Saturday, July 30, 2011

Out of Kenya Already??

My time in Kenya has come to a close already, it went extraordinarily fast and I'm already missing being there. Here are some things I will miss most:
  1. Taking chai multiple times a day
  2. Karibu Sana (Very welcome), and the hospitality that follows that when you are visiting
  3. Eating fresh fruit from the open air markets
  4. Learning/speaking Kiswahili – even when that requires me making a fool of myself
  5. Jamming to hip-hop tunes down the road in a beat up matatu with Jesus bumper stickers all over it on my way to work
  6. Kenyan foods - chapati, mandazi, beans, dengu, pilau, ugali, sikuma..all of it (except for matumbo maybe - goat intestines)
  7. Nairobi weather - between 60-85 degrees Fahrenheit pretty much all the time
  8. Afternoon snacks of coke (in a glass bottle of course) and cake
  9. Greeting everyone with handshakes or hugs when you see them, even if you hardly know one another
  10. Actually using coins to purchase things
  11. Cheap fare rides around town
  12. People dancing and taking joy in their praise for the Lord at Church
  13. Working with people who have great hope and desire to be part of the change in Kenya that is so needed

Friday, July 22, 2011

Funny Things of the Late

Kenya is great. There are always things happening that make me unsure of whether I should laugh or just be in amazement. Here are some examples:
1.       Explicit instructions on how to use every kind of contraception known to man…on the family Christian radio station
2.       Debating with Kenyan women over who can eat more chapatti in one sitting
3.       The harmful side effects of the Marula tree’s fruit on wild animals (just go ahead and youtube this one, it’ll be funnier that way)
4.       The addiction Kenyans have with late night Mexican soaps dubbed in English
5.       Speaking Kiswahili to children
6.       Exodus 2 Stardom – the Kenyan, Christian version of American Idol
7.       Stirring the ugali pot – much harder than it looks
8.       The burning ginger sensation that you breathe out of your nose after drinking a bottle of Stoney Tangawizi cola.
9.       Waking up in the middle of the night because of a mosquito buzzing in your ear
10.   The winter jackets and hats that Kenyans put on when the weather is around 15 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit)
11.   My favorite verb to say in Kiswahili because of the response it gets: Kucheza ngoma – to dance the African way
12.   Instructions on the radio for how to gain weight
13.   A recent encounter I had with a child on my way back from work: “Mzungu, give me a sweet”. I had no sweet…sorry mtoto (child).
14.   Negotiating with Kenyan businessmen
15.   The insane quantity of maharagwe (beans) I have consumed every day for the past 9 weeks..and the harmful side effects of that.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Feet Washing

The other day I was on my way out of Kibera to catch a matatu back to Karen when a boy came into the office with blood pouring out of his foot. He was tracking blood with each step he took, so I pulled him into the first aid room and instructed him to take a seat. Like most of the Kibera children I’ve dealt with, he didn’t complain or even appear to be in much pain, but it was clearly something that must have hurt at least a little bit. I’m not very squeamish around blood, so it didn’t bother me that there was so much of it, but it got a bit tricky when I saw that his foot was so plastered in dirt and mud that I couldn’t even figure out where the blood was oozing from. I began to look for rags or sterile wipes to sop up some of the blood, but we had none of those items in stock.  All we had were gauze pads about 1” by 1” in size and my attempts to use those were a complete fail. The problem was that his feet were just so dirty that I couldn’t imagine even bandaging anything up in that filthy state. At the end of the day, we are almost always out of water, and this day was no different. There was no running water left on the school grounds. It became a trying moment for me because I couldn’t imagine what to do with the child and the mess he had brought in. I knew something had to be done because I couldn’t just send him away, and then someone reminded me that there is some extra water left in the kitchen usually for cooking the next morning. I sent one of the other interns to grab some of that in a bucket and bring it back. When he brought it in, the only thing that I figured could be done was to submerge the entire foot so as to wipe off all of the blood and grime completely. After dipping in and out a few times, his foot was clean enough for me to see that the cut was on one of his toes, from a broken glass bottle according to him. I had to spend some time picking dirt particles out of the deep cut before I could even apply antibacterial and bandage it up. It really needed stitches, but the bandage was the best I could do given the lack of resources to treat such a wound. After cleaning it out and bandaging it up, I washed the blood off of the worn yellow sandal he had been wearing and instructed him on how to keep the wound clean before sending him off.
I didn’t even realize how biblical this all was until later, but I guess I can say that I now understand how humbling it is to sit at someone’s feet and wash the dirt and grime from the streets off of them. In the United States we wear shoes everywhere and hardly come into contact with the amount of dust, mud, and garbage that they do on this side of the world. When Christ washed his disciples’ feet, they were probably similarly gross in appearance, aroma, and everything else that goes along with that. The experience of washing served as a really interesting microcosm of the human condition that I needed to be reminded of.

A Sunday in Kibera

Sunday I was invited to go to church with a friend of mine named Raphael who lives in Kibera. I met Raphael a few weeks ago because he had come by the Karen property to see the orphanage. As a product of the Kibera slum himself, he has hopes of starting some kind of children’s home to give children growing up in dangerous situations a chance at life. Raphael had a very difficult childhood and his testimony is one of the most intense I’ve heard. He found Christ at a time when he had basically tried out every immoral thing he could do that he had access to in the slums. It’s refreshing to hear how the presence of God in his life has been able to really reshape his priorities and purposes in life.
The church he brought me to was actually right outside of the slum, maybe a few hundred yards away. When we first walked in, there were only about 20 or so people that seemed to be present. I wasn’t sure if this was to be expected or not, but even as the worship continued and we transitioned into the sermon nobody else arrived. It was a bit confusing to me because they had enough chairs to accommodate about 150 people, I guess that one will remain a mystery to me. I can’t say I was super enthralled with the sermon, and the service went on for about 3 hours which made it somewhat difficult for me to retain focus for the whole time. But afterwards I was introduced to the pastors and a few of the other people at the church, and the way their welcoming nature reaffirmed to me why I love Kenya. Being a complete stranger, you can be welcomed in right away and appreciated. Yeah, Kenyan hospitality is pretty legitimate.
Afterwards Raphael took me to his home in the slums. To get to it we took a matatu down the street and then entered into the maze of narrow alleys and low roofs. When we got to his place we stepped in and had me sit down on one of the beds after lifting the sheet that divided the room. We sat and began a conversation and a few minutes later someone came out from behind another sheet that was hanging in front of the other bed. It startled me because I had no idea that there was anyone else in there. The room is about 10’ by 10’ like most of the rooms in the slum, and this one houses about 5 people. They share beds at night to accommodate everybody. I was impressed at how clean they kept the place despite having so many people living there. After about a half hour Raphael brought us plates of mcheli na maharagwe (rice and beans). I’m not sure where they actually prepared it, but it was delicious, and their generosity in giving me a meal in their poverty meant a lot to me. Raphael lives in a pretty broken family, but the ones I met were still very inviting, and it was nice to be able to spend time talking with them.
The next day I saw Raphael and he thanked me for coming. I told him that I was the thankful one for them inviting me in, and he responded by telling me that they hardly ever see any white people venturing into that part of the slum and feeling comfortable with everything. Raphael told me that I’m the first American he has met that he really considers to be his friend, and his family had appreciated me being there. It’s something that amazes me. I don’t feel deserving of such thanks, I did nothing other than spend time with them. But it means a lot to many families here to have a visitor, so I guess I can say I am thankful to be able to fill that role.

Cleaning Day

Toilets in the slums are a messy business to tend to. However, today was the day that we finally got together to take care of the mess that was the restroom situation at Raila Education Centre. I had been working through a group at the school called Christian Union to encourage some of the students to organize for a Saturday community service day. The student leader, Benson, became my point man in the effort to try and make this happen. Benson amazed me in his ability to spread the word and encourage students to get involved. We had over 30 students show up after classes on Saturday for a job that had to be the least appealing thing anybody could be doing to start off their weekend. What started as a task of simply pouring disinfectant and scrubbing quickly turned into several tasks. We had to form teams of students that could fetch water (which became even more difficult when the school ran out of water and we had to send people to the nearest pump to buy more), scrub walls, brush the roofs off, clear jiggers out of the latrines, pick up trash, fix the gravel outside the latrines, and replace stones around the walkway.
At the end of it, the latrines were much cleaner and the rancid smell had been greatly reduced. Aesthetically, some aspects were hard to fix. Weather damage, stains, and writing on walls were impossible to get off in some areas. There is still plenty that can be done to fix these problems, but funding wasn’t exactly present for this project so my limited personal budget could only take care of so much. After the work, we provided lunch for the students who helped. I felt bad because all we were able to get for them was juice and sandwiches. They seemed very appreciative of that, because many of them may not be eating anything else until school on Monday anyway. But I still kept thinking to myself that they deserved a feast for the kind of work they put in voluntarily on their weekend. It’s difficult because I’m limited in what I can provide for them too. On my long matatu ride back through the dense Nairobi traffic I just felt a heavy weight of empathy on my shoulders. My time here is limited now and I feel like so much good is coming along, but I also feel like I have a lot more to learn if I am going to be able to fully give in a manner that benefits the people here.
The following Monday, I worked with one of the deputy principals to get some people to come out to lower the waste in the latrines by using some chemicals. It was cheaper and supposedly would take care of the “wadudu”, or bugs as well. The problem was that I didn’t know these people that were called up and the head principal didn’t either. A lot of Kenyan businessmen are pretty corrupt, and as these men began to lay down prices and feed us their fake empathy, I began to question whether they were even qualified to do the job. Their request for a down payment before any work had even been done was my first indicator that we needed to be pretty firm with them. To make a long story short, however, things worked out well in this area. The school finally paid for the job, which was something they were responsible for, and the job got done in a timely manner at a good price once we talked firmly and explained what was needed. So I guess some good has come to the school through this.

The Stinky Problem

The project I’ve been looking to work on for the past couple weeks has come in one of the least desirable, yet strangely very important, ways. Raila Education Centre schools over 1,100 students currently, all of which use an outhouse with about 4 stalls for the females and 8 stalls for the males. Of those, only about half are in “operation”. I’m not exactly sure what this means because you don’t need much technology to operate a squatty potty, it’s a hole in the ground where you simply squat and let it flow. But nonetheless, about half of the stalls are boarded up and can no longer be opened. Of the ones being used, none are in very good condition. They are covered in residue from the wastes children have left on the floor when they couldn’t quite get their aim right into the hole. Doors are broken on some, and no attempts to clean these latrines has been made to my knowledge since they were first put up, about 3-4 years ago. Additionally, you have the problem of locals from Kibera climbing over the fence at night to break in and use the latrines themselves as well, which contributes even more to the lack of sanitation. Water was once running by the latrines to allow children to wash hands after using the restroom, but unfortunately the tube that connected the faucet to the water store was stolen at night, so water is no longer available by these latrines.
The reason I’m so concerned about this issue is because as an intern here I’m also involved with treating sick students that come into the makeshift nurse’s office we have in the First Love building. Nobody qualified works in the office, but this gets even worse when you consider that the reason we see so many children every day is because of some of the very easily solved, yet unattended, problems with sanitary practices. Students come in all the time with stomach aches or scrapes that could easily be infected. Just yesterday, I had to perform my first tooth extraction when I found a young boy trying to pull the tooth of his even younger friend. Kenyans living in Kibera have much stronger immune systems than most people, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore the health concerns they face. Their life expectancy is consequently very low because of such health risks.
So what started as a plea to just get clean bathrooms has turned into a pretty big task. I started by working through Christian Union, a group of students that gather bi-weekly to discuss how they can grow into their Christian faith as young adults. I spoke at one of their meetings about responsibility, as it is presented in the Bible, and proposed the idea of working on cleaning up the school. An initiative like this really can’t come from me, because the important part of it is maintenance which is going to take place once I’m gone. They need to be empowered to work on this project themselves, so I guided them through some planning and we tentatively set up a work day. The other factor is the involvement of the school. I found out after talking to some people that the latrines hadn’t been exhausted (i.e. sucked out) in a very long time, so our efforts to clean them may be put to waste if they are not exhausted before we start work. This, and even the larger problem of lack of school sanitation, should be coming from the school and their funds, not First Love. I set up a meeting with the deputy principal of the school yesterday to discuss funding of projects like this. He admitted to me that the school is not spending money properly, they have incorrect priorities. The school receives funding from the government and also charges a fee from every student for attendance, this means that there is a lot capital floating around, but I am still unclear as to where this goes. It’s a mystery I’m still working on figuring out in the coming days and weeks, but am eager to find answers for.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Internet..or Lack Thereof

My inability to put up posts for the past week has not been a product of personal laziness, but rather a product of laziness from Access Kenya, the internet service provider here. Our internet went out last week on the compound and they simply don't have much of a concept of customer service and what that means I guess. That being said, I have been using the internet cafe or the school computer when I get on, which hasn't given me enough time to write posts. Hopefully I'll be able to put some up in the near future..we'll see if Access Kenya ever gets their act together.  

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Medical or Spritual?

Every day we’re constantly faced with choices and dilemmas. Last week was one of the strangest dilemmas I had ever faced in my life. Although I’ve hesitated sharing this story, I think it’s served to stretch me in many ways and therefore I believe it to be beneficial for others to hear.
Last week I went into work at the school on a regular Thursday morning. I had taken public transportation to get in and was a bit distraught at the amount of time it took because of all the traffic, but nonetheless, I had made it and went into the office to greet my co-workers. It seemed as though less people were around for some reason. A few were outside sifting through maize and stirring githeri as usual, but normally I would come to find everyone outside the kitchen working on something. I went back into the office to drop off my bag and when I opened the door to the first aid office/intern office, there was a child laying on a mattress pad on the floor who appeared to be sick, with a few adults that I had never met before standing over her muttering words that I couldn’t make out. There were also two students that appeared to be her age, about 13 or 14, sitting next to her by her head. I quickly closed the door, not wanting to draw attention to myself. The room seemed pretty serious and I didn’t want to be the Mzungu who caused some kind of problem to occur.
I threw my bag on a chair in another room and stepped outside. I found Patrick out there, the supervisor for First Love at the school, and decided I could ask him what the deal was in the office back there. He proceeded to tell me that the young girl was an orphan that they had little history of, but she had been sitting in class that morning and had fallen unconscious. They took her into the first aid office and Patrick said she regained consciousness, but began kicking and flailing her arms, complaining that somebody was choking her. She had been in the room for about an hour at this point, and Patrick mentioned that in his attempts to pray for her she would show discomfort and start shaking.
I was pretty interested by this because I’ve heard plenty stories of demonic possessions (aside from the corny American horror films that have been made), but even through the stories it is something that has always been pretty confusing to me. Scripture speaks many times of demons and people being possessed, and although it’s not seen very often in the US today, I believe that it is still something that occurs. I spent a while sitting outside of the room, wondering if I should step in and try to see what was going on for myself, or lay back because it wasn’t my place to get involved. The door kept swinging open and closed as people were going in and out between their work. Eventually, however, everyone had left and the door was open, only the sick girl and two of her classmates remained in there with her. As a firm believer that you should enter in when God opens doors for you (this time very literally), I opted to go in. I started off by having one of the young girls read a passage of scripture out loud while I assessed the situation, doing some simple first aid surveying I learned when I was a lifeguard and boy scout. The problem was that I couldn’t tell if anything was medically wrong because she was breathing, albeit very heavy, her eyes showed movement, her heart was beating, and her pulse was fine, though a bit fast.
After a few minutes, the school’s headmaster, a teacher, and one of the First Love cooks came in. They began muttering back and forth whether or not this was something for a doctor or if it was a spiritual matter. They debated back and forth until I suggested we just pray over her, which turned into just me praying as nobody else volunteered. When I finished praying, she was still shaking all over and reaching for her neck as if being choked. At this point, I was called to go help in the kitchen, so I left.
The next chance I got, I went back into the room. This time the teacher was in there with the girl’s aunt, her closest relative still alive. A few boys no older than 13 years old had also been called in. I asked the teacher what was happening and he said that they had decided to have these boys carry her over their shoulders back to her shack in the slums. They would deal with her over there. I was very much not okay with this at all, but it wasn’t my decision to make. I questioned what would happen to her there and the teacher said that they would have a pastor or local minister come see her, he was sure it was something spiritual. I still didn’t like the idea of this, but I didn’t really have an alternative myself, so they picked up the girl, who was like dead weight, and began the hike with her over their shoulders.  The teacher told me he would let me know the status of her the following day.
The dilemma I faced was that in this circumstance the problem feasibly could have been a spiritual or medical concern, but, in my opinion, there was nobody qualified to make that kind of assessment. We still have no qualified nurse on staff at the school, a problem that continues to plague us each passing day, and an orphan in the slums wouldn’t have the kind of insurance to get a qualified doctor to look at her. Even if a doctor had, they would likely operate under the assumption that spiritual possessions such as this do not exist, and proceed to search for something they simply could not find. On the converse, people at the school had mainly jumped to the conclusion that she was possessed because they didn’t know what else it could be and had little exposure to medicine. In this regard, I believe our ideologies are a bit opposite between the US and Kenya. In the US, we almost always turn to science or medicine first, denying that spiritual occurrences could be the reason behind something. In Kenya, they tend to turn to spiritual occurrences as the reasoning much earlier on, sometimes without fully considering that there may be real medical concerns.
The next day, I never found the teacher, but Patrick told me that the last he had heard was that she wasn’t much better. I don’t know where this girl Sharon is right now, but what I do know is that she is facing a matter of life or death and most of the people around her are responding nonchalantly. Sharon is not the only child in this situation. There are many children I have yet to face who are in situations of medical or spiritual concern without the proper attention being given to them. I call you to pray for these children. My hope and my prayer is that God will show me what can be done, but ultimately it will never be me that is going to make the change, it is going to be God and how he chooses to work through the hearts of the Kenyan people as well as myself.  Sorry if this story has seemed crazy, but the events that occurred are true, and I am still searching and praying for a just solution myself.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Misunderstandings Across Cultures

So before I go any further with this blog, I feel as though it is appropriate for me to enlighten you all on some common misunderstandings that the general public in America would perceive to be true about the general public in, well any African nation. To begin, all African nations are different. I've only been to Kenya so far, but I've learned bits and pieces of information about a lot of different African nations since I've been here. All have very unique cultures, often which differ in language, religion, pop culture, foods, economic status, etc. So to throw a blanket statement and refer to the continent as if it were a single nation is a bit degrading to the many nations of Africa that each possess their own histories and their own specific problems.
I had a conversation a few nights ago with a friend named Mike that I met here in Kenya, about the perceptions that Americans have about Kenyans, and in turn the perceptions they have about Americans. Mike is a Kenyan who spent about 4 years in the United States working with YWAM several years back. When Mike first arrived to the United States, his host family began to show him how a shower works as if he had never seen one in his life. There are showers in Kenya. Kenyans know how to use them. There may not be showers in the slums of Kibera or some of the rural villages up-country, but even most of these people are at least aware of how they work. Later on during his trip, he was at an amusement park and he thought it would be funny to patronize the assumptions that were being made, so when it came time to get off the roller coaster he stayed on a bit longer and watched as the attendant tried to motion him off and ask for help. She never thought to just ask him in English, his second language which he learned in school starting when he was 5 years old.
These are just some silly examples, but I think they are somewhat true of the American perception of African nations. Kenya has a lot of development in the major cities, such as Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu. There are also a lot of incredibly intelligent people in Kenya. They don't always have access to all of the latest technology or resources that we have in the US, but this doesn't mean they are incapable of learning new things. The reason I feel it necessary to bring this up is because I realized that I, too, had many of the same assumptions before I got to Kenya. Assuming that we are smarter and more capable is simply racist.
What I can say is that there is value in people coming here who have the resources/education needed and are willing to work with Kenyans to get something done. The best NGO's are the ones that empower Kenyans to do things themselves. Kenyans know Kenya better than I will ever be able to know it, so culturally I will always be somewhat of an outsider no matter how much time I spend here (partially also because my skin color ain't changing anytime soon). Therefore, we are only part of the equation when looking at how to resolve some of the complex problems that society faces here.
I've seen this relationship quite often in the medical field, though its not limited to there. There are a lot of ill practices in hospitals and clinics, so proper training from people who have more substantial knowledge can legitimize the practices of these facilities.
Anyway, this is a recurring theme that I'm beginning to realize more as I try to find my place and figure out where I can best serve the population here that I've come to really have a heart for. I'll get back into more stories of the interactions and circumstances I've been in in the coming posts.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mombasa Times

I got another wild opportunity over the past couple days to explore another side of Kenya. This time it was Mombasa, the second largest city in Kenya. Mombasa is actually an island right off the east coast that has a bridge on one end and a ferry that runs on the other for transport back and forth between the city and the surrounding land. There are bus systems that run from Nairobi to Mombasa (about an 8 hour ride) for as little as $12, so a few of the visitors staying here along with Chris and myself decided to make the trip from Monday-Wednesday.
The ride to Mombasa, although very long, was pretty incredible. Along the way you descend through the mountains and continue to drive through the fields and pastures of Kenya. The colors are constantly changing along the way as you pass through different climates and scenery. There are also many small towns and open markets that you pass by along the road. Its something that constantly grabs me when I stop to consider how many variations there are to the way people live their lives. For some people that live along this road, they live each day on a prayer that a wild elephant won't trample down the hut that houses them and their family. For others its the constant struggle each day to retrieve water to bring back home for the family.
Getting to Mombasa revealed even more to me. People say that Mombasa is "polepole" which translates to something like "slowly", because the weather is much hotter and the pace moves slower than it does in Nairobi. I spent most of the day exploring the Indian Ocean. The tide actually goes out pretty far during the day, so you can wade out through the reef for probably a few kilometers before you actually hit waves. There's a lot of interesting wildlife here though. As you walk through, you have to watch each step because the place is teeming with sea urchins that will spike your foot if you step on them (found this out the hard way, but Chris took it a bit harder than I did and got several in his foot). Fishing is evidently a very big industry here, as there were lots of people out in the water the whole day fishing with huge nets.
The place we were staying in was right on the beach with a gate around the whole property and a guard. Mombasa, similar to Nairobi, has a fair amount of crime, so there are many properties with this same level of security. Even from the moment we got off the bus, there were already people trying to get money from us by either following and asking for something small, or trying to sell something that I really wasn't interested in. It's still a constant struggle because I hate to so blatantly give the cold shoulder to people, but you have to just keep walking when put in these situations sometimes.
Later in the day I got a chance to visit a family in Mombasa that is hosting a friend of mine from Duke for the summer. To get there I got to use one of the greatest modes of transportation, the boda-boda, which are motor bikes that you can pay a cheap fare to ride on the back of to get where you need. There's something funny and exhiliarating at the same time about being on the back of one of those things. Mombasa seems to be much more culturally heavy than Nairobi to me. There are large populations of Christians and conservative Muslims. The family I got to meet was actually the home of a Christian pastor, and the sons were all involved in making Christian hip-hop music. I got to hear some pretty crazy stories from the pastor, Collins, about some of the things that have gone on in Mombasa with the interaction between the corrupt practices of the government and businesses and the involvement of church. After the conversation, they invited me to eat supper with them, mind you it was about 10pm at this point. I had already eaten, but they insisted, so I took some supper anyway. They asked me when I would be back as I was leaving. It's a question that really has caused me to grow to love Kenya even more. The fact that I can have a mutual friend and be welcomed in and made a friend of that family myself is amazing. The hospitality and value of friendship is so important to this society, and its something I wish I saw more of.
On the long ride back, the air conditioner was broken, so my sunburnt skin mixed with the lack of airflow was causing me to have crazy thoughts. I was trying to study Swahili for most of the ride, but during my breaks I just felt frustrated. I had caught a glimpse of something so amazing, but it faded quickly, and the new friends I had made were for but a moment. I just desired to have at least one more day in Mombasa, but instead I was on the bus headed back already. Seeing the towns again out my window on the way back just hurt because I felt like my own life is still so disconnected to theirs, and who knows if I'll ever even find myself in this exact location ever again. I guess I don't exactly know what God's purpose is in some of the experiences I've had. I can't pick out in the moment what it is that I'm exactly learning, but I have to trust that I'm being refined through all of these experiences. Perhaps they are growing me in ways I can't pick out yet. Or maybe they are just a glimpse of what heaven will be like when we can fully experience life that is everlasting instead of just momentary.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Tourist in Me

The past couple days I've mainly been tagging along with the team that's been here from the US. It's funny how easy it becomes to relate to people from your own country when you're in a foreign one. They ran a vacation bible school program at Raila Education Centre in Kibera on Thursday and Friday, so I toggled between helping them and helping with the feeding program like I normally do. Another plus for having some Americans here short term is that they've planned a few touristy things for their trip that I haven't been able to do since I've been by myself. I don't really like being such a tourist here because I already stand out as a white guy, so it just gets multiplied for ultimate discomfort when you're with a group of wazungu (white people) with cameras. However, there are definitely a lot of fun things to do here that I haven't been able to so far, so I guess I can manage to be a bit of tourist.
One of the cool things we did was visit the village market on Friday evening. It's basically like a big flea market with different things people have made. As you walk through, the sellers are pretty agressive in trying to start conversations to get you to look at their stuff. You have to bargain with the seller for everything, so it can be pretty funny to hear some of their schemes. The Friday market is a huge tourist attraction, so the sellers know they can usually get away with selling things for high prices to white people that don't know any better. Luckily, Chris and Irene came with us, so I was able to consult them for certain buys I was interested in. One of the things I wanted is called a rungu. Its a mallet-like club that the Maasai used in battle, and I first heard about it because my roommate at Duke last year had one from when he visited Kenya. I'm not sure exactly what I'll do with it yet, but I had agreed to get one while I'm here, and I was able to bargain to get this one for less than $5 by talking to multiple sellers and getting them to lower their prices.
On Saturday we did the VBS for the kids on the property here in the afternoon. I think it went much better here than it did at the schools earlier in the week. Part of this is because the kids on the property can better understand english, but I also think that it works much better to minister to children you have built relationships with already. They were much more cooperative and receptive to the things that were taught which was really encouraging to see from both an operational standpoint and from the standpoint of someone who cares about their personal growth. That night, we had a bonfire on the property and ate a meal that few have ever tried before. We mixed together Kenyan and American staples to have hot dogs wrapped in chapati. It was actually pretty great, I'm surprised nobody else has figured it out by now. The time was pretty amazing though, the children played the drums and sang some of their worship songs and then Tom (the visiting founder of First Love) gave a talk on being the light of the world. It was a rare moment where I really felt right at home even though I'm halfway across the world. It's moments like these that I can say I'll probably never forget. It's hard to believe I've been here for almost a month now.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Into the Eyes of the Beast

Mitumba is a slum wedged between the Wilson Airport and Nairobi National Park.  I'm a bit unclear as to how many people live there, but the estimate given is about 30,000. Chris and Irene had told me ahead of time that this slum was actually in much worse condition than Kibera. I found that hard to believe having spent the past 3 weeks in Kibera observing the many problems present there every day. But I’d have to say that Chris and Irene were probably right in their assessment of Mitumba.
There is a team here for two weeks from the United States that planned to visit a school in Mitumba to do a short Vacation Bible School program. I'm usually hesitant about things like this because I don't see much value in going somewhere for one day to be loving to children and then leave that afternoon to more than likely never see them again. However, I thought it would be important for me to see Mitumba, so I could get a better scope of the different slums in Nairobi. I also realized along the way that the children do remember these things, and although I still am not sold to the idea, it can be a good way to share the gospel authentically with a child for the first time. The school was like a pavilion with some sheet metal covering the sides. There was nothing in the room except for some wooden benches and a single chalkboard. There were about 7 or 8 teachers for over 400 students. The uniforms the children were wearing were all torn and falling apart. Many children did not have shoes or were wearing ones that didn’t match or were so broken that their toes were sticking out. I’ve heard that a lot of Kenyans have tougher feet because they’re more used to walking on rockier grounds, but there were many parts of the slum where the ground was covered in a mucky mixture of garbage and fecal matter…I don’t think even the toughest of feet can combat that kind of mixture. Walking through the slum, you could see that a lot of the children were not attending school at all. Probably the worst thing I observed was right outside of the school classroom when a baby of maybe a year or so was sitting by itself, covered in urine with snot dripping all down its nose. Karen saw it and began to attempt to clean it and figure out who it belonged to. Then a girl of about 7 came out of the classroom and picked it up to go change it. The girl was its older cousin, taking care of it in between classes because it had nobody else to look after it during the day.
Mitumba had a generally more depressing vibe to it than Kibera. There are many parts of Kibera that I actually find very lively and exciting, but Mitumba was the kind of place that made me feel pretty uncomfortable the entire time I was there. There really aren’t any NGO’s or non-profits involved in aiding the Mitumba slum either. First Love had a presence in the school for a while, running a feeding program for the students there like the one at Raila Education Centre in Kibera, but had to leave because the property the school is on had some kind of lawsuit against it, and it put First Love's NGO status in jeopardy. It's been said that people in Mitumba dream of moving to Kibera.
I kept thinking about that small child sitting by itself in the dirt, abandoned and unsure of what to do. I couldn't imagine where it had come from and where it would be that night. The unfortunate thing here is that a lot of efforts made to help end up not working. Apparently tons of shoes have been sent to kids at this school, but they always end up walking around barefoot a few weeks or months later. Usually, parents or guardians take them to wear them themselves or sell them. Sometimes it seems like a lost cause when you see efforts like this not even really helping. I think what they lack is people that really care, who can look into the eyes of the beast and not run away at the gruesome, inhumane sight. I'm not sure if I'll be back in Mitumba myself, but I think a lot of what I saw is very applicable a few kilometers down the road in Kibera. Give them your time, give them your heart, let God do the rest.

Monday, June 13, 2011

New Realities

There’s something about being in the same place for an extended period of time that redefines your reality. 3 weeks is by no means a very long time, but realities can even be created in a matter of days or hours, given the circumstances you are placed in. Under heavy circumstances, realities are formed much quicker than they are under light circumstances. For example, during military training iterations, realities are created within a matter of two-hours as every fiber of your being begins to tick towards the manner in which a mission is supposed to be carried out. We know there is an objective at the end of the lane so our focus becomes that objective and the rest of reality moves into the periphery.
It comes as no surprise that since coming to Kenya and being immersed in a completely different culture, my reality has also shifted. Being in Kibera each day is like being in a completely different world, and I'm constantly trying to wrap my head around what is happening there. At times it seems like one of the most depressing places on earth, but at other times it seems like a real community.  
It’s getting hard to justify some of my regular habits because my mind reverts to Kibera. When I eat I know that I should eat everything on my plate because I don’t want to waste what some are starving to have. But on the converse, when I eat a whole plate of food that was served to me, I still feel bad because I know that it is more food than people in Kibera are getting in perhaps several days or even a week. It’s a difficult balancing act because I come back to Karen to see comfort, but the comfort is actually more uncomfortable than the discomfort of Kibera at times.
There is a little boy from the Raila Education Centre in Kibera who runs up to me as soon as he spots me every day that I come. He can’t speak a word of English other than the usual chorus of “How are you? How are you?” that you hear from young Kenyan children when they see a white person. Every time he runs up to me a huge smile spreads across his face and he starts to laugh and squeak with excitement as he shows everyone that he found the Mzungu. His two blackened and chipped front teeth made me consider dentistry the first time I saw him (even though I have no interest whatsoever in prodding around in people’s mouths). You get to a place like this and you just want to help, even if your ideas of how to do this get really irrational. Last night, a really gracious group of Americans got in for a short term trip of two weeks. Their hearts are similar to mine in that they greatly desire to help people in this area. I went along with them today as they got their first tour of Kibera this morning, and along the way a young man stopped us to try and claim some support for his college education. I've never had to face a request like this myself walking in Kibera because I'm young and single, but a married couple is a more visible opportunity for a student like this because they assume the couple has a decent amount of money to their name. He seemed like a nice kid, but the problem is that handing a random person cash to go to school is not always reliable, nor does it help to develop the person in any of the intangible character values that are really much more imprtant. He showed us his high school graduation papers and college acceptance letter, but the difficulty is that you still can't be sure that you're money is even going to his education because you don't have any relationship built (which culminates trust) having met someone right on the streets. My friends that are interning for First Love with me at the school are all in similar situations as the young man we met on the street. I'm convinced that if you're going to support anybody for school, it's better to spend your money wisely by investing in the future of someone you have built a relationship with, and you know is going to use their education for something positive beyond. The work they are doing for First Love is also developing these character traits I spoke of earlier. Relationships are where you need to go first when assessing these situations. That's where the Gospel is also going to be carried though your acts of service.
All of these thoughts came at an interesting time because I was able to hear a great sermon on compassion at the church I visited this Sunday. The message he gave literally defined compassion, something I've been growing to understand more and more since I've been here. Compassion is a great thing, the Bible calls us to have compassion for the poor - Christ is the prime example of this. But our response to compassion is where I believe it is often a bit more confusing. We really want to serve when we're filled with compassion, but we have to be smart about what we're doing. For me, its taken a few weeks of research and relationship building for me to even begin getting a glimpse of how I can actually help someone in this area, but I'm starting to see how carefully planned and orchestrated service in particular areas of need are able to make a difference.    

Thursday, June 9, 2011


If you're on facebook you can view some photos I've taken so far. I had to pick and choose some of them because I have too many to add, but I'll continue to add them there as I take more. This should bring some of the stories to life a bit more.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ebb and Flow

This morning I woke up to my phone ringing around 7am. It was Karen calling from her apartment upstairs. "Are you awake yet?" she said. "Yea," I responded, trying to sound as if I had already been up, fighting the urge to let out a yawn. "Okay, can you be ready in 15 minutes for an adventure in town?" I woke up to this, "Of course," was my reply. Thanks to my training from the army, I know how to get up and out of bed very fast, so 15 minutes was not a problem for me at all. When I knocked on Karen's door, she informed me that her and George needed to go into town to pick up their Certificates of Good Conduct, a piece of paperwork needed for them to be able to drive the bus that is supposed to arrive for First Love to use in just a couple weeks. I would tag along with them to get another view of downtown Nairobi. The trip shouldn't have taken long, but Nairobi is plagued with some of the worst traffic in the world because of its many fiesty drivers, and its use of traffic circles instead of street lights. The drive actually ended up being about 3 hours, but luckily I still really enjoy being able to take in the sights and sounds of Nairobi and its people. After this errand, we headed straight into Kibera for another day working the feeding program.
There are about 4 other interns my age who work for First Love helping with the feeding program. All of them have grown up in Kenya, so I have really enjoyed being able to develop friendships with them and share stories about our lives on opposite sides of the world. I'm also really getting the hang of how everything works now, so the mornings fly by when we're preparing and serving food to the school children.
 In the afternoon, a couple of the students in secondary school took me out to a different part of Kibera that I hadn't yet seen. These two particular students are in their Form 4 year of secondary school, the equivalent of being seniors in high school. School starts at 6am and ends at 6pm for them. In November they will take their exams to determine if they will pass secondary school and be eligible to move on to a college or university. The exams can be very stressful for secondary school students because they are so vitally important for the students to be able to graduate and try to make a better life for themselves.
Benjamin and Victor were the names of the two students. We were headed to where Benjamin currently lives. Like most parts of Kibera, the journey required navigating through a maze narrow alleys, mucky streams, garbage infested walkways, and small marketplaces. When we got to his shack, he welcomed me in and told me to take a seat. Benjamin's place was very similar to Eric's; it had sheets hanging from the cieling to divide certain areas of the single room. The difference was that Benjamin actually lives by himself there. I was confused when he told me this, for two reasons. The first being that he is still in high school, and the second that I couldn't imagine how he paid rent. The answer to the question of rent was that his older brother is paying for him to live there so he can finish secondary school. The answer to the question of why he lives by himself, well that one is actually not as hard to fathom. When you're an orphan living in one of the largest slums in the world trying to get educated so you can leave, you learn to become independent really fast. Benjamin and Victor are both very similar in this regard, they are very independent and mature for their age because they have to live as adults to survive.
Benjamin asked me what soda I would drink as I was sitting down. I responded that a coca-cola would be great, not realizing this meant he had to go purchase one from a vendor on the street. I quickly reached for my wallet to pull out 50 shillings to cover the cost, but Benjamin and Victor insisted that I put my money away. They wanted to split the cost between the two of them to purchase sodas for us, this was part of their custom when having a guest over, ad they wouldn't have me take this away from them.
We discussed some Kenyan politics and I asked a few question about some of the problems people face in Kibera as we drank our coca-colas. Ben and Victor are really knowledgeable about these things. They have grown up in it and hope to get educated so that one day they can work towards improving it. This is what sustainable development looks like. As a generation of leaders is educated and empowered, change will start to occur. It takes a long time, but the results are already visible in some parts of Kibera. There are lots of NGO's in the slum, many started by Kenyans who grew up living in the slums themselves. The government, though still far from fully engaged, has made several adjustments that have improved the state of Kibera. For example, within the past year, they put up street lights in Kibera. The lights have helped reduce crime siginificantly at night, so the streets are now a bit safer than they once were.
Ben mentioned during our conversation that a lot of people start small businesses with whatever skill they may have so they can earn a living. He showed me a cell phone carrying case that one of his neighbors had him using beads she had sewn together. I love the idea of people using their skills to start something like that, so I wanted to see what this neighbor was up to. We walked across the way to his neighbor's shack, and inside she was hard at work behind the sewing machine. On her wooden coffe table were all kinds of keychains, necklaces, belts, and bracelets she had made by hand using beads and thread. I sifted through all of the items, amazed by how she had so carefully made each thing. I figured it was a courtesy to purchase something from her since I had entered her home as such a tourist. I asked how much for a keychain of the Kenyan flag. She responded that it was 300 shillings without batting an eyelash. It seemed a bit high, but I still pulled out my wallet and paid up. As we left, Benjamin said to me that the price she charged was definitely high, "Kenyans enjoy bargaining for lower prices at places like that." He was right, had I been in my right state of mind and not so infatuated with seeing the small-scale entrepreneurship in action, I may have actually realized that I was paying too much. This is precisely why Kenyans in the marketplace pursue Wazunga, white people, so heavily; because they know they can charge us prices that are much higher than they would normally charge and we'll think nothing of it. Not my proudest moment there. The good things is that I only spent about $3.50 in US dollars and she probably really needed the money more than I did, but it was still bugging me because I had only contributed to the Mzungu stereotype they already have. So I guess there are still a few ebbs to my flows, but at least I'm starting to catch the rhythm here a bit more.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

About $1.50 a Day

A lot of people have heard the statistic that over half of the world lives on about $2 or less per day. This fact had been ingrained into my brain pretty much every day before I came here. So I knew it to be true, but I didn't fully understand it until I met Eric.
Eric is an intern for First Love around my age. He gets up at 6am every morning and walks from his shack in Kibera to help prepare and serve food for the children at Raila Education Centre, the school First Love started the feeding program at. Eric is an orphan. He was supported by First Love to go to school at Raila from a young age and finished high school last November. While in high school he was given permission to sleep at the school because he had no other place to stay. He is currently trying to figure out a way to pay for college so he can study social work and community development.
When I first met Eric he greeted me with big handshake and a hug. It was clear that he would be somebody I was going to get to know better during my time here. He basically showed me the ropes of how the feeding program works, and answered every question for me that I could think to ask about Kibera. What I didn't know at the time was that he lived in Kibera himself. I didn't find this out until a few days later when he was showing me through all the streets and alleys of the slum. I think what struck me the most was that he was so overly giving, caring, and hard-working. Sometimes its easier to assume that people who are in poverty got there by their own means (i.e. they were lazy, addicted to drugs/alcohol, a criminal, etc). But I've found through the example of Eric and a lot of other people I've met in Kibera that this is simply not true. Some of the hardest working people can be found in the slums, but their efforts simply don't equate to what our efforts do because of their circumstances. What amazes me every day is that Eric keeps such a positive attitude about life, and he still gives out of his poverty, something absolutely biblical (Mark 12:41-42).
When I arrived to the school yesterday, Eric was the first to greet me as usual. He quickly helped me to get engaged into how I could help with preparing the food for the children. While we work, he often teaches me Swahili, or just answers my silly Mzungu questions. After we had served the kids, he took me on a Matatu (crazy vans that you can ride for real cheap) to the supermarket so I could purchase some things I needed. When we were there, I realized that I had been needing some sunglasses, so I went to the sunglasses counter and tried on a few pairs. When I found a pair I was good with, I asked how much they were, and the clerk gave me a really high price, one that I probably wouldn't even pay in the US. Eric told me that they often do this with Mzungus at stores because they know they can swindle us out of more money. He said we could go to a place on the street and get some, but the plan this time would be to have Eric pretend that he was the customer so they would give him a low price. It worked, twice actually, on different items. Eric and I laughed about the brilliance of our plan as we walked back to the school. As we got back, I asked Eric if he would show me where he lives. Since Karen had some errands to run in the afternoon, she would be leaving later anyway so I'd still be able to catch a ride back to my place later on. Eric agreed and we walked to where he lives in the slum. His shack is located in a part of the slum called, 'Olympic'. When I stepped into his shack all I could see was a small sofa and a wooden coffee table in about a 6x6ft space. There were sheets on the other two sides, serving as room dividers so I couldn't tell how far back the room went. He invited me in to take a seat and showed me that all the sheets were covering were two beds. The full room was about 10x10ft.
It's customary in Kenya to serve somebody chai tea if they are a guest in your home. Eric wanted to prepare some chai for us, but that unfortunately required that he have fuel for his small stove (kind of like the ones I used to use in boy scouts on camping trips), milk, and chai leaves. The chai leaves he had in a small cupboard used to keep a few bowls and cups, but the other pieces he didn't have because he simply couldn't afford. I told him that I would pay for them if we went to the street market. We left his shack and walked up the street to make the purchases. It cost me about 100 shillings to pay for both items, about $1.20. Then, for our dinner we went to purchase chapati, a pan-fried bread that's sort of like a tortilla, but thicker and better tasting. This cost me 20 shillings for both of us to get one, about 25 cents more. We then walked back to Eric's shack and he prepared the chai for us to drink as we ate our chapati. Eric lives with two other men in his shack. They split the cost of 1300 shillings every month for living expenses, about 16 dollars. Beyond this, Eric doesn't usually know how he'll afford to pay for food daily. He eats at the school when he helps with the feeding program, and then purchases something for supper on the street or ingredients to cook something if he has the money. Other than a small stipend he gets from First Love for helping them out, he doesn't have much other income. Eric and I had a good time hanging out in his shack that afternoon. He thanked me for paying for our meal.
It's crazy to be friends with someone in extreme poverty. Sometimes I forget that his circumstances are so radically different than mine because he never complains or draws attention to it. Even simple tasks like washing dishes or going to the bathroom are a major procedure in the slums. When I got back to the compound that night, I was honestly pretty hungry from the meager dinner Eric and I had had. But I simply couldn't bring myself to eat anything, knowing that Eric wouldn't be eating any more himself in that day. I guess thats what compassion looks like, and it hasn't ever really hit me until I've come face to face with reality instead of reading about it in books or the news. A full measure of compassion simply cannot be attained until we've seen what they've seen, tasted what they taste, and worked as they work. I can't say that I'm even fully there yet because I'm still in much more comfortable conditions than anyone living in Kibera, but what I have seen has had a profound effect on the way I perceive life and humanity.
I will see Eric tomorrow and the next day and he will be living the same way and still managing to survive and keep upbeat about life. His life requires a dependence on God for even physical needs. He relies on God for literally his daily bread. Let his life be an example to all of us when we lack faith or are plagued by apathy. Some people in the world who live on much less may be more blessed in intangible ways. About $1.50 a day shouldn't be enough for anyone to survive, but as Christ broke the loaves of bread to serve thousands, he uses this to serve some in the slums. I still believe we need to play our part too. The Bible says, "To whom much is given, much is required" (Luke 12:48), so it is clear that we who are in places of greater financial security ought to be playing our part to help our neighbors, but at the same time we need to make sure that we are living a life fully immersed in the awesome power of Christ too. I guess Christ wasn't lying when he said it would be harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom...

Note: Eric gave me permission to share this information about his life. I try to be cautious when writing personal details about the lives of others because I don't want it to seem as though I'm exploiting someone for my project. I've learned a lot from Eric and I hope you have too.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Test Drive

Being that I spent last weekend up-country, I wasn't really sure what this weekend would entail when I woke up Saturday morning in my apartment on the compound. I grabbed some breakfast and headed outside to see what kinds of games the kids were playing that I could join in with. After playing a game that was some kind of mix of dodgeball and monkey in the middle for awhile, I noticed that Selah, the car mechanic who had been working on the broken van, was sitting in the van by the office building. I went up to say hello and see how the van was coming along and he told me that he and George were about to take it out, "Come for the test drive," he said to me. Figuring I didn't really have much else to do, I climbed in and grabbed a seat. It couldn't hurt to take a little ride around the block this morning.
When George climbed in he said something about giving this van the ultimate test drive, but I didn't really know what he was talking about until we started driving out of Nairobi and into Rift Valley. We weren't just headed out for a little drive around the block, we were headed into the bush. Right on.
The Ngong Hills are located at the southwestern part of Nairobi. Once we passed those, we came through a town called Kiseria, and it was as if the whole world had opened up. The road began to take us through one of the most amazing mountain ranges I had ever seen, into Maasai territory. The Maasai are a tribal people group that inhabit these lands. They're often depicted in magazines, TV, or movies because they wear vibrant colored clothing, have lots of jewelry, and jump really high in tribal gatherings. Driving through the steep roads, we'd occasionally see a Maasai walking alongside the mountain with a walking stick. George narrated during the trip where we were and what these lands were known for, Selah had never been out here before either, so it was a new experience for both of us. The more we continued, the more amazing the landscape became. I've been pretty fanatical about taking pictures since I've been here, but since this trip happened so spontaneously I didn't even have my camera to capture any of it. Part of me liked this though, I felt like a picture could hardly do justice to the landscape the was enveloping our van as we drove through the middle of it. Eventually, at a spot about 60km away from Lake Magadi, we pulled over the van on the side of the road, and George motioned to me to get out and come look. We walked over and climbed a few rocks to look out. I felt like Simba in the Lion King when Mufasa was showing him the pridelands. "This is Africa," George said to me. And he was spot on, this was more amazing than anything I could have ever imagined. The trees, grasslands, rocks, mountains, everything the light was hitting was amazing. George explained to me that some animals could be found out here, but most are found further out, in Masai Mara, deeper in the bush away from humans. I wished we could've stayed for awhile to continue exploring, but a few minutes later we were back in the van headed back from where we came from.
About 1km later though, George spotted a Maasai homestead and motioned to stop the van again. I wasn't exactly sure what he was up to, but he told us to come have a look. We walked up to the fence, if that's what they call it. Surrounding their property was bushels of rolled up thorn vines standing about 4 feet high. They stretched around in a circle with a diameter of probably about 50-75 meters. There was an opening at the front of it with what looked like a gate, more vines that could be used to enclose the ring at night. The father of the family approached, and George greeted him in Swahili, introducing the three of us in Swahili and asking if he would show us around. The Maasai was really friendly, welcoming us in and showing us the area. As we walked in I could see that there was another ring in the middle made of the same vines that was used to keep goats and cattle. There were also about 4 huts, each standing about 5 feet tall and spaced out aroud the circle. We walked up to the first hut, and out came a bunch of children. They had lots of flies hovering around their faces, and apparently it is against custom to swat them away, so they stood unphased by them. When they approached us, they bowed their heads. George placed his palm on their heads as they did this. Maasai children greet this way to elders to show respect. I did the same, and then smiled at them, which made them laugh.
The huts here are made differently than the ones I saw last weekend. They are made of sticks and bonded together using cow dung. When it dries, the structure becomes very sturdy. He invited us inside, and I could hardly see as I stepped in through the narrow walls. There were a few slits for light, but it was otherwise totally dark. We stepped into what was their kitchen area, and saw that the mother, dressed in vibrant clothing and jewelry was cradling a baby. They had us sit down and welcomed us. They wanted to offer us something to drink. Chai is usually the customary drink you have when you visit someone's home in Kenya, but they didn't have chai here. Instead, they pulled out a long gourd and began to pour cups of sour milk for us. George assured me that this is great for the digestive system. The first sip was the most difficult for me to get down. It had a really sour taste to it and a texture that was thick enough to leave some pasty residue on my teeth even after I had swallowed, forcing me to lick the rest off. I looked into the cup, unsure of how I would ever manage to finish the whole thing, but knew it would be rude not to. I took another sip, trying to force it down quickly, but realizing the taste was unavoidable. The whole time I continued to smile and show appreciation however, recognizing that this was incredibly kind of them to be giving to us out of their humble circumstances. The father brought out a cup of sugar a minute later so we could make the drink a bit sweeter. I thought this would help, stirring the mixture together, but when I took another sip it tasted no different. As I continued force-feeding myself, it seemed as though the drink was getting chunkier too. A few minutes later, I downed it, just after George and Selah. Handing the father my cup, I thanked him for it, "Asante." George told me later that the Maasai pretty much live off of what they can get from the goats and cattle they raise, sour milk, meat, and blood...they don't like to waste anything. As we exited, the father showed us around the other huts before we left. I counted ten children at that point who were outside, there may have been more in the huts. George slipped the father 200 shillings, about $2.50 in US dollars, but it seemed like it must have meant a lot to him because he was very thankful.  As we climbed into the van, I began to consider how difficult life must be for them. The nearest neighbor was somewhere between 10-20km away and the trip to get water every morning apparently takes about 6 hours. This lifestyle was again, much different than anything I had ever seen, and made me feel a lot more similar to people that live in Nairobi.
On the way back, we ended up picking up some Maasai people who were walking to town, to give them a lift. The van was soon filled. Here I was, sitting in a van with two Kenyans in front of me that I'd know for two weeks, and about 7 Maasai hitchhikers behind me that I'd never met. And honestly, I was loving every second of it. "This is Africa", I thought to myself.
The drive back was just as incredible. We dropped off the people when we got to the town, Kiseria, just outside of the mountains. Driving back to Nairobi, the van survived, I was able to hold down the sour milk in my stomach, and images of the vast beauty of Kenya kept flashing through my mind. It was a good day for a test drive.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Random Days

The past few days have been atypical, but I guess its all relative since I don't necessarily have much of a routine established yet. As an intern for First Love, I've come to see that this means I can pretty much find myself helping out or tagging along for a number of different random things that the organization needs to run efficiently. And there are definitely a number of things, sometimes things I would never think about.
Wednesday - June 1 - was pretty atypical because it was Madaraka Day, the date when Kenya attained internal self rule. It wasn't so much the holiday that made it atypical, in fact there was really nothing that I observed at all that would have pointed towards it being a historically significant day. What made it different was that schools and public offices were closed, which meant the kids were on the compound all day instead of at school. I'm not sure if this is typical of all Kenyan children, but the ones on this compound all wake up really early. I thought that I was on top of things waking up at 7am Wednesday morning, but as I peered out the window, several children were already out and about. They definitely are not in the least bit lazy, their idea of a day off started with them working on building goal posts and using sand to mark up a soccer field. After this task was complete, the game of soccer, or "football" as they call it ensued. I never played much soccer growing up, but I certainly got my share of it that day. We played for about 3 hours straight and by the end of it, I was sunburned and thoroughly worked out, both of which seemed to confuse the kids quite a bit. The rest of the day involved me playing basketball with some of them, teaching the basics of baseball to some of them, reading books to some of them, and later having some of them teach me how to speak more Swahili. I've found that whenever I get into a rut where I'm not sure what to ask them, I can request more Swahili lessons. The kids seem to enjoy it a lot because it gives them a chance to be the teacher and showcase what they know and have learned. In the evening, the children gather every night to spend time singing worship songs, sharing scripture, and praying with one another. Phillip, one of the First Love staff, helps out with this every night, but it is basically run completely by the children themselves. They play the bongo drums and lead the songs, they have assignments for who is to read the verse every night, and who is to lead the prayer. I took an opportunity on Wednesday evening to speak during this gathering. The children range from ages 5-14, so its difficult to deliver a message that would reach all of them, but I thought back to where I was when I was their ages and realized that I never really sought out the Lord until I was older than all of them are now. They are in a unique position because their lives have clearly been blessed by the Lord completely. They are orphans who have been raised out of poverty and put in an environment that fosters growth as a Christian and as a person. My message to them was simply to seek God with their whole hearts because He has clearly chosen them for great things, and many of them have already begun to really learn who he is at really young ages. I raised the point that we should be prepared to give an answer if someone asked us who Jesus is. But even this is not quite enough because God speaks to the heart, so we also need to be able to answer the question, who is Jesus to you and how has been present in your life?
Contrary to what I would've thought going into this trip, the children are actually pretty willing to listen to mostly anything I say, and follow almost anything I do. Some of this is because of my age, but a lot of it is because I'm much different than them and they find this intriguing. Its actually worked to my advantage being a mzungu around the kids I guess.
Switching gears slightly, I'll fast forward to today. Today was a prime example of the randomness of being a First Love intern. I usually start off my day by going over to the office to see what Chris is planning on doing and if he needs help with anything. He sent me to go with George to the industrial area of Nairobi to get a broken van piece fixed for one of the vans used to pick up the kids. Navigating Nairobi is somewhat of a mystery to me because there aren't really addresses. Some roads have street names listed, but the particular place we were headed to actually had no street name, so we ended up searching through the insanely crowded Nairobi streets of the industrial area to find the shop. When we finally did, the price they were charging for the job was much overpriced so we ended up going to a different place altogether in the city. The experience of it was pretty wild, but I was glad to get a chance to visit part of downtown Nairobi and see the hustle and bustle of business there. By the time we got back it was already almost time to head out to pick up the kids from their schools. I've tagged along with George once before for this, but the whole process takes three back-and-forth trips and totals almost three hours of traveling. What makes it completely worth it is seeing the smiling faces of the kids when they see that we have come for them. They don't have parents, so we, the First Love staff, have to be the ones to act as their parents. Its a joy that I guess I can't fully explain, but feel blessed in a lot of ways to be able to be that figure after such a short time of being here.
There's something about never really knowing what the next day will have in store that makes me slightly uncomfortable, but at the same time, it makes every day an adventure, and one that I have to commit completely to the Lord before stepping foot outside. I guess every day of my life should be more like that...

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

City Versus Country

Since spending the weekend in rural Kenya and spending another day in Kibera, I've been thinking a lot about the dichotomy between the city life and country life I've seen in Kenya. Here's my breakdown of the situation. In the country, people were probably living on just as little as the people in Kibera do every day, but the quality of life seemed astronomically better. They were still living in huts without electricity or running water, but the values of reverence, community, and family were amazingly present where they aren't in Kibera. People took joy in their labor, and though they live simply, they had what they needed to support their families because of the work they put in to use the land and natural resources. The homes were kept neat and the families worked together to take care of things.
In Kibera, people just want to get out. Its all a competition because they can look across the skyline and see Nairobi skyscrapers from the business district - thats where the money is at, and to put it bluntly, they know they don't got it. Some of the high school students I was talking to last week were explaining to me that they spend about 11 hours in school each day and have to do homework afterwards still. The sad bit is that they know this is their only chance of getting out of Kibera, so they work hard every day, but still aren't guaranteed to get out because they have to get grades competitive enough to get them accepted into college. Once they get accepted, they have figure out how in the world they will pay for college - keep in mind these are people in extreme poverty, some orphaned, so parents helping them pay is not an option. Most high school students end up spending two years after completion of secondary school to find sponsorships for their higher education. This may be capitalism, but I know that at age 15 or 16, I never once had to consider any of these things. Maybe I didn't have a college lined up for me or a job secured afterwards either, but I never had fear of being stuck in a slum for the rest of my life.
So what is it about the slum that makes it so much different? Why do kids want to get out so badly? Well basically, there is a complete lack of that family structure, system of values, or sense of unity brought in through the community. Those that don't make it through school are "doomed" to be in the slums for life, so many give up. Not working is the absolute worst thing that can happen because it then brings in a host of other vices that can latch on to their lives (i.e. alcoholism, acts of rape, depression, etc). Not to mention, if they have a family or children, there will no longer be any way to support them. Some do try to work, but the competitive nature causes many of the small businesses in the slums to inevitably be an inconsistent source of income.
I don't know if that has made it any more clear, but I've simply been amazed to see the differences the past few days. I wouldn't classify rural Kenya as poverty at all, in fact I would consider them quite prosperous in the places I visited. The simple lives they live are what they are used to and they don't have to be bound by individualism and constraints of time. Their morale is high and they work hard every day to get what they put in. Kibera and other slums are bound by competition, which drives fear and feelings of inadequacy to reign over their lives. Hard work is often not present or not valued, and therefore some give up while others claw at the ground trying to dig a hole that will never get them to China.
All of this is to say, perhaps it's the simple things in life that should be driving us day in and day out. Values of reverance, community, family, and hard work such as those of the rural Kenyans. Thats not to say that every family in rural Kenya (or rural anywhere for that matter) has it all right or even has found happiness. But I think its something to consider in the course of our own lives. I think we're often clawing our way out of our own Kibera because we see something greater at the skyline thats not Jesus, and we want it. It may be a college, a job, a new home, a new car, a husband/wife, seriously it could be anything. This whole realization has made me stop to just consider how awesome it is to know and love God, and realize that in the grand scheme of things, nothing else really matters. Do it yourself, I challenge you.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Other Side

This weekend was perhaps one of the craziest I've ever experienced. Chris had mentioned last Wednesday or Thursday that he wanted me to go up-country with him and his family to attend a funeral for an uncle of his that had passed away last week. He said it would be a good experience for me to see more of Kenya and see how people live in the rural part of the country, so of course I was down to join in.
We were supposed to leave at 8am on Friday morning, its about a 6-7 hour drive north to get there, so the hope was that we would arrive in the afternoon and be able to meet up with some of the relatives before the funeral on Saturday. However, a late start due to miscommunications led to our leaving around 10, and this followed by the van breaking down as we climbed up the first hillside put us back even more. We ended up having to get George to come pick us up so we could drive back to Nairobi and get better vehicles for the journey. When it was all said and done, we were actually headed out around 4pm. Aside from that glitch though, the drive was incredible. The lush green vegetation, the hills and valleys, the farms and the towns, everything was simply amazing to see, and the time flew by.
As you drive through different towns, you'll often see locals trying to sell crops on the side of the road. For them, this is all the money they will make, so when we stopped to pick up some cabbage and potatoes around 8pm, about 5 Kenyan women started running towards the cars with baskets of their crops in hand. I couldn't understand any of the transaction that took place, but Chris mentioned afterwards that they were trying to get every shilling that they could out of him. Later, as we were driving onwards Chris picked up some roasted corn from from a local in a similar fashion. He broke me a piece and said to eat it right off the cob. I wasn't sure what to do because at all of the DukeEngage prep sessions they had told us not to eat any foods that are grown locally because they can carry different pathogens my immune system probably won't be able to handle. I asked Chris if it would make me sick, and he said it wouldn't. He had been pretty good about making sure I stayed away from unhealthy water and foods in the past, so I opted to trust him and went for it, praying to God that I wouldn't suffer the repercussions of this decision. And I will say, roasted corn is a good choice.
The little town were headed to was called Westin, and it required us to travel up through the cities of Nakuru and Eldoret, in total the trip was about 350km. As we got closer, the road started to get bumpier because they had stopped fixing up the road. It was dark by this time, but you could see tracks that had formed in the road from cargo trucks that were carrying goods to Uganda. Pretty soon after passing through Eldoret we turned off onto a dirt road that did not look like it was designed for cars to be travelled on it. We drove through a bit and then I realized we had arrived to the place Chris owns out there, about 10km away from where the funeral would take place. It was too dark to really see much because there was no electricity, but Chris and his wife pulled out some flashlights and lit some lanterns to show each of us to our rooms. All the rooms in Chris' place had beds, so I was more than happy and comfortable, and crashed right away.
The following morning, I woke up around 7 to a rooster crowing right outside my window. I walked over to the latrine and stepped in to see that it was just a hole in the ground. Luckily, my experiences from scouts trained me well in how to make use of just about any type of latrine, but I will say that the numerous buzzing flies were a bit discomforting. As I continued to explore around the property, I saw there were two small huts next to the home we stayed in. Chris later explained that these were places that he rented out to people, since he is not at this property very often. They take care of the land and raise animals on the property while he is away. Chris showed me around a bit more and I got to see how beautiful the place was in daylight. It overlooked a valley and there were lots of tress and vegetation all around. The property actually went back pretty far, so we walked down a trail to see all of it. When we got back, we all ate breakfast together and then got ready to leave for the funeral.
The funeral place was not far, maybe a 15 minute car ride, and it involved going down another dirt road. The funeral was like nothing I've ever seen before. First off, there were hundreds of people there, all from around the valley. The funeral was about 4-5 hours long and all in Swahili. Lots of people spoke and in between speakers, the church people, all dressed in white, would sing and dance and bang drums. It was a tough time for many of the close relatives, but people seemed to actually be rejoicing over the fact that Ezekiel was now with Christ. Nobody was wearing black, and I hardly saw anybody sobbing. I think it is better that way, and perhaps even more respectful to the life of Ezekiel.
After the funeral service, I was introduced to tons of relatives. Most didn't speak english, but I got pretty used to shaking hands or hugging them and saying, "Habari!" which is simply Hello. I didn't think it was possible to have so many relatives, but more kept coming and coming as we circulated the crowd. They were all amazingly warm and inviting, many saying "Karibu sana" which means you are most welcome. They considered me to be part of the family since I was a friend of Chris and his family.
Soon after, we got to walk down a path in the valley to see where Chris and his family grew up. As we passed, there were lots of families I saw that were living in little circular mud huts with pointed hay roofs. The style of life here is much different than even in Nairobi. There is no electricity or running water, so the families have to work for everything they will eat and drink. When we got to Chris' childhood home, I saw that it was similar. It was beautiful, but certainly less developed than where we currently are staying in Nairobi. We sat down inside and had a meal of ugali and chicken. Everything is eaten with your hands. Honestly, I couldn't tell that it was chicken at first. I'm pretty sure it had been freshly slaughtered that morning because the skin was really pully and the meat was a bit tougher to chew through than what I'm used. Nonetheless, I fully appreciated and enjoyed the meal, and afterwards explored a bit around the home. All kinds of fruits and vegetables were grown in the yard - avacadoes, guavas, cabbage, tomatoes, corn. It was pretty wild. There were many relatives here at the house too, I really couldn't keep track of how anyone was related to anybody else at this point though.
When we walked back towards the place of the funeral, word spread to me that they had just tipped over the cows to slaughter three of them in remembrance of Ezekiel. It was quite a sight to say the least, which is pretty ignorant of me to be saying. I eat meat pretty much every day, but never really consider that there is a process of raising, slaughtering, and preparing that takes place before that burger can make it to my plate. I'm still definitely not planning on going vegetarian anytime soon, but it was certainly something to see. Shortly after, as we were saying final goodbyes to more relatives - I turned around to see that about 10 kids were gathered just staring at me wide-eyed. I guess they had never seen a white person before, so I was making their folk tales come true right before their eyes. I reached out to shake all of their hands and say Habari to them, figuring I could at least give them a memorable experience and perhaps a story to tell to their friends at school.
When we got back to Chris' place, we at some dinner of ugali, potatoes, and cabbage and Chris cranked on a generator so we could get some electricity to watch the Barcelona vs Manchester United soccer match before heading off to bed.
The next morning, I wasn't exactly sure when we'd be leaving, but Chris informed me that he needed to pay respects to another relative that had passed away before leaving. I went with him, but one thing led to the next and we ended up visiting several houses before the actually heading back. At one house, they gave us a live chicken to take back with us as a gift for stopping in. A few hours later, we were actually off and headed back to Nairobi for the 6 hour ride back.
It was a pretty incredible weekend all in all, one that I will never forget. Life is so much different for people who live in rural Kenya, but most seem to be much more joyous than many families in developed areas. The simple things in life, and the values of loving God and all of his children are really what propels these people to get up and live out each day. I hope to live with many of those values in my own life, no matter where I end up living.