Archive for October 2012

Why did the Mazungu sit in the Front Seat of the Matatu?

October 7, 2012

Events of Saturday, October 6.

After a 4 hour Matatu trip from Kitale to Kisumu, we arrived a a major bus staging area in a bustling section of Kisumu. You have not lived until you have ridden in a Matatu.  In many cases, the Matatu are Toyota minivans, specially fitted to hold 14 passengers. They are privately owned but considered public transportation.  I have tried to take my son, Paul’s advice on every trip to Africa and ride some form of public transportation.

From the bus stage, John and I walked to the Kisumu Friends Church.  The Church is situated on a large plot of land, and the compound contains a meeting house, a parsonage, a nursery school and a caretakers home, along with a few outbuildings and playground equipment.  It was about 10:30 when it arrived and the Kisumu air was humid, the heat was rising and it was quite a bit more uncomfortable then it had been in Kitale.

The place was quiet, but upon entering the caretaker’s home, we met Francis Kiboi, John’s friend, a pastor and senior lecturer at Kima International School of Theology. He was to be the guest speaker and seminar leader at a stewardship seminar offered for leaders at the Kisumu church. The event was scheduled to start at 10. John told us that due to work schedules the leaders who were expected at 10:00 would not get there until 2:30 or so.  He offered to take us into town and buy us lunch.  We rode a tuk tuk, a three passenger auto-rickshaw, popular in India.  In the center of town, we entered a mall like building and ate Chinese food at the same place Debbie, Paul and I had eaten with our Fox team in 2009.  After doing some errands, we returned to the church.

About 2:00 the ladies brought us tea and bread.  We were situated in the parsonage, which was vacant.  John set up a makeshift office for himself while Francis and I had a long conversation about politics, theology, Kenyan history and American-Kenyan solidarity.  Both Francis and John were supportive of President Obama and were praying for his re-election.

By 3:30 no seminar participants had arrived, but the ladies brought us ugali and sukuma wiki, a tasty kale. I could not eat my portion of ugali, not because it was not good, it was too much!  Francis and I went outside after a good rain and we sat in front of the meeting house.  Finally a few participants came. By six, we had 8 people there and John and Francis did an abbreviated workshop with those leaders.  I participated as well.

After the seminar, John took us to St Anna;s guesthouse where we met up with the rest of my colleagues.  They had spent the day roaming the Western Province with Zadock as their driver and host.  Zadock introduced my colleagues to his wife and children and his mother and they went to Mufutu, his former school. We all went out to an Indian Restaurant. There we were, five Americans and 3 Kenyans, with John holding court.  Eloise and John ordered food and it was quite good.

After dinner, John asked, on the occasion of me leaving the next day, if our hearts were clear. I said, “Actually, John, there is something I am a bit unclear about and I hope you can help me understand”.  What I was curious about was that when we changed Matatu in Kakemaga, about one-half way from Kitale to Kisumu, both John and the conductor insisted I sit in the front seat.  I had already sat in the front seat all the way from Kitale, and had the seat to myself until an older gent joined me about 30 minutes about of Kakamega. They practically compelled me to get in the front during the second leg of my journey, causing a well-dressed lady to move over to the middle front seat.  I now had the prime position at the front window.

I admit, I was a little irritated that they insisted, because I thought there were deferring to me because I was white or because I was old.  But, I figured, “I don’t want another Rwandan bus trip”, so I just enjoyed the ride.  I loved the country side, both the villages and the open country.  The Kenyan police were out in force, and I am sure we passed at least seven or eight checkpoints along our journey.  We were asked to pull over at each, but at each we were waved on.  I guessed that we did not look like terrorists or criminals.

Anyway, back at the Indian place, I was waiting for John’s reply. He answered, “Actually there was a reason. With a Mazungu riding in the front, the police will not stop the vehicle.” I did then have a flash of recognition, indeed, the reason we were waved through was because the police officer saw me.

John continued, ” They do not want a foreigner to see how they extort money from the conductor.  If the conductor refusing to pay a bribe, the Matatu is held up for one reason or another.  It is a typical practice for the police to stop these minibuses for this purpose.  You helped reduced corruption in Kenya today”.

He laughed, and I think we all laughed, I was pleased with myself and with what I learned and pleased that I could play a small part in reducing corruption in the Western Province of Kenya.  So, the next time you are asked to ride in the front seat of a Kenyan Matatu, accept it as a duty to serve your fellow passengers.  You will not only be a corruption-stopper, you will speed up the journey for your fellow travelers.


From Kaimosi, We Head North

October 5, 2012

Thursday, October 4.

Phillip, an FTC staffer drove us away from the Friends Theological College in Kaimosi. In a subsequent post, I’ll share about our time there. On the road north, we passed Lugulu, where Debbie, Paul and I had spent time in 2009, along with others from George Fox. We passed through Kakemega and eventually, on the main road to Uganda, past the derelict paper pulp plant at Webuye. We entered into an area that had quite a bit of sugar cane. We kept climbing, getting closer to Mount Elgon. Finally, about 10:30 in the morning we arrived at Kaptama Secondary School. There were several school buses in the yard, the big highway buses common here. We were greeted by Jacob, the principal.  This Friends school was the host of the workshop that Eloise and Linda and Andrea were leading. After transferring our luggage into John’s truck, we entered the computer lab which was the site of the workshop.  The women were setting up, they had a projector on, showing slides that they had prepared for the event.

John Muhanji, the director for African Ministries for Friends United Meeting (FUM), our friend and host, gave the introduction.  As usual, John gave a passionate speech, speaking of how important it was that the Friends schools in the Mount Elgon region were joining together in this event.  John is a wonderful speaker and I usually get encouraged or inspired when he speaks, this was no exception.  I listened for his strategy in uniting educators as a means of uniting the church.  He has been consistent in this since the first time I met him. He conveys respect and hope along with a challenge. Zadock Malesi was introduced in his first official event as the new FUM educator secretary.

I participated in a small group while Eloise Hockett, Linda Samek and Andrea Nelson led the workshop.  Tom Samek served as the photographer. During tea time, I spoke with several of the school principals while enjoying African tea and Mandezi, a Kenyan donut. After tea, John, Tom and I left.  He wanted to show us his maize farm and also needed to get us to a hotel in Kitale since the whole group would not fit in the truck on one trip.

We began our visit at the Kaptama clinic.  John shared how isolated this region has been from the rest of the Quakers in Kenya and how much ethnic violence has been in play since the 2007 election.  The clinic was busy, with many people on the grounds.  Several small buildings housed treatment rooms, administrative offices, the lab, a pharmacy and the patient ward.  We toured a maternity ward and an operating theater.  The theater had never been used for surgery and was now storing medicines.  There was a morgue on the grounds, as well as an unfinished building.  John has a vision to make this clinic a major focus of ministry.  He views it as a great community asset which must be invested in.  He contrasted the work here with that of Kaimosi hospital and offered that this clinic was very busy, vital to the region and vastly under-resourced.  I practically wept as I walked around.  Our tour guide was the laboratory technicia, a joy-filled young man who I had great admiration for. We visited the patient wards and that is when I began praying.  A very sick man with malaria was there, now calmed and receiving an IV.  Several other patients were receiving care.  “They come in bad shape and leave walking”‘ John told us.

From Kaptama, we drove to John’s SEEDS farm.  We heard the story of how the idea came into being and of how Iowan farmers made investments and how Eloise and also Ginny and Carl Birky contributed to the formation of the project with their ideas at a planning meeting.  We also learned a little about the history of this rich farming area near Kitale and how British colonial farmers had pioneered the large farms in the region.  After independence, few of the British stayed on, they either sold out or were compensated by the Kenyan government and left their farms. The SEEDS project is a seed corn operation, and a large one at 100 acres.  The project is managed by a board and is under contract with the Kenyan Seed Company to grow seed maize (corn).  Harvest will begin in a few days and the crop looks great.  John shared with us about how the profits will be used to repay investors and to fund Zadock’s position and other school support projects.  John hopes to make this a demonstration that will be picked up by other Friends groups to support various ministries in Kenya and East Africa. Tom had farmed corn before and I believe he was impressed as I was with the quality of this crop.

We left the farm and drove to Kitale where John put us up in the Mid Africa Hotel, which I describe briefly in my previous post.  We met the others for dinner, having had a full day.  We are blessed to be in this region amongst Friends who are working hard to advance the kingdom by bringing literacy, equality and justice and health to very poor people.

The view is fine from the Mid Africa Hotel

October 5, 2012

It is early afternoon on Friday and I have completed doing some work at a local coffee shop in Kitale, Kenya. My colleagues have gone on today to Kaptama school on Mount Elgon, some 45 kilometers away from here.  I visited the school yesterday and will submit a report on that as time permits and as long as the internet connection holds up.

I am back in the hotel, using a borrowed computer and phone modem.  This bustling city is, in John Muhanji’s words, “a farmers town”.  This region is a very rich agricultural area.  Our colleague, Zadock Malesi, who I first met in 2009 at one of the principals’ meetings we put on for introducing the peace curriculum, called this area, “the granary of Kenya”.  Due to my interest in agriculture and the impending agriculture education project I hope to work on in Rwanda and Kenya, I have a desire to learn more about the crops in this area.

After my colleagues left town, I walked over to the regional headquarters of the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC). The ADC is a government parastatal, with the mission of assisting farmers through technical consulting, livestock stud services, AI training, seed production and demonstration projects. I walked in unannounced and asked for a visit with the communications officer or another administrator.  I was directed to the office of the technical consultant, John Wycliffee Kimego.  Mr. Kimego graciously gave me his time so that I could learn about the work of the ADC.  I felt quite welcome, and was greeted with “Karibu” by this gentleman and the staffers in his office. I was served tea and we had a delightful conversation!  John also gave me some literature to take with me.  I felt I had taken too much of his time, so I took my leave.

After my visit with John, I walked around the corner to a coffee shop that caters to white visitors.  The Coffee Shop is run by An Australian fellow.  I had a cup of chai and some toast while I worked on emails and touched base with my online courses. I may make it back to the shop later today, but soon, I must go to the rooftop of this hotel, to take in the great view of the area.