There I was, locked in the house. I was too exhausted to spend another day traveling around meeting with small business owners, so I needed to talk to the other Open Hands people and hopefully figure out a new plan. But time was running out and I had no way to get to the guest house where the others were staying.
For some reason the houses in Kenya are extremely secure. We’re talking bars on the windows, heavy bolts, and multiple layers of gates and high walls. Although Luke and Jamila’s house was just up the street from their guest house, getting from one to the other required passing through three bolted doors and three heavy gates.
(I was actually really confused by this, because Kenyans in general seemed way less violent than people in the USA. Of course I was only there for a couple weeks, but I never heard anyone so much as yell at another person. I couldn’t figure out if people were just paranoid, if crime had been far worse back when all the houses were built, or if Kenya is secretly more dangerous than it seems.)
Anyway, I wandered around the house trying to find another exit, but every exit was securely locked with a padlock. And even if I could have found a key, would the gates be unlocked?
The house was silent. Should I venture upstairs and try to wake someone up? That seemed like a sketchy thing to do.
Then Dad sent me a text. Since I was connected to Wi-Fi I was able to receive it. Can you handle another day today about like yesterday? If it gets too much for you I think I could figure out how to lessen it for you…. You are doing very well but I don’t want you to crash.
How sweet and considerate! I wrote back that no, I didn’t think I could handle another long day. But I couldn’t come over and discuss other options because I was locked in the house.
For a while I just sat there helplessly. Minutes ticked by. Then, finally, I heard a voice in the kitchen. Investigating, I saw Tirza, Jamila’s daughter. Once I’d told her the problem she went upstairs to fetch her father’s huge ring of keys, and let me through doors and gates one by one. In the fog of jet lag and time changes I’d completely forgotten that today was Saturday, the day when people typically sleep in.
I got to the guest house with about ten minutes to spare before our scheduled 8 am departure. But there was no need to panic. In my absence, everyone else had figured out a new plan. Gloria would take my place today, borrow my camera, and take photos and videos. I would go to one savings group and then after that, rest.
The group called themselves “Flower Women’s Group,” but ironically they were the first group I’d observed that had men in attendance. Apparently the group had done so well that the women’s husbands became interested in joining too.
Flower Women’s Group actually formed without the help of Open Hands. However, the group leader was a snake who would lie to the other group members and say that the bank was charging huge fees. Because of this dishonesty, the group was not doing well. That’s when they asked Open Hands for help. Sheila, the facilitator, came on board and began teaching about integrity and honesty, and I guess this made the previous group leader so uncomfortable that they left. The group elected new leadership and has been doing quite well.
It is not uncommon for Open Hands to partner with already-existing savings groups in this way, but they try to focus on starting new groups, as it can take a lot of energy and resources to untangle and fix the problems in an already-existing group.
Flower Women’s group was also interesting because there were a number of Muslims in the group. The savings’ group teaching is very Christian, and also Kenya is a very Christian country, so group members tend to be Christians. However, the Muslims in the group didn’t seem to mind the Christian teaching, seeing it as similar-enough to their own faith to be fine…belief in one God and all that.
After this the group split up. Jason, Gloria, Dad, and Ken took off in the rattly white van, while Bruce, Lyndon, Verlin, Bethany, Joe, and I piled into Bruce’s vehicle. They were going to drop me off back at the house, but then they asked me if I wanted to go to lunch first. “Sure,” I said. But then we had some time to fill before lunch, so we went to the souvenir shops.
Joe said that the souvenir shops might be a little intense, because tourism had gone way down during the pandemic. Overall it wasn’t too bad. It got a little overwhelming with a lot of people begging me to come look at their little shop, but most people were respectful. One man, though, would not stop harassing me–literally following me around begging me to buy a map of Kenya or an English-to-Swahili language book. I didn’t want either. I did feel bad for him…he probably was desperate for money. But I didn’t want to reward his behavior, especially since all the respectful people in the market probably needed the money just as badly.
I bought a few gifts and a pair of shoes. The shoes were kind-of an impulse–I saw this pair and thought they looked much more my style than anything you can buy in the USA. Later I was really glad for them, though, because the Kenyans like to dress nicely and I hadn’t really brought appropriate footwear.
Then we went to lunch. Lunch was amazing. We ordered meat for the whole table, and then we all ordered our own sides. I had chapatis and spinach.
Here’s the thing about Kenyan food. In general, it really agreed with me…more than most food, in fact. It was a lot of refined carbs, fried greens, various types of beans and lentils, and minimal meat. Everything was only mildly seasoned. My digestion loved it and my taste buds enjoyed it. But the one thing I could not enjoy was the meat, particularly the beef. It was very tough and full of gristle. I didn’t really get it. Maybe Kenyans enjoy the challenge like we enjoy beef jerky?
Another interesting thing about Kenya is the architecture and interior design. Check out that ceiling. Every ceiling in the USA seems boring by comparison. I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to look like the sky, but the shape of it baffled me. But Amy said that she’s seen similarly-shaped ceilings in Thailand, and she’s pretty sure it somehow keeps the room cooler.
When I agreed to go out to eat, I didn’t realize that it was actually a lunch meeting with a guy from Amish Mennonite Aid (AMA). So it did run a little long, and I was starting to get really tired. But presently we left, they dropped me off, and they went off to…not sure what.
Instead of resting at Luke and Jamila’s I went down to the completely empty guest house. Ah, perfect peace! Perfect silence! I had a glorious nap on the couch in Dad’s room.
After that, life slowed down for a bit. We mostly spent time as a group, eating, chatting, and forming all sorts of inside jokes. Lyndon and Joe were roommates and began bickering like an old married couple because Lyndon had a habit of giggling and giggling while Joe was trying to sleep. But this only seemed to happen when Lyndon took melatonin. The upside to the whole situation was that it was very entertaining for the rest of us, and it made Joe appreciate his wife even more, because apparently she’s not a midnight giggler.
Sunday morning we went to a Kenyan Beachy church, which is always an interesting experience. The church is not technically affiliated with Open Hands, but they have a working relationship. Basically, the idea of Open Hands began when Merle Burkholder was thinking about Anabaptist Financial. Through Anabaptist Financial, Mennonites in the USA were pooling their resources and providing business mentoring. He thought, why are these resources limited to Anabaptists in the USA, when we have so many Anabaptist churches overseas?
So when Open Hands was formed, they started by partnering with Anabaptist churches. Nakuru had several Beachy churches because AMA had been in that area for a while. Lyndon, who co-founded Open Hands with Merle, recruited some of the church members and began training them to be facilitators. One of those church members was Ken.
Although it began in the Anabaptist churches, it has expanded and now many of the facilitators have no Anabaptist affiliation. They are all Christians, however, as it is a faith-based organization. But as I noted before, group members are not required to be Christians, so long as they’re willing to put up with Christian teaching.
Church was a fairly basic Beachy Amish men-sit-on-one-side-women-on-the-other affair. Sunday School. A cappella singing. All that. Dad preached a really good (I thought) sermon about his accident, and trying to reconcile why God allows bad things to happen. His story really seemed to move people. There’s something about pain, suffering, and the emotions and questions that go along with pain and suffering that’s relatable across cultures.
Speaking of which, this was Dad’s first time traveling internationally since his accident. Several people have asked me how it went.
At this point, Dad has two disabilities. The first is his left arm. I don’t know how to describe the state of his arm, but in my head I call it a “withered arm.” You know how in the gospels, Jesus healed the man with the “withered hand?” Well, Dad’s arm looks like how I always imagined a withered hand to look, except it’s his whole arm. Looking at him, you can tell that something is wrong. The shape of his shoulder is off, and his arm dangles in an unnatural fashion. His movements with that arm are jerky and odd, like he’s using completely different muscles than one would typically use for the same movements.
Dad is still gaining skills in his left arm. Once he re-gained the ability to lift his arm chest-high, and the ability to pinch with his fingers, he was able to resume most activities. But he still fumbles quite a bit while doing certain fiddly tasks.
Dad’s other disability is his hearing. He has been deaf in his right ear since childhood, but his left ear has slowly deteriorated as well. Somehow the accident made his hearing significantly worse. He recently upgraded his hearing aids which has helped tremendously. However, he really struggles in places such as airports where there is a lot of background chatter. It was also difficult for him to understand the Kenyans, since their accent and speech patterns differ a fair amount from American accents and speech patterns.
Dad can get by, but part of the reason I came on this trip was to take on a sort-of helper role. Certain tasks require a lot of fumbling, like opening little plastic packages or getting files out of a briefcase, so it works better if I’m there to help out. I also did a lot of yelling into his ear. But if I ever do a trip like this again I’d like to see if I can find a little microphone that can connect directly to his Bluetooth hearing aids, so I can talk to him in crowded airports by just talking into the microphone.
I wonder how the lady at the check-in counter would react if I was just like, “hey, talk into this tiny microphone please.” Haha
The highlight of my Sunday was in the late afternoon when we all went to Ken’s house for a snack. This was the only time on the trip when I was inside a Kenyan’s home as a guest. Of course some of the savings groups were held in homes, but I wasn’t quite a “guest” in the traditional sense.
Monday morning was also very laid back…at least for me. Other people in our group had a lot of stuff to do, including Covid tests for their upcoming journeys back to the states, and a shopping trip, but I had nothing scheduled until mid-afternoon. I spent the morning hanging out with Jamila and her daughters and some other local missionary ladies who came over for brunch. That was nice actually, because I’d spent so much time running around with the rest of my travel companions that I hadn’t had much time to get to know my hosts. I especially had a really good talk with Jamila’s oldest daughter, Tirza. Wait and see, Tirza is going to do amazing things in this world.
It’s really good that I got this time of rest, because the last half of Monday and all of Tuesday were go-go-go. But I’ll tell you all about that in my next post.
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