Monthly Archives: September 2013

#WeAreOne

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

#WeAreOne

#WeAreOne

This is Senseless. I am Speechless. We are all Shaken.

As many of you are acutely aware, for the past 48 hours the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya has been under siege in what appears to be a very organized and intentional terrorist attack. Though the true motives behind this horrendous act are not yet fully known, here are the facts:

Innocent lives were lost. And innocent lives should never be lost.

One’s race, religion, economic-status, age, gender, or political affiliation have never, will never, and should never be reason enough to rob an individual of his or her life.

Despite the obvious tension looming over Nairobi, Kenya’s largely diverse and culturally rich capital city, home to about 4 million people, life continues to move forward.

Kenyans are extremely resilient people.

Following Kenyan Twitter accounts over the last two days, this popular hashtag has been attached to every Westgate Mall status: #WeAreOne.

Carrying a complex history sewn together by the threads of colonization, suppression, tribal violence, political corruption, and economic difficulties, Kenyans have managed to continually strive toward unity: unity in the home, unity in the larger community, and unity as a nation.

Out of the dark events of the past 48 hours, a bright light that is the Kenyan people’s commitment to human unity has been a shining reminder that We Are One.

Amidst the weekend’s tragedies, numerous beautiful stories have surfaced – sweet reminders of God’s kingdom on earth. The following is a brief recap from a Nairobi resident’s Twitter account:

#WestGate

Little children pushed other children out of harms way. Children pulled children to safety.

Kenyan police run into harms way for us with no helmet, no bullet proof vests and regular shoes.

A Muslim man wrote a short prayer on a piece of paper for a Christian man he was hiding with and helped him to memorize it in case the terrorists asked him to say something from the Quran.

Secretary General of the Red Cross, put on a volunteers vest and went on site to work with his paramedics.

The Kenya Defense Forces went in there like superheroes.

No hospital turned a patient away.

Blood banks were full before they were empty again.

#KOT outrage on NY Times images made them pull those images off.

Heaven was filled with prayers and questions.

We will prevail.

“We are as brave and invincible as the lions on our coat of arms” – President Uhuru Kenyatta.

As this sickening event continues to plague the media – as debates and speculations make their way into many a conversation – I encourage you to use your words wisely. No matter who committed these atrocities, no matter what innocent victims have lost their lives, we are one. As difficult as it is to stomach, we are all God’s sons and daughters. Somali, Kenyan. Black, White. Rich, Poor. Male, Female. Old, Young. Al-Shabaab, Kenyan Military Troops.

In the aftermath of such events, it is common that previously existing stereotypes, labels, and divisions are only widened and strengthened.

I encourage you to pray for those who will fall into these stereotypes and categories. I urge you to remind them that they are loved and valued. I urge you to think and process before you speak.

I urge you to pray. Pray for the victims and the families of victims. Pray for Nairobi. Pray for Kenya’s government. Pray for the future of this beautiful nation.

Pray for the persecuted and, equally important, the persecutor.

#WeAreOne

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

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In closing, here are some words from World Concern’s Kenya Country Director, Peter Macharia:

West Gate is a lovely place and Kenya is a very beautiful country. With 68 confirmed dead and many more people still inside the building with 10-15 gunmen, my heart really sinks….I sincerely congratulate our police and army for the rescue of the more than 1000 people from the building and my condolences to those who have been left by their loved ones. As the President said, we will not be cowed. Kenya will rise again!

World Concern has accounted for its entire staff in Kenya and we are glad no one was injured or killed by this despicable and devilish terrorist act. We continue to pray for those who lost their loved ones and hope that those still being hostage will survive. We also pray that this will never be witnessed again in our country. We also pray that Somalia will soon find peace. The West Gate attack gives a glimpse of what has become a norm in
Somalia.

 

The [Is]Land of Narrow Alleyways and Cashew Nuts. // Lamu, Kenya

You know you grew up in southern California when…for the first 15 years of your life, Disneyland was the most magical place you had ever been.

You are reminded that you grew up in southern California when…you still compare legitimately magical places to Disneyland.

Lamu, Kenya is one of those places.

As dusk pushed the sun down below the deep blue ocean’s horizon, I was transported into a whole new world. One ten minute boat ride became a journey to an entirely different land (so much so that I was confused when I didn’t see a line for immigration upon flying back into Nairobi).

On Lamu island, there is one car (an ambulance, fortunately). Composed of a majority Muslim population, eerily dilapidated mosques haunt the island with their historical beauty.

The island-dwellers are masters of the ocean – fresh seafood fills the markets, restaurants, and carts that nearly run you over when making their way through the two-person wide streets (if a donkey is coming, don’t even think about trying to pass). One-room shops display shelves stacked with local honey, coconut oil in old water bottles, and elaborate spices, Children ride rickety bikes freely along the coastal walkways and dive from docked boats into warm waters.

Women sit on crooked steps frying shrimp, next to them emptied coconut shells lay in piles on the ground. Girls walk by me smiling coyly, their perfectly painted on makeup outlining eyes that protrude from their hijabs.

Life on Lamu island is vibrant and lively. Take a single ten minute boat ride across choppy waters, back to Kenya’s coast, and you quickly forget such a place exists nearly within plain sight.

A long car ride up the coast on the main road toward Somalia, filled with views of the Indian Ocean and army trucks traveling to and fro, and you find yourself in Lamu East.

Though statistically considered to be one of the wealthiest counties in Kenya, these stated facts are a distraction from reality. Lamu county is clearly dichotomic. The disparity of wealth between the east and west is so vast that the east often goes overlooked – “Why are you working in Lamu? They are wealthy, right?”

Lamu East is home to numerous settlements of hunter-gatherers.  Facing recent hunting regulations by the Kenyan government, circumstances have forced most communities to turn to farming. This alternative source of livelihood has proved to be a generally unsuccessful venture, mainly due to environmental challenges (droughts/ water scarcity), animals, and a lack of experience.

Separated by forests, rough roads, and wild animals, the trade market is practically non-existent. Thus, for the few farmers who’s harvest proves plentiful, the nearest market is an inconvenient journey to Lamu West or Lamu island itself.

Even Lamu East’s usual honey market has seen a turn for the worst – late droughts have caused the bees to migrate to more amicable locations.

Here is where World Concern is at work. Here is where we are partnering with communities to empower farmers, educate locals, and uplift water and hygiene standards. Here is where lives are being transformed.

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“There has always been a problem with the market, mainly due to the brokers who come in and buy from the farmers at a very low price. We often have no option but to sell to them.”

We hop out of the Land Cruiser and step into a lush compound, tastefully landscaped so that pruned bushes and exotic flowers frame the house, kitchen, and storage room. An ocean-scented late afternoon breeze rustles through the thick forest of trees, chasing the heat away as it grazes the back of our necks.

After a successful day spent at the launch ceremony for World Concern’s newest Lamu project, empowering cashew nut farmers and potentially connecting them to the Fair Trade market, we were ready to move outside and visit with the locals.

Sporting an endearing gap-toothed grin, 70-year-old Elijah Wakafa shuffles across the compound to greet us, vigorously shaking each of our hands.

Since 1980, Elijah has been a cashew nut farmer in Mpeketoni, a settlement within Lamu East. He has grown over 130 cashew nut trees, all of which he prunes himself.

“Right from the beginning, farming has been very challenging – especially because this was once a jungle. There were very many trees and wild animals – buffalo, baboons, even elephants.”

Elijah, as well as other local settlers, has worked hard to clear and cultivate the land, “Slowly it became easier as many farmers cultivated and the animals began to leave.”

Due to his tenacity and experience, Elijah’s farm quickly expanded and produced a bounteous harvest. Each season, he harvests 3 sacks, or 500 kilograms, of nuts every three days. Unlike some farmers who are struggling to yield enough crops, Elijah faces other issues.

He informed me, “There has always been a problem with the market, mainly due to the brokers who come in and buy from the farmers at a very low price. We often have no option but to sell to them.”

Today the story is still the same. Every season Elijah brings in hundreds of kilograms of cashews, but has no profitable market in which to sell. The product is there, but the income return is not.

For many years, Elijah has been a member of the local farmer’s cooperative. Though the cooperative continues to struggle to reach its full potential, Elijah has remained a loyal member, believing that, “When the cooperative is empowered, any farmer will be able to get the fertilizer to take care of their plants. This and the unstable market are our main issues.”

Elijah looks forward to a day when the local farmers will have access to a stable market – one where the prices are both fair and consistent.

World Concern is partnering with farmers such as Elijah toward an empowered local cooperative, available quality fertilizer, further cashew nut training, and, most importantly, a connection to the Fair Trade market. Beginning this month (September), the Lamu farmers will begin their training to be certified as the first Fair Trade cashew nut farmers in Kenya 

World Concern will connect farmers to extensive cashew nut farming education and introduce them to new breeds of the nut that will mature faster, yield more crops and take up less land.

With this two and a half year project in the picture, the future for farmers like Elijah will inevitably progress.

Revealing that endearing, toothy smile, Elijah tells me,
“I am very excited about this new project. I am confident that this area can produce the best cashew nuts around!”

*** Be on the lookout for more Lamu stories as well as delicious Lamu Fair Trade cashews, coming soon to a market near you!

Beyond a Place

For the past six plus years of my life, the idea of traveling home (Santa Barbara, CA) induced stomach bubbles of joy and glistening eyes of anticipation. Eager to be in the presence of dear friends and family, I often found myself equally eager to eat burritos (yes, multiple), soak in vitamin D at the local beach (Seattleites, you recognize the importance of this), run with my brother on the bluffs, and hike in the surrounding mountains that create a purple-blue frame around the city [Santa Barbara is a pretty horrible place to call home, yeah?].

California colors melt my heart. // Morrow Bay, CA

California colors melt my heart. // Morrow Bay, CA

Two weeks ago, I was getting ready to board a plane for the US (unfortunately, the majority of the 24 hours I had to get ready were spent sick in bed. Shrimp never again). Though ready for some familiar comforts, I found my stomach bubbles and glistening eyes materializing else ways.

Rather than making a list of ‘must-dos’ and ‘must-eats’, I found myself focused solely on this list:
1. People I must-see.

Though I won’t deny that I did pursue eating Mexican food as much as possible, I found myself caring less about activities and more about quality time.

Like these kind of people. (I'm the luckiest big sis')

Like these kind of people. (I’m the luckiest big sis’.)

People over place.

As most of you know, distance (9,000 miles here, folks) spurs one to treasure family and friends more than one imagined possible. Distance reminds one (Okay, me.) that being known should never be taken for granted – and pursuing deep, raw, genuine relationships in every place and time is necessary to the health of one’s soul, mind, and body (but boy is it easier said than done!).

My dearest girlfriends at our friend's most beautiful wedding... And they are stunners.

My dearest girlfriends at our friend’s most beautiful wedding… Aren’t they are stunners?

After two weeks jam-packed with friends new and old, church family, extended family, and immediate family, my soul was left bursting out of my chest. Feeling quite nomadic the past 10 months, this precious time reminded me that God calls us to give of our hearts to people, not a building or a place.

Just this simple suggestion has re-framed and altered my so-called definition of ‘home’. In a challenging healthy way, of course.

Evening entertainment.

Evening entertainment.Yeah. I did that.Yeah. I did that.

The only way to do camping.

The only way to do camping.

Brudda.

Brudda.

Sister sunset love.

Sister sunset love.

Sommersault Sees

Sommersault Sees

CA colors.

CA colors.

Precious time spent with this fine young man. // Germantown, MD.

Precious time spent with this fine young man. // Germantown, MD.

Sorting through the past with Warren.

Sorting through the past with Warren.

"Me and my beeootiful wife, Joyce."

“Me and my beeootiful wife, Joyce.”

The MOST beautiful wedding for the MOST beautiful people. // San Diego, CA

The MOST beautiful wedding for the MOST beautiful people. // San Diego, CA

Introducing: Courtney Salamone.

Introducing: Courtney Salamone.

A real soul-filler right here.

A real soul-filler right here.

Preach.

Preach.

SO thankful for this brief time filled with nothing but love. Also SO thankful to be back in Nairobi – my current home and place where I continue to know and feel known.

***Prior to leaving for the US, I spent a week visiting a few of World Concern’s projects in Lamu, Kenya. Stories on this to follow, so keep checking the blog!