Monday, February 28, 2005

A gecko runs up a tree... and I leave Africa

I have only a few hours left to savour the African sun. In an hour and a half, the taxi will be here to pick us up.

I wish I could capture this moment. I wish I could paint the memory of this place on the back of my eyelids so I could conjure it up any time I want. I would paint mighty trees with red-brown trunks. I would paint brilliant pink blossoms on luscious green shrubs. I would paint a poinsetta tree leaning over the fence – welcoming me back to my temporary home whenever I’ve been away. I would paint a massive majestic tree covered in soft pink blossoms. I would colour the roof of the guest house with rust-coloured crayons.

I’d capture the sounds too – the cacophony of birds singing their friendly choruses. I would isolate each birdsong and make it unique from the rest, but then blend them all together in a melodious choir.

Somehow, I would add the breeze touching my face and playing tag with the corners of my pages. Then there’d be the sunshine touching the multi-coloured leaves, the sweet sounds of children playing and conversing in another tongue, the shadows of people walking past the hedge, the sounds of faraway dogs guarding their domains.

There have been so many perfect moments on this trip. The gentle people, the magnificent animals, the warm sun, the cool refreshment of a swimming pool, the delightful innocence of babies, the coming together of community, the food that tasted like manna from heaven. I want to take it all home with me.

There goes a gecko running up the trunk of a tree. I’ve grown rather fond of those funny little creatures.

There are four little Finnish children playing in the play structure close to me. Their voices are quite delightful, chattering away in their mother tongue. The one I’ve seen the most of – I think her name is Philipa and she’s here with her parents waiting for the arrival of her baby sister or brother – is about the same age as Maddie. She’s quite chatty, and I’m sure we’d be friends by now if we spoke the same language. She looks at me with a rather puzzled look on her face – not unfriendly or shy, just puzzled. I wonder what she thinks when I open my mouth and speak – when I make silly jumbled noises that sound like language don’t quite make sense.

Soon, I’ll be home with children who know my language and know how to find a comfortable place on my lap.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Good bye Corrie Lynn

We went for breakfast, and then Corrie Lynn and I walked to the triangle/zebra market. Most shops were just opening up, so we were almost the only customers there. That made the pressure even worse than usual. Everyone tried to convince us they would give us good deals if we would be their first customer of the day. According to them, the first customer is lucky. I bough a bunch more stuff – a mobile for Paul & Jo, a musical instrument for Dwight, some more soapstone, some wire bicycles for the nephews, etc.

After the market, we went to the Sarit Centre. I bought a duffle bag, but in order to use my credit card, I had to spend at least 1000 shillings. So I ended up with a kikoy and kanga as well.

We also stopped at the Uchumi Supermarket. I bought a bunch of spices and some tea. We also picked up a few buns and cheese for lunch.

We were going to take the matatoo (mini-bus) back to the guest house because we had so much to carry, but Corrie Lynn wanted to give away some clothes, so we decided to walk and try to find a woman who could use the clothes. We found a woman and three small children who were very happy to receive a bag of clothes and a few “fruit to go” I had in my bag.

It’s hard to know how to respond to the begging. I know I’ve got more than enough, so a few dollars out of my pocket doesn’t hurt. But at the same time, those few dollars makes virtually no difference for them – they might get a few bites today, but then tomorrow they’ll still be hungry. It makes me want to be part of some bigger solution.

When we got back to the guest house, we ate our snack and then went to lie in the sun for awhile. We didn’t last long though – the sun was too scorching.

Corrie Lynn had to leave around 4:00. I’ll miss her. She’s been one of the best things about this trip – finding a soul-mate to work through some of the experiences with. We think a lot alike, even though she’s at a different place spiritually.

After she left, Dan and I were picked up by Werner and Adelia Wiens. They’re originally from Winnipeg, and they’re in Kenya teaching at Rosslyn Academy. We met them last night when they came to the guest house to meet Micheline and give her some stuff to take back to friends in Winnipeg. I’d told them Marcel was studying to be a teacher, and that we might consider working at an international school. They said I should come check out Rosslyn, and in the end, they invited us over for faspa.

We had quite a nice evening. Werner gave us a tour of their campus. It’s QUITE impressive. They have K to 12 all on the same campus, and there’s beautiful staff housing on the grounds.

We got to spend a bit of time in the computer lounge, checking and sending e-mails. I got a few from Cynthia, talking about Mom’s new male friend. It sounds kinda freaky – like they’re already talking about spending their lives together. Yikes! I’m just not sure I could process this all so quickly! I don’t want her to move away. I want to see her happy, but I’m afraid she’ll take risks just because she doesn’t want to be lonely any more.

After faspa, Werner and Adelia drove us back to the guest house. It’s only 9:00, but I think I’ll be asleep soon. I’m exhausted.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

You want to buy a purse? I give you a good price.

It’s Saturday today, the last official day of the tour. This morning, Corrie Lynn and I went for breakfast with Stefan Lutz and his wife (I can’t remember her name) and their son Oliver. We ate at the Java House. Stefan works for CRWRC in Kenya. We had an interesting discussion about his views on food aid, the challenges with CFGB and the tied aid regulations, etc.

After breakfast, they dropped us off at the village market. It was a little expensive, so we didn’t buy much, but I did buy a few dresses for the girls.

We took a taxi downtown to the High Court market. It’s not a regular market – just set up on Saturdays in a parking lot. It was fairly intense being there – a lot of high pressure sales tactics. Some people work on your sympathy – saying they need to feed their kids – others work on guilt. Most are very skilful at convincing you that you really MUST buy their stuff. It’s really hard to say no. Even when you say no, they try to convince you to come back again later. I bought a fair bit of stuff – mostly gifts.

We got worn out from the heat and the high pressure sales, and so we looked for a place to sit down for a cool drink. Even on a Saturday, the streets of downtown Nairobi are packed with people. It was hard to manoeuvre ourselves through the crowds. And everywhere there were beggars, trying to appeal to our sympathies. I can shut most of it out – I’ve gotten kind of used to that in downtown Winnipeg – but what bothered me were the small children out on the street begging. Some were no older than Nikki and Julie. It’s hard to believe there is any future for kids who already have to resort to begging.

We took the bus back to Church Road and walked to the Hampton House. Everyone else was packing up their things. We hung out with them for awhile until they were ready to leave for the airport, and then we walked to the Mennonite Guest House for supper. Now, it’s only Dan, Corrie Lynn and I left.

After supper, I sat on Corrie Lynn’s bed and watched her pack, and then we went to relax in the sitting room for awhile.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The beginning of good bye

This morning, Corrie Lynn and I went down to reception for some doughnuts. When everyone was up, we all got together for a group photo. We all dressed up in our African garb – kangas, Maasai blankets, jewellery, etc.

Once our photo was done, we headed out of Nairobi for our final project visit. Rachel and Tim stayed behind because Rachel was still recuperating and Tim had to get ready to fly home.

Once again, we picked up a few people along the way, and they took us to Maragua, the town where RODI is working with a local farm organization (Highbridge Banana Association) on advocacy and awareness building. We met with a group of local banana growers – mostly women. They told us about their challenges with unfair pricing, inability to compete with large corporations, lack of water, etc.

Some of their challenges are:
- There used to be an organized system for collecting bananas from various regions, but the roads got so bad that it stopped. Now they have to sell most of their products locally.
- Too many people are competing in the same industry, so the price went lower.
- They can’t compete with the multinational companies. They don’t have the capacity for irrigation systems, etc.
- They can’t produce the quality of bananas required by large supermarket chains.
- To certify organic to ship to Europe, they have to pay for inspectors to come from Europe and they can’t afford it.

After the meeting, we visited the farm of one of the members of the association. She showed us how they were trying to use good farming practices to make maximum use of their land. Unfortunately, though, there hadn’t been much rain lately so their crops were poor.

On their farm was a brick house that was partially built. They’d started it 5 years ago, but had been unable to finish it because of cost. The woman told us “we grow and grow, but the prices are still low.” Before we left the farm, the husband brought out a guest book for us to sign – a practice we’ve now grown accustomed to.

The second farm we visited was a little bit more comfortable. The farmers were Samuel and Agnes Njiba. Samuel showed us some interesting innovations on the farm. They’d devised a way to capture methane gas from cow manure and goat manure in a tank where it was stored and then used for household cooking. He also showed us the fish pond he’d dug in the back of his property. He’d stocked it with fish, but the water levels were a little too low now, so he was a little concerned.

Agnes and some of the neighbourhood women served us lunch in their comfortable, open-air sitting room. First they served us pop, and then we dined quite heartily on rice pilaf, veggies, plantains, stew, and some other dish made of cassava, maize and peas.

During lunch, we had the opportunity to purchase some crafts made of banana leaves. They were made by a local group of youth. I bought some jewellery boxes for the girls and some prints for Mom and Mom & Dad L.

I had an interesting conversation with Samuel, the owner of the farm. I told him that my husband was a stay-at-home dad who looked after most of the cooking and childcare in the home. He was quite surprised at that and said it would never happen in Africa.

After lunch we drove back to Nairobi. We stopped at the RODI office on the way. Esther, the woman from RODI, is quite impressive. We also met her daughter Rosemary. Esther is a single mother of 2 grown children, and she also cares for 2 children of her uncle who passed away. She has a tea farm, as well as some animals, and she also works for RODI. She’s quite intelligent and well-versed in the area of trade rules, etc. She’s travelled with Stu and Kenton to WTO meetings and trade talks.

After visiting the RODI project, we went back to the Hampton House and relaxed for awhile. Tim was the first of our group to leave. It’s hard to believe good-byes have begun already. It’s strange saying good-bye. We’ve become a unique kind of community with a unique bond. No one else has shared this common experience except these 12 people who were strangers less than 3 weeks ago. I don’t feel a strong need to cling to them, but there is certainly a sadness in letting go.

Later in the evening, Jim and Cathy Bowman brought Chinese food to the guest house and shared a last meal with us.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Rush hour in Nairobi

Last night, Rachel got quite sick and had to be taken to the hospital. Dan took her and Joyce went along. She had an allergic reaction to something we’d had at supper – probably cashews.

We had supper at some fancy Indian restaurant near here. We’d invited several people who work with CFGB in food security in the region – people from MCC, CRWRC, Dorcas, etc.

This morning we were up early again and on the road shortly after 6:00. Rachel and Joyce were still at the hospital and Dan stayed behind to help sort things out.

We dropped off Solomon and picked up Bernard somewhere downtown. Jim Bowman from MCC also came along today. We headed up to Munandani Region. We stopped at Machakos for tea and some delicious donut-type things called mendosas.

Awhile after we stopped for tea, we picked up Cyrus and Matthew who represent SASOL, and organization which develops sand dams. Cyrus is the leader. He’s an interesting fellow with a fascinating past and lots of stories to tell. He spent 10 years in the 70s living in the states. He attended the University of Florida in Miami and was the first black person there. he was associated with the Black Panthers, but he didn’t tell us much about what he was involved with. He studied political science and also taught in University. He married a black woman from New York and they have 3 children, all of whom now live in the U.S.

When they moved back to Kenya, he was managing editor at the Daily Planet, during a time when it was quite dangerous to be a journalist. Journalists were often thrown into prison for writing negative reports against the government.

I asked why he’d gotten into development work, and he laughed at me. I guess he’s been asked that a lot. He said he saw a need and felt it was his turn to give back.

The first sand dam we visited was a new one. It had only been built in November. They hadn’t managed to get much water from it yet, because silt had settled instead of sand. They assured us though that the silt will wash away and the sand will remain (because sand is heavier).

The second sand dam we visited was built in 1999. It wasn’t funded by CFGB, but he wanted to show us a successful project as a demonstration.

It was quite remarkable how the sand dam had changed the vegetation and availability of water in the region. They’d built 14 dams in a row along one stream, and all along the length of them, people had dug wells and had sufficient water available for livestock, gardens, and human consumption.

We climbed a hill to visit a farm. It was terraced across the hill. The woman who farms it was not expecting us, but she welcomed us nonetheless. Her name is Beatrice. She told us about how the water had changed their lives – made it easier to grow crops, increased the value of the crops, helped them make bricks for a new house, etc. She laughed when she said it allowed her to live like a white person. In other words, she now had some leisure time. She was relaxing when we arrived at her farm.

We were told that in regions where sand dams had been built, many families were able to reduce the distance they had to travel for water from 10 kilometres to less than 2.

The sand dams were built by community effort with outside sponsorship for material inputs. Matthew is in charge of community mobilization. He told us how they meet with the community and get them involved in the project. Anyone who does not contribute labour has to pay to collect water there. With the most recent project (the first one we saw) CFGB provided food for food-for-work, and materials to build the dam.

Beatrice seemed like a remarkable woman. Not only does she run a fairly large and diverse farm, but she is also chairwoman for the 14 dams in that region, and chairwoman of the Catholic Women’s League. In addition to her own well, she has also dug a well on her property for the Catholic Women’s League, and provided them with land for a nursery.

It was certainly nice to meet a strong woman who is a good farmer and a leader in her community.

After the sand dams, we headed back to Nairobi. It was a bit of a wild trip, coming back into town during the heart of rush hour. At one point, we were going up a hill behind a slow moving truck, and everyone was pulling out to pass in all directions. Suddenly, a 2 lane road became a 4 lane, with no logic to the direction of traffic. It was every man for himself..

Inside the city it wasn’t much better. Everyone was quite aggressive, shoving their way in everywhere whether or not they had the right of way. Two lanes became four lanes, or whatever would fit.

When we got back to the guest house, pizza had been ordered, so we all got together in the sitting room for supper and some wrap-up time. It was our last evening together since Tim is going back home tomorrow, a day earlier than everyone else.

There were a lot of mixed feelings in the group. Though we’ve had an amazing time, it won’t necessarily be easy to communicate this experience to other people or let it change our lives in a significant way. Joy expressed it well when she said making a change or entering a new phase in your life is like getting out of bed – you know it’s a good idea, and you know life will be more interesting, but it’s just so comfortable in bed!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A wooden giraffe gets a new owner

We got up early this morning and left USA River by 6:00. It was a little cool this morning, but quite pleasant for driving.

The bus is an interesting social environment (I can’t think of the word I’m looking for – something like biosphere or ecosystem where people have to coexist in a confined space.) The front and the back of the bus are the quiet spaces. You can usually tell if someone heads for these spaces they’re looking for some quiet time. This morning, Rachel and Tim were sick, so they sat near the front to avoid the bumps as much as possible.

Those who gravitate toward the middle are usually looking for some social interaction. Some people are quite unaware of the signs people send when they want to be alone or want to be exclusively with one other person. I’ve managed to find a fair bit of alone time, but sometimes it’s at the risk of being a little rude.

We stopped at the border into Kenya. Border crossings around here are interesting and confusing. It seems you have to stop at three places – the exit point, the entry point, and some kind of vehicle toll in between. None of these places are well marked, nor do their placement or appearance make a lot of logical sense. To top off the confusion, there are always a lot of people milling around and it’s virtually impossible to discern the officials from the loiterers. Almost anyone could walk up and demand a toll and it would be almost impossible to know if it were valid or not.

There were a lot of people trying to sell handicrafts at the border. They swarmed our bus, reaching in all the open windows with their wares. When I walked back from the washroom several women insisted I buy their bracelets and necklaces. They were willing to trade almost anything – pens, t-shirts, rings, etc. I ended up with 4 bracelets and a ring in exchange for a few pens and a cheap silver ring. I also got a tall wooden giraffe for $10 U.S. In retrospect, I feel a little ashamed for getting so much for so little, but I guess it’s better than nothing for them.

There was a visit planned at a CRWRC project on the way – a cattle and farm project. Peter, our dutch farmer, really wanted to stop. In the end, only a few people (Peter, Dan, Ed, Solomon, and Brenda) stayed there and the rest of us carried on to Nairobi.

We stopped for lunch at the Java House – a trendy little chain that seems to be popular with ex-pats. They have a fairly extensive western menu. I ordered a veggie burger and fries. It was delicious, but WAY too much food.

For the next three nights, we’re staying a the Hampton House guest house (a Baptist guest house). It’s quite nice. The rooms are fairly big – set up like small apartments. We have 4 people in our room – Rachel, Joyce, Corrie Lynn and me.

Shortly after we got here, some of us went to the Sarit Centre for some shopping and a visit to the internet café. I sent another group e-mail and a few others. Mom told me some of the details of her date with Paul, the dutchman from Alberta. It sounds like she quite enjoyed herself. Yikes! I also found out from Jayne that I’ve been nominated to be an elder. I think I’m probably headed in that direction, but I have to process it a bit more first.

I walked back to the guest house alone. It was quite nice to be alone for awhile. I’m enjoying this group quite a bit, but I still value my alone time.

When I got back, I had a warm bath (yay!) and shaved my legs (double yay!). Now I’m sitting in the patio/sitting room close to our room. It is very comfy. The air has cooled enough to be comfortable and there are no bugs. Aaahhh! A very nice moment!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Mount Kilimanjaro in the mist

We’re staying at the White House Hotel in USA River. I think it only costs $8 U.S. a night. It’s quite pleasant with an open courtyard in the centre. The mosquito nets are crappy though – they don’t drape over the edges of the bed well.

I slept in my own room last night. Dan ended up in some meeting room with Solomon.

This morning, Corrie Lynn and I walked to the ADRA complex while the rest of the group took the bus. It was good to get a little alone time with her.

The ADRA compound is a little confusing. We’ve seen such different approaches to mission work around here. This compound is lavish and large, with beautiful grounds and buildings. They’ve put a lot of money into it. And they run a furniture manufacturing plant on the grounds. The whole thing kinda smacks of colonialism – the rich missionaries with all the servants, the beautiful grounds, etc. I know I shouldn’t judge, but it just doesn’t quite make sense to me.

This morning Bongo, who works for ADRA, took us to visit the International Health Food Association. It’s a big factory owned by ADRA which processes and fortifies flour and cookies with the intent of making them available to the general public in an effort to improve nutrition. It seems a little strange that they would beat all the nutrients out of the maize, and then add them back in artificially. They’re trying to make a product available to the public that is comparable to what they use. It seems more logical to me to educate people about what nutrients they need and how they can find them in natural sources, but what do I know?

After visiting the factory, we went to the market for our food-buying experience. We teamed up and Dan gave each team 5000 shillings (approx. $5 U.S.) which is approximately what a family has to survive on for a week. With that money, we had to try to buy enough food to feed a family of 6 for a week.

I was teamed up with Brenda and Micheline. The experience was quite good. At first, it was rather intimidating to walk into such a foreign environment and not know who was trying to help us and who would take advantage of us. One fellow helped us quite a bit and we gave him a tip.

We ended up with about 2 kilo of maize, 1 kilo of rice, 1 kilo of beans, about 700 g of fish, half a tub of oil, some bananas and a couple of onions.

I think I could enjoy living in an area where markets like that are common. It didn’t take long to get caught up in the energy of the place. It was crowded and noisy, and dirty, but people were friendly and helpful. Bartering can really get my adrenalin pumping. I rather enjoy playing the game.

After that market experience, we went to buy our lunch at a large sanitary supermarket. Although it was clean and well organized, it didn’t seem as interesting or energizing. It felt quite cold and sterile and lifeless.

We had some ice cream on the bus and headed back to ADRA to compare our purchases and our market experiences. Every team had a slightly different approach. Mos of us had too much protein and none of us had enough starch. We gave all of our purchase to Max and Nevartus (the mechanic travelling with us).

When we’d finished comparing notes, some of us went for a ride to see Mount Kilimanjaro while others stayed at the compound. It was hot and dusty and the mountain was clouded in mist or dust. We didn’t get a very clear view, but at least we can say we saw it.

When we got back, I helped with the orphan babies for awhile – gave one of them a bottle. I find myself enjoying holding the babies, and I certainly feel SOME compassion for them, but the whole thing doesn’t tear at my heartstrings as much as it does some other people.

We had supper at the Danish Centre again, and then walked back to the hotel. Some people are hanging out around the tables, but I’m beat, so I’m going to bed.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Nicole turns 9

My dear Nicole
Today is your birthday. I can’t believe you’re nine already. What a grown-up girl you are!

Somewhere in Africa, I’m missing you like crazy right now. Judging by the schedule I looked at before I left, I should be in Tanzania by now – somewhere near Arusha. You can look it up on the map on the wall, put your finger on the spot, and say a little prayer for Mommy.

Nine years ago today you made me a Mommy. It wasn’t easy bringing you into this world. You were a little stubborn coming out – you were flipped over the wrong way inside me and, after I tried for hours to get you out, the doctor had to get in there and yank you out. But all that effort was worth it in the end.

Your daddy was SO excited when you came out. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he first saw you (you probably know the look I’m talking about – when he gets really happy about something, and it makes him a little silly). You made us both feel very proud and very lucky. Not everyone gets to be mommy or daddy to such a beautiful girl. When you were born, you had quite a bit of hair on your head, and for the first couple of months, it stood straight up! (Grandma told me mine did the same thing when I was little.) A lot of people commented on your hair because not only did it stand up, it had a couple of shades in it – like you’d streaked it.

From a really young age, you were kind to your Mommy and Daddy. You started sleeping through the night really early, so we could get enough sleep. That helped make us a little less grumpy. When you were really little, I called you Squeaker, because you made little squeaky sounds when you wanted attention.

You weren’t very old yet when I realized there was something very special about you. There was something about the way you looked at things and tried to figure them out that always made you seem older than your age. You still have that. You’ve always tried to figure out everything around you. When we’d go for walks when you were little, you wouldn’t stop asking questions. “Who’s that man? Where’s he going? Why is he going there? Does he have a Mommy? Why isn’t he at home? Is that his dog?” “Why” was one of your favourite words. I think it still is.

I remember when Daddy’s Mémère died and we’d told you she’d gone to heaven. You were only about 3 or 4 years old. We were driving home from Ile des Chênes and you were looking up at the moon. “Mommy,” you asked, “who moves the moon?” “God does,” I said. “Well then, what does Mémère do while God is moving the moon?” I think you were concerned that Mémère might be lonely if God wasn’t in heaven with her. You’re often concerned about other people and I like that about you. You want to know that people are safe and happy and comfortable. I still see it in the way you watch over Maddie. The other day you grabbed her when she was about to walk out into a parking lot. I know I can trust you to make sure she is safe.

Another thing I’ve always loved about you is how much you sing. No matter what you’re doing, it seems like you almost always have a song on your lips. I love that! I remember when you were pretty little – probably only 2 or 3 – I took you on a bike ride on the bike seat at the back of my bike. As we rode, you were singing at the top of your lungs “How do I live without you?” People walking by were smiling – it made them happy to see a little girl like you who loved to sing. When you were a little older – probably about 4 – you used to sing “Man, I feel like a woman.” It was very cute.

You still make people happy when you sing. I watched you sing a Hillary Duff song the other day and I smiled all the way through it. You knew EVERY word. Your voice is so beautiful. I hope you always sing. I hope you always dance, too. You’ve got great rhythm and music really seems to move you in a special way. Hang onto that.

You’re a smart girl. It blows me away sometimes how much you know and understand. Your brain never seems to stop working. You notice a lot of things that other people miss, and when you see or hear something you don’t understand, you almost always ask me or Daddy a question about it. It’s important to you that you figure it out. Sometimes the questions don’t come for a few hours or even a few days, but they always come. That’s a really good way to live. Keep trying to figure out the world. Stay interested. Keep noticing things that other people don’t always notice. Don’t let it worry you, just let it keep you interested.

There are a lot of other things I love about you. Here are a few more:
1. You have a great sense of style. I love to see you dressed in funky clothes. Sometimes, when we’re in a big room full of people, I look across the room at you, notice how good you look, and think “Wow! She looks good! I’m glad she’s my daughter!”

2. I like to laugh with you. When we get silly together, it makes me think I’ll always want to hang around with you. Sometimes you and your sister like to tickle me so much I laugh myself silly. It’s kinda fun.

3. You have an artistic streak in you. You gave me a picture recently that I hung on my office wall and I LOVE it! It’s fun and colourful and whimsical. I like the swirls and the splashes of colour. It’s very creative and what I really like about it is that it’s from your imagination. You didn’t just draw a flower that’s supposed to look like a flower – you drew one that’s fun and funky. I hope you always draw and paint me fun pictures. They could hang in an art gallery some day!

4. You sure know a lot about celebrities and movies and TV shows and stuff like that. When we were at Daddy’s family Christmas a few months ago, I was proud to play Scattagories with you. You knew lots of answers that other people in our group didn’t know and they were quite impressed with your knowledge.

5. I can trust you. You’ve always been very trustworthy. You tell me the truth, even when it’s hard to do sometimes. You try really hard to keep your promises and when you make a mistake, I can tell how badly it makes you feel. When I tell you not to do something, I’m pretty sure you’ll do your best not to do it. Like when I tell you how far you can go on your bicycle – you never go further than I ask you to, and that makes me happy because I know I don’t have to worry about you.

6. You have a great memory. Often, when I’m afraid I’ll forget something (like when we’re going shopping and Daddy wants us to pick up something) I ask you to help me remember because I’m pretty sure you will.

I love you, my dear Nicole. You make me a very happy Mom. You brought a special light into our lives and we’ve never been the same since then. I miss you and I can’t wait to be with you again.

Bananas and Babies

This morning we had breakfast at the hotel and then rode the ADRA land cruisers to their compound. At the compound, we visited the Church’s home where they care for 12 AIDS orphans.

Max’s wife Davona is quite passionate about the babies. She’s taken in quite a few AIDS babies so far, and they’re building a beautiful centre on their complex to host the project (I think it’s called “Cradle of Hope”.)

In the morning, after our briefing with ADRA staff, some of us went to visit a vegetable research centre, while the others stayed and helped with the babies.

The research centre was interesting, but didn’t hold a lot of appeal. It’s not something we fund or have anything to do with, but the local hosts thought it might be nice to visit a place that works with indigenous plants. It was a little difficult to figure out what their goal is, but it seems they want to promote good farming practices and help support the use of indigenous plants.

After visiting the research station, we went back to the ADRA compound. Those who had stayed to help with the orphans had taken 4 of them to get tested for HIV. All of them had come out negative.

The Churches have a pool in their backyard, so Corrie Lynn, Brenda, and I went for a dip before lunch. Dan went to the supermarket to pick up lunch. We ate buns and peanut butter and honey and plantain chips, cassava chips, potato chips, etc. I’m getting quite hooked on plantain chips and cassava chips.

After lunch, some of the group visited an ADRA funded banana plantation. I stayed at the house and we took some of the orphans swimming. I played with a little girl named Shelly. She was quite delightful. She reminded me a lot of Maddie. She had a bold effervescent personality. She loved everyone and assumed everyone would love her. She kept saying “too-too” which apparently means bug.

Since the Churches have internet connection, I went online and sent a birthday e-mail to Nikki.

When the group got back from the banana plantation, we got together for a debriefing. We started out comparing notes about the trip so far – where we’d been, what we remembered.

After the briefing session, we walked to a nearby Danish training centre where we had supper. They served a nice buffet. I’m feeling better, but I still have that strange discomfort shortly after I swallow – like there’s an obstruction in my esophagus.

It's Nikki's birthday today. Happy birthday my beautiful girl.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

What's with all this church stuff?

We had breakfast at 7:30 – fruit and eggs and sausage and bacon. Everything was quite delicious and the service is amazing. They even lay the cloth napkins on your lap for you! After breakfast, Dan and Corrie Lynn and Rachel and I went for a walk to Bytes, a local internet café. I sent another group e-mail and a couple of other ones. I found out Mom is going on a blind date! AAaaahhh!!! I also wrote a list for Cynthia – defining all the people on the tour.

On the way back to the resort, Corrie Lynn and I stopped for a little shopping. She bought some Maasai blankets and I bought a wooden bowl – I’ll probably give it to Mom.

We had our church service this morning. Dan had asked Tim to organize it. He got everyone involved in the service – some reading scripture, some singing, even an offering. He really took it to heart – got into the planning in a big way.

After church, we had lunch at the Octagon. Another delicious meal. Then I went to the office to pay for my gifts at the gift shop (necklaces and paintings) and my phone call. I was rather horrified to find out that the phone call cost $36 – for SIX minutes! Yikes!

We didn’t have far to drive today. It was nice to get going a little later and not feel like we had to rush. We had to stop to change a tire. Where we stopped, I bought a couple of necklaces for $6. It’s interesting how different the bartering can be, based, I suspect, on the local community. In some towns, like Mwanza or Karatu, it seems relaxed and friendly. The bartering feels more like friendly banter. In other places, like Kisii or where we stopped today, people warm the bus the minute it stops. They reach in the windows to try to sell stuff. They follow you down the street. There is a desperation in their eyes – like you are their only hope today of bringing home a meal for their children. The man who sold me the necklaces was like the second group. He wouldn’t give up. I offered him WAY less than he asked for, and because I really didn’t care if I got it or not, I walked away and he finally came down to almost as low as my offer.

I’m starting to remember the thrill I got from bartering in Mexico. On the other hand, I do feel a little guilty when I pay way less than I think something is worth.

We drove through Arusha and ended up at the ADRA compound in USA River. They have quite an impressive compound, with beautiful office buildings, meeting space, lush grounds, and a pretty fancy house for the country director.

Max Church is the country director for ADRA in Tanzania. He met us at the compound, and then escorted us to our hotel so that we could freshen up before supper.

The hotel is not bad. It’s fairly new – I think it was refurbished recently – the beds are comfy and it’s clean. My standards have come down on this trip. While we were driving here, down roads with potholes as big as a small car, I thought we’d end up in a real dive. The bus actually got stuck on the road just a little ways down from the hotel.

We went for supper at some fancy restaurant in Arusha. They had 3 or 4 menus – Indian, Italian, Chines, and perhaps one other one. And each menu had tonnes of selection. I had the butter chicken and it was quite yummy.

When we got back to the hotel, I ended up giving up my room for Dan so that he wouldn’t have to sleep in the hallway. I slept with Corrie Lynn. Neither of us slept very well because the mosquito netting was too close to us and the mosquitoes bit through the screen.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Lions and Elephants and Zebras... oh my!

We woke up early this morning. 5:30 a.m. We had breakfast and were on the road by about 6:45. The Serengetti Stop Over was only a short distance from the gate into the Serengetti. While we waited for Dan to pay the entrance fee, we saw a bunch of baboons.

Not far into the park, there were a bunch of wildebeests. There were also lots of gazelles, antelopes, and other deer-like creatures.

Throughout the day, we saw thousands of zebras. There were a few giraffes, some water buffalo. Twice we stopped at ponds to watch hippos cooling themselves. Close to one pond there was a herd of elephants – we must have seen 30 of them. There were also a couple of other solitary elephants. And we saw lions twice. We climbed up on the roof of the bus to get a closer look at the lions.

What else did we see? Water buffalo, storks, ostriches, monkeys, all kinds of birds, hyenas, warthogs, etc.

We stopped for lunch at a lodge in the middle of the Serengetti. It was quite amazing – the place was gorgeous. It was built into the rocks, and there were big rock faces incorporated into the architecture. The buffet lunch was pretty amazing too.

When we left the Serengetti, we were told we had to pay a fine because we’d gotten out of the vehicle and climbed on the roof. I guess someone spotted us and reported us. The fine was $50 U.S.

After we left the Serengetti, we had to cross another park – Ngorongoro Crater. We drove through some more Maasai territory, and then drove up a mountain to the edge of an old volcanic crater. It was quite spectacular up there. The crater was about 30 miles wide and quite deep. We couldn’t drive into it without a 4 wheel drive but we drove along the edge of it for quite awhile.

We didn’t have much time, because we had to get to the exit gate by 7:00 p.m. Max, our driver, was a little stressed by how late it was getting so we really rushed, missing a lot of photo ops. It was amazingly green and lush up in the mountains – a real tropical jungle.

Not long after we exited the second park, we got to our accommodation in Karatu. It’s a place called the Octagon and it’s AMAZING! It’s brand new (just opened in September). It has a bunch of sleeping huts, and then separate buildings for the restaurant, bar, and office. The guy who owns it, Rorie, is from Ireland and his wife is Tanzanian. His wife is the chef at the restaurant.

They treat us like royalty here. The best thing was when we arrived, all dusty and tired and hot – they greeted us with warm moist towels (REAL towels, not just paper towels) and glasses of fruit juice. It was one of the special touches that makes a place stand out.

I’m sharing a room with Corrie Lynn again tonight. We’ve developed quite a solid bond. We’re both quite dreading the church service tomorrow morning.

I phoned Marcel today to wish him a happy birthday. It was good to talk to him and the girls. They all sounded quite content, which was nice. I was afraid they might be weepy or whiny, and I’d come away from the conversation feeling guilty, but it didn’t happen that way, so I’m happy. They were watching the video for “Vertigo”, the U2 song on the cd/dvd I gave Marcel for his birthday.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Dirty water

We drove all day today. We started out in the morning by saying farewells in Shinyanga. One of the men approached me and said the Bishop had sent him to ask for my card. I’m not sure why he wanted my card. I suppose it may have been to make some plea for further support. Or perhaps it was because he wants to encourage Marcel to come and teach at their school.

The drive was a mixed bag today – some smooth tarmac and lots of washboard. We stopped in Mwanza, and I managed to send a few e-mails at an internet café. We also stopped at Victoria Lake for a bit of a break and a snack. While we were at the lake, a group of children came to collect water in their buckets. The water was filthy, and yet some of them filled their buckets and drank from it. It was really disturbing to see. I knew there was trouble with not enough clean water, but it didn’t really sink in until I saw them drinking filth.

We were anticipating sleeping at a school tonight, but Dan surprised us. He made the bus driver stop on the road, and without telling us what he was doing, walked over to the Serengetti Stop Over. When he got back, he announced that the plans had changed and we were spending the night here.

What a great surprise! We all get to sleep in rondebels with traditional thatched roofs. We had a relaxing evening, with drinks at the bar and a delicious supper.

I’m sharing a room with Corrie Lynn tonight. It’s quite remarkable how our relationship has evolved over the last few days.


“Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.”

Scott Peck

A rough night

Oh my gosh, what a night I’ve had! I was sure this night I’d have a good solid sleep. It was such a long, tiring day, and I have a comfortable room with a fan to keep me cool. Why wouldn’t I sleep well? Guess I was in for a bit of a surprise!

Shortly after 2:00, I woke up feeling rather ill. It started out as just a slight nausea, but it got increasingly worse. I suspect I got a minor case of food poisoning. I got up to go to the bathroom, not knowing if I would throw up or poop my guts out.

While I was sitting on the toilet, I heard a slight noise. I looked up, and high on the wall in front of me was a gecko, and it its mouth was a cockroach. Well, needless to say, THAT’S a bit of a startling thing to see on your bathroom wall at the best of times, but it’s particularly hard to deal with at 2:00 in the morning when you feel like your insides are ready to turn inside out.

I closed the bathroom door and climbed back into bed. The sudden enormity of having to deal with 2 challenges in the middle of the night became a little too hard to take, so the tears began to flow. That didn’t last long though. Lying there on such a comfortable bed with breeze on my face in Africa nonetheless seemed like such a blessing, I just couldn’t waste my time in tears. On top of that, it struck me that here I’d seen people dealing with incredible struggles, and I was letting a simple think like a gecko with a cockroach in its mouth get me down? Many of those people would give almost anything to sleep in a place like this. A few pests in the bathroom would be the least of their worries.

That helped me see the situation a little differently and after that I was actually quite peaceful. I probably would have been able to sleep if it hadn’t been for the fact that my stomach was feeling increasingly worse. I began to fear that I would end up passed out on the floor, might possibly hit my head on the bathtub or concrete floor and end up with a concussion. No one would find me until morning.

Along with that thought, came the memory of the conversations and thoughts I’d had earlier about how North Americans are so reluctant to admit when they need help. This challenged me to look at myself and wonder why I was so reluctant to turn to anyone for help. Did I have too much pride to become more African and admit it when I was in need?

So, with that thought in mind, I climbed out of bed and made my way downstairs to where I knew Corrie Lynn’s room was. I only know where she and Ed were, and I felt quite comfortable by now that she would help me without wounding my pride.

I knocked on her door, and sure enough, she welcomed me in to sleep in her extra bed. She was pretty groggy, but she was quite willing to help me if I threw up.

Fortunately, I never had to throw up and throughout the night I got increasingly better. Now I’m back in my room, and though there is a bit of residual nausea, I feel pretty good. I did find evidence, however, that what I saw in the bathroom last night was not a dream. The remains of the cockroach are lying in my bathtub. I wish I’d taken a picture of my friend the gecko. That would have been a picture worth showing back home!

Today is Dad’s birthday. He would have been 71. It’s amazing how much I feel like Dad’s spirit is with me on this trip. I think about him all the time. I think he’d have been so fascinated with this trip. He would have felt quite at home with the primitive farming methods and I’m sure he would have taken great joy in the people. Dad, I wish you were here in the flesh, but I know you’re here in spirit.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Food for them, but MORE food for us

It’s hard to describe all the emotions I’ve been through today. It will take a long time to process all we’ve been through today.

We started with breakfast in the restaurant downstairs. I just had fruit and tea since the only bread they had was white (why does EVERYBODY serve white bread around here?). After breakfast, we drove to the AICT (African Inland Church of Tanzania) office and met with the staff, including the Bishop.

On the way to the food distribution site we were visiting today, I rode in the care along with Bishop John K. Nkole. He’s a fascinating man. Though he clearly has passion and compassion for his land and his people, it also seems somewhat evident that he enjoys the status he has achieved. We rode in his comfortable, air conditioned SUV with leather seats and good shock absorbers to cushion us against the rough roads. He talked with wisdom and insight about the problems in his country. He said some of the problems were as a result of a former communist requiem that caused people to get lazy and not have enough pride in their country, their government, or their work.

It just occurred to me, as I sit here and process this day, in the context of the last few days, that whenever asked about the problems in their countries, the leaders I have spoken with never blame the west (ie. richer nations) for unfair trade, etc. They always look for internal problems and internal solutions. It would be so easy to blame us.

The bishop also shared some of his views of the church. Most of them were wise. He said, for example, that he didn’t believe in big evangelistic meetings because there was no follow up. “A fire cannot sustain itself without firewood.” He also said that doctrine was not the most important thing – that the thief on the cross got into heaven even without baptism. Another thing he said was that a man had to be willing to change, or else he would end up alone on an island.

What I found interesting about him was that, despite his open-mindedness on many things, he was quite closed-minded on other things. Rock music, for example, should not be allowed into the church.

Our first destination today was a village in the Kishapu district where a food distribution was taking place. This was the last of 3 distributions, as a result of drought in the last harvest year (by the time this food is consumed, they hope the next harvest will be ready).

I have no words to adequately describe the experience of that visit. The people were all waiting for us to arrive. There were hundreds of them. When I stepped out of the bishop’s vehicle, there were hundreds of eager faces looking at me. A couple of women tentatively reached for my hand. When I smiled back at them and shook their hands, the others took that as a signal to approach. Suddenly there were hands reaching from everywhere. Each hand wanted to touch mine. Each face looked for my smile.

It was completely overwhelming. I know now what the queen must feel like when hundreds of people swarm around her in the hopes that they might get a brief moment to clutch her hand.

The tears welled up in my eyes and my throat felt tight. I wanted to tell the “I am not the messiah. Don’t thank me – I have done so little to help you in your plight.” I wanted to run away and cry with the injustice of it all. How could I be worthy of this? Why would I be worthy of their honour when I get to live in luxury and privilege? I should be shamed by them – not honoured. They should hate me for having so much and not being willing to share more. They shouldn’t be worshipping me like this! I don’t deserve this any more than they deserve the lot that they’ve been given.

The emotions didn’t stop there. We briefly helped them fill some bags with maize, and then it was time for the official speeches. I was nearly moved to tears as I spoke of how we were there to support them, just as we knew they would support us if we were in need. I said I knew what it was like to live on a farm and wait for it to rain so that we could have a good harvest.

I thought that we would stay longer at the distribution site, but they whisked us away to our next stop. We visited a few of the fields which CFGB has provided seeds for. The farmers were in the field waiting for us. The woman showed us how she plowed the field by hand held hoe. She showed no expression on her face as we all took pictures of her. It was hard to know if she was feeling pride or shame.

After visiting a few fields, we went to a school where they were preparing lunch for us. We dropped in on a few classes and said hello to the children. The classrooms were stark and bare – most of the children sat on the floor with no desks and only a small notebook to do their lessons in. There were no teaching tools in the rooms.

They took us to our seats in the shade of a big tree and they performed for us. It was marvellous. They had 3 different choirs who’d all prepared songs for us. All of the words to the songs were written especially for our visit. They sang of their gratitude for our visit and support. They also sang of their need for clean water and greater food security.

Lunch was served in one of the classrooms. We were told to eat “halfly” as there was another lunch waiting for us in another village. We ate rice and goat meat and chicken. The jolly bishop encouraged us to eat more. “Food is hospitality,” he said.

Soon, we were back on the road again. We thought we were going to the place where our next meal would be served, but instead they took us to another school. This time it was a secondary school, with both boys and girls for a change. After we signed the guest book (it seems EVERYBODY’S got guest books!), we were taken to an open-air auditorium where the students performed for us – standing in a circle all around the edges of the auditorium. First they sang their national anthem, then a few students performed a poem for us. It was a poem about the dream they have for their school. They dream about more buildings to house more classrooms, a library, and even a computer room.

Ever since those students performed their poem, I’ve been trying to process how I feel about it. For awhile I felt good because they showed initiative and hope for the future. But there was a niggling feeling that that wasn’t really how I felt about it. After talking with Brenda about it, it occurred to me that part of me was frustrated that these children were being socialized to believe that perhaps if you appeal to the rich white Canadians, they will deign to be your benefactors and your problems will be solved. How is that helping the children by making them believe that?

Since then, I’ve had other thoughts about it. If I look at it from a cultural perspective, it makes more sense. Because they have a stronger sense of community, and belief that relationships are the highest priority, they believe that brothers and sisters should support each other. Therefore, because they are not as intent on being independent and don’t have the same issues with pride, they see nothing wrong with asking their “brothers ans sisters” for help. Instead of looking at is as their inferior appeal for our charity, we should look at it as an honour that they recognize us as an extension of their community and that they feel comfortable asking for help.

After the school visit, we travelled to another town where yet another welcoming party had gathered to greet us. This community will be receiving the food distribution tomorrow. Once again, we were swarmed. We were lead to a row of chairs under a tree. The people circled around us (Tim said it felt like a giant hug), and again we had speeches and music. Their music is so refreshing. It is so clearly part of their culture. It flows out of them as a natural, organic extension of who they are.

From my place at the head table (beside the bishop), I took a lot of pictures. I am so taken with their beautiful faces. They all seemed to glow with such expectation and gratitude.

It was difficult to file through the crowd, because they moved in so close to us and wanted to shake our hands.

Another lunch was served at another school. We ate fairly quickly this time as we had to be on the road. Most of the food was typical (rice, goat, chicken) but this was the first time we had sorghum ugali. It had a rough texture – like there was sand in it. Once again, we were served luke-warm pop (I think that was the third or fourth bottle today).

The ride back to Shinyanga was long and rough. I gave up my seat in the Bishop’s car (for Micheline) and rode in the bus. After such a long day, I was exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep because of the rough roads.

When we got back to Shinyanga, we were hosted for supper at the home of Hannukah, a local missionary who works in HIV/AIDS programming. She put out an amazing spread of food. Her home was large and very comfortable. She has adopted a little Swahili girl named Christina. She is gorgeous! Seeing her made me miss my own children.

Finally, after a very long day, I’m back in my comfortably equipped hotel room, ready to sleep.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Bumping along to Shinyanga

Today, we spent all day driving. We left the hotel at 6:00 in the morning. We stopped a couple of times to pee and take pictures of baboons. We drove along Lake Victoria, but never had a chance to stop. We arrived in Mwanza at lunch time. Max (our driver) called his brother-in-law and he came to meet us and show us to a restaurant for lunch. Lunch was probably the best food I’ve had since getting her. It was chicken with tamarind sauce. The name was something like “Muku ___ kapaka”. It was a light curry sauce with chicken and veggies.

After lunch we stopped at a supermarket. I bought a few teas and some raw Tanzanian sugar.

About an hour and a half outside Mwanza, the road got really rough. Max was still driving fairly quickly, because he wanted to get to our destination before dark, so we bounced around a lot.

When we got to our hotel in Shinyanga, it turned out our reservation was missing and they had no rooms available (we’d been bumped by some doctors). They were going to set up some mattresses in the conference room, but then our local contact showed up and said he’d found rooms somewhere else.

We ended up at the Mwoleka Hotel. By African standards, it’s quite nice. It even has a TV in the room and a bathtub!

I had a bath before going to bed. It was a real treat to have access to a bathtub!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Beadwork and bus rides

This morning we had our breakfast under the tree again. After breakfast, we had our “parting ceremony” under the tree. Dan and Tim, as our leader and pastor, were presented with special “leadership” gifts. The rest of us also received gifts. All of the gifts were items of Maasai beadwork. I received a necklace and bracelet. It was quite moving to be treated with such honour. We also presented them with gifts. I presented Lydia (one of the women serving us, Solomon’s wife) with a bar of soap from Canada.

As parting words, Bernard (local MCC worker) reminded us of the passage Pastor Stephen had read the night before (Psalm 133) about how unity is like precious oil poured out on the head. He said he’d often wondered why the passage spoke of oil rather than water, but one day he realized it was because oil lasted much longer than water. He’d placed some oil and water on the acacia tree under which we stood, and said that in a few weeks, he would ask Pastor Stephen which was still there.

Before we left, we learned that the goats and cows at the farm were part of the tithes that people gave the church. It seemed that Liam, the young boy who hung around quite a lot and was especially interested in my indigo watch, was the goat herder. I took a picture of him with his goats.

At the breakfast table, I spoke with David Muturi, the principal of the Najile Boys High School (which hosted us the first night). He told me about the boys school schedule each day and talked about how much they needed a library.

We left the farm at around 8:30. We drove most of the day today, stopping only a few times. Our first stop was Narok where we bought gas. I bought a necklace, bracelet and beaded staff.

We saw a lot of animals again as we drove – giraffes, zebras, gazelles, vultures, and others.

The terrain changed a lot while we drove. The region where we stayed was a little hilly with scrub trees all over. We drove into a flatter region with wide open spaces and then over an escarpment to an area that’s quite green and lush with sugar and tea plantations.

For lunch we stopped at Kisii. I had chicken and chipati (fried flat bread) and mango juice (yummy). After lunch, we strolled around the market. I bought some fabric and coffee. It was a little too crowded in the market with too many people crowding around us and wanting us to buy from them. It’s hard to say no when you know they may go to bed hungry tonight.

We got to our hotel in Migori at around 5:00. We have private rooms tonight. Mine is fairly large, with a double bed, chairs, and tables. It’s still primitive, though, even though it’s probably the nicest building in town. It’s probably the equivalent of the crappiest hostel we stayed at in Europe.

When we got here, we placed our orders for supper, and then went for a walk in the market. I didn’t buy anything this time. I ended up stopping for a cold drink with Ed, Peter, Tim, and the security guard we’d met at the hotel. The security guard was on his way to his second job at a nearby shop.

Tonight we had supper at the hotel. I had fish and a cold apple cider. After supper, because we wanted somewhere to gather and debrief, I invited everyone to my room. We had quite a serious talk about how we should respond when people as us to give. People also wanted to know why they were discouraged from bringing gifts for the people we met. It wasn’t an easy talk because there are no easy answers. It breaks your heart when you know that just a few dollars could help these people. But at the same time, it just doesn’t seem right to be bringing them too much when we don’t really know what they need. It bothers me so much that there is an expectation that we are the givers and they are the takers. I think it would do so much more good if we all chose to change our lifestyles rather than dump trinkets on them.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Under the acacia tree

Today was another full day. We started early. Because it was hard to sleep, with the goat noises and the cold (we had no blankets – all I had to cover me for most of the night was a thin sarong), I was out of bed around 6:00. I had a bit of a sponge bath at the garden tap. The sunrise was quite beautiful this morning. I went for a short walk down a path behind the garden, through the acacia trees. A group of children came running down the path. It looked like they were on their way to school.

The people are SO friendly here. The children always run to greet us and every time we stop somewhere, everyone comes to talk to us and shake our hands.

We had breakfast at a table set up under an acacia tree. The women prepared tea over an open fire. They served us bought bread and jam, bananas and ginger cookies.

After breakfast, we drove to the farm of Isaiah and Paulina. Isaiah has 2 wives. His other wife Esther was one of the women serving us breakfast. Paulina welcomed us into her house made of sticks and cow dung. She welcomed us with a graciousness and warmth that was quite remarkable and admirable. I’m sure I would hesitate to welcome a group of strangers into my home, and I have so much more than her. We sat on her bed in the tiny bedroom that held 2 beds for her and her husband. There was a small table beside the bed with a crude lantern on it. Some tin boxes served as storage space on the one shelf.

Next to the bedroom was another tiny room with beds for her three children. She opened a flap over a three inch hole in the wall to let in some light so we could see.

In the kitchen was an open fire pit on the floor and a few pots hanging on the wall. There was another small bed in the kitchen.

The entire house was possibly the size of my living room. Though it was hot and sunny while we were there and they can do most of their living outside, I can’t imagine how they spend their time during the rainy season.

Next to the house was a fenced-in enclosure where the hay bales were stored. In the enclosure was another small house for Esther, the second wife, and her children.

Isaiah owns 20 cows. On the opposite side of the house is an enclosure where the cows are kept when they’re not in the fields grazing. Isaiah has prepared 370 bales of hay – all by hand.

Isaiah hitched up the cattle and he and Paulina demonstrated how they plowed the field. I had my picture taken with Paulina in front of her house.

After visiting the farm, we went on a long ride down very rough roads to an area between two hills where they hope to build a dam. The dam will hold water that normally flows between the hills in the rainy season. They are applying for funding to the Foodgrains Bank through MCC. For 25,000, and about 3 months labour, they hope to provide water for 700 families.

It was clear this project is important to them. The leaders of the area gathered with us to honour our visit and to stress how valuable it would be for them to build their dam.

After the visit to the proposed dam site, we visited a nearby village. They served us tea and fruit and goat meat. I tried to drink the tea, but it was a little hard to swallow after two flies drowned in it. Trying not to offend them, I went for a little walk and dumped it out behind a cactus bush.

On the way back from the dam, we had a great conversation about local purchase, advocacy, and lobbying the government. The visit to the dam helped people understand the limitations of the local purchase regulations. They’re all quite passionate about carrying what they’ve seen back to Canada and writing to their MP’s and Ministers.

We stopped at another farm owned by Sarona Siampala. This is one of the contact farmers who has received irrigation assistance through the CFGB project. He showed us what a cassava plant looks like.

The third farm we visited was that of Joseph and Maria Nkuito. They have 11 children. Some of their children were away at school, but when we arrived on the farm, many children from the neighbourhood came running to see us. A few of them reached for my hands, and before long I had about 8 of them trying to hold my hands.

Maria took us to the garden. It was quite impressive. They were the first contact farmers because they were among the most vulnerable in the area. They benefited from the fencing and irrigation project (and seeds and tools, I think) of the Maasai Food Security Project, funded by CFGB.

The water for the irrigation comes from a spring in the hills about 20 miles away. It flows by the force of gravity through a 6 inch pipe.

This was one of the most successful farms in the project. By selling produce from the garden, as well as cattle, they were able to buy a vehicle. Joseph transports other neighbours to the market in his vehicle. He was at the market when we visited the farm.

While we were leaving the farm, the children once again crowded around us. They sang a song for us and then Brenda started “Head and Shoulders Knees and Toes” which they also knew and sang along.

We were supposed to visit 2 other farms today, but it was getting late, so we returned to the demo farm. The women were preparing supper for us, and in the meantime, we had time for showers and a little rest.

Not far from the demo site was the new church that was being built. Stephen, the pastor and our host, was quite proud of it. We went to see it and watched the men spreading red clay on the floor.

Stephen also took us on a brief tour of the demo farm just before it got dark. The farm is cared for by Isaiah, the first farmer we visited today. It is used to demonstrate farming techniques, drip irrigation, etc. to the farmers in the project. They also use it to test new crops and techniques. One of the most recent projects is a set of bee hives. They hope to harvest their first honey this spring.

Supper was served inside the house on the demo farm. Though the house is quite primitive, it is the nicest house for miles around. It was built for the pastor for this region. Pastor Stephen, who pastors 25 churches in the region, lives 45 kilometres away. Stephen has 5 daughters – one of whom is studying in the U.S.

After supper, we had some devotional time lead by Pastor Stephen. We also had some sharing and singing. Joseph, one of the agriculture extension workers, led the music. One of the songs we sang was the Amen song in round. In Maasai, Amen is “Assai”.

Some of the women traded sleeping arrangements for the second night at the farm, and this time I slept in the house. I shared a room with Brenda. Though it was quite peaceful, it took me a long time to fall asleep.

As “luck” would have it, I had my period today. It’s not a lot of fun dealing with blood and cramps out in remote villages with no indoor plumbing, nothing but drop holes in the outhouses, not enough water to clean yourself, etc. The worst was the place where we stopped for lunch – I had to go hide behind a tree to change my pad. Blech! Some unsuspecting snake or gopher will be a little surprised to find a bloody pad jambed into the entrance of its home!

Sunday, February 13, 2005

From Nairobi to the Ngong Hills

We went to church this morning in the slums. It was a great experience. I snuck out of church for awhile to visit the children. There were about 6 children there. The woman leading them was Carolyme. She introduced herself and all of the children to me. She says she prays to be a teacher some day. The children sang for me – the words of the song were something like “I went to Uganda, I asked people if they knew Jesus.” It was funny hearing their version of a missionary chorus – not unlike what we might have sung years ago.

The only teaching tool I could see in the classroom was a small ball of dark play dough that looked like it had been handled by too many dirty little hands. The children all had to share that one ball of play dough. There was nothing else in the room, except for a few chairs and tables.

Carolyme introduced her 2 daughters to me. She said she also lost a son eight years ago. He was 6 months old.

During the church service (back in the adult session), we all had to introduce ourselves. They seemed quite honoured to have a group of Canadians in their midst.

After church, we went for lunch to a Somali restaurant on top of a building – we had to climb at least 5 flights of stairs. The food was wonderful. We ate camel and rice with raisins, and cabbage and some wonderful fruit for dessert.

I spoke with the man who preached in church (a lay minister – I can’t remember his name, but he gave me his card). He’s a consultant in development work – says he “sells ideas”. He talked a bit about his philosophy on the problems in Africa. He says the missionaries are to blame for many of the problems. He said that western missionaries came to Africa with money and no evidence of accountability. They educated the youth, and those who’d been educated by them eventually ended up in the government. Because they’d witnessed the missionaries operate without accountability, they in turn became corrupt and not accountable to anyone. It was an interesting idea, and I’m sure it has merit.

We also sat with the Bishop. At another table, Dan married off his son to a young girl who was at their table. She saw his picture, and found him attractive, so Dan negotiated with her Mom for a dowry.

After lunch, we headed out of Nairobi into the countryside – into the Rift Valley. We had our first animal sightings – giraffes, zebras, gazelles, and antelopes. We drove into the Maasai region. Maasai are beautiful people with lots of beadwork and colourful clothes. I got my picture taken with a Maasai woman.

We ended up in a Maasai village, in the Ngong Hills, at the foot of Mount Suswa. We were welcomed at Najile Boys High School – a boarding school for boys. There are about 200 students there. The welcoming party included some amazing Maasai dancers and a choir. There was a warm welcome and lots of speeches. We had to introduce ourselves to the students and community representatives gathered. The boys showed a particular fondness for Rachel, the 19 year old member of our group.

Supper was served to us at the school. We ate goat meat and rice and cabbage and veggies.

We’re now in tents we set up in the farmyard we’re staying at. Rachel and Joyce and Joy and I are in one, the guys are in another, and the rest of the girls are inside the house. The house was built by the local community for the pastor of the local Presbyterian church.

There are goats about 15 feet from our tent. One of them – the billygoat – was particularly noisy. It’s bleating sounded like the cries of a wounded child. The guys just got up and duct-taped its mouth shut. It was quite a comical moment – watching the guys parade across the yard in their underwear, heading to the goat pen. I couldn’t resist taking a picture of the goat with duct tape over its mouth. Thankfully, the goat is quiet now.

Here’s hoping I sleep and don’t have to get up to pee.

While we were setting up the tents, a young boy dressed in Maasai clothing came to see my watch. When I showed him that it glowed, he laughed out loud. After that, he kept coming to press the buttons.

We’re having to get used to using “squatty potties” – drop holes where toilets should be. It takes some practice getting your aim right.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Nairobi sights and sounds

It’s been a full day. My head is full. My stomach is full. My heart is full. My eyes are full. There’s so much to see and hear and smell here.

We started the day with breakfast at 7:30. In the dining room, I sat with a couple who do peace and justice work with MCC in Burundi. They’re staying in Nairobi while they await the birth of their first baby. They were beautiful, peaceful looking people. I took a picture of the husband playing guitar outside after breakfast. Their names are Doug and Deanna.

I also sat with a woman who’s a medical doctor in Tanzania – near Lake Victoria. She’s in Nairobi because she was spending the week here with her three sons who attend boarding school at Rift Valley Academy. It’s hard to imagine seeing your children only a few times a year. I don’t know if I could do it. I’m having a hard enough time being away from mine for 3 weeks. Some of her kids started boarding school in grade two – that’s Julie’s age!

After breakfast, we met Jim and Cathy, the MCC Country Directors for Kenya. They were accompanied by Wambui, who works in their office. Wambui had made arrangements for our day – she served as hour host.

Our first stop was at the Nairobi Museum. There was a display of paintings by Joy Adamson which were quite amazing. Another thing that caught my attention was a huge map of Africa – probably 10 feet tall – made out of butterflies.

I was struck by the amount of symbolism there is attached to sexual development – things like circumcision, menstruation, etc. For example, there were these beautifully beaded aprons that women wore under their clothes. There were different ones for uncircumcised girls, circumcised girls who aren’t married, and circumcised women who are married. No one was allowed to see the aprons, except (in the case of the married woman) the husband. If a man suspected his wife of being unfaithful, he asked the man whom he suspected what colour his wife’s apron was. There was also a picture of a woman whose shaved head demonstrated that all of her children were circumcised.

I have mixed feelings about this stuff. On the one hand, I am terribly saddened by female circumcision and the powerlessness of women in cultures like these. On the other hand, there is some beauty to the celebration of sexual transitions like menstruation. I wish we could find a healthy medium – where sexuality and all that comes with it is celebrated in a healthy, open way, but women are not made to feel objectified and powerless.

After the museum, we went to the animal orphanage. It is essentially a zoo where they care for animals which, for one reason or another, cannot exist in the wild. There were lions, hyenas, ostriches, monkeys, baboons, etc.

We then went to a place called The Embassy where we ate lunch outside under a tent. They prepared a variety of food, including some local and some western food. We had Ugali for the first time – that’s a staple around here. It’s made from ground maize and doesn’t have a lot of flavour. During lunch, there was a monkey scampering across the grounds. One of the kitchen staff came out with a broom and a frying pan to try to scare it away. I guess they’re a nuisance around here.

The food was slow to come, so we had a lot of time to talk. We asked Wambui about her culture, her church, her family, etc. She has one little girl who’s 2 years old. Her church sounds a little like an African version of traditional Mennonites. It seems fairly legalistic. They can’t wear jewellery. Women who are married wear a lace tank top over their clothes. They don’t go to the hospital, though it seems the younger generation is breaking from some of the tradition. Wambui had her baby in a hospital. They don’t eat certain types of meat, and they can’t cook with certain oils. It all seemed rather complicated, but I don’t know what the justification is behind the rules. It’s pretty easy to judge someone else’s legalism and overlook your own.

Despite her complicated religion, there was a peacefulness and obvious faith in her. She seemed so gentle and genuine. I wish I could have seen her with her daughter. Her daughter seems a little like Maddie – a little too brave for her own good.

After lunch, we walked over to a large amphitheatre where we watched some local dances and an acrobatic troupe. It was delightful. There was a joyful spirit about the dancers. They looked like they were having so much fun, grinning all the time. There were a few dances where they pulled members of the audience onto the dance floor. Rachel was quite delighted to dance with them. Corrie Lynn had one of the dancers proposition her – he wanted to meet her after the dance. The acrobatic troupe was absolutely amazing. At one point, there were five men balancing on the shoulders, hips, and arms of one man. They also did some incredible tumbling through hoops, and some limbo under a rod of fire.

At the show, I saw the two women I’d met on the plane. They’d met up with another Canadian woman at their hotel.

After the show, we came back to the guest house for supper. The salad and vegetables were quite delicious, as was the beef that had been marinated or seasoned with some interesting spices.

We did a little laundry tonight, and discovered a tiny gecko in the laundry room. Because of the warm weather, and lack of bugs, buildings are quite open here, without a lot of barriers to the natural world.

Tonight we gathered at the gazebo for a time of debriefing. It was an interesting experience, particularly from a community-building point of view. People were a little reluctant to share openly and when some tentative offerings of vulnerability were shared, they were betrayed a little by some who were too willing to give answers rather than reciprocal sharing. For that reason, it didn’t go very deep. It didn’t feel very genuine. Some were judgemental, some were too reluctant to be honest, some were too formal.

Time will tell if we can become a community. I suspect we will. I hope we can find depth without being afraid of the risk.

Part of me wishes the average age of people were a little older. But perhaps there are blessings to be found in having some more youthful people here. There are already a few personalities that grate a little, but so far, it’s only minor and I think I can overlook it.

I’ve started reading “The Different Drummer”, the book about community building that Jo and Michele recommended. It’s interesting to read about it while I watch it happen.

Waking up in Africa

I wish I could record the sounds and smells of this place. It’s incredible. I was woken this morning by a cacophony of birds. During the night there were dogs howling their happy tune.

I slept reasonably well. I woke up a few times, but was always able to fall back to sleep fairly easily.

The Mennonite Guest House is amazing. The grounds are like a park. Just outside my window is a hibiscus tree with big pink flowers. I don’t know the names of most of the plants. Somebody mentioned bougainvillea and about 10 feet from me, there’s something that looks like “mother-in-law’s tongue”. I’m sitting at a patio table about 20 feet from our door. There’s a “monkey puzzle tree” just behind me. (Dan, of course, knows its official name, but I know it as a monkey puzzle tree.)

Friday, February 11, 2005

Arriving in Nairobi

We’re at the guest house now. The Mennonite Guest House in Nairobi, Kenya. It’s quite beautiful. The rooms are rather like hostels in Europe (simple furnishings, nothing too extravagant), but the grounds seem quite amazing (at least what we can see at night).

I’m sharing a room with Kim and Rachel. Well, actually, I have my own room, but theirs is adjoining mine and I have to go through theirs to get to the bathroom.

The flight was rather long and I was stuck in the middle because I gave up my aisle seat for someone who wanted to sit with his partner. It was kinda cute. He leaned over to thank me and whispered “I’m a little scared, so I appreciate it.”

I was sitting beside one of 29 people on our flight who all wore matching red sweat shirts that said “Mt. Kilimanjaro”. They were part of a tour group from Norway on their way to attempt to climb Kilimanjaro. It’s a six day hike (there and back) and there’s no guarantee they’ll make it to the top.

The guy beside me introduced himself to me after drinking A LOT of alcohol – probably half a dozen red wine and then another half a dozen drambuie. His name is Eric. He’s been married 35 or 36 years (I can’t remember exactly) and says he’s still really in love with his wife. He says he’ll start missing her in a couple of days. He used to farm mink and salmon. He was taught by his dad who spent time in America where he learned about the industry. About a year and a half ago, Eric sold the business and is now wealthy enough to travel the world.

After that many drinks, he didn’t mind sharing his philosophies with me. He likes to travel, but mostly he likes English-speaking countries. He doesn’t like Arabs and thinks it’s a problem that so many are immigrating to Norway. He believes that children should be raised by their parents and not childcare. He thinks it’s unfortunate that so many in Norway are prejudiced against the U.S. because of Iraq.

On the other side were 2 women from the Okanagan. I think their names are Kathleen and Toni. They’re on their way to a safari in the Serengetti, and then a few days on the beach. I got the distinct feeling that they were life partners – perhaps they were even on their honeymoon. I tried to analyze why I thought that, and, besides the fact that one was rather butch looking, there was a subtlety to their communication that spoke more of lover than friend. Not that I wanted to ask them, but I wish they could have felt comfortable telling me if they WERE on a honeymoon.

Well, I’d better try to sleep now – though it’s only 3:00 in the afternoon at home. This bed is delightfully comfy, and the air is nice – not hot, but not cool either.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Flying to Africa

We started the morning off with the rest of our orientation session. This morning, Randy talked about the impact of culture shock and how the change continuum can impact us on a trip like this. He says people hit the low point just before the halfway point of the journey. It was worth considering, because I know there will be moments on this trip when everyone will get on my nerves. Hopefully, we’ll all get past those moments.

After Randy spoke, we had Joki from Kenya. She was fascinating. Her name means “from 2 places” and she says because of that she has never been able to settle in either home – Kenya or Canada.

She told us a lot about the culture and the people. One of the things that I remember is that you’re not supposed to step across someone’s legs, or you will curse them. If you cross them in this way, you have to uncross them.

We had lunch at Kelsey’s and then wrapped up our session and headed to the airport.

On the flight to Amsterdam, there was much less leg room than I expected on an international flight. It was hard to get comfortable. Plus, the woman beside me was fairly large and her elbow kept bumping me. I didn’t sleep much – only an hour or so. I watched the movie “The Notebook”. It was pleasant, but nothing too memorable. The entertainment units were quite impressive. You could choose between a fairly large selection of movies, television shows, documentaries, music, and even games. Each seat was equipped with its own remote which also served as a phone, and a game control set.

There was a nice moment during the movie. James Garner and Gena Rowlands were dancing near the end of the movie – two old people near the end of their lives swaying to life’s music. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a father holding his child in the aisle of the plane, swaying at much the same pace, trying to calm his child. It was a nice little vignette of the stages of love and life.

Now we’re in Amsterdam airport. We have a few hours to kill before our flight. I’m tired but happy. It’s nice to have something to look forward to. It’s nice to sit and watch people walking by – all on their way to somewhere else.

I had a little sad moment today. As I was going through the little photo album I’d brought, I realized I hadn’t included any pictures of Dad. I’d grabbed mostly recent pictures, taken after Dad died. It doesn’t feel like a complete picture of who I am if it doesn’t include Dad. So much of who I am is because of who he was. I feel like I’ve cheated him a little by leaving him out. Sorry Dad. I didn’t mean to. I don’t want time to separate me from the reality of him.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Evening in Toronto

Our first day of orientation is over. Our facilitator is quite good. He has lots of good stories to tell. I liked his illustration of culture – he says it’s like an iceberg, with only 10% being visible and 90% being invisible to an observer. The 10% is what people DO – the 90% is what they think and how they feel.

One cool exercise was a card game where the group was split in half and each half had slightly different rules (which suite was trump, whether ace was high or low). The winner of each round switched to the other table. No one could speak, so when you got to the other table, you didn’t know the rules had changed and no one had the language to tell you, or the knowledge that the rules you had internalized were different. It was quite fascinating, feeling like and outsider, and wanting to assimilate, but not quite knowing how or what the new rules were.

It seems like a great group of people. So far, no evidence of grating personality traits. No know-it-alls or arrogant people. Most seem quite easy to communicate with. I probably represent the average age – some younger, some older.

There was a neat energy in the room when we all came together – an anticipation and expectation. There was excitement with just a hint of apprehension. I think we’ll build a fairly successful mini-community.

Morning in Toronto

We arrived at the Delta Hotel in Toronto last night. The flight was uneventful. Micheline talked alot on the way here. She’s really sweet and she’s been through some really hard crap in her life. But through it all, she seems to have this child-like faith that’s really solid. In a way, I envy her the ability to trust like that. I think she’d get along great with Mom. They have the same way of believing.

We had supper together in the hotel restaurant, and then I came to my room and climbed into bed – hoping to get to sleep early. Unfortunately, I turned on the TV and got hooked on the Amazing Race. It was the finale, so I ended up watching until 11:00. I didn’t sleep well after that. I woke up several times and kept having really off-the-wall dreams. Russ and Sylvie were in one of my dreams. I think Sylvie had an affair.

This morning we start our orientation session. I hope the group is interesting and easy to get along with. I hope there aren’t any prima donnas who want too much attention. I hope there aren’t any whiners. I hope there aren’t too many “Praise the Lord” people. I hope there are some opportunities for new friendships.

God, if you’re out there, give me a spirit of openness today. Give me grace and compassion and help me see through the personality traits that get on my nerves to the heart that you love. Bless the group and help us build community.

Maybe if I keep praying, I’ll want to believe in him again.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Today's a little hard

Leaving the girls behind isn't easy. Maddie didn't seem to catch on as I dropped her off at Oma's. Julie cried this morning before leaving for school. Nikki cried at school in the hallway - she'd been fighting it up until then, and couldn't hold it in any more. Today I feel sad that I have to leave them. There's a lump in my throat the size of Texas. I know it will be good to go, and they'll survive, but it's gonna be hard. And lonely. I miss them already.

Friday, February 04, 2005

going soon

Only a few days left... aaahhh! I don't feel prepared yet. What do I still need to buy? What do I need to remember to pack? What things do I need to do ahead of time to help Marcel get through 3 weeks without me? Where are my summer clothes? What will I wear on my feet? Do I need to take a nail clipper along? Have I got enough underwear? When will I get all the laundry done? Oh shit - I haven't exchanged any money yet! Do I have time to get a haircut?

Four days from now, it won't matter WHAT I've forgotten to do, 'cause I'll be on an airplane and it will be too late to worry about clean laundry or nail clippers (gotta remember to pack those in my checked luggage so they don't confiscate them at security - never know, I might try to slash the pilot's throat with my nail clippers!).

Wal-mart encounter

Pretty Girl walks up to the counter and begins to unload her cart. Plain Girl behind the till grabs the first item and swishes it past the electronic reader. Pretty Girl looks up and there is a spark of recognition on her face. She catches Plain Girl's eye. "Did you used to go to Chancellor High?" she asks. A momentary blush crosses Plain Girl's face. "Yes," she says simply. "I THOUGHT I recognized you, says Pretty Girl, smiling. "We must have been there at the same time." "I know your face well," says Plain Girl, and it's clear that she knows the face too well. She knows it from years of watching from her spot on the floor leaned up against her locker as Pretty Girl walked by with Jock Boy or Cheerleader Girl. She knows it from agonizing hours in the gymnasium or change room, watching Pretty Girl with all the other Pretty Girls giggling and exchanging secrets. She knows Pretty Girl, because in the darkest places in her heart, she either wanted to BE Pretty Girl, or see her suffer bodily injury or serious humiliation.

Now, all these years later, she has to serve Pretty Girl from behind a check-out counter at Wal-mart. Again she watches as Pretty Girl walks by with Handsome Husband and Cute Kids. A look passes over her faces. Again she wishes for a reversal of fortunes or bodily harm. Maybe Pretty Girl will trip on her way out of the store.

Pretty Girl leaves without tripping, and Plain Girl turns to serve me. She doesn't know the meaning of my smile, but I know that I am no threat to her because I spent those same hours in high school watching.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

They're SO much bigger now!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

faith or fiction

I walked into a Christian bookstore today, and instantly developed a nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach. I suppose it was partly because I worked at that same bookstore many years ago, and have such unpleasant memories of my time there. That was my first “Christian” boss, and definitely one of the WORST bosses I’ve had before or since that job (and I’ve had lots of bosses to compare him to). He was mean, selfish, inconsiderate, and more interested in capitalism than compassion.

I suppose it was also because I almost always feel a little sick when I see the “trappings” of Christianity. No I don’t WANT to buy “test-a-mints” so I can offer my non-Christian friends a breath mint and then segue smoothly into a conversation about the “breath of God”. Nor do I want to be a “woman of god” if it comes with all those flowery sickly-sweet book jackets with muted pictures of women and flowers and OF COURSE the fancy script font. And HONESTLY are there really people who think a painting is more beautiful or meaningful if there’s a scripture verse plastered across it? (I could go on and on about the way Jesus communicated as opposed to the way so many Christians feel they should communicate, but I won’t waste my breath on that sermon.)

No, I’m afraid this time it went deeper than that. I’d gone there looking for a book called “Intimacy with God” and though the above-mentioned things made me want to bolt, I persevered and made it through all the plastic crap at the front to the book shelves. But then, as I perused the books, my nausea deepened. I stood there in front of walls and walls of books about walking with God, developing your Spiritual gifts, learning to pray, finding God’s purpose for you, etc., etc., and had a sudden, out-of-the-blue crisis of faith.

I wasn’t expecting it. Sometimes, when a crisis like that appears, I see it coming ahead of time and I can brace myself for the arrival. But not this time. This time I was caught completely off guard. This one crept up on me and sprung like a lion hunting its prey. I guess, when I look back a little, I can see the signs were there. I can pick out moments when the walls of my belief system started to crumble bit by bit. But I hadn't put all the pieces together yet.

I don’t know why it hit me there in front of the books. Books are usually touchstones and beacons for me – helping me stay grounded and pointing me toward truth. But this time they seemed foreign and unkind. This time they reminded me how little I know about the truth and how much I doubt the “truth” that I’ve been taught. So many of the books just looked like paper reflections of the plastic crap at the front of the store. Others looked like they were way too holy for me - way beyond my battered and bruised spirituality. They painted a picture that I neither understood nor felt drawn to.

At that very moment I felt cheated by the written word. It didn’t look like truth to me. It looked like an artificial painting intended to disguise the genuine artwork. From my vantage point, I didn’t understand the cover-up, nor did I feel that I had any glimpse of the masterpiece underneath.

At this very moment, I don’t know if I want to be a Christian. I finally found “Intimacy with God” on the bookshelf and it looks like a very good book about just what the title says – learning to be intimate with a God who seems distant and aloof. I didn’t buy it. I don’t really know if I WANT to be intimate with God. I’m not sure why. It’s not like I look back at my life and see an endless void – I’ve had lots of moments when I felt truly close to God and really sensed his presence. But none of those moments are sustaining me right now. None of them are convincing me that intimacy with God is something to strive for.

I've been struggling with the Bible lately too. I guess that was one of the signs of deterioration that I overlooked. I'm not sure I trust the Bible. There are too many inconsistencies and too many things that don't make sense. Like all that crap about women remaining quiet in church. And then there's the picture of God that makes NO sense at all - the vengeful destructive God of the Old Testament. How does any of that fit into an image of a God of grace? And really - who wrote the Bible and how were all these individual men convinced they were writing the word of God? Was it really intended to become what we have made it into? Is it REALLY more important than all the other good stuff that's been written along the way? And if He's really the God of the Jews and Gentiles, male and female, why were ALL the writers of the Bible Jewish men? It doesn't make sense to me. Sometimes I can overlook the inconsistencies, but that's not working for me right now.

It might be a momentary lapse. I’ve had these before. Sometimes the dry spells last a few days or a few weeks, other times a few months, and then sometimes they last for years. It might just be another way of God communicating to me – helping me go deeper and find a new level in our relationship. That’s happened before too. But what if the dry spell drags on and on, and faith eludes me again? I don’t think I want to go through that again.

Perhaps I should go back and buy the book, because as much as faith is hard sometimes, I still believe a faltering faith is better than none at all.

I’m a little scared though. With my faith weakened like this, how will Africa appear through a cloudy lens? Will God seem more or less real when I’m faced with starving children and mothers who might have to sell their bodies to buy them food?

I don’t know. But I guess I have no choice but to walk through it. Perhaps somewhere in Africa, faith will come back to me.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

It's good to know

It’s good to know that the terrible twos won’t last forever.

It’s good to know that my husband loves me.

It’s good to know that there are still lots of countries and cities left for me to explore.

It’s good to know that I have a warm bed to climb into at night.

It’s good to know that there’s another pay cheque coming in when this one dries up.

It’s good to know that winter won’t last forever.

It’s good to know that my family shows up when I need them.

It’s good to know that I can afford comfortable shoes.

It’s good to know that I can be strong and independent and still be a woman.

It's good to know that I won't have to dig through the trash to find supper tonight.

It’s good to know that my children need me.

It’s good to know that I can survive pain.

It’s good to know that there are at least 20 people I could call in an emergency and they would drop what they’re doing and come to my aid.

It’s good to know that my roof doesn’t leak when it rains.

It’s good to know that my children are safe.

It’s good to know that I have friends who make me feel welcome.

It’s good to know that my children are growing up and won’t always need me as much as they do now.

It’s good to know that I have freedom to express myself.

It’s good to know that I can make choices like where to live and what to eat for supper.

It’s good to know that someday potty training will be over.

It’s good to know that in Spring, things will turn green again.

It’s good to know that there is food in my fridge and clothes in my closet.