Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Christmas comes early at RVA

So it’s November 20th.  In the States, Thanksgiving is just around the corner.  Here in Kenya, we’re enjoying gifts of all sorts, well before the Christmas season. 

Already we’ve watched a Christmas pageant put on by the 5th and 6th graders (Nov. 11th), welcomed the gift of having my parents here to visit for a few weeks (Nov. 16th), attended two Christmas concerts put on by the students in concert band and jazz band (Nov. 18th and 19th), heard the joyous news that our nephew, Clarksyn Kade Schmidt, was brought into the world healthy and strong (Nov. 19th or 20th, depending on which side of the phone conversation you were on – his birthday will always be the 20th in our minds!), found a tortoise hiding in our flower bed (this morning), and opened presents brought over from family in the States (this afternoon). 

pageantA Christmas pageant on Nov. 11th?  Yep!

baby ClarksynProud parents and baby Clarksyn

DSCN5410A griddle for Christmas?  Leary family, you shouldn’t have!! THANK YOU!

DSCN5406Yes, this is a tortoise and yes, he’s chilling in our flower bed as I type :)

In the States, I leaned towards keeping Christmas in the month of December, but I admit it’s been fun seeing it come a little early in Africa. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

More Schmidts in Africa :)

We are happy to report that my parents made it safely across the Atlantic (and the Mediterranean, for that matter) on their first ever trip to Africa!  They arrived late Friday evening into the bustling Nairobi airport, a little travel weary, but excited to be here.  The original plan included a stay-over at Mayfield Guesthouse that evening, but my traveling partner Tony and I decided to make the hour and half drive back to RVA in the dark instead. 

Saturday morning my parents were introduced to one of craziest days in RVA’s calendar, the Pinewood Derby. Quite a production, to say the least.

DSCN5377 RVA’s annual Pinewood Derby: complete with DJ, play-by-play commentary, official computer scoring, and a video instant replay!



Nate’s police car and Ethan’s Dingo Dog car (Richard Scarry) were both entered into the Pinewood Derby but didn’t make any waves in the final standings. Maybe next year!

It is awesome having Mom and Dad here and so good to see them after several months.  The kids are loving having Grandma and Grandpa here with them!  Even as I type, Nate is asking if he can wake Grandpa up from his Sunday afternoon nap :)



This morning was Baptism Sunday and certainly a neat introduction to the RVA community here for my parents.  Eleven students were baptized after making public declarations of their faith in Christ in the baptismal behind the school gymnasium.  A beautiful setting and powerful testimonies made it a special morning.  Each candidate shared a verse and often a parent was able to perform the immersion. 

One parent said that their son had the opportunity to be baptized while on home assignment in Switzerland, but chose instead to wait until he was back at RVA – a powerful testimony to the community of faith here that nurtures and encourages so many students!

DSCN5385The outdoor baptismal area

God bless you and yours as we praise Him for blessing us and ours :)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

On groceries & cooking in Kijabe .. Part 2



DSCN5316a batch of homemade baked tortilla chips

I would say that the most frequently asked questions by my circle of friends when we were preparing to live in Africa pertained to food purchasing and preparation.  (I guess because my circle of friends included a bunch of moms.)  I had very little anxiety about this topic (though I didn’t have the foggiest idea how to buy meat or prepare dinner in Kenya) because I was moving into a well established community, where surely someone would teach me these things.

Sure enough, one of our first Sundays here, some of the veteran women held a cooking class for us newbies.  They shared with us some tried and true recipes, ones that work at an oxygen-lite 2,256 meters above sea level or 7,400 feet.  We are quite high here on the mountain and that makes for some adjustments to our baking & cooking. 

Pasta:  Pasta takes FOREVER to cook! I usually forget to allow for this and end up waiting on the spaghetti, when everything else is ready to go!  At 7,400 feet above sea level, water boils at about 198o Fahrenheit.  I know what you’re thinking – the water should reach its boiling point faster, therefore the pasta should cook faster, right?  WRONG. Because water will not heat past it’s own boiling point, the pasta cooks at 198o instead of at 212o.  So it takes about 10-15 minutes longer to boil pasta in Kijabe than it did in Pennsylvania.



Speaking of temperature, everything here is metric. I buy my meat and cheese according to kilogram, milk and juice are measured in liters.  My oven has only Celsius measurements on the knob so I keep a cheat sheet on my counter of approximate temperatures in oF and oC.

Casseroles, etc.:  Water evaporates more quickly at this elevation.  I have to cover, cover, cover my casserole dishes in the oven, as they dry out much faster here!

Baking:  Add an egg, add more liquid (because of the evaporating issue), use less baking soda, add more baking powder.  I can’t begin to explain the science of baking.  I confess, I much prefer to cook than to bake.  In this department, I just do as they tell me to do.  I’ve had a lot of success in changing the soda/powder content according to directions here, but keeping the rest of the recipe the same.  No major failures yet

DSCN5356My kitchen window 

It’s a learning process.  Most things need to be cooked from scratch, including simple things we take for granted in the states like sour cream or cream of _____ soups.  Even adding beans to a dish is a process.  Beans are purchased dry, soaked overnight & then cooked for hours before being ready to add to a meal.  Fortunately preserving foods like cooked beans and even homemade cream of soups is much easier to do with our chest freezer and I am thankful for that. 

We are also abundantly blessed to live in this close-knit community - so when I find myself out of something in the middle of preparing dinner, I may not be able to just run to the store, but I can easily call a neighbor to come to my rescue, and they have. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

the african community

Here at RVA we serve in a unique capacity – ministering to Missionary families.  If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know that RVA serves as a support to missionary kids from all over Africa.  We’re here so they can stay on the field, doing what the Lord has called them to.
RVA is located in a town in Kenya called Kijabe, and as such we do have opportunities to serve and live alongside the African community as well.  We are glad to live in this community and are thankful for the Kenyans God has placed in our path. Our primary calling may not be to Nationals, but I would argue it’s of high importance to live well in the community God has placed us.

We are happy to be building relationships with several of our Kenyan neighbors as we seek to support their work and ministries.

If you receive our occasional email updates, you would have received a prayer request sent out for our dear friend Jesse.  He works on our yard and garden twice a week.  He is married with two children, and recently sustained a life-altering injury, severing three fingers in an accident at another job.  We are praying he will be able to return to work here and for the few other families he works for locally.  The boys enjoy following him around the yard in their work boots and gloves and Evelyn was just learning how to say his name.  We are blessed to be able to provide him with work, which in turn helps him to support and feed his family.

We also have come to know and love Veronica.  Veronica works inside our house, cleaning and helping with food preparation.  She is wonderful with our kids and has two sons of her own.  She is a valuable part of our team, and I honestly don’t know how I would be able to keep up with life without her help.  Her husband Paul works at RVA as well.  She is hoping to find more work as ours is the only home she works in currently.  Her children attend school, and education is valued here by many Kenyans as a way out of poverty.  We’re praying she’s able to find more work each week to help provide for her family’s basic needs.

Jesse’s brother Peter started a ministry to missionaries in the Kijabe area by going into Nairobi to purchase chicken for them.  Nairobi has a giant meat butchery called City Market right in the heart of downtown.  They have far and away the best meat prices around, but it takes an entire day between the driving, the crowds, the ordering, and the return trip, just to purchase meat.  Peter takes all of the hassle out of this by making the trip for us. We are able to pay him a small delivery fee in addition to the cost of the meat, but it’s still roughly $2.50/lb less expensive than buying chicken in Kijabe and Peter is able to make a small amount from each order. Peter and his wife Margaret just celebrated the birth of their baby boy, Robert, last week. 

Currently, we are having bunkbeds and a desk made in Kijabe town by a furniture maker named Michael.  Michael works on one project at a time for one family at a time.  It’s not fast, but it’s meticulous and its custom built.  You take your ideas/plans/drawings down to him one afternoon in September, let your children play with his children, he gives you 6 eggs as a gift, you agree on a payment, shake hands with him, the man that will actually build your furniture, and then you walk home.  Michael lives behind the shop he works in.  It’s not much to look at, but it provides for his family. 
Also, on any given day, I am visited by a few women with goods to sell. This is their livelihood, their business.

We enjoy flour tortillas each Wednesday from Elizabeth.  Elizabeth visits often and we sit together on the porch swing.  She loves to teach me Swahili.  I don’t know that I am picking up on it very fast, but she is a very patient teacher.   She is a widow who walks 45 minutes one-way to RVA to sell her tortillas just to make enough money to (sometimes) pay her electric bill or purchase a gas bomb (tank) to keep her oven going.  

Emily makes and delivers pizza crusts each Saturday.  These, I’m finding, are helpful to have on hand for having students over on Friday nights for pizza.   Emily also works in several homes here on campus, always has a smile on her face and Evelyn loves to touch her colorful skirts. She has two children. 

Beatrice will regularly flag me down when in Kijabe town to purchase english muffins or samosas.  She is a convincing saleswoman and we have a standing order for a dozen english muffins each Tuesday.  I haven’t learned much of Beatrice’s story, but I pray that her business is helping her family in the way it needs to.

This truly is life at it’s most basic.  If you feel so led and get a chance, pray for these people.  Often we pray for the poor, the least of these, and the widows in blanket statements with generalized terms.  I know that the Lord hears & answers those prayers as well, but here are a few specific examples of widows, of real people living on very meager salaries and some on no salaries at all.  Pray for them by name.

Lift them up before the throne of grace as one day we may be standing right beside them in Eternity, crying out “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!  Amen! Praise & glory, wisdom & thanks & honor & power & strength be to our God forever and ever! Amen!” (Revelation 7:10, 12)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

On Groceries & Cooking in Kijabe … Part 1

I shop at the dukas (stores) here in Kijabe for the basics. We have a market in Kijabe where we buy organic produce year round at set prices (which is a nice thing not having to haggle for lettuce). We also have a small grocery store called the Supa-Duka, which is about the size of a gas-station convenience store, one room filled with many grocery items. Here I’m able to buy flour, sugar, bread and minced beef, among other things.  Both of these places are within walking distance (although the roads are quite bad and the walk home is all uphill). 

We also have a number of Kenyan friends who we buy food from regularly, but I’m going to devote a separate post to that (hopefully) soon.

About twice a month we make it into town for a large grocery run at a place called Nakumatt.  Of course, the trip to Nairobi takes a solid hour and you need at least two hours to shop in Nakumatt and then to make any other stops for other needed items.  It ends up being a full day just to grocery shop.  There are several Nakumatt stores in Nairobi, and they have all-too-much in common with Walmart. They carry grocery items, household products, home d├ęcor, and some of them have clothing.  We are able to find many of the same comforts a North American grocery store would have, for a price. 

So, how far does $20 or about 1,650 ksh (Kenya Shillings) go?

DSCN5281Three bags/boxes of cereal - This is actually just over $20, at about 1,800 ksh.  And not just any cereal… if you like familiar name-brand cereals such as Kellogg’s, you may only get 1 1/2 boxes for $20.   Other things that are far more expensive than in the states include canned products, meat and cheese. 

DSCN5279On the other hand, fresh mostly organic produce is far less expensive than in America.  I have here 3kg (6lbs) carrots, 12 large bananas, 10 baby bananas, 8 pears, 2 red onions, 1 1/2kg (3lbs) peas, 1kg (2 lbs) mixed vegetables, 1 large bunch of spinach, 1 large head of lettuce, 1 small bunch of celery.  This total came to 1,495 ksh or about $18. 

The only drawback to having reasonably priced produce is the extra step we take before consumption.  All of it needs to be cleaned thoroughly in a diluted potassium permanganate solution.


DSCN5283It turns the water a light purple color and greatly reduces the risk of water-born illnesses that may result from eating fruits & vegetables grown in contaminated areas.  Though not everyone does, I recently began soaking produce that we peel as well for added precaution.


One thing that has proved to be very different is the way we get our milk.  RVA pasteurizes it’s own milk and as staff, we are able to drop off our tin milk can at the cafo and receive freshly pasteurized milk as often as we need it.  It then gets charged to our account, which we pay for monthly along with our utility bills. 


We drop off our container in the morning and pick it up sometime after lunch – still warm from pasteurizing.  My kids like the milk warm, fresh from the cafo (yuk).  It has a different flavor than milk in the gallon jugs in the states, but we’re getting used to it.  And you can bet the cows around here aren’t pumped full of hormones – We have some skinny cows here in Kenya.


One more thing on the milk, it’s not homogenized so it leaves this white residue on the glass container we keep it in. 

Some things we are learning when shopping 

When in town buy in bulk!  Often you see a product that you like and will use and then you don’t see it again for months, maybe years.  [Like when you finally spot Ritz crackers after being in Africa for four months, you buy 5 boxes instead of a more reasonable two boxes because you don’t know the next time you’ll see them.]  We’ve once been to the store when they were completely out of sugar and diapers.  As a rule of thumb (especially on specialty items), If it’s in stock and I need one, I buy two or three. 

In Kijabe, we buy a little from many people. At the market, a handful of veggie ladies sell their produce.  We buy a little from each of them.  In the same way, we buy our breads, muffins and tortillas from different women in town in order to help support each of them. 

It’s a constant learning process here.. but God is good!

Hope you enjoyed this first glimpse into our kitchen here in Kenya!

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