Can you have Christmas without Candy Canes?

In another week, most people around the world will be celebrating Christmas. Some will be with friends, others with family and way too many people will spend the day alone. Probably for most it will be about Santa and gifts, for some it’s the time to remember the birth of Jesus Christ.

There’s always competition on who can have the best lighting show on their house and the most impressive gift given.

house

We have some traditions for Christmas. The tree goes up on the 1st December, followed by the lights. Each year we each go out and choose a decoration for the tree. Sometimes we’re in different countries so it’s nice as a memory of our travels.

This year we will be in Kenya for Christmas. We were here last year too but we were actually meant to be in South Africa. That all fell through at the last minute and so we felt a little lost being in Nairobi. All of our friends had gone away, both local and expat. Nairobi pretty much empties out as this is one of the few times people will travel to go and see their families. We knew we would be here this year so planned for it well.

However, the other day I was looking at the tree that Lizzie put up and really missed seeing the candy canes. I’ve never seen them in Kenya and although there is a lot more Christmassy stuff this year, not a candy cane in sight. We went to church on Sunday and there wasn’t even a Christmas tree up. The only decorations was a small wreath and a couple of red baubles. While there was a lot of people saying ‘Merry Christmas’ it didn’t quite have that feel.

Last weekend we took some friends to Thika Road Mall. TRM has the best decorations in the whole of the city. It’s quite marvelous and has such a Christmassy feel about it. There’s nothing like glitz and glamour to walk through. tree

When we lived in Australia it was often around 30 degrees and our days were spent at the beach having fish and chips. Now we live in Kenya with similar weather conditions but the beach for us is a 9 hour drive away. We brought all of our tree decorations with us from Australia and in 2012 we purchased a fake tree which has kept us going.

We have had to purposely make Christmas a great thing here. This year we decided that it would be no presents, but we would go camping instead. We made up 5 food parcels for people who needed them. We bought some Christmas crackers to take away with us. Every now and then Chrissy music plays through our house.

What we have is limited compared to how we would do things when we have greater family around. While it would be really cool to have candy canes, I think we can do without them. We’ve made a decision to make the most of it even if we don’t have much.

The one thing I have learned from living in Africa is that it’s not about the trimmings or gifts, it’s about getting together with family and giving kids what they so desperately want and need – TIME.

christmas-girls-5

Ruining Christmas

I couldn’t believe it when at the beginning of November, the malls around Nairobi started putting up Christmas decorations. Normally at this time of year you see the lights go up for the Diwali festival. You also see fire crackers and sparklers for sale.

But Christmas decorations?

tree

By Week Two in November the Christmas music started playing. It’s all a bit too much really.

In the West it’s a normal occurrence a few months before Christmas to have it all out there, but this is Kenya. Overpriced Christmas trees arrived this week. Tinsel and shiny balls are available year round here. Tinsel is often used as necklaces for when children and adults graduate school. When a small fake tree costs $100, there’s only a limited group of people who can invest in that.

Yesterday I saw a small decoration that cost $20. It was the outline of a Christmas tree with a couple of beads on it. It was no bigger than 10cm in size. No wonder people don’t buy decorations like this.

I remember Christmas back when we lived in Australia and before that, New Zealand. There was so much pressure to get everyone a gift, and not something small either. Doesn’t look like much has changed in that aspect. There’s the buying of gifts for workmates, friends, family members, church leaders, school teachers. And of course, there’s all the Christmas breakup parties to go to.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating, I’m all for it. But why spend all that money for one day, buying pricey gifts for people who probably don’t need anything more to collect dust. Why do we put ourselves under so much pressure to ‘have it all together’ for one day in the year?

gifts

I love the way Christmas is celebrated here in Kenya – generally. It’s not about gifts, it’s about getting together as a family. For many people they only see their family once or twice a year so coming together is really important. We have some friends who are rather wealthy and even they are not into gift giving.

Since coming to Kenya, the whole gift giving thing has taken a back burner. To be honest, if we really wanted to buy ourselves something, we probably would. Mind you, things here are pretty expensive and our budget is small so gifts aren’t a high priority.  Mind you, we did buy our grand daughter some clothes when we were in Dubai. We had a friend who was visiting from New Zealand send them to here. Which was just as well, as she would’ve grown out of them by now, and they were so cute.

This year we’ve decided to go camping at one of the national parks we have in Kenya. Staying in Nairobi is quite depressing, there’s pretty much no one here. Most people will go to their families home in the country. Last year we were stuck in Nairobi and it was the worst.

One thing we wanted to do was to make sure our security guards and caretaker get looked after. They earn around $120 a month, that’s barely enough to survive on. One of our guards works 7 days a week. What we are doing for them is to make up a food parcel to see them through a couple of weeks over Christmas. We can’t buy them any meat as they don’t have a fridge or freezer, so it has to be dried food. It works out at around $35 each but that’s a big deal to them.

I’m not writing this to make people feel bad about spending money on Christmas, but I am writing it to make us think what it’s all about. I know lots of organisations like Churches have a large Christmas tree with tags on it and people can buy a gift for a needy person.

I think that is great. However, writing a cheque is the easy part.

Why not take your kids to visit some people at a nursing home? Sit with a homeless person on the street and talk to them. On Christmas Day itself, stop for a few minutes and chat with someone who has to work that day. You could also drop into your local police station with some homemade baked goodies that your kids have made. Invite someone over to share lunch with you. Call someone you haven’t spoken to all year.

police

My message is to DO SOMETHING, not just to go and buy something. Suicide rates are very high at this time of year. It can be super lonely for people, especially those who are estranged from their families. You can be the real difference to someone, you can change their lives.

Don’t ruin your Christmas by letting it all become about who can give the flashiest gift. That simply makes it a shallow competition. Instead enjoy the being together, the playing of board games, celebrating with food. Turn off the phones, get off the laptop, go and enjoy playing with the kids.

Life is short, make the most of every day.

elderly

 

 

 

 

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

Just Get Lost!

We’ve been very blessed to be able to do a lot of travel as individuals, a family and in a group. Every trip has its challenges and triumphs. Living in Kenya enables us to see amazing wildlife and scenery within a few hours.

Travelling with a large group complicates things and I thought I’d share a few pointers on it.

Most of our first team to Africa. It was fun/interesting.

Most of our first team to Africa. It was fun/interesting

Group dynamics become evident in a very short time. There’s the loud person who is sure they know the way (but not really) and enforces their viewpoint. There’s the quiet one who goes with the flow. In between you’ll have a whole range of people who try to be heard, get frustrated when they feel no one listens to them, and those that verbally let everyone what they think. The more people you have, the more variables in behavior.

I remember when the four of us and one extra went to Hawaii for a conference. The plan afterwards was to go to the volcano national park. It was the one thing I insisted on as I’ve a weird fascination with volcanoes, natural disasters such as tsunamis and the like. This trip was doable because we had sold our house in New Zealand and I thought we might not get this opportunity ever again. What I hadn’t counted on was 5 sleepless nights because one of the crew snored loudly, and I mean earth shaking snoring. I even threw pillows at her and told her to shut up. She didn’t notice a thing.

I did get to see the volcanoes and 10 years later we're still married.

I did get to see the volcanoes and 10 years later we’re still married

By the time the conference had finished we were really tired. It had been a full on week and the five of us were ready for a break. First, we missed our connecting flight to one of the islands. Then, I lost the plot and nearly divorced my husband because I wanted things done my way to get going on our ‘holiday’. I got so cranky that I walked out of the pancake place and was heading for my passport at the hotel. It all came down to tiredness. Three teenage girls and tired adults don’t always mix either.

Building memories

Building memories

Mixed ages can cause other problems too. If you have a group that might have pre-schoolers, teenagers and adults from different families, it can bring conflict. Teenagers are likely to want to just shop, adults hang by the pool and pre-schoolers just want to play on the outside equipment. Phones don’t always work in other countries, people don’t listen when it comes to meetup points and little kids can’t handle the long hours often required.

We went to Disneyland in LA one year. One of the family (who will remain nameless) was prepared to stand in line for 3 hours just to go on the Cars ride. The rest of us weren’t and wanted to go on other rides. It was his turn to lose the plot. Again, a mixture of jetlag, tiredness and disappointment.

Liz building a car at Disneyland

Liz building a car at Disneyland

To go in a large group, you really have to be selfless.

I guess we’re not there yet.

We wanted to spend a year travelling around Australia just for the heck of it. Our youngest daughter gets car sick and she was prepared to divorce us for even considering it. She’s married now, so we’re going to drive around Africa instead.

I’m a Type A person. I like to cross my T’s and dot my I’s, but living in Kenya I’ve had to learn to be much more flexible. I’ve learnt that when you’re on the road you may just have to give up trying to do everything and enjoy what you can see/do. Too many times we also try and fit too many things into a schedule and when we don’t get to do them, we get disappointed.

Sometimes, it’s also good just to get lost. That way you end up having adventures you would never had encountered.

Pete broke his leg on Mt Kilimanjaro. This is in Dubai on the way home. It's 43 degrees. Not planned, but it made thing interesting.

Pete broke his leg on Mt Kilimanjaro. This is in Dubai on the way home. It’s 43 degrees. Not planned, but it made things interesting.

In 2009 I did my first trip to New York City. I was by myself and for the most part it was for work. However, I always try and fit in some fun things to do. The people I was with weren’t very hospitable and pretty much left me to my own devices. One night I caught a train from Queens into Manhattan to meet a board member and his son for dinner. It was quite late when we finished and they insisted I get a taxi back to Queens. I was just thinking of the few dollars in my pocket and was very vocal about catching the train back. They were insistent and so was I. Remember, I was jetlagged and in a new city. I went to the train station to find the gate locked. I couldn’t find another entrance and then had to walk lots of blocks to find the right line. I jumped on a train but it became obvious I was heading in the wrong direction. Meantime I’m getting text messages from our board member wondering if I was in Queens yet. I get off the Harlem bound train and a nice old lady pointed me to the right one. I get off at Queens but then can’t remember how to get to the house. I start praying madly (it’s amazing how spiritual we get during a crisis) and looking for a familiar building. Thankfully, I eventually found it and of course never told anyone about by short visit to Harlem in the middle of the night.

Our plan was to go to New Zealand in 2015. Instead we went for our daughters wedding in 2014. Some things are out of your control, but you can have lots of fun anyway.

Our plan was to go to New Zealand in 2015. Instead we went for our daughters wedding in 2014. Some things are out of your control, but you can have lots of fun anyway. We did!

With all the crappola that goes on in our world, I’ve found people are pretty good at helping out in a time of need. The problem when you’re lost is that they’re not and they know how to get there but don’t always have the ability to communicate it. By the time you’ve got to the 5th turn, you’ll be lost all over again. Getting lost is okay until that goes on for hours on end.

When we first moved to Sydney, Australia, we had to meet up on the other side of the city with some friends to pick up a suitcase. Evan insisted on coming to our place, but we really wanted to see what their part of the world looked like. This was pre-GPS days. I don’t know how many hours later we got there, because Ev came and got us, but 13 years later he still gives us stick about it.

Golden Rules of Travel:

  1. Don’t book anything on the day you arrive – we’ve missed lots of appointments by breaking this rule
  2. Do one thing in a day – it should be fun not a marathon to get around
  3. Mix things up in your schedule – one day sight seeing, one day shopping, something in the morning, another day something at night
  4. Before you go, ask the group what one thing they want to do/see and make it happen (I’ve never got to the Statue of Liberty because of the weather, but one day…)
  5. Remember the world is big place – it takes more than 5 minutes to get from A to B
  6. Know where the toilets are
  7. Know and obey the local laws
  8. Make happy memories not disastrous ones.

So go ahead, travel and get lost. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t pan out like you thought – isn’t that life? You will meet incredible people, see amazing things and experience life changing events. You’re not going to get that while at home

Our 2012 guide to Kilimanjaro was the same as 2011. We wouldn't have known how good he was if Pete didn't have his accident. We are lifelong friends now.

Our 2012 guide to Kilimanjaro was the same as 2011. We wouldn’t have known how good he was if Pete didn’t have his accident. We are lifelong friends now.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. Mark Twain

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. Augustine of Hippo

Go see the world, your adventures await you!

Go see the world, your adventures await you!

Our Partners Are Important

It’s coming up to 3 years of us living in Nairobi, Kenya. It’s been an interesting time, never dull or boring that’s for sure.

This time last week I was in Dubai escorting a teenager on their way to Australia. I remember thinking ‘Maybe it’s time to go home because it’s so convenient’. There’s hot water out of the tap, the electricity works all of the time, it’s clean and you can even walk about at night on the street. Although it was all a false world, it was pretty good for 2 days.

Me with Sam on his very first flight of his life.

Me with Sam on his very first flight of his life.

The truth is, life here is not always easy and you’ve got to have big shoulders to handle some of the challenges. Security is always an issue – gangs, terrorists, pickpockets. You’ve got to consider more than 40 tribes in the country, all with their own way of doing things. There’s the learning of Swahili, trying to cope with the traffic and not being able to buy all of the things you need very easily.

This is the cost that those who work in developing countries pay. However there are many benefits to it as well.

You meet amazing people who are similar but different to you. You get to see sights and in our case, wildlife that is particular to this part of the world. You get to experience a type of life that others only ever dream of.

elephant faceon

We try and see what we do as a privilege.

That privilege is only possible because of the partners we have. There’s 75 year old George who is nearly blind and is on the pension, who gives us $30 a month from his small income. There’s also a couple who give from the rent on their property. Someone gives us $5 a month as they are a single parent. It’s always very humbling.

March 2014 with George who always takes us to KFC when we visit.

March 2014 with George who always takes us to KFC when we visit.

Without partners we can’t be here. Without people’s sacrifice, we’re stuffed.

Some of our partners give just once or twice. HD Projects is one such partner.

hdprojects1

Pete worked for HD Projects in Sydney for around 7 years, starting out as a labourer and eventually as a project manager. If you asked him he would say that it was the best companies he’s ever worked for. He has a lot of respect for the owners Richard and Clyde. The only reason he left was because he was tired and his role was pretty stressful. One thing about Pete is that he is committed to his work and gives it 150% of his effort.

HD Projects are one of our corporate sponsors. This happened way before we even came to Kenya, they just didn’t know it.

HD helped finance into Pete’s ute which he used for travelling all over Sydney for jobs. They then bought is back from us when we left in 2012. This helped provide for moving some household goods over with us.

In 2013 they provided the funds for a vehicle for us to use in our work here in Kenya. You can’t just buy a small hatchback here, you need a 4 wheel drive and a car that you can easily get parts for. In the end we found an X-Trail and are super happy with it.

Now in 2015, HD Projects have funded our car costs for a year. It’s such a relief as most things are really expensive here and our budget for living costs is quite small. One tyre is $330 and we needed 4 of them. Pete is absolutely ecstatic that we are much safer on the road and that we can actually have funds to repair his bike and the car.

Pete changing a flat tyre in the middle of an animal wildlife park.

Pete changing a flat tyre in the middle of an animal wildlife park.

Whether it’s a retiree, a business, a church or a total stranger, all of our partners make what we do possible.

Today we want to say asante sana (thank you very much) to those who sacrifice and partner with us. It doesn’t go unnoticed and every day we are aware of the people in the bigger family of the ‘Wild Creanberries’.

Why Kenya

I always get amazed on what draws people to come to Kenya to work or volunteer. Everyone has a story and I try and get them to tell me.

Some come to escape from their former life. Others to get themselves up the ladder of success in business. Some found that this was the only way to get to see this part of the world.

And then there’s me.

Food is an important medium for connecting.

Food is an important medium for connecting.

When I was in Standard 4, at about 10 years of age, we did a study – The Manyatta of Kenya.

I’m 46 years old. In ‘my day’ very few people travelled internationally. I remember one friend whose entire family went to Disneyland and they brought back a huge (and I mean huge) Winnie the Pooh. Another friend went to The Netherlands. But that was about it. I remember the same year that a plane full of tourists from New Zealand flew to Antarctica and them all perishing on a mountain there.

And then there was me.

The War Cemetery is one of the tidiest places in Nairobi.

The War Cemetery is one of the tidiest places in Nairobi.

We didn’t own a car until we inherited money from a grandparent passing. I remember travelling out of town once or twice.

Over my teens I had grown up reading adventures of people who had travelled through China, Africa, South America and India. But I’d never been there.

At the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

At the top of Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

The first time I travelled internationally was when Pete went to college in Australia for 3 months, so we packed up and headed for the Sunshine Coast. Our girls were 8 weeks and a year old, I was 22.

A couple of years later we went to India for a few weeks, left the babies behind and had a blast. We would’ve been happy to move there but things didn’t pan out that way.

As the years went by we hosted plenty of international development workers or missionaries, many who worked in Africa. We threw (not literally) our girls out of their beds for our visitors. The girls thought it was cool, they didn’t know any different. I home schooled them for 6 years and integrated a lot of history, country information and cultural teaching.

You can't come to Africa and be in a hurry.

You can’t come to Africa and be in a hurry.

Then life took a turn.

We moved to Sydney, Australia where we’d never been before. Set up a new life, and it was great. That was 2002.

In 2007 I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya to graduate my students. I emailed a Kiwi friend of ours who we hadn’t seen for a few years and met up with them. It was great seeing their work with streetboys. I returned home for only a few weeks and then had to go to Ghana for a seminar. Ghana was so different to Kenya. East and West are like chalk and cheese.

Pete being walked down Mt Kilimanjaro with a broken leg.

Pete being walked down Mt Kilimanjaro with a broken leg.

In 2009 Pete and I decided that we wanted our girls to have a bigger world view. We wanted to show them that not all of the world was white, English speaking and middle class. So, we took them to Africa, specifically Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. Our youngest daughter DID NOT want to go. She had just finished her last year at high school and decided she ‘wanted to work’ we told her she had the rest of her life to work, and she was coming.

Pete was flown to Nairobi to receive top class medical care.

Pete was flown to Nairobi to receive top class medical care.

For a year we saved, sacrificed and made budget. A couple of other young people came with us some of the way. It was a cheap trip – buses, backpackers and motorbikes. We had a blast (most of the time). After 8 weeks we returned home tired but changed.

titanic

Han & Jules on Lake Victoria

In 2010 Pete and I went to Hawaii to drop Hannah off at school. It was there that we decided to move out Sydney, we were bored. The answer was either Hawaii or Kenya. I LOVE Hawaii, love, love, love it. But we thought ‘what the heck, what have we got to lose by going to Kenya?’

In 2011, Pete, Liz and I returned to Africa with the specific thought of ‘Could we really live here and what could we do?’ This time for another 2 months but it was to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania (Climb Mount Kilimanjaro). Pete broke his leg on the mountain, so he stayed back in Nairobi and Liz and I went throughout Uganda checking in on our projects. The change in plans gave us a longer time to see if Kenya would be our new home or not. We’d travelled through lots of countries but there was something pulling us back to Kenya.

Nairobi is bustling with small businesses.

Nairobi is bustling with small businesses.

Nairobi was the most modern city we visited. We had people we knew there. It could give us easy access to other countries. We liked it. We liked it enough that we moved in 2012.

While there is lots of wildlife which is absolutely the coolest, it’s the amazing people that you get to meet. Those who struggle from day to day but keep a positive attitude. Those who are starting out in business and doing well. Expats who come here for some sort of experience.

The scenery is amazing.

The scenery is amazing.

Nairobi is made up mainly of Kenyans but there are representatives from pretty much every nationality on earth.

DSCF2031

And so are the people.

Kenya is never dull and boring. There’s always something to do and people to meet. There is a lot of history here (which I love). It’s diverse and interesting. You’re always learning something new. We’re close to our water projects and the communities we work with.

We could’ve gone anywhere in the world and it we would’ve been fine but we chose Kenya.

Actually, I think Kenya chose us.

How We Travelled With No Money For Two Months

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

A bit different to how we look in Kenya.

A bit different to how we look in Kenya.

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

Hannah really looked stunning.

Hannah really looked stunning.

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

Hannah and Luke. The reason we took this trip.

Hannah and Luke. The reason we took this trip.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete milking cows in Cambridge.

Pete milking cows in Cambridge.

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

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

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

Uncle Bob knew Liz when she was just a toddler.

Uncle Bob knew Liz when she was just a toddler.

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

Singapore was hot, humid and lots of fun.

Singapore was hot, humid and lots of fun.

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

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

No, we didn't go tenting.

No, we didn’t go tenting.

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

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

There are two things this trip proved to me:

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

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

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

My friend Cath is part of our intercessors team.

My friend Cath is part of our intercessors team.