It’s been a full day. My head is full. My stomach is full. My heart is full. My eyes are full. There’s so much to see and hear and smell here.
We started the day with breakfast at 7:30. In the dining room, I sat with a couple who do peace and justice work with MCC in Burundi. They’re staying in Nairobi while they await the birth of their first baby. They were beautiful, peaceful looking people. I took a picture of the husband playing guitar outside after breakfast. Their names are Doug and Deanna.
I also sat with a woman who’s a medical doctor in Tanzania – near Lake Victoria. She’s in Nairobi because she was spending the week here with her three sons who attend boarding school at Rift Valley Academy. It’s hard to imagine seeing your children only a few times a year. I don’t know if I could do it. I’m having a hard enough time being away from mine for 3 weeks. Some of her kids started boarding school in grade two – that’s Julie’s age!
After breakfast, we met Jim and Cathy, the MCC Country Directors for Kenya. They were accompanied by Wambui, who works in their office. Wambui had made arrangements for our day – she served as hour host.
Our first stop was at the Nairobi Museum. There was a display of paintings by Joy Adamson which were quite amazing. Another thing that caught my attention was a huge map of Africa – probably 10 feet tall – made out of butterflies.
I was struck by the amount of symbolism there is attached to sexual development – things like circumcision, menstruation, etc. For example, there were these beautifully beaded aprons that women wore under their clothes. There were different ones for uncircumcised girls, circumcised girls who aren’t married, and circumcised women who are married. No one was allowed to see the aprons, except (in the case of the married woman) the husband. If a man suspected his wife of being unfaithful, he asked the man whom he suspected what colour his wife’s apron was. There was also a picture of a woman whose shaved head demonstrated that all of her children were circumcised.
I have mixed feelings about this stuff. On the one hand, I am terribly saddened by female circumcision and the powerlessness of women in cultures like these. On the other hand, there is some beauty to the celebration of sexual transitions like menstruation. I wish we could find a healthy medium – where sexuality and all that comes with it is celebrated in a healthy, open way, but women are not made to feel objectified and powerless.
After the museum, we went to the animal orphanage. It is essentially a zoo where they care for animals which, for one reason or another, cannot exist in the wild. There were lions, hyenas, ostriches, monkeys, baboons, etc.
We then went to a place called The Embassy where we ate lunch outside under a tent. They prepared a variety of food, including some local and some western food. We had Ugali for the first time – that’s a staple around here. It’s made from ground maize and doesn’t have a lot of flavour. During lunch, there was a monkey scampering across the grounds. One of the kitchen staff came out with a broom and a frying pan to try to scare it away. I guess they’re a nuisance around here.
The food was slow to come, so we had a lot of time to talk. We asked Wambui about her culture, her church, her family, etc. She has one little girl who’s 2 years old. Her church sounds a little like an African version of traditional Mennonites. It seems fairly legalistic. They can’t wear jewellery. Women who are married wear a lace tank top over their clothes. They don’t go to the hospital, though it seems the younger generation is breaking from some of the tradition. Wambui had her baby in a hospital. They don’t eat certain types of meat, and they can’t cook with certain oils. It all seemed rather complicated, but I don’t know what the justification is behind the rules. It’s pretty easy to judge someone else’s legalism and overlook your own.
Despite her complicated religion, there was a peacefulness and obvious faith in her. She seemed so gentle and genuine. I wish I could have seen her with her daughter. Her daughter seems a little like Maddie – a little too brave for her own good.
After lunch, we walked over to a large amphitheatre where we watched some local dances and an acrobatic troupe. It was delightful. There was a joyful spirit about the dancers. They looked like they were having so much fun, grinning all the time. There were a few dances where they pulled members of the audience onto the dance floor. Rachel was quite delighted to dance with them. Corrie Lynn had one of the dancers proposition her – he wanted to meet her after the dance. The acrobatic troupe was absolutely amazing. At one point, there were five men balancing on the shoulders, hips, and arms of one man. They also did some incredible tumbling through hoops, and some limbo under a rod of fire.
At the show, I saw the two women I’d met on the plane. They’d met up with another Canadian woman at their hotel.
After the show, we came back to the guest house for supper. The salad and vegetables were quite delicious, as was the beef that had been marinated or seasoned with some interesting spices.
We did a little laundry tonight, and discovered a tiny gecko in the laundry room. Because of the warm weather, and lack of bugs, buildings are quite open here, without a lot of barriers to the natural world.
Tonight we gathered at the gazebo for a time of debriefing. It was an interesting experience, particularly from a community-building point of view. People were a little reluctant to share openly and when some tentative offerings of vulnerability were shared, they were betrayed a little by some who were too willing to give answers rather than reciprocal sharing. For that reason, it didn’t go very deep. It didn’t feel very genuine. Some were judgemental, some were too reluctant to be honest, some were too formal.
Time will tell if we can become a community. I suspect we will. I hope we can find depth without being afraid of the risk.
Part of me wishes the average age of people were a little older. But perhaps there are blessings to be found in having some more youthful people here. There are already a few personalities that grate a little, but so far, it’s only minor and I think I can overlook it.
I’ve started reading “The Different Drummer”, the book about community building that Jo and Michele recommended. It’s interesting to read about it while I watch it happen.