Wednesday, November 24, 2010

leaving the incubator

It certainly has been a long time since I last posted, this time I can honestly say I have been busy- I have often sat down to start writing my blog and have become distracted by a whole range of things- a monkey outside my window, a colleague coming to chat, an opportunity to go visit a school, an exciting email from friends and family (I love emails- hint hint!!) etc. Well, I am committed to sitting down with a warm cup of Ketepa and some country music after office hours to write my blog.

Tomorrow morning I leave for ZANZIBAR with the other YAVs and Phyllis (one of our two YAV retreats for the year.) We will head to Dar, Tanzania (T-Zed) on a 12 hour bus journey, spend the night in Dar, then take the ferry across to Zanzibar J While its not Turkey dinner at the lake with my parents or stuffing and apple pie with my sister and grandparents, I’m not going to complain. I am learning to find the comforts of my holiday season this year in new places instead of carol singing on Park Avenue with my church -- lighting of the mall in Nairobi with friends, instead of cooking baking with my sister--cooking baking with the girls at First Love Kenya and instead of Christmas shopping—some time at New Life orphanage during the holiday season.

On to my blog post….

Every day Jane, the receptionist at the OAIC, comes into my office to sit down and chat with me the other day she sat down to “tell me a story.” She told me that when pre-mature babies are born they sit in an incubator and that burses go to visit them, she said “now, the babies who are visited by their families and the nurses, that the nurses hold and talk to- those babies get better faster than the other babies.” She said “I am like you nurse, I come to check on you and make sure you are ok, just by visiting. “ So, with the help of Jane- I am finally leaving my incubator (office) and heading out to new exciting things that aren’t a part of the daily routine I built for myself and that I sometimes don’t want to do not feel like doing.

The other day I went to Gatina Primary School, one of the free government schools in Kenya to visit with them on their last day of the year. The Standard 8 children (8th grade) are the first group of children to graduate from the free primary schools in Kenya so the OAIC and a group in the US called Project Promise worked together to buy all the children school shoes as a gift. A team from the OAIC came to the school and spoke to the children about the importance of their education. While the shoes are a helpful gift to the children and their parents as it is one less thing they need to buy for school, it wasn’t all about the shoes. The children in standard 8 were finally getting the kind of recognition they deserved. (I remember for my eighth grade graduation we had a party with my friends and family and took a trip to Mackinac Island.) This may not be the same, but these children deserve some congratulations for their hard work and some credit for their completion of primary school. Not only some celebration for their work, but encouragement to continue to do better and encouragement for the other 7 grades who came to watch the Standard 8’s receive their shoes.

Yesterday I went to graduation for African Pride Centre, a pre-school developed by the OAIC Kenya chapter. The graduation took pretty much all day but it was soo worth it. The children graduating (pre-unit) will enter primary school next year, most of them at Gatina Primary school across the way. APC focuses on the whole family at the school. To receive admission into the school parents must have people vouche for them (pastors and imams) and write something explaining their desire to have their children attend. The idea is to have people in the school who truly want better for their children regardless of their financial status. The school has a computer lab for parents and people in the community to learn computer basics to help with their businesses, has a sewing room to teach women how to sew and use sewing machines to promote small businesses and has a bank where parents save their money and are able to borrow in small increments to start businesses. The school focuses on why parents are in poverty and makes the effort to help both the parent and the child out of poverty. The children are separated into three colorful classrooms with caring teachers, they have a nice swingset and slide and learn to raise their own chickens and plant and care for their own sukuma wiki (greens.)

Graduation at APC was wonderful, the children performed a small skit for us where they explained the importance of education and thanked their parents for bringing them to the school as well as danced for us. They were entertained with a moonbounce and clowns to dance with during speeches from some other schools in the area (Kawangare.)

Today I went to the First Love project in Kibera. I have gone to the First Love project in Karen (the orphanage) before but have never been to visit the school and the feeding program. I spent the afternoon touring the compound, meeting with the women’s groups who make quilts, baskets, aprons, bags etc., checking out the daycare and meeting some of the boys who will move into the orphanage soon (currently it is set up only for girls but the new building that will be completed very soon will house the new boys.) I got to spend some time with the little babies in the daycare which certainly can make anyones day better; when you’re having a great day to begin with, it puts a whole different kind of smile on your heart.

I have also started buying my groceries from produce stands on my walks rather than in the large grocery stores and have traveled to new churches. I am leaving the Kenyan comfort zone I created for myself and I like it! Eleanor Roosevelt said “do one thing each day that scared you,” I wouldn’t say I am afraid to do the things I am doing, but they aren’t things I always want to do, sometimes it is easier to stay in the routine we have for ourselves, but the payout sure is worth it!

Well, I am off to finish preparing for Zanzibar—look back here soon for pics and an update on Zanzibar!!!  :) 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Be good and kind and sweet to everyone you meet

It would be impossible for me to comment on each experience I had in West Pokot. I experienced a new way of life with new people and from that have many stories to tell. 

My dad who is a pastor in New York City (and I would consider a pretty darn good preacher) says that pastors keep an index of “sermon stories” that they remember and are able to plug in when necessary. Now, I am NOT saying that I will become a pastor but I think I am developing that index and a lot of it came from my past week in West Pokot. There is one story I would like to share with you, however. My second day in West Pokot I waited outside of the Zion waiting to be called for lunch, I was  strolling around by the school next to the church and saw a group of children about ages 5-10 in yellow and green jumpers and shorts, their school uniforms. I started making my way towards them, smiling, as I walked towards them, they stood motionless then when I started to come within ten feet they grouped themselves together holding on to each other, honestly scared of me. A few started pointing at me with their mouths agape, a few laughed and a few clung to their peers in fear. I smiled and waved greeting them in Kiswahili. During my awkward interaction with the school children my friend Simon came up towards me and started speaking much clearer Kiswahili to the children. I finally was able to break through the 10 foot barrier and extended my hand to the children to which they slowly and reluctantly one by one came to shake my hand. Once one shook my hand they ran away to whisper in their friends ear.

After I shook hands with all the children I pulled my camera out of my back pocket where it was stored for easy access (the perks of working in communications). I showed them the camera as a way of asking, “would you like me to take a picture?” I took a picture of the children hiding behind the cactuses and then put the picture on display mode to show the children the picture I took of them. As I showed them the picture they squealed, jumping, pointing, laughing and smiling in preparation for their next shot. I proceeded to take many many more pictures and the children came closer to me, hugging my legs and holding my hands as I got in a few pictures with them. After several minutes their teacher came out and told them they needed to continue walking home before it became dark. Simon looked at me and said “do you see how happy you made them?”

My point in telling you this isn’t to serve as a caption to my pictures and isn't to show you what a good person I am (because that is not what I am saying).

I thought about what Simon said, how happy the children were, and they were happy! I didn’t do anything- I didn’t bring school books, I didn’t teach a class, I didn’t come with medicine or school fees, I didn’t bring anything and I didn’t do anything- I showed a little kindness, I offered my hand for a handshake and greeted the children happily.

I wonder what would happen if we could all show a little kindness to the people we see, a smile, a greeting, a “how are you?” a handshake. I think of how I walk the streets of New York often purposefully walking on the other side of the street of a homeless person to avoid not giving them money. Rather than walking on the other side of the street what if we all walked on the same side of the street and offered a smile instead? Not a dollar, but a smile.

I changed my quote on Skype a few weeks ago to a quote from Mother Theresa that I think applies perfectly “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can”

In a world where it often feels like the problems of the world are much greater than the impact we can have on them, what if we all just try to smile and show a little kindness? I wonder where a small act of kindness could take us? I know it won't solve the problems of the world, it probably won't stop wars or feed hungry children or pay school fees or eradicate HIV/AIDS but it will make someone happy if only for a minute.  My mother always told me ‘be good and kind and sweet to everyone you meet’ thats cute because it rhymes but think about what it means-so lets do that, not just to the people we meet in coffee hour, in school, in church, at fundraisers but to all the people we are sharing the world with. 

adventures in West Pokot

beautiful West Pokot

I am taking on the difficult task of summarizing an amazing, eye-opening, exciting, warm week into one or two blog posts and a few pictures; bear with me as I take on this difficult task.

I have just returned (safely- mom stop worrying) from a trip with the OAIC to West Pokot.  I mentioned in my last blog that I would be traveling there and spoke a little about it and now I am back! The trip was with the OAIC dept. of theology; we spent 3 days working with a group/church called the Mafuta Pole, Pokots in both Kenya and Uganda. Mafuta Pole is an AIC (African Independent/Indigenous Church) that began in the 1950s, the MP have no bibles and have learned about the church from visions, dreams and prophecies. Most churches around the MP do not consider them to be Christians because they have no bibles. One year ago the OAIC went to West Pokot to start workshops training MP leaders on the bible; during the first trip they also brought the first ever bibles published in Pokot. Since receiving these bibles and gaining some more formal training in Christianity, the Mafuta Pole are no longer outcast from the Christian society in West Pokot and have been invited to fellowship with other churches and have been able to set up youth and women groups to study the bible etc.
 So, this past week I went with John Gichumu (OAIC head of the dept. of theology) Simon (an intern at St. Paul’s University and member of another AIC- Holy Spirit Church) and Koinange (OAIC driver) on a thirteen hour driving journey to West Pokot to work with the Mafuta Pole.
Here’s a little about how my journey went…

We left for West Pokot early (and on time!) Tuesday morning, along the way we picked up my new friend (aka colleague) Simon in Limuru, a beautiful town outside of Nairobi filled with tea fields and gorgeous landscape. After adding Simon to the group we went through Nakuru and Eldoret- both great towns that I didn’t even know about before this trip. Along the way we picked up Ndazi, tea, and cheese sandwiches (my last good meal for several days). Some hours later we arrived in Kapenguria, a town in West Pokot and the last “town” before entering ‘the bush.’ After some ugali and goat we returned to the car around 6:30pm, Gichumu looked back in the car to tell me, “we’re gonna go down now, down, down, down, and then down” and that is exactly what we did. 45 minutes later we hit a small market with several phone charging stations and a few produce stands to which Gichumu told me “this is the last town you are going to see” ??? ok… So we turned off the tarmac and drove, drove, drove, swerved potholes, drove through a maize field and then we were at the Mafuta Pole zion. We were anxiously greeted by a group of about 14 men and women ages 18-70 singing “karibuni” (welcome) in the dark; I opened the door having no idea what I was getting myself into- I was in the middle of the African bush with 14 Pokots singing to me. I stepped out of the car to be warmly greeted by each person there. We followed the group into the church but before entering we removed our shoes and I was directed to enter through the door on the left (the women’s door) while everyone I knew entered through the door on the right (the men’s door). We had a brief time of worship for the night, the Mafuta Pole sing mostly in Pokot with a few songs that I am able to mildly understand in Kiswahili- rather than clapping like most AICs do the Mafuta Pole swing their arms and raise their hands (in some ways it looks like the Soulja Boy dance we are all so familiar with from 2008.) After some songs which are mostly choruses that have appeared to a member (usually an elder) in a dream, we kneeled to the ground for a prayer before heading to our hotel.

The hotel we stayed in had two rooms- one for the men and one for the women (my sister, my mother and me), a separate building for the kitchen and storage (pantry), and an outhouse with two kiswahli toilets and a washroom. We spent the next few hours drinking tea while I painfully tried to carry on conversations in Kiswahili/English with a group of people who speak Kiswahili/Polot exclusively. Several hours later the women in church of the hotel brought out plates of ugali, cabbage and fried goat. After dinner I went to my room eager to check in to my bed and read a few chapters in my book (Joseph Stiglitz’s “Globalization and it’s Discontents”) as I was undoing my bed two women came in, a young girl about 18 and an old woman, about 65 years old, my sister and my mother. I asked them in a combination of terrible Kiswahili and English their names and where they had come from; the young girl (Zipporah) answered my questions in decent English saying they had come from Jerusalem for a conference on the Bible. I was excited that they would be in the workshop with me for the next few days but a little apprehensive about my terrible communication abilities. I event tried some of the “universal” signs for things like where are you from and what is your name, those did not translate either.

The next morning I woke up to the sound of roosters, a first for this city girl. At around 6:30 I got out of bed, packed up my hostel sack and put on a floor length black skirt. When I went outside I was offered the opportunity to bathe in the outhouse- the women had boiled hot water for us and left a bucket in the washroom for us to use to wash up. After breakfast which was enjoyed on the benches in the grass surrounded by the chickens who provided the hard boiled eggs I was eating ,we headed back to the Zion to begin our workshop.

At the workshop each participant thanked us for bringing the Pokot bibles to them a year ago. They explained how thankful they were and how helpful the bibles were in leading bible studies. My mother explained that she was the only one in her town with a Pokot bible so when a group wanted to do a bible study they traveled to meet her and retrieve the bible then after bible study they brought the bible back so the next group could use it. Another elder in the workshop said that he did not know how to read but the boys in his church were reading the bible to him and he was able to understand it since it was in Pokot. The chairman of Mafuta Pole (chairman of the Zion in Jerusalem) thanked us for being there and explained that he was happy to have learned so much about the bible and Christianity, he said he has learned to live in harmony with the people around him and his people (Mafuta Pole) are learning to live together in love.

I spent the next three days with the Mafuta Pole in the zion from about 830a-7p teaching different bible stories- thanks to Julius who was fluent in English we were able to communicate at half speed with each other. We studied characteristics of a Christian, seeking knowledge about God and the life of a Christian. All in all about 45 bible stories. The Mafuta Pole were joyful and excited to learn more about their own religion in a formal setting, they were excited to bring their new knowledge home to share with new bible study groups.

In the middle of the workshops each day we stopped for lunch outside of the zion (in case I forgot to mention, a zion is what we would consider the church or the parish). At this time I was able to learn more about the Pokot people through several English speakers. I learned how they came to find the Mafuta Pole and learned about all of their long journeys to come to the workshop. Most had walked about 20-30 kilmoeters for the workshop.
The group at the end of our workshop

Every morning I spent about one and a half hours to two hours between when the rooster woke me up and when it was time to begin workshops with the women cooking our food. One woman, my new friend Veronica, had her new baby wrapped around her back the whole time with a kangha (decorated piece of cloth) I often held his hand and he would wave back at me, every morning Veronica told him to “wave hello to your mother” which he did. My time with Veronica was probably my favorite time of each day. On the second to last day Veronica asked me how old I was to which I responded, “22” she said she was “33” (the same age as my older sister Madeline) she asked me how many children I had, I said I thought I was still too young for children. Veronica told me she has six children and asked if I would like to meet them, I responded, “I would love to see them” thinking nothing of my verb choice, she said “well, theyre black Africans.” Then I remembered how good a laugh felt, the next day I visited Veronica’s house, three of her six children and her husband Jackson. The whole family kindly welcomed me and Jackson took me to see the land they lived on, he showed me his vegetables, his cows and goats, the kitchen, and their house. I asked him what he was going to do with his cows, he said he would sell them at the market which he hoped would pay for the children’s school feed. A cow sells for approximately 20,000 ksh., school fees are about 80,000 ksh. He has six children and four cows.

Meet Veronica
After a morning like that I returned to the zion for the last day of our workshop. I felt the same feeling I feel when I end camp each summer, or when I leave a close group of friends. Despite only being able to communicate through translators and broken English I had built a bond with this group and felt a connection to them. They welcomed me into their homes and their way of life. They accepted me and were gracious to me, a feeling I don’t always receive from my peers. Its hard to end this post because I have left out so many details I feel like it is incomplete but I think some of it is truly the experience of ‘being’ and may be something I can hold only with me. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

A lil catch up on what I'm up to

My apologies, faithful readers, for my extreme delay in updating my blog. I really have been quite busy this time! Warning: it’s a long one, grab a cup of tea before you begin.

As I am posting, an interesting interaction occurred- my boss, Benard walked into my office and asked me all in Kiswahili “Did you finish the grant assessment and make a photocopy?” At first I stared at him and moments later I realized I knew what he said so I quickly nodded in my head to which he responded “Asante” without realizing he had addressed me in Kiswahili. I guess I really am settling into life as a Kenyan, if a real Kenyan does not even realize that they are speaking Kiswahili to me, a MUZUNGU!

The past two weeks have been filled with a lot of new challenges, GSC (for my non-YAVs- Good. Self. Care.) some routine activities and fun.

Last week I spent a lot of time at Kikuyu hospital, just outside of Nairobi. ChangeOneLife (the second organization I work with in Kenya) is working on a program called “Mother’s Milk” which is based out of Kikuyu hospital. The programme provides infant formula (Nan) to HIV positive women who are unable to breastfeed as they are too sick and are unable to purchase the formula for their children (formula can be extremely expensive and it is almost never used in Kenya). I have been traveling to Kikuyu hospital to work out the details of the program with a nurse at the hospital. Our goal is to get these children through the first 5 years of life healthy and HIV-negative, the first 5 years of life is the period in which children are most likely to die from preventable health related causes. The Nan will help the children reach healthy weight because it will be used instead of the other supplement that women who are unable to breastfeed use, animal milk (cow’s milk mostly) that does not provide the nourishment and antibodies that a young child needs. The program is moving very swiftly, we have identified the women who will benefit the most from the program and will begin providing formula, bottles, blankets, cleaning supplies to the women when the babies are born. On Monday I will have the opportunity to meet the women and learn a little more about their needs and what we can do to help them. I am really looking forward to meeting them. It is such a blessing to live and serve in Kenya. As much support as it is (and trust me it A LOT) to donate money, it is an absolute gift to be able to work with and meet with the people whom you are serving. I really look forward to taking advantage of this opportunity with the women and babies from the Mother’s Milk project- being able to see the impact that this project is having on them as well as insuring that we are doing everything we can to improve the health of the women and children in the project.

            I have also devoted a large chunk of my time to planning Girls Health Retreats for December. This has meant a lot of time in the car, stuck in jams and a lot of time out of the office. (more on Kenyan traffic another time…) The retreats we are planning will be in December and will work with about 25 girls aged 13-15, mostly from rural villages in Kenya, from several different tribes. We will work on self-esteem and self-worth, HIV/AIDS awareness, issues such as “who has a right to my body?”, developing youth leaders, and basic feminine health knowledge. I am really excited about the retreats, I have devoted a lot of time on Microsoft Word the past few days to writing the program for the girls, at the end of each day I re-read what I wrote and really am excited for all the potential these retreats have to influence girls in a positive way. I look forward to updating you all on the retreats after they happen. I must say as much work as I am putting into these retreats here in Kenya, I am reminded of how helpful funds are. I want to thank all of you who have helped bring me to Kenya, it is a different way of giving yourself that is of equal importance. It is important to realize that the funds help all the programs that people like me are working on run. Thank you!

            Tomorrow I am heading to West Pokot with the OAIC. We will be working with a group called “Mafuta Pole” on theology training. It will take about 2 days to travel to West Pokot and we will spend about 2 days there as well. I have been told that there will be no electricity and in order to charge our phones we will hire someone to ride a motorcycle two hours away, sit with the phones while they charge and bring them back. Look forward to some stories from my trip to West Pokot! My knowledge of West Pokot thus far is limited to a 14 page brief and some peripheral knowledge given to me by my fellow YAV, Ben, who traveled to West Pokot for a Church World Service program. From what I have read the group we are meeting with has very interesting theology, much different from the liberal theology I am mostly exposed to in New York. I look forward to the conversations I will experience and the training I will take part in, I am a little nervous for the language barrier, the lack of electricity and I am sure- lots and lots of goat/ugali.  

In other news I have created a new role for myself at the OAIC… One way the OAIC serves AICs and their members is thru microfinance. Basically, members of our AICs (Afircan independent churches) are given small loans/grants for education or opening small businesses etc. The point of these grants is to help foster rural and informal settlement growth. Microfinance provides the funds a person living at or below the poverty level needs to work their own way out of poverty. It is a similar idea to the “give a man a fish and you have fed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you have fed him for life.”  Microfinancing avoids large interest rates and corrupt bankers intervening in the loans of the already poor. Along with the grant, we help the receiver work through their first endeavor in entrepreneurship by working through business plans with them and checking in on business every two weeks to insure it is going well. So, my new role/deal with the OAIC is this: I told Benard (my boss) I would do all his filing (he tells me daily how organized I am and “would you please organize my office?”) for microfinancing if he will in turn let me work in the program, approving grants, making visits and doing assessments while also teaching me all he knows about microfinancing (he was the head of a microfinance organization for several years before the OAIC). So the deal is on! I have organized all the small grants information, and am now working with Benard to develop our programme to make it as successful for our recipients as we can. Today I was able to approve my first grant loan for a single mother who wishes to purchase a barber shop and run that. She is eager to get her business running and was very gracious to receive the loan. It was absolutely wonderful to ahnd her a check that will have such an influence on her life, it will provide her with a sustainable income rather than just a check that will run out in several months. I look forward to going to Terry’s barber shop in two weeks to see what improvements she has made and how business is going and bringing her a steady job and income.

I have also been keeping myself busy by coaching swimming for Atieno (my site co-ordinator’s daughter) and her swim team. I am focused mainly on Atieno right now as there are two male coaches there as well. It is turning into a rather nice morning tradition, Phyllis picks me at the corner and brings me to swim practice at 6a, after Atieno swims Phyllis and I drink a cup of tea while we wait for Atieno to finish her shower so we can drop her at school and I can head into work. I taught swim lessons in the US and always enjoyed coaching the older kids more than teaching the young ones to swim (mostly because I do not need to get in the pool to coach). I have really enjoyed teaching Atieno; Phyllis asked me to come to her swim lesson after Atieno’s first gala disheartened her as she came in last place in her 3 events. I hope to boost her confidence back up and have her win a few events at the next gala! Here’s hoping. The swim coach has also asked me to join his triathalon training for an event in Mombasa later this year: I am considering the pros and cons of this offer right now but will most likely join him in the training: wish me luck!

That’s all for now, my apologies for my delay in posting. Will post more pictures and updates soon! I have excluded a few details but promise more to come when I return.