Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Son of Kenya

"Hodi!" ("Hi! Anyone here?") we called into the dark recesses of Alex's duka. His handsome smile instantly appeared. A student at St. Philip's Theological School, as well as a young entrepreneur, Alex had kindly invited us to climb to the other side of Mount Maseno after hospital rounds today. Everyone we met along the winding path greeted him affectionately. Alex had grown up on the mountain. He opened his shop on the street below the hospital entrance five years ago, when he was only 15. Burned out once and robbed twice, he remains undaunted -- and a gentleman. As Nadia and I talked and trudged, Alex slowed his pace to accommodate us and even produced bottled water and chewing gum for us halfway up the mountain.

We lingered for a long while at the peak, silently taking in God's own views. They were as breathtaking as before, and Alex's hospitality was even more so. He invited us into the home he had built last year. Opposite his father's house and next to his brother's, the two-bedroom dwelling was spotless and neatly furnished, with matching curtains at the windows. Alex explained that he looks after one brother's orphaned children, Nancy and Nellie -- "for Nelson Mandela." They all take meals with Alex's father, who lives just a few yards away. The youngest of eight, himself, Alex said his mother and four sisters live nearby in Luanda. (A third brother also died a few years ago.) Nancy and Nellie shyly brought us Cokes and ground nuts, followed by grilled corn and lollipops, before disappearing to feed the family's three cows and small goat.

We marveled at Alex's schedule: "When do you sleep?" He acknowledged he gets about three hours a night when school is in session. "But I love my family and my business and my school work, so I am not tired." He explained that he had applied three times before getting accepted into his program of studies and then showed us the exam questions he had recently completed for his Intro to Psych and Old Testament classes. We were duly impressed. Alex also spoke of his fiancee, Rhoda, who works as a CCC nurse some distance away. They hope to marry in April, but Alex still has two more years of theological studies, and a wedding is expensive: 10,000 KSh, plus 4-5 cows (@ 10,0000-20,000 KSh each), in dowry payment to the bride's family, in addition to the "wedding clothes and food for 1000. We will invite 500, but 1000 will come." They will also need to eventually build another house on land of their own.

It was almost dark when we left Alex's home, waved goodbye to the children, and worked our way down the mountain by the half-moon's light. Croaking frogs and flickering fireflies ("star children," Alex called them) accompanied us. Our host lent an occasional hand, as we scrambled past goats and their kids settling in for the evening. It was an unforgettable afternoon with an unforgettable person -- child of the mountain, man of God, son of Kenya.

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