As with all divisions among Friends, the best strategy when encountering them is to shift our focus from our differences to our similarities. This is what we did in my home group yesterday, dividing into smaller groups, and spending about 45 minutes sharing about all the things we have in common. Almost all of us were there. Notably absent was one of the Kenyans, a young man I had grown fond of and have seen around campus. I always greet him warmly despite our disagreement Sunday. He shakes my hand in return but does not look me in the eye.
I was part of a small group which included a Kenyan woman, a Filipino man (who I incorrectly identified as Indonesian in a previous post), and an Indian woman. We were evenly split in terms of our views on human sexuality. We sat outside in chairs under a tree and discovered the following: that we all believed in pacificim, that we all struggled to lead simple lives, that we agreed that telling the truth was vitally important all the time and that we failed at it occasionally, that it was the teaching of Jesus which inspired us most as Christians, and that the essence of our faith was that we were called to love everyone. Then we shared what we had discovered with the rest of the group. We did not return to sweetness, and there is a sense that we have leanred something hard about each other which has changed the foundation of our relationship. But there is also the sense that the foundation is now true, where it was not before, and that is most important.
The facilitators asked me if I would lead the group in some theater games to close the session. We went back outside and spent twenty minutes shaking out hands and feet by counting in various languages (Filipino was the most comical for us non-Filipinos), then we played Zing, Boing, Pow and Me Too! A sense of joy was restored.
The deliberative sessions in the afternoon were tiring, but I found the late afternoon session after tea especially uplift. I was led to share on my deep gratitude for the transformational encounters I have had here, and my wish that we gather in this way from all over the world with more frequency. FWCC will be posting a list of queries we have formulated here, and notes on our deliberations shortly. We have not been called to created a joint statement of any kind.
A bit about the Kenyans . . .
First of all, I was unprepared for their physical beauty. I don’t know what I was expecting, perhaps I wasn’t expecting anything. But I find them to be remarkably fit as a people. And their skin is astonishing. It’s a uniformly smooth chocolatey brown, unblemished, with a texture that makes you want to run your hand over their cheek. That would be a faux pas so I have resisted. But I have reflected on all the ways skin color has been the source of such horrible actions and behaviors among all races. To find myself so enchanted with with Kenyan skin has been joyful.
They are uniformly cheerful, helpful, confident and welcoming. There is no distance upon meeting them,and if there is than I am the one that has created it. The women have a lovely two-cheek kiss upon meeting you, in which the lips do not make contact but the cheeks do, and they say “Bless you”. I have found a remarkable lack of cultural misunderstanding, and yesterday I had a long and involved conversation with Kennedy about finding foreign investors for his community bank, and the steps that might be taken to form a business venture in Kenya. In their lack of affect, openness and directness I find them rather . . . American. American when we are at our best: full of the hope and optimism that has been the engine of our culture from the beginning.
They are proud of their country, they brag rightly about their long-distance runners, and they have a clear awareness of the economic challenges they face in the third world. But not once have I sensed a bitterness or anger at me for having so much. They are quick to ask for help, and I have a small stack of Kenyan email address and pamphlets to bring home and find support for. And I will do so.
They are worried about the violence in their region. Somalia shares a border on the north, for instance. And the coming Kenyan elections have everyone nervous. Like many African nations, there is not a long democratic tradition to rely on, and the country has been ruled by a series of strongmen. But compared to many other African nations they are doing remarkably well. I sense a lot of opportunity here, both for Kenyans and for foreigners, and I want to return sometime with my family.
Today is our final full day here, hard to believe. I have been conscripted to be in a Philadelphia Yearly Meeting skit at the closing ceremonies. You can take the actor out of the theater, but you can’t take the theater . . . well anyway. After some thinking about it over dinner last night with Philadelphia Friends, I remembered that I have a copy of Abbot and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First” routine on my computer. So we are going to adapt it to be not about a baseball team, but rather about an American trying to figure out how things work here at Karabak University and who’s in charge. A Kenyan will play the straight man (Abbot) and I will play the clown (Costello). I think it has potential.
Tomorrow I spend the night at a “guest house” in Nairobi, and then Thursday catch he 8:50 am flight for London. Thursday will be a ridiculously long day, with seven extra hours added on as we fly west. I’m already thinking about which movies to watch. The U.S. State Department has sent around a distressing alert to travellers to be alert, since they have “credible informtion” about plans for a terrorist attack on U.S. assets, hotels or Kenyan government buildings in Nairobi. Hoping this is a pro-forma “better safe than sorry” action.