The days go pretty quickly here, in Nairobi. Each day we've had a meeting, or a goal to source something, or a mission to go look at someplace. God is definitely walking with us. I can't understand why I get lost constantly, just to come to understand that its because God had a different direction for me to head in. Something He needed me to see. Someone He wanted me to meet. So I change my path, and I listen for directions. But mostly I stand in awe.
I am in Nairobi working along Jen Foster, our International Advocate. In addition to working with CWoW, she works with Kenya Simba Scholars (KSS), an organization that helps you sponsor the education of a child here. Many of the kids have been abandoned and other come from extremely poor families who can't afford education. The website is www.kenyasimbascholars.org and I encourage you to check it out. These kids are amazing and love going to school and love their peers and teachers. They are resilient, and joyful, and playful, and smart.
On the day I arrived in Nairobi Jen got news that one of the Simba Scholars had passed away. She had been in and out of the hospital the past month, with what they thought to be rheumatic fever. Her name was Joan and she was 12 years old. The school director, Dorothy, told me that she was a very bright student and one of the student leaders. Jen said she was really talented in drama and singing. I was deeply saddened by the news, especially hearing the backstory of her family situation and abandonment. Lydia, the KSS coordinator, and a very lovely Kenyan woman, told me that the children at the school we all very upset and sad over the news of Joan's passing. "We loved her very much", Lydia said, "but God loved her more." Hearing that put some peace upon my heart.
Our original plan today (Friday) was to visit the Ngong Hope School and Children's Home where Joan had been, but we soon got word that her funeral would be held today instead and there would be no school. Jen and I consulted Njeri, our house mama, on appropriate attire to wear to a funeral here. We met up with Lydia at the corner bus stop to head out to Ngong slum to find the location of the funeral and burial service. Ngong is big, and busy, and a chaotic hot mess of life and commerce. As Lydia, Jen and I walked the main road thru the slum, Lydia would occasionally stop and ask people the way to the burial site, since we weren't quite sure where it was we were going. A ways down the road we arrived at a large field that looked more like a landfill than a grave yard. There was lots of trash, and cows grazing, and thin, stray dogs digging around. I noticed piles of dirt and stones with crosses placed in them, located randomly throughout the field. My heart sunk to think this child would be laid to rest here. This is not something I know.
As we waited along the road, others started to show up. Lydia greeted a woman and her five daughters. She was one of the parents of the school children and two of her girls were Simba Scholars. She was lovely and kind, and introduced herself as Esther. She introduced her girls, Mary (12), Mercy (11), Grace (9), Faith (6), and baby Joy (1). The girls were sweet as pie, and although shy of us mzungus (white people) at first, warmed up quickly. Faith snatched onto my hand and played with my skin and we visited and took photos with each other.
Soon the school children arrived, and we all took our place in the field around a table that had been carried in. A car pulled up with a small wooden casket on top. This was the second moment it got hard for me. The air was somber as adults wailed and kids sat quietly in the grass. I stood with Jen, Lydia, and Dorothy, the school director. Grace, Mercy, and Faith surrounded close around me.
The first thing that took place was a tradition of taking photos with the casket. Groups were called up one by one. First the family members...then the teachers...Joan's nurses from the hospital...church members...visiting guests... At this I felt a nudge at my back as Lydia ushered Jen and I toward the casket. My head was spinning with was going on. Do I pose? Do I smile? Do I look at the casket or the camera? Do I take my sunglasses off? Should I cover my shoulders? What on earth am I doing here? This is not something I know. After our photo, other groups continued to be called up. Esther and her girls took their places at the casket for their photo. When they returned to where we were standing, Mercy buried her head in my side and began to sob. This was the hardest thing for me by far. My heart was breaking for this child grieving for her friend. I handed her my tissue, wiped away her tears, and held on to her tight. The pastor proceeded to give a very long and impassioned sermon in both Swahili and English about how we are all temporarily here on this earth. It made me think of one of my favorite quotes, "What is it you plan to do with your one wild, and precious life?". Wild and precious indeed.
After an hour or so, they carried the small casket to a hole that had been dug into the rocky earth. They placed the box down the hole and many people took handfuls of dirt to toss upon it as they started burying the girl. Many of the school children started to weep. Burying a child, this is not something I know. But grief and sorrow is universal, and saying goodbye to someone you love, before you are ready to...that I know. So I stood there, the hot African sun beating down, with a heavy heart, holding Grace and Mercy tightly to my side.
After Joan was laid to rest, we all headed back to the school. I walked along the road with Esther and her girls. I told her that she had a beautiful family and her sweet girls had captured my heart. I learned that she was the same age as me, and grew up an only child. She always knew she wanted a big family because she didn't like being the only one. She invited me to come to her home sometime and I told her, that I would love to, and maybe we could get together the next time I came to Nairobi.
Back at the school we sat in the shade with Lydia, and Esther and her girls. Grace and Mercy told me about their classes. I showed them pictures of my family on my phone. We captured the attention of several of the kids when we started watching a video I had of my three year old niece singing "Jesus Loves Me". We watched the video over and over. Mercy sat by my side and played with my hair. She picked up quickly how to take pictures on my phone and enjoyed herself doing that. The kids laughter started echoing around the schoolyard. Kids are so resilient and it filled my heart with joy to be around them, after such an emotional day.
Before I left, I told Grace, Mercy, and Faith to continue to do well in school and how much I enjoyed being with them today, even though it was a sad day. "I know you loved your friend." I said. "But God loved her more. And I believe, someday, you will see her again."