Monday, April 30, 2007

Pokot online, the future?

(Written Monday April 30, 16:26 Kenya time – regarding Sunday April 29, afternoon)

I spent several hours outlining a possible future Pokot website with one of the students and our resident doctor. It was quite a fun experience, as I learned a lot of little snippets of their culture as we wrote the map. I've been asked not to post the entire outline of the site we mapped out, so this is just a few little cultural tidbits I noted during the discussion. These are high-level notes but really quite interesting, and an appetite whetter for what will come!


Language and dialects. Pokot is a unique language apart from Swahili, but clans have their own variations. In Kenya, the official language is English, the national language is Swahili, and then tribes have their own language. Most educated Pokot speak all three languages. Remote tribes generally speak their own language only.

Body modification/decoration: scarring, piercing, teeth removal (ouch… yes many of the photos you see where they are missing teeth is actually ritualistic. And no, there's no anesthetic!

Justice system: Clan based; trial by jury of neutral clan. "Judge" is a council of elders from neutral clan. Punishment is usually based on the removal of cattle. A big enough offense (i.e. murder), and they take all the cattle from the entire clan. So this doesn't happen to often. In the case of adultery, the adulterer is beaten and their personal cattle are taken.

Diet: Animal products; meat, milk. Only a very small area in the entire Pokot region supports any agriculture. They barter for beans, maize, cornmeal. Blood letting from animals like cattle as a food source is common.

Cultural stories and proverbs. There is a children's book called "Chebet and The Lost Goat" (author: Ben Alex) which is actually written about Tim's sister (the Pokot doctor) [Link to]. Unfortunately it would appear that none of the proceeds from this book ever made it back to Pokot. Tsk tsk.


Pokot region is in Kenya and Uganda. Local volcanoes are Pakkaa and Silale. There are caves, volcanic vents, craters of course, and mineral springs in the area.

Tiati mountain - highest on Pokot. Bamboo forests, different vegetation, never dry. Some, but few Pokot live there. Generally inaccessible.

West Pokot has more vegetation and agriculture; still in Kenya but towards Uganda border.

Lake Baringo - the northern shore in Pokot

Native animals: Baboons and monkeys, some zebra, buffalo, 'dik dik' (small gazelle-like animal), wolves

internet costs

OK, 11 hours and 10 minutes of internet cafe cost me Sh600. That's USD$9.60. Of course half the time I was banging my head into the desk 'cause the connection was so slow, and we lost power (and therefore internet) about 10 times, but hey… I posted!!!


Time for a sunrise photo

Starry Night

(Written Monday April 30, 19:50 Kenya time)

Something else to enjoy… the stars out here are phenomenal. The moon is nearly full so the first half of the night, the moon overpowers many of the stars. However at some point the moon sets, and for the hour or so before sunrise that I've actually managed to crawl out of bed and set up a camera, the stars are pure magic. The milky way spreads from horizon to horizon.

I'm no astral photographer so I'm still trying to figure this thing out, but this shot is taken with a 14mm lens. That's a really, really wide lens. What you see here is a very large portion of the sky – not a zoomed in, cropped close-up. Yes, it really does look like this out here. (click through for a larger version)

My Pokot daughter

(Written Monday April 30, 19:33 Kenya time)

From the moment I arrived, one little girl has really taken to me. Whenever I sit down she comes up to be held, and if I'm not there she's asking for daddy. It's going to be hard to leave her behind.

Not able to Geotag for the moment

(Written Monday April 30, 13:56 Kenya time)

Unfortunately I'm not able to geotag my images as hoped at the moment. HoudahGeo, the awesome software I've been talking about, has a memory leak and is crapping out after about 30 images. Since I'm trying to throw several thousand at it, it's simply not happening. And I don't have the time (or patience) to do 4,000 pictures in batches of 30. Pierre, the creator, has been in touch and is aware of the issue and trying to fix it. For now though, I can only feasibly tag images after export. So we'll see what I can accomplish here. I don't have much bandwidth to upload large galleries so it may be irrelevant anyway until I return home.

Cost of goods

(Written Monday April 30, 11:54am Kenya time)

I'm at the internet cafe right now working on these posts. I just bought a Fanta; it was (Kenyan Shillings) Sh 20. That's USD 29¢. Four hotel rooms last night (two triples and two singles) cost Sh 3,400. That's USD $52. Of course it's like a YMCA so not exactly nice, but it's a room with a private bath, breakfast included. No charge for the cockroaches. Can't argue with that.

Yet I'm told that if you want to buy expensive goods, like computers, they cost 2x to 3x what they should. Someone will buy a $1,000 computer in China and sell it here for $2,500. That's messed up. That's nearly Sh 180,00, which is, by all accounts, a shedload of money.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Back to Nakuru

(Written Sunday April 29, 16:39 Kenya time)

After a long day of training and meetings with three of the thirty Pokot university students (of an estimated 200–300,000 Pokot people), we're getting ready to head to Nakuru. Carol has a meeting with the lawyer and police in the morning, and I'm going along to get some reliable power and to get online. I haven't even begun the photo edit since I've wanted to use what valuable battery power I have on this thing to write, and have shot nearly 3,000 pictures so far. I expect to get started on that tonight.

It's been interesting talking with the students about setting up a web site for the Pokot, initially as a source of information and eventually as a business tool to bring in funds for the Pokot as a whole. There are political ramifications to doing this that I don't fully understand, and even the students and the one Pokot doctor, Tim, who came out yesterday from Nairobi, think that Carol is being over protective in her warnings. But she has unfortunately seen people literally murdered over trying to establish their own freedoms – which is essentially what the website would be; a step towards financial independence – so she's very cautious in advising what the students should and shouldn't do with a website.

Today has been very enlightening. I'm still trying to figure out exactly what the role of IHF is meant to be; discussing and actually arguing with Carol on these points has been a big order of the day. What follows is my attempt at understanding this.

On one hand it's a way to help the Pokot to establish their own representation in leadership positions in business and politics in Kenya, and to ultimately have their own independence from outside assistance, while simultaneously teaching the rest of the world what the Pokot tribe, traditions and cultures are all about. Yet at the same time, Carol refuses to use the phrase "helping people to help themselves", which I find very confusing. Even the Pokot seem to feel that's what she's there for. However she insists that the role of IHF is not to be an organization that comes in and helps them. In fact she hates having to use the name IHF, and while she has been doing this work for 30 years, up until just a few years ago she did it entirely of her own volition with her own funds. A large sum of personal money she had has gone towards funding this work, and only recently has she had to ask for outside help (and hence been forced to become a non-profit business). I believe that she's having a hard time reconciling with that. So while on one hand her only involvement is meant to be to offer some advice and be one vote on an advisory board of 20-odd people (in the case of the Pokot), she walks and talks as if this is a major organization and things must be run by the rules. Which is true – she is the head of IHF which is now a real non-profit org in the U.S. which therefore must follow some very strict rules to remain a non-profit, and therefore she has the authority and necessity to demand that certain rules be followed or the IHF will cease to exist (not to mention that the rules are, of course, for the benefit of the children, which at the end of the day is what she truly cares about). But going back, at the same time as doing this she's insisting that the IHF is not an organization who's come in to "help the people help themselves", but that the Pokot themselves are the IHF, and that she's only here with her influence and connections.

I need to spend some more time listening and talking with her to really understand this. She's appreciating my objective input because she does recognize that this needs to be summarized and explained easily. If she wants people to continue to donate to the orphanages, famine feeds and more around the world, she has to get this summarized into a tidy little elevator pitch that will explain her work. But we're not there yet. It's an interesting journey.

In fact she's asked me to stay on with IHF as the director of photography. Over the years she needs photos of all the centers, orphanages, etc. worldwide. While I may not be able to do all that myself, she has asked me to oversee this. She understands my commitments to work and family are extremely taxing already, but I've agreed to give it a go. We'll see what that really means.

Two days of training

(Written Monday April 30, 13:34 Kenya time – regarding Saturday and Sunday, April 28-29)

Saturday and Sunday have been dedicated to training. The staff for the orphanage, new and existing, spent they day being trained in IHF rules and practices. I spent some time listening in, but primarily spent my time trying to get their solar panel and batteries functioning and trying to get my laptop and theirs charged up. In Nakuru I'm going to buy some tools and try to fix their laptop; it has a loose charging connection and is very difficult to get charged. They have a GPRS card for their computer though and I was able to get online there, but very very slowly. And I had to walk down to the main road and sit under a tree in the shade to get a connection.

Saturday evening I spent quite a bit of time with the university students that had just arrived.

Sunday was more training. Not many photo ops, so I sat in on most of the training just to observe.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Battery power again!

(Written Saturday April 28, 22:08 Kenya time)

Well this is unfortunate… since completing my last entry and wiping out both laptop batteries, I haven't been able to charge up again. My solar charger outputs only 75W; this MacBook Pro uses an 85W charger. The company that sold it to me insisted that it would still work but would just take longer to charge. This may be true, but the inverter screams a high pitched tone when it's being overdrawn, and so I can't plug this into it. In fact, the damn thing is screaming its song when I plug even half that wattage into it. I'm gonna make me some phone calls when I return stateside. It has at least been able to charge my camera batteries.

I had expected that I might want to use the solar system that's here already, but unfortunately it seems I've been thwarted at every turn. The first day no one put the main battery on solar charger. Then the smaller batteries got used up for watching TV. Yesterday I got the large battery fully charged, only to find out the power inverted had a blown fuse. And of course, no spares to be found. Someone was coming to the village today from town so we called in a request for the fuses, but when he arrived this morning he hadn't had time to get them. Finally tonight I jerry rigged two batteries together to get enough power and after 5 hours of charging, got one battery up to 100%. I gotta make good use of this! Although tomorrow (Sunday) I'm heading back to Nakuru for the night as Carol has business Monday morning and it'll give me a chance to get online and post all of this.

So now, to catch up on the last few days. (FYI I have backdated the posts written since this point so they are all in chronological order)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Famine Feed at Riongo… and politics

(Written Monday April 30, 12:49pm – regarding Friday, April 27th)

Another famine feed was on the schedule for today. This time we went even farther out, about twice as far as the watering hole. Along the way we stopped at a storage shed where the sacks of food were being held for us (really, a shed, in the middle of the desert. Go figure). Here we loaded up with our deliveries for the day. I think we picked up at least one more passenger here, too. Maybe a few more.

Before Riongo though, we first stopped at the watering hole to deliver some goats the IHF had purchased for some families out there. No, they weren't in the van with us… we purchased them from a herd arranged to meet us at the Watering Hole. While there, we picked up some other people who were from Riongo and wanted to come out for a visit. So off we went!

Several hours of driving over marginally worn and never marked roads (turn left at the third big tree past the dry riverbed), we finally arrived. Oh, not before all having to get out and walk so the van could make the steep climb up an all rock "road", with several people behind it pushing for good measure. This whole trip is truly an unforgettable travel experience. This is all done in this beaten up Mercedes van. It's not even four wheel drive. Oh and at some point the starter died, so to get it started at any point we have to get out and push while Kip, the driver, pops the clutch. He's gotten good at parking on hills where available.

Upon arrival though, things got very interesting. There was no welcome group, which is, by Kenyan standards, extremely rude. In fact, it's insulting. Not that we would particularly care, except that it shows that something is amiss. While Carol got into heated discussions with who I assume was the head (perhaps the chief?) of the village, I wandered off to get some photos of a herd of camels passing through. By the time I'd returned, another vehicle with military personnel showed up, although they did nothing but observe. A very curious situation indeed.

Again this gets far deeper into the politics of the region than I understand, but it turns out the chief had not told the women that we were coming. Some of the people with us were from this village, so they ran off to find the women. Within an hour we had tons of people show up, just as happy to see us as the clans at the watering hole. And as the story came out that they hadn't been told of our impending arrival, they were pissed. I wonder what the results will be of that fiasco.

Without getting too deep, and only because I don't fully understand this yet and I don't have the time to really research and truly comprehend what's happening, here's what I see of the political situation.

The ruling tribe of Kenya, the Kikuyu, don't much like the Pokot. The president, chief of police, and basically every person of power here is Kikuyu. It's nepotism with a capitol N.

From there it gets into religion. The majority of educated, "westernized" Kenyans are Christian. And the aid group that is strongest here is Christian. IHF on the other hand is non-denominational. One of their directives is to not interfere with religion, and in fact volunteers are forbidden from trying to convert anyone they are providing aid to. So this leads to political conflicts… the other aid groups are providing aid, making money, and "saving souls". IHF just wants to provide aid (and doesn't profit). There's money to be made, and IHF won't have any part of it.

So add those two up, and suddenly you have an excuse for local politicians to get in the way of little IHF. For example, when the orphanage was built, it was built in the wrong place (near a Christian school out in the bush, and not at the watering hole where it was planned), when Carol was not in the country. Of course it was built using IHF money, with contractors used by the other aid agencies. The person in charge of construction lied to IHF, agreeing to their building terms then breaking ground elsewhere. And that's just one example.

It's really quite interesting. This isn't the story I came out here to tell, nor is it something I have time to get into in my short two weeks here. But I am going to try to enlist a certain investigative journalist I know to start digging into this story, which really is just one small door into a much, MUCH larger, global story.

But not in this blog post.

So this all brings us back to the people who were supposed to benefit from the famine feed. Once they arrived they, like the clans at the watering hole, were so grateful for what we brought that they sang and danced the afternoon away. And just like at the watering hole, we piled a few more people into the van to take to a clinic for medical attention.

What a day.

The babies survived!

(Written Monday April 30, 19:36 Kenya time – regarding Friday April 27)

We found out that the babies survived! The two infants that were sent off to the hospital the day we arrived… they both got re-hydrated and are both feeding now, and back to the orphanage. What a wonderful relief. And, the father was so guilt-ridden he's been poking around the orphanage to see them. Wonderful.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Famine Feed at the Watering Hole

(Written Saturday April 28, 22:35 Kenya time – regarding Thursday, April 26)

Today would be the first day of truly going out in the bush. Yes, this orphanage is in the bush already (4 hours or more of driving led to more and more extreme bushiness, but least the orphanage had buildings). Todays stop was a location called the Watering Hole. Along the way we stopped at a water pump, built quite literally in the middle of nowhere with funds donated by Dan Gray. He donated $40,000 to build four pumps at a cost of $10k each. The pump is solar powered or hand cranked. Unfortunately something was wrong with the powered side of things, so it had to be hand pumped. A local nomadic family appeared out of nowhere and got their pictures taken with Carol (who they recognized) and the pump. One of them had two sick children with her, both orphans. They piled into the van with us for a trip to the orphanage, in what I would soon learn to be a very common practice for us.

From there we went on to the watering hole which was, by all accounts, an actual watering hole. A couple of small lakes were sitting in the middle of the desert, with several nomadic groups/families, goats, and camels surrounding it. They were all there for the famine feed. Again we were met with an amazing array of song and dance, which quite literally went on for a couple of hours. During the ceremony I was adorned with a beaded headband and a metal bracelet; gifts from Pokot women so happy to see us with our food supplies.

What's been remarkable about my ability to photograph the people here is how well I'm accepted. When I first arrive anywhere, I'm met with wary glances. But Carol soon explains that through my photograph, the IHF hopes to raise more money for them. And this is always met with huge cheers and then a sudden willingness to be in front of the camera. I'm capturing some amazing images of the people out here.

Portraits of the kids

(Written Monday April 30, 18:57 Kenya time – Regarding April 26, afternoon)

Today I shot portraits of the orphans for their thank-you letters to their sponsors. This was a lot of fun, with many of the kids really getting into it. Here are a few random selects.

Morning at the orphanage (photo gallery)

Woohoo! Enough people left the internet cafe that I finally got some bandwidth… I've posted a gallery of images from the first morning at the orphanage. These kids are all wonderful. Many have come into the orphanage with severe malnutrition, but as you can see in these photos almost all are incredibly healthy looking. Those that still show signs of malnutrition are quite new and will quickly improve.

Gallery is here:

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

This is the third morning I woke up in Kenya, but the first morning I woke up in Africa

(Written Saturday April 28, 22:15 Kenya time – regarding Thursday, April 26)

The roosters were crowing well before dawn. The goats started pushing around shortly thereafter. The chorus of morning bugs grew louder and loder. After fits of feigned sleep over the hour of pre-dawn, I finally gave up and got out of bed. As I groped for my clothes and tried to remember where I left my right sandal, knocked over my flashlight lamp and nearly pulled down the mosquito net, I finally navigated the 6 feet to my door and opened it up to the the most glorious, rich red sunrise I'd ever seen. Except maybe the one on Haleakala on Maui, but that's a totally different animal. The sky and clouds were gorgeous, silhouetting several "African" trees (I'll have to figure out what these are called) and two young African men standing at the ridge, for all intents and purposes looking like warriors holding their spears. I rushed in to get my camera, hitting my head for the third of what will turn out to be many times on the low roof line, and dashed back out to get some pictures.

Unfortunately by this point, the two silhouetted men were joined by the approaching Carol. I walked up with a cheery "good morning", only to be met by – which I am still trying to figure out completely – the unhappy Carol. She was on the warpath and it was barely 6:00 am. She stopped long enough to yell at me something about no cook and ignored children before stomping up to Maria's door and pounding on it demanding to know where she was.

Keep in mind this is something like 6:15 in the morning.

Also keep in mind that I'm now writing this after several days of reflection and a deeper understanding of what and the how of business around here, but I will try to keep this true to what I remember thinking at the time.

Carol was seriously pissed off. Apparently there was no one to cook breakfast for the kids, and no adult besides herself had slept there last night. The kids were up making their own breakfast (42 children ages 2 to 16). They had just started boiling water, which was supposed to have been started nearly two hours ago (to boil out the nasty river parasites… although 2 hours does seem a tad excessive, I wasn't about to argue). Maria insisted that the cook should be there soon and that she was often late, but always came by before the end of the day. I'll repeat that. She always came by before the end of the day. Oh, and Maria was off to visit her sister for the day.

So I've come to understand that Maria is (was) the matron of the orphanage. She lives about a 10 minute walk away on her own property, and it's her job to oversee that all employees are doing their job with the kids. Carol was accusing her of failing this job miserably.

Over the next couple of hours, Carol fired the cook (who eventually arrived), the night-watchman who showed up in the morning instead of the night before and was reportedly usually drunk, and some other person who I've no idea what they did.

It turns out things were running a bit slack at the orphanage, to say the least. There's a long, sorted history behind why certain people were working there, mostly involving religion and politics and rival charity organizations (if you can believe such a thing). But Carol cleaned house and within days had all new staff on board.

Anyway it made for an interesting morning. And yes, we did finally get our tea.


(Written Wednesday April 25, 22:31 Kenya time)

There are no words to adequately describe our arrival in Pokot today. But I will give it a try.

As we drove up the last of the dusty, bumpy road to the Pokot orphanage, after passing through the town of Marigo to purchase supplies for tomorrow's famine feed, driving through (not over; through) an active river, and picking up a pregnant hitchhiker from another pokot village, someone in the front of the van yelled "there's your children!" (Carol refers to the orphans as her children. This goes for all 4,000 orphans the IFC cares for worldwide). Carol started bouncing in her seat like an excited school girl. This was it! We were here, and the children were waiting for us at the entrance to the orphanage!

We pulled up and opened the door, and as we both struggled out of the car over errant luggage and runaway watermelons, the children broke into song. Led by one of the older girls beating on a small yellow plastic container with a stick, she would chant and the rest would repeat. It took several verses before I fully understood what they were signing, but the moment I did I nearly broke into tears. I've never seen a group of children so unbelievably happy to see someone. This is what they sang.

We are happy, to welcome you,
to welcome you, our mommy

We are happy, to welcome you,
to welcome you, our mommy

We are happy, to welcome you,
to welcome you, our daddy

We are happy, to welcome you,
to welcome you, daddy Joseph
Simply unbelievable. Such love and caring in their eyes. I wasn't even sure I was hearing my own name at first but yes, there it was. Pure elation.

They danced and chanted and sang all the way up the path to the orphanage, probably for a good 15 minutes. Carol was dancing and in tears. The few adults there were following behind, smiles beaming on their faces.

Yes, it's safe to say, we had arrived.

We spent another half hour with a procession of hugs for mommy Carol. She knows every one of these kids, except for a pair of twins born (and who's mother died in childbirth) since her last visit. Of course she knew all about them and couldn't wait to meet them. Many of the children are teenagers, and have had growth spurts since she last was there – and some of these kids are really tall! It was fun to watch her reaction as she saw each child again.

Then, they gathered and danced again for us. This time they grouped off into threes, and jumped up and down to the music. This seemed more impromptu than planned, and everyone quickly got into it. Song and dance is such an important part to their culture, and it's wonderful to see everyone so involved, singing and dancing together, from toddler to adult.

From here we all gathered in their classroom where Carol put on a little English quiz show for them. She would ask, "what's the English word for…" and then walk across the room. Point to her ear. Cry like a baby. Point to me and pretend to blow her nose. Yep, kids all around the world are now making fun of my for the way I honk my nose when I blow. Wonderful ;-) It became quite clear that their english lessons are going well (along with swahili, math, geography, and more).

Unfortunately, the tone turned very sad after this. Carol was shown two babies, twins, that were barely alive. They were being held by two very elderly, uncaring, and unapologetic grandmothers. They clearly had no desire to be caring for these babies at all. Their sad story starts before they were born.

Their father died while they were in the womb (never heard how). As is tribal tradition, the most senior member of the tribe inherits any widowed wives. It is then his choice if he wants to take her children or not as well. Since the babies father died, their mom went to this senior member. As he didn't want the children, he provided no care to the mother. When she went into labor, she labored, birthed, and died, entirely alone. The newborn babies laid there through the night until a neighbor came to visit in the morning and found the dead mother and two nearly dead babies. One can only presume that the mother had the strength to pull them to her breasts before she died, or they assuredly would not have survived the night.

The babies were brought to the orphanage, and given to two elderly members of the tribe to care for. For whatever reason, these grandmothers did not want to care for the babies. However they did, albeit reluctantly. Sadly they couldn't have seemed less interested in the barely alive infants in their arms.

This all happened a week ago. The orphanage was unsure of what to do with the babies, as they were under directive from IHF to accept no more orphans until more financial sponsors were found. (Believe it or not, the IHF houses, clothes, feeds and educates 4,000 orphans around the world for only $8,000 per month. That's $2 per child. But more on that later. Much more, and in a future post). Anyway since the orphanage knew that Carol was coming soon, they decided to wait until she arrived to make a decision. In the meantime, the babies were bottle fed but no attention was paid to their deteriorating health. When we arrived, these children had virtually no response to any stimulation whatsoever. When asked if they'd been feeding, we were told yes, but we watched one repeatedly fail to take a bottle. Any milk squeezed into her mouth dribbled down her chin. (I actually don't know if they were boys or girls, but writing "it" when referring to these babies just isn't right). I pulled up on the skin of one babies arm only to see it very slowly pull back to form, a sure sign of dehydration. I told Carol that these children needed an IV or would almost certainly die. Carol immediately arranged for our driver to take the grandmothers and the babies to the closest hospital, three hours away. But not before first making the grandmothers promise something.

Before deciding to take them to the hospital, Carol kept asking them what they wanted her to do. They had no answer. So finally she said, and this sounds cold but I'll explain in a moment, that she would allow them into the orphanage ONLY if the grandmothers PROMISED to visit the children regularly, to be a part of their lives. Otherwise, she would have to refuse them. But here's why. Carol has been doing this for 30 years, and one of the things she's learned in any culture like this is that if an orphan has NO family at all in their lives, then as they get older they will be identified as having "bad spirits". No one will marry them, they will have few friends, and they will essentially fail at life. It sounds horrible but without some sort of family to love and care about them (outside of the orphanage), they are lost souls. So tonight, finally the grandmothers agreed, and so Carol was able to promise to ensure that these children will have food, clothing, and an education, in exchange for simply a few regular visits. She'll find another sponsor or pay for it herself. After all, it's only $2 per month per child.

It was a sad way to enter the evening, but in the end the babies were taken to the hospital and are promised a home. If they survive. I'm obviously no expert but I unfortunately don't think their chances are very good. We did hear one baby cry a few notes at one point; a good sign. The other lay completely still and silent the entire time we saw them. We should know more tomorrow when the driver returns.

Ending the evening on a higher note, once they babies were sent off to the hospital, I was taken to my room. I've been honored with quite a nice place to stay. It's a private hut, built of mud with a thatch roof, on a cement foundation. There is a makeshift shower in the back that will be filled with water in the morning, and an outhouse within a few minute walk. The outhouse consists of a cement platform with a small hole in it over a very deep hole which you, er, squat over. One can only hope the cement is thick and solid.

The village has a solar panel brought over by Dan Gray, another volunteer, some time ago. This charges a large battery cell (like a triple sized car battery), and is used to power their one computer, rechargeable flashlights, and cell phones. Yep, they have cell coverage out here. No electricity or running water, but they have cell. And a small black and white TV which they were quite happy to have in my cottage. It gets horrible reception but they love it. I immediately detached it from the battery since it's about the last thing I want to waste energy on here! In doing so though I saw the truly frightening way in which it's wired up. I'll let the picture speak for itself.

Once I dropped off my gear in the cottage (in the pouring rain), we headed back to the orphanage where dinner was being served. This was cooked over an open fire, and consisted of ungali, a cornmeal based staple that is served with every meal. Think grits, but with less flavor. For those who don't know what grits are, think wet sand, with less flavor. This was served alongside a vegetable medley that appeared to be cabbage and perhaps tomatoes. It did have some nice flavor to it, but from what I understand this is nearly every meal. Something tells me in ten days I'll be looking longingly at the family dog.

After dinner, Carol had asked if I would read stories to the boys in their dorm. The entire orphanage consists of three buildings; a girls and boys dorm, and a general room in-between them. So off I went to their dorm, surrounded by a dozen beaming faces. They picked out two books and we laid on the cool cement floor as I read to them. Only a few of the boys spoke english well enough to stop me on occasion to explain a word they didn't know, and the rest enjoyed the funny voices and sound effects that went along with the stories. Then they all had questions for me about where I'm from, what it's like where I live, family, and so on. They are taking geography lessons in their classroom, so I promised to show them on a map where I live. They also wanted to know what sports I liked ("soccer" was met with a round of cheers and a challenge for the following day), and wanted to know if I knew how to fly a plane. Such wonderful kids. It's going to be a great week.

Tomorrow morning we are driving to another village for a famine feed, where apparently conditions aren't nearly as good as they are at the orphanage. The following day we'll be going to another location for another feed, this time to nomadic tribes that are somehow being told where and when to meet us.

There are lots of objectives for me on this trip. I need to photo-document the true cost of food here, so NGO's that claim that food costs 10x what it really does can be forced to start explaining themselves. I need to photograph the orphans so they have pictures to send with their thank-you letters to their sponsors. I also need to train some people here how to take pictures with a donated digital camera they have, then to download them to the computer and email them along with the thank you letters (on an old laptop PC with a donated GPRS card). I will be photographing children in various stages of malnutrition to show the progress that can and is being made here. And documenting the orphanage itself, the famine feeds, and whatever else we do over the next ten days. These images will be used for fundraising events, for an exhibit Carol wants to create to show the true cost of sponsoring children in programs like this (which will be hung in art galleries around the world that a friend of hers manages), to create postcards for awareness and fundraiser projects, and also to create a coffee table book. And of course to use on their web site.

OK, time to sign off. It's now past midnight, all my photos from the day are downloaded, and this entry is written. As I get ready to sleep, I have to close this by describing the sounds around me. Since I've been sitting here in silence, I've heard crickets and other night bugs singing their song, dogs barking, cats meowing, goats doing whatever goats do, what sounded like a geriatric old man being beaten to death (I think it's one of the goats complaining), coyotes howling, something bigger than me following me to the bathroom, and at least one werewolf. Yep, gonna sleep like a baby.

Famine Feed Shopping in Marigot

(Written Sunday April 29, 08:05 Kenya time – regarding Wednesday afternoon, April 25)

Along the way to Pokot we stopped at the last village with electricity and enjoyed the last cold soda we'd get for a while. This was also the town where we were to buy the needs for our famine feed. After sorting out the budget in a small, dark, hot cafe with cold Fanta's at our side, we headed to the market. First was corn meal. We purchased 8 large sacks of cornmeal for Sh1700 each (USD$27). These were loaded into a truck for delivery to our distribution point. I photographed the transaction along with the receipts to show the actual cost.

Next up, potatoes. We purchased several large sacks of potatoes, and I watched as they filled up these sacks from the back of a small truck filled to the brim with fresh potatoes. Potatoes cost Sh250 (USD$4) for a large sack. There was also bananas, papayas, cabbage, and more available at the market, but that's what we were here to buy. Another item I saw that I was tempted to buy to bring home but wasn't sure if it'd get through California agricultural customs was honey. They sell it by the bottle, loads and loads of roadside stands along the way. However these aren't hermetically sealed with a big fat FDA approved label on them, so I figured I'd rather not take the chance with customs. Besides, the thought of one of these cracking open in my luggage was enough to put a stop to that idea right away.

While in Marigot, I couldn't help but observe a pair of very unhappy looking elderly Japanese tourists sitting in a safari pick-up truck, probably waiting for their driver to return with supplies. They looked positively petrified.

The Equator!

(Written Monday April 30, 16:04 Kenya time – regarding April 25, mid-day)

Hey, we drove across the equator! Enter totally cheesy tourist shot. Had to make everyone get out of the van and pose. Cheese!!

Broken down

(Written Wednesday April 25, 12:58 Kenya time)

Oh good. We're currently broken down on the side of the road. This is a paved road with loads of traffic going by however, so no big concerns. Carol barely even looked up from her Blackberry as we pulled to the side of the road. Fred, our driver, is fixing it up now. It appears that one of the shocks kind of, well, fell off. Might have something to do with the moderately bumpy roads we've been driving down.

Hm, maybe they can't fix it. They're discussing making alternate arrangements to Pokot. I left home almost exactly three days ago. I wonder when I'll get to the Pokot.

Oop scratch that. We're moving again. Bravo! Let's close with the first scenic picture I've managed so far. Notice it's still pretty dreary out.

Chicken or beef?

(Written Sunday April 29, 07:45 Kenya time – regarding Wednesday afternoon, April 25)

Here's an interesting factoid. This is one of the only places in the world where chicken costs more than beef. Where in most developing countries you'll find chickens running around literally all over the place, here they are not (although it's starting to change and you do see a few of them). Historically chickens have been raised only in pens and only with a special diet, as for whatever reason it's been believed that chickens must have a special diet or they won't survive. Therefore the cost of raising them has been higher, meaning as well that eggs are quite expensive. I saw signs in restaurants that chicken was up Sh50 (50 Shillings) from what was printed on the menu, and on the menu a beef dish might cost Sh180 while a chicken one would be Sh250. In the U.S., we have a big push towards organic meats, and organic chick which eats a controlled diet of organic grains, corn, or whatever is they eat, taste the best by far. The meat is better quality, and the eggs are a brilliant yellow-orange, vs. the more yellow yokes of their battery hen counter-parts. But here, even though the diet is controlled, it's still quite clear that the quality of food they get isn't that great. The chicken meat is very lean and meager on the bone, very little fat. And the egg yolks are practically white. Curious.

Here we are enjoying our last sit-down meal before Pokot land. Beef, chicken, rice, fries, and more. Yummy!

Shopping for the journey to Pokot

(Written Sunday April 29, 07:50 Kenya time – regarding Wednesday afternoon, April 25)

Before heading out to Pokot, we stopped at a grocery store to stock up on some basic supplies (for us; famine feed food would come later). We needed water; I bought five 5-liter containers for myself (which turned out not to be enough since someone kept pilfering from it… I ended up with half that! Good thing we're going back to Nakuru again mid-trip). I also bought some snack foods to enjoy come comforts along the way. Chocolate. Oops. Chocolate melts in extreme heat. Well, I enjoyed a few nibbles in the cool mornings ;-) I also got some more mosquito repellent just-in-case, and bought a souvenir English to Kaswahili translation book from someone on the street. This market however was amazing. Almost like any American drug store with canned and boxed foods (no fresh here), there were aisle after aisle of shampoos, household cleaning products, breakfast cereals, small electronics, and more. It's quite the contrast when you step from there out to the dirt roads and open sewer ditches.

Lawyers, police, and criminals… oh my! (or nice guys, corrupt ineptitude, and smug success, oh my!)

(Written Wednesday April 25, 13:10 Kenya time – regarding earlier today)

There's an irony in this story in that over a conversation between Carol and the head of the Criminal Investigations Dept. for the regional Police, in which even through my stuffed up nose I couldn't help but smell the corruption, a calendar hung above the officers head protesting sexual harassment in the workplace, provided by none other than the Kenyan Anti Corruption Commission.

Allow me to paint a picture.

Still in Nakuru, we met for breakfast at 7am before our (ok their, I'm just tagging along of course) 8am appointment at the police station with the aforementioned head of the CID. At 8:00 we walked a few blocks through the morning rain and muddy streets, trudging past street vendors reluctantly setting up shop in the rain, people walking, bicycling and driving to work, school, or other morning business, and the stares I'm getting accustomed to of being one of the very few white people in this part of the world.

We arrived at the police station, where I immediately had to grab a photo of this sticker on the wall, which was immediately followed by getting harassed by the police for taking pictures in their station. I showed them the picture, promised not to take any more without asking, and was left alone. We waited probably 30 minutes for our appointment to show up, and finally he did. While we waited I observed that nearly everyone, even the janitors, wore suit jackets of some sort. Most were far too large for the people wearing them, further highlighted by the fact that most of the workers were incredibly skinny. Apparently it's quite important for the Kenyan people to dress their best, and they want to be quite formal. It was only at this observation that I asked about my casual dress (shorts and a t-shirt), and the first time that Carol thought it could be a problem. She asked her lawyer and was assured it wouldn't be, so I followed them in to their meeting.

The officers room is quite small, painted with a pastel-ish blue and green, with a few posters and calendars on the wall (see opening paragraph) and crooked photos of the chief of police and some high ranking military official. His desk appeared to be makeshift, but was covered with a red tablecloth. The chairs were old worn dark red velvet, and the floor a parquet hardwood that probably at one time was gorgeous. Unfortunately now the varnish is long gone, and as it is wet mopped every morning (as it was being when we entered), the water soaking into the wood has been less than kind to it. The officer sat behind his desk, and six of us sat on the other side. Carol, her lawyer, the chief of the Pokot tribe, two other Pokot who've been traveling with us, and myself, whitey, who was met with disapproving glances and an immediate request to explain my presence. Carol quickly explained I was a volunteer for the IHF and was only there as I had no where else to go, and would certainly take no pictures. I decided against asking him to smile for the birdy.

The purpose of this visit was to check on the status of the pending arrest of two individuals who the IHF have charged with stealing $70,000 USD from their bank account. Unfortunately the cops have failed miserably at apprehending the suspect, even though they've had two years and been told exactly where to find him repeatedly. The officer went on to explain one stake-out that lasted until 4am, and how just yesterday and the day before they planned on going to arrest him, but their cars were broken down so they couldn't. But they'd probably get to it today. After much arguing and headshaking on Carols part, it became clear that each of the three times Carol has flown to Kenya to meet with them, they were "just about to" go get the guy. But they never do. It became further clear that they really don't want to. The problem now, besides the obvious, is that the trial is set for May 3rd. If they go to trial and the suspect isn't there, the case will be dismissed. And according to Kenyan law, at that point, the suspect can sue the plaintiff for harassment! Fabulous system. So they arranged another meeting a week from now, and Carol has promised to sue not only the Kenyan police but the Kenyan government as well over this embarrassment and obvious lack of interest in her case. What really hurts her is that she came to this country to help; helps thousands of people, and yet is thanked like this by its government.

We left the station in a cold drizzle, a fitting end to the meeting.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

That's probably the last post for a while

(Written Tuesday April 24, 18:42 Kenya time)

That may be the last post for a while. Tomorrow we go to Pokot and there ain't nuttin' out there.

I will write every day and post as soon as I have access!

The (paved) road to Nakuru

(Written Tuesday April 24, 16:13 Kenyan time)

I finally met Carol over breakfast this morning. She's doing much better, having been suffering from a severe headache and not the stomach ache I'd heard the night before. We spent the morning chatting about her other projects around the world and the intense drama that goes with them. More on that later though. For now, let's take a road-trip, shall we?

What a ride. And this was the paved road. The drive from Nairobi to Nakuru was, once out of the Nairobi city limits, insane. Caltrans could keep busy for a decade on this one road and never get it in shape. Lines were rarely seen. Passing on the shoulder (or what passes for one) was often seen. Near misses from oncoming semi's were rarely seen, but only because I found it more soothing to watch the hills, lakes, trees, monkeys, cows, and mountains than to peer through the windshield. On the occasions when I did, I turned white. Well OK that's not saying much considering where I am, but still. And the best part? Carol and everyone else thought it hysterical that I found this road bumpy. Apparently the road from Nakuru to Pokot isn't even paved. So it's worse. A lot worse. And something like a five hour drive (this one was two).


We arrived in Nakuru and had lunch at Subway. NO not that one, but this casual sit-down eatery made no qualms of exploiting the Subway name. Or font. Or colors. It's refreshing to not see McDonalds or Starbucks or Blockbuster everywhere you look, so the obviously appropriated Subway sign stood out that much more. Lunch consisted of fried chicken (quite good), and the same slaw and soggy fries from the night before. I think the Y FedEx'ed my leftovers from last night. Yummy. I did have one of my lemon Fanta's with lunch though, which was very nice. And another cup of milky Kenyan tea. Very delicious, however… there must be more caffeine in one cuppa Kenyan tea than 4 cups of American coffee. About half an hour after one cup I could feel my heartbeat in my throat, a repeat of this mornings experience with the same one cup of said tea. (Pictures: the Subway sign, and a fellow doing his laundry in the Subway bathroom)

What I didn't realize last night was that apparently we are NOT driving all the way to Pokot today. I knew they had a meeting with a lawyer here in Nakuru today, but didn't realized we'd be spending the night. We checked into the Carnation Hotel and stepped into something truly special. It makes the YMCA look posh. The nicest part of the room is the key ring; a cross section of a thick tree branch, branded and lacquered with the room number and hotel emblem. It goes downhill from there.

We also went to visit the land that Carol has purchased here in Nakuru, which Carol hopes to turn into a museum/cultural center and mid-grade hotel for safari goers. And what follows is what I've come to understand about the tribal politics as I bounced around the back of the van like a bobble headed grinning idiot all the way to Nakuru. (Picture: Carol's land)

There is prejudice, fighting, and even warring between tribes. The Pokot are considered pretty lowly by most of the other tribes, and as I discovered even in places like the Y, they will often not be served. To many Kenyans, the Pokot should be the servant people… the only way they should be in any establishment is as a servant. Sounds very much like a not-so-distant American history, where blacks weren't welcome anywhere, except here it's tribal not racial.

One of the reasons the Pokot are frowned upon is because they ("they" being this very particular East Pokot tribe which I'll be visiting and with whom I'm traveling) are refusing nearly all western advances. They still dress their traditional dress and follow their traditional ways – although they do dress the part when they go into town; the three gentlemen I'm traveling with are all dressed modern attire. But they even eschew electricity in their home. Although I'll see tomorrow how much of a fixed home they have, as the tribe is mostly nomadic… although I don't fully understand to what extent yet. What I do understand though is that for this reason they are scorned by other Kenyans. Most Kenyan tribes have adopted a western lifestyle and yet will don the ornaments of their ancestors to perform dinner shows at the Hilton. The Pokot refuse to do this; they basically refuse to sell out.

So back to the land and buildings that Carol has purchased. Her goal, and she has the permission and backing of the government, is to build the first school where tribal children are brought together to learn about each-other and celebrate their differences instead of patronizing them. If I understand correctly all or most of these children are orphans – often orphaned by the very battles between the tribes that I'm talking about here. Yet the children will come together to learn together.

The center will also be a resource for others looking for information on the various tribes. Apparently the U.N. has already contacted Carol and is interested in this project.

Anyway, Carol and the Pokot had to meet with their lawyer today on a lawsuit they are currently involved in; pressing murder charges on the father of a boy who killed his sons pregnant girlfriend. So we are staying in Nakuru tonight, and will be moving on to Pokot in the morning.

Before we leave in the morning though, we will be going shopping. Goat shopping. One of the big things Carol wants me to document is the true cost of purchasing a goat; apparently it costs $12 to buy a goat, yet most aid organizations claim it costs $120. That is, according to Carol, once all the padding is added to pay for the bloated salaries, new homes, fancy cars, and expensive lunches for the aid organizations executive staff. This is something I'll be learning and blogging more about as this continues.

For now, since we're in a town we found an internet cafe and hence the posts. The connection is slow but I will post a few pictures now; if you're reading this as I'm posting give it a minute and refresh… hopefully some pictures will show up.

(pictures: local Nakuru children)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Good morning, Kenya

(Written Tuesday April 24, 07:12 Kenyan time)

Didn't sleep too much last night. I thought I had slept quite a bit but once I gave up waiting for the sun and finally checked my clock, it was only 2am. Figures. I managed to get back to sleep two more times, but by 5am there was no way I was going back to sleep. I finally relented and quietly got out my laptop (there is of course power in Nairobi so I'm taking advantage of it while I can), and finished editing the "haircut" video. Yes, there is one.

Once Joshua woke up I took a shower and got dressed. More interesting conversations with the cultural differences this morning. For example, Joshua has never brushed his teeth with a toothbrush or toothpaste. He showed me a small tree branch with the tip frayed out (like bristles on a brush) and said he's used these sticks all his life. He doesn't recall the name of the tree, but it's a specific type. I remember hearing about this somewhere deep in my memory, and will have to find out what it's called. But the result? His teeth are probably in better condition than mine, and I can pretty much guarantee he's never had the thousands of dollars of dental work I have. Or fluoride in the water.

As I slathered on sunblock (which he obviously doesn't need) and mosquito repellant (which he doesn't use) and took my Neem tablets (which he'd never heard of), we got to discussing malarial prevention. He said that basically they just trust their immune bodies. Obviously this doesn't work for everyone as malaria is a big problem here, however he's never had a problem. And he pointed out that it's so hot that most people are running around half naked anyway.

Then he showed me some of his scarification. All over his chest he has a series of small scars that are for decoration. I'll definitely have to look into this more and get some pictures once we're in Pokot.

Off to breakfast.

First night in Kenya

(written Monday April 23 21:48 Kenyan time)

I have arrived! The trip out was boring and uneventful, as all good flights should be. When I landed in Nairobi, I went through passport control and got my visa ($50 cover charge for entry to Kenya). When I went to baggage claim, both bags were blissfully waiting for me, nothing missing. So definitely off to a good start. (picture: sunset on arrival in Kenya, from the air)

Customs was a bit more interesting though. The first agent was shaking his head quite vigorously at all my camera equipment, and went to get his supervisor. Once he arrived, he started to explain that to bring this much equipment into Kenya, that I must have arranged for it ahead of time and should have an "agent" in Kenya waiting for me with the proper paperwork. This is, of course, the first time I've ever heard of this. I told them that I discussed my trip at length with the Kenyan embassy in Los Angeles and that they said nothing of this. He went on to tell me that I would have to pay 1% tax on the value of the equipment, which I told him made sense if I was leaving it here but that I was bringing it back with me. I explained that I am a photographer, that this is my livelihood, and of course who I was here to see, etc. etc. He finally relented and said "Ok, this time I will let you go… but next time you must arrange an agent in Nairobi first". Oh good then.

On leaving customs I expected to see Carol waiting for me, as she had described herself in an email as "the only white 60 year old woman with a big smile on her face". However she was not there, but three Pokot that work with the IHF were there in her stead, with a big sign reading "Joseph IHF". Figured that was for me. The three guys are Joshua, Andrew, and Fred.

We headed out to an IHF van and loaded up my gear, then drove for probably 20 minutes into Nairobi to spend the night at the YMCA. The weather is quite nice; like a cool summer evening. However it will be much hotter once we get out to the valley.

It turns out that Carol is quite ill; she arrived yesterday (from Bangkok, I think), and has a terrible stomach ache. Hopefully nothing too serious. I still haven't met her; when Joshua knocked on her door and she answered, she sounded terrible, so we went on to eat without her.

We had dinner at the YMCA's kitchen. Fish, slightly breaded with a kind of jerk sauce on it, accompanied by cole slaw and soggy fries. The fries I could do without but the fish was quite good. We washed it all down with Fanta's. They have lemon Fanta here! They call it citron; now I know what to order next time. I grew up on that in Spain and you can't get it in the US. Dinner for four cost 820 Kenyan shillings. I think it's 70 shillings to the dollar. I should probably look that up. (pictures: Andrew [left] and Joshua [right] enjoying dinner)

Tomorrow morning we will drive to Nakuru, about two hours drive, where we get ready for the trip to the Pokot tribe, another 4 to 5 hours drive from there, depending on the road conditions. There have been rains lately (in fact it's raining right now), and apparently these are mostly unpaved roads so they get washed out pretty easily. Also while in Nakuru, Joshua said they have to meet with a lawyer to discuss some legal matters, so I really don't know how long we'll be there or when we'll actually get to the Pokot.

I'm sharing a room with Joshua, and we got to chatting about his name. His english, or western name, is Joshua, but his birth name is Nalaket. He explained that most children get an english name when they are baptized, but he did not. Instead he got one when he went to school, which was much later than most. He started the first grade around the age of 10, and at that time still had no western name. In school his "prefect" (student leader) was a fellow named Moses. When Moses moved on, Nalaket took his place. In searching for an English name to give himself, he read the story of Moses to see who succeeded Moses. That was Joshua. So, he took the name Joshua.

Quite a cool story; how many of us get to choose our own names?

Andrew's native name is Panga, and Joshua wasn't sure of Fred's native name.

Oh right - no cell coverage, even in Nairobi. Someone call Cingular and yell at them for me please? They said I'd be roaming fine here, however even though I can see three networks, they are all x'ed out in the list and when I select them they're listed as "for emergency calls only".

Time for bed. I took a few pictures of them at dinner as well.

Seriously Slim

Now on Brussels Air flight SN481, and boy is this a small seat! So far no one next to me... Hopefully we're not simply waiting for the Japanese Sumo team before embarking.

Aww, sorry Joe, I just realized I forgot to pack your script to read! Bugger :(

Ok this sick sniffles thing is really getting old. Sure hope it's only a 24 hour bug and will be gone when I land. All my drugs are obviously packed... who gets sick while still on the plane?! Me, apparently. sigh

Signing off. I'll try to post again when I land in Nairobi. From there, who knows what, if any, cell coverage I'll have.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Breakfast in Belgium

Huh, picture didn't post the first time… here we go again.

Funny, I'm logged on in Belgium and Google's Blogger is coming up in Belgish. Er, Dutch. French. Something. Good thing I speak Spanish.


Just landed in Brussels for another few-hour layover. 7am-ish local time. Sure is beautiful here. Gorgeous green countryside, picturesque towns, red roofs... lovely! I have a few hours to kill... waffles, anyone?
I managed some sleep on the way. Unfortunately though it would seem I have a bit of a sniffle and sore throat. Great.
New icon on the phone, must be 3G. Hm, guess I'll find out in a moment if I'm set up for it! New phone, by the way... Sony Ericsson W880i. Very slick.

In Chicago now

The first part of the trip is over (ok the easiest part!); I'm in Chicago on a few hour layover now. I'd post a picture but, you know… it's just an airport.

I stayed up all night last night packing and generally getting ready. And working on that Pelican case, which unfortunately didn't come together quite like I planned – but I'm getting what I need out of it. Here's a picture of the lid, where I've either epoxied or velcro'd everything in place. On the right are four Lexar FireWire readers, mounted sideways. These are glued in place. On the left are three firewire drives; the top one is a backup drive for the OS and applications, so I can recover on the road if needed (all personal files are backed up on systems back home and I don't need recovery on the road for those if I lose them). The lower two drives are the G-RAID MINI's, as primary and backup. All master files to go to the one then are backed up to the other. In the middle you see the MacBook Pro power supply velcro'd to the lide, and under that the little white box is a Belkin FireWire hub. The coil of cables underneath are the two FireWire cables coming off the Lexar readers (for the FW400 port) and off the drives/hub (FW400 to 800 for the 800 port).

The computer is living in the protective sleeve that came with the case, and the sunshade sits under that. I couldn't figure out a way of incorporating the shade into the lid with all the other stuff there, so I compromised and put a small velcro tab on the lid of my MacBook Pro to hold it when I want to use it. Not thrilled with the idea but at least it works.

So now to recharge the iPod and have a snack before the 8 hour flight to Brussels! I have a three hour layover there, so may try to go to the other side of customs to see the big Tintin rocket. I grew up on Tintin, and my friend Steve just sent me this picture from the airport there. Gotta see it ;-)