Posts filed under reagan2kibera

from sweeney to kibera

Nijalon met Daniel roughly five minutes after we stepped off the bus at Langata High School our first day in Nairobi. It took approximately 3.5 seconds before these two boys realized they just met their international counterpart.

A bit of a backstory: Daniel is one of the kids in the video Candice made for her students at Reagan High. In this video, Daniel says, "please...come to Kibera. We love you." Essentially, he is one of the biggest catalysts in us even being in Kenya this summer. So it wasn't surprising when we got to the high school, Ni'd immediately went on a mission to find one of the kids who sent them a message.

He spotted Daniel right off the bat.

I heard some noise and noticed a group of students gathered in a circle. I walked over to see what was going on and found Daniel & Ni'd taking turns freestyling with the other students providing the beats. There was an instantaneous bond between these two - Daniel quickly taking on the nickname of "Young Ni'd" (he even painted this on the back of his shirt).

Over the next couple of days, their connection strengthened. You couldn't find one without the other.

And then the plot thickened.

Across the street, there just happened to be a recording studio. And during the week we were at Langata, there just happened to be an opening for Daniel and Ni'd to record a track they were working on together.

So they went. They recorded a track. In Kenya.

Some of the leaders and I happened to be walking around the day they were recording. We knew they were at the studio - but we didn't know where it was - we weren't even looking for it. But as we were walking around, we happened to hear some music...and what sounded like Nijalon & Daniel's voices. Following our ears, we found them finishing up the track. Candice asked if we would be able to listen to it, and Ni'd responded, "yeah. If you don't cry."


The studio manager hit play and the music started. Immediately chills coursed down my arms - it seemed as though the significance of this moment wasn't lost on my emotions. Both Ni'd and Daniel moved to the beat - mouthing the words as they smiled with pride at their creativity. I twisted my lip and fought back tears.

It didn't last long, though.

There's a line in the song where Nijalon says, "from ATX to Kenya, Sweeney to Kibera." As soon as I heard this hook, I lost it. The weight of these words instantly hit me and I had to walk outside in order to get myself under control.

Sweeney Circle is where Nijalon lives. Or as he likes to call it, "the 2-3." He owns this. And this line didn't hit me because I thought Ni'd would never make it to Kibera (even though he got his passport in the mail two days before we left). This line didn't hit me because of the similarities between Sweeney & Kibera.

What hit me was the absolute sovereignty of God.

The fact that from the very moment Ni'd and Daniel were born - worlds apart - God knew they would connect and create a bond, it overwhelmed me. God knew this. He placed the dream of going to Africa in Ni'd when he was young. He placed the desire in Daniel to ask anyone and everyone to come and see - come and visit Kibera. He prompted Nijalon's mama to write him a letter from jail telling him he was a leader and had a purpose. He prompted Daniel to desire an education so he's at school every day - he knows (and believes) that education is the key to making him a better person and in turn, helping those in Kibera.

In an interview before we left, Nijalon spoke of how this trip would prove "how good things can come out of bad situations. The light will shine in the dark. It don't have to be what you expect - but this isn't what you expect so good things can come out of here."

Kibera is a bad situation. 1.5 million people in a square mile. Children play and eat and bathe in the midst of trash and sewage and corruption.

But good things can come out of here. Daniel is proof - and his friendship with Nijalon will no doubt be a catalyst for the light shining in the darkness.

Nijalon & Daniel's music video: Produced and Edited by Lee Rothenflue Filmed in Kibera

Posted on July 6, 2010 and filed under africa, reagan2kibera.

the joy

The music starts and giggles weave their way through the group. I glance at the girls and smile, watching their heads bob with the beat pulsing in the background and Loren yelling the counts. Then mass movement begins.

whatchu know bout me...whatchu whatchu know 'bout me...

I wonder if Lil' Mama ever envisioned her lipgloss poppin' all the way over to Kibera...

A few capture my attention. Quiet and almost invisible within the crowd before, they've blossomed into a force to be reckoned with once the music starts. Their names? Anita and Christine. Anita can't get through an 8-count without jumping for joy. Christine, if given the opportunity, could give any number of female entertainers a run for their money. Not only does she dance - just mention your request of "Yodi-Yodi" and a small smile plays on her lips before launching into the full version of the song.

Flash forward a few days. We get to Kibera after a morning at Langata. From the small field I hear music pumping - and some of the girls don't even wait to get through the gate. Walking up the path, with trash beneath them and sewage running to the side, they start dancing.

The joy is palpable. Walking into New Hope's gate I realize the music is coming from a sound system they've rigged for today's talent show. Kirk Franklin is letting everyone know how to Stomp and slowly, a movement rustles from in our group.

Within seconds, we're doing the electric slide. I'm not sure if anyone got the moment on camera (I'm kind of hoping they didn't). But it's something I won't ever forget because in that moment my heart realized the beauty and resiliency of Kibera.

Since getting back, these are the memories that haunt me the most. Kibera is hard. It's not within our nature to consistently place ourselves where we're most uncomfortable. We like our comfort. We like cleanliness and paved streets and toilets. But Kibera is more than this. The people of Kibera know joy. They understand the truth that what they have holds no weight on who they are in Christ. And this is what makes them so beautiful.

On our last day, I spoke with Anita. I asked her who she wanted to become - what she wanted to do after graduating high school. With a sparkle in her eye she whispered, "I wanna be a dancer." I glanced at her and smiled. "Of course you will be a dancer!" She lifted her chin and looked me in the eye, the grin spreading across her face.

"Yes." she said, grabbing my hand and giving it a squeeze.

Posted on July 3, 2010 and filed under africa, reagan2kibera.

dichotomy of comforts

The day after our first walk into Kibera dawned cloudy and slow - almost taunting my own emotions. One of the hardest parts of this trip were the mornings. The dogs start first - barking incessantly as traffic picks up outside the gate of our guesthouse. Then comes the roosters - urging those around them to wake up and begin the day. But perhaps the most difficult sound, the most haunting - was the call to prayer. Every morning, before the sun even had a chance to streak across the night sky, you could hear the prayer echo off the walls. It permeates everything. The morning after the first walk, with the sounds of dogs and roosters and prayers spoken city-wide, I threw my blankets over my head and wept. I didn't want this life. I forgot - for a split second - about my plea for God to give me stories to share. I forgot - for a split second - my prayer for Him to use me and break me. I forgot. And for those few minutes where I basked in absolute self-pity and tried to hide from the scenes flashing through my mind from the previous day,  I was done.

It was our second full day in Nairobi and I was already wanting to come home. Again, I was fighting my flesh against what I knew my heart needed. I wrote in my journal that morning:

yesterday was tough...emotional...overwhelming. this morning? i'm done. when i woke up, i didn't want to be here anymore. the eyes of the children haunt me and i just want to get away. this happened all before the sun rose, and all i could do was cry about my lost comforts, and then cry about my selfishness. i finally got up to face the day, but my Spirit is still so heavy. these faces cloud my vision, the weight of suffering leans heavy on my chest. oh how i want to run away from this emotion! to not be responsible for what i see & touch & feel & love (because yes - I'm falling in love with these people...this country) it's so much easier to close my eyes and look away. it's so much less pain to push away these thoughts - to deal with them later.

but i know i can't.

the pictures of dirty, calloused feet running through the fields (and later the slums) fill my senses. my heart turns away from these images - almost out of a defense mechanism. "please. don't make me see this. don't make me dwell in extreme poverty. don't make me feel this weight - because if you do, i'll have to react." Father, make me sensitive to Your leadings. Make my heart soft to Your touch.

Later that day, I felt the caress of my Savior.

We got to Langata (the high school New Hope feeds into) and began working with the kids. I saw Russ walk off to the side with David and wondered what they were talking about. Both were leaning close together, their heads almost touching. About fifteen minutes later, Russ came up to me with tears in his eyes.

"David brought me bread."

"He brought you bread?"

"Yeah. He brought me bread. He wanted to make sure I had breakfast."

My mind reverted back to the conversation Russ & I had the day before about this boy - this boy who received 10 shillings and didn't know whether to save it (because he never knew when he would go without food) or spend it (because he knew it would probably get stolen). Finally, he decided to give it away to his younger brother because, "Christ takes care of my every need." And now this same kid was bringing breakfast for my husband - it was almost too much to comprehend. Russ and I stared at each other, unable to find words.

I still haven't.

Throughout my stay in Kibera, I fought the push and pull of my flesh. I'd wake up hesitant to go through the emotions, to look into the eyes of those living in these desolate conditions. I'd crinkle my nose at the breakfast offered - or silently wish for ice water instead of the lukewarm bottles so graciously given to us. And then moments like the one with David would happen - moments where God would open my eyes to the richness of these people. Children fifteen years younger than me holding tight to a faith stronger than I've ever claimed.

Looking into their eyes, hearing their stories, this is where I felt truly alive. This is where I realized the dichotomy of comfort is more than just battling your flesh - more than just taking one step in front of another on a dusty path filled with trash and sewage. It's allowing yourself to be broken all over again. And that is where the beauty comes - that is where my heart found rest.

Posted on June 30, 2010 and filed under africa, reagan2kibera.

the breaking

How do you write about an event you're still processing? Close your eyes and let your heart speak.

From the very beginning, my heart fought going to Kibera. I hesitated walking off the bus, I closed my eyes against what I saw, I separated my mind from my heart so I wouldn't feel the pain. But God has a way of breaking you free - of softening your heart of stone. Mine came the first full day in Kenya.

We had to stop by New Hope Baptist to drop off some supplies on the way home, and so Sandy prepped us on the walk we were about to take - the walk that changed his life years before. I remember kids running full speed towards our bus - eyes gleaming and huge grins covering their faces. Many of them jumped into the embrace of a waiting team member - grabbing hold of their shoulders or leading the way toward the path.

I followed the line, keeping my mind off the kids rolling around in the piles of trash. The path is completely surrounded by lush greenery and plants - farmland full of sugar cane and peas and corn - but the water feeding into it holds more mud and sewage than actual water. I hopscotched across the stream - feet hitting the sandbags placed there before - and silently prayed for strength. We continued up the path - through the field where kids were playing and gathering around us mzungus. We continued past the make-shift steel bridge, through the winding dirt path leading to New Hope. Clothes hung across the way, causing you to dip your head as you jump across a small stream of trash and sewage flowing into the area below. At times, there was no getting around piles of mud - so you just walked through the trash and prayed for the best.

It was at this moment I began to break.

I remember looking up and seeing Sandy greeting everyone we passed. He laughed at the chorus of "how are you?! how are you?!" echoing off the dirt walls and tickled children as their heads peeked through cracks in the wired gates or windows.  I remember seeing this and wanting to stop. I wanted to plant my feet firmly on the slim walkway and call out to those around me, "are you seeing what I'm seeing? Are you walking through the same piles as me? Do you see these kids picking up trash to make toys or placing their mouths on the wires separating us?" My heart began to pound and my eyes started clouding over. I wanted to leave. I wanted to turn around and run, not walk, back to the bus.

And then we walked through the gate of New Hope.

The kids were supposed to be in class, but as soon as they heard we were coming, many of them began running out of their classrooms to greet us. Others just stuck their heads out of the windows to say hello. One of the boys Russ connected with earlier in the day found him and said, "you came?" I walked up to them, and after introducing me, David held out his hand. "Welcome. Russell is my best friend." I smiled and turned away for a brief second, gathering my wits before looking at him and responding, "I understand. He's my best friend as well."

At that moment, I needed to get away. My heart screamed for some sort of reconciliation to what I felt and saw. I separated myself from the group and just took everything in - much like I found myself doing in Haiti ten years ago. Closing my eyes, I felt the ripping open. Glancing through the open gate and down the path, I felt my perspective shift.

And looking down at the tiny hand grabbing my fingers, my heart fell into a rhythm. I smiled.

I didn't want to leave. Every part of me screamed for normalcy and comfort, but I knew nothing would be the same - even if I tried. My heart found purpose and meaning in those dusty trenches of Kibera that day, and despite the breaking, despite the tearing open and the discomfort of stepping out, I know if given the chance she would do it again.

Posted on June 29, 2010 and filed under africa, reagan2kibera.

the haunting

While in Africa, there were moments where I longed for comfort. For toilets instead of holes, paved streets instead of dung-dirt streets filled with trash - I'd lie in bed dreaming of long hot showers, iced mochas and snuggling with Russ.  And then I would sit down and look into the eyes of the kids, and suddenly all of my comfort seemed silly. Now I am back in America trying to get acclimated to my own life. I feel like an outsider. I know life goes on - and soon these experiences will be a sweet memory instead of something that captures every thought. But for now, I'm dwelling in the possibility.

I knew going on this trip would change me - but I never anticipated the haunting.

I can't get away from the faces. I close my eyes and think of Rose and her new glasses, of Isaac's smile and Vincent's obsession with taking pictures on my phone. The faces are everywhere and the last thing I want is to get away.

The last day in Kibera, I posted on facebook that I would be leaving pieces of myself behind. I'm learning this is more than true. I'm also learning it's increasingly difficult to accurately describe the chasm left because of my experience in Kibera. I will try - because that's what I'm called to do. The stories of this trip are powerful and heartbreaking and need to be shared.

In Matthew, Jesus speaks of stories and their purpose. He says people can stare at truth and not see it. Stories though - stories nudge others to receptive insight. So this week, I will share the stories of three year old Kenyan girls dancing with American teenage boys in the middle of a slum. I will share the stories of orphans and God's provision and late night prayer sessions. I will try to describe the smiles of women finding hope through a trade, and the sound of the call to prayer reverberating through my room every morning before the sun pulled back the night sky.

But most of all, I will try and tell you of this haunting - of the faces and sounds that captured my heart and won't let it go. I will tell you of Adah and her quiet smile and Swahili lessons written in my journal. I will tell you of Benjamin's alligator tears and Rose's laugh. I will tell you of the children jumping into our arms and holding our hand down the trash-filled path - helping us across the make-shift steel bridge. I will tell you of presents and letters and dance parties.

And then maybe, you too will understand. Maybe you will find yourself going to see firsthand.

Posted on June 28, 2010 and filed under africa, reagan2kibera.