Saturday, December 10, 2011

Another Dose of Reality...

What you are about to read is a tough story.  Some of it may be too much for some of you, but it is what happened.  It covers some of the realities that the people of Kenya face on a regular basis.  It covers something that I (Sean) needed to be a part of; something that I needed to experience.  Not because of morbid curiosity, but it could be something I will need to face in the future here.  I have not included names in this story because I do not feel it is appropriate at this time.

This week, one of our staff members lost her son to an illness.  What that illness was, I am not sure.  It was something that he had been battling for a while. But, this seemed to take his life without warning.  The son was twenty-three years old.  The mother was so distraught over her son’s death that she didn’t know what her next steps should be.  A few of us from In Step went to her house to help her get her son to the mortuary.  Not something that we really do in the West.  The transport of our loved ones is usually left to a coroner, or a funeral home.

When we got to the home, there were a few community members there to offer their support and condolences.  As we entered the house, sitting in a chair in the corner, was our Auntie.  At her feet was her son. He was placed on a tattered foam mattress, and covered over with a bed sheet.  I am not sure how long she had been sitting there.

The story we were told about how this came about was that her son had vomited blood earlier in the day.  He told her not to worry, that he believed that God performed the operation he needed to be well again.  Later that evening, a friend paid him a visit and the two of them talked about everyday things.  The friend got up to leave, and shortly after leaving the door, heard the young man vomiting again.  He entered the house to see that he was throwing up blood again.  Our Auntie was in the room trying to comfort her son, who kept telling her that he was weak, and that she shouldn’t worry, but just hold him.  I believe that he fell asleep and died in her arms.

After we greeted the woman, she pulled back the sheet to show us her son.  He was positioned in a manner that made it look like he was sleeping.  His hands placed up beside his head.  We asked her what she needed us to do.  She had no idea.  We asked her if her family was here to help her.  She said that two of her other sons were away, and were trying to arrange transport to come.  Her brother was going to be arriving on Sunday (this was on Friday).  Her brother-in-law was at the home, but he hadn’t been a part of her life since her husband died in 1999.

This woman had been living with her now dead son and a granddaughter who may have been about thirteen years old.  No one else in her family had even visited her in years.  We found out that she didn’t expect much help from her family, as they “went wild” (as she put it) when she asked for assistance when her husband died.  She was adrift and had no one who could guide her through this loss.

A couple of people went into the house to collect the body.  They wrapped him in a wool blanket and carried him into the back of the vehicle.  For reasons I can’t explain, because I don’t know the reason, about five people went with us for the ride to the mortuary.  I can only guess that it was to support the mother in her time of grief.  This is something that I have heard about, and seen from a distance.

Once we got to our destination, and were finally allowed in, a metal gurney was wheeled up to the back of the truck, and a couple of attendants removed the body.  The son was then taken into the main room of the mortuary.  We looked on from the outside, as they removed the blanket with as little grace and dignity as possible. The blanket was thrown to the entrance of the building.  When asked if she wanted it back, the mother shook her head no and flung her hand at it as if to say “Just get rid of it.”

I found out later, that standing on the threshold of the door, was the limit of where I wanted to be in the mortuary.  Once you entered into the main room, behind a curtain was a stack of bodies that were either waiting to be collected, or were not going to be collected.  Because they were not afforded the special treatment of the coolers, they were in various “states” and numbered over one hundred.  It has been a busy time at the Kitale District Hospital’s mortuary.

Once everything was settled, and we were back in the vehicle to take everyone home, the woman fell asleep.  Emotionally and I am sure physically exhausted from everything her day and previous night entailed.  We dropped everyone off, and wished the woman well and went home ourselves.

I cannot imagine the pain that this woman is experiencing.  I cannot fathom the loneliness of having to handle something of this magnitude alone.  The only good thing that is coming from this is that the community around this woman is gathering to be at her side.  Her church is helping her with some expenses, as are her neighbours and co-workers.  What is her family’s contribution?  They will cover the cost of the suit that her son will be buried in.

This is Kenya.  This is life.  This is death. This is another dose of reality.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Last year, while walking home from town, I had a thought based on an observation of a tree. For months I walked past the same line of trees along the road to town. One day, something grabbed my attention. I had to stop to make sure that my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. As I took a second look, my suspicions were correct. I could see the traffic through one of the trees. My first thoughts were about how little I pay attention to things around me. It was clear that this tree in front of me was indeed hollow, and so eaten by termites, that even some of the bark allowed a clear view of the road way. However, I couldn’t see it in passing, because the outward appearance of the tree said it was healthy. It still had, and has, leaves on its branches. There were, and are, flowers blooming on it.

I then thought about how many of us claim to be “Spiritual”, but when we actually get a closer look at ourselves, we are just as hollow as the tree on the roadside. Whatever our brand of “Spirituality” is (Christians, this means us too…), we aren’t always as put together as we might think. We can say the right things, and look happy. We can look like we are doing things to show that we are the brand that we subscribe to. But, when people really get to know us, when they stop and take a closer look, they can see right through us.

We are going through a teaching series with our interns this year. The series is called “Get Over Yourself: Rebelling Against the Culture of Narcissism”. It is from a Canadian church called “The Meeting House”. You can find the podcast on iTunes, or on their website The series talks about how we as a culture have become extremely self-absorbed. The listeners are challenged to look beyond themselves, and learn to live lives that are other person centered.

As I reflect on the teaching, I am starting to wonder about another perspective. What if we are hollow because we are neglecting to notice the hollowness of others around us? It is true that we can allow life’s distractions to eat us up to the point of appearing like we have it all together, when we really don’t. What would it look like if we focused on the needs of others first? What if our identity is not bound up in keeping up with the Jones’, but in serving them?

Stresses will come. I am not saying that when we are other person centered that life will become a bed of roses. I am wondering if we put so much emphasis on our problems that we fail to see the problems of those around us. In one of the messages, Bruxy Cavey (the teaching pastor at the Meeting House), put forth the challenge to spend enough time to get ourselves dressed in the morning to be presentable, and then spend an equal amount (if not more) of time dressing ourselves up on the inside. In another message, he challenged people to take time to list all of the things that they were thankful for each day. The time of reflection could be in the morning about the previous day’s events, or in the evening about that particular day’s events.

Cavey quoted a study, which had one group of people make a list like the one mentioned above. The participants made the list every day for ten weeks. At the end of those ten weeks the people felt better about themselves, had better physical health, and had more desire to meet the needs of others than those who did not make the list of things to be thankful for.

Maybe we aren’t as hollow as we thought. Maybe we are. Maybe our hollowness is a result of not noticing that others are hollow and need some kind of service or care. Take time to stop and really get to know someone. Enter into intentional, and authentic relationships with people, and see if they are feeling hollow. The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans:

“Therefore, I urge you brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” (Romans 12:1-3 NASB)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Glimmers of Hope

After over a year of no blogs, I feel that it is time to start again. I have had one that is rolling over in my mind for quite a while now. This particular blog is not about that one. It will have to come later down the road. This one is about the glimmers of hope that I have seen while interacting with different people around Kitale.

About a month or two ago, I was approached by a street boy named Joseph. I had just passed a group of boys all greeting me, and some of them asking me to buy them bread, or to give them a few shillings. As usual, I greeted them, and said no to the ones who asked for food or money. Joseph came right up to me and asked me to help him. I said that I didn't have money for food for him, but he said that wasn't what he wanted. He showed me his hand and said that he needed medicine to treat it. I looked and saw that his right hand was indeed swollen. I thought about it for a second and told Joseph to wait for me while I finished the tasks that I had gone to town to do.

When I met him a few minutes later, I asked Joseph what had happened. He told me that the night before he was chased my a security guard, because he was sleeping somewhere he shouldn't have been. During the chase he fell and hurt his hand. My first thought was that medicine wasn't going to fix the problem. I might be going with this kid to the hospital to fix a broken hand. How much more would that cost me?

We went to a near by pharmacy and I had Joseph explain to the man behind the counter what was wrong. The pharmacist explained to me what medicines he was recommending, and explained to Joseph, how to apply the ointment and how often to take the pain killers. The total bill came to about 150 shillings (about $2 CAD). I handed the package to Joseph and explained to him that this was for him and the treatment of his hand only. He was not to sell any of it for glue or anything else. I told him that if I discovered that he sold what I bought him, that neither Meredith or I would buy him anything ever again. He promised me that he wouldn't, thanked me and left the pharmacy.

Over the next few days, any time that I was in town, Joseph would come up to me and show me his hand. I would ask him how he was doing and he would respond that things were going well. In a matter of days, Joseph was pleased to announce to me (and show me) that his hand was better. The swelling was gone and there was no more pain. He continued to thank me and every time he sees me in town, he makes a point of greeting me. He always has a big smile on his face.

Last weekend, a few of us from the community (Kenyans, and North Americans) met with a few of the community elders and the community chief for our area. This was a meeting to discuss the security issues that have come up recently. The chief wanted to let us know that in the past year since he became chief, he had started some new security measures in the community. He told us that he had some armed guards that were patrolling the streets while we slept. He gave us all his personal number to call him any time, day or night, if there was anything that we needed to call him about. He opened the floor for questions and addressed each one. About the only downfall to the meeting was that he answered his phone and left the room, on more than one occasion, while people were asking their questions or voicing their concerns.

The chief told us that we needed to be diligent when hiring people to work on our compound. We needed to do background checks, ask people who are looking for jobs a bit about their history. He told us that he was pushing the town council to improve our roads to make them drivable, and even to put new tarmac down (something that has not been done since the 60's). It is the chief's desire to make the Mili Mani community of Kitale what the Mili Mani communities of the rest of the country are.

When the meeting was over, we as a community agreed that issues of security are everyone's concern and we would do what we could to improve things. I believe that for the most part, people were feeling better about things in Mili Mani.

Every once and a while we get glimmers of hope that life can be better for the people of Kenya. It is people like Joseph showing responsibility and gratefulness when someone helps him out. It is people like Chief Sylvester standing above corruption and doing his part to protect the people he has sworn to serve. Here's hoping that something more comes from these stories and that more and more people take responsibility for the life that they live.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Very Easy Process.......Not!

Meredith and I set up a bank account a few weeks ago. It is quite a long and drawn out process…

We went to the bank knowing that we needed our passports, photocopies of our passports, photos of us (passport size) and a person who has an account with the bank and could vouch for us as fine upstanding citizens (we chose Daniel). We approached the desk and began filling out the appropriate paper work. When all was done we asked how we could get our bankcards. The person told us that we could come back next week and get them. That was no problem. We put it off an extra week due to the fact that the banks would be busy with everyone in town getting their monthly salaries and clogging up the lines.

We entered the bank again a week later and asked the person who set up our account, for our bankcards. He told us to visit the enquiries counter with a copy of our passports to get the cards. I said, “But, we gave you photocopies of them when we set up the account.” We were informed that those copies were to set up the account, and other copies were needed to get the bankcards.

We returned on another day with the copies of our passports in hand, and approached the enquiries counter. We had forgotten to bring our account number with us, but didn’t think that it would be difficult for the guy behind the counter to access it. We told him the reason for our visit, and he asked for the copies of our passports, and our account number. When we told him we forgot the number, he looked as if it would take hours to locate the account. It didn’t.

He informed us that we had yet to deposit any money into the account and that he couldn’t give us our cards until the money was deposited. He also gave us forms to fill out to apply for the cards. Meredith’s response was “This is a very difficult process. In North America we visit one person to set up the account and get the bankcard. I don’t understand why it needs to be this hard.” The bank employee’s response was “This is very easy, it is not hard.”

So, off we went to deposit our money, and fill out our forms. We returned to the counter and presented everything we had. The guy behind the counter asked us if we had put any money in our account yet, to which we responded with a frustrated “Yes. We were just there.” He proceeded to do the work necessary for the bankcards. His next question was, “Do you have your passports?” I replied, “We just gave you our photocopies. We weren’t told to bring in our passports and they are at home.”

After confirming who set up the account for us, the man behind the counter called over to the desk of the person who set up the account. He then gave us back the paperwork and told us to get the first guy’s signature on the spots indicated. Off we went to the other side of the bank to get the needed signatures.

We returned again to the enquiries counter to complete the task we set out to do. The cards were processes, and printed with our names on them. We were then told to go to the next window, and wait for the next guy to come and set up our pin numbers. Once that was done, we tested the cards to make sure they were working. All in all a 40 minute job to what was supposed to be walk in and get your card.

One of the joys of banking under African skies…

Thursday, May 21, 2009

So, You Want to Pet a Rhino...

It has been some months since I last posted a blog.  Things are going well for me here in Kitale.  I have been extremely busy with learning all of the ins and outs of what needs to be done.


I recently finished reading the book “Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning.  If you are looking to gain a greater understanding of the grace of God, I highly recommend it.  In this book he talks about the loss of wonder that we have for the world around us.  He writes, “By and large, our world has lost its sense of wonder.  We have grown up.  We no longer catch our breath at the sight of a rainbow or the scent of a rose, as we once did.  We have grown bigger and everything else smaller, less impressive.  We get blasé and worldly-wise and sophisticated.  We no longer run our fingers through water, no longer shout at the stars or make faces at the moon.  Water is H2O, the stars have been classified, and the moon is not made of green cheese.  Thanks to satellite TV and jet planes, we can visit places once accessible only to a Columbus, a Balboa, and other daring explorers.”


This was made real to me over the past couple of months as I had the opportunity to witness a couple of children we spent time with.  The first was the child of a missionary couple we hang out with.  His parents had gone away for a week to take one of the children they care for to a hospital for treatment.  While he was here, we took him out to the backyard for some fresh air.  Meredith and I watched as he explored his world around him.  One item that was of particular fascination was the pen that we keep the rabbits in.  It was empty, and gave the child an opportunity for exploration.  This one-year-old boy looked, poked at, crawled around and in this cage lined with chicken wire.  He looked at the water that was in the margarine container and dumped it out so he could add twigs and leaves and any other treasures he found on his journey.


I stood back and watched a bit on edge to make sure that he didn’t hurt himself, or pick up anything that he shouldn’t.  I was laughing at the thought of how interested he was in how everything worked.  What happened when he stood inside the cage (as it was on its side)?  What happened when he pressed on the chicken wire?  What happened when he put his fingers in the holes of the chicken wire?  His amazement with the world around him was huge, and he was exploring all that he could.


The whole time I was watching this toddler explore the wonders of the world, I couldn’t relax.  I had to watch and make sure that he didn’t cause himself any harm.  I started thinking about how there was no fear in his adventure on his part, but for me there was no peace unless I was assured that he wouldn’t get a cut, or eat something off the ground that might make him sick.  Part of a response might be that as a responsible adult, it is my duty to make sure that he is safe.  However, why wasn’t I on the ground with him, getting myself dirty, and searching out the wonders of the world around me?  Why didn’t the leaf that he showed me overly impress me?  Or, the rock he had put into the container?


The second event of the wonder of a child came when some friends came to visit us for a month.  They brought their two-year-old daughter, and we took them to the baby elephant orphanage in Nairobi.  While we were there we found out about how the people care for the elephants.  We got to see them in their various stages of growth.  For the “finale” the keepers brought out a baby rhinoceros for us to see, and our friends’ daughter got to pet the baby rhino.  It was very exciting!  On our way out of the orphanage, the gates to another area were opened and we were able to see a few full-grown rhinos in some pens.  Some people were able to go up to the pens and take pictures of the rhinos through the bars of the pens.  But if the rhinos walked too close the people would back away.


It was at one of these times, that the little girl decided that she might like to pet the rhino.  She reached out her hand and went up to the pen.  Her mother grabbed her at the last second, and a woman standing close by said, “Well, she has no fear!”


There is a definite wonder that has been lost.  Why don’t we want to try to pet rhinos?  Why don’t we find amazement in a leaf?  Brennan Manning offers some insight into these questions:


We get so preoccupied with ourselves, the words we speak, the plans and projects we conceive, that we become immune to the glory of creation.  We barely notice the cloud passing over the moon or the dewdrops clinging to the rose petals.  The ice on the pond comes and goes.  The wild blackberries ripen and wither.  The blackbird nests outside our bedroom window, but we don’t see her.  We avoid the colds and heat.  We refrigerate ourselves in summer and entomb ourselves in plastic in winter.  We rake up every leaf as it falls.  We are so accustomed to buying prepackaged meats and fish and fowl in supermarkets, we never think and blink about the bounty of God’s creation.  We grow complacent and lead practical lives.  We miss the experience of awe, reverence, and wonder.


Our world is saturated with grace, and the lurking presence of God is revealed not only in spirit but in matter—in a deer leaping across a meadow, in the flight of an eagle, in fire and water, in a rainbow after a summer storm, in a gentle doe streaking through a forest, in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, in a child licking a chocolate ice cream cone, in a woman with windblown hair.  God intended for us to discover His loving presence in the world around us.


It’s time to stop and smell the roses.  Let us not take the world, or the creation in and around it, for granted.  I hope that I will never again miss the opportunity to look with wonder at creation through the eyes of a child.  Discover the flexibility of the stem of a flower.  Think about the vegetables in the garden and marvel at how a plant can give us needed nutrients.  Stop and look and wonder of birds in flight while you are walking the sidewalks of your towns and cities.

**Quotes taken from "Ragamuffin Gospel" by Brennan Manning. pgs 90-91.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Crossing

This is the only adventure that I have felt that I could blog about that was exciting enough to talk about.  Not that I have had a boring past four months.  It is just that everything that I have participated in has been what takes place on a daily basis here.  Or, is something that someone else has blogged about already.

The other day, Daniel took two of the young men that have just joined TI (Mark and Derrick), and me out on a tour of Shimo La Tewa, the slum area in Kitale that is just about in our backyard.  While we didn't enter the heart of Shimo, we crossed the bridge that leads you to that heart.  There is a river that runs under the bridge.  From that river, people gather the water they need for drinking, they will gather water to do laundry, or bathe.  As we prepared to cross back over the bridge to follow the roads out of Shimo, we were discussing different ways that people could access the water without having to go down the ravine to fetch it.  There was talk of a pulley system, or of a windmill that could gather the water to bring it to the bridge level.

As we turned to make our way across, we heard the approaching of chanting from a circumcision party.  The four of us turned to look, and saw that the party was going to be crossing the same bridge as we were. Daniel promptly told us that we had to get across.  While we didn't run, we carried ourselves as fast as we could back to the safety of the other side.  No one looked back and a sense of panic overtook us.  The sound of what seemed like one hundred men chanting was overwhelming.

As we crossed the bridge, I started to feel dizzy.  I wanted to get across as quickly as possible.  I kept thinking, "Just get across the bridge.  Just get across the bridge."  Daniel turned to me and said, "Good thing there are no women with us!"  We could hear the group closing in on us.  Once we got to the other side, we pulled off to one side to let the group pass.

Much to our suprise, the group consisted of about twenty to thirty teen-aged kids and a few people in their early twenties.  Straggling along behind the group were two elderly ladies, who were very much intoxicated on the local brew.  As they passed us, they said in Swahili, "We are going to cut someone so that we can be healed!"  Daniel quickly assessed that there was a demonic attachment to the parade and the whole tribal tradition of circumcision.  Even Mark and Derrick said that they were experiencing something weird and demonic.

This was an eye-opening experience for me.  It is one that I am able to laugh about.  We have had discussions about the dark side of these circumcision parties.  I have seen the parades in town, and have had other parties pass me on the street.  This was the first one that had affected me in anyway.  Some of you might be wondering what my next course of action will be with this group of circumcisers (for lack of a better term).  I won't be doing anything with them.  I will be part of the process that teaches the children that we interact with on a personal level that some tribal traditions are good, and others can be met through other means.  This is a country that claims to be eighty percent Christian.  It is not up to me to interfere with traditions on a large scale.  Especially, when there are many traditions in the North American culture that are probably just as bad.

There are many activities and rituals that we participate in, and many of them are just as detrimental to our spiritual, and physical well being as what the people of Kenya participate in.  We might think about how archaic the practices and traditions of Kenya are, or other parts of Africa for that matter.  However, are we really any different?  Are the gods that we appease any less primitive?  Are our practices and traditions any less archaic?

It will be something for me to ponder as I return to Canada this week and face the rush of Christmas and New Year's Eve.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Obama-mania & Waldo

I have decided to have a little fun with this blog. In light of the recent American election, and all of the Obama-mania that has taken place in Kenya. Everywhere we have gone, people have asked if we were going to vote for Obama (before the election) and then ask us what we think of Obama. I have had to tell people that I really don’t care about Obama, because I am Canadian. I would not vote for him, because I am Canadian. They still ask my opinion, and I have to once again say that I do not know about American politics, and therefore, cannot form an opinion.

The people, and the politicians here believe that tourism is going to increase, and that once the president-elect takes office, that he will increase trade with Kenya, and Africa. The reason for the hype is because his father was from Kenya. It will be interesting to see, just how accurate their dreams are going to be. It will also be interesting to see how they will react, if their dreams do not come true.

There is a Kenyan music artist here who has written a song called “Obama Be Thy Name.” We are also hearing on the radio the “Barak Obama” song that talks about painting the Whitehouse black. One of the national newspapers in Kenya gave away free calendar posters called “The Year of Obama” and begins with the month of November. You can buy Barak Obama key chains, posters, and other paraphernalia.

Obama-mania has caused those of us in the TI compound to come up with a few “Obama-isms” of our own. We talk about how we like “Barak-and Roll” music. When something exciting is happening we say “Barak on!” I think I even heard someone make a reference to an “Obama-nation.” Please understand that we are not bashing the newly elected president. We are just feeling like we are caught between “Barak and a hard place” when it comes to celebrating his victory as someone who came from very little, to the 44th president of the United States, and yet is seemingly worshipped as some kind of god.

Now to return to things I am here to do in Kenya. I love hanging out with the kids here at out different projects, and meeting different kids on our journeys. One of the first places I visited here (with the rest of the TI team) was a school. I had fun with the kids by jumping with them as they surrounded me and jumped themselves. As I jumped, I would bend my knees to make myself shorter as I jumped. Once I got as low as my legs would allow, I duck-walked around the yard with them. I then extended my hand to shake hands with one of the children. As I shook their hand, I would stand up as though the hand shaking would act a jack. The jumping would begin again when I was back to “full height.”

I had my picture taken in the crowd of children, and have included two levels of a “Where’s Waldo” type game for you to pass your time away. Have fun, and I will post more of what is happening under African skies again later.