Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The View from my Window

(This is the view from my office.)

Yes, it is getting to be morning now; the sky has been getting lighter and the intervals between rooster's crows has been getting shorter.  I pour some hot water from the thermos (heated the night before – in case the electricity is off) to wash my face and to make some hibiscus tea.  It is the real thing, made from whole, sun-dried hibiscus flowers, which I find wholesale in the spice market downtown.  By the time I step out the door to breathe in the cool morning air at 6:30, there are small children already walking to school.  After family devotions, Julie walks with me down the dirt road to the local bus stop at “Sokoni”.  Those wonderful smells are coming from the “chapati” (fried pancakes) and “uji” (thin porridge) being cooked over the charcoal fires along the street.  There is usually a strong, hot, sweet tea simmering along with them, but I resist the temptation and just enjoy the odors as I wait for one of the many “dala dalas” (16 passenger vans) heading into town.  After waving goodbye, Julie walks down a bit further to pick up some fresh greens and fruits from the outdoor market for that day’s lunch.

The dala dala is crowded again this morning.  One of my mental games is to try counting how many people are on board at any given moment.  It keeps changing at every stop.  I think there were 27 people at one point today (32 is my all-time record).  Often I remain standing for the entire ride into town, listening for the now familiar names of the neighborhoods as we pass them:  “Mecco!”  “Buzarugu!”  ”Mabatini!”  At each site we plunge in and out of the swirling traffic with reckless abandonment.  Even though I quit worrying long ago about the insanity of the driver’s methods, I still cringe from time to time at the near misses that happen often (think inches, or maybe millimeters).  Do they really think that anyone is paying attention to all that horn blowing?  On past the “posha mills” (where rice grains are hulled and polished) and through the first traffic roundabout, I start looking for the turn into the central market bus stand.  My neck is aching from being hunched over in this low-ceilinged vehicle (made for short Asian men, not six foot tall white guys!).  The driver’s assistant clicks his handful of coins at me:  looking for the 400 shillings (25 cents) that I owe him for this exciting, overcrowded, dangerous, three mile, 25 minute ride into town.

I duck my head low as I exit the van and quickly stretch my long legs towards main street.  The “pika pika” (motorcycle) drivers are revving up their engines, lunging forward, looking for passengers.  I ignore them and all the shouting that seem to be the norm here.  At a distance, I can see the top of the brightly painted Hindu temple behind it's high concrete walls.  The clothing vendors are setting up their goods on crates and boxes along the sidewalks, getting ready for another busy day in the city.  I walk past someone setting up a candy snack station, several tailors assembling their treadle machines under a storefront awning, a lady frying potato cakes, a man stacking up old used books on a wire rack, the herbal doctor laying out bits of tree bark and dried grasses, a lady selling plastic dinnerware, and various store owners carting out half the wares from their tiny hole-in-the-wall shops onto the sidewalks in hopes of catching the customers easier.  There seems to be a lot of colorful foam mattresses for sale in this section too, stacked where you have to walk around them.

After a few city blocks, I duck into the “Sitta Min” mini supermarket, to pick a bottle of “Mgando” (local made drinkable yogurt – quite tasty actually) for my lunch.  At the next stoplight, err, I mean, the only stoplight in town, I cross over to continue my walk towards the school.  Along the way, I pass the familiar faces of the the beggars who have settled into their regular stations.  I admire their constancy and tenacity, for it must be really hard to sit in the hot sunshine, from morning to evening, day after day, begging coins from pedestrians.  The life of a beggar is not easy; and many of them have leprosy also.  I take a short cut through an alley, past the normal crowd of Muslim men sitting around on door stoops and benches enjoying the morning news.  The coffee sellers are there every morning, dispensing steaming hot coffee from large dented aluminum kettles (which they carry around with a small charcoal burner fastened underneath) into tiny porcelain cups for a few shillings apiece.  The men smile and greet me with a pleasant “Salama”; but I decline their offer of a drink.  I know they call that stuff Coffee, but I know better than to try it; for it's thick and strong enough to blast your socks off!  The local mosque is busy with men entering for a few moments of prayer.  It seems that if the common people are left to themselves, without outside influence stirring up trouble, they have no problem living at peace with their neighbors, no matter what their religion happens to be.  As I walk through the streets wearing a clerical collar and a cross, the Muslims and Hindus greet me with as much respect as the Christians do.

On down the road I go; past rows of small food and clothing shops, across the small bridge (there’s often one or two beggar ladies holding out their plastic cups here), turn the corner at “U – Turn” (an actual, real, large, Western style, grocery store where many foreigners go shopping for American and European foods), past the rundown cement block school buildings, and open air roadside restaurants serving up a variety of deep fried pastries for those on the run.  As I head for the long stretch up a hill, I look over at St. Dominic's Retreat Centre, and reminisce about my stay there on my first trip here in 2011.  At the top, I look for signs of progress on a couple of new multi-level concrete buildings inching their way slowly upwards.  There are few power tools, and I once noticed that the concrete was poured by a continuous bucket brigade of men passing it by hand from the mixer to the top floor.  I feel grateful not to be in the construction business at the moment!  If I look just right, I can also catch a nice view of the Mwanza Bay stretching out in the distance, glimmering in the morning sun.

Around the corner again, this time onto a wide, quiet, dirt road; past large modern houses hiding behind high walls and painted iron fences.  This is the ritzy neighborhood and I have heard that rent prices here are equal to those to be found in the States.  It’s quite peaceful after walking through the busy, shouting city streets below, so I begin to slow my steps a little.  By now, the sun is starting to give a hint of what damage it will be doing later, and I’m beginning to sweat a little.  It seems there’s always a bit of a breeze to enjoy as I round the last few curves of my travels.  I stop to admire the brilliant flowers climbing over the compound walls; thanking God for putting such beauty on this earth.

I greet the guard sitting at his desk by the school yard gates and head over to my chaplain's office by the library.  It has taken me one hour to get here this morning.  I will be here from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. – and then it will take me an hour to retrace my journey homeward.  Here I have time to read, study, write sermons (and articles like this one), answer emails, chat with the teachers, and . . . enjoy those wonderful moments of talking with students (more than 500 students from 50 countries).  They are starting to get used to me, greeting me by name as they pass by, and stopping in to ask me questions like:  “What do I do when someone calls me a bad name”, “My sister stole my spending money, what should I do”, and “Who made God – where did He come from”?  It’s a good beginning, but I often feel as if I am doing nothing really.  I want to be out there, doing something, useful and productive; yet . . . .

My life is in God’s hands.  I had said, “Here I am, I’ll do whatever You want me to do”; and He said, “I want you to go sit in a little office by the Wiggins Library, watching the bananas growing on the trees outside your window, and wait for Me to reveal my plans for you.”  I am reminded of something I read recently about how “American missionaries are good at doing many things and in getting many things done; but they are not good at doing nothing.”  Ah, yes Lord!  I see that I am being taught a big lesson.  I am learning to become good at doing nothing.  That’s alright with me.  You created this whole, big world out of Nothing; so Nothing must be quite useful and valuable.  I must learn to use it well.

Actually, life has become normal:  not exotic, but Normal.  How many of us feel like we are "going nowhere in a hurry"; wishing we could move somewhere more exciting, and have a Big Adventure and Accomplish Something Wonderful.  Yet, were we to get there, life would eventually become normal once more, and we find ourselves in a position of being taught again the lesson of what it means to be Salt in this world.  We can get up and go to work day after day, feeling as if nothing is happening -- not the real, measurable results we would wish for anyways.  We put effort into trying to make our lives worthwhile (in our own eyes), thinking:  "I really must be doing something good with my life, I must make a real difference in this world:  my normal life is not really accomplishing much".  But what is our calling in all of this?  Truly, we are called to be ordinary people loving an extraordinary God.  We must learn to do Nothing, so that we can learn to be fully Present -- to become Nothing; so that God can become Everything.

St. Padra Pio of Pietrelcina described it this way:  "Receive everything from the hand of God; give everything into the hand of God."

You're welcome to stop by anytime for a chat.  Maybe we can encourage one another to appreciate the view from our own particular window.

Forward in Joy!
Brother Nathan


Anonymous said...

Very nice word pictures, especially for one who has traversed some of that journey, thru the bus station to the school, even into the library. You and your family are prayed for daily. I remember. Fr Francis Wardega

SD said...

I could see vividly in my mind each thing you described. Makes my longing to come even more so. We shall see what God does! Daddy, you're doing so much when it seems like nothing. I know I'm just your daughter, but I'll still say it...I felt like I was doing nothing at Hisani, and then I found out those kids depended on me and trusted me. I thought I was doing nothing in tutoring, and then my girl's grades doubled. Much love. Sveta