The Chicken Fiasco and Thoughts from My August

August has proven an interesting month. It’s the only full month I will spend in the United States this year. It’s also been full of business trips, pickleball tournaments, Japanese tourists, hotel management, and yes, house sitting for chickens.

The month began in Omaha, Nebraska where I played in the State Games of America pickleball tournament. I participated in both singles and doubles – being fortunate enough to win a gold medal in each. The city of Omaha and the drive there underwhelmed me, but I had fun. Check out a couple of the videos from the tournament.

After the State Games I returned to Colorado to begin my job as a Japanese translator/tour guide. The groups and people I encounter during these days make the job exciting. I do everything from Junior High camping trips to investors researching $3 million homes. Interesting things always happen as evidenced in my last blog post, I work long days and receive meager pay, but it gives me a lot of freedom and I’m working towards my 10,000 hours necessary to become an expert.

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Between these trips I did a couple of other things. First, my friend and doubles partner at the Tournament of Champions Matt came to check out Colorado and play some pickleball. I also listed my parent’s house on Air B&B last year, thinking we could make use of our 5 empty bedrooms. I have had several inquiries but the timing never worked out until now, when a college student from CC in his last couple weeks of school needed a quiet place to write his senior thesis. Check out our listing if you’re ever interested in a B&B in Colorado Springs.

Finally, part of my August consisted of house sitting for a friend on vacation. Predictably, the house part was easy: the 3 Chihuahuas and 6 chickens proved to be more complicated. When taking this assignment, the chickens didn’t seem like such a big deal. You feed them in the morning and evening, make sure they have enough water and collect their eggs. Or so I was told. Little did I know, an unidentified predator (that I have some choice words for) chose this very window of opportunity to launch his attack on my chickens. In the middle of the night I hear a commotion outside. By the time I look around, it’s quiet and I can’t see anything. Having to leave for a business trip the next day at 5:00 am, I entrust my mom with their care and making sure all 6 remain. I receive the worst new possible, she looks in the yard and finds the mutilated carcass of a chicken. I also find out that I have locked the dogs in the house and taken the key to Indiana. She has to collect the chicken carcass, climb onto the porch with a ladder to get into the house, and attempt to herd the chickens into their pen to avoid the previous night’s disaster. At this last task she failed, stating quote, “I don’t do chickens” at which point another chicken is doomed to coyote food status. Being in Indiana for business, I could do nothing but contemplate my miserable failure at the simple task of keeping 6 chickens alive for 1 week. The next day, however, my mom and brother did return, successfully conjuring up the courage to catch the chickens and place them into the coop. We pressed on with no further losses, and my friend was understandably disappointed but realistic about the situation.

The incident did make me think, however. Things like organic farming conjure up all kinds of positive images in my mind. Living off the land, getting back to nature, reducing environmental impact… all good things. But when it comes down to it, I’m actually terrible at farming and hate manual labor. Same with camping. I have this idealized view that rarely if ever is satisfied. I like campfires but there are usually way more mosquitoes than I remembered and there’s a rock under my sleeping bag. Sometimes there is a gap between who we want to be and what we actually enjoy. There are also things like working out that only make us feel good after we have done them. Maybe part of being happy is doing the things you love and overcoming discomfort to find enjoyment in the things you want to love.

That was my August so far. Next week I take a group of Japanese hikers around the State for a week-long trip. We go to Rocky Mountain National Park, Pikes Peak, Mt. Elbert and Aspen, among some smaller stops along the way.

100 Posts

It’s been 3 years since I started this blog. When I began, I had never visited Sub-Sahara Africa. I had never even worked in a real job. This is now my 100th post and so much has happened since. I want to make sure I reflect on these experiences so that I learn from them and I pass them on.

I was supposed to come to Kenya for just 6 months. Working for The Paradigm Project, I researched energy-efficient cookstoves around East Africa. After writing about infrastructure development in the Congo for my senior thesis project, I had to put my money where my mouth was and get involved. In reality though, I saw my experience as an extended working holiday, something adventurous I could do before getting on with the rest of my life. I didn’t imagine I would get committed.

This reminds me of my parents’ approach towards Japan: for the 16 years we lived there, we were always supposedly leaving in 2 years. You could use this as an excuse to remain uninvolved (they did not), but at some point, I think they woke up and realized that this far away land had become home – leaving was harder than returning “home”. It certainly was for my siblings and I, who knew no other home. Although my African experience is far from 16 years, I see how it happens. People in the States say they can’t imagine living here, but I’ve learned that life becomes normal wherever you live.

After working for another company in Kenya that sold energy-efficient household goods such as solar lights, water filters, and cookstoves, I decided it was time to return to the US. I had no idea what awaited me, but wanted to entertain any possibility. Somehow that opportunity again came in the form of Kenya, (among coaching high school tennis and becoming a Japanese-speaking tour guide) this time starting an aquaponics pilot project in Nairobi. If you’re interested, read more about our project at The Food Source. A year after leaving “forever”, here I am again. Life in Africa is a constant concoction of loving and hating the place, yet it’s also true that somehow it gets under your skin.

Besides work, there were so many personal life experiences that I will never forget. I got into a riot in downtown Nairobi, rocks and teargas from mobs and police flying in every direction as I sat helpless in traffic. One time I had a bathroom emergency and used the toilet paper-less ladies room, only to have a crowd waiting outside by the time I finished. I got conned and robbed at least once each. I took buses from Nairobi to Johannesburg, stopping to volunteer along the way and see incredible places like Victoria Falls. I was denied entry into a particular country and subsequently interrogated thoroughly every time I returned to the United States.

I’ve done a lot over this time, and although I often wanted to leave, I’m thankful I stuck it out. I am a different person as a result. Earlier I talked about being involved vs. being committed. As Martina Navratilova says, “The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved: the ham is committed.” Likewise, changing a place like Kenya – even a little bit – takes sweat equity, blood and tears, a living sacrifice. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s challenging and it’s long. Sadly, I’m not sure I lived in Kenya long enough or worked hard enough to change anything significant. Just like short-term mission trips, this experience was probably more about me than the people I came to help. Although Kenya will probably never be my “home”, I now know what it takes to make a difference, wherever that may be. Here’s to always being committed to enact positive change through our lives. And another 100 blog posts…

Bridging the Gap: An Influential Professor from my days at Azusa Pacific

Bridging the Gap: An Influential Professor of mine, Matthew Browning, from my days at Azusa Pacific when I knew absolutely nothing!

African Funeral

I’m trying not to see this past week as wasted time. Last weekend, our greenhouse manager lost his wife during childbirth and understandably, couldn’t show up for work. Using my nonexistent construction skills to attempt getting something accomplished, I realized that although I’ve known him for a short time, I’ve already come to depend on Kennedy. Since I was planning a retreat to Naro Moru over the weekend anyway, I decided to go during the week instead. The retreat was restful and reflective, although I had a relentless allergy attack. I sat in the forest next to the stream all day, read an entire book and sneezed a lot.

The funeral took place on Saturday. Thinking Josephine (our Kenyan partner) and I would go alone (since we are the only ones who work with Kennedy) I woke up Saturday morning to the news that 7 people from the church would attend, including the pastor, the principle of the school and the maintenance guy. That’s one of the things I love about Africans. An event may take the entire day, but they appreciate relationships enough to make time for people. If I had been in their position, I probably would have made some excuse about why I couldn’t attend and then spent the day however I wanted.

The funeral itself was good, although I can’t say it was inspirational or life changing, the main reason being the entire funeral service was held in Kikuyu (a tribal language) so I understood even less than if the service had been held in Swahili. Instead of blasting speakers like evangelical churches, however, a choir sang acapella in Swahili at this Catholic mass. Since I didn’t understand anything, I could only enjoy the music, reflect and pray for Kennedy. One thing I did notice, however, was how unemotional the entire event seemed: I didn’t see a tear shed. Like many cultures, Kenyans have an idea that crying equals weakness. I disagree, but perhaps a lack of emotion is seen as a positive way to deal with tragedies that happen more often. After the service, the congregation walked to Kennedy’s family home and buried the coffin in the ground. Though sad, I couldn’t imagine a more peaceful place to be buried. To reach the burial spot, we waded through waist-high tea bushes and tall swaying grass before arriving on a hillside overlooking a beautiful green valley. I love the Kenyan countryside.

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After they buried the body and we took some pictures with Kennedy (which I felt awkward about) we saw his home, where older African mamas served us lunch. We got to meet Kennedy’s extended family and I finally met his daughters, who had been waiting to meet me. Our entire delegation were, of course, guests of honor but I secretly felt pleased because I had someone to share the burden with. I was no longer a guest of honor because I was white, but because I came with the church. A subtly, but it made a difference in my mind nonetheless.

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Overall, it was a good day, I thought it honored Kennedy and Rose (his wife’s) memory well. Like I predicted, the event took the entire day but I’m learning to accept that relationships are more important than time and simply go with the flow, whatever that might entail.