Saturday, February 21, 2015

Forever A Hillbilly: Africa! The Guards, Robbery, and Instant Justice

Forever A Hillbilly: Africa! The Guards, Robbery, and Instant Justice:      I had befriended our guards, and regularly sat around and talked to them at the gate, before they started their nightly rounds. The...

Africa! The Guards, Robbery, and Instant Justice

     I had befriended our guards, and regularly sat around and talked to them at the gate, before they started their nightly rounds. The women missionaries, they said, offended them because they never came out and visited them like I did. I told them it was a cultural thing.  In America, a  lone woman just does not normally go out in the dark and sit around with a group of strange men. They laughed at that.
     One asked me if there were people like him in America.
   . "Yes, many."
     "Well, how did they get there?" I explained to them they would not like to get there the way they did. I told the whole story, and I had to start way back.
     Well, it was way after dark, and we all knew they should be patrolling now, but I had one more story to tell them, and they listened eagerly. Suddenly, right in the middle of my story, I realized they were no longer listening to me. They were staring off down the road toward the middle of the camp. I stared also, but could hear or see nothing. Fully three minutes later, I began to hear footsteps coming up the path. I looked around at the guys, but they were just gone. Every one of them had melted off into the darkness, with nary a sound. Turned out, Doug, their boss, was coming. They must have heard him when he came out his door. I think we have also lost our "night hearing."

     Our Rafiki, we found out, was the only one of  ten that had not been broken into. Neutralize the guards, then rob everyone. In addition to the high rock wall, which the others did not have, there was a security service that could be called, if there was time. It consisted of a truck load of big men with big sticks. Gun use was rare. Usually, only the military and the police had guns. Yeen Lan said she could have gotten guns for the guards, and could have had broken glass embedded on top of  the wall, as most rock compounds in Nairobi had. But she felt guns and glass was just in violation of what we were about.

     She did allow plants to be planted inside the wall, with long sharp spikes on top. Jumping off the wall inside in the dark could be a very painful experience. The houses were virtually burgler proof, complete with panic buttons.

     The rock wall was possible because Rafiki sat in the middle of a rock quarry. Workers used very heavy, long pieces of rebar, sharpened on the end, to drill blasting holes into the rock. Men punching holes in the rocks could last at that job about four years before being totally broken down. Life expectancy was in the 40's. It totally amazed our kids that a man as old as me, probably the oldest person they knew, could still run. Even play Basketball.

     Police often use instant justice. If they pretty well had a robbery pinned on someone, a bullet in the head greatly speeded up the wheels of justice.

     I got to noticing during the afternoon play period that most of the kid's soccer balls and basketballs they were playing with were partially deflated. I dug around at school until I found a pump and inflation needle, and headed out into the masses of kids. I started pumping up balls, and the more I pumped up, the more balls they were showing up with. I think they were running to the houses and digging them out from everywhere. At long last, completely exhausted, I pumped the last pump on the last ball. Within minutes, they started showing up for a re-pump. Then I realized. Many of the trees in the compound were thorn trees, and almost every ball had a hole in it.
     Barbara found three bottles of bubbles in an old chest in our guest house, and She took them out to where the kids were. I've just got to tell this story in Barbara's own words -
     "Oh my goodness! I was more popular than a rock star! It really was fun but somewhat taxing. I got my reward when a little girl named Susan laughed at the bubbles. It made my heart soar. Susan's mother was killed by her father when she was in her mother's arms. She had been at Rafiki just more than a year now, and she had not smiled once that first year. To see her beautiful face light up was such a treasure!"

     We were contacted  by three women we went on Safari with and invited to dinner at the home of the UN attached lady who lives across town. They were all very nice women, but we had to turn down the offer because it would have been too complicated.
     The gate here is locked at night, and the guards does not have a key. One of the missionaries has it at his house. The director really didn't want us to go, but suggested that if we did, we should hire a security company to take us, wait for us, and bring us back. The missionary with the keys would need to be waiting at the gate when the security company arrived, and open the gate only on the signal from the car, so that it never stopped at the gate. Most robberies occur when a car stops at a gate. That all seemed like a bit much to just go to dinner. Besides, we hated to disappoint the kids at the supper table.

     Doug had been hijacked once when stopping at the gate. These particular robbers had a gun, and the gate guards didn't. They drove him around awhile, took all his stuff. Trying to decide what to do with him, One robber asked him, "What are you doing in Africa?"
     Doug told him he was a missionary, and about his work.
     The robber said, "That's a very nice thing for you to do."
  "Then why are you robbing me?"
 "The need is very great." They finally let him go, minus the car and all his stuff. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Forever A Hillbilly: Africa! The Safari

Forever A Hillbilly: Africa! The Safari:      It was time for our Safari. We were to fly, instead of driving as was normally the case, because people were still killing each othe...

Africa! The Safari

     It was time for our Safari. We were to fly, instead of driving as was normally the case, because people were still killing each other in the countryside. When we arrived at the dirt runway in our 30 passenger plane, a man was busy clearing the wild animals off the runway. We were at the Masai Mara, the Kenyan portion of the Serengeti. When we stepped out, Our guide had a small folding table set up beside his 4 wd vehicle. He constantly watched for dangerous animals while we had cookies and tea.
     Our guide, Wesley, drove toward Kichwa Tembo camp, which would accomodate 60 or so, but only we and 4 women were there now. The bloodletting was still too fresh. All white people in Kenya now were still UN related or missionaries, and this group was no exception. Wesley had been one of Kenya's top distance runners. He told us they all got into distance running because it was the only chance they would have to come to America. He ran a 4 minute flat mile in the finals, but didn't qualify.

     We went to our tent to stow our stuff, and get ready for our first outing. Monkeys were all around us, and warthogs were everywhere. When we left our tent, I tied the doorway tightly, as instructed, to keep out baboons. Our first trip went well, for a time. It was a big plain with sparse trees. Many large animals could be seen scattered throughout the plain. After we had gotten a good close up look at a lot of animals, and were miles from camp, a major storm blew up just before dark. Wesley got out rain gear for us all in that open jeep, But it did little good in this storm. The plain was flooded, and we got stuck, again and again, each time finally managing to get out. After dark, I kept my face covered to try to keep out some of the rain. I once looked out, just as a big lion jumped out from in front of the jeep, and stared at us hard. I knew this was the last place on earth that I wanted to spend the night. We finally got back to our tent, on the edge of the plain. We were freezing, but felt safer, and they had placed hot water bottles in our beds. Two guards wandered about, armed with bows and arrows."Arrows against a lion?" I thought. But these were Masai warriors, the most experienced people in the world with lions. I had read that President Obama had also used Masai warriors for security when he went on Safari.

      Early the next morning, I was awakened by big animals of some description, growling loudly, around our tent. "You've got to be kidding me," I thought. This just had to be recordings, played to make our experience more real. Didn't need that. It had been far too real already, last night. Turned out, a warthog was in heat and a couple of males were fighting.

     Once in the jeep for our morning outing, Wesley got a message from another guide, in Swahili, so we didn't get the drift, But he headed out fast. On the way, he explained, Large animals just see the Jeep as one big unit. Step out of the jeep, they see you as a meal. Don't get out for any reason. He told us of a honeymoon couple a few weeks earlier. They were filming a lion, and the husband stepped out to get a better picture. The wife was operating a video, and she filmed her husband's death.

     Two female lions had just killed an antelope, And as we got in close one tore the face off. Barbara was on the corner of the jeep nearest the lions, but for once in her life, she would have gladly given up the best photo angle. With misgivings, we shot pictures like crazy. Maybe get something for our kids to show at our memorial service back home.
     Soon two male lions came running, trying to take the kill over while hyenas circled, waiting for their share. One female lion jerked off a large chunk of meat, and ran off with it, chased by a male.
     Water buffalo had another Lion treed, and each time he would try to come down, they ran at him with their sharp horns, trying to protect their young. He just went back up the tree to wait them out. These kind of encounters continued for a while, then Wesley drove us back in some woods along a river bluff, overlooking a river full of hippos, and set up a table for our breakfast.
      I picked up a huge bone, and brought it to Wesley for identification. "Never do that. There could have easily been a black mamba under that."

     He got a call. Someone had spotted a leopard, and we were off, scattering water buffalo as we went. Sure enough, a leopard was treed. We got photos. We got many good photos that morning. One of the most beautiful birds I have ever seen, many animals in the deer family, then a herd of elephants. Next was a herd of zebras rolling in the dust. "That's why nobody ever rides a zebra. Their first instinct, with something on their back, is to lie down and roll over on it," Wesley said.

     When we got to Lunch, back at camp, we only filled up one table of many in the lunch room. "It is just hard to get tourists to come in,"  Wesley said," when someone's getting hacked to death over the hill with a machete."
     Our group consisted of a war crimes recorder, with the UN, her two sisters from Canada, two missionaries, and us.
     Using my trademark charm, I told the ladies, "I would have been here long before, if I had only known I would be dining with 6 beautiful ladies." I know they all were inwardly swooning over that, but ourwardly, It looked a little more like they were gagging.

     The waiter, not very busy, sat down and talked to us a lot. He was explaining how his generation of Masai were trying to change old customs of his tribe. The old customs largely stripped them of their wealth, and also contributed greatly to the aids problem. Their Dad wanted to buy yet another wife, but his sons told him he didn't need another wife, he had given far too many of the cattle they had for the group of wives he already had. The dad was pouty about that, but he didn't get the wife.
A dead man's wife was traditionally taken by his brother, helping further spread the aids problem.

     A Masai leader of some sort came to talk to us that afternoon. I think he sorta expected our women to swoon at his full dress costume, But these were strong, outspoken women, and they had their own agenda. "Why do you circumsize your women?" was their first question. Well, all he could tell them was, "It's just our custom." The UN War Crimes woman stated, "Well, its a bad custom, and you need to stop it." Poor guy. He was just never able to get around to his prepared speech, and was happy to see us go. He did manage to ask me if anyone in America had cows. When I told him many people do, he said, "Tell them we will be coming for them." The Masai feel they own all the cattle in the world.

     Wesley got a big scare on the afternoon outing. He saw the end of a woman's toe in the corner of his vision when driving, and I thought he was going to dive out of the moving Jeep. He later told us black mamba's, when ran over, sometimes wrap around the axle and get into the open Jeep, and by then it would be very mad.  If that happened, it could take out a lot of people.

     We flew back to Nairobi. When we stepped off the plane, our regular driver was waiting. I proudly introduced him to the five new women, my five new "wives," and told him I had spent all my cows.

     Back at Rafiki, we had e-mails waiting. Corey and Kinley, our children, were on pins and needles, and wanted to know it as soon as we were off Safari.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Forever A Hillbilly: Africa - The Ninja Warrior

Forever A Hillbilly: Africa - The Ninja Warrior:      Our children, since having arrived at Rafiki, have only been taught that which is good. They do not know hate, or prejudice, and ...

Africa - The Ninja Warrior

     Our children, since having arrived at Rafiki, have only been taught that which is good. They do not know hate, or prejudice, and very seldom anger or jealousy. They melt our hearts.
     Barbara and I go to a bible study with a different family each night. The children were full fledged prayer warriors, for the most part. Some were still too young or shy to talk much. The mama led the bible study, and we were always amazed when they could almost always answer her questions.
     We all sang hymns, they really got in to it. When it came time to leave, they never wanted to let us go.

     We were the only mini missionaries there now. The bloodshed was too fresh. But there were normally several at a time. I told the kids how lucky they were. They were surrounded by all these loving people, and I knew of none others who had so many people come from so far away, just to be a part of their lives for a time.

     On the way back to our guest house, the sounds of hymns being sung by many children, often filled the night air. That blissful scene could sometimes be suddenly interrupted when a big man, with a big club, face covered ninja like with a scarf  silently emerged from the darkness and was right there. Right at our elbow. Barbara always screamed.
     That would be a guard. When I got to know the guards better, I asked, "What's with the scarf over the face thing  at night?" "Our face is cold." Barb and I were very comfortable in the cool African night in short sleeves, but they had never known cold. If the temperature dropped close to 70 degrees, they started adding clothes.
     The guards laughed at us, carefully lighting up our pathway at night with our "torch." But I knew Black Mambas thrived here. One had just recently been killed. The guards just laughed that off. "Snakes don't crawl at night." They further asserted, "You Americans have used torches so much, you have lost your night vision." There may be some truth to that.

     Emily, our only guest house mate, was technically a mini-missionary like us, who usually didn't stay longer that a month. But she just could not seem to leave. We could often hear her, talking to her parents on scype, crying in the privacy of her room. She missed them greatly. But then she would come out, pull herself together, and go sign on for two more months.
     Emily once got a very large thorn embedded deeply in the top of her foot while playing soccer. After some time, she mentioned it to us. I told her, I was very good at digging thorns out with a needle, as long as it was not in me. She finally agreed. I saw it was very deep. As I dug deeper and deeper, she toughened up and never complained, other than making weird little Emily sounds.
     This was not working. Too deep. Then I thought to ask her how long it had been in there. She said weeks. That changed things. Sooner or later, a thorn will just try to work its own way out. I squeezed really hard all around it, and It just popped out.
     There were two other young women missionaries there, and they, also, were very brave. They thought nothing about walking to a distant market in a rough looking area, alone. Or, they might hop in a car and drive long distances alone to a church they had never been to. But when a lizard got in her room, Emily totally came unglued.

     Word was getting around that I worked with wood pretty well, and Yeen Lan wanted me to build her a nice bench. Doug said, just find whatever wood you need, and build it. I found some still rough dark wood, and did it. It looked really good. Too good. When Doug saw it, he turned pale. I had used his Mahogany, very hard to get, very expensive, that he had brought to trim the lunch tables with. A very valuable bench.

     Barbara was given the job of looking for baptism records for the children. In looking at all their records, she had an opportunity to see the first picture, taken when the child first came in, beside a current picture. I think that affected her very deeply. In each case, the first picture show a child with all hope gone, dullness in the eyes. In the later photo, they were obviously happy, the light had been turned back on in their eyes. That, as well as anything we saw, showed what was being accomplished at Rafiki.

     Yeen Lan stayed very busy trying to get a birth certificate for each child. It was a major task. Many public officials just didn't care. Or at best, were very lax.  She would get all her paperwork in order, drive a long way over very rough roads to get to court, get it before a judge, only to face total incompetency. It just wouldn't be ready. Sometimes, they would complain about all the work involved, expecting a bribe. She would just stare them down, saying, "I only want you to do your job." Then repeat it. Sometimes, she would be told at the very end, "This requires a parent's signiture.""So, you're telling me, I just need to take this orphan out to the cemetery, dig up a parent, and get a signature?"

     Once, a Judge told her he had left the papers at home. "So let's go get them." The Judge pointed to a long waiting line "I'm sure they would all be willing to wait, so this child can get an identity." So they did. Anything to get this woman off his back. At home, the Judge couldn't find them. She started through his papers, and found them.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Forever A Hillbilly: Africa! - Kibera

Forever A Hillbilly: Africa! - Kibera:      The next week, Yeen Lan told us that she was taking us on a special trip, personally. I figured out later, that a little statemen...

Africa! - Kibera

     The next week, Yeen Lan told us that she was taking us on a special trip, personally. I figured out later, that a little statement I had made to the school headmaster must have gotten back to her. Early on, I just mentioned to him that it seemed like these kids were closed off from the world.
     Well, I think she got it in her head that she would show us where most of these kids came from. Where they would have lived out their life, which might not have lasted long, if not for Rafiki. She said "We're going to Kibera". Other missionaries were shocked when they heard. They had driven by, but had never ventured inside Kibera. Some had just always heard that if a stranger went into the depths of Kibera, he might never surface again.
     Kibera is one of the two largest, and worst, slums in the world.
     Many years ago, during one of the not uncommon periods of major violence, it was built to house a large army. When that need ended, it was just a deserted no man's land. Hundreds of tin roofed shacks, now rusty, most not even tall enough for a man to stand up in. Kinda like our hog houses we had at Wing.
     Kibera now housed many thousands of people. People who, in many cases, were homeless in the bush, and drifted in. The government considers these people squatters, not legal residents at all, and sees little reason to provide services to better the circumstances for these people. They are from the wrong tribe, and they are non-people.

     We drove up to the entrance. Yeen Lan told us to remove all jewelry, carry no cameras. People had died for taking pictures inside Kibera.
     She told the soldiers at the entrance what we were doing, when we should be out. We walked in. There were no toilets in sight. Flying toilets were the thing. Use a plastic bag, throw it up on the roof. Or out on the walkway.
     A single, small, plastic water pipe led to the interior, where water was sold by the gallon. The store consisted of a couple of butchered goats hanging, and a couple of sacks containing beans and lentils, by the handfull.
     At intervals there were towering mountains of garbage, roamed by dogs and rats. We saw people high from sniffing glue. It was one way to escape one's surroundings, at least for a little while.

     A sweet little girl, in rags, ran out into our path, a sweet smile on her beautiful face. "Hello," she called out to us. "How are you?" Her smile broke our hearts. Barbara and I both just wanted to take her hand, and take her home with us, away from this place.

     If residents had a set of decent clothes, they always wore them. There was no place to secure anything. Surprisingly, one would sometimes meet someone walking out or in, dressed well, probably to or from a job, looking clean and neat, clean shoes on the feces cover walkway. We saw no police presence. We had been told that police almost never venture inside, except to shake someone down.

     They had their own system of justice. If a thief was caught, a group of people would gather. An old tire was produced, put over his head, set afire.
     We passed a church, burned to the ground. We had heard about this on TV in America, during the recent violence. Many people took refuge in that church during the violence, it was set on fire, and many died.
     The people, generally, ignored us. Some seemed curious and surprised. Nobody spoke. I was happy with that. From what I had heard, I feared  far worse. About 300 yards in, we turned and headed out.

     Despite its appearance, Kibera is a powerful political force, by sheer numbers. It was the main backing in the recent violence for the challenger in the presidential election.

     We'll not soon forget Kibera. Barbara wrote that, early on, God just seemed to be giving her a super-human boost in doing this work. As for me, That strange safe feeling that always surrounded me in Peru, seemed to have made the trip here to Africa with me, and kept me in good stead. When we returned back to the village, one of the Mamas had heard we went to Kibera. She asked if they threw stones at us. When we told her they had not, she replied, "You were lucky."

CONTINUED NEXT WEEKEND - Thanks for reading!