Monday, September 28, 2009

On the Beach

Black and Red

Veiled and Walking

Bob Marley in the Market

Need a Ride?

Last Blog From Kenya

Last Blog From Kenya
September 28, 2009

Hujambo rafiki na jamii,
(Greetings friends and family)

We are about to leave this beautiful place with all of the beautiful friends and family we have made here, to return to our home in the USA and see our American family and friends whom we miss very much. So, we will leave with mixed feelings – sadness and happiness.

On our last weekend we traveled to Mombasa, Kenya’s port city on the Indian Ocean. This is the 3rd or 4th time that we have been at the Indian Ocean, but our first in Kenya. It is a very warm body of water, and the colors are quite beautiful: greens, blues, aquamarines.

Mombasa is very large compared to Kisumu and has about 2 million people, and is a pretty congested place. It is about as different culturally as it can be from Kisumu. The culture is Swahili – a mix of Arabic, Muslim, and East African culture, and is reflected in the food, dress, etc. There are many more Muslims than here. The food has a lot of Arabic influence and is nicely spiced. Many of the women are veiled, and only their eyes are showing. We also found many Somali’s who have probably left Somalia because of the problems there.

As we have told you before, we are helping the adolescent girls program make a CD. Last week at a party we had at our house we were told that one of the songs on the CD is about us. We were quite moved. It is a very very nice gesture, and one we will always treasure. We will send you the words after we return home and will also try to send you the music so that you can enjoy this beautiful music as much as we do.

Malaria and other problems continue to be a scourge here, and for us it hits home when one of our close friends and/or their infant children gets sick. While there is a lot of research going on, for the time being, as far as malaria goes, bed nets seem to offer the best hope. But the problem there is the affordability of them for so many people. It is a pretty simple solution and only costs $10 per net. There are lots of programs around that buy and give them to poor people in Africa. If you really want to save the life of a pregnant woman or infant, buy a treated net. It works!

There was just an interesting report in the paper about AIDS and circumcision which is supposed to reduce it by some 60%. However, the prevalence is still rising, and here on the coast, actually around Mombasa where upwards of 90% of the males are circumcised, the AIDS rate continues to rise. Many men have multiple partners and multiple wives, and so the virus keeps on spreading. Here where we work, our Reproductive Health Department spends a lot of time providing education to women and men, but it is much more difficult to reach men. Last week, we convinced a tuk tuk driver to give condoms to his friends, and he gave out 3 boxes (300 condoms) and came back for more. Anything helps. The key is not to give up and to keep on trying new things.

School is free here, but still there are uniforms to buy, shoes, notebooks, pens, pencils, etc., and lots of people just can’t afford it. When there is a family of boy and girl children, it is usually the boy child who gets to go. The girls stay home and help take care of the younger siblings, help with the chores, etc., and then the merry go round begins: early sexual activity without knowledge of what happens; perhaps rape; early marriage; the concept is that they don’t need an education because they will be taken care of by some man, and maybe this man has other wives and young girls and perhaps Aids/std’s, and round and round we go.

We were invited to dinner the other night at the home of a young man and his family – wife and 2 young children. Also his sisters. We have never felt so welcomed and comfortable, especially in a place where we didn’t know most of the people. This African culture is so warm and welcoming, and that is probably why we love it here so much. (And the food was delicious).

Here in Kisumu, there have been extremely heavy rains which brought flooding and some destruction. Last week 5 people died from the flooding. First there was drought and everyone prayed for rain, but the prayers must have been answered with a little too much rain. Still in the rest of the country and throughout most of East Africa there is a severe drought. People are starving; the livestock are dying by the thousands, and the fields are bone dry. Climate change, if that is what it is, is really taking a toll. So food security remains one of the most important issues. This is a tough place to be: it is difficult to find a job; aids, malaria, cholera, tb, malnutrition, flooding, drought. Kind of sounds like the 10 plagues that Moses wrought upon the Egyptians so long ago. But yet there is a lot of hope and people like us get up every day and come to work with our colleagues, and together we try to make a difference, and you know what – together we do make a difference. Remember, if you save one life you save the world.

Well, we came here to build capacity, empower and teach, and we think we did, but we were also educated and empowered, and our understanding of other cultures was once again expanded. It would be tough to see if we gave more or got more. Everyone thanks us, but I think that at our going away party tomorrow we will have a lot to thank you’s to say to all of the wonderful people here. This may be the only place that we would be willing to come back to for another volunteer experience, although, not the only place. We have once again made very good friends and strong relationships. There will be some tears tomorrow, probably from those of us who are going and those that are staying. I, Peter, have another family here – a sister, a daughter, a son, that I will never forget and that I will be forever close to.

OK, we will see you soon, and for some of you, even before you open this blog.

Oh yeah, one funny thing: A week or so ago, early in the morning I was checking email and I heard Hinda screaming: Help, Help, Come Quick! Apparently a frog had jumped up out of the drain just as Hinda was turning on the shower. Peter to the rescue. Our drains just drain out onto the ground, so it was pretty easy for Mr. Froggy just to up the drain, and also the shower drain has a hole in it so you know the rest of the story.

Love and hugs,

Mzee Peter and Mama Hinda

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

That porridge sure is good!

"Are we almost there?" (End of a 5 hour hike)

Black & White Colobus Monkey, Kakamega Forest

The Sisterhood for Change Choir

Bus in Kisumu

Hauling Water is Hard Work

Fishing Boat , Maboko Island, Lake Victoria

Blog 8, Kisumu, Kenya

Blog 8
Kisumu, Kenya
September 15, 2009

Hujambo family and friends,

This will be our next to the last blog. Next weekend, we will be going to Mombasa, and after we return we will only have a couple of more days left and will write a small blog to you.

In short, we love it here in Kenya, the country, the NGO we are volunteering with, and most of all the people we work with. They are kind, friendly, welcoming, helpful, and more and more. We can’t say enough about them and we will miss them so much. We will somehow have to find a way to come back.

There have been some very interesting and good things happening here with us and our organization.

• We are nearly finished with making an audio CD performed by the girls in one of our programs. These teen and early twenties girls have had more than a tough life and this program has helped them become strong young women. They sing beautifully and they will sell the CD and earn some money for their program and themselves;
• Two volunteers from Boston University who were here for about 6 weeks wrote the life stories of these young women, and our NGO is going to publish them and possibly include the CD with the book;
• Another good idea: Many people here are very poor, and some cannot even afford to buy sanitary napkins. So they may use old newspaper or cloth. For the young girls in school it is embarrassing to say the least and so they may not go to school during their periods because they are made fun of. Our NGO is now making washable and re-useable sanitary pads – an idea they got from another NGO. They are being made by the girls in our vocational training program, so their training is not only theoretical, but very practical and useful;
• Because hand sanitizer is expensive and hard to get here, we discovered using the internet that it is easy to make – aloe vera and alcohol, so we are working with our nutrition production project and a group of HIV positive women who already make soap to make hand sanitizer. Aloe vera grows wild here, and they are learning how to extract the gel from the plant. For the alcohol, at least for the experimental part of this process, we are using a local home made brew – “changaa” – which is not legal, but we got hold of some, because it is much cheaper than buying alcohol, so if we ever bring you some, don’t drink it. I tasted it and it is pretty strong stuff;
• We made a slide show about our organization and used it as a teaching tool. They now use it to show to visitors, and it is pretty good, even if we say so ourselves. The music in it is one of the songs that will be on the CD – a very beautiful, and moving song about conquering AIDS. We put the slide show on our You Tube site,( and will also helped our NGO develop their own You Tube site and have loaded the video there as well.
• To make fundraising a bit easier we are going to put a PayPal link on their website so that some of you and others can easily donate to them. The PayPal link can only be put on in the US;

• A few days ago, we had a “media day” that we helped conceive and organize, where local media representatives could learn about our NGO, and also spend a day in the slums where our NGO does most of it’s work. It was a great success. Here is an excerpt from an email to us from one of the media participants. This is what our volunteering is all about. Even small steps, like helping this one person have a better understanding is a success for us:
Thank you very much for coming all the way from America just to tell me about what is going on in my neighbourhood,you are such a wonderful man.
I have learnt alot and at one point I was touched when I came into reality how AIDS is fighting the less fortunate in our society.
I wish I had resources to assist I would have done much but still my power as a journalists I believe will bear some fruits.

We were to be in Kampala recently to attend a traditional “Introduction” – a traditional event where the two families of the bride and groom come together, the dowry is negotiated and paid, and it is basically a traditional wedding. Unfortunately, as you may know, violence broke out in Kampala on the day we were to take the bus there and we couldn’t go. The government of Uganda would not let the Kabaka – the Buganda King travel to a youth rally. Many people were killed, there were a lot of fires that burned businesses and quite a few people were injured. We were very worried about our Ugandan friends and family, but none of them were hurt, and it was to be our last visit there, so we could not say goodbye to them. We are sad, but fortunately we are safe. Sorry you could not see us in our traditional Ugandan clothing.

We are making a potluck for the people we work with and asked them to RSVP and tell us what they will bring. So, here is a cultural boo boo: There don’t seem to be such things as potlucks here, and most of the time, when you are invited to dinner, you come and eat and not bring the food. But it will be ok – our strange ways are being accepted – the Kenyans are very accepting. People are telling us they are coming and slowly we will find out what they will bring, although some are bringing something special which they want to keep a secret. I know we will have lots of fun with our friends here whom we are very fond of.

A few days ago, I was making sun tea, where you put tea bags in container with water and put it out in the sun to steep. The woman who works in our compound came by and asked what I was doing, I explained I was making tea and when it was done I would take it in the house and put it in the fridge. She looked at me and asked if I would then heat it up to drink, so I told her no I would put ice in it and drink it. She seemed very puzzled and couldn’t quite understand why I would want to put ice in tea to drink. This is the only country we have been to where, when you order a drink, like soda or beer, you are asked if you want it warm or cold. Oh well, each to his own taste, that’s what makes life interesting.

A couple of weeks ago, our friend Jonis, who had been visiting from the USA, and I went to the our NGO’s vocational training program and got pedicures. It took about 3 hours, but the girls did a great job and our feet never felt so good. And the price, 300 Kenyan shillings, or about $4. Some things are really inexpensive but most things are higher priced here in Africa.

Our work is still going strong. There seems to not be “winding down”, and we suspect that we will work until the last possible moment – the end of the day that we leave. In particular, Peter helped put together a system for obtaining bids for the building and a review process that has worked very well, and will be used as a model for the rest of the building. With his help, contracts for the new building have been issued for the electrical, door frames, and metal grill work for the windows and doors, and soon for the doors. Most important is the process he has helped to develop for the future.

As for Hinda, she has developed and instituted a client record system and a pretty sophisticated data base and has trained the medical staff to use them. This is a big step forward for this group. The head nurse now is really computer literate, and data is being entered daily into the computer data base with information collected by the community health workers. Also, for the first time, there is a record system so that accurate record keeping can take place and a color coded system developed so that client records can be easily found.

Both we, and our organization are pleased, and we feel comfortable that we have taught something and left templates and systems for the future. This capacity building when it works really helps people and organizations do for themselves what they might have been unable to without the help of “capacity builders” like us.

You know there really is such a thing as “African time”. It just takes some getting used to. African time is what someone referred to once as: “Westerners have watches and Africans have time”. We are pretty used to it now since one of our children – guess who - runs on African time. You just get used to it, and go with the flow. And once you do, you reduce your stress. The other day, at a meeting called for 9, the person came at 10:30 and when I asked him what time it was, he said: “9 African time”.
See, that’s how it works.

Buying an airline ticket isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Like the airline tickets for our trip to Mombasa and back to Kisumu.
1. Call the travel agent and book the flight;
2. A week before departure, check the ticket;
3. Find out that on the return trip from Mombasa to Kisumu, you land in Nairobi after the flight for Kisumu has already left;
4. Call the airline and told to go to the airport and make the change;
5. The airline makes the change, but the printer is broken, so no new ticket;
6. Writes the information on the old ticket, but in the wrong place;
7. Now want to buy tickets to go to another destination;
8. Printer still does not work;
9. Can’t get change;
10. Leave without the change and hard copies of our 2 sets of tickets;
11. Hope we can get on the planes;
12. If not, come to visit us here in Kisumu

A short story about an honest American:
In planning a visit to Kampala to attend the introduction of our friend, we needed to wear nice and traditional clothing, including dress shoes which Peter didn’t have. All over Kisumu, and most of this continent, it is easy to buy used shoes made to look like new. Peter didn’t want to buy shoes just to wear one time, so I convinced the shoe seller to “rent” me the shoes, kind of an unusual idea. His name is Elvis, and he called a few times to make sure I was legit. Then I returned the rented shoes, and he was a bit surprised to get them back at all, especially in the same condition that he “rented” them to me in. I could have given him a phony number and he would never have found me, but in addition to being honest, I really wanted to show him that Americans, at least these two Americans were honest and true to our word.

So, this is quite long and we will end now. Hope you look at the slide show. We think you will like it – the photos and the music. The photos are Peter’s and the music sung by the Sisterhood for Change girls and young women.

Love and hugs to all of you,
Kijana Mdogo,("the youngest boy" – a pun on the fact that Peter is the oldest here), and Mama Hinda

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Roadside Vegetable Seller

Why Did the Rhino Cross the Road?

African Women Work Hard

Early Light and Clouds

Dancers and Drummer


Sunset and Sun Rays

Flamingos on Lake Nakuru

Eurasian Roller

Early Light

Dawn at lake Nakuru Natinal Park

Blog 7 Kenya

Blog 7


We hope you are well as we are here in Kenya. In just a bit under a month we will return to the USA to see many of you – it will be very nice after such a long absence.

We spent last weekend at Lake Nakuru National Park, in the Central Rift Valley, noted for it’s flamingos. Lake Nakuru is a shallow alkaline lake where hundreds of thousands, if not more, flamingos live. Because of the draught here the lake is quite low, and some flamingos have moved on to other lakes nearby and then they will be back.

We usually don’t stay in very fancy resorts, but this time we decided to pamper ourselves a little, and also since we wanted to stay inside the park so as to go out before dawn to photograph and see wildlife. There are only two places to stay in the park other than in tent sites, (and we don’t have a tent), and they are both pricey. Well, it was fancy and somewhat expensive with too much good food, especially desserts, but we probably won’t do it again anytime soon.

And speaking of tea, the area near Lake Nakuru is a big tea growing area, and quite beautiful with rolling hills and lots of beautiful acacia trees. If you have never seen tea, the green is very vibrant green, unlike most other greens that you find in nature. The only other that we have seen that resembles that color are rice paddy’s. The area goes on for miles and miles in all directions. Kenya produces a huge amount of tea which is exported around the world, and is quite good. Kenya also produces coffee, and in fact, there is a lot of tea and coffee throughout East Africa. You may know that coffee was first grown here in East Africa, we think in Ethiopia.

To contrast the beauty of the tea plantations, on the way home from the weekend we passed several IDP camps which were created as a result of the post election violence last year. Unfortunately many people have not returned home after those very bad days. Some because they may be afraid, and some because they may not have any homes to return to. Even though we were not here during that time, we hear about it often, and it certainly took a terrible toll. Here in Kisumu, there are still quite a few burned out buildings, and it is a frequent subject of discussion. For those of us/you who have not experienced this kind of thing, consider yourself lucky, and for those of you who have, we hope that it will never happen again, although humans seem to have a penchant for doing bad things to each other.

Our work is continuing to progress very well, although as the time for us here grows shorter, the work doesn’t diminish at all, and we both feel very committed to complete our responsibilities. Our bosses and colleagues keep on threatening to keep us here. Seriously, some very good work related things are happening: We have created several data bases, the most important of which is for the medical clinic to use to enter client data; we are trying to produce a CD of songs performed by the girls that our program works with; we did a very good report writing training and later this month we will do a slide show training; and created a patient registration and record keeping system. Once again, we try to increase the capacity of our staff colleagues and the organization. Our fundraising is going extremely well, and we designed and introduced the idea of wrist bands which we are now selling along with raffles to raise money for our new building, and getting money from businesses, etc. We are very happy being able to help, and if some people learn new things from us, then we will be satisfied. We will continue to help even after we return home.

After nearly 10 years of volunteering around this planet, and asking people to come and visit we just had and now have our first visitors: a family from Uganda who are very close friends spent a few days here, and an old and close friend from Seattle is here with us now.

One of the ideas that we had after crossing the border and seeing condom dispensers there, we thought it would be good to do a staff training about the use of condoms. Our Reproductive Health Specialist, a very bright, (and beautiful) young women did an excellent presentation with a staff colleague about how to use condoms, why they are important, etc., and at the end of the training, everyone, including us were given condoms to keep with us at all times, (in case of an emergency need). Anyway it was very good training, and also did a lot to help team building among the staff.

Have you ever heard singing frogs? We have lots of them right out our windows and they sing – not croak – from darkness to sometime in the early morning before dawn. Very interesting and noisy. They sound like crickets but they are in fact frogs.

Kenya just had their census, and we took part and were counted. It was very interesting to us. One of the questions asked about tribal affiliation, and many Kenyans were opposed to it in view of what has happened here before. We asked the census taker about the response she was getting and she told us that most people would not give their tribe and declared themselves Kenyan. When we were asked who the head of the family was, we both looked at each other and said, both of us. The census taker seemed a bit confused, and so asked who the oldest was, and it was Peter, so he was declared the head of the household. In fact as most of you know, it is Hinda who earns most of the money in our family. So, this is where cultural beliefs come into play. Anyway, we will be counted again in the US census nrxt year, and so when the world population is figured out, there will be two too many. Guess who?

There are many words in Kiswahili that are very similar and sometimes the same as both Arabic and Hebrew. A lot of Kiswahili is based on Arabic and there are many Arabic and Hebrew words that are the same. To make it even more interesting, some words are English with something tacked on the end such as “weekend”. One of the most interesting words is “tsedaka” which is something like charity in Hebrew, and also exactly the same in Swahili, and also in Arabic. In Hebrew there is the greeting shalom, in Arabic it is saalam, and in Kiswahili, it is salama. Night in Hebrew is layla, and in Swahili, lala, and in Arabic, it is quite similar.

As some of you may know, the Chinese are doing a lot of development in Africa. When we were volunteering in Ghana a few years ago, the Chinese were working on a lot of public projects, and here in Kenya, we saw Chinese contractors building roads this past weekend. We think that there is a lot of Chinese infrastructure building on this continent.

We will end with this funny observation: Next to the little airport here in Kisumu, there is a golf course, and as we were driving by the other night, we noticed that there were headstones and graves right in the middle of the golf course. The golf course must have been a cemetery at one time, or at least people were buried in that area before it was a golf course.

Well, almost the end. The graves stones on the golf course remind us of the “night runners” that live here. What are night runners? Well they are kind of like ghosts who come to your house at night and bang on the outside of your house. When they finally wake you, they are happy and they run away. By the way, they are naked. I guess we are heavy sleepers, since we haven’t been awakened yet.

Ok dear friends and family. Watch out for the night runners.

Mzee Peter and Mama Hinda