The snow falls gently to the ground this morning. Around the world today we gather to remember World AIDS Day. We think of those lost in the fight, yes, but also we are hopeful for those infected and affected. New meds make their lives longer and better. But still they must take poison each day to stay alive. And I salute their courage and spirit.
But this is a story of the World AIDS Day Miracle. And indeed when the clock struck midnight last night, I knew it had happened. At first I was in awe, and then I felt overwhelmed. So many people believe in what we do in Kenya. And so many wanted to make a difference.
It started with a Global Giving Challenge for us to get 40 new donors to donate to our project to keep girls in Kenya in school. Most of the girls are AIDS orphans. It started a month ago, and despite my tweeting and putting up updates on Facebook it wasn’t going too well. Then a board member contacted me Thursday and said, we really should try and win this one. I had 48 hours to get it done.
So the word went out. I tweeted and FB’d. I reached out to everyone I knew. I really thought it was a lost cause. But then Friday morning people started to really respond to my pleas. Donations came in and we were getting closer.
And now for the miracle. I went to High School almost 50 years ago. One of the alums put up a Facebook Page and we try and connect when we can. I haven’t seen my classmates in almost 50 years, but somehow they believed in me. Jill, who I must admit I don’t remember, kept donating. First she donated $270 for the first 27 girls. But she was concerned it didn’t cover enough girls. So then it was $190 and a frantic email to me, was it enough? Wow now she had covered 47 girls. And then I saw the names of several others of my friends from high school and the donations they made. I cried.
I truly never thought I was much in High School and surely never thought anyone believed in me. But there it was. People from all over the US were saying go and take care of these girls, and I will support you. And they thanked me for what I did and somehow by 12:30A.M a miracle happened. I knew that God has blessed this mission and that folks really believe and trust that what I do is worth it. And for me that is my miracle.
Politics, Cattle Rustling and the International Community
I have a friend in Kenya who is a barrister. He congratulated me the other day on our peaceful elections. I allowed as how it was luck, lots of hard work and the grace of God that we didn’t go long into days of indecision as we have in the past. I then posited that I hoped that Kenya’s Elections in March would be peaceful. He replies in all seriousness that it is the international community that is stirring up trouble among the tribes.
Is This the Cow That Launched a Revolution?
Ok folks, if one could scream over twitter, I would have. Really? Funny, but the violence in Kisumu was over the death of an MP and the Luo’s rioting. And then today I get this article from the Nation about the killing of 27 policemen in northern Kenya. They were killed as the result of “cattle rustling”.
Gosh Mr. Dillon, I didn’t know the Europeans were invested in stealing cattle as a means of making the natives restless. Americans have given up cattle rustling recently as we get ready for the fiscal cliff. I know there used to be Chinese Western’s but, seriously, are they really stealing the cattle as a means of making money-building roads and fixing the elections. Elsie the cow would be horrified. And Trust me that cow up there is probably what started the revolution in the first place. Foreign nationals creating tribal unrest is such bull#$% (if you get my drift).
I never cease to be amazed at how people can be so ready to blame things outside themselves as the cause of the trouble. No it’s tribal hatred that is causing the violence in Kenya.
I suspect many people will not travel to third world countries, trying to hide needed medications or laptops in their bags. However if you do, here’s how it’s done.
1. Paint large suitcase with flowers or other pretty designs. This is so you can find it when if gets there if it does get there.
2. Place contraband at bottom of the suitcase
3. Get cat out of suitcase
4. Put skirts, dresses on top of contraband
5. Get cat out of suitcase
6. Place underwear on top of regular clothes
7. Get cat out of suitcase
8. Place Christian Reading such as the Upper Room over the clothes. Generally Customs Officials in third world countries follow a Christian Religion. This of course will not be a good idea if you are going into a Muslim Country. Then perhaps a couple obvious copies of the Qu’ran are a good idea.
9. Get all 3 cats out of the suit case.
10. Take at least 100-200 condoms and spread them on the top of you suitcase. This is essential. Customs officials are invariable embarrassed by the condoms and when you then offer them a few they invariably let you through. You will also get extra credit, if like me, you carry a few “models for demonstration”. That really spooks the officials.
Returning, returning, what does it mean? I have been made so aware of the dangers of going back to Kenya and I must say I’m suspecting that every possible obstacle God can throw at me. It started this morning with a flutter of emails from Delta updating me on how late the plane would be. And I was still seeing clients. I still had a date with the chiropractor.
3PM, great, I have a bone spur in my good ankle. How funny is that! I can hardly walk on it, but I’m going. I hear you Universe, I hear you giggling. And now it’s off to the airport with bags weighing 125 lbs. I’m careful, I’m not taking those puppies down the stairs, so I heave them out the door where they fly into the street. Rescued and lined up by the curb I confidently go to the corner to hail a cab. It’s 5P, it should be lousy with cabs. Yeah, no. And now I’m starting to sweat; I break down and call a cab and then the universe shifts.
The only empty cab I have seen in 20 minutes hoves into sight. And the moment the cab driver opens his mouth and says “Just go to get in”, I hear the familiar accent of a Kenyan and we are off to the airport. He comes from the North near Turkana which is the most dangerous part of Kenya, and I am glad I’m going in the opposite direction. Once we reach the airport and I bid him goodbye in Swahili, another African Delta guy can’t wait to help me with my bags. And trust me, I know they are over the limit. Get to the desk and guess what? No, another Kenyan is at the desk and when he asks what I am carrying and I tell him, he winks and checks the bags through.
So I’m still in Boston, but I’m feeling more optimistic that I will get to Nairobi without serious travails. Wait, I listened and no thunder crashed so I’m boarding folks.
I love the Amsterdam airport. People are friendly, it is immaculate, and I can find everything I need. Of course right now, I am so weighted down with stuff for Kenya that I cannot purchase anything major, but trust me on the way back I’ll be flying light. Wifi is a bit spotty, but if that’s the worst I can say so far, I’m feelin lucky.
I have now been traveling for 12 hours, add 3 hours for layover, add 8 hours to Nairobi then 3 hours to my hotel for the night and another 12 to Kisumu and you get the gist of the amount of travel to get there. Ah yes, returning, I am returning.
The plane from Amsterdam had a whole different crowd that I have seen before. There were, of course, the Kenyans returning home. But what was noticeably absent were the Safari goers. Usually there are a couple of patches of excited folks who are going on Safari, and are anxious to tell me all about what they will see, and ask me questions. Not a one on the plane. I did meet some military folks who were going to the Embassy. They were pretty vocal about how dangerous Kenya is for a billet. One Air Force guy was going to the embassy to see his wife who is stationed there and is most anxious for her to come home.
Thankfully the plane is not full so I can find a couple of seats together and sleep a bit and then…we land.
Francis is waiting, glad to see me, but there is an undertone of uneasiness. We talk in the car about the teacher strike and the terrorists. He admits that his business is down, and that the terrorists are a problem. He is not as enthusiastic about Kenya as he has always been before and as we travel I shall learn more.
Morning has dawned cool and fresh. The hotel I stayed in last night was quite nice and we shall be leaving for Naivasha in a couple of hours.
Spoke to Monica today who was glad to hear my voice. I told her I knew the schools were closed and she said not to worry that we would visit anyway. I’m not sure that will be a fruitful mission, but it is a truth not fully revealed.
Those of you who follow this blog know I am nothing if not honest and right out there. It is a week until I depart and I must say I have very mixed feelings. My body still aches all over; my knee is not fully recovered nor is my ankle. I think of the long ride across the Rift and the walking in the endless heat to see the women’s businesses and my heart sinks a bit. Will I make it this time?
I am going back with a different cargo this time. I am not bringing medications, but school supplies and panties. Monica and I agreed last time that what the children needed more than sweets once they performed is a pencil or pen. So it’s pencils, pens and panties.
Walmart and I seem to be having a problem communicating. I have ordered the 500 pairs of panties from them several times. But somehow the order never goes through. I was sure I had it the last time, but when I went to their site I see that the cart is still full. So now it’s a trip to Walmart to actually buy the panties and the pencil sharpeners. I guess I’ll do that on the weekend since I’m working a full week.
The problem is that even carrying things hurts, and climbing up all my steps to pack the bags seems somewhat insurmountable. I am reminded of what my pastor once said when a man came up to him and asked, “How do you know if you’re doing what God wants?”
Scott thought for a minute and said, “Have you ever heard what God wanted from you? “ and the man said, “Yes but that was a while ago”. So Scott said, “Until you hear different I suggest you keep doing what you’re doing.”
And I haven’t heard a word from God yet about not going, so I guess I better keep doing what I’m doing.
Summer has sped by with the haste that those of us over 60 know well. What used to take months now seems to take only minutes and bang here we are in the fall.
I am readying for my return to Kenya. I am finally 85%mobile, though I wish it were better. Maybe the extra 15% will return when I am back in Kisumu. After all they kind of owe me that.
I realized that it has been 10 years since I first stepped onto African Shores. 10 years since I gave my heart to a continent I swore I would never visit. My heart pumps a little faster as I think of my return. Preparations now are so easy, compared to the first few times. I will purchase the last of the underpants for the girls tomorrow and start packing after Labor Day.
What makes me sad, though, is that nothing has changed in the 10 years since I started going to Kenya. Today, twitter abounded with stories of pre-election violence. Yes it’s in the northeast part of Kenya, not down in western where I work., yet it wouldn’t take much for it to cross the country like the Ebola a few miles from our project.
I am not a famous sociologist (nor do I play one on T.V). It seems to me, though, that the biggest part of the graft, violence, and corruption comes from the tribal mentality of the people. The people I work with will deny it, but I hear them talk. I know their distrust for another tribe. They don’t think I understand as much Swahili as I do. I’m just the white girl sitting quietly in the car.
I know that a couple tribes got all the good land, and that others have to eke out a living in almost impossible circumstances. I know that the hatred runs so deep, that no matter where your tribal lands are, your machete is close by and ready to hack someone to death because of some insult. I know that Kenya will blow again during this election.
I often tell clients that it’s important to know what you know. You don’t have to like what you know, but you need to know what you know. So I’m going in September and not in the winter at the beginning of the school year. I don’t want to see it again and I pray I don’t get frantic emails or calls from friends stuck hiding in the maize fields trying to stay alive while swarms of enemy tribes hunt them down.
So I return for my 10th anniversary. I look forward to seeing my friends, and the children and the hoped for progress. Unfortunately I know what I know, and in 6 months some of them may not be alive because of tribal hatred.
I wrote this 2 days ago and this appeared in today’s paper “The Nation:. http://www.nation.co.ke/News/I+saw+gang+kill+my+11+children+and+wife/-/1056/1486700/-/bmlsj0/-/index.html
Sometimes I don’t write for a while because things are quiet and I don’t have any updates. Today, unfortunately I do. Anyone who has been part of social media over the past couple of weeks knows about the Chick-Fil-A fiasco. But for those of you hiding under a rock, the Chairman of the company denounced homosexuality in the strongest of terms. This resulted in many tweets, much support from companies large and small decrying such words and such a stance. A couple of days ago there was even a “kiss in” to object to the policy of Chick-Fil-A.
Now they don’t call me Mothermadrigal as well as MamaOVAAT for nothing. Most of you readers are way too young to know who Mothermadrigal was. (From the Books Tales of the City by Armistad Mauphin). I carry this name with honor and have always believed it is not who you love but how you love that is important. So you’re asking just what does this have to do with One Village at a Time? A great deal frankly.
It was with enormous sorrow that I read this post on Facebook from a friend in Nairobi. And I am putting it up verbatim:
“A colleague of mine, David Kato, was murdered after the Chick-Fil-A-supported Family Research Council came to Uganda preaching their message of hate. CFA is entitled to fund this and you are entitled to give them more money to spend on it, but you should also own the direct connection between those actions. A couple of weeks before he was killed, David sat in a human rights meeting and begged us for help. He knew the danger he faced upon his return to Uganda. His plea brought me to tears but I was unable to protect him. But what really saddens me is to see the posts from some of you that indicate your support for this overt hatred.”
Whether you know it or not homosexuality is punishable by death in some African countries. Kenya has only recently revoked the death penalty for homosexuality, though it still remains a crime. And in Uganda which is a few miles across the border from where I work, people are murdered for it.
So I cry out and hope some of you are paying attention. The policy of Chick-Fil-A is worldwide and it lead to a man’s death. Their profits are going to support the Death to Gays Bill in Uganda. So tonight I am sad. I am sad for a group of people who would want to kill others for what they do in private. I am sad because it will make so many young people hide, make treating HIV all the more difficult, and lead to a lot of deaths.
Tonight I will go up on my roof deck and light a candle and let it shine for David’s life and for the lives of that are lost through hatred. Maybe you’ll light one too.
Here’s the link for the full article: http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/chick-fil-a-profits-are-supporting-ugandas-kill-the-gays-bill/politics/2012/08/01/45430
It’s been a while since I checked in. I wish I could say it’s more stable in Kenya, but alas, this morning’s Washington Post reports that our Ambassador has been recalled. The Nation reports there is continued terrorism in Kisi, 17 killed in churches in Garissa, and an editorial in the same paper calls for keeping its people safe from harm on the highways, in the cities, and walking the roads. But it is still my heart home.
I have made my plans to go back soon. I have mixed feelings about this. The injuries I sustained last time and the time it has taken me to recover remind me I’m 65. It’s funny how one always counts on a quick recovery and then you get to an age where it just doesn’t happen that fast. Now that I can walk with minimal pain, I notice it.
Yet our work is not done. We are fine tuning our program. We are going to welcome a new school in Sept. which is the last term of the year for school children in Kenya. We will begin our training then so that when school opens in January they will be, more or less, on equal footing with the other schools. I believe that this will be crucial to the continuation of our work and the way forward.
I will get the reports from the second term in a few weeks: I am anxious to see how they are doing. I want to get back to see Monica and the staff at KMET. I want to go to our deaf school and sign with the children. I want to finally take some time to visit Lake Naivasha. I want to go home.
I know there will come a day when I will have to stop. I know one day I will either turn over the reins or pass it on. But for now, I guess I am really looking forward to getting back.
This week the world was rocked by the senseless slaughter of 32 children in Syria. I suppose I’m glad to say that I hurt terribly upon hearing that.I don’t ever want to be numb to these things. I have learned not to know the names of some of my favorite kids in Kenya because too often I’d come back and they would be dead as well. I hope the world shudders a bit when children are killed. A small shake for every child would be good. Several thousand die per day.
The thing is that I am a woman of faith. And people often ask me why God lets these things happen? Why does God make wars and famine and AIDS? These things are not of God,, they are of man. Wars are manmade. And famine and drought are as well. Folks like to dump on God for what we have wrought. I wonder who atheists blame because killing children is beyond what almost anyone would agree is too horrifying to take on as our own. No one wants to own this tragedy. And another war is definitely not the answer. Only more kids will be killed. Pity that’s the first thing spin doctors and governments think about or shy away from.
And I wonder, here on my couch, in my safe corner of Boston is anyone in my circle of people is hurting for these children. I know my friends in Kenya are. Yet I wonder if those who work with me, help with One Village at a Time even know these children are dead. I do hope so.
So tonight I want to mark this event. I want to pray and I want to say “It’s not God’s fault, this belongs to us”.
Imagine finding out you are pregnant and then wondering if it will also kill you. That’s a cold hard fact where I work. Never has that been more true in Kenya than now. Healthcare is not great to start with. You all remember the broken leg story of Mama’s in November. Broken equipment, long lines, filthy mosquito netting, used iv’s and on and on.
Yesterday the Nation Posted this article about a woman in labor who went to one clinic that couldn’t help her, then being taken to another where the nurses were on strike…mother and newborn died in the streets. Yes healthcare workers have gone on strike and to add insult to injury the government has just fired 25,000 of them as if that’s going to help.
Today is International Women’s Day. In first world countries we can celebrate women’s accomplishments in government, in business, in education. These women have such good medical care that if they cannot conceive they have fertility specialists to help them. They have ultra sounds whenever it is deemed a good idea. Women here in the U.S even ask for extra ones if they are feeling anxious. Labor rooms are equipped with the latest equipment and the women have been seeing their doctors for months. Happy International Women’s Day to them.
But in Kenya and other 3rd world countries, women die on the streets while giving birth. There are not pre-natal checkups for the majority of them and surely no fetal monitors or ultra-sounds. Heck, right now there isn’t even a healthcare worker to attend the birth should they go into labor. There is no International Women’s Day for them.
So I sigh and pray that someone reads this and someone cares. I hope the work we do educates women and children, but I am disheartened because I know that the scarcity of real medical help for them is a long long way off. And 1 out of 10 women where I die may receive a death sentence the minute she knows she is pregnant.
Read this if you can: http://www.nation.co.ke/News/Mum+baby+bleed+to+death+in+strike+horror+/-/1056/1361452/-/y4bndxz/-/index.html