One thing that I have come to realize after returning from Africa is how small my problems are.
I have a home to live in. I have heating and air conditioning. My pantry and refrigerator are full of food. Clean drinking water can be found flowing from 7 different taps at my house. I have a wife who loves me. I have a full time job with insurance. I have access to a vehicle that can get me to my job or the grocery store. Every need I have is provided for. What problem could I possibly have that is important?
When I listen to people talk about their problems (like how their new iPhone isn’t as cool as they thought it would be) I just have to laugh. Tiny problems, everywhere I look. My biggest problem is a tiny problem. Your biggest problem is a tiny problem.
No food to eat.
No house to live in.
Dying from easily preventable disease.
No hope of a job.
The daily threat of being raped.
Only transportation is your feet.
These are real problems.
I need to stop and remind myself every day to give thanks. I need to live in a constant state of grace and humbleness. I need to thank God every minute of every day for the abundance that has been poured out on my life.
And then I need to figure out a way to help those in need with their real problems.
The kind of problems that aren’t fixed with a quick trip to the ATM or the local drive-thru food chain.
So, it’s the day after returning from Kenya. Besides being a little tired and foggy headed I feel ok. A little out of sorts, but trying to adjust to being back in my house in Nashville. I have to pick up my wife at the airport at 3pm, so I’ve had a little time to process, unpack, decompress, etc. before she arrives which is probably a good thing.
I am sad that it took me 41 years of my life to finally get to Africa. I think about how it has changed me. I think about how it’s changed the others from our team and how it’s already changing people around us.
On one of the last nights on our trip, our group leader Tiffany challenged us with a question. It was about how we want to be known and what we were going to do about it. And I shared that I wanted to be somebody that inspires people to do good in the world.
I got an e-mail this morning from a friend who contributed to my trip. It was incredible. I don’t want to break any confidences. But the gist of it was that my trip has somehow changed his life and he wants to be a different person and do what he can for Africa. Wow, what a blessing! God’s work just keeps on multiplying – even while we sleep.
There’s really no words or amount of pictures and videos that can explain to any of you what Africa is like. You have to see it with your eyes. You have to hear it with your ears. You have to smell it with your nose. You have to taste it, breathe it, live it and feel it in your heart.
Life in America is a privilege. I have never felt more rich than I do now. And I’m not even close to rich by U.S. standards. It’s not good enough to just write a check anymore, for me. I did that for a lot of years. It’s not bad or wrong if that’s all you can do. They need the money. And if you give it to the right people then a lot of good can come from it. But it’s just not the same. I’m going to continue to give, for sure. And it will be that much more meaningful when I can attach faces and places to the money. But I’m going to need to do a lot more.
We need to also pray for Africa. Pray for the people. Pray for the Churches and schools. Pray for the future generations and for strong leaders that can unite a people who are deeply divided by tribalism. There are some crucial moments in Kenya regarding their constitution and government coming up. Pray for peace and reconciliation. If you like to be specific, then pray for the people of Kitui and the orphan center there led by Michael and his wife Jemima. Pray for Rafael and Naomi and the work they are doing at Emmanuel School. Pray for Mercy Clinic and the people they treat for free. Pray for Irene and the staff and students at New Dawn. Pray for Pastor Benson and his Church. Pray for Kenya – but for all of Africa as well.
I know a lot of people don’t like Bono from the rock group U2. They don’t like his preaching about Africa and the poor. They think he should just sing and shut up about everything else. They find him annoying. I wonder if they will find me offensive now too? Bono went to Africa and it changed his life. And to his credit, he went and did something about it. His story is one of many stories like it. And now it’s my story too.
“I Need Africa More Than Africa Needs Me.” That’s what it says on a t-shirt that Mocha Club (sponsor of our trip) sells. I wore mine on the trip as did several others. I never thought that this shirt would be true of me. After all, I have cared about Africa and causes related to it for years. But it is so true now of me. We need to be shaken. We need to get our of our comfort zones. We need to have our hearts broken and our minds stirred. It’s not enough to just let life move on day after day without considering the needs of others.
I love the people who were on my team. They are like a family to me. And we experienced things together that have bonded us together. I hope that we can all stay in touch and be an encouragement. I pray that we will all make a difference and inspire others to do the same. I hope we can hold each other accountable. I know it’s possible and that God will find a way.
What is 10 days in a lifetime of days, really? It’s not much. Raising some money, getting on some planes, staying at a hotel or with a host family – is that really that huge of an investment? No, it’s not. But I think that a lot of good can come from experience and seeing things first hand. As my main man Henry Rollins likes to say “knowledge without mileage is bulls@%t.” I put in a lot of mileage in during the last two weeks and it’s definitely put things into perspective for me.
Jesus loves the little children of the world. It’s true. And the way he is going to love them is through you and me.
It’s time for you to go to Africa. It’s time for us all to get our hands dirty and to eliminate extreme poverty in our lifetime. I’m not the first person to make this call by any stretch, that’s for sure. I hope I’m not the last.
Things are already better.
We arrived at London Heathrow Airport bright and early in the morning. I had some breakfast of veggie omelette croissant and orange juice. I also had non-bottled water for the first time in many days.
Went to the bathroom to brush teeth, baby wipe bathe, put on deoderant, etc. Charged my phone and then attempted to take a nap under some seats near our gate.
It was time to board another plane. I love these British Airways planes, though. They are big and have larger seats and movies and good food. Well, at least good food for airplanes.
This was going to be about another 8 hours of flying to I finished watching Invictus and From Paris With Love. I had an elderly couple getting loaded next to me. They were funny and then they both passed out. I also napped for a bit between food services and drinks.
Arrived safely in DC. We went through customs and then picked up our bags. And it was now time to say goodbye to everybody. I told Mike I felt like I gained 16 little sisters on this trip (now realizing the correct number is 13 – and 3 little brothers!) And that’s true. This group is like a new extended family to me. I hope they feel the same. It was hard to say goodbye.
So now it was down to Tiffany, Mike, Ian and myself. We had to travel to the United counter which was at the complete opposite end. The electronic check-in took forever. Then I got my bag singled out for x-ray screening so I had to take it even further down (saw Madison, Christine, Stephanie, Cole and Blake in line and said goodbye again). Next, wee found ourselves in a long line / holding area (pre-security line) where we ran back into Christi The Canadian. Then we took forever to get through the most crowded security check ever. And then we had to board a shuttle tram to our terminal. Ran into Cameron and Lauren and had time to give them one more group hug. Our line ended and we had to get off and re-board another one. FINALLY we arrived at our gate (so much for a 3-4 hour layover!) in time to get a fruit smoothie (gave myself throat freeze) and a bottle of water. Ran into Cassidi again and one last goodbye to her and Christi.
Boarded our last plane to Nashville. Just a short last flight and then we were home. Shocked back to southern weather of heat and humidity. Who knew it was going to be hotter here than in Africa!
And so ends 24+ hours of traveling and almost 48 hours in the same clothes. It was time to pick up my car, drive home, take a long shower and do some laundry, then pass out.
And that’s exactly what I did.
We woke up really early today (around 5:30am) because we were going to Nairobi National Park for a safari! I know a lot of people get excited about animals. But I was mostly looking forward to enjoying some downtime with people from our team. This was one of the last things we’d be doing together and I was going to soak it all in. We saw some monkeys, a couple of giraffes, birds, buffalo, etc. But what struck me was the beautiful trees and rolling hills. It was really amazing to look at. It felt like what I imagined Africa to be.
After the Safari we checked out of our hotel, loading up our bags and headed to lunch at Java House. I had a veggie burger and fries for what I’m pretty sure was the 3rd day in a row. More quality time and conversation.
Then we loaded up the vans to head to the Kazuri marketplace. This is a business that was started in 1975 and employs over 400 women who are mostly single mothers. They produce over 5 million beads a year! We had some time to purchase jewelry and take a tour of the factory. This business is to Kenya what New Dawn school is – a place of hope and opportunity. Very cool to be there and support what they are doing by purchasing some of their products.
It was finally time for dinner and we had some chinese food at a local mall. I think when I get back to the states it’s going to be a long time before I am going to want rice again. Rice, rice, rice, rice, rice. Rice and meat. Rice and meat. We attempted to do our daily de-briefing and talk before the meal but only managed to get about half way through. It was too noisy. So after our meal we stood in a circle in the parking lot and we finished. Mike went around the entire circle and said nice things about everybody in our group. It was really emotional because of what he said and because Mike can be a real ass. Don’t worry, he knows.
Then it was time to head to the Nairobi Airport.
We unloaded all our stuff and said goodbye to our drivers. It was time to say goodbye also to Jill and Sam (from Hawaii) as they were flying to Amsterdam instead of London like the rest of us.
We went through security immediately and then checked our bags. Next stop was customs. Passport stamped and off to the next security check. Made it through and did a little last minute shopping. Then Mike and I shared our last African beers and a toast to Africa. One last security check (really?!) to get to our gate and it was time to board the plane.
9 hours to London. Spent mostly sleeping as we left around 11pm.
Today was our second day at New Dawn School in the Huruma slum / Kiambu Village. When we arrived at the school we were given a rundown of the agenda for the day by the school principal, Sam.
Then Stephanie, Christine and I sat in on the senior english class. They were talking about a play from a book set in the late 1800′s. There was a great discussion that was lead by the teacher and some students. I thought having the students lead and be questioned by other students was a great teaching technique.
Mike arrived a little later after picking up the voltage converter box that we needed to hook up the computers. Thankfully it worked! So we fired them up and MIke got to the task of teaching Michael (the computer instructor at the school) a few things about Photoshop, Mac basics, etc. After he was done Ian showed him how to use Garage Band. A number of the students showed an interested in music, producing, etc. I think they will be very excited to be able to use that. I also showed him a few things including iPhoto. We imported a ton of pictures that were taken of the students. I also donated a digital camera so students could take pictures and work with the software.
The photo printer Sara brought was not working due to electric issues. So Mike, Ian Benson and I headed off to the local mall to print off pictures to give to the students. One of the art projects for the day was making picture frames. Not that cool without photos to put in them! While we were waiting for the photos to be printed I finally had a Tusker (Kenyan beer). It was good!
While we were gone the rest of our team was playing soccer and games with kids, doing crafts and talking with students.
We returned just in time as everybody had assembled in the chapel for final goodbyes and talks from staff. Mike brought back a huge blow-up print of the entire school that he made. We all said a few words. All the kids were saying “Power” when I stood up. I told them that I thought New Dawn was like the sun or a bright star of hope in Kenya. And it really is.
After braving rush hour in Nairobi we made it back to our hotel and quickly freshened up because we were going to Irene’s house (director of New Dawn) for dinner.
Irene is pretty well off for Kenyan standards. And she had a wonderful meal prepared for us along with Benson’s family (wife Susan and daughter Victoria) as well as her son and a couple of his friends. Irene told us the story of how she came to start the school. It was really interesting because she really fought God on it. She was wanting to reach the higher society people in the area. It was really incredible how it all came to be. It was a really nice way to close out our time and be with everybody.
A lot of tears were shed tonight. I think everybody is starting to feel the sadness of leaving. And we’re all talking about going back and how we want to change and what we’re going to about what we’ve seen. It’s how one thing ends and another begins.
Today was a day that I had been looking forward to since before our trip began. Today was the day we were to visit New Dawn school and deliver the two Apple computers we brought.
New Dawn is on the edge of a slum. It is built from shipping containers and it’s the most impressive thing I have seen on our trip. The school was founded by a lady named Irene. We were given a tour of the school by Ben, the school principal.
The crazy thing about this particular slum (one much smaller than Kibera, where we have spent most of our trip) is that it is right smacked up against the richest area of Nairobi. There are tons of huge houses and nice roads. Most of the occupants are people who work at the UN or embassies. So you drive through what looks like Beverly Hills, they lift a gate and you are in a slum. Nuts.
The school is surrounded on their property by a bunch of agriculture that the students and staff are tending to. They are growing corn and bananas and kale. This helps them to offset food costs. They are also planning on selling kale to U.S. importers.
Mike and I set up the computers, but we needed some voltage converters that we did not know about. We won’t have those until tomorrow. But even just sitting there they were like a beacon of futuristic technology amongst the PC museum that was in there. We were told that people usually donate their old crappy computers that barely work. Based on what I saw that’s definitely true.
Mike, myself, Stephanie and her sister Christine visited with the “senior” students. They have one student who is nearly 40 who was determined to get an education and overcame many obstacles to be there. He is soon to graduate. After introductions we opened a question and answer period. Surprisingly mang of the kids wanted to do music for a living in one form or another.
When it was my turn to ask questions I asked for some of them to share their dreams with me. They could each tell you when they first had it and at what age. One girl wanted to be a doctor who made enough money to sponsor other children to go to school. Another wanted to be a singer and open his own club where up and coming artists could have a chance to perform.
A lot of hope and promise amongst this group of kids. It was a fresh breath among air that was becoming harder and harder to breathe.
We return to New Dawn tomorrow. We’re going to show some of the kids how to use Photoshop, record with Garage Band, etc. It’s sure to blow their minds.
Today was filled with a lot of hope as we got to see what success looks like here in Kenya. An amazing school with an equally impressive staff and students.
For dinner we went out for Chinese food. The place was called Chopstix and there were no Chop Sticks to be found. Weird no?
The last 2 days in the van I’ve been singing a re-cap of our day to the tune of “Memory” from the Broadway musical “Cats.”
Everybody on this trip is my friend.
Well, here we are. We’ve been in Africa for a week. It seems like so much longer. We have crammed a lot of activity into a small amount of space. One day runs into another. It’s a good exercise to keep up this blog each day or I’m afraid I would forget a lot of what’s happened.
Today we were to return to Kibera. We stopped in to Emmanuel School where we had some tea and cake they made for us. We talked with Naomi and some others from the Church there. Then it was time to head to the PCEA Slanga High School that she supervises in the middle of the slum.
I don’t think that any of us knew what we were in for.
Kibera, as I think I have mentioned previously, is the largest slum in Eastern Africa. It’s about 750,000 – 1 million people crammed into a space about the size of central park in New York City. There is raw sewage running down the streets, wild animals, etc. The slum has a social order as well. The middle is the poorest of the poor and then as you work your way out to the edge that is people who have done well enough for themselves to have the possibility of maybe getting out. There are fairly well maintained roads, better shops, better conditions. All still bad – but nothing compared with what we saw today.
We rode in our two vans for a good 30 minutes or more down some of the worst road conditions into the heart of Kibera. It got dirtier and dirtier. The people, more desperate – and hardened – it would seem by the looks on their faces. At one point our driver stopped our vehicle to pull down his antenna and we were on a portion of the road that was only wide enough for the vehicle with sewer trenches on both sides. More and more residents were gathering around us and very close by. They were not friendly. I said to the others in my group that it had a feeling like the movie Black Hawk Down where at any minute some bad things could go down.
And this fear is not unfounded. Based on others previous experiences we know that it is not safe to be in the slum after dark. You do not let them see you taking pictures. You do not go anywhere alone. It’s not a safe place.
And as we learned from our visit to the school, it is especially hard on the young girls and women. Shockingly many of the girls conversations with women from our group centered around rape. And it was talked about in a context like it was just another conversation topic. Put in a way such as “Do you have a lot of rape in the United States?” Just another horrific and sad part of life in this desperate place that drove one of the good hearted women in our group to break down in tears in our evening meeting. It’s impossible to not ask how God can allow this kind of human suffering. But the Africans do not ask these kinds of questions. They believe that “everything is already better.” There’s no way you get can your head around it. All I know is that I have never felt more ashamed of my gluttony than I have on this trip.
Put a less polite way – there are no fat Africans.
It’s hard trying to explain to a kid who is giving everything he has to become educated and fight his way out of a slum how spending $500 or more on a tattoo is a good use of money. It’s hard to justify being overweight when so many are starving. I think about my choices. Choices involving money, food, free time, etc. And all I know is that being a witness to Kibera puts me in a simple position…
FRESH OUT OF EXCUSES.
How do you go back to a normal life after seeing these kinds of things?
Anyway, we travel down this ever narrowing road. It’s been raining the last few days and there is mud everywhere. There are also all sorts of obstacles like chickens, puppies, children, carts of water, carts of junk. It’s like the worlds worst road test. I tell Daniel our driver he is an olympic champion driver and he gets a gold medal. Honestly, I do not know how we did not get stuck. It was ridiculous.
The children, in contrast to the adults, are all smiles toward us. They yell “how are you?!” to us over and over as they smile and wave. These kids are desperate for love. Desperate for attention, for direction. But this is the only life they know.
We finally arrive at the front gate to the school property. And after placing some boulders under the wheels of our van we make it into the sanctuary of the grounds.
After stopping along to each class and introducing ourselves we are let loose on the play fields to spend time with the kids. In a short amount of time I finally have some curious young men gathered around me. They want to know about Arnold Schwartzneggar and if he is still making movies. They ask about CNN and “is it true the government pays everybody in your country even if they don’t work?” They ask if I like Obama and which is my “favorite english league” football (soccer) team is. I tell them it’s Manchester United. They tell me that the people from better neighborhoods are for Manchester and that the poor people are for Arsenal. I told the young boy that based on this new information I would have to start rooting for Arsenal. The children laugh. Another boy asks me if I think Osama Bin Laden is still alive. And yet another “how much money did it cost for you to come to Africa?”
One boy wants to be a doctor, and another an engineer. Yet another desires to be a journalist.
Favorite football teams. Dream jobs. Sounds like the stuff you would hear at any high school in anytown, U.S.A. But I just spent a half hour driving through their town and I got just how different life is for them with all my senses.
After social time we moved into the school chapel. A girl lead the group in a song and to my shock and surprise were joined by my friend Mike who was DANCING?!? Africa has a strange effect on some people. A bit later (after some speech making and staff introductions) he followed up his dancing with a short inspirational speech that I really enjoyed. It’s clear that he is in his element with these kids who he greeted by raising his arms in the air and shouting “how’s it going my African brothers and sisters?!?”
We were all introduced. I’ve made a habit of saying something like “I am Bill Power from Nashville, Tennessee – but you can call me Mutua.” This usually gets some laughs and cheers.
This was about all the time we had there and it was time to go.
And yes, we had to travel out the same way we came in. It was just as bad and thankfully felt a little shorter. Although I have no idea why.
One of the girls in our group mentioned that she noticed the first time we drove into Kibera we were silent – in shock and awe. And that now we were talking and at times even joking. Isn’t it amazing how quickly we are desensitized to the horror we witness? My prayer is that my heart will never become so hard. My heart broke for these kids and for these people today. I thought of how awful it would be to break down in that neighborhood. And then I thought – this is their home! How do they live like this?
We finally made it back to the Emmanuel School and were able to say our goodbyes to them. We then headed back to the Mercy clinic to finish the paint job we started a week ago our first day in country.
Today clearly shook many people in our group. It think it was good for us to be pulled back out of our comfort zones. We need to know that God’s heart breaks for these kids (and adults). We need to believe that his plan is for redemption. But things being put to right seems impossible…totally insurmountable. All you can do is go on faith and not by sight. Because the images that fill your eyes just leave you with the impression that the answer to so many prayers has just been “no”. Or “not now”. How do they keep their faith? It is totally mystifying.
Mike put it best when he said to the kids “we are all the same. Do you believe it?” And it’s true. These African brothers and sisters are the same as us. They have dreams. They have hopes. They like to laugh. They like to watch movies. They have questions. They want answers.
Maybe the problem with evil in this world isn’t God’s lack of answering prayers after all. Maybe the real problem is that WE ARE GOD’S ANSWER and we stand by and do nothing. How can we afford to let places like this exist in the world?
I don’t claim to be perfect or that I’m special for going on this trip and doing the things we are doing here. Anybody can do it. You can do it. All you need is the will and the faith. God will provide the way! I am a result of that. Some who could not go gave so that I could be here. I challenge you to open yourself to the possibility that God may want you to answer this same call.
Because it is true, after all, that faith without works is dead.
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What follows is quite a few photos I snapped from the van today as we passed by, a few at the school and then some fun pictures from painting at the clinic. Some of the Kibera images are pretty hard to look at. So, don’t say I didn’t warn you.