Being back in Kenya is a powerful reminder of how much we here in the US (and many other countries) have, and how much we habitually take for granted. I type this note to you about my last Sunday in Kenya from the comfort of my Denver home. I’m sitting in my living room, with electric lights and central heating. A blizzard – an actual blizzard – is blowing outside. I’ve taken all the preparatory steps; in case the power goes out here.
Without electricity, the heat goes out as well, as does the water (which is powered by an electric pump). So, yesterday, I brought in every last bit of firewood we had. All the bathrooms have tubs of extra water for flushing the toilets. My “backup” charger for the phone is fully charged, as are all flashlights and headlamps. The water filter is full of fresh water and I’ve filled 3 extra gallon jugs for cooking and drinking. I’ve even whipped up a fresh batch of carnitas in the crock pot for good measure. I am the great-granddaughter of Midwestern pioneer women and it shows, doesn’t it?
In Kenya, 59% of the population don’t have access to indoor plumbing. And 41% don’t have access to clean water from a good well source. Only 55% of Kenyans have electricity in their homes – and only a fraction of those have central heating.
All the things I see as part of my normal daily routine are incredible luxuries for most Kenyans. Being able to step into a bathroom and turn on a faucet and have instant access to a hot shower. Being able to turn on ANY faucet and have running water. Being able to flush a toilet. Being able to flip a switch and have light, or heat. Many Kenyans I know forego adding these things to their homes, because their first focus is on helping their children get an education beyond the free public 5thgrade education (which often doesn’t even include classes in English). Their second focus is making sure their families have enough food to eat.
I mentioned in my first few blogs the vast income difference between a nurse in the US and one in Kenya. What’s even more startling is this statistic: 59% of Kenyans make less than $3.10 A DAY.
I had an appointment in Boulder yesterday and so I ate out for two meals. It wasn’t anything lavish, by any means. Yet I still spent 5 times the amount most Kenyans make in a day on just my breakfast out. I did the same for my lunch. And then it struck me that in a few short hours I had spent more than a week’s worth of most Kenyan families’ income. A sobering thought, for sure.
When I started my day last Sunday, in Kitale, I certainly thought of the luxury of a hot shower that morning. Four of us were heading to the Bungoma church – George, myself, Irene and Lavender. Which meant four people needing showers with hot water. Most of the household was up at 5am to make preparations. There was only time to heat one batch of water, if we were also going to also have hot chai for breakfast. One pot of hot water divided among four people produced more of a “tepid” shower than a hot one. I am fairly certain I have never showered and washed my hair this fast in my entire life!
Once dressed, we have a quick breakfast of chai, bread with spread, and fried egg. By 7:30am we are on the road. Our schedule is to arrive no later than 10:30am and we’re pretty much on track to make that happen. The praise and worship team will have been singing for about half an hour by that point.
Once again, however, road travel slows us down. We stop at one point to use a bathroom at a local church in the town of Chwele, where George knows the pastors – Wycliffe Wasike and his wife Naomi, who both went to seminary with George. Their service is in full swing and Naomi comes out to greet us. She invites us to stay for the service. We make our apologies, letting them know we are ourselves headed to preach, and promise to stop by on our way back to Kitale.
“Down the road and around the corner” from the Bukokholo church where I will be speaking, we drop Irene and Lavender off at the tarmac by the dirt road leading to their grandmother’s house. They will help George’s mom prep lunch for us to eat between the two services. Our plan is to do the morning service at the church, come back to the homestead for lunch, and then bring Irene and Lavender back with us for the second service before heading home. That way the girls can visit with their grandmother AND still get to hear me talk. In the past, Irene has always been at school when I’ve spoken so she’s yet to hear me speak.
It’s Kenya, so things don’t turn out quite as we had planned. Being able to go with the flow is an essential part of Kenya, for sure.
It is a full house at the Bokokholo hospital where the church services are held in the waiting room area. It’s the same room where I spoke 13 years ago. The hospital main building has not changed much since my last visit. The separate rustic clay brick dormitory intended for the staff – which had been only partially built when I was there before – has completely collapsed and the bricks have been scavenged or sold. The stone fountain (which the original supporting American church had requested be built before the hospital building itself), has been dismantled as well, and the bronze plaque was sold for scrap metal, to help pay for food as well as taxes on the property, as I’d hoped it would be.
I once again remind George that my only request is that they never, never, never name a building after me or build a monument or erect a plaque to commemorate any work we do in Kenya. I still have a hard time with organizations that want to spend money on dedications and other evidence of their good deeds in Kenya when that money could be better spent on the project itself. This is why it’s been a decade since I’ve been Kenya. The $2500+ spent on travel this time is $2500 that I’ve instead put toward school fees, farming projects and other essentials each year.
The only reason I’ve agreed to spend the money and come to Kenya right now is so I can share the situation with others and encourage folks to give as guided so we can solidify the house purchase and keep moving the family forward into full sustainability. My goal is to drum up interest in our mid-July service safari – we need 10 paying travelers in order for that trip to happen. We have until the end of April to get the first $1,000 deposits in from folks, so the tour company can proceed and lock in our airfare and accommodations. I’m certain that folks who are reading this will be guided to either come with me or to sponsor someone else’s trip so that person can be of service on their behalf.
All the plans we’ve laid this first part of my trip are falling into place. We keep examining our different options; refining them every time we’re driving in the car, or sitting still at a meal. It’s so much easier to talk face to face than it is over the phone or via Facebook messages!
Across the street from the hospital is where Evans used to live, and where the community well used to be. Our $100 donation 13 years ago paid to replace a broken part on the well pump and restored it to full functionality. The well finally collapsed a little while ago, which is common for shallowly-dug wells in this area. As a result, Pastor Evans and his family have moved onto the hospital property. He and his family now live in a few rooms on the far right side of the hospital building.
Their presence helps keep the hospital property secure. They have set up a living room and several bedrooms and created an outdoor kitchen area, where his wife Evelyn and other women in their fellowship are preparing a lunch meal for the church staff under the shade of a few trees. Beyond the kitchen, at the far edge of the property, new outhouses have been erected, after the previous pit latrines filled up. Even the metal frame that was built for the cistern at the front of the property has since been sold for scrap.
The hospital still has no exterior windows or doors, or interior windows for that matter. Wooden doors have been erected on the rooms being used for living quarters. The roughed in electric and plumbing is still in place; however, there is no running water or electricity.
I’m impressed with the praise and worship team and how they’ve managed to work around the electrical situation to create their own sound system – complete with a speaker, amplifier, keyboard, and a number of microphones. The whole thing is being powered by two car batteries, tucked under the table Evans’ son is using as a keyboard stand.
When we finish our morning service, Pastor Evans announces that a young man has finally succeeded in achieving a dream he had to increase the sustainability for his family. He has asked us to do a blessing of the boda bodahe has just bought. The purchase of this motorcycle means so much for him and his family. Now they have transportation, and he can work as a boda bodadriver for income. The motorcycle is brand new, a shiny metallic blue, and he has the traditional “taxi” yellow helmet, which is labeled with large black letters and numbers that match his license plate number.
I ask the driver if he will give me a ride on the motorcycle – as his first passenger. We wheel the motorcycle out of the sanctuary, I climb onto the seat behind him, and we drive out the gate of the hospital property, turning right and going down the red dirt road a kilometer or so, before we turn back so George, Evans and I can drive to George’s mom’s house for lunch. I cross boda boda ride off my bucket list.
When we arrive at the homestead, so much has changed since my last visit. Momma’s gray clay house is still standing to the left. To the right, all that’s left of the living quarters that once housed the wives and children of George’s late brother, Josephat, are a few bits of the back and side brick walls. The outhouses are long gone, as are the three thatched round huts that the boys had moved into when they had become men during the cut ceremony, 13 years ago. They have long since grown and moved away.
I alight from the car and make strides straight up the stairs to where momma is inside her house. Great big hugs and smiles ensue. Momma hasn’t changed in 13 years. She is pure light and love. She speaks neither English nor Swahili. Since Evans and George are both from this area, Evans is glad to translate for me she George’s mom and I can catch up.
I head down through the fields to where George’s brother Andrew has his house on the compound, to use the outhouse and to say hi to Andrew and his family. The girls are still working on the lunch prep. I eat a piece of the green mango Lavender offers to me (very sour!) and sit down under a mango tree with Andrew and his six-month old son, who I hold on my lap as we talk. Evans and George make their way down as well, to introduce me to another neighbor, and to let me know that we’re changing plans, as otherwise we won’t make it back in time for me to do the second service at the church.
Instead, we will go back to the service with the girls and come back here afterward for dinner before we head home. I step into momma’s house to say goodbye and let her know we will be back for dinner. She places her hands on either side of my face, each one pressing my cheeks inward. Evans translates as she tells me “you preach from your heart. Like Jesus did.” I assure her I will.
Five minutes later we’re back at the church building. Evelyn and the women’s fellowship have worked their magic and a full spread of lunch is on the table in the sitting room for us, minutes after we arrive. We eat while the praise and worship team energizes the crowd. I think back to my last visit here and the way the they danced and sang their way into and out of the church.
When I step in front of the crowd this time, I am guided to share the reasons we think we’re not connected to God, and why we think we’re not worthy of being children of God. I talk about how remembering that we are one with God begins with letting go of beliefs we’ve picked up in this world, from our experiences in life.
I walk the audience through the way we each develop our Core Beliefs (of abandonment, guilt, lack/limitation, powerlessness, unworthiness, and death/dying off) as we “experience” life – and the ways we can each transform those beliefs in our lives.
We pray for a woman in the congregation, who has suddenly found herself losing her sight.
As Pastor Evans prays us out for the last time today, he waxes eloquent about a gift they wish to give me, to show my American family and friends how very loved I am in Kenya. He makes a point of saying that he knows I’ll accept this gift as it’s offered to me, because it is given with so much love. I nod enthusiastically, and with my agreement, Evan’s wife pops into the sanctuary with a live chicken, whose legs have been trussed up. Great laughter ensues and I heartily accept this gift, knowing the inside joke from yesterday’s thwarted gift of the pigeon.
We all know there is no way this chicken will survive in the heat, in the back of the car, for the four-hour drive back to Kitale. This will be a beautiful gift that I can share with George’s momma – especially since she has just butchered one of her own chickens, to provide us with a meal at her home. By the time we’re all back in the car, it is nearly 6pm. We say our goodbyes, and head back to the homestead.
Momma is overjoyed with the gift of the chicken. So much so, she begins dancing and trying to tickle me, just as she does her son and her grandchildren. I have so much love for this woman, and she has so much love for life.
George was kind enough to bring the gift bag I had given him when I arrived in Kitale – it contains a mohair scarf for his momma. I had been holding onto this scarf for years, in anticipation of one day being able to give it to her. She loves it and immediately puts it on.
The light is starting to fade as sunset nears. We pull back the curtains that hang over the open window to get a bit more light in the sitting room where we will eat, as there is no electricity in momma’s house. When we finish eating, we head for Kitale.
An hour in, we take our first rest break and stop again at Wycliffe and Naomi’s church. This time we arrive just as a downpour begins. Pastor Wycliff is ready and waiting for us and invites us in to sit and enjoy a soda in the sitting room that is behind the church stage. Wycliffe is struck by the fact that Lavender and Irene – who were little children the last time he saw them – have now grown into poised women, and they reminisce about the old days.
Wycliffe and George share how he grew his church – it has been a 20-year process. Polepole. Slowly. It all started with the purchase of the property. The room we sat in for our visit was the entire space of the original church. Every time the congregation would get to a point of capacity, they would tear down a wall and expand the church just enough to add 3 more rows of chairs. Now, the Hosanna Celebration Centre-Chwele is a thriving church community. In addition to the church, the property also includes several small houses they rent out. Wycliffe also receives an income as a teacher, which has helped them have greater stability as well.
As we rise to leave about 30 minutes later, the power goes out. I use a water bottle and the flashlight on my phone to create a makeshift lantern so we can make our way out of the building and back to the car. On the road again, George and I talk about the opportunities there may be for him to teach at any of the local seminary or Bible Institutes in the area or in Nakuru to start bringing in additional income.
We’re less than an hour from home when the phone call comes – momma has suddenly gone catatonic and is experiencing some slight tremors or seizures. It’s been happening the last few years and the doctors had warned her not to get too excited or too upset. Seeing her grandchildren and me again after all these years was a bit more excitement than usual, for sure. George’s brother promises to keep us posted and to call if anything changes.
We arrive home and everyone goes to bed – it has been a very long day, indeed. Tomorrow we have one more speaking engagement here in Kitale that begins at 9am and we have a 7pm dinner with the landlord, Richard and his wife at their home in Kitale.