Its funny how life is sometimes. You can be going along all hunky dory doing your thing and then you make one small decision and it changes your whole life. I met Heidi Totten in January of 2017 and began to learn all about her trips to Kenya and 100 humanitarians. We were talking one day in September and I was telling her how I like to sew and create my own patterns. She asked if I wanted to go to Kenya- if you’ve met Heidi, you know she does this all the time. I said yes, at some point, but what can I do now?
She asked me if I could make and underwear pattern.
….This is where everything in my life began to change….
I said yes.
An underwear pattern. How often do you think about underwear here in the United States? Maybe once a day, –you know to make sure you put on a clean pair. The point is we rarely think about it, its just part of all the other stuff we don’t really think about here. But that’s not the case in Kenya and other developing countries. There are people- Women and girls who don’t even know what underwear or panties are!
Talk about an eye opener for me. I will never be ungrateful for the things I have ever again.
Heidi told me Christine’s story, and she told me the story of these beautiful girls that missed school every month, had to sit on cardboard for a week and wait while they bled and life went by. These girls that are taught to get a boyfriend, so the boy can get them what they need (feminine hygiene products) to help them stop bleeding and/or sex and then pregnancy. These girls then end up dropping out of school, in early marriages with FGM, prostitution and being young mothers on the streets. For these girls, a pair of underwear is life changing.
Yes, I said yes!
I have sons,There’s like 3 styles of underwear for boys. That’s it 1, 2, 3. Style A,B, or C.
Then you look at girls and it’s like you need freaking library card catalog system just to find ONE style!
Hipster, boy shorts, granny, bikini, skimpy bikini, high cut, low cut, boxer cut, and who knows how many others! But wait there’s more then there’s like hipster style A, B and C…
Anyways musings of a pattern designer.
As I did my research, I started drawing up ideas for the pattern. Every time I finished a drawing I would here a voice in my head that said, “its to much, keep it simple.” I went through several drawings always making them more and more simple, it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t right yet.
One day I was looking at pictures from 100 humanitarians past expeditions. I realized I needed to make this pattern in a way that it would not need anything extra but the fabric and thread. Did you know most underwear styles here use elastic? I found out later, elastic is hard to find in Kenya.
I made the underwear pattern in eight sizes, with three pattern pieces, no extras. Fabric and thread. Simple.
Heidi and I met up and I gave her the pattern to take to Christine, who would be making underwear from the pattern, in Kenya.
Then she asks, “Can you make this pattern from a T-shirt?”
Yes, yes you can.
One pattern. 8 sizes and you can make it from a T-shirt. Simple.
By small and simple things great things can happen.
Marissa Waldrop is a wife and Mother to 4 sons. She has always had a passion for creative expression and to inspire others to do their best. Marissa has a Bachelors of Science degree in Communication from Brigham Young Univ. Idaho, over 25 years of experience sewing and creating with fabric and other mediums, and over 5 years of experience as a leader in mentoring and coaching others to embrace creative expression and communication within themselves.
The jeeps rumbled up the mountain, winding on bumpy dirt roads. Out the windows were fields of green interrupted by rectangular dung huts baked hard in the African sun, several of them with brightly colored cloth drying on a fence.
Everything was so new to us. Life is slower there, taken at the same pace as the plants growing in the fields. As always in Suswa, every time we passed someone, they would smile and wave.
It was the Mau. We were on our way to church.
The church stands atop a green hill, surrounded by farms. The building itself is made of wood and corrugated metal. As we entered, we were met by hugs leaning to the left, then to the right, and greetings of “Supa oleng.” We were invited to sit in pastel plastic chairs, and services began in song. Immediately we are invited to take part in dancing with the congregation. Music is a universal language and soon we are a part of a writhing mass of worshipers. We learn the steps quickly and wind around the church.
When the song was over, we sat in our chairs again, a part of something new and different, but ancient. We were introduced one by one and sang for the congregation.
After services, Pastor Ben invited us to walk to the home of a woman with three children. “She has been ill,” he tells us. “She wasn’t at church today.”
We met Emily and her three children outside her dung hut, surrounded by fields of corn. The roof of her home was a sheet of clear plastic held in place by stones and logs. Her children’s faces were surrounded by flies. The children without shoes. Emily with a slight limp.
The depth of what we are trying to do struck us. After the upbeat, faith filled church service, this was a crash back to reality. I think the whole team had the same question, “What are we going to do for this family? How can we teach self-reliance in the face of such poverty?”
We asked Emily if we could enter her home. Three of us stepped into the shadows and had to turn on the flashlights of our phones to see. Smoke hung in the air from the cooking fire in the tiny kitchen. It nearly choked us. Everything was a deep black color from the soot. There was no ventilation.
Heidi turned to me, “Living like this is as bad as smoking.”
Through interpretation from Pastor Ben and Moses, we learned that Emily has access to water. She has experience growing corn, and can use that experience to grow other vegetables. Our decision was that a garden box would be a good start for her.
The weight of this work seems too much to bear sometimes. Self-reliance and success seems so far away for some of the families. So much needs to be done and all we can do is a small part. Our efforts are a drop in the bucket of the need we see as we travel up and down the rough roads of Kenya.
The walk back to the jeeps was far quieter than it had been on the way to Emily’s. All of us lost in the vastness of need.
In my two trips to Kenya, I have learned much about the power of “the start.” I’ve learned to have faith in the waiting and watching of these families. Emily will get a garden box. And like the planting of a seed, through the garden box, we will watch her begin to grow what she can.
After finishing up the garden at Joyce’s house she invited us to learn how to make chapati, something sort of like naan bread. This was just one of the experiences of cultural immersion on the November Trip.
She pulled a table out into her yard and gathered all the ingredients flour, water, salt and oil. Then, started a fire in a small stove to heat a pan.
She showed us how to make the dough, stirring it with her hands. Muneria came to help as well.
Like mothers all over the world, she reminded her child to wash his hands before preparing food, which he did in a large blue bowl sitting next to the table. A special plate served as a platform to roll the chapati into perfect circles. He worked quickly, handing the rolled out flat bread to his mother who cooked them. She turned them with her bare hands, using no instrument to protect them from the heat.
Muneria then offered us a chance to roll out the chapati. We took turns, none of ours turning out as round as his. We laughed, feeling the warmth of home with this family who lives a different culture half a world away.
Sarah’s turn came up. She rolled the dough one way getting it stuck to the plate and stretching the dough as she freed it. She used more flour and rolled it some more. “That’s too big.” Joyce laughed, handing her more dough. “Try again.”
She started again, this time paying careful attention to the size, but not the shape. When she finished, it looked like a map of the United States. She handed it to Joyce with a shrug. Joyce shook her head and it was put onto the pan with a little oil to cook.
When David was finished with the water storage system, he came around the house to join us. We invited him to take his turn rolling chapati.
“Fine.” He said. “But mine is going to be round. Not corner, corner, corner, like Sarah’s.” This was met with kind hearted laughter from our group. Joyce pointed to the bowl of wash water. He obeyed.
Then, while rolling out the dough, David told us about how there are times in their culture when men and women separate and make their own food. He showed us how to roll it out to make it round. “See? Like this. You roll, and then turn it.” He pat the dough down. “Roll. And then turn again.”
He handed the dough to Joyce who watched us all with love, curiosity, and a little disbelief at how nutty this group of Americans is.
We dined together on our unifying chapati, rice, and carrots. It was the end of a full day of work, service, mentoring, and unconditional love.
When I say we experience cultural immersion, these are the types of things I am talking about. We get to be in the homes of the families. We learn from them and love them. We put our hands in their soil, climb onto their roof to put up rain gutters, collect water in rivers, dine with them, and hear their stories from their own lips.
By the time we leave, we have a new name, an expanded family, people who pray for us, and a home to come to when we return.
If you would like to join us for an expedition, learn more here.
Going to Joyce’s house was one of my favorite days of our November trip. She is open, hopeful, helpful, and kind. Not only did we get the chance to pull garden weeds and plant her garden, we had the opportunity to teach children about the benefit of hard work.
There were about three of us pulling weeds, our gloves covered in the heavy Mara dirt. The sun beat down on us as we filled little buckets with noxious weeds. Outside the garden fence eight young boys stood watching us with curiosity, fingers grasping the chain link.
In Kenya, it isn’t uncommon for children to shout, “Give me sweets!” when they see a group of white people. These boys hadn’t asked, but the expectation hung in the air between us. Suddenly, Sarah came up with a brilliant plan. “If we get some of the snacks out of the jeep, we could ‘pay’ them for weeding.”
I ran to the jeep, thankful to be standing upright after pulling garden weeds. I grabbed the first snacks I could get my hands on – fruit snacks. Coming back to the garden, Sarah took one and waved it to the boys gesturing to the garden. “Come help us weed, and you can get sweets.” Language barriers are nothing to young boys who were hoping for sweets.
Before we knew it we were surrounded by boys of varying heights, all willing to learn how to weed. Becci drew circles around the plants we wanted to keep and showed them how to pull the other plants. Before long, we had black soil between the vegetables.
When they were finished, Sarah handed out fruit snacks to dirt covered hands. They were eaten with smiling, glowing faces.
Now, these boys can recognize weeds and they know that they can get paid for work.
It reflects what we learn every day in Kenya. We look for the good in the people we meet. We draw a protective circle around it and encourage it to flourish. Then the parts that aren’t beneficial, we start to gently pull them in a better direction. The beauty of this is, that as we start to help them to grow, they help us to grow. It’s a circular pattern. When we leave Kenya, our soul has been weeded efficiently. We come back to our homes different than when we left…better…with more space to plant the good things in life.
If you would like to donate to build garden boxes for families in Kenya, you can do so here.
Joyce is the mother of one of our Kenya team members, Muneria. During our November expedition we were able to visit her, see how her garden was growing, and build a water containment system. The area had quite a drought in our absence, but she had still made the best of it. Healthy green plants had pushed their way through the soil and were a source of food for her family.
While there, we were able to pull up weeds and replant the parts of the garden boxes that had suffered during the dry spell. While building the water containment system, children from the surrounding area helped us collect rocks for the cement base, their faces shining as they find that they can assist these crazy Americans.
At one point during the building project, we needed water for the cement. The call went out, “Who is willing to walk to the river to collect water?”
Several of us wanted to experience what those we are serving live like on a daily basis. A group of us went. We walked down a hill to a small river of brown, dingy water.
The young boys who showed us the way to the river waded in without their shoes to fill the large water containers we brought with us. Upstream there was a man bathing in the same water. It was humbling to see their only water source. After filling the containers, we carried the sloshing jugs of water up the hill, stopping every once in a while to catch our breath.
The cement was made, the water containment system put into place, and the rains came. The water system is now nearly filled, it is watering the seeds we planted, and they are growing.
This is what we do when we go to Kenya, we plant seeds in the ground, and in the hearts and minds of the people. Then we stand back and we watch both people and plants grow.
This isn’t the end of our time at Joyce’s house. There is more to tell, but on a Friday night shortly before Christmas, I am listening to my child taking a shower and reminded how blessed I am to live here, and how undeniably blessed I am to know the people of Kenya. Travel always opens your eyes, but traveling and spending time with the Maasai people has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. I am so grateful for all they have taught me, and so grateful to everyone who has donated to make these missions possible.