Notes from Africa

November 20, 2020

Notes from Africa

Gekano Parish has 50 “centers” (what we in the United States informally call ‘Mission Parishes’).  On Sundays, the three priests of the parish and I go forth to celebrate Masses at the various centers, each of us usually celebrating three Masses, at 7:00, 9:00, and 11:00am.  To date, I have been to forty of the fifty centers.

Traveling to the centers usually means an adventure.  Lately, because of rains, the roads have been muddy, filled with pot holes and ruts.  The four-wheel drive on the vehicle has been engaged consistently.  Navigation also provides a challenge.  Even though, I know my way to many of the places, there are a few places that I do not know well and easily take a wrong turn.  In the Kisii Highlands, it is easy to become disoriented on the winding, twisting roads.  If a location is obscure in my mind, I usually travel to it on Saturday “to find my way” as I do not want to be too lost on Sunday mornings.

Each Sunday is an adventure.  On a rainy Sunday morning, I arrived at a center shortly before 7:00am, and no one was there.  I checked my notes to make sure I was at the right place.  Shortly after my arrival, a man and his daughter came and unlocked the church.  Often, it seems, people begin arriving and preparing for Mass once the priest arrives.  It is a challenge for the people because some priests operate on Mzungu time (that is, they are punctual) and other priests operate on African time.

Many of the centers are in the process of being built or renovated.  I find construction to be an ongoing activity in most buildings in Kisii land.  Some of the centers are large enough to seat 250 to 300 people.  Other structures are humble edifices of tree limbs and roofing sheets that hold 40 or 50 people around which a larger, more permanent structure is being built.  (See pictures.)

Most Sundays there is at least one story I can tell about happenings during the celebration of the Masses.  Recently, at one center, a young mother with her new born child came from during the offertory procession and gave a chicken as an offering of thanksgiving for the birth of her child.  A chicken would be valued at US $5.00, the equivalent of a daily wage for this area.

At another center, a lady was at the lectern proclaiming the first reading.  Her son, two or three years old, came and stood by her.  Eventually, he unbuttoned his pants and became pulling down his underwear to urinate.  My jaw dropped as I said to myself, “The boy is going to urinate in church in front of God and the gathered Christians!”  The mother had the presence of mind, without losing her pace of reading, to shoo the boy to his sister in the front row and took the boy out of the church to relief himself.

Every day is an adventure.

People at Rionguti Center standing in front of sand and rock piles. They are making preparations for the expansion of their church which is in the background.
The church at Sirate. The foundations around the current church are evident.

Notes from Africa

November 3, 2020

As I was celebrating Mass at 7:00am in the convent chapel of the sisters next door, I was keenly aware that today is the General Election in the United States.  It is no coincidence that today is also the feast day of St. Martin de Porres, and the first reading of the Lectionary was the great Christological hymn found in the second chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped…”

The first Adam, though human, made of the clay of the earth, tried to become God—do you recall the temptation of the serpent?  The second Adam, though God, humbled himself, becoming human, like us in all things but sin, and was obedient even unto death, death on the cross (echoes of the Suffering Servant in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah). 

The saint of this day, St. Martin de Porres, poured forth his life in service to the poor and sick of 17th century Lima, Peru.  Further, he poured forth his life in devotion to the Holy Eucharist or in the words of the Christological hymn, “His knees bowed before Christ.”

From afar, half way around the world, I have been watching the news of this year’s presidential campaign via the website of the BBC and NPR.  I have seen ‘frozen ideologies, stony hearts, and stubborn wills.’  The selfish question, “What’s in it for me?” seems to predominate, not just in the candidates but in the electorate.  I have not heard much about the common good (the principle of solidarity—we share a fundamental humanity and citizenship of one country), service and care of the most vulnerable of society, and I sense there is a distorted sense of patriotism.

My father told me and my siblings many times in the months after our mother’s death, “Life is different, so we, too, must be different now.”  What does it mean to shed political (frozen) ideologies in service to the country?  What does it mean to have a heart of flesh (not stone) in addressing the problems and struggles ensconced in American society? What does it mean to work together (bend the stubborn will) and not demonize and debase one who holds a different view?

Patriotism is “devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country.”  What ideals does the United States hold most dear?  Maybe, “We the people of these United States, in order to form a more perfect union…”  Maybe, the words, “with liberty and justice for all.”  Maybe the words inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty.  In reflecting on patriotism, the basic question I ask myself, “Can I (we) set aside personal preferences and conveniences and sacrifice for something bigger than my (our) own view?

“If we do not love the neighbor whom we can see, how can we say we love the God we cannot see?” (1 John 4: 20)

These were my thoughts as I celebrated Mass today. 

Notes from Africa

October 29, 2020

On October 9th, the Cabinet Secretary for Education in Kenya announced that school will resume for those in STD 4, STD 8, and Form 4 on October 12th.  Yes, students and parents were given three days of notice to prepare to return to school after the unplanned six-month break due to the co-vid pandemic.  Indeed, the students in these classes reported to school, many of them on “African time,” that is, during the course of that week.  These grades resumed school first because they have national exams for which they need to prepare.

The hope of the Cabinet Secretary was that the remaining classes would resume their studies on October 26th, but it was determined that schools did not have the space and ability to maintain the necessary protocols for protection from co-vid, and it was announced on October 25th that the resumption of studies for these grades will be announced at a later date.  Many think that it will be after the first of the New Year.

Many post-secondary institutions recommenced on October 12th.  Many of the students are studying on-line, though, those in the last year of their course of studies are present on campus for face-to-face learning as they prepare for their final exams.

Needless to say, there is chaos, confusion, and challenges for levels of education.  Families, too, seek direction and insight, most of all, the safety of their children.  There has been a marked increase cases of co-vid in Kenya the past two weeks after months of decline and very few confirmed cases.  The hardest hit area has been around Mombasa.

Many schools are over-crowded, do not have proper facilities for hygiene, and lack basic resources for educational purposes.  These are perennial challenges for schools throughout Kenya.

The United States State Department assists people living in foreign countries with matters regarding elections.  The Embassy in Nairobi notified me of steps needed to participate in the November General Election.  They placed me in contact with the County Auditor of Bowman, North Dakota, where I maintain my permanent residence.  I was able to cast my ballot electronically from Kenya.  I am grateful for those who made this possible.  As a wise man told me, “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about America.”

On another note…people are usually interested in the weather…

We have entered what is called ‘the short rainy season’ in the Kisii Highlands.  Since the first of October, I have recorded rainfall on twenty-one days with just over 8.50” measured.  The daytime high temperatures of the past week have ranged from 21°C to 28°C (70°F to 82°F), and the overnight lows have been around 16°C (60°F).  Mostly cloudy skies have prevailed the past two weeks.

Notes from Africa

Tuesday October 13, 2020

A Day at the Office…the Doctor’s Office

Over the years, I have had minor pain in my lower back, a pain that has grown worse over the past year or so.  The nagging, annoying pain forced my decision to visit a doctor.

In my experience in Kenya, when going to a doctor, one does not make an appointment, rather one goes and ‘gets in line.’  With this line of reasoning I arrived at 9:15am at the office of a orthopedic consultant in Kisii town.  Upon entering the facility, I was directed by the receptionist to go to the bursar to pay the consultant fee of KSH 2,000 ($ 20.00) and return proof of payment to the receptionist who put me on the list.  She told the doctor would be coming to the office at 11:00am—in my mind, I said, “Is this mzungu time or African time?”  I knew it would be a long day, but I was prepared.  My cellphone has an app with the Liturgy of the Hours and the Readings for the day so I went about praying the Liturgy of the Hours and looking at the readings for the upcoming Sunday.  The lobby of the office began to fill with people. 

An hour later, I was called to have someone check my vital signs (they were all very good), and she told me the doctor would be arriving at 11:30am.  I walked around the compound praying the rosary—eventually, I did pray all of the mysteries during the course of the day.  Since it has been uncomfortable to stand or sit for periods of time, I have a tendency to get up and walk around.  At noon, I went to the receptionist and inquired about the doctor’s schedule and was told, “He is on his way.”  I said to myself sarcastically, “Is he coming from Nairobi?”  (Nairobi is at least a six-hour drive.) 

I continued to wait and the lobby filled with people all wearing facing masks as I was doing, but there was no such thing as social distance.  I gave up my seat to elderly people several times and continued to walk around the compound.  At 12:30pm, the receptionist called out several names and lined us up in front of the doctor’s door, and at 12:45pm, I was called into the doctor’s office.  The consultation took approximately ten minutes, and he sent me for an X-ray.  This meant going to the bursar to pay the fee of KSH 2,500 ($25.00) and going to the technician with proof of payment.  The X-rays were taking, and as he was reviewing the quality of the image, he said to me, “Do you have problems with your back?”  I replied, “Yes, it is uncomfortable to sit or stand in one place for a period of time.”  He responded, “Oh, that is why I saw you walking around the compound all the time while you were waiting.” 

After the X-ray, I was told to get in line outside the doctor’s door and wait.  After thirty minutes, I found myself once again with the doctor for a consultation that lasted ten minutes.  The diagnosis:  lumbar spondylosis, that is, osteoarthritis.  He ordered further tests, namely, an MRI, to give a better image of the issue—in order for insurance to pay for this procedure that cost KSH 15,000, the doctor’s report needed to be viewed by a radiologist who would then write a recommendation for the MRI.  I was told this would take twenty minutes, maybe thirty minutes.

So, I continued my walk around the facility.  Two hours later, I went to the receptionist to inquire about the radiologist’s work.  I was an the very, very end of my patience and asked for my records and left the facility at 4:30pm not in the best of spirits.  For good or bad, this was my day.  I don’t know if this is typical or a result of my inadequate knowledge about the way the health care system operates here in Kenya.  As I write often, “Every day is an adventure.” (While walking around, I did take the attached pictures of construction at the hospital where I had my MRI; I kept saying to myself, “What would OSHA say?”)

Long story short—I did have an MRI that revealed lumbar spondylosis and a bulging disc.  I will begin physical therapy to address these issues. 

The doctor mentioned part of this problem is the issue of ageing—when I look at today’s date, it is October 13th, my 57th birthday.  As the psalmist, reflecting on God’s eternity and human frailty, writes, “Seventy is the sum of our years, or eighty, if we are strong.  Most of them are toil and sorrow; they pass quickly, and we are gone” (90: 10). 

Notes from Africa

September 26, 2020

In the Kisii Highlands, thunderstorms are a common occurrence.  Earlier this week, a thunderstorm rolled through the Gekano area bringing with it much hail, some of the hail stones marble size.  With the wind-driven rain and the hail pounding on the metal roof of the Mission House much noise was created—it was hard to concentrate on the work I was doing.  I was drawn to the window to view the development of the storm.  The hail tattered my flower garden, beating off blossoms and leaves.  Sadly, it caused destruction of crops, especially the maize.  Metal roofs, some of which have offered protection to houses for years, were damaged.  Enough hail blanketed the area to give the appearance that it had snowed.  I sent a picture to friends with the caption ‘Snow in Kenya?’  The response was, ‘SNOW.’

I can recall there have been a few hail storms in the three plus years I have lived in Kenya.  I asked some people how often it hails, and they replied, “When it wants to.”  A hail storm is not a frequent occurrence, especially with the size of the hailstones we had.

The day after the hailstorm, I had the opportunity to visit the homesteads of two families.  One of the families consist of two brothers who have been in our Orphan Education Program.  Their area was not affected by the hail storm—they showed me their shamba which had maize, banana trees, and tomatoes.  The crops were beautiful.  Also, they raise chickens.  These two young men have built their own house and have cultivated the land they inherited and are examples of why the Bismarck Mission has a presence in Kenya.

The other homestead was a neighbor of mine, a widow with four children, the eldest of which has just become a teenager.  She took me to her humble abode, a house in obvious need of repair.  On her small plot were the remnants of her shamba—shredded maize plants and battered Sukuma weeki (a vegetable in the kale family).  I expressed my condolences for the loss of ‘her daily bread.’  She looked at me, expressed gratitude for my sympathy, and said, “God knows, God will provide.”  I was humbled by her faith.

Between planting and harvesting seasons while I was growing up, I recall prayers for a good harvest in which the faithful interceded for “protection against storms, insects, and drought.”  We asked for divine protection so that the earth would produce its fruits so that we would be sustained in our daily lives.  In Kenya, these types of prayers are offered continually.  At the time of harvest, prayers of gratitude are uttered and songs of thanksgiving are sung.  These people do know the importance of ‘daily bread.’  Much of what is prepared for a common daily meal is taken right out of the shamba and cooked.

My day was a contrast of the fruitfulness and bounty of the earth and the destructive power of storms.  We continue to pray for “protection against storms, insects, and drought,” and eagerly offer prayers of gratitude and thanksgiving for whatever harvest brought forth by the earth and the work of human hands.

It does look like snow
In the flower garden
This maize is 10 feet tall
Damage to Napier grass (foreground) and tea plants (background)

Notes from Africa

Friday September 18, 2020

At the heart of the Bismarck Mission is the Orphan Education Program, the basic support given to orphan includes payment of school tuition and fees, uniforms, the availability of books for their educational pursuits, and a monthly allotment of maize and stipend.

In these days of corona-virus, in which there has been no school since the middle of March, we have been able to serve orphans within the restrictions imposed by the government, restrictions such as face masks, social distancing, a limit on the size of gatherings.  We have one member per family attend Mission Saturdays to receive the family’s monthly allotment and stipend. 

Over the past months, alumni of the Bismarck Mission have been visiting with small groups of orphans on a weekly basis.  The alumni share their experiences, their hopes and joys, their trials and struggles.  In these small groups, the students are able to speak of their challenges and receive insight and advice.  We are fortunate to have the alumni who give of themselves for the sake of ‘their younger brothers and sisters.’

There has been discussion and debate on the re-opening of schools in Kenya.  Groups representative of teachers, parents, administrators, health experts, and faith communities have met with the Cabinet Secretary of Education to hammer out the issues faced with re-opening.  Indeed, not an easy process—education, public health, finances, politics, among other issues, are involved.  The Cabinet Secretary seeks to have a decision by September 25th on re-opening of schools, in whole or in part.  As he has said in these days of covid, “Nothing is written in stone.”

As I have heard the phrase “Nothing is written in stone,” the words of the prophet Job come to mind, “Oh, would that my words were written down!  Would that they were inscribed in a record: that with an iron chisel and with lead there were cut in the rock forever!”  In these days of co-vid people and the entire world face challenges in terms of the disease itself and how people have been displaced by the economic hardship and its fallout and the absence of normality in life.  The shifting sands of life on this earth are so different than that which can be inscribed with an iron chisel and with lead into a rock.

Notes from Africa

September 4, 2020

Kisii land has a tropical climate which means rainfall is abundant in the area that is called, “The land that is ever green.”  The annual average is seventy-five inches.  The housing program of the Bismarck Mission helps orphans and their extended families live in this climate.  One of the main functions of a house is to protect a family from the elements.  A house also provides a space where people can gather as a family to share meals, host visitors, and have room for sleeping.

The houses constructed by the Mission are traditional mud houses with metal roofing.  The Mission pays for the supplies needed, and the family (often extended family and neighbors) do the labor.  The first step is to clear the land to make it level and then dig holes for the supporting posts of the house.  The floor of the house becomes hardened through the use of clay soil.  The rafters are then mounted, and the metal roofing attached to them.  The process continues with the placing of slats (branches of trees) on the posts; in between these slats a mixture of clay-like mud is compacted and left to dry.  Now, the house is ready for doors and windows.  Once the clay-like mud dries, a final protective layer is smeared over the exterior of the structure.  A typical house, when the protective layer is maintained, will last up to forty years.  ­­A typical house has two sleeping rooms and a living room.

It is a joy to deliver the material in the various stages of construction.  Joyfully, we are greeted by members of the family and a quickly assembled contingent of neighborhood children who gather to see what is happening in the locality.  Phrases such as “Asante sana” (Thank you) are frequently heard, and smiles abound on the faces of all.  I remind the families that these houses are made possible by the generosity of the people of the Diocese of Bismarck who support the Bismarck Mission.  The construction of a house costs around $600.00. 

This year we awarded seven houses.  The families have been attentive to their commitments with the labor.  Rogers, who does most of the delivery of the material, has been kept busy supplying the families with the necessary materials.  This past week, I accompanied him to check on the progress and take photos.  Enjoy the attached the photos.

P.S.  I wrote this blog last week and intended to post it, but the internet network was not functioning properly most of last week.  As I have been told, “In Africa, there is no hurry.”

The posts and slats have been complete. We delivered the metal roofing to this house.

This house has been mudded. Once it is dry, a final protective coating will be added. The doors and windows will be delivered next week. This is a family of five orphans living with their grandparents and other members of the extended family.

A recently completed house.

The same completed house with the two orphans and their guardian and a few other children of the locality.

Notes from Africa

A common sight on the roads and by-ways of Kenya is the placing of names across top of windshields of matatu (mini-busses), trucks, lorries, busses, and piki-piki (motorcycles). One might liken these names to bumper stickers one often sees in the United States, except these names, I noticed in my travels, lack the lewdness and profanity often expressed, or at least implied, on various bumper stickers.

 

Several months ago, I mentioned to Rogers that one day I am going to start carrying a notepad in the vehicle to write them down. Last week, I made a trip to Kisumu and remembered a notepad. These are some of the names I was able to espy on the trip: (Translations are in parenthesis.)

 

Reference to God/religion:

  • Trust in God
  • Baraka (Blessing)
  • Believe
  • Beatitudes
  • Mungu ni mwema (God is Good)
  • Thank you God
  • Redeemer
  • Divine Power
  • Disciple
  • Allahu Akbar (God is Most Great)
  • Fadhili (Faithfulness)
  • God First
  • Repentance Power
  • Lord of Mercy
  • Mali ya Mungu (Property of God)
  • Amani (Peace)
  • Maranatha (Come, Lord Jesus)
  • Elohim

 

Reference to a characteristic of self:

  • Joker
  • Twin Brother
  • First Born
  • Rafiki (Friend)
  • Gentleman
  • Prince
  • Pals
  • Officer
  • Innocent Boy
  • Survivor
  • Daktari (Doctor)

Other:

  • This is my galaxy
  • Expeditionary Force
  • Success
  • Favours
  • Dangerous Mind
  • Determination
  • Born to Grow
  • The Palace

I did enjoy making notes on the names, and, perhaps, on future ventures, I will continue to record the variety of names.

 

Do you have a favorite? Or, what would you put across your windshield?

Notes from Africa

August 11, 2020

 

One of the unexpected blessings of the Mission has been the organization and development of alumni of the Orphan Education Program, a process that started in December 2019. This group calls themselves “Bismarck Beneficiaries.” The Beneficiaries have a distinct vision—to be of assistance to those currently enrolled in the form of mentorship, to be of mutual support for one another, and to raise funds to be used as incentives for other orphans. Rogers and Sr. Theresa are advisors of the Beneficiaries, and I, on behalf of the Bismarck Mission, am consider the patron, that is, their sponsor.

 

The alumni have started to meet with small groups of our orphans. Because of an epidemic of teen pregnancies in Kenya, the first meetings have been with girls and young women. It is estimated that 150,000 teenage girls are pregnant in Kenya, with a huge increase since the closing of schools in March due to the pandemic. Alumnae have been meeting with the girls to speak of relationships and abstinence as well as small group sessions to address concerns with daily life. In the future, males of this age group will be gathered.

 

This year thirteen students have received post-secondary scholarships. Last week, Bismarck Beneficiaries met with this group to speak about their experiences in post-secondary education. Topics included the use of money, living arrangements, selection of course of studies, and choosing of friends. Most of the current recipients will begin school in January 2021, but some have started on-line studies. Here again, the corona virus pandemic has created much havoc as institutions of higher learning seek to incorporate protocols from the government Office of Education.

 

Finally, the alumni have embarked upon an adventure of making bricks—they seek to make 20,000 of them to be sold to raise funds. The brick making process is labor intensive as appropriate clay-type soil must be dug up, mixed with water and then allowed to ferment. After a period of time, the fermented soil is mixed with water and put into forms. Once settled, the bricks are placed to dry before being placed in a home-made kiln. The Mission has advanced them start-up funds. (Enjoy the pictures.)

 

On another note, churches and houses of worship have been allowed to resume services as long as they follow government protocols, namely, a maximum of 100 people gathered, the wearing of masks, the practicing of social distancing, and the length of services not to exceed one hour. For the past two weekends, I have been traveling to the church centers for Mass. These have been the first public Masses I have celebrated since March. As for daily Mass, I still celebrate with the six sisters next door.

Notes from Africa

 

July 26, 2020

 

This past week I received two thank you letters. The first is from Emma Bosibori who, with her siblings, has been in our Education Program for nine years. She is completing her fourth year of college, funded by our Post-Secondary Scholarship program.

 

The second letter is from a child of a woman who was given a water filter and trained in its use. The letter is addressed to “Mama maji,” that would be Lilian who coordinates our Water with Blessings project.

 

The former Bishop of Bismarck, Most Rev. Paul A. Zipfel, continually preached, “We need to be grateful.” In these letters, there is gratitude to God and gratitude to those who support the African Mission, support that enables us to continue serving our brothers and sisters in Africa. I am grateful for this support, and every day I turn to God seeking to be grateful in my own feeble way.

 

Copies of the original letters are shown in pictures. Here, I have typed the letters for ease of reading:

 

Dear Bismarck Mission,

 

I am one of the most grateful beneficiary of Bismarck Mission and the happiness, joy and success Bismarck has given me and my siblings have no words to describe them.

 

We as orphans lack almost everything and to me, Bismarck has given my siblings and I more than enough and they have made our shattered dreams come true. My siblings and I give our sincere appreciation from the bottom of our hearts to the Bishop of Bismarck Diocese and the all the people from the diocese who give what they have for us. It’s like a miracle given to us by God. You make us feel that we are loved. May God grant all the people of Bismarck their wishes and give them happiness. May He double your Blessings our dads and mums who always ensure we have a future to talk about.

 

I personally have no words to describe the kindness in your hearts. We love you all; my siblings and I are what we are today because of you.

 

And you know what Bismarck Mission is the best thing that ever happened in our lives. In fact, thanks for everything you have provided My siblings Wisley Nyachae in form four, Emily Nyambane in form three, Felister Nyambane in form one and I in final year of college. We have been able to receive Monthly stipend, Maize, primary scholarship for Emily and Wisley who were taken to Immaculate Tumaini Academy from 2016-2017. We have also received goats and chicken for good performance and we are grateful for everything.

 

We also thank you for the heifer which we received in 2016. This heifer has helped us with milk which we sometimes sale for our basic daily needs. The heifer has so far given us three bulls, which can be sold after 1 year, thus helps in improving our living standards in my family. The cow provides an average of five liters of milk daily, this is of good since it helps a lot.

 

I can also not forget Fr. David, Sr. Teresa, and our Dad Mr. Rodgers, because the nine years I have been in the program have been nine years of joy and happiness. Mr. Rodgers has not only been a dad to me but also a Mentor, I mean a perfect Mentor. And also Sr. Teresa has been a good Mother especially for the girl child in the program. Fr David thank you for being with us you are also a Dad to us all.

 

THANKS A MILLION

NAWAPENDA NYOTE SANA (I love you all very much.)

 

Yours Sincerely

Emma Bosibori Nyambane

 

 

 

 

Dear Mama maji (water mother),

 

Thank you for joining us in this wonderful mission (of) clean water for God’s thirsty children. Never forget that you are a water woman! Because you care and share more children will be healthy and happy. You are the blessing in water blessings (Water With Blessings). Mothers and grandmothers who are water women are helping God to bring clean water to children. These are women with big hearts.

 

My mother loves me so much! She wants me to be healthy so I feel strong and happy every day because she has special filter that will make water clean.

 

Asante kwa yote uliotupea. Tumeshukuru. Tunasema katika kundi cha mama maji. Tunasema usitusahau. Utukumbuke siku nyingine. Mkipata kitu kingine mtuongeza. Tunawaomba na sisi mtuombee. (Thank you for all you have given us. “We are grateful,” we say in the water mother group. Remember us on another day if you have something else to give us. We are praying for you and you, please, pray for us.)

 

Thank you, God, for the blessing of clean water in our family. Thank you for my God loves me.

 

Your(s) faithfull(y),

Clean water (child)