Okay, I’m Ready To Go Home Now

I woke up this morning feeling angry, frustrated and ready to kill the rooster next door who announces EVERY morning that it’s 4am. I was over constantly finding new areas of my body swollen from mosquito bites overnight even though we have the state of the art bug killer system in our room. The fact that I haven’t got malaria yet is a miracle. Both wrists look broken but they’re only swollen. My forehead is a racing track for mossies and they leave not little hills where they’ve been. I have to sleep with a pillow over my head to keep the buggers away (yes, that’s how I feel) but they are so persistent they burrow under. I feel very justified squashing them and are SO happy when I find a dead one on my pillow.

Then I whacked my head on the window because it has a small frame to keep out burglars, even on the second floor. I had to buy a cheap second phone for a system here called MPESA, which enables me to transfer funds to you via a phone if needed. We’ve taken it in twice now and it still won’t work on the system. I’m told that I will get a text message so I can put credit on it. Three days later, still nothing.

We’ve waited 2 ½ months for our visas so we can stay in the country rather than drive 3 hours to the border and visit Tanzania for a day and then come back. On the same day I get a rejection letter from last year I get an approval letter from the lawyer. He tells me it’s costing $100, the Minister of Immigration’s letter says $1,000. Flip, I’m a development worker, we live from day to day, where would I find $1,000 from? Eventually we find out it’s a typo (sack the secretary I say) and I stop having a heart attack.

I realised today that I haven’t been out in the sun in over 8 weeks and I’m lily white. It’s ironic since I live in East Africa and not far from the Equator. All simply because it’s been head down and bum up working 24/7.

To put it in a nutshell, I miss the ease of life in Sydney. Sure, people complain they have to wait 25 minutes to talk to someone on Optus, but at least you can actually talk to someone.  Traffic is bad in any city, but if you get pulled up by a cop he’s not going to threaten to throw you in jail because you indicated to turn then changed your mind. And he won’t demand a $100 on the spot bribe while holding a rifle. If you take your phone in because it’s dodgy then they ask for your passport first, which you want to leave at home because you don’t want it stolen.

What I really wanted to do was put my head back under the covers and ignore the fact that I had to head to the office to answer the never ending stream of emails. I wanted to cry, kick something and pack a pre-school tantrum. Of course, I couldn’t because it changes nothing, and our housemaid (comes with the house sitting) would arrive soon and she would tell me to have more faith and get myself together (got to love her honesty).

Instead I went where I should’ve and that was to the Word of God. I’m reading through Matthew and at the end of chapter 19 the disciples say to Jesus ‘Hey, we’ve given up everything to follow you, what are we going to get out of it’ (my version). Jesus quick reply is that they’ll get back one hundredfold, and eternal life. Nice one Jesus! Put everything in perspective, what really is the thing that matters in life, is the eternity we get to hang with him.

A wise friend once said that when we get to Heaven our life on Earth will be like some vague memory compared to what we’ll have – forever. I quite like that philosophy.

So when I say I’m ready to go home you can be super spiro and think ‘Okay she’s ready to die and go to Heaven’. Not really, while to live is Christ and to die is gain, I’ve got a whole lot more to get in my life before I quit this place.

Am I ready to go back to Sydney? No, but when I do get to go on holiday boy am I going to enjoy it! Kenya doesn’t feel like ‘home’ yet, but we both agree, we aren’t meant to be anywhere else.

So when I say I’m ready to go home I’m talking about having a whole day off tomorrow. Staying in bed and reading, hanging out in my pj’s watching a DVD and then maybe cook something wickedly yummy and full of chocolate.

Until then, I will keep my eyes on where they are meant to be, on Christ who endured everything just for me. That’s when I’m trying NOT to scratch my myriad of mossie bites! Right now, I’m getting a towel, laying it on the ground and taking the next 10 minutes to try and get a tan.

Advertisements

Life In A Shipping Container

This coming week sees us living in Kenya for 2 months. It also sees us moving out of living in a shipping container (converted of course) and into a real, life house. In all we haven’t lived in our own place for 5 months, so we are going to be very happy campers.

Most of the time it’s been great living there. It’s onsite, so we’re close to work. We have some immediate neighbours as there are quite a few people living here too.  However, it’s had it’s challenges and ‘cabin fever’ has taken on a new meaning.

While most people wouldn’t even consider living in a 6 metre container, it’s a good learning curve.

Millions of people around the world for whom poverty is an everyday occurrence live in nothing bigger than a 3 by 3 metre area, usually with 5 family members. It got me thinking about what life in a extremely small area is really like.

 

Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. It’s complicated

You plan and then something comes in to interrupt it. The power goes out unexpectedly and if you don’t have charcoal for the BBQ, or it happens just as you go to start cooking, what will you have for dinner. Belongings have to be stacked up because there’s no room for drawers or a wardrobe, it is so easy to mess up. Over the last couple of months we’ve bought some plastic drawers and a sort of freestanding wardrobe. I think to myself of the millions of people who the amount of belongings they have fit into one plastic bag. They don’t have several pairs of sneakers or two jackets for when it gets cold. They wear one set of clothes until they literally fall off their bodies. If their home gets destroyed by fire, war or floods there’s no government handout, but somehow they start all over again.

 

2. There’s no privacy

If I had a lounge, I would purposely sit in it wearing my pyjamas watching a DVD. Where we are living there are two rooms and at any time, the people living in the same compound can come in. Both rooms have doors to outside that have large glass panels in them. I wait some time in the mornings before I open them just to have ‘our’ space. If I were living with poverty, my whole family would use the same room for everything. There’s no ‘time out’ space, if you want to study you have to do with everything else going on.

 

3. It can be noisy

Sound travels and bounces off walls. You can hear all sorts of body sounds, music, animals outside and anything else happening.  While our container is lined and painted, those in poverty may have a shack that leaks, doesn’t lock and is unsafe. When it rains here, it pours, but at least our roof is a good one. I often think of those in places like Kibera Slum whose homes have rushing streams through them when it rains.

 

4. You can use one thing at a time

As with most places, ours doesn’t have lots of power points. We were clever and bought a multi-box with us from Australia which helps. But, our kitchenette (a benchtop) is all we have to work with. If someone is working in the kitchen the other person has to wait. You can’t have two of you preparing vegetables at the same time, the other one has to go outside to do it.  Compared to those living in small shacks in the slum, we are living in luxury. We have electricity (most of the time) and a kitchen area. Often the one room home is shared for all activities. Or, they work outside their house where a dirt track, chickens, an open sewer system is.

 

5. Sometimes you’re climbing over each other

The sink isn’t deep enough to do the dishes. We have a huge bowl to wash our dinner dishes in. However, the person drying the dishes needs the person washing to move over to the right to put the dishes away. But, we have a tap. We have the ability to boil hot water. We have a place to hang the drying towel. What we don’t have to do is walk to the nearest water point and carry back 25kg’s of water after paying for it. While we can pour the dirty water down the sink, many people have to throw it outside their front door.

 

6. One bathroom means you have to wait – even if you can’t

One of our sayings here is ‘Go when you can’.  Once you leave the property you don’t know where your next toilet stop will be because there might not just be one. Last weekend we had a parents meeting but had a huge lunch beforehand. The meeting went for 5 hours and there are no toilets in the slum that we would choose to use. So, the first stop afterwards was at the mall for a bathroom break. It can get frustrating when someone is in the one and only bathroom and you want to brush your teeth. I’m not sure what I’m whinging about though, we actually have our own bathroom and a flushing toilet. We don’t have to do our business into a plastic bag and throw it away, and hope I don’t walk into someone else’s plastic bag.  A billion people don’t have access to a toilet. We do.

 

So, living out of a suitcase for months on end isn’t my ideal, it’s a good reality check and opens one’s eyes to what it’s like for millions of people around the world.

However, I am going to live up being in a house!

 

Image

Christchurch CBD now is made of converted shipping containers.

New Years, Gunshots and Sparklers

It was only a few days ago we were glad to see the back of 2012 and celebrated the coming in of 2013, hoping it would be more prosperous, peaceful and an improvement on the past.

While we’ve been in Kenya for New Years before, it was different this time because we’re actually living here, not just visiting.

It was the first time I can say I got home sick for Sydney, for the entire day. I thought watching the fireworks online might help, but it made it worse. I missed the beach, the cafes by the beach, and being able to walk down the beach any time I wanted. I missed the conveniences of living in a first world country, like internet all of the time.

By the end of the day we had a large group of people over for a good Aussie barbeque, some fireworks and an outdoor movie (Mission Impossible 4), and the homesickness had gone.

It was interesting to hear from different people at the barbeque, from 5 different countries talking about their usual New Years Eve habits. What interested me most though was what has happened in Kenya over the last few years.

The last elections were held in 2007 and resulted in a lot of deaths, tribal fighting, destruction of homes and businesses and overall civil unrest. It all kicked off on Boxing Day. I remember being in Australia on the phone and internet for the whole day making sure my university students from here were all okay. I remember some saying that there were gunshots everywhere and they weren’t sure if their family members were even alive.

Move a few days ahead and apparently some people were letting off fireworks, the really noisy ones, which when people are already traumatised, is totally wrong. Hence, fireworks are now illegal. But, they are still sold in shops – go figure.

We had a few sparklers and even some loud fireworks which totally freaked out the little kids.

Not our Kenyan fireworks

Not our Kenyan fireworks

Kenya seems to be a country of irony. There are armed police everywhere, but their AK47’s are so old they probably wouldn’t even fire properly. In fact forty something police were killed by cattle rustlers not that long ago. If they had working guns, they would’ve had the upper hand.

People are now fined $1,000 if they don’t have a first aid kit, emergency triangle and fire extinguisher in the car. However, you can get away without your brakes, indicators or lights not working.

Guards at the malls check the boot of your car for explosives but in reality if you wanted to blow up a place you could put them under your seat.

Of course, the best one is that there are a few sets of traffic lights, but no one seems to obey them.

I’m sure the shine of a new year is fading for many already but we’ve decided to embrace all the differences of living in a new country until we can really call it ‘home’. I’ll probably watch the fireworks of Sydney online again, but by Dec 2013 I am sure that I’ll simply shrug my shoulders at any new and whacky laws that come out and simply say TIA (This Is Africa).