Dorcas, Sylvia, Vivian. These are names I must remember.
The call to prayer wakes us up each morning at five. Since we need to be at breakfast by 6:30 and four girls share a shower, it's a good time to wake up, except that the electricity doesn't come on until 5:30. So we lay quietly in bed or call out to each other from our dark rooms until the generator begins to groan and wake up for the day.
We took off at 7:30 this morning for Eruli II, a primary school located at the base of Mt. Elgon. It took about an hour and a half to make it there on the bumpy roads.
Wherever we go, people stare at us like we are from outer space. Especially here. Bungoma is a remote part of Kenya, and there are few visitors that venture up the mountain. The children aren't scared of us, however. They're thrilled. Squeals of delight erupt from their mouths and they take off running after our matatu, waving and hurrying as fast as their little legs can carry them. "Karibu! Mzungu!" are two words we hear quite frequently here.
Eruli II is nestled in one of the prettiest places I've ever seen. Miles and miles of green, Kenyan landscape stretches across the horizon, speckled by brown huts and gleaming metal roofs. Acacia trees - my favorite - are everywhere.
I think we got the best greeting yet at this school. Hundreds of children were dancing and singing outside, "Welcome, welcome, our visitors. Life is hard here. Life is so happy. We know everything is going to be fine."
We were led into a single building where all eight primary school classes are held each day. Blackboards line the walls and say, "Standard 1," "Standard 2," and so on. There might be fifty kids in one corner of the room, forty in another, and sixty-two in another, all trying to listen to different lessons. There are no desks. The children sit on the concrete floor or on split logs held up by rocks. Occasionally, the makeshift benches will tip over and the kids will tumble to the ground. This school is just starting out and is in desperate need of support.
After an assembly of performers and speakers, the children were ushered outside and some elders from the village sat down around us. The women passed out two loaves of stale bread, all they had, for us visitors to share for lunch. They were so welcoming and hospitable, but this area is in great need beyond what Americans can even grasp.
The children here were not used to visitors, so they were all very shy. They opened up a bit when I showed them my photo album. Then they began to mimic me, so I taught them all how to say, "Howdy, y'all!", which was great.
After spending a couple of hours with the sweet people at Eruli II, we decided to head to the top of the mountain, where there is a high school. We were told by the villagers on the base of the mountain that the drive was twenty minutes, but in reality, it was quite a bit over an hour.
The biggest problem about going to the top of the mountain is that, if it rains, we'd be stuck there for a week because the roads would wash away. The roads are already horrible, even without the rain. If you have never been to Africa, I think it's impossible for you to even comprehend what it is like to go off-roading in a matatu absolutely full of people straight up a mountain. I understand now why we had been warned before this trip not to go; this drive was a little frightening at times. Several instances, I thought we would tip over or get stuck or roll down the side of the mountain, but our driver Stephen is amazing. A few hours later, we are all a bit stiff and sore after that bumpy journey, but the view from the top of the mountain made it all worthwhile.
On the way up the mountain, Audie reached into his backpack and pulled out a bag of homemade deer jerky. I could not help but laugh. Here I was, riding along an impossibly dangerous road in a 2-wheel-drive matatu up a steep mountain in Africa at the end of the rainy season... and someone was offering me pure Texan deer jerky. What a day!
By the time we arrived at the top, all of us girls had to use the bathroom, but there was no latrine to be found! Not even a hole in the ground encased by a little hut, nothing! There was this tiny, abandoned hut with a drainage hole against a wall, so we stood against the doorway and guarded the open entrance so all of us could do our business. What an adventure! Nicole said, "We have to be best friends now that I've heard you pee." (I can't believe I'm sharing this story, but it was so funny!)
The high school on top of Mt. Elgon is in pretty bad shape. There was a big war here a few years ago that wiped out many families. There were child soldiers, brutal murders, and other horrific things that cannot even be re-told. Many of the children here have watched their families die. Now they live in utter poverty: no food, no water, no medicine, no beds.
At one point, the war became so bad that they shut down the high school for an entire year. It's back open, but it's in poor condition. The floors are crumbling, the ceilings are falling in, and the desks are very worn-down. There is no working electricity, so the students read by the light of the windows.
It was heart-breaking.
Only twelve out of over 100 kids at this school are sponsored. It's been difficult to maintain a big sponsorship program with the war, but CRF will slowly expand it from this point on. I got to see what the students were learning on the blackboards: physics, chemistry, business, agriculture. These are bright, bright kids. All they need is to be given a chance.
The ride back to Bungoma took more than two hours. By the time we got to Emmanuel's school, it was 4:30 and we were all very hungry. The children at the school were thrilled when they saw us. They swarmed around us, giggling and smiling and asking for pictures. I love these kids!
One thing I adore about Mama Alice is her hospitality. She is always delighted to see us and so eager to make friends. This woman is precious. No matter if we saw her yesterday, she runs to greet us at the doors of our matatu, hugs everyone, and says, "Welcome! Welcome! I love you!"
After lunch, I went outside to play with the children some more. These kids are so joyful. They've been brought out of so much difficulty, and they are so thankful for that. They all wanted me to thank their sponsors personally, but I don't know everyone who sponsors a child through CRF, by far! If you do sponsor a child in Bungoma, know that they pray for you daily.
A large group of kids gathered around. I chased them a bit and took pictures (because they asked for about a hundred), and then Audie had them mimic his animal sounds. I taught them to sing Yesu ni Bwana and Jambo-sana, which they all enjoyed. We also did the Hokey Pokey, Ring Around the Rosie, and Father Abraham. The kids mimicked everything I said for a while, talking in bizarre "American accents."
It is easy to see that these children are being taught about the Lord. Not only from the way that they radiate the Holy Spirit in their lives, but also because they know Scripture! I asked Dorcas, "Did you know that there was a godly woman named Dorcas in the Bible who loved to help needy people?" and she said, "Yes, in Acts 9, verse 36!" I was impressed.
At Eruli II, one girl ran to show me her most prized possession: a copy of the Velveteen Rabbit, which was a gift from her sponsor.
When we got back to the Bungoma Tourist Hotel, a few of us walked across the street to the Yako-Mart to get soda and ice cream. We then sat on the steps outside of Milt and Kevin's rooms and talked under the stars, breathing in the cool mountain air. I love this place. I love the people on our team.
This has been my favorite day of the trip so far. I'm making life-long friends, experiencing life-changing moments, and learning more than I ever thought I could learn in a matter of hours.
I am beyond thankful to have been able to meet Emmanuel this week. His heart for the Lord has changed my own.
I'm sharing a bunch of extra pictures today, but I love all of these captured moments!
Two years ago: Bangs, How I Despise You