Sunday, August 24, 2014

Where does the time go?

In some ways, it feels like I've been in Kenya for much longer than I have (I'm sure missing my man has something to do with that!), but in other ways, the time has flown by. I fly to Korr on Friday - finally! It has been almost exactly five years since I was last in Korr, and I am SO looking forward to being back.

As I look to the next few days, they will be busy busy as I prepare to head up. Monday, I will take part in a short term orientation.  Tuesday, I will deliver whatever supplies can't go up in my colleagues truck to the AIM Air hangar to be flown to Korr. Wednesday my stuff will fly up, and (hopefully!) be met by someone on the desert airstrip to take it to my new home.  Thursday I will pack up here at Mayfield, do some last minute shopping, and fly to Korr on Friday. It will be a quick turnaround to get settled and figure out what I'm teaching, as school starts on Monday! YEEKS!

But at the same time I'm looking forward, I thought I'd put down a few highlights from the last almost two months - mostly to answer the question of, "Uhhh... what have you been up to the last two months, Hillary?" :)  There's a few photos here, but if you've got a hankering for more, check out Kevin's and my photo-a-day blog for everything from the exciting to the mundane! You can also check out my facebook photos - I have and will be posting lots of photos from the past two months before I head up to Korr, while I still have good internet!

Africa Based Orientation (ABO)

This is the three week intensive orientation that all full time AIM Missionaries take part in before starting (or very shortly after starting) their assignments.  I want in part because it would be good for me to do it for my own time in Korr, but also so that when I return to Canada to continue working with AIM in helping send others to full time ministry (AIM calls this mobilizing), I can speak to this really intensive and unique experience.  Some highlights from ABO

- Meeting over fifty adults and thirty children who are headed to and working in all parts of Africa.  We started the three weeks with hearing everyone's story about how they came to be where they are. At first, I was worried it would get a little tedious, but this was definitely a highlight of the whole time.  I loved hearing how God has been moving in different peoples lives and in different ways, all leading them to want to serve in Africa.  I was so impressed how, over and over, people talked about God's perfect timing, and how God has been teaching people to give up control of this or that area of their life.  Mostly, I kept looking around the room at people from Canada, the US, Brazil, England, Australia, Holland, Korea, and even those who had grown up in Africa - brothers and sisters from all around the globe, going to countries all over Africa - called to make Christ known.  It was awesome in the traditional sense of the word, and humbling, and so, so exciting! I'm so grateful for these people, many who will be friends for a long time to come!

- Four and a half days on African cultures and worldview.  We had many presenters, and many topics, but my favourite (surprise, surprise!) were our seminars, given by a Kenyan, on culture, religion, worldview, and the Bible.  His insight into his own culture was impressive - it's really hard to see and understand one's own culture from an objective point of view, and he was so incredibly perceptive.  I was humbled by his passion to see God's transformation in the broken parts of his culture, and challenged to look at my own culture with objective glasses, too.  His workshops were also a challenge to my black and white thinking.  Things are not always as right as we think they are, nor as wrong as we think they are.  If anything, these seminars taught me to give pause before jumping to conclusions about certain cultural practices I see, while still looking to scripture as the ultimate measuring stick.


- I have had some amazing opportunities to see and experience some of Africa's amazing beauty.  I have hiked down into an ancient crater in Nakuru, visited an archaeological site in the Rift Valley, taken in breathtaking views of lakes and hills and valleys, seen baboons, zebras, buffalo, monkeys, and antelopes on the side of the road, and been flipped out of a raft on the Nile's raging rapids in Uganda.  Seriously? Is this my life? God has made a pretty stunning and exciting world, and I'm so grateful to get to see this corner of it.

New Friends

- In addition to the people I've met at ABO, staying at Mayfield for several weeks has allowed me to get to know a whole host of different people.  Some just come through for the night, while some - like me - are here for longer. We share meals together, and it is always so cool to hear where people are from, but also what they are doing all over Africa.  Mayfield is really a hub for missionaries in East Africa and beyond, and it is always so interesting to hear people talk about their passion, whether that be working with kids with disabilities in Kampala, translating the Bible in Northern Kenya, teaching English in Dar Es Salam, training pastors in Nairobi, investigating IT or business opportunities in North Africa, doing accounting for the TIMO program in Arusha, visiting refugee camps and development projects to better connect with the refugees they work with in New York, or any other number of things that bring people to Africa.

- Some of the longer term people, like my friend Marlene who is on holiday from her work in South Sudan or my friend A. who was staying here for a holiday from her work in the Islands, or my colleague Steve who I will be working with in Korr, have been blessings to me as I'm here.  They are friends to bounce ideas off of, share recipes and movies with, go supply shopping with, play cards with in the evenings... I am so grateful for people who make what could be a lonely, transitional time a time full of laughter and prayer and friendship.

Preparing for the Future

- The end of my time in Kenya is not the end of my ministry with AIM.  My main 'job' before heading to Korr has been to prepare myself as best I can for my role as a mobilizer, working with AIM back in Canada to help people through the application process, to help with their transition to Africa, and to raise awareness and support for AIM in general throughout Alberta.  ABO was one part of that.  I have also been to visit the three of AIM's four regional offices in Africa.  Two are in or around Nairobi, and one is in Kampala (I got to go to Uganda! Wheeee!) The South Region office is in South Africa... I'll have to get there one day, but not this time around.  I've met with leadership there and learned about what they are dreaming about for the countries in their regions and a little bit about how each region operates.  I've spent time at Tumaini, AIM's counselling center, and will be getting a tour of Africa Based Services next week.  AIM Air, Financial services, the IT department, insurance services, and more are all a part of AIM's support network for missionaries serving throughout Africa.  It has been a time of learning and observing, and more and more I am excited about mobilizing people to work towards AIM's defining mission:

With a priority to the unreached, Christ centered churches among all African peoples.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Nairobi Life

When I first came to Kenya, Nairobi was a big scary city. I ventured out every now and then, but I certainly was a little timid, in part because I was brand new to Africa, and because I didn't spend very much time here.  Now, however, I'm ok with going to the park, taking public transit, negotiating a taxi, and exploring the city.  I'm cautious, of course, but it's nice to be more comfortable in the city. I'm certainly enjoying it more.  Here are some observations about the biggest city in East Africa.

(Photo shamelessly stolen from Google Images :) )
* Crossing the street. I kind of feel like I'm taking my life in my hands. For one, I am still getting used to the fact that the traffic drives on the other side of the street as at home. I naturally look for traffic coming one way, but really should be looking the other. This means that I look BOTH ways really carefully and look like a doofus checking for traffic coming down the wrong side of the street. (But hey, this is Nairobi, stranger things have happened!) Also, I have to constantly remind myself to look for piki pikis (motorbikes) that fly in between the lanes. However, a pretty sure fire trick is to cross with a Kenyan.  I have debts of gratitude to many strangers who have unknowingly helped me cross the street. Yay!

* Matatus. These are 14 passenger minivans that are a major part of the transportation network here in Kenya (when you think 14 passenger, hold that sort of loosely...).  They're a cheap way of getting around, and while you have to keep yourself really alert - pickpockets are common - they're really handy. They're also kinda crazy, though they usually pretty reliable. Not sure how my friend would agree with that after today she was told her matatu was going just down the road to the shopping center, but instead ended up on an hour long 'diversion' through Kibera slum, but hey...  Most are pretty run-down, but often are personalized with different sayings, decals, and the like painted on them.  Buses, too - whatever the owner likes is plastered ALL OVER the roof and sides of the interior - Janet Jackson, the New York Knicks, Jesus Saves posters, you name it.  And there's usually music bah-LARING. It's a party, I tell you!

People walking, pikis, matatus (with the yellow stripe), busses, lorries, and trucks with random guys hanging out in the box. Yep, pretty much a regular Nairobi scene! :)

* Greetings.  As a white woman, I get a lot of attention walking along the street.  "Hallo!" People (let's be serious, men) will call out. I usually ignore them, or just mumble a short answer and carry on my way.  But little kids are fun. The standard little kid greeting to any mzungu (white person) is, "Hawahyoo?" (sound it out, you'll get it ;) ) I'm pretty sure they think it's all one word and the mzungu  word for hello.  It's really cute, and I always answer, "I am fine! Habari yako?" (How are you?) They are usually surprised that I answer in Swahili, and look at me kind of shocked.

* Exploring. In my travelling around, I've discovered some fun things. Like today, when our taxi diverted down a back road to avoid the traffic (but encounter about a bazillion potholes), I discovered Big Mama's, a Korean BBQ restaurant just a few blocks away from where I'm staying.  Travelling out to another AIM office in Kabete, a suburb north of Nairobi, the other day, we drove past a CASTLE! Seriously - a stone, turretted, castle! City Parks. I haven't  been to any parks in Nairobi until two days ago when my friend Marlene and I headed over to... City Park. (Such a creative name, I know!) It was a beautiful park with gardens, a gazebo, a picnic area, flowers and flowering trees everywhere.... and MONKEYS! Monkeys everywhere! Monkeys that love to jump up and climb all over you! Good times were had by all - lots of laughs, and lots of photos, for sure!

* A new attendant for the public washrooms? * Marlene and the monkey
* My peanuts are all gone, what more do you want? * Pretty park
* Amenities. There are lots of things to be said about Nairobi in terms of pollution, crime, and whatever. But I feel quite safe here. I'm aware of the risks and like to think I'm smart about them. But Nairobi is also a pretty cool city. It really is a modern, global city, and there is so much to see and do here. As I've been taking different taxis around and talking to people here and there, I like to ask them, "What do you like about Nairobi?"  Most people generally answer with something like, "The opportunity. You can get anything or do anything here." I am certainly grateful that there is a place I can get what I need before heading up to Korr. And I'm grateful, too, for amazing mobile phone capabilities (not just in Nairobi, but in Korr, too!) like mPesa, a mobile money transfer system that can be used to pay at shops, send money to friends, etc, and like really, really cheap rates to call Canada. It's the same price as calling down the street! Amazing!

* Diversity. Nairobi is a city of contrasts. A short matatu ride from the slum (or a long one, depending on the diversions and traffic!) is the YaYa Center, a super upscale mall.  There is the Mercedes dealership with the traditional Masai man herding his cows among the cars. You can get gelato at the mall, or take a camel ride down Ngong road.  You can rent a paddle boat in the lake at Uhuru park or drive out of town and saddle up for an ostrich ride.  And there is a continuous roller coaster of smells that assault your senses.  One minute you are smelling the vendor selling BBQ maize, the next you are hit with the acrid smell of burning trash or bus exhaust. And then a few steps further, and back to bougainvilleas or wood-fired pizza.

All within a short walk is Toi Market - a huge second hand clothing market - Java House, and Nakumatt, the Kenyan version of Wal-Mart.
All in all, it is an amazing place to stay for this time. I'm grateful for the chance to get to know this always-changing, surprising, heart-breaking, yet exciting city.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Plenty of baskets

One of the challenges of living in Korr is that it is a full day's drive on a road frequented by bandits to any semblance of grocery store.  There are small shops in town where you can usually buy UHT milk (in tetra packs that don't have to be refrigerated), tea, flour and sugar, and where potatoes, cabbage, and onions are hit and miss (but there's ALWAYS Coke... you just have to drink it hot!), but that's about it. Since I have neither a car nor the desire to meet any bandits, that means that I need to bring two-and-a-half to three months worth of supplies to Korr with me when I head up at the end of August.

Last time I lived in Korr, I lived with Nick and Lynne, who had 30 years of experience doing this.  They shopped and cooked, and I was - thankfully! - along for the ride. But they are nearing retirement, and short termers are now to do their own shopping and cooking - and I am happy to do so.  But for the first time, I am trying to figure out - how on EARTH do I plan for three months of food?

Oh yeah, and we have no fridge or freezer.

No problem, just go to the market each day and get what you need, right? Nope. No market... Hmmmm.

No cheese... no yogurt... no meat... no cold water............

After some time to wrap my brain around that and some great conversations with people who have even less than I do - we have an oven! (I'm told it even works, though there are conflicting reports...) - I have started to see not what we won't have, but all the possibilites for what we will.  And I'm looking forward to the challenge.

I like delicious food, so ramen and rice for three months just isn't going to fly. So... what to do?  Get creative, of course!  Enchiladas! Curry! Bean burgers! Cabbage salad! Pasta! And get used to eating things from tins. Tuna, ham, vegetables, fruit... soak the beans... bake the bread... rehydrate soy mince with beef bullion... discover that there are processed cheese slices that don't have to be refrigerated (so, so scary, I know, but... CHEESE!).  Learn that to keep something cool overnight in the desert where temps don't usually dip below about 30-35C (and daytime temps are anywhere from 40-50C!), put it in a jar, put a sock over it, and put it in a bucket of water.  Voila! Cool enough not to spoil and you can finish it off the next day.

And the most exciting thing? I'm told there is one spot on one of the shelves in the pantry that can keep REAL! LIVE! CHOCOLATE BARS! at a just cooler than 'melted puddle of goo' temperature.  Booyeah!

After making a list, checking it twice, and asking for recipes from people so nice, I made my way to Nakumatt.  This is Kenya's version of Wal-Mart, and it's fabulous.  You can buy anything from motorbikes to mushroom soup, and pretty much everything in between.  Yesterday, I made a start on my list (I seem to have ended up with copious amounts of chocolate things: chocolate, cocoa powder, chocolate cookies, chocolate UHT milk, drinking chocolate... Aren't you happy to see I have my priorities in the right place?)  I FILLED a cart to overflowing - not just with chocolate, don't worry! - and decided that that was enough for one day.

I went back today to get more of my ACTUAL food, and when one cart got so heavy I could barely push it anymore, I huffed it up to the front of the store, got another, and kept on going. Three hours and two grocery carts later, I was not finished, but was exhausted.  What? It's just grocery shopping, right? Wrong!

You know, it's really, really tiring hauling carts around the store, wondering where things are (Nakumatt uses a different logic than I would in where things are placed) so there's lots of back and forth looking for things.  And then there are the brands.  Very few are familiar, so I don't know what to look for.  You want baking soda in Canada? Go to the baking aisle and scan the shelves for the yellow and orange Arm and Hammer box. Whether you want that brand or not, you can find it easily because you know what to look for. In Kenya, it's a quarter of the size and blue. Oops, I missed it the first time.  All purpose flour - no problem, right? Look for Robin Hood, there you go.  Nope, there are umpteen different varieties and brands of flour - maize flour, chapati flour, bread flour, brown flour that's not actually whole wheat flour, baking flour... what to buy? And which brand it best? Pick the wrong one, and your bread comes out like rubber, I've been told.  And tinned peas. Some taste like peas, some taste like tin.  Which brand is which? The one you've been told is best is out of stock.  Pick a few different ones, then. If one brand is bad, at least you won't have 15 tins of the same kind!

I still have probably two more carts worth of stuff to get another day, and then comes the sorting and packing into boxes for transport.  Some will come up with me on the plane. Some (hopefully most) will go up in the truck with Jim and Laura. Some will wait in the AIM Air hangar to go up when there is more weight available for freight on another flight two, four, and/or six weeks later.  This provisioning is a steep learning curve, let me tell you!  But it's a fun kind of learning - all part of the adventure!

I'm guessing that by the time I'm done, I will have about five grocery carts full of supplies for my three months - that's definitely plenty of baskets!

But it's also baskets of plenty.

I am very conscious each time I haul a grocery cart (or carts!) through the checkout that I am privileged beyond belief.  I can just go to the store and buy what I need. Not even what I need - what I want - totally superfluously! (I may or may not have copious amounts of nutella.) 

When I talk to people about the food challenges of Korr (really, Hillary? What challenges? I have FIVE. CARTS. of food), they ask what the locals eat.  Not much, I tell them. Unless people have jobs, and very few Rendille do, the local diet is mostly camel's milk, a sort of thin maize-meal porridge, and tea. Food aid is a major part of their survival.

What I have access to is ridiculous. What we have access to in the West is ridiculous. It's not that I need to feel badly for having so much, just that I need to be aware, to be thankful, and to use my wealth well.  I have baskets of plenty.