Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Observing from the Airport

-July 15, Wednesday
Amsterdam, Holland -

In a little less than a day, I will be home in Amarillo! I am very excited.

The flight last night was calm and sweet. I fell asleep before we took off and woke up in time from breakfast. Seven hours of uncomfortable, but fairly sound sleep. It was pleasant enough. We had yogurt for breakfast, our first dairy product in two weeks. It tasted delightful.

It is currently 6:00 in the morning, and we depart at 10:00, so we have four hours to do whatever we like. Some of us are considering going out on the rail to view the actual city of Amsterdam, just to have experienced a little piece of Holland. The only concern is that since it is so early in the morning, there will be nothing much to see.

I enjoy watching people while I'm in an airport. You can usually tell where a person has originated from simply the clothes that they were. The accents are all fascinating, and you can always find the most captivating people to watch when you are bored in an airport.

I am not sure yet exactly where my group fits. Fifteen people of different age, gender, ethnicity, and even American state in which they live. The only common ground for us is Christianity, a longing to assist the AIDS orphans, and a relationship- however so small- with Milton Jones. Jesus and Milton. I am not quite sure how this adds up, but I am sure that I will figure it out someday.

Despite our differences, we are all friends that have a close bond formed by Africa. Really, no one has had much trouble with each other at all. We have all been, at least casually, friends from the start. At this moment, our common bond is that we all terribly, terribly want to skip the nine hour plane ride ahead of us and beam ourselves home, like in some sci-fi movie.


We bid farewell to our Seattle friends, checked into the gate and finally boarded the plane, eager to watch the abundance of movies available in the tiny screens that rested on the backs of the seats in front of us.

This flight is nine hours long, but we will arrive in Houston only three hours later than when we departed. Today will seem much, much longer than a usual day as a result of this. Oh, the joys of jet lag.

-In Air to Houston-

If I lived on a plane, my life would consist of sleeping... watching major motion pictures on eight inch screens... reading The Praise Habit by David Crowder... falling asleep while reading The Praise Habit by David Crowder... eating a perfectly balanced and packaged and cardboard-flavored airplane meal... crawling over people to go to the bathroom... watching movies that I wouldn't ever rent because they really just aren't that interesting... staring at the clock for twenty-three minutes straight, and wishing that I could make time move faster... calculating what time it is in Kenya and in Amsterdam and in Hawaii and in Texas and then back to Kenya... fumbling around in a three by three bathroom stall... sleeping in the weirdest position I have ever sat in before, but that is the only way to feel comfortable enough to sleep... snickering while watching other people sleep in odd positions... listening to the baby in the row behind me scream bloody murder, and thinking, "What in heaven's name was this kid's mother thinking when she took him on this plane?"... and etc.

My mind keeps drifting off to those kids in Africa, and I am beginning to dread coming home. I miss it in Kenya already, and I think it would have been nice to stay longer. My family isn't even home, for crying out loud.

The baby won't stop screaming. I want off this plane.

-In Air to Amarillo-

We had a five hour layover in Houston. Upon arrival in Houston, we were waved through the gate by a flight attendant, who told us with a bright smile, "Welcome home." I couldn't help but grin at her in return, despite my exhaustion. It felt amazing to be back on Texas soil.

We all asked for so many refills of our drinks. Ice is a glorious wonder to us now. I sat at a table with Milton, Barbie, and Christian, and I think that Milton must have had five refills of his iced tea. It was funny to watch. He downed one glass in less than a minute. The poor waiter turned around from serving the rest of us and said in a bewildered voice, "Oh, let me get you another glass, sir."

Everything in America feels so different. The sky looks different. The clouds look different. The air smells a lot different. Africa- Kenya, at least- has a very distinctive smell to it, no matter where you go. Some people were offended by the foreign scent of the air. I, however, didn't mind it all that much.

People have been rushing, rushing around, which has not been familiar to me at all over these past few weeks. I think back on an African saying, one that the Kenyans take very literally. It goes something like, "Americans have watches, but Africans have time," and it is the truth. The calmness, the serenity of Kenya, is something that I will miss.

I do not want to blend back in with my old life. I do not want to become once again the person who I used to be. I think a little differently now, and I want to remain this way, to live this way. I want to remember the poverty, remember the people, remember their faces- young and old. I can't let myself forget.

I do not want to become part of the daily hustle and bustle that has become so common for the modern American lifestyle.

I want to be able to sit down and truly listen to someone, to cherish the value of both time and loved ones.

I do not want to lose faith over something relatively small when there are those who have lost everything and everyone they have, and yet have the faith of Job, even while they know that they will never have their lives replenished back to where it was before. I want that kind of extreme faith.

I do not want to whine about having to go to school every day when there are those who start walking at 3:00 in the morning to make it on time to a classroom with dirt floors and a teacher who didn't even graduate from high school.

Never again will I use the phrase, "I am starving." Not when there are people who truly are starving and do not complain.

Those who believe that it is not our duty as Christians to feed the poor must go and read the book of James. There are those who need us. Jesus would feed His lambs, and we are His disciples, who should be following His example. How else can we live out Christ's love but by feeding the hungry, fulfilling Jesus' will for the least of His children? How else can they be fed?

James 2:15-17, TNIV, says, "Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." I do not want to be the one who says, "I wish you well," and does nothing. I want to be the one who follows Christ's will and feeds the hungry, and clothes the naked, and shares the gospel with those who do not know.

We are His tools.

We are about to land in Amarillo any minute now, and I feel excitement coursing through my veins and rising up within me. I am home. It has been a long journey- one I never want to forget- a journey that has changed my perspective on the world, on my faith, on humanity. I am ready to be home, to share my experiences with those who are willing to listen. I am ready to continue Christ's purpose for my life.

I am His.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The African Safari

-July 14, Tuesday
Kisumu Airport-

I woke up at 4:45 this morning and turned on the shower, shivering in dreaded anticipation of the icy blast that was sure to come. To my great surprise and excitement, steam began to rise from the scalding hot water. I stepped beneath the faucet, smiling from ear to ear. Despite the early hour, this was a wonderful start to my day.

We boarded our matatus and rode off into the darkness, watching young children walk alone to their schools, moving quietly through the early morning darkness.

When we arrived at the airport, they told us that they did not open until 7:00, a slightly frightening thought since our plane takes off at 8:00, and we have fifty tons of baggage to load and check. They presented us with a small, peaceful patio outside surrounded by a garden. We all sat together, listening to Audie's devotion and watching the sun rise in pastel strokes of color that painted the sky like a morning rainbow.

We gave our final farewells to Jared, giving him the customary both-side African hug and shaking his hand for one last time. "Asante-sana," he said over and over again, smiling at each of us. "Tell my American friends hello. I will see you next year."

Checking baggage was a hectic mess. It took us forever, but we finally made it through, weary and ready to relax on the plane to Nairobi. We are still in the waiting room, waiting for the plane to show up. Everyone seems excited to finally be on our way home and yet sad to leave. It is a bittersweet moment, impossible to understand unless you have seen what we have seen and met the people we have met.

How can we simply return to our old lives, taking everything for granted, after we have seen people who are drowning in poverty? How can we waste our money on things that don't matter? How can we complain about our school, however poor it may be? How can we take our families, our health, and our homes for granted? How can we eat a bite of an extensive meal and not feel grateful? How can we complain about the most trivial problems in our lives and not stop to think of the children at Lakeside Orphanage who have lost everything that they have because of AIDS? How can our lives ever be the same again?

I am so blessed, so privileged, to have what I have. It takes me back to the orphanage, to the children proudly showing us what little they had. It takes me back to the children at Ring Road, explaining to me how happy they were because God had blessed them with food and an education. It takes me back to the bush at KipKabus, to the woman giving Barbie and I one of, if not the most, expensive thing she owned. It takes me back to the church in Eldoret, where the church elders stood in the middle of poverty, hands lifted high in adoration for the Lord, singing, "He has done so much for me that I cannot tell it all..."

How can our lives not be changed in every possible aspect?

-Nairobi, Kenya-

At this exact moment, I am sitting on the curb outside of the Nairobi airport, waiting. I have been waiting for forty minutes now, and I have another twenty minutes left to go before the Seattle team arrives and we leave for the safari.


We went ahead and checked our baggage, and we are again out on the curb, waiting for our matatus to show up. Everyone is hungry and passing out what little snacks we have.

This reminds me of when one of the church elders told us gravely that Americans say that they are starving when they are only a little bit hungry. Africans know what it is like to truly be hungry." Together we discussed this memory, and we all lost a little bit of our appetites. Here we are, stuffing our faces with Sour Patch Kids and beef jerky and pistachios because we're a little overdue on lunch, and there are people living a mile away who are literally starving to death.

-Nairobi, Kenya-

We went to the wildlife park to walk around and view the animals in their pens. Our guide was a young man named Alex. He had a great passion for the animals and took us all around the park, off of the paths and up close to view the wild animals. We saw the rhinos, wildebeests, buffalo, leopards, lions...

Alex paid little mind to the park laws and instead took us behind the tourist fences and into the wild, face to face with the animals with only a chain link fence between us. The leopard lunged at the measly fence, snarling ferociously at us. It was a little frightening.

Alex carried this little baby songbird in his hand. At one point, he handed me the bird and walked away, leaving me standing helplessly, holding the trembling songbird. Finally, after a while, I walked up to Alex and said, "Here, take her back now," and he laughed and complied.

"Have you ever touched a cheetah, the fastest of all animals?" Alex asked us in a hushed whisper. "These great cats can be tamed, but shh... this is a secret. Follow me." With a wide grin lighting up his face, Alex led us past the boundaries and out into the actual park, where another park ranger was waiting. A cheetah sat calmly a few yards away, unleashed, watching us intently with golden eyes. "Go on, touch him," Alex murmured, and one by one, we knelt to stroke the large cat, listening to its loud purr and caressing its head and back in awe while we posed for a photo. The experience was both frightening and wonderful at the same time. The fact that a full-grown cheetah was sitting inches away from me, purring, was a surreal feeling.

Alex obviously enjoyed leading us around the park, introducing us to woman-despising monkeys and letting us hold leopard carcasses and put our feet in scale models of elephant feet. He eagerly pointed out birds and herbs and the tree branches in which Africans use to brush their teeth. "This is the biggest secret in Africa. This is why our teeth are so white and beautiful."

At the end, when Alex gave us our ticket stubs so that we could pass the guards and leave the park, he wrote his email address on the back of mine. He motioned towards the written address with his finger so that I would see it, and gave me a wink before ushering me out the door with the others.

After lunch, we went to the safari headquarters. Some people did not want to spend the money to go on the safari, and so they stayed behind. The rest of us were eager to see the wildlife of Africa in their natural habitats.

The first animal we saw was a warthog, trotting through the tall savannah grass, its tail in the air like a flag. After this, we saw gazelle, antelope, buffalo, and a rhino. There were herds upon herds of dramatically-striped zebra, and even a few babies. We saw the zebra up close, watching eagerly as they crossed the road directly in front of our matatus, stopping for a moment to look at us with wary eyes.

We drove around and around looking for giraffes, but we couldn't see any. We were all sorely disappointed and praying silently, "Lord, let us see one giraffe... just one." At the tail end of the safari, literally to the point where we could almost see the entrance from which we came, we all gasped in unison. A single young giraffe was striding calmly down the road in front of us, ambling along without a care, ignoring our very presence. It felt like a blessing straight from God, a small gift that He gave us us to see His children smile with delight. We were all so excited and happy to see that simple giraffe.

We went straight to the airport, which was a good thing, because the traffic was terrible. It took forever for us to merely arrive, check in, exchange our currency back to American dollars, eat dinner, go through security, and sit down. We had perfect timing, really.

I think that we are all feeling concerned about fitting back into our former lives. We have all been changed by this trip, and it will be hard to live out our extravagant lifestyles when the faces of hungry children are swimming hauntingly before our eyes wherever we go. How can we ever again truly adapt to the hectic, apathetic culture that we were all once so used to? How can we simply move on from this journey when there is so much poverty, so much need, so much hunger in the world?

I don't think that any of us will ever again say, "I'm starving."

Monday, July 13, 2009

Visiting Lakeside Orphanage

-July 13, Monday
Kisumu, Kenya-

This morning, I woke up with a verse spinning around in my head.

"The Spirit of the Soverign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor."

I thought that this was a fantastic verse, but I had no idea where it was from, and so I flipped around in my Bible until I found the verse in Isaiah 61, a chapter in which I had studied a few months earlier, but had forgotten about while studying Psalm 91 so much in preparation for this trip. Even though I had planned to talk about something completely different when I led the devotion this morning, I felt that God wanted me to simply read Isaiah 61 to our group. Now I know what professional speakers mean when they say that they are about to preach on something completely different than what they had originally planned.

Amy was feeling better, so she came down for breakfast today. Thank God for a fairly quick recovery. It could have been much worse.

It is Milton's birthday today, and so we sang Happy Birthday to him this morning. I think that it would be awesome to spend my birthday in Africa. I would totally go for that.

I may be going to leave my guitar at Lakeside Orphanage today. I was going to have it sent back to Eldoret, but Milton said that since they already have one instrument- Connor Deal's keyboard- then I should consider giving it to someplace that doesn't have any instruments at all, such as Lakeside. He has a point, and so I will do what he suggested and find somewhere else to donate my acoustic guitar. The African people are all so musical; I know that anyone would be thrilled to have my guitar. I am excited to sacrifice it to these people who are so humble, so loving, and who are in such great need for even the smallest of things.


I decided to not leave my guitar at Lakeside. I think I will leave it with John and Connie instead, and let them decide what to do with it.

We arrived at the orphanage, and eighty children rushed out to meet us, waving excitedly and chattering to each other- and us- in Swahili or Luo or both. The eager children ushered us into the assembly room and took turns performing songs and reciting poetry and Bible verses for our team. It was adorable.

We had a miniature Vacation Bible School for the nursery children and then for the older children. They all enjoyed making the crafts and singing the songs. We passed out fruit loops to make necklaces, but most of the children ate the cereal before they even finished their necklaces.

We visited the living quarters of the orphans. They were all so proud of their rooms.

We returned to the orphanage, and finished out VBS. Bekah and Olivia and I went outside to teach songs to the nursery children. It was difficult because none of the children could speak any English whatsoever. We finally ended up singing by ourselves while the children cheerfully did the hand motions with us.

One girl named Sandra clung to me like I was her sister or her mother. She played with my fingers. She examined my pale skin. She stroked my hair. She laid her head in my lap whenever I sat down. She held my hand. She refused to let go of me the entire time I visited the orphanage. Every time I caught Sandra's eye, she would beam at me, giddy that I had given her the honor of a single glance. "Mzungu Emily," she would call me, proudly showing me the contents of her school bag. Sandra was the most precious little girl. "She has no sponsor," the teacher told me sadly. I looked down at Sandra, and she giggled and reached up to stroke my face, murmuring something in Swahili. I knew then that I must find Sandra a sponsor. No matter what, my family must sponsor sweet Sandra. She is God's precious little girl, only five years old.

One three year old named Brenda was the victim of terrible teasing. The children would chant in Luo or Swahili or both, "Look at Brenda, look at Brenda!" They would dance up to her and smack her in the face... or they would throw rocks at her and run away laughing while Brenda stood, silent as stone, refusing to say a word. Olivia lifted the small girl into her arms and cradled her against her chest. It was the saddest thing. I have no idea why the children mocked Brenda like they did. I asked a teacher, but he said, "They are children. What can you expect?" I wasn't too pleased with his answer.

We sadly left the orphanage, the children chasing after our matatu. I caught one last glimpse of Sandra grinning at me, waving and shouting out words in broken English. I remember the last thing she told me. "See you tomorrow, mzungu Emily." I wish I could.

We stopped by the equator marker to take pictures. It was weird knowing that not only was I straddling two hemispheres, I was literally standing on the center point of the earth, closest to the sun. This is why Kisumu is so much hotter than Eldoret.

We went to John and Connie's house, and there was a group of several Maasai warriors who were guarding the house. They all had gaping holes in their earlobes, and they wrapped their earlobes around the tops of their ears.

The warriors performed tribal dances for us, hopping around and making wild, unearthly sounds. The dance was fascinating, both to watch and to hear.

I managed to buy one of the elder's clubs for five hundred shillings. Milton said that it may have been used to kill a lion. I now own a genuine Maasai warrior's club, which is awesome. I think I'll give it to my little brother.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Make a Zebra!

-July 12, Sunday
Kisumu, Kenya-

I am so tired. Church is in a couple of hours, and I don't know how I can stay awake through another eight hour service and community teaching. I am not sure how I am going to be able to teach the community's young women when I can hardly keep my eyes open for long enough to even read a page-long devotion before bed.

This place has changed my perspective on everything worth a thought and more. I only wish that at the end of an amazing day, I could return to my own home and my own bed, and then reappear in Africa the next morning. Maybe this is only my exhaustion speaking.

Today is my last day to see Lavin, which makes me very sad.

The hotel doctor visited last night and examined Amy. He said that she has a bad case of food poisoning, but not cholera, thank the Lord. He said for her not to take Finnergan, because she needs to relieve her body of the poison, and so Amy was probably sick through most of the night. I pray that God will heal her quickly and give her rest.


We arrived at the church around 9:00 and greeted the elders before sitting in the second and third rows under a great big tent. We were sitting in our chairs, waiting for the service to begin, when Jared came up to us and said that they needed a teacher for the Sunday school. Nobody seemed to want to teach, and I enjoy teaching children, so I stood up and volunteered. Jared led me upstairs to stand before the children in a small, stuffy classroom. At least two hundred children were stuffed inside the tiny room, and many more lined the windows and the doorway all the way down the hall.

"What do you want me to teach?" I asked helplessly.

"Anything you like," Jared replied. He turned to the children and told them that they had a new teacher from the USA. "And who is the president of the USA?" he asked seriously.

"The honorable Barack Obama."

Jared sent up an interpreter to help me, because many of the children, especially the young ones, struggled with their English. I had never taught with a Swahili interpreter before. I taught the story of when Jesus healed Bartimaeus. I think that the story was a huge hit. I explained to the children that Jesus could heal their problems and their sadness as well, specifically with three things:

1. Hope
2. Joy
3. Peace

I read Hebrews 13:5 and 6 and then asked questions and gave out prizes to those who answered. I finally gave away rubber bracelets to all of the children, who ended up numbering at least three hundred by the end of my lesson.

After the lesson, we went out to the church, stuffing desk after desk after desk into the fairly small sanctuary. There had to have been more than five hundred children squeezed tightly into this room. It was astonishing... and very, very hot and stuffy. I was prepared to return to the main service, but the interpreter asked, "Teacher, please teach them until lunch. Tell them about your life in America, and about the Honorable Barack Obama."

I taught them how to sing The Lord's Army, and then the children joyfully sang the song I had taught them earlier in the week- Yesu ni Bwana. The interpreter had them all tell me what they thought of me, picking children out of the crowd to say, "God bless you," "Thank you, madam," "Please come again," and etc. It was precious to hear.

I went to sit through the last five or ten minutes of the service, and then we broke up into the community teaching groups. Before the sessions began, I pulled Lavin aside and gave her the gift bag I brought and my shoes. She beamed at me and hugged me shyly. Lavin is the sweetest little girl.

We returned to the stuffy church room. Connie, Olivia, and I were in charge of the women. We taught about Esther again, and we broke up into small groups at the end. It was an enjoyable experience. Jared brought in crates of Coca-Cola and Fanta, and we all sang songs together.

We left the hot church feeling sweaty and hot, and I saw a woman with the most precious five month old baby girl named Sarah. The woman, Lynette, must have noticed my adoration for all things small, for while I was sitting on a bench rather forlornly, eying her baby, she came up to me, plopped Sarah onto my lap, and said, "Hold her while I eat." What joy this gave me.

I examined this adorable baby from head to toe, tickling her round, chocolate-colored belly, listening to her chatter, touching her toes, watching her sweet smile. If you did not know this, and I have no intention of being racist in any way, the hair of black babies, at least African ones, is very soft and fine, almost like cotton. I loved to pet Sarah's soft hair, and she was fascinated by my long curls, pulling them with a kind of awe, so we were even. By the time that Lynette returned to take her baby back, my heart was stolen.

Lunch was chicken stew, greens, chicken, and ugali- all without any silverware.

Because this was our last day at Ring Road, we all gathered together with the Ring Road staff in one of the classrooms to sing and pray for the last time. Then we put on our new tee-shirts and went to take a group picture. "Mingle, mingle!" Jared insisted. "We are a zebra- black, white, black, white. Make a zebra. Anything else is dangerous." We took our photos and then got in a circle and held hands, now thoroughly mingled. We sang a resounding chorus of He Has Done So Much for Me, and then it was time to go.

I hugged Lavin tightly and promised to come visit her again one day, and until then, write her often. She held me close for a moment and then let go, retreating behind a corner, from where she watched me silently until I left Ring Road School for the last time.

We visited the Kisumu market, which is a huge, limitless space of land where people simply put all of their merchandise into messy piles on the ground, and eight billion people ruffle through it in the same space of land under a burning hot sun. There are thieves and pickpockets lurking around every corner. Everywhere I went, I heard shouts of, "Mzungu, mzungu!" I did not like that market at all.

Recently, my team has been taking precautions that we had not thought to take before. This is because a rapist with AIDS has been seen around the slums, following us. Milton even hired someone to follow us when we walked to the school. The rapist was hanging around even then, although I did not know it at the time. I am not that concerned for my own safety; I know that I will be fine. It is Lavin I worry about. She lives in the slums with only her mother and her uncle, and she often walks to and from school alone.

We are now at our hotel, exhausted. Supper should be at any time now. Tomorrow is our last day in Kisumu, and then we will spend a day in the capitol city of Nairobi before returning home.


After dinner, Christian and Micah and Milton and I sat at the table for a couple of hours, talking through the nighttime darkness. After awhile, Chase and Cheryl joined us, bringing cokes for us to drink. I swear that I drink more cokes in a day here than I have anywhere else, but when a cold coke is the only drink available, you take it.

Towards the end of the conversation, Audie walked up to our group, explaining that a man who was also staying at our hotel had asked for help on becoming a Christian. Milton left to help counsel the man, and sure enough, the man became a follower of Jesus. It was awesome to hear about.

I truly love it here- the people and the places and the faces- but I still cannot wait to be home.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Rickety Canoes and Giant Beetles

-July 11, Saturday
Kisumu, Kenya-

Today we got up extra early and went to Lake Victoria. We arrived at the dock, only to see a couple of rickety canoes bobbing unsteadily in the water. What makes things worse was not the fact that I am terrified of deep water or that once Milton got a parasite from Lake Victoria that nearly killed him, but the realization that the water was infested with hippos, and hippos kill more people per year than any other animal except for the mosquito... and we were going to be exploring these waters in nothing but a measly canoe.

My canoe carried our two guides, Milton, Cheryl, Amy, Olivia, Micah, Holly, Christian, and me. We were kind of the scaredy-cat boat, and so our hopes sank as we left the shore. The fact that we were required to wear life jackets, insinuating that there was a possibility, however so small, of entering the water, only increased our terror.

Once we were out onto the lake, things calmed down a bit. The smooth water was a pale blue that matched the early morning sky, and the sloping white sails of fishermen dotted the misty horizon.

Our guide was very intelligent. He pointed out the various birds and plant life that lined the waters and shore. He told us about the lives of the Luo tribes who were washing their clothes in the lake water.

At one point in our journey, Christian screamed, causing us all to look up in alarm. A three-inch long cockroach was making its way across Amy's back. "There is something on you," Christian said in a strained voice. Amy stood up in the middle of the boat and began to promptly freak out. The canoe was rocking precariously, and I was sure that it was going to tip. Poor Milton must have been horrified. The guide finally picked the roach off of Amy's back and threw it in the water, and things calmed down some, but everyone felt a little jittery after that.

After the canoe tour, we went to the market and were immediately pulled into a new world of shops and gifts and foreign currency. I enjoyed picking out gifts for my family and friends.

We went to go eat at a local restaurant, and most of the table ordered tilapia and chapati, including myself. I had not expected to receive the entire fish- head, tail, fins, eyes, and all. I ate it.

We went to Jared's wife's tiny boutique to visit her and take a look around. On our way out, we were bombarded by three boys who were high from sniffing glue, one worse than all the others. He stumbled alongside of us, talking almost incoherently, and every few seconds he would lift his glue bottle to take a deep whiff through his mouth. It was heart breaking to see, but also a little frightening. One of the boys was carrying a knife in his hand.

We went to the hotel and had four hours to relax before dinner, which a glorious feeling. Free time. A few of us walked over to the small art shop a couple of blocks away. It was neat to see how they made all sorts of things from rubbish off of the streets- portraits out of crushed egg shells, earrings out of coke bottle caps, necklaces out of cow and fish bones- they recycled everything they could find.

Back at the hotel, Sandi, Chase, Audie, Milton, and I colored foam fishes for Sandi's VBS next week until the wind became so disruptive that we couldn't work outside anymore. Then the downpour began. The sky opened and let forth three million buckets of rain onto the Kenyan soil. I went up to my room so that I could watch the small storm through the window.

We went to John and Connie's new house. It is very big and very nice, and it is guarded by Maasai warriors. They also have their own private cook. We were served spaghetti, which tasted amazing. Everyone stuffed themselves full with pasta until they could eat no more. We all held hands at the end of the meal and sang, He has Done so Much for Me, in both Swahili and English, and then Holly and (Kenyan) Thomas jokingly sang the song in Luo.

When we stepped outside, the stars had tumbled across the blackness of the sky in jumbled patches of white glitter. It was beautiful.

Amy began to throw up almost immediately when we arrived back at the hotel, so I pray not only that she feels better, but that nobody else gets sick after her.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dancing and singing through the slums of Kenya

-July 10, Friday
Kisumu, Kenya-

Today we decided to have our drivers drop us off at a five or ten minute walk away from the school, right in the middle of the slums, so that we could get a full understanding of the area in which these people live. People beamed and waved at us, shouting out, "How are you? How are you?" and never, "Hello." If I ever tell a Kenyan, "Hello," the automatic response is, "Fine."

At the school, I took pictures of the teachers and then went into town with James, Audie, and Chase to buy paint supplies. We went to the Nakumatt and two hardware stores.

Lavin follows me wherever I go, and every time I catch her eye, she beams with joy. She is precious. She loves the song in Swahili that I taught them- Yesu ni Bwana- and she sings it all the time.

After VBS, we went to go watch the students play futbol. We walked through the slums to the soccer field and sat on the sidelines, eager to watch the school team play. I got out my journal and began to teach the children surrounding me how to play Tick-Tack-Toe, and then Puppet, which is less morbid term for Hangman.

After we played, we sat down and sang songs until the games were over. Everyone's favorite was Yesu ni Bwana. One little girl named Sarah said, "We will sing this song every day, and every time we sing it, we will think of you, Emily." Lavin stayed by my side the entire time, singing the loudest of all.

We finally got up to leave, and Lavin took my hand. I took the hand of another girl, and then there was a great line of us, holding hands and walking through the slums ahead of everyone else, taking detours and shortcuts, and loudly singing, "Jesus loves me, Jesus loves you... Yesu ni Bwana..." (and yes, I realize that it does not translate into the same thing.) Everyone stared at us as we skipped past them. It was wonderful.

I told my dear new friends that Sunday would be my last day at Ring Road, and one girl said, "We will never forget your face." Lavin said goodbye over and over again, holding me close.

Tomorrow we are going to Lake Victoria to hang out with the hippos. It should be an interesting experience.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Playing Hokey Pokey... in Africa.

-July 9, Thursday
Kisumu, Kenya-

Today, as planned, we went to Ring Road School. Whenever we ride through the slums, the children watch us with wide eyes, pointing and shouting, "Mzungu, mzungu!"

Dory, Rose, and the others were waiting excitedly for me when I arrived. When Lavin saw me, she came running and wrapped her arms around me in a tight embrace.

The children were all playing a game when we arrived at the school. I quickly joined in, asking them to teach me how to play. The game- which I have christened "Squares"- was surprisingly difficult. There were sixteen squares, and two to four players at a time. They would begin at opposite corners and begin to hop four squares right and then four squares left, and then move up one. This seems easy, but then they go backwards and sideways and add more people... it is too hard to explain. It took me a long time to figure the game out, and it was quite tiring. The children thought my poor skills were hilarious. Lavin and I played the game together, and all of the children would laugh whenever I messed up, which was quite often.

I played the squares game with the children, and then we gathered around and sang a few songs that everyone knew, such as Deep and Wide. We also sang songs that the children did not know yet, but enjoyed all the same, such as The Lord's Army.

Directly in the middle of a song, I heard a boy say, "Excuse me, madam." I turned around expectantly, and he said, "We are requesting that you take tea."

This is the Kenyan custom. No matter what you are doing or where you are doing it, you are required to stop at that exact moment, sit down, and have a cup of tea and maybe a mandazi or two. The children with whom I had been singing urged me on as if taking tea in the middle of singing a song was completely normal, and it was... for them.

I took my tea and then went back outside. We played clapping games and jump rope. I taught the children how to play Limbo, and that was a huge hit, bigger than the Hokey Pokey, even. I brought out my camera and we made "movies," talking about their sponsors and discussing the biggest needs at Ring Road School.

"What does your school need the most?" I asked seriously.

"Emily forever!" one girl shouted.

I ask them what the biggest need is for their school, and they tell me that they want me to stay with them forever. I wish I could.

The children began reciting stories. Dory stood up and recited a poem that she had written about AIDS. It was fantastic. I am astonished by the brilliance of these children- children who literally have little to no opportunity for a decent future.

For lunch, Barbie and James and I went to the Nakumatt. We ate at the upstairs version of a food court, which consisted of three or four little restaurants. Barbie chose to have Chinese food, and I ordered a pizza.

We went to various nursery schools, secondary schools, and universities to visit with sponsored children and photograph them. We even went to a medical school. Everyone here wears uniforms to school, even at college. At Ring Road, when asked if my school wears uniforms, I replied that we did not, and one little girl asked, "If you are killed, then how will they know where to take your body?" The life these children live is another world apart from our own.

Everywhere I go, I hear shouts of, "Mzungu, mzungu!" I am not simply a minority over here- I am a rarity.

We went to the hotel and rested awhile before boarding our matatus and going to Jared's house. We sat outside in lawn chairs and had a delicious meal of chipati, fish, chicken, cake, rice, and mango juice. It was the best meal I've had since I have been here.

The meal was very satisfying and we enjoyed examining the stars that quivered above us. They were so different from our own in the Northern hemisphere. It felt otherworldly to not be able to find the Big Dipper or any of the familiar paintings of the sky. We made up our own constellations, creating images of animals, such as a giant giraffe.

We finally arrived back at the hotel. It was after dark and we were exhausted, but happy, and very much ready for bed.

I must go now, because it is later at night than I thought it was, but I will write more tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Yesu ni Bwana!

-July 8, Wednesday
Kisumu, Kenya-

Today we got up and went to do our morning devotions and have breakfast. Cheryl led the devotion, and Christian and I sang a few songs. Breakfast was good- mandazi, eggs, bacon, corn flakes, papaya juice, and toast.

We headed through the worst of the slums, on our way to Ring Road School. There were so many unschooled children out on the streets, watching us. These are children who need an education, a future. It truly breaks my heart.

The students were all waiting, cheering for us again when we arrived. Everywhere I go, the children call, "Lavin, Lavin," because they know that I am Lavin's sponsor.

When Lavin saw me this morning, her face lit up and she ran to embrace me. I gave her a Bible that I brought from home, and the school leaders were so excited for her that they had us pose for a picture. Lavin is the sweetest, most beautiful and intelligent little girl I have ever met. She is so humble and precious. I love her so much.

Barbie and I set up our things and created a little picture studio. Barbie had the names and identity numbers of the children, and I would photograph each child and give Barbie the number of the photo so that she could ID the child from the picture later on. In a way, it reminded me of working with Steve back at home.

The children were often too shy to smile, so I would say, "Cheka, cheka," which technically translates into, "Laugh, laugh," until they smiled and showed their teeth.

We picked four girls to help us find the children around the school- Rose (Rosie), Dorine (Dory), Judith (Moja), and Judith (Mbili). Olivia and I came up with nicknames for all of them. The girls were so helpful. The sun was very bright and hot, so they fetched us a bamboo mat and held it over our heads to give us shade. They brought us chairs and tables, and they would hold our bags so that they would not become dusty on the dirt ground.

We had a few children write letters to their sponsors. A few even drew pictures. It was fun to give them ideas of what to write.

Barbie passed out letters from the children's sponsors, and I got to see Lavin open the two letters she received from me. The many, many children who did not get letters swarmed her, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over everything in the envelope. Sponsors need to write more letters to these children. They treasure every word. They read their letters over and over again. It makes their week.

The children all surrounded Olivia and I, chanting, "Sing, sing!"

"Sing what?" we asked.

"Anything. Teach us any song," they eagerly replied.

So we began to sing. I made up a song and Dory and Rose helped me translate a verse into Swahili. It goes:

"Jesus loves me, Jesus loves you
Jesus loves me, Jesus loves you
Jesus loves me, Jesus loves you
Jesus loves me, Jesus loves you

Hallelujah, ha-ha-ha, Jesus loves me
Hallelujah, ha-ha-ha, Jesus loves you
Hallelujah, ha-ha-ha, Jesus loves me
Hallelujah, ha-ha-ha, Jesus loves you

Yesu ni Bwana, Yesu ni Bwana
Yesu ni, Bwana, Yesu ni Bwana
Yesu ni Bwana, Yesu ni Bwana
Yesu ni Bwana, Yesu ni Bwana

Hallelujah, ha-ha-ha, Yesu ni Bwana
Hallelujah, ha-ha-ha, Yesu ni Bwana
Hallelujah, ha-ha-ha, Yesu ni Bwana
Hallelujah, ha-ha-ha, Yesu ni Bwana."

The children love pretty much any song that has motions, so I taught them another Child Evangelism Fellowship song:

"When Satan tries to get you down,
Turn your eyes to Jesus.
Put on a smile, take away your frown.
Turn your eyes to Jesus.
Turn your eyes to Jesus, He'll see you through.
Turn your eyes to Jesus, He cares for you."

We also taught them Amazing Grace, This Little Light of Mine, and we sang songs that they already knew, at least partially, such as Jesus Loves the Little Children, Jesus Loves Me, Trading My Sorrows, Shut the Door- Keep Out the Devil, and If You're Happy and You Know It. These children love to sing. By this time, Barbie had joined in, and we had the children form a circle, and we taught them the Hokey Pokey. It was pretty hilarious.

Olivia and I tried to teach the children how to play Duck, Duck, Goose, but no one really got it, not even the older ones. Simon Says was a big hit, however.

We had egg, ugali, rice, greens, and beef/goat for lunch. I am drinking several cold cokes a day, because there is literally no water, and we get so thirsty. The bathrooms are astonishingly unsanitary, with much cha on the floor, so we have all learned how to hold our bladders for eight, nine, ten hours a day. Otherwise, we have to pop a squat in the middle of a cha-covered choo.

I got out my guitar and Chase and I began to teach the children to sing some more songs. Chase was the hand-motions guy. We taught them a silly, interactive version of the Happy Song:

"I could sing unending songs of how You saved my soul... yeehaw!
And I could dance a thousand miles because of your great love... yeehaw!
My heart is bursting, Lord... clap, clap!
To tell of all You've done... clap, clap!
Of how You changed my life and wiped away the past.
I want to shout it out... hey!
From every rooftop sing,
For now I know that God is for me, not against me!"

They loved that song. We also sang Every Move I Make, Trading My Sorrows, and Nothing but the Blood. Chase had them all scream at the top of their lungs, dance crazily, and make the hand motions for "peace out."

Dory stood up and told the story of a poor man whose humbleness and skills in farming gave hope to everyone, even the foolish rich, proving that you cannot judge a book by its cover. Dory is an exceptionally good storyteller.

We boarded our matatus and got stuck on one of the terrible roads in the slums. While trying to get out, I was watching the people around us. One girl just dropped her skirt, squatted down, and pooped right there on the ground, in the middle of everything and everyone.

We arrived at the hotel and ate beef/goat, rice, chicken, and bread for dinner. I got to chat with my mom and dad on Facebook, and then I talked to Luke and both of my parents on the phone.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I met my sponsored child for the first time today.

-July 7, Tuesday
Eldoret, Kenya-

At 9:00, we are going to board two or three matatus and head for the city of Kisumu, which is approximately three hours away. If you have never ridden on Kenyan roads, then you cannot understand how that even twenty minutes in a vehicle is excruciating. The roads are absolutely terrible. There are massive pot holes, frequent foot-high speed bumps, and unbelievably bumpy streets. By the time five minutes have passed, you will find yourself in the lap of your neighbor at least twice.

Despite all of this, I am excited to go to Kisumu because the girl that I sponsor, Lavin, lives there. I am thrilled to meet my sponsored child and give her the gifts I brought from America.

Yesterday some of our team built new toilets out of barrels and toilet seats for the school. This may sound poor and lame, but in reality, the toilets are so much better than what they were- filthy holes in the ground. The word for... well, poop... in Swahili is cha and the word for toilet is choo, which rhymes with toe.

None of these people seem to know any form of the word 'bathroom'- restroom, toilet, lavatory, water closet, powder room- in the English language. In fact, one man asked Barbie if she needed to use a s*** hole, for lack of a better word.

Cheryl talked to the members of the school about how they needed to put their cha in the choo, and not on the floor. She and Audie also taught them how to use bleach. Trying to explain that bleach was poisonous to drink, she explained, "It will kill the children," and then they were all terrified of the stuff.

We put a plaque on Connor Deal's keyboard in memory of his life. It is nice to know that there are literally hundreds of people who are thanking God for Connor Deal every day because they now have a musical instrument for their church. They are extremely grateful.

-Kisumu, Kenya-

As a final farewell, we sang songs with the elders of the Eldoret church and finished with a serene chorus of, "He has done so much for me that I cannot tell it all, I cannot tell it all, I cannot tell it all. He has done so much for me."

I said goodbye to Wilson and Consolata and all of my new friends. Madina gave me the sweetest letter of encouragement. It says,

"Dear Emily Welch,
I take this opportunity to congratulate you for the good work that you have done in our country. May God bless you for being kind and care. Thank you for taking care and supporting those children that are not able. Just remember that you will reap what you sow. Continue with that heart of kindness and God will bless you. You are welcomed again in our country, and you can keep in touch through my email.
Yours friendly,
Madina Matembai"

The sadness I felt from leaving this people brought tears to my eyes. I feel a connection with these church members, and I will not feel complete until I help them in someway, somehow.

We prepared to board our matatus for the final time. The drivers always pick the two people who they want to sit in the passenger seat with them so that they can show them the sights. Today our driver picked Barbie and I, and we started off for the four hour drive from Eldoret to Kisumu.

It was very beautiful. There were poinsettia trees, papaya trees, sugar cane, tea plants, coffee plants, acacia trees, and every color and variety of plant and flower that you could possibly imagine. The landscape of Africa is so diverse, so distinctive, so striking. I don't think that any place is like it in the world. You cannot even begin to imagine the beauty, the surreal images that wash through your mind every time you open your eyes, unless you can see it for yourself.

We saw the tea farmers picking the tea and throwing it into great baskets that rested on their backs. It made me think of the plantations back in early America.

There were tall, tall termite hills. When it rains, the termites come out in swarms of thousands. This happened at our hotel in Eldoret. It rained and the termites swarmed. After they died, they literally were lying in scattered piles all over the ground.

We arrived in Kisumu and met Jared, James, and Thomas before heading inside of the Nakumatt mall and eating lunch at a fairly nice restaurant. I ordered chips, a ham and cheese sandwich, a coke, and a vanilla milk shake. It was lovely.

We went shopping for a while and I bought a few gifts for my family. It is very easy to bargain with the vendors. They would say that something cost one amount, and then say, "But for you, my customer, you get a special discount... for you only. What price would you like?" We would barter back and forth, and then I would pretend to be ready to leave until I got the price that I wanted.

We had to drive through the worst slums I have ever seen to get to the school. Houses and businesses made of tarp, piles of trash blanketing the streets, practically nonexistent roads, children playing in ankle-deep mud and feces... it was a terrible, terrible place. My heart reaches out to these people.

I could hear the children shrieking with excitement before I even saw the school. They were so eager to see us. As we climbed out of the matatus, the five hundred children began to sing, Rejoice in the Lord Always. Barbie cried with joy, because she taught them that song several years ago.

I told my name to one child, and by the time I stood up to introduce myself to the school, at least eighty kids shouted out, "Emily!" before I even said my name. They were so excited to meet us all.

We took a long and rather boring tour of the AIDS clinic and VCT. It is so small and so poor, but they are so proud of it, and for good reason. They are helping save a few more people from the terrible HIV/AIDS pandemic. I was told that the tiny clinic services over a million people in the Nyalenda slums area.

We went outside to visit with the children, and they lined up to wash their hands. Because of the cholera outbreak in the slums, everyone is working hard to stay clean and healthy.

After they washed, they received a plateful of beans and maize for dinner. A girl of thirteen walked up to me and said, "I want to make a friendship with you." Her name is Dorine, and she is the sweetest little girl. After we had a short conversation, I told Dorine that I sponsor a girl named Lavin, and that I wanted to meet her. "Yes, yes, Lavin is in class three," Dorine replied, and then suddenly children everywhere were calling out, "Lavin! Lavin! Where is Lavin?"

Lavin emerged from the crowd, smiling shyly, and her face lit up with recognition when she saw me. "Do you know who I am?" I asked her.

"Yes, Emily," she whispered.

I pulled the green bracelet that says, "I Choose You," off of my wrist and tied it around Lavin's. "I brought this to you from America," I explained. "You are one year younger than my sister. I consider you as my sister."

Lavin did not speak much. Her shyness seemed to nearly overwhelm her, but she smiled brightly, and all of the children crowded around to admire her new bracelet. As Lavin left the school to return to her shack in the slums, I saw her staring and touching the bracelet with an expression of awe on her face.

We had dinner- ugali, rice, and chicken- and then found two new matatus to take us back to the LeSavannah hotel. Each matatu has a name. Our two matatus are named Harmony and Trippin'. When asking each other which matatu to take, we would ask, "Are you trippin'?"

Back at the hotel, we packed school supplies for Vacation Bible School, watched parts of Michael Jackson's funeral, and headed up to our rooms. There are no room numbers. Instead, each room is named after an animal. My room is the Scorpion Room.

I asked the children if they could have anything for their school, what would they want, and they all shouted out, "Computers!" Then one boy asked the difference between a computer and a laptop. I explained that a computer is shaped like a television, and a laptop folds up like a book.

Tomorrow is going to be very eventful and exciting. I am going to help Barbie take pictures for Christian Relief Fund. I am looking forward to meeting the children already.

Monday, July 6, 2009

I'm a mzungu.

-July 6, Monday
Eldoret, Kenya-

Two nights ago, our server was trying to convince me to take a second portion of the rice he was serving, and he said, "You need to eat more so that you will be plump, like this girl," and he pointed at Bekah. It was both terrible and hysterical at the same time.

Today Barbie and I separated from the group and went to the bush to interview sponsored children and those who needed desperately to be sponsored. These children lived in devastating conditions. Single room mud huts, no clean water, little food... we would ask questions and take pictures for the Christian Relief Fund sponsorship program.

One family had absolutely nothing but the clothes on their backs and a decrepit mud hut with holes in the walls. This family proudly gave Barbie and me a fancy tribal gourd as a gift. They had nothing in the literal sense of the word, and they were giving us gifts.

One family consisted of a woman named Helen with ten children. I met four of the ten- Erick, Shadrach, a little girl whose name I do not remember, and a baby who did not have a name yet. Helen asked Barbie and me to name her baby son for her. We named him David, since King David was also the youngest of many siblings. I feel very special because I was able to take part in naming a child, and David is going to carry his name for the rest of his life... a name that I helped give him.

Since Helen is a widow, she has been forced into prostitution to be able to feed her family. They have no money for fertilizer and cannot grow crops. They have no money to raise animals, so they do not have meat. They literally have nothing to eat.

While Barbie and I traveled around the bush, meeting face after face, there was one very old woman who stood out to me. She was very wrinkled and elegant. I knew that she had seen many days of suffering. I pulled one of the beaded bracelets off of my arm and gave it to her. Instead of putting it on her wrist, the woman threaded the huge bracelet through the gaping hole in her earlobe and posed regally for my camera. After I took the photo, she laughed and laughed. She was the sweetest old woman.

When we were way out into the rural area, a group of several children was following us around, never coming closer than ten or fifteen yards. I turned around to greet them, but they ran away, screaming with terror. Apparently their parents had told them that if they ever saw a white person, a mzungu, then the mzungu would steal them away and eat them. I was incredulous.

Another group of children asked my new friend, James, if I was a person or a kind of animal. An animal! I gave all of the children candy, and that made them like me more.

My driver told me that some children had asked him what I was wearing- what kind of paint or cloth- and he had to explain to them that it was actually my skin.

We went to two different schools to check up on certain children and give one a gift bag from his sponsor. The children were all so shy and sweet and precious.

We stopped for lunch at a tiny, tiny 'hotel' and restaurant called the Sunshine Hotel. We had chapati and Coca-Cola for around fifty cents a person. It cost less than fifteen cents for a coke.

On the way outside, we were confronted by a crowd of street children who were high on glue and dressed in filthy rags. They held out their hands and said, "Thank you? Thank you?" It made me feel a great sadness to see those little boys.

Africa is giving me such feelings of both sorrow and hope. It is almost impossible to describe the emotions that are constantly passing through my heart.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Did someone lose a bandage in that pot of beans?

-July 5, Sunday
Eldoret, Kenya-

Today was fantastic. We got up and left for church by 9:00 in the morning. KipKaren Church of Christ is held in the same courtyard as the Milton Jones Eagle Academy. People were already gathering when we arrived, and the children ran to greet us.

I am not going to describe the entire service, but let me just say that the worship part was not over until 11:00, and the preaching was not over until 2:00. The African people are very ceremonial. They would present with great honor various speakers and choirs and people. They had Barbie, Christian, and I go up to sing He Reigns with our team, and then all of the girls of our team sang Amazing Grace with one of the women choirs.

At one point, they called each of us up by name and presented us with a gift. Mine was a hand-carved lion, because Francis said, "Emily is a lion, so she must be the daughter of a lion." These people are all very generous and loving and truly honored by our presence in their church.

During the service, I was swamped by little children- one in my lap, three on each side of me- all trying to hold my hands and pet my hair. I entertained them with my watch. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but I suppose that these children had never seen something like this digital watch before. I taught them how to push the button that makes the screen light up in a flash of fluorescent blue, and that was still entertaining them when I left for the hotel at 6:00 in the evening.

Lunch was the usual... and I mean that very literally. These people have the same thing for all three meals: greens, beans, rice, random (and I mean random) chicken parts, ugali, and a type of bread, such as chipati or mandazi. Oh, and tea, of course. They must have tea with every meal. The food here is unbelievably monotonous. I skipped dinner, mostly because I could not stand eating any more rice and ugali for the rest of the day.

Larry, one of our team, had been in charge of stirring the beans in a huge pot.  He began stirring with a bandage on his finger... and he finished stirring without one.  Needless to say, our team skipped over the beans today.

At church, we broke up into small groups so that we could teach the community. I was with Olivia, Connie, and Barbie, and we taught the young women. There were probably around forty of them in all. Barbie spoke first, and then Olivia, and then I did, and finally Connie. We told the girls about the book of Esther, and how Esther stood up for what was right, and how they could as well, in any situation.

When I first spoke, I had the girls hop around and dance to get out their 'wiggles' before I taught them. I think my lesson went well. The girls seemed to respond in the right ways to the teaching.

Right when Connie began to talk, the sky began to pour down rain. Everyone was distracted, and so they all stood up and began singing... and singing... and singing. Even thirty or forty minutes later, when the rain stopped, these girls continued to sing for more than an hour.

Meanwhile, I was swamped with children once again, and I mean swamped. They all had to touch me and stroke my hair and my white skin and my face. "We admire your hair," they would say. "Do not return to the USA. Remain in Kenya, with us."

"I cannot stay," I protested.

"Why? Are you afraid of black people?"


I became friends with a young lady named Lydia. She told me about how her parents had died a few years before, leaving her the eldest of six younger siblings. When not in school, she raises her siblings in their small shack in the slums.

During the service, Francis told us to ask one another, "Are you happy?"

I turned around and asked several of the children sitting amongst me, "Are you happy?"

Their faces lit up with a joy that only God could give as they each replied, "Yes, I am happy. I am very happy."

When it was about time to leave for the day, Olivia and I were each told to sit in chairs that they had set out for us, and various members of the congregation took turns taking pictures with us, one-by-one, using the church camera. I wouldn't be surprised if they took sixty or seventy photos of me by the end of the photography session.

Two girls pulled me aside and asked for my email address. "Today you taught us to have courage," Marina said. "You are our teacher. Send us letters of encouragement so that we may have strength."

When it was time to go, hoards of people had to shake our hands and embrace us and speak to us for one last time. When we waved goodbye, several children followed behind our matatu, waving and laughing.

We arrived at the hotel exhausted. Cheryl, Micah, Holly, and I went on a short walk and then visited an extremely small version of an African sports bar, and we watched the Wimbledon on television.

We returned to the meeting hall, and eleven of us played a game called "Rhythm." We probably played that game for over an hour. We were all so tired that even the stupidest of things seemed hysterically funny at the time. I am sure that if I wrote them down here and you read them, you would stare blankly at my words, wondering if I had come down with mild retardation while in Africa.

Oh, yes. We actually had warm water this morning, which was wonderful. I feel hardly sick at all, and so today I was able to truly enjoy myself.

I love these people. They are so welcoming, so hospitable, so joyful, so thankful, so giving, so loving, so trusting, so honest, so kind. They make my heart ache with a mixture of joy and sorrow. These sweet people literally have nothing but the clothes on their backs, and yet they cannot help but sing for joy.

Today I saw a house made of sticks, tarp, and newspaper, and the people inside smiled and waved as we drove by in our matatus.

When I taught the girls about Esther's courage, I knew that I was doing what God wants me to be doing. I have a future with this precious people. God wants to use me to teach them.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

I became ill... in Africa.

-July 4, Saturday
Eldoret, Kenya-

I am exhausted. I was literally up all night with a fever and some kind of illness. I have to take way too much medicine now. I still do not feel well at all. As last night passed, I simply could not sleep. A harsh fever rattled through my bones, and I shivered with cold. I slept less than an hour all night. Sandi helped me wrap up in a blanket at around 4:00 in the morning, but nothing could keep me warm. I was miserable.

I have not felt warm since I have been in Amarillo. It is very cold, both outside and in our hotel. The temperature hasn't gotten over sixty or seventy degrees even once so far in Eldoret.

When the alarm rang at 6:30, I got up and dressed, too tired for words. I took some Cipro from Barbie, and joined the rest of the group for breakfast. Breakfast consisted of mandazi, corn flakes, banana, plain slices of bread, and papaya.

We prepared to leave to take the four hour journey to visit the bush children. My fever returned once more, and I was shivering uncontrollably, crying as I watched everyone get ready to leave. I boarded the matatu to go with them, sitting amongst fourteen others in a nine person matatu.

About half a mile from the hotel, two KipKaren church elders stopped us, wanting to ride with us to the bush. It was an impossible fit, so we parked and waited for someone to bring Francis' car to carry a few of us. By this time, I was completely miserable, trembling and feeling nauseated and exhausted. They ended up putting me in Francis' car and driving me back to the hotel to stay and sleep for the day.

I felt devastated. Despite my misery, I wanted to go and love on the little bush children. I wanted to give them shoes and toys like everyone else was doing. I sat alone in my room and cried in disappointment before getting a hold of myself and reading Psalm 91 over and over again.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust."
Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you make the Most High your dwelling--
even the LORD, who is my refuge-
then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
"Because they love me," says the LORD, "I will rescue them;
I will protect them, for they acknowledge my name.
They will call upon me, and I will answer them;
I will be with them in trouble,
I will deliver them and honor them.
With long life will I satisfy him
and show him my salvation."

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Unsponsored Children

-July 3, Friday
In Air to Eldoret-

We are in a tiny plane- no more than fifteen or twenty rows in all. We had to walk a ways down the runway outside before we climbed a set of stairs directly onto the plane. I was walking with Bekah, and we were on our way to the plane when another plane blasted over us, nearly blowing us both over. The wind and the sound were incredible. Our skirts whipped about our legs, and we grabbed at our flying hair, shrieking through the noise. It was startling at the moment, but we had a good laugh afterwards.

Last night, Sandi and I went to bed fairly quickly and crashed into dreamland. I woke up at 3:00 in the morning and could not go back to sleep. The alarm rang at 4:15, and I got up to take the first shower. The water had two options- ice cold or scalding hot, and I chose the latter. I am lucky. Some of our team had no hot water at all.

Around 5:15, I went down to get some breakfast. It was pretty good, all considering. There was an interesting version of corn flakes and milk, which I had along with some sugar. There were delicious bananas, sweet potatoes, potatoes, toast, and some salted pork. It was all filling and I was satisfied.

We went to the airport and endured a long line to check our many piles of luggage. We finally boarded the plane- the tiny, tiny plane- and took off. The Kenyan landscape is mind-boggling. Now I understand why we could see very few lights in the blackness as we descended into Nairobi last night. Most of the city consists of little shacks, either jumbled together in a chaotic mess, or scattered apart from each other, looking vaguely like spilled Legos. The shacks are all very colorful. The African landscape is much different than ours, consisting of random mountains, craters, lakes, grassy plains, and villages. It is beautiful.

The captain just announced that we are already descending. This was quite a short flight, no longer than thirty minutes.

I am excited for the busy day ahead of us.

-Eldoret, Kenya-

I don't know how much I can write tonight, since it is late and I have to get up early tomorrow, but if I have to stop, then I will finish the recording of my day tomorrow.

We got off the plane and we met with Francis and his sweet wife, Consolata. We gathered our luggage and boarded the matatus to go to the Jumbo Valley Hotel. Half of us were left behind until the drivers could make a second trip to the airport. When we finally arrived, everyone was waiting outside with shouts of, "Karibu! Welcome!" All of the leaders and elders from the CRF Eldoret Projects had come to welcome us to Eldoret.

We put our things in our rooms, and some of us went to have tea time, while others of our team went into town to go to the bank and exchange their money. I stayed to have tea, because I had already exchanged my currency at the airport.

The men all introduced themselves to us, often stopping with emotion as they thanked us for our service in coming to Kenya. They were so excited to have us here. They would stand up and sing worship songs to us. It was an interesting sight to see all of the tall African men, dressed in nice suits, dancing and clapping and singing joyfully. It was beautiful.

We all introduced ourselves to the men and Consolata, and they introduced themselves in return, speaking in deep voices with thick accents. They told us stories of the children, the churches, and their lives. They had a little ceremony to show their appreciation, where they would rub their hands together and then clap in unison- one, two, three... one, two, three... one, two, three...

The men had everyone speak again when the others returned from the bank, and so we went through each and every introduction for yet another round. One mzee named Paul said, "If you forget everything you learn in Kenya, you must remember this: be yourself. God has a special mission for you. Your mission is not mine... or Milton Jones'... or anyone else's. Your mission is your own."

These people are so joyful, so happy, and they smile all the time. They sing proudly, "He has done so much for me that I can not tell it all..."

The men talked about how there is hakuna matata, or "no problems" in Kenya. It brings me back to hardly hours before when Consolata was explaining to me how that Kenya is going through a terrible drought, which means that even harder times are to come for the many farmers in this region. "We are crying," Consolata said in her soft voice. "Africa is crying out for rain. We are crying out to God, and He will provide for us."

The meeting lasted from 10:00 in the morning until nearly 2:40 in the afternoon. It was a phenomenal and uplifting experience. After we finished the long meeting with the African men, we went to the Milton Jones Eagle Academy to see the children. They were all standing on the front porch of the tiny school, waiting eagerly for us.

When I stepped out of the matatu, I was immediately swept up into a swarm of five hovering old women. They kissed me and hugged me and kissed me again, murmuring, "Karibu. Welcome," before running off to find their next new friend.

The children sang us a song, and then we went down the line to greet every one of them, because they each wanted to shake our hands and ask, "How are you?" in sweet voices. The children's uniforms were purple and navy blue. I have never seen cuter children in my entire life.

There were even more children meandering in the muddy schoolyard. These, however, were shoeless and wore dusty, mismatched clothing. They looked at us with wide eyes, staring at our digital cameras with wonder.

A new game began. We would take pictures of the laughing children and let them take a peek at themselves in the tiny screens, crowing with delight at their images. I wonder if they have ever had pictures taken of them.

These children were the unschooled.

These were the ones who were not sponsored, who could not afford shoes, much less the books and uniforms required of the small primary school. With longing eyes, these children watched the students file into the schoolhouse for the greeting ceremony.

We sat down on hard, wooden benches, astonished by the darkness of the classroom. There was no electricity, and only a few windows, so little light came into the small room. The children sang happily to us in both Swahili and English, with dramatic gestures and facial expressions.

Francis told us that throughout the entire day, whenever a car had driven by the front gate, the children rushed to the gate in eager expectation, hoping that their American friends had come early. They were such happy little children.

Francis spoke eagerly about the beginning of his school and about the church of Christ that it becomes on Sunday mornings. He proudly told us the story of when a witch doctor who hated the church cursed them by beheading some chickens and placing them rear-forward in front of the church building. This curse made the local people too frightened to come to church. Francis and his elders went inside the church and prayed long and hard to God for three days. At the end of the third day, the witch doctor was found dead in his home.

The teachers and cooks of the school were proudly introduced, and then each of my team introduced ourselves as well. Milton Jones spoke to the awe-struck children. They all treated him with great reverence. After all, he was the Milton Jones, the man their school was named after.

At the end of the ceremony, I had to use the restroom. It was raining gently, and when I arrived at the dilapidated hut that said, Ladies, I knew that I was about to experience something truly foreign to my lifestyle back at home. There were large holes in the rusty tin roof, and rain spattered through the ceiling onto my head. There were three filthy stalls, and feces covered the floor. I am not sure why the children would just as soon take a dump on the floor than in the hole. There were two footprints to stand on, and the stench was nearly overwhelming. The stall door was hanging by one hinge, but at least that stall had a door.

I left the restroom feeling a great sadness wash over me. Audie saw my expression. "The children use this every day," he said quietly. I simply nodded my head and looked around me at the laughing children, who had left the schoolhouse and were now playing on the porch and in the rain. They were so carefree, so happy, despite being orphans in terrible conditions. They praise God for their nothing, which is still better than what some people have.

Francis showed us one little boy who could hardly walk and would not look anyone in the eye. "He was badly beaten by his guardian," he explained softly, "and is now maimed and brain damaged. He escaped to a neighbor, who brought him here. He does not have a sponsor, but we are letting him stay until his mind heals."

His body needs to heal too, I thought sadly.

Believe me when I say that the little boy had a sponsor by the end of the day.

An older boy named Moses spoke to me for awhile. He said that he was twenty years old and still in secondary school, which is the Kenyan term for high school. He explained how that a few years ago, his mother became extremely ill with AIDS, and he quit school so that he could find work to pay for her hospital bills. All he could scrounge up, however, was barely enough to pay for a few pain killers for her. Moses was forced to live out on the streets and soon became addicted to sniffing glue, an addiction of many of the street kids in Kenya. He was lost until the KipKaren Church of Christ at the Milton Jones Eagle Academy found him and helped him piece his life back together. Now, at the age of twenty, he is finally able to return to school.

Our team left the orphanage reluctantly, laughing as the children chased after our matatu, banging on the windows and waving goodbye with huge smiles stretched across their faces.

Francis was in charge of getting us back to our hotel, but we arrived at a place that nobody recognized. We were at some sort of a park, with animals and mud huts and a few rusty amusement park rides that I would never dare to try out. We all had a glorious time looking at the animals and chasing after a brilliant, turquoise-colored bird.

Chase, Olivia, and I broke out from the group and explored the life-sized mud huts of the various tribes of Kenya. They were small and rural and very poverty-stricken, and I figured that this must be a museum of types that displayed the homes in which the Kenyans had lived a long time ago. "No, Kenyans still live in these houses," one of the church elders explained to me seriously. "These are like our homes now." In fact, the home in which this man lives is a mud hut exactly like one of the mud huts we saw.

We finally headed back to our hotel and ate a delicious supper of rice, ugali, chicken, and greens. It was lovely. We finally were able to head up to our rooms and get ready for bed. The shower in my bathroom consists of a single faucet in the middle of the ceiling where only a meager, ice-cold drizzle ever escapes the rusty nozzle. I took the quickest shower I could possibly manage, practiced guitar with Christian, and am now about to hit the hay.

It is past midnight and I must go to bed, but I cannot wait to experience new things tomorrow.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

My first steps into Africa.

-July 2, Thursday
In Air to Amsterdam, Holland-

We have almost arrived in Amsterdam. I slept for around three or four hours in total, but I still feel exhausted. I should be used to flying overseas by now, but I'm not. I am still tired. I am looking forward to that hotel room waiting for me in Nairobi.

I watched two movies while in the air- Finding Neverland and Chicken Little. I would watch a movie and then sleep a little, watch a movie and sleep a little. Each passenger has their own private television that is set into the back of the seat in front of them. We can watch movies, television shows, play games, whatever we like. It is nice.

We are going to land any minute now.

-In Air to Nairobi, Kenya-

This new airplane is not nearly as nice as the other one. The seats are not as roomy, and there are no special televisions for us to watch, but all in all, we have had a decent time. The lack of entertainment has provided us all an opportunity to sleep.

The moment the plane took off, I conked out. I woke once to eat lunch, but otherwise slept quite heavily- even missing out on ice cream- for the first six and a half hours of the flight.

We have now been flying for almost twenty hours. I don't know about everyone else, but I feel like I am running on empty. I am exhausted.

I had a conversation with the man, and at one point, we were talking about the cholera epidemic that is running rampant in the slums of Kenya where I am headed. I said that I was not concerned because I knew that God would take care of me. You should have seen the look of shock and confusion that washed over the man's face. "Yeah... yeah. Yes. Okay. Yeah. That's right," he finally stammered, obviously unsure of how to respond to my bold statement. I smiled at him.

We are almost in Africa. It seems surreal. I am finally going to Africa. I am finally here. I feel like time has just begun for me. I am finally doing what God wants me to do.

It is dusk outside, which feels strange, because in Texas time, it is 11:00 in the morning. Here, it is 7:00 in the evening, and it is already getting dark, because it is currently the middle of winter in Kenya.

The captain just announced- I think, because his accent is incredibly hard to understand- that we are beginning our descent into Nairobi. The silly male flight attendant is walking around with a trash can, calling out, "Rubbish, rubbish!" It makes me smile.

I opened the plane window, and I can see a gorgeous pastel sunset melting through the clouds.

-Nairobi, Kenya-

We finally arrived in Nairobi, completely exhausted. We went to buy our Visas right away. Barbie, Milton, Bekah, and I somehow managed to beat the manic crowd behind us, and we got straight through. It took everyone else up to two hours to get through immigration.

We went and got our luggage, taking anything that displayed an orange or yellow ribbon off of the conveyer belt. My guitar somehow managed to make it onto the platform in the center of the conveyor belt, so Larry jumped over the belt to get it. Milton, Barbie, Amy, Audie, and Micah each lost a suitcase.

Barbie and Bekah and I exchanged our currency into shillings, and then went to wait outside for a couple of hours while everyone else got their luggage and went through immigration. The air was shockingly cold. I had to put on my jacket as we shivered in the cool night air.

Looking around outside, it was definitely a huge culture shock. Everything looks different here. Even the moon looks very far away compared to ours. I suppose it is because it is the middle of winter here in Kenya. The clouds and trees also all look very different than ours.

We found our bus, or matatu, and finally were able to board and leave the airport around 10:00 at night. The matatu was very small and shouldn't have been able to hold all twenty-four of us, including the driver. Our luggage was tied down on the roof. Everything was very cramped and tight, but in a friendly sort of way.

We rode the twenty minutes to our hotel, cringing at every sharp turn and loud blast of the horn. Traffic laws in Nairobi seem to be virtually nonexistent. The billboards flew by in blazes of bright colors. African billboards are three or four times the size of ours. They are massive.

We arrived at the Anglican hotel close to 10:20 or 10:25. Everyone is dead on our feet and dreading the prospect of leaving the hotel at 5:30 in the morning. We were given our keys- old fashioned skeleton keys that you might find in your great grandmother's house- with heavy, wooden blocks attached to the key rings. Nothing was registered electronically. We all signed into a thick, aged book that was filled with the names of guest after guest to the small hotel.

These rooms are adorable. Silky, mesh mosquito nets are draped over each of the two beds, and a table with coffee, water bottles, and a mirror sits against one wall.

I am definitely ready for a good night's rest. I only hope I can sleep well tonight to prepare myself for the many adventures ahead.