An older man and woman
walk on the beach.
The wind catches their silver hair,
and their faces,
worn by years of loving,
smile once more.
Hand in hand they walk upon the sand
pointing at the hightide waves that crash at their feet.
I cannot hear their voices,
the wind and waves too loud,
but I see them laugh and face the sea.
They dare to let the water catch their frail ankles,
their fearless eyes glinting in the sunlight.
The cresting waves are to their shoulders now,
yet they laugh.
The woman falls, still smiling,
as salt water clings to her eyes,
but the man is there,
holding her up.
50 years of marriage
they tell us.
I can imagine them,
half a century ago,
standing on the shores of newlywed life,
hand in hand, facing the hardships of loving
that would surely crash upon them
with fearless eyes.
I can imagine them taking that first step
into the ocean of love,
the water cold and mysterious,
excitement at the thought of forever.
The water was calm at first,
but the waves soon grew stronger.
At times, one would fall, but the other was there,
ready to take on more waves together.
They stood in those mysterious waters
day after day
ready to embrace whatever came,
steadfast in the turbulence.
The balcony on which I sit is surrounded by buildings that give me a limited view of the sky. One wall is brick, and through its windows I can see the living room of the house where I live. The other wall is cement, connected to the neighbors house. A tall green tree grows in the garden, its branches touching the walls around it, reaching toward the sky, almost tall enough to see the view of Amsterdam. In front of me, two staff members from the hostel discuss how crazy God’s love is. Planes go by overhead. A gentle breeze stirs the loose hairs on my head. My fingers rattle the keyboard of my laptop.
It is here, in the middle of Amsterdam, that the 37 staff members of our two hostels, from all over the world, live in community; all here to take part in true, Christ-like hospitality. We are all gathered together not because of our common cultures, backgrounds, stories, or countries, but because of our love of God. It is a messy and beautiful testimony of the Family of God.
I have been here for 3 weeks now, riding alongside canals and through the narrow streets of this city that never sleeps; learning how to navigate a city with an actual paper map (i.e. not a phone map); meeting guests that come to our hostel from all over the world; making new friends; watching some of the most awe-inspiring sunsets; serving breakfast to the travelers; learning more about God and seeing him show up in big and small ways.
I could tell many stories. I could talk about how on my first bike ride in the city I ran into a pole. I could tell of how on my first day as receptionist I told a group of girls to take off their bidet covers before they check out in the morning, rather than duvet covers. I could write about the best places to watch the sunset or the most life changing pancakes I’ve ever eaten. I could talk about the wonderful, crazy staff members and friends I have made here. But I will save these stories for another day.
The one story, or sentence rather, that I wish to leave you with is this: God is good. I have seen his goodness in the sun-setting skies. I have seen his goodness in the smiles of each person I have encountered here. I have seen his goodness in the peace that has filled my heart, even when I am overwhelmed by all of the transition I am undergoing. I have seen his goodness in the love this community shows each other. Yes, yes, God is good.
I almost miss my alarm this morning,
set for 5:30am, it’s enough time to make chai
before the sunrise.
But the askaris who guard this estate through the night
do not need an alarm to tell them that their shift is over,
that they can go home and rest.
I put the spices in the pot, the sky still dark,
and my friends knock at the door.
We are up early,
We sit on the curb, surrounded by coffee fields,
fog rising all around us,
the clouds lighting up with a furious pink.
But the night guards getting off work
and the househelps who wake early
give us strange looks as they pass.
We say good morning to them,
seeing the curiosity or perhaps envy
in their eyes.
One man looks at us and asks–
You are okay?–
We smile and bid him a good day.
A truck of guards drive by, laughing at the unusual sight–
Three white girls
sitting by the road,
watching the sun.
Yes, it is strange, this privilege that we have.
It is privilege to wake early by choice;
It is privilege to have time that we can sit and watch the sun;
It is privilege,
a word that so many long for,
spend their lives working for–
a word that now makes my stomach churn.
A woman rises at the back of the church.
She shakes, though barely detectable, grief in her eyes.
“Please pray,” she says, her voice soft.
“My mother had a heart attack this week,
and some friends of mine were just mugged and killed in the streets.”
There is a heavy silence in the room as we take in what she has said,
and before she sits,
she says two words;
two words that seem unthinkable in her circumstance–
I’ve been thinking a lot about lasts lately, or what may be lasts for a while. This is probably because I have been thinking a lot about how in one week, I am leaving Kenya, this land of red dirt and skyscrapers.
When I drive through the coffee fields that surround my neighbourhood, I try to drink in the colours of the ripe red beans, soon to be picked by the caring hands of the harvesters. When I am amidst the brawl of nairobi traffic, characterised by street vendors, honking drivers, matatus and buses blaring their music, exhaust and smog, and swarms of people going every which way, I let the sounds and smells flood my senses all the more at the thought of goodbye. When I am with the few friends that remain in the country, sometimes I close my eyes and smile, trying not to forget the moments I have left with them. When I pour myself steaming chai, I think of how no matter how much tea I pack in my suitcase, it will one day run out, and I take each sip a little slower. When I pass Joseph, the guard in my neighbourhood, I see his gap-toothed smile and his two-hand wave that he greets me with everyday, and I treasure that moment, thinking of how the Kenyan people have changed my life and the way I see the world. When I eat chapatis, fresh off the jiko, I feel the warmth in my stomach all the more.
How can I say goodbye to this land, to these people who have taught me to walk through life a little slower, and with joy despite the circumstances? How can I take up my staff and travel on when a part of me is still walking, barefoot in the red earth, taking in the silent rays of each Kenyan sunrise?
Thank you Kenya, thank you. Thank you for taking me in over the past 4 years. Thank you for smiling at me despite my ignorance. Thank you for teaching me the ways of your people. Thank you for accepting me.
The deep sands that crown the shores of the Indian Ocean
make walking slow.
These shores were not made for the hasty.
They were made for dreamers,
for lovers, for wanderers,
for those who take each stride
with pleasure, as if it were their very first,
and longing, as if it were their last.
I’ve never seen a body before.
Never seen a lifeless form, crumpled on the ground
like the brown leaves that fall in my backyard.
Not ‘till today-
a still body in an orange jumpsuit,
a crowd of people pressing in,
a dented car in the ditch.
I’d like to say he was just unconscious,
I’d like to say that blood was still pumping through his veins,
but the helpless faces that looked on,
and the way they walked away, slowly-
told me otherwise.
We kept driving too,
like all the rest,
guawking from our car windows.
I looked up at the pink flowers in the trees
and couldn’t help but notice
how they didn’t change shades
when this man died.
Still pink. The same pink as
I thought of tea plants,
and how the workers replace them after 70 years,
a lifetime of tea production.
I thought of how this man was pulled up too soon.
I might have cried
if I had thought of his wife,
waiting for him to come home for dinner.
I might have cried
if I had thought of his children
asking where Baba was.
I might have cried
if I had let myself think of the hole his uprooted body
would leave in their lives.
But I didn’t cry,
didn’t let myself think.
We just drove by,
like all the rest.