We’ve been in Kijabe for 8 months now, and our focus has shifted from “how to survive” to “how thrive in a foreign culture.” So many things have happened. Moving the family here was a big project: packing, shipping, unpacking, sourcing medical supplies, trying to anticipate our needs in an African village while sitting in an American town. For those of you who know Ann and I, it will come as no surprise that Ann was the organizing force for all of that. Once we landed in Kijabe, we were like babies learning to walk. Every detail, from where to get food, what water is OK to drink, schooling, how to drive, had to be re-learned. This process involved many pleasant surprises: the community here is so warm and welcoming, and many aspects of life are simpler here.
One of my concerns leaving the US was losing my sense of community, belonging, integration. I loved walking in to a coffee shop in Bend, and knowing half the people at tables and most of the people behind the counter. I was anxious about losing this sense of integration. I needn’t have worried. Kenyan culture is very integrative. Our western sense of autonomy is seen as odd, simultaneously selfish and self-destructive. While life in Nairobi is quite modern and western, in most areas of Kenya, community means survival. Autonomy, or isolation, is not a viable lifestyle. If food, shelter, or safety are not assured, then family, kin, community, become the social safety net. One simply doesn’t make it alone here.
For an American, this takes some getting used to. It manifests in many different ways. Patients ask for and expect my mobile phone number. If someone is walking down the road and gets tired, he might decide to have a nap in your yard. Strangers knock at the door, seeing if you’d like to buy some samosas or grapes. This can be a little uncomfortable, encroaching, for us. But the flip side of this is a strong sense of community. When I was fooling around with the kids and managed to get our 4WD Turbo-diesel bad— Landcruiser stuck at the end of our driveway, everyone stopped to offer “pole sana” (very sorry.) The one minute walk to the hospital usually takes ten or fifteen, stopping to greet and chat with friends and colleagues on the road or outside the hospital. The community here is pretty small, so everyone makes it a point to get together for dinners, games, or a cup of chai.
The whole concept of “locally sourced” makes a lot of sense here. When it gets cold, and we want to build a fire, we buy wood and charcoal. But where does that wood come from? And how is the charcoal produced? We live on the side of the Great Rift escarpment, so when illegal logging for firewood leads to landslides, disaster strikes. Last week, a landslide came right through the village, bringing large trees and even a railroad tie careening down the main (0nly) road. The village next to us fared much worse: three children were killed. Cause and effect. No theoretical debates about global warming, greenhouse gasses, etc. If we don’t take care of our environment, we experience it later that day.
While we make forays into the big city (Nairobi) for specialty items like sausage or cheese, most of our food comes from here in the village. Peter brings chickens to the door, mostly butchered, and Ann spends an hour trimming away the feathers and inedible parts. The local market has every imaginable fruit and vegetable. This is an agricultural area, less than one degree off the equator, so everything grows. We have a shamba (garden) in our yard which produces amazing tomatoes, three different kinds of lettuce, cauliflower, beans, cilantro, and soon, herbs. We’ve met the cows that produce the manure that grow our food! We buy their fertile waste for 200 shillings per 300 pound bag. The shamba is enclosed by chicken wire on all sides, including the roof, to keep baboons and monkeys from helping themselves. Peter the flower man brings us roses, 200 shillings ($2.75) for twenty of the most beautiful, fresh cut roses you can imagine.
So we feel comfortable, at home, somewhat settled. A number of blogs ago, I discussed “the chaos bridge.” We were taught this concept in our pre-deployment training. Bridging from your passport culture to another culture inevitably involves chaos. This is envisioned as a bridge over turbulent waters, a transition from security, to chaos, and then some return to normalcy. We really feel like we’ve passed through the peak of the chaos.
Now that we’ve survived the worst of the transition, Ann and I have had a chance to really think about the reason we were sent here. The root of this is faith. We believe in a God who loves us, wants the best for each of us, and has a plan for each of our lives that will bring us closer to Him. To do so, we’ve been asked to transition from the currency of the world to the currency of belief. The currency of the world, power, control, money, and possessions, has to give way to the currency of belief, of shalom. Faith calls for a release of control, to the interdependency Kenyan culture has perfected. Daily, we rely on the generosity of others to continue our work here. Autonomy is not a viable lifestyle. While this might sound a little scary or insecure, the reverse is true. We are filled with joy on a continuous basis at the way this life works. God’s plan becomes obvious. On a regular basis, at the exact moment when a need arises, the need is met by a miraculous “coincidence” or act of generosity. While we don’t take this for granted, we do rely on it!
Ann moved here without an obvious role. Her background is in international development: the formation of sustainable systems in the developing world. While this skill set is desperately needed in Kenya, Ann moved here with the goal of getting the kids settled before she committed to any project. This was a leap of faith for her, but, true to form, the perfect opportunity presented itself. Kijabe Hospital has longed for someone to spearhead a “Resource Mobilization” department. This involves organizing website development, media production, fundraising, and grant writing to keep the hospital financially viable. Perfect match. She’s now fully engaged ensuring, as Kijabe celebrates its centennial, that it will still be around in another hundred years.
This currency of faith is sometimes scary. In a world built on relationships and generosity, things can move with blinding speed. Kenya shares a small length of border with South Sudan, the newest country in the world. South Sudan has very little medical infrastructure, and the highest maternal mortality rate in the world. Kijabe Hospital has stepped up to provide training for the first class of South Sudanese anesthetists. Their ministry of health has crunched the numbers, and estimated that each anesthetist will be responsible for saving 10,000 lives in their career! Many of these are women and infants who would not survive the birth process without emergency c-section. I’ve expressed an interest in seeing if we could also now help with training surgeons for South Sudan. Be careful what you pray for! Five or six emails have flown back and forth, and I’ll be on a plane for South Sudan on May 19th to meet with Ministry of Health officials in Juba. I’m too excited for words, and simultaneously terrified. This has been a dream of mine since we moved here.
So we’ve exchanged our currency of control, autonomy, and ownership, to one of exhilarating but sometimes scary dependency. We are dependent on prayer, on relationships, on the kindness of others, on “coincidences”, on God. Thank you for being part of our journey.