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Rachel’s Post: Traveling


I always forget.

I leave, bags brimming, ready to take in new information: prepared to absorb other cultures, explore new cities, and delight in multiple languages like a newborn.  That’s what it’s like: an expectant child crawling somewhere foreign, a little uncomfortable, and delightfully new.  I always think that the purpose of these travels is to learn about others; take in new places, geographies and history. But the truth is that I always come back knowing far more about myself than the country I’m visiting.

I learn so much while on the road. How I define “normal” or “weird”, and trying to remind myself that different isn’t bad-it’s just different.  The Norwegians love canned and pickled fish-at breakfast!  The Swedes have a knack for efficiency of design and space (a la IKEA). For some, bathing in a multi-purpose bathroom/laundry room is too crammed; for others it just makes sense.

We have been so generously helped this journey: Couchsurfer hosts who opened their homes, lives and refrigerators to us, and old friends we reconnected with along the way. Continue Reading…

Rachel’s Post: Fear Itself

When you stop living, you start letting them win.

Robert and I spent this week in Norway, and were on a train to the western coast yesterday, when a bomb went off in downtown Oslo.  A right-wing extremist attempted to kill the Norwegian Prime Minister, and shot a lot of youths at a Labour Party summer camp yesterday. It has been a shock to the entire nation of Norway, and people today are asking how such terrorism could happen.  They are a very peaceful country, and have not seen this extent of violence since World War II.

After a tragedy strikes, people have a tendency to stop living life and start living in fear. It’s the typical snail-shell effect:  something scary comes toward you and you shrink back into your safe place. It’s a natural reaction. What is not healthy is to stay inside that snail shell forever. Signs of fear like this have been posted for visitors to the city: Continue Reading…

Rachel’s Post: The Greatest Ship: A Mostly True Story

I will tell you a story.  It’s a true story and it happened a long, long time ago.

The story starts on the coast of Sweden, in the capital called Stockholm.  At the time, the country was ruled by a ferocious and powerful king named Gustavus Adolphus. Because of his reputation, he went by “The Lion of the North” for short.  Gustav had a hankering to rule the world.  He was doing pretty well taking over Nordic countries like Norway and Denmark until 1628, when he made one fateful mistake.  Gustavo had been so successful in the past building up naval fleets, taking over small countries and kicking dogs, that he decided over herring and vodka at dinner to build a mighty boat.

This wasn’t going to be a small fishing charter, or even a pleasure cruise for eating mackerel buffets.  This was going to be the largest and most powerful ship ever built.  It would defy God by having not one, but two cannon decks on board.  He designed it himself, then expertly delegated the construction to some guys who had the word, “Viking” on their resume.  The mighty ship was assembled exactly according to the design.  Gustavo named it the “Vasa” which means something like “really oversized wooden donkey” in Swedish.

Finally the day to set sail had come.  Gustav could hardly sleep the night before, because he was so excited to take over the world in his sailing donkey.  Of course, he would stay at home during the conquest and let his minions actually do the “taking over the world” part.  When they returned victorious, he would take all the credit. Continue Reading…

Rachel’s Post: Safe & Sound in Stockholm

Everything you already know about Sweden is true.

Yes, everyone really is blonde (and beautiful).

Yes, all furniture is made at IKEA.
Yes, they really do offer Swedish meatballs in every restaurant.

We arrived in Stockholm after 15 hours of travel. My body is violently rejecting the notion that it has been hurtled forward through multiple timezones. Just add 7 hours to your current time, and youll find us, living in the future.

We are staying at a hostel, built in 1747, on the island neighborhood of Gamla Stan, where “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” series takes place. Stockholm is actually a series of 14 islands, connected by bridges. Each island has it’s own unique flavor (Imagine Central Park, Brooklyn, Edinburgh, and Tokyo all in one city). Continue Reading…

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:

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:

Rachel and Robert with Daisy:

Rachel kissing Daisy:

Robert kissing Daisy:

Rachel with a cheetah at Animal Orphanage:

Robert with a cheetah at Animal Orphanage:

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.



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