I meet Abdullah the butcher in 2002.

I meet Abdullah the butcher after I saw him wrestle at the American Legion hall in Reseda, California. It was the most amazing site I have beheld, up until now that is. Abdullah made a career on extreme or hardcore wrestling battling foes in rings riddled with barbed wire, glass, thumbtacks, and plastic explosives. He was one of the most brutal guys ever. He attacked his foes with cheese graders, forks to the eyes, and brass knuckles. When I saw him wrestle he must have been in his late 50’s or older. This man once the prime example of wrestling extremes was now performing at a local legion hall. I waited like two hours after the show to meet him. I just wanted to say hello and shake his hand, and maybe get an autograph. I was lead in to a very small room with a thick cloud of cigar smoke. Right there at this large table that ran length ways across the room sat Abdullah the Butcher. He was smoking a cigar and eating some KFC from the bucket. He must have been just under 6 feet tall and weighed in around 450 pounds. He had the most scared forehead I have seen. This man a living legend created in me the though of someone’s father, or grandfather. I was soon taken by him. His presence demanded respect. Not for fear but that this man has gone through hell and has lived. Broken and battered he entertained my questions and those of the guys with me. His face light up when a small child walked into the room and ask if Mr. Butcher could sign his program. I got my autography and left there that night with new eyes and realized that life is different from every set of eyes. Yet it is the same breath that keeps us living.

My office mates elected me the official office monitor of the US election. So all day I was called on to research and inform the office on all of the nitty gritty that occurred in tabulating the results. So I followed the results and comments on www.cnn.com, www.msnbc.com, www.bbc.com, www.skynews.com, and http://english.aljazeera.net/english/. Every half an hour of so someone would ask who is winning, did Bill Clinton come back and claim his Kingship? So many people here love Bill Clinton. In between all of the electoral hoopla we managed to do some work. We are in the midst of developing new projects and preparing to visit ongoing ones. If you get the chance read about it on www.cwsea.org, click on the African Initiative. This is what we are working on to fulfill. It is a five-year plan. We are looking at expanding our service in Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzanian, Somalia, Kenya, and across Africa in general. The new Somali a government is attempting to rebuild the infrastructure that was destroyed during the civil war. Since the war started 13 years ago, 500,000 people had died; 2 million have been displaced; 90 percent of the school buildings have been destroyed; only 17 percent of children go to school; and 70 percent of Somalia’s 10-million people live below the poverty line. This is an excerpt from an article I am writing for our biannual newsletter, The East African Review. There will be many opportunities to serve in this rebuilding. There is also civil unrest in Sudan, as most of you know, Northern Uganda, the former Congo, just to name a few areas. The whole of East Africa suffers from a food security issue. The region heavily depends on rain for crop growth and drought affects this greatly. This strains an already fragile psyche of children and women that are the most marginalized class when the factors are pushed to the forefront. We hope to construct a reliable and sustainable infrastructure to combat these negative issues encountered by the people of Africa.

I left work after the rain knocked out the power at my office, for the third time this week. Losing power is part of the culture here in Kenya. The power goes out and people do not blink an eye. I have gotten used to it. So as I leave (I had no rain coat only a pullover) the rain started to pick up. I have to walk maybe 1.5 kilometers to work from my home. I started to turn the corner of the main highway and the rain started to fall in buckets. People started to run home all around me. I decided to tough it out and leisurely walk home. I got maybe 100 yards from my home and the sky opened up and Jesus himself started to spill water from the heavens.

I could honestly barely see in front of me it was raining so hard. Rain to right of me, Rain to left of me, Rain in front of me Volleying and thundering; Storming with sleet and hail, Boldly I strolled and well, into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell.

As I arrived at my doorstep I was covered with water. Not a spot was dry. My boots, my pants, my jacket all absorbed the Africa rainstorm that erupted on me. I did not mind it at all. I was receiving many inquiring looks. I thought this was funny. So I turned on my water heater and waited the half an hour it takes to get hot water and showered to get warm. Imagine I was cold in Africa.

By this time I was very sick of the election coverage. I will say the last few days I have felt as if I had never left America. The election coverage was on almost all of the TV stations here in Kenya. Almost that is except for the wonderful channel that was kerrying the Timon and Pumba Lion King cartoon. So I begin to watch this cartoon. I will admit to the fact that I have found a particular solace in cartoons in Kenya and watch them every chance I get. I just think it is a bit odd to watch the Lion King cartoon in Kenya, home of the inspiration for the series.

My point in bringing this up is this, the episode I watched was called, “shake your Djibouti”. The name alone is freaking’ highlarious to me! Anyway the episode had many chase scenes involving running through villages and such. I wondered to myself, having been to the area that inspired the Lion King, where did all of the western type houses come from? Where are all of the bomas? The thorn bush fences? I am sorry for analyzing too much a kid’s show. It just was puzzling me. So if you have any answers for me please write.

I want to also let you know that a bacon and ham sandwich is not a good idea if you have not had anything for breakfast other than high fiber hot cereal called Weetabix. Man I am in poor shape today. My stomach is killing me.

I have also noticed my age more and more lately. I embrace my age and realize it is a blessing. Man I just might be one of those old guys that try to be 18 again. The kind of meathead that will compete with the young guys just to save face and then go home and rest for the entire weekend. I think about the glory days of yesterday and ponders that if only I would have scored that winning touchdown my life would be different. Hahahahaha I should be in that Kurt Russell and Robin Williams football movie set in the Kern valley, The Best of Times. Go Reno Hightower!!!!

Senior fancy pants and the dancing frog.

Yesterday I was told, “Ryan back your bags and get your passport we are going to Uganda.” I just about wet myself! I am very excited by this adventure. This is a most wonderful opportunity for me to see East Africa and gain more valuable experience. I will write more on this when I return.

This thought has been brewing since the first days I arrived here in Kenya. I am a very friendly and caring person by nature. I have it on my heart to serve and love people. If I see a need I do my best to provide or fulfill that need. I have brought this condition with me to Africa. I have seen many amazingly challenging sites and the need is great among the people of Africa. To this I made a concerted effort to befriend and love those I live among. The askari (security) at my home, the hawkers on the way to work, those folks that work at the compound, and those I have had a chance to meet at church.

This brings me to my dilemma. I am a target for people seeking a pass to the States, for a sponsor to gain an education, for financial gain, and minimal food security. I have had many people befriend me and welcome me to this amazing country. I was very thankful to receive these warm welcomes and cheerful hearts. I was warned about the potential for my skin color to be a sign of affluence. I have recently become aware of the truth of this warning.

I have been taken advantage of on numerous occasions and this has made me bitter. I have begun to question whom I can trust and who is truly my friend. I wonder why is this person and that person my friend? What are they seeking? I spoke to a man that I trust and know I can trust him. He counseled me about this matter. He gave me wise and thoughtful advice. He told me that no matter what my situation is here in Africa the program I am volunteering in provides me with shelter and food to eat. They do not provide you with an income that can sustain a nation or even a few people. The allowance I receive provides for me and me alone. I cannot feel guilty for not helping everyone.

I do need to be aware that my skin is a mark of affluence to most of the people in Kenya. I may not be rich, but the other white people the tourists come here with large amounts of money and throw it around on luxurious accommodations and this is what the askari and service workers see. I will meet people that will try to befriend me so that I can “invite” them to America as my guest, sponsor them or a child to receive an education, or even buy the village a water tank or bore hole. I am frustrated by this new understanding. I am faithful in knowing God sent me here for a reason. I am certain that the experience that I am having here in Africa can only bring forth a more compassionate and aware person in Ryan. I cannot help but to wonder how is this beautiful nation benefiting from the tourist trade. In one hand it provides a much needed economic boost. While in the other hand it makes an economically fragile people dependent on the Muzungus that come here and hunt for that authentic Africa experience and prey on its young female populations. It blows my mind the stories I have heard.

Fear and Loathing in America

Here goes my first rant… I am so sick and tired of this Presidential race! I hear about what John Kerry said and what President Bush said. They rebuke each other as if they were exorcizing demons. I would love a candidate I could truly support. I am sick of the lesser of two evils in American politics. I fear reciprocity will exist regardless of who is in office. If the pendulum keeps swinging like this (to opposite extremes) we may just break as a nation. It is my opinion that we as a nation need to act together regardless of political position to regain the decency and dignity that nonce existed in American politics. We used to be admired and used as the benchmark for the democratic process. Now I hear folks say that America needs Election Inspectors and is corrupt.

As I experience America through the eyes of Kenyans and citizens of the UK, Tanzanian, Uganda, Sudan, Somali, Malawi, South Africa, India, Germany, Australia, and Canada. I become aware of the very different way in which we as a nation are viewed. I am not suggesting that America operate with the desire to look good to every other country in the world. Nor do I believe that we need to please other nations before our citizens. I do think we, as a nation need to be aware of our actions, individually and collectively. This is not a statement to support the democrats or republicans. This is a statement that we need change not the kind of change that either candidate is offering.

As a Christian I chose to see the world as Christ sees the world, full of creations he loves and is involved in. I see much emotion and hatred towards either candidate from the opposition. Where has the compassion and gentile disagreement gone? Am I living in a cave? Is it too much to desire a little respect in politics? Where is loving the sinner and hating the sin in this? Can’t we all just get along? (thanks Rodney!)

Regardless of who is elected to office this year, we as a nation have along way to go in healing the schism that has been created between the people. This is not President Bush or John Kerry’s fault. It is the fault of the people of The United States of America. America needs to take responsibility for where it is. This nation is very young in the scope of world history. We will succeed and fail, just like any other nation. We need to learn from our mistakes and not polarize them (no politician is innocent of this). America is no longer the puritan nation of its birth. The southern hemisphere as the nesting place of Christianity is replacing us, the west. America is a wonderful nation. I feel very blessed to have been born there. With all of is faults and difficulties I still would rather live there than anywhere else. It is time that we look at the similarity and ties that bind us rather the differences that brings lessons of tolerance and intolerance. I hope that the youth generation looks at themselves and takes action. We have the right to vote and let our voice be heard. We owe it to each other as Americans to respect each other. We are a better country when we have a multitude of opinions being discussed. We all have the right to agree and disagree with these ideas and each other. We do not have the right as humans to devalue and belittle those that oppose us. I desire that justice, liberty, and respectability be returned to the American people.

Food for thought…and life!

There were countless faces with great need in the drought stricken area of Kitui, Kenya. Our group from CWS had just arrived at the distribution center as a truckload of beans, maize, and maize seed were being delivered by National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) personnel. Already hours before the distribution were to begin there existed a huge group of people waiting to receive the aid. For many this would be a first meal in days and this would be the only food they would secure for the coming month.
Syombua Mbeva Kimali was just one of the hundreds of men, women, and children waiting in line to receive food that day. She stood out among the crowd waiting there that day. There was wisdom in her eyes and deep contemplation on her face. She looked to be ravaged by her circumstances. She also waited alone on top of a rock for her turn to receive the badly needed food. She waited for over four hours before she discovered that her name was not on the distribution list. She silently retreated to the wilderness of Kitui. She carried a defeated look and looked to be walking into certain death. She was pursued by members of the NCCK staff and brought back to the waiting area. There she was assisted under the shade of a large tree to obtain food.
Mama Kimali received that day one kilogram of beans and three kilograms of maize. She also received a bag of maize seed. As we sat there under the tree she shared her story with us. She lost her husband many, many years ago. Her sons had left the village to make and send back money.

They had not sent home money nor had they returned home. Her daughters soon followed and have not been heard from again. Proudly she claims her 105 years. She wears it like a badge of honor.
When asked about the food she received that day. She smiled and thanked the people that made it possible for her blessings. She said the four kilos of food would last her into the next month. She and the family she stayed with would plant the seeds. Mama Kimali happily proclaimed that she would be in the fields with the other women harvesting the crops and that the seeds would give her a sustainable food supply. This was well worth the over five mile walk she endured to get to the distribution center that day.
This emergency food distribution program is implemented by NCCK, a CWS partner, with the support of Action by Churches Together (ACT) to alleviate the need for provision during the initial phase of drought recovery. The implementation of drought recovery measures by NCCK and its member churches is all part of the larger action plan in Eastern Africa to elevate hunger and eliminate the dramatic suffering incurred in times of drought, flooding, and civil unrest. It is hoped that through such proactive initiatives as dam rehabilitation, drilling of boreholes, community education, and supplying farm inputs that the likelihood and magnitude of disasters shall be lessened in the future. CWS wishes to thank all of its supporters that walk with us as we continue to serve these communities.

Empowering Africa’s future

In Bungokho County, Eastern Uganda the community has been ravaged by the HIV/Aids epidemic. These families that comprise the communities have been decimated and an entire generation lost. Leaving behind grandmothers and grandfathers and a few lucky Aunts, Uncles, and older siblings to raise the children absent of any traditional family structure adding to the burden that the girl children already bear in the current social structure and attitude towards women and the girl child.
In response to these tragic developments Foundation for Development of Needy Communities (FDNC) found it necessary to empower the girl child to dispel the traditional attitudes towards women as property and to ensure that the girl child can become equal contributors and in some cases the sole contributor for the family.
Church World Service has partnered with the FDNC and through advocacy, policy making, a vocational school, a girls High School, and with direct sponsorship the FDNC has embarked on the empowerment of the girl child to help elevate these communities ravaged by poverty, the HIV/Aids epidemic, and food shortages.
The efforts on advocacy and policy making in the region are beginning to take root and are growing in its reach. Many of the surrounding communities such as Tororo, Palisa, and Sironkgo are advocating the empowerment and education of the girl child and traditional attitudes towards the girl child are changing. FDNC has been recognized for its work in this area by the local Governmental office of Uganda.
In response to the growing success of the girl child empowerment project FDNC has begun the Nabumali Girls High School. This high school is focusing on science and technology in hopes to educate more girls in these areas and provide the training necessary for the girls to achieve their dreams. The high school is also operated in conjunction with sponsorship of girls that live too far away from the high school to attend. With sponsorship comes school fees, uniforms, vocational training, and for some self-reliant activities such as goat rearing, and income generating activities to sustain their livelihoods.
Many of these young girls sponsored by FDNC are the head of the household. One such young girl is Justine Musibiicha. Justine is fifteen years old and is raising her four siblings (ages 13,11,9,and 5 years old) as she attends high school. She attends high school with the assistance of FDNC at a school just two kilometers away from here home so she can be closer to the family she is raising.
Justine lost her father in 2001 due to Aids. The little land they had owned was sold to pay for her father’s treatment of his condition. She then lost her mother in 2003 also from the HIV/Aids epidemic. Her grandmother was able to support her until she passed away in early 2004 leaving Justine as the head of her household. Since early 2004 Justine relied on hand outs from the community to survive and to provide for her four siblings. Then FDNC stepped in to sponsor her and provide her with an education. Justine now dreams of climbing out of the poverty cycle she and her siblings are currently in. Justine dreams and aspires to be a doctor. To provide a living for her family and to help in combating the HIV/Aids epidemic which has robbed her of her parents and many other childrens parents in the region. This dream is possible due to the work of FDNC through the girl child empowerment program and CWS partners funding this program.

To clarify something’s…

I want to make sure that anyone that reads the posting titled Dear National Geographic, regarding my adventure out in the field(the marriage story) knows that reading it requires and amazing amount of salt. It is a dramatization based on events that I experienced and embellished to create a funny and entertaining story. It was meant as a lighthearted joke and not meant to harm anyone’s psyche.

My first post(it is an old thought).

I was asked by a cousin of mine to share with her Africa in my eyes. I wrote here the following words and wanted to share it with all of my family and friends. I am hoping to set up a website to place my photos and things such as this and a journal, and the newsletters I write. So if any of you have any ideas or want to help please let me know.

I am serving Church World Service (CWS) in the East African Office…we have a website that I am running (www.cwsea.org). Check it out!

Kenya is so beautiful. I have seen the savanna of the Southern Province. Which is home to the Maasai and Kamba people. The Maasai are famous for their hunting of lions and the raising of cattle. The Maasai believe that God gave them every, that is every last one, cattle on earth. If they take cattle from you it is not stealing it is taking what is theirs.

The area is home to the most amazing sights. The land is full of rolling hills large open plains full of tall grasses and the most amazing trees you have ever seen. This is where the Great Rift Valley begins. Which is called the cradle of civilization and where man came down from the trees, evolving to humankind. I am suggesting the website http://www.kenyalogy.com to find out more about Kenya and the places I have described or mention. The maps are very good. You can even refer to them as I travel across East Africa.

The other day while on assignment I heard this phrase, “hey where are we? I think we are in Tanzania! Well then drive us back to Kenya!” It was one of the funniest things I have heard while I have been here. The Tanzania border is about 150 kilometers away, which is about 100 miles. I was traveling to an area called Kajiado where we are constructing retention dams for the Maasai people. This area was hard hit by drought and many people died and lost livestock due to these conditions. The dams will collect rainwater and provide water throughout the year for this region. As we were out in the bush, the roads were non-existent; we took a “shortcut” and drove around for four hours ending up in a zone that could have been Tanzania or Kenya. The driver thought we were in Tanzania. Hakuna Matata (no worries) is what they say. It is very true this phrase! If you look at the map of Kenya at the above website we where near Lake Natron and Lake Magadi. The village of Magadi is where we were trying to go.

When I have traveled to these Locations I go with a driver and 1-2 guys. I work with all of these people at CWS. As I visit these sites I record the site with video and photography. I also observe the working conditions of the varied sites and record the human interest or impact these projects have had on the local community. We will encounter projects ranging from food security, sustainable water supplying, women and girl child empowerment, capacity building, emergency food & water provision, disaster management training, round table discussions, facilitate negotiations during civil unrest, and HIV/Aids care and education/prevention programs. We accomplish these projects with local partners. This is why I travel and why they need someone to do what I am doing. I am also putting together a training class so the local partners can collect the information of impact, human interest, reporting progress, and observation. I basically aim to teach them how to be reporters of there local regions.

Since I have technology skills and can type faster than 30 words per minute I have become somewhat of a secretary as well. I have only traveled to the Southern regions of Kenya thus far. I am going to the Blue Nile region of Sudan the last week of November (this is the area near Ethiopia) to participate in a disaster management training session. It looks as if I will be traveling to Uganda, Tanzania (on purpose this time), and Rwanda. I am also slated to travel to the Tana River region, West Pokot, Narok, Turkana (home of the Jade Sea), and near Baringo all in Kenya.

I am allowed 1-2 weeks of vacation while I am here. If more is required than it can be negotiated. I work Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm and sometimes stay till 6:00 pm. On the weekends I catch up on chores or sight see.

I will say it is a far cry from home when I have to do laundry. I wash everything by hand and hang dry it all inside of my flat. It is funny to see all of my stuff drying in my room. It is hard to do and takes me pretty much all day to do and makes me tired. It is a great workout! I have a cleaning lady that is provided by the flat office. I do also have to boil all of my drinking and food preparing water. This to is a laborious project. It sure beats getting typhoid or giardeia, again.

I hope to visit the Indian Ocean via Mombassa or Malindi. I may save this if Grant is going to come and visit me here. I have heard that I might be able to participate in a church retreat to Zanzibar, which is off the coast of Tanzania. I am planning on going with St. Andrews Presbyterian Church of Nairobi to Mount Kenya in December sometime. I crave all of the wonderful foods I love. I miss the good old American cheese burger. I miss my moms cooking and my dads BBQ. I miss Jewish deli’s. I miss Mexican food so much. I had a difficult time adjusting to the food here in Kenya. For the most part the food is bland and boring. You would cook this way too if all you had was maize and beans, and maybe a goat. I look forward to eating at the cafeteria at work. I love the chicken and beef dishes. There is this very spicy Ethiopian dish with chicken and eggs over rice, which is my favorite there. I also enjoy the fish they serve. We have real grocery stores here, Uchumi and Nakumatt. I shop at Uchumi because I can walk there. I can pick up milk, bread, cheese (Kenya cheddar is pretty good), rice, sweets, beef, chicken, pork, goat, mutton, and even breakfast cereal (this is expensive). I did get to sample goat at a place in the Ngong Hills during a Nyoma Choma (basically a barbeque style outdoor eating situation) and also tried gazelle, crocodile, and ostrich. I liked the ostrich the best. The croc tasted like fishy chicken and the gazelle was very gamy. I had beef Nyoma Choma with some friends and loved it! It was the freshest steak I had ever had. To date I have lost 35 pounds since landing in Kenya.