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Tears, Joy and Awe in Africa

Ever walk out of a movie, chuckling at the same time you’re wiping tears of emotion from your eyes? That’s what it was like for me when my husband and I visited Africa this summer. And each time I tell someone about our marvelous adventure, I fight back tears. It was without doubt the most memorable, rewarding and moving trip in my life.

We spent ten days in Kenya, visiting the staff, students and directors of Caring Hearts High School, in Nguluni. The school is about a ninety-minute drive on bumpy, crowded roads from where we stayed in Nairobi. Our host was Dr. Vincent Kituku, president of Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope, the force behind Caring Hearts High School.

Dr. Kituku grew up in nearby Kangundo, Kenya, and now lives in Boise, Idaho. I met Vincent in Boise through Toastmasters and later edited many of his articles and two of his books.

Classrooms at Caring Hearts High School
Classrooms at Caring Hearts High School

A visit to his native Kenya in 2010, where he saw the horrendous toll AIDS and poverty were taking, prompted him to take a hiatus in his career as a professional motivational speaker and become a fundraiser. When he realized that providing scholarships for girls and boys still didn’t help those most in need, he began the quest to buy a boarding school for girls. There they could be safe and nourished.

Kenya is a country of social and economic inequities. According to Unicef, 42 percent of its 44 million people live below the poverty line. Access to basic services such as health care, education, clean water and sanitation, is a luxury for many people. Yet everywhere we visited, we were greeted with warmth and food and entertainment, and usually left bearing gifts.

On our first afternoon at Caring Hearts, the students thrilled us with a remarkable display of talent and energy—singing, dancing and

Welcome to Africa!
Welcome to Africa!

recitations. We heard from their formidable, live-in principal, Miss Pamela, and from other local board members. They,

CHHH Principal, Miss Pamela
CHHH Principal, Miss Pamela

and of course, Dr. Kituku, had inspiring and encouraging words for the girls.

We were amazed at how hard the girls work and by the sheer volume of their course load—11 subjects a day. They rise at 4:30 a.m. to work on personal studies (homework) and are in class or other structured activities, including sports, drama and music, until

Dr. Kituku on dreaming big
Dr. Kituku on dreaming big

lights out at 9:30. They may even sneak in a few minutes for TV, but I’m not sure when.

Despite their rigorous schedule, these girls are happy—they smile and giggle a lot! One day I served them lunch and couldn’t believe I needed to dole out the entire pot of Githeri, a yummy staple of

Githeri: yum!

beans and corn, for one table of hungry teenagers. They set me straight.

We spent a morning working in the garden with the students and another collecting trash with them in Nguluni, the nearest community. There the conversation was more relaxed and we got to chat about the

Me, delivering manure!
Me, delivering manure!
Collecting trash in Nguluni

differences between our country and theirs. And laugh a lot. When Mark and I asked one girl to summarize a story she’d told in their opening entertainment—we had a little difficulty hearing and understanding it—she recited it again. When Mark said, “Wow. You’re only a sophomore. Imagine when you’re a senior—you’ll be a star! She smiled with pride and said, “I’m already a star!” And indeed, she, and the other young women we were fortunate to meet, are stars. Stars that represent hope for a country mired in corruption and poverty.



Eland, zebras and buffalos

Later our group trekked six long hours by van over yet more bumpy roads to visit the Maasai Mara. The bumps were forgotten as soon as we began to see animals. Lots and lots of them

One day our adventure may be fodder for a novel. Today, it is food for my soul. If you want to learn more about Caring Hearts High School, visit their Facebook page,

What about you? Has a trip or a project changed you in a significant way?






What to Say When Readers’ To-Read Lists Need Some Help

If someone said “Nothing against women writers, but all of my favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men,” how would you respond?

My first response would be to deck the sexist annoyance! However, if I’m able to restrain myself, I might try a gentler approach.

My bookshelf smallerEven before responding, however, I’d consider whether or not it is worth the effort to convince someone to try something new. I have a friend who always orders turkey sandwiches when we go out for lunch. She does not welcome my suggestion that she try sushi, say.  Or my brother-in-law, who prefers his steak cooked beyond chewy.

Some people are not open to change.

However, a person who brings up that question either wants to provoke me or is actually open to suggestion. With the sincere person, I’d ask who those favorite authors are and what they like about the authors’ books.

Then I’d silently curse my memory for not coming up with a great list on the spot and offer to email some suggestions. I’d race home, look at my bookshelf (and my Kindle) and come up with a list. I’d send it with the reminder that these are only my impressions of the moment and that a great place to find new authors is the local public library.  I remind readers of this post that my list is way too short and includes only a few of my current reads.

I would also send them to the Sisters in Crime website’s Author Search. When I moved to the Bay Area, I sought out local authors with books set in my new community. That’s how I found Marcia Muller, whose first novel, Edwin of the Iron Shoes, became a favorite. Now that I’ve moved to Tucson, via a long and wonderful time in Boise, Idaho, I’ll be searching for local authors.

Action:  Peg Brantley, Gayle Lynds, Marcia Muller, Sara Paretsky

Police procedurals: Frankie Bailey, Deborah Crombie, Elizabeth George, Martha Grimes, Elizabeth Gunn, L.J. Sellers

Private investigators: Linda Barnes, Sue Grafton, Laura Lippman, Val McDermid

Humor: Conda Douglas, Kathy McIntosh, Kris Neri

Great characters: My list would become overwhelming!

I probably wouldn’t add the names of the many cozy writers I read and love. When someone thinks only men write the best crime novels, ya gotta bring ’em around slowly.

Yes, I would add my name to the list of recommended reading, unless I knew it simply would not be to this person’s taste. Because we as authors need to be proud of what we write and able to actually suggest that a reader buy our books.

You probably have oodles of authors to suggest and I so welcome your thoughts.

This blog post was inspired and created for the Sisters In Crime bloghop. You can find out more here,

You may have hopped here on the advice of my dear friend and fellow writer Conda Douglas, whose name is on my list of humorous authors. Her Starke series is a hoot. If you haven’t yet read it, her post contains great advice for new authors. Make that for all authors.