This is a long, but actually shortened version, since we were consolidating due to internet issues and the general busyness last week. Thanks for reading and catching up with our team’s adventures!
It was a tired, somewhat haggard, band of travelers that staggered off the plane and into the Nairobi Airport. The first thing that hit us was the heat! It was 8:50pm and about 85 degrees! Next came the smell. The scent of spices and people mingled with diesel to create a truly unique fragrance. For Tom and I, it was a much-anticipated homecoming. For the other members of our team, Jerit and Ariel, it was a whole new chapter of their lives.
After waiting for what seemed like an eternity to get our visas, we made our way down to the baggage area. As we stood with the other weary passengers, I looked up and saw this guy, standing in the waiting section, jumping up and down, waving both his arms up in the air and yelling, “Mama Aidan, Mama Aidan!” At first I thought, “what is wrong with that guy?!” But then I realized it was our beloved Pastor Samuel, and so I myself started jumping up and down, waving excitedly. It then occurred to me that the all of the security guards were slowly making their way in my direction and I should probably control myself and act as “normal” as possible. I can only imagine that they were thinking that there was something not quite right with this mzungu (Swahili for white person). So, I slapped a nondescript, “I am oh so ordinary and sane” look on my face and waited for the rest of the luggage to arrive. But, I can tell you that it was party in the parking lot. It took some loading and unloading and reloading and strapping to the roof, but we got all our bags, strollers and bodies in the cars, and then headed off to get a good night’s rest.
The team took Monday to rest, plan, get supplies, and settle Tom and Jerit to Pastor Samuel’s home.
Tuesday morning, Ariel and I loaded the kids into the car and headed into Soweto. As we pulled close, we were amazed to see all the changes at the school! This was our first real look at the new building and we were in awe to see all of the awesome changes. The myriad of little voices greeted us asking, “How are you? how are you?” as we pulled up.
That first day was a very busy one. While Ariel and helped to cook and serve lunch, the men worked on a security hut for the well meters. Jerit amazed them with to tools he brought. I wish that you could have seen the look on the workers faces when Jerit took the reciprocating (sawzaw) and cut through the beams in less than a minute! They couldn’t believe such a thing – as with the manual tools they typically have at their disposal, this caught them off guard, for certain! Jerit and Tom spent the day laboring (removing wooden form boards, chiseling and other tasks, assisting the lead mason) to prepare the small structure so that the electrician could install the cables for the well.
Ariel and I got our first taste of what it was like to wash over one hundred cups, spoons and bowls, Kenyan style – not to mention the pots (sofrias, as they are called) and utensils. It was intense and we immediately developed a new respect for Grace (the school’s cook). First, we dragged all the sofrias, bowls, etc. out into the courtyard. Then we filled the largest sofria halfway with water. Next began our endurance test. For the following hour or two, we bent (or squatted) over that sofria and scrubbed dish, after dish, after dish using the world’s smallest worn-out rag. It was an experience! All the dishes were then rinsed in another sofira and handed to someone to put away. This probably wouldn’t have taken so long, if my son had not been “helping”. 😉 But the temptation of two pots of water and over 200 dishes was just more than he could handle. By the time we were finished, he was head-to-toe in mud and quite possibly the happiest I have ever seen him. Needless to say, we had to strip him down, and his clothes had to washed and hung in the sun to dry. It was funny to see the children as they watched my pasty white son run around in just a t-shirt.
The next day was spent finishing the well meter structure, going to the market to pick up vegetables for lunch, cooking and cleaning, painting and planning. By the end of that day, it was clear to all of us that something needed to be done to help Grace. She comes seven days a week to cook and clean for the students. She never complains and always (I sincerely mean ALWAYS) has a smile. Her heart to serve is apparent in everything she does. As a team we decided that we would spend some time making her “kitchen” more user-friendly. Up to this point her “kitchen’ consisted of a 6’ x 6’ tin room with a dirt floor, a large desk, one broken spoon, and a giko (‘jee ko). The giko is something like a tin barrel that has been cut in half. They fill it with treated tree bark and cook on the grated top…kind of like a camp stove. At any rate, preparing meals for over one hundred people every day is an insane task when working with these limited tools. So, Thursday Jerit, teacher Ken and I built her a cooking table with shelves, and rearranged the kitchen so that she would have more room. We were also able to purchase her a very large sofria; two large, heavy duty cooking spoons and an extra large giko. Now she is able to prepare the food on the counter instead of the ground. She is also able to wash the dishes up off the ground. The following day it took us only about an hour to wash all the dishes. It was awesome – and Grace was certainly thrilled. Jerit even made her a stool to sit on as she cooked and to stand on while she washed. In addition to the giko, spoon and sofria, we were able to purchase her several aprons and pot holders (she was constantly burning her hands while lifting to sofrias off the giko); as well as scrubbers for washing the dishes. Grace was so excited and I wish you all would have been able to see her face. It felt so good to give back to this woman who gives so freely of herself. Just a quick example: one day just as we had finished cleaning up and were getting ready to go home, these three children came to us said that they were hungry. She immediately put her things down and prepared them something to eat. As we were waiting for her to finish, I asked if she knew them. She said no; that she had never seen then before. She was quiet for a moment and then she turned to me and said “Maybe they are angles, maybe they are just boys. God only knows that. Who am I to say?” Then she looked out at them and said “I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was naked and you clothed me”. And then she went and collected their dishes. These people live the Word of God every day. It isn’t just something that they read on Sunday or whenever they feel guilty or in need. It is real and I have felt privileged to serve alongside them.
Friday was a mad scramble to get everything ready for the well. After assisting men in digging a four foot deep hole around the well’s bore hole and hauling off dirt, Tom learned to do mason work. He and another man had to build a retention wall around the pump so that the pipes could be installed. Tom was told that he could now be a master mason. “HAHA! Yeah right,” Tom joked. He also spent some time painting the doors of the dorm rooms. Jerit, Tom and some of the teachers helped dig the trenches for the electric cables. While the guys were busy working outside, Ariel and I were busy working in the kitchen. We wanted to treat the kids to something “American”. So we made then a true kids’ classic – macaroni and cheese. Try to imagine what 24 boxes of Mac-n-Cheese all in one pot would look like. Now, try to imagine cooking it on a camp stove! It was a little crazy. You should have seen the gathering of teachers and staff as trying to figure what we were doing! They all kept saying “Mama Aidan, what is in this packet??” When I told them that it was cheese and noodles, they wanted to know how they got the cheese to be powder and did I have to wash the noodles like I did rice? It was quite the ordeal, but in the end the students seemed to really like it and so did the staff. They wanted to know if we ate it every day. Pastor Samuel liked it so much that he asked if he ever came to the States, could that be his first meal! It was very fun! We were all exhausted by the end of the day; but it was a good, fulfilled exhaustion, for sure.
Saturday, we took the team to Machakos to celebrate an early Christmas with Ruth’s (our host’s) family. The drive was truly breathtaking! Not just because we spent a good deal of time dodging cows and pedestrians; but mostly because Machakos is located at the top of a mountain. From her parents’ humble home I could look out and see for miles and miles. The earth is lush and green. The air is clean and fresh and the avocados are out of this world! Her family was so was so welcoming and we felt honored to be a part. At the end of our time there, we were all given sugar cane to eat. They all had a good laugh at the mzungus who didn’t know how to eat it. Apparently, Kenyans have extra-strong teeth. None of us was able to bite the sugar cane initially, and it was quite funny to see us try.
Sunday, was spent at Pastor Samuels church. The worship was just as I had remembered it – authentic and…well, let me just say, to see these humble people worship is what I imagine Heaven will be like. You know how the Bible says that David danced before the Lord. These people dance before God. They celebrate Him unlike anything I have ever experienced. It was humbling to see them bow themselves down in worship – to see them kneel as they sang praises. After the service, Ariel, Grace and I made a special dinner for the teachers, church leaders, visiting pastors and dorm girls. It took us about six hours to make rice, lentils, boiled eggs and chipate (chip ‘ah tee) – something like a tortilla – and boiled eggs for all thirty of us! But many hands make light work. Even Jerit learned to make the chipate, which is a pretty detailed process. We were all very proud of him! (and I’m sure Dana / Mama ‘Nik will be very excited 😉
Monday, the team worked feverishly to finish up some specific projects. Jerit finished up a table he was building, later with Tom and Principal Dan’s assistance. Ariel spent some good time playing with the kids and pitching in where needed. Tom and I spent a good bit of time in the afternoon running for medical supplies for the kids and teachers. Then came a very bittersweet moment – it was time for Jerit and Ariel to say goodbye. It was hard to watch them struggle to put into words how they felt. To see them say goodbye to the friends that they had made. On our way home that night, we stopped by Happy Life Children’s Home. Happy Life is the orphanage from where the Smith’s adopted. We arrived in time for the evening feeding in the infant nursery. Ariel and I took turns helping with that, while Jerit and Tom played with the babies. It was a moving experience, one that brings tears to the hardest heart’s eyes. Holding in your arms precious, abandoned babies that you know God has certainly not abandoned is one difficult to describe. An experience I know that the team will never forget.
Yesterday, we took some time to rest and do safari and several other “touristy” things. We got to see a lion hunt and got attacked by a baboon. All in all, it was a good day! But we didn’t just safari. We also took the team to Maasai Market – a large open-air market that has everything you could ever want. Bartering for goods there is a lot of fun, albeit quite hairy to navigate – so we were glad to have Kenyan friends with us to assist. Lastly we traveled over to Giraffe Center. They got to feed the giraffes and Jerit even kissed one…gross! 😮 Someone should warn his wife! 😉 After a quick bite to eat, and thanking and praying and celebrating together as a team, it was off to the airport. Tom and I were sad to see them go. I know that Pastor Samuel and his wife, Pamela, were also very sad to have their new friends leave. By the time we are posting these updates, they have arrived home to their families. Ariel and Jerit, you missed out on some awesome chipate tonight! HAHA! No, really – we miss you and hope your flights went well. Get some rest – you deserve it! Thank you for working so hard and for being flexible and willing to serve in whatever way was needed. We will see you stateside!
-Mama Aidan (stateside, better known as Becca)
MORE TO COME…Thoughts from Ariel and Jerit to be posted in the next day. Tom will post some thoughts the following day and add some additional pictures.