Grandparenting from Afar

When we moved to Kenya we never even had it in our minds that within a few short years we would have a grandchild on the scene. Why you always look forward to it, you’re never quite ready for it. When our daughter Hannah and her husband Luke told us that they were expecting their first baby, we didn’t actually believe them. It’s the type of prank our family would play on each other. So even when we got off the Skype call, we didn’t quite believe it.

But it was true, and in March this year Isabella Rose was born.

I felt very privileged to be there a couple of weeks before she arrived, was there for the birth and for a month afterwards. But then we had to leave to return back to Kenya. We saw Han and Izzy one more time when we were in Australia but after that we weren’t sure when we would see them face to face again.

It could be years.

baby-hand

We are now on a journey of being grandparents from a distance.

It’s a common occurrence in the world we live in for grandparents to be on one side of the world so how do we manage it and still build a relationship with the most precious gifts in the world?

 

  1. Don’t feel guilty

It’s hard not to be there for every moment of their lives. You feel bad for not being there for birthdays or Christmas and if you were there they wouldn’t have to go into daycare because you ‘could have’ helped out.

At the end of the day, you’ve got to realize that even if you moved back to the same country as them, they might up and leave to go somewhere else. So are you just going to jetset around the globe following them? You have chosen to live where you are and they where they are.

 

  1. Use the internet to your advantage

For us, Skype is one of the best inventions ever. We might only get to use it once a week, but the fact that we can, is the fantastic. I’ve asked Han for a photo or video every day of Izzy, and she’s pretty good at sending it on Facebook. Sometimes it’s a report on how she’s been sleeping, other times on how she’s going with feeding. Even the smallest message makes us feel involved with Izzy. At times I just get on my phone and video myself or put some toys in from of the phone and make up stories for her. This morning I got back from a run and put a 30 second video of me filling in Izzy on what was happening today. It’s no big deal, but it helps with me missing her so much.

 

  1. It’s not a competition

It’s hard when your daughter and grand daughter are surrounding by their in-laws who get to enjoy ‘your family’ on a daily basis. When you find out that your grand child has been spoilt with lots and lots of gifts and you can’t do that because you’re a missionary and don’t have money for such luxuries. It’s very easy to get jealous.

But it’s not a competition between them and you. Your grandchildren are not objects. You can’t buy love and the best thing you can do is give them time. Things break, the best investment you can make is time. Let them show you their homework, art, favourite toy and just chatting. Even taking the time for them to sing their favourite song or preparing for a presentation. The fact that you’re making time for them is the most important thing.

october-foot

  1. Make the most of holidays

If you can’t get to your grandkids, invest into them and fly them to you. When Izzy was born, I made the decision that I wanted to be back for her first birthday. I have no idea how I will find the money for the ticket, but it’s important to be there. Izzy won’t remember it, but for Hannah, she needs to know that she matters to us. It’s been a difficult journey for her because she hasn’t had her parents around. I’ve got expat friends whose grandkids come at least twice a year to visit them in Kenya. Others fly to their other home each year or meet up with their kids and grandkids in a mutual country for a few weeks.

One of the dangers of volunteering overseas is that when you return to your home country, you need to spend a lot of time fundraising and you don’t spend time with family. On our last trip we said we would take April off and have a break. But, because of school holidays, we actually had to do many presentations during April. However, we still made time for family, which was a first. For Hannah’s birthday and Mothers Day, we made sure we spent it with the kids.

You can’t get time back. Go and make some good memories.

 

  1. Learn to celebrate

Look at what you do have and not what you don’t. Make the most of birthdays and Christmas, not just with a card or gift, but with the phone calls and messages on social networks. I’m keeping every video and photo that Han is sending through for a project for Izzy’s first birthday. I’ve also got some creative ideas for gifts for Christmas. We’ve sent clothes through but judging sizes is always a hard thing. Sometimes we’ve ordered books online that our kids grew up with and sent them through. Because we live far from them, when I’ve returned, I’ve taken the toys that Han had when she was little. That way if anything untoward happened to us, at least she has memories of us. My grandmother gave me a porcelain love heart when I was small, so when Izzy was born, I gave that to her. It might not seem much right now, but I have nothing left from my mother, so it’s nice to leave something small with Izzy.

 

What have been some of your experiences of grand parenting from a distance?

october-disney

 

When You Have A Disability

This week I’m going to share what it’s been like for Liz while living here and also what it’s like for other kids in Kenya with disabilities.

Liz is classified as being mildly mentally disabled, along with speech and language disorders. That means she can’t produce sounds correctly and she has trouble sharing her thoughts, ideas and feelings. There’s no known cause and at this stage, we’re not worried about that as much as where we head to in the future. We tell people that Lizzie has Aspergers, because she strongly exhibits many of the characteristics of the spectrum.

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If you want some examples, she didn’t learn to do her shoe laces until she was about 17 and to this day doesn’t have the finger strength to do them tightly. Liz struggles when it comes to understanding her left and right. When talking with her, you will notice she won’t look you in the eye and sometimes blurts out something that has nothing at all to do with the general conversation.

When people look at Liz today they have no clue of her (or her familys) journey to get her to this point. The endless tests, reports, requests for assistance, occupational therapy, speech therapy, special needs classes – it goes on and on.

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There were two critical times in her life that deeply impacted us. The first one was when we were informed of her ‘condition’. We were distraught, and in those days there wasn’t as much information at hand (think pre-internet). The other time was when she was a teenager and could see her sister doing all the normal things teen do (get a job, have friends and a great social life). Liz was depressed for quite a few months and it was awful to go through. But go we did. With some help of some amazing youth leaders, life came back into Liz.

Then we moved to Kenya.

It’s not easy for a kid like Liz to make friends here. She likes to wear jeans and a tee shirt, and a tee shirt and jeans. If she has to wear a dress you think you were sentencing her to jail. She won’t ever be able to drive. It’s unsafe for her to catch public transport. She can’t get to youth events during the week because it’s a 90 minute drive each way.

And her volunteering options are slim.

For the past 4 years Liz has been helping at a pre-school about a 5 minute drive away. When we returned from travelling they said they wanted her back. One week in they said they didn’t need her any more. Let’s think about that one, you don’t want free labour????

liz-2

Now we’re in the very long process of trying to find somewhere else for Liz to volunteer. It’s hard to convince people that her amazing personality is a bonus to their workplace. Give Liz the same role day in, day out and she handles it really well. Okay, she’s not great in a crisis situation, but thankfully that doesn’t happen very often.

Last week we took Liz to Riding for the Disabled. I was hoping it could be something Liz could volunteer at. It was also something she went to when she was small so it was good to give back. The kids who came were from a special needs school run by the government. These were severely disabled kids. When they were carried off the bus, they had to wait their turn by being put in a car seat. To me most looked like they had cerebral palsy. The teachers were amazingly patient with them and everyone worked together to get the kids their turn on the horses.

When I look at them I worried about their future. Unless you have money here then kids like this will end up staying at home by themselves and maybe a neighbor coming by to give them some food while the parents are out looking for work. They will be neglected and end up with more health problems because of a lack of money. Some will end up being abandoned.

There’s no government support for them, nothing at all.

On the side of the road you’ll see the odd person in a wheelchair or placed on the ground to beg. On a couple of the roads blind people and their carers will be there with a cup in their hands asking for some change from drivers. For most families though, disabled children are ignored, not given hope, and alas they don’t have much of a future if you don’t have money.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting some compassionate people who are visionaries here in Kenya to transform the lives of children with disabilities. There’s a long way to go for these kids but at least it’s a start.

For Liz, her future is bright. I just hope the kids we see at places like RDA get the same chance.

liz

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.

tray

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.

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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.

han

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.

 

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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

 

 

 

It’s Going To Be An Interesting Year

2016 is in full swing. The schools are back here, Nairobi traffic has returned to its normal snail pace and for those who got away, their holiday is a mere memory.

Our Christmas was a non-event, we just ended up at a restaurant. Pete’s been  helping a mate, which means he was away from 6.30am until 8pm EVERY DAY, with the car. It has meant very long and lonely days when there’s nowhere to go and no car to get there.

Me – my computer and I spent lots of hours together getting ready for the year. Exciting, not.

I know I shouldn’t be complaining because it’s the only time in the whole year that I’ve had down time. But down time by yourself and all of your friends are out of town can be downright boring.

Now that Christmas and New Years is over I thought I would share on why this will be a very interesting year for us.

Our youngest daughter and her husband are expecting their first child (a girl) in March, however because she has gestational diabetes they may induce her early. I’ve been really honoured that she wants me in the delivery room with them. We’ve managed to scrap the funds together by selling off some old items and a friend gave us some money which meant I could get a ticket to New Zealand.

han

Liz has to return to Australia to keep getting her disability pension, but that’s not till the end of March. There’s no point in Pete staying behind by himself for months on end. We did that in 2014 for 7 weeks and it’s not much fun.

So we have a plan.

Pete will fly back with Liz and spend a week in Australia to meet up with some donors and help out an elderly couple of friends. If we can’t rent our apartment out we’ll put  our stuff in storage at our friends warehouse.

Because we’ll be gone until September.

What we’re going to do is take an absolute break in April. Usually when we go back we see our family for about one night. It’s shameful really but trying to catch up with everyone is near impossible.

For the next 8 weeks we will then be on the road speaking at schools, churches and Rotary Clubs. It’s also a great opportunity to meet with our personal supporters and try to raise more funds.

After NZ we pretty much do the same throughout Australia. At least New Zealand is small to get around, Australia takes a long time to get from A to B.

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I hope to be able to set up a charity in New Zealand and start a team there. We have lots of Kiwi connections and I believe we can really get something going well there.

We have a great team here in Nairobi. It’s all set up for them to take up the opportunity to show us what they’ve got.

I’m sure after 4 months on the road we’ll be glad to throw away the suitcases and head home to Kenya. I’m certainly not looking forward to our first winter in 4 years. But I am looking forward to raising funds for our projects.

Most of all I’m looking forward to seeing my daughter for the first time in 14 months and of course, cuddling our grand daughter.

I look forward to sharing our weekly updates with you. I hope if you are one of my readers that you’ll want to meet up with us while we’re in Australasia.

It will be weird though. When we went to the US last year everything was so foreign and I have a feeling that it will be the same when we head back home. So much has changed and so have we.

You can find our video announcement HERE

 

 

On Safari To The Ends Of The Earth

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

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

Pete with his first Burger King in 2 years.

Pete with his first Burger King in 2 years.

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

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

Dubai at night.

Dubai at night.

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

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

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

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

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

Once up, it’s down again pretty fast.

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

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

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

Some of the light show in Dubai.

Some of the light show in Dubai.

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

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

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

The sunrise coming into Melbourne.

The sunrise coming into Melbourne.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s over – for 7 weeks anyway!

The Road To Eldoret

On Monday we needed to go to Eldoret to take a dog to a new home, one of our students to his placement and also to look at one of our projects we did a couple of years ago.

While it seems straight forward, nothing here in Kenya is simple. Before we could go on our trip we had a meeting, which meant a pickup at the airport at 6.30am. Of course, the flight was delayed by 90 minutes. The only way to tell was because I could find it online. At the airport the only flights up on the screen were those from Kenya Airways and our guy was coming in on Jet Airways.

Us with Chege at Java

Us with Chege at Java

The plan was to go and have breakfast with a businessman to discuss whether a project we’re working on will be possible. But when we got there, plans had changed and we had a meeting and THEN the breakfast, at around 10am. We ended up going to a lovely hotel called Ole Sereni. Apparently this is where the US set up their embassy when theirs was bombed in 1998. It also backs onto the Nairobi National Park, although we didn’t see any animals!

We then had very little time to get our Aussie mate back to the airport for his ongoing flight. At JKIA security checks can take up to 30 minutes. You wait in your car, then you have to get out (except the driver), go line up (ladies with a female security guard), show your ID and then they pat you down to make sure you’re not carrying a bomb. Of course, they never check under the seats where you could easily hide a bomb.

Kiwi

Kiwi

The next part of our trip was to travel out to Kiserian where the training farm is that Pete assists with. It was the total opposite direction from where we wanted to end up but we had to go and pick up ‘Kiwi’ a dog who was travelling the 6 hours with us to Eldoret. We spent a whopping 15 minutes there before we started on our real trip.

It was just over an hour to Nairobi and by then I was snoozing and the dog was throwing up. I can do dislocations, broken bones and blood, but I don’t do vomit. When my kids chucked up Pete was on cleanup duty. Thankfully we always have baby wipes in the car.

Ninety minutes later we arrived in Naivasha to pick up the student. We then spent 45 minutes looking for him. There are no big meetup points in Naivasha. He told us to ‘meet him at the bridge’. Well, there are two bridges outside of Naivasha and he wasn’t at either. Eventually I sent him a text message to say if he wasn’t there in 10 minutes we were going without him. Surprise, surprise he turned up.

The toilet blocks we fundraised for

The toilet blocks we fundraised for

By then we were starving so only an hour later we stopped at Java House in Nakuru. Java is a place we go to in Nairobi for a small meal, it’s relatively cheap and the food tastes good. The student we were taking had never been there before in his life. For him, to spend $6 on a meal was not even thinkable. It was really nice to be able to take him out somewhere he’d never been before in a town only an hour from him, but he’d never had the money to travel there.

Our Golden Rule is that we don’t drive long distance at night – we broke it. The roads are too dangerous, the truck drivers crazy and it is just not a good idea. Thankfully Pete was driving but it was pretty stressful.

We left home at 6am and got to Eldoret at 9.15pm. Of course, we then went to a hotel for a cup of tea and our student got to order sausages and chips for the second time in the day. I think he thought he was in food heaven. It was midnight by the time we got to bed because we had to introduce Kiwi to the other dogs. He wasn’t going to have a bar of it and kept trying to jump back into the car. It was pretty sad really but after 30 minutes he was okay and locked into the garage.

 

Lizzie in filming mode

Lizzie in filming mode

The next morning Kiwi was best mates with the other two dogs. We headed into town to do some shopping for our student. I quite like country towns, they’re more intimate than Nairobi and a lot cheaper. Prices in Nairobi are sky rocketing but prices in Eldoret were awesome. We bought a few things for our student to help him set up his room. He won’t get paid for another month so needed some bits and pieces and food.

We really wanted to head out of Eldoret by 12. It wasn’t going to happen. Firstly we had to go to the farm to make sure everything was okay for our student. Next, we headed to the place we had done a toilet block project in. Sadly the kids were on holidays but we got lots of filming done for future videos. We were pretty pleased that 2 years later they were still in good condition. Just as well one was unlocked as we needed to use it.

Pete waiting for us to film

Pete waiting for us to film

The drive home was long, really long. We stopped off in Nakuru again, at Java again and headed back to Nairobi, again. By the time we got home we were all sick and tired of sitting down and over dodging in between trucks.

On the flip side we managed to pick up super cheap veges and fruit on the side of the road. I made sure we got lots of rhubarb to go into the freezer.

We were glad we got to go even though it was a really long trip. We got to see what our students need to start in a job. We could tell that our projects are still working. We got to give a dog a home.

 

 

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.

Honour Thy Father

Yesterday it was Father’s Day in lots of countries, including Kenya. Our youngest daughter lives in New Zealand and it doesn’t happen there until September.

So in honour of all dads (and single mums) I’m writing this blog, but especially in honour of Pete’s dad – Alvin Crean.

Dad is in hospital and we are all unsure of how much longer he’ll be with us. At 83 his heart is just holding on. It’s been a tough week for all of the family, we all knew it was going to happen but it doesn’t make it any easier.

It’s hit Pete really hard being so far away from everyone. The last time he saw his dad it was exactly 2 years ago. It was to say goodbye before we moved to Kenya. Pete knew it would be the last time he saw his dad, so it was extra special. Yesterday we did get to make him a video and then speak to him which was really good.

There’s some quite famous Creans across the world. One of them was Thomas Crean, an explorer that went to Antarctica with Ernest Shackleton. In fact this year there was a huge festival in his name held in Wellington, New Zealand. It looks like they originated from Ireland and made their way across the world.

The family crest

The family crest

There’s even a ‘Creans Road’ named after Pete’s grandad in Waihi.

roadIn 1960 Pete’s dad married his mum (Alma). She already had 4 children from her previous husband who had passed away. That’s a huge thing to take on 4 kids that aren’t your own. Then, Pete and his sister were taken in when their birth parents abandoned them. Pete and Dawn were just a toddler and a baby.

It takes a lot of courage to take on 6 children with none of them being biologically yours. It wasn’t always a peaceful household and Pete has lots of colourful stories about his upbringing.

Pete liked living where they did because their house was on the fenceline of the school. In fact, it was only a few years ago that his parents moved out of there to a more rural setting.

The Crean house in Tokoroa

The Crean house in Tokoroa

Our girls loved visiting their grandparents little lifestyle block. There were pigs, dogs, chickens and lots of parrots. Pete’s dad loves birds. Even now at 83 he keeps birds in the back yard. One of our regrets is that he didn’t get to come to Africa and see the amazing wildlife here. He would’ve really liked that.

One thing I really respect about Pete is that he honours his dad. He doesn’t agree with everything he did or said but the fact that he took in so many and provided for them and calls them ‘all of his kids’ says a lot. On our wedding day, 26 years ago, Pete made sure during the speeches that his parents were given the due respect and thanks. Although it’s a blended family I’ve never heard anyone say ‘step brother’, ‘step sister’ or his dad say ‘they’re not MY kids’.

December 1987

December 1987

Some handy things Pete’s dad has taught him (purposely or not):

  • Work hard/play hard
  • Provide for your family even if you have to get 2 or 3 jobs
  • Always be hospitable (be ready with that cup of tea)
  • Every kid is special, they are not an accident
  • Treat animals well
  • It’s okay to argue with your spouse but work it out cause you still have to live with them

Pete and his sisters at the bar

Pete and his sisters at the bar

Whether you’ve had a good relationship with your dad or a real crappy one, take whatever lessons you can and use them in your own family. We choose the environment we have within our family, we don’t have to repeat how we were brought up if we want it to be different.

family

Pete with Mum and Dad

The word ‘Crean’ means ‘heart’. I would say that my husband has learned through his life experiences to have a heart for people. He is compassionate and kind, especially to those who are downtrodden and rejected by society. He chooses to honour his parents through his lifestyle.Dad’s heart might not have much longer to keep beating but he can be assured that the hearts, thoughts and prayers of his family will be with him now and always.

 

 

 

Daughter of a Missionary

To be honest, when mum asked me to write this blog post it was just after I had a huge blowout at her about how much I dislike (to say the least) the fact that they live on the other side of the world and had given up their lives to help those in need. People often look at missionaries and volunteer workers and say how wonderful it is that they have given up their lives to help those in need and that it’s such a heroic act. It seems that people don’t often think of the practical things like the sacrifice the rest of their family makes for this to happen. When mum and dad told me that they had decided to move to Kenya I thought that it was a “nice idea” for them to do something different. I had lived overseas before and knew that I would survive without them. But not long after they left for Kenya I felt like my right arm was chopped off. I think this was because I knew they weren’t coming back easily. After a few months of them being over in Kenya I was struggling a lot and decided to move back to New Zealand where all my extended family are.

all of us

This was taken one week before my parents and sister left for Africa in 2012.

Here are 5 things I have learned over the past year and a half:

  1. You’re allowed to miss them

I miss the daddy daughter coffee dates, the ability to live at home (DON’T UNDERESTIMATE THE AWESOMENESS OF BEING ABLE TO LIVE AT HOME! Seriously though, I miss it quite a lot and wish I hadn’t taken it for granted), the painful but great back and neck massages mum gives, the long walks on the beach talking about life with my parents, family outings, special moments with my sister (which were few and far between since we were always arguing), and the list goes on. At first I felt guilty that I missed them because they were doing “such an amazing thing” but then came to realise that it’s my right as their daughter to say I miss them.

  1. Most people don’t understand

No one tells you how empty life can be without family. No one tells you how hard it is to organise skype dates between different time zones. No one tells you how scary it is when you hear of bombings and disasters that are just around the corner from where you know your parents are. The matter of the fact is no one tells you because no one really knows until you’re in the same situation. I don’t actually know anyone else who is a missionary’s kid.

Dad's 3 girls. Not sure how he puts up with us!

Dad’s 3 girls. Not sure how he puts up with us!

  1. Your parents are irreplaceable

The other week I was thinking about the future. What is going to happen when I get married one day? Is my dad going to be able to afford to come to my wedding and walk me down the isle? (He has no option; he’s going to be there whether he likes it or not thank you very much!) When I have my first child is my mum going to be able to be there to hold my hand through the ordeal? How often will they be able to see their grandkids? I don’t want my kids to miss out on having their crazy Crean grandparents around. There is no one who can ever replace my parents in those moments.

  1. Make “other family”

Throughout my life when travelling I have learnt to make other people my “other family” when mine aren’t around. Since living in New Zealand I have somehow managed to find Luke, my prince charming. (Awww!) His family, the Rutlands, have become my family, not because its kind of what happens when you get in a relationship, but because I chose for them to be. His dad, Andrew, takes me for driving lessons, makes me laugh, and gives me great advice. His mum, Sharon, (it’s a weird coincidence that our mums have the same name…) takes me for coffee, gives me hugs and talks with me about life. His sisters, Amy and Hannah, (another weird name coincidence which gets very, VERY confusing) have become my other sisters whom I can laugh with, argue with and cause mischief with. And his gran is one of the coolest gran’s around! I couldn’t do life here without them. I can’t say thank you enough to them for being so supportive and loving me like their own.

Mum and I Skype each week and we message each other all the time.

Mum and I Skype each week and we message each other all the time.

  1. Accept the fact that there is no such thing as normal anymore

As a missionaries kid you have to learn to modify your thinking of the basic things. What do you do at Christmas time, Fathers Day, Mothers Day, your birthday? Who do you spend those days with? Everyone else has his or her families.

The 4 of us in the US. I left them to come back to Aussie. They went to Kenya.

The 4 of us in the US. I left them to come back to Aussie. They went to Kenya.

I’ll tell you a secret: every other day I feel like calling my parents and telling them that I hate the fact that they chose to live in Kenya and that they should come back and live close to me. But I know deep down that this is what my parents are called to do. I know they wouldn’t be happy just living a “normal” life in Australia or New Zealand. And even though most of the time it sucks not having a normal family, I am really proud and glad that they are doing what they love.

This is us on top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii before I went to school there.

This is us on top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii before I went to school there.