Welcome to our family blog!

We began in September 2010 by traveling a portion of the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrimage route that leads to the tomb of Saint James in Santiago, Galicia, in the northwestern corner of Spain. The name of our blog is inspired by the camino, and we'll have many stories (cuentos) to tell! We spent 2010-2011 on an intentional international journey, living and working in Spanish-speaking countries. Since then, we are immersed back in our lives at home but will report on occasional openings and discoveries. Please join us!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Stories from Kenya

Children’s Care Centre, Kakamega, Kenya:
This week we are living at the Children’s Care Centre. It is a home for children who were orphaned by AIDS. It was founded by Kenyan Quaker women, with the assistance of New England Quakers. The women had noticed children coming to their church service in search for food, and decided to build an orphanage for them to live in. Later, an organization recognized as a US non-profit organization, Friends of Kakamega, was founded to support this wonderful program. It operates under the care of the international United Society of Friends Women, USFW.
The Care Centre currently houses 35 children aged 6 to 12, with 10 others attending high schools who continue to receive support from the Centre. We visited after school had ended for the Christmas break but before the children had left.
The children are encouraged to maintain relationships with extended family and neighbors so that they will not lose contact with their areas of origin. But their home is really at the Care Centre. The staff members who live full-time with the children work to promote a caring, family-like environment.

Evan leading a drawing class

With the children, we played, sang, did arts and crafts programs, and introduced them to Frisbee. We had huge Frisbee and “football” (our soccer) festival at the local park. We also made individual photo portraits for each of them.
Conor helping create spinning tops

Pastor Ida at the Care Centre
  What was most remarkable was the caring and love that the children show for each other. They are encouraged to work out their problems with each other like brothers and sisters, which they seem to do. They are incredibly patient, waiting all day until we are ready to present an activity to them.  I think we all need practice in these skills! Their generosity is especially remarkable among children who have so little: generally only one outfit each, and very few personal possessions. At home they have few to no relatives, sometimes returning to an empty house for the holidays.

Kakamega Rain Forest:

Rain clouds over the Rain Forest

Today we met Job Ilondanga, (jobilondanga@yahoo.com, tel. +254 720 866 455) who works as a guide at the Kakamega Rain Forest. It is a gorgeous forest in the middle of the Western Province, near the equator. The green trees appear suddenly as a quiet oasis among the farms and villages of the Maragoli Hills in Kenya, one of the most most densely populated agricultural areas in the world. Job showed us colobus monkeys, all kinds of birds, and a cave where fruit bats live. The cave was dug by hand in a vain attempt to look for gold in the 1820s. After walking straight back into the hill for 40 meters, we came on the bats hanging from the ceiling. We woke them with our lights, and they rushed by our heads with a whoosh of air.
Job has dedicated himself to restoring the rain forest and educating people about it. With his earnings as a private guide, he visits schools and community groups, training them about forest ecology. He is restoring a forest corridor by planting trees that he is growing in his own nursery.

Esabalu, Amesbury’s sister community in Western Province:
Laura and I are staying at Sherry Otwama’s house, and Conor and Evan are staying with Priscilla and Jacopo Awasa. We are in the small village of Esabalu, sister community to Amesbury. The two homes are very well kept with lovely  gardens, flowering trees and tidy lawns. Just outside our bedroom door, two hens are being allowed to hatch their own eggs in the hall. They sit so calmly and quietly, hardly moving. Outside our window is the animal shelter with cows and dogs.
Our hosts are very courteous and kind. We are offered tea and bread whenever we go to see someone new. Everyone we meet in the village is introduced to us, though we will never be able to remember all their names. Our names are hard for them, as are their names for us! Conor has become Collins as this seems to be easier for them. Evan is generally Even but he doesn’t mind. This suits his temper well, actually.
Literacy class at Esabalu with 75 children
Sherry is a very motivated community organizer. One of the main organizers for the Sister City project, Amesbury for Africa, she coordinates local action on the water project, tree nursery, the health center, and other work that is being done through the Sister City. Right away, I can tell she is a strong and effective organizer. She watches the boys playing soccer with a critical eye, and she tells me she will not hesitate to correct a child who needs it. Children are raised by the whole community in the traditional way here, (though she tells me that this is changing as teens are more resistant to authority recently). Outside her outhouse she has a “tippy tappy”, a cleverly designed water dispenser for cleaning hands. She is promoting this concept in the village as an important sanitation device. She is very good at bringing resources and people together and volunteers all over the community.
One difference between Kenyan and Moroccan women: in Morocco, the hamman or baths are a place of retreat and relaxation. Women go to the hamman to clean and pamper their bodies, to breathe the warm air of relaxation, and to visit with their friends.  I do not see such an option for Kenyan women. Women in Kenya universally work very hard. Up at 5:30 to clean the livestock areas, feed the chickens, sweep out the dirt floors, milk the cows, and prepare breakfast. They work all day taking care of the children, preparing all the meals, bringing water from the spring (5 times a day up the muddy path), sweeping, and farming. The Quaker women attend their conferences and prayer groups in addition to their regular jobs. Walking down the roads we frequently see women representing all the different churches. They stand out in their freshly cleaned matching dresses and head scarves.
At the Care Centre orphanage in Kakamega, the staff members sleep in regular bedrooms and share the facilities with the students. They are available around the clock for the children, only going home for holidays to see their families. It is known that Kenyan women are the ones who do more of the work, and the ones to trust with money as well!
We were able to reduce the load for the few days we were at Esabalu, helping to carry water, do the washing, and harvest the beans for seeds.
Getting up early, I went out to the yard and saw the hibiscus flower blooming.  There were no stars since the cloud cover was complete, and no lights anywhere in the village. It was completely dark except for the white hibiscus flowers blooming quietly in the pre-dawn darkness.
 Our friends say electricity is coming here eventually. For now, some have a small solar unit to power their cell phones, the only electricity being used. Others go to kiosks for their “charge up” as well as their “top up” (adding minutes). Kerosene lamps are used in the homes, though the orphanage had electricity in every room and running water, being close to the town of Kakamega.
Here one can see the disparity in energy use between parts of the third world and our energy use in North America. With no electricity or running water, almost everything is made by hand. Packaged bread and juice are brought out only for visitors, while our hosts generally purchase unprocessed foods cooked on a charcoal or wood brazier. Night is dark, and day also inside the small houses. The markets are an efficiently designed processor for our discarded goods. T-shirts, shoes, magazines and other items that we all donate are sorted and sold according to a definite system. Within the market, there are separate streets for used clothing, shoes, cooking pots, hardware items, rehabilitated electronics, etc. An entire section is devoted to fresh mangoes. I was in heaven there!

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