Saturday, 25 March 2017

Planting Seeds

It is my last morning in Kisumu for this trip. It has been brief, but full and I have loved seeing how our children have matured into lovely young men and women, as well as meeting new children who joined our family since I was last here.

As the lift was still not working, I carried my bag down the 10 flights of stairs (76 steps) that reach up to the 3rd floor of the hotel. Each step crunched underfoot.

You see, the rains have brought out the bugs and, each morning before the cleaners have made it round with their bucketful’s of water and their wide sweeping brooms, the passageways crunch with the shells of beetles and flying things, lying, mostly, dead on the floor. I mention this only in case you are ever tempted to come with the Trust to Kenya one time. 

You would be welcome in the rainy season, but you should know that there are bugs.

Each night I have crawled under a mosquito net and laid down to sleep, listening to the incessant buzzing of the tiny insects looking for a tasty vein or two. Apparently it is only the females that bite, the males preferring nectar to blood. Make of that what you will – though I will confess that I am on the nectar side of that choice!

Female mosquitos are particularly adept at feeding, they are able to sense human breath and to know, from subtle differences in temperature on the skin, which veins are nearer the surface and where they will best drink their fill. How I wish my local surgery had similar technology, for when they need a small sample of my blood!

It is strangely cosy under a mosquito net which, despite the nearby buzzing, gives a sense of comfort and protection – a bit like listening to the rain pouring down outside a window, whilst inside the fire is on and a cup of hot tea steams.

I had, therefore, slept well last night and woke refreshed for the day. I had a hot cup of Kenyan tea in the dining room, then packed my things up for the day.

Moses and I had planned a morning in Kibos, I wanted to walk around the couple of acres of land we own there, look over the gardens and the vegetables that will supply our food over the coming months.

Daniel at KBS
On our way we called in to KBS, the Kenya Bureau of Standards, located in a lovely large compound on the Kibos Road from town.

Daniel, who is at Moi University and who I had met on Sunday at Kachok, is doing a short internship at KBS, furthering his studies before returning to college next month. 

He is really enjoying his time there, though he tells me that he would love to return to KEMRI (Kenya Medical Research Institute), which is located by the lake shore on the road to Maseno. He spent a few months there earlier in the year which he really enjoyed.

“I need to get good grades” he said, “I know I have to work hard”. He is currently forecast a 2nd Upper Degree in Biochemistry.

I so hope that he makes it.

We left the calm of KBS for the busy dust road to Kibos.

“What is this?” said Moses, looking ahead to where a large plume of dust rose from the road. It is usually fairly bad around here as Matatus speed up and down the road, avoiding the bumps and potholes, throwing up a wave of red mist in their wake, but this morning it was much worse than usual.

“This wasn’t here when I left” he said.

As we edged closer, all became clear.

“Aaahh”, said Moses, nodding sagely, “It is election season”.

If that was meant to help me to know what was happening, then I am afraid I failed the comprehension test.

A huge yellow mechanical thing, a cross between a JCB, a plough, a snow plough and a roller was plying the route, first churning up the road with the spikes of the plough before returning with the smooth snowplough / roller to remake the road in a smoother image.

In early August Kenyan’s will go to the polls to elect their President. On a more local level, there will also be elections for the County Governor, for the local senate and the assembly.

It is at election time that many roads get fixed, so the good job of the Governor will be remembered by the people.

Today it was the turn of Kibos.

Gerald by the Garden
Impatient casualties of the road-mending lay stranded in the large piles of earth thrown up by the machine. Matatu’s that couldn’t be bothered to wait until the JCB plough / roller thingy returned to smooth the mud had tried to force their own way through, only to become grounded in the middle of the road.

We waited, and followed the road the kilometre or so to Kibos, then on to our place.

A few weeks ago the land was ploughed and Gerald planted it with Maize and Sorghum in time for the rains to come. The green shoots are now starting to push their heads into the sunlight and the first weeding has got underway. Kunde and Sikumawike grow, interspersed with the Sorghum and a further plot has been planted with cassava. 

A Papaya tree
Half a dozen Papaya trees grow on the edge of the vegetable patch, offering a little shade and the prospect of some tasty fruit. The banana trees, which died off after last year’s harvest have now started to produce fresh shoots and Gerald is planning to split them and plant the around the plot once more.

Gerald has come to work for us over the last year or so. Originally from Busia, he now lives at Kibos, taking care of some of the older boys. I was delighted to meet him this week and know that we will work well together over the coming years.

Soon it was time to leave, to head off to the airport for my final hop back to Nairobi and the overnight flight back to Paris and then Manchester.

We sped back over the new Chinese built flyover to the newly surfaced Busia / Airport Road. 

Kisumu has changed a lot in the years that we have been coming, it has grown and modernised, new industries have come and land prices are soaring. The sugar cane factory in Kibos is booming, taking harvests away from the traditional plants at Mumias. In the next couple of years a new, Chinese built, standard gauge railway will connect with Nairobi, where a link will open in a month or two all the way to Mombasa and the ports.

But for all of the infrastructure, for all of the apparent progress, there are still many children in desparate need. 

For every Daniel, succeeding at university, there are a dozen Wayne’s, not knowing who can help them, without a hope in their lives.

My experience is that the children don’t need a hand out, they need a seed planting. Like the maize and the sorghum planted in the gardens at Kibos, if they can find a little help, protection and water when things get hot, then they can become the most mighty and wonderful plantings of hope.

Thank you for reading my blog through this week, I hope I have managed to share something of the Isaiah Trust family, of my brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren in hope.  

Please feel free to give the trust a “follow” on Facebook and, for our part, we will try our best to give you regular updates from Kenya.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Tales from Nam Lolwe

Monday saw the spring equinox, when the sun is directly over the equator, when the days last from 6am to 6pm and life is at its hottest in Kisumu. Moses and I had travelled the roads of Nyanza and Western Provinces, meeting up with some of our older boys & girls, now young men and women.

But today, with the sun still high in the sky, burning down on the beautiful gardens of Sunset Hotel, we had planned to swim.

We arranged to meet at 11:00, to give the sun time to rise above the Yellow Oleander, the purple Jacaranda and the red Flame trees that line the grounds of the hotel and to warm the waters of the pool from the relative cool of the night air.

At midday they hadn’t arrived, so I went down and slipped into the pool. It was a perfect temperature. I swam through the calm waters, surreptitiously avoiding the many insects, both large and small, that had succumbed to the pools watery depths, enjoying a little down time in what had been a hectic week.

I swam a few lengths of the small pool, then stood for a while in the water, watching the many coloured birds in the trees above. Below the pool, beyond the grounds of the hotel, I watched a pair of zebra wander through the trees with a few small impala for company.

As I sat, submerged in the cool depths, I saw Moses and the children coming down the path at the hotel above. I waved and he waved back, then led the children down to the pool.

We paid the fee for visitors and the children quickly changed before heading into the shallow waters of the pools short end.

It was lovely to see them all. I had met a few of them at Kibos on Sunday when we had gone to church, but we had rushed away to get to Kachok, to attend the service there too, so I hadn’t spent time with the children at the house. Dennis and James, two of the more confident swimmers, were soon jumping from the diving board at the deep end of the pool, their splashes rippling across the water and drowning those who were paddling.

Malenya (or “Wayne” as he is known in the house, though nobody could tell me why!) is the smallest of the new boys at Kibos, he is 8 years old. Wayne lost his mum in a tragic accident when he was just five. She was lighting a paraffin stove to cook food for the family when the stove exploded and she was very badly burned. After a short while in hospital she died of her injuries, leaving Wayne alone. His father fled and hasn’t been seen since. We don’t know why he left, but it is an all too common occurrence that children are abandoned by single parents who can’t face the responsibility to bring them up.

Wayne went to live with a distance relative in Kondele, though he wasn’t put into school, the family making him work in the house, looking after their own, younger child. Regularly beaten when he got things wrong and forced to wander the dusty backroads of Kondele during the day, his plight became known to one of the boys that used to attend our outreach program, and who now runs a small kiosk selling fruit and vegetables. He spoke to Moses about him, concerned for his welfare.

Wayne began living with us earlier this year and is beginning to feel at home with the older boys. I was delighted to see his smiles and laughter as we played in the shallows of the pool. Later this year he will start school, in Class 1.

Griffins, by contrast, is already in Class 7 – he will do his KCPE next year. Griffins is a bright boy, with good English, and I was able to chat with him for a while. He is currently 6th in his class of 130 children and is hoping for a good grade in his exams. He loves science and hopes, one day, that he could become a Doctor, but if not, then something in the medical profession.

This week I have met Collins, Mary and Daniel, all of whom started where Griffins is, and all of whom are now at university. It gives me confidence that a bright boy, with the right determination can also make it.

As the boys swam, so another familiar face arrived. Florence, another of the older children in the Trust, had come from her university in Eldoret to greet us, all smiles and happiness.

I had carried a gift for Florence from one of the Trust’s amazing supporters, a handmade blanket to give her warmth in the cool Eldoret nights. Florence was thrilled with the present, “No one has ever done something like this for me before” she said, a beaming smile across her face.

She is studying for a degree in Geography combined with special needs education. She will shortly go on an attachment at a school for the deaf and is busy learning the sign language for complex rock formations, which she will be teaching in a secondary school.

Kenyan’s never cease to amaze me with their ability to learn languages. Florence already speaks three – English, Kiswahili and the local tribal Luo. She has now added sign language to her many other gifts and abilities.

The boys played, splashed, jumped and dived in the warm pool for two or three hours, before Moses called them out to get dressed. A chicken dinner from the shacks in town was offered by way of temptation – and they ran to the changing rooms like matatus vying for an important customer!

We all jumped into Moses small Toyota (I say “jumped”, sardines spring to mind!), and set off for town.

This evening, as I sit on the balcony at the hotel, a cool breeze comes off the hills surrounding the lake and flashes of lightening crack through the dark clouds, gathering to bring night time rain. The sun slowly sets the sky ablaze with golden light as it sinks into the watery depths of Lake Victoria.

One evening this week, as we had been driving, Moses had told me an old Luo story he had heard from his Mother when he was young. It spoke of "Nam Lolwe", the local name for Lake Victoria, from a time well before British explorers first thought of heading down the Nile.

“There was an old man”, he began, “who lived on the shores of Nam Lolwe. He didn’t possess a penny. The mice in his house held a meeting and all agreed that, even they, should move out.

His home was empty.

Then one day an old woman came to his house. They became friends and, after some time, she moved in. The old man’s fortunes began to improve, they kept a few chickens, then goats and then, even, some cattle.

One evening they argued, no one knows what it was over, but the argument was fierce. The woman threatened to leave and to take all of the animals with her. “You can’t take them,” the old man said, “It is me that has brought them here!” And with that, he threw the old woman from the house.

In the evening light she was seen walking down to the lake, singing an old, traditional song. 

As she sang, the animals, one by one, began to follow her, leaving their fields and their enclosures.

She walked, slowly, into the lake, the animals behind until all were lost to Nam Lolwe”.

“It isn’t a very happy story, is it?” I complained to Moses.

“My mother used to tell it to us as we sat by the fire in the compound at home” he replied, 
“She told us that we must never forget those who help us along our way”.

I have been delighted to meet, this week, with some of the older children who the Trust has been supporting in their journey to an independent life and future. They will forever be part of our family and I am proud to know them.

I am grateful too, to the many supporters of the Trust who have made their stories possible, who have “helped us along our way”, giving them a bright future.

Today I met with Wayne, Griffins, James, Dennis, Norbert, Ben and Maurice. The next generation of children in our family. I hope and pray for their futures too – may they know the fullness of life. 

Thank you for all you support.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

We Don't Listen ...

Today dawned hot. The rains of last night had cleared and blue skies greeted me as I pulled back the curtains and looked out over the great lake before me. It was going to be a good day.

I sat on the terrace and wrote my blog entry for yesterday, recalling our perilous journey over a rickety bridge and our visit to Noah, which still sent a warm feeling into my soul. As I wrote one of the hotel staff cleaned the terrace around me and monkeys jumped on the tables and chairs, dodging all attempts to impale them with the wet end of a 6ft mop.

Moses arrived, a requisite hour later than we had agreed and we jumped into the car for short journey to Maseno. We were planning to visit Mary, a student in her first year at the university, studying Business Administration.

Mary, and her brother Atenas (who is also now at university in South Eastern Kenya), came to the Trust a number of years ago. 

They were attending St Pauls, Mamboleo, one of the schools that we have been able to place our children in and with whom we maintain a good relationship. Our social worker, John, had been talking with the head teacher at the time and she had told him of two children that really needed help. They were living alone with an elderly grandparent, struggling to make ends meet and unable to put in the time they needed at school to realise their potential. John looked into their situation and recommended that we help support the two of them through their studies. We were delighted to do so.

Mary got excellent marks in her KCPE and went on to achieve a B grade at KCSE which qualified her for a student loan at the prestigious Maseno university.

Moses and I chatted away as we drove the half hour journey to Maseno along the busy airport road and then up through the hills that line the edge of the vast lake basin. Maseno is situated right on the equator – though I have never understood why you would locate a university at a place of no degrees?

We turned from the main road onto a small dirt track, which we followed for half a mile or so, before turning into a large blue gate that marked the entry to the halls of residence. 

Moses called Mary who came to meet us. Her smiles and laughter lifted our spirits after the hot journey and we walked with her as she showed us to her room, which she shares with 5 other girls. Mary began the year doing economics, but soon changed to Business Administration, where she feels there are better work prospects.

We walked for a little around the grounds of the campus, Mary kindly leading us through the shadier parts, to protect my ever reddening forehead from the tropical sun. I was grateful for her thoughtfulness and delighted to hear that she is enjoying her course and studying hard.

Moses asked (a little parentally I thought), about the temptations of a mixed campus.

“Boys are not allowed in girls rooms from 10 until 10” Mary replied “they have to be out of rooms by 10pm and not be there before 10 in the morning – the janitors come round and check!” The penalty, apparently, as it is for cheating in an exam, is an appearance before the university disciplinary committee and a 1,001 day suspension!

We walked past a large sports ground, lined with tall leafy trees, providing much needed respite from the sun.

“Do you play sports?” I asked her, “I do”, she replied, then lowering her voice so Moses couldn’t hear, she continued “I like rugby, though it can get a bit rough when it is mixed teams!”

“I get a lot of exercise just from walking the 3 kilometres between my hall and the lectures” she said, her voice back to normal levels.

Late in the afternoon we left Mary, all smiles and laughter, and headed back to Kisumu. We had one last meeting to make. Jared is another lovely, humble young man from our program. 
Though he completed his primary school KCPE exams, he didn’t go on to secondary school, choosing instead to find himself work. He learned to drive motorbikes, the staple of the local Boda Boda (bicycle taxi) industry in Kisumu.

Motorbikes are everywhere these days and Jared has been renting time with one to make a living. He operates out of Mamboleo, looking for customers at the busy junction with the Kakamega road, which we had followed when we visited Collins a couple of days earlier. Jared works from 7am to 7pm and on a good day, he says, he can earn up to 1,000 shillings (£8) - enough to pay for the bike, to pay his rent, to have food and to save a little for repairs and expenses.

One of the Trust’s supporters, touched by meeting with Jared on a visit to Kisumu, has raised funds for him to have a motorbike of his own and we had arranged to meet him at the Honda showroom where he showed us the one that he has set his heart on.

He was truly thrilled to be blessed with such a gift and is intent on working hard to give himself a future.

As we had set off for Maseno this morning we had stopped for some fuel at a garage in Kisumu. Whilst the attendant filled the car I noticed a small green sign on top of the pump.

“What is that saying?” I asked Moses.

“Aah”, he replied, “that is the code to pay for your fuel by Mpesa. You know, you can pay for almost anything using your phone these days”.

I was impressed.

“And what is that small red sign next to it?” I asked, pointing to a red picture of a mobile phone with a white line through it, affixed to the post next to the pump.

“That means don’t use your mobile phone in the petrol station” Moses replied. Then, realising the contradiction in the two signs he burst out laughing.

“But that is Kenya”, he said through his smiles, “we don’t listen when someone tells us we can’t do something!”

That is true, in my experience, on a number of levels, but no more so than with the children of the Trust.