March 4, 2019

DAY 11

After the past two very long days, I am grateful to be able to sleep in this morning. I am speaking closer to home here in Kitale. It is still a good 45-minute drive to where I will be speaking. When I emerge from my room, the household is awake, but no one seems to know where Pastor George is. I check outside and notice the car is gone. I use this as an opportunity to practice another new Swahili phrase I learned this trip. I text George “uko wapi?” “Where are you?” I misspell it, using a “c” instead of a “k” but he understands me. Gratefully, he responds in English.

George had to leave at 1:30am, only a few hours after we had arrived home. His mother had been rushed to the hospital, as she was coughing up blood. It turned out, thankfully, that she had simply bit her tongue during one of the seizure episodes, unbeknownst to Andrew. George went back Bungoma to assess the situation, as she was unconscious and they wanted to get her admitted to the hospital. George says he will be back in time to get me to the church for the service he has arranged for me to speak at, which is scheduled to start at 9am. 

I check in with all the children and let them know where their dad has gone and why. Keith sits and talks with me and it’s clear he’s upset by the news. I ask him how long it has been since he has last seen his grandmother. “A very long time,” he replies. Unlike his sisters who travelled with us yesterday, he has not seen his grandmother for several years.

Of course, 9am is “Kenya time” – and George reaches the house until around 9am. He needs breakfast, so he eats quickly, and then we depart. 

Today, I am speaking at a fellowship known as Sister Lynda’s Fellowship. She and her husband, Pastor Atnas, run their fellowship out of their home. They had a separate building on the property, but earlier this year, termites finished their work on the floor and rafters and the building collapsed. We are led to sit in the sitting room, which is also a separate building behind their home. The praise and worship team starts drumming up attendees. Literally. 

For the first time during any of my trips to Kenya, I’m finally speaking at a church that uses drums and handmade instruments. They have a cymbal-like sounding instrument that reminds me of the cowbell my mother used to ring at family celebrations. It’s a thick round gray metal. They hit it with a metal stick, much like you would hit a triangle. They also have these rattles, that sound a bit like maracas when you shake them, but look more like a wooden washboard without the crumpled metal front-piece. The rattle-boards are filled with what sounds like beans or small pebbles.

The pastor apologies that they do not have the modern keyboard, amplifier and microphone set up at their church. I assure him that I much prefer the drums and instruments that they do have. I share that at my home I have a small wooden drum that has a goat-hide top. He tells me theirs are cowhide. We have clearly bonded.

As the crowd assembles, it is a good mix of young and old, men and women. About 40 people have arrived and more are appearing. It is a bright and sunny day, and I will be speaking directly into the sunlight. No one seems to mind that we are meeting outside in the sunshine, and I am loving it myself. The folks who are assembling have come to hear me talk because Naomi (George’s wife) had begun attending their fellowship when the family first moved back to Kitale. They are an incredibly positive bunch, and very receptive. George translates for me. I speak for about 20 minutes, talking about how easy it is in life to get sidetracked from our connection with God.

After I speak, we open up the floor for questions. There is dead silence for about three minutes before one brave young woman – who turns out to be a daughter of the pastors – speaks up. She asks me a question about whether or not my books are available in Swahili. I tell her that George has a brand new copy of Giving Thanks: The Art of Tithing, and he will be finalizing the translation for us this year.

Her question breaks the ice and I begin to be peppered with questions. An older man wants to know how to hold his faith, even when those around him don’t believe the same thing. Another young woman wants to know how to stay present to her higher inner self when her outer self wants to basically let the ego be in charge. Such familiar questions – I almost feel like I’m back home, facilitating our weekly A Course in Miracles group, or leading a workshop at a spiritual center. We are certainly all One, even down to our inner concerns and deepest desires. 

We have an amazingly lively conversation of questions and answers for nearly two hours. At the end, we pray out. The band again assembles for praise and worship to send us off. The drummers take up position in the middle of the front “stage” area. The other percussionists take up positions around them, and then the rest of the congregation gathers around. Everyone is singing and dancing and the outer circle starts moving counter-clockwise around the drummers. This time, they hand me a small drum. Unlike my drum at home, which is made of light wood, their drums are made of metal. I am holding the smallest drum they have in my left hand and banging it with a. I’m all caught up in the rhythm, so it takes me a minute or two to realize that my left hand has fallen asleep and I’m about to drop my drum!  

I maneuver the drum until it rests more comfortably on my forearm and pick up the rhythm again. We drum for close to 30 minutes, non-stop, with amazing singing and dancing going on all around me. What a wonderful, uplifting experience. A fitting end to my speaking adventures this trip. 

We retire to the sitting room, at the back end of the yard, where everyone from the praise and worship team crams into the room. Probably 20 people are staying to enjoy a hearty meal served by the women’s fellowship. There is much laughter and conversation. As we prepare to leave, the pastors present me with a gift. Inside the bag is one of their handmade musical instruments – they have written on one side the name of their fellowship and the date to commemorate my visit. The pastor promises to send me pictures he’s taken of my time there (which you can see here!) and I assure them that when I again return to Kitale, I will definitely come to visit them again.   

As we leave the yard, I notice something I completely missed when we arrived. This time, we walk right by it and as I’m soaking up all the sights and sounds of the homestead, it is hard to miss. There is a large mound of dirt in the center of the back yard, with a wreath and cross on top of it. This is where Lynda and Atnas’ son-in-law is buried. No elaborate funerals or cemeteries here. In fact, there are only two cemeteries in all of Kitale. One is simply the Kitale Cemetery and the other is the Kitale War Cemetery. The war cemetery is quite small and contains 60 graves of East African soldiers killed in World War II; several war units were stationed nearby. The Kitale Cemetery contains just under 300 graves – and until the 1960’s there was a color barrier. The only early graves are those for folks who were English, German, Scottish, Boers, etc.

We prepare to head back home and George gets another phone call that he is needed back at the Bungoma hospital. His mother has still not regained consciousness. I suggest we travel home quickly, and that we get Keith and Irene ready to come out with us. That way he and Keith can go to the hospital so he can see his grandmother. Irene can then join me at the Westside Hotel café where we will continue our research into sustainable solutions for the options we have thought up, and get fully prepared for our dinner meeting with the property owner, Richard. 

We are unable to call ahead to let the children know we are coming, as only Leon has working phone and he is teaching today. Keith helped me open up my old Safaricom phone, and the battery is completely shot, so we weren’t able to activate that line. Ten years without a charge apparently will kill a battery. Go figure! Keith has been badgering his dad to look for a replacement battery in town so he can have this old phone. Little does he know that this bit of urgency today will help his case.

Keith is ready in a matter of minutes. Irene takes the world’s fastest shower and gets dressed. While we wait for Irene, and George is attending to household matters, I take Keith aside and share some communication skills with him. I tell him that I know exactly how to get the old phone activated before they arrive back home in Kitale. I tell him that when he and George are alone in the car he should gently say, “dad, I wish we had known you were heading here to pick us up – Irene and I would have been ready and waiting for you when you arrived.” I tell him not to say a single word about the battery or the phone. To just state that simple sentence and let it be.

George and Keith drop Irene and me at the hotel so we can use the Wi-Fi, and they proceed to Bungoma. It’s now 2pm.

Around 5:30, we hear back from George that when his mother heard Keith’s voice as he was talking to her, she said his name, then opened her eyes, and was able to take a little milk as nourishment. Everyone was overjoyed. With plans for her medical care set, George and Keith began the drive back. Irene and I move into the lounge area. It’s beginning to get cold and rainy outside. 

This is not usually the rainy season, so the last two days of rain have been a blessing for the grounds, and for the animals, who are able to enjoy the newly sprouted grass that has come up. Being able to graze the cows more readily and having the chickens able to eat more grubs who have come to the surface thanks to the rain, will make it possible for George to cut back on the hay and the chicken feed needed to help the chickens begin producing eggs.

 We have a scheduled dinner meeting with the landowner, Richard, and his wife, for 7pm this evening. It’s clear that it will be closer to 8:30 before George and Keith make it back here to pick us up. (Oh, and for the record…. Guess what Keith’s first words were to me when he and his dad returned to the hotel to pick up me and Irene? He asked for my phone number – so he could put it in the now activated phone.)

 Our plan was to take the children home, going through downtown to pick up some meat and other items for their dinner, and then return to this side of town for dinner. George has been in communication with Richard all afternoon, letting him know what’s been happening with his mother. Richard was raised by a single mom, so he completely understands the situation.

 By the time we got downtown and got the meat, it was past 9pm. As time dragged on, we decided to go straight to Richard’s house. If we went their first, we would still arrive around 9:30pm. If we tried to take Keith and Irene back home, it would be well past 10:30pm before we would get to Richard’s house – and they had waited to eat dinner. With Richard’s invitation to have the children join us, we turned toward the other side of town.

 Richard’s home is in a gated enclave; in fact, he has three gates to get into his home compound. He was raised by a single mom who was a “working girl,” as they used to say in the day. His childhood didn’t make him feel safe. In fact, the storm that passed through had knocked out the electricity on his street, so when we arrived there was no power. At one point during our very candid conversation he shared that he had always been afraid of the dark, and this power outage was making him feel very uncomfortable. 

Richard greeted all of us and he and his wife made us all feel welcome in the sitting room off their kitchen. Over dinner, Richard makes small talk, sharing stories of his work adventures, his children, his own childhood. He asks questions of Keith and Irene – clearly looking to get insights into what kind of family they are. Richard comes from humble beginnings, so he understands the ups and downs George has gone through in his life, with the loss of his father at a young age as well.

After everyone has eaten their fill, our conversation turns to the property. It turns out that the plan I’d outlined in earlier blogs wasn’t exactly something that Richard had come up with. It was something George had thought of that might be a possible way to start making payments toward the house purchase. 

Since Richard hadn’t been comfortable charging rent for the house – with no running water inside, and only part of the electricity working correctly – George had thought that perhaps Richard would be interested in having us pay for some improvements in lieu of rent. That way, even if we weren’t able to purchase the home, at least the improvements would make it possible for him to charge rent, or more easily sell the home, which had been on the market for three years.

I had mistakenly thought that this was an idea Richard had presented to George. Richard is most interested in selling the property. It is owned by three parties – himself and his wife, his mother, and his oldest daughter – as it was their homestead here in Kitale when they moved here years ago. He would like to create some cash flow for his mother and daughter, as well as for he and his wife. 

They have all agreed that they are willing to let the homestead go. The challenge is, he would like a 30% deposit and would like to finish the transaction for the full sale as quickly as possible, rather than over the traditional 7 years. At 6,000,000 Ksh, that’s approximately $60,000. Nearly twice our annual donations, which cover school fees, farming expenses, and food and other essentials. 

We sit and talk about other ideas for us to come up with the deposit swiftly. A 30% deposit would mean coming up with $18,000 – nearly twice what we had hoped to net from the 10-paying people on the service safari, where we had added into the price an additional $1,000/person that would be put toward the home purchase.

Richard has worked in disaster risk management and safety with organizations like Oxfam and the Carter Center. He only works part-time, when they call him, but he has worked in some seriously high risk environments, including Sudan, South Sudan and Afghanistan.

Richard is big on timelines and amounts, so he is seeking assurances as to when we will have the money. He wants to make sure that he is minimizing his risks on this process and I understand completely. We have come with no money to put into the pot to start the purchase process and no firm ability to say when we will have the money for the deposit, much less when we would have funds to complete the purchase. 

Richard shares how blown away he was when George came to him in January and told him that he wanted to move into the house with the intent of buying it. Something guided Richard to say yes, and to not charge any rent. Something guided him to allow George and his family to move in, replacing the caretaker who had been living there, and making it possible for the family to have a fresh start with a new house to purchase. This makes it possible for them to use the refunded rent they’re receiving from the previous landlady to purchase food. 

After the previous real estate deal was pulled out from under the family, I’m treading cautiously here. I want to see how we set up a win-win-win. I want to minimize the chance that George and his family will have to once again pick up roots and move. Due to the cows and the chickens, it’s essential that they be able to rent a property that has some land – and these properties are hard to come by in Kitale. Otherwise we lose the forward momentum of sustainability we’ve achieved to date.

At the time, I have no idea that Richard is used to negotiating with warlords…I’m just impressed with his ability to stay with me in the conversation, as I outline that I too like deadlines and concrete amounts to work and plan with. Yet I have nothing definitive to work with on our side. At the moment, the only answer I can give to his questions of “how much and when” is sijui – “I do not know”. Right now, I can’t give him set dates and figures as to when we would be able to make the deposit, or the amounts.

I lay it out and tell him my greatest concern is not knowing how they will be compensated if by July we don’t have a way forward toward the purchase. They have been so generous with their property, even though the family is now acting as caretaker. I want to make sure they are comfortable with the family living there without paying rent. 

Richard recognizes that we are being fully authentic and transparent. We do not want to take advantage of their hospitality and we are also very serious about wanting to buy THIS piece of property. It is perfect for the family, and the price is incredibly reasonable, for a 5-acre property with a house, a guesthouse, and outbuildings. 

Irene asks politely if she might speak. She talks about the family and how they have together always worked to figure out a way forward through their obstacles. She shares how grateful they all are already, for the generosity and kindness that has been shown them by Richard and his family. She shares what they are all committed to doing to make this purchase a possibility and what it would mean to the family. She’s straightforward and matter of fact. She later shares that this was the first time she truly felt like a grown up, taking part in a grownup conversation that affected her life and the lives of her family members. She was very proud of herself, as she should be.

Richard and his wife take a minute to talk between themselves. He says that he would be comfortable letting the family stay there as is, provided we can provide him with a timeline with dates and amounts by the end of April. I tell him that sounds more than generous and thank him for allowing us to take up his evening.

As we leave to drive home, I convey to George, Irene and Keith the task before them. That it is up to them to figure out where they can cut back on every single extra, no matter how small an expense it may seem – even a candy bar or cookies for the little ones. We have to demonstrate by the end of April that we have been able to save a substantial amount of money toward the down payment – or are moving toward that by all means possible, so we can give Richard concrete figures. 

I know that if we can get 10 people committed to the safari, the first $1,000 deposits by each of them can be set up toward the initial deposit on the property. It would give us the ability to start with a 15% deposit of $9,000. 

We commit to ramping up the visa application to get George here to work as quickly as possible. Although this process could take as long as 8-9 months to get finalized, it provides us with further evidence of our serious intention to purchase the property. 

We can make this purchase happen. I know it in my bones. We did it two years ago when we raised $7,500 so they could buy the farm truck and have it painted and registered. I know this is possible and I feel content with what we have accomplished in my time in Kenya this trip.

By the time we reach home, it is past midnight. We have to be up early in the morning for our trip to Nairobi, since I have to catch a plane in 24 hours. It takes me about 90 minutes to get packed and organized. I share every bit of medical supplies and snack bars I have left with me. Leon, Keith and Irene are completely fascinated with the Epic Bison/Habanero/Cherry bars. I remember at the last minute to check in for my flight, just before I fall asleep at 1:30am.

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