Wednesday, June 30, 2010


At one of our meetings back in Appleton, what felt like a thousand years before, Dave had shown us this little packet of chemicals the size of a teabag. It was this wonderful invention of Proctor and Gamble and was called PUR. The directions called for dumping one packet into a couple gallons of water, stirring vigorously for a period of time, and then letting it settle for another period of time. In the bottom of the container of water all the dirt and particles clump together in a gelatinous mass and the rest of the water is pure and crystal-clear.

The best description of the water from the river next to where we were camped in Mosiro was to say it was diluted mud. I can’t recall ever seeing running water anywhere in the US that was quite this dirty and dank.

When the first bucket of it was brought up from the river, everyone looked at Dave as if to say, “let’s see you make this stuff clean.”

It took several packets of PUR to get each bucket of water, but with lots of stirring and careful discarding of the waste, the water did begin to sparkle. The first day there, the males in our group along with the Maasai made 55 gallons of clean water. It sounds weird, but what else do you call it?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

“Morning routine”

Every morning we had oranges, monkey-finger bananas and cookie-like crackers with peanut butter for breakfast. The adults stood around our little portable table, talking and joking while we ate. The youth would take their plates to the termite mound where they sat while they ate.

After breakfast Saturday morning, our first day there, the entire team met at the termite mound to plot our activities for the next two days. We would be running a medical clinic along with giving educational seminars. We each took a section of the health manual to read, teaching about disease prevention. Val and Teri chose to give a demonstration on hand-washing.

It is amazing that something so simple, something all of us Americans take so for granted, is something that people in third world countries have never been taught. Of course, they have never had soap, and clean running water is a luxury that few of them have.

Just down the hill from where we were camped, there was a wide muddy river. It was wonderful that the Maasai living near there had the river for a continual supply of water. What was so hard to believe was that they used that water for everything – watering their cattle and goats, washing their clothes, bathing, cooking and drinking.

I will have to tell you tomorrow all about what we did with that water.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


After 12 hours on a bus thick with dust both inside and out, with one stop to eat goat stew and drink boiling hot tea and another stop to relieve ourselves behind some brush and then walk across a dry riverbed, we had arrived at the place at the end of the road. A place called Mosiro.

We had set up our tents in the dark, crawled inside and tried our best to sleep. But there was music. No it was not someone’s IPOD or other electronics, it was the Maasai. Each night at the outskirts of the camp we set up, they lit a fire and spent the night chanting. That first morning we found out that they were there to ward off the lions. Hmm?

But when we clambered out of our tents that morning, it was as if somehow on that horrible road we had crossed into paradise. Again, my mere words are so inadequate to describe this magical place.

There was this expanse of ground, dry and tan, with sparse grass dotting the landscape. A hundred feet or so away sat a huge flat-topped termite mound. I thought it was just a rock outcropping, but I was assured that it was built by termites. A young Maasai boy was herding goats through this scene. It looked almost Biblical.
The air was fresh, the sky was clearing. It felt good to just stand up and stretch. And then, I had to go to the bathroom.

The Maasai, like most native tribes around the world, just go to the bathroom wherever they are with no fan-fare or facilities or toilet paper for that matter. To accommodate us, they kindly dug a hole and then constructed their version of a porta-potty around that hole. They had built a small fence surrounding the hole and then covered that with canvas. It was adequate, I thought, and even had a sky light. No door though. Which definitely meant we utilized the buddy system. Dave’s answer to that, though, was just to call out in Swahili, “howdie” when he approached the choo.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

"Almost there..."

After we left the Compassion center at Ewuaso Kdong, the road – if you can call it that – quickly deteriorated. When we came to a dried up riverbed, it was decided that we would get out and walk across. On another steep hill, we again got out and walked up it as the overloaded bus couldn’t quite make it otherwise.

Then there was the dust. With the windows closed, it immediately got beastly hot inside the bus. With the windows open however, on the dry path we traveled, dust came swirling in and settled most thickly on the kids in the back of the bus.

At times it felt surreal, like we had been kidnapped and were being driven to our end. A friend had given me an inflatable, horseshoe-shaped pillow, the kind you would use to wrap around your neck while sleeping in the car. Instead, I’m not too proud to tell you, I sat on it. Over all the heinous bumps we drove over, it really helped my bottom and my back.

When we arrived at Mosiro, at 9:30, in the black of an African night, we still didn’t quite think this was all going to turn out right. Where had we been taken? We set up our tents in the dark and by flashlight, were led to the outhouse. If you could call it an outhouse, but more on that later.

But when morning came . . . .

Friday, June 25, 2010

“Ewuaso Kdong”

Our next stop that day was the Compassion center at Ewuaso Kdong. Earlier in the week, when we had visited the Compassion center in Nairobi, we thought we knew what Compassion was doing for its sponsored children. But here in the tiny village of Ewuaso Kdong, where three of our team members had children, we actually got into the guts of Compassion, some of us more so than others.

Michelle, Amanda and the Bells got to meet the children they sponsor and to commemorate the visit they each planted an avocado tree. We all split up then so that we could each go to the home of one of the children. Geoff, Cathy and I went with Michelle to the traditional Maasai home of her little boy.

The homes of the Maasai are usually within a manyatta. A manyatta is a group of small family homes surrounded by a fence made of brush piled around the perimeter. At night, the family’s herds of goats or cattle are brought within the fence for safety and to keep them from wandering off. Extended family and one man’s several wives and children live in the different small homes throughout the manyatta.

And by small home I mean a stick and mud hut somewhere around fifteen feet square.

Since they don’t have doors, to get into the home we went through a narrow opening, turned sharply in one direction and then the next, ducking the whole time as the ceiling was less than five feet high. In the tiny room we found ourselves in there was a small open fire, a few shelves for cooking gear, a bench that the four of us sat on elbow to elbow, a bed and not much else.

Our host gave us each a cup of steaming hot chai tea, which would be ok on a winter day –oh that’s right, it was winter in Kenya. Yet the temperature in this mud hut had to be close to 100 degrees. I know that you can buy chai tea all over now in the US, but I have yet to find any that is anywhere close to the chai we drank with the Maasai. Made with boiling goat’s milk and lots of sugar, it reminded me of some weird melted ice cream. The first couple sips, once it cooled off enough to drink, were really good, but it didn’t take long for it to taste just too sweet. And for me to say that, you know it had to be sweet.

Over in the home of Amanda’s Compassion girl, however, in addition to chai tea, Amanda, Val, Kari and Jon were served the next most common thing in the Maasai diet – goat meat stew. Along with whatever vegetables are available, usually potatoes and cabbage, the Maasai will throw in just about everything from the goat, including some of the internal organs. Val, lucky girl that she always is, got to have some of the guts on her plate. Of course, she didn’t know that until the little hairs, the villi from the inside of the intestine, got stuck between her teeth.

That probably still wasn’t as bad though as the raw goat kidney certain members of our team are going to encounter in a couple days.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

You know what happens every night when I go to write my blog? I start doing web searches of different Kenya things, such as places we went and things we saw. Before you know it, it is bedtime and I haven't gotten anything written. Again, tonight that is what happened. So, for your entertainment and so that you don't give up on my story completely, here are pictures of our trip into the Bush.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Great Rift Valley

Our first view of the Great Rift Valley was from a roadside stop overlooking the Valley. As in any place with tourist potential, a long strip of road had been widened just enough for vehicles to park. There were various vendors selling everything imaginable. And there was a choo, too.
I believe I told you a long time ago what a choo is (rhymes with show). It is what the Kenyans call their toilet. Most of them are flush with ground (no pun intended) and require you to squat over the hole. The choos we saw while in Kenya varied quite a bit, from the porcelain choo at Paradise Lost to the hole dug in the ground at Mosiro. The choo at the overlook was quite interesting.
I didn’t really need to use the facilities at the time, but Cathy came back raving about it so much that I had to check it out. It was basically a bucket with a hole in the bottom of it buried in the floor hanging over the side of the cliff. To make it even more special, there was a pail filled with water and a dipper with a sign saying something like “please flush as needed”.
Besides experiencing this unique flushable choo, we also saw our first wildlife. Looking straight down over the cliff, we saw a small herd of hyrax. They look like a rodent–type of animal but, even though they resemble a guinea pig, are supposed to be more closely related to the elephant (or that is what Wikipedia claims).
But all of that pales next to the view of the Rift Valley. It is just a huge expanse of land so unchanged by millennia that it takes your breath away. Only pictures can do it justice –well, not really.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

“Off we go”

There was a light knock on the day. It was five am Friday morning and I was lying in bed, awake as usual. I had already been in the bathroom, gotten dressed and was now just waiting for our wakeup call.

“We’re up,” I hollered to the unseen knocker, who I actually knew was Nate, getting us up early so we could be to the bus on time.

“Come on, girls,” I urged my roommates. “It’s time to get moving.”

Within a half hour, we were all in the dining room eating breakfast. Usually the kitchen staff was up before us and made breakfast for us of French toast or pancakes or the like. This morning it was cereal, toast and fruit. Well, then we all pretty much skipped the cereal because the milk had gone bad. At first we didn’t know if the chunks in the milk were because it was frozen, but one of the men unsuspectingly drank it and kindly shared the correct information with us.

I brushed my teeth for what would be the last time in a bathroom sink and headed to the bus. Our suitcases had been packed the night before with the rest of the supplies, so most of us carried on only our backpacks.

We left HEART pretty much on time - 6:05. We had to pick up some more people across town and got to the designated parking lot as scheduled, just as the sun came up. That’s when we remembered that we were in Kenya and on Kenyan time, which meant the people we were meeting didn’t arrive for another half an hour. After we picked them up, we picked someone else up at the Compassion center and then had to stop at the pharmacy for something.

Finally we were on the way and heading for the massive Rift Valley.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

“More preparations”

When we returned back to HEART that afternoon, there were a lot of preparations to be taken care of. The following morning we were leaving at 6 am for our journey into the Bush, to the land at the end of the road, to a magical place called Mosiro.

Before we got there, however, there was packing to do. I hadn’t mentioned this before, but along with our clothes, comfort food and donated supplies, Val and I had packed a tent in one of our suitcases. We had to repack this now for the trip to Mosiro. Michelle and I would call this tent our bedroom for four nights while we lived in the middle of nowhere.

We also had to pack into our bus food for eating, supplies for the medical clinics we would be holding, and jugs of water, as there was no fresh water where we were going. In addition to the 15 original team members, four more American volunteers joined us. Kalea another teen-age girl, Terri, her husband Scott, and another man named Tomas. This made for a rather full bus. And it is going to get even fuller before we leave Nairobi.

But first, was our last supper. It was almost as if the staff at HEART was fattening us up for the slaughter, or more likely, because they knew this would be our last meal having any resemblance to our American diets. We had barbequed chicken and steak on the grill, baked potatoes, cooked carrots with peas, and one of Joyce’s always magnificent desserts. Instead of eating in the dining room, as usual, we even ate outside on the veranda. It was a beautiful night, and I don’t just mean the weather. There was a huge group of us outside eating that night; men, women and teenagers who had, it seemed, just met but all shared the common bond of a love for Kenya and her people.

It seemed as though, to get anywhere, we had to take a long ride through Nairobi. One day, on one such drive we passed this sign. What does it say to you? To me it says, "Bring your children to this park and let them play in traffic".

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lost in Paradise

One day while we were in Kenya in 2006, we took the orphans from Brydges Orphanage to the Park called Paradise Lost, just outside of Nairobi. 
When the orphans arrived it was quite the spectacle. All 60 kids, plus their teachers, were crammed into what was probably a 20 passenger bus. It was painted with fantastic hippy designs. The kids hanging out all of the windows made a wonderful vision. Their ride to Paradise Lost Park from Ngong was much longer than ours had been.
Both buses carried us all down a steep rocky trail which only had the premise of being a road. At the bottom of the hill were a surprise lake and the trailhead to the waterfalls and cave. The park which at its entrance appeared barren, dry and boring turned out to offer a few things of interest, though it was all pretty old and worn.
We headed down to the lake, where the boats were just waiting for us. Most of our team divvied up and jumped into a boat with a handful of kids in each, life vests having quickly been donned. None of the orphans had ever been in a boat before, but it only took a few simple instructions for them to take off. Luckily the lake wasn't very big, or I don't think some of them would have ever come back to shore.  
After everyone had made it safely back to shore, we headed down the trail to the waterfall and cave. This was amazing, like something from an Indiana Jones movie set. The trail wound along the bottom of the hillside and right under a tall meager waterfall. Soon the path entered a cave. The cave went on for a while, before our journey ended in a large cavern. From there several pathways branched off leading to other smaller caverns. Many years before, when the British ruled Kenya, the MauMau tribe lived in these caves, hiding from their British persecutors.
When we left the caves, we hiked back up to the top of the hill for lunch. We served the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potato chips, carrot sticks, bananas, cookies and bottles of soda. After lunch the kids from our team presented a skit on making the right decisions. Then the orphans all sang for us. What beautiful voices they had!
Next on the agenda were camel rides. That poor camel! The handler would make her get down on her knees, three kids or adults would pile on her back. She would walk a few hundred feet, turn around, walk back and then get down on her knees again to let her riders off. Her sorry fat knees had to be so sore by the time all the kids had taken their turn.
A few minutes on the playground, group picture and it was time to load back into the bus. It was such a full day and the kids had so much fun. What a sad thought that now they had to go back to the small cramped rooms of the orphanage.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

“PBJ nightmares”

Thursday morning dawned and as usual I was wide awake at five am. I dressed silently, so as not to waken my roommates, and slid down to the kitchen. This was the day we were taking the orphans from Brydges to the park, which meant lots of sandwiches had to be made before we could leave.

I thought, here is something I can do to help out the team. And you would think, seeing as I made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch every day for 20 years, that this would be an easy task for me. Wrong. This was Kenya and nothing was the same as at home.

The plan was to make the sandwiches and slide them back into the bread bags. The problem with that idea was that the bread bags didn’t come closed with twist ties or even the square plastic thingy with the hole in it. No, they were sealed with a piece of tape, which once torn could not be reused.

Having raised a boy scout, I tried to always be prepared. I snuck back up to the room and dug out a roll of medical tape I had packed in my suitcase. So as not to misplace it, I tied it on my person via the drawstring on my skirt.

The next problem was that I could not anywhere in the kitchen find a can opener and the jelly came in big sealed cans. I finally dug a can opener out of the bottom of some junk drawer, but it worked so poorly that I thought I would have better luck opening the can with my teeth. I managed to cut half of the lid off and just bent it back enough to reach in with my knife.

Then there was the peanut butter. Remember the Eljoy peanut butter project? I told you I would revisit that. The peanut butter at room temperature spread more like it had just come out of the freezer. It took some practice to get it to stay on the bread in a layer instead of as a little lump and without ripping the bread up.

I had hoped to have a lot accomplished by the time the rest of the adults from the team started wandering into the kitchen around six am. Instead I think I might have had one bag of sandwiches ready to go.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

“Meanwhile, back at HEART”

I gotta tell you I don’t quite remember what the rest of the team was doing while we were at Compassion on Wednesday. I think some of them went shopping for supplies and someone did laundry. When we got back, though, not wanting to tell anyone that we had just had ice cream, the girls started making cookies. The next day was going to be another big day out. We were going to be taking the orphans from Brydges to a park for the day. Along with everything else this park offered, we were going to be serving them lunch, to include a dessert of homemade cookies.

The kitchen at the HEART compound was a large industrial one, with a large stove, huge stainless steel countertops and deep double sinks. There was a large refrigerator and freezer. But there was no oven. So the girls mixed the cookies in the large kitchen and then carried the dough to the other end of the compound to bake them in the oven in Vickie’s quarters.

Maybe now is a good time to tell you some more about these girls as well as the rest of the team. Amanda was from Delaware. She was petite and cute as a button, a little bit silly and an incredibly good sport.

Sara, Carson’s older sister, was a tad more on the serious side. But she was also the singer of the group. On our many bus rides around the city she was often the one who would lead us all in songs.

Sara’s and Carson’s parents were Cathy and Jon. Cathy is an obstetrician / gynecologist from Indiana; her husband Jon is a farmer. In addition to the two kids they brought with on the trip, they had several they left at home. They have been friends with the Bells for years.

Because of that, Carson and Nate were already good friends. Brandon, though, seemed to get along with them just fine. Brandon and his dad Geoff were from the Madison area, where Geoff taught at one of the high schools.

The last adult was Michelle. She was from Iowa and had been to HEART in the past. She was married and had an assortment of children; she was already planning to return to Kenya with some of them the following year.

You already know me and Val. And I have told you enough about Dave, Jen, Nate and Kari. That leaves the last team member, Brie. Brie was from the Appleton area and was supposed to have flown with us from Wisconsin. With some phone calls and schedule changes, Dave was able to get her a flight to Nairobi on Wednesday. She arrived at HEART late in the evening, the same flight we had had. She was exhausted, not only from the long day and time change, but also from the stress of flying so far by herself. She still had a smile on her face though as I took her up to our room. She needed to get some sleep, the next day would be another busy one.

Friday, June 11, 2010

“Your Way Chinese Restaurant”

As a special treat to Mwazunga, his social worker and the woman who worked at the Compassion center, Dave took all of us out to eat for lunch that day. And we didn’t go to what I would consider a normal Kenyan restaurant. Instead we went to a Chinese restaurant named Your Way. Why Dave picked that particular restaurant I am not sure, except that he did know the owner and the food was excellent.

The owner practically met us at the door and ushered us to a private room. He also changed the radio to the only American music he had, Madonna. Val and I talk in German on occasion, just a few words not a whole conversation. So while we were in the Chinese restaurant in Kenya, Africa, with Madonna playing overhead, we were speaking in German. How many continents can you cover at one time?

But this day wasn’t about me; it was about Kari and her Compassion child Mwazunga. He ate the food just fine, though I bet he had never had any kind of foreign food before. And when it came to dessert, Dave insisted we all have ice cream. I don’t know if it was just that it had been so long since I had had ice cream (which is one of my big weaknesses) or if it was really that good, but it was really that good.

And what did Mwazunga think about it. Well, his social worker told us that he was certain that the little boy had never had ice cream before. He didn’t know quite how to eat it. He just kept licking off his spoon, instead of putting it in his mouth. When he was asked if he liked it, though, he beamed, his smile going from ear to ear.

It was way too soon that we had to drop them back off at the Compassion center.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


I think that it was the year before, that Kari and three of her friends chose to sponsor Mwazunga while they were at Lifest. To meet Kari, he traveled on a bus from Mombasa, which is on the Indian Ocean, with his social worker who also acted as our interpreter. Mwazunga didn’t know any English. He was only four years old but this trip was an early present as his birthday was a week after we met him. Another early present must have been the clothes he was wearing. His blue shirt and khaki pants looked brand-new but were also a few sizes too big.

The Compassion center we met him at in Nairobi is a comfortable place. Inside the building is crowded with offices but outside there is a large yard with room to run and playground equipment.

Kari gave him the presents she had brought, starting with the soccer ball. He was shy at first, but after kicking the ball around a little bit, he started to relax around all of us strangers who just kept taking his picture. He swung on the swings and slid down the slide. Soon, his dimples came out and he started to laugh with us.

When he started getting tired, we stopped to rest in the shelters they had on the Compassion grounds. Kari pulled more gifts out of the backpack she had brought for him. She gave him a framed picture of herself and her friends who also sponsored him. She showed him the letters she had received from him and his pictures.

Before we knew it, Dave had gotten back from running errands and it was time to go out to eat. Lunch that day was incredibly delicious, but also almost surreal.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Not any old commercial

Tuesday was pretty darn eventful. By comparison, it seemed like we didn’t do a lot the next day. Whereas Tuesday we saw a lot of people, witnessed so many things that you could never have imagined going on in this century on this earth, Wednesday, for me, Val, Nate and Kari anyway, it was all about one boy.

A four-year-old boy named Mwazunga from Mombasa. It had taken him 12 hours by bus to arrive in Nairobi just to meet Kari. His shy smile was the sweetest thing I had ever seen; his dimples in his round brown cheeks were just so darn cute that there are just no words to describe them. He was precious.

This is one of the harder blogs I have written, believe it or not, because I really don’t want to sound like a commercial for the organization that brought Kari and Mwazunga together. So, I am just going to throw it out there, and if just one person reading this goes to the Compassion website to check out the kids who are waiting to be sponsored, I guess it is worth the risk of turning off the rest of you.

Back to Lifest for just a minute. At Lifest is where I first learned about Compassion, International. They are one of those groups who you send your monthly check to and they tell you it goes to support a child in need. They send you the information about your child and the two of you write letters back and forth. I know that there are a lot of charities doing this sort of thing, and I would hope that they are all legitimate, but how is anyone to know for sure?

One year at Lifest, Val and two of her friends, Jacqueline and Katie, talked me into taking the plunge and agreeing to sponsor one of these kids. Neela is 16 years old now and is from India. The first few pictures I received of her, she is a thin scared little girl. The last picture I got from Compassion showed a beautiful young woman. I cry when I look at her picture. 

Am I making such a difference in her life, with my monthly donation of $38 and my infrequent letters to her? I am not nearly that conceited. She knows that I pray for her and love her unconditionally, that I will always remember her no matter how many miles separate us and that we will probably never meet. But she’s turned into this lovely lady because she knows her Savior lives and has so much more in store for her, that the desperate poverty she lives in in India is not all that there is to life. She has hope, and if I had any part in that, well, I couldn’t have done it without an organization like Compassion.
So, if you go to just to check it out, that would be excellent. Or certainly look into some of the other similar programs, such as World Vision or Save the Children. But I can tell you from first hand experience what Compassion is doing for Neela, Mwazunga and other children we met while in Africa.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

“Home Based Care Workers”

Since I didn’t visit these people the day we were in the slums, I copied this account out of Val’s journal. I was going to reword it, but decided that Val can tell her own story.

Within the Mathare Slums is a group of people known as Home Based Care. It consists of a team of 15 people who visit their total 100 clients three times a week. These clients all have AIDS and the members of Home Based Care supply them with their ARV medications as well as assist with buying them food and paying their rent. All of the Home Based Care workers live in the slums.

First we picked up rice, flour and sugar from a market in the slum, to give to the people that we visited. The store was tiny and packed with so many different supplies.

The first client we visited was named Gyus. He had been diagnosed with AIDS one and a half years ago and is 26-years old now. He lives with his 20-year old brother named Charles and their father. Charles and Gyus both have tuberculosis in addition to AIDS. The brothers are both on medication, but their father is not because he is denial. They lost their mother two years ago.

The next two clients we stopped to visit had been taken to the hospital.

Next we visited Eunice, a bedridden mother of two who found out a year ago that she had AIDS. Her sons are one year old and six years old. She has not had them tested. Unlike many women in the slums, she does have a husband but he doesn’t have a job. Her dream is to have her own business. The week before, she could barely even wakeup, because she gives what little food she has to her children. The day we visited, she hadn’t eaten in two days.

I didn’t get the names of the next people we saw. The mother had reported her daughter to the Home Based Care team. The daughter had found out she was HIV positive when she was pregnant. In Kenya you must be tested when you are pregnant. Her husband left her after he found out. The woman was holding a candle because it was so dark in her home. She only completed the sixth grade and did not speak English.

We also visited a woman who had been an orphan. Then when her sister died, she took in her two children. She gets up very early every morning to voluntarily clean her church. She and the other woman in her apartment that day were going to be kicked out of their homes that day because they hadn’t paid their rent. Many of the others we saw that day also hadn’t paid their rent. Before we left the slums, Jen and Dave told us that they would be paying the rent for these people.

In one of the homes we visited was a sign saying, "God gives hope and loves us." Amazing in those kinds of conditions, that people can still have so much faith.

Monday, June 7, 2010


While Michelle, Cathy and I were visiting the WEEP women in Mathare Slum, the rest of our team went to a different area of the slum. Some day I promise to tell you all about the rest of the team members!

Their first stop was Eljoy School. Eljoy School is a small cement block building deep within Mathare. There are only three classrooms, each as bare as the next. Taped on the walls were hand-drawn pictures of shapes, cars, buildings, and fruit and other foods, along with the alphabet. Their desks were long wooden benches attached to thin tables. There were no books.

The kids didn’t seem to notice though. Each of the classes had songs, skits and poems that they shared with our team. They were so full of life and love, not having a clue of all that they were missing out on.

Someone taped them singing “Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes, knees and toes”. Their angelic voices, with what sounds like a British accent, were so precious. Our team shared Biblical stories with them and joined them in some of their songs.

After leaving the school, the team visited the Eljoy Peanut Butter production. As everywhere in the slum, they were crowded into cramped rooms, this group of women shelling and sorting peanuts, and then running them through a grinder. Out comes tasty, healthy peanut butter. Unfortunately, as we later found out, because it is straight peanuts, it doesn’t spread on bread very easily.

Friday, June 4, 2010

But I thought I was in the Slums

It was our second day in Kenya, on my first trip there in 2006. We had visited the WEEP women living in Mathare Slum and had seen their project - sewing uniforms for the school children.

Then Mary, the social worker working with these women, said, “Let’s go into the slums. I want to show you one more home.” I looked at my partners and we all thought the same thing - aren’t we already in the slums! The next place we visited made the first ones look pretty chic, so I am sure that by some standards we were finally truly in the “slums”.

As we turned a corner, the concrete buildings suddenly faded away. Instead we were surrounded by sheets of plywood and pieces of corrugated tin, leaning together to form haphazard structures.

One young mother was brand-new to the WEEP program. Like the other women, she was trying desperately to raise her children on her own while she was battling AIDS. Her home, like the others, was perhaps ten foot by ten foot square. She had the customary Jiko stove near the door. There were two worn tattered chairs, with crocheted doilies on the arms and across the backs. A crate turned on its side served as a coffee table, another doily centered in the middle. The only other furnishing in the room was a bare mattress behind a thin sheet.

What made this home different was that the interior walls were lined in plastic. Because the outside walls were pieced together sheets of plywood with large holes scattered throughout.

The young mother was obviously proud of her home. She also was devoted to her children with the unyielding love only a mother can give. She had one concern though.

Many people who have AIDS also have tuberculosis. The two diseases often go hand in hand, especially in those living in poverty. This woman was in that class. She knew that at night when her coughing was the worst that she shouldn’t be sleeping with her children. However, if they weren’t sleeping with her up on the bed, they had to sleep on the floor, where, with the many holes in the walls, rats would run through the house and over the tops of her children as they slept.

She didn’t tell us this so we would sorry for her or that we would be shocked, or even that she wanted anything done about it. She just wanted to know if it was better for her to cough on her kids at night or let the rats run over them.

We all looked at Vickie to see her response. Again, she told the woman what a nice home she had, and how pleased she was of her efforts. Then she turned to Mary and said, “Can you find her a new place to live by tomorrow?”

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Many Lambs”

As our group walked through the Mathare slum, led by Mary and Vickie, we were speechless by much of what we saw. It was a world we could never have imagined. There was garbage everywhere and filthy water running in streams along most of the trails between the buildings. The smell was indescribable, a mixture of rotting food, unwashed bodies, mud and some other odor I just can’t place.

Most of the structures were so close together that the sun light didn’t reach us. Suddenly though we walked into a large open courtyard. It was next to a school and the children were outside on recess. There was no playground equipment and nothing much else for the children to do, except run around, chasing each other and laughing.

Their laughter seemed out of place, but the sound rose above the poverty and decay. They were just kids who didn’t know any better. They didn’t know there was a whole different world out there, a place where the sun did shine and the grass was green, where clean water was plentiful and three meals a day was the norm.

And then they saw us.

If we thought little Sondra was obsessed with us, these school children in their matching brown uniforms were just plain fascinated by these pale foreigners. Their voices sang out a chorus of “muzungu, muzungu, muzungu”. They stretched their little hands into the air, their fingers raised in peace signs. They reached out to us, just wanting to touch us and be touched by a muzungu. Simply the laying on of our hands made them feel blessed. I said a silent prayer asking that God be with each of them. And I continue to pray for them daily.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

“A Look at a few Homes”

To learn more about the brave women of WEEP, Mary wanted to take us to see some of their homes. We headed deeper into the slums.

The buildings were tall cement structures, four or five stories high. On all the balconies, clothes were hanging out, drying despite the cloud cover. The buildings were close together with narrow passages in between them.

The first of the homes that we saw was at the end of an alley and was a stark ten foot by ten foot space. The only things in the cement room were a Jiko (a compact stove which burns charcoal), a few clothes, a hanging sheet separating the sleeping area and a blanket on the bare cement floor. This woman and her daughter had been living with her brother, his wife and their four children in the same size apartment before Mary, through the WEEP project, had moved her into this room.

Another woman had just moved into a similar home where her only furnishings were a borrowed mattress and a chair loaned to her by her neighbor. Her husband had kicked her and her daughter out when he found out she had AIDS. She had been living on the streets when Mary met her.

Both of these women were given one of the quilts we had brought with us. And Vickie told Mary to take WEEP money and buy them each a mattress.

Along one of the many passages we walked I witnessed one of those scenes that get burned into our brains. None of the buildings had running water inside of them, but at various places throughout the slum there were city water spigots. At the end of an alley, just before we turned into one of the homes, was one of those faucets. Standing there in a rusted bucket was a young girl of maybe eight or ten years old. She was stark naked, thin as a rail and shivering. All alone, next to a muddy puddle of water, she was washing herself with a grey rag.

Of the many things we saw on this trip that is one of the pictures I carry in my head, reminding me that I live in a world so far away from hers.