Google Maps apparently is everywhere these days. I just finished searching on the app for places I knew from “back in the day.” The area around Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisii Town, Nakuru, and other places were well mapped; driving directions are available. Things have changed a lot. Back then my inquiry of how to get some place was often met with the less than precise “the other side” accompanied by a vague wave of the hand in a direction that was not always discernible to me. Especially when I was upcountry in the west of Kenya, there were times I felt like I was near the edge of the world.
I sometimes wonder if I am near the edge of the world
The frontier where the world loses its crispness and
fades in the crevices and cracks of the border
It would only take one step to disappear
Be swallowed into an endless landscape or a field of stars forever passed
Thoughts of home on the Catoctin growing more distant
In the glare of sub-Saharan afternoons
Life at the edge has a cost one must be willing to offer
I came across that prose that I had written in a letter home to a friend describing that sensation. Part of the letter that brought back vivid memories was about some of the people I met along the way. Each of them had been in Kenya for a long time and possessed a quiet wisdom about their life and choices. Each of them shared a part of their stories. Each of them lived in a place that was beyond the edge of the world in which they had grown up. I remember writing the letter. Even now I am grateful for having met them: a nurse from England, an Irish priest, a Sister of Charity from Austria.
She lived west of Molo
Days in the wards of a bush hospital
Evenings imagining the road leading across the next hill
The wind from those hills wrinkling and echoing the night air
Change afoot so often bringing a future so open she could no longer imagine
Unlimited paths stretching out beyond the pale light cresting the hills
Uprooted from her English soil, from her former possibilities
Yet sometimes appearing in the lingering “what if…”
A parish priest in the Pokot bush
The ring of Kerry a bit faded in memory’s keep
No need for a comb’s passing through the wilds of his clearly Irish mane
The deep blue eyes crystallized by the sights of 20 years or more in the desert glare
Casually he brushes aside the scorpions and draws on the pipe
Far away the waves having traversed the north Atlantic crash
with an ancient of sounds along the rocks of the Isle
Still remembered in the Pokot bush
He takes a another draw on the pipe and smiles
The white robes trimmed with blue stand out in the hard light of an unrelenting sun
Her feet soiled and pierced by shoes too simple to hold together
Hands knotted by the work of every day
Hands which young men were once desperate to hold and have
Her Vienna history slipping farther away passed her closed eyes
As she prayed
Hands on her knees she hoists herself back into life
Rooted beyond the edge of opening nights now among the orphans in this place.
Faith had fueled each of the journeys. Hope had fired their imagination. Love empowered their resolve. But none pretended the journey did not have its price, and took its toll. In a way they had let go of their past, casting their fate to the obedience of faith that St. Paul describes.
Everyone of them had left behind a life of different possibilities: love, family and more. In their stories each one knew that their journey had a cost
A woman stares from the window of a London office
Thinking of her sister in the bush
Proud of her but feeling the loss and distance
A woman bent with age
Trods across her native Irish soil
Pausing at a shrine to offer a prayer of protection for her son gone these many years
A once young man on his way to the opera
Remembers another opening night
All the hopes he once held
How lovely this is, Father George. Beautiful words of these lovely, devoted, faithful people, who you encountered along the way in Kenya.
It gives you pause and ponder have I made such a difference to those I have met along the way in my own life. I hope so.