Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Ophmert, Holland...5:50am, cold but not so nearly as cold as Toronto, raining all day yesterday and grey, the first of this colour i have seen in four months - in AFrica, it is the brightness of light you first notice, the phenomenal clarity in the early morning blasting forth a smile of the day to come.....but here in this land of Merit and Hans and Casey McGlynn my watch remains stuck on African time: ten to 8, two hours ahead of Holland, 8 hours ahead of Toronto - the knob on the right side of the face refusing to budge embedded with months of dust, oil and dirt. I can't get the coffee machine to work; too many buttons, or maybe last night so tired i didn't listen properly; the computer in this technically-unchallenged land swallowed twelve emails yesterday while Merit and I went shopping for presents for the kids.

Happy Valentines day!

Their house is filled with art, theirs and that of Casey McGlynn hung up or tacked onto every wall and surface, covering the caravan trailer that sits outside the living room window, the inside walls, the outside walls. Hans is into fused glass pieces, having just finished a show in collaboration with Casey at the Bau-Xi Gallery in Toronto on Dundas Street, still on for another week, I can't wait to go - and Merit, her work changing and developing in leaps since October, so very exciting! It got me going again, charged with that particular kind of passion I haven't felt in some time, I'm anxious to get back to my studio. People have said they couldn't wait to see how my work will change after Africa and I can't either. Other than in the eight or ten workshops I gave in Africa, I barely did any art there except the Sharpie-cartooned versions of elephants, giraffe, cats and lions to amuse the children along the way.

Toronto: this very afternoon and knowing that Johnny and maybe those two fat and smiling babies will be at the airport, 8 months now and I hope not strange with me, and Lindsey and Jim, and Seanna and Ted and sweet darling Sierra who had pneumonia and root canal work over the winter, and Shauna and old Nanuuk whose still amazingly alive. Dinner tonight with salad and bbq salmon in a house with real toilets, hot water and gas stove- it's strange being here even in Holland, a feeling so comfortable, so remembered, so natural as if i have never left - that the whole thing in Africa was a bright, vivid dream and one that i won't forget.

Yesterday, sitting around their table, with cheese, the first in months, remembering and telling stories...Tawanda and I running all over Harare on my last day searching madly for a peanut butter making machine for Mary Mesa, the project organizer of all five high density areas - to supplement her income - supporting her husband, an assistant pastor without salary and two kids she';s trying to keep in school, both primary and secondary charging exhorbitant fees, plus uniform costs, shoes and books. We found one, bright blue, about five feet long and heavy, a manual because of electrical blackouts, - the inflation rate in Zimbabwe now up and over 1000%, it breaks my heart. We carried it for blocks, he at one end, me at the other, and up into the little bus, the matatta, squeezing ourselves awkwardly into our seats and laying this machine sideways across the laps of the people in our row and on to the community centre where we hid it into a cupboard for Mary to discover the next day.

The head of the centre I was to meet cancelled with a note telling me she was unable to come -her grandaughter had died the night before of HIV AIDS and was to be buried that day- a not so uncommon occurance in this country with 18% of its people stricken with this disease, far down from the 32% reported 15 or so years ago when the epidemic was at its highest. Because of sanctions, the anti retro viral ARV medicine is rare here, expensive and prohibitive with people at the bottom suffering the most. We were taken through the narrow laneways and paths of this impoverished area, one-floored shanties jammed together on each side, each one housing four or five families - maybe 16 people - mothers, fathers, grandparents and children - sharing a common kitchen and outdoor squatting hole in the ground as a toilet to douse with water afterwards - houses made from plaster and wood with corregated iron roofing, delapidated but often with plots of maize, corn growning alongside - these street teaming with life. Groups of people sitting and selling tomatoes, corn, vegetables on the side of the road, talking and laughing, children squatting and playing, running after a ball and games all the time chattering non-stop - the whole of Africa a place of community and tribes and clans, each one different from the next, but coming together from early morning all day and into the night outside their homes, because the inside is dark and grim and so often filled with despair - the constant never-ending din of making connection - it never stops.
I am the mzungu, the white person, a rarity in a country, with no tourists, no economy, no jobs, few doctors with no medicine, hospitals and health care facilities breaking down and in decay, with one third of its people emigrating to other countries to make their lives: South Africa, nearby Malowi, Zambia, to Britain, United States and Canada. Each sending money back to support relatives in Zimbabwe, only to have it taxed in half before it reaches their families. The black market system of currency is in full swing here, with the have nots stuck with the government system, the affluent using the other: I got money changed from US to Zim dollars at a beauty salon with the help of a hairdresser who took it upstairs to a travel office for conversion - leaving with huge bundles of paper bills wrapped together with elastic bands, massive wads of useless cash stuffed inside my pack. There is little fuel; oftentimes with no fuel with gas stations closed and dark, empty with no one around; and a few days later when the shortage is lifted, hundreds of cars and trucks lines up down the roadways waiting for hours, sometimes days for fuel. You can't go anywhere without hassle. Without fuel, buses are taken off the road with huge lineups at every stop and the the ones still running, full to the brim, with people sitting on top of each other, the door wide open , spilling, holding on tight and hanging out. Shortages like i have never known: no water, electricity, fuel. Remember a few summers ago during the blackout of August 03, we scrambled for flashlight batteries, candles, bottled water, prepared foods confused and afraid, not understanding what was happening and why, could I imagine living with that on a weekly basis?

Merit has just come in, it's 8:30 now, we leave in an hour - me, i've been lost in this memory. I can't believe it is time! She's downstairs wrapping and packing, my stuff, and expert far better than me, hurrying me along.

One thing before i sign out and get moving, this writing and this blog has carried me through, through the days and weeks and months through good times and some not so great times of this journey, I can't imagine stopping. There are so many more things i want to say, to get down, with so little time for writing along the way.

So i am going to continue this blog for awhile, for as long as it takes to put it all down. I thank you for listening, for writing to me, and for being there....see you in Canada!

Monday, February 12, 2007

KIBERA, Nairobi - one of the world's most awful slum areas, 1000 hectacres, some 70,000 people - and by far the worst poverty i have ever seen. You can't come to Nairobi and do any kind of work with HIV AIDS and not visit Kibera.

Monday morning, my last day with the flight taking off at 11:35 am, I woke early determined to go- Shitema, the former UN ambassador described it with such compassion his face changing, crumbling, watering his eyes. The woman on duty all night at the hotel called someone to take me through, bags packed, a bit of coffee, toast and by 7 we were on our way, strangely only a few kilometres from the place i was staying. As we get closer, at this hour, hundreds, maybe thousands of people surging out of the area and moving quickly up the hill on their way to work. We made our way slowly down the main road, at the bottom making a left turn into a world changed. The streets were mud, pockets of water collected from rain the night before, floating with garbage, a chicken picking its way through, on each side what could only be described as sheds, shacks, made from cardboard, corregated iron sheeting, crumbling plaster, wood crammed in, side by side each one attached to the next. Fences of barbed wire, sticks, wood, corregated iron, doors opening into dark and dirty hallways, rooms, with someone peering out from a sewing machine, people sitting at the side of the road, cooking chapittas, pancakes and madas, little cakes in big metal woks over fires fuelled by kerosene, charcoal or wood; open fires burning garbage in the middle of the road as we pick our way through rushing people, children in school uniforms carrying little back packs travelling in pairs, clumps standing and sitting and watching our car as it moves slowly along.

I was taking notes of what I was seeing, while Peter my driver was explaining: no electricity, no water with huge round corregated iron tanks every here and there collecting rain water and sold: 20 litres for 2 shillings about $1.40. No toilets, no privacy. Dank and grim. Churches, clinics and chemists offering free medicine and advice, youth and help agencies, woman's groups and beauty salons wedged side by side in amongst filthy crevices and holes lined with old rags and sheets of cardboard as places for people to sleep. Men bunched in a row, so many of them 10-20 maybe more, blocking the roadway in front of a sign saying Kakaunga Hotel waiting for the bar to open at 8am. for home-made beer and wine,made with corn. Bright red Coke slogans blasting 'a better way', √Źn the Wings of Love health care, Ghetto Guts - an electronic repair shop and Let's Meet Bread Depot buried amongst storefronts and shops with pink plastic shoes and yellow buckets of cooking oil, withered shanks of last week's lettuce hooked and hanging off metal pipes, cigarettes, pots, pans, bags of maize, flour, a few tomatoes, potatoes, onions and a shock of red bouganvillia strung up and snaking across barbed wire.

Early morning people, carrying things on their heads, shoulders, with babies on their backs, a team of life streaming by and peering in surprised and curious, asking Peter what are we doing?Friendly,carrying cups of chai- steaming hot, calling "Jambo! Habare!" Good morning! the children getting up close with huge smiles with a big "how are you!!" pronounced clearly and distinctly in primary school English like kids we pass everywhere.

Dogs lying on our path, sleeping as if dead and digging through garbage, the bleetingof a goat and chickens as we pick our way over sharp and jagged shards of rock down to the very bottom, deep into the bowels of Kibera to Saba, a city within a city, a valley of hell where rents are the lowest. Rags, filth, dark and smelly, patches of cardboard, wood, metal nailed, roped together onto anything to cover the dirge, the stench of big piles of rotting garbage, dank, old, tired, spent people sitting and lying down, a woman, old, ancient and weathered, resting on top of an overturned pail roasting cobs of corn, a dog at her feet. Two little ones standing in a doorway, a boy with another, slung on his back - two playing in mud, naked. For a long time, Peter and I drive slowly along,in silence.

I ask him how does he reconcile living well, how can any of us, how can any of us, who have so much, live with this in our world. I could hardly speak, repeating myself, trying to find the word, the words that weren't coming out well.

He said: "I only pray, that God, will help them". Slowly.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

ICA - The Institute of Cultural Affairs, an NGO operating successfully in over 30 countries around the world, dealing with issues of poverty, sustainable development, disease, hunger, micro finance lending and so much more-working in nine countries in Africa focusing on the HIV AIDS issue - the ICA originated in the United States in the 60s, offering workshops and trainings to people and assistance t0 communities with the goal of paving the way to help people make their world a better place.

I'm excited about an ICA agriculatural project: in Isingya, Kenya.
Just one example of how the ICA operates:

Over lunch Friday, with 5 Kenya ICA members in the dusty town of Isingya, half way between the Tanzanian border and Nairobi in the back room of an old hotel on the side of the highway, white metal picnic table, eating bowls of pieces of goat meat, tough, a bit grizzly drenched in a sort of thin soupy gravy, with chunks of potato, slivers of carrot, onion - all of this eaten with ugali: a whipped up and boiled corn flour mix cut up into slices which looked like white bread, broken off in chunks and rolled up in a ball with the right hand and scooped into the meal...we talked about the 3 year agricultural project I had just visited which involved assisting 12 Masai villages in developing a sustainable farming project to grow grains and vegetables enough to feed their community in the years to come.

We'd just come back from 2 of the 12 villages they had been working in over the last 8 months, where ICA, funded by donations from Japan, had successfully completed the building of 6 example farms with about 30 enthusiastic Masai members in each community.

It was a miracle to see! Imagine. Out there in the middle of nowhere on flat parched terrain of scruffy brown grasses and no trees - land which had suffered drought conditions with little rain over the last three years, they had created and grown huge garden plots using a wide variety of of beans, grains: sorgum and cowpeas; corn plants and sunflowers for oil. All growing, strong, green, a patch of hope in this drought filled field....and each one with a huge rectangular hole dug, the size of a deep 20 yard swimming pool, lined in sheets of heavy commercial plastic waiting for the big rains to come, late March, April, to collect a good supply of water to get them through another drought. The grains and corns and vegetables were chosen to be drought resistant, experiments were taken on what variety grew best and where and how long it took to grow. Members of the community had planted a garden on the right side showing how they thought they should plant, and on the left side, ICA experts demonstrated another way of planting, resulting for people to see for themselves, the difference in ways to plant, as well as what to plant.

I asked Masai chairman Kapshi Sonko who stood with great pride in front of the 8 foot high corn he had directed his people to grow, what did he think about what his community had accomplished: he told me he had never farmed before, ever, but so worried was he about the demise in livestock production and food in his community, he said, "he was willing to try anything, to see what these young ICA fellas were talking about."

The project was a huge success. ICA and the six villages they had already worked in celebrated their 8 month victory with a huge Farmer's Field Day, with over 300 people in attendance. Government, corporate, business, agro chemical industrial representative, veternarians and farmers from the community stood in the open field marvelling at the phenomenal produce in full evidence, soon to harvested in a week or so. The Government Argricultural Officers looked a little sheepish, this is what they were supposed to be doing, but how exactly did ICA do this? The Masai people, they said, "were notoriously 'lazy'. How in earth did you get them to work so hard?!!"

So, over lunch I asked them, how did they do this? I wanted to know..What were the steps from beginning to end did they take to make this project such a huge success, and in only a period of 8 months..?

By understanding this, I would better understand the basic philosophy of ICA worldwide, and it turned out, one of which I believe and adhere to completely. So here is my synopsis of what they told me, Mark and John and the others around the table that day at lunch, with such enthusiasm, passion and skill, I hope I can convey this in my layman's terms, to describe their process to you.
Also, so much of my story is about the Masai people because in Tanzania and Kenya where i spent so much of my time working, a good part of the ICA focus has been in the Masai villages, with people living traditionally in spartan and difficult circumstances with much poverty, very little education and few advantages, a community much like so many others stricken with HIV AIDS.

Lots of other NGOs had gone into these villages through the years with handouts and donations, food, machinery, money, all graciously given, but dissipated soon in a short period of time, with little to show for it in the long run. What was it that ICA managed to do to create a sustainable project which will last and will supply ample food and even maybe more important, an enormous sense of pride and self esteem for a job well done.

First of all, need. The Masai, traditionally a nomadic pastoral people, involved predominantly in the care and accumulation of livestock, moving their settlements from one grassy waterhole to the next, enjoying a diet of meat, blood and milk, period. They did not stay long enough in one place to grow maize, grains, they were not an agricultural society. But in recent years, with severe drought causing the death of livestock, hence less money for trading and eating, and now with the onslaught in December 06 of the dreaded Rift Valley Fever, they were open to looking at new means of survival.

Enter ICA, having done a PROJECT ANALYSIS which they discovered a possible need for an agricultural project in this area, and after managing to secure funding from Japanese donators, they conducted a BASIC SURVEY, where they went into the community and had meetings with and consulting Chiefs and community leaders of possible economic, social, and cultural needs of the community. From here they formulated questions which were then presented to the community as a whole in a series of 'strategic planning' meetings.

STRATEGIC PLANNING: with skilled specifically-trained ICA facilitators, here is where the backbone of the ICA philosophy is underlined: basically, to assist people to help themselves, in order for them to take ownership of the projects and to determine theselves the solutions to their 'problems', therefore to be responsible for the outcome of the project. Never to impose their ideas on the people.

How is this done?

This particular team of ICA workers, under the guidance of Project Coordinator Mark Lusweti, and Agriculture expert Githaiga Kirubi from the Kikuyu Tribe began the meetings with a
VISION: asking people to imagine how they would like their community to be, what changes wuold they make? what do they need? in the best world, imagine...let your mind go, and imagine...Well, they came up with a long list of needs, desires, dreams, and at this stage, as with other NGOs who had come into their villages, they expected ICA to hand out and provide them with the means to make their dreams come true: provide food, create schools, roads, etc.
But no...
The facilitator then asks: "what is holding you back from achieving your dreams? What blocks? What is the problem that you can't have what you have said you want so badly?
What are the problems? Money?"
ICA believes where there is a problem there is a solution.
"Money is in itself, not a problem; there is plenty of money in the world, in banks, other people have it. The WAYS of getting money is the problem. "

"So. What can we/YOU do to overcome these problems to get the things you most want?"
At this point it becomes clear that ICA is not here to solve the problems. It is up to participants to come up with ideas and solutions to the problems they have spoken about.
This is the beginning of them taking OWNERSHIP of the problem, and hence the solution.

SYSTEMATIC ACTION: Here participants offer solutions to their problems as the facilitator continues to ask: "How are YOU going to do this?" stressing that these problems need to have solutions created by participants, not ICA people. Hence, once they have decided what they want, the problems and how they can solve them, they realize that they are going to have to make CHANGES in order to make their dreams come true....

Facilitators check with them the feasibility of their solutions, keeping in mind the following points on the SMART chart:
S-specific solutions; M - measurable actions; A - Attainable goals; R - realistic and T - timebound.
They then created a TIMELINE: in increments of 3 years, 1 year, 90 days, etc.

As we wrapped up, we talked about these methods, this process....how it could be used successfully with anyone who wants to make changes in their lives, how each step could be utilized: to visualize a better life, a better future....then to look at the problems and to look for solutions, even when it means making changes, sometimes big changes....taking ownership of our own situations, stop blaming other people, or other circumstances, we can change things and we can make a difference...and yes, it takes RISKING...Julia Cameron calles it Taking the Leap and having the faith, that the net will indeed, be there....Risking. Moving ahead, even when things seem impossible, bleak, too hard...this is what i have seen here so often in Africa...people, with so little and yet with so much...taking that big step, making changes, resiliant...and doing it.

Oh i am so tired of writing right now, but i am so excited and thrilled with what i have seen here, with the incredibly charismatic, hard working and compassionate people i have met here, with the mothers carrying loads on their heads and babies on their backs, and small children covered in poverty, hundreds of people i have been so lucky to meet and to know a little, the community coordinator who cancelled a meeting one morning because her grandaughter had died the night before, the two babies in Zimbabwe suffering with lack of milk, unable to stand up, move...the group of musicians, stone cutters, painters, poets trying to set up an artist coop in that country with 1000% inflation, no economy, no medical supplies, no doctors, the question of how to make a living with their art with no tourists, no one buying; people reaching out to each other, in their own misery extending themselves, on the lookout to helping others, giving what little they have, sharing with their neighbours, being there for each other...i have seen this, always a bright good hello, and understanding, always trying, even breaking out in song together, a giving, a joy, love....

Oh i could go on, and on.....and on....on this my last day in Africa....do stop me!
Tomorrow, Amsterdam and Merit and Hans and the new Van Gogh exhibition if I can persuade Merit to go...and then Toronto....and yes, i am a little apprehensive of coming back into our western ways, the integration process.... I know for me whatever it is, it will take a long time, reflection, months...to let this be what it will be....so now, more importantly, I want to know about you!
Nairobi. Feb. 12/07.
Heading out in less than 24hours tomorrow for Amsterdam, impossible to believe. Just this morning up in Nanyuki, a bustling town snuggled under the shadow of Mount Kenya, cooler there than anywhere I have been - blankets at night without the usual mosquito netting of which i am not fond, psyched for minus ten in Toronto. Have thought a lot about being here, about this incredible opportunity I was entrusted with ICA Canada. Yesterday at this time, lunch of beans and chipattas cooked in a pitch dark Masai dung and grass hut with no ventillation, smoke billowing up and out in white puffs through slits in its corregated and straw roof, the eyes burn, not great for the resperatory system....back in Mto Wa Mbu, Tanzania, ICA installed 150 chimneys with big modern wood stoves into huts in villages there - each one needing only 2 logs - a bonus for Masai living in huge open spaces with few trees. Women carrying huge bundles of sticks, wood pieces wrapped and attached to their forheads with a leather strap, walking for miles on end everyday to provide fire for their family's dinner.

I am off on a tangent, so much to say, and i want to remember everything; today being the last day to get it all down...it is raining hard with thunder outside this magically fast and modern internet cafe, cooling the air, breezy as i write...

Four not so comfortable hours across potholed dusty roads, bright orange in colour, climbing and picking our way up riverbeds of rocks, jagged stones and boulders in an old green Suzuki with Saaya, a 20s something Masai project coordinator, his father and four others . I am in the front seat - while they're squeezed along two benches in the back. We detour off across the scruffy grass tundra as far as they eye can see for an hour or so, drop Saaya and the four off for an HIV AIDS coordinating meeting in Chumvi, a settlement of huts and wooden structures with doors and panels of wood covering windows painted everywhere turquoise or cobalt blue. We turn and head back to the main road with another three hours of joggling raggedly like being hurled around on a bucking bronco, with Saaya's father in the back seat to Ilingwesi - his mother's boma -a compound of mud and corregated iron huts encircled by a fence of upright wooden sticks held together by wire.

His dad is dressed Western, in a sports jacket and slacks, black boots and a canvass hat; he is 54 years old, handsome in a rugged way with a ready smile, and has three wives, two of whom he married with only 8 months apart when he was a young Masai moran warrior some thirty years ago. Consequently Saaya and his 17 brothers and sisters have virtually two mothers, both living and raising their families together in this boma, each with their respective dung houses and kitchens side by side. The third wife, which he married later lives in her own boma a few hours away. The father shares his time between all three wives harmoniously, without a shred of jealousy, a custom which has continued in the Masi culture for hundreds of year. The reason I an told, is practical; the more cows and goats the Masai have, the more wives they need to take care of their domas. Wives are responsible for building the dung and stick huts themselves, milking the goats and cows early morning and at sunset and looking after their children. Masai women are exotic and magestic, their heads fully shaved, tall thin bodies wrapped in royal blue sheets, adorned with rows of white beaded earings and necklaces swinging with metal discs from huge pierced holes in their earlobes, the size of silver dollars. When not busy with family and home, they spend their days collecting wood and selling tobacco snuff and beaded jewellery sitting in clumps at the side of the road.

The more children they have the better - whose job from about age 4 on is to be responsible for large herds of goats and cows with only a stick out in the hills to urge them along. It isn't uncommon to see Masia kids in the middle of day, hot and without water, standing at the side of the road with a cluster of livestock behind them as we roll by passing bottles of water and food out of the car.

Once a boy is around 13, he is initiated into manhood with hundreds of other boys in his age group in a huge and resplendent circumcision ceremony where he undergoes the operation without any anesthetics (sp) in the company of family and elders. He is required to sit motionless, without sound during the entire procedure, under threat of bringing shame to his family. Once circumcized he and the other boys in his agement become Warriors, carrying a spear and stick, their long hair and face painted artistically with red ochre and adorned in beaded and bone jewellery - their only responsiblity in life to protect their communities from warring tribes and wild animals. Every ten years or so, when a new lot of boys are of age for circumcision, the previous warriors shave their heads and move into the first stages of Elder, Orpayans...

Happily off on another tangent....we race across Kenya countryside, miles of scruffy brown grass, dotted here and there with Acacia trees , herds of zebra chewing grass at the side of the road, dashing away at the sound of the truck, we pass through a village where we are stopped by a group of women and load up the back of the Suzuki with a truckful of corn bundled up in huge white bags for roasting next to Saayas father and continue on to Ilingwesi...where was I?

I've been interviewing Masai men and women along the way with the help of the driver to translate from Swahili or Masai - who have just participated a three month project with four ICA Canadian HIV AIDS workers, exhilerated with what they had learned and empowered now to take this information into their communities - how, without my connection with ICA Canada could i have possibly experienced Africa in this way: the land, the villages, the people, the issues. Phenomenal to me how lucky i am and forever thankful to the Canadian ICA people who have directed and supported me with each step along the way.....John Patterson, David Buwalda, Liz Donelly, and especially to Sister Virginia Varley, Chair of ICA Canada and fellow artist who introduced me to this world-wide NGO in August, "by chance', and how so long ago that now seems...
I sign off here for a few minutes break....

On Miles of scruffy grass, a few Acacia trees, pockets of cows, goats and a few zebra who dart and run as we clatter along and pick up his mother, the second of three wives and his brother and back we drove again, along the way interviewing participants of the recent ICA project where 4 Canadians successfully went into this

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Second post today....the first almost disappeared as always into the hot sunny biosphere shining steadily across Africa, the big rains haven't begun yet, but the little ones poured hard this year for the first time in memory - maize, sunflowers, potatoes, avocado, mango, oranges, tomatoes, bananas abundant in baskets, plastic pails, falling out of open trucks, freshly picked tea leaves packed tightly in big plasticky cloth-like bags - lined up along the roadside waiting transportation to Dar es Salaam and then on out to the world.

Where was I? with the orphans...Lindsey and I took a bus into Arusha last week to investigate foreign adoption, albeit with mixed emotions ...the concept of raising kids so far away in culture, language, climate, peoples, tribes, rituals. Is it fair? Yet everyone here said YES, a resounding positive yes, do it....give these kids a chance. But unlike Madonna with her Malowi adoption, in Tanzania you have to be a resident for two or three years. So that is and was, that.
Saying goodbye, to people in every village, every town.

Charles and Barie last week, four days of climbing the Korogue mountain range just south and east of Moshe,4000 feet up to 13 villages of mud and clay houses, red and dusty, with meetings with farmers to organize constitutions encouraging them to work together to form collectives with fixed prices, to protect them from being ripped off by big city conglamorates...and while i wait, I get out of the truck with my sketch book, sit on a patch of grass and begin to draw what i am seeing in front of me, a sort of grocery with piles of tomatoes atop each other pyramid style, a stick and mud hut with freshly washed laundry draped and drying on top of a bush. Peeking around each corner, the children in each village at first afraid, hanging back into clusters watching this new thing, some hiding behind their mother's skirts, and then creeping closer, closer, silently, to see what this white mzunga is up to. I pretend to ignore them as I draw in a giraffe, an elephant, a cat, along with a couple of kids in front of the drawing; the silence at first small and then erupting like a noisy volcano into exclamations, laughter, shouts, drawing every kid in the village, sometimes well over a hundred, pushing shoving to get closer until the circle closes and i can no longer see.

An elder with a little round embroidered hat snug on his head appears with a big stick and a need for power shoes them away in anger. He has been drinking. Home brew made from sugar cane. He is a jerk who i assure it is okay, i like this and stand up and contine to draw as they swarm once again around again. We play Swahili and English games, naming animals, noses, mouths, hair, do a bit of singing, i am telling them all about Canada, and what the kids do there in the snow while Charles translates; we have to go, we all shout Qua Hari...goodbye, goodluck! and joggle our way into the next village.

This is life in Africa, every day, everywhere we go.
Lindsey attracted a following of kids like the Pied Pyper, imitating her antics, laughing with her, vying to hold her hand everywhere she went. It's jut happens naturally, you just have to be open.

Saying goodbye to the Masai chief we became such good friends with, who waited patiently for two days in Mto Wa Mbu while i was out in the field, I offered to pay his hotel and food. Masai have thousands of acres and more thousands of goats and cattle, but little of what we call material comfort. Rather than selling a cow or two, they live sparcely with little, walking all night without money for transportation be they a chief, head of their tribe, or not.

Over our last lunch with the usual beans and rice with a tomatoey sauce and greens at a place called Mi Casa in the middle of a little banana plantation he proposed I buy a goat for $40 can. instead of paying for food and hotel. He would have my initials branded behind its ear. LC., a huge honour in the world of Masai. Then, over a few beers and much laughter we imagined its babies each having my three kid's initials branded behind their ears, then the grandchildren, and on and on, so someday when we returned to his expansive boma with stick and cow dung huts and prickly thorn fences perched high atop the Rift valley mountain range over looking the world, we would have our very own tribe of goats to visit. The idea kills me!

A last fairwell goodbye to ICA project coordinator and superb Toyota-driver-through-hill-and-dale Charles who works with boundless energy and enthusiasm and his co-worker Barie lugging my bags up and into the bottom of the big old bus - thank you for making my and Lindsey's time superb and memorable in Mto Wa Mbu..and on to Arusha for breakfast with Tanzanian ICA director Doris, what can i say about her, except that i have known her forever and will forever know her. She is the best.

Everyone in Africa has a cellphone but me - interupting every conversation, checking and rechecking, text messaging, fingers flying, heads lowered fixating on phones on laps, on tables. Even Masai warriors high on the plains with cows and goats carry a cell hidden underneath their red and purple sheets tied at the shoulder; Everyone has a phone. I should have bought one in Zimbabwe, but didn't and didn't in Tanzania. Should have. So for me keeping in touch is a nightmare, finding a phone and getting it to work, each county with different codes, numbers, phone cards, prices. The hardest part moving from country to country is logistics: money, exchange, buses, terminals, where to stay, what roads to take,how and when to get from here to there. And now, Nairobi. Nairobi is harder than most, a big polluted throbbing pusating city of about 8 million people, harbouring the world's biggest slum at the edge of town.

Big, mean and scary, after all these pastoral villages, I haven't looked forward to it.
But as usual, with most situations i brace myself for, I am proved wrong.

A great greeting with Canadian ICA Miriam Patterson and her co worker Saaya fresh off a very succesful four month HIV AIDS education and testing project with a series of Masai villages in a community called Ilingwesi, 3 hours out of Nairobi - very exciting and the first of its kind in Africa. I will go there this weekend with Saaya to interview peer educators and participants and meet his mother.

And this morning by chance, if there is any such thing, breakfast with the former Kenyan ambassador to the UN responsible for disarmament, anti apartheid and nuclear issues. Aged 75, astonishing and rare his stories, my emotions a little raw these days, bringing me to tears. Held up and arrested in the mid 70s, followed by a police car with lights blinking on his way home to his house in Scarsdale, New York, he made it into his property through the large security door the police in close tow. They jumped out, pinned him against his car his arms raised high, demanding to know what a black man was doing in this neighbourhood, on this property. Mean. Angry,they raided his body, stripping it of identification. With disbelief they discovered his cards stamped with UN protocol and signed by Cyrus Vance himself. As they let him go and got back into their car without a word of apology, he hit the down button on the gate which slammed shut, locking them into the compound. Out they got in a second surge of anger, demanding to be let go, but until they offered a proper apology he stood his own, refusing to raise the gate. Finally, they did apologize and hopefully damned shamed, they learned something that day, as they drove away.
I ran into him, again by change a few hours later, and invited him to breakfast tomorrow..
And so it goes.
It's 6:30...
I have been at this all afternoon...the first internet cafe with machines that don't stick and collapse, with electricity, ambiance and a fine restaurant downstairs called Java, serving sandwiches, hamburgers and salads - my first sampling in almost 4 months...I have lost weight, maybe15 pounds. My hair is coal black, the only colour you can get in rural Africa - I like it, the changes on the outside....but as with the orphans it is said that tears fall silently, and only on the inside. Leaving Africa, saying goodbye, leaving so much of a part of me here and taking so much of Africa home, it will take some time of looking back, to understand whatever this has meant to me.
Lindsey wrote to describe the babies: "HUGE now, their heads encased in big smiles, almost talking, almost crawling.....Sierra, I can hardly wait to tell her about the elephant running after our van of orphans, the giraffes gobbling thorn trees high above the trees and show her all my pictures of the orphans....and hello soon, to my kids, and to you....
I sign off with emotions raw and kind of huge.....xxme.
Greetings from Nairobi!
...the Masai have a proverb: "never move ahead until looking carefully behind first". I thought this was to protect yourself, especially in Nairobi, its reputation as the world's most thieving, raping, mugging, criminal city with eyes in the back of your head, with bits of Kenyan shillings hidden in your pocket, your backpack, your purse, moving carefully ahead..but no, this proverb is about reflecting on the journey of where you have been, before going on. With 5 days to go I find myself in a place of both behind and ahead, so much of where i have been, the people i have had to say goodbye to, the ten small children of the orphanage in Mto Wa Mbu..the last day with big black eyes, lined up in 2 rows along front of the building, each one decked out in freshly-donated uniforms of yellow and blue, watching with wonder as Charles, Barie and I unloaded a table, bench, bedsheets of yellow, pink, green and blue, towels and a bag of used clothing from the back of the truck....and finally six dolls for the girls and four shiny new trucks for the boys. Speechless they were, laughing, dragging combs through the doll's hair, running the trucks across the cement floor, hugging, protecting, hording their toys, maybe the only ones they have ever had. We went back for my last good byes four hours later to find three of the four trucks in pieces, and several dolls with hair askew and eyes missing, hugs, lots more pictures and a final Do a Deer sung many times over as i dragged myself out of there. so terribly sad.