29 January 2018

Christmas Day: another church service, roasted goat, a walk in the forest, and re-telling the Christmas story

Nyama choma (roasted meat) is a huge part of Kenya's culture, with the most common roasted meat being goat, also known as mbuzi choma. Holidays and weekends are when people especially love their nyama choma and what better day for it than Christmas!

After attending the special church service, we walked a short distance to Legend for our lunch. We all eagerly dug in for mbuzi choma, chips, soda, plus kachumbari (freshly chopped tomato, onion, cilantro, and chili peppers). What a satisfying and delicious feast!

Just outside the restaurant, alongside Ngong Road, these three silly guys entertained us as we were leaving. They're hired to attract customers that are passing by on the road, trying to drum-up business for the restaurant.

Our next destination was Ngong Road Forest Sanctuary for a hike and GeoCaching. Nicholas was our quite informative and charming guide. He enjoyed learning a bit about the hobby while we managed to find six of them!

Jeremy behind a split tree

Once we got back to my house, everyone colored pictures depicting the biblical story of Christ's birth. After that we each read the portion of the story that we had colored. It's become a tradition of mine and is a way to keep alive my Dad's history of reading the Christmas story each year.

24 January 2018

Christmas Eve on Ngong Hills with my friends; flying kites and becoming like a child

Derrick has been with me several times now, when I've carried my kites - both at Uhuru Park in downtown Nairobi and also up on Ngong Hills. He has quite a knack for it and really enjoys the past-time... as do I! In fact, I've been flying kites sporadically for most of my life.

I guess I just love simple pleasures!

I hosted five friends over the course of a few days that included Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. On the 24th, we all went to church and then headed up to Ngong Hills for a hike, a picnic lunch, and to fly kites. We had a fabulous time! And like usual, we shared a bit of our lunch with some Maasai children who were grazing their family's cows and goats. Later, we also shared our kites with some of them.

The roar of the wind is a bit overpowering in the video, but hopefully you can hear these children's giggles a few times and also the cow bells on the livestock. The little girl is delightful as she dances around.

One of the highlights of my day, was this adult's pure pleasure in flying one of my kites and his amazing philosophical comment.

This guy, a complete stranger to us, was up on the hills with a couple of his buddies. When he saw us flying kites, he asked if he could also do so. He exclaimed these comments excitedly, repeatedly, and unabashedly.

It brought a smile to my face.

We enjoyed fried chicken for our picnic lunch on the hills, sharing a bit of it with a Maasai family.
We gave the chicken bones to a couple of Maasai herding dogs.

Robai enjoys the spectacular view of the Great Rift Valley down below.

It was such a fun day! Smiles for everybody!

There are about 30 wind turbines on Ngong Hills, generating electricity for the nation.

Linet and her sons, Derrick and Jeremy

We used six motorbike taxis (boda bodas) to get to the gate of the hills, and then called them back when we had finished our adventure.

When we got back to my house, we roasted hot-dogs and marshmallows for dinner, out back in my little garden area. 

Jesus called over a child, whom he stood in the middle of the room, and said, “I’m telling you that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in. Whoever becomes simple and elemental again, like this child, will rank high in God’s kingdom. What’s more, when you receive the childlike on my account, it’s the same as receiving me.
   ~ Matthew 18:2-5, Message

23 January 2018

Two forests in a span of just three days; YES, I simply must confess.... I am indeed a 'nemophilist'!

Nemophilist is an obscure word that hasn’t been used much for well over 100 years, with the first known use in 1838. I just learned about the word this week from my 11-year old grand-daughter, Mia... and it fits me to a 'T'.

Nemophilist (ne-‘mo-fe-list) - 
Someone with a love or fondness for forests, woods, or woodland scenery; 
someone who often visits them – a ‘haunter’ of woods. 

The word derives from the Greek ‘nemos,’ grove, and ‘philos,’ affection. The use of the word appears to distinguish it from the more formal pursuit of forestry or botany – suggesting a more artistic appreciation of trees, or the simple delight provided by woodlands.

Indeed, I do gain simple delight provided by forests!

On this visit with Robai (Dec. 19, just a few days prior to Christmas), we stayed dry while we enjoyed our chai (carried in a flask). But shortly after we began our hike, unexpected rain came!

We got rather wet, chilly, and mud-splashed... but we cleaned up in time to meet my friend, Kim, for another cup of chai and to warm up a bit. Later, we all joined Mike, Melissa, and daughter (who were in town for the holidays) for lunch and a robust conversation. As Mike put it, "We always just pick up where we last left off."

- - - - -

I’ve often thought of the forest as a living cathedral, but this might diminish what it truly is.
The forest is not merely an expression or representation of sacredness,
nor a place to invoke the sacred; the forest is sacredness itself.
Nature is not merely created by God; nature is God. 
Whoever moves within the forest can partake directly of sacredness,
experience sacredness with his entire body, breathe sacredness and contain it within himself,
drink the sacred water as a living communion, bury his feet in sacredness,
touch the living branch and feel the sacredness,
open his eyes and witness the burning beauty of sacredness. 
~ Richard Nelson, The Island Within

- - - - - 

A mere two days later (Dec. 21), Robai and I found ourselves at Sigiria Forest for our very first time. During the past seven weeks, I've been in four different forests on six occasions (all within Nairobi), and two of those times, I went cycling.

We found a few GeoCaches.

We discovered and enjoyed a random swing in the forest. Who would've guessed?!

Robai especially enjoyed the stream.

Brilliant flowers

We had a really nice and lengthy chat with Sammy, who was posted at the gate.
He gave Robai lots of encouragement and good advice about life after secondary school.

- - - - -

But for the poor, benighted, heathen sinner, 
desiring enjoyment that shall be honest, cheap, satisfying, and attainable, 
I say, in the full faith of the creed of Nemophily - 
Get into the woods! No matter what you expect to find there. 
Go and see what you can find. 
The Atlantic, 1860

- - - - -

On our way back home, as we stopped to do an errand, we walked by a hole-in-a-wall nyama choma joint. As we did so, the guy outside roasting the meat invited us to stop and eat... and so we did. After all, we had worked up an appetite hiking in the forest! Anyway, I love the randomness of Kenya :)

This cute little girl, who lives just around the corner, came over looking longingly at our meal... so we shared our lunch with her. A bit later, her younger brother also came over for a few bites. Such happenings are quite common in Kenya; in fact, I sometimes keep leftovers from restaurants specifically to give to someone I encounter.

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