Returning Home Highlights: #5-7

Now that we have both finished our last call nights here at Tenwek, I'm sure we will have tons of leisure to post speculative cross-culture blogs. On with the lists!

7. Reliable road maps: We have a map of Nairobi. We also have a map of Kenya. You may think that the general idea of a map is to help one to find one's way, but these seem to be made for someone who already knows the way. Some of the complications of road maps around here are plain inaccuracies ("what do you mean this road doesn't go to that town?") and no way to figure in the quality of the road, which is essential in trip planning. Time estimation on google maps? Ha! Our first 8 trips or so to Nairobi, we got lost every time. Now we know our way, and the map is awesome.

A few months ago, we suddenly remembered a time in West Texas, right before we left, when the interstate was closed for a freak snowstorm. We looked at our atlas, plotted a course through country we had never before laid eyes on, and arrived without incident. Amazing!

6. Driving at night: A related but separate joy. We don't drive at night here. Our supervising agency actually tells us not to. Aside from safety concerns about violence at night, there are no street lights, which provide difficulties on potholed roads that keep animals and darkly-clothed pedestrians on their fringes day or night. I did it once after an incident where my nerves were already shot, and that was enough for me.

Again, the simplicity of this fact at home was always taken for granted. The sun is down? Why wouldn't you drive? There's still plenty of time to head out to your local 24-hour grocery store and pick up anything you might want!

5. Seasons: We recently wrote about the charms of the weather on the equator, and there is certainly an upside. However, after two years of basically the same weather every day, though a lovely mix of spring and summer, which is, at the same time, not really spring or summer, the seasons have grown in their allure.

I don't think Kenyans would get this, and in fact, I freely admit that it is not superior to temperate weather every day, but it is nevertheless good, and it's ours. We've been shocked at how the simply turning of the year holds so many deep associations with other elements of culture. The first snow, Christmas, snow days, a slow thaw, finding the ground underneath again, the first wildflowers, the first day you can wear shorts (which is never here), riding a bike again, spring tree blossoms, planting a garden, getting out of school for the summer, picking fruit, swimming, vacation bible school, the changing color of tree leaves, apple picking, pumpkin carving, thanksgiving... The list goes on, but they are all so tied to the passing of seasons as we remember them, that our hearts can ache with the beautiful memories of it all...

We'll see how we feel if we spend February in Michigan.


Returning Home Highlights: #8-10

Time has gotten away from us and it's just under two weeks until we leave for the United States. The McLaughlin feet (8 instead of 6) will be back on American soil on September 9th. We wanted to reflect mainly on the things we will miss in Kenya instead of the things we WON'T miss...but the flip side of the coin is that we are also very excited to be coming home. A home that Maggie doesn't remember and Ben's never been to, but a place that's been home to Eric and me for many years, and will always be so. Because time has gotten away from us, we don't have the luxury of separate posts for each of the “top 10” things we're looking forward to about returning home, so we're doing a bit of lumping here. Our apologies. And we're limiting our list to things instead of people. Obviously, we hope it goes without saying that the absolute best part of coming home will be the chance to see all of our family and friends, and be a part of your lives again.

#10: Stick margarine: No, really. I have done more baking here in Kenya than ever before in my life, and I'm recognizing how many conveniences are available in the US. One thing I am so looking forward to is sticks of butter and margarine that have convenient little markings on the sides delineating tablespoons and cups. Wow! Here in my kitchen I have a variety of mismatched measuring cups and need to scoop margarine out of a big tub, fill it into the cup, hope there's not a big air bubble, scrape it out...it's all over my hands, hard to wash, etc etc. I never appreciated the stick margarine (and Crisco sticks) until my arrival here. Can't wait to try them out again

back home!

#9: Public libraries: Stop and think about how amazing your local library is. You walk in, and get to take home books, movies, and music … for free. AND if they don't have the book you're looking for, they'll order it for you from another library, and it's STILL free! We were total library junkies back home and the only books we bought were discounted used books at the weekly library sale. Since Tenwek has a lot of long term missionaries with their own home schooling libraries, we've made do here (getting closer to that Newbery goal!), but look forward to being able to walk into a giant building full of books on all topics, waiting for us to take them home and read them! Perhaps we'll be able to locate those difficult to find Newbery winners, like “Gay Neck, the story of a Pidgeon.” No one seems to have that one around here.

#8: Flavored coffee and creamers: This is something we have sort of gotten around since our arrival. Eric has been making our own flavored creamers out of sweetened condensed milk, milk, and flavorings for over a year now. It's been great, but we are looking forward to a wide array of new flavors to try. And oh, the coffee aisle at the grocery store. Walk down the aisle and breathe deep the wonderful smells of grinding coffee. Ah, heaven.


Missing Kenya #1: Close Community

We have been flattered and surprised by people's anticipation of our list, particularly the #1 item. I hope this doesn't come as anticlimactic, given that this one is not specific to Kenyan culture, but it is most certainly true.

We have a 2-year old and a 5-month old. In the vast majority of situations, doing any evening social activity therefore requires hiring a baby-sitter, making significant arrangements, and watching your watch closely as the evening goes on to get back on time.

Here is goes something like this:

1. A knock at the door from fellow McCropder who lives next door or downstairs. "Hey, want to play some cards after the kids go down?"
2. Kids go to sleep around 7:30pm
3. Go to aforementioned apartment and laugh a lot with friends, or commisserate over some recent experience, taking 45-second breaks every once in a while to run up and make sure kids are still asleep.
4. Go home when you want to.
(Note: no baby-sitter is making money)

We recognize that this is a rare blessing for this stage in our life. We also recognize the numerous times of spontaneously sharing a meal, and the huge help our friends have been while we try to juggle raising two little kids and working odd hours.

We are going home to see tons of friends and family that we have missed dearly, and we are awfully excited about it. But, there will be something different from what we have experienced here. I'm sure we'll miss it, and we'll be looking forward to sharing one big apartment building in the French Alps and later in Burundi.

OK, that completes our list. Stay tuned for our Top Ten Things We Look Forward to About the USA.


Missing Kenya #2: Wildlife

Yesterday we drove back to Tenwek after a World Harvest Mission retreat to the coast (which was lovely, by the way, maybe more stories later). We were driving across the Rift Valley floor, which we've probably done 50 times, and we saw two ostriches (do we need to clarify that they are wild?). We've never seen ostriches there before, but low and behold.

There is a decent amount of unpleasantness about driving in Kenya, but there are also a few upsides, the biggest being the animal life. Every 3rd grader can tell you that there are a bunch of big animals in our neck of the woods, and they're right. There are a few general categories of this goodness, and we will miss them all.

1. The Straight-Up Safaris:
When you set aside a few days and drive a couple hours away, you can see some of the world's best wildlife. This is a great time, that we've enjoyed on several occasions and blogged about previously. There are definitely the most dramatic sites here.

2. The Home Life, especially the birds:
Anywhere you go in East Africa, the birds are tremendous, and though we never really paid attention to birds before, we've become decently well-versed in various sorts while living here. Even at Tenwek, there are a number of nice ones, including the black and white casqued hornbill, which was photographed above from our front porch. This bird is about 2.5 feet tall.

3. Other people's local wildlife
Anywhere you go, even if it's not to a "safari" location, it's always fun to guess what type of wildlife might reside there. It adds a new little dimension to any trip. Above, we were eating at a local restaurant 1 hour away, and the rooftops were invaded by little vervet monkeys.

4. Driving in the Rift Valley:
This gets a category of it's own. Our most common road trip is to Nairobi, and this takes us straight through the floor of the Rift Valley, just north of Masai Mara Game Reserve. There are 4 main animals seen there: baboons, zebra, Thompson's gazelles, and giraffes. However, as mentioned, we saw ostrich there yesterday and have also seen Grant's gazelles. If you veer off the road a bit, as we did to visit our friends, you might see warthogs, wildebeests and more. The picture above was a few months ago, driving down to said friends. As you can tell, the road isn't great, so a rest stop to watch the giraffes is doubly welcome.


Missing Kenya #3: House Helpers

It's funny, but as I reflect on our list of top 10 "Missing Kenya" items, I'm realizing how many of them were strange, uncomfortable, or undesired when we first arrived. The subject of today's post, house helpers, was actually one of the most stressful elements of my first weeks in Kenya. I was uncomfortable hiring local women to work in my house--I didn't want to seem uppity by hiring servants! What would I have them do? Would I have to reprimand or dictate? How much should I pay them? Health insurance/housing stipends? I had never employed anyone before, and didn't know how to act as a "boss." Maybe I could get by without house help.

Two ladies showed up to work on the first day and I was embarrassed. I needed TWO people to help me while I was at work? But all the other missionary ladies assured me this was normal, and acceptable, and I was providing income into the local economy, to women who deserved it. And even though the rate I was paying them seemed absurdly low (really? $2.50/day?) it was much higher than they could earn elsewhere in the area, doing almost anything.

So, that was the beginning. Ruth cooked and cleaned, Rose watched Maggie and did some cleaning. Despite some early on kitchen mishaps (I can't eat a particular fried rice recipe anymore without remembering what Eric termed the "pepper rice" due to a tsp/tbsp mix-up) it actually didn't take long before I was wondering what I'd do without these 2 sweet ladies. Not only was my bed made on a regular basis (the first time in my life that's ever happened) but the dishes got washed, laundry hung to dry and folded, water filtered, milk boiled, vegetables soaked in bleach and cut up, bathroom washed, floors swept and mopped, rugs beat out... And most importantly, someone reliable was watching Maggie (and now Ben) while I worked 3 days a week.
My misunderstanding at the beginning was common, I think. It's not that I need servants. It's that there are so many more things to do in the day here than need doing in the US. We are going home to a land of dishwashers, washers and dryers, drinkable tap water, pasteurized milk, vacuum cleaners, paved sidewalks (less dirt in the house), and prepared foods available at the grocery store, 10 minutes away. I don't have plans to hire someone to do housework for me the in States, although certainly if Eric and I were both working we'd need day care or a nanny, and a nice lady to come and clean the house once in awhile would be nice. :) Ruth and Rose have been a great help, and we will miss them, and wish them well.


Missing Kenya #4: Door to Door Produce

Sometimes I miss being able to run out to the grocery store for that one thing I forgot...something essential to the dinner I had planned 3 wks ago and now need to readjust my plans (no more meal planning will have a prominent feature in our next series of posts, things we are looking forward to about the US). But then I remember some fun grocery conveniences that we have here at Tenwek that I will miss. Namely, food arriving at our door.

Every day, the Faders' househelper Edna brings us 2L of fresh milk to the door. As in, it was probably in the cow 2-3 hours earlier. This is whole, unpasteurized milk that we can skim cream off of and needs to be boiled for 15-20min before we can drink it. The price is about 75 cents for 2L. I have never wished I could run out to the grocery just for milk, and I'm sure in days to come as I'm making a grocery run for another gallon of milk, I'll remember these times fondly.

Also, every Tuesday Joseph the egg man comes to our door. He actually runs a local orphanage, Umoja, and the kids there have chickens as an extra income generating project. I can get as many or as few eggs as I want, and no need for a "dozen" denomination. We usually get about 20. The eggs run about $1.40 for a dozen, and it is supporting a good cause. 20 eggs, you say? Every week? Well, yes, we do eat a lot of eggs here...especially since we do all our own baking and cereal is so expensive. I have no intention of checking my cholesterol.

And finally, it's not just eggs and milk, but a variety of produce that shows up. Every week someone is coming by selling spinach, tomatos, carrots, cabbage, pineapples, etc. We can buy, or not, but it's fun to peruse the options!

In the US, the nutrition/food trend and advice seems to be "know where your food comes from." Well, here in Kenya we know EXACTLY where most of our food comes from. In fact, we've met our food. At least, we've met "our" cow and "our" chickens. It's been fun to see. And despite the fact that we have had more empty margarine and sunflower oil containers than I care to dwell on (we can't possibly have consumed all that oil, right?) I like to think that we've eaten healthier here than we would have back home.


Missing Kenya #5: Kenyan Cell Phone Plans

Eric and I often look back (fondly? or not...) on our first full day in Kenya. We spent something like 8 hours shopping for food, appliances, housewares, and phones, totally jet-lagged, unsure of the exchange rate, overwhelmed at the money we were spending. Eric and our friend Steve Manchester spent something like 2 hours at the cell phone counter (OK, maybe not that long) at the grocery store while I stared at the spice aisle unsure of what to buy. I remember thinking, as Eric handed me my new cell phone, boy I just miss Verizon. It was so known and familiar, and I had a nice phone with an Indiana Jones theme song ring. BUT little did I know how wrong I was to miss Verizon.

Let me say this: Kenyan cell phone plans are AWESOME. We spent $20 apiece on phones, which are basic but do feature flashlights, calculators, timers, and calendars. Then every plan (basically) is pre-paid. We buy a credit card looking thing for $12 or so and with current calling rates of 4cents/min to the US, and 4cents/min anywhere in Kenya, with no roaming charges, that money lasts us MONTHS. Texts are about 1 1/2 cents apiece. PLUS you only pay for outgoing calls, and incoming calls and texts are free. We figure that for both of our phones, we spend less than $10/mo. I went online several months ago to price out verizon's plans and the cheapest options will run us $70/mo for 2 phones (which we need to buy ourselves). Yikes!

Cell phones have revolutionized the Developing World. And I don't think that's an overstatement. I remember going to Cambodia in 2002 and seeing a guy talking on his cell phone riding a rickshaw with kids running around drinking beverages out of plastic bags with straws thinking, what a bizarre contrast. But consider the cost of running thousands of miles of phone lines vs the cost of putting up a few cell towers. With these Kenyan calling plans, everyone can own a cellphone, whereas a land line could cost hundreds of dollars and be subject to fallen branches and slow repairs. My househelpers, who make about $50/mo, own cell phones. They have no electricity in their homes...so they charge up their phones here.

Who knows. We will probably come home to the US after 2 yrs and stare at the new smart phones (I did have to have my cousin explain to me what that was) like hicks from the sticks. But hopefully we can jump back in smoothly. When we get those monthly bills, though, we will look back at Kenya oh so fondly.