Welcome to the official blog of Arrive in Kenya! I am Brian, the founder and president of Arrive. I intend for the blog to be a creative, interactive way for Arrive supporters to stay updated with what's happening on the ground in Kenya. Comments are always welcome, and thanks for the checking the blog out!
Job's Creative Toys
When I was in Kenya, I saw many examples of kids' toys. Once, I saw a young boy, dragging a broken cardboard box behind him by a rope that he was holding. These were mostly the types of toys I saw. However, one kid made the most innovative toys.
Job is a standard 5 (5th grade) student at Emmanuel Light Academy in Keumbu, Kenya. From the first day, I could tell we would be friends because he spoke very good English – maybe the best English speaker at school. I could have a complete conversation with Job in English, and if I ever needed a translator, he would help. But what I remember most about Job was his ingenuity and creativity.
One day, Job somehow got his hands on a small mechanism that played the same musical tone over and over again. Think about a holiday or birthday card that opens up and plays music. Job had found the inside, music making part of the card. He rewired the device so he could touch to wires to make it play, and make it stop when he pulled the wires apart. He played with it all day,secretly holding it behind someone’s ears and turning it on.
The funniest toy Job made started with an old cell phone case. Made for an old, clunky cell phone, the case was all leather with one side of clear plastic. Job went and caught a giant bumblebee, probably an inch and a half long (it was the biggest bumblebee I’d ever seen). He transferred the bee from his hand into the cell phone case, and trapped it inside. The bee would try to fly, but being trapped, would simply vibrate and make a loud buzzing noise. When Job held the phone up to my ear for the first time, I thought it was a cell phone on vibrate receiving a call. Job would pretend to be on the phone and would receive calls as the phone kept vibrating.
In The Matatu
Riding in a matatu is a very unique experience. A matatu is an 11 person van turned into a taxi and used throughout Kenya. There are thousands of these taxis, and can take you anywhere from a few miles to across the country. There was the matatu driver, and the second worker who stood at the open door of the van collecting fares. It was very normal to fit up to 23 or 24 people in the matatu, meaning everyone was EXTREMELY squished (fitting three people in two seats) and some people were sitting on laps. Tourists are known to get pick pocketed routinely in matatus, because of the chaos and confusion. Sometimes people brought chickens on the matatu, sometimes other strange luggage. I was lucky enough to see over 500 miles from the backseat of matatus, and each was a totally different experience. Here are a few of those experiences.
I was riding in a matatu to Kisii town with Andrew, Meir, Delphine, Daisy, Claire, Mary, and Juliette, arguing with the matatu driver whether the fare was $2.80 or $3.50 for all of us. I was sitting next to an older man with a young girl, probably around 8 years old, on his lap. The man and I began talking and he asked what I was doing in Africa. When I told him about my new sisters and how they are orphans, he begged me to take the little girl on his lap back home with me. When we all got out of the matatu, he followed me trying to give me the girl. Even though I felt bad, I could not take her.
I was riding in a matatu at night when an uproar in the front got my attention. There was a young boy in a school uniform who looked very stressed. When I asked what was going on, I found out that the boy had fallen asleep on the matatu, missed school, got robbed of his 40 cents, and now did not have enough money to pay the fare to get home. Out of the 19 people in the matatu, nobody had the extra money to pay for him to get home. As I got out of the matatu, I gave the kid $2, and as the matatu drove off, he was on his way back home.
The way a matatu is set up, there is a space in the second row from the back in order to allow people into the back row. When the matatu fills up, a wooden plank was placed across the gap to allow someone to sit down. One night, I was sitting in the back row, right behind the gap in the row in front of me. A very very large African woman squeezed into the matatu, and seeing the wooden plank has the only spot left, began to prepare her seat. The unfortunate aspect of this story is that there was no plank. It just wasn’t there. So, seeing my knees in the gap between seats, she decided to sit on my legs. At first, I didn’t mind. But then her enormous weight began to take its toll, and my legs starting going numb. Soon, I couldn’t feel my feet. I suffered for twenty minutes until it was time for me to get off the matatu. When she stood up, it felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off my legs, and I stumbled out of the matatu to head home.
The Hot Shower
For the first four weeks of my stay in Keumbu, I was not aware of the showers my sisters (and Andrew) were taking every morning. I had access to the only hot shower for miles around, and it was strictly for Pastor, Terry, volunteers, and visitors. Yet, when I found out the girls’ shower situation, I knew something had to be done.
Every night, each girl would fill a 20-liter bucket with water and bring it inside their house to keep it warm and clean. Then, in the morning (before school, around 5:00AM) the girls, one by one, would take their bucket outside (in privacy) and take a military style shower. They would splash water on themselves while at the same time washing themselves with soap. When I asked about their shower routine, Meir was convinced that if I took one of their style showers, I would cry because of the cold water and get very ill (this contributed to me taking a military style shower, in which I survived without crying, but haven’t done again since).
When we decided to build a hot shower, the work began quickly. After buying the necessary parts, I hired workers to dig an underground space from the main house to the outdoor shower for the electric wire to lie. Within three days there was a working hot shower, made specifically for the children. You would go into the shower, turn the water on (at this point the water would be very cold), flip a switch to turn the heat on (there were only two options – hot or cold), and what followed would be a warm, comfortable shower. The first morning the shower was working, every girl took their time and truly enjoyed their first-ever hot shower.
On the first weekend after the shower was built, many children from school came to see it for themselves. Most had never seen water being heated by any other means besides boiling, and all the children were in awe. One by one, they came to take a shower in the new hot shower. My sisters, especially Mary, would quietly and secretly turn the switch off, instantly turning the water from hot to freezing cold. Yelling and hilarity ensued, but the underlying message to me was the fascination with the hot shower – a luxury the third world has come to expect but the developing world has never experienced.
Street Boy Stories
Kisii town, as we called it, is the home of hundreds of street boys and girls. For whatever reason, I tended to bond with many of the street boys more than any of the other volunteers. Most volunteers were scared or uncomfortable when around the street boys, and for good reason. They were very dirty, having not washed their clothes in what could have been years. I saw boys as young as six years old and as old as 19 or 20. Most of them were sniffing glue as blatantly as possible. Whether they were sitting down, walking around, or even talking to me, each had a bottle of glue in between their teeth so they were constantly sniffing it. I once saw 5 street boys sleeping in the back of an old, broken pick up truck, and I frequently saw them sleeping on the sidewalk or shifting through dumpsters. After spending many hours with different street boys, here are a few stories.
During my quest to find Fred, I was taken to where most of the street boys hang out - inside an old multi-story building, with dark winding halls and many staircases. I would be with as many as 10 or 15 street boys. One day, after I left, one boy named Evans ran to catch up to me. Evans had been in grade 5 only two months before I met him. Both of his parents died, and with no relatives to care for him, he was forced into the street. Because of his education, Evans and I could communicate in English. When he caught me, he told me, “Brian, some of the older street boys are planning on stealing you money when you come back tomorrow.” I appreciated that so much, and it turned out nothing sketchy whatsoever happened when I returned the following day.
Over the course of the next two weeks, I went back to see Evans a few times. Every time, he would see me before I saw him and come running toward me. The first thing he would ask was, “How is Fred?” I took Evans to get food and buy new clothes, which he was very grateful for. Everyday, he would ask if I was coming back. Unfortunately, there came a point when I left Kenya and could not go back to see Evans. When I go back to Kenya next year, the first thing I will do is find Evans, if he is still in the streets, and give him a home.
One time, I was walking with Evans and three other street boys. Walking toward us was another street boy, gleaming from ear to ear, carrying two empty glass soda bottles. He would be able to recycle each bottle for a few cents, and buy food for himself. I’m guessing he was only nine years old. As he walked toward us, someone accidentally bumped into him, knocking one of the two bottles from his hand. It shattered on the pavement. Immediately, his expression switched from excitement to horror, as he began to cry. He knelled down and began picking up the pieces of the shattered bottle and holding them in his hand. As I turned to walk away, I saw this boy one more time. The image of him, sobbing, picking up shards of glass after seeing his riches shatter, has been cemented in my mind since that day.
During my stay in Kenya, I took a short trip to Maasailand (where the Maasai tribe lives in southern Kenya). When the van full of eight volunteers arrived in the Maasai village, after a long drive over roads that really weren’t roads, everyone went inside the main house to get food. On my way in, I saw a group of five Maasai men huddled around 100 yards away. I went to them and introduced myself. They were boiling a pot of red soup over a fire and eating chunks of meat. I was immediately offered a piece of meat – a cooked goat leg, hoof and all. When they cooked it, they did not remove the skin. I looked around and saw the other men enjoying their food, so I dug in as well.
As I struggled through the hairy, chewy skin of the goat leg, I was asked to stir the soup. As I stirred, they told me what the soup was – goat’s blood. When they poured some into a plastic pitcher and handed it to me, smiling, I could not help but be polite and take a sip. As I drank, they said the blood would make me grow “tall and strong.” I don’t know about that, but I do know that after my hairy goat’s hoof and large pitcher of goat blood, my stomach was in such shock I did not eat again for two days.