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Week 45: Rafting the Nile in Uganda

Our YAV year is winding down and so it was time for our closing retreat.  Ideas and thoughts had bounced around for quite some time, but it was eventually decided that we would go to Jinja, Uganda to raft the source of the Nile.  So, the seven of us hopped in a bus for twelve hours and found ourselves doing just that the next morning.

The Seven Kenya YAVs before:
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I had crossed over the Nile during my visit to Kampala, Uganda with Cosmas in December and was awe struck by it.  Then in Cairo in January I crossed the Nile more times than I could count, but I had never been “in” the Nile so I was excited for the opportunity.  You only live once.

Our group of seven has grown accustom to being told what to do and then doing it without question which made for good Nile rafters.  I was very happy that everyone was willing and able to participate.  We found our helmets and life jackets and headed down the Nile with our Ugandan guide, Jeff.  Our favorite quote that Jeff kept repeating was, “And just enjoy the Nile.”  It was what he said previous to that statement that made it funny.  Jeff would say, “When you find that the raft has flipped and you’re under it, reach around, find the sides of the raft, pull yourself out, lean back, grab onto your life jacket, and just enjoy the Nile.”  Awesome.

We flipped collectively, as a raft, twice, but individually we found ways to make our way out of the raft as well.  We went down eight big rapids that were all class four and class five.  Class five is the highest level that rafts can go on, but the classes go up to seven which only kayaks can go down.

As I said, we’ve become very good at taking orders and following them which resulted in some really entertaining bo-jazz.  Story number one, Jeff would say wave at the camera and we would all turn and wave to the camera not realizing that the camera’s presence meant that we were getting ready to go down something that was worthy of being photographed.  Therefore, after Jeff would tell us to wave, a second later he would say, “Get down!” which means that you turn back to back bending down in the raft while holding onto the rope for dear life… “and then just enjoy the Nile.”

This is what happened:
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Story number two, Jeff would tell us to paddle hard and so we would… not asking what we were paddling to.  Turns out one time we were paddling toward a waterfall, so if we paddled hard we would get to go down a waterfall and if we didn’t rapids.  We paddled hard because we were told to do so and were the only group out of the three to go down the waterfall… backwards.  Awesome.

Going down the waterfall backwards:
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Flip Number Two
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I spliced together a very short video from our rafting experience:

This was my favorite touristy thing that I’ve done in Africa so far.  I’m a very outdoors adventure kind of person.  I think being with my six good friends for the last time in Africa made it even better.  As Dave Matthews says, “Turns out not where, but who you’re with that really matters,” however, I would argue that where you are can definitely add to the experience as it did in this case.

To view all of the photos click here.

Seven Rapids and One Waterfall later we decided to just enjoy the Nile:
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Week 44: Lodwar Pictures, Fourth of July, and the Ride Home

The Long Bumpy Beautiful Road to Lodwar:
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AEE’s Male Accommodations (I read two books sitting on that amazing front porch):
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Trash Pick-Up Our First Saturday (Read Week 43):
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Trash Burning (read Week 43):
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Lunch Everyday – Beans, Potatoes, and Cabbage – Napenda cabbage! (I like cabbage!)
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I went to ten schools in Lodwar to teach Discipline, Time Management, and talk about Jesus.  Only one of the schools had an indoor room big enough to hold all of the students.  At the other schools, all of the students would gather together in one big group outside and then the head teacher would assign each class a tree to go sit under and that is where we had our classes.  I really enjoyed teaching in the schools (as I always do) and found the Lodwar students were more attentive than my students in Nairobi (probably because it was one class and they are in the middle of nowhere and not used to visitors).

Leading Music at Lodwar Primary School:
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Leading a Discussion about being Disciplined in Time Management:
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Talking about Discipline and Time Management with John translating for me:
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Traditional Turkana Female Dress – the rural women all wore beautiful beads that covered their entire necks:
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My 4th of July was very nice and relaxing.  I finished reading The Winter of our Discontent by John Steinbeck which I thoroughly enjoyed after finishing The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho the day before which I also really enjoyed and found as a very motivational read.  In the afternoon, I went to a large open air rally in Lodwar.  Afterwards, I headed back to where Clara the Oklahoman had been staying for dinner.  It was beautiful out as the sky was pitch dark and the company was extremely pleasant.  After eating, Clara and I blessed our host with an interesting rendition of the Star Spangled Banner with my firework sound effects rounding off our beautiful voices.  There isn’t any power where we were and people live very close together so they got to hear our national anthem.  Then our host sang us the Kenyan national anthem and some Jesus songs in Turkana.  It was a very pleasant evening.

4th of July with Clara’s host family in Lodwar:
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What it’s like for me when I sit down anywhere public in Lodwar:
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Clara and me in front of Mzungu Super Traders:
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Clara and me in front of Mzungu Super Traders: (note my Maasai and Turkana little stool that I bought, all the men carry one and a staff)
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William Muchiri (my AEE boss) and me:
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Our second Sunday eventually came and it was time for us to leave.  We had a final open air meeting scheduled Sunday afternoon, but there were some demonstrations in town and it was canceled.  So, at 7:30 PM our two buses left for Nairobi, one bus was a church bus and the other was a big charter bus.  Needless to say, the charter bus charged through the night and made it to Nairobi at 11 AM the next morning.  However, the good ole church bus I was on was a lot slower in all possible ways and didn’t arrive back to Nairobi until around 5 PM.  So, I was a bit tuckered out, but there was no time to rest because I was supposed to be on another bus by 6:45 AM the next morning to Uganda.  I repacked at AEE, took a cab two hours later to Westlands, fell asleep, woke up and hopped on another bus for a 12 hour ride.  Yeehaw!

Crossing the Equator in the bus:
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Week 43: The Bus Ride, MJ and the Oklahoman, and Lodwar

Thursday

The bus was supposed to pick us up at 4 PM, but I knew better. So I first packed all of my belongings meticulously because I knew I would have time for e-mails and blogging as I waited for the bus to come. I had plenty of time, but you never know how much. This time I got more than I expected with the bus not picking us until 10 PM. I even had time for a nap.

The church bus was a little bit shorter than a charter bus. The AEE team boarded with the bus already over three quarters full of people from earlier pick ups. I was able to get a seat in the front right next to the door, while all the Foxies piled into the very back seat happily because they thought they were lucky to be sitting together. I walked to the back of the bus and told them, “You don’t want to sit there, believe me.” They gave me the crazy mzungu look and ignored my warning. We drove all through the night and I didn’t sleep very well. However, I was very thankful for the 10 Gig iPod that my good friend, Brian Dees, had given me before I left and for the replacement battery that my dad had bought and brought me during their visit in December.

A big difference between the States and Africa (at least what I’ve seen in Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, and Botswana) is that the buses enjoy to play Christian music videos or music rather loudly throughout the night and all through the day. Furthermore, it is usually the same CD or video of songs over and over for the duration of the ride. The first time I experienced this in Zambia I was left dumbfounded because I couldn’t get a wink of sleep. I’ve adapted somewhat so I can get a little sleep now, but usually when the CD or video starts over for the umpteenth time I pray for patience.

It was the most beautiful scenery I have seen in Kenya yet as the sun rose with the clouds lying low so that the hills covered in trees poked out from the clouds as we looked down into the valleys. As our elevation descended, the scenery continuously changed from forest to mountains to desert. I wish that a camera was able to capture what the eye can, but it will never be able to capture the smells, the feeling of adventure, and all of the other emotions that accompany such a journey. About half way, the roads changed from paved to half paved half dirt. This is when the fun starts. At some points there are big holes that send you flying, while at other places there are tons of little holes that bounce you so quickly that your voice quivers with the pumps when you speak. As the journey continued, I looked back occasionally and I chuckled when I turned to see one of the Foxies sitting a few seats behind me now. Eventually, all of the Foxies would make their way toward the front of the bus. It took us 24.5 hours to make it to Lodwar and I was very happy to be off the bus and on solid ground. I texted my family about my endeavors and about how I was so happy to finally have a bed in which to sleep, I sighed as I sat down on my bed. When I laid down was when I realized that my bed and I did not agree on how long it should be. Luckily, I was really tired.

Friday

Friday morning we woke up lazily and everyone felt like they had been riding in a bus for 24.5 hours because they had. I wasn’t in the best mood already. Before we left Nairobi, I had taken the time to boil and filter 10 liters of water for the trip. I drank two liters on the way, but when I went to fill up my empty water bottles that morning I noticed that the 10 liter bottle was full again. “Oh no,” I thought. One of the AEE staff members had selflessly filled up my water with his tap water he had brought from Nairobi not realizing that doing so would make my 10 liters unsafe for me to drink. I couldn’t be mad at this selfless act, but I was still thirsty.

It was then I noticed I had missed several calls from Shelvis and Henry, the other male YAVs back in Nairobi. Shelvis’ number popped up first, so I called him back. I thought they were going to tell me about the dinner all the YAVs had the night before and that they had missed me. So, I was quite shocked when Shelvis answered and said, “Dude, Michael Jackson has been found dead at the age of 50 in LA.” He paused for five seconds and said, “Dude!” repeatedly. One of my favorite musicians had died which compounded my grumpy state. Michael Jackson. I remember watching his music videos when I was little (and grown) and being amazed at his dance moves and music. I remember the first time I saw “Smooth Criminal” and the dancers and him doing the amazing gravity defying lean. To this day, when nobody is looking I still try to see how far I can lean before I fall over (I know they were bolted to the ground, but still that’s cool). So, I was 24.5 hours away from Nairobi and people that understood what Michael Jackson dying meant, not cool… not good.

The day went on, as they do, and after our opening worship service I noticed another mzungu (white person). She was behind the bus talking with someone so I waited off to the side so I could introduce myself and see where she was from. As I waited, I began talking with a group who I eventually learned the mzungu was with. They told me she was from the States as she rounded the corner. She looked up and what I saw surprised me, a familiar face. She looked at me and said, “Robert?” to which I responded, “Clara?” It turns out that the mzungu was my friend Clara who I knew from Dwight Mission when I was on staff and she was a camper. We continued to freak out for the next several minutes not believing that we had randomly run into each other 5,000 miles away from our homes in Oklahoma in Kenya, but not just Kenya, Lodwar. Lodwar is the only big city in Northern Kenya and takes a 24.5 hour bus ride to get to. So, we were quite dumbfounded. My day improved tremendously because of her presence. She had only been in Kenya for a week so I was glad that she now had someone to talk to who understood where she was coming from… Oklahoma.

Saturday

Why are we in Lodwar? African Evangelistic Enterprise (AEE) has one big mission trip a year which the entire staff goes on for two weeks. Along with AEE, we invite churches to come along and assist us in our trip. We have around 150 people with ten of us from AEE and other 140 from other churches, a pretty impressive number. While in Lodwar, we are sending people to preach in every church on Sunday mornings, we are going door to door for ministry, having open air meetings every night (where you set up speakers and a mic and have a worship service in the middle of town in the open air), school ministry (which is what I’m doing where we’re talking about disciple and time management), and classes for leaders, cab drivers, unwed mothers, prisoners, and so on and so forth. As you can tell, this is a pretty serious and broad mission trip. I have been impressed by all of the different ways that AEE has prepared for us to meet with all of the different people of Lodwar.

Saturday was different because we were to clean Lodwar. We broke the group up into teams of ten and each group took a street which we walked up and down picking up trash and burning it. I was told afterwards that it was quite the unusual site to see a mzungu picking up trash as many people in the town sat in front of their stores (as they do every day) and watched me. Cosmas has taught me well, so I whistled while I worked which led to some of the people calling me the whistling mzungu. A majority of what we burned was plastic bottles and paper and I found myself contemplating how thankful I am for the recycling programs we have back in the States and reflecting upon the amount of infrastructure it takes for them to exist.

Lodwar has a much different climate than Nairobi. Nairobi has perfect weather almost every day where it is not too hot or too cold. Lodwar is just like Oklahoma or Texas on a good summer day where the temperatures are in the 90s and hover around the 100s. However, there is not air conditioning which changes the rules a bit. The Nairobians are not too happy about these new found temperatures and were commenting about how terribly hot it was in Lodwar weeks before we left. Clara and I feel like we’re at home though.
Saturday afternoon I was told that I was going to preach the next morning in one of the churches. I like to have at least a week’s warning before I preach, but luckily I had my post it note sermons along for the ride.
Sunday

I woke up early so I could get to the meeting point for everyone ahead of schedule. I had not met the pastor or been to the church they had asked me to preach at yet, so I wanted to have plenty of time to find the church and meet the pastor. I got there around 9 AM with only ten adults there and lots of area children (one of whom had on the brilliant shirt, “New Jersey: Only the strong survive). However, over the next hour and forty five minutes the church filled with around 60 people. Then I was up, I preached and it was translated into Turkana (the local tribe’s language), and I played and sang a song on the guitar. All in all, I preached for an hour and fifteen minutes with songs. New record! Afterwards, the pastor of the church told me that I preach nice and long like an African which I took as a compliment. I also got the compliment that I preached “long and blazing; although, I thought that the person said, “long and lazy” to which I wasn’t sure how to respond, but then he repeated himself. I was tired afterwards and had the rest of the day to rest (get it?).

Monday and Tuesday

Mzungus are much rarer here and wherever I go I am asked “How are you?” by the children, while the older people come up and want to shake my hand or approach me with a pitiful look and rub their stomachs out of hunger. My presence is very distracting wherever I go so I don’t go to the open air meetings because it would turn into everybody looking at me instead of focusing on the preacher. When I sit down where other people can see me a large crowd of children develops. It is very tiring. Lodwar is located in the second poorest district in Kenya and around the church we are using as our base, there is a group of about 20 children who mostly don’t have parents or homes. During lunch time when the 150 people are served, people give their extras the kids and they all fight over it, spilling the food, and then eating it from the ground. It is a very humbling and sad reality. Furthermore, there are some children who have wounds and are bleeding. I want to take them, clean up their wounds, and care for all of them. This year for me is about being present and not fixing.

Lodwar is also the closest large city to Sudan and Ethiopia, so I have seen every humanitarian organization’s vehicles driving around town, World Vision, Oxfam, a Belgian one I’ve never heard of, and more UN vehicles than I saw at the UN in New York.

Every day of the week, I am going to different schools in the Lodwar area to teach classes. I have taught at four schools so far and all of the classes have gone well. They listen very attentively because of my accent and color. The students have been very respectful and a joy with whom to work.

The Turkana tribe is known for the women wearing hundreds of beautiful beads that cover their entire neck (beads from their shoulders to the chin) and the men are known for each one caring a staff and a little tiny seat (so they don’t have to sit on the burning sand). I look forward to posting pictures when I return next week.

Week 42: Leaving on an Overnight Bus, don’t know when I’ll have Internet Access again

Howdy!

I’m getting ready to board an overnight bus for a rather long journey to the boonies of Kenya for two weeks.  Therefore, I will not be sleeping well tonight and most likely be flying through the air a lot.  Cosmas sent me a text this morning reminding me not to sit in the very back.  It also means that I am going to be Mr. Stick Out Like a White 6’5 Sore Thumb for the next two weeks.  Hukuna shida (No problem), but I would appreciate thoughts and prayers over the next two weeks, especially for the above mentioned bo-jazz.  I like sleep and although I don’t mind sticking out usually, after a week or so it starts to become more challenging.  So yep, also please remember to keep the entire African Evangelistic Enterprise staff in your thoughts and prayers as well during the next two weeks.

I am excited and believe this may be my most interesting trip in Africa yet.  We shall see.  Apparently, we are staying in Maasai huts with people in the area so that will be very nice.  I have taken all that I have learned from my many trips this year and hopefully packed intelligently.  (Good thing I typed that because I just remembered I need sunscreen where I’m going, thanks blog!)  Yeah, scratch that intelligent part…

I will hopefully be able to find an internet cafe so I can update you all, but probably no pictures until I’m back in Nairobi.  Please continue to write me e-mails and comment on the blog.  It is always nice when I return from a trip to have a full inbox and comments.  See you on the… internets.

Week 42: Julie’s Visit & Mouse

My good friend, Julie, is in Nairobi with ten people from Austin working in Kibera for a few weeks.  I was lucky enough to spend a good portion of the day with her team and play Chicken Feet (a dominoe’s game), getting in some good States time where I could reference movies, music, TV shows, and Austinite bo-jazz and they all understood me.  It wasn’t as badly needed as previously because I’m just back in Kenya, but it was still nice.

Today, Julie made her way out to Karen and was able to see where I live and work.  Sometimes I forget how incredibly beautiful and peaceful it is out where I live compared to in the city.

Julie and me in front of the Quonset Hut:
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Mouse

We have a new friend in the Quonset Hut. (I haven’t named her yet for fear of becoming attached) Before I left for my trip home, she had visited and starting eating a chocolate bar I had kept from Israel.  That was that and no more problems.  However, when I returned last week, I saw the little cridder climbing on top of my blinds, and she was cute… I thought at the time.  Then the next day as I was lying in bed, I felt something crawl over me which caused me to throw my covers off and she went flying.  No problems from her for a while, but today when I woke up the cookies which Josh and Laura had made me and put in a zip lock bag were gone.  Luckily, I had eaten most of them and only two or three were left.  She left crumbs all over my little desk though… eats my food and doesn’t clean up after herself!  I thought that was that, but as I picked up my bread today to make a PB&J it was revealed that she had also taken a bite out of every slice.  So, I’ve moved my chocolate collection and other valuable food to a secure location which I can’t mention because she’s probably reading over my shoulder right now…

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