Sunday lunch

We joined a small group from church. For you non-churchies…that is just a way of saying being assigned a group of friends that you meet with to socialize, and support, and study with.

We’re trying to expand our social circle a little…’s a big adjustment to go from many close, close friends in Portland to very few here.

The other families in our group have been in Kenya for almost 10 years each. They’re old pros.

As old pros, they suggested that we go to lunch at Diamond Plaza. The best Indian food around they advertized.

This Diamond Plaza is a place we pass all of the time and cringe….because the traffic is always so backed up there. Crazy drivers going every direction at once. We arrive and the lot is PACKED OUT. Ian, being his forward self asks the security guard who they are saving the “Reserved” spot for. The guard doens’t answer Ian, but tells him he can park, “Right Here”. We took it. No hunting. Good job Ian.

We walk through the plaza which is filled with every kind of shop you would imagine that you would find in India. This truly was like “little India”. Electronics, knock off kids Diesel jeans, rugs & scarfs, buddhas or other gods I’m not aware of…..

And then we arrived outside to the food court. Holy cow!


I ordered a mango juice and an avocado juice.  They came mixed together.  Not what I anticipated, but good anyhow! 

Here is a sampling of the other food we ordered:









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So it’s been a little over a week now since our volunteer training crew from Portland has left.  It seems like forever and a day since they were here; so much goes on in each and every day at the Centre that we are just worked and worn out by the evening.

Our crew consisted of 7 wonderful women:  Jorie, Laurah, Shari, Angie, Laurie (or is it Lori??  I really should know!), Sheila and Connie.  Each woman came with their amazing “real world” talents and gifts and then also just the gifts of friendship, time and a lot of doting on our kids.  What a treat for Eli and Lucy.  They really truly had their emotional gas tanks filled for the first time since our move here.  I don’t think that Ian and I had realized how busy and distracted we had been in trying to get all of this up and going….until we saw how they content they were after full days of loving from the ladies.  I am so thankful for that gift from them!

With all of that said….I was a horrible picture taker.  I don’t think that I took a single one.  The ladies more than made up for it, and I think there will be some amazing videos and photo collections from the trip…but just not here.

You can go to megan steele’s blog and find some pictures of our great volunteers though!   They organized, cleaned, taught, listened, taught, fed, hugged and in general gave hope to each and every one of us here.  They were gracious and walked with our local women to their homes, and endured conditions that would make most Americans cringe.  The women will never forget the mazungus we came to their homes and listened to their stories.  An amazing gift.

I would encourage all of you who have even just a little tugging at your heart to come over and experience this….to….do it!  It is a blessing for us, and for you.

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Thika Rotary Club

We were invited to a party.

We found out when we arrived that it was to benefit the Rotary Club of Thika.  And that it cost money.  Ooops.  Thankfully, I had the exact amount of the entrance fee (to cover the awesome dinner) in my wallet.

Here are some pics of the festivities:

The strong man.  I feel sorry for the man in the middle!

The strong man. I feel sorry for the man in the middle!

You know Eli loves facepaint (or makeup)!

You know Eli loves facepaint (or makeup)!

The Safari Gymnasts showing off their skills

The Safari Gymnasts showing off their skills

Our Nyoma Choma appetizer (all parts of the animal mixed in)...we decided not to stay for the main course

Our Nyoma Choma appetizer (all parts of the animal mixed in)...we decided not to stay for the main course

The good news in all of these festivities was that the Thika Rotary Club had raised funds to provide over 30 wheelchairs (specially adapted and fitted to particular needs) in this last year.  Many of them going to the Salvation Army’s JoyTown school.  It is fabulous to see prominent people with means in the community giving back to others!
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It was just almost a month ago now.

Guess I’m a little behind.

He loves school.  I love his uniform.  Easy and simple, no struggles over what to wear in the morning.


Sept 8th 002











Yes, I see there are spots, I think he spilled yogurt and I tried to salvage the “jumper” aka sweater so we didn’t have to go for the backup one.

He is doing great in school.  He has finally adjusted to the full days of school, although I am not adjusted to the fact that he has nightly homework.

He’s a leftie who seems to become a rightie when he’s been in school for some time (they assure me they are not trying to influence him).   As he comes into his own his creativity and perceptiveness are showing themselves.  I love this about him. 

He is friends with EVERYONE and is always asking for their number so I can call them for playdates.  Overall, it is great to see Eli blossom into such a social, delightfully humorous little boy.  Here are his friends Sinclair, Bernadette (twins), Maanov and Ishie at school, posing for my camera on the 1st day:


Sept 8th 004

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As word gets out about our program, we get a lot of people inquiring on if we might be able to help them in some way.

John, the village elder from Gachagi came one day and asked if he might take me to visit a family.  I agreed.

He took me to visit Halaki, and upon hearing his story I cried.   Not a big blubbering cry because I was in front of people, but one of those teary eyed I can’t talk right now cries.

The short story on Halaki is that he is an 18-year-old boy who stays at home and does not attend school.  He appears to have moderate retardation and some hemiplegia that resulted after seizures at the age of 3.  Halaki was taken to the district hospital for his seizure, where he had a reaction to the medication and went into a coma for over a month.  When he awoke, he was no longer the same regularly developing child.  He currently functions at best at a 2-year-old level.  He has had little opportunity to learn and practice functional skills.  The very skills that any child would be taught in special education in our public school system.

Halaki’s primary caregiver all of his life has been his sister who is just a year in age different from him.  She is in the equivalent of her junior year of high school.  She attends a boarding school out-of-town as most kids do if they family can scrape up the money.  She worries when she is at school that her brother will be neglected.  The step-mother doesn’t have the same love that a mother might…and the father works all day.  The sister and the father asked if there was any way we could help.  Could he come to our center?  Could we help find a school for him? 

They were patient.  Our social worker found a school.

Here is Halaki on the day I went to take him to the school to inquire about registration.  In the beginning, he was too shy to be around me or shake my hand, but he is warming up nicely:
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This is Halaki’s sister, Fatuma, who is his primary caregiver and advocate:

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Here is Halaki sitting in his house:

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So, we did all of this legwork, found a school, finalized the cost of school fees and the father and sister came and met with me.  I had secured a sponsor (my awesome mom) to help with school fees.  The dad committed to paying half of the fees each term which is a great sacrifice for the family.  I thought we were set.

Then we went to the school….and they found out that Halaki is not independent in his toileting…and suddenly the school is full.  An entire half day of waiting, interviewing, assessing and then a “No” answer.  While I commented to the elder that I was incredibly frustrated with the outcome, he replied, “It is in God’s control”.  He is right.  We will continue to hunt for schools.  In the meantime, the American team that was just here left some great boardmaker (a communication tool) books  with us so I’ll take one to the family to use with Halaki in improving his ability to express needs and wants.

Baby steps.

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Crazy week!

Well, it has been a crazy week.

Getting the guest apartment  ready.  We have named it the ‘tree house”.  For the flame trees.  I think it’s a catchy name, and we’ve always named all of the houses we live in…usually by the address, but scenery works too.  Megan has done a great job of taking over while I lay in bed or shuffle about the house trying to manage 2 little kids.

Being sick.  Lucy, Eli and I have all proceeded to round 2 and week 3 of this sickness which appears to just be the Kenyan cold & flu.  We’re getting acquainted with Kenyan versions of ibuprofen and children’s tylenol and cough & cold products.  Did you know that a bottle of pepto (the real kind) costs $10 here?  I passed.  I took some of the kids pepto  tablets I brought from home.

Our new Captain arrived on Thursday.  She takes over for the previous administrator, Haron.  She is Captain Sarah.  We are happy to have an administrator back after about a month without one.  It has been a lot of extra work for Ian.  She arrives with her younger sister and brother that she cares for.  We look forward to getting to know her better and working with her.

My other project on top of all of this has been to help an 18 year old boy from the Gachagi Slum.  His name is Halaki.  More on him to come in another post dedicated just to him.

And finally, making the final arrangements for our American training team of 7 women.  There are things to worry about here that you wouldn’t even consider in the States.   Furniture that isn’t finished because product is in short supply, shower water heaters overheating (scalding…..ouch!) and then exploding (I hope they get fixed, Megan is there now working with the maintenance man who seems to break more than he fixes), not being able to drive long distances in the Centre van at night (it is speed restricted, so it would be able to outrun anyone scooping out the fishbowl of whities and their stuff), and arranging for an extra vehicle driven by Kenyans to deliver all of the baggage separately and directly to the Centre at night.

Phew.  It will be nice to visit with people from home and to have all of the extra hands around here!

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Ok, so a while ago our friend Andy Stoughton started harassing us about spelling center, CENTRE.  He imformed us that he was going to start spelling dude (one of the words both our families use much to frequently) some crazy way as a means of payback for all of the words we are spelling oddly.

It’s interesting to be living in Kenya, but also to be adjusting to this whole British culture stuff that is left over from Colonial rule.

Tea time.  Yep.  That’s a serious thing here in Kenya.  Even in the supermarkets, you’ll see the employees hanging out all over  the meat case (that open topped case in the middle of the aisle holding sausage, or hamburger or whatever) at 4pm with their mugs in hand and a thermos of hot chai (black tea in hot milk) sitting on the case.  I’m getting pretty good at getting my tea game on for guests…but Ian is even better at it!

Or Eli and Lucy talking about wearing their swimming costumes.  Their what?  It took me forever to figure out that they meant swimsuits.  And what is happening to me?  Yesterday I called his p.e. outfit his “p.e. costume.”  I’m gonna come back to the States and everyone’s gonna think I’m permanently in love with Halloween or something.

The best is looking “smart”.  I used to say people looked cute, or pretty and received blank  stares.  I really don’t  even know how to tell someone they’re intelligent….just smartly dressed…which they all generally are.

Anyhow, so, I’m off now to make sure that Eli’s jumper is ready for the morning.  Right, you all think I’m putting him in a dress don’t you???   Nope, just his little brown v-neck pullover sweater that’s a part of his VERY british school uniform.

 Linds, I’ll feel so much more at home with your British neighbors when we return home!

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Anyone who knows me well knows I can get a little obsessed with things.  It usually last about a month or so until I’ve read, researched, and experimented with that specific activity or topic way more than I’d like to admit.   My sweet wife chooses to call it my intense personality, I’m sure it’s been called many other things by other people in my life.  Well one such obsession has never really gone away, slowed down, or even shown signs of fading.  Bicycles.  I just can’t seem to get enough, I even still read about procycling almost daily in a country where no one can even imagine what that sport would look like.   My bicycle obsession has lead me to buying, repairing, building probably 20 bikes over the past 10 years.  It has consumed thousands of hours reading, riding, and training for races (not to mention an embarrassing amount of money).  It has resulted in me scraping probably 60% of the skin off my body, loosing my front teeth, and I know it’s taken years off my poor mother’s life.  One time I was taken to the ER and she just happened to be working at that hospital, she came to the room to find her son with half of his face scraped off.  
Sorry mom, it could be something much worse though you have to admit. 

This particular obsession has broken my spirit when races go wrong after months of training and it has thrilled me more than I knew possible when everything falls into place.  It’s given me memories with family and friends that I’ll never forget and some I only wish I could forget.  It’s humbled me and built my confidence.  It’s also used up a lot of energy that might have ended up spent on less productive things, I don’t do so well when I’m idle and not working towards a goal.  Anyway… when we decided to move to Kenya I knew that breaking my dependence on cycling would be a major obstacle to overcome so I started weaning myself off my 150 miles / week training early and slowly.  It’s hard to describe what a hole that left in my life.  I began commuting by bus, and tried to substitute other forms of exercise into my daily routines.  I was somewhat successful, but during the winter I began commuting to my new job on an Extracycle I built up from an old mtn bike just to keep sane.  There is something about being outdoors, working my body until my mind calms down, and feeling the world around me in a physical, tangible way that I really need on a daily basis. 

When I moved here it was the end of that for me.  My parents had even given me money for christmas to buy a bike here in Kenya when I arrived, but folks, if you think cycling is risky at home, here it is beyond description.  Driving is enough of a risk on it’s own.   At least that’s what my sane mind tells me.   But this week I couldn’t take it anymore and after much talking with centre staff I decided to donate a couple of bikes to the Karibu Centre.  I bought two sweet Indian machines and then took them to the Jua Kali (street metal workers) and had them fabricate some strong racks and reinforce the frames.  

These type of work bicycles are everywhere here in Kenya and they will really help the centre and staff in many ways.  Two of our staff live in Kiganjo, a community that is about 5 miles down a long dirt path from Karibu Centre.  They WALK every day and it takes them about 45min – 1 hour each way.  They will be able to take one bike and ride together, the racks are strong like the bicycle taxis here and this should cut their commute down to about 15 min.  When the cook goes to the market, she hires bicycle taxis to transport a weeks worth of fruit and vegetables to the centre, now she can take a groundsman and transport it all on our centre bikes.  When we have errands to run in town,  workers are frequently sent on foot for a 1 hour walk to do some routine business.  Well, one hour just turned into 15 minutes with a nice breeze in their face.   Volunteers wanting to head back to the guest house early can now get a ride the local way, on our very own boda-boda piloted by the gregarious and saftey conscious Karibu Centre security chief, Tito.  And finally, I came to the conclusion that if I can race down curvy mountain roads in a tighly packed peleton at 50 mph I bet I have better than average cycling skills for Thika and they all seem to get around fine on two wheels.  So we’ll have a much happier boss around this place if he get a ride in once in a while.       

Today Tito and I picked up our two new bikes and rode them back to Karibu Centre.  Poor Tito though he’d be funny and raced past me right away which triggered my racing reflex.  I gave it a little gas and about a minute later I looked back, he was nowhere to be seen.  I soft peddled it back to the centre, waited a few minutes, then turned around to go find him.  He eventually peddled up panting and sweating.  He said it felt like someone was beating him with a cane all over his butt and thighs.  I guess I forgot I probably have better than average cycling power too and what’s slow to me even in my untrained state is probably a little brisk of a pace for the average man from Thika.  Sorry Tito, I’ll slow down a  little next ride. 

Now for some pics, beautiful shots to a bicycle addict:

The 22 incher

The 22 incher


22 incher from the side


The 24 incher

The 24 incher










Close up of the boda-boda rack with foot pegs.

Close up of the boda-boda rack with foot pegs.

Happy Hillary!

Happy Hillary!









Tito and Hillary taking a little test ride.

Tito and Hillary taking a little test ride.

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This morning I was greeted by our resident assistant, Naomi, and one of the centre girls at 7:30am on my front porch.  They reminded me that today was a graduation ceremony at the vocational training program a few of our girls attend.  All the girls had been up since 5am getting ready and they wanted a ride and I remembered I’d agreed to attend.  After 20 min or so we loaded into the centre van and headed out.  I got a call just when we were pulling out, my social worker asking for a ride.  No problem, we swing by, pick her up, and head over to Golden Top, it’s a 5 minute trip.  As I’m pulling in Naomi asks where I’m going and tells me that the ceremony is being held elsewhere so we proceed to the new destination which is 20 minutes away.  We’ll call this surprise # 1 of the day.

Now I’ve decided already that I don’t want to stay any longer than necessary and I tell Karen (my friend and the director of the Golden Top rehabilitation program)   this right when I arrive.  She puts up a big fight, insisting that I stay.  I tell her I have people to meet with at Karibu Centre and we agree that I’ll come back once the ceremony actually starts.  She accepts this compromise and says she flash me when they’re ready (no, not flash as in lift up her shirt, but flashing is when they call and hang up really quick so they don’t get charged phone credits for the call).  Side note, this is also what pretty much everyone does here and you are expected to call back on your dime.  Not fair, just the way it is. 

So I’m relieved, I head back to the centre and wait for my flash.  Kenyan events can take a LONG time so I was glad I was shortening the time I know I’d spend at this particular event.  At 10:20 I get a call from my social worker saying I need to come immediately, the ceremony has begun and they are waiting for me.  I beg her, can she please just represent the centre on my behalf and she explains:  That’s not possible, You are giving the graduation speech.  surprise #2.  Wow, really, I wish I knew that ahead of time.  So, I head over and am greeted by excited, nervous folks who rush me into a crammed room with about 120 people inside and another 100 or so outside.  I am seated at the very front, on the stage, facing the crowd.  There’s a program in front of me and what do you know, there’s my name printed right there, I’m speaker 5 ot of 11 (5 of which showed up btw).   It’s about 10:45 and I realize I am in for a very long  ceremony.  Back home graduation ceremonies really bore me, now multiply that times 5, at least.  

So, the MC announces me, I give a speech to the graduating class, families, and other "distinguished" guests which seemed to go over fine, especially for making it all up as I went along.  Then I sit down and survive two more hours of poems, songs, and Kenyan ceremony madness.  Finally we get to passing out the diplomas to the 75 graduating students and along comes surprise #3.  I get to hand them out, shake hand, snap a picture with the students…. you know, like the college president usually does.  Wow, awkward is all I can say about that.

Then after the ceremony ends I spend an hour outside trying to round up my people and get the heck out of there, it’s 2pm by now.  I take pictures with about 50 people I’ve never met who just came up out of the blue.  I did make some great connections with more local program directors and leaders and when I get in the centre van to leave I notice that the 7 people I came with has multiplied into 12.  Now this doesn’t even surprise me anymore because people here are extreemely good at filling up your car when you’re not looking and getting you to give them rides places.  No problem, as long as it’s somewhat on the way I’m usually OK with it, the van is a real luxury here and I figure it’s good program promotion being seen all around town with the centre vehicle. 

So I go to drop the extra riders off at their home and surprise #4, I’m told they have prepared lunch and a party for me.  This time I drew the line.  I really had some stuff to do at the office and I respectfully, but firmly declined, promising to come another time.  It was almost 3pm by now and I was tired, hungry, and just plain done.  Well, not to waste the opportunity, all my staff and the girls asked if they could go in and celebrate so I unloaded that van and headed home alone.  

Right when I got back, I  ate a big bowl of Githeri and then got word that there was some serious momma drama in Umoja slum.  I headed right over and spent the next two hours talking to women, children, and the village elders trying to solve some silly problems that were impacting the children who come to our learning centre.  Made some progress, but mostly just uncovered more problems that I’ll have to solve another day. 

Not exactly how I envisioned the day playing out, but I suppose I did make some good connections and gave Karibu centre some good publicity in the community.   For the first time in my life I think I’m getting more excitement than I would like.  I’d take a boring, predictable day or two about now.  Ian

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Kid Honesty

Lucy will be 3 in a about 2 weeks.

She’s at the stage where everything she thinks comes out of her mouth (I guess some people never get out of that stage).

Today her winner comments both had to do with Esther our househelp.

The first, announced to the whole family when Esther come out of the bathroom:  “Esther went potty!  Look everyone, Esther went potty!”  Esther was a good sport and laughed it off.

The second announcement was in the car as I was going to pick Eli up from school and we were giving Esther a lift.

“Mom, Esther’s stinky!”   Ok, so yes, she has a particularly potent African odor to her, but I think that I am getting used to it and don’t notice it anymore.

No one commented.  I tried to pass it off and save embarassment for everyone by saying, “Oh, Lucy, I think you are the stinky one!”

She insisted that she wasn’t, kept on with the stinky comments, and then progressed I think to saying it “Smelt poopy” when I told her to stop the potty talk and we were finished with that!


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