Monday, November 25, 2013

Eric and Street Life in Naivasha

I called the Nairobi mechanics who have our camera and left the following message: I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my camera go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will um, well I will probably just ask you again for the camera.

We’ll have to settle for iPhone photos this week.  
A beautiful full rainbow

It’s summer vacation for all school children in Kenya until early January.  I was a little worried that I wouldn’t have a role at the shelter during this time, but I actually have been spending more quality time getting to know the boys than while teaching, especially since I don’t allow any smiling, laughing or speaking during class.  We’ve spent most of my time gardening and playing sports.  They are beginning to tell me their background stories. The stories are shocking.  Remember, these are the best behaved students I have ever taught.  They are polite, respectful and sweet, which is amazing considering where they came from.  Here is a little of what I’ve learned. 

There are three main reasons why boys turn to the street in Naivasha.  First, as I have previously mentioned, it is still culturally acceptable for boys to be kicked out of their house.  When women remarry, the new husbands see the boys as a threat, and they are forced to leave.  Second, their parents were killed in the post 2007 election violence.  Third, extreme poverty, crime, mental illness and family breakdowns make families unable to provide for the boys.  A teacher told me there are over 300,000 children living on the street in Kenya. 

There are around seven gangs of street boys in our little town of Naivasha.  They each control certain territories and have a home “base” where they sleep at night.  Most of the bases are in alleys behind hotels, where the boys scrounge for leftovers from the day.  Each of the gangs have a chief, usually in his late teens or early twenties, who rules over the gang.  The chief is usually demanding and violent, utilizing fear to gain power and loyalty from boys.   The boys, as young as five, are initiated into the gang by means of harassment, starvation, beatings, and rape.  The boys are then tested, told to return to the gang with a camera, a cell phone, or a certain amount of money, or be ready to suffer the consequences.  They are quickly introduced to drugs, alcohol, and most become addicted to sniffing glue to suppress hunger.

Some notes from discussions with the boys and teachers.

  • The boys are quite resourceful and earn a surprising amount of money.  A popular way to make money is to steal or salvage scrap metal.

  • One of the nicest boys I’ve met used to steal puppies to sell on the street.

  • A common method for one gang is to run up to a stranger while holding a handful of feces and demand money, or they will throw it in the stranger’s face or on their clothes.  Old car oil works as well. 

  • Physically, many boys look much younger than they are as a result of years of malnourishment. 

It is hard to imagine.

I'm in this picture!  Standing in front of the four boys to the left, looking dashing.
This weekend, the shelter hosted a football or soccer tournament to raise money.  Most of the flower farms have soccer teams, and seven participated.  I’ve been playing volleyball and running cross country with the boys all fall, but I had yet to play soccer until this week.  Oh man, I should have stayed retired.  Terrible.  I thought about faking a soccer injury to stop embarrassing myself.  BUT, they’ll be calling me Ronaldo by May.  

So for those of you who don't like my son, Eric, you may want to stop here.  Eric is owning the rest of the post like Brady owns Manning. 

Eric also came to the soccer tournament...

...and he found geese!  Hmmmm, what should I do now...

The geese had babies.
More babies!  Our chicks.  They tasted delicio..., just kidding.
My buddy, Simba, the old dog at the shelter.  He is the only one that doesn't bite.   He always trots over to me for a head scratch.
We attended a baby shower for Eric's teacher.  Eric appears to be deciding what to wear.
Eric, always so smooth with the ladies.  BUT, watch this little girl in red to the right...
...who comes over and shoves Eric!  She must have been jealous.
Wait a minute...
I claim this sand mountain as my own!  Be gone!
My work is done here.
Eric loved his swing.
The little girl, not as thrilled that Eric is on the swing.

Get that hippo away from me.
This post may end, but I do recommend, that you all be a friend, and write a comment... that you send. 
Thank you!


  1. D -

    Here are some miscellaneous thoughts related to some of your recent posts . . . thanks for being so complete in your blog work . . . reading it is a treat.

    Kudos to you for getting Aaron to come out of hibernation . . . if anything in Texas hibernates!

    Your description of fixing the car with large logs certainly trumps the Gulotta fix of the Cierra when duct tape was used on I-85 north of Raleigh . . . duct tape that I think was still there when Bo finally let go of that car!

    Even though the lions have gotten used to cars, there is something magical and powerful about the presence of male lions so close to your vehicle . . . striking.

    I loved the pics of the accommodations you had on the safari . . . that tent set up looked like it could have come out of any travel magazine in the world. A remarkable experience.

    I have to believe that it is a bit of a struggle to balance the young kids who just wander into your home with the young kids who threaten to shower you with feces if you do not give them money . . . to balance those adults who help you change a tire and assume that they can hitchhike with you with those who steal your camera. I know that the same range of trustworthy people exist everywhere, but when you are in a country that you don't know, surrounded by people you are just getting to know it has to be unsettling.

    I don't know where your Massachusetts travels during Christmas will find you, but if there is a chance to share some "Polar Bear Koolaid" it would be fun . . .

    Continued safe travels . . .


    1. Les, I always appreciate your comments. You're right, trying balance everything here can be daunting. This has been very apparent recently as I;ve started reaching out to some boys on the street in Naivasha, Results have been mixed.

      We definitely need to find some time for Koolaid!

  2. Wow--your blog is becoming the work of non-fiction that dissertations are made of--I am so impressed by your work and your care for your family. Due to your great love for the Doc and the babe I feel they are safe. Our life here is very blessed and I will see you at Logan airport soon. Much love

  3. Looks like the geese are more wary of Eric than the reverse - smart geese! Liked seeing pictures of the soccer tournament, sad to read about the harsh life for children living on the streets. On another note, Dad saw a seal out on Cape Cod Bay this weekend and was able to golf in November - nice! We are looking forward to seeing you soon. Safe travels and love to all, Mom

    1. Dad! Seals, awesome. Wyantenuck still open for some December golf in the snow?