White People!

A few weeks ago I was talking with someone back in our home country who was trying to help out a friend who was travelling to East Africa to volunteer for a couple of weeks. This person had been before, for a few months so had a small insight into some of the challenges visitors have. No matter what she said, the other person was ‘I know, I know’ even though they had no clue what they were letting themselves in for. My friend said in exasperation “White people!” (she is white herself).

I just laughed as those two words sums up the frustration many of us have with visitors.

 

It doesn’t matter how many books you read or movies you watch, you just ‘don’t get it’ until you spend some time here on the ground – and with an open mind.

tourist

 

We recently spent a day with some people from overseas who had been here a long time ago. No matter how many times we told them not to, they became happy snappers, wanting photos. I know it’s always exciting to be in a new place and try and capture as much as possible, but we and our team actually live here and have to do life with the people you’re wanting to photograph. Too many foreigners have come with their cameras, climbed out of their large safari vehicles, snapped some shots (without asking permission) and whizzed off again.

 

It makes people feel like they are animals in a zoo.

 

So here’s some tips for when you go to a new country, whether it’s developing or not:

  • Learn some of the local language, like greetings
  • Wear appropriate clothing
  • Ask before taking photos
  • Carry little cash on you
  • If you don’t like something (like the food) keep it to yourself and try not to show it on your face (out of respect for your hosts)
  • Don’t take your security for granted

 

When you’re in a new place, it’s not like home, it’s different, and different is good.

 

If you’re visiting for a short while, you’re a tourist. Even if you go somewhere for a couple of months, you’re still a tourist. Anything up to two years, and you’re still a visitor.

 

Please have respect for the local culture, take things slowly, and pretend youre back in school – it’s a great learning experience.

tourist-2

 

 

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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.

flight

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

 

 

 

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.

 

 

mass

 

 

Why we chose to move to Africa

I’ve heard some real doozies about why people think we moved to Kenya, here are some samples:

  • To be a missionary
  • To go and drill wells
  • To live somewhere hot
  • You like Africa more than Australia
  • To get away from issues
  • To prove something
  • To go on a working holiday

 

These are just some of the weird things people have said to our faces.

globe

We stated from the start that we felt we had skills that could help people help themselves. We also could keep a closer eye on our projects as all the people we had dealt with in the past we had known, but herein it was new territory. Everyone we had contact with was told why we were moving but I guess some people just don’t get it. And to be honest,

Pete has a long history in the building/farming/construction/business area. If you need something practical done, Pete’s the man to get onto it. He has valuable practical knowledge that most people don’t. He’s able to take a problem and work it through to make sure it works.

Originally he volunteered with an organization that works with streetboys. After a few years though he couldn’t see himself as more than a fixer-upper. In his words, he might as well move back to Australia and make some money and at least have job satisfaction. So, he moved on.

kili 9

I was unsure where I would fit volunteering so joined the same organization as Pete. I ended up working in an office. I was looking forward to being part of a team. While it was good for a while I was trying to split myself between them and BeyondWater, which we had started in Australia.

So while we came here for one thing, we’ve ended up doing something quite different. Now, both Pete and I are developing a team here in Kenya. We’re on the ground living life as Kenyans do, learning every day about how we can be more effective and building networks.

DSCF1362

So here’s my short answers to people’s perceptions:

To be a missionary – every person of faith is a missionary (one who is sent out) to make a difference wherever they are. Our intention here is not to ‘convert’ people but to befriend them.

To go and drill wells – I have not, nor probably never will drill a well. That’s why we employ people to do it.

To live somewhere hot – think about that one. It’s much hotter in Australia, here in Nairobi our temperature goes from around 13 and sometimes hits 30. That’s not hot.

You like Africa more than Australia – not sure why people think like this. I don’t love a country, I love my family and we could probably live anywhere. We happen to be in Kenya for a purpose.

To get away from issues – everybody has issues and they follow you wherever you go.

To prove something – people with ego’s don’t last long here. The romantic notion of living in a developing country wears off pretty fast – and we’re not young so there’s not a lot to prove.

To go on a working holiday – Pete’s dad always asks how our holiday is going. I don’t know many people who go on a holiday for 3+ years. This definition would mean you work for a few months then go on holiday. We work and are able to stay because we have friends and family who give us money each month. Our visa allows us to volunteer only – as in you work but don’t get paid.

So now you know. Why did you move to where you are living?

truck up hill

What I’ve learned about the US

We’ve spent 5 weeks in different parts of the US and a few more days in Canada. The main reason for coming was to get into the heads of people to see what they knew about Africa, water projects and how they felt about giving to projects there.

flag

What we learnt is that the majority of people know very little and only 40% of people there hold a passport. When we watched the news it was all slanted so that everything revolved around America. For example, when a hotel in Western Africa was attacked by terrorists, it was stated that it was an American hotel. It was a hotel owned by an American, that doesn’t make it American. Everything on TV is about the US.

I understand that it’s a huge country but when we were talking with students they know zero about the wider world. At one university a student mentioned that her father was Kenyan, she had been there twice – and that Kenya was an island. Hmm….

liz n tower

We’ve also learned that most of the people we talked abhorred Muslims. I’m sure this is fed by the biased media but we got the feeling that people fear in a huge way every Muslim. People were so shocked that we have many Muslim neighbours and are happy to live amongst them.

Before we went to the US, we ourselves were slightly biased against Americans. Many of the ones we’ve met in East Africa are loud, bossy and act as if they own the world. They drive around with the flashiest cars, have a lavish lifestyle and never get their hands dirty.

Now we’ve been here for a while, we’ve seen another side. People are more than happy to go out of their way to point you in the right direction. They are very hospitable and are even interested in finding out about Africa. Maybe because we were visitors we were treated extra nicely but we’ve been around long enough to know when someone is sucking up to you. Today we met a lady from Nigeria who was putting her story out there real thickly as soon as she knew we were from East Africa. Within the first minute she wanted to become Facebook buddies and then proceeded to tell us that she was missionary and a whole story to go with that.

Howard 6

The US is quite an expensive place to travel in. Well, when you’re on a super strict budget anyway. It probably cost us $100 a day to be here, and that’s on top of accommodation. It cost as much to eat out as Kenya, taxis are way more expensive but clothing is a much better price. Tipping is a total rip off. In Kenya we only tip if we get good service and maybe one or two dollars. Here it’s between ten and twenty percent. When you see a price for something, it doesn’t include tax, which is very easy to forget about. As much as possible we’ve tried to catch trains and buses, but it still adds up. To get to our friends house tonight cost us $10 one way. That’s pretty good but when you’ll be doing that trip twice a day for a week, you can see why we’ll be eating rice and beans when we return home.

We kept reminding ourselves that this is an investigative trip and not a holiday. Sure, we’ve fitted in a few fun things but this was all about the future for our organization, BeyondWater and trying to break into the US as a new market. Our next step is to build a team of interested people, then form a legal charity and return in a couple of years. One obvious thing is to build a US website, with American spelling and everything linking BeyondWater to have a US identity.

ive a dream

This trip has given us a small insight into what life is like here, some of the challenges and ways of life here. We hope we from this that we have a broader mindset of the American culture and will continue to build our friendships there.

To all of our old friends who we’ve reconnected with, it’s been a blast. For all of our new friends, what a pleasure it’s been to get to know you. Let’s do it all over again in a couple of years.

with trung and gloria

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