Monica

Monica, our house-help (Maid) is one of my favorite people in Kenya. She is hilarious and some of my most entertaining conversations have taken place in the kitchen watching her cook.

First of all, she worries about me far too much. If I haven’t gotten home by 9:00 PM, she calls me and asks whether I am okay. If I’m too lazy to shave one morning, she’ll say, “Brother Dan, you need to shave to look smart”. If my shoes are dusty from the previous day, she won’t let me leave home until she’s had a chance to wipe them. In the evenings, she always makes sure I have my cup of tea, texting me instead of walking upstairs to my room. Last night’s said, “Hallo Dan, welcome 4 the cup of t”. Apparently bad texting grammar and laziness are not exclusively American problems. And even though she constantly walks around the house barefoot, if I attempt this daring feat she makes me put on sandals, saying my feet are not used to it.

Monica Shining Shoes

Monica Shining Shoes

She said one of my favorite lines ever the other day when I asked when Josephine and Pastor Brown would arrive home (the family I’m staying with). Straightening her posture like she was announcing the arrival of the Queen of England she replied in her Kenyan accent, “Brother Dan, I do not know when they shall arrive, but henceforth from now on they may arrive at anytime.”

We’ve also had some interesting conversations about Kenya, giving me deeper insight into the culture. I told her that Americans like to be slim but most of them are fat. Then I asked her why Africans like to be fat but most of them are slim. She corrected me, saying “People liked to be fat before because it meant you were rich. Now we know that being too fat is unhealthy. A person should not be too fat or too slim.” I couldn’t agree more Monica.

Then, there is her utter shock at the fact that in America, we don’t eat ugali. “It is my favorite food, I could eat it every day and never tire” she says enthusiastically of the unseasoned boiled cornmeal mixture. Personally, I think it’s just mediocre and could easily imagine life without it, but I didn’t mention that part.

Monica had been asking me to attend church with her for a while (she goes to a different church than the family) and yesterday, I honored her request. Knowing that Kenyan churches are in it for the long haul, however, I made a point of having to leave by 1:00. Leaving the house at 9:00 with Josephine who was driving in the same direction, I jumped out of the car at the “bus stop,” if you can call it that, waiting for Monica to join me. Monica fumbled around in the car for a while, looking for something. Apparently, in a moment of African blondeness, she had forgotten to bring her shoes! Josephine and I could not stop laughing. We quickly hatched a plan and I dropped Josephine off at her church, before taking Monica to buy shoes and attend her church. By 10:00 we were sitting in Monica’s church.

For some reason, evangelical churches in Africa feel the need to blast music as loud as possible and literally scream sermons into the microphone. Kenyans have told me that passers-by need to be able to hear the entire service because they might get interested and come inside. Monica’s church has about 20 members, and as the guest of honor (and probably the only white person who has ever stepped foot in the building) they put me front and center, right in front of the two loudspeakers. I was painstakingly aware of how absurdly loud everything was and I pondered why in a small tin shack with 20 people, we needed a PA system at all. When in Rome and To Each His Own I suppose.

Needless to say, this was not my most spiritually enlightening church experience, but I did it for Monica. As I watched the seconds slowly tick away, I prayed that God would grant me more patience. I also had the sermon to entertain me. From my perspective, the pastor seemed to be shouting out random God-related statements for an hour and a half, occasionally turning back to the Bible passage at hand. Taking meticulous notes for later use, some of his most interesting statements included:

 The devil is mute

I don’t believe in getting old

News is a disgrace to God

In the car I preach to myself

We don’t need government – be governors and senators of the word

Now I don’t want to ridicule, but let’s be honest, these are a bit ridiculous. Going to African church did, however, make me realize that as a result of my cultural upbringing, personality, or maybe attending a Christian university, my faith tends towards the academic rather than the emotional. Despite some theologically questionable statements, Christians in Kenya are undeniably passionate about God. After I left at 1:00, Monica attended the afternoon service, which continued until 6:00 PM. She was happy to stay all day and worship, not thinking about what else needed to be done or having personal time for herself. Sometimes I wish I had some more of that faith.

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Life and Death on Uzima Farm

We’re calling our aquaponics project Uzima Farm, meaning “Life” in Swahili. Starting with a pile of garbage next to a polluted Nairobi slum, we are creating something alive and green and beautiful where those things were lost long ago. Moreover, our partner on the ground, 1010 Kenya takes its inspiration from John 10:10, “The thief comes to kill and destroy. I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” As a result of creating abundant physical life, we want people’s attention to turn to the giver of that abundant life.

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Despite setbacks and challenges, last week was so encouraging and productive. I have learned that I would much prefer running around like a chicken with its head cut off to being bored. We finished building our greenhouse two full days ahead of schedule. We bought fish to start learning how to take care of them. Kennedy, our farm manager was doing great.

And then at 12:30 Am on Sunday I received a message that changed everything: “Daniel, my wife has passed away while giving birth. I am at Kenyatta National Hospital.” Stunned, I didn’t know how to respond, especially over text message. I tried calling, but Kennedy understandably didn’t pick up. “Kennedy, I am so sorry. I am praying for you and your family” was all I could muster.

My thoughts turned in all directions at once. I felt grief for Kennedy’s loss. “I can’t imagine what that feels like. How is he going to take care of two daughters and a new-born baby without a mom?” I felt guilty for not even knowing his wife’s name or that she was pregnant. “Why didn’t I ask him more about his family? I should have tried to meet them.” I felt anger at the fact that this even happened – this was probably a preventable death with better medical care. And selfishly, I worried about what this meant for our project. “I am only here for another month, how are we going to finish everything? Can Kennedy continue working or will I have to find someone else?” All these thoughts rushed through my head as I tossed and turned and wrestled through prayer all night.

Believing that things happen for a reason sometimes makes it worse. If this were pure chance, a normal occurrence in a universe where humans are meaningless specks of dust, I might brush it off as purely accident. But I believe there is meaning to life and things happen for a reason. I don’t believe God orchestrates tragic events, but I certainly believe He is in control and allows them to happen. And if He allows them to happen, there must be a reason. Unable to see that reason, I feel like a person playing one of those riddle games trying to figure out who is it. Ultimately, I have to be told the solution or give up, acknowledging that there probably is a logical explanation but not smart enough or able to think creatively enough to identify it on my own.

At church the next day, the pastor happened to talk about restoring relationships. “The simple act of being present” he said, “is more powerful than anything you could say or do.” Even faith, I have realized, is not knowing but showing up anyway, believing that God is bigger than my fears or doubts. This week is turning out differently than I expected. Instead of planting seeds at Uzima Farm, I will attend a funeral. No matter what I say, Kennedy’s loss will be searing and real. But being present through trying times is the only thing I can do. I don’t know why there has been death instead of life, but I have to trust that there is a reason beyond the immediate pain and grief I see at the moment.

If you are reading this, I would appreciate your thoughts and prayers for Kennedy, his family, and our project. Kennedy is the one in the purple shirt, the day before this happened.

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