And for once I was SuperMom

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Random Musings about life in Nairobi

Some people in Kenya, particularly the Kikuyu, have trouble with the “r”s and their “l”s. This is especially the case when the sounds are both in the same word. So it is fun to guess how Lara’s name is going to be butchered. We will be keeping the receipt from our first adventure with having pizza delivered as the receipt says the customer is “Rara”. She also gets called Lala quite a bit.

Why is it that we can insure that there is mobile phone access anywhere in the country and we can get the new Bond movie showing here in Nairobi a week ahead of the U.S. but we can’t figure out to supply our people with basics like water, electricity and decent roads?

I don’t understand how Kenyans stay so clean. I commute downtown to work and invariably show up with red dirt marks on my pants and dusty, scuffed shoes. Meanwhile I see Kenyans who live in much more simple housing situations than I make it to work with their sharp business attire looking immaculate.

When riding in matatus a good rule of thumb is the level of service will be inversely proportional to the amount of hip hop paraphernalia on the vehicle. (Not necessarily a condemnation of all hip hop culture, just a truth in this instance).

Roundabouts are like communism: both are great in theory, but when put into use by selfish, sinful people they cause a huge mess.

We live in one of the nicer neighborhoods in Nairobi, but we still have to make way for herds of cows and goats that occasionally roam the streets.

I remember reading not too long ago that sports stadiums in the U.S. have had to widen their seats to accommodate the ever expanding girth of the average American. At this point Kenya is in no danger of having to take this step based on the size of the average Kenyan man. (Kenyan women are a different story) As it stands right now being overweight is a privilege reserved for the especially wealthy Kenyan man. The matatus and buses, however, may want to follow the example of American stadiums. Even though most Kenyan men are slim and narrow (compared to them I have really broad shoulders) we still have to spoon to fit in the bus or matatu seats.

Westerners tend to think about things in terms of bounded sets. In other words they like things to have clear boundaries and delineations. I used to think that this mindset was a bit rigid and restrictive. Then I drove in Nairobi. Now I feel like some good old bounded set thinking could really help things out. Or at least get drivers to stay in a lane.

It is inspiring to see how Kenyans care for each others’ children. The other day I was riding in a matatu when a woman with three young children got on. Noticing her struggles and without being asked, an elderly gentleman lifted two of her children into the vehicle. Her little girl was sitting in a seat when another traveler got on. He picked up the little girl and placed her on his lap and the ride continued. This would never happen in the U.S. but here it is commonplace. Even in the urban centers it takes a village to raise a child.

How is it that we can be subjected to deluges of rain every day for weeks and still be in the midst of a water shortage? I realize that there are more complex factors involved than simple conservation and storage, but those sure would go along way.

Most of Kenya has a very similar climate to much of California. Both have temperate climates year round. Both have areas that are really dry and areas that get a lot of rain. But on average it seems that Kenya gets about twice as much rain as California. For example, Nairobi gets about 40 inches of rain a year while San Francisco gets about 20. Yet California can grow just about anything and could feed much of the world with its crops while Kenya cannot even feed its own people let alone export anything. Again, a vast array of factors (corruption in Kenya comes to mind), but those words conservation and storage really cover a lot of them.

Researchers have determined that cultures that live in temperate climates tend to be more friendly and hospitable. My experiences in Kenya lend credence to this research. Which makes me think: maybe some people from frigid climates with personalities to match should be sent here to Kenya for some behavior modification. Hey frigid people, don’t get upset, at least you get a trip to Kenya out of the deal.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Crayola dreams

As I sit here wondering if my three weeks of vacation is enough time to unwind the knots in my back and my newly acquired stress-induced facial twitch I look back on my first semester of teaching elementary students. Whilst some of my stress related injuries are probably related to my present life circumstances rather than my job, I do think that some of the damage is related to wrangling packs of children into being creative and producing masterpieces. For the first part of the semester I was wallowing in thinking that I was as ineffective as the levies in New Orleans until Thanksgiving when the beast of creativity came out of my bedroom closet. In lieu of Thanksgiving Rosslyn has a Cultural Richness Day where any teacher who wished to participate or force their students to participate can produce displays, performances, food, etc. to celebrate Rosslyn’s cultural richness. Rosslyn is a place that is happily multi-cultural so this day seems to go well and it’s a chance for us to display the aptitude of our children; it’s also an opportunity for more work. The beast of creativity is a persistent beast, once his voice implants an idea in your head it must be expunged by action. Now my personal totem beast has his fingers in all areas of my life and he saw cultural richness day as an opportunity to burst out of my closet and begin implanting thoughts and ideas that would not die until executed. He whispered the idea of having each grade creating a work that represents a country represented here at Rosslyn. So in a whirlwind of face twitching inducing activity I produced a huge display including work from 190 students in the elementary. I finished and sat at my desk panting and wondering if it was worth it; and then, I got… compliments. From parents, from co-workers, from my principal. And I heard the kids talking and pointing out their work. It occurred to me, maybe I’m doing a good job. Maybe I can facilitate the production of good work from small children, maybe I am getting something across to them, maybe I’m not just surviving.
Other than stress injuries I’ve also developed more of a love for children. I went into this job terrified that I could not handle twenty active kids with impulse control and the ability to misbehave at will. I learned though that telling them my expectations will truncate much ‘misbehavior.’ I have had entire classes explode on me, and I have almost lost my mind trying to control the noise level in my classroom. During on such explosion my water turned off right as a class of third graders was going to wash their palettes and brushes. There was only one sink working, I called my principal in a panic. She strapped on her cape and swooped down on my classroom with a maintenance man in tow right as fifteen kids were going bonkers while trying to wash their palettes all at one sink. She sent them to the bathroom to wash everything out, as soon as the dust cleared (or paint splatters) I noticed that two of my students had grabbed the trash can and were picking trash up off the floor. I almost cried. These are good kids, and I feel special that I get to work with them and be a part of their education. Largely I also feel special that I can be around kids because kids are special, you’re only a child for a short period of your life and in that time you have such a unique way of looking at the world and I get to be a part of that world.
One of the parts of that world that I have noticed is the fact that children can be completely oblivious to happenings around and will be fully engrossed in their own world, call these space cadets and I’ve witnessed a few different kinds:
1. Passive space cadet: doesn’t know what is going on and has no clue that they don’t know what is going on, and often you don’t know that they don’t know until you look at their work. Once you figure out that they don’t know what is going on they can often be a source of great comedy or great distress.
2. Active space cadet: noticeable by repeated cries of, ‘Mrs. Barnett I don’t get it!’ or, ‘Mrs. Barnett what am I supposed to do?!’ This is easy to deal with because at least we all know that you don’t get it.
3. Passive intelligent space cadet: always looking out the window or at the wall, or anywhere else but where they should be, but knows exactly what is going and if asked can tell you verbatim what you just said.
4. Active intelligent space cadet: Little Johnny is twirling around in his seat, poking his neighbor, playing with his nametag, looking underneath the table, and all the time knows exactly what is going on and can tell you what he’s supposed to do and how he is going to expand on it.
5. Passive intelligent philosophical space cadet: in the middle of class comes up and asks you what it feels like to die of old age, but is still doing his work and doing excellent work.
Quite often it’s hard to keep a straight face. Sometimes it’s very easy…..

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

One of the joys that I feel that I have been denied here in Nairobi is my love of driving. I thoroughly enjoy jumping behind the wheel turning the radio on as loud as possible, singing in my horribly off voice, and flying off to my destination. One of my favorite memories of Buena Vista was a morning drive to work, where I was coasting down our street at 7am; the sun was just rising over Mt. Princeton, hitting the gold grove of fall aspens just below our house as Chris Martin’s voice was intoning, ‘slowly breaking through the sunlight,’ into my ears.
Yes, we don’t have a car and largely I haven’t had many chances to get behind the wheel because the opportunity just has not presented itself as often as it would at home. We’ve been able to rent cars from Rosslyn and I have been able to drive on those occasions but usually I am quite happy to allow Scott to get behind the wheel. Now why would I let my husband drive when I seem to love it so much? Because driving in Nairobi is a pants wetting, dashboard gripping, jaw clenching experience. It’s like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride on methamphetamine, with the hallucinations, because half the time you can’t really believe that you saw what you just saw.
First I will tell you about the roads. Picture un-leveled bright red ground, pour asphalt on it. We are done. As you can imagine there are so many potholes and cracks in these roads you begin to wonder if small families have not taken up residence in them. There is no shoulder, or sidewalk, if you go off the road you are on dirt or in a canyon. There are no lines in the roads or demarcations of any kind, which you begin to realize is because no one would heed them anyway. In some neighborhoods there are speed bumps, they are not painted, which means that you regularly encounter them at full speed. The roads also do not have stoplights they have roundabouts, when in of themselves are not bad, but Kenyan roundabouts are manned by Kenyan cops who ‘direct’ traffic. Now these cops let one line of cars go for ten minutes, then allow another line to go for two, and then allow another line to go for five minutes….all while texting on their phones.
Second add many people walking alongside the road. Third add people on bikes on the edges of the road, which often veer into your space. Keep in mind that many of these bikes have large bundles of straw on the back which triples their width, and they veer more because of the weight and imbalance.
Fourth add broken down cars which when broken down are repaired right where they are in the middle of the road. It is not uncommon to drive by a large broken truck and see some mechanic legs sticking out of the bottom of the truck.
Fifth add the other drivers. Now my Canadian friend gave her Kenyan fiancé driving lessons for his birthday. She learned that the Kenyan instructors did not teach her beloved to look behind him when backing up, they taught him to idle in second, to shift up while going uphill because a higher gear equals a higher speed, etc. So in knowing that the driving instruction is sub-par you can only imagine the amazing things that we have seen on the road. Kenyans love to pass each other on the road (which considering the shape of most cars you begin to realize why), today someone just passed me on a residential street while I was driving 30mph. Oh, right, there are no speed limits, there may be but they are not posted.
Sixth add the matatu drivers, so if you have read previous blogs you have read that they are the fifteen passenger vans that are used for public transport. If one wants to be a matatu driver they have to buy their route from the Kenyan version of the mob. So you can begin to understand the kinds of people who drive such vehicles. Now, there are plenty of good people who drive matatus and who drive safely, there are many more who do not. They ‘speed,’ they drive up on the shoulder, they create four lanes when the street should only have two, they cut people off like it’s cool, I have more than once been pretty sure that a matatu just shaved off the mirror of the car we were driving.
So this is driving in Nairobi.
Even though it is harrowing it is still necessary and still the best mode of transportation for us. So we want a car, and where we live we really kinda need one, so imagine our excitement when our friend Muhia decides to lend us his extra car. Ecstasy and excitement. Now the car is 1971 bright red VW beetle nicknamed ‘Scarlet.’ Needless to say the car is adorable; really it looks as if it should be hanging from a keychain. Or should be being pushed by a four year old. Or should be a stylish accessory for a famous person, like a purse or pair of shoes. But it is our main form of transportation. Scarlet is a very basic car, as said by her owner, she only has four knobs on her dash and one lever poking out behind the steering wheel. Muhia loves this car, it was his first car and he has maintained it ever since. Scarlet is a quirky little vehicle and I will list her quirks from ‘cute’ to ‘Muhia is the bravest man I know.’
1. To honk the horn you have to touch a hanging exposed wire to an exposed patch of metal underneath the dashboard’s enamel.
2. You have to unplug the battery when you turn the car off or else it will drain and you can’t start her up. So you have to remember to unplug and re-plug in the battery every time you park. The battery is located underneath the backseat, just so you know. SO you have to lift up the backseat cushion, which comes completely out, plug in the battery and place a flap of plastic over the connection and replace the cushion before your passenger gets in, I don’t know if this kills chivalry or enhances it. I like to think of it as an anti-theft device as well.
3. Scarlet is not a morning person, does not like to drive in the morning. I stalled out five times on the way to work. That’s a five minute drive if all goes well.
4. The driver is oft heard uttering the phrase, ‘I don’t know what gear I’m in, am I in third?’ Or at least that’s what Scott and I say. I think Muhia knows what gear he's in.
5. She randomly stalls. For no reason. You’re just hanging out in idle and, bam, she’s off.
6. Occasionally the gas gets stuck, and you have to pull over and unstuck a lever in the engine.
7. The gas pedal flips over, forward, towards you. This likes to happen when you are trying to down shift while turning a corner.

Oddly enough writing this list has endeared the car to me. She’s cute, she’s high maintenance, she’s cherry red. She is presently sitting in Rosslyn’s upper parking lot with a broken belt. She starting smoking today and was acting more rough than usual, and upon inspection we deduced that the belt hanging out in the carriage was once attached to the engine. We rented a car from Rosslyn to get home.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The lowing of the herd

I don’t know who reads this blog, I don’t know if friends from college read this, friends from Rosslyn, kind supporters in BV, or people that have found me after years on Facebook. I don’t know how to approach this or what to write about, do I disclose fully how I am how we are what is going on. Who needs to know? Who wants to know?
What makes me think of this is the recent phenomena of Facebook. Every page is full of smiling happy people. Pictures of people with their boyfriends, spouses, babies, all smiles all the time. I have one friend that I haven’t seen in years, I ran across her page curious to see how she is doing, what she is doing, how she turned out after all these years. What is she doing for a living? Did she leave San Diego? Is she married? I was pleasantly surprised to see that she had posted a poem that spoke of her trans-continental marriage and divorce. Not pleasantly surprised that she had been married and divorced at the age of 27, but that she was honest about it. That she was brave enough to put that out there in a forum that seems to be reserved for happiness no matter how unhappy you are.
Scott and I lost our first pregnancy a month ago. We landed on the ground in Nairobi in July and decided to start trying for a baby in August. I didn’t really believe that we’d get pregnant the first time we tried. But we did. Our first ultrasound (at seven weeks) showed that the baby was about two weeks smaller than it should be. We chose not to proceed with another ultrasound, because we felt it was too early to know what the exact size of the child was and if the pregnancy wasn’t viable we’d rather let nature take it’s course. Five weeks later I began to bleed, I bled for about ten days waiting for it to stop and not sure what was normal and what was not. We did choose to do another ultrasound, and the ultrasound revealed that the gestational sac was empty. A baby had never formed, but my body had gone and created a placenta which released hormones into my body that allowed it to continue to feel pregnant. So I held onto an unviable pregnancy for twelve weeks. Maybe that’s a good sign.
After that ultrasound we scheduled a d and c for the next morning. During the night I began to bleed profusely and we rushed to the hospital at four in the morning. Our doctor arrived and performed an emergency d and c. A few hours while on a gurney, coming out of anesthesia my husband told me of Obama’s historic win.
So far so many things in my life I have been able to make sense of, I can see where each tragedy and time of suffering have made me stronger or made me a better friend, comforter, wife, human being, child of Christ, etc. This one however I am left with a copy of an empty ultrasound picture and the question why? There are enough things in this world that are just hard, things that you just have to walk through, things that will always hurt. Shadows that are cast over our lives that never leave. For some medical files that follow us around for the rest of our life. For some the knowledge that alcohol can never pass your lips again. Wounds that heal but scars that never leave. Events that you heal from but something can bring it rushing right back again. A scene in a movie, a anecdote in a book, a friend’s tragedy, or something you see out of the corner of your eye that gives you a flashback and suddenly you are right there. I’ve had so many women come to me crying talking a about a baby that they lost ten, twenty years ago. Friends, acquaintances, women in my own family.
I think why Lord, ‘what purpose could you have that is so big that this baby had to go?’ I’ve already had suffering in my life, why more? I think of my friend who had cancer at the age of twenty and her amazing ability to empathize. I think of another friend and her troubled childhood and her quiet wisdom. I think of another friend who was left at the altar and the fact that I have never had to explain myself to her once. And I think of all the women who have cried with me in the past weeks. Maybe that’s why we suffer, to bring us together. The collective lowing of the herd can be heard over the world. I keep telling myself that suffering just happens, that it is not an affliction from God. That we live in a fallen world and there are no guarantees. I keep telling myself that my relationship with God helps me deal with tragedies, rather than him afflicting me because I didn’t do what I was supposed to.
So I read Job and after a few weeks of silence I am relearning how to pray. It is too soon to make sense. Truth be told it may never make sense. I think that’s why they call it faith.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Transcendent Truth

One of the things that Lara and I have struggled with a lot living in a new culture here in Kenya is discerning Transcendent Truth. By Transcendent Truth I mean that truth which is the same for all of us regardless of our context or culture. Living in a new culture one is continually confronted with different ways of doing things; in fact, whole new ways of looking at life. Adapting to the new culture entails a constant process of evaluating these differences to determine the best way to go about life. We believe that when living in a culture other than one's own it is best to yield to the host culture in most cases. For instance, Kenyan men almost always wear long pants. In a warm climate such as we live in I would much prefer to wear shorts. But I yield to Kenyan culture and wear long pants most of the time. But are there situations where submitting to the host culture is not appropriate? What are the situations when there is a Transcendent Truth (a right way of doing things or thinking) that we should appeal to?
This question confronted me in an unexpected way when I was conducting training in camp ministry through African Christian Camping. Along with some other Westerners and my Kenyan colleagues, I was in charge of facilitating some experiential team building activities. We sought to build relationships among the participants while at the same time teaching them how to do the same for youth in their camps. Very early it became apparent that this group of Africans (mostly Kenyan but some from surrounding countries) was quite competitive. I would venture to say that they were more competitive than most American groups I have worked with. I haven't interacted with enough Kenyans to determine if this is true generally.
We started out with activities whose purpose is to learn each others' names and break down barriers to meaningful relationships. Even though these activities are intentionally designed to have a minimum of competition, this group made everything competitive. The small groups they were divided into strove against each other in the simplest of tasks. This striving included a great deal of teasing other participants. Often it was harmless and good natured. However, at times there were demeaning comments made about other groups' intelligence or abilities. One group in particular did a lot of one upping the others and what we would label in the U.S. trash talking.
I, along with the other facilitators, didn't head this negative trend off early enough. We didn't recognize how the activities we had planned would play out in this particular culture (not necessarily Kenyan culture, possibly only in this subset). When I did express surprise at the level of teasing/trash talking going on the usual response was, "Oh, that's just part of our culture." My thought at the time was, "This doesn't seem positive, but I guess if it is a part of their culture they must not be taking offense. I guess it's okay."
Of course the trash talking continued and escalated. One of the other facilitators, noticing the trend, stopped in the midst of the activities and gave a little speech about the purpose of team building. He asked what was more important, being the first group to finish a task, or how we interact with each other as we did it and whether we followed the rules. Despite his admonishment the trash talking continued. When the facilitators talked about it at the end of the first day, we decided to reassign groups to split up some of the more competitive members. This took the edge off the competition for a bit, but it kept going.
I decided to facilitate an activity that points to the need to find solutions where everyone can win rather than winning at the expense of others. For many of the participants this had the intended effect. They realized how cutthroat they had been in their competitiveness and saw the need for change. However, some were oblivious.
Later, the participants were assigned the task of designing their own team building activity and facilitating it for the rest of the participants. One group came up with an activity that involved a clever play on words that could be used to help those involved see their need to see things from multiple points of view and consider other perspectives. The activity was good, but the facilitation was not. When most of the participants did not catch the twist, several of the group members who were facilitating laughed at them. They taunted them for not making the paradigm shift. Many of the participants kicked themselves and laughed it off. But others looked as if they had been slapped in the face. The debrief of the activity was mostly silent, with averted eyes and shuffling feet.
All of the Western facilitators were shocked at the level of trash talking. I felt compelled to say something to the group. Later in the day, when I had the stage, I said that I had noticed a propensity toward competition with a negative tone. I said that it wasn't there with the whole group, only certain individuals. I explained that in my view there is nothing wrong with competition, but we must be careful with how we treat each other. My confrontation of the group precipitated a spirited discussion among the Western and Kenyan leaders of the training during the debrief of the day as well as many more afterwards.
The question in all of this is: What is the Transcendent Truth? I made a mistake in the way that I dealt with the problem I saw. Kenya is a shame culture in which the kind of public confrontation that I engaged in is taboo. So I violated my own principle and failed to yield to the Kenyan method of dealing with issues. How to deal with confrontation in a shame culture is the subject of another blog. Rather, I am looking at the issue of building up versus tearing down.
Over and over I was told that teasing is just a part of Kenyan culture. Based on my observations that this opinion seemed to be much more prevalent in the males and in certain segments of the group, there is room to question this assertion. However, even if we go with the assumption that teasing in part of Kenyan culture, does that make it right? Certainly, the Westerners were more taken aback by it than the Kenyans. It is possible that we were just seeing this interaction through our Western lenses and imposing our cultural values upon the situation. Undoubtedly I have done this in many other areas and will likely do so again. Given my own struggles with tearing people down, it is possible that I was projecting my own issues onto this group.
In seems that whenever Transcendent Truth is sought after we must look to God's Word. Although it often not easy to determine, God has given us Truth that transcends time and place. Ephesians 4:29 tells us "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Was the competition and teasing that went on wholesome? Did the trash talking build others up? Many Kenyans have been conditioned by their cultural context to accept the truth that trash talking is normative. However, if we look at the verse above and the body of Scripture it seems apparent that the Transcendent Truth is that our speech should always build others up rather than tear them down.
The same process must be applied to all aspects of our culture. Here Americans are known for their strong work ethic. That is a cultural value which stands the test of Scripture. On the other hand, the individualism and materialism that often accompany it do not. We cannot be excused our individualism because "it is just a part of our culture." We must seek the Holy Spirit's guidance to discern if the way we do things is cultural or God-honoring. Sometimes the way I do things is a product of my culture, but it also is honoring to God. At other times I see a particular way of doing things as the right way simply because of my cultural conditioning, but it is not pleasing to God. Immersion in a new culture naturally brings us to examine different ways of doing things and seeing what works and what does not. It should also cause us to analyze our own culture with the same critical eyes. Ultimately, we must seek to be conditioned by the culture of the Kingdom of God. We must seek to adopt aspects of the cultures of earth only as they conform to this heavenly culture. We are called to live and teach this Kingdom culture as transcending Kenyan culture, American culture or whatever culture we inhabit.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My accent has been messed with

My accent has been messed with:

The more places I live the more my accent changes and gets to be a mixture of each dialect. From Chicago occasionally I elongate and flatten my o’s, especially when saying the word coat. From the summer in Wisconsin I know how to correctly pronounce Wisconsin. When speaking to my international students and Kenyans I slow down, give pauses between each word, and hit each t and d. From California I still drop an occasional ‘dude’ into the bunch. Here in Nairobi I hear so many accents (Belgian, English, Canadian, Kenyan, Korean, etc.), so many different ways of bending the words of the English language that I almost don’t know what is going to come out of my mouth.
Each new place I live I gain a new appreciation for something particular about that area. From Colorado I have an obsession with altitude and now love climbing mountains. From Chicago I miss the ethnic foods and have a deep appreciation for what it really means to be cold. From California I ache for the beaches and a real burrito. I don’t know what I’ll gain from Nairobi, what things I will miss, what foods that I can have here that you truly can’t get anywhere else. There are no true deep dish Chicago style pizzas outside of the Chicago area. There is nothing like a San Diegan tacqueria. Will I miss the ugali and sukuma wiki? Will I miss the chai? What taste or love will I gain here?
* * *

So I am a painfully observant person, sometimes I take in so much visual information that I want to close my eyes for awhile to process what has been soaked up. I’ve been observing Kenyans and culture and things about their land and here is what I have noticed.
1. Skinny men and not so skinny women: one thing that I do love about Kenya, I do not feel overweight at all. Most of the women are luscious and hippy. I don’t have magazines and television glaring at me to tell me that even though I’m smaller than the average woman I am still not small enough.
2. Kenyan music videos are amazing: lots of those luscious women swinging their hips around and shaking, and they’re delightfully fully clothed. And it’s just pretty dancing. Well, prettier than our scrawny cheer leaders, but that’s not saying much.
3. Food products go bad here super fast: ‘Scott why does our butter smell like cheese?’
4. As my friend Jill stated, ‘Why is it that the toilet will flush buckets and buckets of water down the toilet but it still remains?’ I think it took us seven flushes to get it down one day.
5. Picking your nose is not taboo. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been having a face to face conversation with someone and they start digging around in their nose.
6. Everything here is more hard core; it could be just a snake, but no it has dangerous neurotoxins in it’s venom, it could be just a caterpillar, but no if you touch it gives you a rash, it could be just a fly, but no if it bites you it will give ‘sleeping sickness,’ it could be just a mosquito, but no it has malaria, it could be just water, but no it has typhoid….you get the point.

In keeping with the ‘everything is more hard core’ theme yesterday I saw the largest spider I have seen outside of a cage in the classroom next to my own, which I use as a short cut to the teacher’s lounge. I quickly dodged away from the wall and sped through the room and opted for a different route the way back and have since stopped taking that short cut, because on another unfortunate trip I also encountered a large dead rat. Two encounters of dangerous and dead vermin are enough for me. So at lunch time I mentioned this large arachnid to my coworkers who then proceeded to tell me that particular type of spider has a bite that necrotizes one’s flesh. One coworker’s dog’s face swelled up to twice the size after a losing encounter with said spider and another coworker had to take her child to the hospital after the child’s arm began to disintegrate. So needless to day I spent the rest of the day cringing every time I opened a drawer or a cabinet picturing this fuzzy brown creature with too many legs rearing up on it’s hind legs and sinking it’s unnecessarily large fangs into my hand, or perhaps leaping and planting these fangs into my face. All of this is made equally more ridiculous if you know that my classroom consists of a wall of seven floor to ceiling cabinets full of art supplies and that I was inventorying them that very day.
Speaking of dead vermin last night right before we were having our next door neighbors over for dinner an infestation of weird insects that look like ants with oversized wings took over our living room. Apparently they were getting in through a small crack in the window and were attracted to the light. They quickly proceeded to die all over the place and drop their wings everywhere. Wherein my response was to clap my hands to my forehead and yell, ‘I don’t know what to do, whadda we do?! ’ Several times, repeatedly. Okay, I can handle almost every emergency one can think of, spurting head wounds, suicide calls, cat seizures, sobbing children, etc. However infestations of dying bugs reduce me to a blithering fool. We ended up stomping on them all until we were sure they were dead and sweeping them up.
Back to ‘more hard core,’ almost every weekend I have been outside I have incurred a large and painful sunburn, which upon seeing another white person always elicits the question, ‘Did you wear sunscreen?’ To which I usually feel like responding, ‘Look, I am from a place where tanning is a sport, I know more about achieving a perfect golden glow than your pasty Michigan….’ Anyway, I actually have been wearing sunscreen and am discovering that my religious adherence to SPF 15 does nothing here. The equatorial sun has a way of searing through any cream under SPF 1000. I’ve actually begun contemplating wrapping myself in tin foil before leaving the house every morning. I’ve also begun to wonder how the English ever thought they could colonize a place like this before the invention of oxybenzone and Doom.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Once upon a time....

….there was a little apartment in Runda, Nairobi. It was a happy apartment for it was in a safe neighborhood and felt that it was a very pretty apartment. Only one thing made this apartment sad, no one had ever lived in it. One day a young couple came with friends in tow, they squealed at it’s nice tile floors, admired it’s pretty stamped ceilings, enjoyed the decorative arched windows, and exclaimed over it’s nice neutral walls. They toured the little apartment and seemed very excited about it, but then they left and the little apartment was again alone for a week. It sadly listened to the neighbors next door, another young couple named Nate and Jill make the next apartment their home. It heard them cook and hang pictures and chatter about their plans for their apartment. The little apartment was jealous it wanted people to be excited, and cook, and make plans in it’s walls.
Then, hooray, the young couple came back! And with them they had bags of clothes, and camping gear, and strange odds and ends that they started placing in the little apartment’s kitchen drawers. They chattered about where things would go and what kinds of furniture they should get. They came back later that day with a bed, and chairs that had no cushions, and small electrical things that they started plugging into the kitchen. They were happy with the deals that they had gotten that over the appliances but seemed perplexed as to why the furniture had no cushions; the little apartment kept hearing them say that some place named Rosslyn had given them the furniture and even though they didn’t know where the cushions were they were happy to have something to sit on.
Oh joy, of all joys! The couple spent the night in the apartment! The apartment was so happy, they were staying it finally had it’s own people to make plans, and cook, and live in it’s walls. The couple continued to happily make the little apartment their own, they put their clothes in it’s closets, the camping gear went into another closet, and more and more things began to show up that they put in the little apartment.
But soon the apartment’s joy started to fade; he heard the couple complain that the shower was too cold and didn’t last long enough for them to both get a hot shower. The little apartment was sad that it could do this for the couple. Shortly however another man came to the apartment to install an ‘instant shower.’ The couple did not seem encouraged by this because it seemed to ruin what they called the ‘water pressure.’ The little apartment was discouraged because the young couple kept complaining about the toilet leaking, and puddle that was on the floor. The little apartment didn’t know what to do because it could not fix this for them. The young man in the couple stayed home quite a bit and kept talking about a ‘repairman,’ but for all the days that the young man stayed home the ‘repairman’ did not come. The little apartment heard the young man talk on the phone with the ‘repairman’ telling him he needed to come for he was missing days of work. The little apartment fretted because it wanted to be perfect for this couple.
The little apartment often found that it was falling short of the couple’s dreams and did not know what to do to make them happy. The little apartment heard the young man saying one day to his wife, ‘go into the shower, see it’s not square, it’s a full tile off.’ And the wife responded, ‘Don’t point that out, I don’t want to know.’ The little apartment didn’t know what ‘square’ meant, but the couple seemed in shock and awe that she was not ‘square.’
One day the couple came home with a large piece of furniture called a ‘couch,’ it was beautiful indeed. The young couple seemed proud and had their neighbors Nate and Jill come over just to sit on the couch. The little apartment was so excited to see that the young couple was so happy and was making her into their home. A few days later the young man stayed home from work again and his Aunt and Uncle came, and they came with a table! The young couple had been talking about the table the night before, the young woman expressed concern because they had bought the table without seeing it, and she was unsure she would like it. The young man stated that they weren’t going to find a better deal and that they should just buy it. That day when the young woman came home from work she breathed a sigh of relief and said,
‘Oh thank you Lord, it’s cute,’ the little apartment was happy again to see its people happy. The little apartment kept hearing them saying things like, ‘It’s finally coming together,’ and, ‘It feels like home.’ The little apartment could feel the young woman relax as she looked at her new things and her new home and saw that it was becoming beautiful.
After the young couple had lived there for several weeks and the little apartment had watched them cook (and get frustrated because food went bad so quickly, but get excited when they cooked something that tasted good or like it did ‘back home’), and make plans, and have friends over, and move the furniture this way and that across her floors, she felt something happening in her pipes that made her unhappy. She felt her water slowing and at some points stopping. The little apartment didn’t know what to do, she could not fix this problem, and the water was just going away. She knew that she had already disappointed them by not having electricity all the time. When the water began to leave the young man was away and the young woman had been sleeping alone for a few days. On the day when the water would come no more the young woman had not gone to work, the little apartment watched the young woman move from the couch to the bed, to the couch to the bed all day long. Sometimes the young woman would shuffle up to the sink and crank on the faucet, when nothing came out she would sigh and shuffle back to the couch. Finally the water came back that day, the little apartment wanted to shout for joy because the kitchen had water again, but the young woman seemed to really want it in the shower, but it was not there yet. She had asked a friend to come over to take her to the doctor and when the friend came the young woman was giving herself a quick and grateful sponge bath in the kitchen sink. The young woman came back later that night and did not go to work the next day.
The water has not come back fully for a week, the little apartment will try her hardest to get the pipes to flow but it will only work for a moment and the water will stop coming. When the young man came home the little apartment heard him talking on the phone and heard that Nairobi was rationing water in the neighborhood of Runda and that another week would pass before the water would come back. The little apartment didn’t know what to do it wanted to make it’s people so happy but could not provide for their needs.
The young couple however did not fault the little apartment for the lack of water and talked about the government and seemed to not understand the lack of water anymore than the apartment did. The little apartment sighed and hoped that the couple would continue making it into their home.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Blunt Scissors and Paste

Blunt Scissors and Paste

So I have landed in the last job that I ever thought I would have, in fact the one job that I sweared I would never have, an elementary school teacher. I’ve held jobs that most people would cringe at and avoid; working in a women’s drug and alcohol rehab and working in a youth crisis shelter. No, I’m not afraid of drug addicts but I am absolutely terrified of kindergartners. Fortunately I only have the kindergartners for forty minutes sessions twice a week. In fact I only have each class for forty minutes twice a week. So I am fortunate that I don’t have the little squirts for a full day, I get breaks. I’m the elementary art teacher at Rosslyn Academy, I am presently an elementary school teacher.
It takes a special person to be an elementary school teacher. And I wonder am I that special person? Can I really do this? Can I really get fourth graders to understand positive and negative space? The answer to that question is: maybe, sometimes, and sometimes all the time. It seems like every class there’s a child that instantly understands what I want them to do, some that get it even before I’ve hit my main point and other’s that no matter how many different ways I come up with explaining a specific point they don’t get it.
I’m in my fourth week of teaching and so far it’s been up and down. I started with this gorgeous picture in my head of them quietly drawing and painting while Brahms and Mozart play peacefully in the background. Heheheh. They do talk and I allow them to talk because then they talk to me and I get to hear about the things they are creating and how they’re thinking through their projects. And it’s fun, and they’re creative and so often I’m blown out of the water by what they come up with and they’re executing a project. But when they talk often they distract each other so that they don’t get things done, so the class and I have ‘discussions about that.’ Then Mrs. Barnett takes away the privilege because they’re too loud and I can’t hear and I just saw little Jimmy start waving his paper in the air haphazardly. I find certain rules and standards hard to enforce because then I become a policeman of ‘sit in your seat’ or ‘stop talking.’ The sitting down thing is also difficult (elementary school teachers everywhere have a sudden headache right now and they don’t know why) because so many of them get up and I understand because it’s often easier to create standing up, in fact in many of my classes in college we were told to stand up. But when you’re eight you get distracted by your neighbor and if you’re already standing it’s just so easy to take a step over there and then all of a sudden someone has glue in their hair.
This week so far has been the best the children getting used to what I expect and how they are to behave in my class; ‘sit down quietly,’ ‘nothing happens until you’re quiet and looking at me,’ etc. Things are actually going smoothly and a few events that might have derailed me a week ago went without incident (one girl stood up in the middle of my instructional time, tooth in hand, bloody mouth wide, and announced, ‘I just lost a tooth!’ Her friend escorted her to the nurse, and I kept going.). I’ve learned to be way more directive than I ever thought I would have to be (and still after repeated directions I have a child who will wander up to me and say, ‘what do I do with this?’ and I want to say, ‘the same thing we do every night Pinky…’), am still amazed that, ‘It’s time to clean up,’ is heard as, ‘Everyone come up and show me what they did,’ and am learning that taking away sharing time just kills the second graders.
I still wonder though, ‘am I that special person?’
(written by Lara)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Donkey on a Leash

So we’ve been in Kenya almost a month, we’ve navigated renting an apartment, starting new jobs, riding matatus, and driving a stick shift on the other side of the road with the other hand. All basically successful, leaving no permanent damage to either of us or our marriage.
Our first ten days was spent staying with Marcy and Muhia, Scott’s colleague and his lovely wife, closer to the town center of Nairobi. They took us to church, answered our endless questions, put up with my taking Swahili notes at the dinner table, and clued us in to the politics of Kenya. Not to mention fun conversation and handing it to us in Scrabble. Marcy and Mo have lived in the US so they are used Americans and know where we are coming from; they have already helped us navigate Nairobi in a sensitive manner.
My prior experience in East Africa had been in the nation of Tanzania which is less developed than Kenya. (When people ask me if I’ve been to Kenya before I say, ‘no, but I’ve been to Tanzania.’ Which is a bit like saying you’ve not been to the U.S. but you’ve been to Canada. Close but not quite.) So I had met several people that were adults but could not read or write, seen mostly people in abject poverty, and had experienced a continental divide in cultural differences. While I was in Tanzania I had seen the beginnings of Westernization. I remember looking out the window of one of our vehicles at beautiful African child with short hair (as they wear it) and in a western-style dress and I remember thinking it’s like watching a square peg willingly shave off it’s corner’s to fit in a round hole. Here in Nairobi they have shaved off even more. The women are so stylishly dressed that I feel self-conscious walking on the streets. Their cell phones are amazing, large beautifully done billboards hover over the clogged streets, and sellers on the streets are not so desperate; several have let me walk away from a sale when they refused to come down to my price. Most of this is because Kenya is more affluent than Tanzania and has access to more investors and more international media. I have found that I have yet to fully sacrifice any modern convenience (although hot showers, electricity and internet services are often flighty). I can get an amazing latte in almost shopping center. The malls put American malls to shame, complete with koi ponds and fountains. We’ve already lots of fun conversations with quick, sharp and highly educated Kenyans who are thinking through the issues of their nation; churches that are on the front lines combating poverty and organizations that are bringing real deep sociological answers to the cuts in the fabric of this country. I have been filled with hope at seeing the development and the people that are rising up through the roots to grow a new Kenya. (All of this keeping in mind that ten percent of the population of Kenya holds the majority of the wealth.)
But things are still different than they are back home. I am definitely not in Kansas. I had asked many questions of Americans before I left home and had been able to talk to Muhia before we left American soil. One of my main concerns was whether or not I’d be able to run. The Americans that I had talked to told me that nobody does that and it’s not safe, if the smog didn’t kill me to start. Muhia said yes, bring your running shoes. So on the first day in the country Muhia, Muhia’s nephew, Scott, me, and Muhia’s dog all went on a run through the tilted and crazy streets of Nairobi. We cut quite the path through the people and cars, to be sure. I was all geared up to have people gawk and stare at us, but much to my entertainment it was not us that attracted the most attention from onlookers, it was the small Rottweiler that ran, happily and leashed, beside Muhia. Kenyans, for the most part, do not like dogs. Dogs are largely used for guarding houses and not as pets that we lavish attention on and form emotional bonds with as members of our family. Since then I have seen a few Kenyan men running, two Kenyan women (one in spandex), two white women, and several white men running. All in tennis shoes and varying forms of athletic gear and a few with mp3 players, leading me to conclude that, yes, people run in Kenya (keeping in mind that Kenyans are famous for running in the Olympics).
So today I suited up and went running all by myself, and I got stared at, a lot. The men said hello or just stared and the women looked at me like I had done and gone lost my mind (never you mind that there are several Kenyan women running in the Olympics at this very moment, in outfits that I would not be caught dead in, much less internationally photographed in). All these observations of running have led me to think through what it means to be culturally offensive. There is a difference between doing something that is culturally offensive and doing something that may just be construed as strange. I’ve seen this in my own context back home in Colorado. One day I was driving up the last paved road to our home in BV, and as I drove up I saw a man running up the road in slightly shorter than normal shorts and slightly longer than normal hair, but this was not the oddest thing about this man. He was running with a donkey, on a leash. Yes, he was jogging up a hill, with seemingly, his pet donkey. I waved to the man with the pet donkey, he waved back and I thought to myself, ‘you don’t see that everyday,’ downshifted and continued on my way home. This man with the donkey was not being offensive, his presence did not rankle me or disrupt my existence, it was just odd. Therefore there are going to be times when Scott and I do something that is just odd, that does not offend anyone just makes them turn their heads and wonder what that was about. I think that prior to this my experience with cross-cultural situations was that everything I do that is not Kenyan is going to be rude and offensive, so that I interacted with people fearing that I was always basically being offensive. It’s nice to know that’s not true and that sometimes my actions will just be, ‘a donkey on a leash.’

Mzungu riding matatus

Colors muted and blended together. Shapes softened, losing their distinct edges. As afternoon faded into evening low, grey clouds closed in. The black shapes of a host of birds traced lazy circles in the darkening sky. In other settings these events would have been little cause for alarm. However, for an mzungu waiting for a matatu at the Nairobi bus station they set quite an ominous mood.
Wazungu aren't generally known to make use of the cheap public transportation offered by matatus. This was my second week of riding the matatu to work and I had yet to have a single other white person in a van with me (aside from my wife). My use of matatus was based on two factors: I figured that what was good for a black Kenyan should be good enough for me and I really didn't have any other option for getting to the office of the ministry I work for. In doing this I brushed off the statements from many white people about how dangerous it can be to ride matatus. Even some of my black Kenyan friends had seemed a bit worried for me when I mentioned that my route to work would entail getting dropped off and picked up at the bus station. The way I figured, sure it might have some dangers, but my Kenyan friends do it. Plus, nothing is going to happen to me in the daylight.
Of course, now it was evening, rapidly progressing into night. This was a different story. On previous commutes I had little trouble. I took a bus from my office to the city center. From there I wound my way through the bustling, narrow streets to the bus station and got on the 100 or 120 matatu up Kiambu road. Except today when I had entered the dirty square that serves as bus station there were no matatus for my route there.
Now, Kenyan public transport doesn't work like it does in Western countries. There is no posted bus schedule or route numbers. Everyone in Nairobi just knows what number they need to take to get where they need to go. And the matatus don't even pretend to be in a certain place at a given time. There is no "I'm going to catch the 8:10 matatu into town." Matatus go when they have a paying passenger in every seat (as well as maybe a few more jammed in). Meeting your time schedule is not the matatu operators concern. Their concern is maximizing their profits.
When I arrived at the bus station there was a line of about 20 people waiting in the place where my route number picked people up. So I was fairly confident matatus would soon show up to pick up all those paying customers. After half an hour of waiting in the line I was beginning to wonder. The woman next to me explained in response to my queries that this type of wait was a bit unusual, but that it did happen from time to time. I thought I discerned from her half Swahili-half English explanation that the matatu drivers did sometimes decide not to bother coming all the way to the bus station. On these occasions you had to walk to wherever they were deciding to turn around. I thought about asking where this other pick-up point might be, but when I had asked Kenyans for directions on previous occasions they assumed I knew a lot more about the surroundings and context than I actually did resulting in directions of nebulous worth. Plus, the woman wasn't headed for wherever this other pick-up point was, so I opted to stay put and wait.
As my wait stretched from a half hour to an hour I was beginning to wonder. Several people in front of me in line had gotten fed up and wandered off. Maybe to the rumored other pick-up point. I again considered striking out in search of it. But then I thought, as soon as I step out of line a matatu will show up and I will have lost my place. Other Kenyans were waiting here, and plus, this was where they were supposed to come.
Twilight was deepening as my wait approached the hour and a half mark. The square which had been a bee hive of activity throughout my wait was slowly emptying. As I stood in the queue hundreds of people swirled around me and not one of them was white. I stood as the lone mzungu in the square. At this point I was seriously considering action plans should no matatu show up. I had already exchanged several text messages with Lara. She was waiting anxiously at home with dinner ready. I had felt pretty secure during the day time. But if you listened to a lot of white folks Nairobi is like some kind of horror movie where if you are out after dark the hordes of monsters will descend upon you. According to the testimony of even my most street-wise Kenyan friends this wasn't the best place to be at night regardless of the color of your skin. The fact that my skin is white would further distinguish me as a target. I only had a cheap mobile phone and about a thousand shillings (fifteen dollars) with me, but that wouldn't matter to would be muggers.
My plan was set. If a matatu didn't show up in the next five minutes I was going to call Lara and have her ask our neighbor Nate to come to pick me up. In the mean time I would hightail it north and west as quickly as I could walk. Just then a van lurched to a halt in front of me. I was trying to figure out if it was the right route when the line behind me started surging around me to the sliding door on the other side of the van. So much for the orderly queue. I realized that if I didn't move I would be left in the dark. Three passengers were trying to get off the matatu, but couldn't make their way through the surging crowd. Two women in business suits tried to get seats together but were thrust apart. I boxed out the throng behind me long enough to let the disembarking passengers squeeze out. My courtesy almost cost me my seat. I was just able to wriggle through and get one of the last seats. Those unable to get on muttered angrily under their breaths and returned to the queue.
It took well over an hour to drive the six or seven miles to the stop near our apartment. My commute which had begun around 4:30 ended after 8. My worried wife welcomed me home with a hug a little longer and tighter than usual and a hot meal. For a while during this epic commute I started feeling sorry for myself. However, then I started to think about the myriad of Kenyans who have that kind of day on a regular basis. There are thousands who are subjected to the clogged traffic, cramped quarters and logic defying patterns of the matatus every day. There are thousands who would glad deal with the quirks of matatus but who walk several hours to and from work because they can't afford the fifty shillings. My worries about danger had some merit. (The next day I saw a youth reach through the window of my matatu, snatch a man's bag off his lap and tear off with it through the maze of idling vehicles.) And yet there are countless people who have no choice but to live in those areas and face those dangers daily. When I worry about the possibility of muggings in Nairobi I have to remind myself that the U.S. has a much higher ratio of violent crime than Kenya does. Above all I have to trust that God is in control of my life. My worrying is not going to change anything. I have to trust that He has put me where I am for a purpose and that He will watch over me to insure that I am able to carry out that purpose. If God cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, won't he also take care of me?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Deciding where to live=deciding how to minister

As Lara and I have started to settle in to life in Nairobi we have faced the difficult question of where to live. When we have been in the U.S. our decision about where to live has been dictated by principles like cost, nearness to work, nearness to church, living close to family and friends, and attractiveness of the area. Our choices of where to live in Nairobi include all of the same factors with several more added. Where we live here has a profound impact on the people that we interact with and therefore the ministry that we engage in.

To understand this dilemma you must realize that like most developing countries Kenya has a vast chasm separating the rich and the poor without much of a middle class. The rich neighborhoods tend to be gated. The houses have huge fences around them which keep them from street viewing let alone access. The poor areas cram everyone together so tight that they might as well be sharing rooms, in fact, they often are. The rich usually drive into their neighborhoods, pass through their gates and hardly interact with those around them. When you think about it, they are much like the rest of the Western world that they often emulate. The poor, on the other hand, are forced to interact with each other as they share matatus (15 passenger vans which make up the bulk of public transportation), live practically on top of each other and haggle with each other as they buy and sell their basic commodities.

Lara's employer, Rosslyn Academy, happens to be located in one of the wealthier areas of Nairobi. It is right near the U.S. embassy and the United Nations center. People around that area tend to interact with the lower class Kenyans only when absolutely necessary. They buy everything they need at the Western style mall. They go to fancy, Western restaurants. On the other hand, Tanari, where I work, has its office close to the city center. It is right in the midst of the bustling metropolis. There are some wazungu (white folks) around, but life in this area necessitates interacting with the common Kenyan.

So, how have we decided to resolve this dilemma? We feel called to be a bridge between the two worlds. We have just signed a lease on an apartment in Runda, a neighborhood near Rosslyn. Runda is definitely an upscale neighborhood. The apartment that we are renting is both nicer and less expensive than those we had in the U.S. We were able to negotiate a much lower price than the landlady was asking to keep it in our budget. We are living on a much lower level than most of our neighbors. Instead of driving a Mercedes or Land Rover, I will be taking a matatu to work. Lara will either be walking or hitching a ride with another Rosslyn couple that lives next door. If we do get a car someday, it will not be "conspicuous consumption" as our Kenyan friends call a flashy display of wealth. It will be something simply to get us from one place to another and to bless our Kenyan friends. One of our primary reasons for living in this community is so that Lara will not be overly stressed in her first year of teaching. She needs to be able to get to and from school easily and be able to focus on learning how to be a classroom teacher. Living near the Rosslyn community will help to ease our transition into the Kenyan culture. Also, living there we hope to be able to encourage other Rosslyn staff members to join us in venturing out into Kenyan society. Many of them want to do so, but it is much more likely to happen if they have others venturing out with them. We have covenanted with a few other couples to make sure that we are all stepping out of the Western bubble. We have joined Karura Community Church which has several small groups that meet in the Runda area. We feel that living close to the church is an important step to being involved not only in small groups, but also in the ministry of the church. The church actively seeks to integrate different economic classes. We feel that we can join in this work. My co-workers at Tanari are all Kenyan so my work will provide an easy bridge out of the Western bubble. We hope the friendships formed there will draw both Lara and me further into interaction with all aspects of Kenyan society.

When it comes down to it, I realize that the decision about where to live in Nairobi is not that much different from the decision in the U.S. Usually we just make the decision based on what makes us the most comfortable. For some of us that means picking the perfect house no matter where it is located. For some it means being in a safe, quiet neighborhood. Our choice of where we live reflects what we value. If we value impressing those around us we will go into massive debt to get the nicest house we can get into. If we value our family, we want to live close to them. If we value our church and being involved, it makes sense to find a home close to the church and other church members. Our prayer is that wherever our home is, it can be a catalyst for community, a place that is hospitable to all, and a place from which we constantly seek to venture out to meet the needs of our neighbors.

Monday, July 28, 2008

We have landed.

For quite awhile I felt as if my heart was at the top of an arc, as if it were a ball tossed into the air waiting to land. For awhile I didn't feel, people kept asking me if I was excited, but I didn't know I hadn't landed yet. Before leaving I felt sad and scared, I tried to keep my expectations low, tried to sound like I knew what I was doing. That I had gathered lots of information about what we needed and that I would arrive fully prepared, like a boy scout with linens. The arc of that ball lasted awhile as we choose to take a week to arrive in Nairobi.
The first leg of our journey took us to the mystical land of Wheaton, Illinois. We spent a few days with Scott's sister, Tara, and her family. We needed to see them before we left and it was just good to be with someone who would facilitate our last little bit of shopping and just tell me where to go. We did get to go on a canoeing trip up the Fox river, which was very entertaining.
The last leg of our safari took us to England for about three days. We spent time with our Aussie friends Elizabeth and Dave; they took us to the oldest pub in England (apparently frequented by the crusaders), Sherwood Forest, and on a walk in the English countryside. And allowed us to sleep as much as we needed. We also took ourselves to see Stonehenge where we shared the experience with 200 of our closest international friends. I would have liked to actually been able to walk up and stand among the stones, but, alas, I don't think experiences like that exist anymore.
Finally we landed in Nairobi at seven am and were greeted by an eternally long visa line, where all our official invitation letters were ignored and stamped right in. Several Tanari staff greeted us with smiles, took our baggage carts away from us and whisked us into the official Tanari van and off to Marcy and Muhia's house. Muhia greeted us in traditional African hospitality with chai and food. We were then left to nap and shower. Our first few days were spent wandering around the small area of Nairobi that we were in and visiting with Muhia and Marcy and their two young sons.
I started orientation on Wednesday night with a dessert fellowship. Scott and I were warmly greeted by the Rosslyn community. As orientation has continued I have been greatly pleased by the hospitality of Rosslyn and the eagerness of all the new teachers and their spouses. I feel like it's freshmen year of college and we're all friendless and eager to not be as soon as possible. I am in a slightly different position as many of the staff live on campus and I do not, and seem to already have built in connections to the Kenyan community with Tanari.
So far our largest concern has been finding housing. We are staying with Muhia and Marcy and enjoying them completely (quite frankly we're not in a rush to get out of their house) and thankful for their insider perspective and their intelligent, insightful answers to our tireless questions. In fact during one evening conversation with Marcy I found myself breathing a sigh of relief and thinking, 'we seem to have landed on our feet.' We've found ourselves torn between being up near Rosslyn, which is surrounded by a wealthy community and being closer to the Tanari office which is in a more middle class community. We don't want to separate ourselves from the average Kenyan by living outside of the city but at the same time it is peaceful, beautiful, and quiet up near Rosslyn. But we would also benefit from the nearness of others down near Tanari. And in all of this wondering is the consideration of cultural context mixed in with our decision.....
So far my emotions have remained suspended in that arc, we have been so busy visiting with new people that I have not processed through our arrival. I have not allowed myself to sit down and fully feel what I need to feel, because I think that I am afraid of what I would feel. Some mixture of relief, finality, and anxiety. To afraid to think that I may regret some of the decisions that we have made, to afraid that I may think, 'what have I done?' Mostly I've been to caught up in the practical (needing a home, meeting new people) to really take time to dig into my heart.
(posted by Lara)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

we have lift off...tomorrow

Yesterday morning our apartment looked like it had gone on a bender and spent all morning throwing up on itself. Today it is cleaned and holds almost no signs that we once lived here. The walls are naked, the drawers are empty, and we're even using my mother-in-law's sheets and towels. Yesterday we packed our lives into five duffel bags within the weight and size limit of the major airlines that will be responsible for our journey to our new home abroad. It's strange to pare your wardrobe down to a duffle bag of clothes and then entrust it into the hands of people who notoriously lose people's belongings. It's not as if I am going away for the weekend, that's my whole wardrobe for four years. And who knows if it will arrive in Nairobi and if it does who knows that they will give it to me without charging me more than the contents of the bag.
Clearing that obstacle has cleared my mind for about two weeks I have felt that some force has been playing keep-away with my brain. My verbal processer broke for days at a time; making me forget words and reducing me to gesticulations and frustration. I have been surprised that there are very few people that I can turn to and ask, 'Am I okay, is this normal?' Thankfully Scott's parents went before us twenty years for a similiar journey. So I have been able to turn to his mother, Miriam, and ask, 'do I take my half empty bottle of shampoo to the other side of the world?' (no, it's cheap, not worth the jet fuel) Other than that it seems that very few choose to move overseas for an extended period of time. I have also been amazed at how many people have asked us for our time or made ridiculous demands on our time, like today for instance, we drove to Bailey, which is an hour and a half away from our town of Buena Vista to sell our last car. We were asked to do this by the people who wanted to purhase the car, and they then refused to buy it because the air conditioning wasn't cold enough. So our entire afternoon that could've have been spent with our friends and family was taken away by people too selfish and short sighted to drive to our town to look at the car.
On the other hand other people have been generous, kind, and giving beyond what I could have ever expected. People I hardly know giving us donations of a lot of money. Donations that I never could have guessed would appear in little envelopes from people who were the last people I would have expected. I feel blessed beyond belief that people would give to us the way that they have. I feel that God is truly using people's generousity for us and that we are doing that we are supposed to, stepping out in faith and out faith is being blessed.
I sit here tonight waiting for tomorrow morning to come, crying periodically, knowing that I won't be able to sleep. that my mind will be rolling in fear and excitement. That I will be too afraid that I will sleep through my alarm clock to actually allow myself to actually sleep. And it's only the first of three flights over the course of a week.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Being called versus being sent

In less than two weeks I will head to Kenya to become a fourth generation missionary to that country. I use the term "missionary" in the sense of someone carrying out the mission of the Church in a culture other than their own. I have taken quite a few classes related to missions over the course of my academic career at Wheaton and Trinity, but nothing makes you reflect on missions like actually going to be one.

As Lara and I prepare to go it is amazing to think about how missions has changed over the past century. My great-grandfather went to Kenya in 1907. No one in Kenya knew he was coming, let alone asked him to come. He was sent by a missions agency to do God's work. Unfortunately, at that time doing God's work was believed to include the task of educating and civilizing the ignorant savages. The Good News of God's love and offer of salvation that the missionaries at the start of the 20th century brought was inextricably linked with the "progress" of Western civilization that accompanied it. I am not really interested in analyzing the merits versus the deficiencies of early missionaries. Anyone who examines history with an open mind can see that there was both good and bad that came out of it. What is interesting to me is the idea that if my great-grandfather and those like him had not been sent to Kenya a hundred years ago, then I would not be called to Kenya now.

Let me explain a bit more. Obviously all missionaries should be called by God to their work. This was part of my initial hesitation about going to Kenya. I didn't want to go just to join in the family trade so to speak. I wanted to know I had a specific call. The leading of the Holy Spirit as a conviction that you need to go -- this is the necessary first step. From there the difference between being called and being sent relates to the missionary's relationship to the Church. My great-grandfather was sent. Mission societies in the U.S. felt that the people of Africa needed to hear the Gospel and so they sent him to preach the Good News. Lara and I are going because a Kenyan ministry organization invited us to come be a part of their work. They called us to come to Kenya. Their calling would likely not have happened without the work of previous generations of missionaries. We stand upon their shoulders. We build upon the foundation that they laid. Because of their work the Church as it is manifested in Kenya is strong enough to exist on its own, yet also know where it needs help from other parts of the Body.

Being called by the Kenyan Church allows us to have a very different relationship with those we are going to work with. We can come as learners, benefitting from the spiritual fervor of the Believers who grew out of the East African Revival. We can work alongside the Kenyans to develop a truly Kenyan ministry rather than imposing ministry ideas from above and outside their context. We can come asking where we can help rather than telling how we will help. This is not to say that the fact that we were called necessarily means we will come with this attitude. Nor does it mean that all those who were sent came with the contrasting attitude. In many cases, quite the opposite is true. However, being called by the host country starts off the relationship on a much more equal footing. It lays the groundwork for partnership. It does not insure that a healthy, mutually beneficial partnership will exist between host and missionary, but it does open the door much wider. We pray that we will walk through that door with humility. That we will learn from the successes and failures of those who have gone before us. That he will use us alongside our Kenyan brothers and sisters to further his Kingdom.
Posted by Scott

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Every ending is the start of a new beginning

I am too cluttered to take in anymore information, my brain is cloudy and I must welcome the rains that will clear the sky.
I mostly feel shaky now and I don't if it is because I almost vomited during the descent or because I just said goodbye to my family. I'm perched on a stool in Caribou Coffee in a terminal in Denver International Airport waiting for Scott's plane to descend. I haven't cried yet, the tears jump up in little spurts but in the name of decency I cap them. I was the last stand by passenger to get on the plane, so I spent most of the flight on the tip of my seat being thankful and in stunted disbelief that I was actually in the air.
Ever since we found out that we were moving to Nairobi I feel like I'm having an out-of-body experience. As if I've been lifted out of myself and was watching my life as a bystander. This weekend was no different; I'm not sure I had an emotion for four days straight. During conversations my mind get kept running loops over what still remained to be done for our departure. Paperwork, visas, health insurance, shopping, stress, packing....Maybe that was my way of coping. My way of dealing questions that needed so much background information that I didn't know where to start, my way of assuaging my family's fears, or my way of explaining and not really explaining why we are leaving. Mostly I didn't even realize that Scott and I were going to California to say goodbye until the last moment when we were getting in the car to drive to the airport and my mother-in-law said through choked tears, 'I know how hard it is to say goodbye.' How dissasociated am I that I didn't even realize that was what was happing.
This weekend culminated in being with my well-traveled friends from college. Three of whom have connections to Kenya or have been to Africa or have lived overseas. I could relax with these that have seen Africa, let down my excuses, my desire to pretend that I have all the answers. I could admit I'm scared, that I don't know, that I don't have all the answers (lest people begin to think that since I have negative emotions that I should not go). That I may not be safe or okay all the time, but that I am in God's hands and even if I'm mugged there are things that no man can take from me. Friends whom I have had to hold onto loosely because our lives have taken me away fromt them. Relationships that will remain precious for the rest of our lives. I have taken deep joyful breathes watching us all end up in love with our own personal Adonises. Men who cherish our foibles and perfections. Men who share our dreams. Even though those dreams are no more than amorphous clouds.
We get together and initially ask mundane questions and then stare at each other knowing there is so much more. Not remembering if they have a job or not but wanting to know if their heart is aching or happy. So far I think we're either happy or on the mend.
I haven't cried yet, when Joy left the rental car shuttle for her terminal I let a few tears fall. Sitting here I'm still numb and in shock, that may be owed to the busy-ness of the weekend. We jostled from one social engagement to the next family home to the next county in Southern California I was too distracted by the landscape or surreality of a return 'home' to cry. 'Has the sky always been that smoggy?' 'Could I ever live here again?' 'Would life ever bring me back here to stay?'
In between my longings for the ocean and my confusion over 'home' I never really stopped to notice what was happening until I hugged my father. Still didn't cry. I know I will see all these people again. Potentially the same amount of time will pass in between the next time and the last time.

* * *

I'm sitting here waiting for Scott to get back from backpacking in Wyoming with several friends. The ache and the anticipation is tangible. How is this that you fall in love with someone and can literally spend all your time with them? You feel whole before you ever met this person and then you meet them and they leave for a weekend and you feel like part of you is missing?
I didn't cry until Johnson's Village, the truck stop right before our town, and then I cried. Big, fat, rolling tears. Scott was holding my hand and said, 'It's good to cry,' but I know that. Crying is honoring the people you are leaving, your tears say that you love them and will miss them. I found those tears to be cleansing.
This week brought two large harbingers of international movement. We sold my car, my first car that I have ever owned. After handing over the car I said to Scott, 'I feel weird,' because that was the first visible sign that we're going. The other sign was the purchase of our tickets, audible cheer! We've whittled away at our to do list and are now left with a few little shopping items and some paperwork. Oh, and we have to pack. Just a small task, really.