Thursday, April 9, 2009

Leaving Kenya

Well, looks like we left everybody hanging off on the edge of Uganda in our last blog. We've long been home, resting, recovering from our exciting trip and taking care of a million details of everyday life along with getting back into our groove. But now - back to our trip!

Monday, Feb. 23, 2009-

We were up early this morning with the goal of leaving by 9 am from Hope for Children Center. (Ha!) Packed up our stuff and then we presented donated school supplies to the whole assembly of children and teachers. The students sang beautiful songs to us - such lovely voices! Esther was sick this morning so I presented a scrapbook that was made up with pictures and letters from past years' visitors. Brigitte filled in for Esther by giving the "snow" talk - showing pictures of snowy scenes, snowmen, snowplows and a picture of John and I at our mountaintop wedding. We mixed up a couple pans of artificial snow (that someone had donated to teach the children about snow) and all the children filed passed us, running their fingers through the snow - pinching it and taking a few grains with them to investigate further this unique substance.

John and Slawek (pronounced Swavic, a Polish teammate) packed the Toyota Prado. They spent a long time on it - making sure that it wouldn't move for anything. A beautiful job that they were quite disappointed to learn was unnecessary since we weren't going all the way to the border (like they thought). We were just going to the next big town to catch a matatu ride.

We tried to spend as much time with Boaz and Everline as we could but packing days are always a bit hectic with running around, packing and wrapping up inevitable last minute details. We would chat with them for a minute or tease them or tickle Everline which would make her giggle. I found some slightly squashed/melted M&M's during packing that I gave to the kids for them to enjoy and a kitty cat poster that I had forgotten about and gave it to Everline. Then she just hid behind her poster - she was having a hard time with us leaving - she was disconnecting, not responding to us or smiling like usual. It was really sad.

Boaz asked if they could go with us to catch our matatu ride. I didn't know if that would be possible but said I would ask. After talking to Maurice, who was a bit concerned about what the teachers would say - they had been out of school a lot while we were there (of which I was TOTALLY unconcerned, how often does this happen?? lol) - he agreed! This was great - a little more time with the kids!

We were finally underway after 12 pm! Partly because of us and partly due to "Africa time". One of the older girls also joined the group for a trip into town so that made nine people stuffed into a hot crowded landcruiser. Three in the back, John, Boaz, Everline and I in the middle, Esther and Maurice in the front. Good thing the kids were small! :)

We had our first (and last) flat tire of the trip - pretty good considering that we were in Africa a month! John had warned Maurice about the tires - they were totally bald, and no wonder from the washboard roads. We had to flag down a bus and then a truck to help us - we didn't have a lug wrench but the men were very kind and helped get everything shipshape. The truck driver had an extra lug wrench that he was willing to sell so now the vehicle had everything it needs (minus a spare tire at the time). Then we were back on our way!

We arrived at the stage (matatu area) in the early afternoon. It was very hot with lots of hounders marketing their wares. Maurice went off and negotiated a matatu for us and then it was time for us to leave. Everything happens very quickly once a matatu is arranged - lots of hurry and worry as luggage leaves your hands (we always carried our own backpacks) and goes flying through the crowds. We always tried to have someone at the matatu and someone with the rest of the luggage until the final piece made it to its new resting spot. I said goodbye to the kids but unfortunately things happened so fast that John didn't get to say goodbye before the kids disappeared - they must have went back to the car with the older girl after I said goodbye. It was very sad for both of us, me because I felt bad for John.
No sooner than we got seated and we were whizzing down the road with the wind in our faces off to the "Pearl of Africa" - Uganda here we come!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Last Days in Kenya, Next Stop UGANDA!

Sweet Teeth:

We had our first sugar cane! Two girls from Glory Center, Naom (short for Naomi, on the left in the picture) and Rachel, took John and I to the river that goes through Glory. It was a beautiful rushing little river that we crossed by a narrow split log. We followed the river to the fresh spring where everybody gets their drinking water. All the kids were delighted to see us and absolutely LOVED getting their picture taken. They were such hams – as soon as we pointed the camera at one group, a bunch of kids would jump into the picture! So much for a photo op….LOL We still got great pictures though.

After that the girls pulled us away from the rest of the kids and we went down to another crossing to go back to the center. Some fine looking neighboring cattle passed us on their way to the river and we continued up a dirt path through bright green fields. Toward the top, a man was cutting sugar cane and he gave several long stocks to the girls. Sugar cane is a long, round ribbed green stalk with a very tough protective outer layer. To get to the sweet stuff you have to strip off the outer layer to reveal the white inner core. The girls just used their teeth to tear off the outer later. I tried that and gave up right away. My teeth weren’t strong enough! Rachel laughingly took my sugar cane and stripped it clean with her teeth.

The inside was great! The white core is VERY fibrous and juicy. As we bit into it, the sticky juicy would run down our hands. Then you chew the pulp until you get all the sweet juice and then you spit out the tough fibers. And for all you fiber lovers out there, let me say now, it would be IMPOSSIBLE to swallow all that fiber! LOL But it is a bit funny to be spitting out big chunks of white fiber all over the ground. But we really enjoyed eating the sugar cane! What a wonderful sweet refreshing treat. I couldn’t eat a whole stock but I ate until I couldn’t eat anymore.

Education Matters:

At Hope for Children Center we have been very pleased with what we’ve seen in regards to education. The kids love to study! Every evening, when the generator comes on the kids go out to the school and with the light from a single bulb they study for at least two hours. They are studying chemistry, biology, physics and English among other things. A single bulb light doesn’t give a lot of light but they persevere. It would hurt my eyes if I tried to study the way that they do.

All the students share text books and their notebooks are full of detailed illustrations, diagrams and notes – practically a text book in its own right! There is little to distract them from study and they are hungry to learn as much as they can with what they have.

Mama Grace:

On Saturday, we went to meet Mama Grace, Boaz and Everline’s mom. She lives a short distance away from Hope Center about a 10 minute drive or an hour by foot. The house was small and clean with a metal roof and with smooth dirt walls and floor. I was very pleased with the condition!

Mama Grace was outside cooking when we arrived. Boaz and Everline were already there as they walked over earlier that morning. Grace is a lovely lady and I was happy to see that she looked well. She is blind in one eye do to the medications that she is taking and she said that she isn’t very strong at times. She’s a slender woman but not too thin and just a little smaller in height than me.

Grace prepared sweet fresh pineapple for us and then went back to cooking a wonderful meal of scrambled eggs, stir-fried kale and ugali. We had just eaten lunch before we came over to see her so unfortunately we only could eat a little bit.

Grace is a quiet lady and we talked a little through an interpreter (Pastor Maurice). I gave her the bag that mom and I had fixed up for her. She didn’t look inside it so I don’t know what she thought about the things we brought – but I trust that she will be happy with it all. It was so nice to meet her after sending support for the last four years. We stayed for about 40 minutes and then we took the kids with us to Good Samaritan for an afternoon of outdoor games.

Good Samaritan:

We spent the rest of the afternoon at Good Samaritan. Brigitte and I taught the kids a bunch of different games. Red Rover, Duck Duck Goose, Simon Says, Follow the Leader and Flying Dutchman.

We all had such a good time. John did a lot of watching and picture taking and resting in the shade – it was quiet warm in the sun! He did join in on some of the games; the Flying Dutchman in particular was great. In this game, he was paired up with a young boy and the goal was to get back to their place in line before the other team got there. Johnny was so CUTE! I wish I had a picture to capture the look on his face as he went barreling around the circle with his team mate. They didn’t make it so then John got to pick the next opposing team to run against. John thought he was being so clever when he picked a large boy with a small boy. He thought surely he’d beat them back in line. I was watching as Johnny and his partner took off running and then the big boy picked up his partner and took off running like crazy! The shocked look on Johnny’s face was priceless when they crossed paths and he realized that he had been outsmarted!

Boaz and Everline:
We really enjoyed getting to know our kids! On Sunday, the last full day that we were at Hope Center, John taught them perspective - by drawing a house with a landscape and then we learned to draw a portrait. Boaz found his initial drawing to be “a disaster” but he was a good sport and kept trying. Both kids had a lot of fun with that and it was a treat to draw with them.

Dust, Dirt and Starlight:

Sunday evening we walked over to Good Samaritan which was about 2.5 km from Hope. We had to deliver a package to one of the children at GS so we had a good long walk together. We tried to learn some words in Luo (pronounce – Loo Ow) as we went. Erokamano (pronounce – eRO Karmo) – means Thank you. Idhinade (pronounce – Idheea nado) – means How Are You? And you would reply, Adhimabei (pronounced – adhee ma bear) – which means I am fine. I must say, I didn’t pick up the language very well. L But I had a great time trying.

It was getting dark by the time we got to Good Samaritan and as soon as the kids caught sight of us they started yelling and running to us. After greeting us, we presented Rose with her gift and then the kids sang to us before we left. They all walked us to the gate and one of the older boys escorted us a ways before he when back home. We walked the rest of the way in the black night with our two head torches (headlights) with Boaz and Everline. We were very glad to have the company. At one point, a group of boys followed us as they were on their way home too and enjoyed using the light we cast.

We turned off the lights at one place along the way to see if we could walk in the dark like others do. It would be possible but we’d most likely stumble a lot over the rocks and ruts. But turning out the lights we noticed the STARS! We took a moment to take in the beautiful skylights before finishing our journey.

We got home at last and then it was UNO time! After the games I brought out the school supplies that we brought for them. They were really happy to have new pencils, pens, rulers, sharpeners and erasers - I wish I would have brought more for them! We really enjoyed our last evening together.

In the picture you can see the headlight we used - it came in SO handy! We played games by this light, interviewed kids, even took pictures using the light! And of course to go to the loo. :)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Shopping the African Way

What a surprise! We're back in town with a little bit of time. :)

Market Days:

For the last three days we've been shopping - or at least, trying to shop! Wednesday, when I last posted, we were supposed to purchase bales of clothes for the children at the orphanage and at the gate children (those that don't live at the orphanage, that come for food and often don't have parents).

But, they didn't have what we needed. So, we had to go in on Thursday to a different town farther away (one and a half hour drive). John and I were in-charge of the money - a bit stressful carrying around so much money that wasn't ours! But, all was successful. It was a huge market spread out over a couple acres. The bales of clothes were close to the road and Maurice (pastor and director of the Hope for Children Orphanage) made the negotiations. We got 8 bales of clothes and each weighed at least 100 lbs! All of this got put on top of his Toyota Prado (land cruiser). The poor roof was squeaking and sagging a bit. It had us all worried as we went down the rutted roads. We also picked up a bunch of medical supplies and I managed to spend all their money I had in my possession plus some.

But...I wasn't able to do my shopping - the prices were too high. I wanted to pick up things for my kids and so that is why we're here today! So, on my list is: two mattresses, one iron box (for Boaz to store items in - Everline has one) and hopefully some balls. I'm looking forward to getting these things for them. We're going to see their mama, Grace, who is sick (we also support her) sometime this weekend and we'll take Boaz and Everline with us! Sure looking forward to meeting her.

Praying On The Road:

We got home safely yesterday - it took us 2 hours because we had to go so slow. Oh, and something else I forgot to mention about driving - the vehicles are all over the road as they try to avoid the deepest ruts. So sometimes we're driving on the right side and then when the driver sees someone approaching they scoot back over to their side. And then, there are the break-downs. This happens on almost every trip, which is not surprising considering the roads. Then we sit and pray. Every ride is a most excellent adventure! Ha ha!

Sunset & Silly Kids

Last night, even though we were exhausted from a long day in town, we went over to Good Samaritan orphanage, which is not far from Hope Center. What a greeting we got!! It just lifted our spirits as the children ran to us laughing and calling out greetings, giving us hugs and all of them shaking our hands at once! They sang for us - such beautiful voices! We did a quick tour of their place, taking pictures everywhere. They have a beautiful place, the dorms are clean with new sheets and curtains. The grounds are beautifully kept also. It's a small orphanage of about 56 kids so that makes it easier to keep things tidy.

We had a great time with the kids. They were all hamming it up as we were taking photos of them - it was almost impossible to make them stay STILL! We also had very little light because the sun was setting as we got started and was totally down before we finished so we had to use the flash on the camera. But I think we still got good pictures.

Late Night Chats:

After we got home, we went to the school and sat with the secondary students who were studying by generator light. They love to have us spend time with them and they ask millions of questions about everything under the sun! Religion, science, age, skin color, music, relationships, marriage, health, education and many other such things. We really enjoyed our time with them and are looking forward to talking with them more tonight. We slept VERY well last night - we were TIRED!

Clothes Up To Our Noses!

We still have a lot to finish up before going on to the next (fourth) orphanage. Today all the clothes were sorted, counted and hauled to the assembly room. Today and tomorrow we will be distributing clothes to the children, supplies to teachers, finish the last minute interviews (there are ALWAYS last minute interviews - lol), visiting with the kids in the evening answering questions, visiting mama Grace and spending more time with my kids. We should be leaving to the next place on Monday....

Ok...better get off the Internet now, it's been 2 hours! And we need to get to shopping - hope Maurice shows up soon!!

Love, J&J

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

African Time

Wow! So much to tell you all! And where to start?!

Right of WAY:

There is no right of way except for buses! Everybody is expected to move out of the way. Everybody walks in the road, hauls goods in handcarts, on heads or on bicycles - there are no lines and half the time there is NO road! It's like driving down a rough river bed, with rocks, ruts and goats. A regular washboard. Some roads are good and we really enjoy the smoother ride for the short time. The bus we were on didn't have shocks so we occasionally bounced completely off our seats. Rock and roll Kenya style!

A Joyful Noise unto the World:

The orphans are wonderful. We came in late at night after an exhausting and bumpy ride and we were greeted with shouts, screams of delight and laughter. Their little hands outstretched to touch us. Everybody wants to shake our hands. After we got our stuff put away we were welcomed with BEAUTIFUL songs that echoed through the hall and into our hearts. Welcome to KENYA!

Climate Control:

We're below the equator and we're really feeling the HEAT! The first 5 days the weather was comfortable but now the sun is RELENTLESS! We're wearing our Air-flow Tilly hats, sunscreen and drinking lots of bottled water. Sometimes it seems that we can't drink enough water - it goes in and comes right back out on my skin! Fortunately, there aren't too many bugs and only heard one skeeter buzz past my ear. They do have HUGE bumblebees and a huge cricket like creature that John disposed of quickly. And it's so VERY BEAUTIFUL here in the countryside. So green!

Night as Day, Day as Night:

I thought we were doing well with the eleven hour time difference. But our bodies were really feeling it for the first week. Thankfully we took some naps in the afternoon and now we are pretty much on Kenya time - but we really enjoy taking a siesta in the afternoons when the heat knocks us out, if we can.

It cools off in the early morning hours as the donkey brays, the roosters crow and the children prepare for school. We relish our cool quiet time before facing another busy day.


The food is AWESOME! We're getting a good variety of different African fare. One of my favorites (don't know what it's called), is a potato dish with a delicious sauce that you eat with rice or ugali. A note on ugali: not our favorite but fine with spicy vegetables and sauces. They make a great bean dish too, with chapatis. A shaved cabbage dish with tomatoes and a sauce is super!

But, the best food of all, is the FRUIT! Mangos, passion fruit (not John's favorite), papaya, oranges, bananas, avocados and tomatoes. And pineapples like you've never tasted before! We eat pineapples all day long. No wonder we run to the loo so much!

The one difficulty with meals is the late breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Breakfast is around 9-10 am, lunch around 3 ish and dinner around 9:30 or later. The dinners are so good but we just can't eat that much at that time of night but we sure try!

The Real Looky Loo!

The loos are great and with very little smell! They have walls and a roof and a door that usually shuts. The first toilets were about 7" round hole in the floor. It took me a few days to get my aim right - but now I am quiet

proficient and a happy camper. The latest toilets are bigger and there is even a throne! They come complete with tiled floors and a leaky water bucket to flush with. Ok, now we'll move on to better subjects.

Starlight Shower, a Milky Way Delight:

The stars are amazing here. So bright and clear! And even more special when we're taking a bath outside underneath them! We

are serenaded by the millions of crickets and peepers. Blissful! The donkeys haul up river water and after heating it the workers bring it to us in big 5 gallon buckets. Even though it's brown river water we still feel cleaner after a bath than we did before it.

Boaz and Everline:

We've met our kids!!! Boaz and Everline are very special. They are 14 and 11 yrs. old respectively and quite shy. They were very happy with our gifts that we brought and we've been playing Uno in the evenings together. I have a hard time holding a conversation because they are so shy but I can see how happy they are to be with me. We'll probably be leaving when we finally get comfortable with each other.

African Time:

Will drive you nuts if you're trying to get anything done! It's hurry up and wait. So we relax, nap or talk until it's time to go. It doesn't bother me to much unless I'm expected to have an certain amount of students photographed and interviewed.

The interviews have been going pretty good. We start by hand-sharpening a hundred pencils and organizing our list. Then we wait until our helpers round up the kids for us. By that time it's hot outside and we're tired. LOL But we plug along and make sure each student is photographed and helped with their questions. We struggle with understanding their accents and they struggle with ours. But with persistence and great helpers we finally get the message.

We have the most amazing helpers! We couldn't do all that we are trying to do with out them - interviewing over 600 children just couldn't happen by ourselves within the time frame that we have to work with.

The kids LOVE to crowd around us as we take pictures. We constantly have to draw a line in the dirt to keep them at bay. And that doesn't always work either! :)

We are with a great team and each have unique skills that complement us all. Andrew and Sasha (his son) just left after two week of carpentry and handman projects. Esther, Brigette and Slawek are the other team members. We will be leaving next at the four week mark.

Dr. Jenna Msngu (white man):

For the last few days, I've been bandaging up cuts and scrapes on the younger kids. They now know where Dr. Msngu "treats" patients and more and more come everyday. I must say, I'm really enjoying this "job".

John and I are so glad that we came to Africa and could help out. There is so much need here.

We're missing you all and are looking forward to coming home and showing you pictures!

Love, Jenna & John~

Thursday, February 5, 2009


Feb. 6th,

We're in Nairobi!!! We got in last night around 9:50 and then stood in line for our visa's for a LONG TIME. :) We finally got out of the airport around 11 pm. It was warm and balmy - which felt good. We met up with our friends and then settled for the night. Got pretty good sleep using ear plugs - the train woke us up around 4:30 am - it was very talkative! The city wakes up early! Ha. We feel pretty good today, we'll be leaving for the orphanages shortly, a long bus drive coming up. I can feel it getting warmer but it is still comfortable. (Picture to the left is the view outside our hotel. The internet cafe is right across the street where I wrote this blog!)

I'm at the email cafe right across from our hotel. It's the first time I've been out, there are shops all along the building and people coming and going. It doesn't smell here. (Picture to the right - luggage brought by the team members. / Picture to the right - the guys were loading all our stuff on a truck - there was twelve boxes plus four suitcases/backpack from Esther, seven suitcases/backpacks for us, and several bags/backpacks for the other team members - a LOT OF STUFF!)

John & I are doing good. I think we've adjusted to the time change pretty well but we may have to see how we feel after today. :) It's eleven hours difference from the west coast. (Picture to the left - John & I in the back of a very OLD beat-up taxi with other team members leaving our hotel and on our way to the bus stage.)

Ok...that's it for now. Will write when I get a chance. Thinking of you all!

Sunny Smiles,

J & J~

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

London, Baby!

Feb. 4th, 11:36 pm:

We're in LONDON! The flight was smooth though a bit cramped for sleeping. We got in around 12:25 and after we got to the hotel we crashed until we woke up to Sara's call. We didn't get our money exchanged at the airport - how foolish - so after searching for a currency exchange at a bowling alley and another hotel we finally had to hop on a free double decker bus back to the airport. Finally got that situation straightened out and then we hopped onto the tube for an hour and half ride during rush hour to meet up with Sara.

We had a great Asian dinner with her and then stopped in at a local pub for the atmosphere and soda. We brain-stormed ideas for our Great Britian excursions when we return after Africa. Some of Sara's work friends stopped by and we got to meet them. We headed for the tube about 9:15 pm and got back to our hotel an hour later. We're quite comfortable with the tube system - NYC taught us a lot! Looking forward to coming back and staying a while!

We head out for Africa tomorrow morning at 10:05 London time.

Ok...that's it for now!

Jen & John

Feb. 3rd, 5:30pm:

We're here at the airport waiting for our flight. It was delayed about 50 minutes. Check in was a breeze!! I could fly international ALL the time! All four big bags were within the weight allowed so no shuffling! Special thanks to all of our friends, students and strangers that donated so generously, in such a short time. We are looking forward to seeing the happy grins on the children's faces as they see their new schools supplies.

Our flight leaves in about 2 hours then London here we come!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Off to Africa!

January 31, 2009

Amazing news everyone! We’re going to Africa!

On Friday January 23, John and I were asked to go on a mission trip to Africa to help out at five orphanages! A lady that was scheduled to go had to bow out at the last minute because of a family emergency. The Hearth to Hearth Ministries organization desperately needed another person to go in her place and John and I have decided to go! We're going to visit five orphanages (toddlers through teenagers) and their three schools in Uganda and Kenya. I have two children that I’ve been supporting in Kenya for the last four years that I will get to see and hug for the first time! We will be in charge of interviewing and photographing up to six hundred children. We'll stay four weeks in Africa. We are so excited!

We spread the word to friends and students that we were taking school and art supplies with us for the schools we’ll be visiting. There was an amazing response with such a short notice! John and I are so happy to be taking needed things to the kids.

It was real funny how this all came about. Just last week, one evening John mentioned how neat it would be to do something like Habitat for Humanity and wondered what I thought about that – I thought it would be great! Then the next day we were at the library and I was browsing through the travel section and found a book called, The Way of the Traveler. The next day as I was reading it, I kept taking it over to John for him to read little excerpts that I found fascinating. It talked about how to address/overcome your fears, how the universe opens up and provides your needs as you travel and how travel is the symbol for the “inner” journey. A wonderful little book! Well, that night my Mom called and said, “How would you like to go to Africa?” Wow, talk about the universe throwing the doors WIDE open! I shook with nervous energy for about 2 hours – John was as calm as can be. Ha!

We only have 10 days to prepare for this month long trip! What a crazy week. We expedited our passports on Monday, got our tickets on Tuesday, picked up our passports on Wednesday and got our immunizations, and Thursday we got our medical check-up. We’ve made multiple trips to Bellingham and Seattle all week and put our art classes on hold for the next six weeks. And we've been working every spare minute to get everything ready for our departure. We leave on Tuesday – just two more days!

We will stop for one week in London on our return trip to visit Scotland and/or Paris. We haven’t even had time to plan that part of the trip yet. Guess where we will be planning that part of the trip? On the plane!

John and I will try to post some blogs whenever we can from Africa and London over the next six weeks. So keep checking back or sign up on our blog site to get the new up-dates to automatically pop into your email box (see the Subscribe link at the top of the blog, on the left).

Ok, that’s it for now! Off to go pack 8 bags worth of stuff!

Sunny Smiles,
Jenna & John