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Arriving in Africa

Arriving in Africa: By Nyla Rodgers

Dancing with the women of our partner community in Kambi Garba, Kenya.

A week before leaving on this trip to Africa my best friend’s mother told me, “When all the other little girls were make believing they were princesses your were busy pretending you were in Africa.” After hearing this I started to think back and realized that I always had a fascination with Africa.  I remembered that I wrote my first grade essay about Kenya. I remember using my grandpa’s atlas to trace the outline of the country and drawing the mane of a lion like a sun with an orange crayon.  And in 1986 when I was 7 years old and Paul Simon came out with “Graceland” I would belt out the song “Under African Skies” and imagine all those stars and think “someday I will see them.”  So it was no surprise to me that 20 years later when I first stepped off the plane in Nairobi,  I felt like I had returned home.
This is my 6th trip to Africa and ever since that first trip in 2006 I continue to fall deeper in love with the culture of this incredibly beautiful continent and people.  I feel like each year my heart must expand so that it can fit all the love I receive and give as we travel to all our different partner communities.
This year I am traveling with Amy Vaninetti, Mama Hope’s Operations Director and Bryce Yukio Adolphson, Mama Hope’s Visual Journalist  and so far we are having an amazing time.  During the next two months we will be visiting all of Mama Hope’s seven partner communities across Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana.

Playing with the students at Ngeya Primary

This is Amy’s second trip with me  and it is so fun to be traveling with her again. She is constantly glowing and bringing warmth to everyone she meets.  She feels like I do that a part of her heart has always been here in Africa.
We are also traveling with Bryce who is on his 5th trip here documenting Mama Hope’s projects.  Everyone knows him and his camera.  His Swahili is almost perfect and when we arrive to a community immediately people are calling his name.   He will be busy documenting all of our adventures with his beautiful photos and video.

Bryce in action with partner Rocky Muuri in Maai Mahiu, Kenya.

For the next two months, each of us will take turns writing on the blog.  We are not just going to be sharing project updates we will be posting our personal stories, funny times and crazy adventures.  So stay tuned because as we’ve learned  the unexpected is always expected.
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Portraits of the Drought: Mwambia

– Bryce

Photos and Video by myself and the Trainers of Trainers, my student group at Wind of Hope.


Isiolo, Kenya sits in the Kaisut desert in East Africa. The area as a whole is currently going through the worst drought in years. Water and food relief have become precious commodities and tribal conflict a regular fixture on the news. I’ve done my best to convey the following within this context.

Mwambia Kiunga, a spoon carver in Isiolo, Kenya.

Mwambia Kiunga, a spoon carver in Isiolo, Kenya.

Mwambia sits in the sun waiting. He shifts his toes in his sandals and wears a faded Muslim kufi on his head. A tired looking brown jacket covers his small frame while his kneecaps poke from behind his trousers.

He’ll tell you he’s 100 years old, but he was born in 1930. His home is a small wooden shack about 3 kilometers from where he’s currently sitting at in the Wind of Hope (WOH) community compound. He enjoys telling war stories and is originally from a good sized town about a 45 minute ride south, called Meru. It was a town of local shops and farmers which have recently given way the Kenyan equivalent of Walmart: Nakumatt.

Looking at him it’s a bit difficult to dispute his claim of 100. He already looked older than Africa when I first met him three years ago. Not much of a dent in his time frame, but his smile of recognition tells me it doesn’t matter. We’re here together again in Isiolo.

We shake hands, smile and try to work up a conversation through my broken Swahili. “Yes, I’ve returned. I’m happy to see you as well. It is very hot. You’ve walked all the way from your home today? How is your home? “ His smile is cheerful, but his eyes are a bit far and watery. Something’s on his mind.

Mwambia is a bit of an indicator here at WOH. When things are well, such as when the HBC (home based care for people living with HIV/AIDS) food distributions are arriving on time (or at all), he can be seen walking near town selling his hand carved wooden spoons. When times are bad, he’s usually sick and bed ridden. A year ago we had to break down his front door to save him from an accidental self-imprisonment. He hadn’t eaten in 3 days and was too weak to unlock his door for help. The amount of clothes he’s wearing makes me think of this; jackets upon jackets when the sun is blazing. His body can’t handle much.

It’s because he’s an indicator that his presence here today has attracted attention. Khadija, the Program Director, and a few others come and sit around us in a circle. He opens up immediately.

For the past week thieves have been coming into his home and stealing his food distributions.

“Everything,” he explains, “my food, my flashlight, my blankets. They’ve come and taken them all.” he pauses, shakes his head and narrows his eyes to the sun. “They are too strong. And they say they will come back. They say: We will come back again and again.”

He goes on for another ten minutes giving details that are not translated. Needless to say his audience is fuming. Angry words dart back and forth. “To where? …took it all? You haven’t eaten in five days? You know who they are? Your neighbor? We know that house. It’s not far at all.”
Before long the group splits. The two men, Nassir and Rojeb shake their heads and wander off in thought. Khadija storms off into the compound and back out again.

“Imagine,” she starts, “they steal from him! What does he have?”

My answer would be a few plastic water containers, a beat up wooden bed frame with a blanket, some rocks for cooking on, a pot and a photo of him with his son taken some 13 years back.

Khadija holds a hand to her chest as if quailing a fire, then goes on.

“They have even come in while he was having an asthma attack. What can you even do? Taking from an old man like that. They just come and take it from his hands. What can he do? And now that they know he gets food relief, how can we stop it?” She pauses and looks away from me, “But it is also because of starvation… This is a very bad signal. When people are like this, they can even start killing each other for food. You know not long ago a lady was killed for an avocado.”

Mwambia's home in the Bula Pesa neightborhood of Isiolo.

Mwambia's home in the Bula Pesa neightborhood of Isiolo.

Ten minutes go by and I’m sitting next to Mwambia again. He’s being put together a care package. Some rice, beans and spinach. To my left is Nyla, she seems overwhelmed by the situation isn’t saying much.

“It’s very bad. I’m sorry.” I say to Mwambia.

“It’s in God’s hands,” he responds.

Lunch is ready and my conscience is starting to nudge me because of it. We all get plates of warm corn boiled in salt and milk. Mwambia refuses his and pulls down his bottom lip to show teeth worn to the gums. We quickly get a few bananas and some porridge which lights him up.

The three of us sit for awhile eating. It’s a bit difficult. I feel like I should hide my shameful plateful, but I can’t exactly not eat. Beside me, Nyla is silently dropping tears into her plate.

Mwambia finishes the porridge and eats a single banana. He puts two more into a torn plastic bag, diligently wraps up the fruit and hides it away in the folds of his jacket.

“You don’t want more to eat?” I ask.

“I’m full. If I eat too much now…” he makes the universal sign for throwing up.

It’s not long before Khadija appears again. I’ve seen her this way before and I fear for whoever is in her way. She starts to gather a small posse; two men and two women.

The ambulence leaves the compound. (Photo by Mohamed Adan)

The ambulance leaves the compound. (Photo by Mohamed Adan)

“They come at night? We’ll be there at night. It has happened five times. It must stop,” she says to Mwambia. She fires up the ambulance and everyone piles in. “We know where they are. We’ll find them, throw them in the back and drag them to the police station.“

She sticks the engine in reverse and plows out.

______

5 hours later, later the vehicle pulls back into the compound. It’s missing most of the posse. Khadija climbs out looking like she’s carrying a fifty pound weight on her back. Nyla catches Khadija as she heads inside.

“Did you find the thieves?” she asks.

“Yes, we found them.” Khadija responds softly with a tone of dejection. She takes off her shoes and heads inside.

_____

Around 9pm we finally get the rest of the story. Khadija is sitting on her living room couch. The dim turquoise of the solar lights cast a tiring tone on her and small shadows creep out from corners reminding us that it’s night now and Mwambia has long gone home.

“Who are we?” she starts, “This afternoon, we had looked at Mwambia and imagined: I don’t want someone to do that to me when I’m old. So we got there ready for a fight with young strong men. Rogeb was angry. But when went in the home of the thieves what we found was a family of five. These children with swollen bellies and tiny legs. The mother’s breast was just skin with a baby on it. The man sitting by the door was so weak he couldn’t get up. He just looked at us and shouted, ‘Khadija! You’ve come! We stole the old man’s food. Have you brought us some more?”

She shifts uncomfortably in her seat and continues, “We were so ashamed. Rogeb said nothing. He walked in circles like he didn’t know us… he had no words. We asked them where the old man’s belongings were. They replied that they sold them for food.”

“We said, ‘where is the blanket?’”

“’We sold it,’ he said.

“I wish you knew how much for, Bryce. It was for 40 shillings.”

“That’s about 50 cents,” I say to Nyla, “Enough for about half a kilogram of rice or 6 bananas.”

I watch Khadija adjust her skirt again as she goes on. Her left middle finger can’t bend due to the ligaments being severed during an attempt on her life. She’d caught the machete blade in her hand. She doesn’t strike me as someone who is easily caught off guard.

She goes on, “The man said, ‘Why should we leave food when there is food there at the old man’s. I will steal as far as I can walk and that is as far as I can walk.’

“We didn’t know what to do, so we went to town to buy food and brought it back. I tell you, they were down on the ground eating. Rogeb had to shove food in the man’s mouth and help him because he was too weak to chew. And then, there were people coming to their gate saying, ‘let us eat with them!’ It was crazy.”

She paused for about a minute before going on.

Mwambia Kiunga recieving a Ramadan food distribution from Salim Yassen.  (Photo by Salat James Sunday)

Mwambia Kiunga recieving a Ramadan food distribution from Salim Yassen. (Photo by Salat James Sunday)

“Sometimes to the local people, they think our community project manages everything: AIDS, turmoil, food. It’s not so good. We cannot manage it all. How do you choose who gets food? I’ve seen a baby sucking a dead woman. How do you choose? …but at least it’s not as bad as 1984. God should not let us see that again. That wasn’t drought. That was death. People couldn’t even fight. They just sat and glared at each other. They boiled hides to eat. You could not find a rat anywhere.”

Without warning Khadija’s cell phone rings, erupting her ringtone into the room. It’s playing the Elton John song, Sacrifice.

It’s a human sign… when things go wrong… when the scent of her lin-

Khadija silences her phone and looks at her caller ID. It’s Esha, the woman managing the health clinic. She was also at the home today. Khadija discards the call.

“She’s been calling me all night,” she says, “asking me what to think. What to do with herself now that she’s home. She’s saying, ‘you’ve been here long. You know.’ But surely, who am I? Why do I know? I can’t tell anyone what to think. I just tell her, ‘You do something positive. You sit with your children and appreciate them. You create something. You make something good with what you have. What else can you do? I’m not God.”

______

Isiolo river some 30 kilometers from town.  Until recently, this area was the main water source for nearby villages and wildlife.

Isiolo riverbed some 30 kilometers from town. Until the current drought, this area was the main water source for nearby villages and wildlife.

Two weeks later, I’m in a cab with a driver named Abdi. He’s about my age and has family who were relocated from Somali refugee camps to England and the United States. He tells me about how he had lived in the UK for a year posing as his sister’s husband, but was found out and sent back. He’s now been in Isiolo for three months.

“London wasn’t so good. It’s was too cold. I’d find my death there,” he says.

We pull onto the main road. Bikes and hawkers pulling carts of water dart out of our way. Up the road a beaten up semi-truck pulls out of a gas station. Under its flapping brown tarp are a few hundred 50kg bags of soy and wheat powder. On each bag is the red and blue USAID food relief emblem. It reads: From the American People.

“Where are they going?” I ask.

“They are headed north to Wajir. Some 200 kilometers. It’s very far. The drought there is so bad,” Abdi responds.

He jerks the cab off the road to let 2 eight-wheeled military vehicles pass. Their engines seem to be the only real noise in town today. It’s hot and everyone is moving a bit slower than usual. Dust billows across vegetable stands and into the cars windows. Not a single bit of shade has been left unoccupied. The cab hops back on the road.

“It’s quiet here today,” I say watching a herd of goats pass by.

“Yes,” he says, “it’s very hot and the town is quiet. We’re all starving and no one wants to talk about it.”

____________
To read more of my stories from our projects, check out my personal blog at:
neitherherenorthere.org

Where it all began

Bernard and I, 2006

This originally is a letter that I sent out to my friends and family but I have been urged to share it on the blog as well.

-Nyla

As I write to you I am sitting on the porch of my hotel in Kisumu. This is the same hotel that in April of 2006, I shared a dinner with Bernard and talked about his dreams for the future. So much has changed since then. First, Bernard is no longer a boy but a man whose dreams are now within his grasp. Second, this is now my fourth time in Kenya and instead of it just being 3 months after my mother passed away it has been years. And it is only now that I am truly starting to understand how I ended up here in the first place.

I am here in Kisumu. Where it all began. Where 3 months after my mother died I came here to meet Bernard, the orphan that she sponsored. Not really knowing why but just following my instinct that when I got here things would fall into place. And they did to a certain extent. I met Bernard, learned about the project that my mother funded at OLPS-Neema that helped hundreds of women and out of this experience sparked the inspiration for Mama Hope. But what I have learned now is that this really is just the surface story. There is actually so much more.

A couple days ago, while driving with Bernard and Anastasia, the founder of OLPS-Neema, I asked her to tell me a little bit more about how my mother contacted her. She said one day in 2003 she just got a call from my mother and in true Stephanie Moore fashion, she just launched into her pitch. “Hi, I am Stephanie Moore. I am Bernard Olando’s sponsor. I want to help the young women in your community who are losing their parents to AIDS to become self sufficient? I saw a special about this on TV about how these women end up needing to take up prostitution to support their siblings and I want to help prevent this. You see I have a daughter and I hope that if anything happened to me she would be able to be self sufficient…and so on…and so on…..etc.” Once Anastasia could get a word in she told my mother that it was her dream “to start a program to teach these women how to run their own businesses.” Then she told my mom how much she needed to raise to start it. She said that my mother answered confidently, “Give me two weeks!” And so began a wonderful relationship where my mother would call Anastasia, ask her what she needed, then raise the money from her friends and send the funds to Kenya to help these young women.

Time went on and at the end of 2005 Anastasia got a very different call, “Anastasia, I have some bad news. I am very sick and I don’t think I will be around much longer. But I have a daughter and I promise that she will not abandon you and Bernard.” This was the very last time they spoke.

Anastasia told me that she had a beautiful picture of my mother who she said looked like a very young woman and so she thought for sure that the daughter must still be a young girl. She said that after that call she just prayed for the girl; that her whole community prayed that she would be alright. She told me that she wished to bring that girl into her home and care for her.

So four months later when I called her she thought it was a miracle. And a few weeks later when I showed up at her door in Kenya to meet Bernard she was so shocked to see a young woman who looked so similar to her picture of Stephanie Moore. She told me, “you know when you arrived and you were crying, and my whole staff was crying too. It was tears of joy because we knew that you had made it home.”

I want to point out that up until now I KNEW NONE OF THIS. My mother never told me of her promise to Anastasia. I didn’t go to Kenya to fulfill some destiny. I just saw it as an opportunity to meet Bernard and escape from my life in California and everything that reminded me of my terrible loss. Little did I know that what I was escaping to would eventually be the thing that healed my grief.

I remember now how I felt when I showed up; totally defeated and hopeless. The day before I met Anastasia and Bernard for the first time I was sitting on the porch of this very same hotel by myself. Cursing the universe. Asking why the hell I was in Kenya? How could my mother’s death ever have any meaning? How was I ever really to have faith again? I did not know that it would be renewed the very next day by meeting the people that my mother helped and inspiring me to create something so special in her absence.

090822.OLPSgarden060web

The Women's group during a drip irrigation training in 2009

So today, I am meeting with Anastasia to launch a garden in her community to honor another mother, named Rita Rose. Through Mama Hope a young girl named Mimi Rose contacted me who also lost her young beautiful mother to cancer and decided to fundraise in her memory. The Rita Rose Garden is going to help 100 women, (the very same women my mother helped, who are no longer girls but now mother’s themselves) have a sustainable source of nutrition for their children.

And in two weeks Bernard begins Medical Training College. We were so excited when he got the call with us on Saturday and learned that he was the only student accepted from his high school and that he also got a $1,000 scholarship. I know my mother is beaming with pride!

Bernard and I, 2009

I have no idea why I woke up this morning to write this to you. I think I just wanted to share that the universe works in strange ways. People might leave us but it seems that love is something that can connect us beyond the boundaries of death in the most miraculous ways and that sometimes when you think you are completely lost you are just on another path home.

Taking time with the kids



“To the children St. Timothy’s has been a refuge… for safety and to feel relieved from the pressures of the day, from the pressures of the night. …the school has been the place to run to for security and safety and for hope.”

James Nathaniel, Headmaster St. Timothy’s, Founder Tanzanian Children’s Concern

It’s easy to approach a group of playing children and take their happiness for granted. It was in my second week at St. Timothy’s when the schools headmaster opened up about what the school really means to the children and the community. He told me, “these children are the happiest when they are in school and during their break they are just counting down the days until they can return and be well taken care of.”

Last week, the students finished their finals on Tuesday and had the rest of the week to play and celebrate while their teachers corrected their exams. Up until this point we had been occupied with community meetings about launching the new school and had not spent time with the children. Fortunately, the end of their exams happened to coincide with handing off the project to the community, which gave us time to hang out with the students.



To help the teachers out we decided to hold a field day where we did every relay race we could think of. The next day we taught the kids different songs and dances. I went way back into my head to remember every song that I learned at summer camp. We even taught them how to do the Macarena, which was a huge hit. By mistake while I was dancing I started a conga line (for the big kids)/ choo choo train (for the young ones) that took over the whole playground.

The last day before their break, we played every game under the sun until we were so exhausted and the kids settled down for story time where Lucia recounted the plots of Sleeping beauty, Aladdin and finally Lion King. They sat there mesmerized. You could have heard a pin drop.

St. Timothy’s school is a special place. By taking care of the most vulnerable children in the community it gives these children a chance to have a childhood. During their break they might be faced with the realities of their situations, some will have to go to work to help a sick parent care for their family. Some who were so dependent on the meals they got at school will go hungry. But after the break they will get to return to school and be kids again.



Many times I get so wrapped up in the work that I have to do during my field visits that I don’t get enough time to spend with the communities that Mama Hope supports. I am so happy that I had this opportunity to be reminded by the children how important it is to just laugh, dance, sing and play. It allowed me to remember why I started this organization in the first place.

Yours in hope,

Nyla

Busy with the World

-Bryce

Traveling again. I’m racing along the tarmac in a taxi with James, a 17 year old back at Pepo for a break from Secondary school. To my right is Goolo, the cab driver. Not a word had been spoken in 20 minutes. We all know the deal. We’re headed to Kambi Garba.

Part of what I’m doing at Pepo La Tumaini is helping to fill in the gaps in their capacity. In this case they need photos. APHIA II EASTERN, the East Africa branch of USAID, has required photos for all the children they give Antiretroviral Aids medicine to. A seemingly small demand, except Pepo doesn’t have a camera. Nor do any of these 899 children have photos available. 28 are registered in Kambi Garba. Not bad I thought.

This is my third trip to Kambi Garba in four days. It’s a small dusty dry village with nomadic tribes. Thorns tangle around dirt yards, hiding dilapidated shacks and the occasional camel. Residents are largely Borana, Somali, and Turkana. None of whom have the friendliest history toward one another.


The first journey resulted in five photos of registered children and 15 photos of children who have been orphaned since the registration list was made. Some street kids threw rocks at us while we got a tour of the local water sources.

“Trash water” Sarafina Kamaro calls it. She’s a community Elder and our contact in Kambi Garba, “Look, it’s full of trash.”

It is. Isiolo river travels through a military base, several villages, then town before here. The water has a stink to it.

“We drink the water, then we get sick. Stomach aches.” She goes on.

“You don’t’ boil it?”

“No,” she answers looking back at the mile walk to her home.


She takes us to a small spring in the side of the river. It’s tucked away in a rocky hole only small enough for a small water bottle. A young girl of about 8 sticks her hand in the hole fills the bottle and empties it into a 10 liter jerry can weighing about 30 pounds when full. It takes awhile.

A day later, the second trip resulted in four photos. Only one of them from the register.
I’m remembering all this when the cab swerves to avoid a herd of goats. Goolo doesn’t flinch. He just turns up the radio. Somali music, I’m thinking.

About 30 minutes after leaving Isiolo town we arrive at the end of the tarmac. This is where the road ends in Kenya. From here it’s dirt roads all the way to Somalia. Small buses shoot like bullets out of the desert leaving dust like vapor trails.

It reminds me of a friend in the U.S., a Somali refugee. He told me with a chuckle, “After the soldiers had killed my family I walked to Kenya. Then they told us to leave. So I walked to Ethiopia. When it got bad there, I walked back to Kenya. You can never take a car! You’ll get shot!” He had the biggest grin on his face.

But the present is different here and construction has begun again on the tarmac. Large hills of gravel and sand loom over a newly leveled path fading into the distance. Children wave from atop the mounds. The Kenyan government is extending the road to some nearby tourist destinations, safari parks and the like. For a while longer, the road still ends in Isiolo.

James and I get out of the taxi and pay Goolo. He nods and speeds away.

We go down some small dirt paths off the main road. They wind to and fro. The thorn fences rise and create a tunnel over us. We have to walk in single file.

“They are called Panya routes. We are panya here!” James lets out with a smile.

“Panya?” I ask.

“Rats! We are rats.”

A tattered looking woman stands roadside as if waiting for us. We ask her for directions and she takes us the rest of the way. Sarafina’s home is a bit of an orphanage. Five women saunter about doing various chores and tending to children. There are near 20 children in various states of disarray. A good number of the Kambi Garba youth are in school, but these children are simply around. They range from 6 months to 10 years. We exchange greetings and start going over who is left on the list.

Selina Nawatan: Nomads School
Shadrak Ekidor: Moved to a different district
Zainabu: Lives in Shambani
Christine Engngiri: Lives in Shambani
Lokale Goko: New Life School
Akuta Ngoko: Has gone on a journey
Kebo Akwara : unknown…

10 more are living in Shambani, a small village just across the river.

“Can we go?” I ask.

The yard erupts with chatter. Women with babies on their backs and hips, old grandmas who can barley walk, a drunken woman from the street jumps in the fray.

“They will not take us,” James translates. “They say the people there are so much for money. They say to forget the children there and just take care of the ones here.”

As I surmise and later confirm with the Chief of the area, Kambi Garba and Shambani have a long standing grudge. No one is clear why, but I’ve grown to suspect water issues. Whatever the problem, they’re not taking or letting us go there.


After taking about 10 photos, we hear yelling from a group running down a road 100 feet off.

“Wait here,” Sarafina lets out then runs off leaving us with a drunk woman demanding I take her photo.

James and I guess it’s another illegal alcohol raid. Walking through Isiolo town this morning, we caught glimpses of some police raids at some local changa huts. Changa being the Kenyan equivalent of moonshine. It’s cheap and poisonous. I know of at least one person who used it to commit suicide.

We eventually make our way to the confusion. Someones cut a camel with a machete. A Turkana man has slashed the leg of an eight-foot camel. There is an angry crowd and some official looking individuals. The camel sits on the ground bleeding. Another stands by its side chewing lethargically. Three weeks later I find out the man who slashed the camel meant to feed his family with it.

A child from the list is at the scene. Another picture taken and name crossed out.

Half an hour later, James and I are walking down the tarmac. We’re heading to New Life. A primary school a kilometer outside of Kambi Garba. We need a photo of a single attending student. The sun beats down and we share a water bottle.

“So what are you doing after school?” I ask.

“Where or what?” James responds.

“Both.”

“I’d like to be… a doctor or a journalist. Yes, I’d very much like to be a journalist!”

My ears perk.

“Yes. I’m even secretary in the journalist club at school. I love it very much. …I’m very interested in people from everywhere. Ai, those journalists get to know things. They are always so very busy with the world!”


A police wagon roars down the tarmac. It’s carrying several of the people from the camel incident. It kicks up dust and we’re alone again.

After another ten minutes we reach New Life School. The gate is chained. Dried plants line the fence. Inside it’s a ghost town. Dusty and empty.

“You. Is the school open?” James calls out to a child milling about near the road.

“Closed,” the kid responds.

“Closed for everything?” I ask.


James gives a questioning shrug, looking a little hopeless. We stand there for a moment soaking in the sun then head back to Kambi Garba.

Sarafina explains she’ll arrange with the child later. We then find out the ride we expected isn’t coming. And we haven’t enough for a taxi or bus. It’s about a eight kilometer walk back to town. We’ve hitchhiked before, but it’s just police and army vehicles today. Not ideal.

A little ways down the road a hulking tour bus rolls by. It’s a 12 wheel, 20 foot high, yellow and green vehicle. More commonly used to help the army traverse rivers. The tired looking tourists look down from a high.

20 photos down 879 to go. I know I’m not going to finish taking the pictures. And I know Pepo won’t either. The occasional volunteer might have the camera and the time. Each of the 899 children need a daily activity report as well. That’s 899 pages a day from a largely illiterate community.


James and I walk past the construction at the end of the road and back towards town. We spend most of our time talking and dreaming of cool milk or water. We go back and forth about whether soda is good for quenching thirst. But neither of us really care what we’re going find in town. Really anything would do.

Caregivers

Posted by Bryce

The rocks make the path look more like a riverbed than a road. The ambulance and its five passengers clunk along at 5 miles per hour. We occasionally smash our heads on the roof and windows. Seated in the front is Fatuma, a Home Based Care giver; next to her is Rupert, a volunteer from England here at Pepo La Tumaini Jangwani (Pepo) for the second time; in the back snuggled amongst our cargo are Peter and Raphael, two Orphans living at the Pepo Transitional Living Camp; and myself, just another volunteer today, but in my head a photojournalist without a camera!


The boys and I joke, as we clunk along to the directions from Fatuma. She is from the area we are headed. It is a small section of Isiolo town, where a number of people suffering from HIV/AIDS are interspersed throughout the community. Fatuma is one of 79 Home Based Care givers aiding Pepo to provide food and care to those incapable of helping themselves. In the month of September alone, the volunteer based organization was able to provide such care to 794 individuals. Today is just a fraction of that. It’s also an example of the context this care takes place in.

Already drawing a large crowd, we stop in front of a dilapidated wooden fence and exit the back of the vehicle. I hop out and the boys start to hand me the small bags of supplies we’ve prepared. Rice, wheat, flour, cooking oil, sugar and a few others are all tied neatly into clear plastic bags. There is no mistaking we’re delivering a fair amount of quality food. In the eyes of onlookers, it is food that’s going to someone who would or should have been died already. We’re getting as many glares as curious and excited glances.

This communal divide, acceptance of Pepo’s mission and anger over their use of resources has been with the organization from the beginning. Whether with angry religious groups in the past or local law enforcement in present. Not a week prior, a police officer was voicing this to Pepo’s Director, Khadija O. Rama in front of a 14 year old boy with Aids. “Why do you help them? They have Aids and deserve to be dead already,“ he criticized, speaking loudly enough for everyone around to hear.

Looking into the crowd now, I get the feeling that the same sentiment is running through some onlookers. Fatuma’s curt actions and lack of eye contact seem to confirm this. We carry the parcels of food to a wooden gate. Before we enter, a woman dressed in a torn black shirt approaches us and angrily asks, “Na meme?” Meaning, “and me?” Fatuma ignores her and I follow suit. Inside are two rectangular homes and lying between is a small shack. We’re greeted by a woman in her 20’s. She chats with Fatuma in kiswahili. Then, like the clumsy American I must look, I drop a bag from my tower of food. It explodes on the ground showering the dirt with dry beans. I give Fatuma a shameful look and let out, “ pole sana.” “Very sorry,” a phrase I’ve learned well. She gives me an indecipherable look and disappears into the shack. I sheepishly help the young lady blow the dirt off the beans and land then in another bag.

The inside of the shack is dark and cluttered. A bed lies on the side on which an elderly lady props herself. She’s thin, ill, and anywhere from 85 to 300 years old near as I can tell. We greet with a handshake and talk as Fatuma translates. She explains her name is Khadija as well and doesn’t know her age. She’s been in Isiolo for more than 40 years and calls it home. We’re not sure where she has come from. It’s a short conversation. Khadija takes a breath and gives us a tired smile. Fatuma gives me a glance and it’s time to go. We exchange goodbyes.

Back at the ambulance the crowd still lingers. The boys open the back and I climb in. Laughing, Peter says something in kiswahili while pointing outside. Raphael translates, “You want ride on the outside of the car? Hold on the back?” I give them a smirk and egg them on. “You want me to?” I get up and make to open the back door. In unison they jump up and shout in a half laugh, “No! No! Don’t!” They realize I’m joking as well and laugh. “Don’t do that!” Raphael tells me, “ You’ll get stoned!” I raise my eyebrow and they giggle. The vehicle jerks forward and clunks along. Raphael stares out his open window, then closes it tight.

We make several more stops, including one to an exuberant woman in a wheelchair living in a complex of about 40 Borana men seeming to be getting ready for mosque. Eventually we run out of food and return to the Pepo compound for more. A number of the transitional living children and home bases care givers are organizing and packing food in a concrete sitting area. They laugh hurriedly as O. Rama teases them with orders to hurry because people are hungry. It’s during this time that I realize the emotional contrasts. At any given location we can be a welcomed sight or a hated presence. One moment, I’m being told off by a girl of around 15: the next Nasir Mohammed, the program coordinator and Christopher, a Danish volunteer speed by. Their motorcycle chugging under the weight of its food parcels. They wave, then zip around a corner, which immediately erupts with a herd of panicked goats. Five minutes later, I’m meeting another grateful recipient. It’s all a bit of a blur.

But it’s easy to understand why a food distribution can cause such varied welcomes. In Isiolo those living below the poverty line vastly over shadow the 10 percent Aids prevalence rate. So deciding who receives aid is a complicated matter. Each individual receiving home based care must go through a rigorous application so someone else can decide whether Pepo is able to support them. Indeed, it’s not as if Pepo has this food regularly. This distribution only came when an organization operating under USAID, delivered the food supplies. Without meeting the informational requirements Pepo wouldn’t be able to help the individuals at all. So the question of who gets support is always so simple to ask, but difficult to answer. In a poverty stricken area like Isiolo, it’s hard to discern those with wealth and those who have only the will to obtain the resources to help. Of the 794 home based care recipients, this day’s shipment will reach less than 40 individuals. It’s a figure that is sometimes hard for the community to see. Pepo isn’t saving the day, it’s just helping to get through it.

Dealing with this situation is a regular routine. It is just more pronounced when Pepo has to make such a large appearance. But in the end, we exhaust the supplies without much incident. Our day now over, the ride slowly ends. Peter and Raphael stick their heads out the windows to shout and wave at some schoolmates passing the vehicle. I’m tired and wary of the fact that we have violated the Ambulance donor’s usage agreement. It is to be used to help children and the sick to the hospital, not help them in general. We stop in the middle of a deserted road and Fatuma hops out. We open the back door and hand her the last of the remaining bags. Wheat, flour, beans, rice, sugar, cooking oil, salt, and a small box of tea bags are her incentive for the past month of home based care work. “My home is near” she informs. She gives another indistinguishable look, then lets out a sly and knowing smile. I realize all my revelations today are just old news to her. Fatuma heads off and so do we.

Of Service and Self-Reflection

Working for Pepo la Tumaini is as much about service as it is about self-reflection. The work gets to the core of you: who you are, what you’re made of and what needs improvement. It calls for self-sacrifice, for selflessness, for letting go of one’s ego, and this is not an easy process. Yet it begs the question: “How can we serve others if we cannot first forget ourselves?”

Our young British friend, Rupert, was with us for a couple of weeks. During that time he had a birthday and the Pepo community prepared a coming of age ceremony for him and all of us wuzungu. The event seemed to sum up what working with A Wind of Hope is all about.

We were led together in long robes, staffs in hand, brought through an extremely boisterous crowd of Turkana grandmothers singing and dancing with the orphans yelling and screaming and swinging their staffs and sticks in our direction, as if to scare us back to childhood. We were told to sit cross-legged on the gazebo floor as the young men charged us again and again, pretending to strike yet coming inches from our foreheads. Then, the young women served us tea and circled around us in a sort of playful flirtation, brushing their hands across our heads. We were not to make eye-contact with them.

Rupert was then placed at center stage. He was given two cakes and told to choose one. One represented his past, one his future. Rupert confidently snatched his past and tossed it aside. “Why did you throw away your past?” asked Khadija, as if she knew not only the answer to the question, but why that answer would be wrong. “I need to look forward,” said Rupert, a little unsure of himself. “Yes,” said Khadija. “We must look forward. But we can never forget our past. If we are running from battle and someone is left behind, will we forget that person?”

Rupert was then asked to cut the cake he had chosen. He diced it into small, bite-size pieces and was told he must serve it to the assemblage. He circled the inside of the gazebo, offering the platter to each and all. Some politely took a piece of cake. Others did not. “You must serve all of them,” said Khadija, calmly. Rupert returned to the ones who refused to eat. He tried again. One young boy shook his head. Rupert tried again. The boy shot his mouth up in disgust. He tried again. This time the boy got angry and made grunting noises. Rupert tried something new. This time, when he offered the platter, he did so on his knees. The boy took the piece of cake.

He then began to feed the Turkana elders, but Khadija scolded him: “You cannot offer the platter like that to them! You must show proper respect.” So he bent a little, and offered the platter with both hands, head peering downwards. This time they accepted.

Others he had to sit with; with some, he had to leave the piece of cake behind; still others required the utmost love and patience. The message was simple enough: Along the path of service there are many we will come across. Some will accept our work with gratitude, others will refuse, some must be paid a certain respect and others will need tact and patience. A simple lesson, yet infinitely profound. This is what coming of age is all about: in our childhood we only look inward (what do people do for us?). We are very selfish and dependent. Yet, when we reach adulthood we must begin to look outward. This is the true meaning of becoming an adult: turning from selfishness to selflessness, from dependence to servitude.

On my last day in Isiolo I received a final lesson from Khadija. A few days earlier we had spoken. I was feeling a lot of stress and pressure at the time, striving to fully train and prepare the two community banks before I returned home. Khadija told me not too worry so much, that I can easily “get caught up in the world.” I pondered this: “Get caught up in the world”… I wasn’t too sure what that meant. Then, on my last day in Isiolo, shortly after I woke up that morning, I was meditating on what she had said, reflecting on the past couple of weeks and how I had been so single-mindedly focused on my work. I realized that I was neglecting the more important duties: Saying my proper goodbyes, laughing and playing with the children, drumming with the men, sitting and chatting with the women. Basically, spending time with the people I was purporting to serve.

As soon as I discovered that insight, I said my goodbyes to Khadija. “Thank you for your service,” she said. “We appreciate all you have done and hope you will return someday.” “But,” she continued. “Don’t forget the small things, Jordan…. The people.” I was amazed. She had completely confirmed the realization I had just arrived at. Indeed, in order to serve—just like in the ceremony—we must be patient and loving, placing more emphasis on the relationships than on the actual work. How could Rupert have ever offered that cake without first establishing trust with the people he was serving?

I left Isiolo pensive yet satisfied, knowing that my service had been meager but that I had learned a great deal. God willing, next time I can put into practice some of what Khadija and the people of Isiolo taught me.


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