Monday, December 05, 2005

Kenya Email Update #12

I’m alive!

So that should put to rest any doubts you might have. I haven’t been shot, poisoned, thrown off a cliff or, despite the popular rumor, eaten by a camel.

But I have just returned from an exhausting, arduous and absurdly uncomfortable two week trip to the desert. We visited desert villages and experienced missionary life in one of the most hostile environments on earth. Being eaten by a camel would have been a lot more fun. But whatever the difficulties, I made it through and lived to tell the tale. Here’s what happened…

On November 18th, we took a bus to the desert city of Garissa. As we rolled along, the same thought kept running through my head. “What have I done?” Because of my insistence on experiencing village life before leaving Kenya, I was doomed to live for two weeks in a place that makes hell seem chilly. A place so hot that flies sit panting on the wall after flying across the room.

Traveling with me was Boniface, a Nairobi University student. He was part of Mavuno’s first Foundations Class, and the only person brave (or crazy) enough to come along. At one point during the bus ride, I noticed that we both wore the same expression of hopelessness and despair. I would have felt really guilty for bringing him if I wasn’t so distracted by the pain in my stomach.

That’s right. I was sick. For two whole days before leaving, I had been lying on my bed reliving the wonderful intestinal infection I had enjoyed back in February. Now, as the bus flew over speed bumps and swerved to miss goats on the road, I wondered if I had made a mistake in coming.

After six hours of travel, we arrived in Garissa. The first thing I noticed after stepping off the bus was how filthy the city is. The roads are literally paved with trash. Well, trash and cow dung. It’s funny. Because there is absolutely no grass, the cows and goats wandering the city eat whatever they can find. Trees, bamboo, tomatoes… I saw one cow chewing on a plastic bag.

This is where we spent the first four days. We lived with a Kenyan pastor who is trying to make headway in the thoroughly Muslim community (there are over one hundred mosques in Garissa alone!). He was supposed to take us around and orient us to the culture of the place. Which is what he did… I guess.

You see, the pace of life is so slow there that we spent most of our time sitting around, fanning ourselves and staring off into space. For example, one day’s schedule was “At seven, we’ll eat breakfast. Then, in the afternoon, we’ll visit a man who lives down the street.” Yeah. That was it. A full day.

Every hour felt like a day. Every day felt like a week. With the heat, the sickness and the boredom, I was miserable. We had no running water or electricity, and the only toilets were holes in the ground. Each night I woke up five or six times bathed in sweat with mosquitoes buzzing around my head, the useless mosquito net (with several large holes in it) stuck to my skin and my “pillow” (a rolled up Massai blanket) soaked through with sweat.

After four endless days of misery, we finally traveled to a nearby village called Madogo. We spent six days there, living in a Kenyan missionary training school. The weather was a bit cooler and my sickness had finally abated, but there was still very little to do. I spent so much time daydreaming about home that eventually I ran out of stuff to think about. So I started re-runs of my daydreams. It was that bad.

After staying for about a week in Madogo, we prepared to travel to Mulanjo, a small village 10 miles into the bush. We were going to be taking a flat-bed Land Rover that makes the journey once a day. When the vehicle pulled up to the stage, I was a bit confused. You see, it was already full. Bags of maize, boxes of supplies and two hundred jerry cans roped onto the back…

Imagine my surprise when everyone sitting around us began scrambling onto the top for a seat. We climbed up ourselves, trying to settle in among the other passengers. Boniface was sitting on a rail, holding on for dear life, and I was leaning off the back, hoping the jerry cans would support my weight. A man was sitting on my lap. In total, there were 23 people miraculously seated on the top! That doesn’t even include the 5 people sitting in the front seat. It was insane.

After about thirty minutes of re-shuffling and settling in, we finally started to roll. And then, the most ironic thing happened. In a place that gets rain a few days every year, it started to pour. Yeah. A heavy shower in the middle of the desert. And we were sitting on top of a Land Rover. Of course, the problem wasn’t getting wet. It was the fact that now, the road was one giant stretch of mud and wet sand. We got stuck at least six times, requiring all of us to jump out and push. Talk about cruel irony!

After two hours, we arrived in Mulanjo soaking wet and exhausted. Luckily, the following four days were not nearly as long or boring as the ones before. I mean, we still sat around a ton, but we were getting really good at it by that point. Plus, the couple we stayed with had an adorable baby girl that kept us entertained.

The day before we were to leave, the Land Rover never came. Of course, Boniface and I started picturing another week spent in the desert, desperately waiting for a vehicle back to civilization. That wasn’t exactly our idea of a good time. So, when I jokingly said “You wanna walk back?”, and when Boniface replied “Yes,” we knew what we were going to do.

We set off at 6:30am the following morning. Walking back to Madogo. As I mentioned before, it’s a little more than 10 miles… through the desert. But we weren’t dismayed by the distance, or the heat, or the sand. We were headed home. And that’s all that mattered. After four and a half hours, we arrived. All that was left was one more night and a bus ride back to Nairobi. We had come to the end of our journey.

Three days later, I’m wondering if it was real, or all just a dream. I’m surrounded by wonderful luxuries like electricity and real toilets. It’s hard to imagine that one week ago I was sitting on a mat under the stars, eating ugali with my hands…

I can’t help but stare at the calendar in disbelief. In less than two weeks, I’m leaving Kenya. This incredible year of spiritual growth is drawing to a close. In a way, I feel like enduring the desert somehow earned me the right to go home. It was like a final exam for all the things I learned this year. Well, I passed the exam. Now I’m gearing up for my return…

I want to thank all of you who stuck with me through this experience. The year has honestly flown by. It has been amazing to know that so many people were praying for me through it all. Thanks for reading my updates and writing me emails. Thanks for taking care of my family while I was away. And thanks for not selling all my stuff to a pawn shop.


See you in 13 days!


p.s. While I was gone, I grew a beard. When I got back and finally saw myself in a mirror, I shaved it off immediately. I looked like a serial killer. :)