Monday, December 19, 2011

There he lay, badly beaten while others walked by

I got up this morning wondering what adventures today would bring.  I took a leisurely walk into town and it was beautiful.  I made my way down near Khetia's where I usually can find my kids I hang out with.  I stood outside on the sidewalk and shortly a young man, probably about 16 or 17 years old ran up to me.  He spoke very little English so another man walking by helped interpret.  I wasn't sure what he was asking but I gathered that it was for his friend that he said was beaten up and he needed help.  I've heard this kind of scam around town before and honestly, I thought that's what this was.  I said that I could not help.  Something was different next.  As I watched him hang his head and run off I could see fear in his eyes.  I saw a genuine concern that I've never seen when someone is trying to pull a scam.  As I stood there I knew I had to find him.  In the 30-45 seconds that passed, he was out of sight.  I circled the block a bit and finally caught up to him.  I asked him to take me to his friend.

We walked up the street and there he was.  There was this other young man about the same age.  His name is Peter Lojore.  Peter could barely open his eyes and was very weak.  So weak that when I felt for his pulse I could barely find one.  Something looked bad about his leg.  The smallest touch on his knee caused intense pain.  I've seen people faking pain before - he was not.  Another of his friends that was there cut his pant legs so I could look at his knees.  His left knee had a deep cut that was still fresh and bloody.  His right knee was swollen bigger than a softball.  I got bit and pieces of the story from a few other people around.  What I can put together is this:

Peter and his friends have a push cart job.  Basically, the have a big, wooden cart that they push around town and carry things for people.  He must have been hired by someone and took his cart down a street that some other street boys work.  Last night those other guys were drunk and came to Peter and beat him up.  I believe that a metal pipe was used, though I'm not positive.

At this point, I knew that I couldn't just walk away doing nothing.  Peter very obviously needed medical attention.  I managed to get him to the Kitale District Hospital and left a deposit that should cover his bills there.  The initial doctor to look at him suspects at least 3 fractured bones in Peter.  The entire time that I was taking him to the hospital on lookers stopped and laughed.  They would crack jokes and laugh about Peter.  They could laugh, but no one would stop to help.  I full out yelled at a crowd of men in the back of a pickup truck for laughing while we were trying to get Peter onto a motorcycle.  

What I saw today was upsetting.  And I don't just mean the beaten young man.  It was upsetting to see the attitudes of so many through town.  To them, Peter and his friends are nothing more than street boys and nuisances.  I saw something different in them.  I saw two of Peter's friends desperately seeking out help for him.  I saw these two walk away from their push carts to come sit with Peter in the hospital.  One of them looked at me and said that he has spent most of his life now with Peter and others on the streets.  He said, "these guys are my brothers".  I left the hospital after a while and promised to return tomorrow with lunch for them and to be sure that the doctors are treating him well.  Peter's friend walked out with me saying that because I helped it was his job to make sure I got out of the hospital safely.  Once I was outside the gate, he went back in to be with Peter.  It's totally safe there, but the fact that he walked me out was amazing.  What I saw in these street boys today was so precious.  I saw in them what I wish I could see in so many of the other locals:  concern for other people.

When push comes to shove, who are you?  Are you the one to stick by your friends - or even a stranger - or just an onlooker making jokes?  Are you in too much of a hurry to stop and show compassion?  Or will you push aside your schedule and time to do the right thing?  

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas miracle full of Christmas cheer??

Christmas is in 11 days.  For the first time in a very long time, I can't find any of that Christmas cheer.  I just finished watching the Christmas episode of NCIS (yes, I enjoy that show!).  I'm sitting here listening to Christmas music and it all seems empty.

I think that my favorite Christmas memory was in 10th grade.  That was the year that I got to meet my biological family.  Before this year I had spent Christmas with my adopted family.  And I love them so very much.  I always loved the feeling of being included into their family; I never felt left out in any way.  I still enjoy spending time around Christmas with them to this day.  They mean the world to me.  But this particular year was different.  I spent years wondering about my biological family.  I was filled with so many lies about them.  In 10th grade my great grandmother (Nanny) finally came clean with me and told me the truth.  That truth was that this family missed me and wanted to know me.  She finally stopped hiding me from them and them from me.  I met with my grandparents earlier and they invited me to spend Christmas with them in Reading.  I was nervous!  My Uncle Joe, Aunt Donna, sister Krissy, and cousins Kelly and Amanda would be there.  I only had a small memory of them; I think that I blocked much out from so many other wounds.  My mom drove me there that morning.  The last thing she said was that if I felt uncomfortable to call and she would come pick me up right away.  That didn't happen.  In fact, leaving at the end of the night was hard.  I walked into my grandparents home for the first time in so many years and it felt strangely familiar.  I looked at photos on the wall of Krissy, Kelly and Amanda.  Right along side were the few pictures of me that they had.  Around that time my grandparents had put in a pool in tieback yard.  In the cement next to the pool was a penny from the year of all of our births.  The fact that I was included in that felt so good.  My grandfather took me to the basement to show me something.  Each of the girls were given a bottle of champagne when they were born for their wedding day.  Right next to it was my gift from when I was born.  The bought me a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey for my wedding day.  When they had no way to know where I was or if they would ever see me again they saved this bottle for me.  These things made me feel so loved.  That day I was reunited with a family that I thought to have been lost.  I remember feeling so loved and cared for.  I don't think that I will ever forget that day.  I've spent every Christmas except for one with them since.

For years I have been the guy to start listening to Christmas music by Thanksgiving.  I had my desk at work decorated with lights and whatever small trinkets I could find.  I have always loved this time of year.  I love going to evening services on Christmas Eve.  I love decorating the house.  I love spending time with both of my families and my friends.

Right now, I'm finding it hard to find that Christmas cheer.  I can't seem to enjoy Christmas music, no matter how much I try.  Thanksgiving away from home was hard and Christmas is proving to be worse.  It's compounded with a decision that I recently made (I'll go into that later).  Sufficient to say, I'm struggling much more than I anticipated.  I sat outside tonight and starting to wonder why I'm here right now.  Why am I not at home with family.  Right away I thought of my day today.  I went to town and played a card game with a street boy named Sammy for a while.  It was a boring game to be honest.  But it was his favorite and he wanted to play so I played.  I've had so many experiences like this.  I know that I'm here for that reason.  I think to the conmen outside the Posta and how I've been standing up to them despite their threats.  I think to the dozens of kids and adults that I've talked to about that and how I'm slowly showing them what it is to stand up to evil.  I know that what I'm doing here matters and it is making a difference.  Still, I'm struggling so much more that I thought I would.

It's funny; this is the first Christmas in nearly a decade where I'm not working 16+ hour days or traveling all over the country.  I can actually relax and enjoy a fairly stress free December.  And a small part of me almost longs for that because it means I'd be with my family on December 25th.  I keep think to 11 days from now.  I'm going to spend Christmas Even with some boys on the street before going out to dinner with my family here in Kenya.  Christmas morning I think that I'm going out to a home that Transformed International runs to spend time with the kids there.  After that, we're having Christmas dinner at our compound.  I'm excited for these things.  At the same time, I'm dreading it.  I'm dreading that lonely feeling that is already beginning.  The feeling of not sitting at the dinner table with family.

Maybe a Christmas miracle will bring an extra dose of Christmas cheer?  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Appearance aren't everything

I've been thinking about this for a little while and I now think that I have a few thoughts in order.

Last week we were in Nairobi as the TI interns headed back home.  I really don't care for Nairobi.  In fact, I'm not fond of most major cities.  But there were a few things that stood out to me in Nairobi.  It kind of hit at once as we were taking a taxi to the shuttle stage to catch a ride back to Kitale.  We left the Parkside Hotel (which I now refer to as "the Darkside Hotel") around 7AM.  What stood out to me was how so many shops had people outside cleaning the ground of debris, washing windows and inside mopping floors.  Even the Darkside does the same.  What I began to think is "why?".  Why do they make so much an effort to clean the outside of the place when the inside is filthy and disgusting.  The Darkside has a nice lobby with a big flatscreen TV.  They fold the towels and make the bed really nice.  But when you stay there, it's not the best.  Toilets don't flush.  Sinks don't always work and the service isn't always the best.  But at first glance it appears to be a nice place.  The shops are the same.  They have someone outside sweeping up trash and washing windows.  But when you walk in, they are not a friendly place.  Goods are cluttered and dusty.

What I thought of is how many Kenyans do the same with their own appearance.  They dress as nicely as possible and put on a front of being wealthy but on the inside they are not the same.  Then, the most interesting thought I had was how we in America are the exact same.  How often do we use Facebook to brag about how good our lives are when in truth we're really struggling.  How many have bought homes, cars or gadgets that push them further and further into debt just to keep up appearances.

I think that with all of our toys and gadgets it has become easy to put up a good front.  Even here in Africa it's easy to put on the front by posting amazing pictures of everything.  But I don't want to pretend either.  I love being here.  It's so much fun and I love what I am doing.  I love the kids I hang out with.  I love the community here.  But it's hard too.  It's sometimes difficult to see corruption and poverty daily.  Christmas is in 12 days.  This is the first Christmas in nearly a decade that I am able to relax and I'm not bogged down with travel and extra work.  At the same time, it doesn't even feel like Christmas.  It's a sad feeling to know that I won't be with my family on Christmas, not will I see any of them for a little while.  I'll enjoy every moment I have left here, but it's still strange.

I guess the question is why do we as a people feel the need to appear to be perfect and happy beings all the time?  Why are we so afraid to let people know that we don't always have everything in order?  Why has being anything less than perfect all the time become so shameful?  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

My first death threat: It IS my business...

I haven't blogged in a while.  I guess I've been waiting for something to stand out.  This morning, that something happened when a group of con artists told me that they would kill me.

Ever since I arrived in Kitale in September there have been a group of con artists that are outside the local Posta (post office).  They used to "give" away toothbrushes.  They have since upgraded to cell phone batteries.  The way that the scam works is that they give you the battery and you have to pay money to remove a sticker on the back.  They give you a list of 10 prizes that could be under the sticker.  You pay 500 shillings to have the sticker removed.  To be clear, there is only one prize: nothing.  In fact, if you ask to see the phones that they list as prizes, they don't have them.  They have no vehicles nor any bags that even could have anything in them.  They also claim a "free" t-shirt if you don't get a prize.  The same is true - they have no shirts.  This is a very clear scam.  These guys pay off the police with a mere 20 shillings a day a piece (that's about .25 US cents - it costs more to park your car in town for the day) to not be bothered.

One thing I can't stand is people ripping off others.  Unfortunately, it happens more often than not here in Kenya.  These guys refuse to admit that they are doing anything wrong at all; they will tell you that they are "marketing officials" doing a "legitimate job".  If it was legitimate, why do they have to pay a bribe to the police?  Why do they not have a business license that everyone else is required to have?  If it is legitimate, why are there no prizes?  I've had a few encounters with these guys.  I've debated back and forth with them on numerous occasions.

Yesterday, I was walking into the Posta when I saw them scamming a local Kenyan, an elderly man.  I couldn't do nothing.  I walked up to him and told the man about the scam before he wasted his money.  He understood and walked away.  This was the start...I picked up some stamps to send some cards home and only way out, they were at it again with another man.  I walked right over to them and did the same thing.  They lost another "sale".  Now, they were beyond angry.  The guys proceeded to argue with me.  They made the comment that it's none of my business because they only steal (they actually used the word steal) from Kenyans, not the Muzungos (white people) here.  They tried to scare me by yelling.  They told me that they will "meet me in the US one day; another idle threat.  I made it a point to walk by them a few more times during the day to show that I'm not afraid of them; and I'm not afraid of them at all.  Not one bit.  

Today I was walking in town and the leader (he wasn't there yesterday) of the group yelled to me.  I need to point this out:  this man is a local pastor!  I was told that I should just go back to my own country and leave them alone.  He also told me that this is none of my business.  I told him that when he is stealing from people it is my business.  I said that I am here for a while and anytime I walk by and see them scamming someone I will warm them.  That's when he got really angry.  His exact words were, "if you keep it up we will smash your face and end your life".  Again, an idle threat.  I told him to try.  The second he lays a finger on me, that'll be the last thing that finger ever touches.  He yelled some more but refused to come close to me.  He even followed me down the street threatening to beat me and kill me.  There were some street boys walking with me at the time.  They seemed concerned.  It was a great opportunity to teach them to stand up for themselves and others.  They asked why I wasn't afraid of this group of me.  I told them that it's because those guys are cowards.  They yell idle threats while being sure to stay a few yards away.  The boys seemed to begin to understand.

There was a time in my life where I would have walked away afraid.  There was a time when I would walk a different path in fear of the bullies.  Not anymore.  They say it's not my business, but it is.  It's my business because it's wrong and they are too used to people not standing up to them.  They're too used to getting away with it because they paid a bribe.  I won't be bought off, nor will I be scared off.  Not by this group of corrupt thieves.  I will not chose a different walking path to avoid them.  Not because I am looking for trouble, though I won't run from it in fear.  That walking path is one of the most direct paths and I will keep using it.  And I will continue to warn others before they waste their money.  To most Americans 500 shillings (just over $5) may not seem like much.  But to the average Kenyan, that's a lot of money.  And to be lured into a scam thinking you have the chance to win a brand new smart phone is not acceptable to me.

That said, I do not walk near them blindly.  I am very aware of who they are and where in the street they are.  I walk ready.

So, that's my adventure that I thought worth sharing.  It's kind of a good feeling.  The fact that they are this angry at me shows that I've done something right.  When you stand up against evil, the evildoers take notice.  That doesn't mean you back down.  It means you keep doing what you know is right.  You pick and chose your fights.  I've chosen this one.  What is yours?  What are you willing to stand up for?  WHO are you willing to stand up for that no one else will?