Yesterday we followed a bus labeled "Msamaria Mwema"/"Good Samaritan" part of the way to Eshiamboko. It was an auspicious beginning for our two-hour drive behind the usual clouds of belching diesel smoke and choking red dust. As Kenneth was carefully weaving the van along the "other" side of the road (among cows, chickens, goats, and all manner of people pushing, pulling and otherwise carrying all manner of children and goods), we noticed field upon fallow field in every direction.
People are hungry here, but it is too hot and dry to plant. Sparse, withered cornstalks cower in the shambas/gardens, stooping sentinels against the sky. A testament to both poverty and patience, they, too, await yet another cycle of hope. "The season of the long rains" will begin in April. As we drove through Sabatia and Shinwa, along the bumpy road toward Kakamega, neon-painted signs loomed and disappeared: "Beware of (Sugar) Cane Trailers," "Samwell's Cyber," "Bidii/Strong Saloon," "Klasic Kutz" -- a video store, and "Shinwa Beer Pot." It was momentarily disconcerting to read "Deviation" in front of the Bible Baptist Church before I remembered the British term for "Detour."
The Mothers' Union ladies from the five newest orphan programs in the diocese welcomed us with open arms, sweet tea and even sweeter sandwiches. (Mumias, the centre of Kenya's sugar industry, is not far from the site.) When the meeting began, their music was sweeter still. There is nothing like the joy and power of African women's voices raised in song. Carolyn led the meeting, Nan announced the Lenten tithe of Christian friends in Rome that will provide Easter rice for the entire orphan program, Truphena explained the weekly course curriculum, Gladys and Magi taught a "Water Guard" class, and Nan then described the success of the Liberian women's peace movement.
Cries of "You go, Girls," were enthusiastically interspersed with "Ai-yees," rhythmic clapping and song. When Carolyn introduced me, I shared photographs of St. Andrew's Sunday School students, and of Helen and her friends at Chilmark Chocolates. Just a few months ago, our church school teachers introduced the topic of "mission" to children in Edgartown after telling them the story of the Good Samaritan. Yesterday I was privileged to pass along their hard-earned donations to children in Eshiamboko. Thanks to them and to the staff and patrons of Chilmark Chocolates, two hundred kukus (chickens) will help feed two hundred kids and will begin to provide school fees for them, as well. It is an inspiring story.
Even more inspiring was listening to the collective wisdom and gratitude of the women yesterday. "Asante sana, Mama," the Mothers' Union ladies said to me. "Please tell your children and all of the people who care about us 'Thank you!' You are helping our orphans, but you are also teaching us and our orphans that we must remember to help other children, just as your children do. Our orphans will learn to 'pass it on' and to not be beggars."
You go, Girls, and Bwana Asifiwe! It was a moment of genuine grace for me because I had left a hospital staff meeting earlier this week, shaking my head in disappointment. After an intense two-hour discussion about the importance of our individual and corporate need and responsibility to find ways to help Maseno Hospital survive and thrive, the closing prayer (offered by a, pardon me, male nurse) was, "Mungu/God, we pray that you will bring us another donor." Colonialism and, yes, post-colonialism have left their marks on Kenya.
It is not often that my dismay is so quickly countered by joy. The women and children of Eshiamboko reminded me that we really are made in God's image. We can and do mess things up for ourselves, but there is always a flickering candle, an image of hope.
The efforts of the Mothers' Union are based upon Paul's words in II Corinthians 3: 2-3 (KJV). "You yourselves are our letter (of commendation), written on our hearts, to be known and read by all, and you showed us that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." Amen.