Tuesday in Nairobi
We left early Tuesday morning. Around 6am. Nema and Moses were our drivers. Nema took Nancy, Kristen, and me in her car. Amy, Bill, Martin, Stephan, and Judy went with Moses in his van. We left Nairobi in a hurry. We were trying very hard to leave the morning commute. If you haven’t been to Nairobi, please let me explain to you a bit about the roads. Ok? Asante sana! (thank you).
There are no traffic lights. There are no designated pedestrian crossing points. There are no street dividers. There are no stop signs. There are randomly placed bumps on the road that aren’t marked or painted. There is a pot hole for every hair on my head. And yet I haven’t seen one accident, or one person injured by a car. I have seen a few dead animals though. I saw a dead cat, a dead goat and dog too. As weird as it may sound, I love every minute. I love every absolute minute of it. I even start giggling. Nema laughs at me. She told me that she would teach me how to drive if I want, that it’s not that difficult. I opted not to. I was afraid I was going to ruin her car. I can’t imagine driving on these roads. On top of that the driver sits to the right and drives in the left side of the road. That is the biggest obstacle of all.
We drove through town to get the famous Mombasa Road. And I just sit back and smile. I’ve been reading stories about Africa and the Mombasa Road forever and I was so excited that I was on the road, sitting next to Nema, about to make a house visit. We drove for hours. I saw some of the most incredible things ever. Every turn and over every hill there was a different view of Kenya. We drove through the city center, through the industrial area of warehouses and factories, through the grass plains, next to the highest mountain peaks, through mountain hill farming communities. There was a particular shot that I was trying to get from the car. But I couldn’t do it. The car kept getting in the way, so Nema found a solution. She pulled back the window covering of the sun roof, pressed a glorious black button near her rear view mirror and the glass above my head rolled back. She simply pointed her index finger and middle finger to the now opened roof and said ‘WELCOME’. My mouth and eyes got so huge. I didn’t believe what I was hearing. In fact, I think she invited me more than once. And suddenly I was up on the roof. Standing on my seat, and yelling my tears away on the Mombasa Road. I swung my arms out wide. Closed my eyes and flew on Mombasa Road. (I took a pic of me).
We drove into a town half way through our trip to stop for coffee and breakfast. We had more of the donut like bread and a coke light. And I started to photograph the people sitting down in the café. I couldn’t help it. They just are so beautiful. I took a photograph of a business woman reading the paper and sipping her coffee. She was beautiful. I took tons of photos in that little town. While everyone else was tripping out about the toilets. I went outside to photograph the other side of the world. I was south of the equator in Africa and didn’t want a moment to go by.
We soon jumped back into the cars and ventured through the streets once more. There were people everywhere. Africa is a community that does things outside. People walk, ride bikes, hail matutus, and get business done. All over the sides of the road were street vendors, people hauling vegetables up a hill, or carrying sugar cane stocks across their backs. Africa is not a lazy country. The people of Africa are not lazy. They work hard. Grandmothers especially work hard. I can’t tell you how many grandmothers I saw working on the sides of the road on their land taking care of their harvest. So many I lost count of them.
Our next stop was in Kitui. It’s a large village on the south east, almost near to the coast of Kenya. We met with the Anglican priest of St.Martins. His name is Benjamin and his wife is Grace. We also met a few other volunteers there too. There are quite a few chapels in that area, and they over the last couple of years have agreed to come together as a community to help with one another. They realized the HIV/AIDS pandemic was too large for one pastor/priest/reverend to handle. And in this they realized that there were other health issues going on and the psycho/social needs of the people were even greater. But Rev.Benjamin had some far out thoughts. He has a futuristic approach and has a great purse of words to share his mission and call. We were all in awe of what he was saying. He spoke more truth to us than what we commonly hear in the US.
It took us four hours or so to get to Katui, and about another hour on a dirt road to get to Lunge. Actually I wouldn’t even call it a road. I wouldn’t even call it a path. I think a more appropriate term would be a rustic walking trail through the thistles of Africa. If I had walked this 20 minute car ride I would have surely twisted my ankle, but there we were the great adventurers. Kristen and Nancy were in the back seat and the bumps were so incredibly deep that they just kept bumping into one another. If I hadn’t had my seat belt on I would have jumped outside of the roof.
We get to Ulungu and it’s dusty, small, and insignificant to most by the human eye. If we had been the average group we might have turned around before we even got there. But the six of us had a purpose. Stephan had been doing so many amazing projects. Stephan and his team have loved that community for some time now. And as we got out of cars the village came to greet us. But first they hugged Stephan. The nicknamed him the tall one since he is 6’7’’. They have a great admiration for him, because he loves them smartly. We were all greatly welcomed. As I stood in this village I noticed a church, building attached to the church, a shaded bench area, a few homes, a school, a kitchen, and a meeting area. We stood around, got our gear, drank some water and Rev. Benjamin soon asked us to come to the school. The children were outside learning.
As we approached the school there were tons of elementary aged children sitting on the dirt underneath a shaded tree. They had uniforms on and were the most darling children ever. They looked at us like we were creatures from outer space. Immediately our team went up as close as they could to take pictures. And I stopped all of them. I was so mad. Introduce yourself. Welcome them. Smile. And admire their school work. If you make a friend, take a photograph of your friend, so you can remember them. That’s it. Not for any other purpose. I did make friends that day. I made lots of friends. These children were learning the alphabet. There were sitting in the dirt, making the alphabet out of water and mud. They rolled the mud in between their fingers and made letter formations from them. They knew the entire ABC and the song that went to it. They didn’t have paper. They didn’t have pens. They didn’t even have a chalk board. Want to hear something else? They don’t have a mother, they don’t’ have a father, they don’t live at home. They live with the village grannies. Some of them are their blood grannies, and most are not. The 10 grannies of the village take care of 100 or so children. And every one of those kids were so precious. I introduced myself to each one of them as Elizabeth and then they each told me their name. I photographed so many of them and then showed them the photo on the back of the viewfinder. They each pointed to themselves and said their name. I wish I could recall all of their names right now.
We went back to the meeting room and had a snack. The served us tea w/milk, cookies, and bananas. We sat with Redemta, she is a volunteer with the VTC (voluntary testing clinic). The VTC is Kenya governmental projected that offers free on site, mobile site, or at home testing for HIV. The test is free and you get your results in 20 minutes or less. She invited all of us to get tested. She said it is the responsible thing to do. She is a volunteer. She works a few days a week. And they’ve set up a clinic for her on the side of the church. And they made an outdoor waiting area with a few picnic seats and a leaf canopy. So while church is in session she can test people and confidentially read their results. I recorded her giving a test to Kristen on video. It’s amazing to see the process that she is going through, and hard she works and believes in her community.
As I sat with her, I was invited to visit the children during lunch. I went over there and it was just like in the commercials. The kids stand in line joyfully. They each hold a plastic bowl and wait in line. The teacher has a big silver pot filled with rice and beans. And she gives them a cup full of food in their bowl. That’s pretty much one of their only meals. And they each sit quietly under the shade of the building and have their lunch. I decided to join them. I offered to help the teacher serve the kids but she told me that today I was a visitor, tomorrow, I could be an employee, and she laughed.
So I sat with the children. I help their hand and sat with them while they ate lunch. And talked to them about stories and animals, and anything else I could think of. I was invaded by all of the kids. I let them sit on my lap and get me all dirty. And of if you could see their faces. The biggest eyes in the planet. So shy. Innocent. Smiling. Beautiful white teeth. I think one girl her name was Nemi, she was so proud of her slip. She picked up an edge of it to show me. She told me her grannie had just made it for her. None of the other children had slips, so that was her special treat. I sat with them for as long as I could. We sang the ABC song. Over and over again. We sang about an elephant being too fat to fit in the bus and the giraffe was too tall. That was one of the happiest moments of my life. At the end of my time with them, another little girl asked me her name. I simply pointed to myself and said Elizabeth. She shook her head and said…Elizabeth? I shook my head in agreement. She shook her head in disagreement. And then she pointed her little finger and placed in on my chest and said Aunty. I almost lost it. I wanted to pick her up and love on her forever. And then all the kids started to call me Aunty Elizabeth.
During this time Rev.Benjamin and his wife had invited me several times to have lunch with them. And so I had to finally leave the kids and join the others. I’m not sure what happened after that. I was in a love state with all the children. All of them. Stephan and I talked in Spanish a bit. He is from Honduras and speaks about 6 different languages. He tells me that his wife and kids know many languages too. We went to visit the windmill run water pump. We went to visit the grannies while they were working in the field. They ended up talking to us and then singing a song for us too. We visited two men who were helping in the farm. They were raising, kayle and onion. And then we had a great village meeting. All of the elders of the community sat with us. They were so proud to meet with us. There were three men and about ten women. Each of the three men had a project in their hand. They were ready to talk about business. The engineer of the wind mill came with a large measuring tape. The council of the village came with a spiral bound print out of the next 5 year agenda. They want to build an additional wind mill. Build a clinic and have a nurse come and stay with them. Build a Sunday school room because people don’t fit in the church anymore. And so on and so on. The third person basically said in the meeting that I promised to mail them some pictures, and that he wanted me to publicly say yes. So of course I said yes.
The meeting came to an end. And so did our day. We jumped back into our cars and had bumpy journey home. I fell asleep in the back seat of Nemas car. And woke up to a surprise dinner at a great Indian restaurant. The greatest Indian restaurant I’ve ever been too. I even had strawberry/mint ice cream.
I came home and collapsed on my bed. Hoping to have enough rest of my African Safari adventure waiting for me the next day.
There are things happening in our group too. Kristen is enjoying herself. I think her greatest highlight is meeting Redemta. She was encouraged to see a young intelligent woman being so professional. That really did something inside her. Martin has been growing and stretching. He has so many questions and is so excited to converse and process all that he has seen. His call as pastor has been a blessing to everyone we’ve met. Bill is having a great time being a friend to everyone he meets. Judy has been taking it all in. She is full of grace and smiles. Nancy is a business thinker. She sees the bigger picture and always takes it back to the churches role in all that we do. She keeps thinking about the church at home in NA and what we will do then. The group is getting closer and closer each day. I’m so excited that they’re around. I like watching what God is doing with all of us. He’s doing a good thing.