Back to HomeSchool

It’s Back to School time at Tenwek. The Kenyan kids attend local schools which are conducted in Swahili and Kipsigis. The missionary families homeschool their children using curriculum on pace with the American educational system… in English. We're jumping right in.

Anna is officially a Kindergartener. She is so proud. And excited. Here you see her entering “school,” which is actually in the spare bedroom of our friend Alyssa’s apartment.
For the last several weeks, Anna’s eager anticipation of kindergarten has been rising. So much so, that within five minutes of the start of kindergarten, she was so utterly excited that she quite literally fell off of her seat. Even a bump on her head could not dampen her enthusiasm, however. As she finished her first math worksheet, she beamed up at me and proclaimed, “Kindergarten is so fun!” A five-year-old with a gluestick is bound to be a happy camper.
I am more than a little afraid that my rookie homeschooling efforts are not going to live up to Anna’s high expectations. Sooner or later she is going to realize that her mother is a Kindergarten Teacher Imposter. Really, what do I know about teaching little kids how to read and subtract? Well, this will be a learning year for both of us. Thankfully we have good resources here: other homeschooling families whose children have successfully learned to read and subtract.

Jessica knows for sure that the other missionary kids can subtract, because she teaches them math. Jessica has been teaching math for the 6th/7th graders for almost a year. This year she has five students, and as seen below, she teaches her class in the “MK School Room,” which is like a library and resource-room for homeschooling families. As I snapped this picture this morning, I heard her say something about today’s topic was the commutative property of something.
Inspired by Jessica’s willingness to teach math, I agreed to teach junior high science this year. Today we attempted our first laboratory experiment. Thankfully, relative density demonstrations are generally both foolproof and impressive. A few of my five students wanted to take the experiment home to show their parents. Bless their hearts.

Lastly, Anna and Elise both attend a preschool class that another mom, Amy, teaches each day. Her daughter is three-years-old like Elise. Anna is the only kindergartener this year, so she joins in the preschool class as well, and they look forward to having another preschooler join them when his family arrives in September. Judging from the picture below, this group might not be ready for much rigorous academic learning, but they always enjoy the process.


COTW: Gift

42 years old. 10 pregnancies. No babies. Mary came to the OB ward 8 wks before her due date. She had lost 9 babies—some before birth due to bleeding or high blood pressures, some within the first day of life. She came begging us to save this one. Her blood pressure was high, and the baby was measuring small, but we admitted her to the hospital and started her on medications, including one to help her baby's lungs mature more quickly, in the extremely likely event of a pre-term delivery. After a day and a half of these medications, I did an ultrasound to look at the baby. The fluid was low, a sure sign that the placenta was starting to fail. The heartbeat was there, but no movements, despite watching for almost 30 minutes. We decided it was time.

The baby boy came out limp and floppy. As I watched the peds team work on him, I felt a growing dread—once more, we had waited too long. Mary would not be a mother, for the 10th time. But he was alive for now, and he was transferred to Eric's care in the nursery. The first few days, things did not look good. But little by little, the little boy began to improve. He started to feed, to grow, to breathe room air.

Last week, 30 days after delivery, Baby Gift (Mary's name for him) was discharged in good condition. What a blessing to be able to watch this miracle to take place! It was a double victory, as Eric and I cared for this mother and child on both ends of the spectrum.


Cheaper by the ....

We are pleased to announce that the McCropders will soon be adding its dozenth member, come mid-March. Eric and I are expecting McLaughlin baby #2 (even-ing out the McCropders to 4 of each family)! This will be the first baby born in Kenya, but not the first born abroad (Abi of course holds that honor)...maybe the first to hold dual citizenship? So far, all has been well and we are excited about the future. Of course, this means that we won't all fit in the Jolly Green Giant anymore...

PS Thanks to ultrasound technology, we are quite certain that the McCropders will NOT be becoming a baker's dozen in March. :)


Lovin' the Awkwardness

Yesterday, two things happened to me.

First, I was walking to the sink in the NICU to wash my hands for the 30th time, and two nurses were standing nearby filling syringes with medicines. They were speaking in Kipsigis, the local mother tongue that I know a total of 5 words in. They said something that ended in what sounded like "Jesus." Intuitively, I turned.

-What did she say?
-What did she just say?
-She said you look like Jesus.
-How did you know it was about you? Do you speak Kipsigis?
-No, somehow I just knew from the context. She's about the 30th person to say that.

Later in the afternoon, I was walking back from the clinic, and an orthopaedic patient in a wheelchair stops me. He speaks English:

(we shake hands)
-(warmly) Can I take your picture?
-You want to take my picture?
-You have a camera?
-Yes (he pulls out his phone, which has a camera)
-(pause) Are you an orthopaedic surgeon?
-I just want to take it.

He takes my picture with his phone, and I walk on. I don't know if this was related to the "Jesus" issue. I think it might just be one of the odd things about being a white minority. Children are forever waving to you from the roadside. Once at a conference, we were taking a big group photo, and later I learned that the photographer had zoomed in and taken a picture of just my face. Why? I don't know. Today on rounds, I caught another patient out of the corner of my eye taking my picture with his phone. A veteran missionary has said, "You're always the bride at the wedding."

This kind of unsolicited attention may seem novel during a brief holiday, but it tempts to be oppressive when you are actually living somewhere for a longer period of time.

Nevertheless, I have come to believe that one of the keys to thriving as an expatriate abroad is to accept, nay even to embrace, just this awkwardness. Let it remind of the crazy ride that you have found yourself on. I have found the following 2 coping mechanisms useful:

1. Confront it head on. This leads to some interesting conversations and fun relationships. This morning again, the nurse from NICU greeted me: "Hello Jesus." I jokingly engaged the topic with her and she gave her dismissive (yet lame) defense: "Well, you are a Christian, and so you are Christ-like, so I call you Jesus." (pretending that it's not my beard and my white-ness.) I replied: "Enoch (a Kenyan sitting next to us) is a Christian and he's Christ-like, but you're not calling him Jesus."

2. Occasionally up the ante. Missionaries tend to prefer assimilation, but every once in a while, you just need to stick out like a sore thumb and be proud of it. And so when John and I wandered through the urban matatu (public minibus) station, taking photos of their crazy window decals, we got the entire crowd of drivers following us, thinking "Look at those crazy white people." It was rather freeing.


Favorite Pastimes of the Adult McCropders

In the absence of restaurants, movie theaters, shopping malls, and babysitters, we have to find other ways to entertain ourselves.  We can't actually think of 10 things to do, but here are some of the most common.

1)  Racquetball.  We were quite surprised (and delighted) to discover that Tenwek has a racquetball court.  Thanks to Carlan (hopeful future addition to the McCropders) and other donors, the McCropders now have their own set of rackets, goggles, and balls.  This is an excellent activity that both the guys and girls enjoy.  Hitting the ball as hard as you can is a great stress reliever!

2)  Movies.  This is a common weekend activity.  A long-term missionary graciously left us his projector when he went back to the States for furlough, so now we can watch movies on the big screen.  We have a hot air popcorn popper from the 80s in our kitchen, so we can come pretty close to a theater experience without the steep price tag!   

3)  GamesAgricola is the newest craze in the McCropder community.  Surprisingly, it's probably been played more than Settlers of Catan.  That's saying something.

4)  Hiking.  There are two common destinations when it comes to hiking -- one child-friendly and the other not so child-friendly.  The child-friendly destination is the waterfall.  It's about a 15-minute walk (depending on the child).  John and Jason are scheming of ways to put in a zip-line or swinging rope.  Please don't encourage them in this endeavor.  The not so child-friendly destination is Mount Motigo.  This 2-3 hour hike roundtrip offers a lovely view of the surrounding area.  (The picture below shows Tenwek Hospital from the top of Mount Motigo.)   

5)  Personal Hobbies.  Of course, each of us has our own leisure activity that we enjoy.  Eric can often be heard playing his guitar.  Rachel devours books.  Heather and I love jigsaw puzzles.  Jason is often spotted reading a surgery textbook or flipping through his Swahili flashcards.  (I really think this is a leisure activity for him!)  John will do whatever as long as he's around people.

6)  Hanging Out.  Between the hours of 5 and 6:30, you can almost always spot a group of us talking outside our building while our kids play.  As people meander home from work, they join the crowd.  It's a wonderful time of debriefing and fellowshipping with each other.


Favorite Pastimes of Our Little MKs

In the absence of playgrounds, libraries, and trips to the mall, our little munchkins have to find other ways to entertain themselves.  Yesterday was an exciting day (especially for Micah).  In the morning, we watched a tractor plow the field next to our house.  Right before lunch, the kids played in the wheat that was purchased to grind into flour.  It made a great sandbox!  In the afternoon, we all stared as the older missionary kids (MKs) decided how to rescue an injured baby bird.  Just after this, we were treated to a visit from another tractor which pulled right in front of our building to pick up some piles of brush and leaves. 

Fortunately, the weather here is nearly perfect (mid-70s to 80s most of the day with short periods of rain every now and then) which allows for lots of outdoor fun.  The top ten favorite activities include:

1)  Getting a ride in the wagon that was generously loaned to the McCropders by the Roberts family.

2)  Climbing one of the trees outside our building.

3)  Swinging on the swing.

4)  Walking down the sidewalk to admire the 3 tortoises in the Bemm's yard.  This tortoise might need to see an ophthalmologist after Micah's done with him!

5)  Running around in the Kipagenga, which is basically a large oval with a cement floor and aluminum roof that is used as a basketball court and gathering place.  Kipagenga means "coming together" in Kipsigis.

6)  Any water-related activity.

7)  Playing dress-up.  Thanks Grandma Cropsey and Aunt Star for the dresses!

8)  Drawing with sidewalk chalk.

9)  Climbing up to the tree house (under adult supervision, of course).

10)  Playing in the freshly mown grass (which leads to tremendously itchy skin if not washed immediately after).


Where to from Here?

I'm realizing it's been awhile since we've given an update on what our thoughts are after we leave Tenwek in the late fall of 2011. When we last left off, in February, the guys had just visited Brackenhurst and we posted a list of what we thought God was leading us to in a future site. Since then, we've done a lot of talking, a lot of praying, getting advice from wise counsel (including the Fader/Cropsey parents and Bob Lynn), and some research. And we've narrowed the field, we think, down to four countries: Liberia, Chad, Madagascar, and Burundi. Careful readers will notice this is NOT the list we included in the March post, but after looking into each location, we decided some were better possibilities than others.

At this point, the only way to proceed, from what we see (short of the tree in our front yard bursting into flames with the voice of God) is to go and visit each place. The McLaughlins will be leaving Sept 6 to spend a week at Hope Africa Univeristy in Bujumbura, Burundi. The Faders will be leaving Sept 4 to spend a week in Mahajanga, Madagascar. Come November, the Cropseys will be flying to Monrovia, Liberia to visit Elwa Hospital. And possibly in January, some of us will be headed to N'Djamena to look at opportunities in Chad. Then perhaps a final decision can be reached by early 2011. We're excited about this next step, and hope to share our thoughts and observations with you upon our returns. There is a lot that can be said about each country, but we'll save it for later.

For now, we're asking for your prayers at this leap of faith. Traveling in Africa is completely different than traveling in the US and developed world, even for those of us who consider ourselves experienced travelers. First, we need to get visas. While all of these countries have embassies in the US where you can get visas, we're not in the US. And not every country has an embassy in Kenya. So that leads to adventures in a) finding a Burundian embassy in Nairobi, or b) finding a Liberian consulate in the Lebanese embassy (obviously), or c) applying for an exemption to getting a Chadian visa because there's no Chad embassy within 5 countries of us. Yikes. Then there's plane tickets. Expedia is not so much a helpful search engine when looking for flights betweeen Nairobi and Bujumbura. In fact, Eric found one flight that left Nairobi and flew to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, then to Kampala, Uganda, then to Kigale, Rwanda, and then finally to Burundi. Really? Here to Bujumbura is approximately the distance between Des Moines and Dallas! Finally, there's the issue of cash. We are used to flying around the world equipped with only a piece of plastic which goes into machines and magically spits out money in the currency of which you need. Are there ATMs in Burundi? No. What currency do they take? US dollars. Huh. Not so accessible when you live in Nairobi. Many issues to figure out.

So, please pray for travel plans, logistics, safety, and above all, discernment. We really just want to follow God's leading here. May our ears and eyes be opened to His calling.

Map of Burundi
Map of Liberia
Map of Chad
Map of Madagascar


Class of 2027 revisited

Jess's sister Abby Birk was here recently, and took some great pictures of the kids. Here are some of our favorites.


Buses, Boats, Bikes and Boda Bodas

This past week the Faders had a fantastic week of vacation in which we did quite a bit of traveling, including all of the above modes of popular African transportation. We started off going to Hell's Gate National Park. My brother-in-law and I rented bikes for the afternoon and rode through the park, seeing zebras, warthogs, hyraxes, gazelles, and other animals.

We also took a boat to an island in Lake Naivasha where we could walk around with all those same animals.

After saying goodbye to Heather's sister and her husband, we took a night bus 15 hours from Nairobi to Kampala, Uganda, to visit my brother who is drilling/fixing water holes there with the Peace Corps. To get to my brother's house from Kampala, we took a 2 hour ride on a matatu (van with 15-23 people crunched in it) to Mubende, and then another 1 hour ride in a matatu further into the bush, and finally a 8km boda boda ride from the town to his village. Boda bodas are a popular form of transportation here which is a motorcycle with up to 4 passengers (plus the driver). In this case, the driver, Heather, Abi, and I were on one, and the driver, my brother, Anna, and our bags were on the other.

The following day we took boda bodas to a village to fix their bore hole. This time we also carried heavy tools and some 8 foot metal rods for fixing the water hole.

We returned to Kampala on Friday and then traveled 2 hours south to Lake Nabugabo, to a campsite where we met up with some of my brother's Peace Corps friends for 2 nights. We had a great time, and the lake was beautiful.

Then north again to Kampala for Sunday night, before going to Jinja Monday morning and rafting on the Nile.

Monday night was back on the night bus from Jinja to Nairobi (only 10 hours this time) and then a 3 hour trip back to Tenwek on Tuesday with our van. All in all, 48 hours of this past week were spent in various vehicles with our 2 little girls, who were excellent travelers. They especially liked the boat and the boda bodas. We are thankful for safety in all of this traveling, and we are very thankful for such a wonderful vacation with family! We will also be happy to have a break from vehicles for a while.


On the Road to Nairobi (More Signs)

Last weekend, we went into Nairobi to run some errands (see prior post). It's a good drive, and it seems that there are always more fun details to pick up on. Here are some more signs I snapped on the way there.
Wait, did you say the "Jesus is the Fountain of Life Church Total Transformation Centre The House of Worship?" Oh, that's on the left...
On the floor of the Rift Valley
How would you define "Anti-Natal"?
This is actually at Tenwek Hospital, but I had forgotten to include it earlier
We stopped at one point, because some 30 giraffes were on both sides of the road. It never really gets old, watching these graceful animals. This is the first time, though, that I've seen them drink, which is apparently when they are most vulnerable to attack.


Voting Update

Thanks to all of you for your prayers for Kenya this last week. You will be happy to hear that our lack of blogging had nothing to do with riots or looting or civil unrest of any sort...just a mild natural disaster. A windstorm knocked down some key power lines and we have had spotty power ever since. :)

Things went very smoothly for the voting. No reports of corruption were made, and Kenya voted in their new constitution by 67%. Please continue to pray for our adopted country as they now work to enact this constitution fairly and smoothly.