By Stephanie Bys
Here are some things you may not know about our life in Kenya...some of these I didn't even know before moving here!
1. Most of our area doesn't have power.
I'll be honest and say I didn't really know this before moving. Not only that, I for sure didn't realize ALL the things you have to do without due to no power. Since I grew up in a first world country I didn't realize all the things and ways it would affect life. We have been blessed with having a generator, so we have had power for a few hours a day, and for the most part we are all used to that. Since we don't have power we don't have a TV, washer/dryer, crockpot, stove or any other things like that. We do now have money for power and it is being installed this week. I'm most excited about getting power because it means we can have a refrigerator and have cold things!
2. We have no refrigerator or way to keep food cold.
Before moving to Kenya I didn't even know you could live and run a household without a refrigerator. In Texas we had 2 full size refrigerators and a deep freezer so we ALWAYS had food on hand. I was able to shop every 2 weeks and really stock up. If we ever wanted a snack or had unexpected guests we always had food on hand. Reed has always been a milk junky, but here most milk is sold in packets because there is no way to keep it cold. Room temperature milk has to be gross! Also in Texas, when it was hot outside we were able to grab some ice and sweet tea and cool down (in the air conditioned house) for a bit...not here.
3. When we buy meat it comes straight from a butchery.
Sounds great, right? Fresh meat whenever we want with no chemicals; beef, pork or goat. Well...the meat is hanging in a little wooden box that also doesn't have electricity. No electricity means it is not kept cold. Also you have no real way of knowing just how long that meat has been hanging there. When you place your order they literally hack it up right in front of you with a hatchet, weigh it, wrap it in newspaper, and cram it into small plastic bags. While waiting on the hacking, weighing and packaging process to happen, you may notice that there are flies everywhere...on the scale, on the meat, on the hatchet and on the cutting table. Oh, and the butcher doesn't have running water or gloves!
4. Food storage has become an issue.
To avoid having to go into town every day, we buy our vegetables a week at a time. Feeding 26+ people 3 meals a day takes a lot of food. Right now we are using the boy's closet to store food instead of their clothes. On Friday when we do our shopping, we usually purchase 27 heads of cabbage, 20 lbs of tomatoes, 15 lbs of onions, 6 bulbs of garlic, 10 bunches of cilantro, about 5 lbs of carrots and about 100 lbs of potatoes. It is quite a haul when you add in fruit, items from the supermarket and items from wholesale. Because we didn't know about the way veggies are stored here we don't have the right space, but Lord willing phase 2 will get built and have much room for food storage. Right now we are just winging it and moving stuff around as needed.
5. We don't have running water inside the house.
Again, I didn't realize Kenya had water issues, or what I would perceive as issues. I've always had running water so this was also a shock to me. Here in Kenya everyone has these old yellow cooking oil buckets that they use to carry water. While we are fourtunate to have a deep water well across the street and a tap outside the house, many aren't so fortunate. Many have to walk to the water source and carry water back to their home. Even though we have water on our property there are still many extra steps to get it where it needs to go. When showers need to happen a fire has to be started so water can be heated, then into the yellow bucket it goes. Then it gets carried to the back of the house where the shower stalls are and you mix your water in a bucket to shower. Of course this shower isn't one with water spraying down on you...you simply dump water from your plastic cup over your head. Drinking water comes from the outside tap, into a water jug, which is then carried into the house and placed on a stool. Currently we have 2 of these types of jugs, one in the restrooms for hand washing and one in the living room for drinking. These are usually filled twice a day.
6. All cooking here happens over an open fire.
My experience cooking over an open fire pretty much ends at roasting marshmallows. Yeah...so I came to a third world country with mostly first world skills. I regret that now, but I really just don't get how to cook this way. I'm constantly worried about catching on fire...seriously that is a huge concern of mine. Smoke fills the kitchen and kills my eyes and the kitchen doesn't feel like a kitchen at all because there are no sinks, tables or counters. Then there is this whole process for getting fire wood and that has to be planned out because the wood, once cut, has to be dried out before it can be used. I am so thankful that we have a couple of ladies on staff who know how to cook like this. I do miss cooking and baking. Phase 2 of MCH is going to have an "American" style kitchen in it and I will be able to cook and bake again.
7. There is very little food variety here.
We basically eat the same things every day. Sometimes we throw in meat when we can afford to, but most of the time it is the same thing all the time. Cabbage, greens, tomatoes and potatoes are the main veggies here and there are only so many ways to prepare those. When we do find other veggies they are usually tiny and very expensive so when feeding 26+ it can get outrageous quickly. Breakfast is chai (hot tea with milk) with bread and jam. Lunch is rice and beans. Every night we eat potatoes, greens, cabbage and ugali (think dried grits) for dinner.
8. While English is an official language in Kenya (along with Swahili), there is still a huge language barrier for us.
Although English became an official language in Kenya recently, it still isn't spoken much here. The English that they learn is influenced by British English since Kenya used to be a British colony until 1963, and most are afraid to use it with someone who is fluent. I really wish we had spent more time learning Swahili before moving here. Since we've moved we've had about 4 different tutors who haven't worked out for one reason or another. Some of our kids have learned to speak English with a Kenyan accent, so they can communicate better than I can. Also a few of our children speak quite a bit of Swahili. They actually shock me sometimes when they are speaking to their friends and siblings. Brendan especially has become a pretty good translator.
9. Increased illness
Yikes! We are sick so often here. In America we almost never went to the doctor...maybe 3 visits a year out of our entire family. But in Kenya we have someone going to the doctor at least every two weeks. We have the malaria symptoms down now so that is a pretty eat fix, but recently we have battled cellulitis, pneumonia and stomach infections. While medical care can be cheap here, if you want to really know what's wrong you, you have to go into town and have some tests ran. Usually prices look like this: malaria test $1, full blood panel $7, x-ray $8, sonogram $15, doctor fee $5 and meds range from 20 cents up to $13. Yesterday we paid $18 for 6 different meds. Super cheap if you are in America, but when living in Kenya and living on a Kenyan budget it isn't so cheap. Unfortunately, so many people here die unnecessarily due to waiting too long to seek medical attention because of lack of money. We are slowly changing that for our community.
10. Most people here have never seen a light-skinned person and they think we are rich.
I can't begin to explain how cute it is when the little kids see you, get excited and start chanting "mzungu, mzungu, mzungu!". For them, it is like they are seeing a celebrity and kids are adorable so I can't help but smile. However, when adults start yelling "mzungu!" and asking for money it is eyeroll worthy for sure. Maybe it is because I'm from America and blessed to grow up around many different cultures, but it just isn't shocking to me when I see people with different skin tones. I try and remember that we may be the only light-skinned person they have ever seen, but I still find it rude when adults point, call me mzungu and ask me for money. Forget trying to explain to them that we are just poor missionaries. To them, the lightness of my skin means that I have money to pass out to everyone.
While I would classify Kenya as the worst place I've ever lived, I love it here the most. My heart is at peace here. I wouldn't change being here. Not for electricity, flushing toilets, a hot shower...not even for all the sweet iced tea and tacos I could consume. Kenya is my home and where God has me and therefore is literally the best place I have ever lived. I hope God never calls me to move from here, it would be a hard call to follow.