Wednesday, October 22, 2008


A bumpy road leads west out of Nairobi. Past rising structures of development and crumbling houses that bear the mark of having once been far enough from the center of town to warrant existing. After a couple of hours we reached Machakos and drove briefly around town before emerging to find the steep road that led to our destination. Down the abrupt and rippled dirt driveway the local children greeted us as we pulled up to Sadat’s house. What a difference a year makes – I’m no longer in the position of being a volunteer inside this house that serves 60 local orphans. I’m here to live amidst a community of my peers, and this day is just that – total immersion into the roots of young men who were raised in the city but can slaughter a goat without getting a speck of blood on their perfectly pressed jeans (a few hours after we arrived they did just that, and I watched the process of taking an animal from the comfort of its well-fed enclosure to the humane insertion of a kitchen knife into its jugular).

Afterwards I took a walk to the edge of the property to see where the children who are cared for at this home stay. As the sun sank lower over the surrounding hills, I breathed in the freshly toiled soil, the pit latrine, the chipati frying in the kitchen. A handful of children in over sized dresses watched me as they held their smaller siblings on a large hill just outside of the compound. Only one of the kids would muster a smile and venture forward to take my hand (which I gave as a lame offering in exchange for the pictures I rushed to take). I wondered how you could choose to take a picture of a crying and runny-nosed toddler left sitting by himself in the middle of a vast hill, rather than scoop him up and comfort him. In lame paralysis I did neither, as these children were local - they were not at this home for lack of parents, and thus even our basic interaction seemed somehow intrusive (not to mention my pictures). The smiling sister who had run away returned to collect the toddler as if he were a casual afterthought. She was the tallest of the lot – the girl with the baby on her back next to her couldn’t have been more than 5 years old. I couldn’t get a smile from the rest, and fear my pictures do not capture the essence of the moment. Even after all I’ve seen it is perhaps the most striking vision I’ve ever had. Something about the size of these kids - the babies on their backs looked almost big in comparison to the size of the siblings looking after them.

This is a different kind of trip for me. I am not watching after these children, not here for a short time to temporarily relieve the burden of those who have undertaken their care full time. I’m here to learn, to connect the dots between the world I come from, the various worlds I’ve been a part of and the theories and practices that find a peaceful and equal line between them all. I went to the church service on Sunday but was not compelled to sit through the four hours as I did last year. I drank in instead the wrinkles on the old woman’s hands and face next to me after giving her a warm greeting. I saw my own dirty fingernails next to the equally dirty nails of the woman seated to my left. I saw the puffy shoulders of the children in the front row in their best dresses, and the nursing mother behind me. I did not ask anything of this experience in all its richness other than to be present and let it inform all that lays ahead as part of my growing understanding of the reality of life here.

I left the service and walked back up the hill, returning to our wanton group of merrymakers who came to this place to celebrate birthdays and graduations. The guard dog growled from its enclosure as I approached, the scent of eucalyptus overwhelmed the music in the background, “When Jesus says yes, no one can say no!” Hours later we sat in a circle and picked at pieces of freshly roasted goat. I’d relinquished my role as a strictly curious outsider, but had not yet embraced this intimate invitation into community to venture a vaguely furry goat hoof.

1 comment:

Oreste said...

Hello Megan, that beautiful that six. A salute from Rome. Ciao