Saturday, January 30, 2010


Meggy and Michelle


Risper Washing Laundry

Installing Gate

Inviting Wife Mama KMET to Enter

Planting Fla,boyant Tree

Wife Monica Mama KMET Planting Tree

Killing Chicken

Giving Chicken to Wife Monica Mama KMET

First Plastering

Friday, January 29, 2010

Kisumu Blog 1

January 30, 2010

Dear Family and Friends,

I arrived back in Kisumu, Kenya on January 16th to volunteer again for KMET, (Kisumu Medical and Education Trust) for the second time. As you recall, Hinda and I were both here from June – September 2009. Now I am here alone. Hinda is holding up the home front! I will be here until March 15.

So, needless to say that even though I am surrounded by many close friends and Kenyan family, I am lonely and miss her.

I want to say a little about my welcome back to Kenya and how I am living and what work I am doing. All of this is exciting.

When I arrived at the airport in Kisumu on January 17, I was met by my “son and daughter” and who greeted me with hugs and kisses, and even a neck wreath. I was accompanied here by Monica, the KMET Executive Director who graciously hosted me in her Nairobi home and we traveled to Kisumu together.

We arrived at the airport here carrying 5 suitcases of donated medical supplies, mobile phones, laptop computers, and even two pink soccer balls. Monica who is very well connected called someone, and the airline waived the extra and overweight baggage fees.

And when I got to the office on that first Monday morning, there were lots of hugging and kissing and I felt so welcomed to this, my second home.

The living arrangements this time are different from any of my previous volunteer experiences. Before, Hinda and I stayed in our own apartment. Now, I am living in the community with different families of KMET staff. In fact there will be 7 different families who have asked me to stay with them.

Presently I am with Meggy Agola and her year old daughter Michelle, and her housekeeper Risper. We all share a 2 bedroom house in a typical area of Kisumu. Risper takes very good care of me – washing clothes, cooking, preparing my shower, and on and on. I need to clone her. And a great sense of humor and contagious laughter. Another young woman, Maureen lives with us also who is a great cook. And Meggy makes very sure that I am safe at all times, even that I am safe from my self and my own foibles. Meggy’s husband works in Nairobi, so is usually home on the weekends. This is not uncommon here because of the economy – one spouse live and works in one city, and the other in another city.

Meggy has learned one of my less good behaviors and so she has nicknamed me “mutukutu” (stubborn).

It is important to experience how other people live, probably most people here live like I am now living. Cooking is done on a one burner gas canister – perhaps 3 or 4 dishes, (vegetables, stew, ugali, etc.) And the food is great. I am staining my shirts less and less often as I improve on eating with my fingers. And when they do get dirty, Risper makes them clean again. She irons them on the couch each day. Showering is outside in an enclosed shower room using water heated in the house from a kettle, and then showering/bathing is from a bucket. In the evening when we come home, I just use cold water since by that time am pretty hot and sweaty. It has been in the 90’s I think most of the time.

During the week we get up around 6 although Risper sometime is up way before then doing the wash outside in the dark.

Meggy and I go to work each morning by walking to a matatu, (a minivan for 14, but usually there are 20, 21, or even 22 passengers), and then walk to the office from the matatu stop, or sometime take a bike taxi. Total cost per person , about 45 cents.

I cannot finds adequate words to express the hospitality, kindness, caring, and love that I am receiving from this family. I hope that someday they will visit me in them US and I can repay them.

Work is going very very well. I slipped back into my old groove and am still working on completing the new KMET building, although it is much further along than when I left last year. It will be ready for occupancy in a few more months. Just helped get the power for the building set up, although to tell the truth I was lucky to meet the right people at the right time.

When I left here at the end of September I was given the honor of being a Luo Elder. The Luo’s are the tribe from this part of Kenya.

I have been honored again. This is a very high and important honor for me, and for most, there would never be such an honor. KMET is building a building as you know. In Luo culture no house is complete until the gate has been installed, and that honor was bestowed on me. It is usually the man of the house who does this, and that is me.

First I symbolically installed the gate, (it wasn’t completely installed the day of the celebration). Then, I was the first person to go through the gate. Next I invited my surrogate wife Monica to enter, and then all of the staff and others who were there.

All of us then formed a prayer circle and prayers were said by one of the staff, and another in Hebrew by me blessing the house.

Apart of this gate tradition is to slaughter a chicken, so I was handed a live chicken and with the help of another surrogate first born son, In addition to holding the neck he also pulled out the neck feathers so that I knew where to cut. I cut the chicken’s jugular vein so that the blood drained onto the ground and sanctified the ground. I then handed the chicken to my wife Monica.

Next, I troweled the first plaster onto the interior wall, and finally I planted a tree. It is a flamboyant tree, and if you have never seen one, look it up on the internet. It is one of the most beautiful trees with bight red/orange blooms and very beautiful leaves. After I planted it, Monica next shoveled in dirt, and then everyone else participated in the planting and shoveling and first watering.

So, I am honored, proud, and humbled by this. It is something that will always be with me. It is too bad that Hinda missed being a part of this, but she told me that she wouldn’t relish being handed the freshly slaughtered chicken, nor even watching me, her husband kill it.

Oh, one more thing. I told you that everyone is protecting me. Last Sunday I went to the open market with Risper and Maureen and while shopping, two big guys started to fight right next to us. The two girls quickly pulled me away. Each one took one of my hands, and none of us were hurt.

I am working hard – very full days, so my time for writing is pretty limited. I will write again in another couple of weeks after I have lived with my next family.

I have learned some Luo and more Kiswahili, and am putting the both of them together into a new kind of language, but everyone understands. It is fun, and when I learn a slang word, it gets a lot of laughs.

Love to all of you,