Friday, August 9, 2013

Impressions of Africa - Reflections on our first year in Africa

A local market.
There are several overarching impressions from life in Africa.  One is that life here is raw.  In America, we teach our kids that the meat in cellophane packages comes from animals, like a cow or a pig.  Here, such things are self evident, for you see the animal hanging on the hook.  On a deeper level, hunger, illness, and death are ever before you and a part of the natural fabric of life, which also makes life here feel raw.

Another impression is how almost everything is done via personal connections. Consider getting food for our family.  Sheri’s cellphone is full of connections.  She calls Freda to see if she will bake us some English muffins, Alice to see if she will bring us strawberries, Njoki to see if she can get some salted butter, John for milk from his cow, Peter for a run to Nairobi on his motor bike to get chicken breasts, and Esther to see if she can come to our house to make bagels.  When there is an issue, people pull out their cell phones and scroll through their contacts to see who they know that can help sort things out.  And in times of need in a land where the common person does not have a savings account or medical insurance, this contact list – your community – is your lifeline.
A woman hauling water home in the rain and mud.

People here are up to the challenge of a difficult life.  If I had arrived at RVA and they told me the house that they had for me was an hour walk from the school and it is fine that I did not have a car, I would have refused to accept this as a workable situation and would have expected a change or packed my bags and gone home.  Obviously one can’t expect me and all of my children to walk an hour to school, particularly in mud and rain, and yet many of the national workers at RVA walk even further and count it a blessing to have such a good job.  The Kenyan people are strong and ready to take on the challenges of daily life here.

Things I Have Seen - Reflections on our first year in Africa

I have seen children dancing with laughter and I have seen children with the lethargy of hunger.

I have see lush forests teeming with life and I have seen the smoke rising from charcoal burners illegally harvesting the forests and the dry expanse that follows.

Lunch in the Masaai Mara
I have seen people drinking clean sweet water drawn from mountaintop wells and I have seen people drawing water from murky pools.

I have seen lunch served to me on the glorious expanse of the Masaai Mara and I have seen chai served to me in homes where all of our knees touched when we sat down.

I have seen majestic sunsets from a remote island in Lake Victoria and I have seen unplanned roadside landfills where people just start dumping their trash.

Sunset over Lake Victoria
I have seen missionaries so full of vigor and gumption and I have seen other missionaries tired and weary from the work at hand.

I have seen majestic vistas while reclining on a bed and I have seen bats flying in my room with rats scurrying about.

I have seen fields heavy with their harvest and I have seen the fine dust of a dry and weary land.

I have seen unwarranted generosity toward me from strangers and I have seen people I know steal from me.
A home in the IDP camp.

I have seen my students be robust as they move effortlessly between cultures and I have seen my students be fragile as they sojourn in a world where they have no place to call home.

I have seen people living a life of privilege and I have seen people living in squalor after being driven from their homes by violence.

I have seen things that have caused me to say, “Where is God? I don’t understand,” and I have seen the undeniable and mighty hand of God at work.