Settling In: Uganda, September 2021

Sunrise at Rwakobo Rock, September 8, 2021

Sunday, September 12. We’ve been in Uganda for more than two months — and it looks like I need to practice doing these blog entries a little more frequently. My only excuse is that we’ve been busy.

Around the beginning of August, the government eased the lockdown, allowing people to travel more and many businesses to reopen, although schools and churches remain closed.

Science Fair Presentation, August 11, 2021

We began a new session of enrichment activities for our 75 resident students including David teaching four sections of introductory journalism each week and Michelle directing a short play, A.A. Milne’s Ugly Duckling.

Almost immediately, however, our routine was disrupted. After two years of Covid related travel restrictions, the Rafiki Home Office announced that they would be able to make a tour of several of the villages — including ours.

We discovered that a Home Office visit is a Big Deal. For a week and a half beforehand, all hands turned out to sweep, clean, scrub, air out, trim branches, plant, mow (three times), and more so we could put our best feet forward.

Fortunately for us, the end of lockdown meant that Wilber, a local landscape expert, had just arrived to consult and supervise on landscape and gardening improvements. He oversaw the trimming of our trees (oversight being essential since many tree trimmers try to remove as many branches as possible to sell for firewood) and advised us on plantings to improve the security and beauty of our 1.5 mile long fence line.

Kei apples planted along part of our fence, already competing with prolific weed growth.

Our resident teenagers had cleared weeds and growth along that fence. Now we’ve planted about 3000 kei apple plants. These bushes have long thorns, and we will be tending them as they grow so that they intertwine with each other and the chain link fence to make a barrier that will be very difficult to get through. All we have to do is keep the weeds down as the plants become established and make sure the branches intertwine. We’re in the rainy season now which should make it easier for the plants as long as we keep ahead of the prolific growth of tropical weeds. I’m hoping my brown thumb works on the weeds rather than the kei apples.

Meanwhile, as trees were trimmed, residents hauled off the leftover branches and piled them in a couple of remote burn sites.

With churches closed due to Covid, we are fortunate to be able to gather in the auditorium on Sunday mornings for a worship service organized by our resident students. The choir selects and leads the music, students read scriptures and lead prayer, and we invite a local pastor to deliver a sermon.

Home Office visits involve meetings with many church and school partners, national and local government officials and Rafiki supporters. Organizing those meetings is like herding cats — particularly with the uncertainties Covid creates in travel.

Michelle and Marion, the assistant RICE dean, spent hours preparing the RICE facility for meetings and a school exhibition. They cleaned curtains, seat cushions and more. The students came to help by thoroughly washing the auditorium. In fact, they used so much water that our water tanks ran dry.

Finally, though, all seemed to be ready.

Then the Covid craziness struck. One member of the HO team tested positive on the preflight test — even though she had recovered from a mild bout a month before. She decided to keep testing as the rest of the team set out for visits to Tanzania, Kenya, and Rwanda before coming to Uganda. After two false positives, she received a negative test and joined the team in Kenya.

Rafiki Foundation Executive Director Karen Elliott briefs our church and school partners on progress in getting our curriculum and Bible studies distributed in Africa.

David met the three person team at the airport and escorted them back to the village. The next morning, we welcomed guests from our partner denominations, heard from our Executive Director, Karen Elliott, and the director of a school that is using the Rafiki curriculum as well as one of our head teachers. Our resident students prepared demonstrations in areas ranging from traditional crafts to robotics and performed music and speeches.

The headmaster of Legacy Christian Academy, which has been using the Rafiki curriculum for nine years, speaks passionately about the blessing it has been for his students and teachers.

We then had a productive meeting with our university partners from Westminster Christian Institute Uganda, the result of which is that we are hard at work finalizing the curriculum to present to the Uganda National Council for Higher Education as the final step in having our campus grant college degrees in education. God willing we will have that done before the first of the year.

After an afternoon in meetings around the village, we concluded the day with a dinner with the HO staff and the national leaders of our village programs.

The next morning, David set out with Karen, Kelly Fore, and Chriz Ogen to meet with Stephen Kaziimba, the archbishop of the Anglican Church of Uganda which has over 11 million members. They plan to use the Rafiki Sunday School curriculum in many of their churches as soon as they are allowed to resume and are interested in using our school curriculum in diocesan schools when it has been approved by the government. Our meeting at the archbishop’s palace on Namirembe Hill was productive and encouraging as he indicated his support for continuing and strengthening our partnership.

Rafiki science students discuss some of their projects with visitors during the Home Office visit.

After a lunch meeting with the chairman of our local board, James Musoke, we headed for a meeting with Grace Baguma, director of the National Curriculum Development Centre, to work on getting the Rafiki preprimary through high school curriculum approved.

Previous efforts had met various roadblocks, but two things have now changed. First, many people have been praying that we will be able to find a way forward. Second, our students have now had outstanding results on the national examinations — somewhere in the top 10% of schools in Uganda. This is even more remarkable since many, if not most, of the schools in that category have students from wealthier families and select only top students. Our students are the ones God has sent us — and virtually all have their education here subsidized.

Evidently, there was skepticism among some at the NCDC that our classical Christian education was preparing students to succeed in Uganda, particularly on the national exams. We think the latest results conclusively prove that our curriculum works and that NCDC noticed.

The net result is that we are now working to review the entire curriculum with an NCDC committee with the goal of approval in time for the next academic year.

As that meeting was going on, Covid chaos struck again. The results for the Test-and-Fly Covid test for one of our HO staff came back positive once more. So we arranged for a mobile testing laboratory to meet our group outside NCDC for a retest.

Although that test was negative, there was some doubt that the authorities would allow her to board a plane because of the earlier positive. We realized that her Kenya test was still within 72 hours, so we scrambled to get her on that evening’s flight to Brussels. Then Kelly drove the group back to the village — driving like a Ugandan — picked up her luggage and headed to the airport.

At the airport, the official who checked the certificate pointed out that it was 75 hours since it had been issued, but after being cheerfully and confidently told that the US only required three days, not 72 hours, he stamped it and let her through.

We got the other two team members off to Amsterdam the next day with far less drama. And so our first HO visit came to an end.

Our local Rafiki missionaries enjoy a day off at the Latitude Hotel overlooking Kampala after the Home Office visit.

On Friday, we took a village holiday. We’d earned it.

The following Monday we were back to the routine, but, so far, the routine never seems to be completely routine.

For example, our generators. Normally we get our power from the grid, but we’re subject to random, unpredictable outages ranging from a few minutes to a few hours. We have two generators to cope with the outages: one is a three-phase generator that will power the entire village. The other is a smaller single-phase one that runs security lights and a few essentials when we don’t need to power everything. The only problem has been that the smaller generator will run, but we don’t always get it to generate any electricity.

Because of the lock down and the resulting backlog in service requests, we’d been unable to get our regular service man out to check things out. He finally made it out here, but has no experience with the smaller unit, so he recommended another company. They sent another guy who spent a couple of hours checking things out and came up with a potential solution. The only problem was that I’m pretty sure he gave us the muzungu price for those two hours of consultation (quoting in US dollars rather than Ugandan shillings was a clue). As a result, I don’t have a lot of confidence in his quote to “fix” our generator.

So I’ve been trying to educate myself on generators and our system. In the process, I’ve also learned that there is history behind everything here — and it pays to understand that before “solving” problems. No solution yet, but I’m learning things I didn’t expect to learn!

Teams from the current enrichment session compete to be the first to fill a bottle with water carried from the other end of the court with just their hands.

I’ve also learned that we don’t want monkeys on the property — they eat our crops and cause other problem around the village. This was not a problem anywhere that I worked in the states. So we currently have the monkey man coming five days a week with his dogs to chase them away. Over the next few weeks, the plan is that he will chase them out to an area of jungle near here and then chase them out of that even farther away. Hopefully, it will be some time before they come back.

That problem led us to clear the area of “jungle” we had in the swampy areas at the foot of our hill: monkeys (and black mambas) loved to hide in there. We are now about to plant 200 umbrella trees which should form a canopy that discourages undergrowth and shields us from the noise and dust of the Hoima Road.

The noise is early morning and late evening serenades from loudspeakers broadcasting news, sermons, diatribes, music and general racket. Alarm clocks are not really necessary here.

We’re making progress on our school curriculum approval, although not without a few hitches. We made an appointment to deliver a 500 page summary to the NCDC, and sent our pdf off to a local printer to make a hard copy and bind. Unfortunately, it arrived printed on card stock that made it too thick for the spiral binder — so they had jury-rigged it with a piece of wire. It was hard to open and there were little pieces of wire sticking out just waiting to slice open an unsuspecting appendage.

So, with two hours to go, we split it into three volumes, made new covers in-house and rebound. Kelly and Michelle instructed their driver to “drive like a Ugandan” and they made it in time.

Next hitch: the current revision of the entire curriculum (which the NCDC committee needs to review) is on a container and probably won’t be here until late this year. After a day spent investigating making and binding 200 volumes here, we found it was cheaper to have it shipped from Florida.

It’s all an adventure.

At the equator. The only reason Michelle is towering over me is that she is in the northern hemisphere.

As we moved into September, rumors began to circulate that schools might be allowed to open towards the end of the month. We’re still not sure that will happen; however, this is normally the time that our residents go for a homestay with their extended families. It turned out that this was a good time for it and on Friday a week ago they all left for two weeks. It’s very quiet around here without them, but the homestays have really benefitted the students: they are establishing relationships with their families and learning what life will be like once they graduate from the village.

Our room at Rwakobo Rock. We had to keep the door locked so the troop of baboons would not come in and trash the room.

Michelle and I took advantage of the slightly slower pace to make our first venture upcountry. We travelled four hours to Lake Mburo National Park, crossing the equator on the way. We stayed just outside the park at Rwakobo Rock — a beautiful, hilltop lodge with thatched roof cottages and a large, open air lobby/dining room overlooking the surrounding countryside.

Our guide Isaac explains a bird call to Michelle.

We took an early morning bird walk with Isaac, their expert guide, seeing (and hearing) 30 different species of birds, plus zebras, baboons, dwarf mongooses (or is it mongeese?), impala, and Ankole cattle (the local breed with enormous horns. And Isaac told us about the importance of the cattle to the local Buhima people. They are a source of wealth so they’re usually not slaughtered but instead provide milk and blood for nutrition. Traditionally Buhima marriages were arranged by the parents with the dowry paid in cattle. The bride did not see her husband until the wedding day — and then spent four months isolated with her new family being fed a diet of milk — and lots of it.

Hippos mating at Lake Mburo.

Later in the day we bounced over the roads into the park past more exotic wildlife to Lake Mburo. We took the evening nature boat ride, seeing hippos mating, crocodiles, water buffalo and more birds, including the magnificent fish eagle (which is similar in appearance to the bald eagle) and an African fin foot. The possibility of sighting the latter brings many birders to the park — but getting to see one is often difficult because they hide in dense vegetation and are quite shy. Ours looked like he wanted to be seen.

The elusive African Finfoot.

We spent another night at the lodge — enjoying the quiet and the dark with millions of stars and the milky way.

Michelle atop Rwakobo Rock as night falls.

Now we’re back at what is beginning to feel like home waiting to see what we learn next.

We’re deeply thankful to those of you who are supporting our mission through prayer and financially. We are amazed each day at how God is using the Rafiki Foundation to bring classical Christian education and Bible study to Africa — and the world. Spending time with the resident students and the faculty demonstrates the amazing way lives are being transformed. It’s a privilege being a part of this mission.

If you’d like more information on how to support Rafiki and our mission, please go to: https://rafikifoundation.org/missionary/michelle-and-david-graves-252

Uganda 2021

Our new home in the early morning light

Well, here we are. Four weeks in Uganda and I guess it’s time for an update for you, our friends and mission partners.

How this started

This all started two and a half years ago when Michelle responded to what she thought was a job opening in Africa — it wasn’t. Rather, it was a missionary opportunity to help run Christian classical schools in Africa with the Rafiki Foundation. So, essentially, it’s a job for which you go out and raise the support that pays your way.

After a month in Kenya in the summer of 2019 as short-term missionaries, Michelle and I felt that God was calling us to come to Africa long term. So we began a two-year process of training and support raising.

Covid-19 has made that process even more interesting than it otherwise would have been. We were supposed to attend a week of training in Florida in the summer of 2020, but that turned into two weeks of online training and interviews with three other classical Christian educators followed by nine months of weekly readings and online discussions.

In the meantime, we began writing newsletters about our call — and praying — seeking financial and prayer support for our mission. By May, through God’s grace and your generosity, our partners had contributed enough that we were able to purchase tickets for Uganda, our assigned destination. (We’re not at 100% yet for our first two-year term, so if you feel called to financially partner with us, we’d appreciate it, just click here: Graves – Rafiki (rafikifoundation.org))

Wrapping up in Houston

Things started to heat up for us in May. My yearbook staff worked long hours finishing St. Thomas’ 2021 book, despite the many technical and coverage challenges we faced due to Covid protocols and having a staff that was part in person and part virtual. They even showed up for our drive-through distribution in torrential rains after school was out.

Nathan delivered his senior thesis, graduated from Trinity Classical School (giving the senior speech at the ceremony), and accepted a four-year ROTC scholarship to Virginia Tech.

Nathan delivering the commencement address at the 2021 Trinity Classical School Graduation.

Mid-May we switched to frantic preparation mode. Starting at the top floor and working down, we began boxing things up, making regular trips to Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity ReStore, selling things on Facebook Marketplace, and searching for pallets on which to pack boxes for Africa.

Michelle, Nathan, and Miranda strapping up one of our pallets for shipping.

By the beginning of June, the house was empty, except for three pallets of books, kitchen equipment, coffee makers, rugs, and Aeron chairs. Those were quickly dispatched to Florida by UPS to be loaded on a container which (God willing) will ship to us in September — and arrive November, December, January…?

Our friends, Bill and Lisa Schwartz, kindly allowed the four of us to take over their second floor for the next three weeks as we continued to sort through, pack, and dispose of stuff.

Training and surviving in Florida

Finally, on June 20, Miranda and Nathan dropped us and our five suitcases off at Hobby Airport to fly to Florida for Survivor Camp at the Rafiki Headquarters in Eustis.

Michelle and Catherine Upton prep food for an Enrichment dinner at the Rafiki Home Office.

Part of that Camp was a crash course in our various jobs with our fellow trainees, Jay and Maureen Richards and Anna Liebing (with whom we’ve been in Zoom and internet training for a year now, but were meeting in person for the first time), Gwen and John Cicone and Catherine Upton. The “survival” part was the Rafiki version of “Chopped”. We were supplied a shelf in the pantry and a shelf in the refrigerator with all of the food items we were allowed to use and got to practice team work by figuring out what to do with it for our lunches and dinners — as well as feeding Rafiki staff who dropped by to visit with us. And we got to practice commercial kitchen skills such as using the sanitizer — leaving it on overnight only once.

By the weekend we were pretty tired, but went up to the Rafiki headquarters on Saturday and worked all day helping with various chores before getting trained as kitchen help for the three-day Enrichment Session for serving missionaries and Rafiki supporters. There were some great speakers, but we spent most of our time in the kitchen prepping food and washing dishes. By Wednesday night, we were pretty tired.

Meanwhile, COVID was wreaking havoc with airline schedules. Our Emirates flight through Dubai changed to a different day and time. Then, on the Wednesday before our Saturday departure, it was cancelled. We were able to switch to KLM through New York, Amsterdam, Kigali and, finally, Entebbe, Uganda. This was a fortunate change: it allowed us to add two additional suitcases which we managed to fill to the limit.

The Rafiki Uganda Missionary Team at the Home Office on July 1, 2021: Kelly Fore, Michelle Graves, David Graves.

On Thursday morning, we held a brief and moving commissioning service, bade farewell to our fellow trainees who were all returning home for a few weeks or months, and spit into cups for our preflight COVID tests. That afternoon, we drove the test packages to the FedEx office, shopped, dropped off laundry and tried repacking to keep the bags at the proper weights.

Friday was more of the same, interrupted by two very pleasant dinners — and games — with our friends and retired missionaries Paul and Elin Klauke.

Off to Africa

The coast of Africa.

Finally, on Saturday, July 3, Rafiki’s Executive Director Karen Elliott and a van with room for our six suitcases showed up at the hotel. Karen kindly prayed us onto the van, and we were off.

We managed to get our suitcases checked in and through security for our full flight to JFK — each of us in one of the elegant middle seats. We survived, searched for an open restaurant at JFK, and finally boarded the KLM flight to Amsterdam, in the very last seats, right by the bathrooms.

Not surprisingly we did not sleep very well, but we got to Amsterdam on time, and stretched out for naps while waiting for our next flight. Thankfully, this was not full. Michelle was able to stretch out on four empty seats and I relaxed at a window seat with more legroom.

Clouds parted as we flew over Greece, the very blue Mediterranean, and then Africa in eastern Egypt. After a stop in Kigali, Rwanda, we finally arrived at the airport in Entebbe, breezed through customs, and were able to avoid the COVID test with our vaccine certificates.

Home At Last

Due to a large uptick in COVID cases in Uganda’s third wave and the unavailability of vaccines, schools and churches are closed, there is a 7pm to 5:30am curfew and traveling was subject to pretty severe limitations. So we spent our first night in the charming Hotel Boma near the airport. We awoke to a beautiful cool morning, walked through the lush grounds for breakfast by their beautiful swimming pool, and realized we were finally here.

Breakfast at the Hotel Boma in Entebbe on July 5, first day in Uganda.

Soon we were met by Chriz — Rafiki teacher, dorm parent and wonderful person — and an airport taxi. We stopped at a mall, open, but not busy due to the lockdown, to buy sim cards for our phones. Then we headed for the village. We drove up the bypass from the airport to Hoima Road. Despite the lockdown, traffic was not moving quickly particularly because there were several police checkpoints to enforce the transportation restrictions. The road is lined with small shops and outdoor vendors and hundreds of people (masked, of course). Finally, we reached the town of Wakiso, and turned off towards the Rafiki Village. The road is not paved, it’s dusty, and full of potholes and ruts. But after ten minutes or so we topped a rise and saw the village on the side of the next hill, lush and green.

The guards opened up for us and greeted us warmly. We then drove about a quarter of a mile to our new home.

Sitting on our veranda just after arrival.

Since the beginning of this year, Kent and Peggy Martin, a retiring missionary couple, have been filling in for us. They had the house ready for us, with food in the refrigerator, sheets on the bed, and the pick of the village furniture. We spent a few hours unpacking and then walked down to the Martins for dinner. And that’s when our education began.

Looking out our front door.

We talked about the history of the village, about the jobs they had been doing, about Ugandan customs, and about the realities of living in Africa. And they warned us that on our second night in Africa (eight hours ahead of Houston time) we would not sleep well. They were right.

Walking towards the front gate on the way to work.

That made it easier to get up in the morning and start our training. Michelle headed for the Rafiki Institute of Classical Education (RICE) building to meet her assistant Marion and have Kent fill her in on her new job as Dean. The lockdown has complicated things — particularly for the current classes who were not quite finished with their coursework when the lockdown resumed.

Meanwhile Peggy was giving me a crash course in handling the village finances, disbursing money, paying bills, converting dollars to Uganda Shillings (current exchange rate is 3510 shillings to the dollar, the largest denomination is 50,000 shillings, and cash is widely used here so there is a lot of cash counting).

That day pretty much set the pattern for the next two weeks. Each day we learned about something new we would be doing, overseeing the child care program for the 75 or so resident children, managing property, grounds, security and more.

Sunday afternoon sharing time with resident students.

Fortunately, Kent spent a lot of his time here taking care of overdue maintenance — and organizing and labeling the hundreds of keys. That makes my job easier.

Dr. Kent Martin works with some of our residents clearing overgrowth along our fence line.

Since schools are closed, we do not have day students coming to campus, but we do have the orphans. They’re all in sixth grade or above, so problems tend to be of the teenage variety. However, there have been very few of those so far, largely because the national staff has been running five week enrichment sessions for them that they seem to be really enjoying. We arrived in the middle of session 2 — and discovered that the residents were divided into four teams, amassing points towards a grand prize to be awarded at the end of the session.

On Thursday, I accompanied our chief cook, Jackson, on his monthly bulk shopping trip. Pickup trucks were allowed to move freely with a maximum of two people — and we have a pickup. Jackson is organized and efficient: we wound up with six shopping carts full of cooking oil, margarine, spaghetti, maize flour and other stuff I did not recognize. It’s hard to describe Kampala: huge contrasts between slum areas next to walled compounds, narrow twisting streets — many not paved — as well as broad beautiful avenues like the Royal Mile leading from the Buganda Parliament to the Kabaka’s Palace.

And boda bodas (motorcycles) darting in and out everywhere. African traffic is not for the faint of heart.

The Royal Mile heading towards the Kabaka’s palace. The Kabaka is the king of the Buganda tribe, the dominant tribe in the Kampala area.

Our other permanent missionary, Kelly Fore, had been in Florida while we were there. She arrived back in Uganda toward the end of our first week. Waiting at the airport, she met a young man who was also a tourist guide. Because Uganda really needs the tourist income, registered tourist vehicles were allowed to move freely. So on our first Saturday, we hired Twaha to drive us all into Kampala.

Our group outside Namirembe Cathedral.

Michelle and I thought the traffic was heavy. Our more experienced Africa hands were delighted with how light it was due to the lockdown. Our first stop was St. Pauls Anglican Cathedral at the top of Namirembe Hill, a beautiful brick building finished about a century ago. The views from the top of the hill were stunning. Thanks to the good offices of Paul Kakooza, who is in charge of education for the Anglican Church in Uganda, we managed to get a tour of the building despite a series of “scientific” weddings (they are limited to 20 people because of covid).

Inside Namirembe Cathedral.

Afterwards, we drove past various sites, visited a mall, had lunch, went grocery shopping, and returned to the Village.

Panorama of Kampala from atop Namirembe Hill.

Because churches are closed, the residents put together a worship service each Sunday in the gym, with scripture readings, prayers, hymns accompanied by guitar, piano, and clarinet as well as a sermon preached by one of the faculty members. So our first week came to a close.

The original plan was that the Martins would stay until the end of July. However, they pronounced that Michelle and I were learning our jobs so quickly that they didn’t need to stay that long. There was also a lot of uncertainty about whether COVID might cause the closure of airports — and they were eager to shop in person for a retirement home in the mountains of North Carolina. The upshot was that we put them on a plane back to the states at the end of the week and poor Kelly was left with two neophytes to help run the village.

By the time they left, we’d pretty much begun to settle into a routine. Each weekday morning, I lead a 30 minute Bible study at 7:30am for the security guards, cooks, property maintenance crew, and other support personnel. I spend a lot of the day in the office working on finances (I managed to get all of the employees paid on time!), consulting on maintenance issues, and being sure our village is secure.

Michelle has spent much of her time preparing for the resumption of the RICE program and working with the child care workers on training and Bible study. We’ve done a couple of more forays into Kampala to shop for furniture and food — Kelly has now shown us all of the prime spots.

A somewhat reluctant goat is led in to be presented to the winner of Enrichment Session 2.

Last week, session two of enrichment came to an end with the teams competing on making political speeches, writing and performing short plays, and singing. The grand prize was a goat. What, I asked, were they going to do with the goat? They looked at me like the ignorant American I am and said “Slaughter it and cook it, of course.” I have been imagining the reaction if I had offered this as a prize for a yearbook competition. Nevertheless, the winning team was overjoyed and made pretty quick work of transforming the goat into a meal that they shared with all the teams. And that is a skill they need to know when they return on visits to their extended families.

The winning team and their prize.

On August 1, the President eased some of the lockdown restrictions, particularly on transportation, but schools and churches are still closed. We’re praying that cases will continue to decline and that we can have all the student back on campus.

In the meantime, I’m teaching a journalism class four times a week as part of enrichment session three and Michelle is directing a play: A.A. Milnes’ “The Ugly Duckling.” We’re slowly beginning to master putting the hundred or so names with faces and teaching these classes really helps.

I’ve gotten to drive the standard-shift, right-hand drive pickup into Wakiso a couple of times without totally embarrassing myself. Michelle — who has always wanted to live on a farm — got to act like she knew what she was talking about as she discussed the necessity of castrating our new-born male goats.

We had a chance to meet last week with the leaders of Westminster Christian Institute Uganda, the university we are partnering with to grant accredited degrees through our teacher training program. Michelle will be working to harmonize our curriculum with theirs. We’re praying that one of the benefits of the lockdown will be time to make some real progress on this.

Touring Westminster Christian Institute and looking at their mini-dairy farm.

So that’s it for the moment. If you made it this far, I’m hoping to do entries a little more frequently now that we have a vague idea of what we’re doing. In the meantime, we’re enjoying living with our windows open: lows in the mid 60s, highs in the upper 70s, as well as the beautiful, peaceful setting here. We don’t always enjoy the loudspeakers blasting music and diatribes from across the valley at 5:30 in the morning, but I guess we’re getting used to it.

Alive and well in Uganda.

Africa Week 4

Monday, July 8.

First, apologies. We’ve been so busy doing things that I haven’t taken very many photos. I’m just a lousy photojournalist.

Great start to the week. Michelle has a cold and feels miserable. Hot baths, ginger, and sleep have not cured it, so she’s staying in bed today — although she will try to make the meeting of her Latin club in the afternoon.

Approaching downtown Nairobi on the Mombasa Road.

David P’s wife Julie arrived last night after several weeks in Washington state and is already hard at work in the Kenyatta House catching up. Nathan his been drafted to fill out a Kenyan tax form that is due today. Eric in the office actually did it last week, but the government issued a new form today on the due date, so it all has to be done again. Is it comforting to know that bureaucracies are just as senseless anywhere in the world?

Over the weekend, I wrote stories about two RICE students for the Rafiki home office. They’re both in the diploma program and both from “upcountry.”

Delivering water with a donkey cart.

Fredrick grew up speaking and being schooled in his tribal language. He was introduced to English and Swahili (the two national languages) in seventh grade. In ninth grade, school was all in English. He struggled, but with the help of one teacher, he developed his ability to read English well enough that he got through and graduated. There was little work in his home county and he scraped by for three year doing odd jobs like digging ditches and hauling water on donkeys, trying to save enough money for a trade school. One night a visiting pastor told him about Rafiki. He emailed the school on a Thursday and was in Nairobi the next Monday for tests and interviews. Now, a year later, he’s thriving. He’s discovered a love for books — the Iliad and the Odyssey are near the top. He had no access to books before and has taken full advantage of the RICE library. And he’s acquired a nice collection of bow ties, including a bright orange one.

After spending her childhood on the family tea farm, Susan came to Nairobi when her father opened a grocery in the city. She went to secondary school at a new, Catholic affiliated school. The building were made of metal sheets, there was no library, no science lab, and minimal other facilities. Faculty came and went rapidly. Nevertheless, she sang in the choir and graduated with decent grades. For several years she worked at various jobs. She was selling second hand shoes when she heard about Rafiki at a local Anglican church. She, too, has discovered a love of literature and is looking forward to sharing it with future students.

Both love the daily Bible study and the Christian worldview of the Rafiki curriculum. It’s exciting to see the radical changes they’ve experienced in just a year.

While Nathan worked on data entry, Salome taught music and Michelle lounged in bed reading Crime and Punishment, I went all over campus reading to various groups.

Last week I had a long chat with Lois, a Rafiki school and RICE graduate, who now teaches kindergarten at the school. She asked me to come read in the morning to the kindergarten class. So at 8:30 in the morning, there I was. If you’re not a celebrity, but want to feel like one, go read out loud to kindergartners. We read a story about a hare who is mean to a baby elephant, the son of the King of the animals. Of course, the hare did not get away with it — but the ending had none of the blood and gore of the RICE students’ stories.

I was supposed to be over at the RICE building by 9 to read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to the 2 and 3 lever RICE students. They were feeling left out because I was only reading to the 1B level. I got waylaid on the way over and was 20 minutes late, so we only got to read a little bit of it. Later that afternoon, Jihan, one of the students, asked me if it would be okay if she made fun of me. I said that of course it was.

“You keep time like an African,” she said to howls of laughter from the rest of the class. It’s truer than she knows.

I spent the morning proctoring exams at RICE, then went back to check on Michelle. She still felt miserable, but had made a lot of progress on Crime and Punishment. She did manage to make it down to the school for her 2:45 Latin club — the kids are having a great time and can ask and answer questions about objects, talk about what they want, have, give, or take as well as greet each other in Latin. Not bad for a couple of weeks. Salome is going to continue the club once we’re gone for the three additional weeks she’ll be here. We’ll see if this sparks a blossoming of Latin in Nairobi.

When she got back, she collapsed into bed again, leaving Nathan and me to eat ugali and have devotions with the girls of Ebenezer.

The Nairobi River, not far from Rafiki Village.

Tuesday, July 9.

Tuesday found Michelle feeling better and me back reading The Hungry Coyote to the kindergartners. I took a few minutes to talk about some of the animals in the story they didn’t know about: coyotes, skunks, and prairie dogs. When the story was over, I asked if there were any questions. One boy, Gabriel, had become obsessed with skunks, asking at least three different questions about them. An actual encounter with a skunk might lessen his enthusiasm — I’m not sure much else will.

Delivering fresh water.

Back to RICE to read the next installment of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. We sat outside with a game of ultimate frisbee going on in the background. I strategically placed a bush between me and the somewhat out of control frisbee.

Picking up what’s left over.

I stopped by the Wageni House where Michelle informed us that we’d be eating dinner with Paul and Elin in the evening in honor of Julie’s return. The faces of the ugali “lovers” in our group instantly brightened.

Then Nathan and I began work on the senior secondary library. They’re starting to use the Dewey Decimal System to catalogue and track books. We had several boxes of books with DDS tags on them that needed to be shelved and organized. But first we had to remove the untagged books from the shelves and scan the ISBN barcodes for each so the home office can print tags for these books, too.

By the end of the day Nathan had the old books scanned and boxed up. I left him to go read the next to last installment of Charlotte’s Web.

It was a good thing we were eating “out.” We discovered that Nathan had consumed most of the food we’d bought for the week.

We arrived to the wonderful smells of Elin’s savory chicken dish, mashed pototoes, broccoli, and carrots. About that time David and Julie P. texted to say that they were held up dealing with a personnel matter. We thought about waiting, but didn’t. Seating arrangements were to be determined by spelling words from one the sixth grade spelling tests. Every one of us got our words wrong: words like “bougainvillea.” Humiliated, we sat down to eat. Perhaps they will send us one of the sixth graders to tutor us.

After dinner we began a game of “Five Crowns” — a card game where the lowest point total wins. David and Julie arrived ate warmed up food and joined the game. We paused to eat a delicious brownie fudge cake topped with iced cream and then resumed the game. When we finally quit, I managed the highest score, Nathan the lowest.

No one knows how many different locks there are at Rafiki. And they’re mostly these funky, old fashioned ones. Who knew these were still in use?

Wednesday, July 10.

Morning Bible study with the RICE students. Then the next installment of The Best Christmas Pageant — and a discussion of how teachers are trained and tested in the U.S. It’s quite different.

Nathan went off to organize the DDS books while I proctored tests for two students.

They’re rebuilding the Kasarani Road that leads to Rafiki. The underlayment consists of these rocks, hewn and placed by hand. They’ll fill in with finer grades of rock. Since they’ve used concrete curbs to contain the road, it might not form potholes quite so quickly. And there should be space for the matatus to pull off the road while loading and unloading passengers.

Since he’d eaten the week’s supply of bread, I threw together a green salad (they’re growing lettuce in the garden and it was quite good) for lunch, headed back to RICE for the final installment of Charlotte’s Web, then returned to Wageni, determined to start catching up on the blog. On the way back, I was greeted by the parent of a day student who was here picking up his children.

“Are you the great writing teacher?” he said.

I managed to keep a straight face at the “great” part and resisted the temptation to reply, “Of course.”

He’d learned this amazing fact from his son who was about third grade age. He asked me what he could do to help his children become writers.

I told him to read to them and have them read to him. He said might try that on the weekends.

“No. Every day,” I replied.

One of the challenges of education here is that so many parents were brought up in a system that had limited access to books and didn’t encourage reading. It’s easy to forget what a revelation something simple like that is.

And establishing a reading culture is something Rafiki is working very hard to do, both with students and their parents.

I do think I’ll add a bullet point about “great writing teacher” to my resume. I’ll just have to not show the resume to anyone who actually knows me.

I stayed back from dinner and devotions that evening, typing furiously on the blog. Nathan picked up the baton and led devotions for the young girls in the Shalom cottage. I don’t think he preached too many heresies…

Thursday, July 11.

RICE Bible class. Michelle off to tutor. Me off to read The Best Christmas Pageant. Nathan off to finish organizing books and start work on organizing the curriculum cabinet.

A local tearoom at which we have not stopped.

After helping a couple of students with how to outline, I returned to Wageni hungry. There were two dessicated pieces of bread in the freezer and a small amount of cheddar left in the fridge. I put the bread in the microwave to thaw, but it wasn’t working. Finally, I realized the power was out all over the Village. I actually had to light the stove and make a grilled cheese sandwich the old fashioned way.

About that time Nathan came along. He’d finished organizing books, but couldn’t see to organize the closet. Pretty poor excuse just because there was no light.

We did some chores and then went back to the library to scan some more books to convert to the DDS system. We were almost through when the scanner stopped working. I assumed it need to be charged, but we couldn’t charge it because there was no power. So we went back, met Michelle and went for a lively dinner and devotions with the girls of Nazareth. They had lots of questions for Nathan so he kept us out late.

The Masai can and do go anywhere with their cattle from the suburbs to downtown, on the side roads and on the expressways.

Back at Wageni, everyone except me went to bed. As I sat up doing some work, I got a text from Paul: did we have any popcorn. Salome had just told us she bought some, so I said yes. He then asked if I’d make a batch in the morning so one of the preschool classes could taste something salty. It was only then that I realized Salome had bought real kernels, not a bag of microwave popcorn. I’d never made actual popcorn before.

I went to bed praying either Salome or Michelle would wake up early.

Friday, July 12.

They didn’t.

Finally I googled how to cook popcorn. First problem: We have only one small saucepan with a lid, plus skillets of various sizes without lids.

I decided to improvise with the largest skillet. Following a YouTube video, I put oil and one kernel in. As soon as that kernel popped, I put the rest in. I soon discovered why the directions called for a pot with a lid as kernels began exploding and flying all over the room.

Quickly, I grabbed one of the cutting boards and slapped it on top of the skillet. That still left some kernels uncovered, and, of course those were the ones that popped and flew out. (This would have been good as a replacement for July 4 fireworks.) I grabbed the other cutting board and managed to contain the rest of the kernels.

Just about the time I finished, Michelle and Salome appeared. I did burn a few, but we got the popcorn to the preschool on time.

I went over to read Hop on Pop to the kindergarten. Did I say what a great audience they are? One of them rubbed my arm and asked me what happened to my skin…

RICE 1B students learning the Virginia Reel.

Nathan went off with Salome who was planning on teaching the Virginia Reel to the seventh grade. Good thing he went: they needed an extra and he gamely stepped in.

I adminstered a series of spelling and vocabulary tests to the RICE students. As we were getting ready to start the 1B test, Winnie raised her hand and asked me, “Would you mind using less twang today when you call out the words?’

After lunch we got ready for the final teacher training of our visit. Michelle talked about story structure using the Freytag Pyramid model, then asked the teachers to pair and apply the model to the Bible. The discussion was lively and interesting and we could have gone on much longer, but we needed to get to Old Yeller. Since we’d read the exposition last week, we talked about the inciting incident and the climax. Once we came to a consensus, I read the part where Old Yeller appears — we were all laughing — and then the part where Travis has to shoot him — I tried not to, but I kind of choked up because I could tell the teachers were caught up in the moment, too. God willing, it was a small step towards getting more people excited about reading.

And we had a bonus, David P., Paul, Michelle, and I found ourselves having a very satisfying discussion of the themes of the book after everyone left. In fact, we nearly missed dinner. Some texts over the next day or so indicated that the book had made a real impression on a number of people — and reading it had spread beyond the circle of teachers.

Just before dinner we gave Elin our last two eggs. She was in the middle of baking a birthday cake for one of the residents, when she discovered that Paul had eaten the eggs she planned to use.

That night we ate with the high school guys in Moriah House and attended devotions with them. They sing the hymns lustily and with musical accompaniment. By popular demand Nathan and I led the devotions. And that led to them insisting that Nathan join them for the Saturday night dodgeball game.

Saturday, July 13.

Our original plan for Saturday was to meet Grace, David P’s assistant, downtown to go to the Masai Market. Unfortunately, she went home not feeling well on Friday, so we got a day off.

No one objected. We’ve been going pretty much non stop since two weeks before we left as had Salome.

So we sat around the Wageni house. I spent most of the day updating the blog. Julie stopped by for a long chat and brought us a few replacement eggs.

Michelle made us spaghetti carbonara for lunch with just about the last food we had.

Dinner was with the high school girls who found Nathan quite entertaining and wanted to know about the journalism classes I teach. I told them I’d bring a couple of yearbooks to show them later in the evening.

Nathan. Dodgeball.

Nathan went off with David P. for dodgeball. Michelle and I followed a few minutes later to find a gym full of guys gleefully throwing softish balls at each other. The people laughing the hardest were the ones who got hit. They play a variation where they quickly rotated back in after going out, so it turned out to be an hour and a half of sweat and mayhem.

More dodgeball.
Waiting to get back in the game.

Michelle and I left for devotions with the girls. They did a nice job. Then I handed them the yearbooks. We finally went out for a pleasant conversation with Jihan who is one of the house mothers as the girls devoured the books.

Sunday, July 14.

Off to the local Anglican parish with David and Julie P. St. Matthias Njiru is where the high school boys worship on Sunday. It’s not the cathedral.

Njiru.

After driving through the back streets of Njiru — a district near the Rafiki Village — we arrived at the church, greeted by a number of charming children who solemnly shook our hands, one by one.

St. Matthias Njiru.

The church is a small, stone building, definitely Anglican in layout.

Our welcoming committee at St. Matthias.

The vicar, Rev. Edward Kihang’a, actually has four churches in his charge. His mother was a house mother at the Rafiki Village and he worked there from a time. He learned about Bible Study Fellowship there and began attending which ultimately led to a call to ministry.

Michelle sitting with Gloria, Moriah house mother, with boys behind them.

The Holy Communion Service followed the Anglican Church in Kenya pattern. Before the sermon we clapped along with the singing and movement of the worship band. Rev. Edward preached a powerful sermon addressing the return of polygamy in some quarters of Kenyan society. The sermons here leave one in little doubt of where the preacher stands.

Worship band at St. Matthias.

After the service we headed for the Wawa mall — on Sundays there is a Masai Market on the roof. Michelle, Salome, and Julie went up to bargain, while David P., Nathan and I sat at a Java coffee shop for a pre lunch snack and coffee.

David and Julie P. talking to the proprietress of our favorite Ethiopian restaurant. (Hal Schmidt you’d love this place — we let them choose our selections.)

We were next door to the Ethiopian restaurant we tried a few weeks ago, so we went back there for another leisurely and enjoyable lunch.

An admonition on the walls of Rosslyn Academy.

Then we toured Rosslyn Academy, the international school David and Julie’s daughter Olivia attends. It’s next door to the US embassy with beautiful grounds and classrooms. Nathan is not yet convinced he wants to transfer, although the fact they don’t wear uniforms is tempting.

These brave souls road in the back seat all day today. They have not yet attacked those of us who were in front.

A final stop at the Carrefour Market to buy supplies for our last few days completed the trip and we’re back relaxing.

Amazingly, a month has sped by. We leave Tuesday night. Too soon.

Week 3

Monday, July 1.

Nathan returned to Houston from two weeks in the mountains of New Mexico at Philmont Scout Ranch. He leaves tomorrow to join us in Kenya. David P’s daughter admires him for traveling alone at 16. We have visions of him winding up in Moscow instead of Nairobi. Michelle wrote him a two-page instruction manual. I revised it when it became obvious that she sleep-walked through Heathrow, boarding a non-existent train and several other fantasy events. It may not matter, he’s probably going to ignore the whole thing anyway.

Salome was up early to accompany soloists to the regional music contest. Michelle and I split up: she went to tutor and observe classes in the lower school while I went over to RICE again.

A class playing Ultimate Frisbee outside the RICE building.

Monday morning is weekly exam time for the RICE students and I wound up proctoring the exams. Not too onerous other than having to find pens or pencils for those whose writing implements failed — or retrieving “foolscap” for those who needed extra space. As the 1B students turned their papers in, we discovered that we’d accidentally given them the next week’s exam — no one complained, even though they hadn’t seen any of the material.

Michelle came over in the afternoon and offered to grade exams while I was reading the next installment of Charlotte’s Web to the 1B class. We accidentally left the room door open. Michelle told me I was a distraction to everyone else (including her trying to grade) and to be sure to shut the door. However, the 2 and 3 level students liked the distraction and began lobbying me to read something to them.

About 4 or so, Salome got back from the music contest. She thought the organization left something to be desired (she nobly refrained from trying to reorganize things) — one of the Rafiki soloists spent most of the day sitting around waiting to be called. By the time he was, he was exhausted. The singers stood right by a door, and there was a constant stream of people in and out as they sang.

Dinner (more ugali!) and devotions with one of the younger contingents, then sleep.

Tuesday, July 2.

Salome was up early again to head off to the second day of the choir contest with the boys choir — once the bus actually showed up.

Michelle was drafted at the last minute to substitute in the fourth grade instead of tutoring. It gave her a chance to really use the Rafiki curriculum. It’s so thorough and well-done, that she was able to pick it up in minutes and have a productive day.

Kindergartners working on cursive handwriting. One of the RICE graduates just got a job at church school because she knows how to teach cursive. The new Kenyan curriculum is going to require introducing cursive to 5-year-old students and very few teachers other than RICE graduates know cursive or how to teach it.

I was back at RICE, administering spelling and vocabulary tests and retesting 1B with the correct exam. Only a few stumbling blocks as I called out words: the American pronunciation of “schedule” threw them for a minute, until I realized that British English heavily influences pronunciation here and gave them the alternative.

David P., who has been out here in Africa for some years, talked to me about the challenges and rewards of what Rafiki is working to accomplish. Kenya is in the midst of making major reforms in the way education is done. There is a lot of uncertainty as they work on the new standards, but it appears that the Rafiki curriculum is ahead of the curve, and will be a huge benefit to those who are taking it now.

One of the things he and Paul are trying to establish is a school-wide culture of reading. Many of the teachers and RICE students had limited access to books as they grew up and went to school. So, for the next two Friday teacher trainings, we asked the school faculty to read Old Yeller, which all Rafiki students read in sixth grade. We grabbed the DVD of the Disney version and hid it in the Wageni House…

Salome and the boys choir returned late from another chaotic day of competition — but the boys won first place in the Nairobi region and will go on to the national contest in early August.

Michelle spent the afternoon and the evening finishing writing thank you notes on our sixty Aerogrammes, leaving me to handle dinner and devotions on my own. I wonder if any of them have actually arrived…

As we went to bed, we received word that Nathan’s uncle successfully dropped him at the airport after feeding him a hamburger and fries (he was worried that it might be Nathan’s last good meal for a couple of weeks).

Wednesday, July 3.

In the morning, Nathan reported by WhatsApp his arrival in London and his progress to Heathrow to his gate. We did forget to ask if that was the gate for the Nairobi flight, but now news is good news, right?

We’re on our own for breakfast in the Wageni House. In order of complexity, that has been: Michelle, nothing; David, orange juice (don’t know why it tastes so good here); Salome: eggs, arugula, and other healthy ingredients.

Salome has been taking Rachel’s music classes which includes teaching music history (the Renaissance, at the moment) to RICE students and music and dancing (Greek and American square dancing) to school students. Plus she has about 20 beginning piano students.

Michelle was back to tutoring and observing while I sat down and went over their Beatrix Potter-style naughty animal stores with each 1B student. Swahili has no articles and does not distinguish gender in pronouns, so it’s difficult for students to remember when to use them in English. And often, they will mix masculine and feminine pronouns for the same person in a sentence. The stories themselves appeared to be drawn more from African folk tales than an English country garden. One involved eating the livers of the animals’ mothers to see if they tasted sweet. Very naughty animals indeed. But the students actually did a decent job of writing comprehensible stories, sometimes a little short on dialogue, but you have to start somewhere.

This is JaneJoy, one of the younger resident students and her plate of ugali, greens and chicken. Ugali is the staple food of Kenya. It’s basically white maize flour cooked in oil to a thick, dry consistency. That’s what it tastes like: thick and dry. This is actually a fairly small portion: the students dish it out with plates into huge heaping mounds of the stuff. They eat it all (Nathan has, too.) White maize came to Africa in the 1500s from Latin America. By various different names it has become the staple food throughout a large portion of the continent. Most (but not quite all) of the students think it’s great. They look at me quizzically as I half-heartedly attempt to grow to like it.

After more ugali for dinner and devotions with the younger girls, we met Calisters to drive to Jomo Kenyatta airport to meet Nathan (assuming he was coming to Nairobi and was not on his way to Moscow).

Security is everywhere in Nairobi. Before you actually get to the airport, you reach a security area. All passengers must get out of whatever vehicle they are in and walk through a checkpoint and metal detectors. Meanwhile, the driver and vehicle are inspected for bombs or other contraband. When the driver gets through, you get back in the vehicle and drive to the parking garage. We wound up parking on the second floor.

The waiting area for Terminal E where British Airlines arrives, is outdoors — but it was a beautiful, cool night, so that wasn’t a problem. The plane arrived 15 or 20 minutes late.

We’d hoped Nathan would be able to text us after the plane landed, but nothing came. After about 45 minutes, Michelle was beginning to think he actually had taken the flight to Moscow. Then, someone who looked just like Daniel appeared at the top of the ramp — and we realized it was Nathan.

According to the Kenyan government website at which one can obtain electronic visas in advance, people 16 years and younger do not need — and should not apply for — visas. When Nathan got up to the immigration officer the guy said that was only true for those younger than 16. At the same time a father was arguing with another officer about the same issue. Nathan’s officer said it would be $50 for a visa (that’s the actual price). Nathan pulled out a $50 bill, handed it to the guy, and was waved through into the country. Of course, he also didn’t fill out the visa application paperwork, so our suspicion is that the $50 went straight into the officer’s pocket. Nevertheless, Nathan’s passport got stamped and he emerged.

We walked with Calisters and Nathan’s luggage to the garage. There was a line for the elevators, so we started to walk up the ramp. Calisters told us to wait on the ramp and he’d go get the car. When he came down, we loaded the luggage and ourselves into the car and were about to set off when a security officer stopped us and demanded Calisters’ driving license. A rapid conversation in Swahili ensued. Then he directed Calister to pull into a parking space. Calisters got out again and continued the conversation. We sat in the car wondering if we would have call the US Embassy to help get us out of jail. Finally, Calisters got back in the car and we drove off.

“Never give them your license,” he said, “or you’ll be there for hours.”

Evidently, you’re not supposed to load passengers on the ramp. I’m not sure what he said to the officer, but talking worked.

Fortunately, the road to the village was not blocked this time and we were in bed by 11:30.

Thursday, July 4.

Two shocking things about this July 4: it’s not a holiday in Kenya and Nathan was the first one up in the morning.

We took him to the teachers’ meeting at 7:30, then to the assembly. Paul introduced him to the school, and Nathan hopped up on the stage and said a few words.

He came with me over to RICE as I finished reviewing 1B compositions. Then I introduced him to the 1B class. When I first met them they sat there with stony faces. Not so for Nathan. They treated him like a long-lost colleague. And they wanted to talk to him, but insisted that I leave the room. I’m not sure what they talked about, but the upshot was that they wanted him, not me, to read the day’s installment of Charlotte’s Web.

Eating watermelon on the Kenyatta House balcony on July 4.

After school, the Americans (and one Norwegian) gathered on the second floor balcony of the Kenyatta House to celebrate the Fourth with hamburgers, hot dogs (actually two varieties of sausage), watermelon, salad, and strawberry shortcake. The closest we got to fireworks was our attempts to get the charcoal lit — we went through an entire newspaper before it finally caught. After the meat was done, Paul grilled watermelon slices — they were surprisingly tasty. We played a card game that was kind of similar to Scrabble, but lost track of who was ahead. Elin decorated the balcony with American flag fabric she’d found at one of the local markets. There was not a bit of ugali in sight, which made it a great holiday in my opinion.

Friday, July 5.

Today, we put Nathan to work, setting him up with an antique Dell laptop to enter the resident student reports the teachers had written for their sponsors. He complained that the teacher training we did the first week resulted in long reports.

Meanwhile, Michelle was back and forth doing more math and reading tutoring. Ominously, several of her students were sniffling and blowing their noses…

I administered the week’s spelling and vocabulary tests. As I graded them, it became obvious that the 1B students had the same love for studying vocabulary as many American students of my acquaintance. This resulted in Grace discussing with them the fact that knowing how to spell a word wasn’t enough.

The Aerogrammes that Michelle finished on Tuesday actually got mailed today. We’re hoping they are delivered before we return.

That afternoon, we sat down with the teachers for their afternoon training session. Most of them had at least started Old Yeller. We started off talking about the setting of the book (in case you’ve forgotten it’s in the Texas hill country), showing them photos from the area, plus longhorn cattle, skunks, javelinas, ’coons, skunks and more. Then we read aloud the first chapter and promised more next week.

Ugali, devotions, bed, because we had an early start planned for Saturday.

Saturday, July 6.

Here’s what happens when you tell people you’re going to Kenya: they ask you about the safari you’re going on. They look at you funny when you tell them, “Well, actually, we aren’t.”

We decided to remedy this lack, and hired a driver and a vehicle to pick us up at 6 a.m. and take us through Nairobi National Park. David, our driver, arrived right on time, and Michelle, Nathan, Salome and I boarded our van. The Park is in the city of Nairobi and it took us less than an hour to reach the east gate, although the last bit of road may be the worst I’ve ever ridden on: giant potholes and large swathes of slippery mud.

The top of the van popped up so we could stand and take photos without being eaten. Here’s Nathan, almost woken up at about 7 a.m.

As we drove into the park, we left the city behind for an open savanna, with the skyline of the city to the right and, to the left, the elevated tracks of the newish, Chinese built railway that is an extension of the Nairobi to Mombasa line.

Lionesses. Nairobi in the background

Soon we saw a giraffe off in the distance. Sadly, my camera with the zoom lens went on the fritz the day after we got here, so we only had our phones to take photos with. Our driver did get us close to many animals, including two young lionesses by the side of the road. They didn’t appear interested in eating us: they yawned and went back to sleep. We wound past cape buffalo and various different bird species as we approached an intersection. Between us and the next road was an apparently moderate sized hump. David accelerated as we approached, the front wheels went over and then we stopped, wheels spinning.

Stuck.

We got out. And pushed. Nothing. We were stuck right on top of the hump. Finally, a Kenyan man taking his two children through the park stopped and helped us push again. He gave just enough extra that the truck came off the hump. In return, David told him where to find the lions (he’d promised his kids lions), and he drove off.

Rescued.

We got back in the van, David backed up. And we were stuck again in two large ruts. We jacked the van up and put rocks and sticks under the wheels trying to get them some traction. Nothing worked. Then a Land Cruiser pulled up with four guys in camouflage, two of them with automatic weapons slung across their backs.

Cape buffalo.

Fortunately they were part of the Kenyan Wildlife Service, not terrorists. One of them laughingly asked me if we just weren’t strong enough to push it out. Then they all four tried and the van didn’t budge. Since he had a rifle, I decided not to point this out to him. However, David had a towing strap which he attached to their Land Cruiser. A few moments later we were unstuck, and with an admonition to stay on the main roads (directed to me, not to David our driver) they left.

That blob in the water is a hippo.
Giraffe.

We continued through the park, seeing more giraffes, monkeys, a hippo, zebras, impala, sleeping crocodiles, more and more tourist buses plus many birds.

Ostrich and Nairobi.
Zebras

At the main gate, we got out and toured their animal orphanage where the KWS keeps lions, leopards and other animals. There were busloads of uniformed students from various Nairobi schools wandering around looking at the animals.

By this time, we were getting hungry. Our next stop was the Karen Blixen museum in the area known as Karen — a much higher rent area than the one in which the Rafiki Village is situated. But before the museum, we stopped at the Karen Restaurant, an elegant spot with beautifully landscaped grounds. We sat outside. One of us got chicken masala, three of us got hamburgers and chips. They were good. The complexion of the other diners was somewhat lighter than the other places we’ve eaten.

Michelle at the entrance to the Karen Restaurant. It was chilly until the sun came out.
Food. Note the three adventurous eaters with hamburgers.

Then we visited the museum. Salome was content just to sit in the grounds of what had been Karen Blixen’s house and coffee plantation. Michelle, Nathan and I took the tour. Our guide sat us down in chairs on the lawn facing the house and recited the history of Blixen’s time in Kenya. We looked at old farm implements and then went through the house, restored with much of her furniture to its look in the 1920s and 1930s. She earned fame as a novelist after she left Kenya, but she was also an accomplished painter, and several of her portraits hang on the walls of the house.

Nathan in front of the Blixen house.
Our guide talking to Michelle and Nathan about the old farming equipment.
Our guide and Michelle looking at an arabica coffee plant.
Karen Blixen painted this portrait of a young boy she helped educate. He was smart and regularly beat her paramour at chess.
Dining room of the Blixen house where she entertained the Prince of Wales. I don’t think I was supposed to be taking photos.
Fireplace in the dining room.
Old coffee drying equipment on the site where Blixen’s brother built a coffee drying factory for her. It burned shortly after it was finished, contributing to the financial problem that led to her returning to Denmark.

By this time it was late afternoon and we headed back through Nairobi traffic to the Village and promptly went to bed.

Sunday, July 7.

Michelle woke up with the beginnings of a cold (Remember those sniffly boys?)

Salome got up early to go to the Anglican Cathedral with Paul and Elin.

David P. took the rest of us off (with a stop on the way for a very gingery lemon tea with which Michelle attempted to combat her cold) to Trinity Baptist Church, the home church of a number of the nationals who work and go to school at Rafiki. It’s been around for more than forty years and is a simple stone building with whitewashed walls inside, a stage with a small lectern (baptismal pool underneath) and a dynamic preacher. They projected the hymns and Bible passages on the walls. We started with couple hymns, read a Bible chapter, listened to the pastor expound on the passage, listened to announcements, sang more hymns, sat for a sermon, prayed, and closed with another hymn. It seemed pretty Baptist to this Anglican. (I forgot to take photos. Sorry.) After the service, we chatted with the various folks we’d met at Rafiki, then headed off for lunch and grocery shopping.

More Nairobi traffic. It’s worse than Houston’s West Loop.

We went to a Java coffee house/restaurant so Michelle could get another of those ginger teas (the Kenyans call them Dawa, meaning medicine). Their menu included a number of Tex Mex items so Nathan got a chicken burrito that he thought was pretty authentic — and the guacamole was good.

We bought some food items to get us through the week — including ginger and lemon for Michelle — and returned to the Village where Michelle promptly pulled a hot bath, then went to bed, leaving Nathan and me to join the girls of Canaan for dinner and devotions.

Week 2

So what has happened to them, you’re wondering? Sorry it’s taken so long to update the blog. Excuses: intermittent wifi at the Rafiki Village, they actually expect us to work, “missionary midnight” is either 8 or 9 p.m. depending on who you ask, most nights we don’t get back to the cottage until 8 p.m., … I could keep going, but instead let me tell you what we’ve been doing.

Monday, June 24.

The first day of the second half of this term. Day students are back and school is in session. The Kenyan school year consists of two 14-week terms (with a one-week break in the middle) and one 10-week term. They’re off most of November and December.

The primary and secondary school day starts with a teacher’s meeting at 7:30 a.m. while students are eating breakfast in the dining hall. A hymn (these teachers even sing in harmony), a Bible passage and a prayer followed by announcements. Then we walk over to the flag pole in front of the Kenyatta House for assembly. The students gather for the Kenyan national anthem — led on Mondays and Fridays by the Scouts — and an inspirational talk by one of the teachers. Then it’s off to class.

Scouts march in to lead singing of Kenyan national anthem.

We determined that Michelle would spend some time tutoring children who were having trouble with reading and math while I headed over to the R.I.C.E. (Rafiki Institute of Classical Education) building to help with teacher training while their Dean was out of town.

Headmaster Paul Klauke and teacher Felix present certificates at the morning assembly.

Rachel, the Music Dean, led the morning Bible study — about 25 people in a big circle. It was the first day back, and a struggle to get responses from anyone.

She then took me around to introduce to the classes: about 10 students in 1B — just starting their second term. They were very quiet. Next the three student in 1D — they actually asked me to come back after lunch to help them with a book on children’s literature. Then the second and third level students.

RICE has a very well thought-out curriculum. The students do a lot of work on their own, turning to the Dean — or each other — when they need help. As they advance, they spend part of each day observing and assisting in the school.

After the first year, they earn a certificate that allows them to teach in primary and preprimary grades. If they complete the second and third years, they earn a diploma that allows them to teach up to 7th grade.

I hung around helping with problems, looking over papers, helping to solve word problems (had to brush off a little rust there) — and reading Charlotte’s Web aloud to 1B.

Most of the 1B students are only 18 or 19. They’re grappling with a curriculum that is very different than anything they’ve encountered, so they tend to be a little shy at first. My first breakthrough with them came while reading the story — as soon as I gave voice to the goose, they finally laughed.

Meanwhile, Michelle spent her time diagnosing reading problems and trying to help one boy remember his multiplication facts.

Around 4, the school day was over and we met back at the Wageni House — the guest quarters. We were tired. But 45 minutes later we were walking to the dining hall for dinner — most nights a piece of chicken (they raise and slaughter their own chickens, so it was fresh), cooked greens, and ugali. More on ugali later.

Back to Wageni for another 45 minutes, then we set out to do evening devotions with the resident students in Ebenezer cottage. These are 5th and 6th grade girls. Each of the cottages is overseen by a “Mama” or “Auntie.” Their Mama — Mary — runs a tight ship and made sure each girl — and the guests — contributed. After devotions, we stayed for another 20 or 30 minutes answering their questions. It was after 8 when we got back.

Should I take the computer out of the closet and update the blog? No. Straight to bed.

Tuesday, June 25.

Oh. I forgot. Yesterday we were joined by Salome Palmer, a college student and prodigy, who started the summer with two weeks visiting Christian schools in Nepal, then spent three weeks at the Rafiki village in Rwanda before joining us in Kenya. She’s a musician, Greek and Latin scholar — and more.

We’re settling into a pattern on the second day: teachers meeting at 7:30, morning assembly, Bible study with the RICE students. They’re still pretty quiet in Bible study.

Afterwards, Rachel and I talked about that and decided to do Harkness groups for the Thursday and Friday Bible studies — we hoped to get them talking more and introduce them to a technique that would help them get their future students talking as well.

Resident children leading Michelle to their cottage.

I spent a good bit of the morning reviewing the extensive RICE curriculum — these guys learn an incredible amount in just three years.

I helped one student with haikus — a couple of days later she had distilled five pages of attempts down to three really nice ones.

In the afternoon, another couple of chapters of Charlotte’s Web. Adding in the voices of Templeton and the gander helped keep them amused.

Michelle kept tutoring. Some of the kids just need help — a couple may have learning disabilities.

After dinner that evening, Michelle agreed to tutor two kids from 6 to 7. I took a walk around the grounds and met her for devotions. By the time we got back to the cottage we were exhausted. I didn’t even think about the blog.

Wednesday, June 26.

Here’s the thing. Most of what we’re doing here is teaching and helping students in their classes. It’s time consuming and fulfilling, but it doesn’t always make for the most exciting reading.

RICE 1B students taking their weekly tests.

But the students are impressive. The RICE students learned under the Kenyan education system. Many of them are from “upcountry” where they had no access to books or labs or facilities. Most of them first spoke a tribal language and were only introduced to the two official languages, English and Swahili, later. In some schools education consisted of the teacher writing things on the blackboard and the students reciting them back verbatim.

Now, being introduced to Christian Classical education, they’re thriving. Many have discovered a love of books, particularly classics. The library is small, but for many of them there are more books than they’ve ever seen. It’s thrilling to see their enthusiasm and work ethic.

The 1B class has two weeks to write a naughty animal story in the from of a Beatrix Potter story. One of them finally came and asked me for help. He had a good start, although the story was a bit bloodier than Peter Rabbit.

More Charlotte’s Web. I couldn’t tell if they’re beginning to warm up or not.

I volunteered to help Michelle with the 6-7 p.m. tutoring, figuring if each of us took one student we could all be through sooner. Great idea, except six of the showed up. And one boy had just caught a hedgehog and placed it in his book bag. I told him he could not bring it into the dining hall. He protested that he’d just rescued it from a larger animal. I said that was too bad. No hedgehogs in the dining hall. Reluctantly, he pulled a bedraggled and listless hedgehog out of his bag and set it on the ground. And that sort of set the tone for the tutoring. Most came because it was something new to do, not because they needed help. When we returned to Wageni after devotions, we decided no more 6-7 tutoring. And we went to bed with no thought of the blog.

Thursday, June 27.

This morning at RICE Bible study, we had our first Harkness table discussion. We divided the group into two sections: one section sat at the table and discussed, the other kept track. I led the first one — it was a little slow at first, but after only a few minutes we had a real discussion going and I just kept my mouth shut. These future teachers are pretty amazing.

They have yellow school buses in Kenya, too.

At some point in the morning, my Charlotte’s Web group indicated — very shyly — that they were having trouble following the story, so we recapped the first few chapters — and got some extra copies so they could follow along. We talked about seasons. That’s strange to Kenyans who have only two: wet and dry.

Michelle was working on organizing a Latin club. A letter went home and there were dozens who wanted to do it. Ultimately, they picked a small group of seventh graders to give it a try starting the next week.

Rachel, the music dean, was planning on leaving on Friday for her sister’s wedding back in the states, so was glad to have Salome to fill in. And Salome was drafted to help the choirs prepare for a big contest the following week.

We weren’t quite as tired that night without the 6-7 p.m. tutoring, but we still just kind of fell into bed.

Friday, June 28.

A big day. Rachel was leaving about midnight and David Pederson, the RICE dean was returning from the states after numerous delays and reroutings.

The back of the Kenyatta House.

The morning started off with Rachel leading the Harkness table Bible discussion. It was fantastic — everyone participated and the depth of the discussion was impressive.

More tutoring in the morning. David arrived, jet lagged, but ready to get back into the swing of things. In the afternoon, the RICE students had art, then cleaned up.

At Elin’s suggestion, Michelle and I made reservations to spend Saturday night at the Hotel Stanley — the oldest hotel in town, rated 5 stars. She felt we needed to celebrate our anniversary since we’d been busy packing and getting ready on the actual day.

That evening we had a delightful dinner at the Klauke’s house to say goodbye to Rachel and to welcome David back. We prayed for a safe journey for Rachel and turned her over to Calisters for the ride to the airport.

It was late, and we went straight to sleep.

Saturday, June 29.

A beautiful morning with the sun shining. Most of the days until now had been cloudy and cool. Before setting off for downtown Nairobi, we took a walk around the grounds and went to listen to the choirs practice for their forthcoming completion. They sounded pretty good.

Michelle and Elin in the living room of the Kenyatta House
Teacher Felix listens to the girls choir rehearse.
Salome rehearses the mixed choir.

Around 9 a.m., we called an Uber. Yes, they have Uber in Nairobi. According to the app, he was six minutes away. He remained six minutes away for at least 30 minutes. One of the challenges of Nairobi is that the street numbering scheme is almost nonexistent, particularly outside the city center. After several texts, we stepped outside the gate to see our Uber go right past. A quick text and he turned around.

Lunch at the Hotel Stanley

An hour later (and only $8.40 in fare) we pulled up to the security gate in front of the Hotel Stanley. As soon as they determined we had no bombs and passed our luggage through the metal detectors, we were warmly greeted at the front desk with cold orange juice and broad smiles. The lobby had dark wood paneling and many photos of the hotel through the years.

The Thorn Tree Restaurant

Even though we were early, they quickly took us to our room — a comfortable, modern room. TV choices were just as bad as in the states, but we just sat there for a while reading books and working crossword puzzles. Then we meandered up to the fifth floor pool area and had lunch al fresco. No swimsuits, but we did take our books to the lounge chairs by the pool and just sat for several hours.

Stew and ugali dumplings at the Thorn Tree Restaurant.

Having worked up an appetite by that strenuous exercise, we descended to the Thorn Tree restaurant for dinner. There’s an acacia tree growing in the middle of the restaurant — where people have left messages for others for decades.

They had a dish with ugali, so Michelle decided she had to find out if it tasted like the ugali in the dining hall. It did, but the stew with it was delicious. Have I gone into detail about ugali yet? I will at some point. I had a nice pasta bolognese.

After a good nights sleep, we got up, gorged at the breakfast buffet, checked out and ubered to the Anglican Cathedral to meet Elin and Paul, Salome, and David for church. After a rousing sermon on cults and the occult (not a typical American sermon), we got lost several times trying to find an Ethiopian restaurant that is supposed to be one of the best in the city.

Eating Ethiopian cuisine.

It was. I’m not sure exactly what we had, but it was served on a large platter covered with a gigantic piece of soft bread. The proprietress came and told us about it and vouched for its authenticity. It was only about $40 for all six of us — and we had leftovers.

We stopped at a grocery on the way back to stock up for the week. After fighting the traffic on the Kasarani Road, we got back too late for dinner. Once again, we crashed.

Our First Week in Africa

Sunday, June 16. Houston.

Packed at last, the day started at 3:30 a.m. driving Nathan to Hobby Airport to join members of his Scout Troop for a flight to Denver, drive to Philmont Scout Ranch and ten days trekking in the back country of New Mexico.

We decided to stay up when we got home, hoping that would help us sleep on our 4:10 p.m., nine hour flight to London. Hah.

After breakfast and church, Miranda drove us to Bush Intercontinental Airport. We breezed through security with the loss of only one oversized tube of shaving cream and were sitting in the waiting area in less than 20 minutes. About an hour before the flight, we heard our names called and went up to the desk wondering if we’d been bumped. Instead they upgraded us to premium economy — wider seats and more legroom. I’m not sure what we did to deserve it, but we didn’t argue.

As we waited, we watched thunderstorms blot out the view of the airport through the window, but we boarded on time and left only 30 minutes late.

Premium economy gave us a choice of meals, fancier headphones, and toothpaste, but what we really wanted to do was sleep. We didn’t really.

Monday, June 17. London and Nairobi.

Michelle shopping at Heathrow Terminal 3.

Eventually, the lights came on in the cabin. The very polite young attendant brought us breakfast. Bruschetta with cheese. Absolutely vile. Michelle began to feel queasy, the fasten seat belt light came on, and there were no air sickness bags in the seat back. That last half hour before we landed was a bit tense, but we landed, on time and with stomach contents intact.

A bus ride from Terminal 5 to 3, a pass through security (much politer in Britain than in Houston), and we emerged into the shop-lined waiting area. It didn’t seem all that different from any large US airport.

A couple of hours later we were aboard the British Airways flight to Nairobi — no upgrade this time, but also no air sickness.

Finally, about 10 p.m. local time we touched down in Nairobi and descended the stairs to a bus that whisked us to immigration and customs. Within an hour we were through and met our smiling driver, Calisters.

It was dark as we drove so we didn’t get much of an impression of the area. All seemed to be going well until we were about a mile from the Rafiki Village. A front end loader blocked the road with a sign saying the road was closed until 3 a.m. Motor bikes were getting through, but not cars. Finally, Calisters gave the guard a small financial inducement and he let us through. We got to within a few hundred yards of the gate, but work crews were tearing the road up and there was no way through. So we parked and Calisters help us lug our baggage to the gate and through to the guest house.

It was not long until we were in bed.

Tuesday, June 18. Rafiki Village.

Tea outside Wageni House on our first morning.

Neither of us slept particularly well, and we were up by about 7. Michelle made tea and we sat on the bench outside the Wageni guest house, admiring the grounds and the cool weather and amazed that we were in Africa at last.

Elin, one of the permanent overseas staff, came by to welcome us and take us on a tour of the village. The most prominent building is the Kenyatta house which was the weekend getaway of Kenya’s first President, Jomo Kenyatta. It’s been beatifully restored. The ground floor is used for administrative offices and meeting rooms; the upper floor for a residence for one of the permanent staff and their family.

We strolled through the grounds meeting Elin’s husband, Paul, the headmaster of the school and Rachel, the Dean of the Music Institute.

The school was on a week-long break, so the only children here are the orphans who live in the cottages on the grounds. We ate lunch and dinner with one cottage — rice, beans, and chipati (a cross between a tortilla and naan) for lunch, so it was almost Tex Mex.

During the afternoon we made a number of fruitless attempts to connect with the internet and consulted with Paul who asked us to run the Thursday and Friday morning teacher training.

At dinner we got to eat ugali for the first, but not the last, time. It looks sort of like large globs of stuck-together mashed potatoes, but is made from white maize so it is sort of like grits, but not really. The kids love it. We’re working on that.

After devotions with our charming dinner companions — mostly sixth grade girls — we made our way back to the guest house by flashlight. Things get dark and quiet in this compound when the sun goes down.

Wednesday, June 19.

Kasarani Road, heading back to the Village.

Adjusting to the eight hour time difference has been challenging. We slept better, but not all night.

The internet still didn’t work, so Paul kindly arranged for Calisters to drive us to a local mall so I could buy a data sim card. That was an adventure.

The Village is walled with a front gate and guards. They opened the gate and we emerged into a different world. Kasarani Road is two lane black top with no markings or road signs. It is lined with small shops and three and four story concrete block apartments plus people, goats, dogs.

I’m not sure I can describe the traffic. My son Daniel told us that it would take longer to drive anywhere than we thought. We found out why.

The street was bumper to bumper cars and matatus (mini busses crammed with passengers jumping on and off — doors open). All of these vehicles are dodging potholes, pedestrians, goats — usually by pulling out in front of oncoming traffic. To turn or pull into a lane of traffic you just go ahead assuming other vehicles will not run into you. So far they haven’t, but driving is not for the faint of heart.

Finally we reached the Thika Road Mall and discovered another feature of Nairobi. After the mall bombings several years ago, all shopping centers and public buildings have security at the gates to inspect the cars going in. Once in and parked you go through metal detectors and another layer of security to get inside.

We passed and fairly quickly acquired a sim card. I think they may have put us at the front of the line, but I didn’t question too closely.

Then we headed to the Post Office so Michelle could purchase Aerogrammes on which to write thank you notes. Post Office clerks are similar worldwide, and this one unhelpfully informed her that he’d never heard of them despite their website saying they were available. We gave up and fought our way back to the village.

For the afternoon, we had planned to teach Latin and change ringing on handbells to some of the children, followed by dinner with Paul and Elin. Michelle managed to come down with an intestinal bug just before we were going to start, so Paul stepped in to run a game Michelle brought while I introduced several groups to change ringing with hand bells.

The bells were kind of dinky — and one note was missing, but the kids seemed to have fun being shoved into position to ring a plain hunt on six or seven. There’s a change ringing tower at Kilifi on the coast near Mombasa, but it doesn’t look like we’ll have time to get over there. Maybe next time.

As I headed back to the guest house, Elin intercepted me. She’d pulled the chicken out of the refrigerator and it had gone bad, so dinner was postponed until Thursday.

By this time, Michelle was feeling better. We ate a light dinner in our room, prepped for teacher training, and went to bed.

Thursday, June 20.

Rafiki students ringing plain hunt on handbells.

Sleeping went better, but we’re still adjusting. At 7:30 a.m. we met Paul to make copies (it’s not a teacher workshop if you don’t have handouts) then headed for the chemistry lab to meet the approximately 30 teachers on staff. Paul started the teacher training with a Bible study on the passage the kids would be studying in the coming week.

Then he turned things over to us. Since he usually does the teacher training himself, I suspect he would have been happy for us to just dance on the tables for them, but Michelle thought we actually ought to do something useful. Plus she’s seen me dance.

Our goal was to help the staff with writing student evaluations, improving essay writing skills and evaluations, and encouraging student discussions.

For our ice breaker, we asked the teachers to a pair up and interview each other about something they loved and why. It worked — the responses were thoughtful, witty and sometimes profound. And, of course, we were immediately behind schedule.

After 30 minutes for tea — noting happens here without tea — Michelle described the Harkness method of class discussion. Then Michelle, Paul and I, plus three randomly selected teachers, demonstrated a Harkness table discussion on one of Pascal’s Pensees. The rest of the teachers used evaluation forms to track our discussion and critique us. We’re hoping this technique will help the teachers develop more student-led discussions.

As we left for lunch, I began to think we may learn more from this faculty than we teach. Finding 30 people passionately dedicated to classical Christian education in Kenya is not what I would have expected a few months ago. And as we hear the stories of their personal journeys to teaching, we’re awe struck.

Of course, the photojournalism teacher who had planned to take lots of photos got so engrossed in the sessions that he forgot to take his camera out. He vowed to do better on Friday.

During the afternoon we prepped for the four hours next morning then went to dinner at Elin and Paul’s beautiful house. Dinner was great, topped off with Rachel’s delicious coconut chocolate cake. She’s now a little worried that the secret of her baking skills is out. We finished off the evening with an easy-to-master card game.

Friday, June 21.

Michelle teaching Latin.

At 8 a.m. we were back at teacher training. We handed out a student self assessment form for them to use with their students. We asked the teachers to fill this out themselves and share one of their answers with the group. I made Michelle and Paul join me in also filling it out. The sharing was inspirational — it was clear these guys are dedicated and insightful.

We discussed various methods of organizing an essay — with handouts, of course — and used the outlines we developed to write various kinds of student evaluations from long to brief — and turn them into brief, extemporaneous talks with a parent. We think it went quite well.

At least well enough that I again forgot to take photos.

The four hours (with a tea break, naturally) flew by. These folks are amazing.

In the afternoon Michelle debuted a language teaching game that uses American Sign Language as a bridge to turn learning words into a game. She now has at least 30 kids who want to learn more Latin, although the first time she did it, she almost forgot to actually teach them any Latin.

I did some more change ringing on handbells — but it’s clear that Michelle was the star. At dinner later, several of the tenth graders were conversing with the words they’d learned.

Saturday, June 22.

Line to examine cars at a local shopping center entrance.

Saturday morning Elin invited us to accompany her to one of the fancy malls on the other side of town so she could get her hair cut. Michelle saw that the mall had a post office, so we were off in search of the elusive Aerogrammes.

Michelle got to ride in the front seat. She described the ride as being like a roller coaster, only with things coming right at you all the time. Our crowded streets gave way to forested hills lined with embassies and soon we were at the mall.

And once again, no Aerogrammes. But this time Michelle got a phone number, and Elin called it. The gentleman who answered texted us directions to the downtown post office which he said had them. So Elin postponed her haircut and drove us back past the embassies to the downtown post office.

We hopped out of the car, leaving Elin and Rachel. After a few wrong turns, we wound up at window 45 in a vast and mostly deserted hall with at least a hundred windows on both sides for drivers licenses, building permits, and virtually anything one might want to get from the government.

And window 45 had Aerogrammes. But only 50, not the 60 Michelle wanted — and the clerk did not seem to be too familiar with them. Then the branch manager, Stephen Wanjoli, walked up and introduced himself. We had a lengthy conversation about how technology was killing things like Aerogrammes, but he was fighting to keep the post office printing them. He found 10 more for us — and then took a photo of us holding them to circulate through the post offices to show there was still demand for them.

We had to buy additional stamps for mailing to the US — and they offered to bring some staff out to affix them for us. By this time, however, Elin was wondering what had happened to us, so we politely declined, and Mr Wanjoli began to escort us to the exit. Just before we got there, he ushered us up some stairs.

Michelle was getting a little worried and said, “There is someone waiting for us just outside…” He ushered us into his office, seated us and presented us with two works of art created from dried reeds collected at Lake Victoria. Much better than being arrested. With many thanks we exited to the car and headed back to the mall.

There we had a leisurely lunch al fresco, capped off with a cup of decaf cappuccino. By this time Elin decided it was too late for a haircut, so we headed back to the village.

By about 10:30, Michelle realized the decaf wasn’t.

Sunday, June 23.

Interior of All Saints Anglican Cathedral.

Despite the non-decaf, we set out with Elin, Paul and Rachel at 6:15 a.m. for the 7 a.m. service at All Saints Anglican Cathedral in Nairobi. It seems to be a popular service at this English Gothic style building: a large congregation, orchestra, choir, and organ. Like most large public buildings our car had to pass through security and there was more at the door.

We were warmly welcomed as first time visitors with a nice bit of swag and tea (did I say there is lots of tea here?) after the service with one of their welcome team members who would not let us leave until he had prayed vigorously for us.

Leaving the Cathedral we wound up at yet another mall for breakfast and grocery shopping (we are really deprived here). Rachel discovered that the local Java coffee shop had real (we think) decaf beans, roasted only a week ago, for sale. Michelle promptly bought some metric quantity that is roughly equivalent to half a pound.

Back to the Village for a quiet afternoon of writing blog posts (half of which failed to save, hence the lateness of the posting), prep for tomorrow, and dinner and devotions with some lively boys.

This week we’ll be helping with teacher training, tutoring and who knows what else. Stay tuned.