|This last month has been so full I hardly know where to begin. The caterpillar told Alice: begin at the beginning and go to the end. So I'll take the advice.
I've mentioned before that we have a very sturdy and (usually) reliable Isuzu Trooper. During December we began to have problems with an oil leak.
After many hours spent watching guys struggle with the problem, we eventually fixed it at the cost of a new alternator with the Isuzu dealer in Kitale, about two hours away.
Reassured, we set off on Dec. 24 with our visitors on safari to Nakuru, Naivasha, Maasai Mara and Nyeri. On a beautiful, but lonely, road we broke down again before we reached Nakuru. We were out of cell phone range, about twenty km from the next town and had visions of spending the night in the car in the isolated spot. Thanks to several good Samaritans who came along, we were towed to safety and we completed the trip, but it was pretty costly.
We are thankful to be able to pay for it and continue with our work. The problem pales beside the stories of children desperately seeking school fees to go to Secondary and the famine in many areas of the country. The results of the grade 8 final exams came out just after Christmas and made a big splash in the newspaper as usual with lists of 'top students' in the various provinces. The system is blatantly unfair and elitist with final marks deciding your whole future at every stage. Only the very best survive and even then many cannot afford the fees.
One story was particularly poignant. A girl in a remote area was a 'top student', but when the press went to interview her they found she had been married off the day before the results came out. The paper said she was 12, but that would be unusual since school starts at age 5 or 6 and is 8 years in elementary. Still, it's not impossible if she was exceptionally bright and skipped grades.
The parents had married her off to a young man (at least he wasn't over 60 as is often the case) for the princely sum of 5,000 shillings (about $70US).
CHES (Canadian Harambee Education Society) which gives scholarships to needy girls, has just finished interviewing 300 high achieving girls for 160 scholarships. I know how heart-breaking so many of the stories are. The organization has received some extra funding and one of the goals is to make every CHES graduate computer literate. So we have benefited by filling our classes at the Computer School with eager, bright young women. We have also started a book keeping course which we hope will supply a need. We have now trained 6 instructors and they are a delight to work with. Each has a specific skill and we shall put them to good use. Saida and Isabellah are attending courses at an Institute of Management, one to manage NGOs and one focussing on Marketing. Vincent, our one young man, is trained as a computer technician. Lydia is a CHES graduate and waiting to study Business and Harriet, who was a straight A student, wants to enter medicine.
I have mentioned our wells which are a Rotary initiative. We saved money on the rope and washer pump technology and were able to pipe water directly into nearby Health Clinics. Just turning one tap for a supply of water is a luxury. In addition, we were able to put in one more well in a small, remote village where Julius lives, who makes the lovely jewelry I sell. We went out to meet the management committee at the local primary school which has crumbling mud walls and cow dung floors. We met in the ramshackle staffroom which was packed to bursting with the local people. Thanks to Julius, they had organized everything so we were able to start immediately after Christmas. It should take another week or so to complete.
We have received Rotary funding for five more wells and believe we can complete at least two before we leave. Then we can start again when we return.We have heard there will be an article about these projects sometime in the magazine Senior Living
People don't often talk about the weather, which is sunny and warm every day. The only variation are the 'dry' seasons. December to the end of February are usually dry and in fact this year followed the pattern. Water was a major problem and there were harrowing pictures of withered crops and dead cattle with emaciated people. The government began distributing relief food and donors and the Red Cross stepped in, but found that people could not cook it because of the water shortage. Herders drove their cattle as far as Nairobi in search of pasture, which suffered its own problems of water.
On that note, a recent survey indicated that Kenyans have lost faith in the fight against corruption. They perceive, quite correctly, that only the 'small fry' are caught and punished and the 'big boys' (cabinet ministers, politicians and their business associates) get off. I see this as another positive step for Kenyans. They are beginning to see through the rhetoric, the 'gifts' and formulate ideas for what they want in a government. A high profile case right now is the theft of 39 containers from the Port of Mombasa. Can you imagine taking so many huge things out without connivance?
We have had city water most days since we returned from the Christmas break, but are astonished by a shifting weather pattern. The hot, dry month of January has been interrupted by a week of 'short rains." It begins late afternoon and sometimes goes through the night. This is not supposed to happen. Many blame it on the reduction of the forest cover and the changing availability of water. Some even say the true short rains, which should start in March sometime, will not come until June. For a community of agriculture and subsistence farming with no irrigation, these changing patterns are worrying. If they plant now, will the 'dry' return and destroy their seeds?
We leave Kenya at the end of February and will take a trip to Australia to see relatives, returning to Canada at the end of March. We shall do our best to complete our projects, especially the seminars for schools and the micro financing for single mothers before we leave.
Best wishes to all our friends.