Thursday, April 30, 2009

Posts, posts, and more posts!

This is what happens when I write posts offline, bit by bit. I have a million posts that I've started but have not had time to finish, and then when I have a bit of free time, I can finish them all off and end up posting them all at once. Then YOU get here and go "AAAAK!" So here's a list - read 'em all now, or read 'em bit by bit. Just scroll down to see them, or click the links to take you straight to post. Adagta? (do you understand?)

1. Snippets of a Desert Life - Insect Invasion!
2. The Little Megaphone That Could
3. Over The Desert And Through The Oasis, To Kalacha Town We Go!
4. Not So Sparkly


Snippets of a Desert Life - Insect Invasion!

Just before I arrived back in Korr, they had some rain – half an hour of heavy rain that fell overnight. That’s been about it for this rainy season – not nearly enough for what is needed, but just enough to bring out the bugs!

Before the rains, the flies, looking for moisture, were getting worse and worse and worse. Nick and Lynne told me that they couldn’t even open their mouths to talk without nearly swallowing a fly. With the rain, the flies have dispersed and the moths moved in. For a few days, there were moths EVERYWHERE, and Nick and Lynne would sweep up a mountain of dead moths from the floors in the morning. Now the moths have seemed to go, and it’s beetles. They drop from the ceiling and fall in our hair, our food, everywhere. They fly into the walls and drop to the floor with pings and ticks and clicks. The noise in my room last night as I was trying to fall asleep was incredible!

Though there has been very little rain, it’s been cloudy the last few days, which doesn’t bode so well for the solar panels that supply us with light at night. About 9:30 last night, the battery died and all our lights went out. Nick and I grabbed our headlamps and tried to continue working on our computers, but, the lights just above our eyes was a perfect magnet for the beetles and lingering moths. Needless to say, we didn’t get much work done. Moths fluttering in our eyes, beetles dropping on our heads, and flies crawling all over the screen of the computer made doing anything rather difficult. A grasshopper even hopped onto Nick’s computer and then jumped into Nick’s face!

Perhaps that was God’s way of telling us to make it an early night!

The Little Megaphone That Could

In town there is a tiny mosque with a huge loudspeaker that broadcasts the daily calls to prayer. The Imam goes to a microphone inside and sings out the call five times a day and it can be heard through the whole town (and all the way to Nairobi, I’m sure!) But the other night, around 9:30pm, we heard something strange. It wasn’t the normal time, nor was it the typical call to prayer. I just figured there was some special event happening at the mosque or something (this is quite typical) and though no more of it.

It’s coming up to a new moon once more, so the nights are darker than dark here in Korr. The Rendille know their way around, so many are still out once the sun sets. It turns out that it’s not just the Rendille who are out.

A few nights ago, a few of the Tirrim staff were walking just out of town and saw two men coming towards them. They greeted them, and it became clear that these men didn’t speak Rendille. It also became clear that they were carrying large guns. It would seem that our two warrior friends were back.

The Tirrim guys ran to town to the mosque. They told the Imam what they had seen, and he quickly flipped on the megaphone and began speaking in Rendille, “Everybody, look out! There are two men with guns walking around town. Go back to your houses and just stay inside.”

Everybody did just that – they went inside, locked or barricaded their doors, and the chief and the District Officer drove around most of the night patrolling and looking for the men. Most likely spooked by the megaphone announcement, the sudden disappearance of all the people from town, and the sound of the two pikis (motorbikes) starting up, the men were not seen again.

Ha HA! Foiled again!

Over the desert and through the oasis, to Kalacha town we go

Every year, all the missionaries in Northern Kenya get together in Kalacha, about a three hour drive north of Korr and very close to the Ethiopian border, for a retreat. I made arrangements for other teachers to cover my classes, and I got to go along, too.

We set out after lunch on Monday, and just a few minutes into our drive we saw them – ostriches! Tons of them! There was a big… herd? gaggle? chain gang? of teenagers who were still grey and kind of shaggy (typical!) but a ways onwards there was a mama and papa ostrich with a little baby. We slowed the car to get a better look, but still we spooked them. The papa ostrich spread out his wings and started running away from the mama and baby in an attempt to distract us. Apparently, an ostrich will even fall to the ground and play dead so that a would-be predator will come after him instead of the baby (but look out when you get close! You’re in for a might big kick!). With another small group of teenagers on the road, we drove the car up to them and stopped. “Have you got your camera ready?” I did, and we stepped on the gas and chased them a ways before they all scattered. I know, I know, PETA would kill me, but chasing ostriches across the desert in a land cruiser? AWESOME!

In an hour and a half or so, we reached the Chalbi desert...

Click here to keep reading. Pick up the story where the text is regular size.

Not So Sparkly

It is a pretty incredible experience living here in Northern Kenya. There are so many things that I love about it – standing in the back of the land rover driving trough the desert, my hair being whipped around by the wind. Watching the old ladies at church slowly move from the bench to the floor as the service progresses because they find sitting in chairs incredibly uncomfortable. Hearing the bleats and bells of the animals as they slowly start to return in anticipation of the rainy season. The beauty of the land and of the people, their overwhelming friendliness, and their incredible faith. I really could go on forever.

But there are other things, much more important things, about living in Africa that are harder to deal with. One of the big ones is poverty. I know, I know, when we in the West think of Africa, we think of poverty, of corruption, of famine, of seemingly insurmountable problems. Poverty has been talked about a million times in a million different ways, but to catch a glimpse of what it really looks like is another thing altogether... Click here to keep reading.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In your mind's eye no more! - PHOTOS!

Woohoo! I've (finally!) got photos up! There's a lot, but it's ok, I probably won't be posting again till I'm back in Niarobi again in July (or till I'm home), so you've got lots of time to browse. There's a new link on my sidebar that will take you there whenever you want.

I'll slowly be adding captions over the next few days, I hope! (They're also all on Facebook, if you want to look there).

Click here to see where I am and what I've been up to!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tirrim Secondary School

Tirrim Primary School began in 2004, with the dream of one day opening a secondary. For years, they couldn’t begin and couldn’t begin and couldn’t begin – there are huge startup costs, salaries to pay, boarding to provide (Tirrim school are charity schools and require no fees from the kids), a school food program to run… not to mention the challenge of where to meet!

Finally, this fall, Nick and Lynne got word that there was a huge amount of money come available for AIM missionaries to fund a project that they only could only dream of - all they had to do was apply. In November, Nick and Lynne and the Tirrim committee decided to take the plunge and start the secondary school. Some of the project staff moved out of their house to make room for one classroom and a small staffroom. Work was done to convert the house to a classroom, desks were constructed, textbooks bought, and, most importantly, word got out all over this and the neighbouring district that there was a free school in Korr. Students flocked to apply, and thirty students were chosen (that’s all the cramped little room could fit!). Students arrived and the school officially opened in January.

Tirrim Secondary is the first secondary ever for Rendille students. People all over the north heard about it, and people in Korr were so proud that their little town now had a secondary school. But they weren’t the only ones excited…

At the beginning of the term, Laura, one of the teachers, asked them to write a composition. She said, “I don’t know you - tell me who you are, your story, where you came from, how you got here…” All thirty kids wrote about how grateful they were to be in school. Most knew that there was NO way that they could ever go to secondary. Their families have no money for fees, and the nearest secondary was far, far away. Paying for boarding was out of the question. A few almost didn’t write their class 8 exams – why even bother if they’ll never get to secondary? Each one talked about how they are so grateful to God for a chance at an education. Reading their thoughts and their stories brought Laura to tears - composition after composition told the same story… all these kids had never dreamed of being able to continue past standard eight, and now they had a chance…

And just what will these kids do for an education? David, the youth pastor, was also talking to the students about their stories. What they told him might give you an idea.

One student is from Songa, about 150km from Korr, where raids and tribal fighting have been particularly bad recently and dozens of people have been killed. He heard that there was a free school and decided to do whatever it took to get there. He walked – WALKED! - 60km from Songa to Lochlogo, got a lift from there to Namarey, and then walked the remaining 25 km to Korr.

Another student is an orphan from Merille. He heard about the school, so he walked to Laisamis (30km), asked the way to Korr, then walked the remaining eighty-five kilometres to Korr. He walked through lion and wild dog country where even warriors walk two by two armed with spears. He walked alone, just him and his small bundle of belongings, the hope of a better future ahead of him.

Yet another student was from Korr, but had been going to school in Marsabit, about 100km away. He was in form three (the third of four years of secondary), but knew that he was getting into the wrong crowds and didn’t like where his life was heading. When he heard about the new school in Korr, he decided to drop to form one and start all over again. The youth pastor asked him one day if the school was the same as the one he left. “No! Not at all! This school is bathed in prayer, and I’m learning things I’ve never learned before. I always knew about God, but I never knew that he loved me!

This little school has brought such hope to these kids. Unfortunately, they money that was supposed to come through to fund it, that was supposed to be a sure thing, never came through. Now this little school is hobbling by, salaries paid personally by the missionaries here in Korr (something they absolutely can’t afford), and they are unsure if it can even continue next term, let alone next year, let alone expand to form two when the form ones move up. We can only trust that God’s got something up his sleeve, because he’s definitely working...

The last day of the term before the kids went home for the April break, they were having a special evening to celebrate the end of the term. They’ve been having a short time of Bible teaching daily, and a weekly Bible class, and they’ve SEEN the difference it makes to go to a Christian school. And during the devotion time on the last two nights of the term, they were given a lot to think about. First, Ndubayo, one of the ladies from the church, spoke to them. As she was finishing, she told them the following:

“You are very fortunate. You know how to speak English, and you know all these subjects… I’ve never been to school. I don’t know these things. You will have opportunities that I never had. BUT,” she said with a smile, “I have a degree! I have a degree in knowing Jesus, and that is the most important thing. You know all these things… make sure that you know about Jesus, too!”

The next night, the last night of term, the kids were given an invitation to accept what they had been learning and to give their lives to Jesus. Fifteen of them - half the school – stood up.

This little desert school is changing lives – bringing hope through both education and the gospel, and we are waiting to see how God is going to provide a way to open again in May. I’ll keep you posted! In the meantime, please pray for the school, and especially for these kids. God is doing SUCH amazing things!

This post isn’t intended to be a push for money at all, but if anyone is interested in helping out, or knows organizations who might want to help, I want to give you the opportunity. Please contact me at hello_hillary @ yahoo dot ca for information if you’d like to help!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

On My Cross

How wide is Your love
That You would stretch Your arms
And go around the world
And why for me would a Savior's cry be heard

I don't know
Why You went where I was meant to go
I don't know
Why You love me so

Those were my nails
That was my crown
That pierced Your hands and Your brow
Those were my thorns
Those were my scorns
Those were my tears that fell down
And just as You said it would be
You did it all for me
And after You counted the cost
You took my shame, my blame
On my cross

How deep is Your grace
That you could see my need
And chose to take my place
And then for me, these words I'd hear You say

Father no
Forgive them for they know not what they do
I will go
Because I love them so

Those were my nails
That was my crown
That peirced your hands
And your brow
Those were my thorns
Those were my scorns
Those were my tears that fell down
And just as you said it would be
You did it all for me
And after you counted the cost
You took my shame, my blame
On my cross

Those were my nails
That was my crown
That peirced your hands
And your brow
Those were my thorns
Those were my scorns
Those were my tears that feel down
And just as you said it would be
You did it all for me
And after you counted the cost
You took my shame
My blame on my cross

After you counted the cost
You took my shame, my blame
On my cross

Friday, April 10, 2009

So rich a crown

As a friend warned me before I headed to Kenya, "Africa is the place where even the trees are out to hurt you." Now that I've lived in the North for a while, I'm seeing that he's very right!

The smallest thorns are from trees we like to call "wait a bit" bushes. These are small thorns - less than a quarter inch long - but they come in groups of three. Two are hooked forward and one, slightly further down the branch, is hooked back. If you brush past, it's like the tree grabs you and good luck getting yourself free. Acacia thorns are one to three inches long, white, and very strong. There are some thorn trees that look like a wild, curvy tangle of Dr. Suess-like branches, others are long and needle-like, and still others can be mistaken for small branches at first glance. They are easily four to five inches long and can be as wide as a half an inch at the base.

I think the most interesting thorn trees are the whistling thorns. The bark is yellow-ish and the tree grows crooked - a few feet one direction, then another, then another. It zig-zags to the sky with thorns that have often have a big black bulb at the base. Ants make their nests in the thorns and when the wind blows at just the right angle, the air passing through the thorn makes a whistling sound.

Walking barefoot around Korr is dangerous, especially since most thorns have some type of poison that makes them not just pokey, but makes your skin itchy and irritated at best, or causes boils at worse.

So today, Good Friday, as I read the story of Jesus' trial and crucifixion, the crown of thorns stood out. I could imagine it, and I know what it feels like to have one poke my toe as I walk (it hurts!). But to have these digging and scraping into my head, to feel the blood trickle down my forehead, to be spat upon and mocked, to have every blow push the thorns deeper into my flesh... this I could not even begin to imagine. And the thorns were just the beginning of Jesus' suffering for me. In so many ways, the desert is helping the Bible come alive for me. Today, this is one.

See from his head, his hands his feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e're such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Professional Development, African Style

There's another new post below this one, too - "He's been to Infinity and beyond..."

February 27 - March 1, 2009

To celebrate the success of Tirrim’s standard 8 pupils, the Area Education Officer for our district decided that all the teachers from the seven little schools in this district should be rewarded with a trip (that’s the way things are done here in Kenya, it seems… the kids do well, the teachers get a reward!). Word went out to each headmaster that they needed to raise a certain amount of money – not from the teachers, but the community, so that the communities could show their support for the teachers. (Arg! How could I go for a weekend away on the shillings of the Rendille?!?! Hooray for being able to make anonymous donations!) Money was raised, and the trip was on!

We would be heading to a resort in South Horr (look it up! That one’s actually on the map!), would be fed, and would go there and back with special chartered transportation.


But then, remember, this is Africa!

The resort wasn’t exactly a resort (though it was pretty nice!). The women – all five of us – stayed in huts with bunk beds, bamboo leaf roofs, and a kerosene lantern. The two married couples also got huts. The other 60 or so men slept on the concrete basket ball court. About 20 had foam mattresses, the rest slept on a tarp, most without sheets, cause there was no indication that we had to bring bedding. I was extra thankful for my bed when I heard that!

We arrived Friday night and had supper (over the weekend, they slaughtered 5 goats to feed us all!). Saturday morning and early afternoon we had a few sessions. I kept thinking – this is professional development African style!

We met under the roof of the basket ball court, which bordered on a trail where Samburu warriors and herders – children as young as 6 years old – walked their cattle and goats back and forth from their village to various grazing areas. As we met, the cattle passed, their metal bells clanging back and forth as they walked. Then came the goats, bleating away as they walked. We spotted some monkeys playing in the trees above us as we talked.

We began the meeting with a brainstorming sesson aboug what makes a good teacher, which was a good inspiration. But of course, things quickly turned to politics. We got into groups and brainstormed some of the problems facing education in the north, and it was amusing to think that, except for the monkeys and the warriors, that it very well could have been Canada – too many kids in classrooms (but here, some teachers have classes of 50, 75 and even 100 kids), too few resources (but here, there is one English textbook for my class or 27 kids), teachers are underpaid (but here, many teachers make nearly nothing, often being paid about the same as a house helper/maid).

But there were problems unique to the north, too. For pastoralist people who keep camels and goats and sheep, the children are needed to take care of the animals. They take the herds far away in search of grazing and of water. If all the children go to school, there is no one left to tend the herds. How do you strike a balance?

After we listed problems and solutions (which basically ended up being “We need more money.”), the Area Education Officer spent nearly an hour and a half telling people that they should stop complaining about these problems, look how much has already been done (at least we have schools… we can’t afford teachers, but we’ve hired untrained people to teach… etc). He then told people that they should really take charge of their lives and go to continue their education so they can help solve some of these problems (gulp!) I asked our head teacher afterward what he thought of all this. He said the AEO was just motivating people and that he came away from the weekend really encouraged. I came away from the weekend angry and feeling pretty defensive for these teachers! I chalked it up to a different cultural understanding. If people felt encouraged, that’s great. That’s what the weekend was supposed to be about. Eekers!


But the best part of the weekend – an experience I’m so glad I had, but am also glad it’s over – was the special chartered transportation. Sixty people on the back of a public lorry. And not just any ol’ public lorry – a beat up, old, yellow lorry loaded with lumber and tables and all kinds of junk, with some of the metal bars up top lashed together with rubber straps and others sketchily welded together.

I spent the first part of the ride there up at the front, wedged in with a ton of people, hanging on to the bars and bouncing around with everyone else. At least I wasn’t one of the ones sitting up on TOP of the bars. Bumping along and balancing your butt on a two inch metal tube isn’t exactly my idea of comfortable! A lot of the guys rode the whole way like that. I have no idea how they did it, especially considering they had to be constantly on the lookout for overhead branches and duck when we passed under, lest the be torn to pieces by the nail-like thorns!

When my friend Janet and I got tired of standing and clutching the bars for dear life got too tiring, we found a place to sit on a large sack of maize for the remainder of the journey. Thankfully we were under the canopy for most of the trip, so there was at least a little protection from the sun.

The 100 km journey took about six and a half hours over bumpy, dusty desert roads. We stopped at every little town along the way (and a few that were not along the way) to pick up other teachers from the district: Ballah, Namarey, Ngurinit, Illaut... the lorry got more and more crowded with teachers and other random travelers who hopped a ride.

There were a few mamas with babies and a Borana woman who was making trouble, saying that Marsabit, a traditional Rendille area, was Borana country (the Rendille and the Borana are not exactly friends). There was some random dude with an AK-47 that he propped up against the fuel drum he was sitting on and an outgoing pastor who found that the solution to the cramped, dusty, bumpy ride was to get people to sing at the top of their lungs. It worked! You can’t be grumpy when you’re singing!

And then there was the miraa*-chewing muslim man who was stoned the whole trip and insisted that I should marry him and take him back to Canada with me. When my friend told him that I was a Christian and that I wanted to marry someone else who was a Christian, he told her to stop talking and go away, she was leading me astray. I assured him that, no, she’s right, I want to marry a Christian, and he’s a Muslim. “Well that’s not a democracy!” he told me. “Who says anything about a democracy? I can choose who I marry, and I choose to marry someone with the same faith as me.” I’m sure he thought I was the rudest woman in the world. It was mostly in good fun, though I did stay far away from him for the rest of the ride. He didn’t give me anymore trouble, as his attention quickly turned to the guy sitting on his stash of miraa, nearly starting a fist-fight on the back of the lorry.

Before the fist fight got going, however, everyone was distracted by a large part of the lorry FALLING OFF onto the road behind us. ‘Member how I talked about the sketchy welding? Well a piece of the tubing that made up the top of the lorry – it came up from the back corner and then bent and met the beam in the middle – had just had it with everyone sitting on it or holding on to it, and it completely broke off. For a while we thought that someone had fallen off with it, but the two guys who were hanging on to it flung themselves forward into the lorry and were OK. We stopped and a few guys dropped and ran to pick it up. Over the course of the trip, five of the twelve joints had broken.

As far as the driver goes, he was nice enough on the way there, and drove alright, doing his best to mitigate the bumps in the road for his passengers in the back. The ride back, however, was a different story! I think he must have been angry with us or something (we were told that we’d be leaving South Horr at 8am sharp, but knowing about African time, I thought a safe bet might be 10am. We didn’t leave till ten to TWELVE! Or maybe it’s cause he thought we were wrecking his truck!), because he drove like an absolute madman. Janet and I had found our seats on a pile of round-ish wooden poles and we were leaning up against the side of the lorry, our backs just the right height to be against the 1/4 inch metal rail that ran down the side of the lorry. We bumped and we banged and we rattled like crazy as the driver sped through the desert with the wind, causing great billows of dust to pour into the back of the lorry. And the driver slowed down for nothing. At least a dozen times the truck banged so fiercely that I was bounced 6-12 inches into the air, slamming back down again – butt on the poles and back on the rail.

Janet at one point told the driver, “Hey! Remember you’ve got people back here, not sacks of maize!” He just laughed and said that he had forgotten that, that he was sorry, and would drive more carefully. He got crazier. Even the land rover carrying the head honcho people behind us couldn’t believe how this dude was driving!

We could have been miserable, but, like the Rendille seem to do, we all sang instead. The pastor lady, who was sitting directly in front of me, led most of the signing, and as the bumps got more severe, she just sang louder. This photo is from a video I have of her dancing around and whistling and whooping. Notice the poor guy next to her - he has a bandana over his face keep the dust out, and his hands over his ears to dampen the decibels coming out of this fabulously rambunctious woman!

The whole weekend was a pretty cool experience. Despite the stiff body and bruises on my back (!!!), I might even venture to say I enjoyed it! It was definitely an experience to remember. No professional development I’ve ever done or will ever do will rival this one, that’s for sure!
* miraa – a stimulant drug that’s common here in the North – it’s a plant whose leaves, when chewed, make you pretty much lose your mind. A lot of lorry driver here chew it so they can drive for days without sleeping and make more deliveries, and thus more money.

He goes to Infinity and beyond, but he hasn't been to Korr

This is my friend Phil. He’s in Disneyland, posing with Buzz Lightyear, a character from the movie Toy Story. This is one of the photos that I have in my album of photos of friends and family that I have taken to Africa with me. The same album that the kids LOVE looking through when they come to my house to visit on the weekends. “Madam, who’s this? And who’s this? And who’s this? And this is a picture of the same person, right? And madam, that’s you? And who’s this? And who’s this? And what is that? (a boat!!!) And who’s this?” It goes on for ages! But the photo above is, without fail, the one that draws the most attention. The girls who were here last Saturday, though, had the best reaction yet.

Woy, woy, woy, madam… what is THIS?!?! Nahima physically jumped back and turned her head away in shock. Is it a human being?!?!

Ever the teacher, I asked, “What do you think?”

Woy, ma-dam, I don’t know! She took another peek and shrieked, throwing the book down on the table. Madam, I am afraid!

Laughing, I told her, “It’s just a photograph. It won’t hurt you!” I called the other girls over to take a look. Misano took a look and her eyes nearly bulged right out of her head. She just squealed as she took a step back and shook her hand in front of her face. Nahima still had her head turned and was only peeking at the picture through her fingers.

Madam! Your friend, he is not afraid?

They continued to peek at the photo and react to it for a few minutes, still incredulous that such a thing could exist. After a guessing game as to what on earth that crazy thing was - “I think it is made from plastics.” – I thought about how to explain it to them.

Well you see, my friend was in Disneyland... nope, how on earth could they know what Disneyland is???

That guy is a character from a movie... hmm... it’s highly unlikely that they’ve ever seen a movie, and even if they had, that still didn’t explain this crazy plastic humanoid hugging my friend.

There’s this man wearing a costume... what’s a costume???

So I settled on something along the lines of, "Well, there’s a man inside. He puts on these special clothes that cover his whole body, and even his head, like a hat. The special clothes even cover is face. When the special clothes are on, he walks around and greets people. He greeted my friend and my friend took a photo of them together."

Nahima covered her mouth with her hand and looked up at me with total bewilderment. Wuuuuuuuuuuh, madam. I can only guess at the questions in her head, none the least of which might be, “Why on EARTH would one do such a crazy thing???”

It’s amazing, the more time I spend with these kids, the more experiences I have like this, where I can see my own world through their eyes, and I realize so much of what I just always see as normal is either complete and total lavish luxury or even simply just an understanding or experience that is so incredibly different.

Just before she closed the album, Nahima told me, Madam, in Canada, there are many strange things!

Yes indeed there are!