Our Last Day in Kisumu

Aug 22, 2010 by Lynn Pasquerella

Our last day in Kisumu was amazing. The team left at 7 a.m. to set up the mold press in order to demonstrate it for some local machinists. By 10 o’clock, the press was finished, and we began mixing the clay with sawdust. The goal was to create a mixture that when fired would be porous enough to filter water. We were thrilled when the press worked and even more pleased when those watching the demonstration came up with a cheaper design using local materials. The potters we had met the day before would spend twelve hours pounding the clay and mixing it with sand to produce the right consistency. A brake hub, part of an axle, and a wheel from an old car were turned into a potter’s wheel. The kiln was attached to the house, so there was constant smoke throughout. Our hope is that the use of the press and the implementation of a more efficient kiln design will dramatically change the lives of these artisans.

Later in the afternoon, we went to Jemima’s. I first mentioned this remarkable woman when I was introduced to the Mount Holyoke community last November. Jemima was the first person in Luo land to publicly declare her status as HIV-positive. The mother of ten children discovered in 1999 that she was infected when she decided to get tested after her husband died from AIDS.
Nine of her children also tested positive, four of whom have since died. In what seems an unbearable degree of suffering, within 24 hours of her husband’s death, Jemima lost both a son and daughter to AIDS-related illnesses. As a result, she became the caregiver to thirteen of her
grandchildren. Told upon her diagnosis that she would not be able to support herself and her family because of the stigma of AIDS, she formed the Alour Widows/Women’s Group
to empower HIV-positive women to make informed choices for improved life-styles and to combat discrimination based on HIV status. Since its inception, the group has grown from
four HIV-positive women to 32. They now support 120 HIV-positive orphans and have been joined by six widowers. This expansion includes the Alour Moyie Group, established in 2004 to support all individuals afflicted with HIV, the Ochiago Youth Alive/Children’s Group, founded in the same year, and the Aluor Old Age Men’s Group to promote activism among men in fighting against HIV/AIDS discrimination.

Despite the tremendous tragedy she has endured, Jemima describes herself as lucky. Her husband was an only child. Because women were prohibited by Kenyan law from inheriting land, those whose husbands died were forced to engage in ritualistic purification in order to be inherited by their husband’s brothers or other male relative. The cultural practice involved unprotected sex with the male relative or a jater, or social outcast, hired to exorcise the evil spirits of the dead husband. Those who refused for religious or health reasons were left homeless without a
means of support. This was our third visit to this Community Based Organization, and we are committed to assisting in whatever way we can. Our focus is on fish farming, water catchment and amaranth harvesting for the group. The collective just finished digging the fish pond, so our focus will be on testing the soil and water to determine the best approach to stocking it.

The children were thrilled to see us. We brought soccer balls and a basketball, along with food and school supplies. We had as much fun as the children did playing soccer day. As we were leaving the village, it began to rain. The Luo consider rain upon the arrival or departure of a guest to be a blessing. A “vote of thanks” was given to us as a sign of their appreciation and to signify that we had blessed their community. If there are such things as blessings, then surely we were the recipients simply by being in their presence.

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