Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Family Matatu

A real matatu.  They can have as many as 20 passengers.
Just when we thought that the car couldn’t possibly hold any more with its current load of eleven people, accessories, and 200 pounds of groceries on the roof rack of our 10-passenger, 2-decade old Toyota LandCruiser, CrazyMom and CrazyD decided to make a pit stop. To buy a pot. A collective groan emerged from the back as we began to imagine where exactly they were going to put that pot.

Normally, the back of a car would be the logical place to put a pot. After all, the back tends to be more spacious, open, and dirty. Expendable. Today, however, we had spent all day in Nairobi doing some Christmas shopping and there were currently four sweaty, cramped, and slightly irritable children squashed onto the sideways benches. Hence the groan.

A half-hearted attempt was made to suggest that the pot would sit on CrazyMom’s lap. Anyone could see that that particular solution wasn’t going to work. Not with an hour and a half of pitted road ahead of us. The joke over, the base was placed under Ed and K.D.’s already intertangled legs, while F.G. put her legs into the intruding piece of clay and got the pleasure of my feet in her lap. Anything is endurable for a time, right?

An hour later, we reached the stretch of road just before our turnoff that contains a beautiful view of the Great Rift Valley, and naturally, a collection of shops to snag prospective tourists. I could not believe that I felt the car slowing down. Now was NOT the time to be tourists. Unfortunately, our car was, indeed, stopping. We knew what came next.

All exiting the vehicle were immediately whisked into the nearby shops. Running commentary was heard from us remaining chilluns as we watched our driver and associates disappear into a tiny shack, wondering how they even fit in there. We had decided not to get out of the car because we figured it would take too long to get back in. Various sightings of the adults were seen from time to time, but it was not until a half hour later that everyone was safely back in the car. With, of course, more purchases.

Soon enough, despite our griping, we were sitting safely in our own driveway, extracting ourselves from the benches we thought we’d become permanently molded into. Stretching our stiff and sore limbs, we were glad to be home. So, transportation was more comfortable in the States. But this? This is what makes us fit in. Our very own Big Crazy Family matatu.
Packed into our own matatu.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Peeing in Private

“How about we just run over to those bushes to go to the bathroom?” one of our kids said to the other kids. We were sitting under a lone tree on safari in the Maasai Mara. Our drivers had picked out this tree to eat lunch under precisely because it was a lone tree and you could see any wildlife that might be approaching.
Our glorious lunch site on the Maasai Mara.
The kids decided against it, which only led to a bit more desperate of a situation as we packed up lunch. The drivers drove us over to the bushes to scout out a good place for a potty stop. As the driver found a spot and stopped the car my dad said, “What is that in the bushes?”
It was a lion. We decided to pick a different set of bushes to go to the bathroom in.
The lion in the bushes where we stopped to go to the bathroom.
One of the perks of living in Kijabe is that we are only about 4 hours from one of the greatest wildlife parks in the world. And to top it off, we get to enter the park at the resident rate (about $15) verses the rate that non-residents are charged ($80). This December we were able to visit the park with two sets of grandparents, which was a real treat. Here are a few photo highlights:

A zebra that wondered through our camp one night.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Gift of Stitches

Buddy and the butcher knife.
“Buddy cut himself!” the kids were yelling as they streamed into the house. Buddy appeared in the doorway looking a little pale.  He seems to injure himself often and it is usually not a big deal, so seeing his skin color was a first indicator that this was a larger-than-normal cut.

On the way out of Nairobi earlier that day we had pulled over to the side of the road and purchased a 6-foot long piece of sugar cane for 50 shillings – about 60 cents.  Often the guys selling the cane will cut it up for you into bite-size pieces, but this seller’s English was as bad as our Swahili, so instead he cut the cane into four long pieces.

The job of slicing and dicing the cane fell to Buddy when we got home.  He promptly sharpened the kitchen butcher knife and then set up shop in the yard.  The other kids gathered around to eat the pieces as fast as he could cut them.

An awkward knot in the cane led to a sliced thumb on Buddy.  CrazyMom and I suspected that it would need stitches, but heading off to the hospital when there is a doctor’s strike going on is not something to do lightly.  Instead, we called the home of an RVA nurse even though he was on vacation.  Tipped off by his wife that he was down on the field running, CrazyMom took Buddy down to the field to try to find him.  His generosity of spirit got the best of him and he agreed to stitch Buddy up as soon as he finished his run.

We are thankful to work with so many great people here at RVA that are always willing to jump in and help with whatever needs to be done – even if it is sewing up a finger when you are on vacation.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Smiling, Not Crying

“So, dad,” I was saying on a crackly international call with an annoying delay, “What plans do you have for next fall?”

I was feeling my father (Grandpa D) out before asking him the big question – would he and Grandma D consider moving to Africa for four months. The RVA finance office was going to be short-staffed and since grandpa and grandma had extensive experience in that area - as well as 7 grandchildren living on campus - it seemed like a good fit for them.

But there were so many reasons to say no.  The amount of effort that it takes to get out the door, finding people to tend to things while gone, setting aside obligations at church, the expense, and, of course, leaving behind all the luxuries of first world living.

Yet, they said yes.

Grandpa saying goodbye to us in 2012.
A year and a half earlier it was a tearful parting when our family left for Africa.  Grandpa and Grandma D had driven us to the airport in Chicago towing a U-Haul with our 50 pieces of luggage.  We were moving away.  Far away.  And while we did not know all that the future held, it seemed pretty clear that one thing was for sure – we would be seeing a whole lot less of each other.

Living in Africa has meant seeing less of family and friends and there has been pain in that.  But it has also led to the coming of Grandpa and Grandma D to live with us at RVA and that was an unexpected treat.  Somehow this move to Africa resulted in us getting to see more, not less, of at least one set of grandparents.

Us saying goodbye to grandma and grandpa on Sunday.
But now the bumping into them on campus, walking out to a game and finding them on the sidelines, hanging out Friday nights and eating Sunday lunches together has all come to a close.  Having not lived in the same state together since I left for college, these last few months have been a new and wonderful experience.  Now that the time together has drawn to a close, it seems best to take the advice of Dr. Seuss:

“Don’t cry because it is over, smile because it happened.”
Grandma and Grandpa on safari with us.

In the Masai Mara.

Babysitting while CrazyMom and I were in town.

Grandpa helping Anna build her pinewood derby car.

Thanksgiving dinner!

Grandma leading the Junior High Choir.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Tunneling with Grandpa

"Is that a bat?!?" Grandpa was saying, trying to conceal the concerns that were running through his mind as he sensed something large flying about his head.  We were about halfway through a long tunnel that provided a passageway for water running down the mountain to get under the railroad tracks - and a fast way for us hikers to get back to campus.

Grandpa getting ready to plunge into the tunnel with the grandkids.

"No," I said,  "it is just a moth that happens to be as big as a bat."

Grandpa chuckled.

"It sure it a good thing Grandma isn't here," he said.

The image of Grandma stooped over in the dark tunnel with slime, cobwebs, and moths the size of bats flashed through my head and I heartily agreed that it was good that Grandma was not with us.

Instead we had Little Foot teasing Grandpa about being a cheater for turning on his flashlight app on his smartphone when we were in the darkest part of the tunnel.  Clearly the kids found the tunnel exciting rather than traumatizing.

I also teased Grandpa for turning on his flashlight, but I have to admit, it sure was nice to have.

Anna scooting down the ravine to get to the tunnel.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Warning: Road Hazard Ahead

I heard a cry, muffled by the nightly Kijabe wind, as I was walking back to my house.  I turned and saw someone lying on the road in a heap about 25 yards behind me.  It was CrazyMom.  She had just tripped over a rock embedded in the road and broken her hand . . . and it was the eve of the first day of school.

My father and I had just returned from Nairobi after a 10 hour excursion to collect a few remaining students from the airport.  After a stressful drive back to RVA in the dark, we had parked the school van and were heading back to the house when CrazyMom, returning from helping out in a dorm, saw us.  In running to catch up, she tripped and fell.  Dad and I had survived our road hazards that night without injury; CrazyMom had not.  CrazyMom’s fall has caused me to reflect on the many road hazards we have seen over the last year in Kenya.

The first road hazard to be aware of are the matatus.  These vehicles, just a bit larger than a mini-van, are the backbone of the public transportation here in Kenya and with the vast majority of the population not able to own a car, they are everywhere.  The reason that they are a road hazard is that it is costly for a matatu owner to take their car off a route for a couple of days to fix it up and then get the yearly inspection done.  It is cheaper to pay a bribe for the inspection and keep the vehicle on the road.  Yesterday (Friday) the brakes on a matatu failed as it was coming down the mountain to Kijabe.  It rolled - but thankfully not off a cliff - and sent many of its passengers to the hospital, including at least one of the national workers here at RVA.

One also has to watch for animals on the roads.  There is the standard herd-in-the-middle-of-the-road hazard, but also donkeys that won't budge even after you bump them with the front of your car.  Even more dangerous are the goats that get startled and dash out in front of a car.  If you hit one, since you are rich enough to own a car it is automatically your fault and you will have to negotiate payment with the owner.

Then there are people everywhere.  I will be driving along the highway at night passing people who are between my car and the concrete divider in the middle of the highway.  People will be carrying all sorts of goods, pushing wheelbarrows and pulling carts, and walking on the roads in heavy traffic.  It is dangerous and as a driver, it keeps you on constant high alert.

The boda-bodas (motorcycles) on the road carry people and goods where matatus can’t go.  They drive any direction they want on a road and often are overloaded with people, couches, wood, and, yes, even cows.

Sleeping policemen (speed bumps) are a big hazard as well.  They are almost never marked and occur even on major roads.  In our first month in Africa a woman with us received a concussion from hitting her head on the roof of the car when the driver did not notice the sleeping policeman in time.  I hit one hard enough that we had to pull over and check the car for damage.  If only they were marked . . . .

Fog and dust.  At our elevation, fog sets in on a regular basis and gets so thick that it is hard to see anything.  It's hard to know whether to slow down so you don't hit somebody or keep going so you don't get hit. Then down in the valley there are dust storms that block the view.

When driving in the valley, there are places where the road has dropped anywhere from a foot to 15 feet.  The driving speed is  usually slow enough that there is not much danger of falling in, but I always wonder if I will be on a road when it collapses.  The previous owner of my car had a road collapse below the car.  A group of people came and picked up the car by hand and set it on firm ground.
Rocks in the road, mud, accidents, oncoming trucks in your lane (although the photo is of us in the lane of the truck) and much more is the reason why, after getting everybody in the car, we pray before we set out to go somewhere.  We are thankful that at the end of a year in Africa our only road accident was not involving a car, but rather simply tripping on a rock in the road.