26 and on the Move

Kitui County, Kenya

I realized this week that I have celebrated seven birthdays outside the US. I turned 9, 10, and 11 in Belgium, 14 in Canada, 20 and 22 in Spain, and now 26 in Kenya. One never knows what to expect when having a birthday 7,000 miles from home. I will never forget when a group of 20 pilgrims sang me happy birthday in 5 languages and an 80-year-old pilgrim from Denmark gave me a birthday present. I have another experience to add to the list of unforgettable birthdays. My friends and colleagues threw me a birthday party here in the village. Rachel and Anna gave me a jar of peanut butter right when I came to breakfast. We then went into town to buy supplies for the party including fixings for a chocolate cake. When we got back, Rachel, Anna, and the staff from the clinic swung into full preparation mode. They purchased and slaughtered 3 chickens (including a funny moment where Anna tried to kill the chicken with the wrong side of the knife) and baked the cake using the African version of a Dutch Oven. Once everything was ready, 12 of us squeezed into Carol’s small apartment to eat and celebrate. The Clinic staff even got me a birthday card, which now hangs on the wall of my quarters in the Guest House. It was touching that there was such an outpouring from people that I have not known that long. I felt a strong sense of belonging and community. It reminded me that there will always be more that brings us together than drives us apart. My camera was out of battery, but Rachel took a bunch of pictures. Once I get them from her, I will post them to my Flickr account.

My work life has seen a similar boost. This week marked the beginning of the Nyumbani Teen Club. We work with the 8th grade students every day from 3-4pm during their afternoon break. The idea is that this will continue at least for the rest of our time here and maybe becomes an ongoing sustained fixture of village life. In the near term, we want to use this as a place to talk to the students about health and relationships and give them a safe space in tumult of adolescence. Also, it should be fun. To that end, we spent this week focusing on getting know the students and playing games. Thursday, we did a chant competition between the boys and the girls complete with me taking a page from Remember the Titians leading the boys in an army chant complete with me as the drill sergeant. Friday, I was without my usual co-facilitators, Dee and Suzanne, but I have a group of 10 American high school students from Chicago. We played dodge ball, keep the balloon in the air, and soccer. By that, I actually mean that the students threw volleys of juggling beanbags at each other a court made out of church pews without any other regard for the rules of dodge ball, stood on the stage laughing hysterically hitting 6 balloons around until they (the balloon) popped, and maybe actually played soccer. However, the point was to create a fun space for the students, and we accomplished this in spades. Although I personally hate camp songs and shows that require audience participation, part of my role in the group seems to be to lead them in songs, chants, and the wave to help keep the energy up. Serving God often seems to involve a heavy dose of irony.

Last week, I was stretching for content, but this week, there is almost too much to fit in. On Wednesday, the Shushus (grandparents) invited Suzanne, Dee, Natalie, and I to there weekly meeting. I gave a plug for how I was going to start doing home visits, which actually garnered applause from the Shushus (much to my surprise). However, the most amazing part of this meeting was that it ended with dancing. There are great pictures up on my Flickr and a short compilation video below, but the gist of it was that they Shushus danced and sang traditional songs. They also, one by one, got Dee, Suzanne, Rachel, and Natalie to join them even wrapping them in traditional skirts. After this went on for a while, they expected us to show them dances from our respective countries. For Dee, from Ireland, this was a no brainer. She brought along her iPod speakers and performed a short demo of Irish dancing. For us 4 Americans, this was somewhat more challenging. Natalie and Suzanne did the Macarena (mostly correctly), while Rachel provided the music/beat. I attempted a punk/ska dance that while it garnered more applause from the Shushus, I narrowly avoided tearing my ACL trying to it on an uneven dirt road.

The overall sense of this past week is that things are finally moving for real. The Nyumbani Teen Club (NTC) requires daily planning. I have moved onto physically rebuilding the computers at the Polytechnic, and I have begun making home visits. It turns out that all that I had to do is turn 26. Thanks so much for your birthday wishes, comments, thoughts, and prayers. They are a great source of comfort and strength.

Mungu Akubariki,