First Impressions.

You can feel fall in the air long before you can even really touch it with your skin or see it in the trees. (People from California, you will just have to trust me.) And for the first time in four years I am experiencing that again. Almost like you can feel the struggle, the scraping for money at the register and the daily grind. And those two things have made me feel more at home here in some ways than I ever did in Malibu. Don’t get me wrong; Malibu became a second home to me. But I had to learn to love it. I’m the type of person- I guess we all are, really- who loves to feel things going on around me; to be connected; to transcend if you will, as Thoreau or Emerson might say. Malibu wasn’t like that. Everyone drove around in cars that were worth more than my life, and whether they were billionaires or drowning in debt, they lived like kings and kept everything and everyone at an arm’s length. It is so interesting to realize, after all I’ve “learned” in the past about Chinese people, that they are aching to let someone in. It comes out in strange ways, but they do not keep others at an arm’s length either physically or emotionally.

Where do I begin? This is a daunting task; I’ve been dragging my feet about this entry for a couple of weeks now which doesn’t make it any easier.  I guess I’ll start in America. Here goes…

Four days before my August 26 flight, it became evident that I was not leaving on August 26. My school still had not sent the necessary documents to apply for my visa, and being that it was two days before the weekend, express mail to Houston was out of the question. Instead I decided to keep my flight to LA on the 26 and chance it by going to the consulate there. I arrived on Sunday night, and by seven the next morning I was at the consulate. Long story short, a process that should have taken nine hours was finished, after some frantic pleading, in about five. That was after being shot down once, and told not to come back until two. Sprinting down the street, visa in hand at 11:45, it seemed I had never been so happy. We made it to the airport at 12:44, exactly one minute before the international flight check in deadline.

Once in China, Casey and I had to split up. My waiban (someone employed by the school to help foreign teachers get set up) came to pick me up but we did not have enough room for Casey. I asked if we could take a bag of hers. Negative. So I spent a two hour ride from Shanghai to Xiasha thinking about all the ways that a 120 lb. girl with 120 lb. of luggage could get in trouble in a country with no knowledge of the language. We agreed to meet at her school at four, five hours later. I have no idea how I found it. Armed with minimal information from my waibans and a very basic understanding of Chinese, I made it by about five.

A lot has changed since that first day. Students and friends from home alike often ask, “Do you like the food?” The answer is, I love the food! Although I have seen some strange things. Pig heart and ear, chicken foot, frog brain, squid stomach, lotus root- I’ve really experimented. It’s hard to get healthy food here because the fruits and veggies, grown in night soil (soil fertilized with human feces) and sprayed with very harsh pesticides, must all be peeled or boiled before eating. There is minimal meat and a lot of simple starches. Rice has become a very regular part of my diet.

And what Chinese experience would be complete without an e-bike? Well actually, a lot of Chinese experiences are complete without an e-bike. I would say 70% choose to cram on the crowded busses. I counted 97 people on a 34-person bus on the way to downtown one day. Still, the independent and adventurous American in me decided an e-bike would be a better and cheaper way to explore. Probably 20% of the people in my area go that route. The last 10% have cars. But the Chinese, whether on bus, e-bike, car or foot choose to make their presence very blatantly known on the streets. There are no right of way laws for anyone. Along every major street lines two smaller side streets for e-bikes, but there is no generally accepted direction. Technically the bike lane is intended to follow the same direction as the side of the street it is on, but this is only true 70% of the time. And it is nothing unusual when a biker or pedestrian rides or walks into your lane unexpectedly without looking at all. Which is exactly what happened to me, traveling at about 45 km/hr with Casey behind me on my e-bike. We hit the pavement, and I had scabs to prove it for three weeks. Not surprisingly in a country that absolutely lives up to its American stereotype on the road, that was not the first accident I was involved in. The first happened on the second day when our taxi, stopped and facing the wrong direction on a one way, one lane road, was hit by a bus who decided to proceed despite the obvious lack of space for even a regular car. After a lot of angry Chinese words the problem was solved with 300 kuai or so. I guess it’s all genetic.

As far as teaching goes, it has been much easier than expected. Americans, and foreigners too for that matter, are much less commonplace than expected. Which has made me somewhat of a novelty in my classrooms. On the first day I had all my students fill out an information sheet with a question for me and something about themselves. After one girl asked if she could take a picture with me after class the floodgates opened. Every girl in the class had to have a picture of or with the “handsome American.” On that day I heard words like “sexy” and I had to cut it off at “naughty” with a short conversation about student-teacher boundaries. The energetic, animated, interactive and impassioned approach to teaching is something that is really new in this culture, and the students really seem to love it! And for the first time it seems, my students are being asked to think, to form questions, to have opinions, to wonder, and not just to solve problems laid before them. It has been a real encouragement hearing positive feedback from my students and boss. In fact I was even asked to teach a special class for students wishing to compete in this November’s nation wide English language competition. This job comes with the perks of extra salary and the five best students I teach. My American history class is a little more challenging because of the language gap, but still very fun and interesting to prepare.

It is so interesting to see the ways in which the Chinese education system has failed these students. In high school, students start school at six AM and stay there until six PM. They go home, work on homework for three or four hours, then go to bed and do it again. College is their first chance to have free time or interact with peers outside the classroom. The effects of this social stifling are very evident. My students sit at tables with only students of the same sex out of choice. A few have boyfriends or girlfriends, but refuse to acknowledge them in class. If the topic of relationships or sex is brought up, a slew of giggles ensue. In history class while conveying the atrocities of slavery I mentioned that rape was commonplace on the early American plantation. I watched uncomfortably as the class struggled to hold back their laughter at the mention of such a word. Casey asked her students to write “I am” poems. She then taped them to the walls and asked them to go around and write positive feedback for the authors. A good idea turned sour when the students used the poems as a forum to bully each other. The students could easily be mistaken for seventh graders, and I have realized that my high school experience probably taught me more outside of the classroom than inside.

My computer in my office wasn’t working- no problem for me, because I always use my laptop anyway. My boss, however, insisted that we go get another one after her meeting last week. I decided to do some troubleshooting. Across the room was a free monitor and an extra VGA cable. I turned on the CPU and connected it to the new monitor. Voila! The screen flashed to light, displaying the contents of my dusty virtual desktop. When Ruby came in to take me to get a new computer, I showed her my success. “Wow! How dir your do zat? I try to get it work four time! Our computer guy come twice. You mus be so smart!” No. I just have a few basic problem solving algorithms. So I told her that we should still go get a new monitor, that I had borrowed the other to test. She insisted that we get a new CPU too. She was afraid it might break again. After trying to explain in about three different ways I gave in and we carried a whole computer across campurs. I might have excused her poor problem solving skills to a poor understanding of computers, except that I had watched three people from IT come to look at the problem. For all the ways our educational system fails us, I think it does a pretty good job at teaching us to think outside the box.

Making friends here too has been easier than expected. There are 11 other foreign teachers here and we have gotten close so fast. We have games every Sunday and they are so alive! The games remind me a lot of the ones that the first players talked about in the Gameplan. Everyone so unique and fun in their own way! The students and other Chinese people too have been easy to make friends with. Students are eager to show us downtown or to their hometowns or to study English with us. One of my students has been studying with me three times a week to improve English. We are using the gameplan as a guide and she seems interested. She even brought another student last time. She said many students were looking for something like this, which excites me a lot. She meant they were looking for English lessons, but whether she knows it or not, I know they are looking for some playing time too.

I have another friend named Victor, too. I met him downstairs at the hotel that Casey lives in where he works. As it turns out he was also Caleb Sommer’s best Chinese friend two years ago when he was here. For those of you who don’t know, Caleb also attended Pepperdine and graduated two years ago. He was a very good friend of mine, and actually was a big part of my decision to come to China. In looking back, I actually remember him telling me about Victor and showing me pictures, but my meeting Victor came before I remembered any of that. A few nights ago Victor was looking for someone to go out with, as he often does when he has a bad day at work, a common experience for Victor. We have become close, so he asked me if I would like to go out with him. He took me to a cool outdoor restaurant complex and then to a two hour Chinese massage at 11:30 at night. It was a fun and goofy experience.

We talked about many things, a few of which were his passions. He told me about one dream he had, which I already knew about, which is to come to America to live and work. Then he told me about another. He said, “This may sound a little weird, but I want to help people be happy after death. And I want to give their families peace. Many of my friends think it is dangerous, but it is important to me, I think it’s not dangerous.” (Substitute Victor Chinglish.) Victor is a great guy, and his dream comes from a true desire to help. But he wants to start meddling in some kind of witchcraft to help him. I told him that I too was really concerned with people’s happiness after death, and the peace of their families. Best of all I said, I have found a fail-proof way to help. I explained about my Father. Of course he knows about Father from Caleb. I explained it like a mountain, using a ricebowl and chopsticks for props.

“Here is Coach up here,” I said with a chopstick atop the bowl. “Now there are so many coaches out there,” I continued, “and the goal for every team is to get to the coach.”

“I know about this.”

“Yes, of course Victor. But every other coach waits for the players to come up to him. The battle is hard, and players cannot do it on their own. Our Coach Coaches! He actually comes down the mountain and brings players to the top.”

A light bulb dimly lit up. “Ah. I understand!”

We continued to talk and he seemed interested. He said, “You know, the Chinese heart is tired and old. We are young, we look young, but inside we are so old. American hearts are beautiful. You are like Caleb, you seem so young.”

I told him it was all about the Coach, not about nationality. It seems like Victor would love some Playing time, but just doesn’t know that much about teams, or which one to play for. So I need petitions. Please ask Coach to put Victor in the game, to convince Victor what team to play for.

There are really too many experiences to even start to describe here. Just know that China has been great. It has been very different, both from America and from my expectations. So far, I do not feel homesick, just enamored at all the new things and great people. I look forward with excitement at what’s to come, and who knows, maybe even a long-term commitment to this exciting land. Until next time, thanks for reading!


A Feeling that Doesn’t Fade

So much to say. And really no good way to put it all into words. A tired, four-person team has finally made it back to America – safe, sound, and certainly a little different than when we left.

We got back to our readers late on Monday because of our terribly long matatu ride from Kisumu (emphasis on terribly). This meant we only had half a day, and because we were so exhausted we left early too. I did finish two books though: Radical by David Platt, and God Bless You Mr. Rosewater by Kurt Voneghut, my favorite author. Then we headed home for dinner. The rest of the week with readers went by as usual too. I wish I had had more time to write too because there is no way, after a week as long as this one, to remember all the funny things that we heard from the Kenyans during our reading sessions. I do, however, distinctly remember a few. Ginora asked me if it was true what she seen on her African American friend’s facebook: “Are the Israelis really becoming a big problem in America? I heard they are trying to take over the American parliament.” I responded to her question with a short lesson in American Government and Politics which I am sure fell on deaf ears. My response was followed by an equally difficult question in an entirely different arena, also gathered from her African American friend’s facebook: “Is it true that African Americans are not allowed to get jobs easily in America because they are not allowed to get opportunities at education?” Which is more perplexing to discuss with someone from an entirely different culture in fifth-grade-level-English, American Government or American racism? The answer is yes.

The week also brought meal invitation after meal invitation. We ate dinner at George’s house on Wednesday, dinner at Lule’s on Thursday, lunch at Matilda and Franck’s on Friday, and dinner with Susan and her godfather later that night. Every meal was wonderful and each followed a similar procedure. Light conversation and laughter upon arrival. Pastor Paul arrives. Business-meeting-style fellowship begins: prayer, two songs of praise in Swahili, two songs presented by the Americans, a devotional given by an unsuspecting member of the American team, two more songs of praise, a word of prayer, closing comments of welcome and thanks by Kenyans followed by the same by the Americans. I enjoyed the fellowships. It is refreshing to be so constantly immersed in meditation. But we agreed that PP runs everything with a businessman mindset. The meetings became almost robotic, with the exception of Franck and Matilda’s, for which PP was absent. I did however, discover my favorite African drink – Pineapple Cordial. I made sure to pack a solid liter on my check in.

Early Saturday morning I woke up to a noise at our window. Franck and Matilda had warned us many times to be cautious of intruders, especially at that window. Even despite the steel meshwork of rebar framing, the holes were large enough to get a hand through the windows, which were right by our beds. I got up to investigate and upon finding nothing of interest, simply went to the bathroom and went back to bed. No more than five minutes later I heard the sound again. I sat up, anxiously accepting the fact that I would have to deal with whoever was there. To my relief it was just Abbie. She was putting up decorations for Greg’s twenty-first. Unfortunately it was a sick Greg who woke up with surprise to a room glistening with streamers, a happy birthday sign, and shiny, cardboard balloons. It didn’t put a big damper on the mood though. We went into town to do some last minute shopping with Franck, Matilda and David, and because there was no way to make the cake a surprise, we took Greg with us to get it. The big cake was too expensive, but that was just as well because it seems that the one that best fit our needs and feelings towards Greg was a heart. We asked that “We Love You, Greg!” be written on the cake. Three minutes later the cake came back, “We Love You Guy.” The baker sensed from the abundant laughter that he had made a mistake, but we refused to let him change it. This really was the only message that really summed up, in birthday form, everything that we had experienced in Kenya. A number of friends packed in the small living room to help us celebrate. A few hours after the cake came Fanis’ dinner. And since we had all been living in Africa for a month, we had very few qualms about what we ate. Such was the case with a the fish that Fanis served. The fish that had never, in the week or so since it was caught, been in a refrigerator. The fish that had suffered a thirteen-hour bus ride with Fanis, probably in a plastic bag. The fish that would ruin my night!

Throughout the night, I did not sleep well. I awoke a number of times nauseated, coaxing myself back into a clammy sleep through deep breathing patterns that may have resembled a woman trying to give birth. Finally in the morning, it was too much to deal with. I woke up and told Abbie I wasn’t feeling well. As we began discussing probable causes the thought of the previous night’s fish did me in. I practically jumped through the mosquito netting to get clothes on and sprinted outside just in time to greet Kaitlyn in the front yard with a mouthful of the beautiful stuff. As it turned out, she had a similar experience in the bathroom in the washpail about thirty minutes earlier. Greg too had been sick, making a holy mess of that poor bathroom. Fanis and Kevin worked hard though, and that bathroom never stayed dirty for more than five minutes.

We all opted out of breakfast and arrived at the church by 9:30. It was precisely then that Francis told me that I would again be giving the sermon. We were a sad looking bunch. I gave the lesson and apologized for our lack-luster appearances. Just as I was finishing, Abbie too got sick. Except since there was someone in the bathroom, she left her mark on the bathroom door. It was probably just as well, since inside the small room was the mark I had left inside. Aiming can be hard when your sick and your target is a small hole. I had not passed my target practice with flying colors. A number of the church women rushed to escort Abbie to the church office to be comforted, Susan repeating over and over, “Satan is a liar! Satan is a LIAR!” I guess that was supposed to do something to quell off the nausea. To close the service we all received miniature giraffes and leopards from the church members. As I got up to give my closing remarks to the church, Jerry the Giraffe and Larry the Leopard accompanied me to well-wish the congregation.

After church we went home to some biscuits and pineapple juice that none of us accepted. Then we went to the airport where we were seen off by twenty of our friends in true Kenyan fashion. On our way home I reflected on the trip.

In so many ways the life in Kenya was obviously so very different than my life in America ever will be. I was able to reflect, meditate, and grow so much in Kenya. So how do I take what I learned there and apply it to what I know here? And how do I accept that I will not have that type of time to meditate every day when I get back, but still motivate myself to grow in similar ways? How will I re-acclimate to my life in the states? Don’t get me wrong, I know this was a life changing experience in some ways, but I don’t expect to come back a completely different person in every aspect. And I don’t want to re-apply the same clichés that have already been repeated incessantly. Obviously there is more to wealth than money. Clearly these people can be just as strong in Christ as we are even with less. Of course life is different and that works for them. I don’t want to pretend like these were things that were life-changing things that I didn’t at all anticipate observing. I have heard these clichés before, I have lived these clichés in other places before, I’ve probably even said these types of things before. I want to take back the more subtle things. I want to truly be a student of the blatant and subtle differences in how relationships are formed and interactions take place. And I want to truly be a scholar of not only the cultural education this specific opportunity provides for me, but also what this specific culture says about other cultures and other people.

It’s so interesting how experiences and interactions affect different people in different ways. On the flight between Addis Ababa and Washington DC I overheard and participated in conversations with some of these people. One girl told me she had enjoyed her time in Tanzania but would never want to have to live in any place like that. She talked about the lifestyle in a sympathetic, almost demeaning way. It was as if she were talking about a group of poor dogs with rabies. I heard others bleating about how disgusted they were with America and Americans – their self-servicing, self-centered lifestyle. I harmonize with both sides in small ways, but feel that both are too parochial to fully appreciate the richness of the gap between our lifestyles. Many in Africa could certainly reap benefits in health and comfort if they adopted cleaner living standards and education. And many in America would be a lot less ignorant if they realized the importance and truth of the saying, “Money isn’t everything.” Still, I’m not ready to buy everyone in Africa a car, refrigerator and trashcan, or argue that every American should empty their bank accounts and trash their 401(k). Both cultures are, for the most part, comfortable living how they live for simply that reason: it is how they live. It is how they have learned to live. To act like either needs to completely change the way they live is as culturally insensitive as not acknowledging the difference at all. Different cultures are just different. That’s all there is to it, and that’s okay.

It’s been a wonderful trip. Sitting in my living room with my sister though, I’m glad to be home. But this summer’s undertakings have left on me a lasting impression that will never fade.

You will bring fish for me?

We slipped though the rest of our week without any extraordinary occurrences. When Thursday came, it was time finally to embark on our much-anticipated trip to Kisumu by Lake Victoria. Most who heard of our plans to travel there might as well have heard that the President of Kenya was scheduled to visit them personally and offer them some great reward. Most of the people we are closest to are from the Luo tribe, which comes from the Kisumu region. Therefore, most of them have family and a homestead there. Hearing of someone going to their region makes them so very happy. So then, it was after our lunch on Thursday that we embarked, but not before much ceremonial procession. Cynthia joined us for lunch and asked that we bring her back a fish. This was not an original request, as six others had already asked the same thing. Another thing about the Luo people: as they come from the lake region, they all, every last one of them, love fresh fish. By six it was enough with the pleasantries. We bluntly and blatantly denied her request. In true Kenyan form she failed to understand our most clear of vetoes and continued to ask. Our answer was unmoving and firm. Then, after a short devotional, an encouragement, two songs, a prayer, and two rounds of Kenyan hugs (which consist of a handshake and an weak and uneasy embrace on eachside of the head) we were on our way to the bus station for a thirteen-hour bus ride embarking at five. “We” consisted of Greg, Abbie, Kaitlyn, Pastor Paul, John, Matilda, Ferdinand, and myself.

When we got to the station the Pastor assigned our seats. John, Matilda and Ferdinand were on a separate bus. The American’s assigned seats were all four next to each other and thus we took up an entire row in the “luxury” liner. The Pastor was on an Island in the row in front of us. This did away with the game of rock-paper-scissors that had previously assigned a forlorn Greg the seat next to Paul. Instead, we sat behind the large Pastor and watched him encroach on his neighbor throughout the night like a broken bobblehead. We watched the process replay like a broken record: Paul’s head begins to sway, finds a resting place on the most proximate shoulder, the shoulder’s owner coughs, moves, pokes, etc., Paul wakes up for just long enough to start again. We could not help but laugh in sympathetic understanding, as this process was only a metaphor for our social interactions with the man. So sadly unaware he can be. As the Pastor Paul obtruded, I unfortunately did the same. My seat was broken, so every twenty minutes it was back in the reclining position on the woman behind me. We had been warned a number of times, too, that we would want to pack sweaters for the “cold” bus ride. We did not, but others on the bus certainly had. The bus reached around sixty degrees Fahrenheit and the Kenyans had come equipped as a Texan might have come equipped for a Penguin-watching expedition in Antarctica.

After a long night’s ride, we reached Kisumu. We went to Paul’s sister’s house where we were given breakfast and a short nap. After about three and a half seconds of sleep we were gathered into a matatu to go to Kisumu’s museum of Luo history. There were interesting things there like a traditional village set-up, a collection of ancient hunting items and other recovered artifacts, a small petting zoo, a snake collection, and a 100-year-old tortoise. Paul made sure to point out that the tortoise was, in fact, a tortoise and that the snakes were, in fact, snakes. Good thing he told us – we don’t have those types of things in America. In all actuality the museum was pretty cool.

We were whisked away next to Paul’s sister-in-law’s house. There were probably three hundred children or so there. We were treated to fresh sugarcane and a wonderful meal. Here I realized why all the Kenyans asked that we bring back a fish for them. The fresh tilapia was amazing. I did feel the need to apologize to it as I swallowed, as its sad little eyes asked simply, “Why?” As we ate, little chicklings played with our feet and defecated on the floor. Here in Kenya, all creatures are welcome. Stray dogs, cats, chickens, everything but rats. The dogs, we were told, ward off theifs, the cats catch the rats, the chickens, er., run around being chickens. After lunch, I tinkered a little with a miserable excuse of a car that the family wished for me to fix. I told them I was no mechanic, had only a little understanding. It would not have helped if I were though. The car’s heart was in its stomach. Inside the cab were the engine block, radiator, header, cams, and various other tubings, all rusted and dirty. We played a little with a few of the children and then were on our way.

We left at what seemed like a reasonable time, and again after what may have been hours of ceremony. Somehow though, it was not until deep into the dark that we got close to our nighttime destination, John’s homestead. When we did get close, we realized the matatu wouldn’t take us all the way. Or maybe the driver was just tired of responding to John’s ridiculous demands. We had already beckoned the poor fifteen-foot machine through ruts, rocks and drops that sounded like they had all but removed all the important parts from the bottom of the vehicle. Because it had been raining the terrain near the village was impassable by our current ride. Four motorcycles came to rescue our things and us now. As we road it began to pour. I road with Ferdinand, and I began to think that the rainwater would not be the only liquid drenching me. Ferdinand sputtered on and on about his fear of a wreck. Ferdinand is eighteen and just about to finish his last year of high school. He is kind, joyful, innocent, and silly. Finally we reached our destination, a mud house with no electricity or running water. We thanked the lord for our safe journey through the rain, and praised him as we ate popcorn and drank warm chai. Then we headed to John’s simba. Simba is a Swahili word meaning lion, and it is also the word used for a son’s one-room house on his parent’s homestead. John’s simba has the exact same layout as all others, as called for in Luo tradition. There is one large room, maybe 12’ x 8’, and one small room separated from the larger by a doorway with no door, maybe 6’ x 8’. There are no windows. Greg and I slept in the smaller room on a thatch pad on the dirt floor. We were tired and it was comfortable.

I awoke the next morning and stepped outside the simba to relieve myself behind the small building. I would have expected that the Pastor would have heard and waited to talk to me until I was done. Wrong. I would have expected that once he didn’t hear, he would have seen what I was doing and waited to talk to me until I was done. Wrong again. I would have expected that he would at least avert his eyes from me, as he was getting a full frontal view. Strike three. I opened my morning with yet another PP awkward interaction. Then John, Greg and I went to pick some corn for breakfast. We stayed around for lunch as well and then carried on.

Afternoon brought us to Pastor Paul’s beautiful homestead overlooking a valley. It was here that we learned how to slaughter, skin, and separate a goat. After the show, we took a hike through a village with a number of mud houses as the town drunk followed and tried to tell us stories. Our journey finally lost him as we proceeded up a rock hill to a viewpoint, where the Kenyans insisted that we take silly pictures, something they have become very fond of. Afterwards we headed back to the Pastor’s homestead. I began playing with Christian, Pastor Paul’s youngest, but soon learned that was a mistake. He was a fruit fly for the rest of the night, no less unaware or unwelcome in our presence than the Pastor himself. Then we headed in for a meal of all types of goat including, of course, intestine, which I was asked to eat. Then we had a lantern-lit devotional and went to bed in the only real beds we have had since we’ve been there. We were very grateful, even though Greg’s double, which was balanced on the top bunk of a twin sized bunk bed, was coming through the boards at me. The next morning we were up and ready when we had planned to leave, at 8:30. Of course we didn’t leave then. At 10:15 we started church with around thirty others in the Pastor’s living room. I learned after a few songs and prayers that I was going to give the sermon. I’m so glad I had time to plan. I stalled as I began by thanking the family for welcoming us into their home. Then I gave a lesson about putting God before everything else, no matter what it means based around Ezekiel 2. I think it went pretty well as far as impromptu sermons go. Another extended goodbye and then we headed on.

We made our way through a labyrinth of cornfields and cattle to Matilda’s homestead, the humble plantation of her eighty five year old grandmother. The active old woman lit up as Matilda approached with her guests. This reunion broke four years of separation. After catching up and teatime, Matilda led us to Lake Victoria. The second largest freshwater lake in the world looked more like an ocean, as we stood like ants on the shore of the titan. It was a real mess so we didn’t swim, but I did meet a frustrated teenager working on his uncooperative bicycle. The sad machine had tired of its breaks, cast them off, and spit the bolt connecting them into the sand. Ferdinand located the misplaced bolt but this did not bring the owner any closer to his solution, so I was able to help. This was a less daunting task than the crippled car of earlier and I was more than happy to be of service. After the bike was fixed we headed back to the homestead. We enjoyed the rest of the night together and then headed to Matilda’s Uncle Barak’s house where we stayed for the night. When I woke up the next morning I sad reading on Barak’s couch. He came in to sit down. After about five minutes he asked me about the church. This sparked a two hour conversation that ultimately took us through the glory of God’s love in spite of the sinful actions of God’s people. We went to take breakfast and then headed to say goodbye to Barak before heading for our bus scheduled to leave at twelve. Barak had decided to become baptized though, so we decided to miss our bus! While we waited for Paul to come back and witness, I talked more with Barak. I took him through a watery version of every book in the Bible and what it meant to really be a Christian. When PP arrived we headed once again to the nasty lake. Only it wasn’t so nasty with such an amazing task at hand. We prayed and sang and then I led Barak out into the water, my first Baptism! As we walked back Barak was beaming. He was a child on Christmas and he had received the best gift of all! I continued to explain until we reached the house, then we left.

We got to the bus station at around six, but because of more ceremonies at John’s aunt’s house where we ate dinner, we missed another bus at five. We would have to take a cramped matatu for the thirteen hour drive home. And the matatu was late. As it became dark, normal, well-to-do Kenyans were replaced by roustabouts and drunks. Roustabouts and drunks who flocked around the “rich” Americans. One particular man, obviously on something much stronger than alcohol, performed a show for us. He slinked around pointing, expressing, mouthing, and encroaching. Greg and I put ourselves between him and the girls. When he was about three feet away I finally asked him if we had a problem. He backed up but stuck around. Someone broke a bottle to our right and behind us men whispered back and forth. A matatu enshrined in red and green Christmas lights pulled up blaring music. I thought a group of Mexican-Americans had moved to Kisumu, and we laughed at the absurd prospect anyone who would ever have to ride on such a creation. Then we rode on that creation. (Don’t worry, I’m dating a Mexican-American, so I can make those jokes.) I sat in a space big enough to comfortably contain a house cat for the entirety of the ride which lasted from 8pm to 12pm the next day. A tweeter pierced my ear, and a large woofer blatted at my leg as we rode and listened to some type of Kenyan rap at the highest possible volume. We made a stop at a restaurant where I bought two lovely sweaters for my next Christmastime ugly sweater party, and another stop at Voi to eat again. Then we completed the journey with a simply breathtaking tour of the red Kenyan plain and its villaged inhabitants. What a journey!

A week in the life…

Well, it took me less than a week to make an African man cry. Luckily his tears were tears of joy! As the team sat around the living room, eating our ugalisima and bean soup, Lule told us that African men NEVER cry. He told us that his father has instructed him since he can remember that African men cannot cry. As we sat around we shared stories and talked about cultural differences. We got to joking and laughing, and before I knew it, I had said something to set Lule off. The whole room was chuckling, Frank was saying what he always says when I do something silly: “Tayla being Tayla,” but Lule was literally rolling. Then it happened, Lule’s first ever tears. “You may be the first ever Americans to see an African man cry,” Lule enlightened us.

Monday began the reading again. This entails waking up at eight to go to the church by nine and reading with students until six with a thirty-minute lunch break. This can get pretty exhausting, as you can imagine. Particularly because it is important to listen very closely to the readers to decode what they are saying. But it has truly been a growing experience spiritually. In only one week I have built such strong relationships already, and I can really see my readers and friends growing in Christ even in this short time. I feel so blessed to have an entire two weeks of reading left, but it already seems that time is going too fast.

The team has a good deal of down time between readers, which we have used for various things. I have had a good amount of time for reflection in the word and my journal. I have also made a good dent in about three books. But especially uplifting is our conversations with members of the church who are there while we read. Many of them don’t have jobs for one reason or another. It is an economic downturn, we have been working with the poorer people, and a number of them are employed in one way or another with the church. The people in the church have been such an encouragement to us all. We have talked about a great number of things and it seems like they have told us about almost every aspect of Kenyan culture, but I know in reality we still have so much to learn.

We see one particularly encouraging example of Christ’s love in our new friend Michael. Michael bounced around between jobs, and at one point was performing shows with the Kenya Acrobats. He was at one point very wealthy. He quit the team because he did not support the way they were living. He came back to Kenya and had a job carrying water to people’s houses. It was here, in his lowest of states, that Daniel found him. He was dabbling in witchcraft, which is a very big problem here. He had lost hope. Daniel, a pastor-in-training, asked Michael to come in to read with us. He agreed and came in to begin reading with Kaitlyn. Two weeks later the rest of us arrived. Michael has made such great progress. This is the same Michael who shaved his Rastafarian hair for Christ. We have explained, and he now understands that God’s love is big enough for his Rasta hair, but he has shaved it so that he may not carry the look that is associated with those types of people. On Tuesday we were blessed to witness Michael’s baptism. How happy he is now, and what an encouragement to see someone so excited in Christ!

Lule is another man in the church who I have been very blessed to grow close with. Lule is a teacher by profession, and in fact one of the few professionals in the church. I did not know that he was a teacher or professional until Thursday, but it makes sense. He is very knowledgeable and loves discussing politics, philosophy and economy. Friday morning, Lule explained the ten largest tribes in Kenya and common stereotypes associated with them. I followed by telling him common stereotypes of people from different regions, states, ethnic and political groups in America. Lule just became a Christian four months ago, but already his love, faith, and understanding in God is mammoth. I have enjoyed getting to know him so much, and he is another of my best friends.

Another man we have been in constant contact with is Pastor Paul. Throughout the week, Pastor Paul has been asking me to come into the town with him to minister to the people there, while the others stay back and read.This has been a struggle, as have many things with Pastor Paul. He has often asked us for various things: camera, computer, car, HOUSE!!! Don’t get me wrong, Pastor Paul is a great man with a wonderful heart. Our world could use more people with his zeal for the Gospel. But he may be one of the most awkward people I have ever encountered. Couple this trait with a cultural personality that has absolutely no social reservations with regard to awkward conversation, and you have the Pastor; the man that we are staying with; the man who I have been traveling into town with. Greg had the opportunity to travel into town with the Pastor as well. He traveled between the Pastor and one of the Pastor’s friend on a cramped and hot matatu (janky fifteen passenger van that serves as the city’s main mode of transportation). Paul’s friend picked a zit off of Greg’s neck and then said that Greg had a mosquito on his neck. A dissatisfied Greg sat helplessly as the large and sweaty Pastor clamored over him to observe his friend’s handiwork. But these types of interactions have become typical of our relationship with the Pastor. We have simply began to refuse his advances in this manner.

However, even through the Pastor’s awkward encroachments and demands of random people whom he has no prior relation to in the market or small cafes in the city, and even through my equally austere stubbornness to these strange interactions, God has somehow used them. I met a woman named Cynthia on Thursday in a tea café in the city. After reading with her a little and getting to know her for about an hour, I found out that she had more in common with my mother than just a name. She was born the daughter of a Pastor but by age nine her dad was practicing polygamy, a common occurrence here in Africa. He disowned Cynthia’s family and began publicly humiliating her. As her story unfolded in front of me, I realized that time and time again throughout her life, people of this world have taken God’s perfect love and distorted it in some way or another to make it something ugly and disgraceful to Cynthia. An hour-long conversation yielded tears on both sides of the table, and a sincere longing that Cynthia understand the true love of God. A dripping Cynthia told me that she missed the Church and that she understood for the first time in years the truth of God’s love because of what we had talked about. I had connected with her through the story of my own mom and as I walked away I realized that I had come to the truest understanding of Romans 8:28 that I have ever had.

On Friday, our team left for Malindi. This is where Kaitlyn served for LST two years ago. We were welcomed and taken through the village in a tuktuk, a three wheeled taxi common in Kenya. We observed goat herders, cow herders, and even chicken herders as we made our way to the church of Uziima. We were welcomed and shown our room before heading into the village. This was exactly what you think of when you think African village. They were mud huts with straw roofs and little dark families inside – dark because they were African, and dark because there was no electricity too. It was around 20º C (68º F) and we had to stop to get porridge because our hosts were freezing. Then we headed back for Uziima. When we woke up on Saturday, it turned out that the Malindi LST team was there right then too. We had a good time meeting them and went to the beach together before coming back to eat lunch and leave. We were planning on leaving at around three to get back for a dinner invitation with one of my readers at six. Of course, we did not leave at three, because even though we had made our hosts very aware of our plans (something we have certainly learned the importance of) they had not even started cooking at three. Still, it would have been very rude to leave. We stayed, and were not able to meet our invitation until almost eight.

When we got back to Mombasa our new hosts had been waiting since four. Dinner was great though, and the house resembled a 1980’s decorated version of an apartment in the Malibu Villas. His wonderful family gave us one of the largest meals we have had yet, and then showed us pictures until we left around ten. On our way home, we met Pastor Paul who informed Greg that he would be preaching the next day. Typical.

On Sunday, we woke up at nine and the taxi was already waiting outside. We had not discussed Church time and just assumed that it was the same time as a week before, but instead it was at nine. We rushed to get ready and got there to find that we made up three fourths of the audience. GLAD YOU GOT THE WORD OUT THAT WE WERE STARTING EARLY PASTOR PAUL! Greg preached a great lesson about putting our faith into practice. At two we held our party and taught forty Kenyans how to play pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and musical chairs. Afterwards they taught us how they play football. All in all it was a great day! Today, on Monday, we woke up to business as usual. The day followed the routine of a typical weekday with one exception.

Today, Greg and I became men. We went to read at nine as usual. Right before lunch, I was reading “Radical” by David Platt, and thinking about how much we rely on ourselves to accomplish our daily tasks, when instead, we should realize our need for God. I have had the tendency to write those readers of ours who are Muslim off, thinking that they are already very strong in their faith and will not be changed, only coming to us for English lessons. I prayed that God change this attitude, and help me to realize that I can do nothing to change anyone; only God can change the lives of the people I work with, and he is just as powerful with the strongest of Muslim believers as he is with the most receiving of readers. Just as I said these words, Ibraham walked in. Ibraham is a Muslim. He came in drunk. I soon realized that he is mourning in heartbreak over his wife, who he has not seen in two years since he was released from prison. As we talked, I could feel the weight coming off of his shoulders and moving onto God’s. When he was leaving, the pastor-in-training, Daniel, greeted him. Daniel was not aware of what had happened, but told us when he came back from chatting with Ibraham that he could see in his eyes that Ibraham had truly been touched. I truly believe this, and am so thankful for this growing experience.

After lunch, David took me to the market to buy two chickens. This was a part of the Kenyan culture I have been asking to experience for a long time. We brought them back and after we came home from the rest of the day of reading, it was time for Greg and I to become men. David taught us how to hold the chickens down as we cut their throats. It took two minutes for us to become men, as the life left the lungs of these poor creatures. Then we were taught how to de-feather and dissect these animals. It was no small tasks, and the Kenyans truly use every single part. Every single part except the intestines. This includes the head with beak and eyes, the stomach, the kidney,the EVERYTHING!!! I have to admit, I am glad to be finally considered a man here, but I don’t think I want to become a man again. It was strange seeing our recent friends on our plates, but they were certainly tasty. The Pastor has informed us that next week we will perform the same task, but on a goat. Oh Lord! Come what may.

As I continue on, I could not be more grateful for our wonderful Kenyan hosts. Especially Frank and Matilda, who have taken such good care of us. I really feel like I could stay here forever if I didn’t miss my friends and family so much. I do ask for your prayers though. I am frustrated with the way that scheduling happens here. Pastor Paul asks us every day what our plan is for our trip to Lake Victoria next week, even though we have gone over it countless times. He seems to think that if we don’t have it planned out to the T, it will not be able to happen. He also refused to let me visit the monetary exchange center that we were standing right next to to make a three-minute transaction because we had not planned it the night before. Instead we made a separate two-hour trip the next day. On the other hand, he often hands us the cell phone with no warning at all to explain who knows what to someone we have never met. He tells Greg that he will be teaching a sermon twelve ten hours before the sermon is to be presented. And he fails to inform us that our taxi will arrive for church an hour earlier than the week before and wakes us up five minutes before it leaves. I understand that this culture is different than our own, and I must get used to it. I also note that these people have been extremely patient and accommodating to our needs. I pray for the same patience in my own life.

I have also been becoming frustrated with the way we are treated as white people. Most of the people are so down to earth with us. When we go through the city we are treated as a novelty. This is especially true in the villages where many children have never seen a white person before and rush to hold our hands as we walk through the streets, which is kind of fun in a way. Still, our pigment contrast has been causing some problems. When the Kenyans see a white person they see money. Obviously, many of them just see us for the friends that we want to be. However, there has apparently been some drama and gossip that Frank and Matilda are only friends with us because we are giving them money. These rumors propagate out of jealousy and cause divisions in the church. We have explained that as college students, we actually have very little, and our closest friends here understand. It is sad to hear of divisions created by those who don’t. We have also been used as a type of promotion or as poster children by the Pastor, who introduces us to everyone as Americans. This we are, but he is using this as some type of exploitation. He seems eager for people to see us with him, and it seems like he feels that this gives his church the image of power. I pray for humility in this atmosphere, but I also pray that we would be able to do the pure and true work we came to do without race getting in the way.

Blessings to You so Much!

I have be learning these days much how I really, really enjoy the speaking way of this people. So then today I should be writing as one of them would write. Only I will write like one who is better with the English, for you not understand if it is worse. Maybe this today is my best English student. But only you will can understand it with a big accent, because the computer will not say the accent like it is. Today I wake up early before church because I need to say the words of sermon for them. Frank has told me that it will be a disgrace to be going to the church like I am, so he will iron the pants for me. I had gotten embarrassed. We would practice the songs that we will be sing at the church too, because we will give our people a show them song. Then we began to on the ride to the church in our taxi that has come. When we get to the church I am then standing up to speak. I give a long speech about love. I will compare the verses in Matthew 7:1-5 and Matthew 18:15-17. How can it be that both of these will be true? How is it that we will be judge our friends but not judge our friends? I was speak for around forty-five minutes and with Lule, he speaks too to help me with my, I interpret. I think that it is a good lesson because it is something, it helps with these people and they have a problem that I will want to be helping to solve. I will have begin my lesson by tell the people that we have come to be a teach to them, but really, we have come for them they have teach us. I will finish my lesson by say, “I think that God has a big love, and it will be big enough so that we will be able to accept the sins of the sinner, as God accepted all of our sins and we are also sinner. And big enough to be helping our brothers because with love we do not want for our brother to be doing something that will be bad. After then we have perform a song and the church will have like it the way we have sing. We come home and eat. Then we must do washing. Matilda had been surprising that I can wash the dish, and I have been asking for many days. Finally she will let me wash and she is surprised I can do. It. I will explain that in my apartment there is not a washing machine that makes for dishes, so I am use to it. But she will not believe that we do not always have machine all of us. Then we will wash our clothes, which I have not do for many weeks because I will leave for Costa Rica and I will not have had a wash machine. So we can wash and I have to be saying, I am so surprise that I will be washing all the clothes, even Kaitlyn’s underwear, even Greg’s underwear, even Abbie’s underwear. Then I can put them in the living room on a wire to be dried.We have want to go to café for the computer, but we cannot. So we will have played with the children and they will have funny name. A girl is with a normal name, called Juliette, but a boy will have name Boy. |How funny it is being! Tomorrow, Pastor Paul will have say that he will be wanting to share his vision with me for the church and that I should be big help for him to show it to Kenya!

And also one more thing I will be telling you before I go. I cannot be showing you the pictures I am taking because the computer is not fast in connection here, and I cannot be seeing it often, so I will put them up when I am getting to my home in America. Blessing to you so much!!!

(Hatimaye Niko Hapa) Finally Here!

I made it to Washington DC. Which as I have said before was no small undertaking. Of course my flight to Africa had already left, which meant a meeting with Ethiopian Airlines. And as anyone who has ever worked with any airline knows, this is not a walk in the park, especially with Ethiopian Airlines. But since the African people never want to disappoint, they are intentionally vague to avoid confrontation. It is only once it is too late that you find that you did not get what you were promised. This meant I spent the night in Washington. And as luck would have it, I met a very pleasant man named Mike on the Metro to Pennsylvania Ave where the Pepperdine University satellite campus is. Mike and I had a great conversation about almost everything, which resulted in a new friend, a phone number, and a place to stay that night if the Pepperdine house didn’t work out. Once at Pennsylvania Ave, I was on the phone with Casey and I heard a voice: “Is that Taylor Thompson?!” I didn’t know AJ Hawks was in Washington but it was certainly a nice surprise. AJ showed me around the town a little. It was nice seeing a friend. However, I learned that I would not be able to stay in the Pepperdine house. The administration has really begun to crack down on visitors and this includes cameras and room checks. This is a rule that has always been present in theory, but has not until recently actually been enforced. I thought of calling Mike, but since I was only in DC for one night, I decided to tour the city. I started at 12am and it took me until 4am to see the white house, capitol building, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, and Lincoln Memorial, but I got it all in. And I clearly didn’t wait in any tourist lines. What a great night! The sights truly are better at night. And I had a companion, because Casey was taking a verbal tour as well. Since I didn’t get to sleep in DC and I only had three hours of sleep in my luxury hotel in El Salvador, I thought I would sleep on the plane to Addis Ababa. Wrong. I talked to TendieMuz from Nairobi, my traveling buddy in the seat next to me, for hours. When she was tired and going to sleep, I was tired of sitting. I went to walk around but ended up exchanging travel stories with others who were doing similar things for four hours. When I got back to my seat, Tendie wanted to talk some more. By the end of the flight, I still had not slept, but on the plus side, did have three more places to stay if our group decides to travel in Africa. I waited for three hours in Ethiopia for our connecting flight, but there was nowhere to sleep in that miserable place, so I arranged my photo library. Once I finally got on the plane to Mombasa, I learned that the seat that the “accommodating” people from Ethiopian Airlines had put me on in Los Angeles was actually not a real seat at all. Sure there was a row sixteen and a column D, but seat 16D was in a lavatory. When I told the flight attendant, he got the pilot who told me I would wait another day until the next flight on Friday. By this point I was no longer willing to hear these words. I simply refused. So I got the only seat left and I realized why it was not assigned when the plane was at capacity in the first place. It was a seat in front of the exit hatch with about twelve inches for my legs and feet and no window. I accepted this over my other option. So yet again, I did not sleep. Keep in mind that it is now Thursday, and I have been going since my flight on Monday morning with only three hours of sleep in El Salvador. When I got to the airport, a group of my three American friends- Abbie, Greg, and Kaitlyn- and an entourage of ten other Kenyans greeted me. What a triumphal entry! I was welcomed so warmly with hugs, kisses, and best of all, African song! How wonderful! We made our way to the house where we were again welcomed very warmly. We also took a quick tour of the place we will be staying for the next four weeks. The tour included the following: a toilet room with no running water, but instead a bucket filled with water that we scoop out of to “flush” our little treasures; a shower room with a barrel of water that we will splash on ourselvesto become clean; a kitchen with a small sink, many jugs of clean water, and a small coal floor stove; a living room with a tiny fuzzy TV, a few couches, and a rebar-framed window; and finally, our bedroom, two bunk beds encased in mosquito netting and very little room to walk. After the grand tour, we headed for the living room to for a traditional Kenyan meal and wonderful conversation. After talking for about two hours, we were shown to the town and the Ocean. We came home to another wonderful dinner, more conversation, and my new, must-watch soap opera, Soy TuDueno. Yes, they watch Spanish soap operas here, only with horribly matched English voices. For example, the old fat woman has the voice of a young airy girl, which could easily be simply a man in falsetto. This might be my favorite new Kenyan tradition! That is a lie. I fell asleep. Friday morning we woke up at 8am. Of course we had a spectacular meal awaiting, and this is something I am quickly getting used to. Then we went to read with our guests until 7pm. I cannot put into words or even remember all of the mountaintop experiences I have had throughout the day. I am, however, certain of one thing. This is easily one of the most spiritual experiences I have had in such a long time! Or maybe it is just exercising my spiritual muscles that I have not yet learned to use yet. Either way it was truly wonderful. I cannot believe how quickly and easily I connected with the amazing Kenyan people. They are just amazing, and such an encouragement to us all. I met one friend in particular named Brian. His yearning for the gospel is ceaseless. We are supposed to do, at most, three lessons with each learner. Brian did twelve. Finally, we just began talking. His love for Christ is amazing. He taught me so much about African culture and is probably one of my best African friends other than those I am staying with. At midday, we were interrupted by what I though must be an intense street fight going on in the room next door. It was actually just praying. In Africa, they understand that there are a lot of people praying in the world. So if you want God to hear you, you must pray the loudest. I think they must have won that battle. We missed out on being a part of the next yelling-to-God experience too, because we were helping Michael take the cornrows out of his hair. He was ready to become a Christian, but he wasn’t allowed to do so with this Rastafarian look. He had explained to us earlier, that being Rastafarian was sometimes associated with bad things in Africa, but that he liked associating with the Rastafarians and yet was still a good person who wanted to be a Christian. His Rastafarian lifestyle did not affect his spiritual walk, he explained. This tears me. In one way, I see it as the battle in America going on between those who embrace tradition, and value that over God’s perfect and all encompassing love. On the other hand, I do not want to overstep cultural values. I obviously did not say anything, but yearned so strongly to reassure Michael that he could keep his much beloved cornrows and yet still be a man of God. God’s perfect love is big enough to accept cornrows, right? When we came home, it was time to eat. The food is all so wonderful, but I have had to learn not to take into account the way in which it is prepared. It is nothing unusual to find a pair of chicken hips in your soup! After dinner, I asked Pastor Paul, the man whose family we are staying with, what the biggest problem facing his church is. He told me that it is hard to get the wealthy to understand their need for God. He began asking me to help him do a number of speeches and presentations in hotel meeting rooms to help bring the wealthy to Christ. I agreed that I wanted to help. But it scares me. He continued to ask me to make commitments. In Africa, saying that you will try to do something is as good as a promise (no crosses count, pinky promise, criss-cross, etc., etc.). He also asked me to preach the sermon on Sunday. I hope that he is not expecting too much from me. I don’t mind preaching, and I don’t mind speaking to large groups. In fact, I was honored by the opportunity. But it seems like he such enormous plans for his church. The focus seems so broad, and it seems like he expects us to come in and do what he is not able to do. If God intends to use us in that way, I will be more than honored. He must also understand, though, that we are not equipped in some way that he is not. We cannot come in and change a nation in one day, and at some points in our conversation, it seemed like that is what he expected. Then he told me that the second biggest problem facing the church was that some people were beginning to feel that it was ok to praise God with instruments. Oh dear! NOT INSTRUMENTS!!! Again, I held my tongue. Today was our free day. We were able to go to the beach and experience the city. We were led around by our good friends Frank, Matilda, and David. These people are so wonderful, and I feel in many ways closer to them than I do to our home family. Frank is a funny man and a great leader. He is caring and always carefully watches that we do not get into trouble. As we swam out into the warm Indian Ocean with Matilda she shared with us a little of why she loved Frank so much. Matilda was infected with Tuberculosis about a year ago, and had a low expectancy of living. Frank prepared her food and nursed her back to health. She explained so many traits that Frank has already shown to us. She talked about his kindness and love. She told us about his transformation from when they first met. It was such a beautiful thing to hear about this special love. After she went back to the shore, Kaitlyn, Abbie and I were questioned about our swimming skills. Most Kenyans seem extremely terrified of swimming and the water, and noted how brave we were to swim without the large inner tubes that the rest of them have. I told the small Kenyan who was inquiring that it was easy, and he asked if he could learn. “Of course!” I replied, and the swimming lessons began. I held him up in the water as he tried to learn to hold his breath and stay afloat. The funniest thing was watching this terrified little boy, probably 18 years old, struggle to paddle around in the chest high water, not wanting to disappoint his new teacher. How proud I was of my little student! When we arrived home, we said goodbye to our home mom, who is going into the city to work for two weeks. We sang her a song of worship and then I said a word of prayer for her. She left and we came to the small internet room in the city, which is where I meet you now. As I continue on this mission, I ask for prayer from my friends and family reading this. Pray that our group may remain humble and observant in this foreign place. It is easy to get ahead of myself when it seems like some of the Kenyans want to put the world on our shoulders. Pray that God would give me the strength to do everything I can, and the understanding to remember that I can’t do everything. And pray that as I share my understanding of the Gospel, I would be able to share God’s full love in the most true way I know how, but still not overstep any cultural or personal boundaries that could close people off. And pray that I would always remember to listen more than I speak. These people have such a great many gifts to offer, and so many things that Americans can learn from. Pray that I would have the discernment to consider and learn from these things. And above all, pray that the hearts of these people always come before my selfish desires. And as you pray for me, know that I am also praying for you!

There are picture to come, but for now, dinner is waiting, and we have no more time in this internet cafe. Love to you all!

A Wing and a Prayer.

I may actually make it to Kenya! Which means I may actually make it to Washington DC for a connecting flight eventually. And that is something I no longer take for granted! But let’s backtrack to where this whole uncertainty started…

Was it when I found myself on a random bus into San Jose that I failed to properly identify before boarding? Or was it when I found myself in a market in San Jose meeting a sketchy man who seemed ready to take all I had in whatever way he had to get it? Was it when I got on a three-hour bus ride through the middle of the jungle? How about when I simultaneously missed three connecting flights? All of these things cast some serious concerns on how and when I would actually make my final destination.

On Saturday, after dropping off the Delgadillos, I went to La Guardia to drop off my behemoth of a bag and that’s where I left off- no plans, no commitments. I walked through the city of Alajuerta until around four. That’s when I began asking for directions. I was directed to a bus headed for San Jose. This was after being explicitly instructed NOT to hitchhike. In a rush to board before the bus left, I failed to make note of where I boarded. This would prove unfortunate in about twenty-two hours.

Once in San Jose, I found the little town quite charming. I made my way to a local market, where I met a sketchy man. He persisted at asking me questions about money, about America, about friends and family. I forget the specifics of the dialogue, but in my memory it goes something like this (in broken English): “Halo. You speake englis? You hab monay to gib me? You hav famly, friend, know you gone? You lib in Los Estados? Ebryone rich? I can help!” I felt like telling him I didn’t need any help. But I really did. I was trying to make it to Limon on the Caribbean coast. I asked plenty of people for directions, all of whom recommended cabs, which I certainly didn’t have the money for that. And after two other people requested that I avoid hitchhiking, I was not about to do that. This man was willing to help and he knew the area. I was careful to stay in the public market while we walked and talked. After about thirty minutes, I decided this man was, in fact, just a helpful Costa Rican. His name is Antonio, and he lived in Los Angeles. And he turned out to be very helpful. He even helped me get to the bus terminal, a task that he told me would be dangerous at night for a lone American traveler like myself. I bought tickets and said farewells with my new Costa Rican friend, including an email exchange. For only five dollars, I was on a bus and on my way to Limon.

The bus took us on a winding road through thick jungle and villages. It came to my attention that San Jose serves as a strict boundary line. West of the city, where we had spent the previous week, is well-kept, wealthy, healthy, and tourist friendly. East of the city is jungle and third world. After three hours on the bus we were in Limon. Most of the people here are African-err-Costa Rican. (Let me just be an ignorant American for a second. What is the politically correct term for black people in Costa Rica?) They know how to have fun, in the worldliest sense. I found a bustling market, still very alive at 12am. There were crafts, fair amusements, a concert, and the Caribbean coastline. After wandering for a bit, I decided to find a room. Communicating was hard, because the Spanish spoken on the Caribbean Coast is not like other dialects. Think Rasta meets Jamaican meets the Spanish language. I finally negotiated a room at $8. As far as amenities go, I overpaid. But the experience was priceless. I was shown to room number 28. The room was 6’x6’ and probably twice as tall as it was wide or long. About 8’ up the walls began a mesh type substance, which was all that was separating me from my hall-mates and the blaring TV in the lobby. There was one, smaller-than-twin, hard, vinyl bed with one sheet, and one two by two table with a chair.  The bathroom was a number of small shower rooms and toilet rooms with communal sinks. The shower had one temperature: on. After showering, I got in bed and tried to fall asleep to the boisterous TV and equally boisterous fighting couple outside my room. In the morning the owner was still in the lobby watching TV. He made his 7 year old daughter check me out. I looked around Limon for a while, and tried to go to Church, which was in a soccer stadium and was rained out.

Then I made my way back to San Jose. I got back around 11am and looked around for a bit. That city has some great parks and cathedrals! After a few hours I headed back toward Alajuerta. I had no idea where to go once I got here. I tried helplessly for about an hour to get back to La Guardia, but all I had as a reference was a small business card with the name of a park nearby. Keep in mind that streets rarely have names and addresses rarely have…well…addresses. Finally, I found my way back to the square that La Guardia was on. I found that there was a nice little bread-and-breakfast-esqu hostel for only $12 in the same square. I spent the night and a lot of the next day there, because there was a nice balcony and common room.

I met a few more friends who invited me to travel with them in the near future. I also explored the town a little more before leaving at 1pm to go to the airport and catch my 5:25pm flight.

However, it became clear at around 5:25pm that the flight would not be on time, contrary to the desk attendants assurances at 5 and 5:15. The terminal became a madhouse as the sixty other people also began to realize the situation. Of course no one was staying in El Salvador, but since TACA had booked no more than thirty minute layovers for all connecting flights, we were all going to be missing connections. Unfortunately for me, this meant I would also miss my connection to Ethiopia in DC and then to Mombasa from there. We flew to El Salvador three hours late, and waited for the immigrations officers, who had already left for the night, to come back to the airport. We looked like a hostage situation as we were led out of a small terminal waiting room one by one by officials thirty minutes later.

It wasn’t all bad though. TACA paid for our forty-five minute transport and dinner at the nicest hotel I have ever set foot in in San Salvador. The meal was amazing, and I learned that El Salvadorian food is much more flavorful than Costa Rican food. It is also more distinct to El Salvador than Costa Rican food is distinct to Costa Rica. I toured the grand facility and then went to sleep in my king-sized bed. We woke up bright and early at 6am to take a sunrise tour back to the airport. Surprise!!! There was another delay on the flight to DC. I finally boarded and am now on my way, and praying for no more hold ups!