Some of you have been wondering where Steven disappeared in the narrative. Although I talked about him in my first post, he was mostly absent from part 2, part 3, and part 4. That’s because when we arrived in Nakuru, where the East African headquarters of Open Hands is located, Steven went on to Kisumu. He sent an occasional text about what he was up to, but we didn’t communicate a great deal.
On Tuesday December 7, Dad and I finished up our Open Hands work and took a taxi over to Kisumu to be with Steven. We walked into the AMA compound and there he was! Over a late supper at my old friend Abigail’s house, we talked about our plans for the following day.
I have an internet friend named Mactilda, the “Mother of Many.” Mactilda is a Kenyan woman who cares for many children who need a home. When she heard that I was coming to Kenya, she wondered if I would come visit her and her children. She lives a few hours north of Kisumu, but Steven had agreed to make the journey with me, so I’d told her we’d come.
Now, however, Steven had a different plan for our one full day in Kisumu. Even though he’d been in Kisumu for five days, he’d had enough SIM card issues and such that he’d only just now made contact with his old friend Christopher. Christopher wanted to meet up the next morning for an hour. Meanwhile, Dad had connected with our old friend Vincent, who wanted to have us over to his home. So we formed a tentative plan: Steven and I would go see Christopher in the morning for an hour, then go up to see Mactilda, spend the early afternoon there, come back, and go see Vincent in the evening.
I was pretty worried though. I could feel that I was over-exhausted, but I didn’t want to cancel plans with anyone.
Well, when I woke up the next morning I felt terrible. I was sick on my stomach and my body was so tired. I knew there was no way I could make a four hour journey and visit multiple people. No way. So I had to cancel on Mactilda, and she and her children were very disappointed. I was going to cancel on Christopher too, but Steven said, “come on, it’s only an hour,” and I agreed that I could probably survive for an hour.
In the end, I was very glad I went, even though I didn’t feel well.
For context, here’s a bit of Steven’s story: As a very small boy, he got lost and was never able to find his family again. He ended up bouncing around multiple children’s homes in the Kisumu area and spending some time on the streets. Eventually he ended up at a home for street boys called “Into Africa.” This home was run by an American couple named Rick and Audrey, and my family volunteered there for several months in 2003/2004. We met Steven there and ended up adopting him later in 2004, when he was about ten years old. At the time we tried pretty hard to find his birth family, but were unsuccessful.
In early 2011, when Steven was 16, we made a short trip back to Kenya to visit. None of us have returned since, until this trip.
Christopher was one of the other Into Africa boys, and now he owns a piece of land where he cares for I think six street boys.
I thought this was the most darling house ever. Christopher is in the process of building it so that Audrey will have a place to stay if she comes back. She had planned a trip, but it got canceled due to COVID, and now he doesn’t know if she’s coming or not. However, if she doesn’t end up using it, he plans to turn it into a school. The living room area will be the main classroom. There are two very small rooms in the house; one of them will be a library, and the other will be a room where the boys can learn tailoring. The master bedroom will be used as a computer room.
It was quite the place. Christopher and the boys really took advantage of all their space, raising dogs to sell, chickens, goats, planting fruit trees, and growing a garden.
Steven and Christopher had so much catching up to do. They talked about all the other Into Africa boys, and Christopher brought Steven up to speed on how they were doing. Some of the stories were really sad, and an alarming number of Steven’s buddies had died in some sort of accident or another. But there were some wonderful, hopeful stories. A lot of the boys had stuck together and helped each other get educated and trained in various careers.
Christopher was so disappointed that we were leaving the next day. He wanted to organize a proper reunion, and he wanted Steven to meet the boys he was caring for, who were currently at school. So Steven and Dad agreed to come back that evening, and see if they could visit Vincent in the afternoon instead. I said I might come too if I felt better. As it was, the bright hot sun was making my nausea even worse, and Steven, noticing my discomfort, said we’d better go.
I spent the rest of the afternoon resting in bed, sleeping off and on, and sipping tea when I was awake.
I didn’t feel well enough to go visit Vincent with Dad and Steven, but by the time evening rolled around I felt well enough to go back to Christopher’s house. This time, we went into the unfinished house and sat in what would become the living room/school room. Christopher had rounded up an impressive number of people, including some other former Into Africa boys and the boys he was currently caring for. We sipped sodas and everyone talked about what they were doing in life.
I discovered something then. Something that felt like a miracle.
To tell this story properly, I have to back up a little. When we flew from Amsterdam to Nairobi, Steven sat in front of me, next to a young woman and her mother who were ethnically Kenyan but hadn’t been back to Kenya in a long time. This young woman asked Steven, “how long has it been since you’ve been home?”
And I wondered, how long has it been since someone referred to Kenya as your “home?”
As a child, having an adopted sibling didn’t feel any different than having a biological sibling. As an adult, I started to realize that there was a difference. My other siblings had one home, but Steven had two. He would never fully belong to me because he also belongs there. And I began to wish so desperately that Steven could have family in Kenya too. Maybe, by some miracle, we could find his birth family.
Our God is a God of miracles, and maybe someday Steven will find his biological family in Kenya. But as I sat in that room, sipping soda and watching Steven chat with the other Into Africa boys, it dawned on me that Steven does have family in Kenya.
“You are our brother,” they told him, and I felt so stupid that I’d never realized this before. The Into Africa boys were not boys who had no family, they were boys who formed their own family, with each other. And Steven was, and always would be, their brother.
I knew, then, that they have a claim on him too, and I have to share him. I don’t know what God has in mind for Steven’s life, but I know he will visit Kenya again, maybe even move there. And I couldn’t be happier for him. I can’t describe how it feels as a sister to see your brother belong and have family, even if it’s not with you. It is wonderful. Maybe this is silly and sentimental, but to me, it felt like a miracle.
The next morning I was sick to my stomach again, although I’d rested enough that I was a little more functional than I’d been the day before. Abigail and I went shopping for some gifts for Mactilda and her children, since I wasn’t able to visit her. We took motorcycle taxis, which cost about 50 cents a ride. That was wonderful. Honestly, the breeze in my face made me feel a lot better.
By 10 am, we’d bought everything I wanted to send. Mactilda had a son who went to university just across the street from the place we’d bought the gifts, and he was going to get out of class at 11, at which point we’d meet up. But we had an hour to kill before then. Abigail wanted to go back to the AMA compound and then come back.
“Maybe I’ll just wait here,” I said. “Did you say there’s a Java House in this building?”
“Yes,” said Abigail, and we went upstairs to the Java House.
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Is that a Mennonite girl over there?” I wasn’t 100% sure at first, because many Kenyan women wear head coverings and skirts, but this one looked distinctly Beachy.
“Oh, it’s Hadassah!” said Abigail.
I ended up hanging out with Hadassah for an hour while Abigail went back to the compound, which was awesome because I wanted to know more about her and how her story parallels Steven’s.
Really, the parallels are astounding. Hadassah is ten years younger than Steven, but they were both adopted from the Kisumu area, in 2004, by Mennonite families. Hadassah was an infant whose birth mother died in childbirth and whose father, since he couldn’t take care of her, asked the local Mennonites to adopt her. Steven and Hadassah were adopted within four months of each other.
Both of them felt an urge to go back to Kenya and re-connect with their families (her with her birth family, Steven with his Into Africa family,) but ran into a lot of issues along the way. Even when it came down to this particular trip, they both ran into visa issues that forced them to delay their trip by several days. Then they both arrived in Kisumu at the same time, seventeen years after their adoptions.
Steven had hung out with Hadassah some during his time in Kisumu, but with my health issues and the short nature of my time in Kisumu, I didn’t think I’d be able to. But here was an hour with Hadassah, dropped into my lap like a gift. We discussed writing, her story, her family, all kinds of stuff.
After a while Mactilda’s son showed up, I handed over the gifts, and Hadassah and I took motorcycle taxis back to the AMA compound.
At this point Dad, Steven and I packed up all our things and then went to a lakeside fish restaurant with Abigail and her husband and children. The plan was to eat lunch, head to the airport, and fly to Mombasa. Yes, I know, we were all over the place on this trip. But one of Steven’s closest Into Africa brothers lived in Mombasa. Besides, Steven had always dreamed of visiting the Kenyan coast.
At the restaurant, I didn’t know how I could possibly eat with my stomach so queasy. But I ordered my favorite Kenyan Soda, bitter lemon Krest, and that settled my stomach somewhat. So thankfully I felt well enough to eat most of the fish because I’m pretty sure it was the most delicious thing I’d eaten yet in Kenya. It was so good.
I eventually figured out that my stomach issues were due to the water. In Nakuru, I drank exclusively bottled water, and I did fine. In Kisumu I was drinking filtered water instead of bottled water, and apparently my delicate stomach can tell a difference. I actually had this same problem when I visited Thailand. I hate drinking bottled water all the time because it feels wasteful–I feel guilty every time I throw out a plastic bottle. But what can you do?
Anticipating stomach issues, I brought activated charcoal along on this trip. But I still struggled, especially in the heat of the Kisumu airport that afternoon. I did better on the flights, because the cabin air was cool, but Mombasa was the hottest town yet and I woke up in the middle of the night feeling horrible. Just horrible.
Now this may sound weird, but I can’t stand taking pills that are in those little plastic capsules. I can feel them sitting in my esophagus, and they hurt. It doesn’t matter how much water I drink nor how much bread I eat, it doesn’t help. So I avoid them whenever I can. I usually open up activated charcoal pills, dump the black powder into a cup of water, and guzzle it down. The texture is weird but it’s tasteless.
But in my midnight nausea, I didn’t have a cup to dump the powder into. All I had was a water bottle about 1/4th full, and I didn’t want to waste the rest of my water by dumping charcoal into it. So I tried opening the capsules directly into my mouth.
You should try this sometimes. It’s harder than it looks, especially when you’re disoriented by fatigue and nausea. I aimed correctly on the first pill, but with the second pill, I dumped charcoal all over my pajamas.
By “pajamas” I mean my swim trunks and a t-shirt, because I like to pack light. I brushed at my clothing, but the charcoal just smeared. Welp. I didn’t want to smear the sheets with charcoal, because that seemed weird. So I changed into my above-the-knee leggings and a different t-shirt. “I’ll deal with the mess tomorrow,” I thought.
The mess ended up being a bit more complicated than I’d anticipated. My stomach, however, filled as it was with charcoal and exclusively bottled water, was fine from then on.
As to the rest of our adventures in Mombasa and our journey home, that will be in the sixth and final installment of this Kenya series, coming soon.
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