Saturday, January 23, 2010

Girls are fun too!

I often am accused of spending more time with the boys than I do with the girls. When I hear that, I feel badly..but, I have to admit that it is the truth. Not because I love the girls any less. It is just that I knew the boys first and mostly because they learned to speak English before the girls did. It is so much easier to spend time with them because we can communicate easily.But, I decided that this trip, that I would make a concerted effort to make sure that my time was equally divided amongst all of the kids.

Little Alice at the front door of Oasis of Hope's girls' home.

So, on Wednesday evening, I arrived at the Oasis Girls’ Home at 4 in the afternoon to join them for supper carrying “juice” and biscuits as my contribution to the meal. The girls’ home is located in Shimo La Tewa, which is located about 2 miles from my house in Milimani. It was pouring rain as I arrived in my taxi. The girls’ house mom, Rebecca ran outside with an umbrella in hand to greet me and escort me into their tidy home.

At that time of day, only the youngest girls are home. The girls in class 6 and above were still at school. While I prefer spending time with small groups of kids- unfortunately this group of girls had very little in the way of English speaking skills. But happily, I had brought along a game that was one of my favorites as a child: Candy Land. As I knew that they would, the girls loved the game immediately and the rules were easily understood without much language required.For some reason, Sarah was particularly lucky and won the first 3 games!

Clockwise: Alice, Janet, Sarah, Christine and Helen playing Candy Land

Ajix, Christine and Dorcas challenged me to a game. I lost!

As we played , word got out that Mama Lydia was in the neighborhood and soon a group of 5 neighbor children arrived. Three of the kids are regular attendees at the Oasis of Hope- pretty sisters Jennifer and Selena and cute Lucy (a great favorite of many of the Saddleback college kids who were here last summer). Lucy brought along two of her siblings: Erika (5) and baby Peter. These are the 3 remaining children from a family that already has 4 children (Patrick, Ajix, Christine and Irene) being assisted by Oasis either in one of our group homes or in boarding school.

Me, with the 5 visiting children

Unfortunately, the parents of this family are unable to provide a stable home environment. The mother brews the local brew, Changaa, which she sells and drinks herself and sometimes shockingly feeds to her baby! The father, also a drinker, does not have regular work and is unable to provide sufficient food , clothing and care for his family. We try to help as much as we can, and I predict that the remaining children will eventually make their way to the care of Oasis as they become a bit older. I can only pray that these parents stop producing children!

Sweet tiny at 5 years old.

But despite their difficult living situation, these children are playful and often smiling. It is hard for Americans to understand that children can be allowed to live like this… and it took me a long time to be able to visit families such as these without breaking down in tears. As hard as it is, I have come to believe that they are under God’s protection and that He has a plan for their lives. I can only pray that more people will open their hearts to Oasis and that with increased regular funding, we can help more children like these to have better lives.

From the back: Selena, Lucy, Peter and Erika

The older girls began to make their way home…Dorcas and Rael returning first; followed by the class 8 girls; Centrine and Nancy. It was now 6 pm and they had arrived at school at 7 that morning. The Kenyan school system is so much more rigorous - both in quality and quantity of education than is ours in America.

Gorgeous Centrine...just home from school- ready to change out of her uniform.

The first order of business is to change out of uniforms into ‘home clothes’ and then to inquire as to whether Rebecca needed their assistance preparing the evening meal: chapatti, rice, green grams (mung beans) , and meat stew. The older girls helped and I kept the youger girls (Sarah, Helen, Alice, Ajix, Janet, and Christine) occupied taking photos, dancing and playing Candy Land. In the past year and a half since I have been here - the girls have grown comfortable with their home and have developed very distinct and charming personalities. They are often quiet when in a mixed group with the boys - whose strong personalities tend to dominate. But, when alone with each other - they are hilarious!

Janet , so quiet when she moved in a few years ago - now has one of the boldest personalities in the girls' house.

Helen...after a fit of giggles!

Tomboyish Christine (Amlango) doing gymnastic moves on her bed. a rare serious moment.

We once feared that Alice-so small and sickly- wouldn't live to see 7. Today, although still tiny- she is healthy and in possession of a quirky personality.

Supper was delicious as it always is at the girls home. I have to laugh because unlike at the boys’ house- the girls always offer me hot water to wash my hands before eating and they do the same. The boys just dig right in dirty hands and all. Boys!!!

We finished our meal by dividing up the biscuits (cookies) and with a few more songs and dances. The girls taught me some new steps..and I think kept up pretty well although I am not blessed with the skill nor the natural rhythm that they possess! Promptly at 8, my taxi arrived and I hugged them all and promised to return next Wednesday.

Beautiful Ajix teaching me some dance steps!

Those girls are so much fun. I can't wait to return next week. I think I will bring along Chutes and Ladders!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What's for supper? or...The care and feeding of teenage boys.

It is the same everywhere..teenagers are hungry ALL THE TIME!!! Saturday was my first full day in Kenya...and by 11 am, the house was full of kids from the Oasis group homes who all got up early to do their Saturday housekeeping chores and washing of their clothes so that they could rush over to "mom's" house. I was happy to greet them one by one as they arrived...but, soon realized that the few necessity food items purchased the afternoon before (tea, bread, butter) would not suffice to make lunch for them. So, a taxi was called and along with Martin, Johnstone, Steward and Moses..I went into town for food.

Johnstone pushes one of the 4 carts we filled up at the Gigamart.

Unlike my weekly trips to Albertson's at home where I am shopping for only myself....I buy food in bulk here. Sugar, rice, ugali and chapati flour in 20 lb. increments, cooking oil and cooking fat in the largest containers, 30 tomatoes, 50 potatoes, 30 carrots, 30 onions, 3 or 4 bunches of the small sweet Kenyan bananas that have 15 or so bananas per bunch, 20 mangos.....and more. The requested lunch item was "long rice".....which I knew meant spaghetti. Six pounds....that should be MORE than enough (ha!).

Thankfully, food is so much less expensive here ...but, still - buying in that kind of bulk adds up quickly. The shopkeepers are always happy to see me. I think I single-handedly improve the economy of Kitale when I am in town!

Then back home to the task of cooking lunch for 12 teenage boys....oh wait - now there are kids have arrived...."We are 22....23 including you mom."

I had to laugh that the stores here sell bottled "Ragu" spaghetti sauce which the kids love (I bet you introduced them to it Allison.) we purchased 4 bottles. We also made a fresh 'sauce' with onions, tomatoes, garlic, grated zucchini and grated carrot. As more kids arrived...we added more veggies. The pasta was cooked- one pound at a time in two large pots. Finally, it was all done and we started to dish it out onto 23 plates and bowls. And then the kids started coming in....1, 2, 3...10, 15..20....23...wait...more kids are entering the kitchen....when did they arrive? As it turned out there were close to 50 mouths to feed ranging in age from about 3 up to adults.

In Kenya, you feed anybody who is there and it is quite rude to not do so. So, we quickly began dividing the portions up into smaller bowls....keeping the large portions for the teenagers. In the end...there was enough....for everybody but mom that is!

Justus enjoying his 'long rice' sans sauce

As soon as that was noticed however...the boys began coming to me one by one - sharing their lunches with me...making sure that I had my share. If you know me at all - you know that I took each bite with a tear in my eye - marveling at the care these kids return right back to me.

surprise guest Wilson carrying empty plates back into the kitchen....

And then ...the clean-up! The kitchen was a disaster. But, as is our rule here at Oasis House...if you cook you don't have to clean. So, those who had been watching movies - switched places with the cooks and quickly set the kitchen back to rights. Of course, cooking and cleaning were accompanied by loud music played from my ipod on the much loved portable speakers. So, both events were interspersed with singing, dancing and fun, fun, fun!

The clean-up crew cheerfully gets ready to tackle the lunch dishes!

Patrick (house 2) posing next to the newly clean stove!

It had already been decided that the 4 boys who will be entering high school in a few weeks (Martin, Johnstone, Justus and Kevin) would be spending the night here. The rest of the crowd slowly dispersed home. When the last one exited the compound and the gate closed behind them....I turned to walk back into the house with my 4 teenage 'sons'...thankful that we had fed everyone and that the kitchen was nice and clean.

And just then Martin turned to me and said "So mom.....What's for supper???"

Friday, January 15, 2010

Isn't it nice to be home again!

Finally, after 2 long days...the little 13-seat plane I boarded in Nairobi was bearing down on the runway at the Kitale Airstrip. It's hard to describe the feelings that were rushing through me...anticipation, thankfulness, joy. As we taxied to a stop in front of the little building that made due as a terminal - I immediately spotted my greeting party: Geoffrey and his wife Olivia, their baby Charlotte (named after my mom) and two of my beloved Kenyan sons- Johnstone and Martin. I couldn't wait for the door to open so that I could give them all huge hugs.

I had asked Geoffrey to keep my arrival a surprise and he had done just that - telling the boys that they were going to the airport to pick up a 'friend' but not saying who. The second that they spotted me....the hugest smiles lit up their faces - smiles that mirrored the one on my face. Hugs, Hugs, Hugs! I cannot remember a moment in my life that was as perfectly joyful as this one was.

I was amazed at how much both of them had grown since I had last seen them. I always think of them as they looked when I first met them in 2006 when they were still living on the streets of Kitale:

Martin & Johnstone in January 2006

Martin and Johnstone now

I'm sure there is no mom anywhere prouder of her sons.

As the day unfolded....I reunited with so many people that I love - Onesmus and Phoebe who take care of my home, the 120 kids at Oasis (many of whom were new since my last visit), the wonderful staff at Oasis, the girls from our girls home who came to Oasis from their primary school next door to have lunch, so many people in town- street kids, vendors and old friends, and finally - the rest of the boys in now combines Boys' houses 1 & 2.

It was late afternoon and they were all at home studying at the big dining room table. The door was open, covered by the traditional fabric flap to keep out insects. I called out "hodi" (to announce my presence) and then entered the house. Ten faces looked up from the compositions they were writing and one by one recognition and excitement registered on their faces! Cries of "mom", "Mathey", and "Lydia" rang out as they scrambled out of their chairs and ran over to envelop me in hugs. Again...pure joy.

We spent an hour getting caught up, talking about the good and bad events of the year and a half since I was here. Each boy in turn had his moment to speak with me privately...showing his heart and sharing the special needs and concerns that only a mom can understand and help with. There were tears and laughter and silliness and the inevitable photos.

Me and Bramwel

The day, jet lag (and my 4 hours of sleep the night before) started catching up to me and I actually nodded off during a story that Steward was telling. So, I was promptly taken to one of the three bedrooms and put down for a little nap by my boys while they cooked supper. Refreshed after about a half hour, I joined them outside around the charcoal jiko (stove) that they were very competently cooking a giant pot of rice on. The beef stew was simmering in another pot.

All 14 of us squeezed into the dining/sitting room while Johnstone and Steward served supper. They made sure that the food was divided equally and then Johnstone thanked God for the food and for the day. I have eaten many a fine meal in a 5 star restaurant...but truly...not one of those meals tasted as good or was as enjoyable as that simple bowl of rice and stew.

Steward (with Justus and House Dad Robert)

I left at 9 pm after hugs and kisses all around. The boys begged to come to the house on Saturday after their chores were done, of course. They should be here shortly and we are all trooping into town to stock the house with food. We are going to cook a pasta lunch!

The sun is shining...the birds are singing and God is surely not only in heaven... but right here by my side . Isn't is great to be home again!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

It's snowing in London! Next stop: Kitale, Kenya!

It has been almost a year and a half since was last in Kenya. The reasons are many and can be summed up in just a few phrases: 1. The Economy 2. Life Challenges and most importantly 3. God said 'Wait'. So, while I obediently waited for God to give me the green light to return - I did my best to keep funds flowing into Oasis in these horrbile economic times and dealt with life challenges involving work and family. It hasn't been an easy time...but, I learned a lot about what I am capable of and I gained some valuable life lessons.

And finally - I was given the assurance that it was indeed time to pack my bags and my 14 tubs of donated school and medical supplies and book a ticket back to Kenya.

So, as I sit here in my hotel room in London on my overnight layover - I am so thankful that in just a couple of days, I will once again be hugging the kids I love so much!

It has been in the 70's in California and the same in Kitale. But look at what it looks like in London! The temps are in the 30's and it is snowing. Despite the fact that I only have my carry on luggage (with just lightweight clothing) because I checked my bags in at LAX all the way to Nairobi-I had to go take a little walk and snap some pics. This California/Kenyan girl doesn't get much opportunity to watch snowflakes fall out of the, even though I was pretty tired after the long flight; the brisk air was invigorating. One day of this is fun...but, I pray that the weather doesn't get any worse and my flight to Nairobi will leave as scheduled in the morning!

Next stop...Kitale!

If you look closely, you can see snow falling!
The hotel is right next to Terminal 5 at Heathrow. In fact, I walked over a covered bridge from the airport.
The landscape in me was enjoying seeing these Boxwood bravely face the cold weather without even a yellow leaf!
This mural of a tree in summer is can see the real trees poking their bare branches up behind it....
The hotel is warm...but it is pretty bleak outside.

BRRRRRRRRRRRRR....back to my room for some tea and a hot bath!