In the Kitale area, I visited over tea and treats with five girls at the St. Monica Catholic girls’ high school after their energizing, inspiring, Sunday Mass. I felt honored and privileged to spend quality time with these young women, to hear about their educational aspirations. I delighted in their interest in learning a bit about my life and what womanly wisdom I had to share. Their gift of some intricate red tree blossoms touched me deeply. One girl came to me as we were about to board the vans with the email and phone number of her parents so I could keep in touch. We all seemed to bond. I was so impressed by the disciplined behavior and hospitality of all the girls there.
We also visited many classrooms at the public Weaver Bird School where John Korb MKLM teaches, meeting teachers and having lively interaction with the classes. We were hosted for afternoon tea and entertained by the youth group for whom John is the moderator. I was impressed again with the hospitality but also the dedication of the principal and teachers. I especially noted how respectful, caring, and grateful the students were toward their teachers and guests. A very simple lunch of beans, corn mush, and chopped greens was prepared in two giant cauldrons in a tiny room. Hundreds of children were well served every day from these very rudimentary facilities.
We went to Table Banking (micro-finance) meetings of groups of men and women of four parishes. They greeted us with enthusiasm as we arrived, and with song and dance at the women’s groups. I noted the organization, planning, and concrete vision of these groups, and was impressed with how they seemed to love working together as a team to help each other. Most surprising is that their work is supported and facilitated by a department of the diocese called Gender Department. The diocesan bulletin board had a large flier entitled “Women’s Liberation.” Not what I expected in Kenya! Hope and joy abounds from visiting these micro-finance projects of church groups.
We toured three different types of clinics providing basic health care to the poorest settlements. As a former lab tech, I loved visiting the laboratories and observing procedures for testing for malaria and other diseases. Some of the facilities had small areas for maternity deliveries. I was surprised to learn that all nurses in Kenya are trained midwives. I witnessed comprehensive compassion at these well organized and clean facilities. Since the clients often don’t know what causes their conditions, health education is a big part of treatment. The clinic staffs sometimes go into the community and find people suffering from conditions they don’t realize can be healed or improved, especially epilepsy and HIV-AIDs.
In coastal Mombassa, Kenya, we went to the Mombassa Prison, where both men and women are incarcerated. Human dignity, transforming violent behavior, and enabling treatment seemed to be the theme of this prison. Goals and values were written all over the walls of the entrance, but nothing about punishment. Maryknoll Lay Missioner Kurt Klueg facilitates the Alternative to Violence Program (AVP) at the prison. We learned that most in AVP are serving life sentences. It was phenomenal meeting with guards and prisoners and hearing of their experiences working together in AVP. Compassion and joy seem possible even in prison. These Kenyans focus on the innate goodness and dignity in every human person. This prison seemed a holy place—holier than most churches!
There was never a dull moment for me at the two-hour mass at the Klueg family’s parish. Even though the singing at the mass was in Swahili, the passion and rhythm made me feel connected with the people, the prayer, and with our God. The liturgical dance up in front, the bringing up of gifts—donations and food for the poor, all the movement of hands and clapping just captivated me. I find myself trying to restrain myself from moving at home in Appleton, WI, as I sing at Mass. How can I keep from moving to the music? I guess I was made to engage my whole body like the Africans, but my German Irish heritage has kept me restrained all my life. I will miss most the lively liturgies of Kenya. How can I keep from dancing!
My experience of individual people in Kenya confirmed my sense that Africans are less inhibited by pretense and are more open to experience and appreciate any other person, any guests – especially ones different from themselves. I have seen how they help strangers and work together to survive in community. I don’t think they would understand the degree to which our American culture values individual independence. I find myself envying those who are so community connected and supported. This Africa experience has made me more aware, more grateful, more compassionate for needy people in my community, and more loving and hopeful for all of God’s great diverse human situations and challenges.
Additional stories of Kathie’s FAB trip organized by the Maryknoll Lay Missioners are at: http://www.friendsacrossborders.org/newsroom/articles/richness-of-mission-life-in-kenya/