Sunday, May 31, 2015

Monkeying Around

Yesterday my son turned five months old and I stood on the equator for the first time.  As I said in my first post I am grateful to my husband and parents, among many other people, for providing support to my son so that I can be here.  But I feel the need to reiterate it.  A lot of people here have been appalled by the idea that I left my baby son to come to Kenya without him (they're also appalled that I didn't breastfeed him, but that's another story for another day).  However, I imagine if it were Landry in my place people would ooh and ahh over his pictures of Amare and go about their day as if it made perfect sense that he was here and his son was at home with me.  I love my son, but I love myself too.  And in order to teach him how to be an independent, happy person who pursues his dreams I have to do that myself.  And today I stood on the equator.  One foot in the northern hemisphere and one foot in the southern hemisphere.  How many people get to do that in life?  I am loving every moment of this experience and every opportunity that it provides.

I realized today that it has been SEVERAL days since my last post.  We've been quite busy and the internet has been a bit spotty, so I'm excited to have a few moments to myself tonight to get this written and published.

Thursday we went on our second round of home visits.  This time we visited homes that were more rural than in the slums.  The first home we visited was actually quite spacious in comparison to the homes we visited on Tuesday.  The family consists of three boys and their grandfather.  Their mother died when the youngest was just one week old and their grandfather had cared for them since then.  He is now quite old and struggles to work regularly.  His aunt and uncle live next door with their three children and his aunt explained to us that she and her husband had tried to support the kids, but school fees for all six was too much of a strain on the home.  As such, St. Mary's has taken all three siblings and, due to the distance from their home to the school, boards all three though only the oldest two attend primary school.

Exterior of the first home, complete with goats
Outdoor kitchen.  Most kitchens are outdoors if the family cooks with charcoal or firewood because of the smoke and soot it creates.
Backyard of the home.  The toilet and shower are actually right behind this tree in a small wooden building.  The small green plants in the foreground are actually cilantro plants, which the family sells at market for income.
The second home we visited was very small, like the homes we had seen in the slums.  The mother was well-educated; the only parent I've met so far who speaks fluent English.  She and her husband used to own property in another area of Kenya and supported their children there.  Then they began to struggle financially and her husband turned to alcohol to cope.  He used what little money they had to support his habit and they lost their home.  They shifted from place to place before landing in their small 8x8 shack, which they rent for the equivalent of $10/month.  The exterior walls are made of tin and the interior walls are lined with cardboard for insulation.  They are lucky in that they have electricity (one lightbulb), a communal tap for water, and a cement floor (instead of dirt).  The mother told us that her husband still uses drugs and alcohol and they stress alot about money.  He takes out his stress on her and the children, but because he controls the money she is not able to leave.  Two of her sons live at St. Mary's and she says that that alleviates some of the burden.  She said that her sons show signs of hope for their future as well, which she says they did not before.  The younger of the two is eight and attempted suicide before coming to St. Mary's because he felt like there was nothing to live for in their current situation.  The mother was clearly distressed over this and said that while she struggles with depression herself she is motivated to do whatever she can to advance the lives and education of her children.

Our third visit was the most challenging.  While the home itself was the largest we'd visited, the conditions were seemingly the worst.  This family was living on the grounds of the stadium in Nyeri, which had become a refugee camp of sorts after post-election violence in 2007.  For several families it has become a permanent settlement and they have stayed.  The mother of this family is 27 and has four children. She said that she married and had her first child at just fifteen.  Her husband has since left them and her fourth child is from a different man.  Their home has strips of bark and 2x4's for the exterior walls and a tin roof with visible holes that must leak terribly in the rain.  The interior of the home was so dark that it took several minutes for my eyes to adjust and be able to see her sitting just feet from me across the small coffee table.  Her three oldest boys all reside at St. Mary's and her youngest is just one year and two months old.  She says that they only have one meal a day in the evening consisting of ugali, which is basically cornmeal and flour cooked into a sort of moist, pastey cake and vegetables if they're lucky.  The baby is still breastfeeding, so it was a major concern for us to learn that she is very malnourished because the baby is almost certainly not getting what he needs for healthy brain development.  She does casual labor, washing clothes for $6-$8/week and because she was married so young does not have a very extensive education, making other work options unlikely.  The interior of her home was also insulated with cardboard and paper and there was one giant bed which the four boys, their mother, and grandmother all share.

Interior of the living space for this family.  There is another room used for cooking.
Despite these bleak living conditions the boys have been practicing their English by writing motivational quotes on the wall of their kitchen when home on break from school.  Beside this was math practice as well.
The home visits have been the most challenging part of our work here for the students I think.  It's hard to see people living in such dire conditions knowing that for every home we visit there are a hundred other families living in similar or worse conditions.  On the lighter side of work, we've been painting the classroom used by the nursery boys and tomorrow we'll start working on the juniors dorm.

Yesterday we drove out to Nanyuki, the town the equator passes through.  It's actually quite underwhelming if you're looking for a big to do.  There's just a small yellow sign and a white line painted across the ground so faint you can barely see it.  But, if you can get past the lack of bells and whistles it's pretty cool to say you've visited and stood on the equator.  Now I'm looking forward to visiting the equator in Gabon to say I've stood on it in more than one place in the world!

The girls on the equator
And the boys...
And me!
One foot in the northern hemisphere and one in the southern!
After our visit to the equator we stopped for lunch at a place called the Trout Tree Restaurant.  It's a really cool place.  They've built the entire restaurant in a large tree, so it feels like you're eating in a tree house.  On the ground are multiple trout pools, where the fish are farmed and then plucked fresh for meals in the restaurant.  In the trees you're surrounded by swinging collobus monkeys, as curious about your lunch as you are about them!

View from the overlook balcony down on the restaurant seating and trout pools

The whole crew before lunch arrived
Paul invited this hyrax to join us.  A member of the pachyderm family, not a rodent surprisingly!
My whole trout with chips and Fanta  :-)

Curious collobus monkeys

When we came back we headed over to Sakwa's house to celebrate Maggie's baby shower before she heads home on maternity leave tomorrow.  That was followed by dinner out with Sakwa and his wife, hosted by a professor from Northeastern University who is in Kenya with a group of students for a travel study course.

Hate this pic, but it's the only one of us.  That's Sakwa and his wife, Oliviah, in the middle and Sean, our other staff leader on the right.
Today was a lovely day of rest.  We got up early and went to mass before heading out to Naro Maru Lodge, close to where we were to for the equator yesterday.  We spent the day poolside, with a view of the base of Mount Kenya.  I sipped Malibu and pineapple juice, had samosas for lunch, and talked at length with  Brother Francis, who has been our fantastic leader and guide for most of our time here.

Fantastic Sunday view
Lounging poolside, Mount Kenya in the background
Tomorrow it's back to work.  We have detail work to finish painting in the nursery room and then we'll move onto the Juniors dorm.  I can't believe that this time next week we'll be in Nairobi preparing to head back to the States!

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