Friday, March 20, 2009

Greetings from Hot, Dry and Dusty Makindu . . .

The long rains are due to start any day . . . they say. They are unpredictable so people do not plant until actually see the rain.

I have scheduled some goat raising training for 54 guardians at MCC. They have never had any formal training and our hope is that the training will help them be more aware of how they need to improve feed, disease control and housing in order to gain increased production from healthier animals. I made a site visit day before yesterday with the District Vet Officer to the best goat raising site out of the guardian group (their choice). We found 7 goats and 4 sheep sharing the same small pen, the goats were visibly infested with fleas and tics and the pen was heavy with animal droppings . . . all not a good environment. They have been raising all livestock the same way "forever" according to Chege, the vet officer, so culture change is our major hurdle. Our role is to provide the information and training, the guardian's role is to make the necessary changes. I can only be hopeful. As happens more often than not here, we have had to reschedule the training at least once. We are now scheduled to start on April 2nd, we have scheduled nine sessions of two hours each. The guardians seem very interested as they all showed up early the day we were supposed to start . . . that is unusual . . . meetings sometimes start here up to two hours late. If the rains do come, we may have to reschedule again as the guardians will be planting their shambas (farms). We will wait and see . . . Livestock ownership, mostly cows and goats, is a sign of wealth in Kenya so that is why everyone has or wants them. They may have no money but they have goats. Goats are also their savings account. The problem with this cultural norm is that they sell the goats only when "times are tough" and tough times normally happen to a large percentage of Kenyans at the same time so the market price for goats or any livestock drops significantly and their "wealth" is diminished often twofold. Changing this cultural personal financial practice will take much education and time. Language is a bit of a barrier but I am working with and through the MCC social workers who speak Kikamba (the mother tongue here) they also speak Kiswahili and English! Some communication gets lost in translation I am sure but I can only hope it isn't a lot. The social workers are young, just out of college, so they understand the cultural barriers but are not tied up in them.

Our shamba at MCC is currently producing sackfuls of tomatoes so it is a great treat to have them with lunch now right off the vine, virtually, with hot chilis and onions!!!

I had one large (30) community group join my "tupa taka taka hapa" trash, clean up project this morning. We will work together every week now. One other group is supposed to join us next week. I am excited to see if we can make a difference. I need to contact the Marketing Directors for some major companies here to see if they want to donate trash bins, I think I mentioned that before. I think people might respond better if they had a place to dump their trash besides on the streets.

The community is currently having a major outrage over the water company billing rates. They have had one community baraza (meeting) and have now scheduled another after they drafted a letter to the local officials and the water company. People's bills are four to five times what they should be . . . MCC just received a bill for 23,000 shillings, our normal bill is around 5,000 and the pattern of water usage here has not changed. People cannot afford this and most are not paying . . . so we will wait to see the outcome of this. You cannot live without water so the situation is getting desperate.

Yahoo has been very unreliable here for the last month, so if you have emailed me and I have not responded, please be patient. I still only have access about once a week. Thanks to those who write, it is always great to get a letter. It sometimes gets a little lonely but I am happy and working hard.

My best wishes to all!!!


Saturday, March 7, 2009

It's Saturday . . .

I'm working at the center today, as I do every Saturday, and have access to the computer today - so I'll do a little update. This week I had the experience of working with one of the social workers in the field to try and locate two (twins - boy and girl) of our sponsored children who have been attending school rather irregularly. The way we find that out is due to the neighbors who noticed that the kids would leave for school, stash their uniforms in a bag, then head for who knows where, but not for school. Then they would change back into their uniforms to come to the center for lunch so we were none the wiser. Thank goodness for good neighbors. We tracked both children down, on foot, eventually, one was actually at home preparing food and the other was miles away at her sister's house (a 16 year old, pregnant, primary school drop out!! nice example) watching the house while her sister did who knows what. The kids have reported back to school with the promise to attend regularly - we'll see. We spent half a day walking to find them both then speaking with the deputy at the school they are supposed to attend. They avoided the usual discipline of caning - I said how about giving them a break just this once. They are orphans (mother died of aids) father is not responsible, so they are cared for by an elderly grandmother who can barely see - not a good situation. The shelter they have is poor at best and I would guess the best and maybe only meal they get is the one from the center every day. They are beautiful kids, smart and I hope they make it. Education is their only hope. They are both in Class 4 - primary school. You really have to pay attention because the school has so many kids (1400) they really cannot help track down the ones who choose not to attend so they get lost in the shuffle. I hope these kids do not continue to be influenced by their older sister, she is a very BAD example for them. Anyway . . . there are lots of cases like this.

Water . . . there was a community meeting this week about the cost of water. My Kiswahili teacher gave me an example of his escalating bill - it has gone from 1300 shillings per month to 16,000 - unaffordable even for someone with a good teaching job. One grandmother said her bill has gone from 300 shillings per month to 13,000 she stopped watering her banana trees so they died and the children (orphans again) have no fruit to eat. The District Commissioner has also been affected so there will be something done - he says. We will see. Something has to happen because no one can afford to pay their water bill. The water company in Makindu, at least, is a government/private partnership - it started two years ago. The managing director, I am told, drives a big fancy new truck, while his customers cannot afford to pay the escalating rates . . . where is that money going? People just aren't paying or they are paying a portion so their water won't be shut off. I hope some relief will come soon. Fortunately, my water is included in the rent . . . so far!! But I am very conservative with usage - it is a prestious commodity here.

We have a gang of bad "young" men in Nairobi called the Mungiki . . . I am not sure that they get any press in the US but they are disrupting public transport this week. They are enforcers or something like that . . . they force duca (store) owners to pay or they decapitate them, I am told. Sorry for that graphic . . . this week the matatu (public van transport) drivers refused to drive because of their threat. Not a good situation but they are not in Makindu and I hope they never are!!! I am not a fan of travel to Nairobi so I go only when Peace Corps calls a meeting - the next one is in April for a few days. Everything will be OK - you just go your way and mind your own business.

I have been working in the shamba (farm) at the center - we grow a lot of our own food. They cannot believe that I actually enjoy it but I do. I have my own rake and I borrow a jembe (hoe) from the "guys". I weed and water. It really is "relaxing" but it is a lot of work and I get very dirty. Hauling water is heavy and tedious but good for the biceps!!! We grow bananas, avocados, mangos, kale and 4 other green Kenyan vegetables, oranges, tomatoes, onions. I suspect their are 5 acres or so. The maize crop failed because of no rain so we are also growing "grass" for cow feed - I think we are planning to get a dairy cow eventually. But for now we can sell the grass to other farmers.

Tomorrow is National Women's Day in Kenya - not sure if that is a world event or not. I think they have to have it on Sunday in Kenya because that is the ONLY day the woman don't work from sun up to sun down - they get a break to attend church. I will attend the event after church with Erin (the other PCV in Makindu) and see "what's up". It should be a good one.

I am continuing my Kiswahili lessons . . . I hope someday I can actually speak some fluent sentences. I know a lot of words but their sentence structure is so different from English that I struggle a bit with putting it all together. But I study 2 to 3 hours everyday and am putting forth great effort. It will be great to speak Kiswahil then I can learn Kikamba which is similar and the language that the people I work with actually speak most often. Kiswahili is the national language but each of the tribes have their own tribal language and I am in Kamba land.

That's the update . . . good health and continued good happiness to all!!!

Love from Paula

Monday, March 2, 2009

Here's What's Up!!

Currently we are experiencing fewer days with water and electricity. The government has increased the price of water to discourage use. It has become unaffordable for some. The water and electricity so off and on irregularly now; you just never know so you always have to plan for no water. Electricity is easy to live without - rise with the sun and retire with it (kind of). The weather here has been extremely HOT and DUSTY. We do get a little breeze in the late afternoon which helps.

Things are good at the children's center, money is very tight due to the world financial crisis, donors are fewer and money flow slows. Currently school exam fees (yes they charge you to take a test!!) are due so money appears to be a daily challenge. It is ow even more important that the guardian groups I am working with become more self-sustaining. Food is becoming more of an issue every day.

February 25th I did a flip chart presentation on pig farming as a business for a group of guardians in a rural area. Pig farming could be a very good business for them if they can get over the initial investment hurdle. Unfortunately, they are more concerned with feeding themsleves and the children currently vs growing pig feed. But I am giving them ideas to help them think about the future focusing on less water dependent income generating activities. Water is always an issue regardless of what you are doing. We are also focused on more drought resistent crops.

I am expanding my trash project (Tupa Taka Taka Hapa) AKA put your trash here! We worked
today 2/27/09 with a group from the County Council. We (3 volunteers) picked up trash, they lit the fires to burn it. It's a dirty project but one that can make a difference. I hope to get funding for dust bins (trash receptacles) eventually. It will be a complete culture reversal to make Kenyans in Makindu believe they are responsible for disposing of their trash in a receptacle other than the road or ditch. I commited myself to trash pick up volunteer duty every Friday at 10:00 a.m. Nairobi has big fines for littering and their streets are better so it can work here in time, I hope.

Today, March 3, I am sending 22; 11 by 17 poster entires to PEPFAR (HIV/AIDS)in Nairobi. The U.S. President's Council on HIV/AIDS Relief is having a contest with the theme Celebrate Life. 36 of our children (some in groups and some individually) drew posters based upon this theme following an educational presentation on HIV/AIDS prevention. HIV/AIDS information is presented here at a very young age usually in their second year of primary school if not before. Their school system here is nursery, class 1 - 8 then form 1 - 4. Most children finish 1 - 8 a very small percentage move on to form 1 - 4 (basically high school) mostly due to cost. Secondary schools (form 1-4) bid for the best students. Schools send out letters inviting students to atend, you must receive a letter in order to atend secondary school.

I am scheduled to attend a 3 day language emersion workshop this month. It will be a great learning experience.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ALL MARCH FAMILY BIRTHDAYS !!! Lewis, Duston, Luke, Tyler, Carter and Chase.

More soon, I hope . . . love and good health to ALL!