Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas in Kenya

I’m not fond of snow. But Christmas without snow is still a bit difficult to get used to. Getting a bit of sunburn the day before Christmas Eve felt weird and wonderful all at the same time.

On Monday afternoon I met some of the ladies from the Chronological Bible Study at the newest restaurant in Karen, called Dari. It sits in a beautiful garden just off Ngong Road. While the service was complete crap, my hot chocolate was divine and the scenery was fabulous. And my friend Kim invited me for Christmas Eve lunch! YEAH! I had already been invited for Christmas Day dinner at my Canadian friend, Jana’s home, but had been hoping for another invitation!

Kim is an America. She and her husband, Joe, are missionaries here and have two adorable children Sophia and Theo. They had friends and neighbors over so there were about 15 of us. It was a nice relaxed sit where you want kind of lunch. Milly tried some new foods. Pork is not a winner in her book. But she is a huge fan of pumpkin pie and wants to know why we don’t make it. Well, there is no such thing as frozen pie crusts and pumpkin from a can here…my friend Kim had made her pies from scratch, including cooking the pumpkin. I told Milly she could go to Kim’s to make pumpkin pies!

Judie opted out of all holiday celebration. She is an introverts, introvert. She recently got a job as a nanny, so she said she just wanted to stay at home. In her defense the people she nanny’s for were invited to the same Christmas day party we were, so I can’t blame her for wanting some down time from her charge, although he is a cut little bugger. His name is Zikomo. He is 8 months old. Every time we have Tamara and Zikomo together we tell them they were destined to be together.

After lunch at Kim’s I headed to Nairobi Hospital to see Josephine, my downstairs neighbor. She has some issues with her back and has lots of pain. She was in the hospital in Karen a few months ago and then went in again this past Sunday. Her son, Martin, was in the compound in the morning so I asked if I could go with him to visit his mom. He was glad for the company. When we arrived Josephine was being moved from her bed in the common ward to a bed in a private room. Martin and I helped pack her up. As we were moving her into her new room another patient, a white woman, passed us in the hall. I spent about an hour with Josephine before another friend of hers arrived. As I was leaving her room, I ran into Joep, a member of my church who is a development worker from the Netherlands. He was on his way to visit Esther, the woman I’d seen earlier in the hall. Esther is a friend of Joep’s sister. She is a volunteer in Niger, where she was involved in a bad horseback riding accident and had to be flown to Kenya for an operation. Joep had never met Esther before and I decided since I was already there I would go visit Esther with Joep. It was a nice visit. And I promised to send Esther some baked goods with Martin the next day. I also introduced her to Josephine as they were both going to be in hospital on Christmas, they might as well know another person nearby to spend a few minutes with to celebrate the day.

I loved the food and fellowship at Kim’s but I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the spirit of Christmas than by visiting people in the hospital. How lonely it must be to be in pain and alone and have no one with whom to celebrate Jesus’ birthday.

Joep gave me a ride to where he turned off to go toward his home and I hopped on a matatu that smelled of the usual Saturday early evening perfume of body odor, booze and cigarettes. I prayed my way home as I usually do when I will get home after dark. God is good.

Tamara in her 11-month old adorableness, was a hit at both parties. Have I mentioned she’s walking! 

Mobile Tamara at 11 months.
She walked at 11 months and 2 days. She now has two nicknames, Houdini and Hoover. We really don’t need to sweep, we just waits until she puts whatever is on the floor in her mouth and then we take it out of her mouth. Better than having to deal with a vacuum bag!

Anyway on Christmas got up and made pancakes for my girls and then headed to church because I was responsible for the welcome team (ushers), who were made up of new recruits because this was not a Sunday service. Which meant I needed to do most of the seating. The auditorium we meet in has a capacity of maybe 250, if you squeeze them in. After most of the seating was done, I did a head count…not counting some of the kids, I came up with 350+ people. Needlesstosay, I didn’t get to hear much of the program.

We went home after church and at about 2 in the afternoon, I woke Tamara up from a nap and we went with my friend Wendy and her two children to Jana’s house. Jana had invited people to arrive starting at around 3p.m. We played games and sang Christmas Carols and visited with the approximately 40 quests until 7p.m. when we finally sat down to eat. The food was marvelous, but Tamara, who had only slept about 40 minutes, was grouchy so I couldn’t really enjoy my food. Milly was supposed to come join us after a friends party but couldn’t find Jana’s in the dark, (she was supposed to come much earlier) so we had to pick her up on the road after rounds of desserts and a conga line that threaded its way through the house. It was a Canadian Christmas, so in true British/Canadian tradition, we all pulled crackers and put on our paper hats, and read our jokes to one another. 

Mine went like this: “What did Adam say to Eve the day before Christmas?”
“It’s Christmas, Eve!”

In those crackers is also a little charm…mine was a snowflake! 
My snowflake cracker pendent.
God has a funny way of always reminding one where ones heart is. To my parents, family and friends back in the states (those of you in the snow especially). I love you and miss you!
Merry Christmas and may you have a blessed New Year!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Life is a series of Journeys

If we have faith enough to set out and follow unknown paths full of risks and rewards, we can find ourselves constantly growing and stretching and being renewed at the end of one for the start of the next journey.  I want to share two journeys with you; Everline’s and mine.
Education is worth the rocky path: Everline’s journey
For those of you who don’t know the story, I met Everline Aoko Okumu almost 12 years ago in Nyaoga. She was the mother of three, wife of James Okumu. She sold vegetables in the market. In one of our first conversations she told me she had dropped out of high school when she’d gotten pregnant and that she was very smart and needed to go back to school but more than that she wanted to go to university. It took a couple of years because she had another child, but I started saving money to send Everline back to school. I don’t remember how many terms I was able to get funds donated to pay for this or when Give Us Wings stepped in to assist her,; what I do know is that I wasn’t going to miss her big day -  the day she finally realized her dream of graduating from university.
Everline and I at her graduation.
Everline attended Macinde Muliru University of Science and Technology in Kagamega. She graduated with a degree in sugar technology. It is a very specialized field. There are only three graduates. The other two are men. She graduated at the top of her class, beating out the two men for top honors!
I didn’t actually get to see her walk across the stage; there were too many people to get anywhere close, but I was there to hug her and give her a high five and remember together our journeys and how far we have come.
Traveling Kenyan-style: Jessica’s journey
Day One: There is something magical about the number four or maybe I just think that 96 hours is enough time get just about anything done. This particular journey is the third time in three years that I have attempted to get to Kisumu and back in four days with a whole lot of work sandwiched between 6 hours of travel to and from Nairobi in that stretch of time. I used all public transport, which while exhausting was not intolerable.
I left early on a Tuesday morning and boarded a matatu (a usually overcrowded van) to take me to Nairobi to catch an Easy Coach to Kisumu. The man who sat next to me was a Christian and turned out to be my knight in shining armor when I needed transport assistance in Kisumu, including where to get off the bus so that the people hosting me the first night would not have to go into Kisumu town to fetch me.
I stayed in Orongo Village, about 8 km outside Kisumu. I had met Mama Florence and her son Charles at a church planting conference near Nairobi. They have a project that helps HIV/AIDS orphans and widows. Charles was waiting at the road. We took piki taxis (motorcycles) to the site of their homes and the project.
Charles showed me around their project site while Mama Florence was interviewed by K24 a Kenyan TV station about the progress of her adult education class. Around 9 pm dinner was served. By this time I was half asleep and famished. After dinner I was asked if I’d like to retire early. It was almost 10 pm. I said yes! I slept in a comfortable bed under a mosquito net. Before I went to bed while Florence and I were talking two bats flew in the room. I have never been so happy to sleep under a net before in my life!
Day Two: I got up in the morning and took a very refreshing bucket shower. Then I ate a couple of fried eggs and finished packing my bag. A piki was called and I was taken back to the main road. The piki driver hailed a matatu for me to Kendu Bay. This leg of journey is okay except for a long stretch that is under construction. The journey took two hours instead of the estimated hour and a half!
My mission for the day was to see Charles Omondi, the boy who used to live with me. He is now back with his grandmother and cousin who lives nearby. When I arrived in Kendu Bay, I located another piki to take me to Nyaoga. It is about a half hour trip. I had arranged for a man from the village to translate for me. James was waiting for me when I arrived. We climbed up the hill and sat down with Justina, Omondi’s 90-something year old grandmother. Omondi’s mother died in childbirth and Justina took him in. Omondi is now 13 and as he has never lived a particularly structured or disciplined existence, he is not easily controlled. His cousin, the education coordinator for sponsored children, the translator who has known him all his life, his grandmother and I tried to come up with a plan for him. Omondi is running out of options. He wants to live with his brothers who can barely take care of themselves much less a rebellious 13 year-old, but he has burned every other bridge. The only other option is some sort of military school, of which there are few in East Africa and none that we know of in Kenya.
Charles Omondi, 13

Selfie with Justina, Omondi's grandmother.
I have known this child since he was about 9 months old. Even though I know it’s not true, I feel somehow responsible for him. But there comes a time when you’ve done all you can that people have to choose for themselves if they want to try to achieve a level of stability and success in life or just survive on the margins. You can’t force people to do what’s best for them. I don’t want to lose this boy, but in reality he was never mine to save in the first place. I did all the counseling I could jam into 30 minutes. He has to make a choice now.
But day two wasn’t over. I hopped on another piki and headed back to Kendu Bay and then back to Orongo to pick up my suitcase. It was quite the journey! Up-country (what Kenyans call pretty much anywhere outside of Nairobi), is very rural and I am even more of an oddity there. The matatu touts had a grand time speaking English. “You going Kisumu mzungu…get in.” When they found out I was only going as far as Orongo they gave me a wider berth…Orongo is a very poor place, not the kind of place mzungus hang out. About half way through this leg, I gave up my seat to a woman with a toddler. They also overfill matatus so that people have to stand in the aisles. I was the only foreigner on the bus. I saw some of the other passengers looking at me, probably wondering why I would give up my seat. I hope a little spark of God’s light filtered through that act to those who observed it. Or maybe just that they will follow the example when they next see someone who needs to sit down more than they do.
I got off the matatu at Kendu Bay and was taken by piki to Orongo where I collected my bag. Mama Florence wasn’t there so I made a deal with the piki driver to take me all the way to Kisumu. I called Ishmael, the man I’d met on the bus to ask if he knew of a good place to stay in Kisumu (I did this while on the back of the piki at about 5 pm). Ishmael told me to meet him at a mall in Kisumu and he took me to a Christian guest house called Shalom House. It was sparse but fine for a night and cheaper than the other places I’d heard of. He told me he would take me to the bus stage in the morning.
I had made plans the night before to meet Danielle, who works for Give Us Wings, for dinner in Kisumu. By the time I got to Shalom House I had very little time to get ready. My face was a shade of brown from dust that I didn’t dare go out without showering first. The piki driver said he knew where the restaurant was. Mind you it was dark by now and I didn’t have a clue as to where I was going. We drove for a while and then the driver said, “ It’s on this road somewhere, right? “ “No,” I said, “ it’s downtown.” After many phone calls to Danielle at the restaurant and driving around in circles downtown we located the restaurant. The driver asked me for extra money since he went out of his way. Seriously! You don’t know where you’re going but you say you do and then you think I should pay you for your ignorance. Sorry! He smiled. He knew that was a long shot.
Danielle and I had a lovely dinner and I went home in a tuk-tuk and sank into an exhausted yet peaceful sleep!
Day Three: Are you tired yet? I certainly was, but I didn’t have to rush off. I got up and had breakfast and Ishmael picked me up as promised around 9:30. He took me back to the mall where he had picked me up the night before. I did email and then headed across the street to get a matatu to Stendikisa, a matatu stage near Vihiga where my foster daughter, Milly is from. She was visiting her family in the village where she grew up. She had been there for almost three weeks.
Milly and Tamara in front of Milly's uncle's house.

Tamara seeing her Nana again after three weeks!
Bathtime village style!
I was not up to the task of keeping this pesky rooster out of the living room!
Milly met me in Stendikisa, and we took a matatu another 30 minutes to her village and then took a piki from the main road to her uncle’s house in a valley. It was quite the journey. She lives in a beautiful setting. I got there around midday. The first meal we ate was around 8p.m. I was beyond hungry but then I thought about the reason people don’t eat in the middle of the day. There is nothing to eat and no money to buy anything to eat. That night we ate sukuma (cooked kale) and ugali (corn-meal mush). I was also given a fried egg, being the honored guest.
Milly and I attempted a walk around her village in the afternoon with her younger sister but it started to rain. I did get to see where Milly went to elementary school. I met Milly’s mom, Rose who has 7 children with Milly being the oldest.

Milly, Tamara and grandma Rose.
I heard drums and singing in the afternoon and asked Milly what that was. She said schools in the area have competitions and they were practicing. We went to watch. I loved hearing Christmas carols sung in Luya. I slept on the floor in the living room with Milly and Tamara. We didn’t have a mosquito net. Luckily I only heard one mosquito in the night.
Day Four: I got up in the morning around 7a.m. and used Wet Ones to shower, put on my wrinkle-proof dress and ate my last apple and hiked up the hill with Milly to catch a matatu to Everline’s graduation.
Instead of taking a matatu, I decided to take a piki because I wanted to be dropped off at the gate of the university and not at some stage in town. It’s a good thing I did, because the traffic was insane!
I didn’t see much of the graduation, but I was able to meet Everline’s mom, and sister and two of her brothers. Her sister has a six year old daughter and has enrolled in teacher’s college, following Everline’s example. Her two brothers are also college graduates. I don’t know if her mother even finished high school.
Everline's mom tries on her cap!
 After graduation, I had to go back and pick up Milly and Tamara from the village and then get back to Kagamega to catch a night bus to Nairobi. Everline’s brother Garrett asked one of his friends to take me to pick up Milly. On the way back there was a torrential rain and hail storm. When we arrived back in Kagamega it had not rained there! I changed in the car. We dropped our bags at the bus station and we went to meet Everline and her other brother and sister at a restaurant. We had a nice dinner and a talk.
This is the end of a chapter in her life and the next pages are blank. She will need every ounce of courage and determination she possesses to take the next steps.
Milly and Tamara did great on the way home. I tripped up some stairs at the last rest stop and banged up both my knees! The rest of the ride home was not pleasant. But today they are not hurting although they are very colorful.
Judie came home Saturday night from Chogoria, where she was visiting friends and family. It was nice to sleep in my bed and know my girls were safe in their beds.
The journey is never easy. It doesn’t matter if it’s a journey of a few days or many years. Some parts turn out better than expected and others are utter failures due to the choices we’ve made. The journey is not as important as the lessons we learn along the way.
There is a certain peace that comes at the end of a journey. I saw everyone and did all I needed to do. Now the blank pages appear again. A new opportunity to be thankful for God’s provision, his faithfulness and his guidance. A new day, a new journey.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Thanksgiving times three

The week before Thanksgiving, I emailed my mom expressing my sadness that I would miss the annual Hasslen celebration of family and friends from all over the world. And worse, I had no one with whom I had been invited to share the day. But in the end……I had not one, not two ,but THREE Thanksgiving celebrations this year, and they couldn’t have been more different from one another.
Here is the highlight reel.
Thanksgiving #1:
I was invited to the home of an American couple, who invite missionaries every year for Thanksgiving. They are in their late 30s and have ten…yes you read that right, 10 marvelous kids!  They are all home-schooled, bright and very engaging. The other guests were also delightful and the food was AMAZING! People brought dishes to share, but Jenny our hostess is from Virginia and cooked up some nice Southern Thanksgiving dishes as well! I decided to walk the couple of miles home to my house because even though I had on my turkey eating pants and was not too full, I had remembered to wear my Keens so that I could walk off some of the food in anticipation for my next Thanksgiving feast on Friday night.
Thanksgiving #2:
My American friend Natalie, 34, started a non-profit in Kenya that trains community organizers. She decided to prepare a vegan (except for the turkey) Thanksgiving feast for her Kenyan staff and some of her expat friends. I told her I would help her cook and host. She had asked me to be at her house around 2pm. When I got close to her house I called her. She told me she had a little more shopping to do and she would pick me up on the way to do her shopping. Being the daughter of a mother who likes to have most of the meal cooked well in advance, I found this act of last minute shopping a bit disconcerting. But this is the new less-uptight-more-go-with-the-flow self, so I hopped in the car and kept my big mouth shut. It didn’t stay shut for long when Natalie described how helpful her househelp had been. Natalie had asked her to take the meat out of the coconut in preparation for a dessert she was making. The househelp, being unfamiliar with coconuts, didn’t understand and the only meat she saw was the rather large chicken (read 10 pound turkey), so she cut it up and boiled it. I kid you not! Never one to panic, when Natalie asked what I thought we should do with the turkey, only one thought came to mind. “We’ll curry it,” I said. And so we had maple-roasted vegetables, greens, arugula salad for which I made a maple vinigrette dressing, mashed lentils and squash, green beans with almonds, cranberry sauce, stuffing and curried turkey. We didn’t start cooking until 4pm and we started eating around 8:45. There was little food left as about 20 people showed up. Natalie made a vegan pumpkin cheese cake, vegan pumpkin muffins and vegan chocolate peanut butter fudge for dessert. She and I divided up the dishes that needed to be made and a Kenyan friend of hers was our sous chef. It was so much fun. We rocked that kitchen…by they way we had very little in the way of the right kinds of pans for cooking, but God is good and the food was delicious and we are still friends. All’s well that starts in chaos.
Thanksgiving #3:
Every year sometime in November or December, Wezesha throws a Thanksgiving celebration for their supporters and uses it as a chance to get all their students together over the holidays. This year it just happened to be on Thanksgiving weekend. It was also special because they had quite a few students graduating and in their last years of high school and they gave very moving testimonies about how Wezesha had assisted them. We ate traditional Kenyan food but this celebration was the most in line with what I think of as being what the holiday of Thanksgiving is all about -  Giving thanks to God for what he has done in our lives, the people he used to make our dreams a reality and the friends and family he gave us to support us along the way. And please know, those of you who have helped support these students, that without you their education would not have been possible!!
In the US, we have a special day for Thanksgiving but we should really celebrate our thankfulness everyday. That’s my excuse for writing about Thanksgiving a week or so after the event!
I am thankful for the time to write today. I’m thankful after a week up country (I’ll write about that next) that my girls and I are home safe and sound, I’m especially thankful for all the busy work details buzzing around in my head. I don’t like to be idle and God has seen that my life is full of meaningful activity. And more than anything I am thankful for each of YOU who makes my work possible.
(I'm uploading this without photos. Will try to post some soon.) 
Thank you God for the ability to be thankful every day!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

What is the price of freedom? What is the cost of faith?

“Freedom has always been an expensive thing.” Martin Luther King Jr.
Security wands have become common--place in Kenya. It’s rare that you walk into a public establishment without being “waned.” So how is it that our security is so fragile? How is it that terrorists can walk into a mall in Nairobi and open fire and take hostages?  How is it that a four-day stand off ensues? How is that 61 people die and more than 150 are injured including 6 members of the security forces?
It turns out those security wands aren’t magic. Terrorists are fatalists and not particularly discriminating. They sprayed bullets first and then starting asking those left standing one question, “Are you Muslim?”  The answer, by the way, didn’t matter. Some people who answered in the affirmative were shot anyway.
The attack at Westgate mall wasn’t about religion. The attack, like any violent act, was about power and in this case revenge. So the terrorist might have been better served to ask, “Do you support Kenyan army operations in Somalia?” That question however would not get good headlines and maybe some blank looks, because really, unless you are directly involved in the issue, it’s not something you’ve probably given a lot of thought to. You were more caught up with your children and your work and what you were going to eat for dinner. Until of course some terrorist interrupts your Saturday at the mall and puts a gun to your head.
Fanatics kill innocent people for the wrong reasons. It’s all so senseless.
But let me make this about religion for a moment.
What if it was you and you just happened to be a Christian?
My pastor said the following in his sermon the day after the Westgate siege began, “Faith is meant to cost you something.”
I’m quite sure he didn’t change his sermon Saturday night. So the impact of that line resonated with me as we prayed for the victims and the hostages in church less than 24 hours after the tragedy began.
Would I have said, No, I’m a Christian? I hope I would have.
Terrorists may have a twisted and wrong-headed view of Islam, but they defend their misconceptions to the death. Would I defend what I believe, even in the face of death? I hope I would. I also hope my faith will never have to stand that test under such circumstances.
Which takes me back to freedom. Cases of grenade attacks and violence have increased since Kenya sent troops into Somalia. Is our freedom, our way of life, our security at risk?
I suppose one could look at it that way, but here is what I know, God is in control and he will provide safe passage for Kenya and one day soon peace and prosperity for our neighbor Somalia.
The Kenyan people are fighting against the evil invading its borders with the weapons of love and unity, which are far stronger than any evil. Outpourings of support, both during and after the Westgate siege, have been truly inspiring. Well over 11,000 pints of blood were donated, millions of shillings given and people living close to the mall even provided food and water for the security forces and media personnel who spent long hours on duty.
By definition to have freedom and/or faith you must give up a certain amount of security.
However, security without freedom is imprisonment and security without faith is a lie.
May God heal and bless my adopted country, Kenya.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Maralal Training

When God says, “Jump.” Our response should be, “How high?”
But what if God asks you to do something you don’t know how to do?
Do you punt? Run away? Hide?
Or do you ask, “Why me, God? Couldn’t you find someone more qualified for this than me?”
I don’t know why God called me to minister to youth living with HIV. I am not the most qualified. In fact, when God put this ministry on my heart, I was pretty sure he’d gotten the wrong heart.
And then I was bombarded over the period of about a week in different ways with the message, “when God calls you to serve him, you already have in you what he needs to complete his work…whatever else you need he will provide.”
So I stopped fussing and started following and God has been providing exactly what I need every step of the way!
At the end of August he provided me with a way to get more education on HIV/AIDS from a world-renowned expert.
I found HIV Hope International online and communicated with Duane Crumb, the founder and director that I wanted to know more about his organization. He wrote back and said there was a seminar in Kenya and I could contact the organizer to see if it was possible to attend. Long story short, I was accepted and last week made the 10+ hour journey to Maralal, Kenya. (See Maralal Journey blog for details of the trip).
Duane travels around the world facilitating seminars like the one I attended to equip and empower people to develop their own strategies, materials and programs to effectively address the issues involved in HIV in their local cultures and meet the needs of those living with the disease.
Maralal is the county seat so it is a fairly big town. It has a good power supply; a few cyber cafes and I even found a shop that sold a few Western food items…but sadly not a passable road in site!
The hotel we stayed in was sparse but comfortable. The shower was hot (most of the time) and the mattress was firm! We ate most of our meals in the hotel dining room.

Because it’s always a good idea to travel light, I had decided to wear the same outfit coming and going, so I washed the clothes that I wore on the trip to Maralal. This is the color of the water when I was finished!

The seminar itself was held at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Maralal. We arrived on Saturday night and attended church there on Sunday. A local missionary family who hail from Finland picked us up and drove us to church. They have three small children. Their daughter and I bonded over our and shared our eyewear!

The church service was small. No more than 15 people but probably twice that amount of children. Pastor Silas was very welcoming and also took part in the seminar so we got to know him well.
A group of seminar participants traveling from north of Maralal didn’t make it for the first day of the seminar because there was fighting between the Samburu and the Turkana in a town on their path so they had to wait and travel when things cooled down. My girls sms'd me all worried because they heard the news that there was fighting in Maralal. But really the injured had been taken to the hospital in Maralal, the fighting was not in town.
The seminar participants were primarily Samburu, there were also four wazungus (foreigners), and a man from Turkana. There were 7 Samburu women. We couldn’t communicate much, but by the end of the seminar we were good friends. 

The seminar was translated into Samburu and Kiswahili. We ran a generator to run the projector, but that was as high tech as we got. Some ladies from the church cooked our lunch over a three stone fire. We met Monday thru Thursday from 9 to about 3:30 p.m. On Friday we only met in the morning.

The ELC Maralal church is about a kilometer outside of the city. The views from the church were beautiful.

The first day we talked about how the church should be involved in HIV/AIDS, the goals for training, and received in depth information about transmission of HIV/AIDS. We then discussed the concepts our audience had to understand, the barriers they might have to understanding the information and what tools we needed for teaching.
On Tuesday, the first question was “Is HIV a judgment sent from God? In the “pre-test” we were given before we started the seminar the same question was asked and 70 percent of the participants responded that yes they believed HIV was a judgment from God.
The answer is NO by the way! We are all sinners. If anyone deserves this disease, we all do. One of the participants answered this way. “God loves us as a father, the same way we love our children. Loving us is giving us free will. We make choices that have consequences.” HIV is a natural consequence of sin.
On day two we also talked about the myth that HIV is a curse. Another topic was testing and we made lists about why people have sex outside or marriage. Lastly we discussed behavior change versus influencing behavior and how to encourage people living with HIV/AIDS.
On Wednesday we discussed stigma and discrimination. It took awhile to get into the discussion because there is not a word for stigma in Samburu! A lot of this was culturally based and very interesting to listen to the Samburu discuss their culture.
Then we discussed ARVs and how they work. This could have been a very complicated topic but Duane made it easily understandable and culturally relevant. We also had two bible translators at the seminar and they agreed to translate this chapter from Duane’s book, “HIV Hope for the Nations” into Samburu for their final project. 

On Thursday, we talked about our role as educators and how to interact with our audience. After lunch we started to present the projects that we had been working on. 
The lone Turkana man in the group gave a poem.
Duane requires that each participant present a song, poem, game, skit, etc. that they would use to teach about HIV.
I agonized over what to present. At first I thought I would make up an educational game…but I’m not much on game theory, so I prayed and got more anxious. And then Wednesday afternoon I had an idea. Ephesians 6 popped into my head. It talks about putting on the armor of God. Putting on the armor of God means sacrificing the things of this world. So I used the word SACRIFICE to come up with the main parts of the armor of positive living.
Breast Plate
Self- Acceptance
Adherence to ARVs and clinic instructions
Choices – Make good Choices
Relationship – Have a personal relationship with God
Information – Get the correct information
Faithfulness to partner/wait for sex until marriage
Rear Guard
Identify family and friends in Christ to support you
Condoms – Use Them!
Everyone is at risk. I am not alone. I can speak out and help others.

I also drew (not well mind you) a picture of what the armor of positive living would look like. 

God’s inspiration and timing couldn’t have been better! My presentation went great and was well received by my fellow participants.
It was also well received this week in a meeting with AIC Pastors about Maarifa, the psychosocial support ministry I am starting for youth living with HIV. We decided to use it as a framework for the materials we will create to use with the youth.
You know you are following God’s plan for your life when there is no mistaking His hand in the work that you are doing. I’m so glad I listened to God’s call even though didn’t feel qualified or ready. Now a short month and a half later I have made the leap into the unknown and have found the path was there beneath my feet all along.
Step out and faith and watch what God can do!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Maralal Safari

After 12 years of traveling around Kenya, the lack of infrastructure still overwhelms me. So does the way the entrepreneurial spirit finds ways to take advantage of impassable roads.
Potholes are moneymakers. Young men carry stones to the road and crush them into the potholes and then stand at the side of the road and “encourage” you to throw them change as you pass by. During rainy season if there is an especially muddy, impassable but heavily traveled section of road you will often find young men lurking about to offer “push and pay” service.
But on the way to Maralal, Kenya, last week I found yet another way to earn money, this one had much more job security. A certain section of the road to Maralal is legendary. It becomes more like a river than a road for about a kilometer. 

The matatu drivers have to drive through minus the passengers. So the passengers have to make their way to the side of the road and walk. The local entrepreneurs have fashioned a bridge across the mud/water back to the road and block the other side of the bridge and charge 10 Kenya shillings (about 15 cents) to every person who crosses the bridge. They also help the mutate drivers push their vehicles out when they get stuck, for which they earn about 100 Kenya shillings per vehicle (about $1.20 USD). 

I went to Maralal to participate in an HIV Educator training through the organization HIV Hope. Its founder Duane Crumb told us that we were his 50th seminar. He has held them all over the world. I will tell you more about the seminar in another blog.

On the day we traveled to Maralal, we got a late start. At the Nairobi stage we bought tickets to Nyahururu, where we would have to switch buses to go to Maralal. The government decided to hold “Road Court” that day and was stopping all the public vehicles to make sure they were up to code. (Which is a bit of a farce…another story for another day). So the vehicles were late, which actually worked in our favor, because normally vehicles stop running from Nyahururu to Maralal at 2 p.m. We arrived in Nyahururu at 3:30 p.m. and were still able to get another vehicle to Maralal.
As we left Nyahururu at 4p.m. I overheard a Kenyan woman on the bus say she would be in Maralal by 10 or 11pm. Luckily, even with our ½ hour drudge through the mud and over the trolls bridge – we still arrived by 8:30 p.m. 
On the way, we saw some wildlife. Zebra, antelope, guinea fowl, dik dik, and one huge majestic looking elephant, quite close to the fence...unfortunately my camera was in my bag and the matatu driver was not inspired enough by my excited squeals to even slow down.
If you think that sounds like fun…you will really enjoy my journey home. I traveled to Maralal with 4 other people. I traveled home alone.
The bus returning to Nyahururu and then Nairobi leave Maralal at 3 a.m. I had set my alarm for 1:45 a.m. to have the taxi pick me up at 2 a.m. The taxi driver called me at 1:32 a.m. and asked if I was ready. I was still in bed. He asked how soon I could be ready. Ten minutes? I was to walk around the corner and meet the taxi at a shop called Pama. However when I got to the corner, the bus to Nyahururu was pulling up. The bus by the way doesn’t say Nyahururu, it say Real Madrid. The inside is plastered with Real Madrid posters. They are also outfitted with 5 seats across rather than 4, which means you either need to be the size of a small child or an ultra thin model to sit comfortably. I was shown to the seat behind the wall that separates the cab from the rest of the bus, next to the window. It had rained most of the evening and was chilly and wet. Naomi, the Kenyan woman who sat next to me, would not be described as small. So before we even left town an hour and 15 minutes later I was already in sardine mode.
For an hour we criss-crossed Maralal picking up passengers. The driver was constantly on his cell phone. I’m not sure how the pick up system works, but it seemed to be very efficient. About 2:30 a.m. we parked at what I assume was the bus stage. 

Then I felt the vehicle being jacked up and a tire was rolled past my window around the front of the vehicle to change the driver’s side front tire. (This couldn’t have been done before?) I needn’t have been concerned. These guys could rival a Daytona pit crew! We were on our way at 3 a.m., the appointed departure time.
The trip from Maralal to Nyahururu is bone jarring. And then there’s the river section. I was praying long before we got to the river section. The driver was making good progress through the soupy muck, around other vehicles - lorries and matatus thoroughly stuck. And then it happened. The tout ordered us all off the bus, even the mom’s with babies! It’s about 4:30 a.m. pitch black. I’m alone. I wasn’t scared, just freaked about not having someone’s hand to hold. I’m not good in the dark. In all my years in Africa, I have not developed African eyes. I swear most Africans have infrared vision! I do however have a flashlight in my cell phone! We all piled out and started making our way through the muck. We had to cross the road to walk on hard mud. I was wearing sandals and socks…I know, serious fashion statement! Needlesstosay, my socks were wet and muddy by the time I got to the other side of the road. We weaved are way around stuck vehicles and thorn bushes and watched and cheered as our bus slipped and slid by us and eventually we all climbed back on and made our way out. No bridge in the middle of the night!
At sunrise, we finally came to the hour’s worth of decent pavement before arriving in Nyahururu and the BBC English Service blasting over the bus radio was playing gospel music. Life doesn’t get much better…sunrise and pavement and gospel music! Go God!
I had planned to make my way over to the matatus we had come on to get back to Nairobi, but there was an earnest young man who helped me with my bag and then told me his matatus were 150 shillings less than the one I had come on…I’m nothing if not thrifty!
Halfway back I remembered that I could cut through Kikuyu instead of going all the way to Nairobi. Which would cut about 1 and a half hours off my trip. When I got out of the matatu at Kikuyu the driver took my bag out of the back – it was covered with dust. He didn’t even attempt to wipe it off…it was that bad!
I got on the bus at 1:45 a.m. and walked into my house at 12:30 p.m. My back pain was minimal and my girls were all smiles. I cuddled my grandbaby and all the sudden the mud and hours over rough roads were a distant memory. Safari Njema!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

And then there was Thursday...

Remember Janet – the Maasai woman in the village of Ikiloret in the Rift Valley, with whom I co-teach English in her village….well, after trying to track her down for nearly a month…we had concrete plans to visit her in Ilkiloret on Thursday. I made plans with a taxi driver to meet me in Ngong and then we would stop for Grace and John at the farm in Kimuga. I needed to pick cash at the ATM in Ngong. (This ATM only works one in three times that I try to use it. So of course this time being only the second try out of three this week it didn’t work. Supposedly the network was down). So I bought a few groceries and diapers for Janet and went to meet the taxi driver. We talked briefly about how going to Ilkiloret is always an adventure so one can never make plans for the rest of the day because one never knows what will happen or when you will return. That was foreshadowing of what would be a very
interesting day.

We picked up Grace and John a little after 10 am. Grace need to stop at Kimuga Secondary School which is about a mile from their house on the road to Ilkiloret to drop off a check from a donor. The principal wasn’t in but the deputy principal was. Grace explained what she needed and it still took nearly 15 minutes for us to get a receipt.

I’m not sure if I reported this or not… Janet was nominated to be the MP (Member of Parliament for Disabled People)! She also had a baby boy named Evans on April 23. If that date sounds familiar, it’s because that is MY birth date! This is a lot of change for the better in Janet’s life!

But that also means a lot of change in Wezesha By Grace’s ministry. Without Janet, or another interpreter, there is no need for me to go to Ilkiloret. We are praying that we find someone to fill Janet’s rather large shoes in her community. Preferably a woman as we would like to continue the legacy she started of women’s leadership in the Maasai community.

After our detour to Kimuga Secondary we were back on our journey. There has been a lot of rain in the Rift Valley this rainy season, so the “road” is horrible! We are hoping that Janet’s being an MP will shine some light on this forgotten region of the country. I use the word “forgotten” because if you look on maps of Kenya, the road to Ilkiloret and beyond is paved! It was supposed to be paved 10 years ago, but I’m guessing either the project was never funded or the money was eaten along the way!

People are buying up this harsh, thorn-ridden; semi-arid land like it was gold. As soon as the road is paved prices will skyrocket. 

This is the yard outside the school building in Ilkiloret after months of heavy rains. This is a semi-arid region!

The drive that used to take an hour and a half, now takes a good 2 hours. We are dusty and hot when we arrive. I greet the Maasai women who are outside Janet’s manyatta and her father, the former chief. And then I go into Janet’s manyatta. 

Janet feeding Evans in her manyatta.

It takes a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the dark. They had done some renovations to the Manyatta and moved a few of the walls back so that Janet has her own room. I hear Evans crying and hold him for a moment after greeting Janet. He’s tiny! He’s all of two weeks old and 2.5 kilos. I’m so used to my 6.6 kilo Baby Tamara - Evans feels weightless!

Grace doesn't have huge hands...Evans is just that tiny!

Grace comes in and we begin to talk about Evans and her days in parliament and what it’s been like there. Janet is a private person. Neither Grace nor I knew she was pregnant.

In that half light of the manyatta I thought about the three cultures seated there together: Janet, the Maasai; Grace, the Kikuyu; and me, the American. I thought about the rarity of this combination of women working together. I thought about how much cross-cultural learning went into every one of our meetings. Even though Janet and Grace are both Kenyans, their cultures are vastly different. Grace has spent most of her working life with Maasai. Janet’s father considers Grace, Janet’s other
mother. “When she’s there (Nairobi), she is yours.” He says. “Watch over her and let me know how she’s doing.”

No matter how old we get or how lofty our positions in life, as long as our parents are alive, we never stop being their children.

We are served tea by Janet’s real mother, whose name still escapes me…I have always just called her mom. A while later she comes and tells us to move to the mabati house next door because we will be served lunch and the chief wants to meet with John and Grace and Janet.

We eat a lunch of beans and potatoes and chapati. (You know you are part of a Maasai family when you visit and they don’t cook you meat. They don’t have to impress you. You are one of them. Their everyday food is good enough for you!) It was delicious! Then I went outside and sat under a tree with Joyce, a Maasai woman with a 7th grade education whose English is good enough that we can communicate. She was using the beads from a necklace that broke to remake it. I asked her if she’d
make me one. She said yes. So I will buy the beads and design a pattern that I like and leave it at a certain supermarket in Ngong and she will send someone to pick it. Postal service – Maasai style!

A man whom I had met earlier that day drove up on a motorcycle. I asked Joyce if he’d take me to the school where Rebecca [the young Maasai women with whom I stay when I teach in Ikiloret] was attending a meeting.  This man never had a formal education but had picked up a bit of English. He was very interested to hear when adult classes would start again because he wanted to attend!

Rebecca and I walked back to her house together. I have a box full of my “Ilkiloret clothes and toiletries” that I keep at her house. I used to have a bed there too, but it was Grace’s and she needed it so she took it back. And now with Baby T at home and Milly back in school, I’m not able to spend the night in Ilkiloret even if I resume teaching there. Milly goes to school from 7 to 11 am every morning, so I am on grandma duty during that time most days.

After Grace and John’s meeting with the chief, we start the slow process of saying goodbye. Once we say we are leaving it takes between 15 to 25 minutes to actually leave! We get in the car, plus one, an electrician from Kiserian who had come to fix an aerial on a house nearby. If you’re wondering how you can run a television without power…you can. It’s called either solar or a car battery! But a good aerial is key!

Now it is really a good thing that we have this young man with us, because we stop before the big hill out of Ilkiloret to get a bag of charcoal, which he ends up carrying to the car. (They make charcoal in this area). We have to dismount 5 times from the car climbing out of the Rift Valley because of the steep and rocky hills and the car bottom will scrap when it is weighed down.

Grace got a call on our way back to Kimuga, that two big planes had landed in her neighbor’s field. So we went rushing home to see what was happening. 

Giraffes are just part of the landscape in this part of Kenya.

As we neared Grace’s house we saw a giraffe 30 feet from the road. The children on their way home from school walked by it as if it was no big deal. As we were taking pictures of the giraffe we heard the whirring of a jet engine, so we continued on past Grace’s house and found two giant Kenyan Army helicopters in her neighbor’s field. We ran back into the field and stood along the fence to watch them. The first one lifted off and flew over our heads. The second one lifted off and flew in the opposite direction. Then a few seconds later the one which had taken off first came back and flew over us again after the other one. I’m sure it was just some sort of training exercise but it was a pretty spectacular site for this small village! 

Kenyan Army Pilots take a break in a field in Kimuga village.
The second helicopter in the field had a cargo bay.

Grace gave me a two-liter coke bottle filled with milk from Maasai land as we were leaving her house. Maasai milk smells smokey! So I boiled it and Milly and I each had a cup of fresh smokey milk while I made dinner!

So that was my Thursday. What did you do?

Update: A man who used to teach adult education in Ilkiloret has agreed to take Janet’s place and teach classes. Grace and I will meet with him and the district adult education coordinator next Wednesday to see the way forward. God answers prayer!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Birthday Shots

I don’t know how the month of April snuck past me. I usually gear up for my birthday month, because how can you not set apart the month of your birth for special celebration. And me of all people! I love birthdays. I think it’s a crime that Kenyans don’t think celebrating birthdays is important. Case in point, my foster daughter Milly thought until a few days ago, that she was 16 and born on April 28th then we spoke to her birth mom who said she was in fact 19 and born on April 6th.
I know my date of birth, the fact that this year I scheduled a painful procedure that may possibly alleviate my back pain the morning of my 42nd birthday did not escape my notice. It’s a long story…
I saw a back specialist at Cure International at Kijabe Mission Hospital (about two hours from Nairobi) in February. The MRI and the doctor’s visit proved inconclusive. The back specialist could not determine why I had pain on the right side of my back.
I met a young woman at church, named Ashby, who could be the subject of a whole other blog, who’s fiancĂ© is a famous doctor in Canada. He is famous for treating among other things, mystery back pain! So I emailed the Canadian doctor who got back to me promptly with a possible solution. Inject lidocaine into the scar and muscle tissue that is painful to get the tissue to release, as it was previously all knotted up!
I forwarded said email that gave procedure directions to the back specialist, who forwarded it to the pain specialist who works out of the Cure clinic in Nairobi one day a week. Tuesdays! For the week before my scheduled procedure I had been in pretty severe pain, so I didn’t want to put it off. So that’s how I ended up with 30-some injections in my back on my birthday.
But let me back up, (that wasn’t a pun)… Monday is Bible Study day. I attend two different bi-weekly Monday Bible Studies. Ashby attends the one that was on April 22. I got a text near the end of Bible Study that it was raining hard in Ngong (and as my 23-year-old, who tends to exaggerate a bit, texted – there is an ocean forming outside our gate! Come home early!)
Ashby, who spends the night at my house after Bible Study because she has recently opened a children’s home in the bush and can’t get there after dark, has a four-wheel drive vehicle so we didn’t rush out of Bible Study. This was a good thing because the women laid hands on me and prayed for healing through this procedure I was to endure the next morning.
There was in fact a small lake, ocean is a bit strong, in front of my house, but Ashby’s vehicle easily crossed it.
Ashby and I made pasta, salad and French bread for the girls and Gracious. My Kenyan niece, Gracious, who is six, has been a fixture at my house for the past two weeks as her mom who works overnights at a gas station, looks for a new house help. 

Sorry about the blurry picture - I need to train Ashby on proper operation of the camera!

Ashby had bought me a present and gotten at everyone at Bible Study to sign a card for me! After pasta we ate chocolate cake from the local supermarket that is dyn-o-mite!
Me and my girls on the eve of my 42nd birthday!

The next morning my neighbor offered me a lift to Nairobi as I was leaving! Lorraine is my upstairs neighbor. I don’t know her well but her kids are friends with Gracious and spend a lot of time in my house.
She dropped me off and I walked about ¾ mile to where I boarded a matatu for Westlands where the clinic is located. When I got to Westlands I walked another ¼ mile to the clinic.
I was early and spent my time waiting for the doctor in prayer. It went something like this: God please let this procedure work. Please take away my pain. Please be with this doctor, guide her hands, make them instruments of your healing.
Breathe, Breathe, Breathe, pray some more.
In walks the smallest doctor I’ve ever met. She was tiny! After a few minutes the nurse called me to take my vitals. Wouldn’t you know it my blood pressure was low. 97/51.
I convinced the nurse that I hadn’t eaten breakfast and that my blood pressure usually ran low. Started to kick self because of not having eaten anything…but I was so anxious I couldn’t bring myself to eat…so lesson learned. Force-feeding oneself on occasion is called for!
Then I went to see the doctor who asked me about my medical history and talked to me about the procedure she was going to perform. She also told me it would be painful!
I wasn’t quite prepared for the pain. Little pops of pain as the lidocaine entered the muscle…so many time that I stopped counting. As I laid on the table recovering, I noticed severe pain further down than she’d injected. When I mentioned it she probed the area and said I could come back another time to inject that area or I could do it now but that she didn’t want to overwhelm me.
“Do it now.” The thought of the mile walk and the two bumpy matatu rides I would have to endure made the decision easy. Of course this was the tightest muscle and of course the most painful. Saved the best for last!
As I lay on the table crying from, I think, relief more than pain, she reached over and took my hand and said, “Can I pray with you?”
“Oh please,” I said. I knew Kijabe was a mission hospital. I knew mission hospital doctors were encouraged to pray with and for their patients. But the back specialist hadn’t asked to pray with me.
My being was flooded with God’s pure grace, mercy and love as my doctor prayed for my health, my ministry and for God’s blessing on my life. As I walked back to the fancy Westlands mall to eat at my favorite salad bar (my birthday treat), I started to contemplate the experience.
When we are at are lowest, when are backs are against the wall, we cry out in prayer. “God, are you listening? Here my prayer.” And we cry and wail and we tell God about our pain, frustration, anger, hurt. We’ve been betrayed, belittled, beaten, physically or emotionally harmed. We need healing.
That’s what I felt like in the waiting room. And then a tiny angel in the form of my doctor walked through the door and said, “this will hurt but it will be worth it.” And isn’t that what being a Christian is all about enduring the suffering because there is an ultimate heavenly reward.
And then she prayed…and while the pain didn’t stop, I felt something more important healing. I felt the frustration and anger I had held onto for so long about this back pain begin to ease. God has a plan. He has a plan for my life and for this pain. He loves me. He doesn’t want me to suffer. This too shall pass.
So in years to come when someone asks how I spent my 42nd birthday. I will tell them about my 30 birthday shots and the praying doctor who began my healing celebration.