In Africa for the fifth time this year, I managed to break some ribs and get stuck in Mombasa, Kenya, recuperating.
Confined to bed for the first couple of days, the front desk calls with guests asking to visit me. It's Salma, my dear friend with her brother and a friend.
Thus began a parade of friends that continued through the week.
Isaac is from the semi-nomadic tribe in northern Kenya and Tanzania. Fascinating culture; look them up. His family lives north of Nairobi in the Great Rift Valley. His mom and dad, wife and two children live there while he works in Mombasa to make a little money for the family. He makes about $60 dollars a month as a watchman and sends them $50. He lives outside, he tells me. As my self-appointed body guard, Issac protects me from loose women and "bad" street boys when we're together. When he can, he sells beaded jewelry to tourists. He never asks me for anything, but I bought some things and gave him a little money at the end of an earlier trip. He bought five goats, he tells me. The Maasai don't put money in banks, but in animals. When they need money, they sell some. He's going home to take care of his child who is ill, but he delayed leaving when he heard I'd been taken to the hospital. He came to sit with me for awhile and do his equivalent of praying with me. Sweet fellow; as he was leaving, he gave me his cell phone number and invited me to lay over in Nairobi for a few days next time; said he'd take me north to visit his family. I'll take him up on it if I get the chance. Try imagining that trip.
Walter, my wheelchair bound friend, had polio as a child. He lives on the generosity of tourists, of whom there aren't many these days. Trouble with neighboring Somalia makes foreigners wary. Walter escorts me down by the hotel's pool as I'm cautiously walking now. He speaks with difficulty, but has a gracious spirit and is a joy to know. He instructs me about the culture of the poor.
Now, we sit in the huge lobby of this grand hotel/resort on furniture that costs more than Philip's house. Niece Margaret is two and a delightful child.
Monica and Bridgette came by to commiserate with me over my incapacitation. We'd helped with some healthcare issues earlier. Disease is common among the poor; malaria, tuberculosis, cholera, and HIV are all routine maladies; few among the poor are spared. Medicine is reasonably priced, but for the poor who have nothing, they often do without.
The resort hotel where I stay is pretty impressive. For $70 a day, it's amazing. That $70 is more than a month's income for most of my friends who visit me here.
The president of Kenya stays here when he visits the coast, my friends tell me, so we take pictures of everybody on the red carpet with the president (not shown), and laugh. The hotel staff was gracious to all my friends; the desk clerk would call with good humor, "Mr. Brian, you have yet another visitor," when my friends arrived.
We took dozens of pictures; for all of them, it was their first time in the hotel, and it was recreational to wander the grounds and pose for photos here and there. Here with this cactus! ... there by the pool! Another one, I wasn't smiling! We laughed a lot, and talked long and far afield. It's a different world when seen through their eyes.
Did I mention that we laughed a lot. Among the family members who came to visit me while I was recovering, this young lady did her best to be the typical teenager. She kept it up for most of the first hour while the old folks talked. Doncha just love it when they finally drop the facade! (These are my favorite photos from the week, especially the nose wrinkle.) Bright, well spoken, a good student in school, she named the coastal countries of eastern Africa for us and told a bit about each one. She speaks Swahili and English quite well. She likes math too and uses the calculator I brought for her like a pro.
So I'm home, and my phone rings. It's Walter!
I'd given him my phone as I left Kenya because his had failed, so he calls.
"You home OK?" Yes, Walter, and I'm doing fine, thank you.
"How's mum?" She's fine and sends her love.
"You pray for me, I pray for you." You bet, Walter; every day.
"OK, I call you tomorrow." :)
We've had this same conversation many times before, but it is such a joy, always. It brightens my day and, I hope, his as well.
My world has been turned inside out since visiting Africa the first time, now five years ago. These simple, practical, hard-working folks have made a place for me in their lives. They talk to me frankly and they pray for me and my family. What an extraordinary blessing. Their world is the real one, by the way. The great majority of folks in this world live like these friends do. My world is fading as I watch, unreal, built on and supported by things that hardly matter at all.
P.S. Bishop Samuel, now a dear brother, came to visit me while I was recovering. He's a pastor who preaches practical Christianity, and he leads the way with an open hand to help others. He's introduced me to families and children who we can help by keeping their kids in school and little things like some food, some business start-up funds, or perhaps a mattress so they don't sleep on the ground. We have connections to 37+ kids and their families here in Kenya, if you'd like to join in the fun.
A father lamented the cost of living; maize meal has doubled in price, and it's the diet staple of the poor. A child's tuition and uniforms can be a quarter of the family's income. With more than one child, sometimes they have to choose which one goes, if any. Two teenage boys, part of a family I love, were at home on a school day when I visited to say goodbye. One sheepishly admitted that he couldn't go because his uniform was 'finished' (worn out), and they wouldn't let him attend. I was way past broke, having given away more than I could afford, and it broke my heart to delay lending a hand until I can find some more to give.
P.S. Home safe, wired money to Salma for the boy's school costs. They called to say thanks with much laughing and celebrating going on in the background. The Boy's Story here.
For humor's sake, here's a photo from Djibouti that I somehow took inadvertently while falling down the stairs. That's how the ribs got broken. Slick cement stairs and a moment's inattention, and I bounced down 7 or 8 stairs on my backside. Banged up and breathless when I landed, it didn't really get bad until three days later in Kenya when it felt like the ribs actually separated. I don't recommend it.