April 24, 2009

wash us in the water

i want to dunk
the dirty little children in
water and soap them up
and give them new clothes
to wear and i want to wash
this skinny, rusted cat
until he turns the shiny white
i know he is beneath it
all – everyone and everything
lives and moves and has their
being beneath the curse
here, we see through the mirror
dimly and our clothes are filth
stained rags and we long for
polish or a new mirror and
an exchange of rags for robes
of righteousness.

lonely, lost street children throw
themselves on the mercy of my
lap, their dirty little heads buried
there, as if they know me,
as if i am not this complete
and total stranger, as if i am
their mother or sister or savior full
of mercy and grace. how these
children need the steady tenderness
of compassionate people – they
are despairing and causing me,
in turn, to despair.

“Then the angel showed me the river of
The Water of Life,
as clear as crystal,
flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb
down the middle of the great street of the city.

On each side of the river stood
The Tree of Life…
and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
No longer will there be any curse.” (Revelation 22:1-3)

land o’ the lame internet
My first week in Ethiopia, I went to use the computers at the guesthouse compound. They were gone – there the day before, gone the next.

I asked the administrator lady, “Where are the computers? I need to use the internet.”
“They’re not there?” Big eyes.
“Oh. They must not be working.”
“Oh. OK.”

Then I traveled 30 minutes to a nearby school to use their computer lab. When I sat down, all hopeful at a pearly PC, the computer lab guy said, “Sorry, the internet is down in the whole country today.”

The internet is down in the whole country? I think, Is this a joke? If it is a joke, joke’s on me. No, Janay, it’s not a joke, it’s Africa. End of story. Get over it.

April 10, 2009

Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, could be any big city in Africa. Crazy driving and chaos. Not much green here. It’s dry. Dusty. Poor. The first night, my teammates dropped me off at the guesthouse and told me – You’re in the Mexico district. I’m in Mexico, in Ethiopia. I find this sort of funny. My first morning, I awoke at 5 a.m. to a two-hour call to prayer blasting outside my window. It sounded something like this: Aahhhh baaaa daaahhhh, dob-a-duh, hmmmmmmm….. (and then repeat, maybe faster or slower) Abada-dobada-hmmmmm…..Abada-dobada-hmmm… you get the point. You want to laugh, but you also want to sledge hammer their megaphone.

The whole of Addis appears to be one large slum; although all of the roads in, out, around, and through it, are freshly paved by the Chinese. Apparently, China and Ethiopia have made some kind of deal – paved roads for oil. I’ve never seen a better paved African city. The Ethiopians say “the Chinese” with a certain amount of disdain. So far, I’m not very fond of Ethiopia. It makes me miss Kenya.

What’s life been like here? Shaking hands with lepers, bugs crawling in my shirt while trying to eat slum water injera and wot, hugging lice-infested children, standing near piles of feces inside this woman’s compound, babies with no diapers on peeing and pooping wherever – listening to my teammate, Summer, telling a story about God to the little children – I am totally distracted by what I am sure is an impending Obsessive Compulsive Disorder for which I will have to be professionally treated. I came home and took a thorough shower and quarantined all my clothes in plastic until they could be washed.

oxygen bar
If I had wanted a Michael Jackson mask in Kenya, then I’d like an oxygen bar in Ethiopia. Would love a “shot” of pure O2 in these lungs right about now.

death by coffee
Ethiopians serve tiny cups of thick, dark brown syrup and call it coffee. If they follow tradition, they’ll serve you one delicate tea cup at a time. One cup equivalent of a triple espresso. Once you’ve downed the first cup, they’ll serve you a second. This cup a little less strong. At that point, your hands and forehead are beginning to sweat. Is it the heat? The caffeine? You may begin to feel a bit shaky, like an addict. Once you’ve downed the second cup, the third and final cup arrive and you’re on your way to a quick coronary. For the remainder of the day, the smell of coffee will seep from your pores, reminding you that you are in the birthplace of the coffee bean, lest you forget it.

Sitting in a taxi – a tiny blue and white tin can fit for Fred Flintstone – the seat folds in on me if I lean too far forward. No seatbelts. No door handles. The smell of gasoline permeating the seats producing nausea. An old beggar beats on my closed window pointing to his blind eyes with his stubby hand. This is constant and continuous – beggars. They see me and come hobbling or wobbling over. Some have no voices, some have no fingers, some have no hope. None have much money.

i feel bad for the beggars, but
i must confess: i have begun to ignore
them now or to just say no to their
“Miss, hello, miss, miss…”
my internal eyes rolling to
the other calls, too –
“I love you, I love you, I love you…”
“Marry me, marry me, marry me…”
“You, you, fernje (foreigner)… ”

beggars beg
and have in mind
the hand out they want:
beggars are chooser here.

beggars refuse meal
tickets to salvation
preferring an Ethiopian
birr for a bottle of
booze to hide inside –
puppies in trash bins
old men sidewalk sleeping
clubbed feet turning green
and he doesn’t look real -
is that a person? is that
a person? is that – ?

i want to kick
him – to kick something –
to awaken from this
nightmare – it isn’t fair –
and i’m not even living
it, just passing through, not stuck
here like they are, stuck.

Daily, beggars gather outside the golden, pristine gates of the orthodox church, waiting for mercy. It makes me think of the beggar at the Temple Gate called Beautiful in the first century A.D. He cried out to Jesus’ friends for money and they told him:

“‘Silver or gold I don’t have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ Taking the beggar by the right hand, Peter helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk…

When all the people saw the beggar walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” (Acts 3: 6-10)

I serve a God who doesn’t roll His internal eyes (like me), but instead, looks beggars in the eye and takes them by the hand and heals them. I love this.

by His wounds we are healed

“Jesus was pierced for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities.
The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him,
and by His wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5

“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

‘Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.’” Revelation 7:9-10

March 12, 2009

culture stress
“Some days I do better than others at not allowing my emotions to determine my actions; but some days the weight of the stress of living here makes me want to hole up in my room and not go out.” – a cross-cultural worker

The culture stress continues for me.

laundry – African style
Tried to do my laundry by hand. Bent over like an African woman and threw my back out. The Kenyan houseworker, Njambi (Jom-bee), laughed at me as I waddled around holding my lower back with one hand and trying to finish my laundry. I told her she was strong. All that scrubbing, ringing, rinsing, bending to wash 8 articles of clothing in a small, plastic basin. We have a washing machine here but they always say “it’s broke, it’s broke…” It’s been “broke” since 2007!

save the children
Save the Elephants. Save the Mara. Save the Children. Everyone is trying to save something here.

With an estimated 2.1 million orphans and vulnerable children under the age of 18 years old in Kenya, you can imagine: there are Children’s Homes everywhere. One of my beginning steps in working with Pioneers has been to get an overview right here in Nairobi of different models for orphan care. How are these homes set up? Run? Funded? What works, what doesn’t? Etc.

First stop – Youngsters for Christ – an outreach in Kibera – the second largest slum in Africa. I’ve been through Kibera before, but it still remains almost too much to take in. The children playing in the dirt seemed so happy. And the children playing in the raw sewage? Happy, too. We got to YFC and worshipped with these teens and young adults. The little watoto (the children) snuck in the back of the room, dancing and playing, drawn to the music. Those are the ones I want to reach – the little children.

Over these past few weeks, I’ve managed to visit 8 different models for orphan care around Nairobi. I am learning a lot and taking in a lot of information. Letting it stew for now.

God is good
"God is good, all the time, for that is His nature."
- the African children have taught me this

Even when I don’t understand the world, the place, the day; I have to cling to this truth with the little faith that I have -

The Lord is good to all.

The Lord has compassion on all He’s made even the babies lying neglected in state-run homes, rocking back and forth, banging feet and heads against crib bars, detached, listless eyes unable to focus, crying crying crying and no one comes in response.

“Where’s the worker for these babies?” I asked.
“Oh, she’s doing the laundry,” our guide explains.

Where’s the laundry? Yards and yards away, obviously out of earshot of these 12 babies. No one cares that they’re crying, but He who sees and hears and knows all, He cares.

“The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
The Lord is good to all.
He has compassion on all He has made.”
Psalm 145:8-9

On March 14, I’m off to Ethiopia – land of injera and wat – staple foods which I thought I loved until I read about the preparation process. Injera is this foam-rubber bread made from flour mixed with yeast and left to go sour. (Left to go sour?) It’s then baked on a clay platter over a wood fire. Left to go sour? Can that be right?

You tear the injera with your hands and then use it to “sop up” whatever blended beans, veggies, or sauces are spooned onto a large, communal platter. It’s a bit like sopping up baby food with edible paper. Strange, but strangely fun. And of course, no utensils allowed, so by the end of an Ethiopian meal, if you’ve eaten properly, your fingers will glow like greasy cheetohs.

February 18, 2009

you live where?

“You live there?” How outlandish. To her Africa was just a brochure. White people didn’t live there, they just went on holiday.
“Do you work there?”
“Are you married?”
She gave this some thought, then shook her head.
“Then why do you live there?”

I didn’t answer her, I don’t like discussing my life with strangers. But I’ll tell you why.

It’s because of love.

Nobody ever moves to Africa for any other reason. It doesn’t have to be a woman or a man. It’s because of love itself.”

- Francesca Marciano, writer

“God is love.
Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”
– John, an early follower of Jesus

my funny valentines
February 14th was New Life Home Trust’s 15th anniversary, celebrating the rescue of over 1,000 abandoned and HIV positive babies. All the babies in the Nairobi Home (48 in total) came out for the day dressed in red and black – our little Valentines. When the toddlers saw the bouncing castles and other monstrous inflatables in their normally serene “front yard” a lot of screaming and running ensued. Every year, apparently, our babies pee their pants over the bouncing castles.

I will be sad to leave New Life Home Trust this week. My last day with them is Friday.

no more monkeys
At the end of January, I moved out of that great house with the monkeys and the trees; and am now living where I work – on the New Life compound. My commute is 20 seconds across the courtyard. Really rough. I'm back to my one-room, dorm-room that I lived in when I stayed in Kenya for 6 months in 2007. I feel a bit "cooped up" like a chicken, but it's fine; and besides, I’m moving again this weekend (to the guest house down the street from the New Life compound).

but one more monkey story
7:15 a.m. Sunday

I hear the monkeys “land” on the roof and herd around like furry elephants, making me grumble and grump – It’s too early to get up! But get up I do. Slinging my camera around my neck and out I go into the misty yard hoping to get a good shot of my “pet monkeys” to show everyone. They’re all over the ancient trees. Leaping, reaching, grabbing. They think my camera is a weapon. Every time I point it at one, they run off.

I’m standing, peering up into trees so tall – I didn’t know trees could be so tall – my neck at 90 degrees. I’m wearing pink flannel PJs and flip-flops. The guards are watching me watching the monkeys who are watching all of us. Some baby monkeys are curious, so they’re coming closer. They’re on a low wall now. So I gently approach, not seeing the two on the ground. One is a tiny baby and he hollers bloody murder! His mama monkey swoops in, picks him up, and carries him under her belly to safety. I think, This’ll be a great picture! so I’m chasing them, taking photos until they disappear. I turn around just in time to see this mid-sized male monkey on the ground running on hind legs with arms outstretched straight at me. He looks like he wants to spook me – a little gray ghost. I don’t know whether to laugh or run. He’s three feet from me. What would he have done if I hadn’t turned around just now? Pants-ed me? Jumped on my head? Bit my toes?

No matter. I turned in time, held up my camera and scared the little guy off.

I can see now why my neighbor let those monkeys have her backyard.

cockroaches and pansies
In moving to the New Life compound, I’ve left the land of monkeys and ancient trees for cockroaches and chicken coops. Downhill from here?

Last week I heard a “thwack” near my head and then felt something running on my arm. A mouse? A gecko? I shot up out of bed, threw on the lights, tore off all the covers and shook them furiously. Nothing. My imagination? Perplexed, I eventually returned to bed and eventually turned off the light and slept somewhat paranoid-ly till morning.

I know I’ve got to toughen up. I’m a pansy transplanted in Africa.

When I went to my closet in the light of day I almost stepped on this 2-inch cockroach – upside down, legs flailing in the air trying to flip himself over. I didn’t know what to do with him, so I left him and went to work. Later that day, Kim (my Pioneers leader) came over. I asked her how to get rid of him. She promptly replied, “Pick him up by the legs and toss him out.”

Then I watched her do it.
And the cockroach was still alive.

Though Kim is tall, blond, and beautiful I called her a “tough African woman” – 8 years in Sudan and 2 in Kenya – that cockroach was nothing to her. Something to strive for.

round 2 – ding
The fight against “Culture Shock” continues.

In my worst moments, I think that the sewers of Nairobi are in my intestines, and all of my hair is falling out, and I’m going to be jumped by mosquitoes and cockroaches in my bed at night. And these chanting tribal-man sounds pass through the street some mornings waking me up. And I hate Africa sometimes. And I hate that I hate it.

anne geddes?
I’ve learned that in cross-cultural work, you end up doing things you’re not really qualified to do. Thown into the deep end for one reason or another. My co-workers discovered that I have a nice camera and can take semi-decent photographs. So Mary Beckenham, our founder-director, brings this Anne Geddes calendar to me the other day and asks, “Can we do this?”

Anne Geddes! (You know, the photographer famous for putting baby faces in flowers?)
I said, “Sure.”
What was I thinking?

I’ve since learned that Anne Geddes makes it appear a lot easier than it is. Babies and toddlers are movable, capricious beings. The other day we were trying to get 3 toddlers gathered around a baby swaddled in a cloth and lying in a rustic basket. Trying to recreate the “Jesus in the manger scene” for holiday cards. I had it in my head, but bringing it to life was another story. By the end of this 2 hour “photo shoot nightmare” I was pouring sweat. It went something like this –

“Get that baby outta here” (he’s throwing a fit)!
“Reuben has snot coming out of his nose!”
“We need tissue. Lots of tissue. Where’s the tissue?”
“Koros, take your thumb out of your mouth.”
“Where are you going? Come back here please…”
“Babies, babies – look over here!”

Clapping, singing, shaking rattles and noisemakers – trying to get these little subjects to do just want you want. I don’t know how Anne Geddes does it. I say she’s worth the millions she makes.

endemic poverty
I keep reading and hearing –

The phrase
endemic poverty,
it means

Characteristic of a place
indigenous, almost,
as if it’s always belonged here –
but how can poverty be endemic
to a place? Especially this place. This garden
of Eden, this home of
Mt. Kilimanjaro and eighteen-inch
roses for export and ivory
tusked elephants?

Endemic? No.
Man-made, more like.

Jesus will defend the afflicted
among the people
and save the children of the needy.
He will crush the oppressor.

He will endure as long as the sun,
as long as the moon,
through all generations.

Psalm 72:4-5

January 30, 2009

hanging loose in the Big Nothing

“Against your will you are forced to experience the euphoric horror of floating in emptiness, your moorings cut for good. It is an emotion which has slowly corroded all your ties, but is also a constant vertigo you will never get used to.

This is why one day you have to come back. Because now you no longer belong anywhere. Not to any address, house, or telephone number in any city. Because once you have been out here, hanging loose in the Big Nothing, you will never be able to fill your lungs with enough air.

Africa has taken you in and has broken you away from what you were before.

This is why you will keep wanting to get away but will always have to return.”

- Francesca Marciano, writer


I didn’t anticipate learning to speak “strine” when I came to Africa.

Strine is Australian lingo. It’s the blending and speeding up of words – long words, several words – into shorter phrases. I don’t know how my leader – Peter – manages to crunch 10 syllables into 2, but somehow he does. For example,

Did you have a good weekend? In strine becomes
Djuvgdwe-end? (or something like this)

I stare blankly a lot. I say “What?” a lot. I raise my eyebrows a lot.

I probably understand three-quarters of all that Peter says. So we all laugh a lot, mostly at me, which makes for good bonding. And I’ve found that my Australian leaders, Peter and Kim, are very patient with me, displaying a great a sense of humor and grace.

This is a picture of my great, strine-speaking leaders. (smiles)


Grocery shopping expeditions. All of the packaging continues to look foreign to me. So unless I really take some time reading and comparing items, I can easily grab the wrong thing. The other day, for example, I needed toilet paper. What did I grab? Paper towels.

Now I have a roll of paper towels sitting in my bathroom.

the phone

My leaders asked me on Christmas if I wanted to “ring my folks.”

I said, “I don’t know how.”

“Maybe they can ring you,” they suggested.

“They don’t know how either!” I say. The phone continues to be a great mystery and challenge.

The store sold me international calling cards that didn’t work. Upon googling this brand and doing a little research, I found that there is a lawsuit against this calling card. So the “line” has been disconnected. Why then do the stores still sell the cards?

Why? Because TIA. This Is Africa.

(I try not to say or think that while rolling my eyes and exhaling hot air. I know I’m supposed to try to gain an understanding for all that I don’t understand or want to dismiss as “stupid” or “ridiculous.” But most of the time, I’m no saint.)

must not love dogs

“Where do you live?”
“Oh, that’s far.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Who with?”
“Well…” I hesitate. How do you explain house and dog “sitting” to a Kenyan? “Well, my friend is in the US visiting family, so I’m taking care of her house and her – uh – dog.”
“Her dog? Guy!”
We laugh.
“I know,” I say.
“What does he eat?”
“These little pebbles of food. It’s food made for dogs.” I feel stupid. Kids are starving here.
“Food for dogs?”

When I see myself, this aspect of my culture,
through their eyes,
it looks absurd.

Could it be a farse?
A comedy of errors?
Can dogs really be a million dollar business
in America?

playing chicken

If my driver would stop playing “chicken” with bicyclists on the morning commute, then I could stop holding my breath and expanding my lung capacity. Bicyclists have no clue that he’s coming that close to their rears before he swerves out to avoid hitting them. I move my body to the left or right, as if I’m playing the Nintendo Wii, hoping I’ll move the car and save a life.

I mean, I just don’t get it. Even if there’s a ton of room to go around the pedestrian or cyclist, the drivers don’t. I am afraid we will one day maim or kill someone on the way to work, forcing me to deploy my hostile environments and first aid training.

pulling out my hair

I know I shouldn’t be pulling out my hair as I’ll need it for my bridesmaid’s dress this spring, but I want to. It relieves stress.

Friends and family sent me e-cards for Christmas and it takes me 5 days to open them.

Net’s down.
Net dropped me.
Re-load page.
Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.
Is this e-card worth it?
Give up.
Do something else…
Try again.
Dropped gain.
Refresh again.
Re-load again.

You get the point.
Five days of perseverance.

The e-cards were worth it, though, keeping me in touch with another world.

Who will cry for these babies?

Ryan died last week. He was only 150 days old. He came to us extremely malnourished. His little head disproportionate to his body as his brain grew but his body refused to keep up. His mother left him in the marketplace. Ryan died during the night, our nurses with him. Since the time I arrived here, I’ve witnessed him receiving such special care – the nurses, care workers, and volunteers so gentle with him.

But I find that “the world not as it should be” when a baby this small passes away without the grief of a mother or a father to fall on him.

Mary Beckenham, one of New Life’s founder-directors, opened our office door with tears in her eyes and told us the news of his death, saying, “He’s happy though. He’s up there with all our other ones.” All of the other abandoned infants who lived but a few days, or weeks, or months, within our care.

And so we grieve, but not as those without hope, for we know that a new day is coming.

“Look, I will create new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.

Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days…”

- God (in Isaiah 65:17 & 20)