Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Day in My Life: Morning


People often ask me what a day in Kenya is like. When I say that I "live" in Africa for part of the year, it conjures up so many different mental images in peoples' minds and many people instantly assume (incorrectly!) that I live in a mud hut and that I have to watch out for lions attacking at night.

But the confusion is understandable. Despite the fact that over the past few years, Africa has become the "hip" place for celebrity humanitarians like Brad Pitt, Madonna and Bono; what most people perceive Africa to be comes largely from movies like "Hotel Rwanda","Lion King" and "Blood Diamond" .

The truth is that Africa...well, Kenya and more specifically, Kitale...is a place where the modern world sits side by side with the ancient world. Kitale is a busy little "town"...and that is the word that people use when saying, "I think I will go into town today." I still am not completely sure of the population. I have heard numbers ranging from 20 to 50 thousand...but, it is difficult to pinpoint the geographical area that is covered in this estimate. Like Los Angeles...there is the actual town itself and the area immediately around it..but, the "suburbs" of Kenya (I have to laugh as I apply that term!) spread out and encompass many densely populated slum areas like Mitume, Matisi, Namanjalala, Tuani, Kipsongo, and Shimo La Tewa. So, it is difficult to give an actual number.

Suffice it to say that Kitale is a bustling little town. During the day and into the evening hours; the streets are full of people: selling vegetables piled on a piece of fabric by the roadside, walking to the shops, stopping to greet a friend every few feet, hailing a boda-boda (bicycle "taxi") or, in the case of the street kids, begging each passer-by for a few shillings or some "bread and milk". Businessmen in suits and ties and smartly dressed women walk side-by-side with people in more traditional clothing. The barefoot, raggedly dressed street kids mingle with them all. But, the modern world has crept in too. "Supermarkets" like Transmattress, Blue House and the Gigamart are the Kenyan equivalents to Walmart...selling food, clothing, electronics (including flatscreen televisions!) furniture, bicycles and hardware.

shops and cars in town

The Gigamart (from the 2nd floor)

the "fresh" market

walking through town with Martin and Joseph

So, for me, a day in Kitale starts early. Being on the equator, the days and nights are pretty much equal in length. The sun comes up between 6 and 6:30 all year long and goes down about the same time in the evening. There is no need for an alarm clock...the calls of the tropical birds combine with the roosters crowing and the mooing of my cow, Maua....waiting impatiently for the morning milking.

As I get out of bed...my sweet little dog Sky gets up from his bed on the floor and wags his tail in a morning greeting. Sky may be the only dog in Kitale that sleeps inside the house. People think I am quite crazy for having a dog in the house....but, to me it isn't really home without a dog sleeping nearby. I let Sky outside and I go to the kitchen to boil some milk for the morning "tea".

I learned that the term "tea" really refers to any hot beverage (tea, coffee, cocoa) and when one is referring to real tea...there are two variations: "Milk tea" made with 2/3 milk, 1/3 water, tea leaves and LOTS of sugar. The other option (preferred by nobody except the lactose intolerant it seems) is Strong tea which is made the same...but, with no milk. My beverage of choice is coffee. Most people think that Kenya is the land of excellent coffee and I guess it is....there is sure alot of Kenyan coffee at Starbucks, after all. But, Kenyans typically drink instant Nefcafe (prounounced Nes-Kaf)....to my mind, a horrible instant coffee drink. So, I bring my own ground coffee from the US and prepare my coffee in a stainless steel french press. I froth my milk with a little battery operated hand mixer.....and end up with the perfect Cafe Latte. Indulgent, yeah....but, one of the few luxuries that I give myself while in Kenya.

my "caretaker" Onesmus milking Maua

Good Morning, Sky!

I love spending my morning at home ....doing little projects around the house like hanging photos, organizing the kitchen, or just sitting and chatting with Onesmus or Phoebe (my housekeeper) or one of the kids that has dropped by. So, before I know it...the morning has gotten away from me and invariably, I am rushing around trying to shower and get dressed before it is time to leave for work at Oasis.

So, then the choices are: walk or ride into town. The walk is about 2 miles or so to Oasis. On a nice day...with the company of some of the kids...I love the walk. It is the perfect time to really talk to the kids about what is going on in their lives and there is something so wonderful to me about walking down a red dirt road...greeting people along the way. It is the perfect embodiment of the sentiment that life should be more about the journey than the destination!

a little video taken by Martin (Boy's House 2) as he, Johnstone, Ajix, Janet, Onesmus (not seen) and I walk down the dirt road in front of my house...on our way to town and Oasis of Hope one morning in August.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

If Home's where my heart is...Then I'm out of place

Hello again...I've been back in California for a week and a half now. After only 6 weeks...why does Kenya feel more like home than does my little house in Costa Mesa where I have lived for over 26 years?

It is such a strange phenomenon. I have been telling people it is like the Narnia movie ....I walk through the wardrobe (well....not so much a walk as a 30 hour trip to get through!) out of one life into another every time I go back and forth to Kenya. People here often innocently ask me "How was your "vacation?" and I struggle to explain that when I go to Kitale...it is not a vacation...but a LIFE.

I have come to realize that I have two complete lives....on opposite sides of the globe. Each of those lives is full of people that I love and that love me. Each life has important work. I have big responsibilities and a lot of people depending on me in both of my worlds. I have dogs and a house and flower gardens in each place. I get up in the morning...go to the kitchen and make my coffee and get ready for work in both Costa
Mesa and Kenya.

My house in Kitale, Kenya
My house in Costa Mesa, California

My Kenyan dog, Sky

My American dogs....Lola and Rico

The hard part is that I am the only one that COMPLETELY understands both of my worlds. The people in each life that love/need/depend on me.... really want me to stay in THEIR world and are pretty vocal about that sentiment.

So, you might ask: "Which world do YOU want to be in, Lydia?" Well, that is a question with no simple answer. To be honest, it is heartbreaking to leave Kenya...to leave my kids behind. The night before I leave is always a big cry-fest with the kids...especially the boys in our Group Homes.

The last night in Kenya...at the boy's house...stalling over good-byes

There is a little "joke" that I have with the boys in our House 2. A recent popular pop song in Kenya has the title "Hakuna Michozi" which means "There will be no crying". The song is about when we go to heaven. But, about a week before I have to leave Kenya...the boys look at me and say "Hakuna michozi, mom".

They are already anticipating how sad we will all be when I fly away yet again. Geoffrey (my Kenyan partner who runs all the Oasis programs) actually tried to make a bet with me the last day and jokingly offered me a small sum of money if I could say goodbye to the boys in House 2 without crying. I'm no fool....I turned down that bet right away!

I told Johnstone (my most emotional "son") about the bet and he replied "Mom....michozi (crying) is a MUST!" And of course...it was!

Crying in the hallway with Johnstone, Martin and Timothy

So, I am back through the wardrobe...doing my best to adjust to life in the states again...traffic, concrete, the rush rush rush of it all. But, also back to the creature comforts that we take for granted here: constant electricity and warm water, high speed internet connections and Starbuck's coffee! Nonetheless, I hope to be back in Kenya in a few months. Until then...I am going to use this blog as therapy to tell the stories of the kids and my trip. Hopefully, these stories will give you at least a small inkling of why I love Kenya so much.

I know that I will adjust to life in California again soon. But right now...one of the songs that I have been listening to a lot is Homesick by Mercy Me. It is a perfect expression of how I am feeling right now. I picture the faces of each of the children I love so much whenever I hear it...because in the end....the reason that I love Kenya is them. Here are just a few....if you knew them, you would understand.

Ann Elvis

Janet Evans

Joseph Dorcas

Martin Timothy

Sheila Jonah

Bramwel Donald

Ajix Paul

Edwin Irene

John Johnstone

Centrine Steward

David Joseph

Homesick (by: Mercy Me)
You're in a better place, I've heard a thousand times
And at least a thousand times I've rejoiced for you
But the reason why I'm broken, the reason why I cry
is, How long must I wait to be with you?

I close my eyes and I see your face
If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place
Lord, won't you give me strength to make it through somehow
I've never been more homesick than now

Help me Lord cause I don't understand your ways
The reason why I wonder if I'll ever know
But, even if you showed me, the hurt would be the same
Cause I'm still here so far away from home

I close my eyes and I see your face
If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place
Lord, won't you give me strength to make it through somehow
I've never been more homesick than now

In Christ, there are no goodbyes
And in Christ, there is no end
So I'll hold onto Jesus with all that I have
To see you again

To see you again

And I close my eyes and I see your face
If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place
Lord, won't you give me strength to make it through somehow?
Won't you give me strength to make it through somehow?
Won't you give me strength to make it through somehow?

I've never been more homesick than now......