Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Christmas, etc.


Every culture has its own food. When you grow up with it you think nothing of eating lutefisk or haggis, but the rest of the world may not have your taste buds… thus it is with Omena.

Omena are tiny fish that you eat - scales, eyeballs and all. They are dried and then fried and they smell…lets just say, I’d rather spend a whole day in a garbage dump then anywhere near the smell of frying omena.

Omena cooking on the jiko in the backyard!

My son is a Luo. That’s a tribe in Kenya that lives near Lake Victoria and whose main staple diet is omena. Never having eaten it, I let him by 80 shillings worth (about a cup and a 1/2) of omena one day before Christmas. It stunk in the market when we bought it so I made him carry it home instead of putting it in my cloth shopping bag. The smell was making Judie and I nauseated so I told him he would have to cook it on the jiko (charcoal stove) in the back yard.

Even though Omondi said he knew how to cook omena, his big sister helped him out.

Little did we know that omena when cooked is much worse smelling than before it’s cooked. Needlesstosay, my poor son was asked to eat his supper in the back yard! And was told in no uncertain terms that the only place he would eat omena was when he went to visit his grandmother in Nyaoga. Living in a cross-cultural family does mean making sacrifices…but this is one I’m not prepared to make!

More for less

While the economy bounds out of control, and people everywhere are complaining about rising costs… I have to say that in comparison to what I would pay at home for the amount of food I bought in the market the Wednesday before Christmas I am exceedingly grateful to be in a place where good food is plentiful and cheap!

Judie and I were just barely able to carry all this food the mile home from the market. All the vegetables and fruits in the photo below cost a total of about $8 USD.

A lot of produce for just $8!

Apartment shopping

No rental brokers exist for apartments here. It takes a lot of shoe leather to find a good apartment and some friends who’ll keep their eyes open. The next problem is that there are a huge number of apartment buildings that are only partially constructed. Builders run out of money and instead of selling the property as is so that someone else can finish the building they wait until they have money. I’ve seen ivy growing on the scaffolding outside unfinished apartment buildings. It’s not just one or two here or there – they are everywhere. We have looked at a lot of two bedroom apartments, but nothing that was workable. Judie would like her own room even though she’s in boarding school. I don’t blame her, but three bedrooms are hard to find.

We found a nice once that is under construction, but who knows when they will finish…they supervisor said they would be ready for occupancy the end of January, but with the construction track record in this town I don’t want to wait around.

Apartments are relatively cheap. A two bedroom rents for around $150 to $170 a month plus utilities. A three bedroom usually starts around $180.

But you have to have all your own appliances, which is where the cost comes in.
We currently live (all three of us during school breaks) in Grace and John’s house in town. It’s a tiny two bedroom. We have one bedroom in the house. The room is about 12x6. Omondi sleeps in the living room. Judie and I sleep in a 4x6 bed in my room. Grace and John stay at their farm in the Rift Valley most of the time, but once every week or two they spend a night or a few nights here with us usually unannounced.

We only have running water two days a week here and we haven’t even had that for the last month.

More space is definitely needed. When I was running regularly I didn’t feel so claustrophobic but the walls seem to be closing in…here’s hoping God guides us to a new home in the New Year.

Footnote: We looked at another 3-bedroom apartment yesterday. It was huge and only $180 a month. The problem is that there are only four other apartments in the unit and one is rented by an American man married to a Kenyan woman. They have already been robbed once at this location and have only been there four five months. So having two mzungus living in the same building means we would be an even bigger target! There is no guard at the gate or even dogs in the compound.

We saw a two bedroom today. It was small and a bit far from town, but the owner turned out to be a great guy. He works for a joint government/EU project and is does ministry with high school youth. He said he would be interested in being on the board of Wezesha By Grace! Where God closes a door - he opens a window!

The apartment search however continues!


I met with Grace about a week before Christmas and we agreed that the King’atua family would spend Christmas apart. Each with their own family or friends - (We had just had everyone together at the Celebration of Thanksgiving on December 10.) But there were two older orphans who had nowhere to go.

“I’ll take them!” I said..

Ruth and I getting in the Christmas spirit.

Omondi also got in on the Christmas spirit.

Raymond and Ruth came Friday night and Judie and I made dinner and then we read our Advent Calendar text and scripture for the 23rd and then I let them open the gift I’d bought for my kids. The board game, “Life.” We had a blast playing the game. I’d forgotten how fun board games can be.

On the matatu on the way to visit friends on Christmas Eve.

My friend Wawira and her husband Joe had invited all five of us over for Christmas Eve. They live in an estate in Nairobi, so we all piled into a matatu Christmas Eve morning and headed to their home, which is right next to Kenyatta Market (a big open air market with everything under the sun for sale).

Judie was in need of a new pair of sneakers and there were some vendors selling used sneakers near the street so we took a look. The first vender wanted $30 for a pair of used Nikes. We said no thanks and went to the next vendor. That vendor started at $25 but I talked him down to $15. And we walked out with an almost new pair of Merrill sport shoes…I whispered to Judie as we were walking away… We just bought shoes that cost around $100 in the US for $15! A Christmas miracle indeed.

The Merrills Miracle!

We continued on to Wawira’s house. She has two children. Ivy who is 14 and Matt who is 4. They are both characters. The kids watched a movie while Wawira and her mother and I cooked lunch.

We ate outside in their courtyard and were accosted by monkeys’ - about four of them who were looking for a handout. There is a game park the borders Nairobi and the monkeys discovered long ago that stolen food is plentiful and easy to come by. You don’t leave your back door open if you live where Wawira does or you will have uninvited guests. The kids had a good time watching the monkeys and guarding their desserts.

Monkeys are big fans of mango.

This mama and her baby are leaning over the porch roof above my head.

They even strike a nice pose in black and white.

Mama and baby sitting on the fence in front of the house.

Christmas Eve lunch in the courtyard at Wawira and Joe's.

Wawira and I relaxing after sending the kids to buy ice cream!

At about 6pm they drove us to a bus stage so we could catch a matatu home. There was a movie theatre at the shopping complex by the bus stage so we decided to go check out what was playing. The movie “New Year’s Eve” was playing at 7:10pm so we stayed for the movie. Raymond, Ruth and Omondi had never been to a movie theatre before. Judie had only been once with me last Christmas. It was a very fun day.

On Christmas I got up early and was throwing the tea grounds out when I saw my neighbor Githingi in the yard. His wife Hannah had a baby boy on Christmas Eve. I congratulated him and asked him what they named the baby. “Joel!”

I said every so proudly. “That’s my dad’s name.”

Well Githingi said, “Then you have a father in the compound.”

We went to church. It was a combined service. Meaning it was done entirely in Swahili (They usually have an English service and a Swahili service after that). So I didn’t get a whole lot out of it, but it’s just nice to be in church on Christmas!

Then we went home and ate a huge lunch of almond/gram Marsala breaded tilapia, garlic mashed potatoes, honey glazed carrots, sesame greens beans and salad. After lunch we read our last advent calendar text and scripture verse and opened presents.

Judie and I cooking Christmas lunch.

Omondi made sure we had plenty of photos of cooking fish!

The finished product!

Judie and I model jewelry sent from Auntie Joane!

Raymond opening his Christmas card from the Hasslen family.

Then the kids watched a movie and I went for a run. My first run in over a month and a half! I went about 4K. It felt great. And it was timely as it rained most of the night. So now the dust is gone and the mud is back…at least through this afternoon!

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and are as excited as I am for the year ahead!

Our Christmas Tree!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

It's been a while...

I was looking forward to relaxing around the holidays, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. For one the building project in Ilkiloret has just finished! That’s right, I said finished. The fundis completed construction on December 13. I however still have to finish all the paperwork, which I am hoping to do by tomorrow, Friday morning.

Anika, from Give Us Wings was here last week to check on the progress of the building project in Ilkiloret and meet with Grace. It was a whirlwind visit as usual but we accomplished everything we needed to. We went down to Ilkiloret in a pick-up truck with what I thought would be the last supplies needed. Unfortunately, when we arrived we were told they were missing one fascia board and needed 3 more tonnes of cement! So on Friday I sent a truckload of sand and the board and a few other small things down to the site. The transporter who has hauled the stone and sand for this project has a lemon of a truck that he gives me anytime I don’t have a huge load to haul… the last time it went they brakes had problems, this time it overheated. The truck left Ngong at around 9:30 am and arrived in Ilkiloret around 4:30 pm! At least I didn’t travel with it this time!

Friday evening we took a break from the chaos of our lives to go have dinner with my new friend Jill, a retired American early childhood special Ed teacher who is working for the Methodist church here in Kenya. We met in the line at the supermarket and discovered that we are both mzungus (foreigners) who use public transport… this is not the norm for mzungus who reside in Kenya. Jill invited the kids and over for pizza. However, when we arrived at her house she told us that she didn’t have power and her oven is electric. So we rounded up enough pasta (some Kenyan friends were staying with her) for all of us. I had brought fixings for a Greek salad and we feasted like kings and queens by lantern light. It was a wonderful evening and a nice way to start the weekend.

Saturday was Wezesha’s Thanksgiving Celebration at Kimuga Farm. It was a wonderful day. Many of our Maasai neighbors and members of the Ilkiloret community joined us.
We gave certificates to all the children for their hard work over the past year. Their guardians had all been invited and came up to receive their certificates with them. The certificate read:

Wezesha By Grace
Certificate of Excellence
Is hereby granted to:
Child’s Name
For outstanding performance in Class/Form
Way to go Child’s Name. Then something like, Keep up the good work. We are so proud of you.

The audience participated by saying “Way to go” and “We are so proud of you.”
The kids beamed - even the big kids!

Joseph Kiranti and his mother Hannah.

Raymond Waweru with Grace and I.

Omondi and mama as he has started to call me.

Judie asked if she had to come to the celebration, but ended up having a great time.

A testimony was given by, Peter, the man who owns Testimony Hardware (where we got some of our materials for the construction project in Ilkiloret) and who was once given funds for college by Grace and John about how important it is to empower youth with education. He used his life and success as an example of what can be accomplished with hard work and a helping hand.

Peter Kihika giving his testimony.

The Wezesha kids sang some songs and put on a skit called, “Peer Pressure.”

The Maasai from Ilkiloret also sang a few songs.

Grace, Janet and I spoke about the progress for Wezesha in the last year.
A pastor spoke and there were lots of prayers and praise.

Grace and John dance and sing at the end of the celebration.

A nice lunch was served. It was a fun day. The weather even cooperated to give us a pleasant day.

On Sunday it was back to Ilkiloret with Njenga to make sure the fundis would be finished on Schedule on Tuesday. And to plan a walk thru of the site upon completion.

Monday, December 12 is Jamhuri Day (Independence Day) in Kenya. I had made plans to spend the day with my friend Bea, who currently works for the European Union in Nairobi. She adopted a Kenyan daughter five years ago. Zawadi, Bea’s daughter and Judie are good friends. We met Bea at Junction and bought some food while Omondi and Zawi went on a trampoline type thing in the parking lot. They put you in a harness and you can jump and do summersaults – it’s pretty cool.
Then we went to Bea’s friend Lisa’s house. Lisa works for Save The Children and also has an adopted Kenyan daughter. They live in a very fancy housing development near where Bea lives in Lavington. The kids played outside and after lunch they went swimming in the pool. The wind was a bit brisk so Judie, Bea and I decided not to swim. But Lisa and the kids jumped right in.

Tuesday morning Omondi had an interview at the Presbyterian primary school near our home. The full name of the school is Presbyterian Church of East Africa Enchorro Emuny Primary School… it’s a mouth full! Omondi didn’t do very well on his test. He got a 385/500, which is a low score for a private school. The principal said she was very impressed with how well he could read and they would accept him provided he came to a few weeks of tutoring before school started. That was fine by me because having him under foot all day is a bit more than I can handle. And miracles of all miracles…he loves to go to school! Today is just his third day, but I have to hurry to keep up with him when I walk him to school.

In the afternoon Grace and I and Omondi and Ian and Nyambura, Grace’s grandchildren all headed to Ilkiloret for the final walk thru of the classroom building. The fundis asked for a Christmas bonus… I didn’t give it to them. I did however give money to Janet who is no longer being paid for her work by Give Us Wings and has put up with a lot of guff from the fundis over the last few months. We are hoping to get her paid by the district literacy office… but just like in the US, all the government agencies are having to reduce their budgets…so at this point we can only pray.

Entryway to the new Ilkiloret Adult Education and Community Center

My fundis!

Inside the classroom.

The forewoman.

On Wednesday Grace and I went to Joram GM Academy, a school in Matasi that offers boarding for primary students, to speak to the Kenyan founder who has just returned from many years of living in the US. He was late for our appointment and I had to pick Omondi from school. But while Omondi and I were apartment hunting in Ngong, I got a phone call from Grace saying that the founder wanted to speak to me and would I please come back. Luckily Matasi is only about 15 minutes by matatu from Ngong. He and his wife are career educators and they are looking to invest a lot of time and energy into the school now that they are back in Kenya full time. Grace and I are excited about the prospect of taking the remaining primary school children at the farm there in January. It is not very expensive and I can see that the children will be well cared for at Joram GM Academy. A big plus is that they have a clinic on their school grounds and an agreement with the hospital in Matasi to care for the students.

Omondi and I had no luck looking for an apartment; we might have to settle for a two bedroom versus a 3-bedroom. There is just not much available in Ngong. People are moving here in droves. We even talked to somebody about booking a space in a building that is still being built…so basically without seeing what it will look like – scary! But it is right up the hill from the Bounty Hotel and the Bounty has a gym and aerobics that are open to the public (for a fee, of course)… but that’s a huge plus for me. And it’s on the way to Judie’s school so she wouldn’t have to walk so far when she gets dropped off during her school breaks. It is a bit further from Omondi’s school, but I’m betting we could find some shortcuts.

Today I made an appointment to get a holistic massage. With so many trips back and forth to Ilkiloret over the past month, my back has really suffered. I’m hoping Omondi will behave himself, while I’m getting the massage because Judie is not here to watch him at the moment.
I sent her to Meru on Tuesday to apply for her identity card. She’s 22 and doesn’t have one yet. When she turned 18 I wanted to get her one, but people told me not to because she was still in school. Now the law has changed and she has to have one! In order to get it she needed her father’s id card. Finding him took some effort and then he complained that he didn’t have the $3 fare to bring her card to Nkabune where her grandmother lives. Judie was pissed. She told me later that she told him that he brought her into the world and that this was the least he could do after not supporting and caring for her for most of her life! I think we’re still going to have to pay at least part of his fare, but I’m proud of my girl for standing up for herself.

I had about half an hour to figure out the logistics for Judie’s trip. I first asked around the compound if anyone was going to Nairobi. Luckily, Sammy was headed to Ngong and then to Nairobi, so he called us when he was leaving Ngong and we headed up to the main road to meet the matatu he was on. Judie is an amazingly bright young woman but she is definitely not a city kid. So I needed Sammy to get her from the stage where the matatu from Ngong dropped her to the stage to go to Meru, which is only about 6 blocks away. My friend Justin, who drives a taxi in Meru, picked her up when she arrived around 7 pm and put her up in his house. His family has invited us to stay with them whenever we are in Meru even though their house is very small. Justin has been helping us for about 4 years and Judie refers to him as her Meru dad. He has even done school shopping with her and taken her to school when I’m not in the country.

Judie has been having a nosebleed on and off since Sunday. She is a big girl, I can’t force her to go to the clinic to be checked, but if she doesn’t go when she’s in Meru – she will go when she gets home! I’m sure her Meru dad will be all over that!

Please join me in prayer for her – that her journey is safe and that she accomplishes all she needs to. I’m really hoping she gets home before Friday evening. We have a fun weekend planned with my friend Jackie and her son Kyle and I don’t want Judie to miss out on a minute of it!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mat Maddness
Omondi and I went to Bomas to run some errands. We got in the first available matatu. The driver and the conductor (the guy who collects the money), both looked and smelled like they had been partying the night before. But a quick glance around the graffiti on the inside of the matatu told a very different story. Written on one wall was: “Caution: Non-Exposure to the Son will cause burning.” On the opposite wall it said, “Come to Jesus, Come to Life.” And above the head of the driver was a photo of the rapper Eminem. Can you say mixed messages!

On the way home the vehicle we got into was even more interesting, no graffiti to speak of but the vehicle seemed to be dying on the way up the hills so the driver started pumping something with his right hand by his seat between himself and the door which allowed us to continue to creep along. The matatu must have been jeri-rigged somehow but I can’t figure out for the life of me what he was doing.

I will never get used to guards with semi-automatic weapons in luxury shopping malls. But hanging around the Safaricom Service Center were two guards one with an AK-47 and another with a sawed-off shotgun. Fortunately, my 11-year-old son didn’t seem to be to interested in them. I guess he’s grown up with it so he doesn’t see just how scary it is!

New Undies!
We bought underwear at the Nakumatt store. Omondi goes through underwear and socks with amazing quickness. The next morning he came into my room with just a long t-shirt on and a big smile on his face. “Did you come to show me your new underwear,” I asked.
He pulled up his t-shirt to show me not just his new underwear, but his old underwear underneath. “You only need to wear on pair at a time you know,” I said.
A few minutes later I was in the kitchen and he came in again in the same t-shirt and an even bigger smile. “Got it all straightened out, “ I said.
Sure enough, only one pair of new underwear.
Well then...all’s right with the world!

Happy Accidents
Omondi and I went to buy a movie the other day. The first thing Omondi saw was something about wrestling. I didn’t look very closely at it. We paid and left. I got home and tore it open only to realize it was a game for PlayStation 2. I texted my friend Jackie who’s son is a year or two younger than Omondi and asked if he had a PS or knew someone who did. I got an enthusiastic text back that yes he did and the game I had would work on his PS. I texted Jackie back. “Tell Kyle, Merry Christmas!” Jackie texted back that Kyle was beaming. Omondi is cool with it because when we go to Jackie’s he and Kyle can play it. I love it when silly mistakes make other people’s day!

Now, what do we do?

When Njenga, the motorcycle taxi driver said, “Now, what do we do,” we were standing on a small island of land surrounded by flash flood waters in the middle of a newly formed and quickly rising river. The fact that he was asking me - the passenger - made my stomach lurch.

We had made an afternoon run to Ilkiloret, which is located a little over an hour from Ngong town where I live. We left at 2:15pm for what should have been a 3 ½ hour trip, down and back to deliver food to the fundis at the construction site.

It started raining about 35 minutes into the trip. Despite my best prayers, the rain continued off an on for the rest of our journey. The road to Ilkiloret is full of rocks and potholes and four very steep climbs over mountains (they call them hills – but they’re much bigger than hills). When it rains it usually becomes a muddy mess. But Njenga said he had never seen water rushing the way it was today. Maybe because it’s been raining so much lately the water tables are full so it rushes down from Ngong into the Rift Valley.

We had made it about half way back when at the bottom of hill number two we encountered a river that covered about a third of a mile of road and it already had a swift current. The fact that we had passed that way about an hour before and there was very little water was not lost on us. This area could become very dangerous very fast. We pushed the bike through knee deep water and then rode it through the bush until we reached a place where the water was too deep for the bike to pass and the water was rushing too fast, thus the “now, what do we do,” comment from Njenga.

We first tried to throw some rocks in the river so we could roll the bike across the rocks but the current carried the heavy rocks away. So we backtracked and tried the opposite side of the road. I ran in front of the bike to test the depth of the water. At one point the side of the road was impassable and we had to go back onto the road. It actually wasn’t too deep, so we were able to make it out of the river. But while I was wondering around in the thigh deep water looking for the best escape route for the bike, a man was yelling at me from behind Njenga on the side of the road. Njenga told me later he was the area chief and he was yelling, “Stop playing in the water. Get out of the water.” Too funny. Not playing chief – just trying to find safe passage for the bike.

At this point I should mention that my almost knee high mud boots were almost full of water. As we were leaving Ilkiloret, I had but the canvas bag containing my camera, wallet, water bottle and phone under my raincoat.

With the river forged we thought we were home free until the mud of Kimuga, which is legendary! But there is one more area that usually becomes a muddy mess and it too was covered in water. It is basically two big ruts in the road with some very large potholes. We walked it first and then I ran ahead and Njenga walked the bike behind me.

The next challenge was the mud as we got to Kimuga. It was indeed slippery and I had to keep getting off the bike so Njenga could navigate the mud. By this time it was dark which made finding the best path difficult.

There is a big hill (mini mountain) that you have to climb to get from the rift valley up to Ngong. They have worked on it a bit in recent months but the repairs have actually had the opposite effect. At this point we could just about taste home, so maybe we were distracted, so when the bike slipped in the mud and leaned too far to the right there was nothing we could do. We both ended up in the mud. Fortunately, we were creeping up the hill so besides hitting my right knee on some stones and having a fanny full of mud we were fine and the bike started right up.

When we were wading around in the first river the water was warm, but now we were both soaked through (even my undies were wet) and the air temperature in Ngong was down right frigid. So as we streaked along the tarmac road in Kibiko, a suburb (if you can call it that) of Ngong, my teeth were chattering. Njenga checked his cell phone when we arrived home. It was 7:39 p.m. We had been on the bike or rather pushing the bike for 3 ½ hours. The whole trip took us 5 hours and we had only spent 20 minutes in Ilkiloret.

I fumbled with my keys and opened the gate. The lights in my house were on - Grace must be there. I knocked on the door and called to her, she opened the door and took one look at me and said, “You, went to Ilkiloret, thank God you’re home safe.”

I stripped down in the kitchen and Grace put water on for me to bathe. After my bath, Grace rubbed my back with icy hot and commented on how cold my skin was. Even after a hot bath my skin was still cold.

I did a lot of praying on the back of that motorcycle. Njenga did too. If there had been any pedestrians out on the road when we were passing through Kibiko, they would have heard very loud shouts of “Thank you, Jesus!” And “Hallelujah!” When it began raining on the way down, Njenga said, “You pray that we have a safe trip, I know God listens when you pray.”

I got a text from Njenga a couple of hours after we returned:

u r a hero Jassica i could not have made it if it wasn’t 4 u. enjoy ur night.

I’ve never been happier to be home. For a few minutes standing on that little island in the first river, I wasn’t sure we would make it back at all. God is good!

(For obvious reasons - there are no pictures with this post...I'm thinking if you've got any imagination at all, you'll have all kinds of images floating around in your mind.) :-)