a blessing of rain

Right now I am in a place that was experiencing a horrible drought. It had been dry for so long. Then the rains came and I keep hearing about blessings. Where there was loose soil, there is grass a foot high. Trees that looked like sticks in the sky are full of leaves. Tanks that were dry are full, and reservoirs that were nearly empty are full to overflowing. The sky is blue; there is not an ever-present haze from dust in the air. As we drove on Saturday, one of the staff from this region, looking out the window, quietly said, “We are so blessed.” On Sunday I visited a Game Park that is on top of the Marsabit mountain, which includes the water source for the town and a crater lake. Everywhere I looked, here were small butterflies in the thousands. They rarely stood still, but instead seemed as if they were dancing in a grand declaration of the blessing, the wonder of rain after drought.

 

This week it seems like the rains have stopped and everyone is holding their breath – will the rains come in April or will this year again skip the long rains? No one knows. So even as the people I am working with plan projects to help protect against future drought, we sit and marvel at today’s blessing of water. It seems perfect that the rains were here before Thanksgiving and that the land speaks of blessing as we prepare for Christmas. As I long for signs of Christmas, I think I have found it here in the green desert.

families of water tanks

This blog post was written for Blood:Water Mission. The original post is found here.

On Friday I had the joy of visitings a water tank in Northern Rwanda that was just finished. It is now collecting water for 10 families to use during the dry season that is just about a month away. After talking with a few of the people this tank will serve, we began to walk down the path to our car (our little 4WD could not make it up the final bits of the mountain road/path). As we walked, there was happy talk that was eventually translated for me.

“That tank over there is the grandmother tank.”

“And that one is the mother tank.”

In this community, the tanks have been given family trees. When the first tanks were built, many families shared one tank, carefully rationing the water and hoping to make it through a dry season. As more tanks were built, fewer families shared a tank. And the community, in which children are prized, calls this process one tank giving birth to another. So, on Friday, I saw the grandmother, the mother, and the baby tank. Along with it, a lot of smiling women and children who no longer walk down a mountain to get water from a lake.

The goal for this project is to have each tank serve 10 families, and the last tanks are being built right now to make that possible –  a process that has taken several years. The community provides all the local materials – the stones and wood and labor – to make the project possible. But, they need a lot of cement for each tank – about 54 bags. Would you think about partnering with communities like these? Match their resources with yours to make water projects possible. In doing so, you will change lives this Christmas season. To take part in this campaign, go here.

 

toilet day

The last week has been a great week for my twitter feed: so much talk about toilets and poop – literally (if you are a twitter follower do a search for #talkshit). Today is World Toilet Day and I could not be more thrilled that we are taking time to celebrate an invention that has such a dramatic impact on health around the world (not to mention dignity… see my post here about toilets and dignity). One of the books that I have been reading this year is The Last Taboo: Opening the Door on the Global Sanitation Crisis by Maggie Black and Ben Fawcett. For the most part, the writing is academic and stuffy, but the content is fabulous. My favorite part about this book is that they spend time looking back at history, at how sanitation coverage has changed through the years in both the developing world and the world that is now developed. So here are two excerpts for you… the discussion at this point is around Europe:

Finally came the impact for which everyone had waited. Mortality rates began seriously to drop. Between 1838 and 1854, the average age at death in England and Wales was 39.9; by the early 1880’s, it had reached 41.9 and, by 1890, 44….. The advance of medical science, improved incomes, greater democratic participation, and a reduction in corruption and inefficiency in public life all played an important part. But the state – and municipality-driven sanitary revolution – in sewerage, street clearance, effluent treatment and plentiful water supplies – was the backbone

For far too long, the extraordinary accomplishments of the 19th-century generation of sanitary heroes had succeeded in putting excreta, its hazards, and is removal from homes and streets out of sight and out of mind. But today, finally, burgeoning urban populations, high levels of water and soil pollution, squalor in slums and crowded settlements, municipal mismanagement and need for reform, and epidemics of diarrhea disease posing serious risks to thousands of lives are pushing these issues back up the agenda.

And sanitation is back on the agenda. The conversation is starting back up and will reach full swing before long. There are a lot of places I could point you towards but here are two I think worth checking out: Gates Foundation on Sanitation (including a great video on their current endeavor) and toiletday.org. I hope it can start to become something you are passionate about… and I will be working to add to that conversation in the coming year as I get more involved directly in some of Blood:Water Mission’s sanitation projects in the field. May the conversation and action begin.

 

sadness in a forest

For the last week, I was in the Central African Republic where I bounced and slid through an old and grand forest for several days. The trees were magnificent and large, the underbrush thick and impenetrable. It was grand in a way that is only possible in nature that is old, that combines ancient wisdom with new growth. It made me want to sit and stay for a while, to soak in the grandeur and the wisdom, and to learn from the people who have made their homes in the forest, but this was only to be a taste.

 

Sadly, this taste was not as perfect as it should have been. As we drove out of Bangui, everywhere I looked, there was wood – it had been cut and dried, and was waiting for, or being transported into the city. It was in piles and was being pushed for tens of kilometers by men with carts. More sad than all of that were the semi-trucks that drove by from time to time with truck beds filled with large, dead trees. My jaw dropped in awe when one truck bed was filled with only one tree – and only part of that tree. Not yet cut into planks or broken down, this was a piece of the largest tree I have seen to date. The rumor is that these trees are headed to China, a country hungry to grow and in need of wood, wood beautiful enough to transport across land and sea.

 

As we drove through the forest, it was dark, cool, and damp. Then we suddenly come across a small clearing where the sun beamed through: it was bright, dry, and hot. And that is how the drive went: dark and cool, then bright and hot, dark and cool, then bright and hot. Every place the large trees were gone stood naked and unprotected from the sun. I stood in awe and cried inside, I stood in awe and I cried inside. I wanted to shout to the truckers that they were destroying virgin forest – some of the last of it left on earth. That there are plants and medicines and insects to be discovered, that mankind is dependent on filtered air, and that people live in those forests. I wanted to shout that when a treasure like this is gone, it can never be rebuilt. And for the family cutting, selling, and pushing wood along the roadside, I wanted to give them an option that did not demand the destruction of their natural resource. It is not a simple story, but its complexity does not make it any less disheartening.

I hope to be back in this forest and others in the next years. I dream of being far enough in that it is all dark, cool, and humid. I want to soak in the grandness and wisdom that fills the place before it is gone forever. Maybe I will be able to hold onto a piece of it, and maybe you can hold onto that piece too.

homemade toy trucks

At one of the many roadblocks I went through in the last week in the Central African Republic, I saw these two young boys making some of the most incredible lorries, or trucks, out of scrap wood. I jumped out of the car and was blessed when they agreed to let me take their photo. If you have a moment, take the time to admire the detail they have put into these lorries from the awning on the back (on the finished lorry rolling down the road) to the moving wheels to the lights and decoration on their front. These children were made to create beautiful things.

my toilet, my dignity

Every day when I am at home, I sit on my toilet and poop. Sometimes I read a book. Sometimes I sit and think. Sometimes I do nothing but poop. I almost always light a candle afterwards to redeem the smell of place. Because I have my own toilet, this is a part of my daily life when I am home.

I am sorry if you are disgusted by this topic, but it is important. I talk about water all the time, but I rarely mention the other parts – which include the unmentionable toilet. Time for that to change. My reason is this: dignity is important (not to mention health on so many levels).

One of the most important things in the above list is that I was able to use “my” toilet. Also, I am confident that, should I need to poop when I am at work or running errands or at a friend’s house, I could do so in private. I would not have to try and bottle it up and wait until the cover of dark or until a rare toilet was available to me.

When I travel in Africa, I do have that worry. I am thankful I am ‘regular’ – which means that when I need to poop, I can use the toilet in my hotel room. As for urinating, I often do not drink enough during the day and end up slightly dehydrated simply so that there does not have to be a hunt for a toilet (latrine) for the white woman, the guest. (While I am physically comfortable peeing in the bush, it is often not culturally appropriate, and is not a good example of hygiene or sanitation practices.) This is not something I actively think about, but is always something running in the back of my head. Probably not all that different than it is for the African girls I am visiting – except it is a part of their daily life. If a girl does not have a latrine, she has to decide if she will poop (or urinate) during daylight hours (when a man could be watching) or in the dark (when a man could harm her). This is a basic, necessary bodily function, but she has to decide which is the lesser of two evils. Also, she has to decide whether to drink enough or to try and hold her urine (or poop) in until there is an ‘appropriate’ time and location to empty herself. She has to choose health or dignity – if you can consider either option dignifying.

If you are a woman, take a moment and think about this. If you are a man, take a moment and think about your mother, your sister, your wife or your daughter. What would you want for them?

I am so often asked about the water projects – the wells and the rain tanks. Clean water is sexy and appealing. I am almost never asked about the toilets, about where people can poop with dignity. But I think about them all the time. Especially when I poop in my toilet, in my very private bathroom. If you want to make my day, ask me about sanitation in Africa, ask about latrine projects. I will smile because I will know you care about a girl’s dignity.

tonight’s story

Tonight was a much longer night than anticipated. Barak and I headed to the airport at 3pm to pick up a Rwandese partner arriving for the training who also happens to speak perfect French. We got some coffee and took her back to airport with us to pick up the 4 person team from the Central African Republic just in case there were problems and we needed someone to help who spoke more than bush French. After the team did not appear more than an hour after their plane landed, information contacted immigration, and found their was a problem. Here is the story as told by Barak’s tweets (I was texting him while inside):

“Friends from CAR are detained by immigration at Kenyatta Airport. The intrepid @pamthenomad and Claudette have just been swallowed by the abyss of airport bureaucracy in an effort to rescue them. Will our heroes succeed?!? Stay tuned.”

“Sweet. Now @pamthenomad is apparently being accused by immigration of being in violation of her visa. Are they doomed!?!?”

“After 2.5 hours of being chewed, digested and processed @pamthenomad, 4 central Africans and 1 Rwandese have been excreted from the bowels of the Nairobi airport – weary and worn, but thankfully legal.”

“Oh, but minus 1 bag.”

Barak did not mention the texts to Tennessee for phone numbers, the legal lecture I was given, or the follow up to happen this week. Or that this all started because one African nation stopped issuing passports, only travel papers, while another African nation has not decided to recognize said travel papers. If you did not catch that sentence, read it again, and think about it. Yes, I too am clueless as to why a country would decide to stop issuing passports. Clueless.

So glad I fueled up with good Ethiopian food at lunch. Just another day in the life of @pamthenomad.

portrait with attitude

Meet Febby. She is a Community Health Promoter here in Zambia. She teaches her neighbors about how to improve the health of their community. When I took her portrait she struck this pose that is filled with all the wonderful, life-filled attitude that she takes into her community. As I prepare for the 30 hour journey home, I could not help but share this with you. May your Sunday be blessed.

laundry or school?

I wrote this post for Blood:Water Mission when I was in Uganda. The original posting can be found HERE.

Childhood is not quite the same in Africa as it is in America. Here in America, children go to school because they have to. It is simply part of the deal of being a kid – regardless of whether you go public school, private school, or are home schooled. In Uganda, not all children go to school, and it is not always for the reasons I would imagine.

As I was walking through the village of Alobo Rom in Northern Uganda, I met Janet, not far from an unprotected spring that I was there to check out. She had a small pile of laundry in front of her and was washing her clothes by hand. When we started talking, she said that she did not go to school that day because her clothes were dirty. So, at age 13, Janet was washing her clothes rather than sitting in the classroom.

There are a lot of things that ran through my mind at that point. Why she would be kept out of school for dirty clothes? Why were her clothes not washed the night before? Was there no one to help her? When did she stop being a child? But, this is part of life here. I know that the rest of her day is likely full of other chores, including carrying water for her family’s needs. I hope that some day this is not her reality, that nothing will keep her from school – not laundry, not carrying water, and not illness. But on the day that I met Janet, all I could do was share a smile and wish her the best when she returned to the classroom.

 

working from rwanda

This post was written for Blood:Water Mission and was originally posted HERE.

For two weeks, I am working from Rwanda. Nashville has been unusually cold this week, and Kigali unusually hot. With temperatures over 90 F each afternoon, I find myself thankful for low humidity and wishing for an afternoon shower – or maybe a fan. Here we live with the climate – hot or cold – there is nothing to change the impact of the weather save opening or closing some windows. But this is not a post about the weather – it is a post about working here. It is just hard to separate the two when I my mind is melted and I am in need of a shower.

Normally I visit our African partners to collect stories, talk about work completed or yet to be done, and build relationships. This  trip is something a bit different – while doing the above, the focus is on preparing for a training next week. Training manuals have been translated (not by me), copies printed, materials gathered, and plans for implementation have been made. The rest of the time I am sitting here on my laptop doing my work as per normal. No, I did not have to be here this week. I could have flown in at last minute and not helped with the details. But then I would have missed so many opportunities – to help, to learn, to teach, and to be blessed.

In the coming months we will be talking more about how Blood:Water Mission is in true partnership with our local partners. This is just a piece of that. Choosing to work alongside rather than zip in at the last minute. And so, every afternoon when my body is caked with a layer of sweat and my mind is melted and does not want to work, I am thankful that I get to be here, to work alongside our amazing African partners.

lwala: water at schools

October seems like so long ago, and yet it was less than two months ago that it was October and I was in Western Kenya exploring options for Blood:Water to come alongside an old partner in a new way. I talked about this ever so briefly in this post about water in schools. Things worked out well, and this partnership is going to happen. Or, I should say, is happening. Last week I wrote about this on Blood:Water’s blog -which you can read here. (Please take a minute to read the post as it will provide great context for future stories I tell about Lwala. Besides – it is an inspiring story, so perfect for this Christmas season.) I am so excited about this partnership, so keep your eyes and ears open in the coming year for more trips to Western Kenya. I am so looking forward to sharing stories from there with you.

This is a health journal from the school office of one of the schools participating in the water program.

women and water

The water crisis is often told through the eyes of women – women who walk many hours and long miles to gather water, often dirty, for their families. The HIV/AIDS crisis is often told through the eyes of women – grandmothers carrying for their orphaned grandchildren and mothers unable to care for children. No, these are not crises that exclusively impact one gender, but the burden of both is high for women and their stories, faces, and images are compelling.

This short, three day trip that brought me to both the eastern and western side of Kenya and on the road with four local organizations and one international business, brought these women and their stories front and center. Normally my trips are filled with organizations and strategies and plans, but this time I was along to just see, experience, and learn. As I sit back and flip through my memories of this trip, it is the women that come to my mind. Their smiles, laughter, strength, and depth of story. Everywhere we went the women filled the space with life.

There were young girls walking home from school hand in hand whispering stories. Teens who recited poems and performed dramas to teach others how to treat their water to make it safe for drinking. A young woman who joined the men’s acrobatic and tae-kwon-do team. Women standing with vibrant colored skirts as they talked. Young mothers and old grandmothers holding children they loved. Women of all ages washing clothes, carrying dishes, and gathering water. Pregnant mothers and grandmothers who had HIV and were fighting to live fully for their families. Weaved through all of these women was strength and character and smiles. Yes, there are hardships in each of these stories. To deny that would be to deny a significant part of each woman. But to glorify those hardships denies their strength – a much larger part of who they are.

I cannot blame anyone for using the stories and images of women to talk about the water and HIV/AIDS crises. That is what I do here today. I just hope that the telling of the story brings out the strength of the women. I hope that is what you see through these photos today.

pond water for drinking

Pond water. River water. Surface water. This was a gorgeous scene that we happened upon. A river that is no longer flowing in the dry season but still holds water for the many people who need it because there is no other source. Would you drink this water?