Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wednesday Post from Nutrition Team (3rd, not second!)

Hello All,
I am up very early- 515 a.m. Kenyan time and have to get up and blog. Too much in my head: Wednesday was a day of highs and lows.
Jennifer started our day on Wed with Kenyan pancakes- more like a cross between crepes and roti- and I prepared a large fruit salad with bananas pineapples and my favourite mangos. We tried to roll the fruit in the pancakes but it made quite a delicious mess.
Off to Ruuju school- took the paved road (towards Mikinduri) and then down another very bumpy dirt road. I am getting used to the bumps- have to use the side handles to keep from falling out of my seat sometimes. And no drinking my coffee when we are on a dirt road (‘tide to go’ just can’t handle half a thermous of slopped coffee!) Many more children at this school than yesterday- about 500. Incredible. All the uniforms were an emerald green- each school has its own colour. Some ran over and greeted us as we got out of the combi- and right away I saw a little girl with clear signs of pellagra on her neck- a rough scaly patch from niacin deficiency. Identical to text book pictures, and Kaylynne Christina and I just looked at each other. Quite an experience after being a nutritionist for 27 years and seeing that first hand.
We met Godfrey one of the cooks who was the most pleasant young man who could chop kale like a Culinary Institute chef and ? who already had the maize and beans boiling for the githeri for lunch. The children get lunch at 12:40; little ones (preschool) get porridge at 10:30. The porridge had other grains today- amaranth and finger millet with the maize and no milk. The little ones filed into the dining hall (funded by Rotary Charlottetown!) and waited patiently for their breakfast/lunch. I got the kids all whipped up yelling “Yum” and making faces (see the video) was great fun. They think we “mazungos” are so funny. I am seeing quite a few children with signs of malaria- glazed eyes that you come to spot once you recognize it. And some with little arms quite wasted from a lack of food generally. But most are clearly benefiting from the feeding program- their weight is good, no signs of abdominal bloating (from protein deficiency) and lots of energy to burn. The head teacher tells us that since 2006 when the program started, they have seen a huge difference in the children’s attendance, their behaviour and their academic performance. We help serve the porridge but then stand back since the teacher and cook have a system of serving and we are getting in the way. They run out of cups, so some children have to wait till the others finish so their cups can be used. Christina and Kaylynne pledge to get more cups at the Nakumatt so this won’t happen. They insist on our having some, and we manage to minimize the amount so that it is not taken away from the kids. It is pleasant tasting, very thick and a bit sour but I smile and say “Yum” to their delight. Kaylynne Christina and I sit at the tables with groups of the children, and once again I am snapping pictures. I have become the nutrition team photographer, since my students and Colleen now have an efficient system of collecting the information they need for the recipes, method of preparation, portioning, etc. We will then look at the nutritional content of the foods served and make recommendations to the schools.
The githeri is boiling away in huge pots in the cookhouse. Nice and clean, concrete floors and minimal smoke due to the chimneys provided. It is hard to describe how important these cookhouses are- huge amounts of food can be prepared safely and the working conditions for the cooks and the children they serve in terms of less smoke have been vastly improved. We go to the school garden which our Jennifer M has been working on with Freda, the young woman hired by Farmers Helping Farmers to oversee the garden and Ruuju womens group farms. Neat sections of everything from kale (they say ‘kales’ or sukuma) to beans to sweet peppers and tomatoes. It is fertile, lush and well tended. We take lots of pictures, and then head back to the cookhouse to sample the githeri. We expect a “taste” but they have a plate with about 2 cups of githeri on it. Very tasty with pumpkin and kale added, and we enjoy it!
We head out on foot into the trees behind the garden to visit several women’s farms. The first farm is small, and the woman is excited to see us- she has a greenhouse with a big crop of tomatoes that is a demonstration project for the Ruuju women’s group. Two small boys dash in (who turn out to be neighbour kids) both with bloated bellies from protein deficiency. Even the pig and goat that she has look quite thin. I have ½ banana in my purse which I quietly hand to the boy while Jennifer Colleen and the farmer talk-and the peel went to the pig. Kaylynne, Christina and I hang back talking about what we have seen. We then move on to another farm which is run by a tiny thin older Ruuju woman. She has a rainwater tank (sponsored by Gulf Shore school and Womens Making Waves!) which is now almost empty (she was using it to collect water during the rainy season); later she will buy water from her neighbour who has it piped in. Her crops are not doing well- it is dry and in no way resembles the well tended farms we have seen thus far. There are several small buildings which house a son and a daughter- we are amazed to learn that one son is in university- the daughter works in Nairobi while she cares for the grandchildren. There are goats and a few cows, but she tells us that without her husband working as a ditch digger, they could not survive on the farm; it is only ¼ acre. Her frailty, the living conditions and the sad looking garden have us all with a lump in our throat. She then goes into her kitchen and presents Colleen with 4 or 5 eggs. We don’t want to take them, but Jennifer makes it clear that this would be a grave insult. We feel helpless and as we leave, we chat about the resilience of these women, and what we could possibly do to help her out.
Things look up- as they always seem to- and we visit another very jolly member who is drying pigeon peas on one huge tarp and mung beans (green grams) on another. Her farm is small but she seems to be doing well. Several small buildings house her grown sons and daughters and little boys peek around the corner of one at us. I am captivated by a young girl sitting on the grass under a tree feeding giitheri to an 18 month old girl with large soft dark eyes. I can’t believe she is eating this food which can be heavy going for an adult to chew. She is a bit shy but I have permission to take her picture. Her beautiful young mother arrives with green bananas mashed with potatoes- clearly she is waiting for her lunch. She brightens up and eagerly accepts spoonfuls of the creamy mixture. I take a picture of her with her mother and pledge to myself to send it back to them through Jennifer.
After visiting two more farms, and taking pictures of their cooking areas, we head back to the school. It is now about 3:15, and we discover that they have saved us lunch- mukimo (with pumpkin, bananas and potato) and a beef stew. We moan since our stomachs are still full from the githeri two hours before. But, again, we cannot turn it down so we eat some; it is really delicious! Very flavourful sauce on the beef..yum...

We head to the Nakumat, pick up some chicken (only frozen available) and prepare African chicken, ugali (a white cornmeal moulded polenta type dish) and yummy kale. I make mango salsa from the wonderful mangoes. A wonderful cooking lesson from Jennifer, and I write down the recipes. We loaded up steaming plates and took them out to the three security guards who keep us safe. Must head out for our next adventure: today the Dairy and meeting with Helen the nutritionist.

I would love to post pictures, but the internet is painfully slow and it crashes my computer. No luck here at the Nukumat either. Maybe later...

Love to family and friends...Jen

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