Week 3 – Kenya

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Our first outing to the countryside surrounding Nairobi was a delightful break from the sights and sounds and smells of the slums.  Ever since the movie ‘Out of Africa’ came out in the early ‘80’s, we have dreamed of Karen Blixen’s beloved Ngong Hills of Africa, never imagining that we would actually see them one day.  However, as we drove past herds of camels and even a dead hyena in the middle of the road, we spotted the hills in the distance.

Drought, famine, and hunger have driven people by the millions into Nairobi in search of a better life.  Unfortunately, corruption in the government has prevented the development of an adequate infrastructure to support this migration.  The miles and miles of slum neighborhoods in the city bear testament to this sad fact.

The small villages dotting the countryside are poverty stricken, but the air is cleaner and the congestion not nearly as bad.  This is the little town of Kiserian, not far from where our new friend, Natalie, lives and works, right at the foot of the Ngong Hills.


Re-entering Nairobi through the affluent section known as Karen, we were thankful to spot Nairobi’s answer to Starbucks, the Nairobi Java House.  Oh, how we enjoyed our first glass of iced tea since leaving Texas!  It wasn’t sweet tea, but was served with a little pitcher of simple syrup, so we were able to make it as sweet as we wanted.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

This was our second Sunday to worship with the students at the school for deaf and hearing children.  Last week, there were 102 students; this week, there are 119.  The new arrivals came from Western Kenya.  Some of them are 17 years old, in the 7th grade.  Because of the struggles of life, they have not been able to attend school on a regular basis.  What courage, when offered the opportunity, to return to school with the determination to catch up.  These children are so grateful for the chance they have been given to get an education and improve their lives.

We were moved to tears as they introduced themselves.  “My name is Elizabeth.  I am born again, and I praise God for giving me this chance to go to school.”  “My name is Stephen.  I am a Christian.  I love the Lord, and I am happy to be here.”

What a privilege it is to have the opportunity to tell them how they have blessed our lives, and how God sent us half way around the world to bless them, to share His love, and to bring an awareness of their situation to our friends and loved ones at home.

Monday, July 16, 2012

This is Patricia (Patty), one of the family’s younger sisters.  She came from a small rural village near Kakamega in Western Kenya to help in the house while John and I are here.  She left three small children at home (ages 4, 3, and 18 months), and has suffered a great deal of homesickness.  John and I wanted to put her on a bus and send her home to her family, assuring everyone that we could take care of ourselves and were more than willing to cook, clean, and do our own laundry.  That was not acceptable.  Nixon felt that she would learn a great deal through her exposure to us, but this broke my heart, as a mother.

We suggested that Patty be given a break during our stay, that we would pay for her bus ticket home and back to Nairobi after she had the chance to spend some time with her husband and children.  Once she wrapped her mind around that, she was fine.  In fact, she is constantly telling us that she wants to go home to Texas with us!  Even though she is 30 years old, there is a child-like quality about her that is so endearing.  When you hug her, she ducks her head and tucks it under your chin like a little child.  So precious!  She reminds me of Dobie in the Harry Potter movies.

We hadn’t been here too long when Patty disappeared for the afternoon.  We were informed that she was in bed with a toothache.  That night, she couldn’t even eat.  John gave her some super-powerful ibuprofen that he had brought along and it helped, but the following days convinced me that she was in desperate need of a dentist.  At first, she was resistant to the idea, as she is terrified of injections.  I convinced her that her tooth would not get well on its own and that an infection like that could kill her.  Finally, she agreed to go, and we took off in search of a dental office.  Ha!  We drove from one ‘hospital’ to the next.  (There is no such thing as yellow pages here, nor is there help to be found through Google.)  We finally found a ‘medical facility’ with a dentist.  He took one look in her mouth and said that the only thing that could be done was to pull the tooth.  Seeing that she was scared, he simply wrote her several prescriptions, which we filled on site, and we left.  John didn’t blame her one bit!  He said he wouldn’t have wanted to have a tooth pulled there either.

I told her this was probably the best course of action, to take the antibiotics that he had prescribed in order to calm the infection down, then to go to the dentist back home and have it pulled.  It was then that I learned this tooth had been bothering her for about 3 or 4 years.  She had needed to have 5 teeth pulled, but after 3, she never went back.  She assured me she would have it taken care of while she was home.

While we were out, John stopped to go in the bank, so Patty and I took the opportunity to walk around the nearby shops.  There is a very small supermarket there (they pronounce it spa-market).  Her eyes were the size of half dollars, as this was the first time in her entire life she had been in a grocery store.  At home, her mom goes to the market and just brings Patty what she needs.

That did it!  When John came back to the car, I told everyone to head to Tusky’s.  She was in hog heaven – wandered around, just staring.  It was the cutest thing ever.  We were just there for a few minutes, but I promised I would bring her back.  Oh, how she loved having her picture taken there!

Amazingly, Patty’s homesickness evaporated at this point.  She had planned to go home the next day, but decided to stay until we could get back to Tusky’s with her.  It didn’t happen the next day, as we had a meeting planned with Natalie, so she stayed two more days.  When we finally returned to shop, we loaded her up with all sorts of goodies to take home with her.  (John has met his match in the ‘Cookie Monster’ department.  She would come and sit down wherever we were and say, “Papa John!  Biscuit!”  Then she would just duck her head and giggle out loud.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Today was my first opportunity to begin meeting with each of the classes, sharing the animal picture book I made for them before we came.  I’ve made a couple of these for our grandchildren, but in this one, I added African animals and their Swahili names in addition to the English names.  Until now, except for a poster with just a few animals pictured on it, the children have only seen what the teachers are able to draw on the blackboard. The children were amazed at what they saw.  I taught them how to say the names in English, and they taught me how to say them in Swahili.

Later, I just spent some time one-on-one with the kiddos.  They are so sweet and loving; they swarm around John to the point he can hardly keep his balance, and they all want a hug or a high-five.

This is Diana.  Isn’t she absolutely beautiful!!!  She is almost four years old, and is as sweet as her face.

Her mom is a teacher at another school quite some distance away, so she drops Diana at our school very early, sometimes by 5:45 a.m., and returns for her between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m. The Director’s wife is up every morning by 4:45 to be ready for the early arrivals.  The other teachers are here by 6:45 and often stay well past 6:00.  Additionally, they come in on Saturday to help the children who are slow learners.  All of this for $48 – $60 per month!

We are committed to raising the funds to increase the salaries of these talented and loving teachers.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

This morning was a special treat!  Paul and Ali took a break from their over-seeing of the construction next door and came in for coffee and toast.  They are very close to winding up their work and we will be sad not to see them every day.  Paul is a civil engineer, working for a company here in Nairobi.  Ali will go to northern Kenya to visit his family and perhaps look for a job in Somalia.

Friday, July 20, 2012

We made a divine connection with Natalie Finstad in the months before we came to Kenya.  She has lived here for a couple of years and she had been home to visit in the States in the weeks before our trip.  We emailed several times and then “just happened” to be on the same flight from London to Nairobi, taking the opportunity to get acquainted face-to-face and share our stories and our visions.

Today, we were privileged to visit one of the training sessions that her organization, Be the Change Kenya, puts on for local community members involved in helping under-privileged and orphaned children.  It was a great session, teaching the basics of strategic planning.  I was thrilled for our school’s directors to make this connection with Natalie and her awesome staff.

Right now, they are headquartered just outside of Nairobi, in Rongai.  However, their plan is to expand into Nairobi proper within the next couple of years.  Perhaps, one day, our little school can benefit from the excellent programs that Natalie, Ken Chomba, and the rest of their staff have put together.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Today was the day that changed the direction of our entire trip.  We came to Kenya with certain preconceived notions about what we wanted to accomplish, and I know that the Director and his wife had their own list of ideas.  God, however, seems to have something else in mind, something far greater than any of us had imagined.  It all started with a walk to visit each of the teachers in their homes.  You’ll have to wait until the next installment to hear the details, although I know that most of you have read at least a little about it on Facebook.

Time seems to be slipping away, and every minute is packed with activity, to the point that I rarely have time to sit down and write.  However, this story is one that must be written.  We’ve now been here for four and a half weeks and, as you can see, I’m just getting the narrative of Week 3 out.  I’ll try to catch up in the next day or so and fill you in on the amazing events that have taken place since July 21.  Until then, Kwaheri!  (That’s Swahili for ‘Bye for now.’)

Love y’all!  (That’s Texan for ‘I love you all to pieces!)

Mary Catherine

Week 2 – Kenya

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

This is the second day in a row that John has been down in the courtyard, calling cadence with the children.  “Hooaah! Airborne! All the way! One mile! No good! Two mile! No good! Three mile! No good! Four mile! No good! Five mile! Airborne!”  I’m sure the neighbors wonder what kind of school we’re running here.  I wish I could capture all of this on video, but you’d just have to be here to really see how precious the interactions are with the kids.  They all line up behind him and march, squealing with delight.  “Left, left, left, right, left.”

He also found two pieces of wood in a stack made by the carpenter who is building chairs for the classrooms.  He told the kids it was a crocodile, slapping them together like the jaws of that fearsome creature, slowly creeping toward them.  How joyful they were as they screamed and ran from him!

This is also the second day in a row that there has been a birthday celebration. Yesterday, in the baby class, Barack turned three and there was a tiny little birthday cake for her which the teacher cut into little bite-size pieces and fed to each child.  The teachers have told the parents that if they are able to provide a small cake, the school will provide the juice and have a little party.  The children are joyful, as they have never had parties like this before.  Barack is in the upper left-hand picture below. No one was reaching or grabbing, just waiting their turn.  I didn’t see a single drop of juice spilled among the 24 children in this 2-3 year old class.

You may be thinking that it’s really cold here based on the way the children are dressed, but, to me, it’s a perfect 70 degrees, perhaps just a couple of degrees cooler in the morning, but perfect.  They consider this chilly and admonish the children every day to be sure and wear their jackets to stay warm.  I also think that 80 degrees feels scorching hot to everyone here.  Amazing how accustomed we are in Texas to radical changes in temperature, and think nothing of it.

This morning we joined the weekly outing to the market to purchase vegetables.  Typically, it’s just the school administrator who goes.  She walks quite a distance then catches a taxi to a market, far from here.  (This is not a huge thing to her, having grown up in the “rural” and having walked 14 miles each direction to work each day after she finished college.)  Buying food for 82 children is quite a chore, and by the time she’s finished, she has to rent a pull cart to pull all of her purchases back to the closest taxi.  (That’s her in the red and white striped sweater.)

This was our first stop, for cabbage.  As we approached, the lady on the left greeted me, saying, “Hello, Mary!”  I was wracking my brain, trying to place her.  Then John arrived.  “Hello, John!”  Then I was sure we must have seen her before.  Our host was stunned, asking her husband, had he called her to tell her about us.  He didn’t have a clue how she knew our names. Our host surmised that she must have just called us by the most common American names she knew.  I’m not sure, I just know that it was mind-blowing!

This woman was a woman after John’s own  heart, sitting there, shelling peas!!!

We are absolutely the only white faces around, and people look at us with a great deal of curiosity, but when we smile and speak to them, their faces burst into glorious smiles.  Some will pass by us and simply say, “Praise God!”  Others issue greetings of “Jambo” (Hello), or “Karibu” (Welcome), or “God Bless You!”

For the most part, they are very shy.  Whenever I take their pictures, I then approach them, showing them the image on the screen of my camera.  They are so very happy!!!!  Most duck their heads and grin, almost embarrassed but obviously pleased.

This is what our administrator must walk through, pulling her cart of purchases, to make it back and find a taxi.  There are closer markets, but the prices are a bit higher.  Her cart is like the one on the below; this man is hauling water to sell to people who have no running water.

By the way, it hasn’t been raining here.  This is a result of broken sewage lines.  When the rainy season comes, I can’t even imagine what this would be like, but the children have to walk through much worse than this to get to school.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Today we went on a “walkabout,” in the words of Crocodile Dundee.  First we met with several children in the office at school and took their pictures in sibling groups.  Then we went out into the neighborhood with several staff members to where the children live.  We visited with the parents, all members of the newly formed PTA, and had the opportunity to tell them how God had somehow placed their children on our hearts, halfway around the world, in the middle of Texas.  We offered them hope, assuring them that we would return home with a renewed determination to be the conduit through which God can pour His blessings out on them.  It is so clear that we are not the ones effecting the change in these children’s lives.  It is God!  His blessings have been heaped up and are spilling over through the help of precious friends and family, and our generous church members.  It is only after being here, on the ground, that we really grasp how desperate their lives are and what an incredible change has already taken place since we were able to move them to The Pink House.  The sights were disturbing and heart-warming at the same time.

In the middle of the last picture, you can see the building where the school was housed until December, when we were able to move them to The Pink House.

Once we were inside some of the tiny cubicles carved out inside these buildings, we found warm and inviting homes, immaculately clean and tidy.  The couples we met were full of joy, thanking God for their daily blessings, and wanting the best for their children.  They are thrilled to be able to send them to our little school.

The picture above is of Grace and the first couple we visited.  Their names are Pauline and Walter.  They have one nine-year old daughter named Laura.  Walter’s greatest concern was the lack of books.  The children are anxious to bring books home with them to study, but there simply aren’t any that the school can afford to let out.

After our visit, Walter walked with us through the neighborhood for a while, asking us about our ranching operation in Texas, very interested in the way we raise deer and cattle.  He has taken courses in animal husbandry, but finding work in Nairobi in his field of interest is impossible.  Most of these people are “casual workers,” what we would call day laborers.  They are not lazy!  They go out every day looking for work, but jobs are scarce because so many people have moved into Nairobi from the rural area as a result of drought and famine.  They come here, looking for work, hoping to improve their lives, only to find squalid living conditions and little hope.  Walter finds work occasionally as a rock mason, making a hundred shillings a day, the equivalent of approximately $1.20.  To put this in perspective, a loaf of bread costs about 40 shillings, a cup of milk costs 30 shillings, or a dozen eggs, 140 shillings.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that if he is lucky enough to find work three or four days a week, putting any food on the table is a challenge.  To have their daughter fed at school is a blessing from heaven!

To my knowledge, this is the only school in the slums offering an affordable education, including meals, to these needy children.  The Kenyan government provides “free” primary education, but the closest government school is over five miles from here.  In addition, the public schools are not without costs.  Unless the family can pay for uniforms, lunches, and supplementary textbooks, the children are not allowed to attend.  That leaves these poor children without hope for a future.  Even the other private neighborhood schools close to their homes charge fees, require uniforms, and do not provide meals.

Word has spread about the quality of education here.  Just since we went out and visited these homes, there have been parents who have shown up at the front gate, begging to have their children admitted.  This little house is bursting at the seams with the children who are already here, and we have had to impress upon the Director that if he continues to admit more students, the conditions will become worse and worse, and the quality of education will go down, at least while we are in this limited space.

When we found this house in December, it was just days away from completion – divine timing.  As I have said, we moved he and his family into the upstairs flat and the school into the downstairs.  They have considered trying to find another place to live so they can expand the school into the second floor.  We have suggested that rather than disrupting their lives again, since it is so beneficial for them to be right here on site, that we approach the landlord about the smaller unit on the third floor.  It was built as a space for a caretaker to live in, but by the time they found this house, a Muslim man had already rented it.  The Director has already spoken with the owner and we are supposed to meet with him soon.  Perhaps the owner and the upstairs tenant can be convinced to vacate the space when the term of the lease is up.  That way, we can move the 3rd and 4th grade classes into the upper rooms, along with the school office.  It would be quieter up there, away from the hubbub and excitement that accompany the younger children.  If we can hold the enrollment at its present level, and spread the students out into the rooms we would vacate downstairs, the situation will be greatly improved.  I don’t know yet how much more in rent and utilities will be required if we can obtain this additional space, I only know that everything we have been able to do so far is from God, and He is able to provide, if this is His will.

Right now, there is construction going on next door on a five story apartment building – two flats on each floor.  This picture shows the scaffolds that have been put in place, encroaching on the staircase of The Pink House.  Perhaps you can see the pink door at the very top.  That’s the third floor apartment I’m talking about.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Today we are home-bound, as the car we were able to rent in advance is out of commission.  We had been having problems with the battery, and yesterday the alternator finally went around the bend – right in the middle of a busy road.  And I’m talking BUSY!  We were able to push it over to the side and people came running to help.  In Kenya, the poverty is so great that no little deed goes unpaid.  By the time we got home, we had spent 750 shillings on jump starts and assistance.

The rental of this car was negotiated for us by an amazing young man named Kenneth Chomba.  He is 20 years old, already through college with a degree in finance, but has a heart for helping the less fortunate.  He works with an organization called Be the Change Kenya, training young adults in these impoverished areas to help with a generation of orphans.  I had been put in touch with the director, Natalie Finstad, months ago through a series of contacts.  She is originally from Houston, and came home to the U.S. several weeks ago to speak to various groups and individuals, both in Texas and in Boston.  A divine appointment put us on the same flight from London to Nairobi, and we had a chance to visit at length before our arrival.

By way of explanation, one does not simply call up Hertz or Budget Rent-a-Car around here.  It is necessary to find an individual who owns a car and is willing to rent it out for a period of time.  The Director had met with Ken on our behalf before we came and had drawn up a rental agreement.  Ken came today with a mechanic, checked the car out, jumped the battery, and drove away in it to have the alternator replaced.  This turn of events gave us a chance to hang around the house, get some things done here, teach a Bible study during the Friday afternoon closing ceremony outside in the courtyard, and just enjoy hearing the children.  (Believe me, with 82 of them, you hear them all day.)  You may have seen this picture on Facebook, but hearing Papa John tell his animated version of David and Goliath was a treat, even for me.

The Pink House is located not far from the previous location, in what was once Masai Estate.  We see them coming and going when we are out and about – quite a sight.  Bear in mind, these pictures were taken just a block or two from the school.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

These next pictures are of the two young men working on the apartment building next door to the school.  It is owned and being built by a Muslim family, and they have hired Ali Abdow, on the left, to watch over Paul Otieno, on the right.  Paul is the building superintendent, a lovely young Christian man, so full of joy.  Ali, also, is a delightful young man, a Muslim born in northern Kenya.  His dad was born in Somalia.  He and John have had wonderful, lengthy discussions about politics, radical Islamists (those who cover their entire faces with a veil vs. those who leave their faces revealed), and about the fact that there are loving people all over the world.

On this particular morning, we were waiting on the return of our car and had lots of time to visit with Paul and Ali.  I made them honorary Texans, pinning one of the red, white, and blue Texas-shaped lapel pins on their shirts.  I had my Bible with me, as we were going to be gone all day and I thought I might have the chance to read for a while.  They noticed it, and Ali said, “Ah, that is your Bible?”  I said yes, and told them that it was 34 years old (much older than either of them).  They were amazed.  Ali said, “I like this Bible.  I love the Old Testament.  It is very much like our Koran.”  He went on to say that killing is prohibited in the Koran, and that all of these extreme Islamists are operating in direct opposition to its teachings.  I hope to have the opportunity, after more chances to visit with him, to tell him why I love the NEW Testament so much.

I have so much more to write about – camel sightings, roadkill hyenas, the Ngong Hills of Africa – but that must wait for another day.

We are so happy to hear about all the rain that Central Texas has received this past week.  We haven’t had any rain here, but then the temperature never varies from around 70 degrees.  (Read it and weep!)

Love you guys!

Mary Catherine

Our First Few Days in Kenya


Today was a day of firsts.  It was our first morning to wake up in Africa, having arrived last night at 9:00 p.m. after 26 hours of travel.  As we hurried off the airplane, anxious to meet our Kenyan loved ones after such a prolonged and expectant wait, we were greeted with a long (and very slow) line waiting to either obtain visas (which we already had), or be processed through the immigration desk.  After another hour and a half, we made it to the baggage claim area, only to discover that none of our bags had made the trip with us.  While John was processing the paperwork and receiving instructions on when to return to the airport to check on the bags, I went on out to the area where I found a sea of beautiful black faces, waiting for friends or relatives.  In an instant, I recognized our hosts holding up a sign that read, “John & Mary Catherine.”  What a joyful moment to embrace these two precious people!

After an alarming ride through Kenyan traffic and Texas-sized potholes, we made it to The Pink House, and upstairs to their home.  There, she began to prepare a meal of ugali, boiled beef, and something I can’t pronounce that tastes exactly like turnips.  Ugali is prepared by boiling water and then stirring in some type of flour until it makes a stiff dough.  That’s about it – no seasoning, nothing.  You just cut a piece off and dip it in the other food in your bowl.  The children (8, 7, and 5) were still up waiting for us.  We all ate at midnight.


Before we sat down to eat, we had a tour of their house which they have transformed into a warm and inviting home.  There were pictures of us hanging everywhere, including our wedding picture.  Our host is quite proficient on the computer, and found these tucked away on my Facebook page.  When we walked into the bedroom they had prepared for us, we were shocked to find 8×10’s of us hanging on the wall.  The funny thing was, however, that neither picture was actually of us, only who they THOUGHT was us.  In John’s place was a picture of my dad; they thought it was John as a young man.  In my place was a picture of Kate Jackson, which was left among my Facebook pictures from the Doppleganger phase when everyone was posting pictures of the celebrities people thought they most resembled.  It was hilarious, and we told them that John’s picture was actually my dad, but we didn’t have the heart to tell them that the other picture was Kate Jackson.  When I wrote several friends and family about it that night, Sam Center wrote back and remarked how interesting it was to have Kate and Gene side by side, wondering how he would have felt about that.  Ha!

For months, I have assured John that The Pink House would be perfect for us to stay in, even though I thought we would be staying downstairs in one of the classrooms.  I had seen pictures of the bathroom, complete with a bathtub and shower – lucky for me, as I thought I couldn’t exist without a hot bath at night.  Big surprise to find out that the tub is only piped for cold water.  There is a switch outside the bathroom that you must remember to turn on, because it supplies electricity to the hot water for the shower.  The shower head itself is not enclosed in a separate cubicle.  The water simply falls onto the bathroom floor which has a curb at the door.  That might work except for the fact that the floor is not sloped to the drain.  After your very quick shower, there is a mop in a bucket to help push the water toward the drain.

Thank goodness we had put a few wash cloths in our carry-on baggage.  They were used for cushioning binoculars and our camera during the trip, but served as bath towels until the luggage arrives.

I sent money ahead of time and our host was gracious enough to buy bedding for us.  I know how very proud they must be to have bought us a set of sheets.  I won’t even try to describe the material they’re made of.  Very interesting texture.

Crawling into bed was a challenge.  This was certainly the first time for me trying to sleep underneath a mosquito net.  It must be tucked in all around.  Guess I never considered the effort and coordination it would take to tuck one in after you’re already in the bed.  The net is suspended from the ceiling and provides a very tight fit, so unless you were sleeping by yourself smack-dab in the middle of the mattress, you would find yourself with a mosquito net stretched across your face all night.  Of course, no luggage means no handy little noise maker/air filter.  It’s amazing how spoiled we become, relying on the sound of a ceiling fan or an air filter to sleep.

When morning came, there was a great deal of excitement.  The students were arriving downstairs and I could peek through the curtains and see all the commotion that was going on.  All the chairs were being moved into the courtyard for a welcoming ceremony for us.  I couldn’t resist peeking through the curtains, which brought squeals of delight from the children.  John and I were escorted downstairs at exactly 8:00 o’clock, and were treated to the sweetest reception of our lives.  The program began with a ribbon cutting ceremony in which I was privileged to cut the ribbon, officially opening The Pink House as the Valley of Truth Learning Centre. Then the fun began – children singing praise songs and reciting poetry, three-year-olds quoting Scripture, the whole group singing songs that included our names, teachers singing beloved hymns that I couldn’t resist singing along with.  I have so many precious pictures and videos to share, but here is the sight that greeted us.  As you can see, the numbers have grown.  We were shocked after the school moved to its new location to learn that we had jumped from 38 to 60 children.  There are now 82, and the challenges of that number are beyond explanation.

A tour of the school followed the ceremony and we saw for the first time how much more we need to accomplish.  The children are packed into their tiny classrooms; potty breaks are scheduled by classes, with 82 children using one bathroom; a matron is cooking for all these children plus six teachers on a tiny four-burner, apartment-sized stove; the classrooms have been created by building plywood partitions and some of the rooms didn’t even have a light bulb.  In a couple of the approximately 10×10 rooms, there were 24 children.  And yet, in the midst of these challenges, I have never witnessed such excellent education and spiritual training.

Next on our schedule was a trip to purchase some things we saw as necessary.  Another first:  Never before have I been wanded before entering a grocery store!  As we pulled into the parking lot of Tusky’s (sort of equivalent to a Super Walmart), we were stopped by security guards who searched the trunk of the car for weapons.  Then, as we walked into the “mall” which contained the grocery store, we were stopped again and wanded.  This heightened security is a result of the Somalian retaliation because of the Kenyan military offensive against Al Shabaab.  Amazingly, we felt totally safe inside.

There we found almost every product we could imagine, though the brands were unrecognizable for the most part.  One exception was the candy aisle.  We saw Snickers, M&M’s, and Mentos, in addition to many new goodies.  The big shock came on the rice aisle.  I have never seen as much rice in my life.  We walked down a row at least 50 feet long and 6 feet high – all rice!  On the other side of the aisle was every variety of dry beans imaginable.

Our loving and supportive church family in Cherokee blessed us with a generous gift before we left, to be used at our discretion.  (This was in addition to their monthly support of the school.)  We purchased a huge, heavy aluminum pot and lid for cooking at the school, and two nice heavy stainless pots with glass lids for our host.  What she was using to cook with amounts to aluminum bowls with a round, flat aluminum piece as a cover – no handles.  We also picked up a nice colander for her and light bulbs, both for the house and the school.  There was an immediate need for a First Aid Kit.  John had brought a Case knife as a gift for the husband.  It was his first, and he ran his thumb down the blade before John could warn him, and he sustained a very deep cut which bled profusely.  We all decided it was a blood covenant of friendship.

Meals are scarce and sparse, but the children never complain.  The family has been blessed beyond measure by the goodness and generosity of everyone who has helped us.  Even so, their diet is limited and it seems to me that their children are not getting enough to eat.  As far as the students go, there is just not enough money to adequately feed all of them.  They are served porridge at 10:00 in the morning and a lunch of beans and corn around 12:30.  Most days, the children do not receive anything to eat at home in the evening, so it’s a long stretch between meals.  John suggested to the wife that they might try to feed breakfast earlier, when the children first arrive, and she saw the wisdom in that, and immediately made a change in the daily schedule. We are committed to raising enough money to add a small snack to be served immediately before they leave at 4:00 to help tide them over ‘til morning.  We have also had a conversation with them about making every calorie count, not feeding them anything with empty calories, but concentrating on nutrition.  They seemed surprised to learn that a donut has zero nutritional value.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Today was the most amazing day of our lives, to date, except for those most blessed of days when we received our own three children into this world.  We traveled some distance to another school where our Director’s sister works.  Their mother had the vision to start this school.  It began some years ago in the parent’s back yard where they built little tin buildings to house deaf children who were not receiving any sort of education.

In the African culture, deafness is an embarrassment, and parents hide their children at home rather than send them to school.  The mom went out into the neighborhood to find these children and offer to teach them.  They started with three and it soon grew to nine.  Once the children began to learn sign language and the parents saw the vast improvement, the children (and the parents) wanted them to live at the school.  That was the humble beginning of their school, serving not only deaf children, but the hearing as well.  There are 102 students living there and they are indescribably delightful.


The children conducted the service and when they were asked them who wanted to preach, six of them raised their hands.  They decided by lot, before we came, who would preach and who would conduct the service.  The young man who preached is named John.  Even before he took the pulpit, before we knew that he would be preaching, he was among the “Praise Team” who led the entire group in the most beautiful spirited singing I have ever heard.  He’s on the far end.  It was if a light was shining on him the entire time, he was so anointed.

I learned later that he is 20 years old.  He came to the school 3 years ago, not able to read a sentence.  He now reads very well, and speaks English so proficiently that I thought he had been brought up knowing the language.  He is an orphan, and has been on the fringes of society, on the verge of trouble, bounced around between living with an aunt and living with friends.  I knew none of this when he came up to preach, and I have rarely, in the United States, seen or heard a preacher with such a powerful message and delivery.  I found him afterwards while we were touring the facility, put my arms around him, and whispered to him what my observations had been, and that I believed that God had set him apart for great things.

Driving through the city, both on the way to the school and afterwards on the way to the mother’s house, the streets were packed with throngs of worshipers, out in their Sunday best, walking to church, catching buses to get there, then on to fellowship with their own loved ones.  It was a sight to behold.

We spent the afternoon at her house, the house where all of the siblings were raised.  The food was delicious and the hospitality was intoxicating. We were moved to hear the story of the mother’s vision for the school. All the siblings showed up to welcome us, except the one brother who has passed on.  Jesus said that He is the vine and we are the branches.  That is exactly the picture of how their vision grew; it took root and then the vision for our little school branched out from there.  This family is impacting lives for God’s kingdom.

When we stood to go, they joined in prayers of thanksgiving for us, for our children and grandchildren, for divine protection, giving God all the glory.  The Spirit was so strong in that place, it was as if we were physically being lifted into the presence of God!

Monday, July 09, 2012

We have been without water now since Saturday night, but that seems of no consequence.  Nothing seems to dampen the spirits of these dear people.  Your first thought may be about how we bathe or cook; think of the more pressing issue:  how to deal with potty breaks for 82 children and 12 adults.  The teachers handle it with dignity and grace.

We had the opportunity this morning to meet with all the teachers collectively, to tell them how God had impressed them on our hearts, and how totally blown away we are with what they are doing.  These dear people have absolutely nothing.  We have been able since April to provide them with a meager salary, but will go home with a renewed determination and a better understanding of what we’re working for.  We made them all honorary Texans, and pinned a red, white and blue Texas-shaped lapel pin on each one.  They were so appreciative and so happy.

In our first couple of days here, we went not only to Tusky’s, but also to Nakumatt, another chain of superstores, and have purchased all manner of needed food and household items.  However, we are looking forward with great anticipation to visiting the local market to purchase the fresh vegetables for the school.  Modester buys fresh vegetables once a week, and must travel on foot, and then by taxi, in order to transport that quantity of food back to the house.  I know that they are thankful for the brief time that we’re here to have the luxury of a car.

I cooked a big pot of spaghetti and meat sauce one evening, but it didn’t taste anything at all like what I make back home.  I couldn’t find tomato sauce in a can, but finally located it in something the shape of a ketchup bottle.  I wondered about it, but the bottles of regular old Heinz Ketchup were on the shelf as well, so I assumed that their tomato sauce was just packaged differently, especially since the ingredient label sounded like plain old tomato sauce.  The end result was good, but it didn’t taste like spaghetti; it tasted like Sloppy Joes – very, very sweet.  One amazing thing happened as I was working in the kitchen, preparing to add a can of mushrooms to the mix.  I asked the wife where the can opener was and she looked at me blankly.  When I explained what I needed, she nodded in recognition and got out a butcher knife.  With that, she proceeded to open the can.  I was saddened, because one of the things I intended to bring her was a really good can opener.  Next trip to Tusky’s, we’ll be looking for one!

The only spice she had in her cupboard was salt.  The first thing John bought was a container of black pepper.  She looked at it when we got home and asked what it was used for.  Next trip to the grocery store, when I purchased all the ingredients for the spaghetti, I found what I needed – oregano, thyme, basil, etc. – and they provided a new taste sensation for our gracious hosts.  The children, I believe, especially enjoyed the sweetness of the spaghetti sauce.

Speaking of the children, they are absolutely precious.  One evening, as we were all sitting in the living room, I had my laptop in my lap, writing this report.  The kids were almost on top of me and the 5-year-old started reading out loud what I was writing – every single word!!  I couldn’t believe it.  I had to help him a bit when he would come to a word like “unrecognizable” or “hilarious,” but he read everything else without a single error.  “Doppleganger” gave him a bit of difficulty, as well, but who wouldn’t stumble on that one?!!

After these past few days, I have perfected the art of bathing, using a small plastic bucket of water.  It’s not so much the small quantity as it is the ice cold nature of it.  Ha!

There is so much to report, but no one will ever read it all unless I can find some way to filter and condense.  I want so to write, for my own sake, so that I won’t forget a single experience, a single impression.  However, I cannot seem to find adequate time to do so.

Love you all so much!!!

Mary Catherine