“Listen guys, I just have one last bit of advice,” FabBab announced at the Pre-Kenya packing party one week before we left for our trip. “You really need to shift what your perceptions of poverty are; you’d be surprised what is considered well-off, by rural Kenyan standards.”
It seemed like an unnecessary piece of advice, let alone so important that Barb choose it as her parting wisdom. I glibly thought to myself, “Simple, don’t be a jerk and talk about wealth or lack thereof while in Kenya, DURRRRR.”
In reality, her comment was one of the most precious pearls ever thrown before this swine. The people of Kenya, particularly the folks of Haven, are some of the wealthiest people in the world. A person who appreciates and possesses a grateful heart that treasures everything, is truly living rich.
After several posts of being a first-class tease, it’s finally time for me to start TRYING to put all of the beauty, absolute elation, and precious perspective that Phil and Janice Wagner’s Haven on the Hill Children’s Home has blessed me with.
Oh, I’m sure I’ll blow it, as there’s no way to fully convey the insurmountable happiness that one feels while lucky enough to share the same air with this magical place, one must see it to truly believe it. While I’m up for the challenge, fully describing the magnitude of Haven’s goodness is way above my pay grade.
Part Four: Haven on the Hill
The Massive gray steel gates opened for us, and a rocky driveway emitted a satisfying crunch as the matattu ebbed through the portal of what felt like another dimension. Before us, we saw a brightly painted large playground, terraced out of red dirt. I panned around to survey the rest of the compound.
There were 4 well-built buildings, fully electric with hot and cold running clean water. The first was a place for all of the volunteers to live in while at Haven. Equipped with 3 bathrooms and laundry room; these apartments were hardly “roughing it.” Next, was a solar-powered well house that insured continuous clean water for the village, followed by a huge commercial kitchen designed to feed an army of growing children, with last and grandest, a 2 story beauty that housed no less than 25 boys, 1 House Mother and 4 Aunties. Rounding out the scene were 2 bountiful Shambas (Kenya for garden,) glorious mountains, and outrageously beautiful vistas that take your breath away, EVERY day.
“OK everyone, off and start unloading!” The Maestro cheerfully blurted. “Ladies, you’ll be in the two apartments up front, guys, we’re are on the other side, right off of the livestock pens.” In addition to having a dairy cow who was milked SEVERAL TIMES A DAY, Haven also boasted a bunch of chickens, 4 goats (more on that later!) sheep, and one real jerk of rooster.
The skilled hands of Mr. Njoroge and Symon tended to the giant gardens and were responsible for all of Haven’s milk and meats. The dedication and hard work it takes to pull these herculean efforts off, impressed me, but it was their smiles and overall friendliness while working, that inspired me.
Rather than revert to my responsibility-shirking native form, this goldbricker (for the Lord) quickly sprang into action. After all, the faster we unloaded, the quicker I got to explore this unexpected Eden. Miraculously, I started slogging luggage like a paycheck depended on it. The supplies and personal bags efficiently trickled off the bus and onto the red concrete porches.
When we were done unloading, it was time to pick out a bed. For the first time since camp, I’d be sleeping in a bunk bed. FabBab called top bunk, while I happily dropped my stuff on the bottom.
“Now, let’s meet the staff and check out the shamba!” Barb filled us in on the specifics of Haven’s grounds, while we were gob smacked by the radiance of God’s country.
“I didn’t think it was possible for anywhere to be this eye-poppingly gorgeous, it’s positively unreal.”
FabBab chuckled, “Oh my love, you’re well on your way to a red-dirt stained soul! I told you it was special here.”
“Dude. Nothing does this place justice.”
“C’mon, there are some people I want to introduce you to!”
The boys were still in school and would be for a few more hours, that meant the staff, while eternally busy, had a few moments to spend meeting and visiting with their new visitors. Several people in the group had been multiple times and already cultivated relationships with the staff. The newbies said our hellos to the ladies and gentlemen of Haven, chased with a few hours of free time before dinner.
With no particular agenda, I walked the beautiful grounds, “Shamba tour for anyone that wants it!” Katie the gorgeous (inside and out) 18year old (going on 45) who happens to also be the Maestro and FabBab’s neice, invited us all to tour the adbundance of Haven. I looked at Lover Fo’ Life, “Wanna check out the shamba with me?”
“Of course Muffin. I’d watch paint dry with you.”
We made our way with the group down the mountain; 50 yards in, L4L realized what a slippery slope of unnecessary steepness we got into. Not only was the shamba several acres, there was a section of it that was so steep, it looked like a cliff from where we currently stood.
“You know, I’m good, I’ve seen enough of the shamba,” Lover Fo’ Life smartly suggested.
Bananas, pineapples, potatoes, kale, avocado, we’d seen all of it within 30 seconds of entering the door to the main mountain garden. Plants and trees waved in the cool breeze, rustling a welcome song. There was no need to traverse the impossible downslope, we were already in splendor.
It’s a good thing too, because several of our friends found themselves sliding and scraped (shout out to London who fell off a mountain and only got a teensy scratch!) The group disappeared behind an outrageously tedious drop off, when I peaced out. Ever the opportunist I requested that they “Pick some avocados for me, y’all!”
We hiked back to the guest quarters where the Maestro and L4L got about the business of unpacking their room. I decided to explore the grounds, because all my stuff was already neatly put away on a shelf (another miracle!)
Within 5 minutes of meandering, I was greeted by a hearty smile and “Welcome!” Beatrice, one of the ladies I previously met, was waiting on the porch.
“Would you like a tour of the house?”
“I’d love one!”
We toured downstairs, where the older boys lived. The bright and spacious quarters were completely tiled, and opened to a large great room fully furnished with a television (that only played Christian DVDs) an entertainment center filled with classic board games, and a sofa with a two club chair on each side, all on a large area rug.
The real stars of the room were two huge dining tables with seemingly infinite chairs. These tables were where the boys did homework, made kid art, and ate every meal. Infused with their laughter, these tables would also host our breakfasts, lunches, mission meetings, and lesson planning sessions.
Moving on, through were 2 bathrooms with a large sink counter for tooth brushing and fingernail scrubbing, followed by a kitchen. Beatrice’s room that she shares with her younger sister Elizabeth, was adjacent to the boys’ bedroom, which amazingly held 18 boys.
Immaculately clean and generously spaced, their room housed 10 bunkbeds, it had wall to wall cabinets for clothing and storage, with enough room left over for the boys to dance and carouse. In the corner, a pile of well-loved stuffed animals caught my eye and reminded me that while considered “the older kids,” these were sweet little boys who still knew the value of a stuffed animal snuggle.
“It’s incredible; I simply cannot believe that all those boys live in this room. Look at the hospital corners on those beds; they make a better bed than I ever could, and these kids are cleaner than I’ll ever be!”
Beatrice erupted into a bellowing laugh that was not only friendly; the sheer volume of her chuckle let me know that we would be fast friends.
“You know Lauren, I like you!”
“I like you too, Beatrice.”
For the next 30 minutes, she told me all about the boys of Haven; from schoolwork to house rules and chore charts, it became clear that this wasn’t an orphanage, I was in the heart of a real HOME. Beatrice, was not some lady hired to tend over the children and oversee the day-to-day house activities, she was a Mom. It was apparent that for Haven’s staff, it was less job and more of a calling.
“I fasted and prayed for weeks before I met Miss Janice,” I told the Lord that I needed something new to do,” Beatrice warmly smiled and looked up to the ceiling, “Praise Him in all things!” Her ebullient love, and genuine enthusiasm in her faith was something to behold. Beatrice radiated kindness and her boisterous personality made me, (and an entire village,) fall in love instantly.
Her younger sister, Elizabeth, also on staff at Haven, would later re-enact the moment her big sister was cleaning a church 10 years ago, “Beatrice went to the altar while we were working, and she said: LORD, I’M READY FOR A NEW WAY OF LIFE!”
Ms. B is coming up on 10 years at Haven, and loves each of the boys as her own. “They all have seen a lot of sadness, but they’ll be OK, because the boys are here now. They have bad days when they’re upset or misbehave, and we have to just love them. Yes, there are consequences, but we never shame them or are harsh. You have to work with each child in their own way, because the needs are extremely varied.”
Maybe it was the sensory overload from all of glorious scenery, or just an instant connection with an incredible lady who would be my life-long friend, but I started to tear up.
“You really are out here doing incredible work, what y’all do for these children it’s…” hot tears began to well-up and burn my eyes.
Beatrice completed my thought for me, as I was hovering ugly cry territory: “GOD’S WILL, he is the sole reason we are here having this conversation, THE LORD knew we would meet, and put us in each other’s paths!”
In this remote part of the Kenya, there were no chance meetings, every person that visits has a reason to be there. Beatrice’s beaming smile was one of sincere love. No question, I was supposed to be here.
“I don’t want to keep you from your routine, I’m sure you have a lot to do,” I instinctively offered.
“Yes, the boys will be home soon, and I need to get some things taken care of before they get here and go to tutoring. Please make yourself at home; we’ll talk over some chai later.” She stopped and clasped my hands, “I’m really grateful that God has allowed our paths to cross, Lauren.” I felt my heart soar as I floated back to our apartment in bliss.
After a flop on the bottom bunk and chit-chat with my roomies, the call came for dinner. Not knowing what to expect, we filed into the spacious new commercial kitchen, ready to serve ourselves from the buffet we were offered as our inaugural dinner. Fresh guacamole, flat bread that was an identical twin to tortillas, rice, beans, and cabbage were on the menu. Dessert was sweet pineapple, not acidic in the least, harvested from the shamba, like almost everything else on our plates.
Watermelon and Bananas tasted like high-definition versions of themselves, while the avocados with their creamy dreamy flesh, made all others inferior forever. Haven’s organic locally sourced wonders of agriculture were so delicious, they needed nothing else. Cindy Jo, FabBab’s baby sister, is vegan and was in plant-based Heaven. Matter of fact, after my first sunset at Haven on the Hill, I re-named the place, “HEAVEN on the Hill.”
After dinner, the boys attached to us like Velcro. Their love and acceptance of our group was sincere, pure, and almost overwhelming. To be loved unconditionally and instantly, by that many beautiful children, who had overcome so much, is something I will treasure for the rest of my years.
A few hours into my stay at this enchanting labor of love, and I was already smitten.
Often, I consider myself a sarcastic skeptic who eye-rolls her way through life. At Haven, this foot had a new sole; all of my callous thoughts were sloughed away by the absolute love and purpose I had already witnessed.
Unbridled joy, something I thought a relic of my long-gone youth, bubbled up within me. In this place of supreme goodness, I found myself feeling renewed. “Thank you,” I choked out into the moonless night.
“Yo, Bro. Whatever you have on tap for this trip, I’m ready and able. Make me a means of your peace, Padre.”
End of Part Four