16 January 2018

GeoCaching at Oloolua Forest and Carols by Candlelight

I discovered Oloolua Forest way back in 2002, when I lived on the other side of Nairobi. I had accompanied a friend, who's aunt works at the Primate Research Institute inside the forest. After we arrived, I sat politely in the house for a while... but soon left the two ladies to 'tell their stories' and headed out for an adventure. I was beyond thrilled, as I hadn't yet known of any other place like that in the bustling city.

Sykes monkey

When I moved to the Karen area in 2004, I frequented this forest. In fact, that was back when a person could enter for free; now a nominal fee is charged. I would cycle four miles to get there, carrying a snack and my Bible (in the days before smart phones). I hiked around a bit and loved discovering things like the waterfall, the large bamboo clusters, and the beautiful papyrus near the creek. I also enjoyed watching the monkeys up high in the trees.

But I spent most of the time on the bench at the creek, just down from the waterfall. I would meditate on Scripture and chat with the Lord. In those years, I rarely ever saw another person in the forest.

A bamboo cluster
A papyrus grove

Through the years, I have introduced this small forest to many of my friends. In 2016, I also took my daughter and grand-children there. Everyone that goes with me also falls in the love with the place.

And so it was, in December, that I took Linet and Jeremy. We carried fried chicken for our lunch and I showed them all the special spots - the waterfall, the bamboo, and the papyrus. We also enjoyed seeing several monkeys. We spent quite a long time in the forest, and got in some strenuous hiking.

We explored the cave a bit, not sure how far it might go

We also found several GeoCaches, something they've done with me in other places

This interesting tree and vines, believe it or not, is on private property

Then we walked a short distance to the Karen Blixen Museum, for Karen Vineyard's annual Carols by Candlelight event. As always, it was a lovely evening, and another first for Linet and Jeremy. Such a memorable day!

10 January 2018

Orchestra concerts, Bible studies, GeoCaching in a forest, and attending a wedding

One of the GeoCaches we found
We celebrated Gloria's birthday by going to Karua Forest. We did some hiking in the process of finding several GeoCaches, and also enjoyed a sack lunch along the way. We were happy to see the addition of several new benches on the trails. It's always lovely to be in God's great-out-of-doors!

Gloria and I also attended three concerts in a span of four weeks, two of which focused on Christmas songs. We thoroughly enjoyed all of them and an added bonus, as we arrived for one of the concerts, was getting to see the Kenya Police marching band. Before each concert, we met for lunch and did another chapter in our current Bible study book.

I've known Collins since 2002 and used to spend a lot of time with him. In recent years, however, we hadn't seen each other much. I was glad to receive an invitation from him to attend his wedding. It was quite fun to watch all the dancing after the ceremony. And it was nice to see his mom, Mary, again plus several other relatives.

Mary's brother, Mary, Franklin, Mercy, Humphrey (siblings), and a niece
(I'm not sure who the guy behind is)

Collins and his wife, Sarah, enjoyed dancing with their wedding attendants

Linet attended the wedding with me, which was held on Madaraka Day (a national holiday in Kenya). We met for a snack and did another chapter in our Bible study book, before the wedding.

09 January 2018

Work permits, a requirement to maintain my legal status in Kenya as a foreigner

Nyayo House hosts several government departments such as immigration and also serves as the headquarters of Nairobi Province (now Nairobi County). The building, located downtown at the corner of Uhuru Highway and Kenyatta Avenue, has 27 floors. It was built between the years of 1979 - 1983.

Nyayo House is particularly known for its detention facilities in the basement, often called "Nyayo House torture chambers". Many opponents of President Daniel Arap Moi's government (1978 - 2002) were beaten there by the National Security Intelligence Service. Some of the known detainees at Nyayo House were George Anyona, Wahome Mutahi and Raila Odinga.

After Moi's presidency, the Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) investigated Nyayo House torture cases. Several victims, including politician Koigi wa Wamwere were compensated. Another detainee, musician Ochieng Kabaselleh, died soon after he was released, allegedly due to injuries caused by torture. Nyayo House is also infamous for the amount for corruption by various state officials.

The word 'nyayo' basically means 'to follow in the footsteps' of Kenya's founding father, President Jomo Kenyatta, and refers to a philosophy that emphasizes peace, love, and unity. Along with the word 'harambee' (to pull together), it was one of President Moi's rallying cries.

For my needs, I use the section for Foreign Nationals

There are often long and unorganized queues, but recently a numbering system was put into place which seems to help things move along in a relatively logical sequence. One simply must be mentally prepared to complete only one step - of the long process - on each visit.

This form is but one of many that has to be filled out in the long-drawn-out process of applying for, or renewing, ones work permit. Much of the process was recently put into an online format, theoretically for a more stream-lined process. However, the website is often down... sometimes for days at a time! It still requires many confusing steps and many trips to Nyayo House. It costs $50 per year, plus a $10 filing fee, and a 4-year security bond at $25 per year.

The image above is the printout of my recently approved work permit for another three years! They can be given for one, two, or three years.

Work Permits are issued to any non-Kenyan wishing to engage in gainful employment or voluntary service in Kenya. The Work Permits issued by the Department of Immigration are classified from A-M and are issued under Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act 2011 of Laws of Kenya. My work permit used to be Class E, but is now Class I.

Class I.
Work/Residence permit issued to a member of missionary society approved by the Government of Kenya and whose presence is beneficial to the country.

Class I Requirements.
◦A copy of registration certificate of the organization.
◦Academic and professional certificates of the applicant.
◦Processing Fee Kshs.1,000 non-refundable.
◦Fee is Kshs. 5,000/= per year or part thereof.

Eventually the work permit is hand-written and signed in my passport, with a stamped date. Now matter when I finish the process, mine are always dated for May 13th. So, even though this one wasn't approved until November 3rd, it will expire three years from May 13, 2017.

The next step is to apply for an alien card, now called a foreigner certificate. It acts as my ID in Kenya. The one pictured has expired; my more current one was stolen when I was pick-pocketed.

Even though a work permit can be issued for three years, an alien card expires after 1-2 years. Each time it's renewed, all ten of our fingers have to inked for 20 recorded fingerprints (each finger twice!). It takes a minimum of 6-8 weeks for the card to be ready, so in the meantime I walk around with a copy of my 'waiting card'. I hope to find it ready when I check on it next week!

- - - -
At one step in the process for this current work permit, I was sent upstairs to the fifth floor. Once there I was given a complete run-around and sent from one office to another, each one with apathetic clerks in dreary rooms full of piles and piles of files. But I knew better than to get upset or impatient... so I played their game until I was finally given the documents I needed.

This was my sixth time to 'jump through all the hoops'... I guess I'm getting used to it!

This is what I wrote in July 2008 -
  • I got my work permit, re-entry pass, and alien card renewed. The hassles of Kenyan-style bureaucracy completely defy description! The best (and actually only) approach is to just patiently and politely go through each and every step, jumping through the hoops one at a time.

“The obtaining of official government documents such as visas, entry permits, work permits, or resident cards can be a drawn-out process. It isn’t unusual for government officials to drag out these processes intentionally, knowing that, as a foreigner, you have no recourse. As foreigners, we do not have the right to expedition of services.” (ex: Genesis 23:1-19, Abraham Needing a Favor in a Foreign Land, ch. 6)
   ~ Marvin Newell, Crossing Cultures in Scripture 

20 December 2017

Cycling again! Overcoming my uncertainty and trepidation!

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience
in which you really stop to look fear in the face.
You are able to say to yourself -
'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'    
~ Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)

After my cycling accident in May, I wasn't sure I would ever get on a bike again. The crash resulted in a nasty concussion, a broken collarbone, and a lot of bruises! I have no memory of the fall, being in an ambulance, or the first few hours of being in the emergency room.

Suffering from vertigo for many months and with very limited movement - and a lot of pain - in my upper left arm, I was quite discouraged and downhearted. I also had to come to terms with the diagnosis of a heart arrhythmia, which caused an episode of syncope (fainting) resulting in a hard fall onto the pavement.

Trepidation: a feeling of fear or anxiety about something that may happen; a loss of courage

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. 
The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. 
~ Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

I determined to be a brave woman who conquers my fear and renews my courage!

And so it was, that I invited Masudi to join me for a bike ride at Karua Forest. I felt it was prudent to have someone with me... just in case of any mishaps. Additionally, the forest was a safe place as there's no vehicle traffic on the paths.

I'm telling you - - it felt absolutely wonderful to be back in the saddle again! There was no fear whatsoever in my heart or mind! I looked fear in the face and gained confidence with the first rotation of the pedals.

We both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and stopped a few times to do some hiking and GeoCaching. We laughed as we watched this pretty caterpillar crawling across a path with small stones. Just like me, it demonstrated an attitude of - "I think I can, I think I can!"

We also tried out River Café for lunch, a rather fancy restaurant inside the forest.

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men's hearts,
as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanates from old trees,
that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit. 
~ Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

Having fun with an antique phone booth in downtown Nairobi

Don’t set your goals by what other people deem important, Only you know what is best for you.
Don’t be afraid to encounter risks, It is by taking chances that we learn how to be brave.
~ excerpts from A Creed to Live By, author unknown

18 December 2017

Practicing hospitality - the friendly entertainment of visitors - is actually commanded by God

(a noun)
the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers

Synonyms: friendliness, welcome, warm reception, helpfulness, neighborliness, warmth, warm-heartedness, 
kindness, congeniality, sociability, cordiality, generosity, bountifulness, open-handedness

- - - - -
Be hospitable to one another without complaint or grumbling. 
1 Peter 4:9

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 
Romans 12:13

Other translations of the use of 'practice' say: pursue, be eager, cultivate, and be unfailing in hospitality.

Masudi's mom, Stella, has shown amazing hospitality to me since 2002 (over 15 years)! Not only has she cooked many meals and brewed many, many cups of chai for me, but she's also allowed me to stay overnight at her home in the village (at the South Coast) several times throughout the years.

Recently I was able to host Stella at my house for the first time ever. I knew Masudi was bringing along his friend, Esther, but he totally surprised me when his mom was also with them! We had a wonderful time together sharing a meal and a flask of chai.

Likewise, Carol has hosted me at her house many, many times... for a meal, a flask of chai, and sometimes overnight as well. Every now and then, her family (or part of it) makes their way from the other side of Nairobi to my house for some good food, fellowship, and laughs. We managed to make it happen again recently, when Carol and her three daughters came.

Signing my guest book

Three of the neighbor children (on the left) also joined in for some coloring

Maybe there's someone you could invite over to your house... especially during this holiday season. Just give them a call right now so you can be faithful in practicing, pursuing, and cultivating hospitality!

- - - - -

Isaiah 58:6-7
"Is this not the fast which I choose... Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into the house?"

Hebrews 13:16
Do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Matthew 25:35, 40
I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in. Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.

Galatians 6:10
So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.

13 December 2017

Madaraka Express, an amazing way to travel between Mombasa and Nairobi!

Brand new terminus just outside Mombasa, at Miritini

This was my third time to take the train between Nairobi and Mombasa. The first trip in 2010 was with Ryan; it was supposed to take 12 hours, but took 20 hours. My second time, in 2015, was with Hannah; that trip took 29 long hours!

This trip, on a brand new track and with brand new equipment, only took 5.5 hours. We left the terminus at precisely the stated time. The entire ride was comfortable and smooth.

Boarding platform at the Mombasa terminus (technically at Miritini, just outside of Mombasa)

This new train, christened the Madaraka Express, was flagged off on 1 June 2017 by President Uhuru Kenyatta. The initial agreement was made in 2009 by then president Mwai Kibaki. Madaraka Day is celebrated on June 1st, in recognition of Kenya attaining self-rule in 1963. Madaraka is Swahili for 'freedom'.

The new track and infrastructure was built - and 90% funded - by a Chinese company (the same one developing many of Kenya's roads). The train engines, cars, and much of the construction materials were imported from China. A Chinese and an Australian company will operate and supervise the business for the next 10 years. At that time, it will be handed over to the government of Kenya.

The Madaraka Express and new cargo trains are the largest infrastructure project in Kenya since her independence.

I spent most of my time in the dining car, having a meal and enjoying the scenery. I also chatted with these two proud employees.

I met Teressa the night before at the Airbnb where I stayed in Mombassa. We spent much of the train trip together.

Part of the time, we paralleled the highway between Mombasa and Nairobi.

I  always love Baobab trees and Sisal plantations!

Once we alighted at the Nairobi terminus (in Syokimau), we simply walked from one platform to another and boarded the local commuter train. For 50 cents, we were conveniently taken to Railways station in Nairobi city center, a ride of 30 minutes. From there, I hopped on a bus to my home at Ngong town.

The next phase (already in progress) is a track from Nairobi to the border with Uganda, at Malaba. It will pass by Narok, Naivasha, and Kisumu.

From Malaba, cargo trains will soon travel on to Kampala, Uganda and Kigali, Rwanda. This will allow easier transportation of imports and exports, opening up these two land-locked countries.

Visiting folks in a remote village, Shimba Hills, and also the busy city of Mombasa

Maxwell (on the right), who doesn't like to be called Max, is getting so much bigger!

When I wasn't with Steve and Brenda during our time at the South Coast, I visited some friends of mine at the quiet and remote Shimba Hills. I also got to see Maxwell again, when I spent a couple of nights at Faraja Children's Home. One last stop was to see Masha in the noisy city of Mombasa.

Katunge's daughters-in-law use an umbrella to keep the hot sun off of them and the child

Katunge tried to reach all her relatives so they could say 'hi' to me (ever the novelty and foreigner)

Waiting for lunch

Katunge (Stella's friend and neighbor), Stella (Masudi's mom), and Modi (Masudi's nephew)

The two pictures above are Bixa, whose seeds are used as a food colorant and also to make lipstick. It's popularity is increasing with farmers in the Shimba Hills area. Katunge harvests it whenever she's able, to get a few extra coins for necessities. The nearby processing plant pays 40 cents for two pounds of the dried seeds. Worldwide, bixa produces 70% of all natural dyes.

After lunch, a few cups of chai, and some tangerines straight off the tree, we strolled over to say hi to another friend and neighbor

She was also overjoyed to see me again :)

On a different day, I had lunch with Masha in Mombasa, at Tudor Creek Marina