Saturday, April 27, 2013


It’s now been 5 weeks since I arrived in Kenya, and I am feeling totally at home and content. It’s hard to describe exactly why I love life here…I could tell you about how great the kids are. How they run to me when I walk over to the children’s home, and take turns grabbing my hands. Or how they pile in my lap and squeeze next to me on any sitting surface and braid my hair. I could tell you about how welcoming the adults are, and how open and friendly the Kenyan culture is. How everyone treats me like a most welcome guest wherever I go. Or maybe I could describe the beautiful scenery.  The green maize fields compliment the red dirt roads and the grey blue skies, and the almost nightly rains make everything fresh in the morning. All of those things and more make up my world in Kenya. I understand now why people say there’s something magical about this place. It draws you in and makes you want to stay.

I’ve seen some harsh realities, too, during my brief time here. Living and working at an organization like Empowering Lives has kept me pretty protected, but I have had a few brushes with poverty. Like yesterday, I visited a neighbor who had recently taken in an abandoned two-month-old baby. Children are abandoned fairly often here, but this one was different. She was found inside a pit latrine. I cannot fathom what would make a mother so desperate as to drive her to leave her baby by a waste filled hole in the ground, but I know it has to do with deep poverty and hopelessness. Then there are the kids at the children’s home. They are all healthy and well taken care of, but each one comes with a story. Most of the children have histories of malnourishment, abandonment, neglect, parents dying, hunger and more. They smile and laugh and play like children do, so it’s sometimes hard to imagine they were once in any kind of bad situation, but I catch glimpses of their pasts sometimes. Like when one of them cries too much over something small and then goes limp and stares at nothing for too long. Or when another eats his food too fast and lines up for seconds before I’ve finished serving the other kids their first plate. Or the way many of them wet the bed beyond the usual age, a sign of trauma in their past.

So there’s a contrast in life here, and I know I haven’t witnessed even a small fraction of it. There’s beauty and joy and peace and there’s also suffering and sorrow and pain. And I am just here, taking it all in, absorbing life in Kenya and feeling blessed to be in this place. 

Sitting in a pile of kids from the children's home

The big boys preparing a bull for slaughter

Dinner will be bull's head soup, complete with bone and the occasional tooth

The small boys watching the big boys play soccer

It's hard to catch the kids not posing for the picture

Afternoon drawing class 

Two of the youngest boys at the home playing

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Options and Opportunities

I’ve been in Kenya for 3 weeks now, and I’m finally feeling somewhat settled in. There’s so much I could write about, but I’ve decided to limit it for now to this one recurring train of thought I keep having during my time here. It’s about options and opportunities.

I’m spending a lot of my time with a group of 30 orphans who are all a part of a house family. They are being raised at a children's home along with 3 other similar group families. Each bunch of 30 kids has a house mom and house dad who look after them in a way that’s part like a parent, part like an RA in a college dorm. The kids are ages 3-18 and are loving, funny, cute, sweet and all around as entertaining as kids can be. And they are so curious about everything. They ask me lots of questions, and one of the favorite questions is this: “What do you eat in America?” I feel a little pang of guilt every time they ask me that question, and I try to limit my answer to a few things. “We eat potatoes”, I say. “And hamburgers and spaghetti and greens”. When they press for more details I tell them we also have corn and beans and rice and eggs. I try to only talk about foods they are familiar with, because I can’t stand to paint a picture of the vast amount of culinary choices we have in the States. These kids are happy with their daily meals. They eat the same slice of bread with tea for breakfast every morning, the same beans and maize for lunch in the afternoon, and the same cabbage and ugali (a thick corn flour and water paste) for dinner every evening. They have other foods here and there on occasions (like meat on Saturdays, or a special meal on holidays), but for the most part, these three meals are their life. And in a part of the world where malnourishment frequently claims young lives, they are fortunate to have these meals.

And so I have been thinking a lot about options as I take my meals of ugali and cabbage with my new Kenyan friends. I think about my life in the States and how I have the opportunity to make so many choices big and small. I can choose whether to take this job or that, whether to live here or there. I can choose between 20 different lunch options and 37 different brands of bread at the grocery store. I get to choose the direction of my life, and I can even choose to leave my life of options and opportunity and go to a place where choices are limited, just to see what it’s like. And when I’m tired of beans and maize, and I’m ready for a change, I can choose to go back to my world of plenty. But I will never forget these kids, and what I am learning here in Kenya. I’d like you to meet them, so here are a few pictures to round out this post. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to be here with them.

Being monkeys in a tree

Enjoying lunch
Machetes have many uses here

6-year-old giving me a lesson in doing laundry by hand

The kids doing their laundry after school