Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Dream Come True

Much like that small spark that starts a blazing fire, I was overwhelmed with the feeling that this was the start of something great.  At that moment in March 2010, as I sat in Nairobi, Kenya, that thought resonated deep in my spirit.  I began dreaming of what it would look like to take therapists on short term mission trips to work with orphans.  The therapists could evaluate the children and then train the staff to know how to help them.  With no access to specialized services, it would fill a great need given the traumatic histories these children have endured.   I shared this vision with our trip leader, Colleen, whose heart had been stirred in the same way after having experienced the amount of services that her adopted children access in the U.S. and the lack of such services for the kids at Sanctuary of Hope in Kenya.  We began to dream together and decided to take a step of faith to put together a trip for therapists and just “see what happens”. 
Colleen and I learned that the dates that Matthew and I were already going to be in Kenya during our world trip would work perfectly to have a team from the U.S. meet us there.  The kids would be off school allowing us time with them during the day.  Also, the kids were scheduled to be in VBS for half the day which would allow the staff to be free for trainings.  The next step would be to see if anyone would be interested in joining this team!  I have to admit that I was a little nervous that either no one would be able to join the team given the limited amount of time for planning and fundraising, OR that we would have an entire team with only one type of specialist represented.  I had been feeling so much peace about how things were coming together that I just prayed for God to bring together the right team members.  I was amazed to watch this team form right before my eyes.   It was a perfect multi-disciplinary team.  In the end, our team consisted of a Physical Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Speech Pathologist, Special Education Teacher, Pediatric Nurse, Child Trauma Specialist, and a Psychologist.  Matthew and I co-led the team with Colleen who was also accompanied by her awesome kid Justin.
Matthew and I arrived in Kenya with five days to spend preparing for the team to arrive.  It was a treasured time as we spent the days building relationships with the Sanctuary of Hope staff and getting to know the children better.  One day Matthew and I quietly entered the room while the younger children were singing and praying together, and we were completely humbled to hear these young ones praying for us and for the team that would be arriving in a few days.  Later that day, we learned that the older kids spent an entire hour praying for us.  Talk about a humbling experience.
It is amazing to see how well these 23 children are doing, despite the history of neglect, abuse, and trauma they have each experienced.   Most of these children were brought to Sanctuary of Hope from a slum in Nairobi known as Mathare Valley.  Their parents have either left, died, or are living with HIV and can no longer take care of them.  Mathare is home to around 600,000 people within six square miles and is the worst poverty that Matthew and I have ever seen.   
A few of the kids also came from an orphanage called Mother Teresa’s.  The therapist team spent a day touring Mathare Valley and Mother Teresa’s in order to experience the places where these children came from.  It was a day filled with many emotions and many tears as we learned how people on the other side of the world live.
The team spent a total of 10 days in Nairobi.  It was an intense time of studying the children’s histories, building relationships and listening to the staff, evaluating the children, completing trainings at Sanctuary of Hope and Mathare Valley, and working with the sisters and current physiotherapist at Mother Teresa’s orphanage.  I loved seeing how this team of therapists came alive at the opportunity to use their skills to help their Kenyan brothers and sisters.  I also loved seeing the team fall in love with the children. 
I believe that the Lord used each of our team members to bless the Kenyan’s lives in many ways.  From our Psychologist doing psychotherapy in her “office” (which was a van!)… to the Occupational Therapist and Speech Pathologist completing developmental trainings for community members and teachers at Mathare and for staff at Sanctuary of Hope…to the Child Trauma Specialist doing therapy groups to help the children deal with the trauma they experienced…to the Special Education Teacher interacting with the kids in the disabled children ward at Mother Teresa’s…to our Nurse and Physical Therapist working with the physiotherapist and building adaptive equipment together at Mother Teresa’s…this just scratches the surface of what was accomplished by this incredible team.  It was an immense joy to see them serve and to see how lives were changed, and now I can truly say that I experienced a dream come true.  And now, I wait in eager anticipation to see what dreams lie ahead...

Friday, September 2, 2011

The craziest day

During our six nights in Egypt, we decided to relax for the first few nights in Dahab on the Red Sea.  Because of the revolution in Egypt, the tourism industry has significantly slowed making it very inexpensive to stay in a hotel on the sea.  The place is known for the diving and snorkeling.  Matthew and I were excited to have a few days to sleep and relax there.  What we didn't realize was how crazy it would be to get there!

For me, this was the most stressful travel day of our entire trip so far.  Yes, even with all of our overnight trains and flights, and the experience of barely getting into Israel!  It took us from around 6:30am til 10pm to travel from Jordan to our destination in Egypt, with approximately 7 modes of transportation along the way.  Here's how our day went...

First, we took a taxi from the hotel in Jordan to the bus stop.  We boarded the bus for the few hour ride to Acaba, Jordan.  We stepped off the bus and had to find a taxi to take us to a ticket office to buy ferry tickets to Nuweiba, Egypt.  This was a humorous interaction, as most of the drivers we tried to talk with only spoke Arabic.  At one point, we were standing in the street surrounded by six men trying to help us when one who spoke English helped describe where we needed to go.  We climbed into the back of a taxi and quickly realized that our driver, though he knew he needed to take us to the ticket office, did not know where the ticket office was!  He proceeded to drive in circles and stop other taxis on the road to ask for directions.  We tried to talk with him but he spoke no English.  We ended up giving him the phone number for the ticket office so he could ask for directions.  He found his way there but after talking with the ticket agent we realized we had to get cash from an ATM for the tickets so the taxi driver drove us to the bank and back.  We bought the tickets, then the driver took us to the port to board the ferry.

The ferry was scheduled to leave at noon and was said to be a 2 hour ride.  We went through Passport Control and boarded the ferry.  Everyone on the ferry was speaking Arabic and I felt like the only woman on the ferry who wasn't covered from head to toe.  Thankfully, we found some seats in a cool section of the ferry and sat down to relax for our two hour ride.   There was an incredibly long line in the ferry for entry visas to Egypt.  We waited in our seats until the line died down to get our visas.  This was the craziest part of the day.  We sat for hours at the port waiting for the ferry to depart.  Once the visa line died down, we went and were told that they were keeping our passports and we had to go to the bank in Nuweiba to buy the visas, then go to the Passport Office to pick them up.  Let me tell you - it's not a good feeling to have to give someone your passport when you are traveling!

The ferry had still not departed at this point and what was worse was that many of the people on the ferry would suddenly start arguing and yelling in Arabic.  There were several fights that broke out right in front of our eyes.  We had no clue what they were fighting about or even what the announcements over the intercom meant because everything was in Arabic.  After a few hours, the ferry started moving and everyone cheered!  Relieved, we thought, "ok, now only 2 hours til we get there."  Wrong!  We were on that ferry for hours when we arrived in Nuweiba, well, at least the port of Nuweiba.  Fights had continued to break out at various times throughout those hours.  For some reason unknown to us (again, all the announcements were in Arabic) the ferry just circled and circled around the port for hours without letting us off.

Our 2 hour ride ended up taking about 7 hours total.  We were let off the ferry and after finding our bags, were loaded on a bus to then head to the bank to buy our visas.  We found five other foreign travelers and banded together to help one another through the process.  (It was the sweetest sound when I heard them speaking English!)  When we arrived at the bank to buy our visas, it was closed.  Thankfully, we just had to wait for them to send a worker to open it for us.  We bought the visas then headed to the passport office to be reunited with our precious passports!

All of the travelers we met were heading to vacation in Dahab too so we all took a shuttle together.  One of the girls was Canadian and of Indian origin as well, and is now living in Jordan.  She spoke Arabic which helped us navigate our way around.  It was really nice being in a group to get our visas and passports and ride the hour long journey to Dahab.  Once in Dahab, we said goodbye to our traveling companions and found a taxi to our hotel.  The taxi driver was reallly nice and stopped along the way to help us buy bread and fruit to tide us over til morning.

We arrived at our hotel around 10pm, weary from the day but thankful to have arrived safely.  

We had a fun few days of resting and relaxing and spent a day snorkeling.  We used the underwater camera to take some pics of the coral and fish.

Here are a few other pics of our time in Dahab:

(there are cats everywhere!) 

(it's very important to remember that when on the beach in Egypt 
you cannot bring your bicycle OR your camel!)

After, Dahab, we headed to Cairo for a few days.  We met an amazing family from America living in Cairo.  They knew Matthew’s family in the U.S. and remembered him from when he was younger.  They welcomed us into their home and we loved every minute of our time with them.  Matthew spent a day utilizing his architecture skills at the IDD office with Trevis who is an engineer.  IDD stands for “International Design and Development” and works on design projects in the Middle East region such as bridges, buildings, and water systems. Currently, they are designing a church in Jordan.  The interns at the office let us crash in an extra room in their apartment for the few nights we were there.  I spent the day attending a women’s Bible study with Rebecca and I was abundantly encouraged and blessed by my time with those incredible ladies!  I also met a woman whose 4 year old daughter is having some speech difficulties so I met with her and her daughter to give them some recommendations.  We were so sad that we had to leave Cairo because we enjoyed this family so much.

We had to see the pyramids since we were in Cairo, which proved to be another adventure!  We found a taxi to take us there and after traveling in the incorrect direction then pulling over to find someone who spoke English to tell the driver we wanted to go to the pyramids, we made our way there.  Matthew and I had been warned that they spot tourists and mercilessly try to sell souvenirs and camel rides.  Even though we had this in mind, we were shocked during the drive as we got closer to the pyramids when people kept jumping into our moving taxi to try to sell us these things!  One guy even jumped on the back of the taxi and just sat there!  Can you imagine riding in a taxi and someone trying to sell you something jumps on the car?  Although in the moment we were overwhelmed, looking back it was hilarious!  Here are some pics of the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx.

And now, onto Kenya for our Therapist Mission Trip…

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Welcome to Jordan!

When Matthew and I saw our dear friends, Rob and Shini, standing at the Lion's Gate in Jerusalem, I had to choke back tears because I was so happy to see them!  They were also accompanied by another Colorado friend, Paige.  Our last few days in Israel were spent with our friends, exploring the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, eating at a restaurant that was recommended as "the best hummus in Israel," and just enjoying time together.

The five of us traveled together to cross the border into Jordan.  It was crazy because both the shuttle and the bus were in minor accidents right before our eyes immediately before we boarded them!  In Jordan, we stayed at a house in Amman with another friend of theirs named Erin.  Rob, Shini, Paige, Erin, Matthew, and I had a great time traveling to Petra for a few days together.  Seeing Petra was amazing!  The beautiful rock carvings are over 2,000 years old and one of the Modern Wonders of the World (one scene from Indiana Jones was also filmed there if that helps it ring a bell for anyone!).  Here are some pictures and a short video to show how big the carvings are:

I was also struck by how incredibly nice everyone in Jordan is.  They are probably the nicest people group of our trip thusfar.  We heard the phrase, "Welcome to Jordan" many many times in our few days there.  In Jerusalem and Jordan, several people enthusiastically asked us if we are Indian and often threw out Hindi phrases and told us how much they like India.  As you walk through Petra, you get bombarded by Bedouin children offering to sell postcards using cute phrases like: "Special price for you," "Buy one get one free," and my personal favorite, "Happy hour price!"  There are also many men offering horse, camel, and donkey rides.

Shini and I were walking through Petra one day when a young man approached asking if we were Indian and then asked if I was Shini's daughter (which cracked us up because we are more like sisters - there's no way she could be my mom!).  Then, he proceeded to offer her 200 camels and 1 chicken for me!  We told him I was already married and pointed toward Matthew, which we thought would deter his efforts, but he looked at Matthew and said, "Ok, I will go ask him!"

The six of us also experienced a Turkish bath together which was quite memorable and gave us many laughs after the portion of the experience called “the scrubbing”!  Rob and Shini are some of the most wonderful people we have ever met and it was a blessing to have such a sweet time together.  We also loved getting to know their friends, Erin & Paige.  Erin has lived in India for the last three years and is a super fun person to be around!  Paige is a Journalism student in Colorado.  She has a really sweet spirit and is always smiling!  It's great to be able to explore the world and experience various cultures, but to me, the real treasure is in the relationships that are established.  One of the biggest lessons Matthew and I have been learning is the idea that the very thing that makes life worth living is our relationships.  That’s why you will often hear us saying, “It’s all about relationships!”