Saturday, December 15, 2012

African harvest!

Dad and daughters at the family farm;
this is what successful business looks like!

Sao Tome & Principe, West Africa


Our friends show off the okra on their farm. Apparently, this stuff is prolific in the right climate. Dad and daughters say they walk through the okra section about once a week to pull down a fair number of pods; more than enough to eat and to sell. It's healthy stuff, of course.

This year's upgrade to the farm; they've run a water line to the northern edge. It lets them water the plants that are sensitive to the need. The climate is fairly polite about raining when you need it, but having a water line means you can maximize the return from your work.
Okra, beans, corn (maize), manioc, and a lot of things I don't recognize. Palm oil too. My friends are hard workers, and it was entertaining for us all to walk the farm; they're justifiably proud of their success. 
Mom and baby boy (left); he's grown a bit, we notice; about 6 feet tall now.  

They live maybe two miles from the ocean. Beautiful and still undiscovered by most of the world.

I don't take most of the photos you see, by the way. The kids do, usually, and sometimes their folks get in on the fun.
Mom and girls on an unoccupied beach; if it was anywhere near my house, I'd be here instead of home most days.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Little hands

A child's hand prints; she politely asked for help.

A precious young lady, perhaps ten years old, came to my window as I waited at a gas station. Under-nourished like so many, she simply and politely asked for money, as children here often do. I gave her what I had and wept as she disappeared into the slums. Her dusty little hands left their mark on the window sill. That's the picture I could bring myself to take, but I can still see her face, and I can still hear her voice. It's been two years, and I guess I've chosen not to forget.

Among the places one might go, there are
some where they perhaps shouldn't.
In Africa, there are many pictures that I can't take.  The  weak and fragile are not a photo opportunity for me. I find it difficult just to meet them. The first time was a shattering experience; and afterwards, you can't just walk away.

Elsewhere, gracious folks are glad to be part of your photos. Here, cautious but friendly kids; a couple of them have the courage to wave at their visitor. This is Balbala, the largest slum in their country, and a somewhat dangerous place, we discovered. Should have paid closer attention to the area security info online, I guess.

With friends watching TV

Elsewhere in Africa with friends one evening, sitting on the floor and watching television; there's just the one TV channel in this country.  One of the kids took this picture of us. Among the world's nicest folks, they are gracious and willing to make a place for a clumsy foreigner in their midst.

Below with my adoptive family, little children enjoy an incredibly perfect afternoon at the beach; they as yet have no idea about the years ahead or the difficulties they will face. For today, sunshine and ocean, family and time to play.

In Sao Tome & Principe, a beautiful island country in Africa, 
kids bounce in the surf.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Wise Child

Kids from the rowdy neighborhood.
Not-so-old friends,
West Africa.

Africa teaches.

In some ways, children are wiser than adults, it seems.

A child can be happy in the moment, provided just a few things are satisfied.  If they're loved and fed, clothed and healthy, it's easy for them to relax and enjoy the moment.

Life is much more difficult than that for most folks, of course, and not every day is joyful, yet the children ... well, in a given moment, it seems they're able to enjoy themselves and each other.

Showing off, just for fun. 
Perhaps the secret is in a child's trusting heart.  They're cared for.  Mom and dad are watching out for them.  The community watches over them, too.  It's safe and secure.

Except you become as a little child, you'll not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Now that's an odd statement.  Is it just pretty words, or is there something of substance there?
Samuel and the kids clowning around
for the camera.  Kenya.
Dear friends on the desert's
edge.  Djibouti.

What might there be in the willingness of a child, the quick openness of their young hearts and minds, that would commend them to all the rest of us as role models?

If we asked, would they tell us?  :)

Mister, take my picture!

Mister, mister!  Take our picture, mister; this is my brother and my cousin.  Just for fun. 

It was five years ago this week that I met these young fellows.  Five years and maybe 25,000 pictures ago; and everything has changed.

This is Felicia in the middle of her daddy's field.  There's okra and corn, tomatoes and cassava, and other mystery plants.  Her family is a part of ours now, along with several dozen others here.  More in Ethiopia, precious friends.  More in Djibouti and many more in Kenya, and they're such a joy.


Who'd think five years could unveil such a change.

This is a youngster from a rowdy community of delightful people.  Hard working, tough minded, and graciously tolerant of the visiting white guy.  Over the years, we've become friends, sort of.  I'm the semi-official photographer for the community.  We print hundreds of photos for the various communities and families.

Go, see for yourself.
Or lend a hand!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

No Two Places

No two African places are the same, of course, and the peoples are broadly diverse.
Joseph and his family
are Mijikenda.
Barack Obama's family comes
from the Luo tribe
I've met some of themWhen they find
out I'm American, they ask if I know
Obama, and they're a bit surprised
that I haven't met him in person. 
The 40 million folks of Kenya, for example, are variously Kikuyu, Luhya, Kalenjin, Luo, Kamba, Kisii, Mijikenda, Meru, Turkana, and Maasai. A few from other ethnic groups (Arabs, Indians, and Europeans) are there as well.

Are there differences? Why, yes there are.  (And there are between 40 and 70 tribes, depending on how you count, they tell us.)

The Mijikenda (Swahili for 'nine homes') are a group of nine sub-tribes.  They settled in Kenya in the 16th century, and now spread along the coast from Somalia in the north to Tanzania.  The Mijikenda are considered the best cooks among the Kenyan tribes, by the way.  Rice cooked in coconut milk is a specialty down south among the Digo sub-tribe.  Not bad, really.

Ask them. They'll tell you all kinds of stories about their history and culture.
Abdul and his family are Arab.
Isaac, my friend and personal
adviser, is Maasai.  He tells
me which of the local
vendors are crooks.
As varied as they are culturally, they all get along quite well together. At least regular folks do. The crooks and the politicians (but I repeat myself) seem to be the annoying exception.

Mijikenda kids in Shanzu.
East of Mombasa, children play jump rope with a vine they found.

Oh, the young lady in the 'AFRICA' photo up top is from Djibouti and a nice family.  They're friends of ours too, and from Somalia, I think.

You should go and see for yourself.  Coastal Kenya and the highlands are wonderful.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A reason to ...

Young friends from the rowdy neighborhood, Sao Tome & Principe
Worn out at the end of the day.  Ever get discouraged and tired of trying so hard?  There are reasons to go on.  Each one has a face, each has a name, a family, ....  they're our neighbors.  It would be easier but such a shame to just pass by on the other side of the road.

In this tiny country on Africa's west side, the basics of being fed are mostly met, though the effort to do so is pretty demanding.  Balanced nutrition is still needed.  So are schools, clean water, health care, and more.

The great burden is borne by moms and dads, as you might imagine.  Too many are illiterate and unskilled, and the local economy offers little opportunity.  Their great desire is to care for their children and to give them a chance at a better life.

Walking several miles for water, local folks struggle
just to survive in Kenya.  I took this picture last year;
rains have failed again, and the need is greater yet.
On the East coast of Africa, the continued drought has brought such concerns to a critical stage; there's no water, little food, and today, immediate needs.  Want to lend a hand?  We have direct access to 40+ children (our school sponsorship group) and their families.  We'll cover the administrative costs and your gift will go directly to the need.  A $100 gift will feed a couple of families for perhaps a month, or it will buy a truckload of water.  Give me a call; I'll be glad to plug you in. 

Despite the distress of today, folks everywhere receive us graciously.  They're glad for friends who will labor with them through the hard times.  Just knowing them returns more than can be described.

Want to be a hero for a day?  You can, you know.  :)  Or a month.  Or more.

Abdul and Samuel (by the car) sort through things for the
school kids.  (Photo from last year's visit to Guruguru)

I'm on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can't be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.

(Often, music says things a little better than a narrator could; this particular song from the past points at a deeper good than perhaps we realized when we first heard it.)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Kenya's Need

It's the beginning of October, and coastal Kenya is suffering. Our dear friends there are scrambling to survive. These are folks we've met personally.

These kids (left) were among the first we encountered in the Tsangatsini region north of Mombasa.  We began with 10 kids who were not in school because their families couldn't afford it. Uniforms and fees let them attend and receive one meal a day. For some, it's the only regular food supply they have.  Soon, the number grew to 30+ and later to 42.  We added just the ones who were the most in need, because we're stretched thin.

I've been in the village. It has
been an extraordinarily difficult
place for the folks who live
here. Guruguru is the village
in the pictures.
The rains have failed for two years now, and crops have failed, dust is everywhere, and the animals are dying. Our friend who lives there, Bishop Samuel tells us,

"At the moment we have 42 children; I wish we can reach 50 children. The families are very poor, no employment, most are illiterate. The rains failed for two years now and famine is always in this area. The children need uniforms shoes school bags pens; Wakili said he had lost his books; I will buy him new ones. Food prices gone up making more difficult. By his grace we will do what we can."

We scrambled and sent additional funds...

"Thank you Brian. I bought some food to help. I found 5 children not going to school for they had not eaten. The government has not sent relief food; it's very dry now. People are drinking salt water; the fresh water pipe project not yet complete. animals dying."

"I saw women who walk 20 Km to bring home water in buckets and jugs. The land is total dry; no vegetables. dust, animals dying. A man said he sold his one cow for 3000 shillings, equivalent to $35; normally it would cost $300; a great loss."
A truckload of water saves a hundred 3-hour trips on foot or bicycle to the nearest water supply, and this is clean water.

We have direct access to the village through Bishop Samuel and his church staff. We know them well and trust them as partners in the work. They give us a full accounting of the funds we provide. If you'd like to join in the effort, it will be deeply appreciated. It takes about $10 to feed a child for perhaps a month. We need to cover the next few months until aid arrives, and the water pipe project is completed. Leave a comment at the end of the blog with your contact info; I'll get in touch immediately. Thanks so much.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A tiny African country ...

Along the road from the airport where you arrive ....
In Sao Tome for the umpteenth time, the sun is shining, it's 85 degrees, and I'm warm all the way through.  Nice.

Sao Tome & Principe is one of the world's smallest countries; a couple of islands in Africa's Gulf of Guinea.  Blessed with a tropical climate and beauty, the place is unknown to most folks.  Poverty encumbers most of the population, but the prolific forests produce bananas, breadfruit, jacque, and mangoes.

It's the end of the school year here at the elementary school.  The principal and teachers begin final exams for the fourth graders.  Today, it's Portuguese language, grammar, and literature.  Tomorrow, it's math, science, biology, and geography.  They have 6 years of government funded education.  After that, it's expensive and most don't have the opportunity.

Outside the city, friends walk me through their newly expanded garden.  What do you call it when it's about 500' square?

They've put a lot of work into cultivating the land they have.  Bananas, corn, green beans, okra, manioc, and several things for which I don't have names.

Manioc (or cassava root, photo left) is a big deal in Africa.  It's the basic diet for around 500 million people.  Good for carbs, no protein though.  Here in Sao Tome, it's a fill-in with the rest of what the land produces. 

Oh, and sugar cane.  It grows well here.

Dad has run a water line to the area so they can irrigate during the dryer season if they need to.  They're on the equator and on an island, so the rain is fairly reliable, fortunately.

Five kids, all but the youngest help in the fields.  The youngest would gladly join in, but she's just too small.  Three schools for the kids, one a mile east, another two miles west, and the last a couple of miles beyond that.  There's a bus for the two farthest schools.

 At the southernmost shore of the island, an incredible beach is at the end of a long trail through the forest.

Out for a day's adventure with a bunch of local teens, we've made this trek before, but they like it.  The palm trees provide a mid-day drink and snack.  A couple dozen coconuts go in the back of the truck for mom when we get back.

Nino and Mulere down by the shore

Gorgeous place, wonderful people.  Here's how we wound up here.
A good place for adventurous tourists?  Absolutely.  For the faint-hearted?  Hardly.  This is the road less traveled.