Report on the SWYM trip to Kenya.
The purpose of this trip, organised by South West Youth Ministries, SWYM, a Christian organisation, was to visit and assist Praise Youth Ministries, a SWYM daughter organisation in Nairobi. A Kenyan named Peter Abungu, whom we knew well when he spent two years training in England with SWYM, leads PYM. The team consisted of ten people between the ages of 15 and 20, all Christian, and two leaders.
After flying to Nairobi via Abu Dhabi we were taken in the PYM van (PYM operate a tourist van business to finance the ministry, although business is
difficult at the moment as there is little tourism due to terrorist threats in Kenya) to our accommodation for the next two weeks. This was a hostel in a poor area of Nairobi (although not a slum), where conditions were not luxurious, with cold showers and water in the taps only at certain times of the day, but quite adequate. The hostel belonged to one of the main Kenyan churches, Africa Inland Church, and was run by the mother of one of the PYM team members, who, as soon as we arrived, said that we were all to think of her as our mother. Henceforth she became known as Mum. Mum soon gained a reputation for culinary prowess, serving us huge (and very good) cooked meals twice a day. The food was invariably beef stew, containing potatoes, carrots and pieces of beef complete with fat and bone, usually served with rice but sometimes mashed potato, pasta or chapatis (pancakes), and always accompanied by cabbage.
From this base we went out visiting various places in and around Nairobi where PYM work, for example children’s homes, orphanages, schools, slums and a hospital. Our work generally involved leading assemblies (sometimes at about five minutes’ notice) or just playing with the children. At one school, Imprezza Secondary School, which has around 130 pupils between the ages of 14 – 20 and is situated on the edge of a slum, we were called upon to present prizes at their prize- giving service. This took place in a shed with a corrugated iron roof, a dirt floor and a few scrawny chickens pecking around in the corner. The prizes consisted of an exercise book, a biro, a rubber, and (in the better prizes) some colouring pencils. The only reason we were told to present the prizes was because we were white, and therefore guests of honour.
We also visited a centre called the Blue House, which is situated in the main Nairobi slum area (this contains over two million people, two thirds of the population of Nairobi, and is the second largest slum in Africa (Soweto in South Africa being the largest)). The Blue House, a Christian centre, provides some degree of education for the slum children, as well as a free meal. The slum houses were very small, with mud walls and corrugated iron roofs (the view over the slum was like a sea of corrugated iron stretching almost to the horizon). The sewerage system was a small open channel running down the street towards the downhill parts of the settlement, and the streets themselves were made of a roughly 50:50 mix of soil and rubbish. Despite these adverse conditions, however, the slum children seemed considerably more cheerful than teenagers in a British city, and Peter was able to park his car on the edge of the slum and walk in with a couple of us, confident that it wouldn’t be broken into, even though these people were incredibly poor.
All the children wanted to shake our hands, resulting in scenes quite reminiscent of the Queen on a walkabout, and when I (Richard) put my hand out of the van’s window as we were driving away, they would run after the van to shake it. (Due to the condition of the streets, the van couldn’t move faster than walking pace, so it was quite easy for them to catch us up.) Children not more than two or three years old stared at us as we drove past, all shouting “How are you?”, which was probably the only English they knew. We visited the Blue House twice, once to lead an assembly and once just to play with the children and keep them entertained. Their favourite game was Chase The Wazungu, (wazungu = white person) and as they mainly spoke Swahili our repertoire of games was fairly limited. Hence we were exhausted when we left Blue House.
We went to church services on both Sundays during the trip. On the first Sunday we went to AIC Ziwani, the church that runs the hostel we stayed at. This was a very large church, with four Sunday services- one in English, three in Swahili; with the church packed for all of them. Needless to say, we went to the English service, and I would estimate the congregation to have been approaching 1000. Typical of the African attitude to punctuality that we had become accustomed to, our service started about half an hour late. I loved this attitude to timing, and it became a standing joke with our team. I think, once, we were so late to a school that even the Africans were ashamed of it! (Pippa). This [the timing of the service] was actually quite impressive, no doubt caused by the necessity of having all services rigorously on time in order to fit all four in. (This phenomenon became known to us as “African time” and is defined as the system of timing by which everyone and everything is invariably late.
One morning, a PYM meeting at the hostel was scheduled to start at 11:00 am. PYM team members arrived for this meeting between midday and 1:15 p.m. “African time” also manifested itself on the camp we helped run, with some meals being up to two hours late, and some campers arriving nearly 24 hours late.) On the second Sunday, we went to AIC Mlango Kubwa, another church connected to PYM. For this service, as at Imprezza, we were in a corrugated iron shed with a dirt floor, but I would rather go to this church than a service in an ancient English cathedral any day. The congregation was much smaller than at AIC Ziwani, perhaps 100, and during the church notices, the pastor’s assistant auctioned a pumpkin (someone’s offering) for 110 Kenyan Shillings (about £1) to a member of the congregation. After the service the UK team was asked to line up so that everyone could shake our hands (something which by now we were quite used to). It was really strange for us at first, because we were treated like royalty, especially by the slum kids. I don’t think there was any rational reason why, but they all respected us immensely and were incredibly hospitable. (Pippa)
Because PYM had decided that we needed a bit of a holiday as well as working for them, we took one morning off to go on safari in Nairobi National Park, although “African time” almost caused some problems. We were supposed to be at the park (half an hour’s drive from the hostel) at dawn, as this is the best time to see lions. However, we were kept waiting for the second vehicle, an old pickup, to turn up (there was not room for all of us in the van if we were all to be
able to see a window). As well as this, Mum cooked a large number of sausages for breakfast and insisted that they were all eaten. As a result, we arrived at the National Park about 45 minutes after dawn, but this didn’t affect the safari much, as we still saw the lions, as well as buffalo and giraffe. Some members of the team claim to have seen a rhino’s horn as well, but I’m sceptical about that one. (Pippa) However, that afternoon we were back visiting schools again.
The second week of our stay was mostly taken up with helping to run a camp for ages 15-20 called “shangwe”, meaning “praise”. Many campers came from places we had visited, and a large number were subsidised by PYM with money provided by the UK team, as they couldn’t afford the 1500 Ksh (about £15) entrance fee. The camp took place in what I was told was a boarding school, but I’m not inclined to believe this, since one would expect a boarding school to have beds. We managed to get the campers on mattresses, but all the leaders had to sleep on the concrete and do other things we’d never have dreamed of doing in England, such as spending four days chopping cabbage –also meat, if they wanted to give us a break! -in the kitchen…(Pippa) As it was, I spent one night on a shared mattress and three on bare concrete (although I was so tired I hardly noticed). As one of the privileges of being leaders, we got at least one hour less sleep than the campers, usually five or six hours, and as a result my patch of concrete could have been a four poster bed for all I knew. I think that feeling was shared by all the leaders! (Pippa).
However, the facilities were worse. A shower in the morning consisted of a cold tap set about three feet high in the poorly enclosed cubicle (when there was water at all) -ours had a white curtain instead of a door. White, of all colours. They went see-through when wet, as happened depressingly often- and the toilets were particularly unpleasant. Apart from this, however, the camp was a success, with a number of people being saved. In the evenings, the UK team ran “the Fringe”, a late-night entertainment show based on a quiz. It was incredibly funny, and any British audience would have loved it, but it was sometimes a bit too subtle for African humour, although some moments got a good laugh. For the last night of the camp the UK team raised 5000 Ksh (about £50) to buy a live goat, which we had for a barbecue that night. (If you ever eat goat, I recommend the heart as the best meat, as the leg meat is quite chewy.)
I would like to say this before anyone asks about the weather: IT WAS COLD! Not cold by English standards, but we managed to come during the Kenyan winter (duration approximately six weeks). I was still able to wear T-shirt and shorts (in fact I had little choice, as I hadn’t brought much else), but the Africans felt very cold. And they thought Richard was mad for wearing his shorts, but really the weather wasn’t too bad! (Pippa) One of the days we were there, it was the coldest day in Kenya on record (I gather it was around 8-10°C in Nairobi), and many people in Nairobi actually didn’t go to work that day, because it was so cold! The Africans I talked to reacted to my descriptions of sub-zero temperatures in England as though I were talking about the Apocalypse. The worst bit about this was that there was currently a heatwave in England, with temperatures much hotter than where we were, which was almost on the equator (although to be fair, Nairobi is quite a high altitude area; in Mombasa the temperature was 15°C, which was also a record low). Everyone else was quite depressed by the lack of a heatwave; I loved it. Amazingly typical that you had 38° and we had 9!!! It did mean we got absolutely no tan at all, but never mind. (Pippa).
One of the main differences between the UK and Kenya is that the UK is a very secular country. In Britain, most people don’t believe that witchcraft exists. In Kenya, it is well known that it does, and we heard some amazing true stories on the subject. For example, a pastor in Mombasa, a centre of spiritual evil, went to preach in an area known for witchcraft. When he finished speaking, there was a huge python curled around the wheel of his car. Unafraid, he drove off, reasoning that the car would run over the snake and kill it. When he got home, the snake was still there, and quite unharmed. He drove across Mombasa several times, but nothing happened to the snake. Finally, he took it to the church, where some people prayed and instantly the snake left. To give another example, a man who was able to turn himself into a cat got into the habit of burgling his neighbour’s house. His neighbour hired a spirit to protect his house, and the cat got stuck under the fence. It was there for an entire day, and even the Fire Brigade couldn’t remove it (this was broadcast live on the Kenyan news). When the Fire Brigade left, the cat screamed and disappeared (this was also caught on camera), and that man has not been seen since. In Britain, witchcraft may be the subject of storybooks, but in Kenya it is very real, and this may be one reason why so many Kenyans are saved.
I found my time in Kenya was an amazing, and sometimes shocking, experience. I learnt loads, including how to smile, what people mean when they say ‘they have nothing’, how amazingly relative luxury is, and how God can do amazing stuff with open hearts, even if they’re in the most adverse circumstances. I’ve learnt not to complain, I hope, because even though this is going to sound incredibly clichéd we have everything- everything- in the world compared to them. And yet they’re so happy…(Pippa)
Pippa and I would like to thank all of you who helped us to raise the money to go on this trip (selling the CD raised over £500, thanks to your generosity). As well as enabling us to see an old friend and make many new ones, it was an invaluable learning experience, and a wonderful opportunity to see a completely different culture. Again, our heartfelt thanks to all who helped us.