25 February 2009

Rubbing Shoulders (a five-part story)

Because of my personality and also because of the way I move around Kenya – namely by foot, bicycle, matatu, bus, and motorcycle – I encounter the average “Joe Kenyan”-on-the-street in a more personal and up-close fashion than do those with their own cars.

I like it that way. It’s what I do.

Most of the time, rubbing shoulders like this is quite charming. Generally speaking, Kenyans are extremely friendly and they maintain a simple outlook on life. I find both of these traits quite attractive.

Recently, I boarded a matatu at the end of the driveway where I live. As is typical, the conductor was in his twenties or thirties. Wearing a golf-style cap, he kindly ushered me into his vehicle. “I see you going to town every day”.

“But, I don’t go to town every day. Even now, I’m just reaching Karen dukas.”

We shared the same seat because he had squeezed in too many passengers. After a quick five minutes, we were almost to my destination. He hadn’t yet taken my fare, so I tapped him on the shoulder. “How much do I owe you? 10- or 20-bob?”

“Today… twenty. Tomorrow I’ll only charge you ten,” he said with a sheepish grin.

“Okay, thanks,” I said as I alighted and handed him a “pound” (twenty shilling coin). A charming encounter.

Another day, I was again waiting at the end of the driveway. I signaled a bus to stop for me. The cumbersome vehicle rolled to a stop just ahead of me, kicking up a huge cloud of dust as it did so. Pausing momentarily on the shoulder, it leaned awkwardly to one side.

The smiling conductor hung on precariously as I jogged towards it. “Karibu (welcome). We’ll take you to Nairobi.”

Climbing up the steps as the vehicle simultaneously climbed back onto the road, I struggled to maintain my balance. The passengers had no choice but to bounce along wearily, lost in their own thoughts.

When I stood to alight at Karen shops and gave him my fare, he said, “Oh, you’re only going this far with us. Good day.”

Karen Dukas - Part 2

two of the four banks

this guy supplies bread every morning to various kiosks

kiosks where phone credit "scratch cards" can be purchased

just one of many matatus that congregate at this stage

Karen “dukas” (shops) is a congested cluster of both large and small businesses of all sorts. The area -roughly only four square city blocks – literally bustles with activity. There’s nowhere near enough parking; far too many taxis squeeze in wherever they can. People on foot must be ever on the lookout for cars or delivery trucks coming and going in all directions.

Up to a dozen noisy matatus congregate on one side of the road, the conductors manhandling any potential passengers that come their way. It’s a rude and over-zealous attempt to be the first one to fill their vehicle. Twenty or more cattle slowly stroll alongside the road, herded by a nonchalant Maasai guy, his arms draped over his walking stick as it rests on the back of his neck. His dirty feet would most likely be clad in funny-looking sandals made from the rubber of an old tire. He’s draped in two or three red, orange, purple, or pink shukas (plaid blankets). What a contrasting sight to the noisy, modern-day hubbub going on around them.

In this small space are four banks, six ATM machines (one is bound to be working), two Western Union outlets, a couple of foreign exchange bureaus, and numerous M-pesa agents (where you can send money through your cell phone). There are 8-10 eateries – something to suit anyone’s taste – plus one bar and one ice cream shop. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to overhear people discussing such things as hiring new house-help or their latest golf score while sipping a latté outside, at trendy Dorman’s.

You’ll find a post office and two hardware stores. One is small enough to purchase a single nut and bolt; the other one is much larger and features a computerized paint-tinting machine. Amazingly, a fourth petrol station is under construction, while another one is embroiled in a huge scandal.

A person can check their email at one of two cyber cafés or fill a prescription at one of three “chemists” (pharmacies). You can shop at three grocery stores of disproportionate size; there’s also a fresh produce shop and a grocery wholesaler. Your children can entertain themselves at a fun play area while you get your eyes checked and choose your frames.

Here, a driving school, a shoe store, and several gift shops can be found. There’s a bicycle fundi, a Rasta guy selling roasted maize, and a lady in a white coat selling cooked sausages.

With one-stop shopping, you can visit a dentist, hire a plumber, buy a used book, rent movies, book an international flight, get your radio fixed, develop film, order a custom picture frame or cake, get your vehicle repaired, buy imported silk, get a hand-painted sign while you wait, or rent a house.

You can buy an elegant ladies’ dress or a tailored man’s suit. Football (soccer) fans have their pick of premier league jerseys and accessories. Numerous crude kiosks sell warm sodas, phone credit, chewing gum, and sweets.

The legendary Horseman restaurant was recently demolished. The flamboyant German owner sold the property, although he can still be seen driving around in his bright yellow Hummer. Not a thing remains of the original buildings, which were once the place to ‘see and be seen’. Rumor has it that a shopping mall is to replace it.

Karen dukas attracts quite the eclectic crowd. One would be hard-pressed to find more diversity in such a small setting. Virtually every social-economic level, along with numerous ethnic groups, is represented here.

White Kenyans, whose families have lived in Kenya three or more generations, strut around. With many of them keeping horses, they often wear riding boots with a matching attitude. Maasai women, fully decked-out in their traditional garb, sit on red plaid blankets with their legs straight out in front of them. While attempting to sell their beautiful handmade beaded trinkets, they work at stringing yet another belt or necklace under the hot sun. As is the case in virtually all of Kenya’s cities, many of the shops are owned by East Indians.

Hawkers, Beggars, Tourists, Big Shots, Missionaries, etc - Part 3

Kiuki sells strawberries

Dennis sells greeting cards that he makes himself
some of you have gotten them from me

Harold sells ladies' t-shirts

Dedan works for his uncle John, who I mention in the story

Energetic and enterprising hawkers sell any and everything – fresh produce, used clothing, shoes, hand-carved key holders, windshield wipers, handmade greeting cards, fresh-cut flowers, and dvds (one disc contains no less than two dozen pirated movies). Some are stationary; others roam around with their wares, acting as a sort of human mobile display case. They work hard, day after day, trying to earn their daily bread. One eye is keen for prospective customers, while the other one instinctively scans the horizon for NCC (Nairobi City Council) workers, on the prowl to fine or arrest them if they haven’t paid their daily fee.
Able-bodied, grown men unashamedly beg for coins. Truckloads of tourists grab last-minute supplies before heading into the “bush” on safari. One more than one occasion, I’ve seen big-shot politicians in the mix – their big fancy cars bearing a small Kenyan flag mounted on a front fender. Another car or two follows close by, with beefy body guards.
Short-term missionaries hunt for unique souvenirs at one of dozens of curio shops. Uniformed security guards laze away their 12-hour shifts, not doing much more than reading a newspaper or giving directions to newcomers to the area. It’s not unusual to see several nuns doing errands in their matching habits and dresses; they come from one of the many Catholic institutions in the surrounding area. A few times I’ve seen monks dressed in heavy black robes.
Of course, there’s the normal everyday mixture of black Kenyans. And to complete the mix… a hodge-podge of expats, like me.
At the end of the day, all these people that interact and do business together each retreat to their various homes – homes that span the spectrum. Some walk home to dingy mud and dung manyattas in rural settings. Their cattle, goats, children, and flies all mill around in the dust. Others bicycle home to sleep in 10x10-foot iron sheet hovels in densely-populated slums.
Many wearily squeeze into a matatu and take their evening meal (possibly only the second meal of the day) with their families in a hot, stuffy flat. A lucky few abide on vast manicured compounds. Pausing at their guarded gates, their drivers escort them down a tree-lined driveway. Once they step inside their beautiful multi-storied mansion, numerous other uniformed servants are at their beck and call.
To be sure, a cross-section of the depressing disparity seen all across Kenya congregates at Karen dukas.

Frozen Yogurt - Part 4

Peter sells the news with a smile

the "posta" (post office)

Karen Provision Store, as usual, with delivery trucks in front of it


Because of all the crowded hyper-activity, I don’t especially like going there. On this particular day, I didn’t feel well. I wanted to get my errands done and go home.

A few paces after alighting from the bus, Peter, my newspaper vendor saw me. He sells the daily news with a polite smile. As always, he quickly counted out my change, thanked me, and added - with just a slight pause - a simple but sincere, “You have a good day, huh?” Then he bounded off to the next customer.

A hawker acquaintance, selling sunglasses, greeted me. “G’morning, my friend”. One pair of hip-looking shades is always strategically propped on his head. Prominently displayed on his left arm are another dozen or so. He offered his right hand, giving me a wonderfully warm and hearty handshake.

A short stroll took me to the post office. Just as I approached the steps, in order to check my mailbox on the 2nd floor, I absent-mindedly passed by a man. He suddenly asked if I wanted his card. In mid-stride and turning to look back, I asked him why. By then he had already extended his arm towards me, with one of his cards in his hand. “I do computer repair and other things.” Bounding up the steps, I called back that I didn’t need one. Strange encounter, but then… this is Kenya.

From there, I walked across the parking area towards the Karen Provision Store. John, one of my flower vendor friends, waved at me. As we chatted, he told me with a beaming smile that he and Dedan had done great business on Valentine’s Day. The past few years they’ve seen this holiday increase in popularity in Kenya.

I decided to buy a frozen yogurt just outside the door of the provision store. After inquiring about my fruit preference - I chose a mixture of banana, strawberries, and mango – Kate, the young attendant, started to mix it with her commercial blender. She told me she’s filling in for someone on maternity leave, adding that when the other gal comes back, she’ll now longer have a job.

This was my 3rd or 4th time to buy a yogurt from her; it’s a new enterprise by a local milk company. Apparently, in her eyes, we’re now great friends.

“Can you give me a job?”

I suppose I get such requests for two basic reasons: One, the unemployment rate in Kenya is ridiculously and unfortunately very high. Secondly, the assumption is all too often made that because I’m white, then surely I must have oodles of money to throw around, as well as many people in my employ.

“I don’t have a job for you.”

When she finished making my yogurt, I helped myself to her chair. I wanted to relax and thoroughly enjoy my treat in the midst of the chaotic and crowded grocery store setting.

“Hi, Deb”. As I looked up from my snack, I saw another hawker friend of mine - Kiuki - greeting me as he passed by. I call him “Mister Comedian”; he makes me laugh.

The yogurt attendant proceeded to continue the conversation, gushing, “I can cook for your pets.”

I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly and asked for clarification. Upon confirming that I had heard what I thought I had heard, I replied incredulously, “I don’t have any pets.”

I returned my attention to the pleasure of my yogurt. Umm… it was so good.

“You don’t have a dog? I can cook for your dog.”

I ignored her silly comment; however, she pressed on. “Do you already have too many workers?”

I was irritated with her woefully incorrect assumptions. “I don’t have any pets. I don’t employ any workers. I’m sorry, but I don’t have any jobs for you. Please, can I just enjoy my yogurt?”

I imagine she sees many “wazungu” (whites) hurriedly passing by, as she politely peddles her product. Perhaps, in her imagination, she envisions all sorts of interesting and well-paying jobs she might obtain.

But the many busy shoppers hardly slow down long enough to give her the time of day. Here I was, not only seated on her chair… but with a smile. She likely saw it as her golden opportunity.

It was an all-too common, albeit annoying, experience for me. I guess it goes with the territory. If I were in her shoes, I’d likely try the same sort of stunt.

As I continued on with my yogurt, a few people paused to ask Kate what she was selling. With spoon hovering at my lips, I volunteered an unsolicited endorsement to each potential customer. While I sat there, three ladies did make a purchase, each of them tasting frozen yogurt for their first time.

Rubbing Shoulders - Conclusion

Rubbing shoulders – as I somewhat straddle two worlds – it’s what I do.

Jesus said we shouldn’t only interact with our friends, family, and rich neighbors. In Luke, chapter fourteen, he exhorts us to rub shoulders with everyone - even those outside our social circle.

He said that by so doing, we’ll be blessed.

It’s true.

Update on the Bergens

John and Eloise returned to Kenya recently to testify at the trial of their attackers. They have now gone back to Canada to continue their speaking tour, as the trial continues.

Please continue to uphold them in prayer.

16 February 2009

"Imitation has destroyed many a person."

-African proverb

15 February 2009

My House "Upcountry"

These are photos that Emily took of my house. I think it's been a long time since I've posted any pictures of the inside. Sorry, things were in a bit of disarray.

Charles and his boys

Duane, named for my Dad

Adu, Duane, Charles, Zach, Pope

their current house

A Stroll Around the Area of Matunda

A fruit stand at Matunda market

these kids are selling sugar cane

a typical home

approaching Muruli center, near my house

another photo at Matunda market

Motorcycle Boda Boda Guys

Wycliff, my all-time favorite boda boda taxi guy
I'm so very glad that motorcycles have come to this area
they're so much nicer than being carried on a bicycle!

this is Emily


we were on our way to see Agnes at her sewing classroom
her teacher is the one in the blue dress

afterwards, we had some lunch

Marabou Stork

these top 3 photos are from the internet

The Marabou Stork is a large wading bird in thestork family. It breeds in Africa south of theSahara, occurring in both wet and arid habitats, often near human habitation. They are scavengers.

A massive bird, large specimens can reach a height of five feet, a weight of over 20 lbs, and have a wingspan of 10.5 ft. It shares the distinction of having the largest wingspan of any landbird with the Andean Condor.

Emily took these last two photos when we were in Kitale

They are a certainly a strange looking bird. I see them often in Kenya, especially in Nairobi on Mombasa Road by Nakumatt Mega.

03 February 2009

An anonymous quote worth considering

"Care more than some think is wise.
Risk more than some think is safe.
Dream more than some think is practical.
Expect more than some think is possible."

Kenya is in a state of mourning!

Two serious fire tragedies in Kenya in a span of only five days!

On Sunday (February 1st), a tanker carrying petroleum overturned on the highway just after Nakuru. Villagers, farmers, motorcycle taxi drivers, people from a nearby IDP camp, women, and children flocked to the scene with jerry cans in order to salvage some of the fuel for themselves. Someone foolishly lit a match and flames instantly erupted into a ball of fire. Over 100 people perished, among them 16 children who were nearby playing soccer at the time of the accident. Some policemen who were called to patrol the scene also died.

Nearly 200 were severely injured! Expert doctors have flown in from the States and India to deal with the burns.

Greed, ignorance, and poverty likely all combined to draw people to such a dangerous site. Many counselors, medics, and journalists have said it's the worst disaster they've ever been a part of.

I frequently go past the spot when I travel to my place at Matunda, even as recently as last Thursday, January 29th.

Wednesday, January 28, one of the Nakumatts in downtown Nairobi burned down. So far 26 people have been identified as victims of the fire. Many more have been reported missing and as many as 40 are feared dead.

The city firefighters were woefully unprepared for such an intense and fierce fire. Fire hydrants either ran out of water or were not functioning. Hoses sprayed water out of control and/or leaked. The fire station is a mere five minutes away from the site, but it took the firemen 15 minutes to arrive. Private fire-fighting firms came to the rescue.

One fire exit had a wall in front of it. Like most buildings and homes in Kenya, all the windows had iron grills in front of them. The ever-present security guards attempted to close the main entrance and exit in this 24-hour grocery store to prevent looting.

As one friend stated it, "Nairobi, a city of 3.5 million residents, has the appearance of a modern city. However, such incidences as this are an indication that it is not."

There was also a bus that crashed and burned recently on the highway to Mombasa. There were 29 fatalities. As you know, I just recently traveled that same highway (in December).

According to one of the local newspapers there are 15-20 times the number of motor vehicle fatalities in developing nations (like Kenya) as there are in Western countries.

Please use these incidents (as I do) to be reminded of the importance of praying for me!

I thank God for his continued protection in my life.

Food Crisis in Kenya

The Kenyan government has stated that up to 10 million people in Kenya are faced with a hunger crisis. Already a couple of people have died of starvation. The post-election violence last year caused many farms to be destroyed or to not be harvested. Additionally, the "short rains" didn't amount to much last November.

The graphic shows how dire the situation is. The little girl is eating wild berries that she collected herself. That's all many families are surviving on. You can see that the lady in the last photo is quite emaciated.

Agnes Learns to Sew!

Agnes has been taking dress-making and tailoring classes. She is very excited to learn this skill and to start generating some income for their family. This will enable her to earn her daily bread without doing back-breaking work in someone else's farm. (The lady with her is her teacher)

Please pray for her and Charles, along with their boys - Pope, Adu, Duane, and Zach.

Three More Boys Taken to School

I escorted these three guys to the school at Narok yesterday. They are the ones in the navy blue blazers (left to right) - Wek, Emmanuel, and Deng. (The other two boys, class prefects, welcomed them and helped them to get situated in the dormitory and classroom.)

Again, I ask that you keep them in your prayers!

Joe's Birthday Party

Eleven of us squeezed into Joe's tiny little house and surprised him for his birthday on Saturday, the 31st. To say he was pleased would be a gross understatement!

We had a brief time of worship led by Karo. Joe asked 2-3 of us to share "a few words" (in the Kenyan tradition). We all enjoyed some chicken, soda, and cupcakes. And... of course, we sang "Happy Birthday" to him!

Thanks to all of you from the US that sent him birthday cards. He was quite touched.