Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Becoming A Person

“A person becomes a person through other people.”-African Proverb

My last 24 hours in Kisumu were absolutely jam-packed. I left Kisumu at 7 AM on Sunday, and at around 1 AM on Saturday my last day officially began. Patricia and I were up until around 1:30 on operation mandazi, which turned out to be quite successful. We had a brief encounter with a few guard dogs on our way back to our house, but otherwise it was a great night. We had really great discussions, and even had the experience of cooking by candlelight for about an hour and a half while the power was out.

After getting very little sleep on Friday night, we woke up to a busy Saturday. We had mass on Saturday morning at 9:15, but got to school around 8 for liturgical dance practice. We hung out with some of the older boys while they ate breakfast, and then got down to business. The girls dressed us in two pieces of cloth called khangas in Swahili (or lassos in Luo), which made dancing a bit more difficult. We had one going diagonally across one shoulder and another over our skirts to act as a skirt, and luckily Patricia and I had shirts in the exact same color blue, so we were matched perfectly. It was then that we learned that it was not only the girls who would be dancing with us- the boys too! We had an amazing mass- we danced, did the readings, and sang along with everyone. We also mourned with everyone, as it was the first time that the entire school community was gathered together after Wycliff’s death. The Dominican Laity were also there for a special “Friendship Day” with the kids that they have every so often.

Fr. Martin’s homily was about friendship, and specifically how Wycliff was such a great example of what it means to be a friend. At the end of mass right before the final blessing, the school gave us a special gift. There were speeches, a special Dominican blessing, gifts, and an abundance of tears. I’m sure this is no surprise to anyone, but I absolutely lost it in the middle of the blessing. It finally started to hit me that I was leaving Kisumu and that I didn’t know the next time I’d be back. These kids have touched me in a way unlike anything I’ve ever felt, and it killed me to think of leaving them now.

After our beautiful tribute, we ran back to the Friars’ side so I could finish the movie! Patricia sprinkled all 450 mandazi (that’s right, 450… we outdid ourselves) with powdered sugar and helped me pick the soundtrack out, I threw in some laundry, and we waited for the DVD to burn. After we tested it in the Friars’ DVD player, we ran over, each carrying a big pot (called a souperia) full of mandazi, and Patricia ran back to get the third while I set up the DVD player. The kids watched the movie, which ended up being about 30 minutes long, and enjoyed their mandazis (we made enough for 2 each). During the movie, lyrics from the songs that we had picked out struck me in new ways: The movie ended with “You’ll Be in My Heart” from Disney’s Tarzan. The lines “you’ll be in my heart/from this day on/now, and forever more” jumped right out at me, and they completely captured all of how I was feeling at that exact moment.
After the movie, the photos, requests for contact info, and goodbyes began. We ran back for our last dinner and Compline with the Friars, and then back to school. We went around knocking on the doors of the dorms to say goodbye to the girls, and at first it didn’t seem real. The kids waited for us outside at first, but then they loved that we were visiting their dorms, so they all went in their rooms and waited for us to visit. After hugging every girl and saying goodbye to the sisters, Fr. Martin drove us back to our house.

In our house, we faced a new challenge: packing. We were completely fried and exhausted, and really had no motivation to pack because we didn’t want to leave at all. Just the thought of packing made my head hurt… so I went to sleep. We woke up at 4:45, packed up, ran over to where the boys stay to say goodbye before they went to mass, and got in the car to the airport.

Boarding the plane out of Kisumu didn’t seem real at all, and honestly still doesn’t. The airport is teeny tiny: there is one waiting room as well as a place to wait outdoors. We waited outside for a little bit, then handed in our boarding passes and walked across the tarmac to our plane. We were surrounded by the beautiful scenery of Nyanza province, thinking about our kids and when the next time we’ll be back will be. We learned so much from the beautiful people in Kisumu, and it has absolutely changed who we are. Walking onto the plane in the same place we had been a month before, we can confidently say that we are different people because of the people we met. No one can say it better than that African proverb.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A New Angel

As Patricia and I walked over (more like ran, since of course we were already running late) to Our Lady of Grace this afternoon, we could tell immediately that something was happening. The campus was silent, and everyone was in the dining hall. Usually when everyone is packed in there, it is loud, happy, and full of excitement. Last night, we had an amazing night with the girls learning how to do a liturgical dance for a special mass tomorrow. Everyone was laughing and having a really great time when we left.

When we walked in to that same space today, we found a sad group of children and faculty. They had been praying a special rosary when Sr. Remia received the call that no one wants to get.

Wycliff, a 7th grade student at OLGS who has been fighting aplastic anemia for a number of years, went home to God this afternoon. He had stopped by a few days ago to say goodbye to his friends and went to stay with his grandmother. He went very peacefully, and Sister Mary and Father Martin were there with him. He's been suffering for so long that it's good to know he's at peace, but tonight was a sad one here in Kisumu.

While we didn't get to know him as well as some of the other kids because he was in the hospital for much of the time we were here, Wycliff's spirit and presence at school were known to us. Wycliff's bone marrow stopped producing platelets almost a year ago, and has survived since then on transfusions. It's amazing how long he was able to survive, and he touched so many lives during his too-short time here on Earth. He was frequently discussed by the other kids, and he always encouraged them to keep going. He was a wonderful person, and he will be missed so much.

I know he'll always be with the kids and faculty here at OLG, and he will always have a special place in my heart. I have no doubt he is smiling down on us right now, a new angel (and I hope he says hi to Nick for me!).

In other news, Patricia and I are mid-mandazi making! We probably have about 100 made, and a lot more to go... we are now experts, however! The power was out until a few minutes ago, which made it an interesting experience... cooking by candlelight! Our slideshow/movie of all of our pictures will be shown tomorrow in the dining hall for everyone to see, featuring a really great photo of Wycliff that we found.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Man Who Came to Dinner

On Tuesday night, we had the honor of sharing a meal with Bishop Linus and Archbishop Zacchaeus in the Friars' Dining Room. There were 27 people crammed into one little room, around four tables, and we shared a special meal of "Chicken Maryland," soup, brown ugali (add some millet to the maize flour and suddenly the ugali turns brown!), sukuma, "chef's best salad," fish, and cake and pudding for dessert.

One of the coolest things about the whole night was how absolutely global the whole experience was. At our little table, we had a Franciscan sister from Kenya, two Dominican sisters from the Philippines, the two of us, and a novice from Mozambique. All the tables were spread out like that- there were people from India, Uganda, Angola, Kenya, Mozambique, and from various parts of the US (New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Houston, and Bethlehem, PA). It was so cool to share this meal with these people from all over the world. If you haven't noticed, food has been a big part of our experience here- it nourishes our bodies, spirits, and intellects, and unites people in a way that nothing else can.

The meal itself was good, maybe one of the best meals we've had so far in Kenya. "Chicken Maryland" was breaded, fried chicken- I think it's called Chicken Maryland because there is supposed to be some old bay involved, but instead there were just regular and red breadcrumbs. Chef's Best Salad is a concoction that Antony makes (and Patricia tells him it's her favorite, so now he makes it all the time...) that is a big mixture of chopped fruits and vegetables. It's predominantly purple because of the beets, but there is pineapple, papaya, maize, pepper, tomato, and a whole bunch of other unidentifiable pieces of produce. It's not my favorite, but it looks really pretty!

Another instance of food- we have since had another lesson in cooking from Antony, this time our goal was mandazi. They're little doughnuts, almost like beignets. They have cinnamon in the dough, and I sprinkled some powdered sugar on mine... delicious! We decided to make these for the kiddos instead of chapattis- much easier to make in bulk, and they'll love the sweet treats. That's our plan for tomorrow: we're getting up at 5:30 to start our day of cooking! Say a prayer for us before you go to bed tonight... that's probably when we'll be waking up.

We can't believe the time here has flown by so fast. We have to start packing tomorrow........ whaat?! We just got here! We are going out for dinner tomorrow with Maria and Sister Mary for yamachoma on the lake (I probably just butchered that spelling, but that's how you say it), which is barbeque! It should definitely be an interesting experience, but we have a lot to get done before then!

A week from today we'll be in Nairobi on our way to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on our way home. I'm not sure how many more blog posts I'll be able to publish from Kenya, but I'll type them on my computer and post them from home if nothing else.

See you in a week!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Cultural Differences

From one former British colony to another, Happy Fourth! In honor of the US, I thought I'd compile a short list of things found in the US that I have learned to appreciate since being here.

1. Sidewalks. In the village where we live, there are no sidewalks. Our walk to school is primarily made up of walking along a bigger paved road (they call it a highway, but it gets about as much traffic as Darby Road, maybe less). It can be a little scary when a car is coming, and I miss the lovely sidewalks of Philadelphia and Providence.

2. Clean Water. From brushing our teeth to cooking and washing dishes, having to only use purified water that does not come from a tap can become tedious and dangerous, especially for Americans who can forget. Luckily, Patricia and I heard enough horror stories before we left to make us hyper-conscious of the water, but I definitely have a new appreciation for tap water in the US.

3. Garbage Pickup. In many areas of Kenya, there are no sanitation workers who come around to pick up trash a few times a week. Instead, people burn their trash- adding to the hole in the ozone layer and emitting a terrible smell- when we walk by a pile of burning trash, we both hold our breath and try to move past it as quickly as possible. That is definitely one smell I will not miss!

4. US Mail. As the granddaughter of a letter carrier, of course I have always had an appreciation for the post office. This was multiplied when I arrived in Kenya and was told by friends and family from home to be expecting a package- and waited three weeks to receive it. And when I did receive it, it was not delivered to the compound, but we had to go to town to get it. Mail is not delivered here, so everyone has post boxes that they have to check in order to get their mail.

5. Healthcare. During my visit to a Kenyan hospital, I found myself praying that I would never have to come back as a patient. The staff were incredibly kind, and the hospital was clean, but it offered little to no privacy, and definitely did not meet American up-to-date medical technology. While it was clean, it had a smell that was hard to stomach, and I consider myself so blessed to have such amazing healthcare so close to home in the States if I need it.

6. Salad.
Even if salad was served at the Friars' compound, I wouldn't be allowed to eat it because it probably would be washed in water that I can't drink. I love having a nice salad for lunch or with dinner, and I haven't had one in a month... I can't believe I used to complain about salad when I was little!

7.Mattresses With Springs. Mattresses here are made of foam, and while they're not uncomfortable (trust me, I have slept like a log), I do wake up in the middle of the night and roll over more frequently than I do at home. I have never thought about my mattress until now!

8. Paved Roads.
Riding in a car here deserves its own blog post- it is always quite an adventure, to say the least. You're bouncing all over a car that sounds like it's going to crack open somewhere, constantly climbing over rocks and irrigation ditches in the dirt roads. The roads here that are paved are filled with potholes- you think driving in Providence is bad? Sometimes Lucas, the driver for the Friars, finds it easier to drive along side the road instead of actually on it. It's impossible to fall asleep in any car. While the roads in central Nairobi are better, there is even a pothole problem there. It makes travel time significantly longer!

Do I sound like an obnoxious American? I really don't mean to complain about things here, because overall this experience has been incredible, but I have gained a new appreciation for American things while I've been here. I have also noticed things about our culture that I don't like- how no one looks up when they walk, are afraid to introduce themselves or shake hands with someone they don't know, and move through life so quickly! I have learned to live more deliberately... an idea I got in New Orleans but has been reinforced in Kenya.

Happy 4th of July, everyone!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Beginning of the End

We hosted another weekly movie night last night, which I think was definitely the most successful so far. Not only did we have just one technical glitch (as opposed to several the past two weeks), but by the end of the movie, the kids were on their feet cheering, clapping, and yelling for the heroes.

It's difficult to pick a movie that suits kids ages 5-20, and we learned that last week when we watched "The Princess and the Frog." While this is one of my absolute favorite movies, the secondary kids are "too cool" for cartoons, so they didn't really like it. The little ones loved it, but with this week's movie, we had a success.

One of the older boys told us that he had an African movie we could watch- it was a Nigerian film that he promised was fine for all ages. When we asked him what it was about, we got a vague answer: "Um, it's about the power of God or something." Oh, okay...

So we came prepared with backup, because this movie situation sounded a little sketchy to us. Luckily we mentioned the Nigerian film to the Friars before we left, and Fr. Kevin told us that there was a small DVD library in his office that we were welcome to look through, and thankfully we took him up on that offer. We picked out two movies: "Rudy," about the Notre Dame football team, and "The Chronicles of Narnia." We showed the movies to the older kids when we got to school, and the boys picked out Narnia- we told them it had action in it, which was what made it so appealing I think. The lion on the cover also probably had something to do with it.

The kids absolutely LOVED Narnia. They were cracking up at the smallest things like the talking animals and physical comedy, and when something popped out from behind a curtain or wall, the entire room jumped backwards and screamed. When one of the characters insulted one that they loved or did something they didn't like, they all yelled "hey!" right at the screen, and when Aslan defeated the White Witch in the end they were on their feet clapping and cheering- Sister Mary said that she could hear them all the way in the convent, and she couldn't wait to watch the movie to see what it was all about.

It's so cool that the dining hall/chapel/classroom transforms into a movie theatre every Saturday night. We hang a white bedsheet across some reed mats, pull the benches and chairs up to the front, and voila, you have a movie theatre (without the sticky floors or stale popcorn). The kids have gotten into a routine now- when they see us they ask what they'll be watching on Saturday, and they love their new tradition. It's a great community builder for them too, and we're lucky to be included in that. Last night, two of the older boys who live over on the Dominican compound waited for us to finish packing up so that they could walk us back. It was good to talk to them and get to know them a little better, and it was so kind of them to wait for us (so we didn't need to ask the eskaris from the school to walk us back like we usually do)!

As I write this, I'm faced with the fact that this time next week, I'll be sitting in the Kisumu airport waiting for my plane to Nairobi. While I miss my family (and American food!) a lot, and I'm SO excited to be in Nairobi and go on safari, it will be so hard to leave here. I feel like I just got really comfortable and into a routine, and the relationships that I have built have just become really strong. A lot of the kids thought we were going to be here for a whole year- and while I can see how much good it would be possible to do by staying a year, we have to explain that we need to go back to school too! I will absolutely be leaving a piece of my heart here, and I know that physically leaving Kisumu does not sever all ties at all. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, right?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?

I have been asked this question countless times in life- especially at PC. During orientation, on Connections, as an OL, by my RA freshman year... it's one of those icebreaker questions that is most commonly used. So commonly used, in fact, that I even had a prepared answer: Africa. Now, I guess I'll have to change that answer... Australia? Somewhere in South America? Asia? I honestly don't know what the answer for me would be, but when I asked a group of Our Lady of Grace students that question today, I predominantly received one answer: All but two students wanted to visit the USA.

The reason we were asking in the first place was to have some biographical information about the kids who go to Our Lady of Grace but don't have sponsors. There are 48 students in that situation, and this morning we interviewed all those in primary. We asked everything from what their favorite color is to who lives at home and whether they have electricity (one girl did). It was hard to hear the stories of some of the kids I know so well, because they don't really talk about home ever. I don't think anyone has ever asked them that much about themselves before... some kids who I know to be outgoing and witty were suddenly very shy, but they were happy to share.

The kids we interviewed didn't know why we were doing so.. I'm sure they were confused, but we didn't want to remind them that they didn't have sponsors, let the kids who do have sponsors know exactly who doesn't, or give false hope to them that we would definitely be able to find sponsorship for all of them. I absolutely hope to be able to do just that, but I know that it's no easy task, so I didn't want to get anyone's hopes up.

The one thing that really floored me was what happened when I asked them when their birthdays were. Not one single child knew. Some of them aren't even sure how old they are. If you know me, you know how I feel about birthdays- I love that every person has his or her own day to celebrate how wonderful he or she is, and I think they're really important. In Kenya, most births are not registered, which not only causes problems later in life when someone needs a birth certificate, but also because children don't know when their birthdays are.

I hope I can help a few of the kids pick new birthdays- a lot of people celebrate their Saint's day, but a lot of the kids also don't have names that correspond to a Saint. My birthday in Kenya was really special, and the kids from Our Lady of Grace deserve special Kenyan birthdays too- and they deserve to know when they are.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Hello everyone! Webshots is taking FOREVER to upload photos, and I just figured out how to post a few here. Above is me and Emmanuel, a Maasai boy who was born with one leg and no hands who has been hidden away his whole life. He has vision problems but is very smart and is mentally capable of anything. He's in 1st grade at Our Lady of Grace and one of our favorites!

The next photo is the drama kids during their narrative that I got to see during a special performance! The other photo is me, Joseph, and Antalia in the greenhouse where the beds are ready for seeds!