While yet in Kenya I reverted the “A Shifting Perspective” (originally posted as “Not all Peaches & Cream”) entry to Draft mode for further editing. Since then, I have worked on it daily (leaving the original post date in tact in order that the entries remain contiguous). Not because what I wrote was completely inaccurate nor offensive (at least I don’t believe it was), but because in prior posts I offered my experience of Kenya, Nakuru, and Pistis through stories of interaction with less of my own interpretation.
In Shifting Perspective, I try to understand what I have experienced through contrast and comparison to the norms of my own upbringing and culture within my country, asking hard questions as many were also asked of me.
“I have heard it is dangerous to be Black in the United States. Is this true?”
“Why is your government trying to define who can and who cannot be married? I thought the U.S. became independent from England to keep the church separate from the State.”
Perhaps the most challenging to answer, which I have been asked during other ventures overseas, “Is it true that your government kills people with electricity?”
I was asked several times, “Is it [cold/hot] in the United States?”
And my favorite, “Is there still manual labor in the United States? Or is everything done by machines?”
Some of these are funny, even fun to answer, but some are very challenging. While I can quote statistics or give my personal opinion, I cannot pretend to know the experience of African Americans nor fully explain the history of how the church and State do share government. Often I was asked questions that do not have a single answer, explaining that in many respects the U.S. feels like the union of small countries, each with their own weather, laws, culture, and languages. I always made clear that I am but one person with my own opinions and experience and that I represent only me and perhaps my family and a few friends, with any level of certainty.
In the same respect, I bombarded my Kenyan host family and new friends with my thirst for knowledge, seeking understanding of what I saw and experienced there. They were more than patient, answering what they can from their own points of view. In so doing, I realize too how much anyone takes for granted, how much we accept as the norm where we are born and raised.
So when someone asks, “How far behind is Kenya from the U.S.?” I laugh and say, “In some respects, you are far ahead. In others you are catching up.” The United States has a great deal to offer that is of benefit to others, but we have a great deal to learn as well. I ask that as we continue to mature as individuals, and as a country, that we stop pushing so hard for everyone to be like us; that we stop long enough to ask, What can we bring home from where we visit? What do we have to learn from the rest of the world?
This post is continued with A Shifting Perspective.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]
Leonard tells me that one becomes Kenyan when you can sleep the duration of the road from Nakuru to Nairobi. If this is true, then I am may be on my way, having slept through most of the nasty road (I find near death experiences simpler to accept eyes closed) my head once or twice bobbing onto the shoulder of the woman to my right, an attorney who passed opportunity to practice traditional law (and make a great deal more money), choosing instead to help bring equality to women, gays, and lesbians through protective law, workshops, and conferences. We talked briefly while at the Nakuru depot about the boys at the orphanage who are gay and how they may or may not be accepted in the confines of a fairly traditional church.
Leonard’s high school friend, the taxi cab driver who helped us retrieve the solar panels two weeks prior picked me up at the Mololine depot and whisked me to the airport. I departed at 11:30 pm on Lufthansa airlines. A bit overwhelmed for I could again understand most of what was being said, the touring Americans speaking in a relatively high volume (we are known for this, world-wide). My brain suffered from stimuli overload.
From the relative chaos of Nairobi to the organized sterility of Zurich Switzerland where open interior spaces are defined by sharp lines of reflective silver, black, white, and glass. Modern architecture neatly matched modern advertising, store fronts, and products, the bold faces of high contrast, moist model photography compelling “Be beautiful, like me.”
With another transfer from Zurich to Munich and then the final leg to Denver, the passenger nationalities transitioned from Kenyans and a varied host of tourists to mostly Germans visiting the U.S. and U.S. residents returning from a weekend of German pub tours, the low cost of U.S. to Europe flights making possible an international weekend get-away.
And with this transition the long hand shakes and inquisitive eye contact gave way to personal space defined by iPods and head phones saying, “I am in my world now. Leave me alone.”
My good friend Sean was gracious enough to drive to the airport, finding me at a pay phone for the firmware upgrade to my cell has apparently killed its domestic function.
My house welcomed me with creaking hard wood floors and the aroma of since burnt incense. The fifty or more plums on my backyard tree not yet ready for picking one month ago are now gone, the remnants lying on the ground beneath its branches. I should have emailed my neighbor to collect them in their prime. The peaches and apples suffered a similar fate. Sad, for this winter’s tremendous snow fall gave way to blossoms of fruitful burden. Summer is done, fall quickly taking its place. We can receive snow as early as the first week of September, the taste of winter not too distant on the whispers of cooling wind.
I could not sit at home, alone, for I longed to be around people again, my definition of personal space redefined by the constant holding of hands with both men and women, shoulders rubbing and seats shared on the musical matatus, standing in line, and when walking in town. I drove from Loveland north to Fort Collins and to Mugs internet cafe where I now write this entry. In those fifteen miles I counted a total of six people standing outside, a stark contrast to the hundreds I passed in just one kilometer in Nakuru.
Here, we surround ourselves with the wood and brick of our homes which grant us cover from weather into the steel and glass safety of our cars where we travel alone, talking on cell phones in order to compensate for contact lost.
I sit now next to a man to whom I will never speak while a dozen people have come and gone to my front. The conversations I overhear include a girl saying, her voice rising at the end of each phrase “Dude? I was soooo drunk? I could not even stand up?” pausing to point to a photo on her computer screen, “And she was like c-o-m-p-l-e-t-e-l-y wasted,” while someone on the other side offering a really bad “walks into a bar” joke. Few make eye contact with someone they do not already know.
A bluegrass CD is interrupted by an espresso machine and blender. The evening, public attire is comprised of a university sweatshirt, white with pink heart pajama bottoms, flip-flops, and a baseball cap to cover unwashed hair. I enjoy the casual college atmosphere but also find myself missing the dignity and pride with which the Kenyans carry themselves, from mud and tin home through trash lined streets amidst violent rains. I miss the beautiful Kenyan accents presenting carefully articulated British English, the words “like” and “fuck’n” not included in their vocabulary.
While I am pleased to again breathe fresh mountain air, to enjoy hugs from my friends who wonder where I have been, it is strange to feel relatively alone in an occupied space that for a half dozen years I have called my second home. I miss my Kenyan host family dearly and will return soon.
I offer this final update for my August 11 to September 8 work with the live-in children and staff of Pistis and local contractors Steven, Charles, Peter and Weissman.
Food Storage System
The food storage system works! With more than 50 bags in place, the revised and greatly improved food storage shelf has held.
The workbench is complete! John and I put in a few long days pounding nails through wood so hard, it makes Cherry, Oak, and Maple look like butter. Last night, by head lamp, I finished the wiring of a work lamp and room lighting, John finishing the adjacent shelves.
Municipal Water to Kitchen
The Pistis boys buried the water pipe which carries fresh, municipal water from one corner of the compound to the kitchen. The pressure is very low, an issue likely at the source with the municipal. But the water flows!
Gladys, the Bishop, Leonard, David and I have reviewed the cashflow spreadsheet I prepared for them to assist with an improved level of financial efficiency as Pistis moves to become self-sufficient, receiving donations for large projects only. We have also prepared spreadsheets to manage compound upkeep and another for volunteers.
Cook Stove Repair
The cook stoves are now three years old and were just yesterday (Saturday) cleaned for the first time since their installation. The black smoked poured from the hatches as the stove pipes were blocked and too often pieces of wood too green and/or too long are used, reducing burn temperature and burn efficiency thereby increasing the amount of wood consumed and associated cost. I am working with the stove manuacturer, Botto Solar to rectify the situation one step at a time, the total estimate over 30,000 shilling to replace the fire bricks and grills. We are also researching alternatives, such as industrial oil fuel which burns cleaner and is reported to be less costly. As Kenya has but 3% of its native forests remaining (not unlike the U.S.), wood is simply not a viable, renewable resource for cooking as it now stands.
But most of all, I am concerned for the immediate health of the cook staff and boys who live in the dorm adjacent to the kitchen, their air filled with a black cloud day in and day out, every day.
(An introduction to this post is offered in “A Shifting Perspective, Introduction“.)
Not all Peaches & Cream
The Pistis and surrounding low income neighborhood is as complex a social and political structure as anywhere in the U.S. Nothing is as simple as these people are poor and they need help. There are many contradictory facts and figures and realities, as there are in any culture, in any town.
The division between the better-off and the slums can be a single city block, even a street. On one side paved roads and walkways; on the other trashed lined, muddy ruts and pot holes, kids without shoes nor medical care at any level.
Since ancient times, the wealthy have sought refuge in the hills above the towns. Here too, what appear to be million dollar estates line the base of the large volcanic crater which defines one side of Nakuru, homes to successful local and Nairobi business families. The land on which Pistis and the surrounding neighborhoods reside is selling for as much as $40,000 USD per acre, the land lords (‘slum lords’) living off premise, renting the apartment compounds to the low income residents.
Last week I was approached by two young boys as I walked from Pistis back to my host family’s home. In the light sprinkle following a major storm, they asked for food. I responded, “Will you eat it, or will you sell the food to get money?” The first, more interactive boy Jackson reminded me of the troublesome punk in any classic Disney flick, baseball cap matching fast questions and even faster responses. He’s done this before. He responded, “We are hungry. We want to eat. Can you buys us food?” I offered, “I will buy you food if I can sit and eat with you. I want to know you are eating it.”
And so we ducked into a street-side butcher shop which serves meat soup and the Kenyan staple ugali, a grain mash with the consistency of playdough which is pressed between the fingers and then used to pinch or scoop-up the food. I learned that Jackson lives with mother and younger brother, his father dead. After the meal, he invited me to his home to meet his mother. We walked there together, jumping puddles and sloshing through the muddy streets. At some point, his friend fell away or decided to no longer accompany us. The thought of an ambush crossed my mind, but my limited street sense was not piqued. I looked over my shoulder and quickly mapped the path back to the main street; a little over a minute at a good clip, if necessary.
Further from the main road, the trash diminished, giving way to corn fields and grass lined roads. I asked Jackson if he was safe here, and he said that while robbers come into people’s homes at night, his neighborhood was safe. I repeated my question, to be certain, and he said again, yes, he felt safe. “If someone steals, the mob justice will find and kill them. The robbers are very many, but they know what will happen. We are safe in my home. It is ok.”
His home is a single room in an in-ward facing, four sided compound constructed of mud pressed between wood sticks with a tin roof. I asked if his mother would mind a visitor without warning, explaining that my mother would have been a bit upset when I was his age. But she welcomed me warmly, sending Jackson to purchase a bag of milk for hot chai and bread.
His mother repeated, “We have very little, but we are happy. We are so very happy. The Lord is good. We are happy.” She washes clothes when she can, in the evenings, but does not have full time employment.
We talked for an hour. She showed me photos of her family. Like Isaac, Jackson wants to be a fighter pilot and as #4 in his class of 40, he has grades high enough to attend college.
She explained that it was only five years ago that Kenya made education free, grades 1 through 12. But college remains an expensive endeavor out of reach for most. Through the military, however, Jackson may be able to gain college education and learn to fly. I gave his mother 1,000 shillings, enough to pay the $4 monthly rent for a couple of months while giving Jackson an opportunity to learn to use email and stay in touch through a local CyberCafe.
So it seems that rent varies from $4 to $40 USD and through other conversations, to more than hundred. The national standard for unskilled labor is 200 shillings per day; for skilled labor, 400-500; and for a contractor, 600-750 shillings per day which is just over $10 USD. From mud huts to volcanic block to concrete homes, from one room to many, most still carrying water daily from a local source for the cost of municipal water too great.
It was a shock for me upon arrival, to see the conditions in which people lived, worked, and played with goats and cows eating from piles of trash, feces of various animals made fluid with the rains, and open man hole covers begging the consumption of a small child without recovery. I mentally adjusted by replacing the existing roadways with asphalt, even a maintained gravel road and proper drainage. And then I was able to see the people and the environment as two, unique factors.
Wycliffe confirms that the issue of road repair, water and waste management is an on-going concern, moving into and out of hot-topic with each election. Just as in the States (or anywhere), the politicians make promises and then quietly move onto to “more important issues” once in office.
Wyclif’s brother David shared that improvement to the ‘slums’ (depends upon your point of view) in the past decade have been drastic, from no power and mud huts to municipal water and sewage (for those who can afford it). In a few years, I can imagine the roads being paved and the trash managed in an improved manner, but these are not small undertakings and someone will have to pay for it.
On any given day, in downtown Nakuru, on Kenyatta Avenue in front of Barclays Bank, you will find three to four homeless kids in their pre and early teens. Watch closely, for they are holding bottles of glue to their lips and mouth, getting high as long as the fumes will give up. Money received through rather bold begging goes to purchase more glue within minutes of receipt.
I didn’t see this happening at first, my pace in town always rapid as I raced from one hardware store to the next. But Jim and Ashley, two Americans who departed this past Tuesday morning after two months volunteering at Pistis, asked me to slow down and pay closer attention. I did, and I immediately noted the lingering smell of contact cement far too often.
Some affected children are completely incoherent as they attempt to talk, others passed out on the sidewalk or lying against the curb, pedestrians stepping around them.
The volunteer Jim would provide the demanded donation if he was given the glue and allowed to dump it, the empty bottle tossed in a garbage bin. But he knows they just went and purchased more. I will provide food if they request it, but not give money.
Wycliffe once invoked a small riot, ‘public justice’ or as Jackson called it, “mob justice”, following his emptying a large bucket of glue taken from a dealer. The dealer was very upset and made a scene. A crowd gathered, wanting to take action against Wycliffe for damaging property. But when he explained that he was stopping the dealer from killing more children, the mob turned and began to beat the dealer. He’d be dead if a police officer had not been close by and stopped the event from unfolding to its ultimate end.
I have been told you really don’t have to worry about things being stolen by day, pick-pockets aside, for public justice is real and those who steal are stoned or beaten far faster than the proper judicial system would handle the situation.
Prostitution, however, appears to be prevalent, myself solicited in one form or another a few times. Sometimes a woman approached and boldly winked or followed my stare until I turn away realizing more was being communicated than curiosity and the long eye contact that is common here, between everyone. Once a note was passed to me at a CyberCafe, asking to have coffee some time, contact information provided. But the intention was obvious, for she had walked in with one man and out with another. I am saddened by this situation for the obvious reasons: women should not have to use their bodies for income compounded by an AIDS epidemic in many parts of Africa.
What Comes of Disparity
My host family has been vocal for their concerns for my safety here, by day and especially by night. As ignorant as I may be, I have not felt unsafe at any time, even when walking alone at night. My confusion for their concern, for their stories of what has and does occur is compounded by my experience of eye contact, hand shakes, and laughter in so many interactions, from the boda boda (bicycle taxis) to shop clerks to the children of Pistis.
Some twenty years ago I was with the Guardian Angels (a citizen crime fighting organization) in Phoenix and Chicago. During this year I gained a valuable, even if brief insight into a life of fear and pain. The few street fights I experienced, the citizen arrests, destroying of crack pipes, the bullet that just missed my ear — that was a year in which I was afraid for my life just a few hours each night, a few nights a week trying to improve the living conditions of South Phoenix. Even today, I maintain limited ‘street smarts’, always watching the hands of those who pass for quick movement prior to my close proximity; I turn my head to follow those who raise my awareness, making eye contact when possible; car engine back firing still invokes memories of gun shots in my body’s muscle memory.
For that one year I began to understand how complex and twisted the physiological wiring must be of someone who has lived with that fear every day of their entire life. I would not even know how to address that pain, were I to work with the children of the inner cities of the U.S. It likely takes someone from the streets to help others from the same.
Here in Africa millions are dying in battles for land, water, and ancient ethnic struggles for power. Many of those not directly involved in conflict are just barely getting by, literally hand to mouth day after day as the phrase “paycheck to paycheck” does not even apply. Every day I walked to Pistis I passed small children covered in coal dust, head to toe, their fingers searching piles of remnants left by the vendors for anything that will burn. Others light a fire in an empty lot, a sheet of corrugated metal heated to melt the rubber from the soles of used shoes. Their hands wrapped in plastic or cloth bags to protect them from the high temperature and molten goo, I am told they can sell the end product to … someone.
Yesterday a boy ran up to me and walked by my side. He said very clearly, “Give me your camera.” I laughed and said, “Sorry. No way!” He hesitated, dropped back a few paces and followed me just out of reach. After a few more steps, I stopped, turned, and confronted him (the best way to deal with a potential pick pocket or robber, in my experience), “May I help you?” He stopped, looked up at me, our eyes meeting briefly, “Uhh, no thank you,” and then quickly scurried by on my left, jogging to the next gate. He grinned and watched me go by as I grinned back.
He’s hustling, as he must, to bring something home for his family or simply to eat. His motive is clear, do what it takes. But when he grows up, will he give into violence to achieve the same? Or will he find safe haven in a place such as Pistis where his future may offer college in place of selling soles of used shoes.
One late night, John the gardener/cook/carpenter escorted me from Pistis to my host family’s home. I felt comfortable once on the main street, decently lit by vendor’s shops and cars, my head lamp illuminating the uneven ground, casting shadows into the gaping, open sewer pits. But John insisted he remain with me door-to-door. I asked why, stating I could handle myself if someone approached, even physically attempting to take something from me. He replied that it was not one, but a half dozen or ten that concerned him, small street gangs that take from those who appear to have something of value. I am no Jackie Chan and those are not favorable odds for anyone, but in the middle of the street? In front of the shops?
Wycliffe later stated that just the week before I arrived, a block from my family’s home in front of the cyber cafe, three Sudanese refugees beat to death a fourth, the body falling into the open, stone lined storm sewer ditch.
Before I could pass judgment I realized the same thing happens in our country night after night, in every major city. Our ten o’clock news showcases knife attacks, gun battles, police stand-offs and drug busts, drive-by and school shootings, making famous the villains who perpetuate violence and fear.
But in Nakuru, I do not hear gun shots by night as I did so often in Phoenix and Chicago. I did not see gang graffiti marking territories nor did anyone flash gang signs in my passing. I know nothing of the drug trade beyond buckets of contact cement emptied into small bottles, nor gang violence as a rite of passage, if it exists here at all.
In Kenya, smoking is illegal in public. I saw a total of three, maybe four people smoking cigarettes during my entire stay. I never witnessed a can of beer, empty or full, other than those on the shelf at the super market. When I attempted to introduce the U.S. tradition of bringing a bottle of wine to dinner for the two families who invited me, I was asked, “What is wine? How is it made? Does it have alcohol?” This was not a language barrier, but literally a complete disconnection from what dominates years of the lives of what I believe is the majority of youth in the U.S. These Kenyan’s had never tasted, let alone seen a bottle of wine.
I explained how grapes are pressed, yeast added to convert sugar to alcohol. I referenced ancient Egyptian and biblical times for subject association. While I drink alcohol maybe a half dozen times a year, I found myself speaking with pride of Fort Collins, Colorado, home to New Belgium and several small breweries, a craft of art and science that carries a strong heritage. I was both flabbergasted at their lack of knowledge for the oldest drink in the world (next to water and milk) and at the same time pleased by the realization that the generation that sat before me would not be plagued by alcoholism, drunk driving, nor low grades due to hangovers.
I have to wonder what happens as this rising African economic power gains momentum. Does the disparity between the wealthy and the poor increase? Or does free, quality education truly offer a balance and new level of equality and hope? Is escalation a natural path for social evolution? Does the distribution of glue bottles eventually give way to meth labs?
I am by no means an expert in the social, political, and economic functions of growth, but I ask the questions and try to understand.
The Violence Stops Here
The modern Kenyan children grow up on American television. The World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) and American cartoons dominate Saturday mornings. In the evenings, even from an adjacent room it is simple to determine if a U.S. program is airing for the gun shots ring clear. It scares me, as these programs portray guns as power and that power is to be gained by force. Four years and countless hundreds of thousands of dollars later, two television superpowers continue to occupy court time for the exposure of Janet Jackson’s breast on national air, but the blood of humans spatters onto the pavement or a wall in nearly ever major U.S. movie and television drama. (Personally, I prefer breasts over bullets any day of the week.) Yes, we have a wide variety of programs, some exceptional, but they are not often what find their way to distant lands nor are they what people are drawn to night after night.
Student Project Africa Network (SPAN) was started as a conduit for support to Pistis and others in Africa, founder Rebecca having witnessed the whipping of Pistis’ girls as punishment. One of SPAN’s primary functions is to help reduce this kinds of violence, and to help find equality for men and women in a country where female circumcision (mutilation) remains accepted and gay and lesbian relationships are finding similar discomfort as in the U.S.
Last year Kenya adopted a national law that bans corporal punishment (whipping, caning, beating) in the schools. Rebecca, Cameron, Jim and Ashley and I have all worked to bring caning to an end at Pistis, but still receiving mixed stories from students, teachers, and the management about how certain situations are handled.
One afternoon I gathered the boys for an impromptu meeting and learned that when they came to Pistis. They shared that in retrospect the strength of punishment helped them to transition to a life where stealing and fighting were no longer needed. They added that the older boys now help the new arrivals adjust, whippings reduced to a “fatherly demonstration”, meaning contact without breaking the skin.
I countered that it didn’t matter, that it had to stop completely. I came to tears trying to explain to them that when someone becomes able to hit another human, it is violence out of experience, habit, even tradition, and lack of alternatives. Kenya, as does the entire world, needs the next generation to reduce its violence. It starts here, it starts now, with them. I would offer the same to any group of children anywhere.
In speaking with adults about this, the response is often, “But if you do not beat them, what do you do? You must punish the children, or they will do it again.” I was reminded of conversations I have had with parents who have or have come close to beating their children, expressing the exhaustion and exasperation to which they finally give in. The training starts with the teachers, in order that alternatives offer the reward of success, motivation to continue down an alternative path.
I asked them to consider how much pride they could carry if they could tell their wives and children they deliberately chose a new path, one of equality and non-violence. And then their children’s children could be told the same, and their children too. Three generations later, all of Kenya could be free of domestic violence and the generational pain that comes with it. They nodded, but more likely in shock of seeing a grown man cry than the subject which I broached.
Unfortunately, it won’t be this simple. The kids are under the false impression that there are five times more woman in Kenya than men (a quick Google search shows 51% women), an easy selection for them all. They have little desire for a life long partner, rather temporary and multiple “girl friends” likely resulting in multiple sets of kids and families as is prevalent here.
The Mormons could learn a thing or two about polygamy in Kenya where it is a norm, divorce unacceptable for it breaks the law of God. A man often takes on two or three wives and families for his dissatisfaction with the first and/or reproduction through the others.
I do not know where one draws a healthy line between providing labor and providing funds as a volunteer and carrying the convictions and norms of one culture into another. I am not a missionary. I do not desire to convert nor even change anyone. I just want to provide encouragement and instill hope, in the children of Pistis and in myself.
I do believe there are universal truths that transcend all humans, that violence at any level is unacceptable, and that drug abuse is very, very sad independent of the substance abused. As for one wife or three, there are thousands of years of cultural evolution at play. It is not my place to judge. My concern is for the equality of men and women, boys and girls.
But no government overthrow, no military might can force equality nor grant freedom of spirit to anyone. It must come from within because it is desired.
I have been asked by my family, Christa, and by those with whom I have lived here what I have given and what I will take away. The answer is both complex and simple, a summary of these blog entries and the personal emails sent to my family; and this — Jackson’s mother says she is happy in her mud hut, without running water, without electricity. I believe her. As ignorant as I know I am for the complexity and depth of what is fully around me, I saw hope on the faces of those who shook my hand every morning when I ducked through the blue painted metal door into the Pistis compound. And that is what ties all of us together, independent of where and how we live. Hope for something better.
A One Day Safari
I took Wycliffe and Jacintah on a six hour safari (Swahili for “travel”) through Kenya’s second most visited national park, just 2 kilometers from Pistis (yes, a fifteen minute walk). Aside from our driver announcing the 4×4 had run out of gas before we even left the parking lot, the photos say it all.
I apologize, for I failed to mention the safe retrieval of the photovoltaic solar panels from the Nairobi International Airport. If you will recall, when I arrived in Kenya late Sunday night, the 12th of August, the solar panels donated by my high school physics professor Dan Heim did not arrive with me.
It was explained that the London Heathrow airport misplaces luggage on a routing basis, and that it should arrive the next day. Sure enough, just as Leonard and I were heading toward Nakuru, the call came, and the panels had arrived. Too late, we had to plan to return.
A little over a week later, a week ago this past Tuesday, Leonard and I returned to Nairobi with intent to first retrieve the panels and then do some school shopping with hope of finally locating and purchasing political and geographical maps of Kenya with specific interest in the area immediately around Nakuru.
It was perhaps our confusion, but we thought we were suppose to visit the national offices of KLM, but upon arrival at the 7th floor (by foot from the Mololine station to the business district of Nairobi among sky scrapers and serious traffice congestion) we were told we needed to go to the Kenya Airlines office, which is two floors lower. Upon arrival at The Kenya Airlines office, the confirmed that the panels were in fact at the airport proper, awaiting our visit.
Leonard phoned a high school friend and taxi driver who happened to be around the corner, and away we went. At the airport, Leonard was asked to wait in the parking lot as I walked through the scanner and was briefly (poorly) searched. Once to the baggage claim counter, I was asked to follow a young man to the steel cage lockers (which I described in my opening post from Kenya) and sure enough, there they were! (And in one piece :)
I wheeled them over to the counter (which looked really humorous, I am certain, as all three weighed nearly 150lbs, the bottom wooden crate boasting wheels which I attached before I left Colorado, my nose to the ground with full effort pushing forward, tail in the air.
Kenya Airlines was kind enough to reimburse nearly the full amount of my travel for the day, from Nakuru to Nairobi, the taxi, and back again. At customs, I was nearly completely ignored upon arrival at the counter, a television facing away from me fully consuming the four officials’ attention.
I began, “I need to declare these boxes.”
A woman asked, “What is in the boxes?”
“Solar panels. They are a donation for an orphanage in Nakuru.”
“Are they new?”, she responded, paying more attention the TV than me.
“No. Quite used and not worth much. I will appreciate your waiving the import taxes as have the airlines, to allow the donated funds to be used for more important things at the orphanage.”
And just then one of the football teams scored, everyone cheered, and she said, “Just go, go on through,” no even looking in my direction, a casual wave of her arm toward the exit. I love football :)
The solar panels are stored safely in Wakesa home. The next time I or another volunteer comes, we will move to bring the D/C to A/C inverter, battery control modules, and monitoring hardware/software to build a proper setup.
I am afraid to admit that despite my two years engineering and several years building all kinds of crazy things, I seriously failed to properly design for the weight of the food in the construction of a storage system, in the room next door to the kitchen.
We built the under structure from full 2×4 material, hand-picked for quality, milled the same day for consistency of dimensions. The first sign of trouble was the discovery that the walls were not concrete nor even structural masonry but instead a very light weight block made of cinders far, far softer than U.S. standard cinder block. The concrete anchors (expansion bolts) failed to hold 30% of the time, leaving us without what I counted upon as the primary support for 3 of the 4 sides.
For lack of proper tools to deal with situation, we decided to move ahead and use side to side pressure applied by slightly over-sized timbers to keep the system in place, assuming the sheer force of the load was neither ample to sever the bolts nor rip them from the wall.
Last week Thursday I selected 3/4″ particle board over 9 ply to save a considerable sum of money. Big mistake. Friday afternoon we moved the bags of rice onto the left side; then beans, maize, and maize flour to the middle and right. Ten, twenty, thirty bags, each at 50 to 90Kg (225lbs), it seemed to be working well. I occassionaly peered beneath the shelf (which is isolated from the floor by 32″ to reduce the invasion by mice, and saw no sign of sagging. Perhaps a 1/2″ over 2 meters front to back. Another fifteen or so bags remained on the kitchen floor, next door.
A host of eager boys brought one, then three, and eventually a half dozen bags into the room, tossing them from their shoulders onto the edge of the shelf. The boys on top hoisted and placed them into the appropriate piles.
I was in the kitchen, coming back to the storage room with my end of one bag when I heard a snap. I voiced my concern over the hustle of the students, stooped to look beneath the structure when Bernard shouted back, “Don’t worry. It was only a bag of beans.”
Just three or four seconds later, it collapsed. Just like that, the entire back of the shelf buckled and dropped to the floor, the front steel posts and wooden beam which they held remained in place, but bent and twisted. The particle board had snapped in several places, but the underlying timber remained in tact in all but a few joints. No beams broke. It appeared to be either a failure of the bolts which enabled the back braces to drop, or the particle board giving way along key points, caving in, and pulling the bolts from the soft wall.
The room was dead silent. The boys on top having experienced a short, safe drop, jumped to the ground. No one said a thing.
John was standing next to me. I was not angry, for I knew that there was no one to blame but me. I had not paid attention to the limited anchor strength of the bolts to the wall nor the potential for the particle board to snap under extreme load, even with evenly spaced under structure. As I had designed the system for more than 60 bags and we were at just 40, I was surprised.
I shrugged my shoulders, looked at John and then the boys, and said, “I am very sorry. My design has failed. I am really sorry, for we have all worked very hard for this. Let’s remove the bags this weekend and on Monday we’ll figure out what to do.”
A few patted me on the back, a few shook my hand, and the boys mostly shuffled their feet out, into the kitchen. A few more came in to see what had unfolded. Bernard remained by my side and offered a voice of wisdom and comfort beyond his age, “Mr. Kai. It is very good this thing happened today, for you are here and you can fix it. Later, maybe, we would not know what to do.”
Today, Monday, the broken particle board was removed, the entire infrastructure rebuilt and reattached to the wall, including the complete penetration of the back wall for a through-wall threaded bolt to be applied against a pressure plate and washers. We will add another 3 1″ steel pipes to carry the load, and then purchased what they call “blockboard”, 1/2 x 4 pine strips glued edge-to-edge and then sandwiched between 2 thin veneers. I desired exterior grade, 6 or 9 ply both times the structure was built (which is partially why I chose particle board, as I did not like the other options any better), but the block board appears to be quite strong.
Hoping for completion by the close of tomorrow.
While it was originally our goal to create two food storage shelves, a larger one on one side of the room (the one which collapased) and a smaller on the opposite, we have determined that the average number of sacks of food seldom exceeds 40 with hope (fingers crossed) that the rebuilt shelf will be capable of supporting this quantity.
So, as soon as the shelf reconstruction is complete, we will turn our attention to the other side of the room and build instead a work bench to provide a proper, designated place to build and repair furniture, school desks, and to store tools behind lock and key.
John, who is an experienced carpenter in addition to his duties as gardener and cook at Pistis, is very pleased with the decision, granting him an opportunity to do what he does best.
More to come …
What can you do in a dark room with nothing but a camera and a torch?
Photos made by placing a Nikon D50 on a stable surface, setting the control to fully manual, f-stop to the lowest setting (5.2), shutter speed from 5 to 15 seconds (depending upon the desired effect), and the auto-timer used to enable hands-free activation and time to setup. The “torch” can be a headlamp or pen light, preferably with momentary on/off function.
The timing of my stay here is good, for Kenya is preparing for its presidential election and I have been absorbing what I can. The television news, papers, and radio are blasting the public with information. Trucks drive through the neighborhoods with loudspeakers encouraging people to vote one direction or the other.
The ODM (Orange Democratic Movement) has splintered three ways, NARC (represented by a banana) providing fierce competition to determine who will carry one of Africa’s most stable and prolific economic superpowers into the next five years.
Raila Odinga, one of the presidential potentials is receiving both positive and negative press for his outlandish appearances, arriving for public presentations in a Hummer brand truck, or flying in and out by helicopter. One of his foundation stands is to represent and fight for the underprivileged and poor. Some Kenyans eat it up, nearly mobbing his caravan when he arrives. Others shake their heads and wonder how such a contradiction can be overlooked by anyone. Sound familiar? :)
I have been asked a few times now, “In the United States, do people drive Hummers?”
I answer, “Unfortunately, yes.”