So, at 7pm London time, we boarded our final eight hour flight for Kenya. If you’re keeping track, that is 38 hours total travel time, and two nights sleep in those wonderful airline seats. (On the trip from Chicago to London our seats were upgraded to economy plus, which gave you extra leg space, and that was extremely wonderful, even for a short person like me!) I have to say that the whole travel thing went extraordinarily smoothly. Every single flight was on time, or even a little early. There was never any prolonged time sitting in the plane waiting to take off. And our tour leader was extremely proficient at moving 17 people through all the different check in points–that was very comforting to not have to worry about any of that. Security in some places was pretty lax, while in others they were extremely thorough. I never had to be searched, though, thank goodness. Someone had told me to not wear loose clothing. So I had a comfortable outfit that was fitted–black cords and a black cotton turtleneck sweater, along with my fuzzy white jacket and a black and white silk scarf that I had woven years ago. It was the perfect traveling outfit, I have to say. I take dramamine for motion sickness when I fly, and even though it is labeled ‘less drowsy formula,’ I cannot stay awake on a plane! Another plus on a long trip!
Eight and a half hours later we arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, at 8:30 in the morning. During our orientation, our leader had explained that the Kenyan people are extremely relational, and time is not extremely important to them. Just as he described, we were greeted by about 8 (extremely good looking) young men, and every single one of them greeted every single one of us with a handshake and a smile, and exchanging names. Doing the multiplication, that is about 136 handshakes!
In general, the Kenyan people are very beautiful. I saw so many young men and women that I thought “they could be models” if someone ‘discovered’ them. I was particularly impressed with their beautiful teeth and smiles. The woman (from the couple that was my age) was a microbiologist, and she explained that for tooth decay you need bacteria AND sugar. They eat very little sugar. Which was a good thing for me!
Let me backtrack here and explain again about the organization that I traveled with. Their name is Vapor Sports Ministries, and their goal is to provide humanitarian aid and sustainable life change, alongside sports and teaching people what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Like I have said several times, I am not much interested in sports. But I decided to support this group because it seemed more personal to send money to a smaller organization, to people that I actually knew and trusted. I know that there are many other organizations that are doing the same thing, and doing it well. Actually, that was one of my takeaway thoughts–the enormity of the problem of extreme poverty in this world. You could allow it to paralyze you into apathy or inactivity. But we can’t allow that to happen.
In the orientation, they talked about how traditional ‘missions trips’ are not actually helpful. To just swoop in and paint a building or hand out some food and clothing does not solve the problem. So one of their goals is to empower the local people to use their resources(!) and to build leadership from within. This was really one of the great things that I saw. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Back to the airport. We were all tired, of course, but the goal was to keep us up, so we would get on Kenyan time and be able to sleep that night. So we got all loaded up–17 people and 34 giant bags–that’s a lot of loading up! Each person took one large bag for themselves, and one large bag loaded with sports equipment for the soccer teams there.
Driving through Nairobi I was struck with the, well, with how dirty and unfinished everything was. I’m not talking about the slums. Just in general they do not have the resources or money or whatever it is that we have to ‘make things nice.’ And then, how there was nice housing like right next door to slums.
I’ll try to describe the road to the guesthouse that we stayed at. So you turn off the main road (OMGOSH, I’ll have to talk about the traffic and the driving later. I just chose to trust that our drivers were extremely skilled and competent…) and on the corner there was a very large, very nice brick catholic church. But the road in front of it was just a rutted dirt and rock road leading straight into a slum area. The slum areas all had multiple little shacks that were businesses of various sorts–food for sale, shoe repair, hair ‘salons’, which seemed to consist of a chair out front with a woman braiding her customer’s hair, etc. Multiple goats and chickens running around, and tons of darling little kids waving and saying “howareyou howareyou howareyou?” in singsong voices. The driver explained that that is the first thing they learn in school and are waiting for us to say “fine.” So we continue down this rutted dirt road, past more goats and chickens and kids, make a couple of sharp turns, and come to this guest house, kind of like a little apartment house (which I imagine is similar to what we would find in America in ‘the projects’ or such. VERY basic facilities. There was a shower, no stall. You had to turn the hot water heater on each time you wanted to take a shower, and the showers were usually lukewarm, with the occasional blast of ice cold or scalding hot water. Not complaining, just describing. Next door to where we stayed were our hosts for the trip. An EXTREMELY charming and gracious couple who served a great breakfast every morning. Let’s just say my resolve to not eat much wheat went out the window on this trip. Toast, french toast, pancakes, sandwiches…you name it, I ate it. They did also serve good eggs, even made omelets sometimes. Not a lot of fruit, and not as many veggies as I am used to. Very little dairy. Because there is not much refrigeration available. They did serve FANTASTIC coffee every morning. My friends had kindly allowed me to borrow their little coffee maker, but I really didn’t need it most mornings. Because we started every day at 7am!
Anyway, we arrived and this pretty vine was growing on the outside of the building. I was still in the ‘its impolite to take too many pictures mode’ so unfortunately I don’t have any other pics of where we stayed.
Then back in the bus and on to the center in Kawangware. Now. I had looked at all the pictures on the Vapor website. And had seen videos when they came to our church to speak. But as with anything, pictures are not the same as in person. So the sights were not surprising to me. The enormity of the space and problem was a bit overwhelming. Coupled with the fact that the whole time I am thinking, this is just one slum in one city. Actually this is not even the biggest slum in THIS city. And then of course the other senses are bombarded. Specifically the sense of smell. And actually, for whatever reason, the smell was not as offensive to me as even our own American dumps. I don’t know why. Maybe because it was the ever present smell of burning coals. They always have little coal ovens going. Sometimes there were piles of garbage burning, but more often it was cooking something or other. They are very industrious, and even in the slums there were lines and lines of little stalls offering food and other stuff for sale.
We had been told during our orientation to be sensitive and to not take pictures in the slums, which was disappointing to me because I wanted to take pictures to share and for inspiration for possible quilts. So I didn’t take many pictures, but I do have some that were taken by Drew VanFossen, who does volunteer work for Vapor. His pictures show exactly what I saw. I think they are beautiful and artistic despite the poverty that they show.
This scene was so typical. These ducks were ever present, along with the goats and the chickens.
They split us into smaller groups and the Kenyan guys who work for Vapor took us on a tour of the slums. Kids were everywhere, the piles of garbage were everywhere, and little streams of sewage were running down the middle of the street. I wonder if my years of raising dogs and cleaning out dog kennels made this less horrific to me??
We went by this stall and I was completely fascinated. I told Lawrence, my guide about my fascination with quilting and all. So on the way back he brought me back by these ladies, and I had him ask if they minded me taking a picture because I loved to sew too. It looks like maybe they had a business repairing or even making work clothes for people. Probably they did whatever was needed. I didn’t see anything that looked like quilting. But again I was struck that not much is needed in way of space or materials to try to be creative.
The second day at Kawangware they again divided us into small groups and had each leader take us to his home (which was in the slum) for lunch. Oh, adventure! By this time we had already had one Kenyan lunch, so I was only a little nervous. I wish I could have taken a picture of their home. Two rooms. The room that we ate in was maybe 8 feet by 8 feet. Maybe. Lawrence’s wife had done her best to make it beautiful. There was a narrow bench in the middle that served as the table, with a narrow bench along one wall, and little chairs against the other wall. Somehow eight of us fit in there to eat. There were clean pretty cloths on the bench, and draped over the entrance into the other room. Lawrence disappeared and came back with warm sodas for everyone. Eventually (Kenya time was a common phrase on the trip,) a bowl and a pitcher of warm water was presented–they poured the warm water over our hands to wash them, which I thought was a very sweet thing to do. I don’t know if that is a custom, or if that was special for us Americans. The meal that Lydia presented was really very good–gumbala, rice, some kind of stew, and these delicious tortilla-like things called chapati. All of this was cooked outside on her little charcoal cooker. I’ll tell you, I was humbled by their hospitality. I think I can’t entertain because my house is too small and messy for people….
Here is a picture of Lydia. Isn’t she a beautiful woman?
Now then. There was a LOT of soccer playing going on on this trip. I’m not complaining. After all, the name of the group is Vapor Sports. I’m just saying. For this NON-sports loving woman, there was a LOT of soccer. The little guy in the yellow shirt is Freddy. He is one of the first kids they ‘rescued’ at Vapor. His mom had died, and he was living with his alcoholic dad who did not take care of him at all. Freddy is quite a character, and very confident. He is so typical of the kids (and adults) around there. VERY slim. My microbiologist friend was more inquisitive than I was, and asked one of the guys how often they ate, and they said matter-of-factly, “oh, once a day.” There you go, girls. The simple answer to all our problems with losing weight and keeping it off.
Being my usual shy, insecure self, I found myself sitting on the sidelines observing many times, while others in the group talked and played with the kids. This little girl, who was shy herself, picked a blade of grass and began tickling me!
We had fun talking and tickling, and she was quite intrigued with my camera and took quite a few pictures for me. Here’s the picture she took of me (remember, I am ‘puffy’ from travel LOL) The brick building in the background is the bathroom…Oh my, the bathrooms were also a challenge. Most of them were just a hole in the floor. But I have to say that I was patient, and only once during the whole trip did I have to use the hole in the floor. I did, however, always have my own tissue paper in my purse.)
Nanci and I together. The buildings in the background here are nice apartment buildings that have been built directly on the edge of the slum!
Wow. If you have made it this far, thank you. Come back tomorrow for continuing adventures in Africa!