Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Chaos Bridge

Wow, where to begin. We’ve got internet connection reestablished, so we can finally communicate with the outside world. We’ve been in Kijabe about 9 days now, and it’s beginning to feel a little like home. The community here is amazing: fun, friendly people who are used to reaching out to newcomers. There’s a lot to learn. At first, nothing is easy, natural, or effortless. I’m thirsty, I’d like a glass of water. But, there might be amoeba in the tap water, so we have to run up to the duka to get bottled water. OK, but for that we need Kenyan shillings. Will our ATM card work in the machine at the hospital? And where exactly is the duka? And should we walk or drive. And we could drive, but it’s not really clear if we have insurance on the car or not, but we’ll chance it because it would be heavy to carry bottled water back from the duka. And as we drive back, we see an elderly woman carrying a huge pile of sticks up the hill, as we drive down with our bottled water. Ok, how much guilt should I feel over that? And on, and on, and on.

Our house is really nice. The houses here are solid. Concrete block construction, inside and out. Corrugated metal roofs. These structures are built to last. Which is good, because they have to withstand heat, torrential rains, and strong winds. But the weather since we got here has been glorious. I’m typing this on our patio, it’s about 80 F, breezy, and I’m looking out over the great rift valley. Michael and his friends Keller and Hale are goofing around as only 7 year olds can, making an entire afternoon out of exploring what can be done with a hammock. We’re currently correcting Michael’s west coast linguistic idiom, calling everyone in Kenya “dude.” So he alternates between dude and Keller. It’s progress.

A central concept of our training in Colorado involved transitioning across the “chaos bridge”. Imagine a drawing of a suspension bridge. On the left, solid ground, familiarity, routine, ease. The approach ramp is called transition: moving towards dis-ease, unfamiliarity, apprehension, anxiety. The middle of the bridge is chaos. The possibility of failure is real, and at the very least moving across this swaying span involves anxiety, dislocation, loss of everything familiar, and doubt. During chaos, interpersonal relationships are deeply stressed, everything around is unfamiliar, even the simplest tasks take great time, effort, and expenditure of energy. Eventually, the off ramp brings a gradual return to welcome routine, the surroundings becoming more familiar, and stress levels fall. Completely exiting the bridge may take years, but the new normal eventually arrives. Language, food, routine, climate, and relationships all return to the new normal, and stress levels approach normal. To some degree, when living in a culture different from your “passport culture”, the new normal is never normal, and some degree of increased effort is required.

We’re smack in the middle of the bridge, but we feel amazingly blessed with the people who’ve materialized to help us in our transition. So many people here have reached out to us and to Michael and Jane to make us feel welcome, to explain how to function here, to cook us meals, and invite us into their homes.

I went to hospital orientation last week. Very helpful, informative, and important. The head of engineering came down to give us a talk on the importance of partitioning waste: medical waste from glass, paper, needles, etc. As part of this, we got a tour of “The New Warrior,” the name of the hospital incinerator. The incinerator is located a half mile or so down the hill from the hospital, away from houses, in the middle of the hospital landfill.
Part of the landfill is the “placenta pit.” This is a pit, 20 feet deep by 10 feet wide by 20 feet long, which accepts placentae and limbs from the hospital. Your read that right. ┬áIt’s covered in dirt, and accessed by a concrete lid with an opening. Next to this is a baboon trap, to keep pesky baboons away from the placenta pit. Don’t go there.

On the walk back up to the hospital, an orientee from the maasai mara area started relaying a story with a little smirk on his face. “Where I come from, we don’t use baboon traps, we have a better way. We dig a pit, and catch the head male of the tribe with bananas for bait. Then we lower a noose down into the pit, and pull it tight until he loses consciousness. Then we skin him alive, and release him to his tribe. They never come back to bother us.” Ok we’re firmly on the bridge now.

What makes some of the chaos so tolerable are the immediate and gratifying aspects of settling in Africa. This is kid heaven. Our kids haven’t asked to play the ipad once since we got here. Michael and Jane can run barefoot back and forth to their new friends houses. As I’m typing, Michael’s friend’s mom Amanda pauses in her car on the hill above our house to say she’ll be out for a little while, would it be ok if they played over here for awhile. If it takes a village to raise a child, it’s happening here. There’s a real sense of communal parenting, looking out for each other, an old fashioned sense of neighborliness.

Simple pleasures become important: popping popcorn, the amazing locally grown bounty at the market, hammock bliss, science fiction sized yellow flowers, and working up the courage to greet a Kenyan friend in Kiswahili instead of English.

As we move in, settle in, and get ready to get to work, we never forget that we’re here only because a group of people believe in what we’re doing. We’re humbled that so many people have prayed for us, encouraged us, and supported us. Thank you all for your amazing prayers and encouragement.

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