Week 7 – Western Kenya
August 21, 2012 – Our Last Day at Etmasayi Mission – Not Too Far From Kakamega, Kenya
Wow! What a week this has been – a totally unexpected turn of events in this Kenyan Adventure.
When we first planned to come to Kenya, both sets of our hosts parents had invited us to visit their homes in Western Kenya. They live in the same region – near Kakamega – but in different villages. They did not know one another growing up. We had no idea what to expect. Thatched roof huts? Cow dung flooring?
We had planned to go immediately after the school closed for break on August 17th. All of the schools in Kenya are on the same calendar, with three breaks each year, lasting for two to three weeks. We had no idea exactly where we would be sleeping or how long we would be staying, but we were up for the adventure.
God had another very special plan in mind. The Bishop of the church where the school Director’s wife’s parents serve had heard of our work with the children here in Nairobi. He asked if I could come and speak at the Annual Women’s Conference which was beginning on August 15th. That meant that we had to leave Nairobi on Monday the 13th, missing the entire last week of school with the children; however, they all live nearby so I knew I would see them again. It also meant that our hosts would leave their own children behind. Actually, they would have done that anyway, because there was not enough room for all of them in the car we have leased from a neighbor. They rarely travel with the kids because it is too expensive and cumbersome for all of them to haul their luggage on foot to the nearest junction where they can catch a Matatu (a 14-passenger van crammed with at least 20 people) for the ride through the crazy Nairobi traffic, to catch the huge “Country Bus” for the eight-hour bus ride to Kakamega. From there, they catch a couple of Piki-Piki’s (motorbikes), several riders per bike, and make their way home. For the wife’s home, vehicles can only make it so far, then the rest of the way is a very long walk across a footbridge at the river and up a mountain, but what a sight!!!
The higher we went, the more spectacular the scenery. This is the “bush country” of Africa, previously overgrown with vegetation. Now it has been cleared and cultivated. The climate is absolutely perfect, in my book. I am in a constant state of energy and excitement in the cool clean air.
As you can see, there are no roads to the individual plots of land, just foot paths.
As we approached her childhood home, we found an inviting little compound of buildings made of mud and sticks with an outer coating of concrete. The floors, too, were concrete and just like every other home we’ve been in over here, the inside was neat and tidy, clean as a whistle. As you can see, the roof is tin.
The building you see here is where they eat and where the parents sleep. This is the mom, welcoming us to their home.
The building on the right as we approached houses the kitchen and a spare room for relatives to sleep in. There are three ‘stoves’ along the wall on the ground, and they are quite efficient in cooking and keeping the food warm. We have been astounded that no one vents their wood or charcoal fires to the outside. As you can imagine, this room was quite warm.
there are two sisters named Grace. (Go figure.) One was named after the grandmother, and the other was named after an aunt. One is a teacher at our school and the other works for a company with a contract at the United Nations, preparing and serving food. I finally had to resort to referring to them as Teacher Grace and Chef Grace. The whole family has now adopted that habit. The balls of dough on the right were the work of Chef Grace, preparing Chapati for our meal. Very similar to our flour tortillas, I have grown to really love them!
The firewood for the ‘stoves’ is stored overhead in the timber rafters. She had given up on her hair this particular day and had donned a knit cap. African women spend very little time on their hair, but there is a salon on every corner. Most of them weave their hair and it is quite attractive. As Teacher Grace says, “Weave it and leave it!”
I have considered having my hair woven and adorning it just a bit with beads. What do you guys think? A little out of character, perhaps?
Almost every meal, in every home, on every day, consists of sukumu wiki (very similar to turnip greens), beans, rice, and chapati or ugali (prounounced ‘oo-gah-lee’), made by stirring wheat flour into boiling water. The result is a ‘loaf’ of stiff dough with which they scoop up their food.
Outside the back door of the main house was a pile of ‘maize’ drying in the sun. After it is dry, they remove the kernels by hand and take it to a ‘posha mill’ to have it ground into fine corn flour (not really like our corn meal); or they cook the whole kernels with beans to make succotash.
Trust me! You don’t want to boil this corn and eat it. It tastes nothing like our young, tender corn. It’s more like hominy, if you can imagine eating hard hominy off a cob. Let me just say, I’m speaking from experience. 🙂
There were precious children everywhere – all cousins – and this is just a few of them. Most of them did not come for this particular occasion, again because of the cost and difficulty of transporting an entire family.
There is another house in this immediate compound, on the left as you approach the main house. It is occupied by the lastborn brother, John Barrett. There is only one younger sibling, Teacher Grace, born a year after J.B.
Everyone here refers to ‘firstborn’ and ‘lastborn.’ Anytime we show them a picture of our family, the first question they ask is, “Which one is the firstborn?” Just as in the Bible, there are many advantages to being the firstborn son. Things are only now beginning to change so that women can inherit anything. In fact, there is a bill before the Parliament right now to effect this change.
Because it was a little warm inside the house when we arrived, John and I migrated outdoors to enjoy the cool air and the children seated on a little foam mattress. Guests are so highly prized that, immediately, people began to move furniture outside for us to be seated comfortably. I was perfectly happy just sitting on the ground with the kids, but accepted their gracious offer and sat on the couch instead. This was one of those “no electricity days” back at the Mission, hence the funky hairdo. Another good argument for “Weave It and Leave It!”
Before leaving Western Kenya, we said goodbye to many new and wonderful friends – friends we hope to see again next summer, if God wills. Bishop Javan Ommani, pictured below, was our gracious host at Ematsayi Mission. His mother, who was 57 when he was born (That’s not a typo!), made him promise before she died that he would donate part of his inherited land to build a mission. Javan had walked 35 miles to Bible School for two years after he finished Form 4 (senior year of high school). He would leave home on Sunday after preaching, arriving 13 hours later. Then, on Saturday morning, he would make the return trek home. This mission he has built now includes a permanent church, a missionary house, a medical clinic and dispensary, a polytechnic school, a Bible college, dormitories, a little store, etc. Unfortunately, many of these buildings are not being used at present because of lack of funds. I see many, many wonderful opportunities opening up through this divinely appointed meeting!!!!
I spent the week, speaking to men and women from many areas, and John wound up the conference with the most powerful sermon I’ve ever heard! God has really given him a voice over here in Africa. Wow! What an unexpected turn of events.
Javan was a member of Parliament and served as Asst. Minister of Information & Broadcasting under President Daniel Arap Moi, from 1992 – 1997. Moi was the president of Kenya for 24 years. Javan’s home is just behind the Mission compound. It’s no wonder that President Moi was so fond of him; he is absolutely delightful. Because of his connections, he will be working to obtain Kenyan ID’s and work permits for us, which will eliminate the need for us to get visas each time we come to Kenya! I plan to carry that ID proudly, right next to my Texas Concealed Handgun License.
The picture on the left is the outside of the permanent church building where we have been ministering. Before it was built a few years ago, they had a temporary structure similar in construction to the houses where Modester grew up.
On the right is the building that houses the administrative offices and Bible College classrooms for B.A.L.L. (Bible and Literacy League of Kenya). It was in here that I was privileged and humbled to teach the pastors who arrived for this 3-week session of the college.
We had a constant stream of visitors during the ten days we were at Ematsayi. Most of them were of the two-legged variety, but we had other visitors, as well. Some of them we were glad to see; others we could have done without. Four legs – fine! A hundred legs – not so fine! And then there was the bat. That’s right, a bat. Found him (or her) on the floor near our bedroom, very sick, but not dead. A sick bat says one thing to me – rabies. We managed to dispose of it after a swift kick. I was glad after that to be sleeping under a mosquito net!
Here is the instant hot water shower head that shocked the stew out of me the first night. Before you step into the bathroom, you must flip a switch to turn the electricity on to this contraption. No problem. Step in, stark naked, turn on the shower, get scalded, then reach to turn the water off. Big mistake! Standing in water, then touching a metal faucet when there are exposed wires overhead that have gotten wet, makes for a HUGE jolt! The next day, we found some adhesive tape in the clinic dispensary to try and resolve the problem. I can’t resist including a picture of the toilet seat. The ‘tabs’ underneath had broken through the plastic, so if you made the mistake of actually sitting down on it, it pinched the daylights out of the back of your legs. Just a couple of the minor challenges we encountered. 🙂
We are now back in Nairobi, savoring every moment with the family. Tonight, John and I prepared spaghetti and meat sauce for the entire family. Usually, the children eat in the kitchen at a little plastic table, but tonight I moved it into the dining room so we would all be together. I asked if they had any candles. There were two; one was about four inches and the other was just a piece of a candle, about an inch and a half high. I put the little one in the middle of the children’s table and the bigger one on ours. We turned out the lights while we prayed and then turned on some dim lights so we could see what we were eating. I taught them how to turn their forks against a spoon to wrap the spaghetti. I talked about the city we were visiting – Venice, Italy – and how we had all arrived at the restaurant through the canals, by boat. I told them about Paul’s missionary journeys and how he eventually wound up in Italy, in prison.
I commented that the rest of the people in this Italian restaurant were speaking Italian and I couldn’t really understand them. Later on, I told them that I had heard the young man at the next table proposing to his girlfriend.
Then John sent the kids to the kitchen and closed the door while he hid a Kenyan coin somewhere in the living room. They all came out, searching frantically, trying to be the winner. When the coin was found, there was screaming and laughter. We repeated this process over and over, until everyone was exhausted from laughing. What a joy to share in the life of this precious family.
We’ll be home soon, but will leave part of our hearts in Kenya.
Love you all!
Week 4 – Kenya
Saturday, July 21, 2012
I promised to tell you an amazing story of how the focus of our trip changed in a single day, and here it is!
Having already visited the homes of many of the children at the school, and seeing the squalid conditions in which they live and breathe, we decided, after we had been here for a couple of weeks, to visit the homes of the teachers. We were expecting much better conditions, since the teachers are blessed with permanent employment. You would think so, right? Oh, how we were mistaken!
These precious, committed, and loving individuals work from daylight until dark, returning to ‘homes’ in the same neighborhoods where the students live. Some have no beds, only a foam mattress on the floor. One room, with the sleeping area divided from the remaining space with some type of fabric strung across on a wire or a rope. In spite of this, they are neat and tidy.
This is Dorcas, the school matron, on the left and Dennis, one of her youngest, on the right. Dorcas and her husband, Erick, have a single bed; their five children sleep on concrete sacks on the floor. And yet, the joy and thankfulness evident on all their faces is mind boggling.
When we visited their little home, John and I were treated to the two chairs; everyone else sat on the edge of the single bed.
Next, we visited Teacher Esther’s house. She lives with two older sisters, Nancy and Carolyne, who are 31 and 24. A couple of years ago, they were promised employment for an up-front commission of 15,000 schillings, a huge amount. Not surprisingly, after they raised it, the man absconded with their money and they were left with nothing. Since then, they have tried to find daily work doing laundry, etc., but have relied almost entirely on Esther’s income of 4,000 schillings, approximately $48.00/month.
This next picture is Teacher Grace, the Director’s wife in the middle, and Teacher Esther. Aren’t they absolutely beautiful!! God has gifted each of them in such unique and special ways!
After visiting the homes of all six teachers plus the matron, we came back to The Pink House, heavy-hearted and stunned. Even our Director, who works with these teachers every day, was shocked to see the conditions in which some of them live, and the plight of their existence. We began to brainstorm about how we could improve their living conditions, wishing we could find another house like The Pink House, putting several families on each floor. It would be communal living, but what they’re in is communal, just without a real bathroom or a kitchen.
Monday, July 23, 2012
On Monday we hit the street, looking for something nearby. We found an “apartment complex” just a couple of blocks from the school. The bottom two floors were already complete and occupied, with business establishments on the street side, and apartments in the back. The third floor was still under construction, just a week or so away from completion. The owner happened to be there and we were able to share with him what we had in mind. He suggested that, if we rented half of the third floor, he could put in metal gates to control access to their area. He said that he would put locks on one toilet and one shower, so that only the teachers and their families would have the use of it. He said that as soon as he is able to bring in a permanent water line, he would add an instant hot water shower head on their shower. This is so much better than where the teachers are living, but my heart sank a little, wanting so much more for them.
These are no more than approximately 9’ x 12’ concrete rooms – one electrical outlet, one light bulb. No ventilation, no kitchen, nothing. Just one room. But the fact that there is electricity, there is water, and there is a working toilet is a VAST improvement. (By the way, this won’t be a flushing toilet as you and I know it, but a porcelain opening in the floor with a 50 gallon container of water outside the door with a pitcher so you can flush-it-yourself.) And it’s only TWO BLOCKS FROM THE SCHOOL!!! And there’s a spare apartment that we can develop into a community kitchen and fellowship hall.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
While John and I were considering this huge leap of faith (since we didn’t have the money nor the monthly commitments to cover this additional cost), we asked Esther if she thought her sisters, Nancy and Carolyne, could come to the school the next day. They were there, bright and early, and we offered them jobs at the school. There is more than enough work to spread around, and the teachers and staff have been so grossly overworked, it’s pitiful. Both of these lovely young women are educated and bright, with not a lazy bone in their bodies. We decided to start them out at 4,000 schillings ($48/month), raise Dorcas’ salary to that amount, and raise the teachers to 5,000 and 6,000 schillings ($60 – $72/month). Nancy and Carolyne were thrilled, to say the least, and showed up for work the next morning at the crack of dawn.
That brings us to Thursday. I’m telling you this, because this week moved at warp speed! Nancy and Carolyne worked Thursday and Friday, and were so happy to be part of the fellowship Friday afternoon during the weekly Bible study and closing ceremony for the week.
Friday, July 27, 2012
After spending hours and hours driving downtown in the insane Nairobi traffic to get an international drivers license (only to discover that we didn’t need one after all), we barely made it back in time for this precious Friday afternoon time with the kids and teachers.
John and I hadn’t even finished discussing and deciding on the teacher housing issue, but glanced at each other, whispered a few words, and felt moved to go ahead with it, sharing the news with them after the children went home.
We sat them down under the pretense of getting a group picture, then announced what we felt like God was moving us to do, knowing that it was a step of faith and only God could provide what we needed. Wow! Pandemonium broke loose!!!
And then we all walked down the street and around the corner to THE ORANGE HOUSE!!
It was in God’s perfect timing that all of this came down while Pastor Michael was present. Many of these teachers are members of his congregation, and he had been praying for months, unbeknownst to us, that Dorcas and her family would have a new place to live. He read some Scripture, sent up prayers of thanksgiving and anointing on this new home, and blessed us all!
Then we took the first group picture of everyone, including Pastor Michael, at The Orange House!
One week later . . .
Saturday, August 4, 2012
Early Saturday morning, we took off with the kids to check on the move-in progress. On Friday, we had met with the leasing agent and signed the contract on the nine units, getting back to school just in time to let the teachers know that everything had been settled. Some were so excited that they hired a cart that very night and moved all their possessions in around midnight. By the time we arrived, several were already settled in.
Teacher Carren did not arrive until late Saturday evening, as she had been at the funeral home all day, making arrangements for the burial of her 20-year-old sister-in-law who had died of asthma earlier in the week. By the time she got to The Orange House, we had been there and gone, leaving her a great surprise – a bed for her and her two little girls, Faith and Joy. These ladies helped me put it together. What fun we had!!!
God is good. All the time! Before we even left Kenya, we had received commitments to cover the monthly cost of the new housing for the teachers!