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3 October, 2001 -- Greetings to you all from Kakamega. We arrived safely and have been busy settling in and finding our way around. We have at last managed to get an internet connection with Africa On Line, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to get on the Net very often. We have a pulse dial phone that is very unreliable.
Our accommodation is Spartan but reasonably comfortable and we're working well with the other agent. There's a steady stream of visitors who wish just to greet us or who have a petition of some kind. The poverty here is quite overwhelming. We walk 3.5 km into town for any kind of shopping other than basic fruit and vegetables which is sold from little roadside stalls. The "bread lady" has a real (but tiny) shop next door and also sells eggs and a few packets of OMO (detergent) The butcher is also close by. We ordered a "fillet" which we trimmed, cut up and froze ASAP. It comes straight from the slaughterhouse and there is no refrigeration. As you can imagine, we won't be enjoying too many steaks!
The so-called supermarket has a fair variety of items (but no produce) and a young girl sitting at the end of each aisle to keep an eye on the customers, and also to tell you where things are, because we haven't yet figured out the logic of the shelf stocking. We walk down to town every second day, to stock up, make sure we nab a frozen chicken when they come in and shop at the fruit and vegetables stalls which are more varied than our local ones. Frozen fish comes once a month. We taxi back, because it's getting hot by the time we finish. the taxis are in a terrible state, literally held together by wire and string. We've learned already to hand over our 100 shillings at the start, so the driver can pull in to get 80 shillings of gas to make the trip.
We're planning a day trip to Kisumu next week. It's the third biggest town in Kenya and about 60 km away. There's big, modern supermarket where we hope to find a few exotic things like mayo and tuna.
I must say I've done more baking in the last few days than I have for the last two years.
Most of the people we come into contact with are cheerful and very friendly, although I must say that many of the women we see on the way to town, (many barefoot and with huge loads on their heads,) look dejected and exhausted. I was talking to a young woman who works with women's groups teaching nutrition, child care, cooking. She is trying to promote a "two stick" oven because the women go out at 4.00am to collect wood for the cooking fires. Not only is this decimating the forest but makes an eighteen hour day. Anne, the worker, thinks that the new oven will bring the working day down to twelve hours.
We've met twice with the mother of one of our students. She's the second wife, has five children and obviously wants her daughter to succeed in school. She speaks no English, so our askari (watchman) interpreted for us. The girl is in second year high school and leaves home at 5 to arrive at school for 6.30 when the "studies" begin. We're hoping to get the books for the new Lit syllabus so we can loan to her and others and she is going to try to board for her last two years. The mother was quite charming and has graciously invited us to visit her shamba somewhere up the river bed. We shall go with pleasure.
As you can imagine, we have a few hearty laughs and wiped away a few tears. There are so many heart wrenching stories. One that particularly touched us was a young boy of 16 who came by yesterday. He is illegitimate, has no idea who his father is and his stepfather won't look after him or pay for his education. He's living with a cousin who has paid his school fees for two years but can no longer do so. He was sent away from school a week or so short of his final exams because he owes 12,000 shillings (C$250) The principal, whom I called, says he's severely neglected and the school has given as many bursaries as it can. The head said the boy is bright and deserving. His name is Severio and he was totally dejected when I told him our organization has money only for girls. After checking it all out and sleeping on it for a night, Rod and I have agreed to pay the fees for this year so he can at least take his exams. We've drawn up an agreement that we have to see his results etc. We have great fear of creating a precedent and finding a line of deserving boys at our door, but my talk with the boy moved me so much, that we felt it impossible to refuse. You have to trust the spirit within, don't you?
© 2002 Patricia