Bone Broke

Dear ____ (yes you),

    Turning my head to avoid breathing in the direction of the cough – not like it mattered, if they had TB my lungs would be full of the airborne bacteria by now – I sipped my hot tea. Kenyans sure like their tea, I thought. They like it hot and brimming with sugar and they like it often. Sometimes from tea leaves and sometimes powdered chocolate with an added heaping scoop of sugar. ‘Tea.’ More of a customary social norm than an accurate description of what’s in the cup.

In the back of my mind I reminded myself of the things that can’t be spread sharing dishes; also, the journey through the bush I’d soon be making without a headlamp and the nice lady who I’d passed on the way and promised I’d have tea with on the return. Inside the mud hut it was dark, lit by fire, the smokey aura consumed gradually by inky blackness in each corner away from the glowing embers.

All the wrong kids are coughing, I thought. I clenched the empty container I’d be taking to the lab in the morning and waited for the right one to arch her head back. She couldn’t be trusted with the container. It needed to remain sterile and there was no way the blind girl could understand how to not cross contaminate the specimen. Instead, with the cup open in my hands and the scalding drink on the bench, I could watch her and spring into action at the slightest indication of a sneeze. While inches away from my face a group of small goobery-grinning siblings stared with keen interest and breathed hot through open mouths, I related simple and silly observations understood by no one and appreciated by only myself, tongue firmly in cheek.

In the other mud hut outside, a little boy slept with a swollen wrist. At least that’s what I could determine from the mother, so after sealing the sputum inside the container and sanitizing my hands, I went to see him, not thinking much about an apparent minor bruise or sprain from a fall. “I’m not a doctor, why do they always think I’m a doctor?” I thought with a bounce in my step. It’s funny that I’m viewed here as a kind of paramedic when really the only thing I can prescribe is a Tylenol and the only treatment I can administer is a basic Polysporin band-aid combo. Maybe a sweet for a fever. I’m a shmuck, it’s funny.

I looked at the boy lying on the dry-stretched goat hide and was surprised he could be asleep. Aside from the uncomfortably hot and claustrophobic air quality that formed beads of sweat on my face, he appeared quite content, sleeping next to 2 newborn kittens, a busted s-shaped arm slung over his belly. Nope, not a band-aid kinda fix.

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“This isn’t just a sprain, this is serious,” I said to a visiting older boy from another family. “He needs a doctor.”

He translated what the mother said in response.  “She says, the Maasai healer can fix this. He is very trained and can bend it and make it straight.”

“No,” I said. “He needs to go to a hospital and receive an X-ray. No Maasai healer can see the bones and it’s very important to have it realigned properly. The boy’s bones are growing and if his arm doesn’t heal properly, it can be permanently disfigured. It can become useless, you understand?”

The mother was very skeptical and said to just see what the Maasai doctor could do. I tried explaining all the reasons why it’d just be better to have a medical professional handle the arm, and how happy I’d be to take the boy to a clinic. I was going to the clinic’s lab anyways in the morning to deliver the sputum sample. There was really no problem: hakuna matata. I insisted.

Soon a couple older Maasai men entered from the night, draped in purple blankets and holding long smooth walking sticks, their stretched ears dangling as they shone lights at the boy who only stirred slightly in the commotion. A tough kid, I thought.

They appeared to council the mother on what to do and soon it was translated to me how the elders believed the Maasai healer could fix it fine and to not worry about the hospital. Even the older boy translating seemed to agree with their advice. I tried to convey how important having a professional handle the injury was and how there was no good reason to not let me take the boy and his mother early in the morning – there was nothing to lose for them. I insisted and they agreed to allow me if the Maasai healer deemed it necessary, spouting great confidence in his practice. “He’s very good.” It was getting late.

I was careful not to overturn the sealed sputum sample as I hiked through the bush down the rocks, back over a ridge and through bushy and spiky red-earthed fields under the moonless sky. I phoned to arrange for an off-road vehicle to come from the town over the mountain and pick us up at the injured boy’s home and had tea with the lady and her husband I’d promised, being careful not to overturn the sample and ruin it.

Laying in bed later I wished the boy would sleep though the night without a single stir and soon the wish was granted upon myself.

At 6:00 AM the sky began poking holes through the ceiling, morphing from dusky blue to a yellowish white and I prepared myself to walk back. Upon arriving, stalking the blind girl and discreetly collecting sample number two without her ever knowing, the boy, dirty, emerged in nothing but a sheet and disappeared fearfully back into his hut.

The sun was up and it was already getting hot when my driver arrived with a flat tire. I prodded to no avail that the boy come with me and to let me see his hand. The mother seemed uncertain about them joining us and my driver attempted to convince her before giving up and attending to the tire while she disappeared somewhere.  I felt myself becoming frustrated not understanding her thought process so resolved to go with the flow.

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Spare me the tire-d puns.

In time, as I played with the other pant-less kids and the blind girl listened, the boy with the broken arm made his way out and I saw his wrist bound floppily in a ripped cloth over a piece of old cardboard. I could see the wrist had indeed been sloppily straitened by someone in the night. Keeping my persona jovial and in good spirits, I bribed the kid with the promise of sweets. The mother and a couple Maasai men who stopped by to join the party clearly expressed their satisfaction with the condition of the wrist but through the broken Swahili she understands, my driver and I and the lady I’d had tea with the previous night successfully persuaded them to come along. If for nothing else, to simply humour me. They dressed in their best clothes and his wrist flopped unnaturally climbing inside the vehicle.

Bumping over the land and down the rocky hill, we made our way to the dirt road leading to town; the mother and son chewing sweets and I conversing with the driver who lately I’ve been using often for these kinds of things. We met a young man, a friend of mine and cousin of the young boy (I’m convinced all Maasai are cousins) to come translate and hopefully spare me hassling with Mazoongo hospital rates.

Dealing with hospitals and clinics more and more as different situations like this one arise, I’m better understanding the confusing processes involved in one recieving actual treatment. The best clinics are private and if you need anything beyond a doctor, you best detour the ambulance along the way to the ER and pick it up yourself. Whether you’ve been shot or you’re feeling like a shot of something nice, you won’t have any problems picking up your morphine supply at a pharmacist with or without prescription. Save yourself the trouble of losing your place in line and pick up the medicine or stichtes you’ll need before arriving to the clinic.
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Many people waited for their X-ray and we let a middle-aged lady who’d left her place and missed her call go ahead of us.  To pass the time and lighten the mood I picked up some juice boxes and sweet bread from a store and bananas from a lady selling them for 10 cents each. The driver slept in the Land Rover and when we were up for the X-ray, some man forcefully limped past us on the shoulders of his support crew.

“Excuse me, but this boy’s been waiting here a long time, he was next up,” I said to a member of the posse while others laid the construction labourer down on the X-ray table.

“Yes ok, but he has accident,” he said.

“Well we all have accidents here,” I said, “but nobody’s pushing in front, we’re each waiting for our turn because that’s fair.” It was like explaining to the kids at school who all want me to mark their math exercises first and so fight, stacking and restacking their books on-top of one another’s, thinking that’ll get theirs marked first.

“But he has an accident,” the man stated.

I looked at the stubbed toe as they rolled up his pants. “You think this boy broke his arm on purpose? Look at it. Sawa? We all have accidents. You should wait your turn, you see?”

“Yes I can see, but you see, I have paid allot of my money to bring this man here. He has just been having an accident across the road.” He was very passionate about having spent the money.

“Yeah you’ve paid and so have I and everybody else waiting for their turn; we’re in the same situation only we’re all waiting and being fair while you’re just going ahead in front of everyone. This boy broke his arm yesterday and has traveled far and it’s still untreated. Look at it.”

The man pointed to his comrade in the X-ray room stating, “but he is hurt, we’ve had an accident.”

They took awhile in the room and I hoped all the spectators didn’t get doused with too much radiation. When the injured guy hopped out on one foot he met another large cheering squad at the front, apparently friends and family. Seemed like a nice gesture on their part, must be one hell of a guy or foot. Maybe he’s a football star, I thought, with a foot worth a million shillings and his foot pays the livelihoods of all these people who came to ensure his big toe and their futures were intact…or maybe it really was just a construction accident and the bloke had allot of good friends who cared about his well-being. I don’t know. But as he skipped away balancing on the shoulders of his posse I smiled and felt happy for the support he was receiving and wished him a speedy recovery.

The boy’s X-ray exposed the handiwork of the Maasai doctor, which I later learned had cost the family a goat. The bones weren’t properly aligned, we could all clearly see, and the doctor explained they could not fuse in their present state but would have to be properly fixed into correct placement.

 

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We took the X-ray to another hospital where they could actually do something about it, and after paying more and leaving to get some drugs and coming back and administering the pain drugs, a doctor studied the photo some more, decided whether or not they were qualified to do anything, and with a yank and a series of cracks and maybe one mild whimper and tear from the boy, the arm was wrapped and cast.  Tough kid.

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“Give it to me straight, doc. …Seriously. Straight.”

The boy wiped his face, impressed with his new bionic powers and we bumped our way back to their mud huts with bags full from the market. The family is in poor health and the blind girl very sick so I bring them fresh nutritious food a couple times a week when I can in order to boost her immunity for eye surgery in May.

I handed the bags over and fist-pounded the boy’s stump, and as she chewed on a sweet I hoped the blind girl’s sputum sample would be analyzed and come back negative. And that everyone could just drink more milk. It was too bad they had one less goat now.

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“Buy for me a ball…” All of a sudden your English is pretty good, kid. Thumbs up.

 

 

Love,
Stefan

P.S.
Medical treatment isn’t free. Help me accomplish my fundraiser goals and help a blind girl receive the treatment that could restore her vision. Please visit http://www.gofundme.com/LoveKenya?utm_medium=wdgt while there’s time.

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You Can Be Heroes

Dear ______, (yes you)

From under the hills and over the cliffs and across the bushy hot plains came students and teachers from 10 schools to participate in an activity day several weeks ago.

Attracting Maasai members from the community and prompting the slaughtering of a goat, the day was filled with games and cheering. Olmaroroi’s girl’s and boy’s teams performed well sporting their new uniforms, winning 3 games and tying one. Teams competed in football (soccer), volleyball, and girl’s netball matches throughout the steamiest parts of the day and with great focus. Most of the kids’ heroes are famous football players, so it’s easy to see the game taking great hold of their imaginations. This wasn’t just an activity day, it was the world championships and the stakes were high.

Adult football fans relished the opportunity to leave their livestock and involve themselves in coaching the kids with their perfect plays drawn out in the dirt. Fans in the lower grades prepped the field with their own chaotic matches and then cheered on their home teams to victory, escalating in a running celebration that resulted in a few minor tramplings. But brushing off the red dirt and doing a victory dance is not only a spawn of excitement, but a chance – just for a moment – to be a part of something bigger than their imaginations.

Please show your support and be a hero by sharing this blog, liking my Facebook page and visiting the donation page, where you can be a part of something bigger than my imagination. Ashe (thank you).

Love,

Stefan. Super-Heroes

Not to Scale

Dear ______, (yes you)

Ursa Major seems turned upside down, or as it turns out, I’m simply looking at it from a perspective I’ve never seen. That is, Southern Hemisphere perspective, and it took the first couple nights here to orient myself with the new arrangement. Changing the way you look at something you’ve beheld your entire life can be disconcerting.

Drinking in the Milky Way one night (it always goes down smooth), pontificating the relative motion of all the different visible bodies, I was joined by Salaash, an eighth grade boy attending Olmaroroi school who’s part of the large family I reside with. My shooting-star count was up at 3, plus a couple satellites.  Not bad. We got talking about plans and his future and what he wanted to do. His idea is university rather than tending to the goats and cattle like generations before him. Salaash is part of the more recent crop of Maasai men who value education and don’t hold on to as many traditional customs, such as ear-stretching and living a purely pastoral life. I didn’t ask how many wives he expects.

Struggling to articulate what kind of university education he wanted, as we gazed above I suggested why don’t he become an astronaut. “A what?” he asked. I tried to explain what the word meant but it was lost on him. “Like Neil Armstrong,” I offered. “Like a what?”
I was blown away. “A man, he was a famous astronaut…Neil Armstrong.”
“Who is that?”
“You’ve never heard Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon?”
“On the moon?!”
Jeepers, I thought. “Yes, people took a rocket to the moon!”
“Right now?”
“No this was many years ago. But right now there are people in space, they’re inside of a giant satellite that orbits the earth.”
“There are people in space right now?”
He was pointing at the sky in disbelief.
“Yes, they’re inside of a big ship. It’s called the International Space Station. People from different countries go there to conduct scientific research. You could maybe go there one day.”
He laughed but I was serious.

Salaash is a handsome kid with a goofy nature and a knock-out smile that’s hard to contain in conversation. He mentioned he’d like to be an engineer. I was impressed and said that could be a kind of scientist. But I couldn’t get over the fact this 13 year old boy had never dreamed about shooting off in a rocket ship, hurtling through space and setting foot on uncharted strange worlds. I basically had/have this daydream every day.  “Ass-trow-not” he said.

I went and got my iPhone and turned on data hoping for the best. Standing on my toes waving at the stars I managed to load some Google images with one bar of signal before shutting it down to avoid charges.
“There,” I said pointing at a famous picture snapped by Buzz Aldrin, “That’s Neil Armstrong.”

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We scrolled through some of the most incredible photos taken by humans, including this one, which struck him.

Earthrise.

Earthrise.

“This is the earth?”
“Every person who has ever existed lived and died there, on that little marble.”
“Everyone.” he said
I expanded some impressive shots of the ISS falling around the world.
“…and these, do you know what these are?” I pointed to the massive solar panels powering the ship and compared it to the 5-inch rectangle sitting on his roof which powers one dim light at night.
“It must be very expensive,” he stated factually, grinning.

Appreciating a picture of astronauts in their space suits doing some exterior shuttle work, their bodies weightless and dwarfed by the expanse of earth and unlimited space, Salaash said maybe he would in fact like to be an astronaut. There’s really no good reason why he shouldn’t get the chance and it’s a shame the fantasy has remained as such for most of us thus far into the age of space exploration. Especially when considering the trillions spent on weapons annually.

Salaash collecting water in a wheelbarrow... There's using your head.  (So you don't have to use your head.)

Salaash collecting water in a wheelbarrow… There’s using your head. (So you don’t have to use your head.)

Scanning through the official science books of the Kenyan school system, at least in primary school, little focus is placed on cosmology. The vast majority of lessons I’ve taught rightly consist of local concerns like HIV awareness and prevention, diseases and parasites, environmental and agricultural knowledge, water pollution and safe handling, and in the higher grades more general science like some basic energy and biology. Only class 6’s textbook has a brief unit on the solar system, consisting of about a page, an outdated diagram consuming most of it.

Not having any teaching aids besides a chalk-board, my desire to build a solar system model with the class seemed unlikely. Science experiments here can only be thought experiments, and none of these kids has or will ever have the chances I had to build a volcano or be in the science fair or watch a Bill Nye video. Science is appreciated best when demonstrated, but the beauty of using the scientific method to learn about our universe is that it allows basically every single thing to come alive. “The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver.”
— Richard Dawkins

In the nearest town a good 45 minute bumpy motorcycle ride away I searched for some basic craft supplies to construct a model with. When finding even a black piece of poster paper proved impossible, I decided any creative effort utilizing a few tennis balls and socks stuffed with paper would miss the point and hardly pass as any kind of understandable model. So I scrapped the idea and decided the solution was to keep it simple. I managed to find some novelty light-up balloons and one of them was yellow. Knew I had some coloured chalk already and hey, guess what colour a blackboard is? Black, you say? Kinda like space?

The class sat long enough for me to cover the layout of the solar system one planet at a time starting from the sun, explaining what it would be like to live (or rather, be unable to live) on each one. The possibility of some kind of simple life slugging it out on Mars or a moon of Jupiter or Saturn made an impression on one boy especially. That other planets have moons, and can have many several, seemed a difficult concept to grasp. It’s easy for even the most informed of us to slip into the tendency of subconsciously believing there’s only one moon and one world. The truth is that worlds probably vastly outnumber stars, and when it comes to planets moons seem to be the rule, not the exception.

No one had heard about the Curiosity rover and when dwelling on the possibility of a human mission to Mars, the class scoffed at the idea of a Kenyan being the first person to touch the soil. But why should they scoff? A manned mission should happen in our lifetime and I told them that anyone in the room could be part of that mission, and I meant it. The opportunity exists, along with no good reason why a passionate and determined Maasai kid couldn’t excel all the way to the red planet.

I left the balloon out until the final part of my lesson, knowing full-well how the attention spans of these kids work. After our voyage had reached its farthest distance from the sun at Neptune (blackboard room and student concentration failing to reach Pluto-like objects or the Oort Cloud), I briefly explained how solar systems form, beginning with particles and dust, slowly revealing the hidden yellow balloon as the crucial point where gravity at the centre of the spinning accretion disk accumulates more and more mass, causing such density and heat that fusion ignited our star, and the bulb in the balloon magically started glowing yellow while it inflated. “Oi!” is the sound of surprise kids make here, and is essentially translated as “woah!” Those who could list correct planet order shared the remaining balloons, or other ‘stars’, and soon there were deafening supernovas exploding all around.

I guess the 'sun' is running out of hydrogen.

I guess the ‘sun’ is running out of hydrogen.

Why does learning about planets even matter? The textbook’s unit is titled ‘The Solar System’, but I’d prefer to call it Our Solar System, for ‘The’ suggests entitlement. Our solar system is only unique to us because we happen to be in it. Humans spent untold generations believing in a geocentric universe. Once Copernicus and Galileo and others demonstrated otherwise, Newton providing the mathematics, we realized we weren’t the centre of anything, and in fact, the more we discover the less significance we realize we can claim. And I’d claim that fact as being extremely significant.

As it turns out, nothing but the moon orbits earth; we’re one planet of many that circle the sun. Turns out the sun is one of many stars within our galaxy – each potentially containing its own plethora of worlds, many no doubt comparable to our own in size, composition, and stellar distance. Turns out our galaxy is one of many untold billions, each containing their own stars with systems of planets. What will turn out about our universe? Well, let’s stop at what we know. The point is, it turns out earth is not as universally unique as we like to think.

This reality ought to be incredibly humbling. Not just the scale of it all, but the understanding that our ideas and imagined differences and reasons we, humans beings, construct to selfishly hurt others while feeling justified by claiming higher purpose, come solely from the minds of generations who believed everything was made specifically FOR us. But our position in the cosmos exposes just how haughty and self-important such ideas are, clinging to the notion of universal significance and using that notion for our own agendas. Starting with our own solar system and working one’s way out, turning back and witnessing the world containing every human idea and memory and accomplishment from the beginning of this species’ short blink of an existence disappear on a grain of sand within vast beaches on the shores of the universe, underlines just how petty and ignorant divisive attitudes are.

I’d like these kids and myself and people in general to look up at the sky without pretending the view we see is the correct perspective. This is what Kenya Feel the Love is really about. It’s time to leave behind the archaic sense of tribal superiority we hold on to and truly appreciate our humble place with one another on our planet, in our solar system, and beyond.

We went from geocentric to heliocentric. Maybe it’s time we went from human and self-centric to something a little less self-indulgent and a little more selfless. Maybe like truth-centric… Compassion-centric. Knowledge is the means by which we come to terms with how little we really know, while wisdom is applying the significance and preciousness of each human consciousness toward improving life as we know it. Let’s be that-centric.

Have a good day and don’t forget to look up every so often. And let’s each shine on. (“Like the moon and the stars and the sun.”)

Love,
Stefan

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With a Little Help from My Friends

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Reagan.

First instinct: run away.  Second instinct: stop and snap a photo.  Third instinct: reassess the situation and disarm the dangerous knife-wielding baby.

Dear _____ (yes you),

No, it’s not a scene from Chucky.  That’s my pal Reagan, who’s probably about the best baby you can imagine.  Boasting either a contagious smile or permanent expression of wonder, this little dude will win anyone’s heart by running up, arching his head impossibly skyward and flashing a grin the flies can’t resist.  There’s usually about 18 of the little bastards trying to snap his patience but I’ve never actually seen him swat them away from his eyes nose or mouth.  Constantly it’s the Wicker Man bee scene only Reagan is more collected and composed than Nicholas Cage.  The flies can’t get enough of him, and neither can I.  The best way to express it is like Reagan himself: with excited hand flails and conversational shrieks of “eah!”

Larry

Larry.

If there were a blueprint for what all five year old boys are designed to be, it’d look like Larry.  He’s a quintessential little boy and scallywag.  Just about every night he shows me some gangrenous war-wound for me to clean earned from a day running barefoot over the rough terrain with his favorite toy – an old worn car tire.  Making convincing truck sounds and hurtling the wheel into objects (me being one of his favorites…also sleeping dogs), Larry’s your typical boy given a license to spend the day playing and exploring and shredding his skin against the dirt, his beluga face full of mischief and determination to have fun.  As I write this I’m literally dodging tires and returning fire in my best Dr. Evil “fire the laser” voice.  Night or day, this one never tire-s.  At night, if the air is still, you may catch a floating set of laughing little white teeth bouncing by out of nowhere; a silly naked boy otherwise invisible in the darkness.

“Timmon!” you’ll consistently hear Larry’s voice call his brother (half/whole/step?) to attention throughout the day.  Timmon is the swellest and sweetest little chap, and is what I imagine Reagan to be like in a few years.  About the same age as Larry, Timmon is usually the first sound I hear of the day that doesn’t make me want to bore my inner-ears out with my fingers.  Above the roar of the wind and creaky hinges and door slams and incessant dog barking and gangly cat meows and cow snorts and babies crying and birds chirping and goats screaming and bugs crawling… is Timmon’s motorcycle “brrrrrrrrrrr”-ing.  A welcome noise sounding the beginning of a new day.

Larry’s favorite toy is the manure-trodden tire, Reagan’s any piece of not-suitable-for-baby piece of garbage or weapon, and Timmon’s would be a piece of bent and rusty metal wire interpreted as handlebars.  Leave the rest to imagination and you’ll witness him ripping by, popping impressive wheelies and kicking up dust with the donuts I taught him to do.  He’s a regular hot rod.

Conversations walking Timmon home from school at lunch usually go something like this:

“Howdy there captain. Time for lunch bud?”

“Yea.”

“Did you have a fun morning?”

“Yea.”

“Ahhh.”

“Yea.”  He takes my hand and we begin the journey home.

“My belly. She’s carnivorous.”

“Yea.”

“What did you do today?”

“Yea.”

“Mm sounds pretty nifty.”

“Yea.”

“Phew, hot one.”

“Yea.”

“Can you see our shadows?”

“Yea.”

“They’re right underneath us.”

“Yea.”

“That’s how you know it’s noon near the equator.”

“Yea.”

“It also means I’m traveling much faster right now than I can at my home latitude.”

“Yea.”

“So if I run west, I can say I’m running faster than I’ve ever ran before.”

“Yea.”

“Whoops, you’re making me walk into bushes, bud.”

“Yea.”

“They’re spikey buggers.”

“Yea.”  I whistle a tune that’s in my head and he tries to copy but just blows air and spit.

“I guess you basically have to walk about 4 times as far as me,”

“Yea.”

“Because your legs are about a quarter the length of mine.”

“Yea.”

“Follow the yellow brick road. Follow the yellow brick road…”  And so forth, each “yea” a high-pitched and uncompromising agreement.

Running up to me and blurting some Maasai word, and having me repeat it before he scampers away laughing hysterically to repeat the process, always amuses Timmon.  I’m not exactly sure what it is he’s having me me say but the game is cheap and easy, usually dissolving into me spouting gibberish in however many goofy voices I can manage in the heat.  And then dying to end it.

Trying to snag some breezy down-time on a stone under the rare shade of a tree carries with it about a 50/50 chance of receiving a regular doctor’s check-up from one or all of the trio, as they climb, poke, grab and pet the pieces of my body and possessions deemed interesting.  Everything, from my backpack to the hair on my legs is an open exhibition.  The circus is in town.  Tickets are free.  Invite your friends.

Termite mound kind sunset.  Mind the pests.  And termites.

Termite mound kinda sunset.  Mind the pests. And termites.

Not being entirely sure what the exact relationship is between the gang, it’s clear everybody within the confines of this dusty stick-fence perimeter are family.  Including me, or at least I’d like to think so.  Being the only Mazoongo around, which basically means whitey (or ‘wealthy’ according to most… I beg to differ…), attracts allot of attention.  Kids enamored by my hair, literally grooming me like a group of baboons, or the cows and goats doing a double-take each time I pass; I’m definitely the odd man out. I couldn’t feel more welcome.

Karibu is the word here for welcome and the family, students, teachers, and community couldn’t make me feel more karibu.  The Maasai culture is rich and inviting, sort of like the goat’s blood they drink on special occasions.  Which, on second thought, is maybe rich in a bloody kind of rich way, but not really all that inviting.  To me.  Don’t think I’d RSVP the goat’s blood invite no matter how rich it is.

Wealth is certainly not any indication of richness, and vice versa.  I wanted to exist somewhere I could feel the love, authentically, and although this time last year I’d’ve never considered that to be inside a mud hut rolling chapati dough with a family of traditional Kenyans, here I am.  I feel it, and I can’t wait to find out who I’ll be cooking dinner with this time next year.  Family is whoever welcomes you into theirs.  Prosperity is sharing acts of kindness, unconditionally.

Please support my fundraiser’s goals by liking my Facebook page and checking out the donation page.  I appreciate it, and mostly these little boogery smiles appreciate it.  Can you feel the love?

class Love,

Stefan.

Lemayian Means Blessing

Dear _______ (yes you),

Well, here I am. A week in Africa, siting under a large and bizarre half-tree half-cactus plant which oozes a milky white substance that I’m told if dripped into your eyes will cause blindness. The sun is screaming quickly into the sky from the eastern horizon and the coolness of the air here in the Ngong hills will soon be a sweltering if not breezy 30 degrees Celsius.

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The Maasai family I’m staying with is large at around 19 (I’m not sure exactly how many; they’re transient, and I’m embarrassed to have probably introduced myself to repeats), which I believe isn’t exactly out of the norm for families with multiple wives.

As expected (and welcomed), life out here with the Maasai family is different from back home. The first thing you’d probably notice about the premises (after spending about 6 minutes swatting flies out of each orifice) is the simple and colourfully painted shelters made out of metal sheeting and some plywood. No insulation required here. You’d also notice huts made out of a creative slew of mud, sticks, and cow dung. These are the kitchens the Maasai women have built themselves, which I’m told can be accomplished in just a couple days. Dank, dark, and hazy on the inside, your eyes soon adjust to the blackness, though not as fast to the smoke. As simple meals are cooked over an open fire, a stingy and nose-clogging aura fills the air. I’ve determined the lack of ventilation serves as a logical insect repellent. Although feeling a little bit like Luke Skywalker hunched inside Yoda’s Dagobah home, I’m more than pleased to gorge on the miniature rations.

Food conneseurs would best leave their critic’s pens at home and their appetites modest. Food serves its purpose, or at least makes an attempt: my breakfast this morning consisted of toast (2 slices of white bread – sprinkled with flies a la carte) and the staple drink of choice for Kenyans called Chai. Chai here simply means ‘tea’, and they love to load it to the max with sugar granules and milk. And serve it at scalding hot lava temperature. I tell them I take my sugar and milk with a little Chai. Other common dishes include ugali, chappatti, rice, and beans. The nearest market with fruit I’ll be dreaming of soon is maybe a 40 minute off-road drive. Perhaps when I go into the nearest town on the back of a piki piki this weekend I’ll find a cheap bicycle to get to a Maasai market somewhere which I’m told set up on Tuesdays (more vague information, and many mangos, pending). I’d like to send Breakfast Television a story that I’ll try editing on my iPhone this evening together but will need stable wifi for it to reach the producers. It may be impossible, though I’ll make an attempt this weekend if I can find an Internet donkey. So watch for that Monday morning at the earliest on City. The little kids I’ve exploited should be bait enough to get me some airtime.

As it relates, I’ve explored several areas of need in the area. My main focus outside of teaching at Olmararoi primary school will be to raise funds for the nearby daycare. Walking there from the school is about 10 or 15 minutes. Some of the needs of the daycare include a kitchen to be built (they currently cook for the kids outside on a fire – at the mercy of the rain during wet season), food stock (such as grains, corn and beans), a large water tank plus gutters to collect rainfall, beds to be built and mattresses for the younger children to nap on, toilet improvements, and a fence to separate the kids from the dangerous plants and animals in the area. There’s also no glass in the windows and the daycare teacher hasn’t received a wage.

The school I’m teaching at has had the benefit of some past volunteers who’ve been able to contribute small improvements over time, but there are still sizeable projects to work on including replacing some decrepit classrooms. My biggest immediate concern is the lack of supplies and overall structure of the school system. This is basically due to lack of government funding or investment, as far as I can tell. So, small little things like a fastened pencil sharpener in each room would make big differences. Although I’d like my fundraising efforts to concentrate primarily on the daycare, the school is lacking some things we might take for granted at home.

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Olmararoi Primary School

The improvements to the daycare would help it and the immediate community receive sustainable solutions to current problems. I wish I’d brought things like pencils, books and donated clothes from home. Simple craft supplies and dollar store items make the children’s day over here. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to mail such items, but purchasing similar stuff here isn’t an impossibility. Just logistically challenging with my remoteness.

The daycare welcomes any donations. The things I listed are very attainable solutions. Check out the About page to learn how by donating you can receive handmade Maasai gifts that earn Maasai women income. Also check out my Instagram  and Facebook pages and follow this blog for stories and updates.

Ashe ole!

Love, Stefan

P.S.
Lemayian is the Maasai name a class of students gave me….probably to butter me up. Ok no homework.

Prick.

Dear ________ ,

So here it is, the first blog post.  Breaking new ground.  Breaking face on new ground.  Seriously.  Here’s the story:

Most people are aware that to travel in Africa, vaccines are pretty much standard pre-departure protocol.  Meningitis, Hepatitis, Yellow Fever, Cholera, Polio, Typhoid, Tetanus, Diphtheria, Tuberculosis, Malaria… these are all illnesses we can vaccinate or medicate against thank-goodness.  But the price can be high, or as I learned, come from up high landing squarely on the floor.

A few weeks ago I was in for my second round of shots.  I don’t have a phobia or anything but I’ll admit I generally don’t appreciate being stabbed multiple times, despite keeping straight-faced and affable.  Though after the final Yellow Fever jab, my straight face got a bit bent out of shape.

Powering through the light-headed queasy feeling I get after shots, I continued small-talking while still perched high atop the ‘toilet paper covered mattress-table’ every medical room has you sit upon.  The last thing I remember is mentioning how much a cold O.J. would hit the spot.  Too little too late, because the only spot that was hit was the ground from about 8 feet.

I guess it’s called a parasympathetic response, so I hope you’re sympathetic.  What happens is that the body thinks, “Oh…I’ve been pricked quite a few times now…that must mean I’ve sustained gaping wounds.  Quite a bit of my precious blood must be escaping.  Oh, I know, I’ll dilate the the blood vessels and drastically drop the blood pressure so that minimal fluids are lost. I like blood, I think I’ll keep it.”  Thanks body.  The irony is that in attempting to minimize blood loss, my body’s reaction created open wounds that bled.

This vasovagal episode means that gravity does its thing, and oxygen-rich blood in the brain suddenly isn’t there anymore.  Lights out.  The cool thing is that you don’t notice the lights going out. They just suddenly come back on and abracadabra – there you are on your back transported someplace else, brain coming back online trying to make sense of sensory input after being turned off and knocked unconscious by the subsequent violent bang.

Frazzled nurses holding my nose suddenly came into focus and proper exposure.  The alarming sounds of “get more gauze” lurched out of distortion and finally (after a short delay) the memory of who these people were, and the body my brain was supposed have control over were reestablished for the first time since one of those rough weeks from last autumn.

I’ll also mention that for some reason I drove over a meridian earlier that morning; a decision that would cost me over 1000 bucks.  So when all was said and done and I was sipping my orange juice awkwardly with the receptionist holding my bleeding swollen nose; the nurse looking for a doctor (he had the day off), the realization that I had to now pay these people hundreds of dollars for voodoo-dolling me up left a wry smile on my face.  Which made it bleed more.  “I’m going to warn you,” the nurse blurted while realigning the hanging skin around the biggest cut, “there’s allot of blood.”  Good work body.

Until next time.

Love,
Stefan

face

(Bruises formed over the next few days.  As did my courageous rescue tales).