July 3rd to July 17th, 2011
I said goodbye to Sue at the airport and began a journey again to the land I have come to love, Kenya. It is a strange relationship with Kenya, full of frustration yet it draws me closer each time I come. Barbara Waterston did not come this time and that always seems a bit strange, as we have worked so hard as a team to bring change to a part of the world full of poverty and despair.
In Kenya calls come in by the hour; do you have rice to sell? The price of maize (corn) has doubled and there is little to be found. Both Kenya and Uganda are looking for food, and our stores are bare. The new rice harvest began yesterday, and soon time will tell just how badly our crop was damaged by our crop duster pilot who made a terrible mistake. He is gone but the damage was done. Over the past month these fields have been the subject of much prayer; only God knows what will come from them.
This trip is dedicated to the poorest-of-the-poor. Dominion has a team of surgeons, surgical nurses, aftercare nurses, and anesthesiologists coming to our farm and they will perform surgeries on the local people. These will include removal of tumors, repairs to burn victims, cleft paletes, cleft lips, goiters and so many other things that hold these people back in their daily lives. All of the medical team is Kenyan, all living in Kenya who care for their own people. This is a big cost to Dominion, but even including the rental of the hospital it is far less than the cost of bringing in doctors from the US. So often I see medical teams coming from outside to treat a few patients and that is good, but if the goal is to make the funds stretch as far as possible then I hope to show the way. So far we have around 75 patients signed up and ready for surgery. Tomorrow we begin four very busy days of intense work for the medical team and our support staff. Our farm will be over-run with people sleeping and eating everywhere.
Anne Owalla is a Kenyan lady now living in Holland, married to a Dutch man and she has two children. She operates an African cooking school and catering business there. When she heard what we are doing this week she dropped everything and is coming to the farm. She will use this time to teach our cooks how to prepare hundreds of meals and perhaps learn more herself. She will meet me in Amsterdam in a few hours then go on to Kenya with me.
As I sit here in an empty row of four seats at the back of the plane I began recounting the many trips; over 3000 hours of traveling back and forth for 1,500,000 miles over the past few years. What awesome changes have taken place. I have now lived roughly 1500 days in the country or over 4 years, yet it seems like yesterday that I took my first trip. Each time I return, it is around the clock work for days on end, to the point of exhaustion, but I can’t wait to get back again. Dominion finally reached one of our original goals and it was a big one; All our managers and staff are now Kenyans; the Americans, Brits, and S. Africans have gone home. We have trained and trained, but school is over and now they must perform. Some will make it, and others will wash out but this is the time to prove themselves. There have been problems but part of that is communication difficulties, so we will work on that. For the most part they are doing well.
It is now the middle of the night in Amsterdam and I am only 4 hours away so I need to make the best of these 4 empty seats and get some sleep.
The shower in Amsterdam always feels good and makes the rest of the trip feel so much better. Anne made it through the ticketing process and then we were on the next leg of the flight. It was cramped but I slept for half the flight. All my luggage arrived and Anne was met by her brother and more friends. I went to Robin’s house for the night and Anne went with her brother. By 5:30 am we were both on the way back to the airport, on to Kisumu, then the 1 ½ drive to the farm.
As we topped the hill there was so much apprehension in my heart over how the crops had faired after the crop duster mistake. How much was destroyed, how bad were the weeds, or were they killed? The phone reports had been encouraging but what is the real story? So much is at stake here. God was listening and we have been spared from a disaster. The combines were running and the yields were good; not great but good. We will make it, and our farm will prosper again.
Soon I was driving over the farm and the fields look good. It has taken around 100,000 hours of labor to pull the weeds, and that has been expensive but on the other hand a lot of people have been employed, so some good has come of it. Isaac and his crew have cleared hundreds of acres of new ground and are getting ready for new fields of rice. At the rice mill, the rice is being processed as quickly as it arrives and the trucks are lined up waiting for their loads. Our local outlet has people standing in line waiting for the rice to arrive and then buying all they can afford. They now have food to eat again.
The phone rang. “ Calvin come quick, we have plowed up a huge snake; come to where the Cats are working. What a snake, dark brown in color and fat. It moved slowly and everyone stood away back as it slowly uncoiled itself from the pile of debris, stretching to around 16 feet in length. Cameras came out while Anne stood back by the jeep. As it stretched itself out I went to the tail and others said to stay away but I had never touched one of these guys before. For a brief moment I thought of trying to pick this thing up but decided that just his tail would do. He was pointed towards the low lying swampland as I drove away but I don’t know his final fate.
The roof for the new equipment sheds are going up and should be finished by the end of next week so our combines and tractors will finally have a protected home. The parts warehouse is finished so thousands of parts are being moved from the containers to the new building. The mechanics shop is still struggling with following directions. They get distracted so quickly and stray from the critical path. We need a lot of attention to this area. The fish feed mill is operating but needs fine tuning with cooking temperatures and more consistent testing of the product, but product is being produced and we are selling it in the marketplace. Our dog food trials are going well, and in a month we should be in the marketplace with our products.
Today is a heart wrenching day as we head for the hospital. The surgical team has been working from morning until 10:00 PM for the past 2 days and now it is my turn to be on the scene and see the patients. First they wanted me in the surgical rooms, so I was suited up in special shoes, gown, cap, and mask, as was Anne. Three surgeries were underway at the same time. Doctor Onguiti was removing a massive tumor from the side of a man’s head and now sewing him up. Another man was undergoing hand surgery to make the fingers operational again and the third was a massive prostate surgery. The team worked like a well oiled machine, all 22 of them. Anne was taking pictures and then she passed out. Soon the nurses had her outside sitting down trying to collect herself again. The press were there and wanted an interview in the operating theatre, so I did my best to say how proud I was of the Kenyan medical team and all they were doing. It really was a great experience. I was told that most ladies do pass out as happened to Anne, so she should not feel bad.
Outside the operating theater a line of patients eagerly waited their turn under the knife. Two babies with cleft palates, an old man with a tumor the size of a mango on the back of his head, and a baby with a softball size tumor protruding from her back, and finally two boys with hernias.
We were next taken to the recovery wards. So many babies with cleft palates, all healing well; beautiful smiles in the making. Young boys laying still, after their hernia operations, and mothers with glowing smiles, so thankful for what has been given to their children. One man lay there sleeping, recovering from prostate surgery. A young mother sat proudly nursing and showing to all her baby, which could see from her left eye for the first time, after a tumor had been removed from above her eye.
Finally, we were taken to a room where people with real problems were waiting to be assessed and observed before surgery. It is not easy to figure out how to remove a tumor the size of a pillow case, hanging from a ladies back. Some were placed on antibiotics to get them stronger for surgery. A four(1.8kg) pound baby with a cleft palete was trying to be nourished by a starving mother, so feeding tubes had to get the baby strong enough to undergo the surgery, and the mother needed food as well. There was a man with a perforated intestine and bladder. His insides are septic and the doctors don’t know if he can survive the surgery. He has been placed on strong antibiotics and they will need to evaluate more in a couple of days. His will be the last surgery for the team, if they can do it, because his surgery will contaminate the entire area. A nurse asked me what I thought. My God, how does a person make this type of decision? If they do not operate he will die very shortly, and if they do the outcome likely will be the same. I encouraged them to go for it, but we will need to wait and see what happens.
I asked a lot of questions about all the tumors on so many people and found out some interesting answers. When I grew up and scratched myself or got a cut my mother would always swab things down with iodine which stung like crazy and today we use something like Bactine from a spray can. Well over here, they don’t know of these things. They go out and pierce themselves with thorns, in their ears or get injured and do not clean the wound. The body tries to encapsulate the wound with scar tissue and then it just keeps growing the tissue. Some masses end up weighing several pounds and disfigure the people terribly, often growing over eyes, or other grotesque looking bulges. They become infected and just grow and grow. Even after removal it takes months of injections to stop the growth, but removal is the first step. Mother was right, clean those wounds, even if it hurts.
There was a small ceremony under a tent to acknowledge what was being done for so many people. It took about an hour but my mind was really on the patients in the surgery rooms. I left around 3:00 pm and returned to the farm. It is now 9:00 pm and the team has not made it back to the farm and dinner is cold. Two patients have complications so it will likely be late before the team leaves the hospital. It will all begin again in the morning, and somehow the rice fields just don’t seem quite so important tonight.
As I leave my office tonight I am thankful for good health and a good medical system. It is good to experience the life of others to know how to be thankful for the one you have. Goodnight.
The doctors got home around 11:00 pm. At 3:00 am some had to return due to complications so there were some real tired people in the morning but they went off for another grueling day, standing for 12 hours of surgery after surgery. They have 22 more patients to go and will likely try to finish up by late tonight.
The day has been good as we surveyed the area for the new grow-out ponds for the fish. We did some quick engineering and will be able to expand the size by around 30%. No time to wait when you are working with the weather so by evening earthwork had begun. A television station wanted a quick interview and farm tour so that took a couple of hours. It will be added to the part done in the surgical suite yesterday. Our staffing levels need to be reviewed again and a couple of changes made. In general they are doing well and trying to show what can be done with the farm. The security firm formed by our former employees, is new and having a few growing pains but that is normal. They are really trying to do things right but still need some help with business issues along the way.
By late afternoon it was time to have some fun, at least for me. The government does a locust and qualia (small birds) eradication program and they are working in our area. These pests come by the millions and can wipe out a crop in days. For food security purposes the government and the UN provide these services. First our staff and others in the area establish where the little villians roost at night, then at dusk while they return to their roosts, a DeHavilland Beaver aircraft flies below treetop level and disperses a chemical to kill the pests. Often the government utilizes our runway for these purposes. The captain asked if I wanted to go for a ride and of course I eagerly agreed. Anne used her sweet smile to convince someone to let her go as well. We took off just at sunset and headed north about 6 miles then down to the ground right along the riverbank to deposit the spray. We weaved along the bank, popped up over trees, then back to the deck. This all in a 1940’s aircraft. Thirty minutes later it was dark as we landed. It was a great flight, but Anne was not so thrilled with it. I hope it all works.
Early Friday morning we rose to go to see the hundreds of women that work the fields of the farm. These women meet to sing and pray before they begin the job of pulling and chopping weeds. There is life in these ladies. There is joy in their hearts, and food in the mouths of their children because there are jobs to be done and money to be made. This is the love of God in practice, not some preacher screaming at them. They know who God is and now they know He answers their prayers, by giving them a job. They miss Barbara not being with them.They call me Daddy because they are treated like daughters, and their problems often are my problems as well. No, I can not fix everything but what I can fix, will be fixed. As we drove, a small group ran to the car begging us to stop. One showed us her hands which were covered in a fungal disease, while another showed her leg which was had a staff infection caused by a dog bite. We have people on the way to the pharmacy 20 miles away for the medication.
Friday morning we and the medical team ate breakfast together and then took a tour of the farm. They were tired and completed 80 surgeries in 4 days along with over 200 consultations. Last night they took the 9 pound tumor off the ladies’ back. Can you imagine carrying a load like that around hour after hour? She was continuously bent over from the weight so now she will need to learn to stand erect again. The man with the serious internal problems was operated on and it was complicated but they expect him to survive. He will need follow-up surgery in another few weeks. In this case it was a life saving operation. The hospital wards are now full of recovering patients and a lot of smiling people. This was the largest and most successful medical clinic any of the doctors have been involved with.
Dominion Farms is huge with many areas and a good tour takes hours. The medical people got a good tour and were amazed by what they saw. We ended with a fabulous meal and a promise to return next year. Most are anxious to go to Juba, South Sudan in November, to help the war wounded there. We want to start things off in South Sudan with this clinic as we begin our operations. Now it is time to go to the fields again.
Saturday morning began early with many of the medical people leaving for Nairobi, and I was on a mission as well. Several weeks back I was contacted by an Italian group that wanted to see the farm. They grow rice in Italy and in Kenya. They have a 30,000 acre property near Gilgal, almost back to Nairobi. The drive was long with so many road construction areas. It takes years to finish construction here, and diversions are prevalent. Often one must simply drive through fields or in a ditch along the construction area. It took almost 7 hours of pounding to get Chris, Anne and myself there.
What a place. They have around 4000 cattle including some exotic species and a very involved breeding operation. It is grass fed beef but it is very good. The farm portion is irrigated for vegetable production for both the Kenya and export market. They have set aside 10,000 acres for a game reserve, and are working with the Kenya government to breed near extinct exotic animals along with the usual zebras, tommies, water bucks, hippos,giraffes and so many more species. Some herds are large and some are small but there are thousands of animals on the property. At dusk, we drove to see the hippos in the river just feet from us but down a steep slope for protection. “Did you see that”, was shouted by all as a huge male leopard dashed right in front of the Land Cruiser. It was the biggest any had ever seen. We climbed a rickety old wooden tower to see for miles and observe thousands of animals in their daily lives. As we drove back to the house, a hyena watched us warily from the side of the road. The home is high on a hill overseeing animals on all sides. Camels sleep at the foot of the stairs and temperatures are cool at night, but the food was great. Time for some sleep.
Sunday morning we continued our tour at the newly constructed wetland area now teaming with hippos, then to the exotic breeding area, and finally a visit to their remote guest house right in the middle of thousands of animals. We ate our lunch and then left for home. Another seven hours later with aching arms from wrestling the steering wheel, we rounded the last corner and we were home. It was time for a quick shower and then off to bed.
Monday morning, the Kenya Wildlife Service arrived to talk about a nature conservacy near the farm. It was a group of 12 including several local politically motivated people. There has been an effort to have a nature conservatory around the lakes of the swamp and this has been an effort which Dominion has strongly supported. They have pushed forward and are trying to take approximately 2500 acres of our land with the arbitrary stroke of a pen; no rhyme or reason to the madness and instead of taking the wetlands they were trying to take the farmland. It was a very heated debate for several hours, but as the truth came out and they toured the farm, the executives began to admit that they were given poor advice and promised to correct the problems. Hopefully, they now will go back to the original agreements negotiated 7 years ago. They got so lost standing out in the swamp that they had to admit that the survey they used, was fradulent in its purpose. All ended well but everything here is always a confrontation of the mind before resolution is reached. We want this conservatory to take place and it will tie into our own plans for a private wildlife sanctuary over the next few years.
Next, a group from Edmond, Oklahoma and Uganda came to observe and better understand aquaculture and how it could be implemented in Uganda. I believe they left with a better understanding of the challenges and rewards involved. It was time for Anne to pack up. She was leaving for Nairobi in the morning to visit her family. She has been a delight to have here and really pitched in to help out, especially with the medical mission and the food.
Today began early with Anne on the road and me heading to the construction site of the new fish ponds. The digging is going well but as usual, equipment breakdowns are prevalent. One driver drove a tractor and scraper into the edge of the swamp and it was hours getting it out. The soybeans are growing ok but not great and need more attention. Weeds are tough over here and require a lot of labor to control. At lunch, the Kenya Revenue Authority showed up to give their audit report for the past 7 years. It took hours to go over the report. There were a lot of mistakes and wrong assumptions on their part. We have not made any amount of money yet and they do not understand why. Floods, wars, hailstorms and the like are just not part of their understanding. The meeting was gruelling but finally it ended on a fairly good note. It is now late here and after a few more phone calls to home and the office, I will hit the bed and try for a good night’s sleep. Goodnight.
Wednesday morning I was back in the fields again with Isaac, checking on the harvest. The weeds are jamming the headers on the combines, ruining the bearings. The rice is good and the quality is fantastic. We are out of bearings for the headers and still have hundreds of acres to harvest. Back down to the shop where now it is time to figure out how to build new bearings for the headers. It is not easy and may not last but we must try. The fix is in place, and the grain is desperately needed in a hungry land.
The new rice mill manager is turning out the best product we have seen and our incoming paddy is producing more product than we can believe, so we do some checking. Soon it is obvious, we were being ripped off by the last manager and his staff. When the rice is delivered from the field, the quantity is a bit over 16 tons per grain cart, but when we check, the mill is only recording 12 tons per cart. 25% is not there on the books and slowly the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. From what we can see, it appears the manager and three former distributors had a massive scheme going. They carefully shipped the difference and underbilled it so nobody would know. To do this, the clerk, the drivers and the distributors all had to have a part. It was a well oiled machine. Africa is riddled with corruption and for us trusting souls from the west, it is hard to imagine all the schemes that can take place. One leak in the dike is plugged but new ones form all the time. What is next?
When we took the shipping responsibilities away from the previous mill manager he went ballistic and now I know why. The three distributors were really ticked and send me text messages by the hour telling me so many stories, trying to say that I must bring back the old manager. The truck drivers have taken to disconnecting the speedometers so we can’t find where they have gone to. Who else was involved; where does the trail of deception end? This theft adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past years. I thought I had it stopped but corruption is so sophisticated and so sly it is very hard to find. A few months back I knew in my gut that something was wrong so the dismissals began. It took till now to find the methods and the depth of the problem.
On Thursday afternoon three reporters from the major newspaper arrived and requested an interview. The papers have been tough to deal with here, often printing stories attacking us for completely unfounded causes, like polluting the water, taking people’s land, causing floods, and other nonsense. We have stood our ground, refused to be part of the corruption of paying off politicians or reporters so our enemies are many, but our hearts are pure and we can sleep at night. Now the press is trying to be our friends as none of the lies or propoganda have deterred us from our intended course. They started off by saying that they wanted to make up for the wrong they had done and it was a good start. They started by asking, “How have you endured the pressure we and the politicians have put on you?” My response was that “the truth will set you free,” as evident by their presence there, now trying to make up for years of lies and biased stories.
They went for a tour of the farm, interviewed our workers and people in the community, and were touched by what they saw. When they asked how the bad press had affected things, I responded that mostly it had held their country back from much needed foreign investment. Most of the world believes that newspaper stories are true as opposed to Africa, where it is commonplace knowledge that many articles are untrue. I laid the poor economy right on the shoulders of the reporters, since anybody serious about investing in Kenya usually calls me first to talk about my experience. They were ashamed and said it would not happen again; only time will tell. They admitted that for a small amount of money a reporter will write anything you want in a newspaper.
Wednesday night our 25 ton truck had a problem with the clutch. At 7:30 in the evening we received a call from the driver that it would not work. Our mechanics had to drive 90 km to make repairs. As a result of this breakdown we learned the truth about our trucking situation. As I slept that night I had a strange dream revealing that the trucks were being used to haul gravel by our drivers, and that the sides of the beds were all beat up by the shovels used to load and unload the materials. In the morning I went to find the vehicle which was being washed out, but the dents were everywhere from shovels just as I saw in my dream. The driver was confronted. We found that there was a gap in the time from where the man was when the breakdown occurred and where he was three hours earlier, and then the lies started. It was time for him to go so early Thursday he was dismissed. Bit by bit, piece by piece the truth comes out.
I got to Nairobi and to the hotel by around 8:30 pm where I met Anne for dinner. I had a hamburger and it tasted great but the meat was only cooked to medium and that was a mistake soon to be manifest. By early the next morning we were at the airport for the flight to Amsterdam, where I was to have a meeting. The man did not show up but I needed the stop because soon food poisoning had a hold on me. I did not need to be on an airplane at that time. It was a rough night. In Africa one drug fixes about everything, Ciprofaxen, and after 3 pills all is normal as I cross the Atlantic again. A twenty- one year old student, Regina, sits beside me with such interest in the farm. She asks so many questions and it is her generation which will soon have to take up the task of transforming Africa, but it is the obligation of my generation to prepare the way.
In Texas, the farm is moving forward. Construction of facilities to train many to follow in the paths we have already walked and to start new projects in Africa, is underway. Our first students will begin in September by moving there for the next year and when they are prepared they will to move on to Africa. This is a dedicated group now selling their homes, cars and furnishings for the life God has call them to do.
Africa is a learning experience each hour, where one must not become attached to money or things, because they can and often just disappear. It is a place of overwhelming need with even the basics of life often not at hand. Food is in critical supply for so many, yet for others this is just a time of opportunity to take the necessities of life from their brothers in order to fill their own pockets. If their brother dies, it is not their problem. For Dominion the mission is still the same; stay the course and transform the nation.
Please pray for Dominion Farms, in both Kenya and Texas, that we will be all we can be.