We Can’t Make it Back to the House

After two very long days of health and leadership training for about 200 students, I was so looking forward to getting back to the house and sleeping. Shortly after we pulled out of the school yard the rain started. After three hours of slipping and sliding along the road, we finally reach Enoosaen and realized there was no way we were making it back to the house  given the condition of the “main” road.

The road to the house is dangerous enough during the day after it has rained. At night, it is downright impassable. Think freshly plowed field mixed with patches of what the sand feels like right at the water’s edge. That is the condition of the road after an hour or so of heavy rain. So off to Pride Hill Café, the place we eat lunch every day, for some dinner before getting a “room” in town.

Mud road
The morning after. The photo does not do justice or convey the depth of the mud.
It’s about 8:30 pm now and the power is out. Luckily I charged my tablet this morning before leaving for the training. Although power is out, I can hear music with a strong base coming from the local bars, which all have generators. When someone walks by with a flashlight there are beams of light that stream in where the door doesn’t exactly align with the frame. In general, door construction is not a priority.

Comfort is another area that gets slighted regularly. When I was at the hotel in Kilgoris, I was excited to have running water in the room and two pillows! I technically have two pillows tonight, but they are so slim they don’t even add up to the one sad pillow I have at the house. And don’t even get me started on the foam mattresses that have been a constant throughout my stay on the continent, with a few exceptions at some of the hotels. Oh well, just another night in my village life! God I miss pillow top mattresses and big fluffy pillows.

Okay, now that I got all of that out of my system, onto more substantive and positive reflections about why roughing it at times is so worth it. The training I was observing is called health and leadership, but it is essentially a training to educate girls on the harmful effects of female genital mutilation (FGM) and to provide self-defense if they are groped or attacked. There is training for the boys that takes place as well. It was a K-8 school so we worked with the 5th-8th graders, which meant ages ranged from 10-16. It is not uncommon for children to start school late here.

There were so many observations and realizations that it was a bit overwhelming. The girls didn’t want to acknowledge their age and divide into groups, largely because the older girls were embarrassed to still be in primary. It took teachers walking through the group and threatening to pull out birth certificates (definitely going to come up with some other ways to form groups up in the future) to actually get everyone divided up. When the puppet show sketching out a scene of a man hitting on a girl began, about half the girls took off running and screaming. They had never seen or heard puppets before and were scared when the heads and voices first appeared from behind the drape.

The training covers  a lot, including: FGM and some of the myths that perpetuate the practice, the reproductive system, puberty, STDs, rape, self-esteem, confidence building, and self-defense. Trying to get the girls to touch their private parts over their clothes after starting with the song head, shoulders, knees and toes (this part they did willing and enjoyed) caused all kinds of embarrassment and giggles.

Despite how naïve and young the girls seem in some respects, you realize during the anonymous Q & A sessions that there are girls who, either by choice or unwillingly, have had already had sex or were seriously thinking about it. All of the students knew about their former 12-year-old classmate who is pregnant from a 40-year-old man. As they tell it, he promised to marry her but hasn’t yet delivered on that promise. He already has one wife and several children. I was also told that several of the girls were already circumcised, but they were lucky because at least they were still in school. The norm is that after circumcision (around 12-13), girls are married off. Maasai boys often aren’t circumcised until that age as well. For both boys and girls it is considered a rite of passage.

There are so many elephants in the room as the training is going on that it is hard to know how to even begin writing a curriculum. Abstinence until marriage is preached consistently and repeatedly. For religious reasons, there can be no mention of birth control unless a girl specifically asks about it, which they won’t because they are too shy. And even if we are able to debunk all of the myths about FGM, the reality is that a child has very few options if her parents are insistent.

There are laws on the books forbidding FGM, and the penalty is jail time. In reality, many adults look the other way and some even condone it or think it is proper. If a girl is brave enough to tell someone in authority — and let’s assume that person will actually get involved, even village chiefs and police are known to fuss at the girl rather than take action — it means losing your parents.

My task is to develop a curriculum to train trainers, with the end goal being information delivered on a more regular basis, in smaller time chunks, and in more dynamic ways than just lectures. There are almost 100 primary schools in the two districts that the organization is trying to reach, which means they currently only reach schools every few years (one training a month combining three schools at a time).

On a lighter note, the block (brick) making process will start this week. We had laborers working threw the weekend but finally everything (almost) is in place. I just learned from the consultant that the dirt screening that was supposed to take place didn’t actually happen (locals were too afraid to tell me), but the fact that everything else is set and ready to go is a small miracle, especially given where we were at the beginning of the week and all the rain we’ve had. So once again, not necessarily how I would have preferred to run the operation, but the end goal was reached. Don’t we all preach that it is only the outcomes that matter anyway?

The construction manager also begins this week. I’ll be working with him to pass all of the construction responsibilities I picked up. Can’t wait to see the first block come off the line.

We’re also celebrating the International Day of the Girl this Saturday, the actual date is October 11, so it is going to be a busy week.

 P.S. – In case you were wondering, when I woke up in the middle of the night, the music was still going strong around 3 am.

Village and Farm Life Have Now Merged

I’m not really sure where to begin. Everything, and I mean everything, has a story or adventure. I’ve already gotten to the point where very little of the lifestyle actually phases me. It’s just how things are done.

After a roughly seven hour car ride west of Nairobi that took us across the Rift Valley, I arrived in Enoosaen. The village is located in the Trans Mara West district. If you look on a map find Narok (the county headquarters), and I’m about an hour drive west of Narok.

The best way to describe Enoosaen compared to where I was previously is to say that my village life has now merged with farm life. Outside of the village “business” center, houses are more spread out. Coming into Enoosaen the fields are covered by tea and sugarcane fields. There is a tea and sugarcane factory in the area, and the pollution from the factory is quite troubling given its proximity to the school.

The majority of the local population is Maasai. The Maasai measure their wealth in terms of livestock, cows in particular. As Mama Kakenya said “that is my bank” when referring to her cows. Mama Kakenya has been kind enough to take me in as there are not any hotels in the immediate area.  She isn’t exactly sure how many cows she has, but she can easily pick out her cows or donkeys as we are walking up the road. Rough estimates based on what I can count is over 50 cows, about 40 sheep, 25 goats, 5 donkeys, 20 chickens, 5 dogs, and 4 cats. (I’m sure I’m missing some as the other day I just noticed a puppy for the first time.) 

In the Maasai culture, the women do a significant amount of the work, almost all of it being physical in nature. My back hurts just looking at how many hours they spend bent over with straight legs, whether it’s washing dishes or clothes in buckets, washing the floors, or milking the cows. I am continually amazed and impressed with what these women do on a daily basis.

We’ve now entered the rainy season so add a lot of mud into the visual pictures you are creating in your mind. There are times when roads are not passable because of the mud. It is about a 3km walk from where I’m staying to the office and school. Thank goodness as this is the only real exercise I’m getting nowadays.

I’ve stepped into a very busy and exciting period at the Kakenya Center for Excellence. There are in the process of beginning construction on a new school. The first phase will launch as a high school early next year, but eventually it will serve K-12. A construction project manager has yet to be hired, so the program manager and I have been tag teaming to keep the project moving forward.

On one of my first days onsite at the new school, the water drilling team had just reach water. They had to go about 175 meters down (575 ft) to reach good water.  There was quite the crowd that came out to see the water. I’m told this is one of the first water pumps in the community.

The pieces that I’m working on are preparing the site for construction (this involves cows clearing the sugarcane from the fields!) and preparation for Dwell Earth, a group that will be coming in October to train locals on how to make a dry earth block (brick). It is a pretty neat process that I’m looking forward to learning more about. Here is a video of the block making process from a project in Zambia.

I’ve also been tasked with developing a curriculum for the organization’s health and leadership training, which will be used to train trainers in order to expand the reach of the program, and a number of projects with the school girls.

I could go on, but it has taken me long enough as is to get this post up. So I’ll wrap it up here.