Kenya Mission, Day 2 & 3

December 28, 2005

We arrived in London at Heathrow Airport after the overnight, overseas flight, about as refreshed as, well, people that had been on an overnight, overseas flight. Simple little trip over to Gatwick; our flight to Nairobi doesn’t leave until tomorrow so we have an afternoon here.

I learned something about London. It gets cold here. It was approximately -23 centipedes in some sort of metric temperature. I had no idea it got this cold here. The bus to Gatwick was challenging, trying to get 8 people and all the luggage onto a bus in the cold. I think it took nearly 3 hours to finally get to the hotel for the overnight stay. A quick cleanup, then a trip to a pub for some lunch was the plan.

We hopped on the bus outside and when we arrived at the tube station, we hopped off to buy tickets. Well… most of us hopped off. In our jet-lagged condition we left 2 teammates on the bus, and now we have no idea where they are.

A huddle with the group: what now? We decided their most likely action would be to stay on the bus until they arrived back at the hotel, and we also found out the bus made a loop that took 40 minutes. We checked every bus for the next 40 minutes, and sure enough, it was like homecoming when we found our two missing teammates. Hurrah! We’re all back together again.

A short tube ride, then off to a pub. Except… the first pub was full. Ok, we’ll walk around in the cold to a second pub… which was out of food. Then to a third pub that was too small… and this pub was juuust right, said Goldilocks. I was ready to eat some darts and coaster by this point. The traditional fish and chips were better though.
London afternoon, it gets dark early.
Afterwards, we took a short afternoon tour of London, trying to stay awake long enough to make sure the jet lag was over in a day. I wish I could tell you what we saw, but I can’t. I was sleepy and cold… just leave me, save yourselves!…. and didn’t take good notes. Buckingham Palace, Westminster Alley and St. Paul’s Cathedral, for sure.

December 29, 2005

Yes, we’re on our third day of travel. You know, the language here sort of sounds like English here in England, but we don’t seem to be able to communicate. We took a bus from the hotel that went to the airport, but not our terminal. It took far longer than we expected to finally arrive at the right terminal and get checked in, moments before the flight to Nairobi took off. We skipped breakfast this morning because of the rush but survived by eating the airplane seat cushions (which, by the way, can also be used a flotation device.)

Another 9 hour flight nearly due south and we arrived in Nairobi after dark. We were met by our driver Sammy who took us to a local Methodist Guest House. Exhausted from traveling, we all crashed early. We’re still not yet at our destination and have a long van ride tomorrow.

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Kenya Mission, Day 1

December 27, 2005

I’ve been remiss in my blogging duties; oddly, I actually crossed “blog about Kenya” off my todo list accidentally, and it wasn’t until a friend email yesterday that I realized I had not written about this trip.

Let me preface this whole adventure by saying that I thank God for the opportunity to serve in this way. Working through friends, families and strangers, the necessary prayers and money came together in a miraculous way. It was a wonderful replacement for our honeymoon; we were truly blessed by this experience.

The night before we left I stumbled across something that I wish I had found earlier; my son gave me Civilization IV for my birthday last year. Marvelous game, and the opening song is intriguing.

Turns out the opening song was The Lord’s Prayer in Swahili. Later, Kenya Christians would sing the same words to a different tune.

Baba Yetu

Baba yetu, Yesu uliye
Mbinguni yetu, Yesu, amina!
Baba yetu, Yesu, uliye
Jina lako litukuzwe.

Utupe leo chakula chetu
Tunachohitaji utusamehe
Makosa yetu, hey!
Kama nasi tunavyowasamehe
Waliotukosea usitutie
Katika majaribu, lakini
Utuokoe, na yule, milelea milele!

Ufalme wako ufike utakalo
Lifanyike duniani kama mbinguni. (Amina)

————-

Our Father, Jesus, who art
in Heaven. Amen!
Our Father, Jesus
Hallowed be thy name.

Give us this day our daily bread,
Forgive us of
our trespasses
As we forgive others
Who tresspass against us
Lead us not into temptation, but
deiver us from Evil, and you are forever and ever!

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On Earth as it is in Heaven. (Amen)

I had about 2 hours of this knowledge before we had to leave for the airport, so I didn’t do anything useful with it. Mom and my stepfather picked us up and drove us to the airport to save on parking fees since we’d be gone so long, and we met up with the rest of the team.

We were flying British Air out of Houston; they made a terrific deal to upgrade us to Business Class for something like $50 a person, but that was like $400 for the group. Considering where we were going, it was really hard to justify spending all that money just to be a wee bit more comfortable for 9 hours. I’m glad we skipped the opportunity.

Packing was heavy since we would be gone for 2 weeks. We packed jeans and slacks for the guys, long dresses for the women mostly (and since I’m a guy, I’m not going to be able to give a better description than that). We also have some suitcases with bibles and “Purpose Driven Life” that were really, really heavy. All in all 16 bags for check in plus a bag each for carry on. We were loaded down.

That’s it for the advance preparation, I think. Oh, shots for hepatitus and typhoid and yellow fever, pills for malaria, of course. I’m going to copy this to the Kenya mission team, so if I’ve forgotten something about the preparation, perhaps they can add it to the comments. We all watched a movie on the plane and crashed; we would be in London in the morning.

Parking Lot Angst

Preface: obviously, it’s a slow news day. I haven’t actually spent a lot of time thinking about this, but it beats that news item about Splash, the Amazing Swimming Dog That Can Do Things Mary Jo Can’t. For those inclined to commiserate, instruct, condemn, console, well, here’s your chance to do all of that.

I was headed to the gym last night, and took a strategic position to claim a parking space. For as long as I’ve known Bally’s, they’ve provided insufficient parking spaces for those that arrive at the gym during rush hour. This goes back at least 10 years, and during New Year’s Resolution Month, the problem quintuples. Circling the lot doesn’t work; the parking space always opens up on the row I just left. So my new technique is to stop at the end of a row and wait. Eventually somebody will exit the gym and I can have their spot.

So I’m waiting… waiting… and finally a man starts walking up my row. He’s on the right side, so I signal right, and continue waiting. I’ve signalled my intent long before anybody else, there’s no question this spot will be mine, mwa ha ha.

A car pulls up at the other end of the row, no doubt to perform the same parking lot stalking technique I’m using. The man stops at a jeep next to me, and I put my car in reverse to give him room to pull out.

The other car pulls up, signalling left, with the apparent motive to take the same parking spot I’m camping.

I think the behavior is bizarre. If they’re going to be rude and take the spot I’ve been camping, why bother signalling?

The jeep pulls out, and have luck would have it, backs out toward me, and when he pulls forward, cuts off the other car. The spot is easily mine, and I slide into it. The other car drives behind me, and the woman driving makes a viscious face at me and flips me the bird.

A little while later I see her in the gym; I’m sure she doesn’t recognize me from the back of my head, but her weird harido and continuous scowl is easily recognizable.

I didn’t say anything to her, just finished my workout quietly. So here’s some discussion questions for today regarding the correct reactions of a Christian:

  • Should I have given up my parking space? Why or why not?
  • Should I have said anything to her in the gym? If so, why? And what should I have said?
  • Do you think you could recognize me from the back of my head?

Like I said, slow news day. 😛

What is a Sesquicentennial, anyway?

For my sins, I have been asked to organize our county’s 150th birthday party.

It is true I enjoy reporting about local history in my weekly newspaper column, a gig that’s been running for over 11 years now. The reason I like to write about local history: usually no one is around to dispute my reporting, and if I write it carefully, giving careful attribution on dubious claims, I can refer criticism to my sources.

It is also true I chaired the local historical commission for what turned out to be a very long year.

But organizing a community-wide event is way outta my league.

I am reminded of a story my grandmother tells about my late grandfather, an avid fisherman. Early in their marriage they lived in Blanket, Texas which is up near Coleman, I think. My grandmother was startled to hear my grandfather telling everyone they met in town one Wednesday they were invited to a big fish fry the following Saturday.

“Granville,” my grandmother asked, “are you planning a fish fry?”

“Yes.”

“Who are you inviting?”

“The whole town.”

My grandmother’s eyes widened.

“Do you have any fish?” she asked.

“I’ll catch them Friday night.”

And he and some buddies did catch enough that Friday night to feed the whole town.

I’m sure my grandmother fussed at him from Wednesday until after the last guest left Saturday night. But he did get it done.

I’m planning something similar here in Kerr County for April 6-9, 2006. I’m planning a style show on Thursday, a musical review on Friday evening, a big parade on Saturday afternoon, a giant musical performance in the park Saturday evening (complete with fireworks), and a memorial service on Sunday afternoon. I have never planned any single one of the events before, and I have absolutely no money lined up. All of the events will be free and open to the public. I’m thinking the weekend will cost around $35,000 to produce.

Fortunately my lovely wife Carolyn is not fussing at me. Like the rest of the community, she expects I’ll get it all done in time, and with money left over.

So… it should be an interesting few months….

I want to ride my bicycle

My lovely wife Carolyn gave me a bicycle for Christmas, a fancy machine powered only by me, a middle-aged couch potato.
Though it has 21 gears, none of them seem to pull me to the top of hills as well as our old SUV. The thing takes work, and there is one particular hill (on Coronado Drive) which is particularly impossible to climb comfortably.
But I’m sticking with it, having ridden my new bicycle to work each morning this week. People tell me it will get easier as I continue, but easy hasn’t kicked in yet.
One of the problems has to do with terrain; my house sits about 200 feet higher in elevation than our print shop, meaning the trip to work is basically downhill, and the trip home is basically uphill. So the trip I take after resting all night is quite easy and the trip home, after working all day, is more difficult. Did I mention I’m in my 40s?
The other day, after what felt like a long day, I began the trip home. On the long stretch of Lois Street behind Wal-Mart, I passed a lone jogger, a young person. In truth, it had taken a long time to even catch up with the jogger, but with a slight downhill stretch I pulled pretty far ahead.
Then came the hill at Coronado, the one I dread the whole trip, whose height is compounded by the fact that most of the altitude I gain by climbing that hill is soon lost as I turn on West Lane, only to have to climb it all again on my street to get home. So I’m climbing this hill in what must be the lowest gear ever invented when (you guessed it) the young jogger passes me up, not even working hard.
Some things really make you feel old, and being passed up by a jogger that day made me feel ancient.
Still, the rides have been fantastic.
Thursday morning (while many of you slept) I pedaled east toward a sliver of moon. Crossing the Water Street bridge between Gibson’s and Mosty’s Garage I looked down to see a doe staring back at me. I’ve noticed the bike is so quiet I often surprise wildlife: I’m there before they notice I’m anywhere near. Thursday evening I pedaled west toward a sky on fire – clouds red and majestic, highlighted by the setting sun.
I pretend I’m riding the bike to improve my health, but mostly I’m riding the bike because it’s fun. Also, I can’t help but think, with every turn of the pedals, that I’m sending fewer dollars off to the foreign oil-producing parts of the world. But I don’t ride for the politics of it. I ride because it’s fun.
The machine, which Ms.Carolyn bought at the Hill Country Bicycle Works, is the nicest bicycle I’ve ever ridden, and it has some features designed for the comfort of the (middle-aged) rider: big fat tires which, along with shocks built into the frame, help make the ride smoother. The seat is nice and cushioned (a real help), and the bike is designed to ride sitting up, not hunched over like a racing bike. It’s a sweet ride.
Check with me in a few weeks – I’ll be happy to let you know if the ride gets any easier.

The Cellist's Challenges

Last Tuesday evening I accidentally stumbled across two accomplished young local cellists as they practiced: Jessica Lee and Daniel Prislovskly. Both have performed with the Symphony of the Hills for several years, but Tuesday evening they were practicing for an upcoming performance of the Hill Country Youth Orchestra. They let me sit in as they ran through the first movement of Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor for Two Cellos, which they’ll perform with the full Hill Country Youth Orcestra this weekend.

As a beginning cellist I always welcome a chance to watch experienced players as they make their instruments sing; watching these two youths glide through arpeggios and complex bowings was quite a treat. As I watched their left hands dance along the neck of their cellos I was quite amazed – they flew so surely, so precisely, yet so smoothly.

The cello was designed without the player in mind, its size and scale dictated by the gap in voice between the viola and the standing bass. Unlike the violin, it is too large to hold, so the player must contort around it, sacrificing comfort to the needs of the instrument. The back of the large hollow portion rests against your chest, and as you draw the bow across the willful strings you can feel the notes resonate inside your heart. The body of the cello has, by design, four sharp points surrounding its waist – which, by coincidence, are about where the poor cellist’s knees rest. The entire instrument stands upon a thin rod ending with a sharp point – called an endpin – which delights in skating away from the cellist as the instrument is played. The fingerboard faces away from the player, which can cause problems: if your finger is even 1/16th of an inch from where it should be, the note played is either sharp or flat, out of tune. Because you cannot see where your fingers are supposed to be, you rely on your ears and something mystically called ‘muscle memory’ to find where your fingers should be, skills some players (like me) never fully develop. Playing the cello requires many complex skills, all at once, and all in harmony. Young Ms. Lee and Mr. Prislovsky demonstrated last Tuesday night the grace and beauty possible when talent patiently overcomes the inherent obstacles the cello places before the player.

As they walked through the music their cellos sang with hearty timbre and glad delight. One of the players wore sneakers, the other boots, both wore jeans: Aside from the cellos they looked like the teenagers they are. But when the two wrapped around their cellos and leaned into the music, they joined a long line of musicians, starting with the young Venetian orphan girls in Vivaldi’s orchestra, who have enticed an ephemeral art from a wooden box and taut strings, horsehair and their own fingertips. I watched them and listened to that long line, musicians young and old, all playing these notes, each player lending the notes a part of their own personalities, their own talents, their own limitations. Like an artist’s brushstrokes, music can be very revealing, and each note can be a signature of the musician.

* * *

Last night the adult beginner orchestra of which I’m a member (cleverly called “Take a Bow,” playing with both meanings of the word Bow a bit) had its Christmas concert. Most of the adults have been playing for about 2 years — and all of us are way out of our comfort zone. My poor wife Carolyn, and our daughter Elizabeth (along with her current sweetie) attended, and said gracious, nice things about the event. Frankly, we sounded awful.

But that’s not really the point.

Here we are, a group of adults in a small town in central Texas, trying something new. Sure, we sound like a bad 6th grade marching band. But it is one of the most fun things I do each week — and I’m proud to be one of the cellists. (Cellists Unite!)