Being Home

We’ve been back in Nairobi for 5 days after being away for 2 months. Next week I’ll write about how we managed to do that trip, but this week I thought I’d focus on what it’s like being home.

After 2 years of settling in Nairobi, it really is home. When we were away we felt we didn’t fit in anywhere. Here, things are familiar and to some extent comfortable. You don’t have to explain the challenges of living here to people who don’t understand, no matter how you tell them. No words can describe the sights, sound and smell of Nairobi.

In 8 weeks we had 3 days 'holiday'

In 8 weeks we had 3 days ‘holiday’

It’s nice not to have to live out of a suitcase. We went with 2, picked up another one in Sydney (marketing material) and came back with 6. Yes, 6 suitcases. They were filled with clothes and tools for the next 2 years of work. Most of the time we travelled from town to town with just one big suitcase and a small one. Now I am overwhelmed at how much ‘stuff’ we actually have in our apartment. We’ve spent months travelling with the basics. We got into a routine and we loved it. Now all I see is the things at home that need dusting. Some of the belongings I wonder why we have them. Why did I spend money on certain things? I am sure I will adjust but right now I’m kind of craving the simple life.

I haven’t cooked for over 2 months. We were so spoilt when we were away and now I actually have to find food for the family. I had really hoped to buy a BBQ but didn’t have the weight allowance. We love barbecues, there’s nothing like it. When we lived in Sydney we pretty much had them every night. Before we left there was just Liz and I because Pete was in Ethiopia, so we used whatever we had in the house. When we returned our cupboards were literally bare. Thankfully, our friends who had borrowed our car got us some food for a couple of days. We’ve gone through three shopping lists in as many days, as we figure out what we need and don’t have. We are reminded how convenient it was back in Australia where everything you needed was in the supermarket at the same time. Here, it’s pot luck. Pete’s not a happy camper because he can’t get the peanut butter brand he likes. I think he will survive.

Pavlova - the reason we got fat

Pavlova – the reason we got fat

I haven’t driven since coming back. Not that I don’t want to, but I haven’t needed to. Today is our first ‘official’ day back at work, so Pete has been home. The traffic hasn’t changed. The car needs some engine work on it and Pete’s motorbike comes out of the garage after taking 3 months to get it fixed. We are reminded once more to forget going on the roads after 4pm as it’s just gridlocked. I’m saving myself the pain of a 90 minute drive into town tomorrow (9km’s) to pick up a certificate by paying our motorbike driver $6. I’m not silly, I know the best way to get things done here!

This IS NOT a road in Nairobi

This IS NOT a road in Nairobi

My brain is in a fuzz. I thought at first it was the jetlag, but we beat that by going out for a 45 minute walk each day to lose the kilos we’ve put on. It wasn’t until last night that I clicked on what the problem really was. For months we’ve been used to the sun going down and getting dark about 8.45pm. It took us 6 weeks to get used to that, now it’s pitch dark by 7pm. I remember when we first came in 2012 we went through the same thing. I don’t like it and I will miss the option of getting out there after dinner and going out.

You can't get gluten free hamburger buns in Kenya

You can’t get gluten free hamburger buns in Kenya

At the end of it all, we chose to come and live here, so we have to get used to it all again. Trying to figure out Swahili, the locking of the car doors, the security checks and the unproductiveness of certain areas, not being able to get stuff where and when we want to.

But if we look at what we don’t have, we will miss out on some very cool things here. The ultra cheap fruit and veges which we can buy on the side of the road. Great friends we’ve made. Eating out at a reasonable price. Coffees Pete can afford.

No doubt we’ll do what everyone else does and ease back into life here again. Nairobi is where we are meant to be – it is home.

This Is No Holiday

We’ve been on the road for a month now and the biggest thing people say to us is ‘How’s your holiday going?’

This is no holiday, trust me.

Sure, we’re away from home for 8 weeks, so yes, it counts as an extended period of time. The recreation side of things is another thing all together.

The reason we came to New Zealand - the wedding of Hannah and Luke.

The reason we came to New Zealand – the wedding of Hannah and Luke.

The great thing is to catch up with many of the partners in our work, family and friends. We hadn’t planned to come away this year but our youngest daughter is about to be married, so we were coming.

If you’re spending $6,000 on flights, you certainly wouldn’t come for a couple of weeks.

Each weekend, we are in Auckland with our daughter and during the week we are visiting around the country. December is the worst time of year to fundraise so booking in group meetings is not just going to happen.

Ross & Beryl Shadbolt - Pete lived with them before we got married.

Ross & Beryl Shadbolt – Pete lived with them before we got married.

Weekends are full of shopping for clothes for the wedding, decorations for the wedding, going through the ceremony ideas for the wedding. Now we are getting closer it’s shopping for the household stuff and moving furniture into the apartment.

Since we are living off people’s donations, we have very little that we can financially contribute. However, we can offer practical help and advice.

As soon as Monday comes around we jump into the little Toyata we’ve been generously lent by the in-laws. Thankfully, we’ve been lent a fuel card for the month, so our petrol has been covered.

Pohutakawa trees. NZ is the only place you can see them.

Pohutakawa trees. NZ is the only place you can see them.

In some places we have back to back meetings, up to three a day. On Thursday we’ve squashed in 4. Today was the only day we haven’t had meetups with people or travelled.

No wonder we are tired, really tired.

Sleep when/where you can.

Sleep when/where you can.

What most people don’t realise is that this is part of work. Sure, we get to sleep in later but each day you’re telling people about what is happening in your part of the world. There’s still blogs to write, websites to update, fundraising campaigns to get going, emails to answer.

This is what they call ‘furlough’.

Liz with Don McDonell, someone who we've known for 20 years.

Liz with Don McDonell, someone who we’ve known for 20 years.

It’s not a holiday it’s a necessary part of keeping in touch with donors and putting a face to where their money goes. It reminds them that you are more than someone on a social networking site. You are human and you are grateful for their sacrifice.

Pete getting to see his ailing father.

Pete getting to see his ailing father.

It’s quite hard to let them know of the ever growing financial needs and the shrinking budget. You don’t want to seem ungrateful and that you need more. But that is the reality. The cost of living in East Africa is skyrocketing, while the income diminishes. Donors move to other countries, some just stop, others forget.

You also have to buy clothes and tools for the next 2 years. Pretty much everything is twice the price in Kenya so you have to outlay for what you will need. There are some things you just can’t get back home. For example, I bought a wooden clock for teaching time to kids – it cost a whopping $5. I’ve also got counters for using with a bingo game and Pete has picked up some chainsaw files. No point in having a chainsaw if you can’t sharpen it!

Speaking at the Tokoroa Elim Church about our work.

Speaking at the Tokoroa Elim Church about our work.

On the flip side though, catching up with people we haven’t seen, some for 15 years, is fantastic. We’ve eaten way too much food, stayed up too late too often and had time to hear what others have been up to.

Kevin & Jan Ahern shouting us out to a BIG breakfast.

Kevin & Jan Ahern shouting us out to a BIG breakfast.

So although it’s not a holiday – it’s still been lots of fun.

On Safari To The Ends Of The Earth

We have just finished 7 flights in 5 days – and yes we are exhausted.

Here’s the lowdown on what it was like. Safari is the Kiswahili word for a trip, so we had a safari to New Zealand.

Pete with his first Burger King in 2 years.

Pete with his first Burger King in 2 years.

To get the cheapest flights we had to jump around the globe, travel on night flights and have a few layovers. First stop – Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is only an hours flight away, but unfortunately you still have to be at the airport 3 hours before the flight and you could get to the airport in an hour, or three hours. Because we had to be on there by 3am (yes, that’s in the wee hours of the morning), we had arranged for our taxi to pick us up at 2.15.

Dubai at night.

Dubai at night.

He didn’t come. Pete called Patrick who said it wasn’t Sunday morning, that was tomorrow. No matter what Pete said, Patrick was not getting out of bed. It’s not like you can ring up a taxi company and call one in. Thankfully our boarder, Racquel, had just got home with her friend and she called her taxi guy ‘Tim’. Tim came to the rescue.

JKIA (the airport) is pretty easy to get through, especially at 3am. No one is allowed in unless they have a ticket. Bags are scanned first thing, then through to the ticket pickup, just like at any other place.

Liz inside the mall, not really interested in the dinosaur.

Liz inside the mall, not really interested in the dinosaur.

Anything seems long when it’s early in the morning, especially waiting to get onto the plane.

Once up, it’s down again pretty fast.

Without sounding biased, our airport is way better than the one at Addis. Except for one thing – they have seats like sunbeds which you can stretch out on.

All of our flights were relatively short, we spent more time in airports than anything.

The flight to Dubai is only 5 hours and we went with Jet Airways (India). We were in Dubai for just under 24 hours. Normally we stay at our mates apartment which overlooks the Dubai Marina, but it wasn’t available this time. So we stayed at a super cheap (for Dubai) place called Eureka Hotel in Deira. I’d read the reviews and was expecting a dump, it is not too bad actually. However, I always find that there are hidden costs not shown on websites like booking.com. The good thing is that it was only one train stop from the Deira City Centre (mall).

Some of the light show in Dubai.

Some of the light show in Dubai.

We first went to the Dubai Mall at night to suss out the price of some camera gear and also see the outdoor light show. Last time we watched this Pete dropped his phone into the harbour, no such thing this time!

Before we caught the plane the next afternoon we visited for the first time the Deira City Centre. We use trains as much as possible in Dubai because they are super cheap and run every 3-5 minutes. The coolest thing about Dubai is that you can walk around freely at night, not something we get to do in Nairobi.

The next hop jump flights were through Mumbai (2 hours) with a 2 hour layover, before heading to Singapore. Finally all of the stores at Mumbai have been outfitted but beyond the good coffee at Costa, it’s just a pitstop. I still couldn’t see a Forex so we paid with US dollars so in your mind you have to know how much change you should be getting so you don’t get ripped off.

The sunrise coming into Melbourne.

The sunrise coming into Melbourne.

We tried as much as possible to sleep during the 5 hours to Singapore but it just didn’t happen for anyone except Liz. I was shattered by this point and so was Pete. What was meant to be a day of sightseeing didn’t happen for two reasons:

  1. We were stuffed.
  2. It was bucketing down with rain.

Instead we crashed at our cousins house for the afternoon and slept for 3 hours. It’s always nice to have a shower after all those hours and even better to sleep in a bed.

Back at Changi Airport we took Pete to the different sites in it. Of course there’s the mandatory visit to the Butterfly House and various rooftop gardens.

While we had booked with Emirates, they code share with Qantas. I’m not sure why they do it, but Emirates is WAY better than Qantas. Qantas always have the worst food for coeliacs but on the upside, I had two seats to myself.

We stopped in Melbourne long enough to get our bags, go through customs (Ebola free) and then line up for another 45 minutes to get back through security.

Pete showing James from Chicken Run in Dee Why photos on his phone.

Pete showing James from Chicken Run in Dee Why photos on his phone.

Getting on a plane was the last thing on our minds but in 2 days time, we did the last haul – to Auckland. This is what it was all about, getting to see our youngest daughter and be there for her wedding in a few weeks.

Now, the bags are packed away. No more need for the neck thingy that supports you when you sleep. No more lugging around heavy bags. No more declaration forms to complete. No more airport or plane hotels.

It’s over – for 7 weeks anyway!

A Wedding Fundaiser In Kenya

On Sunday we were invited to a wedding fundraiser for our friends John and Joy. Joy and I used to work together and also attend the same church.

MC, Joy, John

MC, Joy, John

This month John and Joy will get married. We won’t be able to attend as we will be in New Zealand preparing for our own daughters’ wedding. However, Liz and I went along to a fundraiser, so I thought I’d share about the process.

It seems to be a normal thing to fundraise for weddings. There’s lots of ways of doing it but since this was my first one I totally had no idea of the process. All I knew is that Liz and I would probably be the only white people there and stick out like a sore thumb.

Me winning the USB.

Me winning the USB.

In usual Kenyan fashion, it started an hour late. I’ve learnt pretty fast not to turn up to an event on time and Sundays are the best day to drive around in Nairobi. The traffic is much lighter than during the week, so what would normally take at least an hour, took 15 minutes.

The big item for sale.

The big item for sale.

We sat right at the back of a small meeting room. I got to sit next to Shiko who was Joy’s sister. There would’ve been about 30 people max at the event. It all started with buying a handkerchief for 100 shillings, which you then had to pin onto you (don’t have a clue why). As with any good event, there is food involved. So, we started off with tea, bananas, sausages and mandazis. Sundays are a busy time in Nairobi so this would’ve been the equivalence to lunch for most people.

The MC

The MC

The most important person at either a fundraiser or the wedding, is the MC. He’s the one who is meant to be the life of the party and make things happen. At the fundraiser, his primary job is to get as much money out of people possible in a fun way. He sets the rules for ‘fines’ like not taking part or coming late.

Moses, Joy's cousin selling handkerchiefs.

Moses, Joy’s cousin selling handkerchiefs.

I had been warned to bring lots of small notes like 50, 100 and 200 shillings, which of course I did. Pete and I had already decided how much we wanted to give which was a winner because it saved us bringing a present back from our overseas trip next week. I was pretty happy that we didn’t get fined, although it doesn’t really matter because it was all going to the wedding costs.

People made pledges on behalf of those who couldn't be there.

People made pledges on behalf of those who couldn’t be there.

I did however, buy 4 raffle tickets. We don’t actually need any more ‘stuff’ but people weren’t really buying this so I hoped to kick things off. There were lots of prizes including a live chicken, humungous watermelon, USB stick and a number of wrapped secret gifts. At the end of the day people bought up large on the raffle tickets which was great.

room No matter how much I tell people just to treat us normally, it’s often far from it. People used to call me ‘their boss’ when I was just their colleague, simply because I’m white. Hence, I got to be on the VIP list and guess who got called up first to give their donation. Of course, I couldn’t just walk up the front, I had to be danced up the aisle. Normally I hide behind the camera but didn’t have a chance this time.

With Lucy and Joy. We all used to work together.

With Lucy and Joy. We all used to work together.

You get given a basket (mine was yellow) to hold. Then you have to count out the 1,000 shilling notes to give towards the wedding. The MC then gives people the opportunity to add to it. After this, the money goes to the accounts people to add to the funds. While I was dreading the whole thing, it actually wasn’t as bad as I thought.

The same yellow basket I had to hold.

The same yellow basket I had to hold.

Other people got to put in their amounts – family members, singles, marrieds or anyone else who hadn’t been given the opportunity. Within 3 hours the whole things was over.

Joy's sister and cousin pledging money.

Joy’s sister and cousin pledging money.

Towards the end of the evening there was one highlight and that was the raffle draw. Yes, I got to win the USB drive which was great because mine had got lost. However, there was something much more fun to finish the day.

The chicken.

Basically there were two teams vying for the chicken, me and another guy. People were putting money on the chook, it was a bit like an auction. I REALLY didn’t want to take the live chicken home. I live in an apartment block, imagine what the neighbours would think? And I was really worried I would have to hold the thing, which was far from my favourite hobby. I got desperate enough to put 200 shillings on the other team. In the end they won by only fifty cents. I was more than happy for the chicken to go to the other guy, and he was a happy camper.

liz n girls All in all, it was a great afternoon and no doubt we will have many more of these to go to, each with their own flavour.

 

 

 

 

Dispelling the Myths

There are lots of things that people ‘know’ about Africa but it’s actually what think they know. Stuff we’ve read online or more likely, what we’ve heard from others, their opinions or third hand knowledge.

Today I’m going to tell it like it really is so you can see a different side to what life here. Just remember, Africa has 54 countries, that’s a quarter of the number of countries in the entire world. Here’s 6 myths people hold about Africa.

Africa is huge.

Africa is huge.

 1. Mud Huts

Not everyone lives in a mud hut. In Kenya, 32% of people live in cities, Uganda 15%, Algeria 72%. Most of those people live in apartment blocks. In Nairobi where we live there are guards and sometimes guard dogs at the gated entrance of the property. While there are some houses, these tend to be in certain suburbs. Many homes tend to have house help. On the day we moved into our apartment, the caretaker offered his daughter as our househelp, all for $120 per month. We said no thanks.

hut  apartment

 2. Security

We have people staying in our home all of the time. They might be students coming to do research for their studies or perhaps taking a break from working in remote places around Africa. I love having people over. If I had a bigger house I would probably have a whole bunch of teenagers living with us who really need a place they can call ‘home’.

The number one question I get asked is ‘Is it safe there?’ Safety is all-relative. It’s not safe for me as a white person to walk around the streets at night, but it is during the day. We work with young people who live in the Kibera Slum. They are amazing and give me hope for our country. However, I am unwise to walk through Kibera by myself. Therefore, I go with people who live there.

Unfortunately, you can never take security for granted. We live in a relatively safe area but I still lock the car doors when I get in. We are always aware of things like our bags, phones and wallets. When we go to a slum, I take off my jewellery and leave anything I value, at home. If you wear it, you have to be prepared to lose it.

Kenya has been rocked by a number of security issues. In the last two years we’ve been involved in a rock throwing/riot situation while working, bus blow-ups (we don’t catch them if at all possible), attacks at the Coast and of course, the Westgate attack a year ago. It sounds bad but it doesn’t affect you too much unless you are involved. Even when we were running the kids program and we all had to huddle inside because the hall was being pelted with rocks, we didn’t feel afraid. We were just concerned how the little kids were going to get home safely.

The thing about acts of terrorism though is that you don’t know when and where it’s going to happen. You have to be alert and use the brain you’ve been given.

We are thankful that over the past two years we haven’t been carjacked or anything on our persons stolen. We’ve heard of it happening to lots of others but not us. May it so continue.

riot3. Money

There is money to be made in Africa. Get it out of your mind that the streets are lined with people begging with a bowl saying ‘please sir can I have some more’. Yes, there are beggars and homeless people (just like the rest of the world) and yes, a lot of people live in poverty. But – there are also people with money.

The top African countries with millionaires include South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Angola, Tanzania and even Algeria. Throughout the continent there are more than 130,100 millionaires. There are 27 billionaires.

I’ve been travelling to East Africa for 7 years. In that time there’s been an obvious sign that there is a developing bigger middle class – the number of locals at the coffee shop at the shopping mall and those shopping there. There’s also been a huge increase of cars on the roads. I am forever seeing Mercedes on the road!

Ashish Thakkar - Africa's youngest billionaire

Ashish Thakkar – Africa’s youngest billionaire

4. Modern Facilities

There is a huge difference between life in the city and that in the village. We have running water, electricity (most of the time), more footpaths and lots of shopping malls. In the village there might be one small shop to buy something from or, you jump on a bus to go to the nearest town. It’s basically opposite to a city. You have to buy water in a jerry can, you probably don’t have electricity.

In Nairobi, we have a number of slums that don’t have running water or sanitation facilities. We also have a large portion of locals who have never even stepped into a slum. On the other end of the spectrum, you have young people from well off families that don’t even speak Swahili (official language) because they go to private international schools.

We are quite spoilt in Nairobi, we can pretty much buy any food that we want. It’s not always available but when it is, it’s great. There are lots and lots of places to eat out and plenty to do. Nairobi is not a place you can get bored in. We’ve friends in Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia who, when they visit are ecstatic at what food and items we regularly buy. My husband Pete went to Ethiopia last week and half of his bag was full of sugar, meat and chocolate for an associate, because they couldn’t even get things like sausages.

On the outskirts of Kigali, Rwanda

On the outskirts of Kigali, Rwanda

5. Technology

East Africa has ridiculously cheap Internet. In Australia I was spending $100 just on my phone plan and then about that much more on a telephone/TV/internet package. $45 gives us unlimited wireless internet, TV package and a landline phone (which we never use). I use $5 for phone/SMS and another $5 for internet on my phone. And that’s on a busy month.

What I really like is that you can buy a scratchie card and put credit on your phone for as little as 50 cents. MPesa is a very cool monetary system established by Safaricom. Let’s say I need $5, anyone can send me that through the phone and I get it in an instant. I can then go and withdraw it or use it to buy goods or pay a bill. I often send Pete airtime on his phone via mine. I remember when Pete broke his leg when we were in Tanzania, on Mt Kilimanjaro and I called back to our friends in Nairobi to tell them and also, could they send me some credit on my phone – and they did. Got to love this system.

mpesa

In 9 days we fly out to Australia and New Zealand for our daughters’ wedding and we all know that we will have a heart attack on how expensive our phones will cost us. One phone package in New Zealand will cost me 4 months of what we would spend here.

6. It’s Hot

As I write this blog I’m sitting in jeans, wearing a jumper and have my ugg boots on. Okay, it’s not that cold but wearing uggies is comfortable around the house. Google tells me it’s 19 degrees and will hit 24 later. Very rarely does Nairobi get to 30 degrees.

Sahara Desert

Sahara Desert

You don’t have to travel far and there’s a huge temperature difference. In Garissa (4 hours away) it’s often 35 degrees. The Lake Turkana area often gets to 50 degrees. So yes, it does get hot here but not like what people think. During the middle of the year the temperature drops to around 13 in the morning, rainy seasons are in June/July and November/December. Things have been much drier this year and the rains in June just didn’t come. I’m seeing signs of the coming rains so it actually makes me happy. Outside of the city it’s dry and brown, here’s hoping it greens up fast.

tempDon’t believe everything you hear on the news about Africa. It’s a place of adventure, challenges and amazing people. You should come on over!

boy

A Day With Gary

Every September in Nairobi the International Trade Fair (otherwise known as ‘the show’) is held at the showgrounds. During the rest of the year it looks like an abandoned village but for one week, the place comes alive.

Some of the crowd

Some of the crowd

Nothing spoils you more than living in Australia and going to the East Show, it is fantastic and nothing compares with it. But in reality, the Trade Fair is quite amazing for Kenya standards.

Olwen, Pete, me and Gary

Olwen, Pete, me and Gary

Our routine for the past two times we’ve gone, is to meet up with our Canadian friend Gary. Gary is awesomely funny. He and his beautiful wife Cynthia moved here for a couple of years. She works for IBM, Gary plays golf (and other fun retiree stuff). Cynthia is a wonderful breath of fresh air, hanging around with her revitalises you.

Gary and his new friend

Gary and his new friend

They have a car and driver as part of their package to be here so we’ve got the show down to a good habit. We drive to the local mall and leave our car there. Gary picks us up and his driver takes us to the showground then drops us back off afterwards. Next year we’ll have to park at the show as they would’ve returned to Canada.

This year was different in that we went on a Friday. Wednesdays are out because the President of Kenya comes and you can’t get around the place.

Most of the team

Most of the team

We haven’t had very much rain this year, but it decided to bucket down during the night. Hence, we bought an umbrella, which was used for all of 30 seconds before it dried up in the morning.

Looking at one of the vege patches

Looking at one of the vege patches

The show is always jam packed with school kids, farmers, hoards of animals on display, horse jumping, expo sites and eateries. There’s judging of the best animals and businesses spruiking their wares. It’s never a dull moment and if you want somewhere quiet, you won’t find it here.

It’s quite good value, only $3 to get in and if you really want to splurge, around 20 cents for a ride. Last year we found this food hall where you can get ¼ chicken, chips and a coke for $4.

Pete especially likes the show because he gets to see everything he needs for farming in one place. Nairobi is tricky to get around because of the congested traffic so if you get two things done in one day, you’re winning.

All year Gary has been onto Liz about going on a camel ride. She had psyched herself up for it and she was glad it had been raining because who wants to ride on a wet camel?

What we saw a lot of this year were people dressed up in crazy character outfits. Gary was in his element.

Gary makes friends everywhere he goes

Gary makes friends everywhere he goes

We also had Olwen, one of Pete’s work colleagues join us for a few hours. He’s a great young man who is working his first agricultural job since graduating from uni. There was no way on God’s green earth he was getting onto a camel and was also glad it had been raining.

Olwen

Olwen

One of the weirdest things I saw on our way out was a Witness Protection Agency tent. Not your average expo site and I didn’t go in because I thought they couldn’t say much to protect whoever was in hiding. Hopefully we’ll never need their services!

Witness protection at your service

Witness protection at your service

Overall it was a great day and although we won’t get to do it with Gary again, it has built some memorable moments.

Yep, it was a long day!

Yep, it was a long day!

Why Birthdays Are Important

cake

My 40th birthday

On the weekend I read a pathetic article in the local newspaper, so I just had to write about it.

Here’s a couple of short snippets of what it said:

‘Any man who throws a party or even considers some kind of bash after the age of 16 is a disgrace to the institution of masculinity. For women, we can be a bit accommodating and give them up to 25.’

‘Until adults in this country start acting more maturely, we will end up raising self-absorbed children who think the world owes them a living.’

Seriously, singing happy birthday to an adult compromises their masculinity?

120

I’m not sure who was more excited.

 

IMG_0294

Lizzies birthday is on Dec 31st, so NYE is always important in our house.

And this is why I don’t buy newspapers very often.

I’m all for birthdays, but I guess that is how we raised our kids. Life itself is a great reason to celebrate. I’ve tried to find out if there is some deep and meaningful reason to why here in Kenya birthdays aren’t a big deal but all I could find is that it’s always been this way.

CIMG1186

Bec and Han at a friends birthday.

In some cultures children aren’t named until they’re weaned simply because they may not survive until then. Totally understandable. Many of the kids we work with don’t know the date or year they were born because it was no big deal, until they need a birth certificate!

IMG_2881

It’s all about the dressups.

IMG_5754

Jo and Min, always smiling.

For the last couple of years I’ve been taking birthday cake along to some of our kids programs. I figure it’s no big deal to spend $5 on cake and get them to sing happy birthday. Who doesn’t like to get a card which tells you how special you are and that you’re not a mistake?

IMG_0002

Liz and Han at Georgie Pie for a birthday.

Birthdays give us a reason to celebrate. I don’t think we celebrate the real things well. Sure, there’s huge sporting events and the Queen’s great grand-babies but nothing matters as much as our own families. With so much tragedy in the world we should celebrate more.

IMG_0004

Me on my 16th birthday.

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A birthday with our extended family – the Renatas.

Birthdays give a reason for families and friends to get together. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard at funerals “We should get together more” and yet we don’t. If you’re like me, you wonder where the weeks and months go, before we know it 2014 will be done and dusted.

Life is fragile and we need to handle with care. Meantime – enjoy and celebrate it!

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Pete’s parents

Where have you been?

The other day I was chatting online with a friend in Australia who mentioned I hadn’t put out a newsletter for a while (a month) and he wondered what we’d been up to.

I had to catch myself from saying anything because I’m continually posting stuff up on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and sending text messages to those overseas as much as possible.

mediaI wonder that with all of the technology we have, if our world is becoming too busy and we’re over saturated with information 24/7.

Hey, I’m not knocking what we have, but more of how we use it. My youngest daughter and I touch base every day either via Facebook or we SMS each other for free using our iPhones. No doubt, as her wedding gets closer, it will happen more and more.

I just wonder who is in control of whom.

I admire people who go on a social media fast, I don’t think I could, well for 40 days anyway!

We get the morning world news from a pastor in a town in Aussie that I’ve never been too. It gives me a quick 5 minute overview of what’s happening. It helps me keep connected on a bigger level than just what is happening locally.

Although I hate the new Facebook Messenger, we get no choice but to use it. The power goes out often and sometimes for a very long time. However, because it’s so cheap to have the internet on your phone, it enables me to use it even if the power is off (unless my phone battery dies of course!). $5 of credit gives me access to the internet for a whole month.

signWe’ve been based in Kenya for close to 2 years, and I have to say that out of all my years of travelling here, technology has helped to transform this country in a very short time. Twenty years ago to make an overseas call you would have to let the person know by post on what date and time you would call, go book it in and hope it would work.

Now we simply Facetime or Skype and get grumpy when the internet is slow.

Somehow, I don’t think we can live without all of what we have anymore – unless it’s forced upon us. We had a Canadian couple visit us, who are farmers in a remote part of Ethiopia. They reminded us how lucky we were to have everything at our fingertips.

So where have I actually been lately – writing blogs, videoing kids, editing photos, uploading to Instagram, you know – trying to keep up communicating with the masses.

 

 

Big Changes

We’ve been in Kenya for 20 months so I thought it was time that I shared about a few things we have had to change since being here.

1. No Hot Water

Our apartment is three floors up. If we had our water cylinder connected up it would cost us $200 a month on our power bill. Instead we had instant water heaters on our shower heads. So, before you jump in the shower at our place you have to flick a switch by the door. The good thing is that you don’t have to wait for the water to warm up before jumping in.

The downside is that we don’t have any hot water that comes out of the taps. We put on a large pot of water to boil while we’re having dinner and because we have gas it doesn’t take too long to heat up.

This is our showerhead.

This is our showerhead.

When there’s no power in the mornings I only have 2 options – a cold shower, or heat up water in our trusty pot  and have a wash. I’ve done both and guess which one I like better?

 

2. Electricity

One thing you can guarantee about the power being on, is that it won’t always be on. For 3 weeks out of a month it seems to be pretty good and then for one week it’s off and on. If the electricity goes off I don’t even bother resetting the alarm clock until I go to bed at night. We have a solar lamp sitting on our windowsill so it’s always charged up. The longest we’ve been without electricity is 24 hours. We got so bored that night we went to the mall to do grocery shopping. When we bought a washing machine we especially got one that restarted at the same place when the power came back on.

 

3. Towels

I was really challenged by one of our colleagues about how we used new towels every second day. She said ‘Why, you come out of the shower clean, I wash mine every 2 weeks?’ It got me thinking as to why we do what we do. While we have lots of towels, my friend has ever only had one. Of course, when I heard this I was shocked and even though she never asked for it, I blessed her with some more. She had never had a new towel in her life before. So, just to shock you, we use the same towels for a week before they go into the wash.

 

4. The Car

Carjacking’s happen here often. So, every time I get in the car the first thing I’ve got into the habit of, is locking the car doors. Even when we go through smaller towns where traffic moves slowly and there are plenty of people around the car, the doors are locked. I often have my phone hiding under my thigh so if I’m ever carjacked they can take my money and my car but I at least have a way of contacting someone. The number one rule though is never run out of petrol.

Car jackers usually work in groups, at peak traffic times when there are jams and here they use guns over bats.

Car jackers usually work in groups, at peak traffic times when there are jams and here they use guns over bats.

5. Don’t Shop Just At The Supermarket

We have a good number of supermarkets here – Nakumatt, Uchumi, Chandarana and lots of shopping malls. There’s also smaller shopping centres dotted around the place. To get any gluten free food I need to go to a shop called HealthyU. Stuff there is awfully expensive but what choice do I have for such things as flour and cereals that I can actually eat and not get sick.

The best place to buy fruit and veges is at roadside markets or out of Nairobi. Generally people think that everything in Africa is cheap – I wish! We travel an hour each Thursday to a place called Kiserian where we spend the day on a training farm. Bananas are half the price there. Overall fruit and veges are cheaper here than back in Aussie but besides that groceries are way more expensive.

duka

Dukas are handy little shops all over the place.

If we need credit for our phone or we’ve run out of something we don’t need to travel up to the supermarket, instead we have around 3 little dukas (shops/stalls) around our place. Be in avocadoes, dishwashing liquid or a bottle of Coke, they have it all. I only meat I get at the supermarket is chicken and mince, anything else is a plain ripoff. Instead we go to independent butchers. Mind you, we found this one around the corner from our house and it stinks to high heaven – never a good sign.

meat

I’ve never bought meat from a place like this.

When stuck in a traffic jam you can buy bags of fruit from the vendors who walk amongst the cars. They also have newspapers, kites, earplugs, maps and toys available.

We haven’t bought any of our furniture at the shopping mall or any furniture stores – it is just way too expensive. Instead we got things made by fundis (tradesmen) who make furniture at the side of the road. If we ever had to leave the country we would definitely get stuff taken back that was made here.

 

6. Flowers

Oh my goodness, they are so cheap here – all of the time if you shop at the right place. For $2.50 you can pick up a big bunch of roses. This price is only from the small stalls on the side of the road. If you buy flowers from the florist or in the malls they will be the same price as back in Aussie.

flowers7. Security

I noticed when I was back in Australia and New Zealand earlier this year I didn’t have to worry about security and we got really slack. Here you will find guards at every gate, bank, ATM, shopping centre and car yard. It’s not unusual to find guys from the army or police officers with rifles walking around. When you go into the mall or even a church your car is searched. It’s a hassle but better to be safe than sorry. Mind you, Pete asked a guard one day what he would do if he saw a bomb in a car and he said they would all run! Once you enter into the mall your bags and body are checked. Poor Pete, he has a metal pin in his leg and it often goes off. When there’s a threat in the city we are pressured to avoid any public place. We get security updates from the NZ and Australian High Commissions. While we don’t ignore them, we pretty much carry on life as normal. There are a lot more dangerous places to live in the world and we have this philosophy that when it’s your time, it’s your time. I just don’t want it to happen slowly and bit by bit. There is more danger travelling on our roads than terrorism.

guards

It never feels scarey having the army or guards around, unless one of them jumps in your car and points the gun at you!

Of course you also have to change how you speak, and not just in language. You have to learn how individual friends come from different cultural backgrounds and how to respond to them appropriately. What works in your home country doesn’t always work here. You can’t wear short shorts, travel long distances at night and yes, the food tastes different. Driving is insane. The people different.

If it wasn’t different here what was the point in coming?

 

4 Things I Don’t Think God Really Cares About

I know God cares, but I think there are some things He doesn’t really care about at all. When I say ‘care about’, I mean He doesn’t mind.

 

1. What Type Of Music You Play In Church.

Pentecostal churches like it loud, more traditional churches like it, well, traditional. Sometimes they are quick to criticise the way they do worship. I don’t think God really minds at all. He’s more interested in people’s heart attitude and whether they connect with Him or not. Nothing must bore God more than some songs thrown together where people come in and go through the motions of ‘church’. He also doesn’t mind if you sit, stand, wave your hands in the air like you just don’t care or even prostrate yourself. You can have your hands raised and be thinking about the football.

 

2. If You Live In Africa Or America.

Jesus wasn’t blue eyed, blonde nor spoke in English. Actually, I know God is colour-blind. He reacts to people the same wherever they are. He doesn’t go ‘Oh, those poor people in Africa, I think I’ll love them more than the Brits because they’ve got more’. That wouldn’t be fair now would it? God loves everyone, full stop, no doubt. His love is not based on our need, but Him. Therefore, He cares about multimillionaires, those who live on the street and everyone in between.

Homeless in Hawaii

Homeless in Hawaii

 

3. About Your Age.

I’m not sure why people of mature age think that they are ‘more spiritual’ or in a better position to be used by God. God can use whoever He wants, however He wants. If we wait until we’re spiritual enough, old enough, rich enough or knowledgeable enough – we might be dead and in the grave. It’s about being obedient in the small things, regardless of your age. It’s not about how many years you’ve got but about who you serve. I’ve heard amazing things come out of the mouths of little kids and those well advanced in years. We need to get over ourselves and drop the whole generation gap thing.

old

4. Whether You Have Dreadlocks Or Look Like A Goth Or Skinhead.

Yep, God doesn’t care about your hairstyle. People do, but I doubt that’s high on His priority list. We live in a country where those who have dreads are looked at as druggies and ‘from the Coast’ – rebels. Personally, I’m not sure how on earth people with dreadlocks can keep them clean but each to their own. Even Nairobi has a Goth shop – imagine wearing leather pants in 30 degree heat! As humans we are quick to judge by the outward appearance. Once you get to know the person you find out what they are really like and often we are surprised by what we find.

tommy

Tommy Kyllonen – pastor in Florida

brian

Brian Welch – Jesus follower and founding member of Korn

Read THIS quick article about one woman in Adelaide, Australia and what she encountered on a train.

 

What else do you think God doesn’t really care about?