Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Parting Shots...

We spent our last days in Nairobi saying goodbye. We went to the orphanage, and 12-month-old Daphne made my day by blowing kisses back to me as I laid her down for her nap. The kids bought some teething biscuits for our favorite little banana stand baby girl, Nellie, and they got to give her a couple of last sweet hugs. We also brought a few things for our apartment complex’s security guard and his family (some flour, sugar, coloring books, etc.) He had been so incredibly nice to us during our stay. I didn’t even know all that much about his background, but in fact learned more after we returned when I had internet enough to read about him and his family on an incredible blog kept by Bob Davidson, one of the film team members. It is worth reading Bob's thoughts, as he is an excellent writer and clearly portrays much of our experiences. His interview with our security guard tells so much.

The neighborhood boys came over and we gave them each some sweets in little goodbye gift bags which B and T put together. They all told us of their plans to come to America and how they would see us again. We told them we hoped so, and that we would do our best to come back and visit. B explained she’d be back for her birthday so they’re expecting us. J We will definitely miss this place, though I don’t think we will realize just how much for some time to come.

I packed things up though the clothesline wasn’t working too well, since rainy season had commenced. I actually microwaved a few pairs of underwear to see if I could speed the drying process. Though no major disaster happened during said microwaving, there were little results to report.

Then we spent the last couple of days at a retreat center in Limuru, which is a gorgeous area just outside of Nairobi, with lots of green, a nice little play area (the kids had been having withdrawals from running about freely!), and an unbelievable infestation of enormous grasshoppers (these things put our moths to shame.) We were there for a board retreat for LIA so we were joined by about 15 other board members, most of whom were PhD or medical doctors from different countries in Africa who passionately believe in the holistic development that LIA is carrying out in countless communities. It was a pleasure to interact with them and very humbling!

On Friday night, we began the trek home which was surprisingly not as awful as expected. The first leg from Nairobi to Amsterdam the kids slept…the whole way! We tried to sleep as much as we could as well. Then upon our arrival in Amsterdam, we took a train to the city center where we saw a bit of the city and took an hour-long canal tour before rushing back to the airport for the next flight. This was a fun little rendevous!

The next flight was long, but full of movies and a few naps. I have such a deep appreciation for “seat-back-select-your-own-movies” on flights. I also can’t advocate enough for the car seat on the flight, though it is extremely painful to lug the gigantic seats through multiple airports (sorry, J!) it was amazing to have them contained during the flights. I repeat, amazing. Upon arrival in Minneapolis we had to go through a lot of customs and immigration what-not and at this point, we were feeling pretty done. Then to the final flight. This surprisingly seemed to be one of the longest portions of the journey, assumedly because we were tired, and we were almost done…though not quite. We were very happy to see J’s parents and siblings at the security gate in Phoenix!

And, surprisingly we were even more happy than I expected to be home. I really feel like I had forgotten the comfort of “home” during our two months in Africa. This speaks a lot to the adaptability of people, but it also worries me terribly that I will just as easily forget our experiences in Africa. I can see myself so easily slipping back into a lifestyle, which revolves around my children, husband, and most worriedly, myself. Here it is so safe, so neat, so private, so comfortable...

I keep seeing myself hesistate as I start to dip my toothbrush under the sink water and then I remember that I live in a place where I can drink the water and not worry about a parasite or contamination from sewage. I see my kids infatuation with their “stuff.” I see myself heading to stores tomorrow to stock up on groceries and being tempted by the consumerism, which so easily does just that, consumes. And, so I am left with more questions than answers. I am trying to figure out how our family can still focus on the kingdom of God and loving the poor as we are called to do, when so many of the needs are not in sight or are at least well-masked. I won’t have a maintenance worker coming to our door to ask for painkillers and help to get to the hospital to treat his severe malaria, but I will hopefully remember that there are people across the world who used to be on my doorstep. And hopefully, this will change me…how I allot my family’s time, and when I use my family’s money, and where our family spends our thoughts and prayers. Because, what we experienced on our trip was much too precious to forget, and much too important.

Thanks for following along on our journey. Our experiences has been even richer because we have you to share them with.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Wrapping Up...

We spent our last Sunday in Nairobi at one of the local mega churches. There was actual teaching of choreographed dances to a few of the worship songs. Most of our fellow parishioners had significantly more rhythm than we did (shocking, huh?!) which illuminated our foreignness as our attempts at dancing kind of resembled the half-hearted moves of the waitresses as Johnny Rockets (you know what I’m talking about, right?)

Anyway, the kids loved the liveliness of the worship and then thoroughly enjoyed the Sunday school class they attended (which I also attended since they have been pretty clingy with all that is new.) I am so glad that I got to watch the class though. They were into the songs, motions, and hand holding, and they were quick to volunteer answers. The other 25 Kenyan 3 year-olds were quite fascinated with B’s hair and skin. One older little girl said it was soft and wanted to know if we dye it in the back. ☺ B didn’t seem phased at all by the attention or her uniqueness. Skin color doesn’t seem to be very noteworthy to B or T yet, which is a pretty beautiful thing in my book. So, we had a good experience overall.

And, so our journey is coming to a close. We will be in Nairobi for just 2 more days then we will go to Limuru for a board retreat until Friday evening when we fly out. It is hard to believe we are leaving in less than a week. It is much more bittersweet than I would have expected. I am beyond excited to get home to our family and friends. I can’t begin to explain how much I have missed everyone. Deep relationships are so important to me, and having a difficult time building many relationships here has been really hard for me. Surprisingly the “comforts” of home haven’t left as much of a void as I expected. Don’t get me wrong…I will appreciate my car, dryer, dust buster, dishwasher, consistent internet, and disposal (just to name a few!) However, there are many things that I will miss, too.

*The ways God has challenged us by putting us in such unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations. I feel like we have grown in our faith and our hearts have been reawakened to the struggles of people around the world. Our love for God, others, and each other has grown deeply through this trip, and we can’t ask for more than that!

*I will also miss our family being so unified in purpose. We have so many more shared experiences and have grown closer through the unknown of this adventure. I wouldn’t trade that for anything!

*Another thing I will miss terribly is going to the orphanage with B and T. It has been amazing to watch them love and nurture these kids. I have adored having at least two days of our week involve the kids being able to be a part of caring for others. (How sweet are the above pics of T feeding a little guy?)

*Walking the dirt streets here as my children happily yell “Jambo!” It is hard to believe that some things that were so foreign two months ago feel so familiar now.

*Hearing and seeing the ways God is moving in the hardest of places. From firsthand trips to the slums to firsthand accounts shared with us by LIA staff about countries dealing with great trials, we have been truly changed.

So now we are left with the challenge of how to translate what we have learned to our life back home. We definitely don’t want to forget what we have learned or the people here and how we can be involved in loving them. We are excited about the LIA work that is coming and how we can be a part of it, and we also want to be more intentional about loving the people in our direct vicinity. And lastly, we definitely want our kids to remember what they have seen and experienced here, too. We will probably need your help to remind us.

I recently came upon this quote by G.K. Chesterton, “In everything on this earth that is worth doing, there is a stage when no one would do it except for necessity or honor.” There have definitely been moments on this trip where necessity and/or honor have kept us going. But I am so thankful we have been through them!

In leaving, we are going with the hopes of coming back again. It would be too sad to leave any other way. So, we will assume that God will give our entire family another chance at another time to come to this amazing continent. In fact, B has already decided she will be returning for her fifth birthday (yes, in two years) ☺ Maybe she knows something that we don’t! ☺ We’ll see you soon!!!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Moth Magic!

Things are starting to wind down here for us, and I must say I am getting excited to head home. We have had the most amazing trip, so it will be sad to close this memorable chapter in our family’s adventure. However, it will also be good to be home with the family and friends we have missed so much.

One thing I will miss is seeing or hearing firsthand accounts of how God is working in Africa. Just this morning I had a great conversation with our friend from Ethiopia who is back staying here again after a 10-day trip to another country in East Africa. The stories she tells about people’s conditions, and courage, persecution, and faith…well, they are inspiring to say the least.

I will also miss the random things that seem to happen here in a place so unfamiliar to us. In AZ, people don’t just come up to you to talk about Obama, and I don’t feel a need to celebrate that people are getting more and more friendly with us on the streets (I guess it just took about two months to feel us out - we're kind of suspicious :) There will be fewer "new things" and family adventures at home (see pic above of B enjoying her first cup of Kenyan Tea). We will also need to work harder to stay in touch with God's heart for the poor. And, in AZ you definitely don’t have scenes like the one that went on in our house last night.

I had expected that we would come across some interesting bugs in Africa, however, other than supersized grasshoppers, safari ants, and swarms of fruit flies we really hadn’t encountered many. Until last night. We were calmly making dinner and minding our own business, when our kitchen was invaded by a moth. This was not just any moth but rather a moth the size of a small bird. I seriously thought it was a hummingbird at first glance. So, this giant insect is flying all around, darting through the room, and the kids are screaming and running around (and I may have been a little, too). This moth seemed like it was trying to dive bomb each of us. The funny thing was the kids were screaming with delight. They thought the mayhem of this giant bug was the best.

So, J in order to valiantly protect his family swatted at this thing with a kitchen towel for a while and ultimately got it out the door. However, this was not before two or three more had entered the house and were going wild. You should have seen him put plastic bags on his hands and then grab the moths out of the thin air. Then we look out on the patio and see at least thirty more! Luckily we figured out they were getting in under the door and we were able to block them, though a lot of them met their fate on our patio at some point last night.

One of the sweetest things that resulted from the moths was the celebration that ensued after we survived. The kids were hugging daddy and shouting about how he had saved the day as though he had grabbed them out of a burning building. The kids loved the chaos, and I think daddy thoroughly enjoyed it, too. The next day J's boss told us that in the tribe she comes from that infestation would have been seen as a sign of blessing. She also said traditionally they would have fried them to eat. While the frying thought makes me nauseous, I think the moths got it right in the other area...we are very blessed.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Our Little Man Turns Three!

It is hard to believe that our precious baby boy is already three…until you look at him. Then you realize that somewhere in the last year he left babyhood and became a handsome little guy with infinite energy. He is definitely momma’s little boy, but he adores his daddy, too, and anytime you inquire about what he would like to be when he grows up he replies, “A daddy! Just like my Daddy!” He can’t get enough playtime, and he thinks his sister is tops! He is very obstinate and can drive me up a wall with his stubbornness, but he can also melt my heart when he hugs me tightly, kisses my cheek, and says, “I love you everyday, mom!”

When he woke up and we wished him happy birthday, he immediately said, “I’m free (three)!?! And I’m big?! But, I can’t reach anything!?” He had thought that when he woke up in the morning and was three that he would be significantly bigger and able to reach anything he wanted. In fact, as he walked out of the room I saw him attempt to reach the ceiling to no avail. Even once he realized that he had not morphed into a giant he still was quite happy to be three and was wishing us all happy birthday back. He may have thought he had to because his sister was pretty insistent that today was surely her fourth birthday as well as his third. She wasn’t totally focused on herself though. The night before she had told T she had a surprise for him. She came out with several items, which she excitedly told him were some “hand-me-downs for your birthday!” He happily put on and wore to bed some filthy pink flip-flops from his “gift.” It was pretty cute.

We totally celebrated T’s birthday with some African flair. Not African traditions per se, but plenty of evidence that we were in a foreign country for his big day. Let me explain. First of all I began baking his cake the day before. Thankfully there are mixes here, but their directions are in Fahrenheit and my oven is in Celsius. And my internet is too slow to bother looking up the conversion. So, I just “guesstimated” on the temperature. Then, as if I needed anything else working against me in the kitchen, the power goes out in the middle of the cake baking. I contemplate cooking it over the propane burner, but then decide it is better if I just leave it in to “slow cook.” Eventually the power comes back on so it gets this sort of stop and start baking method. Sweet. Sadly, these mishaps still don’t explain why it looks like a giant donut. But the neighbor boys didn't seem to mind.

Then, for his actual birthday the kids and I go to a “theme park” in Nairobi. Theme park is in quotes because we were the only people at this “amusement park” which cost a grand total of $2.00 for the three of us to get in to.

Since we were the only guests they only had one of the bounce castles blown up (a very sad looking crocodile inflatable) which was a nice compliment to the other main attractions, a little tykes plastic play toy with an airplane swing and a closed pool. The amazing thing about this place was how much fun the kids managed to have there. We actually stayed, ate some French fries, and played on these two things for almost three hours! We definitely got our money’s worth!

Then we went next door to Mamba Village. This is a crocodile park which also features ostriches, a giraffe, tortoises, and….rabbits? The crocodiles were ridiculously close and there were hoards of them. The wildest part was the way our guide kept provoking them. The man must have been crazy. He kept sticking a stick in and poking them and they would growl and snap at us through the very thin fence. I can’t tell you how many times we jumped. I also can’t tell you how many times I stopped T from attempting to poke them through the fence with a stick he had found as well. The guide also climbed in the cage at one point to show us something. Thankfully, T did not try that! Another ironic thing was how much the kids enjoyed seeing the caged rabbits and sticking leaves in for them to eat. Forget the giraffe and ostriches – we found bunnies.

Anyhow, the day was quite fun (and not to mention, unique!), and ended with all of the neighborhood boys joining us to sing happy birthday and have some cake with T. Hopefully, this day will have been a memorable one for our sweet boy. I know he surely makes our lives more memorable and wonderful each and every day.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Slum Life

As the rain pours down here, I am thinking of my new friends. I was able to spend Tuesday morning in Mathare, the slum in which the team has spent most of their time filming this week. J stayed home with the kids so that I could see it all for myself. I had yet to visit one of the slums of Nairobi, and, I must say, you really must see it for yourself to really understand. The one-room mud, stick, and rusty metal homes are so close together that you often risk catching your clothing on them as you walk through the small passages.

The sewage flows out (of the few latrines that there are) right into the gutter areas on the sides of the dirt roads. At most there are about 3 latrines per 25 homes. Because of that many children don’t bother with toilets, and I witnessed several going on the side of the streets. The chocolate brown river is also full of open sewage. They have very limited access to water from the spigots in their neighborhood (usually 1 day per week). This water is “usable” (not purified) and they must fill up as many jugs as they can for every use during the coming week. Four million people live in the city of Nairobi. Three million of them live in slums such as this one.

The children of course grabbed my heart. It seems that once you are a parent you can't see kids without imagining your own. There were children without clothing; some sponge bathing out of bowls on the side of the road. So many kids are out unattended and even 18 months olds are all alone on the streets. The lucky ones are being carried on the back of an older brother or sister; however if they have an older sibling around it means that the older child is unable to attend school due to a lack of funds for the uniform and such. They love to practice their English and shout “How are you?!” and “Take a pictcha (picture)!?” Their dirt covered hands reach to simply grasp a hold of yours for a moment. But, the most striking thing is the way that their eyes hold on to your gaze. When you make eye contact with these kids they don’t look away quickly – their eyes engage you.

It is wild to think that I lived in Nairobi for more than five weeks before I knew many of these extreme realities of the slums. We have driven by the slums many times giving us a somewhat aerial view of the unbelievably broken down structures and sewage lined streets. Even in the neighborhood where we live there is much poverty, with broken homes, trash burning on the sides of the road, etc., but there are also some nice apartments and shopping centers mixed in. So, if I can miss seeing the true conditions of the slums, where most of our “neighbors” live, how incredibly easy will it be for me to forget them when I return. It must feel dreadful to be forgotten.

I think the overall reality for these people is that there is not much room for social mobility. To get a good job you must go to college, which is very expensive. Many must just try to get any job to help support their families (and often younger siblings.) And even further there are not many good jobs available at all, so they find the cheapest rent, in the worst conditions, and try to make it. The woman that works in the apartment downstairs has a decent job where she lives with the family, however she gets to see her own two small children in the rural area just one day per week and is still not paid much. I cannot imagine it.

The encouraging part of my visit to the slums was the hope that exists there. The people there were so friendly and truly live together in community helping each other in their day-to-day plight. There is also much hope in the churches there and their potential new partnerships with Life in Abundance. With the funds raised by the documentary as well as with general donations, LIA will be able to help the churches in Mathare be a light in their community. LIA will be able to train the churches so they can provide basic health information to prevent things like diarrhea from contaminated water, which can turn lethal, especially among these sweet babies.

They will help hold health clinics, and start a school program with meals even for children whose parents can’t afford it. They will train the adults in skills and then give them microloans so they can begin to provide more for their family, like roofs that don’t leak during the tremendous downpours of rainy season. And most importantly, they will provide them hope and the knowledge that Christ came to give them true life. I left the slum feeling like I had much to process, but so thankful I had been there. It is exciting to think that we can help bring some of them hope with even just minimal resources and feeble attempts. But just as exciting is that their spirits of perseverance and resilience should also provide us with much hope as well.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Couple of Escapes from Reality

I had a lovely birthday in Kenya! In the morning I was being a baby and kind of feeling sorry for myself since the kids were in fine form and the day was promising to be a long one, but it happily picked up. The kids and I spent the morning at the orphanage (see the pic of B feeding one of the little girls!), the team bought me a gorgeous bouquet of roses, and the best part was that evening. J planned a very sweet date for us to a great restaurant we had never been to. We sat by candlelight on the patio where they were playing live music, and they even had flourless chocolate cake! It felt like when we were dating! We actually had some time alone to converse and process had our whole experience here together. He couldn’t have given me a better gift than quality time, which has been in short supply as of late, so I was a happy girl!

One of the funniest parts of the evening was our transportation. J borrowed LIA’s 12 passenger old school van to drive us to the restaurant. That in and of itself would be good enough, but add to it the fact that the van has no power-steering, is stick shift (left-handed), and it must be driven on the opposite side of the road, and you have a very entertaining ride. We had some laughs and thankfully made it home safely. Our apologies to one tree, however.

Then, on Sunday we got to go with the team on our very first Safari! We drove two hours out of the city to a national park in Nakuru. We had rented a safari van (that thankfully included a driver who knew what he was doing!) with a roof that raised up so you could stand to take pictures of wildlife as it went by. Since they could stand up and ride on our laps B and T happily spent hours looking for animals and B’s favorite – the butterflies. We literally drove for hours around Lake Nakuru through acres of beautiful jungle and savanna never knowing what we’d see next. We spotted a lioness sitting up in a tree, just yards away from us.

We saw lots of zebras, including sweet baby ones (and even some just out freely on the side of the road long before we reached the park), giraffes, water buffalo, flamingos, baboons, and lots of monkeys. In fact, while we were in the parking lot B and T needed a snack, and at this point, the monkeys outside did, too. They lunged for them, but Papa thankfully intercepted them before another guy on the team kicked rocks at them; thus, rescuing my children from the wild monkeys! B gave up eating her snack and T chose to go and finish his in the car. It was such a great adventure and we so enjoyed our time in the beauty of Kenya.

Today the team is back to filming and then they head out tomorrow night. They are a wonderful group of people, and we are so very sad to see them go. We have loved having people around and the kids have gotten quite accustomed. We are really excited about what will come about with the documentary though! Stay tuned!