Wednesday, May 25, 2016


We knew that moving to a new country would require many adjustments, and we knew those adjustments would be hard, and we knew it would be exhausting to constantly manage those adjustments.  We knew it would happen, we knew it would be hard, and we knew it would be exhausting.  Yet, somehow, we are finding ourselves amazed that it's actually taking a toll on us, as if all the foreknowledge in the world should have been enough to cancel out the hard and exhausting parts of adjusting to life in a new country and culture.  But all the foreknowledge in the world has not canceled out the hard and exhausting parts.  We have been in Kenya for nearly two months and sometimes it feels like we know even less than when we first arrived because everyday exposes how much we don't yet know or understand about living here.

Knowing beforehand that living here would require numerous adjustments did indeed help to prepare us, particularly for the adjustments we expected to face (like being stared at all the time, or having difficulty communicating because our American accent is so different from their Kenyan accent, or not being able to pop a frozen pizza in the oven when that's all I can handle by dinner time).  But little could have prepared us for the adjustments we didn't expect to face (like brown water, or bug bites despite mosquito nets, or people knocking on our door multiple times a day).  And therein lies the irony: a huge part of adjusting to life in Kenya is learning to cope with the unlooked for, but necessary, adjustments.

Most of it is hard, but certainly not all of it.  Some things make us rise to the challenge (like cooking from scratch) while others leave us downright frustrated and annoyed (like our kids getting bug bites from an unknown source).  Some things we've adjusted to quickly (like washing all our produce in bleach water) while other things are taking a much longer time to adjust to (like having househelp in our home).  Ups and downs.  Pluses and minuses.  All of it summed up in one word: adjustments!

Let me highlight some particular areas that will further my point and also offer a peek into our daily life in Kenya.


We didn't know until we arrived at Tenwek that the water coming through the pipes is usually a shade of brown.  It comes from the river and is filled with alum that taints the color.  It's not safe to drink, which we knew beforehand and is also why we drink filtered rainwater, but we still brush our teeth with it and wash our dishes with it and do our laundry with it and bathe in it.  This is what the water looks like before our dirty boys get into the tub:

Quite frankly, we don't mind bathing in brown water, or washing our dishes in it, or brushing our teeth with it.  What we weren't prepared for is what it does to our clothes in the wash.  It stains clothes and somehow makes them gritty.  We quickly had to come to terms with the fact that some of our clothes might not last the two years we are here.  After a couple weeks of frustration and staring at our kids' clothes while wondering how their shirts are supposed to last two years when they're barely lasting two weeks, we heard from another missionary that we can wash clothes by hand with rainwater to prevent staining.  So we quickly adopted that method for our light-colored clothes in an attempt to preserve them, which has done wonders.  Our househelp does laundry twice a week for us and washes half of it by hand with water from the giant rain barrel outside.  We've decided to keep washing the dark clothes in the washing machine because stains are hard to see on them anyway.  So we've found a middle ground and are adjusting to the water situation.  (On another note, whenever I wash my hair with water from the pipes, my hair becomes funky.  There's no other way to describe it.  It does something weird to our hair, and mine is long enough to be frustrated by it, so I wash my hair with rainwater instead, filling a big Coke bottle from the rain barrel before taking a shower.  Almost every other white woman does the same thing here.)


Almost everything needs to be made from scratch.  Many modern food items can be found in Nairobi, but they come at a price and a 4-hour drive.  Some things can even be found here in Bomet (sliced bread, and most recently - butter), but most things need to be made from scratch.  Tortillas?  From scratch.  Muffins?  From scratch.  Guacamole?  From scratch.  There are no pre-made mixes or a frozen food aisle at the local market.  So we've been learning a lot about cooking!  It can take a lot of time, especially since we're trying many things for the first time, but it's also very rewarding to know we can still eat familiar foods if we're willing to put the time into making them.

One of my first attempts was to make pizza.  It was a bold choice since the one thing I have failed at every single time is homemade bread, which is the same category as pizza crust.  And I failed yet again when I made my first pizza here, but Eli was gracious with my attempt and helped me salvage the wreckage, and by golly we ate it and it wasn't awful!  I made a Hawaiian pizza with ham I bought in Nairobi and pineapple I bought here at the hospital, and I've made several Hawaiian pizzas since (with varying degrees of successful crusts, but all edible).  We've also had pizzas with sausage from Nairobi, pepperoni from America, and peppers, onions, and tomatoes from the local market.  It's been an adventure that we're committed to continuing.  Friday Night Pizza Night is a Tenwek tradition and we are happy to adjust to that!

Another cooking success has been homemade chicken nuggets.  Caleb and Kai love chicken nuggets and we weren't sure how our transition into Kenya would go without access to them.  But I quickly found an amazing and easy recipe on the Pioneer Woman's website, and they were such a hit that we've made our own tradition of making chicken nuggets every Sunday for lunch after church.

Another adjustment in the realm of cooking has been to wash all our produce in bleach water before eating it.  It's not a big deal, but does require a bit of forethought.  When dinnertime comes, I can't just pull the apples out of the fridge and cut them up.  I have to fill the basin with water and a cap full of bleach, let them soak for a bit, then rinse them again before cutting them up.  We've gotten better at washing our fruit and veggies ahead of time, but sometimes it still escapes us until we're pulling a meal together and realize we didn't wash the carrots we're planning to use in the curry.  Maybe someday it will become second nature to buy tomatoes and wash them right away so they're ready to use!


There are a lot of bugs in Kenya.  This was something we knew ahead of time, but it has been more of an adjustment than we anticipated.  Mosquitoes are annoying, but we sleep under mosquito nets and basically cope with them like we do in the summertime in the States.  Ants will occasionally creep into the house, but they can be squished or swept out of the house and soon forgotten.  The real adjustment has been dealing with the unknown bugs that bite us overnight.  We all have mosquito nets which mostly work (although the occasional mosquito does find its way into the net and buzzes in our ears in the middle of the night), but there have been a handful of times when one or more of us wake up with random bites that we cannot place where they came from.

One night I woke up to the feeling of something crawling across my face.  I flailed and freaked out and subsequently left Eli to fend for himself when Kai woke up crying a few minutes later and needed someone to snuggle with him.  Sure enough, in the morning I discovered two bites on my neck from whatever the creepy crawly was that found its way into our bed.

On two different occasions, Kai has suffered bug bites on his ear which have led to swelling and blistering and weeping.  We had to combat the symptoms with ibuprofen and Benadryl, and despite asking around we still have no idea what kind of bug did this to our poor boy.

Perhaps worst of all is when our completely innocent and defenseless infant gets bit.  A few times he's woken up with bites on his hands or face.  The most recent episode included bites on his forehead and throughout his hair.  They weren't mosquito bites but we have no idea what else they came from.  Spider?  Bed bug?  It's anyone's guess, and it's been hard to adjust to this enigma.


Twice a week we have two househelpers working in our home.  One woman cleans the house and does our laundry while another woman cooks.  Once a week we have a third househelper who works in our garden and does other odd jobs as needed.  While there are many benefits to househelp, such as the obvious help with time-consuming tasks like meal prep and cleaning and laundry, it has been the most difficult adjustment for me.  I never imagined how awkward it would be to have someone in my home, cleaning the floors of the living room while I'm sitting on the couch reading books to my kids, or how invasive I feel in our own kitchen because I need to access the snack cupboard for the boys.  I also never imagined how stressful it would be to have my "safe zone" taken from me twice a week.  Our home is the only place where it's possible to retreat from the outside world.  If we walk out the door, there's nowhere we can go without being instantly on display because of our white skin.  There's no walk we can take where eyes aren't watching our every move.  There's no coffee shop or library or mall where we can blend into the crowd.  There is nowhere for us to go to avoid being the center of attention except our very own home.  Twice a week, when I am home with our kids like I am every day, the freedom of being in such a "safe zone" is taken away when our househelp enter our home for the day, and it's surprisingly stressful.

Despite the stress, we've decided it's worth it because of the benefits.  I don't like having my space and privacy invaded, but I do like having fresh bread that I don't know how to bake myself.  I also like having the laundry that needs to be done by hand done by someone else's hands who knows how to work out water stains.  And I like having someone monitor our garden since I know nothing about gardening but would love to eat lettuce, for example, which can only be found by planting lettuce seeds in the soil.  So the benefits are real.  Furthermore, hiring househelp also offers employment to the people working for us, which is an important contribution the missionaries offer to the community here.

There are other benefits too.  For instance, because we have a Kenyan cook twice a week, we get to eat traditional Kenyan meals like this beef stew and chapati that leave us begging for more.

On the other hand, because we have a Kenyan cook twice a week, we occasionally discover the limitations of someone who doesn't have an oven in her own home trying to bake with our oven.  Yesterday H made this apple pie because we had extra apples and I asked her to, and when I saw it sitting on the counter after a long and stressful day of multiple confusing cross-cultural encounters, I could only think that is Not My Mother's Apple Pie and I wanted to cry.  Why does it matter that the apples were diced instead of sliced, or that it was more like apple soup instead of pie?  I don't know.  But somehow it did matter on a day like yesterday and I nearly lost it.  Caleb liked the crust, which is ironic since the top was burned, but at least there was a silver lining.

Other adjustments regarding househelp have involved sorting out their insurance and Social Security benefits which we're required to pay for.  We naively assumed that hiring househelp would simply require paying them cash at the end of the month, but there's more to it than that, and adding requests for advances on top of that (and wondering how to handle those requests mixed with wondering if we even have enough cash on hand to give an advance without prior notice) all makes for a stressful situation sometimes.  So it's been a huge adjustment on many fronts, one that was unlooked for.

Open Door Policy

Last but not least has been the adjustment to so many people coming to our door at all hours of the day.  We live in close proximity to many people, and some people pop over just to say hi or drop something off, which is nice.  But many people also knock on our door because they're selling something, or straight-up asking for money, and there's simply no way to avoid the oft revolving door unless I literally shut the door and close the curtains.  There's an Open Door Policy here, which can be a beautiful thing, but can also be an annoying thing.  I like having the door and curtains open because it lets in fresh air and sunshine.  But the cost is that the rest of the world knows I'm home and available, and there's no putting a Do Not Disturb sign on the doorknob.  If someone comes to our door hoping to sell me bananas, or a basket, or whatever, I need to answer the door.  Because if I don't, that person will wait patiently until I do, and Kenyans are very patient people.  Because my door is open, it means I'm somewhere inside and they are willing to wait if it means they can sell me something for a hundred shillings (the equivalent of a dollar).  And everyone who comes to the door is friendly and kind and greets me with a smile and a handshake, and often I'm actually interested in what they're selling, but sometimes I just want to remain in the house undisturbed because I'm busy enough with the kids and pausing whatever we're doing to answer the door and make an instant decision about pineapples isn't a convenient thing to do.

So it's been an adjustment of learning the balance between leaving the front door open but not the back door (because people come to both doors), versus leaving both doors open because the fresh air and sunshine is simply worth it in this place of idyllic weather.

And so we are adjusting to life in Kenya, which has required some coping skills and a willingness to learn new things and much appreciation for the way some things are done differently here that are better than the way we do things in America.  But we are adjusting.  Slowly but surely!  God has been good to sustain us through all of it, and He will be faithful to sustain us still.  All praise and glory go to Him for creating people and culture in the first place which require adjusting to and which stretch us to become more like Him as we see people and culture through His eyes.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Cow Dedication

[This event took place four weeks ago, and I'm just now getting the chance to write about it.  Life has been busy.  There are many things I want to write about already, and I hope to write in a more timely manner in the future.  Thanks for your patience as we continue transitioning into life here in Kenya and seem a bit "off the grid."]

You would think the most memorable part of a cow dedication would be the cow dedication itself.  Perhaps that would have been true if I hadn't also experienced an onslaught of onlookers as I nursed my baby in the car.  If white skin attracts a lot of attention here (and it does), white baby skin draws even more.  That was apparent as soon as we drove up to the lovely church and exited the car.  Three white ladies plus a young white girl plus a white baby seemed to be the highlight of the year for many Kenyan parishioners, particularly the children.  And when one of those wazungu [white people] stood up in the middle of the service to carry her mzungu baby from the front row, down the aisle, and out the back door, many intrigued Kenyan children eagerly followed to see what was going on.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let me back up to why we were there.  A friend of mine (who's been serving at Tenwek Hospital since last fall) was invited to speak during the service and asked if I wanted to tag along, which was how I found myself at a cow dedication at a village church.  This friend of mine was asked to speak because she's involved with Tabitha Ministry, an outreach to Kenyan women who live in the surrounding area of Tenwek Hospital who are active in a Women's Bible Study.  The ministry gives women the opportunity to earn a Bible in their own language through memorizing Scripture.  It also helps women in need through a variety of ways, including giving cows to help with their income.  This particular Sunday service was a celebration of one such woman who had applied and been approved to receive a cow, and my friend was the guest speaker and the rest of us were honored guests simply because we were there.  It was a joyous occasion and I was delighted to experience it.

We were greeted by many people when we arrived, and we could hear singing inside.  The congregation was sparse at first, but soon enough every chair was taken and people were standing in the back and out the door.  It was a special Sunday for this village church, and it seemed everyone had come to witness the cow dedication, as well as the white people on display!

We had the privilege of sitting in the front row.  There was a lot of singing.  Most of the songs were sung in Kipsigis, the local language, and we followed along with the Kipsigis hymnal.  There was something powerful about singing in the company of fellow believers with words I didn't understand and yet knowing that those unfamiliar words were offering praise to God.

All the while we sang, the cow was directly outside, mooing along.  It must have sensed that something special was happening because that cow mooed a lot!

While the cow waited and mooed in the yard, the congregation kept singing.  Interspersed with the worship were many greetings.  Various leaders of the church offered greetings, all of the leaders of the women's Bible study offered greetings, as well as some others in between that I couldn't tell you who they were.  In this culture, it doesn't matter how long the service goes as long as everyone is given the proper chance to be welcomed and give greetings and offer public thanks to God.

During some of the greetings, Asa got passed around.  He was remarkably content being held by complete strangers who obviously adored him.  Many women wanted to hold him and many children couldn't help but stare at him in wonder.  He was the object of much affection and curiosity.

Eventually, the choir performed.  Their bright orange outfits were particularly appropriate on such a festive occasion.  I also appreciated that so many children and youth were part of the choir.  I wish more children in American churches would be given the chance to sing in front of the congregation like this!

The offering was taken while the choir sang.  A basket was passed around, as you might expect, but I also noticed people walking to the front with bags of items.  My friend explained that those who can't afford to put money into the offering will bring something from their farm/garden and offer it to the church.  The food is auctioned off to someone in the congregation right then and there, and the money is added to the offering.  Someone brought a bag of corn and a woman seated near us bought it.  Another person brought a large stalk of sugarcane, which was auctioned and then cut into pieces for the children to enjoy as a treat after the cow dedication.  It was such a beautiful image of the Body of Christ bringing whatever they have, and all they have, before the Lord.

There were more greetings after the choir sang, and someone spoke before the official sermon.  We had already been there a couple hours by that point, however, and Asa was getting both tired and hungry.  It was soon apparent that he needed to be nursed, so I grabbed the diaper bag and the car keys and I quietly stood up in the middle of someone's speech to walk as discreetly as a mzungu and her baby can down the aisle and out the back door of the church.

The fresh air was welcome and I greeted a few people as I walked across the lawn toward the car.  Before I got there, however, I was surrounded by children, laughing and jabbering in Kipsigis as they touched my hair and pointed at Asa.  We were clearly more entertaining than the church service at that point.  No doubt they were wondering why the white lady and white baby were leaving.  Even though nursing a baby is more than common here, and certainly common to do in plain sight, it probably didn't occur to them that the reason for my departure was to have some privacy as I nursed my baby.  Privacy isn't valued highly here, but I still needed it and the only place to acquire some was in the back seat of the hot car.  So I maneuvered my way into the car and closed the door on dozens of children as Asa started crying in earnest out of hunger and exhaustion.  It was hot in there, but I wouldn't have opened the windows even if I could have because those dozens of children were now pressing their faces against the glass to see what on earth that white lady was doing in there with the baby!  I did my best to cover up even though the blanket only made it hotter for Asa.  Soon, not only were children staring at me with faces pressed to windows on both sides of the car, but the car started rocking as some kids pulled others off in order to get their own chance to stare at whatever was going on inside.  They were standing on the running board of the car so they'd be high enough to look in, and kids on both sides were being pulled off and then replaced by eager kids jumping onto the running board again, thereby rocking the entire car back and forth while I attempted in vain to nurse Asa to sleep.  He cried and fussed but somehow drank enough milk to tide him over.  I eventually gave up and sat him up since he certainly wasn't falling asleep.  I pulled out my camera to take pictures of our onlookers, which temporarily scared them away.  Since it was obvious we wouldn't be left in peace, and since Asa wouldn't fall asleep in those conditions, I gave up completely and got out of the car.  Soon enough the children dispersed and I was left to walk and shush Asa around the yard.  He eventually fell asleep in the carrier, but by the time I got back into the church the sermon was over and it was time to move outside for the cow dedication!

Everyone massed around the cow in the yard, which seemed unaffected by the crowd.  The church leaders and Bible study leaders gathered in the front and someone started singing.  Some words were spoken and then more singing.  The woman who received the cow was invited to come forward and take a part of the rope as even more singing commenced.  Her joy and gratitude for this enormous gift were evident as she wiped away tears, which are rarely seen in this culture.  In addition to the cow itself, the animal was de-wormed on the spot and the woman was given an insecticide kit to spray the cow as needed.  This particular cow was still young - not yet old enough to bear a calf - but when it does have a calf, it will have milk also and be a vital resource for this woman and her family.

So we rejoiced with this woman and the entire church community that gathered around her to support and bless her with this gift!  Once the dedication was done, we wazungu gathered in a small building behind the church to await a delicious meal of beans and rice.  The Bible study leaders joined us and we feasted on this traditional meal to conclude the celebration.  Asa had woken up by then and was passed around again.  Many smiles and laughs were seen and heard as that precious boy was held by the women!

It was a memorable day.  There are so many images in my mind from that experience, but I must admit that what stands out the most was the time in the car with all the faces pressed against the glass staring in.  I've never felt more on display in my life!  It was the epitome of all the attention we've received here, and even someone like me (who typically doesn't mind attention) was completely self-aware.  Self-awareness is something we are being forced to reckon with because we are always being watched.  But here's the good thing: even as we're paying close attention to our outward actions that are being carefully observed by those around us, we are taking the time to monitor our inward thoughts and feelings as well.  And self-reflection is always a good thing.


I'll end this post with a few pictures of Kenyan children at the cow dedication.  They're such beautiful people and I'm eager to capture more of them on camera in the days ahead.