29 January 2013
I have been rather immersed in all things African as of late. Getting ready for the upcoming benefit for Kenya has thrust me back into photos, writings, emails and conversations about Africa. I came across something I wrote in June 2010–the week I spent by myself, working with Deaconess Caren in the slums of Kibera and Kanagware.
Kibera, 19 June 2010
The slums of Kibera harbor a life that is seemingly filled with despair and hopelessness. The “streets” (rutted dirt pathways strewn with the debris of plastic bags, plastic bottles, garbage, human excrement and who knows what else) are filled with the smell of sweat, garbage, smoke and whatever is cooking. The houses are merely tiny, dark spaces with room enough for a small couch, perhaps a chair or two, and a bed which holds the entire family. The family typically consists of a widow or single mother with several children. More often than not, the woman is HIV+, and a widow—or perhaps, cast out by her husband for her status, despite the irony that she became infected by him. She cares for her own children and often times the children of a sister or brother who has died as well.
As you walk the filthy streets with sewage running in the gutters it is easy to undergo sensory overload. The smells assaults the nose, the poverty is evident at every turn, a cacophony of sounds fills the air (including the ever present African rap), and it is hard to take it all in. The tin roofs of the slums go on forever with children running in the streets, along the railroad tracks and on trash piles. They kick soccer balls made of plastic bags bound tightly together by string. They push old tires down the street and make the familiar sounds of children at play. In many ways, they seem much more content than their more affluent American counterparts.
Winding through the very narrow “hallways” of the slums, going from one widow’s home to another, I was struck by the simple gesture of hope that hung on clotheslines that crisscross the slums. In the midst of mud, dirt, garbage and filth, freshly washed clothes were reminders of hope, dignity and the promise of life. I found great comfort in weaving in and out of these wet garments.
I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you. (2 Kings 20:5)
The Lord gathers up the tears of humanity and transforms them into the waters of life by the alchemy of the cross, where suffering and death are changed into joy and life bythe self-gift of love.
Magnificat, March 2012