Friday, December 31, 2010

Rain Forest - Day 2

It’s Christmas Eve day and our friend and hostess, Julia is busy with all manner of preparation for the evening carol service. We explore a bit, read, nap, paint and explore some more. At one point I find myself out in the woods and I hear a loud thrashing in the trees – overhead! I look up and see a Colobus monkey has just made a huge leap from one tree top to another and is staying in the branches above me. I see movement near in another tree. I settle myself down and crane my head straight up. I stay and watch six or eight monkeys take the ‘path’ through the tree tops jumping from one tree to another, none of them falling. They are like the equivalent of five or six stories in the air. I’m in awe.
Later I find myself on a bench by the fish pond staring at the most incredible huge leaves. They look too big to be real. Yet they are so intricate, they certainly aren’t fake props. I listen as the fish prop into the depths of the pond when they are afraid of a noise. Otherwise they like sunning themselves at the pond surface. A little further on I stop to listen to a little babbling of the stream that runs through the forest near the Rondo. It’s so serene and peaceful inside the forest, and it seems so far from everything.
At 9:00 PM the chapel bell is rung. We assemble in total candle light. It’s a short service by Kenyan standards; lasting a little over an hour. I am so thankful to rehearse once again the coming of the baby Jesus who turns out to be a King. Different scriptures are read in between our carols. In the end Julia reads a story about an old lonely Russian man who meets Jesus in all his visitors on Christmas Day. It’s a lovely way to finish off the night before Christmas.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Rain Forest - Day 1

We arrived early in the day after a short plane ride from Nairobi where we started before the light of day. Our taxi driver takes up by a view of the ‘weeping rock’ – a large boulder formation that seems to spring water from inside and pour it down the rock from the top no matter how dry the season.
We arrive inside the gates to well-manicured gardens with a few very tall trees. We get a bit of history and a brief tour: started as a logging mill, the miller’s wife wanted her home close to the largest tree in the forest. The tree has since died but the remains of a giant stump still grace the yard.
There is a main house with a dining hall and two large sitting rooms for guests. Several cottages of varying sizes unobtrusively dot the grounds. At the lower end of one side of the garden is a small round chapel with a lovely wooden interior. We’ve already passed through the small reception area and had a peek at the tiny gift shop. We’re fed a little breakfast and then given time to settle into our rooms before lunch. We’re advised the forest is known for both birds and butterflies. But we notice there other life here as well; monkeys – three kinds live in these trees, and we’ve read the snake warnings. As it turns out, Kakamega Forest may have the highest concentration of poisonous snakes in the world. (But we don’t hear about that until our last day.) That afternoon while sitting on our verandah we hear the very loud creaking than a crash! A tree has fallen in the forest nearby. A couple of us go to investigate, sure enough a medium sized tree (for this forest) has fallen across a foot path just outside of the Center’s grounds.
I think of the philosophical question, “When a tree falls in an empty forest does it make a sound?” and suddenly realize that no forest is ever really empty. No one is trapped under the tree, but if a person hasn’t been certainly a monkey could have been.

That evening as the sun is setting the full orchestra of the forest around us crescendos. I relate the sounds to the only experiences I know of rain forests – ‘it sounds like one of those rain forest CDs that you can get to fall asleep by.’ Much more real now that I have sat there and heard it for myself.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Rain Forest

Kenya is a land of diverse climates – we have maintains, savannah, deserts, coastline and … rain forest. Perhaps not quite as dense as you might picture from the nature specials on the Amazon but none the less, intriguing and exotic.

As I write the steam rises from the lawn of out retreat center as the sun hits the damp grass. This place has been carved out of one edge of the forest. Owned by a local mission organization; it’s run as a kind of hotel/retreat with an emphasis on peace and quiet. If you sit still you can hear all sorts of birds singing, frogs croaking and monkeys calling. Following will be a “brief” journal of our days in Kakamega Rain Forest. I say brief in quotes because these entries will be longer than my usual ones, but certainly not an exhaustive log of the events. If I should fail to mention it elsewhere, the food at Rondo Retreat Center is fabulous. It’s absolutely amazing to have such gourmet food in such a remote place. I’ll try to add in some of your meal offerings so you will believe me. However scrumptious, food is not the reason one should visit Rondo. Watch here for more about this incredible trip.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Rondo Retreat

Let me start you off with a link to the website of the place we stayed.

There is so much to tell you that I will have to do it in installments. We arrived by air (and bus) then went by taxi for about 45 minutes to arrive at this Center on the edge of the Kakamega Rain Forest. There my travelling companions (Jane and Laurel) and I met up with an old friend of mine, Julia and enjoyed 4 days over Christmas there. Details and photos to follow!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Recipes are Timeless

I kind of think that recipes never really go out of fashion. That's why we sometimes find that a really good recipe was one handed down from someone's grandmother. And honestly, there are some recipes I wish I had that went to the grave with my Grandma Korbel. My siblings have often lamented not having her fried chicken recipe.

Now some recipes should go out of fashion. I think james r lileks has a whole book on regrettable recipes. I'm content to never even look at another Jello salad myself.

All this is to say, I'm love to revive the recipe blog that some of my friends started together some time back. Every recipe on the blog is tried and true. We started posting because people were asking for the recipes.

I just added an old favorite that I haven't made in a while; A yummy garlic parmesan topped focaccia bread. The most challenging part was that I made the bread part myself since you can't find focaccia bread here in Kenya. (It wasn't really that hard.) I used the Easy French Bread recipe out of my nearly ancient and very handy More with Less Cookbook.

Anyone what to join in the recipe collection and become a poster, let us know.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Christmas Season in Kenya

There are many things I find odd about celebrating Christmas in Kenya. They are all colored by my Minnesota upbringing which makes it very challenging to shake all my images of snow, cozy fireplaces, skating rinks, etc - basically winter!
I was lamenting today about the huge inflatable Christmas "ornaments" at the local shopping mall. I couldn't figure out why one of them was more like a duck than a Santa. The security guard thought it was fine. I chalked it up to the influence of China in Kenya. But as I was checking blog reader today I was alerted to some Christmas lawn ornaments back home that I'm not sure how I feel about.
I'll give them this; they're at least as funny as an inflatable Santa Duck.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I Don't Have It Down

There are times I’d like to believe that I have this missionary thing or this living in another culture thing down. I’ve dealt with all kinds of situations, I know what to expect. For the most part it’s true, I do, but there are parts of me that never seem to overcome my American view in certain situations.

In August I wrote about wishing I were rich to be able to help out the needy students I meet who are worthy of help but not getting it. I’m wishing that again. I also wish I had a better way of dealing with the needs I see around me. There are set procedures for students applying for funding but there are limited funds. Struggling helps build our faith in God to care for us. I truly believe this.

I guess the thing that I wish was different is how I feel. I wish felt in my depths the “right” feeling for dealing with the fact that I cannot meet the needs of those I really want to. And the balance of knowing how to help those I can. I have even been presented with very real needs outside of the students at Daystar, and ones that move me to tears for wanting to do something more than a month’s worth of groceries or paying half a month’s rent for them. It’s not solving anything long term. But I can’t really figure that out either.

I struggle too. I am not a gifted fund raiser. I can’t even get my own funding up to full support, let alone care for a refugee and her daughter who needs medical care. And the best I can do tonight is vent about it here. Maybe it will build my faith too. But tonight I’m just frustrated.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ten Years of Being Fatherless

Ten years ago today my dad died of a “rare liver cancer”. It largely remains unspoken but it seems that his years of alcohol abuse might have speeded his demise. That aside, God knows the days marked for each of us. As a teenager I wasn’t too pleased with my dad. I had admired him when I was little. As a young adult I forgave my dad and came around again to appreciating him.

When I moved to Kenya the first time in 1993 my dad was the most interested in the venture. To my surprise Dad wrote me letters and sent articles much more than my mom. I think that if he had felt well enough to travel he would have loved to visit me in Kenya. I even proposed it back then. But Mom told me he wasn’t physically up to it (even that early) to come this far.

Dad had a real zest for life. Far more than my mom, I am like my dad; more adventurous and interested in all sorts of different personalities. He was a great cook. Dad also had a love of sports and the great outdoors. He appreciated the artists in our family and promoted us whenever he could. His funeral was the day before Thanksgiving in 2000. It was standing room only because Dad had so many friends from clubs and volunteer work, neighbors and church members. It’s been a whole decade without him. I suppose I’m used to being fatherless. But there are times when I would sure love to talk to him again; ask advice on cooking or hear a story of when he was young.

As I was reading this week I just “happened” to come upon Psalm 10. The end of verse 14 talks about how God cares for the fatherless. It’s so true and I am thankful even while I miss my earthly father.

(My parents with a nephew around 20 years ago.)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

So Much I Could Say

But a couple photos will have to do for starters. If he was alive, my dad would be turning 84 today. We've been without him for almost 10 years.
When I was a girl, this is what my dad looked liked. He had a passion for life.
Here is Dad on the farm as a baby with his parents. He was the firstborn of three.

I'll try to post some more photos soon. And tell you more about him.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Just a Few Photos of My Trip to Minnesota

I got to meet the new Lang girls!
Got to see David, and "old" friend I haven't seen in ages!
The Runion Men
The Paulsen family - they had been teaching at Daystar earlier this year for 5 months.
Kathy and the little guys, August and Andreas
Josie in her art studio - too cool!
Jones kids!
Jones girls love to dance! They will fit in just fine in Africa.
Breakfast the Birchwood Cafe with Jennifer and Paula
Holding the Piper Twins! What fun!
Hans with a stunned squirrel
Most of the "nieces" in the kanga dresses I made them (plus Iain).
Cheryl, Me and Sue at Faith Presbyterian, Minnetonka
Owen and Daystar exchange student, Karan at Bethel

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Back to the Land of…

Brown eggs, roads teeming with pedestrians, dusty everything (and no daylight savings.)

I’m home. Most of the time I think of both Nairobi and Minneapolis as home. So I can say I’m home no matter which direction I go. Because of what seems to me to be the worst case of jet lag I ever remember having, I’m not doing as well in comparing my worlds as I did going the other direction. But just last night I was driving home from Westlands with a friend in the car. We had two buses zoom by us on either side while entering a round-a-bout.

It was scary. Thankfully I also thought it was funny. I’m pleased when I can laugh at what is often frustrating here, even more pleased when it comes naturally. I commented to my friend, “Is it worse than normal? Is it a full moon? Or because of Diwali?” She assured me that this was all very normal, I was just used to American driving and jet-lagged.


Non-the-less, I love this place. It’s good to be home.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Definitely Suffering Jet Lag

I arrived back in Nairobi safely about 48 hours ago. I had absolutely no jet-lag when I landed in Minnesota 6 weeks ago. It’s never happened to me before. Not so with the return. I’m just propping myself up for a bit longer to try to straighten out the fatigue.

I’d like to take a poll. For those readers that have done some international travel, what do you think it most challenging going from east to west or vice versa? Or is it harder going away from home, or back home? What about north south?

Weigh in, let me know. Please identify yourself if you are a new commenter.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Nearly Ready to Fly

I'm setting off to return to Nairobi on Wednesday afternoon. It's been great catching up with so many folks. And a bummer missing some of you. Please keep up with me over email, this blog, Facebook, Skype or even real letters. I'd love it!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Driving Down Memory Boulevard

I grew up on Minnetonka Boulevard, the edge of Hopkins and Minnetonka. It was somewhat rural in my formative years. And the house my parents lived in for 53 years still stands on 2.5 acres of mostly marsh. (We called it a swamp when I was growing up. Now it’s “protected wetlands”.)

I’ve been staying only about a mile from that house for the last 4 weeks. This has given me lots of opportunity to relive memories from the past. My hosts wanted to see the house. So we even drove down the little lane that was once our dirt driveway. I told them about the “olden days”.

Probably the oddest memory recently was a trip to Ridgedale, the shopping mall I frequented as a teen. As I passed through Penney’s bath and bedding department I was flooded with a memory of shopping there with my mom shortly before her death in 2005.

The experience was overwhelming sadness at missing her. I stood for several minutes in the otherwise peopleless towel section crying without being able to stop myself. I dug for tissues and finally propelled myself from the section in the hopes I could dry my tears. I was thankful there were few customers that morning in the store.

This and other recollections have prompted me to show you some of the past I’ve found among the photos I now have stored in my attic thanks for my brother cleaning out his. Watch this space for pictorial stories of my history.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl

I started reading a book I got at the DG Conference. Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl is an interesting read. It talks about all things ‘normal’ in very imaginative ways. It helps me look at some of what I take for granted in a new light. I expect that was probably the author’s intent and he’d be happy about that.

Maybe it’s easier to look at things from a new perspective when you have recently jumped cultures. I tend to write about traffic – but all my best subjects come while I’m driving whether about cars or not.

The other day while I was driving I was staring at either a new business I hadn’t seen or one that seemed to be missing from its spot and I nearly missed my left turn. I admonished myself, “Pay attention, Jan. You don’t want to get in an accident.”

It’s so easy to become board while driving here and I wondered if most accidents in this town were due to being distracted because there wasn’t much to keep your attention while driving except the things you might be passing by.

I doubt that is the reason for most accidents in Kenya.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Unconsciously Kenyan

Yesterday I did something very culturally Kenyan without realizing it at the time. I had two appointments, one at 10:30 for coffee and another for lunch. At the coffee appointment I was chatting away, catching up on life with a friend so the time was creeping up on me. I looked at my watch at 11:55 and wondered what time the lunch was for. The person I was with asked me for what time the lunch was scheduled. I glanced at my calendar while she finished what she was saying.

Here is where my brain flipped into Kenyan mode without me even being conscious of it. I noted that my lunch was to be at noon and that I was already late. Inside my thoughts seamlessly told me, it’s more important to finish this conversation. Don’t cut it off, let us finish naturally. Then I vaguely hoped the other person would still be there and understand even though I’d already been late to other appointments this trip.

Another twenty minutes passed before the conversation came to a natural pause that I could break into. That’s when I started to think about what I had done. I was nearly certain I didn’t have her phone number, but now I was bent on getting to the other location as quickly as I could. By the time I reached the restaurant, it was now 25 minutes later than the planned time. When I didn’t find my friend there I was sure she’d come and gone, but I hoped she was really late too.

I checked in my phone to find her mobile number. I called; no answer. I left a voice mail. In a way I was relieved, perhaps she’d left her phone at home and I wouldn’t have been able to tell her I was late anyway. I knew she didn’t live far, so I called someone else to get her home number then called her there too. There was no answer.

After trying the cell again I just decided to wait a bit longer. I didn’t know what else to do. Eventually we did find each other and were able to have a nice visit over lunch.

It dawned on me as I sat there that this was a very Kenyan approach to events. In fact it’s was the culture learning books refer to as event-oriented culture. It’s kind of the idea that the current relationship is the most important at the moment and the next thing (person) will wait. This is the opposite of being time-oriented, where getting to the next event on time is the higher value. A little scary. I'd say it was good if I were actually in Kenya.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Here's a Fun One

I love trying to give "pictures" to describe things. Josh Sowin over at Fire and Knowledge posted this interesting info he found on how big Africa is based on what countries fit into it. Remember though, Africa is a whole continent. I often tell people that Kenya is about the size of Texas.

Friday, October 8, 2010

American Auto Etiquette

One glaring difference in driving between here and there is how you go about things. Today as I sat in a line of cars at a very long light I thought about doing a U-turn right over the median to get back to back on the road I had recently turned off of because it was taking too long. I didn’t do it – but I certainly thought about doing it.

Then this evening as I was on the freeway during the evening rush hour in what is known as “slow and go” traffic I held up a bit to let someone merge in ahead of me. I was a bit offended when that driver didn’t wave at me out the window or give me a thumbs-up. That’s what a polite driver in Nairobi would do to say thank you for being let in.

So far I have been trying to suspend my judgments on traffic behavior here and see what happens, I hope I don’t get too used to it here and forget about what happens there. In the meantime, I’m relearning the traffic rules.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Staying with the Mahins!

Hello Friends -

Just letting you know that I am now staying with Pat and Cheryl Mahin in Minnetonka, not far from where I grew up. If you want to reach me here they have a landline: 952-935-7104. I'm in the Daystar US office during the day quite often. The number there is 952-928-2550.

This Sunday is my open house at the home of the Maves in South Minneapolis. Please join me there or call me to get together another time. It's hard to believe that my time here is going so fast, but it's always like that.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Personal Space

You know how one of the factors of cultural differences is how much personal space you need around you to feel comfortable. It’s sometimes referred to as an invisible bubble that your own culture knows cannot be entered. But in warmer climate cultures let’s pick on Italians for example, they will get quite a bit closer than Americans to one another in a social setting and talk right in your face.

Today as I was driving in rush hour traffic here in the Twin Cities, I noticed the same was true of car space. American driven cars need more personal space than those in Kenya. As you follow a car in “slow and go” traffic here you need to leave more room to feel comfortable. But in Nairobi, everyone is much closer together for very practical reasons. You can get cut off!

Yesterday I noted the same thing with parking lots and parking spaces. Good grief, a Kenya given the same amount of surface space for parking would probably get twice as many cars in the space.

I’m often amazed that there aren’t more accidents in Kenya. If there were more people that thought they needed more space – maybe there would be. I’m thankful there aren’t.

I’m fighting the urge to be Kenyan here. I’m learning to adjust.

Monday, September 27, 2010


It’s my favorite season in Minnesota, if I had to pick a season as a favorite. The day I arrived it was pouring down rain. In fact there are floods in southern Minnesota. Everything glistened even though it’s in muted autumn colors. I’m staying in a far suburb at the moment and it has large mature trees in along the winding roads.It’s also one of my favorite seasons in Kenya, its Jacaranda season! Totally different color pallet, but both are beautiful! They were starting to bloom before I left.
It’s just a win-win season.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Reverse Culture Shock

From the time I have heard the term culture shock I have thought it not a really good description of what a person feels over cultural differences. This is even truer when I think of reverse culture shock – or what you feel when you return to your own culture.

So far this trip back has had some pleasant things I haven’t expected. One is that so far, and I’m on day 4 in-country, I really haven’t experienced jet-lag. The other was a successful quick trip to Wal-Mart for only a couple of items. (I wasn’t that successful yesterday when I went in for a look and got stuck in there for almost 3 hours.)

Usually I think of reverse culture shock as a kind of cultural disappointment or sadness, so it’s a nice surprise when it’s more on the happy side. Don’t get me wrong. I still think it’s so odd to drive around without traffic jams. In Nairobi I live only a few kilometers (shorter than miles) from my work, but it’s always a slow-go and a challenge to find a back way that is flowing more freely. It’s weird not to see lots of people walking along the roads. The aisles of breakfast cereal are still much longer than those in Nairobi. But all that isn’t really ‘shocking’. It’s just different.

Maybe Nairobi is just becoming more and more cosmopolitan and there is almost anything available. Maybe I’m here too often. Both have things that are strange to me and hard to sometimes understand or I don’t really like. But to be sure, both are home.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

It's So Different

It’s actually a very odd feeling to spend approximately 24 hours of travel and be in a so totally different place. I remember thinking on the plane how the airport in Nairobi feels fairly comfortable yet somewhat cosmopolitan in its own way. Still it’s a very different culture to the one I’m from in my fibers.

Then after this 8 hour fog of air travel, you arrive in Europe. While it’s closer to my own culture it’s the culture I’m least familiar with. I wander around the airport that feels like a shopping mall.

As I make my way towards the gate a couple hours before I’m scheduled to depart, I start hearing more and more American English spoken. I hear the loud conversations in markedly Midwestern accents. I look around at the footwear and think to myself how typically American it is to wear tennis shoes. Then I realize that they are only called ‘tennis shoes’ in the US. (If I was still in Kenya, I’ve called them ‘trainers’ even to myself.)

While I am pleased to be feeling I understand all my surroundings in a very basic way here, I am not altogether sure that I really like this. There is a certain deep happiness to being able to negotiate a culture without any second guessing, and no apology for whatever I do, after all, I am American. But at the same time, it’s not all good.

I’m writing from a Perkins where I’ve just had the biggest breakfast imaginable. I’ve been served so fast I can hardly believe it. The waitress made a mistake on my order that I probably wouldn’t have noticed, corrected and gave me a free muffin in the whole mix without me so much as even saying a word. It’s grand to have real customer service. But all the while I can hear all kinds of loud conversations and I think about how this culture has acquired that “Ugly American” image.

Kenyans must be horrified when they first arrive here. I tried to image a solitary Kenyan sitting at this booth instead of me. I’m sure she would have thought the meal that was served enough for two or three people. Perhaps she would have concluded that’s the reason why Americans are so big. This Kenyan would have been shocked by the shouts that come over the dim of asking for a cup or greeting someone. If she had as good an ear as I do for a Midwestern accent she would likely find the snippets of conversation equally as odd or jarring.

This is my home culture. It’s what I am at the very bottom of my being. I understand it on a fundamental level. But I don’t really like it all. And I have come to realize that there is a deep part of me that is also a little bit Kenyan.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Back to the Land of ...

Temperature-controlled running water
Relatively easy and light traffic
Convenience foods

I arrived safely in Minneapolis yesterday after about 20 hours of travel. By the time I hit the hay last night I’d been up for about 48 hours without more than a catnap. I slept for 8 hours last night and feel like a million bucks today, but my eyes sure hurt yesterday.

Let’s hope the jet-lag is minimal.

I have a cell phone; please call so we can get together! 612-462-2077.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane

Dear Readers -

If you haven't received my newsletter, let me know. This post won't be news to you if you got it. I'm coming to the Twin Cities for a visit! I'll be there from my birthday on September 23 until, God willing, November 3.

We've planned an Open House for October 10th from 2-5 at the home of Steve and Rachel Maves. Please comment here if you need directions or any further information.

If you can't make it then, please email me so we can meet up while I'm home. I'm so looking forward to catching up personally with many of you. I can't wait to meet new family members that have arrived and see how big everyone's kids are getting! Once I have a phone number I will post it.

Part of why I'm coming home is that I still am without a work permit here. I need to leave every 6 months when I'm on a visitor's visa. Please pray with me that this would all come together by the time I'm coming back.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Vacation at the Coast - Ahhh

This was the view from where we settled on the sun beads for 5 days.
What's a vacation at a resort without dancing. After the cultural dance show guests were invited to join in the fun.
Lest you think we spent every moment laying around, we did a few other things like visit the family friends of Jane's for lunch one day (family of 3 at the right).
Also we sent to visit a children's home that Jane's workmates volunteer at on a regular basis.
Jane holding a baby while a care giver explains what happened to this child.

Sometimes visiting Children's Homes can be heartbreaking. It's a better life than the streets.
Good-bye to the coast for now.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Laptop Toasted!

Hello Dear Readers -

I had every intention of posting while on vacation. God had more of a total vacation in mind. My laptop screen has decided it's had enough. It is currently completely non-functional. I'm limping along at the moment. But not sure when I will be back up and running.

If you list me on your reader, you'll know when I'm back to full speed. Blessings!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

East African Coast

There is nothing I have experienced that is quite like the coast of Kenya. It’s dreamy beautiful, white sand and warm sunshine with gorgeous blue ocean stretching to infinity. And I really could use a little break! So in a few short hours, I’ll be heading down there. If I’m able I will post some photos of the trip. In the meantime, here’s a taste.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I Wish I Were Rich So I Could Give It Away

Because it’s the start of the academic year, it’s what I call the season of needy students. Each day I see students that either I have known over the past months or new ones that are all desperate for financial assistance with their school fees.

While Daystar University is a comparable education to say, Northwestern in the Roseville, it’s a fraction of the cost of sending a student to Northwestern. Still, it’s among the best private Christian education, so for Kenyans it’s expensive! This country doesn’t have the big student loan options we have in the States, if you’re Kenyan you can get a little bit of financial aid from the government for a limited time.

The students I see are ones that are usually bright, but not wealthy. Sometimes they don’t meet the requirements for that little bit of government help; they’re foreigners or older. They’ve gone through some hardship that has keep them from going every term and now they’re struggling to get through a degree even though they started five or six years ago.

Just today I saw a young man who looked as if he would burst into tears when I told him that he needs to keep looking for options because he can’t just depend on the hope of a scholarship if it doesn’t come though. The poor kid. We prayed. I wish I could do something else for him too. But he’s just one! There are at least 5 more I’ve seen this week I’d also really like to help!

I know that realistically, being rich would be more complicated than just having cash on hand to dole out as needed. I know the hardships that these folks are going through builds character and faith in their Provider. But sometimes it’s so overwhelming to see student after student that just needs a little push to finish and not be able to just take care of it.

Maybe that is the American in me; the ‘just do it’ mentality. I know it helps these folks just to have someone to talk to about it. But I wish I didn’t take it all so much to heart.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dependant on Electricity

On Sunday morning I lingered in bed a little bit longer than I usually do. When I finally pulled my tired self out of bed, I grabbed a towel to head down to the shower but the hall light wouldn’t turn on. My housemate was up and could hear me flipping the switch back and forth outside her door. “It went off about 5 minutes ago,” she told me. “Great, perfect timing,” I retorted.

Our shower is the kind that heats as it goes because it’s far cheaper on the electric bill to do it that way. If we’d been using the big hot water tank, I would have had a hot shower. But no such luck. I went downstairs and thought about the other things I couldn’t do: Can’t use the coffee grinder or coffee maker. Thankfully I just bought some already ground coffee yesterday, never mind it was decaf. And thankfully I have a cone thing I can put on top of a cup.

Heating water will work on my stove, because it’s gas - again, I'm thankful! I can also cook an egg for breakfast. I then thought about how the electricity might be out for hours. I took the ice pack out of the freezer and set it next to the milk in the fridge after adding some to my coffee. If it is hours, my milk might spoil.

I never use a hair dryer or curling iron here. And that pile of dishes will stay since there’s no hot to get them really clean. But I could boil water on the stove for that. I mean, we usually use the electric kettle to make hot water for dishes.

I’d like to think I’m not this dependant. But I am.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

My Congolese brother, Frank

After a couple phone calls and a text message from this guy who wanted to be my friend, I was talking to Frank. He recently came from Minneapolis where he was working in DUS office. I don’t know how long he was there, but it must have been more than a year. I told Frank the situation and he exclaimed, “That’s not how it works for you!”

“Exactly! And I’m not interested in the guy AT ALL! What should I do?” I explained that I had tried to tell him politely that I wasn’t interested. But he wasn’t getting it. I don’t want to be rude, but I can be. I don’t think I realized how hard this situation was in light of my other recent stresses.

My head in my hands in frustration, Frank replied, “Tell him to call me.”

I looked up in wonder. “What will you tell him?”

“I will tell him to leave you alone. And if he doesn’t he will have me to answer to,” Frank said firmly.

At that point I burst into tears. That was not something I expected to be, but it was telling of how challenged I had been feeling about this situation and about how alone it feels to be single in another culture. “You would be my brother?!” I asked somewhat in disbelief through my tears.

In this culture the family is traditionally very involved is such pursuits. So having a father or brother to act on your behalf is good and in this case important.

Frank quickly replied, “Of course I will be your brother. Please don’t cry! Don’t cry!” It was a huge load off my mind.

The next text got a reply from me to the effect of: I thought I was clear last time, but if you have questions, call my brother, Frank.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Orange Banana Cake - Yum!

I just posted a very yummy Banana Cake with Orange Icing recipe over at our recipe blog. If you're looking for something a little different, try it out. I'd love to revive this blog, y'all. And I'm trusting our faithful administrator will add a photo.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Stress Relief for a People Person

I've had some challenges lately. But one thing that always gladdens my heart is people. My housemate arrived back from your week long trip out of town with a team from her home church.

Luke Anderson, from my home church 'stumbled' into town as part of his journey through Africa. It's been fun to get to know this son of some BBC missionaries. He's delightful company.

Just so happens Luke is friends with one of the three new students at Daystar from Bethel University. One of my friends on FB knows the mom of another ... so we all gathered up this morning for church and a day of hanging out.

Tomorrow Esther's friend, Karla arrives for a few weeks!

If nothing else, it's a little needed distraction.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I Want to be Your Friend

The above statement has two meaning in Kenya. The first meaning is the one you and I will most often think of. It’s a thing that one kindergartener might say to another. But in Kenya it’s a little more loaded. When said by a male student to a female student it’s the kind of thing that would send that school girl into a tizzy. For me it simply comes as a least expected shock for which I have no words.

I was walking down the side of very busy Valley Road from the Daystar campus to the local gas station/chip shop for some lunch. I was stopped by a student I had met in a colleague’s office a couple of times but whose name I can never remember (that alone should be a hind of my disinterest) and who I thought was from a different neighboring country to Kenya than he is. He told me he’s been wanting to talk to me and he would like to come see me in my office. I asked him what it was about. He said personal. (I’m a bit clueless, why didn’t I pick up on it then, I could have made some reference to being here on business.)

I offered a time for that afternoon or next week. I would have been happy to walk away then, but he finally said, “I wanted to ask you something. I want to be your friend.” Because of the possible miscommunication of such a phrase, I asked, “A friend-friend or just a friend?” He smiled – I’m sure he meant to be coy. The proposal was clear. Unfortunately I suspect that colleague has probably been feeding this guy info. So here’s where huge cultural gaps come in. As if there isn’t enough going on in my mind and life right now…

I told him as politely as I could that I was not really looking for a friend, thank you.

I walked away thinking about this very odd meeting on the street. Could I or would I ever be interested in someone like this… I did actually give in a few minutes of pondering. Then came to the conclusion it’s not even a possibility. I realized that I could never consider a huge cultural leap, cold turkey like that. I would have to know the person, their character and like them as a regular friend before I could even consider anything else.

Very odd. And so not happening!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bargaining, Not for the Faint-Hearted

In stores prices are generally marked and fixed – but not always. In fact I’ve even bargained for the price of a clinic visit in the last year. But if you are going to the local craft market, known as the Masai Market, everything is 100% negotiable.

Some personalities are born negotiators, others are more cut and dried types. Some folks enjoy bargain hunting or just shopping in general, for others it’s a huge chore. Although I’m not a shop-aholic, I happened to be blessed with good bargaining skills while actually enjoying shopping.

I inherited my bargaining traits from my dad. He was a fairly frugal man, but he loved a deal. If he spotted one, it was hard to pass up. But he had to need the item to actually see the value of the deal. One year he found a really good price on neckties. He got something like 15 ties for a real great price. He gave one to every male relative that Christmas. Too bad they were not very stylish. My eldest brother wore his every Christmas for some years just to put the tie to use.

But I digress. With our recent battery of visitors I found myself in the Masai Market a few times. One visitor told me later, it’s a good thing you were there, Jan, I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Another visitor, one that’s seasoned in art of negotiation but not all the familiar with the current prices was going at it with a seller for something relatively small. They were down to a difference of 50 shillings (less than a dollar), and seemed to be that neither was willing to give in to the other. I could see my friend wanted the item, but didn’t need it, so was holding out for the woman to give in.

Then the lady selling the item said to her, “Oh mama, just close your eyes and bless me.” My friend and I just looked at each other and started laughing. How could we not give her that mere 50 shillings with such a cleaver line?

It was a happy ending for both parties. And that’s how shopping in the Masai Market should be.

Saturday, August 7, 2010


When you don’t have peace it’s noticeable. When you do, it often is taken for granted.

The country I currently call home had a momentous historical day this week. The people of Kenya voted to accept a new constitution. The one they’d been operating on for the last nearly 50 years was likely mostly drafted by colonials. There is now a genuine feeling of hope in the air.

However even more than that hope, I notice the peace that came in this time. It could have been another volatile election. Several factors contributed to it all going smoothly. And not among them is the intrinsic goodness of people. But despite what could have happened this week, it’s peaceful.

And for that I am quite thankful. If you prayed to that end, thank you!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Hurry Up and Wait

I once had a boss who was fond of this saying. It came out mostly when we were in business trips, attending conferences or sales meetings. For example: hurry up and get changed for dinner, then once seated, wait to be served.

But Jim had never been to Kenya (or any other country for that matter.) Nairobi is full of hurry-up-and-wait situations. If one things of them on this sardonic humor, you would probably never be in good humor.

The other day I was making a trip to Nakumatt, the Kenyan equivalent of Super Target (except not that big.) I had a list of only 3 or so things to do on this outing.

1. Take my newly new vacuum cleaner in for repair.
2. Return empty glass soda bottles and a couple of lamp shades that didn’t fit, bought the day before.
3. Pick up a few items like more diet Coke

I couldn’t find my receipt for the vacuum but I knew from past experience they can look up my purchases because I have a frequent shopper card.

It took well over 45 minutes to find the receipt in their system. I won’t bore you with the details of why. I’m sure I don’t understand the half of them. Turning in the soda bottles only took a few minutes. The lamp shades a bit longer and for credit only.

Now on to shopping. Suddenly I needed to spend at least as much as I returned for credit, including the bottles. But the only things on my list were a lemon (to make guacamole with the ripening avocados) and more diet Coke.

I managed to find a few more staples to stock up on, but the store was completely out of diet Coke! By the way, that is basically the only diet drink here. Once in a while you can find diet Sprite too. But not all that often.

The whole excursion took over two hours. If I only could have shopped while they tried to sort out the vacuum repair but personal presence is important for others getting things done. In the end the service guy told me that he’d call me in a week to let me know what was happening with the machine.

Hurry up and wait. It’s pretty much a way of life here. If you plan to visit, you've been warned.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Looking for Where God is at Work

Monday sometime during the day my house was robbed. One item was missing. A small, (about 6" x9") lockable cash box. In it was everything of value to me in terms of important documents (and a significant amount of cash).

Several people were here during the day. No one has owned up to it. I'm looking for how God is at work in this situation. It is likely that someone I know took it which makes the whole incident challenging. Please pray with me that the Holy Spirit would so convict the individual that they would bring back my documents and confess. Pray I would have wisdom for dealing with it.

In the meantime it will take literally hours and days to replace the items and deal with the losses. I need to see how God is in that too. I will be meeting many new people through the process. I want to be light to them as I go follow the path of recovering documents.

Thanks for your concern. I'm fine otherwise.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Monday morning I was backing into a parking space in town – I glanced to the right and noticed a pedestrian, but he was out of my way. In the next moment it flashed through my mind that I had not comprehended what color he was, so I did a double take.

I am totally into details. I rarely miss a thing - shade of skin color, length of nose, size of eyes, shape of face are all things that I normally notice. Yet I’ve had several of these “wait, what color was s/he” moments in the past couple of years. It causes me to question my perspectives and perceptions.

My mother was a fantastic observer of her surroundings. She had her opinions but for the large part, she was free of judgments. How she felt about what she saw did not distort it. She taught me how to tell if a long-haired pony tail belonged to a man or a woman by observing other features from behind. She was the first to point out that black people came in different shades.

There’s a saying about how God sees no color. But He made color. I prefer to think that he does see and love color, all colors, shades and features.

Yesterday I was flipping through a book that has a chapter by Thabiti Anyabwile. It’s about image. He starts with the whole premise that race doesn’t exist. I didn’t get very far before I was interrupted – first by tears, than by a visitor to my office.

I think it all struck me because I’d had a conversation earlier about our American understanding of customer service and how it might differ from a Kenyan one. I’m among the first to be cynical about such things – but there is a very basic truth in the dichotomy of the fact that we (all humans) are in some sense and on some level - the same and on another level - very, very different.

Holding this truth is so very important because the implications are magnanimous.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Personality Types

Sometime ago I read (probably on the Internet) that the Psalmist, David was the same Myers-Briggs personality type as me. I was immediately comforted because I’ve always been drawn to the Psalms.

Yesterday as I was reading through Psalm 139 (best known for verses 13-16 about being known by God before birth) I realized that nearly the whole psalm is quite intimate and personal. But in the end you see David using that closeness as an appeal for help and protection from his enemies.

I don’t think I have any physical enemies, but I do have the enemies of the flesh, the world and the devil. I think Satan pushes my propensity to look at the dark side from time to time. Those two elements can team up against me. Sometimes my dark side is just a not-so-good way of looking at things, and other times it’s out and out sin.

Just as David does, I take comfort in knowing that the huge God of the universe knows me and cares for me very personally. He surrounds me for the dark times, and carries me though them.

This is a great truth to know and latch onto when I’m not in a dark time. Then I can remind myself the next time in that downward spiral that my darkness is never too dark for God, verse 12.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Very Thankful for a Hot Shower

Yesterday was an odd day.

I had decided to take a comp day since many of the DU staff members are on retreat in Mombasa, including the head of my department. I had wanted to catch up on a few things at home like writing, sewing and other settling in things.

So to start my day of rest and catch-up I had the most inexpensive massage ever. The gal came to my house, but by the time she got there the electricity was out. It’s not that unusual. But I’d already gone an extra couple days without washing my hair. Now I was cold! But there was no hot water.

It’s kind of odd to have planned a relaxing day at home and still be so dependent on electricity that you can’t quite figure out what to do. I finally boiled water to put in the hot water bottle to keep warm. All the while I kept thinking that the electricity would come on any time. I was ready with a towel in the only bathroom with a working shower heater.

I read, beaded a bit. I thought about washing dishes, I hand washed some fabric. I dared to use the battery on my computer a bit, just to check email and Facebook.

When the electricity flickered on and off a couple times just before 6:00 PM I started to hope. At about 6:15 it came on and I took a very hot shower! I don’t remember the last time I was so thankful for a hot shower. It was a good thing I didn’t dilly dally. Within 45 minutes the electricity was going off and on again. I left for the evening. But not without my headlamp, just in case it was still out when I got back.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Treasure in an Ancient Mimeographed Sheet

Okay, I pulled out the sewing machine I bought off a missionary leaving over a month ago. I wanted to get some curtains finished that I had cut out for the guest room. I looked over the instruction manual trying to decide of it was an older machine than the one I’d been borrowing previously.

Amidst the manual was an ancient typed sheet of paper. I mean the kind typed on a real type-writer and then mimeographed. (Not copied.) Ok, it wasn’t like on papyrus, it was probably created in my lifetime. (Hmm, maybe I’m ancient.) The heading of the page read “MONOGRAMMING – Free Hand Stitching”.

Let me back up and say that there is a Christian ladies self-help group here in Nairobi that we often take visitors to. They do a lot of fabric crafts of all kinds and they are always looking for ways to use scraps and so on. Anyway, they have a huge, donated quilting machine. This allows the maker to freehand quilt their lovely African designs in a fast and efficient way. I have often wondered if there was a way to do that small scale, on a regular sewing machine without breaking the needle.

This little typed sheet was my answer! I set to work immediately on a scrap of canvas that I had. Oh my! I’m hooked. Drawing pictures that don’t need to be perfect is addictive. Why? Because I can come up with something nice the first time. (Usually I’m a detail person, translated to crafting sometimes means I don’t have the patience to get good at something that takes practice, like cross stitch or knitting.) The immediate gratification that this brings is fabulous! There is still much to explore! I could use an embroidery hoop, like a 10 inch one. But otherwise, the sky’s the limit! I can give you more details after I try it some more. Here’s the first attempt.