Life imitating art. Or is it the other way around?

I got an unexpected and sad reply from a friend in Africa when I sent him a birthday greeting this weekend. And it all resonated particularly harshly because of the theatre piece I saw last night. 

Tobias is the Beach Management Unit Chairman at the Kamin Oningo beach on Lake Victoria, a small fishing community in Kenya where I have visited several times.Through The CanAssist African Relief Trust we have been able to build up a small school there. The school, in fact, is named after my Dad as is one of the kids in the community!

Tobias responded to my cheery birthday note with the sad news of the death of two relatively young people in the village.  

Now I will take one step back.

Last night, I attended the Theatre Kingston performance of What a Young Wife Ought to Know.   The show was really well produced and there were some very funny and intimate moments. The general theme was a tough one, however.  It centred on the desperation of young women in Canada in the early 1900’s to limit their family size .  Living in relative poverty put them at increased health risk and they were simply not able to care for either themselves or their children adequately.   Their family planning choices were limited and sometimes the only choice was abstinence, a solution that strained their marriages. Desperate attempts to terminate the pregnancy were life-threatening and distressing. The show was dramatic and intense and personal and, for us in Canada now, it was “historical”.

Well in some parts of the world it is not history. 

One of the deaths at Kamin Oningo was a 35 year old woman who already had four kids and who delivered the fifth two weeks ago.  She must have been anemic during the pregnancy or, like many there, had some post-partum bleeding that was not fully addressed.  Like many African mothers, there really was no time to recuperate and she had to take up the usual household tasks immediately.  Apparently she had been given some iron tablets for the severe anemia  but she collapsed on Saturday and died at home.  Three of the older kids go to the SP Geddes school from pre-school age to grade 2. The husband, a fisherman with a meagre and unreliable income, is left with this young family. 

So this news drove home the message of the play even more (not that it needed any more driving home).  It was not that long ago that this conundrum was being played out in Ottawa.  It still is a concern in Africa and with people I know there. And women die. Less than two years ago, another young mother that I know died with a post-partum hemorrhage.  The baby survived but without a mother. 

The other fellow who passed away in the community this week, a 32 year old fisherman with three young children, died of what sounds to me like an Upper Gi Bleed.  Here, he would likely have had access to the medical care to prevent or manage this.  In Kamin Oningo there is no medical care in close proximity and most people can not afford transport to the nearest facilities that can deal with this or the meagre fees that are charged for health services.  So they leave it too late.  

Tobias has reached out to his friends for financial help so the families can achieve  release of the bodies of these two community members from the mortuary and to help to provide a funeral and burial for them.  I struggle to imagine what it is like to lose your wife, have a newborn baby at home and four other children and not have enough money to retrieve the body from the mortuary. Of course, the families will also be distraught by the deaths and suffer even more financially.

If anyone feels they want to reach out in support, I will be pleased to receive any donations and forward them directly to Africa where they will be used in support of these two bereaved families.  Even $10 will help.   An online transfer is best (john.a.geddes@gmail.com) or give me ten bucks when you see me next.  I promise that every cent will reach this community and the grieving families.

(This is not a CanAssist request, by the way, but a personal one from me.)

I would also recommend you seeing What a Young Wife Ought to Know at the Baby Grand – playing from now until February 16. And when you see it, realize what many women/families around the world are still going through and how it is not that long ago that this was the situation here in Canada.

The Kamin Oningo fishing community is suffering this week more than usual.

A stroll through Mbita town

I really enjoy strolling through Mbita town on the shore of Lake Victoria.  I have visited Mbita, Kenya about a dozen times in as many years.  As you can see from the photos, I am the only muzungu for miles around.  I get many greetings and stop to talk with vendors or pikipiki drivers.  I feel very safe and welcomed.  I love the vibrant color that surrounds me there.  The town also has special signficance for me which I will note at the end of this post.

The photos can speak for themselves.

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Below is one other reminder of my special connection to this town. In the middle of the local hospital grounds, now behind some trees, is a water tank bearing my name.  It was the first infrastructure project that I tackled in Kenya in 2005 and the benefits it gave to this clinic led me to establish the CanAssist African Relief Trust in 2008.  Since that time, CanAssist has provided more than a million dollars of infrastructure support to communities throughout East Africa.  Little did I know, in 2005, what a profound effect that water tank in Mbita town would have on my life for the next several years.

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Ramula Shopping Centre – photo gallery

 

Situated right on the Equator, Ramula is a colorful, little, rural Kenyan trading centre that  I love to wander around and take photos.  So much character. Friendly people living what appears to be simple lives but that are really quite complex given the challenges they face getting from day to day.

Here some photos of some of the shops that operate in this rural Kenyan “shopping centre.

 

This dilapidated van has been sitting here for the last five years, looking like this. In front of the “Palace” kinyozi (barber) hardware and beauty salon.

This fellow makes wooden tables, doors and cabinets using all hand tools. I contracted him to make a crib out of cyoress wood for little Heather Maddie at a cost of 6000KES ( $80 Can)

I asked these guys who were the other nine of the top ten.  There were no others.  Guess that makes this one number one.

The fellow hidden in this kiosk cage also can make deposits and give money from your Equity Bank account.  In his spare time he does construction and cuts hair.

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This is where the fellow above gives haircuts.  The little sticker in the upper corner says “Trust in God”.  Advice for clients who may not feel his skills are up to par?

And for the ladies…

 

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The Place Pub, complete with smoking zone outside.

Nyumbani – Home

When I posted to my Facebook page that I was back in a Kenya I received a number of comments from my many African friends that could be summarized as “Welcome home.”   The Swahili phrase is “Karibu Nyumbani”. ” Come and visit.  When will I see you? I hope we can have lunch?  Are you coming my way? ”

This social media welcome extended to our first couple of days here where school principals were asking if we could visit them.  Even the students at one secondary school we anxious to have a school assembly to welcome us and they insisted that all of them get in the picture.  

Africans are generous and excited about welcoming visitors.  They extend that greeting to me but it feels more like family to me in so many East African communities.

I have a theory that there is some of my DNA that recognizes this as a place of my ancestral origin. If Monarch butterflies can find their breeding ground in Mexico without ever having been there or salmon can swim back to their birthplace to breed,  I am sure that there is some little chemical part of my genes that know this as the place where my genetic being began.

Over the next three weeks I will visit at least ten communities and will try to share some photos of my visits.  On Friday we went to the St Catherine School to open a new classsroom building and to the Ramula Secondary School where we constructed a new kitchen several months ago.  Both are well maintained and are serving the students and teachers well.   They are all grateful for the support of the  many donors to the CanAssist African Relief Trust that have made these improvements to their communities possible.

Yesterday we attended a basketball tournament in Kisumu – food for another longer story. Stay tuned.

Today we are heading to “the rural” for an overnight with Dan Otieno’s grandmother, Ann.  How fortunate I feel to be able to experience this association with my numerous African families.

We cross the equator every day going from Kisumu to Ramula. In fact the Ramula Secondary school is situated on the Equator!

These are the students at Ramula Secondary School, taken near the water tanks, installed with CanAssist donor support. Before these tanks were put in, the water for the school was brought in by donkey from a stream. The student have much less gastrointestinal illness with this clean water available.

Nancy looks out through the window of one of the new classrooms at St Catherine school as the kids sing and dance in celebration in the yard.

When I visited this community two years ago there was nothing here. The kids learned under a tree. Now there are six classrooms, an improved latrine, rainwater catchment and school furnishings at the St Catherine school, thanks to the support of CanAssist donors.

Signing the guest book at St Catherine School in the principal’s office. The last time I signed a document here it was in his office on a table under a mango tree.

Cutting the ribbon to open the new classroom at St Catherine school with a butcher knife. No scissors available.

TIFF Day 4 – An elephant in the room

There are over 400 movies at TIFF, including documentaries and short films.  My penchant for things African led me to see The Ivory Game, a recently-completed Netflix-produced film about the rapid decimation of the African elephant population  that, sadly, is threatening extinction of this largest of land animals.   The figures are startling.   The number of elephants in East Africa declined by 30%  or about 150,000 elephants, from 2007 to 2014 and continues at a rate of about 8% per year.  Part of this stems from human-wildlife conflict as human development  encroaches on previously protected areas. Elephants know no boundaries and may destroy gardens and local agriculture so people living in villages near these animals turn to killing the animals to protect their crops.

But the bigger problem is poaching of the animals for their tusks.  It seems that the main trade in elephant tusks is through China where ivory trinkets or carvings are seen as valued pieces of art.  And poachers, gang leaders and corrupt officials can make a lot of money selling illegal ivory.  They are even banking on the approaching extinction of the elephant, a boon to their profit as ivory becomes increasingly scarce.

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In addition to educating about this crisis, the film turns into a real-life spy thriller as it follows undercover agents as they try to gather information to help capture and convict the poachers, including one of the  kingpins aptly nicknamed Shetani – “the devil”.

It appears that the only way for elephants to survive is for governments around the world to make sale of ivory totally illegal.  Until that happens the poaching will continue and the number of African elephants living in the wild become dangerously threatened.

You can read more about this at  www.theivorygame.com and the Great Elephant Census.

I give this documentary 4 stars of 5.  It was the only movie that I saw this year at TIFF that actually moved me to tears.  It will be on Netflix later this season.

I have peppered this page with a few of photos of elephants that I have been fortunate to see over the years in East Africa.  How many of these magnificent animals have survived the poacher, I wonder?

I took the above photo on my way to the airstrip in the Maasai Mara.  I was worried that having to stop as this herd of elephants meandered across the road would make me miss my plane back to Nairobi.  But even the small local airlines are on “Africa time” and the plane was an hour off schedule. Meanwhile I got to sit in a jeep and watch this extended elephant family enjoying their day.

And when I got to the air strip, the small plane was oversold by one – so I got to sit in the cockpit with the pilot.  A commanding view of the Maasai Mara and this memorable sight of another large herd of elephants crossing the Savannah.

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Safari 2016    Part 8. Ramula district.

Near the town of Ramula in Siaya District of Kenya, CanAssist has been working to provide infrastructure improvements to two schools – St. Catherine Early Childhood Development Centre (150 students) and the Ramula Secondary School ( 100 students). We received rousing welcomes at both schools. Last year at this time the St Catherine School yard was an empty field. It has been amazing to see the growth.  For Ramula Secondary, we provided much needed water tanks that have been very much appreciated. 

 

St Catherine School is a 30 minute hike into the valley.

 

   
 

   
 
  
 

This is the “kitchen” at Ramula Secondary School where lunch is prepared for 100 students. CanAssist plans to soon upgrade this kitchen.

 

Safari 2016  Part 7. Kamin Oningo beach community – learning about fuel-saving cooking

CanAssist has helped this fishing beach community to improve their sanitation with construction of latrines, a bathing building and hand washing station.  In conjunction with our visit to this village, Gabriella Zamojski has arranged to distribute some solar cookers and fuel saving stoves to some of the community who turned out in droves to see how these works and get a delicious, nutritious meal totally prepared using solar heat. 

  

 

Food was prepared in the morning, set out in the solar cookers amd by 1 full meals were ready to be eaten.

 

 

  

 

In addition to the solar cooking units for the community, Gabrella also facilitated the purchase of a fuel- efficient wood burning “rocket” stove for the S.P. Geddes school though CanAssist. The school reports that food cooks more quickly and with about 10% of the fuel compared to the open fire they were using before.

 

 Safari 2016 in Photos. Part 6. The Stewart Geddes School

I have been excited to introduce my family to the S.P. Geddes School in Osiri Villlage, Kenya and have them meet little S.P. who was named after my late father who generously supported the school through CanAssist as it was beginning. I also was delighted to introduce the school to Dad’s great granddaughter, Maddy. Here are some photos of the visit.

 

On the ferry from Mbita to Lwanda Kotieno

 

 

A musical greeting as we arrive at the S.P. Geddes school

 
   
  

  
 

 

i know Dad would be delighted that my brother Bob, his wife Lynne, his granddaughter Jenn and great granddaugher , Maddy were all able to join me in a visit to the school that bears his name.

 

  

  
 

 

Maddy and little. S.P. enjoying lunch ag the school. Asante Hugh Langley for the photo.

 

Safari 2016 in Photos. Part 5. Kisii Stone

Anyone who has frequented the 10,000 villages stores is familiar with the wonderful soapstone carvings that come from Kisii Kenya, known as Kisii Stone.  We visited where these are made, saw the artisans who make all this stone and send it internationally and got a chance to purchase some for ourselves.  The  quarry has a unique stone that is now known all over the world. 

   

  

  
    

      
    

  
 

  

Safari 2016 in photos.  Part 2 Ngong Hills

On our second day , some of the group went to a giraffe park and the Karen Blitzen museum while others went explored The Ngong Hills, including w Women’s Empowerment Centre CanAssist is constructing in association with Nancy Stevens, a hike along the ridge overlooking the Rift Valley and a visit to our longstanding friends, the extended Moiko family.

These women will benefit from the CanAssist/Kenya Help building that will house vocational training programmes to help them become more self sufficient.

 
 

No visit is complete without a trip to Baridi Corner and this tree in particular. One of my favourite places in the world.

 
 

Young people are similar all over the world. a Moiko boy selfie on our hike down the hill.

 
  
 

Happy to introduce my friends and family, including my brother, Bob, to the Moiko family and vice versa.