Monday, June 08, 2009

The night we forgot Ugali

Learning who to trust is a big adjustment for us in our new life here. Kids who are strangers will walk up and say “Give me money!” Youths sometimes grab Grace or Isaiah’s arms and ask for me to give them just one of my kids. Sometimes people are simply asking for work or promising a quality piece of furniture, but the story they spin isn’t quite “right.” A lot of conversations I have on the street I find myself wondering how much truth there really is to this story.
There are many drops of fresh water in what sometimes seems like a sea of cons, and every chance I can spend time with them is truly refreshing.
Baba Brian, as the kids call him, or Wycliffe, is more than a reassuring realization that the world is not all bad ... he is an inspiration to me.
His dad took a second wife when he was a young guy. The family was left to fend for themselves. His mom decided to come to Nairobi for opportunity, and eventually Wycliffe told us he was living on a trash heap near a nearby market.
He went to a church school and made friends with a couple missionaries. “Thanks to God, so many people have given me work!” he kept telling me. I kept trying to tell him a lot of it was his eagerness to work and being someone they can trust.
“No, thanks to God I have been given so much work.”
Wycliffe was able to live in nearby Kibera with his wife and son. One day he was given a radio to take home, and disaster struck that night. Three guys burst into the shack and took the radio. Then they turned towards his wife, Saleen. Wycliffe realized they weren’t going to stop with the radio. He grabbed one of the thugs and threw him against the wall, on top of the second thug. The third attacker lunged at him with a knife. He got an arm up and deflected the thrust just in time as the blade plunged into the top of his right shoulder. He fought them off, but decided the next day it was time to move.
So he continues to work hard to pay for the higher rent demanded of a safer neighborhood, and despite a poor example handed to him of what fatherhood means, he is determined to provide for his small family.
Brian is his one and only son (moms and dads here are called by their firstborn’s name when addressed with respect, therefore Baba Brian). The Saturday before last was his birthday. We got together with another AIM-AIR family that are also a part of Wycliffe’s life and took them to eat at a really cool kid friendly Chinese restaurant.
Between the two missionary families, we tried to think of all possible foods that would be a new experience for them. Wycliffe and Saleen bravely faced the new cuisine while Brian and the kids immersed themselves in the abundance of toys scattered around.
Every dinner comes with complimentary ice cream scoop in a dish, and I asked the owner if they could do something special for a birthday. So Brian’s ice cream came with a lit candle and the staff sang to him.
Wycliffe told us that they will remember this as the night they forgot ugali. Ugali is their staple food, and by staple I mean it’s there for every supper.
Yesterday we went to visit Wycliffe’s house. It is in the back of someone’s property amongst rows of corrugated steel shacks. A one room home that we were warmly invited into. Fortunately today was cool enough that the temperature inside was bearable. They don’t typically spend much time inside during the day.
The electricity was on today. We could hear the televisions from next door cranked up. The train rolls by less than 30 feet away. The property under the shack is easement for the railroad.
Wycliffe shared with us a dozen photos from his life, while Saleen made chai on a kerosene burner.
Wycliffe had asked we bring a DVD player so Brian could watch a DVD someone had given him. It was a collection of sing a long songs from the US. Brian has just started school, and is overcoming a hearing problem. Wycliffe desperately wants him to learn to speak English well.
Isaiah brought a toy train to share with Brian, and when that came out, the DVD was ignored.
Brian plays with the train while Isaiah sits at Brian's desk. Like a lot of the furniture, Wycliffe found it somewhere (much to Saleen's dismay :) and brought it back to life.
After chai, and home roasted peanuts, Wycliffe showed us around outside. There is no shower, but there are three out houses for everyone. Out the back door to the compound is the train track and a trash pile. Wycliffe told us a lot of rats live there, and cause problems at night. Breanna said they need a cat, and he laughed saying some people have a hen, and the cat would cause problems there.
Before we left, Saleen prayed for us, and Wycliffe thanked us for everything. Brian ran ahead to our car. As we pulled away he was bawling.
Wycliffe and his family have left a big impression on us, and I think we all had a lot to dwell on on the ride home.
Thanks to God for allowing us to be friends with them.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A life in tension

“It smelled like bad cotton candy ... I mean cottage cheese,” Grace explained. We visited the church one of the night guards attends. The church property was quite nice, but Grace was commenting on the walk from our house to Kibera.

Between 800,000 to a million people from all over Kenya live in Kibera. The houses are shacks dug into the ground with a small amount of corrugated tin making up the walls and roof. Their is a mafia that controls who lives where, collects rent, and is the ruling authority for most of what goes on ... Oh and I have heard they call themselves the taliban ... i think it is supposedly a strange joke.

Francis took us down the walkway from our neighborhood into the slum. All along the way were stalls with various items for sale. A delivery truck was trying to maneuver its way out along the same walk way we were on.

Then we followed railroad tracks for ten minutes, again with more stalls. A left turn down a narrower path, with much less traffic, and ditch running down the middle. The smell was quite strong. This opened up to a large soccer field, the only one in Kibera. It was amazing to stumble into this much space. Next to us was a two story building, the AMREF hospital, made of brick and completely different from the shacks around.

A right turn on another walk way past a satellite dish over a shack that said video arena. A boy swinging on a piece of rope looped down below a  cross member stick of where a shack was or was being built. Then we came to the gate: Kibera Church of God.

It was like being in a village in the middle of a city of millions. A crowded village with electricity but no water.

Everyone was very friendly. We saw the mud walled school rooms and were told about the plans to put a second story on them: “We are going to reinforce the walls!” We were shown the orphanage. It is a home to 12 kids. We met with one of the girls. We were shown the church and Compassion's offices for caring for the youth. A lot went on there. We also met some visiting retired missionaries from ... Council Grove, Kansas. It felt weird and very nice to be here meeting them!

A youth named Boniface was talking to me about how he loves to reach out the youth and wants them to become compassionate leaders. “Africa needs leaders.” he said enthusiastically. Kids in Kibera are always trying to find something to do, so they flock to any activities they have going on. He wants to become a pilot, and I believe he meant a missionary pilot. Church started after 45 minutes and we walked in.

Grace was surrounded by kids the whole time, which was tolerable most of the time for her. We let our kids play outside with the rest of the kids during church. Church wasn't in English, and I doubted it was going to be something they would understand.
An  interesting sign at the front of the church
We were welcomed in church and gave our greetings to everyone from the church in America. They sang some very enthusiastic and beautiful songs, followed by a long time of giving offerings and more talking. Then a guest evangelist from Nigeria came. He was dressed in a suit with a white tie, white shoes, a ring with a dollar sign on it, and distant stare at everyone. He was introduced as Apostle Great (not Gregg) somebody.

“Genesis 8!” he began. I turned there ready for a sermon on the flood.
“And God remembered Noah!” That was as far as he got. He wanted us to know that God remembers us. We told our neighbor God remembers us.

Interesting, and a good reminder. However, after 30 minutes, I began to see he was promising a life of wealth for everyone because God remembers them. This kind of message is very popular in a place like Kibera. People were eating it up. I sat down and started reading through the bible while people jumped up and shouted.

“Put your left leg out and yell 'Hallelujah'!”

I thought about what I would say if he looked at me and asked “Brother why aren’t you excited? Why aren’t you shouting with us?”

I read while Apostle Great jumped up and down on my bench, about a foot away.
I only could think of Jesus. Surely God remembered Him. Especially Him, yet He never had the three cars the evangelist spoke of. He was God’s Son, and He didn’t even have a home. Yet He changed the world forever, and He changed me.
What the evangelist said was true: God does remember us. But I believe he stopped short on what that means for us, and ultimately why we are here.
So, I picked up the kids drawing books, Breanna’s purse, and my Bible and walked out while Apostle Great explained how one day his car finally came.

I really loved being there, but now I felt confused. James, a friend, came out and asked if he could escort us back home. Months earlier he had trained us to use the matatus in the city, and he was so excited to see us here!

“I don’t think this speaker will be done soon!” he said with a smile.

“Yes. He promised to drop the mic in 15 minutes, but his watch must be different from mine!”

James talked with us on our way back home. I wanted to pick his brain about this evangelist, and give him my thoughts, but I knew I was his guest, and I should wait. There is a tremendous amount of respect for a message in church, and no one here feels comfortable critiquing what is spoken.

It was 2pm, and we had made a critical error. We forgot to bring a water bottle. I guess because we were in the city, we forgot this necessity. So we were tired, hungry and thirsty when we got home.

This afternoon we made chocolate banana smoothies at home as an experiment. It worked OK. Then we cleaned up the house, and went to eat some Ethiopian food.

These are the extremes we live in here. A place with no water, to a place where food is served to you. It feels like a life in tension, of not ever fitting in. Sometimes people see us as an opportunity for wealth, a boss, a mark for a scam, or a manifestation of the man trying to keep them down.

The words of Peter and John keep ringing in my brain. To put my spin on them: “We can’t give you enough money, instead we want you to know life, and have it to the full.”

A guard at the neighborhood gate asked if we prayed for him at church. I said we prayed for all of Nairobi, but I would remember to pray for the guards. These past few weeks have been hard for them because of a string of car-jackings. Beyond that, my prayer is that they would truly know God’s son more than they already do.

And we both hope the future holds a chance for us to serve a church like Kibera Church of God.