Friday, June 26, 2015

Africa Journey Week One, Part Two

Thursday, June 4
 Delicious home-baked banana bread was a favorite breakfast item.

After an early breakfast with the missionaries, Dr. Rick’s family piled into their vehicle taking themselves and Thomas off to the college.  I would be spending time with the Ashlyn’s family today, leaving the house about 9:00 or so.

Around 9:15, two beeps sounded at the gate and, within seconds, Ashlyn’s younger siblings Suzy and Zach were at the door.  “You’re bringing all that stuff?” Zach asked when he saw my backpack and full purse.  Since I wasn’t sure all that the day held, I had packed my tennis shoes and flip flops, as well as church clothes for later, so it did look like a lot.

 The dogs outside Tina's gate may appear bored, but they're excellent watch dogs!

The sky was overcast, and Isaac’s chickens were clucking in the front yard as I avoided the mud and made my way to the vehicle.  Before we arrived at the road on which Ashlyn’s family lived, we spotted two dogs running behind the vehicle. When Tina had begun feeding these same abandoned animals some months ago, they came for the food but quickly left.  Slowly, they began warming up to the family.  Now they have become “outside the gate” dogs, who sleep in the long grass outside the family’s gate, protecting that area from would-be invaders.

I entered Tina’s lovely two-story home and received the grand tour of the place.  Tina, who is looking and feeling much better today after spending time in the hospital a week ago, was excited to visit Violet, whose baby had been born prematurely. 

Visits with African nationals were a special delight.

When the ladies of the family and I arrived at Violet’s compound, she opened the gate, smiling and asking us to come in.  Her little son, an energetic two-year-old, enjoyed sitting on Ashlyn’s lap and playing toys with the younger girls. 

From Violet’s quiet neighborhood overlooking the Del Monte pineapple plantation, we headed back to the congested roads of Thika town, where the minivan jostled from one pot hole to the next, splashing water in a dozen directions.  

On a street like this one, Ruth's dry cleaning business stands.

On one crowded street in the business section, where hawkers sell their wares and tiny shops elbow one another for room, stands the small drycleaning business belonging to Ruth, a church member to whom we were to give a book from America.  But Ruth was not there, so her sister redirected us to her home, a concrete apartment building of five stories that sits on the adjacent corner.  Tina parked a moment on the street to let Ashlyn and I off; we would climb the concrete steps to Ruth’s second-story apartment.  “Won’t you come in for tea?” Ruth wondered when we arrived, but we told her that would be impossible.  The savory smell of Kenyan spices greeted us as Ruth opened the door, and she told us she was making pilau, a rice dish I have not yet had the opportunity to try.  A blue and white fabric swath hung above the couch where Ruth’s toddler slept.  “I’ll bring some pilau to you tonight,” she promised us as we said our good byes.

Descending the narrow and steep steps, we again reentered the busy dirt street, where a mechanic repaired a car and several Kenyans, arms folded in front of them, watched.  A man was selling sugar cane on the street corner, and Tina ordered one for us to share.  With a sharp knife, he skillfully tore the bark from the exterior of the sugar cane and proceeded to whack the now-white cane into pieces of one- to two- inches long.  He bagged the dozen or so pieces and asked for his pay—25 shillings usually, but he wanted more.  After Tina gave him one more coin, I handed him a tract and Tina followed with an invitation to church.  

Enjoying a tasty dinner of samosas and chips

Thomas arrived home from the college, our cue to pile into the now very full van and leave for Thika.  There, we dodged traffic jams and made it to a restaurant where Tina enjoys eating, only to find out that they were out of meat!  Michael decided the restaurant closest to the church meeting place would be our dinner destination.  Tonight the restaurant was busy—people sat around nearly every table.  I tried the savory samosas with chips (French fries)—delicious!—and especially enjoyed the fellowship with the missionaries around the table.  Prayer meeting was likewise a blessing, with several Kenyans (including the restaurant owner) and various missionaries present.  Rain was descending rapidly when we left the building, so Missionary Mike and his son Zac went to retrieve the vehicle while the rest of us remained protected under the eaves of the building. 

Through the streets of Thika and back to the the guest house it was…Thomas to prepare for his last (half) day of Trinitarianism and both of us to get rest.

Friday, June 5

Today was Thomas’s final day of teaching Trinitarianism.  In contrast to other week-long block classes, which have had their exams on Friday, this class will take their exam next Wednesday.  I accompanied Thomas to IBCM today as he finished his final class hours.

On the college property

The college sits on a beautiful piece of property, one of the loveliest I’ve seen in Kenya.  Home to a Baptist church, the well-manicured lot boasts a full-size basketball court, lovely bushes, and flowers bursting with color, which line the gated entrance as well as the front of the building.  A library, its interior recently repainted, houses hundreds of books.  Thousands, still unopened in boxes from the States, yet await their place on the mahogany-covered shelves.

At 11:00 we piled into Michael’s Toyota to make the trip back to Thika.  Recent rains, which muddy the red dirt roads, have made the route of one African pastor too difficult.  He normally uses three different means of transportation to arrive at the college but today would travel with our vehicle, where we would drop him off at a central roundabout, where he could catch transportation to bypass the flooded areas. 

This Kenyan pastor is about forty years old with a wife and two young children.  “Would you like one?” I asked each of the passengers in the van, as I pulled out the tiny bananas Mrs. Sue had purchased at Section Nine the other day.  They are the sweetest, most delicious bananas I’ve ever had!  The pastor ate two of the tiny bananas.  Later, I offered the others some peanuts from the snack food the missionaries had provided.  After the pastor left, I wished I had given him the entire bag. 

We dropped the pastor off at a busy roundabout under a bridge, where he would locate a matatu (a van usually filled with about twenty people) to take him to his home.  Soon, we were back in Thika, where the rest of Michael’s family joined us for our trip to Nairobi and “Ethiopian.”  (Thomas found it humorous that everyone here calls these ethnic dishes not “Ethiopian food” but merely “Ethiopian.”)

Ethiopian food--a special treat!

Driving through the section of embassies in downtown Nairobi felt to us like a different world.  Perfectly shaped hedges, beautifully trimmed lawns, elegant gates, massive buildings, foreboding entrances—all these speak loudly of wealth and culture.  In that section lay our destination, a home that had been transformed into a restaurant.  We ordered three platters of the food and enjoyed rolling up the crepe-like injeras, which are a flatbread made of teff flour.  I found each bite of the food savory and had fun trying out the golden lentils, which had almost a lemony flavor, as well as the rust-colored lentils, which tasted to me as if they had been seasoned with barbecue sauce.

The Friday Maasai Market

Next we took a trip to the Maasai Market, where Africans (allegedly Maasai) sell their wares in a flea-market style.  As mzungus (the Swahili name for white people), we were targeted as those with plenty of cash.  I was frequently assailed by those seeking to offer me their wares, but I knew what I wanted to spend and wouldn’t buy unless the vendor took my price.  “These people just want to make a sale,” Tina said.  “They’re so desperate, because tourism is down since the terrorism.”  My heart went out to these  individuals, so many of whom had exactly the same kind of soapstone jewelry boxes or beaded bracelets or wooden spoons—but each needing the basic necessities of life to be met.  Moreover, each of them needs eternal life through Jesus Christ.

A walk around a downtown mall transported me from Africa to what felt like a cross between Europe and Asia.  It was upscale, full of western stuff at western prices and full of people.  I saw at least fifteen other white people in the supermarket where we got a beverage. 

Next to Coldstone Creamery stands a newly arrived Dominoes.  You might not be able to see it, but Thomas and I, along with the missionaries' son Taylor, took a photo right under the sign advertising Wisconsin 6 Cheese Pizza!

Coldstone Creamery, a recent addition to downtown Nairobi, was our next destination.  While in line, we met two teachers at a nearby school, where several ambassadors have their kids enrolled.  Taylor enjoyed talking to them and teasing them about American football teams.  Since my favorite Culvers flavor is “Cookie Dough Craving,” I couldn’t resist the "Cookie Doughn't You Want Some" flavor and because Thomas is a chocoholic, he had to try the Chocolate Overload. 

Darkness had fallen by 7:00, and we didn’t arrive back at the guest house until about 9:30 p.m.  How thankful we have been for the willing drivers the missionaries have been for us.  Seeing the multitudes of pedestrians along very busy roadways and hearing the traffic laws (such as basically any accident is the driver’s fault) helps me understand why some of the missionaries prefer not to drive at night. Thankfully, we had no serious trouble traveling back to Thika this evening--unlike Mike and Tina’s crazy episode Tuesday, where they were stuck in a ten-hour traffic jam due to heavy flooding!  Needless to say, we arrived back at the guest house safe, sound, and in one piece.

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