Archive for ‘Kenya’

This World is Not My Home

51 Commentsby   |  07.30.11  |  Kenya

We are coming to a close of our eighth and final week in Kenya. The last week at Sam’s Place proved to be somewhat typical: teaching, playing and enjoying African life. The Friday before last was overcast, suggesting a much needed rain which unfortunately never came. The majority of the night was spent with Elphas, the oldest boy at Sam’s Place, spinning the kids around and around by their hands. I’m not quite sure how he managed to maintain the velocity, but the kids were spinning so fast that I thought I would be sick from just watching! Saturday finally brought rain so we played with the children inside and later that day Savannah got a weave, just a typical day in Africa! It took 6 hours for them to braid hundreds of fake hairs into Savannah’s real hair. The result was extremely interesting to say the least but all the women, including Naomi and Nancy, oohed and ahhed at the result, trying to convince Bonnie and I to join the club (after much debate we declined the offer…it just wasn’t for us). Our final Sunday service was spent at a newly founded church of Christ in Kisii and it was apparent that Simeon saved the best for last. The singing was absolutely life-changing and of course the trilling was unrivaled (a major determinant for me obviously). A couple of the members even sang us songs in English, one of which being “This World is Not My Home.”

Monday was the coldest day yet (maybe it was 65 degrees but in my book that constitutes as potential hypothermia weather). There’s a boy at Sam’s Place named Geoffrey who gives the greatest hugs and has the biggest smile in the entire world. He’s one of those people that lights up the room when he walks in. His smile literally consumes half of his face and is absolutely contagious. We knew something was wrong when, for the first time since we arrived, we didn’t see his teeth all day. It started off as a limp and the teachers assured us it was a pulled muscle. As the day progressed, so did the pain. By the end of the day, Geoffrey was admitted to the hospital because he couldn’t move his leg without enduring an outrageous amount of pain. The doctor said he tore part of his muscle and he was able to came back to the orphanage the next day. We didn’t see much of Geoffrey after that and the absence of his smile made the already tough last days of our stay even tougher. Please pray that Geoffrey heals fully and his smile returns two-fold!

In addition to Geoffrey’s return to Sam’s Place on Tuesday, it was also the last day of school! In Africa, children have a month off every three months of school. Although the children at Sam’s Place do not have parents, some of their relatives are still alive and come to get them for their breaks. I’m so glad for the children that have family to spend their vacation with, but it’s the children that either do not have relatives or whose relatives choose not to return to Sam’s Place to get them that I truly feel for. Three children were left behind at Sam’s Place last break, one being the most precious little girl in the world, Emmaculate. She’s one of the two girls in my class and she has the most energetic and outgoing personality ever. However, her usual eagerness was absent the last week of school, knowing that her family wasn’t coming to get her. It breaks my heart that children who have had to endure the deaths of their parents as well as the loss of their hearing have to experience unnecessary hurt and abandonment. I ask that you include Emmaculate in your prayers too!

I realize that this blog seems to be a bit of a downer, and perhaps that’s partially due to the fact that we’ve been pretty down ourselves ever since we left Sam’s Place on Thursday. But, there’s one more day to discuss that exceeds all other days spent at Sam’s Place combined. On Wednesday, we woke up to a schedule of events, or as we understood it an entire day dedicated to our departure the following day. So after packing, we played with the children while the teacher’s and staff cooked and prepared for the party. We weren’t allowed to help (however, not without continuous persistence) but we inconspicuously watched them make all of our favorite African foods such as chipati, rice, and cabbage. We all assembled in the dining hall and the children surprised us with dances that they’ve been practicing! We were so proud to see them perform amazingly after only a couple of weeks of dance classes! Then Simeon introduced the guests, two of which were preachers from churches of Christ’s we’d visited over the summer and one being a complete surprise; Nancy took a mutatu all the way from Kisii to be their for our party! After they each spoke and prayed, the teachers and staff were introduced and they each spoke briefly and then gave out awards to the children for academics, athletics, and overall character. Then Simeon and Naomi stood up and, in shaking voices, spoke to Savannah, Bonnie, and I about how we are the daughters they never had and how proud they were of us for everything we’ve done this summer. I’m not a big crier, never have been, but here’s the deal, I love Simeon and Naomi more than words can describe. They were literally our adoptive parents for the summer. They protected, helped, but most importantly, loved us for the entirety of our stay and I will be eternally grateful for their hospitality and Christian spirit. But anyways, I might have teared up when Naomi presented us each with traditional African congas. Lastly, Savannah, Bonnie, and I each spoke (signed) to the teachers, staff, and of course, the children. I had a hard time finding the right words to express how extremely blessed I have been for this opportunity. If memory serves me right, I said ,“I love you more than you will ever know,” probably a hundred times and, “I will think about you each and every single day,” possibly another hundred. But the thing is is that it’s completely true. Not a day will go by that I don’t reminisce on this summer, not a minute will pass that I won’t wish I was back here, and not a second will escape that I don’t think about every single one of these children. I’m full of cliches today but I’m serious when I say that I left a piece (I would say a good 50%) of my heart in Rongo, Kenya.

We spent the remainder of the night eating the AMAZING dinner they prepared for us and drinking sodas (a huge treat for the children…I’m not even sure when the last time they had sodas was…maybe 6 months ago?) and taking pictures and laughing and crying and hugging and trying to soak up every perfect second of our last day at Sam’s Place. We stayed up much past the childrens’ bedtime, unwisely giving them full reign over our hair (let’s just say I spent the remainder of the night picking out miniscule braids and icing my sore scalp). We agreed that a great farewell surprise would be to make everyone pancakes, so we woke up early and got to work flipping jacks. All morning I was secretly plotting on hiding in the choo until the driver of the mutatu gave up looking and left without me. However, somehow I made it through the hugs and goodbyes and ended up in the van.

It’s a surreal feeling sitting here writing my last blog. Saying this summer “flew by” is an understatement. It literally feels as if I arrived here yesterday, yet somehow I find myself leaving tomorrow. When the realization hit that my days here were dwindling, I found myself viewing the scenery with more appreciation and eating the pineapple more slowly, trying to enjoy everything Africa has to offer just a little longer. Before I left for Africa, people constantly told me that I would come back a different person, that this experience really puts one’s life into perspective. I didn’t understand this until now. The lifestyle I use to enjoy, consisting of an overload of shopping, a reasonable amount of eating out, and frequent visits to the salon, is hard to envision after what I’ve witnessed. In a country where the clothing is tattered, soda is a luxury, and a bathe consists of a bucket of river water every other week, how can anyone come back to America and live the same life? How can you experience absolute poverty and be the same person before you came? It’s just not possible. God has blessed me abundantly. I have an amazing family, devoted friends, and a lifetime of opportunities. God placed these blessings in my life so that I could, in return, bless others in His name. I don’t know who or how many people kept up with this blog, but if I have a purpose in writing it would be this:

“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. There there will be equality, as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 8:13-15.

For those that have followed this blog, I hope you were, in some small way, able to live this amazing experience through me. I hope that you have grown to love Kenya as much I have and I hope that you will pray for and think about these children often. Thank you for your support, prayers, and continuous love. May God bless you abundantly, and in return may you bless others!

Supplying Shoes and Sugarcane

27 Commentsby   |  07.21.11  |  Kenya

As you can imagine, I’ve deduced that living in Africa highly varies from living in America. Last Wednesday, one of the boys here, Mark, was bit by a snake. Other than shaken up, he’s fine, but I’ve noticed that I watch where I walk a lot more these days. In addition to snakes, Bonnie and I have also been subjected to sharing our room with two mice, whom we’ve dubbed Scampy and Junior (Junior is literally junior…he’s not much bigger than a jelly bean!) We’ve noticed as of late that they are becoming much more daring, moving from the closet and the corners to under our beds and in the walkways. Another African experience I’ve had the opportunity of undergoing last week was milking a cow! Two of the older children at Sam’s Place, Violet and Kilion, came with us and taught us the basics. I was a natural and was only briefly startled when the cow decided to urinate while I was milking. Afterward, we even got to try the milk we had extracted! Although I’ve had triumphs (obviously milking the cow), we’ve also had trials, as we’re currently experiencing a lack of water. In Kenya, with July comes a void of rain, thus the depletion of our water supplies. Every day we must trek down to the nearest river and bring bucket by bucket back to Sam’s Place to use for cooking, bathing, and the sort.

Thursday was a bit out of the ordinary. Savannah, Bonnie, and I decided that before we left Sam’s Place, we wanted to give the children something that would be useful now, as well as in the future. After weeks and weeks of contemplation, we agreed that shoes would be the perfect departing gift, for many of their current shoes have holes in the heels and some are literally holding on by a thread. So last Thursday we grabbed a mutatu to Kisii for market day and set out in the search for shoes. After hours upon hours of sifting through shoes for appropriate sizes, we finally had 30 closed-toe shoes in our possession. However, as we stood there in the scorching, African sun, we decided that, although closed-toe shoes will be great for school and sports, sandals are a necessity for everyday wear. So we set out again, this time with sandals on our mind, and by the end of the day, we had 60 shoes ready to bring back and distribute to our kids. And I’ve NEVER seen more excitement in my whole life! They lined up by height as we brought each child in, letting them try on their shoes to make sure they fit, and then sent them on their way while they thanked us over and over again. By the end of that day, I was exhausted, yet exhilarated.

Another simple pleasure that we often take for granted in America is watching television (in addition to running water and shoes). Although I have to say I don’t miss it one bit, the children go absolutely crazy when we bring it out for them to watch old movies. The funny thing is that with being deaf they don’t understand half of it, but they still love it all the same.

Savannah, Bonnie, and I have become accustomed to delicious meals by Naomi and wanted to return the favor by making her family an American meal. The problem is that the ingredients available here are quite different than ones offered in America, so after ruling out basically all Mexican (which ironically I find very America) and many other typical meals, we decided that breakfast food was our best bet. So this past Saturday, after helping the children wash their clothes, we traveled to Rongo to pick up our supplies (even finding vanilla extract which we were sure we would have to do without) and then hastily hurried back to start our cooking extravaganza. It proved to be a little more difficult than initially planned, due to the lack of nonstick pans, but we worked through it and came out with a nice meal of breakfast potatoes, scrambled eggs, and pancakes (an original recipe from Bonnie’s grandmother). Everyone seemed to love it and asked for all the recipes!

On Sunday, Simeone took us to his childhood congregation for church. He introduced us, like every Sunday, but aware of my special trilling talent, asked me to trill for the ENTIRE congregation…which I did most obligingly to their shock and amazement. On our way home, we stopped and bought the children sugar cane. When we pulled it out of the trunk, they all started jumping up and down, smiling broadly, signing “thank you” over and over. They are so precious! Savannah and I have been eager to try it the entire summer and so joined in with the children. Bonnie, however, had a traumatic experience with sugar cane at a young age and thus refused to even look at it. It wasn’t as sweet as I was expecting, or as grainy, and reminded me a lot of watermelon. On the topic of food, I have become very fond of two vegetables; roasted corn, which they sell on every street corner, and cabbage, Naomi’s specialty. When I first arrived in Africa, I undoubtedly craved certain foods not available in Kenya, such as ice cream and enchiladas, however, I have now come to crave African food, i.e. roasted corn, cabbage, groundnuts, and peas.

In the same way last week was completely ordinary, this week has been the opposite, a week full of testing in preparation for exam day (today). We only diverged from this testing schedule yesterday (Wednesday), when we accompanied Simeone and Naomi to a funeral. Normally an entire day’s event, we only stayed for 4 hours, having to get back to Sam’s Place. For those 4 hours, men and women, friends and relatives, stood and spoke, prayed, and sang for the deceased man. It was very unlike any funeral I’ve ever attended, with speakers telling jokes and attenders offering money. The family was so honored to have wazungus present that they asked us to speak and sing for the audience.

Even when I spend all my time with children, teaching, eating, and resting, nothing compares to the feeling of actually playing with them. I feel 8 years old again, pretending to be cats and running around frantically tickling and attempting to escape ticklees. Other than the children themselves, it’s these time I’ll miss the most when we leave next week. I have never known time to fly by so fast, with hours turning into days and days into weeks. It feels as if I only arrived last week and yet, my final week’s approaching. The children have recently developed the habit of continuously asking how much longer until we have to leave and when we will be back. It breaks my heart not being able to tell them next month, but I know that this summer has been just as much an encouragement to them as it has been for me.

Tanzania and Trills

13 Commentsby   |  07.12.11  |  Kenya

This past week has been an ordinary week here at the orphanage. When I left off last Wednesday, Caroline hadn’t left yet, but later that afternoon, her mother came, packed her up, and took her home. It was so sad for all of us to see her leave but I know that God has a plan for her outside of Sam’s Place. That very same day a 7 year old girl was admitted to Sam’s Place. Both of her parents had died when she was very young and she understands/knows absolutely no sign. She has never been given a name so Simeone gave us the task of naming her and together we decided that Daisy was a great name for this young, sweet girl. We gave her a sign name and instantly the other children picked it up. At first she was very disobedient, refusing to go to classes and hitting the other children. Now, however, she seems to enjoy Sam’s Place and has made friends with many of the other children. One of the newly hired teacher’s had attended the other deaf academy in Rongo, Kuju School of the Deaf, when he was younger. He also happened to be on their dance team and has agreed to teach the children traditional African dances. It has been so fascinating watching him teach the children to feel the rhythm of the drum, rather than to hear it. They are all naturally so talented and we have been so surprised, yet pleased, at how quickly they’ve learned and retained the dances.

The neighbors of Sam’s Place, a family that has started an orphanage known as the Gift Academy, are very fond of Savannah, Bonnie, and I. They continuously visit us at Sam’s Place and invite us to differing activities they host, however, we are very busy with our responsibilities at Sam’s Place and it is difficult for us to find the free time to join them. Well, Saturday’s are set aside as our personal days so we agreed to join them for a bible study. However, we were unaware that this study was in, oh I don’t know, another country! Apparently, the Gift Academy has a sister school on the border on Tanzania, about 2.5 hours away from Rongo. So we traveled to Tanzania and were allowed entrance for the day, surprisingly without our passports.

On Sunday, we had church with the children and then traveled to Kisii to attend Simeone’s sisters’ church. The first time we attended an African church, Simeone’s home congregation, we immediately noticed that everyone trills in upbeat and uplifting songs. So for the past couple of weeks, Savannah, Bonnie, and I have been practicing our trills in the hopes of utilizing it one day in church. Well, as it so happens, I mastered the trill from the very beginning but have hesitated in utilizing it. So as we stood in church on this fine day, singing and praising God, I heard a trill come from the crowd and immediately knew that the time had come. So I trilled and trilled, just like the best of them, and it was as if every single person had whipped around simultaneously to stare (in awe of course). Although this proved to be a joyous day for me, Savannah could not say the same. The church is deep in a valley and we had to climb up a winding, rocky path to get back to the car. Right when we had reached the top of the hill, I heard an awful scream and turned around just in time to see Savannah fall. At the time we thought it was very funny, until we realized she had actually sprained her ankle, and thus another injury was added to our list of sicknesses.

The week started off as it normally does, with the only deviation being that Stephen, the youngest boy here, had to be taken to the hospital. What had started as scratches on his ankles, had turned into huge sores and were spreading up his body. At the hospital, we discovered that Stephen had malaria (not a shock since all of the children here have it or have had it in the past) and had a massive infection. He’s being treated with daily shots and we know that with the Lord’s will, he will be healed! We have a little over 2 weeks left at Sam’s Place and I’m still in complete awe of how fast it has flown by. But, I don’t want to think about the end just yet, so until next time, Owimore!

The Story of 3 Wazungus in Kenya

15 Commentsby   |  07.06.11  |  Kenya

This past Friday was such a blessing; first, Bonnie was well enough to teach, and second, Sam’s Place hired 3 new teachers! Before, they had two that were responsible for teaching 5 different class levels. Once we came, we each had a class, but it’s a little difficult to teach when you aren’t trained to be a teacher and also don’t know enough sign to communicate efficiently with the deaf! The staff met all day Friday, assigning teachers to classes and reconstructing the school time schedule. Savannah, Bonnie, and I are still working with our same classes, but now we divide the subjects with a real teacher, so there’s less stress for everyone. Although Friday made us excited for the upcoming week, it also brought sadness. The youngest student here, a girl named Caroline, is the only child at Sam’s Place that has a living parent. She is 6 years old and was brought here by an incompetent mother who assured the Sam’s Place administration that her daughter was deaf. As the months have gone by, the director at Sam’s Place has recognized that Caroline is in fact not deaf. Although she has trouble focusing and will often not respond to sound, she has proven that she can repeat words and mimic sounds, showing signs of autism. It is very obvious that Caroline has a problem beyond Sam’s Place’s ability to help. On Friday, Simeone asked Caroline’s mother to visit Sam’s Place and he informed her that Sam’s Place was not the appropriate location for Caroline. Caroline has a special place in all of our hearts, and although we hate to see her leave, we know that Sam’s Place is looking for a situation that would put Caroline’s best interests first.

Savannah woke up sick on Saturday and thus had to stay back while Bonnie and I accompanied Simeone to Homa Bay (on Lake Victoria). Simeone and Naome are the absolute best hosts anyone could ever ask for. They are constantly encouraging us to experience the culture and visit new places. While at Home Bay, we watched men fish, while women cleaned and gutted what was caught. Simeone convinced a group of fishermen to take us out on the fishing boat, however, the boat’s are situated in the water so we all had to be carried…even Simeone! After our experience at Homa Bay, we went to Kisii to visit Nancy. She prepared us a feast (knowing how much we love her cooking) and then took a long walk until we were literally at the top of a hill that overlooked all of Kisii. As we walked, we would look over our shoulders and realize that children were following us. By the end of our walk, we had accumulated probably 25 neighbor kids who kept whispering “wazungus, wazungus,” which literally means “white people”.

An elder from Naome’s home church called Simeone earlier this week and asked him if he would bring the “visitors” to their church on Sunday. So after we had church with the children, we drove an hour and a half to Naome’s church. Simeone, Savannah, Bonnie, and I walked in first and were led to the front row of the left side of the church. Naomi and Nancy sat on the right side. It wasn’t until about half way through service that we realized that everyone on our side was male! Later, Naomi assured us that it really didn’t matter (even though husbands and wives weren’t even sitting together…) Simeone preached to the congregation about how often we forget to invite Jesus into every aspect of our lives. We remember when his presence is necessary but in the conversations and decisions we make daily, he’s often forgotten. It was such an encouraging and refreshing sermon and it made our mission team really recognize that we must always try to be as Christ-like as possible, in every situation. After church, one of the elders had us over for lunch and sodas (Bonnie and I are obsessed with the soda Krest Bitter Lemon). While we ate, they asked us so many questions about America. One thing I’ve come to realize is that Kenyans love hearing about the differences between Kenya and America. They asked about our buildings, our customs, our church services, any and everything there was to possibly ask! Speaking of which, a couple of days ago, one of the deaf groundsmen at Sam’s Place (most of the workers at Sam’s Place are deaf) asked me to tell (sign) stories about America to the children. After I explained the typical differences like food, landscape, priorities, etc., he began to ask me to tell specific stories…like the 2 towers incident and African slavery. Let’s just say that was an interesting signing experience. Fortunately, my sign has progressed so much the past month. Before I had to make due with gestures, but now I know enough sign to communicate and teach correctly and quickly.

Monday was the new teachers’ official first day and it was SO great! Shadrack (Jennas’ husband) is my fellow teacher and he’s not only fluent in sign, he’s the only teacher that isn’t deaf! I have learned so much more sign since working with him because he speaks while he signs. After class, we found a long rope and played a good 3 hours of intense jump rope. At times their were 7 kids jump roping! Elphas, Violet, and Irene (the 3 oldest children here) are amazing at jump rope, spinning and doing hand games all at once. It’s incredible! We also taught them arm wrestling, thumb wars, and limbo (one of the funniest things I’ve ever witnessed because they would bend their backs about 5 meters before they even reached the rope). Once it gets dark, we move into the family room, a large room with games and books. Kilion, probably the most intelligent child here, is amazing at checkers. We didn’t have a real set, so we’ve been playing with a set he made from cardboard. Earlier that day I was looking through the teachers cabinet for scissors and I came across a wooden checkers board! So that night we played checkers and read (mainly looked at pictures because most of the children can’t read) with the kids.

Tuesday was similar to Monday, expect that I decided to wash my clothes and literally right after I hung them out to dry, it started raining. So unfortunate. I put them back out this (Wednesday) morning at 7, and by 10 they were dry! It pays being so close to the equator. Well, that’s all for now but I’ll be sure to keep you all posted (and no mom we havn’t taken any more walks to Rongo)!!

Life at Sam’s Place

16 Commentsby   |  06.30.11  |  Kenya

Although I have to admit that I am one of the few that loves change, it is so great to finally be in a daily routine here in Africa. Now that we are at Sam’s Place for the remainder of our stay in Kenya, we have been able to maintain a relatively structured day. On school days we wake up at 7, layer on mosquito repellent, and eat breakfast before class begins at 8. Then, Savannah, Bonnie, and I each teach our own classes, subjects including English, Math, Science, Social Studies, Bible, and ending with Computer or Music on alternating days. The children have come to love computer class, always asking me when our class gets to go and then not wanting to leave once our time slot is over. Music class has become one of the most enjoyable parts of my day. We write children bible songs on the chalkboard and then teach the children them in sign so that we can “sing” them together. One of their favorites is “My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do!” We’ve also constructed a makeshift drum out of a large water container and use sticks to beat on it with. Although the children are unable to hear the drum, they can feel the vibration and enjoy dancing to the beat. We’ve discovered that one particular boy, Elphas, has excellent rhythm. Elphas is 15 years old and came to Sam’s Place about 5 months ago. Before Sam’s Place, he had never been to school. He has progressed so much and has a desire and willingness to learn that is not surmounted by anyone!

In the afternoon, we’ve made it a routine to walk to Rongo, which takes about 30-45 minute, to visit with the locals and to explore the town and market. On Monday, Nancy accompanied us and on Tuesday, a neighbor of Sam’s Place, Ben, joined Bonnie and I. Ben taught us many words in the Luo language, the mother tounge of Rongo. As we walked, Bonnie and I greeted people with “Amosi”, “Owimore”, and “Idhi nade” and every single time the people would laugh while responding! We were starting to doubt our teacher when someone finally told us that they’ve never heard a “mazungu” (white person) speak their native language. We became quite popular after that! Wednesday is market day and we were all very excited to see Rongo at it’s busiest. Jennas and Jane, teachers at Sam’s Place, both of whom are deaf, and Naomi took us to Rongo, where we had a bit of an incident. Two men would not leave Savannah, Bonnie, and I alone, grabbing our arms and following us down the road. One even offered me a marriage proposal! Naomi, a very kind and gentle woman, became very protective and made us promise not to come to Rongo alone and we hastily agreed. Savannah has been wanting to take a “piki piki” taxi (motorcycle) this entire trip, so on the way home, we took them in the rain. It was terrifying, especially since we weren’t wearing helmets (sorry mom) After our walks, we play with the kids or help them with their homework until dinner is ready. After dinner, the children lead songs (many that we have taught them) and prayers and then Simeon provides an enthusiastic lesson that even the children who do not know sign can understand. Simeon is truly a Godly man and a blessing to Sam’s Place.

A couple of other random happenings, it has been raining every single day, which is a blessing because Kenya frequently has droughts, but also means more mosquitoes. I have discovered millions (maybe a slight exaggeration) bites on my body so let’s just pray that our Malaria medication works! Also, we’ve taught the children a new past time, hand games! The older ones we can teach more complex games such as Double Double This This and Boom Snap Clap, but the younger ones are content with just slapping your hand over and over. They’ve even moved on from just playing with Savannah, Bonnie, and I to playing with each other. For meals meat is hardly ever provided, so when they do prepare it for dinner, it is fascinating to watch the children gnaw it down to the bone. The youngest girl, Caroline, who is 6 years old, literally tries to eat the bone as well! Lastly, one of the little girl’s here named Orpah has had a loose tooth since we arrived at Sam’s Place 4 weeks ago. On Tuesday I finally pulled it out! All of the children gathered around me in awe as I showed them the tooth (which I might add was rotted). That same little girl has been sick for the past couple of weeks and we found out Wednesday that she has worms. Bonnie also woke up sick today and was unable to teach, staying in bed all day. Please pray for Orpah and Bonnie’s quick recovery!

We leave here in exactly 4 weeks from today. We are halfway through our time in Kenya and I can’t believe how fast it has gone by. I am so thankful that I am here. At night we go upstairs and hug and kiss each child, reminding them that we love them and will see them tomorrow. I have never in all my life met such appreciative children and I am beyond blessed to have been given such an amazing opportunity. God has shown me love and faith that I have never experienced and I can’t wait to see what else He has in store for us the rest of our time here.

Nakuru, Nairobi, and back to Rongo

17 Commentsby   |  06.26.11  |  Kenya

Long time no blog! This week has been a little different than the previous couple of weeks. Two Thursdays ago (June 16th) Savannah, Bonnie, and I were sent out on a special mission to retrieve the last needed supplies for Sam’s Place. So we started at Nakumatt in Kisii and picked up school supplies and toys, and then headed to a couple of book stores to pick up school books. On our way back to Rongo, we stopped at Lance’s School for the Deaf, an extremely poor school of about 50 children. The children danced for us and then invited us to dance with them! They were so much better than we were but it was such an awesome experience! After their (and I suppose our) performance, they prepared lunch for us and generously provided us the luxury of cokes as well, but our group could not help but feel guilty for eating after seeing the children’s torn clothing and makeshift buildings. The would not take no for an answer, however, and happily served us sakuma wiki and oogali. Later that afternoon, we met with the mission team, the current Sam’s Place teachers and volunteers, and Simeon (the director of Sam’s Place) to discuss the new curriculum for the children. That night we watched Out of Africa in order to prepare ourselves for the next couple of days. On Friday, we woke up at 5:45 and said goodbye to the children, promising over and over that Savannah, Bonnie, and I would be back in a couple of days. We then drove 3 hours to Nakuru, stopping for lunch at a beautiful tea room that housed monkeys that we got to feed! Once we reached Nakuru, we went shopping, and I should say bartering, at the market for goods to bring back to S. 11th and Willis Church of Christ. That night, as we drove down the streets of Nakuru, many children banged on the doors of our mutatu (van) begging for money. It was so hard not to reach into your purse and pull out a few shillings, but the natives we were with explained that the money they receive goes to buying glue to sniff. This was an upsetting realization, however, it was reassuring to hear that there is a program called Made in the Streets created in order to help street children with glue addictions.

Saturday was a full and fun day. We started the day off early with a safari in the Nakuru National Game Park, the location of the safari scenes in Out of Africa. Right when we entered the park, we arrived at the lake of flamingos, the famous scene in which the plane took off in Out of Africa. Bonnie, Mitchell, and I decided that we were not as close as we would like to be in the van, so we took off on foot to the edge of the flamingo lake. After exploring, we noticed a pack of zebras not too far away and walked to where we were within a few feet of them! They were beautiful! After that incident, we were advised to stay in the van by a worried driver but saw antelopes, giraffes, hyenas, wildebeests, and baboons (to name a few) from the safety of our seats (we did try to walk to the giraffes but hastily ran back to the van when the driver yelled that there could be lions…). We traveled up a steep hill and found ourselves at the picnic sight in Out of Africa, coincidentally the most breathtaking view I’ve ever seen! After the game park, we traveled to Karen Blixen’s (the main character in Out of Africa, played by Meryll Streep) house in Nairobi and took a tour of her property. Last, and my personal favorite, stop of the day was at the giraffe feeding park where we fed, petted, hugged, and kissed real life giraffes! From here we went to the airport where we dropped off the majority of our mission team. From Sunday to Wednesday, Savannah, Bonnie, and I vacationed in Nairobi, and by that I mean we slept, ate, periodically walked around Nairobi, oh and slept. We left for Rongo on Thursday, and we could not have been more ready to get back to the kids! Driving up to Sam’s Place was very similar to a scene you would see in a movie…they all ran up to the van waving and signing “I Love You!” I can’t even fathom the heartache I’m going to feel in 5 weeks when we leave for good.

On Friday, we started our first typical day at Sam’s Place: we woke up at 7, had chai for breakfast, and then Savannah, Bonnie, and I each taught our own class until lunch. Our biggest challenge so far concerning teaching has been computer class after lunch. It is very difficult to explain to people (and by people I mean the children as well as their teachers that will be responsible for teaching them computers once we leave) how to use a devise that they’ve never seen before. Everyone was enthralled with the typing program we were using and after a good 2 hours, we convinced the children to go play while the teachers stayed and practiced until one by one the computers began to die.

One of my favorite times of the day here at Sam’s Place is every night after dinner the children sign songs and then Simeon provides a lesson. The children are so enthralled with Simeon’s stories about Jesus and the bible and it breaks my heart (in the good way) to see how much excitement and love these children have for God. On Saturday, we walked to Rongo with Nancy, Naomi’s (Simeon’s wife) niece, and then helped her cook dinner…did I mention she’s an amazing cook? Today, Sunday, we had church with the children and then went to church in Kisii with Simeon, Naomi, William (their son), and Nancy. What an amazing experience! It was much less formal than church in America. When someone had a song to sing, they went to the front and lead it. They introduced us to the entire congregation and then asked us to sing a song for them, so obligingly we stood up and sang “Father God” for the congregation and they loved it! Kenyans are very welcoming and hospitable, and this congregation was no exception. They were so appreciative that we came to church and kept shaking our hands and inviting us to their homes. When we got back to Sam’s Place later that afternoon, we played with the kids until we were completely sweaty and bug bitten. This past week has been out of the ordinary and although it was fun and relaxing, I could not be more ready to get into the routine of teaching and playing with the kids! One thing I’ve already realized is that my being here isn’t only to help these children grow emotionally, educationally, and spiritually; God has placed me in this specific location with these specific people in order for them to help me grow as well. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23. No matter how much you pray, read your bible, or contemplate on God, you will never be at your fullest spiritual potential. God’s will is for us to constantly be growing in Him and my experience here in Kenya is just another way that God is enabling me to grow. I’m one of those people who believes that everything happens for a reason; God doesn’t leave things up to chance. He purposefully places people in your life to change you for the better. God desires nothing more than for you to grow closer to Him. Every day that I’m here I feel God working through and within me. I hope for nothing more than to do as much good for these children as humanly possible, but I know that God’s plan might just be for them to do as much good for me as I hope to do for them.

Kenyan Philosophy: No money, no food, big problem

15 Commentsby   |  06.15.11  |  Kenya

So currently my new phrase has been,”I’m going to blog about this.” The only problem is that I forget what I vow to blog about. So one thing I’ve been meaning to share with you is the staple meals here in Kenya. Because money is so tight and food is quite scarce, the Kenyans eat just enough to sustain their lives. Sakuma wiki and oogali is the cheapest and most common meal in Kenya. Sakuma wiki are leaves cooked in spices. Point blank. Oogali is a cooked mixture of water and corn meal, which becomes a thick, mashable substance. It tastes like nothing (not there’s nothing that tastes like it; it literally tastes like nothing) and has the consistency of play dough. It is extremely filling but provides little to no nutriance. If you want to splurge, rice and beans are pretty common as well, but you will almost never find meat in a household. However, because hospitality is rampant here, whereever we visit they insist on feeding us and they ALWAYS provide a feast! Rice, oogali, beans, chicken, beef, avocados the size of softballs, bananas, oranges, pineapple (THE best pineapple in the world), vegetable soup, sakuma wiki, samosas, roasted potatoes, etc. They spare no expense and this breaks my heart because often they literally spend all they have to feed us. But it is boarderline rude to decline. Back to the meat, from what I’ve sampled, the meat is tough and chewy because the animals are as starved as their masters. All the animals look as if they are pure skeleton draped with hide. The staple drink is chai (a combination of water, milk, and tea). They have this at breakfast, mid morning, lunch, mid afternoon, dinner, and late night. Everyone LOVES chai!!

But enough of that, on to my week! The past couple of days have been full of a variety of activities involving fellowship with other primary schools, as well as work with the curriculm for the Sam’s Place children. After the stress of KDPL, on Monday we were allowed a break in the morning which we used to travel to Kisii to see the mines in which the famous Kisii stone is found. We trekked along the mines and watched some men hack out the stone while others carved out intricate animals, dishes, and nicknacks. Then we went to the shop where they washed, sanded, and painted the stone goods. It was amazing how quickly they could create such beautiful stone pieces! After this, we went to Sam’s Place and unloaded and updated laptops so that the students can not only become familiar with technology, but can also utilize programs that will enable their learning. Later, we went back to Kisii and stopped at Nakimat (the Walmart of Kenya) before eating dinner at the Blue Nile Hotel (a hotel is a restaurant in Kenya). We then went back to Sam’s Place and watched Prince of Egypt (with no sound of course!) with the children. On Tuesday we visited the Gift Academy, an extremely poor family that took in the orphans of the surrounding village and created an “academy.” They generously provided us with breakfast and lunch and the children performed so many beautiful songs for us. We were there for a total of 5 hours but one thing I’ve grown accustom to here in Kenya is that you are never rushed like you are in America. After our visit, we went back to Sam’s Place and continued planning the future curriculm and working with the computers. Today, Wednesday, has been my personal favorite, and one of the most rewarding, days so far. In the morning, we visited the Kuji School of the Deaf and talked with the Headmaster about how they operate their school for deaf children. We visited classrooms and observed teaching practices and student behavior (thank goodness my other two ACU partners are Psychology majors!). Then we were presented with a program of traditional African singing and dancing that was absolutely BEAUTIFUL!!! They wore matching costumes and even without sound were able to stay on beat! It was such a unique experience and I thank the Kuji school for providing us with such a wonderful welcome! After this visit we returned to Sam’s Place and prepared everything for the presentation. At 6 pm, we presented each child with a backpack of school supplies, a Sam’s Place hat, and a Sam’s Place T-shirt…and then we had a surprise! All of the children’s play clothes (they have one uniform that they wear daily, but in the late afternoons they are allowed to wear regular clothes) are very worn, with most having tears and holes in them. Thanks to Kenny (and I’m blanking on her last name but she’s a deaf woman from Virginia on our mission team) and her church for donating 2 boxes of clothes, each child was able pick out a pair of pants and 2 shirts. I don’t cry often and I’m not saying that I “cried” tonight but seeing the look of absolute wonder and gratitude for 3 items of gently used clothing was overwhelming. Sam’s Place has saved these children from terrible, terrible situations. Their stories would give you goose bumps and water your eyes (for those that are apathetic that is…for others expect to weep). And they have no hate, anger, or resentment towards anyone or anything at all. They are so sweet and so thankful and it continuously makes me put my life into perspective, recognizing the abundant blessings God has bestowed on every single one of us. It will be hard from this point forward to ever feel mistreated or ungrateful ever again. These children have no parents, no relatives that have any interest in keeping them, have no hearing, have continuously starved, every one of them has malaria, some have been abused, and none of them have ever been shown the love of Christ. I’ve been here for 10 days and I will not be coming back to America the same Ashley Carroll you all know.

 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” – Romans 8:28

My first week in Africa!

9 Commentsby   |  06.12.11  |  Kenya

In some ways I feel like I’ve been here for years, in other ways I feel like its been a day, but here we are at the end of the first week and I feel like I have so much to share! On Wednesday (June 8) we travelled by mutatu (van) to Rongo, a rural town on the very edge of the west side of Kenya. Although the drive was estimated to be about 5 hours, it ended up lasting about 8, including a stop for lunch. Right when we reached Rongo we went to Sam’s Place and visited with the orphans. They. Are. So. Precious!!!! I literally love every single one of them so much!! On Thursday, we prepared for KDPL (Kenyan Deaf Prayer Leadership), a conference that Sam’s Place was hosting for all the deaf people of Kenya. Bonnie, Savannah, and I were responsible for the children of the deaf adults, as well as the Sam’s Place orphans. Before dinner we helped the orphans wash their clothes. It was so fun to help them with their chores! The soap they use here is multi-purpose, used for washing dishes, clothes, and bodies, and is very strengint so that was different using your hands to rub the clothes together in a water basin. Later that night Bonnie and I had an incident in our room. While talking to Mitchell, Bonnie realized a MASSIVE gecko was right above my head. For the next 30 minutes, Bonnie and I sat curled in the corner screaming while Mitchell chased the gecko out of our room…only to find ANOTHER one!! No worries, Mitchell chased that one out too. On Friday, we arrived at Sam’s Place at 8am and began to set up for our lessons and activities. Around noon, we wondered into Simeon’s (the director of Sam’s Place) kitchen where his wife was cooking lunch. We offered our assistance and the next thing I know we’re making somosas (the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten…they remind me of egg rolls) and chibati bread! It was fascinating watching and learning how to cook in Kenya; they put hot pans on the floor and use their hands to mix vegetables and to flip bread in the pan. After lunch, children began to arrive, resulting in the start of a very long day of teaching. This ended up being very difficult because we had children that signed, spoke Swahili, and very few that understood English. When teaching, coloring, and reading books (that we brought, which they absolutely LOVED), we went outside and Bonnie, Savannah, Mitchell (a student that is a member at Willis Church of Christ), and I slowly, yet successfully, taught the children outside games such as Red Rover, Duck Duck Goose, London Bridge, Red Light Green Light, and Little Sally Walker. It was an interesting realization that almost all games require sounds of some sort so we had to modify the games to meet the needs of the deaf children. Saturday was a lot like Friday, teaching and playing with the kids. Let’s just say that we fell right asleep every night!! Today, Sunday, is the last day of KDPL, ending with church, which resulted in 7 baptisms!! 7!! God is so good!

It amazes me how different Kenya is than America. It’s completely normal to walk by cows, goats, and chickens anywhere and everywhere. Everyone wears mismatched, wholly clothes and rarely wear shoes. The roads are generally dirt and extremely rough. And the children, they are so so so sweet! They love hugs and hand holding and smiles. They act as if they’ve never had personal attention. Oh, and they LOVE pictures!! It is almost dangerous to take out your camera because they’ll swarm and try to grab it but when you tell them to get together for a picture, they run into place and stand statue still; but they won’t smile! You have to point at your teeth over and over again and some get it and some just look confused! They also LOVE Bonnie, Savannah, and my hair and skin. They’ll pet and pull at our hair in amazement and compare their hands to ours. One of the children put my hand against a white van and theirs against the tire and laughed and laughed. During KDPL, we all felt like celebrities. All the people there, almost 150, waited in lines to take pictures with us and no matter where or what we were doing, people would walk up and take pictures of us, even in the middle of church! But so far, Kenya has been amazing and I can’t wait to spend the next 7 weeks at Sam’s Place living out God’s word! AWA (Africa Wins Again).

Our day in Nairobi, Kenya

12 Commentsby   |  06.07.11  |  Kenya

What an adventure today has been! I can hardly keep my eyes open but I don’t even care! After finally getting to bed around 2 am, we woke up at 7 am and got ready for the day. The first great discovery was that the guesthouse has wifi! Woohoo, now I can contact my family and update my blog…until tomorrow haha and then I’m not sure what I’ll do. Second, we went and toured a deaf church and school and I cannot say enough how absolutely amazing this was. The moment we pulled up in the mutatu (van) the children surrounded us in their adorable matching uniforms. They kept tugging on my hands and hanging on my arms. My heart melted at the sight of each of their beautiful faces. If I could have smuggled them out under my skirt I would have, but alas, there were 300 of them and only 1 skirt. I can’t wait to get to Rongo so I can spend every day for the next 8 weeks playing and loving children who are grateful for a simple hug or the fact that you are giving them attention at all. We spent roughly 4 hours there, playing with the children, visiting the headmaster and teachers, and touring the grounds. It is considered extremely impolite to leave without being “dismissed,” so we enjoyed our 4 hours until they bid us a good day. Later, we were able to visit the Conway family, a missionary family from S. 11th and Willis Church of Christ that lives permantently in Nairobi. Their son, Andrew, was a friend of Bonnie and I’s from ACU, so it was nice to see a friendly face. Nairobi as a whole is very different than America. The roads are dirt, the cars old, and the driving terrifying (they drive on the opposite side of the road). The buildings are ran down and there is no such thing as upkeep. Trash litters the roadside and people have no shame in using the restroom in public. However, the people are friendly and hospitable and the countryside is literally the most beautiful and breathtaking I’ve ever seen. We leave Nairobi tomorrow and I have no idea how I’m going to keep in contact with friends and family. My plan is to buy a modem and data (I’m still not exactly sure the details of this technology…) but I’m not sure the reliability of this in Rongo. But in the worst case that I’m unable to connect to the internet, I will continue to document my days and post them when I can. Until the next time, goodbye, or as the Kenyans say in Swahili, kwa heri!!!

Traveling from Dallas to Nairobi

17 Commentsby   |  06.07.11  |  Kenya

Today has been a long, and I guess technically 2, days. After meeting for lunch at 11:30 am on Sunday, June 4, our mission team of 15 traveled to the airport and spent a good 2 hours checking luggage, saying our goodbyes to family, and passing through security. Each member of our team brought a personal carry on and checked a suitcase and then carried on a laptop and checked 2 footlockers containing Sam’s Place supplies. Our flight left at 5:50 pm from Dallas and we flew 9 hours to London. London is 6 hours ahead of Texas so I meticulously calculated that in order for me to avoid jet lag I needed to sleep on this flight and luckily I did. Once we reached London the gate was full so we had to circle the airport until we were able to land, which wasn’t until 9:30 am (London time…it was 3:30 am back home!). We then rushed through London Hethrow airport, which might I add is absolutely gigantic, because our flight was in less than 40 minutes and the terminal was across the airport. And when I say across the airport, we had to take 5 escalators, 1 lift, 1 tram, and lots and lots of walking. We had to go through security again and I had to get a full body search while Bonnie was taken away to get a full body scan. Going through security this trip was kind of an issue sense we were each carrying so many laptops for the orphanage: 1. You have to take out each individual laptop and place it in its own tray and 2. The security officers were quite weary of all of our laptops and made it a little more difficult for us to pass. Dr. Vernon had the unfortunate happening of getting his peanut butter confiscated, which really is unfortunate because sometimes this is the only source of protein we have while in Kenya (luckily I checked mine!). After all of this, we made it to the gate 10 minutes late, but they were running late as well so we made it on the flight! And then something so crazy and unexpected happened…I ran into some Harding friends!! As I was making my way down the aisle, a friend from Harding, Kimberly Savage, called out my name! And this isn’t a flight in America, which would still be ironic, but we were on a flight from London to Nairobi!! What a coincidence! Anyways, we left London at approximately 11 am (London time) and arrived at 9:30 pm (Nairobi time), Nairobi is 2 hours ahead of London (Ryan, my brother who is in Estonia for the summer, and I are in the same time zone!!) Although this wasn’t part of my meticulously drawn out plan of avoiding jet lag, I slept for probably 4 of the 9 hours we flew. Once we arrived, we had to get our visas, locate the baggage claim, find ALL of our baggage (3 checked bags a person), and find our driver, Joseph. Finally, at about 12 am, we made it to the guest house we will be staying at for the next day while in Nairobi. Tomorrow some of us will go out in Nairobi and get supplies for Sam’s Place while others visit a current deaf school in Nairobi, and on Wednesday we will travel to the orphanage located in Rongo, which is 5 hours west of Nairobi. I have been given the upsetting news that I might not have internet at all, and in that case I will write my blogs and then post them when we go into town (and if Rongo doesn’t have any internet locations, I will have to wait until we take trips back to Nairobi, which is 2 separate times in the summer). Anyways, thus far the trip has gone smoothly but I’m exhausted and we haven’t even made it to the orphanage!