Saturday, July 15, 2006

Inching Back toward the First World
Methodist Guest House, Nairobi (2 March 2006; 10 p.m.)

We landed in Nairobi ca. 6:40 p.m. After days and days over 100 degrees, it was wonderful to feel (relatively) chilly, as a thunderstorm had just come over! I think the temperature was down in the 80sF, and it felt a marvelous relief!

We were driven to our lodgings – the Methodist Guest House, and we knew their dinner serving hours were coming to an end, so we did not have much time to waste, if we were going to have a meal.

In the previous 24 hours, we had begun to indulge in fantasies about the things we were looking forward to: showers, hot water, beer, vegetables . . . Now we were in Nairobi, which felt to us – after the basics in Lui – like the very apex of civilization, and we longed to experience those luxuries.

So we all dropped our stuff in our rooms in the Methodist Guest House, and washed hands. Wow! Were mine filthy!! Then everyone headed straight to dinner at the Guest House, and it was marvelous!

Dinner (buffet style) started with the warm pumpkin soup (actually tasted like squash) and it was delicious – subtle seasonings in a cream base.

Then I had a dinner plate full of salad. It was ordinary iceberg lettuce, which – in other times – I might have eschewed for more exotic greens; but on that evening, the iceberg lettuce was like a gift from God. I topped the lettuce with a scrumptious blend of ripe, juicy tomatoes, red onion, cucumbers, and a nice balsamic vinaigrette.

Then I had what they called sweet and sour pork (which were ribs in a wonderful ginger sauce), marvelous carrots and zucchini with a little butter sauce. The French fries were boring (cold). There was a bottle labeled “tomato sauce” which looked like andwas bottled like ketchup, but it was a strangely sweet jelly-like substance; it was easy to ignore after a few bites.

Then I was back to the buffet line for a second serving of those luscious ribs. Then back for a salad-plate of the salad again, which soothed my soul.

Oh, vegetables! Oh, seasonings!! I was in heaven!!

And we even had knives! and forks! and napkins! It was a banquet fit for a king, and we were all in very good spirits. [Mind you, we had not seen eating utensils – much less napkins – in our entire time in Lui.]

Reading these words now, four months after the fact, I wonder if it’s appropriate to talk in such sensual terms about what that meal was like. But I’m choosing to leave those words as I wrote them at the time. Maybe it’s some sort of idolatry to have such sensuous pleasure in the tastes and smells and textures of good food. But I do know it was an important moment, as I moved back from “Third World” toward “First World.”

Then the five of us went out to the patio and sat outside for an hour afterwards, drinking tea and visiting – and, as all through these days – lots and lots of laughter. Everyone seemed very relaxed.

I certainly can’t speak for the others, but this is what I was feeling. It felt wonderful to have gone through the experience with those folks, whom I had grown to love. We had seen and experienced things together that will bind them to me forever. But I also recognized that we were beginning to diverge and go our different ways and would never be together in quite that way again. So there was joy and communion and sadness, all crashing together for me.

I was sad to part from my “tukal-mate” Sandy, and Rick and Bob made “bunkie” jokes. But in a way, I’m sure we were all pleased, too, to have private space and solitude after 7 nights of sharing our tukals.

We had all been longing for, dreaming of, and fantasizing about having a toilet [not just a hole in the floor] and taking a long, hot shower in which we might actually get clean – without having to share that shower with bats, rats, lizards, roaches, and ants.

But by the time I hit the shower (nearly 10 p.m.), there wasn’t a sign of hot water. Oh well, I’d endured much worse! and was easily able to give God thanks for the showerhead and the water and the clean floor and walls.

Here's a view of my modest room.

In retrospect, I observe how grateful I was to eat regular (to me) food again. Strangely, I found I did not want to turn on television or use electric lights. On one hand, it was marvelous to check in to a room that had a tile (not just packed-earth) floor, with electricity and plumbing. But it was jarring, too. After so many days without “creature comforts,” it felt “wrong” somehow to dive back into those systems again. So I could not bring myself to use the electric lights or the television that night. But I sure did enjoy letting the water run over me in the shower.

Archdeacon Robert has kindly arranged with Ambrose [of Bishop Bullen’s staff] to provide a driver for Sandy, Father Bob, and me to go shopping in Nairobi tomorrow. I’m looking forward to that.

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