Sweet Raheli

Raheli was a huge part of my childhood.  She was a Maasai woman who worked in our house to help my mom out.  Again, I don’t have specific memories of her, just a general feeling of warmth and fondness when I think about her.  She had a great laugh.  Thanks to Raheli, my brother and I learned to speak Maa (language of the Maasai people) at a very early age.  In fact, there were some words that my brother didn’t know in English at all.  His sentences were constructed half in English and half in Maa.

Here’s an old story on my little brother.  It’s just an example of growing up in another culture.  The Maa word for water is Enkare (en-car-reh. Go ahead and rrrrroll that ‘r’). My toddler brother pronounced that lah-leh and Raheli knew precisely what he was talking about and would help him get a cup of water.  Much to his chagrin, my grandma who came to visit from the States, had no clue.  His desperate pleas for a drink were met with a smile and nod at his little “nonsense” words.

I love this picture of her letting me “help” her do the dishes.  I have no doubt that she could have finished her work and gone home much earlier if she had just done it herself.  Look.  I even wore my little apron.

She was a good friend to us and worked wonders to help our family adjust to life in Kenya.  I am so thankful that her life intersected ours.  She was a gift.


Posted by on September 14, 2011 in Uncategorized


My First Kenyan Home

Siapei (See-ya-pay) is the name of the town where we lived through the earliest years of my childhood.  Well, I don’t know what qualifies an area as a town.  To the best of my limited recollection, there was a church, a clinic, an orphanage, and our little neighborhood.

Our house seemed enormous to my little toddler self.  When I went back as an adult, I was shocked and a teensy disappointed to find that it was pretty small.  There was a side of me that was pleased to find that it is a quaint old house full of character and quirks. The interior walls were covered in white plaster.  There were strange nooks and curvy walls.  Green and gold curtains covered in diamond patterns. Our house was always full of people. Whether it was Pastor Paul, an ancient Maasai pastor stopping by for chai, or missionaries stopping in on the way to or from the city, the walls of this house surrounded so many people with love.  My mom made certain of that.

The back door opened to uneven concrete steps that led down into the grass.  There was a big yellow picnic table begging to be piled with food, people, and laughter.

Our little neighborhood had some great characters who became like family.

Rosemary was a sweet old woman. I believe she was an adult literacy teacher, but to me she was Kokoo (ko KO) which means ‘Grandma’. She had curly gray hair, twinkling brown eyes that were kind of shaped like little triangles tucked behind her glasses.  She played an accordion and wore polyester.  When she received boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese from America, she would save them for a special night when she would invite my brother and me over for dinner.  She always sliced up hot dogs to put in and we thought she was brilliant.  Kokoo let us draw on the chalkboard in her classroom, she sang songs to us, she let us pop her bubble wrap.  We went for rides in her little old orange VW bug.  Her sweet laugh shook her shoulders and made her rock a little bit sideways.  She smelled clean like a fresh bar of soap. To this day, when I smell certain brands of soap, I am instantly transported back to her side.  How I loved her.

Anne was a traveling nurse who was legally blind, which made the roads a terrifying place if her driver was not available.  Who lets a little thing like blindness stop them from driving? Not her.

There was a huge German Shepherd named Judy.  I still don’t really know to whom she belonged.

See the curtains?

There was another family that lived there.  Ray was a veterinarian.  His wife, Vicki, was full of fun and life.  They had two little girls who were younger than my brother and me by a year or two.  Ray had built the girls a little play kitchen and I loved to play there.  Vicki introduced me to Hush Puppies (which I called Shush Dogs when I was trying to tell my mom what we ate), and Jolly Ranchers.  Ray and Vicki were full of laughter.  So patient and kind and generous.  The girls were my playmates and friends.  This family was also my first introduction to tragedy and mourning, but that is another post for another day.

Although the details of these memories may be blurry and marred by years, they are fond memories.  Perhaps Siapei is more about the warmth I feel with recollection than actual memories, but it is recalled with fondness either way.


Posted by on September 12, 2011 in Uncategorized


The Roots of My Heart

I wrote this poem a couple years ago (April 2009).  It inspired the name for this blog.

The Roots of My Heart

There are roots growing from my feet
to the land that I am on

Roots growing from my legs
to the places I have gone

Roots that grow out of my head
to a million memories

Roots spread from my shoulders
to friends over every sea

Roots that stretch out from my eyes
to the many sights I’ve seen

Roots that grow out of my back
to find what might have been

Roots that reach out from my hands
to hold dreams, hands, and fears

Roots that grow from fingertips
to catch so many tears

But of all the roots embedded
from now back to my start

Africa holds my precious roots
the deep roots of my heart.


Posted by on September 11, 2011 in Uncategorized


Relative is a Relative Term

I have had hundreds of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents in my life.  It isn’t as strange as it sounds.  Being away from biological family had to have been one of the more difficult aspects of living overseas.  The distance was compounded by the fact that technology was seriously lacking.  I’m sure there are still glitches in communication between continents, but technology has come a very long way.

 This is a picture of me with my “Grandpa” Kirkpatrick. 

Available then: snail mail, telegram, the extremely occasional phone call.  Now: Email, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, blogging, instant message, texting, and relatively easy phone calls.  It’s still a third world country, so it’s all unpredictable, but it is available for the most part.

We lived in Kenya for four years at a time and then came to the States on furlough for one year.  Sometimes relatives would come and visit us in Kenya, but it was rare.  I was lucky enough to have my grandparents live in Nairobi for a couple years early in my childhood.  My cousins also lived in Kenya for a while.  But this post is not about my biological family.  This one is about my mission family.

My mom was really hospitable and we had dinner guests quite often. These are still some of their very best friends.

The other missionaries served as our family while we were there.  I called all of them Aunt and Uncle or Grandma and Grandpa.  They were never replacements for the actual relatives, but they were definitely family members.

We shared holidays, meals, and family events.  They were there to cheer me on through milestones, triumphs, and challenges.  They loved me, chastised me, comforted me, and helped to raise me.  They are the ones who have the funny stories about silly things I said or did when we were together.  I have an enormous family and I’m ever so grateful.

From time to time we had Mission Meetings when everyone got together. I’m sure there was all manner of important business taking place, but I remember them as a time of pure exhausting fun!


Posted by on September 9, 2011 in Uncategorized


Rest Areas

Rest Areas are quite convenient.  I hear a lot of complaints about Rest Areas and the fact that they are not always terribly clean or pleasant.  I would just like to point out, however, that they have a minor convenience we call a toilet.

I think I might have mentioned that our drive home was quite long.  There was one small town called Narok between Nairobi and home where we would stop, pick up mail, chat with the missionary family living there, and use their clean toilet.  After that, there were six more hours between Narok and home.

A “Rest Area” was any clump of bushes thick enough to kind of camouflage a white hiney as we went about our business.  We generally designated a boys’ side of the road and a girls’ side.  The girls’ side being the more wooded of the two.

When the wide open plains were the only option, the car itself served as the barrier between the two genders.

Rest Areas in the States are definitely something for which I am thankful.

p.s. I love this car.  If I could find a fuel efficient version, I would drive one of these instead of the old mini van.  Especially if I could get it in red!


Posted by on September 7, 2011 in Uncategorized


The Ordinary is Extraordinary

As adults we often criticize children for taking things for granted. We try to force them to see how lucky they are.  We long for them to know that they will miss these days.  As adults, we recognize that when we were children we took things for granted and we desperately hope that they will be different.

We seldom went on official safaris when I was a little girl.  A safari was a special event reserved for the rare occasion that we had visitors from the States.  The fact of the matter is, the drive home was a safari, I just didn’t realize it.

Zebra, impala, and wildebeest were all just part of the landscape.  When a giraffe wandered gracefully across the plains, it might as well have been a tree for the attention we paid.

People would come to visit us and point excitedly to the herd of zebra and impala on the horizon.  My dad would patiently stop the car and pull over so they could stare in wonderment while I rolled my eyes and thought of the hours and hours we still had ahead of us in the car.

Just as a child living in Southern California pays no attention to the palm trees and misses the magnificence of the ocean. Nor does he appreciate the splendor of snow-capped mountains in the winter and sun-drenched beaches in summer.

I knew it was beautiful, but I never realized how amazing.  I never knew how those mundane drives would hold the sights I miss most.  I could not have predicted that the images of the plains between Nairobi and Loita would one day bring me to tears of nostalgia.  I didn’t understand that the question, “What was it like to live in Africa?” would immediately call up the images of Kenya’s landscape, leaving me without words because my throat had constricted.

I knew, but I didn’t understand.  I knew that it was special, but I didn’t understand that it was extraordinary.


Posted by on September 6, 2011 in Uncategorized


Duct Tape and Pantyhose

From the time I was approximately four years old we lived in the beautiful Loita Hills of southern Kenya. The serene rolling hills in Loita nestle in close to each other and stretch as far as your eyes can see. At the base where one hill meets the next are fluffy dark green woods adding to the peaceful landscape.

The price of living in such a heavenly place? Getting there. Oh my heavens, the getting there! I cannot explain to you the terrible condition of the roads! Often when it rained, what had been the “road” was washed away an

d every vehicle had to forge its own way. Eight long, hot (no air conditioning in the old Land Cruiser), bumpy, bumpy, bumpy dirt roads.

A breakdown was inevitable. Usually “just” a flat tire, but a flat could be a major event. We always carried at least 2 spare tires. Sometimes it was not a flat tire though. My dad got to the point where he could fix almost anything wit

h a pair of pantyhose or some duct tape or both. Did you hear that MacGyver? Broken fan belt? Pantyhose. Loose muffler? Duct tape.

But back to the flat tire.

How to fix a flat on the plains in Kenya:

1) Unload 6 weeks worth of groceries, trunks, duffle bags, coolers, etc to get jack & tire

2) Lift car without cracking the frame

3) Loosen lug nuts and remove tire

4) (Now begins the very technical terms) dig out long metal bars.

5) Wedge bar underneath ring around tire.

6) Stand on, jump on, lean on, grit teeth, think happy thoughts, pry ring off tire

7) Remove inner tube.

8) Replace with well-patched inner tube and cross fingers that it doesn’t have holes

9) Put big metal ring back in place and hammer, smash, push, jump on.

10) Replace tire on vehicle, tighten lug nuts

11) Reload car with all the belongings strewn across the plains

12) Reload family.

13) Hope you don’t have to repeat.

It makes for a LONG trip home, but it was just what we did. Of course, there’s always the chance of getting stuck in the mud…guess that’s another post for another day!


Posted by on September 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

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