Sunday, February 28

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: The Weekly Kid: Chemosop


She only started talking a month or two ago, but she has already learned to say "Mimi picha." Fortunately she hasn't yet learned that putting a camera with attached lens cap to my eye does not a picture take.

Chemosop is still to small to be listed on our website, but you could conceivably check our sponsorship page everyday until the option to pay for her medical, education and life needs becomes available.

Thursday, February 25

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: KPLC

I estimate that I have about an hour to write this post. I can't tell for sure. My Dell would give me an estimate on how time remained before my battery trained. My Vaio does not, but it says 69%. We'll say a minute for every percent. As you might guess, the power is out. In and of itself, this is of no interest. The power reliably goes out once or twice a week, mostly during the day when we don't need to run our lights, the only things that run on electricity here. The water is unheated except by the sun, and we cook with charcoal, so it's not even that big a deal when the power does go out. The only trouble is when it cuts off during the night, and that's not so bad either. I rather appreciate how it encourages the kids to go to bed an hour or two early.

This time, however, it is not a general power shortage killing our lights. It's KPLC. The Kenya Power & Lighting Company. This all started late November. Four months after arriving in Nakuru, we realized that it was a bit dodgy to have not received a single electricity bill. Eager to avoid any legal trouble we paid a visit to their offices, in the Electricity Building appropriately enough. They visited our center, read the meter and then told us the meter did not exist in their system. It might have been lost when they switched to a new computer system. We would need to apply for a new account, and because we had no bill to prove that we had ever paid for one watt, they would also have to charge us for the back hours. The estimate was something around one million shillings. Maybe a little more. About thirteen thousand American dollars. Maybe a little more.

We regretted telling them about the lack of power bills and regretted so easily giving up on those halcyon days when they didn't know we existed. When we submitted the paperwork for a new account, we were quite pleased that they went straight back to ignoring us. There were no phone calls. We received no mail. We had no visits. We thought they were happy. We were happy.

That ended the day before yesterday. It ended in the form of the guard coming to tell me someone wanted to talk to me. I came out of the office to find one man had crawled to the top of the pole that supported our power lines and another was talking on his mobile at the base. The man on top pulls at some cables and comes down. The man on bottom hangs up.

"Hello," he says.

"What are you doing?" I scream. "Turn our power back on."

The conversation continues in this vein for sometime. He insists our meter is not in their system. I reply that we filled out the paperwork in November. He suggests we come to the office to discuss this. I say I am not going to waste any time with a company that lost our paperwork the first time and believes that the best way to arrange a meeting for a missing account is to cut the power to a home for over one hundred children. He raises his voice a little. I raise mine more. He tries to step past me, I step in his way. For a while he is literally pushing me. I had had a bad day and finally had an outlet. So had about five women on our staff. He only gets away by faking an incoming call and going through our barbed wire fence. Demetra goes to the office and is told the matter cannot be discussed because the manager for the case is gone until Thursday morning. They only agree to reconnect the power when they hear I'm away from the center at the time. I regret that I am not there to stare while they do it, but we have power for another two nights. We are content.

A new man and new partner came late yesterday afternoon and left with two cables. There was less shouting and less stepping in the way this time. I was in a better mood. Naomi and Demetra left minutes later to visit the offices. Around 4:30 the manager calls me to ask when we will submit the paperwork. I tell them our people are at his office now. I then ask why he feels that disconnecting our power is a better method for requesting a meeting than a phone call, letter or visit from one of his numerous flunkies. I ask what happened to our paperwork three months ago. He asks where the reference number is. I say his people screwed up the procedure and we are now paying for their mistakes. He says the office will only be open for another fifteen minutes, that we should hurry to submit a new request to open an account. I thank him for offering us such a generous time frame. He is the first Kenyan I have spoken with to have a fine enough grasp of sarcasm to realize it is an insult.

Later that night, Demetra takes a call from a man with KPLC who has found our paperwork. He and his manager are now respectively stored in my contacts as KPLC (GOOD) and KPLC (JERKWAD). Demetra visited both today and received a reference number and promise that the power should be connected sometime before the weekend.

To put it simply, KPLC are bullies. Rather than request a meeting and make a suggestion that power will be cut if you don't, they cut it. They request these meetings at the end of the day, an hour or two before they go home. They leave the power off at a children's home. Rather than looking for the documents you assure them you delivered months ago, they deny their existence. These are tactics better suited to the mob than a public utility.

And it doesn't really surprise me now. When the man we contracted to repair our roof admitted, on the same day this sordid affair with KPLC began no less, that his original estimate was only enough to repair one of our four buildings rather than all of them, I was not surprised. Dealing with matatu drivers who refuse to return our change even when we know the correct amount, police that lose evidence, Children's Department officers that demand bribes and chiefs who need to be reimbursed for their problems before caggabe and maize flour can be delivered to their hungry people has hardened me, to say the least. The obsession with looking out only for oneself and one's own runs deep. Maybe it has something to do with a ridiculously corrupt government that can't manage to punish or even show a unified will to punish those responsible for selling maize during a famine or skimming from funds intended to make primary education free for all children. I don't care. I'm sick of it. It makes me eager to leave. A little more than two months now.

My mom wrote in her last email that she knew Demetra was back and that I was in a better mood because I was writing about squat toilets and football. Sorry to ruin that streak.

Monday, February 22

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: Still more football

Kenyan Premier League began the 2010 season on Saturday. Sofapaka dismantled Sher Karuturi 2-0 and Tusker stepped all over Posta Rangers 4-1, both keeping in form with their hopes of again challenging for the league championship. Red Berets surprised by holding Thika United, one of last year's contenders, to a 1-1 draw in Nakuru.

I missed all of it. I was watching the last half of Everton whomping on Manchester United and the beginnings of Chelsea over Wolverhampton and Arsenal over Sunderland. In my defense, that wasn't the plan. Originally, it was to attend the afternoon rugby match between Nakuru and Strath. Having never been to the Nakuru Athletic Club before, we ducked into a kiosk to avoid the torrent for an hour or so. When it diminished to a drizzle, we found the Athletic Club not more than a block away. The stands were even covered, and because rugby players are real men, they played through the sheets. We could have enjoyed a good match and begun learning the rules. As it happened, we were wet and cold and would have had to pay full price for only the second half. We opted for two pots of tea at the nearest thing Nakuru has to a sports bar.

The point? I am what's wrong with East African football. At least, according to Nicholas Musonye, general secretary of the East and Central African Football Federation. Really, check it out. It's an interesting article. Some of it's stupid, like the suggestion that East Africans just aren't built for football. It makes sense if your only qualification for comment is shared blood with the guy who formerly captained the Czech national team, but the fact that Kenya fields a half-decent rugby 7's team that can give New Zealand and England a good match seems to suggest otherwise.

The greater question of whether the English Premier League is to blame for the lack of football development in Kenya, though, is fascinating to me. Absolutely people here care more and know more about the English Premier League than the Kenyan Premier League. I know you can buy AFC Leopards jerseys and fairly sure you can find some for Sofapaka. Probably Gor Mahia and Tusker, too, though those are just guesses. In any case, I never see people wear those. On the other hand, a day you don't see anyone wearing a Man-U or Arsenal knock-off is a day you spend alone in your room with the curtains drawn. SuperSport has even picked up a decent contract with KPL this year and broadcasts about two live games a week. Kenyans don't even have to make their way to a field now to watch their local teams. They just need to trundle to the nearest bar with a satellite, but the TV's remain fixed on Liverpool and Chelsea.

I can understand this to an extent. The teams in the EPL are some of the top in the world. They win the most and have some of the best players. The most important thing, though, England has that Kenya doesn't? Completely professional football. Seriously. Workshops were held before this season to inform players of all their responsibilities and rights, like the right to be paid for their participation. For the first time in league history, full-time, professional referees will be officiating. AFC only made the CAF Cup this year on a last-minute appeal because no one bothered to tell them earlier that the roster, only about three members of which remained on the team after transfers, that they submitted last year was the valid one, not the one they submitted a a month and a half after the deadline.

It's vicious. Kenyans don't care about their own national league because it's a disorganized mess, and the KPL can't attract any interest with Kenya Football Limited and Kenya Football Federation struggling for control.

There's hope, I think. McDonald Mariga was picked up by Internazionale Milan and can be a model for Kenyan success at the highest levels. During the European off-season, there are a few golden months where the only football available is local. More money is coming into the league through the SuperSport contract and two consecutive record-breaking sponsorship deals. That ought to motivate for greater professionalism and higher levels of competition. Or corruption. Whichever.

All of these posts on football have come as something of a surprise to me. Except for the now sadly defunct Minnesota Thunder, I never attended a game. I kept track of Gonzaga's men's team online while I was in Germany when they made their scramble into the NCAA tournament, but even free entry couldn't entice me when I came back. Now I care.

Sports are my break from the center. Nakuru has an absolute dearth of public spaces. There is nowhere you can just be and enjoy yourself without spending money. Shopping, never my favorite activity, has no real pleasure either as once you go through the door, a salesperson will follow you the whole way to make an offer on anything you touch. With football and rugby, though, I can pay a dollar and have two hours away from work and, more importantly, two hours away from the kids.

Not such a fan of selling advertisement space on the jerseys, though. I'm not going to pretend that sports are some sacred realm that should be beyond the reach of marketing. That's a laugher. They're a business and need to make money. It may be annoying, too, for a team to rotate through sponsors and force the die-hard fans to buy new jerseys every few years to keep matching the team, but I can see there being a special appeal to those jerseys and sponsors for that miracle championship run. My problem is that some of the ads are just ridiculous. I know why Sofapaka edged out Mathare United last year. It's because they were sponsored by a cement company and not margarine. Honestly. How tough can you feel when an ad for the oil-based alternative to butter is splattered across your chest?

Sunday, February 21

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: The Weekly Kid: Kapanat


Kapanat came down with the chicken pox late last week. He's better now, but he still has the pox scars.

Sounds to me like a great reason to pick up a medical sponsorship for one of the kids. Only fifteen dollars a month.

Thursday, February 18

Lent 2010

It was Ash Wednesday yesterday, and I didn't manage to make a single Mass. Not quite the start I would have hoped for my most favorite of Church seasons. The trouble is that it kind of snuck up on me. I didn't even realize that Lent was starting this week until this past Sunday. Kind of left me scrambling for a spiritual practice this season.

A sacrifice, the traditional option, seems a little redundant this year. If it weren't for the monthly trips into Pokot, it would be a bit difficult for me to imagine a life with fewer amenities. The electricity is spotty. The water is reliably off three days out of seven and not heated. I wash my clothes by hand. We rotate between two different breakfasts, three different lunches and two different dinners, all fairly bland. I'm almost certain my closet in Corkery was bigger than my current room.

On the other hand, it makes me appreciate the little luxuries all the more and hold all the tighter. Extra morning mandazi and crips or biscuits after trips into town are essentials. Giving any of those up would be true sacrifices. Unfortunately, I am unwilling to go so far.

So I'm left with doing something more. That's cool. It what I did last year. Regular prayer worked pretty well for those 40 days. Then it kind of fell apart. Then it picked up after I brought a prayer rug back with me from Cairo and was able to ritualize the whole process. Then it fell apart again when I moved into this new room where there literally isn't room to lay it out. So it goes.

Anyway, the plan this year is modeled on last year's, but we're trying a new ritual. The plan is to spend at least an hour a week participating in Perpetual Adoration at Christ the King Cathedral. Fifteen minutes here, a half hour there, whatever works for me that day. So far as I know there is no holy relic or sacred icon hidden in the little room in the back. It's just the Host and a few chairs facing it.

We'll see how it goes. If anything turns up, we'll let you know.

Tuesday, February 16

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: Squat toilets

I have a friend who once argued that the Western world took a precipitous turn downward when it opted to throw its lot behind leavened bread. We were eating naan at the time, and I was prone to believe him. Any sins that fell upon us for this transgression, however, are more than forgiven for our invention of the modern flush toilet. This longing for a proper place to evacuate my waste has already been documented, but allow me the opportunity to elaborate on this Mardi Gras.

The bathroom should be a place of peace and repose. I hear the Filippinos call them "comfort rooms," and that is entirely approrpriate. When you are there, it is your kingdom, albeit temporary. Even in public bathrooms with lines of stalls and a single, long urinal there is a certain intimacy. Etiquette demands you do not talk, and frequent partitions provide more than reasonable privacy. It is a place of relaxation, a place to release all the muscles.

Squat toilets fail to provide this basic environment. The simple fact is that relaxation is impossible above them. Yes, they do provide an opportunity to politely open the sphincter, but this is immediately counter-acted by the stress put upon the hamstrings and upon the arms from grasping the crossbeam on the door to maintain balance and avoid an ignominous fall. What should be a gentle time is now a savage ballet of grip, balance and aim. A really bad ballet.

For the longest time I believed that it was simply impossible for whites to assume the position, that it was a petty revenge for decades of colonization and a lack of success in the Winter Olympics. Then I saw The Grapes of Wrath and realized it was something we had lost through lack of practice. That guy was squat-walking all over the place.

Monday, February 15

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: The Weekly Kid: Chemongot


Normally it's a struggle to get Chemongot to stop making faux gang signs and put her stupid hands down. This time it wasn't. And, surprise, she looks great.

If you would like to receive a picture of similar quality along with a handwritten letter of not as great quality every month, please consider picking up a sponsorship.

Saturday, February 13

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: The origins of the art instinct

Dennis Dutton argues in The Art Instinct that our appreciation of art from the passionate intimacy of the tango on along through the words of Raymond Carver and back to Vettriano's The Singing Butler is a form of sexual selection. He founds this argument, at least in part, upon certain universal artistic preferences, among them a consistently elevated opinion of landscapes that resemble the savanna our ancestors once walked.

Having now spent some seven months in Kenya, only hours from Lake Turkana and Olduvai Gorge, I can believe that. No number of millennia, no thousands of miles of migrations, no hours of Lady Gaga can diminish a real love for this land. There is no word but 'majestic' to describe the Great Rift Valley. I drive past it twice a month on the way to and from Nairobi, and I always watch it pass. In rain and in haze and on the clearest days it does not cease to amaze. To see the ground fall beneath you to a plain hundreds of meters below and where it only ends with an indistint line of mountains on the horizon cannot help but make one wish for me time to enjoy it. The rich iron red of the soil and the close rolling hills and forest that border it on the east and the long lakes that follow it to the west lead you into it and let you down slowly.

And one of these days I will finally find a matatu or tour bus that stops at one of the many viewpoints and take the Rift Valley's picture to share.

In no small part this is due to the patchwork of subsistence farms, connected only by narrow dirt roads cut by feet and hooves, along the Valley's wall and base. Men are leading donkey-drawn carts along narrow dirt roads cut only by their feet and hooves. Women are bent over in their fields pulling weeds and harvesting leaves of kale. It's a pastoral setting French and Italian painters only wish they had access to.

In other words, the Rift Valley's beauty is maintained because it's poor. This is some of the most fertile land in Kenya. It may be on a near vertical slope, but were it in America, it would long have been transformed into acres of corn or wheat, an ocean only broken by the occasional thresher. Still Great, this American Valley would look altogether different, less pleasing. Perhaps only a single viewpoint would remain, and it would have to be anchored by a restaurant of some repute to draw in visitors.

Maybe not. Maybe the entire Valley would be designated a national park and protected from encroachment.

Unlikely. It's enormous. People need to live somewhere. Crops need to grow somewhere.

What if the Kenyan economy had a bit more money running through it? What if these subsistence farms gave way to small towns crossed with power lines and asphalt roads? Maybe passing the Rift Valley would only be worth a brief glance then rather than laying down your book for the entire length, but maybe that would be worth it to those who live there.

Friday, February 12

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: Picha Mtaani

I stumbled into this one. Businesses and banks and all the rest in Nakuru don't open until 9 in the morning. I arrived at 8:30. Poor planning. So I decided to pass through a part of town outside my routine while waiting. That's when I saw the crowd moving through the city park. This was a curiosity. The greatest action at the park is along the perimeter, at the public bathroom and impromptu instant passport photo studio because the gates are locked all day and all night. I followed them in and discovered Picha Mtaani.

It was the first day of the event. Chairs and barriers were still being arranged. Speeches and whatnot were to come later, so it wasn't until I found the website that I learned anything about the exhibition. To summarize for those not interested in reading the official version through the above link, Picha Mtaani is a traveling photography exhibition using the images of Boniface Mwangi to depict the violence following the presidential election in late December 2007. The pictures are arranged in chronological order beginning with rallies hosted by Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga before moving through to the day of the election and dwelling on the violence in the streets. It finally ends with the arrival of Kofi Annan and the beginning of mediation talks. Sometimes a series of photographs tell a story in miniature, boys looting a shoe store and running from the incoming police, a beating on a city street.

It is to Mwangi's credit that he does not dwell on the most gruesome ends of the violence. There are two pictures of severed arms, another of a man holding his stub and face bright red from the blood running down. As terrible as these things were, more important is how they occurred. The strongest photographs of the exhibition are those of the violence. These are where the crowd lingered longest, fought most for a better position nearer the wall. It is a common observation that people slow when driving past a car accident. Imagine how they would gather if they knew they could see the accident in progress. Police face off against mobs, firing tear gas and swinging billy clubs. Men chase others down and knock them to the ground. A crowd watches as four men take turns kicking and beating a fifth for being of the wrong tribe. The streets these happen on look like those I walk daily. The houses look like those I pass. The people dress and look like those I meet. It was not a civil war with clear sides, with Blues and Grays. It was an explosion of tribalism and longstanding grievances and whatever else that finally found an outlet in the cities. I doubt the Kenyans in the crowd could agree who was beating whom or who was bleeding, back to a wall of corrugated aluminum sheeting. It didn't take years of military training and indoctrination to make these people killers. They just snapped when their government once again failed to care one whit for them or due process and made every effort to assure their election and protect their power.

The most powerful of these photographs for me was one near the end. A young couple is walking together down a street under an umbrella. The man is in a black vest and white collared shirt and the woman in a dress and heels. They are flinching from a headless body, the blood mixing with the rainwater and running under their feet. The battlefields were the streets, in their neighborhoods, not safely mediated through television and newspaper articles.

The curating was weak. The exhibition suffered from too much. Rather than choosing just one or two of the most powerful, it opted for impact through quantity. Four pictures of burned out matatus. Four pictures of people trying to put out the fires consuming their homes with water thrown from their washing basins. It invited thoughts of what these very similar pictures revealed different instead of how horrible they were.

But these concerns of aesthetics and curation are secondary. The point is conversation, dialogue, reflection on what happened, thoughts on a way forward. In this it was effective, I believe. The crowd, four deep at most points along the exhibition wall, was silent. When there was conversation, it was clearly centered on the photographs before them. This is a good thing, but it will be wasted if it does not amount to real action. There is an opportunity for this. A draft constitution that would make critically necessary reforms is set for a public vote in April. By no means would approval make things better, but it would signal a real willingness to improve the situation and not repeat one of the nation's darkest times.

The stakes are high. Some fifteen hundred people died in January 2008. This violence was carried out with bows and arrows, machetes, steel pipes. Now the people and tribes are arming themselves with more effective weapons. There are frequent reports in The Daily Nation and The Standard of gun and ammunition caches being uncovered throughout the country. If it does happen again, it's going to be much, much worse.

Sunday, February 7

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: The Weekly Kid: Apura


Isn't that cute? He looks totally ready for his senior portrait.

Please consider picking up a sponsorship. They are especially important now in the wake of the holiday season. For a month or two we get a flurry of sponsorships and then nothing for a few months longer. Please help us get through this.

Thursday, February 4

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: Girls and their games

You may noticed a dominance of a certain gender in the last post concerning the kids' toys and games. Or not. Up until they hit puberty, it's pretty impossible to tell the two apart. It doesn't help that we keep them all shaved or that dresses are in scarce supply. That's also a healthy part of the reason it took me seven bleeding months to definitely learn all of their names. It took an entire month just to reliably tell the boys from the girls.

But I digress. The point is that it was mostly boys who played checkers and marbles and the stick game and whatnot. The girls prefer other entertainments. Like throwing balls at each other. Seriously. One girl will turn an empty cup over and stack maybe ten pebbles or so on top of it. A second girl will take six paces or so and begin throwing a ball, normally an old sock stuffed with more old socks, at it. Once it hits, she takes off running and the one waiting hurries to turn the cup back over and put all the pebbles back before grabbing the ball and chasing down the first girl. If she hits, they switch places in the next round. If she misses, she grabs the ball and tries again until she does hit the other one.

Jump rope in two variations is also common. There's the classic version with girl on each end of the rope, swinging it in a wide arc, and a girl jumping over it in the center. Then there's the one where a loop of rope is pulled taut between the waists of two girls to form parallel lines at waist height, a waist length apart. The girls passing between don't so much hop as snap their legs up to keep as level as possible.

In another game that spends most of its time going through the rubbish, the kids will pull out out every shoe polish tin, old Vaseline container, even the plastic caps of water bottles, anything that will hold water really. Then they add water. And dirt. And shreds of grass. Then they go back to the rubbish pit once we light the whole affair on fire and pull out a few burning twigs. They put them under their cups and call it cooking. Yum.

Wednesday, February 3

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: Boys and their toys

Scarcity is one of the things that I expected coming in to Nakuru. It was also one of the things I was right about. The kids don't have an awful lot. Most of them keep their clothes, their pens and pencils, their school books, their toothbrushes, their soap, their everything in a metal box that would just barely fit my stereo back in the States. In turn, a good portion of them share their box with at least one other kid. They really only have what they need. They simply don't have the space to keep toys and the other little luxuries.

There are good reasons for this. The first is that we simply don't have the budget to give them everything they ask for. The only clothes we consistently buy them are those required for school. Otherwise we are almost completely dependent on donations from their international sponsors and local churches for their clothes and toys.

The second reason is that toys don't last very long with this group. A few months ago we bought some cheap handheld games and decks of cards as requested by the Children's Office as entertainment. They didn't last the week. Buttons got stuck and cards were lost. Even good quality soccer balls have a maximum lifespan of a month here. Forget about the cheap ones. They spring leaks in a day and are completely useless by the end of the week. Except as hats. We had a checkers board for a week or two. By the end of four days, all of the pieces were broken or lost, and they resorted to using bottle caps. At the end of the week or two, they managed to split the stone board in two.

So the kids make their own toys and own games a lot of the time. They tend to do this with garbage. I appreciate that. It's rubbish. We don't want it anymore. They can break it all they want. I don't, however, so much appreciate the mess they make going through the bins and fire pit.

This the first game I can remember seeing them play. They would lay one stick across a shallow pit, maybe deep enough for half a pinkie finger. Then one child would flip it up with a second stick and hit it on the fall into a crowd of jumping kids. Sometimes one would catch it and cheer. Sometimes no one would catch it and they would cheer. If it landed on the ground, they would flip it end over end, counting until they got back to the pit. Then they would do it all over again. That's all I ever understood of the rules.

Marbles has been especially popular lately. I never played it when I was their age, but I only recognize a single variation. Four marbles or so are lined on the ground. A boy about a meter away would pull a finger back, balancing a fifth marble on the tip, and launch it, trying to knock the others out of line. That's about it. Once all the marbles are hit, they line them up and do it again. No one ever seems particularly put out in these games, though. Must be some of those where everyone wins.

Then there are the toys that the youngest, those who lack the dexterity to flick a marble or hand-eye coordination to hit a stick, play with. They make themselves, too.

Beside the chunks of scrap wood, you can see a car in Ben's arms. Yeah, that corn stalk with metal wire pushed through the end and plastic Vaseline caps on either side. That's their car. The boys will push those around for hours. They don't normally have corn stalks on hand, so the shaft is made from metal wire. I don't mind when they pull this wire out of a bin. I do mind when they pull the wire out of the toilet wells.

I've seen pictures and movies of kids playing with these in Victorian London. Never in real life. Until now. Except they don't use sticks. Just their hands. They'll chase around bucket tops as well. Anything round.

Tuesday, February 2

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: The rules

I have always had a particular fondness for the Lancelot of T.H. White's The Once and Future King. In every other telling of the legend, the man's kind of detestable. He may be the greatest knight in Camelot, but he's also its greatest playboy. He leaves his illegitimate son to be raised by monks, and his affair with the queen ultimately leads to the destruction of all that Arthur struggled for in his life.

White, however, manages to infuse Lancelot with a real degree of flawed, honest humanity to the point that he even becomes sympathetic. White's Ill-Made Knight is as ugly as a bulldog and only really good at one thing, knocking other knights off their horses and killing them. He is no brute, though. Lancelot's skill at dueling is born of his self-loathing. He never draws back to protect himself. His greatest desire is not to have the highest tilting averages but to perform a miracle. The affair, already tragic on an epic scale, becomes real. Yes, Guinevere and Lancelot love one another, but they love Arthur as well. For White, were Lancelot a good man, it never would have been an issue. He would have always recognized and respected the marriage of the king and queen. Had it been necessary, he would have abandoned the court to protect himself from the temptation. If he were an evil man, it never would have led to its unfortunate end. He would have simply stolen Guinevere from the first and left, not drawing the affair out for decades. But Lancelot is more complicated. He is not a good man but desperately wants to be so. He wavers between the two paths offered to him and, in the end, destroys Camelot.

Lancelot wants to be good. I want to be good. I try to speak honestly and act compassionately. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail. We all have our struggles. Mine is with my temper.

It flared this weekend. It was over something minor, too. The rule is that all meals must be eaten in the dining hall. We put it in place to control messes and to discourage kids from saving ugali overnight, attracting ants and whatnot. A few girls on Saturday tried to take their rice and beans out and eat in their dorms. Normally, this isn't a big deal. I watch the door and anyone coming out with a plate, I turn back. When the first came out, she had just put a handful into her mouth and was going for another scoop when she saw me and froze. She tried to say she was bringing it for a staff member. I turned her around. The second girl tried the exact same excuse and only avoided being as pathetic by not actively having her hand in the food when she said it. I turned her around too. Not a big deal. Then they flaunted it. They would try and sneak by when I looked down to take a bite and run back when I looked up. Seeing them hurrying down the stairs into the kitchen again, something sparked.

When they heard me yell and saw me coming after them, they ran. They hid in the charcoal closet. I could have slapped them. I wanted to slap them. I wanted them to be terrified of me, to never consider again for a moment that the rules, even something as mundane as where to eat, were to be treated as a game. But I had rules, too. Their half-finished plates were given to the chickens, and they had to clean all the dishes, all the kitchen, all the dining hall.

A lot of people believe that the law is necessary to protect the weak. I don't disagree with that. Laws and rules are codifications of what society and authority believe to be right and wrong, fair and unfair, to be applied to all equally. However, I think the strong need them just as much. When action is demanded in the moment, they offer an option. Established rules give the strong control. They don't want to be vicious and violent, but those may appear the only options in a temper. Arthur recognized this. Tournaments and the Grail Quest were outlets for his knights to use their skills for something greater than dominance over the weak.