Sunday, June 30, 2013

When God closes a door . . .

They do not fear bad news; 
they confidently trust the Lord to care for them.
Psalm 112:7 New Living Translation

The Compassion center at Ewauso Kdong.
As you may know, for the past eight years, I have sponsored a little lady from India through the organization Compassion, International. Neela has grown from that little girl into a beautiful young woman. And because life goes on and sometimes it gets away from us, my little lady in India is no longer in the program. (This link might answer some of your questions regarding this.) 

I got a call Friday night from Compassion explaining the situation and was asked if I wanted to sponsor a different child in India. “Well,” I said to the woman on the other end of the phone, “Can I tell you my story?”

After I rambled for a bit, the woman asked, “So would you like to sponsor a child in Kenya?”

Ya think?

I knew that this would happen one day, that I would be asked if I wanted to continue sponsorship and where would I like this new child to be from? I go on the Compassion website all the time trying to find kids who might be living in the places I visited in Africa. How cool would it be for them to walk the same land that I walked? How cool if Val could find this new child while she is still in Kenya?

God guide me, send me to the child who needs me the most.

“Um,” I said to the Compassion woman still holding on the other end, “Give me a girl in Kenya who has been waiting the longest for a sponsor.”

“I have a little girl – I can’t pronounce her name, but she is nine years old. Oh, her birthday is July 11. What a wonderful birthday present for her.”

“That’s perfect,” was all I could answer because by this time I was crying.

“We will send her profile within a week. Otherwise if you go to our website, she should be on your account within 24 hours.”

This was eight o’clock Friday night. When I checked my Compassion account at six am Saturday morning, there was my new little girl. Mueni. No, she is not from any place that I have visited or that Val has visited. According to Google Maps she is a good two and a half hour drive from Nairobi, which on Kenyan roads is more like five hours.

But that is ok. Just like Neela from India, Mueni is the child God chose for me. And I will accept His will.  

The Lord will work out his plans for my life— for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever. 
Don’t abandon me, for you made me. 
Psalm 138:8 New Living Translation

And Lord, don’t abandon Neela or Mueni. Amen
The Compassion center in Nairobi. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Eating like an Ethiopian

I may have told you this before, but when I was a kid my family sat around the supper table every night to eat together.  Just like a Norman Rockwell painting. The thing that Mr. Rockwell forgot though, when capturing the middle-America typical family, was that the TV was on at supper time. And the program on the TV was the nightly news. It seemed that every night there was news from Vietnam and later on from Watergate. It also seemed like the famine in Ethiopia was covered every night as well.

I did some online research and that famine in Ethiopia really did not last throughout my entire childhood (like the Vietnam War did). But it was those pictures of starving children in Africa, their bellies huge, their arms and legs sticks, their eyes vacant, that made me decide way back then that someday I would go to a third world country and make a difference.

Who knew how that would all end up? You know where it all ended for me during this last trip to Kenya? In an Ethiopian restaurant.

Apparently Ethiopian food is very popular. I always pictured Ethiopians eating little besides rice or gruel. But they serve a variety of dishes, the most common being several different items plopped onto injera, the spongy-looking, pancake-like flatbread which they use to scoop up their food.

I’ve had worse food, I’ve had better. The important thing isn’t what you eat as much as who you eat it with.  

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Final Thoughts on Saikeri

We were in Saikeri, the land of the Maasai for such a short time. Tuesday afternoon came and we needed to head back to Nairobi.

What are my fondest memories of Maasailand? The peace, the quiet, the stillness at night sitting in the yard looking up at a million stars and finding the Big Dipper and knowing that we are never that far from home, that home is where you find yourself. (And kicking myself for not at least trying to get a picture.)  

And who can forget the infamous choo, the hole in the ground to use for a toilet. Going for four days without a shower. The medical clinic with no water or electricity. Minor inconveniences in the grand scheme of things.

Oh, but the chai tea. Until you have had chai tea made in the Bush by a Maasai momma, you have not had chai tea. If you get the chance you also have to try authentic ugali, but only a small piece.

The ride there in the back of an ancient Toyota pickup. And the ride back on the back of a piki-piki, a Kenyan motorbike fit for three and a week’s worth of supplies.

Sigh. I would go back to Kenya in a heartbeat if I could, and I would definitely spend more time at the place beyond the end of the road. 
 The yard at the volunteer house in Saikeri. The shower room is on the far right - a shower of course is taken using two buckets of rain water. The choo - or toilet - is just next to the shower room.
The piki-piki ride back to Ngong. While I was hanging on for dear life, Val was holding her camera out to the side to get pictures.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Just Like Working Back Home

When I traveled to Kenya this May, I found it easiest to say I was going on a Volunteer Trip. “Volunteer”. What exactly does that mean? It sounds so ambitious, like I am going to spend forty hours a week working, only not getting paid. Does anyone who goes on a “volunteer” trip work those kinds of hours? Oh, sure, a lot of them do, but I think in general we get more down time than we do back at home. Which is ok.

Or I could say I went on a mission trip. To me that is even more pressure, not only am I volunteering my time, I am on a mission. I have a goal to accomplish, whether it is bringing Christianity to the unsaved or bringing typhoid vaccine to the masses.

I was talking to my boss this week about something similar. His daughters are on a trip to South Africa for three weeks, and their group leader is calling it an “Acquaintance trip”. I think that was the word anyway. The main goal of the trip is to turn those acquaintances into friendships. You travel to a distant country to work with the people of that country, you have a physical project to accomplish, but you have the more important goal of getting to know these people and their culture. You don’t know much about them at first, but over the course of your stay, you come to understand what they are all about.

Know what I mean? Or am I rambling? Maybe I will just get to my point.

The two weeks I spent in Kenya in May, I did a few things here and there, but I think mostly I was there to meet people, learn their stories and understand the lives they lead. All so I could turn around and share that with you.

All except those two days I worked at the clinic in Saikeri. I’ve had busier days back home, but never days that busy in a foreign country. Just being in a foreign country, at a clinic with no water of any kind and no electricity, where there is a huge language barrier, made the work hard enough.

I’m used to being on my feet all day, and a lot of days I don’t get time for lunch. But I do take some water breaks and I do wash my hands with soap and water between every patient. Neither of those things happened at the clinic in Saikeri. Not that I’m complaining. Those were two of my favorite days in Africa.

What kind of patients did we see? An elderly lady with possible Tuberculosis, a young man with a two-day old machete wound, an older woman with a possible broken hip, a three-year-old with an abscess the size of an egg yolk on his head, and lots and lots of viral upper respiratory infections (i.e. colds).

The clinic was quite fortunate to have a physician assistant from Great Britain volunteering there, in addition to Rhoda, the Kenyan nurse who ran the clinic. Unfortunately, this nurse didn’t speak very much Maa, the language of the Maasai. Luckily most of them knew a little Swahili, but not all of them. Which meant, the PA and I would wait for this convoluted translation to take place with nearly every patient.

The most help that I gave to the clinic was the long line of babies that I gave routine immunizations to. The mommas would give their card to Rhoda. She would write their information in this huge ledger, while telling me which shots the baby needed.

I was quite pleased that these babies were getting the same immunizations we give back home. That is such a blessing to these wee ones. Give them the basics at least, keep them from getting the childhood diseases like measles or polio or even pneumonia. Diseases which could be fought off under optimal conditions, but which could easily kill an infant out here.

I think I did ok those two days. 
The refrigerator at the clinic. With no electricity, it is run on a gas coolant.
Drawing up immunizations.
Giving immunizations. 
The Physician Assistant I worked with at the clinic and two of our patients. The two white tabs on the desk are malaria tests. We tested all of our patients for malaria those two days, and all the tests came out negative.
Rhoda the Kenyan nurse who was in charge of the clinic. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Walking Safari

When I was in Kenya this May, I didn't go on a tourist's safari. I didn’t ride in a Jeep with a bunch of other people, traveling across wide open plains, snapping pictures of dozens of wild African animals. I experienced that seven years ago, and though I would love to do it again sometime, this year there was neither time nor money in the budget.  

This time, I went on what I will call a walking safari. We didn't see much wildlife but we took in the peaceful beauty around us. We got to sense what Africa is really like, feel the earth beneath our feet, breathe in the clear air which has filled this space for millennium.

It was a seven hour walk there and back. I was tired beyond belief by the time we got back to our guest house. But it was that kind of tired that just makes you want to stop and sigh and be thankful for the amazing day.
 It was a beautiful day for a walk.
The animals in the distance are Maasai cattle. Our destination was that little peak in the far right corner. 
 The classic Kenyan Acacia tree. 
 Caught a few zebras
 And a few gazelle. Most of them are Thomson's gazelle, but on the right, the guy without a strip and with larger horns is a Grant's gazelle. 
 The blob in the middle of the picture is an emu. Sorry I couldn't get him in any better focus. 
 Even saw some flora. 
 There's that peak. We are getting close. 
 And we made it! Now we just have to walk all the way back. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Home, Sweet, Saikeri

Ok, so the ride to Saikeri, crammed in the back of a Toyota pickup was tons of fun. At one point the truck just couldn’t make it up a steep, rocky hill, so we all got out to walk up.

On another hill, which wasn’t quite so long, one of the men jumped out of the truck as it inched along. He picked up a big rock on the side of the road, and whenever the truck seemed about to slip backwards, he would set the rock under one of the rear wheels.

When we arrived in Saikeri, we dropped off a few of the people on one end of town, then drove to the other end to drop off the supplies. Ok, the town is like a block long with maybe a dozen buildings on the main street.

 Most of the supplies we had brought out here in the truck were going into Phillip’s store. Here is Phillip, fresh out of high school and an entrepreneur. Out of his little shop, he sells medicine and feed for the livestock which the Maasai raise and cherish.

Phillip also works for Maggie, helping the volunteers to feel welcome at her humble home.

 The only electricity in her house came from the small solar panel on the roof, which provided enough power for a single light bulb in the living room and to charge cell phones. All the water for the house came from rain barrels under the eaves. We brought our own drinking water with us.

Just like when I was at Mosiro seven long years ago, this place felt just like home to me. I can live with a few inconveniences. I could have stayed forever.   

Oh, and the chai tea? Brewed to perfection! The flies thought so too. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

I'm riding in what?

            When I went to Kenya the first time, back in 2006, the highlight of our trip was the stay in Massailand. We worked and played for several days at Mosiro, running a medical clinic and doing health education for the Maasai who live there.
            This time in Kenya, my daughter Val and I visited a different place in Maasailand. The town was called Saikeri and the road there was as tenuous, though shorter, than the road to Mosiro. But upon arrival, just like Mosiro, I instantly knew that the trip had been worth it.
            This is how we got to Saikeri.
            We left the volunteer house around ten in the morning, took a matatu to Nakumatt Junction and then a city bus to Ngong. Ngong is a bit like Narok – very busy, with a mix of modern and Maasai. It is the last vestige of civilization before heading down out of the Ngong Hills and into the Rift Valley.

            Our ride to Saikeri, Maggie, said she would meet us at the corner in front of Barclay Bank. As if she had nothing else to do and nowhere else to go, she suggested we stop at a café for chai tea and samosas.
            I’d had chai at Nakumatt Junction and had been so disappointed. It tasted like the chai which I made at home and nothing like what I remembered drinking in Kenya the last time. Now here at Ngong, I thought, finally, really chai. But it wasn’t to be; this still didn’t taste right. At least the beef samosas were good.
            After visiting and finishing our snack, Maggie directed us to the Naivas grocery store so we could get some last supplies to take with us into the Bush. Maggie left us there while she went off to run some errands.
            With our meager purchases crammed in our backpacks we waited patiently at the designed spot and soaked up the ambience of Ngong. Ok, there is no ambience in Ngong, just a lot of people and traffic, dust and noise. 

            Finally Maggie came back and took us to the vehicle we were to ride out to Saikeri. It was a two-wheel drive, compact, ancient Toyota pickup. The bed was half-full of supplies and Maggie suggested that I ride in the cab with her.
            Val naturally thought I should get the full Kenyan experience, so suggested I ride in the bed of the truck with her. That sounded fine to me. How bad could it be? I grew up riding in the back of my dad’s Chevy.
            Oh, but it got bad. First off, Maggie took off to run another errand. While we waited, people kept coming up to the truck and setting boxes and bags in the back of it. Then they would just walk off. I kept asking myself, do they know what they are doing and where this stuff is going?

            Then two older Maasai women came along and crawled into the bed of the truck. Then another hundred pounds worth of supplies were dropped in. Two more Maasai women and a Maasai girl clambered in.
            I said, “Val, maybe we better get in before they run out of room.” So we sat on the boards which were across the wheels on each side and waited some more, while more supplies and more people crowded in.
            All total, by the time we left, an hour later, there were nine people in the bed of the truck, two boys on the roof of the cab and three people in the cab, along with hundreds of pounds of boxes, bags and loaves of bread. There was no longer any room in the back of the truck, so we road on the side hanging for dear life to the thin railing running along the box.

            After being in Ngong for what had to be hours (this is why you don't wear a watch in Kenya, it just makes for more frustration), it was time to head into the Bush. Check back on Tuesday to see how that went. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Home Away From Home

I know that I told you a little about the volunteer house where we stayed in Kenya, but I thought I should fill you in on it a bit more.
I don’t know the whole story of the house’s evolution, but I know that it has only been operational a few months. The ground floor consists of the main living space, which doubles as dining room, kitchen, TV room, and even a meeting room during the day.

The window of this room overlooks this fine yard belonging to the neighbors, where roosters live and crow each morning by four AM. (Picture taken from the roof.)

Outside the front door, someone set up a dart board, where it seemed that someone was always throwing darts.

Nothing wrong with that, except that my bedroom window is right there, to the left of where the dart board sits. (When no one is playing, they bring it in the house.)

I showed you a picture of our bedroom already. Nothing fancy. Not very big, but big enough.

We even had an attached bathroom. Too bad the fixtures weren’t connected yet, but at least it was a space to store our toiletries.

The bathroom we used was on the other end of the house. The sink was in the large storage room next to the main living space. The bathroom itself was just the toilet and shower – all in one little space. (I pulled this picture off of Izzo’s Facebook page. I don’t know why I didn’t take more pictures of my own.)

The cool place was the unfinished second floor.

And the coolest place was the roof – or at least the views from the roof.

Now you know a little of what my home away from home looked like and where Val is staying for another month and a half. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Refuges in your own homeland

One of the groups which my daughter most wants to work with are the people living in the IDP camps outside of Nairobi.
One day while I was in Kenya we visited the IDP camp at Maai Mahu. Talk about heartbreaking. Most of these families were displaced following post-election violence in 2007. Before that they had decent homes and jobs. But when the political party which lost the presidential election challenged the results, violence broke out first in Kiberia slum and then throughout Kenya. Over a half million people were forced to leave their homes or lose their lives and when things quieted down, they had no place to return to. Their homes had either been destroyed or taken over by someone else. 

Known as IDP or Internally Displaced Persons, groups of families across the countryside made make-shift shelters, hoping it was temporary. But as the years dragged on, they realized that this was now their home. They had become refuges within their own country.
Various outside groups have come in to help them build permanent housing. But the fact remains that they still are displaced. They have little income and little chance to move on to a better life.

While Val is in Kenya for three months, she hopes to work mostly with the people in these camps, empowering the women to earn their own income, seeing to the needs of the school children, and finding ways to raise money and awareness once she returns to the States. She’ll be working closely with Gee who has a passion for the people living in the camps. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Coincidence? I think not?

Yesterday, my friend Phyllis took me to Joyful Noise Christian music fest in Blaine, Minnesota. If you have been following the tales of my trip to Kenya last month, you may be thinking, “so what? We want to hear about Africa”. But hold on to your seats, God is bigger than that.

This festival, like Lifest, is sponsored by Compassion, International. Between two of the performers, someone got up and gave their plug for Compassion and then introduced a young man who had been a sponsored child with Compassion. Owen was from Kenya and he shared a little bit about his life.  

When he had finished speaking, the woman who introduced him said that he would be down at the Compassion tent if anyone wanted to talk to him. Phyllis poked me. “Let’s go, you have to meet him.”

We wound our way through the throng of people, blankets and camp chairs. I was immediately greeted by Owen’s warm smile when I got to his tent.

“Hi, I’m Chris,” I opened with, extending my hand. “I just got back from Kenya.”

“Where were you?” he asked, shaking my hand firmly.

“Mostly in Nairobi. We were working with a group called Marafiki.

“Marafiki? In Dagoretti?”

“Yes…” It wasn’t possible that he knew of Izzo’s organization.

“I’m from Dagoretti. Did you work with Izzo?”

We talked for a bit, but other people wanted to meet him, so I had to move on. I texted Val in Kenya right away and she was as surprised as I was. Izzo and Gee, who also works with Marafiki, know Owen, and Gee was a Compassion child too.

 It seems like it is such a small world. And maybe it is. But I think what is more likely is that it is God’s world and He loves nothing more than bringing His children together. 

Knowing now that Gee was a Compassion child, it's easy for me to understand why he wants to pay it forward. I'll be writing more about him in the coming week.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Back Packs

I really should back up once again. Have I even ever told you anything about the volunteer organization my daughter and I worked through while we were in Kenya?
MarafikiCommunity was established around the time Val was there in 2010. Izzo, who runs the organization, initially started the group to help the people displaced by violence following the 2007 presidential election (more on that another day). From those simple beginnings, Izzo’s group has spread out in several directions, sending volunteers to schools, orphanages, hospitals and clinics as well as the IDP camps.
A few days after we visited Maggie, Oliver and the children at Agape Hope Center, Val and I were given a daunting task. Izzo asked us to get together backpacks to give to the children at Agape.
The storeroom next to Izzo’s house was filled with donated supplies and it was time to start giving them out. Val and I spent nearly two full days going through the storeroom and finding enough backpacks and pens, pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners, rulers, and notebooks to fill those backpacks. Without nearly enough room to work and no good way to get out of the sun, we muddled through and got the job done.
And then we had the immeasurable joy of giving out those backpacks.