Tuesday, November 13, 2007
I am so thankful that the Lord healed my headache, because today we were headed back into Nairobi to find a cyber café. I was looking forward to seeing more of the third largest city on the continent of Africa. I was also eager to send out a message on the blog telling everyone I was in the country and working hard. Neither Fr. Dan nor I had cell phones so I couldn’t call home anytime I wanted. The village where we were staying didn’t have phones either. It’s like Africa skipped the days of landlines connected to public phone booths and dove straight into the cell phone revolution. Fr. Lawrence had a cell phone but he always had it up to his ear. The thing never stayed in his pocket for longer than a few minutes. He was always taking calls or making calls related to the mission team’s visit. So getting a message out into cyber space was the best to let everyone in the States know I had arrived in Kenya.
On this little excursion, I left the camera back at Papa Gloria’s house. I didn’t want the trip to be all work and no touring. I got to enjoy being a simple tourist for a little while but I still ended up behind the lens before the morning faded into noon. Fr. Dan had brought his little video camera along on the trip. On the way to the cyber café, Fr. Lawrence wanted to stop and show the mission team a van that he wanted to buy for Grace House. I took a few shots so we could use the video to help raise money for the much needed mode of transportation. The mission team was spending a lot of shillings on taxis and drivers to cart us around. If Grace House had its own van, mission teams who came to visit wouldn’t have to worry about raising the extra money for transportation expenses.
Before lunch we stopped at the cyber café. I have been talking about this trip on the blog for several months so I thought it was important to post something while on the trip in Kenya to give the blog credibility. We had to pay for web access by the minute so I kept the message short. I wanted everyone to get a glimpse of how their donations was at work here half a world away. Thanks again to everyone that helped me get here.
After indulging in a fine lunch at an organic restaurant in downtown Nairobi, the mission team headed back to Grace House. Fr. Dan and Debbie had not been to see the building or meet the residents yet. We stopped to grab the camera so I could tape the first meeting of the residents and the priest from America. Only half a day to be a tourist then back to mission work. No worries, I enjoy being around Grace House so much that I would raise money all over again just to come here to paint walls.
I clipped the wireless microphone on Fr. Dan so I would have sound of him and Debbie giving their testimony to the group. I buzzed around getting all kinds of different angles and perspectives. As a news photographer, I have the mindset to shoot and move. Here I probably should slow down a bit and let the camera roll for a while to capture sound I wouldn’t normally get under the tight time constraints I am usually working under. I thought of this while working so I set up in one place and stopped moving around. Fr. Dan noticed I wasn’t bouncing from place to place so he took the microphone off. He thought I was finished shooting. I thought he was finished talking since he removed the microphone. As soon as I flipped off the power to the camera, Fr Dan launched into a small sermon that would have worked well in the video. He talked about how God viewed substance abuse and how it hurts him to see his children struggling with drugs just as any parent would be hurt by this attack on their children. For the second time on the trip I felt like I had missed something I really needed.
But, that’s photography. Sometimes you capture something extraordinary that you never expected to get and other times you watch a missed opportunity pass before your eyes while the camera is tucked away safely in its case. You can’t control how events unfold in front of the lens. You just have to do your best to get enough to make your vision work.
Tomorrow we are planning to go to Nairobi National Park to see the wildlife. It may sound like another trip where we are acting more like tourists than missionaries. But, I assure you the trip has a specific purpose. Remember that van I was talking about earlier? We are test-driving it for the day to see if it’s worth raising money for. I also want to shoot beautiful scenery shots for the video. I think it’s important to capture some of God’s wonderful artwork he has blessed this country with.
Friday, November 9, 2007
Oh man, I woke up with a splitting headache this morning. This makes me believe something else is wrong with me other than simple dehydration. I drank a ton of water last night before bed and had to get up in the middle of the night to use the water closet. This house is as dark as a cave at night. No night-lights, no street lights bleeding in from outside. Just total blackness. I had to feel my way down the hall to the bathroom.
The pain radiating across my skull was so sharp I had to beg Fr. Dan’s wife, Debbie, for some Tylenol. I normally don’t take pills for a headache because I don’t believe over-the-counter medication works. But I was in so much pain that I was willing to try anything. Debbie also gave me Sudafed thinking my sinuses may be the cause of my pain. I took all four pills in one large gulp of water. Then I took a sponge bath with boiling water to try and relieve the pressure. I soaked a washcloth in the hot water and draped it over my face to breath in the vapor. The cloth felt good on my face but did nothing to cure the pain.
The pain was so intense it made me feel sick to my stomach. I couldn’t eat breakfast. Papa Gloria noticed me pecking at a plain piece of toast as if I was a bird. He asked, “Ken, are you not well?” I told him about my headache and he said it was a common problem for visitors. Since we were South of the Equator in August, Kenya was in its cold season. This close to the Equator there isn’t a winter like we see back in the States. But the temperatures do drop enough so that you need a jacket. I would pull out my lightest jacket to wear when I got a chill. Others around me would have on a coat but I thought the temp felt more like autumn or early spring. Coming from Charlotte where the temperature was in the hundreds when we left, I was very happy to have to use a jacket in the evenings. But, cold weather seems to bring out the viruses no matter where you are and my head may have picked up something going around.
Papa Gloria said he also was suffering from sinus problems. He said there also could be a lot of stuff in the air here that my system was used too. I didn’t really care about why my head was hurting. I just wanted relief. I can’t remember if my head has ever hurt this bad before. I was worried that I was in too much pain to shoot video today.
Father Dan and Debbie prayed over me while we sat in Papa Gloria’s living room having breakfast. As they prayed, I concentrated on opening my mind to the healing power of the Holy Spirit. I kept repeating the same question in my head, “Lord, please heal me so I can do the work you have led me here to do today.” I have never seen somebody instantly healed and I have never experienced healing myself. My thoughts drifted to the idea that after prayer God might give me a break some time later in the day. In other words, I didn’t really believe in instant healing. But, I have also learned that God’s healing power is only as strong as our faith in the prayers we are asking for. The pain was so intense that I needed relief fast. I decided I was going to focus my prayers on believing that God would heal me just enough that it wouldn’t effect my mission work. Fr. Dan and Debbie were praying for my healing and I was praying I would believe the healing would happen.
After we stopped, I sat on the couch for a while to reflect. Pretty soon I picked up the piece of toast I was nibbling on a few minutes ago and devoured it like I hadn’t eaten in days. While I started filling my plate with more food I noticed that the pain in my head had dulled quite a bit. It wasn’t gone completely, but I suddenly had an appetite again. The Lord had granted me my prayer. He took just enough pain away to that I could function for the day. I wish I could have believed in total healing. But, I know my mind just would not let that concept pass for reality. Hopefully as I walk the path that leads me closer to the Lord, I will learn to believe in the healing gifts from the Holy Spirit.
This was the first time I have experienced healing through prayer. Even after the experience, it is hard to believe in the miracle that happened to me. I still want to explain it away. It could have been the pills I took kicking in. I my not have felt as bad as I thought. Well, I have to keep telling myself I experienced God’s healing touch. I must remember what happened to me as well as what I’ve see since I’ve been here.
Two nights ago the mission team prayed over a man that was experiencing back pain so intense that he could barely stand up. Last night, he came to have dinner with us and said we healed his back pain. He told us the events of his day after we prayed for him. In the morning, he woke up still feeling the pain. He still got up and went to church. Over the course of the day his pain slowly drained out of his back like water out of a tank. Usually his back gets stiffer and stiffer through the day instead of better. He stood up and danced around for us while he told his story. Of course, I thought that he might have taken a pain reliever during the day. But, after this morning, I’m putting that thought out of my mind. This man had believed in the healing power of prayer and had received total healing. Something for me to think about after I return to the homeland.
I truly believe that if the Lord had healed me completely and instantly I would have gone out of my mind. Something that radical and out of the ordinary would have been much too much for my brain to handle. Because the healing came gradually and the healing was just enough to get my attention, I can coax my mind into believing in the healing power of prayer. Fr. Dan gave us an illustration of the concept I’m trying to write about in a sermon one Sunday not long ago. He told the story of a friend of his who had cancer. He had prayed and prayed for healing for his friend. However, it took a long time and some modern medicine before the cancer finally went into remission. Most people would believe the medicine is what turned the tide for his friend. But, how often does medicine fail or only postpone the inevitable? Prayer had been the key to the medicine’s success.
We have all heard a story like this before. I didn’t pay much attention to the story until Fr. Dan started building up to a point I hadn’t thought about before. He said if God had healed his friend instantly, just made the cancer disappear from her body after uttering words of prayer, then the doctors and loved ones witnessing the miracle would have no choice than to believe that a higher power was untimely in control of everyone’s lives. I have to admit, if I saw any of the miracles described in the Bible with my own eyes, I would have freaked out and probably found a cave to hide in for the rest of my life. Think about it. If an invisible force had the power to heal you or make you sick and you had absolutely no power to stop it, wouldn’t that cause you to live in a constant state of fear?
Yes, God does have that power. But, God also gave us free will. He doesn’t want us to come to him out of fear. He wants us to choose to worship him. So his miracles and answered prayers come in ways that allow us to think and make our own conclusions about his mighty power and grace. He doesn’t force us to believe; we must discover our own faith in him. Yeah, my headache might have been relieved by the pills I took only minutes before I prayed for healing, or it could have been healed by my faith that I was under God’s protection here in a foreign country on a mission to spread the word of the Lord.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Today is Sunday. I officially started my duties as a mission team videographer this morning by shooting the church service lead by Fr. Dan and Fr. Lawrence. On the way to the church our driver stopped in the center of a small town to wait for another party that would be meeting us. I jumped out of the car and turned my lens on my surroundings. I wanted good shots of street activity for the video but everything I had shot so far was while I was hanging out a car window. Those bumpy shots just wouldn’t do. As soon as I set up the tripod I was mobbed with people. They started spouting off questions as they stared at the camera.
“Why are you here? What’s the camera for? Will you give me money for my picture?”
The crowd grew larger and larger. I began to feel very uncomfortable with all these people pressing in to get closer to me. Fortunately, most of them could speak English, which made the experience a little more bearable. If I hadn’t been able to answer some of their questions, and tell them I worked for the church, the situation would have gotten to the point of me busting out of the crowd and running for the safety of the car.
I’m not sure telling the crowd I was a missionary was a good idea. They started asking me to follow them or if they could show me something somewhere other than right here on the street. Someone in the crowd saw Fr. Dan sitting in the back seat of the car and noticed his Priest’s collar around his neck.
This person yelled out, “He has a Priest with him,” as if I was traveling with the president. The crowd looked at Fr. Dan as if he was some kind of movie star or celebrity. Then they looked at me without the suspicion I saw in their eyes when I first drew attention to myself with the tripod. Now they looked at me as if I was a celebrity too. This new attitude toward the camera and me didn’t help my situation at all. If anything the crowd pressed even closer to me. I finally gave up shooting and returned to the car to hide behind the rock star I was traveling with.
Next stop, the church where Fr. Lawrence had scheduled the mission team to preach and pray for all of those who would come. When we drove up to the building I couldn’t believe we were in the right place. The church didn’t look like a church to me. It looked like a barn you would find on any farm back home. The entire structure was covered in corrugated metal sheets. You know, the kind of corrugated metal used to cover shed roofs or to build small utility buildings. But the garage-like appearance of the church wasn’t the only think making me wonder if I needed my eyes checked. A herd of goats and a few donkeys grazed on the grass right in front of the door to the inside of the church. On either side of the church stood fenced in pens with cows and other livestock milling around in the mud. I even saw a mountain of feed piled up against one of the walls of the church. With all my eyes were seeing, how was I to know a church made it’s home inside this building?
I guess the crowd of nicely dressed people standing in the doorway under a sign with the name of the church painted across it should have tipped me off. I took my camera and tripod inside and thought I had stepped through a hole in reality. I found a fully decked out sanctuary inside the metal building. Up front was a raised platform with a hand made wooden podium at its center. Pots of flowers surrounded the podium and large black speakers flanked both sides of the platform. The corrugated metal walls were hidden behind large curtains made from ornate fabric. In the corner stood a pile of electronic equipment including an audio mixer board and CD players. There was a keyboard resting on a stand and several microphone stands stood guard around the platform. Hidden inside this barn was a contemporary church setup that would rival any church I have attended back home.
The service started with a group of singers taking the stage while a fellow pounded away at the ivory keys on the keyboard in the corner. Man, you talk about praise music that reaches out and grabs your heart. These singers didn’t hold back. They sang from deep down in their hearts and sang with the confidence of seasoned concert performers. I was in the church choir once. I was so self-conscious that I barely whispered the hymns we sang on Sunday mornings. Not these guys. They sang with conviction and continued to sing for as long as the Spirit led them. I didn’t understand the words but I could recognize when they were repeating the chorus over and over again. They closed their eyes and lifted their hands into the air swaying to the rhythm for what seemed like an hour. I rolled as much tape as I could spare knowing I needed a lot of music for the soundtrack to the video. That was some of the best praise music I have ever heard.
Fr. Dan stepped up to the podium and gave a gripping sermon on the power of prayer and healing. But the most moving part of the service was when the mission team stood in front of the church offering to lay hands on and pray for anyone who needed healing. Once the pastor of the church invited his congregation to come to the alter for the laying of hands, people streamed down the isles to where the mission team stood waiting.
Fr. Lawrence told me after the service that the church had advertised the coming of the mission team from America for over a week. The church was packed to the doors with folks needing prayers. I guessed the church held over two hundred people and there were no empty seats. People stood against the back wall and in the doorway. More than half of these folks surged forward when the alter call came. It wasn’t like those Billy Graham crusades you see on TV. It takes several brave souls to go up front before the crowd finally comes out of the stands. As soon as the call went out people jumped from their seats. No one was worried about being the first person to go up front here.
I immediately broke the camera off of the tripod and dove into the crowd to try and capture the emotion flowing down to the alter. Lucky for me, the mission team stood on the floor directly in front of the raised platform. I could stand up on the platform and get in close without invading their personal space. I tried to stay back so that the lens wouldn’t intimidate people or distract them from the reason they were here, seeking prayer. But, I was still in the middle of all the prayers and laying on of hands. I got great shots and good sound for the mission video.
I even shot some still photos to use in the video or the newsletter we send out about our trips. I usually shot to the point to where I feel like I’m repeating shots I’ve already gotten. I decided to back off and watch the praying from the sidelines. Just as I put the camera back into the case, I heard a slap on the concrete floor. I spun around to see that a lady had been slain in the Holy Spirit. She was lying on the floor with members of the team protecting her from being stepped on by the crowd. I had missed the most powerful shot of the service.
I have never experienced being slain in the Holy Spirit so I can’t really describe what it feels like or why you fall to the ground. But, I do know what its like to feel the Holy Spirit working inside of you. When I pray, I speak in tongues like the twelve Disciples of Christ did at Pentecost described in Acts chapter 2 verse 4. I just concentrate on God and imagine sitting before him and saying to him what I would say if he was flesh and I could reach out and touch him. While I’m concentrating on this vision in my mind, my mouth falls open and sounds I have never heard or even thought of making myself flows out. If I quit concentrating on my vision of God and think about the unfamiliar noise rising up from my throat, then the sound stops immediately. I have to concentrate on standing before God or Christ or I will not make the sounds. In my church we call this our prayer language. The only time I have seen Christians in America speak this prayer language was when I attended a charismatic church or a Pentecostal church. In Kenya, every Christian I met spoke in tongues. It didn’t matter if they went to a Presbyterian church, an Anglican church, or a Roman Catholic Church. They all believed in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I wonder why Americans have to be members of a certain church to receive a universal gift from the Lord?
After the service, the mission team was invited to have lunch with the Pastor’s family in his apartment across the street from the church. Yeah, I know I just described the church as a building surrounded by farm animals. Well, that’s the thing in Kenya. You would see a piece of property that looked like a farm located across the dirt road from a multi story concrete apartment building. No zoning or land use master planning here. It gives new meaning to the American idea of living and working in the same neighborhood.
I got excited when I learned the Pastor lived on the top floor of the building. I needed shots of the typical Kenyan town from above ground level. That way I could show the viewer a birds eye view of the poverty most Kenyans live in. I could show that most of the homes were made out of corrugated metal and that most of the streets are dirt paths with no sidewalks. Being up on a balcony would also keep me from getting mobbed by folks like what happened on the way to church earlier in the day.
When we got back to the home where we were staying, I decided I wanted to shoot one-on-one interviews with each member of the mission team about today’s service and the laying on of hands. I believed that getting their testimony on tape right after the event took place would give me interviews with more detail and more emotion. Time has a habit of fading some of those memories that make for good sound. Each member of the team gave me an emotional story about someone they had prayed over. Some of the people were suffering from illnesses including AIDS, cancer, and substance abuse. Everyone who came forward during the laying on of hands poured out their hearts to the mission team and didn’t hold back on what they were suffering from. Because I was shooting video, I didn’t get to participate in being a part of the group prayer. I actually feel a little left out because I know how powerful and uplifting it can be to pray for someone other than yourself.
I really enjoy praying over others. I know everyone has heard the old proverb that says, “It’s better to give than to receive.” Well, praying for someone gives you a feeling very similar to the feeling you get when you give a gift. I feel like a prayer I pray for someone carries a little more weight than when I’m asking for something for myself. I guess praying for others takes the selfishness out of the thoughts and words you want God to hear. I also believe saying a prayer for someone else strengthens my own faith. When someone comes back to me with a praise report I tend to believe him or her easier than when my own prayer is answered. I know I shouldn’t feel left out of the prayer team because I also have an important job to perform this week.
After two days of travel and two days of shooting, I am already feeling tired and worn down. I thinking I’m getting a headache because I am not drinking enough water. I should sleep well tonight after this long day of working for the Lord.
Monday, October 1, 2007
My first thought was that a telephone was ringing somewhere in the guesthouse. I could hear the TV downstairs, in the dining room, from inside my room directly above. The walls were thin in this country. So when I heard the ringing, while fooling around with the video camera in my room, I naturally thought a telephone was calling out to be answered.
Then I heard voices laughing and carrying on as if they were standing under my window. I looked up at the window and saw that it was open. The temperature this time of year in Kenya stays in the low 70’s so I figured the windows were open all of the time. I went over to the open window to look for the source of the laughter.
The crowds of uniformed Kenyan teenagers were not right under my window but they were only a few yards away on the other side of a hedgerow. When I saw the students from the English school next door filing out into the narrow yard that separated the guesthouse from the school, a light bulb popped on in my head. The ringing that started all of this was the school bell. Then Grace came into my room and asked, “Do you see the British school children out your window?”
Soon after breakfast we were off to Grace House. I had been looking forward to finally seeing the building I had spent so much time producing fundraising videos for. Earlier in the year I spent several evenings staying late at work to edit together photographs of the construction of Grace House. Now it was time to reach out and touch the bricks and mortar with my own fingers.
The drive out to Grace House took us out of Nairobi and into the suburb of Kiambu. I stuck the camera out of the window and tried shooting while we drove. At first Nairobi seemed to be like most other cities I have visited during my travels. We drove past several tall skyscrapers made of steel and glass. Traffic was heavy with small Japanese cars and European cab over diesel trucks. I did see a lot of people walking along worn out dirt paths beside the road. I asked Fr. Lawrence where were the sidewalks and he just looked at me and grinned. It was hard to believe that the third largest city in the entire continent of Africa didn’t have enough of a tax base to raise money for simple sidewalks.
Soon the city streets gave way to tree lined roads. There were still a lot of people walking along the side of the road even out in the more rural areas. Most Kenyans don’t own cars so they have to walk to where they need to go. Kinda makes a fellow who has three cars in his driveway feel a little guilty.
I started to enjoy the ride more out here away from the congested city streets. The endless rows of drab concrete buildings were not as pleasant to look at as the coffee farms and villages. Out here, I saw a lot of plants and trees I’ve never seen before. The landscape rose and fell in a series of ridges and valleys similar to the foothills where we live back in the U.S. Similar but very different. There were lots of trees but no heavily forested areas. Nearly every patch of land was used to grow a crop. The dominant tree was the banana tree. It only grew to about half the height of the trees back home and didn’t have a thick trunk covered in bark. Instead of branches, large leaves several feet long grew out of the slick green trunk. Huge purple pods hung down under the leaves with slim green bananas growing out above the pods. The coffee trees looked like rows of shrubs growing in fields. They resembled bushes instead of trees. They were short and had small leaves. They were short because the farmers kept them trimmed back like apple trees here. If you don’t trim them every year they don’t produce as many beans.
Before going to Grace House we stopped at Fr Lawrence’s Kenyan home. To get to his house we had to travel a few miles up a treacherous single lane dirt road. When I say dirt road, I’m not talking about the graded gravel roads found in rural areas back home. These roads were packed clay with no gravel at all. They were deeply rutted and extremely narrow. You could reach out your hand and touch the branches of the bushes on either side of the road. I had a hard time imagining the fact that people drove small Japanese cars up and down these dirt trails they call roads. Back home I would only attempt one of these if I were driving with four-wheel drive. Today we were rocketing up the path in a Toyota sedan. Impressive to say the least.
I was also impressed with Fr. Lawrence’s home. Not that it was large and ornate. It was just the opposite. I was impressed with its construction. It was built out of handmade bricks that are about the size of the large grey blocks we use in the States, except the bricks were solid instead of hollow in the center. This was one solid ranch style house tucked in between banana trees and cow pens. I asked about the bricks and Fr. Lawrence told me they were six inches by nine inches. Monsters. A large painted metal door hung in the doorway. Single pained glass windows hung behind painted steel bars all around the house. The steel bars are to prevent intruders. No Alarm Force security systems here. Terracotta shingles covered the roof. This place was built to last. As I took in all of the details I thought this house would still be standing long after my house in America has crumbled to the ground.
We were only at Fr. Lawrence’s house, or I should say his family’s house, for a brief moment. Here in Kenya, the entire family lives together in a family compound. They may all live in the same house or they may have a bunch of small houses spread around the property. But, they all pitch in and work the family farm together. I wonder what it would be like if the Corn family all still lived together on my Grandfather’s land like I did as a child. Maybe I would’nt be sinking in a mountain of mortgage payments like I am now. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to look inside. We dropped our luggage and headed off for Grace House. Maybe I would get to see inside later.
Today is family day for the young men that made up the very first class of residents at Grace House rehabilitation center. When we arrived, some families were already gathering together under a shade tree in the courtyard. I was eager to explore the three-story building but Fr. Lawrence kept me busy by introducing me to everyone. I was the only American in the crowd and everyone was eager to meet me. I’m not used to having the guest of honor status at a gathering for folks.
I did manage to take a quick peek inside after I shook everybody’s hand. Only the bottom floor of the building is in use at this time for the center. Fr. Lawrence has four beds to a room in four different rooms. He has two more floors of rooms he needs to furnish before the center will be fully operational. The kitchen has only one small table and most of the cooking utensils are laid out on a cloth on the floor. There’s no oven or microwave, only gas camp stoves and cooking pots filled with coal. Basically, the only furniture I saw was plastic outdoor chairs, the bunk beds in the dorms and the one wooden table in the kitchen. The place reminded me of the Boy Scout camp I used to spend summers at when I was young.
Lunch was served soon after we arrived. I was talking with a father of one of the residents when a lady walked up to me and handed me a plate piled high with food. No one else had a plate yet so I was feeling a little uncomfortable being the only one to have food. I’m not used to being the guest of honor. The ladies were bringing out plates quickly so I wasn’t the only one for long.
I love Kenyan food. Grace introduced me to the Kenyan style of cooking back in the States. My favorite dish is made of mashed potatoes mixed with spinach and kernels of corn. They call this dish mukimo. Grace’s mukimo was the first, and up until this day, the best I have ever tasted. I hope I don’t offend Grace by saying that the mukimo here at Grace house was outstanding. The young woman I saw working in the kitchen earlier had added a few extra ingredients like onion, lima beans, and milk. Wow. After the meal I went and found the young lady to thank her for making the best mukimo I’ve ever shoved in my mouth.
The crowd grew larger and larger as we ate. More family members kept coming through the gate. Here in Kenya there is regular time and what we Americans call Kenyan time. Here nothing starts on regular time. As I have said before, not everyone owns a car. Some people have to walk while others have to catch a ride with a friend or a bus. It’s hard to predict how much time travel will take. I’m sure there are other factors contributing to Kenyan time but travel seems to be the one I see most often.
Suddenly, Fr. Lawrence jumped and began speaking to the crowd. I couldn’t understand a word he was saying because he was speaking in Kikuyu. I have learned that Swahili isn’t the only language spoken in Kenya. It’s a universal language across the continent of Africa but many different languages are spoken in different areas. Where I was, there are people who speak Kikuyu and others like the Massi who have their own language. So even if I had taken the trouble to learn Swahili, I still wouldn’t have been able to follow along with Fr. Lawrence’s speech. It also means that they speak a minimum of three different languages. They speak their native language, Swahili, and English. What does that tell you about us Americans?
After Fr. Lawrence gave his speech, he asked for each one of the fifteen men in the program to stand up and introduce himself and his family. I was surprised to see that everyone had a little speech to give as well. They didn’t just stand up and say their name and sit back down. They had something to say. When the men introduced their families, one or two of the family members would stand up and give a few words as well. This was not what you would call a bashful bunch.
The men were talking about their struggles with addiction. Back home, people are so private and afraid to admit they have a problem, there’s no way they would stand up in front of a group of strangers and talk about their addiction. I myself wouldn’t be able to stand here and tell them some of the stupid stuff I have done over the years. I was amazed at the openness of the speeches.
I had the fine fellow sitting beside me lean over and give me the highlights of each speech in English. Just hearing the highlights genuinely moved me. I began thinking about how rich this environment was for emotional stories to tell in my video. But, I also wondered how hard it was going to be getting some of these men to open up to my camera. The kind of testimonies these men were giving the families gathered today were perfect for pulling at the heart strings of my audience if I could get all of this moving sound on tape.
As I heard the translation of the testimonies, I thought about these stories as much more than good sound for my project. I believe these guys would serve as good examples for people in America suffering from alcohol addiction. I was inspired by their openness and willingness to confess their wrong choices to all of us gathered here. I think Americans in this situation would blame their problem on something other than themselves. I don’t think they would take responsibility for their behavior like these guys have. We are so quick to blame our problems on things like a difficult childhood or abusive relationships. From what I was hearing today, these guys would never think to place the blame on anything other than themselves. They didn’t play the part of being a victim. They atmitted to making some wrong decisions.
The personal testimonies went on for several minutes. Everyone was sitting in a circle and soon the fellow sitting next to me stood up and addressed the crowd. While he talked, Fr. Lawrence leaned over and whispered “your next.” Oh boy, I should have expected this. I have been to several Kikuyu gatherings back in Charlotte. Everybody, and I do mean everybody, stands up and says something about why we are all gathered together. So I managed to suppress a panic attack and got up in front of the crowd. I told the men about how I was moved by their openness to share their testimony with everyone here including me. I also told them how I believed their stories could possibly inspire Americans struggling with the same problems to reach out to a larger group just as these men have. I said I thought Americans could learn a thing or two from the Kenyans and how I wanted to capture all of their stories with my lens.
I think the men understood exactly what I was there for. After the program, several of the men came up to me and started repeating their testimony right away. I had to explain to them I wasn’t working at that moment and I reassured them I would be around the entire week to see each one of them individually. My worries about these guys not wanting to go on camera were totally wrong. They couldn’t wait to get started. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I’m used to having to beg people to tell me their stories. My own grandfather wouldn’t let me tape him talking about his experiences during WWII. Now I have fifteen men waiting in line to go in front of my camera. Amazing.
Before the program ended, Grace, the lady who was the inspiration for the name of the rehabilitation center, stood and gave the final speech. I had to get out the camera and get shots of this. I thought a sequence of Grace talking in front of a crowd gathered at Grace House would be perfect for my project. Even though she was talking in Kikuyu, I taped the entire message thinking she could translate for me later. Every once in a while she would switch back to English for a sentence or two. I hear her say something about getting yourself out of a “pit.” The word reminded me of the book Grace was reading on the plane. She studied and took notes out of this book the entire time we were in the air. The name of the book was Get Out of that Pit. On the plane, Grace was preparing for the message she was delivering right now. She had prepared for this mission trip by studying her book just like I studied the manual to the new camera. In that moment, I realized this was not going to be a vacation. We were here to do some serious work in the mission field. Everybody was prepared for the jobs they had to do.
A thunderstorm ended the program and my taping for the day. It was just as well, we needed to head back to the airport to pick up the rest of the team. This time I stood outside of the wall of windows, looking in on the people milling around baggage clam. The feeling of being at a zoo was even stronger from this side. I was tired and wanted to lay my head on a pillow. I knew I was going to be working hard the next several days, and I didn’t have much patience for standing around at an airport. Fr. Dan and Debbie finally came out of baggage claim and we all rode in the back of a pickup truck to the place where we were staying for the night. I was more than ready for that thin foam mattress.
Friday, September 14, 2007
We ended up arriving in Zurich only fifteen minutes late. We must have had a powerful tail wind all the way across the Atlantic. Fortunately for us, our departing flight was only two gates over from our arrival gate. We had about an hour to take a bathroom brake and stroll through the terminal. To my surprise, we had to pass through another security checkpoint inside the terminal even though we arrived and would depart without going outside of the concourse. I began worrying about time again when I saw the row of metal detectors. But, the security people didn’t make me take off my shoes or make me take the camera out of the case. We passed through quickly and found our gate with twenty minutes to spare.
Twenty minutes to take in the sights of Switzerland. Well, I was unimpressed with what I could see through the glass walls of the terminal. I expected Zurich to be a large European city surrounded by snow-capped mountains. From where I stood I didn’t see a city. The mountains that surrounded the airfield were more like hills, instead of proud members of the Alps. The view reminded me of what I would see if I was standing at the gate at Asheville Regional Airport back home. I was disappointed I didn’t see fluffy white snow, settled into jagged rock cliffs. Only in the movies right?
We had a good flight into Kenya. It lasted seven hours and was pretty much uneventful. I did have to switch seats with a young mother and her baby. The three of us were together in the center isle. A two-year-old boy sitting in the row in front of us kept turning around in his seat and teasing the baby while the mother was desperately trying to put the baby to sleep. The boy’s father did absolutely nothing to keep the kid from reaching over the seat and tapping the mother on her head. So I gave her my seat and I sat behind the out of control two year old. I must not have been a good target for the boy because he didn’t turn around and try to tap me on the head while I was reading.
We landed in Nairobi at about seven o’clock in the evening. This was the end of our two-day trip. But I still felt like I was having one very long day. The overnight flight from JFK to Zurich seemed short because it was only dark for about six hours. When you are flying east you are flying toward the sun essentially speeding up time. I caught a nap or two on the ride but was never able to sleep longer than thirty minutes. So I had not gone to bed in twenty-four hours. A very long day indeed.
Stepping off the plane felt like da-ja-vu. Once you have been to a third world country you know it when you come back. While Jomo Kenyatta airport didn’t have various military planes performing touch and goes on the runway, the buildings and the character of the place was the same. I felt like I had stepped back in time. Everything looked old and extremely worn. The chairs in the terminal had that retro sixties look. When we got to baggage claim I saw men in various different military uniforms. Some wore green while others had a blue uniform. They were carrying old rifles similar to the ones the Germans carried in old war movies. No American made M-16s here. It felt and looked like the middle east but different.
Grace asked me if I thought everyone looked the same when we walked through the crowd. She was referring to the fact that there is very little diversity in Africa. “No,” I replied. “When everyone is wearing the same clothes and the same cloth on their heads, that’s when they all look the same.” I was talking about the Arabs in the Middle East.
We grabbed a Smartcard and found an unoccupied spot beside the conveyer belt to wait for our luggage. On the opposite end of the baggage claim area from where we stood was a wall of windows with a crowd of people pressing up against the glass. I felt like an animal at a zoo being watched by all those who stood at the windows. Grace said that security keeps everyone out of the entire airport except ticketed passengers. The people pressed up to the glass were family and friends waiting for arriving travelers. Unlike in the U.S., they were not permitted to roam freely in the baggage claim area. “We have very tight security here,” Grace said watching me look at the mob outside.
I strained to see Fr. Lawrence, Grace’s husband and mission trip coordinator, in the crowd but could not see him. As I looked, Grace’s question about everybody looking the same came back to me. Even though everybody was dressed in the Western style I was used to, I noticed just how much everyone did look alike. I didn’t see all the different skin tones and eye colors you find in America.
The bell on the conveyer belt rang letting us know that the luggage was about to come out from behind the wall. I was curious to see if all our bags had made the trip. Since the layover in Switzerland was so short, I wouldn’t have been surprised if our bag were still en-route to Nairobi. I shouldn’t have worried. Grace’s monstrous duffle bags full of medical supplies came rolling out with all the other luggage. But, as it came toward us on the belt, I noticed that one of the duffle bags was ripped open on one end. When I pulled the bag off the conveyor and set it on the cart, clear liquid began running out of the hole onto the floor.
“Oh God,” Grace whispered when I pointed out the puddle on the floor under the damaged bag. She said she had packed a couple of one-gallon jugs of hydrogen peroxide in that bag. “I wrapped them in garbage bags just in case they started leaking.”
I guess we were lucky enough to have that gorilla from the old Sampsonite TV commercial handling our bags on this flight. Grace opened the bag and tried to rearrange the medical supplies to stop the leaking peroxide while I got our other bags together. “We better get this out of here before the customs officer sees this,” Grace whispered as she wiped her wet hands on her pants. I piled all our stuff on the cart and rushed out the door to meet up with Fr. Lawrence.
We took a short drive through Nairobi to the guesthouse where we would be staying the night. It was dark so I really didn’t get to see much of the city. They didn’t have a lot of streetlights and the buildings were not lit up like the one’s here in Charlotte. I did notice we were driving on the left side of the road. I also noticed that they didn’t use stoplights at intersections. They also used those horrible roundabouts like the ones I became so familiar with in Kuwait. I was very thankful someone else was driving instead of me.
In the parking lot of the guesthouse the leaky duffle bag caught our attention again as the driver lifted it out of the trunk of the car. It left a puddle on the floor of the trunk.
We were staying at the International Bible Society Guesthouse. On the outside it looked like a hotel. But when I saw the inside I was reminded of a college dormitory. The first room I walked into was the dining area. It had four large tables where groups of folks sat enjoying tea and watching television. A staircase off to one side lead up to the second floor and to our rooms. My room was small and the bed consisted of a three-inch thick foam pad. No box springs and no headboard or footboard. A mosquito net hung from the ceiling. There was a closet but I didn’t see any other doors in the room. Where was the bathroom? The single bathroom for the entire floor was at the end of the hall. Did I mention this place reminded me of a college dorm? I dropped my bags on the floor and rushed back down to the dining room for my first Kenyan dinner.
The chef brought out three plates piled high with meat, rice, pasta, and a variety of vegetables. I recognized the vegetables to be carrots, cabbage, and spinach greens. The meat I wasn’t so sure about. I popped a piece of meat in my mouth but didn’t recognize the taste.
“How do you like the Gizzard,” Grace asked watching me chew with a puzzled look on my face. So that’s what it was. I liked it. It was tastier than chicken and wasn’t dry or chewy like the bird I’m used to eating at home. Once I had wild duck prepared for me by a friend who was an avid hunter. The gizzard was very similar to the duck meat. In any case, after two days of eating prepackaged airplane food, I would have devoured pretty much any home cooked meal placed in front of me. I enjoyed every last bite of my first Kenyan meal.
Once my belly was full I was ready for the bed. I can hardly sleep on an airplane so I had been awake for two days. I opened my suitcase to discover the Sampsonite gorilla baggage handler had struck again. Everything in my suitcase was covered in Gold Bond medicated body powder. Nice. I was shocked because my suitcase was a hard plastic shell. The bottled water was intact. The tubes of antibiotic cream and sun block were fine. But somehow the lid of the powder had been knocked off during the flight.
Grace went and got a wet towel, and helped me beat the powder out of my clothes. When we finished the floor was covered in white powder. I didn’t mind, the air in the room was a little stale and the powder made the room smell much better.
I was more than ready to get a shower and hit the sack after all of the excitement of our journey. I took my powdered underwear and walked down the hall to the community bathroom. I got a shock when I saw the shower. There was no showerhead above the tub. Instead, the tub faucet had a hand held shower attachment with a tube coiled around the spout. I was going to have to hold up the showerhead with one hand while I washed with the other. Then I got another shock when I turned on the hot water. There wasn’t any hot water even after I let the water run for several minutes. Oh no, was I going to have to take a cold shower? I decided to try the cold water just in case the two were backwards. Sure enough the water started getting warm after I turned on the cold water knob. Man that was a relief.
I had expected my accommodations to be a little less convenient than what I was used to in America. But I have to admit I was a little baffled with the mixed up shower faucet and the foam mattress bed. Not quite roughing it, but it definitely had the feel of living in a third world country. But, once I lay down on the musty thin mattress I was out until rays of sunshine warmed my face the next morning. As long as you get a good night sleep and wake up feeling refreshed, who cares about anything else?
Sunday, September 9, 2007
By watching my best friend Jeff and his wife having to pack half of their clothes into a cardboard box, I had an idea of how to deal with the situation if Grace’s duffle bags were overweight. She thought maybe the ticket clerk wouldn’t charge her if the bags were just a few pounds over. I knew better. I guess it’s just the cynic in me but if these bags were even a half of a pound over, we would be forking over the extra fifteen bucks they charge for overweight luggage.
In an effort to prevent wasting time at the ticket counter, I decided to be proactive and started weighing the bags at an empty ticket counter. I wrestled the first bag up on to the scale and it weighed in at 52.5 pounds. This was not encouraging so I quickly dragged the second bag up on the scale. I cried out, “its 54 pounds” as I read the digital screen. Grace looked at me with horror on her face. “Don’t shout out the numbers,” she said to me in a hushed tone.
I checked myself knowing my voice gets louder and louder when I get anxious or nervous. But, I had an idea of how to solve this problem before it was our turn at the ticket counter. I had weighted my suitcase last night after packing. It was only 37 pounds. We just need to transfer some stuff from the duffle bags to my suitcase. We were the next in line so we had to move fast. I opened up my bag and told Grace to start moving stuff out of the duffle bags. She still believed the ticket clerk would let the bag pass without charging the overweight fee. I pitched the last duffle bag up on the scale and it read 57 pounds. Now I was worried that there was too much weight even if we used my suitcase.
Sweat popped out on my forehead as we opened up three duffle bags. To my surprise, I found boxes of Band-aids and packs of diapers inside instead of clothes. I had no idea we were taking donated medical supplies with us. I reached into the pile of gauze and boxes of latex gloves to find the heaviest items I could find to remove. After a few minutes of juggling cargo and losing a few places in the growing line of travelers, I had all the bags evened out at 50 pounds each. But, we had a small pile of stuff we needed to find a place for. I quickly packed the leftovers into my backpack, which I was using as a carry-on bag. Crisis averted. We checked in and rushed to the security line.
Navigating JFK Airport in New York turned out to be a bit of a challenge. When we got off the plane, we couldn’t figure out how to go to catch our connecting flight. We were not in a concourse with multiple gates and monitors with departing flight information. It was just a hallway leading away from the plane. I began looking for some kind of airport map while Grace looked for someone to give us directions. Grace found a person before I could find a map.
Once again my anxiety level started creeping skyward when Grace told me we would have to leave the terminal and take a train around the airport to our destination. Leaving the terminal meant we would have to go through another line at a ticket counter. We would also have to go through security again which meant I would have to take off my boots and open up my camera case again. I thought once you got checked out at the first airport you wouldn’t have to do the dog and pony show again. I was wrong.
Of course we got on the wrong train. Turns out that JFK has three different trains moving between ten different terminals. Some helpful fellow travelers set us in the right direction when they saw the panic on my face. As always I was worried about time. It took us two hours to get from our arrival gate to our connecting flight. Hopefully in Zurich we will not have to leave the terminal and go through the ticket line and the security line for a third time. I’m a bit worried that we only have a little over an hour to make our connection and we have been sitting on a runway in New York for the last hour and a half. We are on our way now but I feel our flight out of Zurich may be in jeopardy. But hey, I’m on vacation. I need to chill and enjoy all the in’s and out’s of international travel. We have an eight-hour flight ahead packed with free movies and a gourmet dinner. How could life get any better?
Monday, September 3, 2007
Happy 37th Birthday Jeff. Yea, I know, you had to call me to remind me your birthday was today. I bet you thought I was going to let your special day just go by without any congratulations or well wishes. It may have been to late to send a card by snail mail but we live in a modern world with much faster ways of communication. Instead of something on paper that you would just toss in the trash after it sat on your desk for half a year, how about a special blog post in honor of your birthday. I dug into your old wedding photos and found this picture which shows just how I feel about you on your birthday. Now my feelings for you are immortalised on the web so if you ever have any doubts, just come back to this special birthday post.
I love you bro and I hope you have a very happy birthday even though you are spending most of your day driving down that lonesome highway between North Carolina and Florida.