Friday, January 23, 2015

Forever A Hillbilly: Africa! Part Three

Forever A Hillbilly: Africa! Part Three      The children of the missionaries, once they were too old for the school at Rafiki, were driven across Nairobi each day to an Interna...

Africa! Part Three

     The children of the missionaries, once they were too old for the school at Rafiki, were driven across Nairobi each day to an International School. The UN presence in Nairobi was second only to
America, and children from all countries went there.
     The far side of Nairobi was a modern, nice city. On our side, it was totally different. Like two entirely different worlds side by side.

      Barbara and I were each assigned a different table to eat at each meal, so that we eventually ate with all the children. They loved it. They soon learned to read the schedule, and we were always greeted upon walking in by, "Uncle Pat! You're eating at our table today!"
     These children ate what other Africans ate. They were being raised as Africans. Beans, peas, and  lentils most commonly, or whatever a farmer had donated, or Rafiki had raised. Ugali served as a filler. It consisted of corn flour and water, boiled. No seasoning or anything. Ugali was shaped into a cake and sliced. Maybe a Passion fruit for desert, some sort of meat maybe once a week.
     By American standards, it was just, well, bad. But everybody ate every bite that was on their plate, every time. Including us. I once saw a very interesting thing take place. Barbara was about to eat the last bite of food on her plate. It was a chunk of ugali. The children at her table were all watching her, as always. As she approached her mouth with the bite, a grimace like I have never seen on her face appeared. As she put it in her mouth, a gag was coming up as the food went down. But she kept it down, and soon brought out a smile for the children.
     We soon learned that if the table "Mama" spooned our food, she would "do us a favor" by piling it high. We also soon learned, get there early enough, and "fill" our own plate. However, Yeen Lan took into consideration our spoiled palate, and two or three days a week, she had our maid fix up a really good, more American dish, at our guest house, and had it waiting when we came from a meal. On those days, we ate two meals, back to back. But, we both lost weight. Since returning home, we have both lost weight when necessary by going back to our African roots to eat.
     One day at lunch, a child was pointing out the green peppers in our soup. He directed us, "Don't eat that. It's bad." Unfortunately, his "Mama" overheard him. "Young man, there is no bad food here! People are starving to death, right outside those gates, right now! You eat every bite, and thank God for it!" He did, and we did too.

     That Saturday, Yeen Lan scheduled a trip to a tea farm for us. It was owned by white Africans, whose family had been in Africa for generations, dating back to Colonial Days. When we began to see the tea fields, they were beautiful. They looked just like a perfectly manicured lawn, three feet tall, very thick, stretching over the rolling hills to the horizon. The gatherers moved through the tea, and placed a small stick on top of the tea, three or so feet long. Any leaf above the stick was picked.
     The farmhouse was beautiful, straight from "Out of Africa", acres of beautiful flowers surrounded it. Our driver waited in the car. Tea with Fiona awaited. As we had tea and refreshments, she explained all about tea and tea farming. We would normally be in a large group of tourists, but no tourists were in Kenya now, the bloodshed was too fresh. We had Fiona to ourselves.
     The entire meal was totally grown on the farm, including the cow who gave milk for the ice cream. And it was to die for. The meal was totally presided over by two manservants, who had worked there all their lives. "Out of Africa" again. They attended to every need.
     A tribesman, giving us a tour of the farm, showed us a tree about as high as a house. It was protected by tribal law, a sacred tree. When a young man was strong enough to throw a chunk over that tree, he was ready to be circumsized. My throwing arm suddenly felt very weak as I looked at it. African males are traditionally circumsized as a young boy. I saw a post by Carolyn Koepke a few days ago on facebook. Twenty of the young men were circumsized in one day. Remember, they are being raised as Africans.

     On the way back to Rafiki, our driver told us, "Because of the violence, the food crop is very reduced. Starting next month, many Africans will be starving." We didn't know what to say -
and we had just attended a fancy tea.

     Sunday, Barbara photographed each family in their Sunday best, as they went to the bus to go to church. We went with one of the "Mama's" group. We were dropped off by the bus in a middle class neighborhood, and walked the rough, rocky street with hundreds of Africans and a lot of goats. Butchered goats hung in the store windows.
     Children screamed and ran when they saw us. We were the only white faces on the street and in the church. Mothers apologized as their children screamed and ran, saying, "My children have never seen a white person before."
     Barbara was determined to win over a particularly frightened little girl. The little girl screamed at the sight of Barbara, burying her face in her mother's shoulder. Barbara approached her, smiling, and finally the little girl accepted that without crying. Finally, Barbara was allowed to touch her hand. After awhile, Barbara was allowed to walk two fingers up her arm, softly saying, "Here's a little man, walking up your arm!" Finally, a little sweet smile appeared on her face, and she stretched her arms out to Barbara. The surrounding crowd laughed.
 When we got inside the all concrete church, (can't be burned) and they all started singing, "What a mighty God we serve," We knew we would be all right.

     A very tall, handsome young man was brought forward, and everyone was happy to see him. He had been forced to leave town when the violence started. He was from the wrong tribe, and would have died if he had stayed. Anyway, he sang a very beautiful song with six backup singers. When Africans sing about God bringing them through hard times they mean hard times. Barbara fought back tears through his whole song.  CONTINUED NEXT WEEKEND  Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Forever A Hillbilly: Africa! - Part Two

Forever A Hillbilly: Africa! - Part Two:      Our rock star treatment continued for a couple of days. My strange illness slowly went away.  By  then, all 80 of the children knew ...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Africa! - Part Two

     Our rock star treatment continued for a couple of days. My strange illness slowly went away.  By  then, all 80 of the children knew everything there was to know about both of us. The children just loved to stroke the long, thick hair on my forearm. "Uncle Pat is like Esau!" The children always had a neat way of asking a question."Where are you going" woud always be asked, "And you are going where?"
     The oldest of the children were now in the fourth grade. Six native Africans were the "mamas,"
full time care givers. Each mama had 10 or so children, and the goal was, to give continuity, each child would have the same mother until they were grown. But things didn't seem to always work out that way.

     There were 16 junior secondary students who walked in to school every day at Rafiki. Some walked two hours through very dangerous streets. Their uniforms were left at Rafiki. They had been recommended by a pastor, because they had very high potential, yet too poor to even buy a uniform to go to public school. One of those students told us her brother was a shoe salesman, and he provides food for the entire family. I asked, "Does he have a store?" "No," she said. "He carries them, tied over his shoulder, while he sells on the street."
 I had never seen such movitated students before, except for one student I once had at Arkadelphia, Ket. She was from Bankok, and was learning a new language at the same time. We still stay in touch.

     Nairobi is located on the equator, at 5000 feet elevation. Cool nights, warm days. Every day. Almost no mosquitoes. We only took Malaria medicine because we would be going into lower areas, such as on Safari and to Tanzenia. The Rainy season was due to begin just before we would leave.
     Many of the secondary students stayed, on their own, after school, to help the kids. You could pass their classroom, almost any time, and think it was empty, it was so quiet. Open the door, and 16 students were working hard. They looked upon this as their only chance in this world to better themselves. If one talked to them about their ambitions, they would all seem to be, what probably was, impossibly high. Brain surgeon, scientist, astronaut, on and on.

     Carolyn Koepke, from the US, was the Children's Director, and being a nurse by profession, she had been elevated to Everyone's Doctor, once here. If we broke a leg, or had a major illness, we would be flown to the US. Carolyn and Doug had been here for many years. He had been a Mechanic in the US. They just walked away from it one day, and never looked back.
      Doug ran the physical plant, all the repairs, woodworking, and metal working. And he taught those things to the  boys. Their children grew up here, with a 2 week trip back to the US each year. They raised their own financing, through mailouts and visits to churches when back in the States.
     Barbara worked under Carolyn, in a number of capacities. They knew she was a photographer, but never knew how good she was until she got there. The missionaries all were thrilled, as someone said, "She's a professional, and her work looks like it!" She was quickly given the job of photographing every child, for their permanent records, and furnishing the seven permanent missionaries with photos for their fund raising speeches and mailouts.
     Doug kept the cars going, the water supply good, the electricity flowing. I worked with him, mostly. There was no hardware store to go to with a need. If it was not brought from America on Doug's yearly trip home, we made it. I spent the whole day once, cutting rubber gaskets for the water supply system from and inner tube. I also taught basketball to all the kids, and an occasional science class.

     Barbara and I both read to children (after lunch) that had been so badly damaged in their early life that they seldom, or never, talked, or smiled. When a breakthrough with one of these kids came, and Barbara had several, it was an indescribable experience, one to be treasured a lifetime.
     Barbara read daily to Moses. He could talk but rarely would although he was now six. Moses was still in some trauma over the conditions he lived in before coming to Rafiki. Soon, he would be eagerly awaiting Barbara at the reading bench, smiling with book in hand, and would nestle up close as she read.  In spite of her best efforts to get him to talk, he just wouldn't, week after week.
     One day, as Barbara walked him back to his house, he stopped, looked into her eyes, and said,    "At night I pray for you." Barbara has just never gotten over that event, and cannot tell about it to this day without tears. And she often does.

     Yeen Lan Lam is the village director, nearing middle age, and very much in charge. She ran the place with a firm hand, but could be gentle when the occasion called for it. She was extremely protective of Barbara and me. She knew the many dangers of Africa, we did not. She worked very hard to make our stay perfect, complete with a trip each weekend, either free to us or at a greatly reduced price. She always provided us with a car and driver. Our four day Safari was about one third the usual cost. She had a lot of influence around Nairobi, and could always just get things done.
     Once her driver ran over a goat and killed it in Nairobi. An angry crowd gathered. The driver was crying, "They're going to kill me." Vigalante justice ruled the African streets, and this was a widow's goat.

     Yeen Lan got out of the car, and said to the crowd, "Bring the owner of the goat to me." The widow soon appeared. "What is the value of the goat?" The owner told her, and she immediately paid it. Seeing a Rafiki worker in the crowd, she asked, "John, do you want this goat?" John jumped right on that. Meat was rare. The widow shouted, "No! That's my goat." Yeen Lan explained,  "You told me the value, and I bought it from you. It then became my goat, to do with as I please." 
CONTINUED NEXT WEEKEND   Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Forever A Hillbilly: Africa!

Forever A Hillbilly: Africa!:      Barbara and I went to grandson Christian's birthday party in Little Rock one day. We just happened to be talking to a lady who w...


     Barbara and I went to grandson Christian's birthday party in Little Rock one day. We just happened to be talking to a lady who was telling us her family was about to leave for Nairobi, Kenya, to work at an orphanage. She casually asked, just as son Corey walked up, "Why don't you come help us?" Corey waved her off. "Listen," he said, "You don't know my parents. You don't just ask them something like that, unless you mean it."
     Barbara and I looked at each other. We both knew we were in agreement. "We'll do it," Barbara said.

     After some investigation into the Rafiki Foundation, we flew to Florida one weekend to train for our mission as Mini-missionaries. Actually, I think Rafiki just mostly wanted to get to know us. Satisfy their minds that we were suitable.
     We quickly picked out Rosemary Jensen from the crowd when we arrived at Rafiki. She looked the part of a semi-angel. She and her husband, Dr. Bob Jensen had been African missionaries for many years. She had also been the international director of Bible Study Fellowship for many years. When she retired, they wished to give her a gift, and what did she want? "I want an orphanage in Africa."
     From this start, Rafiki, which means "friend" in Swahili, the inter-tribal language in Africa, grew   
quickly. They now have ten villages in ten of the poorest African countries. Plans are being implemented to build ten "satellite villages" in each country. They are built and staffed by Rafiki, then turn over to different church organizations to support and run. Many different church organizations participate.
     Baptists churches are not among them. I asked Rosemary why. "Baptist churches in Africa are very loosely organized. There was no one person I could go talk to."

     Rafiki takes in orphan and deserted children, from infancy to six years, though sometimes exceptions are made on the age limit. Their goal is not to adopt out these children. They feed, clothe, shelter them. They give them a top notch education. They give them a strong Christian upbringing. If they are suitable for college, they help them achieve that. The are gradually brought back into the African society.
     They are raised as Africans throughout. Hopefully, from the midst of these strong Christian adults, strong leaders will arise to help Africa move forward.

     We were a small training group, the first since their headquarters had been moved to Florida. Small enough to meet at Rosemary and Bob's house. Surrounded by African decor throughout, we gathered around Rosemary, filling the chairs and the floor at her feet. In the lamplight, a glow seemed to eminate from this great woman.
     "I know what you're thinking," she said. "Because I've been there before. I'm not anybody special, I'm not talented, I'm not extremely smart. I just stepped up and said, here I am, Lord. Use me. That is exactly what you are doing."
     We met a lot of very great people there that weekend, most (all)  much younger than ourselves. But then, isn't that always the case? One we met was Emily, and she really stood out. A delightful young woman from Oklahoma, just graduated from college. She became our good friend.

     When we got back home, we had pretty well settled on Kenya. Not only would we know the
Arkansas family already there, at least the mother, but also, Kenya seemed to be one of the most stable of the African countries. Our bonus miles would not completely pay for our tickets, but we got the missionary rate when we bought more. We started preparing for Nairobi.
     Closer to time, things began to change in Kenya. The presidential election went bad, the incumbent representing one tribe, the challenger representing another equally strong tribe. The President won, but fraud was widely suspected. Tribal fighting broke out, and many people were dying. 

     We got word that the Little Rock family had left Rafiki. Our tickets were such that we could change our destination right up to the last moment, if we wished.
     We started thinking that we could hop over to Tanzania, right next door. No fighting there yet. We changed our destination to Tanzania. We notified their director.
     We then realized we would still have an overnight layover in war-torn Kenya, and we would be on our own. Tanzania Rafiki was very new, and it was unclear if they would have many children yet.
     There was talk of a power sharing agreement between the two tribes, and it was still a
while before the plane flew out. Maybe things would settle down by then.
     We changed our destination back to Kenya, and prayed for peace.
     I talked to missionaries on the ground in Nairobi two days out. They told me, "If you fly into Nairobi this weekend, you will be met by a collective sigh of relief, or Gunfire. This is not a good time. Don't come." 
     The morning of the day we were to fly out, the big news of the day on TV was, a power sharing agreement has been signed in Kenya. I called the missionaries in Nairobi. "Well, in view of this, now may be a good time to come." We took this as God's sign to us .We went

     We had an overnight layover at London Heathrow, and looked for a place to lie down. Although information desks will tell you there is none, we knew that if you go into the very depths of Heathrow, there is a place with lots of long couches.
     I must have picked up some sort of bug from that couch, because the next morning I was a total zombie. It didn't worry me at all when the pilot notified us, once airborne, that we were being diverted to Uganda. Just gave no reason, other than something about needing to pick up some tires, which sounded pretty thin. We would eventually reach Nairobi, but be two hours late. I was still a zombie when we landed in Uganda, and I did not even feel like looking out. Barbara was afraid I was having a bad panic attack, leaving her on her own, not a good thing to be in Africa. When we, at long last, landed at Jomo Kenyatta Airport, Barbara was excited, and I was just there.

     Rafiki headquarters in Florida had sent us a very large bag of books for us to carry through for them, along with the appropriate paperwork. We also had a huge suitcase of toys they requested us to buy and bring for the children. The customs agent told us we couldn't do that, then waited to see if the customary bribe was forthcoming, maybe in the form of a supply of toys for his grand children. Barbara just kept smiling at him, telling him "The toys are for the orphans." He gave us some more reasons why we just couldn't do that, Barbara just kept smiling. "The toys are for the orphans." Finally, he just gave up and waved us on through.

     Our driver, hired by Rafiki, had patiently been waiting three hours now. We kept this same driver throughout our stay, and he was always competent and patient. He had a little sign that said,"Patt and Barbra". Whatever the spelling, we were overjoyed to see him, we're here, and we'll take it.
     It was a 45 minute drive to Rafiki, and the route was directly through the staging ground for the violence. The last mini missionaries picked up, right at the start of the violence, had to pass through road blocks for both sides, and the car had been shaken around pretty good. Yeen-Lan, the director, was in that car. She kept saying, "Just keep smiling. Whatever happens, just keep smiling."
     Well, the warriors, and the roadblocks were gone now, and we were happy. When we entered the gates at Rafiki, we were treated like rock stars. To the children, we were the first mini missionaries to arive since the violence, and we must have represented the end of that horrible time for them.
     Getting out of the car at our guest house, a woman screamed, "It IS you! It IS you!"
 We saw our friend Emily running from the guest house to hug us.

     We had assumed the area we had come through near Rafiki was a slum, but no, they said. Upper middle class. CONTINUED NEXT WEEKEND. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Forever A Hillbilly: Wing - The Town the World Forgot - Conclusion

Forever A Hillbilly: Wing - The Town the World Forgot: CONCLUSION        In our day and time, all of these factors, many of which seemed so negative when they were brought to bear, have co...

Wing - The Town the World Forgot - Conclusion

      In our day and time, all of these factors, many of which seemed so negative when they were brought to bear, have come together to produce a  valley which is an ideal place to be, whether it be living there or visiting.  Of course living there would be a problem, for many. Options for making a living are few, and a child might have to ride a school bus two hours to get to a school, while never passing through a traffic light, probably not even a four way stop. I think that's why Skeet likes it so well. Those four way stops can be a booger for Skeet. He’s just far too polite in his driving. If another car is in sight, he will always give them the right-of-way.

     The pollution problems of most of our world, whether it be air, sound, chemical, vast areas of concrete, an excessive number of large lights, or too many people crowded together in a small space, just does not exist in Wing or the valley. Having next door neighbors a mile away helps assure they stay good neighbors. Even in my day, Fourche Valley School was one of the largest school districts in the state, yet twelve students graduated with me. Even the old abandoned home sites that dotted the landscape in my day have been pretty well reclaimed by nature. Hard to find one today.

     The river still runs clean and pure, without an excessive number of canoes or boats all crowded up on  it, as with most of our beautiful rivers.  The Fourche is a good river to float in the spring, but gets a little too shallow in the summer for a long float. The deer, which had mostly been chased down and eaten up in my time, are back in large numbers. Furry wild animals, no longer considered very valuable for their pretty fur as they were in my time, have returned. The squirrel, a prime choice for the dinner table in my day, can rest a little easier. The trees on the mountainside are large and beautiful once more.

       Maybe I named this story wrong. Maybe, in this day and age, I should have named it, “The town the world has not discovered.” Take a day sometime and make a slow drive up highway 28 from Rover to Needmore, where highway 28 hits 71. Stop along the way, and meet those friendly people of the valley. You will discover a world new to your experiences in Arkansas. Take a little time and explore, and get to know that long, narrow strip of land along the Fourche La Fave River. A place like no other, I can honestly say, and I've seen a very large chunk of the world. Once you've spent a full day in Fourche Valley, you will always want to return. 

Thanks for your time, and your attention.  Contact me at barbandpat66@suddenlink,net.   Let me know if you liked this story. If you didn't, please don't bother. I have very tender feelings.