Not to the Perfect

Mark 10:21 “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

I am struck by the fact that it doesn’t say give to the perfect. It doesn’t say give to the selfless, or give to the people whose character you are sure about. 

10:29-30 ” ‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.’ ” 

I miss my home and my family where things are less hard. Mostly I hope that my relationships with my family are even stronger when I get back in the present age. 

I want to cry because it is so hard. I want to give in this community and be a part of it, but I don’t want to be used or do any harm. 

These are the notes that I wrote at church on Sunday. I am trying to learn how to give, and these are just some of my thoughts/responses to God on the subject. 

Charity vs. Solidarity

ICYE (USA) requested that past and present volunteers submit essays for their Newsletter. 

The theme of the Newsletter is: Volunteering: Charity or Solidarity?

They asked for: 

Experiences, stories, anecdotes and reflections of your time volunteering in relation to theme of the newsletter and to propose ideas and thoughts for building solidarity and working towards a better way of engaging as volunteers and as volunteering organisations. Volunteers’ articles can describe their daily life and practical work in their host countries to describe how they perceive their volunteering or if it is viewed by others as charity or solidarity, and what impact this has on themselves as well as on the host communities.

(They also gave the limit of one page 😬😂) 

They define charity as: help or money given to people in need

They define solidarity in this context as: moving beyond “help given” requiring an equal relationship and involving at least the recognition of the volunteer’s privilege, which has the potential to lead to cooperative learning and respect.

I tried to follow the prompt as best as I could, but I wrote this more for me than for anyone else.

Ivory vs. Elephants

On a trip to Nairobi National Park with my aunt, we saw these huge piles of ivory tusks that had been burned. My aunt was curious about why the ivory had been burned and what burning it actually accomplished. The explanation goes something like this: to protect the elephants from slaughter, something as beautiful and valuable as ivory is publicly burned, for the practical reason of destroying it, and to make a statement. Burned ivory can’t be sold, and thus can’t support the lucrative ivory trade that is driving the elephant species toward extinction. In essence, something valuable was, and will continue to be, destroyed to increase hope for the future of something even more precious. 
After our adventures in the park, my aunt and I reflected on the piles of ivory and the elephants they came from. We saw them as a metaphor for my biggest challenge in Kenya: finding a way to volunteer in solidarity in the face of my community’s expectation of charity. Solidarity is the metaphorical elephant species whose future needs to be saved. The ivory tusks, then, are the current and past acts of charity that seem to have ruined the hope of true solidarity for volunteers in this rural village in Kenya. 

I decided going in that I would honor ICYE’s ideals. I am here to promote cultural understanding and join the community to work for its own good, not to provide charity in material ways. While that’s easy to say, I feel pressure from my Kenyan community to be charitable. More than a few members of the community regularly ask me to provide resources besides my time and energy. When that happens, I feel as though the only reason I am accepted is because people think that I will give them something physical. I disappoint people when I don’t do charity and simply try to work as one of the community. My privilege is acknowledged, but in a way that prevents me from working as an equal. 

Previous volunteers at my project have given significant sums to build a schoolhouse, pump and pipe water to my project and host family, and wire electricity to the school, among other things. As a result the community expects me to do something similar. Specifically, they want me to channel funding to build a sports complex. These past acts of charity have set the stage, and it often feels like I’ve been left with no other options when it comes to ways I can make a positive impact in the community. 

If I were to find a way to fund a project, it would destroy any chance I might have of participating as an equal within the community, and I am not willing to give that up. Metaphorically, I am withholding potentially valuable “ivory”, or charity, in the hopes that I might be able to contribute to maintaining the elephant species of solidarity to greater long term effect. Being able to work within the community to strengthen and enable it through solidarity would be more valuable than any act of charity. 

In terms of past acts of charity, I am not sure that it is even possible for me to gather all of that “ivory”, (let alone burn it!), nor would that be the right thing to do. The charity that has been done here in the past has been beneficial to the community. However, I don’t want to heap more ivory on the pile. Instead, I believe the community needs elephants/solidarity much more than ivory/charity. Unfortunately I don’t think my community sees it that way, and I have not been able to change that. I hope that my approach of working through solidarity will have a significant positive impact, but I am not sure that it will. 

So, I am faced with the great challenge of how to participate in community as an “elephant that won’t give up her tusks (or anyone else’s)”. It’s not easy, but this is where I find myself, and I won’t back down from the challenge!

In conclusion, I feel that although charity can do great things, it often prevents volunteers from accomplishing solidarity, which is exponentially more valuable. Volunteers do their best work as equal members of their host communities. So let’s protect and promote solidarity, while discouraging charity among volunteers. I’d like to encourage ICYE chapters to work hard to communicate clear guidelines for giving, both to the volunteers and to the communities they live in. The future of volunteering through solidarity depends on it. 

They also asked for two pictures of the volunteer at the project and with the host family. Notice any similarities? The lil munchkins are my best friends. 🙂 

Email to my Aunt Noelle

I think the travel advice that I gave to my Aunt Nanu might give y’all some insight into what life is like here.
What to bring:
Don’t overpack, because when you do in makes traveling hard. (You don’t want more than one big backpack ane maybe a small purse if we are going to travel using matatus. Matatus are basically busses with a Kenyan twist. Matatus could be avoided, but I think they are a super important part of the Kenyan experience.) I travel using one big backpacking pack. 
Don’t worry about running out of clean clothes we can wash clothes every other day if need be (I would be happy to wash them for you).
Don’t bring your computer–you can use mine if you want. 
You can bring a camera if you want, but also I use my iPhone six camera for just about everything and it does pretty well. 
I recommend bringing a really old flip phone or something and I have a SIM card that you can use or you can buy a SIM card for about a dollar. This also isn’t absolutely necessary–it is just nice.
Since you have me as your tour guide 😉 you can borrow just about anything you need. I have a dress that will definitely fit you for Sunday and so forth. Also if you forget or need something I also have learned the best/cheapest places to buy things.
Clothes- Modesty is the best policy. Don’t plan on showing above your knees, and tank tops are okay just not spaghetti straps. 
Kenyans are very stylish and will definitely be seen in really dressy clothes especially on Sunday. (The director of Providence Children’s Home, Joram G M Academy, and the PCH Clinic where we will visit wears a full suit every day.) It is also okay to wear a nice pair of jeans and good shirt to church. If you are fine feeling underdressed (I usually do but don’t mind) then just wear what is comfortable for you within the modesty rules. I usually wear T-shirts with jeans or with a skirt. I have acquired a couple dresses that I wear to church. 
 In terms of shoes I recommend tennis shoes good for walking that you don’t mind getting dirty, and nicer shoes or sandals for church. You can borrow flip flops anywhere we go.
Toiletries- Bring the usual stuff, but don’t worry about sunscreen or bug repellent because I have plenty. I also have big things of shampoo, conditioner, and toothpaste.
Things you need to know:
KiSwahili/Greetings: Asante=Thank You (pronounce like in English except i -> ee)
How are you?=Habari Yako
Very fine=Musuri
Muzungu=White person, but more directly translates to English person, not really derogatory
KiKamba (language my host family speaks, they are from the Kamba tribe)
How are you?=Wa’a’tcha
Almost everyone in Kenya speaks Swahili and most people speak English. Those are the two national languages. However there are I think 43 tribes each with their own languages. People in rural areas, especially older people tend to only speak thier tribal language also know as thier mother tongue.
History and stuff: Kenya was colonized by the British. They fought and gained thier independence in 1963. The government is democratic, but everyone complains about the extreme corruption that goes all the way down to the traffic police. Don’t talk/ask about Kenyan politics but be prepared to talk about Trump. You will be asked. Women are still struggling to gain equal rights,  same-sex relations are punished as crimes and the LGBTQ community is largly considered taboo. There are big Christian, and Muslim communities and for the most part they get along fine. There is a little tribal tension which is why talking politics is a no go. You will avoid off putting anyone if you air on the conservative side.
Interaction advice: Assume the best and then be prepared to deal with the worst of it comes. If someone says hi to you, say hi back. (If we are in a big town or small town the safest advice is to say hi and keep walking) Even if they yell “Muzungu!” you can say hi. Always say hi to the kids. Greetings and shaking people’s hands is very important, so shake hands with everyone that you meet especially those older than you. When it comes to this sort of thing, Kenyans basically have really good manners. Always be careful of your phone/wallet/camera, because there are pickpockets, however walk with confidence like you are a local.
What we will do do:
 I think we should spend your first day or two at Providence Children’s Home (the one that the mission trips go to, and where I spent my first two months as well as some of my recent time off). Maybe we can spend the next two days in Yenzuva where my volunteer project is. Time at both of these places can be increased if you like. Then we can see some sights for the rest of the time or incorporate sightseeing into the time that we stay at each place. I have some ideas about things we can do in Nairobi/Ngong as well as closer to my project in Yenzuva. We could also go on a safari on the Masai Mara, go to Mombasa on the coast, see Mt. Kilimanjaro or one of the other Mountains, or see lake Victoria. Since this is Kenya, and nothing goes as planned anyways, if you don’t really want to plan things out to much ahead of time we don’t have to. (With the exception of the Safari. I know a really good guy, but I would need to know soon if you wanted to do that.)
By the way if any of you blog readers want to come visit me,

Pointing Fingers at Privilege

It is really hard to talk about these things without stepping on people toes or feet or whole bodies. But this is me trying.
Obviously treating other people badly because they are different from you is wrong.

Treating people badly is wrong, period.

In case you didn’t notice I am a white, upper-middle class, Christian, straight, American, woman, whose parents have completed higher education. Therefore the only area where I lack privilege is gender.

At midterm camp we watched a buzzfeed video about privilege, and then failed at recreating the potentially powerful activity that the people did in the video.

We then had a “discussion” about privilege that felt more like a lecture. We were basically told to be aware of and not to abuse our privilege. The language used by the leader of our discussion made it seem like they felt it was their responsibility to make us, the privileged, understand that life was harder for the underprivileged.

What bothered me the most was that the subject of privilege was introduced as though it would be news to us like we had never realized or even thought of the fact that we are privileged.

Especially after my first trip to Kenya in 2014, I have struggled with feeling very guilty about my privilege. You can’t change the privileges you are born with, so feeling guilty isn’t productive.

Knowing my privilege has led me to try to increase the privilege of others when and where I can. This leads to fighting for fairness which is noble, but, as my blog title says, sharing the grace of God is more powerful.

In the discussion race was hi-lighted and a finger was pointed at privileged whites. Of course privileged whites on planet earth have been guilty of atrocious abuse of their privilege and more. But, I don’t think pointing fingers (especially for unspecific things or things that have happened in the past that most people already feel guilty about) without a clear purpose (other than making people feel guilty) is right. Pointing fingers deepens divides in the present.

I was talking to a brilliant lady named Karen (durning Midterm Camp because she was staying at the same place we were while conducting research) who has taught in universities on at least four continents, and who happens to come from a German-Jewish background. She said a lot of eloquent things about privilege and race. The thing that stuck with me however was that every “people” is guilty of something.

In conclusion I think we should love and respect everyone in the present. And when people fail to do that in the present then we should combat that.

ICYE Midterm Camp: Bonding?

Before going to the Carmelite in Karen for Midterm Camp, I want out to lunch with Rahel (aka Rachel), Anna, and Lynn at the Karen Hub. The Hub is an uber modern shopping mall including escalators, and a fake lake in the back. We went to an Italian restaurant and I ate what I swear was the best pizza I have ever tasted in my life for 800ksh or $8.00. Lynn brought Christmas presents from Germany for Rahel. Lynn went to Germany for the holidays when the schools were closed, so she was able to be a mail woman. We discussed Tusky’s cards, Anna was very excited about her 200 points, and dyeing my hair among other things. It was a very pleasant lunch. We then went to the supermarket in the mall (Carrefore) and bought hair dye and other necessities. Sadly, Anna was not able to get a Carrefore card.

We met up with another volunteer (Maike), and then took an Uber to the Carmelite.

*Warning! I am going to complain about ICYE. So maybe skip to the hair dye if you don’t want to listen to my whining. I am not really sorry though. :)*

Anna was so committed to boycotting the camp that she broke her foot twice before we even had a meeting. This is a joke, but the camp really was, in my opinion, annoying. After stepping into hole when switching between buildings at night, and with little help and sympathy from ICYE staff, Anna took an Uber to the Karen Hospital the first evening of Camp. X-Rays showed two breaks on the outside part of her left foot. She underwent surgery the next day to put a wire in her foot to help the bones heal correctly. Rahel was by her side the whole time. If that isn’t bonding, I don’t know what is! All of the volunteer girls came together to support Anna.

In terms of actual camp stuff here is a picture of our schedule that was loosely followed.

We basically discussed everything we talked about at orientation from our new point of view of experience. One of the main problems was that we ended up hearing the same stories from each other over, and over again. It didn’t feel at all productive. It was exhausting.

Volunteers had the opportunity to communicate with the ICYE administrator, which isn’t normally very easy, and can be helpful. (This was part of the reason stories were repeated. She was only there some of the time.) I was able to voice my frustrations to her about people in my host family continually asking for money or things. This may or may not do any good.

I got to hear about a couple of projects that I hadn’t heard about before. I had heard in-depth reports from all of the girl volunteers already, but some of the boys had interesting experiences that I heard about for the fist time at midterm camp. There are only three projects that are not just teaching at schools, including me who is able to volunteer at clinics in the area. Because of this, perhaps repetition was unavoidable.

Typical Story:

  • I only teach a few classes
  • It is difficult to teach (or make true friends) across cultural barriers
  • I am tired of being pressured for money and stolen from
  • I have nothing to do (not enough work)
  • I am not able to be productive
  • I am tired of being harassed (and called Muzungu)
  • I am trying to find things to do that will help my school, but all of those things require money
  • I am having trouble with this family member or that teacher
  • But there are some good things too, and I guess everything is fine

In my opinion, the volunteer girls getting closer (“bonding”) was the only truly positive thing that happened during orientation. Nothing like a common “enemy” to unite people. I think that the German girls have become more comfortable with English, and that the shared experience of volunteering here also made us way more connected than we were during arrival camp.

We painted the ICYE office in an unorganized and stressful fashion. I am not even going to get into detail because I will get angry again. Lynn and I both took the approach of “blockin’ out the haters” with headphones.

Also I tried to dye the ends of my hair blond out of boredom and whynotness–it was actually Rahel who did all of the work–and nothing happened. I also wanted to entertain Anna. It is maybe more brownish but the whole thing was very anticlimactic. I really just wanted something to happen.

We got to meet five new volunteers on the morning we were supposed to leave. There are two new American volunteers who I thought were going to be placed near me, but it looks like they aren’t going to be near me anymore. I am bummed because I was looking forward to having some company.

Anyways I am back in Yenzuva with my first day of teaching in 2017 under my belt. I miss Mama Gloria and her kids who don’t live here anymore. However, there are two new faces that I am living with that I will have the pleasure of getting to know. Sadly they don’t speak English as well.

New Year in Kenya

I spent more of 2016 in Kenya than I did in the US and I will spend the greater part of 2017 here as well. Just as an update I hope and plan to leave in early July, but I am not sure on anything yet. When I look back on 2016 and 2017 I am sure that I am going to say that they were some of the most action packed years of my life. I finished my senior year and graduated high school (Thank God!) and I left my family and friends. I then spent a few amazing months at PCH, well protected, and then was thrust into the unknown: to Yenzuva. In Yenzuva, I encountered a completely different side of Kenya and some great new people. I overcame sickness, became much more  independent, taught a bunch of classes and learned to live and thrive in a very different environment. For the last two months I have had the freedom (because schools are closed) to travel to the coast of Kenya with other ICYE volunteers, and spend another good chunk of time at PCH. So many things have happened that 2016 feels like it was much longer than 365 days. 

In 2017, I will start teaching under a different principal, and get to be a tour guide for my aunt, father, and maybe even my grandparents. I plan to completely organize St. Bridget’s library (the school in Yenzuva where I teach), try one on one tutoring, start running in the mornings (I really miss excercise), focus more on learning the languages, get better at writing consistently for myself and for my blog, and last (but actually first) stick to a devotional book that was given to me by the one and only Steven Githumbi (PCH Director).

In 2017, I will leave Kenya, and greet my family and friends back home, which will be another huge transition. (Saying greet that way is very Kenyan lol.)  I will have limited time at home, and then I will be off to college at Whitworth University in Washington where another huge adventure will begin. I mean I if you ask me that is a lot, and I am sure I have forgotten some stuff as well. 

Ultimately, I know God will lead us where we need to go and provide along the way, even if that place is difficult. (I first wrote that sentence with me, but it is true and very important for everyone so I changed it to us.) That is something that I have learned over and over again this year. 

If my blog was a TV show this would be a mid season recap and it is all very cliche and resolution/what I have learned-y, so I will just get into what I actually did on New Year’s Eve and Day. 

On New Year’s Day I met four other volunteers in Nairobi. Anna and Rachel are German, Tanya is Indian, and Lola is Finnish. 

We went to Lake Naivasha to celebrate which included a boat ride, chicken and chips, fireworks from across the lake, a campfire, music, and sleeping in a tent! 

We then traveled back to Ngong and had KFC for lunch which was so delicious and a great way to start off the year. I then met up with my PCH peeps who were celebrating the 1st with swimming, chicken and chips (imagime that?!–it is the common restaurant food here), boat rides coincedentally, and shoe shopping. 

Oh yeah and the braids are gone along with a lot of my actual hair. 😂

Anyways 2016 wasn’t all that bad, and I don’t think 2017 will be awful either. I love you all and HAPPY NEW YEAR. 


My first memory of Jane Timanoi:

During the 2014 Mission Trip one of the science activities that we did with the primary school kids was making ice cream. The salt acts as a catalyst and makes the ice colder, freezing the sugar and cream. If any of the kids actually understood this I would be very surprised. When we finally got to eat the ice cream, fearless, troublemaking, Jane Timanoi decided to sit next to me and we had a conversation about nicknames. She is called Tím and Tíma (the accent on the i is to help with pronunciation, but they are not written that way). I told her some of my many nicknames and then asked her if I could make her a new nickname. She said yes so I asked “Can I call you Noi?” Her response to this was a long hearty laugh. I didn’t see what was so funny so I asked. It took her a while but she eventually told me, somewhat embarrassed that noi means “no clothes”. Post naked nickname conversation we were best friends. 

The past few months that I have resided in Kenya I have been able to get really close to Timanoi. She is very smart and and isn’t afraid to speak up. However she has some behavioral issues. I challenged myself to help motivate her to improve her behavior. I have had the pleasure of seeing her improve in school and sometimes behavioralally. However, I don’t think I had much to do with that. Mom Grace and Hannah Kamau Githumbi have been instrumental in keeping her on the right track. 

In the evenings sometimes I would sit with Mom Grace while Timanoi braided her hair. Timanoi would tell us stories about when she was little and she would steal food and be beaten for it. They weren’t calls for sympathy, more like stories about her home place. I asked her if she will beat her children and she said, “Yes! Of course! And I will tell them that when I was little I was beaten even worse!”

Timanoi loves to laugh, and her laugh is genuine and contagious. Her laugh reminds me of Caliah’s. (Shout-out to you if you are reading this girly!) About a month ago I was walking with Timanoi between the two orphanage homes and, being a giraffe, thwacked my head hard on the gate frame. She laughed the hardest I have seen anyone laugh in a long time. I laughed so hard that I cried. To this day she will look me and say “Eh Shannón! I have remembered!” This is usually followed with a bought of laughter. 
On the 30th of November I had the privilege of accompanying Mom Grace and Timanoi to see Timanoi’s extended family, specifically Timanoi’s grandmother. When I told Timanoi I was coming with her she screamed and hugged me so hard. Jane Timanoi is a Masai and part of her extended family comes from a Masai village that isn’t to far from PHC. It is a gorgeous area. 

On the day visit I learned what life would be like for Timanoi if she didn’t have PCH. Even if she just stayed with her family for a month or so she would soon be circumcised, married, and have no chance to finish her education. Jane’s grandmother was very welcoming and hostpitable. However, the reality of hardship in that place especially for little girls was evident when Jane was reunited with her cousin. They first saw each other from a distance and ran to hug each other. I cried and they were definitely crying. Jane’s cousin continued to cry especially when she found out Jane wasn’t staying. It seems that Jane’s aunt doesn’t treat her daughter (Jane’s cousin) very well. 

Despite the hardship I had the pleasure of playing with Jane, Jane’s cousin and some of the other village children for the whole afternoon. They found something that was kind of like a skateboard, and there was a hill nearby so that was a great source of entertainment. For the most part, the kids are happy and energetic and free.

Despite the fact that Timanoi doesn’t speak Masai (her mother toungue) or live with her people anymore, she still has a very strong connection to her home place. It was good to see that connection, and at the same time be grateful that she has been distanced from the bad things that could come from it. She has been able to grow for about three years within PCH’s love, and I look forward to seeing how the coming years within its walls will shape her into an amazing woman. 

Things I Would Put In My Book

The other day I tweeted pictures of my camel encounter, which I am still very excited about, by the way (OMG I RODE A CAMEL), and my friend Alex tweeted “you should write a book about your adventures, even your name sounds like an author”. I replied that people should retweet if they would read my book. I think I got about 14 retweets, which is way more than I expected, however the majority of retweeters probably haven’t read my blog (ha!). This would make the retweeters fake, as the kids say these days. lol. Either way their support and kindness in whatever form was very welcome. It also reminded me of the fact that I really haven’t posted enough on my blog recently.
My dad says that because my blog is not read by an enormous amount of people, I shouldn’t feel pressure to make every post interesting & informational & meaningful & quirky (editor’s note: and further more that many who are reading it want to know more about the day to day).  For those of you that are–and have been–reading my posts: thank you so much for your support!  It is really nice to know that you are listening.
From now on, I will make posts that are more like logs about what I have been up to (editor’s note: after all “blog” is short for web log!), as well as more reflective posts. Hopefully quality won’t decrease drastically due to the planned increase in quantity.
So, without further ado, here are a couple of random stories that I would put in my book, if I were to write one about my Adventures in Kenya.

In Yenzuva, after teaching at school all day, I was sitting on the front step of my host mum’s house. I was all comfortable, having changed from my jeans into shorts and a lesso, and I was sending a voice message. I send voice messages frequently through What’sApp because they are more fun than text messages, and since I can’t call people very often due to time difference or expense, they are a good way to make my voice heard. I was also hanging out with my host nieces and nephew (Grace, Veronica, and Manase) as per usual.
I say that I have found my happiness and my place in Yenzuva, and it is with the kids. The particular voice message I was sending at the time of this event was to Indra, the only other volunteer (with ICYE in Kenya) who is solo at their host family and project. (She has actually switched projects and will be coming to live with me in January in Yenzuva!)
I was probably telling her about my day, and watching the kids, when Grace casually lifted up her dress and peed!  I wish I had the voice message–so you could hear my reaction–but I found the whole situation hilarious. Grace wears diapers most of the time, but at that moment she was “footloose and fancy free”.  I think I laughed extra hard because Manase (Grace’s older brother) laughed the heartiest laugh I have ever heard from a person that small.  I then took a picture of the pee spot in the dirt with the three kids in the background.  Yes, that is the whole story, but I would like to add that I have picked up Grace twice when she had poopooed and it was kind of everywhere (despite her cloth diaper). Both times the family members have thought this was funny and apologized.  Both times mama Gloria (Grace’s mom) has insisted on washing my dirty shirt.  She is the sweetest.

After the schools closed (Nov 4th), I went to PCH for about a week before I went on vacation in Mombasa. The high school girls were around along with all of the other girls who live in the homes (Rehobeth and Ebenezer), and even though there were a lot of events going on, there was still downtime with a lot of people that I love.
On one particular afternoon I was sitting in the front yard of Ebenezer under one of the trees with Ann, Carol, Helen Hazel, and Esther.  We were working together to remove the braids from Carol’s hair.  At this point, Carol was sleeping in her chair in a position that could not have been comfortable.  The other girls must have eaten something crazy for lunch because they were hyper, and messing with me. Esther was asking me stupid questions to drive me crazy, and Ann Sera was playing along and thought Esther was being hilarious.  Jane Timanoi also made an appearance of course escalating the situation.  Helen was messing with my hair, poking me, and just generally annoying me in an endearing way.  At some point during the experience, I was struck with a strong feeling of true sisterhood.  I think this is because they were just so comfortable annoying me.  (Shoutout to Allie–I love you.)
The craziness was soon to end (because, you know, it is all fun and games until someone gets hurt).  Helen was touching my cheeks and my forehead (like someone would do if they thought you were sick) and I reacted by telling her to cut it out and that she was driving me crazy!  And she said, “What? I am not doing anything!”  So I responded with “not doing anything” back to her.  She was laughing really hard and lost her balance falling over onto Ann Sera resulting in them both falling onto the ground, and Ann Sera getting hurt.  Apologizing profusely followed, and she was okay. I love the fact that that they treat me like an older sister!

A Normal (not so normal) Day in Yenzuva

I have been waiting for a normal day so I can tell you exactly what it is I do on a daily basis, but my days are rarely normal so I am just going to tell you what happened today.

This morning my alarm went of at 6:45 and because it is so much harder to wake up when I have to, I snoozed until 7:05.

I went directly down to the kitchen, in its own separate little building, and poured myself some chai. This morning I chose a blue plastic cup with flowers because the super hot tea cools to drinking temperature faster in plastic, and most of the ceramic ones have lost their handles and have as many chips as a bag of Lay’s.


wearing a lesso

I sat there sipping, wiping the sleep out of my eyes and Mama Gloria came in and told me there was bread this morning. So I took three pieces of white bread (not so normal #1) and enjoyed them thoroughly, letting the crumbs accumulate on my lesso.

Then Mum came in, shook my hand like always, and said Habari (How are you?) and Mzuri (good), greeting me with the little Swahili that she knows that I understand. Mama is about 71 years old and only speaks Ki Kamba.

As I was finishing up my breakfast Mama Gloria came back into the kitchen with her 1 year old, Grace, and Mama Muimi. Both of those mamas are my host sisters. Mama Gloria lives in the same house and Mum and I, but Mama Muimi lives in a separate house her husband, two kids, and nephew.

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Mum asked to see a picture of my family, so I showed her one on my phone. She said that I look like my dad. Then she accidentally switched to a different picture that had the dog snapchat filter on it. I then showed them how snapchat’s filters work and everybody was laughing. (Insert picture?)

It was already 7:30 so I had to leave to take a shower. I shower in Brother John’s house that no one lives in. I got all of my stuff and filled my basin with two jugs of hot water (heated on the fire) and two jugs of room temperature water, and went to take my shower in that house. Today was not a hair washing day. I love hair washing days. I then came back to the Mama’s house where I live and “prepared myself” as they say here.


Some students in class 4 and 5

I then taught CRE (Christian Religious Education) to class five because for whatever reason their teacher for that period, wasn’t around. This happens pretty often. I let one of the girls lead the class, having her ask multiple choice questions (they are through with the syllabus at this point). She made sure to call on everyone and the class was a lively productive one. Then it was time for PE the period right before tea break.

I went down to the kitchen which is a one room building right next to the field and playground where the kids play. I greeted the two cooks who are technically my host sisters. However, since they are married they don’t live in the same circle of houses that I do. The two sisters are very kind and work hard. The one called Mwende speaks broken English freely with me. She gave me a cup of porridge and as I sat on a log sipping teacher Mercy came down and took a cup to. She is 20 years old, fairly young for a teacher, and she is one of my closer friends at the school. She finished her porridge first and went to start games with the girls. I finished quickly and went out to the field.

As I was meeting the girls I saw Kikombo, one of my most challenging students, by himself at the tree, away from all of the rest of the boys and thought, “I will go over there in a minute.” My non-psychologist self would diagnose him with ADHD. He has a very hard time focusing, among other issues. I played what I would call “camp games” with the girls for what ended up being a while. Unlike America, when someone loses a game here, they have a “punishment”. I was told to give a girl a punishment, and I decided to tell her to go all the way over to the un-expecting Mwende and give her a hug. It was adorable and hilarious. After this I even taught them one of my favorite camp games Zoo. They caught on very fast. Then the bell rang to go back inside and teacher Mercy saw Kikombo, and went over to him while I stayed with the girls. Once it was clear that something was wrong (not so normal #2), many of the girls followed Teacher Mercy. I walked the rest of them back to the school building for tea.

As I got to the office, Kikombo was being carried in by Teacher Mercy and some of the girls. Apparently he said that he felt like fainting. They brought in a mattress from the nursery and he laid down there. At first I was really worried that he had fallen and hit his head, or had a seizure. I checked wether his pupils were dilating normally and they were which made me less worried. One of the teachers called his mother to come get him.

I asked other teachers and they said that this has happened before. They also said that it is Kikombo and he could definitely be pretending. I had no more classes to teach that day so I decided to sit next to Kikombo on the foam mattress to just be with him because there wasn’t much else I could do.

As I sat there many different teachers and staff came in and tried to talk to him. Some of them were gentle and kind, and some were rough and just kept yelling his name like that would help. Can you sense my annoyance with the rough teachers?  The longer I sat with him the less worried I got. Something was definitely wrong, but I began to see that it was more mental than physical.

He was crying so I wiped his tears and asked him if he was in pain. He looked directly into my eyes and I wanted to cry as well. I think he feels hated and unwanted by his peers and superiors. He has told me before that “everybody hates me”.  I made him more comfortable on the mattress and made sure that his mother was coming. I continued to wipe away his tears while we waited even though I knew that he could wipe them away himself. She came about two hours later and took him away on a motorbike, and that was the end of that.

Lunch followed and I brought up mental health to the teachers I was eating lunch with. Their first and somewhat continued response was a hearty laugh. Our conversation did end up going in a somewhat positive direction when we ended up talking about the ways in which we could help Kikombo. This included things like putting him in charge of something, and not letting him have the satisfaction of irritating you.

My school day ended with me reading on my Kindle instead of going out to recess. I didn’t have the energy to play. Being able to read fantasy novels and have that as an escape has been very good for me. I walked the [100 steps] back home with my host nephews and niece and we were greeted warmly by the littlest niece Grace. She is ridiculously adorable. I recently taught her to spin around in a circle. I spin first and then she copies me.

She is not that good at walking yet and she does this funny thing with her eyes where she looks really far in the direction she is spinning, so obviously it is hilarious.   [picture]
I talked with Mama Gloria for a bit and watched the kids play. Then I washed some clothes. I actually really like washing my clothes. I think I like it because the cleanliness of my clothes is something I can control, and there aren’t very many things like that around here. It also makes my hands really clean.




I then ate the (very) normal dinner of githeri which is made of maize and beans. I ate in the kitchen and very few words were spoken to me. There are a couple of women that I live with that aren’t very warm towards me and they were also eating in the kitchen. I was experiencing some intense nostalgia as I ate the staple meal. Slightly discouraged (normal) and feeling homesick (not so normal #3). I went to bed and started typing this blog in my notes to get some of the feelings out.



Things That Consistently Make Me Cry

The notes that my family wrote inside of my journal always make me cry. Now you might feel bad for me when you first hear this, but you shouldn’t. They make me cry because when I read them I realize how strong our love is, and that is really powerful. My mom, dad, and sister are faithful, wise, and encouraging beyond measure. Despite the fact that I am on the other side of the world my family has been the strongest source of support these past fourish months. I cry because I love them and it is awesome.

This is a prayer that my dad shared with me the first week that I spent in Yenzuva. The striking truth and repetitive nature of the prayer always get me. I think that I have experienced poorness, weakness, anxiousness, trials, hidden roads, darkness, and silence in ways that I never had before. But, guess what? Today I believe.

Expressions of faith

Lord, You have always given
bread for the coming day;
and though I am poor,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
strength for the coming day;
and though I am weak,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
peace for the coming day;
and though of anxious heart,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always kept
me safe in trials;
and now, tried as I am,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always marked
the road for the coming day;
and though it may be hidden,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always lightened
this darkness of mine;
and though the night is here,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always spoken
when time was ripe;
and though you be silent now,
today I believe.

from the Northumbria Community’s Celtic Evening Prayer Liturgy

I think that it is appropriate now to say my Kenya Thin Spot is still thin. It still makes me cry, though not consistently. In Yenzuva I think it is thin in different ways, but still equally so. Everyday I witness a breathtaking sunset that really takes away any bitterness instead of taking away my breath. The kids, either my host nieces and nephews, or the kids at school, surprise me with their goodness and eagerness.

I see God in the difficult yet care free life of my host mother. She comes into my room dancing whenever I have music on and she is around. In case I don’t insert a picture, she is really old and really short and doesn’t have very many teeth. 🙂

Recently Mama Gloria, my host sister, has been a source of inspiration through her openness when it comes to faith. The other night when I had food poisoning and came back inside after vomiting, I heard her in the other room praying quietly and earnestly for me.

I thank Him for all of these Blessings,

And I thank you all, for sticking with me, and contributing to my blessedness.