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.