Monday, July 24, 2017


My half-price ticket requires me to stay a couple of days longer than the rest of the team. I head down to Mombasa on a cheap flight. This may well be my final visit to Kenya and last chance to scope out this place I romanticized when a child. As a girl, my mum’s family used to holiday down here on the coast, courtesy of a kind businessman who had a soft spot for penniless missionaries. She spoke of those holidays regularly and with great fondness.

According to my uncle’s memoirs, they stayed at Bamburi Beach, about 20 miles north of Mombasa town. There are resorts all up and down the coast, but they are pricey and beyond me. Anyway, I tell myself, I want to get a feel for Mombasa proper. I will be staying on the island, which sounds exotic but then someone also once named their daughter Chlamydia because they thought it sounded so pretty.

Shuttle driver John is waiting for me at the airport holding a sign with my name on it. It is even spelt correctly, which is most gratifying since the last thing with my name on it was my cubicle/bed in Turkana: Graham Billikie. To be fair, that is kind of how Kenyans pronounce my last name so I guess they just spelt it out half way phonetically. 

We head into town at breakneck speed until we hit major road construction, but the pot holes and pedestrians, roundabouts and tuk tuks (three-wheeled motorcycle “cars”) do little to dampen John’s enthusiasm at being behind the wheel. My guess is he calculates his tip on how many pedestrians he almost hits but doesn’t put in hospital. But I just smile and we continue our conversation about Mombasa. On my three trips to Kenya, I’ve learned that Kenyans have their own rules of the road, which they all seem to understand amidst the chaos. And if they don’t, a honk on the horn reminds them and they move out of the way at the last minute.

My hotel is smack in the center of things. It is very plain and the shower is cold and the air conditioning hot. But it is mainly clean, has very friendly staff (including a couple of security guards who wand everyone who comes in), and the big selling point is it has a free breakfast. There’s nothing much on the small TV except static and very melodramatic Indian soap operas with the same theme (Indian man trying to convince Indian woman to marry him. Variation on theme: Indian parents trying to convince daughter this arranged marriage is a good thing). So, after a cold shower in the morning, I head down for beef sausages, scrambled eggs and baked beans—the breakfast of champions, or diabetics at least.

Back in my room, I am quickly sweating. Mombasa is very humid. I think about being the loud American (now that I am a proud dual passport holder) and politely asking for another room, but I decide not to sweat it by, um, sweating it. I put a few things in my sling and head out to experience Mombasa. Though I am the only white guy for miles (I only saw one other white guy at a distance in two days—two white guys if you include the albino Kenyan who walked past me), people are very friendly and many of them greet me. Later, on the way to the airport, my driver Paul (a Jehovah’s Witness, but that didn’t affect his driving) will tell me that foreigners are slowly coming back. They stayed away after a terrorist attack or three gave parts of Kenya a bad name.

After scores of Tuk Tuk drivers have honked at the white guy with no tan to see if I want a ride with them, I arrive half an hour later at Fort Jesus. This is a 400-year-old Portuguese fort built in the shape of Jesus on the cross, and just loaded with history. As I get close to the entrance, an elderly gentleman with tobacco-stained teeth sidles up to me and asks where I’m from. I don’t do a good Russian accent, so I tell him New Zealand, but living in America. “Ah, Auckland, New Zealand,” he says. “You are a kiwi.” This guy is good. I read about him, or his cousins, in a few guidebooks. His name is Omar, a Moslem. Long story short, he guides me through the Fort and Old Mombasa for the next 3 hours. It is a pleasure to be supporting the local economy, and he certainly earns the 1200 shillings ($12) I finally part with (many here make 1000 shillings [$10] in a whole day).

Old Mombasa is a fascinating place, predominantly Moslem. We walk past the high-pitched voices of boys reciting the Koran in a madrassah (Islamic school). Women in black burkas and hijabs ignore or furtively glance at me from narrow slits. Some have elaborate tatoos on their hands, the only flesh that can be seen. “Don’t come here on your own,” Omar tells me. “Bag snatchers.” Around the fish market, men are lounging—perhaps waiting for work. Or me. Or just lounging. Though I am clearly “other,” I don’t feel unsafe. Even here, a number of people welcome me: “Jambo!” (“hello!”). “Karibu!” (“welcome!”).

After my tour, I head back to the fort and wander along the rocks at its base. One guy who has been swimming and who is sunning himself smiles at me and makes swimming motions, as if giving a friendly dare for me to go in. I smile back and shake my head. My Columbia pants would dry soon enough, but I’m a bit nervous about my passport, wallet and camera. And then there’s my hat which prompted one person to greet me, “Hello Texas Ranger.” It is an “Aussie” branded hat, but made in New Zealand. Perhaps this one wonder is a portent that world peace is possible after all.

Sadly, there are a lot of plastic bottles that have washed up or been discarded in this otherwise picturesque spot. But I find a small patch of clear sand in the shade of a half-cave, and sit and admire the view of the water. After a while, a guy wanders down the rocks to the shallows, takes everything off (I mean everything), sits down, and proceeds to wash himself and his clothes in the briny water. As I have done so often on this trip, I thank God for how blessed I am to have not just clean water, but a washing machine, and I marvel at how resourceful so many are who have so little.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


It's hard to capture an experience like Turkana adequately in pictures, let alone words. Impressions are so many and so varied--one can only list them and hope they form some kind of kaleidoscope.

  •  The soak and stink of sweat after a 6-mile walk past huts and goat corrals lining the sandy "streets" of Lodwar
  • The beaming smiles of school children mobbing us as we walk, and as they practice their only English: "How arrrrr you? How arrrrr you?"
  • The smell of African spices from the kitchen in the evening, and the wiry texture of a chicken that has probably run the length and breadth of Turkana looking for food and water
  • The rapid-fire translation and gesticulations of our interpreter as we teach and talk, rhythmic phrase by rhythmic phrase
  • The utter barrenness of the terrain in which the Turkana somehow eke out an existence against all odds
  • The theological discussions with mzungu (white) pastors and Turkana pastors and missionaries about polygamy (one villager yesterday had 9 wives--one in each of the various regions he grazes his goats so they can assist him, and "comfort" him)
  • The cacophony of sound as 100 Turkana pastors pray passionately to their Lord--out loud
  • The large scorpion found in a shallow "pool" being used for baptisms in the village where the team overnighted
  • The sound of the water truck arriving early in the morning after the tank has run dry--so we can shower, and flush
  • The hope, and joy, on sun-wrinkled foreheads as Turkana men place their faith in the One who gave His life for them
  • The sudden darkness in a Q&A forum with pastors as the power-grid temporarily fails, and the gleam of cell phones
  • The awareness--when one of them tells me that another tribe has killed some of his family members and friends, and tried to torch his house--that these guys REALLY live their faith in a manner that shames me
  • The French accent of our team mate from Birundi in the morning, "Eet eez zee best coffeeeeeeeee!"
  • The intense twinkle of the southern cross in the desert
  • The dawning of realization that Habakkuk really is a message they understand and live so much better than I: "Though there is no fruit on the vine, or sheep in the pen, or cattle in the stalls, yet will I rejoice in God my Savior"

Saturday, July 15, 2017


At 2am a few days ago we woke to thunder and lightning. Then it poured for about 10 hours. Turkana is in a five-year drought with virtually no rain in the last year. The rain is an incredible blessing, say the Turkana, though it is tinged with sadness; two boys were swept away in the resulting floods as they tried to rescue someone else.

The team was unable to cross in their four-wheel-drives, so had to cancel village outreach for the day. The next day, they waited two hours at a flooded bridge as a truck, on the verge of being swept away, was salvaged. They made it out to the village after a 6-hour trip and overnighted there in tents. In the early morning, they were greeted by a foot-long millipede and large scorpion.

During the two days of ministry there, over 100 placed their faith in Christ and were baptized in a safe tributary of the "river."

Wi-fi/internet is spotty and heavily competed for by the team, hence the brevity of this post.