A light mist fell as I wound my way through a suburban neighborhood in Nairobi for the first time. Only the occasional chatter of birds disturbed the silence as I marveled at the quiet outside such a bustling city.
Dropped at my guesthouse at 9:30 last night (3/16) I did not know how I would feel about the surroundings in which I would awaken. The guesthouse, simple, comfortable, and quiet afforded me much needed rest and regrouping after a long transatlantic flight to Zurich and on to Nairobi.
After a simple breakfast of eggs and veggies, I found that the restaurant I was to meet 2 other cmmb volunteers was only 2 km away. It always presents a choice of safety versus the delight and anticipation of exploring new surroundings in a profoundly different culture but after discussing the options with the guesthouse staff, I eagerly yet gingerly walked into the neighborhood in search of Cheka, the Japanese restaurant.
What a pleasant surprise, a suburban road, quiet, lushly green and laden with flowering shrubs and trees. I passed only 3 people the entire 2 km, enjoying the quiet and taking my first daylight hours in Kenya.
After lunch and a visit to the grocery store, which offered gelato, spices of every kind, and beautiful and varied produce, I headed back home in the soft rain, inquiring every few moments, am I really here? What a gift…
As I rounded the corner to home, I spotted a middle aged Kenyan woman walking in a few yards in front of me, carrying a large bundle on her head, clothed in traditional garb; head scarf, long colorful print skirt, assorted layered tops. As I caught up to her, we greeted each other, smiling. She spoke to me in Swahili and I attempted to explain I had 1 day under my belt and no Swahili yet. We both burst out laughing as she stroked my hair along the back of my head, and I clutched her hand in an act of friendship and greeting.
We continued to each speak in our native tongue, holding hands as we walked. She pointed to my head, and her bundle, and I wondered if she wanted me to try it out. I offered but she did not understand, or want me to. She again stroked my hair. I did not recoil or stop her. I was touched by her gesture, her eagerness to make connection. Our communication was about friendship, an exploration of our openness and courage to touch, reach out and connect in a world where we are so often afraid. Afraid of germs, touching strangers, unsure what to say or do.
This was the most natural exchange and so spontaneous. It felt good and gentle and innocent. As Karen Casey writes in 52 Ways to Live the Course in Miracles “No experience is lacking in purpose. Every encounter is holy.”
It is in this connection, a spontaneous moment, these holy encounters, that I am moved by spirit, a higher power to continue my travels to far off places; to explore myself, my barriers, my walls and my willingness to restore my own relationship with humanity.
One day, my first day, so touched my heart and my experience. I understand that I can also do this in my own country, that I don’t have to travel 10,000 miles to have these experiences. But I love the adventure and cultural exchange, and showing others that as Americans we can still love and connect with other faiths, colors, creeds despite our political leadership.
Stay tuned! Much more to come…