Monday, April 27, 2009

Friends and Funerals

When I plan my next work week the Friday before, I never really know what's going to happen in that week, but I do figure it's going to stay according to schedule for the most part. However, by Friday afternoon, I had learned from my colleague, Francis, that our fellow co-worker, Eunice was out of the office because her son-in-law died unexpectantly. I was especially sad to hear this because I hadn't seen Eunice since before Easter because of my new office lifestyle these past few weeks (which has me pasty white); and was looking forward to seeing her.

In this morning's staff meeting, we heard that the funeral was going to be today, and so, as a staff, we all went to show solidarity as Nuru. Also, today, I read a newsletter from my friend Cath about her last days with her husband and her feelings after his death. It was bizarre-- two deaths in one week-- both newly married husbands, both relatively young, both from disease. In Cath's email she shared 3 Bible verses: Isaiah 43:18,19; 1 Corinthians 15:35-36, & 42-44; and Ephesians 2:4,5, &8. Those were the opening words of her email after mentioning Martin's death; and throughout the entire email, although through tears, as she told us, she was praising God for the moments she did have with him and that he's in heaven right now with no more cancer and no more pain. Although I was in tears through reading her email, I was encouraged that Cath, through her sadness can find joy. How many times have I had much smaller problems than these and cannot find the joy through the tears?

So, before going to Eunice's son-in-law's funeral, I made her and her daughter a card. On the front read the last 2 verses of Psalm 121, and inside I wrote about Cath's story and her strength in God, along with a folded a print out of the 3 passages that Cath wrote out in today's email, decorated with colorful magic markers so that they can hang it on their wall to remind themselves daily of the one who restores lives and brings hope.

When we got to the funeral, we hugged Eunice and then sat down in some chairs in the back (it was outside under a tarp, which spilled out beyond the tarp). As I sat, I noticed Eunice sitting in the grass against a tree facing away from the rest of the service; and so I wondered if I should go over to sit with her. At first, I stayed in my chair because of pride, but then I realized that my friend and sister needed someone to comfort her. Eunice has spent since last Friday comforting her daughter, who wouldn't allow her mom to leave her side for a moment because she was so beside-herself. Because of this, neither of them had ate or slept since Friday. During the funeral, Eunice told me that she has spent the whole weekend trying to comfort her daughter and get her to eat (the daughter is 8 months pregnant), but she couldn't comfort her as much as she'd like, and as a mother, that was devastating. It was then that I realized that this friend of mine really did need to be comforted after an exhausting weekend of being the comforter. So I just sat with her-- my arm around her, as we talked and prayed.

At the close of the speeches, everyone walked up to the casket (actually pushed their way through like it was the metro station in rush hour) to pay their last respects. Eunice asked me to come with her and so she led me up there hand-in-hand. Afterwards, she led me into the courtyard and into the room where her daughter sat on the floor against the wall crying. At the sight of her daughter crying, Eunice began to sob and buried her head into my shoulder. Soon after that, she started falling to the ground, so I lowered her to the floor. She laid there sobbing and all I could do was hold her and pray out loud for both her and her daughter, and for the unborn child who was possibly undergoing a lot of stress. Eunice was shaking, but responded as I prayed. Some other women were there poking at her and talking to her in Kikuria in a way that sounded like "buck up!" or "you're freakin' out your daughter so stop!" As those ladies did that, all I wanted to do was grab them and say "What's the matter with you?! Let her cry! Is it not natural?!" But instead, I just continued to pray for her.

Finally, some people decided that she needs to go home, and Eunice eventually accepted and asked me to call a boda (motorbike taxi) for her. Instead, I called our chairman, Philip to see if we can take her by taxi because she might have fallen off a boda in the state she was in. Along with another woman (who was obviously a friend and age-mate to Eunice) who helped me pick her from off the floor, we walked her outside to the awaiting taxi. All of us (Aerie, Chris, the Chairman, etc) rode together with Eunice and her friend in the front seat together. Because she hadn't eaten in 4 days, we stopped along the way to pick up some food for her to take home. Eunice also has younger kids at home and who knows what they've been doing for food this past weekend. Eventually, we reached her house and I gave her a hug good-bye as her friend walked her down the path to her house. Tomorrow I plan on going to check on her and make sure she's alright.

This entry is sad, and doesn't necessarily have to do with my work, but I felt like I needed to post it. I hope that there's something beneficial from it for all who read it. Personally, I'm still processing. But as the Shel Silverstein poem of the Zebra says "Are you black with white stripes or white with black stripes?" We are all human here and this is just the story of a mom who loves her hurting child and wants desperately to take away all of her pain; and it's the story of how another can find joy in her sorrows as she loses her newlywed husband to cancer.

"Do not remember the former things, do not consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth, shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." ~ Isaiah 43:18,19

Thanks for your prayers for Cath and her family; and now Eunice and her family.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

by Shel Silverstein

I asked the Zebra,
Are you black with white stripes?
Or white with black stripes?
And the zebra asked me,
Are you good with bad habits?
Or are you bad with good habits?
Are you noisy with quiet times?
Or are you quiet with noisy times?
Are you happy with some sad days?
Or are you sad with some happy day?
Are you neat with some sloppy ways?
Or are you sloppy with some neat ways?
And on and on and on and on
And on and on he went.
I'll never ask a zebra
About stripes

My Friend Barbara recently posted this poem on her blog. When I read the poem it made me think of how, as people, we're always trying to find the differences in people. Mainly, it made me think of how, as Westerners, we are always trying to "figure out" the people of Africa. But in fact, we are all the same really, just on different levels and in different ways-- Are you good with bad habits, or bad with good habits?" That could be a question we can ask ourselves as we point a finger at one another or decide how much different or better we are from others (me included). That was one of the first things I realized in Mali back in 2003-- we're the same, and as women, we can relate across language barriers.

That's all. Just a short entry today with that thought. Ol' Shel Silverstein goes way back in my history and I'm glad Barbara pointed him out to me again in a way that's relevant to my life here in Kenya.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Prayer request

Some of you faithful readers may remember a story from a few months ago about my friend Cath and her fiance, Martin, who had cancer. Well, first, they did finally get married, according to the German government, but were planning to still do a church wedding. However, although he seemed to be getting better, Martin passed away this afternoon from an infection in his lungs. Please pray for Cath, who was still a newlywed, and also for both of their families and close friends. Thanks for your prayers. As I stated previously, Cath was my hut-mate in Ikotos, Sudan last year for a month while she was observing the Scotlands, a missionary couple who also lived in Ikotos. Cath has such a joyful personality and is the most prayerful person I have ever met. For me, I know I want to pray for her as much as she would and has prayed for me in difficult situations. She needs prayer, not only for her loss, but also for wisdom, because her original plan was to return to Southern Sudan with her husband, in time, and I'm sure her plans are unsure as of late. Again, thanks.

"I lift my eyes up to the hills. From Where does my hope come from? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keep Isreal [and us] will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, not the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and coming in from this time forth and forevermore." ~ Psalm 121. This chapter from the Bible was read to Martin in his last minutes of life. The Lord still is the keeper of Martin and I'm sure he is in a comfortable place right now.


Hey all, Remember how I wrote about that Be Hope To Her (BH2o+) campaign and event? Well it is this THURSDAY (23rd), so go to the website and register with a campus if you're in college. If you're not in college, buy some paraphernalia from the website or download the free logos and such to promote the event. If you are on FACEBOOK, click and copy this yellow bucket logo and put it as your profile pic just until Thursday, and by Friday, you can put back that silly picture of you sticking your tongue out towards the camera again (humor).


Africa Thanks you!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Civil Rights and the White Tax

Refugee In America
There are words like Freedom
Sweet and wonderful to say.
On my heart-strings freedom sings
All day everyday.
There are words like Liberty
That almost make me cry.
If you had known what I knew
You would know why.

~Langston Hughes

My cousin, Colleen, was working on this poem in the early hours of the morning as I had already started my day today. It reminded me of some of the events of yesterday, Orthodox Easter, if you didn't know. Yesterday morning I listened to Francis Chan's Easter sermon on i-tunes (podcasts are downloadable for free). He talked about the largeness of Jesus Christ. Chan began the sermon asking the crowd to raise their hand if they thought they could beat him up if given the opportunity. Some people were hesitant, while others, even young ladies in the front row, raised their hands. Then Chan went into how powerful Jesus Christ truly is. I am not going to go into all the details of the sermon, but you can listen to it if you have i-tunes on your computer and look up Cornerstone Sili Valley Church. Two things I'll mention about it are: one, the said beating up of the Pastor; and two, a quote that was referenced from J. Vernon McGee, "This is God's universe and he does things his way. You may have a way, but you don't have a universe."

I greatly enjoyed that quote as it is so bold, yet clear, and possibly offensive to some of you. One thing Francis Chan covered in the sermon was that Jesus did not come to cart around sheep and baby bunnies. He came to show us how to live and to save our rotten, stinkin lives. And that, sometimes, was/is offensive to people.

All that said, the second quote was worth mentioning, but had nothing to do with today's post. After listening to the sermon yesterday morning and spending some prayer time on the back porch, the boys and I went to Kisii to get supplies at the beloved Nakumat. To get there we walk up a monstrous dirt path to the road, where we then catch a matatu (van or station wagon form of public transport). We waited at the road for some time before anyone stopped. Within minutes of a matatu stopping, a man emerged from the vehicle shouting at the driver in kiswahili, and in English said "I can pay anything you want! Just because you see the color of their skin and the color of mine!" He continued yelling and we realized that what was happening is that the driver was kicking the man out so that he could try to get more money from us by charging us the "white tax" (hyperinflated price given to mzungus). So the man, who was well-dressed and probably has a middle class job, was offended (and from my counseling stance, probably hurt) that he was kicked out by probably someone of his own tribe, and definitely by someone of his own race and nationality.
Upon realizing the situation, unanimously, we refused to get in the car with that driver. Then, of course, the driver asked the man to get back in, and good enough, the man refused. When the driver pulled away, the man pulled himself together, but was still angry (understandably-- I think that would rock my entire day). We offered our apologies and told the man that we also felt the driver's act was unjust. The next matatu that pulled up had only room for 1, so off he went.

We quietly waited for another matatu to come-- I think all of us might have been digesting that event (at least I was). Several minutes later, we piled into a matatu and headed towards Kisii. Along the way, we saw a large crowd stopped on the side of the road, watching something from over the guard rail, down in the valley. So, of course, the driver pulled over and asked what was going on; and it was a thief being beaten to death for his crime. Here, and it seems, all over East Africa, thieves are beaten on-the-spot by an angry mob (is possible); and if the thief was sneaky enough to get away undetected, then he is tracked down by the angry mob and then beaten. So, on this Orthodox Easter Sunday, on the way to Kisii, a thief was being beaten for his crimes while EVERYONE watched, including everyone in the matatu, who quickly filed out to watch. I stayed behind in the car because, even if just, I don't enjoy watching people being beaten. I'll keep my thoughts on that to myself.

When people had had their fill and/or the beating was over (I'm not sure which), people piled back into the car and off we went. I'm not really sure what to say about those two events, but rather I'll let those stories tell themselves. Something didn't sit right with me about either story in light of the big picture of the universe that was painted for me in the Francis Chan sermon earlier.

What are your comments on the stories? You can leave a comment without signing in or leaving your name if you choose not to. For me, From the first story of the man being thrown out of the matatu for being black, was enough to remind me that we still have a ways to go in civil rights; and that as whites, we have the power to reject those injustices by not giving in to the certain "comforts" given to us by our color.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Easter in Kijabe (Pasaka toka Kijabe)

This Easter I stayed at the Rift Valley Academy in Kijabe, Kenya. Erica was off in the US getting her wedding plans finalized and so my friend Sarah and I (whom you might remember from my ABO blogs last July) kept the house warm for the weekend. Two other friends came in from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, Juli and Kate, who teach at HOPAC, an international school. We had a great weekend laughing and telling stories as we celebrated the resurrection of our savior. Here is a pictoral narrative of the weekend:

This is the view from the airstrip and walking to the cliff that overlooks the Great Rift Valley:

Easter morning we went to the neighbor, Lori's house for breakfast after the sunrise service held at the football field:

The view from the football field at sunset:

Hanging out with Sarah, Juli, and Kate at the Jander's House at the lower station:

Ok, so the layout is really off in this posting. I was experimenting with having pics on the left and text on the right. I'm not changing it, so bare with me. Thanks and Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Potatoes, Reading Competitions, and Headdresses.

For the past couple of weeks I've been fighting against the schools closing for their tri-annual break. My proposed deadline for the baseline data for education is May 16th, so together with my Kenyan colleague Francis, we've been data collecting machines. We have been to all 9 schools in the Nyametaburo/Nyangiti area, which include: Nyametaburo primary and secondary, Nyangiti Primary, Siore Simba primary, Taragwiti primary, Gukipimi community primary, St.Joseph's private primary, St.Paul's private primary, and Imani (Faith) private pre-school. The data collection includes meeting with the whole staff of teachers from each school, meeting with the headmasters individually to collect enrollment and exam records, and meeting with the students to ask them about their home-life, school-life and various obstacles involved in going to school.

I really enjoyed sitting with the students to ask them about their experiences. As the children, Francis, and I sat in a circle, it reminded me of being a guidance counselor again. In those days, as prescribed by my Guru of Guidance, Jan, I would have a group of students over in the office for "lunch bunch" in which they would spend the opening part of lunch sharing on who lives at their home, what's their favorite sport, etc. I also felt like that popular female journalist from the 80's, who every now and then, would have a show on Nickelodeon in which she would sit in a circle with some kids and talk about current world issues.
Anyway, all that said, not only did it allow me to know what factors are involved in their learning (or lack there of), but it gave each student a chance to be heard-- possibly for the first time. Let me take a minute to set the stage for you folks: I didn't choose all the students in the school, but instead selected the top and bottom 3 students from each class. I also kicked out all the teachers and staff so that the students would feel as free as possible to share everything.

Here are some answers from the students:
In response to "Do you enjoy learning," almost all the students in each school said yes. Here is why: because education is the key to success, to make my future life better, to have knowledge on how to lead my future life, learning enhances good adult behavior, and education allows us to later help our community (one little 1st grader raised her baby hand and said "so we can learn to read!").
"What is life like at home?" Not enough time to study because of fetching water, cooking, washing, taking care of the younger siblings, working in the farms,etc. One girl, by the time she finishes all of her household chores, begins studying at 9pm and continues until 12am (but that's only if the kerosene in her lamp lasts long enough). She also shared that she wished she had her own room so that she could concentrate on her studies. Almost all of the children raised their hands in saying that they'd come to school in the evening hours if the school had electricity so that they could study their notes at night.
One thing that surprised the high schoolers when I told them was that when I tell American kids that there are African students who would love to go to school in America, and the American student's response is "give em my seat." The students here just cannot imagine, with all that the American students are provided with at school (i.e.- electricity, breakfast and lunch, textbooks, notebooks, pens, etc) that they would turn down the opportunity.
Out of 32 total students surveyed at Nyametaburo Primary school, 19 students eat dinner every night and 10 eat breakfast because there isn't enough food to go around. And when I say "ate" it's a relative term because some of the little ones said that they eat a small potato for dinner-- not a stuffed baked potato from Outback Steakhouse, but a plain potato, possibly uncooked. Some of the children just have a cup of chai (boiled milk mixed with water and some tea and sugar).
Another notable moment from the survey is that all of the students push themselves to go to school. Most of them, their parents sort of care if they go or not, but for the children of farmers, their parents would prefer if they'd stay home and help with the farming, which is an enormous pressure on the students-- if your parents says to stay home and weed today, you stay home and weed-- no refuting.
From all the schools surveyed, every student loves reading and if given a library and enough kerosene for their lamp, would read all the time. (that one's for you Celeste, if you're reading this).

On Thursday, I went to a reading competition held at St. Paul's Primary, which consists of grades nursery to 5. I loved witnessing even the babiest of students reading letters in English. The first up to bat was the nursery kids, who read their vowels in front of the whole school + 2 visitors. One of my fav little ones, Mary Robi, who is the tiniest thing with the biggest smile, and always carries around a little black purse across her chest, steps up to the front, and with her loudest voice unashamedly reads her vowels and and then the entire alphabet, and comes back to sit down next to me. The whole school claps for each student as they walk back to their seats. From grades 1-5, students would come up and read an excerpt from an early reader book in English, and then another book in Kiswahili. When the competition was finished the teams (Red House and Blue House) were tallied to see the winner (points are deducted for each word not read from each student on a team).
Afterwards, Brahmwell, the headmaster, asked if any of the students wanted to recite any poems for us; and so some of them did so. It was cute because they would get up in front of the school and while reciting, they had full body motions to go with it!
One had to do with a squiggly worm in the earth under a tree. My little Mary Robi got up with 4 other classmates to recite her poem with motions. Some of the students also recited Bible verses, the Lord's Prayer, and the Apostles Creed (Pastor Gann would LOVE that one). When they were through, I couldn't help but teach them the hippopotamus song that I learned (of all places) when I used to volunteer at H.S. church retreats in college. We sang, danced, and sang and danced again to the lyrics and motions of the hippo song that was loved by all.

I'm sorry that I didn't get any pictures of these events. I don't bring my camera along very often-- for one, because I carry the smallest backpack ever for convenience; and for two, because my charger for the camera's battery is gone and so I need to possibly find a new one in Nairobi or worse- buy a new camera with my non-monies. HOWEVER, I did manage to get some snaps of yesterday's lunch at our Chairman, Philip Mahochi's house. I picked up my outfits that I had made at the tailors in TZ for a total of <$30; and wore one of them to lunch-- headdress and all. The ladies were all over it, ha!

Seriously though, if you want to make a donation to the Education program or hold a fundraiser for it, I wouldn't mind. If you want to do it for anything specific, just let me know, otherwise it'll go into the general Education Program account, which keeps this program going-- not to sound like a PBS special or anything.

Prayer Requests:
~to collect all the information for the baseline evaluation
~to not be overwhelmed while doing it.
~to be given wisdom in how to go about analyzing the info, as it is not my strong-suit
~for health of the team, including the CDC staff. (I've been feeling really tired and nauseous lately)
~for funding for all the programs
~for a successful Bh2o+ event coming up in a week across American campuses.

Pictures are mostly from the lunch at the Mahochi's. Mama ChaCha (Philip's wife) and their son Gilbert came into town from Nairobi for a long weekend and so Mama Chacha's mom and sister came in from the surrounding area too. Mama Chacha's mom is the one with the long ear lobes, which is a dying practice. Philip's mom is the other grandma-type. Mama Chacha is the extremely light one. The woman to the right of me in the top picture is Clara, whom I befriended last Thursday. Her and her husband own a successful hotel in town. She invited me to her house on Thursday, which is a HUGE western-style house across the valley from ours, chock-full of banana trees, pumpkins, a large chicken coup, an exercise bike in her sunroom, and a victorian-like red velvet lounger couch in the living room. <== This random grandpa was at a wedding we went to a couple weeks ago. I've never seen a man carry a baby like this before. The men here seem to generally be very loving with their children, which is something that didn't happen in Sudan-- or most of Africa, from what I know. *oh and you can click on the pictures to view them at full size. Also, to view more pics, go to