Monday, March 23, 2015

A big fish in a little pond

By Big T

Heading home, we decided to visit Lake Victoria for two days for Joi's 40th birthday. The second day little t and I got some old bread from the hotel kitchen to feed to the fish. t. was laughing his head off and trying to get the fish to eat out of his hand. They were. And they were biting his fingers. An older Tanzanian gentlemen, with excellent English and a kindly demeanor, joined us beside the pond.  We laughed at t's antics and talked together for 5 or 10 minutes. We both really enjoyed how delighted t was with the fish. We just talked about the fish and how fun kids are – just silly stuff like: "Hey look at that big one! Look out, here he comes. A catfish! Oh this boy loves to play with fish." t. kept showing him the tiny mark on his finger where the catfish nipped him. After a while we ran out of bread, the moment ended, and our new friend left. Then the hotel manager walked up to me and asked: "Do you know who that was?" I said no. "That was the Prime Minister of Tanzania!"

I'd heard that he was at this hotel for the day. The place is absolutely crawling with security people and other official looking folks. Funny story, huh? I actually had an inkling that it might be him. His English was so good and he carried himself with a certain comfortable confidence. But how do you ask someone, "Hey, are you the Prime Minister?" So I didn't say anything and we kept playing with the fish–just being people together. I didn't see him again. He was a very nice man.

(This is not the PM – didn't want to snap a pic of 
him with all those bodyguards around.)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

African Pizza Dreams

by Big T

I’ve spent the last two weeks, among other things, building a masonry bread oven according to modified plans for traditional Italian wood-fired pizza oven. It has been refreshing to work with my hands, be creative, and overcome non-people related obstacles.

The goals are fairly simple: 1) to provide vocational training as bakers to some of the kids, 2) to develop a micro-enterprise from which the kids can learn business skills and a trade, 3) to provide bread to the kids and community with proper use of local resources and appropriate technology, and 4) I’m admittedly hoping to eventually get some pizza out of the deal. This calls for building an efficient oven using local materials and which uses readily available fuel. There is a shortage of fuel of all kinds here. Basically the only readily available fuel is firewood, but even that has to be stewarded carefully, because deforestation is a major problem. All petroleum products are very expensive, often impure, and relatively hard procure. We have, over the past five years, planted perhaps two thousand trees. We can see a difference on our 66 acres already, because many of them have already reached thirty feet. Things grow fast in the tropics. They also happen to be nitrogen-fixing trees, which improves our soil. And when you cut one down, another trunk quickly grows from the stump, so our fuel source is at least theoretically renewable.

So it has to be wood fired. No problem. Wood fired pizza ovens happen to be very much in style (in the West) these days, so there is a plethora of information available. I choose a plan for a homemade backyard pizza oven modeled after traditional backyard ovens in Italy, which could easily be adapted to our needs: large scale bread production and utilization of local materials.

My seven year old has helped me often, though he tends to wander home during the heat of the day. But along the way, he has managed to learn some building skills and even some thermodynamics. My dad was here for a few weeks and all three of us worked on it together for a time. Collaborating as three generations was rewarding. I have also had two Tanzanian helpers. My main goal for them has been to teach them how to build one of these things, because it could become a good trade for them. There is not much bread around here, and what is available is poor quality and usually stale. The nearest functioning oven I have been able to locate is an hour away at a commercial bakery (which makes lousy bread if you ask me). But the local people like bread and will eat it readily. They see it as a treat. And some of them, I’m pretty sure, would also buy it. So our assessment is that not only is there a local market for bread, there is a local market for ovens. If nothing else, the young people we teach to be bakers could work in partnership with these two young oven-builders. I’m not sure how much my building assistants have absorbed. The challenge is to convince them that they could even do such a thing. They tend to think that I’m a clever and powerful foreigner while they are powerless and uneducated shovel wielders who could never accomplish such a technological feat. I realized that would be a challenge ahead of time, and the fact has been reinforced repeatedly along that way. But I’m trying to keep it simple and keep it local. Changing their view of themselves (worldview) is something that takes the power of the gospel and years to bear fruit. We go at it one step at a time. 

I also have three ten-year-old helpers who have caught a vision for the project who show up to crush charcoal and fetch water from the cistern before and after school. I’ve figured out they’re not quite ready to be trusted with the trigonometry necessary to build a perfect brick dome. Or carefully maintain the proper ratios for mixing refractory cement. But they are enthusiastic assistants and tell me they are aspiring cake-eaters. Hata mimi. (Even, me.)

The oven is theoretically super efficient because it is dome-shaped, like an igloo, and very well insulated. You build a fire inside and let the heat soak into the inner layer of firebricks for an hour. Then you remove the whole fire (saving the remaining fuel for tomorrow), and seal the door, which also seals off the chimney. The heat is entrapped in the dome and floor, and can’t go up because of eight inches of insulation over the dome. So it radiates back into the oven cavity all day long. Think of a sizzling satellite dish sitting upside down over top of a fiery hot pizza stone, all covered up by a hundred blankets.

According to my very rough approximations, our 48-inch (inside diameter) dome should be able to soak up enough heat to bake at least sixty large loaves of bread over four to six hours. Twenty loaves per load. Through the rest of the day, you can still cook other things, like meats or vegetables or whatever, and you can even put a kettle of water in there at the end of the day to take advantage of the remaining heat for you evening bath or bedtime tea. All from one load of firewood. It’s applied thermodynamics, which is all about controlling the heat by making it stop and go where and when you want it to. At least that’s how I explained it to my son. I always found thermodynamics the most difficult subject in school.

I had to do some learning about local bricks, clay, and soil. I researched via the phone, books, and local elders. Firebricks, which are basically bricks with a high tolerance to heat and a high capacity to hold and conduct heat, are hard to come by. The only truly local bricks available are of two types. One is basically just portland cement mixed with sand. The other is basically what the Israelites made in Egypt: clay soil packed into rough shape and fired in a pile—a heap of bricks with mud and straw piled over them and heated for three days. Neither of these types hold up well under the stress of repeated heating and cooling. To give you an idea of how strong they are, I will tell you that for building purposes, both types are typically cut with a machete. So we had to bring firebricks from Nairobi—not exactly local, but at least available. And they were cheap.

The next materials challenge was insulation. Firebricks conduct and retain heat. Insulation stops heat by not allowing it any conductive pathways to follow. In most types of insulation, this is accomplished via a consortium of many tiny air bubbles. Air is a poor heat conductor, and much less so when it is trapped in tiny spaces so that one air molecule can’t give its heat (molecule speed) to a neighboring air molecule. We are at 1-degree south latitude. It never gets below 60 degrees F and never above 85. Insulation basically doesn’t exist here, unless you count clothes and blankets, which are not heat resistant. We settled on charcoal, pounded into pea-sized bits, and mixed with a little cement to give it structure and to prevent it from burning by sealing it off from oxygen. We mixed these together and heaped the amalgam eight inches thick over the dome. We also spread a thinner layer under the firebrick floor.

The most interesting materials challenge was refractory cement, which is brick mortar that has the same characteristics as firebrick. Regular mortar cracks too much under the heating and cooling. It won’t hold up. I located a recipe using sand, fire clay, lime (a good heat conductor), and cement. Sand and cement are common enough, and we found lime in town, though not knowing the Swahili word for lime, it took me a long time to describe what I was looking for. The clay was a challenge. I investigated the soil near a local brick kiln, the soil near our spring, the soil in our vegetable plot, the soil used for traditional clay pots, and the soil in our neighbor’s back yard. Then, in consultation with a couple of village elders, I hit upon the solution we eventually employed—termite mounds. You’ve probably seen these six to twelve foot high brown monoliths on a nature show. The elders told me that soil makes the strongest bricks. We located one (providentially nearby), and I investigated. I loved this idea. The little critters choose the soil, sort it, clean it, and carry it to the surface for you! All you have to do is exhume it. It contains no stones or impurities because it is conveyed to the surface from deep beneath the ground one tiny termite mouthful at a time. Genius. And clean. The stuff is so tacky that a handful slung at the ceiling will easily stick.

The next challenge was simply lack of power. Everything has to be done by hand: hauling sand, cement, lime, charcoal (made by hand from hardwood), bricks, gravel (also made my hand!), water, and clay. Obviously these things are all heavy. And the oven is big, six feet across by eight feet tall, not counting the six-foot chimney. Mortar and concrete are mixed with a shovel. Hundreds of bricks are cut by hand. The charcoal is crushed with mallets. It all adds up to heaps of heavy work in the hot sun. I often begin at twilight in order to make progress before the heat of the day. Actually, every farmer in Africa does that. It just takes this white man a while to catch on.

The last challenge was the geometry. A dome of 250 bricks is no small feat. It takes a keen eye and careful hand. And again, I tried to keep it simple so that the young men can follow what I’m doing and don’t feel the need to have special tools or secret knowledge to pull it off. For the first six courses (rows of bricks) of the firebrick dome, we used a 24-inch measuring stick to maintain consistency in the distance from a nail placed in the center of the cooking floor to the inside face of the bricks—no measuring tape necessary. After that, the wall inclined too sharply to be built upon, unless you have twenty hands, so we filled the cavity with wet sand, sculpted it into a dome, and continued assembling upward and inward. I was quite proud of our six-sided carefully hewn keystone that clinched the construction. For me it echoes a sophisticated polygonal gemstone meant to adorn on a queen’s finger.

The project has become quite the local spectacle. Despite its private location, people stop by often to watch the progress, ask questions, and offer their hope that we will soon have good bread to eat. They are also delighted by the cleverness of both the sand dome and the radius-describing measuring stick. I invented neither contrivance, but I’m given credit anyway. People look at me strangely when I tell them I got those ideas from a book. They regard me even more strangely when I tell them that I’ve never done this before. 

After two weeks, I have a sunburned neck. My hands are a mess, between the pinches and nicks and caustic cement mix. But I’m happy. It has been wonderfully fun and pleasantly challenging. Today we finish the insulation and tomorrow we erect the chimney. On Monday I hope to clean the sand out of the dome—a dramatic step. Tuesday will be the first fire—small at first, to cure the oven slowly.

Someday I hope to get some pizza out of it. First we have to overcome the cheese obstacle. I tried negotiating for a milk goat today, so there’s hope. But long before that day, I plan to see some kids proudly baking, eating, and selling their own high quality bread.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

helping babies breath and hope for Miriam

by joi
Miriam sits in her chair for the first time.

This weekend we have had the pleasure of hosting Dr Amy Rule and her husband, speech therapist Woody. Currently they work at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya long term and specialize in people with disabilities in the developing world. When we heard they were nearby (4 hour drive) we invited them to come help train our clinic staff in the area of neo-natal resuscitation. Amy teaches a short class called "Helping Babies Breath" that uses really amazing simulated babies! Created by a toy company in Sweden, these babies are made of plastic and filled with water. When filled they feel amazingly similar to a floppy newborn baby, and weigh about the same amount!

Woody provided consultations for several of the kids here who have stutters or other speech issues. Our W. still can't really say her "L's" and Woody assured me it's not an issue to be concerned with at all until about 7 years of age.

In addition, and maybe most exciting of all, Dr Rule was able to evaluate one of our kids, 10 year old Miriam, who has been walking on her knees all her life. It appears she had clubbed foot at birth and it was never treated. She has no mother, and her father has sent her here to City of Hope to be taken care of and go to school. She was unable to attend the local school because the kids were just too cruel to her. She is a beautiful girl, with a constant smile and tenacious spirit!

Dr Rule assessed her and believes that it's possible that she is a candidate for surgery and physical therapy which will lead to her being able to walk on her feet. Imagine going from a lifetime of crawling on your knees to standing tall among your peers! This is a huge game changer for Miriam!

We found a wheelchair for her in one of our shipping containers and retrofitted it a bit for her size. She will have to learn to use it now so that after her splints are on she is able to get around. It will be a bit of a setback for her at first (she is so fast and so capable, even with walking on her knees) but in the long term the chair will be a huge help. For one thing, it makes her MUCH taller!!

We are not 100% sure yet if she is a surgical candidate-she will be taken to Tenwek tomorrow for xrays and examination by the orthopedic surgeon. Please pray for good news! Miriam is very excited and assured us she is ready for the hard work ahead.

Miriam's dorm mates practice assisting her 
with using her wheelchair on stairs.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Little T's first post

By: Joi and Little T

We are all finally recovered! No one in our little group was spared the illness that is sweeping through the village but thankfully it is now in the past (for us at least–it continues in the village). Some of us may have even enjoyed the benefit of a bit of weight loss. Once recovered, the kids were noticeably happier and much easier to be around!

Our safari (game drive) with Grandma and Grandaddy was delayed two times due to all the sickness but finally last week we were able to set off for the Serengeti! All in all it was the best show of animals we have ever seen. We were able to see all the big five as well as countless other species.

Little T took an interest in writing his “Life Story” this week and incidentally it began with our Safari. He has been dictating to me chapter after chapter. I will include below the first 2 chapters to give you an idea of how things went on Safari. As a disclaimer, I did not edit or influence it in anyway. My personal comments are <indicated thusly>. I think for 7 he's a pretty good storyteller!

Title: An Adventurous Boys Life
Chapter 1: The Safari

Our tale begins early Saturday morning with pumpkin pancakes. W. poured a little too much syrup but the good news is she ate all of it. Mom and Dad had coffee. We loaded up the landcruiser around 730am. After 4 hours we arrived at the gates of the Serengeti. While we waited <for the entry fee paperwork to be processed> I drank a little bit too much orange fanta soda. As we drove away we saw some antelope. One had big horns and another leaped high over a big bush. Later we saw some ostriches: 2 males and 2 females.

Then we crossed a river and saw some crocodiles. Then we pulled up to a picnic spot where I saw a mommy monkey with a baby on her belly. Later we drove away from the picnic spot and down the road again.

Then we drove down the road and I saw a baboon.

Suddenly we drove on to two tracks which led us to a big pond where there was a bunch of hippos. One yawned and I saw his giant teeth. It was funny. Daddy saw a big old crocodile but it turned the corner before I could see it. Daddy saw it but I didn’t.

After that we drove over a big bump and W. almost fell off the roof. Daddy said “Get down from there, I don’t want you to be eaten by a crocodile” and W. said “It wouldn’t hurt!”

Then we crossed the river again and I was looking for crocodile but all I saw was some hippopotami farther down the river. We got back on the big road and we saw some more antelope. I was feeling hungry the whole time. I was getting impatient to see a lion or elephant. I just couldn’t wait to get to the campsite. But I couldn’t do anything about it so I just sat there.

Then as we drove down the road W. jumped up and said something about animals.

I thought she said there were more animals so I ran across the car really fast but it was just W. saying “I’ll get up when I see more animals.”

We saw some dik diks, which are tiny little antelope. When they are born they are only a couple inches long. We also saw a whole bunch of zebras, more than I could count.

Some warthogs were running behind them and just like a warthog I made a little tunnel behind the seat to sit in when the car goes fast. There was then a secretary bird catching bugs. We saw several elephants.

Then we came across some elephants which grandaddy saw, then me. The first person to see an elephant wins. Grandaddy won.

Then the driver picked an acacia tree branch and passed it back. Then we threw it out because the thorns were so long and sharp. There were so many acacia trees that I couldn’t count them.

Down the road we saw some giraffes. They stared right at me and then we saw some jackals. We moved down the road a little and saw some baboons really close up. I just can’t wait to get to the camp site. Me and my dad spotted a whole huge herd of antelope.

Chapter 2: The Camp

The moment I had been waiting for. We got to the camp! I ran around the camp a lot. I ran around so much that I asked for some tuna. Of course my dad gave it to me but I accidentally ran my head into his head and he yelled at me for that. Then I told him I was sorry and he forgave me. After that my mom and sister walked into the kitchen house and they saw someone making fish kabobs, chapatis and spaghetti. When they came out I found them in the tent. My sister was laying down under the covers and my mom was sitting on the mattress.

Now it was time to eat dinner. <By this time we had been riding in the truck for about 10 hours and we were very tired. It was close to 8pm> Psalter made a lot of noise because he was so tired. Then we went to bed. Wren fell asleep at the dinner table and dad carried her to the tent. Wren woke up in the night and had to use the bathroom but Daddy wouldn’t let her leave the tent because he could hear some animals very close to our tent. He looked out the opening of the tent and saw right in front of him some big hyenas. Wren was scared but Dad told her they were just dogs and that her big brother would protect her. <Mom was scared too. They were really close to our tent and our tent zipper was broken! There was nothing to stop them from coming in!!> Then dad heard something like plastic dragging on gravel. We finally all fell back asleep.

In the morning we were in for a BIG surprise. I was the first one up before sunrise. Dad and I discovered our cooler was GONE! But where did it go?? And daddy said that the hyenas MUST have dragged it somewhere. Mom had latched it closed so Daddy knew they couldn’t get it open and they probably gave up on it. We searched and searched and finally found it with teeth marks on it far away from our tent way out in the bush!

We had hot chocolate and went on a surnise game drive. We drove along and saw a bunch of elephants. Nancy and I spotted a TINY little baby who was shorter than the grass! After that we drove in a big circle and passed a huge leopard in a tree. She had made a kill and dragged half an antelope up into the tree and it was hanging on a branch next to her as she rested. Then she woke up! She climbed over to the antelope and started eating him! Then we left and drove back to the camp for breakfast.

For breakfast we ate crepes, chili, sausages, toast, pineapple, watermelon, mango, fruit juices, hot chocolate, coffee, tea, hard boiled eggs and french fries! it was a ton of food.

We packed up all the tents and sleeping bags and headed out of the park. As we passed a big pile of rocks we spotted a pride of lions. There were six! Five female and one male! That’s what I call a whole pride of lions! <<This concludes chapter 2, stay tuned for chapter 3.>>

We were able to bring two of the girls from the children's home along with us as a treat to them. They have lived all their lives in Tanzania (only a few miles from the Serengeti) and never had a chance to go into the park!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

little stories of hope

by Nancy

It has been such a joy for me coming back to the City of Hope!  When we arrived at COH (City of Hope) I couldn't stop smiling seeing all the familiar faces, but many of the kid's were new to me as well.  I have noticed, though, that two of those new faces were ones I actually knew well, but were not a part of this incredible family last year.   

The first little boy I saw most every day last winter as he was a student in the preschool class I was taking W. to, but lived in one of the local villages.  He was a rough little boy then, who was always a dirty torn mess in class.  He didn't seem to have many friends, and fought a lot with the other kids.   My heart really went out to him as I imagined his home life had to be pretty hard, and lacking the love and care a little heart needs.  I was so over joyed to see that he is now one of the kids here at COH. I can see such a huge change in him.  He has his little friends he hangs out with, and when I look into his eyes I see a little boy who has a home and family were he feels loved and accepted.   He has hope!

Last year I went on a hike with my roommate and we were followed by some children from the village.  The kids were hanging on us and begging for money which was about the only thing they could communicate in English.   One of the girls I don't think I will ever forget.  She was climbing all over Julie and I, kissing us and demanding we give her what we had. It was so evident this little girl was no stranger to sexual abuse.  It had even become a normal way for her to get what she wanted.  It broke my heart to see this. Now, though, she is a part of this safe family were she is loved for who she is, not what she does.  She still has the same out going spirit and big smile but its different.  There is a light in her eyes now that wasn't there before.  

These little stories speak to my heart and whisper that God is truly at work in this place changing one little life at a time.  His promise that he will be a Father to the fatherless is true and visible here in the lives of these two children.

Monday, February 16, 2015

snapshots of the past week

This has been a really hard week. It started out with grandaddy getting really sick really fast. We were very worried about him. Next Ty and little P felt ill, then Little T, W, Nancy, then me and today, Sarah. The only one spared so far is Grandma! The kids had it the worst but they are mostly better. We had to postpone a planned safari. It's not an option to be sick on safari! No bathrooms!!

After Ty's daily meeting with the clinic staff he reported that the sickness we all had has spared few in the village. Dr Ben (our clinic manager) said this virus has spread like wildfire and he has never seen anything like it before.

I'm sorry to say we didn't "accomplish" much this week. But so goes life, and we look forward to next week!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

brief update

thank you all for your prayers to get us here safely! I'm sorry we
have not been able to update the blog until now. The internet
situation is far worse that it has ever been. There is no real
explanation for it so we just keep hoping it will randomly improve!

the jet lag has been pretty rough this time. the kids are still
staying up until 9 or 10 and then waking up around 930AM. much of this
week has been spent adjusting and getting our apartment organized.

Grandma and Grandaddy have been incredibly helpful with the children
and all the little projects. A roof leak caused some damage to our
stuff that was in storage (mostly mold, nothing serious) but as a
result we had to have a room emptied out and tiled. This is a huge
project since it's the room with most of our supplies in it, as well
as a bunch of furniture. So now everything is in the living room and
it's chaos. Grandpa and Nancy have been painting the room all day
today and it looks great. By tomorrow we'll be finished and hopefully
we can put the room back together! Maybe monday will be a "normal"

I don't know why I don't get used to the reality that every time we
return, we have an immediate problem of some kind to deal with.
(Anyone remember the rats??).  It's never so simple as to just shake
off the jet lag and get to business.

There is a serious water shortage also and we need lots of rain to
solve it. We are using buckets for everything...and it gets old quick!

The kids here have all grown so much and there is much catching up to
do with all of them. Nancy and Sarah are enjoying spending time with
the City of Hope Kids-and they have also been helping out a lot in the
mission house with cooking and cleaning, for which we are grateful!

One really neat thing is that we got to celebrate the one year
birthday of baby Amy Joi yesterday. I was blessed to attend his birth
one year ago exactly!

Hopefully a more interesting update will come your way soon, at least
some pictures. Pray that the internet improves. It's kind of critical
to my sanity!!

love, joi