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A letter from Marta Bennett in Kenya

September 28, 2012

Dear wonderful friends,

After our one year in the U.S., the kids and I arrived back safely in Kenya in the middle of July.  It has been so good to be back, and we all have truly jumped back in with both feet.   After the first week when we moved back into our house, found and unpacked the boxes stored at a neighbor’s place, got accounts set up again, checked in with the university and registered the kids back in their school, we enjoyed one week at the Kenyan Coast with some dear friends (see photos).  It was a welcome re-entry and a chance to take a deep breath before plunging back into everything.  My big son Steven, who had stayed behind in Kenya to continue his studies, also was able to join us, so it was a special reunion.

As we have settled back in, I have made a point of jotting down sights, sounds and experiences that so remind us that we are back “home” in Kenya. These are just some of the random observations regarding normal life here—things we missed when we were away and welcome with fresh appreciation now that we have returned.  Here are a few:

• Women workers wrapped in kangas (traditional cloth wrap-arounds) or men in green coveralls, lining the roads, rhythmically swinging machetes to slash the tall grasses.

• The ibis with its long curved beak gracefully landing on the roof outside my bedroom window as a lizard lazily slithers over the warm tiles and disappears over the edge (see photo).

• A spoonful of light brown, coarse-grained sugar for my tea and brown-shelled eggs seem normal again.

• Saving all our empty milk cartons and juice containers (waxed cardboard versions) for the workers, to better light their jikos (charcoal cookers) at home.

• Pulling in at the petrol (gas) station to get fuel for the car: I am waved in; I jockey into position next to the pump, turn off the engine, exchange niceties with the attendant, and inform him of the amount I would like.  It is at this point that he politely tells me that they are out of fuel.

• Police officers who stand idly by as the traffic roundabout tangles into gridlock.

• Buying vegetables from farmer members in the foyer of church each Sunday, and purchasing sugarcane in the parking lot for the kids to munch on as an after-service treat. 

• The vocalist leading congregational singing launches the melody in whatever key seems appropriate.  The instrumentalists then try to find the key and begin to accompany.  Eventually we are all enthusiastically singing and dancing together in praise.  We clap on the upbeat here, not the downbeat, and we learn new songs through call and response.

• Paying for small snacks at the kiosk through my phone, when the vendor runs out of change.  I “MPesa” (a system of sending money) the exact amount, however small or large, from my phone number to his phone number, and payment is made.

• I pay my monthly electricity bill the same way.  After checking the amount due by sending a text message to the power company, I merely send the needed amount to their business number from my phone.  I later load up my Mpesa account once again with shillings (local currency) at the local hardware shop where they have an MPesa counter, ready for whatever next bill or purchase may arise.

• The smell of warm chapattis (like thick tortillas) hot off the griddle, wafting from the kitchen when we return home (see photo),

• Marveling at how two orderly flowing lanes of traffic can in a blink snarl into four, five, even seven lanes, with matatus (public vans) appearing from both sides, squeezing into the space of slightest hesitation, causing even tighter snarls and slower progress.

• Mid-morning and mid-afternoon tea served as part of the daily routine, at home, at the university, wherever.  One sugar or two (spoonfuls)?  That is the question.

Simple pleasures, petty annoyances—ahhh, we’re home.

Updates:

Justin (almost 15) and Imani (age 13) are back in full uniform for school.  All schools in Kenya, public or private (other than a few international schools), require uniforms (see photo).  They were welcomed back warmly, have reconnected with many of their friends, and have settled well into their studies.  Steven continues with his Advanced Diploma in IT and is so grateful that this week saw the resolution of a national teachers’ strike, four weeks long, which had affected even his university.

I am fully back at International Leadership University (ILU, formerly NIST) as Head of the Department of Leadership Studies.  Many challenges and issues awaited my return, but we have now launched the new academic year and have been getting returning students back on track with their programs, as well as welcoming new students.  This month we launched a brand-new Ph.D. program in Transformational Leadership. Having received roughly 1,000 applications from around the continent, 27 students were actually accepted from seven different African countries (Kenya, Nigeria, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Ethiopia, and Tanzania).  They will come to Nairobi for three weeks at a time, twice a year for three years, and otherwise will be studying online and independently, including their dissertations.  September was the first three-week intensive resident module, and this last week I co-taught the module on Research Design and Methods as they look ahead to preparing their dissertation proposals (see photo). 

Other than that, I am teaching master's level courses on Personal Leadership Development and Conflict Transformation and Reconciliation Processes.  One other course I am co-teaching is in the heart of Kibera slum on Monday afternoons.  In conjunction with St. Paul’s University (Presbyterian, Anglican and Methodist) and Carlile College (Anglican), this is a master's level training for urban church and ministry leaders, training in the midst of the context of urban poverty.  It is a joy to be working with these committed pastors and lay leaders within their own community.

Once again, it was so good to see so many dear friends, supporters and family while we were in the States.  Thank you so much for your ongoing love and support—it makes all the difference!

Dependent on God’s love and grace,

Marta (Bennett)

The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 99

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  • Great to read your news, Marta, and see photos of your kids! Wow! How time has flown since we went through orientation!!!! Blessings upon you and all yours. Cool payment system you have there too! We are getting close to something like that here in Mexico. Blessings, Susie by Susie Frerichs on 10/29/2012 at 1:35 p.m.

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