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Africa Mission Trip June 30th  – August 6th  2015

Once again I depart my chosen home on the long trek to Africa by air.  The contrasts couldn’t be greater which won’t escape me as I leave Edinburgh Airport on the first leg of my journey to Doha in Qatar, where I will stay overnight and God willing go on to Entebbe Uganda the following day.

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Contrasts of the lush rain induced grasses, trees and farmland of a typical Scotland via the deserts of the Middle East to the plateaus of Uganda.   Of course its not only the terrain that is different; the culture too is so vastly diverse with what I am familiar with at home.   The team that are to meet me in Entebbe are from Menzieshill High School in Dundee and for most they wont have experienced anything like it before.   The three weeks we will spend together with our Ugandan Partners is likely to change their outlook forever.

 

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One week in the Kampala area and then the remainder of our time in Arua in the north west of the country.  Our time will be spent visiting various projects and seeing the sights of the country and that mixed with the involvement that the team will have with the Solid Rock Primary School and the Church in Arua.  This new teams destination in Uganda will no doubt prove challenging, however the cultural capital that they take on board will be of benefit forever.

Yes challenges are good, we don’t like them at the time but we look back and see how they have changed us and that we are much the better for them.

Well, here goes! this trip is now into my 26th year of visiting Africa and Uganda was my first port of call all these years ago.   I will be hooking up with folks I met for the first time all these years ago, and many I have befriended along the way.   I wonder who will join that merry band on this trip.

 

Keep watching for new posts as and when we have internet.  you can also find posts on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/missionmatters

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This was to be a busy day. There were a number of activities that due to time constraints we had been unable to complete so early in the morning we first did some recorded interviews with Pastor Rolex, Isaac a young man who assists the pastor and Rosmanie a lady who heads up the women’s ministry in the church. Our intention to give a ‘from the horse’s mouth’ account of some of the issues surrounding their lives and how Mission International can help them. It is clear that in Haiti life is hard, in fact economically this place may be the benchmark for hardness. Their comment on tape of ‘life is hard for us in Haiti’ go nowhere to explain the real situation. And yet with gracious pain injected smiles they try to tell it how it is, more information coming from their faces than from their words. “It’s a wrap” we now have as much as we have time for since now we have to engage in one final border crossing between Ouanaminthe in Haiti And Dajabon in the Dominican Republic. The first leg of our long journey home is about to begin. Having experienced the border many times this week, this time was the mother of all crossings. We were aboard motorcycles with a suitcase over the handlebars and bags hanging off each side. The number of people trying to negotiate the border had increased by two or three fold, the noise of beeping horns, shouting people, revving engined and banging of all sorts added to the feeling of stress attached to the procedure. We hadn’t a lot of time to spare to get to our bus and so when we reached the passport office to find that all off their staff were eating lunch at the same time our stress levels increased some more. Eventually we were through the throng and after a short but failed attempt to change English bank notes with some writing on them, (The commonplace scribbles on English bank notes makes them virtually worthless in the developing world, which is slightly galling when we have to accept the torn, manky notes in the local tender).

The bus arrived and we are loaded and seated and soon we are on our way to Santo Domingo a 6+ hour journey lies ahead of us. The busses are comfortable with reclining seats and air conditioning, however on this occasion the air-conditioning was defective. Not defective that it didn’t work, but defective that it worked too well. The freezing air blasting though was unable to be adjusted in any way. We had packed out extra clothing into our suitcases and so it was in the hold of the bus. Other folks around us were wearing warm clothes, coats and three young lads had woolly ‘Andes’ hats on, which may give the reader an indication on how cold it was. Before long we were ‘Freia’ Freeeeeezing cold. With only a t-shirt top on this proved to be the coldest journey I had ever experienced. Six hours of freezing misery came to an end when we reached the Santo Domingo bus station where Volvik (Isaac’s brother) was waiting for us. He organised a taxi which took us to the small back street hotel we had stayed overnight in on our way in. The work knackered does not begin to describe how tired we were. The hotel managed to provide us with “Pollo Papa Grande” a massive dish of fried chicken and chips and then it was off to bed for a much anticipated sleep.

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SUNDAY 14TH DECEMBER 2014
The sense of dislike that pervades the air between the Dominican Republic is evident is morning as we made ready to cross the border into Haiti. We had carried a number of suitcases with clothes for the Haitian church with us however these were still in Dajabon and we were to take them with us into Haiti. I was expecting some difficulties at the border however the problems started at the door of the hotel. Pastor Rolex, aware of the larger than usual consignment of stuff, had brought with him a Haitian with a Tuktuk style truck (basically a three-wheeler motorbike with a pick-up body on the back). He also required a motorbike taxi to carry us on the Dominican side of the border, however when the Dominican driver discovered a Haitian was going to be carrying our stuff in his vehicle on the Dominican side he remonstrated and made the Haitian go bck over the border so that he could get the business of carrying us and our bags as far as the border in his beat up Toyota minibus. This set-too took about 20 minutes to resolve making us late. When eventually we made it across the border, having paid our visas we still had to find a hotel and get our luggage stowed before going to church. We stopped of at a hotel lying behind the main street on entry into Ouanaminthe however it was expensive $80US/room/night (which is more than 4 nights in our hotel in Dajabon). We had little choice but to agree since it was to be for only one night and we were already very late for church.
The church service was already well under-way by the time we got there. It was packed to the door with about 500 people and many more were standing outside. We were ushered on to the platform where seats had been reserved for us. The first thing I noticed was the intense heat generated by this mass of people under a low tin roof; the place was like an oven. I understand from Woodsy that it much hotter in the summer months. The preacher was in full flight, we weren’t sure if we would be doing any preaching or not, but due to the lateness of the hour we did no more than pass on our greetings.

The church service was followed by a BIG meal, But not before we were presented with wooden gifts made locally which was a very nice gesture. First lots of needy kids from the area were fed, followed by the adults too since this was a special occasion and we had extra funding for this special meal. The meal was followed by the distribution of clothes we had carried with us, some for adults and some for children. Of course there wasn’t enough for everyone but that didn’t seem to upset those who did not get something. We made sure the kids all had sweets so that they all got at least something small. At the end of all of this we went back to our hotel room for a rest as the people continued to eat and those who were finished drifted off home.

A ‘Crusade’ (a lively Gospel presentation where many people gather) had been arranged for the Sunday evening and son after a lazy afternoon catching up on our thoughts, the plan was that we would be taken to the crusade. However it was now raining heavily. Although at times you can’t hear the rain falling you can hear the difference in the ambient noise. Everything except the traffic goes strangely quiet as people shelter indoors to avoid getting wet. The singing, the shouting, the crying of kids, even the barking of dogs is dimmed to silence and when it stops raining the noise level increases again to limits more normal for the community. The rain however was a problem for the crusade. Would it go ahead or not. Time passed and we were now convinced that Pastor Rolex would not come for us. Richard, in his infinite wisdom, decided that, in the same way as when you don’t carry a raincoat it is bound to rain, if he removed his shoes to settle the matter we were not going out, that Pastor Rolex would arrive within 2 minutes. With some disdain I watched his vain attempts to voodoo the pastor into action, when no more than 2 minutes later there was a knock at the door and Pastor Rolex hurriedly requiring us to follow him to the waiting motor bikes. The crusade was as expected for such a Christian community. A set of Christian hymns and songs were already well through by the time we arrived. We were shown to plastic garden chairs on the wobbly jammed stage where an electric band was playing, not too loudly but very well. As we watched it was clear when the preacher had arrived. With a swoosh of presence a stalky, well dressed, white bow tie-ed, loud checked jacketed and white beshoed gentleman swept in with his meek, gracious looking wife and ‘minder’ (a suited strapping gent who carried the preachers bag and made sure he had water when necessary) followed smartly behind. The preacher got up and with all of the sweetness of a Corncrake with a heavy cold began to sing and preach for about the following hour. His white towel in hand to wipe away the perspiration produced by his high level of on-stage activity made him fit the profile perfectly. Slowly the rain, which had abated to allow proceedings to get under-way, began to begin again, some umbrellas began to pop open in the 800-1000 strong crown who had gathered in this basketball pitch with bleachers around the sides. Pieces of polythene and other simple bits of protection also appeared which was the cue for the event to be wound up. No altar call, no lengthy wind up and soon we were back aboard the motor bikes and back in our hotel room for the night.

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It is hard to know where to begin with todays blog. Our day today has been what short term mission is all about. It is unpredictable, exhilerating, emotionally draining, frustrating, slow paced then fast paced, tedious and fantastic all at the same time.

As is often the way in the third world when the pastor says he will arrive is not necessarily the time that he will arrive. Today though he had good reason for being late. Friday is a trade day on the border between Haiti and Dominican Republic. In effect the border moves and thousands of Haitians are allowed across the bloody river bridge to pile into the custom made market on the Dominican Republic side to buy everything (and I do mean everything) they need either to sell or to use for the next few days.

Our job today was to go into the market with the ladies of the church and purchase all we needed for the Big Meal on Sunday. The market is truly hard to describe in words – you really have to be there to be honest – but as I walked round and through the heaving mass of humanity and carefully picked our way around the stalls selling everything from scotch bonnet chillies to clothes and shoes to fresh cut chicken feet a number of things occured to me.

Economics – This was actually my second visit to the market and it allowed me to take some time to think about what happens here. The Dominicans sell everything to the Haitians and as a result they set the prices and the Haitians simply have to live with that price or simply not live. The big custom built market is full of everything you need for life and there is plenty for everyone. Out the back of the market the Haitians try to sell on their goods to other Haitians trying desperately to eek out enough money to survive till the next trade day and have enough to buy from the Dominicans then so the cycle can continue. The only people getting rich are the Dominicans and the Haitians are trapped in a cycle that isn’t all of their making. As a charity on a small scale we need to reesearch more about this cycle and see if there are ways we can help a small number of families to break free from it. It won’t be easy. We are up against a beast here and a Dominican policy that doesn’t have trade days everyday so they can increase the desperation and demand and therefore drive up price.

Pride and Smiles – One of the things the market visit debunks is the myth that people in the third world are poor because they simply don’t work hard enough. If anyone from the west had to do what these people do just to survive they would simply lie down in the dirt and give in. What the Haitians do, with a joy and laughter and smile that ill befits the setting, is to get up and push on through. There was joy in this place, despite the dirt and the smell of rotting food and excrement and the chickens and pigs wondering everywhere and the poverty. There was pride too. I watched amazed as a lady carefully stacked her 10 aubergines on her whicker mat making sure they looked as good as possible for sale even though by then the market was coming to a close.

Jesus Here – It is strange in the extreme to be here at this time of year. It doesn’t feel like Christmas really but then as I walked around the market I thought about what Christmas is supposed to feel like. Certainly the first Christmas was much more like this that what we have in Scotland. Jesus Christ would have felt comfortable and at peace with this place, these are the people he would have called friends. He knew what their poverty was like, he knew what it was to be discriminated against by the powerful nation in the region, he knew what it was to eek out a living in the dirt. These people are made in the image of God and he Loves them dearly and he feels their pain. In the midst of all your Christmas celebrations this year please take some time to pray for the land of Haiti, to pray for the women and her aubergines, to pray for the Dominicans, to pray for Mission International and the work we will do here. But most of all remember that our Lord Jesus Christ – the God of History stepping into history, the God of Heaven stepped into this market place, born as a baby and he endured it all because of his love for you and for all the people in that market place today. As a result for those who love Jesus, there will be a day where there are no more tears and no more sadness and no more discrimination and no more poverty. Come Lord Jesus Come.

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It is a short journey across the river, through the maze of people vehicles and animals congregating on the border navigating the haphazard passport and immigration posts with multiple forms filled and money changing hands. It is a short journey but everything changes. Even the climate seems to change from the balmy late afternoon warmth on the Dominican side to the intense heat of Haiti. It is difficult to understand why this is so marked but the long term effects of deforestation must have something to do with it. There are other changes too: language, culture and race,from Hispanic Latino to black. But the biggest change, the biggest shock is the experience of descending into a new level of poverty. I have seen poverty before but not on this level or on this scale. “Prepare to be shocked” people said. But how can you prepare to be shocked? It is impossible unless you could temporarily cut yourself off off from your emotions and resolve to feel nothing.

Having a job to do helps. There was a site to survey, dimensions to take and a project to discuss with the pastor. Later he took us to visit some of the people he cares for. In the tight packed lanes with dogs sleeping in the baking sun, chickens and hens scavenging among the rubbish, and the smells of cooking, pigeon coots, and smoking rubbish, naked children and donkeys, we called on a number of homes. In our world these would be garden sheds that we never got round to demolishing to make way for a better one. Here they are homes for six to ten people, a mixture of concrete and timber houses with tin roofs, often lined inside with printed polythene sheeting and decorated with the odd mirror, a gigantic trade calendar and a few small family photographs. In a tiny little outdoor space an enormous battered but still alive PA speaker is testimony to the one thing it is possible to own -sound and music and noise.

The last family we visited had a harrowing tale to tell. They were gripped with fear. Their neighbours wanted their land (what could be no more that 6x4m) and were threatening to kill them for it. Voduo signs were scrawled on their door and they would wake to find dismembered bodies of cats and other animals at their door in the morning. We stood crammed tog.ether in their tiny home and heard their story and did the one thing that we could do. We prayed. Hugh led, us calling on God in heaven to protect this home from evil and to bring salvation and blessing to the community including to those who were the enemy.

When it was time to leave we called on our taxis (motorcyclists) and sped through the dusty streets to the border. Sitting in the relative calm and luxury of a street cafe tucked behind a filling station with Dominican palms swaying in a light breeze and a monument draped in Christmas lights, I was trying hard to make some sense of what we had just experienced and I kept trying until sleep eventually took me.

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Thursday 11th December 2014:

After a. Good night’s sleep we arose to shower followed by the man-quest ‘breakfast’.  The hotel we are staying in does not do food and so we went on search of a supermarket.  Woodsy (Richard) has been here on teams before and so knew there was one very close a few streets away.  It was a lovely walk in the quiet cool of the morning as shops and street vendors we getting ready for their day.  I was told to expect searingly hot temperatures but instead temperatures are similar to a nice summer day back at home.   A few motorbikes were on the road but this changes to a busy buzz later in the day since these are the cheapest way to travel. No push bike as in Africa for taxi purposes and general travel and transport and frankly not nearly so many motorbikes either as one might find in Kampala or Kigali or any other African capital.

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We purchased some small rolls, jam and peanut butter with plastic knives and spoons and some sweets for local kids and set off back to the hotel.   A cup of coffe was the only thing missing from this veritable feast, which sadly we never did locate.  Maybe tomorrow?

Woodsy needs a small rucksack and so he and Crawford have gone out into the street to buy one after a failed attempt by Woodsy on his own, not knowing the Spanish for rucksack I suppose is an issue that even he found insurmountable.   Muchea!! Crawford’s fluent Spanish is of great benefit to us at this side of the border in Dajabon.

Today appears much hotter than yesterday.  And the old addage that when you cross   the border in to Ouanaminthe it appears to be a few degrees hotter than in Dajabon certainly appears to be true.  Once the pastor appeared probabaly about an hour and a half late, due to the busy nature of the border first thing i the morning, we were taken as requested to the two sites where building work may be required.  it was Crawford’s job to accurately measure up the project.  One piece of land, more rural in aspect on the perifery of the city, is bare with no buildings on it.  It is hoped that this will become partly a sports ground and partly a skills centre for those who have not had the kind of education that would allow them to follow a more academic career, and to help udult educations and returners to access the kind of skills that will benefit them in the future.  The second site which already has a building on it will be converted and extended into a school for about 300 primary children from very poor backgrounds.  Crawford maticulously measured this and looked over the present partially built construction and listened in to the discussions on its purpose in order that he can faithfuly make drawings on how it might all look in the end.  It is likely that this building will be multi-purpose, used as a school during the week and for church and community activities in the evenings and weekends.

The remainder of the day was much looser in purpose.   We had hoped to visit the free work zone, a govertnment inspired area giving preference to the poor which I need to ask a lot more questions on before I uderstand it all.  We were refused entry to this; the official line being that the workers were leaving for lunch, however I understand that the officials are unhappy about visitors ‘spying’ on what goes on there?  Refusal to enter meant that we needed to find another activity for the afternoon.   The pastor agreed to let us visit some of the shanty homes ajacent to his church where some of the church members stay.  This was a sobering experience.  The streets were cramped and busy with un-schooled kids running up and down, with mothers preparing food or doing washing in very unsanitary conditions.  We were invited in to numerous homes with dimesions about 3 metres by 3 metres made of pices of rescued timber with more up-market ones having iron sheets for a roof.   The interiours were cramped to say the least.  Almost all of the floor areas were taken up by various forms of bedding for the large family to sleep in.   There was barely room for us to stand and when one did stand the headroom was limited too.  The families had done their best to interior design with bits of fabric strung round the walls an ceilings to magke the insides of these little homes more pleasant.  Pastor Rolex asked us to pray for each home after the mother had given us some particular area of need to pray for.  In two adjacent homes there was a particularly harrowing story to tell for which they asked prayer.  These fragile homes and insecure families were being threatened with death from their neighbours who wanted their tiny patch of land.  They had been asked to sell to them and when they refused the neighbours threatened them with guns and leave Voodoo parifinalia around their homes to scare them every day.  To us this may seem silly and irrelevant, however for them, living in a Voodoo culture is something that is generally feared.  We prayed for each family and moved on passing out sweets to the kids as we did so, almost causing a riot in the narrow streets.

Soon it was time to cross the border again back to the relative sanity and prosperity of Dajabon.  It is incredible how simple it is for us to extracate ourselves from the poverty and retreat to a safe and wholly more acceptable place than those we had left behind, relegated to their fearful, insecure but hardworking life of abject poverty.  For the last 25 years I have been visiting needy communities around the world, particularly in East Africa; and Haiti is just Africa on another continent far, far away; but I hope I never forget these lovely people who greeted us with a kiss and a warm welcome into their meagre little homes.  It is with a huge lump in my throat that I write about them and it is for people like these that Jesus died and that Mission International obeys his call to “GO”!  It seemed unfair for us to visit the Cafe Beller again for dinner,  No hard graft or long hours of preparation for us before a well made wholsome meal was served to us.  Soon it was time for Pastor Rolex and Izarak his collegue to get back across the border to Haiti for the night.  it is always difficult to process the things seen and heard on such missions.  To forget would be a sin and so our only option is to try to offer whatever help we can so that in some way someone will benefit from out answering God’s call.

 

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After a very long and tiresome journey we (Richard, Crawford & Hugh) in Santo Domingo airport in the Dominican Republic.  Althought for me (Hugh) it is my first trip here everythingis strangely familiar.  Similar in many ways to Honduras and to Miami Florida as well as to LA.  It is clear the US culture had touched Latin America, but also that the Latino culturehs affected th surroundings in soe of those places Ihave visited in the USA.  As I write thipost we are traveling from Santo Domingo to Dajabon where we will stay as we serve in Ouanaminthe, Haiti.  The bus is spacious and comfortable and is not hesitsating in terms of forward travel.  The Developing World approach is evident as we load our bags in the bus’s cargo hold.  Latino ladies argue with porters and bus drivers in an attempt to get as any huge sacks of goods into the hold at the expense of those passengers,like us, with suitcases.  In fact we are in the minority, there are few suitcases in this hold but boxes and bags fill every corner.  The driver evetually intervenes in the mele to make sure our bagesare given space  The level of noise increases asthere is a risk that the ladies’ consignments may not get aboard.

The jorney is comfortable, which is more than can be said for the bed in the little hotel we stayed inovernight.  It was like sleeping on a bag of bricks, however tiredness took over as I drifted off to the strains of dogs barkng and cocks crowing (it was 2.30am and the plan was that we get up at 4am for the 5am bus, however I managed with Crawford’s help, who speaks good Spanish, that we might e better to get a sleep instead of paying for a room for 1 1/2 hours). Beautiful distant mist covered mountains line the route we are travellig which add to the interest and in the near proximity tthe road dense jungle-like woodlands.

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The trip from Scotland to Santo Domingo took 24 hours and this bus trip probably a further four.  All went well, in terms of organisation, up until boarding forSanto Domingo.  Our flights from Edinburgh to London and on to New York had very few passengers and so we had plenty of space, however now the New York – Santo Domingo was a dffernt matter.  There was little or no control of carry on hand luggage meaning that people were carrying two or three very large bags: one lad was carrying a flat screen TV; and sowhen we (who actually queued for the flight) got on board there were no spaces left for our bags meanig we needed to have bags at our feet in an atrady tight seating arrangement.  Four hurs late we were ‘set free’ on arrival in Santo Domingo.

We have now reached Dajabon after a six hour bbu trip and have been housed in a samll hotel. We visited Haiti across the nearby border crossing and we are now sitting in Cafe Beller awaiting our dinner order.

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She’s just as concerned about her appearance as any other woman as she hurries past, fiddling with and adjusting her head covering, a traditional cloth worn by Luo women. She engages as she walks with a man sitting at the hardware store. She cant put off any time, she’s in a hurry to get where ever she is going. The comments made between them they enjoy then soon they can hear one another no longer. No luxury transport for her, not even the benefit of one of many bicycles or motor bikes. The paltry cost of one of those is even too much for this lady. She’s gone into the distance, making long hurried strides which bely a purpose which remains to me unknown, a purpose there doubtless is, for no-one marches this intently with no purpose. Her clothing more Western than traditional suggests some business, maybe a school teacher, maybe small business lady. She is gone into the distance with no hesitation in her step.

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This woman is different to many who lounge around a stall front waiting for someone to come to them, awaiting their purpose, happy to accept whatever comes their way; not she, she going to find and deal with it on her terms. Her type are those that’ll change Africa. Alas there are far too few of her type, and so change will be slow if change is to come. A further minor adjustment to her headwear and a glance down at her feet the tell tale signs of someone who is not about let the world pass her by.

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As I lie on my bed trying to remain awake for just a little longer, it is clear that in Africa there is never silence, never nothing going on. Noise surrounds me; whether it is the continual ‘breeping’ of the crickets in the near distance, the thumping and twanging of music in a club establishment in the middle distance or the screeching of the massive truck horns declaring their presence and warning people and other vehicles to ‘make way’, and the droning of their engines as they slow down and speed up negotiating the random traffic and the speed bumps which appear every half mile or so. The barking and howling of numerous dogs; the wall of sound goes on into infinity…this place never seems to rest.

Once sleep overtakes me and I drift off, it will be noise of a different kind that will awake me in the morning. Whether it will be the wail of the Imam on the minaret or the bells and singing of the Catholic church in whose guest house I am staying for the next few days, or whether it be the baying of animals from donkeys and goats to large herds of cattle making their way at first light to pasture or the infernal cockerels who don’t know when to give up, I will be awakened of that there is no doubt. The noise will continue all through the day. The perpetual need to be active (sometimes in doing nothing) seems to challenge everyone. Shouting of market traders, crying of infants, giggling of children, the noise goes on. The car in which we are being carried has radio too, which is turned to excruciating levels as we thump up and down muddy potholed rods, its waves trying to cover up the creaking and squeaking of well worn springs and shock absorbers.

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It has been just over a year since I was here with a team from Menzieshill High School in Dundee. The area hasn’t changed all that much except for the main access road which is now in good condition. Any road of the main thoroughfare remains bumpy, potholed and water filled, certainly at this time of the year. I am advised we will be travelling on one of the side roads tomorrow; to visit Kandaria where efforts will be made to deal with a house which has been in a poor state of repair for some time. We have purchased iron sheets and nails, some timber is yet to be bought and it all has to be transported on roads which resemble a swamp in what is now the rainy season. Progress must be made however since the widow whose house we will be working on is looking after her grand children after both mother and father have been lost in tragic circumstances. I suspect we will make it to ‘the bridge’ (for those who know the area),a part built concrete structure which was supposed to form part of s new road from Ahero but due to corruption at high levels, is now in a state which is unlikely ever to be made right. We will walk the rest and will doubtless receive a warm welcome by staff, pupils and local people thankful for whatever efforts have been made to help them in recent years.

Will I be able to sleep, I think so. A 6 hour journey from Narok and an hour or so remonstrating with the ‘flying teeth’ will see me out I suspect.
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