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?

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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

 

 

 

 

We’re Not In Kansas Any More Toto

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

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

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

The Driving

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

 

Food

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

 

Language

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

 

Shopping

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

 

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

A Coeliac in Kenya

In October 2007 I travelled for 9 days to Kenya, then returned back to Sydney. Three weeks later I travelled via the UK to Ghana for a whopping 3 days. Then in January 2008 I started getting night sweats and not feeling 100%. In February I got pain from what I thought was appendicitis, which abruptly stopped at 2pm. Nothing much for the remainder of the year except this sharp pain in my right side.

The doctor couldn’t put it down to anything in particular.

About a year later I was eating a chocolate Tim Tam biscuit and my belly swelled up to what made me look 6 months pregnant. Pete thought it was hilarious. After having tubes put in both ends of my body the doctors told me I was a coeliac. I didn’t even know what it was. It was a harsh blow to find out that I wasn’t allowed to eat anything with wheat in it. There went 50% of my diet.

timA few months later the ‘could it be appendicitis’ pain struck at 6 in the morning. Pete took me to hospital, they took the appendix out and then told me the pain wasn’t because of that. The appendix was fine. However, since then the pain in my right side which dogged me for years disappeared. It was the caecum that was causing all the problem, which was connected to me being allergic to gluten.

So here I am in Kenya, a coeliac, with about zero people knowing about it.

I’ve had an interesting 19 months trying to figure out what I can eat and what to avoid. The food labelling here is useless. It might say vinegar but not which type (I can’t have malt/brown vinegar). You ask someone at a restaurant about whether it has flour or gluten in it and you get a blank look.

One of the hardest things is when you go to someones house. The last thing I want to do is offend someone who has gone out of their way to prepare a meal for you to tell them that you can’t eat it. Once I ate a couple of sandwiches and it made me sick for 2 weeks. Bread is a big thing here, usually what someone has for breakfast. A few weeks ago we went to a co-workers house for ‘tea’, but it’s never just a cup of tea here, it’s a full meal. People go out of their way to make your stay nice. These guys had even borrowed from their neighbours a table and couch for us to sit on.

I’ve smartened up a lot and now take a ziplock bag of goodies with me. I also tell Pete to eat ‘for me’ so that it looks good. On Thursdays we travel an hour to a training farm for former streetboys. We have a staffroom and I usually make scrambled eggs for lunch.

Like I said, the hardest thing is the lack of labelling. Even herbs and spices have gluten in them. You only find out when you have to spend a lot of time on the toilet or have intense pain in your stomach to figure out not to get that brand.

We do have some health food shops in Nairobi called HealthyU. Because everything is imported, it’s really expensive. While today they might have gluten free bread mix, tomorrow there might be none. So, I buy multiples of what I need to get. Liz travels back to Australia every few months so she brings me back things I can’t get here.

The big one is chocolate. There is absolutely no chocolate here in the supermarket that doesn’t have gluten in it, not a bar. It’s a tragedy.

Not all chocolate has the same recipe

Not all chocolate has the same recipe

I get to miss out on chapatis (divine taste), bread, sweets, chocolate and mandazis. However, there is lots of fruit, veges, rice and meat I do get to eat. Yes, it’s hard when people in the office are cooking toast and that lovely baked bread smell goes through the room. However, I get to bring in home baked goodies that our guys have never seen.

Chapati before it is cooked.

Chapati before it is cooked.

I do a lot of home baking. When someone from Aussie comes to visit I always ask them to bring me gluten free flour. I use that for everything instead of normal flour. I just have to add Xanthum Gum and sometimes an extra egg to give it the fluffiness. I can buy gluten free cornflour here so use that for thickening things. And I always, always have a packet of Edmonds Custard Powder in the cupboard.

custardWhile it’s tough, it’s not life threatening. Much nicer to be healthy and feeling great.

The Windsor

Okay, I admit I’m not into golfing at all. The last time I got close to a green was at a putt putt course in Sydney for Lizzies birthday. I remember when I was a kid getting paid 50 cents to be a caddy for my father and uncle as they played a round on the local golf course.

Image For the last couple of months we’ve had a boarder living with us. Anthony is from Germany but has a real American accent, he’s here in Nairobi researching for his Masters Program. Anthony told us about this place called The Windsor Golf Hotel & Country Club. We work most weekends but found one Saturday to go up there and have a look.

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When you get there you can hardly believe that there is such a place like this in Nairobi. It’s clean, green and elegant looking.

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The buildings are all done in Victorian style even though the place was only established a few years ago. There’s stacks of activities to do there (we had a coffee) including golfing, bird watching, cycling, swimming and even petanque. I’ve been to a few clubs around here but this one definitely seems to be of the ‘old establishment’. In some clubs you are not allowed to use your mobile phone, other places it’s cashless and you use a swipe card, other places children aren’t allowed.

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We didn’t get to go inside one of the rooms but they looked pretty good. There seem to be 4 posted beds, all done up in Victorian style. Wooden floors are the norm here so you’d want to have a pair of slipper available at this time of year when things are a bit cooler.

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It’s a nice place for a wedding with some special gardens which would look great for a photoshoot. Apparently the most venue to hold a wedding is outside at the 10th tee which has the backdrop of the golf course and buildings. This alone costs you $2,000.

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I do have to say that the service for the coffee was super slow. It wasn’t just for the coffee but getting the bill. Generally here in Nairobi you eat and then they bring you the bill in a wallet/folder. The waiter then comes up and gets it with either your credit card or cash. Tipping is not compulsory, only if you’re happy with the service and it’s up to you what you give. At least we had a great view of the golf course while waiting for what seemed forever.

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Even if you’re not into golfing the Windsor Country Club is worth the visit. They’ve got plenty of activities happening and it’s nice to get away from the madness of Nairobi without travelling too far.

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Check out their website for more info – http://www.windsorgolfresort.com/

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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

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!

  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.

  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.

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.

 

A Bit Different To The Easter Show

This week we attended our first ever International Agricultural Show in Nairobi. We went with Beryl, our agricultural teacher and Gary our new Canadian friend. The traffic was so congested getting there that we left our car parked at the nearest mall and we piled into Gary’s car for his driver to drop us off. We also went back another afternoon but caught pikipikis (motorbikes) and got there really fast.

Entrance into the show, cash only

Entrance into the show, cash only

Because there were 5 of us (Liz took a day off work) we ended up splitting up into two groups.

This show is nothing like Sydney’s Easter Show. Firstly, it only goes for one week and it only costs $3 to get in.  And – lunch cost a whopping $2.50. There was a large outdoor arena where the President spoke on the day we went and there were the normal shows like bands, entertainers and marching teams. However, you had to pay another $2 for that, which we forewent. There’s also no woodchopping events, which are always great to watch.

Some sites were tents, or like this one, inside a building.

Some sites were tents, or like this one, inside a building.

One thing we did notice is that there were hardly any pamphlets on offer. Every stand/tent/expo site had a guest book which you felt obliged to sign (cue endless followup calls). At some places you had to buy their handbooks ($1) but some were worth it especially on how to raise animals. Business cards seemed to be in short supply as well. At most sites there was an ‘in’ and ‘out’ sign which kept foot traffic flowing pretty well.

 

My $2.50 lunch - beef stew, rice and cabbage.

My $2.50 lunch – beef stew, rice and cabbage.

What wasn’t sparse was the amount of places to buy water or have your photo taken in front of a gaudy photobooth. Gaudy with a capital G. There didn’t seem to be any price hikes on drinks and food just because it was a special event, water was only 30 cents a bottle. There seemed to be endless ugly photobooths. I’m talking about large stuffed animals, Christmas decorations and weird backgrounds. Kenyans love photos and it amazed me how these were one of the hits of the show.

 

One of the photobooths.

One of the photobooths.

We avoided the rides and you can see why in the photo below. There were only rides that went round and round (vomit machines) and there were no safety rails. So, if you fell out, too bad. I tried to convince Liz to go on a camel ride but there was no way she was going on one of those things. Liz had a blast though and couldn’t wait to go back for a second day.

Typical ride - without safety bits on them

Typical ride – without safety bits on them

So, if you’re in Nairobi when the agricultural show is on I definitely recommend it.

 

Couldn't get Liz on one of these

Couldn’t get Liz on one of these

Just a few things to note:

–        Go midweek, the later in the week the more people there are

–        There are ATM’s but take cash anyway

–        Be prepared to be fully checked at the entry gates for security

–        Wear comfortable shoes, a hat and sunscreen

–        There are toilets, you just have to pay 10c to use one

–        Buy a map, it’s worth it

 

Take a look at the sign

Take a look at the sign

 

 

Food, Kenya Style

So this week I thought I’d do something totally different and let you in on our eating habits here in Kenya.  Nairobi is a modern city so we don’t have to cook goat over an open fire, although we’ve had it, and it tastes really good. Of course watching the goat get killed and sliced up isn’t so pleasant.

In Sydney we would live on BBQ’s most nights with chicken in between. To buy a BBQ here we have to pay out around $800, not a top priority but we wish it were.  Barbequed meat is much better than that done in a frying pan. When we first moved here Pete conquered a charcoal BBQ but I think our neighbours might not be so enthusiastic about the smoke, but man did the food taste good!

A frozen chicken costs about $8 and it’s pretty straight forward to throw it in the oven to roast. But I’ve learnt, thanks to Google, how to make chicken pilau. According to the locals it tastes more like a biryani (Indian) but they think it was cool that I actually tried. They must’ve liked it because three people took the leftovers home. I also like chicken pad thai but Pete’s not really a noodle fan so we can’t have it too often. He’s more of a meat and three veges guy.

pilauI’ve also learnt how to make kachumbari. It kind of looks like bruschetta but better and you don’t have it on a slice of French stick, you can have it with anything. I found this recipe but apparently it’s not very Kenyan. Firstly you need to soak the red onion in salty water to take out the bitter taste. You’re also meant to add spring onion and white vinegar to give it a kick. Lucy, one of my co-workers made some and it was much better than mine.

kachumbariUgali is one of our least favourite dishes. Pete refuses to eat it, that’s because he hasn’t has a good version of it. Basically it’s maize flour and water, with a touch of salt. No, it’s not a homemade recipe for glue, I’ve made that one. Ugali is a staple food here, especially if you’re in poverty. It is totally non-nutritious but here the thinking is that if you don’t go to bed with a full feeling then you haven’t eaten enough. Ugali just sits in your stomach. I got Tinga, a young man who was staying with us one weekend, to show me how he made ugali and it wasn’t half bad. Still, I only eat it when I have to.

imagesGitheri is probably one of the hardest meals to handle. I’ve never had it with meat, simply with beans, maize and tomatoes. Again, Pete refuses to eat it, mainly because he needs serious dental work on his back teeth. It’s borderline okay when it’s hot but as soon as it starts to cool down it is so hard to handle. Also, my stomach reacts badly to it, to the point I can’t have it any longer.

githeriBefore coming here I never really was a coffee nor tea drinker, only when I had to. Each Thursday I go to our training facility in Kiserian (an hour away) to teach a class of boys. There we get black tea, as milk is too expensive. Here, Kenyans love their sugar. It is not unusual to have a cup of tea with 3 – 6 teaspoons of sugar in it. I’ve even got a small taste for very weak lattes. I can say I even enjoy a coffee from time to time. Mind you, at Dormans (a café) they have this delicious gluten free brownie, the only place in the whole of Kenya, which helps the attraction to coffee.

So overall, there is plenty on offer here. You can buy bananas for 5 cents each, fruit and veges are cheap, meat isn’t. There are hundreds of cafes and restaurants to choose from. Food in Nairobi is much more expensive than out of town. On Sundays after church we go to Galitos for chicken and chips. If we wanted pizza – it’s the in thing here and you can get a family size pizza on Tuesdays for $7. There’s even a place to buy frozen yoghurt – we’ve been there once with visitors who had kids, nice but so jolly expensive.

You will never starve in Africa as long as you’re not fussy. We miss real cream, cheese that has flavour and veges that you don’t have to soak in a special cleaner. But, we do have lots to choose from as you’ve seen.