Thursday, 9 August 2012

Last Post

I am sitting by gate 9 at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport waiting for a 16:40 flight to Dubai and from there home to Birmingham. This will be my last post from Kenya for a little while. As previously posted this has been a very worthwhile trip and a lot has been achieved. As ever there is still more to do. Our harvest of maize, millet and green grams, (mung beans), has been gathered in but there is no rest for the farmer. We now need to plant desmodium seeds to grow a biological barrier against the Striga weeds that attack our maize in time for the next growing season which starts in early September. The fields need to be prepared for our next planting and the tomatoes will soon be ready for harvesting and selling. The school and College students are on holiday at the moment but will soon be back to their studies, (on August 27th) and making the final push to the end of the year. Our ‘candidates’ for the KCPE, (Kenya Certificate of Primary Education), will doubtless face more Zonal and district mock exams when they go. They are going to need a lot of stamina!
I’m looking forward to seeing Judi and the family again. Although this has been a relatively short visit it’s still a long time to spend away from them. I hope the blog will continue to interest you in the future. I tend to write less while I’m in the UK but will, I hope, be returning to Kenya before too long.Oriti, (bye) and Nyasae Ogwhedhi, (God be with you).

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Coming home

So it’s come to the time when I step back into the 21st Century a bit at a time. I’m sitting on the bed in my room at St. Anna’s Guest House in Kisumu killing time before my flight to Nairobi early tomorrow morning. The rainy season seems to be setting in again. It’s a dark grey evening in Kisumu and the rain has been on a steady drizzle for the last hour or so. St Anna’s has developed a lot since we first started coming here. I’m in room eighteen tonight, one of the rooms in the original building. As well as adding another block of rooms each room now has a TV in it. There’s nothing on except bad rap videos so I’m watching a video of U2 from a recent Glastonbury festival. It’s a bit of a tenuous link but I know Bono, U2’s singer is a big advocate for Africa. It always feels slightly surreal sitting in the relative luxury of a room with TV, electricity and a warm shower after spending time in rural Kosele. Our neighbours are still working on witchcraft as a plausible explanation for the sudden death of a young mother whose son we are now caring for. I think the story has taken a new twist since the death as there seems to be some intimation that a genie is involved somewhere along the line as well. Meanwhile the U2 light and sound show flashes in the corner of my laptop screen reminding me of an even more bizarre world that I am returning to.
The journey from Kosele to Kisumu today presented, as always, an interesting and ever changing panorama of people, funny road signs, skinny cows and insane matatu drivers hurtling along the road apparently oblivious to the safety of their passengers. Children played by the side of the road, one skilfully pushing a bike wheel, (minus tyre), along the dirt track with a metal rod. Happy as Larry, totally engaged in what he was doing. Old men stood sticks in hand, watching over their small flocks of sheep and herds of cows like old men have since time immemorial. Ladies sat by small piles of vegetables waiting for customers. In all the time I’ve done this journey I don’t think I’ve ever seen a transaction being made at one of these roadside businesses. Prize for the funniest sign today went, I think, to an advert for paint, painted on a wall in Kisumu. If the sign artist had started the last line of the advert about a foot to the left of where it was he would have fitted the last letter of the last word on and would have made a bold claim. As it was the last line claimed that the paint was “The toughest on the plane”. I hope they used it on the plane I’ll be traveling on tomorrow morning.
There is a craft market in Kisumu which sells the full range of craft souvenirs that Kenya has to offer at much lower prices than the airports. We stopped so that Mary could buy some small soapstone hippos. These are good sellers at church and help us to raise funds.  I no longer get involved in buying them. Mary our manager knows what sells best and is able to buy the hippos for a much cheaper price than I do. She doesn’t create the 'Mzungu inflation' effect. We managed to buy the smaller hippos for 30 shillings each today. Just after we had pulled up and parked discretely under the shade of a tree a bus full of bona fide tourists pulled up and poured out. You could almost feel the sense of anticipation growing in the craft market. A couple of guys came running in to the entrance, eager to man their stalls before the bonanza opportunity passed. As we were leaving the tourists were still shopping. I hope the stall holders had a good day.
As I look forward to fairly lengthy waits for flights in Nairobi and Dubai tomorrow U2 have got to the crowd sing-along of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, (link below). It’s probably my favourite U2 song and seems like a good anthem for our neighbours in Kosele. We’re still looking for ways of helping the children we care for to really make the most of their potential and make a difference in their country. As long as we keep looking together I’m sure we’ll get closer to a real, lasting solution to the problems that are drawn to our attention in Kosele so frequently. This visit I’ve felt that we’ve taken some more firm steps in the right direction. We’ve grown some strength in our legs and will keep going. As long as we continue to love God and love our neighbours I believe we can do the impossible and achieve our dream of inspiring hope in a new generation and kindness where the harsh reality of life in rural Africa would drive it away.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Full Circle

On my last day in Kosele for this visit it seems appropriate that we were battered by a downpour again. Starting and finishing my trip with a major cloudburst seems to bring it round full circle. When the rain came I was in a meeting with Madam Nyangwe, our head teacher and Mr Isaiah, who heads up our agriculture college. Madam Nyangwe expressed her surprise, as the raindrops battered the roof of her office, sounding like rapid fire from a machine gun. “I thought the rains were over!” I think we all did. We have, thankfully, had very little rain while we have been drying our maize crop. Nothing, it seems, is predictable about the weather at the moment. This will create a challenge for us as we gear up for the next planting season at the beginning of September. The other side effect of the rain is the frog’s chorus, (follow the link below if you want to relive that particular musical moment). The frogs seem to be working in short, sharp co-ordinated bursts tonight. I wonder what switches them on and off.
This visit to Kosele has been very productive. On a daily basis I sometimes feel like the work becomes bogged down, kind of trapped in ‘African time’. Overall though I am happy with the performance of our two new teams, managing the children’s home and school respectively. As previously reported the church has just enjoyed a very successful week-end. As the summer holiday starts to unfold for the children, (the ‘candidates having finished their mock exam today), I think everybody is looking forward to a bit of down time. I’ll be traveling to Kisumu tomorrow and flying home from Nairobi on Thursday. It will be good to be back with my wife Judi again as she continues her treatment for breast cancer.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Meals on wheels

As my current trip to Kenya races towards the last few days I’ve had a really good day working with the teachers and am looking forward to finishing up our improvement plan with them tomorrow. We are doing our best to make sure that our ‘candidates, (Year 8 pupils who will be taking their public exam this November), are as well prepared for their exams as possible.
Said candidates have been out at a fairly local school today having yet another practise at this wretched exam. All of the local schools have now ‘closed’ for the summer holidays and are due to start up again at the end of August. It is still not entirely clear why the candidates have been called to sit another mock exam this week. To add to the confusion it was, as far as I knew, supposed to take place on Tuesday and Wednesday this week but is now happening today and tomorrow. I have a feeling that our pupils will be over prepared for their exam in November if the current rate of mock exams is maintained.
As well as straining our pupils mental fibre sending them to another school to sit the exam with two other schools puts a strain on our logistical resources. Our Landrover is in good repair at the moment so it wasn’t difficult to transport them all to the school that is hosting the exam. It was a bit of a squeeze but it really is possible to fit seventeen fairly large teenagers and a driver into our vehicle. It’s probably a good job that theydidn’t have to take any roads with police blocks on though. The real problem came at dinner time. We obviously have a duty to feed the children at lunchtime. As our school is on holiday at the moment we did not have a lot of takers for the free lunch that we still offer to our day scholars during the vacation. This meant that there was plenty for the candidates. The only problem was that they couldn’t come to us to eat it, and our Landrover was needed elsewhere at lunchtime. Fortunately a piki piki, (motor bike) taxi was on hand to sort the problem out. Potatoes and beans were on the menu today. They were duly loaded on the motor bike and dispatched to our hungry candidates. We have to repeat the whole process again tomorrow.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

The friendship becomes fatter

Today has seen the final step in our church becoming part of Elim Gospel Church Kenya. It was a very exciting day and an extremely appropriate time for this development. Exactly ten years ago to the day my family, (wife Judi and children Tom and Ellie), and I spent our first Sunday in our home in Kosele. At that point we were very busy preparing the home to receive the first children. We were assisted by a very enthusiastic group of students from the UK. As it’s lost in the mists of time I can’t remember how we celebrated our first Sunday in Kosele, but it was the first step in planting our small church.
The church has been through its share of ups ands downs. We’ve experienced a pastor being driven out of the area because of the post-election violence in 2007. We have been widely ridiculed in the community because of our Pentecostalism and we have seen church numbers go up and down depending on the number of Mzungu, (European), visitors to the church. Like any church we have been let down by conflict between individual members of the church and conflict between the leaders of the church. The church family is, really, not very different from our own families. Like a good family we have held together through the ups and downs, celebrating together, grieving together and giving together.
In today’s service Pastor Paul, (who had to leave Kosele in 2007 because he came from the wrong tribe), said how delighted he was to be in church at this momentous time. Despite only being the pastor for a short time Paul was loved by the church members and they were pleased to see him back for this visit. Paul and his colleague Pastor Reuben are members of the national leadership of the Elim Gospel Church in Kenya. Becoming part of this movement links our church to a number of others in different parts of the country and to a wider global family of Elim churches with a headquarters in the UK. In a very moving service Paul and Reuben anointed our new Pastor Kennedy and co-pastor Dorine, and their leadership team, all by the popular acclaim of the church members. Reuben preached the sermon in the service and coined a completely beautiful phrase. He was extolling the virtues of loving one another through showing each other kindness and creating hope in brothers and sisters lives. He said that as a result of this “the friendship becomes fatter”. It’s a lovely image and a wonderfully African sentiment.
Kennedy, our new Pastor, reminded the church of its roots in our home ten years ago. Looking round the church and seeing the happy faces, young, old, men, women, boys and girls I was reminded of a New Testament scripture from 1st Corinthians 3:6-7 which says:

“I planted the seeds, Apollos watered them, but God made them sprout and grow. What matters isn't those who planted or watered, but God who made the plants grow.”

Sitting at the back of the church it was gratifying to see how much it has grown and the confidence of its new leaders. Like everything that we do out here its not really important who started it all off. It’s the people who make sure it has legs and lasts a very long time that matter. As long as the friendship continues to get fatter I have every confidence that Hope and Kindness will outlive me and Judi.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Holding lightly to life

We had a tragic reminder today of how fragile many people’s grip on life is in our area. This week-end is very important for our church as we become members of the Elim Gospel Church in Kenya. A church service was held this afternoon as part of our celebration of this new step. We enjoyed a good turn out from the church members and a rousing sermon from Pastor Paul, one of our visitors.
At the end of the service it became apparent that something had happened to one of the ladies who attends the church. The lady in question is a widow with a young son who we have supported for some time. Apart from a very elderly mother-in-law the lady has no close relatives to support her. I was shocked to learn that she died very suddenly today, leaving her young son a total orphan.
The death is, at the moment, unexplained and is difficult to comprehend. Her mother-in-law came to our place to explain what had happened. She told us that her daughter-in-law had been to Oyugis, our nearest town, yesterday and had eaten some porridge and bananas at a 'hotel'. Shortly after this meal she felt very ill, with violent stomach pains. She was eventually taken home, firstly on a piki piki, (motor bike), taxi and, for the last leg of her journey, in a wheelbarrow. A herbal remedy was prepared for her which made her sick and appeared to relieve some of her symptoms. The mother-in-law told us that she went to check on the situation this morning and to encourage the patient to go to the hospital. She, somewhat surprisingly, said she did not want to go to hospital and could not be persuaded. This in itself is unusual as she was HIV positive and had been used to collecting Anti Retro Viral, (ARV), drugs on a regular basis. The mother-in-law left to do a few chores and came back a bit later. She couldn’t get any reply when she knocked on the door but neighbours suggested her daughter-in-law might be resting and that she would be best left alone. When the mother-in-law came back at one o’clock this afternoon there was still no answer at the door so the door was broken down and the lady was found dead in her chair.
We have taken her young son in at our place to be cared for and will be following up the case in the course of the week. The church leaders will make the necessary arrangements for the funeral and we have arranged for the body to be taken to a local mortuary. It seems unlikely than any kind of autopsy will be performed and the death will, in all likelihood, remain a mystery. At the moment the top explanation in the community is that it was a case of witchcraft, especially given that the body was found seated in a chair. There is a chance that she may have taken her own life or succumbed to an underlying chronic medical problem linked to her HIV positive status. Either way her death is a sad and shocking event. It remains to be seen what arrangements will be made by any family members about the welfare of the little boy in this case. I have a feeling that we have just added another member to our family here. Our thoughts and prayers are with him tonight. As our friend Hilda said, “No two days here are ever the same.” I wish they could be different for more positive reasons sometimes.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Matata Hospital

Oyugis, the nearest town to us, is an interesting place in the evening. At about six o’clock this evening I had to do an ‘ambulance run’ to Oyugis in our Landrover to take one of our older girls to the Matata hospital. She was in a lot of pain, having developed a very sudden and very severe stomach ache. The public health system in Kenya isn’t brilliant so we took her to the best local private hospital. Fortunately I haven’t had to do too many emergency trips to hospital this year which means that the children have stayed remarkably healthy. The downside of this is that I forgot the minor details of having a patient admitted to even a half decent private hospital.

Janet, one of our staff is staying at the hospital with our patient tonight. This means that she will need some cash to pay for supper, and some bottled water. While Madam Nyangwe, our head teacher and Janet stayed to re-assure the patient as she was admitted on the ward I hot footed it into Oyugis to buy the necessary items and get some change. Being the only white person in town has now lost its novelty for me but small children still obviously haven’t got over seeing a Mzungu, (European). Walking past the alley ways and shop fronts I still attract a chorus of “Mzungu” and “How are you?” from the younger children in town.

Early evening is a very busy time in Oyugis. Tonight was even busier than usual as Friday is the main market day in Oyugis. The piki piki, (motor bike), taxis work overtime on Fridays and you have to keep your wits about you to avoid getting run over. Walking into the centre of town I passed numerous examples of the entrepreneurial spirit that is alive and well in Kenya. Little stalls selling tiny, (but therefore affordable), amounts of food. Ladies frying chips in big pans that look like Chinese woks over a charcoal fire by the side of the road. Tiny shops advertising mobile phone time at a shilling a minute. Coffins in a variety of ‘finishes’ for sale in busy woodwork shops. ‘Mechanics’ hunkered down fixing motor bike wheels and stripping down engines in makeshift workshops by the dried mud pavement. There’s a plethora of smells as well. The acrid smell of burning rubber and oil from a roadside fire stirred occasionally by a small boy. Piles of cedar posts. The smell of chips and car fumes and latrines. As the evening becomes darker the people become more like silhouettes and the flame of the fire seem to lick up higher and more fiercely. The town has a very vibrant feel to it.
Having finished my shopping I return to the hospital where our young patient is in a little less pain – probably because she has thrown up by the side of the bed. “We will have to buy a bowl”, says Madam Nyangwe. “You will get one just outside for about seventy shillings.” Just outside turns into another walk into town which is now definitely darker but no less busy. Most of the piki pikis have got their lights on now and can’t sneak up behind me as easily. While in town I think I’d better buy some toilet rolls to take back to the hospital. At least I haven’t had to buy all of the drugs required by our patient as well. The Matata hospital has a very civilised approach to billing for our neck of the woods. We won’t have to pay for everything in advance.
As the evening wears on our patient and attendant are set for the night and Madam Nyangwe and I mount up in the trusty green ‘ambulance’ and head for home. This is a slightly tricky manoeuvre initially, as the hospital entrance is lined with wooden scaffolding which I have to reverse through to get out of the hospital gates. The entrance is an archway and I have about an inch of clearance either side of the Landrover. We eventually escape and head off through town and then up the bumpy road to our place. I still enjoy the challenge of driving the bumpy road in the dark. Tonight a fairly constant stream of piki piki riders ply their trade. Pedestrians and bicycles without lights  loom up suddenly out of the dark and I am nearly side swiped by a lorry coming from the opposite direction which suddenly advertises it’s presence as a wide vehicle at the last minute by putting its headlights on. As we drive in through our gate Madam Nyangwe tells me that Janet has called to say that our patient is sleeping. She will, hopefully, be ready to come home at a civilised time by Sunday.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Challenging time

We have another group of visitors staying with us today this time from Kenya. When we first began our work in Kosele we set up a small church, initially as a Sunday school for the children staying in the home. Over the years it has grown in to a fully fledged church and thanks to our friends Ian and Hilda the church has become much stronger in the last eighteen months. Our visitors this week-end are national leaders from the Elim movement in Kenya and have come to celebrate our church becoming part of the Elim Gospel Church of Kenya. The visit has been some time in the planning and the week-end marks a significant point in the life of the church. We are looking forward to the week-end’s events.

Things continue to go well on the farming and school front. Our maize is drying out nicely and has so far escaped the attention of the local rats. I had an enjoyable day with our primary school teachers today. Data Driven Instruction may not sound like the most promising initiative to set education alight with but we are confident that developing the way we use information about pupils’ performance will help them to improve their results and give them confidence.

On the home front things are a bit more challenging. My wife Judi had an appointment at hospital today to review her cancer treatment and will have to have two more chemotherapy sessions than she had been expecting. This means she now has four more rounds of chemo to do instead of two. The treatment regime also changes for these four sessions and sounds a lot more unpleasant than what she has experienced so far. Judi remains very positive about the future but I know that today’s news has been a blow to her, (as it has to me, Tom and Ellie, our children). Prayers for Judi’s recovery and the strength to continue the battle would be much appreciated.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Harvest Time

As advertised yesterday we started our maize harvest this morning. As a fairly recent recruit to farming and things agricultural it has been very interesting finding out how complex the decision making involved in farming is. I remember when I was at primary school we used to sing a hymn that went “We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land, And it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand”, (or something very similar). I am extremely grateful that we have a very dedicated team who understand the finer details of God’s plan for the things that grow. Duncan, our farm manager, and the Agriculture College teachers and students have a very positive approach to making sure our farming activities are carried out to a high standard and are constructively self-critical in terms of future improvements. We are already planning for the next planting season and considering the best seeds to plant for maximum yield.

The maize harvest has been very encouraging. Best guess at quantities so far suggests ten 96 kg sacks as a realistic estimate. That’s nearly a tonne of maize which is pretty good as a first go. The cobs of maize are being stored in a somewhat makeshift facility that was left behind after the building work that we had done earlier this year. This morning it was all hands on deck picking the cobs from the maize plants and carrying them in sacks from the field to be dried in the sun on a large tarpaulin. The children worked really hard and with a good heart– even the smallest ones pulled big sacks full of cobs up the field. Our post harvest management is now going to be critical. This afternoon I listened to an interesting discussion about how long it would take the rats to work out where we are keeping our maize! We need to get on and quickly dry the cobs before stripping off the kernels and putting them in sacks in our permanent storehouse.

I would never have believed that I would be actively involved in farming all those years ago when I was in primary school. Our technique of digging holes rather than ploughing the fields differs somewhat from the words in the hymn but the principles remain the same. Care for creation means being good stewards of the land that we have been blessed with. Our harvest today has been a good reward for all the hours of hard work and dedication that Duncan and his team have invested in our farm. I really thank God for them.