Sunday, October 26, 2014

What's New? Everything!

Camel wandering past our training
First, I inspected the scapula (shoulder blade). Then I moved on to the stifle (knee joint). It looked good and I was happy to see that the cruciate ligaments were intact. Staying scientific, I thought about the muscles I was looking at, but I struggled to remember their names. We were out in the bush, in the desert of Turkana and it was hot. I was lucky to be sitting in the sand in the shade, but my mind was working slowly.

Students performing a CHE skit
So, I shifted to a utilitarian thought. This scapula could be useful for the next step. I had to stay focused. I said a quick prayer for God to give me the strength for what was next and……… I began to eat. It was a goat and these parts along with some rice and vegetables were my lunch. Even though I was not feeling well that day, I was honored to be sitting there sharing that goat with the Turkana who were leading and attending that CHE (Community Health Evangelism) training. So I ate the meat off that scapula and used it as a utensil along with the spork I carry with me and I finished most of my lunch and then “shared” that stifle and its muscles with someone who appreciated it more than I did.

Finally able to connect with friends serving in Kenya 
Just a week before I had been in Nairobi eating ice cream, beef hamburgers, pizza, lettuce salads and other treats. I was staying at a guesthouse and had met many new missionary friends and unexpectedly reconnected with other missionary friends. What a huge blessing! Everyone was so kind and answered my questions about life at the guesthouse, helped me get around that area of town, showed me where to shop and where the best restaurants were. This was an important learning experience, since I will sometimes stay at that guesthouse when I go back to Nairobi for meetings and breaks.  

Great to see friends from the US
I was also staying at that guesthouse so I could attend the Global Missions Health Conference, which was at a nearby church. This conference started as a missionary medical conference held in Louisville every fall. That conference has grown and last year it also expanded to the African conference held here in Nairobi. I was excited to be able to attend, since I knew I would miss the next 3 in Louisville. I was even more excited when I learned that friends from the US would be there. It was great to see them, talk about home, and get lots of hugs and goodies.  I really do appreciate all these wonderful Christian friends and their hearts for missions and not just because they brought me chocolate!

“So what’s new in your life?” This was the question one of my friends asked as we were catching up. 
I looked at her and said “Everything! Everything in my life is new and different!” All of a sudden I found it very liberating to have said that. Even though I had done a lot of training and knew this would be the case, it had not really occurred to me in this way. Every single, little, big, significant, insignificant, silly, not so silly thing in my life really was “new and different”.

I had learned that different is not necessarily bad, and to not think about it as wrong or stupid and I often have to catch myself before I make judgments like that. That is hard. I have my own set of cultural “norms” and my “American baggage” that I carry with me. It is not something I can just set down and walk away from. It goes with me, everywhere and it seems even larger and heavier here in Turkana where the differences are greater.

At least I got a picture at the equator!
Preparing to leave for Turkana and shopping was a challenge. I asked my teammates many questions about what I could buy up here, but that often changes, so in the end I decided if I really wanted it I would bring it with me from Nairobi. So a few days later, the shopping was done, the vehicles were packed and we were on our way to Turkana. Knowing I was carrying enough chocolate to help us survive for days if the vehicles broke down was reassuring, but the trip driving back up to Turkana was worse than the one in April. The traffic was terrible, the zebras were not as photogenic and I had the prior knowledge of just how bad the drive was weighing on my mind. I also had the reality of this being my “real transition”. The big one. The tough one. I had just had this revelation about everything in my life being “new and different” and now I was about to experience even more “new and different”, but at least this time I would be warm (well hot)!

I have been up here for 6 weeks now and every day there are so many new things, that it is sometimes overwhelming and exhausting. I try to find one “win” everyday. Sometimes these are very small, but they keep me going. Some days seem utterly ridiculous, like I will never learn what I need to know, let alone everything I really want to know. Other days I feel like I nailed it and learned so much and accomplished so much. I keep thinking that I need to keep a journal, since I know I am forgetting things, but it seems like after a long day of just living and surviving and trying to thrive, who has time to stop and write it all down. Doing everyday tasks take longer and I have to think twice about everything I do to remember if I did it the way I should have or if I need to ask more questions because I do not know what something means or how to handle a certain situation.

Culture: Every day is a cultural learning experience; from what language I should speak with which person, to the family structure, the traditional dress and weapons, customs with children and other cultural practices. I will not be able to explain all these things, because so many I just do not understand myself.  You are always welcome to send comments and ask questions and I love hearing from you all, but realized that I may not be able to answer, simply because I do not understand enough to give you an educated, appropriate answer.

Communicating in Turkana is easier with kids
Language: I did not realize how blessed I was, when I was in formal school, in a location away from the area where I would serve. That may sound backwards, but it gave me a chance to focus on learning without being pulled into the ministry right away. I was able to really focus on studying. It was also a much easier life there in so many ways. My first month up here, we had many team meetings and they were invaluable to learning about life here, but often took me away from language learning and studying. I have tried hard to keep a regular schedule with my language helper, Hellen. She was my helper when I came on my vision trip in 2013 and I am so happy that she is here and available to help me now.

We meet 3 times a week for 3 hours each time. We go over a Turkana grammar book that I began at language school. We started at the beginning reviewing lessons quickly, but now we are going more slowly as I am having trouble just keeping all the vocabulary straight. I also am working on translating some Turkana bible stories to use for devotions, as we did with Swahili at the language school. I have another book with lists of words (mostly nouns). I would love to say I am easily memorizing them, since many are borrowed and are similar to the Swahili nouns, but with Turkana having masculine, feminine and diminutive nouns and plurals for each of those, there are sometimes 6 versions of how to say what I would consider one basic noun.

We also work on greetings and basic conversations so I have more to say when I meet new people and I have tried to learn “series”, list of sentences about doing a task. Just writing and translating these was much harder than I had thought it would be.  It took almost 2 hours to write up about 7 sentences for “This is how I make chai” and about 6 sentences for “This is how I wash dishes”. I then struggled for 2 weeks with barely getting the first few sentences for making chai. I just cannot memorize random words and sentences.  (Keep reading to find out what I did to create a “Win” for that situation).  Oh yeah! I am also still learning Swahili. Hellen also knows Swahili, so I try to use it as much as possible with her and relate the Turkana words to the Swahili words I already know or learn the Swahili word also. I am reviewing my Swahili from school by using another book and doing one lesson on my own each week. Luckily the answers are in the book, so I do not waste class time with that.

I am beginning to understand the tones and cadence of the language a little more, just through listening. I sometimes just look down or shut my eyes when someone is speaking to listen for words I recognize and see how they are pronounced. Most pronouns have an up and down sound to them. The word for today is very choppy, but all the same tone and hearing the past tense verbs that go up at the end is something I am working on still. Turkana seems like a very harsh language compared to Swahili ,which seems to flow better. I can now recognize when someone is speaking Swahili or Turkana and when they are throwing in words from each language together. That’s a huge WIN! I cannot roll my “R’s” YET, but I am trying. I say that a lot. Ninajaribu! (That means “I am trying!” in Swahili, not sure how to say that in Turkana, YET!)

CHE lesson on teaching and learning
Learning with others: Three days after we arrived up here, I left for the CHE training that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog. That was hard. I had barely unpacked and had to find what I needed to go stay in the bush. We stayed in a house with running water (just had to make sure the tank was full, before you got in the shower) and a generator so we can have lights at night during dinner and for an hour or so after that. I slept on a mattress on the floor on the porch and was actually cold due to the strong winds. I was the only mzungu (white person), going out with the CHE facilitators and farm and water crew that week.

I learned a lot. I listened as they spoke at the training and wrote down words that they wrote on the board. If you know CHE you know we usually use large white paper. That was different and using the paper is something I would like to add to their training. That way the class has the copy of what was discussed in each lesson. In America we hang the papers on the walls so you can see them. We were in a church that was only a roof. I commented that we could put the paper on the ground held down with rocks and they could still walk around and read the papers. It was still great to be there and have the information written so I could copy it and come back and learn the words and compare the lessons and the translation.

Lynn teaching ESL
A few weeks ago, I was able to sit in on my teammate, Lynn’s, ESL class (English as a Second Language). I was so impressed with the Turkana men and how they were struggling to say words in English, but they kept trying! They wrote down their lessons and were often reminded to speak English in the class and to each other. It sounded just like my teacher in Swahili classes, but in reverse. I also was reminded that song could be used as a great tool to help me learn. I had used many mnemonic devices in vet school and during my MPH to learn anything and everything and sometimes my classmates and I had resorted to songs. I think that was mostly after long hours of study when we were tired! But it all worked. Lynn had made a song about washing their clothes and I joked that she needed to make songs for me and she said, just do it yourself. That was a great idea, why hadn’t I thought of it sooner? Probably because my brain was so hot and overwhelmed that I could not even think of simple things some days. Anyway, I put my making chai series to song and it helped. It still needs some work, but now I can say “Etukulauni ayong ng’akipi!”  (I boil the water!) Almost without thinking about each syllable. Big WIN! Thanks Lynn for reminding me of the obvious things I could be doing.

My truck, the license begins KAT!
Driving: I am doing it! In a manual transmission hilux truck (always had smaller cars), in the sand (different) , sometimes in four wheel drive (scary), on the left side of the road (very different), sitting in the drivers seat on the right side of the vehicle (very, very different).  About 50% of the time I still walk to the left side to get in and drive and about 20% of the time I still turn on the windshield wipers when I try to signal a turn. Some days my win is just going to the “right” side of the car to get in and drive and getting it into every gear I want on the first try.

That first trip out to the CHE training, I drove part of the way with the help of one of our workers. He is very patient and a great teacher and I am thankful I was able to do that with his help. He had a great hand signal way to tell me to move to the left or right, slow down or go faster. He knew every bump, every turn and could spot a camel hiding behind a tree before it even stood up and ran right in front of me. At one point I thought I was doing ok and all of a sudden his hands were flying all over the place. I started to slow down and said “What does  that mean?”. He said “Not you, keep going.” He had started talking to the others with his hands and forgot he was using them to guide me.

That was a very rough trip, but this week I redeemed myself a little as I drove back out in my vehicle (much easier for me to handle) and the two people who had been with us on that first trip both said I was much better. Well, I really do not know how it could have been any worse! It was a huge win and this time I only almost got stuck in the sand 1 time, versus 2 times on the first trip. It is a tough drive and I was sore and mentally exhausted, but I felt great about the accomplishment.

Looking South, our houses are somewhere in the trees
Getting around town to shop: Lodwar is not a huge town, but it can be crowded and with road construction it can be a little difficult to get around. Again my teammate Lynn helped me, by letting me ride to town with her quite a few times. She even drew me a map,  so I could see where I was as she drove. She also introduced me to people at some of the main stores where we shop. Thanks again, Lynn. I have also learned that dropping her name can be a big help to break the ice if I go somewhere new. The shop owners are starting to recognize me and I am not just that mzungu mgeni (white visitor). I had only been to the gas station once before and on my second visit when I got out of the car the attendant called out “Apetet”. (That’s my Turkana name. It is a type of thorny tree.)

Traffic: Jams here are usually caused by sheep and goats. I had to stop in the middle of the bridge for a few minutes the other day while a herd passed. We have a small one lane bridge that vehicles share with piki’s (motorcycles) and has a separate walking lane that is always full of people. It carries us over the Turkwel River, since we live to the South and the shopping and business areas of Lodwar are to the North. I joked about getting away from the bridge problems in Louisville and now I have come to bridge problems here. In the past there have been demonstrations that shut the bridge and blocked our way to town. I do not think they have any “new bridge plans” pending, which is a little scary. However, just this week, they repaired the main road up to the bridge and into town and it is very nice. I asked one of the guys riding with me how long it would stay nice and he said “Maybe a month” then he thought again and said “Maybe a week”. Either way, its nice while it lasts and means I do not have to decide whether to drive on the tarmac and try to miss as many potholes as possible or to drive off the side of the road and try to miss the people trying to walk there. My big win yesterday was going to town without my map, getting everywhere I wanted on the first try and being able to park close to the front of the shops. 

Baby getting big, 9 days old
Veterinary Medicine: I got to play vet and it was great. I got 5 of our 6 animals vaccinated for Rabies. The one who really needs it is the feisty one who will take some more work and planning and maybe sedation. All 6 got dewormed. Bonnie, the cat I adopted from another missionary family, is doing great and has become very happy as a house cat. Nine days ago she had her kitten and it is her “Mini me”. I pronounced it a girl and began thinking about names, but just call her Baby now.  Bonnie is a good mama and very protective of Baby. She lets me pet her and pick her up briefly, but if I try to keep her, the kitten meows and Bonnie comes and takes her by the scruff back to their box. Luckily she adapted to my wishes and had the kitten in a box and they have been happy there. However, this week when we went to the bush for 2 days, my hope that she would stay in the box was not my reality. I had my housekeeper come check on them that first evening and she could not even find Bonnie. She came back the next day to clean as normal and Bonnie came out from under the big cupboard in the bathroom. When I got home I grabbed a flashlight and there was the kitten under the cupboard. I used a broom handle to scoot it out and did a thorough check and thought maybe I had misidentified the gender. I like boy cats better, but I think the poor little kitten just did not get as good of a rear end cleaning while stuck on that dirty floor under that cupboard for 2 days and is swollen and irritated. So I am trying to help with some ointment, but Bonnie is cleaning her better now, so it is hard to put anything on Baby’s poor little bottom. She has grown so much in just a week and she opened her eyes at 5 days of age, very early. I guess up here they have to grow quickly and thrive or they will not survive. This is Bonnie’s 3rd litter and none of her other kittens have survived. I will spay them both in a few months and keep them both. They match, how could I break up the set!

More new and different and Praises!

  • -       Figuring out which way to turn about 6 knobs to get water to fill my tanks (when it is on), Praise God for indoor plumbing and city water

  • -       Learning how to use the generator when the electric is off (they began about 3 weeks of repairs the day we arrived up here, of course), Praise God again for city electric, a generator, freezer refrigerator and air conditioner in the bedroom

  • -       Deciphering what temperature the oven is really at when 3 different thermometers all say something different, Praise God for the oven that works and the opportunity to buy a new thermometer in Nairobi next month

  • -        Learning a pattern to follow for filling the filtered water tank, then refilling all my jugs, bottles and the ice cube trays and not having to worry that I might have used the water from the tap, which is not potable. I can’t even tell you how many ice cube trays I refilled that first week, because I used the tap or just could not remember where I filled them, Praise God for learning the small things to make the day go smoother

  • -       Getting quicker at shopping and getting home with my goods, because it still takes extra time to clean the fruits and vegetables and even the dry goods and other items because they are too dirty and dusty to even put in the cupboard or refrigerator without a thorough cleaning first, Praise God for the variety of food and supplies that are available here and for the potato chips last week

  • -       Communicating better so that someone does not show up at my house at 8am for a meeting that I thought I scheduled at 2 pm (2 is hour 2 or 2 hours after the sun comes up or 8 am in Swahili and Turkana). I thought if I was speaking English when I said the time it would be understood to be the American time, but now I have been told I need to say the time and then point to where the sun will be to make sure we are all on the same page. Praise God for another opportunity to learn

Bonnie and one day old Baby
  • -       Learning that I need to say “Here puss, puss” (pronounce the “u” like the “oo” in boot) to call my cat, not “Here kitty, kitty” like in America and then having her save me from a small green gecko that was hiding in my cupboard. After screaming like I usually do when I encounter a gecko, Bonnie ran into the room growling, so I yelled “Get it puss” and she did and then she took it back to her baby in the box. Too bad Baby was only 3 days old and did not have her eyes open yet, but I think there was learning going on between them. Praise God for my reptile controlling and stress relieving cat and her beautiful, healthy, fuzzy kitten.

Ten years ago, I had my first ever taste of goat, when I was in Haiti. I remember it being not bad, just kind of different. Since my first goat lunch here I have eaten goat about 5 other times, including once in my samosas (a fried meat snack) when I thought it was beef, but turned out I was wrong.  I think I still like beef better, but that is because it is familiar and I know what to expect from it. Goat is new and different and I never know which part I will get or how to eat it.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of going to the home of one of our CHE facilitators for his new baby’s dedication. I had sat outside his home and visited with he and his wife and his 2 boys just last year when I came here on my vision trip. It is exciting to see how his boys have grown and to see his new baby girl. She is named “Faith” because he and his wife had faith that God would give them a girl. They did not know what they were having until she was born. The baby dedication is a very important part of the culture here, now she has been welcomed to the world by the church family and we have prayed over her, so she can be taken out into the world and they will soon begin to bring her to church. It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon, together with my new Turkana church family and friends. They are all very different from me and I am different and new to them also. However, our common bond of our love for God and Jesus makes all those differences just fade away.

By the way, I was lucky enough to get the scapula again yesterday, so I was a little more skilled at getting the meat off. This time it was the kidney and liver that I shared with someone else who appreciated it much more than I would have.

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