Tuesday, September 30, 2014

48 Hours in London

On our way back from Kenya in June, we budgeted some time to spend a couple of days in London. I had never been to the UK, and as an Anglican, this was obviously a situation that needed to be rectified. We arrived at Heathrow early in the morning, picked up our luggage, and paid to have our large bags held so we only had to take our carry-ons on the Underground. After making our way to our hotel near the Earl’s Court stop (along with a large Argentinean teenage football/soccer team), we took a moment to sit and charge our phones. We decided on Westminster Abbey as our first stop.

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Look, kids! Big Ben!

I had my moments in Westminster Abbey, fawning over the graves of some of my favorite composers and bringing Joe up to speed on the English Reformation. We also participated in a brief prayer service at the shrine of St. Edward the Confessor.

Joe’s dad used to live in London, not far from where we were staying, so we headed back to that area, had lunch in a pub, and walked around. Then we checked into our room and took a much-needed nap and shower.

I figured that after several weeks of Kenyan food, we’d be longing for an upscale dining experience, so I’d made reservations at Launceston Place in Kensington. It was amazingly lovely. We were particularly fond of the sommelier who talked to us about the wine and his studies to become a master sommelier. I only managed one blurry picture of our cheese course with matching wines.

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A copy of the full tasting menu along with the wines we enjoyed was presented to us as we left. It had started raining, so we splurged on a taxi back to the hotel.

The next morning, we hopped out of bed to go for a run! The elevation and geography at Kijabe was not conducive to longer runs, so I was looking forward to running to and around Hyde Park. We managed just over 6 miles, and despite the jet lag and giant meal the night before, we felt amazing. Must be that altitude training!

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Do people still build gardens as a sign of love? If not, they should.

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Harrod’s! We didn’t go in, but Joe really wanted me to at least see the outside.

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We even stumbled upon Cardinal Newman.

After a quick shower and breakfast, we journeyed to St. Paul’s Cathedral. When we got off the tube, we headed the wrong way trying to find it. After turning around and seeing the large dome (thanks Christopher Wren!) right behind us, we had to laugh.

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We did climb all the way to the top public access for simply stunning views of London. Even besides the gorgeous church and art work and history, the admission fee is worth it for the climb to the top alone.

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We found a nearby pub for lunch, but unfortunately, our schedule did not allow for us to tour the Tower of London. We still took some pictures with the Tower Bridge and watched the many tourists.

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Our next engagement was pretty touristy but also really fun: an afternoon tea on a river cruise!

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We spent a couple hours eating and drinking up and down the Thames.

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I’m lucky to be married to a husband who enjoys live theatre and music as much as I do, and he suggested we see a show while we were there. I really wanted to see Matilda: The Musical because Matilda, the book, was my favorite as a kid.

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The show did not disappoint, even though it was quite warm in the theatre. It was amazing to see how professional and talented the children were. On our way back to the hotel, we took a detour to Piccadilly Circus to see the sights and sounds of Piccadilly Circus on a Friday night, but I was ready for bed by then.

The next morning we woke up and caught the very first train to Heathrow to travel back to the United States. Everything else in London will have to wait until next time!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Wrapping up our time in Kenya

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On our way back from the Masai Mara (another, later post), we stopped for our traditional nyama choma down in Mahai Mahiu. Our driver Philip calls in the order, and by the time we get there, it’s ready to go. The goats are freshly slaughtered that morning, and the roasted legs are served with ugali, an odd cross between grits and cornbread.

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The legs are then chopped into small, bite-size pieces in front of us. Washed down with a cold Tusker lager, it’s a fabulous Kenyan meal. Lots of places advertise nyama choma and the quality can vary, but we trust Philip to guide us to the right spot.

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With only one working day left, we scrambled to wrap things up and pack. On my last day on the wards, I suddenly fainted for the first time in my life. There wasn’t anything particularly disturbing going on, so I think I must have locked my knees while at a patient’s bedside. More than anything, I was terrifically embarrassed. The patients all sat up in their beds, and the nurses rushed in. I continued to visit patients while seated with Abraham, my fellow chaplain. Later he commented how strong I was! If a Kenyan tells me I’m strong…

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Even though we were gone from home for nearly three weeks, our time in Kenya went by very quickly. The next day we made our rounds of final meetings and good-byes. My chaplain family threw me a Kwaheri (Goodbye) Party with a huge platter of snacks.

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Despite feeling more like a burden than a help most days, everyone said lovely and moving things about me. Oftentimes my own viewpoint is so myopic, limited to my city, my country, my denomination, and my culture. My faith is buoyed by their passion for Christ and knowing that we are brothers and sisters in the Church. Those bonds cross the boundaries of language, race, country, and continent. And with social media and e-mail, we can continue to keep in touch.

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Pastor John Mugo, interim director of the Chaplain Department, and me.

We left Kijabe and stopped at the Bata shoe factory store at Joe’s request. While Bata shoes are available in Europe, they’re difficult to find in the US, and the factory store offers some steals. Both Joe and I bought some very nice, high-quality leather shoes for a pittance. My “comfort” sandals, equivalent to Clark’s brand, were about $22USD!

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Then we visited the Kazuri factory in Nairobi. Kazuri jewelry is also available in Europe and in places like Ten Thousand Villages stores in the US, but it’s difficult to find and quite a bit more pricy than in Kenya. We went on a tour of the factory where our guide showed us how they make the ceramic beads. Kazuri employs mostly single and unwed mothers, and we saw how hard these women work to create this beautiful jewelry. The clay is fired at such a hot temperature that you can bounce a bead on the floor, and it won’t break!

Before his evening flights from Nairobi, Joe always takes Philip to a Nairobi restaurant called Carnivore. The concept is like that of a Brazilian steakhouse, and before the ban on eating game meat, they used to serve exotic meats. It definitely caters to the tourists, but we had a good time and ate a lot of food. All the better to help us sleep through our flight!

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The ostrich meatballs were delicious, and the crocodile was a little chewy. We also tried some drinks made with Kenyan cane liquor made at our table.

Philip dropped us off at the Nairobi airport, and we said our tearful good-byes. The Nairobi airport is a crazy place, full of all different kinds of people. I managed to find a somewhat quiet corner to wait to go through security and get into the gate area. Next stop, London!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sawa Sawa

The last few days of ministry have been taxing yet fruitful. Yesterday we prayed over a woman who the medical team had just coded and then prayed with her husband while he was told the news that she had died. From there it was back to a young woman with a head tumor that had grown so much that one of her eyes was swollen shut. Here at Kijabe, and I imagine at other similar hospitals, the family often comes in before the patient’s surgery to give blood that will be used during the operation. That is just one of the ways that patients’ families are very involved in their care.


It was a welcome relief to go for a run yesterday evening. Running here is challenging, since we’re more than 7000 feet above sea level and there are very steep hills. The roads are more like trails, and between the surface of the paths and roads and the elevation change, I’ve been logging my runs as trail runs. Fortunately, there are many distractions that require some rest breaks, like monkeys. We came across some Colobus monkeys swinging through the trees and crossing our path. One of them sat in a tree, ate some leaves, and watched us as we watched him. They have beautiful, long fur and huge, white, fluffy tails. A short while later, we stopped to take in the view over the Rift Valley.


Today was a special treat for me as we had a visitation scheduled. At Kijabe, when a staff person is sick or suffers a loss, the chaplains visit him or her en masse at their home with their family. This time, it happened to be one of the chaplains who had missed a few days of work due to a motorbike accident over the weekend. Fortunately, he healed quickly and didn’t suffer any broken bones. We took another chaplain’s beat-up Subaru (though it proved to have an extremely strong engine) down a rocky road into the woods. The scenery changed dramatically, as if we had entered the rain forest. This was the view from his front door, looking across a ravine.


We visited, sang hymns, prayed, and read Scripture with him and his wife as his children were at school. Then, as is typical when inviting someone into your home, they gave us tea and mandazi, a less-sweet version of a beignet. Kenyans are utterly hospitable and welcoming, and it was a treat to be invited into their home.


They also have a cow, several chickens, dogs, and rabbits.


Most of the houses we enter are the domain of other missionaries, so it’s enlightening to see how real Kenyans live. In this case, their family is solidly middle-class, and yet they lack many of the amenities that those of us in the Western world take for granted. Pastor Manyara hopes to build a second story onto his house so that they can have three bedrooms. I’m unclear as to how many bedrooms the house currently has, but they have four children, two of whom we met on our way back to the hospital.

Tomorrow we travel to the Masai Mara for safari, so we’ll be gone for a long weekend. I’ve heard thoughts on the attacks from the other chaplains, but it’s hard to tell what is politically motivated and what is in the best interest of the Kenyans. We’re off to see lions and elephants and gazelles, oh my!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Prayers for Mpeketoni

On Monday morning, we woke up to the news that 48 people had been killed overnight in a coastal village near Lamu. Although that is quite a ways away from where we are, it is unnerving since it’s the largest attack since the shootings at Westgate Mall in Nairobi in September. We knew our families and friends would be concerned as well, but everything here is peaceful. There has been a lot of talk of politics and security as a result.


In addition, Monday was a demanding day at the hospital. I attended a family meeting in the ICU after which the medical team withdrew to comfort care on a woman with malaria that had shut down her kidneys. We had a non-compliant patient in the women’s ward with HIV and a fistula between her esophagus and trachea. Somehow, she’d eaten some porridge even though she wasn’t supposed to and had aspirated into her lungs. She kept crying out that she wanted to die. While she didn’t understand English, she let me hold her hand and stroke it, and she gradually settled down. She died later that afternoon.

Every day at around 10-10:30 and 4-4:30 we have chai break. The cafeteria staff delivers a mixture of warm water and milk with which to brew tea, and the chaplains all converge on the office for tea and fellowship. It’s a wonderful time together, perhaps my favorite time of the day.


Monday evenings are always dessert and chai/coffee nights hosted by the long-term missionaries. We made our way across town to Dr. Bird’s house. The former medical director of the hospital, he and his wife have lived there for fourteen years. Of course, the World Cup game was on! It was a good opportunity to visit with other people (mostly short-term missionaries) from various parts of the hospital who we might not see otherwise.


Fortunately, today was quieter at the hospital, and we were able to walk over to the market at lunch to get a few things we needed. The market is like a farmer’s market in the US and is comprised mostly of women selling their wares. We bought the things we came for (namely, eggs and bananas), and a few things we didn’t come for like a bag of samosas and English muffins. I didn’t know how the packaging for the eggs would be, but they just asked us how many we needed and then put them in this plastic bag.


I was terrified that they wouldn’t survive the walk home and that I would drop them, but they were fine. People’s animals here are all free-range, quite literally. They roam around eating whatever they can get. Without even having labels like “organic” and “cage-free”, that’s exactly what kind of eggs we got, for a fraction of the cost.

One of the benefits of getting some sun is witnessing the sliver of sunset over Mount Longonot.


Asante sana for reading!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

I Kissed a Giraffe, and I Liked It

Friday afternoon, I went back to the maternity ward with Pastor Kithae. Several women were having complications that required them to terminate their pregnancies, so we prayed with them. After our afternoon chai break, I went to find Joe in the ICU, and though the rest of the day had been calm, craziness had broken loose. He explained to this large family that their father’s heart is basically a ticking time bomb. It has so many problems that any medication to fix one aspect will make another one worse. Then the ICU was getting a new patient, so he had to wait to get her settled. I went back to our house, changed, and went on a walk around town.


Dr. McAvoy, the residency director at Vanderbilt, has been here at Kijabe with his family, and Friday night was their last night so he invited us along with the KRNA (Kenyan Registered Nurse Anesthetist) students over for chai and dessert. His wife had graciously baked a bunch of wonderful American-style desserts, which the Kenyan students ate but found very sweet for their palate. By the time we had said our good-byes, it was raining quite hard. Somehow, I managed to not slip and fall in the mud, but there were some close calls!

The next morning, we woke up early to journey to Nairobi where Joe was giving a four-hour lecture. The fog in Kijabe and at the top of the hill was incredibly thick and unforgiving. The last time I’d seen fog that thick was in January 2012 in Sewanee! By the time we got to Limuru, the fog had dissipated a bit. At one point, a car trying to pass on the two-lane highway, swung out in front of us, and we narrowly avoided a head-on collision. While Joe was doing that, Philip took me to the Giraffe Centre and the elephant orphanage.

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The Giraffe Centre is home to ten Rothschild giraffes, a sub-species that is endangered due to humans taking over their habitat. For 1000 Kenyan shillings (~$12), you can feed the giraffes up close.

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Since I was the first guest that morning, I had the giraffes to myself for a while. One of the educators taught me to fold my lips over my teeth and put the pellet between them to get a giraffe kiss!

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Their tongues are long, purple, and rough to strip the leaves off of the acacia trees, so it felt a little bit like a bigger, slightly more slobbery version of my cats’ tongues. They are beautifully awkward animals, and while I’ve seen them in the wild, this was an incredible experience.

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We had some time to kill before the elephant orphanage opened, so Philip and I took tea at the Giraffe Centre, and I watched the reactions of other families and groups as they fed and kissed the giraffes.

The elephant orphanage is open to the public only from 11 am to 12 pm daily. We got there a little early to get a prime spot to watch the elephants come in. There are currently 25 elephants who came out in 2 groups. They range from 3 months old to 5 years old, though most elephants prepare to transition out of the orphanage at 3 years old. Of course, the babies are adorable.

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One of them was a spunky little guy and had his trunk wrapped around the scarf of the girl next to me. We watched them eat, drink, and spray themselves with mud. Their trunks are truly remarkable.

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Many of the elephants in the orphanage were orphaned by poachers and human-wildlife conflict. The caretaker told us all about their names, their ages, how they were found, and any other distinguishing details. Many of them were found by the Mobile Vet units that patrol the natural areas, and it was heartbreaking to hear how they would stand guard over the bodies of their dead and mutilated mothers.

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You can adopt an elephant for a minimum of $50 a year, though it costs $950 a month per elephant, and they receive no special funding. Philip and I went to lunch at Nairobi Java House before picking Joe up. Philip had said you can buy anything you need on the streets of Nairobi, and that seemed to be true. Not just newspapers and additional money for your cell phone, but we saw a guy carrying a full-size coat rack and others selling giant stuffed animals in addition to bundles of corn.

The drive back to Kijabe was less eventful than our trip to Nairobi that morning, though just as we were getting close to Kijabe, Philip pulled over the car and told us to get out and to bring my camera. In the trees above us were some Colobus monkeys, a species I had never seen. They look almost like flying skunks with big fluffy white tails.

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We both slept hard last night, our first good sleep since we’ve arrived, and we’re getting ready to go to church. It’s nice to be able to sleep in on Sunday and get to worship in the pews!

Happy Father’s Day!