04 June 2013

Trudging through the mud

The threat of rain -- and mud -- loomed in my mind the entire day.

In rural Kenya, rain is very much considered a blessing. It waters and nourishes the maize (corn) and other crops; the landscape is covered with gorgeous and stunning shades of green.

Rain also means mud.

For a variety of reasons, we had gotten a late start to our long list of errands and shopping. As Agnes met me in Kitale town, just as the daily downpour was petering out, we had a quick -- albeit late -- lunch of githeri (beans and corn), chips, and soda. We then moved at a rapid pace to complete our to-do list, splitting up for some of it.

We purchased groceries, Tony’s back-to-school shopping, and items for the farm: a wheelbarrow, two bags of cement, a bag of lime, a roll of chicken wire, a few cans of paint, 26 tree seedlings, etc. Each stop was fraught with frustrations and s-l-o-w assistants.

Kitale is always crowded -- the streets, the sidewalks and the shops -- and most especially so when schools re-open. We were (unfortunately) doing our shopping on the week that schools re-opened across the country for second term.

Goods from hardware and clothing shops spill out onto the sidewalks in an attempt to entice customers inside. Fresh produce vendors take up what little sidewalk space might remain. I have gotten quite adept at maneuvering the obstacles and crowds at a quick pace; Agnes did her best to keep up.

The hardware shop owners wait on two or three people at a time, barking orders at their workers while we customers do our best to make our needs known. Pushing a trolley (cart) in the grocery store requires a balance of patience and politeness, along with some determined aggressiveness. One must put irritation aside and just make due with the situation of massive amounts of humanity squeezed in the narrow aisles.

After finishing at the Agro-Forestry compound and the hardware store, I left Agnes to do the grocery and school shopping and forced my way through the crowd outside in the alleyways to a taxi stand. After an anxious wait, I finally secured an available driver. We had to collect our goods at four different places, now fighting our way through the traffic of the ever-bustling town streets.

We eventually finished loading at 6:00pm. After fueling the car, we were finally on our way, with our goods filling the back of the small station wagon. Agnes and I squeezed our bodies into the single front passenger seat. Being in the middle, she had to squeeze her legs to the left so the driver, Titus, could freely access the gear-shifter.

Immediately as we turned off the highway at Maili Saba, Titus expressed his apprehension about the road. He informed us early that if we discovered it had rained near River Nzoia, he would not even attempt to cross the bridge or climb the hill after it. In previous rainy seasons, I had seen private cars, tractors, and lorries stuck in the muddy ditch on that very hill; I understood his pronouncement.  

Agnes had already told me that it had rained while she was on her way to meet me. When we actually experienced the resulting M-U-D-D-Y road, it was readily apparent that Titus' prediction was accurate. Fortunately he was a mature man and an experienced driver; he handled the situation well. My goodness! We slipped and slid back and forth the entire distance from the highway to the river.

With my eyes glued to the scene unfolding through the windshield, I stayed quiet and prayed. My concern was not only for his car and our safety, but also… what would Agnes and I do next? By now it was almost dark.

A few meters before the bridge, Titus refused to go any further. I asked Agnes if there was any place we could spend the night at the very small Riverside market area. 

As we discussed our options, a boda boda (motorbike taxi driver) friend of mine, Joseph, came up to the car. He convinced Titus to at least cross the bridge and rallied a few guys to help unload our goods. I paid and thanked Titus.

It was now dark… and it was now sprinkling.

A kind friend and neighbor of Agnes’ agreed to store some of our goods overnight. Some guys carried the heavy bags of cement and lime, and the tree seedlings into his small medical clinic. Agnes convinced me we could make it to her house; after all, there certainly isn't a hotel at the small market.

Adu, her middle son, happened to be there with his bike. He loaded up the wheelbarrow with the paint and groceries and somehow managed -- with sheer determination -- to push it barefooted in the mud. Agnes pushed the bike with the rolls of chicken and binding wire tied on the back. I trudged along with my heavy backpack and Agnes’ handbag.

Ai, ai, ai, ai! Did we ever have a difficult time!

It was pitch-black, with no moon and no stars. The sprinkles had become legitimate rain. We walked on the sopping wet and muddy footpaths, me wearing nothing more than flip-flops. The task was extremely frustrating.

My goodness, the going was beyond hard. Placing one foot in front of the other required complete concentration. The mud was as slippery as soft butter! Because my heavy backpack made me quite top-heavy, I knew I could go down so easily in a split-second.

I tried to maintain a stiff upper lip, but my confidence in not falling waned by the minute. Additionally, I was concerned about various items in my very non-waterproof backpack… not the least of which was my new laptop. Having no choice but to accept the fact that the situation was out of my control, I asked God to protect my valuables.

Just about when I’d had it with the conditions, Joseph suddenly showed up again, offering to carry me on his motorbike. After convincing me that he was sure he could manage, I climbed on. I opened my umbrella and tried to hold it over my backpack. Because we were forced to move quite slowly, there wasn't any wind to blow it open.

Joseph had to constantly use his feet to keep us steady and upright. I held on tight with my remaining hand… and I prayed! I asked the Lord to help Joseph focus and to not let us fall.  I asked Jesus to figuratively hold my hand. I prayed for Agnes and Adu, who were somewhere behind us facing their own set of challenges and difficulties... and without the assistance of a headlight.

After what seemed an eternity, Joseph and I reached a spot where there used to be a homemade bridge made out of several palm tree trunks. The only problem is that a couple of them had been washed away with the rapid current below. Joseph parked his motorbike and proclaimed he could go no further.

By this time I was barefoot, as my flip-flops were beyond useless in the sticky, slimy mud. I was still afraid of slipping and falling - - only now with the added issue of gushing, roaring water beneath me! 

Joseph held out his hand and reassuringly convinced me to grab a hold and come across.

It may sound corny, but I sincerely felt like I held the hand of Jesus as I crossed over that tree trunk! God had literally answered my repeated prayer.

Now quite wet and muddy, I was more than a bit demoralized, plus physically and emotionally exhausted by the situation. I had no idea where Agnes and Adu were, as there are many panya routes (shortcuts) to her house. I didn't know the way in the pitch-black darkness. 

And I did not like the idea of now being on my feet again… without the security of Joseph and his motorbike. 

I had him ask at a nearby strangers’ house if I could spend the night with them. They were a bit taken aback by a mzungu (white person) and total stranger entering their one-room home, as they sat quietly eating their dinner of ugali (dry corn meal). However, like typical Kenyans, they warmly invited me in and agreed to let me sleep there.

Just as Joseph was about to head home, Agnes arrived. She greeted the elderly couple and promised we would visit another time. She encouraged me, stating confidently that we weren't far and that we could indeed make it to her house. Ever since I've known her, I have admired her tenacity and determination in spite of all odds.

Sure enough, I managed to stay on my feet and we arrived at her house at long last. Her other four boys were glad to see us, having had no idea of our whereabouts.

The three of us were soaked, muddy, and cold… but our ordeal was over!

While Agnes quickly prepared tea to warm and cheer us, I unpacked my backpack. With the light of just my small flashlight, I discovered that my clothes and several other items were somewhat wet. I spread things out or hung them up to dry as best I could in my little bedroom. The good news is - - my laptop, camera, and phone were fine.

Experiences like this -- and they have been many over the course of almost 12 years in this foreign land -- help me understand a bit of the various difficult conditions that poor, rural Kenyans endure on almost a daily basis. There are no proper roads; in fact, getting to Agnes’ house involves a myriad of meandering routes that are often nothing more than crude footpaths. Combine that with not having your own car (a wonderful protection from the elements) and no streetlights (there is, in fact, no electricity). Perhaps then you can begin to get a glimpse of their daily challenges.

God sent me to Kenya with a simple mandate: to love my neighbor, especially single parents and single-parent children. I am here to 'do life' together with the handful of folks to whom God has supernaturally connected me. My mission is to celebrate the fun times with these friends… and to walk through the difficult and hard times with them. We laugh and we cry; we struggle and we succeed. 

We share life.

I am here to serve God… even when it involves trudging through the mud.

- - - - - -

“I reckon on you you for extreme service, with no complaining on your part and no explanation on Mine."
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

"Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand."
Isaiah 41:10, NRSV Bible

"If you're in a storm -- if you're facing struggle after struggle after struggle -- look for God's encouragement. He doesn't take us out of the danger, he just gives us encouragement in it."
Jon Parsons, Acts 27, Karen Vineyard, Nairobi Kenya

“It is a beautiful thing when folks in poverty are no longer just a missions project but become genuine friends and family with whom we laugh, cry, dream, and struggle.”
Shane Claiborne, Irresistible Revolution

"Stay conscious of Me as you go through this day, remembering that I never leave your side. Let the Holy Spirit guide you step by step, protecting you from unnecessary trials and equipping you to get through whatever must be endured. As you trudge through the sludge of this fallen world, keep your mind in heavenly places with Me."                                    
Sarah Young, Jesus Calling 

“I am ready for anything and equal to anything through him who infuses inner strength into me; I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.”                                          
Philippians 4:3, Amplified and Message versions

"The things that make God dear to us are not so much His great big blessings as the tiny things, because they show His amazing intimacy with us; He knows every detail of our individual lives."
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

The daily 2:00 o'clock rain rolls in, across the valley from Agnes' farm

The ground was beyond saturated!

Photo taken a few days later, in Eldoret, after another rather muddy boda boda ride


Florence said...

I have no words to describe the kind of a strong heart you have to go this extra mile just to be in someone's shoes! Could it be a mother’s heart? Only God knows the kind of a woman you are Deb! Thank you for the good God’s work you are doing in Kenya. Love and blessings. Florence.

Anonymous said...

That exhausted me just READING that!!!! Cool update, mom. -Naomi

Anonymous said...

VERY thankful you did not slip and fall during your mud/rain ordeal. I would have been a nervous wreck! -Sharon

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness Deb! What a harrowing experience with the mud, the darkness, the unknown! I can't relate to any memory of such a frightful encounter from my memory bank. You described it so well. -Marge

Anonymous said...

I'm seriously exhausted after reading that! And ashamed that I complain about my trivial problems here :(!!!
Was thinking of how discouraged and scared I would be in the pitch black darkness of a rain storm in the mud! I honestly do not know how you do it! To think God had Joseph come along to help you… at just the right moment…just about brought me to tears! I marvel at how you serve the Lord!!! -Teressa

Anonymous said...

Trudging in the mud sounds like a streeeetching experience! I would have been in tears, I think, from the frustration! Thanks for your great stories, which help us to pray for you.