We had our first day off since July 1st and spent the morning hiking with some other families up the hills near the campus we are staying. We got good and dirty (we are quickly getting used to be covered in dust every day) and the kids got to climb on some big rocks and see tons of cows, goats, and chickens along the way so they were stoked. Later in the day we walked to town center with another family and their two boys. They are living in Nairobi serving some refugees that have relocated there. Anni totally digs their 2 boys Esa and Jonas (4 and 2) so we thought it would be a blast to hit the town with them. After getting some groceries we went to T Tot, a place famous for their beef samosas. They were excellent, even to me a non-meat lover. Maybe we were also thankful for some flavor and spice after the rather bland carbs we have been eating for the past 2 weeks. Our snacks were perfectly paired with cold cokes in beat up glass bottles. Somehow cokes always taste better after a long hike and served in glass bottles. We met up with a local friend from campus named David and he helped us navigate a “short cut”. It is so helpful to have local friends as they can speak the language and help us avoid “Mzunga price” (white price). He was great and we treated him to some dinner and tea before he had to catch a Matatu to Nairobi. We decided neither us or our kiddos would survive the 30 minute (or double with kids) walk home after walking all the way there and around town so we wanted to take a Tuk-Tuk home. A Tuk- Tuk is an auto rickshaw of very questionable stability and even more sketchy safety. I can honestly say I have not laughed that hard is a long time. Just trying to negotiate the price was an adventure, as soon as we hit the stand where the Tuk-Tuks pick you up we were swarmed. White skin equates money and the local drivers were fighting over us, this makes you feel so uncomfortable but it is part of the legacy of colonialism, imperialism, and tourism that we will deal with everyday we are here. You could tell this took David by surprise as he is used to being treated like everyone else. It was so overwhelming as people, cars, Tuk-Tuks, and bikes zoomed by us. I kept thinking what in the world was Anni’s little brain thinking as she takes all this in? She seemed to be watching the scene with wide eyes clinging tightly to me as she took it in. A few weeks ago she was strolling down a Chicago street in her Zooper stroller on our way to Starbucks and now she is in my arms waiting at a crowded and chaotic Tuk-Tuk stand in Kenya. I thought that by bringing Annikah to live in Africa we would be expanding her world view but at that moment it occurred to me her world view is being exploded. Almost everything she knew has changed and yet she is thriving and smiling and growing. She knows that we are with her and she is safe that she is here to learn. Kids just do that, they learn, they cannot help it and Annikah has shown us that her spirit is eager to know more about this place and these people. I can learn a lot from her. Once we agreed on a price (150 shillings= about $2.20) we all piled into a Tuk-Tuk; 4 adults and 3 kids into the tiny cab. Jason had to share the seat up front with the driver. Our driver took off so fast that he hit another Tuk-Tuk as we drove off. The rest of the ride was equally insane as we bumped along (see video). Anni, Esa, and Jonas loved the ride and were laughing the whole time as we headed back to campus. Anni got some air of a few of the bigger bumps and although she was smiling and laughing she also had a vice grip on my arms that were tightly around her. The situation was hilarious and strange and scary all at once but we arrived safely about 10 minutes later. The kids clapped and said “Asante” to the driver and we exited our first Tuk-Tuk ride.
Another mind expanding or exploding adventure……On Sunday we have ministry time to attend various ministries around the area. I was right at home when we decided to attend a children’s ministry in the area. We are quickly learning that being invited somewhere often means that you will be treated as a highly honored guest and often be asked to lead the service. At the children’s ministry we were in a group with a family from Texas heading to Kijabe and a woman from Germany who has been reaching out to street kids in Kenya for the past few years. We decided to act out a parable and sing a few songs with the kids (thank you FEC & Kidstreet!).
The kids were so warm and welcoming and seemed to have a blast laughing at us and our silly motions. Anni joined in with the motions as well. After attending the ministry time we met David (not the David from above but my laundry buddy). and we walked “a short distance” to Mumbuni Boys Secondary School for a service. We are also quickly learning that a short distance can be 3 blocks or 3 miles. This walk was about a mile and most of that seemed up hill. I am quickly gaining humility about my strength as caring Annikah on my back everywhere is tough and tiring. Culturally, the women carry the children and usually walk behind the men along the road and I must say I am not a fan of thisJ, alas I have a lot to work on concerning cultural sensitivity. We arrived at the high school that is home to over 1,000 boys. We could see tons of young men carrying chairs on their heads into a large meeting room where there was already loud music and singing blaring. David asked us to wait while he prepared a place for us. He came back and led us into the front row of a huge room filled with boys from the school. The choir was leading the boys in dancing and singing. Immediately, my context for church in my head was not just expanding it was exploding. It was amazingly loud, with whistling, yelling, singing, and stomping. I was worried that Annikah would be scarred but again she just clung to me and observed the scene for about 15 minutes until she decided that she totally dug this church. She did not have to be quiet at all and she could dance and clap. She was not worried about offending or doing the “right” thing she just let herself fit right in (as much as a little Mzunga girl can fit in with a ton of African boys). I think kids have a pretty honest reaction to cultural changes, they wear their emotions instead of trying to hide them as I often do, afraid I will do the wrong thing or offend. I pray that I can be more like Annikah, not so afraid to make mistakes that I do not engage the culture. Of course I will make (and have already made) tons of mistakes but as a Kenyan pastor encouraged us I hope to make “fresh mistakes.” The initial dancing and singing lasted about 45 minutes followed by announcements and then our friend David called us all up (we did not have any warning of course) and asked us to share a bit about ourselves. Luckily the service was mostly in English (all the kids here learn English is primary school as it is the official language) and then some was in Kswahili (the national language). The principal of the school came and personally welcomed us and thanked us for coming. It was encouraging to see high school boys be so excited about singing and participating is a worship service. But as we learned later from David who has been volunteering there for more than a year there is a huge hidden drug problem and many of the boys are struggling with many issues. It further reminded me that things are often not what they seem of the surface, culture has many layers and outsiders cannot get even a glimpse by just visiting. It is easier to just stereotype or oversimplify a culture or group than to live with, learn from, be vulnerable, and engage people. David was invited to share the story of his life and read scripture from Mark 4:35-41 about Jesus calming the storm. He shared many difficulties in his life when he felt that God had abandoned him; his mother died and he was sent to live in an orphanage, his sister died at 29, he was accepted to school but could not pay his school fees. I just cannot imagine the loss and sufferings of others as my life has been relatively isolated from devastation of this kind. Loss is such a part of life yet many times I try to flee from it. His story reminded me of a quote by C.S. Lewis “pain is God’s megaphone to wake up a sleeping world.” David revealed how he had doubted but God had a plan for all of it and how God showed him that He can calm any storm. Although he experienced so much loss he could see God’s sovereignty clearly and it encouraged my heart. He is now 2 weeks away from graduating college. He spoke strongly and with conviction and challenged the boys as a mentor should. I sat and listened and thought about the profound impact his story can have on others and how awesome and big and powerful and without borders our God is.
There was more singing and prayers and some other announcements and then the service ended: it was a workout! Annikah was a rockstar throughout the 2 ½ hour service (especially sitting in the front row) and of course it helped that I fed her snacks from my bag at any sight of fussiness. Her concept of church is forever changed as is her concept of humanity is forever altered after just a few weeks in Africa. So is mine. The human experience is so similar yet completely different at the same time. No longer can we operate in a space of only what we see and know to be reality, the world is bigger than our conception and I am eager to explode.