Wednesday, 25 July 2012

This Voyage

I believe that this particular journey is a voyage of discovery. But how to communicate that discovery, how to share it with others? A participant in a discovery such as this will feel none of the elation and contentment found by a mathematician whose discovery can be satisfactorily demonstrated to his colleagues, nor any of that found in a doctor or a scientist whose breakthrough will soon make itself felt in the world. The experience of discovery such as I am describing is rather more like the loneliness of a person who has climbed to a mountain peak and sees spread out around him the most beautiful panoramic vision and vista and finds it completely impossible to describe that vision, or even to discuss it, except with someone who agrees to climb that peak with him (Vincent J. Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered, pg. 2).

I cannot claim to feel the exact feelings of Friar Donovan however, my feelings come close. The experiences that I have been through these past 12 weeks- breathtaking and exhausting as they are- have been some of the best of my life. I have lived with these people; I have cried with them, laughed with them, worked with them, worshiped with them, and prayed with them. I have taken care of their children, taught dozens of kids, marked hundreds of exams, and have never enjoyed myself more. No amount of explaining will be able to scratch the surface of what I have felt these last months. But I hope that through reading these blogs and stories, you will begin to understand a little of what I have experienced.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Here's Some Favourites

This is Africa
Standard 4 Phys. Ed. using a basketball for their football

Ann and I

One of the only views of the horizon that I've seen

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

I am Now a Construction Worker

Monday we went and visited Omwabini Centre and meet the staff. I was having the time of my life because, for the first time, I could stay in the background and observe the goings on without being noticed too much. I loved the innocence and interest and questions of the Eerkes family. Their shock, dismay, and excitement at the challenges and successes of Omwabini was refreshing to see. It was similar to the feeling one gets when the see a newborn- a weird comparison I know, but the feeling is the same. I felt like a proud mother when they somewhat awkwardly greeted their first person with “Habari” and used the appropriate handshake. I am thoroughly enjoying their curiosity about this culture that I have become so accustomed to. I am loving answering their questions. I so enjoy hearing their attempt at the Swahili greetings. Their amazement at the interest shown to them because they're white makes me chuckle and remember my first weeks trying to deal with such experiences.

Today, Tuesday, I woke up early expecting to get to work before the sun however, we ended up leaving for the job site at 9. The compound begins to come alive outside my window by 5 AM and, in my excitement, I often find that I can't sleep anymore. This morning I simply got up and readied myself for my first African work day. We were to begin building a house for a family of seven children. Both parents are alive, but they are extremely poor. The roof was held on by large rocks but, one night a rock fell through the hole and nearly landed on one of the children sleeping below. The father has many brothers and most are quite wealthy but they refused to help their brother to build a new house.

The outline of the house is up. 
So we all piled into the van and set off for Joseph's house. The first job was to stake out the outline of the new house. It took awhile to get it completely square as we only had a measuring tape as our guide. But we eventually got our 18 by 14 foot rectangle squared off. I was in charge of roping off the area after which they went through and measured off the locations for the main posts. Once that was completed we pounded staked into the ground, pulled off the rope and began digging the post holes. Now, here we use what looks like 5 foot long pieces of rebar to dig these holes. Since I was the only woman who had stayed to dig I ensured that I at least completed one hole. I was quite embarrassed to realize that the father Joseph, had completed about 7 while I was still working on my first hole. We need to dig about 2 feet down and about 6 inches in diameter. The rebar tore up my soft “teacher hands” and I now have about 15 blisters to prove it. The satisfaction of finishing that hole was worth it.

Here I am digging my hole. Beside me is Ken digging his post hole. I have decided to attempt work in a skirt in the African style. It's actually much more cool than I expected.

Gradually supplies from the surrounding community began to arrive and, once the four corner holes were dug they began cutting large quartered logs to the appropriate length using machetes. So, with wood chips flying through the air, we continued our digging. After a few hours we had 20 holes dug and the poles well on their way to being firmly placed in their locations. We stopped for our tea break and then us wazungus were hustled off to hobnob with our spring project. Relationship building is highly important but, while we left the work in extremely capable hands, I still felt like I was copping out on our work.

The rest of the day was spent puttering around in our creaky old van over ditches and gullied roads, waving like Queen Elizabeth to all the children walking home from school, and playing football with the kids at Omwabini.

The stamina and the work ethic of these Kenyans has even out done our (the Eerkes' and my) communal Dutch Calvinist traditions - Overall a wonderful and exhausting day.

I have Visitors!!

Well, it has been seven since I've last written and so much has happened. Let me begin to explain...

I have been expecting the arrival of a Dutch CRC family from Edmonton for quite awhile and they were slated to arrive on Saturday that 14th. True to Africa, the expected arrival time of their flight in the Kitale airport was several hours off schedule. We had taken two large vans and had at least 8 people to welcome this family of 5 from the airport. What a welcoming committee!
Meet Jason, Andrew and Robyn. It is so like being with my own siblings that I just can't stop smiling.

Therefore, in an attempt to make efficient use of extra time, my entourage and I went to the “gigamart” in Kitale to buy the necessary foodstuffs for their three week stay. I walked into that giant store and promptly felt the desire to do an about-face and walk right back out to the van. But I held my initial panic in check and, for the next couple of hours we inefficiently searched for certain foods, up and down dozens of aisles, while I awkwardly pushed a cart with wheels that barely turned and kept tally of the bill on my cell phone's calculator. Now the reasons for my panic are odd, but understandable. For the last 11 weeks I have been almost completely in the backwoods of Africa. The largest store that I have been in consisted of four aisles and it claimed to be the “largest” superstore in that area. To enter a store such as this, that also boasted multiple white shoppers, I experienced a panic due to culture shock. I felt like a small, insignificant fish out of water. I stared at those white people, fascinated by their skin and the way they dressed- just like Africans do. I was like a kid in a candy store- so much to see and experience that I was completely overwhelmed.

Now, because of my unfortunately timed and dramatic fainting spell earlier this week that nearly gave half the compound a heart attack and had mama Mary running down the road from her house, waving her hands in the air, and ululating, I have suddenly acquired more mothers than I know what to do with. Constantly everyone is asking if I am hungry or if I am drinking enough or if I feel alright. I try to smile and say “I'm fine,” but the constant attention is a little much. After about a week without a repeat of the fainting episode and, having received my four injections and taken my 20 antibiotic pills, the mothers are starting to calm down a little. Thank you for your prayers- I am now back to 100%.

We drove back to the Kitale airport to meet the plane that was delayed and expected to finally arrive at 4:30 PM (after the scheduled arrival time of 3:00). Not bad for Africa I have to say. I saw even more white people get off that plane and was so excited to finally meet Ken, Marlene, Robyn, Jason and Andrew Eerkes. They are a wonderful family who have been planning and praying for Omwabini and are so excited to finally be here after so much time. Because I have already acclimated to Omwabini and the culture here, James and Mary both decided that I would pretty much move in with them and help them to get adjusted to their first visit to Africa. They are here for three weeks and will be doing a lot of work in the surrounding community. Omwabini helps to build houses for those in need as well as protect water sources. With the resources that the Eerkes' brought with them they will be kept busy during their visit helping to build houses and dig out springs. I am honoured to be allowed to help with the building and community work however, I really miss my time with the teachers and the students.

Sunday I took the Eerkes' to the English service at the church I have been attending. I kind of forgot to warn them about some of the differences they would face and was so interested to watch their reactions to the African style of worship. For starters the sound system is cranks to a decibel that nearly explodes the ear drums and muffles the already hard to understand words. All the congregants move to the music and I have finally been able to master the most basic moves so I can at least try to blend in. The set up is just so foreign and different to our CRC background that it is difficult to describe. I also failed to remember that it takes a long while for the ear to adjust to understanding the English spoken here in Africa. The 45 minute sermon that I thoroughly enjoyed as the best I have heard in my 11 weeks, I later learned that nearly every word the pastor said was nearly incomprehensible. It is so hard to remember what I experienced so long ago.  


Habari zeno! I have finished my fourth week here at Omwabini and my 11th week in Africa. How time flies! On the 23rd I will be leaving on my two-day journey home. Oddly enough, I am looking forward to the four flights and the numerous hours that I will have to just think and process. My time here has been one continuous learning curve with little to no time to reflect. I look forward to what I will learn during that time.

Today was a typical day at school. It began with the nurse coming to see me, wondering why I had not shown up at school yet. I think that my fainting spell scared the wits out of her so when I was 5 minutes late, she flew to ensure that I was still breathing.

After assuring Joanne that I was on the mend and, in fact, was breathing just fine on my own thank you very much, I hightailed it to the staff room. I brought along my trusty Bible, journal, handy piece of chalk, pen, and the book that I had just started reading. I have learned in my short time in Africa to always bring something to do or to occupy your time with - no matter where you go.  You never know when you will be sitting for hours with nothing to do. 

Today proved to be very typical. I greeted everyone I came across with the expected "Habari" and handshake, stopping for short conversations as I made my way to the staff room. Once I had greeted all my fellow teachers, I then proceeded to sit down and talk to those sitting around me. It is seen as bad manners (not so much from the whites because such behaviour is expected) to not greet everyone you come across. As soon as I learned this in one of my conversations, I have endeavored to always shake the hand of everyone in the room (unless of course the number is just too impractical). Unlike our western culture where it is considered rude to interrupt someone who is in the middle of something in order to greet them, here in Kenya, greeting is of utmost importance and, when your presence is noticed, conversations will be paused and pens put down to greet you. When greeting someone in the morning you ask, "how was your night." If you greet them in the afternoon you ask them about their day. When you say goodbye you always wish them a good night or a good day. I love to learn these little cultural nuances. 

Making the transition from Uganda to Kenya has been a challenge due to the language change. Having grown accustomed to responding and greeting in Uganda, I have found myself constantly reminding myself to not use Luganda to greet my fellow Kenyans. No longer can I use "Wasuze Otya" but I now must use "Habari ya asabuhi." In Uganda my mama would often call (from quite a distance) "CHRISTEENA!" and I would have to respond "WANJI?" So, now that I am in Kenya and I hear my name called the automatic response is to yell at the top of my lungs, "WANJI?" But that is Luganda, not Swahili. So I have figured out the appropriate response. I will now have to incorporate, "NAM?" into my vocabulary. It is all so much fun, but it keeps your brain on it's toes. 

I discovered today that one of my fellow teachers Vincent, speaks some Luganda. So we enjoyed the looks the other teachers gave us as we greeted and conversed in Luganda. It made me happy to be able to use "wabalay" and "seybo" again. Vincent has 9 children and is 54 years old. He lives just in back of the school and is one of the senior teachers here at Omwabini. He is one of the most caring men I have met here in Africa- one who loves children and does whatever he can to see that they grow and develop to the best of their abilities. He is even having me edit a book that he is working on. He hopes to have it distributed to the surrounding community leaders so that they could be educated on how to properly care for children. In reading what he has written, I have learned a lot about the African view of children. They are often seen as mini workhorses and are often caring for a younger sibling by the age of 3. I have seen three-year-olds lugging their year old sibling around on their backs- not an easy feat considering they are quite close in size. Vincent is one of the most forward thinking men I have met and I have been greatly encouraged at hearing and reading his ideas.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Psalm 68:5

For the past four days I have been experiencing a cold. It started with a sore throat and was soon joined by a low-grade fever. My head started to pound and dizziness would set in when I lowered my head. Seeing that it is quite cold here in Kenya, I assumed that I had simply caught the cold that my fellow teachers have been passing around these last weeks. Well, you know what they say about people who assume...

I did in fact catch that cold but, seeing as I am not a native Kenyan, I do not have the same immunity. Dosing up on Tylenol and Advil did not seem to be working and, after missing Saturday's classes as well as Monday afternoon at school, I decided it was time to seek the advice of the compound's nurse. I woke up this morning feeling a sight better. No longer was my head pounding with every small noise, but for some reason my throat hurt more. I played doctor and looked down my throat, "yup," I thought, "your tonsils are HUGE!"

So off I went to hunt down the nurse- Joanne. After explaining my symptoms, we were about to embark on an adventure to locate some penicillin tablets when two young boys came through the clinic's door.

One was sniffling and the other was helping him limp along. He has smacked his shin on a bed and it had swollen to a huge size. It turns out that this was the same boy that was brought to Omwabini late last week by the Webuye police. They had found him on the streets and, seeing as Omwabini has such a good name and the police are ill equipped to handle children, they brought him to us. Through the course of Joanne's conversation with this boy, and her sporadic interpretations, I learned that his name was Vincient Otieno and he was 13 years old. His parents had died and his uncle had taken him in. Unfortunately, like so many of the stories I hear, his uncle mistreated Vincient and he decided to take his chances on the streets. Police have really been cracking down on street children and they found Vincient.

In the few days that Vincient had been at Omwabini he had been settled into a new space, new bed, new school, new people, new friends, new city... And, as he explained his story to Joanne, the tears just kept coming, rolling off his jaw. His shirt sleeve was kept in business swiping at the tears that pooled in his eyes and the snot that plugged his nose. I could sense that the tears were not simply a response to the physical pain in his shin but there was also a little soul in there crying out for help. It was a release that had been building up for a long time. My heart broke for Vincient. My heart breaks for all the children here who share similar stories.

Well, being moderately healthy and seeing that Vincient was petrified of the injections that Joanne was planning on giving him, I tried to make myself useful. I walked over to where he was sitting and tried to comfort him. Joanne was not concerned about who saw her load up the syringe and pushed the air out the tip of the needle in full view of Vincient. The first injection- tetanus- went into the left buttock. Vincient screamed loud enough to wake the dead. His tears started to pour down his cheeks and his cries became sobs. His short legs hanging off the end of the plastic lawn chair were visibly trembling. Trying my best to comfort through the language barrier, I rubbed his back. One more needle to go. This one would go in the left arm. Vincient was watching so I tried to get him to turn away. "Don't watch the needle go in" I mentally advised him. Again, the crying and the screaming and the trembling. This little one had no one and here he was suffering so much! My heart broke even more. The smell of the antiseptic started to make my stomach hurt but I ignored the discomfort in favour of trying to help Vincient. 

Suddenly, I began to feel sensations I had never felt before. My vision started to blur and the room started to sway and I thought to myself, "Hmm, I should probably sit down and put my head between my knees." Well, I didn't. Instead I told myself, "Naw, you've never fainted before. Just breathe calmly and focus. Buck up! That's a good girl." Next thing I know I hear Joanne yelling something in Swahili and I feel people pulling on my arms. I woke up shortly thereafter flat on my back on the examination bed. "Well, that's a first, I thought." There were people everywhere, people on cell phones, people asking if I was okay, people talking about what to do with me. I came out of my fog and wondered why people were showing me such concern. There was a little boy over there on the chair who was sobbing and in pain. I'd only just fainted. It's no big deal!

In record time they had a driver and a vehicle and had me loaded in the front seat. Thankfully, I was capable of walking unassisted to the van and was able to salvage some of my dignity. It was recess however, for the students so they lined up to watch the procession of taking the mzungu to the doctor.

It turns out that I have tonsilitis. I thought so. They checked my blood for malaria- I'm clean. I am now finished one of three injections to treat the infection in my tonsils and am not really looking forward to the next injection at 5 this afternoon. It is conducted similarly to a reverse blood donation. And those of you had gone to donate blood with me will know that my veins are virtually non-existent. Well they stick a small needle into the vein. Attached is a tiny plastic tube. To the end of the tube they attach the syringe with the antibiotic and two syringe-fulls were pumped into my bloodstream. My body is starting to ache from its sudden collision with the concrete floor and I have been banished to my room to rest until I am finished treatment. No more helping at the school for a bit...So here I am thinking and resting and praying.

I have felt utterly useless these last four days. Cooped up with my "cold" and praying that I would be healthy soon so I could get out and help as much as I could. But, I am realizing that even here in bed I am still learning. I am being humbled. The courage that I have was replaced by a fear of fainting again. The health usually have has been replaced by illness and my pride has been replaced by humility and the need to accept help from others. I have been continuously reminded that none of what I have done during this trip has been because of anything I possess. I am not courageous enough, strong enough, or energetic enough to complete what has been done these last months. It is only through God's grace that I have remained healthy for this long. That I am able to be of any help is only through God's wisdom and divine intervention.

In my 10 weeks here in Africa I have learned so much. I have seen so much need and so much pain here that I am usually on emotional. There are so many that need help and I have learned that this is not a forever kind of help. This help that they need is simply prayer and the support to get their project off the ground. Once going they are able to create a self-sustainable organization. For example, the school here at Omwabini was started in January. They took their first examinations and scored 4th out of 17 schools. And this is after fewer than 7 months of operation! Once a school in Africa achieves such a distinction, other children, children who are able to pay school fees, want to come to this school that is succeeding so well. These school fees are then used in the betterment of the school and the lives of the orphans. It's a win-win situation.

Their ability to maintain their self-sustainability is a miracle in itself, but they are doing it! Both the people at Tata and at Omwabini share a similar vision- it's all about the kids. They recognize that the whites do not always have money and work to wean themselves of dependence as soon as possible.

To put it into perspective. A year of secondary education costs 24,000 Ksh. That's the equivalent of around $300. For a YEAR OF EDUCATION only $300! And children are being sent home because they are unable to find the funds to pay these fees. $300!

To start a secondary school here at Omwabini it a hope for the future. That way money will not have to be channeled into school fees. There are enough buildings to house this school. And they plan to be self-sufficient within a year using the same method that is working for the primary school. But they need capital for that first year. To pay the salary of the 6 teachers they will need. To begin this school and sustain it for a year will cost $12000.

Victorious Primary School in Uganda started construction on permanent buildings on July 1 of this year. I just received pictures from the administrator and was so pleased to see the progress that they have made. They do not have funds. They are making their own bricks. But they could not just wait around for someone to come and hand over money. They started on faith. And I believe that God is going to greatly reward their step of faith!

As you can see, there is so much need and I am completely overwhelmed trying to keep track of it all while maintaining open eyes and a sympathetic heart to the cries for help. So please pray for Vincient and the thousands of hurting children like him. Pray for them to find the Someone who loves them more than life- God. Pray that they may be blessed with a great education so that they can find a job that pays enough to support them. Please pray for Joanne and the clinic as she has malaria and typhoid patients and has nothing with which to treat these children. Please pray for those who are working so hard for God, who have the faith and the passion to make a difference but their only stumbling block is finances. 

Oh, and please pray that I don't faint again- once is more than enough for a lifetime  :)

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Some of the Teaching Staff

Here is Kim and Vincent. Kim is the main English teacher and he and I have a lot of great discussions about any number of topics. Vincent is one of the head teachers and has been in the profession for over 30 years. He has 9 children from university age to about 4 years old. Vincent is what I would think my Opa had been like. He`s great with kids, loves people, laughs a lot and jokes about being and `old man.` Behind them is the school office building. To the right is the medical clinic as well as Standard 4. To the left are classes 5, 6, 7, 8 and a tailoring class. Behind the camera is my house.
This is Leonard. In the background you will see the house where I am staying as well as a couple of the tractors and vehicles owned by Omwabini. We are sitting on the porch of the makeshift school marking exams.

Teaching is a Joy!

Today I taught two classes- a grand total of 70 minutes. I live for these moments. I try my best to spend my days at the school looking for opportunities to help. I`ve spent most of the last week helping to mark and administer exams. It`s been tedious but fulfilling at the same time. 

This morning I was asked to cover the Christian Religious Education (CRE) for Standard 3. `Standard` is the Kenyan equivalent of `class.` In my 30 minutes of preparation I was handed a half inch think textbook and was told the theme for the class was `Leaders don`t Steal.` Reading the story detailed for the lesson, I was surprised to discover that is was not even from the Bible. Making an executive decision, I scrapped the curriculum story and decided to tell the story of Naboth`s vineyard. Seeing as it was a grade three class or about 30 kids I was a little concerned about if they would understand my English. 

As I entered the class, a few of the students caught sight of me. The way their eyes lit up knowing the mzungu teacher was there to teach them warmed my heart. I am nothing special, but the way they love having me teach makes me feel like someone important. I guess a change from their regular routine is nice. I introduced myself and talked for awhile to gauge their English comprehension. I was impressed at the amount they understood and decided to go with my story-telling idea. 

`Let`s sit on the floor over here,` I said. Giving the mzungu teacher an interested slash `you`re a weird teacher` look they stood in unison and obediently gathered on the floor around me. Sixty beautiful black eyes staring at you with honest curiosity would either terrify you or help you become the most outgoing exuberant person ever. Well, thankfully today was one of those exuberant days. 

I launched into telling the story of Ahab, the evil king; Jezebel, the even more evil queen; Elijah, the God-fearing prophet; and Naboth, the farmer. Prancing around, waving my arms, pointing, strutting, and using my facial expressions and my voice to the best of the ability, I illustrated that God does not like it when leaders steal. Their eyes following me around the room, their faces intent on hearing what happened next, their mouths open wide at the news of God`s punishment on Ahab and his family, these wonderful children marveled at God`s word. 

Now, I`m not even close to the best story-teller in the world, but I think these children appreciated a different teaching style. 

I love interacting with these children. They are open, honest, hardworking, respectful. It never ceases to amaze me how resilient they really are. As the lesson ended early, we had a laugh trying to guess how old I was. Turns out that 54, 60, and 80 years old are good guesses for me ... I never thought I looked that old! We then branched into the typical questions of siblings, parents, ages, names. I was treated to learning all their names. This is difficult as they are African names, but also because, when these children talk to you, they speak so meekly that often you have to get your ear within a few inches of their mouth comprehend what they are saying. Add the volume to the accent to the language and you have a serious mental activity on your hands. After so many classes and bunches of names, I am getting better at repeating names as well as pronouncing `Nyongesa` correctly on the first attempt.

After a lunch of ugali, kales, and a treat of two small bits of beef, I went to teach English in Standard 6. Again, I loved it. We were learning the use of `who` and `what` as pronouns. Explaining the concept was simple, but the way the given exercise was organized was confusing, even to me. About a third of the class was able to complete the exercise properly without asking for further help, but i was so pleased to have the rest ask for clarification. To have a student say, `I don`t understand,` means that you have not taught well as a teacher. But, for these students to have both the courage to vocalize their confusion as well the English vocabulary to be able to do so is a real exciting concept for me. Thanking them for asking me re-explain the concept, I obliged. 
This is my lunch each day- ugali and kales. Not bad, but horribly bland

Another thing unique to Africa is that when you mark, students love it if you use red pen. Not only that but to have a mzungu checking your work is a real exciting experience. Well, my only red pen died and Joseph (picture is in a previous post) offered to go scrounge one up for me. Once that pen was in my hands I was swarmed by 30 12 years-olds all asking me to check their work. When everyone had their work appropriately corrected we still had 10 minutes left. So I asked them if they would like to learn some of another language. These students were delighted to learn that it is possible to talk with your hands. They can now say `welcome, teacher,` `Jesus loves you,` and `my name is` in sign language. I love their curiosity!

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

God`s Hand in the Little Things

I am learning to look for God`s hand in the little things- even those things that go wrong and just add more annoyance to your life.

Yesterday I went to both banks in Kimilili and, yet again, neither bank liked my debit or credit card. Annoying as this continued trouble with African banks is, today I learned a possible reason why. I had the extreme pleasure to accompany a group of children from Omwabini on a routine trip to the Ampath Clinic in Webuye. I went along to find a bank that would work for me, but I quickly realized that this would be more than a simple trip to the bank. You see, the Ampath Clinic is for patients who are HIV positive. These four beautiful children are victims of HIV.

After successfully visiting the bank, Mille, Saul, and I returned to the hospital where we had dropped of the children and their dorm mother. Saul offered to take me inside for a tour of the facility. Walking in the door, the waiting rooms are overflowing. Most look completely normal and some look like they`re starving.

I was told that Tuesday was the day that they treat the most patients. It is quite the efficient set up that they have. You go through from receptionist to the counselors, to the room where vitals are taken, to clinicians. There are nutritionists on staff, as well as doctors and nurses. The clinic serves well over 1000 patients. I was most impressed with the psychosocial counseling that is mandatory at each visit. One of the counselors was my guide through the clinic. 

Once I met all the staff, Elizabeth (the counselor) and I sat down and had a wonderful conversation. You see, in Africa, as well as most of the rest of the world, there is an extreme stigma against those with HIV or AIDS. Elizabeth had reached the end stage of AIDS; she was covered in a rash and dying. Her family had abandoned her. Her husband left her alone. Her neighbours had locked the latrine and the bathroom and left her to die. Many possess the belief that to touch someone with HIV or AIDS or to touch something they have touched, will mean that they will also become infected. As such, most sufferers share similar stories to Elizabeth`s.

But Ampath found Elizabeth and brought her to the hospital. I heard a lot of new medical lingo that I don`t quite understand and one of these terms was `CD4 level.` Apparently, when you have advanced AIDS your CD4 levels drop. Elizabeth had a level of 74 when she was brought in. As of today, she has been on medication for 6 years and her CD4 level is well over 700. She has remarried and, although her in-laws have shunned her, she has two children. Both are HIV negative. Her prayer is to live long enough to see her sons through university. With this dreadful illness it is difficult to ascertain how long one will live, even when on medication.  

These four wonderful children look healthy. They always have a smile on their face. It is of no fault of their own that they are HIV + . The illness they suffer from was inherited from their mother at birth. AIDS killed their parents. It will most likely kill them as well. 

I was able to play with the younger three boys while we waited for Joseph to finish in the X-ray department. I chatted with them for a bit and then showed them how to use my camera. They were actually decent photographers for their first time. 75 pictures later I have a few really good pictures to share: 

Meet Joseph, standard 6, double orphan, HIV +

Meet Fred, Standard 4, double orphan, HIV +

Meet Joshua, Middle Class, double orphan, HIV +

Meet Brandon, Top Class, double orphan, HIV +

Monday, 2 July 2012

Because He Cares for You.

Today I left the school around 11 and went to visit the day care centre as I was feeling quite down and needed to cuddle a baby to feel better. Yesterday being Canada Day, I have been dealing with a huge waves of homesickness as I consider all the celebrating and the family traditions that I am missing on this wonderful long weekend. To be honest, today was a very difficult day. I am missing home and I am missing hearing from everyone. I love to hear the stories of what is going on in your lives, of the plans, the experiences, the moments that you want to share. And at the same time it is difficult for me to remember that even if you are not there, life goes on. So when you arrive back at home you quickly learn that you have missed out on a lot. I left for Africa on Stephen`s 21st birthday. I missed my youngest brother`s graduation from grade school. Not only that, but he received the award for the highest academics in his class. I will also missed this young man`s 14th birthday. And on Thursday my other brother Michael will turn 20. In May I graduated after five years of university, but I did not wear a gown. Now, I sound like I`m having a huge pity party- and I probably am, but this is something I have been struggling a lot with.

I know that I am doing the work that God has called me to do, but, as the oldest child, I am missing out on all those milestones that make life as a family so memorable. I love my family so much; it breaks my heart to leave them. But God is in control. He will provide all my needs. I cast my cares at his feet.

It`s a short 500 metre walk from the school and I thoroughly enjoy talking with the mother who cares for these children during the day. She and I love to talk about God and the Bible and how we  can see God working in our lives. She is full of knowledge and a love of the Father. She loves to tell me that God has a plan for me and to make predictions as to what those plans are. She talks nonstop and just loves company. So if you are in the mood to just sit and listen quietly, she`s the perfect person to visit with. It just so happens that only one child showed up for care today as most of the others are down with some illness or another. True to form I made this little one cry by being white...(sigh)... so I did not get to cuddle any babies, but over the four or five hours that this woman talked, I started to eventually feel better. At first her constant chatter annoyed me, but then she said something that I just needed to hear. It sounds really ridiculous but she said that I speak English very well.

Now, I have to clarify because you`re probably snorting over there on the other side of this computer screen thinking, `Of course she speaks English well, she`s Canadian, that`s our language.` But what she meant by her comment was that I speak English in a way that she can understand. If you come to Africa and attempt to speak to them the way you would speak to a friend at home, they will not be able to understand you, despite the fact that they understand English. We Canadians are notorious for dropping our `t` and `d` sounds. Here in Africa, they may have an accent, but they enunciate better than you or I ever could.

Therefore, while I was living in Dwaniro, I had to revamp the way I spoke. I had to purposely slow down everything I said, drop a few of the larger vocabulary words, and make sure I spoke every sound of every word. I learned to say don`t, better (it sounds British now)... Not only was this a way to be accepted by a culture, but it was also a survival tactic: My students would not be able to understand what I was saying if I did not relearn how to speak. It is particularly difficult to remember to speak slowly when you are excited. If you have ever seen me teaching, you will know that I usually teach out of pure excitement for the learning of the subject matter. I will get so excited that I forget to breathe normally and start speaking so fast. Thus, I had to remind myself continuously `slow down!`

This woman and I enjoyed talking about talking. This all came about after a phone conversation I had with a fellow teacher. I got off the phone and was not entirely sure what I had agreed to. Explaining this to my friend, she laughed, and explained about how she often cannot understand white people when they come to Omwabini because they speak so fast. And she didn`t want to offend them so she would just say, `yes.` 

I guess that just having that connection with someone. Being appreciated for having done something right (after so many cultural goofups), just makes the day seem so much brighter. I then went on to have wonderful conversations with Moses and Humphrey. For some reason men in Africa always ask about how marriage works in the west. I don`t know why, but they always have to make a point to ask `when are you getting married,` or `what kind of person will you marry.` Normally these questions are all innocent, except for the couple I`ve had who were asking for such information for personal reasons, if you get what I mean. Thankfully, Moses and Humphrey were simply curious as to how our culture works and we had a great conversation about dowries, marriage ceremonies, courting, dating, introductions, circumcision (apparently there is a mass circumcision done early August where 14-16 year old boys are circumcised and celebrations about as they are declared men. Humphrey mentioned how much he regretted me missing such an event. To be honest, I`m not all that sorry at all...)

As you can tell, I am learning a lot. This culture fascinates me and I praise God for this opportunity of growth. I am coming to know more about myself. I am learning much about God. I am discovering new passions everyday. God is so good. 

Thank you for your prayers and your support. I hope that you all had a blessed Canada Day. There are now 35 Kenyan 14-year-olds who now know who our Prime Minister is, who the Queen is, when Canada became independent, and how old our country is. You have to love teachable moments ... :)

It's Raining, It's Pouring

It is currently raining so hard on the tin roof that I cannot hear myself think. Over top of the sound of the rain is the occasional clap of thunder. Through the window I can see lightening lighting up the sky, illuminating the stocks of maize and the hedge outside my door. The power keeps flickering on and off, so I finally switched off the light and am just typing away in the dark. Such a cozy evening!

My day this morning began around 5 or 6 with the sounds of hundreds of children singing in Swahili. Since I don't understand the language and the children would be very conscious of my presence, I do not join them for their daily worship session. I do however love to listen to them sing! I usually get up at about 7:30 after lying in bed listening to the world waking up for an hour or so. For Africa 7:30 is sleeping in to the extreme; I count myself blessed. My breakfast is brought around 8 and I quickly scarf down a cup of tea and the occasional fried egg and scamper off to join the teachers who have already been teaching for over an hour. I feel guilty joining the staff so late, but this way my hostess does not have to worry about getting my breakfast to me earlier. Ann has been cooking my meals and I am ever so grateful to her.

For the next 8-9 hours I putter around with the teachers, often picking up a lesson here and there, marking exams and compositions, putting my two cents in on an English grammar problem, conversing with students and staff, sitting in on a KiSwahili lesson, and practicing my "habari" and "nzuri." The staff and I just finished examining all the students this week. We spent Wednesday, Thursday and Friday administering exams- 7 in total. The results were then compiled, averaged and documented. I have learned that most African schools undergo national testing on a regular basis. These are standardized tests based on the supplied curriculum expectations. In summary, I was totally amazed at the types of questions these exams asked. For example, the standard 7 math exam asked questions that I'm not sure even our grade 9 student in Canada could answer; I even had problems with some of the questions!

Another thing that I have noticed in Uganda and Kenya is that average marks are extremely low compared to those in Canada. The average in Canada is around 75%, but here in Kenya, the average mark for an exam is often in the 40% range. The average of the math exam in standard 7 was 46%. The highest mark was 90% (by a margin of about 15%), and the lowest was 8%. When I first witnessed such marks in Uganda I was absolutely taken aback. Having taught these students personally and assessed them in each class, I had witnessed their intelligence and was sure that they could have performed so much better. As such, I am trying to figure out what some of the causes of such a performance difference could be.

I have come up with some ideas:
1. there is a difference in materials and resources available. In Tata, there was only one textbook available for the teacher's use. Here at Omwabini there is at least one textbook per pair of students. But both schools average less than 50%. 

I know that it is not the ability of the teachers to teach- they are all amazingly skilled at their craft. They care about their students and do everything they can to make them succeed. 

2. Then I think about how hard they work. At Omwabini school starts at 7 AM. They study or attend lessons, with three or four breaks in between, until 9 PM that night at which time they go to bed. The next morning they are up bright and early for their service and the cycle begins all over again. Not only does school occur from Monday to Friday, but also for about 5 hours on Saturday and even for a couple of hours on Sunday. 

3. As I cannot put my finger on a most probably cause, I will give my most educated guess. These children have suffered more than most of us will suffer in our entire lives. They have lost one or both parents and even siblings. They have been abandoned by family. They may be HIV+. There are the added risks of typhoid, malaria, cholera, German measles. They sleep in a dormitory. They are well cared for physically and spiritually, but I wonder about how their experiences have effected them. And yet, they are so respectful. They carry my books for me although I'm perfectly capable of lifting my notebook. They stand when you enter a classroom. They call you "teacher" or "madam." They listen and obey the first time you ask them. If they misbehave they only need to be reminded once. They love to shake your hand and ask "how are you?" 

4. I also wonder about the youth of this country. Kenya received independence in 1967, I think. In 45 years it is difficult to go from being a colony to taking responsibility for everything that happens in your country. Canada is 145 years old. I'm sure that our students were not performing so well when we first established our school system.

Currently, there is much sickness going around at Omwabini. There are several cases of German measles, as well as multiple cases of typhoid. Malaria is so common that children and adults will simply take the necessary drugs and continue to work despite the fever and huge discomfort the symptoms bring. The daughter of James and Ann spent Sunday in the hospital with both malaria and typhoid. She's only 22 months old. It breaks my heart to hear about all this illness, particularly when I know that I am vaccinated against all such illnesses and that my government ensures that I am. The nurse here at Omwabini has explained to me that when the British were ruling Kenya, every year all the children would be vaccinated for typhoid. Then, when independence came, the president decided that they did not want to spend the money on such a frivolous expenditure. People then started getting sick but no one had seen a case of typhoid in such a long time that it took them a few months and multiple deaths before a doctor was finally able to pinpoint what this mysterious illness was. Now typhoid is back, and it's back with a vengeance