[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Kenya & Zimbabwe header
| Kenya & Zimbabwe 2003 Home | Program description | Other current programs |
Journals: Travel | First Impressions | AIDS Orphanage | Leaving Kenya | Zimbabwe | Leaving

First Impressions

Lisa Bergey writes:

Friday morning began the most cross-cultural experience I've ever had. Our group left for Olepolos, a Maasai village, in two matutus. The drive there was an experience in itself. Near the beginning of the drive we stopped to gaze over the amazing view of the Great Rift Valley. It was a beautiful sight, but it was hard to appreciate the depth and breadth of it. We saw zebras, giraffes, baboons, and other wildlife as we made our way through the valley, across roads filled with potholes and on a very bumpy journey needless to say.

After arriving in Olepolos we walked to the church to meet our hosts for the weekend. Paired off in twos and threes we departed late afternoon with our "mama's". Krista, Wendy and I went to one of the most traditional Maasai homes and families. We walked 5-10 min. through corn and wheat fields, across natural land, to our home made of sticks, mud, and dung. I entered the house but froze in my tracks as I rounded the corner and was in almost complete darkness. There was one window about 7 inches in diameter, on one side of the house that was the only light (besides the fire) and air flow source. After being in the home for a number of minutes my eyes finally adjusted, and I could see much more. We were served chai, ugali, and sukumuwiki for dinner.

No one in my house spoke any English, so communication was difficult and seemed almost impossible at times! We sat in silence lots of times or listened to their conversations in Maasai. About an hour and a half after the sunset we went to bed with the rest of our family (around 8:30 P.M.). The three of us shared a bed that was sticks raised up off the ground about 18 inches, covered with a leather animal skin, and very short. Our legs stuck off the end from our knees down. We went to bed with the goats and cat right beside our bed and a number of cows and calves in the attached room.

Sat. morning everyone met back at the church where we went for a hike down to the river. After lunch at our homes we met back at the church where we watched them slaughter a goat in honor of our visit. That was quite an experience! The local pastor of the fairly new Mennonite church gave us a very interesting Maasai culture lecture before we ate the goat meat that was roasted over the fire. Sat. evening we played volleyball with many of the younger men for a couple of hours, which was very fun.

Soon after this, we returned to our host homes for dinner---a heaping bowl of rice and beans for me. Something you must eat all of, or it will be seen as an insult to the mama who made it. Another night sleeping in the very hot and smoke filled one-room house passed as I listened to my mama softly singing a song as I drifted off.

When Sun. morning came we took some pictures at our house...more than I originally intended! The children and women love to be in pictures and to take them theirselves. Church was Sun. morning as well. There was lively singing, clapping, and a sermon given in Swahili and Maasai. It was neat to experience a different style of worship than what I am used to. We sang "Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow (606)" for them at the end of the service before they had a prayer of blessing for our group. We left the village shortly afterwards and traveled back to Nairobi.

These were the main events of our weekend. Each person had a different experience. Some of our group stayed in more modern multiroom homes with furniture and linoleum on the floor. Some had families who spoke English well and who they talked to a lot and build some special relationships. All of us had an unforgettable learning experience in Olepolos with stories too numerous to recount here, but hopefully this gives just a tiny taste of what we experienced.

These are just some thoughts that Ben Bixler had while he was lying awake one sleepless night in Olepolos. Some are funny and some are thought provoking, but they all seem to reflect the experience our group had in the village.

Even though our host father prayed for supper in Swahili, the four-to-five minute prayer truly moved me. It has been a long time since I have been moved by the passion in a prayer. Though I couldn't understand a word of what was said, the enthusiasm was so moving that I felt more in touch with his prayer than I have most prayers in the past weeks. I was able to simply sit and listen and worship.
In the big scheme of things, what's 20 shillings to have your picture taken with one of the smoothest talkers in Narok (a town close to Olepolos)?
I am nearly paralyzed with the fear of having to get up in the pitch dark, make my way outside, and take a leak. I know I have to do it, but after six hours of listening to the night noises of Kenya, my mind has constructed every possible situation that awaits me outside the door.

After fifteen more minutes of lying here, thoughtless, I summon up the courage to move outside. I am greeted by the calm of the night, by the stillness of the sky. Is there anything more beautiful than a night sky that looks totally new?
Wipe left, eat right; wipe left, eat right; wipe left, eat right.
Though these people seem to have less than what I brought to Africa for four weeks, they seem so much happier and content than most people I know. I think that even though this life is hard--with the work and the constant cycle of things to be done--there is a peace that comes with living a simple life. I would love to know, to really know, what it is like to live off the land--to be in touch with the earth and with the rhythm of the seasons. I know it is easy to romanticize this life in the first few days, but having lived on a farm, I think I can understand a bit of what it would be like. The escape from the pressures of modernity seems very appealing--at least in the short term.
The generosity of the people is very comforting. Even though we struggle to communicate, they offer what they have. Am I able to do the same?
Just how much caffeine and sugar are in four mugs of chai?
The world is getting bigger; I'm gaining more of an understanding of how different things really are. Do I truly understand what I'm experiencing? How do I bring this world to mine?
Falling asleep without Sarah (Ben's wife) is hard; not falling asleep without her is even harder.
In some ways, these thoughts contain more questions than answers, but these questions can only come from lying awake in a strange, new, exciting place for nine hours, and will hopefully lead to a more clarified ambiguity.

Doreen Shirk writes:

I was not able to talk much with the family I stayed with unless one of the men who knew English was around. Yet, on Sunday morning, as we walked to church, I started singing a Swahili song I learned fourteen or so years ago. When the children started singing with me, I felt that I had made a connection that hadn't been made before. They were surprised that I knew that song. I was able to enjoy being with the children before, but this was special to know they understood me in a new way.

Don Tyson writes:

We had arrived in Olepolos with excitement and wonder about what we would experience. After a long walk from Janzens' (missionaries from Canada living in Olepolos) to the church, Welby and I walked back towards Janzens' to our home. We were escorted by Solomon, a man in his early 20's who plans to go to a university in the United Kingdom to study biology. We were introduced to our host mother. She, speaking no English, asked Solomon to stay until her husband returned. He took us for a walk to the river. After walking a while and talking about the differences in life between Africa and the USA, he asked if we could pray. There on the banks of the river, three fellow Christians prayed for their families, the church, forgiveness, discernment, and peace. We were no longer strangers, but "members of one family--the family of God." This is the embodiment of one church that transcends cultural differences, language, and oceans.

Praise be to God!

Photo galleries:
(most to least recent)

Victoria Falls
and GYS

AIDS orphanage

Gallery 2
First impressions

Gallery 1
Travel and arrival