Saturday, November 21, 2009

Do you have a sink?

Florence, her first time ever to be on the beach, touch the sand or be in the ocean. It was also her first time on a plane. We took her along with us on our family vacation to the coast last Spring. It was a true joy to enjoy some of her first experiences. :)

Another one of those Kenya moments...

Hannah was washing her hands yesterday at the kitchen sink with some soap. I was standing beside her as she stood on the stool and our housekeeper, Ms. Florence walked up beside us. Hannah said, "Do you have any soap?" to Florence. She said, "Yes, a little." She then said, "Do you have a sink?" Florence then kindly replied, "No, I do not have a sink."

I just sat there with a small smile on my face thinking of the innocence of Hannah and holding back the tears for Florence knowing she does not have a sink, a bathroom or even an oven. She most likely doesn’t even have mattresses for her children to sleep on at night.

But she said to me in such a kind way, as she always does, “See Mum (that is what she calls me), she is learning. This means she is getting very smart.” Then she just smiled.

The people here have such a wonderful peace of mind, such big hearts and a beautiful outlook on life. It is difficult to see these sweet people "living" in this third world country. The things Florence must endure on a daily basis are beyond any hardship we have ever had to imagine.

She brings fresh water home with her every day from my house because they have no water that they are able to drink. I buy her daughter cheese (and many other meats and vegetables) because she is diabetic and they cannot afford cheese here as it is just too expensive for them to buy. They have no sink, no bathroom, no toilet, and no shower. They do not have an oven, but what they do have is kindness and a beautiful unassuming nature.

Florence is a sweet, peaceful woman with an honest, open heart that leaves me wondering most of the time, where does she find the strength? And more importantly, how does she maintain the peace that surrounds her? I've come to realize that Florence is truly an amazing woman. She is going to do anything and everything she can to make sure her family is taken care of at the end of the day. This is all that is important to her and all that matters. Isn’t this all that really matters to any of us? At the end of the day we work hard, we do the right things to make sure our family is provided for in the best possible manner. We make sure we have food on the table and want our family to live a healthy and good life. Is a good life measured by the amount of toys our children have or the amount of clothes in our closet? Is it measured by the size of our home or the kind of car we drive? These are questions I ask myself many times a day while living here in Kenya. Living here has given me a different perspective on life. One that has shown me how powerful the human condition is, in spite of diversity. I thank the Kenyan people for opening my eyes, and especially Florence, for showing me that love, kindness, joy and peace. It is a priceless gift that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

The realities of their life are not as evident to us in the area where we live just outside the city of Nairobi in what they would call the suburbs. We are put up in a beautiful home on a safe secluded compound. The slums are not next door, nor are the far either. Taking a short fifteen minute drive can get you to the deepest and roughest parts of not just Kenya, but Africa. We rarely have to see it because it is not a safe area or nor would we want to go there, but it is there. In the back of your mind you know it is only a few miles away. So, when you see those people on the side of the streets walking to their home or walking to work (as cars are only for the very wealthy) you wonder, what is their house like? Do they have a bed to sleep in and a blanket to keep them warm? Did they have a good breakfast this morning, or did they even eat? And when I see the children walking to school in their torn uniforms I wonder if they have enough clothes to meet their needs. Yet the children smile and laugh with their friends as they walk. They know nothing different and make the most out of what they have and are given.

So now I am wondering, how can I help these poor people increase their quality of life. And then I thought of you, my family and friends, and wondered if you had ideas on ways to help the Kenyans or if you would personally want to make a difference in their lives. I have been on a soul searching journey for the past few months thinking of all the things I can do to try and raise money and help the people here in Kenya. I am currently working out a way to start a non-profit before I leave in the next six months and am planning on trying out many other ideas in hopes to do something and just simply make some sort of difference here. This is something I feel very passionate about and I hope that you can help, that "WE" can help do something not just for them in the future, but hopefully…now!

I finally realized instead of trying to help all of Kenya at once, why not start with just helping Florence and her family. She has a family of six; two boys, 14 and 16 and two girls, 2 and 5. They are such good people. They have even offered up their home, a two bedroom concrete building (with again, no bathroom, no toilet, no oven, and no stove) to strangers when a building behind them burnt to the ground last week. All the people in that building lost everything. That's the way Florence and her family are, helping others when they are barely able to help themselves. These beautiful, kind souls could use your help.

I wanted to explain a little bit to help you understand what the situation is like in Kenya. Florence makes around $8/day. This is actually one of the best jobs you can get in Kenya. Most jobs pay only a few dollars a day and if you are a housekeeper for a rich Kenyan (not an American or other foreign diplomat), then they only pay around $2.50 a day. They spend on average $25 a week on food for their family of six. All the clothes they receive are from friends or bought at a used clothing store at about 100 ksh (shillings) per piece. This averages to $1.35 per item of clothing. For a Kenyan, when you only make $8/day, spending $1.35 for a piece of clothing is A LOT of money!

So, with this personal mission of mine, I am asking you again, my family and friends, to help make a difference in just one person's life here in Kenya. I wish I could help so many more people and maybe before I leave, I can find a way. But for now, let’s start here...let’s start at home and with someone we KNOW!

I would love for you to send any used clothes, shoes, toys, etc. On average, a medium sized box (depending on weight) will cost you approximately $20 - $30 to ship. This can be a lot just to mail a box of used clothes; however, it gets your old clothes out of the house and at least you know this time, exactly where it is going. It is going to Florence! J

Also, if you like, you can send me a check for any amount. She does not have a bank account, but if you write the check in my name, I will make sure that she gets EVERY penny.

If you would like to help me make a difference, please send clothes or a check to:

Heather Rhodes

Unit 64100

APO, AE 09831

Note: DO NOT WRITE ANYTHING ELSE ON THE BOX!! Do not write Africa, or helping Africa, or Nairobi, Kenya....the box will get returned!!! Just simply write the name and address as it is stated above and that is it.

You will also need to fill out a customs form declaration. It is a white multi-page form that is found on the counter in every post office. You can label the item as a gift and then just simply describe the items listed in the box as clothes, toys, etc. and put the approximate value of the contents.

I would be so very grateful if you could also forward to any friends that you think might also want to help, or maybe even your church! Let’s make a difference this year, especially to someone we know can really use a helping hand!

I hope you have a wonderful holiday season this year filled with many blessings.


Heather, Tom, Hannah and Chase

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Masai Mara and The Great Migration

Our trip with Uncle Justin and Christin to the Masai Mara in October...

We were able to see Over 500,000 Wildebeests moving across the waters and through 1000's of acres in the Masai Mara. It is no wonder some call it one of the great wonders of the world. It was incredible!

Zebras, The Sunset and a panoramic view of an Elephant, wildebeests and hundreds of additional wildebeests in the background.

A beautiful site of a lion cub reaching her family, a lion after a fresh zebra kill and more lions hanging out in the shade. We saw all three groups at different times throughout the trip.

A lion looking fierce (really he was just yawning) and the Mommy with her cub. So sweet!


Elephants and Giraffes!

Water Buck, a crocodile with a kill and a beautiful breathtaking and rare site for some, a cheetah.

A Lynx , Water Buffalo and a Rhino

The last site of our trip and probably the most exciting, the Leopard. He is in the tree with his kill hanging in the top upper corner of the tree (most likely a deer or zebra). We waited all morning before our flight left to catch one and we were unbelievably lucky with the spotting of two. Most go there whole time in Kenya without seeing a Leopard. It was pretty incredible and an absolute wonderful ending to our amazing journey through the Mara.

Thanks again Uncle Justin and Aunt Christin!
We Love You!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Happy Birthday Mommy!

Oh, yes...Mom turned the big 35, the five years to 40 (OHG!) 35, only a few short weeks ago.

It was a fun birthday but even more fun for Hannah and Dad. They spent the whole morning, while I taught swim lessons, baking a cake (Tom's first). Although Tom was not sure what type of pan to use, he ended up with the round cake pans. Way to go Dad! However, he only used one. Oops. Needless to say, it made a mess in the oven having an entire box of cake mix in one round pan...but it was still great! He at least knew to cook it a little longer and the important thing was they tried. I loved it!! He also had Hannah and Chase doing painting projects in the garage as a surprise as well. Dad, your the best! :)

Thanks Honey...the day was perfect!

I Love you!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Halloween Fun

I know I am way behind on updates, but at least this blog is only a week or two, ok maybe three weeks behind. I promise (as I always say), I will be better and am sending another blog update...soon. We have had lots going on; Uncle Justin and Aunt Christin came to visit & Papa Andy and Papa Scott came to visit in the last few months. It has been fun!

Daddy and Chase carving the pumpkin. Chase LOVING getting his hands all dirty and Hannah behind them observing quietly as to not get her dress messed up.

The kids had two times to trick or treat. They went once at our compound with 20 homes at 4 pm and then again at the larger compound of over 80 homes at 6:30. They had a blast though and surprisingly hung out til the end, around 8:30 and then we made our way back home. Chase was covered from head to toe in food coloring due to the large amount of M&Ms he ate. Hannah on the other hand, didn't have a stain on her. She really is so very Fancy! So, for now, to hold you all over with some pictures of the is some Halloween fun.

Chase as a Sock Monkey and Hannah as Fancy Nancy. :)

As a side note: Mom is now Hannah's class Mom for her class. If anyone knows me well enough, you know I am a procrastinator and this stands still today and with Hannah's class projects too. Go figure? Anyway, I stayed up until 2 am getting ready to do Halloween for Hannah's whole pre-school, over 6o kids. It seemed to be a pretty fun day for the pre-schoolers and I think they had fun. I mean, I hope!! They do know how much I put into this thing, right? Ha

Left and Right, Bags and Bags of popcorn I made home made ( Ok, my housekeeper made it, BUT I still stuffed 80 Bags) until 2 am. :) Also, the crafts the kids did on that day in each classroom. They made trick or treat bags, little ghosts with balloons, spiders with styrofoam balls and had a pin the mouth on the pumpkin game.

In the middle: The kids gathered with the Halloween bags they made after trick or treating to three of the classrooms.

The September/October/November Update

So here is what has been going on the past few months...

In September Uncle Justin and his girlfriend Christin came to visit us! In a very short visit, we managed to see the Elephant Orphanage and the Animal Orphanage (and also pet the Cheetahs!). We took a trip to Crescent Island and also made a stop at the Friday Masai Market for shopping. Most importantly we took a three day, two night trip and flew to the Masai Mara! (Amazing trip to Mara blog to follow). It was an incredible experience and we were so glad we could share it with them. Thanks for making the trip guys, we hope you had as much fun as we did!

Uncle Justin and Christin with the Masai Warriors outside the Nairobi National Park and a group shot at the Masai Mara with the owner of the camp.

Papa Andy and Papa Scott also came to visit in October! The came about three weeks after Uncle Justin left. They too had a short 10 day visit, but we crammed in a lot of stuff and played with the kids a lot and of course...took lots of pictures! We too took a great trip to Crescent Island and luckily just missed the rains. This made for an absolutely beautiful trip and our first trip seeing any of the land GREEN in our whole year in Kenya. We hiked a gorge in Hells Gate and visited a local Tea Farm. We visited the Kenya Weaverbird Factory and got to see the locals making pottery from the dirt of Mt. Kenya and men and women weaving magnificent tapestries. We took a trip to the city of Karen where they filmed the movie "Out of Africa". We also visited the author's actual home which is now a museum. This is also the site where they filmed part of the movie. We made a trip to the market and had many nice dinners. It was wonderful! Thanks to you two for making the trip, it was great! We feel truly blessed to have so many visitors able to see us even though we live so far away. What a treat! Our next visitor is Mom,she comes in January and hopefully Aunt Alexis will be here in February! :)

With Papa Andy and Papa Scott at Crescent Island (walking with the animals) in Hells Gate National Park and hiking the Gorge in Hells Gate on another day.

While Dad and Scott were here, I ran the Nairobi Half Marathon! This was my very first! I am pretty proud of myself I must say. I mean, its 13.2 miles and with the altitude, it wasn't the easiest, but it sure was fun. :) While running the half marathon in downtown Nairobi we saw a heard of cows, a cart full of over 50 LIVE chickens crammed together (being pulled by a donkey), a camel, Masai Warriors cheering us on and a dead dog. All while running half of it in the pouring rain. But like I said, it was fun! :)

I started swim lessons at the end of October with about 40 kids! Yes, I am crazy! I teach 2 to 6 year old children from 9 - 12 Sat. morning, a "Baby and Me" class of babies under 2 (and their Moms) Sunday morning from 9 -10 am, and Monday afternoon 2 to 6 year old children from 3-5 pm. It certainly makes for less time on the weekends, but it has been fun. About half of the children are from Hannah's pre-school and the other half from the Diplomatic community.

The kids were sick with runny noses for about 2 months. Is this seriously what happens when kids start pre-school? Unfortunately we had a scare with Chase as he ended up having a Croup cough one morning and then a febrile seizure not but a few hours later that afternoon. We are not really sure if that is what it was, but the doctors say most likely. We had to go to the Children's Hospital and get him admitted but a few hours later he was back to normal. Obviously he is doing fine now, but it certainly wasn't fun and something I hope to not have to go through again.

The kids stayed sick for another two weeks with pink eye and then Hannah with an ear infection. I seriously thought it would never end, but thank goodness...everyone is well now... Finally!!

At the Marine Ball and a pic with some of our good friends. It was a blast!

We had our Marine Ball November 7th which was great. We had a lot of fun dancing and of course Tom was the hit of the night as he performed his annual WORM at the end of the night for every one's enjoyment. Ha It was awesome! We spent the night at the hotel to make for a pleasant morning of sleeping late as well as massages. Can't beat that!

Hannah's school term has just ended as of a few weeks ago. It was a fun year for Hannah ( I think)., and a busy school year for me too. I had no idea how involved it would be to be a "Class Mom". Most of it is fun; however, due to the lack of information and availability to information, like computers and printers, I ended up doing a lot of research and printing on my own. Something I guess you take for granted in the US- access to computers and printers!! Anyway, I still enjoyed it and will probably volunteer next year if I am not already signed up ahead of time for the year (without my knowledge).

Hannah (left) doing dance routine, (middle) being very shy while class was singing song, and (right) practicing monkeynastics on the balance beam.

Hannah had a school performance to end her school year. She sang a song with her class, did a dance routine and also a gymnastics routine. She was incredibly shy, but looked cute. Our first school performance of many down the road. Although we were excited to go the school performance, the day was moved at the last minute to Thanksgiving. Since there are not that many Americans at the school, they had no idea the drama it was cause me...THE AMERICAN. Did they know I was hosting (for the first time ever) 20 people at my home? Did they also know that it was my first time cooking a turkey (2 actually!)? Anyway, I delayed Turkey Day by an hour as to not pass our friends on the road and to make sure the turkeys were not over cooked. Thank goodness for my housekeeper Florence keeping an eye on them both while they cooked. She sent text message updates every 3o minutes. I mean, I seriously have it rough. Ha Thanksgiving turned out great and it was surprisingly not as hard as I thought it would be thanks to great new friends and a little help.

Getting ready for Thanksgiving, carving the turkey, making the gravy and a picture of the office clan on Tday, Left to Right; The Hammonds, The Healeys, The Rhodes and The Lewis'.

So, I think that pretty much wraps up my three month update and lucky you, just in time for a most likely belated Christmas update. :) You never know, it is a new year!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
(just in case)