Category Archives: Kenya

Stories of my time in Limuru and Nairobi KENYA from 1990 to 2007, mainly at our Novitiate in Limuru.

READING CHAIR – Kenya: Olorgesailie


Olorgesailie, Kenya

What a strange name for a place.  Actually, once one has lived in Masai Country for a while, these place names are not too strange to the ear, but become just part of another peoples heritage.  However, Olorgesailie is a heritage place for mankind because of its ancient past.

Olorgesailie Landscape

Getting to Olorgesailie is all part of the visit to this prehistoric site and certainly a part of my stay in Kenya for the past nine years of my life.  Our group were regular visitors to this site because of its history and rugged beauty.  The main camp site is located near a dried lake bed strewn with volcanic rocks.  It is very hot during the day, so our visits are timed to arrive in the area in late afternoon and spend the whole day there and then leave late morning the next day before it heats up again.

Olorgesailie was first discovered by geologist, John W Gregory, but in 1943 Mary and John Leakey excavated the area with paroled Italian POW‘s.  On the way down the escarpment, before the city of Mai Mahiu, these same Italian POW’s built a chapel that is still standing.  But that road leads from Nairobi to Mount Longonot, an extinct volcano in the Great Rift Valley.

My story of Olorgesailie involves the journey there and our weekend stay at the site.  Because the camp site is not very large and growing in popularity by tourists, we are limited to how many of our guys can make the trip.  So we decide the lucky ones by the top winners of a Bingo Game held several weeks previously.

Olorgesailie is located about forty miles south of Nairobi but takes about two hours to get there because of narrow bad roads that twist and turn around the hilly countryside, slowly descending to the Great Rift Valley.  It is worth the trip, not only because of the historic site but also because the changing landscape along the way.  Heading out of Nairobi to the Ngong Hills already has a changing landscape of greenery, especially after the rainy season.  The best and coolest time to visit the area would be in late July or August, the cool months of this part of Kenya.

The Ngong Hills were made famous in the movie “Out Of Africa”, a story about Karen Blixen who settled in the area and now the city, Karen, Kenya, is named after her.  Once one leaves the Ngong area the landscape slowly begins to get more bleak and dry.  At one point an hour out of the Ngong Hills, the landscape seems strewn with volcanic rocks, large sized rocks, like they were spewed out of a volcano and scattered everywhere, probably from the volcano Mount Longonot.

Eventually the road turns off onto another rugged powdery dirt road that leads to the Olorgesailie camp.  Even though the area is now quite dry and desolate, surprisingly there is enough greenery around.  It is at this site that we look for our huts, or kibandas, where we will stay for the two nights.  Brother Jack and I will stay in one kibanda, Fr. Richard and Brother Steve will stay in another, and two other huts will house the other four men, Peter, Erick, Ben and Raphael, our novices.

It isn’t long before the Masai find us with their women presenting us with all sorts of beautifully made belts and sandals decorated with colorful beads in typical Masai patterns.  The men are also willing to pose with us for photos, their long and slender bodies, dept that way by their meager diet here in the dry and forsaken land.  They wear thin, long, red and black pladded blankets woven from wool and fastened around their waist with their decorated leather belts that hold their leather sheaths that hold their long knives.  With warrior like dignity, they stand with their long steel tipped spears in one arm and slightly lift their opposite leg held in place behind the other leg.

The Masai women are also noticeably dressed in solid bright blue fabrics with their leather belts and multiple beaded necklaces around their heads.  Supposedly, a necklace for each child they have given birth to.  Some of these necklaces are about one inch wide and beaded in traditional patterns.  This is where I bought my first Masai belt that has lasted me several years!  Once they realized that we have bought all that we are interested in, they leave.

Interestingly enough, Olorgesailie was never a settlement, which one can figure out after staying here long enough, especially if the site has never changed over the thousands of years.  It is quite inhospitable except for the animals and Masai that have adapted to the place in recent times.  Ancient peoples came here for the stones!  This site has been determined to be a factory for making all sorts of stone implements that were then carried away.  There are hardly any human bones found here, other than animals bones.

Our first meal is simple, easily heated with a camp fire, which we settle down to tell our stories and keep warm for a while.  While the days scorching hot, the evenings can be quite cold as most desert areas.  Some of us go for walk until we hear some hyenas in the distance.  The park guard reassures us that the hyenas will not come into the camp.  If they do, they are only interested in our bones that we leave behind.  Fortunately, we do not have any.

However, it is the brought our binoculars and a telescope.  The view of the sky is spectacular with no moon and no nearby city light to water down or pollute the stars.  The telescope is useless since there are no planets nor moon in sight…yet.  We explain to the guys that even with a very powerful telescope one will still see only a point of light, a star.  However, a point of light may be a binary, or a double star, like the second star in the handle of the big dipper, which is just on the horizon to the north.  In fact, with an even stronger telescope, which we wouldn’t be able to carry out here in the middle of Olorgesailie, we could easily break that point of light into a three star system.  The binoculars are great for viewing  multiple star systems like globular clusters and the Andromeda Galaxy.

We are all hoping these kibandas will keep out the very desperate hyenas.  In the morning, I realize that hyenas are not my biggest problem.  I decided to take a shower it is still cool.  They have a small kibanda for that with too many openings in the walls, at least I think so.  Into my shower, however, I spot a troop of baboons coming my way.  Unfortunately, I have read of people and baboons fighting over the water tankers that are brought into town during the droughts.

The baboons know how to operate the taps.  I am wondering, standing here naked, if they know how to work these shower taps as they quickly approach up the path.  I am not willing to find out, and race out of the shower stark naked grabbing my towel.  Bro. Jack is awake by now, especially after I come running in and shut the door behind.  He is a little surprised at my lack of modesty, but quickly understands as I explain, looking out the window of our kibanda following the baboons as they head for the shower!  Fortunately I hadn’t lathered up yet, and in that short time I was already dry.

As can be expected, there wasn’t much fine dinning in the desert, but we did bring lots of  food that didn’t need to be refrigerated, and by now the ice had already melted in our cooler.  So, it is not surprising that I do not remember much about what we had to eat.  Fortunately, the baboons were only looking for water and soon went on their way.  We did not stray far from the camp, but we did explore the display sites around the area, that were constructed by the funds received by the Leakeys.  We all tried to imagine what it was like to travel by foot in this heat, to this desolate and out-of-the-way spot, knowing that one was one the food chain of many predators in the area, even baboons.


READING CHAIR – Missionary: 7. “Kwonato’s Boma”, Kenya

7. “Kwonato’s Boma”, Kenya

After several disappointing experiences with local security companies, our community in Limuru, Kenya, about 25 miles north-west of Nairobi, capitol of Kenya, decided to try Masai warriors for guards.  They are a nomadic tribe whose homeland was vast at one time;, including parts of Kenya and western part of Tanzania.  Their cattle are their most important possessions and they needed vast amount of grazing land.  The Masai warriors are also known for their fierceness and bravery, which is proven during the young man’s initiation period called “Moran”.  During this period they were expected to live outside the protected family enclosures, called Boma and test their bravery, sometimes by killing a lion. The period of moran initiation could last several years.

Masai Boma
Masai Boma or Home

We had two Masai men that lived in the area; Samuel, who was more of a westernized Masai and Kwonato, a real Masai warrior from the bush.  Kwonato lived temporarily in the Limuru area, but would go home every chance he could, even if it meant walking the whole way, which the Masai were well noted for doing. Kwonato’s homestead or boma was an hour drive from Kijiado, a Masai city directly south of Nairobi, Kenya.  Samuel lived in a small village near by, about a half hour walk from our community, but his relatives were also from Kijiado.

Masai Warriors
Masai Warriors

In “The Nation”, the Kenyan national newspaper, was an article about some women complaining about the Masai men dancing without underwear. They were a tourist group at the “National Bomas”, a government theater where the different tribes gather and perform their native dances for the public.  I think most of the country would have laughed at the women‘s complaint, since any real Masai woman would never marry a Masai man if she found out that he wore underpants.  I guess the women were more embarrassed for their tourist visitors. It is well known that the Masai dance is known for how high the young men can jump, some up to three feet!  These were real Masai warriors performing their native dance!

Masai make great guards because of their fierceness.  However, it is their extended family that can be a problem or a blessing, depends on whose side one is considering.  At one time Kwonato was living on our compound, which was common for workers in eastern Africa, especially the cooks. He would always invite his relatives and friends in the area to visit, sometimes for weeks!  The only problem, you can take the Masai out of the bush, but you can’t take the bush out of the Masai.  We had to teach the Masai how to use the toilet and to keep it clean, and also how to use water taps and light switches.  Teaching the Masai how to use the toilet can be difficult since the Masai are used to going the toilet anywhere on their land. Their cows do.

We first noticed we had a problem when the toilet seats had foot prints on them. A wise old missionary, who had lived in Africa for most of his life, warned us that the Masai probably didn’t know how to use the thing, didn’t like using the thing, and don’t expect him to even try.  After some of our bushes started to die, we realized that human urine is NOT good for the shrubbery.  Eventually, to keep the peace, we encouraged the Masai and their guests to live elsewhere.  Fortunately, they agreed.

Very few of the Masai lived in the cities permanently, most traveled home to their Bomas.  Kenyans always traveled home to their homesteads during the holidays.  During colonial days the British had their workers live on their compounds to keep them from going home, because once they were home, they stayed there until they needed more money.  It was a little disruptive for businesses that required many workers continually on the job.

Masai Circumcision
Masai Circumcision Day

Despite their fierceness, I was surprised that an old black stray dog came to our property one day and took a liking to the Masai.  He followed our Masai guards around the property for several years after he first appeared, never coming close to anyone else. The dog never barked, but growled whenever someone approached the Masai too close. The dog would never leave their side. We thought it was great to have a dog accompany the Masai, especially when we thought they were sleeping on the job. Brother Steve, the director of the community, always complained that Kwonato slept through the whole night, except when he had to clear his throat of sputum, which was always a loud and disgusting ordeal.  However, I doubt that anyone would come on our property if they knew we had Masai warriors for guards, that is how legendary they were in Kenya.  Steve said he was worried about the ones who didn’t know.  I told him not to worry, but actually I was curious what would happen.  One time Samuel tracked thieves who had cut across our property to their hideout.  The Masai went back to the police and lead then there.  They caught the thieves red handed, and recovered stolen property from all over the area, including our irrigation pipes!  Steve never complained much after that.

Masai Moran, Kenya
Masai Moran, Kenya

Our drive to Kwonato’s Boma was through dry bushy land and over hot and dusty roads; sometimes there were no roads! The scenery was beautiful though because it was raw.  Rarely would one encounter houses along the rest of the way once we passed into Masai-land.  The Masai families lived generally in bomas.  These were large areas that had been cleared and in the very middle of the homestead would be a very large circular fence, or boma, of thorny bushes and branches, large enough to hold fifty to even a hundred head of cattle.  Around this thorny and wide fence, the Masai would build their family huts for each wife. The huts were small and squat and covered with cattle skins but large enough to sleep the family with a small cooking space for the women. They were never intended for standing but sleeping and cooking. The cooking was done inside later in the evening to chase the flies and bugs with the smoke before they retired after the meal.

Around the family huts another fence, or boma, was constructed with thorny bushes and branches, wide enough so that a lion would think twice before trying to jump over. That is where our trip was headed, to the Kwonato family boma, a true Masai homestead.  The first thing that struck us with this arrangement was that there was literally no place to walk with out stepping in cow dung.  It was everywhere, as well as the smell and the flies.  We were eating our main meal here.  Today’s Masai family now live on a diet of thick porridge of corn called “ugali”, with a meat or broth soup with some vegetables.  The real Masai diet used to consist mainly of blood drawn from their cows and sometimes mixed with milk.  Or they would drink milk sometimes mixed with cow urine as a preservative.

After we visited with Kwonato’s family, he showed us around his boma and let us enter the hut of his first wife, just to see what one looked like on the inside.  He also proudly showed us his cattle, but when we asked how many, he wouldn’t answer.  Samuel, whose English was better, reminded us that it was bad luck to count your cattle, or at least to let another man know how many one had.

I was surprised at the living arrangement with the cattle in the middle of the homestead, but not surprised why the Masai didn’t care where one went the toilet.  Eventually the topic came up when one of our number had to use the “choo“ (pronounced with long ‘o’), or toilet.  They just pointed, “Out there“. Remind me not to wander barefoot at night.

Every once in a while The Nation carried a story that would frighten the hell out of the readers, especially tourists. “Two Children Killed by Masai”, read one headline.  It seemed the children were playing in a tree and spotted a Masai not far from them. They started to make fun of him. The Masai got fed up, and quickly dispatched the children with his spear. When he realized what he had done, he ran off to hide in masailand. I doubt if they would ever catch him, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the police never tried, since family ties among the Masai were very strong. One rarely hears of a Masai getting killed by the locals. The killer of any Masai would be eventually tracked down and killed. If a moran successfully takes revenge, it would be the equivalent to killing a lion. He could be made an elder.

The women served us hot tea made with milk (with nothing else added!) while we waited for our meal.  Sometimes the meal could take several hours to cook, and the guests were expected to wait that long.  That is a lot of tea; hence knowing the location of the choo (or bush), especially for the women in our group.  Eventually we were served a wonderful beef stew with “chipati“ (flat pancake-like bread cooked on a griddle, similar to tortillas). The meal was wonderful (mainly because we were all hungry from waiting so long).

Steve kept telling us, that it could have been worse. In the good old days, he had went with another brother to visit the family of our only Masai candidate. After waiting for the tea in the little Masai hut, with the smoky fire burning their eyes and making it very hard to breath, they realized that it was better to suffer with the flies outside.  The father invited the brothers to drink his homemade beer, even though it was warm.  The other brother had been through this routine before and really helped himself to the brew.  Brother Steve was the good religious and only took sips, since the beer was really strong!  The father then left them for a short while and then came back carrying a very large chunk of tree trunk and placed in down on the table in front of them.  He motioned to it as though saying, “Help yourself“.  He then proceeded to pick off the termite grubs and eat them, as though they were the most delicious delicacies in the world.  The “other” brother had enough brew by then that eating the termite grubs was no problem; as if he was even conscious by then of what he was eating.  Poor Steve said that he would rather eat termite grubs any day, than drink milk with cow urine or blood in it.

Our stay at Kwonato’s boma was worth the trip. We were fortunate enough to meet several of the moran men who joined us for the meal. They were fascinating to watch and entertaining to hear them talk about what all was involved in being a moran.  Most of the moran period was just trying to live off the land, especially during a drought, with occasional visits to their family for a meal or two.  Even though they didn’t have to kill a lion now a days, their acceptance as an elder, the next stage in their Masai culture, would take longer than in the past.  One of the most important privileges of being an elder is that it would allow the young man to marry.

We all left with a greater appreciation of this genuine and interesting tribe of Kenya, that were still faithful to their old customs.  At least now we could understand our Masai guards better and give them more leeway in their stay with us; considering what they have gone through as men.

Today, Kwonato is retired and lives mostly at his boma, but his son has taken his place as our guard, a real Masai Warrior and Elder…except for his name, “Steve“!

READING CHAIR – Missionary: 12. “Kepkilion Monastery”, Kenya

Kepkilion Monastery
Our Lady Of Victories, Kepkilion, Kenya

Every year we took our novices to experience monastic life at Kipkelion Monastery, Our Lady of Victories, near the city of Molo in eastern Kenya.  The monastery was located high up in the mountains of this area, north of the famous Mau National Reserve and south of the Nandi Hills.  Kisumu, which sits on the bay of Lake Victoria, is due east of the monastery, about a two hours drive.  This may mean nothing to the reader, but this information will help if you are following along with a map to get a feel of the area. Kipkelion lies off the main road and is easily seen as a somewhat moderate town in Kenya, but once off the main road, the real driving fun begins.  Depending on the time of the year, which is usually denoted by the rainy seasons, this road is almost impassable at some points, mainly because it gets washed out in many places and repairs are far and few between.  One year our van had to be towed through the mud by the huge monastic farm tractor, which itself almost got stuck.

The main reason our staff likes to bring our novices to visit the monastery is the beauty of the place where it is situated. We certainly don’t enjoy getting up at 0300 hours a.m. for Vigils and then after that quietly sitting in the dark until the Mass starts at 0430 hours a.m. when some of the local people join us. Even then breakfast is not until after Morning Prayers which begin at 0630 hours a.m. Notice I keep adding ‘a.m.’ just in case you are not quite awake yourself. Of course, being a monastery, the whole day is filled with prayers.  During the day there are only three short prayer times called, ‘Terce‘, ‘Sext‘, & ‘None‘.  One can see there might be a slight confusion if this is your first time at a monastery.  One of our novices didn’t show up for ‘None’ because he thought there was ‘no’ prayer time, even after we explained it very carefully to all of them.  I wonder what he did during ‘Sext’?

banana trees
Bananas of Kepkilion

The beauty of visiting the Monastery begins with the road trip, but since this isn’t a travel guide, I will just begin at the city of Kipkelion. Even though the area isn’t the highest in Kenya, Mount Kenyatta in central Kenya takes that honor, it is the highest in the western part. Not surprisingly, the monastery is located near the highest point. The last part of the drive, beginning at Kipkelion, is up, up, up on bad, bad, bad roads. Usually a good driver is not part of enjoying the scenic views that the rest of us delight in, since the road does skirt the ridges with disastrous drop-offs.  Along the way are several villages with open spaces where banana groves are planted wherever there is a mountain stream coming down from the peak.  Even thought we will climb up to eight thousand feet, we are still located near the Equator where the weather is usually warm.  The landscape changes constantly between little mountain streams with banana groves to hilly country sides planted with maize (corn) with little or no thought to contour planning. Unfortunately, the word has not gotten around yet that planting without contour planning, the roads get washed out with half of their fields.

There are also small and large patches of pine tree groves dotting the landscape, but becoming fewer as we climb. Once in a while there will be some smoke coming from the middle of the pine trees where someone is most likely making wood charcoal. I ran into several charcoal mounds on my hike up to the peak that already had the charcoal removed. As we approached the monastic main road, we were driving on the last ridge that leads to a small valley where the monastery was located beneath the main mountain peak. They owned an incredible amount of land in this area, enough to include the peak, but it was mostly inaccessible only twenty years ago.

The panorama of the monastic grounds took in acres of corn fields and grazing fields for their four hundred or more head of milking cows.  The property also boasted a primary school for the children of the monastic families that worked there and the folks living in the surrounding area, an up-to-date clinic, and housing facilities for the monastic families.  Already encroachment was a main problem from the surrounding Kalogen tribe that was reducing the monastic lands year by year.  Because of the tension in the area, it was difficult to remove the families without serious repercussions breaking out from other tribal members.

The government was petitioned numerous times in the past to bring electricity to the monastery in the hope of installing milking machines.  Such a project would greatly increase the income for the monastery that was already struggling by selling the little milk they did produce. One of the main problems that the monastery faced though was bad management of the farm and their finances. Because of in-breeding, their cows were giving less milk with each generation of cows, which were down to almost a liter (quart) a day compared to seven to ten liters a day per cow that they should have been getting!  Imagine the trip down to the local market on the roads that we came up on.  It is no wonder that some milk was lost in transportation. Because of their poor finances, the monastery depended on monies from outside.  Monies from retreats could not be depended on because of the bad roads.  At one point when the electric line was nearing the monastic border, it took a diversion to a rich and popular politician homestead, who was a member of parliament and obviously had connections with the government of President Moi at that time.  The monastery still does not have electric to this day.

Nandi Hills
Nandi Hills of Kenya

Our stay there this trip was peaceful and quiet.  We took many walks around the property, especially up to the peak where one could see for miles around.  Along the way many different types of flowers could be spotted, even those not indigenous to the area, but may have been brought in by the English or Dutch monks.  I remember spotting a beautiful wild gladiola and wondering how it had gotten here in the middle of Africa?  In some of the glens and groves where the numerous mountain streams passed were several groves of fig trees and banana trees.  Of course, banana trees were everywhere, but at least five different varieties!  The monastic grounds were well kept with a few small flower gardens here and there where the old monks from Europe still kept them up.  In the court yard of the enclosure, closed to the public, were the best of the gardens.  The monks kept a small but exquisite gold fish pond.  Several times a hale storm that is common in the area almost killed the fish due to the quick temperature drop in the water.

One day I was resting under a kibanda (a thatched roof shelter for sitting).  Not far from the kibanda, was a sturdy split rail fence where the monastery kept their two breeding bulls. They were huge animals, the likes this city boy has never seen before!  I noticed one of the bulls was missing.  I was planning on spending several hours in the kibanda reading and writing, I was able to find out what happened to it.  I saw a young man in his twenties, large and powerful as his bulls, slowly leading the delinquent bull back to his pen.  The bull had escaped and had wandered over to where the young females were kept, hoping to get in a few unauthorized visits until he was caught.  The sight was very impressive.  Here was this huge bull humbly walking behind with his head down, being led back to his pen by the man, who was walking in front of it, straight and tall without any fear.  The bull could have easily horned the man in front of him and gone back to the females to continue his escapades.

I guess I better talk about the monks before I close, since that is the reason we went to the monastery in the first place.  I have to admit, my favorite prayer time of the day was the Vigil Prayer in the middle of the night.  Even though it was an ungodly hour, at least for us, a loud clanging bell wakes the monks at 0300 hours. It was an almost mystical non-time where half-awake from our sleep, we move like zombies towards the large church which connects the other three sides of the monastery to form a square, enclosing the courtyard.

We have to cross the courtyard which is open to the stars above, getting a glimpse of the heavens, so clear this night and open to so many uncountable stars that they confuse the consolations. Another novice bumped into me, a reminder to move on.  Across the courtyard we enter the dark, silent church and try to find out way to the choir where the Vigil chants will be sung.  If you can imagine the large rectangular floor of the church, one third at the front of the building is an area for the congregation, another third in the middle of the church with the floor raised above by several steps, is the sanctuary and large enough to accommodate about fifty people. The last third, the choir with the floor sitting below the sanctuary, is itself divided in half where three tiers of prayer stalls holding ten monks each are located on each side of the wall facing each other.

The only light in the building this night is a candle, but some of the monks enter with their own flashlights, like a scene out of Star Wars.   Eventually two small gas mantle lanterns are lit that surprisingly give off quite a bit of light.  Eventually they will get florescent lights lit by solar.  One monk begins the chants from one of three books in front of us.  Fortunately we know the routine by now, otherwise a newly arrived visitor would have a difficult time negotiating the books, and in the dark.  The Vigil Prayer time lasts over an hour, and at the end we sit in the dark for half an hour until the bell for Mass is rung.  We don’t have any choice, since the building is dark and any movement is discouraged except for those preparing for the next service. The monks sing in a clear Gregorian chant with a prayer leader for the day, usually someone who knows the chant.  Some of the voices are strange to us, or I should say.  The English is difficult for the African tongue to pronounce and sing at the same time.

When the post-election violence broke out after President Kibaki’s election for a second term, the monastery had sheltered non-Kalogen people from tribes not friendly with them or who are traditional enemies.  Their neighbors almost burnt it down!  Conditions became so bad that the monks had to find safe haven in Uganda at another monastery.  The monastery and land was eventually sold to another religious order.

We will miss this wonderful place that holds many good memories, but we have learned that eventually everything changes with time here in Africa.

READING CHAIR – Missionary: 11. “Killer African Bees”, Kenya

One day I was walking with one of our novices on a path that led away from the house and towards the orchard.  It wasn’t a smooth path but it was quiet with no one else around on the property except for a few neighbors next to us. Usually I tried to take some time with each of the novices to chat about their time here with us and just to see how they were doing with the program.

I kept hearing the calves crying and asked the novice what he thought, were they in heat already? He though not, since they were still too young.  There were two beautiful calves that were getting quite large by now, tied up near the building in a small grove of trees.  Because I spent a lot of time outside with the animals, I was familiar enough with the cows, and they just did not sound quite right.

killer bees 3We started to head back in that direction just to check on them. Our property sits on about nine acres of land, half of it farmed and with four hundred fruit trees.  As we got nearer to the calves, it looked like one of them was crying with its tongue sticking out. Just then we noticed the bees all around the property and realized that they were attacking our calves. I quickly had the novice head to the barn where our farm manager was and to alert him of this sudden emergency.

By now everyone had noticed the bees were everywhere and that the calves were being attacked. Some were putting blankets around themselves and try to release the calves so they could head to the barn.  Our farm manager had started a smoky fire to drive away the bees, which seemed to be working if they could get the calves there.  Unfortunately, one of the calves headed toward our herd of females and brought the attacking bees to them.  Finally, our manager arrived and had to cut loose those cows as well to chase them up to the barn.

The smoke screen from the fires at the barn seemed to be working.  Our problem now was that the vet was afraid to come on our property with all the bees, and unless he quickly injected our cows, especially the calves with anti-bee venom, we could well lose them all! Eventually the manager convinced him and he quickly injected all of them in time.

Surprisingly, none of our guys got stung.  Since these bees are so easy to disturb an attack on a human could be fatal!  The whole property was filled with bees everywhere, even in the house. All we could do was just wait them out until the sun set, hoping that they would settle down when the air wold get cooler, and hoping no one would get stung in the meantime.  Fortunately for us the weather turned cool and a slight drizzle began.  Almost immediately the bees began to disappeared.

Now was the time for us to find them and dispatch them before they started again tomorrow.  I had wanted to raise domesticated bees, but that possibility was now out of the question. These African killer bees could be very dangerous, especially when they started to swarm, and this was the time they would start to find new homes.  What happened on our property today, we would eventually learn, is that not one but two rather large swarms were out looking for a place to settle their new hives.

As a hive grows in size, eventually the bees will produce a new queen and part of the hive will follow her to find a new home, hopefully somewhere far from the first.  It seemed that our property was elected. We had one unwanted hive on our property already.  They had made a home in our retreat house wall, entering from an outside hole near the chimney.  We tried every way we could to remove them but they kept coming back.

killer bees 4That night we got ready to find the swarms and destroy them.  We found the first one quickly, near the barn in a small tree. They were a large size ball of bees wrapping themselves around one of the branches. With the weather so cool, they were completely docile! All we had to do was to stretch a plastic bag around the small branch and cover them, then cut the branch from the tree to remove them.

The second swarm took us a long while to find. We searched everywhere and them almost stumbled upon them in a pine tree located near the front entrance of our building.  They were the biggest swarm I have ever seen, like a very large football, only wrapped around the tree.  I took us almost half an hour just to burn the bees off the trunk.  What a horrible waste of honey producers, I thought to myself, since I very much wanted to save them.  But domesticated bees and wild African bees are two different species, one tame and the other wild and dangerous.

With the destruction of the other hive we could rest knowing that tomorrow would be another day without a battle with the killer bees.  I also knew that any mention of starting any bee hives would have to wait until another time.

READING CHAIR – Missionary: 3. “Rusinga Island” -Kenya

Rusinga 2One of the many trips in western Kenya, was to Rusinga Island, a small island south-west of the western Kenyan city of Kisumu, north of Homa Bay and on Lake Victoria, connected by a land bridge.  Technically it is not longer an island.  It was made famous recently by President Obama’s relatives.  This whole area of Kenya is called the Western Coast of Kenya because it claims a small piece of Lake Victoria.  It is a very picturesque section of Kenya, but may not have anything of importance to attract the global tourists other than that small section of Lake Victoria.

The journey there from Nairobi takes about six hours, if one survives the trip there navigating the potholes along the way and dodging the suicidal lorries and kamikaze matatu drivers!  The “matatu”, or Nissan vans, are the main means of transportation in Kenya everywhere, with large buses traveling in between major cities.  With an experienced driver, the possibilities of surviving increases to about 95 percent!  Our driver, Brother Steve, was an experienced driver, and he wanted to live.  That always helps.  The fact that this was our third trip to the West Coast of Kenya increases our chances of survival.

I am assuming that this is your first trip, so we will begin in Limuru, a large sized country town twenty five miles north-west of Nairobi.  It even boasts its own slum, called “Misery”!  There one can catch all kids of venereal diseases from the prostitutes that live and work there.  Most of their customers are from the local pubs that serve the home brew, a toxic mix that sometimes include methyl alcohol and formaldehyde thrown in for flavor!  Naturally they don’t label their bottles.  One New Years Eve celebration the customers complained about the lights going out, but only realized later that it was their toxic brew that flipped the switch.  What I am saying is, avoid Misery like the plague and only drink well labeled brands of drinks, like Coca Cola.

As for Limuru, fresh beef, lamb and goat are always on the menu, and “bone soup” is the specialty of this city.  One has to be prepared ahead of time for the fine dining of Limuru though.  When we talk about dining, most of the population here care more about how much meat one can consume at a sitting rather than table cloths and silverware.  Naturally, your meal is fresh and will take about an hour to prepare, even though they don’t mention the preparation time assuming you came to drink like any good African.  Only the old-timers seasoned by years of drinking know to pace their sips so that they can enjoy the full pleasure of Limuru dining, or at least still be sober enough to know the difference between beef and donkey meat.  Sorry to get side tracked; on with our journey.

As we leave Limuru, we have to decide which route to take, the lower road that goes down the escarpment, or the upper road that climbs to about eight thousand feet and then slowly makes its way down to Naivasha, a hot dry city sitting at the bottom of the Rift Valley and next to Lake Naivasha, the only fresh water lake on our way to Kisumu.  Naivasha is a wonderful rest stop that includes hundreds of commercial flower farms taking advantage of the water from the lake, unfortunately to the point of seriously draining this rare natural resource.  The lake hosts hippopotamus and the famous Crescent Island where Robert Redford kept the animals for filming his movie, “Out of Africa”.  It is now a National Park for walking safaris, taking advantage of the excellent collection of animals that one would find in the National Parks of Kenya (minus lions, tigers and bears).  Naivasha also has one of the few yogurt drink stops in Kenya that just happens to be placed at the bottom of the ride down the mountain, where the weary traveler can rest his nerves after a successful trip…so far.  Depending on which route one has chosen, the trip down still has many switchbacks to maneuver.  The upper route is uneventful except for the rare pine tree forests that are still miraculously standing along the way.  The lower route gives a great view of the Rift Valley and Mount Longonot in the distance.  Both routes lead to Delameres Yogurt Drink stop.  The astute traveler knows that he is approaching the rest stop by the increase of the wax covered paper carton containers that litter the road-side along the way.  The wild baboons have taken a fancy to the drink for some strange reason.  They are a common sight along the road, mainly in the Naivasha region, along with zebras and other types of gazelles.  Soon this vast area will be fenced in due to the rapid development of the area.  Good-by to the wild animals, except for the donkey.

Nakuru, the other  capitol of Kenya during the time of President Moi, is about the same distance from Limuru to Naivasha, about another hour drive.  Along the way, Lake Elementaita, a salt water lake as well as Lake Nakuru, hosts thousand of flamingos.  As one drives into Nakuru the road divides with a beautiful boulevard that leads into the main city of several miles, lined with jacaranda trees with their lavender blossoms and with pepper trees.  From Nakuru we drive slowly up into the hills again on our way to Londiani and from there to the miles of Kericho Tea estates.  In Kericho we will be about two thirds of our way to Kisumu; Nakuru to Kericho is two hours drive.  The only thing of interest is the beautiful climb up out of the Rift Valley and the tea estates of Kericho, what seems like miles of perfectly manicured tea bushes.  From Kericho to Kisumu is another one and half hours drive, also filled with beautiful scenery.  So by now the guys are getting restless for the arrival.

Each year we try to decide where to visit, which usually includes some of the families of our guys.  That may include Kisumu city of about seven hours drive to the West, or Mombasa city on the Indian Ocean of about seven hours drive on the East Coast of Kenya, or Nyahururu, Embu, and Meru cities to the North of Nairobi of each over four hours drive.  This time we decided to drive to the west staying several days in Kisumu.  This has been my second trip and I enjoy it every time, even though it is a long journey.  Eventually we slowly descend down from the upper highlands of Kericho to the lake below where Kisumu spreads out below us, right next to the shore of Lake Victoria, the West Coast of Kenya.  We know what our next meal will be this evening, cooked fish, fresh from the lake with fries, or chips as they Kenyans call them.  It is a relaxing meal next to the lake with a cold bottle of cola and a cool breeze.  While it is still light we head on up another escarpment a few miles north of Kisumu that leads to the road to Kakamega.  At the top the Catholic diocese runs an overnight rest facility only a few mile out of the city. The view is fantastic which overlooks Lake Victoria in the distance a little to the south with Kisumu below.  A little to the east one can see the climb down from the highlands that lead from Kericho, the route we were just on a few hours ago.  Tomorrow will be an exciting day with a new journey to Rusinga Island.

 Unfortunately, our journey to Rusinga Island would turn out to be a journey from hell.  Not knowing the roads well in Kenya can have disastrous results.  We decided to take a new route from Kisumu to Homa Bay via Kendu Bay.  That was our second mistake.  Our first mistake was actually listening to our friend, Peter who was from Rusinga Island, give directions to his home.  All along the way, he dept saying it’s just over there, not much further.  That should have been our first clue.  Kenyans have no sense of distance, especially when they are from the bush and it is a free ride.  The actual road from Kendu Bay to Homa Bay could have been classified as a dried river bed.  Our biggest surprise was that drivers actually used the road;  foot traffic I could understand.  What should have been a short morning drive took up to noon just to get to Homa Bay, let alone Rusinga Island.  Peter was a friend of our community, but this trip would put that friendship in a serious strain.  He lived near our community in Limuru and attended the non-denominational seminary down the road from us.  Peter was an Anglican.  Out of curiosity he visited us one day, but the real truth was that there were two American missionaries who could probably support him financially in his seminary studies.  Actually, we got to like the young man quite well and in the end supported his trip to the US to attend seminary in Montgomery, Alabama!  How is that for ecumenical support!

Since we were in Homa Bay, we visited his bishop for a few hours, another unscheduled stop that could not be avoided knowing the importance of African protocol.  Eventually we would meet his future wife here, the bishop’s daughter.  Afterwards we crossed onto Rusinga Island, this time just over there, a few more miles.  The island had only one road that ran all around the island in a large circle, and Peter’s home was on the opposite side of the island, naturally.  It was beautiful and lent a wider and fuller view of Lake Victoria, since Kisumu really sat at the end of a large bay out of the view of this greatest of inland lakes of Africa.  The bay was so large that I mistook it for Lake Victoria the first time I saw it from our living quarters where we stayed last night.  Imagine the size of Lake Victoria, over a hundred times Kisumu Bay.

Rusinga 3Finally we parked the van and began our trek up the hill path to his homestead.  The dirt path was rather long and took us quite a while to get to his home.  Along the way we passed many houses that were closed.  We were assuming that people were away on work or vacation since it was rare that there would be no one at around.  I had to ask Peter where were they all?  He said simply that they were all dead from AIDS!  “Rusinga Island has become a ghost town.  Even my own family members are mostly gone.”  The younger brother, who is surviving so far, is on drugs because of the shock of the deaths.  He was supposed to arrange for a meal or at least some drink and snacks, but we found out later he had spent all the money on drugs.

Rusinga_Island-1Our visit to Peter’s home was short.  After we spent an appropriate time with his surviving aunt, we headed back to our van and eventually made our way back to Homa Bay hopefully for a meal.  All those people dead!  There were many houses closed.  I knew Peter felt the absence by the quiet all around us.  Usually there are curious children to greet visitors.  In many places, Kenyan custom would have the women and children greet the visitors at the boundary of the property and slowly walk them to the house where they would stay for some hot tea and biscuits and maybe lunch.  Along the way the women would sing and ululate while the children would crowd around us trying to touch our hairy arms and hold our hands.  There were only a few people in this village; and there was no one singing.

By the time we finished our light snack in Homa Bay we started back to Kisumu city taking another route that was longer but better roads.  This route went through Kisii, another large city south west of Kisumu known for their bananas.  We couldn’t take the same route we came on since it would soon be dark and that road would be disastrous to travel at night.  By the time we got back, it was after eleven in the evening.  No supper tonight, but I don’t think anyone was very hungry.

The drive back the next day was uneventful, but the Kenyan countryside was wonderful’ driving up to the highlands again through the tea estates of Kericho, then coming down the highlands into the Rift Valley, crossing over the valley to Naivasha.  This time we took the lower route back to Limuru which went past Mount Longanot and up the escarpment to Limuru.

Even though the trip out of hell to Rusinga Island was a disaster, the whole journey was another experience of Africa that would add to our life memories of a wonderful people, a fascinating culture and nation.  Our minds were still trying to grasp what it would be like to have your whole family die of a disease and come back to a ghost town full of empty houses.  Peter’s mother would eventually die of injuries from a matatu crash.  His mother, according to custom, was buried on Rusinga Island at the family homestead, next to the rest of her family.  The insurance company, in cahoots with the justice system, never paid a single cent to the family.  Even though the judge was arrested on corruption charges, he was later released for lack of evidence!

READING CHAIR – Missionary: 5. “Post-Election Violence”, Kenya

Post Election Violence When I first arrived in Kenya, it was right after the Post-Election violence that racked Kenya for several months.  The effects of that violence would be felt for several years through all the victims that sought help, both medical and psychological.

One of our African brothers, Daniel, told me the story about his own family.  His mother had hid a Kalogen family in their house until the violence settled down and they could return safely to another part of the country.  The Kalogens, Ex-President Moi’s tribe, were hated by the Kikuyu tribe, which was the First President Kenyatta’s tribe.  There are forty-four tribes in Kenya, the Kikuyu being the largest.  The violence broke out because President Moi was elected again in an almost certainly rigged election.  There always was violence between the tribes which was used by Moi and the other political leaders to their advantage with expected results, instability in the country, especially at election time.  During this time of violence old scores between the tribes were settled; those non-tribe people who settled in other tribal lands legally and illegally.  They were usually eliminated the favorite way by machetes or burning their houses down with the family in it!

Post Election Violence2There were incidences where Christians were dragging out their catechists in their parish and clubbing them to death simply because they were from another tribe.  The whole violence was similar to the Rwandan Massacres, but on a smaller scale.  Anyone who harbored the “enemy” tribe member was in danger themselves.  Daniel’s mother was quite a strong and brave Kikuyu Christian to protect a Kalogen family in her own home, but his mother was putting the whole family into real danger.

Some time afterwards, the young men of their village found out what his mother had done, saving a Kalogen family.  In revenge, they captured his sister and gang raped her.  The added tragedy was that she caught AIDS which she eventually died from.  Brother Daniel was besides himself, having to come to terms with the revenge of fellow Christians on his sister.

With the defeat of President Moi the newly elected President Kibaki, a Kikyu, the country was ecstatic to be rid of a regime that only encouraged violence to stay in power, violence between the tribes rather than uniting them.  But when Kibaki won the next election against Uhuru Kenyatta, a fellow Kikuyu, violence broke out again because of voting irregularities across the country and government interference in the voting process.  This time the violence was even more severe and over two thousand people died.

Our Novitiate community became threatened to the extent that we had to move our novices into Nairobi for protection, since some of our guys were from other tribes and our Novitiate was in Kikuyu land.  Eventually the violence settled died down and the government gained control of the country again.  There were many brave people though who went unmentioned in the Post-Election violence that did heroic acts that saved many people, as our own brothers could testify.

Again the after-effects of the violence showed up with people needing immediate help and aid, both economical, physical, and psychological.  One family showed up at our door.  It was a mother and her three daughters, all were raped after the husband was killed.  With no man to protect them, they were at the mercy of the men in the area.  One daughter was in such serious condition from STD that she could hardly walk.  She was taken to our doctor in Limuru village to be treated, along with the other women.  Eventually we helped the mother to find a place to settle with her daughters and try to get their lives back together.

The youngest daughter was able to find work with an elderly man as a house-keeper.  The mother worked any jobs she cold find in the area, from laundry at night to working in the fields during the day.  Another daughter went back to school, but after her AIDS status was found out she had to leave school because of the other students.  The oldest daughter, who eventually recovered from her severe infection, unfortunately got involved with a driver of a local Matatu (the common name for the public bus, a Nissan van).  Tragically, the girl was found killed and dumped in a ditch with her breasts cut off.  The driver was eventually caught and arrested.  He admitted to killing the girl because she had AIDS and didn’t tell him.

Post Election Violence3The youngest daughter had to leave the employ of the elderly man because he molested her.  The man ran away but was eventually caught.  Nothing was done to him in the end.  The one daughter who quit school killed herself.  The mother and youngest daughter are still living with AIDS and have finally received treatment to keep them alive for as long as the retrovirus is effective.  Life is difficult in Africa.  A woman with a family without a man is vulnerable on her own and in unfamiliar land.  She is literally at the mercy of the community, but life is difficult for everyone, especially in the villages.  The only thing the the mother and her daughter have going for them is that they are living in Kikuyu land which is at least their own tribe.

We had many people come to our front door with all sorts of stories.  These two are the worse ones we have had to deal with personally, besides having to move to Nairobi for our own safety.  Eventually the country would settle back down to the old routine, until the next elections.

READING CHAIR – Missionary: “The Donkey Doctor”

The Donkey Doctor

In Limuru, Kenya, there were plenty of donkeys everywhere.  Usually the men or older boys would use them for any kind of transportation or just hauling things for people in the area.  The young boys would haul large water tanks to bring to people who were regular customers.  The older men would use the donkeys to haul loads of goods like timber for the local merchants.  Unfortunately, there were many abuses and the animals were often injured or even killed.  The young boys would often race their donkey against each other that often ended in injury not only to the beast but also to the young donkeyboys.  I could see them from our property racing down the bad road that goes past our place, thinking, there is going to be a bad accident one of these days.  And there was an accident, but not from the young boys.  One of the older men had his donkey cart loaded down with so many bags of maize that the donkey could hardly walk, let alone carry the whole load.  The man kept beating the poor donkey, and the animal was trying to avoid his whip heading in the direction that would lead to the edge of the road where there was a drop off deep enough to overturn the cart.  The man was using a long black rubber tube to beat the animal, and would not let up until the donkey headed off the road and fell into the ditch with the bags of maize falling on top of him.  The man was furious and kept beating him. A phrase came to mind, “Beating a dead horse,” that matched the scene, except the donkey was still alive.

The Donkey Doctor would have been furious with the man if ever she was there.  If I had her number, I would have called her.  She was known in the are as a donkey advocate, always trying to exhort people to treat their animals better, certainly to stop beating them.  She told me once that the Kikuyu women beat their men and the men take it out on their donkeys.  I first met her because our guard dog was hit by a car.  Since the dog was not technically ours, there was not much we could do about it.  The dog survived the accident.  I need to explain about the dog more.  It was a beautiful black dog, very shy, probably beaten itself.  It used to come to our property and “hang out” with our Masai guards.  For some reason, the dog loved & trusted them!  They would never approach us, but soon as the Masai guards showed up for guard duty, the dog would cross the street and “hang out” with them.  It was a strange situation, because the dog still had an owner.  When the dog got hit by a car, it stayed on the other side of the road until it got better, but now it could not walk right.  The dog would growl at anyone coming onto the property until the Masai told the dog it was OK.  It even growled at us, but since it made a great addition for protection, we let it stay.  The men didn’t seem overly fond of the dog and didn’t give it any special treatment or affection.  Still, we could see the dog looked forward to meeting our Masai guards.  One day the dog got sick and seemed like it was not going to recover.  I offered to take it to the vet, who I found out later, was the famous Donkey Doctor.  She told me that they brought the dog to them earlier when it had gotten hit, and she did what she could, but her hip was in pretty bad shape.  It seemed that this time all the bones the dog was given to eat were now blocked in its gut, because her hip had made the passage too small now for the bones to pass. She was able to remove the bones, but told the Masai to stop feeding her bones or it could kill her next time.

donkey 2The visit gave me a chance to see her property.  It was quite big, as were all property owned by the Mzungu (or “white man”).  Technically some of us were “alien residents”, or the white folks who were in the country at the beginning of statehood from colonization by Europe for many African countries.  She raised a certain kind of cattle that originated in Scotland, a beefy animal that was light tan in color.  She had dogs everywhere!  I would not get out of the car until I saw her approach.  When she definitely let me know that it was alright, then I got out.  I was very pleased that she led me on a tour of her compound, because I saw that she had rabbits.  With all these dogs, though, I was surprised that she didn’t have any trouble.  Thus began her lecture on how animals will respond as you want them to, once you give them direction and your expectations.  I thought to myself, I wonder if that works with humans?  But then I quickly realized why the dogs never bothered the rabbits; they were huge!!!  I never saw such bigger rabbits in my life!  The rabbits were as big as the dogs.  She had quite a strange place here with the rabbits and her cattle from Scotland, not to mention her attitude towards the donkeys. It may have been accepted and praised elsewhere, but not necessarily here in Kikuyu land.  I knew right then, that I wanted to breed her rabbits with ours, to “boost” our breed.

She told me that she fed them calf pellets instead of rabbit pellets.  I was not surprised, even though I had never heard of calf pellets before.  We just fed them Napier grass and our special mixture of feeds to boost their milk supply, cow and calf.  We raised our own rabbits using certain weeds from the garden and certain select vegetables.  I found out the hard way that cabbage leaves could kill the young ones.  We raised the rabbits to eat, so imagine her monster rabbits added to our food supplement!  It took at least four rabbits to make a meal.  That meant we could only have rabbits, if there were no problems, at least twice a month!  Two of her rabbits would have been plenty.

You could never believe the problems we had raising rabbits, considering the wild dogs that roamed the area and the “Askari Ants”.  These ants were everywhere and seemed to know when the mothers were going to have babies.  One time I was waiting for one of my rabbits to give birth any day now.  Finally, she gave birth to seven beautiful brown babies.  But as I reached into the cage to examine them, I realized they were not brown at all, but were literally covered with the infamous Askari Ants, thousands of them on just one baby alone, biting them with their poison and eventually killing all seven!  I asked the locals what I should do.  They said to spread ashes around the floor of the cages and under the cages.  Others said that I needed to grease the legs of the cages with oil, lots of oil.  They also said that the Askari Ants knew when the mothers were going to have babies because of the blood in their urine.  I needed to make sure that the cages had something under them to catch the urine, at least from the expectant mothers, so that it doesn’t get into the soil and alert the ants.

I never was successful at breeding her rabbits with mine, they were just too big.  After killing three of my females in childbirth, I gave up; the Donkey Doctor was not about to give me a female.  We continued to visit the Vet every now and then because of our dog, cows, rabbits, and other animals that intermittently got sick.  Every once in a while I would visit her just to see the rabbits.  Oh, her place was also filled with about five or more donkeys recovering at a time.  Some would never be able to pull a cart again, but she still took care of them anyway.  We paid her in cash, but would add strawberry jam or strawberry rhubarb pie.  One of the brothers would make jam or pie for me to give to her, but a problem arose that I just had not foreseen.  It took one of the women from our farm to point it out.  Simply put, it looked like I was courting her with the jam and pie.  Here out in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of Africa, a Mzungu man bringing jam and pie to a Mzungu woman, looks pretty obvious, except to me.  I never thought anything of it.  The irony of it all is that a Kikuyu woman had to point it out, and our cultures couldn’t be more different, but Kikuyu women are very smart; African women are very smart!  She new that I would be having problems in the future, so she had to intervene and spell it out for me.  To this day I am thankful to her, because I would have been so embarrassed; probably for the rest of my life.

I eventually left Kenya for Zambia, but I have never ceased to be impressed with the Donkey Doctor and her love for animals.  The men were afraid of her, called her a white witch.  If ever there was a donkey whisperer, she would be it.  I missed Limuru with its unique life and beauty, but I was ready to move on.  Maybe the further I got from an embarrassing situation the better I would feel.  I will always remember her, especially anytime I am around animals, especially donkeys.