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.

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