We are plants rooted In the red clay of African soil and we pray for gentle precision, to be lifted up out of the ground, allowing for separation from where we have been buried, removing roots without breaking them, keeping the fibres in place for transplantation into another soil. Perhaps, we hope one day to be flourishing in this garden again. This process is bound to be delicate and tedious and requires tender skill, the uprooting. There are some wary moments where we wonder at which part we separate, if we are leaving roots behind or taking too much soil upon our hanging fibres and we are glad for the grace of the Gardener to oversee this process, with providence and love…
An explanation for a rather long post….
To many this will be simply a lengthy account of a trip taken but for us, we transcribe our thoughts into this collection of words, this assembly of stories and keep them close, for our remembrances are a balm to our hearts and we share them with you with the hopes that you too will see, hear, know and experience His goodness through our journey of adventure and grace.
Our Haven in a Hectic World: Mayfield
After a rather long drive from Montreal and longer flights to Kenya, Nicholas picks us up in the all too familiar white passenger van detailing in black block letters: AFRICA INLAND MISSION. The airport parking lot lights haloed in the cool Nairobi evening air and our feet are on the ground embracing already the land beneath us that welcomes us ‘home’. After a drive through the Nairobi neon night life we come to rest under the mosquito nets in rooms 10 and 11 at Mayfield Guest House. Sigh, prayers of thanksgiving, sleep comes easily.
The kids enjoy the first few days at Mayfield. They wander the house, finding the places they have played in, the TV room, the play room, the fridge with bottles of coke and krest bitter lemon filling the insides, catching lizards, swinging on the tire swing. We visit with Mzee James who is master of the front desk and greet the rest of the men. The first few days are filled with commentary from the kids “I remember that!” as they reacquaint themselves to a place that has been the most consistent ‘home’ for them over the last 10 years. Mayfield- It is our place, our home here when away from the village or apart from Canada. The men who work here we have known over the last 15 years, they are our family, they have held our babies, collected us from airports, transported us to hospital, brought trays when we were sick, they accept our messy children who as toddlers throw food from the table, they drive us endless places, pick us up when we are stranded, bail us out from jail (well one of us). We discuss missionary life and Kenyan politics, they ask about our country, we ask about their shamba (garden) and family. They teach us how to care and serve with kindness and patience with sacrifice and smiles. We will miss our Mayfield family, they are dear to our heart.
Nairobi Business could not be put off, and we spend the first days diving into the necessity of getting needed paperwork completed. For transfer of my Ontario NP licence to Nova Scotia, I am requiring two things: A police check in Kenya, and signatures from the Kenyan Nursing Council. I am not very confident that either of these two things can happen in the space of a month, but at least willing to try. I spend the first morning in Kenya walking to the Nursing Council off of Ngong road. Enjoying the sights, the smells (mostly of diesel) the dusty traffic, the crowded walkways, the jackaranda trees and bougainvillia vines a contrast of beauty to the matatu’s honking and police waving batons in the traffic line up. Walking is much faster than driving this time of day, and I ease into a fast pace, hoping to get to the nursing council before the work day grinds to a halt for morning chai at 1000am.
I knew the conversation wasn’t going well when the sentence began with, “we should probably have you arrested…”. Hmm, not exactly what I had anticipated with my signature request from the nursing council. I don’t think you understand, I reply, “no I don’t think you are getting me!”. Gladys was sipping her chai in an office labelled “Registration”. On her desk were numerous applications piled high, she peers at me, I try again in the spirit of advocacy to plead my case. “I just need a signature,- so I can work again in Canada”. There is an administrative rigidity, a power play that is palpable, that places you in a position of penance, when you are not sure how you landed there and one does feel a little lost to navigate it. Beyond the stoic exterior and glaring stare there is a smile, and I know that if I appeal for kindness and grace that most often it is found in full measure. There is this dichotomy of sorts that the fiercest of persona’s here melt often with the power of kindness, with the argument of innocence and humility. Jesse walks through the iron barred gates security metal detectors and ready to be ‘patted down’ by the Iskari (guard) and announces with his arms spread wide, “Excuse me, but I didn’t bring in any weapons!”. The guard snickers and smiles, the rest of the line waiting in que cracks up, walls come down. In the end Gladys did help out. I was sent for endless trips to the photocopier, with a handful of forms, but did get an expedited renewal of my Kenyan nursing registration and of course the donation of a number of shillings, I am told, that perhaps I will get the needed paperwork in a month’s time. On to the Kenyan police station next to get a certificate of good conduct thinking perhaps I should bring Jesse and his four year old charm with me.
I was not surprised to see the que at the centre for criminal investigations. There must have been over 500 other people lined up and corralled within an outside mud and rock ‘veranda’ and an open cement walled room with various numbered tables. There were numerous warnings not to smear fingerprint ink on the building, despite the number of finger smudges and streaks of black down the sides of the outside wall. I was one of 2 white faces who came to apply for a certificate of good conduct and there were moments where I nearly gave up on the 5 step process (including numerous sub-steps) when I made various failed attempts to complete step 1. Step 1 (as posted on the wall) “pay the cashier the 1000 ksh fee” seemed simple enough and would have been if I was Kenyan, but I am foreigner and was turned away because I needed photocopies of the passport, then the passport photocopies needed “verification” which took place in another building on the police grounds I was to find inconspicuously labeled “room 31”. After quite a while I found “room 31” which was barely able to fit the 2 investigators, desks and computers and the five people in line ahead of me also requiring “verification”. On the wall there was a print out that simply said: 1. Murder 2. Theft 3. Sedition 4. Assault 5. Rape 6. Slander and I wondered what this list was used for, some sort of police coding, some hierarchy of criminal sins and realized I didn’t really want to know the answer. The investigator took my copied passport, compared it to the original and verified that I was in the true likeness of them both, which I suppose was a bit challenging, given he barely looked up at me. After getting lost in the police building I returned to the cashier, finally able to fulfill step one, rewarded by the next 3 hours of lining up and sitting down, fingerprinting, being pushed into lines of various types and treated with annoyed tolerance that I should need explanation as to the procedure. I did make a friend by the offering of my pen during the time of sitting and filling forms, and this ally helped answer the daunting question that lurked in my mind at every procedural turn “so what’s next”. My return home, by taxi another adventure of sorts, given my assumptions that there would be many taxis available outside police headquarters and the reality that they don’t allow standing cars due to security issues. I decide to walk. Making my way, I am followed by a few matatu drivers pulling at my arms to enter their bus, and I pull away, mildly irritated and a little bit concerned as to the lack of ride options. I walk on, except there is nothing but highway ahead. I continue walking not wanting to return to the matatu stage once again. Looking lost is perhaps much more dangerous than being lost. I cross the 2-laned highway road to what seems to be a more inviting place, the Kenya Forestry Service. The guards in khaki uniforms and green berets seem confused with my explanation that I am looking for a taxi. “But Ma’m this is the forestry service.” Yes, I know, but I am in need of calling a taxi and wondered if you can help? They look at each other and speak in a dialect I am unused to hearing, there is a bit of a debate. One of the guards answers “Do you know the place, Milele maybe 1-2 km up the road, there may be taxi’s there?” Not wanting to fully explain my geographical incapacities, I simply ask, oh, I am not sure if I can get there, is there any way you can call a taxi for me? I felt like Dicken’s Oliver begging, “Please sir, can I have some more”. I gave my best smile and the one guard went into the back for a while. The metal barred gates open up. Ok, rest here, Adan knows a driver, he will be here shortly. Thanks are offered and I sit for a while chewing juicy fruit gum, in the cement office with decoratively barred windows reading the manifest of the Kenya Forestry service, their mission and values, reading in Swahili, “Miti Mwingi maisha bora” Many trees for best life”. The driver arrives, where are you going? “Ngong Road”. “oh” he replies, “so where’s that?”….
The Return to Kurungu
Flight days are always a bit exciting and there is a nervous energy that is accompanied by increased parental surveillance to ensure that we not forget bags, passports, food or kids. We are dropped off at Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) for our flight to the North. Thankfully our family size has graduated us to a 12 seater from the usual Cessna 206 6 seater. There are two other passengers that are flying on to Marsabit for business, one a Rendille man who grew up in Korr and remembers well the work of Nick and Lynne Swanepoel, and the other, Mohammed, who shares with me prayers from the Quran to ensure a safe flight. The kids are strapped in, peering out of windows as we take off into the sky. The buzz of the plane for the next 1 ½ hours the only thing
to be heard. The familiar sights of the ground below, travelling over the Ngong Hills, Rift valley and into the Nyrio mountain range tracing empty riverbeds and palm trees as we make our descent into dusty Sedar for a landing. We have arrived and are shocked that the dirt strip (in the middle of nowhere) has suddenly grown a building with proper toilets and tile floors! Jesse and Eve running wildly, glad to be free of the confines of the plane, not minding the hot sandy wind, stopping only to remove the occasional thorn from their shoes.
The boys and Lily peering out to perhaps catch a glimpse of zebra or ostrich which on occasion skirt on and off the airstrip. We await our ride, seeing the dusty streak in the distance moving towards us, realize it won’t be long now until we are in Kurungu.
It had been a year since we have been able to sit under the chai tree and be present with the Samburu, listening to the dialogue, heated discussion, antics and laughter. Often we are on the sidelines of these conversation not understanding all the Samburu spoken occasionally able to add a few comments or questions in Swahili which get translated. We greet mamas and children and babies that show up, people move over on benches that overflow and we find space and chai for those that join. We sat today, under the chai tree and listened to the thoughts of our friends, the words of hurt and healing that they shared. Mama Mary told us how when we left so suddenly it was like ripping a wound open between us. They wondered if they would ever see us again, they held worry in their hearts. Now that we are back that wound is healing. But please stay, not two weeks but at least many months.
Mary (who worked helping in the kitchen in the mornings) notes that every time a burned child or baby came to the house she wanted to cry with the sadness of it, but she knew that the daily treatment with banana leaves would treat the burn and this made her glad. We move on to talking of the progress of some of the patients that we have tended to, some recall seeing Lesum, the shepherd boy tending his goats again, some tell of Saidimo’s success in school.
Mary’s words pierce our hearts and we feel in a way that we are in some way letting down the community here by our departure. And yet we are able to talk with our friends sincerely about some of the needs of our family as well as the way God open and closes doors in our lives. We talk of the new work with African refugees. We talk about having many homes and feeling at home with the Samburu, we talk about this place and this community that has taken good care of us and we can say with full confidence, that we hope to be back one day. We pray we are back one day to visit, to stay once again, to be at home here in Kurungu.
I think heaven will be filled with Samburu choirs. Mama’s singing, babies bouncing, beads flying, boys jumping high, straight and proud with chins thrust out. Wazee clapping in the accompaniment of dog barking, donkey braying, dove cooing, wind rushing through the high acacia leaves and thorny branch. How I love these moments. I sit on the wooden bench, with mamas and children and curious stares at Eve’s bright red hair and eyes of translucent blue, and they reach out soft fingers to touch her, James, the younger brother of Ntlpassai and Lareno, slips his hand in mine as I talk with his mother, looking at her new baby daughter. He passes Jesse a green pod to eat, Jesse responds, “I don’t eat this plant,’ Do you know about grocery stores”. James smiles and hands Jesse another pod.
We walked 4 kilometers today up the sandy road to get to the Nyiro Girl’s Nomadic School. We were passed by goat herders who joined us quietly for most of the way, one boy trailing a toy of a lid attached to a stick which he used with precision and looked like he was surveying the land in front of him. We were passed by a few vehicles and one piki (motorcycle) driver who was learning to drive and ended up wiping out in the soft sand in front of us. He was unhurt and we plodded on. We arrived at the blue gates of the school compound, managing to show up on the last day of term as the students were lining up for lunch. (I think Jay secretly timed the visit to allow for one final feast of maise and beans). The school headmistress greets us warmly, the matron all smiles, in African style piles high our plates…. Jay ate his fill and mine too, not one for the beans part of the duo. The kids make faces at me with secret smiles knowing that I will struggle to swallow all that is before me. We give our greetings and hear the report of the school, struggling to continue on despite poor funding and many students unable to pay school fees. We sit under the trees, the headmistress, the girls, the iskari (guard), the cook and the matron, eating and chatting and laughing. The headmistress notes, “Jay taught so differently, so practically, the girls miss his teaching.” She is especially thankful for the fence around the compound that Jay was able to organize the supplies for. The school girls giggle and try and coax the attention of Eve and Jesse. We are able to greet two of the school girls, Faustine and Kristen who were TB patients and completed the treatment and doing well. A few hours later, we head home. A tired happy, we plod a bit slower, Jesse picks up the jaw bone of a goat and looks at the broken tooth, “Mom, this goat has a problem, it’s tooth is broken”. Hmm, Jesse I think it’s problems a bit bigger than that! “Mom, what predator got it?” He doesn’t wait for an answer but decides it must have been a lion. He uses the goat jaw as a pretend pistol, shooting phantom lions in the road.
Visiting in Serechoi….
We know Serechoi well, it is the home place of many of those we know. I recall that it was the first village I ever visited and remember the walk through the luga (empty river bed) fearing the leopards I was told were resting in the trees overhead. We became familiar with Serechoi visiting it often when Jonah was ill, and then of course for TB screening and treatment of patients. It is the place where Jay got a reprimand by a Samburu grandmother for tangling her baby camels, where he would put pylons and bring the football and play with multitudes of children in the dust between thorn acacias.
Today we made the rounds visiting in Serechoi, first to the home of Samuel, to meet his mother and siblings, grandmother and warrior brother. Samuel is heading to school to be a primary school teacher. Over the last year, Samuel has taken on voluntarily much of the work of the church, teaching Sunday school, preaching, shepherding the people. He is a young man, humble, sincere and kind. Jesse and Eve are loving the mynyatta and they spend their time investigating where the baby goats are kept or chasing chickens. The little children laugh and giggle and try to follow them and make sense of their intrigue. Eve picks up marble shaped goat poop and there is a roar of laughter from the crowd. Jesse fixated on catching a baby chick and recruits the help of Samuel’s stoic mother and his warrior brother, Ashenal, as they each bear down on this flapping chick with the mama bird pecking and flustering behind. It is a bit of a chaotic adventure visiting in the mynyattas with children, and not sure if there aren’t some re-told tales of the oddities of mzungu children that are recounted over the evening fire.
Moving on to the next mynyatta, I sit for a while with Monica. Few words, looking at her new baby, watching her son Nathan (who is Jesse’s age) quite content to sit with his mother and younger brother. We sit on a skin laid out for us, Monica gives Eve a bracelet. I look out to the place where Jonah was cared for and think back on those memories, wondering at the blessing of a new birth perhaps to soften the sorrow of loss. Monica seems happy and well. Both her, her son Nathan, her sister, Salma and mother were TB patients.
We visit with Monica’s mother, she has a beautiful toothy grin and rough hands which hold onto mine. Her grandchildren come around her, sitting in her lap or skirting away to return with a song or a smile which is rewarded by her own reaching out to hold onto the little ones. How much has this mama seen I wonder. She seems rather content to sit on a log watching the procession of young life before her.
Soko and Sandhill
Today I will remember for a long time to come.
Today was Samburu Soko (market). The market was overflowing with morani and mamas, small children running in and between the stalls and skirts of the sisters. Smiling and cautious faces peeking out between the wares for sale. I see an old man carrying the head of a goat, I look, he catches my eye and smiles, and then laughs at my interest.
The piki’s (motorbikes) and few LandRovers, the morani with their feathers piled high on their heads, red painted hair staining the back of their shirts, their naked chests gilded with beaded ornamentation, skin carvings and panga’s at their sides. The mamas and young girls with chins painted red, rings of shanga (beads) adorning a stoic beauty, brown eyes, shaved heads. Jay and the boys visit the animal market (where only men are allowed) and then we visit the place of chinja (slaughter) with the neatly laid grass bedding to protect the fresh slaughter. Samuel is there proudly declaring that his uncle volunteered a cow to slaughter to help him pay his school fees. Samuel leaves for teacher’s college next month. He had great success as there was no meat left to buy, the wrinkly cow skin still silky and soft sitting in the sunshine.
On most occasions I find the market a bit overwhelming. But today, it was so wonderful to see so many faces of which I was familiar. Grace selling tomatoes, Gabriella inviting me into the shade and for a cup of chai, Simpian, the wife of Andrea, passing greetings and the exchange of our heartfelt condolences at her great loss of her husband and promises to visit, her beautiful smiling face worn by grief and yet still smiling and bringing us a greeting. The countless mamas who came up to greet. Usually I am but a spectator knowing a few, but today, many came to greet, mostly I think to see how the children have grown, but it was sweet that they came to me and some would say, ‘remember me, – I am from Ketepes’ ‘remember me,- and would show me a child that I must have treated or visited’. Today I felt for the first time perhaps that I am not a foreigner here, these are my friends who are coming to greet me and not because they had jobs or because they were in the church but because they knew me, and I knew them.
We are followed home by a group of children, they wait for a sweet and to see Mick’s dog, Tiger and to look at the tire swing that some of the Samburu boys are swinging on. We pass by Lareno’s goats grazing in the bush by our yard…
We have just come back from a campfire evening at Sandhill, where the mountains of soft grainy sand lift towards the horizon, at a near impossible angle for climbing and then sledding down on the powdery ground, trying to miss the occasional thorn branch and looking at the surrounding mountains.
We had nyama choma (roast meat) over the hot coals, the kids praising that it was “the best cow ever” and Jesse noting a small sadness at the cow’s loss and our gain. With gritty faces, dusty from hill slides, we eat the meat by the dimming sunlight, watching the sun sink below the horizon of the mountains, glowing through acacia trees with doves and hornbills perched and gliding in the wind. The chatter of friends, Samburu boys, Australian guests and the din of the children laughing and eating popcorn. We finish with prayers of thanksgiving and singing the Samburu boys give a song that lifts into the air, the baritone, the tenor, the clapping rhythym, the way the lead singer moves forward and the others follow, the tune dances in the smoke of the fire and upwards to the moon, the stars winking down on us, and I know such moments are truly few where the world becomes wonder-filled and time slows enough to grab hold of the minutes just a bit longer.
5 cups of chai
Our days continue to be filled with packing up and packing out into the village to visit. Each day seems to bring about a different place, different faces, people with lives and stories, which although remain hidden to us, are apart of the place of their dwelling and we for some moments enter into the pages of their lives. At times we are the mysterious mzungu with funny skin, hair and expressions who mix up our Samburu greetings and words. To others we are known as friend, a bond over treating a sick patient or drinking chai together, visiting a village shop to buy sugar and pass news.
In our dwindling days in Kurungu we visit Mama Lareno in Ketepes, visiting her new home, admiring the construction of the sticks, mud, cardboard and cloth over the dome of the house, there are a few pots and cups and we are shown a black plastic bag which contains two school uniforms for Lareno and Ntlpassai being kept in pristine condition. She is grateful for the help for the uniforms which allow her boys to attend primary school and receive a meal a day. The family seems to be doing well and we hear how Mama Lareno works hard at the shamba (garden) to supply the family with some maize meal which gets ground to make posho. There are obvious needs such as shoes for the children, and Ntlpassai who from the sounds of it has a respiratory condition, which is exacerbated by the smoke of the inside fire. I see his clubbed nails as his hands hold onto mine. I make a mental note to refer him to the clinic for assessment for bronchitis/asthma and perhaps find some salbutamol to help his breathing. Lareno’s grandmother has recently moved to be near the family, she comes forward to greet us all and makes us chai.
The kids are restless inside the house, and it is hard to contain them to sit on the goat hyde bed. Eve starts chanting “chai, chai” now aware that a sweet treat of milky goodness is soon to be distributed to her. The ritual of cooling chai by pouring from one cup to another has begun, and as much as it is enjoyed that she appreciates the tea, there are scores of children also looking on with wide eyes to the full cup that Eve is being awarded and greedily drinks down, one feels guilty to accept such a gift and rude not to enjoy it.
From Mama Lareno’s house we visit Mzee Abaya and his family. His one son “Nathan” a toddler amongst a sea of girls. Abaya is worried about his oldest daughter who has epilepsy. We increase her dose of phenytoin, given that he seizures have increased significantly in the last months. We arrange to send her to get some bloodwork to ensure that she is not also sick with infection or amoeba given that she is unable to communicate her needs.
From 1000am until 4pm, we visited as people invited us over and opened their homes, providing us with chai. Josephine introduces us to her twin sons, offers us chapatti, some juice and gifts us with a bottle of Samburu honey. She carries a sadness in her eyes, now the mother to her sister’s children, orphaned last year during the Samburu and Turkana raids.
There seems to be children all around. The young girl that serves us chapatti was a girl with a resistant gut infection and would come often to our house for medicine. She looks well now and reports that she has recovered.
Mohammed and his wife, the shop owners, wave us into their house, and they have laid out a feast of goat, chapatti, mandazi (donuts) and more chai. Jay and I look to each other with the known expression of how much do you think you can eat as we watch our hosts pile high our plates. There is a chicken under the bed I am sitting on pecking at my feet, I wonder if I can drop some food and he will help me with the task in front of me. We are served goat, which was introduced as, “you can keep this for months without it spoiling”, I watch Mohammed’s wife as she serves it out of a covered pot sitting on the floor. It was surprisingly good for my goat wary pallet. I notice the goat leg that is dangling above the door, I supress any and all knowledge of microbiology as I use the chapatti to soak up the goat preserved in oil. We sit for some pictures and decline second helpings. We leave with bags of food to take home to the children.
After Mohammed we are greeted by Mzee Lepen, one of the most steady, hard working Samburu men I have known. We meet his wife and the youngest two children. They are polite and shy and offer greetings. Lepen tells us that he has nine children, three in secondary, one in college and two in primary. I wonder how he can afford the fees. His house is humble and home-made using materials that are around.
The chicken house made out of scrap metal pieces, rock, wood, sticks, all finding a useful purpose to complete a home and garden on his plot. His garden is doing nicely, he offers to bring some papaya by when it is ready. We are once again given a cup of tea and some cookies, likely bought from Mohammed’s shop. I have had more tea today than in the last 3 years combined in Africa, I may not sleep until next Tuesday for all the caffeine that is in me. The last stop we are offered a coke. We visit a young mama who has given birth a few days ago. I hold the baby which evokes some declarations of jealousy from Eve. The baby starts crying and we make our way home, we are tired and happy and blessed by the visits and friendship of these ones. Tomorrow we visit SImpian, Andrea’s wife.
Andrea once told us the story of how he met Simpian and had to find enough dowry money to secure her as a bride so she would not be married off to another. Simpian was betrothed to another and she adamately refused to marry any but Andrea. She threatened to take her own life before she would marry another man. Andrea noted it was around 30,000 KSH (300 USD) the bride price, which he notes, in those days was a lot of money. He told us tenderly, that he married for love, and for all the times that we saw Andrea with his wife, that seemed to be evident. It was not the same visiting Simpian now that Andrea is gone. Kurungu was not the same. We were not greeted with the zealous smile and booming laughter. We were not able to tease Andrea about being a “white Samburu” given his preference for strong coffee instead of sweet chai. He was not around to offer to cook us lasagne or give us his prized butter chicken recipe. We miss our friend. We wanted to visit Simpian, and although in Samburu you do not mention the deceased, nor share in their memories, we felt that we can offer support to Andrea’s widow and family by visiting and hearing how they are faring. So in the evening when a morani (warrior) came to our door to ask us to make our way to Simpain’s home for the chai the next day we were glad for the opportunity and invitation.
We brought a 30 L drum of water for the community given the distance to the water pipe and we were invited in to share some chai. Offering a few gifts of our own, a flashlight for the warrior son, a few clothes for the children, a plastic zipper bag for storage, our offerings so small, and yet rewarded with “asheoling” (thankyou), smiles and gifts of beads from Andrea’s mother, who bears his liking and holds my hand tightly, ‘asheta” (thank you) she says, and I wonder why she is thanking me. Did she know of our friendship with her son, and I feel a strange sadness for the way of things here, for the mortality and morbidity of life that is lived, for the weight of pain and loss that must be borne by witnessing the comings and goings of so many. Thank you, I say to her. Unable to say, Thank you for your son’s friendship, how he watched out for and befriended Jay and I when we arrived… the words unspoken even as palpable the sentiment is between us. We hear how the family is doing, hear some of the needs that they have and see that the children are doing quite well and remain healthy the youngest three continuing in their studies in primary school. As we finish our visit, we pose for a picture, two families from two worlds joined together by the generous friendship of Mzee Andrea.
Longerin Visit: Marasaio and Baby Esther
In the days that followed, exhausted physically, sunburnt and emotionally drained, I tried to balance getting some packing done in the house with continuing on in our visits of patients and friends. We made a stop to visit Mzee Lankaak in the South Horr Dispensary. He directs Amin to care for the new TB patients. The roster holds about 35 active patients, with 2 or 3 new cases every month. Lankaak tells us how they go about contact tracing and with Amin’s assistance ensure that patients receive their medications as well as a stipend of food.
We make a plan for the son of a former patient, Nairosrge, who has recovered from TB along with the slow but steady recovery of her three year old daughter. On visiting her, we saw her 5 month old son who looked maybe only 2 or 3 kg. We encouraged her to bring the baby for weighing and treatment of severe malnutrition. His eyes large and black, his legs without any weight looked like sticks on his small body. We pray that there is a way that we can help this baby grow and gain some weight.
We visited baby Esther, who is growing steadily, speaking but unable to walk. She is tenderly cared for by her mother who talks to her, and plays a solar radio by the little girl to keep her company. Esther sings along and reaches out to touch her toddler brother who hides his head in fear from the mzungu presence. We heard the troubles of Esther’s family, as Namagie (Esther’s father) was involved in a piki (motorbike) accident and is suffering from a traumatic brain injury. I wonder how this mama endures so much hardship, caring for a disabled child, taking care of a husband who now has little memory. She smiles and notes that he is getting better, she is always smiling this dear lady.
We are happy to hear that Marasaio has walked across the mountain to visit Tuum during his vacation to attend a Bible camp hosted by the Irish missionary, Stephen. Although we are sad to miss him, we are promised that the chief will bring him over to Kurungu for a visit when he returns. The chief offers us a goat or honey for our small part in bringing Marasaio to hospital for surgery, I wave away the need for a gift, but wisely, Amin notes that it is important to accept that which is offered. We opt for the honey, as a goat might be hard to pack in the luggage. The chief recalls the kindness of the hospital and reports how he has kept in touch time to time with the surgeon, Dr. Mara. How we pray that seeds planted of kindness, Hope and Life at the hospital will take root in the heart of Maraisio and his uncle, chief Lengalte.
For any of you who know jay, you know he holds an odd fascination and appreciation of wildlife. His record is marred a little by numerous incidents and near expulsions from the local zoo and animal centres. There was the Killer Whale incident at Marineland which earned Nathan the nickname of “whale bait” for a few years, then there was the falcon folly in his attempt to re-direct a misguided falcon at African Lion Safari, and today brings us to the Kenyan Wildlife Service scolding, where Jay took to running after (yes, into the bush) a herd of 7 wild elephants. Of course there were numerous Samburu with him, but the helicopter that landed in the riverbed were wondering the same thing I might be thinking, most people have sense enough to run away from elephants not run after them!
We were told by the Samburu that they wanted to give us a farewell, the details were few, there was a list posted in our house on the items that people had to bring and although we offered they refused any contribution we could give. We waited in anticipation for the day, not quite sure what it would offer us and feeling rather awkward at holding the place of centre of attention. I like to melt into the periphery, although is a bit harder here in Africa, being so pale, but I tend to travel with the children who are always more interesting than I, and have taken , quite happily the burden of popularity.
The day started early with the biggest pot of chai I have ever seen. Well actually the day started with the slaughter of a few goats in the backyard, my morning coffee unsettled by the scene unfolding in front of me as the backyard turned into the butcher shop, of course, not forgoing the traditional drinking of the blood. The blood stained face of the morani posed for a picture, while mzee Letipan expertly cut away the goat skin and placed it on the grass with my three eager boys to watch the proceedings. They smile at me, and make faces… Jesse a bit sad at the goat’s fate, but intrigued enough to continue to watch.
Busy in the house with the final packing, I am pulled outside by the lure of people starting to congregate for chai time. There are streams of women coming in groups, brightly dressed in red and yellows with beaded wraps with babies hidden on backs and toddlers tucked around their legs carrying their own little sippy cup ready for the partaking. The mama’s find their spot on the sandy ground around the church and in front of the animal water trough, making for an interesting watch with mamas sitting and all sorts of cows, goats, sheep and camels meandering in for a cool drink. The mamas settle into separate spaces, representing the villages they had travelled from. The wazee (grouping of older men) sit at the picnic table with Jay, other elders sitting on a fallen log are deep in conversation. Jay greets each member of the group and they continue with friendly banter or speak of news of the elephants which are making their way up the luga (riverbed). The men were joined by Chief lengalte who wore with him the mantle of leadership talking and greeting with the ease of and patience of a politician as he hears of all the news and needs of the areas. Mohammed, the Muslim shop owner, takes place besides, a traditional Samburu, seated next to jay and the Catholic minister. It seems a rather unlikely grouping of people, but there are smiles and greetings and conversation that is as enjoyed as the sweet milky chai.
The milk guords are lined up some ornamented with beads and shells and some plain brought in by mamas or small children bearing the contribution of milk from a few goats or camels. The containers decorate the food prep area, and somehow soften the sight of the goat meat haphazardly strewn on the table. The ladies sit talking while peeling potatoes, I sit down beside them, Eve in my lap and Jesse beside,-I offer to help, but my offer refused with smiling faces as they tell me they have no need of help, there are many mamas here. It takes a few hours to distribute the chai, using jugs and sharing cups many episodes of distributing, pouring, collecting, washing and re-distributing so everyone could share the 30 or so cups amongst the grouping of over 300.
We spend the morning with people, sharing a greeting, a handshake from jesse and eve the prize as old mama’s and young babies reach out to touch the pudgy sticky hands of the red-haired toddler. Jesse makes faces in an obstinate way, after about the 150th handshake but this seems only to offer more entertainment for those gathering and they egg him on to continue making faces. There are some with stoic faces, that even Jesse with his antics couldn’t move, and some with tears, and I wonder what it is that has precipitated these emotions, this sadness.
By 11:30 the children are summoned to receive some lollipops and the youth send the kids off to organize a football match on the airstrip, while the adults all now await for the goat to be ready, the 50kg sack of rice and kilos of potatoes to be prepared. Mzee Lepen organizes the cooking, and I can’t help but miss the sight of our dear friend Andrea, who would also have been leaning over the pots on the fire measuring and mixing, His absence is sorely felt. I see his wife, Simpian, his daughter near to Lily’s age and his two younger boys,- I wonder too if they have a special remembrance of him on a day such as this.
After some time we are asked to follow the group into the church building. The women and children begin to file into the church, filling up pews, the youth, the children and the men join, there is no room for us but to stand at the back and take in the sight of these who have come to sing, to celebrate. The women dance and sing, their smiles radiant, the beads and baubles dancing with the movement of their necks they move up and down the aisles of the church in a runway fashion singing, clapping, laughing dancing. I take it all in, and time seems to take on a sur-reality. I feel to be watching this as an outsider enjoying it as if it was the first time, trying to savour each look, glimpse, sound, movement and capture it in time to fill my memory. How I wish I could bottle up these moments and minutes, and yet I can just stand there watching the seconds march forward and I unable to stop them. I smile,- as isn’t that is the reality of life and that by grieving or hoping for something other than what is happening, you lose just a little of being present in “what is” in the moment, and I put away my thoughts of leaving and find again my place embracing that which is before me, living the present, of being in the moment not just a spectator standing beside it.
Mzee Sampson gives a speech on love out of the Gospel of John, Ongoto Melita, as a representative of the mamas gives some words of thanks for our time and we are shuffled up to the front to receive gifts from the villages: a Samburu necklace made by a contribution from the women of Kare, where we tended to a girl badly burned and Lesum, the boy who nearly lost his foot. Other women come up one by one and place necklaces or bracelets on Jay, myself or one of the children. We see these ones, faces and stories we know and love well. Monica, the mother of Jonah, Mama Salma, a TB patient, one of Jay’s students, Mama Mary, Simpian, and others, faces and smiles I recognize but am not certain of names. They each come forward bringing an offering of necklaces and bracelets, beads and words of thanks. We are draped with beaded honor. Our words of goodbye seem so poor, so simple and yet they are sincere. We are thankful they have allowed us to be their neighbour, their friend, their brother and sister. We are humbled, and the only consolation in our goodbye is that it will be met, in a time only God understands with a greeting of hello once again. Two old men lead the group in Samburu blessing. The old mzee, named Simon we are told gave this same blessing to president Uhuru, a few years ago, the other man, struggling to see, hands to Jay an ule, for the protection of the family. We stand and receive the blessing of the people, listening to the song of the wazee followed by the chant of “Nkai, Nkai, Nkai” after each phrase asking God to watch over us as we go forth.
The warriors have arrived, but are sitting out front, their traditional separation from the people a statement of power and respect. We eat with the warriors, and share with them a plate of goat stew with potato and rice, when they are finished they move away to gather together. From time to time we see a morani run forward, jump and yelp a high pitched sound. Then the rumble of voices, the group grows larger as they congregate in the middle of the yard.
As the songs begin, I recognize the rhythmic chanting that I usually hear caught upon the night time wind. The voices resonate and call out for the women to join in, and the dancing begins.
I am teased by a few women who feel that now with the proper beads I can dance in the Samburu fashion. I am Baptist by birth, which means that genetically I lack any and all rhythm. If you could have dancing dyslexia, that would be me. I smile, and try out a few moves. Ngado a young mama repeats her perfected neck and hip and chin movements and I look like a drunken hula dancer thinking too consciously about the mechanics of how to thrust the throat outwards while moving beads from side to side and wondering what my backside needs to be doing. We giggle. “pole, mimi ni mzungu” (sorry, I’m white)… She seems to understand the limitations and moves onwards and into the dancing group.
The dust churns up and looks like smoke surrounding the dancers in the gloaming hours. For hours upon hours the warriors sing, the mama’s dance, the children laugh and giggle and mimic in small version the role that will one day be theirs. Little girls laughing around the youth, small boys take up near to a morani and try just to get close enough to join the fierce group, if even in the periphery. The dancing group moves together as one unit, the warriors in the middle, followed by a ring of women, older mama’s and finally on the outskirts the children. They move in together and then fan outwards, it is beautiful to watch.
We are filled with a fullness that is not ours, blessed beyond a measure that we have not given. God so gracious to allow us to part in this way. We sleep well tonight, rehearsing in our thoughts the day and all of it’s undeserved goodness offered to us.
On our day of departure from the village brings a 5 am wake up initiative in order to get the last of the packing done. I lie in bed, in the dark, looking up to the 30 foot thatch above me (staring into the thatch when you can see not such a great idea, given that you might see something that you want to believe doesn’t live in the realm above your head!) I listen to the morning sounds, the birds, the buzz of the bees, the signal from the Rooster that it is time to start the day, the hollowed wooden sound of the camel bell with goats and camels feasting nearby, the mist rolling off the mountaintop, sunlight filtered through trees with monkey’s fighting with squeals over some breakfast triumph and there is a sadness realizing that in the months and years that may span in between a return, I will miss this place fiercely, thankfully the reality of a plane coming to pick us spurs me onto to forge through what is ahead. There are many at our door from 800 on, waiting and wanting to chaperone our departure. Simon, the old mzee, requiring to fulfill the 2nd part of the blessing we received yesterday, noting that his words can only be the last ones that we hear (literally the last ones, we are not allowed to speak to another Samburu after that we are told) He patiently waits until 2pm for our confirmed departure time. At 1200 we hear a plane overhead. Jay calls the airline and indeed it is our plane that has arrived unexpectedly early, can we be there in 15 minutes? Our ride is currently in another village, the car not packed, in fact the airstrip a 20 minute drive away… we relay the impossibility of arriving in 15 minutes, and note that our departure time was for 230pm… It took a lot of bartering and pleading for Jay to get the plane to stay and wait for us, as they had wanted to push on,- perhaps they could return next Tuesday to pick us. We make it to the airstrip in 35 minutes, (not bad, I must say, although we did leave behind one suitcase, thankfully the children all made it!) rushing away, no time to look back. Simon gives the finally blessing as we are on the threshold of the car, we wave to our friends lined in the yard, and the scene blurs into a soft haze through the gleam of tears. La Serena (Goodbye) I whisper to myself as we speed ahead.RVA Rompings …During our last few days in Kenya, we spent a few at RVA in Kijabe, to visit the mission hospital, the school and some dear friends. You know they are dear friends when you can, out of the blue leave the conversation on the porch sipping coffee and barge into their house and strip your pants for the army of ants making their way up your leg.
I have come to realize that travelling with 5 children puts you into the category of ‘undesirables’ on the travel docket. Add to the 3 school aged ‘knock knock joke children’ 1 obsessive preschooler and 1 clingy toddler a mewing cat, and well we are akin to the black plague. Young families often pre-board, and we sit in our assigned seating watching passengers make their way towards us. You can see it on their faces, the utter relief when their aisle or row calls them to move forward and away from us, but then there are those who are unfortunate, and they look at us, then at their tickets, ‘how can this be’, they look at their partner or travel companions to get them to double check that they have understood their seats and aircraft fate clearly,- they whisper, they argue, they point at other seats, they look again at their tickets and realize that they are indeed seated in front of ‘the family’. Polite fixed smiles, nods at the children, it was almost laughable though when they opened the overhead compartment and out stares at them, with fierce green eyes and a wailing meeeeoww is Buster the cat.Our mission to rescue Buster, surprisingly successful. I did find it funny that the cat made it into the country, the cat food, however was confiscated.
Thank you to so many who were praying for us, for this time. We came through with full hearts, encouraged that the work continues on by our colleague, Mick, who remains. In Jay’s final sermon he preached out of John’s Gospel, encouraging the Samburu, even as we look within to find encouragement to move forward and onward in a new work that awaits,-
John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my discples if you love one another..”
If there is anything in life we long to be defined by, it is not our profession or our few strengths, it is not talent or the hope of our children’s success, we long, we strive to be defined by love. We fail so many times to accomplish this, we falter in our attempts, we are selfish and hold back our hearts and our lives, and yet we offer ourselves up again asking to be challenged by Love. It would be so much easier, if that clause, “as I have loved you” wasn’t in there, wouldn’t it… then we could measure our love by the simplest of standards… and yet, “as I have loved you” means a love that is so complete, so full, so undeserved. And even as we accept that gift of love for ourselves, we pray that we can continue to love the Samburu well as our neighbour, as our brother, as our friends. We continue to carry on a few projects, to feed a few widows, to help supply the needs of those who are impoverished or who are in need of medical treatment (we have 3 waiting to go to hospital to get limbs or to fix burn contractures) and we pray for these ones, these needs and basic interventions which can make a world of difference in a young life. We pray that God remains a presence in Kurungu, that the Love that compels us, would remain to bind the believers together to look after one another in a way that defies logic and culture.
and we journey on, away from Africa, but moving towards Africans in Canada! Go figure. Super excited for what is in store. Convinced, even in these hard goodbyes of His leading and assured and humbly thankful for Grace poured out upon us.