Thursday, September 20, 2012

Photos and other good stuff!

Here is the link to our photos:
https://picasaweb.google.com/mastridg?authkey=Gv1sRgCJz69Mr-3t7xuAE
Basically there is a "Best of Kenya" Album, and then 10 other albums of even more photos on each aspect of the trip. I hope you enjoy them, if you have any questions feel free to ask!


I've come across a number of "good read" articles about poverty in the U.S.:

My favorite excerpt from the second one is at the end:
"Fighting poverty isn’t sexy. There are no ribbon cutting ceremonies that come with infrastructure improvements; no awe-inspiring videos like with the Mars Rover; and, perhaps most detrimental to its cause, no big checks to political coffers for passing legislation.
But by ignoring poverty, it only gets worse. And while we can keep it out of sight and out of mind for a bit longer, Obama is right. Its growth will harm our communities, our nation, and our spirits. Voters need to demand that our candidates discuss poverty, and more importantly, take steps to combat it."

Why did I include these in my post? Well, I think sometimes it's easy to forget about the poor in the United States because we are such a rich nation. And sometimes it's good to put this kind of stuff out there as a reminder that we are all responsible for one another in some way shape or form. So, some may have already asked themselves, why did I go all the way to Kenya to serve the people there when there are so many problems in the U.S.? I don't think I could have phrased my response to that question any better than my husband did:

"Everywhere you look in life there is an opportunity to try to help someone else. With such an abundance of problems who could possibly judge where a particular person is called to help? All that really matters is that an individual is compelled, and then follows through on that calling. To say helping one group over another is better or worse, one would have to judge one recipient as more deserving or needy than another. Or one would have to say that we have a duty or obligation for a particular reason to help one group over another. These are very tricky things to prove, or even argue, and they all distract from the real issue: as a worldwide community of human beings, the lack of people helping others (no matter how or to whom) is the real problem, not misdirected acts of kindness missing the "correct" recipients. So, in my opinion, go to your own communities, go to communities across the world, go to your own family -- it doesn't matter as long as you go, and you go with open, true intentions and a humble heart." 



Things I am grateful for this day:
1) The Vincentian spirit within me that helps me to continually reflect on my day, my actions and my responsibilities as a human being. 
2) Those people in my life willing to ask me challenging questions.
3) For all the fantastic little kids in Kenya who, while I was teaching some of them how to glue or watched them tend to their siblings, showed me how I want to live my life. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Adjusting?


We have officially been back in Buffalo for two weeks. It took me about a week and a half to get my sleep schedule back in order – that was only frustrating when I’d wake up at 3:00 am, wide awake, and wondered if I should get up for the day or just stay in bed. I just stayed in bed.
Going back to work was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be, I think because of how energized we were (and still are) coming off of this trip. Everything about it was so positive and I am excited to talk to people about it, and to continue to help in whatever way we can. I think we’ve also been really good about letting things go. Within two days back to work we had a conversation about how impatient drivers around us have been and how instead of letting their negative energy get to us, that we have been adamant about letting it go and just keeping ourselves calm. (Side note – not that we aren’t normally calm, but you know how easy it is to get yourself sucked into anger because some other person is riding your tail or mad you didn’t go through a yellow light, and a million of the other reasons people senselessly get angry on the road). 
The other thing that has come up, a commonly known phrase, are the “first world problems” that we have encountered. I spent an entire month without my cell phone and have definitely not had it in front of my face as often as I did before the trip, but one day last week, I forgot it and left it at home. So from 8:00 am – 8:00 pm I didn’t have access to my phone, and I’ll tell you, it felt awkward at first. The more I had time to think about it though, the more I realized how reliant people are on their phones, to the immediate communication, and how all of us (including myself) are guilty of being angry because someone didn’t respond almost immediately. Once I realized how silly that was, my lack of phone didn’t enter my mind and I responded to my text messages and voicemails when I got home that night. That is just one example of many, but the bottom line is that we have been good about not letting frivolous things get to us.
Every so often, Matt and I will stop mid-thought and just say how much we miss our Chepnyal home and family. When you spend that long in a place, especially for the purpose of integrating yourself into a community to bring about positive change, you can’t help but get attached. Granted, Matt and I entertain each other a lot while we dine, but it doesn't quite compare to sharing a meal with Sr. Pat, Sr. Sharon, Sr. Mary, Sr. Esther, and the other VLM!
Right now we are discussing ways in which we can help the people of Chepnyal with some of the projects we started while there. We were excited to hear from Sr. Sharon over the weekend who informed us that so far five women from Tamugh approached Sr. Esther about starting a business! So, over the next few weeks we are going to formulate a plan with some concrete goals and see what we can do from Buffalo. We also got in touch with the local Daughters of Charity and are going to meet with them in a few weeks to see if there is any way we can assist them here. We are very excited to continue our ministry and hope our efforts are fruitful...we will keep you posted!
 I will leave you with two things...one is the second reading from Mass this past weekend which really got me thinking (James 2:14-18), and the other is an array of photos from the Giraffe Center in Nairobi. (For those of you who may not know, I love giraffes!)

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, 
if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
Can that faith save him?
If a brother or sister has nothing to wear
and has no food for the day,
and one of you says to them,
"Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well, "
but you do not give them the necessities of the body,
what good is it?
So also faith of itself,
if it does not have works, is dead.

Indeed someone might say,
"You have faith and I have works."
Demonstrate your faith to me without works,
and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.


GIRAFFES!!!



That's a Giraffe femur - and it is super heavy!

Their jaws are a little bit bigger...

Almost learned this lesson the hard way

Kelly our Giraffe friend!





Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Back in Buffalo

We made it back safe and sound. After about 27 hours of either flying or being in airports, we are exhausted but happy to finally be on the ground. I always find international airports to be very interesting, each with it's own special checks, and pushy travelers who irk you just enough to make you think you'll never travel again. We could have easily missed our flight to Buffalo if we didn't hustle through customs like we did, but thankfully we did not, although we were the second last people on the plane.

After many hours to reflect on the plane, (Side note: I cannot sleep on planes, thus why I am struggling to get my schedule re-adjusted...at least I got about 6 hours of sleep last night...add that to the meager sleep I've got over the past 4 days though, and I am running on empty. Thankfully, I am not cranky, just very dysfunctional in tasks of daily living, so Matt is very entertained :-)) I had a few stories that came back to my mind that I wanted to share:

1) We unfortunately had to leave Chepnyal two short days before a huge celebration that the bishop was coming for. One part of that celebration was the 10th Anniversary of the Daughter's work in Chepnyal. The second was Sr. Pat celebrating her 50th anniversary as a Daughter of Charity! What a blessing to serve God and His people for 50 years! The four of us were so sad we could be there to celebrate with them but we were so grateful to have shared meals and prayed with Sr. Pat, Sr. Mary, Sr. Sharon & Sr. Esther while we were there. Here's a picture of the eight of us on our last night in Chepnyal (it's a photo of a photo, so it's not that clear, I have to get the original from Sr. Sharon)

Nick, Sr. Pat, Liz, Sr. Esther, Matt, Raelynne, Sr. Mary and Sr. Sharon
2) When I was feeding the Giraffes at the Giraffe Center in Nairobi, there was a sign that said to be careful because the Giraffes could head-butt you. Well, at one point, I had finished my share of feeding Kelly (each Giraffe had a name and actually would respond to their names) and told Matt to get a quick picture of us. Apparently, they don't like it when you don't feed them, and don't see a need for you to be around so that's when the head-butts ensue. Kelly went for it to get me out of the way, and I just narrowly avoided being the victim of one of the head-butts. The worker simply looked at me and said: no food, no friends, and then handed me another scoop of stuff to feed her. Lesson learned!

3) While we were at the elephant orphanage, they had two sets of elephants come out to feed, the younger group (1 month - 2 years old) and the older group (3+ years old). When the older group was out, the four of us were listening to the man talking about the elephants when we heard this fairly loud noise from an elephant about 15 feet away. Raelynne and I looked at each other, pretty puzzled and wondering if that sound was what we thought it was, until the smell wafted our way. We just burst out laughing couldn't believe how
rotten the smell was and that an elephant just pushed some gas our way. It was definitely potent and took awhile to clear out. What an extra treat for us I'm sure not many people get to experience!

4) While working with the nursery students the first week there, as I have mentioned before, they were probably a little less shy than the older kids, but still really shy. While they were finishing up coloring one day, I noticed that those who had completed their tasks kept staring at me, but turning their heads like they weren't as soon as I caught their eyes. I eventually decided to entertain them and start making silly faces at them. At one point I made a fishy face at them (sucking in my cheeks, puckering your lips) and most of them were then trying to figure out how to make that face. I was showing them how to push their cheeks in and they were trying so hard to do it. One little boy though, had it down! With little effort at all, he fishy faced me right back and I was delighted. Every time I saw him for the rest of the week, if I made a fishy face to him he made it right back. I didn't catch his name by the end of the week, but he was my little fishy face and I knew I'd always remember him for that. Well, it turns out he was one of the kids that lived in town so I ran into him  a handful of times while walking through town and found out his name was Buthia (pronounced Bu-dee-a). As soon as I'd see him, I'd fishy face and and he would return it. The last day we were in Chepnyal, Sr. Sharon said she walked through town and as soon as she saw him, he gave her a fishy face - I wonder if I made him think all muzungus (white people) would want him to do that?
Here's probably my favorite sequence of pictures from our trip:



My little fishy face
I will definitely post our pictures to picasa once we sort through them - there are a lot - so I will put a post when that happens. I am also thinking of having some sort of get-together as well, to show video and talk about our experience in person. I will figure that out in the next week or so and let you know about that as well.

For now, I will say this: I am going to be talking about this experience for years to come. I am going to be talking about the Vincentian Lay Missionaries program and the efforts of the Daughters of Charity for the rest of my life. My only hope is that by hearing our stories, whether they come from Matt, Raelynne, Nick, myself, the other five Kenya VLMs or four Ethiopia VLMs, that your hearts will be touched even a fraction of the amount that ours were. Our mission has not ended, it has merely just begun.



 Things I am grateful for this day:
1) For my awesome family and the fantastic welcome we received by all yesterday.
2) For all the people that have been placed in my path who have encouraged me to do mission work and for my husband who has more than willingly been by my side every step of the way.
3) The power I have as a citizen of a first world country, to truly work to change the lives of others in my own community and around the world.

Friday, August 31, 2012

What a difference a day makes!

We made it to Nairobi...and what a big change from the last three weeks! Matt I think said it best...it was like taking country folk and throwing them into a city. After weeks of simple living, quiet mountains, shy people and fresh air, we came into the city with cars, traffic and all sorts of chaos. I will be the first to admit it was pretty overwhelming but we have tried to balance it by visiting some parks.

Thursday we stopped at Mt. Elgon national park where we drove around and saw all sorts of crazy monkeys and other animals. The most notable happening on this trip (safari, as they say in Africa) was that we went into a cave where elephants roam around and you can see the marks in the walls where they sharpen their tusks. Part of this adventure into the cave was the fact that the ceiling was covered with thousands of bats. Let's just say that it took every ounce of courage for me to go into the cave in the first place and it took me awhile to calm down once I was out. And I may have jumped behind Matt on numerous occasions.

(Side note...if you remember my first blog, there were a few things the CDC recommended we avoid and somehow we have managed to do most of them. I think we decided since the sisters have done them and survived that we should be ok too...I can sense all the work ladies and moms shaking their heads from here!)

Anyways, we went out to dinner with the Kitale group that night and then went to bed early because Friday was our trip to the game park! We traveled about 5 hours to get to Lake Nakuru Game park and had lots of fun hanging out with baboons, zebras, lions (who apparently just feasted on a cheetah), water buffalo and I even spotted a giraffe!

We headed back after a lovely dinner (remember that means lunch here) and made it to Chanzo (DoC house in Nairobi) for our last night together. Our Chepnyal group did one last reflection on our time here and Raelynne led us in some yoga since we basically sat in a car for two days straight.

Today, we had Mass at the seminary here and then headed to the Giraffe center and Elephant orphanage. Brace yourselves: I got kissed by a giraffe...twice!!! (side note: kissed means licked on the face with their super long tongues) They let you feed them for as long as you want so I was very happy. They also did a presentation and showed us some of their bones which was incredible. I almost couldn't pick up the femur it was so heavy.

The elephant orphanage was equally exciting for me because they rescue baby elephants who have lost their mamas from poachers or from disease and take care of them until they can get back to their herds. They brought them out to feed them and we got to pet some of them as they walked by. The littlest was only about a month old...adorable!

We also made a stop at a bead/pottery factory which was started to give single mothers an opportunity to make money and get health insurance. They gave us a tour of the facilities and it was a fantastic operation.

After some shopping we came back to eat supper (dinner) with the sisters and on to packing our bags.

As we are ready to depart, I am looking forward to seeing everyone back home but am very sad to leave this place. Kenya will be on my mind and heart forever. It doesn't help that everyone keeps asking when we will come back!!!

Things I am so very grateful for:
1) All the people that cared for us while we were here from the Daughters all the way to our drivers, Gabriel and Bernard

2) All of you at home who have kept us in prayer while we were gone. We prayed for you too!

3) For the people of Kenya who have taught me so much in such a short period of time. We will miss you dearly!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Last day in Chepnyal

Today is our last day in Chepnyal. We took one last adventure to the cascading waterfalls nearby, where it was lots of hiking down steep cliffs but eventually we got to the big waterfall, which was incredible. Raelynne and I took turns falling on the way, only once, but the grass was slippery and we were at a pretty big angle. We quickly recovered but not without mud all over. We hiked down the rocks a bit and at one point Matt got a wet foot, then I of course proceeded to get a wet foot on the way back on the same rock he wiggled loose the first time. It was really fun climbing up and down rocks, I feel like I would be a pretty good rock climber if I tried. Anyways, we were muddy, hot and tired by the time we came back but I would do it again in a heartbeat. I just took a cold shower…I’m not quite sure how some people say they find them refreshing, but either way, I am all cleaned up now!
We will spend the rest of the day finishing up some last-minute stuff and packing. Tomorrow we will travel to Kitale with some stops along the way and stay overnight. We will travel to Nairobi on Friday, but stop at a game park along the way (where I hope to hang out with some giraffes!). This will very likely be my last post while we are here unless I have internet access in Nairobi. I promise I will try to blog in Nairobi if the opportunity presents itself.

            So let’s see, where did I leave off…

            We traveled to Linyough (Lin-yo) on Thursday to eat lunch with the elderly people who come twice a week to socialize and keep each other company for a bit. I could write a whole blog on this experience, but I will just say this: People don’t live to a very old age here, and when they do, they are often on their own with no one to care for them. Thanks to the DoC, they have an opportunity to meet and share a meal together, but many of them live far away and are physically unable to come. While we spent time with those who were there, those who weren’t were on my mind and in my heart, and I hope that maybe someday they could join these gatherings. We had rice, vegetables and goat with them, and afterwards went outside were they sang, clapped, and danced. We joined in where we could and they loved having us there. What a blessed experience!
           
            Friday and yesterday (Tuesday) were probably two of the most interesting and challenging days for us. This is where we spent time helping women who have either started a business or who are trying to start a business. They are looking for extra income so that they can feed their children and pay school fees for them. This could also be another blog in itself, but I will summarize as best I can. Nick and I were at Linyough with the production unit workers, helping them with inventory and quality control issues, and Matt and Raelynne went to Tamugh (Ta-mu) to help the women who had started or wanted to start businesses. Nick and I presented on numerous areas and had a group of about 25 production unit workers who really appreciated our insights and were taking notes on the suggestions we had made for them. Matt and Raelynne had an information gathering session, finding out the obstacles the women faced to start a business and the challenges they had when they were able to establish something. They ended up with about 85 women, and because their interest, decided to go back again on Tuesday to do a follow up meeting with them.
            So the experience was interesting to us because three of the four of us have degrees in business; and it was challenging for us because of the language barrier and many of the problems they face are things that aren’t even factors in the U.S. All four of us went back on Tuesday, and most of the same 85 women showed up, some were new even and I hope and pray that what insight we gave them will help make a difference for them in the future. As a thank you to our group, they sang us a song, and as they were singing, I had to stand in the front of the room with a bag in my hand because women started bringing us eggs as gifts. I think we had a dozen in all when it was over but one by one, they presented us eggs that they had carried to the presentation. Matt got this on video so hopefully I can share that with you when we return.
            Saturday and Sunday we made dinner for the sisters and I baked two pumpkin pies. It was my first time making them from a pumpkin, so it was interesting, especially not having a blender or anything. We have made a lot of stuff here – burritos, salsa, guacamole (of course! Side note…they have an avocado tree in Kitale so they brought a lot of avocados to Chepynal for us! Most people should know – especially the ladies at work – that I love avocados so I am very happy!), fried rice (Raelynne’s specialty), spaghetti and meatballs with homemade sauce (thanks to Nick!), and have even made our own homemade chips which we have deemed Chepynal chips because they look like no other tortilla chips I’ve ever seen J Still tasted good though!
            Monday we had the fun day for children with disabilities. Many of the kids that came were those that were sponsored by the DoC to have corrective surgeries or to help with other disabilities.  I had a lot of favorite days here, but this by far was at the top of my list. We made crowns with the kids, made tambourines and had a parade. We had bean bag toss, bowling, guessing games and all sorts of things for the kids. After lunch we made fleece blankets, and played with the parachute. There was one child in particular that absolutely loved the parachute. His back story is that he had a fever when he was younger and he had lasting damage from it. He has some learning disabilities and may even be slightly Autistic. Either way, he was so happy, not only from just sitting under the parachute as we shook it, but when we got everyone to lift the parachute, run under it and create a bubble and he just shrieked with delight. After hearing that, it could be designated as the third time I had to fight back tears of joy.

Before I get packing, here are some of the more humorous stories from along the way have been popping into my head to share:
1)      Our mission house has a lock on the outside to secure it and even without the lock, if you slide the handle over, it will lock the people inside in the house. Sr. Mary warned us of that when we were deciding where to stay and told us there were keys to a lock in the bathroom that would allow you to unlock that window and jump out the back of the house to exit. Well, literally the first day here, Raelynne went out on a run with Sr. Mary early in the morning and wouldn’t you know, locked us in the house. Since I was the smallest one left, I was tasked with unlocking the window, jumping out the back and letting Matt & Nick out. Glad we got that out of the way early!
2)      They have a thing called the “Pokot knock” here. Basically the people here do not want to disturb the Sisters, so they stand at the front door when they need to talk to them, but do not knock at all – they just wait to be noticed by someone inside. This has been deemed their way of knocking – just standing around waiting to be noticed. What we have noticed though, is that this does not apply to kids – they walk right up to the door and knock nice and loud!
3)      The other day Raelynne went to Chepynal girls’ school to play soccer with the girls, and Nick and Matt went to watch. (I was going to go, but got caught up  baking pumpkin pies J) While they were there, Nick’s contact fell out and the girls just swarmed to him in disbelief. They thought part of his eye fell out and didn’t realize that contacts were a way to help us see instead of wearing glasses. He had it on his fingertip and was explaining to them what it was and they just couldn’t believe it.
4)      There are animals all over the place. What that means is that their poop is all over the place too. I know by writing this today I will somehow destroy my streak, but so far I have somehow avoided stepping in cow/goat/chicken/sheep poop. I also found out Raelynne wasn’t so fortunate the other day.
5)      Matt has coined a new term because of how often and easy it is to twist your ankles between the loose stones and random holes in the ground. He fell while playing volleyball the other day and twisted his ankle, but thankfully it was not bad and he did not have any pain later in the day. He decided that he has strankles – strong ankles.

Things I am grateful for this day:
1)      God’s great earth…we are surrounded by fresh air, wonderful people, noisy animals and absolutely breathtaking scenery. I will truly miss this the most – waking up surrounded by mountains, bright blue skies and green as far as the eye can see…going down to our mission house at night and seeing every star imaginable, including the Milky Way. Last week we were finally able to see the moon – it lights up the night sky in a way I have never experienced before – to the point where we don’t need flashlights to get to our mission house. Incredible!
2)      Health insurance – no matter how awful you may think our health insurance system is, you have no idea how great it is until you travel around the world.
3)      The people of Kenya, especially the people of West Pokot, for making me want to always strive to be the best version of myself, for everyone in every situation. Talk about seeing Christ in people – you can see Him in everyone here.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Camp is done...next stop...business planning!


Camp in Mungit was a very different experience for us this week. First, I need to make a correction to my previous blog…it’s actually a 40 minute drive and about a 1.5 hour walk taking short cuts. The 40 minute drive is definitely more like an amusement park ride because there are no paved roads, and since we were going out even further, the roads were either rocks or grass. The first ride there Matt and I actually felt pretty sick for awhile because of how much rocking back and forth that we were subjected to in the car.

Side note - Matt just read me this line out of a Kenya tour book about Pythons that live near the lake in Nakuru Game Park: "One of these huge snakes dammed up the Makalia stream after dying of internal injuries after swallowing a gazelle." Lesson: don’t go near pythons. Noted.

When we arrived, there were tons of kids waiting for us, definitely more than last week. Turns out, we had almost 300 kids come for camp! We were going to send the real little kids home, but most came with their older siblings so we decided to do our best for the day with all of them and then tell the little ones they had to stay home the next day. By doing that, we would still have about 150 kids, which is much more manageable for us. So, needless to say, the first day was pretty frazzled but we managed and had a good day with the kids. Raelynne and I taught about 100 of the kids the Hokey Pokey and then started teaching them Old McDonald had a farm. Turns out it’s easier to modify the words a bit so the beginning turned into: There’s a farmer who had a farm. They didn’t quite get through the whole song but we made some progress that first day.

The end of that first day was a lot of free play, but one of the things that kept them occupied for a good hour was letting the kids touch the skin on my arms. They are fascinated by our skin color and my skinny little wrists allow them to see my bright green veins so they were going nuts just touching them. The other thing that they went crazy laughing about was when I took my hair out of my pony tail and headband and just shook my hair out. Left and right the kids were touching it – not used to such thin, fine hair.

Day two, we all walked to the camp, nice morning hike in the bright sunshine. As we arrived, I could hear the one classroom of kids singing Old McDonald! Turns out one of the other volunteers had got there early and was really teaching it to them line by line so they were singing it really well…what a great surprise!

The kids did not bring their younger siblings so it was a much more fruitful day with more space for the kids to do their crafts and activities. Many had never glued before, cut before and some never colored before. What a delight to take their hands and show some of them for the first time, and have them immediately become experts. We were able to show them a few games that they really enjoyed and these kids also really liked playing soccer as well. Day three we ended with our home-made rockets and the 24ft parachute. We also had a visit from the three other VLM from Kitale so it was nice for them to see the area we were serving and chat with them for a bit.

Another side note - as I am writing this, the chickens have snuck into the backyard of the sister’s house through the back entrance of the house and Sr. Pat & Sr. Sharon have just discovered them and are trying to shoo them out. There is chaos ensuing right now, lots of noise, and now Sr. Pat is trying to lure them out with a trail of bread. Last week, the chickens and roosters were punished to a week inside their cage because the week prior they grazed all the way into town. Looks like they may be confined again for a few days (by confined, I will say they do have a large pen, so it’s not really that bad of a punishment). Just another day in Chepnyal!

All four of us walked home from Mungit yesterday, and we had a posse of about 30 kids with us for the first ¾ of the hike (mostly uphill, see photo below). They would slowly drop off as we got to the juncture where their houses were but it was fun because they were teaching us Pokot words and phrases and then giggle at us when we didn’t pronounce them correctly. What a beautiful hike, through corn fields, along ridges, it was truly an amazing walk. We also delighted in some local fruit, closest to our cherries, but much much much more tart! I’ll be the first to admit that I was dead tired and ready to collapse around 8 pm that night and my legs are pretty sore today!

Hiking up with the kids

Chepnyal VLM as we hike up the mountain home. In the very bottom right-hand corner, you can see the top of the school we were at in Mungit

I have had two notable moments of overwhelming happiness that almost put me into joyful tears since we have been here. The first one came at the end of the first week of camp when Sr. Sharon put together a video of pictures from camp to show the kids before they left. Their reaction to their photos was so joyful and innocent I couldn’t help but be filled with joy myself. The second time was this Tuesday, our third anniversary. We walked into the dining room and it was decorated with balloons. After dinner, Sr. Esther and Sr. Pat snuck away and Sr. Mary turned out the lights, just as Esther and Pat came in with a cake, lit with three candles, singing, “It is a privilege to have you here, it is a privilege to have you here, it is a privilege to have you here on your anniversary!” After many thank you’s, we cut the cake, but did so while they sang the specific cake-cutting song of Kenya. All I remember is a lot of “cut the cake” being sang, but not sure if there were more words than that. We enjoyed cake, and then opened a card and gift – which was an incredible African Bible. What a treat!

Today, we will rest and plan for the celebration for children with disabilities, and play volleyball with some of the workers here this afternoon. I believe we will also be traveling to Linyogh to have lunch with some of the elderly Pokot people. They supposedly eat a lot of goat so our brother-in-law Tony has already prepared us for this cuisine!

Matt’s goal for today: not to hit his head on low door frames. There are many here.

Things I am grateful for this day:
1)      No major health issues for any of us – few colds/allergies/upset tummies but none lasting for more than a day or so.
2)      The opportunity to share all of our meals with the sisters; hearing their vocation stories, and for the blessing of laughter that always ensues at each meal.
3)      The freedoms of our country, especially for women. Many long walks with our volunteers have brought about many conversations about the roles of women in this society.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Where to begin...

I’m not quite sure where to start this blog. So many good things to talk about that have happened this week, and I should probably be blogging more but our days are filled to the brim with activities. I will start with a few fun things I have learned about Chepanyl so far:

1) Whether you are a man or a woman, the kids will call you sister…or actually more like “sista.” The kids would call us by our names every now and then (Leeeez, Met, Neeek and Ryeleen), but when they wanted our attention, they called out “Sista!” At first, Raelynne and I thought they were only doing this to us, but after talking to Nick and Matt, turns out they were doing it to them too. 

2) A short walk is not “short” or “normal walking” by any means. We are on a mountain, so it’s basically a constant uphill or downhill hike. Yesterday, the four of us went on a hike, left around 9:30 am and returned by noon (Side note: Raelynne ran our entire hike in about an hour…that girl not only has lungs of steel but a drive for exercise that I can only imagine.). It was a fantastic hike with many beautiful viewpoints and many of the kids that we worked with at camp ran to the road to say hello. Even from far away they could see us coming, and would wave (and call out Sista!). We got back and played volleyball for awhile and the Deacon (Samuel) said he would like to go on a short nature walk with us in an hour. So, a short walk…no problem! We were still tired from hiking earlier that day, but a chance to spend some time with the Deacon was a treat. Well, this was not “short” nor a walk (over an hour, up and down, up and down), but we had excellent conversation about his vocation, vocations in Kenya, and his challenges here, and he took us to a beautiful viewpoint that had us looking into an incredible valley. On the way back through town we met one of the government officials for the area that immediately welcomed us, said he did not want us to leave, and that if we ever wanted to come back he would find us land and build us houses!

3) All the women here wear skirts and all the men wear pants. I feel like Raelynne and I have gotten away with wearing pants for the most part, we probably got a few stares at first but people have adjusted to our pant-wearing.  Matt wore shorts yesterday, and as we were walking around town, I started realizing that people were walking by, mostly women, were looking at his legs. Then I looked around and realized that no men were wearing shorts at all. Nothing insulting by any means, but it was interesting watching the ladies stroll by him and try to inconspicuously look at his legs. Hands off, he’s mine!

4) Dinner is actually lunch, and supper is actually dinner.

So rewinding a bit. Camp with the kids Tuesday – Friday was nothing but chaotic fun. We split the 150 kids into three age groups, what we would consider Pre-K, Elementary, and middle school. We were so grateful to have 5 high school students and 1 nursery school teacher to help us translate and give instructions…it definitely would’ve been difficult without them, not impossible, but difficult. We would start each day with a craft, have snack, either finish up that craft or do another simple one, break for lunch, and then spend the last few hours playing outside. The kids absolutely love playing soccer, so we spent a lot of time doing that. They also like volleyball, but it is harder for them because they want to play by the rules so it wasn’t as fun for them and we would end up reverting back to soccer. We all fell into a specialty – Raelynne and I would spend a majority of the day with the little kids and Nick and Matt would spend their time with the older kids.

Day Three: Puppets!
The kids of the Pokot are very special – many of them are very shy (especially the little ones) and if you give them a smile or any kind of praise they dig their faces in their hands, only to open them to see you still smiling. I am getting chills just writing about them! We could always get the little one’s giggling by making a fishy face or other silly faces. The older children I could get going, laughing and jumping around me by dancing in the middle of their classroom. When we had them drawing or coloring, they stopped you as much as possible to show you their creations which always resulted in praise from us, and then digging their smiles into their hands.

The kids really look out for each other, whether they are related or not. If one falls down, two are there to pick them up. Fighting is minimal and if they argue over something, it doesn’t last more than a few seconds and they deflate it themselves without any adult intervention. They have great responsibilities… as we walk along the road we see many of them (some as little as 2 years old!) tending to the family cows and sheep, carrying large jugs of water or other large bags. What a blessing for us to give them the opportunity to be kids, if only one week from 9 am -  3 pm.

Right now we are waiting to go to the Sunday communion service. The priest that serves this area had two deaths in his family recently and is unable to make it back for Mass today, so the Deacon will lead a communion service. It is now, 9:40 am, he said it would start at 9:30 am but the Sisters have told us it probably won’t start until about 10-10:30 am (so we are on Kenyan time as usual).

Today we will plan for three days of camp in Mungit…about an hour drive or 40 minute walk from here. Apparently the kids from this town are poorer and have most likely never used markers or crayons! A little different than this past week, so we will have to plan carefully. The end of the week will be planning a day for children with disabilities and helping women with their production unit and business planning. I am looking forward to this as I think we can be a great resource for them.    

On a lighter note, I just want to say that my sister Alison would be so proud of me here. She always asks what happened to me, because I hated camping when I was younger and never wanted to do such things, but after marrying Matt, I went on many camping adventures out west with (little to) no problem. (To be honest, I don’t know what happened, other than my husband bringing out the best in me and also, learning to compromise.) The other morning, I woke up with a small cockroach crawling next to me in bed and didn’t even flinch…I just brushed it away. We have a few lizards in our mission house too that didn’t bother me either. Aren’t you proud of me sis?!

Finally, just want to write that Matt and I will be celebrating our third wedding anniversary here on Tuesday. We are extremely blessed to be here, and to have committed our lives to each other.

Things I am grateful for on this day:

1)      The ability (at home) to go to Mass every Sunday, and have a choice between many different Mass times and churches that are very close by.

2)      How welcoming the Pokot people are and how truly excited and grateful they are that we are here.

3)      Monogamy. Polygamy is still alive in Kenya, and men have many wives. Matt has already told some people he could only handle one wife J It makes them laugh.

Monday, August 13, 2012

We made it!


So we finally arrived Saturday morning to Nairobi. Sr. Lucia and the Daughters of Charity (DoC) driver Gabriel were there to meet us.We stopped at the Sister’s house in Nairobi for breakfast and then went on our way to Kitale. We left around 10 am and didn’t get there until 8 pm so it was a very long day of driving…but there were many interesting aspects. There are people EVERYWHERE in Kenya. Just when you think you are leaving a town and you won’t see anyone, there are just more and more people walking and biking all over the place. Cows and goats are roaming around everywhere as well. There were lots of big markets dispersed throughout the drive and many people also selling their produce right at the road (conveniently where the speed bumps are so they can approach your car). On one part of the drive, we passed by a bunch of Zebras, and lots and lots of Baboons near the road. About 5 minutes before we were to arrive at our destination we got a flat tire (of course!) but Gabriel and the driver from the other car, Alfred, fixed it in no time.

Kitale and Chepnyal Group at the Equator. This was actually the coldest point on our journey to Kitale!
We ate dinner with the Sister’s in Kitale and stayed overnight. I have never been so happy to sleep in a bed before in my life after two overnights on a plane! I went to bed at 10:15 and was probably asleep by 10:17. I woke up a few times to dogs barking and music playing, but other than that I slept straight through the night. The next morning we went to Mass after breakfast…which I could write a whole blog about in itself but will just say that the Spirit is alive and well in Kenya. Music, dancing, clapping…just pure love and happiness…I don’t think I stopped smiling once! At the end of Mass they had announcements and one of the Sister’s arranged to have us introduced to the congregation (about 350-400 people). All seven of us went up and had to tell them our names, where we were from and where we were going to serve (Kitale or Chepnyal). They were all very happy to have us there and we received a roaring applause. On our way out of Mass the kids were swarming us and shaking our hands, some of the girls were reaching up to touch mine and Raelynne’s hair and saying welcome. I think that’s the closest I will ever feel to being a celebrity.

So, back into the car for a three hour drive to Chepnyal and it was like entering into another world. Still, there were many people around but less cars and bikes on the road. About an hour into the drive the road went from paved to dirt and it was a bumpy ride up the mountain but very very beautiful. At one point we stopped to throw rocks, with our left hands, over a cliff at a specific location to pay homage to a fallen war hero. It’s only necessary to do so the first time you visit, so we are good for life now!

When we arrived at our destination, a group of local parishioners stayed after Mass to greet us, and they did so by dancing, singing and waving branches in front of our car as we pulled up the driveway. We got out and joined them and they continued to sing and welcome us for quite a bit of time. At one point we joined in the local dance custom, which involves a lot of jumping up and down.

In Chepnyal, we are staying with Sr. Esther (Kenyan native), Sr. Sharon, and Sr. Mary (Sr. Pat will be joining us soon and Sr. Lawerencila is studying in Nairobi right now so we won't get to see her). After meeting them, we spent the rest of the day getting everything organized, unpacked our things into a delightful mission house overlooking the mountains, had prayer and adoration with the Sister’s and ended with a wonderful “Chepnyal Pizza” dinner. Long but very fruitful day!

Sleep was great, with the exception of 4:30 am, when the local truck beeps its horn for about 30 minutes to tell people it’s time to get on the truck for town, and around 5:30 am when the Roosters start crowing (yaaaay Nicaragua memories!).

Today, we had our first half day of camp with the kids, which we spent playing soccer with the kids, making name tags and giving them wrist bands (silly bands) so they could come back the next day. We had to limit the number of kids because they told us if we didn’t, more and more would keep coming. So, we planned on accepting 100 kids and wound up with 148. Now, we are off to plan what we will be doing with all of them over the next 4 days!

Things I am grateful for on day five of this experience:
1)      The beautiful Kenyan children that we have the privilege of serving, their bright eyes and shy smiles.
2)      The hospitality of the Daughters of Charity that we have met along the way and their dedication to serving the people of Kenya.
3)      The 6 helpers/translators we have for camp over the next three weeks!

This is the view from our Mission house!


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Day in Amsterdam anyone?

First a weather delay then a mechanical delay, late departure from Buffalo made us miss our flight to Amsterdam by 4 minutes. Thanks for holding the plane Delta! :-P

A bit frustrated and also bummed we won't get to fly to Nairobi with our friends, but I will move on and wrap up my wallowing at Mrs Fields with a big fat cookie.

Now we have a full day in Amsterdam!

I am grateful for my ability to run in sandals for the people that heeded my "excuse me's" and for the prayers that kept me calm throughout.


At the airport!

We are finally at the airport! Of course our first flight is delayed (no problem, we have plenty of time at our next stop). Always hurry up and wait. Definitely could've used that extra time this morning when we were trying to make it out the door and decided to do one last weigh-in of our bags just to realize they were all over 50 lbs with our last-minute items. Special thanks to my dad on this one for having every gadget known to man or we would've been on the airport floor re-arranging things and giving spare items to random strangers. We wound up weighing in 2 bags at 50 lbs and 2 bags at 51 lbs (no charge!) - phew!

I'll admit I got teary-eyed saying goodbye to our parents. I think it's partially because this is the longest I have been away ever and also just not being able to pick up the phone and call whenever I want. Either way, I like being around them so I was sad to say goodbye.

Matt is cheering me up now by reading the CDC website for Kenya. I will not walk barefoot on beaches where animals may have defecated or go into mines or caves where there may be bats, I promise!

We will be in Nairobi in about 24 hours....staying overnight and then heading to Chepnyal the next day. Can't wait!

Things I am grateful for as we embark on this journey:
1) Our amazing parents
2) The patience of airline workers who have to put up with lines of cranky people when there are delays
3) That we will soon see our VLM friends!



Saturday, August 4, 2012

T-Minus 5 days until Ah-frica


I have seen Africa written and referred to like that in the many books I have been reading and movies I have been watching about Kenya and Africa leading up to this trip. I love the way it looks and sounds because of what it means…no rush, no time frame, no deadlines, limited internet, cell phone, noise…Ahhhhhhhhhh. Simple living – I can’t wait.

For those who do not know the detail of our trip, I will give a brief synopsis here. Matt and I went on a mission trip to Nicaragua last year with St. Greg’s Youth Ministry, and it is an understatement to say that it forever changed our lives. I won’t go too much into it, but what we saw there was strong families, strong faith, a lot of love…and a lot of poverty. Upon returning from that trip, we decided after much prayer and reflection that we wanted to do more, and for a longer period of time. Matt and I were accepted into the Vincentian Lay Missionaries program in January this year. We happily accepted the offer, thus beginning months of prayer and preparation for our month-long trip! There are nine of us going to Kenya, split between three different locations. Matt and I will be going to Chepnyal (waaaay up in the mountains!) with two grad students from St. John’s University, Raelynne and Nick.

What will we be doing there? Well, this trip was especially appealing to us because it allows us to use many of our talents to help others. Running a summer camp for kids is part of our time there: doing crafts, sports, music, and other fun things with them while they are out of school. I feel pretty prepared for this aspect (special thanks here to Matt’s sister, my sister and brother and their spouses for having so many kids), although, the language barrier will give us a good challenge (Side note: I am fully prepared, as is Raelynne, to dance, sing and make random hand/arm movements to get the kids moving though, so I think that should translate well, right?).   The other part of our time there will be spent helping women with small businesses, i.e. writing business plans, business skill training, and consulting with them about their production units. So basically putting our UB MBAs to work!

Here we are, five days before we leave and everything we need is finally purchased, most of the clothes are washed and everything is ready to go into the suitcases. Next challenge: getting everything we are bringing into four suitcases and make sure they do not exceed 50 lbs. Yikes!

Things I am grateful for on this 90 degree day in Buffalo:
  •  Everyone who supported our decision to do this: our families, friends, co-workers, parishioners at St. Gregory’s, and the workers at Jo-Ann’s and Party City who asked why I bought so many silly bands and craft supplies and were genuinely supportive and excited for us.
  • The Daughters of Charity and the Vincentian Lay Missionary program.
  • The opportunity to use my talents to help others build sustainable programs.

 St. Therese, pray for us!

Here's our Chepnyal group in (what I call) the Mirror Bean, Chicago, IL after VLM Orientation in June.