Monday, August 30, 2010

A week to remember

Giraffe and Zebras on the side of the road on the way to Amboseli
It has been quite a full week...I do not even know where to begin.  We are temporarily back in Nairobi as we prepare to return to the clinic in Karero.  We have had so many incredible experiences; it is hard to believe it has only been one week!  There is no way I can give justice to all that we have experienced, but I will try to paint a few little pictures.  We have learned a few lessons very quickly:
Number 1 - The roads, and lack thereof, and traffic are HORRIBLE!!!  Things are improving, but we will never again complain about roads or traffic in Seattle!!! 
Number 2 -  "There is always room for one more."  This is a common Kenyan saying. The spirit of generosity among the Maasai and all we have met in Kenya is above and beyond.  We have been the recipients of so many gifts and hospitality, by people who barely know us.  I am relearning what it meants to be relate as humans in this large, and very diverse, global community.
Number 3 - Maasai LOVE their meat.
Number 4 - Kenyan time....let's just say you go with the flow.  We both really appreciate this philosophy, but also recognize it can be uncomfortable at times as we are so used to making plans and setting agendas.  I much prefer a little balance of both philosophies and so am very grateful for this time.
Okay, enough for the list of lessons (there are many more), and more about how this adventure is unfolding...

We left Nairobi on Wednesday as we made our way to the clinic in Karero.  Now, in reference to lesson number 1, the distance between Nairobi and Mal tisa is approx 90 took us about 4 hours, which is quite good. We picked up a few members of Tyson's family (lesson number 2) - his cousin, his wife and two small children.  We drove to this small town called Mal tisa where we decided to stay for the night rather than attempt to make it to Karero in the dark.  We drove a bit out into the bush where there are scattered "bomas."  A boma is a group of dung/mud huts that are arranged in a large circle. In the center are the family's animals (i.e. goats, cattle).  The animals represent the wealth of the family.  This is an abbreviated definition, but here are a few pictures to help describe. It is very important to mention that we did receive permission to take and share these pictures. 
Goats in the center of the boma

Tyson's extended Maasai family, grandmother and children in the boma
We went to the boma that belongs to Tyson's cousin and family where we were welcomed into the home and given chai.   These homes are constructed in such a way that once you enter into the center of this 8ft x 6ft home (that houses 4 people!!!), the darkness keeps the flies away.  As you can imagine, flies are everywhere since the houses surround goats and cattle.  Mike and I were completely overwhelmed by the spirit of generosity and hospitality of this community.  They picked one of their best goats and slaughtered it in honor of having all of us to their home!  This is a huge sacrifice as their animals are their wealth and representation of prosperity.  We were very humbled to be able to share in this celebration. They invited us to be part of the ritual as they slaughted and carefully dissected this creature, careful not to waste any single part or to drop any ounce of blood (I do have pictures, but I think this is best shared in person as its is a beautifully complex process that is difficult to describe in words). They drank the blood and invited us to partake (I told you - the Maasai LOVE their meat...every single part of it including the kidney, liver, intestines, blood, can ask mike about the liver).  We graciously declined the blood, but did eat some of the roasted meat.  It was a wonderful celebration and, again, we are still humbled by the generosity we experienced with the Maasai that night. 
Goat meat and organs roasting
Maasai warriors, elders and children preparing the meat

We drove back to the main road and stayed the night in a small camp.  We woke early the next morning to go to the clinic in Karero.  In order to get to Karero, you drive off the main road into the bush to find, or make, your own road, travelling between 5-10kph, dodging branches, trees, huts, goats, children, cows, and river makes for a great adventure (particularly when you get a flat tire!).  I think the distance from Mal Tisa to Karero is only about 20-30 kilometers, but it takes about 3 hours.  We arrived at the clinic to find that it needs a few improvements... more on that as things unfold.  Several of the Maasai elders met to discuss the future of the clinic.  We stayed for a few hours, talked with several members of the Maasai community and visited the new water well.  We will be returning there tomorrow for another meeting between Tyson and the elders.  Mike and I are going to be cleaning up the clinic, organizing meds, cleaning some of the equipment and, perhaps, seeing some patients.  It is an exciting time and there is incredible potential for growth of this clinic.  A main priority for Staff of Hope is to empower the community to take ownership of these projects (i.e. healthcare, water, education, etc).  It is unique in that we are able to work side by side with these Maasai people, teaching and learning from one another.  We are eager to return tomorrow.
Karero clinic, meeting of Maasai elders
Tyson and Maasai elders meeting by the water well

So, after we left Karero, we stayed the night in Namanga where we were chanted to sleep by hundreds of Muslims praying on loud speakers.  Unfortunately, they were burning trash in barrels not far from our camp so it was quite uncomfortable and difficult to breath. I will have to write another novel blog about the pollution and lack of waste management as is always too common in much of the world.  We woke early to make our way to Kimana (finally, as we are so excited to meet Tyson's wife and children and see our home for the next three months).  In order to get to Kimana from Namanga, you either have to drive back to Nairobi, or you can pay to drive through Amboseli National park.  We decided to have our own private safari and drive through the park with Jeff (who has been coming to Kenya for the last 10 years) and Tyson (who lives just beyond Amboseli).  They were excellent guides and we saw more animals than I could have imagined - giraffes, zebras, wildebeasts, elephants, buffalo, hippos, gizelles, and more!  It is pretty incredible to see these creatures in their natural habitats without any fences or cages. 
Elephant in Amboseli

We made it to Kimana in the evening where Mama Naseaku (Tyson's wife) and his entire family greated us with a late lunch.  We toured his beautiful home and farm and immediately felt right at home (I will send pictures soon!).  Tyson is Maasai and his wife is Kikuyu.  Tyson's wife took the name of Mama Naseaku when her first born daughter, Naseaku, was born.  They have three beautiful daughters - Naseaku, Siente, and Rachel (who all also have Maasai names).  One of Tyson's brother, his wife and three children also live on the property.  We had a lovely evening which came to an end all too quickly.  The next morning, we woke to tour the school and Kimana clinic, and then to return to Nairobi for more meetings en route back to Karero.  As you can see, it takes a while to get places and you just have to go with the flow (lesson number 4!).  The school is a beautiful oasis, complete with patches of green grass and trees for the students to enjoy.  It has a good foundation and the beginning of a very efficient water system.  Mike is eager to dive in to help the community complete the water project and finish the buildings.  I will send pictures soon.  The clinic in Kimana is run by the Ministry of Health rather than Staff of Hope. I will be working alongside the community at this clinic while we are in Kimana in addition to the work in Karero. We are working out the details of my work, but I am already eager to do some teaching around sanitation, hygiene, reproductive health, STD prevention both at the school and the clinic. I find it a priority to build partnerships with the individuals working within the community.  We will see what unfolds. 

We made it to Nairobi late on Saturday night.  Mike and I stayed one night in the Methodist house and then were graciously taken in by a family we connected with through Mike Bayard, SJ at Seattle University (thank you again!!!).  This family is incredibly generous (again and again overwhelmed by the African hospitality).  They are from Burundi and currently live in Kenya.  The two oldest daughters actually go to school at Seattle University.  We look forward to continuing our relationship. They have opened their home to us whenever we return to Nairobi (which is so wonderful because Nairobi gets sooo expensive and can be a bit intimidating with the traffic!). We have had some good rest and feel rejuvenated to return to karero.  We leave tomorrow at 9am with Tyson.  Jeff has returned to the states and Moses will stay in Nairobi to continue his work with World Vision.  We are off and so anxious to dive into these projects.  I will update the blog as frequently as possible and try not to make all the posts as long as this one...but we will see how frequently I can connect to the internet:) 

Much love and thank you for reading/listening to our story.  We have already fallen in love with the people we have met and find it hard to believe we have only been here for 1 week (I mean that in a good way!).  We feel like we are part of a family.  We hope we can remain open to the unexpected, roll with the challenges of the unforseeable future, and wake each day with a spirit of service and hope for justice.  From what we have experienced in one week, the troubles in Kenya run deep.  It is difficult to untangle the mess of corruption, political and religious extremism, and poverty.  Despite the many troubles, there is a wealth within the people...the spirit of the people that is very tangible.  Our hope is that we may empower one another cross culturally to find working and sustainable solutions and to promote healthy change.   

Until next time...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

First day in Kenya

Day one in Africa:)

We have had a pretty full day thus far.  We met our wonderful Maasai host, Tyson, today.  He and his family have graciously offered to let us stay with them while we are in Kimana.  Tyson, Agoi, and Jeff took us in and around Nairobi today.  Mike would like to mention that we saw a man walking down the street with a Sonics Shawn Kemp was awesome!  We visited the Karen Blixen house and museum (all you Out of Africa fans will know who she is) near the Ngoa mountains.  It was absolutely beautiful!  We then travelled to the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, a.k.a. the Giraffe Centre, which is a giraffe orphanage that was originally started in the late seventies to protect Rothschild giraffes who were at risk of becoming extinct.  They roam free and eventually return to the wild.  I have attached pictures because no words can describe how beautiful these giraffes are...although one almost knocked me down with his head because I was not given her any food.  We were both a little nervous about feeding the giraffes, but apparently it does not compromise their ability to return to the wild to feed themselves and, more importantly, they do not have any upper teeth in the front (so no biting...says the anxious nurse:))  

We are leaving Nairobi tomorrow to head out to the Staff of Hope clinic in Karero which is a very rural area. I believe we will spend one night there and then will travel to Kimana on Wednesday.  Jeff, Agoi, and Tyson have been so welcoming and informative.  We are quickly learning our Swahili and look forward to getting settled in the bush.  I am not sure what the connectivity will be like over the next few days, but we will try to write again soon.

Property at Karen Blixen's house
Karen Blixen's house
Giraffe Centre

Monday, August 23, 2010

We made it!!!

We made it to Nairobi!  It was a long day of travel, but we arrived safely and we are so grateful to be here.   I will have to keep this short because I cannot really connect words from my brain to the keyboard right now as we have been awake for nearly 48hours!  We made it in about 7:30pm Kenyan time, stood in line for our visas for about 2 hours, and got all our bags (they all made the journey with us!).  We were met at the airport by Jeff and a man named, Agoi who drove us to our hotel.  Everyone has been so welcoming in the short time we have been here and we are already settling into this new place.  We are quickly remembering the initial challenges of navigating in a foreign land (currency, language, food, transportation, etc.) and understand it is going to take some time and many mistakes to learn the basics.  But, logistics are just logistics.  The more important thing is to try to stay open and learn from the many stories around us.  As Agoi said tonight as he welcomed us "you are going to learn many things from us and we are going to learn many things from you."  We are looking forward to weaving together our stories.

Time for sleep!!!

Thinking of all of you, Linds and Mike

P.S. Are blogs supposed to make you feel like Doogie Howser, MD???  Because, that is totally what this feels like!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Preparing for our departure...

Ahh, departure date has arrived!  I leave tonight for NYC.  Mike will join me in NYC on Sunday, Aug 22 where we will leave for Nairobi.  It has been a crazy whirlwind preparing for this trip.  We are so grateful for the support and encouragement we have received. THANK YOU!  We are wide open and ready for this adventure...whatever its twists and turns may bring.

The "Plan"
I have to laugh when I call this a "plan" because anyone who has travelled anywhere, especially to a foreign country to volunteer, knows that there is no such thing as a plan.  And, as much as I like to control and plan, I am really looking forward to this time of a little less planning.  Anyhoo, Mike and I arrive in Nairobi on Aug 23.  We will stay in the city for a few days and then head out to Kimana.  One of the directors from Staff of Hope, Jeff, has been in Kimana for nearly a month working on water wells.  He hopes to help us settle in and introduce us in the community.  We are working on our Swahili, thanks to Rosetta Stone which was generously gifted to us by the providers at Edmonds Family Medicine!  Mike likes to throw in a little Spanish here and there...we are learning:)

Kimana is a small village near Amboseli National Park in Southeastern Kenya, near the Tanzanian border.  Mike and I both have images in our heads, but are eager for the images to become reality.  We enter this experience with great humility and gratitude, hoping to build relationships and learn from the lives and stories unfolding around us.  More to come....