14 June 2007

It smells like Kibera.

I was washing my car the other evening, and I smelled Kibera in the air.

The pungent scent of burning wood - in the U.S., that's a scent usually reserved for the chilliness of fall. It's a comforting, cozy aroma conjuring up memories of football games and holidays. But here, the smell of burning wood is usually not present in the midst of blazing summer stickiness. As Steven tossed old branches from the recent rain storms into our backyard firepit, I, in the front yard, was not thinking much about autumn or Dallas, TX...

As the low-lying sun cast a goldenness all around me, I stood there with washrag in one hand, recalling the day I first stepped foot on the chaotic streets of India and the dirt roads of Kibera, the biggest slum in East Africa. That burning smell. The beads of sweat all over my body. Gazing down at my feet, I realized I was wearing the same brown sandals that had touched both of those third-world soils. Whatever they are burning there in the slums - trash, wood, food - it's a scent you don't soon forget.

But it's not just that. It's the activity of life - a very different kind of life - swirling around you...this beautiful mess of smiles, poverty, laughter, need, and desire.

I remember experiencing this as I strolled down Kibera road with Moses on my left and Peter on my right, two of the teenage orphan boys who live at our Calvary Youth Hostel there. Moses and Peter were great conversationalists, inquiring about my life in America. "We heard that everyone goes to college there. Is that true?" I thought about how much I took my college studies for granted and felt ashamed, as they were desperate for a chance to get any kind of higher schooling. But as much as our lives were different, I felt like we were friends.

During our stroll, we passed shanty shacks selling meats and vegetables that seemed hardly edible. We meandered through trash and human waste flowing quietly along the red caked dirt road. We passed children in half-shirts and naked bottoms who waved joyously. And of course, we smelled the stench of burning wood and felt the perspiration trailing down on our faces.

What is it about this place that draws you back? It was filthy, frightening, and despicable. Yet, it was joyous, hopeful, and shimmering. Perhaps what is compelling about these poverty-stricken places is that they are drastically different than where I am standing here in Dallas, TX. Yet the people I visited there were yearning for hope and life just as much as I.

5 comments:

Suz said...

wow, thanks for sharing this experience...i felt like i was there. great thoughts.

Jenni said...

I love this post, and beautiful writing.

Johnny and I want to visit Africa with you one day as well as India, Lord willing.

themojos said...

hmmm. those are good questions stine. i wonder too why we are drawn to places that are like that. Mark Twain as a beautiful quote about india and its conflicting nature and how it draws you in. i'll find it and post it for you.

themojos said...

“This is indeed India; the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of a thousand nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the mouldering antiquities of the rest of the nations—the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.”—Mark Twain, Following the Equator, 1897

big daddy keas said...

Yo mrs. Christine - it's big daddy keas here!!!...well, I'm trying to get ahold of Steven ASAP but don't know how...I'm in a monastery and don't have a phone (only have internet by permission), I sent him an email a minute ago but don't know if he still uses it...so sorry to throw this on your blog, but it's urgent yo!...can you pass this message along to him:

Hey Bailey,

I don't know if you are back on email yet - but I had to send this to you...I’m writing you from the Benedictine monastery here in the desert of New Mexico...usually when I am here I fast from all forms of media, but I asked one of the brothers this morning if I could use their internet to send you an email...here is the reason – on Thursday it was confirmed to me by my church that on July 1st I am going to be ordained and the service is set for 6 pm...I get to ask a few key people to pray over me that night...so I am writing to ask if you would be one of those who prays over me...bro, I know that is only a couple of weeks away, but it would mean the world to me if you’re able to come...

It is on a Sunday night...I have a place for you to stay and if Christine is able to come then my friend has a house that he will let you use...July 1st will be my last full day in Miami - on the 2nd I leave for Princeton...my brother, it would be an honor to have you at my ordination...

I will be checking my email again on Thursday morning...let me know your thoughts homey, I hope it works out...

(he can write me back at keas@bigdaddykeas.com)