Dressed for Success

There’s a perfectly rational explanation why I’m walking down a busy Houston street on Father’s Day with green Mickey Mouse socks and a bright yellow acrylic purse with bananas on it.

When I woke up Sunday morning, the wifely one was already up. Insomnia, you see. So at 8:00am she finally went to sleep. I decided it was a good idea not to wake her up for church at 8:15am. I’m smart that way. I did, however, have to sneak in the room and select socks for church, and in the dark I just grabbed 3 pairs.

Two were brown socks, and my brown shoes were back in the bedroom. I ruled out making a second trip in there. The third pair were my novelty socks, black with Mickey Mouse on them, and for some reason he has green ears, to stand out against the black background, I suppose. Under the circumstances, they’ll do.

I park off-campus like a good member, saving the choice parking spots near the church for visitors. I ride the bus to church.

While I’m at church, I’m conscious of my fashion choice every time I cross my legs and my socks show. I force myself to keep my feet on the floor.

At bible study, a friend Paul has repaired the wife’s acrylic purse and reattached the handle. It’s a bright yellow rectangular box purse with bananas on it. Can’t miss it. Where’s the wife? I explain the insomnia, Paul asks me to deliver the purse. No problem.

Lunch with the bible class is at Jane’s Grill, 2nd floor inside the church. Yes, we have a restaurant inside the church, it’s a big church. I ask Acie for a ride back to my car later since the buses stop running at 1:00p.m.. We eat. We visit. Acie gets a phone call that he’s late for choir practice and excuses himself.

And I’m alone in Jane’s Grill. Now I have to walk back to the parking garage, along a busy street, with bright green Mickey Mouse socks and holding a bright yellow banana purse. I keep my eyes straight ahead and hope nobody honks at me.

My fashion choice is nobody’s business but mine, thankyouverymuch.

Kenya Mission, Day 7

January 2, 2006

Today’s Swahili phrase: hakuna matada, which means “Disney marketing phrase.” No wait, it means “no worries.”

I’ve received a lot of encouragement to continue this series – we’re about halfway through – but this next day was a very important day, full of eye-opening experiences, and frankly, just hard to get a grasp on everything that happened and put it into words. I probably started and stopped this post a half-dozen times in the last month, and I think you’ll see by the end why it took so long. While bathing the orphan children was a revealing experience 2 days ago, today really impressed upon us the great need and problems of the people of Kenya.

Sister FredaToday we went to visit Sister Freda and her hospital, and I met one of this planet’s finest women. Sister Freda runs a hospital near Kitale, Kenya, as well as an orphanage and a school. She told us that only 2 of every hundred patients can afford to pay, so she provides most of the care for free and operates entirely on faith. We had come to serve Sister Freda for the day, but she waited on us hand and foot and humbled us by showing us what a real servant was like. Here is Sister Freda; click the thumbnail to get a full size view.

Sister Freda's HospitalSister Freda first gave us a tour of the hospital. In the US we’re used to gleaming stainless steel so the concrete building didn’t appear exactly state-of-the art, but it was very clean and sterile. Plenty of care was taken to keep things clean and neat. We met some of the patients. A woman with AIDS and malaria who had had an allergic reaction to the drug combination and who’s skin appeared to be disappearing; in her case, the rich black skin of a Kenya had turned an off-white color. We stopped to pray with her. We met a pregnant woman; pre-natal care is almost non-existent here, but this woman had stopped in for a checkup and some vitamins. We met a little girl with sickle cell anemia. Another young child, perhaps 2 years old, was asleep; her mother lived in the nearby forest and had carried her baby in a backpack for so long her legs were folded under and misshapen from the lack of use, and Sister Freda was providing the physical therapy to help her walk. The baby was taken from the mother by other villagers when the mother drowned her eight year old daughter.

Breakfast at Sister Freda'sSister Freda serves breakfast to the orphans Next, we went outside to visit the orphanage and school. In Kenya, they don’t have public schools funded by taxes like the United States; instead, each parent has to provide money to pay for their children’s education. The result is that many children from the poorest families and all orphans remain uneducated. Sister Freda not only has 30+ children she feeds and educates, but she’s been doing this such a long time that some of the earliest orphans have grown up and now work in her medical clinic. Here we visited the children while they were having breakfast.

The children of Sister Freda in schoolThe children of Sister Freda in schoolWhen breakfast was over, the children returned to the classrooms. I think there were three rooms, each about 20’x20′ with a door, a window, and a blackboard, and not enough chairs for the children. That didn’t seem to be a problem for them, though, as the children happily sat on each other when necessary. The children sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It” in English and were genuinely surprised that we knew the words, too.

Bananas from Sister Freda's orchardSister Freda presents fruit from her orchardSister Freda also has a fruit orchard and we toured the bananas, papayas, and avocados growing there. Many of the medicines prescribed are supposed to be taken with food, and for many of the patients food can be difficult to come by. Sister Freda solves that problem by growing her own food and cooking in her own kitchen. We were blessed by lunch with her as she served a meat stew with ugali and some of the most wonderful bread I’ve ever had called chapati, made by rolling whole wheat flour and salt into a circle, browning in a pan, then held briefly over an open flame to puff up.

Sister Freda was a fabulous host, and we found out the reason our day of service in the town of Mbasagan was cancelled was because of a funeral being held that day. On a moonless night, dark black men are hard to see, and such a recent night saw the murder of six people in town. Possibly in retaliation for a tribal disagreement, the six were murdered in their homes. We were reminded that we were far away from home and not necessarily as safe as we felt. Sister Freda instead served us lunch and presented each of us with a rungu, an African fighting stick. (I’ve tried to look this up on a web search, but the rungus I found don’t look like the ones we received. Ours look more like a samburu war club.)

Kenya girl carrying brown waterAfter lunch, we went to Mbasagan town to visit. When Mzungus like us visit, we cause a stir, and all the children turn out. The children are incredibly friendly and have none of that “stranger danger” has ever been taught to them. They walked right up along side and took our hand – those that were brave enough to come so close to a mzungu, that is. They ask for nothing but their needs are great. Some of the children would hold our hands for a while as we walked… then would also help us hold our water bottles. One by one we relinquished all of our water to the children, for we knew we could just get fresh water bottles later. What were the children drinking? The children save their bottles and walk to the river daily to refill it. Take a good look at the color of the water in this water bottle this young girl was carrying. How could we refuse? We only had maybe 6 or 8 bottles among us and there were two dozen children and I didn’t know how to choose, but that was my western materialism at play again. It didn’t matter which child we gave the water to, all the bottles ended up in the hands of a single, older girl. We were told once they had collected all the water, she’d divide it among the children fairly so they could all have a taste of fresh water.

One of the women we met showed us some maize that was at the foot of her house. It didn’t look like much, and it wasn’t. She told us that it was all she had to eat until October, but she wasn’t going to eat it. She was saving it for the rainy season to plant. She was an educated woman with a university education, and then married a local Mbasagan man. There was no opportunity to use her education and said matter-of-factly that this was just her lot in life. Her husband provided the living, carrying fruit from the market to the highway for about 35 shillings a day, about 50 cents. With that, they bought food daily. It was her job to collect firewood and water every day.

She told us of the needs of the town; many of the adults and children were dying of dysentery, cholera and malaria. The town shared a latrine, dug by hand 30 feet down, then covered with a board with a hole in it. The only well in town was also dug 30 feet down, and waste seepage had long ago contaminated the well. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was no cemetery, so people buried their dead on their own land, about a 20′ x 20′ piece of land. They only buried them two or three feet deep, so heavy rains would wash remains into their neighbor’s yard where they cooked. They asked to get word to a group like Living Water who could drill water wells 200 feet, well below the contaminated layer of ground.

We walked back to Sister Freda’s in a somber thoughtful mood, but our day was just beginning. When we got there, a man on a bicycle had carried a woman to see Sister Freda. The woman was in obvious pain; her ankle was very swollen, she could not move her arm, and she was bleeding from one ear. She had been riding on a boda-boda, a bicycle, and had a bicycle accident. She had leaped off at the last moment. Sister Freda took her inside, cleaned her up, but said she needed x-rays, something Sister Freda could not provide. We had a van, so we split into two groups. One group went back home, picking up groceries for the night. The rest of us gave the injured woman – her name was Rosa – a ride to the Kitale hospital. Our experience here convinced us of two things. One, I would never complain about US hospitals, and two, if we became injured in Kenya, please ship us to England for emergency care.

The hospital had an admission room where they grudgingly admitted Rosa because of Sister Freda’s letter, and that’s where the hospital care ceases. There are no orderlies, no nurses, nobody that comes to help. Injured people must be accompanied by friends or relatives to move them around or… they just die. There’s a payment for admission, and all transactions are handled up front with cash. If you don’t have cash… well, I guess you die. We found a metal gurney and lifted Rosa onto it and she yelled in pain; it had been several hours since her accident and she had no painkillers. Then we waited for a doctor to arrive to take the x-rays. He was traveling among other hospitals at the moment, taking x-rays, and nobody was sure when he would arrive at this hospital.

After two or three hours, Rosa lying on the metal gurney in pain, we decided we had waited long enough. It was getting dark and Rosa was getting cold, so we went back into the ward. Beds were available back here, but there were three times as many patients as there were beds, so injured and ill people shared, 2 or 3 to a bed. When we brought in Rosa, one woman moved her injured child into another so three children shared a bed, making room voluntarily for Rosa to have a place. We wheeled her as close as we could, then lifted her to the bed, cringing because she yelled in pain. We felt hopeless, unable to compensate for her hurting.

And 2 minutes later, we found the doctor had arrived. And we lifted Rosa again in pain onto the gurney, bumped her across the concrete walkway back to the x-ray room. Then we lifted her for the 4th time that day onto the x-ray table. The doctor looked at us seriously and asked us some direct questions about whether we were missionaries. I don’t know if that would have been a problem, but we answered truthfully that we were visiting sister Freda. One of us was a pastor, the rest were engineers, accountants, miscellaneous. Not full time missionaries. The doctor looked at us for a while longer, then asked for payment. We paid the doctor and waited outside.

After a few moments, he told us her foot was merely sprained, but her clavicle, her shoulder was broken. The blood from the ears indicated some head injury, but his equipment could not x-ray a skull. There would be no way to tell if her head was damaged seriously, nor any way to treat it.

We lifted Rosa for the 5th time back onto the gurney, wheeled her along the bumpy path, then lifted her for the 6th time back into bed. We now had a prescription for a painkiller, so again we divided up, half walking down the street to get the medicine, the rest staying with Rosa for comfort. We could pray for her, but she spoke no English. Jason translated for us that we had been visiting a local church and would stay with her as long as we could. At a nearby store before they closed we bought a shawl for Rosa to stay warm, milk and fruit for when she became hungry, and made a quick trip home to grab some personal pillows we had brought from the US so she would have something to rest her head on.

In the meantime, the rest of our group, waiting in the van, had spent the afternoon witnessing to the security guard. I didn’t get the whole story, but he was Muslim and afraid of what would happen to him, but then gave his life to Christ. I hope one of our group gets the courage to post in the comments below what happened out there. 🙂

That was all we could do for Rosa that day, so we left, vowing to come back and check on her when we could. Her brother was with her so her needs could be met. The needs of the Kenyan people showed so greatly in even this hospital – no assistance, no food, no medicine, and you had to pay first or you didn’t receive care. The Lord had opened our eyes today on many things, things we would never forget.

Again, I apologize for the length of time it took to write about this day, but it was such a powerful day, and I haven’t had the time at lunch lately to write like I did earlier in the year. If you thought our day of bathing the orphan children was the most emotional experience, today was exponentially more powerful. And tomorrow? In Day 8 we will find that there’s even more needs than we could have possibly imagined. That’ll take a while to write as well, so I hope you’ll be patient. And those of you that went to Kenya with me, and especially those friends still in Kitale, please comment and correct anything I didn’t get quite write, I’ll be happy to fix it. Just comment below or email me.

Responsible Parenting

Tony at Sand in the Gears claim the title of “Father of the Year.”

It is the voice of a librarian, a schoolteacher, a junior senator from New York, or some other such female-type killjoy. I am physiologically and ideologically predisposed to ignore such voices. I continue my instruction.

“Sir!” “You’re whacking your baby’s head against the top of the helicopter.”

Oh. Well then. I had heard the thumping, but as a parent you grow immune to the minor noises.

Click the link to read the whole funny thing.

It reminds me of two stories when my son was young –

1. When my son was very young, perhaps 6 months or so, I was still living in Oklahoma. I brought him on a trip to show him off to Mom so she could see how much he had grown in the first 6 months of life. In Mom’s living room, I proudly lifted my son for all the world to see.

*thump*thump*thump*

My first thought was, “That can’t be Alex. Alex doesn’t make that noise.” I looked up and noticed the ceiling fan for the first time. I looked at my son and he had a horizontal red welt across his forehead of the exact same type that a ceiling fan blade would cause if a father would be so insensitive as to stick his infant’s son head into a piece of rotating machinery.

2. I used to take Alex grocery shopping when he was young, elementary school age, and I drove a car that had a rear seat that folded to allow access to the trunk. While common today, this was sort of a novelty in 1990’s. A fun game after grocery shopping was to unload Alex into the trunk before loading the rest of the groceries. Alex knew where the latch was and he’d pop up in the back seat.

One day as I was unloading my son into the trunk and closing it, an elderly woman drove up behind me and proceded to give me a scolding. “Young man, have you no sense of responsibility? That is no way to treat children!”

At about this time, my son popped up in the back seat and turned around to give me a very happy grin.

The elderly lady looked at him, scowled at me for good measure, and drove off without another word.

I assume Alex has survived my parenting. Hard to tell sometimes. 😛

Kenya Mission, Day 6

January 1, 2006

Today’s Swahili phrase: Jambo, which means “Howdy” in Texan. We used this word more than any other, I think, and it was so easy to pronounce.

I meant to write these faster and closer together, but the work load skyrocketed on me the last couple of weeks. Several of you have encouraged me to write the rest, and I’m happy to oblige. It was a powerful trip and the needs are great.

We woke up late because of the midnight service last night, then back to the same church for a late morning service. I confess that even with the dual Swahili/English translation, I had a very hard time with the accents and following along with the sermon. I immersed myself in my bible for much of the morning.

Afterward, this being New Year’s Day, there were limited opportunities for the day. We went to the Kitale Club and the 8 of us signed up for 9 holes of golf. And since we didn’t have any golf clubs, we all shared a set. Very amusing, and it took 3-1/2 hours to play 9 holes. The real goal for the afternoon, though, was to give some work to some local caddies. Job opportunities are scarce, Kitale golf isn’t exactly a money-maker, and the caddies were glad to work for an afternoon. The monkeys running out onto the golf course was fun to watch, though.

Then we stopped at the grocery store called Trans-Mattresses and picked up dinner supplies. I think we named the concoction “African spaghetti” and it had a very unusual flavor. I didn’t ask what the spices were. The grocery store had teenage boys begging on the street. These boys had no money, and what little they gained by begging they immediately spent on bottles of glue. It was very disturbing when they pressed their faces against the van windows, eyes glassy and yellow with a glue bottle dangling from their lip. I recognized one of the boys from an earlier stop there and commented that 7 hours of sniffing glue seemed a very long time. Our pastor said that boy had been there since 2002.

After the African spaghetti, we sat down to make bracelets to give away. These prayer bracelets were made of a rawhide string and 5 colored breads: gold, black, red, white, then green. We would share a story when we gave these gifts; the gold represented Heaven, but we were separated from Heaven because of sin (black). Christ’s blood cleanses us (red) so that we appear spotless and pure (white). To grow in Christ (green), we should then spread the Good News. Some funny translations came up – we had been told to use the word “dark” instead of “black” with these beads, but Swahili word was the same wither way. In other words, it made no difference. We also had trouble with “white as snow,” since there was no snow in Kenya. “White as milk” was as close as I could get.

No pictures for today, sorry. Tomorrow, though, we meet Sister Freda and see the good work she’s doing on behalf of the Lord. Stay tuned.

Kenya Mission, Day 5

December 31, 2005

Today’s Swahili phrase: Mungu aku bariki, meaning “God bless you.”

Woke up this morning and fixed a group breakfast. Staying in a compound with very considerate Christians is a blessing – every helped with breakfast preparation and cleanup almost to the point where were were tripping over each other. We were almost too helpful. Afterward we had a 30 minute devotional to start our day and began with Philippians. It was a good choice for our devotionals; Paul is writing in Chapter 1 about preaching God’s word and regardless of why Christ is preached, whether false motives or true, that it is still cause for rejoicing.

mosquito netting and duct tapeBefore I go on, let me fill in some pictures from yesterday. Here’s a picture of our bunk bed / mosquito netting / duct tape engineering. I’ve learned a new trick today – just click on the image if you want to see a larger picture. Saves on bandwidth. 🙂

Hey, not bad. Mosquitoes (pronounced ‘mo-skwit-os’ here) generally suffer from a lack of education and probably won’t be able to figure that out.

the Kenya vanWe piled into the van which is now far more comfortable since all the luggage has been removed, and we headed to Deliverance Church. I didn’t know it at the time, but this van was home more than the compound we stayed in.

Kenya Deliverance ChurchWhen we arrived at the church, we were all stunned at the reception. Children had lined up by the hundreds and were cheering and applauding when we arrived. Here we are inside the gate, while the children wait outside.

During the month, the Deliverance Church fills their water tower from a local well that was dug during a previous mission trip. The church now has outdoor showers and toilets, and they provide bathing water for these neighborhood children, many of them orphans. The very young, 5 and younger, need help getting in and out quickly, so we have bars of soap and burlap rags to scrub the kids. After, the church leadership provides a little dab of petroleum jelly for them to rub into their skin to help with the dry, ashen color their skin takes on during the month. We spent the whole morning here; I think someone estimated 500 children but I think that was a little on the high side.

Deliverance church serving ugaliAfterward, the church cooked up a big pot of ugali. Ugali is sort of a corn cake; it’s made by boiling water and stirring in crushed maize until it’s thinker than mashed potatoes. To me, it sort of tasted like a very weak corn tortilla with the texture of a very think cornbread. Here’s the minister’s wife and you can see the pot of ugali behind her.

Serving the ugali was interesting. The ugali was scooped out of the pot and plopped on a plate which was handed to a volunteer who handed it to the next volunteer and so on, starting with the back of the room. Maybe 15 people handled the plate passing it from one to another, starting at the back of the room. They didn’t have enough plates to go around, so the kids ate quickly and handed their plates in so they could be reused for another plate of ugali for another kid.

children of Kitale KenyaAfterward, we took a tour of the neighborhood behind the church. We caused a commotion – mzungus (white people) don’t visit Kitale often, and certainly don’t visit the housing areas. And English isn’t widely spoken, but all the kids know a few phrases like “How are you?” and “I’m fine.” It was quite a sight to see 50 children running up the hill toward us, waving their arms above their heads, yelling, “I’m fine! I’m fine!” And when we whipped out a camera, the kids almost trampled us to get in the picture.

Housing in Kitale Kenya Although later we would visit people in even more need, we were struck by the living conditions. No water or sewers, no electricity, no services of any kind. These houses were some of the best construction in Kitale.

After the tour, we headed off for dinner at the Pine Club (we had a choice of either Chinese or Indian food again), then to rest for a couple of hours.

But it’s New Year’s Eve! So late that evening we piled back in the van and joined the church for a midnight rebuking and encouragement. I have to admit I hadn’t acclimated to the accents yet so I had a lot of trouble following the sermon. The sermon is preached by two people, one of who translated instantaneously. The preacher may preach in either Swahili or English and the other person translates on the fly. It’s a very vocal service. We found out that New Year’s Eve is one of the most crowded times for the church as everybody wants to come and be forgiven for their sins over the last year and make a fresh start on next year.

We arrived at the bunk house tired and decided to sleep in late before tomorrow’s New Year’s Day service.

I probably already mentioned this, but I’m typing all of this from sparse notes and memory. I know there are Kenyans and missionaries reading this, so please feel free to drop a comment below correcting my memory or adding even more detail. I’d appreciate it very much.

Great Balls of Fire

Goodness, I joined my wife for lunch today and couldn’t help but notice the sky was a funny color. Usually it’s a very dark, almost black color, but at lunch it was a light blue color with fluffy white splotches.

And there was this great big yellow glowing thing, just hovering there. Scary.

Kenya Mission, Day 4

December 30, 2005

Goodness, can it be Friday already?  We left Houston Tuesday afternoon and we’re still not at our final destination.  It’s like Africa is on the other side of the world or something.  😛

We woke up in the Methodist Guest House in Nairobi, and in the light we could see how quaint this place is.  We me in the breakfast room for fruit and toast and coffee.  Something I had never seen before, the cream for the coffee is heated, very hot.  Makes sense; why pour cold milk into hot coffee?  Then we had a short prayer and discussed our plans for the day.

Piling back into the van was an interesting exercise. The van seats 10 and counting the driver, we had 9 people. In our case, though, the van also had to seat all that luggage. There were 13 very large bags plus 1 or 2 carry-on items per person. It looked like we were building little forts inside the van. I took the far side window behind the driver which gave me some leg room (I have really long legs), but getting in and out was like a combination of Yoga and the game Twister.

The roads out of Nairobi was gentle at first, but then turned into terrain almost indistinguishable from the terrain. A good driver is mandatory because staying on your own side of the road isn’t part of the culture. Kenyans drive where the potholes are not, so there is significant weaving from one side to the other. There were several times I thought a head-on collision was imminent, but at the last moment both cars would swerve to their side of the road.

Road from Nairobi to Kitale

Out the window of the van, far off in the distance, we saw wild zebra. And once we stopped to let a baboon family (unrelated to me) cross the road. And far off in the distance we saw pink flamingos covering a lake so that it looked pink. No pictures of any of these; most were too far away, except for the baboons which were too quick.

Our morning break after about 2 hours of driving was at a scenic overlook above the Rift Valley, looking toward the Chogoria mountains. The scenery was just spectacular.

Rift Valley Kenya overlooking Chogoria mountains

We stopped for lunch in Nakuru. I eat adventurously when traveling so I had irio for lunch. It was mashed potatoes blended with spinach and then maize stirred in. The maize was sort of like corn, only bigger kernels and not nearly as sweet as our yellow corn. Anyway, it sort of looked like this big green mush with yellow lumps and tasted about the same, too. I have no idea why this is a Kenyan favorite, I won’t order it again on purpose.

Back on the road after lunch, we were stopped several times by armed policemen. They stop cars by laying down a strip of 6″ spikes across the road that you have to drive figure-S style through them. We asked the driver what the police were looking for; he said, “money.” The general consensus was that they do not have enough money to buy the bullets to go into their guns, but I don’t know of anybody that would ever test that hypothesis.

We finally arrived at Kitale, our destination, and checked out our surroundings. We were staying in a nice compound (we wouldn’t know until later how nice it really was), with a couple of buildings with a variety of bunk beds and multiple showers and bathrooms. We dropped off the gear and headed to town to buy breakfast for the morning. The grocery store for some reason was called “Trans-Mattresses,” complete with a picture of a mattress on the billboard. Most of the signs for businesses were in mostly-English, I’ll call it, with a mix of Swahili thrown in.

Buying groceries in a strange country is an interesting experience. You wander the aisles trying to figure out what the ingredients are and what you can combine to make something edible. They had eggs, fruit, and bread, so we mostly settled for items we recognized.

Outside Tran-Mattresses we came into one of Kitale’s developing problems. Boys outside the grocery store, living off of handouts, sniffing glue in broad daylight. Even though Kenya adults discourage this among the street children, the street children get enough handouts and a sympathetic adult somewhere to buy them glue. Shopkeepers told us that these children live to maybe 20 or 25 years old before dying of violence or their brain rotting. One of the hard lessons for missionaries to learn is that giving money directly to those in need can have devastating consequences; it’s far better to contribute to an organization that will provide food, shelter, or medical care. Even if you give these street children something that they need, like shoes, they are likely to sell them for glue money.

We took our breakfast groceries, our bottled water, and mosquito netting back to the compound where we probably spent 3 hours trying to hang them. We were handicapped by a lack of tools, but the bunk beds were handmade and oversized and the netting wouldn’t stretch properly. Some nets were cut with scissors (ok, it was tiny nail file scissors) and then duct taped back into a larger net. I hadn’t seen a mosquito all day, and it was the dry season and very likely to see one. I was also taking malarone to prevent malaria, so given all that I went without netting.

Tomorrow’s a busy day; the plan is bathe street children and orphans at a local church.