By Kathie Gribble, Maryknoll Affiliate and JustFaith Graduate, FAB participant 2013 JustFaith Immersion to Kenya
I would like to take you on at least the highlights of my journey September 6th through 19th with nine other adventurers and two Maryknoll Lay Missioners guides, immersing ourselves in the lives of the people of Kenya in Eastern Africa. The twelve of us met on a couple of conference calls facilitated by Cecilia Espinoza (FAB manager) twice before the trip. We found each other in person at the Amsterdam airport gate before boarding a flight to Nairobi. We had come there on various flights from the US and Canada. In Nairobi, because of a fire in the international terminal a few weeks ago, we were bused to an area of tents set up for arrivals and departures. Fortunately, Fr. Bill Vos, (MKLM Board Chair) one of our guides who speaks Swahili, managed to have our group of twelve move out from the hundreds crowded in the tent to get through customs, and we were processed quickly at an actual building not far from the tents.
Two vans at the airport took us to the Maryknoll Center house in Nairobi where we had assigned rooms to rest for a short night before leaving at 5 am, after a quick breakfast, for a flight to Eldoret airport, a city on the western side of Kenya in the Great Rift Valley. Saturday Sept. 7th, after a beautiful flight over mountains and valleys, we again boarded vans to take us on a 100 mile ride north from Eldoret to our home base for the next 5 days, Karibuni Lodge in Kitale. That morning we had travelled over challenging terrain (roads?), but held on, took pictures of people, animals, roadside stands and markets. We saw lots of school and church signs, and got our first impressions of life in Kenya. Arriving at Karibuni Lodge, we got ourselves settled in various rooms in buildings around the beautiful grounds. I roomed with two other women. We had a bathroom to share with a shower. Warm water was available when a wood fire was lit outside to heat the water before we needed it. That day, after lunch was served on a large veranda off the main house, we had a briefing on Kenyan culture and a review of the itinerary. Bishop Crowley of Kitale diocese came to welcome us. We were then able to enjoy the grounds of trees, flowers, goats, and a path in the woods to a mud hut dwelling. We took a walk through the neighborhood and later had a visit from local arts and craft vendors who displayed their wares on the grass. They were a delight to meet and visit with, besides providing some interesting gift items.
Sunday, our second day in Kitale, we went to the site of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners Education Ministry of the Cindy and John Korb Family, St Monica’s Secondary school for girls. We participated in their spirited liturgy which included several talks and acclamations besides the sermon. Meeting with groups of girls for tea and snacks afterward and a tour of the campus was surely a highlight of my trip. Sharing life with them, even for a short afternoon, gave me joy and hope and a memento from the girls of two brilliant red intricate tree flowers. I was able to press, dry, and bring them home. That afternoon and evening we spent at the Korb’s home for a buffet dinner enjoying visits with all Maryknoll Lay Missioners in the area as well as Bishop Crowley, Fr. Michael, and other Kenyans from the diocese.
The next three days were intensely filled with wonderful welcomes, visits and experiences of the work of other lay missioners in the Kitale area. We visited the Weaver Bird Secondary School where John Korb teaches, sponsors the Young Catholic Students (YCS) organization who hosted and entertained us, and who is greatly admired by the staff there. That afternoon we went to a historical site, The Hero’s Museum, learned about Freedom Fighters, the heros that eventually brought about Kenyan independence as a country. We then visited a small business art school which trains promising artists and sells their work. After our evening reflection this day, we celebrated Al’s birthday by learning to play a very challenging and fun card game he taught us.
Tuesday was our visit to the Kitale Diocese where we picked up Rose and Maryknoll Lay Missioner, John O’Donaghue, employees in the Diocesan Gender Department. They guided us on field excursions to meet with a men’s group and three women’s groups. They explained their Table Banking (Micro Finance) projects and we toured sites of these projects. Two of the women’s groups welcomed us with song and dance and even invited us to dance with them. A very full and fun day!
Wednesday we visited St Raphael’s Medical Clinic run by nurse practitioner and Maryknoll Lay missioner, Kathy Dunford, from New York. This clinic serves in a remote area giving health care to very poor people. We met the key employees before it opened and then were able to watch procedures as patients arrived. Kathy later treated to lunch with staff people at a nice restaurant in town. Wednesday afternoon we spent the St. John Bosco boarding school for street children. This compassionate, amazing project, run by Maryknoll Lay Missioner Russ Brine, rescues children ages 7-12, then rehabilitates and reintegrates these children. Margaret DeCrescentis, a new lay missioner, teaches in this school. The children entertained us with song and dance routines and then invited us to join them (or watch) as they played soccer, had relay races, and a tug-of-war contest. What a fun afternoon! I was able to befriend and visit with several children and with a now educated adult woman who had been through the progam. These days in the Kitale area would have fulfilled all my hopes for this FAB experience, but we were not yet half done.
With bag lunches, we left Karabuni Lodge on the vans very early to get a flight to Nairobi from Eldoret (100 miles of rocky road). From Nairobi, we took a noon flight to Mombasa and were met by Maryknoll Lay Missioner, Curt Klueg. Curt led the 2 vans with his car from the airport to the island city of Mombasa. He entered the Mombasa Prison grounds there where he leads a project called ATV- Alternative to Violence. After some wait for the Prime Minister to finish his visit to the prison, our vans were cleared to enter and we were led through the main entrance to the prison where we were able to read on the walls a “Mission Statement”, Human Rights declarations, and other operational ideals as we waited for each of us to get thru an authorization to visit process. We were then seated in a meeting room area where guards then brought in about 8 -10 male prisoners. After introducing ourselves, each prisoner introduced himself, most also saying he had a life sentence. The gathering was unusual. The result of this well-facilitated sharing process, was a phenomenal affirmation by the prisoners of the positive transformation that this ATV process has had on their lives. We were amazed. Curt shared later how grateful and surprised he was at the openness and positive responses of these men.
Onward north of Mombasa, we traveled to our new lodgings at the Jumuia Conference Center in Kanamai north of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean. We were thrilled with the welcome of warm wet cloths and juice. We were free to settle in, explore the area, and meet the beach vendors for a few hours before dinner at 7pm. At dinner, in the center dining room building on the beach, lay missioners Curt Klueg and Coralis Salvador, administrator of an Epilepsy Clinic, introduced us to the plans for our stay in Eastern Kenya. We gathered in a corner of the dining room for our reflection time before retiring to our new quarters.
Friday took us to a holistic Health Ministry, a Vocational Trade School, and a Historical Ruins Tour. This was such an activity packed day, I was not able to take any notes, but the memories are still vivid. Bangala is where the clinic that Maryknoll Lay missioner and nurse, Judy Walter from Illinois, works as a nurse in charge of the St. Patrick’s Bangladesh Clinic, a collaborative holistic health center. Community based health care workers receive training and then work as volunteers within this very poor community of mud huts. The clinic addresses the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of the community of Bangaladesh. Next stop was Bombolulu, for lunch at a vocational trade school, a Project of the Marianist Brothers. After being seated on chairs arranged in a center garden of the complex and being welcomed and introduced to faculty and to student leadership, we were treated to a meal catered by their culinary arts students. We were then given a tour of various classrooms and met some of the students. An impressive place – great visuals and loving care for these students. Marknoll Lay Missioner, Anita Klueg, worked previously at this school.
The afternoon we travelled to a historical ruins site called Jumba La Mtwana, a villa and Mosque located on a beach area north of Mombasa. We toured the park with a guide and heard the story of the area’a 17th century history and various occupants hundreds of years ago. Amazing stone walls, ancient baobab trees and monkeys were in the area. Returned exhausted to Jumaia Conference Center for dinner and reflection on the day. Our beds had been made up with fresh flowers on the pillows. Air conditioning, was a blessing, as we cooled off and rested.
Saturday morning we went far north to a rural area small Epilepsy Clinic at the parish of St Francis of Assisi in Kikambala. MKLM missioner, Coralis Salvador, originally from the Philippines, runs this clinic. Coralis had us meet a mother and her epileptic son, Raphael, about 10 yrs old, a multiple handicapped youth. They came to help tell their story and the hope and care they receive from the clinic. The child seemed very pleased for the attention, but had difficulty controlling his noises, movements, and severe drooling. We shook his hand and wished him well. He beamed. We felt a blessed moment. His mother seemed so dedicated to care for him despite her poverty and other children to care for. We toured the patient consult rooms, and lab tech, Anna, showed us her lab set up.
Off again, we traveled to Changamwe to visit the HOPE Project, a ministry of Curt and Anita Klueg, an education project for ministry to AIDS Orphans living in a very poor settlement . We received a wonderful welcome by the staff and children and gathered to enjoy some very creative entertainment by the children including a play. Then they fed us a buffet lunch outside of beans, greens, and chipate (tortilla like). The students were asked to share their interests and then were invited to break up into groups of activities and games to get to know the guests. I spent time with a few girls and then they took me to the church where more children gathered around and we took some pictures. In the meantime, assignments were being made for each of us to visit one of the homes of these very poor children. Fortunately, I was given a home of a boy not too far away and went there with him to visit his mother, Naomi and sister Lydia. I took a picture of them in front of their home, and of their mother showing us her inside cooking facility.
Dinner back at the conference center included Coralis, Curt and Anita, their children, Bethany and Rehema, and Judy. After dinner and reflection time, some of us walked down the beach to a nice restaurant and had some beer on their porch at the beach.
Our last day in Mombasa area, Sunday, we met for mass at the Klueg family’s church for an English and Swahili Mass. This mass was my favorite ever! The Klueg children led me through a side door of the church to be seated in the last row of the children’s section up in front for a great view of all the activity. I felt on holy ground, in God’s presence there as people joyfully celebrated, brought up real gifts to share at the Offertory, danced on and off, and sang so beautifully! As all participated, waving arms or clapping with the music there was a feeling of connectedness to each other and to all life’s struggles and joys. It seemed to me the way all masses should be.
After mass, we met Marty’s friend, Agnes, a beautician, and took off for Fort Jesus, visiting Agnes’s beauty shop her co-workers there on the way. Only the pictures can describe Fort Jesus! The Klueg family joined us on the tour. A guide led us through the ruins of this ancient historical fort on the ocean explaining its fascinating history and letting us experience the many wonders of its remains. Views of the ocean from the cannon hole openings were breathtaking. We walked from Fort Jesus to a restaurant in the Old Town area of Mombasa for lunch Swahili style, sitting on the floor. It was a little awkward for old knees, but an interesting dynamic as foods were brought down the center and we helped ourselves to some very tasty dishes. After spending a little time exploring Old Town shops, we were given a tour of a local mosque nearby. Returning to the conference center, we had time for a gathering before dinner (sundowner) at the restaurant/bar on the beach. Packing up again, we prepared for a 6am pickup by the safari vans.
Monday morning we began a very long 3-day trip back to Nairobi through desert areas, a volcanic eruption area, and two National Parks. We arrived at the Tsavo West Ngulia safari lodge Monday afternoon after viewing lots of wildlife. After getting settled in our rooms there and having lunch on a large open air dining area, we set out again viewing wildlife. The evening at Ngulia Lodge featured a large buffet dinner with tourists from all over the world. On Tuesday morning we enjoyed more viewing as we headed to Mzimo Springs for a walking tour to see hippos, crocodiles, and fish in a lake area. Our guide carried a rifle for our protection. As we headed for Amboseli National Park through a lot of wilderness area, one of the vans was having trouble overheating. After using some of our bottled water supply to get it going, we continued, but at a slower pace reaching Amboseli about 2 ½ hours later than expected. They did have lunch waiting for us, and we were thrilled by the welcoming and beauty of the place. Surprise was that our beautiful accomodations were actually tents. Most of the group went out in the safari vans again shortly after lunch, but I stayed to explore the lodge area, enjoy the pool, and go to the deck area for viewing the Kilimanjaro mountain peak at 6 pm. I did see the snow covered peak, but clouds beneath blocked the lower mountain. In the evening, a huge variety of food surrounded us in the dining area, and we were treated later to a Massai women’s performance of music and straight up jumping. This safari lodge is one I would love to spend more time at, but we left the next morning early to view sunrise beauty, a more extensive viewing of wildlife, and an amazing black area of volcanic eruption. Later, as we left the Amboseli National Park, aggressive craft vendors tried to sell their wares to us in the vans as we were stopped by officials who eventually allow us through the guarded exit gates.
On to Nairobi, we were able to re-join a paved highway and travel through many miles of desert with occasional inhabited areas with Massai people and goat herders. We were not close to Nairobi, however, before the van that had previous mechanical problems could go no farther. We had to pull over and wait for over an hour by the side of the road waiting for a replacement van to come from Nairobi to rescue us. Fortunately, a compassionate driver of another van with only one passenger, pulled over to see if he could help us. Contacting the driver coming for us, our drivers were able to arrange to meet at a town closer to Nairobi and save us time. We loaded all the luggage in one van so our people could travel with the other driver and meet a replacement van on our way. Kenyan people help each other! They seem happy to help no matter how inconvenient. We met up with the driver from Nairobi, changed vans, and arrived at the Maryknoll Society House in time for a nice dinner and reunion with the staff and residents there. We were given evaluations to complete, and I was able to tour the Maryknoll offices, beautiful grounds, and chapel before departure the next morning.
“Trip of a lifetime” does not really capture the depth of this unique immersion experience. So many people gave me this extraordinary journey by their efforts to share the richness of mission life there in Kenya. Gratefulness, love, hope and compassionate joy continue to follow me as I reintegrate into my life here in the U.S. I do notice those well-paved roads and wonderful garbage trucks, but miss the wandering cows and goats, the people walking, colorfully dressed school children, the market places, those bright red and yellow flowering trees, and sunrise over the Indian Ocean.
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