Blog written by Cathy Anderson
- Sights and sounds and smells and tastes of Africa
Today was an excellent day.
I was awake before my alarm sounded after sleeping like a rock on a hotel bed in Nairobi. I never sleep like a rock in an unfamiliar bed; but this particular sleep came at the end of a 34 hour travel day. During breakfast at the hotel we caught up on all the news with Helen and Humphrey-Gracie is getting married; new grand-babies have been born; Valentine and Sharon and many others have left for their boarding school high schools. Not one but two abandoned children have been added to the KCK fold while the government works to reunite them with relatives who might be searching for them. We are, apparently, throwing a huge party for 200 honored guests on Tuesday. (What day did you say today is?) This is in celebration of the dedication of KCK’s Children’s Homes, old and new.
After breakfast we travelled to not one but two malls in Nairobi to get supplies and then eat lunch at KFC. Yes you read that right. Inexplicably there is a long-standing and cherished tradition of eating at KFC on these trips. I’ve got nothing.
While we were at KFC, I showed Humphrey the Swahili flash cards I made in 2018 and have been carrying around with me for the last 6 months. He sat and quizzed me and gave me an A+ for my pronunciation.
Finally we piled into the van (driven by our beloved Onesmus) and headed out on our 4 hour drive to the place I have missed every single day since I last saw it in 2018 – Kenya Connection Kids Children’s Home in Chuka, Meru, Kenya.
Abby and I along with 15 of our buddies are making our way back to a place we all love. A line from one of my mom’s favorite songs is spinning around in my mind: “Almost heaven…coming home to a place I’ve never been before.” (Thanks John Denver – now “Country Roads” is stuck in my head.) Well, I’ve been here once and Abby has been here only twice and still, it feels like home.
It feels like home as the gate swings open to reveal a sea of beautiful faces beaming at us.
It feels like home during the 20 plus minutes it takes for everyone to hug everyone – smiles and tears and laughter erasing the years and the distance that have separated us for too long.
It feels like home when I can hug Auntie Pauline and tell her face to face how sorry I am that her daughter died and that I’ve been praying for her daily since then. It feels like home watching Moses who was once an abandoned baby himself and is now taller than Mama Ellyjoy. And then there is Praise – the glorious child who has survived a brain tumor which took his sight but did nothing to dim his light.
There are so many colors of green. The air smells of spices and sweaty bodies and dust and flowers. We drive past the spot between Embu and Chuka where Princess Elizabeth once stood looking over the gorgeous view into Chuka Valley and on toward Mount Kenya. We dine al fresco in the stunning garden at Tredd’s and feast on Teresia’s food and hospitality – every bit as yummy as I remember.
People have been asking me if I was excited to be going to Kenya. The truth is I felt many things all at once – excitement, dread of the travel to get here, hope for what the days will hold, maybe just a tinge of concern as to whether the experience will live up to the memory of my first trip.
If you ask me what I am feeling today, I will answer unequivocally with a single word. Joy. I am feeling pure joy.
Today was an excellent day.
Nakupenda Sana (I love you very much) my Beloved Community. Lala Salama (sleep safely.) Tomorrow’s going to be another excellent day.
We left home 7 days ago. We will arrive home 6 days from today. The beautiful trip that I have prayed for and worked for and saved for across the past 4 years is half-way done. I am mindfully trying to experience each and every moment. It is easy to miss things in the fog of anticipating the day we will have to say good-bye again. In that spirit I am sitting in the early winter African sunshine hoping to capture my favorite moments of the last week.
…sitting on the porch of Mama’s house surrounded by laughter and hugs and Swahili; My fascinating munzugo (white person) hair being carefully wrapped, strand by strand, in embroidery thread by an eight-year-old Kenyan.
…sitting in the center chair behind the desk on the pulpit area of Kirini Presbyterian Church; from there we could see the faces of the children as they worshipped in song and prayer. Their bright eyes practically glowed with joy and adoration as they danced and clapped and sang.
…preaching as Humphrey interpreted every line. (I was intensely grateful for my experience doing palliative care consults with interpreters so I understood the process. )
…reading Psalm 143:8 aloud in Swahili after practicing for days and days; feeling relief when I looked up to see the elders smiling and nodding as if they understood.
…the hard physical work and satisfaction of getting the Exit Home ready for Dedication day.
…helping to prep and cook the “American Dinner” for 100 – at Humphrey’s request it was a traditional Thanksgiving dinner – sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, jello, brownies and roast chicken. Roasting the chickens was an adventure unto itself and a story for another day.
…singing on the porch with Abby and Maureen (and later Linnet) as we practiced for Dedication day.
…meeting with the KCK and TOLI staff to encourage them. We talked about the Bible’s use of the word “weary.” We read Isaiah 40 and Galatians 6 and Matthew 11. We talked about what it means to “find rest” in a job that is, by definition, exhausting. We used Faithtalk cards to share personal faith stories. At the end of the meeting Bonface reminded me of what I had taught in our last meeting, four years ago. He told me what it meant to him and how he has shared it with others over the intervening years. That was a moment that I will carry with me forever.
…coming to a strange realization: I feel like I am doing some of my best work, being the best version of myself, here – far away from most of the people who matter to me. I am so thankful to share these experiences with Abby and the rest of our wonderful team. I wonder if I can manage to bring this version home – can I be her in Kennesaw and not just in Kenya? Please God let it be so.
Nakupenda Sana, my Beloveds. I will be back with you before you know it.
3. You Have Done Me Well, Jesus.
The Dedication Day celebration began with Maureen (one of the original KCK kids in the first home) leading 300 plus voices in singing the song “You Have Done Me Well” in English and Swahili. The tune has been tumbling around in my head ever since.
On the next to last leg of our 30 hour trip home, I am remembering. Jesus has, indeed, done me well in these days. There are far more moments than can be captured in words or photos but I’ll give it a shot anyway.
…the Dedication Day is one that deserves a post all its own. More than 300 people sang and prayed and danced and worshipped as we celebrated 16 years of KCK including 4 homes, the Mars Hill Technical School and hundreds of sponsored children whose lives have been changed – even saved – by the good work of Kenya Connection Kids.
…Joy Rides are hard to explain if you haven’t experienced them. We fill up two vans with team member, goodies and gifts to give away, and head out through the gorgeous Kenyan countryside. Whenever we see a group of children we stop to give away candy and toys and hats and scarves. When we pass a group of gravel breakers we stop and share bags of food and supplies. These men sit on the side of the road pounding rocks into gravel by hand for a dollar a day. It is mostly a day of riding, resting and enjoying time with the team, both Kenyan and American.
…Tharaka connection day is always a favorite day. Tharaka is a beautiful and impoverished community about an hour and a half from Chuka. KCK sponsors 50 or so children there. At 6 am on the day we drove to Tharaka, I got a text from Jake which read “Mom says please don’t kill her but Humphrey asked if you would do a devotion today and she forgot to tell you.” No worries, Humphrey remembered to ask me himself so no one had to die. I did an abbreviated version of the sermon I’d preached at Karini on Sunday – God’s love is unfailing no matter how hard the times. I once again read Psalm 143:8 in Swahili and was rewarded with a whole new group of giggling school children. Tharaka is also the only place where I was visited by a dragonfly on the entire trip. As we closed our day, a Kenyan board member prayed thanking God because “the memories are alive in me. We have accomplished a lot but we know there is still a lot of land to be subdued.” It was a very good day.
…Driving around the Kenyan country side to Meru, Embu and Tharaka is a feast for the senses. Photos cannot capture the deep greens of the tea fields or the glorious colors of the flowers and the paint on buildings and signs. Where else in my life will I pass a picky-picky (motorbike they use as taxis) with four goats strapped on the back. Where else can I drive past Salvation Hotel and Butchery (hotel AND butchery?), Vote for Jesus Hotel and God’s Favor Shop all in one drive?
… spending time with the kids in the homes is always the best part of any day. There is sure to be laughter and hugs and singing and hugs and games and smiles and hugs. This trip’s highlight had to be our modified “park day.” Because Covid changed school schedules, the kids had finals and couldn’t miss class on the day we had planned for Park Day. We were to spend a full day playing outside at the lovely Tredd’s Gardens. The backup plan was an evening at Tredd’s with chicken and chips and sodas and light-up balloons and S’mores around a bonfire. And as happens at any proper Kenyan party there was music and dancing and laughing. Lots and lots of laughing.
…our last day in Kenya began with one more beautiful drive. We stopped in Embu at the Izaak Walton Inn where I took some beautiful flower photos. We ate at yet another KFC , shopped for souvineers, fed some giraffes and went on the traditional Nairobi National Park safari. While we waited for our dinner at the airport Hilton, I downloaded Out of Africa to my iPad. That movie and its soundtrack come to life each day I spend here. Watching on the first leg of our flight provided a sort of decompression chamber. I could still see sights and faces from Kenya. I could still hear the lilting voices speaking bits and phrases of Swahili that this time (after a dozen or more previous viewings) this time I understood. This movie is a soft blanket wrapped around my shoulders as I transition back to my real life.
At some point during my second “last day” in Kenya, another song sung by another teenaged girl on the other side of the world filled up the space in my heart and mind.
“..I’m reminded I already have more than I should….two arms around me, heaven to ground me, and a family that always calls me home. Four wheels to get there, enough love to share, and a sweet, sweet song…..a life that’s good.“
I really do have a Life that is Good. I have fulfilled a life-long dream of coming to Kenya. I’ve done it not once but twice. Who gets to do that? This trip was more wonderful than the first for many reasons. I was going home to a place where I love and am loved. I was greeted by faces of friends who are family. I witnessed the amazing growth of individual Kenyan children who have grown so much in 4 years. I hugged friends I’ve only texted over the last four years. I spent two weeks watching Abby shine as she loves on kids – a preview of her future as a Child Life Specialists. I got to do what I love in a place I love to help people I love. You have done me well, Jesus. Asante Sana. Bwana Asifiwe. Nakupenda Sana my beloved rafikis. I’ll be back as soon as I can.