Trip to Kitale

Back in January, I led a group of Rosslyn students to Kitale for our Cultural Field Studies (CFS) trip. While I was there, I thought it would be pretty cool to someday bring the family back to reconnect with Helen and Richard, the directors of Seeds Children’s Home, and even stay at Karibuni Lodge.

About a week ago, we were able to do just that, thanks to a former EMHS student, weirdly enough. Kate was one of my 9th grade students in a former life in Virginia, but she’s now a nursing student at JMU. Kate was in Kenya with classmates to volunteer in different clinics in Kenya, and she decided to stay a few extra weeks to do her own volunteering. Because of my CFS experience, Kate connected with Richard and Helen, and set up a time to work in Kitale.

So the Leonards thought they could take her one way- but only one way, since the trip takes more than 6 hours.

Anyway, our time in Kitale was both very good and pretty hard.

The whole school waiting for us!

The whole school waiting for us!

First of all, the morning after we arrived, we travelled to the school that Richard and Helen started about nine years ago. As we drove into the compound, we were amazed to see the entire school in the yard, lined up, just waiting for us! As we got out of the Hippo (our pet name for our 20-year old car- it has a turning radius of a hippo), they started to sing for us! Then the headmaster addressed the students, telling them a little bit about us, and then she asked each of us to speak to all 300+ kids! I can’t even remember what I said. (Although I heard Anisa’s talk, and she did a very good job.)

After that, we were run over by the little ones. A pile of almost 15 of them grabbed me,

Anisa addressing the whole school!

Anisa addressing the whole school!

ostensibly saying hello. We all survived.

After that, we had a tour of the school. Some numbers: 300 students (or so), about 40 per classroom, and the teachers are paid about $75 a month. All of the kids are fed for lunch- and it’s the only meal many of them get. They employ their own seamstress who creates, by hand, the sweaters and shorts for the students’ uniform. (It has to be different from other schools’ uniforms, so if the kids or parents try to sell them, at least the child will be attending the right school!)

I recognized a few of the children in the sea of faces- but I couldn’t find David, until he

Little David

Little David

came to me. The January before, David and Manu, two buddies, appropriated me to be their playmate when I was with the students. Manu spoke no English, but David did, so we spent quite a bit of time talking, playing with a volleyball, and touring the orphanage. After we spoke to the kids, David left his class and walked over to me. It warmed my heart that he remembered me, and I gave him a big hug. Then he hustled back to class.

After the school, we went to the actual home- the orphanage. Seeds now has 200 youngsters living there! Not all of these kids are orphans; some have terrible home situations in which their parents can not raise them.

The bus makes two trips from the school, and we were there to witness the arrival of the

Getting swamped with little ones!

Getting swamped with little ones!

young ones first. David came over again, and he was hanging around the whole tour, popping in and out, smiling, and then ducking back out to play. (By the way, David’s in 2nd grade.)

Before the older kids arrived, all the young ones, along with me and Glenda, Anisa, and Kate, stood in a circle for devotions. We introduced ourselves again, and this is where it got pretty difficult. We introduced Anisa to the group, of course, as “our daughter.” Immediately, a little girl whispered something to Helen. Helen laughed, and then said, “She wants to know how Anisa can be your daughter. She is African and you are mzungu.”

I suddenly realized what was about to happen.

Anisa with Joyce- two great smiles!

Anisa with Joyce- two great smiles!

I looked across at Anisa and invited her to speak, but she just shrugged and said, “You tell them.”

So I did. “Anisa was an orphan, and we adopted her, so now she is our daughter,” I said. Helen added a few more words.

I could almost see the wheels turning in David’s head. I was not surprised when he pulled on my sleeve a little later and asked, “Do you have any sons?”

I answered, “No, I have two daughters.”

He was quiet for a bit, and then said, very quietly, “Maybe you can be my father.”

It hurt my heart more than I can say. I have a bit of a savior complex anyway- I would love to “save” all of them. I just smiled, gave him a little sideways hug, and then he took off running to play with his friend Derrick. It gives me goosebumps even a week later.


Ok. We stayed with the kids another hour or so, through the older kids’ devotions (same

Glenda, Richard, John, Helen, and Rebecca

Glenda, Richard, John, Helen, and Rebecca

question was asked of us by the older ones, too), and then it was time to leave. I had brought two super balls and two hats, so I gave one each to David and Derrick. They both declared they would write to me, and that I shouldn’t forget them- I said don’t worry, that won’t happen! Both boys ran alongside our car as far as they could as we drove out.

Well, that was about it. We tried to sleep a little bit, and then left Kate and headed back for Nairobi. It took us all day, and we had a very interesting traffic jam between Nakuru and Naivasha, but that’s a story for another time.

We wish very much that Kitale was closer to Nairobi so that we could visit more often, but in the meantime, I don’t think I’ll be forgetting Seeds any time soon.

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Middle School Girls Rugby?!?

It took multiple opponents to bring her down!

It took multiple opponents to bring her down!

When we look back on some of the attitudes of our children, we can see strains of this coming, perhaps.

Back when Anisa and Karen were 4 and 5 years old, we used to play this game in our

Karen kicking the conversion

Karen kicking the conversion

narrow hallway in our home in Harrisonburg. I would sit right in the middle, and dare the girls to find a way to get past me.

Anisa would push against me for a while, and then try to be sneaky- you know, spin moves, feints, and she might wait until I was engaged with Karen before she would try to tiptoe past.

Karen, on the other hand, used to wind up and hit me as hard as she could. That wouldn’t work, so she would back up to the end of the “runway,” and sprint towards me, sometimes launching herself horizontal. I would have to catch her to keep her from belly flopping on a hardwood floor.

So it really was no surprise when Karen came home from managing the middle school boy’s rugby team with the announcement: “We’re going to get a group of girls together to start a girls rugby team.”

And that’s just what they did. Karen and her friend Christina McGee (also a manager) drummed up a gaggle of girls to train a few times and then they would play the only other middle school girls rugby team in the country, supposedly: ISK. Tyler and Joanne Heugal were gracious enough to take on coaching the bunch, and they squeezed in about five practices before the big game.

Toughest rugby team around!

Toughest rugby team around!

ISK had been practicing for quite a while longer than Rosslyn, months, apparently, and they came in extremely confident. In fact, their girls were pretty good at trash talking, as several of them “wandered by” Rosslyn players and said things like, “They’re going to carry you off one by one.” (Seriously, one of the girls said that!)

When the game started, it was clear that ISK knew what they were doing, and the ball was down on Rosslyn’s end pretty much the entire first quarter. They didn’t score, though, and Rosslyn broke through with their amazing speed and scored once, and then twice. When ISK scored their try, the ISK parents around me said, “NOW we’re going to dominate!”

It was not to be. Throughout the rest of the game, Rosslyn scored four more tries, and ISK didn’t sniff the goal line again. Rosslyn was just too big and too physical. In fact, the team just hit like a ton of bricks. Teachers watching the game remarked that the girls team hit much harder than the middle school boys team, and Matt Schwandt remarked that if his varsity team hit like these girls did….

Karen got in a number of big hits. She played the game the same way she used to attack

Karen's biggest hit

Karen’s biggest hit

me ten years ago in the hallway. She sprinted towards the ball carrier, and launched herself for the tackle, with no regard for her body. She had a number of hits that made the crowd say, “Oooooooh!” Her best one was after she kicked off to ISK. Karen kicked, and then just sprinted to the player who caught the ball, and laid her out.

Personally, I (John) was pretty nervous heading into this thing. If Karen got hurt….. but as the game went on, I realized that she knows how to tackle, and it was. so. much. fun. I loved it. I found myself later asking Matt if there might be a chance to have a high school girls rugby team in the future?

(The only girls that were hurt in the game were three ISK kids- and none badly, thank goodness.)

Once again, we are thankful for the experiences the girls get to have living here!

Friends after the game!

Friends after the game!


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A Change in Schedule

We’ve usually used this space to update everyone on what’s happened lately, so it seems appropriate to touch on this topic: my basketball coaching.

Coaching Karen's team when she was in 5th grade?

Coaching Karen’s team when she was in 5th grade?

I’ve coached at many different levels since I started this journey in 1990. (Really?!? Almost 25 years ago? Yikes.) I started as Lawson Yoder’s junior varsity assistant back then. I’ve coached varsity basketball at the high school level for a number of years. JV as an assistant for two years, and head coach for one. Middle school teams for three years (had a player go on to a college scholarship from that bunch). I’ve coached K-2nd teams, when you’re just happy when they sit relatively still and listen when you blow the whistle at practice. We would celebrate every time a player scored at that level. I’ve also coached 3rd-5th teams- with Anisa and Karen and their classmates. We took our lumps many of these years, and had some standout years, too. I had a JV team here at Rosslyn that annihilated everyone by more than 12 points. One of those 3rd-5th teams went undefeated, too. We once won a game 50-0, even though I did everything in my power to help the other team. And we lost a game 71-7, when I just worked to keep my more emotional players calm all game long.

The constant throughout the seasons, though, is that I’ve tried hard to stress the process instead of the outcome. Most teams do not win championships, but every team can improve as the season goes on. That’s the best way to judge a team, in my opinion- did they get better as the season went on? Because every season can be a success using that metric, whether the team finished 20-0 or 0-20.

We returned to Kenya in 2011, with the understanding that I would coach three seasons in

Sometimes I can get worked up

Sometimes I can get worked up

our first year back, and then two each year from then on. So for three years, I’ve coached both the boy’s and girl’s varsity teams, with volleyball thrown in there in 2011 (Ugh. Talk about a fish out of water! Thank goodness a student teacher with volleyball experience helped me out that year!).

As the years have moved on, though, it has become more and more clear that I can not continue to coach both teams. I don’t mean to insinuate that coaches of other sports don’t have it rough, but basketball seems to be one of the worst, in terms of pressure and quick decision-making. A basketball game means hundreds and hundreds of quick decisions- who should play, when should players be subbed out, which defenses to use, how to attack the other team, how to address the referees… it goes on and on, all game long, all season long.

Anyway. All this to say that starting next school year, I will be coaching “only” the girls varsity team: I have resigned from the boy’s varsity position. I’m leaving the team with the cupboard full, though, after I inherited an empty cupboard three years ago. I honestly believe that Rosslyn can win the league title next year with the players coming back.

"You go there, and you go there, and then do this!"

“You go there, and you go there, and then do this!”

I’m going to use the extra time to, hopefully, write and read more, and also watch Anisa and Karen play soccer. I’ve seen less than ten soccer events over the last three years, and watching my daughters play has always been a huge joy in my life. I also hope that my health can improve a bit with less stress in my life. (Although, really, I can feel stress when there isn’t any…)

So that’s the news for this week. Check in next week to read about the Leonards in Nairobi, where the sun always shines, the traffic is always insane, and where we are inching along towards “summer” break….

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Converting the World- One Whoopie Pie at a Time

Every December and April, Rosslyn Academy hosts a community-wide flea market, of sorts, called “Mistletoe Market” and “Spring Fling.” I imagine you can figure out which one is named which.

Anyway, in December we had the idea of having a little dessert stand where we would sell Glenda’s amazing desserts. She’s been sharing them (giving them away, of course) throughout the year with the girls’ teachers and our neighbors, and we (let’s be honest here- it was really me- John) were wondering what would happen if we tried it out.

We were too late to get in for December, but for the April one, held yesterday, we were in. Glenda baked chocolate chip cookies, whoopie pies, cinnamon rolls, and funny cakes throughout the week to prepare.

So we set up our booth really wondering if we would sell anything at all. If not, we reasoned, we would just be eating this stuff out of the freezer for the next year and a half.

Well, the cinnamon rolls went really quickly in the morning to the folks that had skipped breakfast. The whoopie pie sales starting picking up around lunch, and then people found the funny cake. We discovered that we had to explain what a funny cake was- over and over and over. Almost no one had ever heard of such a thing. Once people tasted it, though, sales took off- Glenda sold all 12 pies.

The whoopie pies in particular were interesting to sell. Around lunch, a group of my Korean students came over and asked which of the desserts I liked the best. I told them, honestly, “Whoopie pies are my arch nemesis.” They weren’t really sure if they believed me, but they bought one and walked away.

Less than three minutes later, a second member of the group sidled over and bought one. Then three minutes after that, a third came by… I guess word of mouth works, eh?

The best story, though, came from when our neighbor under the tent, Kevin McGee, bought a whoopie pie himself. A pastor in the Assemblies of God church, Kevin had laughed earlier when we called the food we were selling “Mennonite desserts.” He took one bite, and exclaimed, “I’ve converted! I’m a pacifist now!” We all got a kick out of that.

By the end of the day, Glenda had received many, many compliments on her baking ability, and another person asked for her phone number for a possible business opportunity later.

Overall, we sold out of everything but chocolate chip cookies (although one young man came back literally five times for more cookies).

While we had originally intended the day to be a family project, the girls decided that their days were a little too full (Anisa babysitting, Karen buying the craziest shoes you’ve ever seen), so Glenda and I just hung out together all day selling food. We both thought it was a great amount of fun. We really enjoyed talking with folks as they came around looking for something sweet, and people watching from our vantage point under the main tent.

We’re not sure if we’ll do it again, but for one day, it was fun!

(And, of course, we didn’t take a single picture of the venture. Oops!)

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A Look Back at Soccer Season

I should probably change that title to “futbol.”

Anisa vs Oshwal

Anisa vs Oshwal

Anisa and Karen have just finished up their respective soccer seasons here at Rosslyn, and both of them can be considered a success.

Anisa set out to make varsity this year as a 9th grader, and was delighted when her name was on the list. Her team worked very hard for Coach Matt Schwandt- actually becoming one of the best passing teams he’s ever had. The team was an interesting mix of youngsters and seniors- Anisa had quite a few interesting stories about bus trips to and from games. Poor MinJeong.

Anyway, the team advanced all the way to the championship game against RVA. Rosslyn

Anisa working hard vs ISK

Anisa working hard vs ISK

played hard but lost to a very experienced Buffalo team. Rosslyn has a bright future, though, assuming the girls will continue to grow and work on their skills! Anisa scored at least five goals during the season, and had a delightful time with the older girls. (They had no idea how much of an influence they had on young Anisa!)

Karen, still in 8th grade, played for Coach Paul Bedsole on the middle school team. This team was wildly successful- they were undefeated, and only tied once, against a very physical and aggressive ISK team. The highlight of their season was at the RVA tournament, when they not only went undefeated, but they didn’t even give up a goal all day long. Karen sent the team into the finals when she ripped a goal with less than a minute to play against RVA on a nice trap-and-spin move.

Karen's blistering goal vs RVA to send Rosslyn to the finals

Karen’s blistering goal vs RVA to send Rosslyn to the finals

Even though I (John) was coaching my own (basketball) team, I was able to attend the middle school RVA tournament, and the varsity finals against RVA. Both were an awful lot of fun to watch- I miss the days when I would watch every soccer game my girls play in! I was also able to watch the last middle school game at home against Hillcrest, when Karen scored on a free kick just a few yards inside half field. She hammered that ball!

Overall, the girls enjoyed their seasons, and look forward to the next time they can play. They have a chance to play together again next year (assuming some things, which is always dangerous), so Mom and Dad may be able to follow one schedule instead of two. Overall, we’ve been delighted with the growth and experiences of the girls!

Karen's grit against Peponi's fouls

Karen’s grit against Peponi’s fouls


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The Dichotomy of Living in Kenya

Over the last two days, Glenda and I were attending a conference at Rift Valley Academy, a sister school to Rosslyn. For those of you who don’t know, RVA is located in Kijabe, which overlooks the Great Rift Valley.

This afternoon, I took some time to just sit and enjoy the view. It was a beautiful day, the sun was out, the sky was East African Blue, and I just sat and watched the shadows of the clouds drift across the side of Mount Longonot. It was peaceful.

Then, on the way home, just at the top of the Rift, we saw a very unfortunate accident in which a young boy on a bike was hit by a car. We didn’t see the accident, but we saw the young man lying in the middle of the road. Bystanders ran out and scooped him up (he looked unconscious) and laid him in the grass on the shoulder of the highway. When we drove on, there was blood on the road. It’s hard to believe that something so awful could happen in a place so beautiful.

It’s one of the things that can make living here, while not exactly difficult, at least different than in the States. The juxtapositions here can be overwhelming. We live on a beautiful, 40-acre compound with trees, a swimming pool, a gym, and a minimum of pollution (unless the folks on the other side of the wall are burning their trash). Then I visit my buddy Mike in Umoja Estate. There are almost no trees, obviously no swimming pool, and the pollution can be pretty heavy (and the noise pollution pretty severe).

It doesn’t mean that our place is better, necessarily, because the way a place looks does not make it a good place, and I love visiting Umoja. It’s just tough to reconcile the differences sometimes.

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What a day!

Basketball and music. This day was full of both! First we had to get through the mandatory school day. Then basketball!

John had invited a Kenyan Premier team, Ulinzi, to our campus in order to play his boys high school varsity team in a friendly game. Now, he had no intention of winning this game. It was more about helping his team see how they can improve and how to play at a higher level. John’s connection with the Premier team was through Mike, a close friend John had made when he played in this league over twelve years ago. It was a lot of fun to watch.

varsity and Ulinzi

varsity and Ulinzi

Then directly after the game Karen had a Christmas band concert which we were able to see. She plays saxophone and did great. Although if you speak with Karen, she says she didn’t know all the notes she was to play. I couldn’t tell.

Karen playing saxaphone

Karen playing saxaphone

Karen singing her solo

Karen singing her solo

Shortly after that, Karen sang a solo as a culmination for her voice lessons this semester! We were very proud of her.

Throughout the evening, Anisa took some great photos. 🙂 It was fun to share the experience with Mike. Wish our friends and family from the states could have been there too!

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