African Connection links are now in the sidebar to the right, just below the My Travel section.

Click here to see a La Crosse Tribune article about the mission in Uganda.

Friday, October 24, 2014

That’s Insane!

Four The number of people who rode every day and every mile of the 2012 tour in Puglia, Italy. Pretty much like being alone most of the time.

Thirty six The largest number of people on a supported bicycling tour in which I have participated. An OK number as Cycle America did a nice job on this supported ride.

Two thousand, two hundred The limit to the number of registrations that Cycle Oregon would accept for the 2014 Week Ride. Now that is just insane.

So of course I sat at my computer, fingers hovering over the keyboard, as the clocked ticked down to the opening of the ride's registration site.

That was on February 14. A mere 204 days later, after 55 hours on the trainer and 2,610 miles on the road with 140,535 feet of climbing, we rolled out of The Dalles, Oregon to start one fine week-long ride called The Magnificent Seven.

Was it really insane? Yes, but in an “I cannot believe how insanely well it went” sense. I’ll explain in upcoming posts about the ride. But here - one of the things I learned about Cycle Oregon (CO from now on) aside from its ability to plan and execute a ride with over 1,800 people to perfection: they provide a real service to the small communities that are visited during the tour. This includes financial support from a fund that you can read about here: Cycle Oregon Fund

This year's ride visited The Dalles, Dufur, Tygh Valley and Madras. We also visited the small town of Glenwood, Washington. One of the great things about the visits was the welcome we got. Cheerleaders, cheering crowds, decorated bikes, chocolate milk, ice cream sandwiches greeted us at various stops. Volunteers from the towns staffed the food service lines and provided other services that made each visit a real pleasure.

There were 8 days in the trip which CO designated as Day 0, Day 1, Day 2, ... , Day 7. Day 0 was when riders made their way to The Dalles to check in, set up bikes and generally get oriented. My Day 0 started in Portland as I had flown in the day before. I guess that would be Day -1 for me...

Saturday, September 6: Day -1
I had already bid adieu to my Domane as Bill had loaded it into the back of his car - he and Eileen were heading out to vacation and visit friends and relatives before and after the ride. I got the benefit of free bicycle transport. Not a bad start. I flew out of La Crosse, through Chicago and on to Portland.

Coming in to Portland, we had great views of Mt. Adams in Washington and Mt. Hood in Oregon, two of the Magnificent Seven mountains, at least one of which would be in view each day during the ride. I checked in to the Sheraton Portland Airport hotel and kicked back for the rest of the day.

Mt. Hood from my room at the Sheraton

Up next, Day 0: We arrive in The Dalles and get engaged in the CO experience.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

You Can Help

It is a big world. There is a countable infinity of activities we can pursue. Many of those bring us joy, satisfaction, growth and happiness. And many allow us to give those things in some measure to others. You will no doubt encounter many of these... it is almost inevitable.

I have a friend who said to me once, "If you throw a rock, you will hit a need." That is pretty much true, no matter where you are. So, when we are moved to do so, it comes down to grasping only a very few to actually do something about. These are those things that touch us in some special way. The villages in the GHNI Transformational Community Development program in central Kenya are that for me. And Attir in particular. It may be this way for you. If so, you can help. And not just help, but make a real difference, one that will last.

Click here to check it out. You can make a one time contribution of any amount you wish or become a sponsor for the period of the TCD project at Attir for just $15/month.

Thank You!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Walking Attir

Gents, take a walk!
              Hector Barbossa

No pirates here, but we would eventually encounter a fleet of ships of the desert. The meeting under the trees broke up and we left the relative comfort of the shade to walk through the village then to follow a few of the women on the trek to the stream where they gather water every day.

We take a walk

The first stop was a small, dark school – just one room lit only by sunlight from the open gable at one end, supplemented by rays that struggled through cracks in the mud walls. I had spent a few minutes chatting with one of the village leaders on the walk and when I got to the school, it took me a few minutes to make my way in; seems the entire group from the meeting had managed to enter and now pretty much occupied all of the very limited open space behind the area where the children were sitting. Kieran was already at the front of the class, helping the teacher show off her students. There were a few teaching posters on the wall and the teacher would ask the children a question. They would respond with answers, then Kieran would point to the relevant item on one of the posters. This building was built quickly during more difficult times so that the small children did not have to make the walk to the "permanent" structure a few kilometers away – not safe for them. Now the plan is to move that building to this site.

Temporary small schoolroom

Introducing himself...

We went on through the brush to that other building. Along the way, we passed another sign of what are the unusual, to us, activities that are part of everyday life here - burning down wood to charcoal sticks to use for cooking.

Smoldering pile of sticks, soon to be charcoal

The building we visit is now a cement floor with a tin roof atop poles rising from a short foundation wall. Talk was about how to dismantle the building and move the materials back into the village proper.

Building to be moved

A short discussion of the logistics

I am happy to report that the move has been completed and the building is now up, sided and, I imagine, ready for use...

New building - with siding - is now in place. Great work!

Next, a few of us set off to see Attir's water source. It is hardscrabble surface of dry, red soil and rocks through scattered rough, aggressive vegetation. At points it is a bit of a challenge as you need to look down to make sure you do not stumble over the rocks, but also need to keep your eyes up to avoid being impaled on all manner of thorny branches.

On the way to the water source...

Somewhere along the way, I thought to ask about wildlife in the area. Thinking, you know, about rabbits, ground squirrels, spiders and the like. The answer we got was something like this, "Only lions, snakes, hyenas and a few elephants." WHAT?! That put a new twist on things. Now, you had to look down, up, AND keep your head on a swivel. In response to questions about how often the villagers actually encounter any of these denizens of the bush, we are told that "we see the hyenas more than the others." Well, that was reassuring. Being well on our way to the stream, it really did not make much difference now, although we did work a little harder at not being the stragglers in the group!

There had been some talk about getting water from the river, I think. But when we arrived, we found something that would be a push to call a stream. More of a ditch, really; it was quite easy to step across it.

Attir's water source

The water was a murky brown color. While it was not unlike coffee with cream, it was not in the least inviting. There were clearly issues, not the least of which was the fact that cattle and camel herds frequented the area. One of the women had carried a 20 liter container and a smaller one, cut out to serve as a dipper. I am guessing she had already made this trip once today, along with many others from the village as they did the real work of getting water. This was a demonstration for us. She stooped down and began to scoop out water and pour it into the larger container.

Collecting water from the murky stream


I found this hard to take

The people here have developed a certain tolerance to the water. Of course, I would be incapacitated by issues from this water had I taken any and the people we were with were not. We were told that some of the villagers would boil the water, but all in all, it was taken just as this woman did, straight up. Seeing it happen, however, was so impacting that it felt like a blow to the midsection.

We continued on the main road where we would meet Martin who drove the Land Cruiser around from Attir. Here, the stream pooled up, maybe with the road acting as a dam. There was a visible green belt of tall, green grass. And, there was a herd of camels filling their tanks. During my previous visit, Wubshet told me that the camel herders would get upset over having pictures taken of their herds. Here, we asked the herders and found that these men did not mind.

Ships of the desert pausing for a drink

There will be more – quite a bit more, actually – to report about this day, but that I'll save for the next posting.

Clean water is something we generally take for granted. But we know that there are so many people all over the world who have to deal with water from sources not unlike the one in Attir. Perhaps that thought is overwhelming, so many places, so many people needing a hand up. But I do know one thing for sure, we can offer this hand up to the people we have met, in this case, the village of Attir in central Kenya.

So, before I continue on with the accounts of our visit, I will put up a special posting here, this to connect you with GHNI and provide you with a chance to participate in the TCD project with Attir. When you consider this, recall Margaret Mead's observation:

"Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have."

Monday, April 14, 2014

Pausing in Attir

Sometimes you need to press pause
to let everything sink in.

                                        Sebastian Vettel

It has been pretty much go, go, go for five days. And now, having arrived at Attir, we stop. After leaving the Land Cruiser, we greet a good number of the men and women of the village under some trees providing welcome shade. In this place we will discuss issues of a level of importance that is hard for us, who have so much, to fathom.

As we drive up, we see two women coming into the village, each carrying one of the ubiquitous 20 liter yellow containers they have filled with water at a stream about 3 miles away.

And we see a water tank sitting on a tower about 10 feet above ground. This must be a good thing.

Everyone seeks shade, whether it be under a tree or the water tank

Habiba addresses the good sized group from the village assembled under two trees whose branches intertwine, providing shade for the meeting. Speaking in Turkana, she is, I think, more or less introducing us and explaining why we are here. As I have said, this is the first visit by GHNI with people from outside of Africa. But Habiba, Wubshet, Martin and Dire, all representing GHNI in Isiolo, have been involved in the preparations for initiating the TCD program for some time now.

Habiba addresses the villagers in their tribal language – Turkana; she translates for us. This picture came from later in the meeting, after we had asked permission to take photos.

As is usual, the men and women congregate in separate groups, the women at or beyond the fringes of the shaded area. Habiba later tells us that the two groups are closer than normal, this in some way influenced by our presence.

Remember that quote I had stumbled upon on the long flight to Nairobi - "It's not about what is best. It's about who gets to decide what is best." Well, it starts here. One of the village leaders is going to tell us about the issues facing the village. Access to sufficient clean water is at the top of the list. No surprise here.

He is speaking for the village, we listen

Then, we hear about the tower...

"It's our statue," he tells us. No water in it. No way provided to get water in it. There are many sides to the story, I suppose, but here is the story from the viewpoint of the village: A group came in to offer aid. Arriving in newer, four-wheeled drive vehicles, they took pictures, made some assessments and apparently decided on providing the tank without a lot of emphasis on partnering with the village. Once it was erected, there was (little or) no additional contact. "We would like to tear it down," we are told.

Water tank in Attir. But, no water.

The challenge is to create a partnership to pursue development that results in measureable improvements in the quality of life that can be sustained without additional outside investment.

In addition to the obvious issue with water, we hear of the need for school facilities. Primary school children must make a dangerous walk to one of two schools in adjacent villages; we are talking about 2 to 3 miles each way. There is an abandoned church building a kilometer or so outside of the village. During the last period of fighting in the area, it was too far away to be used on a regular basis. Now, the village suggests dismantling it and rebuilding the structure nearer the village center. There, it would serve as a school facility. Seems as if this would be a good idea.

Jeff speaks for GHNI, validating the input from the village and addressing concerns that stem from the water tower, not by mentioning that issue at all, but by simply providing simple, direct communication of GHNI's intent and expectations.

Jeff waits to speak to the village, providing a promise and outlining expectations

I do not have a recording and there are only a few lines in my journal about the talk. So, this is the way I heard it:

Jeff explained that GHNI was ready to partner with Attir in a meaningful way. They were ready to provide "small support" to go along with the large amount of hard work that the villagers would put in to the projects. He talked about the plan to provide teaching, mentoring and encouragement, this to help achieve development that would make a long term difference; it would be aimed directly at the important issues we were told about; it would provide the village a chance to plan and carry out meaningful work that was to their long term benefit; it would be sustainable. He also reminded the villagers of the success that other villages in the area had already experienced as a result of to their participation in this same sort of cooperation.

Thanks to the wonderful work by Habiba and the Isiolo team, the village already has working teams assigned to each of the five areas of focus in the TCD program: water, wellness, education, nutrition and income production. Leaders in each area introduced themselves. Each team has 5 members: 2 or 3 men and, correspondingly, 3 or 2 women. So much of the success that will be achieved will come from the talents and commitment of these groups.

In my work with a number of missions and development projects, I have heard that one of the most important things to keep in mind is to not promise something you cannot – or will not – deliver. Jeff stood before the village and promised that GHNI would stand with them for five years. And reminded them that this was a promise with a condition, that they must do their parts. This was a big moment.

It is hard for me to gauge the villagers' feelings. They have said that the trees are tired of hearing a lot of stories. But, there is excitement at the promise. Before we break up, we are each given a Turkana name. Mine is Lokure. I am told it means "thirsty." However, some discussion later leads to an explanation that it is a bit more complex than that – it is meant to convey an ability to go a long way without water. As we are each endowed with our names, there is applause and laughter. There may be a joke or two in all of this, but it is all in the spirit of being accepted and honored.

Our pause in the literal travelling was coming to an end. We would let all of this set in in due time. Now, we set out to explore the village, visit the remote church building and walk to the water source.

Next: Walking Attir

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Road to Attir

Most roads lead men homewards,
My road leads me forth.

                  John Edward Masefield Roadways

We are far from home, having covered miles and miles in cars, planes, trains and busses; and one matatu. Today, we travel the last short distance to Attir, and end up farther from home than ever imagined.

On the way to Attir, we shared paved roads with motorbikes...

and cattle;

There were dark dirt roads with tuk-tuks...

that narrowed and changed to red...

then rough and rocky.

We went down, we went up...

until we reached the end of the road...

and the beginning of a new part of the journey.

To be continued...

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Road to Isiolo

“Roads are long; make them short
with good company!”

                                     Mehmet Murat ildan

Jennifer and Kieran join Jeff, Martin, Tony, Chris and me; Martin, with GHNI in Isiolo, has come to accompany us. He arranges for a matatu and we head out for Isiolo, the capital of Isiolo county in what was Kenya's eastern province (divisions in Kenya changed with the adoption of a new constitution in 2013). Big changes around Isiolo are anticipated as part of the development plans outlined in Kenya Vision 2030. We have our sights set on changes, too. Not as sweeping, of course, but certainly important to the villages participating in the GHNI Transformational Community Development program.

We have our own matatu for the drive to Isiolo

On the way to downtown Nairobi where we met Jennifer, we went by a bus. The bus was identified by these words, painted on the side under the windows: Kenya Prison System. Inside the bus, about 100 primary school students. You need a bus, you use the one they send you. Maybe they should consider driving prisoners around town in a bus proclaiming Nairobi Kindergartens.

Once again we travel the new, four lane, divided highway north out of Nairobi. It just like the interstates in the U.S. Except maybe for the towering speed bumps at the crosswalks. I am not making this up – there are crosswalks all along the way. And, pull off areas for the matatus where the drivers can drop off and pick up passengers. These areas also attract vendors who offer their wares by pushing hands full of fruit, meat on a stick or cell phone accessories through open windows. This all adds a bit of sporting challenge to drivers who need to maneuver around, through or over these obstacles.

There are other reminders along the way that we are not in Kansas anymore. Names of businesses and organizations have a special charm. A few of my favorites are:

Spring of Living Word Church
Seldom Nursery
Highway of Holiness Center
Hot Pot Hotel
God is Able and Boutique

I am still trying to sort out that last one. We also stop at an OiLibya service station (pretty sure we do not have any of those here) and see a Starbucks. Sort of.

OiLibya station in Kisumu; restrooms, snacks. And ---- Coffee!

Starbucks right next to the Chicken Inn; too bad, but we
did not have time to check them out.

Farther along, Jeff points to a cloud covered area in a range of mountains to the east. He says that the peak of Mount Kenya is in the clouds. This is typical he says; you almost NEVER actually see the peak. Sure, Jeff…

Jeff: "The Mount Kenya summit is almost ALWAYS cloud covered."

Once again, we stay at the comfortable Bishop Mensa Pastoral Centre. We go in to town and get oriented. Jeff points out the new construction recently completed or still underway. As noted earlier, the Kenya Vision 2030 program promises to bring some big changes around here. There is already an airport capable of serving international destinations – nothing yet, but it is there and ready. One of the newer buildings is a more contemporary hotel.

New construction in Isiolo. Scaffolding and supports are typical.

However, Isiolo, to me, still has the frontier town look. The paved, two-lane highway goes through it, but the brightly colored stores and shops are set very far back and fronted by dusty streets used in a rather free form way by vehicles, pedestrians and the occasional cow and goat. There are a couple of small grocery stores where we can buy bottled water, supplies for lunches in the field and even ice cream treats and cold coke!

Shops in Isiolo town

Jennifer and Kieran at SDJ Supermarket

Back at the center, we meet in the cool garden and talk about what to expect tomorrow – for those of us who do not live in Kenya, the day when we visit Attir for the first time. Habiba and Martin from GHNI in Isiolo are with us; they have worked hard to connect with Attir and set up the TCD program with them. Jeff goes over the elements of the program, which are: Water, Wellness, Nutrition, Education and Income Production. We learn there are about 180 families in Attir, living in homes that are scattered around in a fairly large area.

Meeting area at the Pastoral Center

Water, Education and Wellness are the high priority issues for Attir. Women in the village must walk 5 km (about 3 miles) to get 20 liter containers of water filled in a stream of dirty water, then carry the load back, most on their heads or on their backs, supported by a cloth sling wrapped around their foreheads. Primary school students must walk to one of two “nearby” villages – again, walks of about 5 – 7 km. There is a church building that was damaged in fighting during the Isiolo wars; the people in Attir would like to dismantle the building and move it closer to the heart of the village to use as a nursery school. Martin, a trained clinical officer, is teaching various wellness classes. He told us a few of the challenges he sees, which include a reluctance to use latrines.

The approach is to help the village with development in these areas, not by bringing in and executing big projects, but to offer small levels of resources, but a big dose of teaching and mentoring. For me, I know this means a lot of learning.

Thus armed with this introduction, we share dinner at the center before retiring to prepare for the first real day in the villages – the reason we are here.

My room at the center. The mosquito net is the best I've seen
I got it at Long Road Travel Supplies

En suite! Toilet and shower to the left

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Road to Kijito

It is a rough road that leads
to the heights of greatness.

                              Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Five hours of sleep seemed, when I awoke, to be enough. That observation would prove to be a little less than accurate later, but it was a beautiful morning and, there was coffee available in the breakfast room! I was up and ready to go.

Going to breakfast at the peaceful guesthouse in Nairobi

Dining room at the guesthouse

There would be three other team members arriving tonight: Heather, Chris and Tony. Tomorrow, we would collect Jennifer and Kieran from a hotel in downtown Nairobi and head north to Isiolo. But today, it was just me, Jeff and Wubshet. A visit to Kijito was the primary item on the agenda and after breakfast, we headed north towards the town of Thika.

At the end of today's road trip, I would find familiar ground, a unique and impressive individual and the foundations of possible future involvement in the work around Isiolo.

A major Chinese road building project has resulted in much improved conditions for driving north out of Nairobi. There is an exit ramp into geopolitics here, but I won't take it. Instead, let's travel on to the area of Thika where we get off of the paved, multi-lane highway and quickly onto a rough, dirt road in the direction of Kijito.

The road has some very picturesque stretches lined with trees blooming with brilliant red and pink flowers. We go over an earthen dam, then, as we get closer, through a security gate. Before we get to our destination, we navigate two ROUNDABOUTS! On this dirt road in an area in which if there were more than two cars moving at any one time would surprise me. The colonial effect in effect, I think.

The drive in to Kijito ... Flowering trees on the side of the road

... Crossing the dam

Kijito is not a village. Rather, it is a business run by Mike Harries. What do they do here in rural Kenya? They make windmills or, more to the point, windpumps. We are here to talk about a few issues that need cleaning up at the site in Gambella, the most recent graduate of GHNI's TCD program. A borehole drilled some time ago was topped more recently with one of Kijito's larger windmills which drives a down-hole pump. We would meet with Art, the well driller, for discussions which led to a plan to get a larger pump into the well and therefore set us up for the next stage in the project.

There were some sticky issues and I was quite impressed with way in which the discussions were handled. All parties stood on principles of their faith and a common desire to help people with great needs in the most appropriate ways. It was refreshing.

Wubshet, Jeff, Mike and Art discussing the well and pump at Gambella

While we were waiting for Art to arrive, Mike told us his story. Disclaimer: I listened attentively, but recall the state of "sleep deprivation induced stupor" mentioned in the Road to Kenya post. It wasn't quite that dramatic this morning, but, you get the picture. So, a few of the facts may be not quite right. However, we can't let that get in the way of a really amazing story...

Mike's grandfather went to South Africa in the late 1800's and moved to Kenya in 1904, setting foot there first at the port city of Mombasa. He was looking for a place to settle and LITERALLY walked around the country before finally settling on 5,000 acres in this area near Thika. No big deal, right? After all it is only 315 miles from Mombasa to Nairobi. Did you pick up on that comment that he WALKED!?

Bobs (that is spelled correctly), Mike's father, was born in Kenya as was Mike. Now I think Mike is a citizen of the UK, but has spent virtually his entire life in Africa. He earned a Master of Arts degree from Cambridge but came back to the farm after completing his studies. You can read more about the history and background of the operations at the Kijito / Bobs Harries Engineering, Ltd website.

Mike talked about a few of his experiences, which include him being an advisor to the president of Kenya. He also spent some time in the U.S., consulting with police departments in three states about their chaplaincy programs. But perhaps the most interesting story, considering our purpose in Kenya, was one worthy of the old BBC television program, Connections.

In addition to the above mentioned activities, Mike, a pilot, spent some time flying eye doctors around the country in order to provide much needed care for people otherwise disconnected from any source of medical aid. During his trips, he saw many cases of trachoma. This is a bacterial infection of the eyes and is often transmitted by flies in areas without good hygienic practices. Children with this problem have runny eyes which, if not kept clean, attract swarms of the disease carrying flies. Lack of clean water was one factor in the chain and Mike decided he needed to get involved.

There was a windmill design project that (I assume) about this time was looking for investment partners to finish work on a low cost, effect device and Mike was one of five businesses that joined. In the end, his was the only one that stayed on; he eventually made a large investment in development to bring a useful design into production, the business of Kijito.

Another branch of the story involves the family farming business. The family actually introduced pineapples to Kenya at the farm; coffee is also grown here. Mike told us that after he returned from Cambridge, he was engaged in the farming. However, while the coffee business was good, he found it unsatisfying in that it was the same process, repeated over and over every season. Plant – tend – harvest – etc. Whatever you do to grow coffee. I don't know. Mike wanted something where he could be more creative and certainly something that could be used to serve the people in the area. Hence, his interest in the windmill opportunity.

Kijito now has over 500 windmills in East Africa, most in Kenya. Mike gave us a tour of the factory and this officially became an engineer's trip! Following are some highlights of the tour in photos...

In the Kijito Factory... Left: Facing a flange; Top right: A Kijito technician machining a brass part for a water pump; Bottom right: A machine designed and built at Kijito for rolling a stiffening groove in windmill blades

Left: A brass down-hole pump; Top right: Wubshet examines the flame cutting station; Bottom right: The five sizes of windmill blades, color coded by length

So the end of the rough road with the roundabouts brought us to place that has risen up to offer much to the people in the water-poor regions of East Africa. Their engineering is not aligned with my areas of expertise ( analytical fluid- and thermodynamics) but because of my long association with the more mechanically oriented design engineers at Trane, I could appreciate the progress made in arriving at the windmills and pumps manufactured by Kijito. They are elegantly simple and, by all reports, reliable and effective. Plans for the one in Gambella offer the possibility that it will serve an even more important role than just the pumping of water. More about this as we proceed down the road...

You can learn more about Kijito using the link in the text above. You can also Like Kijito on Facebook; they are there as Kijito Windpower Limited.

We drove back to the guesthouse. I was able to unwind, but Jeff and Wubshet still had work to do. They would be back at the Nairobi airport to meet three more of the team flying in on separate flights. I stayed at the guesthouse since the car we had hired would not accommodate all of us and the luggage. I was only just a little disappointed!

It was dinner at the guesthouse tonight – tilapia. But this is not the tilapia we are more accustomed to. Most noticeably, we are offered the entire fish for our dining enjoyment. It was cooked in a way that rendered it pretty dry, but this provided a functional benefit we here in the U.S. do not often consider. The fish had been scored deeply and I found, after struggling to get a piece off with a knife and fork, that the scoring provided the option to break off french-fry like pieces with your hands. One real advantage to this approach is that you get pieces that are mostly bone free; and, if there are a few bones, you can feel them before putting them into your mouth. Brilliant!

Tilapia, African style!

Much later, Jeff and Wubshet returned with Chris and Tony. But no Heather. And in this, there is a lesson. When it comes to international travel, your passport is effectively expired 6 months before the date printed on the photo page! Heather had gone to the airport with her e-ticket confirmed. However, she was told that she would not be allowed to travel because her passport expiration date was only about 4 weeks out. No exceptions, no recourse. Bummer! But now you know – keep a close watch on the dates as you plan your next international trip.

Coming next: The Road to Isiolo