Friday, December 07, 2007

In Praise of Grandmothers

Just one more blog inspired by traveling with Ema, lest you all think the other boys have disappeared. During our trip to Moshi, I had a chance to meet Ema’s maternal grandmother, the woman who raised him. We got off the bumpy dala dala and Ema went to go get her in the bean fields. When I met her she wore a faded skirt and headwrap that had once been brightly colored. Her hands and feet were caked with black dirt. She put down her hoe to hug me and thank me for being a mother to Ema to replace her daughter, taken by AIDS. It took all I could do to hold back tears which I knew would be so strange to her. She walked far ahead of us on the way to her house. We walked about a half mile, slogging through rich earthy mud, so unlike the sandy soil of Bagamoyo. Each house along the way was made from red brown earth and trees and everywhere there were mango, avocado, and coffee trees and 5 or 6 different kinds of banana trees.

She is 87. She birthed Ema’s mother when she was 47, her last of 8 children. Only 2 are still alive, but she cares for most of her grandchildren. She never went to school herself, but she tries so hard to keep her grandkids in school. She now has one in primary still and two in secondary. Although the schools they attend are not of great quality, the kids feel purposeful and they are learning. At home I remember people loving grandparenthood for the precise reason that the responsibility level drops and it’s just love, love, love. But to be 87 and still having the breadwinner instinct cranked up to full volume? Retirement? What is that? She tried to take MY back to relieve me of my load when we were walking.

Antiretroviral therapy is changing the face of HIV/AIDS in Africa, but it will take a long time. These grandmothers, and aunts and uncles are still the ones on the front lines doing most of the work. Bibi Issa, Bibi Idrissa, Bibi Fatuma, Bibi Omari, Gertrude in Uganda are just a few of the outstanding grandmothers and great grandmothers who have helped us to help kids. Asanteni.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Dromedary Drama

By the time I walked down to visit the camel (See below), the verdict had already been reached to spare her life. I got two stories as to the reason why. The first story is that the camel is pregnant and therefore was not sacrificed. The second story is that she refused. I like to think that she is pregnant and that’s why she refused. In any case, she is still there grazing away in all her glory. I regret my earlier neutrality but revel in her triumph nonetheless. A cow was called in as apparently, no bovine consent is required. Prayers were sung again and a relatively subdued feast ensued.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Camel Country

We were driving home from the bus stand the other night. Caito turned the corner onto our street and there was a huge camel! In front of the massive animal, sitting on the porch of a house, were about 15 people and a bunch more kids. They just watched in silence from afar. We laughed at the strangeness of it and drove down the road.

That was almost three days ago and what’s even stranger than the camel is the fact that the The Baobab Home has been almost completely silent since the camel got to town. All the kids in the neighborhood have been camel gazing. They visit, touch, listen, mock and feed the camel. Naturally, I wanted to know where she came from and what she was doing here. It’s been hard to get an answer that is not shot out in rapid fire Swahili from the sheer joy of the experience, but this is what I got.

She is a sacrifice. About once a year someone in Bagamoyo decides he wants to thank God and have a party. The going rate for a camel in these parts is reportedly over $1000, but apparently it is not bought but donated to a Muslim religious teacher. Right now we are in the buildup period. The camel is admired and loved and taken for long walks that are more like parades. A banner is carried in front of her and a stream of kids follows her everywhere. Rarely do people climb on board the camel, but occasionally. From what I have been told, the men in charge talk to the camel and read to her from the Koran. They pray over her and they pray in her honor. They cajole her. They ask her first very politely if she wants to be sacrificed. The amazing part is that everyone I have talked to says that the camel eventually cries true tears, and lays down in agreement. It turns its neck and is cut. Many people don’t stay to watch that part, but then a feast ensues with camel meat for all and special spiced rice. Christians and Muslims are all invited. Absolutely anyone is welcome until the meat runs out. What happens if a camel does not agree? Most people said that you have to continue to “bembeleza” the camel, to soothe it as you would a cranky child. A few people remember cases of when a camel would not agree and was forcibly cut. When that happens, the meat does not taste as good.

Last year the man who organized the event added his own excitement…he had a “dream” that a ring was inside the camels stomach. Lo and behold a ring was found (or produced) when they cut the camel’s stomach. Everyone cheered.

As I write this, there is talk that the camel is pregnant, in which case the sacrifice is off and someone has to come up with a cow in place of the camel. My instinct is to root for the camel of course, but I sit here and debate whether it matters much. I’ve seen a bullfight in Mexico and a massive pig slaughtered in Spain after being chased through town. Chickens killed by the hundreds for fast food in the USA and turkeys are decorated and praised on a table. I could get high and mighty and claim vegetarianism, but I love fish and squid. I guess that I will just attend the event for as long as I can and decide based on fact not theory. ...developing.....

Friday, November 23, 2007

In Memorium

Naima, daughter of Mama Mwajuma, passed away 3 weeks ago. Just 36 hours before she died, her mother had taken her to a traditional doctor who cut her uvula- the flap of skin that hangs in the back of the mouth. Her mother gave her some kind of herbal salve by the spoonful, reportedly to stop the bleeding. We believe that this is what killed her, however despite our help, her mother had been taking poor care of her.

This was my first time hearing about uvula cutting. I believe that it is not that common anymore however I don't know the frequency because people normally don't admit to that kind of practice. Naima is not the first baby to die shortly after the cutting. We will now be more vigilant so that it doesn’t happen to any of our kids in the future.

Rest in peace, sweet Naima.

Help Emmanuel for Free...or Sell Your Vote to Obama!

Emmanuel, Justis and I are back safely from Moshi Tanzania, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. One of the reasons we went was to continue the search for Ema’s father. Thankfully, we got a little closer, but we have a ways to go. Ema visited the farm where his father used to work in Rongai clear on the other side of Kilimanjaro. The owner said that he remembered “Mzee Juma” very well, but that he left a long time ago- about the time that Ema’s mother and father split. He told Ema that Juma was a good tractor driver and that he most certainly stayed with farm work when he returned to Kenya. The man advised Ema to check the tea plantations in Kenya. The most helpful news though, was that we got confirmation from someone who saw him living in Bungoma, Kenya just four years ago. Frustratingly, Bungoma is just a little ways away from Busia, where Caito and Ema went last month.

On December 27, 2007 Kenya holds its national elections. We want to get notices up at every voting site that we can. We have several targets:

Foreign volunteers in Bungoma (Habitat for Humanity, other orgs)

Foreign travelers going to Mt. Elgon (notices should be posted on travel boards such as and thorntree)

Government officials whom Caito and Emmanuel met on their Kenya trip

The Kenyan Embassy in Dar es Salaam

Any and All people residing or working in Bungoma who have emails online (more people than you would think)

We are tapped out on funds and we are reaching out to you, our supporters, to help us do our research the good old fashioned way, on the internet! If anyone wants to help, please just do web searches (using google and non-google engines) for Bungoma and collect all the emails or phone numbers that you can for NGOs, local government officials-anyone with a pulse in Bungoma. We will then send a letter or call them. If they agree to help we can send a notice to print and be posted at the voting polls. If anyone wants to post on the travel web boards, that would be a huge help.

Emmanuel remains hopeful. When I spoke to his grandmother, the woman who raised him, she told me that Emmanuel has always been determined to find his father. As a small boy he set out alone for Nairobi to find him and was brought home by police.

BONUS QUESTION!! In my research, I found that Emmanuel’s father belongs to the same tribe as none other than Barak Obama. That makes Ema and Barak both "Luo". Anyone who happens to be chatting with Mr. O can tell him that he can buy my vote for the cost of an all expense paid trip to Bungoma in service to a fellow tribesman.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Emmanuel Closer to Finding Family

I wish you could all sit and listen firsthand to the stories of Emmanuel’s journey to find his family. Caito and Ema both loved the trip so much and can’t say enough about the people they met in Kenya and the hospitality that they were greeted with. The people of Busia went out of their way to help Ema and they had everyone from local officials, tribal leaders and taxi drivers on their team. Although one family was suspicious of his motives(did he want school fees or other support?), another family wanted to kill a goat and welcome him home just because they share the name Wasweta.

In my last post I wrote about a lead. Unfortunately, it was a false one. Although they haven’t found his father yet, they uncovered so much new information about who he is, and who his brothers are. On the last day of the trip, when everyone’s hopes were in the basement, they found out that Ema was not born in Kenya after all, but just across the Tanzanian border in a spot closer to Moshi. They learned that his mom had a drinking problem and Ema’s father tried to take in all three of his sons, but Ema was too young. They learned that Ema’s father was/is a tractor driver, and they even learned the name of a man he used to work for in Tanzania. They learned that for most of the trip they were operating under a false assumption about his tribe, based on his name. They now know for sure what tribe he belongs to in Kenya and where they are based. The problem was that they had to get Ema back to school and could not set off for a new town on the last day.

In November, we think we can send Ema back to Longai, Tanzania where his father was last known to be living. We are confident that he will find his brothers and/or father there. It's Tanzania, and we must wait.

Emmanuel and Caito want me to thank The Townsend Family along with Shane Hofeldt and coworkers. They add that "We are still trying. No retreat, no surrender"

Thursday, September 20, 2007

News from Kenya

Just got a text message from Caito and Ema in Kenya. They have been giving out cards with Ema's story on it and a phone number. They got two text messages today from a teacher they met in a village near Busia:

1)Hi I am looking and i have found somebody who says he knows that man. I will let you know as soon as I can contact him.

2)I have established that the guy Richard Juma belongs to a group of people that live far of from this area. By tomorrow afternoon i will give you a good report.

Hope is alive an well in all of us! Caito and Ema are doing fine. Their trip west from Nairobi was not easy though! It was supposed to be 6 hours but it took almost 18. The roads were very very bad. They said that they have met so many nice people along the way.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ekesaa Goes Home

We know him as our beloved and incredibly kind Emmanuel, or Ema for short. About 18 years ago though, (he doesn't know his true age) he was called Ekesaa. He doesn’t remember Kenya, where he was born, nor does he remember his father or two older brothers, but he very much wants to find them. His Tanzanian mother left Kenya with baby Ekesaa and took him to live in Moshi, Tanzania, renaming him Emmanuel. Ema's mother told him very little about his family, but did say that he should go look for them one day.

When Ema was about ten years old, angry and hungry, he stowed away on a bus going to Dar es Salaam. When he got caught, a kind woman paid his fare. He told her he had relatives in the city which he didn’t. He lived on the street for years in several different shelters. Once he made it home to Moshi where he found his mother “waiting for him”. She told him that she wanted to see him before she died and she died shortly after. He went back to Dar es Salaam. In 2003 he started school in Bagamoyo. He passed the national examinations to start secondary school in 2005, but the shelter where he was living could not afford to send him. At that time The Baobab Home took him, along with the guys who had become brothers to him, as part of our family.

Last December when we sent Ema back to Moshi for the holiday we encouraged him to get all the information he could about his family. He was told his father’s name ( Richard Juma Wasweta)and the names of his brothers(Unyango and Samson).

Caito and Ema left yesterday for Kenya by bus to begin the search for Ema's father and brothers. They didn't have many facts other than names. They know that Ema’s father fought for Tanzania during the war with Uganda during the Idi Amin years. Caito called this morning from Nairobi to say that they already determined what tribe Ema belongs to based on the name Wasweta. The tribe is from the town Buseto just outside of Busia on the border of Uganda. They were told that the tribe is well organized and even has a registry. Finding them at all will take luck, but getting the tribal connection is half the battle. All three alive after 18 years in the wake of HIV/AIDS and massive flooding is a lot to hope for, but we are all hopeful anyway.

We are so grateful to Jill and Alan Townsend of the U.K. and Shane Hofeldt and his coworkers in Maine, USA. Together they are paying for bus fare, food, printing costs for flyers and notice cards, hotel costs and any “tips” to people who help along the way. Thank you for making this possible!!