Although we have now lived in E Africa for at least half of the past six years, we are can still be overwhelmed by the contrasts in the people and the surroundings.
While we are here our lives seem to be regulated by two essential things: water and security.
Our water is back on today! It started to flow yesterday and we hastily filled every available container in the house. We are connected to the city line and we live near State House. So when the President is around (as he was yesterday for an election campaign) we have water. Before that we were several days at a stretch without even a trickle. Our landlord declared in October that he was tired of the situation and wanted to install a large tank to collect the water when it was running and to pump it into the house. This should not be difficult in a region where one can see the remnants of the tropical rain forest that once stretched all across the continent from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic and where abundant rain falls for half the year. John, our landlord, needed to be ‘assisted’ with some advance rent to do this. However, the connections and fittings were not well thought out and he had no money left to buy extension cords to connect the pump. So our last state was worse than the first! Rod has been giving some advice to remedy the situation.
Add to this the fact that crews of diggers are busy making trenches at the sides of the dirt roads all over the province. This is, we are told, in preparation for the laying of a fibre optic cable that will connect with the submarine cable off the east coast. This is a World Bank project. Have the enthusiastic diggers with their picks and shovels broken some of the water pipes, many of which date back to colonial times more than forty years ago and which are fragile and rusted? We may never know.
So, on one hand the fibre optic cable to bring us into the twenty first century and on the other a water supply that is unsafe to drink and intermittent at best.
Outside our own home, we continue with the wells for Rotary. Last Saturday on behalf of the Cumberland Rotary Club (Vancouver Island) we handed over a well to an isolated community that was overwhelming in its gratitude. We often hear villagers mention sickness though water borne diseases, but we have never heard people speak so much of those who have died through drinking the contaminated water. This village had a double problem. The distant river is polluted with run off (mostly mercury) from an abandoned gold mine. The other source of water is a shallow muddy pool contaminated by fertilizer, silt and manure from the fields. The whole community was a delight to work with. They are very much together, unlike some others, and have started a school and a new church. The pre school and grade 1 classes already number 250 children.
The choirs from the school and the church danced for us and we heard many expressions of thanks from anyone of any importance in the village. We took some gifts of small school supplies (chalks, crayons, pencils etc) and a mama doll that Pat had found in a thrift shop at home. We think she’s meant to be Caribbean with her wide skirts, bandanna and hoop earrings, but in Shinyikhu village she looked entirely Kenyan. The little ones went wild with delight.
We left after a meal of stewed chicken and ugali (maize porridge) bearing offerings of pumpkins, eggs and avocados. Most of the people from the community who attended the ceremony were in rags. They have so little, yet generously share the little they have.
There is one more well just finished where we had to blast through rock. We want to hand over before Christmas.
The newspapers are full of the corruption and violence that is occurring around the general election on December 27. We watch very carefully to monitor large gatherings of people and avoid any areas where riots might start. The political parties (of which there are 140!) are using mainly crowds of unemployed youths who are quick to cause trouble and throw stones at anyone or anything they dislike.
All elections (municipal and national) occur at the same time. Our friend Julius the jeweler was convinced by his community to stand for councillor. He would be a good choice. The political parties run their own nomination elections and we heard all kinds of stories about vote rigging, violence and dirty tricks in general. Ballot boxes were stuffed or stolen, dead people voted, ballot papers never arrived. People have been killed and dwellings burned in some areas where the communities are in discord at the best of times. A woman candidate (who had lost the nomination) was shot to death outside her sister’s home two days ago as she returned from a meeting.
Poor Julius paid his nomination fee, raised funds and campaigned mightily in his area. But on the day of the nomination his name was not to be found on the ballot paper. We believe one of his rivals bribed the printer to omit his name, which might have been transferred to another region. Thus he was ‘listed’ but not for the area he was contesting.
You can follow election news on your cell phone, check scientifically conducted opinion polls in the news, read sophisticated analyses in the papers, yet out on the streets and in the voting booths, there is still a gap between reality and the ideal. However, although there are still numerous problems the situation is better than before. The press can publish what is really happening and can make negative comments, people are no longer as easily bribable to sell their vote for a few shillings or a bag of sugar, and we hear more and more demands for honesty, unity and fairness as well as a political platform from each leader rather than grandiose promises.
Amidst all this what are we doing? We are beginning to plan for another water project. We would like it to be the goat project assisted by Vancouver Island Rotary Clubs a few years ago, but we have to re check the terrain and the available funds. We are continuing with the Positive Discipline (Virtues) seminars. One was held for teachers a couple of weeks ago and there will be one for communities this week. Our in-country coordinator will be traveling soon to Uganda to deliver a Virtues seminar in Kiswahili.
The Computer School is doing very well and we plan to add a course in PowerPoint in the New Year.
We are proud of the fourteen students we are sending to school and who are doing well at High School or at College. Each of them will be a leader and a role model for their country.
Last week Pat participated in the Sunday School teachers’ conference. She taught a morning class on Bible stories and in the afternoon was joined by friends from the tiny Canadian community. We divided the ninety participants into six groups and had a hilarious afternoon of cooperative games. These games require virtually no equipment and the enthusiastic teachers went away with a print out in English and Kiswahili declaring they would start using them that very Sunday.
The major problem we have personally right now is the renewal of our work permits which expired last April. The renewal was applied for in February but Immigration is holding things up. We hope the matter will be cleared up before Christmas when we shall otherwise have to renew our visas.
It is hot and dusty as the warm winds usher in the dry season. There is no longer a blanket on the bed and our screen door stands open day and night. I have mentioned other years that there is very little in the towns or shops to announce the coming of Christmas. Advent is not even mentioned in the church. Yet everything will begin to close down from December 21 as people begin to travel ‘home’ to be with their families. The election will occur immediately after Boxing Day. People are usually registered to vote in their home area regardless of where they work, so most offices will be closed until after January 1.
We will leave for Egypt on December 22 and return December 31. So we take the opportunity to wish you all a joyful and blessed Christmas and a happy new year.
Pat & Rod