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.