Friday, August 31, 2007

Congolese Wedding | Getting to Know the ELI Kids

Last night, I attended a Congolese wedding. You needed to show your invitation at the door to be allowed in, and I didn't have one. Nevertheless, I had a prime spot at the wedding. The reason? It was held on the porch of the Biosadec, the guesthouse where we're staying. If I wanted, I could reach my hand through my bedroom window and shake hands with the other guests...

We were told not to worry, the event would be over by 8 pm. When we left for breakfast at 8 am, some guests were still lingering. Needless to say, I got very little sleep. At first, I thought it's not a big deal. After all, what can one do? But by 3:30, when someone was pounding on my door, I no longer thought it was funny. Fortunately, I've traveled enough never to leave home without ear plugs and my iPod. I had an earplug in one ear, and my iPod in the other, at top volume till it ran out of batteries at 5:30.

But now I can say I've been to a Congolese wedding. I only briefly saw the bride and groom. But I feel like I know the guests. :)

This morning, Davis did a teacher training session. Jen, the girls and I hiked down into the valley, to Bukavu's slum, where "ELI Christian Academy" is located. There, I took photos of all the kids who showed up for today's photo session. I wish I could upload the pictures so you could see them! I may try to do some tomorrow on Mudekereza's computer. I love how they turned out.

After taking their pictures, I interviewed the children to get updated profiles for sponsors. One girl's story especially touched my heart.

The girl's bright smile and spunky hair could never have prepared me for what she told me. I started with the usual, "What's your name? Age? Which grade are you in?" and then progressed to ask how many children are at your house.

"Nine," she answered in French.

"How many of them go to school?"

"About four of us."

Why I asked this, I don't know. I hadn't asked anyone before her. "Do you live with your parents?"

As a Congolese assistant (Reagan) translated the question, she looked down. Her eyes immediately teared up. "No. It's not my parents."

"Are you living with family?"

"No." She gave a long explanation in French, and Reagan simply stated, "She doesn't really know the people. They found her. They are not family."

"Where are your parents?"

With Reagan's help, the 11-year-old explained that when she was six, their house was burned down by Interahamwe rebels. Her parents and siblings burned to death. She managed to escape.

My heart ached for the girl. "Now, you are living with this family?"

"Yes. I work for food."

"What do you do?"

"Everything."

Others had explained to me what their chores before or after school included. Many had to fetch water every morning, or sweep the house, or wash the dishes, or help with the other children. This little girl did all of this and more. Cook. Make fire. Clean. Everything, she said emphatically.

"Do the other children help you?"

"The mother has forbidden them to help. It is my work."

"At school, what's your favorite game to play with your friends," I asked, expecting her to say jump rope, or throw ball, like most of the other girls.

"I don't play," she said, looking down.

It is one of the dreams of ELI Congo to get a place where girls like her can come and live, where they'd have a chance to be children once again.

"Many, many of our 600 children are slaves," Mudekereza explained later. "Slaves! Really."

As others slipped into the seat to be interviewed, I looked out for her shy smile. She had slipped out, most likely because she had work to do and would be in trouble for staying away too long. School only starts on Monday. She won't really have an excuse for not being away from home.

As we headed back up the hill, leaving the shacks and dusty streets behind, I couldn't get her face out of my mind. As other children came running, wanting me to take their picture, I wondered which of them might be living in similar conditions.

I asked Mudekereza if it would be possible to visit the homes of one or two of the kids. "No problem!" he assured me. "They would love that." I look forward to seeing where these children live.

Tomorrow, I will help with some computer issues at the office and hope to get to go back into the valley to take pictures. I've been able to take photos without any problems. In fact, I was able to steal a photo of a "mobile gas station" today when Jen and the girls stopped at a corner to take a drink of water. One-liter water bottles were lined up, some plugged with corn husks, filled with gasoline. Can't wait to upload those so you can see them, too!

For now, I'm heading upstairs to have dinner with Mudekereza's family. Last night, we had chicken with rice. I jokingly asked if it's the chicken that was running around the apartment at breakfast time. "It is," Davis answered. "I asked."

There was no chickens in the house during breakfast or lunch today, so I know we're not having kuku. Whatever we have, I know it will be good.

Dinner's ready.

Never Again

Where were you in April 1994?

I was still living in South Africa at that time. I didn't have a television, so I didn't watch the news every day. But I used the read the papers most days. I cannot remember that there was much of any news about Rwanda at that time. Or was there? Perhaps the 25-year-old in me simply didn't care to pay attention.



Walking through the Genocide Memorial in Kigali earlier this week, I kept thinking, "Why didn't the world speak out? Why was this allowed to happen?"



Genocide. Never again.



There were signs like this in the memorial as well as at other roadside memorials. Never again. Yet, it is still happening. In Darfur, even today.



What happened in Rwanda, I still don't fully comprehend.







"We are one people. We have one language. One history," one sign read. But elsewhere, it talked about 18 clans in Rwanda, among those, the Hutu, Tutsi and Twa. (The Twa made up only 1% of the population, so you rarely hear much about them. Around 85% were Hutu, the rest, Tutsi.)



Yet in the 1930s, the Belgian colonialists decided to issue ID cards for all Rwandans. They determined if you were Hutu, Tutsi or Twa by senseless measures: literally measuring people's foreheads and noses, or their height. They taught in Catholic schools that Tutsis are superior, that they were more intelligent and had greater abilities than Hutus. They appointed Tutsis in key government positions so that by 1957, almost all of the chiefs and assistant chiefs around the country were Tutsis.



In 1959, King Rudahigwa died. A massacre of Tutsis was organized. Many were killed. Many fled the country.



In 1960, before Belgium gave Rwanda back their independence, they wanted to make sure the country has a strong army. But now, things were off balance: The army was made up of a majority of Hutu due to the fact that they made up almost 90% of the entire population of the country.



In 1961, the country had its first elections, and a Hutu prime minister came to power. Ethnic cleansing continued with more than 700,000 Tutsis exhiled between 1959 and 1973, the year that Rwanda had a coup d'etat.



From what I read, it seems like the time between 1973 and 1990 was without any major events. I could be wrong. But things really turned bad in 1990, when Interahamwe, a Hutu youth militia group, was formed.



They started a propaganda campaign, persuading people to see their Tutsi neighbors and friends as the enemy. Radio and television was used to incite hatred. Later, it was also used to share information on how the genocide will take place. (Today, the media is guarded with an iron fist.) Little by little, people were contitioned to accept the plan and even join Interahamwe's plans to eradicate the Tutsis.



In December 1990, Interahamwe published the "Hutu 10 Commandments," which declared that any Hutus associating with or carrying out business with Tutsi neighbors, friends or family, were traitors. No Hutu could marry a Tutsi or even employ a Tutsi.



In 1993, an agreement was made in Arusha (Tanzania). The Arusha Peace Accord determined that there'd be a cease-fire, that Rwanda was to have a transitional government, refugees should be allowed to return and that there would be a democratic election.



However, the leader of the MRND didn't want the Arusha Accords to succeed, and made a $12 million arms deal with France.



In January 1994, an informant called "Jean-Pierre," a member of the president's security guard, informed the UN that the president has lost control of the extremists, that Interahamwe had trained 1,700 soldiers to kill up to 1,000 people every 20 minutes, and they were training another 300 every week.



The UN did nothing.


On April 6, 1994, the president's plane was shot down at 8:23 pm. By 9:15, there were road blocks throughout Kigali. Interahamwe had a death list, and one by one, people were being killed. They had one intent: Kill the Tutsis.



One sign read,



"If you must remember, remember this:

The Nazis did not kill 6 million Jews...

nor the Interahamwe kill a million Tutsis.

They killed one, and then another,

than another...

Genocide is not a single act of murder.

It is a million acts of murder."


Rwanda's million acts of murder was ruthless.


Interahamwe soldiers used machetes, clubs, guns and any blunt tools to inflict pain. Some people were buried alive.


I tried not to look at the pictures of dead bodies, but thought it would be wrong not to listen to the video testimonies of survivors. "My sisters were thrown into a pit latrine," one young lady explained. "Others were thrown on top of them. People were screaming until everything just grew quiet."


Neighbors turned on neighbors, friends on friends. Family on family.


Some were killed straight away. Some were crucified. Some raped, then killed. Even in churches. In one village, 20,000 people were killed in a church!


Mothers were forced to kill their own Tutsi children.


By the end of the month, one million people were dead.


Tens of thousands had been tortured, mutilated, raped. There were 300,000 orphans. Eighty five thousand children were left as heads of households.


"The country smelt of the stench of death," one survivor said. "Rwanda was dead."


But the world did nothing.


On April 21, 1994, the UN stated that it was "appalled at the ensuing large scale of violence in Rwanda." Others commented, "There was no ethnic war. There was no civil war."


No-one sent help until July, when the RPF (an army made up of Tutsi refugees) succeeded in taking control of the country.


By then, there were 2 million refugees in Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and the D.R.Congo. More than 60% of Rwanda's population had been displaced.


Everywhere around the country, boards went up with photos of relatives. "Have you seen him?"


In Kigali, there were thousands of mass graves. Most families either have a victim, a perpetrator, or a collaborator.


"It is impossible to forget the past," another victim's voice still rings in my head. "It is also extremely painful to remember..." She continues, "I would describe what happened in 1994 as Rwanda went through hell. It was silent. The world was silent. It was as if Rwanda had dropped off the face of the earth."


"It was like a nightmare," another man shares. He had lost his wife and all his children. "But after a while, you realized it was real because they were no longer around. ... Now, after more than 10 years, people start to understand. They're still hurting. There is still a long way to go. ... We are told to forgive," he continues. "But who do we forgive? Not all Hutus killed. I cannot say, 'I forgive the Hutus.' But if someone came and told me, 'I am the one who killed your wife and children,' I would forgive them."


And so, in the short few days I spent in Rwanda, I got a sense of hope. People weren't necessarily talking much about what was happening. In fact, it is scorned upon to ask what people group someone belongs to. "We're all Rwandese," is the general attitude. But at the same time, people are given a chance to talk at gacacas (ga'chachas), community courts held under the trees all over the countryside. We drove past several gacaca meetings held under the trees.


It's hard to grasp how a nation finds healing from an event such as a genocide. In one room at the memorial, children's photos are up on the wall. Life-size photos listing their names, ages, their favorite toys or games, what food they liked most. And then, for some, their last words. And how they died. Two preschoolers' smiling faces won't leave me. And then the causes of death, which I won't type here.


But the fact is, though Rwanda is healing, Interahamwe soldiers are still out in surrounding countries, tearing communities apart.


As I interviewed one young girl at ELI's school in Bukavu yesterday, she told me of her family being burned to death in their home in the countryside in the Congo. "It was Interahamwe," she whispered, barely audible.


"Why does Africa have so many wars?" someone once asked me. I cannot say. But what I do know is that the West doesn't seem to care about the wars in Africa as much as they care about wars in the Middle East. I can only surmise to say that it's because we don't have enough oil for the West to get involved. There's no financial gain.


Why else would a million people die in Rwanda in a month and the world do nothing?


Why else is so little still being done about the genocide in Darfur?


Genocide. Never again.


But it's still happening.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Congo Craziness

In Bukavu, we have found, you can buy anything on the side of the road. Pull over at one street corner, and a "mobile forex agent" comes to your window, ready to exchange dollars for Congolese Francs. Mudekereza, our Congolese director, exchanged 10 dollars, and got a wad of Francs in exchange. It's about 5,000 Francs, but I doubt you can get any bills larger than 200, so you end up with lots and lots of small bills, all thoroughly worn out.

On the opposite corner, you can buy gasoline by the bottle! It's around 5 dollars a gallon, but no one seems to buy that much gas. You just buy a quart or so, and you get to bargain for a better price...

Elsewhere, I've seen vendors selling eggs, Kleenex, bread, fish... You name it; they've got it. I guess this would make Bukavu paradise for entrepeneurs.

As for things at the guest house where we're staying: Things aren't quite the way they may seem at first glance. For example, though there is a light switch, it does not mean that the light can actually turn off. And though there is an outlet, it doesn't mean that you can charge anything. There is in fact no power to the phantom outlet. And though there's a shower complete with taps, it doesn't mean there is any water supply. Not to the tap, at least. I'm fortunate that there is a water supply to my toilet. The Davis' room doesn't have that luxury. But they have lights that can turn on and off. And their outlet works. I guess they should put it on the room request: Choose which type of room you prefer, one with water, or working electricity. (Choose only one.)

The manager seemed perplexed that I didn't like the idea that my light wouldn't turn off, but promptly came up with the solution: He'll take out the light bulb. So I requested a candle. Which got me the "Boy, you foreigners are sure demanding" look.

This look is a little different from the "Relax! We Congolese don't care if people drive on the wrong side of a divided road: Can't you see that there are pore potholes on the side where I'm supposed to drive?" look.

We've been spending the morning looking at some properties around the city and meeting with our in-country director to plan the activities for the week. I'll get to start taking pictures of the children at our school in the slums tomorrow, and collecting new information for their sponsors. I also hope to record some songs by them in the next week.

Bukavu really is beautiful. It is on the shore of Lake Kivu, a large freshwater lake. But there are thermal gasses on this side of the lake, so it's unsafe to be in the water. I'm told that the water is beautiful at Goma, a farely short ferry ride from here, but things are unstable there in terms of safety. No need for us to venture in that direction.

Speaking of safety: We have felt completely safe here. (Other than when we're driving against traffic!) I have even been told that it is OK for me to take pictures, as long as I don't take any of the many military vehicles around. Or of the soldiers. So I've been trying to avoid that, which is challenging when you're trying to take pictures of land for ELI and soldiers are squatting on the property. (Squatting as in living illegally, not the other type of squatting.)

Right now, there are children and adults lining up outside the Internet cafe where I am, trying to get my attention and asking for money... I had gone out to talk to the ladies, but they won't take no for an answer. It is hard to know what to do sometimes. I rarely simply give money. But here, I don't know where to go to buy them some bread or fruit.

Back to observations of life in Bukavu: Many of the large homes have paint cans threaded over their electric lines. We're told it's to deter thieves from stealing the wires. If someone would cut the wire to steal it, the paint cans will fall and make a commotion.

My ride is here. Got to go. Till another time,

Au revoir!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Land of a Thousand Hills ... and a Million Deaths

First, if I have terrible typos in this post, it is due to the fact that this is a French keyboard, and a bunch of the letters are in different places than what I am used to.

I am indeed in Bukavu, DRC.

Perhaps the keyboard is symbolic of everything else so far. It is just . . . different. But it is also exciting.

I really do feel safe so far. I have been told that it is even OK to take photos in the city; just not near or of soldiers. And there are plenty. I will try to write about Bukavu tomorrow if possible. For now, some thoughts about Rwanda:

If you have seen Hotel Rwanda, the Hotel Des Mille Collines might ring a bell. It is the hotel in the movie where several hundred people were hidden. Mille Collines means a thousand hills, and the country certainly has thousands of hills. It is evident from the moment you land and see way into the valleys below right from the runway...

Rwanda felt surreal. The city was destroyed 13 years ago, but you would hardly tell. The roads are amazing. Everything seems super orderly compared to other cities in East or Central Africa, but there just isn't a lot of globalization from the look of things. No big supermarkets or shops. No international gas stations even. But there seems to be an atmosphere of hope all around.

I will write in detail about the genocide when I am at a normal keyboard; it is hard enough to put into words without having to look for the right letters...

We drove from Kigali to Bukavu today. It was a beautiful drive, and the girls did well. Some of the sights we saw en route:
  • homes look very different in rural Rwanda than in rural Kenya! Most homes have tile roofs - even little mud huts and outhouses would be decked out with tile roofs
  • most homes have walled-in courtyards, and it seemed like cows and goats were often kept in these courtyards
  • more people seemed to be walking than we typically see in rural Kenya, while few or none were begging for rides
  • roads had almost NO potholes, except for a stretch through a national park
  • women carried baskets on their heads filled with everything from tea leaves to bananas, guavas, chives, tomatoes, avocados, cassava roots or cabbages to enormous jackfruit
  • we passed several graveyards with unmarked graves and often one sign reading, GENOCIDE, NEVER AGAIN
  • we also passed a number of outdoor community court meetings called gacacas - pronounced gha'chachas - where communities are finally, after 13 years, having the chance to try neighbors who murdered their loved ones. It truly felt surreal passing these meetings and seeing women standing before what seemed like a panel of judges... I do pray that the process of telling the stories and being given a chance to forgive the perpetrators will bring healing
  • there were several police on the road, but unlike in Kenya, we were never pulled over and asked for a bribe
  • we saw more armed guards in the national park than anywhere else. I believe this is because this is one of just a few places in the world where you can find gorillas in the wild. It costs 500 dollars US to go see the gorillas, so they are obviously trying to keep people out that try to go and find them on their own. It could also be to protect the primates themselves since guerrilla soldiers are known to kill some every so often
  • we crossed the continental divide - a first for me. A little sign showed that rainfall on one side runs to the Nile River and rainfall on the other side runs to the River Congo
  • after leaving the park, we passed through mile after mile of tea plantations, and then, in the valleys up ahead, Lake Kivu appeared... We filled out the necessary exit documents to leave Rwanda, crossed a dinky bridge, and then did the necessary paperwork to enter the DRC. Just like that, and we were in the Congo
  • roads on this side of the bridge are in much worse state than in Rwanda
  • Bukavu seems to be a bustling city on the most beautiful lake. However, the lake has thermal gasses, so it is dangerous to swim in it. Our guest house has a view of the lake. It seems idyllic, but from the look of things, the rooms are really dirty. In fact, I will be asking for clean sheets before getting into bed tonight. I think the room assigned to me is usually used by staff and the sheets haven't been changed. TIA.

My ride is here. Got to go. Will write more when I can.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Update on Congo

This morning, we received news that things aren't stable in the DRC. However, we aren't able to confirm that since very little news seems to be coming from that country.

We'll still be flying to Kigali on Monday morning. The plan is to meet our Congolese director on Tuesday evening, and drive to Bukavu the next morning. If it's not safe to go at that time, we'll have to stay in Kigali until it is safe to go to Bukavu.

If we end up getting stuck in Kigali, I'm sure you'll see some blog posts from me.

If we are able to go to Bukavu after all, you will likely not hear from me until we are back. So I guess "no news is good news."

Please join us in praying for safe travels, for wisdom, and for connections with those we are supposed to meet.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Chickens on the Road

The drive to Nairobi today took nine and a half hours, as opposed to the usual six hours or so. That's due to the deteriorating road conditions, plus due to the fact that there were two toddlers in the car, and two chickens. But more about that later. There were moments when I thought, "Only in Africa." But then again, maybe not. Perhaps the following scenes are common in your part of the world. Let me know if they are!

Scene 1: We're driving down the winding road into the Kerio Valley. Toddler #1 gets car sick, so we pull over. A lady walks by with her baby strapped to her back and enquires as to why we're stopped, if we're taking the child to a hospital. Mother-of-toddler explains kindly that it's nothing bad, that we're just stopping to give her some dawa (medicine), but thanks for asking. As we get ready to take off again, an able-bodied 20-some-year old comes to the window, signing he wants food, that he's hungry. Father-of-the-toddler explains in a kind tone that the young man is young and strong, he should work to get food.

Scene 2: A kilometer or three down the road, we pull over at a fruit stop. Six ladies storm to the window, wanting to sell us paw-paws (papayas). I explain that we don't need paw-paws, but that I'm looking for Esther (a relative to a colleague). We buy two bunches of sweet bananas for less than a dollar (the going price). But Esther insists on adding some things, simply because she knows me. "Take these mangoes! Or how about avocados." It would be rude to refuse. I explain that her family is doing well and that I bring greetings from them. We continue with the journey.

Scene 3: While driving up the escarpment out of the valley, we notice something in the middle of the steep road. Is it a dead goat? Nope! It's two chickens! Driver-dad-of-the-kids pulls over and promptly puts the chickens in the back, under the feet of his not-too-impressed wife. The chickens calm down promptly. Toddler #1 is upset for not being able to see the chickens. But the journey continues. "Let's pray who we can give these to. They must've fallen off the roof of a matatu," chicken-saver-driver-dad declares. We drive, looking out for who might look distraught for having lost their chickens. None of the 40 or so pedestrians we pass look like they're it.

Scene 4: About an hour later, the chickens are still with us. Keeper-of-the-chickens-wife-in-the-back-seat is starting to make plans to simply lay them back on the side of the road. But we decide that someone will see us and think it very strange that we wazungus left an offer. For whom? Would it be safe to take it? So we keep looking out for someone who looks like they're not on a journey someplace else (i.e. not heading home), and someone who looks like they can benefit from getting two free chickens. In the meantime, White Chicken is defecating on the floor. Red Chicken seems to have lost interest in life.

Scene 5: We pull over and call a teenage girl to the car. She seems weary of coming to talk with us. Driver-father-chicken-savior explains that we have two chickens. The wife proceeds to carry the gift (tied together by their feet) toward the girl. "Who is the pastor in the area? Do you know him?" She nods, looking uneasy with where this is going. "Could you take the chickens to his house?" She gives us a look as if to say, "You're the type of people my mother warned me against." Chickens find a new place of refuge: by my feet. The journey continues.

Scene 6: We pull over at a honey & chicken stand. "How much is one small bottle of honey," driver-dad enquires, knowing full well the price. (100/=) "And a big bottle? (200/=) Now, how much do you sell your chickens for? (300/=) Ah! Can we trade you two chickens for one small bottle and one big bottle? ... No, we don't want to buy chickens. We have some here." Despite the obvious bargain, the ladies refuse, perplexed by the offer. The journey continues once again.

Scene 7: We're starting to wonder if the chickens will travel to Rwanda with us. Driver-dad tries a new strategy at another honey stand. He buys a small bottle of honey, and asks the saleslady if she knows the pastor in the area. She does. She tells us who he is, and born-and-raised-Africa-Inland-Church-missionary-kid-driver-dude is happy to find out that the said pastor is from the same church. "Can you help us? Can you please give the pastor these two chickens as a gift? No, he doesn't know me. But you can tell him it's from his friends." Honey-lady seems happy to have sold her goods. All of us are happy to have found a good home for Red and White.

The rest of the journey continued without any incidents. Except for the fact that a two-hour stretch of the road was a detour (or, as the signs read, a diversion) over super-dusty and bumpy roads. And then we hit city traffic right at 4:45. It took us almost two hours to get through the city to the guest house where we're the only non-Norwegian wazungus. We might speak some Norwegian by the time we board the plane for Rwanda...

Oh, and I almost forgot.

Pre-scene 1:
When I started driving at 7:15 this morning to pick up my travel-companion-family-friends, I first was flagged over by a lady walking the 6km (almost 4 miles) to the main road, all dressed up for a meeting. Honestly, some days you simply don't want to stop and play taxi. Today was one of those days. But as we drove the rest of the way, God gently reminded me that it's an opportunity to bless someone else. By the time we got to the tarmac road heading into Eldoret, I saw a small and frail gogo bent over on the opposite side of the road. I gestured to her daughter--who held a big X-ray envelope in her hands--to bring her to my car. They were obviously heading to the hospital and would have to take public transport. Some bystanders lifted the frail grandma into my car while they told me to wait, her son is also going to town. So we waited. In the meantime, others came to ask for a ride to various towns on the way. I wish I could say I just said "Hop on in!" with a smile. I really didn't mind helping the gogo, but I was running late, and we were on the main road now where the able-bodied men who were asking could simply hop in one of many taxis that passed, at just 20/= for the ride. But we were still waiting, so I couldn't refuse without being rude. The son finally arrived, and after dropping off the other opportunists along the way, I could finally take the grandma and her children to the hospital. And then went and picked up my friends.

In case you're wondering, Toddler 1 was perplexed when we stopped for lunch and she discovered that the chickens had been given away while she was asleep.

Perplexed, but not distraught.

By now, she knows that life in Africa is simply different. You never know what a journey holds.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Into the Heart of Africa

I'm not really sure what to expect of the next two weeks. I'll be meeting my friends/colleagues Daniel and Jen Davis tomorrow and driving them and their two girls to Nairobi, where we'll have some meetings and then prepare for our departure to the heart of Africa: The DRC. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (previously known as Zaire, and not to be confused with its neighboring country, the Congo) is the third largest country in Africa, and is home to another of ELI's bases.

Since much of my work involves communicating with ELI supporters what we are doing around the world, it is important for me to visit our base in Bukavu and to see and hear first-hand what God is doing in that part of the world. And of course, the Davises and I also hope that our visit to that site would be an encouragement to our staff there. It'd be hard to continue working in such a difficult part of the world when you're disconnected.

And it's certainly not the easiest place to serve. Our base is in the slums of Bukavu, in the east of the country. However, despite the fact that this is the third largest country in Africa, the only international airport is in Kinshasha, in the west of the country. Hence, we get to fly to Kigali, then drive to Bukavu.

In Kigali, my colleagues will be meeting with other Christian schools in the area to see what they're doing. And we'll visit the Genocide Museum. It would be wrong to be in Rwanda and not do that. Though I've heard from others who have visited what it is like, I don't think anyone can be fully prepared for the visit. I'll write about it when I'm back.

While we're in the D.R.C., I'll be collecting updates on the kids in our school and taking photos of our ministry there. However, I'll have to be careful when/where I take out my camera since there seems to be much animosity towards photojournalists. I'd appreciate your prayers for God's protection over us.

We'll be back in Kenya on September 6. Until that time, I will most likely not have Internet access. In fact, I'm not even taking my computer with me but will be leaving it in Nairobi during our layover.

Until then,

In His service,
Adele

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Joy!


Joy!
Originally uploaded by Boyznberry
This morning, my friend Kierra came to call me. "There's going to be a baptism in the river today. John wants you to be there."

John Rono has been working in my yard since I've been in Kenya. I had invited him, his brother Emmanuel, and their cousin Eva to attend the Kipkaren Youth Camp this week.

I was thrilled when I heard that he was getting baptized.

Walking down to the river, Kierra and I were chatting about who'll be baptizing the youth. "I'd really, really like to baptize John," I said. "I've known him. I know his walk with God. I know his family. It would be an honor to do his baptism!"

So I asked the pastor, Peter, if I could baptize John. "Sure!" he said with his big smile. "In fact, why don't you just stay in the water and keep baptizing others."

As 250 young men and women gathered at the shore, I noticed Emmanuel also getting in line to be baptized. He and John stepped to the very front of the line, and I got to baptize them both of the young men. Then Pastor Matekwa and I took turns to baptize the others, perhaps 20 or so young people. (Two pastors were also in the water with us, baptizing others.)

John's mom called me later in the day. "I just wanted to thank you," she said. "John and Emmanuel called us to tell us the news. In fact, they had called earlier in the week to talk to us about getting baptized this weekend."

My heart overflowed with joy for these two young men. What a joy to follow Jesus' command to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

***
Youth camp is now wrapping up. The young people are heading back to their villages. Please join me in praying that God will continue the work that he started in each and every life this week.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

People Watching

That's the thing I like most about waiting for people at the airport. Or actually, it's one of the only things I like about waiting at the airport. People watching. The other thing is that if I'm actually at the airport myself, it means someone I know is coming in. Like tonight. The McCright girls are here. Safe and sound.

While I was waiting for them, I smiled at the droves of tourists coming through. Some missions teams in matching T-shirts and matching luggage. Lots of people who seem like they made some salesperson at REI's day with their Columbia shirts and convertible pants. Keen sandals are definitely the in thing among tourist. And a few walked off with safari hats. Only a true blue tourist can get off an airplane at night at put on a hat that would fold flat in your luggage with no problem!

There were also the off-the-beaten-path tourists: Two guys with bicycles, looking ready to hit the road right away and cycle across Africa. I was curious as to the guy behind me telling the other waiting drivers that those guys come with no cars and no maps. They go wherever the road takes them. Hmmm. I doubt it. But then again, who knows!

Oh, there were the Taiwanese tourists with Motorola two-way radios, connecting their group. "We're walking out right now." "I know. We're right behind you." The Kenyans just stared. Good thing no-one else understood the dead-serious dialogue.

And the prize winner: A family either returning home, or coming on vacation from somewhere where they didn't quite know it's no longer the 80s. The dad wore the shortest shorts straight from the 80s! In a culture where grown men rarely, if ever, wear even long shorts ("Only boys show their legs!"), this family got major stares from all around.

There was a lull between the flight from Dar es Salaam and the one from London. The first passenger to walk through on the London flight was no-one less than Liam Neeson. He had a few Kenyans whisk him right through customs with his one Louis Vuitton bag. Someone else was probably following with the rest of the luggage.

And then came the girls. Tired, but full of smiles. Excited, for sure.

We'll fly to Eldoret tomorrow morning. Then the real adventure begins! Without 80s shorts or Louis Vuitton bags. The real deal: Village life.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Check

I've been chipping away at e-mail much of yesterday and today. From 80-some messages, I'm now down to 7. And still counting down...

I love e-mail. I love the convenience of connecting with people so quickly. But I don't like rushing a response in just a few seconds, unless it's something unimportant.

So, in the past 24 hours, I've written 68 messages. And my inbox is once again void of any mail. Till everyone starts responding to the messages I had sent!

Now, on to other work. I've been wanting to take advantage of high-speed Internet while in the city, but the connections here have been slow as molasses. I might have to go and find an Internet cafe somewhere and see if I can check off some important tasks off my list.

Clean out inboxes. (check)

Order photo books. (check, at last!)

See a movie. (not happening)

Meet cool people - umm, and not-so-cool-ones who seem afraid to smile - at Mayfield. (check)

Get a haircut. (check)

Buy groceries to entertain guests. (check)

Hide at Java House and get lots of work done. (check)

Tonight, I'm picking up Allison and Kelly McCright, interns from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Ah, they're going to have a blast being in Kenya! For the Iowans reading this, please do keep the girls in your prayers, that their 6 weeks in Kenya will be life transforming.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Nairobi

I'm in Nairobi. One of the things I look forward to when I'm here is to see a movie. But the only movies showing in the city right now is stuff like The Simpsons, Harry Potter, and Die Hard. Not worth the time and money, I think.

Got a haircut, at least. And got some work done, a bit of Nairobi shopping done (got "essentials" you can't get in Eldoret, like nacho chips), and had some work meetings.

Tomorrow and Friday, I need to take the day to do some planning for the next few months, working on goals for ministry in Kipkaren. Then meet two interns who are coming in from Cedar Rapids, and take them back to Kipkaren.

Nothing else exciting happening on this side. Not right now, at least.

C'est la vie en Afrique. Oh, yeah, the most fun I had while driving around the city today was to listen to French radio and to see how much of the news I was able to follow. Which wasn't a whole lot, by the way. Will learn some more French during my upcoming trip to the D.R. Congo.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Laughter and Tears

This afternoon, I arrived at Ilula after being in Kipkaren for four days. Though I had had a regular routine of 4 days in Kipkaren and 3 days here for a while this year, the kids here got used to me not traveling while teams were around. One would've thought that I had been gone for weeks!

Little Brian waited patiently while I visited with his dad, till he realized I wasn't seeing him. He threw his arms around my legs and gave me the tightest hug a 2-year-old can give. Edison just hung out next to me, smiling shyly at my every so often. And then giving me his yellow rubber band as a gift. Jesse had to show me how he can do a roll. Raymond brought "Where's Waldo" to point out on every page where they had found not only Waldo, but also the wizard and some of the other hidden objects. Scopia came to show me her new dance moves and asked me to give her one of my signature hugs. ("No, not like that! One of those...!" she'd say and stand on her toes to try and get her arm around my shoulders from behind me.)

I joined my friends Mary and Ruth in the kitchen, and while sitting around a little fire where Ruth was cooking rice for a special dinner, we shared some news, even some tears. Then I joined them for dinner at Ruth's house, where we welcomed some new staff. Over dinner, chai and fellowship, we laughed till the tears rolled down Ruth's cheeks for the second time today. Exactly what we laughed at, I'm not sure. But it was good. And I think the new staff (Luka, Leah and their 3-year-old Carole) felt at home.

Though it was cold and rainy when I finally walked home, my heart was warm. I have grown to love my friends (big and small) here at Ilula.

Starting next week, I'll be spending almost all of my time in Kipkaren. I'll come to Ilula for a weekend visit, perhaps once or twice a month, to show the kids a movie, to have a meal with my friends, to check on the Sifuna kids... But there are far more projects in Kipkaren that need my attention, and in order to get more done, it would be beneficial to be in one location.

I could not tell the kids. I will wait a few weeks before I tell them. How does one make a change like this and not make the little ones feel rejected?

Cat and Mouse

I took this photo on my cell phone the other day. Flannel has this toy that my friend Nan had sent her. She loves the mouse. Half the time, if she's not chasing it around, she's carrying it in her mouth. Here, they were snuggling. The mouse looks pretty scared, though.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Bam!

I just got shocked 10 minutes or so ago. There's a huge thunderstorm outside, and I was in my house, working on my computer. My hands were resting on the computer and my bare feet were on the tile floor when suddenly I got a huge shock just as lightning flashed outside. Within a split second, I unplugged the power cord and then BAM! came the thunder and more lightning.

We've been having a lot of rain lately. So much so that there was a mud slide in Kakamega, a town not far from here. No mud slides in Kipkaren. Just sliding in the mud, that's all.

Today, after welcoming a new team to Kipkaren, I spent time finishing a recording of our kids at the children's home. We're compiling a CD with some of their songs, memory verses and poems.

Tomorrow, the first of 400 or so youth will arrive for the 10th annual Kipkaren Youth Camp. Many of the students will be staying in tents. This place will be bustling with life for the next week.

I leave for Nairobi on Wednesday and will be back Saturday morning. Working on some projects from there, meeting interns, and hopefully getting a haircut and a movie. :)

Will try to upload an audio file to the Internet.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Sounds of Kipkaren, Kenya

Just to give you a glimpse of the strange world I live in: I woke up this morning to the sound of a 25-member Salvation Army band playing their hearts out just 50 feet from my house.

We're having an AIDS campaign in the Nandi Hills today, and the band is one of the many draws for the event. (Others are running and bicycle races as well as soccer and volleyball matches. Crowds of up to 4,000 gather for these events, and we promote being tested for HIV to know your status. We're ready to test 1,000 people today!)

I opted not to go but instead catch up on work. Plus I am helping fix some computer issues, do a recording of kids' songs at the children's home, and take someone to the airport. Nice and restful Saturday.

But for now, I'm enjoying the sound of the birds outside my window. Am going to make some French toast and good coffee and spend time with God in the gazebo overlooking the river. Though the Kipkaren river has taken many lives this week, it is also one of the most soothing elements of being in Kipkaren.

Anyone joining me for breakfast?

The Corpse in my Car

Today, I had a dead body in my car. Her name was Caroline, and she was 16. She drowned on Tuesday. Her body was found today.

Caroline wasn't originally from this area. She was living with family in our neighborhood in Kipkaren. So her body had to be transported up into the Nandi hills, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from here. When I was asked if it would be possible for me to help by driving the body home, I didn't think twice. My car is big. The back seat can fold down. I'll go.

It's only after I had said "Yes" that reality set in. I'm not afraid of a corpse. It's just a shell, after all. But she's been dead for three days, and her body had been in the river all this time. So I grabbed some Tiger Balm to put under my nose and left for the family's house nearby, where I was to pick up the body.

My upper lip was still burning from the Tiger Balm when I rounded the corner to the hut. I greeted the solemn crowd, not sure who to convey my condolences to. One man stepped up. "Thank you for coming. Now, are you brave?"

"Why do you ask?" I responded politely, not sure what to expect.

"Do you want to see the body?"

Quite frankly, I didn't. I've seen very few dead bodies in my life. In my culture, we don't have viewings, and we rarely have open caskets. I can count on one hand the number of dead bodies I've seen. "Can you help me?" I asked, still not sure who the gentleman is who I was talking to. A family member? A pastor? Neighbor? "What is the best thing in this culture? Should I go to see it, or not?"

"You come," he said, and promptly led me through the crowd. I stepped into the mud hut. There was nothing in the living room, except the body. "This is it," the man said somewhat nonchalantly. She died on Tuesday. She fell in the river. She was found today. Now, let's see who will drive with you."

Before my eyes had adjusted properly to the darkness in the hut, we were out of there.

I put the back seat down and lay the tarp on the floor of my vehicle. As they carried the body - simply resting on some sacks and a sheet - through the crowd, no one cried. Some children simply stared. I wished I could speak Nandi so I could understand what was happening around me.

After we prayed, people started filing into the car. Grandpa in the front seat. The girl's dad in the seat behind him. I had thought only two people would fit in the back on one fold-down seat, but they said more can get in. I put down the second fold-down seat, and now the body was surrounded on all sides. An uncle. Two gogos from the community. And John, the neighbor who was with the girl when she fell in the river and drowned. Her head was right behind my seat, and everyone in the back was trying not to step on the body. (!) Someone covered her face with a veil. And off we went.

As we passed through the market, the neighbor asked me to stop. He needed to buy Doom. It started raining as we were waiting. The roads were already drenched and streams were flowing on both sides of the road. John came back with the can of insect repellent. They were spraying the body as well as their feet as I continued driving, not sure if the smell of the poison was stronger, or that of the body. What made it worse was that I couldn't open my window because of the rain.

David (my director at Kipkaren) called soon afterwards. "Adele, are you scared?"

"No, David," I assured him. "What is there to be afraid of?"

The answer came to me hardly two minutes later, as we started fishtailing on the muddy road. To add to it all, the road we were on was incredibly bumpy. All of us were bouncing in our seats while I tried my best to keep the car on the road. I felt badly that Caroline was having such a bumpy last ride, but what can you do?

I passed two small cars that had ended up in the ditches on the side of the road and prayed that God would protect us from sliding into a ditch, too. Not much later, as I was coming round a bend in the road, going at no more than 10 kmh (5mph), there were two trucks that had gone off the road... It was clear that we wouldn't be able to pass. "No worries," the grandpas explained. "There's another road. Go back."


After finding a safe spot to make a U-turn, we headed back to where the road had forked, and took an even worse road, one that would take me through two rivers. Through, yes. They had thoroughly flooded the road. One was so strong, I had to cross toward the opposite direction where I wanted to go and make another U-turn up the road.

And so the journey continued, all the way back to the Nandi Hills where I had picked up orphans a year ago. In fact, I recognized many a beacon on the road, and literally passed three of the homes along the way where I had picked up children. How ironic, I thought, last time I was here, I brought good news for the children and their guardians. Today, I'm the bearer of sadness.

The last stretch of the journey took me down a road that has likely not seen a car in ages. And then we were there. Two hours for forty kilometers.

I got out to meet the family while the men were carrying the body on the tarp from the car. One lady greeted me with an enthusiastic smile, and seconds later, started wailing. It was surreal. And it was strange being in a place where I didn't think I should be. Caroline is being brought home. This is family time. But even as I got ready to start the return journey, neighbors started coming. Some by foot. Later, I passed a truckload full of people from Kipkaren who were coming to mourn with the family.

The road back seemed a bit easier. The rain had let up, and one of the three gogos who were going home with me ended up navigating a bit shorter way home, one that didn't take me through the rivers again. But on the worst stretch, there was once again vehicles stuck in the most awkward spots.

I was relieved to pull into our compound ninety minutes later, just as the sun started setting.

"Two more children fell in the river at Turbo today," Sammy told me. "Their parents are now around here looking for them." That would bring the total to four people drowning in this river in five days. (A nephew to one of our staff members drowned on Monday. His grandma had given him a cookie, and he was washing his hands in the river before eating his cookie. But the cookie fell into the water, as did he when he reached for it...)

As the rains continue and the river keeps swelling, please pray for safety for people who, like Caroline, have to cross the river every day. (There are few bridges in this area, and the logs where Caroline crossed were submerged in the swollen water.) Or for young and old who depend on the river to bathe and to feed their cattle.

This is Africa. And life in this part of Africa can sometimes be tough. Yet we have hope. Can't imagine life without it.


Friday, August 10, 2007

How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news


This afternoon, I was showing a visitor pictures of what the kids looked like a month ago. I thought I'd post just a couple, specifically of (Nancy) Jepkemboi's feet, since the changes in her little world have been most dramatic.

When I ran into Nancy and Joanne Jemutai the first time, the 6-year-old was painfully shy. One could hardly hear what she said when she answered questions. She kept tugging at her skirt, and it was obvious that she had not had a bath in weeks - perhaps months.

She smiled shyly in demand for pictures. But just for a moment, and then her little face would grow sullen again.

I returned home and wrote this, knowing I could never ignore the fact that these girls had been brought into my life.

I returned to their home the next week. Though I first thought I'd simply get to show them God's love through taking them food, buying them a new mattress. Getting them some clothes or bathing them sometimes. Easy stuff. But after giving them their first bath, I knew this would be harder. I knew God brought this family into my life for a purpose I'll yet learn. And I learned more about sand fleas than I ever cared to know.


Nancy's left heel. Later, I removed about 20 egg sacs from this heel

The sole of Nancy's right foot

While giving them their first bath, my friend Ruth explained to me that the scars were from fleas, and that we'd need to dig them out. We also knew the kids would have to wear shoes if we were to win this battle. But Nancy wouldn't wear shoes because her toes were simply too swollen. She walked with a slight limp, and I never saw her run. There was just a heaviness about her.

I returned home and wrote this. And for the next 5 weeks, donning latex gloves and digging at egg sacs became second nature. The community started calling these kids "Adele's children," but I tried pulling in community members to get involved, too, so they can also experience the joy of seeing God bring about healing through us.
Nancy's heel after a couple weeks' work on it


... and her feet today!

The healing process continues, but it's hard to believe that these are the same feet. And it's hard to believe it's the same girl.

She runs. Because she can.
She smiles. Often. Out of the blue.
She even giggles at my silly antics.
And she sings quietly when I work on her feet.

More and more, I see people treating her and her siblings as "our children."

A neighbor has started to teach her and her sister to write.
Another neighbor is donating eggs to their family once a week.
Another neighbor delivers vegetables from his garden every so often.
The kids at the home invited them for our weekly movie yesterday.
Young men in our neighborhood are planning to go help the dad fix the house this week.

And the list goes on. And on. These truly have become "our children."

I haven't the slightest doubt that our children will tell others about Jesus someday. "He came to my house," they might say. "He looked just like my neighbors. He sounded like them. Sometimes he could speak Nandi. Other times only English. Sometimes he was brown. Sometimes white. Sometimes a man. Other times a woman. But I know him. He prayed with me many days. He even kissed my feet after bandaging them. That made me laugh. He healed me. See?"

Do I think we are being Christ? Certainly not. But vessels we are. How else will Nancy know him?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

One hundred percent

. . . jigger-free kids!

After 5 weeks of working on them, tediously removing one egg sac after another, I am thankful to report that as of today, the children have no jiggers. None. Nada. Nyet. Or none that we could see, at least.

It feels like a miracle. From day 1, I prayed asking God to heal them - their little bodies, but also their hearts, minds and souls. Every time I'd walk down the road, I'd say, "God, I know you can heal them in an instant!"

"You're wanting a microwave solution," I sensed God's answer. "But I'm into basking. I want you to marinate them in my love. This way, they'll learn more, as will you."

And so, day after day after day, week after week, I went, sometimes with friends, often alone. Always expecting to see what God has done.

And he did indeed do a great work.
He put a smile back on their faces.
He helped them gain weight.
He gave them a chance to start learning how to write.
He taught the girls not to run away when they didn't do their chores, but instead, to do the tasks to help run their household.
He brought the family to church the past few weeks without us even asking.
He even brought the children to VBS the past few days.
And he healed their bodies of jiggers.

Today, as I stepped into one VBS class to take some pictures, my heart warmed up as I saw Jepkemboi and Kiprop repeating Psalm 3:3 after the teacher. "You, O Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high." Though the kids don't speak English yet, they imitated the sounds in English. (The assistant did translate for the kids who didn't understand, so they do know what they were saying.)

After VBS, as Ruth, Mary and I were once again working in tandem to rid the kids of their last egg sacs, I asked Ruth if the kids understand yet who Jesus is. We pray with them every time, talking to Jesus. We praise Jesus for every egg sac that comes out. We sometimes even sing songs about Jesus while we're working on them. Who do they think this Jesus is? "They don't know yet," Ruth replied. "But time has come to explain to them. They will understand."

I believe they will. They will understand in a way you or I may never understand God's love.

In fact, I sometimes wonder if working with this family is the sole reason God has brought me to Kenya. So that they may know how much Jesus cares.

Some of you have been asking about schooling options for the kids. In the next few weeks, we'll be having a meeting with the dad to find out what his plans are. Will they be staying in this area, or returning to Luo country? If they plan to stay, we'll look at options for school as well as for care for the younger boys while their sisters are in school. I'll keep you posted.

For now, thanks for continuing this journey with us.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Stepping Back in Time


When I saw the first group of women walking by the roadside with their elaborate bead work around their necks, I knew I made the right choice to come to East Pokot. It might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I don't like passing those up. Not even when I have a cold.

My neighbor Daniel Davis (or simply, Davis) had grown up in East Pokot, and he and his family were heading home to visit friends and family in that area. I tagged along simply to see a part of Kenya I had never seen. Pastor Peter, another colleague, also came along. He and Davis were planning on speaking at a few places to educate the Pokot about ELI's agricultural program and challenge some young people to apply for the next intake.

The five-hour drive, it seemed, took us further than just how far a pickup can carry you in that amount of time. It felt like we had been taken back in time, to a place in time that you but read of in Africa travel books.

"Karam!" Davis greeted a group of kokos (Kipokot for grandma). He enquired about the road to Orus. "My uncle had built a road here [to Orus]," he explained to Peter and I. "There are two white rocks on the side of the gravel road indicating where the narrow road to their village starts. But it looks like that road has been washed away by the river." The kokos pointed out a small road that would eventually lead to the other road, and our journey continued.

On this road, which took us through many a dry river bed (as well as through one that was all but a dry bed!), we passed several herds boys in their shukas (men's skirts, essentially), their upper bodies glistening with oil (probably animal fat). Almost all of them wore an ostrich feather in their hair. (I couldn't take pictures at the time, and simply had to commit these sights to memory.) Davis explained that there had to be some sort of event going on since people don't usually wear the ostrich feathers just every day.

When we passed another group of kokos, all decked out in layer upon layer of beads draped across their shoulders and around their necks, Davis stopped again. "Karam!" he greeted with a smile. Reaching into the car, they shook our hands and continued the visit in Kipokot.

"Where are you going?" Davis enquired.

"To a thing," one koko explained.

"What thing?"

"A thing!" she said emphatically, as if it were a real answer to his question.

"OK, enjoy. Have a safe journey."

Davis, with his usual smile, related the dialogue to the rest of us. "It really can be anything. A harambe (fundraiser), or even a circumcision. Or it could be that there the couple of tourists we passed in one little village is paying people to come and pose for pictures. Who knows!"

In case you missed the c-word in there, circumcisions attended by grandmas wouldn't quite be for young moran (warriors). Sadly, FGM is something still widely performed in that part of the country. In fact, later in the weekend, I was listening to one church lady explain to Davis' aunt how her daughter and son-in-law have had challenges because the daughter wasn't circumcised. The husband is a Christian man who was fine with his wife not undergoing the traditional ceremony. But after having been married for 6 years and only having one child, people are blaming it on the wife opposing this "essential" ritual. I'm praying that they'll get pregnant soon so people can know that their barrenness is not due to her not being circumcised!

Back to the journey: When we made it to Orus, we were greeted by Davis' uncle and aunt (who have been missionaries in this remote area for something like 10 years) as well as his cousin, his wife and their baby. Davis and Peter continued the journey to a village another 3 hours from there where they were to speak at a meeting. The village where they were heading was where Davis' family lived for 15 years.

Young Pokot mother and child

As neighbors started trickling in to greet the visitors, I took my camera and some water and went to explore. Hiking up the hill to the east of their compound, I could not see any life around. No towns. No roads. But listening carefully, I could sometimes hear goats in the distance.

The view from the top of the hill: Rows upon rows of mountains and valleys. Till not too long ago, seeing zebras, cheetahs, kudu and other wildlife in these hills was nothing unusual. But nowadays, you can only find small antelope if you're lucky

A Pokot home: The Pokot are nomadic pastoralists, and a sub tribe of the Kalenjin

And hiking down into the valley, I passed some homes which had been hidden among the trees. I continued the hike into the village of Orus: City center consists of two dukas (shops) and a church. I visited with villagers who were sitting in the shade.

New and old: Arekwen is fixing his tire shoe. Despite being very traditional, most of the Pokot men wore watches. Notice the finger knife on his right hand

Visited is an overstatement, actually. Few spoke Kiswahili. And the little I speak doesn't yet amount to enough to make conversation about anything but the most basic. I took pictures and showed them what they look like. We laughed together and I wished I could speak more. I would ask them about their culture and about their lives. Arekwen (perhaps around 18 years old) showed me how they use their finger knives, and giggled at my appreciation for his shoes cut from discarded car tires.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to live like that. Not as a Pokot, nor as a missionary. The Pokot, after all, are used to very simple life. But as a Westerner, to have to drive three hours through rugged terrain for anything but milk, sugar, cooking fat, tea leaves, and maize flour, would be hard for me. Davis' aunt and I visited later, and she explained how they have always loved living in remote, difficult areas, working among unreached peoples. I am passionate about seeing unreached people hear the Good News of Jesus, but I know I would not be able to live in an area like that.

Birdwatching with Jeff

It was good to visit, though. I got up at daybreak both mornings and hiked for about two hours into the hills surrounding the compound. I joined Davis' ornithologist cousin Jeff on these hikes. Jeff and his wife teach at RVA near Nairobi, and happened to be visiting his parents for the week. (On our two hikes, we saw 30 different kinds of birds!*)

Akasia tree

On Sunday morning, I opted to join Art, Davis' uncle, for a safari down into the next valley. He was to preach at a church where they're in the process of putting in a new well, and he wanted to check on the progress of the well. I hopped on the back of the pick-up and held on tightly as we rolled over miles and miles of rocky roads. Sitting quietly at the back of the pick-up was a young Pokot mom with her baby strapped to her back, as well as a teenage girl. Both agreed shyly that I can take their pictures and giggled at seeing themselves on my camera.

Young Pokot mother: The colored beads are only for married women. Single girls wear brown beads

As we finally pulled up the church, I found the last seat on the women's side: an oil can in the very back. But I preferred sitting there than squeezing in between the other women. It gave me the freedom to take one or two pictures during the sermon, and for kids to walk up and stare at me.

There were about 20 people in church, most of them dressed in traditional Pokot clothing. Babies wore no diapers, but instead, when the mom in front of me noticed her baby girl was needing to go, she simply positioned her in a way that the baby girl could freely urinate on the church floor.

During the entire service, the air was thick with the smell of my neighbor's beads: The women smear their beaded necklaces with a mixture of soil and cow fat. Young girls were staring at me, their hair braided into glistening strings. I found myself wishing I were a gifted sketch artist...

Notice the piercings in the girl's ears and the wooden spacers to stretch the cuts in her earlobes

Many children had little rows of scars on their tummies: Pokot tattoos, simple decorations. Girls had ear piercings both in their earlobes, and hang bright red beads dangled from the top of their ears. Many of these girls wore wooden spacers in their ears, cone-shaped pieces to wood to stretch their piercings.

Pokot woman and camels

After the service, I walked around the area with one of the women as well as a Tugen pastor. Behind the church was a herd of about 30 camels taking a Sunday afternoon nap, it seemed. I was ready for one myself, but first had to go to the pastor's house for chai. The drive back up the mountain was filled with chatter from new passengers who decided to take a goat to the Davis' home in honor of Jeff's visit. That evening, we all shared roasted goat meat and closed the evening with singing worship songs in Kipokot, Kiswahili and English.

I walked to my rondawel that evening, pausing to thank God for the chance to see how fellow believers live in another part of this country. The stars filled the night sky in a solid blanket from horizon to horizon, all around. The milky way was a solid path from north to south.

"Thank you, LORD," I wrote to the light of a dim torch, "that I got to see your handiwork today not only in the birds, the hills and the stars, but also in the people of this land. Thank you for showing off your work!"

Lunch break: Jen, Elami, Tovah and Davis, and Pastor Peter

Birds we saw: Nubian woodpecker, brubru, white-rumped swift, laughing dove, ringneck dove, white-bellied go-away bird, superb starling, common drongo, pygmy falcon, eastern violet-backed sunbird, white-browed sparrow weaver, white-headed buffalo weaver, northern white-crowned shrike, little bee-eater, mouse-color penduline tit, Jackson's hornbill, gray-headed bush shrike, slate-colored boubou shrike, red-headed weaver, gabar goshawk, red-chested coucou, beautiful sunbird, white-bellied canary, yellow-bellied erenomela, white-browed shrub robin, Rufus chatterer, African gray flycatcher, yellow-billed hornbill, white-crested helmet shrike, pygmy batis, and Rufus-crowned roller

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Beef? or Zebra?

Check out this article on CNN. It's one reason I don't like eating meat in Kenya. (The main reason is actually that I almost always get sick from meat here. Especially stew beef bought at our roadside butcheries with no refrigeration.)

Fortunately, I live far from the city. And there really aren't areas around Eldoret with a lot of wildlife, so I doubt any of our butcheries are trying to sell zebra meat as beef.

It's pretty scary reading the article, though. There are certainly benefits to living far away from the city.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Friday Night Ramblings

Whoo-hoo. It's an exciting Friday night in our corner of Kenya. OK, not really.

I'm going to watch the last half of Fiddler on the Roof after packing for a road trip with the Davis family. We're going to East Pokot, a very rural part of Kenya. Davis grew up there as an MK. I considered not going since I'm still not feeling 100%, but it's one of those opportunities you really shouldn't miss out on. Partly because I rarely get to do anything fun on weekends. (Woe is me!) But mostly because it will be an amazing cultural experience.

Yes, I am taking my camera.

And I'm leaving my computer behind.

These random pictures of Flannel, by the way, are taken with my computer's built-in-camera. It makes it easy to quickly snap a picture and post it. Like this one, from earlier in the week. It makes Flannel look like an angel.


She really isn't, though she has her angelic moments. Tonight is not one of those. Soon after I took the first picture posted above, she started with her nightly gymnastics. She can make somersaults holding a pocket pack of Kleenex. She can even perfectly unwrap brand new feminine products from their containers and play with the contents. And she loves to see if she can pull my entire mosquito net down from my bed! But her favorite game of all is to see how much of the red sand from her litter box she can displace onto my white bathroom floor. She's no angel, I assure you.

Flannel doesn't know yet that she'll be home alone for the next two days. Poor kitten. Mama Chiri will come and feed her. She might actually hang around and play with her a little. I know, my neighbor must think I'm really weird. Actually, I would've thought it weirder if I drove the 120km return trip to Kipkaren today to drop Flannel off at Kierra's. So I'd rather ask Mama Chiri to stop by.

On a totally different note: I found something good on the Web tonight while looking for those Pokot links, a blog of a fellow missionary who lives elsewhere in Western Kenya. This entry on her blog made me laugh. I can so relate to the comments about what's considered appropriate for women in this culture. It is mind boggling. You can breastfeed whenever or wherever you want without anyone flinching. But don't wear trousers. Why? Because legs are sensual. It makes no sense to me.

I should be packing, I know. I'll get off my soap box. Didn't mean to get on it, actually.

Kipkaren kids

I took photos of all the Kipkaren kids on Tuesday. Then I took this group shot, just for fun.

Eagle Scout

This is the eagle that came to look for lunch at my place the other day...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

I. Want. To. Sleep.

I'm not feeling well. Not at all. Should've stayed in bed all day, but started the day early by taking an intern to the airport and a kid to the hospital. Came back home by around 11, and slept till almost 4. I'm just going to take a shower now, then get back in bed and sleep. I had made some chicken soup a bit ago and the soup plus some medicine I took is causing me to want to sleep. Thankfully, I have very few such days. I have to get well tonight since I'm going on a road trip with the Davis family this weekend, and we're receiving a new team on Monday.

Oh, before I forget, I am not going to Sudan next week. In a way, I am relieved. Especially feeling the way I do.

Picked up my ticket this morning for the trip to Rwanda and the D.R.Congo later this month...

Yes, please. No, thank you.

Back in Ilula. Tonight at the farewell dinner for Olesya, our Russian intern, I helped serve. After all the kids had gotten their food, I went around with the left-overs, dishing out little bit more to whoever wanted some. So I taught the kids some good manners in English. Usually, they'd just say, "Me! Adele! Me!" and hold out their plates. I taught them to respond to "Would you like some more chicken?" with a "Yes, please!" or a "No, thank you." They actually found it quite amusing to have to say that, but I wouldn't give them more food unless they'd ask me properly. Blame the Brit in me, I guess.

Afterwards, I stopped by the Rotich girls' room to get my Where's Waldo? book. A friend had sent it in a care package last week, and the kids LOVE it. In fact, they even covered it in plastic to protect it. They pointed out Waldo on each and every page. Now the book's going to the boys' room. They were thrilled when I explained to them how it works, but I had to bring the book home with me rather than leave it there tonight, since it was after bedtime, and they'd want to stay up and look.

Tonight, even little Dennis started talking with me. He was already in bed with the covers over his head when he kept saying, "Adele!" "Sema, Dennis!" (Speak!) Then he'd just giggle. The kid just turned 3 last week, so he's still learning English. Finally, he just say, "Adele! Kwaheri, Adele!" (Good-bye!) It was time to sleep, indeed.

I'm fighting a cold. Haven't had one in what seems like months. In fact, I can't remember the last cold I had. Not sure where this one came from! Must be from walking home in the rain last night after having chai and Davis and Jen's house.

Do I want a cold? No, thank you!

Would I like to sleep now? Yes, please!