23 November 2011

A Thanksgiving Baby

Seven years ago, on Thanksgiving Day, I had the incredible and unforgettable experience of assisting in the birth of a child. It took place in a mud house - with a mud floor - in a remote rural village in Kenya. 

He's called Duane - after my dad!

I am still good friends with Agnes, Duane's mom. God is teaching me how to be her "neighbor" and how to love her with His love! 

Just as a side-note, before you read the story... Over the past couple of years, God developed in me the idea to raise money - from people like you - to help change the life of this struggling family. 

Will you consider joining with me to buy her a plot of land so she can raise her own crops and support her 5 boys? Please click here to learn about the details. As of today, we've raised almost $5,000 on our way to $12,000!

In the photo above, Duane is the one on Agnes' lap. Popino (her second-oldest son) is holding Caleb Zachary (who is named after my two grown sons).

I believe you'll enjoy reading the story below. I've watched God orchestrate some pretty amazing experiences in the 10 years I've been a missionary in Kenya. It all started when I surrendered to His calling on my life. This story recounts one of those amazing experiences.

A Thanksgiving Baby - Thursday, November 25, 2004

I met Charles Cheloti during the first week of September. He and his family - a pregnant wife, Tony (11), Pope (9), and Anderson (6) - were my new next-door neighbors at my Matunda place. To be frank, initially their requests for such things as kerosene, matches, sugar, and cooking oil mildly irritated me. But, something about the family really touched me. Obviously they were in dire need; I couldn’t refuse.

In late October, I was as happy to see Charles and the boys again as they were to see me. The language barrier prevents me from communicating too well with the boys but as I pedaled onto the compound, their huge grins spoke volumes. It was during this visit that I first met Agnes, Charles’ wife. I liked her immediately. (She had been bed-ridden for much of her pregnancy and I hadn’t even seen her before.)

When I left to return to Nairobi on the 2nd of November, she said, “Now Deb, who is going to be with me when this baby comes? It should come any day now. This pregnancy has had me ill the entire time. I fear giving birth alone.” I reassured her she would be just fine. Secretly I wished I could, in fact, be with her when that moment arrived. Almost three weeks later - on the 21st - I saw my friend, Margaret. She had just come back from Matunda and responded negatively when I inquired, “Is there a baby yet?” I was surprised, but held out hope that maybe I could share in the event after all. I was to travel to Matunda the following day.

When I arrived and greeted the family, I discovered that the baby was expected at any moment! The next morning I hired a bicycle taxi for Agnes and loaned Charles my bike so they could go to a nearby clinic and see about this baby. Upon their return, Agnes reported that the nurse had concurred - the baby should come any time. 

That evening, it rained heavy for two hours. I went to bed at 9:30 and was quickly asleep. A short time later I awoke to voices. I heard someone praying and singing. I roused myself out of bed and peeked out the window. It was Charles, Agnes, and a neighbor lady. Apparently it was time!

I threw on my sweatshirt and joined them; it was midnight. Agnes lay on a gunnysack on the cold crumbling cement floor, leaning against a rolled-up foam mattress. She was indeed in labor. Agnes told me that Charles had first tried to wake me but unsuccessful, he'd gone for Mary John who lives about a 10-minute walk away. At their request I retrieved a razor blade; Mary got some thread from somewhere. Charles woke the boys and got them settled in the other tiny house on the compound. As he did so, Agnes laughed, “If they hear my groans and noises they’ll mimic me for a week!”

Throughout the next few hours, and in-between the incessant rain showers, I brought my lantern and small tin lamp, as well as my flask of leftover tea for Agnes. Charles tried to light some maize cobs. They weren’t dry enough from the recent harvest; the ensuing smoke made it difficult for Agnes to breathe. He opened the windows to let the smoke out but the cool night air made Agnes cold. I walked the few feet to my house and got my 'jiko' (a small charcoal cooker), as theirs was falling apart. I also grabbed some of my charcoal. Eventually the house warmed. 

In between her contractions we engaged in lively conversation. We told stories; we laughed. During their narrations, about every ten minutes or so, Agnes would disengage in the conversation and endure a contraction. Immediately afterwards she would join back in with us.

Charles added, “You know – God’s ways are not human’s ways. People can say one thing, but God has higher ways. God is power.” Charles, only educated to fifth grade, talks in broken and halting English but all the same, he can be quite eloquent in my estimation.

Circumcision revelers (across the river in the Mawe Tatu area) loudly serenaded us for quite some time. It continued to rain off and on. We all grew tired; the conversation began to wane. “Charles, tell us some stories to entertain us,” Agnes pleaded. The crickets counted the passing minutes. My back grew stiff and sore from sitting on a bench. Mary sat on a small box on the floor. In between doing whatever needed to be done, Charles laid down on their mattress on the floor.

Strong and enduring the pain and discomfort like a real trooper, Agnes began to get weary. She wondered out loud if this baby would ever come. I went to get my phone to check the time - 3:07am. Mary suggested we find a vehicle to take her to the clinic. While she was out, Agnes confided to me that she saw no need to go to the clinic. “Now, what for? Where will we find one? Anyway, I still have hope.” I boldly interjected on Agnes’ behalf that it didn’t seem necessary.

Instead a decision was reached to try to summon a midwife in the area. One had already refused because of the unavailability of gloves. Charles headed out to try another one in the other direction. I went for my 'torch' (flashlight) and loaned it to Charles. The contractions were coming about five minutes apart and Agnes now pushed with each one. “Can you imagine a woman going through all this pain only to abandon her child? This is too much work,” she asserted. Mary and I helped her walk around the house now and then. Even though she never really complained, it was apparent to me that she was worn out.

An hour passed; still no baby. Agnes “soldiered on” (as a Kenyan would say) but it was an agonizing wait for her. I noticed roosters in the area starting their morning ritual of announcing the approaching dawn. When Charles finally came back, he informed us that the second midwife had also refused to assist without gloves and without being paid in advance. Agnes was disappointed, proclaiming that was a silly reason not to help someone in need. I had admired her spirited courage all night.

A few minutes later, after another couple of strong pushes with no baby, she stood up noticeably frustrated and exhausted. Wrapping her blanket around her shoulders she announced, “I’m walking to the midwife down the hill here - even if I die at her door!” I reminded her that earlier the woman had refused to help. “When she sees my condition, now how can she refuse?” Mary asked her how she would make it with no vehicle. “I’ll just go ‘poly poly’ (slowly). This baby has delayed too long!”
Charles grabbed the flashlight; he and Mary assisted Agnes on each side. I was a bit stunned by the decision and stood transfixed in the doorway. I knew Agnes was exhausted. They had gone a mere ten steps when Agnes moaned, squatted, and let out a scream.

The next sound in the still dark night was the cry of a baby!

Immediately I scooped him up off of the cold wet grass and held him in my arms to keep him warm. Charles supported his wife; Mary ran for the lantern. We tried to get her back in the house. It was awkward, though, as I had to walk too close to her with the umbilical cord still attached.

She moaned again and Charles lowered her. As I simultaneously squatted back down alongside her, a big squirt of blood landed on my foot. Mary placed a gunnysack underneath to catch the placenta, which quickly followed. Charles then led Agnes into the house. Mary and I followed with the baby in my arms and Mary carrying the gunnysack.

Once inside, Mary fumbled around nervously trying to tie the cord. I helped as best I could by holding his curled up legs away. Having completed its 9-month task, I noticed the cord was already cold to the touch. It felt strange. Mary was ready to cut it when I noticed she hadn’t tied the thread nearly tight enough. Eventually she completed the task of retying it and I resumed my seat on the bench. We discussed what should be done with the afterbirth. Finally, with his 'jembe' (hoe), Charles dug a hole near the house and Mary helped him bury it.

Meanwhile Agnes and I marveled at the way things had developed. I checked my phone; he’d been born at 4:30am. I informed her that the baby looked just like Charles. Too tired to really care, she was relieved it was over. 

I couldn’t take my eyes off the child in my arms. I had the privilege of holding him for the first full hour of his life. How unreservedly incredible! Content and with a full head of curly black hair, he was simply beautiful. With eyes bright and alert, he looked around at his new environment. “Karibu Kenya. Kula ugali,” "Welcome to Kenya. Eat 'ugali' (Kenya's staple food." I announced it to the babe in my arms and to everyone’s delight.

Charles continued to praise God about the course of the last couple of days. “You know, God’s a power! His ways are not like human’s. God’s a miracle. Look at this baby. God is a miracle.” He laughed with joy.

“Deb, it’s for you to name this child,” declared Agnes. “If it had been a girl she was to be called Deb. But I’m not prepared to name a boy. It seems God only wants me to have boys.” As I hesitated for a moment considering what name to choose, suddenly Charles asked, “Sister, what is your father’s name? I think you must have the same character as your father. You’re so kind. I want my son to have that same character.” 

I told them his name was Duane. “Then that’s the name of this boy - Duane,” proclaimed Agnes. They’d never heard of the name and are quite sure there’s none in all of Kenya. But regardless of that, they accepted the name immediately.

As we continued to muse over the child’s birth, I told them that today was Thanksgiving in America. I explained it’s a day set aside to give thanks to God for all of our blessings. “Duane not only has an American name, he was born on an American holiday!” I suggested that Charles pray and give thanks to God for this new little one. Instead, he insisted that I be the one to pray. As I offered thanksgiving to God for the miracle I held in my arms, emotion flooded over me; I was barely able to hold back my tears.

As the sun began to bring the night to a close, Mary got up to leave and Charles gave her a “push” home. I sat down next to where Agnes lay on the floor and laid Duane by her side. I brought the tin lamp over close so she could see him for the first time. As I did so, she noticed the blood on my sweatshirt. “Never mind that; I can wash it. Agnes, here take a look at your son.” We visited some more, still marveling at the birth.

When Charles returned, I went to draw water from the well in order to wash my bloodstained sweatshirt. The sun had just come up over the horizon revealing a thick fog across the valley. It was a beautiful morning - the dawn of a new day. Charles met me coming back with my bucket of water. “Sister, we have a problem. Can you come?”

I went back in the house to find Agnes looking at the umbilical cord. “Deb, I don’t think Mary tied this right. Look, he’s still bleeding. This rag is all covered in blood and that-s why your jacket is bloody. He can bleed to death.” “Wow,” I said, “it needs to be retied.” Charles handed me the thread. Incredulous, I asked, “You want me to do it?”

As I bravely tied it as tightly as I could manage, Agnes whispered to me in amazement, “I’ve never done that before.” I told her that I never had either I! I got my scissors and re-cut the cord. She wrapped Duane in some clean pieces of cloth. I took the bloody and mucous-covered rags and washed them along with my sweatshirt.

A few hours later, Charles announced that he had lunch ready and invited me to join them. While we ate, we did some more reminiscing about the whole event. The three of us rejoiced and repeatedly praised God. “Deb, I didn’t know I could ever have a neighbor from abroad,” stated Charles proudly with his typical big grin revealing two large dimples. 

“You are not only my neighbor, you’re my friend. And now this child has a name from America. There’s no other Duane in Kenya. This child is special. God is a miracle. God is power.” He reached for his Bible. Turning to Isaiah 55:8, 9, he read aloud –

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

If truth be told, he had quoted those verses so many times throughout the night. It seemed to be the theme of Duane’s birth. As he read the passage now directly from God’s Word, tears once again welled up in my eyes. God’s ways are so incredibly remarkable. What an amazing two days it had been!

While we ate, I took advantage of the opportunity and held Duane yet some more.

That afternoon, as I finished the second coat of paint on my gate - in between yet more seemingly incessant rain showers - I continued to give God the glory.  

What a memorable Thanksgiving this had proven to be!

My dad died in December of 2006 (two years after Duane was born). 
 However.. his legacy - and his name - live on!

Click here to learn how to help Agnes.


06 November 2011

"Have a Safe Trip"

The flight began like any other flight.

I was traveling from Nairobi, Kenya to Delhi, India. As there are no direct flights between those two cities, I was to have a five-hour layover in Bahrain. This would be the first leg of my three-month furlough, beginning with a visit to Naomi and her family.

Getting ready for the trip, there had been so many last-minute details to which I needed to attend. Wrapping up my normal daily activities as a missionary in Kenya, cleaning out the fridge and emptying the trash, getting the space in my house ready for a tenant to sub-lease in my absence, one last watering of my many potted plants, informing my landlord of the arrangement…. oh, and packing. On top of it all, I had an annoying cold that had really sapped my energy level.

Because the flight wasn’t leaving until 15 minutes after midnight, I stopped off at Carol and Jeremiah’s for dinner and our last goodbyes. I also wanted to see the new house into which they’d recently moved. A downpour had just abated when my taxi arrived.

I arrived at the airport quite early. I had a cup of tea and read the next day’s edition of the newspaper. Strolling around in the terminal for international arrivals, I observed the first vending machine I’d ever seen in Kenya. It was for Coca-Cola products. Later, while standing in the check-in line, I noticed a young hippy-looking guy - complete with a tie-dyed t-shirt and a large, well-used backpack. Included in his luggage were two six-foot long thin sticks. Curious what they might be, I watched as he and the airline attendant struggled to secure them for the flight.

While waiting in the departure lounge, I listened to a very tall middle-aged Canadian man behind me talk about going to Mumbai, India to have expensive dental work done. His Kenyan girlfriend was with him; it was her very first time to fly. They planned to also do some sight-seeing after he recuperated. He carried on a long conversation with a young British couple with a six-week old baby. The two of them have lived in Kenya for five years and both teach at the same school. The dad often walked around the lounge area, with their baby content in the carrier on his chest. I also noticed an older short and stocky guy in a pale orange shirt. He sat on his chair with one leg tucked underneath. Behind him was a young dark-haired gal, engrossed in a book.

A half an hour late, it was finally time to board. As I got settled in my aisle seat, I noticed the man seated at the window was quite restless. After he got up to use the toilet, he asked the young Kenyan Indian lad (seated between us) to trade seats with him. Now seated next to me, the Pakistani engaged me in conversation. I’m not fond of conversation with my seatmates when flying. When I responded with, “India”, to his question about my destination, he abruptly asked me, “Why?” A bit later, he told me he was Pakistani and asked if I’d ever visited Pakistan. When I told him, “No, I haven’t, he abruptly asked me, “Why not?”

When the stewardess gave us the routine speech about the safety features, I only mildly paid attention – like I do on most any flight. My thought has always been that if there were an emergency during the flight, the cabin crew would be there to assist us.

My Pakistani neighbor told me he was nervous about the flight. When I inquired about his nervousness, he said, “No, it’s not my first time to fly, but I’m nervous about having been in Africa for the first time.” He works out of Dubai for a generator firm and had been in Nairobi for a week checking out the potential market there. His remark didn’t make any sense to me, but all through the flight he continually informed me of his apprehensions.

I closed my eyes in an attempt to quiet him down. The young Indian lad at the window had already apparently fallen asleep, with his ear buds in place.

It occurred to me that I had failed to talk to God about the flight. I admitted to him that I’d been so busy getting ready, I hadn’t even prayed. “Keep me safe, Lord. Take me to all my destinations. My life is in your hands. I’ve given you absolute control over my life. I have surrendered everything to you. We all die one day (plane crash, cancer, bicycling accident). You know the appointed day and the hour when I’ll go home. But I ask that I will arrive well in Delhi. Please keep me safe on this flight.”

My thoughts were interrupted by my neighbor, “What is that? Why is the plane going back and forth and making that noise?” I told him it’s just turbulence. “What is turbulence? Is it dangerous? I don’t like it. Is it bad?” I tried to explain to him that it’s just something in the air; there’s no need to worry. “Something in the air? But what if something is wrong with the plane? I don’t like it. I’m nervous.” He got the attention of one of the flight attendants in an attempt to allay his fears.

Off and on, all through the flight, he kept this running dialogue going. “Are we okay? I’m afraid. Are we going down?” In his state of constant nervousness, he got up repeatedly to use the toilet. My annoyance with him eventually shifted to a genuine attempt to calm him down. I even patted him on the shoulder a couple of times… reassuring him that everything was okay.

As per normal when I fly, I was unable to get any shut-eye. Between my fidgety neighbor, the flight attendants serving us a meal, the lights either turning on or turning off, and the occasional turbulence, I was unable to doze at all. I think a person basically goes into a sort of auto-pilot mode when flying long distances. It’s easy to lose track of time, especially when there’s no map and destination information on the screens (as was the case on this flight).

My neighbor was at it again. “Is it time for us to land yet? Are we going down yet?” He fumbled around and found his phone. Going against the rules, he turned it on to confirm the time and added, “What time is our arrival in Bahrain?” I’d been unconsciously staring at the TV program on the overhead screen. Now, it caught my eye and made me laugh. I told my talkative neighbor, “This program is funny.” I think for the first time, the thought occurred to him that maybe he was disturbing me; he actually stayed quiet for a while.

The flight did have a fair amount of turbulence, but nothing really out of the ordinary. Roughly four or more hours into our five-hour flight, the Indian lad woke up. When he opened the window shade, all three of us admired the brilliant orange sun rising above the horizon.

The pilot’s voice came on over the PA system again. I had struggled to understand him all through the flight. This particular time, it seemed like he told us we’d lost cabin pressure and that we would descend to 10,000 feet. Suddenly, in the midst of his explanation, small doors on the ceiling opened up; all the oxygen masks dropped down.

Simultaneously, we went into an obviously steep descent.

After a few seconds, the pilot announced, “All passengers and crew members must take their seats. Do not panic. Put on the oxygen masks.”

The cabin crew sat down and put on their masks. There were no instructions or assistance from them like I had always naïvely expected. Eventually, each of us passengers fumbled with the masks and used them as best we could. Babies started crying.

“Is it danger? Does this work? Is there oxygen?” My neighbor was now beside himself with worry and fear. He kept putting his mask on and off of his mouth. I did my best to again reassure him that all was normal and okay.

But now… I wrestled with my own concerns and faced my own fears. I couldn’t help observing our cabin crew. Each one of them was quite obviously frightened. I had sensed panic in the pilot’s voice. I wondered if we plummeting to our deaths. Wow. Could this be the day? How will my family learn about it? What will Naomi think when I don’t show up at the airport in Delhi? I recalled my prayer just a few hours earlier. “The day and hour of my death are in your hands, Lord.”

I tried to relax and focus on taking deep breaths from my mask. The small children and babies on the plane were still crying. I laid my hand on the head of the two-year old Pakistani boy across the aisle from me. He was in his attentive father’s arms, but was nonetheless scared. I offered up a quick prayer that he would not be afraid. An Indian boy about four years old behind me was also crying. He kept fighting with his mother about using the mask. I tried to convey to him - by using my eyes - that everything would be okay.

The pilot’s voice came on again. “Do not panic. Everyone stay seated. All passengers and cabin crew, continue to use the oxygen masks. We must make an emergency landing. We will land in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It is the closest airport. Do not panic.”

Again, I sensed panic in his voice. I could hear my neighbor praying in his native tongue, Urdu. I heard others around me praying in their own languages and to their own gods. I also prayed. “Lord, let this pilot level out the plane. Let him regain control.” I again wondered if this was it. Was this the appointed day for me? But, I had a sense of peace. Enough that I was able to continue calming my neighbor and patting him on the shoulder.

One of the cabin crew came back briefly to see if we were all okay. My neighbor piped up, “Is it danger? What is happening? Tell us why we are going down so fast.” The stewardess rather curtly told him to keep breathing with his mask. “Do not use the toilet. Just stay seated.”

After approximately 7 minutes, the plane did level out. My ears hurt intensely and I noticed that several around me where experiencing the same discomfort.

The pilot announced that we were coming in for a landing at the airport in Riyadh. I think all 120 passengers took a collective sigh of relief when we touched ground. I heard a woman’s voice calmly say behind me, “Thank you, Lord.”

My neighbor kept up his questions, though. “We’re going so fast. Why are we going so fast?” I tried to remind him, “But we’ve landed; we’re on the ground. We’re just taxiing to our gate. Everything is okay now. You don’t need to worry anymore.” I had felt badly about my irritation with him. I realized that in any given moment, someone may need my listening ear and encouragement… even when I’d rather be left alone.

All four of the cabin crew now made their way around, asking if we were okay and attending to other duties. It was quite obvious - with a glance at her face - that one of them had been crying.

The father of the two-year old boy, across the aisle from me, spoke in Urdu to my Pakistani neighbor. I knew exactly what he was saying by his gestures - that he had prayed for our safety during those scary moments.

Indeed, we had all prayed.

As we taxied to our gate and then waited for clearance from the Saudi authorities to disembark, I offered up a prayer of thanks. As I did so, I saw an image in my mind of a restaurant server, dressed immaculately in his black and white uniform. As he weaved in and out of the tables and past customers, he continued to carefully and steadily hold a silver platter above his head. It rested securely on his fingertips and palm. I immediately thought of my friend, Rod’s, comment to me in a farewell email, shortly before I left Nairobi.

“May God bless you and keep you in the palm of his hand!”

“Thank you, Lord,” I whispered. “Indeed, you do hold me safely and snugly in the palm of your hand! You brought this plane securely back down to earth, in spite of the crisis.”

The pilot stepped into the cabin before we alighted and asked if we were okay. However, we were never satisfactorily informed regarding what had happened. Nor were we offered any “after care”, as is normal in such distressing circumstances.

Eventually a bus came to collect us from the plane and take us to the airport terminal. As we all crowded onto the bus a young Indian gal - quietly and as discreetly as she could manage - vomited on the floor. I’m quite sure it was a residual effect from our frightening experience.

Huge water fountain at the airport

We spent the next 10 hours together at Riyadh’s King Khalid International Airport. Details of our next move were sketchy and slow to come, but the airline did serve us a morning snack and later a full lunch.

Our morning snack provided by the airline

Our wait was long and boring. The airport offered little in amenities or distractions. Finding an employee that spoke English well and trying to figure out how to use a foreign currency wasn't easy. Nor was it easy figuring out how to get a local SIM card for my phone so I could notify Naomi of our delay.

Saudi Arabia Riyal (SAR)

About 12 of us formed a little community of support and conversation. The older gentleman with the orange shirt (that I’d noticed at the airport in Nairobi) was called Yannis and was from Greece. Owning a number of apartment buildings in Greece, he travels back and forth to Kenya rather frequently to visit folks and also to peddle olive oil for his friends back home.

The young hippy-like fellow was an Italian, named Robert. He was traveling back home with his new girlfriend from Ethiopia. He had spent the past four months in Kenya volunteering with an organization that works in Nairobi. He lived in a slum with street children and also spent some time in Maasai land with the nomadic tribe. The two long sticks I’d seen him checking with his other luggage were what he used to help the Maasai herd their cattle. He had such an engaging smile. Amazingly, because of his lack of fluency with the English language, he had no idea where we had landed. He thought we were in Bahrain (our actual destination). At one point, while we sat together, I noticed he was reading the Bible. When I asked him if he was a believer, he flashed his warm smile and said, “Yes, I am.” As we talked further he expressed his surprise at how calm everyone was on the plane during the crisis. When I told him I was praying for various people around me, he said he was also praying for fellow passengers.

Robert (Italian), Arlo (Somalian), and Yannis (Greek)

The tall Canadian told me his girlfriend was much calmer during the crisis than he had been - in spite of it being her first time to fly. He lives six months of the year in Kenya and the other six months in the US, where he drives an over-the-road truck. He recently put his girlfriend - who has never driven a car - through truck-driving school in Nairobi. Their plan is for her to get a job in the US as an over-the-road trucker… that is, if she can first get a visa.

The young dark-haired gal, that I’d observed reading a book as we waited to board the plane, was from the UK. Emma is a lawyer, but decided she needed a break from practicing law. She’d been living in 10 different African countries for the past two years while working as a tour guide.

The young Kenyan-Indian lad who sat by me at the window had just finished his education for becoming a pharmacist. He was headed to England to visit friends and relatives before coming back to Kenya for his final exams and registration.

There was also a Polish fellow called Darius. He goes to Kenya for a few weeks every year and is employed as a fork-lift driver in the UK. He’s considering living full-time in Kenya, specifically in Ukunda (an area I’m very familiar with on the South Coast).

There was also a Bahraini guy who works for the UN and travels a lot. Rumor was that we were to fly on to Bahrain on the regularly scheduled 6pm flight. Because he flies out of Bahrain so much, he was able to inform us about the various flights we would be able to take to our various destinations.

An Indian grandmother, her daughter, and grandson were traveling back to India. The grandson did all the checking with the airline to get updates on our situation. My guess is that the two ladies didn’t know English. Arlo, a young Somali from Nairobi, was traveling with his mom and some other relatives. And finally, there was a Kenyan gal seated a couple of rows in front of me. Dressed in a colorful blouse, she was on her way to Bahrain for an exhibit she was putting on. She had displayed the most panic of all the passengers I observed.

These are the folks I befriended and hung out with during the long hours at the airport. We commiserated with one another and re-told the story of our experience. Everyone I spoke to said they thought we were going to die.

Off and on throughout our time together in the airport, we had various quiet complaints - the long wait and our inconvenience, the lack of communication from the airline, the lack of facilities and services in the airport, our struggle to let friends and family know about our delay, etc. However, invariably the conversations always ended with words along these lines, “At least we’re alive. We’re on the ground… and we’re alive.”

I didn’t feel well because of my cold and I was so tired from not sleeping for over 36 hours. Additionally, I was tired from speaking to folks for whom English was not their first language - especially Robert (the Italian), Yannis (the Greek), and the Pakistani who had sat next to me on the plane. As much as I enjoyed Robert and Yannis, it was exhausting for all of us to search for the right word that everyone would understand.

At long last 6pm arrived; we boarded another plane for a 45-minute flight to Bahrain. Once there, I and about 20 others were put up in a hotel, with dinner and breakfast provided. Almost 24 hours later, I arrived in Delhi to the expectant and smiling faces of Naomi, Tony, and Mia.

I don’t think I’ll ever speak or hear the words, “Have a safe trip”, in the same way again.

Sign at the airport

This experience was certainly a sobering reminder that life is fragile.

In any given moment, my life can fade away.


01 November 2011

Ryan's visit

Fellow missionary, Ryan, paid me a visit recently. We're both from Omaha, both with Ripe for Harvest, and both serve in East Africa (Ryan in Uganda and me in Kenya).  

It was a time of turmoil and uncertainty as terrorism had come to both of our adopted countries. Al Shabaab had attacked Uganda last year, leaving 74 dead and 70 injured. While Ryan and I were together, Kenya experienced it's first attack from Al Shabaab. There were two grenade incidences in downtown Nairobi on the same day, leaving 6 dead and over 80 injured. Both attacks were in retaliation for Kenya sending its troops into Somalia in an operation called Linda Nchi. The soldiers were in pursuit of Al-Shabaab militants that had kidnapped several foreign tourists and aid workers inside Kenya.

Ryan and I always enjoy our time together. It gives us an opportunity to loosen up a bit and do some fun things, while simultaneously encouraging one another. Due to the unfortunate current events, this particular time of being together was much needed.

We went to the brand-new KFC, not once... but twice.

Even in Kenya, it's finger-licking good!

We treated ourselves at Planet Yogurt.

We happened to be in town the day a new statue was ceremoniously unveiled of Tom Mboya, one of Kenya's heroes. I was very pleased to see many citizens viewing it with pride.

One evening, Ryan and I had a nice dinner of Coconut Chicken Curry with Rod... 
and topped it off with yummy - and pretty - milkshakes.

My new house is close to Giraffe Center. Ryan got more than a few sloppy kisses!

We took in a couple of Manchester United football matches. 
I just tag along; Ryan is an avid fan.

And... we played a fun, "friendly" Scrabble game Moses and Emily.

31 October 2011

Another visit with Agnes and family, plus Mary Alu and family

Zach, Duane, Owen

While visiting Agnes and her boys recently, we went for a nice hour-long stroll. Along the way, Owen joined up with us... regardless of the fact that he'd never met any of us. I love such simplicity and instant friendships like that in Kenya!

Thunder rumbled the whole time we were out and the sky was beautiful and dramatic, with rolling thunderhead clouds. We saw rain in the distance, but fortunately it didn't come our way.

As we neared the market area and Agnes' house, we stopped for a soda and mandazi at a tiny café. The walk and the snack were a wonderful interlude in our time together!

I also made a point to visit Mary Alu and her family again. For so many years, I have enjoyed going to her house. She always greets me with a warm hug and a warm smile. The food is delicious and the conversation with everyone is enjoyable. I also love her compound with so many trees.

Brian is engrossed in an atlas I bought for him.

Cedric is such a sweet boy!

Mary is having a new kitchen built.

24 October 2011

A walk in the woods

"I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least - 
and it is commonly more than that - sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, 
absolutely free from all worldly engagements."  
~Henry David Thoreau

Ngong Hills

Kim and I recently took a really fun and leisurely five-hour stroll through Ololua Forest. We had a very enjoyable time and discovered some interesting things.

For instance, before we entered the forest, we stumbled onto a small factory that produces charcoal briquettes and chicken-feed pellets, the latter apparently made out of omena (sardines)... judging by the strong fish odor.

Charcoal factory

As we strolled through the forest, we found ourselves speaking often of Wangari Maathai, who recently passed away. In fact, her funeral was conducted on the same day as our hike. In case you're not familiar with her, she was quite a champion for the environment and especially trees. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, in recognition of her untiring efforts to save the environment.

"Anybody can dig a hole and plant a tree. But make sure it survives. 
You have to nurture it, you have to water it, you have to keep at it until it becomes rooted 
so it can take care or itself. There are so many enemies of trees." 
~Wangari Maathai

We took our hike on a Saturday, which was apparently washing day for many people in the area.

"Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow."  
~Henry David Thoreau

09 October 2011

A newborn kid (of the goat variety)

One of the most memorable things Kim and I got to witness on our hike was a young Maasai goat-herder and his interaction with a doe (female goat) and her newborn kid. 

After two and a half hours of walking, we decided to find a spot to eat our sandwiches. While doing so, a herd of goats wandered by.

Take a close look at the herder. Do you see the newborn kid dangling from one leg?

I've actually seen this fairly often. I think I always had the idea in my head that a shepherd/goatherd would gently carry a newborn in the crook of his arm. Not here in Kenya :)

My guess is that this kid had been born that morning... AS the goats moved around and grazed. Still guessing... I think that because the Maasai lad has no real way to corral the rest of the herd (numbering 30-40) to allow the kid to suckle... he just grabs it by the leg and the normal routine of meandering and grazing continues.

What I hadn't seen before, is what the following photos show.

The herder placed the kid on the ground. After locating the mother, he grabbed her by a foreleg and pulled it over to the kid. He gently forced her head down to the kid, until it was touching (or almost touching).

He patiently held it in this position for 5-10 minutes. Kim and I think that he was forcing the mother to get the scent of her offspring... and possibly forcing the kid to get the scent of its mother. The doe didn't seem to me to so excited about this task. Maybe she would rather be grazing like the other goats.

At one point, she wrestled away went to join the rest of the herd. In the photo above, you can see her coming back to her kid. Apparently her instinct kicked in and she realized this was her responsibility.

The children in the photo apparently lived nearby. They seemed to be as fascinated as Kim and I, watching this process unfold.

Soon, the mother came back to the kid, and sniffed it on her own volition. She then bleated a few times. My guess is she was communicating to the kid, "I'm your mother. I'm here to care for you. You belong to me."

And so... mission accomplished... the herd continued to lazily move along and graze... and the kid was once more dangled from the hand of the herder. I guess that's where it spent the remainder of the day... until they reached the manyatta (home) at dusk.

Kim and I marveled at what we were privileged to witness.

Such an elemental fact of life... the way God created it to be.

Kim, enjoying the unfolding scene