- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Two contrasting yet interrelated feelings hit me the moment I walked through the exit doors of the terminal at Nairobi International Airport at 6:00 a.m. and stepped into Africa for the first time. Number one was the worst, most exhausting case of jet lag I'd ever experienced. The second was a sudden, heightened awareness of my own alienness.
After a twenty-eight-hour journey from the United States, including a fifteen-hour layover and whirlwind tour of London, with my wife, Nancy, and our seven- and ten-year-old sons (who'd had all of six hours of sleep over the previous two days) in tow, I understood the exhaustion. I was simply glad to have survived my very first international travel experience and have all eight pieces of our luggage arrive in Kenya with us.
What caught me by surprise was how suddenly and totally out of place I felt. We definitely weren't in Kansas anymore. I'd lived in Kansas for a few years before I moved to Texas. And Nairobi wasn't anything like anywhere I'd ever been before.
Most of the hour-and-a-half drive to our final destination remains a blur on my memory screen. Any travel-guide spiel offered by the man who met us at the airport and drove us out to Kijabe went right over, or in and out of, my head, although I clearly remember that I found driving on the left side of the road so disconcerting that I couldn't count the number of times I flinched in anticipation of a horrendous crash.
But a few of the sights and sounds and smells of Africa penetrated the fatigue enough to leave some lasting impressions. All of which fed my out-of-place feeling. Every direction I turned, everything I saw looked so ... so foreign.
More than three million people live in Nairobi, Kenya's capital and largest city. Most of them seemed to be out walking shortly after dawn on this weekday morning. The rest rode in matatus (privately owned vans and minivans) that serve as the country's primary "mass" transportation. As many as thirty Kenyans will pack into a van built to hold nine people comfortably; I saw some matatus with riders on top and others with "outside passengers" standing on running boards or hanging from luggage racks or clinging to open and swinging back doors.
Neither drivers nor pedestrians hesitated to cross multiple lanes of moving traffic wherever and whenever they wanted. Then there were the donkey carts using the same lanes as motorized vehicles. And the chickens, goats, and sheep that wandered all over the place.
The city was so crowded and dirty, even the new buildings looked tired. Vendors peddled anything and everything you can imagine (and some you can't) in what looks like an endless roadside f lea-market. The farther you get from the downtown business district, the more frequently you see and smell trash burning right along the streets. Somewhere between one and two million people make their homes in Nairobi's slums, living in sheet-metal shacks with dirt floors.
Even if you aren't a big city fan, you can enjoy the energy of New York, the vitality of Chicago, the diversity of San Francisco. It was hard to find anything in Nairobi to appreciate, except for the more than three million individuals who live there in some of the most deplorable conditions you can imagine.
When I managed to look past the constantly moving mass of people walking along, and back and forth across, the roadways to focus on one person at a time, what I saw was even more unsettling—young kids the age of our JT and Matthew carrying around large jars of glue, sniffing all the time. And as I looked more carefully, I was amazed by how many people I noticed in the background—sitting, staring, and going nowhere. There seemed to be no hope in their eyes.
Even after we got out of Nairobi, a steady stream of trudging pedestrians paralleled the road, as many people walking away from the city as walking toward it.
There wasn't quite as much to see in the countryside, but what was there in that vast rural landscape felt just as foreign to me as anything I'd seen in Nairobi. Which made me wonder yet again (and not for the last time), What's an ordinary, unadventurous (some might say "humdrum"; I prefer "typical"), suburban American guy like me doing in a place like Kenya—for a year, no less? What was I thinking when I agreed to this?
The short answer is that it seemed like a good idea at the time. Our family had recently gone through such a painful and difficult time that Nancy and I decided a change of scenery and the chance to leave the past and get away for a while would be good for all of us.
Friends had convinced us that spending a year in Kenya as short-term volunteer dorm parents at a boarding school for the children of missionaries would be just the way to provide the time and opportunity for even the deepest of our emotional wounds to heal. But that was before I realized just how far away we were getting. After two days of travel that landed us half a world and eight thousand miles from home in a place that felt like a different planet, a year suddenly didn't seem very short-term at all.
It wasn't as if I didn't expect to have to make some major adjustments, coming from American middle-class suburbia to life in rural Kenya. Almost every instructor at the intensive three-week orientation and training session we'd gone through just before leaving the States had emphasized a variety of challenges we should expect. I'd been particularly interested in and focused on the cross-cultural differences we were told we might encounter.
Three examples had stuck in my mind.
One instructor illustrated a difference in cultural mindset by saying that in our Western culture, if a kid hits a ball through a window during a game, it is considered his fault and he's responsible for the repair bill. In Kijabe, Kenya, if a kid hits a ball through a window, the whole team bears the responsibility for it because "the game did it." I thought there was much to be said for that sort of shared community and family spirit.
A veteran missionary at our orientation training told about being invited for a meal at a national family's home where a tribal tradition is to give the oldest male present the honor of eating the head of the chicken being served for supper. When the missionary asked his host how to eat it, the national laughed until he fell down, and then summoned all his neighbors because he could not believe that an adult male did not know how to eat a chicken head. (FYI: You eat it all, including eyes and beak. It is considered rude not to try, but if you truly cannot eat something, you apologetically say, "It defeats me!" which I suspected would quickly become a Peifer family tradition with Matthew whenever we had spinach.)
A professor of anthropology had talked to us about how different cultural views of the world can lead to very different conclusions. He told of visiting one tribe (there are fifty tribes in Kenya, and tribal loyalty is still the strongest and primary source of affiliation among Kenyans) that still practices multiple marriages. The custom in that tribe is for each wife to live in a different hut, and a husband stays overnight in a hut with a wife only if he is planning to be intimate with her, which means the entire village knows when he is going to be with each wife. The professor looked at a man with four wives and concluded that the national was oversexed. But then the national came to the professor's home and looked at the bedroom and asked if the professor slept there. The professor said, yes, he did. "Where does your wife sleep?" the national asked. "She also sleeps here," replied the professor. "Every night?" asked the incredulous national. His conclusion: Americans are oversexed.
It had been one thing to contemplate rather fascinating cultural differences from thousands of miles away. Somehow the differences seemed a lot bigger, or at least a lot more real, now that I'd actually landed in Kenya. The differences, the reminders that we were indeed in Africa—for a year, no less —were suddenly all around me. And they were all I could really absorb that first morning.
I was reassured somewhat, if only temporarily, when we turned off the main, trans-Kenyan highway and drove down a steep, rutted gravel road into Kijabe, where we pulled into a long drive and then through a gate into what felt like an oasis of familiarity right there in the African bush. Rift Valley Academy had the look and feel of many small college campuses I'd visited back in the States, a haven that instantly felt more like home than anything I'd seen since we'd walked off the plane at dawn that morning.
In our family's three-bedroom upstairs apartment in the dorm that would be our home, it took all of twenty minutes to unpack and put away everything we'd brought to wear for twelve months. Then as Nancy further explored and inventoried our new residence, I took JT and Matthew down to the playground just across the road to release some of their pent-up energy after two grueling days of confinement and travel.
As I watched my sons run and play, an American man about my age walked up and introduced himself. I told him who I was, that my wife, Nancy, and I were going to be the fifth grade boys' dorm parents, that we were from Grapevine, Texas, and that we'd just landed in Nairobi earlier that morning.
No sooner had I articulated those few particulars than he asked, "Hey, do you want to preach down in the valley this Sunday?"
"Well, uh ..." I was a bit taken aback by his question. "I've never preached before, but if you really need someone to speak ..."
"You've never preached before?" he exclaimed. "What Bible college did you go to?"
"I didn't go to Bible college. I graduated from Northern Illinois University with a degree in political science." Why did I suddenly feel like I needed to apologize for that?
My new colleague just looked at me, as if he simply didn't know what to say to that. Finally he asked, "Well, how long you here for?"
I'd learned that some people come to teach or work at RVA for only a term. So I proudly replied, "A whole year."
"You came all this way for just one year?" he asked. And before I figured out how to answer such a judgmental question, which sounded more like an accusation, he abruptly left. Which I took to mean I wouldn't be expected to preach in the valley that Sunday after all.
I figured that was probably just as well, since I felt rather more prepared to eat a chicken head than to preach a sermon.
Truth be known, until we'd landed in Nairobi and I felt so suddenly out of place, I hadn't been worried so much about adjusting to African culture as I was that being a missionary might be what would "defeat me."
I wasn't a preacher, a teacher, a doctor, or anything else I'd ever thought a missionary needed to be. And much of our experience at orientation school had underscored my sense of inadequacy. Other people there preparing to come to Africa not only seemed so much better equipped professionally; they all seemed to be so much better people, so much more sincere Christians than I was. Many of them had an obvious passion for Africa I'd never felt, or a lifelong sense of calling that I'd never experienced. I felt privileged to be among such committed, faith-full people. But I also found it humbling because I realized I wasn't at their level.
Now my playground encounter with a real-life, experienced, veteran missionary only amplified the question I'd asked myself during our training and again on the long drive from the airport to Kijabe: "What in the world is someone like me doing here?"
* * * Before we left the States, we promised family, friends, and other people who gave financial support so our family could go and work in Kenya that we'd stay in touch by sending regular emails to keep them updated on our experiences. I wrote my first email report after we'd had a chance to recuperate from the trip and had a week or so to settle in. After recounting some of our orientation school experience and a few details from our journey, I offered this brief description of where we were:
The Rift Valley Academy (RVA) is located at an elevation of seventy-five hundred feet, to be above the malaria level. It is almost one hundred years old, and it is like a small college campus. There are dorms and classrooms throughout the campus. Teddy Roosevelt laid the cornerstone for one of the oldest buildings during one of his African hunting trips. Although we are at the equator, our elevation means that it is cool during the winter season, which is now. There is no heat except our fireplace, and the house is cement block (which all houses are here because of termites), so it can get pretty cold for us Texans. It was fifty-three yesterday. We also have a fireplace outside to warm our water for bathing.
The official languages here are English and Swahili, so Nan and I will be attending language school next week for several weeks. My bride received her college degree in linguistics, so she is thrilled. Since her slow husband can make her break out in a rash with his French accent, I am sure Swahili will be more of a challenge to me, but we are excited about it.
It is beautiful here, and the nationals are wonderful people. The poverty is almost beyond understanding; the average African makes two hundred and eighty dollars a year. Kenya has the highest amount of AIDS in the world, and the large mission hospital just down the hill from the campus says one out of four patients are there because of HIV. There is currently a drought too. We are in the rainy season, but are not getting any rain, just fog and damp. The crops are already damaged, but if no rain comes soon, they will be totally lost. Please be praying for rain. RVA was between terms when we arrived in late July. Which meant the campus felt almost deserted with many of the faculty and staff away during the break and no boarding student scheduled to return until the first of September for the new school year. But that gave us time to get acclimated and prepare for all of our responsibilities, which would begin with a bang when the kids got back and the term started.
As part of our introduction to Africa, a group of us from RVA, including a number of new staff members, took a day trip to Lake Nakuru National Park a couple of hours away. It is a large park, almost two hundred square kilometers in size, where you can drive around grasslands and forests on unpaved roads and see, in their wild and natural habitat, fifty-six species of mammals and four hundred fifty species of birds, including a f lock of hundreds of thousands of flamingos.
After touring the park for several hours, our group stopped to eat lunch. As we sat around enjoying our picnic, a baboon leaped into our circle, grabbed a sandwich, and plopped down to eat it.
There are several things I didn't know about baboons before I arrived in Africa. To be honest, I don't recall ever giving baboons a thought until I got to RVA and realized we shared the campus with a number of them. But they have two-inch canines, and four of them can take on a lion, so you don't mess with them. A common defense is to throw stones near them; you don't want to throw at them, because that can make them mad and they will charge. Or they'll pick up the stones and hurl them back!
So after a stern warning from a veteran missionary not to show our teeth, because that is a sign of aggression, we drove them off with stones and moved our picnic. Five minutes later, they invaded again, and grabbed potato chips and calmly ate them, until we got more stones and drove them off. Then we stood guard so they wouldn't swipe our food for the rest of the meal. It seemed even African picnics required some cross-cultural adjustments I'd never considered before.
* * *
In one of my next emails home, I reported on yet another cross-cultural dining adventure our family experienced when the electrical power on campus was off all day and we went "out to eat" for the first time since we'd arrived in Kenya.
We walked down and out the main gate of the campus to the dukas (or shops) serving the neighborhood that line the road that runs past the school. Dukas like these are a common sight everywhere we've been in Kenya, but if they were in the States, we would think they were abandoned and would never imagine they were places of business. They look like shacks made of wood or tin with tin roofs. They are painted bright colors, if they are painted. And they usually have any available surface covered with large signs advertising everything from Coke to Blue Band (the margarine of choice here) to cell-phone providers.
We walked into a duka that said Nehemiah's Hotel. (Hotels here are restaurants.) There was a dirt floor, open windows and doors (no screens), and no electricity, so it was semi-dark. There were five non-matching tables and about fifteen chairs, each different from the others.
Excerpted from A Dream So Big by Steve Peifer Gregg Lewis Copyright © 2013 by Steve Peifer . Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted April 24, 2013
I don't think I've ever cried so much reading a book as I did when I read A Dream So Big - an autobiography of sorts by Steve Peifer.
My first impression was that it was another one of those "Kisses from Katie" books that have appeared since Katie Davis wrote her story about moving to Uganda. However, though it is about an American family moving to Africa as missionaries, the Peifer story is different in many beautiful ways.
The story begins in Kenya, East Africa. Steve throws you right into the vivid culture of Kenya, describing the sights, the sounds, and the feel of Kenya. You begin to wonder why he is there, exactly, since it is vaguely implied that he never thought he would end up there. From driving lessons to Swahili school, Steve humorously paints a picture of missionary life doing day-to-day work in an African school.
But you keep wondering, since it keeps coming up: what.is.he.doing.there?
You don't wonder long, because Steve reveals a heartbreaking, true story of a lost son that triggered the whole African adventure. His wife and he conceived a son in their "older" age, and they found this little boy had trisonomy 13- a genetic disorder not capable of supporting life. I don't think I've ever cried so hard over a chapter in a book. Steve lovingly depicts the surreal moments following the birth of their very special needs son, Stephen; and the quiet, short life he had with them.
Seeking to find new meaning and strength to move on from grief, Steve and his wife heard of an opportunity to move to Africa for one year as school house parents. Initially, Steve didn't like the idea. But long story short (you should read it, God does amazing things!), they end up in Kenya.
One thing lead to another, and eventually, by the book's end, Steve and his wife have founded a non-profit organization. The story winds and turns, there are many "divine appointments" that only God could set up, and there is a load of humorous mistakes and amazing victories over setbacks. "A Dream So Big" is more than a story about a non-profit organization. It is a story about how a loving, sovereign God saved thousands of lives through the death of a two weeks old, very special needs son.
Keep the tissues handy. This is well worth a read!
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 4, 2013
Very good book. I work with children in the Philippines where we face some of the same issues Steve Peifer encountered. It was so real that I could feel the dust on my feet and in my nose. I could see those hungry dirty little children come alive with hope as their lives were changed. I laughed and cried, sometimes at the same time as I read. The fruit of this man and his family is good fruit. I highly recommend this book and have already given copies to friends and family.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 13, 2013
Book review: A Dream So Big
By Steve Peifer and Gregg Lewis
"Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the face”
There are three important reasons why everyone should read this book: Everyone has a plan; everyone gets punched in the face; everyone can hit back.
The beauty of this work is that despite its tragic beginning, the context of extreme poverty and the challenges faced, Steve and Gregg have made it a pleasing read. The frequent placement of hilarious anecdotes softens the harshness of the fly-on-the-wall access necessary to appreciate the living conditions, cultural challenges, sacrifices and contributions the Peifers made.
Everyone has a plan. Harvey Cox once said, "Not to decide, is to decide." So even if you think you have no plan, not having a plan IS your plan. I have a plan. You have a plan. The Peifer’s plan had revolved around life in suburban Dallas.
Everyone gets punched in the face. Some, like the Peifers, are hit squarely in the face. The death of a newborn will do that. Others suffer a glancing blow. A few, out of fear of the inevitable, have mastered the art of the duck and weave. However, they know deep down that everyone gets punched in the face. It is not a matter of if, but when.
In every case, and if we are paying close attention, we are presented a chance to hit back and that changes everyone’s world. Now feeding twenty thousand Kenyan children a day and training them in 20 solar-powered computer centers, Nancy and Steve could not have known that the very children they stepped up to serve had already been born into a very tough world; that the destiny of those kids was in the hands of a heartbroken suburban Dallas family headed by a reluctant but attentive husband.
Early in the book Steve described it as answering a call to "make his wife's dream come true." But he later went on to describe it as a chance “to hit back.” That alone might be noble enough of a response, but imagine the impact of that response model on the world: On their own kids; on their friends and neighbors; on a whole community in Kenya; and now on us.
Posted May 1, 2013
I received a copy of A DREAM SO BIG: OUR UNLIKELY JOURNEY TO END THE TEARS OF HUNGER by Steve Peifer with Gregg Lewis, from Thomas Nelson via BookSneeze. I love nonfiction books like this. They take you to another world, one that is happening now, not a fantasy someone created from imagination (don’t get me wrong, I love those too – I have to, I write them!). With these books, I can share them with my family, in particular my mother and my uncle. We can discuss and brainstorm ways to help real people in these real situations.
This adventure takes you to Kenya. Steve Peifer and his wife, Nancy, decide to work as dorm parents at a school there. They had lost their infant son and wanted to go somewhere new, somewhere they could immerse themselves in good deeds. You get to experience their growth as parental figures as well as saviors to the children. You laugh and cry with them. When I first opened the book, I turned to a middle section and read about Steve helping a child in the middle of the night deal with feeling ill. I couldn’t help but smile at Steve’s authentic voice – it felt as if he spoke to me from the couch in my living room. Each page came to life thanks to Steven’s compassion and sincerity. I highly recommend this book.
Posted April 22, 2013
This book received numerous five-star reviews before I even selected it to review myself, so I was encouraged about what I would find. While the Peifers' story is inspiring, its presentation in this book felt somewhat lacking to me.
The story chronicles the time the Peifer family, originally from Texas, spent as dorm parents at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya some time after the rough pregnancy and short life of their son, who was special needs. Based on the information provided by patriarch Steve Peifer, you do find yourself stopping to think about the amenities and other day-to-day "luxuries" you frequently take for granted and how so many others make due with the few things they have, praising God with more heart and fervency than those of us with so much more.
Unfortunately, I felt the writing in this book was lacking. I felt like many of the stories were either poorly developed or not well connected to the overall picture being painted. I also found the author frequently writing with sentence fragments and am surprised, based on their frequency, that this passed through the editing process without being adjusted.
I applaud the Peifers for their work and the obstacles they have overcome - I can't imagine how I would handle the devastation of a pregnancy and the birth of a special-needs child like their third son. However, I believe their story could have been told with more impact than what is found in the pages of "A Dream So Big."
Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, Zondervan.
Posted March 31, 2013
A Dream So Big is a story of a family's journey past the pain of losing an infant to the dream of impacting a nation of children with no hope. Written with an extremely dry sense of humor, this book takes you through a 10+ year journey in the life of the Peifer family. In this book you will meet Steve and his wife Nancy, his children Matthew, JT, Stephen, Ben, and Katie. You will also meet missionary children at a boarding school in Kenya where the Peifers work and fall in love with thousands of children across the country of Kenya. You will thrill to wild animal sightings (like baboons on the front porch), live dangerously through the precarious roads and drivers in Kenya, and cry at the description of children on the dirt floor of a public school, too weak to sit up because they haven't eaten in three days.
Steve's witty voice is carried throughout the book with actual e-mails written by Steve to their stateside supporters describing the life as dorm parents at the missionary boarding school. You can't help but laugh at the descriptions of Steve learning to speak Swahili in such a fashion that the teachers are rolling on the floor with laughter.
This book was a breath of fresh air for me. Bravo to Zondervan for allowing Steve to tell his story and a great job to Gregg Lewis for co-authoring this book. An even bigger thank you to Steve and Nancy Peifer for listening to the still small voice that wouldn't be silenced that allows the lives of so many people to be touched.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Zondervan Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Posted March 13, 2013
The Interrogator's Notebook by Martin Ott is a new detective novel featuring an interrogator who must find a killer. What makes this story unique is that instead of the typical detective hero, the sleuth is an interrogator/ teacher which offeres a new perspective in the crime novel genre. What makes this piece of fiction even more intriguing is that the author Martin Ott is himself a former U.S. Army interrogator. He draws on his real life experience in writing this detective novel- adding to its authenticity. In fact it is established early on in the novel that this work is based on his personal experience as an interrogator. On page 10 the main character, Norman- the interrogator makes a reference that if he were to write a memoir that it would have to be disguised as fiction. Most likely this work is based on Ott's military experience as well.Ott's writing is poetic as well as indepth. Each chapter opens up with a personal entry from Norman's point of view as if from his own journal. The reader can get a glimpse into the mind of an interrogator. It is as if the psycholgy of the interrogator's mind is there right in the open to read, The notebook is likened to a confessional where private secrets are shared; remorse is expressed. In contrast to many fiction novels, Ott creates indeph characters with well developed personalities- as if the characters are based on himself as well as his friends and associates. Norman often reflects on previous cases. I wonder how much is based on Ott's own real life experiences. This gives the main character a new level of depth. The reader will find himself trying to gleen what he thinks may be authentic infomation on actual events. Some of the information presented in the context of Norman's classroom is educational in introducing the reader to introductory interrogation concepts. Its almost as if it could be a training manuel that some readers may find themselves wanting to learn more military "secrets".Well developed characters, lively dialog, psychoanalysis and the insertion of authentic interrogator trade secrets keep the reader engaged until the end of the story rather then skipping to the end. As a blogger I received this book published by Story Merchant books for the purpose of writing this review.
0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.