Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A "welcome letter" for future Pokot visitors

I thought this would be fun to share. I've written a (lengthy!) letter/document on "what to expect in Kenya", written for the western traveler, which will be included in a "new volunteers manual" that the IHF is working on.

Probably a good read for anyone going into the wild of a developing nation!

It's too long to just drop in the blog, so you can read it here.

Shooting the album cover for Home Again

I had a business trip to LA last week and took some time aside to photograph my friend and colleague Scott Wilkie for his upcoming solo album release, Home Again. The album is a beautiful collection of original solo piano music, blending jazz and pop. His previous albums are available on the iTunes Store [link], and this one will be released this summer.

Here are a few selects from the shoot, some of which will be coming soon to an album near you.

[Edit] If anyone can tell me how to not have Blogger strip the color profile from the preview icon (the ones you see below), please let me know. Click through and you see the images properly; on these small views they look rubbish. *sigh*. Hmm and it appears that Firefox doesn't honor the color profile anyway. Browse in Safari! You are using a Mac, right? ;-) *ahem*

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Room to Read

I just finished the book "Leaving Microsoft to Change the World" [amazon.com link], written by John Wood, founder of Room to Read. It's an amazing read, and a phenomenal story of what can be achieved by smart, ambitious people who refuse to watch the children of our world suffer because of lack of education, and refuse to hear the words "no" when asking others to help change that.

I eagerly recommend this book to anyone who's ever thought the world could be a better place.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Letter to the children

The 'goodbye' letter I wrote to the children in the Pokot orphanage has been posted on the IHF website; how sweet. I'll copy it here for your enjoyment.

My dear children,

I am so sorry that I was not able to say goodbye properly. When Past President Moi departed, I ended up getting a ride with his security team back to Nakuru and had to leave immediately. It pained me to not be able to say goodbye in person.

I so very much enjoyed my time with all of you. You are wonderful, wonderful children, and I wish I could take you all home with me. The welcome you gave me when mommy Carol and I arrived was one of the most amazing, warm, and loving welcomes anyone could ask for. Your constant hugs were a treasure and made me feel immediately at home. When I went to Nakuru for a couple of days then came back to you all, I felt truly like I was coming home again.

Thank you for your love and affection and for teaching me so much about your lives. And thank you for such a wonderful opportunity to photograph all of you. I will be sure to send pictures for you all to enjoy just as soon as I can.

Chemariach Lomertelo, my poet. We never had time to record your poem or for me to write it down. I hope that you will write it for me and have Daniel send it to me by email. Never stop writing. You are, and can always be, an inspiration to us all. I love you.

Chepkopus Lale, always with a smile for the camera. Never stop smiling; you can brighten any room. I love you.

Kevin Kiyech, never stop looking to the stars for knowledge and wonder. You are blessed with one of the most amazing sky's in the world to gaze upon. Always know that when you look up to the stars and the moon, your daddy Joseph will be looking up as well. I love you.

Newton Kamarino and Patrick Ruto, you both have amazing futures ahead of you. Stay strong in school and you will go far. I love you both.

Moses Korireng, You amazed me with your knowledge of American politics and your thirst for knowledge. I wish you the best in your quest to study Business at Kabarak University. I love you.

And of course Chepanga, my special Pokot daughter. I will miss you terribly, and I will be watching over you from afar. I look forward to hearing about your life as you grow into a young woman, and know that you always have a daddy, somewhere in the world. I love you.

And to everyone else, my greatest love to you all,
Daddy Joseph

Monday, May 7, 2007

Back in California

Hi everyone,

I'm home now. After many long flights from Nairobi to London, London to Los Angeles, then Los Angeles to San Jose, I'm home. Amazingly my baggage made it 10,000 miles to LAX where I cleared it through customs, only to have them not manage to make it the last 350 miles to SJC. Go figure. (They just arrived at home a few minutes ago)

It took a while to find my way home last night as every freeway entrance to downtown San Jose was blocked off for the Cinco de Mayo weekend, but I finally got through. I wandered out for a sushi dinner (ahhh, food!!) then passed out around 10. So good to be back on a nice mattress instead of the 3-inch thick foam I've been on for two weeks. A hot shower! Smooth roads! Cappuccino! Ahhh

But… I miss Kenya already. I miss the kids. The smiles. The stars. The sound of animals instead of traffic. And lots of other little things that will undoubtedly sink in over the course of this first day back.

I love you Kenya, you were good to me. I will return one day, without question.

I have a TON more to write and post, and will do it as quickly as possible. I shot over 6,000 pictures and need to finish sorting them. On Friday, the orphanage was visited by past President Moi, and I have a massive gallery of that visit.

[picture: Me meeting former President Moi. Photo credit: Solomon Kipsang Tallam, President Moi's personal photographer]

On my last day we went out at sunrise to see the Lake Nakuru National Park, home to 1.5 million flamingos, as well as giraffe, zebra, hippo, dik dik, black and white rhino, baboon, monkey, and many many more wonderful animals. As I go through these and other pictures I'll recall other stories to tell, and will get them up here quickly.

For now though… it's back to the other world.

Thank you all for following, and for posting comments, and generally coming along for a ride with me. The show is over but the stories will continue.


Let's talk about food

(Written Friday May 4, 19:44 Kenya time – regarding the whole trip)

As I sat having lunch in Nginyang, it occurred to me that I haven't talked about food that much. And for those who know me, you'll recognize that as a glaring omission. So, let's talk.

There ain't much.

And by that don't mean quantity, but variety. There is a very short list of what is on every menu, in every restaurant, in every kitchen, in every hotel. Here's the list.


  • White rice – usually served with some tomatoes mixed in, almost always undercooked (nearly crunchy). Flavorless
  • Beans – sometimes served alone, but usually served with maize. Can be tasty, and is a staple at the orphanage
  • Maize – looks like corn but much bigger and tougher kernels, never served alone (see Beans)
  • Potatoes – boiled or fried, but if they're fried, they're soggy
  • Cabbage – also usually served with tomatoes mixed in. There's cabbage everywhere here, and in the markets it's very sadly wilted looking. I guess it lasts a while though as it's everywhere
  • Kale – again with tomatoes (I think). The single most flavorful dish I ate while here. But as anyone who's cooked kale before will tell you, you have to cook it to death to make it edible.

  • Bananas are abundant
  • Watermelon on occasion
  • Pears? Not really sure if that's what those were…
  • Mango, maybe? Again not sure, never had one

  • Eggs – quite dreary looking in restaurants, although out at Joshua's home we had fresh eggs from his own hens, and WOW those were good.

  • Flat bread (fry bread?) – unleavened bread cooked on coals and served covered in ash
  • Sliced bread – only in restaurants, and oddly when served with breakfast, never ever toasted

  • Goat – Usually served as a stew. I heard it is also sometimes roasted, but never saw that. Unfortunately they don't carefully remove the meat from bone and gristle – instead it's chopped up by a large cleaver and all mixed together. You pick up a piece with your fingers and eat what you can. It is, however, quite tasty. They say the meat is so good because the goats eat the nettle trees. These trees are covered with poisonous 3-inch spikes and hurt like hell if you touch them. Yummy.
  • Chicken – only seen in restaurants in Nairobi and Nakuru. Very scrawny birds go into this – not a lot of meat to chew on.
  • Fish – Talapia, talapia, and talapia. I had it once in Nairobi with some kind of breading and sauce, but otherwise it's served whole. In one place it was actually fried up beautifully with crisply skin and while overcooked, was still a delight to eat. The other time it probably started off well, but by the time I got it it had been soaking in run-off from the veggies (of which the sauce is liberally poured over everything else) and so the entire fish was soggy.
  • Suasage – hard, dry, but tasty. Only saw this with breakfast at the Carnation hotel in Nakuru

  • Tea – black Kenyan tea, served everywhere all the time. Milky and sweet and quite good.

  • Salt – and actually a very good salt. Don't know where it comes from but it's nice
  • Pepper sauce – generic, not-too-spicy, red sauce
  • Green Chilies – got these once at a the restaurant in Nginyang, but even the second time we were there they didn't have them. Too bad, they added some flavor to the rest of the food.

  • Ugali – that tasteless, incredibly thick (like super-thick mashed potatoes), cornmeal foodstuff that is served with every meal. It's very filling, and is what is made from the cornmeal we were giving out at the famine feeds. To eat, a chunk is pulled off in the hand and squished and pressed into the fist, then dipped into sauce or used to scoop up kale or cabbage. [link - Wikipedia]

And that's pretty much it. The entire food supply of every restaurant I was in. Most places don't even have menus – seriously – because they all serve the same stuff. And asking what they have is like a comedy routine. For example…

Pokot – what do you want?
Me – what do they have
Translated to server – what do you have?
Pokot – beans
Me – um, ok, anything else?
(I'll cut out the back and forth translation, but trust me it's a "who's on first" routine)
Pokot – rice
Me – so beans or rice… ok. I'll have rice
Pokot – do you want a vegetable?
Me – oh they have vegetables! Great… what do they have
Pokot – vegetables
Me – oh right. Ok, sure
and so on… finally, you get a plate of rice or beans, with kale or cabbage or boiled potatoes or a combination of the three, and either ugali or flatbread.

On occasion you get some meat, but unless it's a big city it's chicken or fish or goat, never a choice, just one of the three

And curiously, beer is usually not available in restaurants. Never saw wine anywhere.

Damn I can't wait to eat cheese… and fresh vegetables… and fish other than Talapia… ooh, sushi. Yeah. And pizza. And anything Mexican or Italian or Spanish or Thai.

I'm hungry now :(

Oh a curious point – so I have to assume that Nairobi, a big city, has restaurants serving food from around the world. But everyone I asked who goes to Nairobi often – or even lives there, has never been. Not once. I haven't met a single Kenyan who has eaten anything other than Kenyan food – and that includes the students in University! It's very curious.

I'm meeting James, one of the Pokot university students, in Nairobi for dinner before my flight out. Hopefully I can get him into something other than goat and ugali. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Snake Bite, Famine Feed, more celebration, and more TEP kids

(Written Friday May 4, 18:30 Kenya time – regarding Wed May 2, noon)

We arrived in Kadingding after about 30 or 40 minutes of driving. This is the village where Amos is the chief. We came to deliver some food, and to photograph a couple of TEP kids.

While there I was asked to photograph this young boy, Korkor Lomakul. As you can see from the photo, he's missing a leg. This is one of the very sad examples of inferior medical care in the area. He was bitten by a snake. I don't know the whole story, but the medical services either didn't know how to treat the bite or didn't have the anti-venom, but for whatever reason, they decided they couldn't treat him – and so amputated his leg. This is part of the painful reality of the society out here. One one hand, there is medical treatment, but it's not great and it's hard to get to. And that treatment occasionally does things like cuts off an entire leg to treat a snake bite. On the other hand, if there were no treatment available at all, then the boy probably would have died. Cutting off his leg probably saved his life, but it also partially destroyed it. His family abandoned him when he lost his leg. This goes back to something I was talking about earlier where deformed children are said to have "bad spirits" and will be shunned, abandoned, never married. It's a very rough life out here in the bush. Amos's clan adopted him, and he lives here now, in Kadingding.

More celebration was had to thank our delivery of food. This was much lower key and smaller than the big feed at the Watering Hole, as it was only one village. But there was no less enthusiasm. It's such a treat to see this native dancing and singing, and to know they are truly grateful for what they are given. It's incredibly heart warming to see.

I photographed two more TEP kids here at Kadingding. We then moved on to Watering Hole where I photographed one, and to Nginyang for another. Yes I was supposed to see more kids in these villages – but if they weren't there, they didn't get their picture taken. Frustrating and sad.

Food is highly overrated

(Written Friday May 4, 18:19 Kenya time – regarding Wed May 2, noon)

Not to sound like a whiney American, but it really just adds into the disorganization of it all. And it's time to vent.

When the famine feed was over, it was noon. The orphanage cook had been making lunch since morning, and it was nearly ready. And since my breakfast consisted of tea and a few biscuits, I was hungry. OK it sounds really lame to talk about being hungry when we just handed out cornmeal and potatoes to support the various nomadic tribes in the area who mainly subsist on roots and the occasional goat, but still, a man's gotta eat. And I was looking forward to the beans and maize that had been stewing all morning.

So, Moses says it's time to go. Since we were supposed to leave hours and hours ago, I feel in my right to ask him "what about lunch". He says we'll eat on the way (not like there's an In-N-Out Burger along the way, mind you). I say, "look the food here is nearly ready, let me just grab a bowl and I'll eat it in the car". "No no, it's OK, we'll stop at a shop and get some food".


OK then… he's the chief. Off we go.

We drive for about 10 minutes, and in the middle of freakin' nowhere, very close to the orphanage, is a shop. Really! It's no 7-11, but it's a typical base-supplies (meaning dried beans, rice, maize, soap, etc) shop. He goes in, comes back with a bunch of warm soda's for everyone in the car… and a bag of crackers. Honestly. This is to be my lunch. I'm hot, cranky, and hungry, and have just been denied a proper lunch because we're in a hurry. Which is obviously not my fault. So now I'm pissed.

OK, enough whining. Back to work.

PS – a warm coke in 100 degree heat is still refreshing.

PSS – to make myself feel better about this post, I'll note that the Pokot are used to surviving on a lot less food than we are. And at first I felt bad when Carol would get mad at people for not feeding us, but now I understand why. This is an on-going battle with them, and many more volunteers will follow me out here. If the volunteers aren't fed, they'll stop coming.

Famine Feed at the orphanage

(Written Friday May 4, 17:49 Kenya time – regarding Wed May 2, late-morning)

Ah, the truck has finally arrived! As they were unloading, Moses (village chief) showed me the receipts for the money they spent on the famine feed, for cornmeal, potatoes, and fuel (which they bought on credit). The total was Sh 18,300. I had Sh 13,000 and a receipt for Sh 5,000 in fuel in my pocket. Clearly the money wasn't enough. And to make things worse, I couldn't give it to him. Until the confirmation comes from Tim, I'm not to hand the money over. And the latest word was that only 10 of 30-something emails had been sent. Ugh.

This was a much smaller feed than the others as people came to us. It was interesting to see the clans gathering in the orphanage though, waiting for the truck to arrive.

American Politics

(Written Friday May 4, 17:41 Kenya time – regarding Wed May 2, mid-morning)

Well I'm impressed. One of the orphans, Moses, wanted to talk politics. American politics. Moses is in high school, with a B– average (third highest in his class), and his goal is to go to Kabarak University near Nakuru to study business administration.

He wanted to clarify a U.S. presidents term. How many years, how many terms? In Kenya it's similar; two terms max but a term is five years instead of four. He knows that Hilary Clinton is running for president, and knows that Obama is too. Although I've found that everyone here knows about Obama, and many ask me about him. Apparently he's Kenyan (or of Kenyan descent – I didn't know that). So people here are quite interested. They are very curious to know if the American public is ready for a black president.

Are we?

Anyone who wants to write to Moses, you can reach him at korirenges at yahoo dot com. Tell him you're responding to my blog entry, I'm sure he'd love to hear from anyone.

Waiting… waiting… waiting

(Written Friday May 4, 17:36 Kenya time – regarding Wed May 2, mid-morning)

Again a morning of frustrated waiting. We were supposed to have a very early famine feed here at the orphanage, then get an early start to the other villages, but at 10:15 I'm still waiting.

At this point our driver, Kip, has disappeared. Moses, the village chief who's supposed to be organizing this, is nowhere to be found. Apparently we're waiting for famine food to arrive here, as various tribes are currently assembling here for a famine feed at the orphanage, also waiting. It's getting later – and hotter. Ugh.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Losing Sponsorship

(Written Friday May 4, 17:27 Kenya time – posting this in this chronological place to make sense of a few things)

In reading through some old blog entries, I realized that I should probably explain something.

One of the goals I had here was to photograph each sponsored child for their thank-you letters to their sponsors. Many of these children are at risk of losing sponsorship – or already have. The reason behind losing sponsorship is understandable. Donors from around the world give money to sponsor a child. If the child does not return a thank-you letter, with a picture preferably, eventually the sponsor stops sending money as they lose faith in the existence of the child. This has proven to be something extremely difficult for the Pokot to understand. It's not part of their culture to say "thank you". I've found this all over Kenya – in a restaurant for example when served food, of course I say "thank you" as this is our culture. It's often met with puzzling looks. Likewise the locals do not say it. It's just not their way. So it's difficult for the locals to understand the importance of sending these thank-you letters.

Sadly this has been going on for a long time, and most children are a year behind on thank-you letters – and they are supposed to send them once a month. Since the Pokot were not taking their own pictures and writing the letters (even though they have been given a digital camera, a laptop computer with cellular modem card, and training for this exact purpose) Carol wanted me to photograph the kids while here. However even then, organizing the children proved extremely difficult, and many kids were never photographed. Those that were did write their thank-you's (while we were here – this wasn't already done), and those have finally been scanned, transcribed and emailed, along with my photos.

As a result, many of these kids will lose their sponsorship. And even this month, then entire orphanage isn't getting their funding because so many donors have complained that IHF in the U.S. is withholding funds until the letters are sent. They managed to send many of these letters while we were here but a week past the deadline for funding. The IHF U.S. sends funds by bank wire once per month to all orphanages around the world, and has to do them all at once. So, this orphanage has to get by on what they have for the next month. It's painful, but the money simply isn't coming in without these letters.

In addition, the hold-out for these letters is so bad that Carol was withholding donated cash for the famine feed. As she had to stay behind in Nakuru, she gave me Sh 18,000 to hold until I had confirmation from Tim (the Pokot doctor, and who was handling emails this week) that they had been sent. That was on Tuesday. As you will see, I didn't get to hand the money over until Friday.

Good Morning

(Written Wednesday May 2, 07:36 Kenya time)

Another morning in Pokot. I was up early again, just in time to catch the sunrise. There are few clouds in the sky today so it's going to be hot. Already, only at 7:30, the short walk from the orphanage to my cottage has me sweating. And today is the day I'm traveling deep into the bush, spending the night in another village, then in the morning going into that really remote village, Maron. [picture: kids playing a rope jumping game]

We're starting the day with a famine feed in Loruk. I will be visiting, to photograph TEP children (The Education Program; children that are sponsored for education only, meaning not orphans), the following villages: Loruk (3 kids), Kadingding (2), Chesinima (7), Watering Hole (1 child – and where we've been a few times), Nginyang (5 children, and where we had lunch the day we took a van load of people to the clinic), Chemolingot (5), and then the following morning, Maron (15). There are also 11 children in Riongo who we won't have time to get to. Again a shame as this is the town where all the politics were involved when we went to do the famine feed before. Those children won't get their pictures taken, unfortunately. Which probably means they will lose sponsorship.

For now, I'm enjoying my morning tea.


(Written Tuesday May 1, 21:31 Kenya time)

We arrived back in Pokot around 8pm, and it felt like coming home again. The children all ran out to greet us, and every single one of them came up for a big hug. Many asked where mommy was, and I had to tell them that she'd be along either tomorrow or the next day. Unfortunately the legal business is keeping her in Nakuru longer than she would like.

The moon is full tonight, and looks amazing. I took a few pictures between clouds. It really is quite stunning out here at night.


A Stop in Marigat

(Written Tuesday May 1, 18:05 Kenya time)

We left Nakuru this afternoon to head back to Pokot, and are currently stopped in Marigat. We're trying to get in touch with Moses, who is supposed to be here buying some more supplies for another famine feed tomorrow, but so far we haven't reached him. I think we're about to go wandering around town looking for him. It's a small place.

This morning Carol and Tim had to meet for a long while, and then I spent some time with Tim identifying each of the children in the portrait series I did. We copied tiny versions of the files (320x280… their bandwidth is so slow for sending email that he didn't want any bigger) to his computer, and he then went off to the Internet Cafe to email the sponsors. The point here is that each child's sponsor gets a thank you letter (handwritten, then scanned) along with a photo of them. This goes for all IHF children around the globe. However the Kenyan IHF has been so very far behind that they've been losing sponsors. People who don't believe that the children are real; an easy thing to understand. So I did the portrait series of the kids so they had nice photos to attach to the letters. Those letters are being emailed today. In fact, I have Sh 15,000 in my pocket that I'm supposed to hand over to Moses, but not until we have confirmation that the thank you letters have been sent. That's how far behind Kenya is. The region is literally on the verge of being dropped because of this problem!

So now I'm heading back to Pokot, but without Carol or Tim. They still have more business in Nakuru regarding the lawsuit, but I need to get more pictures of more kids for more letters. The disorganization of the council here is so bad that tomorrow I'm going back to some places we've already been, but when we visited before no one thought to organize the children for the pictures. This is a problem mainly because of cost. Petrol is very expensive here (it just cost Sh 5,000 to fill up the van), and these are not short drives we're going on tomorrow.

In fact tomorrow night I'll be sleeping in another village, because early in the morning I need to head into one of the most remote Pokot villages – on motorbike. It's somewhere where the van simply can not access. This ought to be interesting.

Well, let's go find Moses


(Written Tuesday May 1, 12:33 Kenya time)

Ever since I arrived, the kids take any chance they can at touching my hair. Some are very bold about it and will just come up to me when I'm sitting and start rubbing my head. Others will tentatively approach and reach out to touch, only to run away. And others will walk by pretending to do something else, then reach out and brush my head as they pass. It's very funny to watch. They also seem fascinated with my arm hair, and will touch and pull on it every chance they get!

You may have noticed from the photos that many of the kids are completely bald. This is not malnutrition, but is required by the school they go to. The children from the orphanage are required to have shaved heads to prevent any lice or other head bugs from getting into the schools population.