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Kenya: First 112 days

Category Articles
Date March 1, 2000

After a decade of theological teaching with the Qua Iboe in Nigeria, Martin Bussey has gone to teach theology in Kenya alongside Keith Underhill and the Trinity Reformed Baptist Church. this is the first letter he has written about settling into East Africa.

* * *

That’s how long it is since we landed. And that’s why the memory of the last hectic days in UK is beginning to fade (with 12 hours to take-off, we realised that we weren’t going to make it… and then spent the next three days desperately trying to finish packing and clear the house out ready for the owners to return). Arriving here, we were easy prey for the bugs — three of the children took it in turns to have diarrhoea and vomiting. As Claudia remarked, clearing up the mess on the sheets and the floor got a bit boring after 12 consecutive days and nights. In the end, Daniel’s crying was so constant and so painful, and he was so clingy 24 hours a day, that we took him off to the children’s specialist hospital for tests, since we weren’t sure how much longer we could stand it. Very impressive place: high standards, efficient and user-friendly. No typhoid, no malaria, probably just a good old virus. Since a stool sample was needed, we took him off to the very smart nearby shopping centre, and thought a good dose of Wimpy food would produce something.

But as we sat there on the first floor enjoying our fish and chips, gunfire rang out and terrified people started running towards us. The manager of the Wimpy was very reassuring, as he dialled various numbers on his mobile phone to try and find out what was going on: ‘Don’t worry. Carry on and eat your meal. It’s probably just the bank downstairs being robbed. Happened two months ago. Please, carry on eating.’ But, funnily enough, we’d all suddenly lost our appetites. So after waiting a decent length of time to make sure that all armed robbers were off the premises, and since Daniel hadn’t produced the required sample, we headed for home. (At first we heard that two bystanders had been shot dead, which led to serious questions and interesting conversations with Sam and Peter later that evening: on the wickedness of human beings, the uncertainty of life, God’s sovereignty and so on. Later we heard that the two people were ‘only’ injured, shot mistakenly by the police. Most of the stolen money was dropped by the robbers while they were still in the bank. Subsequently four of the cashiers were arrested, because seeing an opportunity to get rich quick, they’d stuffed the dropped money into their own pockets; so they are now being charged with robbing their own bank…)

My sister Elaine came out to visit just before Christmas. A happy time. After Christmas we went off to Kijabe, on the side of the Rift Valley (just an hour or so’s drive away — beautiful place — at 7,200 feet) to spend it with the Wildsmiths who were teaching with me in Nigeria but who now work here, and the Garlands (also formerly at the same theological seminary in west Africa but who were just visiting from Nigeria), and with no television, radio or newspapers, we hardly managed to keep track of when the dear new millennium was due to start. As ever, on New Year’s Eve, I was off in the land of Nod by 11, and woke thoroughly refreshed at 8. What a great way to start a new year.

Mount Longonot: A Day to Remember

Actually January 1st was rather memorable. We (most of the Wildsmiths’ family and the Garlands’ family, plus all the Busseys) decided to go for a climb. Mt. Longonot. An extinct volcano, peak at 9,111 feet, whose fabulous skyline we’d been eyeing up from our hostel for days. So off we went. A lovely sunny day, but not too hot. The others went on ahead, but Claudia and I took the very steep ascent slowly (for obvious reasons: and because Dan in a back pack is bad news; and because carrying Andrew, who suffered total leg failure early on, is even worse news), but we finally staggered onto the very narrow rim of the crater. Stunning. The crater was so vast, and the rim so very narrow (three feet wide?), and the drop from the rim into the crater, uurgh, completely sheer (for a couple of hundred feet? I think I instantly developed vertigo; at least when Dan decided it was time to stretch his legs and came out of the back pack to wander around).

And then, can you believe it, despite it being the middle of the hot, dry season, it poured. Poured. The first 30 seconds were invigorating and amusing: ‘Ho, well, it’s one way to cool down’ and ‘What total drips we look.’ But then came the thunder and the lightning (and guess who’s standing on the highest ground for absolutely miles around?), and the biting wind, and then the freezing hail. And there we were, stuck in our sopping wet cottons, right on the totally exposed rim of this jolly old volcano (sorry to be abusive, but I’m working off a lot of angst here), with absolutely nowhere to hide. The steep path down was now a very fast flowing stream (some would no doubt say a raging torrent, but I’m trying to give a measured, unemotional report) and we didn’t think we could get down carrying a baby and Andrew on our backs. So we stayed. And got colder and colder and colder. ‘Surely it must stop soon,’ we thought. We clung together to try and get some warmth from each other’s bodies; or at least to provide a little shelter for the children from the wind and hail. But it was useless.

We shivered so violently (literally teeth and knees knocking together) and I, at least, wondered how cold you got before something else happened; and what the something else was that happened — heart attack, pass out (it did occur to me that in some ways that would be a relief), or what. Daniel cried for the first 20 min and then, worryingly, went very quiet. Andrew cried hysterically all the time. (I wanted to, but was too cold.) What made it worse was that Sam, along with some of the big children, had gone off along the very narrow, and now thoroughly slippery, rim, well out of sight. How were they faring? Were they sheltering? Had they slipped off? been struck by lightning? ‘Is Sam going to die?’ asked Peter as he clung to me. (Actually they alternated between sheltering, until they shivered too much, and then running (!) along the ridge back towards us. In one of their sheltering times, they found a small Bible on the ground, and read Ps. 121 together: ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth’). After what must have been almost an hour, five Kenyan youths appeared, thoroughly soaked, and they came and formed a ring around us to take the brunt of the wind and the rain from our backs. That was so very kind of them. They could simply have looked after themselves, and rushed off the rim to a more sheltered place. We were very grateful.

And then, eventually, after several minutes of shivering, the rain stopped. And at the same time, Sam and the others appeared along the rim. All of them! And alive! And only as cold as we were. So after a couple of minutes trying to revive frozen, stiff limbs, we hurriedly slivered down. Thirty minutes later we were back at the cars, in glorious sunshine, to find that it hadn’t even rained there! On the way home Claudia said, ‘That was the worst time of my life.’ Pause. ‘Well, apart from labour.’

At the earliest opportunity, I’m going to get a T-shirt made: ‘I survived Mt. Longie.’ But at least at the end of the day, I could say that I was the first 41 year old English male this millennium to climb the jolly thing. (Probably) … And in the true spirit of intrepid explorers, we are planning to go back (Sam, Peter, and Dad, that is) to prove to Mt. Longie that we aren’t afraid…

But life here isn’t really all about wildlife parks, armed robbers, sickness, holidays and extinct, very cold, wet volcanoes. They get mentioned because they are ‘out of the ordinary.’ Most days are very ordinary, enjoyable, seem too short for everything we should do, and tiring. (Bit like living in Oadby, in fact.)

Your Average Day

This starts at, well, I’m not sure where it starts. At 3, when Daniel wakes up for a tea break? At 4 when next door’s cock crows? (I want a catapult for my birthday please). At 6 (it used to be five, which was grim) when Daniel is up and raring to go? Or at 8, when Grace, who helps us in the house, arrives to start work. Liz (her niece) comes with her. At 8.15 Claudia takes Liz and Andrew, dressed in their red and yellow uniforms, to attend Sunrise Nursery School, five houses away. At 8.35 Claudia tells Sam that he really must eat some breakfast now as school, for him and Peter, is starting in 15 min. It more or less does. Claudia gives them lots of Maths (ordinary Maths — Peter might do a page and wilt away, or feeling inspired, do 10 pages — mental Maths and speed Maths) and English (do children all over the world begin by writing the date? Does it matter whether it’s Wednesday or Thursday? Why does everyone seem obsessed with dates?). Break time is about 10 o’clock, and after a few times jogging round the house (the boys, not Claudia), it’s back to ‘school’: sitting at the dining room table, Peter reads to Claudia and then Claudia reads to Peter (currently Enid Blyton). Sam reads on the sofa, until he’s finished his cream crackers and cheese; then for him, it’s back to the school room, for, horrors, more writing and probably another page of maths. Peter is finished by about 10.30 or 11; Sam by 12:30. (Andy comes home around then, with the occasional page of homework. Education is a big thing in Kenya.)

And then the rest of the day is FREE: for Lego, and snooker, and wrestling with your brothers, and reading, and digging in the mud, and water fights, and CD Roms (seriously educational ones, with names like, My First History Explorer, but which are also immensely addictive and enjoyable), and once a week over to the church hall for a game of short tennis or badminton (only had one game of football since we arrived — and that was while away on holiday), and (for Sam) studying one of Ernest Sharman’s old stamp albums, which Sam received as a 10th birthday present recently. (‘My best present’, he said, shaking his head in wonder, as he turned the pages and saw stamps dating back over 150 years, and from countries which no longer exist.)

While all this has been going on (now that the trips to town regarding work permits, dependant’s passes, insurance bonds, have finished), I should have either been in my study, or with the students, most of the day.

From 6 ’til 9 in the evening, it’s food, bath children, read with them, put them to bed — just like it would be in England! (Except here there is only one evening out — the midweek meeting at church). But then for Claudia it’s tidy up the kitchen (even if I’ve already had a go at that) and then ‘let’s start thinking about school tomorrow’, until about midnight. And for me it probably ought to be emails, and let’s move all the papers, files, books off the bed so that I’ll be able to get into it when I want to, but first it could be a peek at the news on the telly (CNN, Kenya or BBC versions) or the Family station (non-stop ‘Christian’ programmes — some are fine; some grim), or we can even get a rather hazy Sky Sports channel should we be here when they show a replay of the 1966 World Cup Finals. . .


Each group of students comes in for three days at a time. So, one week it’s Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday with the first years, studying say, Pauline Epistles; the next week it’s three days with the second years, looking at Bible Interpretation; and the next week, the third years, on Ethics (The fourth week of the month, is student free). Devotions are from 9.02-10 a.m. and studies go from then until about 1. Then, after a lovely cooked lunch, and 7 min. lying down thinking why on earth did I just eat such a huge lunch because I’m falling asleep, it’s back to the students from 2 o’clock for another 3 hours or so in the afternoon. So, that’s 6 hours of classes, on 3 consecutive days, which makes 18 hours with a particular group on a particular subject. I found that rather difficult at first (and I guess they did as well!). Very different from having a class for an hour one day, and then not seeing them again for another two days — in such a situation a lecture can have a real atmosphere, a sense of anticipation, and the adrenaline flows. But with 18 hours in a stretch (with what seems like very short breaks for sleep!), the danger is that although I start off getting them involved a lot in discussion, (discovering their ideas, getting them to try and explain passages of Scripture, asking them how this applies to them today, and so on) as the hours pass, and we all begin to get tired, I do more and more of the talking, with the sentences getting longer and longer (just like this one) and they find it harder and harder to keep their concentration.

Actually, reading that paragraph, you may think the lecturing is pretty grim. It’s not that bad really. Last week was Minor Prophets (including one day on Jonah), and it was so enjoyable. And next on the agenda is Bible Interpretation, which I’m really looking forward to (it could be so good: getting these men to see how important it is that first of all we understand what the passage being studied meant when it was first written; and then to think how it applies to us today); then there’s a unit on the OT History Books coming up, and the OT Wisdom Literature, and the Gospel and Acts, and General Epistles, not to mention 4 courses on Church History… all of which means lots of preparation to do, and the possibility of me, let alone anyone else, really learning a lot.

The Equipping the Saints Trust

A number have been asking about whether the bookfund still exists. The answer is, ‘Oh Yes’. In particular we want to print materials that are relevant to Kenya, and which can also be used in Nigeria. So, Sukesh Pabari, another missionary working with the church here, has just completed writing two study courses: one on The Bible, the other on Romans. The plan is to print them in English, Swahili, and Luo. I’ve just finished a total rewrite of an Amos commentary, and it would be good to print a couple of thousand copies of that in English, and if money were available, also in Swahili.

Next time we’ll perhaps tell you something about the students, and what the church is like (and we are finding it so good to be a genuine part of a local church — in Nigeria we went to the local church every Sunday, but we were still seen as the visitors from the college. So many missionaries, for one reason or another, just aren’t involved in a local church, which is not only hard, but surely unhealthy). But for now, just to close by saying how happy we are to be here. Our ‘average day’ is a delight. And we are so enjoying things like, well, being British we’d better mention the weather first: the climate is gorgeous, with its wonderful sunny days (at the moment, the height of the dry season, the maximum temp most days is still only around 25 C) and cool, even cold nights, so that it’s a delight to snuggle down under the duvet (gone, at least here in Nairobi at 5,500 feet, is the horrid humidity; and the permanent damp and moulding skin). And it’s brilliant to have a phone (that works) and daily emails (provided someone’s written to us!), and even a regular postal service that gets letters to us from UK in anything from 3-7 days. And there’s something reassuring about the roar of the big planes as they take off from the International Airport just 10 mins drive away. . .

Well, that really is the end. Many thanks to all those who have written to us. We are not doing well at answering by physical letter, but emailers get the odd paragraph now and then. So if you do have an email address, we’d very much like to know it. . .

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