Chapter 5: Malaria Scares and Soccer

**All photos thanks to the lovely Colleen Briggs**

“Bzzzzz”….. “bzzzzz”…..

I wake up to a very distinct buzzing sound going past my left ear. As I open my eyes, I quickly swat a mosquito that is dangerously close to my ear. Jenny and I are sharing a king bed in our room at the Isaak Walton hotel, and the mosquito net has a few holes and isn’t quite large enough to cover the whole bed, but we did the best we could to surround ourselves with it (the mosquitoes carrying malaria are most often night-biting mosquitoes, and we don’t have any malaria medicine with us- in fact, only two people on the team actually decided to bring it since we would primarily be in the city). Some members of the team were in rooms that were completely without mosquito nets, and the hotel had run out. We’re not too worried about it though. Colleen, one of our leaders, lived here for seven months while she was adopting one of her children, and she didn’t have malaria medicine the whole time and came home completely fine.

My eyes adjust to the morning light coming in through the white curtains, and I see two or three more mosquitoes that somehow found their way inside the net. Getting out of bed, I take note of how I’m feeling…. as I’m breathing my chest feels really tight and my nose is already running, and even though I spent all of yesterday in denial that I was actually getting sick, there’s no denying it now: I’m sick. Yesterday the team leaders calmed everyone down. What with half the team being sick in some way or another, some were starting to worry that they’d gotten malaria or some other sort of life threatening disease we don’t have immunity to. It’s a normal fear when you’re in a new hemisphere and have limited immunity, but the likelihood of something actually being that serious is very slim, and considering no one has a fever, it’s likely that all of the illness is the result of traveling, not really sleeping, being in a whole new part of the world and expending a whole lot of physical energy. And I’ve caught something.

Thankfully I have some cold medicine with me, and one of our team members, Becky, is a nurse. I popped some Dayquil and got dressed, and even though there’s an hour before breakfast, I’m thankful I’m awake. I got about eight and a half hours of undisturbed sleep (more than I’ve gotten this whole time), and I have time to go to the gardens and get some alone time with God before breakfast.

Breakfast brought a welcome surprise- TOAST. Breakfast is usually sausage or hard boiled eggs, bananas or papaya, and bread with jam. It’s been good, but at this hotel, there’s a toaster and even an omelette station. It’s crazy how even the smallest things become blessings all over again once you don’t have them for a little bit. After breakfast (an omelette, some fruit, and two pieces of toast) I pack all of my clothes in my backpack real fast and then go back to the gardens for the last thirty minutes before our bus leaves to go back to Nairobi. I told my family I would FaceTime them whenever I could, and considering the fact I have a few moments to myself and some WiFi, I figure this is the perfect opportunity.

I was able to talk to them for about fifteen minutes before the signal cut out, and in that fifteen minutes I couldn’t stop talking about Mathare Valley on Tuesday. My family has had some definite struggles these last few years, several ups and downs. My dad had cancer at one point, my parents had been wrongly named in a lawsuit that had dragged on for five years before it was dismissed (which is actually a CRAZY God story in itself), my mom had been battling with her health and exhaustion overall, my sister had some struggles of her own…. it had been hard. But getting to talk to them about Mathare Valley, all of our challenges seemed somehow a bit smaller. That’s not to dismiss any of the hard things we go through, or to write them off and say they aren’t hard, because they are….. but this trip has definitely helped readjust my perspective some already, and it was a huge gift to get to share that with my family.

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On the way back to Nairobi from Meru

We all pile back onto our small bus (there’s 27 of us and the bus is 6 rows of four seats all side by side, with another three or four seats in the front). Our bus driver Ezekiel is pretty much one of the coolest dudes I’ve ever met in my life, and he got to stay here at the hotel with our team last night, which we heard was a very welcome and unexpected small vacation for him. Today there isn’t a whole lot on the agenda. Once we get back to Nairobi, we’ll be stopping at one of the nicest malls there to exchange money and do a bit of shopping, and once we get back to Little Sisters there will be three or four artisans from the slums who will have their products for sale. Essentially, it’s a travel/shopping/rest day.

The bus ride feels a bit long as I’m trying to suppress coughs, but it’s just as gorgeous as it was on the way out here. Yesterday, Justin got ahold of Isaac and Mitchel’s GoPro, and started moving it really fast in front of people’s faces yelling “Day in the life! Day in the life!” It sounds not that funny until you realize that he was sneaking up on people doing it- they would be sleeping, or turned around not expecting it, and suddenly there’s a camera extremely close to their face and Justin following them around for three or four minutes. In fact, most of the GoPro footage ended up being Justin’s random Day in the Life series. It kept laughter rolling on the bus- he even stuck the GoPro out the bus window and used the “selfie stick” (I later learned it was actually called a monopod) it was attached to in order to get the camera three or four windows up, so that a person three rows ahead would look out their window to see a camera in their face. Moments like that made the trips on that small bus feel short for the most part.

We got to Garden City Mall a few hours later, and were surprised that we had to go through security before we could enter. There was a metal detector and security guards checking everyone before they came in. The mall was extremely modern and clean, and after we exchanged money at the ATM, we went to a small cafe called The Java House for lunch. There was much rejoicing as we got to order burgers, fries, sandwiches, iced lattes, and frappuccinos (I know we’ve only been gone for about a week but it’s crazy how fast you start to miss some of those things).

We wander around the mall for an hour. I’m amazed to see there’s another KFC here (they really like their KFC in Kenya), as well as lots of Western stores. Clinique Beauty, Samsung, Bath and Body Works, and Mac are some of the stores we see. I don’t buy anything here except some Kenyan coffee to take home.

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One of the artisans in the main hall telling us her story

When we get back to Little Sisters, the artisans are in the hall waiting for us. They tell us their stories and how they make jewelry, clothing, and home products to sell in order to support themselves and help women in the slums of Nairobi. Once we go into the other room and get to see their products, I’m absolutely blown away at all of the color, the vibrancy, and the beauty of what they make. There’s wallets and purses in all colors, beautiful jewelry, aprons, placemats, table runners, skirts, children’s toys, and potholders. I easily spend almost 40 minutes looking at it all and trying to narrow down what I want to buy from them- I find myself thrilled that I saved my money for this market.

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Three of the artisans in front of many of their products

Even though we haven’t done much today, I still feel gross and sticky. That bus was hot, and it’s humid here and I’m pretty sure there’s some dead bugs stuck to me. I go back to the room to grab an early shower and journal some before dinner. I have about two and a half hours to kill and I’m not entirely sure what to do with myself. But it’s easily one of the best showers I’ve ever had. The water pressure isn’t great at all, which is to be expected, but on the first night here I discovered how long it would take me to wash all the soap out of my hair if I relied on the shower head alone. There’s also a small faucet near the floor (I’m assuming either for washing feet or doing laundry), and I’ve learned to turn that on and stick my head under it for a minute or two both to get my hair wet and wash all the shampoo out. The shower our first night here took me about 20 minutes (more than twice as long as it would normally take me), and with this method it only takes me maybe five or ten minutes, which is much better. A small lizard came in through the open window and is chilling in the bathroom, and I don’t mind it as long as it stays in that corner.

I journal in the courtyard for a few minutes and then suddenly hear a lot of laughter from a ways away. I wander outside the first compound (we are staying in a compound within a compound, all of which is managed by the nuns) and into the larger compound, and suddenly in the yard a ways away, I see a few members of the team playing soccer with the boys from the boys school here on the property.

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At first I watch from a distance; I’m not athletic, am wearing my Teva’s which are like nice flip flops, and am enjoying playing with a few of the smaller kids who are “kicking” a ball of their own around. Isaac is playing goalie for one team, and Mitch is playing goalie for the other. Jacob, Keenan, and Megan are all running around and I can’t tell who is one who’s team, but there is tons of laughter and it’s so fun to watch. It’s not long before I want to join in, so I run in and put myself on Megan’s team, and join the mad hustle.

I don’t even remember who won that game; all I remember is how hard I laughed watching all of us Mzungus (none of whom play soccer) attempting to play soccer with a bunch of Kenyan kids who are crazy good at it. There were some casualties, though. Mitch dove for a ball and his hand got accidentally stepped on really hard- he had some cuts all over. In fact, I’m pretty sure almost every one of the guys had some injuries coming out of it. I think any one of us would tell you that it was more than worth it though. We played till sundown and went back with enough time to clean the wounds and ourselves before dinner.

After dinner we spend a bit of time playing cards in Keenan and Jacob’s room and eating peanut butter crackers and Oreos. Not long after that I’m back in bed. It’s been a restful day and a half, a refreshing break filled with laughter and good food and team bonding. And tomorrow it’s right back to work. We’ll be going back to Sanctuary of Hope for a day of workshops and a huge family dinner. I can’t wait. So I pop more Nyquil and am out within minutes, safely tucked under my mosquito net and thankful for all the unexpected gifts of the last two days.

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