Kenya Dig It?

After a very long day of traveling from Rome to Zurich and on to Nairobi, I finally arrived. The plan landed at sunset with the sun about to dip below the western horizon. It looked straight out of a movie: an orange-yellow blob sinking slowly with the heat giving the entire sight a perpetual waviness. I paid my entry fee at customs, gathered my gear from baggage claim and went to meet Nicolas; a native Kenyan priest I first met back in 2007.

Memorial to the US Embassay Bombing in Nairobi, August 7, 1998
The memorial marking the US Embassy bombing in 1998.

The story of exactly how I came to meet a Kenyan priest in Chicago is slightly convoluted, but the short story is we had a friend in common who just happened to be renting a room at the Passionist house in Chicago. (Note: Passionists are an order within the Catholic Church just like Dominicans, Jesuits, Franciscans, etc). When I met Nicolas and a few others, I explained I spent time in Jamaica with priests who, though not Passionists themselves, were a mission society founded by a Passionist bishop, who many of the Chicago-based priests knew. They even had cursory knowledge of my Jamaica-based friends. Suffice it to say, this made introductions and the like much easier and things flowed naturally from there.

Nicolas was in Chicago studying at Loyola University. As the months passed and my departure for graduate school became certain, Nicolas invited me to spend the summer in between the two years volunteering and helping out where I could in Kenya. Our friend in common, Mike, had an idea. He wanted to establish a small micro-lending program where US-based donors could help some of the people in the parishes the Passionists of Kenya serve, especially in far-flung locations. Parishioners include widows left with the responsibility of providing for their families. Many of them are incredibly skilled at raising poultry (either for “roasters” or the eggs), pressing sunflower seeds for oil, and other entrepreneurial ventures. But like many, they lack access to capital. If I could work my magic on some malfunctioning laptops and other gear, it might be a step toward getting the technical pieces in place to facilitate such a program. Or at least that’s part of the plan.

That brings us to summer 2009 just below the equator in Kenya.

We arrived at the Passionist house and they heated up some leftovers for me. I have not yet had a chance to meet the Italian priests, both Passionists, who were sent here as missionaries decades ago. They have essentially built the Passionist presence in Kenya by themselves. Quite impressive when you consider they serve parishes from Nairobi to the very western edge of the country. In fact in a few days, we’ll start making our way westward.

I’m settled in my room, a 20x30 foot room with its own bathroom and desk space. If I didn’t know any better I’d think I was in a building back in the Caribbean. Construction in tropical zones tends to be similar: concrete and tile, easy to clean, rather resistant to mold, and impervious to termites. Apparently we’ll be here a few days before heading west.

Some of you have inquired if it’s safe to be here after the election violence of 2007 and because of news stories like these. I should be fine. Electoral violence subsided a while back and the country is moving forward. Most violent outbreaks reported in the news are local disputes about land ownership and resource access. I can tell already I have amazing hosts who are going to take great care of me.

Fair warning, by the time you read this it may all be long behind me. I seem to have broken my web site. Badly. I thought I found a nifty way to add some techy flourishes and formatting - aaaaaaand I broke it. Until I can figure out how to fix it, or straight up reinstall it, I’ll be typing in on a word processor and posting later. Let’s hope this is not a sign of things to come vis-à-vis my technical experiences here.