Monday, April 11, 2011

The Sleepover of a Lifetime

I write anything, especially a blog, I usually let it sit for a while, edit it several times, use a thesaurus to find the best words, and generally work on the piece of writing until I think it is good. I always ask my mom to proofread the essays and blogs I write, too. I did not do that this time. I just got back from this experience, and at Stacey's strong suggestion, I am writing all of this "raw." I corrected spelling mistakes, but that is it. I do not even know if post is understandable. But I want to show you a different side of me, the side of me that I do not groom to as-close-as-I-can-get-to-it perfection. This post is simply me writing what I felt I should write, telling the story as best as I could while still feeling the emotions I felt during the experience. Thank you for reading.

I was so tired. I had not been able to sleep until about 2 am Thursday night/Friday morning. When I dragged myself out of bed, I "got ready for the day" (but really, how could I completely prepare myself for this day) and made sure the kids were on track with school. As the kids only had a few subjects in school on Fridays, Spencer had finished all his work by 9:30 am. I laid down for a nap at 10 am. Though I did not actually fall asleep, I found great rest and comfort in daydreams about college and boys (specifically the boy I plan on meeting at college who will fall madly in love with me a la Fitzwilliam Darcy). An hour later, I overheard Stacey ask Andy, "When are you guys leaving?" and Andy reply, "In fifteen minutes." My mind did a double take. FIFTEEN MINUTES!!!! That couldn't be right; we weren't going to leave until 1 pm, right? My bag wasn't packed and nothing was ready! I jumped out of bed and asked Andy myself when we were leaving for Kahawa West. When he confirmed my fears, I raced to the bathroom to grab my toiletries and then raced back to my room to stuff a change of cloths, a pillow, my toiletries, bible, journal, and camera in my backpack and purse. I had wanted to have more time to mentally prepare for my 24 hour stay with the Kawe family, and I was a little mad to realize no one had actually told me when were going to leave the house. Where did I get 1 pm from?

Twenty minutes after my leap from bed, Andy was driving me to the Kenyan town of Kahawa West where he would drop me off at the house of a Kenyan family, the Kawes. Madison rode with us, but after the 20 minute drive and a quick drop off, I would be on my own with this foreign family.

Patrick Kawe is the pastor of a Kenyan Assemblies of God church called Kahawe West. I had visited his church before and met his wife, Joyce, and his oldest son, Sam. I felt pretty comfortable in Patrick's presence in part because Andy and Stacey spoke so highly of him and had such a good relatioship with him.

When Andy, Maddie, and I arrived at the Kawe home, no one was there. We waited for fifteen or so minutes then left to go to the church hoping Joyce would be there to take me. She was not present at the church. We waited fifteen or twenty more minutes. As we waited, I cut my fingernails (part of that preparation I hadn't had time for) and watched as the little children stared at us and occasionally shouted, "Mazungu!" which means "white person." I turned around in my seat only to be surprised by the presence of a Kenyan woman. Andy explained she was Patrick's sister-in-law, Jenny, and she would take me to her home. If this entire experience had stopped right here, I would have learned the valuable lesson about going with the flow when I am completely out of control of a situation in a very foreign place. The Lord had so much more in store for me, however, so I grabbed my bag and followed Jenny.

Jenny and I walked through the rough dirt roads of the town of Kahawa West. Occasionally, I caught a whiff of something putrid, and the areas we walked by sometimes contained trash and sewage. Children played in the shadows of concrete buildings, and goats grazed or wandered about the sides of the streets. My impression was one of "as clean as you can get it while still being dirty" and poverty while still having the necessities.

When Jenny and I walked into her home, I was surprised to see lacy coverings over her two couches and one chair. She sat me down in the chair, turned the TV on, and disappeared through the curtained doorway to my immediate left. She had introduced me to her three-year-old daughter, Terry. Jenny came out of the left-hand room, and asked me-with a thick accent-what type of soda I liked. I felt unsure and embarrassed. Jenny's home was very small and somewhat shabby and I knew sodas were expensive and a rare treat. I tried to tell her not to get me one, but with the language and cultural barrier, I didn't know how to graciously refuse. I told her Spirit was fine and at her question I sad I liked cold soda. She disappeared through the outside door and left me alone with Terry. I tried to converse with Terry, the little girl, but she didn't really speak English. Looking around the room, I saw white-washed walls. The coverings on the furniture reminded me of the material of lace curtains; I thought they looked like they had once been rather nice, but they had become used-looking and slightly shabby. A tall entertainment center in the corner to my right contained a small, square TV and cabinets surrounding the hollow for the TV set.

I worried about what would happen next. Why hadn't Joyce Kawe met me at the church or her home?

Jenny returned with two sodas-my Spirit and a coke. She went to the cabinet above the television and retrieved two glasses. She opened the two sodas and I poured myself a small glass. Jenny poured a glass of Coke for terry. When I inquired whether or not Jenny was going to have a glass, she told me she was allergic to soda. I think we made small talk, but I don't remember that well. Either way, I'm pretty sure I had a wide smile plastered to my face. Though Jenny spoke English, a language barrier still prevented us from understanding each other perfectly, and I wanted to let her know I appreciated her hospitality by smiling incessantly. Jenny was very nice. I asked her how long she had been married and after replying (I don't remember how long she said) she turned to the cabinets once again looking for wedding photos. She handed my a VHS box that was the video of her wedding. The plastic covering contained a collage of stills from the video and while I looked at those, Jenny looked for the photos. She eventually found them and left me to look at the pile while Terry demanded each photo I looked at and put them in her own pile. Jenny had disappeared through the curtained doorway again.

A boy who looked to be about 7 showed up around this time. He spoke more English than Terry, and I smiled and tried to talk with them. I finally figured out his name was Eliazar. Together he and I read aloud a book containing the English alphabet and phrases like "B is for boy." My favorite was "X is for X-mas tree." I didn't know how to read that one. Terry looked at the book, too. I was puzzled by a page at the back of the book containing drawings of birds and their English names. How is a three-year-old supposed to learn the English name for the "ring-necked whatsit" or the "brown-tailed whatever" if the child doesn't know the Swahili word for it? Is this about the alphabet or ornithology?

After I had been in her house for about an hour or so, Terry came out of the doorway (I figured out it was a kitchen) with plates of food. She served Terry, me, Eleazar, then herself rice, a cooked spinach-like dish, and a bean and tomato dish. It tasted very good. When she poured me a glass of water from a plastic jug (I think it used to contain cooking oil), I wasn't sure if it was good or not. But when she took a sip from her own glass, I figured it was probably fine. It looked clean, and when I drank it, it tasted clean.

I asked Jenny when we were going to go to the church to clean. "Oh, you won't clean." I almost panicked at that! Was she going to keep me here!? She was a wonderful hostess, but that was not part of the plan. "Oh no, no," I replied with a laugh and that permanent smile, "I want to clean." That surprised her. She made a few cellphone calls in Swahili, and after we finished eating, she told me it was time to go. Finally. I don't want to seem rude, but this unplanned for visit was pretty nerve-racking.

Eleazar left (who's kid was he, anyway?) and I followed Jenny and Terry out of the house and through the dirt and rock streets again. I was relieved to know Jenny wasn't going to kidnap me as her permanent, honored house guest. When we got to the church, we met Joyce, Terry (Joyce's twelve-year-old daughter), and another lady.

With five-gallon buckets, we gathered dirty water from what I thought was the baptism pool at the front of the sanctuary. I don't think it was a baptistery, but that's what it looked like. I wondered how the water got into the "pool." I didn't ask. The ladies poured liquid soap into the brown water and we took old, ragged kid's shirts as "dusters" to mop the floors with. Now, I have stayed in Africa for three months, I have witnessed Africans bending down at the waste to work many times, but for some reason I didn't put two and two together to come up with the ladies telling me to bend at the waste to mop the sanctuary floor. For about ten minutes, that's what I did. When my legs and arms grew tired after those ten minutes, I went to bend down on my knees. "NO, don't bend down!" You would have thought I was drinking the water or something with the strength of the ladies' reaction. "You will get your dress dirty!" Skirt, actually, which is why I had chosen my least favorite denim skirt. In hindsight, I was a little too dressed up for work, but pants would have been too hot, ladies wore skirts all the time, and I didn't know capris would have been acceptable. Remember, I had been rushed out of the house. The church ladies laughed at me. "She is going to pray for us while we mop," they said with light hearted laughter. It was only mildly funny to me. Smile in place, though, I just did like they did. After about twenty or thirty minutes of work, they found humor in my red-faced sweating. "She is getting salty!" Because of their dark skin, African ladies do not get red-faced. I felt a little foolish, but I was here to work, to help them and they weren't being mean. I felt my face dripping with sweat. This was so not what I had imagined, though I didn't really know what I had expected. I don't think a person can be completely devoid of expectations, even if they try to be.

After the arduous hour of mopping the sanctuary, we turned to the kitchen. The kitchen was just a little room to the left of the main room, and when I caught a whiff of it, I nearly gagged. Thankfully, we were not going to wash the dishes in the kitchen. We carried all the dishes out to a room in another small building-the building contained Sunday school classrooms. I squatted over a big metal basin (it was bigger than a sink) while another lady, Rosemary, bent over a five gallon bucket filled with water. She gave me some rags and a bar of soap instructing me to scrub the soap on the rag and wash the dishes with that rag. Then Rosemary would rinse the dishes in her bucket of water. That is what I did. The television character Adrien Monk would have apoplexy if he witnessed this crude dish washing session, but I was surprised at how well I was able to stomach the unpleasant smell and the painful squatting--Rosemary had to admonish me again not to sit or kneel down. As we worked, she and I talked. She spoke English well, and we talked about our families. When I told her I was eighteen, she said that was so young. I don't know why, but her acknowledging my youth made me feel good. It made me feel like my ignorance concerning their house work methods was more understandable. I felt a connection with Rosemary. She was very kind to me. After we had finished washing the dishes, she patiently showed me how to wash one of the Sunday school rooms using water and a straw hand broom. When most of the work was complete, she saw how tired I was and told me she would finish the work. When I asked her if she was tired she relied, "No." Her stamina amazed me. Throughout the afternoon, the ladies had asked me if I was tired. I mostly said, " A little bit, but I can still work." I didn't want them to think I was too proud to work hard or too soft to try my best. I knew I wasn't cleaning as well as they were, but when I asked them, they approved of my efforts.

After Rosemary and I had cleaned the Sunday school room, some other women who attended the church showed up. In fact, quite a gathering had accumulated while I hadn't looked. I was invited to sit in a Sunday school room with about ten other women as the rehearsed a drama for Sunday. They greeted me in English, but only a few seemed comfortable enough in English to try to converse with me. The ladies practiced their skit in Swahili, of course, so I couldn't really tell what was going on. As they began to rehearse the ten minute drama a second time, Joyce motioned for me from the window. Time for us to go. It took us another thirty minutes to get out of the the church compound. Several ladies wanted to talk to Joyce or me. As we walked home, I felt relief at the completion of the day's work. I was tired. Joyce and I spoke a little bit as we walked through the streets to her home. I had my camera out and took pictures of colorful buildings, drying laundry, kids, and goats. Sometimes I heard, "Mazungu!" shouted by little children (it means "white" or "white person"). A few kids said, "How are you?" and I replied, "Good," and then asked them in their own language saying, "Hujambo?"

I kept my mouth closed as I smiled, not wanted my mouth to catch dirt or taste the occasional putrid smells.

The Kawes live on the second floor of an apartment building. They keep chickens--or cukoos--in cages underneath the outside stairway leading up to their front door. When we walked into their home, the front room seemed dark and cluttered with furniture. An arm chair stood in front of me and a couch stood to my right. Another couch sat against the far wall--the wall containing the door to the kitchen--with two more chairs next to it. Joyce sat me down and I set my backpack and purse in an unused corner. A large "entertainment center" housed a small square TV and several cabinets.

Immediately, she sent one of her boys out to get a soda; when she asked me what kind I liked I said anything was fine. The boy came back with orange Fanta. It made me feel weird to have them go out of their way to get me a soda. Joyce had a glass, too, though, and that made me feel a little better. After our refreshment, we went to the kitchen, and I thought we were going to cook. When I saw the tiny room, however, and the huge pile of dishes, I realized we had to wash more dishes. I squatted down with a rag and a bar of soap over a really large metal basin. Terry, the twelve-year-old daughter, rinsed the soapy dishes in a bug of water. We talked a little while we worked. I asked her what her favorite color was. She said pink. I asked a little bit about school. Just small talk. My legs and knees ached, but I didn't want to complain or show fatigue. Joyce asked me if I wanted a chair. I said I was fine. Once we completed the dishes, we set to work cooking dinner.

The Kawes cook over a little stove called a "jiko." Joyce took the little stove outside on the porch, put news paper in the basin, added small pieces of wood, lit the wood and paper on fire, and then she added charcoal or "chaco." She carried the burning stove into the kitchen from outside and placed a metal cooking bowl on top of the device. She told me to slice a red onion and when I had I put it into the cooking pot. She handed me a jug of oil and told me to pour oil into the pot. I diced tomatoes and zucchini, added them to the cooking onion, and Joyce added some pieces of meat. In the family room, she had me chop great big pieces of spinach and sucumaweeki--a spinach-like green. We added the greens to the pot and let it all cook. During the cooking and chopping of greens, we watched a ridiculous Spanish soap opera with horrible English dubs. I had a hard time not laughing at the ridiculousness of the plot, but I did not want to offend Joyce or the kids. After the greens, vegetables, and meat dish had cooked, Joyce removed it from the heat and began to make another Kenyan dish, ugalee, over the jiko. Taking a bowl-full of ugalee flour (a very, very fine corn flour), Joyce dumped it into a pot of boiling water and stirred the mixture. I asked if I could stir, too, and while I stirred, Joyce instructed the boys to take my picture. The mixture soon became too thick for me to stir and Joyce took over. After the ugalee finished cooking, she dumped the contents of the pot onto a plate and stuck a knife in the top of the mound. I set this on the coffee tables in the living room. I was surprised to find they ate and sometimes even cooked around the two coffee tables in the family room. they had a dining room with a table in chairs right behind the family room, but it is filled with books and things and is more like a storage area.

We took plates and the dishes filled with food and set them on the coffee tables. When we had all sat down, Joyce handed me a spoon and said they ate this dish with their hands but I could use a spoon. I thanked her but said I would try eating with my hands like they did. Terry came to each of us with a pitcher of water and an empty bowl. She poured water over our hands in turn so we could wash them. I was thankful that Joyce allowed me to serve myself because I had heard stories of plates piled too high for stomachs to eat comfortably. I ate little compared to them, but I ate my full and enjoyed it. Eating with my hands was fun. In the middle of the meal, Joyce told Sam--the oldest boy (about 16 years of age)--to take my picture.

As we ate, we watched TV; I believe it was another Spanish soap opera in English dubs. I was tired. It was probably about 7:30 or 8 in the evening before we ate. Joyce saw my fatigue and asked if I wanted to go to bed. I said yes. She replied, "Okay, but first: tea." She served me a cup of chi--boiled milk and water with a spoonful or two of shredded tea leaves.

Joyce gave me some warm water to use for a bathing. I entered the little bathing room and broke down in quiet sobs. This had been one of the most overwhelming days I had ever experienced. I missed my family so much; I missed being in a familiar environment; I missed having my parents take care of me. I felt so alone. I didn't sob much. After wiping myself with the damp washcloth, I exited the washing room. Joyce gave me a glass of water with which to use for brushing my teeth. I think I retired into the room they gave me at around 9:30 pm. I changed into my pajamas, gathered anything I might need during the night, and climbed under the mosquito net onto the bed. I read my Bible and journaled a little bit. I cried some more in earnest. My mind kept skipping ahead five weeks to the moment when I would walk off that airplane and run into my parents' arms (my daydream did not include muddling through customs). I turned the light off at 10-ish. My stomach felt nauseous and so I just lay there in the dark, too queasy to even listen to music on my iPod. I got up to go to the bathroom several times before I lay down for good.

On Saturday, I woke up around 7:30 or 8 am. My stomach felt normal again, and I looked forward to the day "knowing" I would be back at the Whitman's home in a few hours. I got dressed and went out into the family room. I helped Joyce as we gathered bread, butter, and honey for breakfast. We also had tea. Kenyan chi is not very flavorful and tastes rather weak. It is alright, but it does not satisfy my caffeine needs. We ate bread and butter and honey in peace. Sam is the only one who talked much. He asked me questions about how the school system in America works and how many subjects people take. They do not have homeschooling in Kenya, so I explained how my parents had homeschooled me, too.

Right after breakfast, Joyce began to prepare the family room for making chapatis. She brought out a big bowl and set it on the coffee table. She also gathered salt, sugar, oil, and two bags of chapati flour. Joyce asked me if I liked my chapati with salt or sugar. When I told her I had never eaten chapati and did not know how I liked it, she said we would use both. She put four spoonfuls of sugar into the bowl and then one spoonful of salt. Then she dumped a whole bag of flour into the basin. She had a very large cup that she used to pour warm water on top of the flour. My favorite part came next when she actually measured out to handfuls of oil. That is one measurement I can duplicate for sure--I don't know about the rest of the process. Joyce used her hands to mix the mixture. I stuck my hands in the bowl, too, and worked at incorporating all the ingredients into the dough.

As she measured, poured, and mixed, Joyce taught me the Swahili words for the ingredients. Oil is mafuta, salt is chuvee, and sugar is sakarra.

After the dough was mixed together, Joyce took the jiko and prepared a charcoal fire in it. When she came back inside, she moved the arm chair in the line of the front door so it faced the couch on the far wall. Then she turned back the carpet in front of the chair. I was surprised when she carried in the jiko with fire in it and set it in front of the couch and armchair. The room became a little smoky, but not unbearable.

Taking pieces of dough, she rolled them into flat circles, drizzled a little oil on it, rolled the dough into a snake, then rolled pieces of the dough into rolls.

I don't understand the whole process because after she had made the little rolls, she rolled those flat. A flat piece of cast iron lay on top of the jiko, and Joyce lay the flat pieces of dough on it.

After turning the piece of dough so each side had cooked a little bit, she put another flat piece of dough on top of the first one, used a spoon to put oil underneath the bottom dough, and turned the two pieces of dough. She repeated this process until all the sides of the two pieces of dough were cooked. After repeating all of this a few times, she had me do the turning and oiling while she rolled out more pieces of dough. It was hot work, and I had to use a piece of paper and a spatula to help me turn the dough. Joyce used her bare hands. Sam grabbed my camera and took pictures of me cooking.

I enjoyed cooking with Joyce. She complimented me saying, "You are a fast learner." She was a patient teacher as I reviewed the chapati-making process and the Swahili words she had taught me.

I looked at my watch at 11:30 am, and was very thankful Andy was going to pick me up soon. I had enjoyed this experience, but my comfort zone was calling me and I had a skype date with my parents that afternoon. When Andy called saying he would be there within the hour, my heart secretly rejoiced. I did not want Joyce or her children to know I would leave them happy as they seemed to really enjoy my company and I did not want to insult them.

A little bit later, we sat there eating warm chapati. They were so delicious! The tasted reminded me of crepes, but chapati are a little thicker--somewhere in between pancakes and crepes. Joyce's phone rang and she handed it to me saying it was Andy. "Hey, Summer. Patrick says they really like you, and they want you to stay for another night. What do you think?" My stomach did a flip. What!? The Kawes were wonderful, gracious hosts, but did I mention how out of my comfort zone I felt!! Andy asking me if I wanted to stay made me feel like crying. "Um, could I pray about it and call you back?" I answered. Andy told me that was fine, I hung up, and I thanked Joyce and her kids for her hospitality and for the extended invitation. "I would like to stay with you some more, but I just have to pray about it first," I said with a smile I didn't feel. Please don't let them see I'm about to cry, I thought. They graciously dismissed me, I went to my room, and I sobbed. I did not want to stay, but I didn't want to insult them by leaving early. I wrote in my journal, praying and asking God what I should do. Of course, I was pretty sure how He would answer me, but when He answered me, the Holy Spirit spoke gently. "It is not a sin for you to leave now, but , dear one, you will be blessed so much more if you stay than if you leave now." I didn't want to stay, but I also didn't want to miss out on the Lord's blessings. I cried for a minute more, gathered myself, and went back into the living room. "Yes, I would like to stay with you for another day. Can I call Andy back and tell him?" Joyce lent me her cell phone, and Andy and I arranged for me to stay and for him to bring me a bag with a change of clothes.

While I waited for Andy to arrive with another bag for me, Joyce set me to work peeling potatoes. I helped her shred more sukumaweeki, and she showed me how to make two more Kenyan dishes. One contains mashed potatoes with corn (they call it "maze")and shredded sukumaweeki in it. The other dish was made of chopped green beans, diced tomatoes, diced squash, and diced eggplant. Both of these were made over the jiko. After cooking, Terry and I did the dishes. This time when Joyce offered me a stool, I accepted it with gratitude. Sam got my camera and took some pictures of me washing the dishes.

I was relieved when Terry and I finished the dishes. Andy had come and brought me a bag filled with a change of clothes and some other items. Stacey had called me and asked if I wanted anything special. I had asked her to put in some face soap and book. When I looked through the bag, I also saw she had given me a bottle of water, some packaged peanut butter crackers, and a Cadbury chocolate bar with nuts. Her thoughtfulness made me cry again. She also lent me Madison's cell phone so I could call my parents at the time when I would have skyped with them.

After the dishes, we sat down to lunch. It was very delicious. The potato dish (the one on the left) put a lump in my throat because it tasted like home.

"Now, we rest," Joyce told me after we had finished eating. The TV was on, and we sat there and watched as Denezel Washington showed up. I was feeling very homesick and on the verge of crying when I saw him, and I almost laughed out loud. I had not expected to see anything familiar on the television, but as we watched I realized it was the Denezel Washington movie called "The Preacher's Wife." I know the Lord planned that movie at that time because my emotions were anguished as I longed for home. That movie comforted me in a way that's hard to explain. I watched it as I waited for the time when I would call my parents. At 3 pm, I excused myself to the bedroom and dialed my home phone number. No one answered. I dialed my mom's cell phone. No one answered. I called Stacey and asked her what I should do. She told me she had emailed my mom and let her know I was away for another night and would phone home. Stacey said because the line had rung, nothing was wrong that we could fix. I must have dialed my home phone and my mom's cell phone nearly twenty times before I gave up. I was so upset, but on the other hand, I figured if I had talked to my parents I might have unraveled completely. I finished watching "The Preacher's Wife" with the Kawes.

Later on, I called Stacey and she comforted me a little bit. She encouraged me about by saying she was so proud of me for getting outside of my comfort zone by spending the night with this foreign family. When I came back from talking with Stacey, Joyce asked me if I had talked to my mama. I began to cry and told her no. She asked me why I was crying. I apologized and told her I missed my parents so much and I hadn't seen them in three months. She hugged me and told me it was okay. Kenyans are very family-oriented, and I think they understood my homesickness. I hid it as best as I could--I smiled a lot, I think--but when I couldn't hide the tears, they didn't mention it and were just kind to me.

Joyce took me for a walk through the town of Kahawa West and back to the church KAG Kahawa West. A group of ladies were sitting in the courtyard of the church compound cutting carrots for an event the next day. They invited me to sit with them. Someone handed me a knife, and I began cutting the carrots with them.

It reminded me of the work days I used to go to at my home church in Alexandria. I loved watching and listening to all of these Kenyan sisters in Christ as they talked in Swahili and fellowshipped together. At one point, they were really laughing at something, and I heard my name, "Shumer," spoken. "Okay, I know you are laughing at me," I said with a grin, "What am I doing wrong?" One lady spoke up and said, "They are laughing because you are cutting the carrots into different sizes." This made me smile. Of course, these ladies had been cutting with just their hands and no cutting board since they were young, so they were experts at the whole thing. I was used to chopping carrots and other vegetables with a cutting board on a hard surface. I explained this to them, and the women just smiled. I really enjoyed myself even though I didn't know what they were saying. I could tell by their chatter they were having fun, too. These are the ladies I sat next to.

After I cut my finger on the knife (I did cut up a good 5 or 6 carrots before my slip-up), Joyce motioned it was time to go. As we walked back to her home, I snapped photos of the things we passed that I found interesting. Here are a few of my favorites:

Patrick, the Kawe husband and father and KAG pastor, came back from a trip in the early evening. I helped Joyce prepare dinner, and we all ate together at around 7:30 or 8 in the evening. The television was just about always on, and we ate dinner to another episode of one of the Spanish soap operas we had watched the day before. The TV was a nice diversion from homesickness, and I enjoyed eating with the family, too.

I was very tired, though, and Joyce gave me some water to wash with around 9:30. After washing my face and arms, I retired for the night. I read my Bible in the bedroom, wrote a few lines in my journal, then turned off the light. Again, my stomach did not feel good, so I just lay in bed until I fell asleep. Thoughts of my homecoming at Dulles airport had comforted me all day long on Saturday.

I was much relieved to wake up on Sunday without feeling the sharp ache of homesickness and the threatening tears. At 6:30 am on Sunday morning, I knew I wouldn't go back to sleep. Hungry, I quietly ate the peanut butter crackers in bed and nibbled on the chocolate bar. It felt so good. I finally felt peaceful and in control of myself. I thought about the previous day and was so glad the Holy Spirit had prompted me to accept the Kawe's invitation to stay another night.

I got out of bed around 7:30 am or so and dressed for the day. My hair was pretty greasy from not washing in for about 60 hours, but I decided not to let it bother me. I sat on the couch next to Sam and we talked for a little bit about the differences in our culture and things like that. Patrick offered to let me write an email. At the thought of writing to my parents, I nearly became undone again, though not nearly has much as I had the day before. I wrote them a quick email letting them know I would look for them on skype later that day.

I enjoyed listening to Patrick as he told me about the five year plan he had for the church he pastored. He told me a little bit about some of the ungodly practices in some of the tribes and how he has held some camps and workshops about Godly behavior for young men and things like that. He and his wife went out to a remote village a few weeks ago and told some new Christians about how a Godly marriage works. Also, each year he holds a camp for young men and teaches them about how to be a man of God. His stories impressed me and I was encouraged to hear about how people were getting saved and learning more about God.

After that, we ate breakfast. We ate store-bought "cakes"--similar to pancakes--with our tea. Breakfast was quiet, but after we had all eaten, Patrick spoke. "We would like to take this time to talk with you and be together as the rest of this day will be busy with church. Peter has something he wants to say to you." Peter, the youngest Kawe, spoke. "Thank you for coming and staying with us." His gratitude touched me as I had not had much contact with him. He was rather shy, and as he was only 10 or 11, his English wasn't the greatest. His sweet, shy smile warmed me. He wasn't the only one with something to say, though, as each family member thanked me in turn for staying with them. They smiled at me, and I was so humbled by their thanks and the honor they showed me. I cried and smiled and hoped they understood how much they had blessed me. Joyce said she enjoyed cooking with me. Sam said he enjoyed my company. Joseph (about 13 or 14) said I was kind. Terry told me she felt like we were sisters. Patrick thanked me last. He told me they had enjoyed having me in their home so much. Perhaps the most surprising thing he said was this: "You are the first white person to spend the night under our roof in the history of our family." Wow! It humbled me and made me feel so little to realize how honored they felt that I had spent two nights in their home. All the discomfort and uncertainty I had felt, all the anxiety and fear I had experienced seemed so silly and self-focused when I realized how honored and happy I had made them by accepting their invitation. I was so choked up I couldn't make any eloquent speeches. I simply said something like, "Thank you so much for having me in your home. You have blessed me more than I can say." And I meant it, I knew that was true.

Patrick then led us in prayer. He blessed me, prayed over this new and God-ordained friendship between his family and myself, and he prayed I would have a safe journey back when the time came. They all expressed a desire for me to come and stay with them again. Then came picture time. This is me with the Kawe family. Patrick is taking the picture.

Here I am with Joyce and Patrick:

The Kawe family: Sam, Joseph, Patrick, Peter, Joyce, and Terry.

During my sleepover in the Kawe home, I experienced some of the most raw emotions I have felt the entire time I've been in Africa. In those two days, I was out of my comfort zone in the most extreme way I can imagine. But, the Kawes blessed me so much. I know the Lord orchestrated the whole event, and I am so glad He did. Praise the Lord! He showers blessings on us and gives us strength during difficulties. He never calls us to do something that He has not equipped us to do. I am so grateful to the Kawe family for the way the showed me kindness, love, and hospitality. May the Lord bless them richly for their faithfulness, grace, and love. Praise God! Amen

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Everydays: Wednesday

My iPod alarm clock went off at 7:50 am. I got out of bed at 8:30 am. This I know for sure: I am not a morning person. After brushing my teeth with a cup of filtered water and washing my face, I went into the kitchen to boil some water for a cup of tea. As I fixed an egg sandwich for breakfast, Madison and Spencer (almost completely ready for the day) played a game of chess. They wake up at least an hour before I do. As I ate my homemade English muffin with an egg, the kids went into the school room to start school for the day. I had filled out Spencer's school to-do list the previous night, so he did not need me immediately.

The morning passed rather quickly. I read Spencer his history--we learned about feudal Japan--and gave him some math problems to do. We started getting ready for the kids' swimming lessons at around 10 am. Every Wednesday, Madison and Spencer take swimming lessons at the local Christian school, Rosslyn. A group of missionaries from different denominations founded Rosslyn some years ago. Many missionary and embassy kids, as well as nationals, attend the school. It has a Western feel to it while still being pretty diverse. Madison and Spencer play sports at the school as well as take swimming lessons.

All of us piled into the car at 10:30 am and off we went. Now, one thing that never crossed my mind before I got here was the driving. First of all, the drivers drive on the left side of the road in Kenya. Therefore, the driver's side of the car is on the "wrong" side of the car. Several times I started to get into the "passenger's side" only to realize there was a steering wheel in my way! The style of driving in Kenya is different than the style in the states. In order to get out from behind a slow driver, drivers casually weave in and out of the correct lane. A difference in the quality of the roads exists between Nairobi roads and Northern Virginian roads. The person who brought the speed bump to Kenya could be sued for damages to vehicles as well as pain and suffering. On the twenty minute trip to Rosslyn, we run over 17 different speed bumps. And then we drive over some roads that contain so many deep ruts we have to weave around the road in order to avoid hurting the tires.

Once at the pool, Madison goes first while I help Spencer with his school. During Spencer's lesson, I usually get into the pool and try to swim some laps for exercise. The first time I tried swimming here, I had only been here for a few weeks. I got out of breath very easily. Nairobi lays at a very high altitude, and some say it can take up to six weeks for a body to adjust to difference in pressure. Exercise was pretty hard for me until my fourth or fifth week in Nairobi.

After swimming we go back home and eat lunch. The Whitmans have introduced me to the Miracle whip/garlic salami/dill pickle sandwich--so delicious. My energy often wanes after lunch, so I lay down for a quick nap. Our neighbors, the Burrs, invited us over for dinner that night. Stacey put me in charge of making dessert. I whipped up an Italian Cream cake with cream cheese frosting. Kim Burr made a delicious dinner of sloppy Joe's, macaroni and cheese, and her husband made onion rings. We sat around and shared music and talked all evening. When the kid's bedtime came around, Stacey and I went home, put them to bed, and she and I watched a few episodes of House.

Living with the Whitmans in Kenya is very different than I thought it would be. They live with a strange mix of familiar and unfamiliar. We eat teddy grahams and pringles, yet the tap water is undrinkable and the milk is very strange. Store-bought milk comes in a cardboard carton and does not need refrigeration. The milk goes through a process where it is zapped at extremely high heat for a second. This kills any bacteria that could grow and also makes the milk taste rather bland. The kids drink a different milk. The Whitmans buy milk from a farm and pasteurize it themselves. While the milk is whole fat, the cows are so thin that the milk has the fat level of 1% or skim. A large water filterer and a water distiller sit on the kitchen counter. All of our drinking water comes from those filterers. The city tap water is safe to cook with, though, and none of us have gotten sick from any contamination yet.

Evenings are usually very quiet for me. All the Whitmans go to bed by 8:30 pm or 9 pm, so I usually spend the evenings reading or watching TV on my laptop. At first, I felt rather lonely, but as time passed I came to really appreciate having some uninterrupted time to myself and with God. I have found that loneliness can be very important when it comes to our relationship with God. In the states, I did read my Bible everyday, but many things distracted me from spending a lot of quality time with the Lord. This experience has really stretched me in ways I didn't know I needed stretching. It has taken me two months to realize why the Lord brought me here to minister in the Whitman's home instead of in a slum or an orphanage or with some other ministry to nationals: the Lord has brought me to a place of solitude and quietness because He wants to speak into my life. If I was as busy here as I had thought I would be, I would never be able to hear God's voice like I have in the stillness of ministering in the Whitman home. We certainly have times of business and excitement, but there have been so many quiet afternoons and evenings.

"'For I know the plans I have for you' declares the Lord,'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" Jeremiah 29:11 For the life of me, I could not figure out why I was on a missions trip and not sweating in the heat of the sun while building a church or teaching a VBS to foreign children or something "missions trippy" like that. But the Lord knew why He brought me here, and the Lord knew He could bless the Whitmans through an extra pair of hands around their home. I kept wondering when things were going to get "exciting" (after the excitement of the novelty wore off in week 2 or 3), but things got really exciting when I was still and quiet and the Lord spoke truth to my spirit. He revealed things about myself to me that I had not known before, and it never ceases to amaze me how little I know and how much God knows about who I am in my inmost being.

The Lord can certainly speak to us wherever we are, sometimes it's just easier to listen to Him in some places than in others. God brings us out of our comfort zones in many different ways. Maybe it's college, a new job, a move, or maybe even a ministry you have never tried doing before. The Lord always knows what's best for us and what will make us grow in our knowledge and faith in Him. Sometimes these changes come painfully and sometimes He speaks softly to our spirits. I praise the Lord for the difficult aspects of this trip (the homesickness, unfamiliarity, loneliness, etc.) because if I had not experience discomfort, I would not have leaned on God and pursued Him the way that I have. Even if we don't always know the Lord's plan for our lives, we can know His plans are amazing and beautiful and better than anything we can imagine--even if we do go through pain to receive the fullness of His plans for us.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Culturally Speaking: the Masai Market

The heat prickled my skin through the non-tinted windows of the vehicle. Madison, Spencer, and I bounced around in the backseat as Andy drove over innumerable speed bumps and pot holes. I enjoyed riding in the Whitman's Toyota Land Cruiser through the narrow streets of Nairobi. Every trip was like a carnival ride because of all the speed bumps that made my stomach flip. This trip was particularly exciting, however, because Andy and Stacey were taking me to the Masai Market!

Hello Everyone!

Today I will take you back in time to Friday, January 28, 2011. On this particular Friday I visited a foreign market, the Masai Market, for the very first time. I will now give you a narrative of this exciting experience.

Our destination was the Village Market (think mall but with outdoor sections a grocery store) which contained the Masai Market. I had heard little about either of these places, so I had no idea what to expect. The word "market" invoked images in my mind of exotic and sandy open air bazaars filled with spices, fruit, and jewelry. Despite my knowing we no longer live in the 20th century, my imagination wandered to scenes from movies like Indiana Jones and the Lost Ark.

When we arrived at the Village Market, we went through a guarded gate into the parking lot. As we parked and exited the Land Cruiser, Ms. Stacey began to drill me. "Now, people are going to be very pushy. They will call you out and try to sell you anything you look at. Just stay close to us and don't encourage them if you can help it. Tell them you are just looking, and if you do see something you want to buy, tell me and I'll help you negotiate prices."

My heart beat faster with anticipation as we ascended the stone steps up to the market. "See," Stacey pointed out, "they're already starting to swarm." Indeed, several men stood in the entryway waiting for customers.

As we entered the market, I gasped in awe and pleasure at the scene I witnessed. Before us lay a large, open-air room packed with hundreds of vendors. A dark canvas covered the area, providing shade while still allowing a nice breeze to move through the congested bazaar. The hundreds of craftsmen and merchants had spread their wears out on blankets or rugs on the floor. Purses, jewelry, bags, and fabrics hung from standing racks. The variety of items was endless. Silver and jade, baskets and carvings--all spread out over the vast space.

Noise all around us: the noise of people talking, sellers selling, buyers buying, and bargain hunters rejoicing over their catches. Foreigners and nationals alike searched through the handcrafted goodies. I overheard British accents and German conversations. We were not the only Caucasian onlookers, but we could have been the only Americans. I also noticed a Middle-eastern family wandering through the market.

My purse hung diagonally across my body with my hands ever on it. I walked closely behind as Stacey and Madison led Spencer and me down the different aisles (Andy had gone off to get a haircut at a barbershop within the mall). We came to one vendor who sold fabrics, and Ms. Stacey bought a conga--a large piece of colorful, patterned, cotton fabric that can be made into numerous types of clothing items. Madison bargained with the same vendor over a pair of earrings. Shrewdly, Maddie eventually worked the woman down to a reasonable price. Madison's bargaining skills impressed both the seller and me.

We finally worked our way through most of the Masai Market. Stacey asked me what I thought of it. My response: "OH MY GOODNESS!!! I want three of everything!"

Andy rejoined us and interrupted my exclamations. Andy and Stacey led us out of the market into the mall and to a bank where I exchanged some of my American money for Kenya shillings, the Kenyan currency. After the exchange, we went to the open-air, multicultural food court. Stacey gave me a tour of the different restaurants: Italian, Chinese, Greek, even a French bistro. I had long decided on what I wanted to eat, however; and on my first outing on the continent of Africa, I chose cheese pizza and a Sprite. I inhaled that small pizza. It was exactly the piece of home I needed in the midst of jet lag and mild culture shock.

After we finished our food, Andy and Spencer went back to the vehicle while us girls went back the the Masai Market to revisit a few aisles. This time around, I did buy a few items, and Ms. Stacey negotiated appropriate prices on my behalf. I bought a cloth bag and several paper bead necklaces at prices lower than any I would find in the states.

One thing that struck me about my experience at the Masai Market was the different types of vendors. I do not mean the different types of things they sold (though the variety was truly impressive), but the different personalities selling them. Without meaning to, I think I just put all of those merchants and craftsmen in a box. I guess I assumed all of them would ask for unfair prices at first, and several of them proved me wrong (though, there were several who attempted to prove me right). As we talked with one craftswoman, it became apparent Stacey had a relationship with her, and she was a very honest dealer. Another lady I met quoted me a very good price right off the bat. Still another vendor gave Stacey amazingly low prices on baskets.

This experience taught me another thing: bargaining does not just occur between a dishonest dealer and/or a penny pinching buyer. Stacey explained to me how the people at the Masai Market enjoy the ceremony of the haggle. One time, she had just finished bargaining with a man, and after they agreed on a price, he said, "Now I have worked today and can accept your money." I had no idea some (if not most) vendors "must" haggle over prices in order to feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in their work. And I must admit, it's kind of fun to watch people bargain. You hear things like, "Oh, madam! That price is killing me," and from prospective customers, "You want that much for this worthless item!" It reminds me of Proverbs 20:14. "'It's no good, it's no good!' says the buyer; then off he goes and boasts about his purchase."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Adventure of a Life Time! Week 1

Hello Everyone!

I am so excited about writing to you all and telling you about the experiences I have had so far. This first week has flown by; and with jet lag, getting settled into the Whitman's home, helping the kids with school, and several cultural experiences, it has been hard for me to communicate with everyone. Your patience, dear reader (or listener), I will now reward.

For the first five or six days, I really struggled with the jet lag. Nairobi is 8 hours ahead of US Eastern standard time; I had a lot of trouble sleeping at night, and in the mornings, I felt like going to bed. I think my body is beginning to adjust, though, and I can now go to bed before midnight and sleep through the night.

On Monday, everyone let me adjust. I had gone to bed at 3 am and woken up at 5 am; so at around 9:30 am, I went back to bed and slept until 1 pm. Tuesday was a little easier, and I started helping Ms. Stacey with her home schooling. I mainly help Spencer (age 9 and in the 4th grade) by reading him his history and correcting his grammar and math work. Sometimes Madison (age 12 and in 7th grade) asks me for help, too, and I usually help her by giving her questions about what she has read in her school readers and making sure she understands her books. I have gained a whole new perspective on homeschooling now that I am observing the process instead of actually doing the school work. Indeed, as I stay with the Whitmans and assist Andy and Stacey, my main responsibility is to help home school Madison and Spencer. Once a month, or so, I will spend several days either helping another missionary in his or her ministry or helping in a local ministry such as an orphanage.

Every other week, the Whitmans plan to take me on a field trip where I will see the different sights in and around Nairobi. On Sunday, they took me to the Great Rift Valley, and I... walked into a cave, looked into the crater of a volcano, and observed Masai herdsman tend their herd at a watering hole.

The day started out beautifully! Andy drove us and another missionary couple (Bryan and Kim) and their daughter (Raelyn) an hour and a half outside of Nairobi to Mount Suswa, a dormant volcano in the Rift Valley. After an hour driving on asphalt roads, we turned off the main road and onto a dirt one. We drove through country belonging to the Masai people-Kenya's most well known group of native peoples. The road was extremely rough. We jostled each other as Andy avoided ditches and ruts around the path. We laughed at how the GPS actually included this "road" in its maps. In some places, people had dug a ditch right across the pathway, and we had to drive off the pathway to get around it. It was one wild ride!

On our way to the crater of the volcano, we stopped at Kenya Assemblies of God-a small, aluminum church. Bryan had built a relationship with the pastor of this church, a Masai man named Jackson. When they heard our vehicle approaching, Pastor Jackson and several other people ran out to meet us. We stayed and talked for a few minutes, but they had to leave to get back to their Sunday morning service.

After another ten or fifteen minutes of driving, we reached a clearing containing a set of caves. We parked the car, got out, and climbed down a steep ravine to get a closer look at the caves. Some of the Masai had dropped cement in various places around the rocks leading down the ravine, making footholds. The Masai will rent themselves out as guides to tourists who want to explore the caves. When we got down to the caves, the air had cooled off and the vegetation was lush. After a few minutes looking into the mouths of the two caves, we went back to our vehicle and ate lunch. We ate sandwiches and chips, and Kim had brought enough Dr. Peppers for everyone. Over here, you can only find a few varieties of soda, and they are pretty expensive. Never has a cold soda tasted so good to me as that Dr. Pepper!

The desert we traversed was hot, dry, and dusty; whenever I opened my mouth, I got dust in it (of course, that didn't stop me from talking as much as I usually do). We must have seen at least fifteen dust devils throughout the day. But despite the dust and the heat and the bumpy, bumpy road, we finally reached the inner crater of Mt. Suswa at about 1 pm. Wow! It was certainly a sight to see. We stood on the edge of a cliff looking down into the lush, verdant crater.

I was a little disappointed at the lack of lava flow, but the view was spectacular. Mountains lay all around the crater.

Here is a picture of me sitting on the cliff with the view of mountains in the background.

Here is a picture of the Whitmans and their vehicle parked on the edge of the crater:

While up on Mt. Suswa, I saw a Masai woman near her home. I motioned to my camera asking her if I could take my picture with her. She nodded, and Ms. Stacey gave her one of our water bottles.

On our way back from the crater and towards the main road, we stopped by Kenya Assemblies of God again. Their service had let out, but the area around the church was not deserted. A group of Masai herdsman had gathered their sheep, goats, and cattle, and we watched as the herdsman watered all the animals.

It was a sight to behold! I don't believe I have ever heard so many animals bleat at once. I loved the sounds the animals made as they gathered around a stream and a watering trough. One sheep jumped right into the trough and drank the water coming up to his neck. The scene at the watering trough reminded me about the way Jesus described Himself as "the good shepherd." It takes a lot to be a good shepherd. There must have been about ten or fifteen men taking care of all the animals. At one point, we saw one of the herdsman take a young goat and put in the trough, making the goat drink by pushing its head down to the water. The Lord is our shepherd, and He takes care of us like a shepherd takes care of his sheep. Psalm 23:2 says, "He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters." This verse took on new meaning to me as I watched the herdsman water the animals. Sometimes, we can act like that young goat, not wanting to drink the life-giving water, even though we are in a dusty and dry desert. But the Lord knows we need to drink; so sometimes, he puts us in situations that make us so thirsty and desperate for Him we simply must drink of His Living Word. I want to be like the young sheep who did not just drink the water, but who jumped into the water in order to be immersed in it. This lamb recognized his need for water, and he did no settle for just a little bit.

I praise God for this wonderful experience He is giving me. He has already put me in situations I could never have dreamed about. I used to think I could never be a missionary. I have thought things like, "Oh, I could never rough it," or "I don't think I could handle living in a foreign culture." One thing I know for certain now is this: when the Lord commands you to do something or go somewhere, He equips you with all the tools you need. Fatigue has swept me away and dust and sweat have made me sticky and gross, but my God is always with me, and He has given me the grace to handle anything that comes my way.May His strength overcome our weaknesses. Truly, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness," (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Flight A36 to Nairobi has landed!

Hello Everyone!

I'm on a different continent now. My flight landed in Nairobi at 9:30 pm Kenyan time on Sunday. The customs line went quickly and smoothly. Andy and Stacey Whitman stood outside the baggage claim and picked me up as soon as I got my luggage (which was undamaged, praise the Lord). We drove from the airport to their home in the dark, but even so I could see trees I've never seen before. From my limited view, the city, I could tell it was beautiful in a way I have not seen before.

I will write more when I have more story to share. Right now, I just want to thank you all for your prayers and support and to let you know I have arrived safely. The Lord is faithful. He kept me safe and gave me guidance. "To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in You I trust, O my God." (Psalms 25:1-2a)

In Christ,

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Destination: Africa

Hello friends!

Thank you for visiting my blog. This blog and facebook will be my means of keeping up with everyone while I am on a missions trip to Nairobi, Kenya. I will stay with a missionary family I have known for a very long time, Andy and Stacey Whitman. Officially, I will be a short term missionary under the headship of the Missions Abroad Placement Service, a program with the Assemblies of God. The Whitman family ministers in a program called Royal Rangers International; it reaches out to boys and girls and teaches them fun things, like survival skills, alongside Bible lessons and spiritual truths.

While I stay with the Whitman family, I will help them in their ministry and also help them as they home school their two children. The Whitman family lives on a compound with other missionary families, and I will have the opportunity to help with the various ministries in Nairobi. I do not know what the day-to-day life will be like, but I know the Lord will direct me to the ministries He wants me to participate in. I just bought my plane ticket and will leave the U.S. on January 22 and leave Kenya on May 15.

A servant in Christ,