Archive - March, 2009

Week 29 Rachel’s Post: An Obama Nation

One of my best friends, Rachel, just finished visiting me and I asked if I could share her thoughts on her visit to Kenya, so here they are…

Jambo from Kenya!

It has been wonderful to experience Robert’s life here. He is volunteering through the Presbyterian Church with a program called the Young Adult Volunteers.  These YAV’s spend one year in a foreign country doing Presbyterian missions.  He has been placed at African Evangelistic Enterprise, overseeing a group called the Foxfires, who recently graduated from high school and were chosen to present to African youth in schools about issues of self-esteem, sex, and growing up.  I have been able to follow him to two schools where he coaches basketball outdoors, and visit ByGrace Orphanage, where he teaches computer classes for kids ages 5-15.  Children in Kenya are placed in orphanages if one parent dies or a family is no longer able to care for the child.  Many orphans still have one living parent. The orphanage experience does not seem to be a traumatic one.  Most Kenyan children are placed in boarding school at an early age, and the orphanage experience is not unlike a child at boarding school.  Each child that lives at the orphanage is fed, cared for, clothed, and has a “foster family” who they stay with during school breaks.  They are very tightly-knit and always look out for each other like a family.  We practiced using the mouse and worked on typing skills for the computer.  There were 3 children per computer, and they were incredibly patient with each other, always helping and waiting for their turn.  I could not help but think about American children with their own personal computers, often not sharing like I witnessed here.

Robert coaching Girl’s Basketball team:
Basketball

Kenya has always been a very tribal culture.  They place great emphasis on education, and even in poverty-stricken areas, children are sent to school.  Most Kenyans speak at least three languages: Swahili, their mother tongue, and English.  The official Kenyan languages are English and Swahili, making travel here very tourist-friendly.  There are approximately 42 different tribal groups and therefore 42 different mother tongues, mainly comprised of Luo, Luhya, and Kikuyu. The country has recently experienced a surge of nationalistic pride from our election of Barack Obama.  Obama’s father was born in Kenya, and his grandmother still lives here.  Kenyans proudly claim Obama as their own and wear shirts, hang posters, and even declared a national holiday in honor of Obama’s Kenyan roots.

Kenya is most well-known for their wildlife and safari expeditions.  Robert and I visited an Animal Orphanage, where illegally transported animals were intercepted and are now cared for. We also visited the Langata Giraffe Center, and were able to feed and “kiss” Daisy the giraffe. The diversity and quantity of animals here is incredible.  On my drive from the airport, I spotted a baboon family sprinting down the side of the highway.

Daisy from a distance:
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Rachel and Robert with Daisy:
Daisy

Rachel kissing Daisy:
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Robert kissing Daisy:
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Rachel with a cheetah at Animal Orphanage:
Cheetah

Robert with a cheetah at Animal Orphanage:
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Kenya has been a delight to visit.  Strangely, I feel more comfortable here than I did in Egypt.  Though my skin tone makes me stand out more as a mzungu (white person), the hospitality extended to me here has been incredible.  The first question I receive is if this is my first trip to Africa.  The second question is why I cannot stay longer.  “We are so glad you have finally come”.  Opinion is relationship-based, so Kenyans opinion of Robert is automatically transferred to me.  Since they think very highly of him, I am automatically in their favor.  The hospitality is amazing.  The only complaints I hear are about why I must return to the states…from people who do not even know me.

I leave Kenya tonight. Asante sana for being on this journey with me.

Kesho,

Rachel


Week 29 Rachel’s Post: Out of Africa

I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong hills…up in this high air you breathed easily …you woke up in the morning and thought, “Here I am, where I ought to be”.

-Isak Dinesen


Karen Blixen wrote Out of Africa as a memoir about her life in Kenya.  She wrote the novel under the pen name Isak Dinesen.  The book was made into the Oscar-winning film starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in 1985.  In real life, Blixen’s life was plagued with tragedy and adventure.  She was born in Denmark in 1885 to a wealthy bourgeois family and married her second cousin, Baron Bror von Blixen.  They they moved to Africa in 1914 to start a coffee plantation.  The marriage did not work out, and the couple separated and eventually divorced. Von Blixen was unfaithful to Karen and also gave her syphilis.  Her life continued to be an adventure in Africa as she entertained aristocratic friends, wrote fiction novels, managed the farm, and had a prolonged affair with playboy and safari guide, Denys Finch Hatton.  Finch-Hatton tragically died in an airplane accident in 1931.  Isak left Africa this year, after an economic crash affected the price of coffee.  She died in 1962 on her family estate in Denmark at the age of 77 from malnutrition. 

This week I am staying in the neighborhood of Karen, named after the author, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.  Karen is a suburb of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.  We visited Karen Blixen’s home today, which has been converted into a museum.  It features the phonograph, lion skin rugs, china, and ornately carved wooden chests seen in the movie, all of which are rarities in Kenya.
Karen Blixen Museum:

The landscape is a rust colored dust that infiltrates socks and shoes, despite my best efforts to avoid it.  Brilliant flowers grow naturally here.  Vendors sell fresh bananas, papayas, and guavas on the side of the road.  It is easy to breathe here.  The air is clean and fresh, and the weather hovers between 70 and 78 degrees every day. 

It is easy to agree with Blixen.  I wake up every morning and think, “This is where I am meant to be today”.

Rachel

Week 28: Chester the Cheetah

Preface to “Chester the cheetah:” First, there are now 3 Foxies: Steve, Sam, and Belah.  Second, to understand this story it is important to know that every house, apartment complex, and compound in Nairobi is fenced in with multiple guards, some are 24/7 while others are just night guards.  AEE has 2 who are here just during the night.  They are very friendly, but do not speak much English.  Since the new Foxies are here they have been talking with the guards every night.  Thus concludes thy preface.

This week Steve, the joyful joking Foxie, was talking to me at dinner and said out of the blue, “the guards told me that there is a cheetah that keeps coming on the compound at night.”  I dismissed this comment as Steve trying to joke with the foreigner and a joke that I would likely pull on him given the opportunity.  Welp, the joke didn’t last too long because the next day a truck came with a big ole cheetah trap and put it in the opposite corner of the compound from our Quonset hut.

Cheetah Trap with me on top:
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Cheetah Bait:
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So, there is a cheetah who visits our compound sometimes at night now.  I have lovingly named him “Chester” and the foxies and I keep joking about if anyone has met Chester.

As I mentioned above the cage is in the opposite corner of the compound from where I live which gave me some comfort.  Welp, that changed, I walked into the kitchen one day and asked Wanyama something about the cage, he got upset and said that the cage delivery people had put it in the wrong place because it was supposed to go in the opposite corner right by my room because that’s where the guards said Chester keeps coming in and out of the compound.  Good-bye comfort.

In closing, please don’t be alarmed.  I am quite safe being too big and loud to be considered food or a fun chase by a cheetah.  However, I must admit that I’m not used to hearing that there is a chetah hanging out where I live.

Week 27: Basketball and Computers

Basketball

I’ve started coaching the St. Hannah’s Boys basketball team every Tuesday for an hour and a half.

St. Hannah’s Boys Basketball Team
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I was a bit hesitant at first because coaching a team is a pretty big commitment and I am only available to be with them once a week, but I caved.  So, after only practicing with them twice they asked me to accompany them on Saturday to another school to coach them in a game.  I have never coached a basketball team before, but I have been impressed by how much I remember from my years of being coached.  I really like coaching basketball!

Saturday, we drove to the other side of Nairobi to a National high school.  Without any prior knowledge, I discovered this team was Kenya’s national championship high school basketball team.  St. Hannah’s had never been coached before besides the two practices I led.  Therefore, we played a long game which resulted in us losing 124-14.  After the first minute of the game, they forgot everything I taught them in our 2 practices.  Furthermore, I found out after the game that this was the first basketball game that St. Hannah’s had ever played against another school.  The teachers said that if I hadn’t been there to coach them then they would have lost 200-0.  Playing against the best high school team in Kenya probably wasn’t the best starting point, but now we know what level the best in Kenya play at and I think the team realizes how important it is for us to get the basics down.

After the game, the other team was a bit cocky…obviously.  Therefore, I decided to walk over to their bench and challenge the other team’s coach to a game of 1 on 1 in front of his team with the agreement that whoever won would get 100 points for there team.  I beat him and I think the team felt a little bit better.  I was very proud of the St. Hannah’s team for playing very hard throughout the entire game and not getting upset after a long game.  124-14 is a pretty good whooping.

At practice this week they were more focused than our first two practices.  However, as I was teaching them new drills it was really hard for them to get them down.  We’re starting with the basics which are difficult when it is your first time to experience them, so I look forward to working with them through July and seeing how far they progress.

Computers

On Mondays, I journey to ByGrace Orphanage and School for most of the day to teach computers.

Computer Class at ByGrace
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There are 15 students with 5 computers.  This was only our second class so we are still working on the basics.  This week we spent a majority of our time on typing correctly using a typing game that I downloaded and could only install on the 2 XP computers (the other 3 Win98 PCs don’t have USB ports so I spent some of my day in Ngong looking for a 3.5 inch floppy disk (never thought I would be seeking a 3.5 floppy again), but the game was too big for the floppy).

I had them all practice their typing skills for an hour on the 2 XP computers.  The game beeps whenever you push a key you’re not supposed to, so it was basically an hour long beep.  As I said with basketball basics, the basics are tough when you first learn them, but I have/had forgotten how tough it is/was to learn the basics because it was so long ago for me.  I am excited about continuing to work with the kiddos and to also see how far they have progressed through July.

I really enjoy being able to share so many of my gifts throughout the week.  I am a preacher, Bible Study leader, high school teacher, middle school teacher, guitar/music teacher, computer teacher, and basketball coach.  That’s a pretty good resume and I’m not sure where else I would be able to use such an array of gifts.

Week 26: March B-days, Benjamin Button, and Mid-West Connection

Sunday night we had a birthday gathering because 3 people from our group were born in March.  We had Nyoma Choma (BBQ) that was brought around on sword dealies.  It was good.  I ate a lot and we had really good dessert after as well.  Since my usual diet consists of mainly rice, it was a change.  They had a show after dinner with dancers and acrobats.  The acrobats were crazy cool.  They stacked each other 4 people high and swallowed fire…you know, the usual.  I was a bit concerned the entire time the acrobats were out being a person who has compound fractured his right tib/fib, so I enjoyed it while saying a silent prayer.

Monday night I saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which I thoroughly enjoyed.  I had been told that I should go and see it, but had no idea what it was about so it was a delightful surprise that I really enjoyed it.  I forgot that I was in Kenya during the movie and thought I was back in the States…funny feeling.  It is based in New Orleans which brought back memories of my visits there.  One of my best friends, Brad Willis, and I drove through New Orleans on our way home from visiting his sister in Florida in the summer of 2002.  Then after Katrina I returned to participate in a project called RHINO (Rebuilding Hope in New Orleans) which gave me another perspective of New Orleans.  Later, I was on a planning committee for a big interdenominational conference in New Orleans so I flew there and spent the weekend in New Orleans 3 times over a year a half with the Presbyterian Church paying for my food so I sampled Mother’s, The Red Fish, and some other New Orleans’ goodies.  It was interesting how many memories were flushed out and the connection I had with a city half way around the world.

Last Friday, I was at Dorman’s Coffee Shop which has become my usual Friday routine (they have really fast internet, comparatively).  Any who, 2 wazungu walked in and one had an Oklahoma State University hat on.  Therefore, I asked if he went to Oklahoma State and it turned out that one was from Enid, OK and had gone to OSU and the other was born in Austin, TX, had gone to high school in Round Rock, TX, and then went to John Brown (where a lot of my high school friends went to college).  So, we hit it off and became best Kenya friends.  Being half way around the world together speeds up the process.  They had just arrived the day before and still had that washing and drying machine clothes smell.  They have come to work at an orphanage in the Thika on the other side of Nairobi.  We cracked a lot of movie jokes and other jokes that are mid-west US relevant.  It was amazing and very refreshing.

The next week I received a text message telling me to meet them at Dorman’s again and asking if they could come to AEE and spend 2 nights with me.  So, they did.  They are both my age and play guitar.  Mark is better than me and Nick is not.  So, Mark would teach me some theory and then I would teach it to Nick which helped me learn it more thoroughly.  It was fantastic to start playing a song and then have Mark join me on guitar and both of them singing along with the lyrics.  I didn’t realize how much I miss jamming out on songs that everyone in the circle knows.  Mark taught me more on guitar than I have learned in the past year in 2 days which is pretty amazing.  It was basically a lot of music theory that I knew an abridged version of, welp, not anymore.  So, that was my amazing mid-west connection.

Me, Mark, and Nick
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Me, Mark, and Nick again
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Friday, two new Foxies (Foxfires) came and moved in on the other side of the wall.  Steve is the tall, happy, singing one.  He reminds me of me when I was fresh out of high school.  Sam is reflective and very intellectual, but goofy and funny too.  They seem to get along with each other well and I like them.  It is unusual having roomies again.  I am excited they are here!