I am so relieved to finally have access to a computer! The modern conveniences from home…and even China are not so much the case where I am right now. Trying to type on my nook left me looking like someone who had forgotten how to spell. Thanks to those of you who tried to decipher what I was saying. I will try to say as much as I can on this blog b/c I don’t know when I will be able to use a computer again. First of all, oddly enough, Africa does not feel as foreign to me as China does. Almost everything is written/spoken in English and the toilets are normal. 🙂 I have been hungry a lot, but compared to many of the things I have seen/experienced over the past few days, I am going to try to never use the phrase ‘I’m starving’ again…it would seem silly. Scrambled eggs over toast have become my ‘go-to’ food. We have also grabbed a milk shake wherever it is available. Those are few and far between and not nearly as sweet as in America. There is almost no sugar in foods here. Enough about food…
I should probably go back and start with our visits to the school…I’m not sure what day that was…I am not sure what day it IS! We have spent about 32 hours in a car over the past 4 days. Traveling to and from in Kenya is quite an adventure. The roads are terrible and most of the time non-existent, a great deal of them are covered in potholes and gravel and dirt. Needless to say, there have been many times that plastic bags came in handy! Our first big ‘road trip’ was from Nairobi to Kisumu and then on to Okuru…we traveled over the line of the equator and stopped to take some pictures. We were told that we would be going to visit some local schools which was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. When we pulled up to the first school, which seemed to be in the middle of nowhere, the children were waiting for us and bombarded our vehicles to where we could barely open the door. The first thing I noticed was that most of them had no shoes and their feet were covered in sores and bug bites with toenails falling off….it was heartbreaking…I couldn’t help but think of all the shoes hanging in my closet. Some of them were eating mangos and their hands were dripping with juice and crusted with the remains of the juice from the day before. They had a semblance of a uniform but most of them were ripped, torn and falling apart. The school had no electricity, no running water and no meal program. Unless something was sent from home the children go all day with no food. There were over 300 children in the school, 120 of them orphans. I have no idea where they go when the day is over. They all sat out in the grass as we introduced ourselves and Candice spoke to them. They were so attentive and respectful and their teachers never had to ask them to be quiet. When it was time for them to give attention they would all do a clapping series together and say the name ‘Jesus’. It was so sweet and respectful. As they were dismissing from the group time, I tried to give many of them ‘high fives’ but they didn’t know what to do with that. So I taught them how. Before I knew it, I had a group of dozens of children surrounding me wanting to try. They were grabbing and pulling at me like I was a rockstar. I started making funny faces and noises and they would all repeat what I was doing and burst into laughter. Running out of ideas and feeling the need to entertain them, I began to sing ‘if you’re happy and you know it’. They all jumped in clapping hands, stomping feet and shouting AMEN! Oddly enough, standing in the middle of such poverty, I truly believed that they are happy…even joyful. It was difficult to leave them and I think I could have stayed there playing with them all day. I could not believe that I was meeting this children and how they could bless me so much in such a short time.
We traveled on to the next school which was a couple miles away. This one still with no electricity but had a well outside that water could be pumped from. This school served students 1st through 12th grade. They all gathered in the courtyard and formed a square around us. The situation was the same with the tattered clothing and barefeet. Many of the young girls wearing shoes, were wearing shoes made for a grown man. We did our introductions and I was asked to lead these children in a song (I’m not really sure why that has become my ‘thing’). Candice spoke to them and prayed for them. They then, spent some time entertaining us through song, dance and even a dramatic interpretation from a little girl who appeared to be able 6, which was truly amazing. As the teacher of this school told us about the students, she asked the students who were orphaned to raised their hands….more than half did so. The tears were difficult to fight. She told us that many of the students who are orphaned will stop coming to school at about the 7th grade. I was in awe of the ones who were standing there in the 12th. Again, it was difficult to leave this school. It is however, remarkable to see how children are children regardless of geography. The Ashburn kids did not hesitate playing with the children of the schools and the school children were fascinated with the Ashburn kids. They followed David to the van and were touching his hair and trying to get his attention. When we got into the van, he rolled down the window and they were all grabbing him through the window. 4 year old, blonde headed children with bowl cuts probably don’t frequently visit this area 🙂
After the school visits we went to the dedication of the Ashburn clinic. This is the clinic that Candice has funded in memory of her husband who was killed in plane crash 4 years ago. It was a very emotional experience for her to see their vision come to fruition. The children that we visited in the schools will benefit from this clinic as there is no other medical center for over a hundred miles. Everyone in our group got to plant a tree at the clinic that will be marked with our names. It was very ritualistic and apparently a very big honor here. The people in this area prepared lunch for our group and the lady who gave the land to build the clinic invited us into her home. I Have to admit that international food is a struggle for me and Candice and I exhanged many panicked looks over whether or not it was rude to avoid eating the goat stew that was made for us. We went for some pineapple and watermelon and prayed for the best. The Ashburn kids know no fear and went for the chicken. The poverty in this community (of about 5 houses and a water pump) was another punch of reality here. People came from miles to see the dedication and for the chance to acquire a warm meal. I met a young man, aged 20, who asked me where I was from. I told him America, not knowing if the people here knew about our states. He then asked me which state. I told him TN and he said ‘capital city, Nashville’. I was pretty surprised that he knew this. He told me that he spoke 3 languages and that he had completed school 2 years ago and dreams of being a computer technician. He told me all about how he has self trained and is looking for a job. His intelligence was obvious but the reality of the possibility of him actually coming out of his situation to acheive his dreams was heartbreaking. I don’t think I will ever forget this conversation. We piled into the car and started cleaning out our trash, the children of the village began to gather around asking us for our empty water bottles. They were fighting over who would get them, as they will use them to carry water from the well. Who would have imagined that this trash could be so valuable? As we pulled away from the clinic site, the children that had wandered in to the dedication were waving to us with the dum dum suckers in their mouths that I brought to them.
The long trip back was more scary than sickening. We had spent more time than alotted at our school trips and our driver kept muttering about how his greatest fear was driving in the dark. In my naivity, I thought it was because he didn’t want to get tired….I didn’t know that we would actually be putting ourselves into danger. It was 6 hours back to Nokuru and some of the roads were blocked off causing our trip to be longer. As we began to hit the huge potholes and take the van off road to avoid construction, it was evident that our driver was tensing up and taking this part of the road much faster. He explained that this was an area of ‘road’ that was infamous for robberies…at that point , I began to notice the wanderers and drifters on the side of the road. I guess I don’t really think about those things…and that’s a reality anywhere.
We slept well that night, physically and emotionally exhausted. We were pretty excited about the next day when we would embark on our safari. For some reason the crappy 6 hour drive to get there didn’t seem so horrible. At the time, it was part of the adventure. It was really cool to see Kenya as we drove from the ‘city’ parts into the more rural areas. There were people on camels traveling alongside the road…something I’m not used to seeing every day. I took a nap and was disappointed when I woke up and found out that I had missed a herd of zebras and some baboons chilling on the side of the road. As we got closer to the safari site, we began to see the mosai tribal people in their native clothing herding their cattle and taking them to market. I was amazed to drive through the desert and see a three or four year old child, standing alone, with a baby on his/her back holding a staff and following their goats. As we get deeper into Kenya…I am feeling much further away from home.
We entered the park and set out on our sunset safari. We got so excited as we entered and immediately saw zebras and wildebeasts…but we were seriously not a mile into the park before we saw an entire pride of lions. The first one we saw was the oldest lion in the park…seriously the king of the jungle. Female lions were close behind with several younger ones. I kid you not when I say they were 15 feet from our van. As we traveled on, we saw a herd of buffalo heading toward the lions. Our driver turned around so that we could follow the action. It was fascinating to see the male lions notice the buffalo and watch them begin to stand up and follow the buffalo. We watched this for a long time and our driver explained to us that this process could take hours and we decided that since the sun was setting, we would look for other animals. We saw many giraffes and each time, we would all start screaming. This was not impressive to our guide in the slightest haha. We headed back toward the lodge and elephants began crossing the dirt road we were traveling on…probably 10 or more. Huge and with tusks…it was incredible.
Staying at the lodge was a bit of heaven. It was full of westerners who had come to Africa for a safari adventure. I’m pretty sure we were the only mission group there haha. The food was incredible and a buffet of goodness. We gorged. For real. We had hot showers and slept well. We had to get up early the next day for our sunrise safari. I woke the kids up at 5:30 by playing the circle of life pretty loudly….they enjoyed it. We were excited for another day! We were again granted with experiencing such a rare part of God’s creation! We saw more lions….feasting on buffalo from the night before. A cheetah was sitting at the top of a hill almost like he was just wanting to have his picture taken. I can’t wait to post these shots…I can’t believe I got to take them.
As we left the lodge, we had heard that there was a tribal community nearby that was open to visitors….The Mosai people lived there and we asked our driver if he could take us. As we pulled in to the area with mud huts…it was like something I have only seen in national geographic. The tribal leaders walked towards our van , wearing their dress and piercings carrying staffs…I will admit, there was a moment that I was scared. We opened the door to the van and they welcomed us as we got out. The smell was overpowering. In my time as a social worker and on my many visits to China, I have never experienced and odor like this. Again, it is amazing to me that there is a boundary that adults have that children do not experience. Stepping out of the van, one of the tribe leaders had let David hold his staff. (For those of you who don’t know, David is a precious 4 year old boy with Downs Syndrome that I have the privilage of babysitting and am on this trip to help his mother with him). He took the staff and set his sights on the children who were standing at the edge of the village. He ran towards them and they started running from him. It was comical. I began to chase after him and as I got closer to the children that he was chasing…my heart broke into a thousand pieces. Some of them had very little clothing on, and the clothes they did have were completely torn. Shoes were nonexistent and their feet were covered in their own feces and the animals that were wandering around. Flies were swarming around their bodies and crawling all over their faces, onto their lips and into their mouths. Bugs that I didn’t even recognize, living in their hair. As David ran back towards his mother, the children followed him…except for one that seemed to be too small to run. This child was left standing in tears. Looking at me with eyes that I could not ignore. I have to admit, that I flinched as I picked him up. He was in a dress…but obviously a little boy. His face was covered in snot and tears were pouring out of his eyes. I have held many children, in many dire circumstances….but this was an overwhelming heaviness that I had never experienced. It was like a burden for an entire people and not just a child, alone. I don’t know this little boys name, and I never will…but again, this is a face that I will never forget. We walked around the village as the leader told us about their tribe. The boys will leave when they are 13 and they are not allowed back until they have killed a lion, which sometimes takes years. The people take turns at night guarding their village from the lions and hyennas. They begin each day by drinking cow blood mixed with milk. They live off the land and eat when they can. Women and children were outside their mud huts making jewelry to sell in the market. I never saw any source of water. They showed us how they make their fire and they invited us into their homes. The huts take 2 months to build and are said to last ‘many years’. There was obviously no light in the huts. There was a hole in the ground where the women and children sleep as the men stand guard. Surprisingly, the children will attend school and learn English. Aside from communicating with the occasional visitor, this seemed kind of futile. We went to the market, we bought from the masai people…but it just didn’t seem like enough. Looking at the children as we were walking to our car, we were overwhelmed with responsibility. We pretty much cleaned out the van of any food and clothes that we had and began to give them to the people who had just taken our hearts. The children were grabbing for the clothes of the Ashburn children. Mothers in tears, trying to compare sizes to see what would fit their own. As I pulled out my ration of granola bars, a man came up to me and said ‘please! 2 for my children!’…I began to sob…walked over to the other men who were telling me how many children they had. I handed over the bag to them and watched as they began to hand them out to the men according to the number of people in their families. Nobody was selfish, everyone making sure that others had their share. That was what was and is remarkable about the Mosai people. As unfamiliar, and uncomfortable as their lives seem to us….they love each other well. They work hard to protect their families. They provide with what they can. They welcomed guests who now know what millions of people never will. While Candice and I were stressed about David chasing the children with a stick, one of the tribal leaders simply said ‘Hakuna Matata’…no worries… I couldn’t help but giggle at the fact that I was standing in the middle of a tribe in Africa actually hearing someone use those words. But as we all drove off in tears, I couldn’t help but think about their perspective. How much we have and stress about what we don’t have. These people live in their own waste but proudly welcome people into their huts, all the while saying ‘no worries’. Isn’t that something we can all learn from.
However, the thing that puts a lump in my throat more than anything is the multitude of people living in poverty, plagued by disease and ridden with a lack of opportunity to ever get out…but that everyone of them and everyone of us, who have more than we will ever need are ALL children of the same God. It blows my mind to think about them realm of creation and all the new things that I have seen in the past several days and all the things left to see. I continue to be grateful that God has allowed me to be a part of loving His people. All over the world. I will always struggle with what that means for me as I know that He has given me this heart and mind that are so globally focused and broken for His children. I pray that this will continue to become clear to me and that He will continue to grant me opportunities to serve and show the world who HE is by allowing me to love them like Jesus. I am humbled everyday and thankful for where He chose to place me.
Continue to pray for the safety and health of our group. Pray for physical and emotional strength and endurance. Pray for opportunity to share the love of Christ. Pray the we will be used to fulfill every purpose that we were sent here for.
Love from Africa!