Friday, January 18, 2008

from zimbabwe back to kenya

To update, my parents' town does, after all, have a coffeehouse, and I did a bit of work there today while drinking an adequate hot chocolate that wasn't as tasty as the "luxurious hot chocolate" I enjoyed on several occasions at my South Africa coffeehouse spot of choice. But, as the saying goes, beggars can't be choosers, and I was glad for a coffeehouse-ish place to go.

The coffeehouse has about five tables. As I was the last to exit after the "morning rush," I overheard one of the two workers comment excitedly that they should have taken a picture because at one point all the tables were full! It was nice to be part of an historic Independence (Kansas) moment.

On my way out I quickly browsed the retail tea section (the coffeehouse also is equal part retail establishment selling health food type stuff) and happily discovered that they sell Celestial Seasonings Bengal Spice tea. I discovered this tea when I visited a friend in Denver and she brewed a tasty cup of it for me. I picked up my own box at the Celestial Seasonings gift shop after our tour of their Boulder, Colorado, plant. I've never found it in stores, so I've been rationing my one box, which is now packed away somewhere in a box labeled "kitchen stuff." It might be time to replenish my stock.

Anyway, on to the real reason for this post. I've just revisited a blog I discovered a number of days ago and have decided it's time to tell you about it. The blog writer keeps her identity fairly anonymous, but it's apparently written by an African woman in Nairobi. It's very well-written, so I recommend it to you first on the merit of its writing and second because the writer is providing some helpful overview of what's happening in Kenya. I'm sure there are other good blogs out there, but this is the one I'm frequenting: What An African Woman Thinks.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

a bit of published material

I'm holed up in my parents' house in Kansas for a couple more weeks, trying to push through a long list of writing assignments without a desk and without coffeehouses to use as writing haunts! Eventually, I'll recreate the post below that was lost, but there's no time for that at the moment.

In its place, I'm offering a link to one of my Africa articles that's available online now, so you can see a bit of the "official" fruit of my Africa labors:

"Zimbabwe economic crisis cripples mission station" from the United Methodist News Service's site

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

tilapia is a cool word

A post and accompanying captions will be forthcoming. Blogger's being a bit obstinate, and beyond that I pushed the magically mysterious combination of keys that made my blood, sweat and tears (to be a bit melodramatic)-consuming post go "poof" and refuse to be found. Which makes the tears want to be more real than dramatic.

Monday, January 7, 2008

appreciating what you've got

One thing my Africa travels taught me to appreciate is the American political system. As frustrating and fallible as it is, it still gets some things right. I now appreciate term limits that can't be changed at the whim of a head of state. I appreciate election days that stick. I appreciate a Constitution that set up some good safeguards. I appreciate not being afraid to go to the polls on election day. I appreciate a country in which all jobs are not "government jobs" because the government doesn't run everything. I appreciate decentralization now that I know what it means.

When I left for Africa at the end of July, candidates were campaigning and the media was pontificating. It all seemed like a little too much too soon. I mean, it was still a year and a half before the presidential election! Calm down, folks. Besides, I was busy packing and writing and planning and sorting and preparing and organizing. So, I didn't pay much attention to the fine details of campaigning. Plus, I'm fairly cynical about ever being able to get real information from the campaign machinery anyway.

In Africa, though, especially in Kenya and Uganda, some of my new friends and acquaintances asked me about our elections. Mostly the Kenyans asked me about Barack Obama. (I didn't know until I was in Kenya that his father was Kenyan.) And mostly people asked me who I thought was going to win: Hillary or Barack. Still, it was a sobering reality check on the way the world follows our politics. What happens here affects them.

The week I returned to the US I happened to read the Atlantic cover story (December issue) on Barack Obama. I don't know yet who I will vote for, but this article did raise some interesting points. This one hit me with more force than it might have otherwise, since I was fresh off the plane from international travels:

What does he offer? First and foremost: his face. Think of it as the most effective potential re-branding of the United States since Reagan. Such a re-branding is not trivial—it’s central to an effective war strategy. The war on Islamist terror, after all, is two-pronged: a function of both hard power and soft power.... The next president has to create a sophisticated and supple blend of soft and hard power to isolate the enemy, to fight where necessary, but also to create an ideological template that works to the West’s advantage over the long haul. There is simply no other candidate with the potential of Obama to do this. Which is where his face comes in.

Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.


Since returning, in light of all the things I newly appreciate, I've been trying to catch up on the candidates. It's hard going. I watched part of the Democratic debate on Saturday night. Until it reached the point that all debates seem to reach: candidates repeating their catch phrases in answer to every question, not saying anything new after the first half of the debate. Like I said, our politics aren't perfect, but as I pray for Kenya, I'm glad for what we have.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

kenya continued

A Kenyan friend from my travels this fall sent out this note earlier today...

Dear Beloved Brethren,
New Year Greetings to everyone. Please allow me to appreciate those of you who have been praying with us. So far, my family and I are fine. I have also checked with our church members and ministry partners from across the country and no victim yet, except for one brother who has been in hiding since December 30th.

I have been trying to reach him on phone but have not succeded. This morning, I received a call from him and I thank God for him that he is alive. I suspect he has not had anything to eat since then so I'll be monitoring the situation.

Beloved of the Lord, the situation here is so uncertain we live one day at a time since no one knows what is likely to happen. There are no stores from where to buy food, fuel pumps are dry, transportation is difficult. From tomorrow, January 3rd, 08, things could go out of hand especially in Nairobi where there is likely to be a face off between the police and the supporters of ODM.

In closing, let me request for your continued prayers for our motherland Kenya. Innocent blood has been spilled, inocent people have died, children all over the country are crying for lack of food, they do not understand what is happening, people are going hungry and are living in fear of uncertainty, women have been raped as people continue to lose their lives. In God's merciful hands and care, we the people of Kenya entrust ourselves and I appeal to our brothers and sisters out of Kenya to stand with us in prayers. Please pray with us earnestly and sincerely for God's divine intervention to prevail upon the situation.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

more from kenya

Here's a link to the blog of Adele who lives in Eldoret, Kenya, though she's apparently not there right now. I was supposed to connect with her while I was in Kenya, but those plans fell through, so I never made it to Eldoret.

Lisette is blogging from Tenwek Hospital, where I spent two weeks.

Trena is a college friend of mine who's headed to Kenya sometime early this year. She's been in touch with some of her Kenya friends and has posted some updates as well.

Here are a couple news articles:
"Kenya church fire kills 50 who fled mob"

"Kenyans burned to death in church"

Mathere slum, one of the places experiencing violence, is a place I visited while I was in Nairobi. There are photos of it under the "photo posts" and "kenya" labels.

Please pray for the people of Kenya, pray that a desire for power won't keep leaders from working together to quell instead of incite violence, that tribal tensions will ease, that no more lives will be lost.

where in the world did 2007 go?

Or perhaps I should say, Where in the world did I go in 2007? As the clock launches us into a new year, I find myself wondering, Where in the world will I go in 2008?

After spending Christmas week with my siblings and their families, I've traveled with my parents back to their home in Kansas. It's good to be here and to feel like it's the closest I've currently got to a physical home. Even though I didn't grow up in this house and don't know which kitchen cupboard holds glasses and which one holds bowls, at least the bowls and glasses inside the cupboards are the ones I grew up drinking and eating out of.

I've unpacked my clothes, and tomorrow I'll start sorting through files and bills and other fun things. Nothing like celebrating the arrival of a new year with file folders! Yippee!

This is a thick time of life. There's so much opportunity, yet so much to be done in order to capitalize on it. There are so many unknowns, yet I don't want to rush too quickly through to the other side of them, back into the known (though my life tends to linger mostly in the unknowns even when things are in order).

I'm glad for the short days this time of year and glad that we get to live in Advent and Epiphany during the dark, cold season, in contrast to my African friends. Somehow those conditions outdoors are good for cozy reflection and prayer indoors.

It's been good to be with family, to have them ask me about my travels, my impressions, my experiences. It's good to talk about it. Yet, I understand somewhat what some of my missionary friends in Africa said about how hard it is to explain things to people, how hard it is for people who've never been to Africa to understand stories about Africa. But I guess that's probably true of anywhere.

Now that I've reached a place I'll get to sit still in for a little while (though this month is sure to speed by faster than I was when I got my last speeding ticket ;-) ), I'm able to better feel the yearning to go back to Africa some day, more than once and hopefully sooner than later. But, it's not time yet, and I don't yet know what will be the particular context for my return trips.

These past months have taught me some good and important things about the vocation and calling God's made me for. But, pieces of those lessons are still a little unclear, dangling just out of reach, not quite grasp-able. I look forward to taking the steps to reach those dangling things.

One of the little things I can do in the aftermath of my Africa months is pray for and with new friends across the ocean. It's challenging to stay informed sometimes, but it helps when I get emails from folks in Kenya asking us to pray for their country. More than one of the countries I visited during my travels was gearing up, like the U.S., for presidential elections. Kenya is the first of those countries to hold their elections. Many were hopeful that Kenya could be a model for fair and peaceful elections and governmental transition. However, that hope hasn't been met positively. Please join our Kenyan brothers and sisters in praying for their country, for an end to the chaos that has erupted following the vote counting, for tribalism not to divide people, for truth and peace.

May 2008 be a year that God's grace and truth and mercy are newly absorbed by places and people that have dark histories.