My mother has been bothering me for years to write a blog. Every year I have the same answer… “What would I have to say that people would want to read?” I tell her when I have an answer for that question, I will write a blog. I seriously don’t know how people have time to write them. I don’t even have time to take a shower. Literally. It’s a problem. I don’t know how all these women out there write blogs. Not only are they writing blogs, they are writing blogs about all the crafts and food they make. How are they finding time for that? And most of them have more than one child. I only have one, and I need a shower, badly.
Now, I have something to write about. It’s been a long time coming and I stay up at nights thinking about it. I have been waiting for the perfect time, and I realized, there is no perfect time. I have to stop wasting time and do it …now. Four years ago, I went to Africa. Four years ago I made promises to people there that I would not forget them, that I would tell their stories. Four years ago. What have I done in four years?
My mom thought of the title “Before and Africa” and I actually love it. There are a lot of things my mom and I agree on, but usually when she has an idea “for” me, I politely turn her down. But this title struck a chord in me. I thought about all the blogs out there about style and fashion and craftiness and I thought about how my blog would probably be the antithesis of that. Maybe I do always buy the same long sleeved shirts at the GAP every three years when the old ones get holes in them. Maybe I do still have the same tennis shoes I bought for 30 bucks 6 years ago. Maybe I do only get my hair cut once a year. Maybe I am in desperate need of a style makeover, but I think this blog is more of a before and after of my soul. My soul before and now my soul (after) Africa…
So thanks mom, for the title and for recognizing there has been a change in me and that even though I have a hard time finding the words, it’s time to start trying.

Kenya 2008 Journal

 Check out some videos from our time in Kenya!

Just click on the two links below.

Help for Africa on Vimeo

Kenya, Africa on Vimeo

and then, some people go to Africa.... 1st journal entry March 2008
    Today I felt the lowest since we've been here. The kids are breaking my heart. No one wants to adopt the babies with HIV.  I have been taping a lot of footage on the video camera and today I taped over ALL of it.  I wanted so badly to have something tangible to show people what we have experienced.  I have been having nightmares and last night I woke up at 3:30 am and never fell back asleep.  I feel like I am empty today.   I talked to mom on the phone, and she told me that since I lost all the footage I should start to write down every single detail while it is still fresh in my memory.  So here it is.

     When we arrived we were so excited to be in Africa.  A place so big in our dreams, we weren't sure what it might be like in real life.  Would it be what we expected? Hoped for?  We had no idea what we were in for.  The second flight from Amsterdam to Kenya was not full...basically no one is going to Kenya right now...and who can blame them?  We actually pushed our trip back a few times because of the violence over the presidential election in January.  Amy, Melissa and I stretched out in four seats each. I had 8 hours in my own four seats to relax, sleep, write and anticipate what this trip would be like.  
  I know people say God never gives us more than we can handle, but at times, this trip was more than I could handle.  As we exited the plane and found our way to baggage, we were giddy and flying high with our feet now safely and firmly on the ground.
    As we descended the escalator an enormous sign came into view. It read "Smile, you're in Kenya" So we did.
Through automatic glass does we saw so many anonymous faces with blank stares.  They all held white signs reading "Jones" or "Nbuyu".  We could've been anywhere in the world...were we really in Africa?  On the far right corner of all these stoic faces we saw a flash of red and blur of activity.  A woman was waving furiously. Lazier. She held a small (red) sign reading "Hope House Babies".  We were too excited to wait for our luggage. After what seemed like an eternity, we collected all six of our suitcases bursting with baby clothes, toys, and supplies. Lazier beamed, "Karibu, Welcome to Kenya. This is Amos." (whom we eventually came to know as "Pastor")

   Into the white Hope House van and the dark Kenyan night.  Lights speckled the highway and the roads tossed us into the air and back into our seats.  We exchanged scared glances whenever we hit a particularly large pothole.  BUT...we were in AFRICA, so we didn't mind being jostled.  The air smelled sweet and it was thick with wonderment.  We drove through downtown Nairobi while Pastor and Lazier chatted with us about our flight and about the city.  We arrived at Hope House around 9:30pm.  We dropped off the suitcases with the baby stuff and took a quick tour.  It's a tiny white house with a red roof.  With big walls and gates surrounding it, like they surround most homes in Nairobi.  The first baby we saw peak around a corner was Wycliffe.  Now we call him Wyky.  His eyes were so big and curious.  He was supposed to be asleep.  They all were.  Then, as we entered a room full of cribs, up popped Steven.  We later learned Steven has HIV and it will be hard to find him a family.  Melissa said Steven was running around his crib like it was on fire.  We knew he would be a troublemaker the second we met him.  Bye babies, see you in the morning.

We watched the sky grow dark
held our breath and... waited
Africa unfurled miles beneath us
laid out in a patchwork of fields
browns and greens and dreams
Unaware of the ways
our hearts would change
We imagined expanses of sand
with pure golden horizons
Children running barefoot with
smiles wider than we've seen
Bumpy roads and we're finally
Cacti trees dot the hilltops
The sun pounds our skin
and gives our faces a glow
Animals walk among us
prickers pierce our feet
Spirit-filled souls dance
leaping towards our God
Colors swirl around us
I want to hold on to this
but its slipping from my hands
Memories or dreams?
which are more real?
Africa will live inside of both.

                     Wycliffe and Melissa

                          Steven and I

   Then to our homestay. Dad a lawyer, Mom Julia, daughters Helen and Oscar, sons away at school.  Julie is hilarious and frazzled.  She speaks fast and makes quiet grunting noises to let you know she's listening.  She wears bright colors and her hair is either in three braids that stick straight out, or combed out all crazy.  We had chai and fruit when we arrived and Pastor prayed for our time here.  The dad (that's what we call him because he is hardly around and we can't remember his name) joked that Pastor Amos was Barack Obama's cousin.  He also joked about the recent violence in Kenya and America's reaction to it.  "One bush fire, and you Americans go running" he says.  Melissa fired back, "We're not running anywhere." he shoots right back, "Do you want a metal?"
Amy, Me, Julia, Helen, Melissa, Oscar

    We trusted God that Kenya would be a safe place when we arrived,  At 3:00 pm in Kenya, while we were still in the air overhead, they signed the agreement to share power, ending the violence and riots throughout Kenya.  God is good.  We realize now the fear we had in coming here was not a Godly fear, but a cowardly one.  God called us here in the first place, why would He put in us the fear to NOT do His will.  We are so glad we didn't listen to the people who flat out told us not to go.
    Our home stay has bright peach faux finished walls (that we saw several geckos on), big white leather couches, and a small T.V.  To get to our modest room, we had to walk outside and up two steps.  A bunk bed and another twin bed with a narrow space between would be our home for the next month.  Our bathroom was a small closet with a shower and a hole in the tile directly below that served as out toilet.  Needless to say we all got really good at squatting and aiming.

I hear they have cheap diamonds in Africa...2nd Journal Entry
   After our first sleepless night in Kenya, and hours of listening to the giant wristwatch shaped clock tick away next to our beds, we arose to what would be our first day in Africa.  We ate breakfast with Lazier (pronounced Liza) and Julia.  Little did we know at that moment the house girl "mama D" was stealing 2,000 shillings from each of us as she "made our beds".  Lazier walked us to Hope House, where we discussed some of her expectations for us over the next month.  Then Pastor Wally Coots (from our hometown in Michigan, who now resides in Kenya with his wife Donna) came to pick us up for a weekend we weren't soon to forget.  When images of Africa flash in one's mind, one thinks animals, tribal dancing, and the bush.  We saw a little bit of everything.  At least we felt like we did.  Wally first took us to the Masai Market, where we were overwhelmed with an ambush of colors, smells, and persistent vendors.  They tried anything to capture our attention.  One woman even asked if I would trade her my jeans for something she was selling.  Wasn't sure how she expected me to walk out of there without my pants.  I already was a white person in a sea of Africans....My appearance screamed "STARE AT ME!" I don't think I would be able to blend in any better without any pants.  After Wally did some grocery shopping he found us and showed us around the village marketplace, as we sat down for some lunch in the food court, he dove into a plethora of advice for us.  "Most Kenyans don't like random tourists snapping their pictures unless you have a relationship with them."  "Never leave your money anywhere, you can't trust anyone."  (Mistake number one...) "You think the potholes are bad in the city, just wait until we get to Kijabe!"  Wally and Donna live and work at the Rift Valley Acadamy.  A school for kids whose parents are on the mission field in Africa.  They moved there six year ago after their 10 year old son, Ethan was diagnosed with Lukemia and after his recovery asked if they could live there.
   As we drove from Nairobi to Kijabe, we saw rolling green hills and sprawling sugar cane fields.  We saw people walking with huge loads on their backs, or for the more fortunate, huge loads on their donkey carts.  We bumped and bounced along until Wally pulled over at a lookout.  Not just any lookout, we were overlooking the Great Rift Valley.  A view of massive hills and we could see deep into the valley.  He pointed out where we were headed.  Some roadside vendors tried to sell us sheepskin hats.  As we got back into the car Wally said, "They haven't had any business this month with all the violence.  There have been no tourists."  Suddenly I wanted a sheepskin hat.
 Back on the road and more visions of Africa.  Roadside fruit stands.  Women with babies or big sacks on their backs.  Little children running barefoot and waving.  We arrived in Kijabe and stopped at a tiny store right before entering the academy.  The stares were unavoidable.  Everyone seemed to know Wally and he greeted everyone with a jovial "Imsuri Sana!"  We said hello to a man with a sheepskin hat, oddly enough, whom Wally said lost his sister and was taking care of her eight children.  One of the many stories Wally would tell us about the people living in the hills surrounding Kijabe.  When we reached the academy, it was like a little world inside another world.  The flowers erupted from the bushes, the sky stretched on forever, the green was ubiquitous.  The climate was perfect.  The air crisp, clean and thin.  We were about 8,000 feet above sea level.  We ate dinner at the only restaurant for miles,   with Wally, Donna, and some of their students.  Mama Chiku's.  In Kenya, a mom is called by her first born's name.  Mama Chiku, or Mama Dennis,  We had a little bit of almost every Kenyan food.  Chipati (Literally the BEST) spinach and cale, ugali, somosas, beans and rice.  I piled as much as I could on my plate and ate every crumb...might have licked the plate.


                                              Melissa with Wally and Donna's dog Buckeye

Wally and Donna's backyard banana trees
Lions and Tigers and Bears, Masai....3rd Journal Entry
   We drove down from the Acadamy into a completely different climate.  The road down was like a Ford truck commercial but ironically Wally said American cars don't last long in Kenya.  I felt like we were driving down the side of a rocky cliff.  Green hills rose up into the sky on either side of us.  Big green cacti dotted the tops of the hills standing out against the crisp African sky.  We drove into the town of Naivasha.  We passed shacks and farmland, as Wally told us more stories of tribe against tribe and the displacement of the people.  We passed a huge tent village where there were hundreds of displaced people living under it's shade.   The hard life they live showers in there lined faces, their furrowed brows.  They stare at us with contempt in their eyes.  Or maybe they just don't smile much, I don't blame them.
   We continued on the Crescent Island, a once island, now peninsula where animals roam free with no fear of predators because there are none.  The animals were brought here for the filming of the movie "Out of Africa" (Meryl Streep and Robert Redford) and have since multiplied.  We met a quirky Brit named Linda who owns the land.  She was sassy and spoke in a hurried voice.  She said we had the island to ourselves that day because business had been slow for her as well.  Her little house seems so set apart from the rest of the world.  Paradise.  The view is incredible with giraffe roaming in her front yard.
The drive down from the Rift Valley Acadamy

Linda and Wally

Linda's Home

      We met our guide Moses, whose big smile warmed out hears and the big gap between his two front teeth made me like him even more.  He could spot a mouse 500 yards away.  We walked just feet away from giraffe and zebra.  A baby giraffe pranced gracefully next to his mother, umbilical chord still hanging from his belly.  I liked the funny names they have for some of the little animals. (i.e. Diku Diku).  Fish eagle flew overhead as we spotted a hippo, his eyes broke the surface of the water and then he leaps up.   Making all of us pee in out pants a little.  Water buffalo, wildebeast (Gnu), African Hare, Impala, and as Moses tells us a rare fortunate look at the white-tailed mongoose and her babies.  We walked for a couple hours, covering the whole island, pulling acacia prickers from our sandals the whole way.  A rewarding exhaustion and major sunburn later, we were saying goodbye to Moses, our new friend, and pulling away.

Moses our guide
A view of Crescent Island


     On the way back, I eased the grip on my camera as I realized each and every one of the pictures I wished I was getting were of someone's life.  Someone's baby, someone's father.  These were people, not pictures.  These are lives, not artwork to hang on my wall.  They are hardworking people who don't deserve the things that happen to them.  

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Masai continued... 4th journal entry
        Another adventure today.  Once in a lifetime, I can't believe some will never experience this in their lifetime.  The day started out with some more tumultuous driving.  We plunked down the hill again and over enormous rocks.  We even drove through a dried up riverbed.  During the rainy season, the rain literally washed the road away.  Once with my brother and some friends from camp we went off road in the jungles of Cazumel, Mexico with a rental car...we nearly destroyed it...but that was nothing, compared to this.  I chuckled when Wally asked Donna to try and remember the way.  There are no road signs in the bush. Just dirt "roads" (if you can call them roads) and not even landmarks (unless you can call the 'third big tree on the right' a landmark, and that's basically what they did to find it).  "Go left at that rock."  Deeper into the bush and we were there.  Wally preaches to the Masai tribe the first Sunday of the month.  He mentioned, "If you thought yesterday was cool, on a scale of 1 to 10, today will be an 11."  We pulled up to some mud huts with grass roofs.  About twenty children came sprinting to the car with huge smiles and curious glances.  Dressed in their Sunday best (ratty old dresses and donated clothes)
        Wally and Donna told us that if they put their heads down it means they want to be blessed, so you are to put your hand atop their little heads.  
"Supa!" (Masai greeting)  Our response "Apa!"  or instead of Supa you can greet them with "Messasiaso" which basically means "Praise the Lord"


The first person we officially met was a man they call teacher Simon.  As soon as they showed us their "offices" he started telling Donna the sorts of medicines they needed. (Donna is a nurse and will bring them what medicine she can when she comes).  Then we met another Simon.  He was the interpreter.  Most of the men had long colorful robes on, Simon had a crisp white collared shirt, blue jeans, and a pair of Reeboks on.  He began to tell us about their mission to educate local tribes on the dangers of HIV.  He said it's often spread because the men have so many wives and contract it and the pass it along to them.  Simon himself, works on translating AIDS informational pamphlets for different tribes.  He said when they first started to speak to the crowds everyone would walk away because no one wanted to talk about male and female organs.  "It's getting better." Simon says with a hopeful tone.  "People are starting to listen."  

     We met Milton, a member of the Lua tribe, who was forced from his home during the violence.  He told us how the Masai tribe took him in, only a few weeks ago, and now he called them family.  The women were more timid in greeting us.  They were dressed in beautiful vibrant colors with beads and earrings adorning their large earlobes.  Literally, what you would conjure up in your mind if you are thinking about African tribes in the bush.  
     We could hear tribal, worship permeating throughout the village.  So we walked in that direction, children still clinging to our sides.  We entered an oblong building with mud and dung walls and a tin roof.  The sun was getting higher in the sky and the smell of sweat and manure hit out nostrils like a brick wall as we entered.  But the music made us all exchange giddy glances.  There was one person with a drum that would sing and everyone would repeat.  They sat us up front with the men as different age groups got up and sang.  It was sweltering.  The movement in the small building made it much hotter inside than out.  The worship service lasted for three beautiful, sweltering hours.  We jumped, we sang, we danced with the Masai.  One woman was praying so hard to God, in a humbling position with her face to the ground.  Her prayers and tears mingled with the red dirt beneath us.  I tried to recall the last time I prayed to God so desperately.  It was about a month ago, right before a semi truck smashed into my car.  I remember telling God I was ready to be done, whenever He wanted to take me.  I wonder if that's how the woman felt.  I felt close to this woman.  I wanted to get face down right next to her and tell her how I've prayed the same way.  I wanted to wrap my arms around her.  Instead, I stood staring.  What if the semi had ended things a month ago? I never would've been in this mud hut in this moment with this woman.  God does have a plan in our lives and sometimes He crosses and weaves different people together into a beautiful basket full of His grace.  

      After the service we had lunch in Teacher Simon's mother's hut.  They gave us heaping bowls of steaming hot rice and potatoes with burning hot chai tea.  By the time we finished out lunch we were drenched in sweat.  Simon told us about village life and we talked about how Wally gave him ice cream once and he didn't like it.  They like hot food when it's hot outside, we are the opposite.  When it was time to go Simon shook my hand and said "give your family a blessing and tell them we love them."  then he said somethings that will be forever imprinted on my mind, "Don't forget about us." and I never will.

God give me Grace, so I don't kill her....Journal Entries 5,6, and 7
       Yesterday was my 25th birthday and we celebrated with Wally and Donna.  Today was our first day in the Hope House Babies home....our home for the next month.  Today was not exactly how I pictured it.  I guess I have never really taken care of 18 babies at once, so I was pretty green.  We weren't exactly trained so the three of us were thrown to the wolves.  I was waste deep in crap and vomit before noon.  This month is going to be a bigger challenge than I first thought.  I am not quite sure how I will do this 8 hours a day for three weeks.  I am getting a fast lesson in changing cloth diapers (with minimal running water),  feeding six babies at once,  doing laundry (did I mention minimal running water?) and trying to keep them from killing each other.  

Meet the babies!

                                                                 Candy and John

                                                         Imani (it means faith in Swahili)
                                                    Jaquie (the smallest, only two months)

These were two new arrivals right before we left....I can't recall their names

 Today was so much better than yesterday! We felt a lot more prepared and now we know what to do.
Morning play time
1st nap
afternoon play time (outside)
Afternoon nap
Chai and bread time (for us!)
Walk time
(Then our shift is over right before dinner time)
Between all those times are bottles and diapers and medicine (you wouldn't believe the amount of medicine for some of them) and hitting, and crying, and books, and running in circles, and babies slamming other babies in cupboards, and bubbles, and music, and exercise (some need extra help with their walking, or sitting up on their own) and so much more.

     To us, sometimes the staff here seem lazy.  They do work 12 hour shifts, so I guess I can't blame them. And it's hard as hell to take care of 18 babies.  Maybe lazy is the wrong word, unmotivated.  Wally says that a Kenyan with a vision is a rare find.  I wonder if the women here even have any dreams or goals. The staff here spend so much time changing, burping, feeding, cleaning, and doing laundry that they don't really have the energy to give the love and attention the babies deserve.  The babies are just a job to them.  It's tragic really.  So whenever there are volunteers like us, the babies fight for the love and attention they are starving for.  One toddler will literally push another toddler off your lap so they can crawl onto it.  They just want that one on one time. The staff aren't exactly loving on the babies.  In fact, just the opposite, one staff member, named Grace, slapped little Steven right across the face, for spilling his milk.  Yep.  God give me Grace so I don't kill her.
      We made several trips to the hospital with the babies.  We just held them in our arms as the van bumped and jerked over potholes...that's car seat laws here.  I was holding Jaquie so tight I thought I might squeeze her to death, but I really couldn't bear the thought of accidentally throwing her up in the air as we hit a particularly large pothole.  As we drove through the slums we had to slow down because the hoards of people were moving so slowly.  As we slowed, people banged on the windows.  At one point we slowed almost to a complete stop and some men were staring at me with Jaquie in my arms, telling me to bring her out.  It was a little scary.


The air is sweet
and the wind gracious
You brought me here
and Your strength sustains us
They are little souls
with big brown eyes
my body is tired
but my spirit alive
flowers adorn every tree
and it's perfect now
I can just be
The people can laugh
now that peace is restored
I am breathing in this country
and loving it more

It's not our hummer...8th Journal Entry

            We did get a day off every once and awhile, and believe me, it was so needed.  Today we woke up at 6:00 a.m. to meet Lazier and her son Bajo for church.  We boarded a bus,   As we drove into the city center, we asked Lazier how many people live downtown, she said none. It's all businesses.  I really felt like I was in Africa today.  The service was in an enormous open air, tin roofed building.  The pastors shouted, the choir broke it down, and the congregation danced and lifted their hands.  The two hour service raised questions in my mind about why the churches I have attended in the states don't worship like this.  This is worship. Sweaty, crazy, let it all go worship.   On the way home, instead of a bus we boarded a matatu (the local transportation, basically run down mini-vans with loud music and insane drivers).  We were hunched over, crammed in, and the music was deafening. 

Amy and Bajo on the bus

Lazier's church

Our first Matatu ride

           Later in the day our home stay mom's brother James came and picked us up for an excursion.  Our home stay sister Oscar tagged along with us.  He picked us up in a Hummer.  We aren't exactly sure how he makes his money, but it sounded shady.  The three of us felt strange driving around in the third world, in a hummer.  He took us to the outdoor market and I never felt so weird getting out of a vehicle in my life.  The people were staring at us with daggers in their eyes.  I wanted to yell "It's not our Hummer!!!" But we were white, and to them, that's how we live.  Driving around Africa in Hummers.  But even though my life isn't lavish in the states, I did feel like I live a privileged life when I see the poverty here.  James drove us to a place called Paradise Lost where we walked a trail to a waterfall, through a cave, past an enormous lake.  It was so beautiful.  The whole day though I couldn't help thinking we were getting to enjoy a day off of leisure while the staff was still slaving away at Hope House.  I tried to enjoy the day of rest but it was hard.  Before we left we drove around some go carts and I was able to laugh and enjoy myself.
Walking to the waterfall with Oscar

In the cave!


James and his iPhone (I think iPhones were brand new at this point)

Ugali, Chapati, and snapshots of Africa...9th Journal Entry
Just blocks away from one of the richest neighborhoods in Kenya (the Westlands) is one of the poorest areas.  After our day at Hope House Laizer took us to meet her family.  Her mother told us she pays 4,000 shillings a month to live in her tiny one room shack with Laziers sisters.  This is about 60 US dollars.  She said it takes her a month to earn the money just to pay the rent.  They were asking us how long it would take to raise $60 in the U.S.  If someone makes a little more than minimum wage it would only take them 6 hours. 


They showed us their "bathroom" and pointed down the hill towards the slums.  We couldn't believe they weren't living in the slums.  Yes, those were the poor people.  What was this then? Middle class? 


It wasn't sad though, in fact we laughed a lot and had some great conversations.  At one point, I can't even remember how it happened, but Laizer's hair came off and ended up on my head.  Melissa and Amy had to try it on as well.  We had them rolling on the floor. 

We walked around the area, past shacks with full cows hanging in the windows, past mangy haggard looking dogs, past men roasting cow intestine on the grill, past little kids running through garbage piles with no shoes.  The air was warm and cool and perfect as we walked back to our room at our home stay.  When we walked inside Melissa said, "Their house was smaller than this room." and it was.
Sisters with sisters

Laizer's mom

Having fun with hair

The slums down the hill from their home

the butcher

Melissa and Bajo

Snapshot: We were driving with Amos and Laizer from the hospital after picking up Jackie, one of the smaller babies, we stopped for gas and the gas attendant said something in Swahili to them.  They burst into laughter. Laizer said "He said he wanted to take one of you!"  "What?!" Amos asked him which one and he said "any of them, they are all cute." We laughed along with them, but it kinda freaked us out.

Snapshot: We started off the day in a deafening matatu, the music was so loud I thought my brain would melt out of my ears. The driver was the craziest we've had yet.  We were inches away from flattening a dozen Africans. At one point we reached the end of a road and the door swung open and I saw the strangest sight. One man was leading another man by his arm and at first, I thought he was blind but as they got closer I saw mud all over his face and blood dripping down the side of his head.  It looked like he'd just gotten into a fight.  Seconds later a white priest and a nicely dressed African got on our Matatu all the while obscene lyrics blasted over the speakers.  Flashes of city life blew by us through a rose tinted window.  I got a little nauseous while the matatu blazed a new trail in the middle of a two lane road.  Then we moved onto a larger bus with large pictures of Osama Bin Laden, Suddam Hussein and President Bush, with the words "Who is the illest?" and inside the bus they added Hitler.  We sat in the back and every time we hit a bump we flew a foot or two in the air.  By the time we reached our destination, I didn't know which way was up.

Snapshot: We walked over 3 miles today to get some junk food.  One pizza, three cokes, and six very dirty feet later...we were full, exhausted and satisfied.  

Easter Sunday...He has risen all over the world! 10th Journal Entry
I feel like writing down the things that happened today could never convey the things that happened today.  No words would do today justice.  Today I have been changed...forever.  Today we saw the poorest in Kenya and we saw the richest.  We helped Pastor Amos load some of the old toys/clothes from Hope House into the van to bring to his church.  He told us how in need his church really is, how sick some are, how he has buried so many.  He said he lives by faith and that something good can come even from the slums.  We drove to the slum, we got out of the van and started meandering through the narrow paths lined with tin houses.  We walked through chickens and baby ducks and women doing laundry, children playing in the dirt.  The smell of piss and shit hit us like a ton of bricks.  I don't know how else to describe that smell but to use those words.  They seem fitting.  But the breeze felt good on my face and the occasional "Habari!" (Hello) felt good to my soul.  

Amos told us this is where a lot of the violence happened a few months earlier.  We entered a tiny church, which is directly next to another tiny church, both of which are no bigger than my living room. We met Amos' wife Mebo.  We sat on a thin bench and listened to the first pastor, Chris, preach about giving.  He was lively and funny and my heart was immediately convicted about how I give.  He spoke in English and Pastor Stanley translated into Swahili. This church has only 3 walls, a mud floor, and all their plastic chairs were stolen because there is no door.  Their microphones don't really work.  No musical instruments although they'd love some.  To finish the entire church the cost would be 300 U.S. dollars.  Something I could get in five minutes if I asked my church at home.  
The service was 3 hours long.  Amos introduced us to the congregation and told them we were servants of Christ and we would take their message of need back to our churches. 
Amos gave the main Easter message, we sang, people gave testimony.  One woman praised God for not sending rain so the floors weren't muddy for the service today, and as soon as the service was over, it was like God opened up the sky and dumped all the rain from the heavens right on our little section of the earth. 

L to R: Pastor Chris, Pastor Amos, Pastor Stanley

 Melissa and I started to distribute the clothes, it was all pretty civil until the rain started seeping into the ground beneath us and then....chaos.  Kids were diving into the bags putting things under their shirts until they bulged.  They were trampling over each other.   In the chaos, I saw the littlest one crying underneath all the older kids' feet.  I picked him up so he wouldn't get squished.  At one point, his mother was frantically looking for him and once I waved and gave her the assurance he was ok, she smiled and continued searching through the clothes.  The mud was starting to really get thick...this only made them go faster.  One little girl sat on a bench in the corner, clutching her little stuffed monkey like someone was going to steal it from her.

Check out the mud in the church!

Pastor Chris asked us questions about where we were from and told us God would bless is for giving.  I think he thought all the stuff was from us.  He didn't even know it was because we had given all the new stuff to the orphanage, so this was just their old stuff.  It felt weird being thanked for these old things we didn't even bring.  I wanted to give them so much more.  I wished I had brought my entire suitcase with us and given them everything inside. 
 I cried when Amos prayed at the end of church.  It was a powerful prayer where he asked for God's blessings on us.  I feel we already have so many blessings.  We should be praying for God to bless them.  They preached about giving and people who had nothing to give came to the front of the church and laid down the few coins they had, I cried then too.  
After the service Amos took us around to homes of people of the congregation.  The first home we entered was a husband a wife with a little boy with the name Tony.  The husband was complaining of a pain in his stomach so Amos and Chris prayed over him.  The room smelled of feces and there was a dampness to everything.  When we left their house Melissa asked what was wrong with the husband.  Amos told us he was living with Aids.
We then had lunch at Amos' house.  His wife Mebo cooked for us and cleaned the mud off our tennis shoes.  Such a humble servant.  We met Hilary his son and Wendy his daughter.  We talked about the things we had witnessed in the slums, over hot bowls of potato and beef stew.  

Little Tony

Pastor Amos, his wife Mebo, Hilary and Wendy

Later in the evening we had been invited to Maya's house.  She is a volunteer at Hope House who we have gotten to know very well over the last month.  We had no idea she lived in a mansion.  Her mother made us a huge Easter dinner.  (Actually I think her servants might have made it).  We felt like we were in an entire different world than we had been in the morning.  The poorest to the richest.  Maya's dad works in the Sudan as a diplomat, but he's from Finland.  Maya's mom is from the Bronx.  Very interesting family.  The food was a welcome treat to our tastebuds.  It tasted like home.  All our meals in Kenya are starting to taste so bland.  The same rice and beans everyday.  They had mashed potatoes (ahhh my favorite!) corn bread, chicken, peas and carrots. Mmmmm.  We even had cherry pie and ice cream for dessert.  They aren't big on dessert here.  After dinner we sat around with Maya and he mom and talked about politics and race and social issues.  Although the conversation and company was great, I couldn't help thinking about the people that live a mile down the road, sleeping in the damp tin houses tonight while we lounged on the sofas at Maya's.  
These are the only photos of Maya we have...we forgot to take some with her!

The outside of Maya's house

Inside Maya's house

This was the most memorable Easter Sunday I've ever had.  Today I came face to face with the reality that Jesus died for everyone.  The rich, the poor, the in-between.  He came to save the lost.  When he rose again on Easter, the whole world was changed.  This Easter, my whole world was changed.  I believe in a God who died and rose again.  And He loves this world, as broken as it is.  What a celebration.  

Saying Goodbye to Kenya...Last Journal Entry

Leaving the babies for the last time was a strange and gripping feeling.  We went in with our cameras, capturing the last moments we had with the 20 little ones we have been taking care of for the last three weeks.  I took a few pictures, I didn't even want to take them.  I didn't want to remember the last time, but it was already making a permanent place in my memory.  These last shots with my camera will only bring loss to mind whenever I view them.  I've lost the little ones that I love.  I've let them go with only the hope that families will love and protect them in the way I would have.  The very last moment I had in Hope House was Moses running assuredly into my open welcoming arms with a giant grin on his face.
Huge bear hug....release...and we're gone.
With only the overflowing love in our hearts and the empty spaces left forever by 20 little souls.  Keep them safe and loved and happy Lord.  This is my desperate prayer for them.

Goodbye Moses

Beauty comes in so many ways.  For me, in Africa, beauty presented itself in the faces of the people I have grown to love over the past month.  How could I know that I would fall absolutely and completely in love with these people?  The first face is Lazier.  She was the first face to light up upon our arrival and the last face we saw welling up with tears as we departed.  She loves God and her son Bajo.  She likes a good long conversation and is never in a hurry.  Her voice goes up three octaves when she thinks something is particularly funny. 

Amos, the second hand we shook when we arrived, would extend his hand to us in so many more ways over our entire stay.  He loves and truly respects his little family.  His smile was something I would look for every single day.  It was like a sun burst shooting through a dark cloud.  He loves to sing and has dedicated his life to the slum.  He doesn't eat meat, not because he doesn't want to, but because the rest of his congregation can't afford it. 

We left tonight with the sinking feeling that this is the last time in, God knows how long, that we will see these people.  The drive to the airport was one of those memories you want to hold onto.  Like a good piece of chocolate that melts way too fast.  It was one of those times that was there and suddenly gone before you had a chance to savor it.  I will treasure it.  We were stuck in crazy Kenyan traffic, Amos behind the wheel and Lazier and Bajo up front riding next to him.  There were busses and mattes stuck in the mud on the side of the road after trying to create their own lane.  Cars kept cutting Amos off and after getting impatient, Lazier reminded him he was a man of God.  We all laughed and then started to sing a song Bajo taught us called "Mambo Sawa". Amos taught us the rest of it and we all joined in on a rousing chorus of the song together.  
The words of the song translated mean: things are getting better, things are getting better, when the Lord is on the throne, things are already better.
I will never in my life forget the joy/bitterness I felt as we sang and laughed together.  Then, out of a side street came a long line of cars with flashing lights and one souped up SUV.  Amos informed us it was Raila Odinga, the new Prime Minister of Kenya.  The man that was part of the reason for the violence, was suddenly in the car in front of us.  The moment became somber for me because I realized what God had brought full circle.  We pushed our trip back for months because of the violence, we prayed for the people of Kenya that we did not know...and now...we know them.  I am in love with these people that I anguished over and prayed for.  Now I know them, now I am leaving them.  
At the airport, Amos hugged us all twice, the second hug, I didn't want to let go.  He is one of my new favorite people in the world.  A living, breathing example of Christ.  I didn't even want to look into Lazier's eyes because I was trying not to break down.  When I did look at her, she was trying just as hard and that's when I knew I would be connected with this woman for the rest of my life.  She is my sister.  My friend.  I will miss her laugh.
Goodbye Kenya...until we meet again.