Thursday, April 29, 2010

Short-Term Team Time!

I haven’t blogged, because the internet has been very sketchy since Saturday. We were told that it is going to go in and out in all of East Africa until yesterday. Today has been a little better. So here is sort of a random update!

We have a FULL house! Not in the Danny Tanner sense (I know you are disappointed), but in the sense that there are 9 people in addition to our family of 4 living in this 3-bedroom apartment. However, surprisingly we couldn’t be happier about it. I love having people around (especially in Africa!) and the kids feel the same way. They longingly look out the window as the documentary team drives away each morning. Not to mention, the people who comprise this team are a pretty great group who we are lucky to spend time with until Tuesday. And the kids have their Papa here, too, which is such a treat!

The kids and I are getting back into our groove, and we were able to visit the orphanage yesterday. We were happy to hear that the sweet baby girl that had fallen asleep in my arms just a couple of weeks ago has now been adopted. There were even more toddlers today (especially really little ones), so we helped with them first. T loved helping to spoon-feed this little 15-month-old, Bazil. While being fed by T and me, he kept putting his chubby little hand out for B to give him a high five and then he would giggle and grin each time.

In fact, B is a pretty big hit around there. As I was carrying a baby in from outside playtime she helped to lead another little guy in. However, once he was inside she had to go back to hold hands with a different little boy who was very jealous and just stood and cried until she would walk in with him. It was adorable to watch and she was very pleased. When the toddlers left for their naps, T wanted to go and “see the other babies!” So, we were able to give a bottle to a 4 month-old twin before his nap, too. J

B making PB&J sandwiches for the team :)

B and T love the kids at the orphanage, and they also love the kids in the neighborhood. They took Frisbees (thanks, Nana and Papa!) downstairs yesterday and we spent two hours with their 7 neighbor friends. Things just move more slowly here, so while T was chasing the Frisbee wildly, B and I had a chance to hunt for bees and watch them getting pollen from flowers. It’s the little things like that which we really enjoy. B definitely enjoys playing with the boys, too. She said her shoe was stuck the other day and immediately had three boys rush over and kneel down to help her. She is getting spoiled as the only girl in the complex!

I have had much to think about as well. I feel very humbled by a conversation I had with the woman who is cooking and cleaning for the team of 9 who are in town this week. She goes to church with one of the LIA staff members and is a lovely lady who is a couple of years younger than me. However, her life is drastically different from my own. She came dressed in a professional pantsuit and had her hair beautifully braided partially on one side. She looked so put together that she put to shame my make-up-less face and my wrinkled shirt and capris. I never expected that we would have the conversation that followed throughout the evening. It was little by little that she felt more comfortable in opening up by sharing another small fact or two about herself.

She eventually shared with me that she lives with her 14 year-old brother who she raises since her parents have passed away (she had lost both by the age of 15). She also sends money to her sister in a rural area who has twin two-year-olds but lives below the poverty level. She mentioned that Nairobi is very expensive and she has a difficult time being able to afford living expenses on her salary, so instead of shopping at the grocery chains here she will often shop at slum stores where she can buy things in smaller quantity and at a somewhat cheaper price. When I was asking her what to do with our old large drinking water bottles (assuming there was a place to recycle) she said she could take them and use them and share them with her neighbors. She said they are always needing ways to store water as the water distribution truck in her area is often unreliable. At this point I was realizing that I didn’t know exactly what area she was from; she had mentioned the name earlier, but I only know a few Nairobi neighborhoods by name. She then told me she actually does live in a “slum” (in her words.) I was quite surprised.

It was hard for me to imagine such a well-spoken and bright young woman lives in one of these places I have read about. How can that be? Why does she have to struggle daily to live, when I can go to any chain store I want and never have to think twice about whether or not I can buy bread that week? How very personal it is when you are able to have a lovely conversation in your living room with someone whose plight you otherwise could ignore. I just feel very…humbled. She shared stories of working for families where they look down on you and others where she had been appreciated and included. She said she knows you just have to deal with the circumstances you are given. She definitely didn’t want pity but there was a hint in her voice that she would just like it all not to be so…hard. So she presses on and makes sure that her brother is getting a good education. And, I am blessed to have a week with her in our home.

She said she can even help teach me to cook. We all know I could use the lessons. Now, I just wish there was some really good gift I could give her…. Perhaps, the documentary team’s time in the slums will be the beginning of such.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Back to "Normal"

Now things have resumed a bit of “normalcy” so I am feeling a bit more normal myself. I am so thankful for your notes and prayers! The kids and I went back to our “adventure walk to the grocery store” routine on Friday, and on Saturday, J and I were able to take the kids to Central Park in the middle of the city. It was fun to explore as there was a “playground” and lots of trails to walk through. We ended up getting little packs of biscuits (cookie-cracker-ish things) each for 5 shillings (less than 10 cents!) and we sat in the shade of big a tree for some people watching. The kids thoroughly enjoyed playing with sticks and watching the fountain be swept out.

In the afternoon, we had the country director for one of the LIA offices in the horn of Africa over to our house for coffee. He is in town for a conference for a few days, and the visit with him was incredibly fascinating for me. He was a kind man who shared openly of the religious persecution that goes on in the country he is serving in. He shared how people literally have to choose between their faith and their family. He also spoke of the difficulty of poverty and how the churches are able to train the people on basic health practices, etc… and what a difference it is making in their communities. The inspiring things he shared about were the way that his family is really being the church. They hold studies in their home, his wife is almost always cooking for at least 6 or 7 guests who would otherwise have been hungry, and they pay for hospital fees for pregnant women to get care. It’s beautiful, really. His main passion is for the school they have started with the help of LIA. He asked us to pray for him and his family, and that we most definitely will. I was wishing that everyone could have the opportunity to hear his stories. It is definitely perspective altering.

Between that and the verses that J and I have been looking up for one of his LIA projects, we have been provided with much food for thought. Here is one that I keep thinking about: “But whoever has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” 1 John 3:17. I have been challenged to say the least.

We have also had two ladies staying with us while they do some evaluations for LIA. It has been very fun to talk with them as we had met one in Ethiopia years ago, and the other has lived most of her life as an expat wife in various places across the world. She actually does women’s ministry with women living abroad so she provided me with some great insight and supportive conversations. I really like good conversation.

Tonight, J’s dad will be arriving (we are excited!) to be a part of the documentary team that will be arriving tomorrow night. We are really looking forward to their trip and just to having them around the house with us for a week. It will be a lot of people here, but should be really entertaining. T will be happy to have that many more hands to play ball with in the evenings, too J

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Night in Nairobi Hospital

So I figured that one of us would end up visiting the hospital at some point during the adventure. I would not have guessed that it would be me. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning on the day we were leaving Mombasa. I had a very sick stomach, which proceeded to make it impossible to keep anything down at all. I made it through the long, hot, humid, bumpy ride to the airport that morning (with only one emergency stop) and the hour flight back to Mombasa, but I was starting to get dehydrated and was in a lot of stomach pain. J’s boss, Dr. Florence called one of her colleagues to see me right away. He wanted to do tests and said that I should be admitted to the hospital to rehydrate overnight otherwise things could get much worse. I was feeling pretty miserable so I agreed, however I felt silly to be having my first hospital stay ever (other than when I gave birth) here in Nairobi.

What I didn’t anticipate was how lonely I would feel stuck in a little hospital room in a foreign country. You can only read so much and the best thing on TV was an old Tyra Banks talk show so there wasn’t much distraction. My parents were able to stop by on their way to the airport for their flight home and J came in, but they wouldn’t allow the kids back. Sad to say, my first night away from the kids ever was that night. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself and was incredibly anxious to get home in the morning. After the doctor checked me in the morning, he said that it was food poisoning and I should be okay to go! J took care of the kids like a champ and I had never been so happy to see them. Maybe I am just a wimp, but being in a foreign hospital (albeit very nice!) entirely alone was harder on me than I would have expected and very, very humbling. Thankfully, I am feeling much better though I still feel a little low! I think it is due to still not feeling perfect plus having my parents head home and having a ways to go on our trip. They all took wonderful care of me (I was really impressed with hospital), but hopefully, that will be the last time we visit it in our remaining month! I am incredibly thankful that we have access to good medical care. I can’t imagine being ill or having your child be ill without it. We are very blessed I realize!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Indian Ocean Retreat

We have been in Africa for just under a month now. This means we have one more month here. I can think of nothing better to mark our halfway point than a ridiculously amazing trip to the Kenyan coast (courtesy of my awesome parents who are here visiting!) We are staying at a resort that is literally on the white sand beach and only footsteps away from the surprisingly really warm Indian Ocean. It is blissful.

After an hour flight from Nairobi, we drove through the bustling city of Mombasa, a city with an ancient port which was used by the Portugese as a major Indian Ocean trading post (and unfortunately as a former slave-trade hub.) It is strange to drive through a clearly underdeveloped (and oppressively humid area) to a beautiful resort and the white sand beaches of the Indian Ocean. The juxtaposition of the extremes of luxury and poverty were hard for me the first few days, but as we were able to relax I started to realize how helpful this time of rejuvenating in natural beauty would be for our family. The day before we left our noses had burned with the permeating stench of burning trash and we had been a bit beleaguered with the day-to-day, especially since we have been car-less and subsequently nap-less. T had been in pretty fine form due to the said lack of naps, so this escape has been a true blessing.

If you were here you'd be amazed at the sights. It's not surprising to see camels on the beach with men offering rides on their backs or peddlers selling all sorts of colorful African cloth or wooden carvings. You would see B collecting coconut shells and J and T avidly hunting mini-crabs (J has now been dubbed "the crab whisperer." Okay - only by us.) You would see calm crystal waters and storm clouds coming in off the sea to drop huge tropical rain drops on us as we enjoy the pools (B and T pretty much lived in them - so we did, too). You would see B making friends with all of the little girls in the vicinity and venturing into the deep end with floaties and mommy in tow. T can be seen eating himself to sleep at various meals, or dancing on the shore of the pool and then fake falling into the water, much to the delight of the little girls' watching. You would also see the kids giggling with their grandparents (it has been SO good to spend time with them!) and J bartering personal items on the beach (it all started with J trading his hat per the men's request and went from there :)

The only time we ventured from the beach was to visit Haller Park the animal preserve and home of the famous Owen and Mzee (the hippo and tortoise who are best friends - there's a children's book about them.) The animals were fun to see but the time was pretty miserable as it was hot and humid, and our little princess doesn't do well in either. She was "Hot, and 'firsty' and hungry and sweaty!" We promptly ended all of our misery and went back to the pools. The only reality we faced was hearing about the Iceland Volcanic Ash and how all of the European tourists were worried about getting home. (I wasn't too disappointed at the prospect of my parents' departure to Amsterdam being delayed!)

Before we came to Mombasa, my parents got to explore Nairobi a bit with us. My mom, the kids, and I went to the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, where they care for around 20 abandoned baby elephants. The youngest one was two months old and was one of the most precious things we have ever seen. We watched the elephants drink their bottles of milk right in front of us, as we reached out and pet them.

Meanwhile, J and my dad went to a rural village for the day to see the incredible work LIA has been able to do there. The people of Makueni now have silos to hold their grain in so they do not starve during drought and they have a dam to harvest clean rain water for them to use. The small LIA partner church there has helped provide food and water for this community and it is a true miracle for them.

The following day, we took Grandpa, too, and visited the Animal Orphanage in Nairobi where we were growled at by lions and the kids enjoyed chasing monkeys who were running around freely. We are very thankful for my parents who provided us with some much needed comfort and incredible generosity as always.

While here, my parents have given J and I some much needed time to reconnect. We actually have had a bit of time alone to talk! It has been lovely, and is always nice to have little times where I am reminded why I married him! :) We also took some time to read. I have been reading about the plight of women in Ethiopia in The Hospital By The River, and also read about the two slums of Nairobi in a book called, Dispossessed. The conditions there are abhorrent and have made me very excited for the documentary J and his team of volunteers will be filming next week. Here is a summary of what J saw in his recent visit to Mathare:

"I had only read about Mathare Valley until now. We parked and looked over the ‘valley’ where shacks cascade down to a brown river that runs through the community. We walk down to the river and I’m literally overcome. Babies are screaming in the background and there is human and industrial waste pouring into the ‘river’. Houses and bathrooms line the river but there is so much human waste I can hardly avoid stepping into it. Naked children are everywhere, wandering, sickly looking. There is a small bridge that looks out onto the community and I just sat there and cried. It was the worst condition I have EVER seen anyone live in. Small children, women, etc. all over the place. Very few men. This place is in NAIROBI. One of our LIA staff tells me that few people even know that this level of poverty exists in Nairobi, let alone people outside of the country. Honestly, I’ve seen a lot, but nothing like this before. It was urban squalor to a level I can’t even describe. It didn’t seem right for me to snap some photos, so I didn’t. We discussed the movie and how we could tell a tragic story about what life is like in this community. The problem is that the story doesn’t resolve. These people, he tells me, are hopeless, and that is the worst disposition for people to be in."

It seems strange to write about this after talking about our beach vacation, but that seems to be the way I have found Africa. Quite a lot of juxtapostions. Distressed, yet hopeful. Challenged, yet full of incredible beauty. I have yet to visit Mathare, but feel pretty moved by what I have read while I was here, so I had to reference. Here is the link to the cause. Stay-tuned as the documentary develops.... We'll be back in reality the day after tomorrow.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Assorted Thoughts from Africa

This week, we went to Uhuru Park in the middle of the city with the son of J’s boss. It was a pretty park with a ton of people there, from people sleeping on the ground to business people eating lunch. This was the first place that I had someone yell foreigner at me in Swahili. It’s sort of a rite of passage, so I was kind of surprised it took so long. We took the kids around in a paddle boat which was very fun, but the true highlight was the fountain. T was floating his ball in a small portion of this gigantic fountain when he fell in. Head first. Up to his waist. We pulled him out spluttering and swatting water off of his face. But, then in true T fashion he laughed, and so did we.

Yesterday, B and I went to the orphanage to help with the Saturday morning feedings. They are most short-handed at that time, so we were able to help give bottles before naptime. I can't begin to explain how much she and I enjoyed giving a bottle to the same sweet baby girl we see each time. She fell asleep in my arms and B and I gently laid her in her crib, which is one of 12 in the infant room. It is really something to see each one of those cribs full of a precious little infant - twin 3 month olds just came to make it a full house. A care giver told me that the majority of them have been abandoned and all before six months of age (this orphanage specializes in babies), meaning the toddlers have lived there since infancy. Words can't describe how sweet it is to see B giving hugs to all of the barely walking little boys in the toddler area on our way out.

Later in the day, we were able to go to a retreat center outside of Nairobi, in a more rural area called Limuru. J and his boss had a meeting, and they let us tag along. We drove through the city (where I kid you not we saw people standing on the median selling: puppies, feather dusters, pants, giant T.V. antennae, rabbits, etc. Then we drove through a more rural village and out past acres of green tea fields.

It was quite beautiful. And, quite impressively, J drove one way on the opposite side of the road. At the retreat center, there was a great little play area where the kids discovered the fun of a see-saw, and then we grabbed a few scoops of ice cream from the café there. This place was very nice. Whenever the kids and I need a bit of a reprieve we order a scoop of ice cream. It seems to do wonders.

Today J went to a church in the slum with a short-term medical missions team (from Kentucky) who are on their way to hold a health clinic in another country in East Africa. In fact, he was asked to give an impromptu 40 minute sermon (easy, right?!) It sounds like it went great, and he still is moved after going to that area each time. I hope to go sans children, soon. We didn’t join him because it isn’t all that kid-friendly with the mud and open-sewage, however, the kids and I walked down the street to visit with the team this morning, which was quite nice since we already knew some of the familiar faces. Then the kids and I went to the shopping centre to pick up some things and the kids were in very fine form. We left with what we needed but with much flailing, crying, and a very frustrated mother. The good news is….my parents arrive tonight! They will be in Kenya with us for 10 days! We will show them around Nairobi and they’ll be able to see some of what LIA is doing, not to mention we are then going to take a trip to the coast with them! We are so excited to see them (hence the excessive exclamation marks)! The timing couldn’t be better!

The kids have still been playing with the neighbor boys whenever we will go down to watch them. Their conversations are pretty funny, and T invariably gets their names wrong. He is sure that one is named “Wing” and another is named “Mingo.” I have heard the boys asking if B and T have been to Disneyland and whether or not they have touched snow. They are quite jealous to hear that they have.

As we have been walking around lately, I have felt quite a bit more comfortable. People seem a bit more friendly, or I have at least lowered my expectations to “realistic.” We had the mother of a Kenyan friend from the U.S. visit us. She said people are probably surprised that we walk as most white people are always in cars. We had a nice visit, though I felt like an inept hostess. Kenyans prefer warm or hot drinks (hot water, warm juice, etc.) All I had to offer her was cold juice and some biscuits. I definitely need to brush up on my African hospitality!

One last thing to conclude my mish-mash of information. In a couple of weeks we will be hosting a team to film a documentary about the plight of women in Kibera (the slum J was in today). One of the people on the team is the author of the book: Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People that Make our Clothes. I have been reading it over the past few days (you don’t want to meet an author and have not read their book) and it has been challenging to me, especially in the context with which we are living now. It is really quite astonishing the level with which I have been able to shield myself from the struggles of the majority of the world. Growing up in suburban America has kept me so insulated and blissfully unaware of the challenges of poverty. Then, I think to myself how Christ has called us to carry each other’s burdens, and I think that I must not realize how weighted down I get with my somewhat insignificant problems. When I am carrying those around I have no room for others’. And, even as I walk half a mile down the street here in Nairobi (or in the U.S. for that matter) there are so many burdens that people could use help carrying (not necessarily fixing, but at least joining them in them.) So, even as I am being humbled daily with my inadequacies (today my patience with my children was wearing QUITE thin), I am going to try to lay those down for the sake of having an empty hand with which to carry some of the burdens of others’ whose load is much heavier than my own.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Wish you were here...

So, here we are, two weeks into our adventure. I can truthfully say that this is a very amazing experience and definitely a bonding one for our family. God is showing us and teaching us things we never could have seen in the comfort of our home. However, as much as we are having lots of challenging and fun experiences, I can say that I think I am experiencing a little bit of “culture stress” as well. I don’t feel like I am going to have a nervous breakdown or anything, I just feel…fatigued. I recently read a great book on the differences between hot-climate cultures (more relationship-based) and cold climate cultures (more task-oriented), called Foreign to Familiar. In it, the author described it well. “Dealing daily with the unfamiliar means making new decisions constantly. Whether it is a matter of transportation or using a telephone, it all has to be relearned. It all takes energy and leads to fatigue – even discouragement. This is culture stress which lasts longer than culture shock” p. 122. Anyhow, it was quite nice to have someone put words to some of my feelings. It always seems that a good night of sleep helps everything as well.

There are lots of things that I wish I could show you, like…

the fatigue-wearing army men holding rifles and standing in the upscale shopping center.

the sweet baby girl in layers of tattered dresses as she pulls up at the street stand where her mother is sell us a bunch of tiny, delicious bananas.

the rusty corrugated pieces of metal used to construct “buildings” in the shadows of modern apartments complexes.

the constant friendliness of the guard (who makes about $2/day) at the gate to our complex.

the toddlers at the children’s home saying grace before their meal of ugali and kale.

the smiles that we get on the dirt streets as B and T shout out Jambo to every person that passes by (Not to mention how angry T gets if they answer back with hello instead of Jambo! Where do they think they are?! J)

Over the last few days, we have been out and about a bit. On Monday, we were able to spend a couple of hours at the orphanage, which was great. We got to “help” with the toddlers’ lunchtime and feed babies their bottles. B and T LOVED this. B got especially attached to a little boy who she pushed in the swing. It was beyond precious. This one little boy kept coming over to me with arms raised to pick him up, which I happily did. B and T are riding a see-saw with him in the picture above.

Yesterday, we went to the national museum, which was full of Kenyan heritage displays and huge taxidermied (is that a word?) animals. Next door, we visited the Snake Park, which was full of many African reptiles. The kids were asking our guide all sorts of cute questions about the animals. They really liked the crocodiles and the largest species of snake in Africa (don’t ask me the name). It is really fun to get out and visit new places with the kids. They enjoyed dancing around the courtyard for an hour as much as the attractions, and I enjoyed sitting on a bench amidst the greenery watching them.

When we got home, the kids played with the neighborhood kids for quite sometime. They let them try out their skateboard and bikes. They kind of think T like a little mascot. The good news is he can hold his own. Then, the Ethiopian boys’ mother arrived home. She travels often for work so I hadn’t met her yet. About a half an hour later she sent her son over to get me to join her and her friend who was visiting for a day, for some injera and doro wat (traditional Ethiopian food) and then a traditional coffee ceremony. She said she has lived in Kenya for about 4 years and hasn’t made but one or two friends, so we all enjoyed getting to sit and chat!

I really liked her and was amazed at the depth of conversations we were able to have while having known each other for only moments. We discussed her work with an NGO, orphans and adoption, poverty, and how she trained as a midwife after she saw so many tragic births while she was living in Ethiopia. Ethiopian hospitality is amazing and we had such a lovely afternoon together. I am so thankful that we are able to have experiences like that here. They definitely help with the “fatigue” though they don’t prevent us from missing all of you at home!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter from East Africa!

Happy Easter from Africa! We have had a good few days. We feel more settled altogether, although B has been talking about missing “Arizona and my room and my grandparents!” There have been a few events that have helped us to feel more comfortable. For one, the kids and I ventured to the Yaya Centre (a shopping centre with a market, produce store, etc.) to get some groceries. We did this all on our own. It is about a half mile away, and eventually I will try to get a picture of the roads on the way there so you can better understand why it took us time to get up a little courage. J Not to mention, the double stroller is a necessity to walk there, but a beast in the store.

Secondly, on Friday night we went to dinner with J’s boss, Dr. Florence, and her son and husband. Her husband works at a ministry in Rwanda and travels back and forth so this was our first time meeting. We really liked him and the kids adored her young teenage son. It was great being able to talk with them about Africa and ministry. Their beliefs about holistic ministry, (and thus, being more than just spiritual but also needing to empower others to care for their physical and emotional needs, is always inspiring. It was just so nice to have a casual dinner and conversation with people we admire.

We also went on our first family adventure to the Safari Walk, a walk through an amazingly lush area with many different animals in fairly natural environments. Our favorites were the pygmy hippos, the lions, and the cheetah. We were all pretty amazed.

We have also had a couple of apartment complications. The water pump to our apartment broke so we had no water for about a day (it really wasn’t too bad.) We also had a power surge after another one of the rolling black-outs (these happen at least once a day it seems), which caused our microwave to explode. That was sweet. We reheated everything in a skillet for a few days until we were able to take a taxi to get a new one. These things surprisingly weren’t too big of a deal, especially after I read the following quote by Lilias Trotter who served as a missionary to Algeria for 40 years, “How many of us have said, and sung with our hearts, ‘Anywhere with Jesus,’ but at the same time we did not realize all that it meant for us. Indeed at home and surrounded by all that home means, we could not know…let us take very good care not to make a misery out of anything that ‘anywhere’ brings us….Yet if Jesus is there, what have we possibly to complain of?” (Piper p. 66). This caused me to think twice about the way I have reacted to people’s reactions to myself also. J doesn’t even notice the way people look at us, but since places are really just the people to me I had been very sensitive. I need to be careful not to expect too much or to make a misery of anything. What a great adventure we are on!

All that to say, I have been thinking about some things I am thankful for this Easter: grace from Christ, my great husband and precious children, our wonderful family and friends at home to miss, the opportunity to go on an adventure, perspective, a safe place to live, beautiful weather, Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate bars J, our portable DVD player, and the building next door who lets us use their internet…just to name a few.

And while we are on lists, here is a list of the things T has broken over the past few days: a glass, a helicopter toy, computer cord, dust pan, soap holder, and laundry hamper. And here is a list of the things he has dropped from our second story window: 4 cars, a chip, part of a mop stick, a piece of candle, and a spoon. All in a day’s work for him.

And one last thing…here is a picture of B hanging out with some of the Ethiopian and Kenyan boys that live in the complex. They are constantly at our house or having us over to theirs to play. Does it frighten anyone else how comfortable Miss B appears to be with older boys!? J We won’t be letting her out of our sight…ever!

Happy Easter! He is risen, indeed!