Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Africa Journey, Week One, Part I

On May 28, we left for Kenya, East Africa, where Thomas had the privilege of teaching a Trinitarianism class at the Independent Baptist College of Ministry in Nairobi.

Selections from the journal I wrote for the first few days of our trip, along with some photos I took (along with some pictures I found on the Web), can be found below.

Monday June 1
 Thomas with his Trinitarianism Class

Today I accompanied Thomas to a Baptist college in Nairobi, where he taught Trinitarianism.  I was able to meet several of the Kenyan pastors while here.  For lunch, we enjoyed mandazi (basically a fried donut but not too sweet) and hot tea for lunch. 

 Mandazi, an African treat
I enjoyed viewing a small glimpse of the neighborhood around the church building today and see sights which trigger my imagination:
A woman wends her way down a path, avoiding the sharp rocks.  Her long skirt wraps around her thin frame gracefully.  On her shoulders she carries a small bundle, her little son. Her turbaned head covers a full head of dark hair. I watch her enter a small doorway, roofed with thin metal sheets that cover the cramped area which serves as a porch.  A half dozen multi-colored, European-looking cars sit in front of this block of homes.  A clothesline atop a roof provides extra space for the Africans in the three-story dwelling made of concrete block to do their laundry, since their yard space is undoubtedly limited.  This is a middle class community in Nairobi, Kenya, and I’m taking in all I can, since our trip here will be over in less than two weeks.  

A young boy opens a cartoon in a magazine, running to show his friend, who walks along the pathway before him.  I look across to a second story porch, where two large blue plastic barrels catch rainwater that the family conserves to use for other purposes.  A woman passes me, her hands holding a basket full of mandazis, which she is delivering to our group.

On the return trip, I note other sights:  
This afternoon we passed a vegetable market.  Most things here don’t appear perfectly manicured.  On the contrary, like at the market, vegetables sprawl along the ground as people haggle for a fair price.  Most of the homes we’ve passed along the highway are ramshackle, built close together, the mud adding its own hue to every dwelling (especially the white ones).  Sometimes, graffiti marks places.  Neighborhood roads are clay dirt that muddies readily, inviting puddles and holes of water.  I wish I’d brought more junky clothes.  Especially shoes.  I'm looking forward to making visits with missionaries in the next couple days so that I can get a chance to experience for myself the African culture.

 Yummy stroganoff

Tonight we enjoyed missionary Sue’s version of stroganoff and peas for dinner.  We fellowshipped around the table, learning interesting African stories--my favorite was about Missionary Stella Ross, who first came to Kenya in 1927 and died sometime in the 90s.  Dr. Rick and Mrs. Sue knew her personally.  At her funeral, 54 elderly people (mainly women) said they had been led to the Lord by her--and that doesn't count the dozens of people who had gone to heaven before her or weren't present at her funeral!

(I look forward to checking out more about her when I return home.  I just found this pamphlet online:

Tuesday, June 2
Tuesday morning saw us arising early for a breakfast of homemade banana bread, chocolate chunk bread, tea, and fruit.  The tea is served, as the Kenyans do, combining the milk and black tea together.  Then sugar is added on the side.  After enjoying some morning discussion, Thomas and I piled into the vehicle with two students attending the Bible college, and Dr. Rick drove us to the home of a fellow missionary.  I would be staying with these missionaries’ teenage daughter Sarah today, who would preparing for her mom’s birthday celebration this evening.  Another missionary girl, 17-year-old Ashlyn, would join us about 10:00.

 Corner Store with its large selection of dry beans

Later that morning, our threesome trekked a short distance to the neighborhood's corner store, which has a large selection of dry goods, including barrels of various beans and rice at the back of the store.  I was about to offer a tract to the man there when Sarah decided to instead give him an invitation to their church.  Then he and Ashlyn began a discussion in Swahili.  As many other Africans, he works on Sundays but said he would try to come if he had a day off.

 A school yard with children playing

On the way back to Sarah’s house, we passed a school, where the children were out at recess, all in their little blue uniforms (girls in skirts and boys in trousers).  The mud school yard and rickety swings are a far cry from the typical roomy school yard in the U.S., where verdant grass and colorful playground equipment are taken for granted –even complained about—by the children there.

Goats tied along the side of the road grazed as we passed and one billy goat with large horns looked slightly gruff, so we stayed our distance.  The mud puddles were not terribly large, so we were able to traverse the moist clay without getting our tennis shoes too dirty.  The sun came out, beating down upon us after a cloudy morning, warming the earth and drying the soil by bits.

As we approached the missionaries' house, I asked Sarah if they ever picked flowers to decorate the tables.  There was a large bush of yellow wildflowers outside their gate, and we began tearing off stems of them to put into a vase.  Two Africans across the street looked on and warned us that the plants were bitter, that we should not eat them, and that we should wash our hands thoroughly after picking them.  When we explained that we only wanted them for flowers, one of the men disappeared and returned with three large yellow and orange dahlias, explaining that these would better suit our purpose. 

A bowl of yellow dahlias, similar to how we ornamented the birthday table

When the rooms for the birthday party were at last decorated, one vase of wildflowers stood in the living room, and the dahlias graced a bowl in the middle of the dining room table.  Sarah’s mom was certainly surprised and enjoyed all of the decorations. 

The birthday feast of hotdogs and hamburgers, fresh fruit (including strawberries—a rarity here), fresh vegetables (cucumbers and tomataoes), chips—called “crips” here—and delicious homemade pies (apple, chocolate and pumpkin for choices) was enjoyed by all.  

Then darkness was approaching, so we headed out with Dr. Rick’s family to return back “home," to the guest house, where we were staying.

Wednesday, June 3
Wednesday morning saw us again partaking in an early breakfast—beginning at 6:00 a.m.  When two beeps sounded at the gate, Thomas, along with the missionaries' college-aged son Aaron, headed out the door to go to the college with fellow missionary Pastor Brent, who had arrived in his Land Rover to take the group to Nairobi.

 Tea Time with two dear missionary ladies

I would be staying with Sue today and enjoying a tea party with her and missionary co-worker Gail at 10:00 a.m.  The sun was streaming in through Rick and Sue's accordian-style gate, its rays touching the Kenyan coffee table (really a hollow wooden drum) at the center of their living room.  Framed paintings of African wildlife—a zebra bending down to gulp some stream water and an elephant lumbering in front of a snow-capped mountain—hung above native Wisconsinite Dr. Rick’s easy chair, which was characteristically covered with a green and gold throw that read “Packers” in gigantic capital letters.

 We enjoyed tea with milk each morning.

Gail drove herself there in a small 2-door vehicle, arriving a few minutes after ten.  Together, we enjoyed Kenyan tea and some homemade sweet bread, as well as stimulating conversation.  I learned of the ministry Sue's and Gail's families had shared many years before, when Rick and Sue had first arrived in Kenya:  Gail’s husband had been head pastor and Dr. Rick, the children’s ministry leader. at their first church  The initial service saw 225 people—mainly children, seated on the grass! 

Samosas, the first fast food

“Do you want any samosas?” Sue asked Gail around 12:00.  But Gail needed to leave, so Daniel (Rick and Sue's 11th-grade son who is home-schooled), Sue, and I enjoyed the tasty lunch. Triangularly shaped, samosas are stuffed with ground beef / vegetables and fried in oil.  According to Dr. Rick, they were the original fast food, used by Sennacherib and his army years before Christ came to earth.

The afternoon saw Dr. Rick, Mrs. Sue, and I braving the streets of Thika to arrive at an often-frequented vegetable stand in an area called Section Nine.  Bananas hung from the ceiling.  Avocados, beans, and other vegetables contrasted sharply on the slanted shelves.  People crowded inside to make their purchases.  Asking for permission, I snapped a few photos, then stepped outside to where an elderly woman sat alone, shelling peas.  When I greeted her in English, she gave me only a blank stare and I found out later it was because she spoke not Swahili nor English but only Kukuyu.  But she listened when an African man spoke to her and seemed not bothered at all that I took this photo:

A few booths down, I visited with a man shelling his own large pile of peas.  After I left him a gospel tract and an invitation to church, Sue entered his booth and purchased a large watermelon, 2 kilos of peas, and some small bananas (delicious and oh-so-sweet!)

Kenya is a land of contrasts, where rich and poor live really quite close to one another.  Traveling through the trash-littered streets of downtown Thika, one notes that nearly every person there is dressed in fine clothes, not because he works in the city, but because he dresses up to make the trip into town.  From run-down shacks on one side of the city, mammoth apartment houses, firmly built and freshly painted, ascend on several street corners.  Scaffolding, constructed of what appears to be rickety long sticks, scales several stories upward on other still-being-constructed buildings.  The last stop we make is a hotel just outside the city, which boasts magnificent landscaping and artfully designed buildings.  Here, a Kenyan named Anne runs a curio shop, where she offers a variety of goods at reasonable prices.  The missionaries wish for me to get an idea of a fair price before visiting a larger market this weekend.

By the time we arrived home, it was nearly time for the guys to return from college and for the 5:00 prayer meeting, where Isaac, Rick and Sue's houseworker, who also attends the college and a local Baptist church, would lead us.  We began by singing “Count Your Many Blessings” in Swahili.  Then we went around the circle and read a passage from one of the Gospels.  Next, Isaac asked for prayer requests and explained that we would each first praise God, then confess any known sin (or doing so silently followed by an audible “Amen,”), then pray for various requests.  Some prayed in English, some in Swahili.  Isaac’s lovely wife was there; she speaks and reads only Swahili; in fact, Isaac has taught her to read. 

Tomato matoke (pictured)

After a beautiful time of prayer with fellow believers, we enjoyed a delicious home-cooked meal of cream and bacon cabbage, fried chicken, and a tomato-pepper-matoke (matoke is a cooking banana) dish.  Then it was time to head back to the guest house and soon, to bed.  (Thomas will give a quiz tomorrow and he laments, “I have only nine more hours of this class to teach!”)  He is wondering how he will cover all of his material in the time he has left.


Valerie Knies said...

Hi Heather. I took the time to read your blog in its entirety. I have been waiting for an opportunity to visit Kenya for decades now. Your descriptions have made me know a little more about our MBC missionaries and their daily lives there. Thanks so much for sharing. They (and you) are family to ours. Hi to Thomas. Mary is off to a great start in her teaching opportunity here. We are praising the Lord. Lovingly, Valerie

Thomas & Heather Ross said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the report. I sent e-mail updates home to my family almost every day I was in Kenya, and my sister suggested I publish what I wrote for others to read, as well. I am working on adding pictures along the way and will seek to finish the entire two weeks of our time there as I have opportunity.