Sunday, June 28, 2009

A day in the life

Saturday June 13

6:15 am – Wake up and lounge in bed for 10 minutes or so till I start to hear the voices of the night watchmen arriving for coffee.

6:25 – Get up and go to the house to get the water on for coffee for the nigh watchmen who are going home, and the day staff who are coming on (usually Lynne does this, but they’re away for two and a half weeks or so, so I’m happy to fill in).

7:00 – I make some oatmeal for breakfast, but just enough for me. Usually Lynne makes a big pot and leaves the rest for the workers. I didn’t think of this till after, and make a mental note to make a little more than I need next time.

8:15 – I walk to Grant’s house (another missionary) to plug in my computer and head to town for Saturday tuition (as they say, “tooshen”). Yep, classes on Saturdays (blasphemy!). I meet two women on the way and have a short conversation in Rendille – woohoo! As I walk, the sights and sounds of an African morning greet me – roosters crowing; a long line of Rendille women at the community water pump, yellow gerry cans lined up in the sun; elders squatting in the shade deep in conversation; little children’s shouts of “mzungu!” as I walk by; goats and sheep wandering among the dukas (shops) and huts. It’s a happy walk to the Tirrim Center.

9:00 – My first class is maths class seven. Even though it’s Saturday, I’m grateful to have the time, cause at least I can pre-teach a few difficult concepts in our upcoming unit. Break comes and I chill with some of the kids. When the time comes for the next class to begin (English class six), I find that my class has all left! There’s a big harambee on (a fundraising event for someone who’s going to university) and the secondary kids were watching a video (a big event in Korr!) so I think they all decided they had better things to do! I'm partly disappointed, but am grateful to have some unexpected free time.

10:45 – I begin wandering home, stopping when I see some boys from the school playing a game in town. They have a line of shoes lined up six or eight feet from a thorn bush, and are playing triple jump (double jump?) over the shoes and the bush. I stop to watch. Shortly after I get there, a big herd of goats and sheep cross our path, trampling over the kids school books. One book is ripped in half. The kids just laugh like this is normal (stampeding goats!!!) and carry on with the game once the goats are gone. One boy has rolled his pants all the way up to his thighs and all he has are two skinny little legs sticking out from under his T-shirt. At first I thought he wasn’t wearing any pants! Yikers! He’s one of my class clowns from class six, and he cracks me up! I watch as the boys play, and just before carrying on my way, I decide that I want to join in the game, too! I slip onto the path from the side and start running. Whoop! Over the shoes and I just pray I make it over the thorn bush, too. Falling on my toukas in a skirt in front of a bunch of my students would NOT quite be the effect I was going for. Not to mention the thorn bush would rip my legs to shreds. But huzzah! I made it! The boys couldn’t contain their disbelief (I like to think it was awe!) that their madam just totally joined their game and kicked butt! Buah ha ha!

11:30 - I wander home through town and head to Grant’s house to charge up the next computer battery, upload a photo, and send an email. I have a quick chat with a friend on Skype and show one of the pastors, who is also there, a little bit about blogs.

12:30 - I rush back home to bake a cake for my class, class seven, who is coming over in a little less than an hour for a class party. I want to show them the photos of our outing the day before, and just have a little fun. Maria, a girl from class four, drops by as I am baking, so I get her to help and invite her to stay. (She’s SO fabulous! She was over a while ago and I showed her a coconut that I brought back from the coast. We cracked it open and I gave her some to eat, and I showed her some photos of friends back home. I guess it was a good time, cause as she left, she flung her arms around me and said, “Madam! I HAVE to kiss you!”)

1:15 - The kids begin to arrive just as the cake is coming out of the oven. We wait till a good group shows up and then they all crowed around my laptop for a slideshow of photos from the term so far. They sit mesmerized for nearly an hour. Yes, I, er, have a lot of photos. I haven’t had a chance to cull them, but that certainly doesn’t matter to these kids. For most of them it is their first time ever even SEEING a computer, let alone seeing THEMSELVES on the screen! Before the compy completely dies, we all have cake and juice and just hang out. I have a ton of marking to do, so I reluctantly send them home around 3:30.

3:45 – Most of the kids leave, but the few girls in my class hang back. “Madam, we want to see your house,” they tell me (my room is in a separate building from the house where he had the party.) I invite them in and we hang out – they look at my “friend board” and just sit and chat for a while. I was happy to have some “girl time” with them!

4:30 – I wash the dishes from the party – there were lots and I didn’t want to leave them all for Samayon (a mama that Nick and Lynne employs) to do – there were too many!

5:15 – I sit outside and read my book, enjoying the golden evening light. I should be marking English books, but I’m tired!

6:00 – Marmalo, the head of the Tirrim veterinary project, comes with some medicine for the dogs. Tigger’s not eating, and Kuurte (sp?) was in a fight and has all kinds of cuts and a swollen “knee.” She’s too hurt and scared, and, though we try to hold her down, she wriggles around and the needle detaches from the syringe and stays in her bum! Gak! We get the needle out, but she runs away. Marmalo and Boya, our night watchman, go after her and hold her down. I'm glad I'm not the one who has to do it.

6:45 – I head to Jim and Laura’s for dinner (another missionary couple here in Korr), as I do every Saturday night. We have a good conversation about some ministry questions I’m having, and talk about feelings and responses to the drought the Rendille are facing. I’m encouraged by their wisdom and support, and am so grateful for them!

9:00 – I head home. I want to sleep in a little tomorrow, so I decide to boil water ahead of time and leave it in the thermoses for the morning. I leave the house key with Boya, so he can let people in the house in the morning. While the water is boiling, he sees my iPod on the counter and askes, “Waha a mehe?” (What’s this?). The best I can do is tell him it’s a radio. He looks doubtfully at the iPod, speakers, and battery pack, I’m sure thinking, “This isn’t like any radio I’ve ever seen!” I turn it on and his face lights up. He catches the tune and hums along. I translate the first song vaguely into Rendille, and say a few words as the song progresses so he knows what it means (God - strong!, Jesus, only you…). As I get out the cups and prepare the coffee for the morning, the water finishes boiling. I say goodnight to Boya and lock up the house.

9:30 – I head to my room, where I get ready for bed. I read my current John Grisham novel for a while, but a busy day and the heat of the desert have sapped my energy, and I am soon asleep.

It's been a good day!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tids and Bits

So much happens around here that is fun and exciting, but would make about a three line post, so here's a collection of tids and bits from the last little while...

* I'm on mid term break right now. Four days of vacation. FABULOUS! We were supposed to get our mid term exams two weeks ago, but three supply planes came and went and no exams on any of them, so we decided to just do the exams later and go for break now, which means that it's a real live break and I don't have to spend my four days marking, marking, marking. WOOT!

* I taught a bunch of kids the Funky Chicken the other day. They were so chocked that their madam would do something so undignified that at first, when I started flapping my arms and knocking my knees, they all covered their mouths, screamed, and ran away. I modified it for the desert... no bacon sizzling, try "Let me see your chapati sizzle." No Frankenstein, try "Let me see your camel wobble." No garden hose, try "Let me see your hyena laughing..." They loved it so much that when we got to the end they wanted to do it all again. One girl told me, "Woooy, madam, it's sooo funnnyyyy!" and slapped my arm in a chummy gesture. She gave me a bruise!

* Scorpions seem to be thinking that my room is a cool place to hang out lately. It's not. I need a sign on the door that says, "If you enter, YOU WILL DIE."

* I started the 100 push ups challenge for something fun and exciting to do (what was I thinking?!), but after about a week and a half, my wrists really really hurt. I blamed the concrete floor (I really should have brought a yoga mat or something) and ditched. I felt kinda wussy, but oh well. Then I learned that my wrists were hurting from doing laundry, not the push ups. Now I feel even MORE wussy (seriously?! a LAUNDRY injury???), and have last my excuse for not doing the pushups. Dang.

* I'm almost finished making my Rendille necklaces, and some girls from my class are going to help me make a rimirimo (the headgear that the women wear). I'm excited! Along the same lines, I'm very much enjoying "fashion freedom" while I'm living here. My friend Trudy observed when she went to Niger that the rule seems to be "pretty + pretty = pretty" and basically anything goes. Green skirt? Pink shirt? Awesome! Hey look, I'm a peppermint! Huge bold patterns? The more gaudy the better! And sequins! Everything is better when it sparkles! (Right, Vicky?!?) And also, for example, I relish the fact that wearing a complete sack is the norm (a la my tie die dress/sac). It's SO COMFORTABLE, and I love it. Here's my demonstration of the totally un-Stacy & Clinton approved outfit. Oh, baby... runways of the world, LOOK OUT! This girl is FIERCE! (Buah hah haaaaaa!)

* After the mid term break, I'm going to try to start a really fun writing project with the kids (if they don't mutiny on me cause it's not the typical weekly boring-as-stink meaningless, reason-less "COMPOSITION" that they always so!). I want to know some traditional Rendille fables, so the kids are going to write them down for me. We'll revise, we'll edit (shocking!!! You mean, not just a one-off and hand to the teacher for some meaningless mark type work?!?!), and we'll make a good copy that will be published in a binder with page protectors. We'll make pictures to go with it, and I'll leave the book in the school library. Wahoo! They have a PURPOSE for writing! They're excited, and so am I!

* I'm rather amazed at technology. Here I sit, and my computer takes in my voice, and beams it over to the wireless receiver at Grant and Loki's house. The receiver sends it to the satellite dish, which in turn sends it to SPACE and bounces it back to Canada somewhere. It goes from the receiver in Canada to a phone network, and calls my family and friends and WE CAN TALK! Kinda like pulling a "nyah-nyah nyah-nyah boo-boo" at this remote desert place. Ha ha! But even better than that? I can TALK TO YOU!!! Seriously, folks, if I've talked to you, you have NO idea how happy that makes me! And if I haven't talked to you, why on earth not?! :)

* Ummm.... that's all for now! More tids and bits later. OH! No! I forgot! Tids and bits reminded me of Tim Bits, which reminded me of this: I made my own donuts today! Well, donuts is a term used very loosely. Basically I fried some lumps of dough in boiling fat. But mmmmm, were they good! All sprinkled with icing sugar and hot and delicious! AND?! I made maple syrup. I went out and tapped a maple tree in our backyard and... oh, wait. Nope - water, brown sugar, a little bit of corn starch, and some maple flavouring, and voila! Ok, Canadians, I know, it's not the real thing, but it certainly did the trick for my French Toast! (let me tell you how happy I was to finally find three eggs that didn't have chickens growing in them)

And here's a fun picture - just because - of me and a cutie patootie who came to sit with me at church last week:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cross Cultural

Ok, so here’s the thing. Cross cultural stuff is hard. And rewarding, and frustrating and fulfilling and confusing and awesome. But six months here, and I’m still confused (I know, I know… it’s not that long!). I feel like I make so many mistakes sometimes… and other times I don’t even KNOW if I’m making mistakes. People are so gracious – sometimes I’ll ask if something is appropriate or the way things are done or whatever if I’m not sure, and they’ll always say it’s fine, no, there’s not problem… but I’m not sure I always believe them! And then there are times I know I’ve goofed, and don’t really know how to make it right.

Take today, for example. One period I was in class seven helping them with math. The next period I was supposed to be in class eight for their weekly literature period (I read each class a story every week!). But the bell rang, and the teacher was still teaching. And teaching. And teaching. Ok, fine, I guess he’s taking the next period, too? It’s mine, but whatever. I was supposed to go to class eight and he was supposed to go to class seven. He stayed there, so I started something else with class seven – more maths help and a small tutorial. There were fifteen minutes left in the period when the teacher finished his lesson with the eights and came to begin the lesson with the sevens, but by this time I was already in the middle of something with a few of them. I had to stop with the sevens so he could give his lesson (in fifteen minutes?!?), but by that time it was too late to read to the eights, so they were all disappointed and didn’t really understand why I wouldn’t come read with them. Gah!

Now, this teacher’s not bad – not at all. I’m sure had I come to the door at the bell, he would have stopped the lesson and let me in, but I heard he was still teaching, so I stayed with the sevens till he was done. Sometimes a lesson goes an extra minute or two… no problem! But when he kept teaching and kept teaching, I just started my own thing.

I was, however, disappointed to miss my one period a week with the class eights. It keeps getting pushed out for various (valid) reasons. So I wanted to talk to the teacher about it. But how?

Western culture values time – keeping time, watching the clock, not wasting or using a person’s time. Think about how you’d feel if a meeting went an hour later than scheduled, for example. You’d be annoyed! It didn’t end on time, you have other things to do, this person is taking up your time! Not so in Africa. It’s the relationship that takes precedence over the time. You have a million things to do today and you’re just about to run out to the store, but someone drops by for a visit. You drop everything, make a pot of chai, and have a visit. No fidgeting cause of all the things you have to do. No hurrying the conversation along so they can go and you can get on with your work. This whole sticking to the clock thing is a very western value.

BUT… in a school, we have to keep to the clock, otherwise we can’t run our schedule. It’s kind of an in-between place. Yes, he ran over time. But it was a much bigger deal to me than it was to him, so I can’t really go get all mad at him, cause we see the situation from different perspectives.

Also, our Western culture values going directly to a person who we have a problem with and sorting it out. Be up front. Deal with the issue face to face. But, I think, in African societies, saving face is much more valued. Maybe if you have an argument with someone, you don’t go right to them, but rather you find a mediator who will be the go-between until an agreement and resolution is reached. Now, I’m not sure if this is specific to Rendille culture, but it may be a general thing. So I’m not sure how to talk to the teacher. Do I go right to him? In what context? How do I approach is as a woman to a man? How much do I make of the time thing?

I probably will just let this go, cause it was one time, and it’s not really that big of a deal, but with everything I do, there are always these questions that I wrestle with. I want to do things the “right” way, but often I don’t know what that right way IS! And I have a feeling more often than not I’m a big ol’ Western steamroller.

Ah, how thankful I am for this:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5. Ooooh, send your wisdom, God!

Of course, there are SO many GOOD things about cross cultural work, too. I’m so grateful for the chance to see how life works in a totally different way – I think we in the West have a lot to learn from the Rendille, and from Africans in general. Community. A non-crazed, non-frantically busy lifestyle. Relationships. Work ethic. Faith. It’s not that life is simple here. In some ways it is, but it’s still life - incredibly complex, as it is anywhere. It’s just… different. I certainly have learned FAR more than I have taught (which is a good thing, by the way!). It’s just a wonderfully difficult road to walk.

What can I say? I love this crazy tragic, sometimes magic, awful beautiful Northern Kenyan life!

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Elbow High Five

I've had a number of new posts lately - scroll down or click here to see Drought, A River in the Desert, Operation Library, and Desert Alive.

I’d been hearing rumours from the kids for a few weeks, but I wasn’t sure if they were true or not. Last week it was confirmed – there is officially a cholera outbreak in our district. It’s hard to know if it’s hit Korr or not, because there’s no way of knowing what happens with everybody out in the goobs (villages), but there have been confirmed cases in Loglogo and Laisamis, towns just south of us along the road, and there have been confirmed deaths because of it. Cholera, in it’s worst form, is one of the most rapidly-striking fatal illnesses known, and is nothing to mess with. People are definitely scared.

For this reason, Lynne got up in church last Sunday and made an announcement, telling people about what cholera is, how to treat it, how to wash their hands after “helping themselves” (don’t have water? Wash with sand!) and told people to avoid shaking hands if at all possible and just do a hands-free greeting.

I decided that this message needed to be repeated at the school, so at Monday’s assembly, I took a good chunk to talk about cholera (gah! What do I know?) and the same three points that Lynne explained to the church, and told them to spread the word to everyone they know. We definitely don’t want cholera adding to the problems the Rendille are experiencing right now with the drought and all of the related problems.

As for greetings, I didn’t think the kids would be so into the “kiss-kiss” on the side of the face kind of greeting, so I decided to make up a kind of a fun, hands-free greeting that they could use – the elbow high-five! I had them all practice, and it’s become a hit at the school!

Turns out it’s not just been a hit at the school. The kids took me seriously when I told them to tell everyone about it, and by Friday, a man came in from one of the faaaar goobs saying, “I hear we’re supposed to greet like this now!” and demonstrated the now famous elbow-high-five! Awesome! I started a trend! :)


I know I’ve talked about it before, and my posts about the rain may give a different impression, but the drought here in northern Kenya is really, really bad. The short rains in November and December of last year never materialized. It’s now June, and while God can send rain at any time, the long rainy season (April and May) has come and go with next to nothing. It’s a long way to November again.

Animals are already dying – goats, sheep, donkeys, cattle, even camels. No water means not only nothing to drink, but no grazing. People are taking their animals farther and farther to find grazing, but still nothing. And it’s not just the animals that are dying. We’ve heard that at least five men - herders out with the animals – who have died of starvation, and who knows how many more that we haven’t heard about. There is simply no water, no money, no food.

Relief food that is so desperately needed is coming, but is so restricted in who it is given to that it’s next to useless. There’s a one time emergency bit that’s coming from AIM, which might last a few weeks, but what of after that?

You know, because I don’t speak the language, I don’t hear people’s stories. I am working with the kids at the school who get a solid meal once a day (once!), and teachers who at least have a little bit of salary to live on. I don’t really feel the effects of the people’s cries for help or see the desperation that Nick and Lynne see every single day. But I know it’s out there. I hear the stories. I hear about the people in Marsabit who, even if they have a little bit of money for rice or maize meal, aren’t bothering to buy it because there’s no water to cook with. Mothers who are so starving themselves, yet walk for kilometers and kilometers to Nick and Lynne’s house to plead for a little bit of money to buy something for their children. People who make up all manner of stories for why they need money – a dying uncle, acceptance at a prestigious school, anything – in desperate hopes to get a few shillings to buy food. People who are so worried about their children that they just snap and go mental – literally crazy under the strain of worry and starvation – and wander off into the desert or just completely shut down and sit in a trance-like state. People who simply give up and commit suicide to escape the fear and the worry and the pain of slowly starving to death.

I hear the stories, but on Friday, I saw it for myself.

We drove out to Namarey, about 30km from Korr, to take a woman back to her goob who either has cerebral malaria or is one who has snapped from the strain of the drought. She had two young children with her – a baby and a toddler – and another of her sons is a pupil at my school. I sat in the back of the truck with her, and the whole time, she just stared off into space, occasionally rolling her head back and forth and looking around with empty eyes and and a half open mouth. When she got sick, she took the two young children from Namarey and just started walking out into the desert. Thankfully someone found her and took her to town for help. We were taking her back to her home where a family member would look after her and help dole out the medicine that she received from the dispensary.

When we got out of the car at the lady’s goob, many of the children came to see, and I began playing with them, as I always do. Often they’re shy and quite nervous about this strange white skinned creature coming up to them to shake their hand (sorry, to give them an “elbow high five”). There are the brave ones who come right up, those who take some coaxing, and those who stay hidden behind a brother or sister for safety and don’t ever venture out. But this time, there was another group. These were the ones on whom malnutrition and starvation had begun to take their toll.

I went to one little girl, maybe two or three years old, who was standing beside her mother and greeted her. “Aa nebey aa?” I asked her, holding out my hand. She didn’t respond, and at first I just thought she was one of the shy ones. But after I greeted her a second time, I saw that there was no recognition in her eyes. It was like she was looking at me, but didn’t see me. Her belly was distended, her genitals swollen. She didn’t shake my hand, and I can’t be sure, but I think probably because there was no strength in her skinny little arms to even lift them.

You know, it’s one thing to see the pictures on TV and in child sponsorship magazines of ‘starving children in Africa.’ It’s another thing entirely to take the tiny little hand of a child who is in the process of starving to death in yours and feebly tell them, “Yeesoo weyti aki ‘dona” – Jesus loves you very much.

I look around, and the need is soooo huge, and I am so small. I feel so helpless. There is nothing I can do. I can’t make it rain. I can’t raise huge amounts of money. I can’t feed these people. I, on my own, am powerless. But what I can do is pray – which is mightier than one might think. Will you join me? Though it seems hopeless, God is still in control. God sees the suffering of his people. Though we cry out and don’t understand, still God is good.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my saviour.
~ Habakuk 3:17-18
As I’ve been writing tonight, a song we used to sing at camp has come into my head.

My God is so BIG! So strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.
My God is so BIG! So strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.
The mountains are His, the rivers are His, the stars are His handiwork, too.
My God is so BIG! So strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.

Can I add a verse?

The Rendille are His, the desert is His, the rains and the drought are His, too.
Oh, God, you are BIG! You’re strong and so mighty, there’s nothing that You cannot do.

And that includes bringing relief to the Rendille here in Northern Kenya.

A river in the desert!

I was in the middle of a Rendille lesson at my language helper’s house when the rain started. It was so loud on the mabati (corrugated metal) roof that I couldn’t even hear her when she was six inches from my ear. We finished what we were doing and decided to call it quits for the day. Anyway, this Vancouver girl was eager to go outside and enjoy the wet!

It was incredible! There were little rivulets flowing all over the sand and rocks, and I had a hunch that the lagas (river beds) would be flowing. I was right! Everywhere I looked, little lagas were full of water. I heard the sound of kids shouting behind me at one of the bigger lagas on my way home, and headed over. By the time I got there, it had stopped raining, but the effects were still able to be seen.

I was amazed at what I found – a raging river flowing through the middle of the desert! It wasn’t very deep (maybe to my knees?) but it was wide and swift. The rocks at one side created huge rapids and the water was just gushing down the laga. There were all kinds of people gathered to see, but nobody was crossing. The water was flowing too fast. I dipped my toes in the side just for fun and people all began shouting at me, afraid I would try to cross and would be swept away. We just stood and watched, amazed at how such a short rain could create such a river!

As the rain had stopped, the water began receding fairly quickly. Boya, one of our night guards, helped an old woman across with her bundles, and I quickly joined the kids who had bravely ventured in a little farther upstream. And what does one do when in a river with children who see this kind of water only every couple of years? Begin a water fight, or course! They were a little reluctant at first, but soon discovered that HEY! This is FUN! and loved the idea of splashing the crazy mzungu.

Already mostly soaked, I decided to pull some dramatics and lose my balance and "fall in" to the river. I joined the other kids who were allowing themselves to float downstream a little. The water was maybe a foot deep at this point, so, lying on my back with my feet downstream (mostly so the water wouldn’t carry my skirt up around my ears!), I straightened out and floated down the river (just trying to ignore what might be in the water I was now immersed in! Ah! Fresh rainwater… right?). The kids were all amazed – “Madam! You know how to swim?!?!” I didn’t have the heart to tell them that lying in a foot of water and bumping my butt and my elbows on the rocks beneath me didn’t exactly count as swimming!

After the kids started dispersing, I soggily wandered home, taking a moment to enjoy the view. The clouds had mostly gone, and the setting sun turned what was left of them golden against the pink sky. The river had dwindled to a quiet babbling brook – a sound that was at once familiar and foreign. The birds were twittering and I could hear the laughter of the kids farther upstream who had remained to play.

In another hour or so, the water would be gone completely, and by the end of the next day, the riverbeds were dry again and the rain was but a memory. I learned that for these lagas to flow, especially the big one, is quite rare! It’s been a at least few years since there’s last been water in it, so I’m really grateful I got to experience it!