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Trip Report December 2017
Eric O’Brien made his third trip. I don’t think wild horses could have kept him away. He is now a sophomore at Hampden-Sydney College and his academic break did not begin until December 13. Family wanted us home by Christmas. We condensed the trip to just the Ahero portion.
Since schools in Kenya are on break, Joshua had to make arrangements to meet students who were coming just to play baseball. Consequently, all the secondary kids we saw were veterans, most of whom had just graduated. About half our visits were primary schools.
We flew Lufthansa, mainly because their routes allowed me to meet up with Eric at Dulles. We went through Frankfurt on the way over. We left Wednesday and arrived in Nairobi at 9:15 on Friday. The flights were good. Our four bags arrived. We did not have to pay to get through customs. We stayed at the Milele Presbyterian Conference Center.
On Friday morning, Grephus picked up Phelisters (who attends college in Nairobi), Margie (who had taken the bus to Nairobi just so she could ride back with us) and Jombo (who works in Nairobi) and then met us at Milele. With the sisters on board, the long drive to Ahero was fun, allowing us to visit and renew acquaintances. About half of it was oh my God, I can’t believe we are here together.
I tried to take the girls shopping in Nakuru along the way, but there just wasn’t much there, so we made other arrangements. We arrived in Ahero Friday evening, and reunited with friends at Everline’s place. The first thing we noticed was that Shantel, who is now about four, was smiling and giggling and running around, not at all the shy, photophobic little one of the year before. Hezron, Everline’s husband, was home and we finally had a chance to get to know him some. He is a really, really nice guy and thoroughly enjoys his family.
We settled in at the Abongos’ and sorted equipment. Baseball began Saturday. Our crew was Grephus, Joshua, veterans Jombo, Sammy, Kasman and Evance, and Margie, Phelisters and Violet (my college girls). The first school we went to was Sammy’s old high school group. He had been prepping them. We let them throw and loosen up a bit, then we just played a game.
At lunch time, Eric, Grephus and I went over to Phyllis’s house. Phyllis’s younger son, Emmanuel, about 7, and Eric took to each other immediately. On one of our visits, the two of them were wrestling on the living room rug for a good hour and fifteen minutes. Grephus, Phyllis and I discussed children’s home issues.
For Sunday, we were planning to go to Joshua’s to host a feast for the children there. All the college girls insisted on going along. Eric, Violet and I served about thirty kids rice, cabbage, and scraps of meat. We were serving from low tables, like coffee tables. One little guy, Jared, would not leave Violet’s table. He just stood there stuffing his face, making adoring google eyes at Violet.
Joshua wanted me to say a few words to the gathering of kids, and he drafted Phelisters to translate into the native tongue, Luo. I quickly tried to think of every word that I could that had no possible Luo translation, like “snow.” Phelisters became the official photographer, and proved to have a natural talent for taking great pictu.
Monday was another baseball day. The trip was already off to a good start, but Monday was a day like no other. At the first school we went to, I was issuing various team apparel to our crew. I had several pairs of youth baseball pants that someone had donated, and I offered these to the crew. Margie was the first to try on a pair. They came up nearly to her chest and she looked hilarious—a bit like a young Willie Mays. That got everyone laughing. Then Jombo tried on a pair. Apparently, these left his anatomy exposed, and the girls were laughing and jabbering in Swahili, and Jombo was embarrassed. That got everyone in great humor, and it never stopped the whole week.
This was at Okanja, a school where we have really enjoyed the kids in past years. We immediately started a game with sides chosen mixing our crew with their kids. Everyone got to bat at least four times and they were having huge fun. Grephus finally got the idea and hit a pretty good ball over the outfielders. He ran around the bases celebrating like he’d just won the world series.
Monday afternoon, we went to a primary school way out in a poor area surrounded by rice paddies. The kids who were supposed to be there had not arrived yet, but there were dozens of kids running around. We got out and started throwing rubber balls with them. One little girl, about 10, was immediately noticeable as she more than held her own with the other kids and made sure she was one of those who got to play catch with the white guy. This kid was wearing a ratty red stocking cap sagging low over her eyes, a torn, dirty shirt and an ill-fitting worn out skirt. Her name was Roselyn.
After playing catch for awhile, before moving to the next activity, because of Roselyn’s enthusiasm, I offered her a pink bandana. Violet came over and said let me tie that for you. She folded the bandana and took off the red stocking cap. Violet and I looked at each other with a simultaneous, stunned, “Oh my God!” I thought this is the most beautiful child I have ever seen. We knew: “we are going to change this kid’s life.” We immediately nicknamed her Violet Junior. A teacher told us that the girl was a good student but that her single mother had a hard time maintaining her school fees. I gave the teacher my card and asked him to put the mother in contact with me.
Shortly after that, Margie received a text: she had passed her national pharmacy exam, after five days of intense testing in Nairobi.
What a day!
That night, I could not get Violet Jr off of my mind. I texted Violet. She felt the same way. We mulled the heartbreak that would happen if we were unable to see her again, or know what happened to her. Throughout the week, we could not stop talking about this adorable little girl.
I am going to jump ahead to the miraculous events that have occurred since that day. Later in the week, I learned that the teacher had never passed along my information. There was no way that was going to be the end of it. I dispatched Phyllis out to the primary school to inquire of Roselyn’s status. She learned that the girl was no longer in school, which for a young girl in a place like Kenya is a disaster. Phyllis also learned that the child had been living with her grandmother, but the old granny could not take care of her, so she had been taken with her mother to Mombasa, a large city all the way across Kenya. Phyllis called the mother and told her that she had someone who wanted to sponsor Roselyn and make sure she could finish school. After some discussion, the mother asked Phyllis if she could take this child and treat her as her own. This coincided with our ability, equally miraculous, to begin operating a children’s home. Violet Jr will be our first customer. We had her enrolled in school within days. She is living with Phyllis until they move to the children’s home on February 1. We are elated.
Baseball went extremely well. Everyone on the team had roles and worked together seamlessly. Because there were ten of us, we could back each other up and nobody had to do too much. Grephus or Eric could pitch, but mostly the older kids wanted to do their own pitching and were able to do so and keep things moving. Having our guys join in and play with the students was great. This would be difficult with larger groups. We only had two schools scheduled per day, in the morning and mid-to-late afternoon. We were able to drop the crew in Ahero for lunch time while I was busy taking care of business and Eric was visiting people with me and playing with any kids he came across. There were some complaints that people on the crew felt drowsy after the long lunch breaks, but the alternative would have been being out in the hot sun at midday. The lunch breaks did cut down on the inevitable sun burn.
Logistically, we took two complete sets of equipment, each with about thirty gloves, one set being for younger kids and the other for older kids. We also took several dozen extra balls, a few extra bats and helmets to replace gear as needed, but we kept the two complete sets with us and stored them when we were finished. If a school had their own equipment from prior visits, we just left that in their bags and had them use ours. Whistles, and spray paint for home plate and foot positions were very helpful. We made do without a chart to explain positions, but it would have been better to use a chart.
Overall, the players’ throwing and hitting, and sense of where to throw the ball and how to record outs was pretty good. One glaring issue was defensive positioning. They were not getting this, especially in the vicinity of shortstop. When they positioned themselves, they left the shortstop area vacant and put a fourth kid somewhere in the outfield. I am not sure if they were focusing on the bases or were afraid to play at shortstop because many hard hits went there and bounces on those pastures we use at fields are wildly unpredictable. It may have been self preservation. Use of charts, and a clinic for our own team at the beginning of the week, might help with defensive positioning.
Another observation was that they had trouble judging fly balls. This is just lack of practice. All we do now is have them throw each other some pop ups. We might try some fungoes, which I think they would enjoy.
Most important is that they have fun, and they did. The tournament had four teams, which was quite manageable. We did not have any major issues. Taking the time to explain that we were there for fun, that we were making new friends, having them all shake hands before the games all helped. One thing I became aware of this year is we would see kids interacting with each other form different schools like they were great friends. I asked how they knew each other and they explained t was from the tournaments in previous years. The winners got the sleeveless practice jerseys, which they were happy with.
After the tournament on Thursday afternoon, we gave the guys a ride to Kisumu and then we took the college girls to Lake Victoria to eat Tilapia. There are all these open-air restaurants crowded along the lake shore except for one area where vehicles are driven into the edge of the lake to be washed. Our vehicle needed to be washed, so we had to remove our equipment bags. All of these multiple restaurants have female greeters who try to hector customers into their place. It is chaotic. We were being hustled from one pace to another over about a two block area, up and down rickety steps, looking for a table with the best view. Suddenly I realized that there was a porter from the car wash operation trying to keep up with us, schlepping these two duffle bags.
We found a nice, second story table overlooking the lake. You pick out the actual fish you want and Grephus showed off his negotiating skills for the girls in arriving at a price. Then they grill the fish over an open wood fire and smother it with greens or tomatoes. You eat it with your fingers. This is Grephus’ favorite meal and I can see why. It was a great treat for the girls. It was a splendid afternoon, with a gentle lake breeze.
As we finished eating, someone suggested we go for a boat ride on the lake. We are talking about decrepit wooden-hulled boats with various irregular tin patches nailed to the deck. The life jackets were a joke. The boat hadn’t puttered out onto the lake for more than two minutes when Margie started a water fight. That was tremendous fun. We were all laughing so hard they must have heard us all over the waterfront and thought we were crazy. The girls swore it was the most fun they ever had.
Friday morning, December 23, was time to say goodbye. We would stop by Everline’s place where we would say goodbye to Margie, Phelisters, Everline and her family, and the neighborhood kids. Violet called me that morning and asked if she could come meet us there and say goodbye. I knew it was an arduous trek for her to come over there, so I told her that wasn’t necessary. But there was no keeping her away. Margie, Phelisters and Violet all wore their Sunday best. You know it has been a great trip when it is hard to leave.
We hit all kind of traffic, mostly at gratuitous Kenyan roadblocks, and were a little bit anxious about getting to the Nairobi airport in time for our 11 p.m. flight. The flight home via Frankfurt and Munich was right on schedule. We arrived home by late afternoon on Christmas Eve.