Friday morning I walked into the Pistis compound, ready to tackle the design of the food storage shelving for the kitchen. I planned to meet briefly with Steven, the architect, to review the work conducted on the bath house.
As I crossed the compound from gate to bath house, one of the students came to me and said the water was leaking behind the classroom buildings. I thought this was interesting, as it was Friday and the water was suppose to run on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
The day before we had completed the trench for the new pipe, bringing it around the side of the building and to the back wall, exposing the gate valve a half meter below the grade. Unfortunately, late in the day, one of the boys had accidentally cut the black plastic (PVC) pipe while digging. We did not repair immediately as we believed we had all day Friday to conduct the repair before the water was made to flow again on Saturday.
I walked with the student and Steven to the rear of the classroom building to find that this was not a simple leak, but a large flow of water. John the cook and gardener, and Charles the plumber who had been asked to quote on this job arrived at the same time as two men I had not seen before, the shorter one with a pink shirt and the taller with blue. They announced they were with the Municipal Water office and then immediately confronted us with loud voices and angry words.
Mr. Pink started right in, “This is illegal. You are stealing water. Who is responsible for this?” his finger pointing randomly at whomever was to his front.
All of us tried to respond, but he would not listen to our words, yelling again, “Who gave you permission to take this water!?”
John, Steven, Charles and I tried to explain that it was an accident, that the water pipe had been cut the day before by one of the children and it was not our intention to steal anything. Our voices were ignored and over powered.
Mr. Pink continued, “Who is the plumber?! Who gave you permission?!”
After a few exchanges with no ground gained in either direction, the tension escalating, I recognized the need to calm things down a bit. I stepped forward and offered my hand, “I am Kai. What is your name, please.”
Mr. Pink refused to make eye contact nor shake my hand, only raising his voice higher and threatening everyone around him.
I tried again, “What is your name, please,” my hand still extended.
He would not calm down, demanding that someone be responsible for stealing the water.
I raised my voice and said, “Will you please give me the respect of a proper hand shake and the offering of your name. I am Kai. WHAT IS YOUR NAME?!”
He stopped for a moment, shook my hand, and offered his name. (I am sorry, for this was four days ago and I have since forgotten.) but the arguing continued unabated, Mr. Pink now demanding who granted us permission as we should have come to the municipality office before cutting the line. We all responded that we were working within the confines of the compound and had not intended to connect to nor disrupt the municipal water. We repeated that it was an accident.
Mr. Pink yelled, “This is now a police action!” and that someone would have to come with him to his office and then the police station.
I responded, “This is my project. I am paying for it. I am responsible. Take me,” knowing he would not.
Mr. Pink ignored my offer and continued with his threats.
During this heated exchanage of now ten minutes, I had been on the phone twice with Leonard, the Principal, trying to reach the Bishop. Leonard contacted Wycliffe (the son of the Bishop) who immediately pulled the records of all payments available to him, at the Pistis office on the other side of the compound.
I raised my voice higher and demanded the attention of Mr. Pink and Mr. Blue from the Municipal Water Authority, “Everyone in this compound is here to support the children of this orphanage. No one has nor would steal anything. We are all honest, hard working people with proper intentions. You are accusing the wrong people. It was a simple accident.”
Mr. Pink responded, “Who is going to pay for this wasted water?” By then the water had been flowing for maybe 35 minutes, just beginning to run out of the hole dug around the gate valve and into the trench we had dug.
I responded, “I will pay for it. Please tell me how much I owe and provide a receipt and I will pay.”
Mr. Pink ignored me, returning to his original argument, “This is illegal. You are stealing water. Someone must pay.”
I exclaimed, “I WILL PAY FOR THE WATER!”
Again ignoring me, “Why is this water flowing? Who is the plumber?
I responded, “For every minute you stand here yelling at us, there is more water being wasted. If you look at the feet of this man” (pointing to John) “you will find his shoes are untied and this pants rolled up as he was preparing to step into the water and turn off the gate valve just as you came here. May he continue?” John turned and walked into the water and turned off the value in less than a minute. The water level began to drop immediately as it flowed out of the compound through holes in the wall.
Mr. Pink did not respond, hardly taking notice of the water level when I made it obvious to him how simple the effort was. He again changed his tactic, “You have not been paying your water bills. We are going to cut off all water supply to this place.”
Everyone was taken back for it was our understanding that not only where all bills paid, but the Municipal water was to have installed a meter several months earlier and Pistis yet waited.
As I am here only as a volunteer and project manager, I did not know the full history of the payments and could not respond. I called Leonard again who stated clearly that all bills had been paid. I offered my phone to Mr. Pink who promptly refused to talk to him, stating, “I will not talk to him. He must be here.” I offered the phone again, stating the Principal of the school would talk to him. He refused, again.
Mr. Pink turned and walked out of the area between the compound wall and the building into the court yard. I asked Mr. Blue, “If the payments are so far behind, then why is the Municipal water running on the other side of the compound? Why have you not terminated the water before this? Did you give proper notice?” He did not have an answer and only followed Mr. Pink.
In the court yard the arguments continued. The same thing, over and over, round and round. We were stealing water and someone had to pay. He stated he was to terminate all water into the compound immediately. I reminded him that 120 children depended upon that water for drinking and that he would be responsible for their health. He said time was money and would terminate the water.
He walked to the compound gate where Wycliffe had produced the records showing that all payments had been made. Mr. Pink refused to review them, asking that Wycliffe come to his office. Wycliffe refused, exited the compound, and went directly to the main office. Mr. Pink yelled after him that he would not accept the transactions of the main office, that the interaction must begin at his own office. Wycliffe ignored him and continued on his way.
I dispersed the crowd that he built around this argument. We closed the gate. I talked directly to the Bishop who instructed me to just let them go, that he would deal with this at the main Municipal office where Wycliffe was headed.
We heard the Municipal truck move down the alley and from what we understand, the earth was broken and the pipe coming into the Pistis compound terminated on the outside of the wall. We are not able to confirm this as it was again buried.
Everyone in a state of shock, people asking what had just unfolded, I turned away from the gate and noticed a pile of black plastic pipes on the ground, at the foot of the wall. I asked John where these came from. He said Mr. Pink and Mr. Blue had cut all of our pipe before the argument ensued, pulling it from the trench we had completed just the day prior.
I was livid, for this was the work of the children with the funds donated by good people who wanted to support the orphanage. The pipe was not connected on either end. It was simply sitting in the ground, waiting for connection following the installation of the meter.
I called the Bishop to explain what had transpired, including the destroying of our new 60m pipe run. He was beside himself with frustration, unable to believe this had happened, but at the same time, I believe, aware that things like this have historically occurred in Kenya. He said he would handle it, and today (Monday) met with the head of the Nakuru office to take this matter to the top, my report (built upon the story posted here) printed and delivered.
Looking back on the situation, I find it incredibly unlikely that the water would flow on an off day and Mr. Pink and Mr. Blue would show up within minutes of when the leak was noticed, claiming the water was flooding the alley. How convenient! It is more likely that they had caught word (from a friend of a student or someone who lives nearby) that we had broken a pipe, hoping that with a little intimidation they might walk away with a handsome bribe.
What they did not expect was for us to stand our ground and take this to the top.
In an older Kenya, this matter could have taken a different path. Not long ago the men could have been stoned or beaten to death, “public justice” as Wycliffe has described it (which he has seen unfold) for destroying property, but the kids have been raised with a different set of values; or without cell phones and text messaging, we would have had no means by which we could communicate fast enough to counter their false statements as neither the Bishop nor Leonard were on premise.
What baffles me is that the same two goons returned today, telling John they would cut-off the only fresh water supply to the compound. I stayed well away from the, not wanting to repeat Friday. Pistis founder Gladys (Mama Wakesa) spoke with them at length, explaining that their actions were detrimental to the well being of the children, the image of their company, and the stability of a growing Kenya. She also mentioned that we had already pursued action with their employer.
When Mama talks, even the bad guys listen.