Thursday, February 24, 2011

weddings and worms

Susan and I just compared notes on wedding preparations vs auction preparations and even though I downplayed my list she suggested my job is tougher and more stressful (as she pointed out, even though she doesn’t know who will show up on Saturday and how much they’ll give her, she’ll still achieve her goal).

Just saying.

Anywho- today I got a pedicure (for $4) and got my hair braided for the wedding (just cornrows in the front so I can leave the rest ‘open’- Susan, like the rest of the universe, loves my curls).

I also had lunch with a friend who works at the school I attended back in 2001- when I first came to Kenya. She and her husband have been in Kenya for maybe 20 years; she’s fluent in Swahili and genuinely loves these people.

At my request she gamely helped me search for this children’s centre I visited a few years ago. When Justin, Beth and Michael came to Kenya with me, we visited the centre. It is run entirely by Kenyans (no western influence; no western money!) and they have a nursery school for about 60 kids and then a feeding programme for kids coming from all over. They also have a clinic where they test people for HIV, and a shop where old women come once or twice a week and weave baskets, which they sell to support themselves, and to help with the kids. (Caylan, this is where your baskets are coming from!)

After saying goodbye to the kids I commented that several of them had worms and that I’d love to help them eradicate them. My friend pointed out that though it’s a seemingly easy solution, it still costs money- and the centre holds around 200 kids.

She’s right- though I am comparatively very wealthy here, and though the medicine is relatively inexpensive, I don’t have enough money to help these kids. It was a nice thought- right?

But then I got home, and started making dinner, while listening to Chris Tomlin, and thinking, and praying...

And, well- you (maybe) know what came next. I realised that I have several HUNDRED facebook friends, and that just about any of us have enough money to help at least a FEW kids.

So I ‘put it out there’, as they say- and wow. Within an hour or two, enough of my friends had donated to Visible Grace through facebook, to buy medicine for ALL two hundred kids.

The internet is amazing- and you people are generous.

I’ll be heading there on Monday to administer the medicine and take a ton of pictures.

What a blessing it will be for these kids, who can so quickly become malnourished because of parasites that enter their body- often through their feet- because they possibly can’t afford shoes. Or because they share a pit latrine with their neighbours. Or because of any other myriad reasons.

And though this is not a permanent solution, it is such an easy way to help.

Two hundred kids thank you.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

brought to you by someone who is fiercely craving those gummy apple ring things

Tonight when I got home, the power was out again. I lit candles and carried the laundry in from the lines. Then I made popcorn and settled down to watch a movie on my (partially charged) computer. And THEN I made dinner in the dark.

The second I finished cooking, the power came back on.

I have a few more things to write, but I’m going to save them until I can really think. This cold is still dragging on and it makes me feel crazy. And groggy.

Um. So in the meantime here are some thoughts, live from Ngong:
~They are paving the road from Ngong to Karen, which means the buses travel on the side of the road. It also means employment for an awful lot of people.
~They passed a new law that all buses have to carry garbage cans. I’ve yet to see anyone use them.
~I paid for my 6th bridesmaid dress yesterday. (I will probably eventually set a record, and no, ’27 dresses’ doesn’t count.)
~I also bought shoes.
~I really, really don’t understand who started this rumour that roosters crow at dawn. They crow ALL NIGHT LONG.
~I figured out how to control the weather: if I carry my umbrella, it doesn’t rain. If I forget it, it does. Works every time.
~Susan is walking down the aisle to Celine Dion and I am reading from 1 Corinthians. Anyone care to guess which chapter?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

emo, as usual.

So much to write about.

A truncated list:
~The wedding rehearsal/dinner today;
~Adventures on the bus;
~Kenya’s capitalistic economy and socialistic culture

But today: me.

This morning I felt icky. I am nursing a cold, and though I woke up in time, I didn’t feel like rushing to get ready, rushing to catch a bus, rushing to church, greeting a million people, and sitting upright in a pew for 2+ hours. Plus, the wedding rehearsal was this afternoon, which I knew would take patience and energy, and I didn’t want to use up any I had left before I got there.

So I stayed home, and read my book, and my bible, and played a game on my computer, and read emails.

And then I only had 5 hours to kill before the rehearsal.

And suddenly I panicked. What was I doing? Why was I wasting a perfectly beautiful, sunny day inside? (the problem was that I stayed home last night, too, dozing and watching tv all evening. I could tell my cold is getting better based on how restless I felt.)

And this feeling of discontent quickly led to boredom which led to loneliness which led to despair: what was I DOING here? Why was I in Kenya in the first place? And what on earth made me think I could start a children’s home, anyway? And why in the world did anyone ELSE think so?!

Yeah- I know I’m crazy. Get used to it.

I was impatiently pacing my bedroom when it occurred to me: pray. So I tried, ‘okay…HELP.’ And ‘God, I’m so lonely.’ and several other sentences that ended in ‘help, okay?’

And then I took a shower.

And within seconds I felt so lifted, so encouraged and comforted by our Counselor, our Helper- GOD is in charge. God knows. He’s been there; he’s been sick, and lonely, and discouraged and overwhelmed before, too.

I can’t even put into words the calming effect God had on my heart this morning: I went from total panicked disarray to peaceful, encouraged empowerment:

I am not alone.

Also, I took pictures today. I’ll post them tomorrow, I promise*.

*by promise, I mean, if the Lord wills, and I live, and the internet cooperates.

Friday, February 18, 2011

it took me four tries to stay logged on long enough to post this, AND, my dashboard is currently in French.

Tonight while she is washing her hands, Susan tells me suddenly that when she was in grade school, she and all of her friends wanted to be doctors. She sticks her head into my room and as she dries her hands on my towel she says, ‘we thought it would be the easiest course.’ I smile and share the memory that jumps into my mind: all of my kids (who I was teaching) back in the village wanted to be pilots. I can remember this day particularly clearly, out of a whole month of ‘all about us’. I vividly picture each child standing next to me, leaning forward, hands cupped around their mouths, whispering these secrets that deserve upmost security:

‘Teacher, I want to be a pilot.’

‘I want to be a- a pilot.’

‘Teacher, I want…I want to be a pilot.’

And on and on: pilot, pilot, preacher, president, pilot. You would have thought it was ‘P’ week.

As I am talking to Susan my eyes without warning are flooded with tears. Oh, nothing’s wrong- I just miss, so badly, those sweet, long, hot sticky days in the classroom, hour after hour, patiently repeating myself in English, settling arguments, cleaning up messes, listening to long diatribes in multiple languages, handing out gluesticks and safety scissors and pieces of chalk. Reading books and singing songs. Playing football. Walking home with three, four or five children clinging to my hands, my fingers, my wrist, my arm.

I don’t really miss living in the village- it was too sheltered; I felt like I was suffocating. But I miss teaching, I miss feeling like I was doing something effective and useful and good.

And I’m tired.

I’m tired of fundraising and worrying about networking, worrying about the impression I’m making. I’m tired of spreadsheets and phone calls and emails and numbers and plans and details. I’m tired of thinking about money and tired of trying to find ways to entertain white adults and convince them to trust me, to trust this crazy idea.

But more than that, I’m tired of not doing the job I love. I want to spend long hot summer days counting, over and over again, to a hundred, in English, now in Swahili, now by even numbers, now by tens. I want to listen to stories that end in ‘and that is the end of my story.’ I want to work with children who so desperately need shelter, love, security and an education. I want to hold their hands. I want to know them.

I want to be so busy, so exhausted that at the end of the day I barely have time to check my email, let alone write this blog.

(I’m not looking for ‘you’re almost there! etc’ comments, though you, my dear friends, are always an encouragement to me. I’m just…thinking.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Monday, rainy Monday

On Monday it rains, and I mean RAINS. I hear it while I am inside a store- it covers the ceiling until I can’t hear myself think, and I know I won’t be getting a matatu home. It’s difficult to catch a matatu during rush hour, and impossible during rush hour in the rain. I have timed my errands so that I’ll be home before dark, but now I know it won’t happen, and getting home after sundown is bad enough, let alone when it’s raining.

So I call a taxi. There are plethora taxis at any major junction and they love love LOVE to ask white people if they need a taxi (I rarely do), but I opt to call my friend Mburu, who has faithfully carried me to and from the airport for several years now, and has bailed me out of a tight spot a few times as well (such as getting home after dark, in the rain). I’d rather give my money to him, since I trust him, he is reliable and respectful, and Susan trusts him: the final test.

While waiting for him I duck into a café and drink a coffee and read my book. After several minutes I hear, ‘happy valentines, Ash-bye’ and look up to see Mburu, in an Arsenol t shirt, grey slacks and rainboots, offering his hand to me. He explained that a customer got his phone wet, so he couldn’t call me to tell me he was here, so he had to come inside to find me. I had forgotten until now that it is February 14th, and his greeting is the first valentine I’ve received. I pay for my coffee and we walk outside to his car, which is tightly parked in a suspect parking lot. I wait in the rain as he backs his car out and get in on the left side. (It always takes me a few days to adjust, both here and back in OR, to getting in on the left side when I’m a passenger. I also look the wrong way when I’m crossing the street. Mostly in Portland.)

We head home slowly, in the pouring rain and bumper to bumper traffic. I’m tired, and my head hurts, I think from the pressure and weather change. We chat, a bit, mostly about his phone, which he holds in front of the car’s heater. Apparently a customer set their umbrella on the arm rest and left a puddle which later preyed upon his phone. I try to explain that he should remove the battery and place his phone in a bowl of uncooked rice, but this madness is lost in translation and I doubt he’ll try it.

He asks if I’d mind his picking up a friend, who lives along the way, and taking her home, also along the way. Of course I don’t mind. After we pick up the woman and drop her off again, Mburu pulls back onto the road, commenting, ‘just you and me on this Valentine’s evening!’ He is just about the only man in Kenya who could say that to me without making me uncomfortable. I think of my mama, whose birthday is today, and I remember my first trip to Kenya: my friend Jedediah gave me a valentine’s day card covered in copious hearts and glitter. I probably still have that card somewhere. I may be something of a packrat.

When we finally get to my apartment I have to dash upstairs to grab my money, nestled cliché-ly in my sock drawer. Susan laughs as I burst into the house: there’s no power; the rain has washed out the line. Again. I use the light on my cell phone to find my room, then to find my money, then to find my way back downstairs to pay Mburu. He is blessed and thankful by my payment; I am a bit poorer but thankful to be home safe and sound. And dry.

Back upstairs, Susan wonders what to do. She has lit two candles which offer feeble light in our cavernous living room. I cook dinner (spaghetti) by the light of my cell phone and laugh: this seems to me an unconventional way of providing light in a developing country. I remember that my computer is fully charged, and so while we eat our food we watch several episodes of Community.

This, I think, is not what people expect when they think of living in Africa: spaghetti, cell phones, laptops and TV during a blackout.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

addendum: Ngong

the cafe burned down last night. the street boys and Maasai mamas have been relocated, and you can't buy chips.

adjust your plans accordingly.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

ngong means 'knuckles'

Okay: Ngong. I love this crazy town, but it is virtually indescribable.

We’ll start at my apartment. Lock the door behind you and double check the padlock. Cross the courtyard and say hi to the guard and the construction workers who stand on dubious scaffolding with their arms elbow deep in wet cement. When you reach the road, look right first, then left. Wait patiently by the side of the road until a matatu comes.

Ngong is a ten minute drive from our apartment: 20 shillings. The noise in the matatu ranges from crying babies to reggae music to loud young men to chattering Kikuyu women. Ignore them; read your book.

When you reach Ngong you will find almost anything imaginable. First and foremost, pedestrians. Seemingly thousands, and yet it’s still difficult to cross the street- avoid trucks, matatus, cars, cows and motorbikes.

Here are the street vendors: every day is like an enormous garage sale; Wednesday and Saturdays are market days.

First you approach a table stacked high with mangoes and tomatoes. Next to that is a small barbeque where a man fans a newspaper over some ears of corn. You can buy half an ear and add lemon juice and chili pepper for an inexpensive snack. Behind this man is a small kiosk where you can buy bottled water, chewing gum, chocolate bars, donuts and batteries. Next to him is a man who will polish your shoes.

Pass the woman selling key chains and the man selling boiled eggs and sausages. As you walk further down into town- stay to the side of the tarmac; walk in the dusty path- you will be greeted by nearly everyone. Some actually know you, most recognize you and all want to say hi to the visitor. Pass the taxi park and say hi to Mburu and Njane, if they are there. Politely refuse the offer for a ride home. Some older Maasai women sit to the side, next to the café, bent over their beadwork. Greet them, but don’t buy anything, not yet.

You can wait here, at the café, or pop in and order fries, or talk to the street boys who hover outside, or visit your friend Christine, whose shop is next door. You can go to the bank or you can check your email. You can stop to buy a paper, and from the same kiosk, a pirated DVD. Behind the newspaper stand is the shop where we buy fresh cow’s milk when we forget to stop home and get some from Mama Susan.

In the market square you can buy fabric, or shoes, or used clothing, or towels, or beans, or tea, or rice or papaya. The butcher is here, and the supermarket. You can fix your cell phone or your car or your bike. You can order furniture or buy an umbrella. This is the center of town, where you can choose between a variety of buses or matatus which will take you home, or to town. Or anywhere, really. Ignore the shouting and the pressure to get on the nearest bus. Choose the one that has a seat by the window, and will likely fill soon.

Make your purchases, greet anyone who recognizes you but don’t give out any information. Walk further into the market if you want something like cilantro or masala. Buy a grocery bag from a street boy. Catch a bus home.

Watch for goats and donkeys.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

yeah, pictures are not happening today.

one: a pretty landscape.

two: kim blowing out candles on his cake.

three: other kim blowing on his noisemaking party favour.

four: my new PUPPY!

close your eyes and imagine it. (just kidding- I'll post them Monday from a faster connection. hopefully.)

fingers crossed?

today: lay around, read my book, have lunch with my friend Jen, buy a new phone, shake my fist at the internet, attempt to upload pictures.

we'll see.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Marie Antoinette, and whatnot.

Okay: I’m exhausted and the internet is driving me batty. But I am determined to at least TRY to blog every day, which means not giving up on day three. Right?

Today is Susan’s nephew Kim’s twelfth birthday. (It took me three tries to spell ‘twelfth’. That is a really weird word.) This morning I went to the American supermarket (again!) to buy a cake, some candles, some noisemakers (you’re welcome, Kenyan mothers everywhere!) and some chips and juice. Total: about $10; $12 if you include bus fare.

Worth it. Pictures tomorrow.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

suprisingly efficient for such an inefficient town.

On Wednesday, we go to Nairobi- Susan, Willie and I. We leave around 9 and pack into a crowded matatu which winds its way slowly toward Ngong town. Under the influence of their British colonizers, Kenyans drive on the left side of the road, but in general this is loosely maintained. We weave to the right side to overtake another bus, then back to the left when faced by an oncoming vehicle; right again to avoid a pothole the size of a swimming pool, then left when an elderly man wants to get off. The driver snaps at him when he doesn’t move quickly enough and Susan scolds the driver in Swahili for treating an old man so poorly (there’s a reason we are friends).

The roads are dusty and dry: Susan says it hasn’t rained since October. I’m very, very grateful for the warm weather, and I’ve had more than my share of rain lately. Still, out of guilt, I vow to say a prayer for those who are suffering from drought every time I benefit from or enjoy the sunshine.

The bus stops briefly at the junction near Susan’s mother’s home and we meet her brother, who reaches into the vehicle to shake my hand and then to grab a package from Susan: he is traveling to their home village today to deliver wedding invitations to family. He is wearing a Visible Grace t shirt.

In Ngong town we disperse briefly. Willie meets his aunt to deliver still more wedding announcements while Susan and I check our emails at a nearby cyber café. Then we board another bus which will take us into Nairobi town.

Nairobi is crowded and its population grows daily. The slum dwellers on the outskirts of the town suffer exponentially more as the city becomes more and more westernized: last week a fire drove some thousand people from their homes, and as bus fare increases they are forced to walk the several miles into town in the hopes of finding daily jobs.

We reach downtown by eleven and divide again; we have about a thousand errands to run and very limited time. Willie pursues insurance of some sort while Susan and I pursue bank papers of some sort: this consists of first going to the bank to retrieve a form, then to our friend – and Visible Grace treasurer- Peris’s office to obtain her signature, then back to the bank to deliver said signature and request VG bank statements, then back to Peris’s office: she will compile our annual report.
From there we reconnect with Willie, who buys us lunch, then Susan and Willie apply for a marriage license, then order wedding rings. Then Willie disappears again and Susan takes me to the bridal shop to get my measurements for my dress. At some point Susan and I duck into a shoe store to buy me some basic black flats- my sandals are killing me and I have a blister on my toe. At this point we board a bus to go home. I head to the American grocery store to buy cheese, coffee and face wash; Susan and Wilson head to their pastor’s office for pre-marriage counseling.

These small, trivial events bring me alive. I love Nairobi, love the hustle and bustle and noise and crowds and grime. It’s been a long day. I’m still fighting jet lag and I’m exhausted. I get home shortly after 7 and keep my eyes open just long enough to make a small bowl of pasta. I’m in bed and asleep long before Susan gets home from counseling.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

a goal: daily blogging.

Okay, so I resolved yesterday to blog every day while I am here in an effort to see Kenya through new, ‘visity’ eyes- I want to be a good hostess and team leader when and if I bring people here. It’s hard to tell people what to expect when I am as familiar with Kenya as I am with the back of my hand (a phrase that has never really made a lot of sense to me- sort of like Kenya, so it’s actually perfect).

Anywho- the problem with blogging every day is that I have to actually blog every day. I have to find a good, solid internet connection and the time to write everything down. And I have to come up with things to say.

I think I will start with that tomorrow.

I am currently cooking dinner (pasta) and drinking coffee (instant) and listening to Bon Iver (Blood Bank). Susan and Willie are at pre-marriage counseling, which today consists of dinner with their pastor. I am going to watch tv and knit. We went to Nairobi today, which was an 11 hour ordeal, and which will be described in detail tomorrow.