Saturday, May 08, 2010

This is Loki Living

Day Zero:
Touch down in a hot afternoon, just before heavy rains. The single engine Cessna shuts down with my family and all our stuff crammed inside. Breanna fights nauseau and illness under the veranda of  an abandoned terminal lounge. Olivia waits with her as Grace and Isaiah chase cats around the ramp. During a lull in the rain we load into a Samaritan's Purse Land Cruiser. In under fifteen minutes we are in our new house for the next two weeks.

I nervously look around the house, as Breanna says she needs to lie down. I have visited Lokichogio a lot of times. I told AIM AIR we are willing to move up here. Probably. I hope the family agrees with me. As I make grilled cheese sandwiches, keeping an eye on whining kids, and get ready for a flight the next day, I can't fight the feeling that this was a mistake.

It's usually better in the morning. And it was. AIM AIR's man on the ground: Starline, left a pick up for us to use. After breakfast and coffee, I take it to the airport. I fly to the first major town across the border in Sudan... twice. Once to carry a missionary family in so the can return to their village home. The radio remains quiet on both flights. Sudan, the country I fly over, votes for the first time in several decades. Most missionaries left for this period, but my passengers want to go in. I decide to stay at a higher altitude as long as possible and avoid getting close to the ground until the last five minutes. You never know. Thankfully, both trips in and out proved to be routine.

I return to the house, anxiously. I have heard the good and bad about "Loki." Mostly bad. A lot of families don't want to live here.
As I shut down the car, I see two kids swimming in a kiddie pool we had set up last night. Through the giggles, they look up and yell "Daddy's home." I smile and jump out of the truck. This could work after all.

Day three:
Crammed inside a white taxi, sending up a cloud of dust in Sudan. A motorcycle swerves in front of the car, bouncing over deep ruts. The bike falls over as the rider hops off. Our driver locks up the brakes. The motorcyclist and driver yell at each other. Our driver throws up his hands and turns the car around. A Kenyan pastor in the cab explains that we went through a checkpoint without stopping.

We drive back to a bend in the road under two large shade trees. Our sedan stops in a mud puddle, and we spill out of the car. Several soldiers in worn camouflage are moving tables around under one of the trees. The obvious Man in charge sits and waits for us to approach his tribunal under the trees.

Twenty minutes later and the verbal onslaught continues, mainly against the driver. Listening proves to be our punishment for going past an invisible checkpoint. My watch keeps lifting into view. I planned to be on the ground for an hour, and the hour slips by. Finally, the Man wraps it up with a firm don't ever do it again.

"Thank you, sir!" A missionary lady says as we walk off.

"Sir! Sir! You know what the bible says. No one should have titles. I am not a Sir!" He launches into another diatribe, but it only lasts three minutes.

Our shaken driver starts the car, and with the remaining minutes we have, we visit a new church just outside of town. We gather in a circle with the pastor and the leaders. They share the struggles of the work they are in. As we pray together, I sneak a peak at the men and women who work here in Sudan so a new church grows... even in these uncertain times.

Ten minutes later we roll up to the airplane. "I've never seen something so beautiful in my life!" a missionary points out, excitedly. We fly for an hour over valleys and mountains and the Didinga Hills. We arrive in Loki where our ways part. They board another airplane back to Nairobi, still talking about their adventure in Sudan.

Day Five:
Steve Irwin's trademark vernacular comes out of the TV in the corner. We share a good Kenyan meal with Starline and his family. We sit at a long table in a large open room. Next to Starline, John watches the DVD episode on catching deadly snakes with horrified fascination. With excited gesturing, John describes snakes back in his home that can stand as tall as a man. When I ask if he wants to look for them like Steve Irwin, he recoils in his seat, shaking his head and clicking his tongue.

John's home is near Mewoun... a rugged, "overgrown" section of Sudan. We met him the first day in Loki. Not really sure who he was, I gave him some distance. He told me he was going to high school, sponsored by an AIM AIR pilot. I asked him what grade he was in. He told me he would be in 12th, but Jon, the pilot, told him he needed to repeat 11th since his grades needed improving.

The more I talk to John from Sudan, the more I admire him. Breanna asked him once where his family was. He deliberately; cautiously; painfully described that during the civil war in Sudan many children were scattered from their families. He heard from relatives that both his mom and dad died. He spent a few nights in a house next to "ours," but told me he moved to Starline's house because of loneliness.

As I sit at Starline's table, eating rice and greens, I hear Isaiah and Griffens (Starline's lad) running around the table, Steve Irwin exclaiming about a beautiful snake, and I see John staring at the TV in rapt attention. He doesn't enjoy watching snakes, but I can tell he loves the company. I realize that maybe John has a family after all.

Day nine:
Children herd chickens through the house to the back yard. A lot of chickens live in the compound. Many of them sneak into the house when they can. We hope they will go into the backyard to devour ticks.

Two dogs reside here at the house. Two dogs and a lot of ticks. Breanna's list of favorites puts dogs and ticks near the bottom, but she spends a lot of time pulling ticks off the restless pups. First we smashed the ticks with a hammer: too messy. So now she drowns them in mouthwash. One dog had at least 300 that Bre pulled off of him. She also pulls them off of the kids. Now its time to bring the fight to the ticks in the yard.

The chickens refuse to go where the bread crumbs and popcorn trail lead. Olivia's new friend, Lucy, grabs one by the legs, carrying the hen through the house to the backyard. Eventually three hens and two roosters feast in the backyard.

I continue working on the maintenance projects for AIM AIR which kept me busy all week. I decide to drink a cold coke while I work, but the first taste is repulsive. It tastes like bleach, not coke. Breanna had complained about the same thing on another bottle. I look at the bottles closely and realize they are a couple of years old. I suddenly remember taking a crate of bottles from a storage container where we worked on the truck. I guess they don't last forever, especially in a hot container. The old cokes would kill ticks, though.

At night it rains and rains. I wait for the rain and lightning to die down before returning the hens and roosters to their roost. I find them huddled on the corner of the patio by the fence. Breanna and the kids hold towels up as a wall to keep them from running. I grab a hen by the legs and throw it over the fence. It grabs the top of the wire mesh and beats it wings. I push on it, hoping to move it off the fence. It bobs forward, squawking, and swings right  back up on top. It takes a couple pushes. The next hen tries to peck while I grab the legs. It stops as soon as I hold it upside down. This time I throw well above the top of the fence.

The kids love this. Grace wants a turn holding the chickens, but loses her nerve when they flap their wings and squawk.

Day Ten:
The sounds of singing, strange and beautiful, arrive with the whisps of breeze through the screened window. Even though Loki is a town, right now it sounds like a village. The voices repeat a chorus following a leader. Other voices trill while the beat pulses out of hand claps and stomps. I can picture the youth in their Sunday evening celebration jumping and swaying in a circle. This morning we went to the Turkana / Swahili church service. We didn't understand much, but the music came across in an unbridled way straight from their heart. I remember thinking "This is the Africa I thought we would live in..."

As always, I loved working with Starline this week. We discussed a lot of our different perspectives on living up in Loki while polishing brake cylinders. When the conversations ended, he couldn't resist singing.

Isaiah tries starting an AIM AIR generator ...
but the noise is a concern for him.
I asked a missionary pilot who lived in Loki several years ago if he missed the convenience of Nairobi when he was there. He told me that he actually misses the convenience of Loki. I understood today when I stopped at one of the small auto parts stores on a Sunday afternoon. Almost everything stays open all day Saturday and Sunday, and I can drive to the shops in less than five minutes.

At the auto parts place, I popped the hood on the vehicle we have been driving. It makes a terrible knocking sound when accelerating, a problem I couldn't figure out. I took it to the shade tree experts at the auto parts store. I watched them work, chasing the source of the problem. I love troubleshooting, and these guys did an impressive job of "fencing" instead of "hacking" at the problem. They narrowed the problem to the sensor system on the throttle. One of mechanics ran into the back and returned, armed with a light bulb, a piece of coat wire wrapped around it, and electrical wire terminated in an alligator clip. Following the wire back to a relay, they found the problem... a corroded connection to the relay. After they cleaned it, we went for a test drive. The car ran great: problem solved!

The music continues to drift in through the hot, still night. In Loki we give up blankets and sweat free sleep, but we also traded the sound of Nairobi traffic and matatu stereos for an unintended lullaby.

Day Thirteen:
We pack up the suitcases we lived out of and drain the pool, while listening to the sounds of quiet one last time. Lucy, Olivia's new friend, brings her a monkey as a gift. Lucy and another girl tell us they got the monkey as a baby. A rope lies tied around the monkey's waist. In a couple hours the rope is tangled around the trees. Breanna frees "Rafiki," the name given by the kids, and he follows her around. He loves to hang from her neck, or sit on her shoulder. I can almost see Breanna rapidly softening towards him.

When I get close he snarls and runs away. I don't soften towards him at all.

Olivia, Grace, and even Isaiah want to keep him. I tell them he needs to stay in Loki, and when we move up here we can take care of him then. I hope Lucy won't be offended. She had asked for help with school fees, and these past two weeks I thought she had ulterior motives for spending time with the family. I think I misjudged her.

I watch the monkey following the kids around the house, then jump into Olivia's arms. I'm still not happy about him. I turn to Breanna and ask if she could live here. "Definitely," she says. "I would really love to be a part of the ladies co-op that makes crafts."

This evening seems worth savoring. John, an AIM AIR Pilot, Starline and his family, and all of us eat at the "Hotel California," a camp and buffet catering mainly for relief workers coming through Loki. Isaiah and Griffens chase each other around, while Starline tells us story after story about the unexpected in Sudan and stories about AIM AIR.

He had asked me earlier if there was a way we could keep living up in Loki.

As I walk outside the front door of the house, looking up at the stars, I hope so.

Day Fourteen:
Running from the airport bathroom, the girls head for the Cessna Caravan. They had waited until the pilot, Dan, was ready to close the airplane's doors before they realized they needed to "go."
"Grace, do you want to sit up front?" I ask. I think she will enjoy it, but I also know it will make Dan's flight interesting.

As we climb out next to southern hills in the valley, Grace says: "I love flying in airplanes. You know, how in the beginning it is really exciting and interesting, then you get tired and fall asleep. I think that is really neat."

Grace's picture of our pilot, Captain Dan

I think about our two weeks: my initial thought that this was a mistake, the fun I had working with Starline, watching the shade tree mechanics figure out a sensor problem, the adventure in Torit, meeting John, and watching my kids open up to new friends. The first thought that this was a mistake fades quickly in my mind. I realize we won't survive living in Loki. No, we will actually love it. Love the open space, the people, the challenges, the slow pace, and especially the work God has for us there. The future of Sudan may be uncertain, even tense, but as long as people come wanting to care for the orphans, wanting to start bible schools, wanting to spread the news of freedom from law and sin, we will thoroughly enjoy taking them where they need to go!

What's Next for Us? There are three main areas that require prayer and support for us to be able to serve in Loki.

1. Adequate housing for our family. AIM AIR is deciding how best to pursue this. Their are several options, but we are waiting for a decision. AIM international, our mission organization, had a recent change in leadership over AIM AIR and this probably impacts the timeframe for a decision.

2. I need to complete my New Pilot Status. This is time for me to expand my pilot experience in eastern Africa under close guidance of the training captains here at AIM AIR. Moving to Loki would require I be moved off of New Pilot Status. This means a lot of flying for me in the next months if we are to move soon.

3. A rugged vehicle. The road from Nairobi to Loki is extremely rough. One missionary told me there is just a big enough ribbon of tarmac to hold the potholes together. He says he will never drive it again. However, for me to feel comfortable living in a border town, I think it is necessary to have a second option to evacuate besides air, and a four wheel drive vehicle would fit the requirement (also AIM's requirement as well). Our vehicle project is at 22% of the funds needed towards this goal.

Please pray during this time that all three things will come together in God's time. For now we are learning to be content in either home.