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.