Saturday, July 08, 2006
Travel ... Maasai ... home!
I have quite a lot to write again as it has been so long since I posted a travelogue. If I were you, I would run it off, pretend it was a book, and read it before you go to sleep. :)
I flew from Nairobi on Wednesday. It is a 17 hour trip; however, I sat on three airplanes that weren't moving for an extra 3 1/2 hours. With the lack of sleep, yesterday everything struck me as funny. Today I ran a few errands. I went into Sam's to have film developed. I looked at the huge TVs, computers, etc. Then I sat in the car and looked at film of children who don't have shoes or enough food - and cried! I do want to go ahead and write the news of the last several days I spent in Uganda and Kenya. I will be writing from my journal.
The Kenyan border town is a 'happening' all by itself! It is swarming with trucks, cars, people, buses, bicycles, vendors pushing carts, cows, goats, dirt - more dirt, wooden slat wheelbarrows, and yellow water jugs.
My first job when crossing the border was to check in at the immigration office to obtain that 'must have' visa for a donation of $30. The man sitting behind the barred window wanted to know when I would leave Kenya. I replied that I would catch an airplane on the 5th of July. A mischievous look came across his face, and he told me I had better not be in Kenya on the 6th or the police would come to arrest me and put me in jail. I laughed and told him I hoped they did. In fact, I hoped they would beat me and put me in chains also, as it would make good stories for my grandchildren. :)
His face broke into a huge smile, and he started laughing. He then charged me only $20, and when I checked my visa it was for three months.
Wilberforce and I had to wait about two hours at the bus stop. It does have a porch with a roof and benches. Now, it wouldn't be a newsletter (at least one from me) without a toilet story! I knew I would be getting on the bus for approximately a seven hour ride; therefore, I decided I had better find a toilet. I asked the nice man at the bus depot where I should go. He replied there was a toilet in back of the station. I trekked around following a stream that look suspiciously like toilet water/waste. As I arrived in the back, some people cooking with charcoal burners asked for a $1.00 to go to the toilet. I didn't have any Kenyan schillings, so I started unbuckling my trousers and told them I was going to use it there where they were cooking. Their startled look was worth a million. They were quite happy for me to proceed to the toilets for free.
There they stood in front of me: door one, door two, and door three all in a row. The dark green toilet doors all were secured with locks! As I started to leave to obtain a key, a man came rushing past me holding the 'prize' key in his hand. I reached for it but he kept heading for the door! "Five minutes," he said, rubbing his stomach. Ten minutes later he finally made his way out the door. I again reached for the key, but he shook his head and pointed to the door he had left open. You guessed it! The man had a severe case of the big 'D'! Due to a lack of toilet paper, he had used massive amounts of newspaper to clean himself in the tiny room.
Door number three was definitely not the 'lucky' door! Oh my! I rolled up my pant legs, went in, looked at the squat pot (which wasn't a flush toilet) and tried to have an out-of-body experience, imagining I was at home in my bathroom. It doesn't really work, but at times like this, you have to try. :):) Lindy, Donita, and I did once use an almost comparable toilet at the Polish border, but this might be the grand prize winner! I just hate I didn't have anyone with which to share this delightful experience. :)
The bus finally came, and the man at the depot yelled that it was our bus. Truly, the bus didn't stop, and Wilber and I had to circle to the other side, run beside it and make a flying leap! Then the crazy man stopped a couple minutes later and made everyone get off. We had to form a women's and men's line so he could check out tickets! Very strange!
As we traveled, I read in the Ugandan newspaper that 6,000 babies are born each year with HIV, which probably means many, many more, as those in the villages probably wouldn't be counted. Another news item: 90% of girls going for water down rural roads near villages are raped in Uganda. Too hard to think about ... .
While we were riding, I was relaying the news of my bus ride from Jinja to Mbale to Wilberforce. He was amazed. He said God had to be truly protecting me. It seems it is safer to catch a bus from the road in Kampala or Mbale than at Jinja. Wilber said that many times when they yell the name of a town like Mbale, it simply means they are traveling that direction. They then veer off into small villages, and at times you even have to vacate the bus and find a different transport. He said at times women have even disappeared off the bus. I told him the speed the bus had been going in km, which he said was between 75 and 80 mph. Dirt and partially tarmac roads teeming with every type of vehicle and life are definitely not intended for such use! So, once again God (and my overworked angels) kept me safe! In Nairobi, I was told that if van drivers are fortunate enough to have a Muzungu as a passenger, they put him/her in the front seat as their chances are much better at not being stopped at police checks.
Our bus to Kenya was a larger bus, though not Greyhound size. Kenya has high hills. We would go up the hills and then turn into a roller coaster coming down without using brakes! We passed one huge truck lying on its side. People were emptying its cargo and placing it in a different truck. Just a few minutes later, to our horror, the 18-wheeler in front of us lost control on a hill and plunged cab down over the side. Smoke bellowed upward. Somehow it stopped before going all the way to the bottom, perhaps because of trees, I could only pray that somehow the driver survived.
Kenyan countryside is lush and green. One spots many circular thatch-roofed huts along the sides. There are many donkeys pulling wooden carts. On the carts are various items, but one item which one sees often is big, blue, barrels that contain water. The person 'driving' sits on top of the barrel and controls the donkeys.
At times, we were driving over what would seem more like a dry, rock creek bed! I wasn't sure what qualified it to be a road! Twice we stopped and women swarmed on the bus with cabbages, carrots, etc. trying to sell their produce. This was a first for me. Usually people swarm the outside of the bus.
We arrived in Nairobi after dark. A Massai pastor, Peter, his driver, and a funny, skinny little man, Isaiah Kool, met us at the bus station. We then headed for Maasai land, which is approximately an hour or longer trip. As we journeyed in the pitch black, our car lights shone on a huge sign that said: 'Steep escarpment' - with an arrow pointing downward. We passed three or four trucks that were barely traveling, hitting their brakes constantly as they started down from the high hill. We passed them and started down. It was so dark it seemed we were in a tunnel with no light.
All of a sudden - our car lights went out and the car died! I admit - this happening was about one to many for me! I knew if the truck behind us arrived quickly, we would be pushed over the side. I debated whether it was better to jump out and head for the side of the road away from the edge or stay in the car and take my chances. I decided to get out. The Maasai men hopped out, threw up the hood, and started tightening things by flashlight. Soon, we had lights and our journey continued before the first truck arrived Whew!
We eventually left the road turning onto a dirt path/road that runs through bush country. We drove for miles, miles, and more miles in the dark. I finally joked to Wilber that perhaps they were really taking us out in the middle of the bush to sacrifice us. I was thinking there was no chance of showers or toilets!
I should stop and provide information about Peter, as well as the Maasai. You can tell Maasais because of the holes in their ears. Most have low hanging ear lobes with big holes or decorations. Also, when they are about seven or eight, two teeth are extracted in front. Since they don't have hospitals available, the 'holes' serve as places people can be fed when they are sick.
Peter is a true Massai warrior. After young men become of age, they are circumcised and sent to live in caves as warriors for four years. There they steal cattle, sometimes eat raw meat, drink milk and blood mixed, and each tries to kill a lion, which the pastor did with a spear. Peter has never been to school, even though he is self-educated, speaking and reading three languages! Even now only about 1/4 - 1/2 of Maasai children go to school.
Sometime after becoming a warrior, an evangelist came and Peter heard the gospel. Eventually when he became a Christian, he returned to the cave. There he spent 21 days with only water, praying and committing his life to Christ. He is quite a guy! He and Mary are probably in their mid-thirties and have two young children.
After the endless miles, we hit paved road again and arrived at a gated community called Pipeline! It seems a Kenyan pipeline company has a base in the middle of Maasai land. Those who work for them are allowed to rent a 'townhouse,' with the company paying their utility bills, as it is considered a hardship assignment. Because Peter and Mary pastor a church within the compound, they also have a small townhouse for their use.
Wilber and I were given rooms in different townhouses that were rented by people who attend Peter's church. It was hard to believe, but the homes had hot water, electricity, and regular toilets! Amazing! Not only that, the company provides a 'dish' so they have television reception in the bush! Our first night we watched gospel music at the White House with George and Laura Bush! Who would think?!
Once out of the compound, one sees a totally opposite side of life. On Saturday, July 1st, we traveled back through the bush to Namuncha Primary School, which is located - as we would say - in the middle of nowhere. It is a long rectangular building built of old lumber and tin with just openings for doors and windows. Peter had arranged a two-day ministry seminar in which he would preach first, followed by more singing. Wilber would then be the guest speaker.
Quickly after we arrived, Peter was off walking into the countryside letting people know we were ready to start the meeting. Soon they started entering the room with their bright wraps, huge beaded necklaces, and bead work through the holes in their ears. Most of the men had long hanging earlobes with huge holes; however, some of the men fold their ears. Soon the room became crowded as people arrived.
The service: Oh how I wish I could share the sight and the sounds through the computer. The people sang loudly in their Maasai language with one leading and the others repeating the phrase. The beautiful sound seemed to bounce off the walls and vibrate skyward! I just wanted to absorb it, absorb it, absorb it into my mind and heart so I could recapture it over time.
They not only sang worship songs, they danced. At one time, it looked like a Texas line dance. Soon everyone in the room was dancing and praising God, many with their hands lifted. What an amazing sight - Maasai men and women in their traditional garments and beadwork dancing before Him. Wow! Wow! Wow!
Next, Pastor Peter preached in Maasai language while a young man translated into Swahili. However, the fact that I could not understand either did not matter at all! Peter reminded me of the stories of the old-time preachers who preached the 'fire down from heaven'! He bent over, squatted down, stretched upward, threw his arms in every direction, kicked up his legs, shook, and shimmied! I can't even begin to properly describe his body which became a part of his sermon! He was quiet, loud, funny, and serious! I sat in awe at the power that came from God through this Maasai young man!
Later, we had more wonderful singing, and then Wilberforce preached. For those who haven't heard Wilber preach, you have missed something! He is an absolutely outstanding minister! Every time I hear him, my heart is touched and I gain a new understanding of scripture. That day, even for a person who doesn't sit still well, it was such a pleasure to once again hear Wilber, and also listen as Peter shared.
By the end of the service, I didn't just think I had been to church - I KNEW I had been to church! What an experience!
Early Sunday morning as we had breakfast with Peter and Mary, a Billy Graham crusade, when he was much younger, was playing. George Beverly Shea was singing a truly old song, 'I'd Rather Have Jesus (than anything).' My father, Jim Harris, died at age 30, but I remember hearing him singing that song. The last time I heard it was at the opening of Namirembe Laurel Library in Kampala where it was blaring over the speakers as we made our way to cut the ribbon. How awesome! After all these years of not hearing the song, I have now heard it in Uganda and Kenya!
We drove back through bush country to the site of the school once more. As we arrived and looked out over the bush, we couldn't see any homes. The Maasai homes of cow dung, mud, and water, are built so low that they can not be easily spotted.
There were many people already gathered under a tree. The crowd was so large it would not fit in any of the rooms in the school, so we had church outside. Some people sat on benches that had been taken from classrooms; others sat on the ground. A person began playing a drum in the service. The drum looked like a tambourine, with the lady using a stick on one side and her hand on the opposite.
Soon everyone was standing and singing. The majority of the group moved to the center, and the dancing began. They danced in unison out into the bush one direction, turned, and as a group returned to the center, and then off into the bush a different direction, singing as they went! Many of the Maasai men, including the pastor, were moving their necks/heads downward, backward, and forward, as is unique to the Maasi people, with some doing throat-singing as they sang and danced. All of the men had long sticks (in case they ran into animals in the bush) and some had huge knives. Lines of people continued appearing from various directions.
A children's choir of eight moved to the center to sing and dance. We had met one of the young girls previous to the service. She had on a headband designating that she would soon be married. Recently she had been circumcised and her parents had assigned her a husband. She knew the home in which she would live, but didn't know who her husband would be, or whether he would be old or young. The girl was very shy and couldn't have been over 13.
The children have tattered clothing and dirt covering them from their head to their feet. It is the first time I have seen African children with flies crawling in their eyes and noses, in which they didn't try to swat them away.
The service lasted until 4:00 in the afternoon! We heard three small choirs, which was wonderful. The 'kukooyus' (written as it sounds) own land next to the Maasai. Both tribes attended the service, each having people sing. I will always treasure each minute of the day - so inspiring!
Monday we went to visit schools. We visited Najile Primary and Najile Secondary School, plus Ewauso Kedong Primary. The buildings were made of stone. The primary schools had 300 and 700 students. The secondary had 260 students. The classes have an average of 50 students per class. The government provides teachers, but not enough, so they charge parents for extra teachers. School has been free since 2003, but the students are expected to provide paper, uniforms, etc. The ages in a class can range from 8 to ? :), as Maasai in the past haven't attended school, and now some are starting to attend. Isaiah said he only attended elementary school. He started for school in the dark and walked for a couple hours each morning through the bush.
The administrators would very much like to have libraries in the ten Maasi schools. Now that's a unique concept, isn't it? A people who just recently began the process of schooling their children - being provided thousands of books to speed the process! Think on that! :)
There is a small town, Ewauso, in the heart of Maasai land. People arrive there once a week on foot, piled into huge trucks, and driving cows and goats, etc. It is market day in Ewauso! People spread out blankets on the ground and the place comes alive with the many items being sold. We were fortunate to visit Ewauso on the right day and enjoyed the sight of the Maasai selling items around town.
Wilber and I traveled on to Nairobi and stayed at a pastor's home that he preached in last year. He spoke Tuesday night at a prayer service at the church. I tried to fade into the woodwork as I had on a filthy pair of jeans and not one clean piece of clothing to wear. Unfortunately, the assistant pastor thought he was being nice and called me to the front to greet those in the service!
There probably aren't words to sum up the trip. Each time I go I wonder if my life will be touched and changed again. Each trip - it is! How could it not be?
For next summer, we are discussing five projects, which we will share more about later. If you would like some adventure in your life, as well as the most rewarding experience ever, consider joining us!
If we decide to tackle five projects, we will need several volunteers. We will be staying with the missionaries in Kampala most of the time, so you will have clean, modern facilities. You will be with the group and transportation will be provided by the Herb and Ellen, our missionary friends. If anyone feels really brave, you could even stay on longer and keep me company! Of course, my daughter Kim would once again say, "Mom, you're crazy! You tell them the things that happen to you when you are there alone and then ask them if they want to travel with you!" Funny!
We are looking at ways to spend the time we have free such as fishing in the Nile once again, spending a night at chimp island so we can actually play with the baby chimps, perhaps taking a trek to see the mountain gorillas, a game drive through Murchison Falls Park, missions work, and/ or ... ? I must tell you though, it is the children that will make every minute of your trip worthwhile! Once you see their eyes and smiles, you will be so grateful that you decided to make the journey!
Once again, thanks for taking time to read these long journal notes. Because I wrote the notes in the present, tried to type them in past tense, was always in a scrunch for electricity, and had to pay by the minute, I'm sure at times it was difficult to follow.
To God be the Glory: amirembe, namirembe, ameana. Until next year ... .