Team Member Volunteer Chronicles: Kenya #7


Thanks to Lisa Slater from contributing this blog post.

Café Ubuntu is officially open!  It was a day of brilliant sunshine, blustery winds, and over 200 guests-even more than expected-walking and driving up the dusty, potholed, red dirt road leading to the rolling land that is the vision and future of Care for the Children International, and the home of Café Ubuntu.

Dorman’s coffee, the people who sell Allegro Kenyan coffee, rolled up yesterday with a generator (did they know something we didn’t?) and a mobile cart, lots of coffee, and boxes and boxes of donated pastries. We had piles of milk and kilos of sugar.  We had two espresso machines, 2 air pots and one large percolator. What were we thinking? A genteel tea party?

We had a 5 pound challah, 2 sheep and 1 goat to roast and stew, 250 pieces of chapatti to soak up the delicious juices. That should be enough for the estimated 150 guests, right?


All the CTC stakeholders, many with friends, arrived: the Mailaika Mums came early and helped wipe down all the seats; the Malaika kids, well-behaved and absolutely adorable, wandered amongst the crowd. Suppliers and friends, bankers, community partners, and family members waited patiently in the tent for the ceremony to begin. The GAPA grandmas, Maasai women in colourful, traditional clothing and handmade, glittering and tinkling jewelry dangling from ears, throats, wrists, and canes, underscored the multi-cultural reality that is Kenya.

After the tours of the land with Jeremiah, guests settled into their seats. The Maasai women opened the ceremony with a rhythmic acapella song and dance. Jeremiah requested a minute of silence to reflect on the last week’s terrorist attack: the quiet allowed us to hear the bird calls, the whispering of the wind through the grass, the cock-a-doodle doo of a nearby rooster, the muttering of sheep and goats and cows as they walked a nearby path. It gave us an interlude in an otherwise crazy day to be thankful for everything we have.

We listened to speeches in Kiswahili and English, from stakeholders and local dignitaries, each of whom underscored the important work the CTC is doing to change the lives of people in and around Maai Mahiu. They all recognized how Café UBUNTU has the potential for changing people’s lives through training and working there, and for providing a meeting place (with Wi-Fi!) in a town that has nothing like it.

And then the moment was upon us: Jeremiah handed the scissors to the local dignitary who cut the blue ribbon which officially opened Café UBUNTU for business. Jeremiah then sliced the big challah and within minutes the guest tent was vacated and the controlled chaos began. The guests were in good spirits and clearly eager to sample everything we had.

All of us have participated in Whole Foods Market new store openings so we were prepared for a crush but the virtual stampede to the bread table with its pitifully small pot of coffee that was empty within a minute, and the huge line ups at both the interior coffee bar and Dorman’s mobile bar were a surprise. Never have we seen such an avid crowd clamoring so quickly for so much coffee. And milk! And sugar! (But mostly milk!) So many people had never tasted “muzungu” (white people) coffee that this was their chance and they took it, making it more like Kenyan chai than any coffee we would recognize. But good!

The pastries which disappeared in a flash, even as we cut them into quarters to make sure everyone could taste something. The electricity failed and that handy generator was used to keep our espresso machine pumping out the lattes and cappuccinos.

But that wasn’t enough to assure that everyone had a plate filled with the delicious goat stew served from an enormous caldron or a spoon to eat it with, so unprepared were we for the numbers that showed up.  So we did what we always do: we improvised. We washed coffee cups for the stew, more plates for the roasted meats, and then the water stopped running! Luckily for us, this happened as things were winding down as the two washrooms were barely able to keep up with the demand of so many people over a three hour period.

Once served, guests sat on the lawn and chatted away, while the tables inside were pushed together to create one long table giving the dignitaries an opportunity to converse.  Great, up-beat and local music provided a steady backbeat that made the occasion truly festive. Best of all, as the proceedings were winding down, one of the Malaika kids picked up the microphone and started singing which encouraged all the Malaika kids  to come to the patio to dance along with anyone who was willing: and dance we did.

This was a glorious moment that doesn’t come often, where everything aligned: the weather, the music, the people, the mission of the CTC as seen through the antics of the kids, and the mission of Whole Foods to create a better world.

It is no wonder that now, well past midnight, the sounds of celebration can still be heard at the local hotel, our home for the past four weeks.

It will not be easy to leave this land of great opportunity and potential; of great hardship and misery; of great ambition and determination.  The friends we have made here; the people who have inspired us; and the causes they are passionate about, have required us to look at the world in a new and questioning way.  How can we help? How can we do more? What can we do to give people the skills to manage their own lives with dignity, pride, and security?  And, do we have the answers or, shouldn’t we do what the CTC International does, find out what the community wants, and help them find the ways to get it? Our trip to Kenya isn’t an ending, it is a beginning.