Thursday, 24 April 2008

Part 3 - Life Goes On for the Sweeties

My drive home from Kamp ya Moto was uneventful, well almost. I was flagged down at a police check, something that I was dreading. The policeman with his large rifle walked round the vehicle and climbed in the passenger side. I sat and didn’t know what to do, I thought he was just checking the outside. He asked me to drive him along the road and drop him off at the next checkpoint. I was a bag of nerves, I had flashes of newspaper headlines flitting into my mind reporting of lady car jacked at gun point and worse. I was in no position to argue with the man what was now sitting beside me with the gun uncomfortably facing in my direction. The policeman chatted to me finding out what I was doing, etc, we arrived at the drop of point and I must have looked visibly relieved as he climbed out into the rain. My mind reverted to thinking about Mama Sweeties home, with holes in the roof from vandals, no door no windows etc etc.

It was dark by the time I got home, I was exhausted again, I got Dominic to cook his own dinner and flopped into bed after a cold wash. I received a call for help from Timo my fundi saying that he had been unable to find work since I released him and he had been unable to pay his rent, he and his family were being evicted from their home (the typical home in Kenya for the everyday man is a one room or if you are lucky two roomed place, no electric, outside communal tap for water and a block of latrines.) A thought occurred to me, I could help both Mama Sweetie and Timo, I agreed to pay him the small sum he needed if he would go with me to Kampi ya Moto and do some fixing of the house, he of course agreed. I called Mama Sweetie and asked if she would be OK with this, she was overjoyed. It was agreed on Thursday, my day off from Scann we would head out.

Wednesday evening, (23rd April) I gathered together roofing plastic, tools, shamba tools, and anything else I thought would be of help. I was to pick Timo up at 8.30 at the same fuel station where we had broken down. I received a call asking me to collect various large washing basins and household items from a supermarket in town where Mama Sweetie had shopped and paid for the said items and left them with reception for me to pick up on Thursday, this seemed like a small task other than the parking in town bit. I made a mental note of the details of which supermarket opposite which bank.

Early the next morning, (24th April) I awoke to find it was very cold and very wet, leapt into action; I cleaned the house, fed all the animals, had breakfast, loaded up the vehicle together with a thermos of hot chocolate and a bottle of diluted fruit juice and set off. I picked up Timo and set off for the supermarket, or what I thought was the supermarket. I tried three different supermarkets and got no joy. Parking had been a nightmare especially as I had no handbrake, but I had had the foresight to collect a decent sized rock and had put it in the back of the pick up for such a use and it really helped, Timo kept jumping out to strategically place ‘rock’, this in itself seemed to amuse passersby. We parked at one location and I had ensured there were no yellow lines present, I left Timo with the vehicle and 50 bob for parking charge and disappeared to another supermarket with no joy, when I returned Timo had told me the parking warden who was now stood at the bonnet of the vehicle tutting was unhappy as I had parked on a yellow line. I huffed and told Timo that I had specifically ensured that there was no line where I had parked, it was beyond the vehicle. Timo agreed but said the road repairs had covered the line with tarmac, but it was still considered to be there. I apologized and smiled at the lady warden who appeared satisfied that the white lady was duly sorry. I climbed into the driving seat harassed, hot and sweaty only to be greeted at the window by a young street boy who proceeded to hastle me. He kept insisting I give him money, and was quite hostile and rude, I refused as I always do, if you encourage them you become a regular target for their begging and most of the time they buy glue with the money. My final No resulted in the boy backing off and shouting obscenities at me at the top of his voice, I shouted back for him to wash out his mouth, although I fought with the desire to chase him and give him a slap, a number of the passersby chased him away in disgust. I sat and calmed myself under the watchful but now sympathetic watch of the warden and tried again to call Mama Sweetie to confirm details but her phone was off .I had already grabbed a few food items for lunch and so set off, without her shopping, for Kampi ya Moto.

I was happy that the landmarks that I had noted for the journey back to Kampi ya Moto had served me well, we arrived at the house to find only the children who greeted us with shouting, chanting, running around and waving arms, it turned out that Mama Sweetie was out. Timo and I got to work, we started on the roof, the sky looked heavy and rain was something we were trying to avoid. The tin roof was flimsy and kept giving under Timos weight, I watched from inside the house, trying to guide him to make sure the holes were covered. I had remembered that we would struggle getting to the roof and had seen no ladder so I had added the tripod ladder to my list of things I had bought with me, it wasn’t high but enough to reach the roof, (a single storey building).

Timo and I are both unskilled in our work but enthusiasm and commitment to what we are doing push us forward. The roof wouldn’t be fabulous but it would keep out the rain.

Mama Sweetie appeared on the back of a motorcycle boda boda, what a sight, sunhat squiff on her head, handbag under her arm and when she saw me a beaming smile on her face. Her phone had died and she had gone to charge it at a local shop, she had also gone to visit a farm who had planted her maize seeds for her and were now ready to tend the crop, so she had gone to check. We chatted briefly and I explained the problems I had had trying to find her shopping. I reluctantly agreed to drive her to town to pick up the shopping (from the only supermarket I hadn’t tried, it will teach me to write down details next time, I have so much going on in my head at the moment and had thought if there was a problem I could call her!) At the same time we talked about the problem of the door, it was decided to take the door to another metal fundi and get it ‘reduced’. A piece of string was found and used to measure the door, knotted and taken together with the door. We left Timo with various tasks and the children playing and headed out. The door was dropped at the fundi, who smiled broadly as I drove in, he doesn’t see too many Europeans in his workshop and obviously thought it boost his business. I gathered the usual crowd before we left and headed to Nakuru.

I managed to find a parking spaced directly in front of the required supermarket and Mama Sweetie jumped out and set the rock in place for the brake. She returned a few seconds later with large water butt and large washing basins. We decided our next stop would be the fruit and veg market. Before I managed to reverse out of the parking place a group of street boys had assembled to ‘assist’ me. I now had no patience for them and shooed them away, much to their disapproval. The side street next to the market was manic, it is the area where the matatus load up, total chaos. I managed to swing very badly into a parking space only to be swarmed by another group of older street boys who wanted to ‘watch’ the vehicle for me. I suggested that Mama Sweetie jump out and I stay with the items she had bought as we were unable to secure the pick up. What hastle I got, one of the boys was upset that I had paid no heed to his directions when I parked, I informed him that I had eyes in my head and preferred to use my own judgement. He sat with his friends on the pavement in front of the vehicle and proceeded to talk about me in a disrespectful way, I told him this didn’t make me feel any better towards him. A friend from the market had seen the gathering and came to talk to me, he is someone I usually buy produce from and he hadn’t been around for a while as he had managed to secure an electricians contract with a company, it was now over and he joined his mother at the stall. I was pleased for the company as it diverted the attentions of the boys. Mama Sweetie soon emerged a small bag of potatoes in her hand. I looked at the prospect of reversing out of the parking space into the long q of matatus behind me, they were unforgiving and not gentlemen drivers who would wait for someone to pull out. My friend hung around to keep the boys at bay although starting the vehicle to leave, resulted in them scuttling to the rear of the vehicle in a vain attempt to ‘help me’. I ignored their indications to pull out, as my road was blocked by matatus. I edged back and forth until I managed to turn the vehicle round and faced a matatu driver with a smiling face, he nudged up to the vehicle in front and let me pull out. I was chased by the boys wanting payment for their work…………. I don’t think so.

I was relieved to head out of town, the drive relaxed me. We stopped off to collect the door which wasn’t quite finished. We both sat and chatted while the fundis worked, it started raining and Mama Sweetie moved the only item available to sit on, a metal chair with no seat into the dry, I sat in the vehicle. A gathering of 6 small children appeared and chatted to me, by the time we were ready to leave they were singing and dancing for me, we said our goodbyes and promised to return again sometime. We arrived at the house and found the roof patched the gate fixed and lunch had been eaten. Mama Sweetie asked me to get Timo to do the door, I explained that I felt this was a major job and beyond his ability…………….I was so wrong. Timo explained that he was familiar with the method of house construction as it was the method used in his rural home and it was no problem. We heaved the door into place and prepared it for fixing. The soil is a heavy clay type, red in colour and is used to make the bricks to build the houses it is also made into a kind of wetter mix used as filler to bind things together a bit like cement.

Timo showed me the method used, he took off his shoes and socks and rolled up his trouser legs in preparation, funny I thought. He lead me to the back of the house to an area that was obviously used when the house was constructed for ‘making’ bricks. Timo proceeded to dig in an area that was hollowed out into a kind of large bowl in the earth, he threw in some already dug soil and added water, mixed together with a hoe and then stepped in. His feet skillfully worked together the combination of water and soil and basically mashed it into a loose mud consistency, it was mad, he stomped around and basically acted like a cement mixer, but with feet.

The mud was scooped up and loaded into a wheelbarrow (strangely a remaining item at the house), wheeled by the children round to the doorway where we had seated the door in place using dried broken ‘bricks’. Timo now demonstrated how we were to fill the large areas around the metal door frame to secure the door in place. It was great fun, we took handfuls of mud and threw it at the area needing to be filled, ensuring it was thrown hard to slide into the gaps. The children joined in and we found this to be a great event, we were securing their home, working together to rebuild their life, we were also getting covered in the mud, those slinging from the outside were getting us on the inside and visa versa. A great time was had by all and I was so surprised that it actually worked, together we had managed to secure the door in place. I decided this was more fun than working on a modern brick house. I told Mama Sweetie that if she had any more building work to do I was to be invited. The time taken to clear up the mess and fill the hole the other fundis had dug for the door was long, we eventually gathered together for a break of chai, crisps, bananas and queen cakes, not a healthy meal but a greatly needed energy boost.

It was getting late and time was nearing for us to leave. Mama Sweetie absently went over the things that would want to be done to the house to complete it, the main problem now was the lack of light. We decided to knock out some of the bricks in one window used to close the holes where to windows had been in order to let in some light. Timo and I secured a batten outside the window together with some of the plastic roofing so that it could be rolled up during the day to let in light and rolled down and secured at night or when it rained. This simple construction, (similar to blinds I made in my conservatory at home, proved to be a great step for the family), they could now read and do things in the house as they had light.

In time Mama Sweetie said she would one by one replace the windows or at least the metal security frames. I held her hand and told her that I wished I could help her financially but it just wasn’t possible, she hugged me tight and said what I was doing was far in excess of any money I could give her, I was helping her rebuild her life, giving her strength and sharing what I had, she said it was more than she could wish for. We said our good byes and I said Timo and I would return this week to do more work and release more light by doing the same with the other windows. I left a selection of books with the children and a large floor sized game of ludo which I didn’t have time to teach them but promised on the next visit I would do so. This time I left in the knowledge that the shell of a house was becoming a home again, for the ‘Sweetie’ family the road ahead of them was not going to be an easy one but they were where they had planned to be together, they were now reunited.

Life will now continue.

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