Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Day 14: Growing old gracefully

(This post was originally written three days before I left Kenya).

It's Sunday night (well, Monday morning) and I'm rounding off a a weekend of goodbyes that feel both perfect and out of place. Kenya has become a true home, and how can one ever say a firm goodbye to such a place?

Friday night I had a simple night out with friends in preparation for a Saturday at the Nairobi Arboretum for a family friendly picnic. The sun showed up as did some of my favorite Kenyan food and it was all that I had hoped - relaxing and full of people who have colored these two years with personality and friendship beyond what I could have hoped for.

Afterward my friend Anthony graciously drove a few of us home and we prepared for a night out with my Rotary club at a local restaurant. In a small room some of the people I have admired and fellowship-ed with in Rotary gathered to send me off in true style. I floated above it all trying to soak in the reality of departure, the understanding that this life I have built is somehow shifting to a new dimension. I am starting to understand.

Starting to understand that as I know returning to the U.S. and the opportunity to be closer to family and lifelong friends is exactly what I am meant to do, the reality that Kenya is now home stands firm. There is a version of me that I am able to embrace here that I have never quite embodied anywhere else, it feels tied to that arrival 20 years ago, when as a child I first opened my eyes to this land. I remember the smells, the people, the roads as we traveled. The small boy with a crutch by his side who smiled so brightly as we passed in our mzungu vehicle. And now 20 years later this place is home - those memories replaced by the reality of walking these streets, breathing this air, becoming the person who feels at home in this once foreign place. And the people - those friends who have swept me up when I couldn't make sense of myself, of my living here, of the choices that led to this path. Of the relationships that transcend being abroad and instead have taught me what it means to identify myself as a friend, a community member, a daughter, a sister or an aunt.

Last night my voice cracked as I tried to explain to my community here that this has not been about living in Africa for me - but about somehow learning those most basic realities of life and humanity and community that immersion in my own culture had kept me from. My desire to help, to make a difference - I understand now that if I were to limit this to the "African" context it would be without value on the cosmic scale - because we are all people, we all face the same struggles albeit in different scopes and different scales. These two years have not been about Africa, they have been about humanity - about understanding myself in relation to the world around me, and how that world calls me to be a part of it.

And so tonight I return home from a night out with my favorite guys - 4 men who have brought joy and friendship and support into my life this year especially. And as I walk into the room I see Cristabel's baby bag at the foot of my bed, left by Maureen today because she had too much to carry. And I think that when I add it all up, two years here in Kenya, it amounts to the most perfect of sums. It amounts to the reality of relationships, of new friendships alongside those richly held back at home. It has been a time of experiences that I still can't comprehend.

Just over seven months ago I welcomed this precious child into the world while I held the hand of her mother. Ever since I have watched the growth of this duo - the love of a mother and the blank slate of a child dependent on her parent. I realize I am just the same - a child of God gradually writing and rewriting my slate as I learn what it means to live and love fully, no matter where I am.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Day 15: An open table

On one of my last weekends in Nairobi I had plans to meet my friend Kevin at an open house for a local charity run by a Rotarian. Kevin was working so he had his brother pick me up with a plan to drop off some other relatives and then pick Kevin to continue to the event around 2 p.m. BUT, t.i.K...(this is Kenya) and at 7:00 p.m. I found myself still at the first stop (having already had tea, chips, sausage and cake) about to sit down to a prodigious feast. I didn't really understand until after we left at around 9:00 p.m. (mind you, without Kevin - who was still at work - even though he was my only connection to this group) what this visit was all about. It turns out that Kevin's aunt was visiting her granddaughter who was born shortly before her son was killed. The girl had just turned four and it was a day for her grandparents to come together, pray for strength as they raised their grand kids and celebrate the legacy of a life lost (and another, the mother, who lived far away in search of a better job in Singapore). I was a random visitor invited and encouraged because I simply happened to be there. I was welcomed in.

My mom hosts Thanksgiving every year in our family. I treasure this day because we celebrate an open table policy as well - each year there is always a person or two who is traveling through or finds they are at an overladen Thanksgiving table in our house for the first time. There are also the oldest and truest of family friends who share this holiday with us, and there are always a few spots where someone is missing (in recent years it has been me among others). This year I will relish in the warmth of a love-filled house and having many of my nearest and dearest within arms reach. I will also be soberly aware of those who are not with us for one reason or another and say a prayer that someday the following will ring true for all, "Forever on Thanksgiving day the heart will find the pathway home."