My journey to Muhoroni...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

29 November 2009

„Imagine walking into a darkened room. We put our hands in front of us, afraid we are going to bump into a piece of furniture or slip on a rug. We walk very slowly. This is very much what God calls us to on the journey of faith. It is not easy because we would wish the road in front of us to be lit. We want to know where we are heading and why. Faith, however, is our certitude in incertitude. Our trust in God does not lie in our cleverness. It is not about our wit, our planning, our personality, position, money.“ So I was hit by this text by Richard Rohr (Richard Rohr: Radical Grace) when I came here. It made me stop and it encouraged me at the same time. I feel that I am walking very slowly here but I am learning how to put my hands in front of me and walk slower than I would like to. Rohr accompanies me and many things he says seem to be written exactly for me. So I am learning to accept incertitude and not to be too clever (only a little clever).
One of the first sentences that Sister Vincent told me was: „Just don’t expect too much.“ and I am trying to remember that.
There is not a lot going on in Muhoroni. It is a classical peaceful village environment, by the way, with two factories (Sugar Factory and Agro Chemical & Food Company) and a football club (the last position in Kenya Premiere League). Muhoroni gives an impression of a rural area but it is larger and has more inhabitants because it includes the surroundings, too. There is a post office, market, several shops, pub, train station, schools, kindergarten and – as one might expect – there is some kind of a church at every corner. The hospital I work in is called St. Vincent De Paul Mission Hospital.
Morgue is part of the hospital and as it is the only one in the neighbourhood there are often funerals going on in here. They sing a lot of different songs, then they put the coffin on the truck, people hop on (as many as possible) and still singing they leave to bury the dead in their garden.
There are also a lot of deliveries in the maternity ward. The mothers typically stay in the hospital for a day, sometimes they wait only till the morning (if they gave birth during the night). Women of my age are usually experienced gravidas and they have experienced several deliveries.
I am in charge of antimalnutrition centre now. Mothers with children come, they are scaled, measured, fed. The mothers are different. Some communite more, some less. I try to speak with them in Swahili but sometimes it is hard to find out if they understand me... The children in the program are mostly too small to talk to. This Thursday they had a wee-wee day and so several of them weed on the scale, on the table, on the floor. Some don´t like scaling and measuring and so they cry a lot. After these procedures there is the education of mothers. They are obliged to participate in it. I also wanted to go in the terrain this week for some visits. There are some mothers whose children haven´t put on weight for several months so I would like to see them. But the social worker, that was supposed to go with me, got sick...
Many people here are HIV positive. I know about some that got it thanks to their life style, some because of the life style of their partners, some were born with it. We have children in the centre whose mothers are HIV positive but they are not and because of that they cannot be breastfed. And then we have some special cases and I don´t know if they have been scientifically researched. There is a patient in the hospital who is not HIV positive but his wife is. Although officially he is not HIV positive, his body reacts as if he was. In reality it means that he will probably die of AIDS although he will never be HIV positive. While his mother can take medication against HIV he cannot because he doesn´t have it... I don´t understand it really. They say there are a few couples like this in the area... or was.
Several days ago a 7-year-old girl, that was raped by one of her relatives, came to the hospital. She was here only for two days. Beautiful little girl. However, there is no system that would protect her... Supposedly she doesn´t live with the parents but with other relatives who are expecting a baby and she is destined to take care of it. It is not unusual here but who knows what it is really like. She told me she has 10 siblings and she is the youngest and she lives far away. And then she was drawing. I felt sorry that I couldn´t do more for her... All of these stories, life, death... I am here for three weeks now and I have heard so many unhappy stories from all sides that I am not able to perceive them. And when I write about them I realize how horrible they are. People probably have to have a different view of life and death from the one we have.
Yesterday I spent some time with a few HIV positive children. Sister Vincent is trying to organize some kind of playful Saturdays for them. I think it can be an opportunity for me too. In the morning two sisters were waiting for me and Sister Vincent only managed to whisper to me that they had just lost their mother. We played end-ball for a while. Then other three children joined us and so we moved to one room and continued playing there.

In the evenings I go to sit behind the church. It offers a beautiful sunset view. I also got to know children of a catechist that lives behind the church. I promised that I would come and visit them Saturday afternoon when they would dance. On the way I stopped at our neighbour´s (families of the hospital´s employees) and took two of their children with me. As three boys were playing football in the place where about 20 girls wanted to play end-ball and no one wanted to give way we played both sports on one ground. The result was that there was a football cage in the middle of end-ball playground. I found it very funny because there was enough of grass to play on elsewhere. On the other hand it was admirable that they were able to stay there and they didn´t get nervous about hindering each other. Especially the boys managed to be very calm about it. I have to think about more fairy-tales to tell because the ones about Little Red Riding Hood and Seven Little Goats are known to almost all of the children they I meet here now.
At half past four I came home and had some tea. I try to prepare different types of tea because I found out that I don´t like the taste of the rain water very much... (For the lovers of Masala Chai – they have a great Masala Chai for 50 cents here, and also the spice that can be added to black tea!)
I glimpsed about 5 minutes of some American TV show and I realized that I missed mzungu faces so I made some popocorn and watched one episode of The Office. I had a good laugh. It was the first time I watched something. I felt like having a bit of a different culture for a while.
Today is the first Advent Sunday and I couldn´t wait because I have one breviary and then thoughts for each day and both books start with the first Advent Sunday. The church starts at 7am and I decided that I would go there at 8am because I can´t understand anything and the service lasts till half past nine. In the morning I heard the ticking sound of the clock and it reminded me of grandma´s clock at Stara Tura. So I made myself Sunday breakfast that we used to eat when we were at her house – boiled egg and cocoa. When I think about what to do with the plastic trash that keeps gathering here I think of my great grandmother who would keep storing the youghurt containers and then use them for something else later.
In the morning when I woke up I was forced to kill yet another spider. I felt shiver down my spine when I imagined that there would be a whole family living here! He died by a very intelligent death – first choked by the spray against mosquitoes and then squashed by a shoe covered in a plastic bag (Oooh how fast he could run! Brrrr!).

I keep teaching the children from Muhoroni my name so that they would stop shouting „White“ at me when I pass by. There´s no point asking them to come closer when they call from afar so I shout back: „Africa!“ Last time about 20 children gathered around me and they wanted money, candies, whatever. I told them to ask for money from their parents and then I started to give out imaginary candies. Some children were not satisfied with one and wanted five. The great advantage of these candies is that I can give them out forever and I will still have enough. So I kept giving them out. Although they are demaning and beg a lot they can be satisfied by some game, too. And the game with candies showed me that they can play and they do not lack imagination. „Three Little Piggies“ was a good idea too. I don´t think that I will give them real candies because that way they would start learning that they should go to the white with hands stretched out waiting for whatever would fall in.
Well, let me close with another story from the world of insects. Yesterday I was successful in a battle with a mosquito that had been bothering me for two nights in a row in my room. It seems to me that mosquitoes are more cunning than cown – I don´t know if I can say smarter but they definitely are better at lying and hiding. I wish you a peaceful and disturbing Advent time.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Life in Muhoroni comes and goes...

I am sitting in a Roman-Catholic church in the morning and all of a suddent everybody is standing up and moving to the front. I am not Catholic but the nun encouraged me to go too, so I can see what is going on there. There were several lines moving forward. When I saw only a few people in front of me I understood what was happening. People went to the front to put some money to the money collection box. But my pockets were completely empty! I had two choices: either I simply turn back when I´d get to the box or I would pretend that I had some money to contribute. I decided for the second option. I found it really funny that I had to share it with you.
Another hot day today. Right now three calves invaded the space in front of my door (I speak only in Slovak with the animals.)
The church started at 7 am. It was full. I left after two hours. The choir sang nicely but the common visitors didn´t sing a lot. There was a crucifix and instead of a European Christ with blonde hair and blue eyes I saw a black guy. (I have two pictures from Jesus´ life in my room and all of the disciples are black too.)
As the mass was in Swahili I could understand the phrases such as „God is the King“ or „Let us stand“ or „Let us pray“. But I was sad because I couldn´t understand more.
After the mass I dropped in the hospital to see how two pregnant women were doing. Still nothing although they told me how wide they were open. I also went there because I knew I would meet and talk to someone. There are 4 patients in the hospital at the moment. Yesterday evening one older woman, who I visited once, died. Life comes and goes almost every day here.
The hospital is really beautiful but empty. The employees are neat. I keep learning their names. There are only nurses here. I don´t know why they don´t have more patients...
Apart from the hospital there is also a hospice but it is empty too, and there is also a malnutrition centre for children. I will be in charge of that. Moms with the children come here once a week. On Thursday I went to see the center for the first time – I saw a 7-month old child with the weight of a newborn...
The moms get some food for the baby and they have to stay for education where they talk about various topics that are related to taking care of a child. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I will spend time working with people – that much I know. I would like to add to these activities by visiting communities where these children live.
In the neighbourhood there is a school that was started by Sister Agnes. I would like to go and see it but the 6-week holiday is starting so I will have to wait with teaching till January. The only children I meet are on the streets. They look at me as if I were a ghost. The twins from our neighbour´s house start crying when they see a white face. I have to say I miss children a lot.
Swahili can prove useful but I live in a region where most people are from the tribe of Luo and as one Luo told me today they are one of the few tribes that do not speak Swahili. So I am learning the language, Dholuo. Not everyone is Luo but even those that are not can speak Dholuo – they adapted to the situation.
Some expressions are easier to learn than others – for example „oriti“ (sounds similar to Slovak variation of „Go to hell“) – meaning „good-bye. We have a similar expression but we use it to send people away at some special occassions...
I spend a lot of time alone or in the hospital. I went for a walk through the village several times – to buy the vegetable at the market. I try to be outside as much as I can before it gets dark but it is not possible to be outside till three because of the heat.
Yesterday we were in Kisumu. The journey takes something more than an hour. The country is beautiful on the way there – lots of hills and fields. In Kisumu we stopped at the restaurant next to Lake Victoria and we enjoyed some roasted fish, of course, we ate using our hands. People use the lake literally for everything. While we were eating people were passing by wrapped in different things – watches, cars, toys, batteries, locks – that they were trying to sell.
The hardest time comes in the evenings when I am alone. I keep asking myself what I am doing here. I have a hope that one day I will find out... It might be too soon for that yet.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

First day in Muhoroni

The first night was hard. I kept waking up because of the attacks of the suffocating cough. On the other hand I had a good feeling about the new place and people. Sister Vincent did the first basic grocery shopping for me, prepared pre-boiled water, my bed and even towels, soap, tooth brush, and I found some sweets on the table. Compared to the place in Kenya where I stayed before this was luxury. I found myself feeling guilty for how nice the place was. I don’t know if I should call it a house or a flat because it is all in one building but it has two entrances – front and back. Through the back door I enter the kitchen. The front door opens to the living-room/hall/dining-room. There are two bedrooms. The other is waiting for the girl that will come instead of Dasa. The floor is made of cement; there are nets on the windows. There is about a centimeter gap under the door through which many guests arrive. Yesterday for example a cute frog came twice and then I found a less cute spider there. I also had a mosquito fly by and I staggered him. When I looked down to check if it is dead I realized that I had prepared supper for some hungry spider that was living under the table. He ran amuck on him. I didn’t stay to watch the last part.
Now I am expected to get used to the new environment, get accustomed with the way of life and rest a lot. I can manage that – I think.
I washed all of my clothes the first day. There is a different soil in Nairobi – all of my clothes were red.
I bought a great soap so the dirt went off very well. Apart from that I also unpacked and did some cleaning. At one I was invited to Sister Vincent’s for dinner. She is a nice person. She has been to Africa for 20 years now. Out of that 7 years in Muhoroni. Originally she went to Africa because she wanted to do palliative care. It is interesting where I ended up and how many things seem to be connected to my thinking. She spoke very wisely and simply. People respect her a lot here. Supposedly if someone gives me a nasty look she will do such a fuss that next time they will think twice before doing that... :-) We had soup, hot dog sausages, potatoes, some vegetable. I got some home-grown bananas (they taste differently from classical bananas) and garlic (they say one stinks so much after eating it that it is even unbearable for the mosquitoes).
There were three cows waiting for me in front of the house when I returned home. They always bring some animals here to mow the lawn. In the afternoon we went to Muhoroni. We stopped at the market and we waited in a pub for the strong rain to stop. I bought some fruits and vegetables at the market. There is even a post office here. A letter travels 10 days to get here and from here to Slovakia it takes 5 days!
We got wet again on the way back. Supposedly it never rains so much within one day here. I am happy for some fresh weather.
The surrounding hills look beautiful from far away. I hope that I will get there soon to be able to admire them from a closer view.
Now I would like to drop in the hospital, check what it looks like there.

From Nairobi to Muhoroni

I tossed some bread-crumbs to the hens, which are walking in front of my house, and started writing. During my last evening in Nairobi I felt very tired from the amount of people and when Kitili suggested that I could help him milk the cow I felt relieved. The children had a Talent Show where they performed all dancing, drama and music pieces they prepared but the cow and silence was just what I needed at that point. I was dragged, held by hand or hair the whole week, all the time someone called me to go and do something with them. For the change I was the one to pull and squeeze – the cow.
Moreover, the quiet space around the cow offered an opportunity for an interesting discussion about people, enemies, robbers, countries, trust, and capital punishment. (When I was there, in the neighborhood some people killed a robber and burnt him as they were used to.) I wasn’t so shocked by this custom as the first time. I was shocked by the view of the man who was taking part in it and later he lovingly embraced a little child in his hands...
I left Nairobi on Monday morning. When I was waiting for the bus that was to take me to Kisumu, it was the first time that I was alone. Very strange. Before that there was always someone to talk instead of me, especially men (women are typically silent) and I somehow got used to it.
The journey from Nairobi to Kisumu was beautiful! Nairobi is situated on a tableland (1700 meters above the sea level) but only when one leaves the city one can enjoy the view down to the valley. The road goes close to the ridge so you can really see deep. It seemed to me as if someone would travel by bus on one of our mountain ridges and could see to the very depth.

Although at the beginning I was a little scared I slowly came to trust my bus. It seemed that they were very particular about the protection of the passengers. There weren’t many people and later I realized that most people looked richer than me. The bus belonged to the Easy Coach Company but I could as well call it a carriage because I could feel every little stone that we came over. After almost seven hours of travelling my stomach was all mixed up, shaken but mainly empty because I couldn’t swallow anything. But the country around us was breath-taking. Although I slept through some parts I saw many hills, mountains, sugar-reed, black tea, rice, corn...
In Kisumu a Slovak Dáša that has been here for 4 months now, was waiting for me together with a nun, Sister Vincent that is the director of the hospital.
They thought that my empty stomach will do well with some beer so I gave in. I don’t know if it helped...
Afterwards it started to rain and the rain soon turned into a typical tropical storm that lasted the whole way home. I was overwhelmed with exhaustion. I was trembling in spite of the warmth and my I barely kept my eyes open.
When we arrived, I fell in bed and sank to sleep.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


I haven’t stopped the whole day. Only in the evening I finally hid in my room. (It consists of one mattress and my luggage.)
At half past six I got up from the mattress. I washed myself, had some tea – the typical Kenya tea with milk. The children were eating their watery oatmeal „uji“ and they were asking me to drink it from their glasses.
It was a cleaning day, everybody was cleaning, carrying water, washing. The children were washing their clothes. I had to keep avoiding the „waterfalls“ that were created by pouring the water on the staircase.
I sat down on the wall and the children asked me to tell them some story. So I was telling them about the good shepherd and the lost sheep. I decided that I would learn more stories like this in Swahili. So far I was able to work with the story of Little Red Riding Hood (Kofia Nyekundu) and Seven Little Goats.
In the morning I was taken to Nakumatt. Nakumatt is a guarded shopping mall situated right behind the slum. Mostly upper classes and mzungus (white people) go shopping there. It is like a small version of Bratislava’s Aupark. And that is another paradox of life in Kenya. But from time to time one enjoys some „rest“. I was especially looking forward to the toilets. Not only are they of the classical type but they also flush and there is running water in the sinks. In the Children’s Garden we have the classical toilet and sink in the house but the water is not running so we wash in tanks and the water used for „showering“ and washing hands is then used for flushing the toilets. Most effective usage of water.
After this incredible experience in Nakumatt I spent the rest of the day in the children’s home again. Most of the time, I speak in Swahili. I use English less. When I am tired I speak in Slovak without even wanting to. The children usually only speak Swahili with me. It is a challenge for me because it moves me forward. We don’t talk about complicated things, it is a „kitchen vocabulary“ so it works. I am astonished myself about how easy it is.
In the afternoon I was occupied by a group of younger girls. We went to play games on the meadow where the cows were grazing. I taught them a game where all the children get tired except for me. I called it „Fisi Mbaya“ (Bad Hyena). The point was to catch the bad hyena that was played by an older boy. I was cheering for them. Classics. As it was Saturday everything had to be cleaned. The girls were washing their hair so they washed my hair with the soap, too.
In the afternoon I went for a walk through the calmer part of the slum – of course, not alone. I also made a few photos. It was hard to „catch the moment“ because there were 20 children with me and they wanted to be in each of the photos in a different combination.
About 4 o’clock the match Kenya – Nigeria started. All of the boys were sitting in the dining room watching the granular screen. Kenya lost. However, I saw (HEARD) the joy when they shot two goals and it was definitely worth it! (I probably shouldn’t have provoked by shouting „Nigeria!“ during the match)
In the evening I was playing football till it got dark. As the goalkeeper I was especially successful in getting a lot of goals but as a defender I kicked the ball as well as legs. I was good at that. When it got dark the children decided that they will play up to me and I will be standing in front of the cage shooting goals. The plan was great but I couldn’t hit the ball – I was mostly kicking the air and when I finally managed to hit it, the shot didn’t meet the cage. I keep saying to myself that the ball was too small.
I am always dragged by someone, someone always holds my hand, touches my hair, squeezes the „hippo“ skin that I have on my elbows, plucks the hairs on my arms or my hair. Yesterday for example they were pinching and beating my arms to see how my skin goes red afterwards. Maybe that is why I am all bruise now.
Besides, I stuck my hair in the barbed wire and they had to disentangle me.

There aren’t many places in the world where you can finds yourself at home as fast as in the Children’s Garden in Kawangware.

It has just started to rain. That kind of pleasant summer rain.


Yesterday I came to understand the label that I saw on one of the cars: „drive or die.” I was in Nairobi in the morning. I haven’t missed this city at all. It is full of chaos. People keep clashing with each other quite roughly. I think the traffic lights can be found only in the center of Nairobi but the cars don ´t respect them. So I was waiting for the red light to start walking. The cars don’t slow down if they see a pedestrian crossing the street. And the pedestrians walk wherever. On my journey to the city I was accompanied by one boy, a teacher, who had earphones in his ears the whole time listening to reggae, and then he fell fast asleep on the way home. He was flung from one side (his neighbor) to another (me) and I thought to myself that I could as well go home alone. He probably didn’t mean any wrong, poor kid. It is just a different culture.
In the afternoon I met with the ladies who are responsible for the logistics of my project. I tasted the atmosphere of the Slovak project. I was happy not to be observed by a bunch of curious children for a while.
As it was Friday afternoon I spent several hours in the car with the taxi driver Johann. The distance wasn’t long but there were traffic jams and the drivers did whatever they wanted – meaning they were creating new spontaneous lanes, driving in the opposite direction or on the sidewalk.
The whole city was grey, flooded by smog as if fog was hovering above.
When I finally got home some time before the sunset (after six), I was taken care of by four boys. I was tired and I secretly hoped to have some rest so I told them that I would come later and asked them to wait. Ten minutes later they knocked on my door and accused me of lying. Then they started to argue about my hands – which belongs to whom. The youngest was 7, the oldest was 11.
That morning I read the side effects of anti-malaria drugs and in the evening, after I forgot most of them, I took the first dose. Then I couldn’t fall asleep, waiting for the side effects to come...
By the way, the FIFA trophy arrived to Kenya and President Kibaki was allowed to hold it. Prime Minister Odinga touched it unexpectedly and the trophy guards immediately put them away.

First Day

I had people from Children’s Garden waiting for me at the airport in Nairobi. It was completely dark, of course, when we set out for Kawangware.
Before going to Muhoroni for a half year I decided to visit friends in a children´ s home in a slum close to the capital city. The arrival to the children’s home was intense. Already at the gate some children were glued to the car and followed us up the hill to the house. They were shouting something and pressing their faces to the windows. Shock therapy. I simply leapt in. After the first day my basic feeling was that I had never left Kenya. While here we live and travel fast, and our relationships change, it seemed to me that here I resumed the discussions where they stopped after I left two years ago. In the same way as people play chess throughout longer periods of time.
Suddenly names were coming to my mind, Swahili jumping out of me as if I studied it at home. I managed to tell the children an upgraded version of the fairy-tale about Little Red Riding Hood (Kofia Nyekundu) and a bad hyena, and 7 little goats and bad hyena. That inspired their desire for telling stories and so we spent some time telling stories to each other. I didn’t understand their fairy-tales as much but I was happy they were having fun listening to each other, and I tried to catch at least some of the Swahili.
The 8th graders had important final exams so there were plainclothes policemen on the school grounds and it was forbidden to enter it. The children told me that the policemen would shoot me.
I can feel the dirt getting under my nails. A hundred children are shaking my hand, my hair is greasy from different types of „massages“.
Slovak version of Three Little Piggies, Varila myšička kašičku (Panya alipika ugali in Swahili) survived the 2-year break and the little children immediately asked me to play it. So I was cooking ugali (squash) in their hands – not only little children but also teenagers – till my throat went sore.
The music teacher came to me and told me that he had taught the children a Slovak song. It turned out it was a Hebrew song but on a Slovak CD (Kvapôčky). The children ask me to sing it anyway. Little children led by Diana made a little house under the stairs and they were cooking African food in different covers and kept cradling a rolled-up jumper instead of a doll in their arms. So I was cooking and cradling and feeding the jumper with them.
The weather was bearable. In the evening it was quite cool, but I couldn’t keep my window open because of the mosquitoes so it was hot inside.