After many hours in the air the plane landed in London, England for the exchange of a few passengers. We stayed on the plane during the short layover. The plane was soon headed for Africa.
Our first touch down on African soil was Monrovia, Liberia. We were allowed to disembark the plane to stretch our legs and fill our lungs with the breaths of African air. It was a strange feeling. We had traveled many hours over nothing but ocean to finally touch down on the West coast of Africa thousands of miles away from home. This was our first impressions of a third world country. It was a strange feeling stepping through the door of the plane onto the ramp, pausing to scan the surroundings while breathing deeply of the air, then proceeding downward to the Africa soil.
I had read much about Africa in preparation for the mission work, and now I was standing on ground that had drank in many pints of blood over the centuries. I could almost feel the pulsation of all its suffering coursing through the soil beneath my feet. Then we moved on into the waiting area of the terminal while the plane was refueled. After a few brief moments in the terminal we walked back to the plane. I could feel the ‘ancientness’ in the air around me. I was reminded of the ‘the voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” Genesis 4:10 NASB
The next stop was Lagos, Nigeria. We did not disembark here, so the only view we had was of the airport facility. After a few minutes we were back in the air heading for Nairobi, Kenya. I felt the same cry while sitting in the plane on the ground in Lagos, a heavy aching groan from the atmosphere around me.
When we arrived in Nairobi it was a different experience. It had a lighter feel as it was more modernized and populated with British and other nationalities, plus we had American missionaries meeting us at the airport. It was good to see familiar American faces smiling at our safe arrival welcoming us to a very different world from Southern Ohio.
Everything was so plush and green with modern buildings surrounded by very friendly nationals. It was more like a resort than a third world country. Of course this was because Nairobi had been influenced by many nations of the world, especially the British down through centuries of time. This is one of the first things one noticed when intermingling with the many different people of the city, the ‘clipped’ accent from England had left its mark. Words were enunciated clearly without running the words together as we Americans tend to do. The British say Americans butcher the Kings Language. They are right, but we Americans say they talk funny. LOl
I had a young minister friend while in the States who pronounced the word Aluminum and al u min e um. I loved to hear him talk clipping his words. I soon learned to avoid the word ‘bloody’, as it is used as a swear word overseas.
There were four missionary families assigned to Kenya, so T and G found some American playmates helping to make their transition smoother from one culture to another. Kenya was an established mission work which made it easier for everyone stepping foot on African soil for the first time. It is always nice to see people from the same planet as yourself, and be able to communicate in the same tongue, knowing the meaning of the words being spoken and heard have at least partially been understood to mean something close to what you meant to say.
I was able to teach in the Bible School here and preach from time to time at the headquarters church, as well as make several ‘bush’ trips into the Kenyan villages preaching to the nationals. It was a unique experience preaching through an interpreter for the first time. Fortunately the work in Nairobi had several well spoken interpreters with a strong command of the English language. They made it easy for me. I tend to speak quickly and intensely, because I have a lot to say in 30 to 45 minutes of time, always feeling pressured to get my points across before the congregation becomes restless and bored. There’s nothing worse for a preacher to see the sheep glancing around at a clock, shifting in their seats, and whispering to their neighbors. He knows he needs to step it up a notch if he is going to get their attention and leave anything of value with them. Africans are hungry for the Word of God. They soak it up like I did and it was a joy to teach and preach to them.
We settled into a ‘hostel’ run by the Nazarene Missionaries. I remember T and J reading books from the nicely stocked library. We were soon able to move onto the Bible School grounds into a Mission House having our first taste of British influenced housing. The mission house look right out of the movies with its fireplace, and barred windows. The electrical conduit was fastened to the outside of the wall instead of hidden inside. There was a lot of brick work covered with stucco. It was very comfortable and even had mosquito netting over and around the beds.
I soon learned that every house and even the Bible School was fenced in with gates that were kept locked at night. Africans, because they make so very little in wages, believe that Americans and British are very wealthy, thus a strong temptation to steal. The Africans don’t look at it as stealing though. They think we are all brothers and what is yours is theirs too. They just saw it and needed it and took it, I mean borrowed it, of course hoping that you will never miss it or if you do, you will never find out who took it.
The next surprise was how there was always a gardener who’s job was to keep the grounds or yard clean and manicured. Beautiful shrubs, flowers and trees adorn each property creating a park-like setting for each house or office building, both private and public. Then there was the plethora of fruit and vegetables at the open air market in downtown Nairobi. Bright and colorful and ripe and juicy fruit of all kinds. A delicious treat for us Americans. The British are definitely good at teaching the nationals how to garden. Some of the other things, not so much. We will get into that a little later.
Now driving on the left side of the road took a little bit to get used to. We were able to borrow one of the missionaries’ car and drive into town to shop for supplies for setting up housekeeping. It was nerve wracking, especially on those dang British round-a-bouts! You have traffic coming at you from four directions only to try to remember to stay on the left side to avoid crashing into someone coming at you from the other way and on a circle! The Kenyans drive fast too! We had a few horns honked at us, but we made it into town and back to the mission house in one piece. (The funny thing is after arriving back in the States we had to re-learn how to drive on the right side of the road. Old habits die hard)
I remember sitting the kids on the steps to house and stacking the fruits and vegetables around them for a picture to send home to the folks. Then there was the first Christmas overseas and the grandparents did their part to make sure the kids had presents to open by shipping their care packages to arrive by Christmas Day. I think it was a pretty good experience for T and G, and of course N didn’t care whether he was in Nairobi or the States for Christmas. He received attention and cuddling no matter where he opened his presents.
There was a lot of good fellowship here with the other missionary families getting together for meals and cookouts, and working together to help the nationals know more about the Bible and Jesus Christ. As in any group there was a clog or two in the flow of things. One missionary family had some words with another missionary lady, and I was called in by the superintendent to help determine a solution. After several meetings it came down to sending one family back home, feeling that they were not ready for the stress of a mission field. I felt really bad for them the day they drove off the grounds for the airport. This was another dark experience stacked together with my previous ones forming a bigger and bigger dark cloud over my head. I always felt that maybe it should have been the other lady who should have been sent home.
The superintendent and his family drove us to Tsavo National Game Park located South of the city toward Mombasa. We saw herds of wild elephants a few hundred feet away from our car. There was a lion sunning itself on a rock. Cape Buffalo, black rhino, zebra, giraffe, Thomson Gazelle, Kudu, Springbok and many other animals. It was an unreal experience being that close to the wilds of Africa with dangerous lions free to roam wherever they chose to do so. This experience alone is worth a trip to Kenya.
We also were able to take a break from the trips into the bush country and teaching and preaching at the headquarters church and Bible School complex for a little R&R in Mombasa. The kids all donned bathing suits and hit the beach. We adults hung out under the palm trees drinking coconut juice drinks watching the kids play together in the Indian Ocean. They also had a swimming pool at the lodge and the kids put N in this pool with little floats in his arms while they played with him. I do not remember staying the night here, I think we just drove down for the day, but I do remember T and G, but especially T having a nice red sunburn on her shoulders and face. Lol
You have to remember that Nairobi has been the vacation spot for the wealthy and the elite for many years and under the influence of England so the country shows the reflection in a wonderful way for foreigners visiting the country for the first time. Their work, our enjoyment.
The city of Nairobi had .9 million population when we were there. Today it shows over 3 million. There were nice modern hotels and restaurants. The shops were operated by Indians or Kenyans, people whom the British had trained. It is when you travel outside of the city that you experience the real Africa. Slums of mud-walled homes with sheets of corrugated iron for roofs, or sometimes just thatched grass. They call it Elephant grass as it can grow up to 12′ tall. It is a tropical grass that grows naturally in the wild.
One day I went with the superintendent of the mission work to pray for someone who lived in these slums. It was a very depressing experience. One lane dirt roads with potholes that could break an axle on a car if you drove too fast, (the day we went, it had rained the night before and the potholes were full of water and the road was muddy) Kenyans dressed in tattered clothes and people walking everywhere. People walk in Africa as most cannot afford to pay for bus fare or a taxi let alone own their own car. They have many miles on their feet and most of the time it done without shoes.
The inside of the mud-walled homes were sparsely furnished with cheaply made furniture and plastered walls usually with a mixture of mud and cow dung and straw. The people do not have much, but they are very friendly and helpful. Poor but proud we use to say in Southern Ohio.
These slums are all around the city and it is not somewhere you want to travel at night alone as a foreigner. You would get mugged for sure, maybe worse. Of course tourist usually never see all the poverty and filth of these areas of town. They are there for the safaris and the nice hotels.
We also got to see as a family the flamingos on Lake Naivasha where we saw many hundreds of beautiful birds are attracted to the algae in the lake. The lake doesn’t have an outlet, so it believed that there is an underground outflow. We also visited some kind of crater located close to the lake. I remember climbing the hill with the family and standing on the edge of the crater looking way down inside it….very spooky as everything in Africa is associated with dead ancestors and Witchcraft. Plus there was lots of places for snakes to surprise you too, and it was wild Africa so anything could happen. (The snakes show up later in Malawi)
There were several trips into the villages of Kenya to preach to the nationals. The African landscape is beautiful and rugged and wild. We saw some of the most beautiful Sunsets and Sun Rises ever and it feels like you are able to reach up and touch the sky. The sky is so clear and smog free making the air so fresh and enjoyable. The clouds just seem to float right above your heads. pulchritudinous!!
I got to travel to Lake Victoria for a meeting with the nationals staying at the town Kikuyu located close to the lake. I did not get to visit the falls due to time constraints. But I can’t complain as I got to see so many other beautiful sights while in Kenya.
I will stop for now and share some more in the next post about Kenya and my trip into Ethiopia. Click here to go to The Mission Years-Part Five