Africa in March: Update #5

Sorry for the gap in posts...I just couldn't justify the $20/hr charge for internet use while on safari.

In my last post I mentioned the Korogochu slum and saying goodbye to the kids. I'm going to wait a bit longer to go into detail about these aspects of the trip because I think having some photos to accompany the post will be more effective.

On Wednesday, we all left Nairobi and flew to the Masaia Mara, the Kenyan, northern part of the Serengeti plain. We were met by 4 Toyota Land Rovers specially designed for safari trips. We split up into the 4 vehicles and traveled to our lodging, the Sarova Mara. The Sarova is a group of about 40-50 "tents", a nice lodge, a restaraunt, a pool...hardly roughing it. The tents are permanent structures which include a nice wood floor, electricity and a very nice little adjoining bathroom/shower. After unloading our stuff, we moved back to the vehicles for our afternoon safari. As we moved across the (seemingly) endless grasslands of the Mara, we could see different types of animals all around. Some of the animals are quite common, such as the Thompson Gazelle, Topi, Heartbeast, etc. You just look around and there they are. Other animals are more rare, but not too hard to see - elephants, cheetah, giraffe. Finally, there are the very rare animals, such as the Leopard and Rhino, which you usually don't see. On this day, though, we had some amazing luck. First of all, we came across a very large male Lion (harder to find than the females) who was hanging out around a Cape Buffalo it had killed. We were able to get quite close, which is a big thrill. Secondly, we were moving over to look at a cheetah some other drivers had spotted, when suddenly the cheetah took off in pursuit of a Topi. At first the cheetah seemed to barely be gaining ground on the large anetelope, but all of a sudden the cheetah put an the most amazing burst of speed I've ever seen. I mean, it was like the cat was suddenly shot out a cannon! In the blink of an eye, the cheetah closed the 20 yard gap between it and the Topi, launched in the air, and dragged the big animal down from behind. By the time we got close enough to see the result, there were 3 cheetahs already beginning their meal, the primary hunter still firmly locked on the Topi's throat. Seeing a live cheetah hunt and kill was a site I'll never forget....

I'll have to finish later...out of time.

Africa in March: Update #4

Masai Mara, Kenya

Wednesday, March 14 

Since I am so behind in my writings, I'll try to summarize the last couple of days without going on and on and on.


We drove to the BCC for Sunday School and church.  The youth and children each had Sunday school first, and we were able to sit in and listen.  Both Sunday School and church in Kenya would be familiar to most US folks, but the kids seemed much more focused and attentive to what was happening.  During SS, the kids worked on memory verse and some Bible stories.  It's amazing how well these kids, even the youngest ones, know and understand the Bible.  The caregivers and teachers do a fantastic job of instruction.  After SS, we gathered to worship in the small BCC chapel.  the pastor, Tony Wenani, spent some time welcoming all of the guests - both those from the US and those from the surrounding area.  We then spent time singing and celebrating.  I'll just say attending a Kenyan church, listening to their praise music and singing, is one of the most enduring experiences I've ever had.  It really has to be experienced to be understood - simply amazing.  In addition, the children came up and put on a little show by singing a few songs themselves...I don't have the words.

After the music, Tony and Kevin Hall, the pastor for Oakwood Baptist in Lubbock, presented the sermon.  They both did a great job as Pastor Hall brought the message and Tony translated into Ki-Swahili for those who didn't speak English.

After church, we ate lunch and then completed our Sports Camp.  Word must have spread throughout the community because our numbers seemed to have doubled overnight.  We finished the soccer tournament and all craft activities, and then had an awards ceremony where all participants received participation ribbons, certificates and, for the winners of the tournament, medals.  I have never seen kids so excited to receive something so simple as a ribbon.  It was very special to be able to hand out something so simple which meant so much.

After the Sports Camp we packed up and said our goodbyes.  As always, it was tough to leave the kids.


Monday was our first day to do construction.  All of the kids were in school when we arrived so we pitched right in to help out.  The ongoing project is a 3-room school building located on the grounds of the BCC.  The master plan is to construct several buildings to house students from kindergarten to grade 8.  There is currently 1 school building, as well as a "technology" center where older kids (those beyond 8th grade who are not going to High School or to college) can learn a skill such as sewing.

The building process would be considered quite primitive by US standards.  There is no electricity, no power equipment, and very few adequate tools.  The basic process is this: A load of rocks is brought from a nearby quarry.  These rough rocks are then shaped into rectangles, 2 sides smooth.  Mortar is mixed using sand, dirt and cement.  The blocks are then put into place and mortared.  As I said, there is no electricity and very few tools.  All stones are moved by hand.  There is a crew of about 5 workes who shape the hand.  They use a hammer and a chisel to shape each stone, which takes around 20 minutes per stone.  The finished stones are nearly square on two sides, and the rock chippers are quite skilled.  However, they are also very poorly paid - they typically earn around 100 Kenyan shillings per day (just over $1.00).  It is very, very hard work, very monotonous, and these fellows do this job 6 days a week, 8-9 hours per day.  Once the stones are finished, they are laid out and ready to be moved to the particular was in which they will be placed. 

All of the morter is mixed and transported by hand.  Water is provided by the BCC and a crew of workers constantly mixes the mortar to be used immediately.  As a row of stones is placed, a crew foreman comes along and ensures that all of the stones are square and level.  This is accomplished using only string and a plumb.  Once the stones are in place, morter is forced between the stones using a trowel.  Mortor is then layered over the stones and made ready for the next row.  For a building the size of the one we were working on, about 2 full rows could be completed in a day.  As I said, the work is very physical and the techniques seem primitive, but we were all in awe as the building took shape looking as square and solid and impressive as anything an American crew could build.

Around 3:30 pm, the kids were out of school so we quit working for the day.  For the next 1 1/2 hours we visited and hung out with the kids, talking to them about their day, about school, whatever came to mind.  To me, this is the best time, just visiting and playing with the kids.  I wish I was able to post photos, but I'll have to wait.  As we left, it really began to sink in that the next day - Tuesday - would be our last day with the kids, so there was a lot of extra hugging and whispering.

I'll need to stop here as i think about writing of the next day - Tuesday.  This will be very hard.  This was our last day with the kids and it was a very emotional time, one which I can hardly think about without the computer screen becoming quite blurry.  There must be something wrong with this computer.  In addition, prior to going to the BCC we visited a Nairobi slum called Korogochu.  This visit to the slum may rank as the most heart-breaking thing I have ever done and I will need my wits about me to give it proper treatment.


*Got my luggage, finally.  Felt good to put on clean clothes, and everyone seemed a whole lot friendlier.

*I am writing this from the Masai Mara, where we are doing our safari.  I promise to try to get caught up.

*Forgive my typos.  I am paying about $20/hour to use the internet and am having to hurry.  I'll come back and fix them later.


Africa in March:Update #3

Saturday, March 10th, 2007
Nairobi, Kenya

Sometimes in life you find yourself in a place which just resonates, a place which seems to touch the heart and soul and mind in a deeper and more profound sense than other places. For me, no other place I've experienced has resonated like Nairobi, Kenya. It is probably much too complex an issue for me to lay out on paper, but suffice to say that I am deeply moved by what I see, hear, smell and learn in Nairobi.

At the heart of this experience is the staff and children of the BCC. If you were to ask me, "If you could go anywhere in the world for vacation, where would it be?", I would probably answer, "New Zealand," or "Scotland." However, if the question was, "If you could be anywhere in the world, where would it be?", I would answer, without hesitation or doubt, "The Baptist Children's Center of Nairobi, Kenya." Actually, this would be a bit misleading because the true answer would be, "Amongst the children of the Baptist Children's Center in Nairobi, Kenya."

Here is picture why: Lavenda, Agnes, Agnes and Edith


So it was that I found myself, along with 19 other similarly-minded people, pulling through the front gate of the BCC on a beautiful Saturday morning, preparing to spend a large part of the day in the very spot I consider to be Heaven-on-earth. After piling out of the vans, we spent a few minutes getting acquainted with the kids and then moved to the BCC's Dana Jones Dining Hall for a time of singing and worship. Accompanied by an aging CD player (whose cover was held in place with a small rock), we stood in amazement as the kids and their caregivers put on a concert for the ages (from my perspective, anyway.) Their voices, their Kenyan accents, their passion for all combined to produce possibly the greatest 15 minutes of music these 41-year old ears have ever heard. (To be honest, though, I think I say the same thing every time I hear them sing.) They sang primarily contemporary praise songs most of us had heard before, but I assure you, we had never truly heard them sung until then. It's as if we had suddenly found out why some of those songs were ever written; so they could be sung in that place with those voices.

After our time of singing and fellowship, we were able to spend some time playing and hanging out with the kids prior to lunch. This was a great time as the team really began to overcome some of the children's inherent shyness and started forming those bonds which are at the heart of the BCC experience. At around 1:00 pm, lunch was served. The BCC is blessed with a very hard-working and talented staff, including their two cooks, Agnes and Daniel (I think.) Meals at the BCC usually consist of a beef stew or beans, rice, and some sort of vegetable, like peas or carrots. With many meals, Chapati (spelling iffy, pronounced "cha-pa'-tee), a Kenyan staple, is served as well. This simple flour flat bread is similar in look to our flour tortillas, but is a bit thicker and has more moisture. The kids (and adults) love Chapati and always look forward to it.

After lunch our afternoon program began. The kids of the BCC were joined by two other groups: a small group from a "Compassion" children's home, and about 40 kids from the surrounding community (slum). The kids were divided up into 8 teams and rotated between crafts and soccer. All of the kids loved each activity, although soccer, being just as big a phenomenon in Kenya as it is most places in the world, was probably the favorite activity for the older kids. In the crafts area, an outbreak of face painting caught fire and the kids had a great time having polka dots, stars, fish, whatever, drawn on them. Once I get my pictures uploaded you can see how much fun they had with the face painting...there are some great photos (if I do say so myself.)

At around 4:30 pm, we started to wrap things up as we prepared to leave. It was hard to say goodbye after such a great day but, then again, it always is. All in all, the kids had a fantastic time and it was very, very rewarding to see some of the slum children having the opportunity to play soccer and face paint and meet us. The BCC tries very hard to integrate itself into the surrounding community, which isn't always easy, and offering these opportunities for the children of the slum goes a long way in accomplishing this goal.

After leaving the BCC, we headed back into town for dinner at Nando's (kind of a convenience store/fast food place) where we enjoyed either pizza or chicken. Then it was on to the Methodist Guest House for a time of devotion, discussion and, of course, Uno. It was a long day and everyone was tired, but it was such a GREAT day that I think everyone went to bed excited to get up early the next day for Day 2 of Sports Camp at the BCC.

I'll try to continue posting updates, but I must warn you, the internet is quite slow and troublesome at the Methodist Guest House and getting my posts up has proven to be difficult, as you might have surmised by now. Also, it will probably not be possible to post photos until I return, although I'll continue to try.

Final thoughts:
* Pray for the kids. They are so great, but face such a long and difficult road ahead. If I could snap my fingers and solve all their ills, I would of course, but I can't. They need our support, they need our prayers, they need our love.
* For now I am sticking primarily to straight narrative…what we did, who was there, what it was like, etc. After a while I will get more “interpretive” writings posted.
* Understand that I am not an official Buckner representative and the thoughts and opinions I express are mine alone. If you have a beef with anything you've read, take it up with me, not Buckner.
* My luggage was lost on the flight over and I've been wearing the same few clothes now for 5 days. Also, the gifts and stuff I wanted to give out are gone as well. Also, my computer wireless card is not available so I'm finding it extra-difficult to secure internet time. get the idea. It's all a bit disheartening (but tolerable). If you're comfortable praying for lost luggage, feel free. If not, at least try to feel a tiny bit sorry for me. If even that won't work, go ahead and laugh.

Africa in March: Update #2

Well, we made it.  We arrived Friday morning (instead of Thursday night), ate a late breakfast, got some rest, and then had some planning meetings in the afternoon.  But wait, that's only what we thought we were going do.  After our rest period, it turned out that we would get to go to the BCC and see the kids for a short while.  I must say, we were all more than excited.  After all, the kids are why we came.

We loaded up into vans and made the 90-minute drive through Nairobi to the BCC.  Since this is the strictly narrative part of the post, I'll refrain from expounding on what an almost other-wordly experience it can be to drive through Nairobi.  Suffice to say, it isn't something you ever really get used to, and it can be a very exciting, thrilling and heart-breaking part of the experience.  More to come.

As we hit a few last potholes, jostled over a few last mind-jarring bumps, we finally turned into the BCC.  All of us were simply giddy with excite, let me assure you.  Traveling those thousands of miles, enduring the delays and missed flights, grinding though 11 long hours in the London airport, wearing the same clothes for 2 solid days...all of these things vanished in the breeze.  We were finally there, the place we had all been (literally) dreaming about - with the kids.  (As I'm still trying to keep this a timetable narrative, I'll move on.)

We spent a couple of hours at the BCC.  Tony Wenani, the BCC supervisor/preacher/main man, took many of us around and gave a quick tour of the facility and grounds.  He also talked at length about the program, the surrounding community, and about some future plans.  It doesn't take long being around Tony to see that 1) he is uniquely gifted and passionate individual, and 2) he loves these kids!  After the tour, we were able to spend some time visiting with the kids, letting them see who we were and starting the process of getting to know them.  The kids are a bit shy at first, but they do like it when we come and, even though they may not talk too much initially, they enjoy our company.

After a bit of time visiting, it was time to leave.  It wasn't much fun getting back into the van after such a short time of visiting, but we were thrilled to have had the serendipitious opportunity of coming out and were excited beyond words knowing we'd be back in the morning.

We again made the trek through Nairobi, returning at the Methodist Guest House around 6:30 pm.  After dinner, we spent some time planning the next day's Sports Camp, organizing our supplies, and talking about the experience.  Our day over, we all headed to our rooms and crashed into some very deep sleep! 


Africa in March: Update #1

Just a quick note...we have had a few hiccups with our travel as we progress towards Africa. In a nutshell, our plane from Dallas to Chicago never got off the ground due to mechanical issues. (Of course, we're thankful they discovered the issue on the ground instead of in the air!) This flight was cancelled shortly thereafter, leaving us to scramble for an alternate flight to Chicago. We finally found one, thanks to the helpful folks at American Airlines, and hopped on a United flight which held up 20 minutes so we could board. I must say I was expecting a round of "Boooooos" when we boarded the plane, but everyone was very understanding.

Unfortanely, we missed our connection in Chicago despite the best efforts of British Airways to arrange a flight to London. Due to some miscommunication, we went to location "A" but were told to turn around and go to location "B". When we arrived at "B", we were told we should have just stayed at "A", and that it was too late to catch the flight to London BA had arranged for us. End result, we finally boarded another flight for London at around 8:30 pm, arriving in London at about 9:30 a.m., London time (3:30 a.m. Dallas time), having missed (by a long shot!) our flight to Nairobi.

We have been booked on a flight to Nairobi which leaves at 8:35 p.m. which, if you do the math, means we've been enjoying a leisurly 11 hour layover in London. But not to worry. All of the group remains in good spirits, and we've all caught up on our sleep a little (a good thing as the short night on the flight over tends to wipe people out a bit.)

We're looking forward to heading on to Nairobi this evening, landing at about 8:00 a.m. Kenya time (11:00 p.m. Thursday Dallas time). Although we'll be landing bit later then expected, we'll jump right into our planned schedule. We'll spend Friday fine-tuning our plans for the sports camp with the kids of the BCC orphanage, and then wake up on Saturday excited to actually go see them!

Amost out of internet time, I'll post again soon!