Monday, February 28, 2011

kenya ~ the land of milk and honey

We drank milk from a carton at the breakfast table...
a carton that looked much look those on the grocery shelf back home and sporting the Brookside Dairy logo.
We never really thought too much about where the milk came from.

Then we toured a little dairy farm. 
The cows were the same colour as those on our farm...
and that's where any similarity ended.

For the most part, Kenyan dairies are small...
and much of the milking is done by hand.

The milk is stored in milk cans...
and leaves the farm without being cooled.

We passed a lot of these donkey carts along the road...
and realized they were transporting milk to market.

When we saw the Brookside Dairy Ltd. logo on a building we were passing by...
we talked our friends into making a quick stop...
so we see how Kenyan milk is processed.

Milk was arriving by donkey truck...

...and by bike!

Most came in milk cans.

The yard was rather congested...
as locals vied for position to unload their milk.

It was stacked on the dock...
and waited in the sunshine to be dealt with.

Hubby found someone who was more than willing to explain how the process worked.
Here's what he learned.

What we were seeing was basically a collection dock...
with milk from 5000 farms in a 50 mile radius being delivered here daily.
It was dumped, cooled and then sent on its way to another facility. 

A rather handsome Brookside truck left the yard with a load of milk...
bound for the processing plant. 

I'm not much of a milk drinker at the best of times...
but I was somewhat cautious when pouring from that Brookside carton the following morning.
We somehow think that milk needs to be cooled immediately in our part of the world.
They don't!

What did I learn about honey in East Africa?

Honey plays an important role in nutrition and medicine...
and is a crucial component of the bride price (no substitutes).

Beekeepers know when the swarms of bees arrive...
and place empty hives in trees to catch the new colonies.

 The hives are made from the log of hardwood tree that has been hollowed out...
and baited to attract the bees.

We saw empty bee hives hanging in trees along the river bed when we visited the sand dams...
and our local guide informed us about honey production in their area.

a land flowing with milk and honey.

Not necessarily pasteurized!

Friday, February 25, 2011

having a blast...

It blew in with a vengeance...and pushed all thoughts of spring away.

I'm saving the rest of our African adventures for next week...
and sharing a few cold pic's with you instead.

The snow that arrived a few days ago...has all but blown away.
The east winds are howling...
and we were around -10°C overnight (-20°C with the wind chill).

For us who thought spring was all but here...
it is rather chilly!

I planted spring flowers in the planter at the front door last week...
and they are now hiding under a blanket.

My sister Kathy is out from Manitoba until after the weekend.
She likes to escape the prairie cold at this time of the year...
but we are not exactly delivering mild temperatures this time.

We were up at Kris & Lisa's (son and DIL) yesterday afternoon...
and I took a few pic's off their back deck.

Though I am quite ready for spring...
it has been rather beautiful since this last blast of winter arrived.

 The snowdrops are not quite as perky as they were last week...
and the pansies have have gone back to sleep.

I'm wondering how the roses and hydrangeas will fare...
since they were already sending out leaves.

I'm heading south of the border this weekend...
the 'four sisters' retreat.
It won't be far enough south to escape the cold I'm afraid.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

tea time in Kenya...

Since Kenya is a major tea producer, we thought it would be a good idea to learn a little about the industry while we were there.  Our introduction to all things about growing tea happened at Kiambethu Tea Farm in Limuru. 

It was just a forty minute drive from the heart of Nairobi and located at an altitude of 7000 feet above sea level. The countryside was amazing...lush and green.  Tea needs plenty of water...and it seems there is no shortage of rain up in these hills.

The estate was built by the Mitchell family in the early 1900's.  Our tour guide was Fiona Mitchell, a granddaughter of the original owners...a very knowledgable one at that.  Her family was one of the first to venture into the tea business in Kenya...and she is now lives in the home her grandfather built.

We arrived at the estate to see monkeys scooting across the roof...and one that settled in above the porch to have a morning snack.

The lesson about tea production would have to wait...

...while we had a Colobus monkey entertaining us.

Eventually we moved along...and took a tour of the tea fields.  We learned that the tea is harvested year round...always just removing the top few leaves.  The tea is picked early in the day...and taken to market immediately.  It will be sold at the tea auction in Mombasa...the largest in the world. 

Though the fields are a solid sea of green...workers somehow make their way between the bushes to harvest the tea.  And tourists manage to squeeze their way in for a photo op.

Once our morning class tour was over...we returned to the gardens for a special treat.  Fiona had prepared lunch for her guests...and we enjoyed a lovely meal with our friends in a beautiful setting.

Here I found plants that looked like those in gardens back home...hydrangea and fuchsia.  We watched the birds flitting about and in the distance the tea fields gave way to the peaks of the Ngong Hills...the ridge along the Great Rift Valley.

Oh...and we enjoyed the tea!  I brought home my own supply of  Kiambethu Farm tea...and one of these days you can join me for tea time.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

sand dams, SODIS and street kids of Kenya...

We are off to the countryside of Kenya today...leaving Nairobi bright and early before the traffic is total chaos. 

Our destination is an MCC sponsored project...a sand dam which provides water in an arid area where rainfalls are erratic are water sources have been scarce until now.  

Our capable guide explained all about sand dams...and how they work.   They are a simple, inexpensive and low maintenance way to harvest rainwater. They provide a clean, local water supply for domestic and farming use and have been most successful in Kenya. 

A sand dam is a reinforced concrete wall built 1-5 metres high across a seasonal river. Over several seasons, the dam fills up with sand...and stores the water in the sand behind the dam...

...where it is accessed by digging holes in the sand.  A mature sand dam can store millions of litres of water, refilling after each rainfall providing a year round supply of clean water to over 1,000 people.  

To the locals...who previously would walk several hours to collect water...this sand dam was like 'getting water from the rock'.  And here's the other thing I liked. The sand dams are not built by outsiders.  The community must first form a self-help group...and join together to provide all the labour.  MCC together with their partners provide funding, supplies and expertise.  Building sand dams is an immense undertaking for small, impoverished villagers but they are motivated by the hope for what seems like a miracle to them...a permanent source of water in their community...water for drinking, for irrigating crops and for watering animals.

These were the homes of those who lived right next to the sand dam we visited.  Life for them has changed drastically since the first sand dam was built in their neighbourhood.

Throughout rural Kenya, we saw 'water on wheels'.  Water that we take so for granted where we a precious commodity over there.

It gave a new meaning to 'running water'!

At several of the schools we visited, we found tables of bottled water laid out in the sun...all part of a program to provide clean, healthy water for the students.  Solar water disinfection (SODIS) is a simple procedure to disinfect drinking water. Clear plastic bottles are filled with contaminated water and exposed to the sun for 6 hours. During this time, the UV-radiation of the sun kills diarrhoea generating pathogens...preventing illness and saving lives.  So simple...yet so effective.

Our last stop today will be an orphanage for street children...high in the hills north of Nairobi.  Here too we saw they had been using the SODIS method of purifying their water. 

Though the orphanage has some 200 children of all ages...laundry is done by hand.

Rows of wash hung on the lines nearby...while goats threatened to make way with their favorite items.

We met Lucy, the director of the children's home...pictured here with Martha and Ron.  Lucy took in her first street child some 11 years ago...and now provides a home and education for several hundred.  There were new borns arriving shortly, and preparations were underway for their arrival.


We met two gals who had arrived from Canada the previous night, and were busy sorting children's clothing.  Introductions were made...and I soon realized that one was a good friend of my sister's.  Though we had never met previously, I had heard of her often.  Who would I have thought I would happen to meet someone halfway across the world that I 'almost knew'?  She fell in love with the African children a few years ago, and now travels to Kenya several times each year to help out at the orphanage. 

The older students were enjoying a little pick-up basketball on their lunch break.

And in the toddler room...we helped feed the munchkins their snack.  They were somewhat terrified of our white faces at first...but the food won them over!

It may seem a little odd for them to be wearing hats indoors...but the area where the orphanage is located is at quite a high altitude, and can be rather cool.  So it seems the hat are just part of the toddler uniform...indoors or out.

We strolled through the dorms...tidy and spartan.  Each student has their own bunk...and a small box under the bed which holds ALL their worldly possessions.  It's hard to identify with living like that!

Thanks to the generosity of a businessman from Canada...a new school building is under construction.  It won't be fancy...but it will be so welcome!

And so we saw the many ways that MCC impacts the lives of children and adults in Kenya.  Like I said...they do a good work over there.

Monday, February 21, 2011

a 'wee' family reunion...

It's been a wee bit busy over here...all this moving from one table to the next.  We are family...from Iowa, Texas and Manitoba...all gathered in the beautiful Fraser Valley...just for the fun of it. 

Yesterday were at my sister's for brunch...some 36 of us.  And after enough sitting...and eating...and chatting...we went downstairs for our exercise entertainment for the day.  Wii Fit.  We skied...we hula-hooped...we caught footballs...and mostly we laughed! And when we had as much exercise entertainment as we could handle...we tied on our walking shoes and headed up the hill for some real exercise.  The fresh air and the valley view were just what we needed.

They will mostly be heading home tomorrow...but we have one more table to gather around tonight.  That would be the Chinese one...for old times sake. 

Family.  It's a good thing!

Have a great day...

Friday, February 18, 2011

to kenya ~ with love

Our African adventure was definitely a pleasure trip...but it was not all about having fun. Since we were visiting Ron and Martha Ratzlaff while in Kenya...and they are the Kenyan directors of MCC (Mennonite Central Committee)...we had a chance to travel with them as they went about their duties of administering the humanitarian projects with which they are involved. 

Our first field day was a trip to Menno Kids Academy...a school in the slums of  Nairobi...where we would be distributing blankets and school kits.  What an eye-opener that was!  In my home church a group of ladies meets every Tuesday to make blankets for MCC...completing hundreds of quilts every year.  They are sent around the world to those in need.  One container containing quilts from North America arrived in Kenya several months ago...and we had the privilege of helping to distribute the last of them. 

The truck that showed up at the MCC office to transport the quilts to the school, was much smaller than what was expected.  The driver said, "No problem".  It seems where there is a will, there is a Nairobi.  The crated quilts arrived at the school as promised!

No sooner had the truckload of blankets arrived...than the students showed up to unload.

They made quick work of a truckload of blankets.

For the next few hours, we distributed blankets...beginning with the 'baby class' and upwards through the grades.  A parent was required to be there in order for the child to receive a blanket...and they were.  What joy to see those little ones hugging their blankets.  If only the ladies back home could see what a sacrifice of love they really are involved in when they meet to make blankets.

Those in the higher grades waited patiently for their turn...peering in the windows to get a peek.

How disappointing for the last two classrooms to be told we had run out of blankets...and would have to return another day with theirs.  The problem was that the last of the shipment of blankets had been distributed...and it would take time to bring more blankets from North America.  The day before we left Kenya, the guys went to the MCC office to unpack a shipment of 'used computers' from Manitoba.  It turned out that the computers were packaged in blankets...more than enough to fulfill our promise to the rest of the students.  Shortly after we left, Ron and Martha were able to return to the school and give out the rest of the blankets.

Once the blankets were distributed, it was lunchtime.  For many of these students, the only square meal they will have each day is the one they have at school.  They had also prepared lunch for us.  We had exactly what you see the children eating (beans and maize)...but with enough on each of our plates to feed an entire household.  Out of their little...they are most generous!


Along with their one healthy meal each day...the students are provided with clean drinking water.  We found tables of bottled water laid out in the sun...all part of a program to provide clean, healthy water for the students.  Solar water disinfection (SODIS) is a simple procedure to disinfect drinking water. Clear plastic bottles are filled with contaminated water and exposed to the sun for 6 hours. During this time, the UV-radiation of the sun kills diarrhea generating pathogens...preventing illness and saving lives.  So simple...yet so effective. 

After lunch we visited the classrooms...with a school kit for each student. 

It seemed the red bags were most sought after!  How thrilling for them to have the basics...paper, pencils, erasers and a ruler.  As for the large cardboard boxes that the kits were packaged in...the teachers wrestled to get their hands on those.  Nothing goes to waste over there!

I'll take you to another school that MCC partners we visited on another day trip.

Situated about 30 miles from the city of Nairobi...the Tumaini La Watoto Child Development Center is in an agricultural area and focuses on giving hope to children who are suffering because of  HIV and poverty.

We arrived at lunchtime...and were greeted by the smiling faces of the students.

And for a delegation of friends from Canada...they all packed into their meeting room to give us an official welcome.  Sitting three on a chair did not seem to be one bit of a problem over there!  They sang a welcome song...they recited poems...and they made us feel ever so at home.

We traveled together with another couple visiting from Canada that week...Elvin and Jan from Alberta. Elvin came bearing gifts...Nike soccer balls, that proved to be a hit!

They have little.  They make the most of what they have.  They rely on God for His provision! 

On another day...we will visit a few more of the projects that MCC is involved with.  Today it was about schools and education; next time it will be about providing food and clean water.  They do a good work over there!