Monday, 31 March 2014

Frogs and Polygamists!

Sorry … another longer break than planned…

So, the rain we prayed for arrived, and the temperatures dropped but it seems there’s always a price to pay for the good things that we enjoy. This last week we travelled to Nairobi and I came back, about 24 hours later, with a sore throat and a runny nose and the type of head cold that just has 'no business' being here in such a hot climate! On our return to KoseIe it quickly became evident that the frog population had survived the drought and were now very successfully repopulating the pond that had reappeared in a deep hollow in the field immediately behind our bedroom window. Let me tell you … Paul McCartney’s frog chorus doesn't even begin to get close to the cacophony that was being created by the huge variety of frogs now living there! Terry slept through it three nights in a row …. I didn't! Then, last night, I spent an evening writing a long blog that I've decided not to post because although it might not get me deported it probably wouldn't help my application, currently in the Nairobi immigration office, requesting permission to stay here for longer. So the following is my revised ‘shorter’ version of a story about female Kenyan MP’s who ‘stormed’ out of the government chambers in response to an amendment to the new Marriage Bill being proposed by some male Kenyan MP’s.

Now marriage is, without doubt, a ‘hot potato’ subject anywhere on the planet and not least in countries like our own who have wrestled for years over the issues of divorce and are now grappling with the law that says ‘marriage’ can extend to a relationship between two people of the same sex. So I really am trying very hard not to be judgemental when I share the details of this Kenyan story. The main purpose of the new law seems to be ‘to bring civil law, where a man is only allowed one wife, into line with customary law, where some cultures allow multiple partners.’ The intentions are very laudable - actually trying to facilitate some guaranteed financial provision for wives in the event of death or divorce so that, in either circumstance, she should be entitled to a minimum of 30% of the husband’s property. However, some male MPs decided to vote for another amendment, an amendment ‘to allow men to take as many wives as they like without consulting existing spouses.’ (Traditionally, first wives are supposed to give prior approval.) MP Samuel Chepkong'a, who proposed the amendment, said that when a woman got married under customary law, she understood that the marriage was open to polygamy, so no consultation was necessary. Only 30 of Kenya’s 69 female MP’s were actually present for this Bill, those who were there did ‘walk out in disgust’ – but, ultimately there seemed to be no planned, serious opposition to the almost 300 male members of parliament who supported it and now it is just waiting for the President’s signature.

Again, I appreciate that to many people the tradition of polygamy is no better and no worse than the extra- marital affairs, the easy divorces or serial relationships that are accepted and even, to some extent, celebrated through western media and culture. In the past, polygamy has been widely practised across Africa and by many of the different tribes within Kenya but, in this south western corner of Kenya polygamy has been very much the ‘norm’ for as long as anyone can remember and continues to be practised more widely than in any other region. One of our local MP’s was quoted as saying "When you marry an African woman, she must know the second one is on the way and a third wife… this is Africa." Over the years different people have given me different explanations for this life style choice, mostly citing the historical context of men owning big pieces of land for which they needed many daughters to farm and sons to defend. But today, the statistics for population and land use together with the frequent news stories of extremely violent acts committed between even very close family members (almost always because of the battle for increasingly small pieces of land) fail to support this simple cause and effect.

In the 12 years that Hope and Kindness has been here in this rural, Luo community, with many church buildings around including our own modest timber and iron sheet building, we have not witnessed or heard of a single ‘church wedding’ (countless funerals but not one wedding.) Many of our neighbours are regular church attenders and yet, as was explained to me the other day, everyone seems to recognise that a ‘church wedding’ symbolises a union between just one man and one woman …. hence the evidence that most people (or at least, most men) prefer to make other arrangements. On the other hand I have lost count of the number of young people and grown men and women who have told me of the bitterness they carry because their own life chances were spoilt by the poverty that so often accompanies a polygamous family – a family with more children than it can afford to feed let alone educate. The repeated division of land, the rapid population growth and the high incidence of HIV have, for very many, made the reality of polygamy if not a living hell, at least a far call from God’s Kingdom ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ Back in January, late one Saturday night, I listened to the now familiar sound of what sounds like a ‘boogie on down disco’ out in the bush (but is actually the new tradition of hiring a generator and PA for celebrating a funeral) and I asked our night guards “Who died this week?” I was told it was a young mother, who was HIV+ve. When I asked if she had been taking the anti-retro-viral drugs that we've seen rescue so many people over the last five years I was told, “Yes, yes she was,…. but when her husband took a second wife she became very down and just decided to stop….” (She just gave up this life giving medication and chose death as a preferable option to watching her husband take a second wife!)

I’m not sure who I felt most sorry for.... but, at the risk of saying too much, it wasn't the husband ….

On a much lighter note, depending on your personal view point, I have a confession to make, most notably to all of my ‘Eco warriors’ back at Feckenham First School who were always so supportive of my desire to preserve the environment for all the creatures that we share the earth with …. Well yesterday I, together with the children in our home, deliberately destroyed an ‘amphibian habitat!’ The new pond (right outside my bedroom window, remember) has now been filled with stones and soil. In my defence there is another big pool at the other end of the field and a significant number of frogs, I’m quite sure, have managed to successfully relocate. I really am very sorry but … for my own sanity and for the sake of everyone else here ….. I have to get my sleep!

This is the one that does a traditional deep throaty “riiiiiibett” 

The rest make a combination of sounds like a chorus of ‘shrieking’ bats, a dog’s ‘squeaky’ rubber toy and the ‘pop or plop’ sound of someone passing wind in the bath! (No I’m not exaggerating or making any of this up! If you don't believe me .... come and 'hear' for yourself!)

 Isn’t he gross!!!      

Frog successfully re-located!  

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

It Rained !

YEAH …. It’s NOT hot!!! Double YEAH … IT’s RAINING!!! In fact it has now rained every day for almost a week. On Friday, apart from a brief lull in the afternoon, it rained ALL day which was really good, though not a lot of fun for the teachers or the children slip sliding their way to and from school (did you know that mud can be every bit as slippy and skiddy as ice, more than once I’ve ended up on my backside in the mud … I’m sure it made someone’s day!)

But whilst the rain and the drop in temperature has made life a lot more comfortable for us, it has also made us very aware again of the challenges that poverty brings to families trying to care for their children. Believe it or not, the rain in Africa still falls as ‘cold’ rain and the relatively cool temperatures, less than 20 degrees on Friday morning, would have felt distinctly ‘cold’ to both the children and the adults here. Many of our pupils have a 30 to 45 minute walk to school, through the bush, over very muddy paths and rocky streams. On Friday, only one child arrived in a pair of wellies, for most, the only footwear they possess is a pair of what they call slippers (flip flops). About two thirds of the children came in a sweater or a fleece but, as you can imagine, these were pretty wet or at least very damp by the time they reached school. There were probably no more than three children with anything that resembled a ‘jacket’ and a good number who came in nothing but their short sleeved, school shirts with their shorts or pinafore.

Rightly or wrongly we now have a large number of children in our two schools, 180 in the Primary School and 50 in the High School. They continue to receive a porridge breakfast, a cooked lunch and a good education which, with God’s help, we truly believe has the potential to change their lives. I say rightly or wrongly because perhaps, if we had fewer children, we wouldn’t struggle as hard as we do to keep them in a clean and untorn uniform, we might even be able to buy every child a pair of proper school shoes and a pair of gum-boots (wellies) and a sweater and a waterproof! None of those things seem unreasonable to desire or to request but are currently beyond our means to provide. Perhaps we should have been more sensible about the number of children we admit to our school, may be our faith levels just aren’t great enough…. The problem is I’m still meeting widowed mothers with chronic poor health and grandmothers being called upon to become mothers again … women who are simply defeated in their efforts to keep their children fed and regularly in school. Some of our classes are full (for obvious reasons we try not to go above 30 in a class, though our class 1 has just squeezed number 32) so sometimes we cannot add even one of their children to the school … but we still have to use what we’ve got to find some way of extending ‘hope’ and ‘kindness’ to them too.

Forgive me … in a typically British way, I’ve just turned good news into bad news - this must sound like I’m complaining about the weather when in actual fact I’m delighted because it is an answer to prayer and exactly what we’ve been longing for…. for weeks! Last Monday I had felt so sorry for our High School students who were taken out of the classroom for two days in order to prepare our fields for planting. Many of you will already know that at Hope and Kindness we ‘Farm God’s Way!’ This basically means we do everything the best way that God has shown us in nature, it involves conserving the soil and the rain water and giving the seeds the best chance to produce the strongest plants. The only drawback is that it’s very labour intensive and involves digging a lot of holes! We knew the rainy season was drawing near so in spite of the clear blue skies, blazing sunshine and temperatures in the thirties, our High School students were made to leave the relative comfort of their classrooms for two long, hard days of toil on the farm. Then, “hallelujah,” on Tuesday night we had a little rain, followed by a bit more on Wednesday and Thursday night and, as I said, on Friday it rained almost all day. For the last four evenings we’ve had a good downpour in the late afternoon or early evening. As well as refilling all of our roof harvest water tanks (a total of 60,000 litres) we have seen that within one week we have almost 100% success with the germination of our maize plants. I know God’s word says he “makes the sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil” but I hope that our students will be really encouraged with the timing of this particular rain and will believe more and more that there is a God who is for them and who is able to do so much more than they can imagine if they are just willing (to quote a new friend who preached here recently) to give Him whatever they already have in their hands.

P.S if anyone has any contacts with the people who make those plastic capes that you can buy to keep you dry on a wet day at a UK ‘Theme park’ please send us their details … they could be just what we’re looking for ….

Students preparing for planting maize seeds

Great germination rate!

The rain outside our house

Monday, 10 March 2014


Sorry, I was lost … but now … I’m found (now where have I heard that line before ..?) Seriously, a combination of the weather (Yep it’s STILL SERIOUSLY HOT) and a head that just got overloaded meant that I had to give in to having some early nights and not always very productive days. Now a mozi has just bit me on my ankle, twice, and it’s the middle of the day …. that’s not supposed to happen! Well if that had happened just over an hour ago I would probably have cried … but I haven’t because I’ve just spent some time in “HELP” prayers to my God and coincidentally (or should I say God-incidentally) I have just seen a prayer message on the Elim web site asking people to pray for Judi and Terry who have kept going ‘when they felt like giving up’ and who have seen ‘God guide them through some impossible situations’ Amen! My spirits are being lifted … your prayers must be ‘getting through!’

So why, just an hour ago was I so ready to cry? Well, perhaps it’s because sometimes I’m simply foolish enough to go back to old habits … like reading the daily newspapers…. on the internet! Even though you know you’re only ever going to read “Bad News!” you can convince yourself that this knowledge will help to direct your prayers or even your own actions, especially if it’s a problem you think you can help to solve. But, more often than not, it can simply be hugely discouraging, sometimes overwhelming and actually risk taking you down into a pit of despair. In fact I could now risk losing the few remaining readers of this blog, those of you who have come back to check that we’re still alive, by discouraging you too with a whole series of awful news stories that illustrate why, even though it’s nothing like the scale of the atrocities that happen in Somalia, Sudan or DR Congo, Kenya can still be a really harsh place to live. However, if I did that, I would end up writing at least the first six chapters of a book and I know my ‘blog’ is already a little on the long side to really qualify for ‘blog’ status, so I will just share a story that sadly became personal for one of our church members.

Last week, less than an hour’s drive away from our home, tension broke out on a main road which creates the border between two tribes. There are over 40 tribes in Kenya and, especially in the rural areas, the battle for local power and access to basic resources continues to create tensions and sometimes conflict. Today the papers reported “The clashes that have left at least 6 people dead, 10 people with serious injuries and more than 200 families displaced by violence, was sparked off following the killing of a middle aged man on Thursday night, said to have been part of a gang that raided a homestead in Nyakach district and stole goats….. By the time of going to the press, tension was still high in the area with deviant youths continuing to torch houses on both sides of the districts.” It also went on to state that this latest violence was now escalating because of issues over access to water for people and their livestock. Yesterday, this story became more personal when one of our church members, asked us to pray for his wife because his father-in-law was one of the innocent people who died when his house was burnt down.

So many of these awful events happen because of what is widely recognised as inadequate and corrupt law enforcement. Over the years, we have heard many stories of people taking the law into their own hands. Last year five men were brutally lynched (beaten up and then set alight with a tyre around their waists) in our local town Oyugis. It was believed that they were part of a gang of more than ten men who had been responsible for a series of night time violent robberies along the main road between the towns of Oyugis and Kisii. On that occasion I heard our neighbours and some of our staff recounting the events that they had seen or simply heard and a number of them were laughing at the way some of these men had been set up and trapped by the vigilantes who delivered this instant justice. It left me feeling very uncomfortable, not wanting to judge my neighbours, not certain of what I would want to do if someone dear to me was killed by a criminal who the police would not even search for …. but, at the same time, really troubled by the display of delight that I heard in the voices telling the story. Yet, like I said, who am I to judge? I’m here living in rural Kenya, but safe behind our brick built walls and lockable doors and guarded by two paid night watchmen who generally manage to stay awake! The problem is Kenya is no different to the rest of the world, people suffer as a result of their own bad choices or the bad choices made by others, because we’ve all used our ‘free will’ to choose our own way and not God’s way. All of us find it hard to get even close to ‘loving one another’ in the immeasurable and unfailing way that God loves each of us…. but we keep trying and, just as it says in the words say of a song that we sing most Sundays with our sisters and brothers in the church, “We’re happy to share, happy to share, one another’s burdens …. That’s why we’re here!”

So please forgive the two week absence of news, do go back and look at the lovely photos that should have been attached to the last blog and pray that I have some good news to share next time!

… Just remembered Bad News/Good News Story … last year one of our nanny goats, Annabel, gave birth to her first born which was very sadly ‘stillborn.’ This week she gave birth to twin girls (nannies) and both girls and mum are doing great … see cute picture below! Aaahhh!!!!