How To Plan Your Trip

Preparation is the name of the game. You can’t go to a foreign country and expect it to be like your home. That would be boring to travel somewhere and it’s exactly the same as what you left.

 

So here’s some things to consider:

  1. Decide how long you can afford to be away from home for.

10 days is an ideal time for a short trip, 6 weeks at the most. Do you really want to use all of your annual holidays in one block? That makes it a really long year! If you can, ask your boss for time without pay if you want a really extended holiday. Most businesses are really good on this one if you’ve proven yourself a good employee. Ten days should be your minimum time away. Allow one day each way for travel and that’s not  much time to see everything you want.

 

  1. Decide what you want to do and where you want to go.

Get it in your head that you can’t do everything you want in one trip. Write out your bucket list and make these a priority for your trip. You don’t want to come back so totally exhausted, but you do want to come back with some awesome memories. Plan out beforehand what is most important to you and go do these.

 

  1. Budget

Remember that your biggest expenses besides the flight will be accommodation and food. Places like Indonesia and Bali have cheap food, but most places are quite expensive to eat at. Try getting public transport over hiring a car if you can, as hiring is quite expensive. Always put insurance in your budget. I cannot over emphasize how important it is to get insurance. While it’s a huge investment, it’s better than getting a bill for a million dollars if you have a heart attack in the US.

 

  1. Save

Set up an account that you absolutely refuse to touch, which is specifically for your travel expenses. You are better to save rather than put everything on a credit card and spend the next year paying off, with huge interest attached to it. You might have to give up extras like buying the latest clothes, music, going to the movies or eating out as much as you would like. You need to sacrifice to get what you really want.

 

  1. Search Engines

To save yourself lots of time use travel search engines such as Webjet, Skyscanner, Travelstart just to name a few. When you find the flight/s your happy with, go directly to the airline website as sometimes it is cheaper and you can save on card fees. Join their frequent flyer clubs and sign up for specials. That way you get points for flying and can use these for reduced flight costs. While it may be a pain getting endless emails, there’s nothing like a delete button! When you accrue enough points you can get extra services and lounge entries as part of the deal.

Once you start saving and searching, you’ll start dreaming about the endless possibilities for your trip. Forty years ago I did a study on the Manyatta of Kenya and who would’ve thought I now live here. A dream has to start somewhere.

 

What are your best tips for travel preparation?

We’re Not In Kansas Any More Toto

The enormity of what we are undertaking this year is really sinking in now. Who in their right mind would spend 6 months away from Kenya and try and raise $50,000 for projects as well as double their own personal income? The itinerary is always evolving and there are lots of variables to work with that complicate it. It’s an insane plan and I sure hope it pays off.

So here we are, in our country of birth (New Zealand), total strangers to the system, language, food and culture. Google maps confuses me as it says the names of the roads in an odd accent and isn’t helping me pronounce Maori words.

You would think that after 6 weeks I would’ve become accustomed to things here. Actually, I’m better than Pete and Liz who’ve only just arrived. I feel sorry for them because I understand what a head spin it is being here.  nz

The Driving

People indicate! Wow, what an experience. Everyone here complains about how bad the traffic is. Ha, if they only knew what it could really be like. I have to admit that it gets frustrating having to wait for the traffic lights to change, it seems like forever. I don’t like driving at night but here I’ve done it a few times and because of the overhead lights and reflector lights on the roads, it is no effort.

 

Food

The variety of food here is AMAZING! I can even get gluten free food wherever I go. However, there is lots of food we shouldn’t be eating because of the sugar levels. Fruit is fairly expensive and when you pay 10 times the amount for a smaller avocado, it does your head in. For the first time in about 6 years we’ve had fejoas, which is phenomenal. The problem is that we are here for a few months and because of the good food, we’ve all put on weight already.

 

Language

I’ve never heard so many ‘sweet as’ and ‘sure bro’ in one conversation. Even coming from people serving at a counter, the answer always seems to be ‘sweet as’. I suppose it’s better than saying ‘cool’ after every conversation. Kiwis say a lot of ‘aye’ at the end of their sentences. Pete’s picked it up so that just about every sentence finishes with ‘aye’ and it drives me up the wall. I hope it’s something he can wean off when we leave.

 

Shopping

The sales here are phenomenal. Whenever we come out of Kenya, we always have a shopping list ready to go. Things in Kenya are very expensive and we know that places like NZ and Aussie have great sales. In Kenya it’s a sale if there is 1 or 2 percent discount. I picked up a frying pan that had 50% off, now that’s a sale. Unfortunately we couldn’t find many summer clothes to take home because it’s all about winter here now. However, after a few weeks I’m a bit tired of trailing the malls for a good deal. All we seem to have done is see the inside of the car, the inside of a meeting room and the inside of a mall.

 

The Reverse Culture Shock will pass, but it might take some time. How did you cope when moving to another country?

The Medical Gap

As pretty much the entire universe knows, our youngest daughter gave birth to the most perfect baby girl on Wednesday. But it hasn’t been without its dramas.

Hannah has had gestational diabetes throughout her pregnancy. That means she has had to cut out sugar, reduce her carbs and test her insulin levels 5 times a day. There’s extra scans and monitoring baby growth closer.

Baby had been super active in the womb and it was all looking good that the doctors had decided to let Hannah go right up to the 40 week mark, where originally they were going to induce her at 38 weeks.

And then baby stopped moving.

This was one of those events that stops your heartbeat. I suggested to Hannah to call the midwife whose care she was under, who said we should immediately go to the hospital. Luke (Hannah’s husband) drove pretty determinedly but there was this heavy silence in the car. No waiting, they saw us straight away. The relief experienced when we heard the heartbeat was huge. They decided to keep her in anyway.

Although baby’s heartbeat was good, the doctors had decided to induce baby on the Tuesday night. Not sure why they chose nighttime as the morning seemed a much better idea to me.

babe

I was really impressed with the staff, the quality of care but mostly the concern for baby and mother. The resources and technology are amazing, way better than when I had my kids 25 years ago.

Of course, it all got me thinking about the huge gap between what is available here and that in developing countries. I’ve friends in Kenya who have had babies and it’s a whole different world there.

 

  1. The God Factor

I call it this, because there tends to be a thinking in East Africa from people in certain positions – medical staff, police, teachers – which says ‘Don’t you know who I am, I must be obeyed without questions at all times’.

Kenya: You would never dare question what the doctor says and you simply don’t ask.

NZ: They give you informed options and don’t flinch if you question them ‘why’ or ‘could we try this’.

hospital 2

  1. The Price

Kenya: While there is a policy of free maternity care, practically it’s not so. You need to pay for services like scans. I’ve close friends who didn’t have the $30 for a scan and had a breach baby who died 20 minutes after birth because of complications. The emergency cesarean section would’ve saved his life but that was around $800. They only earn $200 a month. You need to take everything in with you to hospital.

NZ: Every single thing is free. Food, personal bathrooms, sanitary products, scans, hospital stay, sheets, pillows and even free wifi.

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We met a young 18 year old who had been raped and become pregnant. We arrived on the day she gave birth to her son. She was not allowed to leave hospital because her family did not have the funds for payment. Every day she stayed the debt was accruing. No doubt the family had to borrow money to get the girl home.

 

  1. Rooms

Kenya: Don’t be surprised if you are sharing a room with 8 other women. Imagine a metre between your bed and the next. Babies are often kept in a nursery, except for feeding.

NZ: While there’s the odd room that will have 4 beds in it, most are single or doubles. Baby is in your sight at all times, in a plastic bassinet beside you.

hospital 1

  1. The Birth

Kenya: I’ve yet to meet a Kenyan man who has been in the birthing room. It’s just not done any other way. In rural areas it’s older women who assist.

NZ: At the hospital our daughter went to, you could have as many support people as possible. In the birthing unit you could have two.

Nairobi has a few really good hospitals, so if you can afford to go to them you do. One is notorious for bad after birth care, but people go there because it’s free.

Our close friends whose baby died not long after a breach birth were forced to go to one such hospital. She should’ve had a c-section but the staff said to her that the lines to the theatre were long and ‘she carried small so she should deliver okay’. Of course, as in Kenyan culture, the dad went home (by public transport) but was called back because something was wrong. When he got there he was told his son had died. He never got to hold him because there was ‘confusion’ to the whereabouts of his sons’ body. He was told it was in the morgue, went there and they said to him he was on the ward. Went to the ward and was told he was in the morgue. What the attendants really wanted was bribe money. A terrible experience to an unnecessary tragedy.

Of course, if you have money, nothing is a worry. I’ve friends who’ve been in birthing centres in Nairobi and loved it. I’ve also known people who travel for half an hour on a motorbike to a rural clinic to give birth, all by themselves.

I applaud the work of Kenya’s First Lady – Mrs. Margaret Kenyatta in creating Beyond Zero which aims to improve maternal health. She is using her position to bring about awareness and change in a much needed area.

Me, one of my goals to is ensure that remote medical clinics have access to water, latrines and hand washing facilities. It’s high on our 3 year goal.

bed

Every life is precious no matter where they are born. For me, I’m getting to enjoy my short time with Isabella Rose and find inspiration every time I look at her to help other children across East Africa have a great start in life.

drugs

 

 

 

 

When We Return Home

It feels weird to say I’m going home, because Kenya is home for us and the thought of leaving it for 6 months just breaks my heart. I definitely want to be with our daughter Hannah for the arrival of our first grandbaby but leaving Nairobi, everyone close to us and the familiarity of home weighs heavy on me.

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Hannah is ready to go!

I thought I would write about how YOU can help others like me who return to their home land, even though it is foreign for us. You see we often don’t understand the language, culture, politics and general day to day procedures in our homeland

To me, home is where my heart is at that time and especially where I am with my husband. While were living in Australia that was definitely home. I’ve returned a few times since being on assignment in Kenya and now I feel uncomfortable there. I’ve had several friends move back permanently to their homelands and I’ve asked them how long it took for them to adjust and they all say at least 8 weeks. I can identify with this as we spent 6 weeks in the States last year and it got quite comfortable by the end of the trip.

 

Sharon’s Tips:

  1. Give us time.

Homecomers (HC) usually travel a long way to get back. For me it was more than 30 hours in transit, that’s a really long time. I have done longer but on my ticket I had to be back in New Zealand by a certain date. It can take up to a week to get over jetlag.

Besides that though there are often things HC have to deal with. Organising bank accounts, health checks, drivers licenses and buying appropriate clothes for the local scene. And of course, you have to figure out how to get from A to B to do those things. We only hold Kenyan drivers licenses but it looks like we have to re-sit everything to get our New Zealand ones. That means I have to spend time studying, making sure I get my crazy driving ways out of my system and get to obey the laws here.

While it’s great to catch up with everyone, we come with a priority. For me, it was our daughter. For others it may be relocating back permanently or sorting out family issues. I had lots of people sending me messages and requests for catch ups and I’d only been in the country for 24 hours. It was all a bit much when what I really wanted to do was to just sit down after more than 3 years and watch a movie with my daughter.

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Just after landing

 

  1. Don’t assume.

A really hard things is that people assume that you know people, politics, current affairs and where to go for something. While we get a lot of news online, it’s just one of many things our brains are taking in. Our main focus is on the foreign country where we are based, not our homeland. Yes we attend events at embassies but that is to catch up with people of the same nationality and relax for a night. We know who our ambassador or high commissioner are but we don’t know who the MP is in the suburb we used to live in.

 

I haven’t lived in NZ for 15 years, it’s pretty much ALL foreign to me.

 

  1. Realise we are in two minds/hearts.

While we want to be with our families in times of need, we also have a new family in our foreign country. We have a new set of friends there, a new way of living, a new reality. We adjust.

When we return to our homeland we are torn in two. While we try to adjust here, our thoughts are with what is happening in the country we’ve just left. Today is the 2nd birthday of Alisa, our friends daughter. Tomorrow a group of friends will be going to their house for her party. We gave a gift to be unwrapped then but we will miss out on all of the fun. You can’t help but think about it, yet you wouldn’t be anywhere else right now.

Some people are forced to come back to their homeland as their visa might have run out, or there are family matters to attend to. Some have HAD to return for their kids. It’s very expensive to fly your whole family back so many have to decide who gets to return every now and then to the foreign country.

 

kids

At the beach for the first time in over a year

  1. Invite us home.

We find that people like to meet up for coffee or take us out for meals. While that’s great try and see it from our viewpoint. It costs at least double to go to a restaurant and we often think in our minds ‘I could take that extra $70 and put a kid through school for a couple of months’. Do that 20 times and you see a number of children’s faces or the local street children who could actually be getting educated rather than begging, or worse.

We come out for a couple of months at a time but hardly ever get invited into peoples homes. When you’re out speaking/fundraising you get tired of seeing the inside of buildings, offices and meeting rooms. You’re presenting non-stop about your cause, which you are passionate about, and you don’t get ‘down time’. Last time I was on tour I just got my feet wet in the ocean and my daughter said “Mum, your next appointment is early”. 30 seconds is all I got – our ocean is a 9 hour drive away.

 

Give us an option of where to meet.

 

  1. Support us.

It’s VERY expensive to travel to our homeland. It’s the number one reason we don’t return more often. Many of us rely on personal donors to keep us in the field. Some people just stop supporting because they think that the money isn’t needed any more. Often it’s the opposite. Many times things like eating out are cheaper overseas but that’s about it. If you’re going to stop financially supporting someone, at least write them an email explaining it.

 

  1. We still have a job to do.

When we are in New Zealand and Australia this year we are travelling to schools and Rotary clubs to try and raise project funds. It’s certainly no holiday when you return, even though people think so. There’s lots of emails, contacting your team back in the foreign country, making sure there’s funds for projects, visiting people here, grant writing, setting up legal entities and more. You are also working across time zones to balance everything out.

Work does not stop just because you’re in a different geographical place. It’s hard because you want to spend time with everyone but need to keep working. My brother asked what I’m up to while here and I really couldn’t be bothered trying to explain that I’m working because he just wouldn’t get it.

To me a holiday is hanging at the beach with the family, everyone off their phones and out playing games. This trip is so not a holiday. We need to quadruple our personal support level to be able to return to the work we do. Money does not automatically come in and it takes a lot of arm twisting to convince people to part with their hard earned dollars.

me

 

 

 

The Challenge of Exercising in Nairobi

Nairobi is not the easiest place to keep fit. There are lots of gyms popping up but there are very few places you can get out in the fresh air. We have Karura Forest which you can walk or run through, for us it’s a 30 minute drive away. If you’re into tennis there’s a number of courts to hire. Some people risk their lives biking. I think Nairobi has one actually hockey field but it’s under construction. We have the only ice skating rink in East Africa and costs $10 for a one hour session.

 

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My faithful runners have kept me going for 5 years

So there’s not a lack of variety of things to do, you just need to have the budget and time to drive to where you need to go. Liz plays soccer (we call it football here) on Saturday mornings and she’s just discovered volleyball on Friday nights.

For me I like to run.

I like getting out there as soon as the sun rises and it’s safe to be out there by myself. This means the earliest I can go is 7am. Because we’re close to the Equator the sun starts rising at 6.30am, every day and it’s pitch dark by 7pm.

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Normal 7am traffic

I’ve never been a fast runner, in fact it’s probably more jogging than running. I’ve dubbed it my ‘granny shuffle’.

It’s not exactly easy to run here though. Hundreds of people are walking on the side of the road to get to work. 85% of Nairobians rely on public transport. That means they walk as far as possible to reach a bus to take them to work. The average person spends 1 – 2 hours each way to work. That means I have to run in between people, and most don’t move over.

There are very little footpaths in our area. You simply walk on a dirt track on the side of the road. More footpaths are being built which is great, but not around us. I try and run on the road when it’s clear but with the condensed traffic it doesn’t happen much. Some idiot on a local building site decided to put the broken tiles and bricks into a shallow ditch that suffices as a path. It’s really dangerous whether you are walking or running. It’s easy to twist an ankle.

 

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The ‘footpath’

Buses are my biggest annoyance. The other morning there were 3 school buses outside our compound picking up school kids. The blocked the whole road and don’t care about pedestrians. Just up the road a bus pulled up in front of me and parked up on the only footpath we have. There’s plenty of private schools in the area and kids are picked up from 6am onwards. It’s sad to see the little preschoolers being picked up super early and then they get dropped off at 5pm.

Between the traffic, dirt tracks and people it’s a real challenge to even want to get out there.

However, I’ve found a secret place.

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A 5 minute walk from our house is a gated community full of huge houses hidden behind large fences and security guards. Pete tells me there are a few politicians living there which explains the niceness of it all. Only residents can drive in there, there’s painted lines on the road and there are no potholes at all. In fact you don’t feel like you’re in Nairobi at all.

Running along there with the beautiful green trees, no noise (except the guard dogs) is just serene.

 

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The entrance into the gated community

Over the last couple of months of exercising there I’ve seen the regulars and spotted the new ones out there either walking or pounding the pavement. There’s even a small fitness group with a personal trainer that meets a few times a week.

 

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A little slice of heaven

We move out of our place at the end of the month and I often wonder if we will get an apartment in the same area when I return in September. If not, then I’m going to have to start finding a safe running area all over again. This one took me 2 years to find this one, I wonder how long it will take to find the next one.

 

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How red I get at the end of it all

Coming Home

I once asked some friends who were returning to Australia after two years of volunteering in Tanzania “How long do you think it will take you to get used to being there?” Their answer was a couple of months.

After spending 6 weeks in the US, I can verify that answer. We were just getting used to the conveniences of life and how things worked in another world.

But now we’ve returned home.

Home is where the majority of my family is. Hannah is with her husband Luke in New Zealand, awaiting the birth of their first child next year. That leaves Pete, Liz and I.

home

We were all a bit anxious about returning because we knew what we were heading into. It will be home for a few more years. We were looking forward to a more familiar world and definitely not living out of a suitcase.

Home, a 4 letter word that means so much more than that.

Our first morning here was interesting. None of our showerheads were working, so I ended up having a bucket shower. One where you fill a bucket with boiled water and pretty much pour it over yourself a few times. I realized afterwards that I had forgotten to pull out the tap so water came out of the showerhead.

shower

We thought our internet had pretty good speed, until we went overseas. Now it feels painstakingly slow. It’s way better than dialup but also much slower than what we experienced in the US.

Coming home meant unpacking an entire houselot of furniture from a spare room. Because the floors had been sanded and repolished all of the cupboards were full of red dust. You could tell that the workers had thumbed through our clothes hanging up because their fingerprints were all over the place. We also discovered they had stolen our very good iron and used our TV stand as a ladder. We knew because there was paint all over it. To say we weren’t happy campers is an understatement. And this was just Monday.

Of course, you can’t live in their world any more without the internet, but guess what wasn’t working when we returned? This meant trips down to the mall to visit our friendly staff at Zuku who worked it all out for us.

Jetlag, unpacking, buying food, meetings on day 3, all were a bit much. Before Liz headed off to volunteer at her preschool I insisted that she put up the Christmas tree to keep her busy. Liz had absolutely no worries about jetlag. She slept like a baby, while Pete and I got about 2 hours sleep and stayed awake the remainder of the night. We’ve never had such jetlag in our entire lives, and we’ve done a lot of travelling. It took an entire week to get back to normal.

Coming home also meant that we were broke.

We stayed two weeks too long on our trip. While we had a couple of schools in that time, it really put the financial pressure on us. We didn’t realize how expensive the US was going to be for public transport and food. We stretched ourselves way further than ever before. We don’t have a credit card to fall back on, no savings that we could dig into. What we had is what we had and with the fall in the Aussie dollar there wasn’t much bang for your buck.

dollar

Coming home meant coming back to very little freedom. This has been my biggest challenge to date. No more walking around at night. Always having our bags and cars checked at church and shopping malls. Having to take off my jewellery before walking out in public. Locking the metal gate and door every time you step out, even to get rid of the garbage.

The loss of freedom is something I haven’t got used to. A friend who lives here but is in New Zealand over the Christmas break, couldn’t help but send me a post of Facebook post to say she had just walked home at 10pm at night. I miss freedom.

But – this is home.

 

 

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Raising a Special Needs Child

I thought for something quite different I’d give an insight on what it’s been like for us to raise a child with special needs. We are very blessed because Liz has a mild disability so I don’t know what it’s like to have a child in the severe category but I figure we all go through the same emotions and similar challenges.

When Liz was born on December 31st 1989 we had no idea of the journey ahead of us. She was your typical baby and loved being handled by people. She crawled at 11 months, walked at 12. She got out of day and night nappies when she was just over 3, thanks to her Aunty Celline who had her for that week. But she didn’t speak. As she got older she didn’t like physical touch.

At 3 when the adventures begin.

At 3 when the adventures begin.

I always had this dream of walking with my daughter, holding her hand and enjoying hanging out. I had to wait 16 years for that to happen.

Liz was just over the age of 3 and I noticed there was something ‘different’ about her. Her speech hadn’t developed beyond one word answers. Her younger sister was more advanced than her in many ways and she is 16 months younger. Liz didn’t want to be cuddled and was happy just to go through life at a slower pace. I tried to give Pete hints that I thought something might be not right and he just shook it off. When he was young Pete struggled academically, had some home challenges and is severely dyslexic. No way did his daughter have any issues!

Pete and I went to India for 3 weeks while the girls stayed with my sister. Unfortunately they both got chickenpox so she was very happy to hand them back at the end of it all! It was then that our pastors approached us and said we should get Liz checked out as she wasn’t at the same level as her peers. So off to our GP we went.

One of my most favourite shots of Liz.

One of my most favourite shots of Liz.

He put us on to Jeanette Van Der Wal, a speech therapist. She was at the same therapy centre that Pete went to when he was a kid.

Liz started speech therapy with Jeanette pretty much straight after visiting our doctor. Her first goal was to put 2 words together.

Two.

Our lives have never been the same since.

For the next few years there were visits to child psychologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, blood tests, tests for her mental status and surgery. There’s the interdisciplinary report, Fragile X testing, the CELF-3 test, the non-verbal assessment etc. Every time you walk away feeling drained and that it’s your fault. There’s a whole new language you have to learn to be in synch with what the specialists are saying.

This kid has traveled the world.

This kid has traveled the world.

We were always being asked for descriptions of the pregnancy, the birth, her milestones and her sleeping patterns. Liz went through so many tests over the years she knew how to do them by rote. I remember once she said she had already done a particular one and wasn’t prepared to do it again.

She’s one smart cookie.

No one ever labeled Liz, especially Jeanette. She didn’t want Liz to be put into a box because we would lower our expectations. It was the best thing she ever did and we are forever grateful. If we knew of Lizzies label earlier we probably would’ve gone soft on her. Instead we treated her as normal as her sister.

In some ways she got extras like going to Riding For The Disabled. It is a brilliant setup and Lyn who still runs it to this day helped build confidence in Liz. She taught Liz sign language and didn’t let her cut corners. To this day, Liz is great with horses.

She might live in the city but she's a country kid at heart. And has no fashion sense.

She might live in the city but she’s a country kid at heart. And has no fashion sense.

One day a specialist just let it roll off his tongue that Liz was considered mentally disabled but in the mild region. We were devastated as we’d never thought of her in that way. We had a disabled child.

So – we went back to Jeanette. I remember her saying that was the reason why she never labeled Liz, because we would see her differently.

But Liz is different.

She can’t spell for peanuts, her speech gets unclear, her co-ordination leaves a lot to be desired and she just doesn’t get social cues, which are so embarassing. There’s things she had to learn to do – like buttons. Liz was 16 before she could do up her laces.

Don McDonell, one of Lizzies heroes. He always sees the best in her.

Don McDonell, one of Lizzies heroes. He always sees the best in her.

People made huge judgment calls as to why she was the way she was.

That’s a hard one. Super spiritual people tried to cast demons out of her, some said it was because we were ‘too busy serving the Lord’, others were just jerks. In the Church the answer was ‘just pray and God would fix it’. What if God doesn’t see anything wrong with someone having a few extra needs, after all, we’ve all got them?

Being different is okay, that is until you realize you’re different.

It wasn’t until she was in her late teens she understood how different she was. Her sister had lots of friends, was a main vocalist at youth group and held an after school job. Liz felt she was a nobody – invisible. And she was right, because nobody wants to give someone different a chance. They make us feel uncomfortable because they’re not ‘normal’. There was a time that I could see a bit of her dying on the inside day by day. She started emotionally shutting down, actually I saw her getting depressed.

On the day Liz became a deacon at church.

On the day Liz became a deacon at church.

And then there was the change.

Pete talked with Kerry Robertson, one of the youth pastors and explained the situation. Just one person can make a change and it was Kerry who did it for Liz. He asked her to be a photographer at their events. Liz became a new person. She wanted to go to youth group, she became very good at taking photos. Even now she gets unique perspectives when photographing.

Remember, this is a kid who was told of all the things she couldn’t do. Couldn’t play sport – she plays hockey and soccer. She couldn’t do anything with fine motor skills – she loves to play the drums. She shouldn’t be able to hold a camera long enough to get good photos – yet she does. She couldn’t hold a fulltime job – but she does. Okay, she volunteers at a preschool, but it still counts.

She joined the serving team at church and was the youngest deacon ever to be allowed. She found her place of belonging. She inherited a small team of people that treated her as a human being.

At her farewell. Liz served on this team for 10 years.

At her farewell. Liz served on this team for 10 years.

Yes, Liz has a mild mental disability. She is dyslexic and her speech is not clear. Liz exhibits all the signs of having Apsergers Syndrome, so that’s what we say to people. We never say ‘she has a mental disability’. Considering we only use a small portion of our brains, I figure we all have a way to go to getting to our potential.

But she is a great kid with the best personality.

Both our girls graduated from high school - something their parents didn't do.

Both our girls graduated from high school – something their parents didn’t do.

I’m the first to admit that it hasn’t been an easy journey. Did I do something wrong during pregnancy, is it genetic? The nagging questions don’t go away because sometimes there isn’t any easy answer.

Looking back now I wish I had handled Lizzies schooling better. She wasn’t ready to learn at 5, 6 or 7. Liz was ready at about 8 years of age, but of course I felt pressured by society to ‘make this girl learn’. Liz doesn’t learn from a book, she learns from experience. It takes her a long time to get the information from short term to the long term memory, unless it’s an experience. We call her our human GPS.

Liz is so generous, she paid our flights to the US for our final family holiday.

Liz is so generous, she paid our flights to the US for our final family holiday.

Liz likes having a routine, she struggles when there are changes – big time. Now, she can fly back to Australia but she HAS to have an excel sheet with every detail of her trip. Every day her routine is pretty much the same.

And yet, she’s up for an adventure. Every day she goes to work on a motorbike (as a passenger). When we talked about going to South Sudan or spending a year driving around Africa – she was in for it.

Liz is now 25. I can’t imagine what she would be like if she were ‘normal’ because she is the way we’ve always known her. Liz will always be dependent on someone to help her through life. We don’t think she’ll ever live independently, she will always need support. We’ve had to make backup plans if something happens to us here in Africa. We’ve got friends that will oversee the selling of things and getting her back to my sister in New Zealand. Liz is hopeless with money and doesn’t understand the value of it. That’s why I control her bank account. Although she’s 25 in many ways she behaves like a person in their early teens.

Our children, the best investment we've ever made.

Our children, the best investment we’ve ever made.

Life is not easy for Liz, but her amazing attitude gets her a long way. Most people know ‘there’s something not right’ about her but can’t quite put their finger on it.

Liz is different and I’m glad she is who she is.

I’m also glad she got to grow up in New Zealand with the great services they have there. Unfortunately, here in Kenya there’s not a lot for special needs kids, unless you have a lot of money. I’ve taken what we’ve learned with Liz and will help as many kids as possible over here. Kenya has a long way to go in its services for disabled people and I would say it’s the same across East Africa.

I hope I can help kids and their families in the same way we were helped and with the same compassion and grace we were given.

Here is Lizzies first speech therapy workbook.

Here is Lizzies first speech therapy workbook.

Thank you to the people who have done life with us and Liz – you’re amazing.

And thank you Liz for teaching us patience, forgiveness, grace, long suffering but most of all how to rejoice. I remember the day you first said the three most important words ‘I love you’. I was hanging out the laundry and you were playing in your garden. It’s burned in my memory forever.

Now that’s priceless.

3 creanies