Monday, November 26, 2007

Siesta time

Today, after church and a really short nap, I took some of the team members to see the Sifuna kids. Joanne came running to greet us! Now that the maize (corn) has been harvested, they can see me coming from far. Then came the others, and Nancy gave me the longest hug!

Kiprop was the first one to sit down and pull off his shoes and socks. Unfortunately, the kids once again have some jiggers. Nothing like before, but enough to have made me feel frustrated once more at these pests! My one Kenyan friend who sometimes helped me remove the egg sacs had moved. The other one is highly pregnant (as in, she might even have her baby tonight!) And we've not been able to find them a different home in this area. So the little ones once again have some sand flees... But they know so well that I really, really care. They are so incredibly trusting of me. Even Kiprono, the baby, would stop crying when I'd look him in the eyes and tell him I'm sorry it's hurting, and that I love him. They really do trust me. What an honor, really!

The team appreciated seeing before photos and then how the kids are doing now. It is a testimony of God's goodness, through and through!

We came home for some last moments with the kids at the home, and then had a farewell service.

Tomorrow, I get to go on safari with my friends. I hadn't planned on doing so, but they had invited me to join them and to lead the debriefing. Once the team leaves, I get to go on a short 2-day breakaway with Danette. You have no idea how much I'm looking forward to simply being at the beach for 2 days!

I still have some things to finish before I can go to bed tonight... I'll be online again early next week. I am planning on taking a break from my computer this week.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Catching Up

So much has happened in the past few days. It has been an absolute joy to have friends here, especially Danette and Nan. It's also been a tremendous blessing to get to know other team members better. They have blessed me by simply being here.

On Thanksgiving, Nan and I helped Richard (our cook) to prepare a wonderful Thanksgiving meal for the team and about 20 Kenyans. (Allison and Juli also baked some things for dessert.) We had a great Thanksgiving meal, complete with a turkey (baked in a charcoal oven), cranberry sauce (which I hunted down in Nairobi), and green bean casserole (made with spinach instead of beans!) My favorite dessert was Nan's pumpkin marble dessert. With whipped cream, even. It felt for a moment like we were somewhere in America.

This week, I received some very exciting news. I've been accepted into a graduate program at BGU and will start classes in February! It's a part-time program, and my first class will actually be offered in Nairobi. It's called "Signs of Hope in Africa." In June, I'll have to travel to Seattle for a couple weeks' classes. Most of the work will be by correspondence, though, so it's going to be a good challenge. A scary one in many ways, too, but I'm excited about the opportunity God has brought my way.

The week wasn't without it's challenges, though. Yesterday, as I was driving the team from Kipkaren to Ilula, I heard a knocking sound in my car's engine, and then it died. Since I had just had a major service two weeks ago, I hadn't thought of checking the water before the journey. But it turns out that the insulation between the radiator and the cooler was worn, and thanks to our incredibly uneven roads, the two had been rubbing against each other, causing the tiniest hole in the radiator. The water's been leaking without me realizing it. Bottom line: I spent all of today at the mechanics in Eldoret getting several things fixed. The piston rings had to be replaced, and the gasket head, and two other smaller parts which I cannot remember the names of. The good news, though, is that the engine is fine. The water and oil didn't mix. The pistons are fine. And I got the parts for $600 less than I was first quoted yesterday... In as much as I'm still upset about this unexpected expense, I am very thankful that it turned out to be cheaper than it could've been.

So while my friends were doing a women's conference today and playing with the kids, I was hanging out with the mechanics, staring into my engine for more hours than I ever care to do again. But since it was a new mechanic (though known to my colleague Maru), I thought it best to hang around and watch what they're doing.

Tonight, Melody (one of the team members) had a session for the adolescent girls. Jennifer, the team doctor, also joined, as did Danette, and we ended up fielding a plethora of rather intriguing questions which I won't repeat here. :) It helped that there was no power. In fact, I wanted to turn my lamp down a bit, too, and accidentally killed the flame in the process, but immediately realized the girls were much more talkative when we couldn't see their faces!

What else? I'm really praying that my colleague Mary will have her baby tonight! Jennifer and Danette are happy to assist, and Mary herself says she'd rather have them deliver the baby at her house than have to drive on our bumpy roads while in labor! That would be a fun treat to help deliver a friend's baby!

On that note, I need to head to bed. It's been a grueling two days, and I'd like to be coherent tomorrow.

With love from Ilula,

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

If only I could make this last...

My friends have been here for four nights now. And three whole days. As a team, they've been busy busy. And after hours, after team meetings and devotions, some of the team members have been coming over for visits. This evening, Nan and Danette came and we played hand and foot.

An added bonus is that they had brought gifts from friends for my birthday, and we opened some of them on Sunday night and some tonight. There are some more, but I'm trying to make it last... As I am with their visit.

Having good friends here makes me feel normal again in so many ways. Being able to sit around and visit, laugh, play cards, talk about the challenges without having to weigh my words, because they know me well.

Ah! I am blessed. I cannot think of a better gift I could've gotten!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Which war?

As I walked into Mayfield this evening, I found two of my favorite occasional-Mayfield-dwellers in the lobby, waiting to go out for dinner. "Merry Christmas!" they announced. They're here from Sudan for an early Christmas break. "Did you just come in [from up-country]?"

I explained that I had been out this evening and had seen Lions for Lambs. (How could I resist a movie with Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise and Robert Redford in it? Plus, the tag line was too good for someone with my passions to ignore: What do you: live . . . die . . . fight . . . stand for?) It's sort-of a political commentary on the war, I continued.

"Which war?" they asked. An obvious question to ask when you're from a country where war may break out any day again. An obvious question to any person in Kenya, really, when you're surrounded by war-torn countries - Somalia in the east, Sudan in the north, Congo not too far south west. Not to speak of tribal warfare going on on our own soil, even just an hour from where I live.

It's only because I had just come from the movie that was about the war on terror that I forgot for a moment that it's not the only war going on right now. Far from it.

When I stopped by the girls' room later on to drop off The Kite Runner (Excellent book, by the way. It gives you a greater understanding of the war in Afghanistan through the eyes of an Afghan) they had Christmas lights strung up in their room. Just to be sure it feels like Christmas.

To me, it does feel like Christmas eve tonight. How so? Because tomorrow evening, I'll be heading to the airport to meet the team from Iowa. I know I said it earlier, but you have no idea how exciting it will be to have good friends around for a few days! Their days will be packed with ministry, but I'm determined that after the conference every day, after the team meeting and debriefing, that Nan, Danette and I will play hand and foot at least a few times. (It's very similar to Canasta.) Because we can. And because that's one of our favorite things to do in Iowa.

Problem is, they'd probably be jet-lagged and more than ready to sleep by the time the women's conference is over every day. Perhaps they should come and knock on my door at 3 am, when jet lag typically wakes visitors up. Not that it would be anything unusual for me to be woken up then. Flannel does it all the time. But at least I won't squirt them with water or throw a pillow at them! Not a chance!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Howling winds & kids' chatter

I spent the night in Ilula. Woke up to the sound of the wind howling across the plains. Ilula is at the top of a plateau of the Rift Valley, at about 6,500ft. When the wind blows here, there's little to stop it, especially now that all the maize (corn) has been harvested.

Now, an hour after I've been up, the sound of the children's voices rise above the sound of the wind. I love that they pass but a few feet from my bedroom on their way to school. Some are laughing. One was singing. It's hard to believe they're taking year-end exams today. It's even harder to believe that these kids had seen more pain in their short lives than I've probably seen in all of mine. God truly has done a great work of healing in them!

Last night, I went to visit with them at dinner time. They were thrilled to know I'm heading to Nairobi to pick up Danette and her team. They remember her from when Danette and I led VBS on my first visit to ELI in 2004, and they remember Lori Traeger. They were so excited to know Lori's bringing Andrea, her daughter! Jonah, one of the quieter boys, can hardly stop smiling. He'll get to meet Nan, his sponsor.

I also told the kids that I have some good news to share with them when the team is here and their exams are over. (As an early Christmas celebration, I'm taking all the Ilula kids to Kipkaren for a day on December 12! It is going to be a day packed with FUN stuff. Games, a bull roast, as few speeches as possible!)

I've got to run. I'm off to Nairobi now to go and finish up one photo project and then meet the team from Iowa! It's going to be good to have good friends around for a few days! Ah!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Inconvenience of Living Simply

From the blog of a friend of a friend, the following nugget:

"In taking steps toward simplicity you may lose some speed and convienience, but you just might get some of your soul back."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

My theme verse for the year

I've been thinking a lot about this verse lately. So I decided to try something new tonight and make a poster-thingy on my computer. So the words can continue to sink in more. Haven't worked with Illustrator before, so it's a learn-as-you-go effort. Just for fun.

Friday in Nairobi

So I spent all week in the city. Didn't get to go to a movie, get a haircut or any of the things I like to do in the city. But I got lots of work done. I sat in Nairobi Java House for four straight days and worked on photo projects. It feels good to have gotten some of the projects done! It feels so good that it really doesn't matter that I didn't see a movie. :) I got to do some things though that I like, like soak in the bath tub every evening. And visit with missionaries at Mayfield whom I've gotten to know from times when our paths cross. Like the girls who are on a TIMO team in Sudan. It's fun to visit with friends like these when I'm here. It makes me feel normal.

Insofar wor goes: The photos I keep on my external hard drive is down to 15,000 now. That's 8,000 fewer than when I began working on this project. Plus the 5,000 I deleted from my computer, and you can imagine why I've not been blogging this week. It seems like every time I picked up my computer, it was to work on the photos and related projects. Which is good.

I got to pick up my car at the end of the day today, too. The turbo's been fixed, and I have new tires. The mechanics were asking, "Where do you drive that your tires look like this??" They pointed out several deep cuts to every single tire. That's from the rocks: When the roads are really muddy, they fix our road by breaking rocks and putting them into the worst parts. Sharp rocks + heavy car + soft, muddy surroundings = deep cuts.

This year, I spent more on my car than I ever want to again! The gearbox had to be overhauled. The shocks and lots of other expensive stuff had to be replaced. Now the turbo and the tires. Let's trust it'll all last till the car retires. It's still a great car, and I wouldn't want to drive our roads with anything less!

So tomorrow, I get to drive back to Eldoret. I met a couple from Michigan this week at Mayfield who work in Sudan, but due to the new tension there, they can't go into the country. So they asked if they could ride to Eldoret with me and see what we're doing there. They'll take a matatu back on Monday or Tuesday. I'm glad I don't have to make the drive alone. It's OK, but it's just safer having other people in the car, too.

In just a week, I'll fly back to Nairobi to meet the team from Iowa! I can't wait! Just eight days, and counting... :)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

All in a Day's Work

Above the hum of the city traffic, above the chatter of the birds and visitors outside my window and the buzzing of the mosquitoes in my room, I can hear the call to prayer at the nearby mosque.

I'm (still) in Nairobi. It was a good day. Got lots done. I literally sat at Java House from 9 a.m. till 5 p.m. Yes, sitting got uncomfortable after a while... But I'm making progress on purging and sorting through my collection of 23,000 photos. Once that's done, I can order photo books for work. I am determined to sort and purge every time I download photos from my camera from now on... It'd be easier that way!

I was tempted to treat myself to a movie this evening, but couldn't imagine having to sit still for another 2 hours. Not today. Maybe another evening.

I was at the mechanics early this morning. My car's turbo is indeed in desperate need of help. It may sound like a luxury, this turbo business. Fear not. It's what helps my car go uphill faster than 30km/h. Which helps, considering that I live in the hilly part of Kenya. And I need new tires. My tires have deep gouges in them from our road in Ilula. When the mud is really bad, they fill in the holes with freshly broken rocks. Considering that's what people used in the Stone Age as axes etc, broken rocks happen to be sharp enough to cut through my heavy-duty tires. The rest of the car is fine. They'll put back the wandering nuts and bolts and screws so my car doesn't fall apart on me.

There's a group here at Mayfield who's from a church in Hong Kong. I had breakfast with a bunch of them, and it was fun to speak Chinese again. It feels funny speaking Chinese in Kenya. It confuses my mind a bit. Makes me want to address the Kenyans in Mandarin, too.

Time for dinner. And then, a hot bath, one of the luxuries of being at Mayfield. I think I'm going to read tonight rather than spend another several hours on my computer. That way, I'd be ready for the next 10,000 photos tomorrow...

In One Piece

I'm in Nairobi and in one piece. So is my car. At least, for the most part. Try driving on really bad roads for four hours at high speed and you, too, would understand why mysterious nuts and bolts are found rolling around on the floor. It makes you wonder what may have fallen off/out of the engine... These are the type of roads where you regret it if you forgot to wear a sports bra. (Sorry guys if that's TMI for you. It's reality.)

The last time I drove to Nairobi (en route to Rwanda) my car's turbo gave in. Or does it give out? Not sure. But it's no longer working. Which means that when I even just drive up the 30-degree hill to the top of our training center, I have to engage low 4WD. Which I don't think is too good for the car. Well, maybe having to use low 4WD isn't too bad, but you know it can't be good for the engine when there's a constant high-pitched buzz when you're driving more than 40kmh.

The best time to make the trip to the city is now, since I also have a slew of year-end projects to work on for the office. Projects that would happen much faster if I can plant myself and my computer in a booth at Nairobi Java House, and work uninterruptedly.

It just also happened that Zack and Wendy, two guests to Kipkaren were going to take a matatu to Nakuru and hire a driver to take them on a game drive. "Here's a deal," I told them. "I need to go to Nairobi by car. And the road to Nairobi takes me right through Nakuru. You can catch a ride with me."

We left Kipkaren around 10 am, just as the crowds started approaching our center for Sunday morning service. It was 3:30, maybe 4, when we finally rolled into Nakuru. I've driven that route in three hours -- an hour to town, and two to Nakuru. But the shortest road is so full of potholes that it is not good for any car to drive that way. So we took the longer way, through Kerio Valley, stopping along the way only briefly to bananas fruit from Esther, and to enquire about her husband's health.

This morning, we were inside the park by 7 am. And no sooner had we started our game drive, the morning fog still hanging thick in the air, than a vehicle stopped and suggested we go the other way around the lake. "There's a leopard on the road to Lion Hills."

I swung around as fast as you can with a car like mine on a narrow road, and gunned it. She was still there when we joined the party of about 10 vehicles under the tree. There were no fewer than 100 cameras pointing at this beauty (one of the vehicles was a large overland truck with probably 40 young adults poking their heads through the roof), and somehow, we seemed to have the perfect spot for some great photos. (I didn't bring my camera cable with me, so I'll upload photos from Kipkaren. Sorry!)

It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful God's creation is! I sat on the roof of my car for the longest time, just staring at the leopard. And then, the journey continued.

We saw many more amazing sights. A baby white rhino with its mom, the little one nursing happily. Good thing baby rhinos don't have horns yet, I figured, or the mom won't be too happy about the little one poking its nose in under her belly! We saw several Rothschild giraffes. Twelve more white rhinos. A hyena. Lots and lots of cape buffaloes. An amazing number of birds of prey. Tens of thousands of flamingos, and hundreds of pelicans. And then, just as we were heading out of the park, thankful for an amazing four hours of game viewing, Wendy yelled, "Lions!" There were two beautiful lionesses just lounging around this huge dead tree stump on the side of the road! Another 100 photos later, we left the park, thoroughly aware of what an amazing God we serve.

We braved the next part of the journey, bouncing over roads that have more potholes than there are patches of black top. The stretch from Nakuru to Nairobi used to be all of a two-hour drive. Almost four hours later, I rolled into Nairobi. I had dropped Zack and Wendy along the way with a driver who's taking them elsewhere for the next few days.

Tomorrow morning, I'm dropping off my car, trusting and believing that the repairs will be minor. I don't want to have to replace the turbo! It's time, however, to replace my tires. They're all badly cut by the rocks used to fill in our mud roads.

All this to say, I am honestly grateful for life the way it is, that I do get to drive to Nairobi, albeit over bumpy roads, that I got to stop along the way and enjoy God's creation, that unlike most of the Kenyan women around me, I do have the ability to drive, even make decisions about things like tires and turbos, though I know little about it.

And I'm infinitely thankful for places like Java House, where I can go and work tomorrow on the projects on my plate while the fundi figure out how to put my car back together in one piece.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

It's been 20 years

Tonight is the 20th reunion of the Class of '87 at Bellport High School. I actually graduated from high school in 1986, but as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student, I got to go to Long Island, NY for a year, and was part of the Class of '87 and of '88 (since I was there from January to December.) So I can celebrate 20-year reunions in 2006, 2007 or in 2008. Couldn't make it to any of them, though.

So, tonight, my classmates are getting together on Long Island. Would've been fun to be there, but I honestly don't know how many people I'd even still know. I was rather quiet back then (I still am, for the most part), so not a lot of people knew me. I've been back and have seen my host families. In fact, I still keep in touch with one of the three families I stayed with.

But because I have moved 19 times in the past 20 years (no kidding!), and because I was an exchange student before e-mail changed the way we communicate, I've lost contact with most of my school friends of 20 years ago. (I do still have contact with many of my classmates in South Africa, though.)

In fact, it blows my mind when I meet people who have lived in the same town all their lives. It must be nice. But I can't relate.

So, since I'm not on Long Island tonight, I'll go make some nice dinner and walk over to my neighbors' home to celebrate the fact that I'm getting older. I only have 2 weeks left of being 38. Then I'm another step closer to being 40. I don't mind getting older, though. In fact, I like it. One gains wisdom along the way. Or I'd hope one does, at least...


I've been doing work in and around my house this morning and decided to plant some new seeds in my garden. This required me to get my watering can, which just happened to be the perfect spot for some evil-looking snake to be taking a nap. It's not too big, so I didn't get a huge fright. But I wanted to get a picture of it, so I put the watering can down again (though not on top of the snake where it was) and went to fetch my camera. When I got back, the snake was gone. I saw it slithering in under my drain cover, though. So now I'm waiting for Davis, my herpetologist neighbor, to get home so he can identify it and see if we should kill it. (We don't kill non-venomous snakes since they eat rodents.)

When he lifts the cover, I'll take a decent picture of it and post it here!

Umm. Not possible. It disappeared. According to Davis' snake book, it could be a viper of sorts. But it also could be a baby python. Davis believes a python is more likely to have gone into a wet drain than a viper. Which makes me feel OK. I'm not afraid of a baby python. A viper, on the other hand...

Here's all I could see of it before its final disappearance.


My first Friday night in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, my new friends Danette and Nan invited me out. We went to Applebee's, had Thai chicken salad, laughed our heads off at silly conversations to the point that our neighbors truly said, "We want what they're having!"

Then we went to Java Creek for coffee and live jazz (which, sadly, was terrible), and when they found out I had no clue who Styx was, we went to Danette's car and listened to Lady at top volume. It was so much fun!

I'm sitting her doing me-stuff on my computer and have Styx going. Just for fun.

It brought back good memories of great friends. Friends who are both coming to Kenya in 16 days!

Can you tell I'm excited?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Some days . . .

. . . more than other days, I really miss being in a place where I'm closer to friends and family.

Some days, like today, I want to be able to call up a good friend and go and see a movie, grab dinner, talk about nothing at all. And about life's big issues.

Some days, I crave routine, and traditions. Some days I fight it like it's the pest and lavish in the fact that my days are unpredictable.

Some days, I want a roommate that can talk back, that's willing to argue the tough stuff with me without either of us having our toes stepped on.

Some days, I enjoy the conversations with visitors and neighbors. But when visitors keep coming and going and we revert to small talk, I sometimes wish I didn't have to engage at all.

Most days, I miss the anonymity of life outside a village. Some days, I appreciate the fact that my lack of anonymity gives me a platform for dialog, something that most women around me simply don't have.

Some days, I wonder about the big picture. Most days, I simply enjoy the fact that I will only see the big picture in bits and pieces, in retrospect.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Square Eyes

Since last night, I've been working on a project: sorting through my digital photos. I had maxed out my external hard drive (120GB) and have been saving photos on my computer's HD, but I don't want to max that out since it would make the computer unstable. And so I'm doing what I should be doing every time I download photos: deleting pictures. By the thousands, literally. I like purging. But after having worked on this for almost the entire day today and much of last night, I'm tired. So are my eyes!

I did take a break tonight and had dinner guests over, a couple who are here for a few days. I made Yaya Mary's tomato basil cream soup with fresh basil from my garden. And grilled chicken with pasta and a cheese sauce. Yummy. It turned out great, with all the right things to make a dinner more than just eating together. My neighbors left and I've been working on the photo project for another hour or so, but I think this is it for today...

In other developments - actually, it seems like there really aren't other developments per se. I'm just chipping away at projects. Year-end updates. Photo projects. I may have to go to Nairobi next week to be able to access high-speed Internet for work projects like ordering posters and photo books. Will see if I can get away since we'll have a team and two interns on the ground at the time.

Hannah's doing OK. In fact, she's doing better than a week ago.

The Sifuna kids registered for school this week. Now we need to go and purchase uniforms.

Tomorrow I'm going to town to pick up a friend of an acquaintance, someone who's interested in medical missions. She'll only be here for a day. I may have to take her back to town on Friday.

On Saturday, we have an AIDS campaign. And the next Saturday, we're starting a new outreach in our community by doing church on a nearby rock in an area that has a lot of alcoholics.

Never a dull moment, I tell you.

But right now, there doesn't seem to be anything interesting enough to share. Unless you want to hear about the Kenyan colleague who crashed the bones in his hand today when a trailer fell on it. Ouch!

I should go to sleep. Or sort through another 100 photos... And kill a mosquito or five before I crawl in under my net!

Oh, here's one photo you might enjoy. I was spending time journaling at my colleague Juli's house before dinner the other night. She doesn't have electricity on her side of our property yet, so there it's still life by lantern. She might actually have power within the month.

On that note, lala salama.

P.S. It's more than an hour later, and I just finished the first part of the photo project. Now I just need to purge the photos on my external drive... Except, there are about 22,807 photos more in that collection, about 14,000 more than there were on my computer... But it's got to be done so I can finish photo projects faster! Glad ONE part's done, though. I must've easily deleted 4,000 photos that weren't worth keeping! I know, I know. I'll make a habit of organizing photos as I download them. I should know better!