A Lutheran in a Pentecostal Land

service, congregation Moved to Dance
If you were not raised Lutheran, even a liberal and open minded Lutheran, you may not understand the ramifications of the title of this entry. Lutherans are reserved, quiet, and unlike the Catholics who are given opportunity for redemption every week, they carry the burden of guilt (for everything) for a very, very long time. Some would say that as birds just know how to build a nest and bees dance to share the location of nectar, Lutherans pass their burden through the mystery of genetic memory, from generation to generation.

The music is slow. So slow, it is nearly playing in reverse. The organ is loud in order that everyone believes no one can hear them trying to sing. Clapping is reserved for special occasions, and in some denominations (you know who you are), not allowed at all. And dancing? A “dance” is an event where the boys are against one wall, girls the other, and the top of your shoes become terribly interesting for the entirety of two hours.

So when a Lutheran finds himself in the front row of a Pentecostal call to worship, it becomes frightening clear that the guitar services, the bell choir, and the twenty years of religious dedication to Garrison Keillor and the Prairie Home Companion did nothing to prepare for an all-out, clapping, singing, shouting, whistling, feet stomping, hand waving, crying, screaming, thank you Jesus, Thank you Jesus, THANK YOU J-E-S-U-S! Pentecostal service.

service, Bernard

During the first Sunday, I remained at the back of the church on the Pistis grounds, hiding behind my camera and digital audio recorder, hoping no one would notice that my rhythm was sometimes a bit off.

But last Sunday, for my second visit, I sat by Jacintah and Little John at the very front, turning and running to the back (or out of the church altogether) not an option without a good excuse, which did not come to me as fast as the chairs were occupied.

While the first service was conducted over microphone and amplifier, this last was in the middle of a half day blackout, no power to most, if not all of Nakuru.

For this blackout, I am so very thankful. What unfolded was incredible.

service, group

The voices of Pistis
(this recording was conducted the week following this blog entry as I did not at that service have my digital recorder)

Teacher Steve and students Hussein, Lindah, and Philice stood in front, between the pulpit and congregation standing over white, plastic lawn chairs on a concrete floor, beneath an open rafter and tin metal roof.

Those who prepared to sing smiled at each other, smirked, and hesitated for just a moment, perhaps not used to being unplugged. Then Steve closed his eyes, paused, and began. His voice was light with a subtle jazz singer’s sawtooth edge. He was after the first verse joined by Lindah whose fifteen years was masked by a maturity rich and dynamic. They closed their eyes as Hussein and Philice merged, all four swaying side to side, twisting slightly as their hands came from behind their backs to meet in front. Then one hundred people entered in perfect unison, on the first beat of the second stanza.

I immediately noted an elegant balance of complex rhythms which transcend a traditional 4/4 count and then without gesture nor cue, back again. My lack of formal musical training aside, I clearly recognized a two part harmony and classical call and response as the congregation of students, teachers, parents, and local families joined in.

service, Steve service, Lindah service, Hussein service, Philice service, group

It is difficult to describe the depth of this experience, for the call to worship was carried by just four people with the congregation in support, in the already musical words of Swahili, for over twenty minutes. That is longer than some entire Lutheran services, let alone the opening hymn.

service, congregation

The verses called for clapping, waving, and of course, dancing. And to the best of my ability, I searched for guidance of the Holy Spirit. But if it entered me at any point, it must have been very heavy for it got stuck in my feet which then refused to move. My hips and shoulders too were burdened by German Lutheran genes which resisted circular motion greater than a calculated 15 degrees.

But as I realized I could do no wrong here (and no one really cared) I let go and moved in complete contradiction to my genetic code and upbringing.

I should clarify that I am not a religious man, church no longer a part of my routine. But if there were an experience outside of a lightning strike or a bush spontaneously catching fire to invoke a craving for religion, it was the drum set which raised the powerful voices to an unbelievable, almighty roar.

A Celebration of Life
The next morning, Glady’s brother David returned from nearly a week of travel to bring closure to the death of their uncle. A process of both mourning and celebration, David explained that a funeral was a time for family to come together, for relatives to see each other again, and when required, for children to be given new homes where they would be cared for.

Gladys nodded her head and added, “When we lose someone we love so very much, we may fall on the ground, and cry, and shout, ‘God! God why have you taken this person from us?’ But then we see we are with family. We see the good things the Lord has given us. And we begin to understand. Then we say, ‘God! You are so good. You have given us so much. We thank you for everything you have given us.” And we celebrate the life of this person and all that we have shared.

I responded, “If a Lutheran saw a person lying on the ground, shaking, crying, and shouting, we’d think they were very ill and take them to the hospital.”

Gladys laughed so hard she nearly fell off the couch. I was dead serious. But when she recovered, she offered this, her voice soft with power, “When we want to receive the Spirit of the Lord, we clap our hands. When the Spirit of the Lord is coming to us, we clap our hands. And when we are filled with the Spirit of the Lord, we clap our hands and we dance. Sometimes we shake, we yell, and we cry to thank the Lord! for he is so good. And yes, we dance.”

She paused, rolling her head side to side, the music and energy of the dance in her even then. She concluded, “My brother, we do not judge someone for the how the spirit moves them for everyone is moved by the Spirit of the Lord in a different way.”

And was in that moment that a Lutheran found comfort in a Pentecostal land.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:49-04:00August 29th, 2007|2007, Out of Africa|0 Comments

Big Trouble in Little Pistis

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.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:49-04:00August 27th, 2007|2007, Out of Africa|0 Comments

The Watering Hole

Pistis is an oasis for those who live in its surrounding neighborhood as dozens of girls, boys, and women come daily to fill five and ten gallon jugs with water, carrying them home on the backs of bicycles, balanced upon their heads, or placed squarely between their shoulder blades and small of their back, a strap held in place by forehead or hands drawn to shoulders.

Once very small boy who could not have weighed more than thirty pounds, was no more than six inches taller than the empty ten gallon jug he carried in through the gate. I watched him fill his container to the very rim, water spilled from the spigot onto the rock and his sandals. He then reached in front of his chest and attempted to move what must have weight nearly 3x his body weight. I offered to help him, but he was determined to do this himself.

I carefully removed his tiny fingers from the handle, three times as he did not want to give up, and asked him to show me where to go. With some encouragement, we exited the Pistis compound and walked down the alley to a red gate, entering through the door-in-a-door which is common to the local compounds. I had to switch hands several times as I walked with a distinct limp for the mass seemed to increase with time. I followed him past one court yard and to another where his mother came to greet me, a young woman seemingly in her early to mid twenties, wearing a colorful dress and matching head scarf.

By this time all compound residents were curious to meet this stranger who carried the water. I was offered lunch, but took a rain-check as I needed to get back to my project.

The next evening a Nairobi news channel advertised a documentary piece on the women of rural Kenya who carried water increasing distances as global warming and overuse of local resources took their toll. The featured woman walked five hours to transport what appeared to be a twenty gallon drum of water, on her back and shoulders, each and every day.

I have no idea how the boy was expected to carry that water, or if perhaps he was not to have filled the contained so full. Either way, I was able to participate, even if just briefly, in a daily activity central to countless hundreds of thousands of Kenyans where water is simply not as readily available as a pipe and spigot.

By |2007-08-27T11:28:40-04:00August 27th, 2007|2007, Out of Africa|0 Comments

Pistis Projects –UPDATE

While inaccurate estimates, creeping costs, arguments with contractors, and incomplete jobs are a reality with any construction project, anywhere in the world, the challenge of working in a place where a shovel and a shovel handle are not necessarily found in the same store makes things a bit more complex. Add an established pattern of request for daily payments (which undermines any attempt at cash flow management) and the very real potential for a greedy government employee to make threat in full expectation of a bribe, and a simple water line becomes a frightening ordeal.

Independent of the challenges presented, the goals remain simple: desire for a quality project, under budget, and on time.

As the conduit for the monies donated by people who trust my intuition and choices, I have assumed a position of tight micro-management (fully expecting a sarcastic response to this from my employees :), as follows:

All materials are purchased directly by me to guarantee that no prices are marked-up from their already expensive (U.S. equivalent) sales tags. This means that instead of enjoying some physical labor along with the academy students and skilled laborers, most of my days are spent dashing around the local markets and into town to obtain supplies.

All labor quotes are to be reviewed against the Kenyan day-rate standards of 200KSh, 400KSh, and 600-750KSh for unskilled, skilled, and licensed labor accordingly, with a bonus for being on time and within 10% of the estimated materials cost. At the time of this writing, the U.S. dollar is equivalent to 63KSh (Kenyan Shilling).

Close of week payments are made against projects which extend for more than 5 working days.

Final payment is not made until the job is complete, inspected, and demonstrated to be satisfactory to myself, the directors of the school, and if required, the government inspectors.

Every receipt is tracked by a project spreadsheet, the summary of which is posted in public place (coming soon).

I recognize that I dropped into this place assuming a position of authority for these projects but a stranger by ethnicity, language, and tradition. But even in the short time I have been here there have been miscommunications and vital information lost between donating bodies, volunteers, and local laborers.

I therefore share with the sub-contractors, “My request for things to be done this way may not be your norm, and you won’t make as much money as you might with another project, but I am the ambassador for this money, donated by people who trust me to spend it wisely. If I cannot account for its use, or if it is used inappropriately and the children have not fully benefited by its use, my head is on the block. Your work is imperative to the success of the orphanage and academy. If we do well together, there will be more donations and more projects.”

Outside of frustration for having learned that some things purchased were to have been acquired through previous funds (roughly $100 total), I have been pleased with a solid, enthusiastic team which recognizes and upholds my goal to complete fairly intense projects with a limited budget and aggressive time frame.

Completion of the bath house.
To date, the students use an enclosed but outdoor shower facility and pit toilet configuration. Neither sanitary nor terribly functional for the 120 permanent residents, let alone the 400 when school starts up again, these facilities were recently condemned by the city, making illegal the removal of the waste and continued use.

In parallel, a funded project brought to near completion a new bath house capable of supporting the total student and faculty assembly. As is often the case in construction (not just in Kenya, but world wide), the project came to halt in May due to incorrect estimates or a mismanagement of funds (or both), very close to being completed.

It was determined that completion of this project was paramount, literally before the pit toilets filled and became completely unusable. Following my initial meeting with founder and Director Gladys Wakesa and her brother and Principal Leonard, I worked with the children to conduct a rapid survey of the land. We determined the slope from the well water holding tank across the compound to the bathhouse to be adequate to bring the water (through gravity feed) to a height at which an electric pump could carry the water to the roof of the bath house and into a second holding tank.

The supplies (6m x 3/4″ x 10 ea PVC pipe w/coupling flare and glue; PVC to galvanized (GI) couplers and various GI elbows, unions, and gate valves; shovel, spade-axes) were purchased that afternoon and the trench digging commenced immediately. The children worked fast and furious. The trench was completed the next (Wednesday) afternoon, the pipe laid, and by the close of Friday, the water flowing.

I used a relatively small portion of the donations to purchase those items required to complete the work internal to the bath house, the labor needing to come from prior funds. With electricity remaining for another project, the bath house will function well as the equatorial light is ample for daily use.

First floor electricity.
The three story (ground (zero), one, two by Kenyan terms) classroom building offers a dozen classrooms, library, and three sets of offices for teachers and Principal. This project was put in motion by Cameron Dunkin nearly two years ago (if I recall correctly), an immense undertaking well executed. But as is often the case with construction projects, for various reasons, it was not completed as originally slated.

electrical pull

To date, only the ground floor has power, the first and second floors without. I met with two young men (Peter, Weisman) to review the quote they had given Leonard a few months prior to complete the electrical wiring. Their bid was 50% that of a bid received by another electrician. Leonard was hoping to work with Peter and Weisman in order to save costs and also support two enterprising young men fresh from their trade school.

Peter, Weisman, and I walked through the entire building, classroom by classroom, to review their original bid. While the number of outlets (sockets), switches, and lamps were close to the final count (increased only by the decision to illuminate the library and future computer lab with better lighting), we discovered that the flexible ABS conduit put in place during construction of this volcanic block and concrete building was often blocked, mis-routed, or simply not present.

The main panel

To my surprise, the masons had little concern for the electrical pathways as the majority of the conduit ends were simply buried in concrete, forcing the electricians to use hammer and chisel to open entire sections of wall to find the pipe and then connect the electrical boxes.

What’s worse, it appears the second (top of three) floor is without any electrical conduit whatsoever, meaning all new conduit will need to be purchased and run. This is likely why the first bid was so high as Peter and Weisman admit to having overlooked this.

So, we decided to tackle the first floor (middle of three) only at an estimate a little less than their original bid for the middle and top floors. Only the lighting over the stairway and in the offices at the end of the floor remain unfinished with completion slated for this Tuesday, the 28th.

A walkway well drained is mud well trained.
In my first few days here I could not help but notice that when the afternoon rains came, the primary walkway from the compound center, at the edge of the boys dormitory and basketball court slab to the three story classroom building would quickly become a small river, the mud thick and slippery.

walkway 1 walkway 2 walkway 3 walkway 4 walkway 5

With jembas and shovel, the boys and I dug a ditch on the lower side, then broke and raked the surface smooth with a gradual drop from one side to the other. Roughly twenty wheel barrows of gravel now line the surface, the ditch needing to be widened, lined on both sides with placed stones, then the bottom filled with concrete in order to provide proper drainage.

Even incomplete, the new path worked when late Saturday afternoon a major storm hit and the walkway remained passable, the rock keeping the mud at bay and the ditch providing conduit for the water.

Hope to have this completed by the week’s end, before an additional 250 students arrive.

Fresh water for the kitchen.
Clean, fresh water is not easy to come by here in Kenya. At Pistis, there are two current sources. The first is the well (referred to as a “bole hole”) which is pumped into a black plastic storage tank on a concrete pad. This water is heavy in natural fluoride (from what I have been told) and not only not good to drink, but hard on seedlings in the garden. Therefore, it is used for washing dishes and with the completion of the first pipe line, in the bath house.

The second is municipal water, either purchased directly from the government or via an intermediary which resells the water via a flat fee or meter. While the well water runs perpetually, the municipal source is active two or three days a week (Tue, Thr, Sat). This water is deemed potable without boiling, greatly reducing the energy and expense required to feed the children.

While there is now a small storage tank placed in a concrete bunker below ground, a pump feeding two smaller storage tanks placed on the rafters of the kitchen, it will benefit the kitchen to have a larger, more reliable source of fresh water to feed the existing system.

Headed by Steven (architect and project manager) and Charles (plumber) who worked with us on the prior plumbing project and to complete the bath house, this project started with the pouring of a concrete slab a good half meter thick, strong and high enough to hold a large (2m diameter, 2.5m tall) storage tank which will feed the below grade tank already in place. A float valve will auto control the input from the pressurized municipal line and then again from the new tank to the existing tank.

Seemingly complex, this multiple tank water storage system actually works quite well with one system acting as reserve to another, the final rafter assembly providing a gravity feed to the kitchen which will not fail even with a power outage, which occur often.

It is possible that we will some day in the future use the solar panels donated by my former physics professor Dan Heim to operate critical water movement systems on campus, as these panels were once used at his home in New River, Arizona for the same purpose (before being replaced by an upgrade).

water tank rolling water tank cleaning water tank washing

The ‘new’ tank was recycled from its former position on the back side of the kitchen and required a serious cleaning, Ibraham and Isaac dove in without reservation to the muck and goo that had built up in the bottom.

Slated for completion this week (pending the City’s willingness to replace the pipe destroyed), the kitchen will have two municipal water sources coming from opposite corners of the campus on two unique lines, ensuring both quality and quantity.

Food storage
I hate to say it, but the current food storage environment should not pass inspection, by any standards. Bags of bulk grains, rice, corn (maize), beans, and a kind of wheat mullet, up to one hundred and 9000Kg at a time are stored in a room adjacent to the kitchen along with a television, bicycle, spare clothing, blankets, pillows, and of course, mice and rats.

I have designed two heavy-duty shelves which will touch the ground only along the front (loading) side with metal pipe (galvanized pipe with flanges). The other three sides fitting neatly against the wall, using concrete anchors to secure rough cut 2×6 beams for support of the 5/8″ 6-ply.

Last week Friday we procured the plywood, hammer, wood saw, wrench and socket, drill and bit set; concrete expansion bolts and wood screws. Today John (the steadfast, been here since the start do-all of Pistis; a carpenter by trade who gardens, and cooks) and I purchased the raw lumber, transported it to a one room saw mill where it was quickly dimensioned and then brought to Pistis by hand cart.

A few kids broke down the old storage system as mice scurried beneath their feet, swept, mopped, and cleaned the room in preparation for our work tomorrow.

I expect to have this completed with the close of Wednesday. Eager to get started tomorrow!

By |2017-04-10T11:17:49-04:00August 27th, 2007|2007, Out of Africa|1 Comment

Pistis Projects –UPDATE

Pistis, ditch digging Pistis, ditch digging Pistis, plumbing Basketball court re-paint

I am terribly sorry for the delay in preparing this update. I have been swamped, working from 6 or 7 am till 9 am for Terra Soft, off to Pistis for the whole of the day, and then back to my host family’s home and local internet cafe to catch-up on Terra Soft again.

Just today, Saturday, have I found time to post the prior entries, upload photos, and update the financial tracking of the donated funds for the projects we are undertaking.

In short, until I have more time, this first week (Tue-Fri) was a huge success. We scoped the electrical wiring project, hired two local young men to complete the second floor of the classrooms, and dove right in to digging the trench for the new water line from water tank to the new bath house. The basketball court too sports an update with refreshed paint, a full game engaged just hours after it dried.

More to come …


By |2017-04-10T11:17:49-04:00August 18th, 2007|2007, Out of Africa|1 Comment

Pistis, Projects, & People

Pistis, alley Gladys, Leonard, and I met for two hours Tuesday morning to review the projects at hand. We broke them down by description, then estimated cost, and then by priority. I have created a spreadsheet on my laptop to track projects and costs against the donated funds.

Pistis, ditch digging While the completion of the electrical wiring for the second and third floors of the new school building is important, the connecting of a well-fed cistern to the new bathrooms, a 50m+ run, is imperative as the Nakuru sanitation authority has condemned the current facility, disallowing additional removal of waste. The full assembly of students (400+) return to school in just a few weeks, so we have little time.

Eager to jump into the projects, Gladys introduced me to Isaac, a bright young man who lives at Pistis and attends a school off-site, as someone who can assist me with finding tools, supplies, and coordinating labor forces.

Nakuru, waiting out the rain He and I walked to a third and then fourth hardware store (one-room store fronts that offer a surprising array of necessities) in search of shovels and spades. I asked Isaac if he would attend college. He shared that while his grades were in the B+/A- category, ample to potentially win a government scholarship, he desires to join the military first and become a fighter pilot. I stated that his goal was very good. He added that he wanted to live and to die like a man. I concluded, smiling, “And to die going very, very fast.” He laughed and agreed.

Bernard, Ibraham, Isaac Isaac is humble, for I later learned from Gladys that he knows nothing of his biological parents and was raised on the streets by whomever would take him in and yet he is top ranked in the nation for his scholastic achievement. He graduates next year, his proper British English damn near perfect with a vocabulary that baffles me. When he speaks, he commands attention. When he takes charge, the kids follow. And when he and I talk, we cover a half dozen subjects as though we have been talking for as many years. Isaac aspires to be a fighter pilot. From the streets of Nakuru to the skies of Africa, what an amazing story he will tell.

The transition to any country is one of training the body to accept the new time zone, learning the social norms through sometimes awkward trial and error, and adjusting to differences in food and language. In my coming here, I have perhaps more than any of my travels, grown to be aware of the beauty in the basics that we all share.

Pistis, hair care Lunch, girls Lunch, boys Football

Every child in the academy laughs. Every child plays. Every child has more than one hundred brothers and sisters with whom they have lived for a few months to a half dozen years. Through basketball, soccer, blowing bubbles, washing clothes, brushing hair, and helping with projects, these children are receiving support, hope, and joy. Pistis is a selfless refuge that allows the children to just be children, their basic needs covered and time for play guaranteed.

The boys and girls wash their own clothes, eat meals from over-turned frisbees with spoons whose handles are missing, and have but one change of clothes. And yet the children’s personal dignity transcends the challenge of their immediate surroundings.

A boy of sixteen or seventeen years introduced himself to me when we began to dig the trench for the water pipe. He wielded one of the new pick-axes (“jemba” is the local name) and said with a wide smile, “I am Bernard. I am Maasai”. His first name he pronounced with soft consonants and ‘Maasai’ carried the haunting depth of a whisper in a narrow passage. Perhaps the images in my mind were reinforced by Hollywood films, but a chill moved down my spine for the strength of his tribal conviction and pride in his people.

I have a house filled with things that I do not need, but do not know both the first and last name of my neighbors two houses down. The children of the orphanage and surrounding families own virtually nothing and yet they have community. They love and support each other in a way that perhaps only the farmers of our Midwest knew when family farms were spaced every mile and survival depended upon community.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:49-04:00August 18th, 2007|2007, Out of Africa|0 Comments

3 Burgers & a pack of Linux CDs, please

Nairobi, corner

I arrived to Nairobi at approximately 9 pm Sunday night. The solar panels did not arrive with the plane. I spent two hours trying to find them, both physically walking the floor of the baggage claim area where a dozen piles containing countless lost items were scattered about. I have a sense that all airports harbor this level of misplaced baggage, just not usually on display for all to see.

I registered as much info as the baggage claim manager would take, then took a taxi to the city center at 11 pm and stayed the night in a hotel more expensive than that which I intended, my first choice booked. My attempts at negotiation were thwarted by an intellect less tired and more accustomed to midnight math.

I slept well, awoke at 6, and headed out on my own to purchase a SIM card for my recently unlocked cell phone, my desire to obtain a local Kenyan number. I learned that my phone was useless, my lack of signal in London repeated in Nairobi. An hour later, I found a ‘cell phone hacker’ a kilometer from my hotel. I traded a set of Linux CDs and 3 hamburgers for the successful upgrade to the European 900MHz range (AT&T was incorrect in their assessment of my phone’s functions, having failed to note mention the differences
between the A and B models).

Nairobi, book store

I met Leonard, the Principal of the Pistis Orphanage and Academy. He and I hit it off perfectly. A wonderfully humorous and strong hearted man who assists his sister Gladys, the founder and Director of Pistis, with organization and management of the facilities, classes, and staff. On foot we crossed central Nairobi a few times in search of a geographic map of Kenya for a classroom, calling the airport baggage services every second hour to gain an update for the missing panels. No one answered. And while we found some good books for the school library, no maps made themselves available.

At 6 pm we gave up and boarded a Nissan transport designed to seat eleven, but as Leonard explained, until recent government intervention, often carried as many as twenty (apparently, a few on the outside). Having taken public transport and taxis in several countries, I was prepared for the excitement, else it would have likely been one of the more frightening rides of my life (through which Leonard slept). We zipped along the broken, heavily potted highway at daredevil velocities. How the axles remained on the vehicle is a testament to Japanese engineering and Kenyan maintenance.

Nakuru, alley shops

We arrived in Nakuru, a city of approximately 300,000 at roughly 8:30 pm and switched taxis at a small plaza where a late-night butcher shop and restaurant with live music doubled as a taxi depot. A few minutes later we bumped up a rutted, muddy alley to the exterior wall of a dwelling compound in which Gladys and her family live. We ducked through the bright turquoise steel door-within-a-door and were immediately, warmly greeted by a portion of her immediate family.

Late night conversation was supported by chai (hot milk, water, black Kenyan tea and sugar), “Jambo” brand cookies, and steamed greens over rice. More than simply welcomed, I have been given a comfortable place in the Wakesa family home. Never in my life have I been made to feel so quickly and fully accepted. I hope only that I will repay in full the generosity, time, and care through my work at the orphanage.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:49-04:00August 15th, 2007|2007, Out of Africa|1 Comment

Donations tali …

A quick tali of the donations thus far shows that we have to date received $3404.33 USD and $1200 in solar panels. With my personal, out-of-pocket expenses (airfare, lodging, food), the total U.S. dollar value of contributed funds will be over $7500.

Thank you everyone for your contributions and support! Please note that while I leave in less than two weeks, any funds contributed prior to my departure or during my time in Kenya will be made available to the active projects at the Pistis academy and orphanage through SPAN and Terra Soft.

Thank you!

By |2017-04-10T11:17:49-04:00July 30th, 2007|2007, Out of Africa|0 Comments

Donations received … more welcomed.

I am pleased to have receieved monetary donations from Terra Soft, a Hack-a-thon attendee, the law offices of HKE (our attorney), and my family for a total of $1500. In addition, my high school physics professor, with whom I have remained in touch all these years, today donated 8 solar panels worth more than $1200. My father and I will this weekend build shipping crates in order to bring them to Kenya as checked luggage.

We are off to a good start, but could use another ~$1500 in order to tackle the projects proposed. More donations are needed with just 3 weeks until my departure.

Thank you!

By |2007-07-19T23:38:09-04:00July 19th, 2007|2007, Out of Africa|0 Comments

Pistis Orphanage & Academy, Nakuru, Kenya

Outside My Experience
In my life there are but two events that I hold of true value, experiences that I cherish over all else I have done with my career, family, or friends.

In 1995 I spent a month in Poland, designing and then coordinating the construction of a 2000 sq-ft, outdoor playground for the children of Salmopolska, in the mountains outside of Bielsko-Biawa. As the manager of the project with children and adults from 7 countries, it was an incredible experience of long, hard days, adventure and laughter that I will never forget.

In 2001, I ventured to work at a high school in Oshigambo, a small town in northern Namibia, Africa. I assisted the teachers and students in the reconstruction of their computer lab, helping to upgrade the antiquated but functional x86 computers with what parts and pieces were available, as well as introduce a YDL box and hand-held USB microscope. I gained friends with whom I remain in contact, and a memory of the music and energy that the children of Oshigambo radiate.

This second effort moved me in many more ways than I am able to express, for the witness of true poverty and a nation burdened by AIDS coupled with energetic, eager school children who want to learn and grow beyond their current social-economic confines. An amazing tribute to the human spirit.

Understanding & Respect
In these volunteer opportunities, I fear I am selfish for I may have grown more than those whom I ventured to work with. In my forthcoming time in Kenya, I fully expect to once again be moved in this way, but more importantly, to leave knowing that my contribution initiated a life long relationship through which I will gain a growing level of understanding and respect.

I offer this channel of communication as a means of sharing my time in Kenya. I invite you to explore beyond that which you read in the daily paper and watch on TV –to get involved through research, communication, and contribution– even your own travel to a place that may benefit from your hands, feet, passion, and energy.

Your Support is Needed

[links to the donations pages are removed]

By |2017-04-10T11:17:49-04:00June 26th, 2007|2007, Out of Africa|0 Comments