Saturday, October 27, 2007

Malava Village

Malava villagers gather around for a Tangawizi tea promotion

Malava is such a small village in Kenya that it doesn’t appear on most maps, but for it’s size there is surprisingly a lot going on. When I wake up in the morning it is not to the startling sound of a buzzing alarm clock, but rather the friendly sounds of the countryside. My rooster crows from the courtyard, a cow moos from the field behind my house, and a tractor drives by in the distance. For a moment, as I come out of my dream, I could be in any small town in America, but then I hear the sounds of people. The people walk by my house on a narrow footpath to the church and I hear them talking back and forth to each other. Their voices are familiar, but the language they speak can’t be understood. They are speaking Kiluyha (KEE-LOO-YAH), the language of the local tribe, the Luyha (LOO-YAH) tribe. “Oh yeah,” I remind myself, as I open my eyes and yawn, “I’m in Kenya.”

Men sell chickens from a basket on their bicycle

On my way to the St. Julie Centre on Wednesday’s mornings, just before I cross the main tarmac road, I walk through numerous vendors selling chickens from baskets on the backs of their bicycles. The chicken’s legs are tied so they won’t run away and many of them cry out and flap their wings desperately as they are held upside down. Some are also lying in piles on the ground and I look them over briefly as I walk by. I try not to look too long or I will be hounded by the vendor to purchase one. I think to myself, I am probably the only person in all of Kenya that keeps chickens for a pets.

The Posho Mill is used to grind maize into flour

This boy heads for the market to sell greens

As I cross the road, matatus are quickly stopping to let the passengers off while others are scrambling to get on. There is always a long line of boda bodas (bicycle taxis) on this road. They call out to me as I walk passed, offering to take me to work by bicycle for only 10 Ksh ($0.07). Close by there is a place where bicycle mechanics are hard at work. I wave to them and continue on my way. Some villagers are carrying small baskets or large heavy sacks of maize to the posho (POH-SHOW) mill. The posho mill is a place to bring dried maize to be ground by a machine into flour for making ugali. Ugali is the main food of many Kenyans and so the posho mill is a busy place that does a lot of business. For 4 Ksh ($0.03), one gorogoro (coffee can) of maize can be ground into flour. Other villagers walk barefoot along the rough dirt roads carrying baskets of fruit on their heads to the market to sell. Some also carry jugs of milk or bushels of greens.

Malava kiosk

Barber shop and music store

Babadogo Discount Shop

To my right I pass a number of kiosks (wood stands selling fruit and other items) and Malava’s only music store, which most of the time functions as a kinyozi (barbershop). To my left I pass the Babadogo Discount Shop which sells soda, bread, milk, eggs, sugar, margarine, matches, batteries, padlocks, brooms, and more. Both advertise that mobile charging and prepaid phone cards are available. While most villagers do not have electricity in their homes, many own mobile phones and come to the shops to buy airtime and pay to have their phones charged.

A poor man in Malava

On my way to work, many days I see at least one mentally ill man or woman that looks so much poorer than all of the rest of the villagers. In general, the people of Malava are poor, but because they all live at about the same standard, only the incredibly poor stand out. These people appear to be homeless and wear dirty, tattered clothes with many odds and ends stuck into the pockets. One woman walks through the marketplace topless and dances to the music on a radio while one man talks nonsense to anyone who passes by. They have become a nuisance to some, but never to me. They both always greet me kindly when I see them on the road.

Fried tilapia

This man sells roasted maize by the roadside

On the weekends there is always something happening. On Fridays the main attraction is the new Malava market. The original market along the tarmac was moved to a nearby location just up the road from the St. Julie Centre. This new location has a brick and concrete enclosure that provides shelter from the traffic, sun, and rain. It also offers clean latrines and showers for only 10 Ksh ($0.07). But most villagers save their money by showering from a bucket at home and use the bushes and trees for a “short call” (nature’s call #1). Since most people in Malava do not own televisions, sometimes on market day a large food company will send a promotional team to entertain the crowd in order to advertise it’s products. The Tangawizi tea company team comes in a bus that converts into a stage. They set up a sound system and play music and dance for the crowd. On the roadside, people are selling fried tilapia and roasted maize. They always ask me if I would like to buy either of them, but unfortunately I do not care for fish and the roasted maize is too hard for me to eat.

Villagers dance at the crusade

On Saturdays and Sundays nearly all of the many churches in Malava are active. While St. Teresa is the only Catholic parish, there are many Protestant churches. The more prominent ones are the African Church of the Holy Spirit, the Friends Church, and the Salvation Army Church. One Pentecostal church sets up a stage for a crusade. They sing gospel songs and dance while they invite the villagers to join in. Between performances a charismatic preacher shouts into a microphone giving them the hard gospel message. The preacher’s voice can be heard clearly from my house, but because I cannot understand what he is saying his forceful tone only makes me laugh. To me his strong voice sounds like he is challenging someone to a wrestling match.

The New Honey Drops Hotel

Malava Supermarket

The trees in Malava forest are home to monkeys and baboons

On the weekends I go early to the New Honey Drops Hotel for mandazi and stop off at the Malava Supermarket for milk to make chai tea. I usually spend the morning in the house, but in the afternoons I may take a walk up passed the landmark Total station to the Malava forest. The Malava forest has many interesting species of trees that are inhabited by monkeys and baboons. The monkeys usually remain in trees, but the baboons will walk along the roadside with the people. Sometimes they will chase a woman carrying a basket of fruit on her head. They are normally harmless animals, but I am told when one of them feels threatened they will all come together and can viciously attack.

The Imax Cinema

On my way back from the forest I pass the Imax Cinema to see what is showing. A chalkboard outside lists a schedule for what is playing. Usually there are Nigerian movies during the day, but in the evening the schedule is full of English Premier soccer matches. Unlike in the United States where “Imax” means stadium seating, digital theatre sound, and an eight-story screen, in Malava “Imax” means a 19-inch color TV, no remote.

The Wornder Kutz Kinyozi (barber)

Before I head home I stop at the Wornder Kutz Kinyozi (barber) for a hair cut. I believe the sign is supposed to say “Wonder Kutz” but because many of the older villagers cannot read, spelling is not important. Most Kenyans do not use scissors to cut hair, they simply use electric clippers to shave their heads clean. And because there is not much technique involved most barbers learn on the job. The barber shaves my head, but I am careful to give instructions for him to leave a little stubble. When he is finished he wipes the back of my neck with a brush made of animal fur and I pay him 10 Ksh. As I leave I again look up at the sign and think, “I pay for the haircut, but the laughs are free.” This, of all, is how I have chosen my barber.

When I reach home the evening is beginning to set in and I am thinking about what to make for dinner. I fetch some water and cook some rice and look out at a picture perfect sunset. It is the perfect ending to another enjoyable day in my small village of Malava.

A picture perfect sunset

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Kenyan Homestead

In the village of Malava, I live very close to the marketplace where there are many shops, small buildings, and even some homes made out of cement and bricks, but if I walk only a few minutes in any direction I can see mud huts all around. A group of mud huts together make up the traditional Kenyan Homestead. In Swahili, the homestead is called the bomas.

In the village of Malava mud huts are all around!

A typical mud hut in Malava

The traditional Kenyan homestead is typically is made up of many mud huts built close together and occupied by many generations of the same family all living together. It is very common for a man and a woman to live on the same land as their children and grandchildren all at the same time.

A local Malava Homestead

Some Kenyans practice the tradition of polygamy. In those families, each wife is given her own hut, but it is the hut of the man’s first wife that is always the largest of them. When the children grow old enough to be considered men and women they are each given their own hut as well. Then when the men get married they will bring their wife to live at the homestead, while the women will move away to live at the homestead of their husband.

This small hut is used for storing maize and other grains

The average mud hut is not very large and only contains two or three small rooms and so separate huts are built for the kitchen and the latrine. In addition to these huts other mud structures are also built for keeping animals and storing grain.

This interesting variation is covered completely with grass thatch

Each tribe of Kenya uses a different style of building and huts across the country can have a lot of variation. The huts from the Luyha (LOO-YUH) tribe around Malava are made in several stages. First the land is cleared and a foundation of mud is formed. This foundation also serves as the inside floor of the hut. Then walls are built up around the floor out of tree limbs and sticks. Afterwards the limbs and sticks are covered with several layers of mud and left to dry in the sun. Square and rectangular holes are cut in the walls to serve as windows and are fitted with small wooded shutters. When the mud walls are finished a cone-shaped roof is constructed of wood limbs and finally covered on top with grass thatch.

This modern hut uses cement instead of mud

The mud that is used to build the floor and the walls is made out of soil and water, but can also contain cow dung. When dried cow dung is said to be several times stronger than soil and water alone. Some modern huts can be covered with a layer of cement to make them strong and can even be fitted with glass window with metal frames.

Tom and his one-year-old daughter

On several occasions I have had the great pleasure to visit Tom, the groundskeeper at the St. Julie Centre, and his family at their traditional Kenyan homestead. Every time I have come he has given me a tour around the compound. He always begins the tour by proudly showing me his hut, where he lives with his only wife and their one-year-old daughter. Then as we continue to walk around he will show me the huts of his father, mother, brothers, and cousins. We are followed every step of the way by all the children of his family. They are all very curious and shy at first but soon they all begin running and laughing and will dance to the music on the radio. When we get to the far edge of the homestead Tom shows me a newly constructed hut that looks very much like a house. It is made of cement and bricks and has glass windows with metal frames. I always remark at how nice it looks. Then Tom will smile and turn to me and say, “This is where you will live when you marry my cousin.” That’s when I smile and turn to him and say, “I think it’s time for me to go.”

The children at Tom's homestead

Sunday, October 21, 2007

St. Julie Programme - Workshops & Clinics

Ryan, Tim, and Joy sit at the registration table at the epilepsy clinic

Currently, there are about 60 children that come to the St. Julie Centre, but there are over 300 that are part of the St. Julie Programme. The St. Julie Programme includes children as well as adults that don’t always come to the Centre for regular therapy. While the Centre specializes in occupational therapy, transportation and other forms of assistance may be provided for those children and adults that need surgery, medication, or eye treatment at a hospital or clinic.

Sr. Judi, the founder of the SJC speaks at a parent meeting

Angela, an occupational therapist at the SJC, speaks about child deaths due to illness

In addition to occupational therapy, the St. Julie Programme also holds local epilepsy clinics, eye clinics, and parent meetings, or workshops. They are all held several times a year, usually on a Friday or Saturday, when there is no occupational or play therapy.

Stephen speaks about the treatment of epilepsy at the SJC

The epilepsy clinics are normally held at the St. Julie Centre. On those days, Stephen, an epilepsy specialist, and his staff come from the nearby town of Mumias to evaluate the clients and to prescribe the necessary medication. Typically, 60 to 80 children and adults attend the epilepsy clinics and receive treatment and medication.

Stephen explains how a child can develop epilepsy

The eye clinics are usually held in the St. Teresa Parish Hall. A team of specialists from an eye clinic in the town of Sabatia come to Malava to check people’s eyes and, through the St. Julie Programme, get the necessary treatment and even eye glasses. On April 29th, the Sabatia eye clinic evaluated over 500 children and adults from the surrounding villages and through donations given to the programme, over 100 received free treatment and eye glasses.

Over 500 children and adults line up during the Sabatia eye clinic

In many cases, it is difficult for the people in Malava, and other nearby villages, to travel the distance to the nearest available treatment centre or hospital, so both the epilepsy clinic and the eye clinic are set up to bring the treatment to the rural villages, where the people are.

Sr. Judi and Neto, a SJC volunteer demonstrate
a locally made toy (a wheel attached to a stick)

Parent Meetings and workshops, like the eye clinics, are also held at the St. Teresa Parish Hall. The main purpose of these meetings is to educate the parents and volunteers about disabilities, where they come from and how to treat them. Each parent meeting has a topic related to a specific disability and also includes modes of prevention and treatment. A speaker begins a talk and then opens it up for discussion among the group. The parent meetings are especially helpful because they are beginning to remove the stigma that is associated with disabilities in rural Kenya. While there are still many in the villages that hold on to traditional beliefs that disabilities are a result of witchcraft or curses, this is changing and many of the disabled are given hope for recovery as well as acceptance among the community.

The parents listen intently as Sr. Judi speaks about parent's responsibilities

One particularly heartbreaking occurrence, that illustrates the need for education in the villages, happened some time ago when another local clinic was offering free inoculations for diseases common to the area. As an incentive for the villagers to come and bring their children to the clinic, each was given a free mosquito net for the prevention of malaria. However, because the people didn’t have the proper education, some of the them brought their children to be inoculated again and again , in order to receive yet another mosquito net. After begin given the same vaccine over and over many of the children began to die as a result of ignorance.

A parent stands to ask a question during the discussion at the parent meeting

It is St. Julie Billiart, the founder of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, that we follow in the footsteps of who spoke of educating the people as “the greatest work on earth.”

Friday, October 19, 2007

Eatin’ Bugs

Mmm, termites!

In March, I went to visit Maurice, the parish cook, at his family’s home, in the nearby village of Shitoli. While I was there I had the chance to try a Kenyan delicacy: live termites. As Maurice took me on the path from his family’s compound, we came along a group of children sitting in a circle out in the field. They were drumming with sticks on small flat stones as they sat on the ground. At first, I thought they were playing music, but I was wrong. Maurice explained that the children were drumming on stones over holes in the soil to make the termites come out. The termites, who live under ground, think that the drumming is the sound of rain drops falling on the stones. When they come to the surface for water they’re caught and eaten or collected to sell in the market.

Termites: A Kenyan delicacy!

What they call termites in Kenya aren’t the same wood-eating insects that we have back in the States. The termites in Kenya are about the size of ants and have two sets of long rounded wings. They can be found almost everywhere and sometimes I can find one or two of them flying around in my bedroom at night or even on my front doorstep in the early morning.

Termites coming to the surface for water

Termites are usually eaten in two ways, live or fried. While fried termites with ugali and greens sounds better to me, some Kenyans say that they are sweeter when eaten “fresh,” meaning live. And so I, wanting to get the most out of my Kenyan experience, ate two of them live.

Children catching termites to eat and sell

I have to say that there really wasn’t much taste to them. They were very dry and bland and so small that I could hardly taste anything before swallowing. Why anyone would eat termites is beyond me?!?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Birthday in October

Enjoying some refreshing Kool-Aid on my birthday in October

My birthday was in July, but I have had so much support from my family and friends that the packages are still coming. I got a notice today from the Sisters that I had another package waiting for me at the Posta. At first, it made me nervous because although I like receiving packages, I don’t like going to the Posta to retrieve them.

There is a woman who works at the counter at the Posta who on a personal level seems nice enough, but when it comes to the business of sending and retrieving packages, she is the enemy. And every time I enter the Posta another battle between her and I begins. It is her job, when someone comes to retrieve a package, to charge the receiver with fees and taxes that sometimes can amount to more than the shipping cost. The Kenyan government seems to be very watchful when it comes to packages from other countries. Packages that are large and somewhat heavy are thought to contain items of significant value and are slapped with the most amount of taxes.

The last time I went to the Posta I got into an argument with this woman about the quality of ketchup that was in my package. When she wanted to charge me an outrageous fee for a package, I pointed to the customs label and said, “It’s only ketchup!” “You want to charge me this much for ketchup!” She then promptly responded by pointing to the address label and said, “Yes, fancy American ketchup!”

Signed birthday banner

So it was, when I heard that there was another package waiting for me, that I reluctantly dragged myself over to the Posta once more. In the end, surprisingly, it wasn’t so bad. My strategy was to say as few words as possible. I went to the counter, handed “the enemy“ my package retrieval slip, paid an unusually small amount in taxes and fees, and left without a word. It was probably my best trip to the Posta yet.

The package contained belated birthday greetings from some friends back home. Along with a signed “belated birthday” banner, I received a St. Therese medal, various books, including The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, sugar-free Kool-Aid, and Twizzlers.

Just when I was about to write a post titled, “It’s October, and the candy you sent me is all gone!”

Thanks Rakhi, Tim M., Raquel, Erin, JP, Mike, Mary, Vicki, Andrea, Julie, Joseph, and Jonathan. You’re support of my work has been amazing! You have been in my thoughts and prayers everyday. I can’t wait to see you all when I get back. Sorry JP, the chickens can’t come!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Kenyan Cuisine

Ugali, meat, and sukuma wiki (kale) is one
of the most common meals to eat in Kenya

I have been learning throughout this year to prepare traditional Kenyan food. I don’t think I have, or will ever have, what it takes to slaughter an animal, but beyond that I have gotten some education in the Kenyan culinary arts and have developed a taste for African cuisine.

A fruit stand in Nairobi

Kenyan food is, no doubt, based on what’s available. In Nairobi, while there is no McDonald’s, there are fast food restaurants and hamburgers, fried chicken, and pizza can be easily be found. However, in the rural village of Malava, much of what is eaten is grown locally in shambas (small farms) and many people are able to live off the land. Those that own enough land to plant more than they need can sell what they grow in the market. The main staple crops are maize, sugar cane, tea, and sukuma wiki (kale). Some villagers also raise cattle, chickens, sheep, and goats for meat, milk, and eggs.

Mama Aizan sells vegetables in the market

This mama sells dried tilapia and omena

At the market, some of the best food are the fruits and vegetables. Fruits such as pineapples, bananas, mangoes, oranges, papayas, and passion fruit are grown without chemicals, and sold for pennies on the dollar. Cabbage, eggplant, maize, beans, potatoes, rice, carrots, onions, tomatoes, squash, kale, and garlic are also for sale.

The Furaha "Happiness" Butchery in Malava

Chickens sold live in the market

In the city, meat can be found frozen and packaged at the supermarket, but in the villages beef and pork are sold in the local butcheries. Although the meat is inspected by a government health official it is not packaged and hangs all day in the sun of the open-air shop windows and typically has flies on it. Chickens are, for the most part, bought and sold live and slaughtered at home. The thought that all of the germs and bacteria will be killed when the food is cooked gives me a lot of comfort. Beyond that, it’s “Out of sight, out of mind!”

A sufuria (pot) is placed over a wood fire on three stones for cooking

The most traditional way of cooking Kenyan food is on a wood or charcoal fire built between three large stones, on which a sufuria (pot) is placed. Although this is method is rarely seen in Nairobi, it is still somewhat common in the rural villages. I, however, have never cooked this way. I use the most convenient way, which is on a propane stove.

Ugali is a main food of East Africans. It is made with maize flour and water and is cooked until the mixture is hard. It is served in large brick-shaped pieces and is usually eaten with meat, chicken, fish, or vegetables.

“Sukuma wiki” is Swahili for “push the week.” Sukuma wiki is kale, cooked with fat, tomatoes, onions, salt, and beef flavoring. This is also a main food of East Africans because it is inexpensive and easy to grow. The locals can eat this many days in a row on very little money and it gets them through the week.

Chapattis are flat bread, similar to a tortilla, made with baking flour and water and fried with vegetable oil. They can be eaten alone or with meat, chicken, rice, or vegetables.

Pilau is a swahili dish made with rice, meat, and spices

Githeri is a mixture of beans and maize cooked
with onions tomatoes, and beef flavoring.

Samosas are a deep fried thin pastry filled
with meat, vegetables, and spices

Generally speaking, Kenyan food is very hard, bland, and contains a lot of carbohydrates. In Malava, and many other villages, the people are used to hard, laborious work from sun up to sun down, so they eat food that is very hardy to give them the energy to do such work. Most Kenyan food has very little seasoning aside from salt, pepper and the natural flavors of beef, chicken, and fish. Surprisingly, it is very difficult to find simple condiments such as ketchup and mustard. Some available alternatives are tomato sauce and hot chili sauce.

Omena are small sardine-like fish that are sold in the market.
They can be boiled or fried and eaten with ugali and sukuma wiki.

In many Kenya families one chicken must feed many people so no
parts go to waste. Chicken heads don’t have much meat on them,
but can be given to small children.

In Kenya, washing before and after meals is particularly essential because most Africans eat everything with their hands. Although utensils are somewhat available, the people feel that a fork or spoon gets between them and the food.

Fish soup contains whole fish heads, skin, scales, bones and all

After the meal, fruit is typically served for dessert and then toothpicks are offered. Following dessert, chai tea is taken to complete the evening.

Matoke is made from green bananas and
potatoes cooked with onions and tomatoes.

Matoke served with rice and cooked cabbage

One day I was having a conversation with a Kenyan about salad. I was telling him that I sometimes enjoy eating salad, but I haven’t seen much of that kind of food in Kenya. “Do you have lettuce here?” I asked. “Sure,” he said, “We feed it to the animals!” “Hmm,” I said scratching my head. Soon the conversation shifted and we began to talk about maize. Maize is similar to sweet corn, but it’s not sweet and the kernels are very hard. I said, “In America we eat corn, not maize. He said, “Well, do you grow maize at all?” “Sure,” I said, “We feed it to the animals.” “Hmm,” he said, scratching his head.

Kenyan chai is simply tea made with water, milk, and sugar