Back to Work

Kitui, Kenya

For the past few days, I have been hanging out in Nairobi theoretically making final preparations for life in the village. However, it turned into a few vacation days for me sleeping on the couch on our Nairobi based team members. There is a good photo gallery if you click the link to flickr on the right hand side of the page. I went on a safari with some of the team members, wrapped up the remaining supply shopping, and generally caught up on my rest and relaxation (as much as I ever can). Going on a safari in Africa is one thing that has been on my bucket list since I knew what a bucket list was. Sidney and I stayed in the Animal Kingdom Lodge on our honeymoon to Disney World partly to simulate this experience. As it turns out, there is a great safari spot just outside Nairobi at Nairobi National Park. We had a guide, Francis, and a van with a pop up roof. We started fairly early in the morning, but we got to see some magnificent things. We encountered an entire pride of lions, and one of them got within less than 3ft of our van. I could have reached out and touched him. I didn’t, but I could have. Afterwards, even Francis was a little shaken by what had happened, but it was a strange mixture of thrilling and terrifying. We also went to a baby elephant and giraffe sanctuary, saw giraffes, secretary birds, water buffalo, and guinea fowl in the wild and had lunch a tourist trap.

However, today, I got back down to business. Rachel, Anna, Dr. Blevins, and I drove out to Nyumbani village leaving at around 7am this morning. Last night, we had the privilege of staying at a hotel owned by the President of Kenya because the landlord of the apartment figured out that way more than 6 people were currently staying there. The drive out to Nyumbani took about 3hrs, and we drove through countryside made up of green highlands dotted with larger hills. My first impression of the village is that it is much larger in terms of size and scope. It is home to close to 1,000 residents (900 children and 100 grandparents, who care for the children). It sits on 1,000 acres has its own primary school, high school, technical school, organic farm, lumber operation, green houses, and bee hives. They make their own clothes, all their own bricks, and most things made of metal. We met with the executive director, took an extensive tour, and settled in. While the work begins in earnest tomorrow, I am still up in the air as to what exactly I will be doing here. Hopefuly, these details will get sorted out in the morning.

As I write this, I am sitting under my mosquito net in my room. I had to take a break from writing after discovering a bat in my bathroom. The food really does mostly consist of rice, beans, and corn. My bathroom really is a concrete hole in the floor, and my shower is a bucket and a teacup. Despite all of that, I am fairly comfortable. In terms of future posts, now that I am in the village, expect something from me every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the duration. Thanks so much for your comments, thoughts and prayers.

Mungu Akubariki,

Trey 

What I want to be when I grow up

Limuru, Kenya

Back when I wanted to be White House Chief of Staff, I could turn on the news most days and see an image of what I want to be when I grew up. Before that, I wanted to be a prosecutor. Law and Order fit that bill for communing with my future. As a child, I either wanted to be a policeman or a paleontologist both of which are not hard to find on children’s television. However, as a young, would-be pastor with an interest in public health and fighting HIV and AIDS in Africa, my list of opportunities to see people doing what I feel called to do are fairly slim. They haven’t even managed to turn it into a reality show yet. Although, if I wanted to have 19 children, open an Italian bakery, build motorcycles, cars, cupcakes, large cakes, fish tanks, or ice sculptures, fish for tuna, crab, or swordfish, pawn things, auctions things, hunt for things, or get trapped in a house with strangers, they have me covered.

All of this is an oblique way of saying that I finally got a chance to see my future career path in action. While here in Lumuru, we are in the middle of a high level conference between faith-based organization fighting HIV and AIDS in East Africa and government health officials. I got to attend panels where various faith-based organizations presented their work in fighting HIV and AIDS and listened to the feedback from others doing the same thing. I attended a dinner where a representative from the Kenya Ministry of Health and Sanitation gave a presentation on the status of the epidemic in Kenya and talked about ways that faith communities can partner with the government. At lunch, I ate with a leading Catholic Priest from Rwanda and a representative from Uganda’s Ministry of Health. We talked about the progress that Uganda had made and how churches and faith-based organizations fit into that. This is a chance to be exactly where I want to be and do exactly what I want to do. This doesn’t come along often and is really eye opening. These are people who do what I feel called to do. To be honest, it is a little intimidating like someone playing AA baseball watching the 1927 Yankees or a Division 2 college player watching the 1972 Dolphins (yes, I had to check Wikipedia to make sure I had these dates right).

Despite my intimidation, it is interesting to see the mixture of hope and frustration. There is a tangible sense here that we are making progress in the war on HIV and AIDS. The percentage of the Kenya population has fallen by 50% in the past 10 years and now holds steady at 7%. However, there is no denying that everyone sees how high the hill is that must still be climbed. They talk boldly of an AIDS free generation in our lifetime. I hope and pray that I can be a part of it.

In monkey related news, a monkey stole food today from warming tray at the buffet line, and I’m pretty sure that there is one outside my door right now. However, I am told that it is not smart to invite them. (Insert bad monkey related pun here.)

Thank you all for your comments and views. Home feels a world away, and it is nice to feel supported and connected.

Mungu Akubariki,

Trey 

I'm here, and I'm FINE!

Limuru, Kenya

I do not like having to start off my first post on a sad note, but circumstances dictate otherwise. There was a deadly explosion in Nairobi today. While the initial report that we heard blamed it on some sort of electrical problem, Kenya Power has ruled that it could not have been. The Prime Minister of Kenya, Odinga, has blamed the explosion on Somali terrorists. As of this writing, the explosion has not been officially ruled a terrorist attack and no group have taken credit. Please be in prayer for those who have lost loved ones today, those are injured, and for the nation of Kenya as they sort through the details of this tragedy.

It seems that I have, once again, let trouble find me. However, I am currently more than 30 miles away from Nairobi and was not directly impacted by the explosion in any way. I left Nairobi yesterday morning and drove by the place where the explosion happened. My group from Emory was schedule to return to Nairobi early next week, but I do not know if that will be possible. Either way, I’m fine.

Up until today, the trip had been relatively easy. All of my flights went smoothly. I easily met my ride at the airport. There were some small excitements. A child decided to kick the back of my seat for 8 straight hours on the flight from London to Nairobi. I had to break into my own luggage using a multi-tool and a doorstop. My hard case has a lock that can be opened by TSA. I never lock. TSA, when they inevitably searched by bag, did lock it. So, instead of catching up on sleep and recovering from jetlag, I sat on my hotel room floor at 11:00pm Kenya time and after an hour and much grunting, prying, and cursing, broke the lock (but not the latch). I do not normally do product placement, but if you are looking for secure luggage, I recommend Samsonite, “The Luggage so Secure, You Can’t Open it”.

Beyond that, it was smooth sailing. My initial persecution is mixed. Nairobi and the surrounding area is a strange mixture of European advertising, modernish building surrounded by compounds, and tin shacks lining the rode. I am currently staying at a conference center and participating in a seminar at St. Paul’s University, which is adjacent. The classroom that we work in is fairly basic, and out the classroom window, there is a tea plantation. However, the students and faculty from Kenya that we are working with are all in perfectly pressed dress clothes that would not look out of place on the streets of Washington, DC. The discourse is on the same level as one would find in most US universities. I’m the one in Converse and jeans. I am not surprised to see a modern side to Kenya. The stereotypical primitive Africa has long faded into the pages of myth and history. What I find jarring is the contrast. In one turn of my head, I can take in a modern university and a traditional plantation, a global bank and a beggar, a tin shack and a Range Rover.   

I’m sorry that it has taken me so long to get this blog functional. However, expect another post tomorrow talking more about the work that I’m doing here in Limuru.

Mungu (God) akubariki (bless you),

Trey

P.S. There is a monkey being chased by a cat in my hallway.