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!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

More musings on Kenya...from Guatemala

Kakamega Care Centre, Kakamega, Western Province (a day’s drive north of Nairobi), Kenya

At the AIDS orphanage, the kids all get three square meals a day, staff who are committed to their work and a caring community.  They are materially well off by the standards of most Kenyans. But they are lacking so many things we take for granted: hot water, several changes of clothes, even a towel. I woke up each morning to the sounds of kids singing and laughing as they cleaned up in the yard, using a bucket of water. Afterwards, they stood on the porch, shivering and drying off in the morning sunlight.  Though the air felt subtropical to our northern blood, the kids’ hands were like ice.

I lent the kids my camera, and they took such great candid shots of each other, clowning around. These pictures are so different from the serious formal poses that Kenyans typically strike in front of the camera. Picture-taking is still a serious portraiture business in Kenya. Portrait artists set up shop even at outdoors events, with an instant camera and battery-operated printer, so people can see their “snaps” right away. People pose in front of the Kenyan flag or a fictional jungle scene. Having your portrait taken is a luxury.

Snapshots from Nairobi

We visited the Kazuri Bead company in Nairobi. This organization was started in the 1980s to provide employment to women who are single parents. We toured the building where they work and I closed my eyes at one point, taking in the happy sounds of women talking to each other, sitting and making clay beads. Talk, smiles, high energy and laughter.  The sun was pouring in. The beads themselves are gorgeous, and the company’s order chart is filled with requests from all over Europe and the US.

Lotus Pre-School in a slum. We were the first visitors who came to the pre-school, as it had opened only two weeks previous. We hopped between the stones along the “street” to get there – unrecognizable liquids down below. Inside, we were greeted by well-dressed pre-school children playing follow the leader and singing for us on a clean concrete floor, with posters and plastic chairs all around. We taught them “If you’re happy and you know it”, leaving out the sad and angry parts as usual. Our driver said that he almost left the neighborhood when our car was surrounded by several young men interested in what was inside. So many people are filled with desperate poverty.

On our way to the airport, we stopped at a fancy restaurant. Located on the main highway, it could have been a restaurant on Route 1 in Saugus, Massachusetts.  A grand entrance stairway led up past neon lights advertising tropical scenes, to an upstairs food court, discotheque, and an Indian restaurant overlooking the game park across the highway. It was the sort of establishment that would host a wedding or graduation party for a wealthy Kenyan family. As we ate our chicken korma, I noticed a slow moving vehicle on the highway. Looking more closely, we saw two men navigating a pushcart filled with an enormous pile of cardboard boxes. One man was the driver, pulling the vehicle, while the other ran behind, alternately keeping a hand on the boxes so they would not fly away, and glancing behind to make sure they would not be hit by a faster-moving vehicle. It would be hard for a driver to see them at night, and there was no breakdown lane. The contrast in these two scenes is surely typical, and I imagine one gets inured to them over time. I was glad to be shocked at the situation.

Western Province, traveling around:

We stayed for several days out in the country, at the Amesbury sister community called Esabalu, a collection of small farms which are walking distance from the line of shops called Luanda. In Luanda there is a grocery store and several hardware stores, doctors’ offices and the like. The main attraction is the huge informal market which goes on for blocks. It sells used and new clothing, electronics, even livestock. Luanda is where you go to “top up and charge up”, that is, to service the only energy-powered appliance most people have, the cell phone. Since most people in the country do not have electricity, they power up their phones and pay for minutes at the popular cell phone outlets. I never got used to hearing the tinny cell phone rings, familiar jazz or pop songs so out of place in the tropical foliage.

Evan and Conor doing the washing

Walking from where Laura and I stayed at Sherry’s home to where Evan and Conor stayed at Patricia’s: across the lane, through the corn field, past the barn to the yard where the boys were washing tablecloths before breakfast, at 7 in the morning. The scene was so unusual that I almost fell over when I first saw them.  Standing in the yard, mud was thick all over their shoes. This alone was surprising as they both tend to be very careful with their footware.

Cows drinking the soapy water

After washing, they were instructed to give the soapy water to the cows, who loved it. Not even that was wasted. I’ll keep the image of the black and white cows, with their noses deep in the soap suds in the brilliant morning sunlight.

Among the many new experiences, I had one “silly me” moment that was pretty funny: I woke up in our little bedroom in Sherry’s cottage. Of course it was very dark with no electricity. As I shone my headlamp around trying to get my bearings, I saw 2 chickens in the corner. They looked like those china ones people have, where you pick up the head and store something inside. I had an urge to pick one up by the neck to see what was inside, when she clucked. Real chickens, not china.  Each one sat on a dozen eggs, hardly moving from morning to night!

On the road, we stopped at a tourist shop. There seems to be an understanding between the proprietors and the drivers, as these stops are not optional. We are to mill around and hopefully buy trinkets. Despite my interest in helping local people with their commerce, the items were fabulously overpriced. I found myself wandering out to the yard where several young men earnestly asked for my assistance. It turns out their job was to clean the rest stop adjoining the shop, and they had among them a pile of change which was left in the collection box. Their main problem was a sum or two pounds sterling, which they could not use. They asked me if we could change them, and since we anticipated stopping at Heathrow airport on the way home, I could easily oblige. I don’t know how long they had worked for this sum. With the proceeds, we bought a chocolate bar. Hopefully, their earnings in Kenyan shillings lasted longer!

Clare at the football field

1 comment:

  1. Lovely stories and pictures, Martha. Especially of the young men washing!