This blog is named after my dog, Dino the wonder dog. Other than that, this blog doesn’t have a lot to do with him, except that some days, when I am just too busy or too tired or have a migraine, I let Dino write my blog for me. On days when he has not taken over the computer, I write about my life – the past, the present and the future - my travels far and near and my home. I would love it if you would follow along.
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?”
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
“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
The Lord will work out his plans for my life— for your
faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.
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.
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
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.
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
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
The refrigerator at the clinic. With no electricity, it is run on a gas coolant.
Drawing up 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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.)
the front door, someone set up a dart board, where it seemed that someone was
always throwing darts.
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.)
showed you a picture of our bedroom already. Nothing fancy. Not very big, but
even had an attached bathroom. Too bad the fixtures weren’t connected yet, but
at least it was a space to store our toiletries.
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.)
cool place was the unfinished second floor.
the coolest place was the roof – or at least the views from the roof.
you know a little of what my home away from home looked like and where Val is
staying for another month and a half.
of the groups which my daughter most wants to work with are the people living
in the IDP camps outside of Nairobi.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
then we had the immeasurable joy of giving out those backpacks.