Few people get the chances I do. Or maybe few people take the chances I do. I suspect it’s some of both. I was 55 when life turned me around. I accepted an invitation to an AIDS conference in Addis Ababa. I’d never been to Africa nor knew anyone who was going, but somehow it seemed l like a good idea. I have written volumes about that on this blog. You can check the history if you’re so inclined. That’s not the deal.
After going once, I said yes to a second trip to Africa to see what I could do to help. Is that arrogance, perhaps. But I truly felt that it was a calling, and I couldn’t say no. One Village at a Time was born that fall of 2002 and it has grown and changed so much. Most of all I have changed so much because I said yes.
I was listening to a friend complain yesterday about something that displeased her. And I said to her it was about time she accepted the fact that that the world wasn’t always nay seldom going to perform the way she wanted it to. The universe doesn’t ask our opinion on how it’s doing. It’s just something I know now. There is a sense of peace and purpose in my life. Africa did that for me. It held up a beautiful ,cruel universe and beckoned me to try my hand. And every time I return, I feel as if I am recapturing the piece of my heart I left waiting for me.
This week the board reviewed my medical expenses from the last trip. And they are not small what with the broken leg, pt, the surgery for the knee and more pt. They are not upset about the monetary cost. Their concerns are about how I can stay safer. Should I double the bodyguards? Are there places I shouldn’t travel? I know it is because they care about me but they are so young. I am old enough to be mother to every one of them.
Their lives are in the beginning stages of jobs and marriages and loves and dating. They don’t understand purpose the way I do. I have reared my family and thankfully my daughters understand that I must do this. They’ve known about the “when I die” file for a long time. I love the careers I have had, but nothing compares to what I do now. Not even the grandchildren, though I love them dearly.
So I shall not stay safe. I read this morning that the US has warned Kenya that terrorists are in the final plans for staging some atrocity. I hope my board doesn’t see it, but even if they do, as soon as I am walking again, I am ready to go back. Along with grace and acceptance I am lucky enough not to be afraid anymore. I’m not afraid of what people say, or even what will happen to me. I know in my soul that I will do this until it is time to stop. And that is up to God. So I go because…
(Newspaper article about the plot: http://www.nation.co.ke/News/US+embassy+warns+of+fresh+Nairobi+attacks/-/1056/1392164/-/i0s5ohz/
I had dinner with a friend the other night. We both come from the land of misfit toys. We still believe we can make a difference in Africa, but it is getting harder and harder to explain ourselves to our peers. Going to places where grenades go off and people are routinely killed with machetes is not for the AARP set.
It goes from bad to worse these days. I follow Kenya the most since that is where we are working. But South Sudan is up there, as is Somalia. Corruption in governments, tribal differences killing men women and children. This week has been particularly disturbing.
Last week I called out saying that childbirth should not kill. This week, not only are more women dying in childbirth in Kenya than ever before, but also the reason is almost incomprehensible. 25,000 health workers went on strike. The government in their own insanity then fired them all and tried to get retired workers to take their places.
They don’t have enough health workers or equipment with or without the strikers. And the situation only worsens as the days go by. Healthcare in developing countries is a crapshoot at best but in Kenya right now it’s a shot with a 38.
This week the Nairobi bus station was also hit with grenades. Nine are dead many injured. Kind of tough to have that happen when there is no one in the hospital to take care of the victims. That was due to El Shabbab. CNN indicated it was the beginning of tribal violence, which sent Kenyan Bloggers into rocket land. How dare CNN call this tribal wars? It’s bad for tourism to say that, even though it’s true
The very next day Kenya’s paper reported Odinga (the Prime Minister) speaking out about tribal animosities and their danger as elections come near. All of Kenya and many of us who were stuck in the violence remember that. Things simmer so close to the surface over there. I’m not optimistic about elections there (or in the US for that matter).
So why will I return as soon as I can? Even a misfit toy doesn’t want to lose its stuffing. I go because I can’t imagine giving up. I think there need to be some stalwarts who will go and try and help because turning their heads and running in the opposite direction won’t make the problems go away. I go because maybe just maybe one life will be changed because I went.
I didn’t think turning 65 would bother me, but it has made me pause. I know now that most of my time has been used. I’m ok with that. I have been talking to a few people about how One Village at a Time got started. I pulled out a video that I put together several years ago.
I look at myself, listen to my words and it seems decades ago. I hear my American voice and I know that the people didn’t understand my nasal accent and me. I see that I was the one doing the work and being lady bountiful. I am almost embarrassed that the people in the film had to be the kindergarten where I first learned how to work in Africa. I hope I did more good than harm.
It’s only been 10 years since I started, but what a journey it has been. Learning patience, accepting the vicissitudes of everyday life over there, keeping hope up when you’re about to fall off the cliff.
The first program was in Siaya. I remember I was so proud that we were feeding, clothing and paying school fees for 18 kids for $4000. How naïve I was. We do that now for little more than $100. I had to learn to get better partners, and that you need to pay people over there. Otherwise the money they get is just too tempting to take a piece of. And sometimes they do even if you do pay them. I fled that fiasco when I found that the woman who was supposed to be running the program took all the money. Thank heavens for an understanding board.
The second program got better. We went into schools. I counted on a community organizer to help the program go. It was supposed to be cost sharing, but we never got accurate accounts, and they never made any progress. See, I was still seen as Lady Bountiful with unlimited funds. They had no impetus to change. Oh and that leader, he left for Mombasa and never told me.
But today, when I spoke to Monica in Kigali, I knew we were there. Our program is crisp and clean. I am the woman behind the curtain. No longer do the villagers see me as anything more than a curious white girl. Our team in the field is tough and organized. I found out that when the team went to one school and the parents had not put in their contribution, the team packed up and left. Yesssss. Monica went on to tell me of the changes in the team, all of them good.
We work together, she and I. We are on the same wavelength. We share the same vision. Get these communities up and running and self-sustaining as fast as possible. We laugh over the schools we thought would do poorly are now succeeding. We commiserate over a dishonest worker Monica had to fire. We lay plans for the future
I have come such a long way from the skinny woman I see in that old film. I speak Kenyan English, I don’t fall for the pity party, I continue to love and be blessed by what I do. I know 65 is a number, but it is a number I’ve thought about all my life as an ending and for me, I’m still in the middle of something. So I hope there’s no ending any time soon
We grew prize-winning roses in our backyard when I was a child. I pored salt down holes in the rock garden to kill the weeds. And then the gardener did the rest.
I was back in Virginia this weekend. I forget how riveting the countryside is. I got to the horse country during photographer’s light, and was stunned by how the hills and long white fences looked. The huge bales of hay stood stark against the brown stubble field. The cattle and horses grazed in large groups, unaware of my passing. Their skins glistened and their girth was a testament to good food. It truly was the definition of bucolic.
As I drove along, though, I couldn’t help but think of the cattle I see more often. These are the emaciated cattle of the Mara and of the roads that bump along the trip from Nairobi to Kisumu and Nambale. There I see a young Masai walking with a stick whipping the cattle to move along to greener pastures. A thin boy hopes to find somewhere that might nourish his flock. (I never see horses, though Zebra’s dot the side of the road.) The cattle look exhausted, and the earth is dry with dust twirling up in dust devils. How different these two worlds are.
Since the G20 conference was just held and twitter was atwit with people talking about poverty and hunger, I could not help to notice the contrast. And I wonder about all the news and all the talk from celebrities about the need to feed the hungry. How will we ever change the climate enough that Kenya gets enough rain when it needs it? And if we could change the way the people farm will it not also kill off their culture?
I read the articles from Millennium and Gates, but I feel saddened more than hopeful. They talk about green planet, saving the environment, and smarter planting to help the famine. I’m glad people realize that children need to be fed, that children are starving, it’s just that the folks who are ruining the environment aren’t really interested in giving up their lifestyle so a child can be fed.
And so in the end, I feel like Charlie Brown in class listening to the teacher going, “wah wah wah wah wah”. Any ideas out there?
I’ve been doing a lot of tweeting lately. It is a phenomenon that is somewhat an anathema to my generation, but I have found that I am so much better informed than I was a week ago. Originally I had started doing it to get the word out about One Village and that still remains the focus. However, as those of you who know me, I have opinions on just about everything and Twitter gives you the opportunity to put it out there. I can retweet a story about breaking up with a friend, or scold the Kenya Google chief. In fact I find it rather addicting.
I turn 65 tomorrow. It’s a good thing. What saddens me is that my generation avoids Twitter, barely uses FB and according to the Huffington Post (yay tweets) they are becoming more and more conservative. Where did the fight go? We were the ones who demonstrated against the war, burned our bras and rocked Woodstock. Does fear and money take over for audacity and hope (thanks Barak)? Perhaps this is so. But for me, I’ll be fighting till the day I die, and probably tweeting as well.