By Jim Towey
I am returning home after a wonderful week in Kenya. No, I didn’t travel 7,549 miles and cross the equator to get as far away as possible from the dreaded Trump announcement. I came at the invitation of priests and sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, to be with them and to see their love and compassion in action. Mother Teresa of Calcutta opened her first mission here more than 40 years ago. It is in the district of Huruma (a Swahili word that means “mercy”) in, as you might expect, one of the poorest neighborhoods of Nairobi, if not in all the world. The trip meant a day of travel each way and an eight-hour time difference to accommodate, but no complaints here. A trip to this continent was always something I wanted to do.
Because you are a faithful friend of Aging with Dignity, I thought you might like some first takes from this cub reporter. More will follow next week, after I have time to tabulate the full effect of my journey. Until then here are some of the “early returns.”
Friendly, hospitable and warm
The Kenyan people are incredibly hospitable and warm. They smile. They make eye contact. They make time for you. The little ones – and kids are everywhere – light up the impoverished surroundings in which they are raised with their innocence, cheerfulness, and boundless energy. The sisters have a day care program for around 100 of the 5-to-7-year-olds from the area. They greeted me with song and smiles and hands that waved whenever the boys and girls caught my attention. Everything I had heard about the friendliness of the Kenyan people turned out to be true.
Kenya has a wicked drought this year. On my drive from the airport, I saw cows that were emaciated – there was no grass to graze, no water to drink, and the nomadic tribes who have herded cattle for generations were facing a catastrophe. But before the end of my first day there, the heavens opened, and a prolonged downpour followed. I took full credit for this! And even better, it has rained frequently each day since. While I don’t think that this means that I will be revered in Kenya as much as Barack Obama (I saw photos of him on mass transport). A Kenyan who drove the sisters and me to the huge downtown cathedral shared that Obama remains very popular among the people. In any case, the coincidence of my visit and the badly needed rain (the soil instantly drank up the water as soon as it fell) got me a few laughs whenever I claimed credit.
I was struck by how accommodating the people are to religious diversity. Muslims and Christians live side-by-side and find a way to co-exist without any apparent enmity. I was told that there aren’t any Muslim neighborhoods per se, as you find in Calcutta, Paris, London, and other big cities. Mosques are visible from the main highways. The Catholic and Episcopalian Churches have strongholds here as well. There are many evangelical denominations in Nairobi, and some have large places of worship, while others tiny ones. Faith in God is alive here. I witnessed enthusiastic dancing by a large assembly of worshippers at an outdoor service of some Christian group, with music and singing blasting out from large speakers.
Speaking of loudspeakers, I could live here forever and not get used to the 4:00 a.m. Muslim Salah, the “call to prayer” that is impossible to tune out. It made me think about the great cathedrals of the world and their loud bells marking time, and how that might be annoying to some of the neighbors within earshot. But at least those bells don’t ring out at 4:00 a.m.!
While driving on a highway adjacent to the huge national park, I saw several zebras grazing near the perimeter. I also saw deer and antelope together. Yes, you’re right, I thought of the tune, “Home on the Range.” But I couldn’t tell if the deer and the antelope were playing or not.
Stay tuned for next week’s installment!