Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I'm not ready...

I'm not ready to say goodbye to all these places and faces that mean home and family to me. When I imagine being at the airport and giving those final hugs and goodbyes to the people I just spent the most amazing 3 1/2 months of my life with, I get choked up because not only does that mean that I have to say goodbye to those people, but it draws an end on a beautiful chapter of my college career.

This semester has challenged me in ways I would have never imagined. It has made the best of me. It has gotten the best of me. I have learned so much. This experience has boosted my self-confidence in many ways.

When I think about boarding that plane, taking off, looking down, and seeing the shore of Africa part from my vision, I can't explain the feeling I have. It somehow feels like I am in a different world here. Like I am a different person here. Free of inhibitions, lacking those protective barriers I have somehow built throughout my life, and loving their absence. I can do anything, I can be anyone.

In many ways, my world has gotten much smaller.

I am really nervous about coming home. I know I'm not the same person as I was when I left and I'm nervous that people won't like it or understand.

Culture shock is one thing. Reverse culture shock is another. People have told me about this phenomenon. The impending doom of feelings of bitterness, sadness, impatience, and angst. They have given me advice. Told me red flags to look for. Shared similar experiences.

As much as I fear coming home, I fear never coming back even more.

Saying goodbye to the friends I have made at Daystar was heart wrenching. I don't know when I will see those people again. It is going to be SO hard saying goodbye to this group too. I can barely go a few days being apart from them, how am I going to handle being at different colleges? At least I know I will be visiting them this summer and see them all in the fall. I am already looking forward to our reunions.

As much as I have all these feelings running through my brain, I know that I have awesome family and friends to support me and help me. I think I underestimate just how awesome you all are and I know many of you have been praying for me and my return. Thank you. I really look forward to seeing you all. I have missed you all so much. More than I ever thought I would.

Basically I am just filled with conflicting feelings.

I have loved being in Kenya, I think I am ready to be in America again, but I am going to have quite the hard time not planning my next trip.

As I prepare to leave early tomorrow morning on our 3am flight, I know I will be crying a lot and trying to soak in every last minute here with these amazing people in this amazing place.

This blog was really hard to write and I'm not sure if it makes sense, but it was nice to vent a little about my fears and feelings. I will continue to post blog posts over this summer that I haven't had time to write yet and to update people on how I'm dealing with reverse culture shock...let's hope it goes well!

My heart is over flowing with love and hope.

Nakupenda Kenya.

My roommate Vienna and I 

My friend Alan

My friend Grace

The South Korean exchange students

Bye Daystar!


The girls, I will miss you all!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Safari- Masai Mara

I'm not going to lie, I was not excited for the Masai Mara trip. I had a really rough week and was thinking that sitting in a car all day looking at animals was going to be annoying and tedious. Boy was I wrong! Looking back, I feel like such a spoiled brat for feeling that way. The 3 day safari was definitely a highlight of the semester in Kenya.

At 6:00 a.m. Friday morning I woke up, shoved clothes, toiletries, a book, sunglasses, my laptop, and camera into my backpack and headed to the d-hall for the typical 4 pieces of bread and sausage link breakfast. When 6:30 a.m.- our departure time- arrived, we all continued sitting in the d-hall. None of us even thought to go see if the safari vehicles were there yet. We are on Kenyan time now. To our surprise, our safari guides are not. They are more on mzungu time than we are now a days. We shove our luggage into a white van and yellow land cruiser. I sneak my way into the yellow land cruiser. I love yellow and I want to travel in style.

pretending to drive the safari car
It takes over 6 hours to get to the Masai Mara and after a certain point, it is all bumpy dirt roads. I can nap in about every setting now...even when my body is being thrashed about in a car. We also had some 'sick jams', including some Somali music, and Cadbury chocolate to accompany the beautiful scenery we saw as we trekked our way all the way to the Mara. Our drivers, LaShawn and Miller were a hoot.

When we arrived at the Ashnil  hotel, Aubrie and I headed to our luxury tent, put down our belongings, and then went to the buffet-style lunch. It was amazing! After shoveling as much delicious food into our mouths as we could, I looked at Aubrie and said, "Gluttony is a sin. Oops." The buffet was filled with cooked to order pasta, mini burgers, fruit, salads, potatoes, deserts, juice, etc.
our luxurious beds in our luxury tent

egg chair
our porch looking out on the river filled with crocs and hippos
After a late lunch, we packed the vehicles and started our sunset safari. Immediately we stumbled upon two lionesses in a bush. One was pregnant. Tyler and I hopped up on top of the yellow land cruiser for almost the whole safari in order to get a great view. Tyler wanted an up close picture of the lioness with his Go-pro so he started reaching it out towards her and she decided to be a scardy cat and run while showing her teeth. I was convinced she was going to leap on top of the car and I quick jumped down into the car before I realized she was more afraid than I was. If I was out of that large yellow car, I'm sure it would have been a different story though. We continued on our safari and saw many animals such as giraffe, elephant, warthog, and buffalo. 



After driving past a whole herd of buffalo, as the sun was beginning to set, the first vehicle (which I was in) made it safely over a large mud puddle and then to our dismay, the second got stuck. We figure that this was because we packed it full with 8 people and it was sitting much lower to the ground than the land cruiser. At first, just the guys pushed and pulled trying to free the van from it's restraining mud trap. No success. It's much darker and we start getting a little panicked. Aubrie seized the moment to quickly film a news story and interview the on-lookers, as in the people not helping LaShawn and his other drivers. Then everyone was summonded to help push it out. A few of us were in perfect positions to get sprayed with mud and two almost lost a leg under one of the wheels when they slipped under the van as we pushed it. New strategy. It's not getting any lighter people...All the girls go and pray out of the way and joke around about the animals likely lurking in the bush planning their feast on the foolish humans. Paige was deep in prayer as we look upon what seems like a hopeless situation when they finally freed the beast from it's muddy snare! Cheers explode! LaShawn thanks all the cheerleaders for our support...we weren't really much help.  Phew...now it's time for a pitch black drive back to our tents for another wonderful meal, hot showers and a bonfire.

when the van was stuck in the mud
 The next day we woke up to another wonderful meal...no I will never get sick of eating great food. Then we set off on our day long safari. Did you know safari is the Swahili word for journey? And journey it was...

First we saw lions!  
Beautiful scenery and tree in the Masai Mara


I just can't wait to be king.


We were so blessed to see a Cheetah...in fact, we saw 5!




Crocs dining on a zebra

Lunchtime! We were told that lunch was take away...I figured that meant sack lunch...maybe PB&J? Boy was I wrong. We were treated to a 5 star dining experience in the bush. The food was amazing. We even had cake!

photo cred: Tyler Minnesma
Our meal ended up getting down poured on because it is rainy season, but we escaped to our vehicles and when it finished raining minutes later, we continued...not before finishing off the desserts of course though ;)
enjoying the safari


One of the coolest things we saw all day. Lions with at least 14 giraffes in the background

That night, it was Jake's 21st birthday. How neat that he got to celebrate his birthday in a famous game park in Kenya? Pretty neat. At dinner, Masai warriors and Ashnil staff came out with black forest cake and got our whole group up to dance and sing in celebration. At midnight, the song Thrift Shop started playing on the TV which was hilarious since it seems to be a group favorite and definitely reminds us all of Jake. We then retired to our tents to all hangout in our robes. For some reason, the luxury tents came with complimentary robes, which we all found funny and wanted to make use of. Some boys even went to dinner in their robes. Don't fret, we all had clothes on underneath them. We didn't have much time to sleep that night since the next morning we set out at 6 am for a sunrise safari!

We saw a hyena who was attacked by lions. 
A milking zebra
Scar...who was defeated by Simba recently and is no longer king of the jungle. 

 After we packed up, we head out for the journey back home. That was a safari in and of itself.

mama and baby elephant

bye bye birdy 
The whole way back out of the park, the self proclaimed "girls car" blasted music and had a dance party as well as let the wind blow our hair as we sat up on the open roof! It was so fun and one of those crazy moments when Rihanna is blasting and you realize you're in Africa surrounded by wildlife and doing all these amazing things and it just doesn't feel like real life.

The fun car! 
Overall, this was one of my favorite weekends in Kenya by far! 

photo cred: Dara Veenstra

photo cred: Tyler Minnesma

photo cred: Tyler Minnesma 
photo cred: Dara Veenstra

Ultimate group selfie
photo credit: Tyler Minnesma

"I just want everybody to know how neat nature is instead of just me and Aubrie knowing it"

Thursday, April 25, 2013


Since first stepping onto Daystar's campus, the students in Trinity's exchange program have gone through quite the few phases. Three pages worth of phases to be exact. I will spare you the inside jokes and obscure phases for sake of time, but here are some of the ridiculous phases the group has gone through this semester at Daystar:

The Library Phase: We have never been given Wifi passwords or computure passwords, or anything of the sorts at Daystar, so we are forced to use general Library and BCC building internet- internet that does not require a password. It is slow to say the least. At one point, before discovering that the BCC building had internet, the American students practically lived in the Library. We were there every waking moment that we did not have class, or were eating rice and beans in the D-hall. O and not to mention that the Library closes at 10 every night and is not open on the weekends. That leads us to our next phase.

The Rocks Phase: After the Library closes at 10 p.m., we have one hour until curfew at 11 p.m. when everyone is required to be in their hostels for fear of being eaten by wild hyenas or something ridiculous...So what would we do for this last hour of freedom on campus? Sit on top of some rocks (as in very large rocks that you must climb up on), stare at the most beautiful stars, and talk about our new exciting lives. This went on nightly for quite some time.

The BCC Phase: At Daystar, there are a few hot spots on campus that do not require a password. The BCC classroom building has 2 really good hot spots. We spend our internet using hours there now. It does not close on weekends or past 10 p.m. either so we like it a lot better than the library except now that it is rainy season, mosquitoes and beetles invade our space after dark. And by invade, I mean there are beetles EVERYWHERE. Big, little, black, golden, crawling, flying, in your computer, in your hair, in your clothes. We are forced to be over our fear of bugs at this point.

The Off-campus Off-limits Phase: For quite awhile, we did not really understand how great off-campus was. It felt scary and taboo to me. One day we ventured out into the unknown. On the road outside of Daystar there is a strip of shops with food, drinks, smoothies, movies, fruit, and everyday items. Once we discovered that going to these shops was an everyday normal thing, we have spent some time there almost every day. Because of these shops and Joshu's Canteen on-campus, us Americans tend to spend some serious shillings on our food phases.

The Ice Cream Phase: One of the shops has an ice box filled with small containers of ice cream. Almost every night after dinner for a few weeks we would all go off-campus to partake in a little dairy treat. I want to say Hannah was one of the instigators of this phase...that girl sure loves her ice cream ;)

The Snickers Phase: One shop has a stock of American Snickers bars! Needless to say, we hopped on that train and ran their store out of stock. They seem to have Mars bars now but I'm still on the Snickers phase.

Hot Dog/ Smokie Phase: Joshu's canteen has hot dogs, and these little sausages called smokies. We put kachumbari (pico de gallo) on them and sometimes he even has mustard. Whenever the d-hall's food makes us sick to think about eating for the 4th or 5th time that week, we skip out and go grab one of these options. There was a point when we first discovered these hidden treasures that I don't think many of us ate in the d-hall for a week. When I look back on that, I'm kind of disgusted but a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do and if a hot dog makes me happy then that's what I gotta do. Variety is key.

The Juice Phase: There is a smoothie/juice shop that makes fresh fruit drinks all day and we frequent it quite often. My favorite combination is Passion, Mango, Carrot, Beetroot. I add Avocado on days when I'm feeling a bit creamier. Haha :)

Mango Phase: When mangoes were in season, we ate them almost everyday. There is no better feeling than peeling into a fresh mango and eating its juicy flesh as you dribble all over the place. Kaitlan even invented a cleaner way to eat them for those of us who struggle to locate our mouths...we use the tops of our washing buckets as plates to catch the juice we spill all over the place. One day, at dinner, Hannah bit into her mango and a little friend crawled out...aka a nasty bug. That bug wasn't as gross as the multiple ants that crawled out of Max's sucker one day though. But for real, the mangoes here are TDF!  

The Cadbury Phase: I typically don't like Cadbury chocolate, well I didn't, but Kenyans seems to treat Cadbury how Americans treats Hersey's. They have a multitude of bars that I like. The mint crunch one, the cashew coconut one, and the snack one. I actually think we will miss them when we are back to our American chocolates. I do miss me a good ol York Peppermint Patty and Butterfinger every once and a while though.

The Monkeys Are Cool Phase: At the start of the semester, monkeys were a sight to be seen. If we saw some, we would instantly shoot pics, and text each other their location. Now a days, they are a bit more annoying, a common occurrence, and basically nothing too special. At least not special enough to run to your room to grab your camera for anymore.

Health-Kick Phase: This phase includes a multitude of components. First and foremost is the yoga phase. This was spearheaded by Koly and lasted only a few weeks, if that. Then we went through a no pop phase. That lasted a week. We couldn't handle drinking only water and plus, it's not like America has black currant Fanta. Then, we went into the no chocolate phase. I won't even say how long that one lasted. Recently we went into a workout phase. We even had Kaitlan's mom send the Insanity workout videos to Kenya with Jeff. That lasted 2 weeks. Just as Jake predicted. Yes Jake, you were right! Happy? Haha :)

Kenyan Radio Phase: We can get Kenyan radio stations on our phones so we tend to listen to it a lot. The DJ's here are great at what they do. When we aren't personally listening to our own phones, our roommates and friends are usually blasting it. I am really going to miss Kenyan music and radio.

Doulos Room Phase: Doulos is the Greek word for 'servant leader.' The Doulos crew were the ones who first greeted us at the airport and who acted as our personal guides, and orientation crew the first week of being at Daystar. There is even a room called the Doulos room. It is covered with splattered paint on the walls and tons of hand-painted signatures and words. This room automatically became our groups favorite place to hangout. We would meet in there to play games, watch movies, give back rubs, or just hangout. This lasted quite a while and now and again we will go back into a Doulos room phase for short amounts of time. That room holds a dear place in my heart as I'm sure it does everyone else's in the group.

Morning Prayer Phase: Kyle and Leah both brought the Common Prayer book to Kenya and so every morning for quite some time, after we ate our four pieces of bread for breakfast, we would head to the PAC (a beautiful outdoor area at Daystar) for morning prayer. Life got busy and internships started up and so morning prayer took a break, but I believe it is being reinstated for the last week in Kenya. "May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you wherever he may send you. May he guide you through the wilderness; protect you through the storm; may he bring you home rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you; may he bring you home rejoicing, once again into our doors."

Cards Phase: There are many avid card players in our group. We are also a very talented Mafia playing group. We are also a little bit competitive to say the least. During the beginning of the semester our group was known to play mafia or cards at every given opportunity. I chalk it up to us using mafia in order to get to know each other better. Plus, we are all really good at it and have a blast playing it. I think that once we got to know each other too well that the mystery and guess work was lost and the mafia began too easily winning and thus the game of mafia died out...hopefully to be resurrected once more before our journey home. 

Riddle Phase: Along with having many talented photographers, musicians, and card players in this group, we also have amazing story tellers. I'm sure we would all agree that Tyler is the best but even then, Dara and Max can give him a run for his money when it comes to riddles. I cannot think of how many stories, jokes, and riddles I have heard this semester, but trust me when I say it was probably too many. I could actually feel my brain getting frustrated at me for thinking so hard sometimes. The orange head or baby head stories will always be my favorite.

Lukenya Motocross Phase: Down the road from Daystar is a place called Lukenya Motocross. They have a pool, lounging area, and loft to hangout at. The first few weeks we made multiple visits per week. I think it was because it is pretty American feeling and also, it was super hot and the pool was refreshing. Also, when you are at school in the middle of no where, surrounded by bush and rocks, with no Target or Starbucks to retreat to for a break from the ordinary, Lukenya is the next best thing! And boy did we bring in some business for them. But really, Max and Tyler made them a promotional video. Haha :)

I hope you enjoyed reading about some of the crazy, random, and fun phases we went through. If anything, this is a blog post to help me and the others in this group remember all the funny things we did when we were just chilling at Daystar and not exploring the rest of East Africa...or in class.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Kibera and First Love.

Kibera is the largest slum in Kenya but it is second only to the slum in South Africa- the largest slum in all of Africa. It is surrounded by wealthy communities. This weekend I was able to step inside Kibera and have a firsthand glimpse of life in a slum.  It is very hard to describe all the things that I saw and the emotions I felt. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to see this part of Kenya, but it was very difficult.

Photo Cred: Tyler Minnesma
 Max and Tyler are shooting a short documentary at First Love Children’s Home and a man named Philip, who they interviewed, was our connection to Raila Primary and Secondary school inside Kibera. Philip and the head of the school took us on a 2 hour tour of Kibera. The first thing he pointed out to us was where the paved road ended and the “dirt” road began. I say “dirt” because the road was actually mud comprised of human waste and lined with rancid garbage- the main reason for spread of diseases like cholera, typhoid, and malaria. Philip said that among the 800,000-1,000,000 people who reside in Kibera that the phrase “this is where the government ends” is very popular at the end of the paved road. We learned that there are 5 dump trucks for the entire city of Nairobi. It isn't very often that they make it to Kibera. He said sometimes NGO’s and youth groups work to pick up the garbage, but even then, I don’t know where the vast amounts of trash goes because there are no dumpsters to put it in from what I can tell. Sanitation is a huge issue in Kibera. There is also no plumbing system for human waste. People use black baggies as toilets that we see scattered among the trash piles. If people want to use an actual toilet, they have few options and are charged at least 5 shillings to use it. A lot of the human waste flows through Kibera in a stream that runs through the slum. We were informed that back in the day, children played in that stream.

As we stood at the top of a hill that has an infamous train track running through it and people all along the sides selling items that were at one time garbage or stolen, we were told about petty crimes, mob justice, and the attitude towards cops. Although it was a bit scary to be walking throughout Kibera, we felt a little more at peace because 2 armed undercover cops followed us around the entire time we were on the tour. We were also told that if we were to be mugged that mob justice would take over and the culprit would be caught within a minute and be dead in less than 3 minutes. He shared a story of a man who was caught and lynched in front of him one time. It was horrifying yet slightly comforting to know that we were mostly safe…

While we walked the narrow muddy paths between the 6x8 homes that were made of mud siding and tin roofs, we were warned to avoid the hanging wires. In Kibera, it is very expensive to get anything. Water, sugar, power, anything. Taxes cause the cost of living in Kibera to be, what seemed to me, outrageous.We were told that 1000 KSH is about the equivalent to 100 KSH in Kibera. That means that 10 USD only gets you about 1 USD worth of anything. I do not exactly understand why. 

In Kibera, the women run the businesses because most men are drunkards. There is also a huge drug trafficking issue and a rise in glue sniffing/huffing especially among the youth. In the middle of Kibera there is a clinic. This clinic has done wonders for Kibera. It is where many go to get their medications for HIV/AIDS and where women go to deliver their babies. Before this clinic, many women and babies died during child birth. Now women can pay 20 KSH (about a quarter) to deliver their babies there and if they cannot afford it, they can deliver at the clinic for free. This has drastically helped with the infant mortality rate issues.

Dennis is a boy that we met in Kibera. He attends Raila Primary school. When I first saw him, he had Tyler and I’s attention as he did some ‘mzungu magic tricks’ with rocks that I recalled Tyler teaching kids in Korr. We looked at each other and I thought to myself, “How cool! How in the world does he know that magic trick and how does he know that Tyler taught it to someone before?” Then Tyler and Dennis exchanged a few words and Dennis reminded Tyler that he had taught him the trick at the Primary school a while back when Tyler was visiting to shoot a few interviews. Now Dennis and his friends in Kibera all know how to do the trick and remember Tyler vividly. What a neat moment to be a part of. I’m sure Tyler will remember those kids his whole life. They obviously remember him.

Next thing I knew, everyone in our group along with our two guides, Jeff, and the two cops were crowded into a woman’s home. She immediately got plastic chairs for us to share and drew up a sheet/curtain so that the rest could join her sitting on the bed-which took up half of her home. The main sitting area also included the kitchen and bathroom. It was cozy to say the least. The house was about the size of a closet in South Hall. The woman did not speak English so everything she said was interpreted for us. She had the radio playing on her outdated cellphone which was plugged into a charger being powered by an illegal live-wire hanging in her home. Electricity is another huge problem in Kibera. Many people illegally run live wires throughout the slum in order to power their homes. She had pictures of herself, family members, Raila Odinga, and President Obama taped onto her mud walls. 

I looked up at her tin roof and noticed many holes near the edges. It is rainy season. I cannot imagine the impending water damage that will be done to her home in the upcoming weeks. We were told earlier of a few homes already being washed away and how many started slanting due to the heavy rains. The woman told us a bit of her story. At one point 5 people lived in this cramped home. Her daughter had passed away and she could not afford to raise her granddaughter, Frieda, on her own. Frieda went to live at First Love children’s home where Tyler and Max are shooting part of their documentary. She shared with us how blessed Frieda is and how thankful that she is that her granddaughter has the chance for a future. Tears immediately filled my eyes at that phrase. A chance for a future. Frieda is 17. Frieda’s grandmother thanked us for coming and we shared smiles, handshakes, and ‘Asante Sana’s’ as we left her humble home.

Path in between houses
As we made the trek up the hill and over the tracks back to Raila School, Philip asked us, "From what we have seen today, what should Kenya do to help bring change? What should we do?" I could not give an answer. I still cannot. I don’t know what to do. What I do know is that I think something has to change. I will continue to struggle with those questions. Please tell me if you think you have it figured out. I sure don’t. I do think that it starts with Jesus’ command to love one another and to help the needy and poor. It starts with you and me doing our small part to help where we are given opportunities. That could look like many things. You might move to a different country, you might become a missionary, you might become a teacher or doctor or business man, you might make documentaries that expose injustices, you might give your money, you might give your time, you might pray. But whatever you do, do it with all your heart and give the glory to God.

Once we were back to the paved road, Phillip said, “The people in Kibera are forced to live like animals. They have animal like instincts because they need them to survive. Welcome back to civilization.” Woah. Those words are heavy and hit me like a ton of bricks. As we entered the school again, Philip encouraged us to go play with the kids. The secondary students were the only ones left because the primary kids do not stay at the school as long. Koly, Becca, and I went and played a fun game of "keep away" with the girls. There were two teams. I was on the team that put the girl's ties on their heads. I bet I looked like a goof, but they didn’t mind. As we were playing, I looked around and saw smiling, happy kids. This school is a place of hope and a safe haven for these kids. As I looked up from the safe haven, I could see people walking the railways and I couldn’t help but think about what I just saw on the other side of those tracks and knowing that those kids would soon exit the gate and return to that other world they know far too well. Once again, tears flooded my eyes. 

train tracks
I went and took a seat on some cement next to two girls named Genevieve and Faith. They were eating popsicles. I asked what flavor and they said, "just sweet." I introduced myself and Genevieve told me that she really loved my name. Jessica. Hmm, I think Genevieve is a much prettier name, but thank you. I asked what grade they were in and they are both in form 1- freshman. Both of their favorite subject is English. I asked them if they want to go to University and if so which one? They both said, "Kenyatta of course!" They told me that they have a new President named Uhuru. I already knew this but I took interest in what they were telling me. They told me that he is a drunkard, a tax collector, and that they do not like his policies. These girls are Luo for sure. I know this because Uhuru is Kikuyu and Kibera is home to a large amount of  Luo people. There is a huge rivalry between the Kikuyu and Luo tribes. Yes, tribalism is still a huge issue today. Google the 2007 post-election violence for more information. 

They asked if I loved Obama and his policies and other questions like if I like Kenya or America better and if I was going to stay forever? I said I want to be a teacher in Africa, maybe even Kenya, and Genevieve told me how proud she was of me. That really struck me. This 16 year old girl is proud of me. Wow. She also asked me if I lived on a farm and if I could dig. She said she was not healthy enough or strong enough to dig. I think she has asthma. I did not understand why she asked me this until later when I was researching the Luo tribe and I learned that women are the main farm hands in the Luo tribe and even educated Luo women still take pride in being able to dig. 

Like I said earlier, I am not sure how to process everything I saw and heard in Kibera, but it did completely humble me and make me so thankful for the life I live. I am so blessed. I cannot even comprehend how blessed I am. I take so much for granted. People in Kibera have to pay about 5 KSH for every 20L of water when I can just turn on the tap and drink clean water. I have a toilet to use. A flushing toilet. I don’t have to think about where my waste goes and I don’t have to worry about my next meal. I have a laptop, and a phone, and electricity at my disposal. Things that I never think twice about. Not until now at least.

Everything came full circle later that day when Aubrie and I went with Max and Tyler to drop them off at First Love- where they live some weeks as they shoot interviews and get to know the kids for their documentary and internship. When we got out of the car, immediately a girl, about 17, comes to greet us with hugs. Tyler tells us that this girl is Frieda. We tell her that we had just visited her grandma in Kibera earlier that day and a huge smile graced her face.

Freida started giving us a tour.  We were able to meet most of the 60 children who live there. These children are sponsored by people in the United States. Max introduced us to the married couple who runs this home and they took us to a little store where they sell homemade purses, quilts, dolls, pillows, and jewelry to raise support for the children who are not sponsored. The items sold are made by women from Kibera and they are taught skills in this shop to help provide income for their families. It is such a wonderful ministry. This place is absolutely gorgeous and the children are even more beautiful. They all give us plenty of hugs and handshakes. Frieda truly is given a "chance for a future" here. 

At 6:00 it was time for devotions. We joined them but it was getting too dark so we just sang two songs. I don’t remember the first, but the second was "How Great is Our God" by Chris Tomlin. It was so cool for me because my parents were worshiping at a Chris Tomlin concert that night as I was worshiping with children across the world to one of the same songs and singing to the same God. Such a feeling of joy filled my heart. After the songs, a girl stood up to pray. She thanked God for her parents and asked for their protection wherever they may be. She thanked God for her brother and sisters at First Love that God has blessed her with and for her big brother’s Tyler and Max. And again, the water works. These kids are so happy and it was so neat to see the place that Tyler and Max stay at and how much they love them there. Here are some pictures of First Love that Tyler has taken:

Romans 12:12 "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer."

Give Thanks

Mother Teresa's!

This week was my third visit to Mother Teresa's and Kaitlan came with me. On the way to town that morning, it took us 3 hours to get into Nairobi because the bus was 'spoiled' aka it broke down on the highway. We were able to get onto another bus but the traffic was also horrendous that Friday. Oh well...we eventually arrived, and stopped at Java for coffee, so all was well with the world.

At Mother Teresa's there is a sister who works at the front gate. She has dealt with a lot of sickness in her life and has never been able to complete her vows due to this. She has served in many places but has been in Kenya for quite some time now. I want to say over 10 years. She is a sweet woman who wears a pale yellow knit cap on her head. I have a hard time understanding her name because it is not an English name and she talks very softly. It’s not even so much that her voice is soft, but that it is gentle; as if she spoke louder she would be disturbing something sacred.

Every week we chat with her for at least a half hour waiting for Maina to come pick us up. Don't tell Jeff, but I purposely have Maina come a little late so I can listen to her talk longer. She is one of the wisest, caring, loving, content, and encouraging women I have ever met.

When you ask her why she does what she does, she explains that she is blessed to have legs to walk to water, eyes to see water, and hands to pour and hold the water for those who cannot do those things on their own. She thanks God for keeping her humble and thankful for the simple things in life. She thanks us over and over and reminds us that we are also a part of God's work at Mother Teresa's.

This week I tried to find out more about the girls and the ministry.

I asked if the sisters who live at Mother Teresa’s have to go through any special training or have past experience to work with the girls. Although there are social workers and therapists who come to the home, she said that the sisters mostly just learn from observing the other sisters and what they do. She explained that many of the girls have been there for such a long time and that when you spend so much time with them that you just learn how to do it and that you learn what they need. I observed this first hand. The sisters and the girl’s relationships are so strong that the sisters can tell you exactly what they want by just an eye glance or other form of communication that they have adapted to. It is truly amazing. The quality of the care given at this place astounds me. There are so many girls and I have not once noticed any of their needs being neglected. It takes some skill, patience, and perseverance to be able to cater to the vast amount of needs. I am sure it is not always perfect and someone may wait an extra twenty minutes to get their nose wiped, or a dry bib, but for the most part, it runs so smoothly, efficiently, and impressively.

I asked where most of the girls come from and if their parents are in the girl's lives. She explained to me that many girls are found abandoned, taken from hospitals, or brought to the home by parents. She said that there are many disabled children in Kenya but that there are also government homes. When the government homes are full, then they ask Mother Teresa’s to take in children. She shared how blessed the girls at this home are because they are loved a lot and all their needs are met. She said at many government homes there is much need for assistance and that the children lay in beds all day and are not interacted with and fed meals alone. Mother Teresa's is the complete opposite of that. She told me that no parents visit the girls because many are deceased or did not want them. This breaks my heart. I could hang out with those girls all day. They bring such joy to my life and this world.

I asked if any of the girls get adopted. Her response touched my heart. She informed me that there is another home for boys and also an orphanage for children without disabilities. She told me the story of a man from Germany who married a woman and lived by Kenyatta. They would come to the homes every day to volunteer. If they could not come together, they would split the morning and afternoon shifts. They then decided to adopt. She told me that they could have adopted any normal child they wanted but they chose to adopt the most disabled boy at the home. They moved back to Germany but return to visit so that he can say hi to his friends and so they can continue to volunteer.

Mother Teresa's is a place that makes me think of 2 specific Bible passages:

Matthew 25:40 "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

Matthew 5:16 "In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."

The light shining at Mother Teresa's is bright indeed. 

This same day at Mother Teresa's, I witnessed my first seizure. I noticed a girl twisted on her bed that seemed really stiff. I went up to her and stood next to her bed. She looked up at me and I started massaging her hands the way that the social work intern had shown me. After a short while she loosened up, but then immediately tensed up again and began seizing. She seized for about a minute. A few sisters went to get her medicine and told me that it had happened yesterday as well and not to feel afraid. She was breathing heavy from exhaustion and drifted off into a heavy sleep. It was such a relief when she stopped seizing and relaxed again. Praise God that she is in a place that gives her the care and love she deserves and that they can afford her medication. That whole experience sort of seems like a blur. I feel like I should have been nervous and a little freaked out but I was so calm and stayed with her the whole time. I don't say this to boast, but I really surprised myself. I did not think there was another option but to be strong for this little girl. I feel so blessed that God gave me the opportunity to be the one to hold her hand through that. God keeps showing me all the time that I can handle much more than I ever thought I could and that if I trust Him, I really can do anything He calls me to. 

God is so good. All the time. I am really going to miss the people at Mother Teresa's when I go back to the States in May. They all will forever hold a special place in my heart and will be a daily reminder to be thankful for the little things in my life. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Camping Kenyan Style!

Over this past weekend, I was expecting to completely have to rough it. Instead we were treated to pre-pitched tents, a nice restaurant on the camping site, American marshmallows, a boat ride on Lake Naivasha, and wait for it...A HOT SHOWER! It was glorious! During our stay at the camp we visited Hell's Gate National Park. The place that the scenery from the Lion King was based off of. We rented bikes...or what was left of them and headed out on a 9 mile total trek to the gorge and back. En route we saw adult and baby wort hogs, adult and baby zebras, giraffes, antelope, gazelle, and cows. We were so close to all of them and there are no fences here in the Park. This is the animal's land, we are the intruders.  Ride at your own risk. We also took a boat ride on Lake Naivasha- home to Kenyan Fish Eagles and 600 hippos as well as other creatures. On the way home we stopped for souvenirs and an unplanned stop when we got a flat tire. It was such a breathtaking and fun weekend, I can hardly put words to it.  But pictures are worth a thousand words, so here are a few!

Zebra on the side of the path

my biking group!

view when we were boating

papyrus we saw on Lake Naivasha

our camp site

There are 600 hippos in Lake Naivasha

Our boat

a Kenyan fish eagle we saw dive bomb and catch a fish

Koly chasing the giant storks on our camp site

the "skunky" because it's a monkey/skunk. 

lamb on our camp site!

beautiful flower on the side of the road to Thika

cool bracelet I bought at the camp site

ready to go boating with hippos!

the restaurant we ate our meals at

biking in Hell's Gate! 

photo opp when we got a flat tire on the way home

Lake Naivasha was a blast!

bye Thika!