My journey to Muhoroni...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

22 December 2009

The Christmas is at the door and I feel no stress. Well, not counting my little war with cockroaches that I haven´t won yet.
Preparation for Christmas started by the kids washing the cafeteria. The framework that the mice (rats) like to walk on was now fruited with children. There was water everywhere and a lot of feet. Every day the kids ask me to take them for a walk (all age categories) and this morning a 4-year-old Kamau looked at me with reproach that I told him yesterday that I would take him for a walk and I didn´t – I had no other choice. I wanted to take some 15 children with me but on the way to the gate other children were joining us and finally there were 40 of them. That is enough for one adult. I organized them in pairs and we walked up the road together.
I showed „A je to“ (Slovak animated series for children) and introduced Pat and Mat to them. I think they liked it because the next morning they started nagging me for more.
Yesterday there was a Talent Show and I performed too. Together with Exvilian we danced Kuku Dance whose choreography we prepared together very spontaneously an hour before. We got more than 80 points and won the good 2nd place (although some people were spreading rumours that it was the 5th).
I played adapted versions of other Slovak games with the kids such as Little geese, little geese, let´s go home! (Little goats, little goats, let´s go home – and they were chased by a hyena instead of a wolf) and Forks, spoons, knives (Uma, Kikijo, Kisu). Apart from that I keep washing dirty clothes, my greasy hair – very intellectual business. The children can´t understand that I don´t want to put a cream in my hair and that it really is not nice to have greasy hair.
Yesterday evening I watched a movie with the older girls. Two thirds fell asleep-
The Christmas here starts 25th December so I don´t know what I am going to do 24th, that is tomorrow. Maybe I will wash the children´s hair with a shampoo or make popcorn out of 4 kilos of corn that I bought.
Blessed Christmas.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holiday in Children´s Garden

The journey to Nairobi was peaceful. No problems. I was skimming through the newspapers that we bought at a gas station in Kericho.  They were writing about (in)security before Christmas. The robbers lurk for people in order to provide better Christmas for themselves and their families. And the police shoot the robbers right away. The robbers do not kill if they get what they want. You cannot look into their faces and you have to give them everything they ask for, you should not oppose them or try to negotiate. The danger is strongest during the night. That is when all kids of gangs meet up and plan robberies, burglaries and kindappings.
I feel safe here in Children´s Garden. There are too many people around here. The robbers focus on abandoned places because that means less pontential witnesses. I live where I lived before but I haven´t seen cockroaches here before. So far I have only seen them in pictures in the card game Bug Bluff. At first I was horrified to learn that cockroaches can survive atomic bomb or even being microwaved and then yesterday I bought a great spray that made them all go belly up!
As soon as I arrived a herd of kids hung themselves on me! I don´t know if you can even imagine that. They asked me if I had brought fish from Kisumu for them. All of a sudden several kids started to ask me about Luo language and test me on how much I knew.  I didn´t know there were so many of them here! They spoke to me in Luo but I didn´t understand them at all.
Muhoroni spoilt me. The toilet pit is beautifully deep, I can´t see the gutter, there was a lot of water and mainly it was clean. Here I found a functionless non-flushing toilet, drain was out of order and the water in the shower couldn´t go away. And those cockroaches! Those were really waiting for me. One of them immediately walked up my bed and kept watching me hiding inside my purse. 
The first evening the Luo kids didn´t want to let me go. Then it got calmer.

They don´t have school now so there´s not really anything for them to do. It was raining and mud was everywhere.
Small kids were inside so I was drawing with them and I told them a fairy-tale. They are eager to receive any kind of attention or love.
Children´s Garden lies at the end of Kawangware and on the other side, behind a richer quarter Lavington you can find Nakumatt, a shopping mall. There is a good restaurant, café, drycleaner, flower shop, cinema, bookstore, pharmacy, tourist shops and many tourists. It is stuffed with white people. Taxi is quite expensive and matatu, public transportation, is not very safe, so I went by foot – of course, with a bodyguard. It took us an hour. I bought the most necessary things and then we went to the Kawangware market. There I bought a wash-basin and a mop. I was happy to come back and scrubbed everything properly.
It easier for me to talk with the boys. The girls are trampled down by the culture, they are tongue-tied, not very bold and they don´t speak up. The boys, on the other hand, are curious, they ask questions. It has changed a little as the girls have been getting used to me and they speak up more. I try to give them more attention, too. And all of a sudden Moses suggested that I read a book about sex with the girls, and maybe ask some of their questions. Glove thrown down.
In the evening, after the supper (about 9pm) about 20 older girls gathered in one room, they were reading, asking questions, opening this „forbidden“ topic. The age range was 13 – 17. We are going to meet like this every evening. I think that this is one of the topics that they have no one to talk to about.
And today I am trying to rest a bit – after all it´s my holiday!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Friday in Kericho

Wednesday and Thursday were very busy. I would come home when it was already dark. I was taking care of my malnutritioned boy who was left unnoticed in his hospital bed – abandoned, hungry, peed all over. Then I also needed to finish something in the centre before leaving for Nairobi.
My head was full of ideas about what we could be doing during education seminars with the Mums and about how we could organize visits in families in order to make them as efficient as possible for the children and their Mums.
I was consumed by work and I didn´t even have time to wash my clothes or the dishes (it´s not possible after it gets dark).
I wanted to slow down on Friday to gain energy. That didn´t happen.
Lost in translation I was first sitting in a car that was heading for Kericho and I had no clue why we were going there. I thought that whatever reason Sister Vincent has for going there, Kericho is beautiful and worth seeing. There are the classical tea plantations which are amazing especially if you view them from above.
Kericho is placed a little higher than Muhoroni (about 2000 metres above the sea level) but the cold air meant a pleasant change. When I found out that we were going to a mass for Father Jerry who was killed that morning, it felt as if Kericho fell under a spell in front of my eyes. I was not fascinated by it anymore, not even interested in it. Before we went to the church we stopped to have some tea. The Sister kept receiving phonecalls from her aquaintances and family, there were text messages coming from their common friends, they were asking her to come back home. Father Jerry was Irish and that may explain why they understood each other well. I met other Irish missionaries while having tea. All of them knew one another and they kept talking about what happened that morning. And about what an extraordinary man he was.
I was overwhelmed by the graveness of the moment. I felt that they lost a very precious friend.
Slowly the church filled with people. The church was his mission. He came there to build and church and start a new parish...
After the mass one of the domestic believers stood in the front and described what he saw – the bed, the blood, mangled body – pierced, tied up, the throat cut, bars on the window broken.
Afterwards we went to Father Jerry´s house. I don´t know why but I went inside with the rest of the people. Everything looked as if someone lived there but he didn´t anymore. Coffee. Opened bottle of wine, Bible on a little table, paper stuffed in the fireplace. I suppose I went there to caml myself down, to ensure myself that I was safe. But that didn´t work out. In the church his death was real but at his house it felt even more real.
On the way home we laughed a lot to subdue dark thoughts. But when I came home I broke down. It started to rain heavily (in the same way as during the night before) and I didn´t hear anything but its hammering on the roof. My nerves came loose and so did th tears. All of a sudden I realized what had happened. The safest place  - my bed – was the most vulnerable. I moved from one place to another, all of the lights and candles turned on. It was the first time that I closed all of the windows carefully and I tried not to be afraid. But the fear didn´t leave me.

I survived the most critical time (estimated hour of the burglary) half awake, half asleep. I finally fell asleep for real in the morning when the neighbours started to get up. The following night I decided to use sleeping pills.
The day before this happened I had been reading a text of one of the first Christian martyrs in the daily reading.
God´s protection for us is different from what I imagine. In the same way as his love. And life is so fragile. Unpredictable. Whatever happens with my life I am in His hands.
These past few days I have seen life. Life on dirt pressed down to make a floor. Acrid smoke in a hut that irritated my eyes and my lungs. Poverty under a straw roof. Brutality of people and Father Jerry´s death and unpredictability of our paths as well as those of God´s.
I have heard a lot about these paths, I have read about them, seen it on TV. But when I see it live, that poverty of my Mums and their children and that ability of man to be controlled by evil – it emphasizes the reality. I have been living in such world. Straw and dirt reminded me of Christmas. Poverty and evil. Christmass came here. That is why God came to us.

What life is like for my children and their Mums

Finally I started to work. I have been thinking of domestic visits for a longer time but the social worker got sick and then he took a break. I decided to look at the most difficult cases that we have – children that haven´t put on weight for a long time.
Those were my first domestic visits. I first went to Biafra with Solo. Biafra is a part of Muhoroni that is about 10 minutes walking distance from us. There are small huts made of clay with straw roofs. I didn´t know the names of the parents, only the name of the boy. But if every woman has five children like that, it´s like looking for a needle in a haystack. This part is one of the poor ones. I dind´t see any trash between the little houses, the people were trying to help us with searching and the kids were so surprised that there was a Mzungu in their midst, that they didn´t even shout at me. Some of them even decided to hide away. 
Finally we found the mother of our boy. Their house was no different from other houses around. The kids were sitting in front of the house, inside I could see another baby. The Mum grabbed my hand and pulled me inside. When one comes from outside it is usually very dark. I couldn´t see anything at first. The windows were small, probably so that no one could get through them. The floor was made of pressed clay. It was about 2x3 metres. It was divided into two parts by a small parting. Various dishes and bowls for water and food were lying all around. In the even darker part there was a space for sleeping – no matress – and a small table cooker with a saucepan on it. There was coal or wood underneath. They were preparing some squash.
The second visit was in Mtwala – the journey was a bit longer. We went down a fieldpath, passing sugar cane, and Solo trying to scare me by talking about an enormous snake that they had killed over there. The snakes live in the sugar cane fields and that is why no one would dare go in the field unless it was burnt down.
Mtwala is another poor part of Muhoroni. It is behing the river whose colour looked quite normal (not too dirty at the first sight). We jumped over the river (the bridge was taken by a flood) and walked up the hill. Fortunately we knew the name of the family so our search didn´t last too long. When two children saw us they started to cry hysterically. I suppose I scared them. They looked quite old but their father had to comfort them. Then he took them away. Who knows, maybe they tell them that when they are bad, a white man will come and carry them away.
The house was a bit longer than the other one, there was a tin roof. The floor was again made of a pressed soil. Inside I could see all of the family treasures – different rags, bowls, bigger vessel for water that they were taking from a stream. In the corner there was a fireplace made of stones. Next to it there was space for sleeping – nothing but a mere ground and I hoped that they would at least put some rags on it so that they would not be sleeping on the groung alone. I don´t remember if there were any windows on the house. Only small peep-holes through which the smoke could get out when they were cooking.
The boy was sitting outside – only in his T-shirt. The grandmother was working in the field meanwhile. Other children were playing – one of the boys was playing in the dirt creating a highway and instead of a car he used a small boot. The girl was cooking something in the bottle lids.
The boy was half-orphan. His mother died, his father left for Mombasa in hope for a better life. He stayed with his grandma and aunt who already had enough of her own kids. It is hard to say why he is malnutritioned and her kids are not. Of course, we didn´t speak in English and the grandma couldn´t speak Swahili either so the whole discussion was interpreted by Solo. The aunt went to bring some wood so we had to communicate with the grandma. In a while the kids saw the Mum carrying a great piece of wood, about 2 metres long, on her head (the women are able to carry anything on their heads – even a drain pipe or big tubes). Information that I got from these two women separately were contradictory. Each of them claimed something different to be true and I wasn´t sure if it was due to the translation or if someone was lying. The boy gets a lot to eat. That was, of course, a positive answer. It was 12 o´clock and the boy ate last time at 8 o´clock. That was the less positive reality. They showed me how they were preparing a squash.
Supposedly he had a low appetite. He ate everything.
It was very difficult to recognize who and when was telling the truth. Sometimes they get tangled up in their own lies. Sometimes they do them wrong.  They come with various stories and it is important to have it confirmed from another side.
What I am concerned about with the boy is that he is very weak, without life. I am sure it is because of malnutrition. We forbade the grandma to give the boy drinks from a bitter herb when he cries. Solo tasted it himself and I took a sample to be tested in the hospital. They told me that there might be some medication inside. The herb might have been the reason for his sleepiness... Although at the beginning the boy was afraid of me, then I took him to my arms and at last he fell asleep. I told them a hundred times that they had to boil the water from the stream before they use it for drinking or cooking....
We had both boys tested in the hospital. If malnutritioned children do not put on weight for a long time, they can be HIV positive or have TBC. Fortunately, both of the boys are „OK“. Now they are in the hospital and being monitored.
Monitored...? The first day I found one of the boys in bed, peed all over, sitting in his bed completely abandoned. The Mum went to take care of her two-month baby and the two-year-old was left in the hospital and the staff didn´t really notice.
I noticed he had low appetite and refused to drink milk. I came fo see him at 6pm. The other Mum told me that he had his last food at 1pm. I understood that his Mum didn´t have a choice because she had another, smaller baby at home. But I couldn´t understand that there was another Mum sitting in the same room and she knew when he ate the last time and she didn´t give him anything, she didn´t tell anyone. I didn´t understand that there wasn´t a nurse that would pay some attention to the boy. Is it what it is like in Kenya? Or is it just an exception to the rule?
I think I came to understand one thing. The nurses in the hospital used to leave their own kids at home alone and so they probably wouldn´t be very concerned about another Mum leaving her child.
One woman told me that when her kids were small she would leave them home alone, go to work and come back only to breastfeed them. She worked nearby so she heard them crying. I can hardly find words to say anything in a situation that I can´t even imagine... Two months after the delivery the mothers return back to work (if they have any). The more privileged ones have their Mums or sisters, or and older daughter (7 years old or more) or another woman that takes care of the children. The less privileged ones don´t have jobs but then it might be better for the kids. I miss compassion and empathy here. I don´t know why I can barely find it here. Maybe because the suffering is so common that it became normal for people?

Monday, December 7, 2009

How I installed a christmas tree

I was persuaded to buy a christmas tree for 90 shillings (1euro). So I have bought this artificial stick.

Atfer a while I have changed its shape.

Then I have added lights!

And then when I tried to put the plug to socket something very weird happened.

Fortunately I bought two packets of lights.

Cable is short, the tree is kitschy, the tree had to land on TV.

The lights were flashing so the tree was higly irritating.