Monthly Archives: May 2011

Kenya Diaries – Day 4

Monday

We spent a full day at New Life Homes today. First thing, I was in with the toddlers. My impression was that they were very quiet. They were all sat at high tables on chairs that were too big for them – their feet didn’t reach the floor. There was not much interaction between the staff and the children.  The children sit and wait around for the next activity for long periods. In England they would have got fed up and wandered off or made some noise. It was eerily quiet.

After snack we took them out to a covered area with a concrete floor and shelving at one end filled with lots of broken plastic babies activity centres. I wasn’t sure why these were here as a) they had no play value and b) the children ignored them. There was a nice large sand area with a swing, slide and roundabout. Staff are concerned that the children will get dirty of they play in the sand. The play equipment is all made of metal – in the midday sun, these are very hot to the touch, especially on a child’s bare leg.  Staff placed the children down on the concrete floor and sat on the benches round the side of the shelter, ignoring them.

After toddlers, I joined babies staff for feeding time. Fortunately there were 5 visitors helping the 3 staff to deal with the 22 babies. The larger ones were given a substantial bowl of solids (rice and beans), followed by a full cup of milk.  These are well fed babies. About 10 of them are strapped into bouncy chairs waiting for their milk – in silence, the others lie quietly on mats. We fed a few each then played with them, singing and holding them. The staff mainly sat and watched us.

After lunch I joined the special needs girls downstairs. I gave them their new musical instruments and we had a noisy singing time. Ashley, one of the girls, grabbed me by the hand and pulled me outside where 3 of the children had a great time playing in the sand, on the roundabout and the slide. We came in for tea and I sat at the table as the 4 of them consumed massive bowls of rice and beans. After they had finished, I cleared away while they disappeared for a shower.  I was discovered by the staff, sweeping the floor, which caused much consternation, mainly I think because I was a man and also white. It was not my role to clean up.

A white worker shared today that she had been told by a black colleague that it would not be a good idea for her, as a white person, to visit her home in the slum because word would get around about the visit and her home would be burgled by people looking for the wealth which they assumed would have been left as a gift.

Kenya Diaries – Day 3

Sunday

We went to church this morning.  The 7 of us climbed into the pickup. We stopped en route to collect Mary, the house maid, and 4 children. It was getting slightly cramped in the back where there was not enough headroom to sit up straight, consequently driving over any bump in the road meant another bang of my head against the roof and there are quite a few bumps on any journey around Kisumu, there often being more potholes than road. We bumped across dirt tracks to the church compound. The vehicle pulled up  next to a large metal frame supporting a blue and white striped canvas roof over a dirt floor. This turned out to be the church. The meeting started unexpectedly whilst we were still shaking hands with everyone – the traditional Kenyan greeting. Most of the 20-30 odd congregation were Kenyans and very welcoming. The singing was excellent, of course.

After the church service, we climbed back into the pickup – the original 7 of us, plus Mary and her 4 youngsters and then another 3. A particularly solid lad ended up on my lap. Mary described him as “healthy” which basically means fat. This was evident when we set off headed back out into the potholes. I appreciated the extreme healthiness of this boy with every crater. It was then a relief to drop them off at their next church meeting before driving on to the local Masai craft market –  ‘You come my stall, all good stuff, you buy lovely presents for family, I make deal, you come in back – come on, come on!’ It‘s relentless. There’s no chance to browse or consider anything, you just have to grab, haggle and hope you get something you wanted, trying to convert Kenyan shillings into pounds as you go. I ended up with some carved wooden animals and a mobile for nursery.  It was all very cheap.

And so on to lunch by Lake Victoria at the Kiboko Lodge restaurant. It was slightly surreal tucking into fish and chips and a banana split with hippos surfacing in the background.

Afterwards, we drove to Hippo Point. Pippa who used to live in the area, met an old friend, Titus, who showed us around, pointing out the bird life – kingfishers, cormorants, weaver birds, storks, egrets etc and the different trees, including the ‘crocodile tree’ which has enormous spikes on its bark. 

It was a wonderful experience.  Titus’ business partner – John arrived. They own a boat which Pippa’s husband had repaired for him on a previous visit. We arranged to go for a trip on the lake in their boat on Friday morning.  John’s daughter had contracted malaria many years ago and he couldn’t afford the £8 to pay for a blood transfusion. Pippa had paid for it. Today, John told her that she had saved his daughter’s life.

In the evening, we sorted out the remaining suitcases which we had packed in England with donated toys, clothes and resources. Once everything was emptied and spread out, there was a lot of stuff. Bev was delighted, especially with the Special Needs resources.

9pm, time for bed. Tomorrow we are off to spend the day with the children and staff at the New Life Home.

Kenya Diaries – Day 2 (Part 2)

Some stories from around the table

John, an English missionary married to Connie, an American, told us how he had driven to the bus station recently. He stopped briefly to let a friend out. As he was about to pull away, a police lady got into the passenger seat and announced he was under arrest for parking in a forbidden zone. John phoned his wife from the car to tell her he had been arrested and that he wasn’t sure what to do. The stand-off continued for some time. Apparently, the female officer was awaiting the arrival of a male colleague.  Eventually her radio crackled, a message burst forth and she stepped out, at which point John drove off. Such occurrences are common – particularly when a white face is in evidence, it is seen as an opportunity for making money. Police constantly flag down vehicles with white drivers – it is not advisable to stop. In the slums, children always press in on whites, seeking sweets, food or money.

At various retail outlets, there are “bona fide” sanctioned charity craft stalls, promoting their support for widows and orphans. All the money raised through sales goes to those in charge who send these funds back to their families living back in the rural areas. Similarly, funds passed to NGOs from overseas donors goes straight to individuals who are buying 4 x 4s or property – this has lead to a property boom in Kisumu, with land prices and rents rising enormously and the price of commodities and food staples also rising, including petrol and flour whose price has doubled in a year.

One white English pastor, living and working in the slums, drove his motorbike round the corner from his home, to dump some rubbish. At the bins, a local man put his hands on the bike and demanded money. The pastor refused and as the man would not move, he had to wrestle him to the ground in an armlock to relinquish his hold on the pastor’s motorbike. A crowd gathered and the pastor stood up and took his leave. As he was riding off on his bike, he turned to see the crowd beating and kicking the man, so he had to turn back to go and rescue him! Just another day in the slums.

People in the slums do not help each other. They moved to the city in search of jobs and money and of course, they found neither. Back in their villages, everyone looked out for one another. In the slums they are scared to help anyone because they believe they will have to carry on helping them indefinitely.

John related the story of a trip into town on the back of a motorbike. He spotted a lady lying in the storm drain by the side of the road. The bike stopped and John ran over to her. She had a large weeping gash across her forehead. It was evident that she had a mental illness. She was unable to speak coherently. People driving and walking past were just ignoring her. As John gathered her up, an Indian man then came over with a glass of water for her. John took her to hospital and reported the incident to the police – to protect himself. He made sure she was treated, that her wound was stitched up and that she was bathed, clothed and fed and then she was sent on her way.

Pete talked about his experience in the local hospital when he broke a finger. Having paid the cashier to be registered as a case, then again following triage, the hospital entrance was unlocked (and locked again behind him so he didn’t leave without paying!) and he was directed to the orthopaedic ward where he requested that he be treated by a specialist.  After an excruciating experience of having his arm and finger pulled in different directions by the “specialist” and a nurse, he discovered that the man was in fact a urologist.  This treatment exacerbated his injury. Useless x-rays were taken with his broken finger at the wrong angle. The finger was strapped and left. Eventually he had to have it redone. In total a relatively minor injury cost him over £850.

For Kenyans with no money, medical treatment is delivered through district hospitals where patients’ relatives provide all meals, cleaning, medicines and care routines. Patients are accommodated 2 to a bed – top and tailed, with sometimes  2 more under the bed. John had come across some prisoners in a district hospital, shackled to the bed frame. One man was chained up under a bed near the window from where rain was coming in on him. His eyes were rolling up and he was in a terrible state with no one to care for him. John felt helpless to do anything other than to pray for a speedy end to the poor man’s suffering.

Another lady at the barbecue, a nurse, also visits the district hospital. On one occasion, she had found a man lying in a bed with a gash so deep that the bone in his leg was exposed. They were treating the wound with hydrogen peroxide. The bone was turning black. The nurse tried to get a doctor to x ray the bone but she was dismissed. He said it was a flesh wound. The nurse paid for an x ray herself which showed that the bone was infected. The leg had to be amputated.

Kenya Diaries – Day 2 (Part 1)

Saturday

After breakfast, we set off for New Life Home, just round the corner, where we met some of the children including the babies, toddlers and older special needs. The Home exists to rescue abandoned children and then to find them a new home with adoptive parents. It was moving to learn that many of them had been rescued from the streets, some in plastic bags, some still with the placenta attached.

We moved on to Pete and Paula Phillip’s home where we were welcomed before setting off into the slum to visit the site of the To Kenya With Love (TKWL) school facility. The compound is in the middle of the slum. It was exciting to see the climbing frame and slide Paint Pots had paid for. I had a photo taken with some of the HIV positive children whose parents were meeting in the school. We viewed the classrooms, the cooking and eating areas, the rooms which will eventually become the nursery and the sports field which was being grazed by goats.

The buildings are surrounded by mud and tin huts.  The mud tracks that separate them are strewn with litter.

The school charges between £2-8 a month per child for them to attend 8 – 3 every day. This is cheaper than the £10+ a month charged by the “free” government schools, which many families are unable to afford. For this amount they are provided with all resources, uniform and a hot meal each day. The school is starting to grow its own food, including pods from the maringa tree which are full of protein and vitamins. These are added to the daily rice and beans to supplement the nutrition given to the children. For many, their school meals are the only food available to them all day.

We returned to Pete and Paula’s for a barbecue. Several friends joined us including Chris Wheat the TKWL project worker. It was really good to see him again. We spent some time chatting.

Pete told us it had been a difficult last term. The school had lost 3 parents to Aids and their brightest pupil to malaria. Most of the school’s children are orphans. This area has the highest incidence of HIV in Kenya – over 70%.

Kenya Diaries – Day 1

Thursday

We all met up on time at our appointed rendezvous. The 12 cases we had packed 2 days earlier zipped, lined up then loaded into the cars ready for the journey up the M3 / M25, to Heathrow. It was straightforward – no delays, so was the check-in – all the cases weighed, labelled and dispatched without question and no surcharges for excess baggage. We watched them trundle off, hopefully headed for our plane’s hold whilst we were duly processed through departures.

The Kenya Airlines 777 was full but comfortable – as comfortable as it is possible to be for 8 ½ hours in the same economy class seat. My screen was broken, so no film. I read, did the crossword, ate some salmon then slept – fitfully. It felt like 10 minutes but was clearly several hours, still we were eating breakfast at 4 am – 2 am uk time.

 

Friday

Nairobi, even at 6 am, was humid. Immigration and customs were a formality, our contact was ready and waiting to take the 4 cases of second hand uniforms off our hands and deliver them to the local New Life Homes.

We crossed the road to domestic flights. There was seemingly no system for checking in. Some tempers (not ours) were fraying in the queue but we eventually made it through to the gate on time. Some time later, we all rose as one, headed for the door. We crossed the tarmac, climbed the plane steps, stowed our bags in the overhead lockers and strapped ourselves in. The safety announcement commenced as we rolled off the stand, taxiing to the runway, ready for takeoff. Kisumu here we come! Our journey completed without a hitch……..

… 4 hours later we are still sat waiting back in the departure lounge – how come?  As our plane turned to commence take off there was an announcement by way of an apology for the delay – what delay? Seemingly we had missed our landing slot at Kisumu, where they are working on the runways, so our plane did a gentle tour of the airport perimeter before coming to rest back where we had started 5 minutes earlier. And that was that – we disembarked and here we are, 2 hours more to wait until the next attempt. Welcome to Africa!

I had had a meeting with the head of St Marks school on Wednesday where I had bumped into an old contact while waiting at reception. He had heard we were travelling to Kenya and he told me he was also travelling through Nairobi to Mombassa, at the same time. So we were still sat waiting for our connecting flight when who should come over and say hello but Tony from Southampton. Small world!

Kisumu Airport 6 ½ hours later than originally scheduled, we land at Kisumu airport. After a moderately short drive across the gravel which seems to comprise 90% of the airport surface, we arrived at the ramshackle huts by the entrance.  We were greeted very warmly by Charlie and Bev.

 

 

 

We picked up our cases which had been lobbed out of the back of a minibus into the dust. We loaded them, for the last time, into the New Life Homes minibus and set off for Charlie and Bev’s home, down the airport approach road.

The scene is a film set. This cannot be real. The “road” is a dirt track with large flints and potholes, criss-crossed by bikes, scooters, tuc-tucs, jeeps, pickups filled with people hanging off the back, the roof, the sides. There is no road, there are no markings. We pass concrete huts, concrete shops, concrete factories, wooden shacks. In half a mile, this is a complete culture shock.

We arrived at Charlie and Bev’s, beeped the horn for the guard to open the gate and unloaded the cases for the last time- hurrah! We walked the grounds and drank tea. Later we all sat down together to eat chappatis, mince and coleslaw.  We walked across the road for an evening at the home of a young American couple, before heading off to bed at 9pm. I crashed out, dead to the World until 8am the following morning.

And we’re back…..

After 2 weeks in Kenya, a Royal Wedding and a couple of bank holidays, the blog is back. Over the next couple of weeks I am going to load entries from my Kenyan diary but to re-start my blogging, here is a  poem –

The nursery owner’s  love song

You could be my pink blob of glitter playdough,

my bee-bot, my large blocks, my gruffalo.

You could be the panda in my duplo zoo

and I could click your stickle bricks too.

 

We could go stomping where the wild things are,

chase the duck in the truck and Laura’s star.

You could be Thomas on my wooden Brio track.

You could be the carrot in our healthy snack.

 

I want to wind your bobbin up and row, row, row your boat

I’d be your tiny turtle with a bubble in my throat.

You could wave my parachute, you could tap my shape

We could both eat plastic peas off yellow plastic plates.

 

I’m a very hungry caterpillar. You’re a ripe red plum.

If I shake my tambourine, would you beat your drum?

You could ting my triangle in our marching band.

We could hide our dinosaurs in sand.

 

I want to play heuristically and

learn to paint artistically

You could be my muse.

You could be my owl baby

You could learn to fly with me

In flashing Ben Ten shoes.

 

So I’ll be the daddy and you be the mum.

Let’s dive in the ball pit, we’ll have so much fun.

And then, all our bricks, dough and paint packed away

We’ll skip off for home at the end of the day.