Friday, August 29, 2008

I wonder...

The other morning I went out the back door by my kitchen and walked a few steps to grab a bit of fresh rosemary to throw in my scrambled eggs. I thought to myself how much I like rosemary and was glad to have a bush growing outside my door. Then I wondered if I would ever grow tired of it. Fresh rosemary in pasta, fresh rosemary on baked chicken…it seems I can find all kinds of uses for it. I hope it never seems old, I love it so.

Another time I wish you could smell my blog. (The bush is taller than me.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

green carpet

About 10 minutes walk from the top gates at Brackenhurst you are in the midst of tea. Lately I have been wishing for a 'scratch and sniff' component for blogs. The growing green tea has an odor that is a cross between tobacco and dirty socks. Not the most inviting smell, but the sight is lovely and so very green.

Friday, August 22, 2008

some things just strike me as funny...

This sign was taped to the cement steps near a newly painted handrail.
There still is some charm to this place.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The 50/50 Rule

Way back when – the first time I came to Kenya I met a single gal who lived and worked in Nairobi for about two years. She gave me a bit of wisdom about this place that I have often depended on; the 50/50 rule. It is a way to deal with disappointment due to the way things go in this society.

It’s fairly simple whatever you plan to do, expect to get about 50% of it done. If you get half the things on your list accomplished, great! You should feel you really got something done. Of course, there are those fluky days when you get everything done, or almost everything – then you celebrate. You had a bonus day! If it’s less than 50%, well, it’s an average, so you shouldn’t worry and you should remember the bonus days.

Tracy and I went to town today in their Land Cruiser. Our list was simple: 1.) Go to immigration to find the man who can give us better information as so how to best appeal the type of work permit we are requesting for me. 2.) Stop at Toyota Kenya for fuel pump seals for my Rav 4 (they are leaking) 3.) Pay the difference on my auto insurance premium at Lion of Kenya Ins. 4.) Pick up Tracy’s boys along with the other kids in the carpool from Rosslyn Academy.

1.) The man we needed to talk with at immigration was in a meeting. But we got his correct name (with spelling) and the correct phone number to reach the offices there. 2.) Toyota Kenya needed one more set of number off the car (under the hood, which was up parked at the office) to order the part which will take 6 weeks to get to Kenya. 3.) I paid the insurance and have the receipt to prove it. 4.) We got the kids.

So half the list done and a little extra info for next time - to boot.

Friday, August 15, 2008

a trip to immigration

Finally leave for town about 10:AM after tweaking no less than 5 documents regarding our organization, my job description and the scope of our work.

Find parking

Walk a few blocks to Nyayo House (the terra cotta colored sky scraper in the front of most shots of downtown Nairobi). For expediency of moving people through the gazillions of floors in this building the elevator only stops on select floors. (At least I think that’s why.)

Take the elevator to the 6th Floor walk down a flight to Mr Kinanjui’s office on 5th Floor. (Tracy had got his contact from someone as a good person to see regarding our permit challenges.)

Explain and enquire as to what to do in our situation. Mr K gives us a few ideas of options to pursue, but are told we should really ask the man who is the chairman of the committee that decides these things. And since this is the day the committee meets, he’s not available today. “Come back tomorrow.” (James, the man from the Baptist Mission who deals with their immigration issues meets us in this office. – Thank God for cell phones.)

We also ask about extending my visitor’s visa to pursue this appeal. Mr K sends us to 7th Floor to see someone who can help us. We talk to the two flights.

The classy young woman writes on a post-it note and sends up down to the main level to window number 4 to get what we need.

James grabs a form from window #6 and window #4. One is for visa extension and one is for an alien’s card. As we look at the forms we realize I need 2 passport photos.

We leave Nyayo House and trek up the street to find an instant passport photo place. (I wasn’t exactly photo ready – but at least I had some lipstick along I could put on. And never mind I have an assortment of passport photos at home, if I had only known.)

Ten minutes later we are back to Nyayo House filling out the forms and handing them in at window #6 with photos, passport and some cash. James gets a little friendly hassle from the woman at the counter because one of the forms should be handed in at another window. But she will take it down there.
Wait. (Tracy meets a Somali man that lives in the Twin Cities.)

After a short while one form is ready for something. We are to go and get my fingers prints taken. I trail along behind James to sit on some benches outside an office where I will get printed. I observe a poster outside the open office door saying all government employees must be at work during office hours. A few more minutes go by. “What are we waiting for now, James?” “For the woman from this office to return.” I laugh and point out the poster.

But I cut the woman some slack when she arrives on crutches limping from something like a birth deformity or polio.

There she inks a pallet and roles all ten fingers through the ink, prints my thumbs twice and every other finger once each in a designated box on a form. She is happily chatting away with her friends the whole while. She breaks her conversation to direct me to the cotton wade behind here to clean my fingers. I step back outside her office to find solvent in a water bottle to help me clean my fingers.

Back out to the windows to wait for the extension and stamp in my passport.

During the whole process we are wondering if we will finish all this before the building closes for lunch.

“Janet!” James swiftly reaches the window (#7) to grab my passport for me. There is a stamp inside bearing the dates 15.11.08, and the stub from my alien’s form securing that I have temporary resident’s privileges.

I am ever so pleased to be out before 1:PM. And even more pleased not to have to leave just now. But there is plenty of work ahead.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

No Last Minute Dash to Dubai

I don’t need to leave the country! I was granted a 3 month extension on my current visitor’s visa due to my work permit being in-process! I also applied for an alien’s registration card. I will have to give the blow-by-blow on that process in another entry.

We also met with a man in immigration to help us understand the process of appealing the Class A (very expensive) work permit and get it changed to a Class E (missionary permit) - more on that tomorrow too.

Thank you so much for praying. Please continue, this will likely take some weeks to accomplish.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Work Permit Blues

My current visitor’s visa is about to expire on Saturday. I have permission for a Class A permit, normally issued to folks working with NGOs (non-governmental organizations, we usually call them non-profits). But we had applied for a missionary Class E permit due to the nature of our work and that fact that we raise support like missionaries do. The disparity in the cost of the two work permits is phenomenal, literally thousands of dollars difference for a two year work permit!

By tomorrow at this time I will have a little bit better idea of how challenging the days ahead will be. When Care of Creation was registered here in Kenya as an NGO we were told it was possible to get a Class E permit. So it is with that hope we will head down to immigration tomorrow to try to plead our case. I will attempt to get a third extension on my visitor’s visa, if it’s not granted I will be have seven days to leave the country. I can then return as a way to renew the visa. However, depending on the circumstances, I may want to remain out of the country until my Class E is granted.

If you are inclined to pray, we could use a few miracles tomorrow. We will probably reach immigration about 9:30 AM, which is 8 hours ahead of CST. I will keep you posted as to what happens. Thanks for your prayers.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

I also love the Sunshine!

This week the weather finally turned sunny, which is the way Africa is supposed to be, right? It’s done wonders for my attitude not to be hunched over a hot water bottle in what feels like a cave.

Along with praising God for the grace of sunshine, I had to sing a chorus of John Denver’s Sunshine on My Shoulders. I know it’s corny, but the sad part is that I didn’t have to stop with the chorus, the words just came to me and I could keep singing. (I think it was my favorite song when I was 12.)

What can I say, “sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy…”

Friday, August 8, 2008

“I just love Nairobi,”

I said just after arriving back from town this afternoon. “I have never heard anyone say that!” responded the gal working in the offices next to mine.

“I know,” I confirmed, “it’s dirty and smelly and full of traffic and pollution. I don’t love that stuff, but there are people and energy! Everything is close by, you can get things done. I love it.”

What I didn’t tell her is I have history and more importantly friends there. The people of Nairobi are so wonderful. I even felt this way when I lived there before.

I am keenly aware that it’s extraordinarily unusual to love Nairobi.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Charm is Harder to Find

One of the great things about being here has always been the reward of being innovative. If you can’t find what you need solve a problem or would like to decorate, you invent it in your head, sketch it on paper and find a fundi (an ‘expert’ at his profession) to create it. There are plenty of carpenters, iron smiths and tailors in this country. In my decade of absence from my beloved country it seems that everything has been invented, thought of, created, and now is overpriced at the upscale shopping malls dotting the ‘suburbs’ of my fair city.

It used to be that one had to know a bit of British English to make yourself understood, or find a local similar item to describe what you are talking about. I had become accustom to referring to a movie as a film and describing guacamole as kachumbari. Now thanks to exported western television, we Americans have no secrets.

Speaking of guacamole, eating in Nairobi is altogether different as well. Back in the day finding a nice restaurant for a special occasion was possible, but they were few and far between. If you were careful, you could find one that was even reasonable. Now it seems that there are tons of nice options; Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, Italian, Chinese… and even a local chain called Java House that would make any Westerner feel like they weren’t in Africa. It’s next to impossible to find those little hole-in-the-wall places with risky but delicious food and decent prices. I’m still looking though.

I count it an advantage that the matatus (public transportation: 14-seater Nissan vans) in Limuru area still play the twang-y Kikuyu music instead of hip hop with raunchy lyrics like the matatus in town tend to play. Imagine sort of a country guitar twang (like early Johnny Cash) under the high-pitched nasal foreign language lyrics. Hmm, I know it doesn’t sound great, but its part of the charm.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Maua (Flowers) Primary School - I Got an Education

Earlier this week Craig took a few of the Care of Creation staff down to Naivasha to visit a farmer that we are working with doing test plots of Farming God’s Way. We had also been given the names and contacts of two primary schools that seemed active in green activity and keen to do more.

First some background: Naivasha is nestled at the bottom of the Great Rift Valley. The town is situated next to Lake Naivasha. The lake has several nice camping areas, country clubs or other tourist type hot spots, including the long-famous Elsamere Foundation. (Anyone remember Born Free? Joy Adamson?) The geology of the area is very different from where I live now and even what I think of as East African soil, which is a deep red. There is a dormant volcano down that way, Mt Longonot* so the earth in the area is sort of a dusty ash, very porous, almost sandy kind of soil.

In addition to the rustic tourist attractions, there is industry that feeds off this lake. Mainly huge commercial greenhouse producing flowers for export to Europe. Francis was probably the most well informed of our group but for the benefit of us all he decided to ask a number of questions about the parents of the children attending Maua Primary.

In the process I learned that some times during the year the flower factory workers start their shifts at 7:AM and work until midnight or even as late as 3:AM. This is during rush seasons like Valentines and Christmas. There are 26 pay scales in the company our “teacher” is working for. The largest percentage of employees work in the bottom five levels of the scale. This particular company pays the equivalent of $67 per month for starting level. A person can make up to $132 per month at level five. Some areas in the company have bonuses. For example the packers are above those first five. They get paid a base amount but can earn 14 cents for every 100 stems they pack over their quota.

Maua Primary has over 700 students. That is down from the nearly 1000 they had before the tribal clashes early this year. The government provides a whapping twelve teachers for those 700 (or 1000) students. The flower company pays salaries for another twelve. The company also provides unlimited water to the school and subsidizes a school lunch program. These improvements are only recent.

I haven’t yet mentioned the chemical pesticide waste that gets slogged back into Lake Naivasha. Again, it’s not as bad as it used to be. But still we drove over some culverts with green slurry slowing moving down towards the lake. At least workers are given special protective clothing now that is left at the factory; no more children inhaling it off daddy’s clothes when he gets home. And some factories post no entry signs for X hours on green houses they spray with the pesticides.

As Francis asked and our new friend enlightened us, I began to think of all the bunches of flowers I bought when I lived in Nairobi in the 90’s. I’m quite certain the working standards are much better now than they were then. I could buy a bunch of 20 roses for $3-$6 back then. Since they were so cheap, I did it often. As I listened and learned, I felt increasing horror over what was being done to Lake Naivasha, and the people who live there and work in the flower farms. Yes, they are making a living, but at what price?

At this point I could not bring myself to ever pay for a bunch of flowers again. I feel certain the US is too far away to be contributing to this particular exploitation. These are the roses of England and the tulips of Holland. But I bet there are the same kinds of things happening in South or Central America for the Valentines flowers or poinsettia plants we all enjoy in the US. And it’s also so sad and maddening to think of such a beautiful, happy thing as flowers being such a horrible bane to someone’s existence. So far my solution is – grow your own. Which is easy for me to say from the land of perpetual summer.

*I have climbed to the rim of Longonot and walked part way around the rim at the top looking into the dormant mouth. If you looked closely you could see small points in the crater that steamed a bit. The inside vegetation was mostly a low scrubby brush, whereas the climb up had been a dusty, sandy hike. This adventure took place in my former life here in Kenya.