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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Last one on Kenya

Firstly, I wanted to say to all you fellow Canadians that I have so much
more respect for you. This is a COLD country. Somedays I ask myself how
people can even live here. I suppose the transformation is true. My friend
Jack has decided that I am no longer a Canadian but a Kenyadian! On the
coldest of cold days, I would have to agree.YIKES!

It has been over 3 weeks now that I have been home. It has hard to look
back, at times, on the journey that this year has been. Other times I look
back with nostalgic eyes wishing time would slow down a little. Yesterday I
went through some of my albums on facebook and it made me feel quite
homesick for Nyeri.
A year in Kenya... A year in Kenya... To me it doesn't seem like such a big
deal and I try not to bring it up in conversation if possible. Generally, it
stuns people and I always want people to feel comfortable.
It has been interesting trying to navigate the conversations being back in
Canada. People are so wonderful and want to know so many different things.
I thought that try to answer those questions for you as best as possible.

1) How are you doing?
I am generally doing fine. I thought that there would be more cultural
issues to deal with coming home but I have come to conclude that, because I
spent a year abroad and had the time to 'deal' with the tough issues there,
coming home has been not so challenging. In many ways, coming home has been
such a relief however, there are some things that I have struggled with.
There is a possibility that it just hasn't hit home yet. (Note: this is not
the case for all missionaries. We all have different experiences) . I've
spent time with my friends and family and it has been good to my soul. I've
been loved and welcomed back like no time had passed. I am so blessed. Now,
as I am home I am spending time reflecting, healing and being with God.
People are so kind and very eager to know what is next in my life. When I
first arrived home the jet-lag caused me to not be able to disipher which
way was up, so making a major life decisions was just not to be rushed. This
does segway into my next most common question.

2) What is next for you?
I have decided to accept an offer to begin my Master's of Theology and
International Development at Wycliffe College at the University of Toronto
in January. I was surprised when the acceptance came but after a great tour
of the building I knew that it was for me. I walked in and met the acedemic
counsellor who introduced me to the Principal of the college. He had lived
overseas in Kiswahili land for a few years and so we had a good conversation
in Kiswahili. Later on in the tour I was introduced to a student named
Stephen who is a Kikuyu(the tribe I lived with) from Kenya. We exchanged
greetings in both Kiswahili and Kikuyu. I am not sure who was more excited,
him or I! Those were the deciding 'signs' for me! I will only be going
part-time as I will be continuing my deputation with the Presbyterian Church
until the spring.

3) Do you think you will go overseas again?
Without a shadow of a doubt, yes! As challenging as some of the issues I
have encountered over the year were, I know that they were only a stepping
stone to prepare me for the future. I fell as though I will be back overseas
for an extended period of time at some point in my life. It is hard to
completely answer this question since the decision is ultimately not my own.
I feel as though I will end up somewhere long-term but that my home is and
always will be Canada. Thus, I hope to come back home down to road
(permanently...?!)

Those are just some answers to many questions!

I also wanted to mention to all of you that if you are looking for an
'unconventional' but equally satisfying gift to give this Christmas, send me
an email. I have some great ideas!

Finally, this is the last email that I will be sending to you for this time
period of my life. I cannot put into words how much it has meant to me
having you all behind me in prayer and love. I truly believe in the power of
prayer and, at times, I certainly felt is physical presence around me,
protecting and leading me. You have been a key part of the ministry in Kenya
and around the world moving forward the works and love of Christ. If you
have time, send me an email and let's see if we can catch up! Now that you
have spent a year hearing about me it's about time I hear about you! My
prayer warriors!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

September Update

Hello my Canadian friends and family,

October is here already! Yikes!
I am not sure where to start for the month of September. It really flew by. I said goodbye to some good friends who came to visit in the first week and welcomed another. My good friend Leah Terry is here for 2 months to volunteer as a nurse for the community here. She has been a wonderful asset to the organization and a great support and friend to me.
Our Home Based care visits have brought some wonderful surprises and joy. I have mentioned in past emails about Halima, one of our HBC clients. She has been very sick for a long time and towards the end of June, beginning of July I was expecting every Tuesday to walk into her compound to learn that she had died.
Last week we entered the compound and a lady was standing looking at me and smiled. Smiling, she said ‘Wanjiku, how are you?” in Kikuyu. At first I didn’t recognize her. She was a healthy and happy lady. After a moment I realized that it was Halima. She had put on weight and looked radiant. Only months ago she had been so sick and emaciated that it was hard to even look at her. God is so good! Through the centre’s counseling on a proper diet, medication use and hygiene Halima has many solid years ahead of her.
After seeing Halima so happy and healthy it was hard to wipe the smile from my face...
I’d like to tell you about another one of the Home Based care clients, Moses. I have come to love and care for all of the clients as my friends but Moses in particular has taken my heart. He is a very sick middle-aged man who lives alone. His home is in the worst condition of the group and he has a hard time walking due to an opportunistic infection in his legs. I look forward every week to sitting with him for a while and talking. He is a very smart man and has also stolen the heart of the community. Every time I’ve visited him he always has someone else there to see him. Last week we came in to his compound and he was sitting out in the sun enjoying the warmth. Even he looked like he was improving. Moses is not from the Kikuyu tribe but is a Turkana. He is very far from home and yet people love him like he was one of the munyengi (locals). It is wonderful to see people of all tribes working together to care for one another.
One day a few months ago when my mother was here we went to see Moses and found him surrounded by a crowd of people. He was in a great deal of pain and the community had come to literally carry him up the treacherous terrain to the hospital. Old ladies with their canes were coming to carry this man to the hospital. Amazing! After praying for him we called a cab and he was comfortably escorted to and from the hospital surrounded by loving women.
The beginning of October has come rather unexpectedly to be honest. I find myself getting more and more anxious as the days move towards my departure. I will be ending my time with Shauri Yako on October 29th, do a few days of travelling and then return at the beginning of November to say my goodbyes and finish things off. The conflicted feelings are strengthened only when I see amazing people like Halima and Moses. Their lives will continue as I return home as will mine. I could never forget them. Their lives and courage have taught me strength beyond anything I have ever seen in human nature to date. I am forever grateful that they have let me be a witness to their stories.
Many of you may be wondering what I will be doing when I get back in November. At this point I am going to leave you in suspense until I get some confirmation but I know that God wants me around Canada, at least for a little while.
Just a quick update on Mwangi. Myself, Leah and another friend from Canada took him to the doctor’s office to get a physical and check-up. I think he quite enjoyed having 3 white people fuss and worry over him. I gave him some money to get his hair cut and he took quite some time. I remembered someone telling me that street kids often try to run away from structured environments when given the chance since they are not used to discipline. I began to worry and considered over whether or not to go look for him. After about 45 minutes he came sauntering around the corner in typical teenaged style. I remember smiling to myself and trying to fight back my tears because he had truly changed and was really committed to working for a better life. He is a happy and healthy 16 year old boy whose desires to be a surgeon were only strengthened by this day’s adventures.
Leah and I will be travelling to Uganda this week to visit a friend. Please pray for our safe travels and that we can be an encouragement and support there.

Peace and love,

Margaret

Summer Update

It has been well over 2 months now since my last email update to you all. I did purposely choose not to update you during the summer months as I know how busy most people get during that time.
These past 2 months have been a whirlwind of adventure and working. The music program has really taken off as people seem to really be interested. I am teaching a class at a local Presbyterian church and I even have one of my first students helping me teach. It is so amazing to see the students as they progress and grow in determination to learn.
I have also started working with a local children’s home doing sports and music related programs. The story of how I got involved with them is a good one and I would like to share it with you.
One morning a few months ago I was walking through town. It was a particularly cold and miserable day and I was feeling much the same. I walked by a group of street boys who called out to me and greeted me with the typical ‘Mzungu nipe kumi!’ which means “White person give me 10 shillings.” I smiled and told them that I could not do that. My reasons are for my own personal safety. If I give to one I must give to all and there are just too many of them if something were to happen. I walked on up the street but one particular boy felt it was necessary to continue the conversation with me. He walked up beside me and we walked silently for a few seconds before he looked at me and said ‘MZUNGU.’ As I mentioned above I wasn’t in a humorous mood so I looked at him and said ‘Maafrican’ which means African person. He looked at me startled and then laughed. After a good laugh together I explained to him that I have a name and that it is not mzungu. He and I came to a decision that I would call him by his name and he would call me by mine. His name is Jerald Mwangi.
We got to talking and I asked him how long he had been on the streets. He told me that he had been beaten by his uncle and his grandmother could not feed him anymore so she kicked him out over a year ago. I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He told me that he wanted to be a surgeon. After a while he began to get a bit uncomfortable as if he wanted to ask me something. I knew that he would probably ask for either money for food. He looked at me and said “Margaret can you help me?’ Startled by a question I was not expecting, I stood there for a long time thinking over my options. I remembered that I had met a man named Francis through a friend that runs a children’s home outside of town. I called him up and asked if we could come in for a meeting. After a long conversation about expectations and rules for Mwangi and a quick trip to the market for supplies he rested for the first time in over a year inside a house with a belly full of food.
On Monday Mwangi began school again in grade 7. He is happy and healthy and glue-free. I spoke to Francis yesterday and heard positive things.
I go back to visit him often and we have created a deep bond between each other. He now addresses me as his mom.
These past 2 months have also been filled with blessings of family and friends visiting. My mom was here in July and we had a blast together. We laughed and cried over the things we saw. She and I went on a safari which was my first and got to see so may beautiful creatures God created.
On the second day she was here we made the 2.5 hour trip to Nyeri. Now as some of you know, traffic in this country and in many others is just chaos. Well, add on top of that construction and you are bound to encounter some interesting circumstances. We hit a particularly bad patch of road and we were bumper to bumper. Our matatu driver decided that he was going to have none of it and was going to make his own road. It had just been leveled out by the workers to be paved. We drove on this for a while until we hit a road block where a particularly angry Asian man (obviously supervising the construction) came up and began screaming in Mandarin. The matatu driver simply ignored him and proceeded to drive on. The next thing we know we hit a huge bang and look behind us to see the Asian man attacking our car with his shovel. My mom and I sat there howling with laughter. Eventually we made our way back to the steady flow of traffic, not having made any difference at all.
It was hard to say goodbye but the encouragement and support from her was priceless.
Next adventure was one for the books. A friend of mine convinced me to go with her to a Camel derby. I had no idea what to expect. Myself and a bunch of other friends made the 5 hour drive up country to Maralal. The camel derby was a 10 km race. It was the most unpleasant and uncomfortable 10 km of my life. I had spoken to my handler, the man running alongside my camel for the race, and said to him that I had no intention of winning but that I just wanted to finish. I thought I had made myself clear but when the race began we set off running. After 2 mins I was asking them to let me off, which of course he did not. At one point a big lorry truck came rumbling behind me and spooked my camel. He took off like lightning and I began to say my prayers to depart this world. I will say this. It was a ONCE in a lifetime opportunity… never to be experienced again!
On Monday I saw 2 friends off at the airport who came to visit me for 10 days. We jam-packed our time with work visits, hippo watching, waterfall sightseeing, whitewater rafting, markets, and close encounters with baby elephants and giraffes. It was such a wonderful time with them. They really got into the culture here and they even helped me with some of my music classes and sports at the children’s centre.
It is now the beginning of September and there is only about 2 months left to my time here. As the days pass a growing sense of importance arises. I love Kenya and the people but I also miss my home terribly which will make for my departure to be extremely painful and joyful at the same time.
Another friend of mine from university will be arriving here on Monday to volunteer with my organization as a nurse for 1 month. Please pray for her safe travels and time here as she serves the people with her skills and love.
One last bit of exciting news. I FINALLY received my work permit. I no longer have that weight on my shoulders so I thank God and your prayers for that.
Please pray with me over these last 2 months that I would finish and accomplish all that God has called me to do here and continue to grow and strengthen the relationships that have been made here.
I am looking forward to seeing you all very soon!

Much Love and Blessings,

Margaret

p.s. for those of you who do not have facebook I have attached a public link to a few albums including my mom's visit and the Camel Derby
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2553775&id=58003928&l=e59401ab93
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2553776&id=58003928&l=d1950b20fa

Friday, June 4, 2010

May Update from the field

It seems like yesterday that I sat down to right April's update and here I am already late to send out May's.

May has certainly been interesting with new people, places and funny stories.

Firstly, I want to say thank you for all the prayers involving my visa. It has still not arrived but I am still in the country (legally). I went to Nairobi last Thursday to inquire about its whereabouts. After a long waiting period of many lines I was told that it was not ready yet. I was trying very hard to keep my cool and asked calmly, "What should I do about the fact that my current visa expires on Saturday?" The woman looked at me, rather exasperated, and said go to this room. I went to that room and they sent me to another, and another, and another, etc. Finally after about an hour I was brought around behind the desks into the back part of the building where a very angry old man was sitting. I was told to sit and wait and explain my situation to him. I got the feeling that he was my last chance of not having to leave the country.
I waited and listened as a 65 year old European woman in front of me burst into tears and started screaming! At that point I figured well, there goes my last hope of anything. After a few people escorted her away it was my turn. I put on a very big smile and addressed him in Swahili. I explained to him everything and did my best to not look as scared as I felt. After I finished I sat there waiting for his reply. He just looked at me. Finally after a few very long seconds he chuckled and then asked me "what is it you would like me to do for you?” I asked him if he could just give me a one month extension and that I was sure my work permit would arrive within that time. He looked at me and instead of answering he started asking me all about what I am doing and where I am from. He seemed genuinely interested so I decided to just answer without questioning. After a while he concluded by saying "Margaret, I will do better than that. I will give you a 3 month extension!” WoW! Apparently a smile and a little Kiswahili go a long way. I was the last in the line so he asked if I would stay and talk with him for a while. It was the first time I actually wanted to be in that building. So I am yet to be an official alien here but I am still legally allowed to be in the country. Praise God!

Last week I also came down with a pretty bad case of food poisoning. Now I have fully recovered but I thought I would share a funny cultural story with you. When I called into to work to tell them I was not coming in that day it seemed as though that news spread like wildfire. Next thing I know, my phone is ringing and everyone is asking to visit. Of course visitors are the last thing I want, so I politely decline their requests. About half an hour later I hear a knock at my door. Now I am sure you have all had the stomach flu at some point and there is that period where you know that, if you move, you will be sick again. I was right at that point so I gingerly got out of bed to get the door. I opened up to find my co-worker standing there. She takes one look at me and gasps saying "Oh, Pole sana!" which means very sorry! I told her I am fine and that it will be gone in a few days or so. She proceeds to come in and sit on the couch. I am trying to hold somewhat of a conversation with her and finally I had to get up to go to the bathroom and well, you know... After a while, I come out and she still keeps talking to me. In the Kenyan culture it is customary to offer a visitor a cup of tea when they come to your house. I had an internal debate about whether or not to ask her but came to the conclusion that she would probably say no, so I offered her a cup of tea. SHE SAID YES!
Now, to make tea is not as simple as heating up water and adding a tea bag with some milk. You have to boil the milk, add water, let that boil, add tea leaves, stir until the desired colour, and add sugar, strain and then serve. I think it was a pretty bad cup of tea and eventually she left.
Later on in the evening I realized that I should probably get something into my system for some energy. I called my friend Alex who works in town to see if he could grab some ginger pop and water for me. Half an hour later he shows up with 3 friends. The three of them turned on my TV and sat down, flipping through the channels. He told me that they didn't have enough time to go home before their favourite Swahili program came on so they would watch it here then go home. Yet again, I had to sit and wait for them to leave. This time I did not make the mistake of asking them if they wanted tea.

I have made a full recovery and now can laugh about the entire situation.

Work is going well. I have had many people ask me about the Home-based care program and what it is like so I will tell you a bit more about it.
The centre has selected 10 people who are severely affected by HIV/AIDS. They are chosen based on the fact that they are HIV+, without work, they live in the slums and they have a family to support. Every Tuesday morning I arrive at work and prepare 10 bags of dried beans and 10 bags of 'unga' (wheat flour) then Macharia and I, the director of the Home-based care program, head out. The slum regions are all located on the hill surrounding Nyeri so it is a tough walk.
The houses are usually made of thin wood and covered with different materials to keep the cold out. There are usually multiple people sharing a single bed or the entire family sleeps on the floor, close together to stay warm. The ground is bare and cold and there is no running water and so it must be gathered from the river. The toilets are communal and are shared with many people in the vicinity.
It is painful every week to visit with the people I have come to know, especially when you see how much they have deteriorated in just 7 days. Some days we stay and talk to them about their diets, medication and care of their children, and other days we just pass the food and move on. Every time we leave them with some words of encouragement.
Walking from house to house is a challenge in spite of the hills. Random piles of garbage line the paths and when it rains the mud makes some places next to impossible to pass. People have made make-shift stepping stones out of hardened mud in some areas where it is too steep. It is smelly and hot some days and cold and muddy others. The walk to deliver the food is never pleasant but I have not come to a week where I do not look forward to seeing their familiar faces.
The men and women, who are now very much my friends, always greet me warmly and welcome me into their homes. They offer me a place to sit even if it means that they themselves have to stand. They are so thankful for the food and always seem relieved when we arrive. The reality of their life is hard to see and I walk away from the deliveries with a burdened heart, thinking to myself “what more can I do for my friends?” I’ve come to realize that the Home-based care program is so much more than just delivering food. For some of the participants it is there to help them die well. I know three things in life: There is a God, we are born to serve, and someday everyone dies. I think about life in different terms now. I see my time here now as being spent with people to help them die loved and die well as valued people; to show them that they matter. I have known what it is like to feel like you don’t matter and I never want another human being to feel that way if I can help it.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

On Homesickness

I think the aching of homesickness is far worse than any stomach flu, cold or broken bone I’ve had. As a child I was always the independent one. I was never afraid to leave home since I was secure in the knowledge that it would still be there when I came back. The fact that my home will still be there when I return remains but the length and distance have never been so great.
To be honest, I’ve never felt as though I’ve been homesick before. Of course I thought of my family when I was away but I’ve never seen the use in ‘missing’ them, per say, when I would see them when I returned. Now maybe that sounds a bit harsh. I absolutely adore my family but when the length of time away was so short I was always just so excited about the new surroundings. The saying ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ is so true for me in this case. The longer I am away the more I come to value and appreciate my family and friends. I now understand why they call it homesickness. It is like a sickness that comes in waves, usually at the most unexpected times.
I think that if one lets homesickness cripple themselves, they could potentially miss out on other wonderful opportunities. For example, I believe I have the most amazing family and friends back home in Canada. If I were to just leave it at that and say to myself ‘it can’t get any better than them’ I would have missed out on the opportunity to build some amazing friendships here in Kenya. In Ecclesiastes 3:11 it says “there is a season for everything” and that even applies to friends and family. We can have repeat seasons or a season that lasts over the course of a lifetime but it is still a season.
Now, I am coming to realize that friends I have from my past do not have to dictate homesickness. Sometimes friends are meant to be at only one stage in your life and then they move on like you do. Family will always be your family but you are not meant to live with them forever. You grow up and move on to do your own thing or even start your own family.
So, with this new-found mindset I am setting my thoughts, yet again, on the positive side; that life’s memories should be used as an empowerment tool and not one to bring your down.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

On Identity

This Monday will be the fifth week I have been living in Kenya. In the grand scheme of things that really isn’t a long time and it hasn’t felt like it. Now, things are much different. Last week Rick Allen, the other Presbyterian Missionary came to visit and took me to a hotel where we had lunch. When we walked into the dining room I immediately felt out of place but not for the reasons you would think. I felt out of place because I was surrounded by a room full of mzungus! It was the most absurd feeling being out of place in what used to be normal. Now, I am not used to seeing mzungus and I often have the same reaction has what I received when I first got here. I want to know who they are and where they came from. Haha!
When I first arrived in Nyeri I felt very out of place. It is a small town where few mzungus(Kiswahili term for a white person) pass through ad even fewer stay. It was very uncomfortable constantly being stared at and approached whether it was for money or attention. I sought out the solitude of my room when I came home each night for some time just to be alone and it began to wear on me. I realized recently why I was so uneasy; it was not due to the stares- I could deal with that since I rationalized that, to them I was so different- but it was my identity to those surrounding me that had changed. I was no longer Margaret. To them I was just another mzungu to stare at and ask for money; another rich person whose only value was to give them donations.
You know when you are in your own element that there are things that are always associated with you. For example, when someone would try to describe me they often say ‘that tall girl…etc”. Here in Africa it was a new set of associations that I had to adapt to. Not only am I tall girl, but I am the girl who wears glasses, funny clothes, has different hair, has dirty shoes all the time and can only speak a few words of Swahili and Kikuyu. Sometimes when I am in a conversation with someone I have to hold my tongue for I am afraid I will respond rather harshly. Often people will ask me for money to sponsor their child for school or to buy them clothes. If the situation is right and it seems appropriate I will often answer “Don’t assume that all mzungus have money.” They will ask if I have money and I will tell them that most of my money I am making is going to my student loans and they are always surprised. People often ask if Canada has problems with homelessness, drugs and violence. When I tell them yes they can never understand why a country with so much wealth has the same problems as Africa. They pose a good question. I think the main idea that I am trying to get across to them is that people are really all the same and money shouldn’t define a difference.
As time as past here in Nyeri people have come to know my name it that is Margaret or Wanjiku. I rarely walk to or from work without someone addressing me by my name(s). They know who I am and I am getting to know who they are too. What I have really appreciated is that there is now an understanding between myself and the community that I am here as their friend and not their bank. Since that has become the unremitting notion it has led to some wonderful connections and opened up the opportunity for me to become Margaret/Wanjiku to them. Both parties are so much more interested in what we can learn from each other and it is such a wonderful place to be.
On the other hand, receiving new identities has positive sides to it as well. I am considered a sister to both Ndegwa and Grace (my host family), an auntie to 3 wonderful children in Nairobi, and a daughter to Anthony my supervisor.
The greatest lesson throughout this journey of identity has been where my true identity lies. As life changes around me I always have an identity in Christ that never changes. I never have to question that. Bwana Yesu Asufiwe!