When last seen, in the previous post, I was in the final throes of deciding to step on the plane and go to Kenya. Here were the variables: my house was occupied by a family, my bags were packed, the mission group was financially strained, we were being given one-way tickets, the formation program was finished. A deep breath and a leap of faith, and off I went to Kenya.
It might make an interesting post to go through the thought process of how one decides to pack for a 3-year mission to a somewhat remote part of a foreign land. Will you take one razor, a pack of razors, a super-sized pack, or will you decide just not to shave? Can you buy razors there? What can you buy there if needed? There are lots of questions, practical questions you wish you asked along the way. In the end, I felt a bit like Noah: some things were packed two-by-two and others in groups of seven. (In case you are wondering about the reference to “seven”, please see Gen 7:2).
There were a number of air carriers that served Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. Nairobi is the largest city in East Africa, a center of commerce, education, and of United Nations operations. As it happens we were booked on British Air: Washington Dulles to London Gatwick to Nairobi Kenyatta. I had traveled internationally for business and was happy to see that we did not have to change airports in London. I did notice that there was a 18 hour layover in London – I thought that odd, but it turns out that there was some logic to it (as well as cost savings). The logic was rather than arrive at sunset, it would be better to land in the morning to allow for daylight travel from the airport to the mission site. It sounded like the voice of experience.
On a side note, what is it that one does with 12+ hours while in London? The plan was to go into the city, take in a site or two, have a meal, and then back to the airport. In an earlier post I mentioned that the anti-malarial drug we were prescribed and already taking had side effects. My mission partner was already experiencing them and was not feeling well. One of the benefits of travel experience is knowing that in such cases the airlines can make available hotel vouchers. British Air graciously a room at one of the airport hotels.
Skipping ahead, late that night we were off on the last leg of the journey, landing in the morning in Kenya and cleared passport and customs all relatively quickly. We were expecting to see someone holding the sign with our names or the name of the mission service, but that did not happen. But it’s first thing in the morning, city traffic, maybe there is such a thing as “Kenya time,” – any number of reasons, right? We collected our baggage and waited… and waited. No one was there to meet us.
All the while cab drivers and private car services are offering to take us where we wanted to go. The problem was we did not really know. The Bishop of Homa bay was to arrange these things. One enterprising driver, who was of the Luo tribe and originally from the Homa Bay area, said “no problem,” and offered to take us there, to the bishop’s house, for $14,000 Ksh (Kenya shillings) – which seemed shocking at first. But it turns out that was $200 and Homa Bay was on the other side of the country. But… given that no one in the country knew we were here, it did not seem prudent.
After about 3 hours of waiting, it was safe to say no one was coming. Apart from the telephone number of the US Embassy, we did have the telephone number for the Maryknoll Mission House in Nairobi. Long story short, they offered to house us for a day or two until we straightened things out, they spoke to the driver to give him directions, and negotiated the price. They were wonderful hosts, helping us to contact our mission service office who then “worked the phones” to connect us.
As it happens, there were several Maryknoll Lay Missioners at the house that evening, so we were able to make connections with other US lay missioners that we likely would not have made. They were good friends during my time in Kenya. The next morning, Fr. Comas K’Otieno, came to pick us up and take us to St. Thomas, the national seminary of Kenya, where he served as rector. Another fortuitous connection with a great person and priest, one with whom I would come to know quite well. With another overnight in Nairobi, we were off the next day to Kisumu to connect with the Bishop.
What happened with the “disconnect” at the airport? I guess some things are just lost in translation. Our Kenya contact was told we were leaving on Wednesday and would be there in the morning. The contact assumed Thursday morning. Some 24-hours before our arrival, Fr. Cosmas, all 6’6” of him, stood at passenger arrival – with a sign – patiently waiting.
The other day the gospel was from Mark 4, the account of a violent storm on the Galilee, with the disciples crying out “do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus calms the storm and asks why they were terrified and where was their faith. We were disciples on the foreign waters of mission. We weren’t terrified, but concern was growing. And we stayed “in the boat.” Just like in the gospel, Jesus was always there, right there in the boat. And it turns out there were other disciples in the boat, too. With the grace of God, it all worked out.
Getting there was a story unto itself, but at last we were there.