A Typical Day of Hard Stuff

Can I be real and admit that I woke up grumpy this morning?  Ellis was up multiple times in the night, and I was tired, with a headache, and awake long before I hoped.  But there’s nothing quite like a reality check and happy faces of kids in Kenya to ground me and make me forget about my insignificant problems and think about the rest of the world’s instead.


It hasn’t rained much in Nairobi all year.  The rains should have come in March, after the summer season ended, but they didn’t.  So the drought carried on while everyone continued to wait.  In our neighborhood in Kibera, there hasn’t been water coming through the pipes in over a month.  It’s hard to say if this is connected to the drought or if it’s just a city planning issue.  Or perhaps it’s corruption.  I’ve been reading about false water shortages that are created in Nairobi just so that the water delivery companies can stay in business.  Or it might be because half the neighborhood connected to the same water line has illegally attached pumps to force more water into their tanks while bypassing all the rest of us.  We’ve been having small jerry cans of water delivered every few days to fill our tank, and unfortunately this means you have to make some hard choices, like whether or not to flush the toilets, in order to get the water to last.


I’m familiar with these circumstances because this is exactly how I lived my first 8 months in Kenya while staying with a family in another part of the city.  It’s not very fun, and when you combine it with a power outage that lasted 48 hours this week, it’s even more difficult.


But this week the rain came pouring and sent a foggy haze over the entire city in the mid-afternoon.  It can be hard to walk through Kibera in the mud.  Without any grass to hold the water, the trash and sewage gets swept everywhere, and it’s just a mucky mess that devours your flip flops, ruins your sneakers, and causes you to slide around and fall down. And with nothing to take shelter under as you walk, it’s difficult to get around.  One of our kids missed our program today because it was too far to walk in the rain.  The motorcycle taxis have come up with clever umbrellas and rain guards that hook onto the backend, and business soars for them during these times.


When I asked the Kenyan kids this morning how they were doing, they told me their houses are all leaking from the tops and bottoms, and that they’ve set out sufarias (kitchen pans) to catch some of the extra water.  They tell me this without complaining or crying.


They say it like it’s just a typical rainy day…and it is. 

This is their typical day, with their typical challenges.   

One of the girls washing her clothes outside her home


On Monday when the rain was at its hardest, the water came rushing towards one of the river drainage points in Kibera that was blocked up with littered trash—bags, bottles, and more.  With so much force and nowhere for the water to go, it viciously swept up houses and carried people to their death.  This is the second time in 2 years I have heard of this happening, and it almost starts to feel like this too is just a typical thing that occurs during the rains.


And while that news was already a lot for me to process, the one that shook me to the core was when Teacher Mark told me that he was recently at a birthday party for a 3 year old, and the little kid choked on a peanut and died right in the middle of the party.  I gasped in horror as I looked at my 9 month old, and I quickly showed them what to do if a kid is choking, how to hold the baby’s head and neck while pounding its back to remove the food, even how to do the Heimlich on an adult.  Teacher Mark looked at me and said, that’s good, but I don’t think any of the moms here know this.


I thought about how privileged I am and how I’m sure I’ve complained about the number of times I’ve had to take a CPR class.  I know the family of that little kid loved him just as much as I love my kid and that something as simple as training could have saved his life.  This is when I remember that education and awareness is key.


These problems shouldn’t have to be typical and the pans of water sitting around the houses shouldn’t be the norm.


I don’t tell you these stories to make you feel guilty or be preaching or put a damper on your weekend.  But sometimes, myself included, we all just need a little reality check to understand what the rest of the world is going through.  At times it feels like our small steps and attempts to educate are just drops in the bucket.  But then I remember the Swahili proverb:


Kidogo kidogo hujaza kibaba--little by little fills in the cup


So here’s to the little stuff, to each doing our part, and here’s to a grateful cheer from our staff that finally, this afternoon the water came back on in Kenya.


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