Monday, August 22, 2011

My first visit with Baby Mahafavor Mumbi

Holding Baby Maha in my arms outside the house Mary shares with her grandmother. I've seen walk-in closets in the states that are bigger than Mary's house.

I love babies...Anyone who knows me well, knows that I love babies.

It's a mystery to my mother as to why she doesn't have grandbabies... it's actually a mystery to me too. But one of us (mainly me) is at peace with it.

That doesn't mean I don't enjoy every minute with the little bundles of joy who pass through my life.

Last Thursday I rode for 20 minutes down a rutted road and then further into the bush on what could barely pass for a footpath in the same vehicle - Kenyans will drive anywhere - to visit yet another beautiful bundle of joy, Mahafavor Mumbi.

Her mother Mary Kathambi is 15-years-old and has AIDS. She was infected from birth and both her parents died from complications to AIDS. I met her about 6 years ago. Her grandmother, Ruth, asked me to take her to the doctor because she was sick. Mary was covered with the AIDS rash. But I'm not a doctor so I took Mary and her grandmother to the hospital. Mary had a CD4 count of 3. The doctor said she shouldn't even have been walking with a CD4 count that low. Mary had walked 2 hours to get to where I lived so I could take her to the doctor... I looked at the doctor and said, "This little girl is a survivor. Give her ARVs, she'll make it." And she has. I took Mary to Ripples International, a Kenyan non-profit the does HIV/AIDS awareness, education and intervention. Mary received counseling, food support, ARVs and was part of a group of other kids with HIV/AIDS.

Part of the reason she made it this far is because she is unbelievably stubborn! Her grandmother is illiterate and told Mary that she couldn't have children, so Mary's getting pregnant was simply a way to prove her grandmother wrong. No thought of the consequences - of how her life would be forever altered. Ripples saw to it that she had good pre-natal care and there is a good chance that Maha does not have HIV.

A group of women from First Presbyterian Church in St. Cloud, MN donated some baby items and money for Maha and Mary. Judie and I brought the baby items to Mary when we visited her last week. She was thrilled.

Maha got fussy right after we arrived so Mary poured milk from a thermos into a sippy-cup and proceeded to feed her two-month and three day old daughter, we supplied a bib donated from MN. She tried one of the bottles we brought, but Maha was used to the sippy-cup so Mary reverted to plan A. Mary, Judie and the social worker who came with us from Ripples, Florence, proceeded to change Maha's diaper and clothes and then more photos followed.

Her grandmother insisted that we stay for "tea". Mary also brought an avocado. So we had hot chocolate (without milk) and avocado slices.

Neighbors who had seen me around from time to time dropped by to nicely tell me it had been a long time since I visited and to please come more often! We spent about two hours with Maha, Mary and Ruth. It's always hard to leave because they live in such poverty. It breaks my heart to leave them. I can't explain it, but this time I felt a sort of peace. This family is in God's hands - he has a plan for their lives. He brought them into my life and I will forever be grateful for being able to be the bridge for God's healing hand. I don't know what's next... but I will follow wherever God leads.

Judie holds Baby Maha shortly after we arrive at Mary's house.

Mary and Maha

Mary's grandmother, Ruth

Mary feeding Maha on the bed she shares with her grandmother and Maha in her small house in Nkubane, Meru District, Kenya. The newspaper on the walls is put up to cover the spaces between the boards that let air pass through. Meru is in the foothills of Mt. Kenya and colder than other regions of the country.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Silver-plated infared BB gun and man in turban

I'm guessing the title of this blog made you double take and click! So I won't keep you in suspense further...

At night, nearly every night, there is a chorus of dogs that bark at heaven knows what for what seems like an endless expanse of time. And it doesn't just happen once per night.

So on one rather sleepless night I thought of how I could eradicate this vicious interuption of my sleep: a silver-plated infared BB gun. Why silver-plated? No reason really, I'm not fond of gold, so as accessories go, silver would go with more outfits (even if they are pajamas). Why infared? That's easy. There are no street lights in my neighborhood. At night it's inky black outside. Why a BB gun? I'm not a violent person by nature. But if you mess with my sleep you might be get shot in the bum by a silver-plated infared BB gun!

Now on a more serious note.

A friend gave me her no-longer-useful-to-her BlackBerry. Never having had a "fancy" phone, I was beyond thrilled!

However in order to use said fancy phone in Kenya, you have to get it unlocked so it will work here. Supposedly the only place you can do that is Nairobi. So on Wednesday before boarding a shuttle to Meru with Judie, we got the phone unlocked.

We got off the bus from Ngong to Nairobi at the Ambassador Hotel/Tom Boya Street stage (stop) and I asked the doorman at the Ambassador Hotel if he knew where I could find a place that unlocks phones... I knew it was somewhere near Tom Boya street because I'd already gotten that information from someone else. He didn't know, but told me to ask the bellman.

The bellman asked what kind of phone I had and then told me he had a friend who did that and he would take me to his stall on Accra Street. "I'm on my way to Accra Street now," I said. "Can you give me directions?" This is a risky you are most often told 'it's just over there.' Which could mean 10 feet or 10 blocks.

But the bellman said, "When you get to Accra street you will see Flush Dry Cleaners and next store is a SONY story. Go inside and on the right when you walk in the door there is a man with a turban - he will unlock your phone for you. Tell him Shadrack sent you. He is my friend." Luckily for us he told us the name of the dry cleaner because there was another dry cleaner and another SONY store right next to the ones for which we were looking.

We found Flush and then the man in the turban and our phone was fixed and we were on our way in 15 minutes. While waiting the other employees in the store joked that the man fixing my phone was now an "international engineer."

There are phone books in Kenya but I don't know anybody who actually uses them. Why would you, when there is a bellman with turban-wearing- international-engineer-friend waiting to assist you?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Happiness is being where you belong!

Arrived well!Flights - uneventful! Met young woman moving to Mombasa site unseen - never having been to the continent to teach math to little rich kids at Aga Khan Academy. I told her when she's ready to learn about the real Kenya she can come to visit me. And when I need a break from the real Kenya - I'll go to visit her!

Walked out of international arrivals at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport into a rain storm. There is definitely not a drought in Southern Kenya! The street to Grace's house is a rutted muddy mess. Walking up and down it is hazardous, much less driving! (Note to Mom: care package item #1: mud boots - the one's you told me to bring... only I didn't!)

Arrived at the King'atua family compound at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday night. Judie, my daughter, and Sammy, Grace's son opened the gate for our car (one of Grace's neighbor's came to pick me up.) Omondi, my 10-year-old son, was waiting for me with a big bear hug! Judie, my 22-year-old daughter who didn't know how to give a hug when I met her, put her arms around me and didn't let go. It took quite a few years but I think she's finally an expert at the art of hug giving! I had slept a combined 3 hours in the past 24 hours. Grace had made food and everyone but the children had waited to eat with me. Never mind that I wasn't hungry and very groggy!

I finally made it to bed around mid-night. Thankful, I slept through the night, but still felt as it my head was in a bubble when I awoke the next morning. Grace took Omondi to church so I could rest and Judie could take care of me. I slept from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and woke up feeling more like a human being than I had in probably a week.

I went to visit Gladys, Sammy's very pregnant wife, we talked for a few hours until Grace came home from church (yes, they were there most of the day), and then Grace's nephew Benson joined us, unannounced. He spent the night at Sammy and Gladys's as their other children are staying with grandparents until after the baby is born. Benson is a policeman in Nairobi. Three months ago his wife gave birth, the baby died in the hospital. I told Benson how sorry I was to hear about his baby. Then I said, Benson, God will bless you with a family. And Benson said, we're working on that now... and smiled from ear to ear.

Judie and I finally went to bed around 10 p.m. and watched the movie The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants...very quietly so that we wouldn't disturb anyone else in the house. That included, Grace and John in their room, Ruth, a student Wezesha supports on the couch, Nyambura, Grace's 6-year-old granddaughter who slept on two chairs pushed together and Omondi who sleeps on a cot in the living room. All three rooms were full!

Today Judie, Omondi and Nyambura and I slipped and slid our way up to Ngong Road to take a matatu to Karen to buy the much needed new mattress and other supplies. After lying on a plethera of mattresses Judie and I finally decided on one. I called James, the nieghbor who had brought me from the airport and he came and picked us all up... Judie and Omondi rode on the mattresses in the boot of the car. Nyambura sat in my lap in the front seat. With all the baby talk happening at home... Nyambura loves to be the center of attention and the "small" child when she's out with my family.

We got home and situated the mattress in the bed frame that required us to break a sweat as the regulation 4x6 mattress (something akin to a super single) is just a wee bit too long for the frame. Yes, I sleep with my daughter in a tiny bed... she loves it. I tolerate it because she is only home a few months a year.

Then we headed down to the farm with another driver that we know to see the kids. Can I just say that they have all grown at least a foot in the last five months... I kid you not - rainy season doesn't just grow plants - it grows kids too!

We hitched back to town from the farm... it's not like what you think of hitch hiking, most of the vehicles coming by are neighbors and they stop and give you a ride if they have room. We crowded into the back seat of a white Toyota Carolla (car of choice in Kenya)and were given a free ride to town. Much better than the 700 shilling ride down with the mattress in the back of the car.

Grace has been updating me during breakfast and dinner about the kids and the projects. We will start work in earnest in a couple of weeks. First I will get my kids back to school and the house I will be living in organized. I will also try to find some Swahili classes. I'm bound and determined to learn this language. It wouldn't be nearly so hard if everyone didn't speak English so well!

Right now the tinge of jet-lag that grabs hold in the afternoon is making my eyelids heavy and my fingers clumsy. I'm off to collect my kids from the market (not exactly a soccer game but a motherly duty nonetheless).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What? Too Busy to Blog? Never!

I meant to blog this morning…then again, I meant to run this morning too. The running is not going to get done today. But if I can get this blog written and my car packed for tomorrow, I might get a run in early tomorrow morning! Tomorrow is Wednesday.

Every Wednesday this summer I’ve had a booth with my friends Rosemond and Isaac Owens at Summertime By George. It’s a music festival at Lake George in downtown St. Cloud. We’ve had unpleasant weather most of the nights. Last week was perfect however, except for a few nasty mosquitoes at the very end of the evening. The Owens own a catering business called Kalahari Foods. They grill Soya Khebabs and sell peanut brizzle and I sell my photo greeting cards and Kenyan curios. It’s a great way to let the community know about Nomadic Chameleon Missions. Rosemond and Isaac raised money through the sale of peanut brizzle this summer to buy a computer for Wezesha By Grace, the organization I work with in Kenya! They currently manage without a computer!

In other good news – I have raised sufficient funds to receive the $2000 from the grant I applied for through the Presbytery. I don’t have an official count on the funds, but between one-time donations and pledges I can finally exhale. A BIG thank you to everyone who has stepped up and out in faith to join me on this journey. I feel so blessed to be able to do this work and to have friends and family who are willing to support me.

As the days until I leave tick down – packing and insomnia begin. The biggest problem I have before I travel is getting my brain to turn off. I’m in go-mode 24/7. My brain is constantly adding items to the mental “to do” list and then before I put pen to paper, I’ve forgotten what it is I needed to add to said list. By the way, where did I put that list?

Being a veteran traveler, you would think I would have appropriate luggage, but no! I tend to travel light so this time my luggage is too small. Packing is now at a standstill until I can buy some more (very large) luggage. Packing requires space. In my parents’ house that means the living room. It currently looks like something exploded. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very organized – everything is zip-locked into the appropriate baggie with like products. No, I don’t need medication…if you did this as often as I do, you’d have a system too. However, it is the living room and I do take it over for at least 3 days and sometimes up to 5 days!

To make up for this, I cooked my parent’s dinner tonight. Quinoa topped with tomato sauce, sautéed peppers and onions and beet greens and fried eggs. It was good. But I’m excited to trade my chef hat for my travel wings. Kenya – here I come!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

12 Days...

(Written on Monday, August 1...posted on Tuesday, August 7)

Sitting in my room in my easy chair listening to some Doug Little Cuban-inspired jazz and the rain outside my window. In 12 days, at this time, I will be flying off to Montreal on the first leg of my journey to Kenya. What will the next 12 days bring?
1) Additional funds… I’ll be on the phone and email asking friends and family who haven’t had a chance to donate yet to PLEASE do it soon! I have received a grant for $2000 that is contingent on my having raised $15,000. I’m at about 12,500, so I have some work to do! Hopefully money will still be donated after I’ve left for Kenya… but I have to have the $15,000 by August 10 – to get the $2000 from the grant. This is a really great “problem” to have!!!

2) Shopping – ugh!...I make no bones about it. I HATE shopping. But there are a few items I cannot get in Kenya and therefore have to purchase in bulk before leaving.
a. Lara Bars – my gluten free salvation…wish I could ship them over by the truckload!
b. Cetaphil skin products – I had third degree burns on my face in college and can only use one brand of cleanser and moisturizer.
c. Sandals – I have very narrow feet and Kenyan shoes were NOT made for my feet
d. Orbit Sweet Mint gum - Kenyan gum leaves SO much to be desired and I have to have gum in my mouth when I run up and down in the Rift Valley. And anytime you’re in transit you inhale a considerable amount of dust. You can get Halls in Kenya… but they taste a little different.
e. “American” stuff for my kids – Judie and Omondi don’t ask for much but they love anything that comes from where I come from. I go to thrift stores and buy them clothes and shoes. I get books, games and soccer balls on sale here and there or as donations from friends. Thanks Kayla for the soccer balls and pump. This year the Wezesha kids have requested Harry Potter books 5, 6, and 7. If any one has those and would like to donate them please let me know.

3) Two more Summertime By George events. Kalahari Foods has generously given me space in their booth at Summertime By George every Wednesday night at Lake George in downtown, St. Cloud, to promote my missionary work in Kenya by selling photo greeting cards I make, aprons made by my friend Hannah in Kenya and other Kenyan handicrafts. Rosemond and Isaac Owens own Kalahari Foods and serve goat and chicken soya khebobs at the event besides selling their famous Peanut Brizzle. They give a portion of their proceeds for the peanut brizzle to my mission! And will use those proceeds to buy a computer for Wezesha By Grace, the faith-based organization I work with in Kenya.

4) Dealing with the details…for the sale of greeting cards, the recording of donations, sending of funds, Thank you cards and emails, etc., etc., etc. This part is way too long and boring to explain. And it will take up most of my time!

5) Chauffer duties – I get to serve as a chauffer for my friend Audrey this week and my friend Barb next week. They have both been wonderful role models and are strong, take charge kinda gals. But everybody needs a hand sometimes and I am honored to be able to do something for them after all they have given me.

6) PACKING! – I happen to be very good at packing. I’ve been putting stuff in a plastic bin since I returned home last March. It’s my “can’t forget to bring this to Kenya” bin. Two weeks ago I had to start a second bin. So today was “day one” of packing. All non-essential-essential stuff was packed. This is the stuff I’m bringing for other people or that I won’t need right away, such as donated supplies for baby Maha and a mat for sleeping on the floor of a Masai hut. A little more than ½ a suitcase is already full. The good news is, I have friends coming to Kenya in October and they think they will be able to bring a suitcase for me! YEAH! You can only have two… more than that requires a “donation” to Delta Airlines of your right arm, left foot, youngest child and $200. So, I’m exaggerating a bit… but it certainly feels like that. I left a lot of my things in Kenya when I was last there, but I went through my books this morning and there are quite a few I would like to take with me. Yes, I do have a Kindle. But I also have friends and a third suitcase so my “hands on paper” book fetish might just get fulfilled!

7) Find a doctor who will answer my questions and not charge me… I have no medical insurance, but I do have a suspicious mole – the last one I had got scratched and became a staph infection; and a painful hip – to the point where it has kept me from running – now that’s bad! Very little keeps me from running…with the exception of incredibly humid weather conditions…hmmm…guess I haven’t been running too much anyway. This whole growing old business really sucks!

8) Spend some quality time with my friends and family – I’ll try to spend some time at extended family’s cabin on Clearwater Lake. Our modem works better there anyway. Mom is finally going to ditch Verizon! I think we’re going to use Meltel which is what all of Kimball uses – it’s about time we get onboard. I will have a Tracfone when I return. So keep your eyes peeled for a new cell number. Or try reaching me at my parents’ farm. This Sunday, August 7, First Presbyterian Church is having a little going away shindig for me after church about 10:45 a.m. Feel free to stop by! I’d love to see you.

The rain has stopped. Doug Little has concluded his groove. Time to get started on this list. Blogging will hopefully be a weekly endeavor – so visit to read the blog archive.