Last month, the Biennale des Createurs d’Images 2012 in Paris showcased 200 works by professional artists of photography, multimedia and illustration. Of these artists, Laurent Chehere captivated many with his flying houses. Chehere, an award-winning photographer with a penchant for architecture and travel, used traditional photography and digital manipulation to create this personal series, which serve as metaphors for travel.
“He shows us his poetic vision of weary houses, emerging from the anonymity of their streets to show us their hidden beauty.” Each house’s architectural style seems to assign it an individual personality. Though all are unique, they seem similar in that they are suburban, all with their own sets of baggage, responsibilities and troubles; and all appearing to lift off from where they once were bound. This series is particularly appealing to the dreamers and travelers much like Chehere himself.
Although we’ve been back in the states for a while (after an unexpected return), I thought I’d post this and bring some closure to the whole shebang. Due to the power rationing, I never had a chance to get this up while we were still in Bungoma. Anyways, here’s where I left off before we headed back to the US…
We are headed back to the US this weekend. After nearly three, long and incredible months, it is finally time to come home. At times, it has felt like we were only a breath away from heaven or hell, as each day was an adventure, sometimes relaxing and sometimes nerve racking. We managed to avoid illness for the entire trip save for one or two bouts with a stomach bug. We made many new friends and discovered the unaltered, richness of Africa.
The Western media often hides the Dark Continent behind an incredulous veil of interminable war and poverty. Although “quality of life” standards are much lower here and violence has destroyed many lives, people still manage to live and thrive through it. I suppose that it is difficult to inhabit any place in Africa and not understand why it is called the “cradle of life.” It was truly an amazing experience and one that I recommend to the more adventurous types. For those who enjoy looking from behind the glass, here are some more pictures from our journey…
This is Bernard Simiyu and his wife Gladys. One of the most successful farmers with OAF, Bernard has quite an incredible story. For many years, he drove a shipping truck from Mombasa to Zaire, several times a month. That’s a distance of about 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles) which is roughly the width of the United States. After witnessing several of his friends die at the hands of rebel soldiers, he decided it was time to go into farming (!). With the wealth that he gained from trucking, he was able to purchase 5 acres of land that lie right along the Butonge River. He has a rich and diverse farm consisting of maize, cotton, bananas, kasava, and more.
The children of Mukwa Primary. Pray for these kids. They are attending a school where the current and former headmasters have been participating in criminal activity and are corrupt to the bone. Not a nice thought but a very common thread in the Kenya public school system.
He works hard 24/7. That’s 24 hours a week, 7 weeks a year. Like most chiefs, he was appointed by relation. To make matters worse, he’s young and won’t be leaving office any time soon. I met so many farmers who would and could do so much more for the people of Butonge! Like this guy, Frederick, the assistant chief. Awesome dude and works hard all the time…
This little shop was about a 1/4 mile away from the flat where we stayed. Owned and operated by Indians, it’s seriously an oasis in the shopping desert of Bungoma. I became best friends with everyone in the store. They have an awesome bakery, stock a large assortment of beer, and take credit card. Thank you Yako!
Lake Naivasha. There are parts of the lake where the water is so full of flamingos that all you see is pink for miles. There were literally thousands of them! I think this is the same site where National Geographic does a lot of their “flamingo photo-ops.”
The trip back from Naivahsa to Bungoma was a total nightmare. All of our cars broke down and we were stranded in rural Africa for a couple of hours. After several futile attempts to chase down a taxi, we caught a mutatu (can you say “death-trap?”) to Eldoret and then finally got a taxi back home. What should have been a 6 hour trip took us nearly 14 hours. Despite a few near-death experiences, we made it home safe and sound.
Although we had somewhat of a bumpy finish to the whole experience, we made so many new friends and lifelong memories. This was truly the trip of a lifetime. It won’t be long before we return to Kenya but for now we will be catching up on some much need R&R in the States. Now if I could only beat this jet-lag!
We just hit the 7 week mark of living in Bungoma! My, how time flies! It has been a bumpy but adventurous road. They have begun rationing power here so it difficult for me to access the internet or power on my computer.
Even after nearly two months of being here, we still have yet to figure out how to avoid mosquitoes entirely. I can only liken them to the Twins characters from the Matrix movies. They somehow manage to disintegrate and then re-materialize on the inside of our net. That’s usually when I whip out the DOOM! bug spray or a trusty, old pair of shoes and make them disappear once and for all. Can you say, “There Will Be Blood?!”
Anna and I have been working tediously on OAF projects. While she’s been keeping up on her grant writing, I’ve been visiting with the local farmers and conducting one-on-one interviews with them. As you can imagine, this has been intensely rewarding while at the same time quite sobering. I’ll never forget all the worn faces I’ve met and callused hands that I’ve shaken over the last two weeks. For most Kenyan farmers, OAF is their last hope. By gaining access to seed and fertilizer for their farms, or “shamba” as they call it, many have turned their lives around and rescued their families from disease and famine.
I’ve met some amazing people, many of whom have never stepped foot outside of Bungoma. They work hard and dream about the luxury of travel, much like you and I work toward owning a home and retiring. I’ve seen the faces of malnourished children who battle malaria attacks, typhoid, and brucellosis as often as you and I deal with the common cold. I’ve met women who break their backs plowing their shamba and somehow manage to feed their family of 9 children and the husband who is too old to work - they do not know the meaning of the word “vacation.”
All that they care about is getting from one day to the next. If they are parents then their children become their life. Moms and dads will work beyond the point of exhaustion to pay for their kids’ education. These are the hearts and minds that make up the world’s best kept secret.
I met this man last week while out on a field visit. His name is Bernard and he bikes 250 kilometers (about 150 miles), 3 times a week in order to buy and sell tomatoes! He somehow finds the time to care for his shamba and for his family…
Here is a young girl named Leah. Her life is the antithesis of the typical African woman. She is 26 years old and is married with four children. She is in form 2 at Mukwa Secondary School, which is equivalent to sophomore year of high school in the states. Her husband works as a farmer to pay for her education and provide for their children. Leah’s life has been full of hardship and much difficulty yet, her only wish is to complete high school and go on to college in order to study Theology. You can watch series of video clips below to find out about her inspiring story…
On a lighter note, we finally caught Ratatouille! He was unharmed in his capture and the mouse-hunt was entirely humane. We lured into a bucket loosely propped up a pair of scissors attached to a piece of cheese. Here he is in captivity…
He escaped soon thereafter and is now pestering us once again. Reports have come in that he is hanging out near our trash can at night. Email me or call the US/Kenyan embassy if you see him.
We miss everyone back in the states and are anxious to get home. Our time has been great here but Kenya can be a harrowing place to live. Thanks for all of your support and for keeping up with the blog. It has been a huge encouragement to us.
We have had unstable power and internet for the past few weeks, making it quite troublesome to update my blog. I hope you have all been well. Here’s a little insight into our lives as of late. A lot of this centers around food so I apologize in advance for making you hungry…
Last Tuesday, we ate at Red Hat for Valentine’s Day. Our dinner was an eclectic buffet of Korean BBQ, soul food, and authentic Kenyan cuisine. Random. Was it gross? No, the whole thing was fabulous! Save for the mangy cat that kept us on our toes (not pictured)…
We had the privilege of eating dinner with some family friends last night. Henry and Lucy invited us into their home for a wonderful pork and chipote meal. We hung out with their daughters, some of their neighbors, and their baby Rrezza…
Henry runs an construction operation down the street called BigSmol. He said that he came up with the name during a time of great need. He asked God to give him either “big” work or “small” work and whatever task came his way, he would complete it. Today, BigSmol builds anything from large warehouses to small schools all over Bungoma. We are hoping to partner them with OAF in the coming days.
The rainy season is approaching and we are bracing for the inclement weather. A few days ago, we bought a gasoline generator as a backup power source. Three liters of super unleaded will generate about eight hours of power, which is just enough for Anna to complete her work each day.
After searching high and low, I was finally able to secure a five liter, gerry-can. I have grasped the phrase “Una penda wapi kwa jaza?” which when loosely translated means “Can I get a refill?” If I’m not looking for petrol, then obviously I’m looking for refill all my empty coke bottles!
Here are some pictures of us eating dinner sans electricity. If we look sweaty in the photos, it’s because it is very hot living near the equator. Also, the darkness shrouded the excessive amount of cayenne pepper that I had poured into the guacamole. Oddly enough, Coco-Cola only makes the burning worse.
When we have trouble with our internet or need help maintaining our house, our wonderful friend Joseph helps us out. He’s sort of like the “utility man” for OAF. He works here in Bungoma but his wife and baby live and work in Eldoret, which is a couple of hours away. We are very lucky to have his direct support.
In addition to keeping up on my songwriting and my art, I will also embark on some field visits next week on behalf of OAF. As part of a project to chronicle the lives of local farmers, I will be interviewing them individually with a guide/translator and reporting back to the powers that be. The stories will be posted online for you all to enjoy. I can’t wait to share all of them with you.
I trust that you all had a safe and sober Ash Wednesday. Drive responsibly this Lenten season.
We are headed into our fourth week here in Bungoma and the stay is beginning to feel much easier. Temperatures are finally cooling down as we prepare to enter the rainy season. The mosquitoes are still bothersome. Whenever we aren’t out-and-about, we watch movies on our laptop under the protective netting over our bed. It may sound silly but believe me, this has made a world of difference, both physically and emotionally.
We also have a new housemate. His name is Ratatouille and he is a tiny mouse that apparently feels very comfortable around people. I don’t have the heart to kill him. Not yet at least. Although, the lizards will probably get him before I do. Or maybe this thing will…
This dude works hard and may be the most unappreciated animal in the world. I would take him home with me but, last I checked they don’t allow these kinds of asses on the plane.
Last weekend, we made the 2 hour trek into Kisumu which is the only major town that’s near us. The ride was pretty slick save for a few dirt roads and potholes. Our trip was impeded several times by cows, goats and other farm animals (they seem to take the right of way out here).
We also saw countless men and women carrying stock piles of wood and bushels of sugar cane on their heads or on the back seat of their bicycles. Africa is home to a gorgeous, widespread landscape and the majority of the world’s savannah. It is easy to gawk at the vast, uncharted green hills and for a brief moment, escape the ubiquitous poverty that remains in the peripheral. Many people work very hard for a ridiculously small amount of money. It is so small that it cannot be called a wage.
The main airport is in Kisumu so the town actually feels more like a small city. It is very busy and hot and more like Nairobi than Bungoma. We stayed at the OAF estate with our Spanish friend Moises and his family. He does country scouting for OAF and commutes several hours away into Tanzania every week. As they expand further into Africa, OAF expects to start up in Tanzania with over 1000 maize farmers which is almost unheard of!
Through a mutual friend back home, we were also able to make some new American friends in Lisa and Eric Kjeldgaard. They work for a Modesto, CA based non-profit called Agape that rehabilitates street-children and reunites them with their families. They are doing a good work in a very difficult place. Plus they have eight children of their own. (!) Here’s a picture from the dining area of the restaurant we ate at called Kabuke Bay. Ritzy!
We cooked burgers for the OAF staff last week and they came out pretty good. There is a restaurant here where people can buy “safe” beef and pork from a small freezer. I’m told the butchers around town are sketchy and may serve “beef alternatives.” Not sure what that means but I’ll leave it up to your imagination…
Thanks for your many prayers of support. We are holding up well although we do miss the States considerably. We just got a new wireless router so I should be able to post lots of new pictures and more blogs this weekend.
I’ll leave you with this incredible song/video by a Brooklyn based band called Lucius. The song is titled “Go Home.”
I drove for the first time this week. The trip was not unlike our flight from Nairobi into Kisumu; the ride was bumpy and we may have done a barrel roll or two. I’m sorry ‘rest of the world’ but driving on the right side of the car (left side of the road) makes no sense to me (the metric system neither).
For last night’s outing, I took the backseat in order to video tape our regular drive/walk from our gate to the highway. We were on our way to Red Hat, which is a fine Kenyan BYOB establishment where the owner looks strangely like Gustavo Fring from Breaking Bad.
Sorry for the short vids. For some reason, I can only upload 2 min of video at time. (???) The internet connection here is spotty but I’m trying to blog more frequently by accessing it during the early morning hours. In the meantime, this should give you some more insight into where we are located and what life is like here…
The car turbulence was caused by potholes. They slow you down considerably. To make matters worse, there are thousands of them littering every path in the city, making it extremely difficult to avoid bicyclists, pedestrians, large trucks, and the local flora and fauna.
Fun fact - pot holes indicate a severe lack of government involvement and inversely relate to the concern for its people. Despite their annoyance, potholes are picturesque of the statehood of Kenya; a would-be-narrow path to success yet wrecked at its center.
The recent ICC indictments are cause for celebration. However, they tell a much more harrowing tale of a corrupt political system that is rooted in tribalism and plays like a broken record. Uhuru Kenyatta and his cohorts will stand trial for the war crimes they committed yet, the former deputy prime minister and son of Kenya’s “founding father” rejoices over having to resign his post in the Finance Ministry. Now that he’s got so much time on his hands, he can spend his time campaigning for the next election. He is now a viable presidential candidate. So tell me again, why do people hate Obama so much???
I’ll step down from the soapbox before it’s too late…Before I got sidetracked, I was meaning to talk to about our reason for going into town. FOOD.
If you ever come to Kenya, you have to try the Chips Masala. It’s basically a giant heap of french fries covered in a sweet, spicy sauce. Mmmm…so good. That dish alone is definitely worth the 2-day trip across the world. We were hoping to get into Uganda this weekend for a proper burger but alas, work responsibilities take priority this time. Maybe next month.
This past week was difficult but our health is good. Mosquitoes still love me. No malaria yet. We spent a few days without running water and electricity but survived with the help of a few locals and a couple of donkeys. These people work so hard to make sure we have water and power. I’ve never felt so guilty about leaving the light on or for taking a long shower! Hence, I no longer do those things…
Since I’ve had so much time on my hands lately, I’ve been writing a lot and sketching. I’ll try to share some of that with you while I’m here.
I realize that this is late but I have to pay tribute to her somehow. This is one of my favorite live performances of all time and I actually own this on DVD. Watch it if you know what’s good for you. RIP Etta.