Thursday, September 20, 2007

Next steps for the project

When the work camp ended, there were twelve rows of bricks above the floor, and fifteen rows along the wall with the chimney. This is more than half way up.

With another $7,500, the building could be nearly finished. The roof work is expensive, and eventually the floors will need to be poured, the walls plastered, and the metal gratings and windows installed -- plus wiring for electricity. Still, for a six room masonry building, the remaining investment is small by U.S. standards. It might be done with a work camp next summer, or with local work camps before then, or partly with professionals.

I've described below some of the workshops that will be offered at this complex. It will also train trainers, who can bring the peace skills to their communities. Already Annie in our work camp has donated a cow, which will generate milk money, and the property still has a good stand of maize that can also be sold. The local AGLI organization has been planning how to get the property to generate income, through rentals of the spaces.

The Friends dedicated to this center have an ambitious vision for the site, and they are tirelessly enthusiastic about AVP. They have merited our support, with energy that makes my activism feel paltry.

Your contribution goes a long way in Kenya. We thank you fervently for your past support, and we invite continued tax-deductible donations to Friends Peace Teams / AGLI, earmarked Amos/Lubao Peace Center, at 1001 Park Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63104.

Thanks & blessings.

Generalizations from the middle of the trip

  1. My amazement at the population density, especially in the rural "up country" areas. In my home region, we too have corn growing absolutely everywhere. But once you drive a couple of miles out of any town center, the countryside is all but empty. In western Kenya, there is no "out of." Every roadway, every lane, everywhere you go, has as many people walking along as you'd see in most Chicago streets. You'd think you've gone to a remote country area, and still there are no spaces where there aren't people going about their business. Kakamega town center has hardly more structures than the 500-person country towns in Illinois, but there must be fifty times that many in the district. That being said, if you ever ask a Kenyan "how many people live here?" there is not even the faintest clue. It's not a class of statistics that Kenyans track.

  2. The ADLs -- activities of daily living -- absorb the day. Water management, especially -- obtaining it, storing it, moving it around your storage units. Food management without refrigeration, cupboards, leftovers. Transportation without cars takes a lot more time -- long walks between destinations. A local pointed out that these walks are the "shoulder to shoulder" interactions that get news spread.

  3. If you were getting electricity in your home for the first time, what would you use it for? Kenyans answered immediately: extending the day. Lights. Charging cell phones! And likely a TV.

  4. Getting the word out to people -- say, about AVP workshops or new churches -- is a challenge because of the illiteracy rate. Traditional media aren't effective. Word of mouth by way of communication nexus points (such as pastors) is the most effective.

  5. Lack of trash collection. See the observations below.

  6. Many eras in one. Kakamega town often looks like the American Old West, with its dusty streets and storefronts. Children live very much like Tom Sawyer -- no running water, no electricity, often no shoes, school and church are dominant cultural and social forces. Market days, like in medieval times. No stoplights! Buildings from the end of the colonial period (1960's) have a unique appearance, but the newer construction also can look run down to the western eye. On the other hand, there are several "cybers" -- office stores with computers for email and web at a dollar an hour, and copying services, etc. And a large percentage of the population has cell phones.

  7. Diesel, wood smoke, burning plastics, trash and sewage are frequent visitors. This area is a fertile paradise with a good supply of water, but the toxins will accumulate unless there are changes.

  8. On Sundays, it's a whole new look. People dress up for church, welcome you warmly, and take joy in their blessings. I noticed later in Dublin that the Africans could barely conceal their impatience with the Northern tendency to quiet immobility in worship -- they feel called to standing, singing, swaying and clapping. Amen.

  9. Malesi's dedication to her organizations (Uzima, women's federation, Friends in Peace & Community Development, AGLI, AVP) is remarkable, as enthusiastic as can be. AVP has kernels of the most constructive and basic recovery aspects of modern U.S. mental health theory, and has the potential to effect the same kinds of familial changes (in terms of patriarchy and violence) as we saw in the U.S. starting in the 50's and 60's. A population that can address the food & health of its children while learning not to brutalize and dominate them may find its creativity to improve life for all.

  10. However, corruption -- bribery, redirection of funds -- is like malaria on this society -- a parasite that spreads from host to host. Once one person plays that game, it is extremely difficult to change the rules, and others have to play along.

  11. It was reported to me by a Baptist missionary that most American missionaries [Baptist, perhaps] are bigots who come to tell these benighted people the right way to live. I didn't witness this, but the stories I heard were appalling. Ignorant American hubris persists.
Hope I don't sound preachy. I'm thinking that feeling like a 2-year-old was probably an asset in this adventure!

Some Reasons

From my journal, some answers to the question "Why did we go?"

My family and I went to Africa to challenge our own fears, to act on our faith that everything would turn out fine (or at least take that leap of faith).

We went so we could chip away at our own ignorance of a whole continent and large country.

We went so we could see how Kenyans really live and worship and work in their world -- contrary to U.S. media portrayals.

We were also motivated by the idea of helping establish peace teaching in Africa. We are both motivated by the Peace Testimony and all of the spirituality behind it.

We went so that we could immerse ourselves in evangelical Christianity and try to become immune to our allergy against some born-again language, which to us can still wound with the hatred spouted by some televangelists and many Christian fundamentalists.

We went to teach our daughters how most of the world lives.

We went to have the adventure of a lifetime.

We went in part to make friends and spread good will, be exemplary humans and true Christians, rather than presumptuous Americans.

We went to serve and learn.


Someone pointed out that I never brought the rest of the family home on this blog! But of course you all know that we've long since returned, happy and healthy. I went to Illinois Yearly Meeting right after the last post, and shared some writing from my Kenya journal. Now that we've had a few weeks to integrate our experiences, here are some conclusions. (I say conclusions, though in our minds this project continues, not only until the building we half completed gets finished, but until the entire envisioned Friends Peace Center complex is built.)

I'll save the journal notes for another blog posting. These thoughts come from reading over the journal and seeing the common themes.

In no particular order ....


Modern construction in most of Kenya is relatively rough -- fired brick, mud brick, metal. In the town of Kapsabet, a gorgeous spot on the western ridge of the Rift Valley overlooking the Western Province, there were a few startlingly crisp brick-face buildings like you'd see in the Carolinas at home -- small, even bricks with perfect, neat mortar, archways over the windows, multi-story, etc. But most of the western style buildings in Kenya seem to date from the end of the colonial period.


We were always offered plentiful food -- much more than we could eat. It took some adjustments, because what we couldn't eat also couldn't be saved for tomorrow because there is no fridge. It was disconcerting to know that our leftovers went straight to the dogs. We had lots of staple starches - ugali (corn meal mush-bread), rice, spaghetti, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes. There would be lentils, stewed beef, whole fish, whole chicken, or sometimes sausages at lunch and dinner. The meats were from the whole animal, not the tender nice bits we've gotten used to -- but most Kenyans do not eat meat every day, that is clear. Usually there would be greens, lightly sauteed chopped kale. And frequently tropical fruits and avocado. Bread and margarine at breakfast and teatime, sometimes with sweet potatoes or little chunks of roasted corn. Sweet Kenyan masala tea made with steamed milk (yum!). Bananas of every size. The girls and I did miss our usual foods, so we actually ate less and less as the end of the trip approached. When I got home, I immediately picked up five pounds, mostly on dairy, which we had sorely missed in Kenya.


Malesi Kinaro's family members were lovely. We very much enjoyed our conversations with Malesi, Bantu and Winnie & Lillian in particular. They were all very tolerant and indulgent of the girls, and taught us a lot about modern Kenyan life.

Toys & Children

In Kenya, if you have a wad of newspaper and a plastic bag, you have a ball to throw around.

Kenyan children are typically quite wary of adults, not just wazungu (white/"European"). We found that it took a lot to get most of them to speak, at least if there was a Kenyan adult around, though some were quite sociable and all were quite fascinated by us. (Some of this could be because mother-tongue is first, Swahili is second, and English is third.) In our AVP workshop, local Kenyans told us of the frequency of caning of children, and though we noticed that children do work and chores from a very young age, we were told that parents typically send them off to be with their peers most of the time they aren't in school. The parents I witnessed seemed to be lenient in many respects, but these may not be typical parents. It seems that relatively severe discipline is still the norm in Kenya.

The Best Gloss On the Experience

Mark noted early in our trip, and this has resounded ever since, that every moment in Kenya is exciting -- even going to the bathroom.

While our host home had a regular flush toilet (the back of which we filled with a bucket when needing flushing), most toilets (I'm reporting on the women's) were squat toilets over a pit or a little porcelain basin built into the floor. The girls adapted really fast. But generally you wind up with pee on the soles of your shoes, which I think is why Kenyans make such a distinction between outdoor shoes (which come off practically before you walk in the house) and indoor shoes (flip-flops).


What we witnessed is a peaceful, thriving area where people live and work and eat and sleep and go to school and church, just like we do at home. But Kenyan elections are coming in December. Candidates have been known to advocate genocide during their campaigns, as a vote-gathering rhetoric. There are still 160,000 internal refugees in the Mt. Elgon area because of ethnic violence there, where many tribes live and none predominate. The AGLI Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities program was developed to reconcile survivors of the Rwanda genocide. While we were there this summer, the first ever HROC was offered in Kenya, to the great excitement of the facilitators. This program gets perpetrator-victims and survivor-victims in the same room, teaches what trauma means, and helps both sides understand that both sides are traumatized by violence. This is one of the programs that will be offered in the Friends Peace Center we have been helping to build.

Conflict resolution, violence prevention, and reconciliation are not the only things needed in Kenya. The needs can be so overwhelming and paralyzing that we have to give ourselves permission to focus on one thing, and let others focus on the rest. So I feel clearer about our support of peace-building projects, even while I know you might be more inspired to help with projects for clean water, malaria treatment, AIDS orphans, micro-loans for women entrepreneurs, and so on. Pick the one that appeals to you, and support it! Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.

Taking It In

In reviewing my journal, I see that I was often overwhelmed by "inputs." All the information coming to me from my daily existence was new, and I had not developed the skills to filter any of it out; I constantly felt like a 2-year-old. I had trouble evaluating conversations, understanding what was expected of me, memorizing names and faces, knowing which new person would be a frequent visitor in my life and which ones I would never see again. I was sensitive to noise, and had to let in a lot of visual information to develop my "Kenyan eyes," which could help me value and distinguish -- "nice" shops versus not-so-nice, trustworthy people versus risky ones. This processing was often exhausting, but it never occurred to me to relax and let it go.


Kenyans don't take the stickers off of things. Drove me bonkers. Mark bought a plastic mug and left the sticker on, just as a memento.


I'll never forget the ingenuity of using a clear plastic hose, full of water, as a fifty foot level.


It was amusing to watch us Americans coping with the different relationship to THINGS. Mark and I were often mentally designing the hooks and shelves that we'd have used to keep our THINGS off the floor. We were all hanging THINGS from the window bars, something I don't think a Kenyan ever does -- to them I bet it looks tacky. The Americans at the Peace Center were also interested in hooks and shelves. Getry resisted this; for one thing, there just aren't that many THINGS to manage in Kenya; for another thing, they could just be set on the floor. Finally, shelves are too permanent and they interfere with the versatility of an otherwise empty space. We all cycled over this repeatedly.

Trash was a natural extension of this difficulty. The Americans obsessively collected their trash into containers. But guess what ... there is no trash disposal in most of Kenya -- no collection, no landfills. So of course you might as well drop it where you stand or sit. We would end up with these bags of trash -- biscuit boxes, Queencake wrappers, snot tissues, tampons, plastic water bottles -- and then have no place for them to go. Either it is dumped on the roadside or a nearby heap, or it is burnt (toxins and all). This was mind blowing, and if we lived there any longer, we would have had to make some big changes. As it is, we have been trying to reduce our consumption and our waste for several years, but we have not yet changed in ways that are really needed.


With the girls accompanying us, I was hyperfocused on having food they would eat and water they could drink. I think if it had been just for myself, it wouldn't have taken so much psychic energy. I am guessing that I may have missed some interesting lessons and observations because of this preoccupation.

Despite all the care and household help, I'd probably be more comfortable and relaxed if we operated our own kitchen and arranged our own meals. Granted, we now know a lot about local cuisine. And running a kitchen would mean buying things at market, another daily function that I did not try to learn this first time out.

Mark was a lot more comfortable with situations that made me anxious. Buying things, paying for services, speaking Swahili -- thank God he was there for us!

We were all grateful to have each other there to "process" with. When I left a week before the rest of them, I felt like I'd lost a limb or two.

Finally, Mark, Miranda and I have all noticed periods of hair-trigger anger this month. We are pretty sure it is related to our travel experience, but not sure how. In part, we were totally disengaged from the pace of American life for a month, and there are aspects that are really a grind. Time constraints, errands/tasks, email, news -- it really isn't a terribly pleasant way to live. I suspect there is more to it that will later be revealed.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Photos available!

I'm back in the States, lots to catch up on, but no time until next week. The family will follow, departing Kakamega on Friday 7/27 and Nairobi on Sunday 7/29, arriving St. Louis on Monday afternoon 7/30. I can't wait!!

I'm doing a fast edit on the photo album before I rush off to Illinois Yearly Meeting tomorrow or Thursday. There are some redundant photos and missing captions that may change right under your browser. Enjoy!

UPDATE: the Angalia Bwana "music video" is uploaded here.

AGLI Kenya 2007

Friday, July 13, 2007

Plans and other farces

If you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans ...

After a great team building AVP, on Friday a week ago we had our first full work day. The foundation had been dug, but off square, so one order of business was to re-dig the bad portions, while the rest of the team moved either 800 or 1000 "bricks", more like blocks the size of four of our bricks, or of a loaf of bread -- we are guessing 7-8 lbs apiece. It took each person some time to determine how many they could carry for the long haul -- down a slope, across the road, up the slope, and several hundred feet down the lane. I started and settled on three, for both days, and was only a little sore on Saturday night. Ana, who is joining our project in the mornings from another NGO, started with five and eventually was down to two. It also took us a couple of hours to organize ourselves more efficiently -- at first every carry trip for every person was the whole length of the run, including those using wheelbarrows (and Robert, a local Kenyan, was using his bike to carry 9 or 10). Later, we walked the bricks down and up and left them there for the wheeled tools to carry them the rest of the level run. Late in the day we also organized our first bucket brigade, to dump pans each with a single shovelful of concrete into the foundation. Without a backhoe, ditch witch, or cement mixer, we only had the 20 pairs of hands and feet, yet I think the work went almost as quickly as it would with the machinery.

On Saturday we worked a half day and finished pouring most of the foundation, several inches of concrete over rough stone "ballast." It was by no means level. This would be taken care of later. Wilson, the local fundi (artisan or skilled mason), is an able site engineer. I can't wait to tell you the ingenious way he determines the level, for laying the brick rows.

On Saturday afternoon, I picked up the cough that had bothered Annie during AVP. On Sunday it worsened into a pretty painful chest cold. I will describe church service at Kakamega Friends Church later -- we went to a youth service. On Monday, we finished pouring foundation and also started filling mortar in between the bricks that the masons were laying. On Tuesday, the foundation rows were high enough to start shoveling dirt backfill against the walls. By then, my respiratory infection was so painful that I only worked in the morning.

On Tuesday afternoon, I had fever and chills. Wednesday at 3am I loaded myself up with every OTC medicine I had, and the respiratory infection finally backed off, leaving me only with a frequent and productive but not annoying cough -- but I was wiped out, and stayed home to rest. Getry had me haul myself into town at noon for a malaria test, which was positive. By then I was feeling so much better (except for the lethargy) that it didn't concern me -- there is treatment here, and the test and meds were under $20 all together. Check the CDC if you are worried -- I'll be fine. But the cough has persisted and I have been unable to work all week. Today (Friday the 13th) I came back in town to see if I might have pneumonia -- it was diagnosed as only bronchitis and I was given OTC-like syrup and a Cillin drug that may be an antibiotic (not really sure!).

This has been disappointing and frustrating, because I've only really given 3 days of the hard work, and I leave after one more workweek. While I've been laying around in bed, the rest of the team has moved another 800 or 1000 blocks in the above mentioned fashion, and another 1000 off a tractor trailer that delivered them to the site. Additionally, they have mortared several more rows of bricks, bringing the building to the ground level, and they have filled and leveled the "subfloor". Remarkably, they have also laid out several inches of rubble stone for the floor base. Concrete will be poured on top, though it is unclear whether that will be this month. But the movement of the rubble stone, many pieces of which are a couple of feet across, has been back-breaking for those who were able to participate. Today they finish laying that floor base, and perhaps will add another row or two of brick.

Having earned it, the team will take an excursion to Kakamega rain forest tomorrow, Saturday. I may participate even not having earned it, but it depends on whether I can get my air again.

At our host home on Wednesday, electricians were there all day with a generator, testing and running the lights in the house (which was wired some time ago, apparently). On Weds nite we had lights and charged the team cell phone! I meant to post the number here, but I don't have the slip with it written down and don't know how to retrieve it from the phone. Miranda and Annie have both received calls from the US, it seems to work fine. But I digress -- if my Dad is reading this, the electrical outlets are England standard with the three prongs, a vertical at the top and two sideways rectangles forming a triangle across the bottom. Given this, WHY is it okay to shove the point of a pair of scissors into the top one while plugging in the two-prong cell charger?? I couldn't bear to watch while this was being done by our house helper, Sammy, but he survived and the phone got charged.

Mysteriously, the lights weren't run the following night. Maybe we need petrol -- unfortunately Sammy speaks only mother-tongue and Swahili, so only Mark can make us understood and only for brief exchanges. Of interest is that they also got a generator running the lights at the Peace Center, at least for the main room.

So, as in many areas of my life, my lesson is humility and dependency, dashing the idea that I have any real power or control over the localized portion of the Plan. Things happen here in a very different way -- instead of making and keeping plans like we do at home, the possibilities all coalesce around us for a day or two until suddenly we are Doing Something, right now!

More when I can!....Dawn

Thursday, July 5, 2007

No email out

Quick update -- all the email I'm composing from here is being rejected by the destination addresses (we look like spammers from here). We can read your emails -- Thanks! -- but not often send you any. Please tell Friends, friends, and family to stay tuned to this blog site for updates, and that we are enjoying your support.

Settling in

OK, so I didn't get to the point of the posting title "Teeming with angels" last time. The idea struck me during the bus ride from Nairobi to Kakamega, because there are so very many people to be seen every kilometer of the way -- nothing like when we leave a US city and soon find ourselves in countryside with no pedestrians for miles. The bus driver was pretty aggressive and we figured we were the fastest thing on the road, and nearly the largest, as this was a Greyhound type bus. With that speed, with avoiding pot holes, trucks, vans, cars, wagons, bicycles and pedestrians, disaster seemed imminent at every point along the way. And yet life goes on with comparatively few disasters. It seemed to me that the heavier the population of humans, the greater the requirement for angels to touch our shoulders and keep each of us from crashing into the next, physically or otherwise.

This idea persists as we are learning about daily life in the vicinity of Kakamega. There are passenger cars and trucks around, but a lot of the transportation is by matatu mini-bus and bicycle taxi, and it is constantly crowded. During our ride to the Peace Center yesterday, as our matatu driver was leaving the gas station that serves as depot, he collided with another matatu, breaking a lamp lens. The girls were frightened, but it soon became part of the ordinary chaos we are learning to accept each day.

Our AVP training was marvelous, primarily because it united us as a team with our local Kakamega area work campers. Half are young, around 19-25, but several are older, including Hungayu who is about Mark's age. Hungayu is a tall man, balding with a graying fringe, warm with kind eyes. In an AVP role play yesterday, he played the beseeching wife to myself, the traditional African husband who was irate at our "daughter" (played by Cheloti, a male in his 20s) who came to tell us "she" was pregnant out of wedlock. The scene was played and explored for ways to end the conflict nonviolently. Marlena and Delia loved the skits.

I feel like an ignorant child -- I lack the most basic skills that every child of walking age has learned. All my life I have turned on the tap and pure water has come out. This literally never happens here. Each day, rain is collected in a 1000 liter plastic tub from the gutters, or after a dry spell the cistern is filled pail by pail from a well that is down the hill about 20 yards, by hired help at Malesi's. We in turn fill buckets from the cistern -- I cannot yet lift a full bucket, though many Kenyans smaller than me can manage it fine. We bring the water into the bathroom, which to our fortune has a standard toilet, whose back we fill if we need to flush. (At the Peace Center where Miranda stayed the first 5 days, there is an outhouse with concrete squatting holes.) In the washroom, there is a smaller container that holds maybe 8 gallons of water. We dip from it using a plastic pitcher to wash our hands. Also to our great good fortune, there is a fired oven at Malesi's that constantly is heating or boiling two ~3 gallon aluminum pots of water. From these we can dip a pitcher or two, add equal or more parts of cold, and teach ourselves how to shower/wash with pitchers. It only took a couple of days to figure out that you invite a helper to pour if you are washing your hands, and I pour for the girls when they wash their hair -- otherwise, we can pour reasonably well for ourselves for a body wash and rinse. But the warm water is a real blessing, and I don't know yet if they've been providing it at the Peace Center, where the other 3 Americans are staying along with several of the Kenyans.

This seems so selfish and trivial compared to our mission here, but learning these skills is taking a bit of time! In the case of both the Peace Center and Malesi's home, the house helpers do most of the meal preparation and cleanup. Just in the past two days, Mark and I have been helping in the kitchen. Malesi's daughter Winnie has been our host and teacher this week -- we would have been completely lost without her. She leaves today to return to Nairobi, and Malesi arrived this morning. Winnie was also one of our AVP facilitators , so we have been able to process our days with her in the evening.

There is so much more to say about the training experience and our Kenyan team, but I've already been sitting here for a half hour. Stay tuned :).

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Teeming with angels

What an odyssey so far -- travel in 8-10 hour chunks -- Carbondale, St. Louis, DC, Rome, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, then ten hours by bouncy bus to Kakamega, with fifteen bags to manage along the way. But we have been cared for at every turn, and have landed at Malesi's home near Kakamega. Tomorrow we start 3 days of AVP with the whole Peace Center team. More soon!

Monday, June 18, 2007

To Our Friends and Family,

On this blog we hope to update you on our experiences in Kenya this summer. As part of the program of African Great Lakes Initiative, we will stay 4-5 weeks to help build the Friends Peace Center in the western part of the country. The center will have multiple buildings. So far, one is nearly complete. The center is already offering workshops based on the Alternatives to Violence Project. The programs provide reconciliation, conflict resolution, and community building skills. We feel that these programs have the best chance to limit violence in Kenya and the other African Great Lakes countries, perhaps preventing a future genocide.

We are heading to Washington, DC on Thursday 6/21 for visiting and AGLI orientation. On Monday 6/25 we depart on a 16 hour flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, arriving in the late afternoon on Tuesday. We stay overnight, then catch a morning flight on Wednesday to Nairobi, where our work camp team will be met by Malesi Kinaro. We will probably spend the day/night in Nairobi, and on Thursday go by bus to Kakamega and Lubao, the site of the work camp.

We are humbled by and grateful for your financial and spiritual support of our work. Marlena has already had her first lesson: "People are SO GENEROUS!" We have been packing what will become five suitcases of clothing and supplies for the Lubao community, items provided by many of you, in addition to the monetary contributions.

We believe that 32 individuals and 6 groups contributed goods, money, or both, for a total of over $6,000, but the final figures aren't in, and it's never too late to help. You can contribute up to $100 (tax deductible) at the AGLI web site, noting AGLI/Amos/Kenya in your designation.

Thank you again.

Here we are in 2005 in Sanibel, Florida.