Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas 2012

Our first Christmas in Africa has come and gone and although it was different, we found lots of things to enjoy.  I had sort of convinced myself that it shouldn't be too bad since it was sandwiched between our Kenya trip and my mom coming to visit, so I was a bit surprised when I found myself in the dumps.  When we had been home long enough from our trip for me to realize that December was going to be really quiet and totally unlike our normal holiday hustle and bustle, I sort of tanked.  I took a day or two to feel sorry for myself and talk myself in and out of packing up and going home and then I decided to put on my big girl panties and seize the month..  In the end, it was a fun and special time and I believe we could do it again.  Here are some pictures and commentary of December.

 We did a Christmas Around the World Unit.  Here are the kids with masks they made on the day we learned about Christmas in West Africa.  The funny thing was, one of the books we used had a section on Nigeria.  We read it to one of our Nigerian friends who agreed that the customs had been true during her childhood, but weren't practiced as widely now, especially in the cities.  We really chuckled when the Christmas greeting they listed for our country was a phrase that none of our Nigerian friends found familiar!
 Here is our "Buche de Noel" that we made on France day.  We've decided that the Europeans know how to do Christmas and that we would prefer to celebrate with a lovely combination of their traditions, oh wait a minute, we do!
 The kids had some free time that they don't have during the normal school days.  Isaac decided to create a torch, which he enjoyed burning with his dad.  10 year old boys get the kicks out of some interesting stuff!
 Here is our little friend Mary who came and played with the girl's one day.  When they handed her a baby doll, she immediately grabbed a scarf and expertly secured him to her back.  No strollers in this pretend play!
 Cookie decorating definitely made the traditions list.  I have to say they are getting much more skilled in their efforts.  We had many less sprinkle blobs and lots of nice finished products than we used to have.

 The week before Christmas our family hosted about 20 of our Nigerian Baptist Mission employees for lunch.  My house helpers worked hard to cook up a Nigerian feast.  I spent the morning showing my cultural ignorance with one mistake after another.  I wanted to provide forks instead of spoons, I suggested we chill the drinks, and I had the nerve to suggest that we have the meal ready at noon since that is the time we invited everyone to come.  In the end, we scrambled to find enough spoons, served the drinks warm, and sat down to lunch at 12:30.  We had way too much food, but everyone was happy to "pack" the leftovers home.  
 Jolof rice, fried chicken, and salad (cabbage, carrots, eggs, and baked beans) were on the menu. 

We enjoyed all of our decorations including the ones we packed on the crate and the ones that we purchased in Africa.
 Here is our banana leaf nativity
 This one is made of rosewood.
 Of course, we still had presents and stockings.  Many of the presents had been purchased 18 months ago and put on the crate.  Some were purchased in Kenya and others were carried in by volunteers who have traveled in over the last few months.  We were thankful for everyone who helped us provide a special Christmas morning.
 One happy girl!
 Snickers was worn out by all of the excitement.
 The kids decided to write another Christmas play to share with daddy and I.  The characters included the narrator,  Elf 1 and 2, Sophie the reporter, and Santa himself.

Ryan convinced me that we should throw a Christmas Eve party so that we would have a project to focus on rather than fretting over all of the things we were missing.  In the end, it was  a really good idea.  We had fun preparing and the actual event was fun as well.  We had about 8 or 9 missionary families from other organizations.  We had folks from all over America, Scotland, England, Northern Ireland, Denmark, and Canada.  It was fun to compare traditions and we enjoyed games and fellowship.

Christmas Day, we hosted lunch for the other Baptist Ms who were in town.  We had 3 guests and enjoyed sharing Christmas Dinner with them.   We decided to go with fried chicken and cheesy potatoes instead of trying to pull of a traditional meal.  We had a yummy meal and a great day.  

We are thankful for all of the memories we made and for seeing how faithful God has been to us over the last year.  While we still have so far to go, it is a blessing to see how much we've learned in the last 11 months.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Here Comes Santa Clause

This Christmas season has certainly been different.  The weather, sights, sounds, gatherings, decorations, and pretty much everything else is new.  One thing that was the same was that Ryan had the opportunity to interact with a group of children at a local church.  That’s nothing new for him.  But, what the church wanted him to do was very different.

The day we got back from our Kenya trip, a local pastor came and asked Ryan to come on Sunday and be the Father Christmas for his church.  He explained that all Nigerian children know that Father Christmas and Baby Jesus are white and they had already promised the children the “real” Father Christmas.  

Now, in a decade of children’s ministry, we have never brought Santa into a church celebration.  We haven’t done Santa with our kids and we certainly haven’t done it with our ministry.  So, we were not really sure how to navigate this request.  In the end, we decided to just play along.  We decided that building and maitaining the relationship was more important than winning our cultural battle.  

When the day came to play the part, it was interesting.  We needed to be at the church at the start of their service so that Father Christmas could be a part of the children’s processional.  He and the children danced up the aisle and made their way to the choir area beside the stage.  They sat there for the 2.5 hour service.  The children sang a few carols during the choir time.  One of them was the 12 days of Christmas.  That was pretty entertaining.

After the service ended, it was Ryan’s turn to play the part and hand out the gifts.  First they lined up the children whose parents had given 200 Naira (about $1.30) to have a special present.  Those children received a hat and a bag which contained a hot meal of rice and a drink.  The children whose families had not given the money received only the meal.  That is something that our brains still don’t comprehend.  We struggle with seeing a group of children watch another group of children get a special gift while they don’t.  We don’t like it, but it really is the culture here.  There does not seem to be any sense of trying to make things fair or protecting the feelings of others.  It’s hard for our American minds to process.

The best part of the whole thing was having “Santa” drive our van to and from church.  We always draw attention because we drive a big van and we fill it with 7 white people.  You cannot imagine the looks we got when Santa was behind the wheel.  People were literally stopping and staring and pointing.  We laughed and laughed at all of the shocked faces.

Here's "Father Christmas" dancing with kids.

Happy with her hat!

This little guy plopped right down to eat his rice and green apple flavored milk drink.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Wrapping it Up

We have enjoyed that last few days as we've finished up the holiday portion of our trip.  Tomorrow morning we head to a local conference center for a week of work before heading home.  We are very excited that we will get to spend the week with folks that trained with us last summer in Virginia.  As you can imagine, we grew pretty close to those folks and our kids to their kids, so it will be a bit of a reunion in the morning.

Here's a bit about how we've spent the last few days...

On Thursday we were invited to join a bunch of other families who serve in other parts of Sub Saharan Africa with our agency.  Out of the 15 or so families that were represented, we'd only met two of them before.  And yet, we felt very comfortable and had a very pleasant Thanksgiving Day.  Days like those are days that we really have to choose joy.  There is always a strong temptation to lament and think about what we're missing with our family back in the States.  But, it's counter productive and we try to avoid it if we can (sometimes we do better than others!)  Thankfully, this was one day when we succeeded in embracing where we were, not where we wanted to be. 

 Abby and Lily playing corn hole with a friend.  Lily looks like she's about to lob it, maybe she needs a little lesson in technique?
 Isaac pushing "Uncle P" on the tree swing.  Normally it was P doing the pushing.  He's their favorite trampoline buddy when we're back in our home country, maybe we need to add a tree swing too!

On Friday we went to a huge mall on the other side of Nairobi.  This one is located near all of the embassies and definitely had an expat flare to it.  We got to go to the Massai Market while we were there (again!)  It amazes me how beautiful the handicrafts are here.  There is so much available and if you're willing to bargain hard, you can get pretty good prices.  We generally paid about 1/2 of their starting quote.  There were several times I just looked at people who were quoting me a ridiculous price and explained that I live in Nigeria, where I bargain every time I shop.  Then they usually got more reasonable pretty quickly.  I think they're used to diplomats, not budget minded missionaries!

The kids favorite part about the mall was that it had a waterpark that looked like this...
 For less than $20 USD, our whole family got to play.  Lest we forget that we're in Africa, we were reminded by the lack of safety patrols as evidenced by the following picture...
 Why yes, that is 4 children piled up at the bottom of the slide.  And no, no one blew a whistle or gave them a red light.  
Here's Lizzy getting her speed on!

One of our goals for our time here was to get some new clothes for everyone.  However, we have really been disappointed with the prices on the clothing here.  Most items in the malls are 2 to 3 times the full price in the US.  So, we had bought a few clearance rack items, but not much.  Even our kids understand that we can't pay $80 for their jeans and $30 for their T-shirts.  We were all wondering if we were going to be out of luck.  So, on Saturday we spent 3 hours at a second hand clothing market where they buy clothes from the Western Europe and North America donation bales and re-sell them for Goodwill and better than Goodwill prices.  We honestly didn't even scratch the surface of what they had in our time there.  When we got home and did the math, we discovered that we had bought 10 pairs of pants, 18 shirts, 1 skirt, 1 dress, 4 pairs of shorts, and 1 very gently used pair of Converse tennis shoes for about $210 USD.  Ryan bought a nice Ralph Lauren button down that looked brand new for $5.  The kids were thrilled with the new things and so were we.  The items we purchased were mostly like new and it was fun.  Again, we had to bargain hard, but we were thrilled with our haul.  We've all agreed that it is a re-do next time that we are in Kenya!

Other than that, we've enjoyed eating out once each day, visiting the local malls, enjoying desserts and abundant dairy products, and taking our time around town.  It's been a great time of R&R.  We are so thankful that we are here and we look forward to learning lots in the week ahead!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Venturing Out

After two days of laying low in our tiny guest house flat, we decided to venture out yesterday and see some of the Nairobi sites.  We went fully armed with crackers, 7up, barf bags, tums, advil, and a change of clothes for the most likely candidates.  Thankfully, no one got sick and our instinct that we are through the tummy bug for now seems to be accurate.  We're thankful for the break, even if it's just momentary!

We really enjoyed all that we did  and with 258 pictures taken in just 6 hours, it's hard to choose just a few.  But, I'll try.  Our first stop was at the elephant orphanage where we oohed and aahed over the elephant babies.  These little guys have been rescued and are being cared for and prepared for reentry into the wild at 3-4 years of age.  Most of these babies were orphaned by poaching or they were found in water wells that they'd fallen into.  

Here they come.  Lizzy was humming the elephant march from Jungle Book because that's just what they looked like.
 This little guy was the youngest that we got to meet.  Here he is taking a bottle from his keeper.  We learned that they rotate keepers so that they don't get too accustomed to any one human.
 We really enjoyed watching them use their trunks for all sorts of things like drinking, eating, and even poking their keepers when they wanted more milk.
 This one was old enough to hold his own bottles.  He's even getting his tusks in.  Amazing!

 Our next stop was the giraffe center, where the kids got to feed the giraffes. 
 They felt rougher than we imagined, a lot like horses.
 Lily was the most persistent at getting their attention.  She would not give up until she'd gotten them to eat from her hand!

Our next stop was the Kazuri bead factory.  I loved this one!  This company was founded in 1975 as a way to provide employment for single moms in Kenya.  They started with 2 ladies and now employ over 300 women.  They export their beads and jewelry all over the world.
 We took a tour and learned how the beads go from this clay found near Mt. Kenya...
  to these beautiful beads.
 We met Elizabeth who has worked at Kazuri since 1975.  She made the kids some bird beads.  It was very neat to see all of the bead shapes that the women in this building were making.  
We also got to see where the beads are painted, 

and made into jewelry. 
 Of course, they had a well stocked gift shop, which we happily visited.  The finished products were really beautiful and the cost was about 1/5 of what I've found online.  And well, I'm never one to pass up a bargain!

We were starved by this time, and the kids really wanted to make one more trip to KFC.  Isaac just knew that he could stomach some of their mashed potatoes.  I guess 3 times in one week never hurt anybody, right?  At any rate, I have declared that this was our last trip for this trip and we're moving on to other things.  Though, I'll readily admit, my first taste of American style fast food in 10 months was yummy!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Letter to My 16 Year Old Self

Recently, I was asked by my dear friend Casey to be a part of a little blog activity.  She suggested that we each write a letter to our 16 year old self, expressing whatever we wanted to share with who we were then.  Although it isn't a new concept in the blog world, it's something I've never taken the time to do and it seemed like a good time to reflect a bit.  So, here it goes...

Dear 16 Year Old Self,

Wow!  I've thought a lot about what I would want to say to you and what I wish I had known at the age of 16.  Where do I even start? There are so many things I think you just have to learn through experience and I guess that's the first bit of encouragement I'd like to give you... enjoy the journey sweetheart.  So often you'll get caught up in the destination or the finished product, it's who you are.  Let me encourage you to take time to look around you and take it all in.  Looking back I promise you'll be amazed at how all of those baby steps along the way have allowed you to go to some pretty amazing places.

Trust your instincts, they're usually right.  By all means, make sure you check them against scripture and prayer, but when they check out- go for it!  There will be many times when you'll be tempted to measure yourself by the standards of others.  You'll make choices that will seem outlandish to the people around you.  You'll doubt your own sanity.  Do it anyway.  It's usually those very decisions that will allow you to see God work in amazing ways.

Extend grace.  Especially to your family.  Yeah, they can be weird.  No, they aren't the Cleavers.  But, they love you.  They really are amazing people.  They really are doing the best they can.  One day, when God gives you little people of your own that you're desperately trying to not screw up, you'll realize how very loved you are.  And how hard it is to be a sinner trying to raise sinners.  Give them a break.

Speaking of love... relax.  It will come.  I know that all of your girlfriends are dating a lot.  I know that they are all telling you that your standards are too high.  Keep them that way.  God will truly give you the desires of your heart.  He has an amazing man in store for you and waiting for him and the blessings that will come from that relationship is going to be so worth it.

Avoid debt.  Trust me, there is nothing that you need now that is worth the headaches it will bring you later. If you don't listen to me, you'll spend years cleaning up the mess you'll make in the next few.  Never mind, I know you won't listen to me on this one, but I wish you would.  Those shoes that go on that credit card will end up at the Goodwill, which is the only place you'll be able to shop once you come to your senses!

One last thing, and if you don't hear anything else I say, listen to me on this one.  Pursue Jesus.  Don't just pursue doing stuff for him.  Pursue HIM.  Allow him to teach you how to love the people and the places that He brings into your life.  Beg him to give you a love for his word.  Surrender to him every stinking day and when you don't want to, do it anyway.  I promise, if you do that, the rest of it won't matter.  It will all fall into place.

Okay, the very final last thing... when you decide you need to crossover to a real "mom" vehicle, that red ford mini-van at that little used car lot is cheap for a reason.  Don't buy it.

Faithfully Yours,
Your 39 Year Old Self

To check what another friend had to say to her 16 year old self, check out Kristin's blog.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Our "Holiday"- Week 1

We've passed the one week mark since our arrival in Nairobi and I thought I'd take a minute to blog about it.  I had dreams of detailed blog posts with the awesome internet I knew we'd have here.  But, since we left our first guest house, our internet has actually not been as good as what we have at home.  Just a gentle reminder that I'm still in Africa!  

We started off our "holiday" with a couple of days in Abuja.  We were able to schedule Abby's orthodontic appointment in the capital city so that we could fly out the same weekend and kill two birds with one trip.  That left us with a free day for swimming at the Hilton and eating ice cream poolside.  Some friends from our city joined us for the trip down and we were able to share some time with friends.

 She's very "14" these days, which is mostly a blessing.  It's definitely different than parenting a 3 or an 8 year old!

We flew out on Sunday morning headed to Addis for a short layover before heading into Nairobi.  As soon as we got on the plane, I could have cried.  It's been a tough year and there have been many times when we've felt a little "trapped."  Something about climbing on that plane seemed so familiar and so freeing.  It probably didn't help my emotions at all that we flew via Ethiopian Airlines and as soon as I stepped on the plane and saw all of those beautiful Ethiopian flight attendants I was reminded of our first trip to Addis to meet Abe.  I was reminded of how loving the Ethiopian people are toward children.  They served our children first, while the adults waited for food.  They checked in on them frequently, and were so very gracious.  

 Here we are, all smiles at the Addis airport.  What we didn't know is that 2 hours later, Abe would be violently ill with a tummy bug.  Just as they were calling for us to board the plane, he let loose all over the floor of the airport.  Everyone was very gracious to us and they held the plane long enough for some sweet Ethiopian woman to clean him up while Ryan cleaned himself up.  Then, when he continued to be ill on the plane, the flight attendants were so kind and brought us anything we asked for promptly and graciously.  By the time we finally got to our guesthouse in Nairobi, it was 2:30 in the morning and we were exhausted.  We layed low the first couple of nights, giving Abe time to recover while the rest of us caught our breath.

 After a couple of nights in the city, we headed out for the part of the trip that we were most excited about.  We drove into the Great Rift Valley and headed to a safari lodge.  Along the way, we stopped at a beautiful lookout point.
  Of course, it was conveniently equipped toilets which you got to by walking through a massive gift shop.  There we got to see the first of those East African handicrafts that everyone had told us about.  The kids were so excited to look at all of the goodies.  Lots to choose from... fabric animals.
 carved animals...
baskets and much, much, more.

 As we continued to drive, Ryan was the first to spot "real" safari animals.  Here was our first sighting of giraffes on the side of the highway.  Amazing!

 A little further down the road, we saw our first zebras.

 After a couple of hours of driving, we made it to our lodge, which was incredible.  There are lots of options available, but at the recommendation of some friends, we chose the Lake Navaisha Sopa Lodge and we were very happy with it.  The kids wanted to check out the pool. 
 The cottages were amazing.  We stayed on the bottom floor of one of them.  The grounds were filled with animals.  There were water bucks, monkeys, giraffes, and at night we had to have a security escort to protect us from the grazing hippos.  It was really an incredible experience.

Here's a bit of the main lodge area where all of the meals were served.  I felt like I was back in NC having lunch at the Grove Park Inn!

 After lunch, we headed to Hell's Gate National Park.  We saw lots of animals including gazelles, zebras, warthogs, a hyena, baboons, cape buffalo, giraffes, and tons of birds and other hoofed animals. It was a great afternoon.  For about an hour of the time, we actually had a guide take us down unto a gorge for a little hike.  We walked on the bottom of the gorge and had fun stretching our legs and exploring the rocks and physical features of the gorge.
 Here is Ryan feeling the boiling hot water coming out of the side of the gorge.

The kids also had fun with all of the pumice stone they found.  Here's Isaac pretending to hold a heavy rock which was actually a piece of pumice about the same weight as a styrofoam cube.  I think that park was probably my favorite of our 3 safari days.  The animals were plentiful, we got to get out and walk around, and it was just the right size for the age of our kids.

 The next day we got up, donned our life jackets, and got into one of these...
 We took a boat ride around Lake Navaisha and we were able to see lots of birds, hippos, and cool vegetation.   Our boat driver even fed a tilapia to a fishing eagle while we watched.  
 Hippos don't photograph well, but here are a few that we saw.
 The boat dropped us off at Crescent Island where we spent an hour walking with the animals.  We literally walked all over these fields right through the middle of herds of zebras, water bucks, wildebeasts, and giraffes.  

 There had been 3 new giraffe calves born in the last month and we got close enough to see their umbilical cords.  It was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

 One of my favorite parts of that day was when we were returning to our room after lunch.  A bunch of velvet monkeys saw that Lily was carrying an apple.  They chased her up some stairs and she panicked and threw the apple.  That sent a few of them away, but brought plenty more our way.  They followed us back to our room.  We just plopped down in front of the windows and spent about 1/2 hour watching and interacting with them through the glass.  There were lots of giggles and squeals.

After the monkeys moved on, we decided to try out that big ole swimming pool.  It was really too cold to enjoy, but we all took a dip for the principle of it and some stayed longer than others!

The next day we had to pack up and head out.  Our last day out of the city was spent at Lake Nakuru.  We were welcomed by tons of baboons at the front gates.  This is just one of the welcoming committee.

There were literally thousands of birds.  There were tons of pelicans, flamingos, storks, and other varieties.  

 This park also offered some beautiful views. 
We saw many of the same animals that we had seen on the other days, with the exception of rhinos, which were not at our first park.  Lake Nakuru was beautiful and it would be a bird watcher's dream, but it wasn't our favorite.  We had to drive lots more to see animals.  Sometimes we'd drive for 10 or 15 minutes without seeing anything.  The kids definitely preferred our first 2 days.  

All in all, it was a great few days and we enjoyed our safari time very much.  We think the parks we did this time were a great choice.  They offered tons of animals without a long drive.  We were very satisfied.  If we ever get the chance to go again in the future, we've all decided we'd head to Masai Mara where we can see the cats.  

We're back in the city now and we still have lots we want to see here.  Unfortunately, we're down with the tummy bug just now.  Isaac and Lizzy have both been sick today and we're praying that the rest of us either dodge it or get it quick so that we can get on with our vacation fun.  I have to say that I am very, very thankful that none of us came down with it while we were out on our safari days.  I am also thankful that if we have to have it, we are in a place with constant electricity and grocery stores that are stocked with chicken noodle soup, popsicles, and chilled Sprite.  

If you'd like to see more pictures of our time with the animals, click here.