22 December 2010


Our family really enjoyed our safari to the Maasai Mara last week.  Pictures will be posted soon, I think.  We've just got a lot to share right now!  This picture is just a teaser for a more extensive photoblog to follow.

I share it because it was on one of our evening game drives with this view that I suddenly felt like I was back at home, not so much because of the view itself which IS quite a bit like a western Colorado summer early evening, but more because of the way it felt.  The cool air of evening replacing the heat of the day, the mingled smells of dust and animals; I've heard that memories are often most closely tied to scents.  Smelling the moist, cool air rising up through the grass I was suddenly a kid again, sitting on a tractor in a hayfield at the end of a long day, thinking.

Most farmers are philosophers; Some are theologians.  My Grandpa is both.  Much of farming is sitting, watching, performing some simple task over and over again; it gives plenty of time to wonder and ponder.  Most of my theology was reasoned out on a tractor, first as my Grandpa or Dad sat on the fender, teaching me to drive, then as I was driving on my own.

For a few minutes, I was alone with my thoughts on the Savannah contemplating man, his condition, MY condition.

It has been a while.  I've been too busy, with too many things to take care of.  But it's not busyness so much as the fact that everything is so removed from life and death.  I'm on the computer doing research, writing, or Facebook.  I'm reading a book or cleaning up the house; Everything is so far removed from the actual business of living.

I get stuck in ruts where I go days or weeks without thinking about my life, my death or my place in the world; stuck in a plastic, pen and paper, electrical, networking, virtual world.  In our virtual worlds, we're big men: always in control, in charge, gods.

Looking across the Earth it's easy to see one man is no big thing.  I needed to look out at this view, needed to smell the smells and feel my own smallness, to see the big picture.  It's then I recognize my place and my need.  I miss home.  I want a 'real' Christmas with cold and snow and clear starry nights but in the scheme of things, thinking of eternity, home is much bigger.

21 December 2010


Last week we went on safari with another family here at RVA.  They have kids the same ages and gender as Faith and Joel.  We booked the trip at a travel fair back in early November.  The plan was to stay at a tented camp in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.  Given the events of my (Jim's) very first Safari, we were all a little bit apprehensive, but God really knew what we needed.  The camp was beautiful.  Even though the Mara is not fenced, we were several kilometers from the nearest entrance and village and the camp had its own security and intimidating electric fence.  We felt safe.  Not only that, but the 'tents' were really nice.  A full bathroom, wood floors, king-sized bed for us, a bed for Faith and a crib for Joel (Which he loved).  The buffet was full of good food from many different regions of the world.  We felt pampered.  There was time to read books, play with the kids and watch animals.  It's been a while since we really relaxed like that.

I also had a lot of time to think, especially on the ride to and from the Mara where the road is so rough our driver chose to drive off-road because it really was smoother.  Still, I think he tried to get as close to the 80 kilometer per hour speed limit as possible, which rendered any conversation impossible.

At the end of our time there, as we were checking out at the Reserve gate, the van was swarmed by the Maasai women (the Maasai Mamas) trying to sell trinkets.  They are very persistent, and it can be quite intimidating for even an adult.  As we were puling away, the other girl Faith's age said, "Those ladies were being mean!"  To be fair, they kind of are, but it's the kind of meanness borne of desperation.

Faith then said something that I was really impressed by.  She said, "They're not being mean, they're just poor.  If nobody buys anything, they might not be able to eat."  Perceptive, for a five year old.  And it made me think.

The Maasai were traditionally nomadic cattle herders, warriors and raiders.  Their houses were made of mud and sticks, surrounded by a fence of cut thornbrush where the livestock were kept at night.  When grazing resources were exhausted, they'd move on and build a new house and fence.  Today, as you drive through Maasai land, you see some of these compounds (called bomas) built in the traditional way, but most have added a tin roof.  Some homes are made of concrete, some fences are now barbed wire with permanent posts.  In all the bomas, there are signs the Maasai are no longer moving. Pasture is overgrazed; the cattle are thin.  The Maasai, as a people, have been passed by.  Poverty is everywhere.

Some, like the mamas, have turned to peddling trinkets.  Others do traditional dances and songs to entertain tourists.  Most are now herding goats and fat-tailed sheep which can survive on poor-quality browse much better than cattle, but even they look malnourished.

The sights on our drive are raw, heartbreaking.  'Poor' is on display.  Some men stand along the road throwing dirt into potholes, hoping a grateful traveler will toss them a few shillings.  Women and children carry muddy water from dammed-up culverts.  A roadkill zebra with the legs hacked off - free dinner.  Miles and miles of trees cut and burned to sell as charcoal - most of the trees have already been cut; what happens when they're gone?  It's hard to know how to help.

We drove basically from here in Kijabe to the Tanzanian border and the whole way the picture was the same.  It's almost revolting; I want, most of the time, to push them away.  There's no way to help all of them.

Eventually, my thoughts returned to the thieves from the week before.  I don't know much at all about them.  They were obviously desperate.  The blue flip-flop one of them lost in the kitchen was pretty old and worn.

"They're not being mean, they're just poor..."

The way Faith said it didn't sound like simple justification, more like compassion.  I pray for the same thing - compassion.

20 December 2010

Merry Christmas?

I (Jim) have always loved the changing of the seasons.  Having spent my entire life (until moving here) living within a couple of miles of the same latitude in Colorado, I've marked time by changes in seasons and by the ebb and flow of the day's length.  Today I played flag football with some other teachers and station kids.  It was hot; by the end we were all drenched in sweat.  The sun still comes over the hill just before 7:00 and sets on the other side of the valley just before 7:00; none of that's really changed at all since we got here.

Christmas is only five days away, but it doesn't feel like it.  I'm used to Christmas overload; last year Heather began putting up ornaments at the beginning of November!

Last week, we spent the last few days at Maasai Mara Game Reserve and the hotel there was just beginning to decorate for Christmas - just a few lights and streamers.  We swam in the pool and like too many things, Christmas was out of sight, out of mind.

I used to not like the commercialization of Christmas.  I still prefer to think of Christmas simply, but I think my attitude about all the extra stuff has changed a bit.  Honestly, I could go for a few mall Santas, Elves selling lottery tickets, Black Friday shopping, Parades of lights, snow -  All things that can distract, but right now all things that could go a long ways to remind me to remember:  He came.  Small Child.  Empty Stable.  Manger Bed.  Fearful Parents.  Lowly Shepherds.  No lights or streamers, tinsel, bells, snow or gifts.  Easy to miss.  Maybe all the extra stuff isn't all that bad if it gives us cause to remember.

14 December 2010

Nakuru Robbery

We were thrown quite a curve ball last weekend.  Jim went on an all-guys three day, two night trip a few hours away, while I stayed here at RVA with Faith and Joel.  It's never a good thing when, on the third morning, another wife calls you and the first thing she says is "Everyone is okay, but..."

Here is Jim's careful recollection of the story.


A few weeks ago, I was invited on a photo safari to Nakuru National Park.  I was really excited about going when I first heard about it and the details, as I began to learn them, made the trip sound sweeter and sweeter.  To begin, I’d not yet seen ANY wild Kenyan mammals except Baboons, Colobus and Syke’s monkeys, and this park is the best place in Kenya to see Rhinoceros, Rothschild’s Giraffe and Leopard, in addition to many other animals.  Not only that, but we were going to focus on taking pictures.  I began to envision enlargement-quality wall-hangers.  The deal was sweetened when I found out that one of the men from Rift Valley Academy had been planning this photo safari for quite some time with a couple of his friends from Canada who were professional wildlife photographers; we were getting to tag along for three days of their trip.

We planned to stay in a small guesthouse – an old farmhouse – on the park property.  It was cheap, and we’d be ideally positioned for early morning and late evening game drives.  When we got there late last Thursday afternoon we had a wonderful time.  One of the first animals we spotted was a Black Rhino (critically endangered) after being inside the park for maybe twenty minutes.  We got great photos.  The next day was even better – over 20 white rhinos, another black rhino, 12 lions, hyena, flamingos… many, many animals.  That second night, as we pulled into the farmhouse gate, we marveled at an enormous herd of Cape buffalo.  They are Africa’s most temperamental and dangerous large mammals.   I was grateful for the fence surrounding the farmhouse yard, and we were obviously careful to close the gate behind us!

After supper, I began deleting photos like mad, as I was running out of storage space for all these beautiful pictures.  I was really picky and deleted everything I wouldn’t be willing to pay for an enlargement of; I ended up with about 600 pictures.

We went to bed at around 9:30, ready for a 5:30 early-morning photo-shoot for our last morning in the park.  I carefully arranged the things I’d need in the morning around my bed so that I’d be ready to go when the time came.  I hadn’t slept much at all the night before, and I was dead-tired.  As always, morning came far too soon.


I awake to headlamps shining in my eyes.  “Is it time for our drive?” I ask.

No reply.  As I ask again, it hits me.  The men with the headlamps are whispering in Swahili!  There are three with headlamps, and I see movement elsewhere in the room – no telling exactly how many intruders there might be.

As if to make perfectly clear to me the situation and my position in it, the three lamps look at me.  The knobby heads of three rungus, cocked and ready, appear in the glaring light just beyond my blue mosquito net. Not much protection there. 

The rungu is a traditional Maasai warrior’s hunting or war club, usually just under two feet in length and carefully carved from dense acacia wood.  With a narrow handle and a curve carved into it just before the business end – a rounded, heavy ball about the size of a doorknob – it is a crude but intimidating weapon.

I try to see more clearly.  The rungu above my head flinches, threatening.

A harsh whisper.  “Where is da money?”

I say the first thing that comes into my mind. “We don’t have any money!”  I try to speak calmly, but hope to wake the others.  There are three of us in the room – all teachers at RVA.  Brian who’s been here in Kenya for 13 years, and John who’s been at RVA for 11 years.  The words come out only as loud as normal conversation but edgy, emphatic.  Too much? Too loud? Too soft?

On the opposite side of the room Brian wakes groggily.  “Is it time to get up?”

One rungu remains above my head.  Again I say the first thing that comes to mind.

“They’re going through our stuff!”

All three headlamps snap to attention.  All three shine into my eyes.  The other rungus reappear, hovering over my bed.  Swahili whispers intensify.  John is moving now.  All eyes are on me for an instant.  Brian lunges out of bed shouting.

“Thieves!  Thieves!”

A mad rush for the door.  Feet rushing in the darkness. They are all fleeing. John and I join in the chase.  Brian pursues men out the back door.  John and I follow a man through the living room and out the front door.  He throws a pair of pants at us, probably to slow us down.  Afraid of thorns, John and I return for our shoes before giving chase, but mine are gone; nothing is where I left it.  John’s shoes are gone too.  I find my sandals and rush out.  The whole thing has taken only a few seconds. 

The other four men in our group and two caretakers who were asleep in other rooms and outbuildings join in the search for thieves or things they have dropped.  John’s pants are found by the front door, his cash and car keys still in them.  Brian’s camera bag, passport and empty wallet are by the back door.  The robbers are long gone, the gate wide open.  After a quick search of the yard we return to the house.  There we discover the refrigerator and gas canister are gone too.  A couple of men venture down the road in a vehicle to search for the thieves, the rest of us begin to investigate. 


Within a few minutes, a truckload of Kenya Wildlife Service Guards arrived, followed by another, then a couple more trucks loaded with Kenya police.  Their response was amazing.  We pieced together quite a bit of what must have happened.

At about 1:00 AM, the regular KWS night patrol woke the caretaker because the gate was open.  The caretaker wasn’t sure why it is open, but they don’t immediately see anything of concern and don’t investigate further after closing the gate.

At about 3:00 AM, John woke and went to use the bathroom.  He noticed that the security light outside the bathroom window was out.  We later found the bulb, unscrewed and lying beneath a bush.

At around 3:45AM I was awakened and things got crazy. 

We couldn’t figure out how they’d gotten into the house.  The doors were wide open, but we were sure they’d been bolted from the inside before we went to bed.  It took us quite a while to find where they’d used bolt-cutters to cut the window bars in the living room on the opposite side of the house.  They had to cut in five places, and even then, it was a VERY skinny man who made it through to let his buddies in.  We’re pretty sure they must have come for the refrigerator and gas canister.  They had obviously started before 1:00 AM.  That’s why the gate was open.  After successfully removing those from the park through a hole they’d cut in the electric fence (the entire park is surrounded by one) over 600 yards from the farmhouse they were apparently emboldened to come back and take another look.  After having a little picnic outside the gate with the contents of the refrigerator, they came in and began to rummage through our things.

I lost quite a bit of stuff: My passport, our camera set-up that was a wonderful gift from my parents (and sadly the beautiful photos I’d taken), my hiking boots, a cell phone, watch, pocketknife, and a good chunk of cash I had carefully hidden in three different places and had planned to use for a run to the butcher’s after our Safari.  They found all of it.  Thankfully, they removed my glasses from the camera bag before they absconded with it – also my GPS.  I think the removal of the GPS must have been an accident.

The search for missing items was massive.  Kenya Wildlife Service used a couple of sniffing dogs, and there were tons of officers on foot.  When we noticed a small plane flying overhead just after dawn and asked about it, the head of KWS for Nakuru National Park replied, “We are trying to spot the refrigerator.” 

A few items did turn up:  a very expensive flash that John was borrowing, two tripod mounts, a bag of microwave popcorn, John’s glasses (found a hundred yards away from the farmhouse in waist-high grass), Brian’s swimming trunks and a pair of his dirty underwear. 

Looking back a couple of things strike me:

God is Good:
So many things could have gone much worse.  Suppose I had said something that translated from English more easily than, “They’re going through our stuff.”  Suppose their attention hadn’t been mostly on me when Brian began his charge.  Suppose the rungu, which gave Brian a nasty bruise on his hip, had actually found its mark.  Suppose they had gone first into the professionals’ room next door, where well over 60,000 dollars of camera and computer equipment was.  At our orientation school in Machakos we were told that waking during a robbery in progress is one of the most dangerous scenarios we might face.  God’s hand in the words spoken and actions taken were almost immediately evident to us.

Kenyans Are Desperate For A Future:
Poverty is everywhere.  These men probably live in one of Nakuru’s slums.  They’ll probably sell the full-sized refrigerator/freezer for around 120 dollars, the half-full gas cylinder for 100.  My 15 year-old watch for four or five.  The camera and lenses for maybe ten dollars.  Different priorities are found here.  People are poor.  We have really been blessed.  These thieves felt they had nothing to lose.  They were so desperate they cut through an electric fence to enter a game park – some of the most heavily patrolled areas in Kenya - walked through an area in which only a couple of hours earlier we had seen an enormous herd of buffalo bedding down for the night and in which we had that morning photographed 7 lions, in order to steal a refrigerator and some cooking fuel.  People Need Hope.  People need a Savior. (Jeremiah 29:11)

13 December 2010

Comfort food

There's a pretty heavy post coming your way soon, but in the meantime, here's something fun.  

On lucky days in Nairobi, at the Nakumatt grocery store, we can find little tastes of home.  Lately, I've been thrilled with the selection of Old El Paso cans of green chilies and enchilada sauces, and jars of hot sauce and salsa.  We can also get jars of Ragu pasta sauce.  All of these things and more come from the states.  The prices also reflect the long journey.  

Here are some other tastes of home... but surprisingly, they're not from home!  The prices on these items also reflect the fact they are rather uncommon pantry items in this part of the world.  So, we splurged a little to enjoy a taste of home over our holiday break.  Here's what we found:

Pringles from Belgium

Soup mix from South Africa

Ritz crackers from Ireland or England

Pop Tarts, from England

Canned peaches from South Africa

Oreos from Saudi Arabia

The back of the box.  Yep.  We're not in Kansas anymore.

Tic Tacs from... where else?  Ecuador.  

So there you go... our globetrotting pantry that doesn't look too much different from the grocery stores we left 5 months ago!

10 December 2010

DEFINITELY worth a read...

WORLD magazine just named their Daniel of the Year, the Christian news magazine version of Time's Man of the Year.  This year, it happens to be a doctor that has served here at Kijabe hospital since 1977.  His youngest son is still here attending RVA, and his other six children graduated from RVA.  The work he's done here is simply amazing.  This article is definitely worth your time to read.  Get a glimpse into the life of a long-term medical missionary in East Africa.

(We know it's been a while since an update or story on the blog.  We are hoping to do some catch-up in the next few days.  Thanks for your patience!)