Friday, January 10, 2014

Life With Lynne

Lynne Ward
aka Lynnie Lump Lump
aka Bim Bim
aka Ma Bim
aka #1 fan

Or as I know her best...Mom.

It concerns me that living in different cities has meant that despite moulding me into the magnificent human I am today.....


...many of my friends have not had the privilege of meeting the woman I call Mom.  So lets start at the beginning.

My mom is small in stature (yes, we can still share jeans), but big in personality.  She can often be heard before she is seen, with a contagious laugh and a powerful whistle.  She was the mom that woke us up for school with a smile, had a healthy lunch packed and was there to greet us when we got home. Her love was tangible.  Even in my more rebellious years when she may have hated the choices I made, I always knew she still loved the person I was.  And let's face it, most of those choices were Amanda's fault anyways...

                                                           (we love you Amanda!)

People are often surprised that my brother and I became such avid travellers despite the fact that until recently my mom had never even left North America.  However it is clear that we both felt confident enough to go abroad because we knew we had a great support system back home.  Growing up in such a loving environment instills the confidence and security it takes to know you can handle new challenges.  My brother and I can no longer claim that we are the travellers of the family as last year my parents hopped on a plane and joined me for an epic adventure in Kenya (my mom's first time out of North America!).

Another reason I am able to experience these remote places is because she has taught me to love the outdoors.  A runner, a cyclist, a camper...this woman is not going to let a few bugs or a bit of dirt cause her to panic.

In my youth, her ability to blur the line between stranger and friend was the cause of endless embarrassment, but as I age I realize this is a trait so few possess and has incredible value.  She will strike up conversation anywhere and without discrimination.  The homeless man on the street, the lady behind her in line, the guy trying to sleep next to her on the subway.  In her eyes, all these people represent opportunities to share a laugh and a common experience.

She has taught me over the years that it is better to try than to win.  Which has proven to be extremely valuable as winning is rare for me.  I would argue that despite never being at the front of the pack, we have the most fun there...laughing, singing and making friends along the way.

                                         (Yes, we are that proud of our participation medals)

She has taught me not to take myself too seriously and that being mature doesn't mean you can't have fun. She has the incredible ability to find humour in almost anything, no matter the situation.  

She has shown me through her relationship with my dad, what love really looks like.  Together they have taught me the value of relationships and experiences over 'stuff'.

I don't really know how to sum it up other than my mom is better than your mom (I'm allowed to say that because it is her birthday)!  So Happy Birthday mom.  With age I have finally come to realize that anything worthwhile I have done or anything good about my personality has come directly from you, so thank you.

I wish I was there to celebrate in person, but we will go out for a night of virgin cuba libres soon!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

10 Things I Know to be True About Michael DeRose

1)  He is a legend amongst my friends.  While not everyone has been lucky enough to meet him, it is guaranteed they have had to endure endless reminders as to why he is my favourite
2)  He loves to sleep in.  Early afternoon he stumbles from his room, his hair reaching new heights as though it woke up hours before his body did.  He looks to me at the kitchen table with a wide grin, sheepishly apologizing for being in his underwear although I get the pleasure of seeing him this way more often than not.

3)  He's got phenomenal eyelashes.  While I waste time meticulously curling and coating mine with mascara, apart of me knows it is all for nothing, as they will never compare to Mike's.  

4)  He could not only survive off of, but actually live a very happy life if the only two things in it were pizza and movies.

5) If an artist is classified as a 'Diva', Mike not only knows all of her songs, but the year they came out and what she wore on the album cover

6) He has no close friends because at that point he just considers them family.  

7)  Nothing cheers him up like Celine Dion. 

8)  He is the funniest guy I know.  My favorite activity is simply sitting at the kitchen table, trying not to choke as he entertains me with recaps of his day.  What makes his hilarity so brilliant is that he can quite literally tailor it to anyone, meaning he often has a room full of people wanting to be his best friend.  

9)  He is going to make it big.  Get him to sign things while you can because trust me, this man is talented.  Currently on the broadway tour of Godspell he now definitely spends more time on stage then off.  

10)  He has completely stolen my heart.  


Monday, October 21, 2013

Dear Lloyd & Millie

I thought of you today.

I’m not saying you don’t cross my mind most days, but it is normally a fleeting thought.  A quick flash when I recognize your smile in another’s or when my nostrils catch a passing smell of Downy.  But today was different.  I was working, mindlessly serving tables, an activity so second nature that I’m often tuned out and busy planning my next adventure in my head. 

Her: “Yeah, I’m heading back to Chatham tomorrow

The sentence floated by me and while it normally wouldn't even stop to register, Chatham grabbed me.  I turned around… 

Me: “I used to spend a lot of time in Chatham. I have family there.

Her: “Who?  I probably know them!

I thought of fixing my blunder…I HAD family there, but instead I chose to engage her. 

Me: “My grandparents, Lloyd and Mildred Ottaway lived there.”

OH!  Lloyd and Millie, of course I know them!  I went to their church; they were like second parents to me.  You know your grandparents were amazing people; I’ve never met a more loving and caring couple.  Did they tell you about the time they helped…

As she sung your praises my eyes clouded and chest tightened.  I could feel myself losing it in the middle of the dining room.  I wasn't surprised that she knew you.  And I certainly wasn't surprised that she loved you.  How could she not?  I politely shook her hand and hurried out of the dining room as your absence was robbing me of my breath.  I sat outside by the dumpsters and wondered how I had managed to ‘fill’ the hole that your deaths had created.  Just then it felt as wide and gaping as the day you left.  I marveled at my ability to convince myself that I had healed. 

That night I tried to picture you, but struggled to get an image in your entirety .  You are now a collection of small pieces jumbled in my mind. 

I remember how thick and strong your hands were, the white undershirt you would always wake up wearing, the familiar smell of Old Spice, the way you so carefully combed over your stark white hair.  I remember your morning stubble rubbing my young cheeks when you kissed me, I remember waking up and seeing you at the foot of my bed praying for me, I remember how you treated everyone as though they were family and I remember the look of pride on your face while introducing me to your friends. 
Your hands were small and their skin loose, but when you took my hand in yours it was firm and protective.  You never failed to squeeze it three times, our silent way of saying ‘I Love You’.  I remember days in your kitchen, laughing so hard my stomach hurt, tears pouring from my eyes...laughing so long that often we forgot what first sent us into hysterics.  At the time I didn't know how rare this was, this uninhibited laughter, but as I age I realize how precious this time was.  You were able to find humour in everything, even having us in stitches at your hospital bedside.  I remember how your presence could command a room, despite your small stature of 4’11. 

But most of all I remember both your love.  This is the hardest part.  I am so grateful that I got to experience it, but knowing it will never be replicated is hard to bear.  I wish when I spoke of you I could do you justice, but words will always fail me.

I'm happy the lady came in, I'm happy I served her and I'm happy for the pain it caused.  It was an unexpected reminder of the amazing people you both were and the person I hope to be. 

I love you. 


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Starfish - Asante Sana

I didn't want to glance back, but I did.  I knew he would be there.  As always his little legs had carried him around the back of the house where he watched and waved until we were no longer in his view.  This final image of J-Mo happily waving us off triggered a loud sob as I succumbed to the pain of saying goodbye.  Only Boni and Joseph seemed to understand that we wouldn't be coming back as the others were simply captivated by my tears.  Saying goodbye was every bit as painful as I imagined and as we made what would be our last trek home from their house, my mind was flooded with memories of our past 6 months together.  Six months is an incredibly short time, but enough that I developed a sincere love for these children.  When I think of Kenya it will be these 7 faces that first come to mind and the main reason why I will return. 

While we always had a great time just playing at the house, it will be the trips with the kids that I remember most.  These outings would not have been possible without the Starfish campaign and for that I thank you.  You so generously donated to the children and while they were the recipients of the 'stuff', Mary and I were able to experience the joy of giving it to them.  Because of our friends and family we were able to feel like Santa Claus on a daily basis.  These are not kids who are used to receiving anything meaing EVERYTHING we brought them was exciting.  Soon after meeting the children for the first time we brought them some bed sheets from the market.  Not new sheets, not Disney printed sheets, just hospital green, used sheets and yet this was enough to trigger the 'happy dance' and even a phone call to Cecilia to tell her the good news.

These are children who after taking them to the animal orphanage in Nanyuki talked endlessly to their teachers about getting to eat meat at lunch and how it tasted to try juice for the first time.  Your generosity allowed me to witness Joseph's first time on a swing and proudly watch as he discovered how to pump his legs.  I was able to teach J-Mo to drink from a straw and will always remember his shocked expression as the liquid hit his lips.  I was able to provide the girls with their first pair of pants and marvel at their excitement of having pockets.  I laughed at Gabriel's amazed expression as he first discovered a hand dryer while the next hour was spent sticking our faces under it.  I saw Sammy overcome his fear of water as he made his first jump into the swimming pool and stood proudly as he resurfaced from the water.  I listened as Boni questioned my dad on Canadian culture and animals and was later amazed to hear him repeat these new facts to his friends.

Your donations have provided these 7 children with electricity, security, food, clothing and furniture with still plenty to spare.  But best of all your donations have shown these 7 children that they are loved. 

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for not only changing the lives of these children, but changing mine as well. 

Asante Sana.    

Monday, July 23, 2012

Muringato Primary

I sit in the office as Mwaniki shouts out another name. I squeeze my eyes shut willing away the tears that are forming. I turn to see a bright, smiling face in the doorway, the inquisitive eyes searching for the reason their name was called. This is the 8th child Mwaniki has summoned and this one I know well. Simon greets me with his usual tight grip and I follow suit pretending his strong shake has brought me to my knees. Mwaniki laughs then proceeds to tell me about Simon's story. I marvel at his memory, knowing each name, age and family history. In Simon's case it is a sad one consisting of an abusive father and an absent mother. It becomes apparent that at the tender age of 9 he is pretty much on his own. I am shocked to hear the details of the boy's life, the same boy who eagerly runs to greet me with a smile and playful spirit. The day didn't start this way with questions of the children's welfare, but rather with an attempt to learn about the food program at Muringato Primary.
Muringato Primary was built in 1956 by a British coffee plantation owner for his workers that labored and lived on the land. The farm was called Nyeri Plantation and the school was named Muringato, after the river that flowed through the property. Fifty six years later, the primary school now consists of a nursery and grades 1-8. They have since moved from their property along the river, just a few kilometers up to higher ground and closer to Kimathi University. They decided the new position along the Mweiga Road would offer greater security for the children and help facilitate closer ties to the university. While the move meant new land, the buildings are original to the school's founding in 1956 and are made of rough cut wood, open to the weather and the majority having dirt floors.

Despite this decaying facade, the buildings contain 160 smiling faces that are eager to learn and demonstrate great potential. However, the children here face great obstacles as the average daily wage of their parent/s ranges from 200-220 Kenyan Shillingis, approximately $2.82 Canadian. The effects of such poverty on the children include: malnutrition, lack of proper clothing, chronic illness, fatigue, improper physical development, anemia and poor test scores. Problems unique to the girls are: early marriage, teenage pregnancy, sex-for-survival and the inability to attend school when menstruating because of a lack of sanitary supplies.

In 2003, the Kenyan government implemented the Free Primary Education initiative across the country. While this has had a large impact on the accessibility of education, the funds allotted are still quite low and do not cover many necessities. Currently the government contributes 1020 Kenyan Shillingis ($13.07 Canadian) per child per year to the school, but this money must cover the teacher's salaries, instructional materials, daily running of the school (electricity, water), repairs, etc. On top of that the students are expected to purchase their own uniforms and notebooks which is beyond the salary of the parents of Muringato's students.

A key challenge Muringato has identified is nutrition. It is impossible for a student to perform well if they are starving. The World Food Program recognized the inability of Muringato students to afford a meal and began supporting the school by starting a feeding program in 2005. For 3 years a meal was provided to the students at Muringato and almost immediately the grades began improving. Unfortunately in 2008, Nyeri Town was no longer recognized as a poverty pocket and despite Muringato's situation remaining unchanged, the school was dropped from the program. Immediately grades began to fall and a parent/teacher meeting was called. It was decided that the feeding program must continue and would be supported by the parents contributing 11.50 Kenyan Shillingis per child (0.14cents) a day for their children to receive a meal at school. Providing a lunch at school has contributed to increased grades as well as improved attendance as for many children it is the only meal of the day they will receive. Muringato has been able to operate the Home Grown Feeding Program through the use of their land by growing maize, tomatoes, peppers and cabbage. Last year a CIDA intern raised money to donate a greenhouse which contributed to higher production rates and an increase in surplus which can be sold to purchase other foodstuffs such as salt, firewood, cooking oil and beans. While the program has had some successes it is far from being self sustaining. The greenhouse is still relatively new so the money earned from the first crop had to be reinvested in the greenhouse in the form of water, seeds and fertilizers. Muringato also faces major challenges in regards to obtaining water for the greenhouse. Their current water is supplied by a local company who charges high rates for their purified water. If Muringato could obtain extra funds it could build a pipe to pump in 'grey' water to use for the crops which is charged per month and not for amount used. The other major obstacle the food program is facing is the students inability to pay. Currently 50% are able to pay the small daily fee, while 20% pay a portion and 30% pay nothing. The school continues to provide meals to all students regardless of payment, but is slowly entering into debt because of it. Currently the deficit is $49 300 Kenyan Shillingis ($632 Canadian) which is a significant amount for the primary school. I am attempting to research a variety of possible donors in hopes of continuing this important program. Specific costs have not been concluded, but when asked about where the money would be allotted the priority was...
1.Pay debt - $632 Canadian
2.Water Pipe – To help ease price of water bill
3. Another greenhouse – to grow a greater surplus of food that could then be sold to obtain things like school supplies and other foodstuffs (cooking oil, firewood, beans) 2010 Figures – Total cost of greenhouse (incl. labor, transportation, supplies) = 200 200 Kenyan Shillingis or $ 2, 567 Canadian
4. Completion of a cow shed – Could house 4 cows and provide milk for the students

Simon, who never let go of my hand, was here as one of the many examples of students not able to pay the bill. His debt to the school runs high (by Kenyan standards) and yet Mwaniki still ensures he is fed and given the same opportunities as those who can afford to pay.

I have chose my battle in starting the Starfish campaign and am not writing this to ask for more money (although there is an indiegogo page in the works just incase anyone is feeling extra generous :). I am mainly asking for help. I have emailed numerous organizations and looked endlessly for government funding, but am still coming up empty handed. One of the main issues is that Nyeri Town is not the poorest area in Kenya and therefore not a priority, however the issues plaguing these children are immense and need to be addressed. If anyone hears of a call for proposals or can think of a funding opportunity or organization that may be willing to help please let me know, any idea is appreciated.

With some funds Muringato's feeding program could be self sustaining which would make a significant difference in the lives of these students.

I will post again when the indiegogo and facebook page are up so you can view pictures of the students and school!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dennis the Menace and Lara Crofts Adventure in the North - Part 3

As the land becomes dryer, my back becomes increasingly wet. I no longer attempt to mop the pool of sweat forming at my waistband and instead accept the coolness it brings. I had high hopes of a cold shower when we arrived at the hotel in Kalokol, but as I enter the outdoor stall marked 'washroom' I am met with nothing but a deep hole in the cement floor. I search for a tap or hose, but come up empty realizing a shower might be an unattainable dream. Mike and I inquire with the lady in charge....
“Yes, Yes, I can get you a small bucket, but could you please shower together?”

“Ummm...we would rather not, but 1 bucket is fine”

Mike decides to go first as I sort through my luggage in the room. After 5 minutes he reappears in the doorway.

“Wow that was fast.”

“No, I couldn't figure out how to use it!”

“The bucket?

“Yeah! Do I sit right in it?”

To fully understand the absurdity of the question you must understand that the bucket provided was no bigger than a fruit bowl. I laugh at the image of 6 foot Mike squatting in the bowl and realize that if it wasn't for my time in Asia maybe bucket showers would confuse me as well.

“Go ask for a jug or cup, scoop the water and pour it over you.”

When Mike returned for the second time his enthusiasm for the bucket shower was contagious and I hurry towards the dark, damp shed for my turn. I bring a flashlight as night is settling in and there is no electricity at the hotel. As I enter, the light passes over the deep hole in the floor and a new fear surges through me. I am no stranger to squat toilets and truthfully think they contribute to well toned thighs, but normally some sort of structure exists around the hole. This one however, is left completely open and I can't help but think at some point I will stumble, my entire leg being swallowed by this disgusting pit. I squeeze my body into the corner of the stall, gingerly pouring the water over my head, eyes never leaving the pit of doom.

I manage to exit safely and immediately my eyes are drawn towards the sky. Being in a town without electricity has major advantages as I have never seen the stars quite so bright. I sit in the dirt, enjoying the silence, mesmerized by the magnitude of the sky. My mind wanders as I consider the fact that I used to call myself a city girl, but Kenya is showing me otherwise. I feel completely content sitting in the dirt, bathing with rainwater, my surroundings illuminated with nothing other than natural light.

I go to bed feeling a new appreciation for the natural world and a renewed desire to live a simple life. This feeling lasts exactly 6 minutes until Mike and I begin wishing for a fan. Our freshly cleansed bodies are now soaked with sweat and we talk of our longing for air conditioning. A grasshopper lands on my face in the dark, sending me into instant hysterics and the next 20 minutes are spent ridding the room of unwanted creatures. After receiving great pleasure from ending 6 grasshoppers lives, I realize I can no longer claim to be 1 with nature. We settle back in for our sweaty, sleepless night, both silently counting the hours until morning.

We woke up with the sun and wander the wide, dusty streets of Kalokol. Correction, we wander the 1 and only street of Kalokol. This place consists of very little and as foreigners we are definitely the talk of the town. As we continue down the street we notice all activity stops and eyes are on us. The women with their necks stretched high and men draped in colourful clothing are marked with scars indicating the number of people they have killed. While everyone is incredibly welcoming, inter-tribal violence runs high here and guns flow freely from the porous borders of Ethiopia and Sudan. I consider scarring my upper arm to indicate the grasshopper genocide I committed the night before, but decide against it.

We walk until we find Charles, a local we met the day before who has promised to bring us to Central Island, the final destination of our journey. We hop on his moto and head to the boat that will take us across. We take the boat to Ferguson's Gulf (the nearby island we explored the previous day) where we will wait for the water to settle before completing our 10km journey to Central Island. Ferguson's Gulf is home to a small village complete with grass huts, pantless children and all the tilapia you could eat (it is actually the only thing available to eat as nothing grows here). Charles leaves us under a grass hut and the next 4 hours are spent entertaining the local children. It's easy to think the people here live in paradise as the beauty of the land rivals any 5 star beach resort, however it occurs to me that most will never leave the island, their futures fishing tilapia already mapped out for them.

The children are bright eyed with contagious smiles, but malnutrition is evident in their red hair and I worry for their future. The poverty they live in is not what bothers me. They live with very little, but don't require much in this climate. What bothers me is the lack of opportunity. Children here could dedicate all their time to study and still the chance of a life outside of the island is slim. Even money in Kenya does not ensure the same opportunities as I am granted as a Canadian. I have not worked particularly hard and am by no means a prize student and yet because of my Canadian passport have been able to live and work in 5 countries, while traveling to many more. I find myself praying that these children will be able to realize their dreams, just as I have had the opportunity to realize mine. I ponder this as they stroke my hair, decorate my legs with stones and teach me songs in a language I can't understand. Charles has now been missing for over 4 hours, but I realize even if we do not make it to the island it has been a day well spent.

As though he has read my mind, Charles reappears claiming it is time to go. 5 of us climb into the long, white boat and we set off for our destination. As we speed along the water, I never remove my hand from the jade coloured lake. I am grateful for the cooling sensation and captivated by the world's largest desert lake, Lake Turkana.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dennis the Menace and Lara Croft's Adventure in the North - Part 2

Waking early we pack our things and rush to the bus, excited to start the next lag of our journey.  We arrive at 8:30am while the bus was scheduled to depart at 9:30am.  We decide to board despite being an hour early as there was not exactly a plethora of things to do nearby.  We approach Eldoret Express (the bus) immediately noticing the plastic in place of windows and the ever increasing pile of stuff on the roof.  When I say 'stuff' I mean, bicycles, food, beer, motorcycles, chairs...basically enough supplies to support a small town.  We climb onto the sweltering bus and take in the 70s casino decore.  I try to avoid staring at the patterns on the carpet too long as I fear it may bring on a seizure.  We are slightly disappointed with our seats as the ladder to the roof is outside our window obstructing the view, but we decide if we tip this is probably an ideal place to be.  Unconsciously planning an exit strategy has become common place when boarding any vehicle in Kenya and this was no exception.  While Mike struggled to obtain the prestigious title of snake master on his phone, I killed time by observing just how much stuff was still being collected on the roof.  I admired the toes of the variety of feet that were resting on my window ledge as chairs, bikes and boxes were passed to the hands waiting above.  Kenya has granted me a great deal of patience as I have come to realize no one is in a hurry here, but at 12:30pm I was becoming increasingly frustrated with sitting on the unmoving bus.  4 hours and the pile of stuff to be loaded was ever increasing.  Annoyed I exit the bus in search of a washroom and fresh air.  As I return I hear the bus rev its engine and am thrilled at the prospect of moving.

As we leave Kitale, my eyes are glued to the passing scenery not wanting to miss the evolution from lush green hills to vast flat desert.  Winding around the mountainous hills of the Great Rift Valley I can't help but wish I was on a dirt bike.  As the landscape begins to transform so do the people boarding the bus.  Each hour is like going back 100 years in time as the houses change from cement, to metal slabs, to wood, to dried cow patty and finally grass huts.  Mike and I struggle to hide our enthusiasm as ladies with layers of beads that have stretched their necks to new lengths board the bus.  Men draped in colourful cloth, wearing hats full of feathers and hair push their way to the back.  Ladies with babies on their hips and bare breasts bouncing return our stares as we are equally fascinated by the other's world we know nothing about.  As we jostle along, the seats and aisles full, my cheek periodically meets with the buttocks of the standing passenger and I smile at the unpredictability of my life. 

As it becomes dark, the landscape now completely flat, we let go of any hopes of sleeping on the bus as our asses spend more time above the seats than in them.  I can't complain though as the the aisles are full of people who have stood for 16hours, bodies bouncing off eachother with each turn we take.  We drive along the dark, potholed road (in the loosest sense of the term) in complete silence until the inevitable happens...we blow a tire.  Instead of meeting the situation with frustration, most laugh it off and eagerly exit the vehicle to survey the damage.  I on the other hand, curse myself for not listening to the guide book and bringing more water.  I envision my dad's disappointment after all his survival tips when they find my dehydrated body in the desert.  I make a mental note to not make the mistake again and hope we are not stuck long.  After an hour of discussion it is determined that we can complete the journey on the rim and we bump off into the night.  A short time later the 2 lights of the bustling town of Lodwar appear and I find myself eager to stretch out my legs and walk off my now swollen ankles.  After 16 hours on the bus I am grateful to have completed what I assume will be the worst of the trip.  Little did I know the 27 hour return trip still loomed ahead of us.