Monday, July 23rd
Monday marked the two-thirds mark, a transition of the sorts and a week before going back home. The transition was for many reasons. Though experiencing a few new things in the last week, we mostly just went back to some of the same projects we had seen in the first two weeks. Another reason for the transition was that one of our group members, Josh went to the airport and left to go back to the States for work. From here on out, our group role call would be "nine in line" instead of "ten ahead." (not sure why - it was just said once and it stuck). This loss definitely changed the dynamics of the group - in my opinion making it more intimate because Josh was probably the least known and most independent of the group - but even still it was hard to see him go because he was really starting to open up and his humor was a great asset to the group, helping keep the mode lighter when needed. The last reason Monday was a transition is that Dan finally got his bag, which meant he didn't have to wear the same three outfits all the time and those of us that he borrowed from got to borrow some clean clothes from him.
As for the days activities, our time consisted of returning to Kibera Slums as well as back to the Kivuli Center. Oddly enough, cameras seemed to be a central themed of the day - both for good and bad. Though having two guides from Shalom House, the first hour of our time in Kibera (the second largest slum in Africa, having nearly 1 million people - mostly living on less than a dollar a day) was spent without residents from Kibera itself. On top of this, our two guides had brought their high-tech video camera equipment to shoot footage (1 hour) for a documentary; in addition some of our group members got too picture happy when they should have been more careful. Not hearing it myself, I guess a few members of our group and the guides got a strict yelling at by a few residents at an electronics "shop" along one of the dirt "roads" in the slums. The guides told us that they (both of whom were Kenyan but middle class) were the ones being yelled at (not us) and that if the residents knew the reason for shooting the footage (for showing people in the States to help out the Kibera Slums Community Development Program) they would not have been so angry - even still, some of our group members were really shaken up by the experience realizing that we were at fault for not respecting the dignity of the residents, and didn't fully settle down until we connected again with members from the community development program and were much better accepted by the Kibera residents - even though we still occasionally received comments from some of the adults. In spite of all this, we were able to walk to a few more of the KISCODEP initiatives including a sewing shop, a second Chemist show, and Teresa's shop again (also being able to meet her husband Huntington). This was a great chance to further our relationships with the community members and talk through what it would look like for us to help them out (providing the financial support to become a NGO (non-governmental organization) as well as provide them with some mother boards from more updated computers. While waiting for the community members to show up I was able to sit with our guides at a small "cafe" in the slums at which I played with a cute little girl (doing some magic tricks) and drank a 25cent bottle of coke! It was quite possibly the cheapest, best tasting, and most appreciated coke I have had in my life. I could also see myself sitting there some day as a resident, missionary, and friend to people of the slum - working with the Church there to help transform the area. And crazy as it sounds, I didn't feel scared of danger at all - actually I felt more comfortable than I often do in the suburbs of Chicago - its just that the danger in the slums is physical (not "real" danger) and the danger in the burbs is spiritual.
Following our second experience in the slums, we went back for lunch at Shalom House and then back to Kivuli Center (one of the Koinonia Projects closer to where we were staying). It was here that the camera took on a redemptive role. I'm really not sure what it is about the camera, but the kids love it. Spending most of our time in the small courtyard outside the kids' dormitory, the kids were able to get their hands on a few of our cameras - Dorthy, Lori, and I's. The rest you can try to picture, but no matter how hard you try, you can't. There is just something about Kenyan kids coming from living in the streets and slums taking pictures of their brothers - other street children. It is through this lens that kids were able to regain dignity - that they would be trusted with and even have the opportunity to take pictures with a digital camera, not to mention that they have people caring about them and wanting to have pictures of them. In this we learned that it is multiple short term and long term visitors from outside visitors that give dignity back to these once homeless, orphaned, and glue sniffing boys. What's more is that on our final visit to Kivuli (coming on the following Sunday afternoon) I was able to upload the pictures the boys took (as well as all my other pictures from my trip) to one of the computers in Kivuli so that the boys have a chance to see their work - again giving a redemptive role to the camera (I got the idea to do this during Monday's visit when a few kids were looking through the window from the courtyard into the case managers office where each of the boys' picture was being displayed one by one on the screen saver on the computer - how cool, I thought, would it be if the pictures they took were also flashing through on the computers screen saver). Beyond pictures (and without one in my hands) it was great just getting to know some of the same and new kids more and playing with them - one cool opportunity I had was to help one of the younger kids, Eric, get a nail out of his shoe (made of recycled tires) with two wooden sticks. God can use anything to help fix things that are broken - even cameras, sticks, and little kids with big smiles!
Tuesday, July 24: Lake Nakuru
On Tuesday our group left early for lake Nakuru, the "flamingo capital of the world." This title proved to be nothing but true as there were literally hundreds of thousands if not a million flamingos lining the outside and parts of the inside of the lake - a large lake that took us looking from the top of a fairly large mountain to see it all. Just expecting to see some flamingos and pelicans (they told us we would see pelicans too), I and the group were definitely in for a surprise after our three hour bus ride to the lake when we also saw Rhinos, Zebras, Baboons, Buffalo, Gazelle, Impalas, Giraffes, a Hyena, and many other African-unique animals. The Rhinos was the coolest of these animals because we didn't see any while on safari, but probably was not as amazing as the flamingos. It is one thing to see a colorful bird or even a peacock - definitely pieces of God's creation; but to see a sea of pink covering the lake like the flamingos did (painted on a background of dark blues and greens) was beautiful - and to be honest, kind of funny too. The trip was definitely worth the three hour bus rides there and back and was captured by some amazing pictures of God's creation.
Wednesday, July 25th: Free-Day
Before this trip, the longest I have ever been on a missions trip was 10 days, and the longest I have ever traveled outside of the country was two-weeks. This considered, I was not expecting the feeling of restlessness that came during the last week. On top of being in a different country and culture for the time we were, because of the way the trip was set up we were traveling to different places and projects every day. It got to the point, first noticed on this Wednesday, that I appreciated having a break from spending time with kids and traveling. Every time we'd get to a project it seemed as if I had unlimited energy to hang out and interact with the kids. They just have a way with transferring their abundance of energy onto you - Jesus also provides the extra needed energy through the kids. But Jesus also gives energy from rest outside of spending time doing ministry or being ministered too - for our group, that came through having a day, Wednesday, to relax and catch a last wind before finishing our trip. This came as an unexpected blessing being that our next four days would be filled with emotional experiences and tiring traveling. The reason for the "free day" was that we couldn't get through to the AIDS orphanage we wanted to help at until that day, so the intended visit got moved to the next day and the day was left open. To pass the time, many of us took naps, journaled, updated blogs and e-mail, and even through the Frisbee around or kicked the soccer ball (I've been practicing my ball juggling skills). In the afternoon we also all took a trip to the downtown market, a market that contains many commission-driven "hounds" (for lack of better words). If you were ever feeling alone during a visit to Nairobi, the market is a place for immediate adoption into a large family and the most shallow "love" I have ever felt. In other words, we were nothing but dollar signs to the nearly 100 shop (all with about the same things) owners, people who'd say "brother/sister...come and look in here...touching and looking is free." While it was cool to see some amazing paintings, carvings, and jewelry, it took every bit of coldness and stubbornness I had (which is not a lot) to walk out with only the two things I went in looking for - a flag for myself and sweet gift for my sister. Needless to say, tourism is the highest form of National income from what I understand. It was a good day of rest finished with an interesting discussion that night during our devotional time.
I'm not sure how we got to it (maybe because I and Becca sensed a lack of gospel focus), but the conversation came around right to the message of the cross - the raw and real message that the Apostle Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, that of Christ's death for our sins, his burial, and his Resurrection. I have definitely been challenged by Rick and Desiree that the message (and belief) is empty without love and works to back it up (we were studying James 2:14-26 on faith and deeds when this discussion came up); this is a good thing. But in doing so, there has been a very "grayed" gospel being presented - to the point that they said Gandhi and other religious people who serve the poor were going to Heaven even though not believing in Christ as their Savior. Not that we are the ones to decide this, but the Bible is very clear/ black and white - no salvation outside of knowing Christ as Lord and Savior. Surprisingly one of our members said they were not a Christian in regards to the gospel message (it needed to all make sense before they believed it), and with this the case as well as one of our members being a fairly new Christian, I and Becca made sure the gospel was presented again clearly. Though no salvation prayers were prayed, I think the Bible's message that salvation is black and white came through (John 3:18); and though I feel some were offended by the conversation and method in lew of not hearing the warm and loving message of the gospel that comes from talking about the poor, I feel the darkness was exposed, light shined through, and a rich and real love was presented; and I pray that in time it may bring each member closer to our Savior - again, it is still unsettling but maybe that is a good thing.
Thursday, July 26th: AIDS Orphanage
Thursday brought what was to be maybe one of the most emotionally challenging yet rewarding days of our trip. We were able to visit an AIDS orphanage called NYUMBANI for AIDS orphans aged 6 months through late teens. The place itself was a great environment and area for any kid to grow up. The 100+ kids were split into 5-10 houses and families of 10-15 kids each, represented by 5-10 small houses situated in a rectangle around a nice playground and grassy null for "football" or jump-rope. There was also an area behind one of the buildings (in the back of the plot) with a garden, some other apartments for volunteers, and a basketball court. In addition, near the entrance was a small catholic church and housing area for nuns (a few of them worked at the house along with leaders from the community).
The hard part was accepting or thinking about the situation the kids were in - not only that they were orphaned but also that they had an incurable and lifelong virus that would most likely cut their lives short. In Africa, it seems that AIDS is much like the leprosy of Jesus' day, often causing families to disown their own children and giving the infected a stigma of an outcast. While this knowledge makes it more beautiful to see the love the ladies and workers are showing to make a life of hope possible for the kids, it is also something that can cause your own heart to rib right open and pour out compassion and love. In order to really love these kids, you cannot let any of the reality of the situation get in the way - you must see them as kids that need human love like all other kids - and that's what we were able to do...just love on them. My favorite times there included kicking the soccer ball with one of the older and more athletic boys, getting to know and take a picture with two other Paul's from the orphanage (one older and one younger), pushing a little girl on a two wheel bike, jumping rope with some of the girls, showing some of the kids where I live on a map (and having them show me where they live), holding a 6 month old baby - who may or may not be HIV positive, watching the kids sing songs to us, and trying to find Dorothy at the end when she had got sucked into a house with some of the kids.
At the home I read a poster on AIDS that said the number of cases has seen large growth over the last ten years, and the urgency to help even more apparent. These facts help me understand the attempts to find a cure, and fight the root (unprotected, premarital, and unfaithful intercourse) in addition to just fighting the symptoms (like NYUMBANI). I will definitely keep all these kids, those fighting for a solution, and the church whose responsibility it is to watch after orphans like these, in my prayers.
After the orphanage we had a late lunch and got ready for our three day trip to Mombasa.