Saturday, July 29, 2017

Nearly home

We're almost home, over the Poconos and will be on the ground momentarily!

Friday, July 28, 2017

We made it safely to Qatar. Now we have a 9 hour layover and then a 15 hour flight. It's going to be a long next day!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

On our way home

It's Friday morning here in Nairobi and we're on our way to the airport. Nairobi traffic is among the worst I've seen, so we left at 6:00 for what should be a half hour ride for an 11:00 flight. With traffic, it'll probably take 1&1/2 hours! We'll have plenty of time to sleep on the combined 20 hours flights getting home!  But it was all worth it - what an awesome trip!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Our last day at Gituamba

Today marked our last day of construction activity. Since we have an early flight from Nairobi to Qatar and then home, we need to spend tomorrow night in Nairobi. We'll make the four hour trip tomorrow with a few fun stops on the way, including the Amani Ya Juu women's empowerment gift shop and the Rothschild Giraffe center.  

Today, we had activities going on on several fronts. We had individuals spending time in the school classrooms reading to the children and others out on the fields playing games with them. Some final painting work happened on school windows, and painting of windows and and filling in of gable panels was done on the church building. This church building to me has been one of the most dramatic changes in this community. Here are pictures of the church building (inside and out) that existed on this site last year when we went to Gituamba. 

Last year, you can just see the steel and stone for the new church being constructed. Although I don't have a good side view of the church now, you can get a good idea from these pictures of the inside and the front. And the pictures of today's concrete work show the area at the rear of the church.  This will become a storeroom and pastor's office. What a great transformation and fantastic facility for this community! 

We had a large portion of the team working on pouring the 26' x 20' concrete pad on he back of the church. This was an opportunity for us through SWOK to hire some of the community residents to do the concrete finishing work. We had purchased a concrete mixer last year for the concrete work on the dining hall, and we were able to use it for this job. It has also been used extensively this past year for other concrete projects. We had a full crew of people filling and hauling buckets of sand, stone, water and cement to make this job happen. We had a tired, dusty and dirty crew by the end of the day, but everyone had a great feeling of accomplishment for all the work that was achieved and relationships that were reestablished in this great community. We look forward to going back again next year!

Musings on life in Kenya - A repost

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS A RE-POST OF AN EARLIER BLOG I WROTE DURING OUR TRIP IN 2014.  It is a summary of reflections I had during that trip and is no less valid today than it was back then. 

"Being in Kenya makes you reflect on your own life and the blessings you experience.  I have purposed to not take life for granted, which is so easy to do. And sometimes it's the little things, not big earth shattering differences. Please don't get me wrong: I don't in any way intend to use this blog to lay a guilt trip on you.  But it's a way for me to journal and get my thoughts in perspective. At home, there are so many distractions, it's often hard to hear God speak. Here in Kenya, it's much easier.

One thing I have never really spent much time thinking about is life expectancy. On Tuesday, I was working with the Kenyan laborers making a ladder for working on the top of the wall, and I got talking with my friend Rufus about age. I asked how old he is, and he told me to guess. He has three daughters , age one and a half to nine, and he is probably close to 40, although he never told me.  One of the Kenyan workers offered that he himself is 45.  He looks nearly old enough to be my father, but not quite! And I'm 62!  Life in Kenya is certainly hard. I don't think that this man is an exception. For the vast majority of Kenyans, every day is an effort to just keep going, and it's not like you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And yet the majority of the people we see and meet are joyful. It's hard to explain. But a few nights ago after dinner, a friend, Chief Francis Kariuki, who is chief over a large area of Kenya, spent time with us. In our group meeting, he addressed the subject I had been typing about just before dinner - he echoed that life in Kenya is hard. But he also gave the answer of how the Kenyan people can be joyful in spite of circumstances: "by the grace of God".  Kenya is largely a Christian nation, as ours once was. I like to think that ours still is, yet it's sometimes difficult to find enough evidence to prove it. Christianity is constantly viewed in a bad light in the press and is the faith that is easiest to pick on without being criticized.  And yet it is their Christian faith that allows them to find joy where others would find none. 

Last night, we had a discussion about the standard of living of the people we see on the street.  You constantly see people trying to earn a living in whatever way they can; many haul hundreds of pounds of dirty water in jerry cans, either on their back, head, bicycle or motor bike, to sell to others.  Many more carry mountains of sacks of charcoal in the same way, since this is used by everyone to cook their food over small open cookers, and they have a ready market for the charcoal they make from raw wood.  Many more set up whoever they can find to sell fruits and vegetables, whether at a small stand or with their produce spread on the ground at an intersection.  We asked Sam, the Kenyan project manager for SWOK, what people could hope to earn from their endeavors and whether they could earn a decent living.  His answer was hard.  He said their hope is to earn enough to feed their family for THAT DAY.  No planning for tomorrow, no putting away something for a rainy day, just trying to survive for that day for themselves and their family.  That's a hard reality.  We are so blessed that we can plan and save and put away for tomorrow.  We actually have something called "retirement" that a lot of Americans look forward to. I wouldn't even be surprised to find out that there isn't a Swahili word for retirement. I'm embarrassed to even ask. 

Another thing I know I take for granted is recreation. The only forms of recreation I have seen in Kenya are playground-type activities for the young kids (home-made hose hoolahoops, soccer ball or jump rope) and a soccer stadium in Nairobi. There is the evidence of some fun activities for the kids, but not much for the adults. Again, I wouldn't be too surprised if there is no Swahili word for "leisure". I cherish my weekends and time off, and it gives me something to look forward to during the work week. I'll try not to take it for granted. 

It's a real rarity to see a Kenyan who is overweight.  Food is a precious commodity, and I've never seen it wasted here. I try not to waste it either.  But at home, it's everywhere. If I want a snack between meals, I have a myriad of choices.  I have never wondered where my next meal is coming from. EVER! I've never in my life gone to bed hungry (okay, maybe there was that once when my parents sent me to my room without dinner for acting bad, but you get the point!). I'm a billionaire when it comes to comparison with the average Kenyan, and my food pantry and refrigerator prove it.  I am amazingly blessed, and I don't want to take it for granted. 

Another necessity of life that's easily taken for granted has been emphasized to me both this trip and last year: clean water. We think nothing of drinking water from the tap, swimming in a pond or stream, taking a shower and letting the water run in our mouth. In most of Kenya, you wouldn't think of it. I haven't seen a stream that isn't flowing brown, dirty and nasty. We are fortunate to be staying in a conference center that has an expensive, complex water purification system, so we are able to drink it or shower without concern. But this is an unheard of luxury for the vast majority of Kenyans. Their digestive systems are more accustomed to it than ours would be, but they get typhoid, cholera and dysentery just like we would if we drank it.  And they have no choice. That is, until some organizations like SWOK and others started addressing the problem. There are organizations that have dug wells and put in water purification, but these can only have a limited area of influence, and they must be maintained to keep them running properly. SWOK has chosen to address the problem on a local, personal level.  The filtration kits that they train people to use and give them for free will provide clean water to them and their family for the rest of their life! They will each produce over one million gallons of clean drinking water by gravity with no ongoing cost or effort except daily back flushing with a small amount of the clean water produced.  SWOK has been distributing these for four years, and they have demonstrated significant reduction in waterborne illnesses in communities where they have been given away. They are truly making a difference here in Kenya, one life at a time."

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Second day of construction at Gituamba

Tonight's post will be very brief, since it's been a long, tiring day and we're beat! It was another great day with a lot accomplished installing and painting windows at the church, painting windows in the dining hall and installing wall panels for the kitchen exterior walls. Tomorrow will be an intensive day of construction, with finishing activities on the above-mentioned projects as well as pouring a large concrete pad at the rear of the church. I'll get a bunch of pictures up tonight (although I have none from the work at the church since the crew didn't slow down to take pictures!!) and will try to type more commentary with tomorrow night's post. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

First day at Gituamba

It was a great day! We had the opportunity to go back to the Gituamba settlement, where we have had the blessing to work every year for five summers. It is amazing to see the transformation of this community. The first year we came, it was a cluster of homes in the vicinity of a barn that had long ago seen better days. There was no school: the kids had to walk more than 5 kilometers each way to go to school. Some people were still living in tents, several years after escaping genocide and being placed in an IDP camp (internally displaced persons) by the government. Some lived in the old barn under tarps or corrugated metal sheets, anything to find some shelter and escape. They lived among the chickens and rubble. Their future looked anything but positive. We have been eternally blessed to play a small part in this transformation. We've helped to build sanitary facilities (eco latrines), built classroom walls inside the barn during its transformation into Gituamba Jeanette Keaton Conley Memorial Primary School, serving more than 500 children. Last year, we poured the 28' x 60' concrete floor for a school dining hall and began construction on a church for the community. This year, we're scrapeing and painting windows in the dining hall and installing glass, putting up steel wall panels for the newly constructed 20' x 28' kitchen for the dining hall, cutting walls and installing windows in the church, and hopefully pouring concrete for rooms on the back of the church. This is in addition to all of the social activities of playing games with the kids, reading books to the kids and having them read books to us, etc.  It is a great time of reestablishing relationships with friends from prior years. It is such an encouragement to see how this community and individuals are prospering and growing into community. And another exciting thing that I thought would never happen is that electrical power has been run into the community pass the front of the church and right to the school! This community has hope and a future. I will put as many pictures up here as I can, although it is complicated to shrink them to size on a phone or iPad to get them there. I post a lot more pictures on Facebook. If you're interested in seeing more, I'd gladly friend you if you want to track me down. You can find me as James A. Hall. 
This is Jerome, the four month old son of our dear friend Grace Kinyua. I'd bring him home given the chance! What a sweetheart!
Our favorite stop on the way to Gituamba. The Kenya equivalent of Starbucks, only better! This is the entry to the school, complete with school rules and regulations and expectations. 

Everywhere you looked throughout the day, there was construction activity or social interaction. 

The transformer 100 yards from the school!

Andi and Emily got a chance to help Veronica with beating the beans to get her harvest out of the pods.