Dear readers, I am an artist and writer who has been profoundly shaped by experiences around the world. Today, I continue a series about adopting two of my four children from Kenya. To start at the beginning, please visit Another Day in Kenya – Chapter 1.
Another Day in Kenya – Chapter 13
“The scandal of God’s silence in the most heartbreaking hours of our journey is perceived in retrospect as veiled, tender Presence and a passage into pure trust that is not at the mercy of the response it receives.” ( Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God, page 60)
God’s silence fell thick and heavy across our adoption process. Communication with Western Kenya remained spotty. After Kakamega, I expected an affidavit any day to sign and return – the document Sr. Cletty and I had gone there to sign but the lawyer’s office was unable to present to us because their printer wasn’t working. Day after day, it never arrived. Finally, on February 24, our contact in Kakamega, Pastor Charles, notified me that our lawyer filed our application in court and expected a ruling on March 3. However, he messaged on March 3 that the court did not have time to hear the case, and it was post-poned a week.
Soon after my trip to Kakamega, my husband and I began to worry about finances. After paying our first lawyer in full, I was hiring our second in Western Kenya. While living costs were relatively inexpensive since we were staying in a student hostel, we didn’t know how long we would need to maintain two house-holds spread across the globe. Hiring vehicles was especially costly. I would have been willing to learn the matatu system; but with three children ages four and under, I felt too intimidated. So, we stayed close to “home” unless absolutely necessary.
My mom returned to Colorado in mid-February, about three weeks after we arrived. We had expected to be about halfway through our legal process at that point, but we were still trying to initiate a second attempt. As we stood in the lane, watching the dust kicked up by the car taking her to the airport, both my boys melted into tears while I fought back my own. Jedd’s sobbing for Grandma turned to how much he missed his dad and older brother.
On one particularly bad night in late February, near when my father-in-law also needed to go home, I called David, just starting his day on the other side of the world. I paced around the compound alone in the dark, dissolved into tears, and begged him to come to Kenya. But with the financial stresses we were experiencing, he (and I) knew we couldn’t afford the trip until he was needed for a court date. Instead, David sent his brother. No offense to my brother-in-law, but he wasn’t quite the same as my husband! Nevertheless, Doug’s visit was a balm to all of us. He arrived just a couple days after my father-in-law left in early March. A few days after his visit, another brother-in-law, Joe, came. I couldn’t help but wonder what the surrounding community thought of me, walking around town with one man after another!
The crazy, amazing gift in all of this was that we lived a relatively authentic Kenyan lifestyle. There were no other westerners in our small outer-lying suburb of Nairobi, called Kasarani. One particular day seems to illustrate the rhythms of our lives.
- 5:30 am – I awake to no electricity. I light candles and walk to the kitchen in a nearby building to heat water for coffee on the gas stove.
- 6:25 am – David calls. Morning dawns, and one of the boys wakes up particularly whiny and jealous of the others.
- 6:30-10 am – I feed the kids breakfast and prepare them for the day.
- 10 am – Since I pulled our “twins” out of preschool to come to Kenya with me, I “home-school.” Then we play with a wiffle-ball set. I worry about the boys feeling neglected as I tend to their new sister. I ask Justin if he feels he is getting enough time with me. He replies, “I’m having too much time with you!” After further discussion, he clarifies that he has too much time with me, and not enough with his dad.
- 1 pm – We eat lunch with the staff in our compound, a typical Kenyan meal of stew, potatoes, lentils, beans or rice.
- 1:30 – 3 pm – The kids nap and I place calls for our adoption process to the US Department of Homeland Security. On other days, I work on chores like laundry or boiling drinking water.
- 3:30 pm – I strap Lily to my back with a kanga, Kenyan-style, and we walk into the surrounding community. Almost every day, we purchase fresh fruits and vegetables like the amazing mangos and avacados in season. Sometimes we walk into town just for a soda, a treat to pass the time. I pick up Swahili phrases as we greet shop keepers whom we see on a regular basis.
- 5 – 6 pm – I place more calls or emails in the compound offices about the adoption process while the boys play with kids in our compound, arriving home after school.
- 6 pm – The Mother Teresa sisters stop by. After a short visit, we go back outside only to find their poor driver cowering up against their vehicle. There are my boys, pegging him with avocados they found lying under the trees. Horrified, I apologize profusely to the man, who is extremely gracious. The sisters seem amused.
- 6:30 pm – I send the boys to “time-out” in the corners of our indoor dining area. Jedd cries. I think to myself, “Good, he’s sorry.” But as he sobs louder, I investigate. He is covered in flying, biting ants! Yes, one of my prouder moments as a mother – I punished my child by sending him into a horde of biting ants! As quickly as possible, I extract him and brush off the insects.
- 7 pm – We eat dinner, probably an instant meal from the US.
- 8 pm – I patch some holes in Justin’s mosquito net with duck tape as I put the kids to bed. Lily cries and struggles to fall asleep, as is typical for her.
- 8:30 pm – Jedd can’t sleep either. He tells me “When I was a baby, I missed you.” Certainly, returning to the orphanage from which we adopted him stirs up old wounds.
- 9:30 pm – Finally, the kids asleep, I collapse into bed.
I always felt God especially near as I crawled under my mosquito net and savored those peaceful moments in the dark. I was often too tired to form words into prayer. But, inevitably, someone somewhere would be singing worship songs. The melodies ebbed and flowed with the birds chirping and locusts humming. The song of the African night soothed my weariness; and in those moments just before sleep, I would somehow know I was cradled in the place God wanted me to be.
It was just another day in Kenya.
Through it all, the Karaus’ love and generosity anchored us. As soon as I arrived in Kenya, they connected with me. They promised they would be my family as long as I remained there. Time and again, they went above and beyond to care for us. One evening, they came to visit. We sat in a little open-air, banana-leaf roof hut in the compound, talking until after night fell. As Mama and I were cleaning up, I noticed Pastor Karau holding Lily in the yard. After awhile, he brought her to me and said he prayed for Lily to be able to walk. Who knows what trajectories were turned upside down that night? We also learned the Karaus were of the same tribe as Lily! What are the chances in a country of forty-two ethnic tribes?
Meeting Ochellah with Pastor Karau was a miracle that kept me persevering through many days. The security guard/groundskeeper of our compound, Morathii, had become good friends with Ochellah, who lived nearby. Morathii approached me one day and asked if I would consider adopting a second child. He told me about Ochellah, whose many siblings had passed away, one-by-one, from AIDS. Their children went to live with aunts or uncles, successively, until Ochellah was the sole remaining representative of his generation. He, too, was growing weaker from HIV. Most of the dozen or so orphans in his care were older teens and would have to persevere on their own as Ochellah succumbed to illness. But one nephew, little Clinton, was only seven or eight years old. Ochellah had seen me walking in the community and sent his plea through Morathii that I would take Clinton. I explained to Morathii how difficult adoption was, and my fears that I would not even be able to take Lily home; but I said I would be glad to contact some children’s homes to search for a placement. The sisters recommended a couple homes in Nairobi for older children. I called, but they were full. Eventually, I asked Pastor Charles in Western Kenya if he could possibly accept Clinton at the orphanage he directed. As it turned out, Clinton belonged to a tribe that typically does not mix with the tribal area where the home was located; but after consulting with the orphanage founders, he agreed to admit Clinton. A family member heard about the boy’s plight and paid all the costs to transport and settle Clinton at the home.
Meanwhile, one evening Morathii asked me to visit Ochellah with him. He told me he had been talking to Ochellah about the good news of the Gospel and he wanted me to come and share my perspective. It just so happened that Pastor Karau planned to visit me. He loves few things more than talking about Jesus; so when he arrived, I asked him to accompany us.
The three of us set off down the lane in the golden glow of early evening.
We approached a small house and a woman, washing laundry in the yard, greeted us warmly. We stepped inside, and Morathii introduced us to Ochellah, tall and thin with a weary but warm smile. I’m not sure how much time passed as the shadows grew long. But by the end of our conversation, Ochellah eagerly embraced the hope of life after death through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We were all elated. We departed his house after darkness fell, an eternal light burning bright in our hearts.
Through those weeks of God’s “scandalous silence” concerning the tangible circumstances of Lily’s adoption, He called me into into an altogether new experience of His Presence, perhaps no more clearly illustrated than by one particular night. After my second brother-in-law left, a series of events unfolded that I did not write home about…
Drilling rain rattles the metal roof overhead. Flashes of light cast shadows over the sleeping forms of Jedd and Justin stretched out in their bunk beds and Lily sprawled in her port-a-crib. Somehow, in the peace that only children know, they sleep through the tumult. Between flares of lightening and crashing thunder, the glow of a security lamp just outside our window keeps me company. Family members have come and gone to assist us through our unexpectedly long adoption process, and strangers have boarded in the hostel for a night here and there; but tonight we are the only inhabitants of the building except for the rats scuttling in the hallway.
The big news from the week taunts me, huddled under my mosquito net in the dark: a gangster apprehended in a flat nearby. Police raided his stock-pile of weapons and ammunition. Perhaps my children and I even walked by his home on our daily jaunts to the village vegetable stand. As we anticipated fresh avocadoes, mangos, and pineapples, maybe he peered from behind a curtain, curious about this strange white woman with a black baby strapped to her back in an orange kanga. Maybe he wondered about the two small boys racing ahead, same size but one black and one white.
The media assures residents of our little community that the criminal is safely behind bars; but I wonder how many just like him evade under-staffed and under-resourced law-enforcement. How many broil in frustration and hunger, as corrupt government officials cheerfully sip sweet chai and ignore the struggle of the masses for daily ugali? Pondering these thoughts in the crescendo of a violent storm does little to quell my anxiety.
Then, abruptly, my only comfort disappears. The reassuring glimmer of the security light extinguishes as the storm knocks out the electricity. With foreboding, I realize the electronic security system must also be disabled. The flimsy wooden hostel walls close in tighter around me. I stare wide-eyed at the black square of our window, shedding sheets of monsoon rain. The storm, I know, can easily disguise any intruder brave enough to get wet. No one would ever know until it was too late.
Staff members have admitted to us that hosting us in the compound, guests who are assumed to be wealthy because of the color of my skin, makes them more vulnerable to robbery. A security guard is still recuperating from an attack that occurred before we even arrived, prompting the installment of the electronic security system. They warned me not to reveal to anyone in town where we stay. But women trail me home, begging to wash our laundry so they can feed hungry children. Turned back at the gate by the guard, they retreat dejectedly. To how many friends do they whisper our whereabouts?
A humble wire fence circles the compound. During the day, school children press against it to spy on these foreigners. While sipping evening tea, do they share their curiosity with their families?
I know that if just one associate of our neighborhood gun-and-ammunition-fiend finds his way into our compound as lightening blazes, there will be nothing I can do.
I breathe long and slow, trying to stifle rising panic, only to encounter other alarming thoughts slithering around another corner of my mind.
Also in the last week, a spitting cobra reared its ugly head at a security guard, spewing venom into his eyes. Immediate medical treatment preserved the man’s sight, but the snake remains at-large somewhere in our compound. Residents have warned me to keep my children at least ten feet from all bushes and trees. I’ve tried my best to explain the situation to two rough-and-tumble, active four-year old boys; and I keep a wary eye on their where-abouts. Surely somewhere nearby, the snake seeks shelter from the assailing storm.
Fear ensnares my heart, as persistent as thunder, as searing as lightening, as suffocating as a long, dark night alone in a foreign country. My spirit claws at the darkness in wordless prayer, scratching for just a crack of light.
Light, invisible to the eye and originating from an altogether different source, slowly and persistently responds. It presses through stifling layers of darkness and leaks into my mind. Vibrations of rain pelting metal, keeping time with a heart beating way too fast, fade in its presence. The Source of this Light assures me that He is the One Who Keeps Watch.
I roll over on my side, close my eyes, and sink into a deep, dreamless sleep.
I wake to the sound of children stirring, sunlight streaming through our window. As alertness tugs me into a new day, I remember the dark watches of the night, banished along with the storm. Deep peace still abides. As I go to prepare morning coffee in another building, only wet grass brushing my feet validates that it ever happened at all.
Except that in the kitchen there is a flurry as staff discuss alarming news: the bookstore in our compound was broken into during the night. The cash register stands empty.
Strangely, the peace in my heart expands as their frantic voices rise. He kept watch, and I know now as never before that He always will.