“The eternal God is your Refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Deuteronomy 33:27 …
This is a bit of an epistle post, which is more for my need to document and process the landmarks of our days, the good, the bad, the blessings and burdens. How heavily we have leaned on these Everlasting arms, how they direct, chide, cradle, comfort, protect, and carry us as we stand on edges of vulnerability and cliffs of confidence which makes up the highs and lows of life as we know it.
Back in Kurungu We were thankful to not get stuck on our way to return to Kurungu, although it was touch and go at times. Before we left the paved road we pragmatically bought a shovel and a few sodas. We spent a good part of the day fording muddy puddles in low gear, water splashing over hood and the sides. Since we left the North end of November, the rains have continued to come, leaving the land green and the ground muddy. A few days previous to our trip, Nick and Lynne Swanepoel ventured deep into the mud rendering them stuck for two days in their LandRover. Travel in the North can be precarious. We always drive, alerting people along the way of our location. We all know the exact places on the road where the cell coverage stops. There is one tree, South of a village called Korr, where exists the famed, “network tree”. In this one particular spot, if you stand a certain way you can access cell network. Inevitably there is a man on a piki (motorbike) with about half a dozen cell phones trying to send and receive text messages for villagers who live outside of cell range. If you didn’t know this, he would look rather odd as he stands this way and that waving his arms with a various assortment of electronic devices falling out of his pockets. After about 11 hours we did arrive home, just at dusk, enough time to unpack thawing meat and find some bread to devour before falling deliciously into our beds. The next day, we were greeted by friends and patients as we unpacked and sorted for the next months ahead.
Mama Monica came by the house and reported that Jonah is doing reasonably well and little Nate is recovering as well. Both are on the TB medicine regime. By mid day of the first day back, a man bitten by a cobra two days earlier came by and by the time I returned from gathering some supplies to treat his wound, there was an entire brigade of mamas and their babies to be seen. One little babe had somehow managed to crawl near to a fire and burn his entire face, it is quite the trick to plaster banana leaves and bandages on an 8 month old with a strong will! Lollipops do not even suffice. Jay as always was busy caring for the house and again found himself fixing the hot water tank which was leaking on the thatch. We think the naughty monkeys have something to do with it. The kids were so happy to be reunited with the dog, cat and their lego it seemed we barely heard a sound from them for the first few days.
Someone somewhere must have been praying, as on Friday, in the afternoon, a black mamba slithered within 3 feet of Luke and Lily as they were sitting chatting on the front porch. Jesse was playing around me as I was talking with a patient on the steps. Thankfully, Luke and Lily, knew just what to do, they rather calmly, yelled, “Snake, snake” and stayed put where they were, watching where the snake was heading. Samuel came as I scooped up Jesse, who was barefoot and excitedly waving his finger to indicate, “no, no, no” which is his response to the word “snake”. As Jay came out from inside to investigate, Samuel had already “staked” the snake with a tree branch. We are beginning to take these incidents in stride, although we are repeatedly ingraining in the kids (and ourselves) about being aware of what is around, and the necessity of wearing shoes. For now, Jesse’s roaming rights have been restricted. There is a panic at times when I think on these incidents, but ultimately we have to trust in God’s protection and provision for wisdom and warning in these situations. Thank you for your prayers, we are always in need of them.
Christmas in Kurungu –The start of new traditions always come along with change. Leaving behind people and traditions that are dear has been hard even with the delight of inventing news ways to celebrate the holidays. There were a few waves of homesickness, precipitated by sights or smells which reminded us of home. A call to my sisters, a Kenyan wearing a “roll up the rim t-shirt” and the smell of tire rubber as we unpackaged bikes for the kids a reminder of Canadian Tire. Funny how a thought or smell can instantaneously transport you through time to another place. The smell of three stroke fuel still leaves me a 6 year old girl standing on the Buckcorn marina holding a 5 cent lollipop in Northern Ontario. There is no faint smell of pine in our home or garland wreaths, and although we miss the holiday music, the specialty coffees, the snow dusted trees, the crisp winter air, Christmas eve carol sing, feasts with beloved family and times with wonderful friends, we realize that however different the setting is, whether Canada or Kurungu, the story we celebrate doesn’t change. The miracle of Emmanuel is and remains that God is with us.
Christmas day here was green and sunny.The sun rose over fertile mountains, light streaming into our kitchen as I prepared our (ridiculously expensive) turkey. (Sorry Dad, no 20cent/pound Wegman deal this year!) Bing Crosby was crooning “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas”, which is in fact a dream for a place like Kurungu. With turkey stuffed and coffee poured Jay and I had enough momentum to face the present parade. Last night in our wrapping we did reflect that our previous parental assertions that pocket knives are strictly reserved for children over 12 years seemed rather foolish as we sat wrapping the 8 foot Samburu spear tipped with sharp edges and topped with ostrich feathers. What felt to be a logical decision as a gift, seemed rather ridiculous in light of the pocket knife policy. So in the last few months Nathan has gone from nerf gun to bow and arrow, dagger and spear,- add a few more boys it could be Lord of the Flies. Luke and Lil were excited to receive a bicycle, which is the only real form of exercise, other than squirt gun fights and soccer. Jesse was happy to share his new ball with Lucy the dog, his favourite gift seemed to be a red balloon.
We had a Christmas service at 10:30 am, there was no car to scrape, but there was a scorpion to kill on the way to church. It was beautiful to see the colours of Christmas here, which involve every possible bright and fluorescent shade of green, pink, yellow, red and blue. The ladies showing off their new wraps and rows upon rows of mama were beaded in full, dangling with silver baubles, buttons and artificial flowers. The rhythmic dance of the mama’s and the jumping of the boys during choir songs was not quite the lullaby of Silent Night that we are accustomed, but oh the wonder of it!
Daddy the Blasphemer
Now our whimsical children hold fast to tradition and fantasies long after they realize they are but make- believe. Every year Santa is questioned thoroughly as to logic of time travel on Christmas eve, how he survives the lit fireplaces and the flight worthiness of reindeer, only to come to the conclusion that despite their sneaking suspicion about “st. Nick”‘s true identity, indeed it can’t hurt for one night to throw reason to the wind and carry on with the routine of dreaming sweet dreams with closely shut eyes in hopes that presents will continue to be found under the tree.
This year, it seems that the kids have all grown up. After some thought and the annual “great Santa debate”, the conclusion was that Santa certainly can not be real, because if he was, why has he never visited the poor children? And so, with stoic faces the kids announced their decision to end the Santa fiction. With this new resolution, they finally allowed themselves further thought… the fog of make-believe faded, the lights slowly dawned, “Heyyy! …the cookies and the milk and the carrots for the reindeer, it WAS daddy who ate those goodies! Not wanting to leave behind every Christmas eve routine, Nathan felt that it absolutely necessary to leave an offering of birthday cake for Jesus. Gravely he gives a warning, “And Dad,- you better not eat Jesus’ cake,- or that makes you a blasphemer! ”
Thank you, thank you, thank you to the CBA students, staff, parents and friends raised $800.00 in a craft sale to benefit Jonah and baby Esther to help with their hospital bills and ongoing medical expenses. The Kurungu church was so glad to hear that their efforts of donating their beads and bracelets were met with equal enthusiasm in Canada as people gave generously to purchase Samburu items as well as other African curios! What a great picture of sacrificial giving, grace and generosity as the body of Christ.
Well just a little update, in the space of starting this post there have been 3 more snakes. The boots only rule now enforced when the kids go outside. Saturday morning started with Jesse pointing to the thatch watching from his crib while mom and dad, pajama clad stood on the bed frame with a spear and stick to attack the intruder! It was like tag-team gladiator, with slightly less fashion appeal or coordinated strategy. Nathan’s spear has been “christened” with snake guts. I always did feel that there was a reason that the only sport I excelled in was javelin, and now I am realizing the full potential of my sporty nature.
We have some fireworks for later, although we have been warned to notify the chief. Any loud bangs in the night would typically be sounds accompanying a raid from a rival tribal group, so I think before we spark our fireflies, sparklers and roman candles, we better give some forewarning,- although it would be typical for us to inadvertently start something…..
Do other parents of middle aged children dream of reverting back to the pre-language, pre-motor stage where their children could neither walk or talk, and simply sat cute with wide beaming eyes drooling and smiling and impressing all the relatives? Perhaps I am romancing a little, that is the luxury of those who have moved to a different reality, but really, now that I think on it, I might venture to take the drooling over arguing, lego pieces, wedgies and knock knock jokes…. I remember taking a rather random poling (when Nathan, Luke and Lil were 3 under 3) whether parenthood gets any easier. Hoping and thinking quite myopically that of course the baby stage is the most difficult (for who can top spit up, four hour feedings, diapers and drool) I was in fact simply canvassing for affirmation that the best was yet to come. I was amazed that other parents seemed to believe that there were other stages of parenting much more distressing. They would answer with a wry grin and a low almost cackle-ish like chuckle, with the forewarning, “oh wait til you get to….” . I never did believe them….thinking that they were simply wanting to strip me of my present martyrdom or perhaps more importantly the delusion that this was just the ‘hump’ and over this hurdle would be “blue skies” or at least a night with 8 hours sleep. Of course there were more diplomatic responses, veiled truth wrapped up in, “each stage has it’s own challenges”, which I kind of understand now and gives me hope, having previously concluded that kids peak the curve of good behaviour somewhere between during 48 and 52 months of age. I am also appreciating the advice to enjoy every minute of it. As crazy, chaotic and injury laden middle childhood is,- what other stage can you find your 8 your old slip your hand into yours, restrain the energies of a 10 year old who wants to be a published novelist one day and a space station mechanic the next… where we are told that babies come about by eating cake while dancing and …… well you can imagine
Jonah January 2nd- Today Jay, I and Jesse ventured out into the mynyatta to see Jonah. It is the first time we visited since our return to Kurungu almost 2 weeks ago, although i see his mother Monica nearly everyday and she faithfully provides me an update. The family has moved since our last visit and we came upon Jonah lying on a mattress under the shade of an acacia,his father sitting on a traditional carved stool swatting flies away from Jonah’s face, with a collection of children of various sizes gathering around. He is such a little form under the pink sheet, he was awake and appeared in no distress, his wheelchair a few feet in the distance seemingly out of place with the backdrop of mountains and rocky sediment, the goats taking occasion to come and see if there is anything worth chewing. Jonah’s little brother Nate, wearing only a bright red hoodie, snuggled up on the legs of Monica as she sat on the edge of Jonah’s mattress explaining the ways that she takes care of him and the concerns that she had for Jonah. Nate’s neck mass has reduced considerably (he also has TB) since he has started TB medications. Monica talks and recalls the kindness of Dr. Mara at Kijabe and relayed her hope that there may yet be some more recovery to come for her young son. She has been persisting with physiotherapy even though she fears it causes him pain, bending and stretching his contractured arms and hands. Everyday in the morning and evening Jonah is wheeled to a cool spot under the tree, where mama’s sit with him and children play nearby. I hope he can hear their chatter, the birds song, the familiar noises of a mynyatta of donkey braying and goats bleating around him, I hope he is calmed and comforted by this music, the lullaby of life around him. I reflect that even as I want to declare the impossibility of much further recovery. Jonah’s older brother, soon to be the age of morani (warrior) looks on, I wonder what he is thinking.
January 5th- It is Sunday night and I have just sat down. Funny how life can be, the serene of yesterday before the storm of today. A young girl with seizures in church, transferred into our guest room, a girl bitten by a snake or poisonous spider, unconscious in her mynyatta, and yet another report of a sick child in Longerin too sick to take a piki motorbike, could I come to assess? The GOK clinic on strike, so those who are on TB medicine in a bit of a bind of how to continue their regime. In a hospital setting three patients wouldn’t seem like much of a caseload, but here in this place, the logistics of travel, assessment, language translation and supplies, three cases is quite enough. The snake count continues to rise and although we killed one this morning the snake this afternoon got away. Nathan was still beaming from spearing a scorpion this afternoon, that when a snake slithered by his feet, he ran into the house to find his trusty spear. It would seem the most reasonable thing to do, run away and get a weapon, but the only worse thing than coming across a snake is losing the snake (especially when on the front porch) and so when he realized his error and the snake got away he was quite upset. We are continually thankful for prayers for safety. These last few weeks in the midst of snake season, and also hearing the news of the Swanepoel’s parents who were shot at on the “safe” road on their way back from a Christmas visit.
The sound of the singing morani serenade the night time calm. The birds, cicadas and monkeys lulled into a quiet rest. It will be a few hours yet before the hyena makes his entrance onto the night-time stage bringing with him the defensive bark of the surrounding dogs. The crickets continue their song, which ebbs and flows ilke a current on the night wind coming in gusts over the top of the mountain and rushing through the valley in a hurry to pass through to the other side of Mt. Nyiro.
Isaya is preparing for his son’s circumcision celebration, kind of like a Samburu barmitzfah if I could try and make a cultural comparison. The early morning circumcision ceremony is reserved for the men, although I tend to see a few boys (deemed warriors now) hinting for some tylenol to ease their transition into manhood. It is really quite an interesting cultural .The weeks before the ceremony there are special meals and celebrations. The boys have to wear animal skins on their feet and dress in a black robe that seems to be rough like burlap. They wear feathers in their hair, which they have collected from a bird killed using bow and arrow.
Lost & Found
I have a soft spot for the juicy fruit junkie (Larena) and his family. I am not sure why they lodged into a particular place in my heart, but they have. We see Larena and it seems he continues to be painfully shy, hardly able to make eye contact or utter a word to anyone. He is so thin, and the clothes that we provided on our trip down country to take him to the doctor have been removed for his usual cloth wrap which is so utterly worn it is nearly transparent. His shoes are missing and the only explanation was his father took them for another child. His injuries I have wondered more than once if they were part of a beating, but these are cultural complexities I can do little about at this point except to pray about how I can help. I know that he has a difficult life. His mother, is not a favoured wife, and so left without means to provide for her children. I see them sometimes walking together on the airstrip, the children following the mama, and I smile, reminded of the tune, “following the leader” from Peter Pan or picturing a mama with chicks in tow. Larena is the oldest, with 3 brothers, (5, 3 and 1) and a sister (7) who seems to be the bravest of them all, eagerly reaching out for the soccer ball that she throws to Lucy who faithfully and quite comically for the Samburu returns the ball for the game to continue.
I have often thought of this family. Last week, I saw Larena in Sunday school, eyes downward as he mouthed the words to Psalm 23 that we are working on memorizing together, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside the still waters, he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name sake. Yea, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for thou are with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…” His younger brother, usually wearing either a shirt or shorts, but never both in at one given time, was absent. He is quiet boy, Ntalado, but there is an eagerness and spark to his eyes, when he attends Sunday school I notice that he seems to be listening to the stories, he tries clapping to the Samburu songs and following the actions, although i fear that his movements are slow due to hunger, the light coloured tinge of hair on his head confirms that he is malnourished. And although I am sure it is not correct to admit to having “favourites” I must admit that these boys have become children I care for deeply.
From Wednesday on there has been a knot in my stomach. The kind that is like a stone, weighing heavy and makes every action seem an impossible whilst bearing such a weight. Wednesday we heard that Ntalado was missing. He had gone up the mountain to fetch his sister who was tending the goats and he never returned. It was not clear why the sister returned, and the goats, but not the boy. But in these days when the leopards stalk the mountainside and the hyenas fill the night with their eerie whooping it was reasonable to assume that a 5 year old boy didn’t stand much of a chance. I go about the day in hopes of news, yet fearing to hear Ntalado’s fate. I can not imagine what it would be like being alone on that mountain, little shade, little protection, thorny brush bush, few pathways. I doubt now, on the 5th day, how long he would be able to survive without food or water. The day is long. By evening time, I look to the greying sky and try and forget the knot and the stone and pretend that I should pay heed to what seems like trivial challenges like what to make for supper. We sit down to tomato soup and grilled cheese,- the standby supper when I have had little prep time. I am in the midst of scolding Jesse for “dipping” the entirety of his sandwich in the soup bowl as I see movement from the window as people approach the door. Mzee Ben, Jay’s colleague at the Girl’s school and Ntalado’s half brother stands before the door with the naked form of Ntalado. They had brought him directly to the house, almost too weak to sit in the chair, his legs wobbled as he transferred into the seat. He sat with a vacuous stare, hands shaking. His body full of scratches from thorns and bushes. He is dangerously thin, I can see the outline of each ribs and his joints stand out in notches on his body. 15 morani stand, sit and squat on our porch, wondering what to do for the boy, joyous in their victory of having found him alive. Mzee Ben, is visibly shaken, I am not sure what his bond is with his half brother, but you can see there is love there. Without any major physical injuries, there is little to be done other than to provide some ORS (oral rehydration salts), rice, potatoes, some clothes to help keep him warm as he shivers likely more in shock than from the evening wind. There are strict instructions to go slowly with the feeding as re-feeding syndrome can pose a fatal risk to someone who has starved for more than 4 days. The boy is cradled again in the morani’s arms,- to be carried home to his mama. Before they leave we stop to pray and thank God for his protection of Ntalado, and although none of the morani’s can understand our words they all seem to share the sentiment that the moment was reverent and respect was due to some Higher Power for the miracle of the boy’s survival.
The next day I venture to visit Ntalado’s mother, it took a while to find the house, but as I crouched inside I saw Ntalado, sitting rather motionless, belly swollen with too much food, but otherwise ok, he was still staring as if processing a great truth of some sort, or perhaps thinking of nothing at all. His mother was feeding an infant, her legs extending straight as she leans back on her arms. The cooking fire now cold. I realize the state of poverty as a look around. There are chinks of mud showing sunlight and places where cloth has come away from the protective barrier of the stick and mud thatched home. There are few possessions inside. A cooking pot, a pair of broken shoes, a well used hyde, some plastic bags and a little sack that hangs in the stick rafters with the rice and two potatoes left from the day before. She is not apologetic or embarrassed by her poverty,- she seems to just understand that it is. It is what she endures. And I can not image how hard it would be to have children without the means to feed or clothe them. To be deserted truly to a life of destitution reliving the struggle of poverty every day.
Ntalado came to Sunday school, his entire body still evidencing his ordeal of the days previous. He was too weak to stand for the songs, but he came, along with his mother, and 3 brothers. We talked about the Good Shepherd and His love for lost sheep.
Pretty in Pink …A little six year old charmer visited us about three weeks ago. Her older brother brought her along, it seemed rather reluctantly as she shyly hid in the periphery of her brother’s pant leg. The brother, about 18, going by a Christian name of David, speaks broken English requesting me to help his sister. I am told that she is six years old, although she appears no larger than perhaps 4. She is thin and her feet bare, which is more often the norm, she is fitted in an oversized man’s tank top which serves as a makeshift dress. As her brother removes the dress to disclose her secret, I can see the bulge on the back of her neck, the slight hunch of her back and the abnormal expansion of her chest. She struggles to stand for long, and holds onto the fence to keep her body upright. It seems she too may have Pott’s (TB to the spine) the same condition that Jonah has. She is presenting at a much earlier stage of the disease, as the progression has not yet taken her ability to walk. As it becomes clear that the help I can offer this little one is limited indeed. We take her to the GOK clinic hoping they might treat clinically what can not be proven with tests and X-rays, that Ntallasso needs TB medicine. She is turned away from the clinic without medications. We continue to advocate and finally are given 2 weeks supply. I have just sent Marasaio, the shepherd boy down to Kijabe under the care of Dr. Mara, and now, another patient presents, Ntallasso. I fear so often to admit the bank of my reserves of energy and advocacy can be depleted, resting in my own strength and means, forgetting momentarily that God provides, that He loves and cares far deeper than I. I am discouraged by my discouragement, and yet I can not deliver this girl up to the inevitable plight of her condition if no intervention is sought after.