Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thankful for Alissa {Thankful Thursday}

On Monday my friend Alissa passed away. She was in her early 30's, a mom of two and a Christian woman passionate about children and their needs. Alissa was part of my life during such a transformative time and we were the only two who knew what those five months were like. 

I had left my teaching job after three years to go and live in Kenya volunteering in the countryside at a school. That sounds a bit dramatic but the plan was to go for one year; I had always wanted to go to Africa and a recent break up with a fellow teacher (ahem, Gary) meant that I had more reason to get out of there! I was matched up with Alissa who had been there a few months prior and she would teach me all I had to know. We wrote letters beforehand (because there was no Internet where we lived) and she prepared me the best she could for what it would be like (except for the whole bathroom situation or lack thereof, she let that be a fun surprise!).

Alissa and I were the only two mzungus (white people) for miles and miles. We lived in a shed together and shared a bed and mosquito net.  We would teach during the day, have many cups of tea with fellow teachers and games of Phase 10, visit with those in the village, learn to make chapatis, play and pray with the girls who lived at the school and who we loved so much, write lettters to our friends back home, go to the market for some food, and then, when the sun went down around 7 PM we would maybe have a little electricity until 7:30 or 8 PM and then we'd hop into bed! There, with our headlamps and flashlights we would read. We read so much! Book after book, we spent hours reading as it wasn't safe to be outside after dark.

We both really loved good food but spent most of our days have bread with peanut butter for breakfast, ugali and sukama wiki with the staff for lunch, and then for dinner would be some pasta or soup dish that we would make. Sometimes we could track down eggs for breakfast which was a super treat and sometimes we would be invited to a meal! Meat was scarce, I think during that time we had it three times–one chicken meal from the principal's house and twice we had goat. I don't know why this whole paragraph is about food except that we both loved it.

It rained daily in Cheptalal and that is when we would put out our buckets to collect our drinking water. This photo is from when I went to buy my new mattress at the market and we got caught in a downpour. We both had a very "comfortable" fashion sense :)

In November of 2004, I got a phone call (where we had to stand in the middle of the cow pasture to get a signal) that let me know that my mom's cancer had spread to her bones and that there was no cure. I knew that I wanted to go home sooner than later and that meant Alissa would have to as well. That would cut short our time by three months. This was not the last time that cancer would come into our lives. 


We had December off together and went to Mombassa for a vacation and then my friend Lynette came to visit and we did a Serengeti Safari and climbed Kilimanjaro. In our time together we had so many adventurous car rides (one on the roof after a wedding in which we were actually bridesmaids and then the car broke down!), rode sketchy overnight buses, experienced a scary strike (riot), listened to so much unique Kenyan music, and had funny stories that no one would really understand – a cow pooped in our classroom for one! Oh, and what about our raffle tickets to win a chicken, what would we have done if we actually won? On New Years Eve, I flew home and that was actually the last time that Alissa and I saw each other. It was so strange to be living together 24/7 for five months and then be a province apart.

We stayed in touch over the years thanks to the easy access of Internet now. Cancer hit both of our families and in 2011 she let me know that she had been diagnosed as well. I was so shocked. Over the years she shared about her journey in fostering which was the reason Gary and I decided to move in that direction; it was something we never would've done otherwise – that is the legacy she left in my life. We both had dreams to help children who struggled overseas and yet there are so many children who needhelp in our own communities. Her blog post in June showed that she was likely in the last year of her life which was so hard to hear. I had just messaged with her on August 4th about her wanting to take her boys to the Abbotsford Air Show which was this past weekend. She passed away on Monday. I had no idea it would be that soon.

I feel all the feelings. So sad for her family. Sad that she had a rough six years fighting cancer. Mad. Mad that she was so young. My mom passing away from cancer at 53 seems so much more "fair". I'm mad. I'm also feeling guilty. Here I am having a great summer travelling with my kids and doing renovations. I have so much freedom and health. Why do I get it so easy? Guilt is a big one right now. Part of me is thankful that she is at peace. After so much fighting and discomfort and exhaustion, she is at peace which I remember praying for at the end of my mom's life too.  And, finally, I feel, again, that need to make each day count. You really don't know what life will bring your way. I am thankful for what I have and do not take it for granted. Overall, I just feel fragile. 

So, this Thankful Thursday is a bit different. I am so thankful that I had Alissa with me in 2004 to show me the ropes. I will never forget our time together although I have forgotten a lot of my Kiswahili. I am also thankful that she led me to fostering.

Ninakupenda and miss you and am glad you are at peace, Alissa. Kwaheri until I see you again.



  1. Louise, I am so sorry about your friend. She sounds like an amazing person and it is unfair that those who have so much to give to this world are taken so soon. Your friendship reminds me of my friend, Jeannie. We lived and volunteered together for just a month in Kenya but it's crazy how close you become to someone in a situation like that. I think all your feelings right now are normal and I hope your memories of Alissa bring you some comfort:)

    1. Yes, when you are in such a unique situation with someone you form a foreer bond. You get it. Thanks, Mandeep.

  2. I'm sorry for your loss. It sounds like you two had a really special bond, and that's certainly something to be thankful for.

  3. So sorry to hear about your friend's death. I enjoyed reading about some of your experiences together in Kenya.

  4. What a great experience, which resulted in a great friend and a life changing impact. So sad she is gone so early.