My Kenyan Adventure Begins...
This is Greg with a blog post from Kitale, Kenya. I’m a first-time team member with Africa Connect and live in Wilmington, VT, where I attend Valley Town Church. I’ll be describing things as a first-timer, so my apologies to readers who are already very familiar with AC and Kitale.
Getting to Kenya was fairly smooth. Yes, we did completely break the Emirates Airlines computer system with our non-standard check-in procedure, which took them a good 45 minutes of furious keyboard work to sort out, but we beat the big snowstorm to the airport by just a few minutes and later found out that ours (Sue, Alex, and myself) was the last flight out of Logan before they shut down all departures. It was a narrow escape, and naturally, we chose to view it as incontrovertible confirmation that our mission has divine sanction. That may very well be true; but the question remains, divine sanction for what? I’m sure we’ll find out…
Then, at the Nairobi airport, we smartly decided to lighten our load by leaving behind one of our many 50 lb. suitcases on the baggage claim carousel. Great move. When we finally realized just how smart we had been after we got to Kitale (several rounds of “Hey, where’s my this-or-that???”), Sue made the phone calls and tracked the bag down. We handed over a little pile of money to the local shipper and hopefully we’ll have it within a day or two. Other than that, it was very smooth (but also very long) sailing.
We’ve had a few good chances now to experience Kitale and some of the work we’ll be doing here. The first real excursion, other than little trips into town to get stuff, was going to Graceway Church on Sunday. It’s a good-sized place, but the walls are only about 1/2-way built up, with the roof standing on poles, rough stone walls, and dirt floors. I guess you could call it an “open air” church, and I’m not even being facetious—it was actually a really nice atmosphere. By the time our group rolled in, the congregation was well into some energetic music, which was also really nice. But the thing is, there were two other churches across the street; and even though they are more finished, they kept their windows wide open and BLASTED their music. So, at least on the side of the church where we were seated, we were getting music from both sides. I guess you could call that “stereophonic” church music (and yeah, now I’m being facetious.)
When the singing ended (well, when our singing ended), those of us who had just arrived from the States and were coming to church for the first time were asked to introduce ourselves to the crowd. Then, it was LuAnn’s (co-founder of Africa Connect, along with her husband Bob) turn to give the sermon. She gave a beautiful talk about how difficulties (like Israel’s time of wandering in the wilderness) can be preparation—that God shakes everything that is temporal so that only what is eternal in us will remain standing. She encouraged us to allow and accept—and even willingly participate in and be grateful for—this shaking and preparation. A wonderful message delivered with conviction, humor, and warmth.
The church building is immediately adjacent to the tiny three-room schoolhouse that Graceway runs and AC supports. Each classroom is maybe the size of a small dining room in the US, with no electricity, just a couple translucent panels built in to the tin roof for lighting, and the most basic furnishings. We only peeked in that Sunday, but returned on Tuesday near the end of the school day to join up with a few school staff, breaking into teams to accompany the newest students to their homes.
The church/school, in turn, is immediately adjacent to Tuwan, one of the slums/shantytowns around Kitale. That’s where the schoolchildren’s homes are. This is the kind of poverty we hear about all the time but rarely encounter: people who live on $1.25 per day or less. Actually, we learned that one of the families—a mom and her three children (ages 2, 7, and 9) lived on the $1.00 she brought home each day from the hotel where she works from around 7am-8pm. The 9-year-old boy stays home with the 2-year-old girl. It was the 7-year-old girl, “Coco,” who was one of the new students my team accompanied. Her “house” was really just one of many closet-sized spaces of a small row-house. I estimate it was 8’ x 12’, divided the long way down the middle with a sheet, and had only a tiny table and stool and a mosquito net with a pile of clothes underneath it, which is seemingly where they sleep. One of the social workers who came with us thought that with a bit of training-assistance, the mom (who wasn’t there because she was working) could potentially earn $3.00/day. As unbelievable as it sounds, that would make a huge difference in the family's quality of life (it is a tripling of income, after all). That gives some idea of what Tuwan is like. We’ll be back on Thursday for more home visits.
Today (Wed.), we went back to the school earlier in the day for “Uniform Day” when all the kids (roughly 80 in total, divided into three classes: 4-5 year olds, 6-7, and 7-8, sort of) are scrubbed down, dried off, smeared with coconut oil (it had been Vaseline in the past, but a few of us advocated for coconut oil, figuring it would be better for them), and then given new uniforms and shoes. It’s a special day for the kids and also an opportunity to asses their health needs. These kids are delightful, playful, energetic, bright, and sweet-natured. It was big-time fun playing with them, fist-bumping and high-fiving (endlessly), and watching them run around the small yard and church space and singing songs, etc. I’m sure all of us all are looking forward to lots more time with them.
The Karibuni Lodge where we are based is a lively spot and seems to continually bring in an interesting mix of people from all over. It’s in a nice part of town, almost rural, a five-minute ride from downtown, with a bunch of chickens and sheep and a few cats and dogs running around, lots of open space, flowering trees and fruit trees of all kinds, and many unusual birds making unusual sounds. The Lodge is not at all quaint or swank, however. It has much more of a rough, laid-back, natural feel. I’m told it rained a lot before we got here, so everything looks lush, even though it’s been bone-dry since arriving. I’d guess every day has been in the mid-80s (Fahrenheit), but no humidity at all, and the nights are pleasantly cool-mild. Tonight, I’m having dinner in the lodge and was just handed a plate of super-fresh perch from Lake Victoria/Nile River served with a dill-cream sauce, boiled potatoes, and some green beans. Not bad for $5! The electricity is out again, but the candles are lit.
There are many guest buildings of different sizes in the compound. I’ve got a small apartment-type space to myself, and feel totally at home, even with the stream of ants that always seems to be visiting my sink and the lizard I just spotted (twice) last night. Our team does most of its hanging-out at Caleb and Eva’s (daughter and son-in-law of LuAnn and Bob) place where their four young kids—Jediah 8, Henry 6 (almost 7), Ewan 4 (almost 5), and Elizabeth 1 (almost 2)—plan their continual unauthorized outings and clandestine escapes. Our head nurse Sue’s room, which is filling up with medical supplies, is in the main lodge and our youngest team-member, Alex, who is apparently irresistible to beautiful Emirates stewardesses and Kenyan women, is camped out with his guitar in a tent. We’ve had some wonderful times already—genuine fellowship in the best sense—just sitting around getting to know each other (and also getting to know many others at the lodge) and sharing about how crazy, wonderful, and complicatedly-simple our little adventure and the whole universe is. After just a few days here, I strongly get the feeling that if there is any place, and any group of people, and any situation where a person could learn to live in trust and surrender to God, this is it.