Wednesday, March 18, 2009

post- africa reflections

The day after I got back, it snowed. It was 100 degrees in Africa. And then I built snowmen two days later. Welcome home! It was the biggest snowstorm in years in NC- like 3 inches. The milk and the bread were MIA from Food Lion before the weather man even got the word "snow" out of his mouth. Why people in the south react to a snow forecast in this way, I will never understand.

The weather was, by no means, the biggest adjustment! I'd heard all about how difficult it was to come back home after a trip to a third world country, but it took me by surprise. It was difficult in different ways than I expected. It's not the kind of adjustment like when you come home from summer camp and go to bed crying because you're utterly exhausted and you miss your camp friends, and then you get up this next morning and eat blueberry waffles and wonder how you lived without them for the week. It's the kind where you sit around and you don't know what to do with yourself, so you look at pictures, email anyone who is still in Mozambique and convince them to tell you what's going on there, and re-evaluate the reason for your existence.

...So that's going well.

I know Africa is where I want to be full time some day, and I don't see that day as being too far off in the future. But I don't think I'm finished with things here yet. I'm SO psyched to see my friends back in Manhattan, and I'm feeling more motivated about auditions than I've felt for a long time. I even listened to musical theater cds just for fun today. What is happening to me?

A couple people asked if I would be continuing this blog after Africa, and I laughed...Because blogging is stupid. Because I hate anyone who is narcissistic enough to believe that other people actually get enjoyment out of reading her personal thoughts.
With that said, I'm totally continuing it.
But seriously, when I thought about it, I realized that my mindset of why I wouldn't be continuing my blog is the kind of mindset I'm struggling to keep myself from having every day. Which is that important things worth blogging about can only happen in Africa. Somehow, in my mind, anything I couple possibly find to do over here is minuscule to whatever great deeds I could be doing in Africa. Somewhere I get the idea that while I can bless people in a third world country, here I have to get back to reality and get a real job and focus on myself. And in some ways, here it's harder to keep my goal of "loving" first and foremost in my mind, just because everything about western society seems to work against that. Relationships aren't really valued here as much as careers and success and drive. They definitely weren't valued as much in my life before February. It's especially a challenging thing to keep in mind when the career you have chosen is the bloodbath that is Musical Theater in New York City.

ANYWAY. I might or might not actually find the time to keep up with this blog. But I hope I will be able to update it atleast occasionally, because a) I want to keep it up because I will be going to Africa again, hopefully before this year is over and b) I never consistently write in a real journal, so this is something concrete I will have to look back on in the future and c) Who knows, maybe I can take bits and pieces from it when I accomplish my dream (hopefully) off writing a book some day.

Please pray for the Iris Centre (where I was) in Zimpeto, Mozambique, as they had two armed robbers break in the other night and threaten a couple visitors and stole everything they had. These robbers are not new to Iris, because they visited several times while I was there. They only managed to steal my food and I never had an actual encounter with them. Also, one of the precious babies recently died. Please pray for the missionaries serving at Iris- that they will have a renewed hope and vision. Also pray for the poor visitors, who were (understandably) pretty badly shaken up!

ALSO- thoughts and prayers go out to my dear friend Nick Brady, who is serving in Columbia for 3 months! Check out his blog at

I'll let you know how jumping back into the bloodbath plays out.

Friday, February 27, 2009

goodbye africa...

Yesterday was one of the better days of my life thus far. Thursday the safari truck never arrived, so I pulled some strings and hired a personal driver to take me on a fancy safari, complete with a picnic lunch + wine and hours dourves for the ride. Reality: I talked the Iris driver, Rufus (the same guy who picked me up from the airport) into renting a truck and told him to take me anywhere that I could see some wildlife for the day! It was just the two of us, so I had the whole van to myself, so we opened up the roof and went at our own pace. IT WAS FANTASTIC. We saw zebras, buffalo, antelope (I never knew there were so many different kinds...big ones and then tiny ones!), giraffes, wildebeasts, lots of different types of birds (but I know nothing about bird watching so I didn't really appreciate it), etc etc. And... WE SAW A LEOPARD. It was fantastic...Rufus gives tours all the time at NNP and has never seen one! I talked to Lynda and Dan later and they have never seen one either! He was hiding out under a bush pretty near to our van. We watched him for a while, and then drove closer and got to watch him run off! The animals got amazingly close to our car. At one point we actually had to slow down because a giraffe refused to get out of the road! Another time, a baby zebra was laying in the middle of the road. As we got closer and closer, it still didn't move- and we started to think something was wrong. Well, we must have interrupted him from a great nap, because when we couldn't drive any further without running him over, he jumped up and RAN to the grass to join the others! Poor thing, we must have scared him to death! Later, we got out of the truck because Rufus said we were going on a guided walking tour. When I step out of the van, I see that our guard is a man in full-out camouflage attire, including a cute little green cap, and is holding a very large gun. We start walking into the bush and they are talking swahili and I actually have no idea what is going on. If there is any one thing I learned early on in Africa, though, it is not to ask too many questions- just have a "whatever" attitude and follow along, and be ready for an adventure! Anyway, eventually I am unsure whether adopting this flexible attitude is a good idea at this particular moment, since we still walking farther and farther into the middle of nowhere and I am with two Kenyan men, one of whom has a large gun. Maybe this is a fun game they play on boring afternoons at Nairobi National Park... the take the clueless white girl into the woods and shoot her game. But THEN, we saw a huge crocodile sunbathing, and putting my life in danger was totally worth it. We also saw a hippo who was hiding underwater. We then followed the man with the gun back out of the woods and sat under a little hut, where we enjoyed cokes and I listened to the men talk about more things I didn't understand. I asked the man if he'd ever had to use his gun, and he said he has used it quite a few times, but only to scare animals off- never to shoot at them directly. I wanted to ask him to teach me how to shoot it, but I thought that might be inappropriate, and with his limited knowledge of the English language I didn't want to miscommunicate anything that involved the words "me" and "shoot." We stayed in the park for almost 5 hours, and as we were driving out, baboons came out of nowhere and surrounded the truck! They were jumping from the trees and running in front of the car- there must have been 15 or 20 of them. One even had a little baby riding on her back! So cute! What a perfect way to spend my last day in Africa.
After a full 24 hours of travel, I am sitting back in my own bed! It feels good to be home and be with family- i've missed them SO much! But I am utterly exhausted, and I am really missing my Mozambique boys, and I don't really know what to do with myself right now. So I think the best option is to sleep and figure life out tomorrow.
Goodbye, Africa (but ONLY until I save enough money to visit again/move there for an indefinite period of time : P )...

ps. here is my dream. i want to move back to mozambique. i want to get an apartment. and i want to spend all my days in bocaria, the city dump. i want to paint little girls nails and pamper them and play baseball with all the kids, and sing praise and worship songs and build and repair houses. however, to accomplish this dream, i need a team. i need people who know how to build things, because i don't. i also need massage therapists (for the people who work so hard all day there), people who like being silly with kids, and someone who plays a guitar. and someone who wants to help me pay for the apartment. who's in? (i might be more serious than you think).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Reflections while waiting on the safari bus to arrive (3 hours late and counting)

I've been thinking a good bit about "life after africa." Somehow, it seems a bit difficult to just go back to life the way I've always lived it before I embarked on this little adventure. After people visit a third world country, they talk a lot about how they've been "changed forever." They talk about their "new perspective" on life, or maybe they even vow to "NEVER complain again!" This is kind of the way I expected to think after taking a trip like this one, and all of these are good and valid things to feel. I was hoping to be able to return to New York City and get a little less annoyed when standing outside in January for 2 hours at 5 AM, only to get turned away because they aren't seeing non-equity actors. This would be about the point, I assumed, when devastating pictures of poverty and sickness and starvation in Africa would flash through my mind, and I would go about my day with a renewed mindset and a more optimistic outlook on life, thankful that I will always have food on the table. Unfortunately, I think my thoughts have been messed up even a little more than that. It's like something clicked, but in a way that is less like one of those "aHA!" moments where a lightbulb appears suddenly above your head, and more like a gradual adapting to life here and finding that things that didn't make sense when looking at them through my westernized perspective suddenly have become much clearer. This is the part where my friends all stop reading, because Mychal is about to go on a rant about a far-off, intangible idea of what life really means, and it will more than likely conclude by saying something that sounds ultra-spiritual and hopelessly abstract, and I have no time for this in my life today because I have to get to class and the grocery store and a piano lesson by noon and why couldn't she just stick to talking about chicken feet? If this is what you're thinking, please feel free to skip this part. I probably would too, and actually, these thoughts are probably a bit controversial, and since my best friends generally range from very spiritual, avid church-goers to people who could care less about anything spiritual or religious, it is probably apt to offend both of these extremes in some way or another. But my idea is this: What if we actually lived like Jesus meant what he said? What if we had more of Jesus and less of Christianity? More Mother Teresas and Gandhis and Martin Luther Kings, and less hellfire and damnation preachers and guilt-driven altar calls on TV? What if we let go of our individualized, fear-based, tame, domesticated version of faith that is so oober-obsessed with personal salvation and started to ask ourselves how wrecked we would all be if we actually believed some of the crazy things Jesus suggested? For the past few years, I've lived by Gandhi’s idea of "liking your Christ but not liking your Christians." There have always been some holes in my faith, because I couldn't fully accept a faith that is viewed by so many to be one of judgment, division, unacceptance, and even hatred of certain social groups. Right before I left on this trip, someone made the comment, "Wow, you seem pretty religious, but you are really open minded- and those two things don't go together!" This made me chuckle at the same time that it made me really depressed about what our idea of faith has become today. When did we start ignoring what Jesus actually said and start being obsessed with power, control, and religion? Somewhere along the way, we reduced Jesus' scandalous message of love, hope, grace, and radical change to some magical formula only for the right people at the right time to pray and be saved forever. When did we loose hope in the phrase "on earth as it is in heaven?” As my South African friend, Kenn, said at Iris, "Jesus came to give us LIFE, not just afterlife!" I think so many times when someone rejects Christianity, they aren't really rejecting Jesus, they are rejecting the version of Christianity they were taught, rather it is through an abusive priest, a judgmental religious group, or just bad theology. And sometimes even when a person accepts Christianity, they are not accepting the whole message of Jesus- maybe they are picking and choosing parts they like and not reading the crazy things Jesus said that actually got him killed. If we focused on those parts, wouldn't our lives be a lot more wrecked and turned upside down than they are? If Jesus were to show up tomorrow, I wonder if anyone from the modern church would actually recognize him. Anyway, here is my question- what would actually serving and loving the people I've met in Africa really look like? And if it means what I've always thought it would be, it would be this: A rich white girl like me arriving with fancy clothes and fancy tools and fancy cell phones and ipods and showing the Jesus film in a remote village that has never before seen electricity. Then everyone gets saved and we begin to introduce a Westernized way of life where we build fancy houses and get everyone jobs that pay a lot so people can live like we do in Christian circles in the west. And in this kind of a situation, who do the tribal people look at as savior- Jesus, the one I'm trying to tell them about, or me, the new white person with promises of riches, development, and prosperity? Suddenly, we find ourselves dealing with the same problems we had at home to begin with- nobody is starving anymore, but we are now dealing with the just-as-real problems of isolation, loneliness, depression, jealousy, and hatred. The faith that I have seen is so extreme here. And when I asked myself "why?"...WHY do these people's worship have an intensity that is so much stronger than ours? Why is their love for God and love for each other so prominent that they are seeing miracles being done and amazing things happening that I'd never even heard of until I got here? And the answer I kept getting was, BECAUSE IT'S ALL THEY HAVE. They rely on their faith to survive. It isn't just a "Live Your Best Life" package, promising to better your life and fill in whatever you felt like you were missing, complete with an affirmation of the good deeds you are doing and instant relief of guilt. These people rely on God to show up because if He doesn't, then they die. They rely on miracles and view them as a normal part of life because they don't have another option. They live in community and share everything they own, and love each other as brothers and sisters because that's the only world they know! The gospel was written for them- because Jesus isn't God of the rich and prosperous, the affluent or even the well-respected. His message is one for the underdog, the desperate, and for those who are out of hope. As Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers says, "We have a God who enters the world through smallness...This is the great paradox and humor of God's audacious power: a stuttering prophet will be the voice of God, a barren old lady will become the mother of a nation, a shepherd boy will become their king, and a homeless baby will lead them home. God works not in spite of but through our frailty." A God who teaches us that our job is to love the world just as He first loved us...a God who demands that we stand up for the poor and the voiceless and the "least of these"...a God for those who are tired, worn out, and "burned out on religion" (Matthew 11:28-30)...A Jesus who came to protest the same religious arrogance and exclusivity that we see so often now...a God who comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable...a Jesus whose earliest followers were so radical in their living that they gave away everything they owned to the poor, refused to take part in violence, spent their entire lives loving others, and were often killed for it- It doesn't sound like the Gospel I ever heard in America...but it's definitely something I could go for! Thoughts? I would love your ideas on all of this, whether you are in agreement or if you think that I could use some hellfire and damnation preaching myself. Everything is welcome. Now I am going outside to figure out what on earth is going on with this safari. If I don't see a cheetah, I will be pissed.

a little potty talk

After weekend and a midterm break on Monday, school at Huruma Children's Home is now back in session. Midterm break, which all the kids just refer to as a "midterm," brought on a bit of confusion for me, since I thought a midterm was an exam. It took a couple days of kids looking at me like I'd lost my mind every time I asked, "Have you studied? Are you ready for the midterm?" before I figured out that "midterm" just means "holiday. " Even when a girl who felt sorry for me was nice enough to finally explain the whole scenario, I thought she was saying Monday was a "Holy Day." A holy day? What one earth is a holy day, and why would they pick a random Monday to be one? I was a bit slow to realize that they heavy accent made "holiday" sound like "holy day." Ha! Few people speak fluent english here, so miscommunications like this are not uncommon. It can be very entertaining, actually. Even those who speak english usually are pretty difficult to understand, due to mixing up words or structuring sentences in weird ways or just having the heavy accent! Even though English is the official language here in Kenya, many different languages are spoken, depending on what tribe or what area you are in. Here, Swahili is the primary language spoken. During school meetings and church services, the speaker will jump back and forth between English and Swahili, and it can be very confusing to understand! This is very different from Iris, where a lot of the faculty spoke english, and many of the kids had picked up atleast a little from the many visitors that come throughout the year. Here, not so much. Oh, and just in case you ever get the chance, I strongly recommend being the only white person in an african worship service. Especially if almost 300 members of the congregation are children, and the "church" is a tiny dining hall. Especially if you come from a background like me, where your idea of dancing in church consists of clapping and/or lightly tapping your hand on your thigh to the beat, and your idea of prayer is listening quietly with your head bowed while the preacher talks softly. You won't stick all! I was loving every second!
There kids here get up at 4 AM and do chores and get ready for the 5:30 AM prayer and singing service. They then eat breakfast at 6:30 and attend the 7:30 morning message by Mama Zipporah. Then it's off to school until 3:30, with a short break afterwards until the 6:00 prayer time and sermon and then homework hall until bed. Wow. Just watching it all is enough to make me exhausted. Also, coming from a (very) non-traditional education and spiritual background, this has been an experience for me! It was an even better experience when I sat in the formal school teacher meeting with the headmaster and 20 teachers on the education board and was the only one who didn't understand a word of swahili. Or there was the time when I walked into the morning's worship service half asleep and dressed in very contemporary, bright summerish clothing ( I mean, I wore a dress below my knees. This is a big accomplishment) 15 minutes late (because who knew worship services could even start before 8 AM?!) to see everyone in their school uniforms and the teachers in very conservative, old school teacher garb. Oh, and I walked in the front door instead of the side one- you know, the one that enters directly behind where Mama preaches. Sweet. One thing I know how to do in life is make a scene. It's a talent you really have to work for, believe you me. Seriously, though, I have been SO inspired by the people here. People in Africa work their butts off for things we take for granted in the states. There's no complaining or griping about it, either. And there is always work to be done! In Mozambique, I watched Amelia, the wife of the pastor I stayed with for the weekend, spend all night cooking a meal for us without electricity or running water. She used the best of what she owned for her special guests, which were some mixed plates and bowls, tupperware for serving, and two cups that everyone shared. The next morning she was up by 5 (maybe before, but you can be sure I wasn't up yet), out with the women in the village, bringing back water in the huge buckets- or broken gasoline tanks or whatever they can find- they carry on their heads. The youngest children were up as well, "raking" the yard (the yard was all sand, with the exception of the "garden" which was what looked like some grass in the middle of the yard outlined with a fence of perfectly aligned sticks). After more chores came time for breakfast preperation, and all the kids took part of making the most memorable breakfast I'll ever have- bread, crackers, jam, and bananas (the bananas are smaller and far better than the ones we get in the states) with hot tea, served just as the sun was coming up! Here in Kenya, I've made friends with an amazing woman named Patricia, who is 21 but looks and acts much older, and is a schoolteacher here in the toddler class, where I've been working. Patricia lived as a street child, came to a children's home, and then lived for 6 years with an Irish man who took abandoned children in and paid for their education (school isn't free here). After the Irish man was brutually murdered, Patricia was completely alone in the world at age 18. She finished high school, got a job, and saved up enough money to buy a bed and other essential pieces of furniture and to rent a place to live. She came to Huruma last month, and she feels so blessed to be in a place where she is respected and is able to get a steady paycheck without putting up a fight. Patricia wears a ring around her left ring finger but she isn't married. When asked about this, she laughs and says, "Oh, you have to do that here! Otherwise, people will never leave you alone. They are eager to get on their knees and propose, but after marriage and children, they will leave you alone and you will be on the street. No thank you!" Patricia is hoping to save enough money to earn a degree, which she will obtain while still working full time at Huruma. Most of the people on the school board are in their early 20's and come from similar situations. Patricia inspires me to work a little harder at the every day, mundane things in life. She's made me realized how fortunate I am to be able to live my life doing what I love to do- maybe it won't bother me so much anymore that I have to work in retail sometimes to be able to support that dream.
That being said, I have also learned a valuable lesson here at Huruma. And that is that if I can avoid it, I will never work in ful time education or child care of any type. Not that I was ever planning on it. Being in a classroom for a day sucks the life right out of my body. No wonder I was obsessed with strange, belly-dancing, unschooling hipster authors in high school- I actually cannot stand to be in a classroom for more than a few hours at a time. Come to think of it, almost everything traditional generally irks me in some way or another. I start falling asleep, or wanting to start a screaming match with the two year old who cannot stay in his chair for more than 30 seconds at a time. And this classroom is a tiny space for the 15 toddlers who come from Huruma and from all over the community every day. The walls are decorated with old potato-sack looking things with drawings all over them...numbers, types of farm animals, the alphabet, etc. There is a cabinet filled with small notebooks and a few legos the kids get to play with every afternoon. There are 4 mats that we lay out for them to all sleep on during naptime, which is my favorite part of the day. And these kids are smart. They picked up very quickly on the fact that I am a white pushover who speaks no swahili. During naptime, Patricia left for a total of two minutes, in which time the boys decided to terrorize me. They started getting off the mat and jumping around, running out of the classroom, and showing off to their peers. Every time I said "NO!" and grabbed them and put them back on the mat, they were more motivated by their giggling classmates to start the whole act over again. As soon as Patricia came back in the room (with her little stick she uses to swat them on the hand or the butt when necessary), they jumped right back onto the mat, and were soon fast asleep. Figures. Also, there must be something with kids liking to pee while I'm around. The first incident getting peed on all over at Iris should have been enough to ward off the bad pee karma for a while. No such luck. The girl in charge of the baby room left me there for 20 minutes with the kids last night, in which time they all became little devils and jumped out of their cribs (who knew they could do that?!) onto the floor and into other cribs. One of them took off his pants and diaper, peed all over the floor, and then proceeded to dance in the urine. There were no diapers in the room, and Bounty paper towels do not exist in Africa. When Zipporah finally came back in, she had the kid halfway wipe the pee up with some poor child's sweatshirt, and then it was time for bed. ALSO I forgot to mention that the little kids go to the bathroom in mini little plastic toilet bowls in the classroom or in the rooms here at the home, so after someone goes, it smells awful for the rest of the day (imagine porridge lunch sitting in a plastic bin + african heat +several hours in a classroom). HA. To sum it all up, this time in Kenya has been superb. And TOMORROW I am going to NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK!! And also to the animal orphanage and out to eat with some of the kids! I hope I get to see a leopard or a giraffe! I'm so excited!

Monday, February 23, 2009

crisis control, dehydration, multiplication...and gender inequality

What a day. This is going to be a long one, so go ahead and brace yourself. Skim through if you feel the need-my mother might be the only one who actually reads the entire blog anyway. :P

I am exhausted! And thirsty. And my jeans are soaked.

The thirst and the wet jeans have to do with a small crisis I just experienced that I will share with you later. I am exhausted because these children wear me out. In the best of ways, of course! After playing in the hot Kenyan sun for a few hours and spinning kids around and picking them up and acting like I'm about to drop them (children find these type of things amusing), I have to take refuge in the guest house for a while. It's weird because I have the house (which consists of two bedrooms with two bunkbeds each, a bathroom, and a kitchen/living room area) completely to myself the week I'm here. It's kind of awesome. Usually, I love having people around all the time. A fantastic thing about Iris was the fact that volunteers from all over the world were constantly coming and going. I met people from South Africa, Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, England, and a little of everywhere else. Here, though, I'm appreciating the quiet! I've had a roommate for the majority of the past 10 months of my life, and I shared a bed for 3 of those months, so the alone time has been a pleasant change! The kids keep asking me if I get scared staying in the guest house all alone. Which concerns me a little, because I think, "Um, no...should I be scared?!" And I ask them just that, and they kind of shrug. Awesome. Ha! I'm actually not worried at all (promise, mom!). There is even a freaking alarm in my bedroom to hit in case something were to happen. And there is a gate around the home. With guards. Even that is funny to me, because I’ve never felt unsafe here (EVEN when like 9 street boys ganged up on Ernie and I : P ) and I guess I just don't feel threatened very often. In my 4 years in Manhattan, I remember feeling threatened one time. And here I felt slightly threatened when we got pulled over and I was interrogated by a police standing on a dark road with no street lights. Everything else has been fabulous. So, today, I had a lesson in gardening from my new friends Ben (a complete troublemaker- 16, adorable and he knows it), Martin, Richard, John, and James. All of them have facebooks, except for John, who is a sweetheart and isn't as mischievous as the others. Facebooks and email accounts are strictly prohibited here at Huruma. The boys sneak into internet cafes in Ngong and check them. They are all acrobats and can do really impressive tricks, like doing flips in the air over someone doing a backbend. They also enjoy juggling and doing strange body contortions that are even weirder than licking your elbow (which, by the way, I've met one person in Mozamb. and one person in Kenya who can do that, along with Ally and I. That makes 4 people in the entire world. I just think everyone should take note of that). Wthey were shoveling this morning in the garden, I offered to help, and they laughed and said it wasn't girls work. Well! That was enough motivation for me to grab the shovel right out of James’ hands and have a little lesson in gardening. And let me tell you, this is no easy work they do here! They are digging long trenches that stretch across the entire front of the home to grow crops… and they have TWO garden tools, a shovel and a hoe, one of which is broken. So I’m digging, and the boys are finding this hilarious. I make sure to tell them my little spiel about how there is no such thing as “men’s work” or “girl’s work.” : ) You know I had to get that in! But they are delightful boys, and I spent a couple hours hanging out with them. I also spent some time with my friend Milicent today, who’s around 16 and in grade 7 or 8, and we talked to some of the workers who are constructing the new church (which is making very slow progress, since it’s being hand built by like 3 people and the funds are low). The rest of the time was spent playing with lots of kids, helping with math homework (thank God it was only simple division : P), and dealing with a minor catastrophe.
For the past two days, I turn the faucet on and no water comes out, and I have no idea why. This keeps happening and I keep telling mama about it. This morning I boiled some water to drink for the first part of the day, but it was gone by early afternoon, so I told Mama. She was a little distracted, so I ignored my thirst for a few hours and then found someone else to ask. She said not to worry, she will get someone to fix it, and for now, just fill up a pot inside the dorms and bring it back to the house to boil (now, WHY didn’t I think of that earlier?) So, I did that, but the kids nightly pep talk/lecture/sermon was starting, and I wanted to go listen and finish making some multiplication flash cards I was making for Hannah Montanta. So I decided to wait to boil the water, and returned a couple hours later to find water literally POURING out into the living room. I run in the bathroom and the water is up to my ankles. The faucet is still running and it refuses to turn off. Well, the water is now running into the bedroom and the kitchen and I have no idea what to do. I run out the door and yell down the stairs to some boys standing around outside (one of them who is older and was doing the preaching tonight), “Um, I am in serious need of some help!” The boys, instead of rushing up to help me, run INSIDE to get someone else. Wow. Then the older boy comes up and helps me turn off the faucet (he struggles for a minute too, or else I would have felt like an even BIGGER idiot) and then peaces out. I stand there in the water with one towel (mine) and a bucket and mop and actually have no idea what to do. Boy returns with one of the teenaged girls and mumbles, “She will help you,” and then leaves. To play soccer. If I believed in violence I might have hit him, but I just laughed instead. I made a comment to the poor girl helping me-who turned out to be an angel- about the boys not wanting to stick around. “Oh no!” she said, without missing a beat. “They think this is girls’ work!” HA. Well. We had a nice little chit chat about that, and we spent the next 45 minutes cleaning up and dumping bucket after bucket of water outside (good thing we were strong enough to carry the heavy buckets without needing a boy ;) ). So that was enjoyable. I couldn’t stop laughing about it, actually. I’m sure I’m the favorite visitor now- HA. Why am I so ungraceful in most areas of my life? I don’t know. But I’ve been doing lots of thinking about the way women and men are treated differently here and in Mozamb., and just how so many things are so dynamically different culturally. And yet, western women come to visit all the time and end up marrying African men andstaying. And I can’t help but wonder about how much those culture differences, subtle as they may be, affect their relationships. Maybe the women just go along with it, or maybe the men are more open to new things. And I’m not only talking about gender differences- there are so many little things that we just look at differently than people do here! So many things get lost in translation. Anyway, all of this thirst made me appreciate going to the fridge in the states and just getting a glass of COLD (not boiling), clean water! Both here and in Mozamb., the kids kept giving me water bottles and asking me to stick them in the fridge for a few hours. This made them SO happy! It's the little things, I guess!

Well, I’m wrapping it up for tonight, because I need to go to bed, and I can’t stop eating the food. Food in Africa is freaking brilliant. And they give you so much of it. I have a boy’s name, I have acne, and I will have gained 20 pounds and need new clothes by the time I get home. This is going well.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

mychal is a stupid name.

That's what they call me here.
"Mychal is a BOY's name!" That's what they tell me. It's hurtful, really. Takes me right back to those days on the preschool playground when, after an introduction, some kid would ask, "Whoaaa, are you a BOY!?" I've gotten lots of puzzled looks- from kids AND adults- and after discovering my middle name, some girls decided Christine was much more appropriate.
They are very curious here:
"Why is your hair so soft?" [um...shampoo?]
"Why is one of your hands smaller than the other?" [Another self-esteem killer. The therapy bills are already piling up in my mind.]
And finally...
"Why do you have pimples?" [To which I wanted to scream, BECAUSE THE WATER IN YOUR COUNTRY IS RUINING MY LIFE. But I didn't.]
Hopefully most of you reading this understand my little language of sarcasm and silliness, but just in case you don't (it's gotten me in trouble a few times in my life)...I like to be sarcastic. And silly. So there won't be any therapy bills, really. Unless my face continues to break out like this. In which case, there will be dermatologist bills. But anyway, Huruma is a charming place. The kids are all sweet and are so hungry to be loved on! Both at Iris in Mozambique and here in Kenya, there are so many children and so few adults. These kids just want to be held and hugged! Even if you only smile or wink at them, their little faces light up! Things that you say or do that seem trivial make a world of a difference for some of these kids. As does, I'm sure, being able to remember their names. Which is proving to be very challenging here. I think my brain has reached it's nam-remembering capacity. With 300 children at Iris and almost 300 here, it's actually impossible to remember them all. I'm bad at names to begin with, especially when meeting so many people in such a short period of time. And the worst thing is, I'm usually ok with the Susans or the Davids, but when your name is Zipporah or Damaris, you might be out of luck. This really stresses me out, since I know how important it is to the children for you to remember their names. The kids pick up on this quickly, and enjoy tormenting by tapping me on the shoulder and demanding, "What is my name?! I've told you twice!" So I'm praying for the capacity to remember more names.
The kids here really have so little. They each have one blanket and pillow on a mattress, maybe sheets, and an old bookbag with a few old schoolbooks and one notebook that is falling apart.Most of the clothes are old and torn- everyone be thinking of some super fundraising ideas for when I get home! :) There aren't any toys here, and the the little ones play with whatever they find lying around. I taught a couple girls tic-tac-toe yesterday, which was exciting, and thumb wars and hand slapping games are also hits. Despite how little they have, all the kids are so joyful! Yesterday, I sat in on dance practice, which was terrific. The kids all love to dance. The dance team here competes with other homes and has a competition on Thursday. I also watched drama practice. How cool is it that the arts are so alive here?! It's nice, because none of the kids have ipods, cellphones, emails, or even toys, so they get real joy out of playing group games, dancing, and singing! Every morning, singing starts around 7 AM! Dear God, please forgive me for every time I whined about having to sing at "early" 9 AM auditions. Oh, and I learned to peel potatoes. This was a huge event for me. There were like 9 girls huddled around a big bucket, peeling. I had no idea that you could peel potatoes wrong, but take my word for it, you can. They looked at me like I was a crazy woman. The girls all started yelling at me, trying to explain to the hopeless city girl how to do it right. "I don't cook," I say apologetically. More confused looks. "How do you eat, then?" They ask. Good question. A few minor cuts and 30ish potatoes later, and I'm a pro! Yipee! I talked with a couple of the older girls for a while about their dreams and goals. Jackie (woohoo, I can remember her name!) told me about the corrupt Kenyan government and about her life before Huruma as a beggar on the street. "If you don't work, you won't end up on the street. Your mom will make sure you have a place to sleep and something to eat," she explained. "But it's not like that for us. If we can't get work, we won't eat! That's why we love school so is key to everything. I will finish school, get a job, and get out of Kenya...and only return to help and encourage other people who are in the same situation that I was in." She told me of her hatred for the people in leadership in her country who "only love themselves." She seems to think her only hope is to get out of Kenya, because here there is so many school graduates competing for so few jobs. There are 7 kids in Jackie's family, and two of them are at other homes, and she has no idea where the others are. While her situation might be enough to make her outlook on life jaded or skeptical, Jackie is upbeat and keeps talking about her "family" at Huruma and how thankful she is for Mama and the education she is getting here. The girls also tell me the importance of finishing education before getting married (yessss mam! hurrah to the huruma teachers for driving that point home!). We watched a really bad pirated copy of Slumdog Millionaire yesterday. I've been wanting to see it, but that totally doesn't count. Half of the captions made no sense, and the sound didn't even come close to lining up with the picture. I guess I'll have to wait for it to come out on DVD. :) This morning, we had a 3 1/2 hour church service. HA! The kids loved the singing and dancing but kept falling asleep on my shoulder during the message. Who can blame them? Right now, they are watching another pirated DVD but I had to come in for a break and some quiet. It's hard getting used to one place and then switching. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't missing my Iris kids a LOT. I think part of it is knowing I only have a week here, so it will be harder to get to know the kids. The organization is really different here- nobody really explained how anything works so I'm just kind of doing whatever I walk outside and find to do. Actually, they never explained much at Iris either, but I had my lovely roommate Rose to show me the ropes. :) Which is GOOD on one hand, I mean, that's what being a volunteer is- jumping in wherever you see help is needed! But there hasn't really been a schedule here, just lots of kids running around! Mainly because it is weekend and tomorrow school is out for midterms. It's hard to see so much need and not have the capability or the tools to just FIX everything like you want to! I'm so used to just taking charge (because I'm bossy), but when you are in an unknown place for a short period of time, you can't really do that! Actually, it's been a great thing for me. Trying to live up to my favorite Mother T quote, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love," is teaching me a lot! My instinct tells me that I'm not helping if I'm not doing something monumental, like raising funds or leading a class or building houses or something. But sometimes it's more tiring, atleast for me, to do the small things without getting burned out. Small things, like focusing on being a blessing even to just a few children. It's like Shane says in his book, "Everyone wants a revolution, but nobody wants to wash the dishes!" (or peel the potatoes, in my case). So pray that I'll be able to really be able to make good use of my time by blessing some kids while I'm here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

JAMBO kenya! :P

Ahhhh. I am feeling so spoiled! I arrived in Kenya around 9:30 tonight and have spent the last few hours glued to the computer! On one hand, I feel bad- I really should go to BED! But...I have my own place (there are no other visitors here at Huruma for the time being, so I get the guest house all to myself!) with internet and a HOT WATER shower! Woo hoo! So I am soaking it in...and savoring the SILENCE, which is something I haven't heard in a while! The kids are off school tomorrow so I will sleep in a bit later than usual, although I am SO excited to be here that I'm not sure how long I'll be able to sleep. The only thing that is a bit different here is that you can't drink the water- I just boiled water for drinking tea and brushing my teeth, so I'm hoping that will do the trick. Rose told me that on her last trip to Mozambique, she ate a bite of salad that had been washed in unclean water and was throwing up all night! So I'm a bit paranoid. It makes me realize what a blessing it was at Iris to have great tap water! It's funny, though, because things that you think you could never live without in the states are the things you don't even think about when you go without for a while. So far, nobody has died from the lack of air conditioning. At Pastor Fernando's, I didn't even think about the fact that there was no electricity until they got really excited about the flashlights we brought. It was kind of fun having dinner by latern light! Even the smaller things, like sanitation, or atleast the way we know it in the western world, go out the window while you are here in Africa. There is a spoon shortage at Iris, so when they ran out, kids either took used spoons or ate with their hands. Also, the african idea of "washing" your hands is holding them above a bucket and pouring water over them. Everyone drinks after everyone...ok, well, that's one thing I never really got used to.
Kenya is beautiful, from what I can see so far. Nairobi looks pretty big, and the traffic is (almost) as crazy as in Maputo! Still no marked lanes, so people just try to keep to their side of the road. There were several road blocks on the way home, and we got stopped probably just because the police saw a white person in the car. He talked to Rufus, the driver, for a minute and then quizzed me a bit. He was trying to figure out if our car was a taxi, because then he would charge Rufus a "tax". Kenya is similar to Mozambique in that the police are really corrupt. They can try to charge you money for just about anything they think they can get away with, and if you do get in trouble for something, you can generally get out of it by offering to buy the officer lunch or a beer. Oh, and did I mention that driving drunk or driving while drinking happens all the time in Mozambique? Nobody really cares. Anyway, after I told the cop I wasn't in a taxi, he looked a little perturbed but allowed us to carry on. I really enjoyed talking to Rufus about Kenyan government and politics and where he has traveled in Africa (he drove from Nairobi to Jo'burg once! That's a 12 day drive!) To me, that's what great trips are made of- little conversations with interesting people who expand your ideas of the world so much! I also talked to some awesome people at the airport from all over- ahhhhh, I've got the traveling bug! Anyway, after we got away from Nairobi and into Ngong, things got much smaller and looked a lot less modern. The area I'm in now is an even poorer area than I was expecting. From what I could see, even if I would walk around in Maputo alone (which I would, during the day), I wouldn't do it here. I can't figure out how the driver saw anything at all, because there were no street lights! I couldn't see more than 3 feet in front of us! There is a big gate around Huruma. It's a delightful home! When we pulled up, 15 or 20 excited kids showed up outside and ran to greet me. I don't remember any of their names. I guess I have to start all over with that! Hopefully they won't be too terribly mean and make up names like the boys did at Iris. Speaking of Iris, leaving was the hardest thing I've done in a while. I'm not an emotional person, and goodbyes usually don't bother me too much. I was NOT expecting to have any issues on the last night! I was doing fine until I said goodbye to two of my closest boys, and the little one started to get a bit emotional, and then I couldn't hold it together. Luckily, I fell apart in my room, and not in front of all the kids! I miss them so much already, but I'm so excited about what the next week will hold! It's 1:30. I'm hitting the sack!