This is the last in a series of three posts on the Ewuaso water project in Kenya and it is the one I have most wanted to share with you all. It is the story of the people I met and the emotions that they emanate and the sense you feel while you are with them and for long after you have left.
This feeling is similar to what I have felt on other projects this year, but somehow it was magnified here. Maybe because of the situations; the tie to family and my childhood, or maybe the settings; which were so relaxing and welcoming, it almost felt like I was on a retreat, but more likely it was all this, plus being half way around the world, with these people I had a chance to meet and learn from, collectively, it gave a spiritual feel; a feeling of a place where lessons are learned by tradition and example and people are proud to be exactly who they are and are deeply involved in doing so much good for their neighbors – being surrounded by true humanitarians, in the essence of the word.
So, please pour yourself a glass of wine and possibly grab a diet coke for a little extra backup caffeine jolt, as I share these feeling, I hope successfully, through these stories of the people I met and time I spent in Ewuaso Kedong.
Ewauso Kedong Parish and My Retreat
It all started with Father Stan, a Priest from Tanzania, picking me up in Nairobi on his way back from celebrating his 25th year of religious life in his hometown on the toe of Mount Kilimanjaro. The drive back to the Parish was through the rough terrain of the Rift Valley with me hearing stories from Fr. Stan about the Parish, the people, and the climates that impacts their lives, along with the experiences that come with it. As I sat in the truck, as we passed by zebra, I listened to these stories all being told of the people and the place, by this religious man who just finished celebrating his life and what he has been doing the last 25 years of it, which all was the gradual introduction to the coming 10 days of my time in Ewuaso Kedong with the people of the Parish and the Community.
The Parish itself sits on the edge of the main town in the Kedong Valley. Fr. John over the past six to seven years of being there, along with Sister Ilona, who I will tell you about more shortly, have built a pretty amazing spot. As we arrived, Fr. Stan gave me a tour of the place, which includes as you enter a small, but very sacred little chapel, that reminded me of the little church at the top of the hill in Durward Glens Monastery where we played when we visited our Uncle Jim Cody back in Wisconsin.
To the right of the chapel is an area surrounded by trees, that I later learned were planted by the kids who go to school there in connection with trees that were planted back in Wausau, Wisconsin at St. Anne’s and St Mark’s and some of the other churches in Wausau who have worked with Father John and his Parish over the years. I know I mentioned before that I have my sister Chris to thank for this great connection and experience, but before I arrived, I had no idea how much direct contact there would be back to Wisconsin and making me feel at home, right down to the trees around us being planted in connection with the school my sister was a teacher and where my nieces and nephew had gone to school. This was a cool place.
The trees wrap around a number of small buildings and play area that the Parish every day have 150 to 200 children come for kindergartener taught by the nuns, along with a solid meal, cooked in one of the little areas by the school for the kids each day.
Along side the school is a Mission with three houses that currently is home for seven young girls who have run away from home so they would be forced in to having a circumcision, what World Health Organizations (WHO) calls female genital mutilation (FGM), and be put into an arranged marriage. The girls were between the ages of 12 and 13 with only one being old enough to be in secondary/high school. Their arranged husbands may be as old as 60 and have three or four other wives.
The homes built for the girls are in the style of the Maasai village homes, but with modern amenities like electricity and running water along with rooms for studying, sleeping, eating and entertaining. Meeting these girls and seeing these girls at mass every morning, gave this even a stronger feeling that this was a special place. Knowing the Parish was there to give these girls a chance and in the long the whole community, hopefully showing by example the importance of equality and respect of all their people, men and women, is the right way to live and grow.
The Parish also has a farm, again showing by example in addition a livelihood on livestock, growing crops can provide additional resources. The farm has a number of cattle, sheep, goats and chickens and are growing crops like maize, carrots, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, different squashes, along with a number of fruit trees; orange, mango, apples, banana, …more than I know the names.
After the tour is was time for dinner, so the last two stops we had were to the spot I was going to be staying the next couple weeks and the sister’s house where we had dinner every night at 7:00PM – Since I had brought a couple of bottles of wine, Fr. Stan said maybe we should go over at 6:55 so we can pour the wine before dinner. – Although once we arrived Prayers came first, and then wine and then prayers again. It felt like home, although in the before dinner pray, they say “from they goodness” rather than “from they bounty” and I did not know the after dinner thank you prayer at first, but I did my best to hum through it and learned it pretty well by the end! The dinner was all from the farm with the exception of maybe the rice, but the salad, all its sides, the chicken, the milk with the tea, and the dessert all were from the property.
Over the number of meals I the chance to share with the nuns and priest over the next couple weeks, it truly was the first place I have really felt like it did make a difference if I ate everything on my plate. And I did my best. Even the couple of vegetarian meals they had. Although, the Sisters picked up pretty quick that veggies were not my favorite thing, and made a point of mainly having some type of meat on the table for me.
That first night after dinner, Fr. Stan and I went back to the place I was staying and as we arrived, at about 8:00 PM, Fr. Stan said good night and went into his room and closed the door. – Lights out at 8:00 PM… I guess. – I proceed to my room to unpack and get settled and decided I guess I should – read… – so I decided to download a book – Hours from anyway, in the middle of the Rift valley – full access to Amazon.com and their plethora of books. – I love my Kindle!!
I have wanted to read “50 Shades of Grey”, which I seem to have been hearing a lot about lately, but staying at essentially a monastery, I decided maybe that might not be the best choice. I decided on Bible instead!
Other than having bits and pieces of the Bible read about a million times in mass and having the occasional time to read at a few family and friends weddings, I actually have not read it from cover to cover, and I thought it was about time. Now I will say, as I am sure many of you already know, a number of times after reading about chamber maids hopping in the sack with their masters and daughters deciding to do the same… I had to check back to the home page to be sure which book I was reading… – but, all in all, it was a great choice and only helped add to the retreat feel, during our quite time each night at 8:00 PM on this stay in Ewuaso Kedong.
And this all was in the first day – the first evening – like in 2 hours of being there, I can not tell you how the feeling or warmth and belonging swept over me. I don’t know how best to describe the feeling in detail, but I will try by telling you the story of some of the people and the happenings that I experiences, like that above and continue below to hopefully be able to share the feelings how I felt them, as I felt them, just doing what we were doing each day; going to bed early and getting up early. Meeting and working with the people of the Parish and the Community each day. Having a lot of down time to read and prey and think and relax my mind, my body and my soul a little bit here in the remote area of Africa.
The next morning and over the next couple weeks while working on this project, I had a chance to meet the rest of the amazing people of the parish and the overall community. In addition to Fr. Stan, who I had the pleasure to drive with for a couple of hours, and Fr. John, who had not had a chance to meet yet, not being back from celebrating his 25 years as a priest back in his home in Ireland, but I knew from the stories and the surroundings, he was a very caring, good person. There was also the Sisters (Ilona, Caroline, Nell and Paulina) I had a chance to go to mass with and eat with every day, although the bulk of them had to leave for some training in Nairobi, so I had my first three days, mass, breakfast, lunch and dinner with one Sister, Sister Ilona, who I ask, since everyone seems to celebrating their jubilees this year, where was she on hers…. she replied by saying she was getting ready to double it with over 42 years as a nun and years in the order before that… – She had some experience in the world of religion.
Over those three days I really loved having the chance to learn more about Sister Ilona and her childhood growing up in India, joining an order based out of France, living in Rome, traveling else where and finally settling in Kenya. She has a sister and niece in England and family in India.
I mentioned in my initial post and have referenced a few times since, that I believe my Mom had a longing to do something like this, to be at a place like Ewuaso Kedong. Teaching kindergartens and working with the girls in the Mission and just spreading her love. As I also have mentioned, she still did do plenty of work to help a lot of people in need and be with people, living and teaching by example, but this is what I was thinking about when I mentioned it initially, this is where I could have seen her spending the last years of her live, continuing to help and serve anyone and everyone!
Daily mass was in the chapel every morning at 7:30, although I learned it is best to get there by 7:2o because they seem to start when they are ready and they assume everyone is there… Sunday mass was in the church hall and included an hour and half of singing and dancing – I was lucky to have the mass that was planned by the kids, so the kids picked the songs and dances and all – so they were all pretty joyous, to say the least – Talking about massive amounts of good energy everyone felt that Sunday. Although, I have a feeling that all their masses are pretty much a similar celebration!
I have been on a number of projects that I have put in to the category of missions, but this was the first one that I have been on that was actually being done with other fellow Catholics. The religion as most of you know I grew up with and have calculated on a run with friends in Austin that I have covered my religious obligation requirements of going to mass until I am about 88 years old – It was a complicated equation based on going to mass every day through grade school and close to it through college (where I was praying every night to get through differential equations). We calculated have been to mass conservatively over 5,000 times – take that minus the number of Sundays and Holy days of obligation, which works out to be about 60 per year… – I am good for while… – I mention this not as an excuse if I miss a Sunday here or there on travel, but because of my familiarity and truly feeling at home in Church and in turn with Priests and Nuns and this group of people over all. I have loved having a chance to work with so many other religions, and believe strongly that God loves all, regardless of what you name you use or don’t use; God loves all! But, with that being said, this was home, familiar territory.
I have mentioned in the last couple posts the difference of getting to the Parish with Fr. Stan in two hours versus my return trip to Nairobi that took four hours. The difference being the drivers and the routes they take, but similar to the drive with Fr. Stan the trip back included a total bonus conversation with few new found friends that I met the day before I left, including a women from California, but the name of Nirvana.
This third post of three, started with the story of the ride with Fr. Stan and closes now with this ride back with Nirvana, which both could have been posts in themselves, but they both also proved to be the base and the icing on the cake of an already amazing experience. So, before I get into a summary of pluses and minus and lessons learned, let me try to give you the readers digest version of the four-hour drive with Nirvana, back to Nairobi!
Meeting Nirvana started with a discussions over dinner at the Parish with Sister Ilona mentioning that a woman had stopped the convent and asked to use the shower. Sister only described the women as having been from California and was now living in a tent outside Ewuaso District Office building, next to the Parish, with no running water and place to take a shower. Sister knew she was there to do some type of humanitarian development work, but did not know the details.
As always my mind started running on that outside potential; maybe this is where I finally find the women of my dreams… in the bush of Kenya. So, I thought I should stop over and at least introduce myself, as fellow American here in Africa and learn a little more about what she was doing. – Sadly though, similar to other times this idea has crossed my mind, it turned out the women from California was married and her husband was arriving the next day and her daughter following a couple days later. But happily, also similar to other times, I did get a chance to meet an amazing person, doing amazing things and I had the chance to learn about it all, that day and on the ride back to Nairobi, which she offered to take me back in route to pick up her husband at the airport, which also included a stop at Carnivore, a great Nairobi tradition for travelers to have dinner of various exotic meats all served on a skewer.
On the drive I learned that Nirvana has been on quest of shorts since the mid 80’s to help resolve the world hunger issue. She started with the group called the Hunger Project (www.thp.org) and since than she has had some ups and a few downs and refocusing to what she is doing now, which is a program test model here in Kenya to resolve hunger first hand by working with the people in their communities and changing their situation by first changing the way people think about their situation. By changing the way you see your situation you can than focus on changing the way you react to it and the way you resolve it. The concept is similar to what I was trying to understand more and explain in the first of these three posts; “Big Picture”, saying there needed to be a change what I called people’s mind set and attitudes that comes with culture and tradition, but the discussion with Nirvana took this to the next level with actually applying it in a practical, tangible way, right here in Kenya, in the Ewuaso Kedong Valley with the people we have been working with in the Parish and Community.
When I met Nirvana I also met two other people she is working with Eric and Wise, who also joined us for the ride back to Nairobi. Eric works for a group called the Global Peace Makers and Wise is an engineer works directly with Nirvana’s organization which is called Ecosawa (Swahili for “it’s all ok”). I had a chance to fill them in on what I knew about the draught relief project that Fr. John and the team of people were doing, and they were able to fill me in on what they where doing with their program to change people’s view points. Something Nirvana called “Intentionality” – getting what you expect, what you think about.
Eric and Wise along with some others put together a play, called “time bomb” which to paraphrase the story; someone in a village gets a new watch which they are very excited about, but which also needs to be wound each day to keep it running. When he has to go out of town, he asks a friend to wind it while he is gone. That person ends up asking another friend to help keep it wound, saying how important it is to keep going. As the story continues around the village, it was feared all the terrible things that could happen, if they did not keep it wound – like it might explode, like a time bomb. The village all focused on keeping it wound, until one day a young boy forgot to wind it… – everyone ran for shelter worrying what might happen, but, nothing happened. No explosion, nothing bad, the watch just stopped running. It was all a just a worry, but it was only a worry because they thought it was something to worry about. When it stopped running, everyone was fine.
The play goes on to ask the audience, what “time bombs” they have in their lives – what things do they feel they need to do to keep everything going – And are those things that actually cause you to not be able to be who you want to be or do something want to do… – pretty impactful, opening your mind, in a very simple and tangible way to say… holy sh@#t – I don’t have to do this or believe that… the world is not going to end, and in fact, it might even get better if I thought differently.
Nirvana went on to explain that the thought is based on the fact that most people would actually stay in a situation, even it is bad one, because it is a known situation. The fear of change stands stronger than the comfort of being assured of an outcome – good or bad.
Intentionality takes accepting change to a new level by seeing the potential good that the change will bring you. Actually to the point of knowing change is what is needed to get what you want and expect you should have to the point of not being afraid of change but instead knowing the potentials are limitless by intentionally expected the outcome you want, and know it can and will happen, if you are willing to change your view-point on what “time bombs” might be hold on to!
The tangible part of the effort is that they than work with the community to tackle changing whatever the community identifies in the meeting as their time bombs. The most recent example was the community identified their need to continue to be a transient society, because they felt they needed to be for the sake of the livestock. The solution in part may be drought relieve and adding agriculture to their regular life, which of course what ties Nirvana and her teams lives and goals together with what Fr. John and the team are doing with the drought relieve water project. – Pretty cool small world.
Overall, of the time I had at Ewuaso Kedong, the feeling I had I would describe as peacefulness. No stress, with people accepting you as you are, with no judgement. Staying at a place full of love and goodness, feeling completely welcome; if my stay was for a day or a year, if it was today or next year. I cannot go as far as saying being without title or identity. There definitely was a hierarchy; with priests and nuns and committee and community leaders, but it came with pride rather than vanity and was used more in a way of order and responsibility. Everyone had a role and everyone contributed to the community and the parish based on that role. It was feeling that there was an awareness and a growth taking place there, and I had a chance to be part of it for a short time, which felt good.
I am a list guys, and I oddly enough have not done them in many of my posts, but in closing I will give a quick list of plusses and minuses and lessons learned from my experiences in Ewuaso this year.
- The mission for girls
- Lack of Judgement
- The fact that they must have a mission for girls
- Gender discrimination
- Hunger still exists
- Poverty still exists
- Feeling of limitations
- Quit time can be good
- Reading the Bible is a positive
- Accept people with out judgement
- The world is not that big
- Everyone makes a difference
- Know you can succeed
- Let go of time bombs – the things you think you have to hold on to, to be who you think you are or suppose to be
- You can be anything
Happy Labor Day Weekend Everyone!! Hope you are all doing great!!