Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Susan's Grave in Moonlight

Susan's Husband's Grandmother

Preacher Man


Washing Dishes

Village Kids

Tending Cows

Drugs at Schnurman Pharmacy

The Other Beuatiful Sister

One Beautiful Sister

The Best Hospital in Town

Fetching Water

Born in 1915

Waiting for Water

Weeding Rice

Blog 2 Kisumu November 23, 2010

Blog 2
Kisumu, Kenya
November 16, 2010

Habari zenu! (How are all of you)

I am writing this in 2 parts, and I will finish it on Sunday or Monday after I return from the burial of my friend Susan.

This will be a “good news – bad news” letter. The bad news first. In the last week two of the people I have told you about died from complications of AIDS. One was Nancy, who I met in the infamous Russia Hospital, and the other was Susan, my friend. Everyone – her family, friends, and even me did everything in our power to save her and comfort her. But the most caring and compassionate was Roselyine, her sister in law. She as a very special gift of caring for people. But, alas, all the money, nor all the best care in the world could have saved Susan. It was a very tragic death and she left 4 beautiful children, her mother, and a sister and brother, in addition to lots of other relatives and friends.

You may remember the photo of Nancy lying the hospital bed - a person with a huge smile.

It is always sad when someone dies of that terrible disease, but when you know that person, and her family, it somehow seems worse. You will see her picture on this blog and you will surely agree how beautiful she was.

It is not AIDS per se that kills, but the opportunistic infections that overwhelm the victim’s severely weakened immune system.

And in the 3 weeks or so that I was at the hospital daily, I saw many people die.

A few days ago, I stopped at a local eating place to get a milkshake. The restaurant was open of course, but I waited and waited and finally figured out why I was waiting. The only person who knew how to make the shake was not there and he had to be called to come in to work, (and he brought the ice cream with him).

Another funny thing on my way to town. I saw 7 or 8 men who had tipped a van on its side and were holding it up while someone was underneath it repairing something. It was good those guys didn’t sneeze or get stung by bees or something that would have caused them to drop the van on the repair guy.

I had a very interesting last week. I visited a shamba – farm with Roselyne - the person who leases it to grow rice. It was quite interesting, and I even managed to walk in the wrong place and went ankle deep in mud. The man who manages the shamba and does the planting, weeding, etc., is the village chief. One of the interesting things was that half the rice field was greener than the other half – the reason was that it was planted only a day ahead of the other one and had slightly more watering. The cost of renting, planting, etc., was about 15,000 shillings, and when it is harvested it should bring about 80,000 shillings, less some other expenses, thus netting about 60 – 65,000. That money will then be reinvested and hopefully be able to be used to develop a small business that generate additional income.

Well, believe it or not I was pick pocketed again, and this time I lost a very valuable phone that I was holding for my friend and landlady Roselyne. While we were dancing, someone stole her phone from my pocket, I have been told that I was lucky in that nothing else was taken. Funny, but somehow I don’t feel so lucky. In any case I really felt bad that her phone was taken, and Hinda is bringing a replacement for her when she comes in January.

Check out the cockroach at the best hospital in town. Now, you can imagine what might be running around at Russia.

And speaking of Russia, I saw two family members taking one of their relatives from a gurney to her bed. There was no nurse to help, and so they had to lift her like a sack of potatoes – one under the arms and the other holding the legs and kind of toss her onto her bed.

One of the tests that Susan needed had to be sent all the way to Germany to be processed, and of course had to be paid for in advance. It was to take 2 weeks for the results, and now it not needed any more. The same with another friend who ordered a pair of bifocals and they also had to be made abroad.

Hinda and I will be sleeping under a mosquito net I bought for her because it is decorated with pink ribbons. I actually forgo the blue for the pink!!

One day in Russia a preacher came around praying at each bed. At Susan’s bed he prayed for her, and then for another person with me, and then when he asked me I said no because I was Jewish. He politely thanked me and then went to the next bed and started to pray, but those folks were Muslims, so off he want to another bed, and so on.

It may tell you something that across the street from Russia’s mortuary is a place that sells coffins and a row of about 8 hearses. Unfortunately there is a lot of business in that place.

The mortuary is a very sad place, like all mortuaries I suppose. The body of the deceased is brought there and then the relatives start to come and there is a lot of mourning and wailing, singing, praying, and so on. Outside the mortuary building is a large park area with benches spread around so that the mourners can sit in a quiet and peaceful setting. Most people come and view the body of the their relative or friend, and it is quite sad and moving just like all deaths all over the world.

So what would you do if you built a brand new building with your blood, sweat, and tears, and after being in it for only 3 months or so, you learn that the government is going to build a highway right through the middle of the property on which the building is located. And to make mutterers even worse, the part of the property they want to confiscate was going to be used to build another building – one of the reasons I am here. The rumor is they are going to build an 8 lane hiway from town to the airport. I don’t think there is an 8 lane hiway anywhere in this country, and especially not here in this small city. So we are trying to find out how true this is and then what to do about it. We can reconfigure the new planned building if worse comes to worse.

One of you asked me to tell you what I am doing at KMET: Here are some of the things in addition to trying to deal with the above situation – an issue certainly not planned.

Monica, my boss and the KMET Executive Director left for some overseas work the day I arrived here, and asked me to do some of the things she was working on:

• Design and print a new KMETBrochure
• Print new letterheads and business cards
• Finalize plans for the new building for KMET
• Get signs made for KMET
• Obtain bids and follow through to tile the new KMET Clinic
• Work with the Clinic staff to develop and outreach program to bring in new clients
• I helped hire a new nurse after the one who was there walked off the job. She is much more mature and experienced
• Helping one of the KMET groups develop a proposal for sustainability – a group of widows who are positive and who are taking care of orphans
• Helping Monica brainstorm things and providing feedback to her and other staff
• And lots of other things

Monday, November 22, 2010

I m back after Susan’s funeral. I know that this is getting long, but I just want to tell you a bit.

This was the first Kenyan – Luo funeral have been to and also participated in as a surrogate family member. For me it was particularly sad. First of all I knew Susan, and she was the sister of the man I live with and the sister in law of his wife.

It was a long and tiring weekend. We left the house on Friday morning and went to the mortuary to pick up Susan and then I rode in the hearse with her and her brother, sister, sister in law and one of her sons and other relatives to the place of her mother about 40 kilometers away where there was a church service. As we entered the village all of the people in the hearse began to mourn and weep and scream in grief. It was quite sad, but worse was to come.

After the church service, the hearse which is supposed to seat 8 plus the coffin now had 17 including the coffin, and we rode like that for about 5 hours over the most horrible bumpy road until we reached the place where Susan’s husband lives. And as we approached and people knew that it was the finial journey to her burial site, the mourning was nothing like I have ever experienced nor want to ever again. I tried to console the woman who is my landlady and friend, but it was almost impossible so overcome with grief was she, Susan was her friend, her sister in law and for nearly a month she tried in vain to save her life – but could not, so there was not only grief, but guilt.

That night we stayed outside and finally found a pickup to sleep in. The cold was bitter and the wind made it worse. I was shaking and my teeth were chattering.

The next morning, final activities for the burial began – lots of moving eulogies, prayers, singing,, etc. Nearly everyone was eloquent beyond belief. When I was asked to say a few words, I found it difficult and began to weep and my friend Roselyne (my landlady) was able to get me through it thankfully. She is very compassionate and kind. Her husband, Festus delivered a very moving eulogy.

Finally it was time to put Susan in her grave next to the new house that her husband had built for that occasion.

And then it was over. Her gravesite overlooks a beautiful valley, and I have attached a photo of her grave lit by moonlight.

After another long ride in a very crowded matatu, we finally made it back to Kisumu in the late afternoon on Sunday.

So that is it. Sad indeed, but a relief for all that it is over, and that Susan will no longer suffer.

I will write again in another few weeks. Love you all,


Monday, November 01, 2010

My New Friend Nancy in Russia

Friends and Relatives Taking Care of My Friend in Russia

Maybe They Didn't See The Sign Ha Ha

Peter's First Ever Manaicure and Pedicure

Working at Monica's Desk

Blog 1 November 1, 2010

Blog 1
Kisumu, Kenya
November 1, 2010

Hello family and friends,

So once more I have come to Kisumu, Kenya for another round of volunteering.

I spent my first night in Nairobi in a very large slum and it was enlightening to see how people live in a large urban slum in a large city here in East Africa. Lots of garbage – there is no garbage pickup. Little to no water; and poor toilet facilities. But, lots of people have to live like this. Many families with 2 parents and a couple of kids living in only 1 small room, or 2 rooms if they can afford it.

I arrived in Nairobi on October 14, and here in Kisumu on the 15th where I was met by Festus, Roselyne, their 2 children Agnes who is 2 and Kennedy who is 8, and Roselyne’s sister Christine. It was warm and wonderful welcome, and feel good being back with this family, and coming back to my old room. I have swung into my old routine of helping with the dishes and some of the cooking which is not what most African men do, but for me it is OK, and it gives me a little more to do, especially in the evenings, I have made good spaghetti sauce (from scratch), salami and eggs, and smoked salmon fettuccine. If all of that sound good, it was. But Roselyne is a pretty good cook, and I eat well, and she sees that I have plenty to eat – too much. She is like a Jewish mother at times. Festus and Roseline and everyone else here take pretty good care of me.

Agnes, the two year old calls me sweetheart, and visa versa. I think that she calls all white men sweetheart also, so I guess that in her eyes I am no one special.

Someone once said: “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. Well, I am one of those three things – certainly not wealthy, and perhaps a little wise. Get up at 6 and usually in bed by 9:30. As far as heath, my blood sugar levels continue to drop, and my insulin intake is drastically lower than when I left. Is it the food, lack of stress, or ??? But I feel good.

KMET is going to build a new facility, and I have come here to help. Monica, the KMET Executive Director left for month for Sudan and Ghana on business, and she was kind enough to let me use her office while she is gone. Am also helping to hold down the fort until she returns.

I have to say, that the KMET staff is so warm and welcoming. I love them all and hope that the feeling is mutual. We are family, as I am with Roselyne and Festus.

This new building will house KMET’s flour production program, and also Sisterhood for Change and Safe Space – KMET’s program to help train vulnerable and abused girls.
So the KMET campus continues to grow and I am happy to be part of it. I am now in the process of helping to revise the construction budget, and obtaining bids, as well as helping out with other things while Monica is away.

I want to tell you about an interesting and ongoing experience that I am having. Someone that Hinda and I both know is in the Provincial Hospital here with AIDS. This hospital is known as Russia – I think because it was built by the Russians, or perhaps because the architecture of the building resembles Russian big city buildings. It is painted pink, and one of the entrances is marked Obama Gate.

In any case, this 33 year old woman, very beautiful with I think 4 children from about 5 or 6 to 16 or so apparently became ill about 10 months ago. Because of the stigma of having AIDS she went to a city some distance from here to get tested, and then waited for a very long time – some several months before she startedon a regimen of pre-ARV drugs. I think it was her husband who has two other co-wives who infected her.

Then, like so many other people she stopped taking her drugs and became very sick. When her family tried to help her not knowing that she was positive, she continued to deny her status, until finally there was no other possibility but AIDS and it was in fact confirmed by a test.

This mother of 4 or 5 was able to return to her home to continue her treatment – she had started to take ARV’s, but because of her oral thrush associated with AIDS could not eat and now she is back in the hospital getting treatment.

So this is how it is in this hospital: She is on a ward with perhaps 15 or 20 other women, some of whom are positive and others have different illnesses. It costs family members who have to come and take care of her 400 Kenyan Shillings a day – about $5 to stay with her around the clock. She must have that care: she needs to be changed and have her toilet needs met; she is fed through a tube, and it is friends and family who have to provide the food and feed her; she has to have her sheets changed by them, etc. It is not a clean place. Let me say it like that.

The other night, two beds away from her, a woman who had been alive and talking just moments before abruptly died and it was quite some time – at least 30 minutes before a hospital worker came to cover her and not completely at that. One leg and one arm were hanging out and so out of respect for her and the patients on the ward I covered her. After an hour or so, two men came to remove her body, and it pretty much like flinging her onto a cart, half naked, just like she was a side of beef. And all of this in front of the whole ward. There are no privacy curtains.

My friend who is the woman with AIDS needed oxygen, and all of a sudden the oxygen ran out. After another supply was located, it ran out also.

A friend of mine told me that if you think this is bad, you should have seen it before. I don’t want to imagine that.

When I told someone how the hospitals are in the US and elsewhere in Europe, and other similar places, her comment was: "I want to go there and be sick". Funny but sad.

Well enough of this gruesome and sad story. Our young, beautiful women with AIDS is not out of danger yet, but we hope she is improving and we are hopeful. Her CD4 count continues to rise. (an indicator of how ill with AIDS one is). The oxygen is working again, and after a couple of tries, her feeding tube was inserted successfully. Her loving family and friends tend to her 24/7. However, her lab test came back today from a spinal fluid test and it showed that she has bacterial meningitis – not good. The hospital’s machine for doing this test is broken and so one of us family / friends had to run into town to a private lab and have the test done. Also, yesterday, the hospital didn’t have the drugs she needed, so again someone has to go and pay our of their pocket. This takes time and as you can imagine, things take a long time here. As Festus always tells me: “There is no rush in Africa”. And you know what? Festus is right.

As you know, it is not the AIDS that does you in but the opportunistic infections like the meningitis, TB, pneumonia, and more. Her meningitis is treatable and hopefully it will work. It will be good to see her in her feet again.

I told her that I wanted to dance with her on her next birthday or mine. I have done that before, so I am optimistic – the glass is half full, not half empty.

Well, after 72 ½ years of life I got my first pedicure and manicure. Not, not finger nail or toe nail polish. Not yet anyway. My heels and the bottom of my feet were removed of calluses. Maybe I should get a facial next. Actually what I really need is my hair and eyebrows back.

As some of you know, Hinda is going to join me on January 2nd and we will celebrate our 50th Anniversary (January 4th) by taking a 16 day second honeymoon to Morocco where both of us really want to go. And we are both anxious to see each other again. As Hinda says, phone conversations once or twice a day just doesn’t cut it.

Finally, the last bit of good news: I decided to take an AIDS test to see what it was like. Pretty much like testing my glucose each morning and of course I was negative along with the 3 other friends of mine who decided to check their status also.

Last finally: At the Nairobi Airport the night I landed, someone unzipped my back pack while I was walking to get a visa, reached in and stole my glutocometer – they probably thought it was a camera since it was in a small black pouch. I had brought an extra one to give to a diabetic friend of mine at work, but will use it until Hinda brings me another in January. All’s well that ends well.
OK for now, This is getting a bit lengthy, so I’ll end it now.

Take care, stay healthy and be good.

Love, Peter