Busara Blog

David H Sanders

Archive for Friends United Meeting

Back to the Future: A Kenyan Childhood Revisited

FTC Church Administration Class

With FTC Church Administration Class

Here’s an article I wrote about my recent visit to Kenya and Friends Theological College for the summer 2012 issue of Quaker Life, the publication of Friends United Meeting. It’s a rough scan and a bit hard to read, but I don’t find an online link to the article, so I’m afraid this is the best I’ve got. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

Quaker Life article page 1

Quaker Life article page 1

Quaker Life article page 2

Quaker Life article page 2

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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

Down to the wire with IndieGoGo!

Image representing IndieGoGo as depicted in Cr...

I’m posting this just hours away from my IndieGoGo deadline, and I’m thrilled to have met my goal – thank you, thank you, one and all! Keep spreading the word, too – even after the deadline, information about my novel and the Kenya trip will be on the site HERE:

My new Kenya plans are finally coming together. Here’s the latest:

I leave for Nairobi on Dec. 6, and through a freelance writing job (thank you, Nancy!) I’ve met Chris Steele with USAID in Nairobi who VERY kindly is providing me with transportation and a place to stay while there (the profile I wrote about him is HERE). Speaking of the kindness of strangers, Eden Grace with the Kisumu office of Friends United Meeting will meet me at the airport on Dec. 8, host me in her home, and drive me out to Kaimosi on the 9th! Extraordinary generosity. And Ann Riggs, principal of the Friends Theological College, has very warmly welcomed me to stay a full three weeks at Kaimosi Mission until I return to the U.S. at the end of the year. Thank you, all!

Other news, I’ve made contact with Bill Kahora, editor of Kenya’s main arts journal, Kwani?, and director of the Kenya writing program I was supposed to attend, and I’m hoping to meet with him and other Kenyan writers while I’m in Nairobi. I’ve also offered to write about Friends work at Kaimosi for U.S. publications, and have been in touch with the editors of Friends Journal and Quaker Life, so something may come of that.

And last, but certainly not least, amid all this craziness I’ve kept plugging away at the novel, and I’m on track to hand over the final five (rough) chapters of Busara Road to my writers group before I leave. Wahoo!

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,

David