We’re walking up a never-ending hill, and we’re about halfway up the hill and these two girls begin to walk with us. They say, “Many people are surprised to see you”, “they are excited to see muzungu’s” and ask us about where we are going. We tell them we’re heading towards Ethiopia, and they ask us if we want to rest at their home for the night. The invitation sounds great to us considering the impending rain and nightfall. We ask if it is okay with their parents. They say, “let me check!”. So we’re standing and waiting for them next to a church, and all of a sudden about 50 children emerge from inside. Startled but excited to see two random white people standing there, they start to crowd around. An adult comes out and tells them to sing a song for us. They do - in unison, a song about welcoming strangers into their homes and communities. When they are finished, we applaud. The girls have returned and we start to make our way to their house. When we arrive, their parents were quite surprised to see us (I’m not sure who they “checked with”?), but immediately welcomed us into their home, and we quickly fell in love with the family.
One of the older girls in particular was very intelligent and asked us lots of questions. The younger ones busied themselves playing with my hair. We ate a great dinner with them and talked about everything from AIDS to Obama to snow and coffee (the main crop of the area). People don’t own much land individually, but they all grow coffee. The government buys it from them at about .25cents a pound. They get a bit more if Brazil has had a bad harvest apparently. The money doesn’t actually go very far at the end of the day, as I’m sure you can imagine.
The “grandma” - whose house we were all staying in (most of the family doesn’t actually live there- they were visiting from Nairobi - for a funeral…amazing the joy still in them as they welcomed us into their home) had what I would diagnose on sight as Parkinson’s - they simply explained she was “sick” but they were doing all they could for her. She was very cute. She asked Aaron to sing her a song, and he did! Something about the ‘ol west? Then the girls sang “Jesus loves me” and then the grandma sang. She sang a song about how great God is , while also asking when she would be healed. It was quite a moment to look into her wide eyes as she sat up as straight as she could muster across from me, hands shaking wildly as she sang those words.
But probably my favorite family member was 2 1/2 year old Bianca. She followed me everywhere! Even tried to follow me to the bathroom. As soon as I would come out she would run with her hands up for me to pick her up. We danced and played and had a lot of fun.
And in the middle of the night, as we listened to the rain fall, we were grateful for the roof over our heads.
Seriously…what an experience. This is how it went down.
Sat down at a local café for lunch. Met a guy, Steven, who sat at the table next to us. Chatting…good guy The only one we met though. So we’re just sitting there and this older, drunk, boisterous guy comes up and starts talking through the window at us. Mostly to Aaron – who to his credit is gracious and nods his head along as he listens to this guy sputter nonsense. But the other guy at Steven’s table is trying to eat his food and this guy is bothering him. (There’s only two tables in the whole place – the guy at the other table could probably even smell the breath from the older guy). So he gets up and makes him go away. As in he alerts the owners that he is unhappy and they push him out. I watched this lady smack him a few times with a big, contented smile on her face. The guy…kind of goes away. A few minutes later we hear loud banging and look out and they’ve pinned him to the ground and are hitting him. Then they disappear from our sight - Steven gets up and went out to investigate, comes back and says, “So they got angry with them, and are tying him up”. Aaron and I look at each other like, “For real?!?” Soon they place him, with literally bound hands and feet, outside in the corner. We’ve decided since that it was kind of like an adult spanking and time out? When he was released, he left and didn’t come back.
Still sitting there a while later, this lady comes in, shakes our hands, stands in the middle of the room, and motions kind of like she’s praying, mutters outloud for a few minutes, then abruptly stops and leaves again. We look at the only other guy sitting in there, who just shakes his head and laughs. Okay…
Then we decide to leave. On our way out of town, this guy, covered in mud, exclaims, “God told me you were coming!” and starts to chase us. Literally chase us, we walked quite quickly.
Nuts. absolutely nuts.
-Woke up to cows “screaming”
- Walked back through Eucalyptus forest and jumped fence to get back to the road
-Saw coffee shop. It was closed. Too early? It was 9:15.
-Walked into bar accidentally while looking for teahouse. Greeted exuberantly by all the early bird customers.
-Wandered around town and found a place for breakfast. Delicious. Cost $1 total.
- Passed by giant roadside fruit stands. Stopped to chat. Was given oranges.
- Met a man who was very excited to meet us and helped us find a place for lunch. Cost .60cents total.
- Went to buy a soda. Met a guy who had seen us walking (his mom owned the soda shop).Told him what we were doing and he was very nice, wanted to buy me another soda.
- Spent half my break playing with a little girl and the other half reading. Currently reading a novel by Wilber Smith called “River God”.
- Met a lady named Mary who was a pastor and had me write my name in her Bible so she could pray for me.
- Met a police officer named Ronald who gave us each two bananas and wished us a nice journey.
- Saw raincloud approaching. Made it to bar/restaurant just as it started to come down.
- Bought veggies for dinner.
- Had little kid start to follow us. As we were leaving town, we couldn’t have him follow us forever into the busy. Tried to lovingly convince him to go home.
- Another woman came along, spanked him and he went home.
- Sad face.
- Walked longer than we planned.
- Finally found empty patch of land to camp.
- About 10 local kids came to hang out.
- Aaron amazes them with “kung fu” skills – swinging his walking stick around. Combination of fear and excitement.
- Put up tent, cooked dinner, talked to kids.
- Dinner took forever, we were trying to cook squash.
- Eat dinner.
- Something in fire explodes.
- Kid exclaim , “it is a lizard! Or Osama Bin Laden!”
- Ask us millions of questions.
- Fire dies out.
Recently, we walked through “Maasai-land”. By far, I think it has been our favorite people group so far. They were so welcoming, and kind. Also, I think I felt at home with their nomad-spirits, and they liked to joke that we have their blood flowing through our veins. Maasai’s walk very far - often we would see them on the roads.They couldn’t believe we would walk such great distances - we must be one of them!
They believe (at least traditionally) that they have ‘come from heaven with their cows’, so they are mostly pastoralists, living with their cows and goats in “the bush” in parts of Tanzania and Kenya. The reason they walk so much is to find better pasture during the dry season, they’ve told us some people walk 1000-2000km just to do so.
Many Maasai’s still wear their traditional dress - making for beautiful hues of purples and reds that would dot the landscape where we were walking. They also carry traditional swords, a stick, and a tool for milking cows. It’s really quite an outfit. Many also wore extravagant jewelery, and had stretched ears from wearing it.
Unfortunately, they would probably also admit that their way of life is becoming more and more challenging because of things like industrialization and fences, even though they’d like to hold onto it as long as possible. Fences make it hard to wander for thousands of kilometers with your cows. And with industrialization, some people are moving to take jobs in the cities. But we are glad we have been able to meet them and learn about their way of life.
Thanks for the watermelons, tea, coffee, conversations, and accepting us among you as one of your own.
- Yesterday I had to rock-hop to cross a rather large puddle, crossing at least a 20 foot distance. For those of you that know my inclination on the klutzy side - you better believe it was a comical sight. There were totally collective “oohs”, “ahhs” and laughs from the crowd.
- I was sitting drinking tea, and a little Maasai girl and her mother come and sit next to me. The girl asked me a string of questions and translated for her mom, eyes wide as we explained our trek to her. Eventually she got up the nerve to reach over and rub my arm. When I was obviously not perturbed, and held out my arm, her mother grabbed it and stroked it up and down. People here rarely have arm hair here, they are very amused by it.
-Our “big rain” experience was made more tolerable by making a friend - James - who fed us breakfast and talked about how HE walked across Kenya from Lake Turkana to Kilimanjaro as a volunteer aiding an explorer. It was fun to hear his stories of falling down mountains and running from buffalo.
- Staying in Nairobi, we have two cute neighbor kids. Taught them how to high-5 and made their day by taking their picture. Also got to teach a little girl on the bus how to high-5. Spread the love of the high-5.
Some dead, some injured, and more than 52,000 people were displaced this week when torrential rains caused flooding across Kenya. Our tent got flooded two nights in a row, and ever since my ipod has been on the fritz, but now we are dry and well. Obviously whatever discomfort we suffered is nothing in comparison.
The other day I walked with a girl named Charity - who was quite charitable to us in showing us a good, cheap place we could stay. She asked me questions about the walk and I asked her questions about her life. At 20, she has lived in Nairobi her whole life, but has dreams of travelling to other countries as well. She is currently unemployed, and not very hopeful about the job market in Kenya - often controlled by bribery or “personal favors”. I asked her about what kind of job she wanted - and she was open to almost anything - as long as it “wasn’t prostitution” or “violated her pride”. Although glad to hear her be strong about her convictions, its sad that she’s obviously thought about it or considered it.
It’s amazing the amount of people in this world who have been forced into making unthinkable choices or doing unthinkable things in order to survive. This past week we were told that sometimes girls here are sold when they are 9-10 years old as wives to other community members when families need money.
Finally, she confessed what she really wanted to do was open her own business selling fruit. In her words, “if you sell food out here, you will make it. Everybody needs food. But if you sell clothes, you will end up wearing them.” Haha.
Best of luck to our friend Charity.
Tanzania’s opinion of their water situation, highlighted especially this week for “World Water Week”
The floor was originally made of cement, but in many classrooms was eroding, leaving deep rivets. The cement and dust lingered in the air as children “swept” up using makeshift brooms made of leaves. Sweeping, washing blackboards, clearing the yard, those were the first tasks of the day before a jog, brief exercises, and then classroom time.
The sun had barely risen, but I could hear their voices before I stepped out of the “bedroom” to observe their cleaning frenzy. We were invited by the teachers-in-training to spend the night with them at the school. College students at the district capital, they would be at this school for two months. From what I observed, I didn’t know whether to be proud of or frustrated for these to-be-teachers; but I was appalled that this was probably “normal” for them.
It seemed like an experience that would stretch me in profound ways had I been in their shoes. 4 girls, 3 guys, each gender given a closet-sized room in the school to share between them; 1 twin-sized mattress on the ground per two people. This room was also where they were “designated space” to prepare lessons, cook, eat, and relax after a long day’s work.
As all 9 of us crammed into the “girls” room to eat together, sitting on the “beds” and on the floor, eating rice and beans out of plastic containers by the light of a single lamp, one of the teachers-in-training turned to me and asked, “How can Tanzania develop like the U.S? Why can’t we seem to do the same thing? What is the secret to your success as a country?” Although feeling pretty inept to answer this question, I wanted to scream about a government who valued education enough to provide electricity for students/teachers, and not make the teachers themselves sleep in the closest.
I was astounded by other things I learned while there, like that for 9/10 subjects, course material is provided in English; a language only about 50% of the teachers and barely any of the kids understand or speak.
The highschoolers (and therefore also the teachers) seemed to have ridiculously long hours, they weren’t dismissed for the evening till around 6pm.
Although technically illegal, corporal punishment is still alive and well in most schools, seen as “the only way to make them work”.
One of the teachers wanted me to encourage the students the next day, he suggested that I tell them I would come back and bring presents for them even if I wasn’t going to. I told him I would love to encourage the students but I didn’t think it was a good idea to lie to him. (Don’t get me started on the issue of foreign aid dependency and the attitude this encourages).
As much as I could talk all day about the much-needed improvements in the US public school system, I was very grateful for its benefits on this day.
Walking down the dirt road, I spotted a man in the distance. As we grew closer, it was obvious that we were the target of this larger-than-life Maasai’s gaze, as he stood watching us, shielding the sun from his eyes. I was almost safely past when he called me over, and I timidly altered my course of direction towards the intimidating figure, dressed in the traditional red “dress”, equipped with a belt holding a sword, cattle stick and the extremely out-of-place cell phone. He grasped my hands within his large ones, and kindly but curiously asked about where we were coming from/going, etc. I could see Aaron out of the corner of my eye answering similar questions to a local farmer who had appeared on scene.
Introductions and preliminary questions over, we were soon invited to eat some watermelon, and sit on a bench in the shade.
As the hired farm-hand runs to gather watermelons from the field, the Massai, standing in front of me takes out his sword and starts to clean it. I can’t help wondering what it last cut open and hoping that the next thing it is destined to slice is merely the watermelon.
As I try to brush the outer black seeds off my piece of watermelon (while fondly remembering being scared of the lie that watermelons could grow inside of my if I swallowed one, and teasing my little sister with the same years later) the Maasai reaches his sword over to the piece in my hand and begins to pluck them out with the tip! Although realizing there was nothing to fear within the teddy bear of a man with watermelon juice dribbling down his chin, it was still an interesting moment.
While we feasted, a man on a motorbike came, to eat with us, but also to deliver meat to the farmer, pulling a cardboard box off the back of the bike, and, using a machete to chop up the still bloodied- I’m assuming goat?
After demolishing a whole watermelon, the farmer wouldn’t let us leave without taking more watermelon with us! We tried to get away with just one, but ended up with two…not that we didn’t want watermelon, but when you have to carry it for miles, lets just say you start to wonder whether its more of a burden or blessing. I tried at one point to carry it on my head like a good African women, but realized it wasn’t actually any lighter that way, and gave into my arms getting an extra workout for the day. (How they carry 40lbs of water on their heads I’ll never know!).
It did provide breakfast and lunch for us the next day. Thanks guys!