Jambo! Hi from City of Hope everybody!
This is Faith Franklin, serving as the first of many (hopefully) blog updaters. I’m not sure what to include here exactly…. The last 5 days have been pretty dang packed. But I think I’ll just try to paint a bit of a picture of what’s been going on since the journey began and what this place is like.
The plane rides were long. I think I came the farthest, being from Texas, but not too much longer of a flight since I think the first leg was 7 ½ hours even from Virginia (where most of the team is from). A group of us were on the same plane from London to Nairobi, and I found and met them (Clay, Dwayne, Jen, Juliana, Brittney, Lauren, Johnny & Cecilia – sorry if I misspelt anyone’s names!) by miracle after boarding the plane. I sat by a couple of Kenyan girls returning home for a visit after several years and I started getting some Swahili and culture lessons, which was awesome. We arrived in Nairobi and went through the easiest customs experience I’ve ever heard of, all our bags made it, and we hung around waiting for Stephanie to get in from Amsterdam after a rather exciting flight with an emergency stop in Cairo. All was well though, we met up with Nimrod and hopped in some vans and took about an hour’s bumpy dark drive to a lovely guest house where we stayed the night after some tea and mandazi (donuts).
The next morning I got my first look at Africa. Surprisingly green and lush. Another big bunch of the team was there (the Hopkins, Michael and Christine, Abi, Angie and Rachel) and we ate breakfast and they all hopped on another bus to head for the City of Hope. I, however, was extremely blessed to take a plane with Ty, Joi and their kids Wren and True. Just the five of us and a pilot and an hour or so flight over south-western Kenya. We could see Kibera (a huge slum near Nairobi) and the whole of downtown, and then fields and villages and wildlife and mountains and rivers and glory on and on and on. It was astounding. Wren slept on my arm the whole time (she’s 2, so she wasn’t really tall enough to see anyways). [btw, I just had to take a break to put mosquito spray on in the house. Laptops and deet, y’all.] We touched down just before the Tanzanian border and met up with a van from the City of Hope, bringing out some other guests back to the plane to head back to Nairobi. We then drove to the border, through villages and towns and farmland, where, minus an incident where our tires were chained up for parking in the wrong place. We had to talk down some police with large clubs asking us to pay an exorbitant fine. We speedily signed out of Kenya and paid for Tanzanian visas. I hope the rest of the team was driving the last stretch before dark, because it is truly beautiful here. The land is fertile and so green and there are mountains and bananas and animals everywhere. No elephants yet, but lots of goats and chickens and cows.
City of Hope is in the middle of the village Ntgatcha, which I’ve been told is populated by around 3.000 people . I’ll try to describe it as well as I can, because I knew pretty much nothing about what to expect when I left so I wasn’t able to give much info. It is a compound type thing that has a gate but a huge sign that reads “Karibu!” meaning welcome. And it is the epitome of karibu. The property encompasses quite a number of buildings: a guest house where our team eats in a big rotunda with a fireplace in the middle, which has a lot of rooms and several bathrooms (I am in the guest house now); the childrens home, where they orphans eat and sleep and used to have class before the new building was put into action today as the new term began, and where 8 of us girls and 5 of the guys are staying; the new building, where the kids will have school and where we had church on Sunday, the Chacha’s house, the chai house (kind of a huge pavilion), and various other things. The property also has huge gardens and farmland full of maize, sukuma, huge avocados, bananas, and who knows what else. They grow all their own food here. The kids are getting an excellent education, vocational training in farming, sewing, business (they sell chai at the chai house) and other things, and most of all, a thorough foundation in Scripture.
So, what is City of Hope exactly? Well, I thought it was mainly a hospital and a school. It turns out, the hospital is in another part of the village about a ten or fifteen minute walk away, and the City of Hope is actually mainly the children’s home. There are about a hundred kids that actually live here, most of whom are orphans. There’s several hundred kids that come in to go to the school, because it’s one of the best schools in the country. And, there’s some kids that board here because the school is so good that wealthy people in other cities send their kids here. This place was started by Dr. John Chacha, who has traveled and preached and written many books in his time, and was actually born here in Ntgatcha. I’ve heard and seen a lot of very wonderful things about him…but the main thing is that on Wednesday and Friday nights, he DJs an out of control dance party for the kids with African gospel music. And so far, it has been not just Friday night, but also Saturday night, and the epic culmination last night with an all out dance off between the guys and girls. I’ve never even imagined such dancing. College parties seem extremely dull at this point. Hopefully we’ll all bring back some of the sick moves they’ve been teaching us. Seriously…I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much fun in one place.
The weather is amazing. The food has been delightful (ugali and sukuma tonight and chai after dinner). Everyone says “Karibu!” all the time, and they really mean it. Such warmth and service and joy. The singing and dancing are totally astounding. It’s a bit dusty, the solar power gives us some lights at night, the internet connection sucks, cold bucket showers are totally refreshing, mosquito nets are totally effective, you don’t really need sweets, and I’m loving that I don’t even have a watch and I never know what time it is except at meals. Africans love people so much more than schedules. There is a “mountain” about a mile away that about 60 of the kids took a bunch of us to yesterday, and the view was breathtaking. They climbed trees and picked tons of these tiny orange fruits for us. They’ve been giving us all Swahili lessons, writing us notes, and slowly starting to let us in. For me, that’s been an unexpected adventure J The team here for the seminar is so awesome. I’m amazed by the depth of character and wisdom in each of them, and am feeling blessed down to my soul to get to talk with them all the time about everything under the sun, sing with them, and pray with them. Most of them are second year med students, a few are nurses or in nursing school. There’s three guys from Kenya (Daniel, Benjamin and Joram) that joined us, which is a massive blessing since they not only speak Swahili, but they are doing ministry like this as well in another village and have a lot of insight on the culture. The Chachas, interns, and other various brothers and sisters around here have also been very wonderful.
I hung around at the hospital for a bit today and sat in on Ben and Denis (the nurse practitioners from somewhere near here that run it) treating a ten month old baby so malnourished that edema was about to rupture the skin in 4 or 5 places on his little body. His mother left in May and his grandmother said he’d barely been eating the porridge she’d been trying to feed him, and so she had apparently been to a shaman that punctured the sore on his foot, tearing open most of the skin. He was in so much pain, and you could see every bone in his body. It was like something out of National Geographic, with the flies swarming and everything. Suddenly things we’ve all been talking about are no longer theoretical issues, but very close and real. We are divided into groups that will be picking and tackling problems in the community over the month, like trying to understand birthing practices, HIV, infant mortality, and who knows. That will be the practical time each day, as well as each group getting to spend a day at the hospital.
We took the weekend to recoup, and today we broke into what should be an African-style of normal for the rest of the time here. Devotions, breakfast, practical time, lunch, discussion under the Tree, break, dinner, chillax. Today during practical time we went down to the hospital and got a tour and a very thought provoking discussion about how health care is being practiced here and how it is working…talks like these will be many more in coming, and so far the questions brought up have been many and exciting and scary and altogether very much taking us all to the Lord. The culture is so incredibly different here. Honestly…. I have already realized that my faith is very much too small. This place has mostly made me feel small and foolish and helpless. It seems almost impossible to make a difference, and impossible to know how to tell the difference between the Lord’s desires for people in areas like this, so undeveloped and full of pain and malnutrition and illness and seeming darkness, and our own desires and thoughts. But we are all planning to spend a lot of time at His feet over the next month, and we’re trusting Him to teach us. He is so good! And so very big. I love you guys, na ku penda. Thank you for the prayers, more than I can say. Lala salama!