Saturday, October 28, 2006

More Wazungu have arrived! (from Mom)

(This is the first post from my mom. She's working on another one. I thought you'd like to hear from my parents too. Their perspective is definitely different than mine, having just arrived.)

It has been wonderful to spend time with Sarah and to experience East African hospitality! We have been welcomed with open arms into the village where Sarah has lived the past few months as well as the 6 months she was here in 2002. We created a stir wherever we went, though, with 3 wazungu traveling together! When we greeted people that know Sarah, we frequently got the same response. “Sarah is one of us. She is our child who is from here!” It was evident that these folks know how much Sarah loves them. The fact that she returned to the same village spoke volumes to them. Bob and I achieved instant status as soon as we introduced ourselves as Sarah’s parents!

Listening to Sarah interact with everyone she sees in fluent Swahili has been amazing to us. People continue to be surprised to see a mzungu who speaks their language so well. She is quick to greet children we pass along the way, and they are drawn to her like a magnet. It sure has been helpful to have her to translate and to speak for us. We’ve learned a few Swahili words, but we’re pretty helpless if folks don’t speak any English.

Our week in Sarah’s village was full of activity. We worshipped in her church last Sunday & experienced a 4-hour service! As visitors, we were called upon to bring greetings and again at the end to pray, while Sarah served as our translator. We visited many villagers in their homes and experienced extraordinary hospitality. We went unannounced, so we could just visit for a short time without anyone feeling like they had to feed us, but the custom of providing for guests is so strong that many people prepared tea (chai) for us anyway. It would usually be served with bread, nuts or fruit. One family we convinced not to prepare anything for us cut a big bunch of bananas off their tree to send home with us instead. Another sent us home with a live chicken! It was great fun for us to share the gifts we brought with us. The calendars and the beach balls were the greatest hits. Most of the family compounds we visited had lots of children. Coloring books & crayons, small stuffed animals & chocolate kisses were also a hit.

Our week also included a visit to 2 boarding schools to meet the girls our church is sponsoring for their 4 years of high school. We included a side trip to Jinja, Uganda to see Lake Victoria and the mouth of the Nile River. That was really a beautiful area! Sarah and I also worked on and presented a nutrition seminar together, which was received very well. We created posters using pictures of food I had brought with me and added little baggies of local items, like beans, nuts, grains, seeds & tiny dried fish. I learned so much about local food customs in the process. The posters and information will be used for additional seminars all around the area.

We have enjoyed the foods of Western Kenya and after observing the cooking process, we never took a meal for granted. In the morning, just to prepare tea, someone has to start a fire to heat the water & milk – then also heat water for all the family members to bathe. Food is cooked over a wood or charcoal fire, usually just a few items at a time. Preparing dinner takes several hours. With no running water & no electricity, each task is complex. We usually ate with the light of kerosene lamps.

In our travels, we certainly experienced a variety of modes of transportation – we walked to many places, rode on boda bodas, which are bicycles with a padded seat on the back where the passenger sits. These are the single passenger taxis of western Kenya! For longer distances, we traveled in matatus, busses designed to hold 14 passengers, but often pack in 20 or more. That was an interesting experience every time! Several times we hired drivers to transport us. Regardless of the means, the roads are such that drivers have to weave back and forth across the road, searching for the path with the fewest ruts and pot holes. Traveling is always a jarring experience & really rattled our bones! We have never experienced roads like this and will think twice before complaining about the occasional pot hole or rough pavement at home! Actually there are many things we will think twice about – like appreciating our lights, running water, refrigerator, stove and vehicles!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

My parents are here!!!

We just picked up my parents from the airport in Kisumu! Hurray! The arrived in Nairobi last night around 7pm. My friend Lucy picked them up at the airport, kept them overnight and dropped them aff again in the morning. So at 8:30 last night, Lucy called me and asked what time she should go pick them up and how she would recognize them. I completely panicked and imagined my parents at the airport in a new country waiting and thinking that they had been forgotten. After we hung up, my mom called me back to tell me that it was just a joke and that they were safely at Lucy's house. Oh my goodness. I just burst into tears. Now I can laugh about it, but at the time, I was so distressed. But now they're here. I cried when I saw them. It's kind of funny actually to think that they're in Kenya and in Africa, because it's hard to believe that I'm here. I just feel comfortable and at home, so to think I'm in Africa is wierd. I've already written about that before, though.

Now my mom is telling me that Lucy tried to give her the phone to tell me hi, but we got disconnected before I heard her.

Well, I'd better get going so they can see Kisumu.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A few random things

1) The other day, there was a rainbow in the sky. My host asked me to come escort a guest (whom I didn’t know) and I didn’t want to go. But because I did, I saw the entire rainbow in the sky from end to end.

2) I am really struggling with food right now. There are several things that I am getting really tired of and I just can’t eat them, so I don’t eat enough. Other days, the things I eat just aren’t good. Yesterday, for breakfast I had tea and white bread, with a few peanuts. For lunch I had white bread again, with a little bit of peanut butter and jelly. When I got home in the afternoon, I had tea and white bread again. So all I had eaten all day was white bread. No wonder I didn’t have any energy today. It seems like every little thing reminds me of some food from home that I miss and restaurants that I never go to. It’s funny sometimes how you miss things that you don’t even like. When our church was fasting from certain things at Lent this year, including meat, I found myself craving hot dogs. I don’t even like hot dogs. Still, I’m struggling with food and it can be a real frustration. I’ve never been one not to eat, but yesterday and today, I just couldn’t eat any more of what I had.
Around here, almost everyone grows beans. Some people eat beans until they get so sick of them and they just sacrifice to buy meat one day. My family likes meat. Graciously they don’t cook it so much because I don’t like it. I would give so much to eat beans every day, but I never get them. It’s just ironic to me. I think we don’t cook them because we save them and just cook them with githeri, a mixture of beans and maize. It’s a common dish to serve workers. I don’t know for sure, but that’s my best guess for why we don’t eat them, ever.
Partly I just miss the variety of food that I eat at home. I miss having lots of vegetables. I miss having fruit, even though I live in a place where there are delicious tropical fruits. They’re just not available in the village. I miss being able to choose what to eat. I miss being able to cook quickly on the stove. 30 minutes max versus 2 hours minimum. I miss having leftovers to reheat quickly.

3) I think I’m just getting to the frustrated stage of cultural adjustment. I know it’s normal and that I’ll get over it, but I don’t like feeling this way and it makes me feel like it will be a long time until I get home again. It also makes me wonder if I really could live here long term, except that I know it would be very different in my own household.

4) My parents are coming on Saturday. I’m really excited about that, although a little worried about finding time to actually spend with them by myself. I know that I want that and so do they, but it will be a challenge. There are many people who are VERY excited to see them and it will be difficult to find time just to talk. Please pray for wisdom for me to see what they need and also to plan well so that we all stay sane. We’re also planning to visit the Masai Mara, which should be fun and will also give us some time just to relax and be together.

Well, dinner is ready. Tonight it’s one I’m excited about. Hurray.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Lots of new posts

Hi all. Just FYI, I posted 6 new posts today - labelled 10/4 through 10/11. Enjoy!

Lots of new posts

Hi all. Just FYI, I posted 6 new posts today - labelled 10/4 through 10/11. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Friendly Handshakes and Faraway Places

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I am in Africa. When I think about Africa, it seems exotic and far away. Here just seems comfortable and nearby. I don’t feel like I’m somewhere far away. I definitely don’t feel exotic. I don’t notice that everyone around me is a different color. Or maybe I just forget. Maybe it would be different if I saw myself more often. Usually I just see my arms and sometimes my legs.

I still here a lot of mzungu! mzungu! but I’m starting to tell people that my name is Sarah, not mzungu and if they call me Sarah it will make me happy. There are some kids that I told a while back and they usually call me Sarah instead of mzungu. They’re actually really fun. It’s almost like a game, especially for one girl in particular. It’s like who can shake my hand the most times. Sometimes even 10 or 15 times. The first time it was a big group of kids and they all just kept shaking my hand over and over, because it was a novelty. Then the next time when they did, I started counting. Then I called that particular girl something like my friend who greets me many times. So now it’s like a game.

Some good news – I just got a text message from Dave and he said that the Graduate School at MSU has agreed to give me money to cover my research assistants. Hurray! Plus it was just fun to hear from him.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Missing fall

On Sunday I also talked to Dave and to my parents on the phone, which made me so happy. Dave was telling me about going to an apple farm/cider mill with his family and getting apples, apple cider, pumpkins, etc. which reminded me that it really is October, even though here it is still hot and green. Fall is definitely my favorite time of the year. I love October. There’s always something nostalgic about fall. It’s the time school is starting again. There’s something nostalgic about feeling the seasons change – the weather getting cooler, the leaves changing color, the wind blowing, putting on a sweater for the first time. I never feel like I can describe the feeling in a way that makes sense. Anyway, hearing about the cider mill reminded me that it really is October and that I am missing fall again.

The other thing that October means, though, is that my parents are coming. Less than 2 weeks! I am really excited to see them and to be able to just talk without them calling me 5 times in a 40 minute conversation and being cut off whenever the phone card finishes (although I am also VERY grateful for those phone conversations this time around). They will finally be able to see this place where I have lived and that feels so comfortable. They will meet my family, visit my friends, eat Kenyan food.

October also means that December is coming sooner and that Dave will finally come. I realized last week that I still had 11 weeks before he came, which seemed like a long time. About 40% left of the time we’re apart. Then I realized that I only had 2 weeks until mom and dad come. Then 2 weeks that they’re here. Then it’s only 7 weeks until Dave comes. That seems much more manageable. Besides, when I think about finishing my research, it seems like an incredibly short time so surely I can stay busy and persevere until he comes! At least in the end, we’ll be stronger for it all.

Well, dinner is ready and I’ve written a ton today. I guess when it rains it pours. Which by the way is what it does here. Love you all,

Malaria and Spiritual Battles

The last two weeks have been tough. I’ve really felt attacked from all sides. I felt like Job, where before the first servant finished telling him what had happened, the next had come with more bad news. It seemed like everything had gone wrong in the last 2 weeks, some things I can’t even share. The last thing that pushed it over the edge was getting malaria. At least now I understand for myself how big a problem malaria really is. You don’t want to eat, you’re too tired to do anything, you just feel awful. I know that all of this is mostly a spiritual battle. God has shown me ways in which he wants to use this work to bring wholeness, unity and health to the community and I know that the enemy fights that. (I’ve totally lost some of you now – just hang with me.) On Sunday afternoon, a group of 5 pastors and church leaders came to visit me to see how I was doing and to encourage me. They told me that they love me and that they are together with me. They told me not to be thinking, “If my mom were here…” or “if my husband were here…” or “if I were home…” which was exactly what I had been thinking all day. All I wanted was a box of macaroni and cheese. Anyway, we talked together and they prayed with me and encouraged me not to give up and they really saved me from being swallowed by discouragement. I could see that the worst was over. They really encouraged me and I’ve recommitted myself to trusting God and depending fully on God for my strength, my vision and my work. I’m taking time to rest. But also I just feel okay. Everything will be okay. The trials are coming to a close. I still have some of the effects to deal with, but the difficulties are over.

The whole day on Sunday, there were people who came by to check on me because they heard I was sick. People prayed for me here at home. They prayed for me at 3 different churches. I could really tell that people here love me and accept me as their own. It was a good feeling.

Reflections on solidarity

I realize that my blog posts are getting fewer and farther between. Partly because I am pretty used to life here so sometimes it doesn’t seem like there’s much to say. The other thing is that there either isn’t time or their isn’t enough battery on my computer to write. That’s actually been a big challenge – keeping my computer batteries charged. Actually, I’m not even supposed to be using them. They’ve been recalled because a few have overheated, but since I obviously can’t take the batteries out and just plug the computer in, I just prayed that God would keep my computer from catching on fire as I keep using them! For a while, I was going to Kisumu about every week and was using my computer at the internet cafĂ©. That helped because the batteries could charge the same time I was using the internet. But lately I’ve been going once every week and a half or two, and the batteries don’t last that long when we’re working. Anyway, I know that charging the batteries is just something I have to do to continue with my research, so it’s important, but it’s hard to justify spending a whole day just to charge batteries. Electricity would really make a big difference here and not just for me and my computer. For students to study at night with light, charging mobile phones (there’s no such thing as a landline here), keeping food in a refrigerator, blood testing and vaccine storage at the clinics. So many things. But in the meantime, we just make do.

It’s been interesting to see my different vantage point this time in the village. As a student doing my internship in 2002, I was very focused on solidarity with people. I saw that there was really no need at all for running water, electricity, paved roads, etc. But it’s one thing as a student for 6 months. Now as I’m here, I think a lot more about what I would need to be able to live and work here for long term in my own household without burning out. It would not be just like everybody else. I would really want electricity, a refrigerator and a stove with an oven. I don’t need running water, just a good source for clean water. But electricity, a fridge with freezer and a stove would really help.

I remember my professor at Wheaton being so encouraged the first time he saw missionaries, in Cambodia I think, who were really living alongside the poor, because he just didn’t see that regularly. I remember being surprised that there weren’t more people living like that, and was so astounded to see the way that many of the missionaries and development workers lived. I was so gung-ho about giving up my own life for the sake of others and really living in solidarity with people. But now that seems so much harder. I don’t know if I’ve been jaded or if I’m just more realistic, but that doesn’t really seem like my goal anymore. I would never want to be so different from people, but I also know myself better now. It is definitely different to be in your own household and actually living somewhere than to be a transient student living with a local family for a short time. Now I feel like I have to be me. I am much more established in my identity than I was 4 years ago, as well as in my routines and ways of living. I don’t think it’s necessary to be just like people to live together and share together. I recognize now that when I was here before I tried to fit myself into the Kenyan box and express myself only in ways that fit here and were culturally acceptable. In general, I was so afraid of offending people. Now, I feel so much freer to be myself. And “myself” is already a product of many cultures and many cultural exchanges. I see that instead of trying to fit myself into someone else’s box, I should just be me and be open to dialogue and exchange. There are many things that I have to learn from other people and there are many things that their people have to learn from me. If we all try to be like the others, we will never learn and grow together. I guess I feel the same way about living. It’s more important to be in solidarity with people in the way you interact, they way you love each other, they way you help each other, they way you live together, they way you laugh and mourn together than it is to live just like them and try to be just like them. I can never be a Kenyan, and so if I cook a little differently, raise my children a little differently, things like that, it doesn’t mean that I cannot still be in solidarity with people. Still, though, I don’t know if these are new insights that come from more experiences and maturity or if I’m just trying to justify what I want. It’s hard to know sometimes, but I think this comes from further experience and maturity and the willingness to be open to other people’s experiences and not be judgmental. I see myself here now and I see what I need. I need some space to be home and comfortable. I need some space to be American. I need my routines. A lot of what I miss this time around about home isn’t necessarily things as much as it is routines, especially within my family. I miss things like Saturday morning pancakes. I feel like this time around, in some ways I am more deeply involved in the community than I was before and in other ways I am less deeply involved. They are just different ways. I wonder if this makes sense to any of you. It would be great to truly be poor with people who are poor, just like Jesus became poor, but I don’t know if I would have the strength and perseverance for it. I don’t know that people here need one more person who is poor trying to survive and therefore not working very effectively. Still, it’s something to keep thinking and praying about and not just blindly accept that my thinking these days is different.

I meant to write about being sick this week, but these reflections are good too.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Visiting the clinic

I’ve been sick for a few days now and decided that it was time to go to the clinic to see somebody this morning. I went to the local clinic that we had visited for our research. He gave me a barrage of drugs to take, so I came home and consulted my husband almost-doctor who okay’d all the things he had given me. The clinical officer had given me all the drugs for free because I’m a guest, and one of them, it turns out, can be quite expensive. Dave was a bit shocked when I told him what all he had given me.

Part of my problem is that I’m not getting much of a chance to rest. Even now I’m falling asleep while I’m typing and it’s only 9:15 so it’s off to bed now. If I can stay awake long enough to shut down the computer and put it away.

My kids

The boys at home really make me laugh. This evening, they gave them some bread because Wales was falling asleep. So he was sitting there chewing his bread the same time that he was totally asleep. We really laughed. Almost every day now, the boys ask to draw a picture. I bought a few new pens when I was in town so now I let them pick whether they want blue, black or red. Brian is getting pretty good. Instead of just drawing random lines, he’s trying to draw specific things. They’re not usually recognizable, but he’s doing really well for having been drawing just a few weeks.

They are also very fond of pointing fingers at each other when they come crying, saying, “Huyu, huyu” which means, “that one, that one.” Yesterday, they were all whining a bit and Brian and Ian simultaneously pointed at each other saying “huyu.” It really made us laugh. Yesterday I had them helping me hold my water bottles while I was filtering water. Brian took the bottle he was holding, put it on his head and said that he was going to the river to fetch water. He ran outside, came back, pretended to pour the water in the pot and went again. It was so cute.

They boys call me Tayah, because they can’t quite get Sarah. Brian started saying it first. He has a hard time sometimes getting all the sounds right. Then Ian and Wales started calling me Tayah too. It’s really gratifying when I come home from somewhere and as soon as I get to the gate I hear exciting voices yelling, “Tayah! Tayah!”

Today, I was asking Milly what new things she learned in school and she was telling me some of the English vocabulary words she had learned. I asked her to explain what they meant and most of them she just knew. A few she hadn’t understood very well so I explained what they meant. I always enjoy having time to talk to her because she is often overlooked in the family. She is supposed to help with the boys when she’s not at school, but she’s just a child herself (she’s 12). She likes to play. She needs attention. She really likes drawing.

I call them all my kids. I tell them a lot that I love them. I give them a lot of attention and praise them profusely when they do things well. These days they are really doing great.