Pen Pals & Whale Tales

When I first arrived at JBFC, one of my first duties was helping various classes write letters to their Pen Pals in the USA and thank you letters to donors. This turned out to be harder than it sounded.

There were various challenges to this project. Questions asked by American students often only required “Yes” or “No” answers and were – occasionally – culturally irrelevant to our Tanzanian students. When you ask a 7 year old, “Does it snow in Tanzania?” in my experience they answer, “What is snow?” “What’s your favorite movie?” can also only be answered honestly by about half the students, while the other half don’t have electricity at home and seeing any movie seems foreign to them, let alone picking a favorite. Letters often went back and forth excitedly since they both loved the same sport – football – not realizing that one was talking about American Football, while the other was talking about soccer.

The primary challenge though, was having the students reflect and then answer questions with answers unique to them. I made the mistake one day of writing examples on the board.

When I wrote:

“Dear Jeff, Thank you for your letter! My favorite food is pork.”

I should have seen it coming when everyone wrote letters to me claiming they loved bacon. Or when I held up “Hungry Cat” as an example of a book that may be their favorite, I should have known that it would just so happen to be everyone’s favorite. Regularly, it seemed that there were clusters of similarities. What’s the chance that all of the “Tom & Jerry” fans sat together?

To be fair to them, it was a two-way street and both sides seemed to struggle. It’s what you should expect when eight-year-olds are writing a couple letters to each other with months in between each. Despite the challenges, our students were very excited each time a new batch came in!

We started to get students to draw pictures to accompany their letters. It’s here, we thought, that students could really express themselves even if they couldn’t follow a letter format or struggled with English. We often ended up with football players, football fields, flowers, and princesses. It was common for students to find photos in their textbooks and quite skillfully copy these.

On two occasions, our classes were sent on field trips and we had them draw pictures of things they had seen to send to the sponsors that made it possible.

One trip was to a museum. A girl, who I knew well since she lived on campus, began to draw a very colorful blob. As I walked by, I cautiously said, “That looks like a whale,” not wanting to offend the artist, which very well could have been drawing something else. She ignored me, so I moved on thinking I had indeed offended.

When I looped back though, it was still looking like a whale and I leaned on her desk and said again – this time as a question – “That’s a whale?” Again she ignored me. I timidly went off, feeling I had misjudged her artistic intention.

The third time, I came by it was definitely looking like a whale. I squatted beside her and said, “That’s definitely a whale. You saw a whale at the museum?”

Her head popped up from her drawing: “What?”

Whale

“You’re drawing something you saw at the museum,” I explained again. She threw her Whalehead into her hands on her desk and exclaimed, “OH NO!” She hadn’t heard the instructions. Too much work had been put into that whale though, so the donor just got the impression that the students had visited a museum – in honor of Tanzania’s first president – which also had a large aquarium out back.

The second trip was a safari in the Serengeti and they were asked to draw their favorite animal they saw. The class had one of those binders filled with animal profiles and they were quick to find it and fight over relevant animals that they could draw/copy. I’m pretty sure one particular artist drew at least five of the cheetahs that began popping up on his classmates’ sheets. As I walked by one boys desk, I noticed he was drawing what looked like a dinosaur and then I saw the animal profile he was copying it from. He was indeed drawing a dinosaur. “You saw one of those,” I asked and he nodded profusely. I just let it go. Who was I to argue over what mysteries the Serengeti could hold?

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The Story of Beardless Jeff

Announcing to the Mainsprings girls that we were leaving was one of the hardest things we’ve done while living in Tanzania. We knew the date we had to do it by, but just weren’t certain about how to do it. What could we say?

I had a rough idea of the sentiment I wanted to have and a few key points I needed to hit, as I sat there during prayer waiting for the time for announcements. I don’t know where the idea came from, but it was one of those situations where it landed in my lap fully-formed minutes before I needed to say something. When the time came for me to speak, I knew exactly what I was going to say.

“I have bad news,” I told them. “And I will give you that news now, but will follow it with three other facts that may help.” Concerned looks filled the dining hall.

“Bethany and I love you all very much and will miss you deeply, but we are moving back to Canada at the start of December.” I remember specifically the change of mood that took place. One girl I was watching in particular physically turned away from me.

“Now for the three things: First, we’ll have as many movie nights as we can before we leave. Second, we’ll make sure you have a special Christmas present this year. Third…” I paused. “Third, before we leave I will shave off my beard.” The mood in the room changed back. The girl I was watching whipped her head toward me excitedly.

Why this was significant was twofold:

19113960_613506367809_8528538169424522848_nFirst, I grew my beard when I was 16 and can count the number of times I’ve shaved it off on one hand. Each time it’s come off was because a girl I was dating at the time wanted to see it and I immediately grew it back. Bethany has never seen me without a beard and specifically never wanted to see me without a beard. When the idea hit me, I considered whispering my plan to her, but thought she’d put up too much of a fight, so concluded I should just throw it out there.

Second, beards are not the norm where we live in Tanzania and ever since arriving, the girls have told me to shave it off.

Well, three weeks later, after we’d climbed Kili, I shaved off my beard. As I did it, I had to remind myself that I was not my beard and I’d still be me without it. I felt like Samson knowingly shaving his head.

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The girls’ responses were mixed: wide eyed stares followed with comments ranging from “You’re so handsome” to “You’re ugly.” I was told I looked like the founder and I got to chase around the youngest girls who were confused by this stranger living at the Hill House. Bethany kept staring at me creepily and saying, “You’re not my husband” or something to that effect. For me, I didn’t feel different other than how cold my chin now felt as each breath from my nose was like a little breeze on my chin.

The beard is on it’s way back and is entering that awkward stage where it’s not yet long enough to be a beard, but too long to be stubble. What we do to make people happy!

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Jeff & Bethany Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro

When I was in university, the movie “The Bucket List” came out where two older gentlemen make a list of all the things they wanted to do in their life before they “kicked the bucket.” I became obsessed with the idea and spent hours researching things that I would want to include on my own bucket list. “Owning a small business” and “hugging my grandchildren” were two of my more standard ones. “Meeting Joe Biden and Kevin Smith” and “Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland” were two more adventurous items. Something that was absent from this list or any future versions of it was “climb a mountain.” I had no interest.

“Get married” was on this list and I was able to cross that off on August 27, 2016. So that’s why less than a year later, when my beautiful – and much more adventurous – wife, Bethany, told me she planned to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and she’d like me to come, but she was doing it with or without me, I found myself in training.

Mount Kilimanjaro is the largest mountain in Africa at 5895 metres – slightly higher than base camp on Mount Everest. It can be done in five days, though it’s recommended to take 7 due to the body taking time to acclimatize to the high altitudes. The most strenuous thing I’d ever done was a two day hike in Cape Breton with a full pack and I wasn’t too eager to relive even that.

Bethany and I began to train as soon as our families left after visiting us in August. Each day, we’d take an hour to repeatedly climb stairs, run laps, or do a Fitness Blender exercise video. We’d listen to music or sermons to distract us from the monotony, pains, and pools of sweat gathering around us in our hot African living room. I started exercising with two towels – one for my face so I could see the computer screen giving me my next grueling task and one for the ceramic tiles under me so I wasn’t sliding all over the place. Amidst this, we were regularly fighting off two German Shepherd puppies who considered our faces a salty treat.

The weekend before we left we did two hikes from the nearby restaurant Papa’s to the nearby community Lugaye. It took around two hours there and another two back. We clambered up rocky hills and took new paths – to some extent trying to get lost – but always made it to the highway leading to the village. When we got back, we were exhausted with sweaty, blistered feet. We were leaving in a few days and this was us after four hours! How were we going to hike for over 45 hours in a week?

We spent the week leading up to the climb in Moshi, which I described day-by-day on Facebook so won’t get into here. What I didn’t include were the two days leading up to the climb. Here’s why:

On the Monday, we picked up Bethany’s friend Wendy, who would be taking on this challenge with us, at the Kilimanjaro International Airport and we had dinner with our Guide and his family. That night, I woke up not feeling so well.

Something that only people close to me know – I vomit very loudly. At 2 a.m. the day before the climb started, I found myself waking up Bethany and Wendy, who’s cottage-style hotel room was two doors down. While I didn’t vomit again after that, I spent all of Tuesday in bed watching YouTube videos, drinking water with electrolyte tabs, eating crackers, and sleeping off Gravol induced mini-comas.

By a miracle, when I woke up on Wednesday morning, I was back to normal – other than an empty stomach – and when the van came to pick us up, I was on it. We left our hotel by 9 a.m. and had started the hike by 11:30 a.m.

Day #1 included a 7 hour hike up a gradual incline through a dense forest. Honestly, it almost felt like hiking in Canada with tall, old trees on either side of the dirt path. Then we’d see monkeys along the path or trees wider than they are tall and remember where we were. I occupied my time by playing a game where I tried to get as many fallen leaves on my hiking pole as possible.

My poles were borrowed from our guide. I had them each on the maximum height at the beginning of the day, but lengthened them as soon as I could, so the very top of the “P” in “STOP” lined up where I would latch them together. We live in a short person’s world sometimes.

This day was also the start of a daily game called, “What’s going to hurt?” This first day it was my left hip, which cried out with every step, “What are you doing to us!?” before eventually dulling into a quiet whimper.

When we eventually got to that first night of camp, we were impressed both with how reasonably well we felt and with the provisions we were receiving. Porters had carried most of our gear including tents, food, and – to our surprise and approval – a port-a-potty in its own little tent. All we were carrying was our 3 L of water (which never seemed to go below 1 L despite how much I drank throughout the day), snacks, and a rain jacket for the chance the skies may open up and pour down on us (this, luckily, never happened). What particularly impressed us though was the bowl of hot water we received for washing and the hot meals we received every night including spaghetti with beef sauce, various soups, and –our favorite – fried chicken and chips. We woke up each morning around 7 a.m. to a hot breakfast of eggs, sausages, toast, and porridge

Day #2 was short and steep and the hiking poles earned their keep allowing us to push ourselves up the rock path. Because of this, the pain in my hip quieted and the pain in my knee started. It was worth it though as we got higher into the mountain and the views from the rocky enclaves became increasingly beautiful with forested valleys to our left and the awe-inspiring Uhuru peak to our right. We arrived at our next campsite around lunch time and camped on the Shira plateau around 12,500 feet above sea level.

On Day #3, we walked out of the forested-part of the journey leaving our butts exposed for all future bathroom breaks. It was another long and gradual hike up through a dead and rocky terrain to the Lava Tower (15,200 feet), where we stopped to have a hot lunch (again, we were blown away by the porters that had arrived earlier to set up our dining tent and toilet, and prepare food).

This day was when my upper back started to ache whenever I was walking with my pack. This pain edged in throughout the rest of the days and was relieved by weaving one of my poles through the upper handle of the pack and lifting it above my head at regular intervals.

During these first few days, we spent much of the walk listening to the music blaring from my cellphone strapped to my back pack. At this point in the trip, I was running low on upbeat music and we ended up listening to the entire soundtrack to Hamilton on the three hour hike across the Bastain stream and down to Barranco Camp, which was set in a canyon that overlooked Moshi.

That night was beautiful with the stars as bright and clear as I’ve ever seen them and the twinkling lights of Moshi in the distance. It made the freezing cold temperatures bearable as we stood in the dark and took in the view.

On Day #4, we began the day by climbing out of the canyon. It was relatively easy, but did make me feel like Tom Cruise at the start of one of the Mission Impossible movies. We passed the narrow ledge they called “Hugging Rock” and clambered up rock paths until we over “the Wall.” We hiked down into a valley and then back up with some relatively flat paths in between until coming to a large rock that Bethany utilized as a toilet. A few steps further and we realized we were already in sight of our next camp.

“Well, I could have waited until then,” Bethany said pointing at the relatively close camp. The guides smiled and pointed. “How far do you think that is?” they asked. It looked like ten minutes, but we soon found out that the guides’ knowing smiles were covering up the deep valley that lay between us and the camp. An hour later we were finally climbing up over the final lip of the valley and ready for lunch at our destination.

We rested and played cards during the afternoon. Bethany and I started listening to a James Herriot book and giggled over the old veterinarian’s stories. We had also downloaded TV shows on Netflix and watched Crazy Ex-girlfriend and the new Star Trek, while camping on the mountain.

On Day #5, we hiked to the basecamp, Barafu. This hike up hill was marked mainly by the fact that we were now above the cloud level and thus as we walked there was a growing ocean of clouds behind us. I could imagine the Greeks visiting a mountain top and how they could easily conclude with the white sea before them that this must be the home of gods. It really was something to behold. After what would happen on Day #6, I concluded that I would climb Mount Kilimanjaro again, just for this view, but I wouldn’t repeat the climb to the summit!

The basecamp site was all along the incline between rocks and had a certain dreary feel as the fog settled in. Around 6 p.m., immediately after supper, Bethany and I headed to sleep.

At 11 p.m., we were up again and piled on our three layers of pants and five layers of tops. By midnight, we were on the trail. With headlamps to guide us, we took slow steps up the zig-zagging path. It was a gruelling trek as the cold bit through our gloves and the altitude made us feel light headed and nauseous. One foot in front of the other we trekked as I drowned out the voice in my head begging, “You could be back in your tent sleeping in an hour if you go back now” with nine different podcast episodes. The guides kept repeating “Pole pole” or “slowly slowly” as we inched our way up. Each time we stopped and had the opportunity to pee or sit, it was hard to pull ourselves back up. “Just one more minute” my dreary eyes would plead as I was pulled back to my feet and handed my poles.

There is a will power in people that pushes them to achieve their goals and overcome the physical challenges before them. Marathon runners and mountain climbers have it. Even amateur athletes have it… that desire to win that carries them forward and that feeling of success when they’ve conquered the opposition. I don’t have that. When I’m playing sports, I’m more interested in the story of the game – if we’re winning, I’d prefer it to be a close game and would take a dramatic loss over an easy win. When climbing the mountain, I didn’t keep going so I could say I had reached the summit or for the personal sense of accomplishment. No. I just didn’t want Bethany to be disappointed in me for turning back.

We were nearing the peak as the sun rose over the mountain. I started to see lights flashing as the pressure pushed on my optic nerves. It wasn’t a bad feeling per say. It felt like the paparazzi were taking my picture over and over as I climbed and I appreciated the encouragement. I let the guides know and they questioned me why I wasn’t drinking more water (my camel pack tube had frozen and when we stopped it was only long enough to get in a good sit – not enough time to pull the Nalgene’s from my pack to have a swig). After drinking more water the flashes from my adoring fans faded away and we clambered on.

As we reached the volcanic mountain top and looked over the crater – with the glaciers glistening in the distance and the expanse of the clouds all around us – I laughed to myself. Certainly it was a sight to behold, but the first thing I thought was, “The glaciers are beautiful, but I could have seen them in Newfoundland and I’d only have had to ride a boat.” At the top, I felt incredible relief – we would now be heading down and the temptation of turning back was gone.

At 7:35 a.m., we posed in front of the final sign, letting us know we’d reached the highest point of Mount Kilimanjaro, Uhuru Peak. Two months of preparation and we’d done it! Is it too late to add to my bucket list?

Having reached the highest point in Africa, we were now faced with a new challenge: getting down.

Bethany and Wendy found a place to pee and once they were finished I took the chance to offer my morning homage in relative privacy. I found the hole behind a couple of rocks that most hikers of the past had relieved themselves in and assumed the position. I looked at the rock in front of me and commenced the procedure only to hear a sound to my left. I looked to see a clear view of a second path as two guides and then two hikers passed by. There is no shame on the mountain!

This shot to my pride was quickly followed by a second shot. Going down was a lot faster than coming up and it only took an hour to make our way back to basecamp. The reason was that we were going fast and sort of jump skied down through the dirt. You would leap, hit loose dirt, slide, and then finally get a foot holding. Then you’d repeat. I was tired and worn out and as I did this – much more slowly than the rest – I kept falling over. Whether it was to speed me up or to prevent my repeated falls, one of the guides, who barely spoke English, took my hand and pulled me down the mountain. For an hour, I held that man’s hand as he guided and drug me along the non-existent path back to camp as if I were an old man unable to make it down the stairs. I was grateful, but what pride I had was taking a back seat to efficiency.

By 10 a.m. we were back at base camp. We ate an early lunch and then packed our bags and continued for another three hours down stone paths to our final campsite. Those three hours lasted forever as each turn we thought would reveal the end. “Just 100 more years of this and we’ll be out of purgatory,” I joked to which Bethany replied, “This isn’t purgatory. This is hell.”

Our feet were blistered and aching by the time we made it to the campsite for dinner. The next day it was just three more hours of walking down hill through the forest before we were back to the car and signing out. Mission accomplished!

We had celebratory Kilimanjaros on the drive back into town. After checking into our Air BnB, we all showered off the layers of dirt and dust, ready for all that Arusha had to offer!

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Your Donation Shopping List

If you don’t already know, Bethany and I are currently working in Tanzania at a girls’ home (with 46 girls from 6 to 18) and school.

Bethany’s parents and my sister are all coming in August and each have a spare suitcase, which means we have a lot of room for some pretty awesome donations! After spending half a year here and seeing the sort of donations that are typically brought, we’ve compiled a list of some more creative items (things that we could really use, but may not be the first thing people think of when they’re looking to donate).

If you see any of these items for a good price, please buy them and pass them along:

  • Yard Games
  • Board Games
  • Hammocks
  • Digital cameras (we’d like to get at least 6), memory cards
  • MP3 Players
  • Headphones
  • Portable speakers
  • Small radios
  • Legos
  • Sun glasses
  • Kid’s costumes
  • Watches
  • Sewing kits
  • Small folding stools
  • Anything solar powered (radios, chargers, etc.)
  • Pool Floats
  • Art projects for groups over 30
  • USB Sticks

If you want to buy something online and have it sent to my sister or Bethany’s parents, we’d love to have more children’s books about children in Africa (currently they books we have at the school library are very North American-centrique. Some books we’d LOVE to have sent include:

More expensive items, we’d also appreciate would be things like:

Additionally, there’s always a need for children’s DVDs and NICE clothing for girls (aged 6 – 16), and clothing for toddlers (either gender) though that could easily fill all of their bags, so buy these sparingly.

None of these things are cheap new (so don’t buy them new!), but if you’re thrift shopping or shopping a yard sale and you see a deal, then you should buy it, message me, and I’ll let you know who to give it to so it’ll get to us!

Keep in mind, these things are being packed into luggage so lighter items are better (i.e. if it’s a yard game it’s better if it’s foldable/travel sized rather than made of wood/bocce balls).

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Jeff & Bethany’s Nairobi Vacation

After hearing a missionary describe Nairobi as a place where you can buy anything and eat at a multitude of restaurants (something we now consider a luxury), I had to go. So this week Bethany Joy and I went to Nairobi, Kenya and stayed at an Air BnB!

Our bus, which was comfortable with big seats, left our town at 2:30 pm and arrived the next morning at 3 am. Even this late, the city was bustling as the taxi driver drove us by night clubs and 24 hour stores teaming with life.

Even though things didn’t go entirely according to plan, our first day in Nairobi was a resounding success!

Our first stop was the Lavington Mall. The third ATM we tried allowed us to take out some Kenyan Shillings, so we went to the Art cafe for a late breakfast/early lunch. We had Eggs Benedict (our first in 4 months!) and a milk shake that literally had a piece of carrot cake blended into it.

Neither Bethany nor I are big mall shoppers, but it was really nice seeing familiar stores and products. Bethany raided a health store before we hit the closest grocery store for some water. It was three times bigger than the largest one we have in our nearby town.

Across the street from the mall was the Nairobi Art Centre, which was in fact an art school. It looked cool though!

We walked up the street to the Chocolate Festival. As we peaked into the gate it didn’t look like much, but it had taken 20 minutes to walk there so we were committed to checking it out. That is until, as we shuffled through our bag for money, a woman came storming over to us.

“Have you bought your tickets?” she asked. We told her no and she continued: “Then don’t!” She gestured to the nearly empty grounds. “This is all there is.” She pulled out her phone and loaded Facebook. Scrolling through the event description she pointed out, “Look at that description. None of that is here. If you wanted to look at a chocolate bar you can save your money and go to a grocery store.”

We laughed, but not too loudly as security started to casually gather around. As she turned her attention to them we slipped back out of the gate.

Toi Market 2Our next stop was the Toi Market. I’d read it was the largest second hand market in Nairobi, but otherwise didn’t know what to expect. In the end we were blown away! It sprawled across multiple blocks and we ended up buying clothes, books, and movies.

Some back story, a girl at Bibi’s had asked me if I had two movies just before we’d left: Alvin and the Chipmunks and Miracles from Heaven. I told her I could get Alvin, but had never heard of the other one. Imagine then how surprised I was when Bethany found a stack of Christian movies and as I half listened to her listing off titles I’d never heard of she said “Miracles from Heaven.”

As we walked to our final destination, we happened to pass the Brew Bistro. We’d been planning to go to their second location by our house, but since our feet were sore and we were making good time, we stopped in and couldn’t be happier. Microbreweries are huge in Halifax, but for the last four months we’ve only had a handful of options of East African beers. It was really nice having options on tap!

Our last stop was the Junction Mall. We went to Nairobi’s equivalent of Wal-Mart and spent a couple hours getting food, games, and underwear without holes! When the Irish Pub we were planning to get supper at was closed, we made do and got Subway and soft serve instead!

As a rule, we wake up between 7 and 8 with or without an alarm and even on vacation our bodies internal clock wakes us up bright and early. On Sunday morning, Bethany Joy took advantage of the pool for some early laps and I took advantage of the speedy WiFi!

We are taking turns picking a church and this week I’d found the International Christian Fellowship. The main selling point for me was that it was in English and near our next destination for the day, but it turned out being a refreshing taste of home. They meet in the intimate auditorium of a giant international school up the road from the UN. Bethany enjoyed the singing and the sermon was pretty good.

Karura ForrestThe Karura Forrest is just a 15 minute walk from the school so we made the trek to our lunch destination: The River Cafe. Chai tea, a veggie burger (with basil mayo and avocado), and more eggs benedict later and we were ready for our adventure.

For $5 we rented bikes and set off in search of a waterfall and caves. The terrain was well kept and felt like you were always traveling down hill. Despite never feeling entirely comfortable on a bike, it was a great ride. I personally did a virtual tour of the caves. We didn’t want to leave the bikes on the path without supervision so we decided to take turns walking the 100 steps down to the caves. After Bethany finished, she showed me a video of all she saw and we concluded I may not want to take the trek down. It was a great movie though!

Next we headed to the Village Mall. Uber is amazing here. Cars are always in the area, you don’t have to negotiate a price or have exact change, and they never cost more than $6. But we have been only able to use them from the house where we have WiFi! Not anymore! For $6.50 we were able to buy a Kenyan SIM card and a gig of data for Bethany’s phone. As much as I miss Canada, I dread having to deal with the ridiculous prices of phones and internet at home.

On the way to the mall, we took a tour of the world seeing Sweden, the USA, Morocco, Poland and a variety of other countries… their embassies anyway!

PoutineAfter the mall, we headed back to Brew Bistro and tried their Canadian poutine. It was good, but not even in the ballpark of poutine. Instead, it was a weird sour cream/cheese sauce on top of fries. Sacrilege!

 

On the bottom floor of the same building was a Cold BikesStone Creamery where Bethany got ice cream (if only it was attached to a Tim Hortons like at home!) and a Dominos where Bethany was amused by the couple dozen delivery motorcycles they had out front.

We tried to find a cheaper sushi place I’d researched, but after searching the Westgate mall for it, we gave up and went to the more expensive one. Too expensive, but at least we got a little taste!

ArborteumAfter a suggestion from Victoria, Bethany and I spent Monday morning walking through the Arborteum, a dense forest with walking paths in the city. There were school groups playing in clearings, ice cream carts pushed by eager salespeople, and some of the largest trees we’ve seen since arriving in Africa.

MuseumWe continued our walk to the PAWA254 project which turned out to be a dud and so took an uber to the National Museum and Snake Park instead. It may seem like an odd combination, but for a meer $15 we saw 100s of stuffed birds, the big 5 up close, ancient skulls, historical artifacts, and some of the most poisonous snakes in the world.

By this point it was getting late and a confused uber driver kept accepting and cancelling our pick up request, so we started the walk towards home. Along the way we stopped at the Urban Eatery for a very late lunch/first supper. Picture a super fancy food court. Effectively there’s 5 restaurants surrounding the perimeter of the eatery and tables set in the middle. Waiters come with a massive menu containing all of the restaurants options and you mix and match. We had greek chicken and sushi!

We went across the street to a grocery store to stock up on more of the things we can’t get at home and then got gyros delivered to our door for dinner!

Tuesday was supposed to be our downtown Nairobi day and it sort of was…

We started at the Alliance Francais to scope out some art shows happening later in the week and then went to Java House to finally get a bagel!

I’d added the City Market as a time filler, but it turned into the best part of the day. There was tons of art and souvenirs and we spent hours negotiating (painful) and browsing. The biggest success was finding what will eventually become my dad‘s Christmas present, though we also got a shirt and skirt, knick knacks, wooden kid’s toys and puzzles, and sand stone figurines.

We walked around downtown for a bit longer but couldn’t find many of the stores on my map and eventually went to our third Nakumatt (Kenya’s Walmart). This one was “Mega” and we were able to buy a fan AND Christmas lights, two things I’d been looking to buy since arriving.Brew Bistro

We took an uber to another very late lunch at Burger Hut hoping for a Big Mac ripoff and got pretty decent burgers instead. We’d broken our rental’s broom handle combating flying bugs in the kitchen one night and had purchased a replacement, so I did my best Moses impression as we crossed the highway on our walk home.

We had a very chilly dip in the pool before going out for late night tapas and live music back at the Brew Bistro!

On Wednesday we played tourist and as a result we had an exceptionally good day.

Baby ElephantsOn the edge of the Nairobi National Park, Bethany and I found ourselves at the David Sheldick Elephant Orphange. Only from 11 am to noon are visitors allowed. We arrived just in time!

During the hour, the visitors all stand behind a “fence” made of a couple of ropes which surrounds a large mud pit. Over 25 baby orphan elephants then come out in two groups and we watched as they were bottle fed formula, bathed in the mud, drank from a hose, wrestled, farted, and – at one point – made a break for it. They were so close you could touch then and we did, feeling their rough, dirty skin.

GiraffeIf that wasn’t special enough, our next stop was the Giraffe Centre. Here we saw lots of giraffes: two babies, two adult females, and a male. We hand fed them pellets, pet their head, and avoided getting head butted. Bethany even fed one with her mouth!

Finally on our tourist binge we went to Carnivore Restaurant. Here they walk around with skewers of meat and you can eat Carnivoreas much as you’d like. We had crocodile (surprisingly good), ostrich, rabbit, ox testicle (not-surprisingly gross), pork, lamb, beef, and turkey. Oh the indigestion!

Thursday was defined by shopping.

In the morning Bethany and I went to the Sarit Centre and found Monty’s, which sold a variety of unique candies. They used to sell root beer, but alas no longer. Then we headed to the Yaya Centre where we found a huge book store with a sizable used-section called Bookstop. We’ve been looking for a veggie spiraller since arriving and when I walked into one random kitchen store with only a handful of items, there one was at eye level!

Ethiopian FoodAfter seeing many recommendations for Habeesh, we walked there for lunch. The menu was a bit intimidating, us having never had Ethiopian food before. We got a sampler and it was amazing. Effectively on a crepe the size of a pizza pan, they put five different sauces and you sort of ate your plate while dipping in these meat and vegetarian dishes. All were amazing!

Toi marketIn the afternoon we were back at the Toi Market. Last time we were there we walked through it and ended at what we thought was the last booth. This time we realized that last booth was actually the start of a hallway that led to the second half of the market. This place was HUGE! We bought a few more clothing items and I splurged on tv series and books.

After stopping in at Brew Bistro again, we went to Tokyo Restaurant for some over priced sushi that was totally worth it!

For Friday, we’d scheduled an early tour of the UN.

Bright and early we ubered to Wasp and Sprout. Hidden behind a small shopping complex, this hipster cafe appealed greatly to Bethany’s granola sensibilities. There was art and jewelry for sale on the walls, chairs covered in kitanga fabric, and -gasp- english muffins!

The UN tour was also great. We were shown around the grounds including Canada’s assigned seat in the conference room.

We did some birthday shopping at the Village Market before heading home for an afternoon nap (in a bed without a mosquito net!)

AlchemistOur Air BnB host had invited us out to an outdoor bar and venue called The Alchemist, so that evening we risked the rain and checked it out. There was a cover band followed by a funk band in a venue that would fit right in in Halifax, if it wasn’t for our weather!

We didn’t have big plans for Saturday, which was kind of nice. We slept in. Bethany went for an ice swim in the pool and received a kamboocha starter kit, while I went for a walk in search of birthday presents (somewhat successfully). We had an awesome lunch at About Thyme and then we saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2 at the theatre. It was a relaxing day in preparation for our last one!

On Sunday we packed two huge duffle bags with the crazy variety of things we’d purchased. They ranged from big purchases like a fan, Christmas lights, a veggie spiraller, and a dozen+ books to smaller things like bagels, sauces, chocolate bars, and souvenirs. It was a hefty load!

We left our crammed packed bags at the apartment and went to church. The music and dancing was great in theory as it got people very involved, but made this non-dancer a little uncomfortable.

For lunch we went to a Japanese buffet for my last sushi in a while. I made Drew proud and ate a couple dozen pieces of sashimi.

TheatreAfterwards was a performance called “Peace and Love” that Bethany wanted to see. The music in it was great (including a guy who played a saxophone without having a saxophone) though the poetry bits dragged on a bit and I may or may not have had a nap.

Then it was one more stop at Brew Bistro, a burger at Mama Rocks and picking up our bags at the apartment.

The one final challenge was getting on the bus. We arrived at the bus stop we were told to meet at just in time only to find out our bus stop was three blocks away. We would have run for it if it weren’t for Bethany pointing out our bags weighed the same as a couple baby elephants (which we’re now experts in after seeing them bottle fed earlier in the week) and we got an uber instead. We made it with time to spare!

That’s the end of our Nairobi adventure. We’re a little heavier in body and lighter in wallet, but it was an exceptional vacation we hope to take home with us!

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How Jeff & Bethany Spend Saturday Evenings

dsc_0253The girls at Bibi Mimi’s each have one time a week that they get to watch movies or television shows. For the older girls it’s Saturday night, which is an extra special treat since it means they can stay up late and be out of their home past curfew. For the younger girls, it takes place on Sunday afternoon after church.

For both, it typically takes place at the school resource centre, which is a large empty room with a 20” flat screen television in it. The girls all sit on the ground, using pillows, blankets, and chairs they brought with them to get more comfortable. Often, though they just use each other as pillows as they braid each other’s hair or watch the shows.

The younger girls watched cartoons, while the older girls had begun watching Korean television that had English subtitles, as well as Korean audio and audio in a mystery language. The girls enjoyed them, but they were certainly a bit painful to watch for Bethany and I.

I’ve missed having people over and really enjoyed hanging out with the girls this way, but decided to ask around about trying a few things. With the blessing of the staff and girls, Bethany and I put our plan into action.

I had brought a lot of TV shows for myself to watch, but no cases, so my first task was making a document that gave options. I took an hour to make a 10 page list with DVD case pictures and television show summaries and presented it to the girls. At the Saturday prayer, I asked if they made their selection. They had: “iZombie.”

At 7 p.m., I was back at the house and starting to put our plan into motion. Earlier in the day, I had made six liters of strawberry and vanilla tea, which was now cooling in mason jars in our freezer. I poured them into a large juice dispenser we happen to have in our closet and Bethany added more water and a little sugar. It tasted just like juice!

We then set to work on making popcorn. I’d read the trick was to heat the oil with three kernels in it. When the kernels popped, you knew the oil was at the right temperature. You’d add the rest of the kernels, take it off the heat for 30 seconds and then return it to the stove. It was supposed to give you perfect popcorn every time. I wish I could say – for comedic effect – that there were disastrous results, but other than being a little time consuming it worked like a charm! We made four big batches in no time.

Our house is solar powered with energy being stored on batteries in our closet for cloudy days and the night time. If the panel is green, you have lots of energy; yellow, you should be fine; and red means to worry, but just a little. This evening, the panel shown a bright red, and I worried more than a little. What if the power went out half way through the show and I had ruined the older girls’ one chance to watch television this week? What if I was responsible for huge disappointment? I was oddly consoled by the story of Hanukah. “That oil lasted for eight days even though it was only supposed to last for one,” I thought. “Maybe this will be a similar case.”

As a back-up, I was charging my laptop’s spare battery down at the restaurant. If the power ran out, we could at least watch it on my small laptop screen. So near 8 p.m., when the girls were expected to arrive, I headed down to the restaurant to get it. I suspected upon my return for our house to be full of people, but instead I just found Bethany at the table picking a few burnt kernels out of the popcorn bowl.

dsc_0252“I hope they know which house we were doing it at?” I thought to myself. “What if they forgot and went down to the school instead?” I felt a rush of insecurity like a child waiting for people to show up to their birthday party.

I needn’t have worried. Right around 8:30, the nearly thirty girls came up our walk in a long line. They piled into the house and onto our three couches and the two spare mattresses we’d put on the floor.

We laughed, we gasped, and we closed our eyes if there was any kissing onscreen. It was a great night overall and we plan to do it again soon! Plus the power didn’t shut off once. A movie night miracle!

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What do you do with a Tanzanian baby tooth?

20170212_183858Earlier in the day, Salma had opened her mouth wide and wiggled one of her teeth with her finger.

“It’s going to fall out soon!” I exclaimed and she nodded excitedly.

Later, she was sitting beside me in prayer and suddenly started poking my arm vigorously. I looked over and the tiny white tooth was in her hand and she was smiling from ear to ear.

“Your tooth!” I said too loudly before covering my mouth and whispering, “It fell out.” She was so excited that she started tossing it from hand to hand playfully. Before too long, it had accidentally been launched forward under the dress of a smaller girl, who was sitting on the ground in front of her. Salma’s face dropped into fear and I stifled a laugh. The girl, being aware of what had just happened, lifted her dress off the ground, but it wasn’t there and instead the girl suddenly launched herself to her feet trying to shake the tooth off of her dress.

I cannot convey to you what happened next as I was at this point in the story, closing my eyes with my hand covering my face trying not to lose control of my laughter mid-prayer. Needless to say, the tooth was recovered and only caused a slight commotion – when I did finally open my eyes only a third of the room was looking at us.

Later I asked her what she would do with the tooth and she told me she’d throw it on the roof. I thought it must be a miscommunication, so I asked one of the older girls. This is the conversation that followed:

Jeff: What do little kids do when they lose a tooth?

Emma: They throw it on the roof.

Jeff: Why?

Emma: So they grow a new, bigger one.

Jeff: Well, that’s weird. In Canada and the USA, a fairy comes.

Emma: A fairy?

Jeff: Yeah. A fairy comes, takes the tooth, and leaves you money.

Emma: What does she do with the tooth?

Jeff: Hmmm… we don’t really ask those questions…
It was a funny little conversation. I thought it was strange to throw your baby tooth on the roof, but was quickly shown how strange our own customs are if you think about them even for a minute from an outsider’s perspective.

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