The Life Of A Child

What is a child worth – a million dollars, a billion, a trillion?

I don’t think you can put a dollar value on the life of any person, let alone a child. Over the last year Pete and I have been working on a unique situation which couldn’t be told until he had left the country.

Early last year I was teaching a small group of boys at a residential rehabilitation farm about an hour out of Nairobi. Pete goes there a couple of times a week to help out the practical side of things. I was teaching an English class.

Basically what happened is that the father of one of the teenagers appeared as he found out his son was in the program. Many years before he had been granted refugee status in Australia and he had just returned to his homeland and stopped through Kenya on his way back. He found out his son was alive so came for a visit.

What proceeded for the next year was this father working with us to get his son to be reunited with him. It’s a very long and laborious process but we all held our breaths at every roadmark waiting to see if he would pass the test.

It’s certainly not as easy as one would think.

There’s the court case to make sure no human trafficking is taking place. You have to prove that this 14 year old actually belongs to both parents. He has to get a birth certificate, no easy feat in Kenya.

Many of the places we went to he had never visited.

Many of the places we went to he had never visited.

One of the first tests is a biometric one. It’s a flash name for fingerprinting but you have to go to an assigned testing station.

Then there’s the mandatory health tests for TB, HIV/AIDS and a full health check. It takes about an hour to get there and you have to book out 2 full days.

Before each test we have to feed the young man and his mother, it will be the only meal they will have that day because they don’t have much money to get by.

The dad has to get a form couriered by DHL because he’s told that it has to be an original form and not a scanned one. I meet with the mother to get her signature. She travels about an hour for a 5 minute meeting. I then call the Australian High Commission about dropping it off and the lady says ‘you can always just scan it and email it through’. I dare not tell the dad that he didn’t need to pay the $60 to courier the A4 paper through after all.

It was only 2 days later we got the news that Sam (not his real name) had been given an all pass visa to move to Australia. We were so relieved, he finally could go to his new home.

But it isn’t that simple.

Imagine, this kid has never lived anywhere but Nairobi. He hasn’t finished primary school and the only aeroplane he has seen is in the sky. In Kenya not just anyone can enter the airport terminal, only those with a ticket. Sam would not have a clue of what to do or where to go. He’s intelligent but it would be way overwhelming when it comes to travelling.

So, we go and book his flight and at the same time. I will be travelling part way with Sam – only to Dubai. From there he will become Emirate Airlines VIP.

A tour of the animal orphanage to see a lion close up.

A tour of the animal orphanage to see a lion close up.

After this I realized that this kid has never seen real wild animals. It’s a sad state but many children in Kenya haven’t simply because they don’t have the money for it. After chatting with his dad, we were given permission to take him to some animal game parks. One week we took Sam to see the baby elephants and then to the giraffe centre. The next week he got to stay overnight with us and at 6am the next day we spent hours driving through the Nairobi National Park. We couldn’t spot the lions so ended up going next door to the animal orphanage where there are caged lions who cannot be released back into the wild. At least he could see them in the flesh.

Very difficult to get a smile out of this kid!

Very difficult to get a smile out of this kid!

Often in poor families the kids all share the clothes. Whenever we have seen Sam we see him in different shoes and clothes, which often don’t fit properly. Today we take him to get two sets of clothes, brand new ones. That way, when he gets to cold Australia he won’t freeze too much (we hope).

I have to mention Sam’s parents. Both of them are brave and committed to this huge step for their son. It is difficult for any mother to release her child to someone on the other side of the world. She doesn’t have access to the internet. She doesn’t have a post office box (no mail boxes here). The likelihood of him calling her is very small. She won’t see him for years.

The father has spent A LOT of money not only for a ticket but all of the expenses involved in the process. He also has a new family in Australia he is providing for. The easy road would’ve been to forget his son or send money every now and then to the mother. Instead he chose to go on this long journey which never had any guarantee of success.

Mum and son

Mum and son

A child is not a small adult. They are vulnerable. They don’t think and act like an adult. They are immature and make dumb mistakes.

But they have hope and vision. They believe BIG things for themselves.

For this kid, the world is now his oyster. The possibilities for Sam are endless and we look forward when we return to Australia next year to see how he has blossomed.

He has a new home, bedroom and family waiting for him. He will go into high school. He will achieve his goal of going roller blading.

He will do well.

It has been an honour for us to be involved in this year long process and wouldn’t have swapped it for anything.

It’s been worth it because Sam is worthy.

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Keeping Fit In Kenya

There’s a group of us that get together at our place each Wednesday night. We have a meal and then one person leads a discussion from the Bible. It’s a low key but important night where we can connect with each other and God.

A few of us have decided we want to get healthier and fitter than in the past. We’ve also made ourselves accountable to getting out and exercising.

But, like everything else in Kenya, it’s complicated.

Sure, you can join a gym but it’s anywhere from $80 a month for a small room with little equipment up to $150 a month for something decent. You can do a Zumba class for around $11.

gym

There seems to be lots of gyms in various sizes around town. I’ve visited a gym in the city where our lawyer goes and it was packed during mid morning. We have one about a 10 minute drive away but it’s fairly expensive. The biggest issue is actually physically getting to one. To say traffic is busy is a slight understatement. Unless you’ve driven in Italy, Indonesia or Mexico you don’t have a clue of how packed things get here.

Security is a huge issue here. I know of someone who was ambushed on her way to a boxing class at 6am, just outside the gym.

When it comes down to it though, it’s easy to make excuses wherever you are for not getting healthy. I’ve a friend who tells me there just isn’t time in 24 hours to look after herself. Another one says there’s too much work to be done. And I’ve told myself ‘it might rain’ and avoid what could’ve been a good 45 minutes of my day.

So here’s Sharon’s solution to keeping healthy in Kenya (or wherever you live):

1. Commit yourself to a healthier lifestyle

It’s easy to say you want to lose some weight or feel better about yourself, but it doesn’t happen by doing nothing. I believe a lot of the battle is in our minds. I know when I’m running as soon as I start thinking about walking, it’s not long before it happens. Commitment means paying some sort of cost. However, be realistic. Start small. I started by doing 20 situps and then added 10 each week until I got up to 100. I did the same with other exercises like squats and pushups (okay I do the girly ones).

Too many people start with a bang and then end up fizzing out.

Don't fizz out like a sparkler

Don’t fizz out like a sparkler

Liz plays soccer on Saturdays so she focuses on becoming healthier because she wants to enjoy it more.

2. Get to bed earlier

Whether you consider yourself a morning or night person, you CAN change your behavior. We used to be youth workers and it wasn’t unusual to be still working at 11pm most nights. When we moved to Australia Pete started in construction work and he would be up at 5am. He still operates better at night time but you can’t burn the candle at bother ends. If you’re a later night person just start by going to bed 30 minutes earlier for a week. The next week try going another 30 minutes earlier. That way your body can adjust.

Here in Kenya it gets dark at 7pm and light at about 6.45am, the beauty of being close to the Equator. While we don’t have to worry about daylight savings or long/short days, you can make the most of these, even if it’s an evening walk.

sleep

3. Get out of bed earlier

We all like that extra 30 minutes in the mornings to snooze some more, but we are the first to claim that there aren’t enough hours in the day. Like I said, it doesn’t get really light until just before 7am, which is a bummer because I wake up between 5.30 and 6am. I have to wait until at least 7 before I can go for a run. It eats into my day and sometimes I can’t do any exercise for a few days. On Tuesdays I Skype our daughter Hannah who lives in New Zealand at 7am. It normally lasts for an hour so after that it’s a mad rush to get as much done, downloaded or sent before the power goes off for it’s normal shutdown on Tuesdays.

wake

4. Make it part of your lifestyle

I don’t go for a run because I’m a running freak. I do it because I enjoy pushing my body, it makes me drink water (which I don’t do enough) and it gets me off my butt. I run/walk three times a week first thing in the morning. I like putting on my headphones, have some good music going and hit the pavement (which we don’t have many of). I know of others who get out in the afternoons and I pass a neighbor who is going for a walk as I get into the compound. You have to make whatever works for you, but you have to start.

When we got back from Australia a few months ago we made the decision not to have any sodas unless we go out. When we have visitors and they bring it, we drink it. We’re not super religious about it, we just made a decision that we thought we could live with. Every now and then we might get a bottle of Coke with something like takeout chicken and chips but most of the time we get fruit juice. I’m not totally convinced that the juice in Kenya isn’t laden with sugar, but at least it tastes better.

5. Add variety

I haven’t done it for a while, but when we were living in our other apartment I set up a little workout area in my lounge. It was a simple yoga mat and a large gym ball. I had a routine of exercises I could do as I wasn’t running at that stage. Now that I’m hitting the pavement (or dirt) I plan to do a gym workout when I can’t get outside.

Instead of having a Coke when you go out for a meal, try water or a juice. I’m a routine driven person but even I have learned that you’ve got to challenge the way you do things.

The reason I started running again after 2 years was because I had set in my mind why I couldn’t do it:

  • The fumes from the trucks are disgusting
  • I could trip over where there’s no footpath
  • Maybe one day we could find the funds for a gym
  • I don’t have time

It didn’t matter how many excuses I put up, the fact is I just had to get on and do it.

sign

Even with my running I am forced to have some variety. Because of security issues I choose to run at 7 in the morning because there are hundreds of people walking to work. It’s highly unlikely I’ll be mugged. I don’t take my apartment keys but I do take my phone which is in an arm band under my tee shirt.

I don’t follow the same route, I go different ways on different days. I also tell Pete which way I’m going. He knows I should be back within the hour, so if I’m not and he can’t contact me – then he can panic.

6. Enjoy your life

Liz and I were held up at gunpoint at our house around 6 weeks ago. Although it was horrible and traumatic we’ve decided not to let it define who we are and what we will do. We chose to live here and will make the most of it. We work with some great people, have made some lifelong friends and generally enjoy life here. We are super blessed in Nairobi because local fruit and veges are really cheap to buy, so we could have fresh fruit juice and smoothies every day if we wanted to. We could have a maid for all of $180 a month if we had the budget. We can choose around 10 national game parks within a 4 hour drive. It’s a 5 hour drive to Tanzania, a 60 minute flight to about 5 other countries. There are lots of sport and cultural events within Nairobi – every weekend. If we were the clubbing type we could go to a different spot every night.

We all know that a healthier lifestyle and exercise a few times a week has psychological benefits. The problem is we want it all without the pain, commitment and cost involved.

But, if I can do it in Kenya, so can you – anywhere in the world.

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Easter in Kenya

A while ago we had decided to go away for the Easter Break. We were so busy leading up to it though, that we hadn’t actually planned anything. In the end, we decided to crash at a friends house in Nakuru, around 2 ½ hours drive away (on a good day).

The day before we were to leave, the tragedy at the Garissa University happened. The loss of so many young people in a horrific act of violence put a damper on the whole country. What should’ve been one of the last long holiday before Christmas turned into a weekend of mourning. Watching it time and time again on TV was too much to bear.

One of the 10 rhinos we saw

One of the 10 rhinos we saw

We escaped to Nakuru at a slow and painful pace. I don’t know what public holidays do, but it brings out all of the idiots on the roads. It took two hours longer than normal to get there but we figured it was better to get there in one piece than not at all.

Janine and her team run Metro World Child here in Kenya. Each week they teach 52,000 children life skills. It was at Janines house that we crashed at. The whole idea was to pitch our tent in their large yard. That went down the toilet when it bucketed down with rain.

wet windscreen In fact it continued to rain for the rest of the weekend.

When it rains in Kenya, it’s not that nice gentle drizzle, it’s a downpour. The next morning we left just after six t go to the national park. The rain had cleared by then and the roads were really wet. We were only on the road for a few minutes when we saw two trucks and a car collide. To us it looked like a fatality.

Hyenas are mean looking things

Hyenas are mean looking things

Getting into the park seems to take forever because the systems are so slow. I was really looking forward to getting in because last time we were there we saw so much wildlife.

This time it was quite different.

The grass was the brownest I’ve ever seen. The place where there used to be a beautiful waterfall was dry as a bone. The animals were much harder to find than normal. We drove for 7hours and saw a lot, but they weren’t easy to find. We were stoked because we got to see 10 rhino, the most we’ve ever seen.

The one part of the park that did have water was invaded by zebras

The one part of the park that did have water was invaded by zebras

Once we returned home, Janine, our host had to go to the hospital. Here, you don’t go to a medical clinic, you wait for hours at a hospital. Janine had malaria a couple of weeks ago and just hadn’t recovered well. Pete and Liz took her tone of the many hospitals and they returned 4 long hours later. I had attempted to cook dinner, but the gas ran out after one batch of cooking chicken.

Yep, it was a long night for all.

To the horror of the locals we didn’t go to church on Sunday morning. Instead we headed to Java House for a celebration brunch and ate our way through the morning. I really didn’t think Liz could eat 2 massive pancakes, but she did.

The lake is so flooded that a road sign is now under water

The lake is so flooded that a road sign is now under water

We headed to Thomson Falls, a 90 minute drive away. The scenery was amazing as we headed up some of the steepest hills I’ve seen yet. We were told that the road was good – it wasn’t. Apparently that was a different road.

The valley

The valley

We passed bright green tea bushes and short stumpy coffee plants. We also passed a couple of times a sign that announced we had crossed the Equator. Pete wanted to stop and take a photograph, I said we’d get one on the way back down.

Bad move.

We got to Nyahuru to see Thomsons Falls. Little did we know that we had to pay $2.50 each to go and see it.

Thomsons Falls

Thomsons Falls

The waterfall was quite amazing. Brown but amazing.

It was only a moment before we were accosted by a local to come and have a look at her shop. Esther was her name, and no, we didn’t visit her store.

We could’ve gone down to the bottom of the falls but really we couldn’t be bothered. There were also lots of people there because it was a Sunday afternoon. A festival was going on at the lodge next to the falls where really bad country music was playing.

A track opposite to the falls, note the people looking from the top. They didn't want to pay the $2.50 to see it closer.

A track opposite to the falls, note the people looking from the top. They didn’t want to pay the $2.50 to see it closer.

We stopped in for a coffee before heading back to Nakuru. For some reason the road on this side was much better. The downside was that for the next 90 minutes it poured down so heavily that at times we couldn’t even see where we were going.

Liz at the Equator sign

Liz at the sign for the Rift Valley

We did get out of the car for 15 seconds to get a very wet photo by the Equator sign. A guy came up to us and wanted to know if we wanted to see the ‘water trick’. The trick is that you stand on one side of the Equator sign and the water goes down one way. You stand on the other side and the water goes the other way. It was pelting down so much there was no way we were going to stop for it.

At the top of the lookout

At the top of the lookout

The good thing about it raining is that we wouldn’t get picked up by the police, they were all hiding in a house.

Unlike the 7 police checks we passed on our 4 hour trip home the next day!!