21 October 2006

Another Hike at Ngong Hills

October 10th was Moi Day - a holiday in Kenya. I joined 3 other gals - an American and two British - for a day on Ngong Hills. It was most enjoyable as always! The view is beautifully spectacular, the sun shines nicely on ones face, and the hike is a strenuous challenge. After the hike, we enjoyed a refreshing drink at Olonana "country club". That's where I got this great photo of an acacia tree.

More Beauty From Ngong Hills

A Tribute to Kobi and His Mama

Roxann came to Kenya (from Australia) three years ago to train local teachers. Early on, she got acquainted with Kobi James Muthui, who had been born with cerebral palsy. Abandoned by his mother shortly after birth, he was taken to an orphanage founded by a British missionary couple.

The following poignant account is but one story amongst hundreds of thousands that could possibly be told.

When Roxann started volunteering at the orphanage, she found herself especially attracted to 7-month old Kobi. He was a very frail and needy little boy. She often stayed late at night, rocking him to sleep before tucking him into his bed. Eventually she started taking him home on weekends. Growing very attached to him, she made an attempt to legally adopt him. Although, the Kenyan government didn’t allow the legal adoption, in essence she had become Kobi’s Mama.

Her “son” required much care and attention, but he was never a burden for her. Even as he turned three years of age, he was unable to walk or feed himself. In spite of this, Roxann had fallen in love with him. She became selflessly dedicated to meeting his every need. Her original reason for coming to Kenya eventually declined as she lovingly focused all of her attention on Kobi. He became her life, literally 24-7.

I met Roxann and Kobi two years ago at the church I attend – Karen Vineyard. Obvious to all that knew the two of them, Kobi was Roxann’s pride and joy. Her face would light up as she narrated his latest achievements. As a single woman, she had thought maybe she wouldn’t have the privilege of being a mother.

But God, in all His wisdom, had pre-ordained that these two lives would intersect. Just imagine… God brought Roxann all the way from a different continent – especially to love Kobi. It was an extraordinary connection – firmly and undoubtedly planned in His sovereignty.

Roxann sought medical advice from various sources in an untiring attempt to improve Kobi’s life. Doctors told her that he had already exceeded many expectations for a cerebral palsy victim. A few months ago, she determinedly fought through many bureaucratic hurdles and took him to Australia for surgery. Afterwards, he continued to make small improvements.

A couple weeks ago, however, Kobi’s health unexpectedly declined. He was admitted to the hospital. On Friday, August 18th, Roxann sent a text message to a good friend of hers: “My dearest Maureen, my son is now walking and jumping with his heavenly Father.”

I went to the funeral. Without a doubt, it was the most tender and intimate I’ve ever attended.

It was held at the Langata Cemetery crematorium. About fifty friends gathered to celebrate Kobi’s life. While we waited for Roxann and Kobi to arrive, a lady thoughtfully offered tissue to any that anticipated needing it. I took two pieces.

At long last, Roxann arrived. Amazingly, she herself carried little Kobi’s body. He was wrapped in a red Masaai blanket. As she walked into the open-air shelter, where we waited, a song played:

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

Almost appropriately the skies were, in fact, heavily overcast and gray. The air was rather chilly.

As she unfalteringly walked by us, Kobi’s grieving Mama acknowledged our attendance by bravely nodding her head and smiling at us. Taking her place in a chair on the platform, she lovingly held Kobi throughout the 75-minute service. That may seem rather unusual and even a bit macabre, but I don’t believe anyone in attendance found it to be so. Personally, I found the gesture to be very personal and intimate. It demonstrated, for one last moment, the deep and lasting bond the two of them shared. During the ceremony, Roxann affectionately stroked Kobi’s face and smiled at him; she re-arranged his blanket now and then – all in a very motherly fashion. One could think he was simply taking a nap in her arms.

Two children who had also lived for a time at the orphanage – Katie and Gary – lit a candle. It stood amongst a collection of homemade cards, stuffed animals, and photographs of Kobi.

As the service got underway, we were invited to stand closer to the platform, forming a cozy semi-circle as we did so. Maureen, who had been very supportive throughout Roxann and Kobi’s two-year relationship, conducted the service. She read Matthew 18: 10, 14 –

“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.’”

Faith, Kobi’s dedicated and tireless occupational therapist, led us in singing, “I Have a Maker”. I don’t believe there was a dry eye in the place as we tenderly sang the chorus –

“He knows my name; He knows my every thought. He sees each tear that falls and hears me when I call.”

Maureen, accompanying herself on guitar, struggled repeatedly in singing, “Fields of Grace” – about running through grassy fields. There were other heartrending readings and prayers, as well.

Mike and Michael, two young men who had served in the capacity of being “uncles” to Kobi, emotionally read a poem titled, “A Child Loaned”. When the first one could no longer hold back his tears, the other one courageously finished the recitation. I made frequent use of my tissue.

A basket of rosemary was passed around. Explaining that it symbolizes remembrance, Maureen suggested we each take some in order to not forget little Kobi. Holding my sprig to my nose, I breathed deeply of it’s tantalizing aroma.

Clive, the founder and director of the orphanage, offered a kind tribute to Roxann for her abiding love and devotion to Kobi. Margaret, who had worked with Roxann in training teachers, spoke briefly about connecting with others. She acknowledged that Roxann and Kobi’s relationship was very much a special connection. She went on to urge Roxann to not stop as she now dis-connected with Kobi. She implored her to re-connect once again with yet another needy soul.

We were each allowed to pay our last respects to Kobi and to greet and hug Roxann. A few in the crowd wept openly. One woman, overcome with emotion, had to be assisted down from the platform.

Roxann, who had freely shed several tears but had also managed to laugh off and on throughout the service, valiantly stood to make some final comments. She personally told of her relationship with Kobi and about how dearly she loved him. She thanked all of us for participating in his farewell.

Inviting them by name to join her on the platform, she particularly esteemed several of the staff at the orphanage, medical center, and hospital. Roxann acknowledged their meaningful support and encouragement to her throughout Kobi’s short life, and especially in his final days. She then dismissed them from the platform.

She reluctantly but resolutely announced that the time had arrived when she had to let go of Kobi.

As a silent yet supportive assembly, we reverently watched Roxann say her own private and final farewell to Kobi’s tiny earthly body.

For one last time, Roxann delicately and carefully wrapped the blanket around his cold body. Nobody rushed her, as we each understood the significance and poignancy of the moment.

She wept unabashedly as she held him tightly for one ultimate, lingering moment. As she gingerly placed her son in a small wicker box, she arranged everything so it was just right.

And, finally… she did let him go.

In a closing and symbolic gesture… she blew out the candle.

* * * * * *

Margaret’s comments are an indirect challenge to each one of us. There are so very many unloved and unwanted children; in Kenya alone it’s estimated that there are one million orphans!

Perhaps there’s one right in your neighborhood.

Who will you connect with and love?

Begin today.

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.’”

More Kibera Scenes

I've walked through parts of Kibera 3-4 times now. I find it to be a fascinating place in spite of it's dire poverty and filthy, crowded living conditions.

According to the UN, in sub-Saharan Africa, 72% of the urban population lives in slums with appalling health conditions and lack of access to basic services such as water and sanitation. This area has the highest rate of annual urban growth in the world. By 2030, it’s predicted that over half of Africans will live in cities.

The population density in Kibera is among the highest in the world.

According to the Saturday Nation (September 30), only 43% of Kenyans have proper sanitation

Kibera School Kids

These kids look happy enough. The photos even somehow make the place look clean and nice. However, looks can be quite deceiving. It's likely most of these kids only had one cup of tea for breakfast. Next door to their school is a dump and outdoor toilet. Nauseating smells come wafting through the tin school building every time a breeze blows by. Their clothes are tattered and torn.

“Lured by dreams of a better life, hundreds flock each month to the ramshackle settlement of tin-roofed shacks that already house 900,000 in a packed 1.8 mile corridor that is one of Africa’s largest slums.

Every day, new arrivals heave carts loaded with bags into Kibera before carrying their belongings across trenches of sewage and past mountains of garbage.

Once settled, many lack electricity, pay for water by the bucket, and use overflowing holes for toilets.

Slums like Kibera are the ugly face of urbanization in Africa, whose cities are increasingly overwhelmed by property crisis, crime, overpopulation, and creaking infrastructure.”

- Daily Nation/ September 15, 2006

Kibera Scenes

This shows what's commonly referred to as a "paper house".
It's constructed out of anything the owner can scrounge lying around on the ground.
Now and then the city crews come in and destroy these houses because they're illegal..
The residents have no choice but to rebuild and start over,
as they have no where else to live.

Practically all rural Kenyan women (and many urban ones as well)
do this each and every day in order to cook - gather firewood.

This photo likely speaks for itself.

As I took this picture, a man urinated near me.
“Now, this is Africa! Do you have such things in your country?”

I wasn’t sure if he referred to himself unabashedly urinating in public

or to the unsightly and smelly pile of trash!

Slums in Africa will accelerate the spread of HIV/AIDS according to Dr. Kevin Kelly, an Aids expert from South Africa. Poverty and the breakdown of values in slums are partly to blame for the phenomenon. “A greater number of boys and girls at the sexually active age come into contact more often with each other due to overcrowding,” said Kelly.

Kibera Kids

My Kenyan friend, Judith, has spent most of her life in Nairobi. Yet, she'd never been to Kibera. She joined me this last time I visited and this was her comment afterwards:

"Kibera gave me a shock. Let’s just say I’m not going back there anytime soon."

Another Kenyan friend of mine, Kim, lives nearby and passes through it now and then on his way to church. These are his thoughts:

"I'm increasingly grateful for God’s grace towards Kenya. Kibera and a lot of other slums within Nairobi are a nightmarish place to live, to raise a family in, to come back home to at night, to nurture hope. In reality, a big chunk of us Kenyans grapple with even the very basic needs.".

"But hope is the one thing that there isn't precious little of in Kenya."

11 October 2006

Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is just down the road from where I live. I've been there now about four times and enjoy it each and every time! They raise orphaned elephants, rehabilitate them, and then reintroduce them into the wild to live out their remaining years. The organization has won several awards, along with world-wide notoriety.

It's quite a process they go through to achieve their objective. Did you know that elephants are very emotional creatures, just like we humans? When they lose their mother, they mourn and can even go into a depression. The workers live with them
literally 24-7, even sleeping with them, in order to restore them to a healthy emotional state.

You can read more about them at this link if you're interested. By the way, I didn't take this photo. I got it from their website. The following photos are mine, though.


Orphaned Baby Elephants

Rhino and Warthog

03 October 2006

October Prayer Letter – Five Years in Kenya, 2001-2006

This month marks five years since I first came to Kenya. That very first time was one month after the horrific 9/11 attacks. Common sense might have indicated that staying home would be the safe and prudent thing to do. Americans had been strongly advised against air travel – especially abroad.

However, I firmly believe that the best place I can be in the whole wide world – is in the center of God’s will. And so, compelled by the Holy Spirit, I came. In these past five years, I’ve never doubted that Kenya is where God wants me.

That said… I am often aware of my vulnerability. Danger does lurk around me. In five years, I’ve had four pickpocket attempts, two of which were successful – one very recent. My Nairobi house was broken into – and I’m not referring to the visit paid by the Sykes monkey :)

Almost daily I ride extremely unsafe vehicles on atrocious roads with rather foolish, maverick drivers. From time to time, I even ride my bike on those same atrocious roads crowded with those same foolish, maverick drivers. To be frank, I risk life and limb just walking on a downtown Nairobi sidewalk.

Besides dangers, there are various other aspects that are, at times, disconcerting about living here.

Well water in rural areas (including my place at Matunda) can sometimes be far too dirty for consumption. In urban areas, the electricity can be shut off at any moment and the tap can run dry – both without warning. Even when it is available, the tap water isn’t safe to drink unless it’s boiled or filtered. In many places, I squat to relieve myself in a crude hole. Even in modern premises, the toilet facilities leave a lot to be desired. Toilet paper is rarely provided. Internet connection is often non-existent or as slow as molasses.

Basic sanitation, in some places I frequent, is almost non-existent. Mounds of unsightly filthy trash harbor disease-causing bacteria. Smoke from small fires and the stench from such things as raw sewage and exhaust fumes pose breathing problems.

I’ve had three snakes and at least that many rats – not mice – eager to share my living quarters. I’m almost incessantly disturbed by bed-bug bites. I’ve had malaria, typhoid, typhus, and amoebic dysentery.

Surrounded by poverty and lack, the concept of praying for ones “daily bread” has taken on new meaning for me. Because unemployment hovers at 50%, idleness and homelessness are rife. Orphans number in the hundreds of thousands – most due to AIDS. It’s not at all unusual to see blind people or victims of leprosy and polio.

People beg from me constantly… Many have seemingly far-fetched expectations of me… Likewise, they make assumptions about me… Children as well as adults openly stare at me… They sometimes say ignorant and annoying things to me… It’s not unusual to be overcharged… all because I have white skin. (Non-blacks living in Kenya total only 2%.)

At times, the seemingly incidental cultural differences wear me out. To be honest, there are many unspoken cultural restrictions that interfere with daily life.

Adequately greeting one another is of utmost importance and one must basically request permission to leave even an informal gathering. “Jumping the queue” (cutting in line) is tolerated. The service industry is virtually an unknown concept. Simple errands can be almost unbearably time-consuming. Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way. Kenyan English – practically a foreign language to me – can make communication exhausting; I’m never really sure that I and the person I’m talking to are on the same page.

On more than one occasion I’ve forced down a second helping of food I didn’t enjoy in the first place, all in an attempt to not offend. Speaking of food, the limited variety of Kenyan cuisine looks funny and often tastes equally strange. What is ugali? The meat is nearly too tough to chew, the pears taste odd, and the oranges look peculiar. The corn used for human consumption is more like what we feed our cattle. 

Cheese, which is hard to find, just isn’t the same as what I’m used to in the States. Kenyans drink their yogurt. Pop is called “soda” and isn’t served with ice. I only know one place I can get Dr. Pepper and it’s overpriced. French fries, called “chips”, are greasy and come with a strange tasteless concoction called “to-mah-to sauce” for which you sometimes pay extra. Salt clogs up in the shakers and black pepper is a rarity.

I cook without the luxury of a refrigerator or a microwave and do my laundry by hand. I’ve bathed where there was no door and on numerous occasions urinated behind a bush. I’ve slept on a most uncomfortable homemade mattress and attempted to sleep with cockroaches scurrying all over me.

I’m far, far away from my family – my parents, my children, and my grandchildren. I miss my friends and I miss my church. At times, I miss the familiar culture of home. I miss the comfortable, free, and easy way we Americans interact with one another. I miss the ability to unreservedly be myself, and in turn to be accepted for who I am.

But, I must say… I do love it here! Kenya is home. In spite of the numerous challenges and frustrations of living in a foreign country and interacting in a foreign culture, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

God, in His wise and sovereign plan, designed me specifically for this purpose. It’s a special fit, a custom-made assignment.

My God-given ministry is very much relationship oriented. Because of that, He has caused me to fall in love with Kenya and her people and connected me with some wonderful folks.

I minister wherever the Holy Spirit sends me – to the rural areas or the urban centers; the mud hut village or the filthy, overcrowded slum; the coast, the fertile agricultural areas, or the semi-arid plains.

I encourage tired people – on the street corner or while riding my bike; in the matatu, the grocery store or market, orphanages, the post office, people’s humble homes, or at church. I speak to one and all – the native black (or white) Kenyans, the expatriates, or the displaced refugees.

I strengthen the weak knees of the seemingly insignificant people – the underprivileged and needy; the down-and-out; the neglected and forgotten; the overlooked and hurting. I give an encouraging word to the tired and weary. I bring good news to the poor; I comfort the broken-hearted. (Isaiah 35:3, 4; 50:4; 61:1)

I am ever poised for my next “well encounter”. Endeavoring to not overbook my time, I never want to be too busy to give someone the time of day.

Perhaps it will be with a discouraged pastor, an underpaid cyber cafĂ© worker, or a worn-out newspaper boy. Maybe it will be a fatigued matatu conductor or a depressed street vendor of fruit, vegetables, or flowers. Perhaps it will be a homeless man lying on the side of the road. Or possibly it could be a young child selling roasted peanuts to pay for his schooling. Perhaps it will be a confused high school or university student trying to find their way in life. It could be an exhausted small-scale farmer struggling to survive or a bored watchman. 

Maybe I’ll encourage a forlorn sheepherder or a dirty stone mason. Possibly it’ll be a dejected businessman or an overworked and underappreciated store clerk. It could be a sweaty “jua kali” welder barely eking out a living under the hot sun or a “mtumba” (used clothing) hawker who hasn’t made a sale in days. Or maybe it’ll be an over-burdened single mother, a jobless father, or a grandmother raising her orphaned grandchildren.

Somehow, my simple knack of conversation lifts the spirits of those with whom I come into contact. I take the time to stop and to truly listen. I show genuine interest. I sympathize with their frustrations and disappointments. I laugh at their humor. I pay attention to their stories and affirm their dreams. I give others permission to be themselves and to follow their path.

It seems that everywhere in this great big world, there are lonely and discouraged people. They just want a listening ear, the simple remarkable gift of a smile, and someone to call them by name.

God has asked that I serve Him in this capacity in a foreign land – Kenya. I intend to be faithful to this task.

Please join me in this prayer I recently received from one of my readers -

“May Deb focus on all You have assigned her, Lord. May she not waiver to the right or to the left. May her spirit always be in tune with Your Word. May she continue to pull down strongholds in her mind as well as shatter the myths established by this world. May Your character, Lord, continue to be formed in her and become evident to all she encounters – that they may know without a doubt that she is the son of a King! May her holy anointing remove burdens and destroy yokes. May she walk in the dominion God has given her, now and forevermore! Amen.”