Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easter Blues

Hope Easter went well for all of you. 

Mine kind of sucked. 

After I posted my last post, I started feeling really ucky. It just got progressively worse until I was positive I was going to have my head in the toilet all night. God listened to my pleads and allowed my stomach to calm down so I could at least sleep through the night. I woke up in the morning still feeling awful. I decided that I should probably head to the doctor just to see if it was anything major. I haven't been feeling the greatest over the past few weeks. My tummy has just been off. After a brief visit, the doctor said I must have just eaten something and that I need to be careful with what I eat. He also encouraged me to be boiling my water on top of filtering it and sanitizing it with some water purifying chemicals. He gave me some antibiotics to clear any infection that might have occurred in my intestines, and sent me away. 

Well I slowly got better but I lost my appetite completely. I didn't eat anything but a few slices of bread for over 2 days. I was weak and tired. Kelvin was tied up all weekend at a wedding that he was helping out with so I was alone. Plus I missed my family terribly. During most holidays, I get a little homesick. I wish I was at home eating turkey with all my family and enjoying chocolate mini eggs while watching the weather turn into spring. 

With so much going through my head and body, I found it hard to concentrate on anything. I tried reading and doing some writing, but it was just a waste of time. I would put on a movie but would find myself dozing half way through. So I just sat on my couch. I did manage to get out of the house and go to a concert for a few hours Sunday afternoon. I think getting out, seeing friends, being by the beach helped me regain some strength. 

Finally Monday I started eating again and was ready to celebrate Easter. I listen to an Easter podcast and read the story of Jesus' death and resurrection humbled by what He did for ME, unworthy, undeserving ME. Kelvin bought me an Easter treat of garlic and herb cream cheese with crackers! I never splurge on things like that because they are just a tad too expensive and when you are surrounded by people who can't afford to eat 3 meals a day, its hard to pull that money out of your pocket. 

Now it's Wednesday and I am feeling much better. I am eating again. The weather seems to be slowly changing too. Yesterday was a delightfully cool day with even a few thunderstorms (which I love but most Kenyans fear). Today the boys are playing a rematch of the game that ended abruptly last week. Pray for peace, safety, and an atmosphere of a loving community. 

This is how I spend most mornings. I am just finishing up some of my travel writing courses so I spend a lot of time on my computer. I am really starting to enjoy writing (something I thought would NEVER happen). And I am not that bad at it. Maybe once I get an article or two published, I will invest in a desk and chair to work at. 

The concert we went to on Sunday was huge. I would guess there was close to 4000 people there. It featured some of Kenya's hottest gospel artists. Although to me it seemed more like a fashion show than a worship concert. 

Since it has been raining to much, the electricity has been going out a lot. I guess the power cables aren't water proof.  Kelvin and I have been asked to go to a 3 day youth camp this weekend. Kelvin is the main preacher and I will be a counsellor. So Kelvin has pulled out all my books, bibles, commentaries to prepare for the 5 sermons he is preaching. This picture was actually in the mid morning but the clouds made for a dark atmosphere so I lit a candle to help Kelvin see a little better. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

Eggs and bunnies, parties and cheap drinks

The streets are buzzing tonight in Mombasa. I just got home from a simple, but powerful, Good Friday service at a local church. People are all over the streets. I can hear music blaring from the local bars and see people all dressed up in their hottest outfits. They are ready to party. It's easter for goodness sake. Isn't that when we are suppose to party??

Um, no.

Maybe celebrate, but not get sloshed at a beach party.

Over the past few days I have seen signs go up advertising the hottest easter beach parties offering cheap drink specials. Through chitter chatter with friends, I have heard of other parties and late night events that are happening around the area. I am sensing a theme, a trend, a tradition.

For many of us who grew up in the West, Easter was more about eggs (I am dying for cadbury mini eggs), turkey, family, a 4 day weekend, and, of course, the easter bunny. That is what Easter represents for the general public (including many christians). In Kenya, I am seeing Easter as a weekend off work to travel to see friends, hit up the hippest beach parties, and take advantage of the uber cheap drink specials. I even have a lot of Christian friends who are excited to partake of all the festivities.

Interesting how different cultures have come up with different ways to enjoy this holiday without having to believe the true meaning behind the holiday. They have made up their own reason for the season.

For me, I am laying low spending time reflecting on what really happened over 2000 years ago.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pondering the Poor...

For some reason, in the last few days God has given me a small dose of His heart for the poor. I have been pondering the poor a lot as I mingle amongst people in Kongowea and learn more of the stories of my boys. Ouch, my heart just aches.

A couple of them explained to me the other day that sometimes they don't eat. One of them is wishing that he could have a few dollars so that he could buy plastic bags to sell in the market. He said to me excitedly,'I could make up to 20 bob a day!" 20 bob is approximately 25cents. And he is excited about 25cents? It is because he is not making that daily right now so 20 bob is an improvement.

My boys wear the same clothes every time I see them. Either they really really like them or they can't afford anything else. Most of them can't go to school. They just don't have the funds so they sit around the community picking up small jobs here and there and being idle.

It makes you think what their lives are worth. I am sure they have pondered that before. If this is all I am doing, then what is the purpose for life? Poverty doesn't just mean not eating or not having clothes. Poverty diminishes purpose, worth, hope, joy.

For example, I told you about Andi a few weeks ago and how we put him into school. After one week of school, his entire demeanour changed. He smiles everywhere he goes. He is incredibly jovial. He walks with confidence. He walks with purpose. He is no longer timid. It's like now he has made something of himself. He is proud of himself. Even Kelvin met with him the other day and said, "I don't know has gotten into that kid. He is a completely different person." Amazing the transformation in the boys life by just simply putting him into school.

It's hard to believe that God would put all these people on the earth and say, "Oops I forgot to put enough food for everyone". So why isn't it happening?

Then I realized that God has given. But we haven't. 

Kelvin and I were chatting this morning as I was pouring out all my thoughts to him. He pointed me to the statement Jesus made saying, "the poor will always be among you." At first glance it seems rather pessimistic. Ok, since they will always be there then why should we do anything?? However, I think Jesus meant it as a challenge. A challenge to get our buts in gear and help the poor.

Deuteronomy 15:1-11 really enlightened me this afternoon as I opened my bible to study scriptures on the poor (as it has been eating at me for the past few days). It is a passage that talks about clearing debts after every 7 years. In vs 4 it points out that there 'may be no poor among you' however this is conditional. In vs. 5 it says this will happen 'only if you carefully obey the voice of the Lord your God to observe with care all these commandments'.  So this is saying that there will be no poor when we obey God's commandments. WE must give to the poor as God has commanded us to. The ball is in our court.

However, reading on to verse 11, Moses says something similar to Jesus that 'the poor will never cease from the land.' I think Moses was being realistic knowing that the children of Israel will never fully keep God's commands.

And neither will we. It is our disobedience that is causing the poor. Ouch. Yes, we have so much and have worked hard for it but who gave us this opportunity in the first place? Why were we chosen to be born in Canada (or other first world countries) and not Kenya? Have we earned it? Nope. It's called Grace. Amazing grace. But with this privilege comes great responsibility.

I love this verse found in Amos 2:6 "Thus says the Lord....I will not turn away it's punishment because they sell...the poor for a pair of sandals"

Is it really necessary to buy another pair of fancy shoes when people aren't eating? Just last night I was talking to one of the boys about how much his school fees would cost. For one year, it is about $200. I then said, "You know people in the West spend that much on one pair of shoes." He gasped. His school fees (the chance to get out of poverty) for a nice pair of shoes for ourselves?

So knowing this what can I do? what should we do? As God's hands and feet, how will we help the poor? My prayer is that we would not become numb to them. It is so easy to forget about the poor when we live such cushy lives.

If you have any comments, questions, rebukes leave a comment at the end of this post. If you completely agree or think I am totally off target, let me know. I am no theologian nor do I know everything so I am open to any criticisms or encouragements.

"He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who honours Him has mercy on the needy" - Proverbs 14:31

Monday, April 18, 2011

1 step forward, 10 steps back.

Just when we thought things we moving ahead and going so well with the league, we took a big jump backwards yesterday. It wasn't just a step or two back, it felt like we moved back 10 or 20 steps if you know what I mean. 

Yesterday was the semi-finals for the league. Our team was playing and was doing great. Our boys are extremely strong and tough to beat. We had scored 2 great goals going into the second half. Everything was going great. LOTS of people came out to watch. The sidelines were full. There was excitement. The weather was perfect. Everything was going great. 

Until the other team scored. 

One of the other team's players had knocked our goalie in the jaw and then scored. The goalie didn't think that was very fair as he had obstructed him from protecting the net. Our goalie ran to the ref trying to plead his case. Ok, not plead. I guess he came to yell at the ref for making a bad call. The ref stuck to his guns and called it a goal. Then I guess one of the other team's players said something cheeky to our goalie. Our goalie then lifted his arm and punched him to the ground. The boy went down hard. Not a good move on our goalie's part. We accept that. 

However, when you hit a player from the other team, you are not just hitting the one guy. You are giving a big punch to his supporters. All of a sudden, their supports ran onto the field and started beating at our boys. Soon almost all the spectators were on the field almost starting to fight. 

I don't understand Kenyans sometimes. When they see danger, they run to it. When they see a fight, they run to join in whether or not they even are apart of it. It's called Mob Mentality and Kenyans are known for it. 

Our security guys did a good job of making sure that the fighting didn't go too far. No one was seriously injured. Our poor goalie got stuck in the middle of it (even though he did start it. we are not overlooking his blunder) but he got beaten by some of the supporters. He dragged himself off the field and collapsed to the ground with tears strolling down his cheeks. I am not sure what he was feeling. I don't know if he was angry with himself or with the other team. I don't know if he was embarrassed or upset that he was beaten. I don't know. 

So everyone calmed down and the ref decided NOT to give him a red card since the supporters of the other team had run onto the field. Our goalie picked himself up and went out again. 

No more than a few minutes later, the ref made another call that the crowd was not happy with. So one of the team members of the other team came up and hit him in the head. The ref through his hands up to signify that he is done with this game and the whole place erupted into chaos again. Again, everyone ran TO the fighting and not AWAY from the fighting. 

It just went down hill from there. Emotions were running high. Those involved were angry to the bone. Our boys handled it extremely well. They held onto each other and walked off the field together as a team. But the supporters continued to make a big fuss. Kelvin was angry. He was angry it went so far and that they couldn't control themselves. They ruined a perfectly good game. 

After sometime, things calmed down. Kelvin was furious as we left the pitch. The boys left quietly, none of them seemed to have been too disturbed. As soon as we left, we got phone calls asking if we were ok. 

We got home and talked over everything. I learned a lot about the people in this community. This community is rough to the core. I learned that a lot of the teams represent different areas of the slum. So people who live in the area are often loyal to the team in their area hence why the supporters took it so personally when our goalie hit the boy to the ground. I learned that people deal with huge issues on a daily basis and sometimes all their anger and bitterness comes out on the pitch. I was told that our goalie was attacked about a year ago while walking home one day. He was hit in the jaw and lost about 6 teeth and spent a week in the hospital. After knowing this, I knew why he was so upset when the other team hit him in the jaw. Its a sensitive thing for him. 

Oy, these people need Jesus. 

So today Kelvin has gone to check up on the people especially our goalie. I have a HUGE heart for him.  We are hoping to get him into a school soon so that he can get himself a future and get out of the pressures of the slum. Kelvin is also going to see his committee, some of his players and the other team to see how to move forward. Technically we won the game but the game was cut short so some people wanted a rematch. If they insist on a rematch, we will consider taking the game out of the community for the security of our boys. If they agree that we won, then we will be playing in the finals next weekend. 

So we need prayers. Desperately. I think yesterday it hit me hard again how tough this community really is and how deep the needs are. Pray for safety for us and the boys. Pray that we would be able to really build up our boys to be God fearing men in this community. 

This is the garbage pile that constantly burns behind the pitch. You can see the backs of the boys who are standing on the sidelines. 

Kelvin giving the boys some words of wisdom at the sidelines. 

One of our players, Jimmy. 

Kelvin talking to our boys at half time. One thing I don't like is that when it's half time, the entire crowd comes to try and give the boys advice. They gather around and start trying to coach them. It bugs Kelvin too but that's how it works here. 

The crowd was huge. This is just one of the sidelines. They were all full. I am thanking God that there wasn't more violence. It had the potential to be much worse. 

A few days in the village

I had promised that I would come back and visit the children and staff in Ilula in April since the high school kids would be home at that time. So true to my promise, I went up there for a few days last week. I thoroughly enjoyed the short week I had there. As always, the children were a delight, the staff were encouraging, and my 'family' was welcoming. I had the BEST time reconnecting with the high school kids especially the girls. I was able to sit one on one with most of them and just go through all that they are seeing, experiencing, thinking, questioning as they are now out in the real world. I can see they have a hard time talking to their parents about this as their parents are a bit more traditional and the youth culture in Kenya is changing rapidly. I had a chance to answer questions and pray with them as they continue to be teenagers. 

One night, one of the older girls and I got to talking about everything. She opened up to me completely about everything that had happened in her life, all that she was thinking, and how she was processing all of it. She explained to me about how her parents died within a week of each other and how she ended up in Ilula. We talked about the way girls act at school, the music they listen to, and the boys they meet outside. It was a precious conversation. 

Just as I was leaving, the girl ran to me and handed me a note. In the note, she explained how much she wishes I could be around all the time talking, telling stories, encouraging one another. She told me what a great friend I am and how much she loves me. She says, "nikole you always make me smile, fill my heart with joy. you are important in my life" AH! My eyes welled up with tears. I was so humbled. So humbled that God would use ME in the life of this precious orphaned girl. Honoured that He considers me worthy to experience a love and friendship like this. Thankful that He has put me in this position. Amazing. 

Children eating Githeri (corn and beans) for lunch. 

Dennis is the youngest orphan in the home.

Me and my good friend Mercy Jepkosgei. We had a great time catching up as she just came back from her first term in high school. She has been extra special to me ever since I met her. We are laughing at Dennis who can't seem to take a nice picture of us. 

Prisca cooking ugali for lunch! This mama just had a beautiful baby boy on top of her 2 biological children and the 24 orphans she cares for. Her laugh is infectious. She laughs at everything. 

I had given some treats from mombasa to one of the parents and the little kids were following him around wanting a taste. 

Devotions has been one of my favourite times of day since I first came. 50 of them squished into one gazebo so that I could talk to both of them. Their singing gives me a little taste of what heaven will be like. 

Edison showing me how many cups of uji he drank

Chiri and Me. The first night I spent in Ilula I stayed in a dorm with Chiri and her mom. Chiri was only a year old and had never encountered a white. She was freaked. Now she is all grown up and doesn't fear white skin any more. 

Luka is a cheeky boy through and through. He is enjoying posing for the camera as he drinks his uji. Uji is a millet based porridge that they drink instead of tea. I really enjoy it and I think it is pretty nutritious. 

Timothy is one of the parents' children and is the cutest thing. He has just gotten over the stage of being scared of everyone and is now a delight. We hung out one day together. 

Timo laying in the doorway. Too adorable. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Tough surroundings

Kongowea is a tough neighbourhood. I think I am realizing it more and more as I spend more time in it. I realize the depth of what poverty does. I am seeing the effects of addictions and strongholds of nasty substances. I see laziness and sexism. I see all sorts of religions. I see dirt everywhere. It's overwhelming. It's a tough place to live. 

I sat on the sidelines watching the game on thursday when all of a sudden a huge black cloud of smoke started rising from behind one of the houses. I know that behind that house is a large pile of garbage and typically, kenyans burn their garbage. So I guess someone decided that during our football match was the  perfect time to light the heaping pile of garbage on fire. At first it wasn't too bad, but then it got worse and worse until my lungs started to burn. I started getting a tickle in my throat and soon started to cough. It was just me either; the rest of the crowd was dong the same. I couldn't imagine what the players where feeling as they were dashing up and down the field. I tried not to let myself think about what I was inhaling or what sort of smoky, dusty, germs were landing on my skin. 

Then in the middle of the game, everyone rushed to the other side of the field. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone. I was left all alone.  People started scrambling and racing up and down. My heart started to race a little not knowing what is going on and if I was safe. I guess a fight had erupted on the sidelines. It wasn't because of the game but some guys had their own personal issues and decided that the pitch was the prefect place to create a big scene and get everyone involved. Kenyan's mob mentality always amazes me. Kelvin kindly asked that they boys take their fight somewhere else, and the game carried on. 

Now our tournament has started to attract some political attention and now we are having requests of local politicians to use it as a platform to gain supporters. They would be even willing to support the tournament financially. Any of them who approaches us gets a big, fat NO WAY! We are being extra careful when it comes to politics (if you want to learn more about kenya's political situation right now, just google what is happening at the ICC with some of the country's MPs). We want this league to have nothing to do with it. We have no guests of honour or special people. Its a local tournament for the local people. 

So the community continues to tug at all my heartstrings. There is so much need! Pray that we can continue to guide, mentor and lead these boys and this ministry despite the tough surroundings.  

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bittersweet Rain

The rain has started to fall in Mombasa. And I have mixed feelings about it.

Rain is a blessing in Africa. I am hearing from people back at home in Canada who are tired of the dreary rain. All they want is for it to stop. Here in Africa, people pray pray pray for rain! Without rain, their crops won't grow which means no income, no food, no school, no nourishment, etc.

As many are rejoicing in the rain, it's very bittersweet for me.

You see, here in Mombasa, the cold season has not yet arrived. This means that it is still incredibly hot at all times of the day. One would think that a good dose of rain would cool down the temperature but that is completely false. Most of the heat in Mombasa is due to it's intense humidity. If you add a ton of rain(moisture) to an already humid environment, you are just creating a sauna. After the rain has stopped, you sweat more than you were before the rain came. Once the cool season comes, rain won't have that effect as the humidity levels drop. But for now, rain brings heat.

Rain also brings mud. Mud mud mud galore. Yesterday, I went to the market. In hindsight, it probably wasn't the best day to go to the market as it had poured the night before. Everything was a big pool of mud. It felt like I was gliding on an ice rink of mud. I had to use all my inner muscles to stay up and not fall down. My feet were completely covered in mud as I stepped in numerous mud puddles. NO fun.

Then this morning I discovered that the little parking lot in our compound does not have the greatest drainage system. I stepped outside to welcome visitors and found that they entire parking lot was flooded. What a great welcome for my visitors! 'Sorry about the swimming pool in the middle of the parking lot. Your shoes might get a bit wet. But welcome to our home!' After a few hours, the gigantic puddle did disappear.

BUT there are some benefits to rain. Like I mentioned before, it is a huge blessing to those who depend on it to water their crops. There are not many who depend on it in the coast as I think most of the fruit and veggies grown here do best in the heat. Nonetheless, I am happy for the farmers.

And there is that special feeling, ambiance, peace that rain does bring. It quiets every other noise (and gives me a break from my neighbours sound system). It's calm. It is indeed cool for a little while. It makes you want to sit down with a good book and a cup of coffee.

So for me, the rain is bittersweet indeed.

Monday, April 4, 2011

My husband to be

I guess it is about time that I write about the most exciting event that happened in my life this year. 

Just about two years ago, I met this young man. After one of the most trying times in my life, I had come to an amazing place with God. He had showed me His heart for me and the path that He wanted me to take. A few weeks later, He brought Kelvin into my life. It was unexpected (and honestly I vowed that I would never marry a kenyan). But as we continued to get to know each other, it was very clear that we had strong feelings for one another. On top of that, God had given us practically the same dreams and visions for our lives. I remember him explaining to me exactly what he wanted to do with his life and it lined up almost perfectly with what God had just revealed to me. 

Since then we have been two peas in a pod. We have gone through a lot between us being separated for months while I went home to struggling with people who are not so excited for us to working through cultural issues. But we have Loved harder than I think I ever have in my life. He is a friend to my soul, my other half, and soon to be husband! 

He proposed to me on my birthday. He took me on a romantic private boat ride as the sun was setting. One it was dark, he popped the question. I don't really even remember what he said. I just remember crying out, 'yes i will! yes i will! yes i will'. It was perfect. 

There is no wedding date just yet. My dream would be to bring him to Canada before we make the final commitment of marriage. Pray that God would grant us that opportunity. 

In the meantime, we are running the Rehma boys together as a team. We are loving spending time together and preparing ourselves to be husband and wife. He is constantly humbling me as he selflessly takes care of me, is patient with me, and loves me unconditionally. He even washed my shoes today after I stepped in a mud puddle! Precious. 

So from now on, you will be hearing alot more about 'us' on this blog, not just me. 

I am getting married!!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

On the sidelines

I try not to stick out too much at the games. I try blend into the crowd (which is not easy since I am the only white and the only girl found near the pitch). I don't want to be the "sponsor" as people often refer to the white person as. Then the locals tend to put them on a pedestal and make them someone more special than the rest of the people. I do not want that. So I try to sit back and do as the locals do. I sit on the dirt or stand for long hours in the sun and watch behind the crowd of people. 

We have created a committee who runs the league and who does most of the work. It's been so great to see them be so serious and professional with the entire league. These guys are also not the most popular or talented men. They are just average dudes. I think this has boosted their confidence and given them some credibility in the community. They have done a much better job than I could have ever done. 

I am not great at letting go of power. It was hard at first to not be so involved in the planning and organizing process but I am seeing the benefits of it. I am watching our committee members grow as they are given more responsibility. I am also beginning to create good relationships with the community members which probably wouldn't happen if I was always the 'guest of honour' at every game and was treated like royalty. 

Our boys played yesterday and won their game! They played an amazing game. It was so intense. I am sure the kids thought I was nuts as I would say things under my breath. They play again next sunday. Can't wait to see them shine again!

For some reason, kids gravitate towards me. I stand somewhere and within a few minutes a crowd of kids swarms me. They don't talk to me. They just like being near me I guess. Anyways, here are some young boys watching the game from the tree. Nice bleachers. 

I also saw this yesterday. I had never realized it was there before. Another awesome move by our committee. It is painted on the side of a house and shows which games are playing that day. Our team is known as Alhilal since they didn't want the same name as the tournament. So cool!