Notes from Africa

September 12, 2019


Sunday afternoon I returned from lunch with the sisters next door and sat down to work on a crossword puzzle; at 1:20, there was a ‘click’ sound and the lights came on. There was electricity—I was stunned and excited. After three weeks and three days, it is a relief. But, not everyone in the area is as fortunate. There continue to be problems with the transmission of electricity to this area, and some remain without power. As has been the case of the past weeks, calls to Kenya Power remain unanswered. One wag commented, “Kenya Power is even more corrupt than the police.” And, I would add, they lack civic responsibility.


In June of this year, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya announced that the currency of the country would be replaced with new banknotes in an effort to fight money laundering, counterfeits, and corruption. Kenya has banknotes in the following denominations: KSH 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1,000. (The exchange rate with the U.S. dollar averages $1.00=KSH 100.) Already, there have been reports of counterfeit notes in the new currency.


By October 1, 2019 the KSH 1,000 note will be phased out, that is, it will no longer be considered legal tender in the nation. Over a period of time, this will occur with the other denominations. In the past several weeks, the new KSH 1,000 note has become the norm with the old KSH 1,000 notes not being issued by banks. Some entities, one being the United States Embassy, no longer accept the old notes.


Any machine that uses a banknote has to be reconfigured, for example, ATMs and parking ticket validation stations, and this work, throughout the nation, must be done in three months. It is an all-out effort on behalf of the Central Bank of Kenya, who is the monetary authority of Kenya.


Enjoy pictures of the old notes and the new notes below:


Notes from Africa

Thursday September 5, 2019


We are entering our fourth week without electricity. There are a few bright spots (pun intended) in all of this. First, with the beginning of the third term of school this week, the school generator operates for an hour in the morning and a couple of hours in the evening—so the girls have lights for study hall. (I was so happy the other evening when the generator was started—I could turn on a switch and have light.) Second, I am in the process of having a solar panel and battery system installed, a system that will allow me to keep batteries in electronic devices charged at all times as well as have continual access to the internet. This system will also be able to power a lamp. I must admit this has been in the planning stages for several months, but if all one does is talk about it, nothing is done. I have been spurred into action. Third, there are some things I cannot change, and I find it best to accept what is and go about my daily routines and other business to the best of my ability. Some days, I have been testy and impatient.


A common occurrence is the loss of power. We will go for weeks at a time with no problem, then there will be several days in the course of a week when power is spotty.


With the beginning of the third term of school, we are paying school fees for those in secondary schools. The procedure is laborious we have orphans in many different schools, and each school has a different tuition and fee structure. It takes effort and concentration to review the fee structures of the various schools and write the checks. I was fortunate, though, as I had no cramps in my writing hand.


Over the past year, we have been consulting with people familiar with the Mission to develop a plan of action, that is, some long-term goals and strategies. One of the goals is to expand our Orphan Education Program. Currently, we have 395 orphans enrolled, ranging in age from three years to twenty-one years of age. Our goal is to have 450 orphans enrolled. Part of the way this will be done is to implement our Orphan Education Program in a neighboring parish, Manga Parish, as it is called. This week I have met with Bishop Joseph, the bishop of the Diocese of Kisii and the pastor of the parish to make the necessary arrangements. Later this month, a formal presentation will be made to the pastor and the catechists to review the requirements and benefits of the program. After this has been done, a date will be established to begin enrolling orphans at Manga Parish.


Bishop Joseph expressed his gratitude for all that the Bismarck Mission has done in the Diocese of Kisii. The pastor of the parish also expressed his gratitude and welcomed us to serve in the parish. Of course, all this is possible because of the generosity of the people of the Diocese of Bismarck who support the African Mission. The gratitude of the Bishop and the pastor are for you.


In the coming weeks, I plan to write about other aspects of our Plan of Action…

Notes from Africa

August 29, 2019


A few odds and ends:


We have started our third week without any electricity. To say the least, the utility company, Kenya Power, is dragging its feet in rectifying the situation. I know many people who have called the company, yours truly included, and there are others who even went to the Kenya Power’s main office in Nyamira town. It seems difficult to cut through the red tape of their bureaucracy—the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. Without electricity there is no charging of batteries for phones and computers, one cannot print or copy a document, there is no refrigeration and no ironing of clothes (although, the washing machine—my hands and a pail—work fine), posho mills which grind maize into flour cannot operate causing many people to travel to neighboring towns and villages (adding unnecessary expense to their lives), and the list could go on…


From August 24th to 30th, the nation of Kenya is conducting a census. I am classified as one who has a work/residency permit for Kenya—a foreign national—and will be counted in one of their categories. This week, I received a census form, and it is subtitled, “SHORT QUESTIONNAIRE FOR STREET PERSONS/OUTDOOR SLEEPERS/VAGRANTS.” I did get a good laugh when I read this. In my opinion, I do not fit any of these descriptions, but dutifully filled out the form that asked for my full name, sex, age, country of birth, and ethnicity. A census worker will return by the end of the week for an interview so that I, along with every other person living in Kenya, may be counted, at least, this is the stated goal.


A look at the weather for the past week:


August 20th     16.4 C at 5:00am   26.1 C at 12n         17.3 C at 9:30pm            Trace of rain.

August 21st      15.5 C at 5:00am   26.0 C at 1:30pm   18.2 C at 6:00pm            .80”

August 22nd     15.2 C at 4:30am   26.9 C at 2:00pm   17.6 C at 8:30pm            .35”

August 23rd     15.8 C at 4:00am   24.8 C at 11:30am                                   1.25”

August 24th     14.4 C at 5:00am   25.7 C at 1:00pm   21.7 C at 6:00pm           .10”

August 25th     15.6 C at 5:00am   26.2 C at 2:00pm   20.4 C at 9:00pm


(Point of reference 15 C=59 F; 20 C=68 F; and 25 C=77 F)



Notes from Africa

August 22, 2019


The electricity has been out for over a week as I write.  This happening has caused a few problems as one might imagine.  First of all, when it gets dark, it is dark.  This means by 7:00pm or so, night has fallen and no lights are to be seen anywhere.  Second, my freezer and fridge were nearly empty, so I am fortunate that no food spoiled.  Third, when school is in session, there is a large generator that is started when there is no electricity to power the entire school compound.  Since we are on a school break, the generator has been run sparingly—a total of six hours.  During these limited times, I make sure to charge the batteries of my computer, Kindle, and cell phone and transfer water from the cistern to the holding tank that provides water for the Mission House.  Fourth, I learned backup equipment is needed and make sure it is running condition—the Mission has a small generator, but it needed some maintenance that was delayed.  (The maintenance was finished today, and it is fine condition.)   If you can’t start the generator, you don’t have power.  This small generator provides just enough power for a lamp and to charge batteries, but it is noisy.  Fifth, ‘cowboy coffee’ is not that bad (that is, pouring hot water over the grounds and straining them.)  Sixth, cooking becomes a challenge especially when there is no way to keep leftovers.  Seventh, in such situations that one cannot change, it is best to accept what is and try to be constructive—as opposed to bemoaning the fact there is no electricity.


Over the past week, I have had limited access to the internet—virtually none.  The use of my cell phone and computer has been curtailed greatly—at a time, in this month of August, that many records need to be updated.


No one seems to know what has happened; all I have heard is that a large transformer spewed forth its last and has to be replaced.  Where the transformer is located, I do not know.  When it will be replaced, I do not know.   Local people seem to accept the lack of power, this type of outage, as a fact of life and don’t seem agitated at all.


I am not sure what the ‘saving grace’ is in all of this, but I continue to go through each day striving to put forth my best effort.  Such is life in the Mission this past week…



Notes from Africa

August 15, 2019


The second term of the school year in Kenya ended the last part of July, and the month of August is holiday for students and teachers.  For the Mission, this means on Mission Saturdays we review report cards of the students.  As mentioned in previous writings, at times, encouragement is given for students to persevere in their studies and to continue the good work, and, at times, further discussion is needed as the report card reveals poor grades (this is like getting called to the principal’s office).  To review 400 report cards and to be constructive in offering critique to each becomes challenging.


During this month of August at Mission Saturdays, we are doing our annual testing for HIV.  Five percent of our orphan population has been afflicted with this disease, in almost all cases, through no fault of their own, having received the virus in utero.  If a child or youth is diagnosed as HIV positive, constructive steps are taken—counseling about the disease is given, and retroviral drugs are prescribed to prevent the growth of the virus.  If taken faithfully every day, a student can live a normal, active life.


During this month of August at Mission Saturdays, we are also handing out mattresses to orphans.  In the course of each year, some type of gift is given—in the past, the gift has been a blanket or a solar light.  After we finished our work last Saturday, two guardians approached me.  The first, a grandmother taking care of five grandchildren, thanked me for everything we have done for her family.  The second, a grandfather entrusted with the care of three grandsons, stated that we have made many people very happy.  As I receive these types of compliments, I am aware that I am only one part of the larger picture of the Mission.  Others are integrally involved in the life of the Mission—donors, people who pray for the Mission, workers behind the scenes who do ordering and coordinating, and many others.  To be grateful…what a blessing.


Last year, on this Solemnity of the Assumption, my friend, Fr. David Raymond and I, concelebrated Mass at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.  As we know, a horrendous fire devastated


the structure earlier this year, and the process of cleaning up has commenced.  It is estimated that 300 tons of lead in the gables of the spire and roof melted during the tragedy.  In this painstaking process of restoration, let us remember to pray for the Church in France as the renovation proceeds on this iconic structure, a most profound symbol of faith.

Notes from Africa

August 8, 2019


A common sight on school properties in Kenya is the presence of signs and placards with wisdom and motivational sayings, proverbs, and adages to provide encouragement and direction to students (and, indeed, to all who would read them).


Recently, I saw this sign about maturity; it reminds us maturity is more than the accumulation of years:


18 Signs of Maturity

How mature are you?

1.     Maturity is when you stop trying to change people and instead focus on changing yourself.

2.     Maturity is when somebody hurts you and you try to understand their situation instead of trying to hurt them back.

3.     Maturity is when you accept people for who they are.

4.     Maturity is when you understand that everyone is right in their own perspective.

5.     Maturity is when you realize that nothing is more important in this world than your faith and your family.

6.     Maturity is when you understand that whatever you do, you do it for your own peace.

7.     Maturity is when you stop proving to the world how intelligent you are.

8.     Maturity is when you focus on positive people.

9.     Maturity is when you do not seek approval from others.

10.  Maturity is when you stop comparing yourself to others.

11.  Maturity is when you are at peace with yourself.

12.  Maturity is when you can differentiate between want and need and you let go of your wants.

13.  Maturity is when you stop attaching happiness to material things.

14.  Maturity is when you learn to let go, accept the situation, and move on.

15.  Maturity is when you do not react to the behavior of insane people.

16.  Maturity is when you are able to drop expectations from a relationship and give for the sake of giving.

17.  Maturity is learning to walk away from people and situations that threaten your peace of mind, self-respect, values, morals, and self-worth.

18.  Maturity is when you have a lot to say, but you choose to remain silent in front of fools.


These 18 insights into maturity can provide us with a good examination of conscience as well as a tool for shaping and forming our children and youth.


Notes from Africa

August 1, 2019

The Escarpment on the way to Nairobi


On Tuesday afternoon, Rogers and I drove the seminarians, Luke Obrigewitch and Jacob Magnuson, to Nairobi.  On Wednesday morning, they left on an early morning flight—Logan to return to the United States and prepare to continue his theological studies at Kenrick Seminary and Jacob to Rome where he will do the same.


On the way to Nairobi, there is an escarpment; the dictionary defines it as “a long, steep slope, especially one at the edge of a plateau or separating areas of land at different heights.”  The term is not used much in common parlance in the United States, but it is a fancy way of saying “a mountain, a cliff, or an incline.”  The road that traverses the escarpment begins on the floor of the Rift Valley at a town called Maai Mahihu at an elevation around 1,800m (6,000ft).  Eventually, by the time one reaches the top, the elevation is over 2,133m (7,000ft).


On a clear day, one is treated to magnificent views of the Rift Valley, a most ancient geological feature that begins in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon to Mozambique in south east Africa, a distance of 6,000 kilometers (over 3,700 miles).


But…the road, part of a main highway from Nairobi to western Kenya and eventually into Tanzania, has its perils.  It is a narrow, two-lane road and heavily traveled by vehicles of every kind.  On side of the road comes very close to the edge of the cliff into the Rift Valley at some places.  Of course, lorries (semi-trucks) and loaded trucks ascending and descending the hill must be in low gear, meaning the traffic may move at the proverbial snail’s pace which means other vehicles continually dart in and out of the traffic seeking a way to pass the slow-moving vehicles.  Some might call it a game of chicken—the foolish will anyway, but patience and good judgment of distances while passing are essential. 


We have a theory—as long as the traffic keeps moving, we are okay.  There have been incidents of accidents that have shut down this road overnight.  It might be a good idea to pack a lunch just in case…


Notes from Africa

July 25, 2019

Feast of St. James


On Sunday July 21st, I celebrated Mass in Ekegusii for the first time at two Masses, one at Enchoro outstation, and one at Mosobeti outstation.  Ekegusii is considered an endangered language in the world.  Since Swahili and English are the national languages of Kenya, and all education from pre-school through university is in English, there are challenges faced by the Abagusii (Kisii tribe) to use their mother tongue.  Unless Ekegusii is spoken in the home, children will not learn their language.  Approximately two million people (basically, the people of Kisii and Nyamira counties in western Kenya) speak this language.  We need to recall that “culture and its traditions as well as knowledge are best expressed through one’s mother tongue.”


Celebrating Mass in Ekegusii was awkward—there is a difference between practicing the language with another person and using it in a public forum.  It was humbling, a reminder of how much I do not know.  (But, when I reflect back on the first time I celebrated Mass in Swahili with the people of Mindu parish (Tanzania), this experience was not as painful for me and the people.)  Not only did I struggle with the proper pronunciation, phrasing and meaning, but the people, too, had to bear with me.  Well, the people were grateful for my efforts, and their responses at Mass were vigorous, and one of the altar servers said that the people understood me.  For this, I am grateful.  The local people know the Mass in Ekegusii better than they do in Swahili.  The challenge continues for me to learn this language well enough to be comfortable celebrating Mass with it, but it is another question using the language for everyday conversation and preaching, although I do know a few phrases and greetings.  


On Monday, the seminarians (Logan and Jacob), Rogers, and I, traveled to Kisumu for a day of relaxation.  We took a boat ride on Lake Victoria, the second largest fresh water lake after Lake Superior.  After the boat ride, we enjoyed a meal of tilapia, ugali, and mboga at a lakeside restaurant.


Logan and Jacob will finish their pastoral assignment at Nyabururu parish later this week and be at the Bismarck Mission for the weekend.  Then, after a safari on the Maasai Mara, they will return to the United States on July 31st


PS  On this feast day of St. James, pray for the pilgrims who are walking the Way of St. James to Santiago, Spain.


Notes from Africa

July 17, 2019

This past week we learned of the death of Most Reverend Paul A. Zifel, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Bismarck after a prolonged struggle with Alzheimer’s.  May he rest in peace, and his family and the people, religious, and clergy of the diocese be consoled. 


In March 1998, Bishop Zifpel made a pastoral visit to the Mission at Gekano in the Diocese of Kisii, Kenya.  Twenty plus years later, people still ask about him and remember his graciousness.  Yesterday evening, we celebrated a Memorial Mass to pray for him.


One story about him—shortly after he was installed as the Bishop of Bismarck, he was at a gathering in Dickinson, North Dakota.  My father happened to be present at the same event so I introduced him to the Bishop.  Bp. Zipfel, with a hint of jocularity, upon seeing my dad, called him, “a young punk.”  My father sheepishly told the Bishop, “But, I am older than you.”  A good laugh was enjoyed by all.


Since my return from my home visit to North Dakota, I have been updating records for our Orphan Education Program and the Heifer and Housing Programs.  The flower garden has been weeded.  (Enjoy the picture of a rose bush below.)  I continue to celebrate daily Mass at Gekano Parish and to two outstations on Sundays for Mass.  My Swahili was a bit rusty for a week or so, but, with use, I find myself comfortable using the language.  Also, I have been studying the Mass in Ekegusii, the native tongue of the Kisii tribe, and am preparing myself to celebrate Mass in the language in the near future.


Word traveled quickly that I had returned.  It seems there has been a torrent of people coming to ask for various needs—orphans associated with the program and people of the surrounding area.  Some of these needs can be addressed; other needs presented are not part of the Mission and its reason for being here; and various needs are beyond the ability of the Mission.  I pray for the “Wisdom of Solomon.”


I have been to Nyabururu Parish a couple of times to visit with Logan Obrigewitch and Jacob Magnuson, the two seminarians who are in the Diocese of Kisii for the month of July on a pastoral assignment.  They keep telling me, “We are well fed!”  (I know their mothers would appreciate this.)



Notes from Africa

July 10, 2019


(At least,) Two sides to every story…


Recently, a young man, who is in Form 4 (senior in high school), came to visit with me.  He admitted that he had been ‘sent home’ from school to await disciplinary action; after mentioning this, he went on, immediately, to ask about a particular need that needed to be addressed.


When this senior in high school finished his discourse, I assured him that his need was being addressed.  Personally, I was more interested in why he was sent home from school.  He explained that he was a class prefect (a class leader designated by the school) and that some of his charges wanted to stone (he then changed the story to pelting with rocks) one of the guards at the gate because he took away barbells that the boys at the school use in their free time.  The young man continued that he was being held responsible for this behavior even though he was not knowledgeable of the situation.  Something seemed suspicious in his story…


Later that same day, I needed to visit his school to pay school fees.  While at the school, I visited with the deputy principal about the student’s suspension from school.  The school official explained that one of the responsibilities of the prefects is to awaken other students in the morning (5:00am).  First, the gate guards rouse the prefects from their slumber, and, then, they charge them to stir their classmates from the inertia of sleep.   


One particular day, this student and two other prefects decided they want to stay in bed and not perform their duties.  As a consequence, the three prefects were suspended from school and await disciplinary action from the school.


My guess…if I would visit with the two others prefects, I probably would get an altogether different story.  Maybe, there are more than two sides to a story…


It is a challenge to listen well to the orphans who come to the office for assistance, but a healthy dose of skepticism is needed as well, especially when the story seems suspicious.  I have been advised several times to have the children and youth in our education program produce evidence to their stories—advice that I have taken into consideration.