The experience was AMAZING. Yes, there was poverty everywhere but that is not what I take away from the mission. In any and every direction I looked, whether in a city, town, or village, there was poverty. Extreme poverty. My biggest takeaway was the JOY that was everywhere in the midst of the poverty.
Water: Most of the towns have no running water whatsoever. Some have to walk up to 2 hours (one way) to find a source for water to put into 2-5 gallon containers to carry back home. Everyone in the household helps out. The smaller the child, the smaller the container. Most of the time it was water taken from a ditch or stream. Some towns were lucky and had some sort of “water collection” (akin to a water tower) where they could get fresh water.
They boil the water for general use (hand-washing clothes, bathing, cleaning dishes) and add some sort of purifier for drinking water.
No running water means entire towns with no flushing toilets, no washing machines, no water at the sink, no showers, no bath as we know it. And this isn’t confined just to the lay people. At one of the rectories I stayed at (my “base of operations” so the rectory I stayed at the most often), the toilet had no cover and no seat. You had to manually fill the tank everytime you needed to flush. And yes, I said “no seat”. But it was better than some of the other places with just an outhouse that had a hole in the ground… nothing to sit on or lean on.
Bathing was just cold water in a plastic tub or basin that had to be carried in and out of the “bathroom”.
Electricity: all of the towns and even the villages had electricity. However, not everyone could afford it. Thus, many of the houses had light inside during the daytime but at night the lucky ones had lanterns and others had candles. The primary problem I faced in the rectories was that the electricity regularly went out for periods of time. So I had to have my laptop and phone plugged in for charging everywhere I went, even if it just needed a small bit of charging because I never knew when I’d have electricity. There was only one night that I could not use my C-PAP machine because of no electricity. I really cannot sleep if my machine is not running. Made for a very long night.
Mosquitoes: Everywhere. All day and all night. However, there were not “swarms” of them like in South Louisiana. They were just present at pretty much all times. No matter what measures you take, unless you are bathing in “Off!” or some mosquito repellent, you are going to get bit. Period. But I took my malaria pills as ordered and never had a problem. I found out that the malaria is carried by only a specific type of mosquito and only by either the male or female of that species. The areas I went to were primarily of the type we are all familiar with so I don’t think I was at any great risk.
Roads: OK… find the pothole in your area that you hate the worst, run out there and kiss it and thank God for it. You don’t want to drive over here. The roads are made up of potholes. There is no need for the police to worry about speeders because even on the open roads for the most part you cannot speed if you wanted to. Even when the driver went like 1 mph, I got thrown about in the van, sometimes violently. It’s a real shame because the locals told me the country has money to fix the roads but after each of the politicians and judges and magistrates get their “fair share”, there is only about ½ of the money left for the actual roads. In the areas where the roads were actually paved fairly well, there were "speed bumps" every 5-10 miles for some reason.
Transportation: Walking. In the towns only about 5% of the people actually own a vehicle. Everywhere there were people walking along the roads. Some had to walk up to 8 or 9 miles (one way) to get where they needed to be. And the terrain to walk on, just like the roads, very rough and lots of going either up or downhill, sometimes at a 60 (or more) degree angle. Seeing 80-year old women slowly walking up or down these roads was an eye-opener. Children walking to and from school were everywhere. Miles and miles most of them had to walk. The terrain was enough to tear up the soles of the shoes as I found out.
There were motorcycles everywhere, used as “taxi service” for one or two riders. The taxis were mini-vans, sometimes packed full of riders so they could share the expense.
To describe how the people there drive… I cannot describe it, only to say that I’d never, ever be able to drive there. Soon I’m going to post one or two videos of us driving through streets. Seeing the videos will give you an idea of what I’m talking about, but actually being in the traffic itself is the only way to really understand it. Basically, there are no driving laws. I’ll leave it at that, other than to say that in all the “controlled chaos” of driving I never saw a single vehicle accident. Nothing short of a miracle.
Food: There really is no “starvation” that I saw. The people there are all skinny because of all the walking they do every day. We had basically the same food every day for lunch and dinner and virtually everyone (even in the villages) had regular access to sufficient food. Every lunch/dinner you will see collard greens, a type of “bread”, and either cooked chicken or beef. Day after day. We had cooked liver a few times. Breakfast was usually fresh fruit picked the morning of your breakfast, tea, along with a cake donut (very similar to a beignet but without the powdered sugar), choice of white or wheat bread and the usual topping was simply margarine (though a few places had a fruit jam you could use). Sometimes we had popcorn or African “porridge” (very good by the way). A few times we had scrambled eggs. What I noticed though was that in almost every single instance, the chicken and the beef were always very tough and like chewing leather. Tasted good, but just very hard to chew.
JOY: With all of that being said, the most important thing I took away was not the poverty, it was the absolute, unbridled JOY that the people had. Always cheerful, always smiling and laughing with one another. I never heard one person ever complaining about anything. (And yes, virtually everyone speaks English as it is one of the two official languages - Swahili being the other). But no one complained about anything. They were just the most joy-filled people I have ever encountered.
Health: I never got sick while I was there. The biggest thing was my digestive system getting used to the seasonings they used. The entire time I was there my digestive system went back and forth between constipation and the opposite problem. However, I had a nurse available to me 24/7 so it was never really an issue; it was just annoying.
The most interesting thing I ate: sautéed cow intestine. I was smart enough to wait until AFTER I ate it to ask what it was. It really did not taste bad, it was just very rubbery and chewy. (and gross looking; you do not want me to describe it)
Housing: the people’s housing ranged from 2 room mud houses to cinder block houses of maybe up to 4 rooms. Cooking was done in a small area right outside the home on either an open fire of “home-made charcoal” or, if they are fortunate, small canisters of propane gas “stove tops”. There was not a single dwelling of any type that had screens on the windows. Thus, mosquitoes were free to come and go all day as the windows were always open - no air conditioning.
The Catholic Mass was awesome: They averaged about 2.5 hours each, with the longest one being nearly 4 hours. But I didn’t notice them being that long. It’s just that there was so much praise/worship throughout the Mass, there was dancing, there was dynamic, Charismatic-style preaching. JOY was pretty much nonstop during Mass. The choirs were unlike most I’ve encountered here in the U.S. They were not there for the sake of performing for the congregation, they were just filled with ecstatic joy when they sang and very inviting for everyone to join in.
After Communion they have a tradition of having a Thanksgiving Song and Dance (very simple movements to the drum beat along with the singing) to thank God for having come down to visit us in Person via the Eucharist. I was invited to dance with them at two of the Masses. The first was at a Mass in one of the villages where I was the guest of honor (the first American to ever visit the village). After Communion a group of children offered the Thanksgiving Song and Dance and in the song itself they sang an invitation for me to join them and I did. It was both surreal and awesome. Normally this is something I would have shied away from but I had decided before leaving for this missionary journey that I would involve myself 100% with the experiences (including eating any food offered to me… re: the food item mentioned above. I wanted to have no regrets that I would miss out on anything, no matter how far out of my comfort zone I was.)
To prepare me for the public dancing at Mass, I had a fun experience at a reception whereby I found myself dancing to Swahili “pop/dance music” with some nuns. That’s a story for another day to say the least. It was a lot of fun, though.
The children were a BLAST! They were not used to seeing a “Moosoongoo” (not spelled that way but pretty much pronounced that way). It translates to “white man”. Everywhere I went I heard, “Caribou, moosoongoo!”, “Welcome, white man!”. They loved touching my arm hair (African men have very little body hair) and the hair on my head. They were, in fact, fascinated with my skin color and my hair. I had several “Elvis” moments when I was absolutely swarmed by as many as 70-80 children at a time wanting to shake my had or touch my hair. One time it was so overwhelming that I was nearly knocked over by a large group of very excited children probably aged 6 - 12 years old. It took one of the older children, probably 13 or 14, to get them to back away and he led me by the hand to the van (yes, my Elvis security detail). But once I got in the van I rolled the window down and the swarming resumed outside my door. It was a blast… “Thank you very much!” (insert Elvis' voice here!)
Presentations: The presentations I gave at the Catholic parishes and schools seemed to go over very well. Counting the retreat I gave for the priests, Brothers, and Sisters of the Diocese of Homa Bay, I gave 12 formal presentations and numerous spontaneous, short presentations at the end of the Masses I attended. After that retreat I was invited by numerous priests to visit their parishes the next time I am there (planned for 2021 with a group of people I will lead over there).
Some of the words/phrases I learned (using phonetic spellings, not necessarily actual spellings):“Toom SEE-foo Yesu CREE-stoe” - “Praised be Jesus Christ”
(Usual response to the above) “Mah-lay-lay na mah-lay-lay” - “Forever and ever”
“Yahma CHOE-mah” - “Barbequed meat”
“Cah-REE-boo” - “Welcome”
“Ah-SAHN-tay” - “Thank you”
“Ah-SAHN-tay SAH-na” - “Thank you very much”
Safari: Fr. Kennedy and Fr. Theophilus took me on an actual safari just a few miles north of the Serengeti, on the border with Tanzania. It was surreal at times. I could to on and on but the most surreal moment was the first time we came upon some lionesses and their cubs. There were about 3 or 4 lionesses and maybe 6 cubs just hanging out about 20 feet from the dirt road we were on. Along with other vehicles, we pulled up and turned the engine off. One of the rules to being on the safari was that no radios/music could be played at any time and when we were among the animals, no talking, just silence.
We were sitting there watching them when 3 of the cubs got up and began to meander along parallel to the road and one of the stopped directly in front of me and lay down about 10 feet from my window. He just chilled out and began looking at me, totally non-impressed with my previous “Elvis” status.
Then one of the lionesses got up and began to walk right along the cars and passed so close to my open car window that she actually brushed against my car door with me sitting inches away from her. I didn’t move or make a sound because one of the cubs was just on the other side of her. After she walked passed me I was like, “Did that really just happen?” I could have put my had one inch beyond my window and touched her she was that close.
During the safari we went to the Tanzania border and crossed over so that we could say we were technically in the Serengeti.
Among the animals we observed were zebra, giraffes, water buffalo, hippos, wart hogs*, rhinos, lions/lionesses/cubs, elephants and cubs, thousands of antelope-type species, ostrich, jackals, rhinos (including the relatively rare “black rhino”), wildebeasts, beautiful species’ of birds, two varieties of monkeys, and probably a few others I am forgetting right now. The area we were in was hundreds of square miles of wildlife.
*the wart hogs were soooo incredibly ugly that I have concluded the following: when God created them, He was in a rather ticked off mood.
Needs of the local Catholic parishes, convents, and schools: There are needs EVERYWHERE in the Catholic Church. From simple things like thermos bottles to funding for new church buildings, the needs are real. If you have a desire to learn more, let me know. I have a list of about 20 places with needs.
I’ll be adding day-by-day journal in the coming days/weeks now that I have this Summary done. If you have any questions please send me an e-mail and I’d be happy to answer as best I can.
Returning in 2021: if you are interested in information regarding being part of the “Team Kenya” I’m putting together, please contact me as soon as possible!