Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Eulogy for a Chicken

2007 - 2007
Malaika, my hen, sadly died on Sunday, February 25, 2007. On Saturday morning, she refused to go out in the field with Rafiki, my rooster, to find food. She stayed all day in the chicken house and began to cough, as chickens do when they are sick. I was told by Maurice, the parish cook and grounds keeper, that she caught an intestinal bacteria and there was not much I could do, but to kill her. I was not willing to accept this and on Sunday I went to a veterinary medicine shop, in Kakamega, a half hour away, to buy chicken medicine. When I returned to the chicken house with the medicine she had already passed away.

So the Lord God formed out of the ground
various wild animals and various birds of the air,
and he brought them to the man to see what
he would call them; whatever he called them
would be their name.
Genesis 2:19

"I will call you Malaika."

Malaika you were a good chicken. You always let me pet you when Rafiki would run away. You always remained calm and did not get excited over petty things. You ate what I fed you and did not turn your head to complain. You would never bite the hand that fed you. You treated Rafiki as a friend and kept him company in the field and helped to show him the way home at night. You were a strong chicken and stood up for yourself when Rafiki would try to steal your food. You were a very modest chicken and did not feel the need to stand tall in the morning and announce your presence to the world, as many roosters do. But this does not mean that you have gone unnoticed. Your name means “Angel” and so you were, on Earth. But now you have gone to Chicken Heaven, and there, a much greater Angel you will be. Goodbye Malaika. You will not be forgotten. Rafiki and I will miss you.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

St. Julie Centre - Week 6

Bevan has cerebral palsy and uses the tricycle for play therapy.

I have now been given the position of Volunteer Supervisor at the St. Julie Centre for Disabled Children. It's very strange that I have only been at the Centre about one month and now I am a supervisor. I have never worked with disabled children before, I know almost nothing about physical therapy, and I am not fluent in Swahili. I even have trouble remembering many of the names of the children or even the names of some of my co-workers. I've only been in the country about a month....and did I mention, I'm a supervisor. I'm not quite sure what to think of it. Should I be honored? Frightened? Both?

Work at the Centre has been intense to say the least. I arrive at about 8:30 in the morning and greet David and Angela, the local occupational therapists, but there is usually only time for a brief chat with them before the parents and children start coming in the door.
As they come up the ramp to the Centre I quickly stand from my child-size chair and greet each parent and child with a hand shake, and a "Habari asubuhi!" (Good morning!). Greetings in Kenya, I am told, are very important and I try my best to make a good impression. All are very polite, but some are so surprised to see a mzungu (white person) that appears to speak their local language, that they often can't help but laugh. Many times I also am surprised, but more so by their reaction than I being white, that I will go back and sit down in my chair without asking for the name of their child.

Bridgit has Down's Syndrome and is playing with a doll to help her socialization.

There are now over 100 children that come to the Centre and have disabilities as a result of birth defects, diseases, and also nerve damage due to improperly given injections. Some of the disabilities that are brought into the Center are club foot, cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome, epilepsy, spina bifida, mental retardation, hydrocephalus, microcephalus, and foot drop. Their are also some children that receive transportation to and from the hospital for surgery to correct cleft lip, cleft palette, and various eye conditions.

Samson has spina bifida and kicks a soccer ball for play therapy.

The Centre provides both occupational and play therapy. Occupational Therapy is done by the therapists, David and Angela, and can be a massage or exercise that increases brain and nerve stimulation. The children may also have plaster casts or plastic braces made for their feet and legs to ensure that they will grow straight. The last part of occupational therapy is always a swing in the "hammock" or tire swing to increase balance and stimulate the senses.

Aizan has a speech disability and uses the hammock "tire swing" to stimulate his senses.

It is my job to keep a record of each child's visit and also to update their files for play therapy. I will ask the parent in Swahili, "Jina la mtoto ni nani?" (What is the name of the child?) Then I will record it and see if the child already has a file from a previous visit to the Center. A file includes information about a child's specific disability and can help when choosing a toy for play therapy.

Benjamin is hemiplegic and uses the soccer ball to increase muscle control.

Children that have trouble walking may get a toy that stimulates gross motor control and will be encouraged to use the parallel bars, the push cart, or the tricycle. Those that have trouble using their hands may get a toy that stimulates fine motor control and be encouraged to fit wooden pegs into holes or thread beads on a string. The one's that have problems standing or sitting will be encouraged to use the child safety seats or the standing box. While the one's that have problems with focusing or attention will get a toy that makes noise, play songs, or have flashing lights. Lastly, the children that have problems learning to talk will get a toy that stimulates oral motor control and be encouraged to blow bubbles or play a harmonica.

The children at the Centre can have many varying disabilities. Many can be very active and will run, scream, shout, cry, or laugh. However, there are also many that display very little movement beyond the blinking of their eyes. These children can show very little or no emotion at all. It can be challenging to work with either extreme, but many times, in one day, I will work with both children that are hyper-active and will not sit still and also children that can barely move and are confined to a child seat. Some days can really be a rollercoaster!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

A Kenyan girl with ashes on her forehead.

“One does not live on bread alone,
but by every word that comes forth
from the mouth of God.”

Matthew 4:4

Mandazi (Kenyan donuts)

For all you Catholics out there, once again it is Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season has begun. We now have forty days and forty nights of fasting before Easter Sunday on April 8th. As part of my fasting, I have given up soda and mandazi (Kenyan donuts). In a hopeless attempt to get craving them out of my system, this week I ate at least five mandazi and for Mardi Gras, yesterday night, I had to rush out and buy some more soda. I drank Coke, Sprite, and Blackcurrant (grape) Fanta soda. In Kenya, most of the soda is still sold in the original glass bottles. It’s so good!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Priestly Ordination

Newly Ordained Priests

The procession

The Bishop
On Friday, this past weekend I was invited by Sister Jane, one of the Sisters of Notre Dame, to her cousin's priestly ordination. I have never been to an ordination in the States, so I'm not sure how it compares, but in Kenya it's a very big deal. Sister Jane's cousin is now known as the Reverend Father Chris Mukakha Walfula. He was ordained this past weekend along with two other priests and two deacons.

The ordination took place at the Catholic parish of Sirisia in the town of Busia (about 2 hours from Malava). The celebration began with a mass led by the local bishop that lasted 5 hours long. Thousands of people from many towns and villages came to celebrate so the mass was held outdoors. Most of the people traveled many hours on foot just to get to the parish. Tents and chairs were put up for the soon-to-be priests along with distinguished guests, family, and friends. All others had to sit on the ground with only the trees to shade them from the hot sun. During the mass there was lots of dancing and singing, speeches were given, a lengthy homily, and, of course, the consecration of the body and blood of Christ. Even the Kenyan Boyscouts were there to ceremonially raise and lower the Kenyan flag.

Throughout the celebration the newly ordained priests and deacons were treated like celebrities. It seemed like they were constantly followed by their own paparazzi. There was a small crew of men with cameras and digital video equipment trying to capture every moment. The locals that could afford to have a camera were also taking pictures. Those that had cameras had the large, very simple, 35mm, point-and-shoot cameras that were very popular in the U.S. about 15 years ago. Except for the video crew, no one had a digital camera. When I took mine out to take these pictures I got many stares from adults and children. Although many didn't own them, the people seemed to be very familiar with the concept of how a digital camera took pictures. I wondered if it had everything to do with tourism. The people, especially the children, love to have their pictures taken so that they can see themselves on the small screen.

After the mass the singing and dancing continued for hours. Local musicians set up handmade instruments and played music for the crowds. Traditional Kenyan food was also served along with Coke and Fanta soda.

Local musicians playing handmade instruments.

Sister Jane who has been to many ordinations is very keen on what happens. She told me how it works. Many people get distracted by the dancing, the singing, and the musicians. Then when they finally make their way to the food line, it's very long and in many cases the food runs out before everyone has eaten. Knowing this we both headed straight for the food. We where nearly first in line and filled our plates fast with rice, beef, chicken, potatoes, ugali (maize meal porridge), and sukuma wiki (kale). As we sat and ate on plastic chairs in the shade we watched the line growing quickly. We both looked up from our plates, mouths full and chewing, when Sister Jane explained once again, "That's what happens when you go to dance!"
Newly Ordained Reverend Father Chris Mukakha Walfula celebrating his first mass.
The large crowd at the Rev. Father Chris' first celebrated mass.
Later on Sunday, we attended Sister Jane's cousin's first celebrated mass.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Kuku Day!

My newly bought chickens and I on Kuku day.
In my small village of Malava every Wednesday and Friday is Kuku Day. If you know your Swahili you'll know that "kuku" means "chicken." All of the farmers that raise chickens gather together just off of the main crossroads in the marketplace and show them off to all who pass by, even those who have no intention of buying a chicken. Who knows, for the right price maybe they'll change your mind.
Many of the chickens arrive by bicycle and are stuffed many into a small wooden cage on the back. Chickens in Kenya seem to be seen as a mere commodities and are not given any animal rights. The chickens' legs are tied together so they will not run away and when hung upside down, the legs provide a handle for carrying them. A potential buyer may also hang a chicken upside to see that it is not sick. If the chicken is sick a liquid will drain from its nostrils and beak.

Many farmers want to make a quick sale and when they see that someone is interested there is stiff competition between those that can offer the right bird at the right price. As with nearly everything that can be bought here there is an "African price" and a "Mzungu price." Mzungus (white people) are always preceived to have a lot of money and so they tend to pay the highest prices for anything that can be bargained for...and chickens are no exception.

In Kenya, chicken is considered to be one of the finest foods and this is reflected in the high price for chicken in the restaurants. Surprisingly chicken is even more expensive than beef.
I have been thinking for a couple of weeks now that it would be good to have a couple of chickens on hand. They could always be slaughtered and eaten, but I was thinking more that they would make good pets and that I would always have fresh eggs for breakfast.
One Friday David, the Occupational Therapist that I work with at the St. Julie Center, met me at the market to help me get the best price on a couple of kukus. David is a Kenyan and was able to help me get an "African price." I ended up paying 430 Ksh for a rooster and a hen, just a hair over 6 dollars US. Not too shabby.
I brought them home and now they live in my courtyard. The rooster is named Rafiki (Friend) and the hen is Malaika (Angel). They are both a little young and will not be crowing in the morning or laying eggs for several weeks. Rafiki has not yet grown the comb on his head for which a rooster is most recognized. For this reason many people have mistaken him for a hen. They are both white with a similar pattern of black on their tails and as many other chickens in
Kenya are completely brown or black, I like to joke about them being mzungu chickens. We all seem perfectly suited for each other.
Rafiki looks like a hen, but clearly has the manners of a rooster. He gets excited quickly and does not care to be petted. He seems very proud of himself, for no reason at all, and struts along a ladder that is laying down in the courtyard.

Malaika sitting calmly and Rafiki standing proud.

Malaika is calm most of the time and doesn't mind being petted. She seems very modest and spends most of her time sitting and clucking. When food is present she is clearly "the boss" and will peck at Rafiki to get the first bite.

Malaika and Rafiki sitting together.

I let them out in the morning to find food in the field out back and have trained them to come home at night. When they come home separately, one will wait for the other and then they will sit together on the ladder and sleep throughout the night.

They are the perfect Kenyan pets!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Kenya Facts

The Kenyan flag was adopted on December 12, 1963.
The colors, shield, and spears are those of the Maasi warrior.
The Republic of Kenya is located in East Africa. It is crossed horizontally by the equator and vertically by the 38th meridian (east). It is bordered in the north by Ethiopia and The Sudan, on the west by Uganda and Lake Victoria, on the south by Tanzania, and on the east by the Indian Ocean and Somalia.
Kenya's boundaries came about through rivalries between colonial European powers and contain many ethnically diverse people who are independent and proud of their cultural heritage. Kenyans are also aware of the need for a strong national identity and many groups are willing to come together and unite to make this possible.
Since Kenya's independence in 1963, the government has rallied the people under the national motto of "Harambee," or "Pulling together."
Postcolonial development has been a communal effort based on the principle of self-help. In this way the republic has tried to strengthen its traditional agricultural base as a foundation for industrialization. It also continues to promote tourism, for the beauty and variety of Kenya's landscape, the pleasant and sunny climate, and the impressive dances and music of its people.

Kenya Facts

Population(est): (2005) 33,830,000
Area: 224,961 square miles (582,646 square kilometres).
Largest Cities:
Nairobi (Capital)

Motto: "Harambee, " or "Pulling Together"
tribal languages
Republic (gained independance from the British Empire in 1963)
Mwai Kibaki
Protestant 45%
Roman Catholic 33%
Muslim 10%
Traditional Religions 10%
Hindu, Jainism, and Baha'i 2%
Sugar Cane
Maize (Corn)
Sukuma wiki (Kale)
Passion Fruit
Lingala (upbeat party music guitar and drums)
Benga (contemporary Kenyan dance music)
Taarab (originated as Swahili wedding music)
Football (Soccer) National Team - The Harambee Stars
Rallying (Off-road racing)
* Kenya has announced it's intention host the Olympics in 2016.
It would be the first African country ever to host the Olympics.
Paul Tergat - Marathon world record holder
Catherine Ndereba - Four-time winner of the Boston Marathon
The Constant Gardener
Nowhere in Africa
Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
To Walk With Lions
Karen Blixen's Out of Africa
Born Free

Price Ranges:
$1.00 US = 70 Ksh (Kenya Shillings)
1 Litre of petrol (gasoline) = +/- 70 Ksh
1 bottle of Tusker Beer = 70 Ksh
1 bottle of Coke = 16 Ksh
1 Daily Nation newspaper = 35 Ksh
1 pineapple = 30
1 apple = 25 Ksh
1 bag sukuma wiki (feeds 3 people) = 10 Ksh
1 bag maize flour (feeds many) = 55 Ksh
1 meal (restuarant) = 100 - 200 Ksh
1 meal (home) = 50 - 100 Ksh
1 pirated DVD (containing 5-6 new movies) = 150 - 300 Ksh
1 Toyota Hi-lux / yr 2000 (4WD Pick-up) = 680,000 Ksh
Experiencing Kenya first-hand = PRICELESS!!!

Friday, February 02, 2007


My front door and all its locks across from the kitchen.

My first week in the house I learned a very important lesson. Lock the kitchen door at night.

Every morning I have to ask myself the same question before I can leave the house and go to work. "Where the heck did I put my keys!" I have three sets of keys that I have to carry with me when I leave the house. I have a key to my bedroom door, two keys for the front door, one key for the security bars on the front door, one key for the kitchen, and one key for the gate to the courtyard. Here in Kenya many of the smallest tasks can take a considerable amount of time and securing a house is no exception. Many times when I am leaving for work I will go outside and make sure everything is locked up tight and then it occurs to me that I have forgotten something in the house and I have to go through each batch of keys that I have and unlock all of the locks to get into the house in order to retrieve it. Then I have to repeat the whole procedure to relock the house before I can leave the second time. It's always AFTER I've locked up everything that I remember that I've forgotten something, never BEFORE. Appearently, Murphy's Law applies in Kenya too.

My kitchen is in a separate building across the courtyard about thirty steps from the house. Just to get up in the morning and go into the kitchen to make something to eat for breakfast it requires three keys and the unlocking of four locks. I lock up before I go to work, I unlock when I get home for work, and I relock after dinner before I go in for the night. Sometimes when I lock up and go in for the night, I get into my pajamas and get ready to brush my teeth... Then I remember that we don't have any water in the house and it's all stored in the kitchen. You guessed it... I have to find the keys (usually still in my pants pocket, but could be anywhere by this time), unlock two locks on the door, unlock the security bars, walk across the courtyard in my pajamas through the gauntlet of Malaria mosquitoes, unlock the kitchen door, get the water, then do it all in reverse. So you see it can be a pain sometimes.
My new two-burner gas stove.

What I have been leading up to is the night that I forgot to lock the kitchen. We had some of the other volunteers over for dinner that night and we were in and out of the kitchen so many times that I thought it would be easier just to keep it unlocked for the time being. Later we went into the house and when night fall came I still had not locked the kitchen. I went to bed that night with out any worries. When I went into the kitchen the next morning I found the door open and many things scattered about the room, but the worst of it was that somebody had come into my kitchen and stolen our two-burner gas stove.
At first I got angry over the situation. I almost felt as if the hospitality that I have been shown by the Kenyan people to this point was all phoney. As if they had plotted to steal my stove all along. But later it was explained to me that the Kenyan people did not see it this way. They did not hate Americans. They only saw that we had a lot and they had a little. And that we could probably afford to buy another stove. Whereas it would take them several weeks or even months to be able to afford what we probably didn't appreciate anyway. Sometimes I can forget that I am the foreigner. I have come into their country...and I really should have locked the kitchen.
I soon got over it and bought a new stove and the supermarket. It cost me a whole 2,200 Ksh (Kenyan Shillings) which is the equivalent of $31.00 US.
...and now I've learned to keep the kitchen locked at night.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


My house at St. Teresa's has...how do you say...a little bit of a rat problem. To put it bluntly, my ceiling is infested with many, many rats! I didn't just find this out today. In fact, I knew this before I even left the States...and yes I still came here. I suppose there must be a greater power working inside me. Every night while I am lying in bed I can hear what sounds like hippos playing shuffleboard on pogosticks across my ceiling. Okay, maybe I exaggerated a little, but you get the point. They're loud!!! The good news is that they are not, I repeat, NOT in the house. But please don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I'm more amused by it than anything. Somehow they find, or chew, a hole into the roof outside and then they make themselves at home in my ceiling.

Up until now I was just hearing them, but today was the first day that I actually saw a rat. In fact I saw many rats...

There wasn't much going on today after work so I sat reading in the sitting room. The front door was open for the breeze. I looked up from my book (C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce) when I started to hear the pitter-patter of something running through the rain gutters. That's when I saw them through my door. They weren't that big, but still they were big enough and were followed by their long and thick, hairless tails. This is when I began to investigate. While outside, the rats were nowhere to be seen. I took a walk around the courtyard and found what looked like a hornet's nest hanging from one corner of the roof, made of red soil. This is when I though it would be a good idea to knock it down. The last thing I need is hornets in my courtyard. So I grabbed a long mop handle from the house and began hitting the nest to break it apart. Pieces of dried red soil began to fall to the ground and revealed a hole leading into the roof. This was when along with the soil many baby rats began falling out of the roof as well. They kept coming until there where at least five or six of them. It was pretty disgusting. They were only babies and they couldn't run away so I swept them up and took them out in a field far far away. I hope that is the last I will see of them. But as for their parents, who are still in the ceiling, they will be feasting on rat poison very soon.

I have since had rat poison put into my ceiling and I have seen my first victim. The poison I am using is called Storm and it's pretty brilliant. When ingested the rats become very thristy and come out of the roof to find water. Shortly after they find themselves "belly-up" outside, and not in my ceiling. Poor buggers!!!