In Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline there is an exercise that he encourages the reader to do, as an introduction to meditation. It is based on the age-old Quaker activity of centring down. I tried it out this morning just after 7am.
Sitting in my airplane seat, as we taxied along the tarmac outside Nairobi airport I was seated with my palms face down on my legs, an indication of my willingness to turn my concerns over to God. Dear Lord, I prayed, I give you my anxiety about flying and international travel, I give you the anxiety of the woman sitting next to me who is afraid of flying and most of all I give you my fear that I’m on the wrong flight.
I had arrived at the airport just before 5:30am and had been up since 4am. Since I hadn’t managed to adjust the previous night to Kenyan time, I had gone to bed close to my British time of around 11pm, which was around 1am in Kenya. And I woke in very good time for my 4:30am alarm, so good that I was awake half an hour early. I filled the time reading some Scripture, in particular Psalms 42 (the longing to go deeper, just like Delirious? ‘I wanna go deeper’…) and 51 (the slavery to ingrained habits).
Peter met me at the Presbytarian Guest House just before 5am – he was early. I was impressed. And grateful. We drove through near empty Nairobi streets, speaking English and no little Swahili. At the airport I had to pay an excess baggage charge with fly540. I noticed that there were two flights going, one to Eldoret and one to Kisumu. Passing through to the departures, there was essentially a cafe and two signs. One was for the Kenya Airways lounge and the other was for fly540 so I went and sat on that side. My flight was due to go at 6:30am and the due time came and went. There wasn’t a single departures screen anywhere that I could see so I figured you just go when you’re called. It wasn’t until around 6:50am that they called both the Eldoret and Kisumu flights together. Having passed through the boarding pass check I walked out onto the tarmac and there were two fly540 planes out there. And I followed the people in front of me to the plane on the right.
Only, having been sat in the plane for a good few minutes a delay was announced. So we waited. And then we were setting off and it was then that in passing it was mentioned over the tannoy that this was the flight to Kisumu. Whoops. I was meant to be going to Eldoret.
So, the centring down exercise suggested by Richard Foster. After a few rounds of releasing my concerns to God and surrendering, I turned my palms up and sought to receive from God. I would like to receive your patience about my adventures, about the woman sitting next to me and where ever I’m going this morning, that I have the strength to get through my experience and even enjoy it.
Perhaps I had misheard, this flight was surely going to Eldoret. As we came into land I could make out the unmistakeable view of Lake Victoria. Welcome to Kisumu! As we taxied to a halt at Kisumu International Airport I knew that now was my time. The stewardess thanked us all via the tannoy for flying with fly540 and wished us a pleasant stay in Kisumu or where ever we were going onto.
And then she announced that those of us going on to Eldoret should stay on the plane. Result!
All of that adventure was over by 8:15am. Most of the rest of my day was a listening exercise. As part of my visit to Kenya I’m spending three days meeting people who have received Turning The Tide training in Kenya. I’m not doing anything else than that really, just sitting and listening. Today, after breakfast at the Marriott Hotel (but possibly not that Marriott Hotel) I met two people who recently took part in their first round of training. They talked for hours and it was great listening to them, hearing about their past, their present and their hopes and aspirations for the future.
We were done by around 2:30pm. We had been meeting at the offices of the National Council of Churches in Kenya and I was disappointed not to be able to meet Wilson, a Friend who was working there in December 2009 when I last visited Eldoret. I met Wilson when I spent a morning with Friends at Eldoret Friends Church, listening to their extraordinary stories of ordinary actions during the post-election violence in 2007-8.
We had lunch at Sandros in Eldoret. I had sausage and chips. A fairly paltry sausage but decent enough chips and lots of sweet ketchup. And then I went looking for a dongle/modem. In 2009 when I was in Eldoret Phori, from Lesotho, and I spent an unfruitful half an hour or so looking for an adaptor for his Lesothian computer lead/plug. Fast forward two and a bit years and I was visiting practically the same shops with no joy, again.
Later we drove out west to Turbo and on towards Lugari. We were being driven by Daniel in a little Toyota Yaris on the Mombassa to Kampala highway. I’ve spent many hours on this road before. Plainly, it is nasty. It is a very long rat run for truckers heading between the two cities, many of which are petrol tankers. The road has massive potholes, ridges where the trucks have reformed the tarmac and sleeping policeman style bumps. Only bigger. And to top it all, around 30km of the road have been closed for relaying of the tarmac and widening it. As there’s nowhere else to go, all of the traffic has been redirected onto the side of the road and I really do mean the side. Untarmacked, muddy and still with the outrageous bumps. It isn’t mayhem, quite. But with the trucks, the matatus, the 4x4s and us in our little Yaris, it was something else.
The stupid thing is that almost all of the road that is closed isn’t being worked on. The roadworkers were only working on a handful of small stretches. In the UK, I’d expect maybe 2-3 miles to be closed at most at any given time and then that all to be sorted out and then the next bit done. Alas, no. The only point of mild amusement was that one of the few road users who can still use the closed road are cyclists and we got overtaken by one. Some miles later we finally caught him up as we passed through Turbo. But he got away again for a while until we finally passed him on a big hill. It reminded me of my commute to work in the mornings and passing cars all the way up the Old Kent Road.
I’m staying for a couple of nights with Dave Zarembka, one of the stalwarts of the Africa Great Lakes Initiative. Not long after I arrived I had some chai (for my stay in Kenya I’ve abandoned all of my food restrictions and am eating cake, puddings, biscuits, fizzy drinks and drinking caffeinated tea and coffee) and then spent a happy half hour or so playing football with a knackered old boy with some quite young boys who were hanging out outside. It was awesome. Great fun. They were wearing flip-flops or were barefoot and I was there in my x-trainer Merrells but they were happily going in for tackles against me and I learned a new way of kicking the ball. Though I like to think that I taught them a thing or two of course!
I’ve also met Dawn Ribbert of AGLI who is here for the world conference and is taking some time to catch up with Dave and meet the current workcampers. Quakers in Lugari have some buildings that they’re hoping to turn into a peace centre. Participants are working with local volunteers to do some works to help refurbish the buildings.
And so that was another day. I’m quite fed up of living out of two bags and can’t wait to get to Kaimosi where I’ll hopefully be reducing to one bag. I’ve got one that is tightly packed and the other is my dumping place for everything else and I can’t seem to stop taking things out of it and then putting them back in. Oh for the straightforward life!
Really, I’m enjoying my trip and I’m glad I’m here. Many of the sights from Eldoret were familiar, as was the ride on the Mombassa to Uganda road. I’m relishing the opportunity to try out my Kiswahili and I’m learning more from everyone I meet – just that I’m trying that little bit more means that people are willing to try and teach me other phrases too and are being patient with my faltering attempts to speak it. Okay, that’s it, nimeshiba.