Monday, July 6, 2020

Water: An Essential!

A page from my scrapbook

In Chapter 2 of Grandma’s Letters from Africa, I wrote that in Maasai-land during the second phase of orientation, our water came from a stream a few inches deep and maybe fifteen feet wide.

Maasai bathed in it, washed their laundry in it, and herded cattle through it.

Other wild animals splashed around in it, too, and baboons up in the trees pooped into it.

I also used water from that muddy little stream to hand-scrub our laundry.

To get laundry water, you’ll see in the top picture that I tied a rope to a plastic bucket, lowered it down the bank and into the brook, then pulled water up. Because the stream was so shallow, I could get only a few inches of water in the bucket at a time.

In the bottom picture, I used the enormous roots of a fig tree as a table for the wash basin.

That stream was also the source of our drinking water.

What?!? you might gasp.

Have no fear! We set up water-filter systems that removed microorganisms that cause diarrhea, vomiting, typhoid, and other illnesses.

We set up our gravity-fed filter system with half a dozen red plastic barrels, rubber tubing, and ceramic filters. Those filters, called candles, looked like rolling pins without handles.

We immersed them into a barrel of dirty water that, in a few minutes, passed through the slightly porous ceramic. In the process, that murky water turned clear and pure and it came out through rubber tubing.

A crew of people cleaned the candles on a regular basis because slime from the brook built up on them.

Water! It’s essential for living!

Safe drinking water is essential for health
and, by God’s grace,
we had both there in the desert.

That was a cause for sincere rejoicing and thanksgiving.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Our kitchen in the bush

Have you ever wondered how you’d cook in the middle of nowhere for six weeks without refrigeration? without a gas or electric cook stove? without a grocery store?

Let me show you a picture of the “kitchen” during our six-week stay in Maasai-land for our orientation course.

The footlockers and orange tent in the upper photo served as cupboards, and a couple of large folding tables provided work surfaces. (Can you spot me looking through one of the footlockers?)

Our stove? You see it there in the bottom picture where two staff members, Jacinta and James, stir up something tasty in a suferia. (Read more about Jacinta here.)

Speaking of suferias, our fellow orientee, Peggy, baked a cake one day.


She filled one of those huge suferias about half full with sand and heated it over the fire. When it was just the right temperature, she placed her batter-filled cake pan on the hot sand, popped a cover on top of the suferia, and voilĂ , she had created an oven! Clever lady, that Peggy.

Monday, June 22, 2020

“The dust of Africa had penetrated my skin pores and entered into my soul”

Take a look at these boots. (The other items have significance, too, but we’ll talk about them another day.)

I wore those boots in Africa, mostly during Kenya Safari, our orientation course. While you read the first three chapters of Grandma’s Letters from Africa, picture me wearing those boots.

All these years later, every time—and I mean every time—I shove my feet into them and cinch up the laces, I ask myself, “Do you think there’s any African dust still on these boots?” Then I smile and answer myself, “I sure hope so!”

Nine years after returning to the States, I discovered that Shel Arensen, a man I ran into from time to time in Kenya, had published a novel, The Dust of Africa.

When I read the book’s description, I knew I had to order it, and I’m so glad I did. It brought back scores of memories—Blue Band margarine, chai, and brown-red puddles. Bata safari boots. Mosquitoes dive-bombing my ears at night.

—And nocturnal hippo noises at Lake Naivasha. Shel described their sounds as “spluttering and wheeze-honking.” In Grandma’s Letters from Africa, I described them as “ghastly bellows and snorts.” Click here to see a brief video clip of hippos and hear some of their noises. (They make other noises, too.)

Shel wrote this about his novel’s main character, Clay Andrews: 

“I slumped into a chair at the Blukat Restaurant on Muindi Mbingu Street opposite the city market. ‘Do you still make the best samosas in Nairobi?’ I asked the waiter.

“‘Ndino Bwana, Yes sir,’ he responded with a smile.

“‘Then bring me four with a cold Coke.’”

Until I read The Dust of Africa, I’d forgotten that we had to ask specifically for a cold soda pop, otherwise it arrived at our table at room temperature. We avoided ice cubes because we couldn’t know if they were made with safe water, so the next best option was refrigerated sodas. I can still hear myself placing my order, “Diet Coke. Cold, but no ice.”

In the book, Clay Andrews continues: “The waiter came back with a small clear plate with four triangular pastries oozing grease onto a white torn-in-half napkin.”

Yes, I remember the oozing grease, but I’d forgotten about the torn-in-half paper napkins. It was a cost-cutting thing. The recollection brought me a smile.

After reading Shel’s book, I felt like I’d spent a few days back in Africa. It was a rich experience.

I was delighted to learn the source of Shel’s title, The Dust of Africa. It comes from an African proverb: “You can’t wash the dust of Africa off your feet.”

I’d never heard that proverb before, but I know what it means. Shel described it well. He wrote, “The dust of Africa had penetrated my skin pores and entered into my soul.”

Yes, I’m sure I still have African dust on my safari boots.

In addition to The Dust of Africa, Shel Arensen has written a number of other books. He has also served as the editor of Old Africa Magazine.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Pulsing rhythms, rich harmonies, throbbing beats

One of my favorite experiences during our orientation was singing in Swahili with Jacinta, a gentle young Kenyan woman hired to help with childcare while parents attended classes.

Jacinta led us in the traditional way of singing: She sang a line, then the rest of us sang an answering line. We sang back and forth until we finished the song.

We didn’t need musical instruments. Someone tapped on a kettle, someone else kept rhythm with a stick on a chunk of wood, and the rest of us clapped our hands.

I’ll never tire of those African rhythms and harmonies. In Grandma’s Letters from Africa, I described them as rich, distinct, and pulsing. They quickly boogied their way into my heart and spirit, and they dance there still. I treasure them.

Clickon this link to view a short video of Kenyans singing a Swahili praise song, “Angalia Bwana” (Look, Oh Lord). The leader sings a line, like Jacinta did, and the others sing an answering line. But keep in mind that in this clip, those are shy young people! Usually, Kenyans sing out with great volume and energy, but I suspect they were nervous on camera.

Here’s another clip that will give you an idea of the pulsing African rhythms and harmonies, and the way Africans usually sing out and enjoy dancing while they sing in church (unlike those shy young people in the first clip). And, oh!—how I miss that now back in America! Like I wrote in Grandma’s Letters from Africa, King David’s dance before the Lord (2 Samuel 6:14) could not have been any more joyous than those dancing in African churches!

I ran into Jacinta a few times after Kenya Safari. She’s a soft-spoken, gentle young lady with a ready smile. (African smiles seem more radiant than Americans’ smiles, don’t they?)

Sweet Jacinta radiated joy!
She blessed me with her quiet spirit,
inner radiance, sunny smiles, and her Swahili worship songs.

Jacinta was a gift from God.

Jacinta helped with childcare and cooking during the orientation course.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Have you ever eaten a chapati?

In my last post, I listed a number of firsts experienced during Kenya Safari, our three-month orientation course. Some of those firsts were delightful, others not so much!

Another first was eating chapatis.

When Indians started moving to Kenya (around 1900, if I recall correctly), they introduced chapatis—basically, flour tortillas.

Chapatis consist of about three cups of flour and one cup of cold water stirred together and kneaded for a few minutes.

After letting the dough sit for half an hour, you divide the dough into little balls about the size of a ping pong ball, sprinkle each with flour, and roll them out until they’re very thin.

Traditional recipes call for frying them in a dry pan over a hot fire for a few seconds on each side.

By the time we moved to Kenya, chapatis had become a staple food for Kenyans but over the decades, they’d changed the original Indian recipe.

During our orientation course, the chapatis our Kenyan staff prepared were a quarter of an inch thick (usually thicker) with lard layered in, and fried in lard, too.

In Chapter 2 of Grandma’s Letters from Africa, I described them as “unleavened, and with a dense, rubbery consistency.”

Often people tear them into bite-size pieces and drop them into Kenyan stew—cabbage, onions, carrots, and tomatoes boiled together. Sometimes they add a little meat, too.

Mmmm . . . . Recalling such meals makes my mouth water.

Sweet memories—even though I’m sure all that lard could not have been good for us!

This is lovely Jacinta (more about her next week), along with another staff member, James, working at our cooking fire under enormous fig trees in Eleng’ata Enterit.

Jacinta and James at our cook stove during our orientation in Eleng'ata Enterit

Monday, May 25, 2020

Unbelievable, unforgettable firsts

During our three-month orientation course, Kenya Safari, I experienced many firsts.

That was the first time I:
Sigh. . . .
All I ever wanted was to live a quiet, secure, genteel life
in a little white house with a picket fence
and a rose garden,
but my husband, Dave—a free spirit
who seldom limits himself to coloring within other people’s lines—
and our adventuresome God (ditto) had other plans.

You’ve probably seen the following. I haven’t been able to identify who wrote it, though it sounds like something both God and Dave could have written. They had no intention of letting me remain an unadventurous homebody.

Life should not be a journey to the grave
with the intention of arriving safely
in an attractive and well-preserved body,
but rather to skid in sideways,
champagne in one hand,
chocolate covered strawberries in the other,
body thoroughly used up,
totally worn out and screaming
“WOO HOOOO!!! What a ride!”
(author unknown)

What about you?

Have you worked on the mission field or 
in some other role overseas?

If so, tell us your list of firsts!

Leave a comment below or on the Facebook Page.
We’d enjoy hearing your stories!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

There’s hope: You can survive the Groan Zone

Last week I was candid about cross-cultural living. It can instigate culture shock and can leave a person baffled, confused, bamboozled, stymied, discouraged, befuddled, and even angry.

Cross-cultural living can leave a person disoriented. Culture shock can lead to severe depression. And personal and professional failure.

But today, our guest blogger, Sheryl O’Bryan, tells us there’s hope: We can adapt to new cultures. I encourage you to read more about her from last week’s post, and then settle in and enjoy her inspiring insights, below, first shared with us in May 2010.

Welcome, Sheryl!

New stuff fascinates me.

I am not a Mac. I’m a PC who is intrigued by all the iStuff.

I want to play with an iPad, but I don’t think I’ll get one.

My laptop is officially old by computer standards, but I’m reluctant to trade it in—even for a new PC.

I have a binder full of new recipes to try, but 97% of the time I go back to the old standbys.

The gym has new machines, but it will be a while before I give them a try.

Here’s the thing. I know newness doesn’t mean everything is shiny and happy.

I can’t think of a time when a new thing didn’t bring some pain with it.

Granted most of the pain doesn’t last, but it’s still there. I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of pain.

The Groan Zone

Every truly new thing takes some getting used to.

I call this the Groan Zone. You know, the period between doing things the old way and adapting to the new thing and the way it requires life to be lived.

In the space between discarding former habits and learning new onesin the process of growth—there’s groaning.

Transitioning from a Big Wheel to a bike meant learning a new skill set, lots of skinned knees, quite a bit of groaning and more than a few tears.

A new baby brings lots of joy with her, but she also brings many hours of interrupted sleep to her parents.

Changing the kind of car you drive, be it an SUV for a sedan (who remembered they were so close to the ground?!) or a standard for an automatic (where did the clutch go?!?!), produces groan-worthy moments.

I think it’s the same way in my spiritual life.

When God is at work growing me into the next part of maturity there’s groaning to be done.

I realize I’m not as humble/generous/kind/accepting/loving/ _____ (fill in the blank) as I thought I was. Rarely are these pleasant realizations.

God knows I need these epiphanies. They are essential to me becoming who He created me to be.

Growth is hard work.

Pregnant women groan as their body changes to accommodate the new life growing inside them. A chick that doesn’t persevere through the hard work of getting out of the shell never reaps the benefits of life. Having a tumor cut out so healthy tissue can develop isn’t fun, but it’s necessary for good growth and good change.

When I hear myself groaning, I have to stop and ask, “Where is God trying to grow me now?”

Knowing groaning can lead to growth doesn’t make the process easier, but it does make me more aware.

A new zone: Refinement

The good news is we don’t groan forever. It happens in different seasons. We move from the frustrated and sometimes painful sounds of the Groan Zone to a new growth zone, Refinement. Growth continues here, but it’s more like “Look what I can do!”

Are you in the zone? 
Are you groaning and growing 
or are you refining and growing?

I was right, wasn’t I? Sheryl’s words are wise and oh-so-practical. Encouraging. Full of grace. Thanks, Sheryl!

I “met” Sheryl—or rather, I discovered her blog—in 2010, thanks to a couple of blogs we both were following.

And it was so fun to discover that Sheryl and I almost met in real life. When my husband and I worked in Africa, we once spent a few days on business at Ivory Coast Academy, where Sheryl taught missionary kids for ten years—but our timing was off: We arrived while Sheryl was on furlough.

She knows a number of teachers we knew at ICA, though.

Sheryl also knows our friend, Dr. Thom Votaw, President of Teachers in Service.

Small world, indeed!