Solomon’s Choice

When people think of labels like ‘Third World’ or ‘Developing Country’ there’s this automatic picture we get in our mind of streets lined with beggars.

I can only speak on what I’ve seen here in Kenya – there aren’t that many beggars. Pete tells me that he was shocked when he went to Ethiopia and saw so many people begging on the streets. We see some regulars at their normal spot. A mother with a child, a legless man, an elderly bearded man and a bunch of kids (on the weekend). They’re all situated by shopping malls where traffic slows down or there’s an intersection. During the holidays there’s a whole stack of primary school boys who have a ‘pimp’ telling them how to get more money.

We’ve made it a general rule not to give out money to kids begging on the street. It’s a hard one because you know that these kids are from families that live on $2 a day. They wouldn’t be doing it if they didn’t have to. Most people here will find a way to make money, usually by selling some goods, clothing or services.

The reason we generally don’t give out money is that we don’t want to encourage the practice. There’s a huge assumption that because you’re a foreigner you have lots of money. It’s true, foreigners generally do have more money than a local. However, if you look at whose driving the BMW’s, Mercedes and Prados, many of them are driven by Kenyans.

Last Sunday our stance was challenged. Liz had stayed to hang with her mates at an after church event so Pete and I snuck out to a great Chinese restaurant by our house. The food there is ridiculously cheap and tastes fantastic. Sundays are the only time you can drive around the city and not get stuck in a traffic jam.

This is not the boy I saw begging

This is not the boy I saw begging

As we’re driving into the restaurant I notice a boy aged around 4 dressed in rags and looking like he hadn’t bathed in days. He was by himself which is unusual because they normally work in groups. He wasn’t actively begging, running up to cars and tapping on the window. He was simply standing as close as possible to the road with a vacant look in his eyes.

He was four.

Two hours later we drove out of the restaurant and he was still there, in the same spot.

As we refueled the car I just kept staring at this boy. Here, we had just spent hours eating, having a Coke and planning out the next few months. This boy had no future, he didn’t even have today. I had to make a choice – stick with the plan or give this kid a chance.

As we drove past I told Pete to slow down, wound down the window and handed the boy fifty shillings (around 50 cents). I said to him “Go buy yourself some food”. He probably hadn’t started school so didn’t know what I was saying but I’m sure he got the gist.

The reason I only gave him that amount is that he was by himself and if I gave him more someone would’ve snatched it out of his hand. If I had something like some fruit in the car I would’ve given him that. At least then there would be food in his stomach.

This is why I hate poverty. It makes people do things they normally wouldn’t. It stops them from having a life where they can go to school, find employment and have a future.

All I did was help for one minute. Imagine how many more we can help long term.

Would I do it again? Maybe. I’m not planning on making a habit out it but I am planning on helping a whole bunch more who can help themselves.

Want to help me achieve that?

http://makingadifference.gofundraise.com.au/page/TheGirlsProject

Dentists and Rats

Admittedly, I haven’t been to the dentist for 15 years, but I was surprised to find parts of my left back molar in my hand as I was eating popcorn at the movies. I love their popcorn, it’s caramel coated. I didn’t love feeling a giant gap in my tooth.

The last time I went to the dentist I had 3 wisdom teeth out – no wonder I make the decisions I do! It was one of the most painful experiences in my life.

I’ve never liked going to the dentist. At primary school we used to call it ‘the murder house’. As an adult I figured out that dentists were most likely bullied at school and this was their revenge, and to make lots of money doing it.

I mean, who wants to look inside the mouths of people every day?

I was thinking of a quick fix, even getting it pulled out. Not going to happen to this chick. It was a crown or nothing, and I had a few other holes, another cracked tooth and the final wisdom tooth that had grown sideways which had to come out.

The drill is a horrible but effective tool.

The drill is a horrible but effective tool.

I got depressed. Where was I, a missionary, going to find the $1,000 to get this done, even some of it? We’d just spent $400 on Pete’s broken arm and we’ve got to find a few thousand to get our visas renewed next month. Pete was really good about it, probably the same support I’ve given him over the last 3 years and the numerous hospital visits he’s undertaken.

I hate going to the dentist the same as I do with rats. I hate rats. Snakes, spiders, even getting robbed at gunpoint, fade into comparison to visiting the dentist or having a rat in my house.

Whenever I get unwell I will do ANYTHING not to go to a doctor here. Pete and others assure me there are some good guys, but I don’t want to find out any day soon.

At least the chair was comfy.

At least the chair was comfy.

I’d heard of a dentist about a 5 minute drive from our place, on the 4th floor of the mall. The place is called Skye Dental. The night my tooth broke I went up there but they had closed. I returned the next morning for the verdict.

It was bad.

Just to get a consultation, x-ray and clean it was $120. Dr. Yakub told me that dentists like to do mouths in quadrants, which meant I have to get one filling, a tooth out and a temporary filling in one go. The next visit $284. The last part, for just one tooth – a whooping $710. No one can even see where that money is going!

But what choice do I have?

Today I got the first part done. Pete insisted on walking me all the way there in case I chickened out. What was I going to do, he had the car keys.

I came prepared this time. I had my playlist ready to go, headphones on.

Dr. Yakub promised me that it wouldn’t hurt. Who ever believes a dentist?

I guess dentistry has come a long way in 15 years. I remember the needle being the absolute worse, but it wasn’t. I had 3 injections and only felt one (slightly). This is because he put this numbing dawa (medicine) on the site first. Even when he pulled out the back tooth I felt nothing.

When it came to the broken tooth, he had to get off the old filling first. The drilling sound is still as awful as ever, but I turned up the music loud. What I really struggle with is the gagging reflex. You feel like you’re drowning even though you’re not. Then they put that sucking thing in and it’s a shocker. It was made worse because I’d drank lots of water when exercising that morning and really needed to go to the toilet.

Straight after an hour at the dentists. Pretty bad shot, no makeup, numb face and the dentist looks interesting too!

Straight after an hour at the dentists. Pretty bad shot, no makeup, numb face and the dentist looks interesting too!

The other horrible thing about my visit was the metal ring they put around what’s left of your tooth. It’s not pleasant. He had three goes at building the tooth and the ring kept slipping. So I spent my time not drowning in saliva, trying to ignore the sucking thing and letting go of the pain as the metal ring was shoved up into my gum. The only pleasant thought was ‘at least I’m making him work for his money’.

I’ve given birth twice, climbed the world’s second highest free standing mountain (Kilimanjaro) twice, moved countries twice, been robbed at gunpoint and watched as our oldest daughter has taken on the challenges of being disabled. But for me, going to the dentist and rats top it all off of the things I hate most.

I’m impressed with how professional and compassionate the staff of Skye Dentists are. I had verbal diarrhea because I was not happy with going, but they let me rant on. The equipment is excellent and the after care is good. Dr Yakub explained what he was about to do and never rolled his eyes when I gagged.

I’m still not sure where we will find the money from for the next part as it’s about half of what we get from our supporters each month. But, for the next 2 weeks I will focus on work and see what happens.

Meantime, I’m really enjoying the numbness in my face.

If you would like to help the Creans get insured while they are volunteering in East Africa, feel free to make a safe, online donation HERE.

Trying To Move On

It’s been two weeks since our house was broken into just after 3pm by armed men. We’ve all been on an emotional roller coaster that we weren’t prepared for.

A lot of this was due to small things. Like on the Sunday ‘after the event’ we discovered that a small pottery container which held all of Pete’s cufflinks was gone. It might not seem much to the average person but I was happy that none of Pete’s things had been stolen. Even more so, Hannah, our youngest daughter had given Pete a set of cufflinks with ‘Dad’ engraved on them, when she got married last year.

Dealing with the police has almost been worse than being held up at gunpoint.

Lizzies Lego gun she made to protect herself.

Lizzies Lego gun she made to protect herself.

The first night we spent hours with the police while they stood around the car that had been used in several burglaries that day. They insisted that our gear was all there, including the laptops but we could not see it because it was late at night. No matter how much our neighbor insisted on looking at our things, the big boss refused to allow us for a viewing.

Pete jimmied up the door with a plastic chair so that we would feel safe. None of us slept well that night. The next morning we got the call to go back to the police station. We really needed to get a new lock but that would have to wait. We kept Liz with us all day, she was in no state to go to work. None of us were.

Pete's extra security - actually it was for my peace of mind.

Pete’s extra security – actually it was for my peace of mind.

The landlady came around, I’m not sure why because she just sat there and waited to be served a coffee. She has made our stay here very difficult and we can’t wait to move out. She has lied constantly – we found out that there is only a water supply 3 days a week and we are expected to pay for all new locks and keys.

Basically the next three days went like this:

  • Wait for a phone call to go to whatever police station was needed
  • Get there and wait some more while not being told anything
  • Spend wasted time shaking hands with the same police officer who spent their time talking to one another
  • Pete being hassled by one or two officers for him to buy them a ticket to New Zealand because he was rich
  • The same officers following Pete to the canteen badgering him to buy them a drink
  • Go home still without a police report

Meanwhile, we also ran out of water, waited for plumbers to fix endless problems and try and get the place ready for our visitors from Ethiopia.

The getaway car with the bullet hole from where the police shot at them.

The getaway car with the bullet hole from where the police shot at them.

With new locks and new security measures in place we started sleeping better. We started finding a ‘new normal’.

Then there was the one week anniversary of the break-in. I made sure I wasn’t home at the time it happened. It was all still too fresh.

We went to get a new wedding band to replace the one that the woman who was the gang leader, ripped off my finger. The first Sunday it was all too much for me. The second Sunday I had psychologically prepared myself to get it sized.

ring

We’ve decided that while we can’t replace the personal items such as our anniversary rings that were stolen, we could make a new start on some things. Our good friends at a church in Australia donated enough for us to get a TV. It’s going to get a lot of use over the NRL season that’s for sure!

We’ve been super blessed to have people lend us a laptop until we get another one and we are trying to move on with our lives.

Once again, it’s the police that keep tripping us up. To claim on anything for our insurance, we need an abstract, it’s the official police report. Our neighbor keeps getting phone calls from a police officer demanding money. We are sure that is why we haven’t got the report – because we won’t pay up. Yesterday we were asked to go back to the police station.

A TV thanks to the church of C3 Coomera, Australia.

A TV thanks to the church of C3 Coomera, Australia.

We thought it was for the abstract – in fact it was for a line up.

There was no preparation, no telling you what was going on. I was told to go into a room and there were 10 or so women and then I had to choose one who was ‘the culprit’. How after only seeing her for about 5 seconds, and two weeks later, was I supposed to get the right woman? Of course I got it wrong. The worse thing was that I had to stand about 90cm away from these women, and when I thought I had the right one, walked up to one and tap them on the shoulder. How dodgy is that.

Still, we walked away without an abstract.

The sign for the officers room

The sign for the officers room

I’m not sure all this hassle for an abstract is actually worth it. The police keep dragging everything up and still nothing changes.

Nothing except us. We are more vigilant in security – we lock the car doors as soon as we get in, Pete has installed new and more locks, Lizzies motorbike driver collects and drops her off at the gate.

This is how the police put out the few belongings they recovered. Notice all the Mac products were missing...

This is how the police put out the few belongings they recovered. Notice all the Mac products were missing…

I miss the freedom we used to have. But in fact, was I blind to what the situation was really like for the majority of people who live here in Nairobi.

If you would like to help us move on, you can make a donation HERE

How We Travelled With No Money For Two Months

We’ve just done an 8 week trip away from Kenya, travelling through Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. In this blog I’ll be telling you how we did it with no money. For us it was a total trip of faith – that’s how we hang. If you’re not a Jesus follower, read the blog anyway with an open mind because it’s not something we can invent.

A bit different to how we look in Kenya.

A bit different to how we look in Kenya.

Hannah, our youngest was getting married on December 19th in NZ. Of course it’s something we wouldn’t/couldn’t miss, but we had no idea how we were going to do it. Our budget for living in Nairobi should be $3,500 a month, we get in around $2,000.

Hannah really looked stunning.

Hannah really looked stunning.

Until this year Liz has been getting in just under $800 on the disability pension from Australia. We knew it would be stopping in January. Each month we would use a couple of hundred dollars to put towards the budget. We didn’t like it, but the cost of living in Kenya is sky rocketing.

Hannah and Luke. The reason we took this trip.

Hannah and Luke. The reason we took this trip.

I remember complaining to God (He’s got big shoulders) saying I was over dipping into Lizzies pension money and He could find another way to find $5,000 to fly us home. She didn’t have enough in her account anyway but I wasn’t about to take any more.

In Auckland we stayed at my cousins - Jeff & Jeanettes.

In Auckland we stayed at my cousins – Jeff & Jeanette.

One Saturday we had a youth leaders meeting at our house. These are kids who run the child sponsorship monthly meeting, they also take about 90 minutes to get from the Kibera Slum to our place – many times they walk some of the way. We feed them lunch and then we do a bit of training. This day at the end we asked who had prayer requests. Some needed school fee money, others jobs, others provision – we needed 500,000 shillings. Remember, most of these kids live on 200 shillings a day.

Mathew, the leader prayed for us and for the wedding. This was on the Saturday.

On the Monday I’m in a meeting that is dragging on a bit so I check my emails on my phone and there’s a notification from a small church (The Embassy) in Sydney that supports us a small amount per month, instead it says there’s $2,000 this month. My heart skipped a beat and then I thought ‘maybe it’s meant to be $200 because we’ve been overpaid before, but $200 is awesome’. I send a Facebook message to someone in the know and leave it. The next day I get a reply that yes indeed, they decided to bless us with extra. I remember writing ‘thanks, you’ve just paid my flight home to my daughters’ wedding’.

Liz came with us to every meeting, sometimes 4 a day.

Liz came with us to every meeting, sometimes 4 a day.

On the Wednesday I emailed some friends who gave us $1,200 earlier in the year when we thought Pete’s dad was dying. We kept it aside for ‘the day’, which didn’t happen. They said we could use it for whatever. The same day, someone emailed me and asked how short we were for our flights home, I said $800. They said it would be in our account that day.

Ross & Ros are our faith partners in what we do.

Ross & Ros are our faith partners in what we do.

Within 4 days, God had heard the prayers of others and my whinging and supplied money for flights. Sure, we hop scotched around the globe on super cheap flights, but we did it.

So, we had our return flights sorted but that was it.

We saw the ocean from time to time but didn't play in it much.

We saw the ocean from time to time but didn’t play in it much.

When we got to NZ we had free accommodation at my cousins house and then our future in-laws lent us the ‘windy’ a super little car that kept going and going. However, that was it.

We flew in on the Friday and the next day we started our ‘furlough’. This is when you leave your work back on the field and spend endless days and nights visiting your current and potential supporters. Somewhere in the 2 months you’re meant to take a break – not something we achieved.

Evan and Moira used to pastor the church that supports us. This was before they went to NYC and us back to Kenya.

Evan and Moira used to pastor the church that supports us. This was before they went to NYC and us back to Kenya.

The plan was to be in Auckland with Hannah on the weekends and travel on the weeks. The week leading up to the wedding would be totally spent in Auckland.

That first Saturday we go and see some friends who we got to meet when they hosted us for a youth conference – 21 years ago. They gave us some money for ‘incidentals’ – for us that meant wedding clothes. We had nothing to wear to the wedding of the year. So that was provided for.

On our way around NZ we stopped in Waihi where Pete's family came from. This is the area being mined.

On our way around NZ we stopped in Waihi where Pete’s family came from. This is the area being mined.

Everywhere we went people fed us (a lot) whether that be at a café or in their homes – and they paid for it all. There were very few times we had to pay for anything, which was great because eating out in NZ is really expensive. There were times people gave us envelopes of cash, put money into our bank account or went out and bought us things.

Pete’s a country boy at heart. He milked cows a couple of mornings while we were staying with some friends on a farm. He loved it and it was the closest to getting a break. Not because he had helped with milking but because of the generosity of our friends, they gave us a fuel card to use for the next month. That meant all of our petrol costs were covered. Just as well because we ended up doing 3,000 kilometres in that time.

Pete milking cows in Cambridge.

Pete milking cows in Cambridge.

One of the things we kept praying for was $5,000 to give towards the wedding costs. It never came through. We felt really bad that we could contribute hardly anything. One thing we wanted to do was give our kids the deposit for a house when they got married. Going to serve in Africa killed that one. Sure, we pulled together some funds for a few homewares, wedding props and something towards the photographers, but it never felt enough. We have short term borders at our home and we managed to save that, but it wasn’t just the same.

So while we were super blessed to have our costs covered, this one thing never came through. I don’t know why but it is what it is.

One thing I did notice is that people who sacrificially give to us each month, went overboard in looking after us. Generosity is not just an action, it’s a part of a persons’ character. It was the same people who give to us, kept giving whether it was cash, cheques, petrol cards or gas vouchers. We especially noticed it in New Zealand because we were there for a month.

Uncle Bob knew Liz when she was just a toddler.

Uncle Bob knew Liz when she was just a toddler.

However, it wasn’t much different in Aussie. We had a friends’ house and car to use – for free. Sometimes we had 4 meetings a day. It was exhausting but good at the same time. Considering we weren’t meant to come back until June this year, we managed to fit in a lot. Again, people would just give us a blessing of cash, which was very cool.

Singapore was hot, humid and lots of fun.

Singapore was hot, humid and lots of fun.

I remember being there for a few days and we were in the car, Pete said “Well God, when’s it going to come through again?” The funds had dried up and this time we had to pay for petrol. That very same day someone gave us a few hundred dollars. It paid not only for our fuel but the hire car we needed for a couple of days at the end.

Last but not least, we needed $600 for travel insurance. Insurance isn’t one thing you can do without when you’re abroad, it’s not worth the risk. We hadn’t been insured for a couple of months and it’s not a nice feeling. In our last few days in Aussie, two people gave us cash which covered the whole amount. That will keep us going for 6 months and then we’ll get a 12 month policy in July.

No, we didn't go tenting.

No, we didn’t go tenting.

No, we never stayed in hotels (except a cheapy in Dubai on the way), we slept in lots (11) different beds. We caught 14 different flights. We spent endless hours in airports. We visited the beach 4 times in 2 months, the most spent was an hour.

Our ‘holiday’ was the day and a half with my cousins in Singapore but besides that it was head down and butt up.

There are two things this trip proved to me:

  • Nothing is a surprise for God, He knows what we need/want
  • Generous people are always generous, it’s who they are

Now we’re home and we, like you, have to keep believing God for more. In 5 weeks we move apartments to save money. It’s another opportunity to see what He will do for His kids.

Thank you to everyone who gave us a bed, meals, petrol, cars, flights, clothes, tools, coffees and more. You are not forgotten. You are appreciated and loved.

My friend Cath is part of our intercessors team.

My friend Cath is part of our intercessors team.

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.

Finally Taking A Break

This week we just passed our second year of completion in Kenya. It was a big goal for us and we’re preparing for even bigger and more impacting work in the next few years. We’ve got our visas until August next year but intend to stay as long as our visas get renewed. We’re on a humanitarian visa which is good because it’s much cheaper than a business one. The downside is that we can’t earn the much needed dollars to continue our work here.

Most people go ‘home’, that would be their other ‘home’ every few years. We’ve decided that this routine is not enough and you need to be continually raising the profile of your work and the money to go along with it.

The last time we were all together was 2012.

The last time we were all together was 2012.

Currently we are $1,000 short in our personal budget every month. That’s not including ministry costs. To give you an idea of rising costs, our electricity bill was 3,500 shillings when we arrived, it’s now up to 12,000. That’s the type of rising costs we see all the time in developing countries.

We’ve had an interesting two years. It certainly hasn’t been dull and boring that’s for sure! You’re always learning something new and have to continually grow bigger in your capacity to handle the challenges that come along. You make mistakes, you advance in what you’re doing, you make lots of friends and are constantly building the vision.

Now it’s time to take a break and recharge our batteries.

Looking forward to being in our old stomping grounds.

Looking forward to being in our old stomping grounds.

At the beginning of this year, if you asked me whether we would return to our home countries twice in 2014, I would’ve said no way. Earlier, Liz and I went back on a 7 week speaking tour. It meant at least 3 meetings a day, early mornings, late nights. It was great, but it was work. In those 7 weeks we had 3 days off.

Now, we’re returning to Australia for 2 days, New Zealand for a month and then back to Aussie for 9 days. The main reason is that our youngest daughter Hannah is getting married, so that’s a pretty good reason to go! This visit will be at a slower pace, catching up with our sponsors and just a couple of public speaking appointments. We even get two days at the beach at our friends holiday home.

We look forward to the beach and being able to walk around at night.

We look forward to the beach and being able to walk around at night.

 

But our main focus will be our daughter. It has been quite hard on her organising a wedding pretty much by herself. As her mother, it has been challenging not to be there for her. It will be the same when they start having babies in a couple of years. We won’t be there to share the experience with them, except via Skype. Hannah has already told me that I WILL be there for the birth of her children. I told her I can do any year except 2018, when we are driving around the whole of Africa (so plan it right you guys).

We're going to be in Sydney for NYE which is also Lizzies 25th birthday.

We’re going to be in Sydney for NYE which is also Lizzies 25th birthday.

 

While we would love to catch up with everyone, it is physically impossible. Normally we wouldn’t come back at this time of year because people are in holiday mode and are making the most of their Christmas vacation, which is totally understandable.

 

I will try and blog as much as possible when we’re away but from past experiences, I can tell you that accessing the internet in those countries isn’t as easy or cheap as here. What three of us spend in 3 months on phones in Kenya, will be the same as what one of us will spend in 1 month in NZ.

We intend to enjoy the beach and Summer weather as much as possible – our beach is 9 hours away! We also have a shopping list of things we just can’t get here, simple things like iron on patches. Most of all, we’re looking forward to sharing the stories about the wonderful young people we work with here.

We will be catching up with our Aussie grandparents in the country.

We will be catching up with our Aussie grandparents in the country.

 

Meanwhile, here’s our itinerary to date. If you’re in that city and we haven’t managed to contact you for a meetup, get a hold of me via Facebook, it’s the easiest way.

Nov 19 – 21 Sydney
Nov 21 – 23 Auckland
Nov 24 – 28 Tauranga
Nov 29 – 30 Auckland
Dec 1 – 3 Hamilton
Dec 4 – 5 Tokoroa
Dec 6 – 7 Auckland
Dec 8 – 9 Tauranga
Dec 10 – 11 Tokoroa
Dec 12 – 19 Auckland
Dec 20 – 21 Whangamata
Dec 22 – 23 Rotorua
Dec 24 – 28 Sydney
Dec 29 – 30 Moss Vale
Dec 31 – Jan 3 Sydney
Jan 4 – 6 Central Coast
Jan 7 – 9 Sydney

 

 

 

We Made A Mistake (a few of them actually)

In February this year I went to New Zealand NZ) and Australia on a 7 week speaking tour in schools, Rotary Clubs and churches. While I was there I had the honour of spending time talking to the pastors who oversaw our wedding ceremony nearly 27 years ago.

Mick & Colleen Marshall were my pastors (Pete went to another church) and over the years they have served both internationally and locally. They’ve now got a brood of grandchildren and instead of retirement are looking at refirement.

Here's Mick leading us through our vows.

Here’s Mick leading us through our vows.

It was so special catching up with them and there were a couple of things they said to me which they were dead serious about:

  1. When you return just be aware that people will put up with you ‘Africa stories’ for a few minutes but after that, they really don’t care.
  1. Whatever you do, don’t get so overworked that you burn yourself out.
Colleen and Mick this year.

Colleen and Mick this year.

I listened to them on Number One. It’s true, the world we live in Kenya is so foreign to even try and understand or explain, it’s just too much for people to hear and understand. When you talk about a traffic jam in Nairobi it is vastly different to that in Sydney. I’ve read where people in NZ complain because they have to get security checked before going into WINZ. Here, we have to avoid shopping centres because of bomb threats. Yep, it’s a bit different here.

Number Two, that’s a really hard one here. It’s not unusual to be chatting with someone overseas at 10pm, doing radio interviews at 2am or working 12 hour days, three weeks in a row. All this leads to burning out.

Here’s a definition of burnout:

Burnout is a psychological term that refers to long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in work. Burnout has been assumed to result from chronic occupational stress (e.g., work overload).

We’re not burnt out, but we did come close to it a little while back. Physically and mentally run down we took stock of where we were at and where we wanted to be.

So here’s where we’ve made some big mistakes:

1. Not taking holidays

In the two years we’ve been here we’ve only taken off a week. How dumb is that!! We bought Liz a camping bed for her birthday in December last year and the only time it’s been used is as a spare bed when we have visitors.

A lot of that was because we didn’t have the money. Our plan for 2015 is to take a week off every 3 months just to renew our batteries. Even if we have to camp in the middle of nowhere, leave our laptops behind and sit with the zebras, we will take a break.

We’ve lived here for 2 years and travelling here since 2007 and in all that time we’ve never been to Mombasa on the coast nor Masai Mara. Next year baby, next year.

This might be us, the tent not the motorhome.

This might be us, the tent not the motorhome.

2. Working too many weekends

There’s nothing wrong with working through a weekend if you get a day off some time during the week. However, if you end up working 3 weeks in a row, you’re setting yourself up for an emotional breakdown and big family arguments because of tiredness. We found that we were working three weekends a month. Now, we’ve got it down to two.

At the beginning of the year we thought we could take Wednesday afternoons off. It worked for a while but too many things got in the way.

life3. Lack of sleep

It’s pretty noisy here. Anywhere from 5.30am there are people outside washing their bosses car. Also, no matter what we seem to do, there is at least one mosquito wanting to attack. Someone at the apartment above us seems to like moving furniture late at night. The best day to sleep past 5am is a Sunday – and it is most welcomed!!

Because there’s so much work to be done there’s not so much room for the odd nanny nap. I have to admit though, we’ve both fallen asleep on the sofa, there’s the Facebook photos to prove it.

Pete snapped this one from a while ago.

Pete snapped this one from a while ago.

While we’ve made some mistakes, at least they’re all fixable. As we head into the start of our third year we expect to be working harder and at times, longer hours, we hope that if we change a few of our behaviours we will have even a better year. We’ve set some goals for where we want to head and have even planned a ’round Africa’ trip in 2018.

What about you, what ‘adjustments’ do you need to make to improve both your mental and physical health?

 

 

If I Only Knew

We are fast approaching our second anniversary of serving in Kenya so I thought I’d write down a list of things I wish I’d known before we came. Of course, hindsight is an awesome thing, but if you ever consider moving this way for a short or long period of time, it might be good to know.

 1. Africa Is Not Cheap To Live In

It’s a myth that’s for sure. We did our budget in 2011 but by the time we got here in 2012 prices had skyrocketed. Most things have stabilised in price since the VAT (tax) of 16% was added. Locals have really struggled since then. We spent a lot of 2013 buying furniture for our place as money came in, with most things bought second hand or built at a roadside carpenters.

Of course, income determines if something is expensive or not. Our budget is short by $1,000 a month, which is a lot when you aren’t allowed to earn money within the country. Our rent is half of what we paid in Sydney for something more than twice the size. We wanted a place where we could have people come and stay, relax and then go on their journey. We’ve had people from NZ, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Ethiopia, USA and Norway stay with us. We love it and are grateful for the apartment we have to be able to do it. But our landlord put up the rent by $100 per month after being here for a year, so we’re looking at alternatives for next year.

 

Equivalent to $9,700AUD for a 2001 car

Equivalent to $9,700AUD for a 2001 car

 2. White = Rich

If you’re not Kenyan, you’re white, even if you’re not white. That means you must have money to burn. If you go to the markets on the side of the road, you will spend more time bargaining than what you want. This is why people go to the more expensive supermarkets because they just get tired of being hassled all the time. A friend of ours got his suit for his wedding made for $50. If Pete went, it would be 3 times more the price.

If we want furniture made at the roadside market we send a Kenyan there first for a price so we know what we should be paying. No matter how much you tell your colleagues that you don’t have much money, it doesn’t matter, because you will always have more than them. What people don’t see is the amount of money spent on the work you do – petrol, car costs, school equipment, feeding people or running programs.

I need to get me one of these!

I need to get me one of these!

3. You’ll Want To Go Home, Often

Sometimes you wonder if the obstacles are worth it, wasn’t it much less complicated back home? Well, yes it was. Kenya is not impossible to live in it’s just very complicated. As a friend said to us in our early days “Living in Africa will show you what capacity you have on the inside” and I happen to think he’s very right.

It was much easier living in Australia. If we wanted to earn more money, we’d go paint a house. We understood the language. You could walk the streets at night and no problem. There were parks to play in that were free. If you wanted to go to church you had a Saturday night, Sunday morning and a Sunday night to choose from. The ocean was a 4 minute walk from our place.

There’s probably twice in the last couple of years when I’ve thought “Stick this, I don’t need this hassle, I’m heading home”, but for Pete it’s been quite often. He asked me the other day why we were here again. My simple answer is that God knew we were big enough to handle it.

 

 4. Set Work Boundaries

We’ve got plenty of friends who work in the same area as us, but with different organisations. All of us have the same problem – we struggle with work boundaries. I’ve a friend who gets paid for 2 days a week but often works for 5 ‘because they’re in need’. Our phones will often go off at 10pm. We’ve had one weekend off in the last 2 months. I’ve calculated we’ve had 5 days of actual holidays in the last 2 years. When we’ve travelled out of town or overseas, it’s all to do with work. That is really dumb.

This year I decided to work at the office until 1pm, have lunch and then do the rest of my work from home. In essence I can work anywhere in the world but feel obliged to turn up to prove I’m actually working. Between now and when we fly out to Australia in November I’m even taking an hour out in the middle of the day to get some exercise and sunshine.

Next year I’m even thinking of rehashing my working conditions by spending less time in the office and more in the field with people.

Learn to turn it off

Learn to turn it off

 5. Sign A Contract

Too many people come with good intentions which get squished out and changed to be not what they came for. I’ve friends in another country who came to work with orphaned children then after 8 months were dumped because the organisation didn’t want to make necessary changes for improvement. Another family came to build a school but wasn’t allowed any input into the long term planning of it. Others were having to give a certain percentage of their support money for the ‘privilege of volunteering’. Make sure the requirements are written down and everyone understands the small print, who pays what and what is expected. For some reason we do this in the business world, but not in development work. Go figure?

 

6. Do Your Homework Before Coming

We had been to Kenya 3 times before moving here. Most times we came for 2 months and travelled to neighbouring countries as well. However, there is a BIG difference between visiting and living somewhere. How basic everyday things are run is a huge task to learn. It took us 6 weeks to even begin to figure out directions and where things were. Unfortunately, people who have lived somewhere for a long time take everything they’ve learnt for granted. I remember getting pulled across the coals because we didn’t visit a person in hospital enough. Apparently here you drop everything and race off to visit someone, you also take fruit or juice. No one told us about that, and we didn’t even know how to get to the hospital.

An important thing to look into is getting a visa, owning land and traffic laws. Everything here takes a l-o-n-g time and it’s never straight forward. Join expat blogs before you come so you get an idea of how things work. Get Swahili apps on your phone. Use Google maps to see how far things are in distance. Learn some history of the place.

 

 7. Clothes Are Expensive Here

Of course, if you want to, you can buy cheap clothes at the local market. The one closest to us to called the Toi Market. There you can buy second hand clothes, sometimes new ones, which come from overseas. Pete gets a pair of new jeans for $10, guys are lucky, they know their sizes and can get it off the rack. Ladies, not so much.

The clothes at the mall are way overpriced. These are either imported (and thus have large tax) or top of the line. I envy Kenyans, they don’t have to worry about skin tones, they’ve all just got brown skin. They can wear really bright clothes and look awesome!

When we return to Australia we’re buying up big time, especially in the sock and undies department. I think we might even go with empty suitcases.

toi  8. People Won’t Listen To You

The number of people who won’t listen to you if frustrating to the max. I mean, what do we know, we actually live here and know how the system works. Visitors have wasted so much money because they JUST WON’T LISTEN. One friend was told by his travel agent that he would have to pay $50 more for an English speaking taxi driver. What a load of rubbish, English is one of the national languages here. Of course, he decided to ignore all of our advice and ended up paying thousands of dollars more than he needed to. We’ve had others who didn’t want our help (thank you very much), decided to do things their way and paid way too much for a vehicle hire and didn’t get to see the areas they really needed to.

And that’s just the visitors.

When you’re trying to bring in different ways of doing things, people will predominantly resort back to their ways. The proof of the success of your teaching is if they put it into practise when you’re not around. If 50% of it is done, that is pretty impressive. We’ll be gone for 8 weeks and it will be interesting to see what the state of things will be on our return.

 

 9. You’ll Spend A Lot More Time On A Computer Than You Ever Thought

There were 2 things I didn’t want to do when we came to Kenya – fundraising and sit in front of a computer a lot. Guess what, I’ve ended up doing both. It’s a necessary evil. Today someone said to me that they haven’t seen a newsletter for a while (it’s been a month). Flip my lid, I’m on Facebook every day, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and weekly blogs but it still doesn’t cover everyone. There’s marketing material to be designed, videos to create (and they take ages), grants to write and complicated emails to answer. It’s not unusual for me to be on a computer 8 – 12 hours a day.

man 10. It Just Might Be One Of The Best Moves You’ve Ever Made

When Africa gets under your skin, there’s nothing you can do about it. Sure, not everyone should be here long term, in fact, most shouldn’t. Whether you come for a short or long time, all that matters is that you’re doing what you should be doing. If you come with a flexible attitude, don’t always compare it to your home country and be in an attitude of learning, then you should be fine. I called the first year ‘Going back to school’. Every day and even parts of a day were a lesson.

What you will be surprised at is the number of things happening across the country and especially in Nairobi. There’s music festivals, fun runs, street performers, fashion shows, expos, conferences and more. You will meet some amazing people, fruit abounds year round and you’ll never get bored. You’ll notice there are lots and lots of nationalities, wildlife you’ll only read of in books and have experiences your friends will envy.

Africa, Kenya are places that will change you for the better. You’ll get a bigger world view. You’ll miss it when you leave.

sunIf you plan on coming for at least 2 years can I highly suggest that you don’t do anything for at least a month or two. Get to know the place, the people, directions and get your home set up. We get so passionate about helping people, we can hinder things by rushing in too fast. When we got here some of our team members were leaving and we were expected to take up the slack. I’ve heard of it happening lots in many projects and the newbies either sink or swim. Most of the time we didn’t have a clue that was going on and I remember every few days we were saying to each other “I don’t have a clue what I’m doing, I hope we’re doing okay”.

I Want To Help The Poor

Last week we had a friend from Australia come and visit for a few days before she moved on to look at other projects in Kenya.

She said something on the first day that I’ve heard many a time over the years “We’d better get busy, I’m here to help the poor.”

While I knew what she meant, it got me thinking about how we think about what we think helping others actually is.

In the West we have the mentality to put a band aid on something and walk away. Or, we write a cheque because it’s the easiest way for us to ‘deal with it’.

Not that there’s anything wrong with handing out money but is it really the answer?

Most weeks I get the privilege of going to the Kibera Slum. The reason I say privilege, is because as a white person by myself, it would be unwise and it wouldn’t be safe for me, but with one of our friends, I am fine. It’s not that they don’t like white people, but they’re over white people coming in buses, taking photos and leaving. They’re over white people telling them what to do.

They just want to get on with their lives and make the best of what’s been dealt to them.

I look at the slum of nearly a million people and how much money has been poured into that place over the years and wonder what impact it has made. And yet I see glimmers of hope.

 

How can we make a real impact on people:

1. Learn about the people you want to help

Do you remember their name or just their need? How can we tell people we care if we don’t know who we’re talking about? Our motto should always be ‘People matter most’. Leave the programs up to those living on the ground long term.

Ask people “What is your dream for your children?” They will be more than willing to tell you. For most it will be that they want their children to go to school and have a better life than what they did.

girlchild2. Learn their story

Everyone has a story but not everyone has a voice. Our job is to give them a platform to be heard.

When I lived in Sydney, Australia I was studying for my MBA and needed to go into the city to buy a $120 textbook for a subject. I was walking through an area called Martin Place at lunchtime and threw $5 into a bowl by a homeless lady who was sitting on the footpath. I went on my merry way and then this thought came to me ‘what a fat lot of difference that made’. I knew what I had to do. I went and bought my book, dropped into a friends million dollar jewellery store for a chat and went back to Martin Place. In my mind I was kind of hoping the lady was still there and then I didn’t. But when I saw her, I was relieved that she was.

I sat down with her and asked her story. There was a food cart across the street so I asked her if she wanted a Coke and chips, to which her answer was “No, just a bottle of water and a sandwich is fine.” I ended up buying as much as possible and sat back on the ground with her for a few more minutes. As a Jesus follower I asked if I could pray with her, which she allowed. Then I told her I had to go and catch a ferry to Manly. I walked away hoping that I gave her hope.

The gist of it is that I gave her a chance to tell about herself and I just had to listen – that was all.

home3. Link up with people working on the ground

When you come to a place like Africa all you will see are the things that need fixing – the roads, the electricity, the living conditions, the poverty. Plenty of people have walked in with pockets full of cash and gone home penniless. They give out money here and there. People’s stories will pull on your heart strings and you couldn’t imagine YOUR children living in some of these conditions. You’ll be shocked and want to give, give, give.

Can I suggest something. Give to organisations (never individuals) who have a good track record and can prove where the money goes. There is no harm in asking for copies of the receipts. Accountability is a good thing.

This week we gave a person we trust a small amount of money for some clothes for a young man. Even then, I asked if they could take a photo on their phone and to send it to me. It’s not because we don’t trust them, it’s because I want to use it to raise more money for more kids. Because we knew each other, we’d built this relationship, it wasn’t offensive.

Remember – the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

chocolate_pudding_s

4. Don’t make promises

When you see a great need it’s easy to get swept away in emotion, especially if there are young children involved. Too many people have come to Africa and said that when they return home they will do something to help. The truth is, when you get back home you hit the ground running and get caught up in every day life.

If you raise funds, that’s great. If you raise awareness that raises funds, even better.

poverty-in-africa5. Be rather than do

We tend to think that if we get in there and ‘fix it’ we’ve done our job. Sure, we can do it but what have we left the person with? Have we left them with a sense of value, belonging and that they are our equals? Or, do people just see dollar signs when they see us?

Play a game of soccer with the kids, have tea with the mamas, sit with people in their home, show them photos of your kids, be a friend.

basketball-children-africa

We always welcome visitors with open arms, but please, come to learn, then you will get everything out of your trip that is available. If you come to do, do, do, you’ll end up judging, frustrated and wonder what difference you’ve made.

Leave your chequebook at home. Then when you get back, you can give to one project that really touched your heart. Crumbs given out here and there don’t really impact much, but a larger one off donation can be utilised really well.