Baringo

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Habari za leo?
I'm in Nairobi, at the ACK (Anglican Church of Kenya) Guest House, for my last 2 nights in Kenya. Samuel and John brought me from Molo on Friday. Now it's Sunday morning, but instead of the sounds of jubilation that I enjoyed so much from the church services at Michinda, I hear hammers and saws from the construction site next door, vehicles traveling by in the streets outside the gate, and from the kitchen below and across from my room, the sounds of pots and pans and the voices of the cooks and kitchen staff cleaning up from the breakfast that has just finished.


They speak Kiswahili and sometimes Kikuyu, frequently interjecting ehhhh, the sound of acknowledgment, that starts low in the throat and rises at the end. It is used in the same way we use uh huh in English. After being immersed for the last month in Kikuyu and Kiswahili, and having had a final lesson in Kiswahili yesterday at the language school here, I shouldn't be surprised that I can actually understand some of what they're saying. But the realization is unexpected and pleasant and /nina furahi sana!/ ((I'm very happy!). Now the chopping begins in the kitchen...preparation for lunch. In the background, the whine of the power saw and loud hammering echoes from the tall buildings nearby. Sounds of a city getting on with business, even on Sunday.

It's raining, as it has been off and on for the past week. The long rains are giving more frequent notice of their eagerly anticipated arrival. In Molo, the pattern seems to be clear sunny mornings with the clouds increasing throughout the day and ending with a downpour around 4 or 5 pm. In Nairobi, it's been just the opposite...yesterday morning it rained hard for half an hour, then the sun came out and it was beautiful for the rest of the day. This morning, it has rained for a longer time, and the sun is not yet visible although I can see a few patches of blue from the window.

In Molo, the farmers who could safely go to their farms began preparing their fields for planting several weeks ago. Mostly women, they are clearing the fields of last year's maize stalks and weeds, selling the stalks as fuel for cooking and burning the weeds and other unwanted vegetation. Some of the fields reach right to the edge of the road. Some are on incredibly steep hillsides. When the rains become more regular, the planting of maize, beans, cabbages, kale, spinach, carrots, potatoes and sweet potatoes will begin. The germinated seeds send up new shoots from the rich brown or red soil almost immediately. If the rain continues, which it does not always do, these fields will produce an abundant harvest that will feed the region. Each season begins with hard work and hope.

The work is backbreaking and constant and almost all done by hand. There is no irrigation save for water brought in jerry cans on the backs of women and girls from nearby creeks or rivers. Farmers with large pieces of land and a bit of money will use or hire tractors, but they are the exception. When the rain is sufficient, the produce is sold along the roads in colorful displays attended by the women who grew it. They also sell bananas, mangoes, tree tomatoes and passion fruit that they have grown in plots closer to home.

I missed writing last weekend. Samuel, Karangathi and I were at Lake Baringo, visiting with the Kirepari (formerly Longicharo) community with which we have been partnering for the past 4 years. We wanted to meet the school committee and see the completed nursery school for which FKSW provided materials and labor in January. At that time, we spent a week and half at Baringo, hoping to begin the water project, funded by Rotary and FKSW, that would provide clean, fluoride free water for the community and individual household filters for each family.

As of today, the project is still on hold because of continuing concerns about the safety of their staff and vehicles by the Catholic Diocese of Nakuru, the agency that will do the construction. Because there has been no trouble in Baringo since early January, we think their concerns are unrealistic, but we have no control over the decision. I spoke with our contact at CDN on Friday, and he says that the project will begin week after next...we'll see. Our Rotary partners here in Nairobi have agreed to work with the CDN in our absence and make sure all is in order. It's a disappointment to leave with this unfinished, but Thomson has agreed to be there, too, and take photos for us. The site is prepared and the community eager for the completion of this project.

The four days at Baringo were great and gave all of us a chance to relax a bit and talk about the situation in Molo without distractions or other demands. Thomson joined us for the 4 days and so we did some planning for the community at Kokwa as well.

The nursery school is beautiful, and the community so proud of the work they did on its construction. It sits on the side of a large bump that is one end of Kokwa Island. The breezes blow through the wire mesh that form the upper walls, and so it is relatively cool during the hot days. The view from the classroom out across the lake is stunning. The community has cleared away the rocks in an area near the school for a small football field, and while we met with the school committee, the kids were out having a rousing game.

At this point, the only things lacking at the nursery are:
  • desks...there are only 4 for 47 children;
  • a small shelter for Roda, the cook to prepare the uji, beans and maize for the children's lunch (temporary until we raise enough funds to build a proper kitchen but necessary now that the rains are about to begin);
  • exercise books, wall charts and other educational materials; and the pit toilet, which requires bringing in a man with the right tools to remove the large boulders that make digging impossible by ordinary means.

Several months ago, the committee asked us to provide a large sufuria, the cooking pot used to prepare the children's lunch over the open fire, but Samuel suggested that they needed to raise those funds themselves. The /sufuria /they wanted costs 1,500 Kenya shillings, about $23 at today's exchange rate. In a community of roughly 150 people, that's about 10 ksh (15 cents per person). During the meeting, the Treasurer showed us his accounting of the fundraising that's been going on for several months. The community had raised 1,350 ksh for the sufuria, lacking now only 150 ksh. Samuel was so impressed with their diligence in fundraising, that he gave them the last 150 ksh.

Their accomplishment is quite significant, considering that less than a year ago, the members of Kirepari had been living on the shores of the lake, under trees covered with plastic tarps, having been driven from their homes across the lake by raiders from a neighboring community. They had seen their homes and possessions destroyed and their livestock, their walking capital, stolen. They had literally nothing left. They are still in the process of rebuilding their homes on Kokwa. They are happy to be there because they are safe from raids and are talking about their future with great optimism. They think the new school is even better than the one we built in 2004, and this time, they did all of the construction themselves. They are hoping that eventually there will be a primary school at the site, with facilities for boarding so that the children still on the mainland will come to a safe location and so that the girls can stay at school instead of going home in the evenings to domestic work that will keep them from their studies.

In December, Samuel took several people from the island, including Grace, the nursery teacher, to Uganda to visit a program at an agricultural university. They spent a week there and learned about many different agricultural practices, including raising chickens. Grace came back so excited about what she learned that she immediately built a chicken house for the few chickens she has now and in anticipation of the chickens she will receive from the new chicken project in which she will participate. Her chickens will provide meat and eggs for her family, and also an income when she has enough extra to sell. We had planned to take 150 chickens to Baringo in early February, and on the day they were to be vaccinated in preparation for their move, they were stolen by raiders in the Molo area. Thomson is now on the outlook for a new flock. Samuel and his team also plan to help the community start story gardens in large plastic bags until the rocky ground can be prepared for real gardens. This community is thriving as it never has before, in large part due to the work Thomson has done with them, and the support from Samuel and NECOFA.

Another funny story...when we visited Baringo in January, Karangathi videotaped our activities and then made a DVD. On this trip, we brought with us a TV and DVD player and a generator so that we could show the DVD to the community. We carried all the equipment across the lake on a boat to the lodge, and then in another boat to the village. Everything was carried up the hill to the school.. There are probably few in the village who had ever seen a TV, and while Samuel was trying to get the generator going, the TV was placed under a tree near the school. Unfortunately, there were technical problems which prevented us from showing the DVD, but in the meantime, the children, who had no idea what we were trying to do, thoroughly enjoyed sitting in front of the unplugged TV, looking at their reflections on the screen and chanting loudly.

Of course, the biggest news here has been the signing of THE AGREEMENT between President Kibaki and now Prime Minister Designate Raila Odinga. Since February 28th, the country has, at least on the surface, been returning to normalcy. In the papers almost everyday there are photos, usually on the front page, of Kibaki and Raila grinning at each other, laughing,. shaking hands, appearing to be the best of friends. People on the street are smiling, and I've not spoken to anyone who is not happy, relieved, optimistic about the agreement, the future, the calm and peace that now is palpable almost everywhere you go. Kibaki and Raila have finally ventured out into the IDP camps to see, for themselves, the consequences of the political situation over the past two months and they talk of reconciliation, rebuilding, resettlement and working to craft a new constitution as the priorities.

In the papers almost every day are photos of people, the same people who were rioting a month ago, now marching in the streets with smiles in celebration of the peace. The violence, the destruction, the killings now seem like a bad dream. I've heard stories of the raiders in Molo apologizing to some of their victims, but the words are not trusted and many of the IDPs will not return to their farms until they are assured of police and military security. They will venture out to their shambas during the day and return at night to the safety of the camps. There are still pockets of conflict around the country, but these are not related to post election violence but rather to long standing issues over resources, largely land, that the government promises to address.

The community at Baringo has been experiencing this kind of conflict for years, and they are IDPs themselves but have never been recognized as such by the government. It was interesting talking to Thomson about that. The difference with the Njemps community and the reason that no one is living in camps is that the community takes care of its own.

Thousands of displaced persons from the Baringo area, from the 4 villages that no longer exist, are living with relatives, friends and well wishers from the area. Thomson's extended family alone has taken in 30 families who now live in their compounds, waiting to return to their homes, which the raiders now occupy. Thomson says the one thing that sustains them is a proverb among the Njemps that says If you are the rightful owner of a piece of land, you will get it back one day. If you are not, you will not be able to keep it. In the meantime, the largely unrecognized minority community of the Njemps continues to wait without receiving any of the relief services that the newly displaced are receiving in the camps.

I leave Kenya tonight at midnight, and with time growing short, I've been reflecting on the events of the past 10 weeks. After deliberating for days on whether or not to return home with John in February, and not knowing until after he'd left whether or not my decision was a good one, I can see now that the last 5 weeks, and especially my time in Molo, have been such a gift. I'm so glad I was here to see the end of the conflict and the beginnings of peace, and maybe even a new Kenya. I have so enjoyed working with Samuel's team in Molo...Chege, Karangathi, John, Lucy and Rose. The situation in Molo and in the camps is so much better than when I arrived, largely due to their efforts and to the $7611, the largest contribution Samuel has received from anyone, which has come from supporters of FKSW, Slow Food Eugene and Portland and the members of our Eugene Rotary Club. These funds have helped to provide: counseling, materials and supplies for nursery classes in each of the camps, soap for bathing and laundry, sanitary napkins for all of the women, firewood, baby care for newborns and nutritional food for their mothers, exhaustion (emptying) of the overused pit toilets, and clean water. And there is still a significant balance.

Thank you so much, to all of you who have so generously contributed to improving the quality of life for the residents of the camps and helped to meet the most basic of their needs!

I had a difficult time leaving Molo on Friday. In numerous visits to the camps and in frequent meetings with the camp committee members, I've come to know so many of the residents and the people who serve them. Concepta, Kamau, Maina, Pastor Mwangi, Pastor Karanja, and many others by face if not by name. Last Thursday, we had the second big meal for the children that I helped to fund, and it amazed me again, how little it takes to feed so many. The women who prepared the meal were all volunteers from the church where it was held and friends of Samuel's wife from her office. They worked all day to prepare the meal in front of a huge, roaring fire in the fireplace that serves as the church's stove and oven. I didn't cook or serve, but I was there to watch and listen to the singing and the dancing by the children and the adults as they waited for their turn in line to receive food. The little boy named Hope was there, and his mother Sally led the children from their Good News Camp in a silly song that had the singers and the audience laughing.

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The adolescents from the Pyrethrum Board Camp spontaneously performed song and dance for half and hour, and the children from the Seventh Day Adventist Camp sang when they were finished. When the sky opened up and poured rain about half way through the meal, and people began to run for cover under trees and bushes, they were laughing because to them, the rain was /baraka/, a blessing on the day.

One of the things that excites me most is the newsletter that Karangathi and I have helped the residents initiate. The reporters are so engaged, so interested in the project and after the second meeting, when they all brought in the news from each of their camps to be synthesized into one letter which will go out to all of the camps, and even to the NGOs, the local community and the government officers in the area, they decided that they want to write a book about their experiences...their lives before the conflict, during the attacks and their experiences in the camp. They also want to write about their hopes for the future, and give some history about the sources of the conflict in Molo. They will interview displaced persons, take photos, and tell stories. It will be a big project, and they have said that even if they are able to go home soon, they will write this book. Samuel and Karangathi and I met on Thursday to plan the first steps, which will be to form a committee next week which will begin meeting to plan the project. I've told them that I'll help in any way I can.

I'm going to stop now and run over to the Fairview for my last COLD Tusker malt, to purchase my last local newspaper, and have my last prosciutto and rocket pizza. The construction workers have gone home, the sun is out, and for the past two hours, I've been listening to a live prayer meeting somewhere nearby outdoors. The singing, shouting, praying is amplified and LOUD!!!! I didn't miss church after all!!!

I'm happy to be going home...it's time...but I'm also sad to be leaving. I have lots more stories that I'd be happy to share and I look forward to seeing many of you in the next weeks. And to those of you who have contributed to the relief efforts and who have written over the last 2 and a half months, asante sana and thag yiu! See you soon.

Kwaheri ya kuonana,

Gwen
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