Q&A With The Creans

This week I’ve produced five 2 minute videos answering some questions about life in Africa.

1. Does everyone live in mud huts?

2. Isn’t it always hot there?

3. Everything is cheap there isn’t it?

4. Isn’t it dangerous being there?

5. Are there beggars everywhere?

Hopefully you feel better informed and see that Kenya is just like your place – just a bit different!

boy praying

If I Only Knew

We are fast approaching our second anniversary of serving in Kenya so I thought I’d write down a list of things I wish I’d known before we came. Of course, hindsight is an awesome thing, but if you ever consider moving this way for a short or long period of time, it might be good to know.

 1. Africa Is Not Cheap To Live In

It’s a myth that’s for sure. We did our budget in 2011 but by the time we got here in 2012 prices had skyrocketed. Most things have stabilised in price since the VAT (tax) of 16% was added. Locals have really struggled since then. We spent a lot of 2013 buying furniture for our place as money came in, with most things bought second hand or built at a roadside carpenters.

Of course, income determines if something is expensive or not. Our budget is short by $1,000 a month, which is a lot when you aren’t allowed to earn money within the country. Our rent is half of what we paid in Sydney for something more than twice the size. We wanted a place where we could have people come and stay, relax and then go on their journey. We’ve had people from NZ, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Ethiopia, USA and Norway stay with us. We love it and are grateful for the apartment we have to be able to do it. But our landlord put up the rent by $100 per month after being here for a year, so we’re looking at alternatives for next year.

 

Equivalent to $9,700AUD for a 2001 car

Equivalent to $9,700AUD for a 2001 car

 2. White = Rich

If you’re not Kenyan, you’re white, even if you’re not white. That means you must have money to burn. If you go to the markets on the side of the road, you will spend more time bargaining than what you want. This is why people go to the more expensive supermarkets because they just get tired of being hassled all the time. A friend of ours got his suit for his wedding made for $50. If Pete went, it would be 3 times more the price.

If we want furniture made at the roadside market we send a Kenyan there first for a price so we know what we should be paying. No matter how much you tell your colleagues that you don’t have much money, it doesn’t matter, because you will always have more than them. What people don’t see is the amount of money spent on the work you do – petrol, car costs, school equipment, feeding people or running programs.

I need to get me one of these!

I need to get me one of these!

3. You’ll Want To Go Home, Often

Sometimes you wonder if the obstacles are worth it, wasn’t it much less complicated back home? Well, yes it was. Kenya is not impossible to live in it’s just very complicated. As a friend said to us in our early days “Living in Africa will show you what capacity you have on the inside” and I happen to think he’s very right.

It was much easier living in Australia. If we wanted to earn more money, we’d go paint a house. We understood the language. You could walk the streets at night and no problem. There were parks to play in that were free. If you wanted to go to church you had a Saturday night, Sunday morning and a Sunday night to choose from. The ocean was a 4 minute walk from our place.

There’s probably twice in the last couple of years when I’ve thought “Stick this, I don’t need this hassle, I’m heading home”, but for Pete it’s been quite often. He asked me the other day why we were here again. My simple answer is that God knew we were big enough to handle it.

 

 4. Set Work Boundaries

We’ve got plenty of friends who work in the same area as us, but with different organisations. All of us have the same problem – we struggle with work boundaries. I’ve a friend who gets paid for 2 days a week but often works for 5 ‘because they’re in need’. Our phones will often go off at 10pm. We’ve had one weekend off in the last 2 months. I’ve calculated we’ve had 5 days of actual holidays in the last 2 years. When we’ve travelled out of town or overseas, it’s all to do with work. That is really dumb.

This year I decided to work at the office until 1pm, have lunch and then do the rest of my work from home. In essence I can work anywhere in the world but feel obliged to turn up to prove I’m actually working. Between now and when we fly out to Australia in November I’m even taking an hour out in the middle of the day to get some exercise and sunshine.

Next year I’m even thinking of rehashing my working conditions by spending less time in the office and more in the field with people.

Learn to turn it off

Learn to turn it off

 5. Sign A Contract

Too many people come with good intentions which get squished out and changed to be not what they came for. I’ve friends in another country who came to work with orphaned children then after 8 months were dumped because the organisation didn’t want to make necessary changes for improvement. Another family came to build a school but wasn’t allowed any input into the long term planning of it. Others were having to give a certain percentage of their support money for the ‘privilege of volunteering’. Make sure the requirements are written down and everyone understands the small print, who pays what and what is expected. For some reason we do this in the business world, but not in development work. Go figure?

 

6. Do Your Homework Before Coming

We had been to Kenya 3 times before moving here. Most times we came for 2 months and travelled to neighbouring countries as well. However, there is a BIG difference between visiting and living somewhere. How basic everyday things are run is a huge task to learn. It took us 6 weeks to even begin to figure out directions and where things were. Unfortunately, people who have lived somewhere for a long time take everything they’ve learnt for granted. I remember getting pulled across the coals because we didn’t visit a person in hospital enough. Apparently here you drop everything and race off to visit someone, you also take fruit or juice. No one told us about that, and we didn’t even know how to get to the hospital.

An important thing to look into is getting a visa, owning land and traffic laws. Everything here takes a l-o-n-g time and it’s never straight forward. Join expat blogs before you come so you get an idea of how things work. Get Swahili apps on your phone. Use Google maps to see how far things are in distance. Learn some history of the place.

 

 7. Clothes Are Expensive Here

Of course, if you want to, you can buy cheap clothes at the local market. The one closest to us to called the Toi Market. There you can buy second hand clothes, sometimes new ones, which come from overseas. Pete gets a pair of new jeans for $10, guys are lucky, they know their sizes and can get it off the rack. Ladies, not so much.

The clothes at the mall are way overpriced. These are either imported (and thus have large tax) or top of the line. I envy Kenyans, they don’t have to worry about skin tones, they’ve all just got brown skin. They can wear really bright clothes and look awesome!

When we return to Australia we’re buying up big time, especially in the sock and undies department. I think we might even go with empty suitcases.

toi  8. People Won’t Listen To You

The number of people who won’t listen to you if frustrating to the max. I mean, what do we know, we actually live here and know how the system works. Visitors have wasted so much money because they JUST WON’T LISTEN. One friend was told by his travel agent that he would have to pay $50 more for an English speaking taxi driver. What a load of rubbish, English is one of the national languages here. Of course, he decided to ignore all of our advice and ended up paying thousands of dollars more than he needed to. We’ve had others who didn’t want our help (thank you very much), decided to do things their way and paid way too much for a vehicle hire and didn’t get to see the areas they really needed to.

And that’s just the visitors.

When you’re trying to bring in different ways of doing things, people will predominantly resort back to their ways. The proof of the success of your teaching is if they put it into practise when you’re not around. If 50% of it is done, that is pretty impressive. We’ll be gone for 8 weeks and it will be interesting to see what the state of things will be on our return.

 

 9. You’ll Spend A Lot More Time On A Computer Than You Ever Thought

There were 2 things I didn’t want to do when we came to Kenya – fundraising and sit in front of a computer a lot. Guess what, I’ve ended up doing both. It’s a necessary evil. Today someone said to me that they haven’t seen a newsletter for a while (it’s been a month). Flip my lid, I’m on Facebook every day, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and weekly blogs but it still doesn’t cover everyone. There’s marketing material to be designed, videos to create (and they take ages), grants to write and complicated emails to answer. It’s not unusual for me to be on a computer 8 – 12 hours a day.

man 10. It Just Might Be One Of The Best Moves You’ve Ever Made

When Africa gets under your skin, there’s nothing you can do about it. Sure, not everyone should be here long term, in fact, most shouldn’t. Whether you come for a short or long time, all that matters is that you’re doing what you should be doing. If you come with a flexible attitude, don’t always compare it to your home country and be in an attitude of learning, then you should be fine. I called the first year ‘Going back to school’. Every day and even parts of a day were a lesson.

What you will be surprised at is the number of things happening across the country and especially in Nairobi. There’s music festivals, fun runs, street performers, fashion shows, expos, conferences and more. You will meet some amazing people, fruit abounds year round and you’ll never get bored. You’ll notice there are lots and lots of nationalities, wildlife you’ll only read of in books and have experiences your friends will envy.

Africa, Kenya are places that will change you for the better. You’ll get a bigger world view. You’ll miss it when you leave.

sunIf you plan on coming for at least 2 years can I highly suggest that you don’t do anything for at least a month or two. Get to know the place, the people, directions and get your home set up. We get so passionate about helping people, we can hinder things by rushing in too fast. When we got here some of our team members were leaving and we were expected to take up the slack. I’ve heard of it happening lots in many projects and the newbies either sink or swim. Most of the time we didn’t have a clue that was going on and I remember every few days we were saying to each other “I don’t have a clue what I’m doing, I hope we’re doing okay”.

About Money Matters

In light of what has occurred in the last few hours I thought I’d write my thoughts on giving online. If there is anything that will pull a person or organisation down is how they handle their finances.

I am sure all of us have received via email or social media a request for money for some need, or we have received a million dollars from some unknown relative. This week I’ve had someone offer our organisation $7,000 if we give $4,000 of it to another African organisation they have nominated. Also, an overzealous family member Facebooked a lot of our friends asking them to give money to help get Pete home to see his dad before he dies, and put the money in their own personal bank account.

So here goes:

1. Always Check the Spelling

It is more than obvious if the spelling, the grammar or their English is incorrect that you should just hit the delete button. If someone is asking for money they should at least have the decency to spell the words right.

 

2. Emotional Blackmail

I hate it when people post up photos from famine areas, use emotion to twist you into giving or give the ‘this is the last ditch effort’ type of ploy. If people feel to give, then let them do it.

 

3. Give Intelligently

Ask yourself ‘Can I afford to do this right this very second or will next week be better when I can give more?’ Find out more about the situation. Make sure your money gets to where it is meant to go and not in someone’s personal pocket (we call it lunch money here). Think about the way you can give that has the most impact.

 

4. Ask Questions

When will this money be spent, by whom, will I see the results, why do they need it right there and then? It’s okay to ask questions and if more people did they would be giving to areas that really bring about change.

 

5. Bank Accounts

Red flags go off if people ask me to give to their personal bank accounts. Where is the accountability and how will I be receipted? For us, we have a personal bank account in New Zealand that friends and family put money into to help keep us in Africa. That’s only because we haven’t set up a Trust there (yet). However, if it’s a business we have a partner trust people can give into and get a tax deductible receipt. In Australia, the US and the UK we have partner organisations who collect donations on our behalf and issue receipts.

Ensure everything is kept above board.

 

6. Ask the Person Involved Themselves

We’ve had some people who out of the kindness of their hearts asked for money on our behalf for personal costs. We became aware of it because a cousin sent me a message on Facebook telling us about it and did we know them. Hence, 3 hours later I am still cleaning up the fallout of that. Thankfully my cousin did that otherwise we would’ve been oblivious to it all and it really could’ve done some damage to our credibility. If you get a request from someone you think you know give them a call and ask them did they send it out or what is the best way they can help.

We want people to keep giving, no question about that one. However, we also don’t want to bring into disrepute the good work that volunteers around the world are doing. We have many friends who work with babies, children, the elderly and the special needs in countries some haven’t even heard of. Let’s keep supporting them because they really do need it. The vision is always bigger than the resources and while money doesn’t bring happiness it does help bring positive change to millions of people on our earth.

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.

 

Daughter of a Missionary

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

all of us

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

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

  1. You’re allowed to miss them

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

  1. Most people don’t understand

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

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

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

  1. Your parents are irreplaceable

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

  1. Make “other family”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

So, what do you do actually do for a job?

Here we (Shaz and Liz) are in the last week of a month speaking tour in New Zealand (NZ) before we head to Aussie to do the same. We’ve been in schools, unis, Rotary Clubs and had lots and lots of coffee catchups with people.

In this month alone we’ve slept in 12 different beds.

Besides the question of corruption the other question I mainly get asked is “So, what do you actually do for a job?” So here’s what we actually do, although every day is different.

 

Sharon

I try to be in the office by 8.45am but it depends on traffic. Sometimes it takes 5 minutes, other days 30. Basically in the mornings I volunteer with an organisation called Afri-Lift which works with children and youth for very poor backgrounds. On Mondays I’m in meetings until 2pm, Tuesdays I write grants for fundraising, Wednesday’s prepare for a 6 hour teaching day, Thursday teach, Friday do marketing.

 

The afternoons/evenings are taken up with work for BeyondWater (the Aussie charity we started in 2007), writing LOTS of emails, blogging, social network updates, looking at projects and every now and then taking Pete out for a coffee. I work till about 9pm most nights with my other spouse – the laptop.

IMG_7193

Some of the great kids we get to work with.

Three out of four weekends we also have programs on. One Saturday we train youth leaders, another we have a tuition program in the Kibera Slum and the third Sunday of the month we assist with the Riziki Childrens Program. That leaves us one extra Sunday to meet up with some young couples we are mentoring.

 

In addition we host lots of international visitors, sometimes go to the Kibera Slum with food packages or randomly do things like have the odd day off.

 

Pete

My days are certainly never dull and boring. Like Sharon, on Mondays we have a staff meeting for a couple of hours but every day/week is different. Sometimes you’ll find me tiling a kitchen, fixing a tractor, buying a truckload full of seeds to transporting tomatoes. You will also see me working with teenage boys training them on the ‘how tos’ of farming. This might mean pulling apart something that doesn’t work and showing them how to fix it. A lot tends to break down and it’s giving the locals the skills so next time they can fix it themselves. When I say things are varied, it’s a slight understatement. One morning I might be trying to find a market for the produce that the trainees grow and then that afternoon helping to install a water tank.

pete

Pete showing one of the boys how to use machinery.

I try and spend 2 – 3 days out at the farm which is about an hours drive. But I also need to be in town to work out all the other stuff. I’m not confined to an office or computer but every couple of days you can’t get away from paperwork. I work with a small team of people who have different roles but one thing I’ve learnt is that you can never over communicate.

Here in Kenya things are complicated and take much longer than say in Australia. You can’t go to one hardware store and get everything you want. Just because they say something is definitely in stock doesn’t mean it’s actually there.

This year I’m trying to take a couple of afternoons off a week. So far I’ve failed miserably.

Every couple of months we get personally involved with our water projects. That might mean driving a few hours to meet up with the community to make sure they’re on track.

That in a nutshell is our life, but it’s much more interesting in reality than in print. We meet amazing people, every day is a challenge and there is lots of work yet to be done.

 

Why not join us by:

  1. Giving (ask me how)
  2. Joining us (long or short tem)
  3. Find out more (shoot me an email – thewildcreanberries@gmail.com)

Let’s Stop Bagging the Rich

It seems that so many people are up in arms about Oxfam’s news release that 85 people own 110 trillion dollars. While I agree with some of their findings there were a few unclear issues for example not naming anyone on their list.

When I talk with former street kids who are in a training program, they will often say that I’m rich because we drive a nice car and are white. I quickly remind them of some facts:

  1. They have a roof over their head, education, clothing and training with the guarantee of a job at the end of it – all for free. So that makes them rich compared to someone living in a slum.
  2. Everything we have has been donated by our faithful partners overseas. We own nothing nor have the ability to earn money. We are totally reliant on our faith in God.

dollar

So what do we consider rich to be? Is it that someone has more than me, better clothes, a nicer car or endless cash to burn?

One thing I can tell you that poverty does not glorify God.

And why do we have the need to pull down those who have more, or much more than us? It doesn’t change our situation or our attitude. Yet in our eyes we feel justified by doing it.

If you take a further step and look at some of the worlds richest billionaires not all of them or even a fair percentage have inherited wealth. Somewhere along the way they started a company of some sort. For anyone who has started a business, you know it is a lot of sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears. There are times when your business nearly goes bust and then times of great fruitfulness. Mostly though it’s just a lot of hard work. There are plenty of sleepless nights and way too much paperwork.

forbesI admire people who have been able to make their business profitable.

If it weren’t for some business people we wouldn’t have been able to do what we’ve done. There are friends who have sacrificially given both from their profits and in hope that things will turn around for them.

What we need to do is stop judging. Who says you can’t own more than one house? Why not do such things as an investment for your children and their children.

We need to realise that we all have times of great need and great abundance. When we were youth workers in Christchurch, New Zealand there were weeks when we had hardly any money. As a mother it was horrible looking into the fridge and hoping that when I opened the door that food would magically appear.  We’ve had other times when we have had enough so that we could but things such things as a television or furniture for people who were in need.

I tell you now I would much prefer to be on the side of having enough to give to others than always in need.

Right now we are on assignment in Kenya, working with young people. One of our biggest struggles is that as part of our visa permit we can’t go out and earn money. Having to rely on others is a huge burden.

Our times of need are much more often than our times of abundance. Even this month we are not sure if we can pay our rent but we’re believing that by Friday the money will be there. Some people rave on about how they ‘live by faith’ as if it’s an easy journey. Trust me, it isn’t.

cashIn addition to not judging (because everyone has a story) we also can give thanks for what we DO have.  An attitude of gratefulness  helps us to enjoy what we have and stop looking at what we don’t.

Instead of criticising billionaires or those we consider richer than us,  let’s start learning from them and see what we can put into practise for ourselves.

Thank you, thank you very much (Elvis)

In October last year Pete, Liz and I left our home, our family and friends and our youngest daughter to move to Nairobi, Kenya.

Note that I said moved and not just to visit.

There is a huge difference from going somewhere for a couple of months each year to actually packing up and relocating. Sure, people will put up with your habits, idiosyncrasies and weird ways of doing things. Give it 6 months and they may want to quit before you do!

There are days when it is really satisfying, especially when you can help one of the local leaders do their job better, or when a teenager who never talks to you comes up and says ‘Thanks, keep on doing what you’re doing, it’s great’. Other days suck to the max.

You get over every second guy on the street yelling out ‘Muzungu’ (yes I do actually know that I’m white but thanks for pointing it out anyway). Or the traffic is so bad it makes you want to beg the next driver to do you a favour and run you over. Or you just want to be with old friends but know that YOU’VE made the choice to leave them.

Moving country, especially to a developing one, is not for the faint hearted. I think I’ve discovered more about myself than anything else in the 7 months we’ve been in Kenya. I don’t always like what I see, but I hope it’s a passing phase.

Sometimes we just want to escape Nairobi and get away from it all. We do that by going to look at potential water projects out of town. That may mean driving to another country but it’s worth it. Personally, I’m looking forward to going to Tanzania later in the year. It’s only about a 5 hour drive (okay, add another hour at the border) but that’s nothing. We’ve a number of friends there doing stuff like schools and training programs and I think I’m going to enjoy just being with them for a few days.

While you can’t always escape a situation, you can always do something really out there. For me, it means having a latte. Sure, you can mock, but I’ve never been into coffee so to go and actually pay for one and drink it is a huge thing. Pete and I have found it a way of doing cheap therapy. Mind you, there’s this really nice gluten free brownie that is phenomenal.

Amongst it all, I am truly grateful for what we have right now. We have electricity, which is a bonus, especially since it’s been off for most of the last 3 days. Today, we got curtains for two of the bedrooms. It’s got to beat having a blanket up there. Last week, a very generous business offered us the funds for a car – that is absolutely huge. I love it when I get Facebook messages, text messages or emails from people to let me know they haven’t forgotten we exist.

Thankfulness is a real key to being in a place like Africa. You get to rejoice in the little things – like having access to a flushing toilet or a car that someone lends you. But it’s also being thankful when things don’t go your way. The Bible says to give thanks IN everything, not necessarily for it. I’m not overjoyed when I know that some of the kids in the child sponsorship program are struggling with alcoholic parents, aren’t making it in school or may be married off in their mid teens. But I am thankful that they can actually go to school and get a chance to make their future different.

So, I can sit and whinge that there’s no electricity to cook Pete a nice roast meal, or I can get over myself and get the gas going and put it in a frying pan.

thanks

Yes, this is sometimes us.

The Biggest Sacrifice Of All

There are many ancient religions where children were sacrificed on behalf of their parents. These include the Incas, Moabites, Phoenicians and Islamists.

Usually it was to appease a god, please them or in the hope of better crops.

Even today child sacrifice continues around the globe. ‘There are many indicators that politicians and politically connected wealthy businessmen are involved in sacrificing children which has become a commercial enterprise.’ (Wikipedia)

What made me think of this gruesome event was when our daughter stomped off to her bedroom last night yelling ‘that’s it, I’m packing my bags and getting the next flight home!”

While it may not mean a lot to the average person to us it was a huge thing. Because we had decided to move to Kenya our youngest moved out of home and then moved country to New Zealand where she hadn’t lived for 11 years. Our oldest (Liz) came with us.

Literally she had no choice. Liz is a special needs young adult and cannot live by herself. She is a high functioning Aspergers. Most people don’t even know because she is so friendly, has the best smile, cooks wonderfully and is adventurous. Liz has no worries about jumping on a plane to travel from Kenya to Australia, as long as she has her paperwork printed out and in order. If you ask her how her day was, her answer will always be ‘good’.

So for her to say what she did really hit hard.

People think it’s ‘so wonderful’ what we are doing (working in Africa) but there is a flip side to it that most don’t even think of.

Our kids sacrifice for us to be here.

There are days when you wonder if that sacrifice is really worth it. They have to give up friends, family, jobs and the convenience of the only life they’ve known. There is a huge difference between visiting somewhere and living there.

For Liz she has totally lost her friendship and support network and doesn’t have the ability to rebuild that. There are no great social services for those with a disability here. Getting to a church event during the week is a 90 minute drive each way – and that’s on a good day. Art classes are exorbitantly expensive. Volunteer positions for her are just about zero. Then, there’s the fact that she has to fly back to Australia every 3 months to keep her disability pension.

As parents we really do feel we have sacrificed our kids for this mission.

It happens around the globe time and time again. It’s an extra thing when you have a child with a disability because their future doesn’t look quite as bright as it did before.

We now have to make a decision to whether she stays here or has to return to New Zealand and see her only every few years. Right now the thought of that is too much to bear.

girls

So when you hear of people working in developing countries take a moment to think about how it impacts their family both for the good and bad. There are those working for a large NGO that cater for their housing, transport and kids schooling, then there are small development workers like us who scrape by on their friends donations. Either way, at some stage they either have to return to their home country for their children’s education or they have to say goodbye to them, unsure of when/if they will see them again.

Skype and social networks never replace a real relationship, but it sure beats the old days before they were invented.

Our kids have been blessed to be involved in humanitarian work in several countries, seen many places in the world that others only read about and have had an impact in changing communities. I believe it has changed them and made them better and bigger minded people. I don’t regret investing in them to travel, it has been worth every dollar spent.

“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future” John F Kennedy

 

Okay, I’m Ready To Go Home Now

I woke up this morning feeling angry, frustrated and ready to kill the rooster next door who announces EVERY morning that it’s 4am. I was over constantly finding new areas of my body swollen from mosquito bites overnight even though we have the state of the art bug killer system in our room. The fact that I haven’t got malaria yet is a miracle. Both wrists look broken but they’re only swollen. My forehead is a racing track for mossies and they leave not little hills where they’ve been. I have to sleep with a pillow over my head to keep the buggers away (yes, that’s how I feel) but they are so persistent they burrow under. I feel very justified squashing them and are SO happy when I find a dead one on my pillow.

Then I whacked my head on the window because it has a small frame to keep out burglars, even on the second floor. I had to buy a cheap second phone for a system here called MPESA, which enables me to transfer funds to you via a phone if needed. We’ve taken it in twice now and it still won’t work on the system. I’m told that I will get a text message so I can put credit on it. Three days later, still nothing.

We’ve waited 2 ½ months for our visas so we can stay in the country rather than drive 3 hours to the border and visit Tanzania for a day and then come back. On the same day I get a rejection letter from last year I get an approval letter from the lawyer. He tells me it’s costing $100, the Minister of Immigration’s letter says $1,000. Flip, I’m a development worker, we live from day to day, where would I find $1,000 from? Eventually we find out it’s a typo (sack the secretary I say) and I stop having a heart attack.

I realised today that I haven’t been out in the sun in over 8 weeks and I’m lily white. It’s ironic since I live in East Africa and not far from the Equator. All simply because it’s been head down and bum up working 24/7.

To put it in a nutshell, I miss the ease of life in Sydney. Sure, people complain they have to wait 25 minutes to talk to someone on Optus, but at least you can actually talk to someone.  Traffic is bad in any city, but if you get pulled up by a cop he’s not going to threaten to throw you in jail because you indicated to turn then changed your mind. And he won’t demand a $100 on the spot bribe while holding a rifle. If you take your phone in because it’s dodgy then they ask for your passport first, which you want to leave at home because you don’t want it stolen.

What I really wanted to do was put my head back under the covers and ignore the fact that I had to head to the office to answer the never ending stream of emails. I wanted to cry, kick something and pack a pre-school tantrum. Of course, I couldn’t because it changes nothing, and our housemaid (comes with the house sitting) would arrive soon and she would tell me to have more faith and get myself together (got to love her honesty).

Instead I went where I should’ve and that was to the Word of God. I’m reading through Matthew and at the end of chapter 19 the disciples say to Jesus ‘Hey, we’ve given up everything to follow you, what are we going to get out of it’ (my version). Jesus quick reply is that they’ll get back one hundredfold, and eternal life. Nice one Jesus! Put everything in perspective, what really is the thing that matters in life, is the eternity we get to hang with him.

A wise friend once said that when we get to Heaven our life on Earth will be like some vague memory compared to what we’ll have – forever. I quite like that philosophy.

So when I say I’m ready to go home you can be super spiro and think ‘Okay she’s ready to die and go to Heaven’. Not really, while to live is Christ and to die is gain, I’ve got a whole lot more to get in my life before I quit this place.

Am I ready to go back to Sydney? No, but when I do get to go on holiday boy am I going to enjoy it! Kenya doesn’t feel like ‘home’ yet, but we both agree, we aren’t meant to be anywhere else.

So when I say I’m ready to go home I’m talking about having a whole day off tomorrow. Staying in bed and reading, hanging out in my pj’s watching a DVD and then maybe cook something wickedly yummy and full of chocolate.

Until then, I will keep my eyes on where they are meant to be, on Christ who endured everything just for me. That’s when I’m trying NOT to scratch my myriad of mossie bites! Right now, I’m getting a towel, laying it on the ground and taking the next 10 minutes to try and get a tan.