Sunday, February 21, 2010

the news!

This will have to be kind of short and sweet, because I have another computer project I'm working on today and my internet minutes are racking up! I just wanted to send out a huge thank you and update to everyone that has donated so far to the various and extensive projects we have planned for the next few weeks. Though Ben and I will only be here for one more week, we are trying to get as much accomplished as possible. Here is a little list of everything that is going on, because I love things in list form:

-First off, everything seems to be back to normal. No more Maasai fears... for now. I think this is an ongoing struggle though. But for now, it has abated.

-The blackboard is almost complete! Just one more coat of paint and it should be ready to go for school tomorrow, along with the (surprise) charts for Nova. Don't worry, I took lots of pictures, and someday I will put them online.

- Ben and Daniel (and maybe some others) will commence building the very first wood-sided house at the Ebenezer Camp on Tuesday, when the supplies are delivered. The project should only take about two days, we think. Then Dan and his family can move in together again!

-Robin and I have almost completed all the interviews for the Asset-Assessment project (minus those people that can NEVER BE FOUND... they are very illusive), and will be meeting with the camp Monday evening to address all of the information we have gathered. Basically, we have put everyone into groups based on skills and ideas (i.e. Rabbit Rearing, Milking Goats, Knitting, etc.) and will give a short debriefing on how to go about forming small groups and starting projects (making proposals, budgets, and designating roles). Then we will leave it to them to come find us with their ideas!

-Also during the meeting, I will be announcing Tuesday as tree planting day! We have decided (based on finds and accessibility) that each family/plot will receive 2 treelings, each of a different variety (of which I do not have English names for). They are fast-growing and shade-producing, and should be able to reach close to full growth within one year. John and Samuel and I will go pick up the trees from the nurseries on Tuesday morning (hopefully) and planting will happen Tuesday evening. This should be perfect timing, as it has been raining almost everyday, so the soil is nice and soft for planting.

-Our first group, the "Shosho Basket-Weaving Group" (read: grandma basket group) has already formed, even without our help! The 5 ladies have some great baskets, and we have begun talking to them about collaborations and a start-up budget. I will be giving them $50 to start, and then purchasing some of their baskets as a little extra 'push' in their new business. This should get them going with supplies for about 10 new baskets, allowing them to keep all income and intiate a budgeting system.

- Robin has raised enough money to start the water project (getting water to the camp), so we will talk again this week with the water commissioner about logistics, and maybe even start it up...but it probably won't be done until Ben and I are gone.

-Robin, Ben, and I have all been talking about gathering our remaining funds to build an office/storage shed for the camp. Locked storage is ideal for things like medical supplies, project supplies, and porridge for the nursery school children, and an office for all the small groups that are forming (plus the Camp officials) would be great! I'm pretty sure this can be managed, but might not be built by the time we leave. We'll just have to rely on Robin for photos...

-This week I'm also going to be working on making a welcome sign for the camp, to be hung on the side of the school, and smaller signs for the Nursery School and Community Center. I just got an itch to paint some stuff, and I have leftover paint, so I figured, why not? Also might paint the door of the school and the windows too... we'll see.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Oh it has been more than a week since I last wrote! Apologies. A lot has been going on. Especially in the past four days. I am ever so slowly realizing how complex it is to live in a society ruled by tribes and tribal conflicts. Last week Ben, Robin and I began sending out emails requesting donations for various projects that we would like to complete in the next week and a half (Robin has a bit more time, as she is staying a couple of weeks longer than us). You probably got my email- and thank you to all that have donated so far! I can now begin planning all of my small projects, and we can start funding some start-up business groups at the camp. In fact, today I am in Gilgil to purchase all the supplies for the Nursery School blackboard, and I am hiring one of the very active camp members to install it. Ben was extremely successful in raising funds to build one of our favorite (and hardest working) camp members a house, as his tent burnt down in November, and he is left bunking with a friend in his tent, while his wife and children live far away with family. But, hopefully, by the end of next week, Daniel and his family will have their own house! Robin has been working on determining exactly what she wishes to raise money for, and it looks like right now she is going to work toward piping water to the camp. So yes, things are moving. And then again, things are not.

Ben and I took a weekend vacation to Lake Baringo, about 4 hours northwest of where we live, simply to just sit around and not operate on grandma time for a full two days. It was really nice. Similar to our last weekend trip, we stayed on a very hippo-filled lake. However, this time there was no electric fence to keep the hippos out! Let me tell you, when you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, but you can hear a hippo munching and grunting outside your tent, you decide it is probably better to hold it until daylight.

Upon returning to the camp however, situations had not been that good. Evidently a camp member had been killed by the Maasai for stealing a goat ("beheaded" was the actual term they used, but we realized later just his throat had been cut). The Maasai are known to be one of the fiercest warrior tribes in Africa, and they were the tribe that pushed most of our camp residents out of their old area during the 2008 crisis. Well, whatever genius decided to purchase land for the IDP camp just so happened to purchase on the Maasai grazing path, so tensions have been rough ever since they moved in last year. The Maasai don't want people on their grazing grounds (they are nomadic, so really, these grazing grounds are everywhere), and the camp is extremely scared of the Maasai, so they get a little crazy when tensions are high. Almost all of the camp is Kikuyu, a naturally non-violent tribe, so they have no weapons. After the police came and interviewed a witness to the crime (evidently some man on a hilltop somewhere), it was realized that the dead man was not in fact stealing a goat, but involved in a relationship with the Maasai man's wife. Ahhh yes, your typical crime of passion. Alright, so you think this would put everyone at ease. It wasn't really about tribes, so we're all good, right?

Wrong. The night after we came home I woke up in the middle of the night. Struggling out of my dream, I eventually came to and realized I woke up becuase people were wailing, and children were screaming. Like they were in pain screaming. I woke Ben up because I was horrified. Of course I thought the worst. Being in a dream-like state still, I imagined the Maasai burning down the camp and coming to our house next. Alas, after looking out the window, and hearing the commotion die down, I realized someone's tent was burning down. It was a cold night and I figured they had left the cook fire burning too long, and the tent caught on fire. Ben insisted that everything was fine (though I'm pretty sure he wasn't really awake for any of this). We found out the next day that 7 children (no parents) had been in the tent, and all were taken to the hospital for burns. Luckily, only one was seriously hurt, and all would be released sometime this week. Still. Scary.

That takes us to this morning. This morning I walked to town with Camp Secretary John, and he relayed to me the intricacies of everything that has been going on this week. Last night, no one in the camp slept. Around 7 pm, just as the sun went down, a man from camp spotted the Maasai at the base of the hill that the camp sits on. They were carrying arrows and torches. The women and children all slept in the school house, while the men guarded camp all night, through the pouring rain. The Maasai never made a move, but the fear is there. John insisted that they were probably just guarding their livestock, but it had horrified everyone. Peace talks need to come soon, or the culture of fear will take over and something bad will happen. The District Officer is coming to camp today to talk to people about a meeting time, and I really hope all will be resolved in a meeting of some sort. No one in camp is sleeping, and for good reason! John has also been in communication with two other IDP camps in the area, and they have been experiencing trouble with the Maasai as well. It's like going back in time. Or like being part of rival gangs. Africa. That's all I can say.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

the elders.

"I used to sit in the middle of the village with my guitar on one knee, and a beautiful woman on the other," said 73-year old Waweri, smiling, during my first community-assessment interview. I couldn't have picked a better Ebenezer member to start with. Waweri, confined to a wheelchair for the past 10 years or so (he doesn't really remember, and claims his paralysis from the waist down is due to "old age") was a hoot. He talked of working on the home shamba (farm), working for the Italians on a major peanut farm (a job from which he incurred various injuries...and he showed me all of the scars for proof, don't worry), but his emphasis was on the music he played during his younger years. Before his father broke his guitar in a fit of rage, Waweri played for the village he came from almost every night, which to him was a natural talent, but also came in handy when woo-ing the ladies. In fact, halfway through the interview my translator left me- and I was left with Waweri, babbling in Kikuyu, and playing an air guitar for me with a toothless smile.

Our asset-assessments thus far have been going very well, everyone is MORE than willing to talk to us (yesterday I had a line of people waiting), and most are very interesting to talk to. Granted, there are some very young, uneducated, single mothers that have less than one word to talk about, but that was to be expected. They are, in fact, the ones that we hope to help the most- by pairing and grouping them with more experienced, outgoing, talented older community members, so that they don't fall between the cracks and bring their children with them. Yesterday I talked to a variety of people, but three of the community's elders were the highlights of the day. One older woman (and I can't for the life of me remember her name) talked about how much she would like to give cultural talks to the community, because no one remembers where they come from, or what their tribe was (and is). She used to make traditional costumes, baskets, beads and loved to dance...While right down the road from her a younger woman also makes beads, but has not restarted her craft post-violence. Another young woman, my age actually, with 5 children, has had an onset of random illness (unidentifiable by doctors she said) since the violence occured. Ranging from headaches, to stomach aches, joint pain and nausea - the only thing doctors told her was that perhaps, it was ulcers. My non-medical degree would say, post-traumatic stress? Sometimes I forget what these people went through, but the results and effects that are not easily seen from the outside lie deep within. Some of the residents have been dislocated at least 4 times in the past 30 years.

Over the next few days I hope to compile a list of things needed, little pet projects that I have been thinking about over the past few weeks where I can help make a donation to the camp in a viable, but not entirely unattainable manner. Like a guitar for Waweri, so that he can give guitar lessons. Or the start-up funds so that women can have a knitting group. Or a chalkboard for the Nursery school. So everyone, look out! I may be asking for money sometime soon. Not a lot, just a little to go a long way.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

week 3.

We're halfway done! With time that is, halfway done with projects... well, that could take a lifetime. The week started with a trip to Naivasha and Hells Gate National Park, a 1 1/2 hour ride from Gilgil on two matatus (read: minibus crammed with at least 14 people). But, the transport was only about $1.50 and we were a world away from the camp, which was pretty welcome at that point. There occurs a time during every trip I have taken when I get a little anxious. Not for any particular reason, just because. This was it. It probably also had to do with the fact that it was my birthday, and let's face it, I've never really been into my birthday (for reasons unknown to me). But this was going to be a very relaxing vacation, for sure.

We rented a "banda" (read: small house with 4 beds and a bathroom) for about $30/night on the shores of Lake Naivasha. It was UBER RELAXING. We ate delicious food and drank beer from the open air patio of the restaurant on the lodge's grounds- they even had 'sticky' chocolate cake for dessert! Though I am not sure how sticky played into the cake at all. At 6:30 pm every night, a two foot high electric fence was activated and spotlights were turned on so that we could view the hippos coming out to graze. Big, fat, and hairless, I was pretty much satisfied with everything I saw over the three days we were there. After a relaxing first day, the following morning we woke up early to rent bicycles to ride through Hells Gate National Park. 8 hot, dusty, sweaty hours later, we had seen more herds of zebras than I had ever imagined in my life. The park has amazing topography- cliffs and rock monuments, rolling grasslands and acacia forests. Pretty much everything you think of when you think of African landscape. And by bike- fantastic!! Though the first turn we took was probably the wrong one (think, biking uphill through sand in search of "Obsidian Caves" that actually don't exist anymore because they collapsed 5 years ago... thanks for changing the signage, park employees), we ended up with sore backsides that were well worth the journey. We determined that we rode a total of 40km (rough estimate) mostly in sand or on rocky surfaces on 20 year old mountain bikes with names like "CHevrolet, the Heartbeat of America". Hahaa, only here. We pretty much got up close an personal with warthogs, zebras, gazelles, kudus, antelope, and 2 giraffes! I was actually 100 yards from the giraffes, but Ben and Robin were much much closer- I was a little jealous. It was a low point in the ride and I was struggling know, typical heat exhaustion. I was glad we didn't encounter any hostile animals...because really, I cannot imagine trying to out-bike a rhino or wildcat. I could hardly out-bike myself walking. Our third and final day was spent lounging again, mostly in the same chair all day. It was fantastic. Though we knew we had to go back to the camp, it re-energized and vamped our spirits for the next three weeks, especially because I know Ben and I will have some more supre awesome times post-volunteering.

Back at the camp this week it was slow going. Everyone was kind of in a rut. Our assessment project keeps being pushed back for some reason or another (laziness on part of our interpreters? Not really sure) And the greenhouse roof ripped off over the weekend due to high winds. Ben spent an entire morning fixing it HIMSELF, without the help of anyone at the camp for some reason, while I held his rickety ladder steady so that he wouldn't kill himself in the name of some 500 tomato plants. The camp was supposedly "preparing for a meeting" with some government official, which in the end, didn't even happen. Yesterday I took charge and said that we should start this interview process, interpreter or not. So we started with Rev. John (everyones name is john, and this one is on the way to becoming a reverend..hence the nickname). He was the perfect person to start with! He is probably the most motivated person in the camp, having worked as a mason, carpenter, on an industrial wheat farm, owned his own restaurant, and many many other talents. I think a direct quote of his was something like, "I can do pretty much any job." He is totally motivated, but lacks connections with people in the camp to start projects with. Hopefully our project will help this! Ben and I were invited to dinner at his tent last night where we had ugali and greens (much tastier than the ones we have at home) with he and his wife and their 5 children. While Ben talked to John about anything and everything (the usual question/answer session that takes about 3 hours with every Kenyan we meet), I talked to the youngest two boys, ages 8 and 11 about school and soccer. They both have VERY good English skills, most definitely due to the ferocity of wit and intelligence of their parents.

Well, must cut this short so that I can respond to some emails, and return to the camp to do some more interviewing!