Saturday, December 5, 2009

Dancing in Swahili & Random Observations- 12/5/2009

December 5, 2009

Dancing in Swahili

In October we had a great 2-week preparation for language-learning called PILAT at the Mission Training International facility in Palmer Lake, Colorado. While there Alene wrote a beautiful analogy between learning a language and learning to dance. The goal in learning a language is to flow and “dance” with it and enjoy your connection with other partners and enjoy the nuances of language and culture that enter into your own spirit as you truly appreciate the “music” of the language. Nevertheless, the first phase is to learn the “steps of the dance.” We are learning those steps now and still are looking at our feet and counting the beat, but we can observe a better flow with each passing week and we look forward to ever smoother “dancing in Swahili” each week. (Another analogy is that our language-learning at times is like a very slow computer. Much information has been placed on our mental “hard-drives,” but the download is often rather slow.)

Learning Swahili truly is our full-time job now. We have completed one month and our intense language studies continue until February. Steve will then commence his hospital duties and Alene will be available for her mission work at that time as well. We are truly blessed to have Daniel as our teacher here at Tenwek. (We and everyone else at Tenwek just call him “mwalimu,” which means teacher.) Every weekday straight from 8:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. the two of us have private Swahili language tutoring. In the afternoon and evening we have 2 to 3 hours of homework and study. Time for devotion and prayer is included with each class session and our instruction extends far beyond language per se to nuances of Kenyan culture and history. (As one example, yesterday we started with the Swahili word for “love” and discussed how Kenyan husbands and wives view and express their love for one another.) Daniel uses many techniques to help us in our language-learning. Besides listening, speaking, and writing in class we often sing in Swahili, get up and move around the classroom and walk around on the roads and speak with others, such as shopkeepers. It is a blessing that each of us are learning together and can practice together. We are frequently reminded of the directive from PILAT in Colorado: “To learn a language you have to make a million mistakes, so get started now!”

We are also blessed to have Pastor Wesley help us each week with Swahili language drills and to have a neighbor and house-helper, Carol, who is very patient and speaks Swahili very well. It will be great to have these ongoing resources to build upon the language foundation being constructed during these first 3 months.

You might ask: “What is it like to learn Swahili?” Even the word “mwalimu” for “teacher” and the word “mwanaume” for “man” seemed intimidating at first and there still are some “new” letter combinations for our mouths to pronounce, but thankfully Swahili uses our same Roman alphabet (without Q and X) and no letters are “silent” and each letter is pronounced the same way each time. (We have great sympathy for those learning English as a second language.) However, the Swahili language does present its own challenges. You probably are aware that some languages have different “classes” of nouns, like masculine, feminine, and neuter. Well, in Swahili there are 8 noun classes!!! With each noun class there are different rules for handling the singular and plural forms and for handling adjectives and connections with other nouns and how to refer to them as “he/she/they/it/these/those/that.” Some of the noun classes are predictable: “M/Wa Class” refers to living things that can move on their own (people and animals, but not plants); “Pa” class is for places; “Ku” class is for verbs used as nouns (like “speaking”); and most foreign words like “apartmenti” (for “apartment”) are in the “N class.” However, for many words we just have to learn and remember the proper designation. So, we have many words (probably 20+ news ones each day) and many grammatical rules “swimming around” in our heads and at times we need to be encouraged to forge ahead in communicating and not grind to a stop in trying to remember each rule. Daniel has used a great tool to have us write 10 – 12 sentences each day to summarize what all we did the day before. We read these and he makes the necessary corrections. It does give us courage that we can express ourselves.

It has taken us some effort to become accustomed to telling time in the Swahili manner. The day starts at 6:00 a.m., so the “first hour of the morning” is 7:00 a.m. and the “seventh hour in the afternoon” is 1:00 p.m. The time at 7:00 p.m. is stated as “the first hour of the evening.” Daniel told us that it is not extremely uncommon even for Kenyans to misunderstand whether the times were given in Swahili or in English and to arrive either 6 hours early or 6 hours late!

The word for “push” (yes, as can be used by obstetricians) is “sukuma” and the word for “week” is “wiki.” We are told that this explains the name of the ubiquitous, kale-like, leafy vegetable that we eat here called “sukuma wiki” – it pushes us through the week!

We cannot say that we are dreaming “in” Swahili yet, but we certainly are dreaming “about” speaking Swahili each night. Reading some Swahili aloud before going to sleep has helped for some phrases to “stick” better. We can already see huge progress in our language-learning after one month and we know that more and more each day we will be dancing and dreaming in Swahili!

Random observations- December 5, 2009:

*Here in Kenya, the shrill cry of a distraught mother cow makes us think of an elephant’s call!

*A Kenyan will typically use his chin to point and raise his eyebrows to answer “yes.”

*Kenyan tea (chai) is not tea with milk and sugar added, but rather it is tea boiled together with whole milk and sugar.

*Handshaking is very important and a hard, loud, handshake slap is shared by men who are dear friends.

*As we listen to people speaking Swahili, they often intersperse many English words, expressions and numbers.

*Cell phones are used here to transfer money from one person’s cell phone account to another’s.

*A loaf of bread costs about 50 cents and a beautiful avocado costs 15 to 30 cents.

*When buying things here in Kenya, it typically is the responsibility of the buyer to have exact change or expect to purchase more to make up the difference. (In fact, Swahili does not have a word for it, they just use the English word: “change.”)

*The trees producing the “purple snow” are called jacaranda trees.

*For our apartment, firewood is considered a “utility” cost, because we have no other means to heat our home.

*Our nightly sounds of “pop bottle wind-chimes” are actually produced by bullfrogs.

*We did, in fact, find the final (3rd) note that our niece, Clara, hid in an ActionPacker!

*ActionPackers covered by Alene with nice pieces of cloth make beautiful benches and can still be used for storage.

*Missionary homes here at Tenwek are very well decorated with Christmas trees (artificial) and electric lights.

We give thanks for the blessings we have received including those of your friendship and prayers. May each of you be blessed as you prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. May you enjoy special times with family and friends during this Christmas season.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


November 19, 2009

How’s the Weather in Kenya?.…Rainy….Blessed Rain!

We’re often asked: “So, what’s the weather like in Kenya?” Although Tenwek Hospital is within 150 miles of the equator, it is located at about 7,000 ft elevation, which gives us a very temperate climate. The temperatures range from the 50’s to the 90’s year-round. We don’t have “summer” and “winter” as we do in USA, but we instead have “rainy seasons” and “dry seasons.” Right now we are in one of the two rainy seasons: September-October-November (with the other March-April-May). The people of the Tenwek area are most grateful that they have been spared from the extreme drought that has affected other broad areas of Kenya. We did witness dry areas starting to recover from drought near Nakuru (100 miles north of here) and we have listened to eye-witness reports from a little south of here of dry land devoid of vegetation with cattle found dead on the roadside or existing as skeletons covered with hide. So the Kenyan people definitely do not take rainfall for granted and appreciate your prayers for adequate moisture.

The rainy season here does not typically have “typhoon-like” rains. A typical day now will have about 3 or 4 episodes of light rain each lasting for about 20 to 30 minutes. Then the sun usually comes out shining brightly between the rainy episodes and it does not seem to take long for the ground to dry up after these brief showers and be ready for the next shower. The rolling hills around Tenwek are currently fully green in a beautiful patchwork of fields and the people have gotten their maize (corn) and other crops planted. The frequent rains do make drying clothes on a clothesline a challenge, because there are no clothes dryers here. (We have a back-up clothesline system inside the apartment, but the humidity still necessitates much longer drying times.) Even though the rains may interrupt activities a bit, we (along with the Kenyans) are most thankful for the rains.

Bwana asifiwe! (The Lord be praised!)

Getting around in Kenya

Our daily transportation (as for most Kenyans) is primarily by foot. Our apartment is located down a steep road below the hospital, so we do get a good work-out daily with the 10-minute climb. We are very thankful to be acclimated to the elevation, coming from Colorado. So far, we’ve twice made the one-hour uphill hike to the home of Pastor Wesley and Charity. We’ve learned for the Kipsigis people (the local tribal group) that it is very important even during short walks for us to take time to greet others and shake their hands whether a child or an adult. We’ve also learned how to respond “Not today” in Kipsigis to our many invitations to come to their homes for chai (tea)! As pedestrians, we need to be vigilant for cars and motorcycles driving on the left side of the road…. or really on ANY side of the road! Drivers of vehicles seek out the least-muddy and least-rutted part of the road and it is our responsibility as pedestrians to give THEM the right-of-way. Then there are, of course, cows, donkeys, and sheep that need to use the same roads and even the same walkway over the dam that we use.

There are more, better quality, paved roads in Kenya than when we were here in 2008 and especially in the Tenwek area. This has been a blessing for patients being driven to the hospital and for us in our journeys, such as for our trip to Bomet (5 kilometers away) in a matatu. Although I see that our Swahili dictionary defines a matatu as a “minibus, “ most really are just cars, which are now being used for public transportation. The front seat is usually split in to two “buckets” with a stick-shift between the seats and the back seat is of a “bench” type. For our ride we sat in “luxury” with only three in the back seat while each of the two front buckets had two passengers, including in the drivers seat! (We think that the driver actually did the gear-shifting himself!)

The better roads have also been a great boon for the motorcyclists who have intruded on the matatu business by selling rides to one or two passengers at a time. We counted 25 motorcycles during our 5-kilometer drive from Bomet to Tenwek when we first arrived. Unfortunately, there is apparently little regulation on motorcycle licensing or driving and we are told that there are many new motorcycle accident patients arriving on the Orthopedic Ward at Tenwek each day. Oh, such is the price for “progress!” We will enjoy the smoother and shorter ride between Tenwek and Nairobi. We have not yet tried driving in Kenya…on the left side of the road (…mostly!)…and shifting gears with the left hand….more adventures to come!


The American holiday Thanksgiving is not nationally observed here in Kenya, but we as a Tenwek missionary community will share time together as a huge family on Saturday (two days after Thanksgiving Day) to celebrate our thankfulness. We certainly could each make a very long list of ALL of the MANY things for which we are thankful and it is important to reflect on those blessings. We are personally thankful for all those who have made our presence at Tenwek possible through their support, prayers, love, and encouragement.

We would like to conclude with a Thanksgiving inspiration from the daily devotional book, “Experiencing God” by Henry T. Blackaby & Richard Blackaby:

“Thankfulness is a conscious response that comes from looking beyond our blessings to their source. As Christians, we have been forgiven, saved from death, and adopted as God’s children. There could be no better reason for a grateful heart!”

Blessings to each of you as you reflect and celebrate Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Photo albums updated 11-10-2009

Please note the link in upper right corner to view our recently updated photo albums.

Monday, November 9, 2009

KARIBU - Welcome back to Kenya!

Karibu! – We truly feel welcome back in Kenya!

We left Colorado just a few days before 1½ feet of snow fell there! Even so, the weather did affect our flight from Denver to London on October 25th. It definitely turned out to be a blessing that our flight from Denver was delayed due to de-icing of the wings. Because we missed our flight in London, British Airways put us up in a nice hotel by Heathrow airport and we were given about 23 hours extra in London to rest and recuperate after a whirlwind of activity during the days and weeks before our departure. This also gave us a more gradual change across a total of 9 time zones. Thankfully our hosts in Nairobi, Dr. and Mrs. Spriegel, were very accommodating and actually started doing some of our “moving in” shopping without us. We give a HUGE prayer of thanks that every one of our 24 pieces of luggage made it safely to Nairobi and were sent on to Tenwek Hospital ahead of us!

Meanwhile, our own route from Nairobi to Tenwek was not direct, but provided us with a broader perspective of World Gospel Mission’s activities in Kenya. We did some “power shopping” in Nairobi and then rode with Jim & Alice Vanderhoof (WGM Kenya Field Directors) to their home and the WGM Kenya headquarter offices in Nakuru. It was a special treat to spend several hours at the “Baby Center” in Nakuru, which cares for about 30 orphans up to 5 years of age. Each child was truly precious and eager for attention and affection. We had great appreciation for the quality of care provided and for the wonderful facilities at the Baby Center.

Jim and Alice continually gave us cultural “tid-bits” throughout our time at their home and as they drove us to Kericho. As Jim attended a meeting there, Alice gave us a tour of the Kenya Highlands Bible College. We even were on live Christian radio for several minutes as the announcer interviewed us about our commitment to long-term service at Tenwek Hospital at this season in our lives! After 4 days in Kenya we finally arrived in Tenwek on Friday evening, and found our apartment well-prepared, including beds already made!

It is difficult to pin-point all of the factors about this place that make us feel “welcome” and “at home” here. The people of Kenya and Tenwek Hospital have been a key factor in our feeling welcome. So many friends and colleagues have expressed “Karibu” (pronounced like “Car-EE-boo” meaning “welcome”) in word and deed! Other experiences of sight, sound, and smell have renewed special memories of Kenya: the “call-to-prayer” from the mosque loudspeakers in Nairobi at 4:30 a.m. (after getting to bed at midnight!), the call of unique birds in the mornings and at night, the dramatic view of the Rift Valley, zebra scampering across the road as we drove to Nakuru, verdant green hills around Tenwek , the bright, white teeth of smiling Kenyan children, and a new sign with the same message at Tenwek Hospital: “We Treat – Jesus Heals.” All have played a role in our feeling welcome back to our home at Tenwek! However, there are actually some very welcome changes since we were here 20 month’s ago - many more kilometers of paved rounds around the hospital and on the route between Nairobi and Tenwek!

We are truly blessed with our triplex home, which overlooks the river dam 100 feet below. We can hear the sounds of water as it flows over the dam and are serenaded each evening by the sounds of insects, which we liken to “coke bottle wind-chimes!” There are very tall trees between our home and the river and they provide a home for many brightly colored birds. Steve’s parents have inspired us to enjoy birds over the years and we look forward to continuing that here as well. Our accommodations are very comfortable and we’ll share more details a bit later. Of course, there is no white snow here, but Steve has described the mounds of colorful blossoms shed from some of our huge trees as “purple snow.”

Yes, all of the boxes arrived safely and with no evidence of any damaged or missing items! We are so thankful. It has taken all week to get the kitchen set up and to start unpacking. Steve has described our unpacking as a “battle” with the boxes “winning” at first, but we now seem to have the upper hand. It took a great adventure into the nearby town of Bomet with Pastor Wesley as our guide to find and buy plastic hangers to truly gain momentum in the unpacking process! (Hunting for hangers is a great way to meet a lot of people and get to know many of the shops.)

Of course, we’ve enjoyed being re-united with Pastor Wesley and his family from a nearby village. They helped us with some kitchen set up and we later walked the hour UPHILL to their home to enjoy their hospitality.

So what are we doing now?..... Our specified duties are to concentrate on learning Swahili during the next 3 months. (Steve will have no medical responsibilities until February.) We are blessed to have Daniel (an instructor from Nairobi) as our tutor for 5 hours daily Monday to Friday. We truly are students working on a couple of hours of homework each evening. Alene is a bit more brave to speak up with strangers, but Steve is getting up his courage as well. It is great to be able to practice with each other and to have Pastor Wesley as our language helper as well. Steve has discussed the care given to a couple of patients, but the Tenwek Hospital physicians have honored his commitment to the language learning and have not asked him to actually provide any medical care there.

We are remembering and getting used to the fact that EVERYTHING just takes longer to accomplish here – whether it’s showering, dressing, preparing meals to have clean/safe food, boiling and filtering water to drink, connecting on the internet, walking places with many welcome interruptions to greet Kenyans and Americans alike….

Thanks for your prayers and patience as we proceed with getting settled. We still have 5 more boxes to unpack and our niece, Clara, gave us an incentive to keep unpacking to find the 2nd and 3rd notes that she hid in those remaining boxes while visiting us in Colorado in October.

(More to come and we'll link up some photos soon!)

Monday, October 26, 2009


Kenya Journal 2009

October 25, 2009


As we’ve been heading to long-term service on the mission field, I’ve off and on said to Alene, “It’s getting REAL!” but she is quick to remind me that “IT’S ALL REAL!” Nevertheless, as I look back on this transition to mission service during this past year there were steps along the way that made it seem “even more real.”

It’s real when…

…You resign from your employment.

…People start referring to you as a “missionary.”

…You say good-byes to family and friends not knowing if you’ll see them next in

this world or in the world to come.

…People keep asking, “Aren’t you gone yet?”

…Your church commissions you for service.

…You sell your only remaining car.

…You give a good-bye pat to a dear friend’s dog.

…You say tearful good-byes to fish in your pond and birds in your yard.

…You throw away old shoes, jeans, and shirts barely suitable for yard work


…You pack up belongings to the point of “echoing emptiness” in your home.

…You permanently change your address for mail delivery and throw away your

mailbox key.

…You sleep in your bed for the last time.

…You disable your home phone and internet access.

…You take your first dose of anti-malaria prophylaxis medication.

….There is nothing left to pack.

…The doors close to your prior home and friends drive you to the airport.

…Dear friends give hugs and wave good-bye at the airport.

…The plane takes off from Denver as you head to London and soon to Kenya.

It’s real when…

…Tears too many are shed for relationships stretched by miles and by time and are

shed in the anticipation of new relationships to come.

It’s real when…

…You know that you are held in the Lord’s hands every day.

May we always remember Dr. Ernie Steury, the first Tenwek Hospital physician 50 years ago, and his contentment to know: “The safest place to be is always in the center of God’s will.”

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Delivery Date: October 25th! It's a........

We have likened these past months since concluding our employment positions to a pregnancy as we have been shaped and developed into missionary servants. Well, the gestation period is almost completed and we are ready to be "born" into long-term mission service in Kenya! On Sunday, October 25th, our plane leaves Denver for Nairobi, Kenya!
The First United Methodist Church community is with us in spirit after a special commissioning celebration on Sunday, October 18th. Please note the link to photos from that celebration in the column on the right.
We look forward to sharing more as this adventure unfolds!

Friday, October 2, 2009

A meaningful song in our transition: "I don't want to go through the motions"

Here is a link to a song on “YouTube” that has been very meaningful to us as we re-focus our lives:

I don’t want to go through the motions!

I don’t want to go through the motions.

I don’t want to go one more day without Your all-consuming passion inside of me!

I don’t want to spend my whole life asking:

“What if I had given everything instead of going through the motions?”

Our return to Kenya - 2009!!

We are very excited to return to Tenwek Hospital in Kenya on October 25th for a 3-year commitment for service. It will be a delight to once again share our observations and prayers with others on this blog, which has been dormant since our return from Kenya in February 2008. Even though it was a trying time to be in Kenya in 2008, it was immediately after our service at Tenwek Hospital that we recognized the Lord's calling us to serve there long term. The situation in Kenya then was very tense in 2008 with the post-election turmoil and we are very thankful that all is much more quiet at this time. Nevertheless, we give thanks for the assurance of the Lord's presence with us always during "Our Coming and Going."
We are completing preparation training for missionary service in Colorado and we want to share a key verse from yesterday's session:
"The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." Deuteronomy 31:8
May the Lord be with you on each step of your journey!
Thank you for sharing in our journey.
Steve & Alene Burgert