A Night of Reprieve
We have come in to the hotel in Mombasa. Tomorrow we will be welcoming the last part of our team, mother and son Deborah and Jacob Shimkus from Lake Oswego. There is no way to describe how good it has felt to come in to get clean. After ten days in the bush we carry with us a thin layer of grime that just doesn’t come off with our nightly rinse from a bucket of water. I have now covered myself in powder and lotion and used the hairdryer to get my underwear truly dry – a real treat. The rain has made it so muggy that nothing really dries. You just don’t realize how good DRY feels until you can’t get it! I feel so spoiled, and so happy!
We turned a bit of a corner this week, as we hit the mid-way point. The first part of the trip was so fun. It’s fun to see everyone get their first introduction to Africa, her contrasts, her beauty, her mystique. The novelty of everything makes it feel like a fun camping sort of adventure. But after two weeks, the novelty wears off. You’ve done everything for the first time, and you realize there is just a ton you have to do and you are just so darn TIRED! You realize it’s time to “dig deep” and see what you’re made of. As Mwaka, our host says, ”Now the job begins.” At least we don’t have the blasting heat to deal with this year. It continues to be so beautiful, and cooler than we’ve ever experienced.
So what is a day like? The cacophony of animal life gets going about 5:00 am. You might as well forget trying to sleep. Around 6:00 am, Rahema, our helper, brings us a can of hot water. You brush your teeth outside, get organized, meet the gang for the usual morning debriefing and breakfast, which is chai tea, white bread with Blue Bonnet margarine and a little plum jam, and a hard boiled egg. (We’ve added granola.) A typical morning would find us splitting up to do our daily assignments, which can involve anything from hooking up with the local micro-finance institution to teaching a science project at the secondary school. You might find us as a group going to one of the schools where our scholarship students are. There we would split up to interview and evaluate them – quite an interesting way to see into their lives. The challenges they face are simply unbelievable. Some are dealing with illness, dying parents, lack of food, harassment on their way to school, terribly long distances to walk, or no light to study by at night. You name it, we hear it in these interviews. We wrap up the morning with a delicious lunch of granola bars and beef jerky, or any “snack” we have packed, any of which makes you sick to look at by now.
In the afternoon we might visit a primary school to assess their needs and give them a chance to offer their “entertainments.” The outlying schools so seldom have anyone to perform for, in their isolated world. They love us to come. We usually give a gift as simple as a megaphone to aid the principal when he needs to talk to his 500-700 students. There is a lot of variety in what we do and the days are very busy and full. We usually convene at the end of the day for a warm soda at the “hotel” – quite the place. We sit at a plastic table on the edge of the nightmare two-lane highway where huge semi trucks (lorries) are parked or driving by, spouting their soot. It’s quite the reward after a long day. The thing that makes it all fun is the comraderie we share. We all share, often with disbelief, the both touching and despairing things we experienced in the day.
Then it is home to play with all the kids waiting at our door. Night falls quickly. It’s always the hardest part of the day for me. The darkness is challenging. Yes, I’ve got my trusty head lamp, but let’s face it, it can just get old operating in the dark from 6:30 on every night. We squeeze into the little room where we eat together, kerosene lantern adding heat and smell, and we debrief and eat. Last night we had rice, potatoes and plain pasta (a real treat in their world), which is why I never lose as much weight as I wish I did. Then it’s off to bed. You sweep the rat poop off your bed with your straw broom. You take your sleeping pill (couldn’t do without it). You tuck in your mosquito net, hoping you won’t have to get up in the middle of the night and make your way to the bathroom, which is sure to have crawling night guests awaiting you. You have a moment of homesickness, thinking of the comfort of a mattress thick enough to keep you from feeling slats beneath, and you go to sleep.
It sounds pretty harsh, but the truth is, it is so, so rewarding. Every day you feel “spent,” but you feel like what you have “spent” yourself on has been so, so satisfying! Nothing is as exciting as seeing children and adults alike come alive because of the opportunity to learn. It doesn’t matter if we are working in one of our libraries, or talking to one of our university students, you see a light in the people that simply wasn’t there when we came here five years ago. Our local leaders have done such a good job bringing this energy as a result of the funds we have been able to send. It doesn’t take much to make a significant difference here.
Our team of interns have been outstanding. They all have proven themselves to be flexible, bright and loving people. It is a privilege to get to work with them. Brent’s amazing attention to detail keeps all the chaos organized.
Nine more days of work and then we will be leaving for northern Kenya where we will get to see some of the beauties we’ve never seen at the base of Mt. Kenya.