This morning, our first in Nairobi, I rose early. After lying in bed for a short time, then reading in bed for a longer one, I left the room Benita and I share at 7:00 a.m. I ate in the cafeteria of the Methodist Guest House, where we are staying. At 7:30, I walked to the back of the guest house, to read in the warm sun by the pool.
To the smell of chlorine, and the calming sound of the pool’s water jets, I finished reading a novel tracing an interracial relationship in the U.S. The book opens in the mid-60’s and concludes in the mid-90’s. The themes of race relations, family strife, and the mysterious ties that bind the human heart feel particularly fitting to many aspects of my ongoing African journey.
While looking out at the water, otherwise placid but for the even stream the jets pushed out, I noticed a sign embedded in the wall on one side of the pool. It read, “SHALLOW END.”
After digitally capturing the “shallow end” sign, I resolved to dedicate a substantial part of my reflection on this journey to pulling myself out of the shallow, ever-present abyss that has marked my year. While I’ve created enormously meaningful experiences, and worked hard to reclaim the joy that previously operated in me by instinct, I have felt stagnant and unstudiously atheistic this year. Try as I have, I’ve found it an overwhelming task to swim toward the depths that I know my life holds.
So on this Glide/Ray of Hope return to Nairobi, I will scan my daily environments for joy, as our pastor Karen encouraged us all to do, and as she reminded us will be fairly effortless, among our gracious and relentlessly grateful Kenyan family members.
I found the deep end on our matatu ride to Riruta, a progressive United Methodit church with whom we partner, located in Nairobi’s Ngong slum. As our team rode with Barasa, our faithful Ray of Hope liaison, my heart leapt out of my chest several times. I was buoyant with recognition of geographic markers, and the anticipation of seeing our Kenyan friends from last summer.
Anne Baraza and John Makohka, leaders of Riruta Methodist Church, greeted us warmly and well when we arrived. After services, we waited almost an hour for a matatu that would hold our entire group. After several overcrowded vehicles passed us by, Barasa flagged down a gigantic mattress truck, whose ceiling could easily graze the bottom of a low-hanging billboard.
With our trusty leader Karen riding shotgun in the cab of the truck, the rest of us sat in the top-open bed. Had we been allowed to stand and grip the cage-like top part of the walls, it would have felt like the best float in the greatest parade ever – but the driver could have been arrested for carrying us, so we ducked by sitting against the lower part of the walls. There, staring up at billboard bottoms and warm, cloudy skies, I experienced joy again.