Wednesday, February 25, 2009

On the darkest of nights (corrected, now with a map!)

If you are prone to worry about me (for example, MOM! And Sarah Cool!), please read the bottom of this post first!

I was exhausted yesterday, so by 11:30 last night I was dead asleep when I heard it – BOOM! I was startled awake by a huuuge boom. Had one of the fuel stores blown up? What on earth was it? I got out of bed to see if I could see what was going on. Of course, pitch black (the moon has been rising around 3 or 4 am of late), I could see nothing, but heard voices in the not-so-far-off distance shouting and talking and whooping. I started towards the gate, but decided that I could be of no help, so just went back to sleep…

Amina is a shopkeeper in town. She’s very friendly and has lived in Korr her whole life, so she knows everyone. Yesterday, there were two warriors who came into her shop, which is not uncommon, as there are men in all their warrior finery around town all the time. But she didn’t recognize these two men, and they were not from around here, as they were speaking Samburu, not Rendille. They never bought anything, just hung around in the front of the shop for a while and then left. They made her a little nervous, as there are occasionally raids and robberies on shopkeepers by thugs from other tribes, so when dusk fell, she locked her shop up tight and just went to bed…

Around 9:30 last night, two students from the upper primary school (maybe class 7 or 8) were heading home from evening preps (study session) in town and were approaching the laga - a dry, sandy riverbed where water scarcely flows, flanked by acacia trees and, in this particular location, a network of about a dozen wells. In the distance, by the wells, they saw two flashlights moving all over the place erratically – not the bobbing light of somebody walking, but up, down, back forth, neither approaching nor retreating. Thinking things looked more than a little suspicious, they ran back to town to alert somebody. They went to a man named Hirkenna’s house and told them what they had seen.
(Click the map for a larger view if you need)

Hirkenna immediately headed over to the wells, about 3 km away, and crept silently along the edge of the laga. He got just close enough to see that the two men were warriors who were removing all their beads, headgear, and identifying clothing. They were now in plain clothes, their decorations and shoes removed and tied into bundles at their feet. He also saw that they had two very large automatic rifles. He left, heading off to tell somebody what he had seen.

Some men from the Tirrim project (the project Nick and Lynne started, the same project that my school belongs to) - Joshua, Ndoto, and a few others - were visiting on the front doorstep of Joshua’s house around the same time the two boys spotted the warriors at the laga. Hirkenna and the two boys met them and told them what they saw, so they decided to return to the laga – to do what, unarmed against two men with huge guns, I don’t know, but off they went. The group split into two and silently crept along the laga – all of them know this area inside and out, and the utter darkness was not a deterrent. One group approached from one side, the second from the other. Perhaps hearing the two groups approaching, the two warriors got spooked, grabbed their guns, and fled, shoeless, into the night. The men ran in, grabbed the bundles and the shoes the men left behind, and ran.

Now, you can’t get far in Korr without shoes. Every plant there is has wicked thorns – some one, some two, many three inches long – that cover the already rocky ground. Even the poorest of all poor Rendille people have shoes. The warriors could go nowhere fast, and I’m sure when they returned to get their shoes, they were plenty angry that they had been taken.

Meanwhile, the group of men had fled back to Joshua’s house to discuss what they should do next. Quickly they decided that the best thing was to go to Nick and Lynne’s house to ask for the truck to go to the police post. Once they got there, they shouted up to Nick and Lynne to wake them up, told them of the situation, and got the keys.

By then, the two warriors had made it past the air strip and were near the three houses on the other side when they heard the car start up. Not wanting to be chased, one man, no more than 6 feet away from the door of Joshua’s house, took his gun and fired it into the air. BOOM! It was deafening, especially to Joshua’s wife and a few others who were sitting just outside the door when the shot went off. Terrified, they locked the door and fled through the dark to Nick and Lynne’s, forgetting that they were leaving a sleeping baby in the house behind them. They decided that going back to get the baby was too risky, and besides, if he woke up and cried, the sound would give away their location, so they left the baby sleeping behind, locked safely inside the house.

After they heard the shot, the med decided to drive the car round the back way to drown the sound, and, keeping the headlights off, headed to the police station. “Police station” is, of course, a bit of a misnomer. There is one man appointed by the government to keep a post in Korr. When the men arrived and woke up the ‘police man,’ he took the bundles of belongings, but said something to the effect of, “Well what do you want ME to do? I’m sure not equipped to go after them!” Again heading the long way around, they drove back to the safety of Nick and Lynne’s, over the desert road in total darkness.

In the meantime, everybody from the surrounding houses had escaped to Intaynoy’s house, just across from Nick and Lynne’s. She has a metal hut with a door that locks, so everybody crowded in there and locked the door tight. Those who didn’t fit in the hut came into Nick and Lynne’s yard and the guard tied the metal gate closed. The few home guards in town – men hired to guard the villages and given a small revolver and a one month training course on how to use it – were alerted and were on the watch. Nobody slept that night – they stayed awake talking, and listening to the pop-pop-pop of the odd home guard’s gun shooting into the air to let the warriors know that they were there and they were armed.

One more BOOM was heard off in the distance an hour or so later, back out by the laga, and then the night grew quiet.

How good to have a God who protects us even during the darkest night.

“He will not let your foot slip
He who watches over you will not slumber;
Indeed, He who watches of Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep”
Psalm 121:3-4

Where I stay, there is a fence and an iron gate and a night guard. These warriors come very seldomly, and are looking for money from the shop keepers - they couldn't care less about the missionaries. They come in the middle of the night, and never am I out and about after about 9:30, and even then, after dark, I am always with other people. Now go back up to the top and enjoy the story!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Snippets of a desert life - Bedtime

There's another new post just below - "Sensory Overload"

Missionary Midnight. It’s a term that at first I chuckled at, but have realized that it’s quite the reality. The heat is really draining, and while during the day I’m usually ok (sweating, but ok), by the time 9:00 hits, I’m done. I’m generally up an hour later than that, but that’s stretching it to the max! And for me – a super crazy night owl – that’s EARLY! But I have to say, I have a peaceful bedtime routine.

When it’s time to hit the hay, I’ll take my bucket to the water tanks and fetch water. Back in my room, I take my basin down from the table and dip my feet into the now-cool water, washing off the smudged of red dust that coat my feet. I open my door and toss out the water, then pour the fresh water in, ready to wash my face and be used for another day of hand washing.

I grab my toothbrush and my bottle of water and stand outside to brush my teeth under the most amazing sky I have ever seen – there is ZERO light pollution here in Korr, and lately the moon doesn’t rise till the wee hours of the morning, so it is PITCH black outside. I listen to the chirp of the crickets, the nearly deafening buzzing of the wood-borers (like really huge bumble bees that drill into wood) living in my roof, and, if there’s a hyena nearby, the frantic bark of dogs and whooping of the hyena.

Back inside, my intention each night is to journal some significant events of the day, thoughts, prayers, but usually I just crash into bed. I don’t even sleep under the sheet – I don’t have a blanket: who needs one??? – because it’s so hot. I might read a little, but mostly I just lay there listening to the sounds of a desert night and enjoying the wind that blows through my glass-less windows, bringing at least some relief from the heat.

As I drift off, I thank God once again for bringing me here to see and take part in the incredible work he is doing here in the desert.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sensory Overload!

The last three weeks have been absolutely phenomenal, and so jam packed with all kinds of things – meeting dozens and dozens of people, learning some language, figuring out my teaching schedule, adjusting to climate, learning a little about the Rendille culture, taking trips out to the goobs (villages), taking in the desert scenes (land rovers on dusty roads at twilight, camels enclosed by thorn tree fences, acacia trees against the rising sun, herds of goats at the wells by the lagas, or dry river beds, the smells (goats, camels, dust, hot…), the sounds (howling wind, the women’s choir rehearsing next door at the church, crickets, hyenas…), and even the tastes of Korr (tea made with smoky camel’s milk, for example) have put me into sensory overload!

I want to document it all – jam it tight in my brain so it never gets forgotten – first impressions, pictures, snapshots of time and space and sound that no photograph can ever capture – but it all slides by so fast. How can I possibly communicate what I am experiencing, seeing, doing? And when do I have time to do it? I fall into bed most nights totally and completely exhausted – the day’s work and the heat draining all the energy out of me. But it’s an exhaustion that I welcome. Every day I think about how amazing it is that I have the privilege of being here, and I don’t want to waste my time. I want to do it all, use every moment, see every sight, experience everything I possibly can.

This is a phenomenal place, not just for the climate, the people, and the beauty of the desert, but because of what God is doing in the hearts of these people. Every day I am more and more amazed at all that is happening here in Korr. How do I explain it? What do I say? Hopefully I’ll get some more posts up soon. For now there’s just too much to take in… not that I’m complaining!!!

Off I go, better walk home before the sun sets and the scorpions come out!

Wakh atin barristi (may God grant you peace as you sleep)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Snippets of a desert life - My morning commute

It's early in the morning - not much past sunrise. The light is still golden, the shadows cast by the acacia trees are long. I slip on my still-dusty sandals and walk out the green gates on my way to school.

Just out of the gate, I head down a slight slope to cross the bone-dry river bed and note the black-headed goat that always seems to graze there. Minding the nail-like thorns on the ground, I pass a hut or two, chickens running around the edge, the smoky smell of chai drifting from the kitchen huts. Goats bleating, iridescent blue swallows singing, I pass the houses and arrive at the airstrip.

The acacia-lined air strip is really one long stretch of cleared desert, rocks and sand forming swaths of white and red under a moon still high in the sky, despite the morning blue. My landmark are the dozen or so tanks of jet fuel - red, green, and blue steel drums just lying there under the shade of a large tree.

As I walk up the airstrip, I keep my eyes open for the turnoff to the school - a 'road' that consists of nothing more than two tire tracks heading off into the distance. I can see the school in the from here - at the top of the hill, the morning sun hits the white walls and it nearly glows. I cross another riverbed, dry and sandy, and pass the wells that line the banks. Round concrete walls surround the holes that go deep through the desert rock. No animals are there right now, but I've been told at some times during the year, the place is alive with people and camels drawing water and drinking deeply.

Winding my way up the hill, I note the hoof prints in the sand and revel in the cool of the morning. It will not be this way for long. My skirt blows around my legs and whips my hair as the never-ending desert wind whirls around me. Off in the distance I'll often see huge columns of dust kicked up over the distant desert.

I arrive at the school compound, marked only by large rocks painted white. A Rendille woman carrying firewood for the kitchen greets me, and I make my way across the school yard, ready to begin my day.

Monday, February 02, 2009

On the day I turned thirty

This is one of three new posts: When the Sun Sets, Going Buggy, and this one. Click the link to read the other posts. :)

I woke up this morning to a rooster crowing. It was about 6:30, and my alarm was just about to go off. I lay in bed for a few minutes, wondering what the day would bring – certainly a day like no other!

Once I got up, I quickly went to my suitcase and grabbed the packet that has been staring me in the face for nearly a month – a large envelope that said, “Happy Birthday, Hillary – Open February 2nd”

Inside were cards from Nana, Auntie Ruth & Uncle Jack, and a gorgeous journal type book from my parents. I opened the cards first (after swiping a large cockroach off my bed – I’m reminded of this detail as I watch another one scuttle across the floor, too slow for me to squish it with my shoe), including a really cute battery powered tea light candle from Nana – so sweet! I opened a birthday card from my friend Theresa, too, that was in a packet of cards and notes given to me by a few friends (thanks, Theresa!).

Once the cards were opened, I took out the journal and opened the cover. On the first page was a photo of my fam taken at my fundraiser in December. Aw! But it was the next page that brought the tears. On one side was a family portrait taken when I was maybe 6 or 8 months old, and a message from both my parents. As I flipped through the pages, I realized that what they had given me was a photo of family and friends and a different message from various people – parents, nana, brother, sister, etc – for every week that I am gone (Mom, don’t worry, I didn’t read the messages all at once, but I did glance at the pictures – the first one I saw of both nana and papa choked me up all over again!). I flipped through, missed my fam, and cried a little more – happy tears at how fabulously AMAZING they are for putting something like this together for me.

I went in for breakfast and some scurrying around getting ready for two planes full of 22 visitors from Canada who were coming to visit Korr and get a tour of the project (school, adult literacy classes, evangelism, water project, etc). I had a fairly relaxing morning – got the rooms ready for the pilots, did some reading, checked my email, helped make lunch – it was nice to relax a little. The plane arrived around noon with all the ladies, and after we ate, we all hopped on the back of the land rovers and headed waaaay out – about a half an hour drive out into the desert – to see one of the adult literacy classes. As we passed various gobs (villages), little kids all came out to wave at us, running naked behind the truck and greeting us in Rendille. Once we reached our destination, we all got off the trucks and suddenly there were dozens of kids who came out to see us.

Dusty and many of them naked, they were intensely curious about this big pack of mzungus who must have seemed to arrive out of nowhere. I reached out my hand to greet them, and they reached out theirs, but were too afraid to come to close. They’d approach tentatively, then give a big grin and run away. I’d take a step closer, and they’d cry out and back away. Eventually, a few brave ones ventured out to give a high five and to touch this strange mzungu’s skin. More and more ventured out, and soon we were giving high fives and playing and laughing together. Some of the only words I know in Rendille are “Wakh ala koolicho” which means “Praise God!” so I began making up a clapping game and a tune with the words, which the kids loved and would not stop singing with me (or grabbing my arms and yanking me up and down, in circles, over, back… you get the idea! And, silly me, I took one little boy and swung him around by the arms so his feet came off the ground, and suddenly I had no less than 12 kids trying to hang off me at all times. Hee hee hee!). Two Rendille ladies on the back of the Rover began a call and response song with those words, and the kids picked it up SO fast and began singing it for us. It was absolutely phenomenal to be standing there, surrounded by Acacia trees and Rendille huts, out in the desert under the hot afternoon sun, with all these kids singing a Rendille worship song for US! It really was quite overwhelming.

After playing with the kids, we went over to the literacy class and heard about the history of the project here in Korr. We were able to convince some of the ladies to let us take photos of them (they were SO shy! And also many don’t like their photos taken because they believe it steals a part of them). Their beads and head gear are so incredible beautiful – colourful, intricate, and each one different. I can only imagine how long it takes to make! I can’t wait to be able to post a few!

This visiting group of Canadians went to the house where they were staying while Lynne and I went back to Lynne’s house to make dinner. Something had fallen through, so Lynne was behind and a little flustered trying to get everything ready on time.

“Hillary,” she asked. “This is terrible! We were going to have a surprise party for you over at the other house with a cake and candles and everything… I wanted it to be a surprise, but I am SO behind and I have NO-one to help me… I have to ask you if you wouldn’t mind baking your own cake!”

I laughed. Noooo! Of course not! How sweet! Even among all the running around Lynne was doing – fresh back from three weeks of shopping in Niarobi, orders to sort, a brand new secondary school beginning, finances to sort, 22 visitors to host - STILL she had planned a surprise party for ME! So while Lynne made dinner, I happily made desert. Let me tell you – cookbooks compiled of missionary recipes are the BEST – super easy, tried and tested, using ingredients found in Kenya – where else would you see Blue Band or Kimbo in a recipe??? - and DELICIOUS!)

We got it all done, had a feast of a dinner – goat stew (aaaah, I had wondered why there was a goat tied to a tree in our yard earlier this afternoon!) – and I had 25 people sing me happy birthday! I even got gifts: shower gel, chocolate (yuuuum!), and six glasses that will be painted with camels by a Rendille artist!! By people who hardly know me, or had never even met me! I definitely felt blessed!

And now, I’m sitting in bed listening to giant bugs hit the walls (Ping! Thud. Ping! Thud.) and hyenas whooping outside. I must get to sleep – tomorrow we’re heading out just after sunrise to go out to one of the villages to see some camels be milked, take some photos (a rare permission, as taking photos of camels here is generally a very big no-no), and then I have a meeting with the headmaster to work out my teaching schedule.

I must say, my thirties have started off pretty darn well!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Going Buggy!

Can I just say right now that I am having absolute HYSTERICS right now with the amount of bugs in my room??? I’m not normally buged by too many bugs, but AYE! I’m kind of having heebie jeebie attacks right now! My room has corrugated metal walls, and there are so many bugs zipping around in here that they make big clanging sounds on the walls as they hit them, drop to the floor, start flying again and hit the wall once more. (Not the smartest bugs, apparently)

And also? Totally zapped the biggest coackroach ever with “Doom,” which is like Raid, and he fell to the floor on his back and fluttered and buzzed around for a few minutes till he went silent. I assumed he was dead, but now he’s NOWHERE TO BE FOUND! Great! Now I have some robo-cockroach hopped up on doom loose somewhere in my room! Gaaak! Don’t know what’s worse, that, or seeing another cockroach in the outhouse (luxury! I don’t have to squat over a hole!) after I got up scuttle UNDER THE TOILET SEAT. Mental note. Check under the toilet seat from now on for cockroaches.

BLAAAAH!!!!! One of those giant flying bugs that keep hitting the walls just flew into my neck! Bleugheugheugheugheugh!!! That’s it, I’m taking cover under my mosquito net. Which I see already has at least three giant flying things inside it. Superb.

Oh and also? We don’t walk ANYWHERE at night without a flashlight cause that’s when the scorpions are out and the nearest hospital is a four hour drive away. Uh huh. Welcome to Africa!

Sarah Cool, think your bug vacuum can handle cockroaches the size of my THUMB??? Care to send it over?

ARUGH! Another giant flying bug just hit me again, and you should have seen the heebie jeebie dance I did as I thought it went down my shirt!!! Eeeeeeh, now it’s on my beeeeed!

Seriously, I’m whipping myself into such a frenzy (and I’m sure will feel really dumb reading this in the morning, but I DON’T CARE!). Man, the night guard must think I’m insane for all the sounds coming out of me right now. Must go set up net. No more being lazy…..

[From inside net] Ahhh.. so much better. There are still all kinds of pings and pangs as the bugs hit the walls, but at least now they’re not crawling around on my bed and hitting me in the FACE.