Back Home Again

So, I’ve been back home for a week now, and the common refrain in my ear is, “How was your trip?” which is a good question which I’m only beginning to create a good answer for. The short answer is good, but also a little overwhelming, but not in a bad way, just in a real way. I have occasionally felt like people (particularly those I don’t know very well, but who know I was gone) want an elevator speech on the trip– a 30-60 second overview.  My best response to those people is the good but overwhelming response followed by, we spent a week in Nairobi, took a quick safari, spent a week or so in a small town on the edge of the nomadic lands, and then went out into the bush for a few days to meet with the nomadic tribes before returning to Nairobi. While in the bush I milked a camel. This is the short answer.

The trip was great, and in many ways what I expected, but also so much more real, concrete, and vivid than what I had envisioned. Before going to Kenya, so many of the pieces of what we have been doing through Daylight have just been a vague outline in my mind– it’s always been about “the land,” “the kids,” or “the teachers” but it didn’t totally fit together in my head, because I hadn’t seen it. And, once I was there, it made a lot more sense. I understood the concepts, and how to move us forward generally, but seeing the reality just made the vision that much clearer. Before it had always seemed a little fuzzy around the edges.

 

A sleepy self-portrait early in the morning at Maasai Mara (bug bites and all).

I’m incredibly thankful that I got the opportunity to go, and see the various realities of Kenya– urban life in Nairobi, small town life in Kapenguria, and nomadic life in Allale. It was an immersion experience, starting with the one in which I am the most comfortable. We didn’t necessarily plan it that way on purpose, but that is how it worked out.

Spending time with Michael, Angelina, and their family clarified the vision on their end as well, and what they are laying on the line to make this work. Kenya was amazing. It was a dream come true to go– something that had been in my heart since I was probably in 4th or 5th grade. I knew some day I would go to Africa. I wasn’t sure where or when, but I knew. But this trip wasn’t the end of that dream, it was just a step. Because just as sure as I am that this trip is a part of me, I know that I will go again. This place was always a part of me, but now that I have been there, it is even more deeply embedded in my soul.

We all lay things on the line occasionally for the things we believe strongly in. I know that this vision– not only from the American side, but also from the Kenyan side, is something that I am willing to stand by. Not out of a sense of duty because of the gifts I have been given, though that is a part of it. But because these people (Michael, Angelina, the students, the teachers, the nomadic people, the people of Kapenguria) are a part of me too. They don’t need charity, they deserve partners in the vision that they have created, and that is what we are doing through Daylight, and what I find so compelling that I can’t say this trip is the end of the line for me.

 

Back home again, but already thinking about going back!

It is a calling, and one I feel privileged to be a part of– to play my part in making this happen. I get to be one piece of the puzzle, which is pretty fantastic. I feel honored that they allow me to participate, and we can become family to each other to make this happen. It’s a little messy, and certainly not without its complications, but also pretty awe-inspiring.

Clearly, this reflection turned into a bit of a manifesto, which wasn’t really the intent, but where it seemed it needed to go. We each have things we are called into, and this is one of those things for me. What are you called into? Have you found it yet? And, if you have more questions on Daylight, let me know.

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A Few Reflections from a Coffee Shop in Nairobi Before I Go…

So, I am sitting in a Nairobi coffee shop with Nathan, Peter, and Michael, killing a few hours before we go to the airport. We have been doing a little bit of reflecting on the past few weeks. It seems like a lot has happened, but that’s because it has.

We have been so busy traveling, meeting people, seeing the sites, and trying to connect with what life is like here. While there are some universals, there are also many differences. I’m thrilled that I had the opportunity to be here, and I feel like I gave it my all– coming home with a cold and sleep deprived I feel is a sign of how hard I worked to connect to everyone here.

Everyone here has been so welcoming (though shy at first), excited to share their stories, and to hear about my life as well. They have asked me to send their greetings to all of my family and friends, and let all of you know that they would love to have you come and visit!

If you ever want to see Daylight, Michael and his wife Angelina would be more than happy to host you in the guesthouse on site at Daylight. I will continue to post more updates (and student profiles) for a week or so after I get home. Some things simply need a little time to reflect on before I feel like I can do them justice.

If you want updates on what is happening at Daylight, please consider joining our email list for one minute updates (they are never more than two paragraphs long– we take the one minute label seriously– they shouldn’t take more than a minute to read).

Thank you for reading along with my blog of my trip– please consider continuing to read, as I will continue to post for the next couple of weeks. I hope you have enjoyed reading almost as much as I have enjoyed posting!

–Brianna

 

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Daylight Student Profile: Pembe

Pembe came to Daylight last December, when Michael and several board members made a trip out to Allale. There they were approached by a woman with a small child on her hip, saying that she had heard that they had a school for children who needed it. The child on her hip was Pembe, and she wanted them to take him to Daylight to receive an education.

Pembe could not handle the nomadic tribal lifestyle, because he had been injured trying to escape from a cattle raid on his village, and lost his foot. He couldn’t handle walking long distances to look after the cows, and instead, his mother carried him everywhere. He would not do well in this setting as he got older, and his mother recognized this. So, Pembe came to Daylight, and now lives with Michael’s family.

 

He was terrified of the board members when he first met them, but is learning to adjust to white people. He did need to check with Michael’s wife, Angelina, when the large group of mzungus came last week– he was pretty sure that Nathan, myself, and the Rochester group were there to eat them. However, now that there are fewer of us he has warmed up to me, and even offered me a few smiles.

He is doing well at Daylight, and enjoying first grade. His favorite subject is math, and his favorite activity is playing soccer. In terms of chores, he loves to look after the cows that live at Daylight. He can be very serious, but his smile lights up the room, and we are very excited to have him here, and doing so well!

If you have questions about Pembe, or any of the other Daylight kids, let me know, or check out the Daylight website.

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Daylight Student Profile: Grace

Grace first came to Daylight after she was discovered out in the bush by Michael and one of the board members, Lauren. Grace had a very bad ear infection causing her outer ear to be very swollen, and in need of medical treatment soon. She would not have access to the care she needed in Allale, so Michael asked Grace’s guardian (her stepfather) if she could come with him to get treatment in Kitale, and some education. He agreed, and Grace was brought to Daylight. While she is of middle school age, her only schooling has been at Daylight, and she is in 1st grade there.

Grace’s background:Her stepfather is her guardian because her father was killed by a rival tribe during a cattle raid. Her mother later got remarried, and had more children with Grace’s stepfather. Unfortunately, her mother got sick (we don’t know exactly what with), and died quickly. At the point when Grace came to Daylight, she was helping to raise her younger sisters.

Her medical treatment went well, and her ear is now back to normal. She lived with Michael’s family while attending school at Daylight until last December. At that point school took a break for the holidays, and Grace went back to visit her family. Normally, students return in January when the break is over to continue the rest of the school year. However, Grace’s guardian, her stepfather, decided Grace should not return, and instead stay in Allale.

His reasoning was that he needed additional help with his daughters, and also that Grace was now of age that an arranged marriage could begin to be discussed, and more cows would help the family out immensely. Unfortunately, as Grace’s guardian, he had the final word.
We are very excited to have Grace back at Daylight now to continue her education. She has not yet been married, and we hope that she will be able to stay for awhile. At the very least, she will be here for a month until school breaks for the holidays. She is again staying with Michael’s family, and seems very excited to see all of them again. She already has a Daylight uniform back on, and is excited to start classes– she claims all of them are her favorite, but maybe English especially.

 

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Picking Up Kids and Dowries in Allale

When I last left off, we were getting ready to leave Allale. One of the things we wanted to do before we left was track down Grace, a former Daylight student who had to go back home about a year ago. We had a few things for her, and wanted to check in and see how she was doing.
It turns out that Grace’s family had moved, so tracking her down became a bit of an adventure. Allale is a region, so while she was still in the area, figuring out where she was and how to get there was a bit tricky. After about two hours of driving, we found Grace with her stepfather– they were heading into the market place to pick a few things up. Michael explained that we had a few things for her, and we would like to take her back to Daylight with us for awhile. Somewhat surprisingly, her stepfather agreed, and Grace joined us in the car.

As we were all getting back into the car, Michael explained that rather than heading to Kapenguria now, we needed to head briefly back to his mother’s house. Michael’s sister, Rachel (who lives in Allale now), was getting pretty serious with her boyfriend, and the boys parents had just driven by to discuss dowry with Michael and his mother.

So, we headed to his mother’s homestead, and met with the boy’s parents there, along with Michael’s brothers, sisters-in-law, sisters, and nieces and nephews. Neither Rachel nor her boyfriend were there, but apparently that was typical. What I found surprising was that other people were in attendance, and that is not unusual (Grace’s stepfather even followed us back to watch the dowry discussion).

There was much discussion on both sides, and a few friends and neighbors also offered their opinions. The conversation (from what I gathered from what was explained to me) started out with a discussion of the number of cows the boy’s family would give to Michael’s family for her. Michael explained to us that the cows are then split amongst his family (mother and brothers), and Rachel will be considered primarily a part of her soon-to-be new husband’s family.

The conversation then turned to future education– Rachel has completed high school and done well, and is eligible to go to university if she chooses. So, there was a need to discuss who would pay for further schooling if that became a reality. It seemed that there was general agreement that it could be shared if that was something Rachel wanted in the future.

Overall, it seemed to be a discussion of generalities, knowing that the specifics could be worked out later. Michael said it was a good sign that the boys parent’s were invested enough in the relationship and it’s future to discuss dowry, it meant that they were taking this seriously, and wanted a relationship with Michael’s family as well.

 

Michael’s daughter Milka, celebrating the successful discussion with a soda!

In the end, we all had cokes that the boy’s family had brought with them as a celebration of the successful conversation and future marriage. It was really interesting to observe, and I’m glad I got to be there for it!

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Camels, Counting, and More

Sunday we took off for Allale mid-day. While I had expected it to be a very rough seven hour drive into the bush, it turned out to go fairly smoothly (considering how it could have gone). In the end, the drive took just over five hours, in part due to the fact that this area gets less rainfall than Kapenguria, so the roads don’t get washed out as badly (except during the rainy season), and in part because the government has invested some funds in the infrastructure out here, and improved the roads over the past year or so.
The further out we drove, the more surprised the people seemed to be at seeing mzungus. We passed several market places that took over small villages, people traveling from several to many miles to stock up on what they need. While some people have stands from which to sell their goods, many just set tarps and sacks down on the ground, and stack their goods for sale on top. We did pick up some bananas on the drive, and they are fantastic. Rather than being like the usual bananas you get in the US, these bananas are about the length of your fingers, and sweetened on the vine rather than during shipping. They taste kind of like bananas, kind of like kiwis, and a little bit like a honeycrisp apple.
We arrived in Allale just as the sun was beginning to set. Fortunately, someone Michael knows was already at the spot we were going to spend the night, and had started a fire while waiting for us. Daylight has an outpost out here, where the Pokot tribe has donated some land for us to use for adult education and a nursery school. They cleared the land themselves , and helped create a driveway to access the main clearings where buildings are going up. We currently have two traditional Pokot huts (that the locals built for us) where Daylight visitors can stay while seeing Allale, and we also have a building that is almost completed where we will start the adult education program next week.
The first night, we pulled mattresses out of the huts, and slept under the stars. While it seemed like a fantastic idea (it had been a hot day, and getting some fresh air while admiring the stars while falling asleep seemed like the type of thing you should do while in the African bush—it actually got really cold!
The next morning (Monday) we woke up, had a breakfast of tea and bread, and watched as more and more people trickled in to our site. At 9:00, we took off to visit the nearby homesteads. In Pokot, homesteads are surrounded by a thicket of acacia branches, which have very sharp and pointy needles, as a form of protection. Up until several years ago, these thickets were about 10’ high and 10’ wide, a form of protection from the nearby warring tribes—the Karamoja and the Turkana. These wars (due to cattle rustling) still exist, but on a much smaller basis. This is in part due to Museveni putting the Ugandan army on the border to stop the tribes from stealing cattle across the border as easily (we’re only about four miles from Uganda here), and because the Kenyan government put government offices in Allale, leading to less fighting in the immediate area. While these wars still happen with bows, arrows, spears, and rods, they also happen with guns, as most of the local tribes gained access to weapons like AK-47s in the 80s and 90s.
Meeting the people in these homesteads (which are all pretty new, because this particular area only became peaceful several years ago—Michael told me a story about a man being shot through the chest three years ago during a cattle raid by one of the nearby tribes, on the land where we now have the Daylight outpost) was an honor. They were incredibly kind to the mzungus traveling through, showing us where they live, and even offering us tours of the inside of their huts. It’s a very difficult life, living out here. While I will try not to paint an overly bleak picture of the area, it is hard not the venture into poverty tourism when describing life here. Many of the children I saw had flies all over their faces, and their bellies were sticking out quite a ways due to worms. It felt like you could film a Save the Children ad here, with the dramatic music, saying send X dollars to help these children, but that denies these people their dignity. It is a different life, and a hard one, but they aren’t without joy. They make do with what they have, and are proud of what they have accomplished. Do they need help? Yes, but not help given paternalistically. I will get off my soapbox now.
The second homestead we visited provided quite a bit of entertainment for everyone. They had several camels (which is a big deal around here—you need to trade three cows for a camel, so owning several is a sign of success), and wanted me to attempt to milk one. As I have never milked an animal in my life, this seemed to be a bit of an undertaking for an animal that did not seemed pleased with my presence, and was quite a bit larger than me. But, I gave it a shot—if for nothing else than to see them laugh at the ridiculousness of the mzungu who doesn’t know how to milk a camel. It turns out though (according to the locals), that I have skill at milking camels, and I had done a better job than any white person they had seen before. They were sure that I milked animals back in America, and couldn’t believe that I had never milked anything before. I felt a little proud of myself, even if this skill is one I will never use again in my life! 
We continued on through several homesteads, with a growing entourage of Kenyans joining us. After 2-3 hours, we returned to our site, where it turns out a growing number of locals were waiting for us to return as well. After grabbing a snack, and drinking some water (it was hot!), we were informed that the locals wanted to have a meeting regarding the adult education center. So, we had to wait for everyone to arrive before we could start.
Starting around 12:45, more and more people started coming, until it seemed we had reached an appropriate capacity to start at about 1:15. There were around 60 people in attendance, almost entirely men (although there were about 7 women there). Michael started the meeting, and then gave Nathan a brief chance to speak. After that, it was opened up to the locals, and multiple men stood up and spoke. While not all of it was translated for me, most of it was.
I found it interesting that while they were excited about our proposal to start the adult ed program in two weeks, they made a counter proposal—they want to start next week. We agreed, but emphasized the importance of showing up daily, or this won’t be a success. Nathan also informed the group that the nursery school won’t start until the adult ed program is running successfully—they need to show their commitment and follow-through before we will start a second program.
We expect the adult ed program to function in three month cohorts, where the adults will learn to read, write, and count. This will allow them to trade their animals at the market with more success (they can be sure that they aren’t being taken advantage of), and that they can read official documents (particularly health-related documents) themselves, rather than trying to find someone who can read it for them. It will provide them with more dignity. We will have some kind of celebration at the end of a cohort. The locals also informed us that there is a growing movement and acceptance of adult male circumcision here (circumcision has never been practiced here on men). They want to tie-in the adult ed success with the celebration of circumcision, which we agreed with, and they seemed excited by.
Peter, one of the Daylight staff members, and a known warrior among the Pokot, took his turn to speak of the value of male circumcision, but the need to revisit female circumcision, and (from what I gathered) the consideration of starting to eliminate this practice locally. While the men were excited about Peter’s comments on male circumcision, there seemed to be no response on the female circumcision.
The group continued on speaking for awhile, and then Michael and Nathan asked me to speak to the group, one of the closing comments—on the value of female education. I took my turn to share my excitement with them on this new venture, and the value of adult education. I spoke of my expectation of good reports of attendance, and their hard work to make this a success. I then ventured into telling them about my own education, and how proud my parents are of the education I have received, and my hope that when I have children some day that they will also be proud of my education, and inspired to achieve their own educational goals. Everyone clapped at this part. I then challenged them, saying that the education of women is important (I was clearly speaking to the men at this point), and that I expect that there will be a number of women receiving adult education as well. I explained the value in this, not only for inspiring their own children, but also because they will be more help to the family as a whole when they have achieved a basic education. This received no response—I think my challenging them was not what they had expected. I wanted to continue on to speak about female circumcision, but realized internally that at this point that would be an unproductive conversation—only one major challenge at a time, we can save the female circumcision speech for later. I closed with how glad I was to meet them, and see the beautiful land where they live.
Overall, it seemed like a successful meeting, and a successful day. I was surprised at the end of the day to discover how completely exhausted and overwhelmed I was. After a meal of a granola bar (the rest of the group was eating boiled goat meat and ugali, but I just couldn’t do it), I went into one of the mud huts with the thatched roof, and fell soundly asleep.
It is now Tuesday morning, and we will be returning to Kapenguria in a few hours (where I will post this online). The cows have joined us in the field, being led by a local herdsboy who is probably about 11 years old. Local women are making us tea, and about five local men have joined us to talk (while they brush their teeth with small sticks). It has been a good trip, and I am very glad to be here, but I am also glad to know that I will get to sleep in my own bed back home in a few days.
More about Tuesday later!

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Celebrations

Friday morning I woke up and got ready for the day. By the time I left my room to join Michael and his family for tea and bread, I saw that the line for the clinic was already in full  swing– I counted 40+ people by 7 am.

 

By the time the rest of the group came, and the doctors and dentist were able to get set up (a little after 8:00), the line had grown significantly longer. We began to try and organize the chaos, and split the group into three lines– one to see the dentist, one line for adults, and one line for children.

While this helped at first, it quickly became apparent that we would either need to begin turning people away very early in the day, or do something else. Michael really wanted us to find a solution, as he admitted that most of the people coming  just want some hope and encouragement by seeing someone, even if they know their problem can’t be completely fixed by meeting with us.

Nathan and I then took turns (and occasionally both of us) seeing the people who were visiting the clinic due to back pain (primarily older women who had carried heavy loads on their backs for many years), and handing out small doses of ibuprofen or aspirin. If it turned out they had symptoms that looked more serious we sent them to the doctors in the next room.

We had many people with coughs and colds, some with asthma-like symptoms, people with general pain from many years of a hard life, others with goiters, allergies, and some that were more serious. One child appeared to have cerebral palsy, and so Nathan worked with the parents to show them how to stretch his muscles so he will be more comfortable (he worked with kids with CP in the US for several years). There were many stories shared, but mostly I saw hope and happiness on the faces of the people who were glad simply to be listened to. Our interpreters, and the Daylight staff, volunteers, etc. who helped us make it through the day with some sense of organized chaos were invaluable.

Saturday was the final day for the construction project (the medical clinic wrapped up on Friday so we could be sure and get everything done). Desks and tables were varnished, see-saws for the kids were built, and clean up ensued. Everyone was in a hurry, because on Saturday afternoon we would have the large celebration/ceremony for the completion of the new dorm.

At 2:00, the celebration began with prayer and dedication of the new building, in the new building. Everyone shared their thankfulness for the project, and several songs were shared. We then moved out of the building (as the rain stopped) to join the larger group there to celebrate, who were gathered on the Daylight grounds. Every bench, chair, sofa, and available surface for sitting was utilized. I would guess there was around 300 people there.

The children from the old site sang for us, and the children from the new site did too. Maroto, the member of parliament, spoke, as did the man who sold us the land, Kenya. Several neighbors shared their thankfulness for the work of Daylight and Michael, as well as the work done this week, thanking God for all of the amazing things accomplished through Daylight and this group of visitors.

The real highlight was the professional choir of Pokot tribal members who came to share their traditional songs, chants, and dances with us, in traditional Pokot costume. It was a real blessing to observe.

 

The Daylight staff then shared their excitement for the project, and informed us that they had been brainstorming all week on how to show their appreciation. So, they called the guys up in small groups to present them with traditional Pokot clothing, tying the material (which doubles as blankets for the Pokot) around each man, and having them join in the singing, dancing and jumping of the choir to celebrate.

I was then informed that they had a gift for me, Kaporet, as well. Several of the teachers called me up and presented me with the ensemble of a traditional Pokot woman– a lighter piece of material to tie around the body, along with a beaded band to wear around the forehead, a belt of shells, and another set of shells to be worn across the body. I felt very surprised and honored, as well as thankful.

 

We then joined the group in a meal to end the celebration! It was quite the day. Today, Sunday, the construction/medical group has left to begin their journey home, and Nathan, Michael, and I (as well as Peter, and Michael’s daughter, Milka) will head to Allale.

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