Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Trip 72- July 4th-24th, 2010

Sunday morning July 4 began with the packing of the parts and pieces for the long flight to Kenya. Not clothes and cameras but tractor parts, a combine drive shaft and manuals. This trip would be unique in that 4 other men were coming with me, but Barbara Waterston was staying home. These men, Kris, Ed, Paul, and Sam are getting involved to pick up the slack in the areas of humanitarian and spiritual help for the local youth and women. They were all going on different flights. I went through Minneapolis where Michael Waterston came to meet me for lunch with his new girlfriend, then on to the plane and praying for empty seat beside me; I had a row of four to myself, so at least some sleep was in order. Amsterdam afforded a quick shower and then to a very packed 747 to Nairobi; not much sleep would be gained here, but I managed to get a bit.

In Nairobi we all met and headed for the hotel. With a quick meal and a hot shower we were all ready for bed. First meeting was with a government agency desiring to lend funds to our Community Farms program. Three more meetings followed with more banks and they at least sound very supportive, but things move slowly in Africa. By three we were at the airport for a 50 minute flight to Kisumu, and then a drive to the Farm. It was dark by the time we arrived and I was starting to feel ill. Not malaria symptoms but like the flu from back home; I likely got it on the plane.

As usual I started the day with a farm tour. Ronald has broken out perhaps 600 new acres of ground over the past 3 weeks and it is good ground, principally level and easy to prepare for planting, however the massive seed bed in the topsoil makes the first few crops an uphill battle in obtaining good crops. One must however begin! The hundreds of ladies working in the fields waived and smiled as usual. I was beginning to feel really bad. The four guys and Chris left for Siaya to meet around 50 pastors and community leaders to explain the Community farm model to them. By noon I went in to do my presentation, but I was pale as a ghost and just worn out. After my talk I left for Siaya town center to purchase 20 bottles of soda then drive home.

The land clearing has finally taken off as we broke through a tree barrier which has persisted for 2 years. The workers were excited so we all celebrated with a soda. It is a real treat for people of Kenya to just drink a bottle of Coke. The other guys returned about 5:00 but by then I was really sick, so I ate little and headed for bed. A rough night ensued until morning. By 9:30 the crew had gone to the second day of meetings, and I went back to bed. It is now 2:20 PM and though I feel like death warmed over I am back at the computer answering emails and writing this letter. Now back to bed for a while again.

Friday morning I arose feeling much better but still not 100%. The rest left for Kisumu; they would have to do this presentation on their own again. I got a call around noon and they had probably 120 people, all very enthused over our programs for both the rice and the fish. I spent most the morning with Ronald driving around the farm looking at many of the smaller details. We are actually doing pretty well in some areas but others need much attention. It rained two days ago almost 2 inches and that has severely slowed the harvest but by noon the sun was shining and the machines were going back to work. Our ever faithful ladies working the fields always trudge on rain or shine making sure our fields are weed free so they have money to fill their own stomachs.

Saturday I was feeling much better so all of us left for Kisumu and a good day of planning and encouragement for those interested in helping with the Community Farm Program. Many youth leaders and youth pastors came and began to understand how they can have a dramatic influence on their generation. We are on the way to building a powerful force of active involved leaders.

On Sunday I stayed back at the farm while others went to speak at several churches in the area. When I show up they all want me to speak and after talking 4 hours on Saturday my voice and cold were just not up to it.

The days just fly by over here, with meeting after meeting and so many problems to work through from mechanical breakdowns, to marketing stratgety, and personal reductions. The days begin early and end late each night. By Wednesday it was time for some of the team to start their way back to the US. Kris was going to Liberia for a week while Sam went to Paris and then home. Ed and Paul were last to leave on Wednesday night, so I went to Nairobi with them.

Thusday was a full day, starting at 7:00 am and having meeting after meeting with banks, power companies, the tourism department, package manufacturers, engine rebuilders, andchemical sales people, along with two interviews for possible positions. Soon we will be establishing a small hotel on the property to accommodate our many guests, and hopefully a radio station to spread our message linked in with a chain of Christian Radio stations in the US, providing live links between the nations. The possibilities are awsome!

Finally the meetings were over and I was back at the airport, ticket in hand for the last flight back to Kisumu, then the long drive to the farm. The boarding call was made and I was in line to board when suddenly my phone rang. A sobbing voice cried out, Calvin, this is Anne and I need your help. Please, my sister-in-law is 9 months pregnant and the baby is in trouble. She went to the public hospital but they could not help, then a private hospital but they demand a 10,000 schillings ($125.00) payment up front to do anything. My family has nothing and you are the only one I know to can turn to. “Anne, call me in 5 minutes,” I shouted to her as I bolted from the plane back through security while dialing my driver to get back to the building entrance. He sent one of his girls running to the security entrance where the money was given. I ran, and made it through the door as the last person, and got my airplane seat. My driver made an immediate transfer via his cell phone to the hospital as the plane left the ground.

It rained as I stepped off the plane in Kisumu and ran for the truck and a long drive home. Potholes reined supreme in the black of night, ready to swallow you up while weaving between the wet black bodies dressed in wet dark clothes on unlit bicycles. Then the phone message came. “My sister-in-law is in surgery but it is too late, the baby is dead”; all for the lack of a hospital that cared and for so little money to save an innocent baby. My vision was blurred by both the pounding rain and tears. Somehow missing the potholes was just not as important anymore.

Anne is a Kenyan lady who lives in Holland; she is the resource for her family. When trouble came she called our friend, Vitallis who lives in London, and he told Anne I was in Kenya, so quickly the process began, but not quick enough. The desperation of a mother and child was felt between nations but the result was the same, death and pain. Anne called several times to offer thanks from a poor hurting but grateful family.

Today, Friday is fast coming to an end. It has been busy, working in the fields and in the shop with the mechanics for several hours. Our workers are coming along well but lack so much knowledge we in the west just take for granted. We have not done very well at teaching so many basic things to them, but this is changing. I explained how the radiator systems worked, and how compressors operated, how to keep records. They were so eager to learn and I have promised to do this more often. I had a group of community leaders come to see me and we discussed many issues. I explained how they can make fertilizer and grow better crops, and they listened intently. We will meet again but next time I requested it be in their huts instead of my office. They were stunned that I would come to see them, but it will be done. Time to get back to the house and eat dinner; then another call came in. “Stay away from the town at the bridge on the side of the farm. The police have a robber and killer on the run and expect a gun battle, so lock the gates and stay alert.” Quickly I drove to the workers all over the farm and warned them to stay put and be alert. So here we sit hunkered down again. Goodnight.

On Saturday it was to catch up day getting ready for the trip to Kampala. Ronald was breaking out new ground in the swamp with tractors getting stuck in the newly cleared land. It has been many years since we started here and I have never driven one of the large tractors; today was my day. It was kind of fun having 475 hp at the touch of your fingers. These machines are highly automated, air-conditioned, and quite comfortable, but they still get stuck and are hard to pull out. Late in the afternoon I went for a long walk with Elizabeth, our accountant. Ronald picked us up and we showed Elizabeth the farm. She had never really gone out into the newly developed land; she was impressed. Well another day is coming to the end so goodnight again.

Sunday morning at 10:30 Chris and I left for Kampala. The traffic was awful and after the recent terrorist bombing security is tight everywhere. Our sales operation needs to expand as we begin to bring in less expensive bulk rice for sales to the poor areas of the city, which are many. During my last trip Chris and I observed large numbers of Commercial Sex Workers in the streets. As we began to understand their plight our hearts went out to them. No jobs, no husbands, and no support system drives many women into prostitution, not by desire but by circumstances. We have decided to take this problem on in our expansion plans. Our plan is to set up these women in their own small businesses to market our rice and become self sufficient and leave the old lifestyle behind.

Sunday night it was time to get the program underway; we ventured out into unknown territory, and started walking the streets. Quickly we had 2 ladies, Winnie (29) and Gertrude (28), approach us;They tried to get Chris to set up the white guy (me) for them, but that was not to be. Soon we were talking but NOT condeming, and offering them a way out of the problem. They hate their profession but each have two small mouths at home to feed, so they do what they must. We bought them dinner making us subject to controversy among the people around us, but then Jesus himself was seen with the Woman at the Well so we figured we were right on track in reaching out to them. They desperately want to quit the sex trade and within a couple weeks that will now be possible. After they figured out we were serious, not condeming and trustworthy, they opened up with details of their lives and daily struggles. Both were single mothers, abused, and hungry. Both had their bibles with them and Winnie had gone to church that morning and her Bishop knew what she was doing but could not help her get out of her situation. Their next concern was that we would forget them, and asked if we would come to meet their parents.

Next we found ourselves in the midst of some bad ladies, on drugs or drunk and we just could not figure out how to reach a space cadet so they were passed by.

As we started heading back to the hotel we saw a lady standing in the bushes almost out of sight. She was well dressed but still a lady of the night. We talked and she told of praying to God every day to get her out of the mess. Her defenses were high and mistrust of men was obvious. Of course she wanted money which we would not give, but she was really intrigued by what we offered for her. Her Bible was in her purse. There was something special about her which we both felt. We asked for her phone number and said we would call the next day. By Monday night we were having dinner with her and trying to get through to a very broken and ashamed spirit, full of mistrust, and baffled by why I would come down to her level to help. Sandra is 30 years old, single, a mother of 2, with the latest being only 20 months old. Her older son lives with a grandparent. She worked in the Sudan for 5 years as a maid and for 5 years has been on the streets, 3-4 nights per week. She and her sister live in a slum and support 7 children and they are all hungry; it took two chicken dinners to fill her up. As we spoke she just could not believe we were real and then became fearful that what we offered would not come to pass. I do not know if I can really trust what you are saying, as her head always looked down, away from our eyes. I gently lifted her head to look at me probably 20 times and asked her to smile, something she had forgot how to do. After so many years of abuse, trust was just not possible to grasp. Finally I asked if I called her in the morning and then came to her home on the way out of town would she trust us to be true to our words. She said yes. For likely the first time two men walked her safely to the bus stop and payed only for her ride home.

On the walk home two more approached, Jessica (22) and Irene (22). These listened intensely and immediately said they would join the program and leave the streets as quickly as possible. The have no husbands but have 2 children to feed. We got phone numbers and will call as soon as we are ready. It again was midnight and time to get some rest.

Tuesday morning we both had sore muscles from walking the streets, but in our hearts knew we were on the way to making big changes in desperate lives. I called Sandra at 8:00 AM and she answered with a bright, “Hi Calvin” so we were making progress. The day was filled with business meetings but at 2:00 PM she met us at a gas station and we drove to her home. Down a steep washed out ally we went with all the stares of the locals trying to figure out who this white guy was. We parked under a tree and then walked around the back to a small shack about 8 feet wide by 16 feet long. No bathroom, no water, and full of poverty. Sandra knelt at our feet as she talked, a Ugandan tradition in some tribes, but we asked for her to sit. Her feet were beaten from so many years of walking with no shoes. We left rice and introduced her to Dereck, her new boss. She and the neighbors could not believe that we had come, but friendship and trust was being built. As we left she promised to work hard, but I believe she was still in a daze; a smile was beginning to be seen in her nervous but now uplifted face. Next week she will begin. Many more will follow.

The trip back to the farm was slow and at the border the truckers staged a protest so everything just sat for an hour. After 6 hours of bad roads, dust and dirt we made it home. I had several visitors from the US to see me and we had a lively discussion; I was beat but still had to work past midnight getting ready for the next day. As I lay in bed that night I was a little more thankful for my position in life with a better understanding of the tragedy of others. Pray for Sandra.

Wednesday just seemed to vanish with things to do at the farm, going over contracts, working on designs, studying financial statements, and the many day to day affairs. Elton from Fairview, Oklahoma and a couple of Ugandans showed up in the afternoon and are seeing the farm with Ronald. We will talk tonight.

On Thursday it was time to wrap things up at the farm for this trip. There is never enough time to get everything finished the way I want but that is just the way it is. Problems always need to wait for another time but slowly we are making progress. The fish farm construction is finally doing well since Bryan got here, and we hired back a native Kenya construction man. Our fingerling production is allowing us to provide 1,000,000 fingerlings per month to the government and people of Kenya. The mechanical shop is highly improved with less employees but still has a way to go.

Friday morning began at 4:45 am with a drive to the Kisumu Airport for the 7:00 AM flight to Nairobi. Elizabeth came along to try to finish up the 2009 income tax audit with our auditors. Meetings were held with the Director of the Communications Comission, whom I have known for years, and his staff. They love the radio station idea but a lawsuit has their authority to hand out licenses tied up for the next while. We will be ready when they are. Joy a young lady in the radio business, has been trying to get us to move this along for quite some time but we were just not ready, and after the war in 2008, it was put on the bottom of the list of things to do. She attended the meeting and then we had lunch. She is very good at marketing and promotions and during lunch I asked her to consider heading up our marketing department as we expand into the Nairobi marketplace with our rice and fish. She is very interested and invited me to come to her house for dinner with her and some of her friends.

Kibera is perhaps the largest slum in the world with around 750,000 people living in a few square miles of tin shacks with no running water, little electricity, and few toilet facilities. Joy lives on the edge of this slum, so getting there was interesting. It was a traditional meal of fish, skuma wicki, and oguli. We met, and then quickly ate, needing to dash off to the airport for the start of the long trip home. By 10:30 I was on the first plane and tired.

Friday was a very special day for Sandra. Dereck and his wife picked her up and took her to the super markets where she will be working for orientation. Next they took her to clothing stores and purchased her new clothes and shoes and then to the hairdresser. Finally they went looking for apartments to rent and she will leave the slum soon. She is coming out of her shell and for her, the Cinderella story is coming true. Over a period of a week she will change from selling her body for food, to making a life for her children. How many more cinderellas are there out there that just need a break. We will find out.

Right now I am half-way across the Atlantic, headed for Atlanta and then home. It will be 50 hours time from when I got out of a bed until I get back into one; the seats are hard, and the airline food is marginal but I have nothing but thanks for the life I have been able to live. Africa struggles on and on, but around Dominion Farms, God’s grace is shinnig through, lives are being changed, and there is hope in the air for what is about to come.

Please pray for Dominion.

No comments: