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June 1, 2006

The Weekly Wrap

SoHum chef Raymond Thoya's safaris help orphans in Africa

The Weekly Wrap

DEER SAVER: Maybe Ranger Bob Murphy gets a bad rap. He's been vilified as that ticket-issuing ogre by the loose-dog-consorting humans who wander the Arcata Community Forest while their unleashed canines romp and poop at will. And some people, perhaps miffed at being booted from illegal campsites in the forest, have called him mean — note this nugget from an April 2005 report from a focus group at the Arcata Homeless Night Shelter: "Arcata also has negative or bad qualities that the participants expressed. First was `Ranger Bob' who threw a pail of cold water on a sleeping homeless individual in the woods. He was characterized as `mean' and the tone used to describe him by several individuals was indicative of his perceived callousness."

But last Friday? Ranger Bob, he rocked. Well, he tackled — an 80-pound young injured deer that, at midday, had lacerated its forelegs to the bone after leaping through the sliding glass door of a Sunnybrae apartment. The Arcata Police Department sent Ranger Bob to its rescue, and Ranger Bob ordered backup from a Wildlife Care Center volunteer, Amanda Auston.

On Tuesday, Ranger Bob was off-duty, so Auston, at her job at Arcata Pet, recounted the tale. She said by the time she got out to the site on Samoa Boulevard, a crowd had gathered and the hurt deer was hiding in the bushes. A young male with still a couple of spots left, it had apparently wandered confusedly into an apartment, then freaked out and leaped through the glass. Ranger Bob got his snare out and went after it in the bushes. "And it jumped over him and onto the second-story balcony of an apartment, about 12 feet up or so," said Auston. So Ranger Bob ran up the stairs after it. The deer, sensibly, bucked like a horse and flailed its sharp little hind hooves at Ranger Bob — who came away with impressive bruises on his arms and legs, said Auston. But he nabbed the deer, and Auston, who'd run up after him, threw a towel over its head so it would calm down.

Long story short: Auston found a vet to stitch up the deer, then she brought the big, frustrated, feisty, cage-ramming young deer home for the night to let it recover from the anesthesia. (She's trained, she's an HSU wildlife grad, she's worked with vets — in other words, she doesn't encourage just anyone to take in a wild animal.) The next evening Auston released the deer into the forest near the Jacoby Creek School. The self-absorbing sutures will take care of themselves.

But what about Ranger Bob? Was he nice?

"He's always been a really nice guy when it comes to bringing me hurt animals," Auston said. He's brought her cormorants and loons injured on the highway, and other critters. "When he came to help me take the deer to the vet, he said to me, `You know, it's funny, I go hunting all the time, but if I see something that's injured, I feel like I have to help it.'"

Still, that didn't stop the Arcata PD from infusing its news release on the deer incident with a faint air of criminality: "Ranger Bob was able to take the deer into custody without further injury...." You want to ask if it passed the sobriety test, or if it had any outstanding warrants.

Anyway. Good job, Bob.

— Heidi Walters


DA'S NEW SUIT: If District Attorney Paul Gallegos' lawsuit is an indicator of the quality of care available at local nursing homes, you might think twice before sending grandpa to Granada or the other four area facilities owned by Skilled Healthcare. The legal complaint alleges that the nursing homes — Granada, Eureka Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, Pacific Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, Sea View Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center and St. Luke's have an "unacceptably high number of complaints, deficiencies and citations" and that the facilities have not met state-mandated staffing levels requiring patients receive personal care for 3.2 hours per day, every day. Quoth the May 25 press release: "The District Attorney seeks a court order that requires the facilities to raise their staffing levels ... and asks for statutory penalties for past violations." Devin Shelby, regional manager for Skilled Healthcare, said that the first he heard of the DA's lawsuit was from local reporters. "[The District Attorney's office] has not contacted us whatsoever, nor served us with papers," Shelby said. "If there had been a real concern, honestly, on the DA's part, I think there probably would have been some communication." For previous coverage on Eureka nursing homes see the Journal's award-winning investigative story from November 2000: "Nursing Home Neglect."

Helen Sanderson


INN BUSINESS?: Rumors have attached themselves to the Scotia Inn before, like the one about Julia Butterfly Hill sneaking down from her tree to feast on corned beef at the hotel's dining room. The latest back-fence talk is that the Inn — previously the lone source of nightlife in the tiny town — is back in business after having been shuttered for the past two years.

Not exactly, says Palco. "We are open only for special events, like weddings or class reunions, not for dining and lodging," said Kathy Wigginton, Palco's community relations manager, on Tuesday. In 2004 the 22-room Inn closed after its management company, Humboldt Hospitality & Entertainment, faced bankruptcy and defaulted on its lease. Since then, much cleaning has taken place, the garden has been redone and new bedding bought. Currently, the lumber company is in the process of securing a liquor license for the establishment, and plans to hire a chef in the near future, though Wigginton could not pin down a date for an official reopening. She assured us a media release would be issued if and when anything exciting happens.

— Helen Sanderson


CORRECTIONS: Last week's story on Measure T, a campaign finance reform bill that will appear on the June 6 ballot, misstated the amount businessman Bill Pierson, his family and his companies donated to the reelection campaign of Eureka City Councilmember Chris Kerrigan in 2004. The figure of $20,000 given in the article was significantly high; in fact, the number is slightly more or less than half that, depending on whether the donations made by employees of Pierson's are taken into account.

In addition, a round-up of local Farmers' Markets in last week's "Talk of the Table" column inadvertently left out the Tuesday market at Wildberries Marketplace in Arcata. The Wildberries Farmers' Market runs from 3:30-6:30 p.m. each Tuesday, from now until the end of October. The Journal regrets the errors.



SoHum chef Raymond Thoya's safaris help orphans in Africa


photo of Raymond ThoyaWhen Raymond Thoya (pictured at right) was a 5 year-old boy in rural eastern Kenya, he was tending his father's goats one day when he heard a cry of distress. A hyena was dragging a bleeding goat between its legs off into the bush. Raymond's grandfather had told him about hyenas, how if he came upon one in the bush, he'd need to run toward it, yell and show no fear. Otherwise, it would attack him. So Raymond ran toward the animal, waving his arms and screaming with all his might. But the animal took one look back at skinny little Raymond, paid him no mind and dragged his prize away into the bush.

Later, after his father had arrived and examined the prints on the ground, Raymond asked him whether he'd done the right thing by scaring the hyena away. "It wasn't a hyena," his father told him. "It was a lion."

Now 52 and living in southern Humboldt, Thoya is co-owner of Humboldt Natural Foods (along with Peter Connelly, owner of Calico's Café in Garberville), but his connection with his homeland has never flagged. Earlier this year, I went on a safari in Kenya, a life-long dream for me. The safari was one of many Thoya has led for the last several years, as a benefit for an orphanage he founded there four years ago, the Thoya-Oya Childrens Centre. Though he's come a long way from his rural village in Kenya, his life remains firmly rooted in two cultures that literally could not be farther apart.

Raymond Thoya was born in 1954 in a small village outside of Malindi, in eastern Kenya. By the time he was 5, he'd learned how to carve, to weave hats, baskets, and sleeping mats, to milk and herd goats, to look after his younger siblings, grow vegetables, hunt rabbits and birds and to harvest and dry fruit to be sold at market. In short, "things he'd need to know to be a man."

When he was 6 years old, his father died of tuberculosis. Soon after his father's death, seeing that his mother couldn't afford to feed all her children, 6-year-old Raymond, the oldest of the four children, left home in search of a job. He had an uncle who was a goat herder in Mambrui, a Muslim town on the coast, about 20 miles from his village. For his first paying job as goat herder little Raymond was paid 15 shillings a week, which he sent home to his mother and siblings, whom he would help support for many years to come.

About a year later, homeless and hungry, Raymond met a Swiss couple living near the beach in Malindi. Alfred Ruesch had won an Olympic Gold Medal for Switzerland in the 1930s for horseback riding — dressage and jumping. The Ruesches, who were childless, took Raymond under their wing, and included the 7-year-old in a team of four children whom he trained to ride, jump and do acrobatics on horseback in synchronized performances. The team dressed in brightly colored outfits and performed in several shows a year in Nairobi and Malindi before large crowds. He was paid for the performances, and continued to send much-needed money home to his siblings.

Ria and Alfred Ruesch raised Raymond as their son. When he was 10, Ria, who'd been a language teacher in Switzerland, took Raymond out of school and began home-schooling him. Meanwhile, under Alfred's tutelage, Raymond developed into a very skilled rider. In 1968, at age 14, he won the National Junior Championship in Kenya for dressage and jumping, the first black to win this title in Kenya. (Although he qualified for the Olympics, an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease in Kenya prevented him from taking his champion horse out of the country, and he was unable to participate).

When Raymond was 16, he and the Rueschs, moved to Nairobi, Kenya's capital city, and started the largest riding school in Eastern Africa, with 150 horses and 50 employees. Even though he was still a teenager, Raymond managed the employees and served as head riding instructor.

For two years Raymond's life revolved around the riding school and competitions in Kenya and other African countries, but it was to take yet another dramatic turn. Although he had lived apart from his birth family and tribe in eastern Kenya for nearly all his life, he was presented with a choice that would sharply test his loyalty to his heritage. He would have to decide whether to undergo the rite of passage that was required of all males in his tribe. When two of his uncles came to Nairobi to take him back to his village to be initiated into adulthood, Raymond chose to go back and participate in the three-month ritual.

First the young men went through a few weeks of training to learn how to slay a lion using a spear, the act that would mark the successful conclusion of the ritual. But before they could attempt that feat there were other painful steps to be endured. Without the benefit of anesthesia, Raymond and five other boys were circumcised by an elder using a sharp knife, as two men on either side of them held them still. Then they were taken to a remote area, where they would survive by eating the animals they would hunt. They were given a herbal mixture to drink designed to induce nightmares and hallucinations. Until they were able to go through more than a night without crying out in fear from the dreams, they would not be allowed to hunt a lion.

Of the six boys in Raymond's group, three were never deemed ready to slay a lion because of their fear, one was eaten by the lion he attempted to slay, and one speared the lion but allowed it to escape. Raymond was the only one who actually killed the lion with the use of a spear and a machete.

When the lion dies, it chokes out a hairball. The hairball is allowed to dry, then put into a small medicine pouch made of hide and resin with herbs and hair from the lion's mane. The medicine pouch is then beautifully beaded and is worn around the neck to protect the wearer from evil spirits. It's called a "Moyo WaSimba," which means "lion's heart."

Raymond returned to the village a hero and the tribe celebrated his accomplishment. In keeping with the tribal custom, a marriage was arranged between Raymond and a young woman from his village. She and Raymond moved into a traditional grass hut, and nine months later they had a baby girl. Unfortunately, though, it was becoming increasingly clear to Raymond that his ambitions were larger than what could ever be accommodated in the confines of the tribal life, and his wife was a very traditional Giriama young woman, who was not open to learning anything different. So he made the decision to leave the village and his marriage, although with a vow to support his daughter until she was grown. At the age of 19, he returned to Nairobi and resumed his duties at the riding school.

In 1973, Ria and Alfred decided to sell the school and move back to Switzerland to be with Ria's ailing parents. They offered to take Raymond with them and put him through school at an equestrian college. So he went to live with them in Switzerland and attended the college, where he earned his credentials to teach internationally. After four years there, he returned to Malindi to teach and coach competitive riders and runners. One of the runners he coached became a five-time world champion and a silver medalist at the Olympics in Seoul. Another one of his riding students was Jane Kenyatta, the daughter of Jomo Kenyatta, the legendary president of post-colonial Kenya.

Raymond continued to expand his horizons. In 1980, at the age of 26, Raymond met a German expatriate living in Nairobi named Rolff Schmitt who was a chef at an upscale restaurant. In exchange for teaching Schmitt's daughter how to ride, Schmitt taught Raymond how to cook. He took flying lessons and got his pilot's license. He took up judo, and eventually received a second-degree black belt. He had a chance to represent his country in a national distance running competition, until a riding accident interrupted his training. Working for Schmitt's restaurant and catering business he helped feed the cast and crew on several movie sets in Kenya, most notably that of Gorillas in the Mist and Out of Africa.

After three years in the restaurant business, he accepted an offer by Safaris Unlimited to lead horseback and Range Rover safaris through the beautiful terrain of Kenya's nature and wild game reserves. It was on one of these two-week safaris he lead that Raymond met Hillary Shea, from Fort Bragg, California. Shea is the organizer of the World Ride and Tie Championship, a sport that combines trail running, endurance riding and strategy. Shea, who is a two-time world champion of the sport, also breeds and sells Russian horses on her ranch outside Mendocino. Impressed by Raymond's riding style, she invited him to a race in Santa Cruz. Raymond took her up on the offer. His team came in fifth of the 125 teams in that first race. He liked California and decided to stay, work on Shea's ranch, and race. At the end of his first year here, he had placed first in the 25-mile course of the 12th Annual Mendocino 50 and 25 Mile Endurance Rides.

Over the next couple years, he taught judo at the Mendocino Recreation Center while working in local restaurants and cafes. He worked at Café Beaujolais in Mendocino, and then opened his own restaurant in Fort Bragg. He was married for five years while living in Fort Bragg and had another child.

In 1996, at age 42, Raymond decided to take a break and go back to Africa to visit family and friends. War was raging in Central Africa and, after visiting family, he decided to join a caravan of Red Cross and United Nations trucks going to Rwanda to bring food and medical attention, and to assess how well the refugees were being protected. When their caravan rolled up to the refugee camp, they found the camp had run out of food three days before and it was total mayhem. "The UN Forces were like bulldogs with no teeth," Raymond told me. "They were completely outnumbered. It was all terrible. That was the turning point for me. All I wanted to focus on was stopping the violence and being a part of the healing of Africa."

The next morning he caught a ride with a convoy that was returning to Nairobi. From there he went back to Malindi determined to start an orphanage to save African children from violence and starvation, and give them comfort, education and a chance to lead a better life. Having formed a board of directors in Kenya, he flew back to Mendocino and in his typical bi-continental fashion formed a U.S. board made up of Hillary Shea and some of his other friends in Northern California.

In the year 2000 the Thoya-Oya Childrens Centre was opened in a four-bedroom upstairs flat in Malindi. Today there are nine orphaned children from ages 7 to 13 who are now being fed, nurtured, educated and protected from harm in a new house with lots of room, a fenced yard to play in with fruit trees and a big front porch. They go to the local school each day, and are all in the top 10 percent of their classes. "It's wonderful to know that we are making a difference in the lives of nine children who were homeless and destitute," Raymond said, "but there are still so many more."

There's an abandoned resort outside of Malindi. It needs a little work, but it has four large buildings on it that could house as many as 65 children. It sits on a few acres, enough for a big garden and maybe even horses. It will take $120,000 — a formidable challenge — but Raymond Thoya, who bravely charged a lion at the age of 5, is clearly not daunted by challenges.





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