Halloween is not something we care about in Kenya. Very few people back home even know what it is all about. My interaction with this scary season was only on TV and books; my favorite being a comic known as Archie. Jughead, one of the characters visits a haunted house with talking gigantic spiders hanging on cobwebs as long as ropes, ghosts, Dracula, skeletons, talking mirrors and all. Jughead however is not shaken by any of these and at some point even asks the Dracula whether the stuff coming from his mouth (blood) is some jelly or something. And if so, could he also have some of the stuff and some Halloween cookies? He leaves all the scary people frustrated.
Based on Jughead’s experience, I quickly sign up to take kids to the haunted house at Eastern State Penitentiary, a closed prison declared as “the most haunted” in the US by the Travel Channel.
We are on our way there, Wednesday night in a bus full of excited kids. I am seated next to Patricia the only fifth grader brave enough to go. In the middle of a conversation she whispers, ‘Miss Winnie are you scared?’ I laugh out loud. ‘Who? Me? Scared? No sweetie! This entire hullabaloo about prisoners haunting the prison is all exaggerated. It will be nothing scary.’ She holds on tight to me and says that she will hold on to me that way as we go through the corridors of the prison.
The penitentiary is in Philadelphia’s Fairmont district, with an exterior resembling a fortress. Albert and Boston, camp directors pay for the tickets and we are ushered into the prison doors. Patricia reminds me that we are about to see ‘terror behind the walls’. There have been many reports of paranormal activities in this prison but I am not scared. We are divided into groups of six.
As we enter into the dark corridor, I feel a shudder go through my spine. A ghostly music fills the darkness, shadowy figures move along the wall. I hold on tightly to Patricia. ‘Miss Winnie you are scared!’ I just nod. My nod is interrupted by a piercing scream made by a shadowy figure with an ashen-white face with hideous scars streaks of dried blood. We scuttle through the corridors—I am screaming on top of my lungs.
Other shadowy figures appear from the corners and skeleton hands unexpectedly emerge from behind the walls trying to grab us as we flee. My scream goes a notch higher and my pace fastens even though it’s impended by Patricia who is clinging tightly to me. We run in the maze of sinister passageways to the prison infirmary where spine-chilling figures clad in hospital gowns with streaks of blood, and opened up bodies lay chained to the small beds.
Eastern State penitentiary was operated under the Pennsylvania system from 1829-1913. This system used by the Quakers required that inmates be kept in solitary confinement and were not allowed to communicate with anyone.
Prisoners were locked up in their cells except one hour when they left their cells with their heads covered in a hood to prevent them from seeing other prisoners. The prisoners’ cells had a toilet, a table, bunk and a Bible. This solitary confinement was meant to make the prisoners find God. However, this did not bear fruit and most sane people became mad. In hopeless need for human contact, the prisoners would whisper through vents or tap pipes. If caught the price would be very cruel. This included being dunked into an ice cold bath tub and being hung overnight from a wall. This punishment known as the ‘water bath’ was popular during winter months. The ‘mad chair’ was another brutal way to punish prisoners. They were strapped to a chair for days (without food or drink) so tightly that they could not make the slightest movement. Another deadly punishment included being put for weeks into ‘the hole’, a dungeon with little air and no light. Prisoners who violated the ‘no communication policy’ got the ‘iron gag’. They were strapped high behind their back, with chains on their wrists. An iron collar was clamped onto the tongue of the prisoner. Most bled to death.
As we scuttle through the dark prison corridors, the reenacted scenes with actors clad in orange overalls and hoods, screaming, howling, shaking chains, with some on hanging on the walls crying for mercy, my terror disappears and in its place comes anguish and pain. My pace slows and I pause to look at the faces behind the hoods.
When we come out of the prison, I realize that Patricia eyes are wet. “You are crying Patricia, what’s wrong?” Looking at me she says, “You are crying too.” I touch my face and it is wet. “Miss Winnie, I am crying because it I feel so bad they treated the prisoners so cruelly. Did you see their faces? Did you see the man who was chained to the wall? Did you see them clinging to the bars? ” I tell her I saw all that but remind her they were acting. “But they just portrayed what used to happen, didn’t they?” I nod realizing that this girl is thinking the same thing as me.
We walk to the bus, still holding each other’s hands. As other kids excitedly talk about their experience at the haunted house, Patricia whispers, “Miss Winnie, I will start praying for people in prisons”
I squeeze her hand tighter and close my eyes in prayer.
By Winfred Kiunga, UPI Fellow (Kenya)
Growing up in Kenya, I had experienced fruit fights and water fights. Tropical fruits like mangoes, avocadoes, bananas, plums, oranges, passion fruits etc, were usually our weapons of fun. Everyone in our neighborhood grew them in plenty and so there was always an extra overripe one to throw at a friend. There were also homemade bombs for our enemies__ for neighborhood bullies especially. This is how we made them (Kindly don’t share this secret recipe). We gathered rotten eggs (sometimes we had to lift the chicken as they were sitting on them to hatch) and ashes. We put two eggs and a handful of ashes into a thin plastic bag and tied a knot to close the open end and the bomb was done. We shadowed the selected bully (I won’t mention names) then attacked from all corners with our bombs. They would explode on their faces and then we would run. The end result: an egg-ash faced smelling bully. What a joy we had!
We had Miss Megan’s birthday on Thursday and I bought a cake to share with our kids. We (the kids and I) planned to surprise her so we hid the cake in a different room and covered it well. We acted ‘normal’ when she came in, i.e. kids sang ‘happy birthday’ and gave her cards that we had made the previous day in her absence. She didn’t suspect anything. The kids did their homework and did not even whisper to each other mysteriously.
After homework time, all the kids followed me to the room to get the cake. Ms Megan was busy pinning their days’ point on to the chart so she didn’t notice we were away until we came in with the cake. She was genuinely surprised and overwhelmed. In the course of sharing the cake, Emmanuel, one of my favorites (all of them are really) ‘accidentally’ smeared Miss Megan’s face with some icing. She was at first stunned, then amused. Her response__ smearing back, brought fun-chaos (as I like to call them) and within seconds of the initial attack, all kids were ‘caking’ each other in the face. I got busy documenting such a hilarious moment; for my days at Urban Promise are made of these moments, which remind me so much of my childhood’s setting, though it is an ocean away.
Emmanuel helped clean up after there were peace talks between Ms Megan and the kids and there was cease fire; for as much as we also have fun at camp, we also teach values such as cleanliness!
By Winfred Kiunga
To read more about the Wilmington team's trip to Malawi and their time with UPI leaders and programs, visit http://malawiteam2009.blogspot.com/
Once a week at Camp Hope, we have Discovery class. Discovery can encompass a wide variety of activities, but the main goal is to get the students thinking outside the box. This week was the students’ first experience with Discovery and we did the “” challenge. The students broke into groups of 2 or 3, were given simple supplies, and were told to build the tallest tower they possibly could that stood on its own using only the supplies given to them.
At first, the students looked at the paper, tape, popsicle sticks, and straw, and then looked at me with completely blank faces. “Build a tower? But we don’t know how!” I told them to just start experimenting and doing whatever they could to turn those things into a tower. Pretty quickly, the class of older students got to work tearing and rolling up the paper, taping things together, and hiding their designs from the competition. When it came time to measure, each group in the older class had a free-standing tower.
For the younger class, this task was a little more daunting. The blank faces didn’t change as quickly, and one young boy, Milton, looked up at me and said, “I can’t build a tower,” in a tone that suggested the task was ridiculous. I knelt down next to him and assured him that he could, but he continued to insist that it was impossible. He and his partner, Alduvin started to fold the paper with doubtful looks on their faces, and each time I passed by them, Milton looked up at me and reminded me, “I can’t build a tower!”. Each time, I affirmed that he could. Eventually, Milton and Alduvin had a design in progress that was standing on its own and climbing at the same steady rate as Milton’s confidence. By the end, Milton was beaming as he looked around the room, noting that his tower was significantly taller than the others.
When it came time to measure all the towers, Milton and Alduvin’s tower was the tallest in the younger class, and even taller than the tallest from the older class. As I announced this, Milton’s eyes widened and his grin broadened. At closing, he made sure everyone knew that his tower had been the tallest of them all, very proud of his great accomplishment.
As he walked out the door at the end of the day, I looked down and said, “See, Milton, you can build a tower.” He smiled back and me and said, “The tallest one!”
Many Many praises!!
The entire team arrived safely on Sat with ALL 16 bags! Robert, Willie, Peter and I met them at the airport and were able to wave to them from a second floor balcony. Robert is an amazing man full of the favor of God. He got the official to let him and I back into the luggage area to great and help. Then we went as a group through customs and the man wanted us to start filling out paperwork and when he asked us what we had we told him school supplies etc. Robert said we were here to visit his church and do missions and the man said then come on in! The next stop they opened one bag and Robert said we were here to preach the gospel and the guy said no problem go on. All those bags just went through without a hitch!
We are all feeling well and being totally blessed to be in Malawi and to be visiting with the people.
Yesterday we worshipped at Robert's church. Half the team taught 150 kids that they are a treasure from God and Jesus wants them to help Him find lost coins. The other half of the group gave testimonies to about 100+ teens. Then in the main service we sang a few songs and Jon preached on Psalm 23. Afterwards we served the entire church beef and rice, starting with the kids first! We spent the afternoon watching a soccer match and then ended it with a time of fellowship in Robert's home. We all enjoyed traditional Malawian food of fish, nisema, peanuts and greens, and of course soda & ice cream :)
Today we were in groups of three and visited the homes of some of Robert's kids and got to pray with families. It was really special and humbling to be in their homes and to receive gifts of food from their hearts. It seemed that God sent specific members of our group to specific houses.
We also toured the city and had a history lesson. Turns out the first president of Malawi's favorite scripture was Ps 23:1-2 the exact passage that God put on Jon's heart to share.
Robert asked us last night where have we seen Jesus today? I think we have not stopped seeing His hand putting together even the smallest details of the trip. We cannot express how amazing it is to be here and to be united with our family in Malawi.
Tomorrow we are ministering at the Korean hospital and visiting Robert's afterschool program Christ Cares. Wednesday we will visit Peter's village, a school and a hospital in his town.
We have felt all of your prayers and really need them to continue. We have so many stories and experiences to share.
Becky and the Malawi team