Friday, April 16, 2010

Psalm 84: A Song for Kenya

One of my favorite psalms is appointed for today in the ACK lectionary. Psalm 84 is a song of Emmaus, of Eastertide and, increasingly for me, of East Africa -- "the cradle of civilization."

It is a song about joy from sorrow, heights from depths, faith from despair. It is a song of celebration, about recognizing Christ in community and about being home in the heart of God. It is, perhaps especially now, a song for Kenya as its people prepare to vote on a proposed constitution in the midst of their much needed season-of-long-rains: "Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs, for the early rains have covered it with pools of water... They will go from strength to strength, and the God of gods will reveal himself" (Ps. 84, v. 5,6).
The psalms are timeless testaments of faith. There is nothing new about poverty, pain, drought and deprivation, but there is much to be learned from them all. As "your" missionary nurse, it is a gift for me to serve with faith and grow in gratitude, and to tell you the stories of resilience and joy that I am privileged to share. Our sisters and brothers in Maseno smile not because life is easy but because life is good. "Karibu!" they say: "Welcome!" There may be little to eat, but there is great willingness to share it -- from chai to chapatis and, almost always, ugali. Our bread is always blessed by prayer, broken with conversation and leavened with hope.
We read a great deal about the corporate corruption in Kenya, but we don't read much about the individual integrity. I think of the Linets and Emmahs, the Florences and Carolines, the Kenneths and Kwendos, the Benjamins and Leonidas... We don't read much about the women, mostly mothers and grandmothers, who are literally carrying the burdens of this country on their heads and backs. We don't read much about the people who are working to save their hospitals from dissolution and their rain forests from decimation. We don't read much about the female students who know that the best jobs are still given to those who sleep with a "big man." Those are just some of the Kenyans who will vote in June for a new, if still-imperfect, constitution with the hope of righting some very old wrongs. They are people of hope in a place that needs hope.
If you've been reading my blog, you've also been reading too much about illness and death. You haven't read enough about health and life... about the children who collect household firewood at dawn, then shovel stones into potholes by day in order to save a few shillings for school fees, for their "free" public education. You haven't read enough about the brick-makers who toil daily along blazing roadsides in order to earn a living. You haven't read enough about the AIDS support group members who have learned new skills to create handcrafts for income. You haven't read enough about the female farmers who recently planted striga- (disease-) resistant maize to feed the families of their villages. You haven't read enough about the community that just built a shelter for homeless women and children. These, too, are people of hope in a place that needs hope.
You probably haven't read enough, either, about the processions of white-clad mourners whose daily drumbeats make music along the road. They raise high their banners, lifting higher still their velvet-lined caskets, as they sing the bodies of loved ones home and their souls to heaven. You haven't read enough about Nan & Gerry Hardison, who have been laboring together with love in God's Kenyan vineyard for over 10 years. They have saved, enhanced and empowered the lives of countless children and adults alike here. From orphan feeding programs for 19,000 kids, to water projects that supply life-giving "maji," to education for seminarians (role models of the future), to the establishment of a fledgling Rotary Club, to diverse and exceptional medical care -- in spite of limited resources -- their work is yours, mine and God's. Your prayers and support make it possible. Asante sana!
Yes, there is despair in our world, but there is also hope in our world, even in this little corner of it. There is Good News. That is the Eastertide message. It is the message of God's love and truth and power. As The Rev. Dr. Francis G. Wade, the retired rector of St. Alban's in Washington, DC, recently said in his address to The Episcopal Forum of South Carolina:
"If I were to see our church in a specific Gospel story, I would suggest the Road to Emmaus. In that account, two people were walking from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus on Easter day. They were fully aware of the crucifixion and had heard rumors of the resurrection. They were doing their best to figure it all out. During their conversation, Jesus, unrecognized, joined them and guided their discussion to a deeper understanding. At the conclusion of their journey, they had a meal, and it is said that they recognized the Lord in that great Eucharistic phrase, 'the breaking of the bread.'"
He continued, "I would suggest that our church is still on the Emmaus road, confident that, when we are in conversation, our Lord joins us and deepens our understanding. I would also suggest that, in the original story, if Jesus had simply shown up and broken a piece of bread without the preceding conversation, no one would have recognized Him at all. Conversation is the key. Maintaining the conversation is a vital and difficult ministry... throughout our church [N.B.,and throughout the world -- DS]. I commend you for your efforts to keep the conversation alive..."

Our Benedictine tradition reminds us, "Always we begin again." The Eastertide road to Emmaus begins in Maseno, Kenya; in Edgartown, Massachusetts; in Jerusalem, Israel; in Jiquilisco, El Salvador. It begins in all of our hometowns, wherever we may be. It begins in our hearts, whenever and if ever we decide to step out in faith and walk in one another's flip-flops. That is where we, too, might recognize the welcoming smile of the risen Christ. That is when we, too, might discover deepened understanding. We are all people of hope in a world that needs hope. Let us keep the conversation -- the truth and power, the hope and love -- alive. Let us break bread together wherever we are.
I will soon "begin again" to work in the U.S. in order to return to "begin again" to work here in September. "Happy are the people whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on the pilgrims' way" (Ps. 84, v. 4). There is a song in my heart today. It is a song of hope.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

R: He is Risen Indeed!

Happy Easter, Everyone!

Since no one ventured any questions last week, I will venture some "responses" of my own. These are especially for my grandchildren since I won't be around to help with Easter baskets this year...

Q: What are the "Big Five" animals that people hope to see on game drives in East Africa's preserves?
A: Elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and cape buffalo (not the American bison)

Q: What are the "Small Five" creatures that people hope to see on their walking safaris in East Africa?
A: Elephant shrew, rhino beetle, ant lion, leopard tortoise, and buffalo weaver (a bird)

Q: What is four feet tall, six feet wide and has miles of muddy tunnels inside it?
A: A termite mound!

Q: What is the national bird of Kenya?
A: The black-crowned (or -crested) crane

Q: Why do zebras cross the road?
A: To get to the other side, Silly!

Q: What do you call a collection of chickens? (Nell knows this one!)
A: A flock

Q: What do you call a meeting of monkeys? (These are blue monkeys. Videos coming!)
A: A troop

Q: What do you call a loitering of lions?
A: A pride

Q: What do you call an entourage of elephants?
A: A parade

Q: What do you call a happening of hippos?
A: A pod

Q: What do you call a gathering of giraffes?
A: A tower (really!)

Q: What do you call a languishing of leopards?
A: A leap (Sorry. No photo. Leopards are nocturnal animals.)

Q: What do you call an "mzee" (old one) who misses Maisie & Gwendolyn, Huck & Nell, Nico & Nadia -- and wishes them and their families a very Happy Easter with much love?
A: Granny Smith

Saturday, April 3, 2010

All Wazungu Look Alike

Well, we do. I thought it was a fluke last year when the nursing school principal confused me with a visiting doctor. Chantal was tall, willowy and blond. I am sort, stumpy and once-brunette. Last week, however, I was asked at Maseno University if Anna and Hubert (pictured with me above) were my children.

Make no mistake: I would be proud and happy to claim them, in addition to the three wonderful "kids" (15 years older than they) that I have at home. But, seriously, do you think we resemble each other in any way? Anna is a beautiful redhead, Hubert a handsome African American almost twice my height.

Perhaps the best "look-alike" story of all, however, took place last May while the Hardisons were on home leave. I walked over to St. Philip's to help Nan's secretary with some paperwork. Simba came galloping across the campus to greet me. Mind you, Simba is a very large 8-year-old dog, so it is an effort for him to do much more than amble.

"He thinks you're Nan," Josephine announced. "He's an African dog. All wazungu look alike." Shucks. And I thought Simba was pleased to see me... but it's an honor to be mistaken for Nan! Simba and Little Brown and I are living happily ever after right now at St. Philip's. I'm certain, though, that the dogs will be even more excited than the rest of us when the Hardisons return.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Holy Week on Holy Ground

When I was a child... the Maasai Mara was a miraculous place we simply read about in our National Geographics. Even when I became a woman and my mission assignment became Kenya, it never occurred to me that I'd be able to see the Mara -- six hours and several hundred dollars away. However, a visitor's wish (and cost-sharing) coincided with a camp's off-season rates... So Anna and I spent two incredible days and nights this Holy Week marveling, often in silent awe, at God's creation. Neither of us could have done it alone, and it was a gift to cherish it together.

We traveled via four-wheel drive vehicle by day, exploring some of the 900+ square miles of the Mara with Isaac, our knowledgeable guide and a member of one of the seven tribes of Maasai. We stayed in an unfenced enclave by night, accompanied by more Maasai (replete with spears), as we made our way to the tent after dinner. We watched, we listened, and we prayed... as we traveled from near-desert to sweeping savannah to stone-encrusted hills. And we discovered that even our wazungu eyes could learn to see majestic elephants posing as rocks on ridges, playful lion cubs hiding-and-seeking in waves of grassy camouflage, and lithe cheetahs stalking their prey, unperturbed by our presence just two meters away.
Ashe oleng ("Asante sana" in the Maasai tongue), dear God. Thank you for your merciful love and your still-beautiful world. Please help us cherish both -- and one another -- as you would have us do, this and every (holy) week. Be with our families and friends around the world at Easter. And please, especially, be with our Kenyan friends, many of whom will never be able to see their own "holy ground" because $60/day (the per-person park entrance fee) amounts to two-months of pay that must feed their hungry children, instead. Amen.
P.S. Doesn't Anna's first photo look like the hand of God? More of my own will come after I get home and have broadband access to Picasa.