Wednesday, October 24, 2007

October 2007 report

Habari yako, rafiki! (How are you, friends!)

That’s right, watch out I’m dangerous. I know just enough Swahili to get me into trouble now. My Kikuyu is even worse, I only know about three things in that tribal language. Kikuyu are the largest tribe in Kenya. The current Kenyan President, His Excellency Kibaki, is Kikuyu and my host family, Rose and Moses Mbugua, are Kikuyu. I have sat through church in both Swahili and Kikuyu and don’t really have a clue with either one, but praise God for His Holy Spirit that allows all tribes and tongues to worship the same, one and true God together. Amen? Amen!

Figure 1-3: Within the first twenty-four hours Alida and I walked to the nearest Java House where I had my new favorite beverage, a Malindi Chai Latte.
I made it to Nairobi, Kenya, with no major problems. I switched airlines at the London/Heathrow airport and had to go through customs to get my luggage and get to the new airline. That was a hassle, but I survived and arrived with all of my luggage, praise the Lord. I also now have an England stamp on my passport. London is really tight on security and luggage allotments, just be forewarned.

Alida met me at the airport with the taxi driver and it was so good to hear her voice. God is good. He knows what we need and provides. I needed a familiar face and there was Alida, broken hand and all. I was dropped off at my guest house where I stayed for the weekend. I made it to my room about 10:30 pm or so and just stood there crying, “I’m here. I’m here. I’m here. I’m really, finally here.” It was overwhelming to finally have made it to my destination. My orientation had all been valuable but it was long and it was so good to be in Kenya.

These are my host parents. I moved into their home the following Monday and stayed for a week. I’ve been living there off and on since my arrival depending on my work schedule. May I introduce Rose and Moses Mbugua. They are Kikuyu and live in a village outside of Nairobi on a farm, unlike those back home. They are business people and have three grown children. I have met their oldest daughter, Joyce, and her daughter who only speaks Swahili and calls me her friend. Below are photos of our house and things from the farm or nearby. Rose raises about 100 chickens as layers. They also have four cattle, with one that is producing milk and they have a small herd of sheep. Moses also decided to plant about 300 birds of paradise because he thinks that they are beautiful and they sell well. The below flower is one that is just in the front yard.

Figure 2: This is a fruit growing in the front yard and is called a tree tomato. I don't know if we have these in the States or not. I hadn't had one. It has a tangy-bitter taste and the seeds, which are what you eat, look like tomato seeds.
Figure 3: These are coffee beans from a nearby farm. They are picked when they are red and then shelled. They are then dried and shelled again. The bean that's inside is what is roasted and ground for coffee.

I’ve only been with my family for two Sundays. The first Sunday we went to both the English and Kikuyu services. It’s not uncommon for visitors to stand and introduce themselves, so Moses taught me to greet the congregation in Kikuyu and they all applauded and giggled. It was fun. The two highlights of attending the church there (it’s ACK – Anglican Church of Kenya, a large denomination here similar to Episcopal) were the dear retired teacher that translated during the Kikuyu service and a member of the youth (youth here is differently defined). The following Saturday I was in downtown Nairobi and just sitting down at a coffeeshop to wait for Alida. A young woman stopped to shake my hand and I had no idea why. When she started talking she told me she was from church. I recognized her at that point and it was such a blessing to me! I thanked her for stopping to greet me and that I really appreciated it. I was about to burst with the excitement of it all. I hadn’t been in the country for three weeks yet and had already run into someone I “knew” in downtown. Thank you, Jesus!

The other Sunday, Moses and I went to a different church for a special fundraiser that they call a harambe. The top photo is of me in a tea field because we were in the Limuru area which is known for its tea. I hope to take more time in that area someday and really take a tour – some of you know my tea addiction. This may not be a good idea, but I’m going anyway!

Figure 4: This is Moses holding a hand of dried rice that is ready to be hulled. Part of the area that we traveled through has marvelous rice and we pulled over to look and purchase. It really is good. That is the rice drying on a tarp below Moses's hand.
Figure 5: On our way back we stopped at the Del Monte shop near the hectares and hectares of Del Monte pineapples. We bought pure juice and fresh pineapples. This is Mary and I with the best pineapple I've ever eaten.

I moved with my family on Monday and on Tuesday took a road trip to Embu for a partner meeting that my host father is a part of. It was he and Mary, a neighbor and friend who is a pastor in the ACK. The meeting, praise God, was in English, but I am not always good with this new accent so I didn’t understand everything.

The next week Moses dropped me off at a different guest house where I would stay for two weeks and take Swahili lessons. Alida and I shared a room for a week before she left for Eldoret, northwest of Nairobi, where she is working at a hospital with community health. The next photos are all from our adventures while living near downtown Nairobi.
Figure 6: Nearby was the “safest street in Nairobi” right in front of the Israeli Embassy. We snuck some photos from down the street.
Figure 7: It's almost election time here in Kenya and this is a rally for the incumbent, Kibaki. The banner reads “Vijana kwa Kibaki” or Youth for Kibaki. However, I discovered the “youth” means anyone 40 or so and younger. Hooray! I'm a youth!?
Figure 8: This was a big day. We went to the Village Market which was not what we expected but an upscale mall full of ex-patriots. The best part of the day was that I bought my first Dr. Pepper since the day I left Kansas in July. IT WAS TASTEY!
Figure 9: This is where I took my language lessons. Ruth was the mwalimu (teacher) and Sister Svetha was the other student in my class. We had our lessons each morning in the hut behind Sister. Right near downtown, we had class in a hut.

This is from an email that I sent to a friend while I was in language school. It really says where I’ve been and sometime still am now. “I'm getting used to being here slowly but surely. It's so different when you're in another country and/or culture longer than a few weeks. I still occasionally am amazed that I am here particularly when I'm sitting in my room and then breakfast which is fairly western. Then I walk outside into my language class which even though we are a stone's throw from downtown Nairobi, is in a hut. Sitting there with my classmate, a Catholic Sister from India, learning Swahili from a Kenyan I realize, ‘Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore.’”

Figure 10: Family is important here and families get together on average once a month as an entire extended family. This is the home of one of Moses' brothers. The women were making that much tea because there were so many people there.
Figure 11: It may be a rural area but there are apartments going up everywhere. Nairobi is expensive and so people live outside of town and commute. Sound familiar?

There is much more to say and not enough room to share it all with you. I encourage you to check out my blog at There are links to more photos and a lot of other great information like shopping, language and resources. I try to keep it pretty updated.

I have my own office now and have started decorating with pictures and postcards from home, my books and some Kenyan treasures, and of course, a map of Kansas (thanks to the Lazy T!). I’m getting settled in even more next week when I move into my own apartment. I don’t have any furniture really yet, but that will come. Someone is loaning me a mattress until I can find a bed. I’m hoping that Moses will help me buy some great furniture and then that we’ll be able to find a way to carry it to the fourth floor. The apt. is close enough to walk to the office and I’m close to a couple of grocery stores, at least three shopping areas, several restaurants and a couple of churches. Since I will not have a vehicle here those are great things. We’re guessing it will take 30 minutes to walk to work. Guess I need to start getting up earlier.

Earlier this month we had an HIV/AIDS Learning Tour here from North America. There were six participants and we all learned so much. I will be much more involved in the future but since this was three weeks after my arrival, I really was learning right alongside the participants. It was tremendous. We traveled, visited, ate, learned, and shopped with villagers where CRWRC is working in amazing ways. God is alive and well here. There is poverty, there is disease, but there is a mighty, mighty God that we all serve and He is above all of that and the hope that we saw will not be easily forgotten by any of us who were there.

I am blessed to be here and am reminded of each of you often and that you make it possible for me to be here. I have heard from many of you that you pray for me often and I thank you and I thank God for those prayers often. I know that they have pulled me through on more than one occasion. I want you to know that I thank God for you and pray for each of you often as well. I miss you. I really do and I value every personal email and letter and postcard that I receive from you. They are saved in a special mailbox in my email or posted in my office.

My US supervisor, Ruth, was here from Grand Rapids this past month and I have validated that the current plan is for me to be in the States in June 2008. Beyond that there are not details but I plan to be in Minnesota and all over Kansas and I look forward to hearing about you. However, there’s no need to wait that long, drop me a line now and let me know what’s going on in your life. Share with me the everyday and the amazing. I want to hear all about how God is working in your life just as I am sharing how he is working in mine.

I cannot thank you enough for all of your support and I will leave you with my mailing address here in Nairobi, my blog and email addresses and photos of the HIV/AIDS Learning Tour.
May each of you be blessed. Godspeed,

PO Box 66490, Westlands
00800, Nairobi, Kenya


Figure 12: These girls are in sewing class to become tailors. It is a two-year program. The 'trousers' hanging are sewn on paper because it's cheaper than material.
Figure 13: Stephan, me and Nema sit in the clinic waiting room while one of the tour participants has an HIV/AIDS test done. Stephan is a program consultant and Nema is the HIV/AIDS Coord. for East and South Africa in the CRWRC.
Figure 14: This is an HIV/AIDS test. The person's blood is on the end and it takes only 15 minutes for the results. One of things that this community asked us to share was that you need to know your status. Don't be afraid to be tested.
Figure 15: This how we often wash our hands prior to eating. Someone pours the water and you often don't have soap. You sometimes get a napkin to dry your hands.
Figure 16: We didn't speak the same language but the children loved to have their photo taken and then see it on the screen of my digital camera. When we arrived they were working on their alphabets by writing them in mud. That's way more fun than paper!

Figure 17: In each village we met the mamas (grannies) who were raising their grandchildren and other children in the community whose parents had died of AIDS. Here they are singing a song for us and then showing us baskets and purses they make to sell.

Figure 18: What would a good Dutch CRC trip be without a picture of a little Dutch girl in front of a windmill? This is a CRWRC board member who is indeed Dutch from NW Iowa. We all shared Wilhelmina's in the van.

Figure 19: We met several people who were HIV + or who were caring for those who were. These people have hope and joy and in turn gave us that hope as well. Knowing someone's status is a personal decision to tell. I cannot offer that information to you.

September 2007 report

Again, why aren't the photos copying, I wonder.

Hello sisters and brothers!

It has been many miles (or kilometers) since last I wrote to you. I have much to share with you and have tried to keep it succinct, but be warned that this is a long update. It should be an easy read though since there are lots of pictures. Be sure to check my blog for more stories, thoughts and photos.

Figure 1 Travel is done in three main ways in Senegal: walking, donkeys and vehicles. These men are taking onions to market. There is a large area near the ocean where they do market gardening and grow onions.
Figure 2
The last time I wrote to you Chinyere and I were preparing to leave for a long weekend with one of our partners in Linguere, Senegal. It was a long hot weekend, but it was such a learning experience. I was fortunate that this was my first trip. We were in rural Senegal on a farm, talking about cattle and milk production and agriculture. While I did not grow up on a farm, I have family that were/are farmers and ranchers and quite a lot of this conversation was familiar to me. On our way back to Dakar we came into a dust storm (figure 2) the likes of the US Dust Bowl days. This was an amazing storm to watch unfold as the sands from the Sahara Desert blew from the north down upon us.

Figure 4 Jatu works for CRWRC Senegal and took the three of us out to Goree Island for a day. It rained the whole time.
Figure 5 This is one of the beaches that we went to while we were in Senegal. We paid to be at a less crowded beach. This particular one was near a hotel.
Figure 6 We did not have a washing machine and most people do their laundry by hand. We paid a woman to do our laundry but did a few things on our own at the apartment as needed.

Our time in Senegal wrapped up just in time. We had said farewell to Melissa, a CRWRC intern, a few weeks earlier as she went on to Sierra Leone and Chichi and I were getting very anxious to get to our final destinations as well. I learned so much about development from Wyva as well as how to work at helping my volunteers debrief. The last week we were in Dakar really brought everything to a sense of “ah-ha!” The dots were finally connected for me as I began to see the grander picture of development and all its intricacies. Looking back, it was such a blessing to have spent five weeks there. *To clarify: Chinyere is the same person as Chichi and she is the new Bridger for West Africa going through training with me. Wyva is the Country Consultant for Senegal/Sierra Leone.

Figure 7 Winston and Sarah took us on our tour of Bamako to orient us to the area and CRWRC Mali’s work. Winston is a Country Consultant for Mali and Sarah is a HNGR intern from Wheaton in Mali for six months. She’s doing research on excision. We really were looking at ideas for how we might be able to run our own orientations and incorporate aspects of training into areas within the city where we will be working.
Figure 8 Life is lived differently in West Africa. This is a picture of one of the markets. You can buy things in stores, but most things can be and are purchased at the market. It really is quite similar to the State Fair. Lots of venders trying to get you to buy their products. It’s colorful in every sense of the word and everyone is trying to get a bargain.
Figure 9 This is part of the new government complex being built in Mali by the Niger River. It is being financed partially by the Libyan government. Libya is very involved with Mali financially. Please pray about where that relationship may lead.
Figure 10 The younger folks from the office went out to see the night life of Bamako. Unfortunately it rained and we could find none of the live music that we had heard so much about but we had a good time anyway. Two of those pictured are short term interns and one is staff and then me and Chichi (in the center). It was the first time that the weather had cooled down nicely. It was gorgeous! We came home and I thought it was perfect. The house guard was wearing a jacket with the hood up! I guess it’s all relative, no?
We arrived in Mali on time and with all of our luggage. We spent a nice weekend with Scott and Mary Crickmore, CRWRC staff, in their home just relaxing, watching movies and enjoying one another. We’ve stayed with them our entire stay and eaten like queens. Mary is a good cook and has been teaching us how to cook using the foods available. We’ve focused on making “comfort” foods for our volunteers for when they need a break from more traditional foods. We have talked about a little of everything with Mary. She is the West Africa Ministry Team Leader and has been in Mali with CRWRC for 22 years. She is one of the people who helped create our position so we are in good hands.

We discussed medical issues to look out for with our volunteers, how to pack a non-refrigerated picnic, how to shop, where to go and what to look for. We’ve discussed how to help people debrief as well as how to orient them to their surrounding culture. We’ve also looked at changing a tire and how to plan your work day in a job with no local supervisors (which at this point, neither one of us have). Mary has had us reading a lot but we stop when the work day is over and spend time enjoying a card game, Dutch Bliss (of course), and lots of movies. We’ve had opportunities to worship in English and get to know others serving in Mali with CRWRC as well as Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM). And, what would the trip be if I didn’t get to play Dutch Bingo! That’s right, I’ve found two connections to folks back home. Lynda, new to CRWRC, went to Dordt College with Marty C. and Dawn and Gene have stayed at Beth K.’s parents’ house in Downs! BINGO! Let me just say one thing, “OF COURSE!”

Figure 12 pots for collecting water for various needs
We spent our time doing a variety of things as noted above. Two other things that I would like to mention include visiting two different villages. It is the rainy season here so we didn’t do anything but day trips since many roads are impassable. We spent an afternoon with two women who have to use a boat for part of their trip to and from the village and Bamako when they need to travel during the rainy season.

One of our visits was a “first contact” to a village just past Fana. Through a series of events, Mary had found out about a group of Fulani women that were interested in literacy classes. We went there to see what level their interest was at and make sure that they understood what our level of involvement would be if something were to happen. The meeting happened in French, Bambara and Fulbe with a little English thrown in for our sake. There will be a follow-up visit shortly to see if they are still serious and discuss how to begin the process.

The second village visit was to meet and interview a Christian cotton farmer. Part of my job is to encourage people to engage in advocacy on all levels. This takes many forms and Mary is working on a video about the US Farm Bill’s cotton subsidies that are adversely affecting the lives of cotton farmers here in Mali. Chichi and I will be starting work on an article that came from our interview. The man was well-informed and taught us a lot. He is a man of God who until recently was the president of his church district for 19 years. If you are interested in learning more about the US Farm Bill and its effects on Mali cotton farmers, please contact me. I encourage you to learn more and contact your US Senators soon, as they are scheduled to vote on the farm bill this month.
Figure 13 Our interpreter with Etienne, the cotton farmer, talking with Mary and Chichi outside Etienne’s home. We connected with Etienne through a CRWRC partner.
Figure 14 This women is the wife of Etienne’s oldest son. She is standing next to a large pestle in the yard. The pestle is used to pound millet and leaves into edible forms. This size is one that many women would work in at the same time.
Figure 15 This is how food is cooked in many villages, over an open flame.

After 2 ½ weeks in Mali, six people from CRWRC traveled to Niger for the West Africa Ministries Team biannual meeting. Here we had leaders from Senegal/Sierra Leone, Mali, Niger and Nigeria. We did a site visit, took a leisurely boat ride up and down the Niger River, worshiped, exercised, ate, slept and prayed together as we learned from one another and our various ministries.
Figure 16 The Mali Team: Chichi, Sarah Callicutt with Wheaton College’s HNGR program, me, Mary Crickmore, Lynda Dykstra and Winston Bosch wearing our matching outfits. It’s typical for groups to match for special events so we decided we should follow tradition for our meeting. Each person chose their own style and we’re all different. It was fun!
Figure 18 The site visit that I mentioned previously was to a Muslim village where one of the Niger partners is working. We met with many involved in the micro-credit/savings groups. Mary had been there in April and taken some video and it was so different since it is the rainy season right now. This is one of the villagers standing next to her hut.
Figure 19 We had all just settled down for the gathering and it started to rain so we moved into someone’s hut. We, the visitors, were all in and then the men came in and they said that we needed to wait until the women came into the hut as well. Most people take off their shoes when entering a house and certainly before sitting on a mat. It began to rain quite hard while we were in there and the area outside of the doorway was semi-flooded but the rain had stopped and the water receded by the time we moved to another spot for a bit of lunch.
The idea of the work of CRWRC is community transformation. We heard a lot of things that were outward signs of that transformation but discussed later if true transformation was occurring. Just because a husband allows his wife to be a part of a micro-credit group, does it mean that he is thinking about women and his wife in a more just way? Or is he just happy to have her earning money to contribute to the family? How are we to judge that and who are we do so? Sometimes work and learning don’t provide answers, only more questions in which we must struggle to see what God desires in His Word.
Figure 21 This woman and I share the same name but they referred to me as “old Amy” since I am older. While she looks older, she already has 12 children. I told them that I have none and the husband said that he would pray that I would get married in the next year, God willing. This is a totally Muslim community. In the West African culture it is very important for women to be married and having children. You have less value as a woman. Your value is even less if you are unmarried and/or barren.

Figure 22 The rainy season comes with many blessings and difficulties. The blessings include that crops can finally be planted and harvested and it’s a bit cooler. However, travel is more difficult during the rainy season. One of our vehicles got caught in the middle and had to be lifted out of the flooded road.
Figure 23 This is Sarah, Lynda, myself and Chichi on the boat ride up and down the Niger River. It was a cool and relaxing ride and we saw a hippo! Add that to my wildlife list: camel, monkeys, lizards and bugs galore, hippo!

It was a really beneficial week and I was welcomed wholeheartedly as a part of the team, even though I will be a part of the East Africa Ministry Team in less than a week. I praise God for all of the learning that I have done over the past two months. I feel better prepared for the task ahead, but I understand that there is much more learning to do. Thank you for all of your prayers. I hope that you can see how you have blessed me, how God is answering your prayers. I have remained healthy minus a cold and a serious mosquito attack and I praise God for all of the traveling mercies I have been granted.

Forgive me for the length of this update. I hope that you made it through it all. I have cut it several times and deleted several photos. This has been a tremendously busy time and I really wanted to share it with each of you. The next month will be crazier still perhaps as I transition to Nairobi. I fly out of Mali on the 14th, arriving in Nairobi the night of the 15th. I have my first Discovery Tour of six visitors arriving about three weeks later. There is much to do between now and then to say the least, but I hope to keep in touch and send another update before it gets to be five pages long! I promise that there will be wildlife photos in the next update as well.

Thank you, brothers and sisters! I praise God for each of you and long to hear how you are doing.

July 2007 report

I thought I'd give you a little light reading. This, and what follows, are the enews pieces that I send out to people every month or so. So if you haven't seen them or really want to read them again - have at it! ARGH! None of the photos copied so it's just the text. Sigh.

Hello friends and neighbors,

Praise the Lord, I have made it to Dakar, Senegal! My luggage arrived the next night, not having made the plane in Houston. I’m getting used to the time and the weather. I am 5 hours ahead of Central Standard Time. The weather is hot and humid, at 10pm last night we had almost 80% humidity.

Let’s catch up . . .

Thus far, all of my training has been beneficial (you never know). I had a great time in Canada. Mission Prep in Toronto was amazing. I built some strong relationships, as you can see.
Figure 1 - CRWRC interns: Melissa Dilworth, RN - Sierra Leone; Chinyere Nwachukwu - Nigeria & Mali; Amy Thompson - Kenya; Alida Fernhout, RN (good Dutch CRC gal) - Eldoret, Kenya
Figure 2 - The Nigerian and one of the Americans celebrating Canada Day on July 2
Figure 3- The Mission Prep team in Toronto at Tyndale University
Figure 4 - Niagra Falls (US side viewed from the Canadian side)
Figure 5 - Joe(5), Amy and Chinyere on the Maid of the Mist

It was wonderful learning from people who had spent large portions of their lives overseas in ministry as well as being surrounded by such a great diversity as is offered by Toronto. We went to a mosque and spoke with the Imam. We learned about Hinduism and visited Little India. We ate in Chinatown and shopped in the Kinsington neighborhood. Not to mention our twice daily walks to the local neighborhood Second Cup. They knew us well and I am sure are sad that we are gone. We watched a movie from Bollywood and one of my favorite movies and a true classic (given to me by some good friends before I left) Cinema Paradiso.

When our two weeks of training was finished we had some free time and took in the sights of downtown Toronto including the harbor and the CN Tower as well as heading to Niagra Falls. It was great, really.

Finishing training I headed back home for 6 days where I enjoyed time with the family. It was awesome. We all cried as we parted ways but I have been in touch with everyone since my arrival. The folks were the first ones I called with Skype and we’re all very proud that mom figured it all out.

The journey to Senegal took about 34 hours, a car ride, four planes, several tasty airplane meals, a few in-flight movies and little sleep (none of it comfortable). My blog talks about what we’ve done thus far and I hope to be adding more pictures shortly. Here are a few to whet your appetite though.

Figure 6 - This type of tile flooring is in a lot of homes and businesses as well as on sidewalks. It's cheap and prettier than concert and enough so that you don't need to carpet.
Figure 7 - Mangos growing in a yard just outside of my balcony.
Figure 8 - Mosque on the Atlantic Ocean

I hope to send an email once every month or two but encourage you to check out my blog at for more details and photos on a more regular basis. Feel free to email me with any questions you may have and I will work on getting back to you. I hope to be posting some solid information on HIV/AIDS soon. I am leaving for a work trip to a small town to visit a partner, so I will be offline until sometime next week and will typically only have internet while I’m at the office and not involved in other meetings and assigments. I have started my work now and have much to do! It’s fun, scarey and exciting! I’m enjoying all that I’m learning but looking forward to being finally settled in Kenya. I’m so encouraged by all of your emails and blog comments, please keep them coming!

Monday, October 01, 2007

The good Dr.

Alida is my roomie here this week. We’ve been through various stages of training for our time in Africa. We’re with the same org. but she’ll be working on community health in a town 6-9 hours away (depending on the roads).

Anyway, she just told me that I have a special gift. I am finishing off my first Dr. Pepper since I left Kansas on July 17. Today is Sept. 29. That’s a long time to go without the good Dr. I’m a bit excited and drinking it perhaps too quickly and it’s making me burp, ok, so I’m belching. It’s not attractive. I know it. But it’s just the two of us in our room.

It’s not pretty but it’s a part of me. Love me or leave me.

BTW: My most beautiful Dr. cost me 120 shillings (which is about $2 USD). I had a glass of wine for supper and it cost the same amount as my Dr. Pepper. WHAT?! That’s the cheapest wine I’ve ever purchased and it wasn’t bad. It’s about the most expensive Dr. Pepper I’ve ever purchased, but dang! It was worth it! They’re hard to find and worth every penny I tell you! Every penny!

Alright, I’m OK now. At least I’ll be OK until I’m finished and then I might mourn. Just a bit.