I know I’ve been rather facetious throughout these Kenya posts, telling you all of the funny and outrageous things that happened to us, but I do want to dedicate a post to the not so funny thing that happened on the trip.
Because while I know God was chuckling along with us, I know that He was surrounding us when things were thoroughly unfunny, which they sometimes were.
As any Christian worth his or her salt will tell you, when you’re trying to be about your Father’s business, you will most likely be attacked. You’re going to get tired. Hunger is going to strike. Your bones will start aching. Your muscles may spasm. No matter how many blankets you throw over yourself or how many layers you sleep in there may be mornings when you wake up chilled to the bone. You may have a perpetual headache.
Not only are we fighting against our humanity, but we’re battling against an enemy that would love nothing more than to see us fall and never get up. Sometimes he’ll crash into you like a ton of bricks, other times he’ll pick at you like a vulture. When you’re tired, hungry, and aching, he’ll bring a thought to mind. It may be a thought entirely unrelated to the task at hand, but the seed will plant, the roots will spring, and then you’ll have a tree of derision growing in your head.
He’s a personal enemy and he knows how to take you down.
Though my team had been preparing for spiritual warfare in the months leading up to our trip, I never thought that I would ever get attacked.
Famous last words, anyone?
It started very slowly. One morning I would wake up feeling cold and all day I wouldn’t be able to get warm. I wouldn’t sleep for two days. There would be no hot water when I went to take a shower. I would pick up a head cold. My anxiety would act up and I would spend the entire day in a state of perpetual fear. I would call home and no one would answer. The little things started to get to me. During the day I would make a conscious effort to be cheerful and encouraging, but while I laid awake in bed for the umpteenth night in a row, I would feel as though something were scratching at me. I would feel a continual gnawing, like I were a bone clamped in a dog’s mouth.
During our group devotionals, I would feel revived. I would feel fed and warm and I would know that all I had to do to shake the depression was to bring my worries to God.
Then the guilt would set in.
“You’re ruining the trip acting like this.”
“You’re so ungrateful. God brings you to this amazing place and all you can do is groan about hot water.”
“Could you be more selfish? Get over yourself!”
“A real Christian would never get upset about that.”
“How in the world did you think God called you to come here?”
And so instead of talking to God, I would put down my Bible and not say a word to him because I was sure he was disappointed in me.
The problem with that course of action was that I eventually hit a wall.
After two weeks of less than stellar sleep, I laid down in bed on our last night in Kenya and proceeded to cry hysterically.
I felt utterly hopeless as though there were absolutely no goodness in this wretched, wretched world. Tears enveloped my face, soaking into my pillow and hair, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of anything around me I was so blinded by grief. I felt homesick and heartsore. I felt abandoned. I felt like all the oxygen had been sucked from the room and I was slowly suffocating. For about ten minutes, I cried and cried while Tesia sat on the edge of my bed and prayed. When she left the room to get me some medicine, I stared at the ceiling and prayed my first honest prayer for the entire trip.
That was the only word that came to mind. That was the only word I could think of at that moment. That was the only word that seemed sincere. There are people who could have probably composed prayers that were more poetic, more loving, more devout than that one; however, “light griefs are loquacious, but the great are dumb.” I had been struck dumb by a heavy spirit. One word was all I had to give to my God. I honestly believe he was ok with that.
Maybe it’s some kind of coping mechanism or a side effect of the sleeping pill I had to take in order to get some rest that night, but I don’t have any other memories from after my prayer. When I awoke the next morning, I didn’t feel any lighter, there was no “alleluia” moment, but I didn’t feel the hopelessness I had been feeling for days. That alone was a blessing. Considering that Christianity is based in the idea of hope, despair, or the absence of hope, inflicts the greatest wound on the Christian spirit. We can live without food. We can get along without water. We can strive on without sleep, but deprive us of hope and we will break.
Some can continue on past their breaking points, but I’m not at all that type of person. I’m not very strong. When I break, I need God to put me back together again. I need him to take each piece and put it back into place. I need him to wrap me in bandages so I can heal. It usually takes a few days; a few days of talking about it together, a few moments where we sit together in silence, one or two instances when he says, “I was there once. I know what it feels like.”
When I’m back together and the wounds have finally healed, we compare scars.
His usually trump mine, but he doesn’t make a big deal about it.
If anything, he validates mine. He doesn’t deal in guilt. He doesn’t tell me to get over it, he takes my hand and leads me through it. My God is not the “go it alone” God. My God isn’t a crutch, he’s the legs I stand on. When I can’t fight anymore, when I’ve lost my battle, my God lays me down and lets me rest. He stills everything until I’ve found some peace. He unhooks my sword, takes off my helmet, removes my boots and tells me to be calm, because the war is won.
As previously mentioned, my group didn’t do bugs while we were in Kenya.
We shied away from anything creepy crawly.
Thankfully, it wasn’t bug season in Kenya, so we were spared from some really putrid bugs.
Except the flying termites.
One night after dinner we were all sitting around the table talking when a winged thing flew in through a small crack in the wall. It took us a few minutes to notice it, but when we did we screamed like sissies and ran for cover. It didn’t matter that we were 10,000x bigger than the bug. It had wings which made it infinitesimally more frightening in our imaginations than it actually was in real life.
Judge us if you want, that flying termite could have killed us.
However, that night, Brittany was with us. Little did we know that Brittany is more gangsta (it pains me to use that word, but I think slang is fitting in this situation) than a can of Raid. Without a second thought, she snatched the termite out of the air, threw it on the table, and trapped it beneath a coffee cup.
As soon as she did that I thought, ‘Oh my goodness…she’s Xena.’
I may or may not have spent the rest of the trip waiting for her to emit a high-pitched battle cry.
May or may not.
Seriously, I need to start keeping tv theme songs on hand for moments like that. How awesome would it have been if as soon as she caught the termite I could have played the Xena theme song? And when we finished painting the classrooms on the last day we could have done the slow walk back to the bungalow with that playing.
There were so many missed opportunities.
On my list of Top Ten Things I Love about Mission Trips, going to church probably lands in the number 3 spot.
Don’t ask what number 1 and 2 are because then you will most likely label me a bad Christian.
I’ll give you a clue: they both have to do with food.
Anyway, our first Sunday in Kenyan church will live forever on my list of Top Ten Greatest Moments From a Mission Trip. The night of the safari ants is on there too, but I digress.
Our first Sunday in Kenya, we all got up bright and early and put on our Sunday best. Well, everyone else did. I put on my Sunday ehh. I couldn’t fit my Sunday best in my carry on so I packed my Sunday ehh. Around 10 we all shuffled out of the bungalow and walked to church.
We were immediately greeted by an abundance of children.
All the children were out and about, playing with each other, but they stopped and stared the instant they saw the mzungus. To be honest, I would have stared too if I had never before seen a white person in my life. I still get giddy around Asians because I think they’re fabulous and I don’t get much time around them…I mean- ok, I yes, I have a very strange love for the people from the Asian continent and its surrounding islands. You may not judge me.
As a sea of children poked and prodded me, one little girl stared me down, whispered something into Brittany’s ear, and then giggled. Her name was Martha and as soon as she worked up the courage, she held my hand and didn’t let go. During service, she and her friend, Monica, turned my hand over in theirs traces the outline of my blue veins through the skin. They thought my palms and nails were hysterical and that my fingers were too long (they’re not the only ones).
I should also mention that I wasn’t the only one who was claimed by a child in 2.5 seconds. When I looked around the church I noticed that all of my friends had children holding their hands, sitting on their laps, or playing with their hair.
Ariel definitely got her hair braided one day and it was hilarious. They made her look like Pocahontas.
I did too and Tesia told me I looked like Celie from The Color Purple.
So. Not. Funny.
One of the reasons why church lands on the number 3 spot is because I love praise and worship in foreign countries. In Bolivia praise and worship involved a full band, choreography, streamers, and audience participation. Do you know how exhilarating it is to dance in sync with 200 other people? If you don’t, you need to get on that pronto.
Kenyan praise and worship was equally exhilarating because it involved The Grand Poobah of Drums.
This drum could have ground another drum’s bones to make it’s bread.
Anyway, the drum started, the clapping began, and the singing shook the sky. I think Jesus was tapping his feet in heaven and the Holy Spirit was probably putting their singing on his iPod. (Oh, the Holy Spirit has a Zune? My mistake.) They were really good. When the Bible talks about the joyful noise that’s what it’s talking about. It’s talking about singing that starts in your bones and erupts from your soul. It’s talking about letting the words from your mouth be etched onto your life. It’s talking about hands that are calloused from so much praise.
And that’s just for starters.
I could go on and on about how wonderful the praise and worship was (I’m totally bringing a big drum to church this week and only divine intervention can stop me), but the whole reason I wrote this post was to tell you about the moment that will go on the number 1 spot on my Top Ten list.
Wow, that was a really long sentence.
In the midst of all the praise and joy, while I was wrapped up in the drum and Jesus, I took a second to really listen to what the kids were singing. I will say that their words caused an unexpected single perfect tear.
At the top of their lungs, they were shouting, “I have a father who never, ever fails me.”
What you must realize is that the majority of these kids are orphans.
They don’t have fathers.
They don’t have mothers.
Some don’t have siblings.
In the strict definition of the word, they are alone.
In God’s definition, they are never, ever alone.
They have a Father who never, ever fails them.
He may not be there to tuck them in at night. He may not be someone who tapes their report cards to the fridge. He’s not the father who will take them to the zoo. He won’t be there to pick out their school shoes, throw balls with them in the yard, or check under the bed for monsters.
But what he “lacks” in physical presence he makes up for in consistency. When their father’s pass away or jump ship, their Father will be there to guide them. He may not be the helping hand they expect, but he is that still small voice they need.
Kelly has a knack for getting to know people.
She was a favorite among the women who cooked for us and several of the kids.
I was astonished by her ability to make friends with people so quickly, considering I’m so socially awkward.
For the majority of our trip, we stayed at the Karundas Center, but when we went to the equator and on safari, we had a bus driver named Peter. To put it mildly, Peter was the best bus driver on the face of the earth ever in existence.
That’s putting it mildly.
Since she gets car sick and Kenyan roads are dirt rollercoasters, she sat in the front seat to minimize her nausea. While she was sitting in the front, she made conversation with Peter. You must know that Peter speaks English with a thick Kenyan accent so sometimes they had trouble understanding each other. As Peter was driving us to the airport our last day, Kelly asked him about his family. This question gave birth to the quote that had us all in hysterical tears for about ten minutes.
Peter answered, “I have four children: Mary, Richard, Pamela, and Titus.
Kelly, not quite understanding, asked, “Tight ass?”
Before I went to Kenya, my friend, Hannah, took me to a place called “Butterfly World” which had a bug zoo.
This bug zoo had specimens of all sorts of exotic bugs from around the world.
Hannah took great pleasure in pointing out all of the bugs from Kenya, most of which were the size of a small elephant, and saying, “What if you wake up one morning with this?”
However, terror sometimes comes in small packages.
This is the case with Safari Ants or “Siafu.”
Siafu don’t play.
They travel in millions, have the ability to crawl into anything, and can produce shrieks and screams from a bungalow full of grown women in 2.5 seconds.
That’s talent right there.
Since Kenley’s 23rd birthday happened while we were in Kenya, we decided to throw her a surprise party at Brittany’s house. We put up streamers, the women that cooked for us baked a cake because they’re that awesome, and we yelled, “Surprise!” when she walked through the door. Then we attacked the cake like a pack of hyenas and watched a cheesy chick-flick.
I wouldn’t call any of us “girly-girls” but sometimes we like to indulge in stereotypes.
Around 11 o’clock at night we started to walk back to the bungalow with one lamp between the seven of us. It was pitch dark outside and even with the lamp we could only see about a foot ahead of us. If we walked along the dirt path from Brittany’s house to the bungalow, we would be enveloped by darkness. If we walked through the grass from Brittany’s house to the bungalow, we would have some more light from one of the buildings nearby. We chose to walk through the grass.
Do you see where this is heading?
We ended up separating into two groups because 7 women crowding around 1 lamp makes for lots of squished toes. 4 of us walked ahead and 3 walked behind with the lamp. The 4 of us that were walking ahead eventually got too far ahead and had to wait for the other 3. We didn’t have a lamp so we couldn’t see where we were standing.
Or what we were standing in.
Now, the thing with Safari Ants is that if you step in them and keep going, you’ll be ok. If you step in them and remain there, they’ll crawl all over you.
And then they’ll bite.
When we got to the bungalow door and turned on a light, we saw a couple of ants, but thought nothing of it. We all kicked off our shoes and started to get ready for bed. The next thing I knew, Kelly screamed bloody murder, stripped off her pants and went running for the bathroom. I asked what had happened and someone said, “She literally had ants in her pants.”
I had very little time to process this news because a few seconds later, Tesia and Meredith started to scream. I walked across the bungalow to our room, opened the door, and was greeted by a very strange sight.
Tesia and Meredith were jumping around our room, stark raving naked, beating the floor with shoes.
At this point, I passed out.
Because I couldn’t breathe.
Because I was laughing so hard.
When I finally came to, I started to walk back to the other side of the bungalow to tell the girls what had happened. Unfortunately, I never made it there.
The ants got me.
Much like Kelly, I literally had ants in my pants.
Nobody really slept that night because every two seconds someone would swear the ants were in her bed.
Happy Birthday, Kenley.
My cousin, Rachel, is not the funniest person I know, but she has her moments of comedic genius.
As our leader, Rachel had the task of keeping us all in line, making sure we knew what we were doing and where we were supposed to go, and keeping our morale high. I can honestly say that she succeeded on all counts. She did this mostly be being her amazing self and by using her greatest skill: the backhanded compliment.
Rachel is a backhanded compliment ninja.
I can say this because I’m generally the target of her backhanded compliments.
However, I can never be angry with her for them, because she doesn’t realize how backhanded her compliments are. And they generally make other people laugh, so I build a bridge, get over it, and join in the mirth.
The reason I’m telling you this is because Rachel managed in producing two of the greatest backhanded compliments known to man while we were Kenya. In order for me to tell you the story of the Kenyan backhanded compliments, I had to give you some background on the BHC ninja that is Rachel.
Now onto the story:
I’ll be honest and tell you that I didn’t look that great in Kenya. Hygiene went out the window by day two because a cold shower in 40 degree weather will buy you a one way ticket to head cold junction. I brushed my teeth everyday and used a Wet One to keep away the smell, but showers were few and far between for me. Shaving became a thing of the past and the only reason I ended up shaving was because Kelly saw my armpit hair and gasped.
And yes, I have absolutely no shame in telling you that.
Add bad hygiene to the fact that I was wearing knee-length shorts that were a size too big and t-shirts that were size large to 2x and you can probably figure that I looked homeless. You may also add the fact that I have curly hair that did not enjoy the elevation and decided that it would stick up like the bride of Frankenstein rather than laying flat.
So really, I probably looked like one of the witches from Macbeth.
One day, while we were walking back to the bungalow after working, Rachel says to me, “Gyasi, you’re in dumpy clothes.”
This caused Meredith and Ariel to explode from laughter.
Rachel tried to make the situation better by adding, “But you still look like corporate America.”
See how the backhanded compliment works?
On another occasion, we were riding in the bus and discussing flatulence. In case you weren’t aware, women are 1000x more disgusting than men. When we’re together, we don’t discuss ponies, rainbows, and boys. We talk about our bowels and our ovaries. This is what women do. At least this is what the women I know do.
I don’t remember how the conversation led up to this or what remark prefaced this, but Rachel said, “Meredith, I’ve never heard you fart, but I feel like when you fart it sounds like Coldplay.”
I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure Coldplay has never headlined in Meredith’s lower intestines.
Around this time of year, Kenya gets a tad muddy.
When I say “tad muddy” I mean so muddy that the muck could suck you down and spit you out in the Cape of Good Hope.
This means that wearing sneakers does nothing.
I swear I heard the mud laugh at my New Balance.
You need something with a bit more grip.
Enter the blessing that is Wellington boots.
A group that had come before us had left several pairs in the bungalow we stayed in and so I wore Wellington boots all the live long day. They were a size too big and kind of smelled like turpentine, but oh how I loved those Wellington boots. I even wore them to church. With a dress. And a lovely scarf I stole from Tesia.
Um, I mean…oh heck nevermind.
And so to honor the blessing from the Lord that is Wellington boots, I have written a poem in their honor.
“Ode to my Wellington boots”O Wellington boots, thou blessed child of halogenated polymer Impervious to muck and mildew, thou art my Wellington boots. Shall I take you through the hills of brown and black? Shall I roll with you through paint and turpentine? Though my life be strewn with cow pats you are forever faithful, Sweet Wellington boots. How can one truly understand thy perfections? Converse cannot hold a candle to your reflection. You laugh in the face of chilly mop water and wasps! Thou ridest a chariot of insulated soles, lover of my soul, Thou art my Wellington boots! O Wellington boots Thou keep the mop waters away from my socks. My toes are forever in wonder of your charms. Stay sweet Wellington boots beneath my stride, Cradling my fallen arches in a crib of waterproof splendiforousness. I may have totally made up that last word, Wellington boots, But thou art too wonderful for grammar. Wellington boots, O Wellington boots How silly I am in your presence. I speak with the rapture of one who has witnessed thy greatness. Even my New Balance is in awe of your wonders. Sweet Wellington boots.
I may or may not have written this while wearing a pair of Wellington boots.
Please don’t judge me.
We faced several unexpected challenges while we were renovating classrooms, (How do you paint windows that are 3 feet taller than anyone in the group? Put Kelly on Tesia’s shoulders and hand her a paintbrush. How do you get curious children to stop touching wet paint and then giggling? Make faces and chase them.) but the worst was the case of the African wasps.
In case you aren’t aware, wasps are nasty little buggers.
They’ll sting you for the heck of it.
When I’m in America, I run like a thoroughbred horse from a wasp.
Now, in my mind, African wasps are the unholy spawn of the seven deadly sins, the fourth ring of Hell, and Andrew Lloyd Webber (I still haven’t forgiven him for inflicting Cats on the world) so you can imagine how mean they actually are. An African wasp will sting you just for the heck of it, but it’s going to play with you first. It’ll chase you, hide, chase you again, land on your back, chase you a third time, and then sting the crap out of you.
You can only imagine what happened when we encountered them while painting.
The day had started off quite normally. We had finished our first classroom and started cleaning our second. Everyone had a sponge, scrub brush, and soap and were attacking the mud that was caked onto the walls. Then someone noticed a wasp. We gave the thing a wide berth and waited until it left the room. We went back to our work.
About five minutes later, someone noticed another wasp and gave the call. We gave this one an even wider berth and waited for it to leave the room. In twenty minutes about six or seven wasps flew in and out of the room. Then we noticed that there was a freakin’ wasps nest in the room and there was no way we were going to get rid of the wasps.
Unless we had wasp killer.
Which we did :)
Unfortunately, none of us was brave enough to use it :(
So we drew straws and Tesia lost :)
You must know that we’re all girls and are used to enlisting the help of our fathers, brothers, and male cousins to kill bugs. Feminist that I am, I still call He-Man and Nii-chan (my brother) to kill bugs. If they’re not around I will lock the bug in the room and wait outside until they’re available. When I get married, my husband’s primary household duty will be bug control.
I don’t do bugs.
Imagine, if you will, eight girls with a bottle of wasp killer and no idea how to use it. We read the instructions on the bottle and decided that we would close all the doors and windows, except one, have Tesia spray the crap out the wasps, and then run as though her life depended on it out the open door. Actually, her life did depend on it.
African wasps are nasty.
Angry African wasps are murderous.
The plan went well until we realized that there was a five-inch gap between the roof and the ceiling through which the wasps could escape.
I’m not one for foul language, but may I say, “Damn.”
Some of the wasps flew out of the gap and sent us running into the crowd of school children that had gathered to watch African wasps vs. Mzungus. They thought it was hysterical. We did not agree.
Thankfully, none of us were stung.
It took about five minutes for us to gather up the courage necessary for us to go back to the classroom. Then, we pressed our faces up against the window and saw that there was one solitary wasp clinging to life in the room. The ground around him was littered with wasp corpses (heh, heh), but that little jerk wasn’t going to go down that easily. After what seemed like an eternity, he flew to another part of the room and we decided to give the area another good spray.
We opened the door, piled inside, and then realized that the wasp was hiding behind the door.
Wasp + Mzungus = high-pitched screaming that can shatter glass.
Looking back on it now, I realize how funny it must have been to see eight grown women run screaming from a wasp, but in the moment it wasn’t funny at all.
And the wasp chased us for another half hour.
In addition to being the most wonderful group of girls on the face of the planet, my mission team was also well read.
I felt Jesus smile every time one of them pulled out a book.
I firmly believe that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit love a good novel.
Afterall, they wrote the Bible.
That’s part of the reason why I became a Christian.
The Bible is a rather enthralling read.
Spoiler alert: Jesus wins.
Anyway, typically before bed, our group would have reading time. We would all pull out our books, take a seat in the corner, and read a chapter or two. I could go on and on about reading (my group probably wanted to bludgeon me to death with Moby Dick by the end of the trip I talked so much about books), but you can tell an extraordinary amount about a person from the book they choose. One night I looked around and realized that each book perfectly described the girl reading it. For example:
Ariel, funny, hopeful, and generally even-tempered, was reading Francine Rivers’ “Voice in the Wind.”
Tesia, sassy, brash, and full of vim and vigor, was reading Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help.”
Meredith, introspective, calm, and thoughtful, was reading Brennan Manning’s “Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging.”
Rachel, dramatic (in a good way), full of wit, and playful, was reading Francine Rivers’ “A Lineage of Grace.”
I was reading “True Grit” by Charles Portis.
I’m still not sure what that says about me.
Usually, we stayed quiet during reading time, but every once in a while one of us would be inspired to make conversation. Whether the topic at hand was a result of something we had read, seen, or experienced, it was always entertaining.
Ariel: My cousin just got engaged.
Tesia: So your grandpa can finally have a wedding.
Ariel: No, he knew about that one. He was talking about us. He doesn’t like cake so we said, ‘Grandpa, you won’t even eat cake at our weddings?’ and he said, ‘I’ve just about lost all hope for that.’