Jan 31 04

Africa 8 No longer homeless

December and January have been very full months. I think I mentioned that we had to leave our previous accommodation at the end of November and the diocese had undertaken to find us somewhere to live.

On the diocesan compound there are a number of houses and the tenant of one of them had signed an agreement to vacate at the end of November. Since he had not paid rent for two years, we all thought it would be a relatively simple matter. Not so. A bailiff’s notice was served and he hired guards to prevent the bailiffs from approaching. This man, incidentally, owns one of the more prosperous hotels in town and, as we found out later, is well known in the business community for not paying bills. He is blacklisted by suppliers.

Since we were homeless, we took a short trip to Europe, visiting friends and family in the UK and Germany. There was still no house on our return and we began to think we would have to return to Canada. There is very little housing to rent in the town, and most of it would not be liveable for us. We do lead a minimal existence compared to Western countries, but certain things are needed in order for us to do our work. It was also on our return that we learned that one of our Canadian colleagues who works for CHES (Canadian Harambee Education Society) had died very suddenly of a heart attack.

In mid December we left on safari. We stopped first at Lake Elementeita, about half way to Nairobi. The carefully tended grounds of this beautiful and spacious Lodge, once the home of Lord Cole, have many varieties of trees and walkways bordered by bougainvillea in many different hues. Truly breathtaking. The lake lies below the house and at the moment is bright pink, covered with thousands of flamingoes. The water is saline, so only one variety of fish is available, but there are many other birds.

From there we drove on a fine road (happiness is a good road in Kenya) to Nyahururu, formerly Thompson Falls, the highest town in Kenya. The road continued firm and intact amid fertile and beautiful hills and valleys. Coffee plantations and wheat seem to be the main crops of the very large ranches. In Nyeri we stayed at the Outspan Hotel. This hotel is the base for Treetops game lodge in the Aberdares, but we gave this trip a miss this time. In the grounds of the hotel is the house of Lord & Lady Baden Powell, founders of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. The rooms are full of memorabilia, messages and pictures from scouts all over the world. I had not realized that Baden Powell was such an accomplished artist. His sketches and water colors are everywhere.

Our next leg was north to Samburu in the semi arid area, where the landscape offered thorn trees and cactus. The sheep and cows were replaced with camels and goats. We stayed at a game lodge on the river and had five wonderful early morning and late afternoon game drives. It is truly spectacular scenery with the dry plain and stark mountains. At the lodge crocodiles cruise half submerged in the river and in the afternoon climb the bank by the restaurant and bar to snooze in the shade. About twelve of them lie in a tangled heap, each at least twelve feet long. The restaurant feeds them scraps in the late afternoon, which keeps them coming. One afternoon the monkeys (which, incidentally have sky blue rear ends) made a great fuss. The staff investigated and found a puff adder in a crack of the stone wall of the lower bar. This snake is deadly, giving you bare minutes to live after a bite. They killed it and threw it into the water where a crocodile lurked, only its eyes visible. That croc had an extra snack.

On the other bank of the river, elephants wander alone or in small groups. We watched one large female rub herself all over against the trunk of a tree. Then she found a large, fallen branch, stepped over with one leg and proceeded to scratch her belly and each leg in turn.

We returned to Kakamega after Christmas to find that the Bishop had found us a lovely apartment in a private house. It is new, bright and spacious and we are very happy.

In early January the sons of our colleague who had died in December came to visit the place where their dad had spent so much time and undertaken so many projects. CHES gives scholarships to needy girls to go to High School and January is interview and selection time. Since I had done this before, I was asked to stand in for our deceased colleague’s wife so she could spent time with the visitors from Canada.

I interviewed for a week, with the same colleague who had been my partner before in 2002. Things have not changed. In fact, the economy is worse, the infra structure has deteriorated even more and there are still many, many girls needing help to continue their education. Since primary (elementary) school became free, three million additional children have enrolled in Kenyan schools. But secondary school is still fee paying and well beyond the means of most people, fifty percent of whom live below the poverty line.

I remember vividly a few of the girls I saw over those few days. One had many strikes against her. She was female of course, and in practical terms in Kenyan society a second class citizen. Add to that she is Muslim in a predominantly Christian area. Lastly, she is albino and whiter than I. She was an orphan living with her sister. Her arms were stick thin because since their parents died, the two girls have no income or support. A neighbour had come with her, a sincere and caring young man, who explained that ‘well-wishers’ would occasionally leave food for the sisters or give them a few shillings. Despite all the hardships, this girl had done very well in school and in her exams. I am pleased to say her story checked out and she was awarded a scholarship.

Another girl started cheerfully to talk to me, but broke down in tears as she explained her family situation. Her father had died, mother remarried. The step father had treated the girl badly, not wanting her to stay in school. He probably had calculated a good bride price or was hoping to send her somewhere as a house girl. Eventually when her school results were good and it was clear she was going to try to continue her education, he drove her from the compound. She took refuge with her grandmother.

During those days and for two weeks after there was a continuous parade of girls with high marks and claiming high need. They were brought by mothers with work worn hands and babies at the breast, seeking something better for their daughter. Some came with teachers, who had paid their fare to travel many hours to reach us, a few came with a dad who cared enough to want to educate his girl, others were with smiling and hopeful grandmothers, who spoke neither English no Swahili. CHES was able to give 70 scholarships this year, although that means well over a hundred were refused. Still the CHES slogan is: we can’t do everything but we can do something.