Dusty Babies go to school!

From quiet and desolate to bustling and full of hope.  Not only are the people at Mbaruku successfully raising chickens, but thanks to the Irish girls the schoolhouse is almost ready for use!  Just got a blog notification that the beautiful stone schoolhouse VICDA built was outfitted with desks paid for by the Irish girls’ fundraising dollars – read about it and check out the photos in Irene’s blog.


Sing it – “You would see the biggest gift would be from me, and the card attached would say: Thank You For Being a Friend.”

Before I dive into the story of Kilimanjaro, I would be remiss if I did not first give a heartfelt thanks to everyone who gave me invaluable advice or let me borrow some necessary gear for my trip.

An e-toast…

…to God. Self-explanatory. (Is it okay to toast God?)
…to my family, who raised me to believe I can do anything, thus prompting me to climb a mountain (yes, I took you very literally – you said anything), and for their ceaseless encouragement and prayers throughout my trip.
…to my friends, who joined me in praying for this opportunity, and who have been so incredible since I got back.

You know it.

Kenya is a Bills fan.

…to my boss, for letting me take a month off work in the middle of football season and for covering for me (and thus to our clients, for your patience!).
…to Jes, for being my In Case of Emergency and for her awesome daypack.
…to Renee, for fantastic iTunes mixes that can totally revive your confidence in God after a rough day.
…to Josh, for even owning a solar charger and for letting me borrow it – I listened to 9 straight hours of iPod on summit day. Mental games. (But I can not thank you for the 98% DEET, which I was afraid to even look at after I noticed what the 25% did to a Ziplock.)
…to Jessy, for use of her awesome backpack (off of which my mom accidentally cut all your RISE tags…oops! So sorry – I saved them.)
…to Ian, for use of his Camelbak, an absolute MUST-HAVE if you’re climbing a mountain.
…to Steve, for introducing me to Michelle.
…to Michelle, for the best Kili advice ever (wear a down jacket on a summit day!), for lending me her awesome sub-zero sleeping bag, and for introducing me to Janet.
…to Janet, for scaring the bejeebers out of me so that I made sure to take Kilimanjaro seriously, for introducing me to Larry & Jua, and for lending me, among other things, the most awesome gaiters in the world.

my Kenyan family

Me, Bridget, Jenn, & George

…to Larry and Jua, for letting a sicky me sleep on their daughter’s bunkbed while they fed my friends the night before Kili, and for providing Jenn with Magic Maji (to be described in a later post).

…to George, Bridget, and Irene for welcoming me into their homes.

…to everyone else who sent an email, prayer, advice, or good thought along the way. Wish you could have been there with me.
…and finally to Jenn, for recruiting 7 of her friends to share in some life-changing experiences. This trip has redefined my concept of generosity, of need, and of love. I wonder what’s next.

Thank you from Mbaruku

Thank You!

1, 2, make a circle, 3, 4, a big circle like a chapati!


Baby class at Jamii

Kenyan kids are adorable. I know, I know, all kids are adorable…but really, Kenyan kids are really adorable.

While in Nairobi, I had the privilege of spending some of my days helping at the Jamii International Children’s Centre, a school for kids roughly 7 and under in Kibera.

Jamii Outreach Ministries Sanctuary

Jamii School

A word about Kibera. It is the largest slum in all of Africa, home to an estimated 1 & 1/2 million people on about 1 square mile of land. It’s a difficult place. The stench is unmistakable, and it clings to the piles of trash and red dirt that cover the streets. The red dirt then clings to you, and well, you get the picture. Much of the slum was burned to the ground during the post-election violence but it has been mostly rebuilt. Jamii School was one of the fortunate buildings, with walls not of wood but of concrete, meaning it was found by rebels to be more useful as shelter than worth burning.

The school has been made as child-friendly as possible, with big murals of animals painted on the crumbling concrete walls. Wooden posts prop up the corrugated metal roof, which in turn traps more heat in the building than a locked car on a hot day. There is a small room for cooking lunch – when there’s lunch to cook – and it’s one of the few schools to have it’s own row of squat toilets. I only saw one rat scurry across a wall while I was there, though I’m sure it didn’t live alone.

Jamii kids

Jenn & I with the kids and teachers at Jamii

The school is a success because of its 3 teachers, who are amazing with the kids. The problem is that there are 60-70 kids. Teacher Lidya has Baby Class – the 2 to 4-year olds – and Teacher Elizabeth & Teacher Joshua take the older kids (aged 5-7). There isn’t much to teach the kids from day to day – there are just too many children and too few resources to get very far – but the teachers know every child and show them equal attention and care.

In Kibera more so than at the IDP camps it was reinforced that were not there to change things. Our time was too temporary, and the problems too deep. But what we could do is mix up the status quo for a while and love on the kids, so that’s what we did. We danced and sang songs with them (like the title of this post) and played a lot of Miss Mary Mack-style hand clapping games. (Literally, the words of their favorite one are “All men are (clap clap clap) super sailors (clap clap clap) big boy (clap clap clap) lazy girl (clap clap clap). All men are super sailors big boy lazy girl 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10. Statue!” and then you freeze. It took me 3 days to figure out the chant was in English, so little sense does it make.) Face painting was also a huge success.

face painting

Jenn and Colins

Possibly my favorite story is that between the Jamii school, the Dust Babies at Mbaruku, and some of the children at Pipeline IDP camp there are now several hundred kids in East Africa whose new favorite song is “Boom chick-a boom.” My friends Lyndsay and Lauren started it with the Dust Babies and Jenn and I expanded it after they left Kenya. If only I had a dollar for every time I yelled “BOOM chick-y-rock-y chick-y-rock-y chick-a BOOM!”

The plan was to do a rousing Boom Chick-a Boom on the summit of Kilimanjaro as a tribute…but we ended up a little too exhausted to do anything besides smile and try to breathe. Oh well, next time.

Kenya’s IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons)

I don’t think I really explained the IDP camps so I want to give as much background info as I know about the situation. For more accurate and detailed account, I’m reading a book right now that I highly recommend called “It’s Our Turn To Eat” by Michela Wrong. It’s the story of the political violence as told by a Kenyan government official turned whistleblower, and it’s actually banned in Kenya.

The conflict in Kenya is tribal, as is true in numerous other African countries. After President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, was reelected in 2007 there were protests of vote-rigging and outbreaks of violence against Kikuyu people throughout Kenya. People were run out of their homes, houses were looted and destroyed, crops were burned. They ended up in tents in Eldoret by the thousands, living off aid and donations. The government urged families to return to their homes but as the IDPs explain, would you want to return to a home burned and looted by your neighbors? Many such neighbors had burned the deeds and documents as well and had simply taken over and moved in to their former friends’ homes.

One very telling story that hit the news while I was there was about a man a few towns away who was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct while wandering about the streets. When the police arrested him he said to them, “Don’t arrest me for this, arrest me for the the women and children I killed in the violence.” More such stories have been surfacing lately – many who perpetrated the post-election violence are literally going crazy, tormented by what they did.

Mbaruku tents on hillside

Mbaruku IDP camp

The government eventually gave each family 10,000 shillings to restart their lives – the equivalent of less than $150 USD. The majority of IDPs pooled the money together within their communities and bought small plots of land, onto which they moved their UNICEF and USAID tents since purchase of the land used up all their money. Two years later, most families are still living in these emergency tents that were only designed to last them 6 months. Many are skilled workers, but they have no jobs. Many are educated, but they have nowhere to go. They are dreading the upcoming rainy season because they don’t know if the tents will survive it.

There are currently still some 40-50 IDP settlements in the Rift Valley, with a few hundred thousand people dwelling in them. The IDPs were out of the news for a long time, shoved under the proverbial rug, but were starting to make headlines daily during my time in Kenya. The government promised each family additional land and the demand for the gov’t to make good on its promise was increasing.dusty baby

Refugees within their own country. This was the situation we walked into – this is where Jenn and Irene found the Dust Babies. Mbaruku, located on one of the driest strips of land I have ever seen, is one of the smaller IDP camps with between 1000 and 1200 people. They had been a year in the Naivasha area before they bought this land, to which they too relocated their tents and had spent the past year. When Jenn and Irene first arrived there, they didn’t see a single adult – no one left the tents but the children. The following visit they met Samuel, the camp chairman. When Jenn proposed the idea of the chicken farm he wanted to discuss it with the others first, saying that he knew full well that if the camp was not committed to it, the project would fail regardless.

coopTurns out they wanted to commit to it, and they were excited about it. The 7 of us who had come from Chicago used some of our fundraising dollars to buy materials and employed the men to build the coop, and it was built in three days. On October 5, when Jenn and I delivered 204 noisy baby chicks, we saw more people out of their tents than we had ever seen before. They had prepared and delegated. There was a buzz – everyone wanted to see the chickens. Jenn just kept shaking her head and saying, “Well the chicks won’t be hurting for attention, that’s for sure.”

We visited Mbaruku a few more times over the next week and a half to check on the chicks, deliver chicken vaccines, and to play with the kids. I’m happy to report that they only lost 2 chicks in the first 2 weeks. The beauty of this project is it is self-sustaining. We were able to fund the first 4 months of food, but after 4 months they can start selling the broilers for meat to turn a profit. It’s not much, but it’s a start. chicks

The 3 Bs: breathing, bumps, and bribery.

I knew I was ready to leave Kenya by month’s end because I couldn’t breathe in Africa. I escaped typhoid and cholera and malaria only to find myself with a head cold the entire time I was there, exacerbated by 3 things. In Nairobi, it’s the exhaust. There are no emissions laws, so everything smells as if you’re being towed at high-speeds by a steamroller – you can’t escape the thick black clouds of fumes. Outside of the city it’s so dry it’s like breathing sandbox. Finally in the fresh airs of Kilimanjaro, there’s no oxygen. Foiled again!

Chicago taxi drivers got nothing on Kenyans. From an aerial view I’ll bet crossing a street looks 10 times harder than a game of Frogger. What slows drivers down are speed bumps. Actually, let’s call them speed mountains, because probably 10% of cars bottom out on them. I could not for the life of me comprehend this love affair between Kenyans and speed mountains until I heard that on the newly paved part of Ngong Road that was still waiting on its speed bumps there were 4 or 5 accidents in one day. Clearly it’s not as much love affair as survival mechanism.

As far as roads go, I will never look at Chicago potholes in the same light again, although most African vehicles are better-equipped to handle the conditions than my little Corolla. “Road” is a generous term for many thoroughfares in Kenya. Even the paved ones are not for the faint of stomach. If you are a person who gets motion sickness, Africa is not the place for you. The roads that lead to the IDP camps look like they were created by burying camels.

As if the driving itself wasn’t scary enough, one of the more interesting things about a country with a tenuous hold on peace is to witness the tension between police as defenders of the law versus creators of it. On the way back from my first trip to Mbaruku IDP we were delayed for nearly 20 minutes as the police told David, our driver, that he needed to buy a permit in order to play his radio (which had been off until the cop switched it on). “Lucky” for us, there was a car parked by the side of the road that happened to be selling said permits for 3000 shillings (about $40). David is now the proud owner of a KAMP certification – Kenyan Association of Music Producers. Another Monday night we passed no less than 4 police roadblocks on the 2 hour drive. (I can’t fully condemn it, because apparently carjackings are way down because of this, but still.) One of the 3 stopped us to make sure Jenn and I, in the backseat, both had our seatbelts on. No problem Mr. Kenyan Policeman – we come from the land of ‘click it or ticket.’

A third encounter found our driver being asked to pay a fine for neglecting to have “lifesavers” in her trunk (fire extinguisher and first aid kit).
“I don’t have any money,” she told him.
“Maybe I should take you to the jail and you pay it there,” he responded.
“Okay take me to the jail,” she said. “I will have to find someone to come get me and pay it.”
The cop – who clearly had no intention of going or taking her anywhere – stared at her a moment. “Maybe you just come down to the station and pay it tomorrow,” he finally said.
Having called his bluff, she smiled and walked back to the car. “Okay.”

Basically, driving is something I would never in a million years attempt in Kenya. But lest you think you can escape the madness by walking, think again. The first week I was in Kenya they passed a new law. If you are caught talking on your cell phone while walking you face up to 3 years in prison. Good thing most Kenyans hate walking anyways.

the skinny

Jambo from the U S of A! I am back in the States, and back at work actually. I didn’t have access to internet the final 11 days of my trip so I’m a bit behind on posts…not to mention that I didn’t have regular internet access the entire time I was there, so I will probably spend the next month or two blogging all the stories and photos I wasn’t able to share while in Africa.

So as they do on Sportscenter, here are the stories coming up soon in my blog:
* the medical camp at Mbaruku
* stories from Jamii Children’s Centre
* Wairimu
* how I got schooled in laundry
* the Kenyan police and their vigilante-esque scheme of justice
* Chariots of Fire, aka how I crossed the Tanzanian border
* Kilimanjaro: the mountain, the myth, the legend.

Mbaruku and mbeyond!

It’s been a whirlwind couple days. Yesterday we spent the entire day at the Mbaruku IDP doing a medical clinic for the 1000 or so people there…the first time they had seen a doctor in over 2 years. This too was an incredible day, and a long story, so it will have to wait.

It has to wait because Katie, Jenn, and I have to go pack because tomorrow morning we leave for Arusha! Tomorrow afternoon we will be in Tanzania having dinner with Larry and Jua and their family – friends of friends of mine here in Chicago – and then Monday morning we begin the climb. Monday through next Sunday the 26th we will be on the mountain. So please excuse my week-long Kilimanjaro break…I’ll be back in week. Thanks to all for your emails, love, and especially prayers – I’m sure we’ll have many stories to share when we return!

Yes We Tanzania!!!