We were elated when the plane touched down in Minneapolis/St. Paul after traveling for over 23 hours from Nairobi. My body couldn’t wait for a nice hot shower, my very own bed without a mosquito net and a comfortable pillow! The trees greeted us with their kaleidoscope of colored leaves, and our driveway was carpeted with a welcoming golden hue. I was glad to be home, yet … my heart was still in Kitui. I wasn’t ready to, nor did I want to get back to our Minnesota lifestyle.
As one of 21 delegates from our archdiocese who traveled to Kitui for the Partnership, I was delighted to be back in Kenya again. Out of love and generosity, the Kenyans reached out to make our stay enjoyable and comfortable. Everyone, from the wide-eyed smiling children to those who declared themselves to be our “Kenyan grandmothers”, with joy in their hearts, shook our hands saying “Karibu”, “Karibu” … Welcome! We were family. After Mass it is their custom to invite visitors to the front to say a few words. The gentleman who introduced us at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, the outstation of Inyuu deep in the Bush, explained the partnership, but also commented what an honor it was that we would come “all the way out there” to visit them.
Honor?? The honor was all mine! But then few of them had ever seen a white person before. When we introduced ourselves as: “Bob and Marcie Peach, married 48 years, with 4 children and 12 grandchildren”, the congregation erupted in delightful applause. Their stereotype of America is everyone is divorced and no one is having children!
After Mass we were ushered outside first so people could greet us as they left church. For a full 15 minutes, children, men and women shook our hands. They huddled around us, and we were generally shaking 4-5-6 hands at a time, there were so many and they were so eager. Finally I turned to Bob and said “I feel like royalty, but I’m just a nobody!” That welcoming sense of belonging stays with me still. With that heightened sense, I pray that I, in turn, will exude that same sense to everyone else I meet.
The Kenyans love their tea – taking tea in the morning, in the afternoon, with every meal, and often in the evening as well. They drink it, however, by pouring hot milk mixed with water into the cup, then adding the tea bag and sugar. While I found it quite good, I still prefer hot water with my tea bag! However, I’m thinking the tea breaks themselves would be good to add to my own schedule.
Bottled water was provided for drinking because even when water was available, water from the faucet was not potable. Because there’s no apparent recycling in Kenya and landfills were sorely lacking, it was disheartening to see all the water bottle trash lying around. Now that we’re back, even though water is abundant here in Minnesota, I find myself deliberately thinking about it, quickly shutting off the faucets. The image related to us by two other delegates of having to shower using only a bucket of water remains with me. We take so much for granted that others have to struggle to obtain just to survive.
It took almost a week before I tackled the mountain of e-mails, paperwork, bills, etc. Somehow they just didn’t seem important. The television has been on only once — that too seems unimportant. I’m still searching for what God wants me to do with all these newfound experiences. We are all His people; we share common hopes, dreams and values; we share the same faith and the same Eucharist. The purpose of the partnership is to experience these things and to make them understood. In my experience, this has been accomplished.