Category Archives: Africa

Leap of Faith

Four years ago I was in Africa, celebrating the birthday of this dynamic girl named Faith:

 

I wonder what she is doing now…

That trip was part of a leap in my own life…in some ways more than one and, typical of me, I landed kind of funny. Nothing broken but a little wrenched out of shape with a pulled muscle here and there.

The trip was an impulse…I had visited the village in 2011 and intended to go back in 2013 or 2014 in order to space out our visits. My son and I were part of an organization, somewhat connected to our parish, doing “mission” work in the village. We had visited in the spring of 2011 and James, my son, had spent the fall of 2011, after his college graduation, volunteering as a teacher at the very new Secondary School and managing  several projects related to starting a community library and procuring books and supplies for the school and library, related to the Millennium Development Goals.

Going back so soon was not in our game plan, however, some folks in the group, most notably the woman from that village and her husband were going to attend a harambee she had arranged to support “girl child education”.   I was not particularly interested in the harambee, although I support the idea of funding education for girls and doing so within the community instead of outsiders coming in and dictating outcomes, the politics that were involved left me frigidly cold.

However, the library was desired by the community and needed a boost at that point in time if it was to continue to exist. So I went, along with books and money to buy books selected by young adults from the community.  (I sometimes think that fiction is the only way to tell the truth…someday, if I ever get things figured out enough in my own mind, I may try to write a novella about that “ministry”.)

Since 2012 was my fiftieth birthday year I decided to give myself a short safari as part of the trip. It was only three days, but they were the most incredible days of my life. It was also the reason why I bought my Nikon L120…and subsequently decided to learn more about taking better pictures.

If only I knew then what I know now about using the camera and composition…

The safari was time apart. I went on it alone. While my son accompanied me to Africa he went straight to the village with a hundred pounds of children’s books we had brought from the States, the books purchased and the librarian who had come to Nairobi to help select books.

Traffic jam in Nairobi Kenya.
“The Jam”

The return to Nairobi was to get caught back up in the tangle of confusion that seemed to always be a feature of doing what we did in Kenya. The “jam” is a good metaphor for it. That is what they call the traffic there. The whole city seemed to be near stand-still as people inch along. Vendors walk in among the cars selling newspapers, fruit, etc. We once saw a hand drawn cart passing all the motor cars as it wove in and out of the lanes.

When we got to the village things slowed down, okay “speed” isn’t quite what was happening in Nairobi. Maybe it would be better to say “the stress eased up”. A very few images of “typical” village experiences:

Again, I really wish I had known then what I know now about photography and composition.

One thing I had hoped to do when I started this blog was to explore my African experiences and play with the pictures from that trip. To try and digest the raw experiences and find meaning. I did not plan on that being my last trip, but I have now drifted into other responsibilities and projects.

When you take a leap sometimes you don’t wind up where you expect.

Leap

The Picture’s the Thing

We are so selfie-ish!

I saw an article in the newspaper this past week, likely you saw it too, of a man who had killed a lion with a bow and arrow. The product that came from that hunt was a picture. The lion was not endangering folks, the meat wasn’t eaten, they didn’t even stuff the lion for a museum or use his body to study lions. The man showed skill, got a thrill and they took a picture.

The world is full of shock and outrage, I feel that too. But I also feel disturbed about our society. Trophy pictures of folks with their big fish, or deer, or even lion are nothing new.

Here’s the thing:

Isn’t the trophy picture the origin of the selfie? Now, sometimes, it feels like we live our lives in trophy picture mode. We are all shouting: “Look at me! See what I did! See where I am? See who I am with?” at the top of our lungs (figuratively speaking, since we usually are posting on facebook with the thump of our fingers).

It disturbs us when someone takes the egotism to the next level.  Big game hunting isn’t new, in fact my distress is because I thought it was old hat, and we were, as a society, beyond killing a big, beautiful, majestic animal to take a trophy picture. That we had moved on in our understanding about animals and the complex diversity of life “on this fragile earth, our island home”*. That we no longer feel like everything was put here just for us. That we are stewards of creation, not petty dictators.

Isn’t the whole selfie craze a form of trophy hunting?

I went on a three day safari at Masai Mara in Kenya a few years ago. It was pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming incredible. I took many, many, many pictures…and posted some of them on facebook. I couldn’t resist sharing!

Seeing lions was a real high point of that trip (Masai Mara is famous for lions) and I took about a hundred pictures of lions, but I didn’t feel a need to be in the picture. The most awesome, amazing, incredible experience of my life and no selfie! Does that mean I wasn’t there?

KSM20120213-Selfie-ishLions-04-480px
I was there!

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Game of Groans.”

* From the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, used by the Episcopal Church in the USA.

Body Language

Learning a language is hard and it takes a lot of time and practice to master nuance. Not only that, but you can’t learn every language you might need. I would like to understand non-verbal communication better. A few times I have been in situations where there was no language cross over.

In Africa with people who spoke Kikamba and in China the language spoken had no kinship with English. In Europe most of the languages have at least a few words that make one feel like there is a connection. In both Africa and China, while it is true that younger folks have mostly some familiarity with English, older people (my age as opposed to my son’s age) often don’t have any familiarity with it at all, so I can speak as slowly and clearly as I want but nothing will get through.

Yet somehow with pointing, smiles, exaggerated facial expressions, along with charades, and the occasional drawn picture. many things can be communicated. I would like to be better at that.

I have had a few adventures where my, I like to think anyway, above average language skills in my native tongue have not helped me at all. Where being better at reading people and non-verbal communication would have been way more useful than fluency in the wrong language.

One of the more recent was last year and is outlined in my Let’s Go Fly a Kite post.

Harambee.
Harambee.

In Africa one happened having my hair washed. Mama Munini, our hostess, had arranged for the woman who washed her hair to come and wash mine (for the exhorbitant cost of ~$2). I just wanted it washed, it was in the 90-100 degree F temperature range and after traveling from Nairobi in a very full minivan (driver five passengers and a bunch of luggage, a harambee (tiny church very full of people), and walking about a fair amount for two days with only a wash basin of water to clean with I longed for a clean head.

Mama made the arrangements but had to go off and left me with a lovely lady who scrubbed my hair and scalp cleaner than it has ever been before. I thought we were done.

But then she rubbed in conditioner and carefully bagged my head up in black plastic to let it work.  When she rinsed that out I thought we were done.

But then she started to braid my hair. Since I had no way to communicate to her that I didn’t want braids I called to my son to go and get my supply of elastic hair thingies. I looked pretty odd but it was WAY cooler to have my hair in the braids which I left in for the five days until we returned to Nairobi. I wish I had been able to communicate…but then I would not have been as comfortable.

Munyoki family.
Munyoki family.

A similar situation occured when I went to visit Mrs. Munyoki, specifically Mama Elijah (Mr. Elijah is featured in Reward). I was to meet Mueni (Elijah’s sister) at the elementary school and go with her to visit her mother. I got to the school and she wasn’t there. Not sure quite what got said to whom but I was sent off, as it turned out cross country, with a fourth or fifth grader. He took me through peoples yards and gardens to Mrs. Munyoki, the principal’s wife not Mama Elijah (there are quite a few Munyokis in Mulundi). She understood where I was headed but insisted that I eat first. The rest of my party (including those who could understand) somehow found me there, where I was not supposed to be, eating fresh chapati so hot that they burned my fingers. We all went the last couple hundred yards together, and had to eat again with Mueni and Mama Elijah. I never was quite clear what happened…oh well.

It would be so nice to somehow understand, and yet I treasure these memories of times when I didn’t and somehow connected with people.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Take That, Rosetta!.”

Blur

This is one of the first pictures I took with my (at that time, 2012) new Nikon L120 camera. I dropped it as the shutter went off (fortunately) it was around my neck so it kind of rotated as it fell.

I was going to delete this picture when it occurred to me that it was a perfect representation of all the things swirling around in my head and into my suitcases as I packed for a quickly decided on trip to Kenya.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Blur.”

Big Point of View

The first wildlife I saw at Kichwa Tembo was these elephants:

Elephants.
Elephants.

I got really excited going through my pictures that evening to find that these same elephants were in the top photo, one that I took as the plane was descending.  These photos are a few years old, but I thought the difference in point of view was interesting. I seem to have Africa on the brain lately, this is my third post in a week from that trip.

Young Teachers

Hello to you mum, thank you for your uptades.At Nairobi all is well still pulling up my socks in all matters concerning my life. Thank you mum for your concern, i really know that my success is your success too. plz tell my brother that i have got and appreciated his regards.

James with "his kids".
James with “his kids”.

My son is a teacher. That is not the course on which he started out, his degree is in marketing. His first gig was to volunteer at an embryo of a high school in a village not far from Kitui in Kenya. He was there for three months and taught business, English, physics and he invented a PE class to help the kids get their blood flowing between all that book work. At 22, with no experience, he was the only teacher who had a university degree.

The note above is from a young man who was a student at that school. Life in Africa has many challenges and Alex’s story illustrates a few of them. James was not Alex’s teacher, but they were friends. He noticed that Alex was not in school for a while and discovered that he was ill with Malaria. It did not just affect his attendance, and performance in school. Since Alex was working to pay his way through school he was subsequently sent home because he could not pay his tuition. James scabbed together a scholarship from his own funds and asked me to sponsor Alex’s last year in high school. This allowed him to finish school. Although he is a bright young man who worked hard, his marks were not high enough for college. But he now has a job. He sends money home to his mother and helps pay his younger brother’s way through school.

I am proud of both my sons: James for taking the initiative to help his friend, following the path of untold numbers of teachers around the world going above and beyond the classroom; and Alex for “pulling up his socks” in the face of a very challenging set of circumstances.

Digression about Malaria: Maybe I am exceptionally ignorant, but I didn’t realize until then about the high cost of malaria for people who have it and do not die. They are sick, often very sick, on and off for the rest of their lives. How many kids drop out of school from lost time and never get the somewhat better jobs available to those with an education? How many people who have the illness wind up losing pay for missed time or even their jobs? The lower standard of living means less nutrition which makes people less able to fight and recover from the bouts of malaria and other illnesses, These are not statistics I have seen and may not be even possible to measure, but they are real effects of the disease.

There are other teachers from that school I want to talk about. The school was chaotic and disorganized and had a corrupt headmaster provided by the government. These young teachers were often not paid on time and sometimes not at all. The headmaster did not provide the text books paid for by the government so these teachers often had to be creative to teach the students. They worked hard, provided as stable setting for the students as they could and held things together. None of them was over 25.

Mr. Elijah teaching.
Mr. Elijah teaching.

At the time James was there the school was in large measure held together by a young deputy headmaster, Mr. Elijah. Mr. Elijah had only a high school education at the time he was holding things together. He was about 20 years old and he dealt with everything from buying food to counseling pregnant teens. His enthusiasm and joy are infectious and probably why many of the students stayed in school. It is he in my Reward post.

Moses Kyando and James.
Moses Kyando and James.

Mr. Moses Kyando was a primary school teacher who came (he actually commuted by long distance running) from a village about 5 miles away.  He could have worked for more money, and more reliable money at that at a location nearer his home but he came because he loved the students. He became deputy headmaster when Mr. Elijah went off to college.

Mrs. Munyoki
Mrs. Munyoki

Another dedicated teacher who held things together was Mrs. Munyoki. She did not have as flamboyant a personality as the two young men but she was always there. It was harder to get to know her as she had a young child and was not able to socialize with us after school hours.

The villagers eventually got together and ousted the corrupt headmaster and a new, very competent headmistress was brought in.  Now the school has textbooks, floors in all the classrooms, a lab and, soon, a library.  Things have really come together, but the school would not have lasted long enough to flourish without the dedication of those three young teachers.

Mr. Elijah graduated from Kenyatta University in December and Mr. Kyando is a student there now.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “We Can Be Taught!.”