Monday, August 31, 2009

I went to Molo

I’ve got to start blogging regularly again – I have been asked by many people to sum up the experience and initially that was quite difficult. I think it was the jet lag and I was so busy it was just too hard to process initially. After all it was a complicated trip and also I was there for a month, the purpose/s for going were complex and many events occurred. Anyway I thought I’d start with few bullet points.

I went to Molo, Kenya to volunteer at the Chazon Children’s Centre here’s what happened:

I met some incredible people whom I now love deeply.

I met 72 kids who loved nothing more then to be close to me.

I met and interviewed a brilliant man running for the Kenyan parliament – very courageously opposing the massive corruption that grips Kenya.

I was kidnapped on the first day Kenya.

I went into Casino and filmed Molo’s slum.

I saw kids whose hair was reddish brown for lack of nutrition.

I saw many kids walking around the debris and rubbish with no shoes.

I saw men drinking a locally brewed illicit drink meant to intoxicate in a matter of minutes.

I saw the shallow roadside ditches where these same men sometimes pass out in only to drown in a few inches of rainwater.

I met a couple (the directors of Chazon) who have sold their own profitable businesses, sold much of their own property and sacrificed themselves to try to get kids off the street.

I preached at a local black Pentecostal church.

I was approached by a prostitute offering sex for the remainder of a half eaten bag of popcorn – she was 9 -10 years old

I met other IVs from the UK, Spain, Canada and the US.

We hauled hundreds of gallons of water up two flights of stairs every two to three days.

We lost electricity regularly.

I ate like African royalty, we had meat often (mostly lamb) and I was introduced to African tea. It’s amazing stuff and an important cultural activity.

I introduced my African hosts to American Tea and made sure we always had some on hand – they loved it! Coca-Cola

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Almost over the jet lag

It's been pretty bad with the jet lag but I'm nearly back to normal. Today I spent the whole day working on logos for the Chazon group and also organizing the shots from the film - it's quite time consuming. Tomorrow will be much the same routine. The space that the film takes up (measured in GB's is quite taxing. I will need to invest in some more storage quite soon. The footage shot at Melon is less then adequate, this is quite disappointing. I was hoping that maybe if that footage was good I might be able to get the film done all the quicker (i.e. avoid the trips to Peru and Jamaica). The need for the potential funding in Molo, Kakaru is so great that I didn't want to add additional delay. Not going to Watoto Wa Baraka is weighing heavy.

I just watched the footage of the cement work being done in one of the classrooms I paid for a good deal of this - it was great to see the contribution being put into such good use. I wasn't able to get back up to the classroom to see the final results but I'm sure it was great. Alicia was helping with the application of cement to the walls. The men working there were quite impressed. I've been told that white men don't usually get involved with manual labor, so a white woman doing such heavy work was quite out of the norm.

My weight was down quite a bit in Africa - lost 20 plus pounds but I have gained back nearly 15, tomorrow I'l start back into the low calorie routine again :)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

back to the modern world

I got home late on Wednesday - everything made it back safely (including me) and I got through all the security check points, but with a good deal of scrutiny. It's almost 2:00 am and I will be getting up at 4:45 am to go and do my first run in about 30 days. I got to get back into the routine again.

I'm not sure where I stand now with the down200 film. I feel if I don't (or can't) get the surgery to remove the skin I can't complete the film. I will press again in that regard with docs here at Mayo. Honestly though, I'm already starting to think I want to get the International Volunteer film done first, it's just far more important. I'll be back to work tomorrow also... this will of course consume the majority of my time. When you add the exercise time to the mix there isn't much time left over. I'm so rusty with Final Cut I think I will attempt to get a friend from the DVXuser group to give me a refresher course one of these weekends. I trained and used it many years ago and the program is quite a bit different.

I never made it to Watoto Wa Baraka - but I did play a role in resolving the conflict. Geoffrey (Director of Watoto) did the right thing and the volunteers there should be proud for the stance they took. More details on this and what happened as I learn more (if it becomes appropriate to share). For my part it only required one e-mail from someone who was looking very objectively at a tragedy that was about to unfold. I hope that over time the volunteers there will not feel too bitter about the experience. It wasn't what any of them signed up for and I'm sure it made things quite difficult but in the long run they have made a very valuable contribution. Not just at WWB but likely all over Kenya, as Geoffrey has been a mentor and role model for many of these operations in the area and his change of heart seems quite sincere.

It's 2:30 am and I think I'm really jet lagged - oh well,,, the real life will kick back in a couple of hours... Molo is now a big part of my real life. So is Ruth. August 7th was pretty amazing actually - I ended up adopting a little girl. I wasn’t planning to - it just worked out that way. At Chazon the call it adoption but really it is a sponsorship opportunity. Her name is Ruth and she doesn’t live far from the Chazon School. Her gardian approched me on the road as I was walking back from the Chazon on Wedseday (August 5th). She shared a very sad story about all the orphans in her care. I suggested that she approach Lucy at the Chazon and I gave her 1,000 Khs. She showed up two days later and they were going to turn her away. She had three kids with her for testing. Ruth was the youngest. All tested fairly poorly but since I was willing to sponsor they are going to give her a chance. It’s imposible to describe how this made the family feel.

Ruth lost both her father and mother to HIV/AIDS. Her Aunt is the primary care giver and the grandmother was the one who approached me. They have three of there own two from other families and 2 others who are Ruth’s brothers. It’s a joy to see the entire family there three women and two older gentlemen and you would have thought they just won the lotterry. Keep in mind what the whole family was celebrating and what they will surley gave thanks to God for is that one of there children has now been accepted into elementary school.

This is something that we in the US take for granted. It’s just a given that your child can go to school in the US. Just like electricity and running water I guess. We just take so much for granted. The grandmother was on the road waiting for me - looking for help. It’s a great felling to be involved on this level. I highly reccomend it! Ruth looks really bad (though she is quite beautiful). She appears malnurished and Lucy suspects HIV/AIDS. She also has a stick stuck in her ear (FOR MORE THEN A YEAR NOW). The family could not afford to take her to the doctor for that. Her skin looks so whether worn - there’s something wrong. She’s going to the doctors tomorrow. I will pay for this (on going) and also for her schooling/school uniform and some miscallenous. It’s a good feeling and given that losing weight wasn't enough - that what could I do to really "live big" was an issue for me - I must say this qualifies.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A blog from me? Hard to believe.

It’s almost 3:00 am and I have given up on sleeping. I’m sicker then a dog. And at night, in Molo, they never stop barking. Last Saturday night it turned quite cold and breathing in the air got me quite sick. Tonight I can only hope it has reached it’s peak. I have had such a bad cough that I can’t sleep and it’s beyond a cough at this point - it seems as though my throat is constricting. I have no meds and there are none available. Elizabeth brewed an African cold remedy for me - and I am heartily drinking it down but so far it’s not helping much. I get some relief by standing up - so here I am blogging - kind of - I’m at my own laptop and I hope I can transfer this in the morning. Oh - I guess it’s already morning.

We are all working so hard. I’m working from the moment I wake up between 4-6 am until I get the last of the days shooting down loaded to a portable hard drive and all the needed electronics and batteries recharged typically past 11:00 PM. So far despite numerous power outages and limited access to outlets I have managed to keep all the tech stuff alive (charged) and working.

Yesterday I told Lucy (she’s pure salt of the earth) that she would not be able to execute the vision that’s forming - and manage the coming change using the deadly slow internet connection at the cyber cafe. So I have purchased her a Safaricom modem and put 500 shillings of air time on it. I have commited to ongoing support of this too. Tomorrow I will teach her about social networking and she’s already loving having e-mail anywhere she goes and just can’t stop thanking me enough. It is by far the best 4,499 Kenya shillings I have ever spent. It will also enable me to post this blog. And maybe a few photos too. It even works at the school, the school is in the country side where the tribal clashes were at there worst earlier this year.

So much to talk about. Can’t cover it all - I have been journaling daily about the experience and that’s been fairly thorough. First the kids are great - so incredibly well behaved and so eager to learn. I don’t get to spend much time with them though it’s one of the more difficult things to deal with. Two days ago the saddest hardest part of the trip hit me. I passed through one of the classrooms to set up for Jordi’s interview and one of the little girls said “teacher why don’t you spend more time with us?” - I almost cried. I did my best to explain that my role here was a little different and that I hoped to spend more time with them soon. Then they asked would I be back after the break (they take off 4 weeks every trimester). I could not say no - for two reasons - I didn’t want to break their hearts and also even though they were closing down the school yesterday I thought I heard that the kids and a few teachers would be brought back next week... I now know this is true.

My time has been spent filming the other volunteers spending time with the kids, a lot of time with the two directors, learning about Molo, Chazon, doing interviews, and constantly shooting and hauling my equipment (very heavy) - without the weight loss and all the conditioning this would have been completely impossible to do. I have walked back and forth to the school carrying the equipment a few times - that’s not easy, I tried using the Matatu’s but they are so crowded getting on and off is difficult and mostly now I get rides on the back of motor cycles. It’s just seems to be the easiest way to get out to the school. These guys are a little crazy and they supposedly get in a lot of accidents and the roads are in such horrible condition, but for now I have no other choice. I have convinced all the other volunteers to give them a try - the Katies (UK) also loved it - and the two of them ride together - three on a bike.

I’m beginning to allow myself to think that this might just work - the site for attracting international visitors will be quite good it’s not that hard to do and I have good folks back in the US who have already committed to help. The real prize would be for the film to bring in significant funding. The reason why I’m allowing myself to entertain this thought - is because the footage I’m shooting is really looking incredible. I have great sound. The story is GREAT - and the people involved are great. I’m thinking now that all that may be left is to edit it and add music. After our hard work today Lucy and I reflected upon this. She is also sensing that it is within grasp. This kind of money would not only provide all that they can imagine for the Chazon school but also it could change Molo.

I told her that this is really what I want more then anything to see Molo great again. What an honor it would be to play such a key role in the transformation of even one small part of the world. It now feels possible.

Molo is hard to fathom without being here. The poverty is so great. Unemployment is above 50%. Children live in the streets because both parents were killed in the clashes or due to HIV/AIDS. Sometimes they are forced into prostitution to survive and many have turned to glue. Once into the glue they become unreachable. The adults at risk tend to favor a local brew that not only gets you drunk for less then 10 shillings - as Samuel tells me, but it also puts them flat on there backs in a few minutes. During the rainy season many pass out in the ditches only to drowned when the rains come.

Last Sunday I interviewed the tribal chief of Molo and a local politician running for Parliament. Both were impressive men - both quite brave and both fighting the corruption that makes political solutions to the problems here quite difficult. Both were so taken by Samuel and Lucy and they both said that they represent real hope for Molo.

Today I acquired video footage of what people here call the “inferno” or the “tragedy”. It truly symbolizes the desperate level of poverty that exists in Molo and how tragic the results can be. Earlier this year a large tanker truck containing jet fuel went of the road and rolled. This was just outside Molo. Soon many people showed up attempting to recover free fuel to try to sell in town. The police stepped in and started charging people to take the fuel away. Someone who was angry about the charging let a match and the whole thing exploded burning to death more then 500. I’m going to buy rights to use the footage in my film - 500 shillings (about $18 US). More tomorrow.

I finally got to go into Casino. It’s the poorest region here in Molo. It’s very sad. Some of the children there had the brown/reddish hair that is the result of malnutrition. I’ve seen this many times in documentaries or in news stories - in places like Ethiopia or the Sudan, it’s pretty heart breaking to see it in person. There was a lot of trash piled up every where - it was hard to shoot emotionally but also physically. When you watch what you are shooting you can’t be watching where you are walking so well. Alicia Bruce arrived from Canada yesterday, she was expected to meet with Lucy for orientation but when she heard that Samuel and I were going to Casino she wanted to join us. It was probably even more risky then I thought. Jordi also came along and we gathered a large crowd (mostly small children following us) but the longer we stayed the more uneasy it became. Samuel was a very good guide and we had someone with us who lives in Casino and is from Elizabeth’s church Elizabeth is one of our hosts (she was also there). Some men became aggressive towards Alicia and Samuel pushed her to the left and blocked them. She moved towards me and I almost put my arm around her to send the message to these men that she was with me. It was a bad situation because we had only met an hour earlier. Samuel later said he feared we were about to be mobbed.

The children seemed very happy though. God bless them. We visited several homes and Jordi commented that he wanted to adopt one and take them out (very difficult to do in Kenya) Instead he will sponsor ones education and Samuel very discretely found and talked to three parents as we were going through and asked them to have the children at Chazon on Tuesday of next week. They will interview them and one will be picked. Jordi will pay for his or hers education going forward and one kids life will take a dramatic turn for the better.

I’m now devastated. Lucy called Geoffrey at Watoto Wa Baraka only to find out that he doesn’t want me to come now. They are having problems (a problem?) and don’t want me there at this time. It’s now or never I’m afraid and it really throws a twist into the film that I’m not sure I can recover from. Anyone following Jarka’s Live Big blog already knows the issue. I can’t began to tell you the roller coaster ride it has been trying to get to Watoto Wa Baraka. To the point where I don’t think I even have the strength to e-mail him to convince him otherwise. I think the problem he is having can be resolved and that he needs to comment on it - let others talk about it - don’t run from it - otherwise his side of the story may not get out. I’m not defending him either - I don’t know the details - I don’t know what exactly happened but it can’t be good to hide it - and you will not be able to. The volunteers are already blogging.

Here are a few pics - the horizontal one is a clip from a shoot in a classroom.