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David H Sanders

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Finding “Busara” at Pendle Hill

David Hallock Sanders

David Hallock Sanders

Click below to see a short piece I wrote recently for Pendle Hill Quaker Center that describes my writing sojourns there. For writers in the Philadelphia area, I recommend that you check out Pendle Hill as a place for a personal writing retreat.



In Memoriam — Simeon Mwanga

Simeon Mwanga with his grandson, Josphat Lime Jiveti. December, 2011

I learned the sad news this morning that Simeon Mwanga, a man who helped care for my family in Kaimosi, Kenya, back in the mid-sixties, passed away this month at the age of 97.

I had the wonderfully moving opportunity in December to visit with mzee Mwanga at his shamba in Chepsonoi. It was my first time back to Kenya in 45 years, and I was amazed and deeply grateful to see him again and to be able to say thank-you for taking care of me so long ago.

My heart goes out to his entire family, and especially to his grandson, Josphat Lime Jiveti, who so kindly brought us together.

The news from Kenya, part seven

Chepsonoi, Kenya

I learn extraordinary news (and I don’t mean about the rat)

Ruth arrived early morning again with a pan of hot water and a thermos of boiled milk. This time, however, I was already up and feeling much better. I asked for eggs and toast.

I also finally asked about the sounds I was hearing in my room at night.

“Oh yes,” she said. “You have a rat.”

It was such a simple statement, yet so disturbing.

“Don’t let it bite you,” she added on her way out, “or you will need strong medicine. They use this place to store maize, you know. The rat is looking for food.”

I was still mulling over the rat business when Ruth returned, moments later, to announce, “The dean of students will see you right now. I will take you there.”

She waited while I got dressed and gathered my gear: paper, pens, tape recorder, digital camera, Flip video camera, and my borrowed cellphone. It felt quite strange to have access to all of that technology in such a remote area.

Meshack Musindi was waiting at his desk when I arrived, and when we were done with the interview, I returned to my room where I had arranged to talk with Ruth about her experience as a student. When I concluded my conversation with Ruth, I considered myself finally finished with my interviews. I didn’t know yet what I was going to write, but I was feeling pleased with the source material I had to work with, and I was also looking forward to turning my attention to my own work.

I was feeling much better physically, too, and hungry for the first time in days, so I fixed myself a real lunch – some cheese and crackers, dates, leftover rice and chicken from when I’d first arrived, a chocolate bar and digestive biscuits, plus two more glasses of that magical, fluorescent orange liquid.

More discoveries await

I had arranged with Silas to go on another guided walking tour of Kaimosi that afternoon, this time all the way down to the Galigoli River and dam. I went to his office to meet him, and got to talking with his boss, Josphat Lime Jiveti, the finance officer, about memories from when I was a kid in Kaimosi. I told Josphat I had lived in the house directly across the road from the College. When I asked about my old neighbors, Rose and Rufus Adede, I was told that both of them had died some years back. The news was quite a shock.

I told him I remembered two people who helped care for my family back then. One was a man named Musa. Both Josphat and Silas shook their heads; didn’t remember him. The other person, I told them, was a man named Simeon.

A jolt of electricity seemed to crackle through the room

“Simeon,” said Josphat, “is my grandfather! His name is Simeon Mwanga, and he used to take care of families in that very house where you lived!”

It seemed miraculous to make such a connection after all of these years. Then it got better.

“He is still alive, you know,” said Josphat. “He is 97 years old! He has been at the hospital for a foot infection, but he is back home now at his shamba in Chepsonoi. Would you like to see him?”

Of course I would! But I told Josphat that I was only going to be in Kaimosi a few more weeks. Did he think it would be possible to coordinate a visit in that time?

“I am taking you to see him tonight,” he said.

Josphat and Silas

From Kaimosi to Chepsonoi

Silas wanted to get lunch before we headed out on our walking tour, so he took me first to the dining hall to join the rest of the school. I had already eaten a large lunch and I was feeling quite full and still a bit queasy, so I told Silas I didn’t need any lunch. He wouldn’t hear of it. He returned from the kitchen with a metal plate stacked with a huge mound of rice and large chunks of tough, fatty beef. We weren’t leaving until I ate it all.

But finally we were off on our walking tour, this time down to the Galigoli River, where there used to be a saw mill and power station, both of which have long been out of commission, destroyed by neglect after the government took them over from the mission. We visited the Teacher Training College,

Teacher Training College

the chapel, the Kaimosi Friends Primary School (now a large day and boarding school on the site of my old two-room mission school),

Principal of Kaimosi Friends Primary School

the Kaimosi Hospital (picked up a package left there for me by Eden Grace, and visited with a nurse who worked at the hospital when I was a boy. I told her I had spent a night in the hospital for a broken collar bone back then, and she said yes, she remembered that. Possible, I guess – people I’d met so far have had extraordinary memories of those days.)

Nurse who thought she remembered me

I talked with people all along our walk (including a retired minister out with his cows and grandchildren), and nearly everyone who heard my story said, “God has brought you home to Kaimosi. You have come home.” It certainly felt as though I’d come home.

When I got back to the college, Josphat was ready to go. Evidently “tonight” meant “this afternoon.” We took the College truck and after less than an hour on a paved road we turned onto a very narrow dirt road down a very steep hill that eventually landed us at Simeon’s shamba with cows and chickens wandering the yard.

Simeon's shamba

While I sat in the front room – dirt floor, mud walls – Simeon’s wife, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren gathered to sit with me while Josphat went to dress his grandfather and bring him out to visit. His wife led us in prayer while we waited, again when Simeon arrived, and again when it was time to leave.

Simeon's family

With Simeon Mwanga

Simeon in 1966

The visit was short but emotionally powerful. Simeon was clearly tired and in pain, but he was also alert and communicated through his grandson his appreciation that a child he had cared for so long ago had come back to say thank-you.

For most of the drive back to Kaimosi I was silent, greatly moved by the ever-deepening sense of homecoming that has filled this trip.

Next: I go to the Hill of Vision

The news from Kenya, part four

Things take a downturn

Early on December 11, my first morning in Kaimosi, I was awakened by a knocking at the door. I struggled to get untangled from the mosquito net and into some clothes. Ruth was waiting for me with a pot of hot water to use for washing. She also brought a thermos of fresh milk, straight from the cow and boiled. She tried my water spigot, found it spitting a bit, and put a large garbage pail beneath it to fill. I suspected unreliable water was going to be the norm.

Caring for guests is part of Ruth’s work-study responsibilities as a student at the Friends Theological College (FTC). She asked me what I wanted for breakfast, waited while I retrieved the ingredients, then left and came back a short while later with scrambled eggs and toast. Electricity was back, so using an old Mr. Coffee machine left in the room I heated drinking water, spooned in some of the instant coffee I’d gotten in Kisumu, and added some boiled milk. Excellent!

There was another knock at the door. A man with a broad face and even broader smile introduced himself: Silas Vidalo, who works in the finance office. He grew up in Kaimosi, and already knew that I lived here as a boy, so we started talking about who used to live in what house and what has changed over the years. I learned that my old mission school is now a Kenyan primary school, the old Industrial Center is now a technical school, and other bits of information. His memory is phenomenal and, as I would find out, he knows practically everyone in Kaimosi. He said he’ll take me on a walking tour one of these days.

Out and about

In the meantime, I decided to go out and explore on my own. I wasn’t feeling any better that morning. In fact, I was feeling rather worse, but I didn’t want to stay inside. I greeted the guard at the FTC gate on my way out, and then slowly wandered down the road taking photos and short video clips of houses as I went. I felt very conspicuous – as, of course, I was. A picky-picky driver offered to take me somewhere and didn’t want to accept my no-thank-you (“Where are you going?! Why are you walking!?”) When I began filming the technical institute a guard started to move toward me. I took a few photos at the teacher training college, but stopped when another guard started to approach. Everything felt much more protected and much less open than when I was here as a boy.

I could also definitely sense the country’s economic stresses. Kenya in general is having a horrible economic time. The government is funding a war, and its own people are suffering. They’ve even stopped paying the hospitals, including Kaimosi hospital. Friends United Meeting may have to decide it can’t keep covering the losses. Much at Kaimosi felt run-down and under-funded. At the same time, new buildings and new institutions had been started. There was a definite mix of progress and stasis, but at the moment the stasis was depressing me.

I made my way back up to FTC where I had planned to join Ann Riggs, the principal, at her home for silent meeting for worship. I’ve been told that Ann’s living room hosts the only un-programmed Friends meeting in Western Province, and that the only other one in Kenya is in Nairobi. With my participation, there would have been a total of two of us for worship, but when I got to Ann’s house there was a note on the door telling me she had to make an emergency trip to Kisumu, so there’d be no meeting at all.

Eden Grace had explained to me that many Kenyan Quakers are quite suspicious of the western form of un-programmed silent worship, with its ministry by anyone who wishes to speak from the silence. Some doubt that God would actually speak through an ordinary person, and they fear it could be the Devil speaking instead.

I was sorry to miss meeting with Ann, but I had found the short trek down the hill surprisingly exhausting and I needed to lie down. I had hoped I would be feeling better after a night’s sleep, but I was actually feeling quite a bit worse. Intense nausea. Worsening headache. Loss of energy.

Back to bed

I went back to my residence. It was starting to smell worse, which didn’t help. The toilet wasn’t working, but that wasn’t the source of the smell. I couldn’t tell whether something was rotting somewhere, or if the smell was something in the structure of the building itself, perhaps rust, decay, or mold. But I resolved to adapt and not say anything, since it seemed quite rude to complain about a place where I was a guest.

I was feeling too weak and sick at this point to do much, so I crawled back under the netting and went to sleep. I woke occasionally during the day, tried unsuccessfully to read or write, then went back to sleep until I awoke and started the cycle over.

At some point I heard a voice calling my name and a knocking at the door. I slowly rose to investigate. It was Ruth, come to get ingredients to prepare for dinner. I knew I should eat something, but I doubted I could keep anything down if I tried, so I told Ruth I was fine without dinner tonight. I asked her if she knew anything about a large crowd I had seen on the road the night before, beating drums, chanting, and eventually being chased by police into the forest.  She said she didn’t, but would ask. Her guess was that it was related to Jamhuri Day – Kenyan independence day – which was the next day. When Silas had stopped by  earlier in the day, we’d made tentative plans to go see a local Jamhuri celebration tomorrow. He also said I could watch the national celebration and speeches on TV in the dining hall.

I was pleased my trip had coincided with Jamhuri Day and I was eager to see the celebration, but I wished that I was feeling better. I also needed to start scheduling interviews for the coming week as it was my only chance to reach people before the end of term. The way I was feeling, though, it seemed a daunting challenge to muster the strength to conduct a single interview, let alone several.

The water had stopped running again. My camera battery was dead, and my computer battery nearly so, but the electricity was still out so I couldn’t recharge . The smell had worsened and I was constantly nauseous, but at least I had identified the front sink room as the source, and I could shut that door, which helped a little.

Overall, I was feeling pretty low. After all of the effort over the past year to finally get back to Kaimosi, I didn’t want to end up sick! I was concerned about what I’d do if I became seriously ill. I pulled out my travel insurance paperwork to check my coverage for medical evacuation. That was too depressing, and I crawled back under the net to sleep some more.

Next: Jamhuri Day

My IndieGoGo buddies are awesome!

As a first step in fulfilling IndieGoGo perks, I’m posting personal thank-you shout-outs here and at IndieGoGo.com/Busara-Road. Of my 35 wonderful (and did I mention awesome?) funders, eight requested anonymity.

So here’s the honor roll of all you generous souls, in random order:

Janet Filante
Tom Moore
Don Ron
Mark Lyons
Steven Powell
Heidi Lewis
Alison Abdu
Jeanne Barron
David Wells
Priscilla Alvarado
John and Cathy Sanders
Tom Kecskemethy
Joe Canuso
Michael and Pam Sanders
Erin Sanders
Justin Sanders
Rob Sanders
Louis Greenstein
Denise Larrabee
Ann de Forest
Lucy Erdelac
Robert D’Zuro and Kate Sullivan
Douglas Gordon
Debra Schiff
Leslie Robinson
Carol & Jake Peterson

Anonymous (8)

(If I got anyone’s name wrong, or missed anyone, please let me know so I can fix it.)

 Thank you, all!

The good, and not good, news

First of all, THANK YOU to everyone who has contributed to my IndieGoGo project! I can’t begin to express how much I appreciate the support you’ve conveyed with your donations and comments.

I’m already two-thirds of the way to my goal, and I wanted to take a moment to let you know where things stand with this project. It’s a dizzying combination of both good and not-good news.

Busara Road

The not-good news:

Okay, let me get the pain over with so I can move on.

Just as I launched my IndieGoGo campaign, my computer suffered a fatal hard-drive crash. A literal crash – of the drive head and disk platter, as I have since learned – destroying the drive and making it impossible for the two repair/retrieval companies I’ve tried so far to gain access to my data.

The horrible, and embarrassing, part is that I’ve not been good about backing up. Scratch that…I’ve been bad about backing up. So I have lost a lot of files, including, yes, whole sections of the novel, plus extensive notes for revisions. I’m now waiting for a quote from a data retrieval center that has a sterile room where they can actually pull the platter and try to take individual bits of data off it, although there’s no guarantee of what I might get. The initial estimate? “Shouldn’t be more than $2,000” — an amount that, at that point, happened to coincide exactly with my IndieGoGo total.  Not a budgeted expense, to say the least. Plus, now I need a new computer.

But in the meantime, I’ve been pulling out hard copies of past chapters, which I can scan if I need to, and I’ve gone through my office trash and recycling bins for whatever scraps of past notes and edits I can recover. I’ve also gone through a handful of jump drives that I use haphazardly when I’m away on writing residencies. And as a result, I’ve been able to recover some rough version of all my chapters so far, and I can use the hard copies to update older files to get them closer to where they were before I lost them. It will be a lot of extra work, but it could have been a whole lot worse.

The good news:

“It could have been a whole lot worse” – that’s definitely right up there on my good-news list. When all the dust settles and I can get back to writing, I should be reasonably close to where I was before this happened.

I think of the wonderful writer, Pico Iyer, who lost everything he owned when his house burned down, including every scrap of his manuscripts and notes. Everything.  In an interview with Iyer that appeared in the excellent online journal, Wild River Review, Iyer said about that loss:

“When I called up my very wise editor in London, after making the appropriate noises of sympathy, he said, ‘You should celebrate. As a writer, this can only be good for you.’ What he was getting at, because he was wise, was that I relied too much on notes and that being freed from them might liberate me towards writing a more thoughtful and deeply sounded kind of prose.”

I am not nearly so wise as Iyer and his editor. Nor do I feel, at least at this moment, anything resembling liberation in the wake of this experience. But I do understand what I think is his point – that attachment is not good for a writer, and that being freed from it is. I imagine, too, that intense feelings of horror, panic, shame, loss, and despair may also be useful for a writer, but I can’t say that I’m exactly glad to have experienced them so overwhelmingly all at once.

More good news

But enough about that. The real, solid good news is that the work continues, and that this project moves forward. I have another sojourn coming up next month at Pendle Hill Quaker Center for three days and nights of solid writing. I have my first doctor’s appointment next month to begin the regimen of shots I’ll need to travel to Africa. I’ve received very warm and helpful guidance from people at the American Friends Service Committee here in Philadelphia, the Friends United Meeting office in Kisumu, and at the Friends Mission and Theological College in Kaimosi.

And definitely on my good-news list is the extraordinary response so far to my IndieGoGo campaign. I’m misting up with gratitude right now just thinking about it.

So please, keep spreading the word, and keep checking in for updates! Love and thanks to all,


My IndieGoGo “Busara Road” campaign is now LIVE!

David Hallock Sanders

My IndieGoGo campaign, “Busara Road: An African novel and Quaker homecoming,” has launched!

Click HERE  to check it out.

I’m turning to IndieGoGo to help me get to Kenya in December for an international writing seminar and a return to the Quaker mission where I lived as a kid. On my IndieGoGo site you’ll find a video and lots of info about the project, and a bunch of perks you can get if you contribute!  You can also leave me encouraging comments in the “Comments” section. Take a look, and let as many people know about it as you can.

Here’s the YouTube version of the video: