Friday, June 6, 2014

Tutaonana, Kenya

I left Kenya over 2 months ago, saying tutaonana (see you later) instead of kwaheri (goodbye) to all the people I had come to know and love there. It was a sad day, but I knew I had already become one of those wageni (visitors) who keeps coming back, so the time will come when I will see them all again.

Before I left Kenya, I had to do a few very important things. Like…

1) Take the kids on one last run.
One of my favorite things about living life with the children being raised at Empowering Lives Ilula Children’s Home was the daily run we went on together. We would gather at the gate after class let out and then the big kids—ages 7 and up—would school me in how to run like a Kalenjin. I generally finished the roughly 2.5 mile bumpy dirt road trek in what I liked to call “second place from the back”, barely passing up one lone straggler. Oftentimes, I did the entire run holding hands with one or two of the younger runners. After the big kids were done with their run, I would call out for all the little ones— ages 6 and under— and we would run to the corner and back in a cuteness parade that is best likened to a kitten stampede. Those were good times.

Nicodemus, member of the kitten stampede of cuteness

Kimbia--run! The big kids racing for the finish line

Heading home after a run

2) Slaughter my kukus
I had been blessed with the gift of two chickens during my time in Kenya. When it came time to leave, it came time for those chickens to serve their noble purpose and become dinner. So I donned a blood resistant mourning outfit and did the deed under the instruction of Joel, the cook. Joel slaughtered the rooster with ease, showing me how it’s done. And then, my firstborn Bennie the Hennie, met her maker at my less skilled hands. The fried chicken and chips that Joel cooked up for dinner that night were delicious.

Joshua knocked on my door with the ill fated rooster in hand

Pre-slaughter game face

3) Make 200+ cookies
65 kids currently at the home…plus house parents…staff…volunteers…at 2 cookies each…cartons of milk all around…Cookie party time! I threw a goodbye party for myself on one of my last nights because I wanted an excuse to make cookies for all the kids. I think they enjoyed it. 

Cookie joy (or maybe somebody farted)

So good

To the last drop

4) Get a Kenyan flag hair weave
I had already had purple, and then later pink weave put in my hair. (Don’t worry, it was just a few braids. I wasn’t that American in Kenya with a full rasta head of brightly colored weave.) The kids loved the colorful braids, and would tell me that I must do a Kenyan flag before I left. And so I did.

Mama Kim does the best weave on the block

White girl goes to Africa, gets a weave

5) Take 10,000 pictures of people with shrubbery
I won’t say that I totally understand it, but I do know that 9 times out of 10 , when a Kenyan asks you to take his/her picture, a shrub will somehow be involved in the composition.  So, before I left, a lot of pictures were taken with the kids and their favorite greenery.

The classic shot, kneeling solo near shrubbery

The group shot, kneeling standing shrub combo

The casual shot, leaning on the shrub itself

The creative shot, get inside the shrubbery

6) Give a speech (or seven) and a hug (or a million)
Speeches are very popular in Kenya. And so, as I said my goodbyes, I gave speeches. I talked about how amazing God is that He would bring me to this place and expand my heart in such a way that sometimes it felt like it would break. I shared one of my favorite verses, 1 John 4:12, which says that we see God when we love one another. I sang Kalenjin hymns with good friends late into the night. And I hugged all the special watoto (children) in my life many times over.

I never could resist these two

I boarded the plane with so many memories making a quiet glow in my heart. The journey home was a long one, I took the creative route with a friend and we traveled for over 2 months to many different countries. Countries which I found fascinating and exciting, but none which could hold a candle to my now much loved Kenya.

 It’s tutaonana, see you later for now, Kenya. Lakini nitarudi, but I will return!

Out in the village, making friends

Crushing it

Until we meet again...

1 John 4:12

No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, 
God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

For more pictures of amazingly cute children and a life full of love in Kenya, check out this video.
Asanteni sana, thank you all so much for being part of the journey!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

3 months in review!

Once again, it has been too long since I’ve put up a new blog post. Last time it was 7 weeks before I posted, this time it has been 3 months. Yikes. So, pole sana, I’m very sorry! This post will be a long one, covering the last few months. In those few months I’ve been blessed with so many experiences, it’s hard to know where to start or how to put it all down in words. I’ll start with the painting projects I’ve done, and then share some photos and moments from daily life here in beautiful Kenya. I find myself saying the words Kenyan children are taught to recite frequently here. They say “Mungu ni mwema, kila wakati”—God is good, all the time!

Loving on Backson, one of the kids from Ilula Children's Home

New murals
I could probably spend the rest of my life painting classrooms here in Kenya. I could make myself a little mud hut, raise support for the paint, and just travel from school to school as a fundi, or craftsperson, painting alphabets, numbers, shapes and animals.

This could be how I advertise my fundi business

I don’t think that’s what God has in store for my life, but I have enjoyed the work I’ve done in classrooms so far. I’ve learned to recruit teachers whenever I can, because painting a large classroom solo can be exhausting!  Here are the 3 schools I painted at over the past several months.

School #1: Free Methodist Primary school in the Kibera slum, Nairobi

Kibera…the second largest urban slum in the world, and the largest in Africa. The metal mabati buildings stretch on and on, and when it rains the muddy roads become a force to contend with. I spent one week painting in Kibera, and it rained every day. I walked in wearing gum boots, but still didn’t manage to escape the mud and sewage problem. Having a cell phone out in Kibera is a risk, so I took only a few photos using my best iphone quick draw.

mabati houses as far as the eye can see

Creative building with what you've got

Graffiti by Kibera Talking

Being in Kibera is like being in a completely different world, separate from Nairobi, separate from Kenya, separate from everything. It’s unique in it’s slum-sprawl grunginess, yet life there also seems totally normal. People sell vegetables along the street, children play, friends call out to each other from the top of precariously built structures. It’s a real place to live, not something from National Geographic that only exists on the glossy magazine pages. I came to love it, and the people I met along the way.

Children hanging out in front of the river 

The school in Kibera is a large mabati two-story structure for classes 1-8. I was asked to paint in the early childhood room--a double width classroom which also serves as a church on Sundays. We only had four days to tackle the space, and the headmaster requested a Noah's Ark. I decided the only way that was possible in four days was to make it simple, done in a silhouette style. I would never have managed to complete such a large project in one week without the help of 5 teachers who came daily to paint with me for no pay, on their Christmas holiday. I called them fundi # 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, and they took the joke well considering being a teacher is a much better profession than being a painter here in Kenya.

Classroom before painting

Opposite end of the classroom, pre-painting 

And finished! 

Animals marching two by two

Teachers hard at work

Me with the teachers turned fundis who helped make it happen

Celebrating the last day of painting with chicken and chapati, yum!

School # 2: Karinde Free Methodist School, Nairobi
After Kibera, I still had a week in Nairobi so I was asked to work on a second Free Methodist school in the Karinde neighborhood. The school consists of only Baby Class and Middle Class right now (nursery school and pre-school), so I knew exactly what to paint. I was working solo this time, with the exception of a few kids who came through. School was closed for Christmas break, so it was mostly just me and the paints during my week in Karinde.

Painting rainbows is always fun

A few kids dropped by, so I put brushes in their hands

A very cute visitor

Finished room

School #3: Samro school, Ilula
Samro school is located at my home base in Ilula, and is run by the co-founders of ELI so all the children at the children’s home where I live attend Samro. That made this painting project so much fun, because I was constantly visited by my friends.
The more schools I paint at, the more I see the consistency in what teachers want in their classrooms. Generally a primary school teacher has hand-made educational charts posted all over the classroom. Charts with the ABCs, numbers, animals, and shapes, etc. The teachers learn how to make these charts in teacher college, so they are pretty consistent in what they portray. Here are a few examples of teacher charts

Hand-stitched number chart, sewn on an old maize sack

When I take on a classroom, the teachers often want exactly these materials painted on the walls. Numbers, letters, weather, shapes, etc. If I did every classroom exactly the same, however, I would get bored. So I try to mix it up with an airplane carrying the ABCs and a tree bearing the numbers 1-100. At Samro School I left the bottom part of the walls mostly free for teacher charts, and I painted up high. Here’s how the two classrooms at turned out.

Middle Class (pre-school) pre-painting

Finished Middle Class

Finished Top Class (kindergarten)

Work in progress, with my friend Joseph close by

These girls have the answer!

Top class, or kindergarten, in session

Painted learning materials and teacher charts together

A Middle Class (pre-school) student hard at work

Enjoying the new room!

Kampi Mawe Slums 

Besides painting murals, I have involved myself in a few other places in and around Kenya during my time here. One of my favorite places to go is the slum community of Kampi Mawe. Kampi Mawe (Camp Stone) about 2.5 hours from Ilula where I live. It is a community of roughly 1,000 transient residents from all parts of Kenya. Brewing and drinking illicit alcohol is common in the slums, and people there are living on the edge of hope, with little to carry them from day to day. Jiggers, or tiny fleas that burrow in the flesh and lay egg sacks, afflict many people due to poor hygiene and living conditions associated with extreme poverty. I try to visit Kampi Mawe once a week. Let me take you there, and let you see the faces of some of the people that make that place special to me.  

A view of Kampi Mawe from a high point

Jigger removal can be very painful


Children are often left alone in Kampi Mawe while the parents drink 

One of the oldest gogos I've seen

Making new friends in Kampi Mawe

Ilula Children’s Home

Finally, besides painting and traveling out to other communities, there is home. I have spent the majority of my now 8 months in Kenya in the village of Ilula, living life with over 100 kids being raised at the Ilula Children’s Home. Life with them is sweet. Since you're probably tired of reading by now, let me just share some photos of my favorite place in Kenya. Asanteni sana, thank you all so much, for reading my updates and being a part of this journey. Mungu awabariki sana--God bless you all!

Teaching the kids that it's all about grace

I love it when they wear snowsuits from the 80s

My friend Sarah, one of the children being raised at Ilula Children's Home

A few of the small boys practicing yoga

Receiving a gift of a kuku--chicken--from a neighbor and friend

First Kalenjin pumpkin ever-- "Kipkemboi", or born at night

Kenyans love to run!

Enjoying books sent by Little Pickle Press

Priscah, one of the house mamas, making chapati

Kids from the children's home heading to Samro School 


Kids on swings, a universal joy

Let me finish up this long blog post with a quote I like from Henri Nouwen. 

If we keep claiming the light, 
we will find ourselves becoming 
more and more radiant. 

And it's true. Claim the light, seek God in everything, and watch what He can do. I thank God every day for the joy he has brought me here in Kenya. Mungu ni mwema, kila wakati! God is good, all the time.