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It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, and a lot has been going on, but I am constantly amazed at how God works everything out.  I truly am awed at the way HE provides for my needs and takes care of me.  He gives me peace in the midst of trials because I know that HE loves me and will provide for me.  When there are times when I could worry, this verse reminds me of what God thinks…Matthew 6:25-27  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (NIV)

Time and time again, I have seen God either provide for my needs or the needs of others in my life.  I am especially blessed when God uses me to meet the needs of others. I feel privileged to be chosen to be HIS hands and feet in the lives of others, whether it be to my coworkers, my students, or the kids in the slums that I visit every week.  No matter where in the world I go, I am home when I am serving in Jesus’ name, for it is not with my own strength or power that I am able to do these but through HIS strength and power.

So what is the current news??

I am still teaching at West Nairobi School for at least another year, although we are currently on summer break and about to start back.  So I spent the summer back in the US visiting family and friends, and getting the wonderful opportunity to tell everyone, in person, of all the things that I have done while in Africa. Check out this slide show of some of these.  My Missions In Kenya

I have also had the opportunity to teach the same kids for two years in row and for one group it will be three after next year.  It truly is wonderful to see them grow and mature in so many areas of their lives, emotionally, intellectually and especially spiritually.  I look forward to another wonderful year influencing these kids for the kingdom of Christ in the coming year.

Since I last posted, I have moved to a new house outside of Nairobi and gained new roommates because my old roommate got married and is returning to the US. It is a new experience living with more people but I am really enjoying getting to know them and spending time with them.  We have a more private compound with lots of greenery (which I really enjoy), more room and it is so much quieter than living in the city.  We do however have to deal with the screeches of the bush babies at night.  Sounds http://www.mnh.si.edu/mammals/pages/where/africa/bushbaby_activity.htm   Info  http://www.awf.org/content/wildlife/detail/bushbaby

We also have faster internet, when it is working, which is a blessing to be able to connect with people back in the US.  We do have more frequent power outages than at my last apartment (there were benefits to living down the street from the power company), but we just get out the headlamps, candles and flashlights so life continues.  I am also cooking more, and I am learning to cook more and more things and hope my roommates like it.

One of the things that I have really enjoyed doing is volunteering in a nearby slum, at a children’s center that has a school and dormitories for orphans and vulnerable children.  My next post will be exclusively focused on this wonderful place that God has brought me to.  So stay tuned by subscribing to my blog and you will get an e-mail each time I post.

I really have been awed by how much I have been changed by the experience of serving God in Kenya.  I am more relaxed because I have learned to put my trust in God and HIS power and not depend on my own strength and power.  I have been able to open up my heart and my life to so many people than I would have thought possible.  And I have become so thankful for the way that God has chosen to use me in the lives of those around me.  Sometimes it is just being there to lend a listening ear and sometimes it is following Gods leading doing something to be a blessing to others.  Afterwards I am humbled because it is only through my willingness to be used by God, that allowed me to be a part of it….God did the rest of it and I give HIM the glory and honor, because I am just His servant.  It is really all about what God is doing through me, and it is not about me, but I have been changed by it.
Committing to an additional year serving HIM in Africa has also meant additional expenses for me.  These include buying out my roommate of our car and furniture, and taking on all of the insurance, AAA and repairs of the car on my own, instead of sharing those costs with a roommate.  In addition, I have some medical expenses that I can’t cover from my small salary and health insurance only covers so much, if at all.  If you can help me in my ministry by helping me to cover some of these expenses, please click on the “How you can help” tab at the top of this page.   From that page you can click on the donation form.  Serving the Lord internationally truly is a calling and I can’t do it without your prayer and financial support.

Would you please consider becoming a partner with me in this ministry? Click on the “How you can help” tab at the top or on the side bar.

Blessings, Pam

I wrote the following poem a while back after seeing these ladies carrying the wood they had gathered in the forest.  I am always amazed at what some of the people here have to go through to just exist and my heart weeps for them.

These ladies make a daily journey to collect wood in the forest near my school and they carry it for long distances back to their homes.

A poem by Pam Higgins

What I’ve Seen

Oh what my eyes have seen

Oh what my ears have heard

At the depths of your need

My heart weeps and my soul stirs

I have seen you walking on the road

With wood and sticks on your back

Women of every age, carrying the load

So you can cook in your humble home

Do you go home to a house made of sticks?

Or is it made of scraps of tin and wood?

Is the grass roof set atop walls of mud bricks?

Or is your only shelter, a simple tent?

Do you have enough food in your belly?

Do you have enough water to drink?

Are you living life day to day?

Because tomorrow you might just sink?

Do your children go to school?

Or do they work, just like you?

To find wood, water and food?

Because to survive, they must work too.

I see your need and I weep

Because what can I do?

I am only one person,

I can’t help all of you.

But Jesus has given me a vision

Of something I can do

With education and training

Of showing you life anew.

With a hand up, not a handout

To restore the land of your ancestors

To make it prosper again, in time

And provide you with open doors

To teach you how to treat the land

The land that God has given

To be the caretaker of his creation

Just like in the Garden of Eden

God will bless the efforts

Of restoring the land, you will see

It will change so many things.

And provide your needs abundantly

This is not a one person task

Everyone needs to get involved

To change even one life

Is a great gift, after all.

There is a need for many partners

I know God will provide

The hands and feet of workers

And the necessary  provision

Oh what His kingdom will be like

When it is time He comes again,

But until then we must care for

both the Earth and our neighbors.

Oh what my eyes have seen

Oh what my ears have heard

At the depths of great need

My heart weeps and my soul stirs

Does yours???

So based on the title, you may be wondering how my life here can be anything but REAL.  There are definitely differences from living in the US, but my real life is NOT the way most Kenyans live.  So this blog will contrast my life in Nairobi, with the way most Kenyans live.  If any of my Kenyan friends are reading this, please make comments or additions in the comment section at the bottom.

Nairobi is a modern city, in a developing third world country.  It has skyscrapers, public transport, modern housing, international hotels and an international airport that is now the busiest hub in Africa (not that you would know that by looking at it).   It has modern supermarkets (similar to Walmart), shopping malls, and lots of international restaurants (but no Mexican :-( ) . It has electricity, but we also have rolling blackouts and right now our blackouts tend to be on Tuesdays from about 9:00 am to about the time it gets dark, although sometimes it is on Sunday’s.

ous is the second from the left and holds 2300 liters

We also have running water, although it only comes once a week.  So large water storage tanks are a necessity (see pic to the right). A borehole well is the best because you don’t have to depend on the city water, but that only helps if it works (ours hasn’t worked since December).

But Nairobi also has slums with millions living in EXTREME poverty and everything else in between the wealthy and the poor. Some with electricity and access to water and some not.  But once you leave the big cities, life becomes very different.

So what is my life like???
Well I live in a modern apartment building in a gated compound with a gate guard.  While there is nothing fancy about my apartment, it is very nice with tile floors, nice kitchen cabinets with granite countertops, built in wardrobes with vanity in the bedrooms, nice bathroom with a walk in shower, sink and commode toilet. We have electricity (most of the time) and large water storage tanks for when the city sends water ONCE a week (see above pic).  (We used to have a borehole well but the pump broke and still hasn’t been fixed.)  And it costs the same as a comparable apartment in the US, a real bite out of my budget considering I make 1/4 of my US salary, which makes it beyond the affordability of the masses in Kenya, who make only a dollar or two a day.   For a tour of my apartment…click on this pdf file link  My apartment in Nairobi updated Oct 2011

Brick/rock house being added on to

So where do these people live??  As I said there are all ranges of housing available.  Those who make a similar or better salary than me, live in a very nice apartment, townhouse, or stand alone house that can be very similar to what is found in the US.  But as salary goes down, so does the standard of housing.  If one makes enough but not a lot, they will live in a small concrete block house, with multiple rooms.  If they make enough it could be built with more aesthetics (like tile floors and nice woodwork), but it might just have plaster over the bricks and a concrete floor.

These houses will most likely have electricity.  The kitchens tend to be very basic and small, and more likely to have a two burner propane stove than a large stove and oven we are used to and have in our apartment. They may or may not have a refrigerator, which is definitely a luxury here.

Typical mud brick house in a village near Naivasha

Another type of house that is very common and is built out of long branches and mud bricks with a dirt floor, which is a traditional construction that can be seen all over Africa. These types of houses are more often seen in rural areas outside of the cities, but you can find them anywhere.  I have seen a few built on a concrete foundation but I think that is rare.

"plastered" mud brick house in Korogosho slum (NE Nairobi)

Sometimes a mud plaster is made to coat the inside and outside of the mud brick, so it kind of looks like it is stucco  I’ve seen larger  houses made with this mud brick construction and then covered with real plaster and you really can’t tell the difference between one made of concrete block (also sometimes covered in plaster), That is if it is made well.

Grass or sisal roof

The roofs may have tin,  but in rural areas will most likely be made of woven palm branches or dried sisal leaves.   In areas that don’t have these plants they use the mud bricks and have kind of a rounded roof.  Basically this type of house can be built from local raw materials, minus the concrete.

In ground toilet...also known as a "squatty potty"

There will probably be an outhouse with a squatty potty, which could have a concrete floor with a sunken toilet but could just have a concrete floor with a hole. The one in the picture has a water line connected to a water tank. Although, it would be very rare to have water pipes to some of these houses and they probably have to go to a local tap to buy water in cans or even buy it from someone bringing the cans on donkey carts. Sometimes they have to walk a long ways to get water from a river, stream or pond and it is NOT safe to drink, but it is all they have.  Obviously they would be taking bucket baths and if they are lucky they have a bathing area with a concrete floor. By the way, these houses could be square or round and could have varying degrees of separation inside from half walls to curtains.

built in 'stove', see where the pot is sitting. Not sure if they wanted me to cook but that would have been a disaster.

They probably have a cooking area where a charcoal or wood burning “stove” is built;  ideally it would have a chimney but most just vent out a small hole at the top of the house.  Or they might just have a portable stove, called a jiko that uses various fuels, from wood, to sawdust, to charcoal.  If the house is tall enough it might have a storage loft and dividing walls inside.

So what is next??? Slum housing.

Korogosho slum in NE Nairobi

I’m not sure any words I put on this page could adequately give you a true picture of this in your head, but I’ll try.

Houses (and shops) made of scrap wood and tin siding

The slums could have mud brick houses but more than likely they are made out of scrap materials.    The frame made out of sticks, with either scrap wood or tin on the sides and usually tin on the roof.  They tend to be very small and cramped.   In some areas these are built on concrete foundations but usually they have dirt floors.   If they are lucky they have a door with a padlock, but many just have a curtain hanging in the doorway.   Most activities are done outside if possible, but if it is raining that just isn’t possible.  Can you imagine using a charcoal grill inside in a small enclosed space???  Not good breathing conditions.

The slums usually do not have electricity running to every dwelling.  If they are on a main street (ie. big enough to drive a car on) then they might have electricty, and there are no switches just a breaker, so either everything is on or nothing is on.   So there is a local missions organization that are making and installing “water bulbs”.  These are made out of two liter soda bottles, filled with water and a little bleach. Then they cut a hole in the tin roof, drop the bottle in and seal around it with caulking.  Awesome project of Kenyans helping Kenyans.

Let there be light...and quite a bit too.

Water bulb to get light inside the slum house

On the roof to install a water bulb

Local water tank funded by a missions group from Ireland

There is very little sanitation in the slums and consequently EASILY preventable disease.  Kenya is starting to build localized PAY toilet facilities to correct this problem, but there aren’t nearly enough yet.   And clean water is always a problem.  In the city’s slums there is usually a local tap to buy water from, but you still have to carry it back to your dwelling, usually on a daily basis.  And the water still has to be treated or filtered to make it safe to drink.   The tank pictured at the left is run by a missions organization to provide a water souce locally.

Huts with a stick framework covered in cloth

Then there are the “tents” for lack of a better word.  They build a round skeleton of sticks onto which they put tarps or scraps of material or anything else that is handy. They can even be covered in grass or sisal leaves.  These are more typical of mobile people groups, who frequently move as they move their herds of livestock.

There is only one type of housing that I can think of that is worse than this (other than the lack of one at all) and that is the tents in the refugee camps along the border of Somalia, which is in the midst of the worse famine in 60 years.  Most of the camps have twice to four times as many people as they were designed for,  so sanitation and lack of food and supplies is a huge problem.  The current drought is a huge problem and people are starving to death. If they are ‘lucky’ they will have a modern tent, but most are living in stick and cloth constructions, without even a tarp on top.  We aren’t allowed to visit this area as it is a restricted zone for good reason, so my only knowledge comes from the news reports.  The largest refugee camp in the world is in Northern Kenya, so if you want to see pictures or new reports look up Dadaab Refugee Camp.  Here is a link to BBC online slideshow.  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-14119487

 

Pictures and illustrations are the only way for you to get a visual of this, but to truly understand it, you would need to experience it.   There is a saying that a picture is worth a thousand words.  If that is true than experiencing it would be a worth million, because there aren’t pictures or words enough to truly describe what I have seen and experienced in this country.

If you want to get a small sense of the slums, then click on this video below.  Sorry for the poor filming but it is hard to walk, watch where you are walking and try to take video without being conspicuous.  Unfortunately I can’t replicate the smells of the slum, especially the ‘sewage’ ditch we were walking beside.

Video walking through Korogosho slum    

May your day be blessed by this post, and may you be truly thankful for the roof over your head, the amenities and luxuries in your house, and your wealth of possessions, because if you live in the US, you are probably in the top 8% of the worlds wealthiest people.

Blessings Pam

 Yes the school year is over and I am moving on to other things during the summer. I haven’t been very diligent about updating this blog and I have to apologize for that. My busyness this year, which I thought would be less, actually wasn’t. So I want to spend some time on this update with a review of what this year was like with regards to being a teacher at an International Christian school. I began the year with high expectations of both my students and the experience, maybe too high. I quickly realized that my students here were pretty much the same as my students back in the states, even if their accents are different. Many had the same bad habits as my former students of not doing their homework, not putting their name on their papers, talking when they shouldn’t and all those things that teenagers do everywhere it seems. Every year there are those children who challenge me with those behaviors and this year was no exception. And there are always those students who are bright spots in my day, whether it is just to make me laugh or to make me proud of the progress I see in their lives and their academics. It is always my hope that I have positive influence in their lives, and I hope and pray that they are able to see Jesus in me and how much I truly care about their lives. I am so excited that next year I will be able to teach some of the students again. The 8th graders are of course moving on to high school, but the 6th and 7th graders will be moving up and I will have the wonderful opportunity to teach them again. And I will also get to teach the new 6th graders moving up from 5th grade, most of whom I have met already. What a great opportunity to continue the relationships I had with them this year, to already know their strengths and weaknesses and guide them to a successful year.

One of the best things about this year was being able to worship with my students in chapel each week. Of course trying to worship and keeping one eye open for misbehaving students is not always the easiest thing to do, but I loved it anyway. The lessons in chapel were geared not only to help the students see what God was like, but also their need for HIM. Despite the fact that I teach at a Christian school, many of my students are not saved and have not put their lives and faith in Christ. Most probably go to church on Sunday, but that only makes them a churchgoer not a Christian, not a follower and disciple of Christ. When they realize that they are sinners, and they have no power in themselves to conquer that sin…and then see that Jesus does have the power to conquer sin in HIS death on the cross, then they will see their need for HIM. I know that some of my students came so far this year in their thinking and I pray that they continue on that journey of learning of who Christ is and what HE can do for them. I also pray for the students who do know Christ, as they struggle with the temptations and peer pressure of their unbelieving peers. They struggled so much this year in trying to be an example and to not follow the crowd, knowing that it wasn’t God honoring behavior. I encourage those students with this scripture from 1 Timothy 4: 12 “Don’t let anyone look down on your because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” And from Ephesians 5:1 “Be imitators of God, therefore as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” I pray that they will get strength and courage from the Lord and be able to be a witness to their peers.

 Overall, I really enjoyed this year of teaching. It was probably the hardest year, with 3 different grades and 4 different preparations for class. I have to be much more organized next year so I don’t feel like I am just barely keeping my head ahead above the water. The planning time that it takes for 4 preps left little time for much else. I was exhausted by the end of each day and just wanted to go home, eat and go to bed. In the states, when I had days like that, I would veg out in front of the TV, but I really don’t have TV here, so that is not a distraction. Next year I will probably also be teaching bible and if something doesn’t change I may end up with teaching two different electives, which means 5 preps each semester. I hope the schedule can be worked out so that I don’t have to teach anything else as I will have very little planning time. That is one of my biggest prayers for school for next year, that I will be organized and be able to plan for all my classes and have time to grade papers quickly.

A few Highlights from this school year:

 -teaching on the most beautiful school campus on Earth (amazing) and having lunch outside everyday looking at the beautiful rain forest beyond the school.

-watching my privileged students interact with underprivileged kids from a slum school (priceless)

 -tacky day during spirit week….always amazed at what they think is tacky. (humorous)

-the grounds keepers killing a hyrax (very large rodent) right outside the classroom (horrible)

 -the Christmas talent show (nervousness, anxiety, joy and heartbreak)

 -the girls lock-in: roasting hotdogs and making smores (awesome…most had never roasted a marshmallow).

 -Middle school game night: an evening of games and movies on campus. (uh no words)

 -finding a dying bush baby (a very tiny primate) right outside of our building (very sad)

 -all the kids with the soft spot in their hearts for our two impaired students (agape love at its best)

 -getting internet in the classroom (YEAH!!!) -frequent finds on campus of chameleons, interesting insects, birds and other occasional animals (wonderous)

 – seeing my 8th graders teaching the 2nd graders about forces (proud)

 -seeing my environmental science class teach the pre-K students about recycling. (proud and humorous)

 -also the Middle schoolers helping the kindergarteners catch bugs (too funny)

-the beginning of recycling program at the school (very glad and very necessary)

 -teaching some of my students how to do sustainable gardening (frustrating with NO rain)

-seeing my ‘cool’ boys choke up on the last day of school (sweet)

 -saying goodbye to the few who wouldn’t be back next year (very sad).

 So that is this school year in a nutshell so to speak. Sorry there aren’t any pictures but I would have to get written permission to post the students’ photos. I know that next year will be even better than this year as some of the challenges are behind me and I know that God will give me the strength and courage to face whatever challenges are presented for next year. I pray that God blesses my school and brings students, faculty and staff even closer to HIM. May we serve HIM with joy, awe and wonder, always and forever.

Blessing In Christ, Pam

Next Blog coming soon….Foreign to Familiar (RE: living in foreign country and how it has changed me): next few blogs will focus on ministry and missions that I have gotten involved in.

Safari in Kenya!!!

Ok, Ok, Ok!  I know some of you have been waiting for this one.  So I’ll keep my writing short.  During our Thanksgiving break we went on our first real safari to Lake Nakuru Park.  We actually stayed IN the park overnight in a nice little cottage, overlooking a grassy area with water buffalo, zebra and impala just roaming around.  It is absolutely amazing to me, when I look at God’s creation, how marvelous it all is.    24 “And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:24-25 NIV)

It is truly indeed good to be able to see all of HIS wonderful creations walking freely on the land.  I have to say, that going to the zoo will forever be ruined for me after seeing all of these animals in their natural environment.  Even the artificial ‘natural’ environments at Zoo Atlanta cannot compare to the real thing.  And what was so amazing was that most of the time the animals completely ignored us, even the lions.  They knew that the vehicles were no threat to them and so they just ignored us.  The only ones that didn’t were the water buffalo, which even charged the van at one point. 

 Click on the link below for a slideshow of some of the pictures.  I did borrow ones from my friends, as my camera doesn’t have a good zoom and I was busy taking video so I missed getting still pictures of some of things.  

 Pam’s First Safari  

And I took quite a bit of video. Which is also why it has taken me so very long to post this. In retrospect I probably should have just posted one video a day because it took so long to put one on here and there are dozens. First I had to save them into a format that could be posted on wordpress, then I had to upload them to blog.  And since my internet is SLOOOWWWW as in dial up slow, it took like a minimum of 5 minutes just to upload and then more time to process the video for posting.  In other words it too a while and so I did a few at a time.  Anyway, each of the videos below is of a different animal species or multiple species.  I merged the clips of each type together into one video, so a few are a little longer than I intended, so the scene may change after a minute to a completely different one so be sure not to turn it off too soon (or just fast forward to the next scene).  And since I am not a NatGeo videographer I didn’t narrate many of them although you will hear us talking on the video.  So get a snack and a drink and pretend you are riding in a safari van with us.  Enjoy!!! 

Intro to Safari

Impala

Lions (simba in Swahili)

More lions

Baboons

More baboons

And Baboons UP CLOSE

Bird of Prey 1 Eagle species

bird of Prey 2 (only 3 second not sure of species)

Elands

Flamingoes

Giraffes1

Grants Gazelles

More Grants gazelles

Hyena

Eagle

Birds in the road

Monkeys

Storks and Spoonbills

Jackal

Leopard

Rhino by the lake

There are a few more that I will upload for another post as it takes forever to upload then download when internet speed is like dialup.  Hakuna Matata

Hope you enjoyed this trip though the animal kingdom. 

Baraka (Blessings in Swahili), Pam

I am utterly amazed when I travel how traditions for holidays have traveled around the globe.  Traditions that we as Americans think of as uniquely ours may not necessarily be ‘ours’.  Many of our traditions actually came to America from our European ancestors.  And depending on which culture our ancestors came from, depends on the traditions our families have.  But when you are in Africa in 80 degree F weather in December and there are Icicle lights decorating the malls and Christmas trees decorated with bows and balls, you know that those traditions did NOT originate here.  I am sure I will come to learn many more traditions that are uniquely Kenyan, and I am looking forward to those.

Thanksgiving in Kijabe!

First Thanksgiving in Kenya

Because I teach at an American run school, we celebrate all the American holidays as well as all the Kenyan holidays, so we end up with more days off from school than I would have back in the states.  Thanksgiving week we did go to school Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and we were off on Thursday and Friday.  We, I and 3 other new teachers, decided to take the opportunity to see some of the beautiful country we live in.  We were invited to spend Thanksgiving in a small township called Kijabe, which overlooks Mount Longonot (a dormant volcano).  There is a hospital there as well as a Bible college, so there is a large missionary community there.  An American friend of my housemate was staying there after the birth of her baby and so we decided to join her to celebrate our American tradition of Thanksgiving.  We each decided to contribute a traditional item that we would have at home.  We did have a little trouble getting a turkey as the one that was ordered didn’t come.  Fortunately, the shop owner was able to get one brought from Nairobi.  Disaster avoided!   I made sweet potato casserole with a new recipe which adds mangos and it was sooooooo good!!!!  I put a pecan topping on it and it was more like dessert than a vegetable.  However the pecans were outrageously expensive.  We paid over $15 for a little more than 2 cups of pecans.  I think I have explained before that for most items, you can find it somewhere, but if that item is not locally grown or made, then it is going to be very expensive.  Items like that may be double, triple or even quadruple the price as in the states and since I make ¼ of the salary I had back in the states, it feels even more expensive.  We had all kinds of other yummy food like sausage dressing, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, pecan pie and of course turkey.  I had made lots of homemade southern style buttermilk biscuits for breakfast so we had some of those for dinner too.  It was truly wonderful to have those familiar foods and celebrate our traditions with friends that have become our family away from home.  Since moving to this country, I have become VERY thankful for the blessings I have been given by living in the U.S.   I have also become very thankful for the Lord’s provision of a solid roof over my head and food on the table.  There are so many needy people in this country that it truly makes one realize the blessings, the government services, and the freedoms that we have been given as Americans.  Next time you sit down to a meal, thank God for that provision, for everyday people die of starvation.  According to the organization Bread for the World “Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes. That’s one child every five seconds.” (http://www.bread.org/hunger/global/).   Be very, very thankful for the food you eat each day.     I am. 

Click on the link to see some of the wonderful views in Kijabe and Mount Longonot (dormant volcano). 

Kijabe Thanksgiving

Christmas in Kenya

Our little Christmas tree with a tree skirt my housemate made out of African fabric.

As I already mentioned, the commercialization of Christmas is here in Kenya, just like back in the states.  The malls put up decorations and have events to draw in consumers.  They even have Santa Claus come in his red suit (I can’t imagine how hot that suit is with no air conditioning).  I had the unfortunate experience of trying to go pick up a few items in the mall at the same time that Santa was arriving for the first time.  It was time for Santa’s big entrance and I and about 100 other cars were trying to find a parking place in an already full parking lot.  My quick trip to the mall took a little longer than expected.  If I had realized that it was the day of Santa’s big entrance, I would have walked to the mall, since it is fairly close to where I live.  Next year I will definitely pay closer attention to the day of Santa’s arrival and NOT go anywhere near the mall.  Plus the new addition to the mall should be open by then and I do not want to see what parking will be like when it does, especially at Christmas. 

Kenyan’s Christmas share many of the same traditions with having a Christmas tree and decorations, if they can afford it (many can’t).  They do have big family gatherings with lots of food (food items differ based on tribe and tradition), but it is more about the family than about presents, simply because they don’t have money for lots of gifts.  My pastor at my church told us stories about when he was a boy always getting new clothes for Christmas and few if any toys. I imagine in many households today, that is still the case.  They also celebrate Boxing Day, which is the day after Christmas.  I got a couple different explanations of this day so I looked it up and apparently it has morphed in its traditions.  As near as I could figure out, it originated in England with wealthy people who had servants.  Since their servants worked on Christmas day, they were given the day after Christmas off.  This is also the day that their employers gave them their boxes of gifts and sent them off to spend the day with their families.  But apparently it is now celebrated differently in different places.  For some, that is the traditional day to open presents.  For others that is the day when they box up all their Christmas decorations.  Another said it is the day that they box up all the unwanted items in their house and donate it to charity. 

So I’ve talked a lot about food today, but isn’t that what many of us think about or look forward to when the holidays come around????  We look forward to stuffing ourselves full of all our favorite comfort foods and then spending the rest of the evening with family, maybe watching the football game on TV.  So what did I have for Christmas???  Well, on Christmas Eve we joined some of the other teachers in their tradition of having Chinese food on Christmas Eve.  It was at a local Chinese restaurant with a wonderful outdoor patio, with a warm breeze blowing.  We even got visited by Santa Clause and Mrs. Claus.  I think I might just have to make Chinese food on Christmas Eve a new tradition.    

Chinese Dinner Christmas Eve with a Kenyan Santa

 After dinner, some of the single ladies from my school, met at one of their apartments and watched Christmas movies till late, then some of us slept over.  In the morning, we got up fixed a big breakfast with bacon, biscuits and gravy, and special French toast. We also had fake cheese grits, made out of Ugali, which is made out of corn but doesn’t taste like grits at all.  In the absence of family, it was awesome to spend time with friends and celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  After breakfast, a few of us went to church (not the one I usually attend).  This church is very international with people from many backgrounds and nationalities.  The congregation is so diverse that they sing songs in three different languages…English, Swahili, and Indian dialects.  I can sight read Swahili even if I have no clue what I am singing but I had a little more trouble with the Indian.  There was also a special group of visitors there to sing, who were from Congo. They sang a few songs in Congolese for us and I am always awed by their enthusiasm.  Africans I have found will clap and dance and truly express their joy in worship.  Some who know me are probably thinking that I fit right in.  I have to say, that I enjoy that freedom immensely!  

After church, it was time to finishing cooking for Christmas dinner with my school family. I had put together my dish on Christmas Eve and all I had to do was the finishing touches and bake it.  I had previously decided to make my sweet potato/mango casserole again, but I decided instead to make my baked beans.  That was easier thought than done, because I didn’t quite have all the ingredients.  So I substituted the closest things I could find.   I found canned baked beans similar to Van Camps pork and beans.  I used beef bacon instead of pork since it is leaner and I would waste less of it picking the fat off.  I had to use dark brown sugar instead of light, since I couldn’t find any (I have bought it before here, just couldn’t find it).  The ketchup here is different even though I did use Heinz (still not the same).  Then I had other seasonings in as well, but I was thrilled when one of the other missionaries had Liquid Smoke that she had brought from the states and let me borrow.  Without that one ingredient, they just aren’t anywhere close to the same.  I had recently purchased some thermos bowls that keep things hot for hours to put them in after cooking.  I have never seen these in the states, but they are awesome.  They are built like a thermos, so you can preheat them with water, but you don’t have too.  Then put in your hot item, seal the lid and it really does stay hot for hours and hours. This is a really nice item for Kenyan’s to have since they may only have one burner to cook on (or a wood burning jika), so they can keep the items warm while cooking the rest of the meal.  Or even keep it warm for multiple meals, since they may not have refrigerators or easy means of reheating.

So at 4:00 we went over to our friend’s house along with about 25 others for Christmas dinner.  There was so much food, that I felt guilty about it, knowing that others in the country were going hungry.  But it was really good and I enjoyed it a lot.  We had turkey and ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with apples, baked beans, yeast rolls, and salad.  And of course there were desserts!  We had cheese cake, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, cookies, and candy, and a banana something or other that our Australian teacher brought.   There was so much food that even with that many people, I still have plenty of baked beans left.  It was a really nice time just hanging around and talking and celebrating.   Overall it was a great day.

Yummy dinner! My baked beans are in the red and silver pot in the middle.

 

Then there was church on Sunday and it was almost empty.  Why you may ask?  Well, it is because many people in the city, go ‘up country’ during the holidays, to their ancestral villages or homesteads with their tribes.  They travel mostly by bus and train and sometimes matatus to get to their family homes.  I mentioned that they don’t bring presents, but that is not strictly true, they just don’t bring the type of presents that we usually think of as a present.  They bring food staples instead….flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, rice, cooking fat, and other non perishable items.  The stores here even have premade boxes in a bucket or other plastic carrier (good for toting water) that can be purchased to give as gifts or even donate to organizations that provide food for needy families.   I wonder how that would go over in the U.S. compared to the food drop offs in the grocery stores???  Would you buy a box of staple food items for $25 to $30 and then donate it????  It is easy here to give staples, simply because most people cook from scratch.  They don’t cook from a box or kit, and they know how to make use of these items.  I am not entirely sure needy families in the U.S. would have the same response to these same items.   I can say that I eat much healthier here than I did in the states, and I have even lost weight without really trying (don’t ask me how much as I don’t have a scale but it is at least one pant size). 

I am truly amazed at the resourcefulness and ingenuity of Kenyans.  Many have so little but they make the most of what they have.  And they are not wasteful.  They tend to repair and reuse or repurpose items instead of throwing them away.  They seem content with what they have and are thankful for it.  I truly have yet to hear them complain about the things they lack.  That is not to say they aren’t aware, because they will ask for help or money or favors when a need arises.  The philosophy is that it can’t hurt to ask, but they don’t complain.  It is hard for me to say no, but I have to most of time because I just don’t have enough money to give it away.  I have just enough to make ends meet with my salary and the few donations I get to my missions effort. I could do more for them if the funds were there, but I would still have to be very careful as I truly believe that a handout does not help as much as a hand-up.  I would prefer to help them to use their own talents to provide an income for themselves than to simply give them a onetime gift of cash.  Or teach them to grow their own food and provide for their families (my environmental science class will make this part of their ministry).  If you would like to help me in this please see my ‘How you can help’ page (tab at the top). 

Prayer Request: Please pray for our water situation to be resolved.  We found out today that a recent construction dug a borehole into the same well we use and now we have no water coming from our borehole.  City water only runs to our complex once a week, maybe twice but our reserve tank isn’t big enough to last.  We had to have water delivered by truck and lets just say it was expensive and not the cleanest water.  We are taking all measures to conserve and reuse water, not to mention treating and boiling it. 

I hope that you are enjoying and learning from my blog.  Please use the comment section to make comments or ask questions that I will try my best to answer them. 

May God bless you in all your endeavors and give you all the provision you need.  Hope you had a Merry Christmas and have a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

In Christ, Pam

PS: blog coming soon Amazing Animals on Safari.

Time to give!

Sorry it has been so long since I last posted.   I have found, despite living more simply, that I can be just as busy as I was in the U.S., just with different things. I hope to do several posts in the coming weeks since I am now on Christmas break. But it just doesn’t feel like Christmas without colder temperatures. The weather is getting warmer here, since the southern hemisphere is moving into summer.  Although being on the equator, average temperatures don’t change more than 10 to 15 degrees F between the ‘cold’ and hot season.  In Nairobi, which is a plateau of about 6000 ft above sea level, it is cooler than in the grasslands or on the coast.  It feels like perpetual spring, especially with all the beautiful flowers blooming.

A beautiful Rose of Sharon bush right by my parking space in my apartment compound.

  So what have I been up to???

School work takes up a lot of my time since I have to prepare for four different classes and I tend to be a perfectionist in preparing my lessons.  I like to teach using power points which take time to do in such a way to make them more interesting to the students.  Not anything fancy (as the bells and whistles can distract students from what they are to learn), but pictures included and video clips linked to help them understand the science concepts I teach.  I have also found that trying to teach with technology here can be somewhat of a challenge.  Why you may ask?  Well for one, internet is SLOOOOWWWW, think dial up. So when I am trying to do something on the internet it seems to take forever compared to the high speed I was used to back home. For example: when I try to download a video from an educational site, it takes twice as long to download it as it takes to watch it.  And then there is the power.  It is randomly shut off, and without power it is difficult to do much on the computer.  I do have a battery back up, but it is only about a 2 hour span, and the power is usually off most of the day when that happens.  And the internet does not work if there is no power, so no pictures and no downloads.  I usually just finish whatever I am working on and then turn off the battery.  I have even graded papers by candlelight and got a taste of what most of the rest of the population here deals with frequently, as there are many places with NO power at all.  It was a stark realization of the blessings we have in the US. (PS: the power went out while I was typing this and the internet wouldn’t come back up after the power went out). Anyway, school work has taken up a lot of my time in recent weeks. 

My beautiful campus.

I have also been using my free time to learn more about Kenya and the people here.  I have gone on several day trips and one overnight safari which I will be writing about in upcoming posts.  But I wanted to focus this blog on the people of Kenya and what I have learned about the country.  

First off, this is a relationship based culture NOT a time-oriented culture like in the U.S. and the west.  Fostering relationships are more important than keeping a schedule, but it is more than that.   When a Kenyan says that X event begins at 10:00, it means that is when they stop doing whatever they are currently doing and begin getting ready for the next event.  As Americans we have to be specific in what ‘time’ we are talking about or we end up waiting.  I have become very specific in asking ‘What time will you arrive at X place?’.  If I arrive at that time, I then wait less, usually.  Compounding the problem, is the fact that most Kenyans do not have cars, so they use public transportation, which is fairly reliable but traffic here is horrible. And if you get stuck in traffic, well you are just stuck.  And the way Kenyans drive just makes it worse, as they will try to go around in the other lane (opposite traffic lane) and then block both sides.  They will also drive on the dirt shoulder to go around. So sometimes, there are three lanes of traffic all trying to travel in the same direction, when there should be two going opposite directions. 

This matatu van made its own lane on the sidewalk next to the bus I was riding in.  And he was only inches away from the side of the bus.

 And I have yet to figure out why traffic is WORSE when there are police directing traffic. No joke. If there are cops directing traffic at a roundabout or intersection, the traffic barely moves.  If no police, everyone just merges and takes turns and traffic moves.  (PS: there are very few traffic lights and half the time they don’t work so are ignored entirely).   So I have learned to be very patient and not get stressed out over what ‘time’ I am to be meeting someone.  I am concerned however if I will develop bad habits that will be hard to break once I get back to the U.S.  Habits in punctuality and in my driving. 

So what else does a ‘relationship’ based culture mean?   Well, it means that if you see someone you know, it would be very rude not to stop, and say ‘hello how are you’ and have a conversation about how each of you are.  It is not simply a greeting but an expression that you care.  And be prepared to talk for at least 10 to 15 minutes if not go sit somewhere and have a cup of coffee.  Think about how often you say “Hi,how are you” as a greeting and expect the “I’m fine, how are you” and after you both answer “fine”, you each go on your merry way.  Next time, tell them how you really are and odds are they will be surprised by the answer.  In the states, they might also blow you off as they have to be somewhere and can’t/won’t be late.   I think it is difficult to find a balance between these two.  Some Kenyans who went through the British private school system here, are more time oriented, but I also can see they have a balance to both the ‘time’ and the ‘relationship’.  They seem to be able to prioritize which is more important more easily than I can.  It is something that I am learning and trying to incorporate in my life.  I think that Jesus showed us by example, that it is very important to show those around us that we care, by giving of our time.  Maybe it comes from the fact that for people with few resources to give, they can still give of themselves through relationship and time spent with each other.  Maybe in these hard economic times, it is a lesson that all Americans should think about.  Do you have talents and abilities that could help another, with little or no financial resources needed???  Can you show you care about others, by doing for them????  Or do they just need someone to talk to them and let them know they are cared about??? There is a quote I was reminded of recently that is tied to all of this.  (I can’t remember who said it).  “People won’t care about what you know, until they know how much you care.” 

Another thing that I have noticed about this culture, is how many people will help you when there is a problem.  Get a flat tire…people stop to help.  Get lost….people try to give you directions. (I said try because even IF there are street signs, most rarely know what the street names are).  Need a guide to take you somewhere you have never been…someone volunteers.   Look like you are struggling walking up the hill with four bags of groceries…multiple people ask if you need help.   A few of these might be looking for payment for their act, but most are just doing a kind deed.   My housemate and I have been blessed many times by these acts of kindness and friendship and so we do what we can.  We are blessed to have a car (old that it is) and so when we can, we offer rides to some of our coworkers.  Every morning we give rides to work so they don’t have to spend time and money on public transportation.  And sometimes when we are leaving, we also give rides into the city and let them off at a major bus stop.  And in the process we are forming relationships with these lovely people, learning about their culture and they are learning about ours as we talk and share. 

My heart aches with the needs of this country and while I am only one person, I will do what I can to make a few lives better.  My ministry to my students, coworkers and strangers I meet always revolves around the idea that I am the hands and feet of Jesus and I think, what would HE do in these circumstances.  I hope that as you read this, you will consider the fact, that everyday God puts you in a position to help others, but are you so busy that you don’t take the time to see it?   I challenge you to get to know those in your neighborhood, your work, and your community.  Most can’t give a handout, so where can you give a hand up to someone in need?  Where can you apply your time and talents to show someone else you care? 

Click on the link below to see a photoshow of some pictures I have taken in and around Nairobi.

What is Nairobi Like

Upcoming blogs:

People in need; Thanksgiving and Christmas in Kenya; Awesome Animals (safari); Meeting my needs while helping others in need.

God Bless, Pam

Hope Streams!!!

What is hope?  Webster’s online edition defines hope as a noun: to cherish a desire with anticipation, or as a verb: to desire with expectation of obtainment. In other words…wishful thinking about something you want.   The bible says hope is ‘confident expectation’.  But there is more.

“Hope is a firm assurance regarding things that are unclear and unknown (Romans 8:24-25; Hebrews 11:1,7). Hope is a fundamental component of the life of the righteous (Proverbs 23:18). Without hope, life loses its meaning (Lamentations 3:18, Job 7:6) and in death there is no hope (Isaiah 38:18, Job 17:15). The righteous who trust or put their hope in God will be helped (Psalm 28:7), and they will not be confounded, put to shame, or disappointed (Isaiah 49:23). The righteous who have this trustful hope in God have a general confidence in God’s protection and help (Jeremiah 29:11) and are free from fear and anxiety (Psalm 46:2-3).”  http://www.gotquestions.org/hope-Bible.html

So why the discussion of hope?   Because it has become a recurrent issue/idea in my missions work.  When I visited Russia for the first time and I was teaching about faith, hope and love.  The Russian kids wanted me to define hope for them.  In America, hope is a word we understand without even thinking about it.  But in many places where there is hardship, there is no hope and so it is a concept they don’t understand.  They have no hope for the future because the future looks bleak and doesn’t seem to provide anything to ‘hope’ for.  

But I have found a place where hope streams.  A place where hope flows with abundance in the lives of those who have little, because someone else who has more provided for them in some way.  And there is the promise of hope in eternal life because of what Jesus Christ did for them, by dying on the cross.  There is hope, but we have to take it to the hopeless.  To quote Richard Stearns in his book The Hole in Our Gospel, ““When we committed ourselves to following Christ, we also committed to living our lives in such a way that a watching world would catch a glimpse of God’s character—His love, justice, and mercy—through our words, actions and behaviors.  “We are….Christ’s ambassadors” wrote the apostle Paul, “as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Cor. 5:20). God chose us to be His representatives. He called us to go out, to proclaim the “good news”—-to be the “good news” and to change the world. Living out our faith privately was never meant to be an option.””  For me, living out my faith is using the gifts God has given me by ministering to the poor and needy, to the orphans and the widows, and to those without hope. 

In the area where I live in Nairobi, Kenya, there are many poor and needy people.  One of the world’s largest slums is fairly close to where I live and work.  In the short time that I have been here, I have seen many things that just break my heart when I think of the abundance in my home country, the USA.  There are people who live in little more than tin sheds, with dirt floors, no running water, no electricity, little if any furnishing and clothing.  I have seen people getting dirty water out of drainage ditches by the road, because it is the only water they have access to. And then they have to carry it back to their house.  I have seen the crippled and handicapped, sick and jobless.  I have seen the beggars and the destitute.  All of these things just break my heart and I am glad they do.  Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, once prayed, “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”  I don’t ever want my heart to become hardened by the things I see.  I don’t want to close off my heart to these things and think that I can ignore what is going on in the world.  As a Christian, I want to live out the full gospel of Christ in such a way that those who see me will know I am Christian by my actions, not just my words.  So if you say you are a Christian, I have a question for you… “Are you living the full gospel?”  Whether your answer is yes or no, I am going to challenge you to read the book I mentioned earlier, The Hole in Our Gospel

So where is it that ‘Hope Streams’ here in midst of poverty in Nairobi Kenya????

It is at a little Christian school in a small slum on the road from Nairobi to Karen.  The school is called Hope Streams Academy and when I visited there the hope was evident in the faces of the children.  For this day, they had the hope of knowing that they were going to get to eat and eat well.  The joy in their faces, as the anticipation of the meal grew closer, was priceless. The joy in their laughter and songs after eating, with the hope and promise fulfilled, was even better.  Oh what joy there will be in heaven when our hope is fulfilled!!!!   These children have hope because others who have more are coming alongside them and giving them a handup not just a handout.  They have hope for a future because of this school and those involved in it. 

Click on the  written link to see a slideshow of my visit.

 Visiting a Slum School 

I plan on returning to this school at least once a month while I am here.  My hope is that I am able to give them hope for their future and do what  little I can to provide for a few of their needs.  If you would like to help me in this ministry, go to my ‘How you can help’ page and send a donation through NICS, and send a comment through this blog to let me know that you want your donation to be used for this ministry.  This is just one way you can do something, but there are other organizations you may want to get involved with to help those in need, such as World Vision and Compassion International.   Please pray about what you can do to help those in need, in your community and in your world. 

Next week, I hope to visit an orphanage for under 4 years old, just to an extra pair of hands.  I will be writing a blog about that in the coming weeks so I hope you will subscribe/register your e-mail for the blog.  You will receive an e-mail each time I update it. 

Personal update: 

School is going fine and we just finished our first full grading period. So this last week was full of grading papers, giving tests, and finalizing grades for the term.  And I am so enjoying getting to do things with my students that I wouldn’t get to do in a public school in the states.  For example, each week we have chapel and I get to worship with my students.  We also just finished spiritual emphasis week at school where we had chapel each day and I was able to talk to my classes about Jesus did for them.  I also have been able to teach from the Bible.  When a student asked a question about the creation of the universe, I was able to say “What does the Bible say?” and we got it out and looked it up.  It is awesome to be able to combine my faith and science so that my students can put the two together and not have doubts in their faith because of what science tries to teach.  I love teaching on this campus too.  I get to sit outside in the bandas during lunch, with a view of the rain forest, the kites circling overhead and talk to my students and get to know them better. There is also so much wildlife and plants that are just fascinating to me because I have never seen them before. I have a couple of wildlife books for Kenya but I seriously need one for the plant life. There are also wildlife parks very close by as well as the Great Rift Valley and also volcanoes and of course Mt. Kenya.  So many questions, so many things to see and so little time. It has been awesome so far and I am looking forward to so much more.  I have two years to experience it all, so I am just going to have to pace myself.  Also I am waiting until I get my resident card so that I can pay resident fees and not tourist fees, which are more expensive.

I am settled in and finally starting to get a few things for the apartment to make it more comfortable.  We were able to purchase some lamps, a coffee table and a couch for decent prices.  By that I mean we weren’t charged much more than the locals would have been.  Apparently it is assumed that if you are white than you are also rich and they adjust the prices up.  We can bargain but I still don’t think we get it for nearly as cheap as the locals.

We are waiting for the school bizarre, which is kind of like a giant yard sale, to purchase more stuff so it will be cheaper.  It would be easier living here on my salary if rent weren’t so high.  Basically a two bedroom apartment here costs the same as in the states, but I make ¼ what I did in the states, which makes the budget very tight.  There isn’t much left over for extras and my roommate and I are searching for ways to save money.   We have started shopping at places where locals shop, because the prices are cheaper.  For example, we found a new ironing board for 1/3 the price at the Nakumatt.  Some other things were cheaper although not quite that much difference. The food prices were about the same, but we noticed the fresh vegetables were cheaper and fresher looking too. Next stop is to find a good butcher and educate ourselves on the different cuts of meat for our needs.  We are learning to cook from scratch too.

We have had some interesting experiences as a result of shopping where few westerners go.  First off, westerners can create a spectacle just because we are westerners.  We call it ‘becoming the zoo’, because it feels like we have become the main attraction at the zoo as people stop and stare at us.  It takes some getting used to and you just have to continue what you are doing and ignore them.  But the most disturbing part was getting preferential treatment because of it.  So we went to the one supermarket and first we were given a preferential treatment for parking.  They literally moved the handicapped parking sign to let us park there even though there were other empty spaces.  Then when we were leaving, an employee took our cart and wheeled it out to our car, even though they weren’t doing that for anyone else.  Of course he might have just wanted a tip, which we did give him.  But there have been other little instances of similar preferential treatment, because there is apparently some type of prestige involved with having westerners as customers.  My roommate and I decided we don’t like getting preferential treatment because of our race/nationality.  It flies in the face of the expectation of equality we grew up with back home.

If you would also like to follow my roommate’s blog her website is ….

http://meeses-pieces.blogspot.com/

She tends to write smaller blogs more frequently and about a variety of topics. 

Have a great week,

Blessings from Kenya, Pam

Spiritual Awareness…

I have to say that teaching at a Christian school is giving me a totally new perspective on my students.  It is awesome being able to use scripture in my classroom and being able to help them to see what took me 30 + years.  Combining science and faith is an awesome experience. When students have questions that in the states I couldn’t answer, I get to pull out the bible and tell them what the bible says.

 I also get to worship with my students in chapel once a week.  But this week was spiritual awareness week at my school, which means chapel everyday and prayer at lunch and class discussions.  We had a really good series that led up to this week that did a really good job at explaining what sin was, that we are all sinners, and culminated with this week’s message of the good news that we aren’t without hope, that Jesus came willingly to die as a penance for our sins so that we could have eternal life with God in heaven.   I just hope and pray the students understood that in order to receive that gift of eternal life, they have to invite him.  Revelations 3:20 says, “Here I am. I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.”  I tried to help them understand what it means to truly be repentant for their sin and to turn to Jesus to overcome that sin, as we cannot do it by our own means.  We need the Holy Spirit to come in and guide us and the only way to get the Holy Spirit is to invite Jesus into our hearts and into our lives.  I just hope and pray that they got it.

Something to bite?  (I was asked this at a local café when I stopped for coffee).

                I thought today I would tell you about some of the food experiences I have had here.  Some will be restaurant and some school and some grocery type things.  But apparently one mention of missing a food item (grits) has raised a lot of questions about whether I am eating ok.  So I am eating fine, actually healthier than in the states.  There are no fast food restaurants here, at least not if you don’t count the street vendors, which are not safe to eat from.  And I have actually lost a few pounds, but I don’t know how much since I don’t have a scale. 

So let me start with the grits.  If you are a southerner in the US, then you know what Grits are and how to fix them.  So here I am in a country that has corn as one of its main staple food items.  Really, the most common street vendor is roasted corn on the cob.  Consequently, corn products and things made from corn meal are very common.  So I thought just maybe there would be something comparable to grits.   So far I haven’t had any luck in finding something comparable.  There are plenty of corn meal products and I haven’t tried them all, but I’m not hopeful at this point that I will find something the same as grits.  So far I have tried corn based porridge.  It was really not appetizing even with a ton of sugar and cinnamon (not that I eat grits that way).  Then I tried not one but two different types of course corn meal, one was Ugali, which is very popular here.  Let’s just say that cooked corn meal does NOT taste like grits no matter how much stuff you add to it.  There are still some other types of porridge I haven’t tried, but I’m not optimistic.  Ok so enough about not having my yummy grits.

Basically, other than, very specific or regional type items like grits, most things can be found here.  That is if you are willing to pay the price for them.  Locally grown things like fresh fruits and veggies, can be cheap. Here are a few we keep in the fridge: zucchini, corn on the cob, green beans, okra, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, pineapple, peppers, and onions.  A few others we are planning to try soon are butternut squash and a variety of pumpkins. There are also other ones that are less common here and therefore more expensive but are available like snow pea pods. We can go to the produce store by the mall and get two bags of fresh veggies for under $5.  It is amazing.

 Processed things that are made from locally grown products can also be cheap.  A bag of corn meal for example costs about 34 shillings which is about 43 cents (80 shillings to the dollar).    The whole meal bread we are buying costs 39 shillings.  Pasta and rice are staples here so they are not expensive either.  However, the Italians that are here have some pretty strong opinions about the pasta brands.  Not once, but twice, when we were at the store buying pasta, Italians gave us advice on which pasta we should buy.  One was insistent that we should only buy Barilla, which is of course the most expensive brand in the store.  But another guy gave us another brand that was the next expensive brand.  We decided to go with one of the cheapest brands and it is just fine.  Sugar, from sugar cane, is cheap as are most spices.  My best find yet is actually candy that is very similar to M & M’s but ¼ of the price.  I can get some of the major candy bars here but I’ve learned not to expect it to taste the same.  Same with cookies, a fake brand Oreo look-a-like is actually more like a real Oreo than the Oreo brand. Go figure!

But don’t think all food is cheap, it is not.  Anything in a can or box is going to be expensive.  When I compare dollar amounts it is about equal to or MORE expensive of what we would pay in the states.  I bought a small box of oatmeal and it was the same price as the huge Quaker oatmeal canister back home.  All of the boxed/processed cereals are more expensive here.  And anything canned is absolutely ridiculous.  I did break down and buy some cans of tuna, but you would have thought I was buying caviar. I bought it for convenience but that won’t be something I keep in the cabinet.  Condiments and salad dressings are also expensive and unless they are imported they don’t taste the same as they do back home.  Ketchup is the one that really surprises me.  I can get Heinz but it is made in Africa and is completely different than back home.  I’m not sure how to describe it but it is waterier and not much flavor.  And it is cheaper to make spaghetti sauce from scratch rather than buy it in the can. 

Then there is the meat.  Ok so you would think that since this country has a huge cattle industry that beef wouldn’t be too expensive, but it is very expensive.  And chicken is MORE expensive than beef.  Pork is cheaper than either.  The two least expensive are lamb and goat.  I love lamb and tend to get it when I eat out as it is cheaper, but I am not fond of goat meat.  So far we have been buying our meat at the local supermarket (Nakumatt) and haven’t ventured to the meat markets although we really need to go check them out. Our dilemma is that neither of us knows how to order it.  We don’t know what cut to ask for or even what we are looking at when we go in there.  Someone needs to teach us these things.  And we have really avoided the butcher shops as they look a little on the unsanitary side.  Not sure what to think of a shop with a beef carcass hanging in the window, un-refrigerated I might add.   We tend to buy and keep ground beef (mince) as it is easy to fix lots of ways.  We cook it when we buy it and freeze it so all we have to do it reheat it in a recipe and eat.  So if you have any great from scratch recipes using ground beef, please send them on.  Then there is the fish.  There is a fish fry place near my apartment and they bring fresh Tilapia from Lake Victoria every day. They clean it and salt it and then deep fry it.  It is almost as good as fried catfish and really good.  I bought a fairly large one for 300 shillings ($4) and made two meals out of it.  It was so yummy, not healthy, but yummy.

We have tried to cook a number of things so far and found some good recipes.  Some of these are soups and stews, balsamic chicken or pork, arroz con pollo, sweet-n-sour pork, tacos and burritos, fajitas.  (We have a lady who makes us homemade tortillas as you can’t buy them at the store).  I made biscuits and while they weren’t my best effort they weren’t bad, but it may take a few times with the higher altitude.  And when we don’t feel like cooking, we have peanut butter and honey sandwiches.  Peanuts, in case you didn’t know, are from Africa, so peanut butter is cheap and available. 

Another thing that is locally grown and inexpensive is Kenyan tea.  I think it is one of the best teas I have ever tasted.  Very mild and not bitter.  Kenya is a major grower and exporter of tea in the world.  They also grow very good coffee here.  But it is not as cheap as one would think, but I am really enjoying my morning coffee.  And there are two major local café franchises, Java House and Dormans.  Java is actually begun by a Californian and caters to the American and European tastes, with sandwiches and pastries like we would have back home.  Dormans is locally begun and has some pastries and local items as well.  If we are out shopping we usually end up at one or the other to get a house coffee for about 100 shillings ($1.25). 

Then there are the restaurants.  Other than Java house there aren’t any that are traditionally American.  But there are many other nationalities, such as: Ethiopian, Italian, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, British, and even German.  We saw a restaurant near our school that is ‘Que Pasa” and thought yeah Mexican, only to find out it was Italian.  But it was very good Italian.  And I have to tell you about the food courts in the mall.  Ok, so there is a burger place (Mr. Wimpy), a fried chicken place, and then an assortment of Chinese, Indian, Italian, Greek, German, etc…depending on which mall you are at.  So you’re thinking ok they are just very international, what is so special about that.  Well, you don’t go stand in line to order.  You sit and they come to you with the menus for ALL the restaurants in the food court.  When you have decided which restaurant you are going to choose, you signal the waiter for that restaurant and he takes your order and brings it out and you pay him.  Only it is a food court.  And even in the biggest one, where you do go up to the counter, they give you a number for your table and bring you your food when it is ready. 

Ok so I also said I would talk about school food.  I can give you a list of what is on the menu but it really wouldn’t describe what I am eating because what it says and what it is are two different things.  For example, Hot dogs do not taste like hot dogs.  The buns however are more like sub rolls and would be awesome for a meatball sub.  But then there are the meatballs and spaghetti.  The pasta is the same but the meatballs???? I’m not sure what they are made of and they are smaller than a large shooter marble.  Pizza is OK but not my favorite.  The beef stroganoff should just say beef with noodles.  Shepard’s pie I passed on but it was mostly mashed potatoes.  The hamburgers were predictable but the sloppy joes were very good.  Many things are served with French fries or some other version of potatoes as they are staples here. We have Kenyan stew and chapatti’s (kind of like a thick tortilla), and it is not bad but not something I want to eat every week.  Then there are some other local favorites like Ugali and Zukuma wiki (collard greens).  And most days there is either cole slaw or tomato and onion salad.  Water to drink and few desserts. Occasionally fruit in season.  If I don’t like what is being served on the main line, I can get a sandwich which has a yummy roll, ground chicken, carrots, cabbage or lettuce, cucumbers, green peppers, onions and tomatoes.  And of course condiments that don’t taste like the real thing.  And the portions are small, so no wonder I’m losing weight. 

Small portions and no junk food (or at least very little), combined with climbing up and down the hill to my classroom and it results in weight loss.  Now I just have to have my trousers tailored since a few are falling off.

I hope you have enjoyed my food experience diary.  I am sure there will be more to tell as I get exposed to more things.  Right now our goal is to stick to our food budget, which means not eating out often and cooking from scratch (no canned foods).  So send those recipes, especially if it is lamb or ground beef. 

Have a great week, Blessings, In Christ’s service, Pam

Well Hello, I’m back online.  So much to tell but I won’t put it all in one post this time. 

First, we have settled into our new apartment and it is feeling like home. (see slide show) I can finally relax when I get home and not be stressed out about water and other stuff breaking.  Not that this apartment is perfect.  Two of the instant hot water devices don’t work (my bath sink and the kitchen sink, but we knew that when we moved in.  I’m ok with that, since the water still runs in those sinks.  Cold water is better than no water.   And I fixed my toilet when one of the pieces inside the tank broke loose and water went flying.  At least this apartment has water cut off valves inside the apartment in logical places, not like the last apartment.  The Kenyan men at the hardware store probably thought we were two crazy white ladies, trying to describe this little blue piece we needed to replace.  They finally pulled out a box of loose parts and low and behold, there was the piece I needed.  I’m looking forward to getting the lamps we picked out this past weekend.  They had to be wired so we can’t pick them up until Wednesday.  We have been shopping for sofas and have finally decided to go with the one we got the best price.  They custom make them, so we have to pick the style and fabric and then wait for them to finish. I suppose we could have purchased one of the ones already made but neither of us liked the fabric combinations.  Not sure what we pay as deposit or upfront and what we pay after, but I can’t wait to sit on something other than wicker furniture (NOT comfy). 

click on link to see  The new apartment

Speaking of the last apartment, my roommate is meeting with the old landlord Monday to discuss how much of the deposit we will get back, since he has rented the apartment already.  However until we have something in writing, we keep the sets of keys we have to the apartment since we know others who have never gotten their deposit back after handing over the keys.  So please pray that we will get the majority of our deposit back eventually.  We know we have to wait until mid-October, because that is when the new renter will pay the rest of his deposit.  Apparently the landlord spent our deposit.

We are learning our way around Nairobi and I now have gone on three errands by myself.  We take turns driving the car to and back from school so we each get time behind the wheel.   My roommate tends to drive more because she knows her way better than I do and that way I can pay attention to landmarks so I can find my way there again.  I am also learning to be a more aggressive driver, although sometimes it is hard to push my way into traffic as I am sure that someone is going to hit me. I’m afraid that I might be a very bad driver when I get back to the states and will forget to give right of way and to stop fully at intersections.  We did get the shocks fixed and the tires replaced finally and the ride is much better, but still very bumpy.   I hope the new laws that went into effect recently will mean the roads get fixed faster. 

My school had a long weekend a couple of weeks ago and we went to a Christian retreat/education center in the highlands. (see slide show below) It is at about 7500 ft above sea level, so even higher than Nairobi.  It took a little over an hour to get there from school and I got to see a lot of the country side.  And the center was beautiful, with gorgeous gardens and manicured grounds.  And the food reminded me of home.  It used to be run by a Southern Baptist organization, but the new management has kept things pretty much the same.  We had a buffet each meal, but it was things like fried chicken, mashed or scalloped potatoes, green beans, real biscuits and sausage gravy at breakfast, pancakes etc.   The only thing they didn’t have was grits :( .  (Grits is a blog for another day).  We took a hike through the tea plantations and even saw some primates in the forest. Although I can’t be sure, but I think they were vervet monkeys.

click on the link to see some pictures of Nairobi and our trip to the country In the City and out to the country

Driving from Nairobi to Brackenhurst

Primate Video

I have gotten many questions about the weather here.  So….it is technically the equivalent of spring, where the colder weather (low 70’s daytime, low 50’s night) is gradually warming to the hottest weather in December (mid 80’s in daytime, mid 60’s at night).   But it really hasn’t warmed up much at all, even though we have had a few warmer days.   The Kenyans are saying that it usually isn’t this cold at this time of year.  They said it usually starts warming up in mid August and by this time we should be having more days in the high 70’s.  I really wish those warm days would get here since without any kind of heat unit in the apartment, it just stays cold.  My bedroom has yet to get above 69 F.  And stone tiles don’t make feel any warmer.  I’m thankful I brought my warm camping socks. 

School is going well.  I am finally adjusting to having 4 preps and having just a few minutes to switch gears from one subject/grade to another.  I do have to take lots of deep breaths between 8th and 6th grade however.  They each have their own unique qualities and require different approaches from me.  One of the interesting things I got to talk about this week was my experience of living in Iceland.  The 6th graders were learning about the summer and winter solstices. First we had to learn that the book (printed in the US) was backwards from here, since we are in different hemispheres.  We talked about the length of day changing as you get farther from the equator.  FYI: we are between one and two degrees south of the equator so the length of day doesn’t change hardly at all during the year. Anyway, I told them about living in Iceland and how around the summer solstice it never really gets dark.  Then in around the winter solstice the sun rises and sets in the middle of day and it is so fast it never really gets all the way above the horizon and never gets fully light either.  The Kenyan students were amazed at that, and I’m not totally sure they believed me. Anyway it was fun talking about it to them. 

We also had a pet chameleon for a few days (see pictures below).  Some of the students found it on the campus and brought it to show me. We put it in the terrarium for a few days and observed it.  The kids caught bugs for it to eat, mostly crickets and moths.  I even made a video of it eating a cricket (see video).  Then I released it.  The kids wanted me to keep it, but being the conservationist that I am, I know that we shouldn’t take wild animals out of the wild and keep them in captivity.  Most, unless they are very small babies, don’t live anyway, so it is better to put them back.  This one is a Jackson’s chameleon.  It has 3 horns on its head so it is probably a male.  I tried to put it on different background to get it to change colors, but it just changed the darkness and lightness of the splotches vs. background.  You can see the difference between it in the video from inside the cage to when I was releasing it. Hopefully we will have more small creatures as visitors to our classroom.

Chameleon eating

Releasing the Chameleon 

One thing we will not have is a hyrax.  They live in the bushy areas on campus and hide in the drainage ditches by our classes during the day.  They urinate on the concrete at night (smells bad).  So when the campus caretakers (groundskeepers/maintenance etc) found one the other day, they killed it.  I guess I should say they bashed it on the head with two by fours.  I have never heard a more creepy scream than that thing screaming as it was being chased by those men.  My ‘Mammals of Kenya’ book accurately described it as spine tingling.  It wasn’t as bad looking as other rodents, and actually looked more like a rabbit with short ears.  But obviously they are considered pests here.  After doing more research, I have to wonder if they disposed of its body or maybe ate it (yuck).  Check out this link for more information http://www.outtoafrica.nl/animals/enghyrax.html?zenden=2&subsoort_id=4&bestemming_id=1

 I’ll end today’s blog with the good news that I think I have finally found a church here.  It is a Kenyan church and I just feel very comfortable and at home there even thought there aren’t many white people.  The pastor is very easily understood and so far I’ve liked his messages and his style of delivery.  The music is awesome, with a mix of Contemporary worship like back home, some gospel, and of course some songs in Swahili.  I can now sight read Swahili since I have learned some basics of pronunciation, but I have no idea what I am singing.  I am hoping to begin Swahili lessons soon.  It is very lively worship and I really enjoyed it, so I will be going back and learning more about the church.  They have lots of ministries and encourage everyone to determine their God given gifts and use them in HIS service.  I just hope they let me start serving before I finish all their classes, which are basics of Christian faith and learning your SHAPE (which I have done more than once).   Please pray for this church, Nairobi Chapel, which has a vision to plant 300 churches, throughout Africa and the world, by 2020. 

Also, I have been reading a great book called “A Hole in Our Gospel” by Richard Stearns.  I will probably be quoting this book off and on but I highly recommend that anyone in America who claims to be a Christian, reads this book. 

Upcoming blogs:  Hope Streams school in the slums; Something to Bite; and much more.  Stay tuned.

Blessings, In Christ’s service, Pam

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