Thursday, November 18, 2010

Alone in the Crowd

On my walk home from work today, I noticed a strange site on the opposite side of the street.  There was a man laying face down on the sidewalk.  This is on a busy sidewalk flanked by a highway and a local street where thousands of people walk daily to get on buses and matatus (minibuses) to get all over the city.  He was already on the ground when I first spotted him, so there must have been at least a hundred people that walked around him on this small sidewalk before someone started staring at him from a distance.  I walked across the street, crouched down and asked “are you ok?”  He responded in Swahili, and I quickly realized I was not going to be very helpful to him. 

It seemed as if he was having a seizure and was convulsing on the ground while staring at a small brown paper bag.  The man staring at a distance crouched down next to me and took some pills out of the bag to show to our patient.  More mumbled talking commenced before the man took two pills and delicately placed them in his mouth.  Then, he and another man in the growing crowd around us picked the fallen man up and sat him down on a small burm next to the sidewalk.  Seeing as my usefulness in the situation as a flag-raiser was over, I left the crowd of thirty people and a taxi that had stopped to ask about our patient.  He seemed to be ok now that he was not prostrate.

Sometimes I feel like I need someone to ask “are you ok?” even if it is in the wrong language.  This morning, the first thing my coworker, Michael, said to me when I came into the office was, “You look tired.”  He didn’t exactly ask if I was ok, but it was assumed that I would explain my new look.  I didn’t even realize I felt tired, let alone looked it.  I told him I had been up late reading a book and would wake up soon.  As the day drug on though, I realized I was tired.  I was also distracted from every task I tried to accomplish.  I started working on all five articles I am writing about various programs at Church World Service for the East Africa Review that I am publishing in January.  I kept floating from one subject to the next to feel busy, but I wasn’t getting anywhere.  I looked up and another of my coworkers who had arrived late asked why I looked so tired.  Do I really look that bad?

After a little more squirming through information on my computer, I decided these warning signs couldn’t be ignored.  I needed to do something about this tiredness!  I bolted out of the office in search of a future running path on our compound.  I have been looking for some regular source of exercise since arriving in Kenya, but nothing has really stuck with me.  You can’t really run on the streets during the day and there are no parks or affordable gyms near my apartment.  I walked past a flock of kindergartener sized, ugly-headed, long beaked birds that were milling in the trash pile at the back of the office compound.  Some flew away when I walked by which was a bit startling because their huge wings made a really loud flapping noise as they ascended into a neighboring tree.  Figuring out that there was no good place to run at my office was just the first in a string of events that I undertook today to establish more concrete “self care” strategies for my year here. 

My fellow YAV, Michael and I discussed how after going to the same church for two months, it still feels like we are visitors.  We are still getting to know the friends we have met there, we are still getting used to making the journey to the church early Sunday morning, and we are still trying to pay attention to the 45 minute sermons that accompany the wonderful half hour of praise music we are trying to learn.  What is hard to realize is that we really are still visitors in this country.  We are still new immigrants to a place that demands to be treated differently than the places we came from.  There are many things that I still haven’t done successfully on a regular basis: buying affordable groceries at the market in the nearby slum, exercising, washing clothes to name a few.  I still don’t have a regular routine. 

I am glad I am not alone here.  I have friends from work and church, my group of young adult volunteers, and other people all over the country and the world to talk to each day.  I don’t even have to speak the right language, and I can find someone to help me take care of me.  But I do have to do something to catch someone’s attention.  Luckily, this morning I didn’t have to wait until I was wriggling face down on the floor for someone to notice I looked different than “normal.”  Now I have the next 8 months to ask for help to identify what I need to do to function properly.

For most people, immigrating to Nairobi is not as easy as it has been for me.  The typical immigrant is a poor villager moving to the city to find a job to support his/her family.  Finding shelter, securing food, meeting new people, and beginning to look for a job is much harder when no one is helping you and very few people understand the language you are speaking.  The slums we marched through with Henry’s church last month are filled with millions of people who are living alone on the edge of starvation and may never feel at home there.   They live without electricity, running water, toilets, trash collection, secure housing, and opportunities for education.  To them, globalization has nothing to do with lightning fast internet, bananas from Peru, cars from Japan, and scissors from China.  Globalization is fishing them out of their secure village life and forcing them to look for a new way of life in a place much more foreign to them than it is to me.

Even with millions of people with the same human issues walking past you every day, you just need that one person to recognize when something is amiss.  I am glad I could at least ask the first question that led to my prostrate patient’s recovery.  I am grateful that I have people checking up on me in Kenya to figure out what is going on inside me.  I pray that everyone has someone that will stop to ask “are you ok?”

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Importance of Playing Checkers

Kadakoi is a small pastoral community in the heart of East Pokot, Kenya.  This is an area that has been plagued with drought over the last ten years because of climate change, but has been traditionally arid throughout history.  I visited Kadakoi as part of a video project to shed light on the success of Church World Service’s Water for Life program.  The program director would like to expand the program internally by being a better fundraiser and externally by making proposals to the Kenyan Government to expand funding of rural water projects with the Millennium Development Goal financing they have available.

Our visit to Kadakoi was different than other Evaluation and Monitoring visits I have been on so far.  Typically, I have been in a group of visitors including local program staff and CWS staff on a scheduled visit to many communities in a region in one day.  They welcome us warmly, show us the results of our project implementation, have a meeting to discuss future plans, and quickly leave after dancing in celebration to the local songs and drums.   This time, we spent two days with the same community from sun up to sun down.  The video crew preferred shooting during those times because the lighting makes images look natural and easy on the eyes.  At first we sat through a meeting with the whole community, which consists of some Christians who are a minority to those who practice the traditional religion of the village.  The pastor prayed and led the meeting with a speech about what has happened since CWS came to work with the village to establish a local water resource.

In this region of East Pokot, the only viable way to retrieve water is to drill a bore hole to establish a deep water well.  The first location that local surveyors determined to drill ended up having no water, but the disappointment was overcome by drilling a second bore hole that was successful.  This work was mainly done by our partner organization in the region, Farming Systems Kenya.  Drilling bore holes is expensive – up to $10,000 for one hole – because of the drilling equipment and, in this case, the remote location.  The community was responsible for providing local materials such as sand, stone, and water to construct the well and dig the trench to pipe the water from the bore hole to a central location.  Now anyone in the community can pay two to five shillings (2-5 cents) to get water for cooking and cleaning for the day locally.  Previously, women and children were responsible for collecting water in 20 liter jerry cans from polluted water sources over 10 kilometers away.  This took eight hours out of a woman’s day which was also filled with normal chores of cooking, cleaning clothes, building a home, and caring for livestock.  Needless to say, these women and children were constantly tired, easily got disease from contaminated water, and never had an opportunity to consider an education.

Now that these women can easily retrieve clean water within their community, they have eight extra healthy hours in their day to commit to other activities.  Children have been encouraged to go to school by their parents – instead of girls fetching water with their mothers and boys herding goats and cows.  A hotel, a restaurant, and a general store have all opened up around the new water point.  All these businesses are managed and operated by women.  There were many healthy babies being carried around during our visit, which is evidence of the health of the women and community as a whole.

During the day, we were not responsible for any official documentation, so I took the time to get to know some of the community members.  It was culturally appropriate for me to talk with the men first, so I joined a small group of men congregated next to the water point.  Some men were reading the newspaper, some were chatting with each other, and others were playing a game that I thought was checkers.  It ended up being a slightly different game, although I was able to beat one of the guys at it after figuring out the rules!  I played a few rounds while asking questions and then taught them how to play my version of checkers.  The guys I was talking with were either in school or had completed high school.  Luckily for me, this meant we could talk in English.

After narrowly defeating one of the guys at both his version of checkers and my own, I ventured out to talk with other members of the community.  I met a group of women grinding their local crop of corn into flour with a posho mill, a woman selling goods at her general store, a large group of women weaving baskets and selling vegetables from their gardens, and even a three year old girl collecting firewood for her mother’s restaurant kitchen.  None of these women had any advanced education like the men, and yet they looked as though they understood much more about community, business, and the products of their labor.

Many people in Kenya consider these Pokot men to be lazy.  They sit around on their elders chairs and watch the women do all the work – even building their house.  My coworker, Sammy, is not one of those people.  When he was visiting some of our partner communities in West Pokot two years ago, a group of cattle raiders crossed into the village where he was staying.  From the top of a hill where his guest house was located, he watched all the village men come together with their own AK47’s to protect the village from the raiders.  These men were able to hold off the raiders long enough for them to decide to move to the next town.  He points out that no women were involved in this dangerous mission.  “If you were to ask a Pokot woman if the men in her village are lazy, she will just laugh at you.”  This is because they consider these men very important for protection as well as for guidance.  During the long hours of sitting in the elder’s chairs, those men are discussing important business, marriages, and the effects of predicted weather patterns and government policy. 

So, playing checkers is very important for the survival of the entire community.  My question is why does it have to be only the men?  The water committee developed to oversee the continued maintenance of the water source is required to have equal numbers of men and women.  This has allowed women to take on a new role of leadership in a project that directly affects their lives.  The water committee members are all Christians in this particular village where the majority is not.  This has irritated existing views of the church in Kenya as being corrupt.  A lack of trust in the leadership of the community and their new resource is sure to cause problems in the future.  Perhaps a game of checkers could lead to a peaceful resolution.

For more images from this trip please visit my facebook photo album.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Water for Life Program through Church World Service

This is the program I have been working with for the last month with Church World Service:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Henry's Church

Today I woke up ready for an unknown journey. Steven and I met our friend Henry at our apartment at about 11:00am on Sunday morning. He had brought two of his friends with him to greet us. One named Simon was a profit in Henry’s church, the Africa Israel Nineveh Church. The other was a member of his congregation. We had initially met Henry at a meeting of the Organization of African Instituted Churches during our orientation over a month ago. We had since visited his home outside one of the slums of Nairobi and joined for a tour of the city. He has been asking for us to join him for church since he met us. So today we left with Henry and his companions to meet for a church gathering in the Kangemi Slum, which is just about two miles from my apartment.
We took a short bus ride to Kangemi and went to the home of the priest of Henry’s region. The Africa Israel Nineveh Church is spread all over East Africa and a few other parts of the world. Each region is broken down into churches and small groups much like other denominations. A small group is led by an elder. A church is made up of several small groups and is led by a pastor. A region of churches is led by a priest, and the head of the whole denomination is the Bishop who leads out of Nairobi. The church was actually founded in western Kenya, but because so many have migrated to Nairobi to find work, there is a large number of these churches in many of the slums of Nairobi. Just like everyone else in Nairobi, they have another home in their native village (most are from the same tribe in western Kenya). The actual founding place of the church is where everyone goes for Christmas which I might get to learn more about soon!

After arriving in Kangemi, Henry gives us a tour including a walk through the main market which I will hopefully be visiting to get my small budget to stretch much further than going to the fancy grocery store in the mall. We then joined a growing group of men, women, and children all dressed in white robes (some light blue robes also) that were waiting for other churches to arrive. As they waited, some formed a platoon of dancers, singers, and drummers – almost like a marching band – and marched circles around the rest of the people that stood there talking to pass the time. Each church would appear at the top of a hill and make their way toward the main mass of people while dancing to their own drummers and being led by their flag holder. It was almost like the opening ceremonies to the Olympics when every country marches into the main stadium to join the world with their flag in hand.
The first Drummers to arrive!

Marching while we waited to start church.

Taking off on our three hour march from Kangemi to Kawengwari.

Kept the energy up for 3 hours of drumming!

Finally enough churches arrived that they could start the service. Everyone made a circle – now many more than 400 people. Some pastors gave prayers and read scripture, and then a drum was set on the ground to act as an offering plate. Everyone individually walked to the center to make an offering. Then more short sermons were spoken and without a breath, we were all marching down the main street of Kangemi with hundreds of drums and bells and singing men and women.
We actually marched for several miles while other churches joined our group. We turned off the main road and started down the big hill that led to the next slum. Before we knew it, we had danced our way into Kawengwari which normally involved a matatu ride. This was originally welcomed news for Steven and I, as we have been thinking of ways to start an exercise program, but as the day drug on and the sun continued to beat down on our pink skin, we realized how serious these people were about making a joyful noise for God.
We eventually marched with over 2000 white robed Christians.
After three hours of dancing down the road we were told that we looked very tired and we should probably start heading home. When we broke off from the thousands of others dancing, singing, and banging drums and bells, we were chased by another pastor who asked us to just get a ride with the Bishop. As we could now see, there were about five cars following the growing number of dancing Christians in white robes – now well over 2000 people. We followed Henry back to the last car that held a driver and the Bishop. He was very gracious and happy to see us. He asked which of us was from Indiana. When I told him I was from Indianapolis he explained that he had just moved back from that very place two years ago when he finished his PhD at Anderson University. He also studied theology in London. He was a very intelligent strong man. He didn’t look over the age of 45, but he told us he had been Bishop for 27 years. I am not sure how the church leadership works, but it seems like they are doing good works in God’s name every day.
Henry had a dream about meeting six wazungu (white people or foreigners) some time before he met us. His position in the church is an interpreter of dreams. He knew there was something important about meeting these wazungu, so he was more than joyful when he found six Americans from the Presbyterian Young Adult Volunteer program at the kick off meeting for the OAIC Just Communities initiative in September. He took time to introduce us to the city and have us over to his humble household for dinner. When the marching was over, the Bishop gave us the opportunity to speak at the final meeting of all the churches. I thanked the crowd for their devotion to God and the wonderful noise they brought to the streets of Kawengwari as they marched. I thanked them for being the positive force of change in their communities. I told them that my NGO was working in communities just like theirs to deal with the issues that their church was also trying to overcome. This remark led to a long conversation with Henry as we left the meeting.
Our final meeting before we left.

I think he sees Church World Service’s programs for community empowerment as part of the reason why he dreamt about us so many months ago. It makes sense that his church could be a partner organization with CWS to initiate more programs all over Kenya, but right now I am just the new guy who is learning how to get the right information from my wonderful coworkers to write relevant articles for CWS donors. I hope our friendship can lead to something for Henry’s church because what I see in the leadership of the Africa Israel Nineveh church is a passion for working with the poorest of the poor and the most marginalized of East Africa’s communities. They are in the slums bringing the good news and improving people’s lives every day. That is exactly what I and CWS stand for.

Me enjoying our dance/marching.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My Birthday Wish


So, I have been here for more than a month now.  I am living in a pretty sweet apartment just down the street from my office with Church World Service.  I have gone on my first trip to the field to document the powerful work that CWS manages in East Africa.  And, I have started making friendships here that will last a life time.  Who do I have to thank for all of this?
  • Every person who told me I could do this in the first place.  
  • Every person who didn't say anything when they thought this was a bad idea.  
  • Every friend, relative, aquaintence, and secret supporter who donated to my volunteer fund this year. 
  • Every one of you who has asked me how I am doing and told me about your life.
It's you I have to thank!  So thank you!

So, now I have come here and seen what possibities there are for positive sustainable change in the lives of millions of Africans.  My job is to bring awareness to current and future donors of Church World Service.  Awareness of what actually happens with the money that is donated.  Awareness of how each and every penny is documented and argued about to get the best possible future for the most number of marginalized communities.  I hope you are able to learn something from what I share about my experiences.  I am learning something new every day.

For my birthday, I wanted to do something special for the people that are teaching me so much this year.  I am trying to raise $1000 for Church World Service through Facebook Causes.  Check out my progress here, and don't forget to make a contribution yourself!  It is your birthday present to me.  Unless you are planning to come to Nairobi to give me a hug for my birthday, this donation is the best bet.

Thanks again!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Religion in Kenya

One difference between living in the United States and living in Kenya is the cultural perspective on religion. If you were interested in learning about someone’s spiritual or theological beliefs in the US, you might ask, “Are you a spiritual person?” or “Do you believe in God?” But in Kenya, it is assumed you are a spiritual person and believe in at least one god. So, you really just have to find out what that spiritual belief is. That is traditional in Kenya, although we were told by Reverend Edward Buri at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church that communities are becoming more secular especially the youth. Christianity has been the dominant religion in Central Kenya for the past 100 years, but now agnosticism and Islam are growing faster than Christianity. Christianity was able to become dominant because the missionaries that came in the 1800’s allowed Christianity to mix with traditional African culture.

We got our first lesson in African Church History from Dr. Douglass Waruta from the University of Nairobi. The Portuguese, who arrived around the time that Columbus landed in America, tried to force Christian culture on the people they met along the Kenyan coast. They wanted people to not only believe the story and religion set up by Jesus, but to also take on Portuguese culture and language as well. For the Portuguese, spreading the gospel was a way to dominate the local people. We visited Fort Jesus in Mombasa, which was built by Africans who were forced to work under the Portuguese to protect their interests from the Arabs who also had trade interest in the region. When the Arab Muslims finally kicked the Portuguese off the Kenyan Coast, the religion left with them.

The missionary movement of the 18th and 19th centuries came with the movement of imperialism into East Africa. These Christians believed evangelism and education (not just baptism) were key to becoming Christian. The British sent Dr. Krapf and Johann Rebmann to translate the bible into the native languages of the people they came to convert. Each of the Christian denominations carved out their own tribal group to evangelize and set up schools to educate Africans on what you would learn in an English school. The divide and conquer method they used can be seen today when you visit a Presbyterian Church and find that all the members are Kikuyu, or if you visit a Quaker Church all the members would be Luiya. In some cases, this has led to continued tribal racism and political conflict.

So far, I have been to the Laresho Presbyterian Church and Kangemi Holy Spirit Church. Laresho is a suburb of Nairobi in a nice part of town. Laresho had wonderful gospel songs, some that sounded more like tribal chants, and others that were sung by a choir that was similar to something you would find at my church in Indiana. Some of the service was in English, some in Swahili, and some parts in Kikuyu (since most Presbyterians are Kikuyu). Besides these differences, the service followed the same form as it does in Indiana. We did the Lord’s Prayer, had offertory, had a wonderful sermon by Reverend Phyllis Byrd Ochilo, and even did the passing of the peace. After the service, the church had a luncheon to celebrate one of their pastors. We ate traditional Kenyan – and specifically Kikuyu – dishes with Coke products to drink. This church also has prayer groups that are organized by neighborhood in Nairobi. I went to a prayer meeting where we sang more songs in Kikuyu, prayed for family and for Kenya, and had tea afterward to socialize. I really enjoy how comfortable people are here with singing loudly and putting their struggles out in the open to be prayed for.

The Kangemi Holy Spirit Church was a totally different experience. Kangemi is one of the major slums (low income, informal settlements) in Nairobi. Emmanuel Simwa – the Bishop of Nairobi and Mombasa in the Holy Spirit Church pictured below at the Just Communities Inaugural Celebration – drove us through crowded streets filled with people, livestock, and trash to the small church. I was surprised at how many churches we passed along the way. Many were independent African churches, but the Salvation Army also had a congregation there that worshipped outside. The Bishop parked his truck outside a small building with a corrugated metal roof and walls made of tree branches and large plastic sacks. When we stepped out of the truck we could hear a booming chorus of African song and drums coming out of the building. The youth service – for any unmarried person between the age of 5 and 45 years old – had started an hour earlier and just continued into the main part of worship. The other ministers of the church had jumped in the bed of the Bishop’s truck along the way, so they showed us where to go as they prepared for worship. We entered through a flap in the wall and removed our shoes. This was definitely a holy place. We were ushered to the front of the room where we sat with the Bishop and other leaders of the church during the service. We enjoyed three hours of singing Christian chants, swaying from side to side, jumping up and down, drumming drums, and listening to sermons and prayers. I was again amazed at the unity of the church. A married couple had returned to church for the first time since their child passed away of what was probably a preventable disease. The pastor asked them to come forward so they could pray for the family, and the whole church prayed for them individually and together in song. They all mourned the loss together.

They also welcomed us into the church. We had come on the day they celebrated the initiation of their church in 1927. Prior to being recognized as the Holy Spirit Church, members had been part of the French Quaker Church. African leaders promoting African traditional singing and dancing and values in the church were beaten for insubordination up until the time they were “allowed” to start their own church. This is one way the church upheld the imperialist doctrine of superiority. The pastor asked us to take their cross back to our home churches to show how they live and worship in the slums of East Africa. It was a powerful statement of solidarity that I hope to accomplish. We are all part of one body of Christ that must live in unity and equity.

Anything I missed? Hope you are doing well! Send me a line.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My wonderful Host Family: The Macharias

I have now been in Nairobi for one week. Everything is still very new. I am beginning to know my way around certain parts of town, but every smell, every person, every plant and animal is a new experience for me.
My Host Family
After a full day of adjusting to my new home, I spent four days with my host family in the Laresho neighborhood of Nairobi. My family, the Macharias, consists of Baba Bobby, Mama Juju, and three boys Mwangi, Njonjo, and Kahagi. Bobby studied computer science at Cleveland University (in Cleveland, Ohio) when he was younger and now runs two businesses in I.T. and marketing using his leadership and computer skills. He is also very involved in Laresho Presbyterian Church as what would be considered an elder and financial manager. Juju is the CEO of the East African sector of a major cereal company and is a founding member of a foundation that extends classical music training into the lives of children from a wide range of backgrounds. Obviously these activities do not define my host parents completely, but it gives you a small glimpse into their lives here in Nairobi. They live in a suburban gated community located directly adjacent to one of the major slums in Nairobi. They are reminded daily of what they have and take seriously their responsibility to help others in need.
My brother Mwangi was accepted into a leadership academy in South Africa that is a feeder school for Ivy League schools and other world class educational opportunities. He left for school on Sunday morning, so most of the time I was with the family was spent celebrating this accomplishment with family friends and relatives. I spent most of the time talking with my host dad, Bobby, about societal norms in Kenya. The school system and parents put a lot of emphasis on education and picking a career track in order to specialize your education at a young age. Many students start taking classes to help them with specific career goals starting at age 13. He was surprised that people he met in college in the US were going to school without picking a profession to focus on first. Mwangi wants to be a neurosurgeon and has been working toward being a doctor for a while. Now that he is 17, he has a whole new life in a new country to figure out while working on career and life goals. He is a very mature 17 year-old.
Western Influence
There is a lot of Western influence in middle class life. The kids dressed in American fashion, we watched American TV shows and listened to American popular music. School is taught in English, so the language of business and daily conversation is also mostly English. It seems like some more personal conversations are spoken in Swahili or other native languages, but for the younger generation English is their first language and Swahili is learned in school like I learned German or Spanish. Many native languages are being lost with the generation of kids being born in the city. Rev. Edward Buri talked to us today about languages as a form of wisdom. We can learn another culture’s wisdom by learning their language, but if we don’t know our own we can lose our identity.
Going to Church
The church service I went to on Sunday at Laresho Presbyterian Church was very spiritually uplifting. The music worship and messages given by the pastors and members is a gift that I am very happy to accept. I come to this new place with an empty cup ready to be filled. This Sunday was a special recognition Sunday for one of the pastors. We sang songs in English, Swahili, and Kikuyu, had special “thank you” speeches from leaders of different ministry groups, had a baptism, listened to a powerful sermon by Rev. Phyllis Byrd, sang more songs, and then everyone got to walk up to personally thank the pastor for his work. The service was three hours long. Then there was a luncheon with traditional Kikuyu foods and Coke products.
I was invited to a prayer meeting at one of the member’s homes later in the day. The church was broken up into groups by neighborhood to have prayer meetings. Simon – a man I met at church – was hosting the group this month. There were twelve or thirteen people there led by a minister. We sang many more songs as a small group, the minister took prayer requests related to family and then on the topic of Kenya. Once we had discussed the issues on our minds, we stood up to hold hands for a long group prayer where most people added something. After the prayers and songs, we had tea and snacks. I was able to talk with three young men about Kenya and the US. Hopefully I can become good friends with them this year. One of them, Harun, invited me to visit his home village that he left in order to complete school. He is 18 and must work to pay for living expenses as well as school. I have great respect for the ambition and hard work that so many like Harun have. This is truly an inspired place.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Moving to Kenya

Our group arrived in Nairobi Kenya on Monday night. At first I felt like a shell of a person from all the travel. It took a while to get home from the airport, but when we finally got to Phyllis Byrd's house (our YAV director), I immediately felt at home with her family. She had made us a midnight snack, prepared a bag of supplies we would need for our time here, and then took time to explain enough of what we were doing to make sense for the next 24 hours.
The guys (Michael, Steven, and I) are staying in the apartment that I will be living in for the year. It is about a five minute walk from Phyllis's house. Phyllis showed us around the apartment (which is a lot nicer than I could have expected) and then said goodnight at about midnight Nairobi time. I had not really slept for over 30 hours at this point. When I went to brush my teeth to get into bed, I wondered who had put locks on my luggage. This is when I had the realization that this luggage actually belonged to a man from Australia meaning that all the clothing and supplies I had brought with me to this new continent were either at the airport or lost forever. This did not really help my level of stress from the move... Luckily I have amazing friends here and Steven gave me his extra toothbrush to use for the night. In my confusion and need for habit, I immediately brushed my teeth and used the tap water to rinse. This of course is exactly what Phyllis had just an hour before warned us not to do! The tap water is not as pure as what you get in the US and could have pathogens that could get you any number of diseases. I took an antimicrobial pill to counter act this mistake and went to sleep. The first day.
Our first full day in Nairobi started in the bright sunshine as we walked back to Phyllis's house. She really is a good cook. She let us have a low action day so we could adjust to our new country. She explained our training schedule which rocks! We are spending this weekend with our host families to get to know them. Next week we go to the cost of Kenya to Mombasa and a couple other cities and maybe beaches. Other activities include cultural and historical activities and time to understand the people here. We will take one day to learn how to properly barter for groceries and cook a meal for ourselves. Most foods here were grown here and not on huge industrial farms. As long as I don't eat like I did yesterday all the time, the food should make me healthier! We are also spending some time every day learning Swahili. I am happy with what we will learn and the people we will meet. We are definitely part of a very special group here in Kenya. I can't wait to get to know more people here! Thank God.
Phyllis sent me to the airport in a cab with her friend Stefania. The trip was a good experience to see what the area looked like in the day time. The luggage was much easier to exchange than I expected. Stefania and I got to talk a lot, as it was a long trip. I realized that some of the preconceptions of different groups of people that I bring from the US whether social, religious or ethnic are not all good and not obviously seen as sarcastic as I some how assumed they would be. I have no problems with any group of people, but I have to work on how I talk. We talked about racist tendencies in training that you might not know are there. I'm not racist right? I need to work on thinking about what I say before I say it. Stefania is pretty great. She just graduated with a degree in Commerce and is looking for a job. I was glad to make her day less boring by making her accompany me to the airport. She told me her mother was from Poland, and I thought (based on Phyllis's introduction) that she was Phyllis's niece. So I jokingly asked if her family was “into marrying foreigners.” Phyllis is from New York of course. Stefania blushed and didn't say anything... I stupidly took a minute to figure out what I had said. I wasn't trying to marry her just yet:) We got a good laugh out of it at least.
Overall, I am very happy with where I am. It has been a great introduction and there is so much yet to see and understand. Pictures will be coming soon. I just figured out from George (the internet cafe manager) that I can upload pictures from a USB port. The cafe is only a couple houses down from my apartment. Very convenient. Please let me know how you are doing!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Getting Ready

I have been assigned to go to Kenya as a Young Adult Volunteer through the Presbyterian Church (USA). I will be living a simple life in Nairobi while working for Church World Service as a communications manager. I will live in community with Kenyans and be able to visit the many programs that CWS provides around East Africa in order to write about them and promote them to American contributors.

So far I have been getting ready to do this work by getting the proper vaccinations, researching CWS and the regions they work in in Kenya, and asking for support from my friends, family, and church family. I know I will need a lot of moral support, as I have never been to Africa and will be working with all new people there. I know I will learn a lot through the experience and look forward to understanding more about Kenyan and African culture and values as I get to know the people I am in community with there.

I will also need financial support in order to servive as a volunteer there for a year. Second Presbyterian Church has graciously donated $4,500 of the $9,000 I need to raise as my half of the contribution to my living costs in order to do this program. Now I am trying to reach my friends and family (you!) in order to raise the other half of my funding goal. You can contribute to my fund by clicking on the "Make an Online Donation" button on the right or the "Mailing a Donation" button to send a check. If everyone I am contacting donates $30, I will have enough to cover my fundraising goals.

It would be much easier for me to send out an email every time I post a new blog instead of making all of you create blogger accounts that you may not want. Please send me an email with your name, email address, and home street address so I can send you updates and letters while I am in Africa. Send this information to

Thank you for checking in with me! I hope to hear from you soon!


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Who is Ben Snipes?

Ben Heimach-Snipes is currently a candidate for ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA), working as a chaplain at Rush University Medical Center and Holy Cross Hospital.  He lives in Chicago with his wife, Abbi, who is an Associate Pastor at Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago.  In this blog, you will find posts from his life exploring ministry in Kenya, Indianapolis and Chicago. Please comment or send an email if you would like to continue the conversation!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mailing A Donation

If you cannot make an Online Donation - which can be made by clicking the "Make an Online Donation" button on the right, you can make a donation by mailing checks with this specific information present:

Checks can be made payable to "Presbyterian Peace Fellowship"

On the memo line write: "Ben Snipes".

Checks can be mailed to:
Presbyterian Peace Fellowship
17 Cricketown Rd.
Stony Point, NY 10980

Click here for more information about giving to PPF