Monday, 22 July 2013

Farming Today

And another week flies by! Busy as ever and racing on towards my wife Judi arriving on Wednesday and a large group of visitors starting their visit a week today. It’s all very exciting.

There are a lot of very tired young (and old) people here tonight. We’ve been working very hard on our farm, preparing for the next planting season and salvaging what we can from the horrendous weather conditions at the beginning of the year when it rained and rained. We had all the pupils from our upper school classes and all the Technical School students out digging, weeding, watering and slashing (this sounds worse than it really is – it refers to cutting the grass using a ‘slasher’). I was very proud of them all. The youngest class was especially impressive – clearing a large space of groundnuts, grass and weeds. The clearing work that they have done will now allow us to plant yet another plot of Kale to capitalize on the scarcity of kale caused by the poor conditions experienced by other farmers growing the same crop.

It really is a shock seeing how devastating a poor start to the year can be. We actually had about the right amount of rain during this growing season. The only problem is that it all arrived pretty much at once in about the first month, creating water-logging and washing out our crops. We have had very little rain for about the last three weeks, normally a critical time in the growing season. Most of our neighbours have experienced the same problem. There will be a lot of hunger in our community between now and the next harvest at the beginning of next year. Our borehole has been our saving grace as it has allowed us to continue watering despite the lack of rain.  We are watering quite a large area at the moment twice a day – in the morning and late afternoon.Watching our ‘bucket irrigation gang’ at work is an inspiration.

Duncan, our Farm Manager has just been discharged from a local hospital following treatment for malaria and typhoid – still tragically common around our area. In his absence his work has been carried out by his assistant, a really great guy called Calistus who has been a very valuable addition to our farm team.

We will have an equally busy day on the farm tomorrow, completing the clearing and weeding on a couple of large plots. The staff and young people have really caught hold of the idea that the farm is a vital source of income for us and work with a very positive attitude.  Our hard work this week should mean that we are well prepared for the next growing season which starts at the end of August. Whenever the rain comes we will be ready for it.

Monday, 15 July 2013

A Proper Burial

Time is certainly flying on this trip to Kenya. It seems hardly any time since I last sat typing the blog but a week has passed by. This is, I'm ashamed to say, very poor communication. On the other hand its good because it means I now have less than two weeks to wait until my wife Judi joins me here in Kosele. I haven't seen her since the beginning of May (the longest we've spent apart ever, I think) and I can't wait to see her again.

The work in our schools carries on at a good pace. Having devoted a significant amount of time to working on primary school projects since the start of the year I've spent the last couple of weeks building up our secondary school - training with the teachers and starting a couple of new curriculum projects. Our Form 1 and 2 students were shocked today when they were presented with a fairly tough maths test as the start of our 'Maths Boot Camp' project. We first started this approach to maths teaching in our primary school last term and will be developing it in the secondary school for the rest of the year. It has been very rewarding working with the secondary school team. Having time to work on team and relationship building is one of the joys of being in Kenya for a long visit (I won't be returning to the UK until the middle of December). It's very encouraging to be working with such a dedicated group of teachers.

It has been just over two weeks since we learned of the death of James, one of our security team. He was buried yesterday (Sunday) and we attended his funeral in the afternoon. Funerals in Kenya are a challenge to a Western view of life. A combination of religious and traditional customs ensure that funerals are massive social events. James' funeral was no exception. Funerals nearly always take place at weekends over here, giving time for relatives to travel to attend. Over the years I've read many accounts in the newspapers of the huge burden that funeral attendance places on the Kenyan economy and on the pockets of the bereaved family. In the UK excessive amounts of money are lavished on weddings. Over here lavish amounts of money are spent on funerals.

Attending James' funeral made me realise how much I still have to learn about local culture and how important it is to strike the right balance between 'western incredulity' over the amount of time and money that is spent on funerals and local community sensibilities about this important rite of passage. If I'm honest I find it extremely difficult to reconcile the abject poverty that I see all around me in Kosele and the knowledge that every funeral places a huge financial burden on the immediate family of the deceased. This fact hasn't gone unnoticed in the press.

The funeral 'celebrations' last for the whole weekend, starting with the body being transported from the mortuary to the home usually on Friday. This event is accompanied by wailing and a crowd of followers escorting the vehicle bringing the body. On the evenings, starting on Friday, there is loud music which, in the case of James' funeral, carried on until daybreak on both Saturday and Sunday. The funeral proper took place on Sunday afternoon. It was conducted very well. A number of speeches were made in honour of James and his life (including one from me) and he was laid to rest at about 3 pm in the grave dug by the side of the house he lived in with his wife and children

We were all shocked and saddened by James' death. He was only a young man with two small children and a lot to look forward to in life. It was sad, at his funeral, to be reminded by a good number of the people who made speeches that there are many widows in our area. I'm sure I wouldn't find it much of a consolation to know that I was a member of a rapidly growing club if I was James' wife.

For all my misgivings about the cost and conduct of funerals over here I hope that James' wife will gain some consolation from knowing that James' passing was celebrated properly with due respect and "all protocols observed." There seems to have been a funeral within earshot of our place every weekend for about the last month, all playing out the same rituals. I know that James' funeral won't be the last this year, but I really pray for some respite in the community from these sad events and in the long run a change of heart about the best way to conduct a burial.

Monday, 8 July 2013

The least of these

Every once in a while just stepping out of the front door of my house is the start of an unbelievable series of events. Tonight, at about six pm I guess I stepped out of the door and spotted Ian and Duncan (friend from Scotland and Farm Manager respectively), having a chat outside the office door. I joined them. As we spoke a wind was picking up and it looked like we could expect rain fairly imminently. Our manager Mary had been away from the compound for a short while and we needed to make a decision about who to send to a local hospital to stay overnight with one of our girls who has been suffering from malaria and put on a drip. Ian and Duncan were just finalizing the details. Given the likely turn of the weather we decided that the best bet would be to send Janet, our Stores Manager, fairly quickly on a motorbike to avoid the chance of dropping the Landrover off the road again. (See previous post from May). Just as the decision had been made Ian's wife Hilda returned from a visit in the community and told us that an elderly man, who had previously been treated at the same local hospital, had collapsed by the side of the road and would need transporting to his home in Kosele, just up the road. Ian and Duncan took the Landrover to pick up the old man, Mary arrived back with a motorbike for Janet and all seemed set for a satisfactory conclusion to the evening's 'cases'.

At some point during the comings and goings of Mary, motorbike, Janet and Landrover a young woman with a small baby had slipped in through the gate and sat down to wait for a chance to present her case. The unbelievable bit started to develop at this point. Over the course of the next hour and a half her story unfolded. She spoke no English so Mary and Ishmael, our night guard, translated between them. It was obvious from early in the proceedings that the young woman had some mental health problems. She told us that she had been to Oyugis, (our local town) because somebody had told her that a man there was in search of a wife. Despite being married to two men already (according to her account) our young visitor had taken herself to Oyugis from her home, some distance away, as she was desperate to get married. She was disappointed to find out that the man was married already (though it sounded like he treated her considerately when she spoke to him). She had walked from Oyugis in our direction on her way to her home. Somebody she had spoken to told her that if she came to see us she could receive assistance, hence her visit.

It was quite a difficult job to get any sense from the young woman. She was clearly very poor and hadn't eaten properly for a while. She made quick work of bread, milk, tea and peanut butter sandwiches as we talked to her. As Mary became more sure of the story it turned out that our visitor came from a village where one of Mary's aunts lived. Mary asked if the young woman knew the Aunt and was surprised to be told the nickname that the Aunt was known by. A couple of phone calls later and Mary was speaking to the Aunt, who was visiting Nairobi. The Aunt confirmed the girl's story and was able to fill in some of the details that Mary hadn't been able to establish. There is very little assistance for the mentally ill where we are. Mary's Aunt said that our young visitor frequently absented herself from her home and went wandering, seeking assistance where she could find it. This pattern of behaviour clearly leaves her in a very vulnerable position.

The young lady is now spending the night in a small rental house just over the road from us. In the morning Mary has arranged for a lady who lives in the rental houses to escort our young friend in a taxi to Kendu Bay (a town by Lake Victoria about seven kilometres away). Once in Kendu Bay she will be put on another taxi heading to her home. Mary was worried that just giving the girl the required fares would not ensure that she reached home safely. She'll take with her the clothes for herself, baby clothes and blanket that we were able to find for her this evening.

This young lady's story is not uncommon. We've come across similar hardship cases before. Sitting in our guards' hut listening to the story unfold and seeing how much hardship she had suffered made me think again of Thomas Hardy and his tales of rural woe and tragedy. You really couldn't make it up. The Mary connection was the most bizarre coincidence. It made me think that this young woman's visit wasn't just by chance.

In Matthew 25 Jesus explains our responsibility to the poor and needy. "Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, "When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?" The king will answer, "Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me." (Matthew 25:37-40). Ragged, confused and no doubt mistreated and exploited this young women matters to Jesus.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Scary People

Every once in a while I come across a story in the paper that is so unbelievable that I feel compelled to share it. The preamble before the headline of the story reads - "Eye for Eye: Group tosses duo in granary and sets it on fire to prevent their 'spirits' from protecting Karunyu." The headline itself said "Revenge as youth lynch wife, gang leader's mother".

The story continues .... "Young men armed with crude weapons have set out to hunt for a five man gang that killed 12 people in Nyanyaa village of village of Endui location in Kitui County. The youth numbering about 50 have a clear mission in their minds; to hunt down and kill Kilonzo Musyoka alias Karunyu, a man believed to be the leader of the killer gang.............

.....And to prove they meant business the youth raided the home of Karunyu where they found his newly wed wife and 70-year-old mother, Nzoka Mbulo. They tied the two women with ropes, tossed them in a granary full of sorghum and set it on fire. They stood guard as the women's cries faded away, thick smoke and fire enveloping the entire granary.............

..........Two more houses in the homestead were set on fire. "In Kamba tradition , when you commit murder and run, your parents must be killed because their spirits might protect you. Now that his mother is gone it will be easy to catch him" said a youth who participated in the macabre revenge attack............

........On Thursday three of the suspects were nabbed by the youths and clobbered to death .......[The] Deputy Commandant of the Administration Police Service .....said a police patrol car would be stationed at Mui to bolster security in the area."

This particular case is more extreme than the usual lynching stories carried by the press but I still don't know what to fear most - a belief system that condones brutal murder or the armed gang of killers.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Fantastic Week

I've had a really busy week this week and its been great. It started with two days of training with our secondary school teachers. Its the first occasion I've really had much time to work with them at all intensively so far this year. The training was very successful and I'm sure it will help us to take some important steps forward as a team. One of the highlights of Tuesday was watching the team perform a scene from Betrayal in the City - a set text for English Literature for the next few years. We have decided to get the students to put on a performance of the play. If they perform it anything like as well as the their teachers did it will be a sure-fire success.

We've also had a great time with our older primary school pupils for the last couple of days. They've been set the task of finding out how long our water supply would last if (heaven forbid) our bore hole stopped working. Tomorrow they will be telling us what they've discovered. Each group will doing a presentation, displaying a poster and performing a song to promote water conservation. This afternoon we had groups of pupils all over the compound practicing their their song and dance routines, aided and abetted by all of the teachers. I didn't realise we had so many frustrated choreographers on our staff. The finale tomorrow will end with a presentation and song competition between the three best groups with a small cash prize for each member of the winning team. We'll finish with sodas and biscuits for everybody. Seeing everybody working so hard and cooperating so well was a great reminder of why teaching is such a great job. I'm already looking forward to planning our next curriculum extravaganza.

I hope you enjoy the pictures.

Song and dance team

Just do it like this!
You mean like this?

Checking our project diaries

Great map of our compound by the Cheatah group

You can't argue with that. Poster by the Lawyers group.