earlier this month i had the opportunity to visit kenya with steph. steph's been there before in 2007 and 2009 but this would be my first visit to meet all the people and see all the places that steph regularly talks about.
so it's difficult to summarize the entire two weeks in such a short post. perhaps i could describe what it was like to live there.
about half the time that steph and i were in kenya we stayed with our kenyan family, the mbakos, in a village called kesogon. the other half we spent at a children's home in a nearby village (30-40 min drive) called cherigani. here's a picture of us on our last day with the mbakos (not all of them are present though).
while i was living in the mbako home, i genuinely felt like family. we would wake up to roosters welcoming the morning and sunlight through the windows. stepping outside you could look off into the distance and see a mist beginning to clear and layers of trees with varying saturation of color depending on how far away they were in the hills. we would then have breakfast with uncle alfred (the head of the family), and after that we would take a walk along dirt paths to the school where many of the family members worked (uncle alfred is the director of the school)
and i think these morning walks were some of my favorite parts of the trip. along the path we were greeted by everyone along the way. there was an openness and familiarity in the village community that made an impression on me, a busy-i'll-just-continue-walking-on-by new yorker. older women who were doing morning errands would respond to us with surprise in their voices when we greeted them in kiswahili. younger children would notice us and shout out "mzungu! mzungu!" (which means "white person! white person!") and trail us for a few minutes, excited to catch a glimpse of lighter skinned people. everywhere we went, children would sheepishly call for our attention saying "hi! how are you?!" eagerly waiting for us to give them a response of "fine. how are you?"
and it wasn't just the openness of the people, but the view everywhere we went was just breath taking. i don't even think that pictures will properly capture how raw and beautiful the landscape was.
... but i don't think i've ever seen greens so green or blues so blue. and the night sky was clearer than any sky i've looked upon in the states. you could see sooo many stars. the band of the milky way was clear across the sky.
at the school, rhema preparatory school, we interacted with the children there and observed the teachers there. steph and i also had the opportunity to teach some lessons.
steph and i would walk from class to class. i think we were quite a distraction. they would be able to see through the windows of the classroom and watch us walk past. though the actual classrooms were quite bare and minimal i grew to love the colors of the walls which were made with the rich red earth, plastered onto a wooden frame. when it dried i really liked the texture of the wall.
after school we would walk home while shepherds and cattle people were out with animals grazing. there were a few times that we went to a food stand or a shop to buy food for dinner. but there was one day of the week where food vendors would come from all around to sell their produce and crafts: market day. it's pretty nuts and i'm not sure if the pictures below capture the energy of the scene.
this was only one side of the market which was mostly vegetables. on the other side you would see fabric, shoes, coal, metal works, lamps, fruits, etc.
at home we would rest and wait/prepare dinner. our diet consisted mostly of vegetables and some form of starch whether it be beans, rice, maize, or flour. some of it took a little getting used to. for example, they have a form of maize called "ugali" that its pretty much ground up cornmeal. you would cut a slice from a big "loaf" of sorts and when it's on your plate, you ball it up in your hands and dip it into some sort of soup or sauce. i started to get used to eating without utensils.
we also had a pretty good helping of fruit. i wish i took some pictures of fruit but i think i was too busy eating it to take pictures. the fruit is amazing. you would have great difficulty finding sweeter mangos or bananas. the bananas there are just different than the ones in the states. their avocados were sooooo good and so humongous. and fruit there is sooo cheap. it's like 5 cents for a huge avocado or 2 or 3 cents for a mango.
the other half of our trip was at a children's home in cherigani. each day we would wake up to the sound of 88 children running around, having breakfast and washing up.
all of the children in this home were either orphaned or abandoned by their parents. on the day that we arrived they received a few newborns: matthew, luke, paula and ashley. if i remember correctly this is baby paula (and my hand... she's so small!):
most of the time i hung out with the older kids... who (i later discovered) all had tuberculosis. but these kids were so much fun to be around. i think i'll introduce a few of them.
this is Churchill. he was the first one to greet me when i arrived at the children's home. he is extremely outgoing and is always making jokes or wanting to run around and play. i mean, look at him in the picture. he made that himself and wore it around for the rest of the day after school. he showed me around a lot when i was there and helped translate for me when something didn't work out in communication.
this is Bafo (i'm actually not sure how to spell his name). he liked to sneak up on me from behind and pretty much just jumped on my shoulders almost everyday. but since he's such a skinny kid i didn't mind so much. one day he wants to be a pilot and fly planes.
this is Kelvin and Benny. Kelvin is a little older than the other boys... and for some reason rarely shows his teeth in pictures. but i vivid remember that when he smiled he had very straight white teeth. though he's quite a softee a lot of the other boys followed his lead when they walked around together. they affectionately call him "Papa", not because they think of him as a father or anything, but because he very much resembles this TV character. Benny, on the right was shy with me at first... i'm not sure why though. he's a little younger than the other boys and when i think of him i remember that he liked to poke me and then stand at a distance with a huge grin.
this is sharlin (spelling?). she's one of the first kids at the children's home when it started back in 2006 and one of the brightest kids i've ever met. there was one time that i was in the school house w/ her and some other children drawing pictures and doing school stuffs on the board. many of the things i taught her she picked up very very quickly that i asked her "have you learned this before?" she's HIV+ and hopes to be a doctor one day.
there are a lot more of the older kids that i can introduce but i think i'll stop there for now. i think i'll just introduce one of the younger kids. this is ronnie.
i met ronnie when he joined me on a trip to town to pick up milk for the home. and though i hung out primarily w/ the older kids, ronnie would somehow find me and just chill with me. he wouldn't be needy or require me to pick him up or anything. he would just come by and take my hand and walk around. he became my little buddy near the end of my stay at the children's home. he's a little older than two years old now. i wonder if he'll remember me when i return.
other than hanging out with the kids i helped with food preparation, changing mosquito nets, overseeing some construction, laundry, cleaning... there was always something to do. the kids also had their chores from mopping the floors to cleaning the tables to washing dishes.
the entire trip to kenya was such an experience... being immersed in another culture and learning to live like they do helped me realize some things about the life i live here in the states.
one of the biggest contrasts is the strength of community and family. when i was there, not just in the village but even more so within the family there was a strong sense of togetherness... decisions involved everyone in the family. people were genuinely concerned for one another more than they were for themselves. i don't think i encountered anything that even remotely sounded like "this is how i want to run my life" or "this is what i want". when the family was home, they sat together and worked together. during meal times people shared about their lives... about things that happened during the day. things like email and facebook did not preoccupy their minds.
coming from the states and living in a third world country, many things that i take for granted at home were not available. clean water typically had to be carried from a nearby stream/spring or delivered by donkeys. there was no electricity. in our rooms we used candles (our family actually ran a few appliances with a car battery that they recharged regularly). without electricity there was no internet, there were no lights. we walked around the house with flashlights (called "torches"). transportation was mostly by foot... and even when we got into a car, a properly paved road was hard to come by.
as i lived there for just 2 weeks i began to realize that people there did not complain that they did not have running water or electricity or cars. they live without so many things i'd normally consider "needs" but they lived life without lack. after some time i began to wonder if their lives were fuller and deeper than our lives in the states. they related to each other deeply and lived life with a recognition that each day was a gift. i recall a few mornings with the family where the morning prayer was simply "God we thank you for giving us rest in the night and giving us life this morning..." i also realized that even though i didn't have internet or tv shows or cafes, my days were no less full. after a single day i would reflect in the evening and realize "this was such a full day" (though not necessarily an exhausting day). perhaps the pace of life in the states keeps us from the depth of life we'd find in a place like kenya.
i think the last thing i want to mention is how much faith is infused with their life there. i was surprised by how public it was there while in NYC, faith is hidden from the public sphere. there was one time where steph and i called our airline only to be told that a particular employee was not available because "oh he's probably at church" and shortly after he texted (yes he personally texted us) saying "sorry, i'm in church", which i found kinda funny. but i guess what i'm trying to emphasize is that there was less of a split-life. faith wasn't a part of life that was sectioned off to individual private beliefs, it was out in the open. the closest example of the infusion of faith into the public sphere was through our host uncle alfred who i want to write about in another post...
but for now that's my online summary of my trip. it's taken me a long time to get even these thoughts together. if you're interested in going feel free to ask me or steph and we'd love to tell you about the mbako's, the school, and the children's home.