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Travels around the world (with Beth and Chris)

Archive for the tag “btga”

Peace Bridge to a Better World

It is dark in the tent and I hear the zipper opening as Chris gets out to face the day before sunrise. I burrow into my sleeping bag on the comfortable mattress for a little more sleep. Eventually I hear the sound of flip flopping through the morning dew: “good morning Harmon!”. The roosters are cock-a-doodle-dooing, the crickets sing loudly then suddenly stop, there is a bird that sounds exactly like a baby crying, the air is damp and fragrant. Chris delivers my coffee. It is time to start the day at the Peace Bridge site on the Nzoia River in the northern Rift Valley of Kenya. We have arrived here after a short plane flight from Nairobi and a tortuous drive along roads that only a high clearance 4 wheel drive truck could manage.




We are here because Harmon and Teri Parker have opened up their lives and their home to us. We want to help. That is what Harmon Parker does: he helps, he inspires, he gives hope. Harmon is the founder of Bridging the Gap Africa. He helps communities build foot bridges. He is a genuine mix of serious and silly,  patience and exasperation,  frustration and tolerance. Harmon is full of intelligence, love, humor, whole-heartedness; he is humble. He barks out orders in one moment and in the next is laughing and teasing (he is a total Hootterite!).IMG_5211

There are three criteria that must be met for Harmon and BtGA to consider a bridge from the many requests: it must improve and facilitate the education, health care, and commerce situations of the joining communities.

At first sight, the river looks beautiful – meandering and placid, but one day, I watch as a teenager jumps in to cross –  he is swept swiftly down the river as he swims to the other side much farther downstream from where he started. The current is strong, even in low season.




The Peace Bridge is a 45 meter (147 ft.) suspension bridge (designed by Matthew Bowser and team; Matthew is a Canadian professional bridge engineer with the MMM Group) over a dangerous river where many have died trying to cross. It’s a complicated structure that has taken much time and cooperation among communities, engineers, carpenters, welders, laborers, masons, cooks, social workers, volunteers. They work through hot sun and torrential rain. They brainstorm, calculate, and the workers, at Harmon’s playful command must show “asses and elbows” – he does not accept anything substandard. Harmon surrounds himself with quality people. Sylvester is the jovial and capable foreman; he gets the job done and has so many stories to go along with his linguistic skills – he is Harmon’s very likeable right hand man. He is also known as Baba King Solomon – father of his son King Solomon.





Francis is an extremely skilled carpenter – he builds forms for the concrete, a ladder to go in and out of the pit for the footings, saw horses, and all of the wooden structures for the camp including the newly renovated outhouse with a real toilet dubbed “Beth’s Bush Bathroom” (I am thankful because even though to “flush”, we pour river water down the hole – there is a real porcelain toilet positioned for privacy and with a view of some beautiful gold flowers ).




Amos and Eric run their asses off for whatever needs to be done.



Old Sila the Prophet (who gratefully accepted the melted sneakers Chris bequeaths to him) with massively strong hands- does any hard labor asked of him without a blink of an eye.


Nasambu is the camp cook. She organizes the meals, cleans clothes, washes the dishes. She is in her young twenties and is studying to be a teacher, She takes us to her modest home one afternoon and we meet her family and neighbors. Luckily for Nasambu, she has moxie, as Harmon puts it, so she fits right in.



The rest of the crew work hard and watch us wazungu to see what we are made of. They pour cement, hoist the towers, dig and fill holes, and generally provide the necessary muscle. They watch me as a local decides to bathe in the river – Harmon points out the full black moon in my direction as I stand in the shade of the sugar cane (I try to act disinterested….). They huddle together in the shelter from the driving rain with a shivering Chris who toughs  out the storm with them after the cement pour.  They seem to be proud to be a part of the bridge.





Since I am not an engineer, and although I can calculate angles and do some math, my main interest is in the locals of this third world country. Most homes in these villages have no electricity or running water and are basically groupings of mud huts covered in cow dung. The smokey kitchen has a stone fire pit with a shelf above it for one pot (that is the extent of the appliances). There are grazing goats and pecking roosters, hens and chickens coming into the open doorways. The “business district” is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. We are truly off the beaten path.






There are small (often barefoot) children who, independent of any adult supervision, come to stare at me, the mzungu – the white person with blonde hair. Often the sight of me makes the babies cry.







There is a young boy – maybe 8 – who one day helps me fill my bucket up with water from the river. His name is Manu – he does’t speak English. I know only a few Swahili words. He comes by the campsite every afternoon and looks over. I shout out to him: “Manu! Jambo!” – I walk over to him and he smiles. He seems interested in what is happening. His “toy” is an old tire that he wheels through the field beside our tents with a bent sugar cane stick.



I interact with as many people as I can – I offer my hand and receive a handshake – sometimes the respectful handshake where they put their left hand on their forearm near their elbow, or the more complicated handshake where we snap our thumbs together at the end. The locals are poor; they are proud and happy to have a bridge. They welcome me “karibu sana!”  to their village and country. They smile their incredibly white smiles. Women walk by with various things (from small luggage, to a sack of potatoes, to containers of water) balanced on top of their heads. We pass by a school where the young students gather at the windows to wave and shout “JAMBO!!” to us







Almost everyone I meet at the bridge site tells me how appreciative they are to have us there helping them with this bridge. I tell them I will pass their message along to the people responsible for their bridge and that I am honored to be there in their village. Suddenly, the dirt under my fingernails, the damp sleeping quarters, the pedicure gone to shit, the ants we shoo away from the table seem insignificant. We are here in Kenya with and because of Harmon Parker, the founder of Bridging the Gap Africa, helping our brothers and sisters.






Building bridges to a better world! Sawa Sawa!



We arrive at the Nairobi airport, make our way through customs, and find the tall and friendly Frances holding the “Chris and Beth” sign. We load his car and get our first glimpses of the capital of Kenya. As Frances weaves his way through traffic, he gives us a bit of a guided tour in his excellent English and teaches us our first Swahili word : “habari yako”; it means “how are you?”  (In the meantime, we have learned “Jambo!’’– it has the same meaning and is easy to say in a jaunty way! – it is my favorite Swahili word – everyone responds). Frances is 32 years old and has been in Nairobi for 15 years. He left his tribal village in Tanzania (and eight siblings) to find work. He has a wife and two children; he proudly shows us pictures of his kids and laughs his full and sincere laugh.


Frances delivers us to “Baba and Mama Joshua’s” beautiful home at the end of Wispers Avenue. The gate is tended by another smiling man and the two watch dogs Tsavo and Mila – we will meet the dogs later on the porch under social circumstances but for now they are doing their jobs :). Harmon and Teri come outside to greet us. I go toward Teri; as I approach her, I can feel her positive energy. We hug rather than shake hands. I immediately like her. We go into their solid home and see African art, a CNN hero poster, fresh flowers, dark and light wood parquet floors, and windows that give us views of the vibrantly green foliage of the Karura Forest. Their home is decorated in a way that feels welcoming and is comfortable. We have a fresh salad for lunch, talk about their history in Kenya (Harmon and Teri lovingly “fight” for the floor – they both have so much to tell us; Chris and I are all ears). Later we sit and have wine – “porch time” – and enjoy the sounds of the babbling river, hear more about the animals we will see from that very porch, what they have scheduled for us the next day, our respective kids, where we can buy souvenir earrings, and of course Bridging the Gap Africa. This is what has brought us here, after all… More about that in the next blog 🙂




After watching the Sykes monkey escapades in the nearby trees from their porch the next morning, Harmon calls Frances, Teri makes us a list of proposed places to visit and we are off! First stop: Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. This organization rescues and cares for baby elephants that have lost their mothers. Some were found in wells, most were orphaned because of poaching. The babies come trotting up the path toward the roped off viewing area – they know their bottles of human baby formula are waiting for them.  There is a “mud bath” to burrow into, small branches to gnaw on, a florescent orange soccer ball, and several men who lovingly tend to the elephants. We see 11 elephants in the first group – the younger babies. We are allowed to touch them. I ask one of the men where they like to be touched: “rub behind the ears, like this! Do you want me to take your picture?” After this group files out, the older group of 13 elephants plod single file toward the expectant visitors with two ostriches that were brought in as baby chicks along with one of the elephants.. On the way out, Chris pays 200 shillings (about $2) to get a picture of me with the maasai dude dressed in typical colorful garb, stomping his feet and jumping in the air.









Next stop is the giraffe sanctuary. A cool place for – you guessed it – giraffes. Their necks are extremely long and muscular as you would expect, their fur is mottled shades of tan and brown as you would expect, and their tongues are long and kind of blue. I was told I could get a kiss if I hold a food pellet protruding a bit from my mouth. Do you think I did it??



After lunch, a coffee, and a  little souvenir shopping (got a wooden carved elephant and my first pair of souvenir earrings 🙂 ) we go back to the Parker’s abode for more porch time, dinner out and packing for the trip to Kitale and beyond. So far we love Kenya, feel safe, and have hopefully made lifelong friends with these welcoming, generous, thoughtful, and loving people – Teri and Harmon Parker .


Ciao for now!





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