in the community on Kokwa Island (Lake Baringo), our 10 day trip to Rwanda in mid-February, the 4 day silk cocoon processing workshop I attended with women from the Karunga women’s group, which makes the great knitted animals we’ve been selling.

I’m working at home today on reports...on the strategic planning workshop we had in February and on the medical camp at Kokwa. I’ll spend the next two days with the Karunga Women’s Group and members of the Molo Wool Project, then one day with the Utugi Women’s Group, who are also spinning wool for making baskets. Friday and Saturday will be back in the office...everyone works on finish our strategic plan for Friends of Kenya Schools and Wildlife. But now, it’s time to heat water for a bath. Later, we’ll make a shopping list and walk down to Elburgon village for eggs, pineapple, bananas, onions and... candles!

Kwaheri ya kuoandika tena,


Still in Molo Part 2

It's Sunday morning again...a beautifully blue, shiny, coldish morning on the hill here at Michinda. The boys in the dining hall across the football (soccer) field in front of my house have just started their 2 hour church service. They're singing...I think as loudly as they possibly can...accompanied by drums which one of the boys is playing. People outside, hearing the sounds of praise, join in the song as they walk by. The song they're singing right now is a medley of /He's Got the Whole World in His/ /Hands/ and other songs that I don't recognize. Now they've switched to a song in Kiswahili.

Although everyone is singing the same words, the performance is chaotic, with higher women's voices taking over at times, the drums loud then soft, singers out of tune, boys shouting out the words, but always full of joy. From the house next door, where one of the school staff lives with his wife and small daughter, songs of praise, obviously African, come from their radio. Then, the gong that announces scheduled events for the boys, starts ringing, probably to notify latecomers that the service has begun, although it's unlikely that anyone within a mile of the school could NOT know that they are missing this celebration. JoSHUa, that's how he pronounced his name when I asked what it was, the young man who brings me milk every morning from the school dairy, arrives with a pitcher of fresh milk.../Habari/? he asks. /Nzuri, na wewe?/ (Fine, and you?) I reply. /Nzuri/ he says. We both laugh at the cacophony coming from the dining hall, which now includes some kind of percussion instruments, clicking and tapping in time with the music, and then he says/ haya (O.K. or goodbye), /the word he says every morning as he turns to leave, and he departs. People are whistling with the music now, laughing, drumming, shouting...getting faster and faster, with only brief pauses between songs. My spirit is lifted out of my little house and I'm glad to be in Africa.

I had a "sinking spell" on Friday and came into the weekend feeling homesick and ready to go home. I had received a call on Thursday from from Julius, our contact at the Catholic Diocese of Nakuru, the organization that will be constructing the water filter at Lake Baringo, that they would begin transporting the materials to Baringo yesterday morning. We sent funds to Thomson, our manager at Baringo, for fuel for the boat that would make the 10 or 15 trips across the lake to deliver the materials and to hire casual laborers to load and unload everything. Thomson left his home on Friday to go to Baringo to meet the lorry and coordinate the activity. We were all elated that finally, two months after our planned implementation, it looked like it would really happen. Friday morning, Julius called to say that the CDN Secretariat had decided, again, that they were still not willing to send staff or lorry to Baringo...they felt it was too great a risk, even though there has been little trouble in the area since December. So, the project is back "on hold until further notice" which could be tomorrow, next week or next year.

It was a huge disappointment but I let it go during our day of activities and it didn't really hit me till I arrived home, tired and dirty, at 7 pm at the end of a long, dusty week. I began to wonder if I am really doing anything helpful here, if I should just bag it and come home. As I began to prepare my dinner of cabbage, tomato and kale, my dilemma was whether I should make soup again, using rice or using potatoes, or both, for variety or if I should leave out the water and have just sauteed cabbage, tomato, kale (with rice or with potatoes or both) instead. All of a sudden, for the first time in 10 weeks, I felt homesick, I missed John, and I began to lose my perspective and started to get pissy about Africa.

This is something of how it went. I haven't seen a Western toilet in over 2 weeks and I'm tired of peeing on my feet by accident and forgetting to bring TP so I don't have to shake dry, (my legs muscles /are/ getting a good workout with all the squatting I'm doing), I'm running out of contact lens solution and there is none to be had in Molo, maybe not even in Nakuru; I finished the only novel I had and have nothing good to read; I (and everyone else) am getting tired of the politics around the negotiations... waiting for that to be finished so that the suspense will end and the violence be a thing of the past rather than a continuing threat, so that we can do the water project, so that the refugees can return to their homes, so that....I'm waiting, waiting waiting. The negotiation drama is so silly sometimes..."nonsense" as Samuel says, that I'm beginning to wonder what's going to happen when Annan leaves...the ODM now is threatening civil disobedience and mass demonstrations on Wednesday if the negotiations don't move faster...a quote from the ODM secretary-general "Our call is for a peaceful mass action, but it might be violent if the police try to disrupt it using live bullets and tear gas cannisters." AND they're taking to court the mediation process that Annan has been using to test its constitutionality... I can't figure out how they think this will help /anyone./

I read a letter to the editor in yesterday's paper questioning the "stupidity index" of those in cracked me up! There was supposed to be an announcement Friday from the negotiation teams, then Saturday, and now Monday about the final proposal for resolution. But I don't think anyone's holding their breath. And depending on the content of the announcement, it's possible that all hell could break loose again.

I think another thing that's getting old is "living in a fish bowl". In these rural areas, I'm a spectacle everywhere I go. It used to be kind of amusing, but I now find myself longing to be just ordinary, a /wananchi /(local person). I don't know how many times (hundreds) I've heard the word "mzungu" (white person), or the Kikuyu version "mthungu", mostly from the children..on the streets, in the camps, at the school where I'm staying. "Habari, Mzungu"..."How ah you, Mzungu?" I don't think I've ever really valued my relative anonymity and privacy at home to the extent that I do now. The boys at the school peek through my fence, into the yard, into the kitchen, every time they walk past...yesterday morning, the entire school, for some reason walked past my house to go to the field in back and they all looked through the fence. On their way back to the school, they did it again. The kids in the camps come running when we drive up, pound on the car windows if we don't get out shouting "mzungu, mzungu", and follow me around, delicately touching my hair, the skin on my legs and my arms. Or saying "/picha, picha" /(picture) when they see my camera.

John Munene told me that people here look at our pale skin and think it looks like their black skin after they've had a bad burn...tender, delicate, fragile, colorless. They want to see if that's true. The women look at my long hair and laugh, because if they want long hair, they have to go through a laborious process of having extensions attached to their shorter hair to acquire a similar "style". In one of the camps the first week, our friend John told me he had overheard some of the people talking about my gold tooth...a crown, really, which they had glimpsed when I laughed. They were amazed and were telling each other to try to make me laugh again so that they could see it.

Otherwise, people stare...and stare. Mostly unsmiling, unless I smile first. In the beginning, I was put off, worried about the solemn faces, thinking that I was intruding and they were not happy. This is my White Guilt...for the Native Americans, for slavery in the U.S., for the White Colonials in Africa and the World. But I've discovered that if I hold my hand out in greeting, and say "habari", there are very few people whose faces are not immediately transformed by a smile, and who do not say "karibu sana"..."you are most welcome." Yesterday, at a camp, some women sat in a group laughing and pointing at me. They did it every time I walked past them. They didn't speak English, and apparently thought something about me was hysterical. But now I know it was not mean or critical laughter...they were probably pitying me for my fragile skin... or perhaps they were incredulous that my hair is actually attached to my scalp.... or that when I laugh, they can see gold.

After writing a whining message to my friend Jeanne yesterday morning, I immediately realized that I needed to get a grip. How could I be so pathetic when everyday I'm among thousands of people without homes, adequate food, beds, clean clothing all in one piece, decent shoes, clean water, sanitary toilets or hope? They are mourning husbands and wives, parents and siblings, children and grandchildren. I have fresh cabbage, kale, tomatoes and potatoes, a house rather than a tent, soap for bathing, fuel to cook my food and make my coffee, and relatively more privacy than any resident of any camp. I'm worrying about running out of contact lens solution, and most people can't even afford glasses, much less an eye exam. I am sitting now, in relative luxury in my house, drinking coffee while I write this letter on a computer, which few people here, except for a few wealthy businessmen, will ever own or have access to. Even here, at Michinda, one of the best boarding schools in Kenya, whose students come from relatively wealthy families, there are only 6 used, donated computers, and no internet connection. But what makes this discrepancy real is knowing that I can leave Kenya at anytime and go home to what is, relatively speaking, incredible wealth and prosperity.

Before I continue, I want to clarify something. I am not trying to paint a picture of poverty and despair, even for the residents of the camps here, who, as I mentioned last week are business owners, farmers, accountants and teachers who have experienced a devastating blow. Even though they will start over with nothing, with support, they will recover and resume their lives as soon as they are able. So, while there is poverty and despair in Kenya, as there is in every country in the world if you look for it, there is also a great spirit of entrepreneurship, ongoing development and progress, and in cities like Nairobi, which is in many ways a very modern city and the business, economic and NGO hub of East Africa, there is incredible wealth.

The rural towns of Molo, where I go everyday with Samuel, and Elburgon, where I am living, seem to be healthy and thriving. There is a lot of poverty here, too, mainly because of the issues around inequitable land distribution and use and the fact that the timber industry, on which these towns were built, crashed when all of the trees that fed the sawmills were cut down. Nevertheless, here, it seems to be business as usual, except for the continuing parade of lorries through town, with families and their personal possessions on their way to somewhere else, and the pickup loads of burned /mabati/, the corrugated iron sheets that used to be roofs and walls on the torched homes of the people in the camps, coming in to the scrap metal places for recycling.

The large town market in Elburgon, through which we drive every day, is laid out along both sides of the road that leads to Michinda, from the highway, across the railroad tracks and along the curve in the road that takes off uphill. It offers anything one could need in the way of food, clothing, shoes, and gadgets... watches, chargers for cell phones, utensils, funnels, pens, screwdrivers. Each vendor has a space where, every morning, what she or he has brought for sale is removed from plastic bags and arranged on blankets, feed sacks or tarps on the ground, in orderly piles or simply spread neatly from one side of the tarp to the other. Similar items seem to occupy certain areas, so that clothing and shoes are together in one place, fruit and vegetables in another. Some vendors sell a variety of items, but many specialize and may have many of the same item, say a hundred tomatoes arranged in several shiny red pyramids, or a hundred of the same style of sweater, arranged in stacks according to color. The shoe vendors display every one of a hundred pairs of shoes, each pair set out for perusal by the customers. There may be several, or many, people sitting next to each other in a row, selling the same kind of tomatoes, sweaters or shoes. Fruit and vegetables are often displayed on counters in small kiosks, precarious stands made of lumber offcuts from one of the small remaining sawmills nailed to poles made from the trunks and branches of small trees. The mangoes, bananas, sugarcane or pineapples may also be laid out on the ground on plastic or stacked in plastic buckets. Every evening, the goods which did not sell are packed back into the plastic bags and taken home. Hundreds of people mill about, chatting, buying, looking. Babies peer out from the slings in which they ride on their mother's backs, or are hidden in the depths, sound asleep.

But there seems to be little connection between this agricultural community and what goes on in Nairobi, except for the two daily papers that bring the news from the city, and the matatus, carrying people back and forth at all hours of the day. Although as the crow flies, the distance between here and Nairobi is not great, the poor roads make travel an unpleasant experience. The roads are improving, but the long sections where paving is underway are bumpy, dusty, and jarring to vehicle and passengers. This reminds me of one interesting form of entrepreneurship which we saw this week. There is a huge /crater/ (enormous pothole) in the road to Molo, from one side of the road to the other. Vehicles slow down as they approach the crater, giving the driver time to decide whether to leave the road and drive around the crater on the shoulder, or to risk driving on the wrong side of the road, in spite of oncoming cars, in case that side might be better. On Tuesday morning, some enterprising person had shoveled large clods of red dirt into the crater, which, during the course of the day, vehicles would pack down as they drove over it, so smoothing out the road, until the next rain, anyway. This person had then stationed himself at the side of the road with his hand out, hoping that passersby would show him some monetary appreciation for his help in repairing the road, which really was much improved. Sadly, I didn't see anyone stop, not even us.

But the point I was trying to make is that the disconnect between the rural areas and the city and between the middle and upper classes and the peasants is great. This inequality, especially in regard to land, is one of the issues that is fueling the current conflict, beyond the post-election violence, which is not really about the election any more but has morphed into opportunistic thuggery, banditry and mayhem as those in power continue to serve their own self-interest by trying to ensure their personal wealth and comfort, and ignoring the wananchi and what they were voicing with their vote. The headmaster from Michinda told me yesterday that he had seen on the news Friday night an interview with some of the top politicians in Nairobi. Apparently, GM has brought whole fleet of Hummers into Kenya and these guys, I think they were Members of Parliament (MPs) were speculating on which Hummer they might select and the color they would choose and whether the 3 million KSH they were given by the government as a vehicle allowance would cover the purchase. The disconnect here is obvious on several levels, especially because, since the election, the MPs have been receiving a good salary and yet have not left Nairobi, have not visited their constituents in the areas in which they were elected, have not seen the people in the camps, have not heard their voices. Maybe they have been waiting until they had their Hummers so they could arrive home in style.

This morning, messages from some of you brought me kind words and encouragement from home, and I remember why I'm here. I have a new perspective on my Friday "sinking spell" ...I think it was yet another lesson, another call for me to forget about myself, to put aside my own /mahitaji/ (needs) and open to what is all around me; a reminder to recognize that what I think I need is relative, and that if I examine my situation, I will see that I have everything I could possibly need for today.

Suddenly, I'm excited about tomorrow ( I have no idea what Samuel has in mind, but it will be something to benefit the people in the camps); excited about the plans that Samuel and Karangathi and Chege and I made at our meeting Friday afternoon to publicize and raise funds for school supplies for the nurseries and for the much needed counseling sessions that NECOFA initiated last week; about the 4-day trip we'll take to Baringo on Saturday to see the completed nursery school for which we provided the resources in January and to see the site the community has prepared for the much anticipated water filter, whenever that might happen; about meeting with the sewing group and with the school committee at Baringo; and delivering the truckload of chickens we are taking to Kailer and Baringo, to the groups of women who will raise them and eventually sell chickens, meat and eggs to generate income for their family.

I'm going to do my laundry in the white bucket under the tap outside my back door, sit in the sunshine and spin some of the lovely silk that I brought with me, on my drop spindle, maybe knit a bit and study my Kiswahili. I'll prepare cabbage, onions and potatoes for dinner (I'm out of kale), and have a mango for dessert with my coffee.

So, /thag yu/....that's Kikuyu for "thank you".../thag yu/ so much for your messages and for your donations to assist the efforts in the camps. This week, we delivered huge boxes of the soap which we purchased with funds from some of you, to grateful residents in each of the camps. We also delivered blackboards that Samuel arranged to have built last weekend and school supplies so that the nursery classes could begin last Monday. On Tuesday, Amos, the Headmaster from Michinda and several of his teachers came with us to deliver items donated by the Michinda staff... 6 huge bags of maize flour, 60 kgs of rice, a giant bag of kale from the school garden, 180 dozen exercise books, pencils, rulers, wall charts, and several large bags of was like Christmas! This weekend, I drafted a letter to other schools in the area asking them to consider doing something similar. Amos also made a donation to have the children's heads shaved, which they usually have done but it just hasn't been a priority recently. It's actually a good idea, to prevent the spread of lice and fleas(?). We visited a few of the temporary /kinyozi /(barbershops) on Wednesday and Thursday.

The church service here has ended, the scraping sounds from the dining hall signal that the benches are being moved back in place for lunch, and now I can hear discordant singing over loudspeakers from the churches in the valley. The notes are heartfelt, if not quite true and are followed by preaching in either Kikuyu or Kiswahili. They are too far away for me to tell. Now the singing again. If today is like last Sunday, the preaching and singing will continue into the late afternoon. From another direction, a male voice, accompanied by drums and sounding a bit like a Native American pow wow. From a third direction, something that sounds like the muezzin calling people to prayer from a mosque. It's impossible to feel alone or isolated or hopeless with all of these voices filling the air and simultaneously proclaiming their faith and hope, and most probably imploring God for a peaceful end to the negotiations.

There is a young man, probably in his 30s, who dances in the parking lot in front of Samuel's office. He has some type of disability, but his rhythm is perfect. He comes everyday, with a bit of string that he flips around as he dances, always with a smile on his face, and a high voice humming along with the song in pure pleasure. He dances hour after hour, stepping from side to side in a large groove in the ground that he has carved with his feet over time, stopping when a song ends, and slowly revving up when the next one begins...African songs, great rhythms, happy music. I smile every time I see him, and feel happy. I mentioned to Karangathi one morning that if everyone were this happy, dancing and smiling all the time, the world would be a much better place. He replied, "Yes, but we'd all be hungry!"

/Inatosha/...that's enough. /Baadaye/...later and /thag yu!



Still in Molo

When John and I arrived in Kenya on Dec. 29, we didn't anticipate being part of the unfolding drama that has continued now for almost 2 months. Nor had I planned to write anything but a few postcards to grandchildren, family and friends who had asked to hear from us. These messages began before the New Year, as a way of reassuring those at home that we were safe and that there was nothing to worry about. As the turmoil here developed and the news that was sent out from Kenya grew increasingly negative, we continued to try to reassure friends and family, and to pass along our perspective on what was happening to as many of you as we thought might be interested. Since then, the list of recipients has become long, and the words many.

I did not anticipate the responses I would receive from so many of you expressing your interest in and appreciation for the updates. No one has yet asked me to remove them from the mailing list, in spite of the fact that since early January, the messages have become longer and less entertaining, perhaps, reflecting the humanitarian crisis to which we have turned our attention. Now, I find that I look forward to writing for several reasons. First, writing helps me process the, for me, unusual and often emotionally charged experiences to which I have been given a front row seat. Second, writing is a way to stay connected to you at home, especially since John is no longer here, and to share with you my perspective on what is happening in a country that many of us have come to love. Third, part of the mission of FKSW is to help raise awareness about Africa, and what better way to do it than by sharing with you what I am living here in a most critical time for Kenya, for Africa and for the world. Thank you for your responses, and with your encouragement, I'm offering here the next installment.

It's Sunday morning, and since dawn, voices from the many churches in the valley below Michinda Boys Primary School, where I am staying, have been rising in song with the sun. It's now just after noon, and still, preachers are preaching and congregations are singing and the wind continues to carry the mingled sounds through my windows. The wind is cold, and I'm wearing a jacket against the chill. For the past week, the weather has been changing from hot, dry summer to the beginning of the long rains which are due around the first of March. The mornings dawn clear and bright, but by midday, the winds have come and the sky is gray, and the ominously dark clouds promise rain soon, if not today. It hasn't rained yet, so the farmers, those that still have their shambas, are digging up their fields in preparation for planting. As soon as the first good rain comes, seed will go into the ground and a new season of growth will begin.

Some of those who have been driven away from their farms by the conflict return to their fields during the day, if they're close to town and the area is safe. Those whose farms are in unsecured areas farther away feel the frustration of not only being unable to prepare their fields and plant their crops, but of knowing that last year's crops still have not been harvested. Or if they have been, that others have carried away the stores of potatoes, maize and onions they left behind.

There are now about 12,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the 9 camps in Molo town, with more coming in every day. It's been relatively quiet here in the past week. I've only seen two large fires on the ridge east of town, probably houses that had been torched, and there have been no gunshots after dark for the last 4 days. Still, the areas farther from town and away from the police patrols are experiencing conflict. People say that things have never been this bad here before. The last really bad time was in 1992, when, just before the presidential elections, many of the farmers were chased from the area by the neighbors who had hopes of diminishing the Kikuyu vote enough to assure that their own preferred presidential candidate received the majority. In Kenya, there is no such thing as an absentee ballot, so if you are not at the place where you're registered to vote at election time, you don't vote. Apparently, that's when the problems began. The major issue here is the inequitable distribution of land, and for the past 16 years, the pattern of one group being chased from land they own, or in most cases lease, losing their houses, and then returning later to rebuild, has been consistent. But never to this extreme.

Last Monday, Samuel, John Munene, Karangathi and I visited 3 of the IDP camps in Molo, and on Tuesday 4 more. These are 7 of the 9 official camps in Molo with which Samuel and his team are working, but several new camps have opened in the past two weeks, and there are a number of others out in the "hinterlands" that are virtually oases of safety in the midst of danger. These camps have very little communication or contact with the outside and are faring much worse than the camps in town. Six of the camps that we visited have been located at churches whose pastors and congregations have welcomed those who have fled their homes. The 7th camp has been set up at the site of the Pyrethrum Board of Kenya, the organization that usually buys the pyrethrum flowers from the very farmers who now live in its empty warehouses. The pyrethrum flowers, from which is distilled a natural insecticide, are harvested all year long, but now, even though the flowers are ready, there is no one to pick them.

The camps vary in size. The largest camps accommodate between 1000 and 1600 residents, and the smallest around 500. Altogether, there are about 12,000 people living in close quarters and uncomfortable conditions. During the day, the numbers swell, as the lucky ones who have found lodging with friends or relatives in town come to the camps for meals, and to receive their share of any donations of clothing, soap, shoes, etc., to which they are entitled. The smaller camps, and those whose managers are successfully organizing the residents and coordinating activities well, are calm and relatively clean, while others, especially the larger ones with weak management and inadequate space to accommodate the hundreds of residents, are not very welcoming places to be.

The women and children sleep in the churches or any available building, and the men sleep outside, sometimes in the few tents that have been donated, but more often on the ground in the open. There is a shortage of mattresses and bedding and most people, even the elderly, sleep on the dirt or concrete floors on empty plastic sacks that usually hold maize and rice. The women and girls cook the donated maize, beans, potatoes, carrots and cabbages, along with rice and other commodity food, much of it from the U.S., in large /sufurias/ (pots) outdoors over 3 stone fires. They must go daily in search of firewood, which is in short supply. In all the camps, dry corn stalks are also serving as fuel for cooking. With so many people living and carrying on their daily activities outdoors, there is great concern about the coming rains.

Most camps finally have clean water, but in some, the women are still collecting water daily from a nearby river. The Red Cross has brought in "water bladders", huge long rubberized water tanks that look like giant yellow pillows. Each bladder holds 500 gallons of water, and hoses connected to the bladder are attached to portable taps. The one or two available squat toilets, at each camp, built to accommodate church congregations one day a week, are woefully inadequate for the daily, continual use by hundreds of people.

At this point, the greatest needs are for firewood, equitable distribution of adequate and nutritious food, including food for people who cannot digest or tolerate the maize and beans and people with diabetes, mattresses and bedding, soap and disinfectants, assistance for the disabled and elderly, counseling services, assistance for pregnant and nursing mothers, equipment to set up nursery schools in the camps for the 1000+ children of pre-school age, cooking utensils and diapers, clothing and blankets for the new born babies. The children have no toys or recreation equipment except for the wonderful little homemade cars, trucks, push toys and balls they create from trash like plastic bags, old flip flops, lids from plastic containers, medicine bottles and wire. They are remarkable creations. A local NGO on Friday promised to bring enough tents to all of the camps to accommodate people for sleeping, to cover outdoor kitchens and to set up nursery schools where space is available. I'm also trying to get some of the ShelterBoxes from Rotary International which include tents, cooking utensils, flashlights, and other items. One of the greatest needs that we were able to meet last week was for sanitary pads for over 1600 women and girls. Our friends in Oregon and elsewhere donated almost $1000 to purchase enough pads to last for, we hope, two months. Asante sana to you all!

The families in the camps are people whose lives, through no fault of their own, have taken a sudden devastating turn. They have been self-sufficient, working hard to educate their children and to build comfortable homes for their families. Many of them have supplied residents of this district with the food they eat. They are farmers, teachers, business owners, pastors, musicians and accountants. John Wachira, one of the NECOFA staff is among the IDP population. Used to taking care of themselves, it is so sad to see them reduced to the level of begging and dependence on others for all of their needs. Now, they are just sitting, most of them with nothing to do. Many of the adults have lost spouses, children and parents, and children have lost parents and siblings and grandparents. They literally have nothing left, and little, if any control over their current situation.

Samuel describes the work that he and his team are doing as trying to "fill in the gaps"..... left by the local government, the Red Cross and the Disaster/Crisis Team in Molo. The team is attempting to coordinate the efforts of the NGOs, the government, the relief agencies and at the same time, assist the residents in the camps to generate data that will give an accurate assessment of who is in the camps and what the needs are, and to advocate for themselves with all who are trying to assist them. One of the greatest challenges is to give people hope and encouragement, and to empower them to do as much as they can to get through this difficult time and back to a normal life. I've attended two all-day meetings led by NECOFA with the camp managers and camp committees that Samuel has helped to organize. Last Friday, the purpose of the meeting was to hear from the representatives of each camp about their situation and needs and how they are working to address those needs, to hear from the invited NGOs and other supporting organizations, to hear about the coordination structure that NECOFA has put in place to try to establish communication, coordination and relationships among all stakeholders, to revisit the GAPS that have been unidentified and action points, and to work together, without overlapping, duplicating efforts or usurping the mandates of each other, to find the best way forward for the residents, not just in survival mode, but also identifying short term actions and the long term goal of returning to their homes, or "life after camp". It was a great meeting and I think everyone left feeling good about the progress that has been made in a short time.

On Valentine's Day, Samuel's wife Mary, some of her friends and the staff from her office planned a meal for the children from all 9 camps. They also included the nursing and expectant mothers and the elderly. Sixteen hundred people arrived at the Pyrethrum Board Camp, one of the largest, at the appointed time, and for over an hour, these wonderful women served a stew made of of cabbages, carrots, tomatoes, onions, maize and beans with rice. Some of the children came back 3 and 4 times.

The meal for 1,600 people cost them approximately $85. Mary told me yesterday that they had just received a donation of 50# of rice for the next meal, and now were waiting for donations of the other ingredients. The rice is the most expensive at $30 per bag. It was so easy for me to pull 4000 Kenya shillings ($57) out of my bag and hand it to her. John and I spend more than this when we have just a few people to dinner and sometimes, even for a meal out just for the two of us. Next week, they will prepare the next meal, and this time, I'll help cook and serve.

*On the lighter side....* I've had several visitors this week, including the boys who visit me at unexpected hours of the day and night. Last Sunday afternoon, several of the boys from the 4 K Club who have learned to spin and weave with the support of FKSW and who have made some of the wonderful animals we are selling, came and found me and we spent a couple of hours carding and spinning wool and silk, which they had never seen. They took time out to play with my camera and did things with it that I didn't know it could do. They made short videos of themselves, and audio recordings of themselves singing their favorite songs. They're amazing! This afternoon, Samuel's nephew, John, who is a student here, came by and gave me a little wall hanging he had woven for me this week, and then came back with Kevin, who was here last Saturday night. I showed them photos on my lap top of the hot air balloon fiesta in Albuquerque, our home, my family and whatever else they wanted to see. They were so interested in everything and asked lots of questions about America.

My other visitors were not so much fun. A few nights ago, I suddenly awakened at midnight. Several dogs were barking loudly outside and one sounded like it had been was yelping rather than barking. I immediately imagined the worst...that the raiders had broken through the police security and were attacking the faculty houses, one of which I was in, and in the process had shot a dog with their bows and arrows. I /knew /that was highly unlikely, but still...I lay there with my heart pounding, wondering how sturdy the wooden shutters on the windows were and if I had securely fastened the bolts on the doors before I went to bed. When the dogs quieted down, I was a bit relieved, until I began hearing noises from the kitchen...a quiet clicking sound which I couldn't identify. The raiders...they were scratching on the shutters and doors to see if they could break in....after about 10 minutes, when the sounds didn't get more aggressive, I knew I was wrong again, but there was definitely something in the kitchen and I didn't even want to /know/ what it was. I thought that maybe if I lay really still, whatever it was would go away. It didn't, and finally, tired of feeling like a total wuss, I /made/ myself get my flashlight, get out of bed, and go to the kitchen. The clicking was coming from several places in the kitchen, but I didn't have my glasses on and couldn't see anything. Deciding that I wasn't in any immediate danger, and still not wanting to see anything, I decided I'd just go back to bed and try to to sleep.

Fat chance!! About 10 minutes later, the clicking started in the bedroom. I tried to convince myself that I was imagining things, but I wasn't. The clicking was louder and it was close. I got up again, having no idea what I would find and not wanting to see "it" but at the same time, not wanting to lie in bed with whatever it was staging an invasion on my room. And it was an invasion...of /siafu,/ safari ants. They had come through the crack under the kitchen door, and several wide, steady streams of them were circling the perimeter of the kitchen on the floor and on the ceiling, climbing all over the counters and climbing up and down the walls. Some of them had broken away from the main group and crawled along the wall to my room, and the end wall of the bedroom was a solid mass of ants, going up and down and in and out of the molding. It was amazing! There were big ants, the soldiers with the big pincers who were protecting the little ants. I'm not quite sure what the clicking was, but with that many creatures in a confined space, there was bound to be some kind of noise.

Compared to my fears of the raiders, ants were nothing! I could deal with this! I remembered one day when John was here, he had unknowingly set his chair in the middle of a pile of these ants in the back yard. They hadn't been there the day before so I knew it wasn't a nest. He moved his chair, shook the ants out of his pant legs, and in a short while, they had all disappeared. A few days later, they were crawling up and down the wall and on the doorstep outside the front door, and when I came back later, there wasn't a sign of them. So I figured these guys were on their way to somewhere else and thought they'd take a spin through my house to see if there was anything interesting or yummy. I went out to the living room, which didn't seem to interest them, with my book, read for about half an hour, and when I got up to check out bedroom and the kitchen, they had apparently not found anything either interesting or yummy and had moved on. There was not a single ant to be found anywhere.

My diet has improved with the addition of pumpkin leaves, tomatoes, onions and kale from the roadside markets, all of which I purchased the other day for about $1.50. Yesterday, Samuel and Mary invited me to go to Nakuru with them to attend their grandson's boarding school's parents' day. For these events, the parents bring the meal, and the families eat together with their student. Mary had been up until midnight the night before, cooking vegetable stew, chicken, beef, pilau rice, chapatis, roasted potatoes and mandazi, a deep fried pastry. There were also bananas, mangoes, tea and soda. The various containers and thermoses filled the trunk of the car. What a feast! She gave me bananas and leftover chapatis to bring home, which I have just finished with my pumpkin leaves and other vegetables in a simple stew.

Tomorrow, we go back to the camps to take the supplies that Samuel purchased in Nakuru for the nursery classes and I'm not sure what else he has on his agenda. But delivering the supplies will probably take the better part of the day.

A few final thoughts...I hope to find out tomorrow whether or not we'll be able to begin the Baringo water project tomorrow; none of our other communities or the work of FKSW has been directly affected by the violence; the FKSW board has agreed that for now, we will focus on relief efforts for our partners in Molo who have been affected by the conflict and take contributions for that purpose; I still haven't decided on a date for departure for home; the peace negotiations seem to be moving painfully slowly in the right direction. This morning a dove flew in my open window...I'm wanting to interpret its appearance as a sign of peace.



Back in Molo

Habari zenu? (How are things with all of you?)

If all continues as it has been, I'm happy to say that things are getting much better here. I've been back in Molo since Thursday afternoon. I didn't anticipate being here again on this trip, much less without John, but then, there have been many surprises in the last 6 weeks. John returned home on the 3rd alone after we had decided that I should stay in Kenya for awhile longer.

The main reason for our decision was, that because of the turmoil, we still have not been able to get started on our Rotary water project at Lake Baringo. I'm hoping that as things settle down, it will be possible and I want to be here at least to see some of the progress. At the moment, we're still "on hold". In the meantime, on Monday morning after John left, I moved to the Anglican Church of Kenya Guest House, just down the road from the hotel at which we had been staying. It's less expensive, and there's a language school there where I've been taking Kiswahili lessons. It's amazing what one can learn in a short time with good instruction and no distractions!

One of the surprises this week was being invited to participate in interviews on a live radio program and on a TV show in Nairobi. The purpose of both shows was to highlight the damage that has been done to the tourist industry and to try to dispel some of the fear about traveling to and around Kenya. My role on the shows was to talk about my experiences in the past 6 weeks as a visitor to Kenya, what I've seen and my perceptions of the security risks. My fellow interviewees were Duncan Murioki, the Chairman of the Kenya Association of Tour Operators, and Rebecca Nabutola, the Permanent Secretary for Tourism in the current government who is filling the responsibilities of the office of Minister of Tourism until someone can be appointed to that position. I don't know that many tourists heard or saw the shows, but one message from Rebecca was to Kenyans, encouraging them to be tourists in their own country, to take advantage of its offerings and not to rely on foreign visitors alone to support the tourism industry. We strongly agreed that the media and the travel advisories issued by countries, especially in the EU, have been damaging and not always based on fact.

The return to Molo yesterday came about because Samuel, our partner there at NECOFA, asked if I'd come back to help with some of the work he's doing in the 9 /formal/ Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Molo town and in several additional /informal/ camps outside of town. In Molo alone, there are several thousand people who have fled from their homes, many of which (homes) have been burned, who are now living in churches, tents, and even out in the open. Samuel and his colleagues have taken the lead in trying to coordinate services to these people, helping them organize themselves to be spokespeople for their own needs, and generally trying to fill in the gaps not being addressed by the Red Cross, which is overwhelmed by the need all over the country and relying on untrained volunteers to administer aid, often very ineffectively.

Samuel and his team have held meetings with the local churches, NGOs and government officials, have organized committees at different levels and helped committee members to determine their roles so that there is a minimum of overlap in administration and provision of services, have created information systems to be used in the camps to collect data on who's there, what their needs are, where they came from, etc., and then, based on the information, have begun fundraising efforts to meet the identified needs.

This situation is one that Samuel's team has never experienced before, nor did they anticipate, even a week ago how involved they would be in the lives of the victims of the violence and that very shortly, they would undertake this massive project. When the people began moving in from their homes and shamabas seeking refuge in town, Samuel and his team realized that the people were their friends, their colleagues and the farmers with whom they've been working over the years and knew that they had to do something to help them, or they would feel that they were turning a blind eye to their plight.

Yesterday I spent several hours with Karangathi Njoroge and David Chege, two of Samuel's colleagues. In just one week, they have created a system that I'm sure no other camp in Kenya enjoys. I was the sheer number of issues, needs and challenges around which they have managed to create some order and in the process, developed relationships among numerous organizations and people. But they haven't stopped with trying to meet the overwhelming need. They are already working with the camp committees to develop a plan for the peoples' return to their homes when it's safe. This last activity is one that they see as helping to create hope for these people who have lost everything and who face the huge challenge in starting over from scratch. Just to give some perspective, farmers rarely have any insurance on their homes or possessions, so there's no money coming to them to help with the rebuilding. Most of them do not even own the land on which they live. They will return home with nothing in their pockets and will find their livestock gone, their homes burned, all of their possessions either burned or stolen, and their crops also burned or harvested by the raiders. Many of them have been severely traumatized and at this point, and some cannot even imagine returning.

I was incredulous to see the list of needs that Samuel's team had compiled after visiting the camps and interviewing the residents. A partial listing...clean water, instruction and school supplies for all of the children who are in the camps and not able to attend school (from nursery through high school), toilets, bedding, clothes, counseling for the people who have been severely traumatized, tents for hundreds of men who are currently sleeping outside (women and children have been given first priority for available shelter), soap and disinfectant, and Samuel said one of the things he's having the hardest time with is sanitary "towels" for the women and girls. In the smallest camp, there are 200 females who need sanitary napkins, and in all the camps together, they figure there are 1576 women and girls who need these supplies. It's something that they'll need every month and the cost is significant. He has people trying to find good deals on large quantities, but it's clearly one of those items that no one anticipated. The long term solution is to have someone come to teach the women how to make sanitary towels themselves from supplied materials, but the immediate need will be addressed by purchasing a short term supply. This will probably cost around 60,000 kenya shilllings, or between $800 and $900.

Another challenge is that there is at least one baby born every day in the camps, and last Thursday, one mother gave birth to twins. Samuel has been out buying diapers, blankets, (it's cold here), baby clothing and nutritious food for the mothers so they can feed their babies and stay healthy. His trip to Nairobi on Thursday was in part a purchasing trip for some of these items and to pick up the 400 kilos of maize flour that someone donated to the cause. Sadly, some of the young children have been orphaned in the conflict..there is one grandmother who is now responsible for 4 of her grandchildren, and another grandmother now has
2. Apparently, this grandmother also needs psychological counseling. Some of the orphans have no remaining family.

Samuel says that perhaps the most important thing of all is to give the people hope and so he's spending quite a bit of time in the camps himself. Yesterday, he was trying to arrange counseling for people who need it and trying to figure out how to open some classrooms so that the children can continue with their lessons. Yesterday was also the day that the committee, composed of 2 representatives from each of the camps, had their first meeting in the NECOFA offices. I met them just as their meeting was ending...most of them in their 20s and 30s, mostly men but a few women. I've seen Samuel interact now with several groups like this...he is so supportive and understanding of their situations, but so positive as he reminds people that things will be better and he helps them figure out what they can do now to start moving in that direction. He always uses a bit of humor to lighten the situation...and the people always respond. The mood at the end of the meeting was positive and I think hopeful.

I don't know yet how long I'll be here or really even what I'll be doing. Samuel is taking one day at a time, as every day seems to bring a new challenge or list of needs. He and his colleagues are doing this work full time right now, even though they all have other jobs. There's no shortage of things to do. On Monday, we'll visit the camps so that I can see for myself what the situation is and I know that Samuel would like help with fundraising efforts here. I think his plan is to "sensitize" me to the situation, (the Kenyans use this word in the way we use "familiarize") and then see where I might fit in.

So I'm back in the headmaster's house at the Michinda Boys Primary Boarding School, which is actually in the town of Elburgon, just east of Molo. John and I spent a week here last month. The house has only 3 rooms...a kitchen, a bedroom and a living room. There is electricity and water that comes from a bore hole behind the house, but the "toilet" and bathroom are outside in a detached small wooden building with two 4x4 "rooms", one with a pit covered with concrete and a hole in the center for doing one's business, (just like toilets in many developing countries) and the other side, the bathroom...with wires across the space to hang your towel, another hole in the ground for the water to drain, and nothing else. We heat the water on a propane cylinder in the kitchen, which is also what we cook on, and carry it to the bathroom and do the best we can with soap, a bucket, a cup and a towel. This arrangement is actually fairly typical all over Kenya, even in modern homes where there is no plumbing. The kitchen is small, with 4 open shelves, a counter and sink with running water, and a fire place, which I don't use. I'm cooking on a propane cylinder on the floor and everything is prepared in one of 4 /sufurias/ of different sizes. A sufuria is an open pot without a lid. My menus here are very simple...for breakfast, African coffee (boiled milk and water with instant coffee and sugar), cereal and fruit and maybe a hard boiled egg. Lunch today is peanut butter, crackers and fruit, and maybe African tea. For dinner last night, I picked a small cabbage and some kale from the garden in the back yard and cooked the greens with some rice. I have no idea what I'll do tonight, but probably the same, except I may go to the school garden and look for some onions.

I have no refrigeration, so I can't really keep anything that needs to be chilled, but nevertheless, I'm learning how to use some things that we would never leave out at home. This morning, Teresia, one of the school cooks, brought me a pitcher of milk from the school's dairy, fresh from the cow. If you boil the milk right away to kill the bacteria, it keeps for up to two days, even without refrigeration. I use it only for coffee, tea and cereal, and for the coffee and tea, you boil the milk with water before you drink it anyway, so whatever bacteria has managed to grow since the last boiling is killed.

When I shopped in Nakuru last Thursday, I bought things like rice, cereal, olive oil, crackers and sugar. I bought 8 eggs that came in a plastic bag, and a box of milk that doesn't need refrigeration to last until I got some from the dairy. Most grocery stores do not sell fresh fruit and vegetables, so you have to purchase those from a road side stand or a small shop. I picked up a huge bunch of bananas, 4 passion fruit and a mango at a stand for about $1.20, and figured I'd forage for veggies in the garden at the house. Most of the teachers here at Michinda have instead of yards, large gardens around their houses and also may keep chickens for eggs and meat.

I had lunch in town yesterday with 7 others at a nyama choma restaurant. Nyama choma is roasted meat- beef, goat or sheep (not lamb!) that is a favorite of Kenyans, and these restaurants are everywhere. You go into the restaurant and usually out the back door to the sink where you wash your hands and let them air dry. Yesterday, we all sat at a long table and a young man came from the kitchen, set a wooden cutting board at the end of the table and began carving the very large joint of beef that we were to share. We were each given a cup of delicious hot beef broth and then, with our fingers, took chunks of beef and chunks of ugali, the stiff polenta-like staple that is served with most meals. You squish the ugali between your fingers to make it firmer and sop up gravy with it or just pop it in your mouth. You can also chop it up in a stew. The beef was tender and flavorful, and the bones, fat and gristle ended up on the table next to our plates. We had no utensils or napkins, and at the end of the meal, went back to the sink to wash our hands again.

I've been doing my laundry in a bucket in the backyard and hanging it on a length of twine that I've strung between the fences. There's a proper clothesline in the front yard, but my small one in the back works fine. The house has no glass windows or screens, but wooden shutters with big bolts which are locked at night. Molo is at about 5,000 ft. elevation, and although today is beautiful... sunny and warm, it will cool off considerably this evening. There is no heater, but warm blankets are sufficient and the concrete blocks from which the house is built retain heat from the day. There are few bugs and no mosquitoes.

Michinda Boys Primary Boarding School is, I'm told, one of the best in Kenya. Boys come from all over the country to attend school here, and the enrollment is around 500. It sits on top of a hill surrounded by shambas (farms), and woods and the view is lovely. Everyone here is helpful and friendly. Amos, the headmaster, parks his car in the carport attached to my house, and stops to chat on his way to the office. Sometimes he brings me a newspaper and he often checks to see if I have enough fuel in my propane tank or if the milk was delivered in time for my coffee. Through the slats in the fence that surround the yard, the students peak in and wave and twice a day, and I see a man in a sport coat leading his cows out to pasture and then bringing them home in the evening. From the house, I can hear the kids in class reciting lessons, and after school, they have great football games in the field next to my yard.

This afternoon I went out for a walk around the campus. It was Saturday afternoon, free time for the boys. Some were out in the yard by their dormitory doing their laundry. They each have a plastic basin in which they put water from one of several taps. After washing the clothes in the basin, they hang them on the fence or on the clothesline. Other boys were playing hide and seek in the classrooms, which have absolutely nothing in them but desks...nothing on the walls, no pictures, no shelves, or supplies or books... they're bare. I knew some of the boys from our previous visit...the boys in the 4 K club, whose school garden project and spinning, knitting and weaving projects we support through FKSW. So for the rest of the afternoon, I had a dozen or more buddies to hang out with. We talked for awhile and then started the inevitable photo session...they love having their photos taken. They start out serious, and then get goofy, egging each other on so that the photos get sillier and sillier. There were 4 toddlers in the group today, children of some of the teachers, and the bigger boys kept posing them, one at a time, two at a time then 3 and 4. It was quite hilarious. We went to watch some boys playing chess which turned into me getting royally defeated by one of the boys in a game that they insisted I play. They're good! Then we went to see how the weaving was progressing, went to the school kitchen to see if I could get some onions, and finally, ended up watching the football game that was in progress in front of my house. There were three team sits out on the sidelines until a point is made, then the team that was scored against comes out and the 3rd team goes in. I think the same two teams were going in and out, because one team always seemed to score the points. The boys make the soccer balls from paper bags covered with plastic and then bound tightly with some kind of rope. They said the balls last about a month, then are taken apart and remade from the same paper bags with new plastic covering. They work well, and some of the boys are incredibly good players. The boys watching the game, the /audience/ they call themselves, cheer and sing and are quite engaged in the game. No one seems to mind that the same team keeps winning...they are all quite proud of the talents of the good players, and told me the name of each player as he made a good play.

Molo is not a tourist destination, but rather a rural agricultural town. There are no /wazungu/ (whites) here. From time to time, the reactions of the children are a comical reminder of how strange it must be to see a Caucasian. In town yesterday, a little girl who was probably about 7, noticed me standing outside of Samuel's car, and her face instantly took on a look that to me said she had just seen the most amazing, wondrous and entertaining thing she had ever seen in her life. Barefoot, and wearing a shiny bronze colored dress, she was beside herself with joy. She didn't say a word, but stood transformed, mouth wide open, hands clasped in front of her, beaming. I waved, but she didn't respond. She just beamed more, in complete ecstasy. It cracked me up. As we left Samuel's office several hours later, she was still there, had the same reaction, only this time she ran back and forth from side to side, her face alight. Not a word, not a wave, just beaming. Samuel, Karangathi and Chege were in stitches, too. Samuel thought that maybe she was a rural child who was now living in town because of the insecurity, and was seeing many new things that were unfamiliar to her. It made my day to have been, unintentionally and without knowing, really, what was going through her mind, the cause of such indescribable joy.

Molo is peaceful, much more so than when we were here 3 weeks ago. The news from Nairobi about the negotiations is so positive, people are encouraged, and all seems to be returning to normal. Three weeks ago, raiders were stealing cattle, burning houses, and the tension here was almost physical. The sound of gunshots was not uncommon. Today, on the hillsides around the school, I can see farmers, with the protection of the military, harvesting maize from the fields that they could not get to before without risking being shot. The police are still here at Michinda, at the gate, and around the perimeter of the campus, just in case. But there hasn't been an attack in the area recently. Still, out on the road, huge trucks, full of furniture, people and livestock are going in every direction, as people continue to leave for rural homes in more secure locations. Caravans of loaded vehicles, traveling together for safety, pass each other on the road, going in opposite directions. Yesterday, we passed a small pickup with such a huge load that the pickup swayed from side to side as it went along the road, looking like it was about to tip over. The belongings in the back of that pickup were probably piled 3 times as high as the truck itself. Shortly after, we passed a huge lorry, a truck taller than any I've ever seen in the U.S., piled about as high as it could be, and on top, the family's sofa. On the sofa, all the children sat, looking at the road ahead. We prayed that the driver didn't brake suddenly because that sofa probably didn't have seat belts.

Please send good wishes to Kenya for the peaceful resolution of the remaining issues. Many people here think that it's the pressure from other countries that has influenced the negotiation teams to move forward toward peace instead of moving backward or getting stuck in endless arguments. Whatever it is, things are looking good and it's beginning to feel again like the Kenya we've come to love. Best of all, people are happy and hopeful and there a lot more smiles and laughter than there have been since we arrived.



Greetings from Molo

Hi, Everyone,

Just quick note to let you know that we are, as the Kenyans say, "very fine" and now back on email. The past three weeks (how quickly the time has gone!) have been successful beyond any expectations we might have had and we're so grateful that because of the timing of our departure from Eugene, we didn't have to make the difficult decision not to come to Kenya.

Samuel is keeping us busy here in Molo. We'll be here for probably another week so we'll have time for updates squeezed in between our activities. We're staying at the Michinda Boys Primary Boarding School and have been given the vacant headmaster's house for our own. We've settled in comfortably and right now are enjoying our morning cup of "African coffee", prepared on a propane cylinder in our kitchen... boil 2 parts of water to 1 part milk, add instant coffee and sugar, and drink. For coffee snobs like us, it probably doesn't sound too great, but we love it! We do the same preparation in the afternoons for our Kenyan chai.

On our first morning here, a woman brought us a pitcher of milk, fresh from the school's dairy, with an inch of cream floating on the top. Yesterday, a man brought us 16 fresh eggs from the kuku kinyeji (local chickens). Returning home yesterday afternoon, 4 little boys from the school followed us to the door and one stepped inside to have a look. We offered them some of the plums we had been given the day before, and they each took one, then two or three more, whispered "thank you", and went running back to the school.

All in all, we're having a wonderful time despite the very disturbing and challenging political situation. It is so complicated and twisted, with the latest news being that Kibaki truly did win the election and the opposition did their own vote rigging and tricky maneuvers to make it appear that he had lost. The Kenyans say, "When two bulls fight, it's the grass that suffers." And that's a good metaphor for the situation here today. The violence continues to occur in the Odinga strongholds, Kibera Slum in Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldoret...but most of the country is not fighting, in spite of the awful news reports. Nevertheless, everyone is feeling the effects of the seeming inability of the "bulls" to agree on a way forward. It's very sad.

At this point, it's impossible to know the Truth. Most people want to move on from the election details and go back to normal life. The prevailing thought now is that most of what's in the news is either exaggerated or inaccurate, and that in many places, the violence is no longer about politics but rather opportunistic looting, stealing and destruction. That's what's happening here in Molo, and we saw for ourselves yesterday some of the devastating results. But the Kenyans are so resilient, so determined to persevere and overcome, and most have a strong faith that allows them to remain optimistic and positive. They are not whiners! They "pray to God that we will have peace soon in Kenya."

So much for the "quick note". More later.

Gwen and John