Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas in Kenya

It wasn't easy to realize it was December, the calendars on my computer and phone insisted it was in fact December but the people in short sleeves, shorts, sunglasses and my sincere desire for air conditioning really made me doubt it. Alas, it was December which could only mean Christmas was coming. Every other year around December I would be downing Starbucks Peppermint Mochas, studying for finals, listening to 100.3 round the clock christmas music, lighting advent candles in church, harrassing my poor mother for the perfect tree, decorating the tree and insisting on keeping the christmas spirit alive despite having known the truth about Santa for the past 12 years. 

This year I was waiting for Christmas to come and pass, I was really looking forward to the whole thing going away so I could not be saddened by all the differences of Christmas in Kenya and Christmas in New York and reminded of the fact that I was thousands of miles away from my friends and family. 

I am often the one in the family demanding we keep up with traditions ( a real christmas tree, handmade decorations, eggnog, midnight mass, christmas movies etc.) the whole spirit of Christmas is something I love. Each Christmas a feeling comes over me of total happiness, a feeling where I can't help myself but to smile. Advent and the whole season of Christmas has always been a part of that to me so this year I was prepared for disappointment. I was ready to sing "Away in a Manger" to the wrong tune, to sing "Silent Night" in a tshirt, to wake up on Christmas morning in 70 degree weather and to not go to midnight mass. 

My Christmas plans were to go to the Christmas Pageant at the Nairobi International Lutheran Church, maybe have Christmas Eve dinner with my fellow YAVs and to go to Phyllis' house for Christmas brunch the next day and then the whole thing would be over.

Around 3p on Christmas eve once I had finished my very minimal Christmas shopping I met Steven and Kathryn to head to the Christmas pageant. Along the way Steven and I spotted two camels walking along the road and joked that they were heading to the pageant. We arrived at the church and were quickly invited to hop into costumes, I was invited to join the Angel chorus but chose to be a shepherd for the benefit of the ears of those watching. Steven and I hopped into costume and walked out only to find the two camels in the church yard. Yes, the christmas pageant featured real livestock- sheeps, cattle and camels! The group of angels, Mary and Joseph, shepherds, wisemen and livestock headed to the front of the church by Ngong road to sing all my favorite christmas songs to the people of Nairobi. Afterwards, we headed inside (I herded my cow in) to begin the actual pageant. 

The congregation gathered under the church tent with fans blowing and began the pageant. I said my one line (my first ever speaking part in a Christmas pageant) and we sang the classic songs. Sure enough, in the middle of "O come All Ye Faithful" I had a wide grin painted across my face and couldn't help myself but to wrap my arms around the shoulders of my fellow YAV neighbors and enjoy the spirit of Christmas that did inevitably come to me, all the way in Nairobi. As much as I love the christmas movies, the cheesy music, the decorations and the hot chocolate- it was not any one of those things that brought that overwhelming feeling of happiness to me, it was Christmas itself, in its totally organic form. That amazing feeling did not leave the rest of the Christmas celebration- onto dinner with the YAV family, dinner at Phyllis', secret santa gift exchange, and spontaneous caroling on the couch. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

leaving the incubator

It certainly has been a long time since I last posted, this time I can honestly say I have been busy- I have often sat down to start writing my blog and have become distracted by a whole range of things- a monkey outside my window, a colleague coming to chat, an opportunity to go visit a school, an exciting email from friends and family (I love emails- hint hint!!) etc. Well, I am committed to sitting down with a warm cup of Ketepa and some country music after office hours to write my blog.

Tomorrow morning I leave for ZANZIBAR with the other YAVs and Phyllis (one of our two YAV retreats for the year.) We will head to Dar, Tanzania (T-Zed) on a 12 hour bus journey, spend the night in Dar, then take the ferry across to Zanzibar J While its not Turkey dinner at the lake with my parents or stuffing and apple pie with my sister and grandparents, I’m not going to complain. I am learning to find the comforts of my holiday season this year in new places instead of carol singing on Park Avenue with my church -- lighting of the mall in Nairobi with friends, instead of cooking baking with my sister--cooking baking with the girls at First Love Kenya and instead of Christmas shopping—some time at New Life orphanage during the holiday season.

On to my blog post….

Every day Jane, the receptionist at the OAIC, comes into my office to sit down and chat with me the other day she sat down to “tell me a story.” She told me that when pre-mature babies are born they sit in an incubator and that burses go to visit them, she said “now, the babies who are visited by their families and the nurses, that the nurses hold and talk to- those babies get better faster than the other babies.” She said “I am like you nurse, I come to check on you and make sure you are ok, just by visiting. “ So, with the help of Jane- I am finally leaving my incubator (office) and heading out to new exciting things that aren’t a part of the daily routine I built for myself and that I sometimes don’t want to do not feel like doing.

The other day I went to Gatina Primary School, one of the free government schools in Kenya to visit with them on their last day of the year. The Standard 8 children (8th grade) are the first group of children to graduate from the free primary schools in Kenya so the OAIC and a group in the US called Project Promise worked together to buy all the children school shoes as a gift. A team from the OAIC came to the school and spoke to the children about the importance of their education. While the shoes are a helpful gift to the children and their parents as it is one less thing they need to buy for school, it wasn’t all about the shoes. The children in standard 8 were finally getting the kind of recognition they deserved. (I remember for my eighth grade graduation we had a party with my friends and family and took a trip to Mackinac Island.) This may not be the same, but these children deserve some congratulations for their hard work and some credit for their completion of primary school. Not only some celebration for their work, but encouragement to continue to do better and encouragement for the other 7 grades who came to watch the Standard 8’s receive their shoes.

Yesterday I went to graduation for African Pride Centre, a pre-school developed by the OAIC Kenya chapter. The graduation took pretty much all day but it was soo worth it. The children graduating (pre-unit) will enter primary school next year, most of them at Gatina Primary school across the way. APC focuses on the whole family at the school. To receive admission into the school parents must have people vouche for them (pastors and imams) and write something explaining their desire to have their children attend. The idea is to have people in the school who truly want better for their children regardless of their financial status. The school has a computer lab for parents and people in the community to learn computer basics to help with their businesses, has a sewing room to teach women how to sew and use sewing machines to promote small businesses and has a bank where parents save their money and are able to borrow in small increments to start businesses. The school focuses on why parents are in poverty and makes the effort to help both the parent and the child out of poverty. The children are separated into three colorful classrooms with caring teachers, they have a nice swingset and slide and learn to raise their own chickens and plant and care for their own sukuma wiki (greens.)

Graduation at APC was wonderful, the children performed a small skit for us where they explained the importance of education and thanked their parents for bringing them to the school as well as danced for us. They were entertained with a moonbounce and clowns to dance with during speeches from some other schools in the area (Kawangare.)

Today I went to the First Love project in Kibera. I have gone to the First Love project in Karen (the orphanage) before but have never been to visit the school and the feeding program. I spent the afternoon touring the compound, meeting with the women’s groups who make quilts, baskets, aprons, bags etc., checking out the daycare and meeting some of the boys who will move into the orphanage soon (currently it is set up only for girls but the new building that will be completed very soon will house the new boys.) I got to spend some time with the little babies in the daycare which certainly can make anyones day better; when you’re having a great day to begin with, it puts a whole different kind of smile on your heart.

I have also started buying my groceries from produce stands on my walks rather than in the large grocery stores and have traveled to new churches. I am leaving the Kenyan comfort zone I created for myself and I like it! Eleanor Roosevelt said “do one thing each day that scared you,” I wouldn’t say I am afraid to do the things I am doing, but they aren’t things I always want to do, sometimes it is easier to stay in the routine we have for ourselves, but the payout sure is worth it!

Well, I am off to finish preparing for Zanzibar—look back here soon for pics and an update on Zanzibar!!!  :) 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Be good and kind and sweet to everyone you meet

It would be impossible for me to comment on each experience I had in West Pokot. I experienced a new way of life with new people and from that have many stories to tell. 

My dad who is a pastor in New York City (and I would consider a pretty darn good preacher) says that pastors keep an index of “sermon stories” that they remember and are able to plug in when necessary. Now, I am NOT saying that I will become a pastor but I think I am developing that index and a lot of it came from my past week in West Pokot. There is one story I would like to share with you, however. My second day in West Pokot I waited outside of the Zion waiting to be called for lunch, I was  strolling around by the school next to the church and saw a group of children about ages 5-10 in yellow and green jumpers and shorts, their school uniforms. I started making my way towards them, smiling, as I walked towards them, they stood motionless then when I started to come within ten feet they grouped themselves together holding on to each other, honestly scared of me. A few started pointing at me with their mouths agape, a few laughed and a few clung to their peers in fear. I smiled and waved greeting them in Kiswahili. During my awkward interaction with the school children my friend Simon came up towards me and started speaking much clearer Kiswahili to the children. I finally was able to break through the 10 foot barrier and extended my hand to the children to which they slowly and reluctantly one by one came to shake my hand. Once one shook my hand they ran away to whisper in their friends ear.

After I shook hands with all the children I pulled my camera out of my back pocket where it was stored for easy access (the perks of working in communications). I showed them the camera as a way of asking, “would you like me to take a picture?” I took a picture of the children hiding behind the cactuses and then put the picture on display mode to show the children the picture I took of them. As I showed them the picture they squealed, jumping, pointing, laughing and smiling in preparation for their next shot. I proceeded to take many many more pictures and the children came closer to me, hugging my legs and holding my hands as I got in a few pictures with them. After several minutes their teacher came out and told them they needed to continue walking home before it became dark. Simon looked at me and said “do you see how happy you made them?”

My point in telling you this isn’t to serve as a caption to my pictures and isn't to show you what a good person I am (because that is not what I am saying).

I thought about what Simon said, how happy the children were, and they were happy! I didn’t do anything- I didn’t bring school books, I didn’t teach a class, I didn’t come with medicine or school fees, I didn’t bring anything and I didn’t do anything- I showed a little kindness, I offered my hand for a handshake and greeted the children happily.

I wonder what would happen if we could all show a little kindness to the people we see, a smile, a greeting, a “how are you?” a handshake. I think of how I walk the streets of New York often purposefully walking on the other side of the street of a homeless person to avoid not giving them money. Rather than walking on the other side of the street what if we all walked on the same side of the street and offered a smile instead? Not a dollar, but a smile.

I changed my quote on Skype a few weeks ago to a quote from Mother Theresa that I think applies perfectly “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can”

In a world where it often feels like the problems of the world are much greater than the impact we can have on them, what if we all just try to smile and show a little kindness? I wonder where a small act of kindness could take us? I know it won't solve the problems of the world, it probably won't stop wars or feed hungry children or pay school fees or eradicate HIV/AIDS but it will make someone happy if only for a minute.  My mother always told me ‘be good and kind and sweet to everyone you meet’ thats cute because it rhymes but think about what it means-so lets do that, not just to the people we meet in coffee hour, in school, in church, at fundraisers but to all the people we are sharing the world with. 

adventures in West Pokot

beautiful West Pokot

I am taking on the difficult task of summarizing an amazing, eye-opening, exciting, warm week into one or two blog posts and a few pictures; bear with me as I take on this difficult task.

I have just returned (safely- mom stop worrying) from a trip with the OAIC to West Pokot.  I mentioned in my last blog that I would be traveling there and spoke a little about it and now I am back! The trip was with the OAIC dept. of theology; we spent 3 days working with a group/church called the Mafuta Pole, Pokots in both Kenya and Uganda. Mafuta Pole is an AIC (African Independent/Indigenous Church) that began in the 1950s, the MP have no bibles and have learned about the church from visions, dreams and prophecies. Most churches around the MP do not consider them to be Christians because they have no bibles. One year ago the OAIC went to West Pokot to start workshops training MP leaders on the bible; during the first trip they also brought the first ever bibles published in Pokot. Since receiving these bibles and gaining some more formal training in Christianity, the Mafuta Pole are no longer outcast from the Christian society in West Pokot and have been invited to fellowship with other churches and have been able to set up youth and women groups to study the bible etc.
 So, this past week I went with John Gichumu (OAIC head of the dept. of theology) Simon (an intern at St. Paul’s University and member of another AIC- Holy Spirit Church) and Koinange (OAIC driver) on a thirteen hour driving journey to West Pokot to work with the Mafuta Pole.
Here’s a little about how my journey went…

We left for West Pokot early (and on time!) Tuesday morning, along the way we picked up my new friend (aka colleague) Simon in Limuru, a beautiful town outside of Nairobi filled with tea fields and gorgeous landscape. After adding Simon to the group we went through Nakuru and Eldoret- both great towns that I didn’t even know about before this trip. Along the way we picked up Ndazi, tea, and cheese sandwiches (my last good meal for several days). Some hours later we arrived in Kapenguria, a town in West Pokot and the last “town” before entering ‘the bush.’ After some ugali and goat we returned to the car around 6:30pm, Gichumu looked back in the car to tell me, “we’re gonna go down now, down, down, down, and then down” and that is exactly what we did. 45 minutes later we hit a small market with several phone charging stations and a few produce stands to which Gichumu told me “this is the last town you are going to see” ??? ok… So we turned off the tarmac and drove, drove, drove, swerved potholes, drove through a maize field and then we were at the Mafuta Pole zion. We were anxiously greeted by a group of about 14 men and women ages 18-70 singing “karibuni” (welcome) in the dark; I opened the door having no idea what I was getting myself into- I was in the middle of the African bush with 14 Pokots singing to me. I stepped out of the car to be warmly greeted by each person there. We followed the group into the church but before entering we removed our shoes and I was directed to enter through the door on the left (the women’s door) while everyone I knew entered through the door on the right (the men’s door). We had a brief time of worship for the night, the Mafuta Pole sing mostly in Pokot with a few songs that I am able to mildly understand in Kiswahili- rather than clapping like most AICs do the Mafuta Pole swing their arms and raise their hands (in some ways it looks like the Soulja Boy dance we are all so familiar with from 2008.) After some songs which are mostly choruses that have appeared to a member (usually an elder) in a dream, we kneeled to the ground for a prayer before heading to our hotel.

The hotel we stayed in had two rooms- one for the men and one for the women (my sister, my mother and me), a separate building for the kitchen and storage (pantry), and an outhouse with two kiswahli toilets and a washroom. We spent the next few hours drinking tea while I painfully tried to carry on conversations in Kiswahili/English with a group of people who speak Kiswahili/Polot exclusively. Several hours later the women in church of the hotel brought out plates of ugali, cabbage and fried goat. After dinner I went to my room eager to check in to my bed and read a few chapters in my book (Joseph Stiglitz’s “Globalization and it’s Discontents”) as I was undoing my bed two women came in, a young girl about 18 and an old woman, about 65 years old, my sister and my mother. I asked them in a combination of terrible Kiswahili and English their names and where they had come from; the young girl (Zipporah) answered my questions in decent English saying they had come from Jerusalem for a conference on the Bible. I was excited that they would be in the workshop with me for the next few days but a little apprehensive about my terrible communication abilities. I event tried some of the “universal” signs for things like where are you from and what is your name, those did not translate either.

The next morning I woke up to the sound of roosters, a first for this city girl. At around 6:30 I got out of bed, packed up my hostel sack and put on a floor length black skirt. When I went outside I was offered the opportunity to bathe in the outhouse- the women had boiled hot water for us and left a bucket in the washroom for us to use to wash up. After breakfast which was enjoyed on the benches in the grass surrounded by the chickens who provided the hard boiled eggs I was eating ,we headed back to the Zion to begin our workshop.

At the workshop each participant thanked us for bringing the Pokot bibles to them a year ago. They explained how thankful they were and how helpful the bibles were in leading bible studies. My mother explained that she was the only one in her town with a Pokot bible so when a group wanted to do a bible study they traveled to meet her and retrieve the bible then after bible study they brought the bible back so the next group could use it. Another elder in the workshop said that he did not know how to read but the boys in his church were reading the bible to him and he was able to understand it since it was in Pokot. The chairman of Mafuta Pole (chairman of the Zion in Jerusalem) thanked us for being there and explained that he was happy to have learned so much about the bible and Christianity, he said he has learned to live in harmony with the people around him and his people (Mafuta Pole) are learning to live together in love.

I spent the next three days with the Mafuta Pole in the zion from about 830a-7p teaching different bible stories- thanks to Julius who was fluent in English we were able to communicate at half speed with each other. We studied characteristics of a Christian, seeking knowledge about God and the life of a Christian. All in all about 45 bible stories. The Mafuta Pole were joyful and excited to learn more about their own religion in a formal setting, they were excited to bring their new knowledge home to share with new bible study groups.

In the middle of the workshops each day we stopped for lunch outside of the zion (in case I forgot to mention, a zion is what we would consider the church or the parish). At this time I was able to learn more about the Pokot people through several English speakers. I learned how they came to find the Mafuta Pole and learned about all of their long journeys to come to the workshop. Most had walked about 20-30 kilmoeters for the workshop.
The group at the end of our workshop

Every morning I spent about one and a half hours to two hours between when the rooster woke me up and when it was time to begin workshops with the women cooking our food. One woman, my new friend Veronica, had her new baby wrapped around her back the whole time with a kangha (decorated piece of cloth) I often held his hand and he would wave back at me, every morning Veronica told him to “wave hello to your mother” which he did. My time with Veronica was probably my favorite time of each day. On the second to last day Veronica asked me how old I was to which I responded, “22” she said she was “33” (the same age as my older sister Madeline) she asked me how many children I had, I said I thought I was still too young for children. Veronica told me she has six children and asked if I would like to meet them, I responded, “I would love to see them” thinking nothing of my verb choice, she said “well, theyre black Africans.” Then I remembered how good a laugh felt, the next day I visited Veronica’s house, three of her six children and her husband Jackson. The whole family kindly welcomed me and Jackson took me to see the land they lived on, he showed me his vegetables, his cows and goats, the kitchen, and their house. I asked him what he was going to do with his cows, he said he would sell them at the market which he hoped would pay for the children’s school feed. A cow sells for approximately 20,000 ksh., school fees are about 80,000 ksh. He has six children and four cows.

Meet Veronica
After a morning like that I returned to the zion for the last day of our workshop. I felt the same feeling I feel when I end camp each summer, or when I leave a close group of friends. Despite only being able to communicate through translators and broken English I had built a bond with this group and felt a connection to them. They welcomed me into their homes and their way of life. They accepted me and were gracious to me, a feeling I don’t always receive from my peers. Its hard to end this post because I have left out so many details I feel like it is incomplete but I think some of it is truly the experience of ‘being’ and may be something I can hold only with me. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

A lil catch up on what I'm up to

My apologies, faithful readers, for my extreme delay in updating my blog. I really have been quite busy this time! Warning: it’s a long one, grab a cup of tea before you begin.

As I am posting, an interesting interaction occurred- my boss, Benard walked into my office and asked me all in Kiswahili “Did you finish the grant assessment and make a photocopy?” At first I stared at him and moments later I realized I knew what he said so I quickly nodded in my head to which he responded “Asante” without realizing he had addressed me in Kiswahili. I guess I really am settling into life as a Kenyan, if a real Kenyan does not even realize that they are speaking Kiswahili to me, a MUZUNGU!

The past two weeks have been filled with a lot of new challenges, GSC (for my non-YAVs- Good. Self. Care.) some routine activities and fun.

Last week I spent a lot of time at Kikuyu hospital, just outside of Nairobi. ChangeOneLife (the second organization I work with in Kenya) is working on a program called “Mother’s Milk” which is based out of Kikuyu hospital. The programme provides infant formula (Nan) to HIV positive women who are unable to breastfeed as they are too sick and are unable to purchase the formula for their children (formula can be extremely expensive and it is almost never used in Kenya). I have been traveling to Kikuyu hospital to work out the details of the program with a nurse at the hospital. Our goal is to get these children through the first 5 years of life healthy and HIV-negative, the first 5 years of life is the period in which children are most likely to die from preventable health related causes. The Nan will help the children reach healthy weight because it will be used instead of the other supplement that women who are unable to breastfeed use, animal milk (cow’s milk mostly) that does not provide the nourishment and antibodies that a young child needs. The program is moving very swiftly, we have identified the women who will benefit the most from the program and will begin providing formula, bottles, blankets, cleaning supplies to the women when the babies are born. On Monday I will have the opportunity to meet the women and learn a little more about their needs and what we can do to help them. I am really looking forward to meeting them. It is such a blessing to live and serve in Kenya. As much support as it is (and trust me it A LOT) to donate money, it is an absolute gift to be able to work with and meet with the people whom you are serving. I really look forward to taking advantage of this opportunity with the women and babies from the Mother’s Milk project- being able to see the impact that this project is having on them as well as insuring that we are doing everything we can to improve the health of the women and children in the project.

            I have also devoted a large chunk of my time to planning Girls Health Retreats for December. This has meant a lot of time in the car, stuck in jams and a lot of time out of the office. (more on Kenyan traffic another time…) The retreats we are planning will be in December and will work with about 25 girls aged 13-15, mostly from rural villages in Kenya, from several different tribes. We will work on self-esteem and self-worth, HIV/AIDS awareness, issues such as “who has a right to my body?”, developing youth leaders, and basic feminine health knowledge. I am really excited about the retreats, I have devoted a lot of time on Microsoft Word the past few days to writing the program for the girls, at the end of each day I re-read what I wrote and really am excited for all the potential these retreats have to influence girls in a positive way. I look forward to updating you all on the retreats after they happen. I must say as much work as I am putting into these retreats here in Kenya, I am reminded of how helpful funds are. I want to thank all of you who have helped bring me to Kenya, it is a different way of giving yourself that is of equal importance. It is important to realize that the funds help all the programs that people like me are working on run. Thank you!

            Tomorrow I am heading to West Pokot with the OAIC. We will be working with a group called “Mafuta Pole” on theology training. It will take about 2 days to travel to West Pokot and we will spend about 2 days there as well. I have been told that there will be no electricity and in order to charge our phones we will hire someone to ride a motorcycle two hours away, sit with the phones while they charge and bring them back. Look forward to some stories from my trip to West Pokot! My knowledge of West Pokot thus far is limited to a 14 page brief and some peripheral knowledge given to me by my fellow YAV, Ben, who traveled to West Pokot for a Church World Service program. From what I have read the group we are meeting with has very interesting theology, much different from the liberal theology I am mostly exposed to in New York. I look forward to the conversations I will experience and the training I will take part in, I am a little nervous for the language barrier, the lack of electricity and I am sure- lots and lots of goat/ugali.  

In other news I have created a new role for myself at the OAIC… One way the OAIC serves AICs and their members is thru microfinance. Basically, members of our AICs (Afircan independent churches) are given small loans/grants for education or opening small businesses etc. The point of these grants is to help foster rural and informal settlement growth. Microfinance provides the funds a person living at or below the poverty level needs to work their own way out of poverty. It is a similar idea to the “give a man a fish and you have fed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you have fed him for life.”  Microfinancing avoids large interest rates and corrupt bankers intervening in the loans of the already poor. Along with the grant, we help the receiver work through their first endeavor in entrepreneurship by working through business plans with them and checking in on business every two weeks to insure it is going well. So, my new role/deal with the OAIC is this: I told Benard (my boss) I would do all his filing (he tells me daily how organized I am and “would you please organize my office?”) for microfinancing if he will in turn let me work in the program, approving grants, making visits and doing assessments while also teaching me all he knows about microfinancing (he was the head of a microfinance organization for several years before the OAIC). So the deal is on! I have organized all the small grants information, and am now working with Benard to develop our programme to make it as successful for our recipients as we can. Today I was able to approve my first grant loan for a single mother who wishes to purchase a barber shop and run that. She is eager to get her business running and was very gracious to receive the loan. It was absolutely wonderful to ahnd her a check that will have such an influence on her life, it will provide her with a sustainable income rather than just a check that will run out in several months. I look forward to going to Terry’s barber shop in two weeks to see what improvements she has made and how business is going and bringing her a steady job and income.

I have also been keeping myself busy by coaching swimming for Atieno (my site co-ordinator’s daughter) and her swim team. I am focused mainly on Atieno right now as there are two male coaches there as well. It is turning into a rather nice morning tradition, Phyllis picks me at the corner and brings me to swim practice at 6a, after Atieno swims Phyllis and I drink a cup of tea while we wait for Atieno to finish her shower so we can drop her at school and I can head into work. I taught swim lessons in the US and always enjoyed coaching the older kids more than teaching the young ones to swim (mostly because I do not need to get in the pool to coach). I have really enjoyed teaching Atieno; Phyllis asked me to come to her swim lesson after Atieno’s first gala disheartened her as she came in last place in her 3 events. I hope to boost her confidence back up and have her win a few events at the next gala! Here’s hoping. The swim coach has also asked me to join his triathalon training for an event in Mombasa later this year: I am considering the pros and cons of this offer right now but will most likely join him in the training: wish me luck!

That’s all for now, my apologies for my delay in posting. Will post more pictures and updates soon! I have excluded a few details but promise more to come when I return. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Getting the groove....

This week has again been very exciting. I devoted much of last and unfortunately also this week to developing a poster for the OAIC’s new program, Just Communities. Seeing as I do not have a degree in graphic design, experience in graphic design and rather poor computer skills -outside of facebook- this was a challenge for me. I finally produced a pretty nice poster ready to go, I was ready to get it off to the printers, excited to pick them up on Saturday and hand them out to the churches I met with on Sunday. Unfortunately, this was soo not the case. It is Wednesday and I am still eagerly calling printers, meeting with printers and making failed attempts to transfer my work, done in my favorite program (Word) to fancy graphic design programs- still to no avail, here’s hoping my new friend Godfrey will pull through by tomorrow morning and bring in great posters! What is the point of these posters you may ask and how does it coincide with a year of service in Kenya? Good question…

Talking to a group from Kibera about the MDGs and our mobilization effort that kicked off on 10.10.10
The OAIC’s Just Communities program launched in September and we are working on spreading the word about this exciting new program. One effort we are making is simply to inform people about the Millennium Development Goals; about two weeks ago we held a workshop on the MDGs and discovered that an overwhelming majority of those involved knew very little about the MDGs and what they knew was often misinformed. The point of this specific poster is to hand out to different AICs so that they can hang them up and use as a tool to help inform members about the goals. I found that when people learned that the government has made a promise to resolve many of the issues that are daily struggles for them they become more involved and interested, simply by becoming informed! So I hope that these posters will be able to do that and will be a good aid in our current mobilization effort. The mobilization effort had its BIG kickoff on Sunday- 10.10.10.

Some of you may remember that I wrote a blog about 2 weeks ago about the 10.10.10 day of prayer- well it finally happened! It was a huge success, it seems that we have exceeded our goal of having 2 million Africans united in prayer! On Sunday I traveled with a team from the OAIC to five churches in Kayole and Kibera. Some of the churches were less informed about the day of prayer to which I would explain to them what is now becoming “my schpeel” about the MDGs, our mobilization efforts and how to become involved. Other churches were more in the know about the effort and were excited that someone from the OAIC was there to thank them for their participation. Two of the churches even waited for me to get there after they had finished, when I arrived they greeted me with hugs, song and dance and asked me to speak. The groups I met with on Sunday were happy to be joining together with so many people worldwide in this effort and eager to learn about “what’s next.”

I diverged from the OAIC this weekend and went to “First Love” orphanage in Karin, a part of Nairobi. Michael (fellow YAV and RIGHT next door neighbor) has traveled to Kenya before, on his last trip to Kenya he worked with First Love so he knows many of the girls and the people who run the orphanage. Michael, Kathryn, Ellen (also fellow YAVs) and I went to First Love via three matatus. We had some excellent and diverse matatu experiences (gospel, dirty hip-hop and reggae) which of course gets you ready to go for any day. When we arrived at the compound the girls were unbelievably excited to see us, we drove in in a van that Karen (mom of the orphanage) picked us up in, by the time we had exited the van there were about 11 girls already there ready to shake our hands and find out who we were. Each girl came up to introduce herself, shake our hands and welcome us to the compound. Once we met all 23 girls a large majority of the girls led us on a tour of the compound, our main tour guide was 14 year old Caroline. The compound is really beautiful and well organized, they have a borehole well that delivers them clean drinking water, a generator, a dining room, a large soccer field, swing set, and a basketball hoop above the garage. The girls eagerly showed us all which room was theirs and I commented on how every girls bed was made so well and clothes were folded so nicely (if they had been at camp they certainly would have won capers) to which they all bashfully smiled.

The rest of the day was spent playing lightning rounds of basketball on the basketball hoop above the garage (am I really the only one who has played that game before?) meeting the new two week old puppies and the one kitten that was still roaming the compound and swinging on the swing set seeing who could jump off the swings the furthest (despite being really good at this at age 10, I am no longer good-at all). The day was really wonderful I felt so lucky to meet girls with such amazing spirits and spend some good quality time letting go of myself and enjoying the day as it was- basketball, swinging and playing with puppies.
Taking a break from playing with the puppies to hang out with Caroline and Juliette 
A little about the girls at First Love- First Love began as a program to feed the children at a school in Kibera, workers of First Love began doing home visits and noticing that many children were OVC (orphaned and vulnerable children) so came the orphanage- the new compound was built several years ago with only 8 girls living there, now 23 girls have been able to find comfort and love at the First Love orphanage. In several months time the compound will open up to boys from similar situations- they have built a new building with plenty of rooms to fit all the boys and girls.

My life in my apartment is settling in, I spoke to my sister and explained to her what I was up to and she commented that its amazing how a feel normal things can make you feel right at home (she also just moved from New York, she lives in DC now. I realized that a few simple things that I have made a routine of doing without even knowing have really comforted me; drinking the same juicebox and eating the same granola bar in the morning, watching an episode of “Army Wives” before bed, listening to my iPod in the morning as I get dressed for the day etc. Despite living in a new continent with a seven hour time difference from all my friends and family, cultural differences faced every day, settling into a tiny dorm-room style apartment, seeing abject poverty on a daily basis and facing a new challenge every day, I have managed to kind of feel at home with pictures of friends and family around my room and some routine in my day- things are settling in. That being said- I am still in a twice daily fight with my bathroom light fixture, a daily struggle with my flooding shower and a twice daily struggle with dish washing (hoping that one day I will appreciate these as a part of my comforting routine.)

My bedroom/apartment

Kitchen/office area.

My office. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Transition into OAIC

I realize how long it has been since my last blog post. Before I left for Kenya my goal was to blog twice a week, I am surprised at how difficult of a time I am having finding time to write blogs. I would be lying if I said it is because I am so busy, I certainly have time to blog but I do get caught up in a lot of what is going on around me in Kenya and trying to stay in touch with myself- Good Self Care if you will.
I have now been working with the OAIC for about a week and a half, I am still really enjoying my experience here. There have been a lot of challenges but it seems a lot of challenges I will be able to learn from. This weekend I traveled with David, from the OAIC Kenya chapter, to several meetings concerning the 10.10.10 day of prayer. On Saturday we traveled to Huruma, an informal settlement (slum) on the other side of Nairobi. We met with several pastors from the Huruma area to talk about the Millennium Development Goals, ways to mobilize their congregations and ways to get more people from the community involved in the movement to make the MDGs happen. I was slightly nervous to begin speaking but after a few minutes of explaining I noticed that the pastors were engaged and truly interested in what I had to say. That’s something I have noticed here- a lot of respect for what anyone is saying. I think the pastors I have spoken to are sincerely ready to get their congregations involved and make a difference so they are eager to listen to anyone who is also willing to help or may be able to inform them of something new. The disappointing point came when I finished speaking and David asked if anyone was able to understand me and the overwhelming response was laughter “hapana” meaning no. He explained that I am too fluent in English, speak too fast and have too strong of an accent so he translated into Kiswahili for me- after that finished they were very happy to have heard what I said and thanked me profusely which was really reaffirming.
On Sunday I did the same type of thing this time traveling to Kibira and Kayora (sp?). In Kayora we went to church- an AIC church. The service was amazing but there were certainly some differences that were interesting. When we walked in we were asked to take our shoes off, I had been following David most of the day as I still have not figured my way around, I followed David to his chair and was slightly upset that he hadn’t designated a seat for me so I awkwardly stood next to him, after a few moments I looked around and realized I was the only woman on that side of church- as if I wasn’t standing out enough as the only tall Blonde girl with her hair not covered not speaking Kikuyu, I just had to make sure everyone knew I was there and I was a little lost. The women were very friendly when I found myself a seat on the woman’s side of church. We sang really joyful songs, in the AICs the song goes as long as the congregation is feeling it, there is no hymnal to say stop singing, which is really kind of liberating, it makes worship really enjoyable, joyful and exciting in a different kind of way. There were lots of drums at this service which I absolutely loved- one song was lead by two youth in the church a girl and a boy about 12 or 13 years old, I have never seen youth so empowered and excited to be leading worship. In the middle of the service (which is about 1.5 hours after I arrived) we presented our project and the Millennium Development Goals, the congregation was unbelievably appreciative of the newsprint paper I had brought with the MDGs written on them, they immediately took the paper and taped it to the front of the church. Again, of course I spoke for minutes only to be told that no one understood me. David translated a conversation between myself and the congregation for me. I introduced myself as Grace Lindvall from New York (he translated me as Grace Maxwell- I am not longer Grace Lindvall as people find Lindvall very difficult to pronounce, when I explained it was my family name, not Maxwell they said “well, we don’t know them” therefore, I am not Grace Maxwell, no more Lindvall in Kenya) the congregation asked if I was married, I shook my head and they clapped with joy and asked if I would like to join their family! I told them I was still a little too young to be thinking about marriage and they agreed, they then thanked me again for coming to visit them and graciously told me that I was the first Muzungu to visit their church and that even though they couldn’t understand what I said they could see the Holy Spirit working through me- what an amazing thing to say to a person! I am continually shocked at the generous compliments I hear, the people I have met thus far in Kenya are extremely kind and joyful, its amazing to see.
I was speaking to another YAV who has traveled to Africa before about the incredible amount of joy present here. It’s really true, I traveled to Kibira which is thought to be one of the largest slums in the world- we opened the meeting with a moment of prayer and the people were down on their knees thanking God for each aspect of their life- there is so much gratitude and joy in conditions that I would find so difficult to live in. Its amazing that people really appreciate each aspect of their life. I thought about how many of the gifts I am given on a day-to-day basis that I simply overlook and the friends and family and relationships I have been blessed with that I take for granted, I often thank God for the big things in my life forgetting how lucky I am to have a working sewage system and drinking water that comes out of my faucet and 3 balanced meals a day and a family that will do anything for me. I guess its an experience that will and already has already really made me reflect on the gifts I have.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Septemba 29

On Monday I began working with the OAIC. My first three days have proven to be exciting and wonderful opportunities for learning. I will be working in communications, developing stories on OAIC programs, events and churches across the continent. The past two days I have focused my attention on two events/programs of the OAIC: the ‘Just Communities’ program and ‘Micah 10.10.10’ event. The OAIC has created a new program focused on creating ‘Just Communities’ which aims to enable, mobilize, and capacitate its member churches, AICs (African Instituted/Independent Churches which are generally smaller churches in rural areas and informal settlements (slums)). AIC churches focus their tithes on the communities they live in, often micro-financing tithes within the church and village/community the church is based in. So far I have only traveled to two AIC churches and have found that the churches are vibrant, dynamic and joyful- the AICs often split from traditional Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran etc. churches because they were too restricting in worship services, AICs embrace African joy through singing, dancing, clapping etc during worship services…. Back to the Micah 10.10.10 event….

On October 10, 2010 (Sunday after next) churches across Africa will join together in prayer. The event on 10.10.10 is simply to pray, to pray for an end to poverty, hunger, gender inequality and poor health- issues that are daily struggles for many AIC members. Across the African continent, the OAIC hopes to have 2 million members joined together in prayer for the day, the prayer is this:

O Lord, our great and awesome God, loyal to your promise of love and faithful to all who honour and obey you. Hear our prayer.
We pray for those of us who live in poverty, we cry out for those who are denied justice and we weep for all who are suffering.
We pray for strength, that we continue to care for each other, and that we rise up to the challenge of poverty and the evil of injustice.
We confess that we have not always obeyed you. We have neglected your commands and have ignored your call to justice. We have not always spoken out for justice. We have been guided by our interests and divided by our differences. Forgive us.
We remember your promises to fill the hungry with good things, to redeem the land by your mighty hand and to restore peace.
Father God, help us always to proclaim your justice and mercy with humility, so that, by the power of your Spirit, we can rid the world of the sin of extreme poverty.
As part of your global church, we stand with millions who praise and worship you.
May our words and deeds declare your perfect goodness, love and righteousness to both the powerful and the powerless, so that your Kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven.

Micah 10.10 is a tool/campaign to empower churches to talk to the government, to get members involved and aware of the government’s promises to them (Millenium Development Goals). October 10, 2010 is one day of prayer to motivate, enable and mobilize members; the plea for an end to poverty does not end there, AIC churches are being asked to make a promise to work in fellowship with each other to end poverty and to act in fellowship with the poor help their struggle, also to work together to remind their leaders to honor commitments they have made to aid the poor. Micah 10.10 challenge seeks to create a strong voice in the AICs to challenge their leaders to aid the poor. The last aspect of the Micah 10.10 challenge is to mobilize AIC communities to get involved, become active and engaged in ending the poverty that affects their day-to-day life.

I write all this for two reasons, one is that this is what I am working on and I would like you to know the work I am doing but also to ask that you may also join in the Micah challenge on the 10th of October and become involved in the challenge that the AICs are facing.

Galatians 2:10 All they asked was the we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.’

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mombasa Express

I have safely arrived nyumbani (home) in Nairobi from a wonderful weekend long journey to Mombasa with my Kenya Family. We spent the weekend travelling along the Eastern coast of Kenya to some of the country’s most beautiful locations. But first, I must start with the beginning of the trip. . .

We arrived at the T.S.S. bus station as a group of eager, excited YAVs ready to travel to Mombasa for retreat. On the bus I sat behind the driver, next to Ellen, on top of the engine and next to two young Kenyan boys who were lying on the gymnastics mat that would, of course, be lying next the gear change. We spent the next 8 hours “on” the road. I learned a few things about Kenyan driving on my T.S.S. bus experience: the lines on the road are merely a suggestion or an idea, gear changing does NOT have to be a smooth movement from 3rd to 4th, if you can see the car in front of you, you must pass it, bus drivers are great DJs and turning your brights off as you pass another car is neither a courtesy nor an expectation. Upon arrival at the T.S.S. in Mombasa we went in to purchase our return tickets at which point I saw three chickens in the hands of their owners walk into the bus station as well. Once we had our tickets we were off.

We stayed at a hostel on the beach in Mombasa and were welcomed by friendly Kenyans, excited to have us as their guests. Our first day in Mombasa we found our way to 2 amazing ruins in Kenya, Gedi and Mnarani. Mnarani is a smaller site mostly consisting of the mosque at Mnarani. We had free rein over the site and explored it to the fullest, we went with a Professor of Archeology at the University Of Nairobi, David Kyule, who toured us around the site, explaining the significance of each aspect of the mosque, we even found some undocumented pots in the ground, we learned that even something as small as a broken pot can tell us about the trading practices of the people, so pretty exciting- look for us in the archeology books! After checking out the ruins, Steven and I walked to the beach and along the way stumbled upon a reptile rescue, as you can only do in Kenya. On our way to Malindi we stopped to talk to a church that has split from the Anglican Church to form an independent church. We were so warmly welcomed and really enjoyed our experience. The church has an interesting model for outreach, they microfinance the majority of the offerings, loaning the money to church members so that they may be able to attend school, have operations, etc., once the receivers of the loan have stabilized themselves or used the money to go to school and have now found a job, the money is returned by ‘paying it forward’ to another person who may be in a similar situation. The church was incredibly dynamic, involved and accepting- making me very excited to begin my work with the OAIC (Organization of African Instituted/Independent Churches).

We spent our second day in Mombasa on the water, one of my favorite ways to spend a day. We drove about 2 hours away towards Tanzania where we took a ferry to an island off the coast and negotiated a good price to take a small sailboat/motorboat combination to a much smaller island further off the coast to go snorkeling at a Kenyan national park, its considered a national park as it has over 400 species of fish swimming near the coast of the island. Our captain told us we were free to snorkel until we were pleased, leaving us plenty of time to run around on the beautiful white sand beach and swim around checking out all the fish near the island.

Our final day in Mombasa I was able to see one thing I had been hoping to see while in Kenya: giraffes, and I was fortunate enough to be able to feed them as well! We also went to Bombolulu, a project designed to make disabled Kenyans independent. At Bombolulu people are able to learn skills in making leather-ware, jewelry, cloth, woodcarving and aid devices (wheelchairs etc.) Bombolulu is a fair trade project that also integrates people who do not have disabilities into the work team. The project teaches skills so that the people involved may be able to sustain themselves rather than being dependent. Our last tourist stop before heading home to Nairobi was at Fort Jesus. We had great tour guides who took us all around the fort explaining the history of the Portuguese and Arab holds on the fort. Mombasa has an interesting history of Portuguese and Arab involvement and tension between Christians and Muslims- lots of tension in conversion between both religions.

We met back at T.S.S. for an even more exciting return journey home. The bus left at 9p. and was to arrive in Nairobi at 5a. so we had planned to sleep on the bus to be ready for a busy day of orientation the next day- oh how mistaken we were! There is nothing soothing about a T.S.S. bus ride home a few highlights: the people at the petrol station parting and running from our bus that was headed full speed into the station, the bus driver found the road too crowded so he drove several kilometers on the gravel between the two highways and being 3 wide on the gravel detour (old Kenyan road). Sitting in the front row of the bus (2 seats that are to the left of and in front of the driver) was much like a trip to six flags, without the lines. We did however make it home in good time, arriving in Nairobi about twenty minutes early, and (thankfully) safe! We shared an incredible trip to Mombasa, I am so happy to have been able to see all the amazing things we saw and thoroughly enjoyed our break from orientation!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

nyumbani Kenya

Nyumbani- home!

Kenya is starting to feel like home now. I find myself sitting now with Ellen, Kathryn and Steven at Dorman's coffee shop with a chocolate chip cookie and iced tea enjoying some time with moderately fast internet and my very own computer!

I have returned from a nice, though difficult, homestay with my Kenya family. I spent the weekend with my Kenyan Mama, Baba, and two sisters- Ndiga and Nysie. My family is absolutely wonderful and graciously welcomed me into their home, treating me like one of the family. I spent a lot of time reading and journaling my first day with my family. The next day was much more exciting- several experiences in my new favorite form of transportation, a matatu! Its strange how at home a matatu has made me feel, crowded, squished, and blaring hip-hop must be just what I needed to feel at home! We also made our way to a wedding! Unfortunately, I was a wedding crasher rather than an invited guest, nonetheless I enjoyed seeing some of the traditions of a Kenyan wedding, such as the grooms family greeting the bride and singing tribal songs to her as she proceeded into the reception, dancing in circles to traditional music and of toasts in Kiswahili! On Sunday I experienced my first time in a Kenyan church! the service was WONDERFUL, we went to the Youth service which was full of new and traditional songs, in both Kiswahili and English. I was amazed at just how welcoming the congregation was, I was invited to tea, bible study and to volunteer with the church office, in one afternoon! After church (8a-2p) I enjoyed what I would consider a typical Sunday afternoon, post-church, reading and watching TV on the couch with the family. My little sister and I watched hours of "Real Housewives of Atlanta." How comforting?
I am now back with my YAV Kenya Family, orienting ourselves to Nairobi. We have taken 2 Kiswahili classes which as a whole tunapenda (we love). We are learning greetings and the beginnings of conversations. Mama Byrd has also arranged for us to have some amazing lecturers on topics such as "Spirituality in Africa" and "Church Life in Africa" so far. I am really enjoying the time I have been able to spend with my fellow YAVs, lots of laughter and encouragement from an AMAZING group.

We are off to Mombasa on Saturday for 2 days- I will return with some exciting stories!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Kenya Family- "And then God said 'TIGER get DOWN!'"

After a more than exciting journey to Nairobi- the family has arrived safely!

Our flight to Kenya left Newark, NJ at 5:30p to allow enough time to get to the airport the family (with honorary member John) left Stony Point, NY at 2:30. We shoved our bags into the trunk and tied them to the top of our car for 45 minutes and finally headed out to Newark, leaving behind many wonderful friends. Upon arrival at Newark 3 family members (myself, Ellen and Michael)learned that our flights did not exist or had been canceled. With little/no help from the Continental agent we found our tickets and began the light jog that turned into a run to gate 96. I enjoyed my 8 hour flight to Amsterdam alongside Michael and fortunately in the front row of the plane, allowing fr extra leg room.

Amsterdam!!! Ahh, Amsterdam! Amsterdam must have the kindest people I have ever met. The 3 hours I spent at the airport in Amsterdam were lovely, every person I spoke to was polite and kind.

8 hours later...Nairobi!

The family arrived in Nairobi late Tuesday evening and had a relatively easy exchange through customs, immigration and baggage claim (note: Ben collected an Australian man's luggage :( ) We found a nice taxi driver named Chris holding a sign for "YAV" and followed him to his van where we packed our things into another van and headed off for another adventure. As we left the airport Chris turned to us to ask "where to?" The 6 of us chuckled knowing that we didn't have a clue where we were headed. We called Phyllis who was waiting for us at the airport!!!?! A warm welcome I guess one could say, when two people come to collect you at the airport.

The family is all together and navigating our way through Nairobi, eager to begin homestays tomorrow and looking forward to the exciting adventure of Orientatioin Phyllis has planned for us!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Minute for Mission

This Sunday I gave the minute for mission in my home church, The Brick Presbyterian Church. Following the service I hosted a table at coffee hour for members and friends to learn more about my year of service in Kenya. I was thrilled with the amount of support in all forms I received on Sunday. Though it is humbling to ask friends, family and congregation members for financial gifts, it feels wonderful to have such a great amount of support already.

I gave my minute for mission on Youth Sunday- a worship service wholly produced by the 8th grade confirmation class. The confirmation class this year did an amazing job, I was impressed by all that they did and how well-spoken they all were. Eight years ago I participated in the same Youth Sunday so giving my minute for mission on Youth Sunday was a great experience and really enjoyable to be in my home church again.

I want to thank all the people who supported me on Sunday through their interest in my year of service in Kenya, prayers, and financial gifts. I truly appreciate all of it ~ Thank you!

Here is a copy of my minute for mission:
Grace Lindvall
Minute for Mission

Eight years ago, I participated in this Youth Sunday as a part of my confirmation into the Brick Church. I was one of the preachers that day, and on this Sunday I come as a Brick member who has continued to grow in her faith. I am proud and excited to share with you the next part of my faith journey that I will begin this August.
This March the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) offered me an amazing opportunity to serve as a Young Adult Volunteer in Kenya. The Young Adult Volunteer program is a part of the Presbyterian Church’s general mission council that sends over 70 young adults across the nation and across the world to serve communities in need. I will leave on my journey to Kenya at the end of the summer with 5 other young adult volunteers.
Though I have not yet learned of my specific placement while I am in Kenya I can mention some of the opportunities I may have and some of the other ways I will be serving while in Kenya.
Former YAVs have served as teachers in schools on the Eastern Coast of Kenya, worked in ecumenical organizations across the country, worked for Church world service, and worked with NGOs in Nairobi. I am looking forward to hearing of my placement in Kenya and am anxious to begin work at my placement.
Another important part. of the Young Adult Volunteer program is for me to immerse myself in the culture of Kenya. I hope to better understand the needs of the people we are serving. YAVs learn to combine their mission as ‘being’ and as ‘doing.’ The juxtaposition of these two things will be an important aspect of my mission in Kenya. I look forward to learning and experiencing Kenyan, culture and people and I look forward to the new challenges this will bring to me in my faith, strength, and character.
I ask you today for your support of my journey in three ways
1. your prayers- Please pray for me and the people with me in Kenya
2. your interest in my travels- I will send updates via newsletters, emails, and blogs I would love and appreciate your support and partnership with me in my year of service to Kenya
3. Your financial gifts- I need to raise $9,000 for my journey to Kenya and I would appreciate any gifts.
I will be downstairs at Coffee Hour selling shares for my trip to Kenya and talking about the experience I will have in Kenya, please consider supporting me and come learn more about my year of service in Kenya at coffee hour.

Thank you, and congratulations to the confirmation class, I look forward to hearing about all you do.