Walking the Gauntlet

Most days I walk back and forth from the church property where we’re building our greenhouse. The sights and smells are powerful and memorable, if not always pleasant.

First I walk past the woman frying whole tilapia on the side of the road. I want to try one sometime but I’m calculating the risk of food poisoning… Then there is the Nairobi River, its’ black stench rising up to the road as I hold my breath and walk across the bridge. I think about how much money you would have to pay me just to stick my pinky toe in that river. As I ponder this, a bus roars past, billowing black smoke at me as I again try to hold my breath.

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Then I jump on the side road where the church is located. It rained yesterday so I must tiptoe around mud holes in the middle of the road filled with banana peels, sugar cane stalks, plastic bags, and a plethora of other garbage. A herd of cows nibbles at the garbage as they take up the entire road – makes me want to become a vegetarian. Now I’m dodging cow horns, carts, people, bicycles, buses and mud (at least I hope it’s mud).

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Most noticeable are the people… noticing me. I try to count how many times I hear the word muzungu. 5, 6, 7, I lose track after that. I also hear shouts of “Hey John” (apparently all white men are named John), “How are you?” and even one “buy me lunch”! I pretend not to hear any of it and continue walking, smiling and waving at children who say hello. I am conspicuously conscious of the color of my skin; I haven’t seen another white person in this part of town since I arrived two weeks ago.

And as I soak everything in, I am reminded that there are two distinct Nairobis. I’m more comfortable in the other one where there are shopping malls and movie theatres, where people have gardens in their back yards and maids to cook them dinner. That Kenya is comfortable and nice and clean and I know it well.

This Kenya is difficult. It’s dirty. Traffic is even worse. I can’t breathe. But I think about the fact that these people go through the same thing I do every day and don’t have the option of leaving. I suppose I didn’t come for those nice things. I’m glad I’m here, doing what I’m doing. It’s difficult, abnormal, possibly crazy and sometimes I don’t have a good attitude about it, but I’m thankful that God has given me experiences like this to stretch my world.

To find out more about what I’m doing, see The Food Source and follow my blog or subscribe by to receive e-mail updates!Image.

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12 thoughts on “Walking the Gauntlet

  1. Now you are walking in the only Nairobi that I know. That one you speak about with malls and nice gardens has alluded me completely my last 3 trips! The smells, cows and sewage are still with me. The most unforgettable of all is the Nairobi river. I wouldn’t put my pinky toe in it either, yet people use it every day because they don’t have a choice. You are doing something amazing. Its not easy and there are no guarantees. Most certainly, God is growing each of us through this process in truly understanding each other at a deeper level and growing us in the ways we need to grow. You are not alone. You have a team of us supporting you each and every day. Cheers!

    • Thanks Peggy! You know, I started writing and reflecting because of our senior seminar class at APU! Now it’s become a creative outlet for me and something that gives me a lot of joy. Thanks for being part of that!

  2. I think it is great that you are able to put it in perspective, whilst understandably you would love to be back in the more comfortable area, I think it is fantastic that you are able to see and understand as you so well put that, “This Kenya is difficult. It’s dirty. Traffic is even worse. I can’t breathe. But I think about the fact that these people go through the same thing I do every day and don’t have the option of leaving”. You might think it funny, but many people would not be able to see beyond their own discomfort.

  3. I loved reading your reflections on your walk to work today. Fascinating stuff, particularly the stark contrast between Nairobi A and B. By coincidence today I had a friend from Nairobi visiting me at my home. As we chatted I tried to visualise his prior home and reading your post now has helped me to do that.

  4. Great description, I can imagine being there. Half the beauty of travelling somewhere so foreign are the little details like the smells!

  5. Pingback: The Next Step | danieljamesmoore

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