The jaunt into Nairobi was far enough that it warranted several days there in order to see to all the necessary business. This meant that we needed a place to stay. The solution to missionaries being in the big city is called a Guest House. It is a cross between a Bed & Breakfast and a hotel. Many of the larger organizations have a guest house to house the missionaries with that same organization. But CMF was a rather small organization, so we stayed at whichever guest house had space available, offered the best rates, and was nearest to the side of town where most of the business was to be conducted.
As a little girl, I loved the Mennonite Guest House (we called it Menno for short) best of all. The rooms were quaint and comfortable, they served my favorite food (hot semolina porridge and papaya with limes), and the staff was friendly and cheerful. There was a playroom full of old books and wooden toys. Our favorite was a wooden marble track that brought us hours of entertainment.
When it was meal time, one of the cheerful gentlemen would wander around the grounds chiming out a song on a small hand-held xylophone. At around 10 in the morning coffee was served on the lawn and at 3 in the afternoon tea was made available in the same place. Sometimes there were powdered sugar doughnuts at tea time, and those days were just heavenly!
The generous, sprawling grounds were the best feature of this guest house, though. There were hollow hedges in which to build forts or play hide-and-seek, and lawns shaded by countless Jacaranda trees. (I love Jacaranda trees and I think I could write an entire post about them. But not today.) There was no official playground there. But there was one giant tire swing, large enough to accommodate 4 or 5 kids at once, hanging from the hefty Jacaranda branches swaying in the gentle breeze. One other swing made of an old 2×6 board hung from another tree. I loved the way purple Jacaranda flowers rained down on me when I would swing high in the air.
Menno had the very best jungle gym in the whole wide world and it was provided by Mother Nature, herself. There were these two trees that were so gentle and welcoming that a child was left no choice but to climb. Their branches were so sturdy and dependable, their bark so smooth and gentle. Those two trees really kind of ruined me for all other trees. I climbed plenty of other trees, but they were just not as friendly.
I am so thankful for the sweet elderly couple, Paul and Erma, for the love and hospitality they provided at Menno. Thanks to them, I have a thousand very fond memories of this beautiful, warm place.
I have a little sewing to do today, which always makes me think of my mom. Once upon a time, Home Ec was a real college major. Stop laughing. It really was. No really. Ok, moving on. There are kids in school who don’t even know what Home Ec is. Home Ec is short for Home Economics and emphasized a lot of skills in sewing, cooking, budgeting, and baking.
When my mom first went to college, she was a Home Ec major. She had no plans, nor any desire for that matter, to go to the mission field at the time. She couldn’t have known that her knowledge and skills would come in so handy. I gave you a tiny glimpse of this in Baking Day. There was no cooking challenge too great for her. In fact, she taught a series of classes to Maasai women about cooking over a small charcoal burner called a Jiko. And her cakes! Oh, merciful heavens, her cakes! I’ll have to tell you about them sometime.
But I digress. I was talking about sewing. My mother is a very skilled seamstress. Much of my wardrobe came right off her sewing machine. Dresses (everyday and formals), pants, tops, bathing suits, and even some of my “delicates”. I truly think she can sew anything. All the homey touches in our houses were courtesy of her skill. Curtains, pillows, quilts, and wall-hangings. Most of the ladies in our *mission (see footnote), at some point, wore a custom-made bathing suit courtesy of Linda. She’s pretty incredible.
This is a picture of me in a dress she made holding my Birthday present. She made this doll for me. The pattern called the doll Little Bo Peep, but I named her Amy. I really wish I had a better picture, because this one doesn’t do sweet Amy justice. She had a dress full of ruffles, bloomers, and a bonnet. Her chest had a little heart embroidered on it. Piles and piles of yellow yarn skillfully tacked to her head made her hair. She had soft pink circles on her cheeks that framed a sweet embroidered smile. Precious little white shoes I had worn as a baby adorned her feet.
So, I’m off to sit in front of my little sewing machine. The beautiful comforting whir will take me back to a time when I sat on the floor playing with the button box while my mom created something beautiful.
* Our mission refers to a group of people rather than a goal or a place. When I say ladies in our mission, I mean missionaries in Kenya who are affiliated with the same sending organization. Our mission was Christian Missionary Fellowship.
I complain about doing laundry. A lot. It’s kind of ridiculous, really. I have this machine, you see, where I cram all the dirty clothes, shut the door, add some detergent, push a button, and walk away. After this wonderful machine has cleaned my clothes, it has a polite little ding to indicate that its work is complete. Brilliant, no?
I am blessed. Immeasurably, abundantly, terrifically blessed.
Laundry day looked a little bit different in our early days in Kenya.
Two tubs full of water. One had Omo (detergent) and the other did not. The items of clothing came out of the hamper a few at a time and into the soapy water. They were scrubbed between knuckles repeatedly until they were clean, then wrung out and dropped into the rinse water. Once they had been rinsed, they were wrung out again and dropped into another tub or hamper. From there they were carried to a clothesline, shaken out and gingerly clipped to the line to dry in the sun.
Although clothes are a little stiff and crinkley after this whole process, there is nothing like the smell and feeling of sun-dried clothes. Who knows? Maybe African sunshine has a scent. Clothes hanging on a line always looked so happy to me: Like they were dancing in the wind.
Now that is a laundry day to dread. Somehow I have a different memory of it though. This is how I remember wash day:
When you throw a dirty sock into the washtub, it disappears into a mound of suds leaving only a small indentation to indicate its plunge. Rinse water makes a great personal pool. Running through line after line of clean, damp laundry is a little magical. An escape from reality that enveloped me in a world of sweet smelling limitless imagination. I loved the feeling of cool damp sheets rubbing up my face as I ran under them until I came to their end.
And sometimes I got my own personal pool whether clothes were being washed or not.
There must be something exceptionally nourishing about the soil in Kenya. Not for me, although I grew up quite well on that soil. The plants. I didn’t know the plants were of abnormally large proportions until we came back to America.
Impatients are normally a fairly tiny shrub that people in the U.S. can plant along the border of their flower gardens. The impatients at my school, however, grew to be small trees. The geraniums are also quite large by comparison.
My favorite thing about impatients is the little seed pods. Each shiny green pod is chubby in the center and tapers to a skinny end. I scoured the internet and this picture is the best I could do. At recess and after school, we would stand around these huge impatients bushes, pick the pods, and give them a little pinch on their fat bellies. They were so large that they actually made a satisfying little “pop” and then instantly curled into what looked like a caterpillar. This is a miniature version, but you’ll get the idea.
I couldn’t find many pictures for reference, but I did manage to find one. This huge bed of nasturtiums grew wild at our house in Siapei. Look at the size of that! If it didn’t produce such a cheerfully bright flower, I might be afraid it was trying to consume that chubby little toddler. I don’t remember anyone taking any particular care of it; no fertilizer or daily watering or anything of that nature. It just grew this huge all on its own. Again, for reference I scrolled through pictures on the interwebs and found this little example of a normal backyard nasturtium plant here.
As I said at the beginning, there must be something exceptionally nourishing about the soil in Kenya.
A few days ago in this post I said that I would tell you more about these neighbors.
This was a fun family in so many ways. Vicky was the mom. (I am not sure if that’s how her name is spelled because, oddly enough, I wasn’t concerned with spelling when I was this young). Anyway, she always had fun things planned. She helped us bake and decorate cookies whether it was a holiday or not. She laughed a lot. Maybe I was an exceptionally funny child, but more likely, she was just joyful. We did crafts, had dance parties, played “dress up” with her clothes, and had little competitions she thought up in the backyard. I remember her as being full of life and love. Going to her house was guaranteed to be a great adventure.
Ray wasn’t always there. He was a veterinarian who had a huge heart. He travelled from village to village with all his medications and instruments. He mostly treated cattle in the Maasai villages. He always rode his motorcycle so he could cover more ground.
When he was at home, he was fun! He would chase us around filling the house with squeals of delight and peals of laughter. When we wanted to play “Beauty Shop”, he was our willing victim. He would sit and let us fill his short hair with teeny ponytails, pink bows, and little plastic animal barrettes. He brought laughter and smiles wherever he went.
Life in Kenya is raw. Tragedy seems to strike more often, somehow.
One day Ray was riding his motorcycle to a village. As he began signaling to turn off the main road, a matatu (a small public transport van notorious for their terrible driving) struck the motorcycle.
That day, the world was robbed of the presence of a man of enormous heart.
His wife and three young children had a funeral and then returned to the States. I think my parents kept in touch for a few years, but I don’t remember. I do remember not being able to imagine this family without him. I could not fathom a world without Ray. It was the first time I understood that life can and will end. It is not a guarantee.
There doesn’t seem to be an appropriate way to end this entry. Just with the thought that life is fragile. Use your days to fill life with love, laughter, and joy.
There were not a lot of options where grocery stores were concerned. I remember two types of cereal on the grocery store shelves in Nairobi; Corn Flakes and WheetaBix. It got better as the years went by, but at first that was it. And absolutely zero boxes of cereal in the nearest town of Narok. We could buy staples in Narok; like limited produce, eggs, flour, sugar, and tea. This meant that my mom spent time in the kitchen. Not just a little time. She had to make nearly everything we ate, so it stands to reason that she spent A LOT of time in the kitchen.
Baking day was quite an event. There would be a humongous batch of dough that would be made into bread, hamburger buns, hot dog buns, and rolls. I remember her baking English muffins, bagels, banana bread, granola, cinnamon rolls, pita bread, cakes and cakes and cakes, cookies, pies, and lots of other delicious goodies. She always had something good to pull out when people stopped in.
As you can see from this picture, she got pretty innovative and used what was available to her. There are three tins over there to the right. That is called Blue Band. It is labeled as margarine, but it is unlike any margarine I’ve seen or tasted here in the U.S. I’m pretty sure it’s just shortening (called Kimbo in Kenya) with salt and yellow food coloring. Highly nutritious (pffff). Call me crazy, but I really did like it. I am sure it had something to do with coming to enjoy the things with which you’re familiar. So there is my confession for the day. I liked Blue Band. So, moving on.
Those Blue Band tins are empty. That is because my mom used them as baking pans. Anytime she made banana bread or pumpkin bread, she baked it in empty Blue Band cans. To this very day, I feel a little wasteful when I throw tins and things away. We even washed out our re-sealable bags (kindly brought by people visiting from America) and dried them on wooden spoons in the dish drainer.
Baking Day was my favorite. I would sit on the counter and “help” with all the measuring and dumping. I got to stir and pour and poke. I got to lick the beaters and taste the first loaf of bread fresh and hot from the oven. I had my own little miniature bread pans into which I smashed my very own lump of dough and I’m pretty sure it tasted better than anything in the world.
As you can see from the expression on my face, Baking Day is serious business.