By the Rivers of Babylon

Written on Friday, 2nd October, 2015

One of the readings for Mass on Wednesday, 30th September 2015, was taken from Psalms 137: 1-4.  It reminded me of a popular song that I am sure we all know:

By the Rivers of Babylon/where we sat down/there we wept/when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars, we hung our harps/ For here our captors asked us for songs/
Our tormentors demanded songs of joy/ They said ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion’/
How can we sing the songs of the Lord/ while in a foreign land?

I know the Boney M version of this song, which my mum and late father had LP disks of and which we therefore grew up listening to. When this Psalm was read in church that Wednesday during lunchtime Mass, it took me back to those days of our LP record player which Anguo (our dad) imported during one of his work travels abroad when we lived in Malindi, in the mid 80’s.

Besides the nostalgic memory that this reading aroused, the sermon given by the priest made the song even more poignant.

You see, I had never quite understood the context of this song. I learned properly, that Wednesday, and thereafter upon more research, that it was sung at a particular time when the Jews were in exile in Babylon. They had been taken away from their land by King Nebuchadnezzar, who by the way, I came to learn, was a very short man and that he ‘made up’ for his lack of height by being extremely cruel. As we all know, Adolf Hitler was also quite short. But this is not about short people, and certainly not about cruel people.

The Jews felt insulted when they were asked to sing the songs of Zion in Babylon. They asked, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” This line spoke to me strongly. I thought of how at times we feel that we are out of our comfort zone because of problems happening in our lives. You may physically be in the same house or place where you always are, but when things are tough or rough, it feels very much like you are in exile. It feels like you are away from home and have been captured by cruel captors- whoever they may be, whatever they may be.

At times, the woes are to do with relationships, maybe a relationship that is going sour, between you and a friend, or partner, or between you and family member. At times it’s financial, when ends just are not meeting, or at times a job is not coming through and yet you have been praying for one for ages. Other times, it is a death in the family that leaves you with more questions than answers. Or a situation where you feel like your life is in limbo, or that you have been disappointed by someone, or worse still, that you have disappointed yourself because you have reneged on a promise or commitment that you made to yourself or to someone. In this sense, there are many ‘Babylons’ in our lives- so to speak.

Now, hold that thought and let me take you also to the First Reading of that Wednesday  Mass. It was taken from the Book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah, who was an Israelite prophet, was asking a king of a place where they had been exiled to, to allow him to go back to Jerusalem to build the Lord’s temple which had been destroyed during the capture of Jews. Nehemiah did not expect a favorable answer from his captor because this King was a non-Jew, but he- Nehemiah- asked God to grant him favor. In an interesting twist of things, the king granted him not only permission to go but also materials to rebuild the temple.

How does it connect? You see, a huge part of why the Jews were feeling so lost in Babylon, besides the cruelty of Nebuchadnezzar, was that they were being forced to worship the gods of the place where they were. Their temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed and it felt like God had left the temple. Can you imagine that? God had left the temple. The place where God was supposed to dwell. The place that was specifically built for Him to dwell.

Here is where I connect the two references. For those who are believers, we are often told that our bodies are the temple of the Lord. Literally this means that God dwells in us, in our bodies, in our heats in our minds. And when we are feeling troubled because of some of the reasons I mentioned above, it is easy to feel like God has left the temple. At times we feel that maybe we have done wrong and have thus ‘destroyed’ the temple and have been captured by whatever the bad forces are, and thus God surely cannot still be living with us.

But that’s the point I want to make that I learned from the reading that Wednesday. God never quite leaves us. He still dwells in us. In fact, what the priest said at that Mass, was that even when our hearts are sad, desolate, empty… our hearts can still be the temple of the Lord. So we mustn’t give up. We must just work on rebuilding it. He is always willing to stay and when we feel empty, it is not because He has left, it is because we let the ‘captors’ blind us. He never quite leaves. Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that comforting?

In concluding, if you feel like you are in Babylon right now, sitting by the river, weeping, remembering Zion, remembering a time when you were happy, when things were in order, when everything was happening as it should, don’t despair. You will ‘return home’ one day, or home will return to you. Or perhaps, you will even create a new home and it will be as good as, or better, than the one you left. You will have reason to sing the Lord’s song again. We will have reason to sing again. Let us sing, then, even in the meantime. As hard as it is, we are required to remain hopeful not despite being in exile, but especially when we are in exile. The city will be rebuilt. The temple will be rebuilt. And, if you allow Him, the Lord will show you that He is still in the temple, still on the throne, and He will stay in there, for better for worse.

I hope these thoughts uplift you as they did me. By the Rivers of Babylon.

Advertisements

All Souls Day, 2016

Wednesday 2nd November 2016

For all loved and missed souls on this 2016 All Souls Day.

Those who left us, who went ahead of us, we remember you today with much love and affection. We miss you. We still love you. We are thankful for the time that we had with you. We are hopeful that we will meet again some day, and what joy there shall be!

Wonder if you will still be the same? Wonder if you will laugh the same and smile the same. You remain in our hearts forever. We cried for you, we still cry sometimes when we remember what you were and what could have been if you were still around. But such is life, we are only here for a while.

What is it like to be gone, dear ones? Are you gone, gone like for real gone, no hearing anything, no seeing anything, no feeling anything? Just like that, gone for good? How intriguing, how sad.

Yet here we are, living our lives as if the universe owes us. Living our lives as if we are better than those before us and those behind us. Yet, we are just passing by too. Just here to make our mark and then leave. Just here to experience this thing called life with all its surprises and shocks, here to be each other’s keepers, fellow voyagers.

One day and we have no idea when, we’ll reach our stop and we’ll have to get off the bus. We may have time to wave goodbye or maybe not. What will that be like, I wonder? How much will we have done before that, I wonder? How much good? How much nonsense that makes no impact at all? How much hurt will we have healed? How much pain will we have alleviated? Or caused? How much goodness will we have spread? I wonder. Maybe just enough, maybe not?

Those of you who have gone, you did your part, you served your time, so to speak. Those who hurt others and left in a bad way, I don’t know what to say, I hope you become better people in the next life, if there is one…

Those whom we miss, rest well. But if there’s singing and dancing in that faraway place, then by all means, dance well. Dance heartily. We here are still dancing, somehow, each day. The music is tough sometimes, you know? Sometimes it’s too loud, too noisy, too angry, but we dance. And sometimes it is beautiful and soulful, sometimes slow, sometimes exciting and upbeat, and we dance then too. Enough of that. We don’t want to start crying now. Like I said, we remember you with love and we miss you.

For all loved and missed souls on this 2016 All Souls Day.

Lessons from Little Hearts

Monday 7th November 2016

Our son has been unwell this weekend, since Thursday – to be precise. But this Monday morning he is feeling better, thank God. Just now, he was speaking to his Wawa (his grandma – our mum) on phone and he told her that he is feeling better now.  His little sister said she is feeling better now too, even though she hasn’t been unwell but who wants to be left out of this ‘feeling better’ party? Bless her.

As soon as he hang up from talking with his Wawa, he told me he is going to the Clinic [it’s in the neighborhood so he can walk there].

‘Why?’ , I asked.

To tell Lorna that his head doesn’t hurt anymore, he said.

Lorna is the clinician who treated him when his fever was really high and his head was aching on Saturday and both his dad and mum were away from home.

How incredible that a little child knows that when someone helps you in times of trouble and things eventually get better, you go back to say ‘Thank You’. How simple yet how profound.

 May we always have people near us who can help us get better, but more importantly, may we not forget to thank them when we do.

Still with You

Wednesday 9th November 2016

What a beautiful concession speech, full of grace and wisdom and, despite the despair of this moment, a call to keep believing, to keep fighting for what is right and good.

I can only imagine what your acceptance speech would have been like, Hillary, because this one you have just given is incredibly strong and positive. We are so proud of you, I am so proud of you.

As you have said, there are more seasons to come and we must keep working. All of us, little boys and little girls, grown ups too, men and women. Nothing should stop us from trying our very best to shatter those ceilings, to make our dreams come true.

Thank you for showing maturity, humility and true leadership, you are still our favorite, my favorite. You are still a star, let nothing dim your light, not even this disappointing outcome.

You are, we are, greater, stronger, bigger than our moments of ‘Oh no’, our moments of ‘Why’, our moments of ‘That should have gone differently’. Much, much greater, stronger, bigger…

Amnesia by any other name

Thursday 10th November 2016

Today in Amnesia-ville.

I was rushing to get home early from work. Hubby calls and says he is done for the day. I say that’s great, I am too, but it’s okay he doesn’t need to come pick me as I have already left the gate and I am near the stage and just about to board a matatu.

“A matatu?” He asks.
I say, “Yes, why?”
Kwani what happened to the car?” He asks.
Me thinking, ‘The car, the car…’
He is like, “You have the car, no?”
I could not believe it. I forgot who dropped who this morning. He’s right. My gosh. And the way I was even almost catching a ride home earlier with a colleague just that by the time she was leaving I wasn’t done with some work.


Thank God because now the following day we’d both have had to commute to work by matatu or train which is no problem at all, of course, except it’s a little silly when you do have a car that is sitting peacefully at a parking lot having been forgotten there overnight by Yours Truly.

Needless to say, I walked back through the gate. The guards whom I had enthusiastically bid goodbye on my way out were like, “You forgot something?”
Haha. “Yes, I did.” They were so tickled when I told them what it is I had forgotten.

Gosh.
I clearly need to get more serious with life… or something…

With the Eyes of God

Tuesday 4th October 2016

Looking at Each Other with God’s Eyes.

Last week in church we were being told about looking at each other with God’s eyes, which means treating each other as fellow creatures of a common artist, as fellow images of the One who created us, treating each other as God would treat us, as a loving parent would treat their child, or anyone a person they love. It’s a call to charity and compassion. I was wondering if this is something actionable or whether it’s one of those things you hear and think, “Well, that’s nice,” and the minute you walk out of Church you have no idea how to implement it.

But an example came to my mind. During the August holidays this year, on one Sunday we decided to go to Uhuru Park- a park in CBD Nairobi- which has grass, benches, water and boats, and people, adults, children, couples, families, groups and artists meeting, fan-fare, ice cream and soda vendors and so on, you know, just, a park! It was the first time that we were taking our kids there and as soon as we got into the park, Lulu ran off to freedom 🙂

We were balancing between chasing after her and her brother and trying to find a nice spot to set up our picnic. At some point I realized she was running towards this lady who was seated on the grass with her daughter who looked about five or six years old. I got to them just as Lulu was stretching her hand out to have some of what they were having. This lady and her daughter had been eating sugar-cane, the ones that you buy in a clear bag, chopped into small chewable pieces. And as I reached them out of breath (because you know how fit I am, I exercise every day – in my mind), this lady was saying ‘Sorry’ to Lulu. I was also, at the same time, telling Lulu, “ No, Mum, No,” Embarrassed that my kid had gone to ask other people for food. This lady was so apologetic, she said, “Haki tumemaliza miwa sasa sina kitu ya kupatia mtoto haki. Sasa nitampatia nini haki? Ningejua hata singemaliza, imagine kamekuta tu tukikula za mwisho. Woi, pole.” (Basically, “Gosh we have just finished the sugarcane, now I have nothing to give the child, now what will I give her surely? I wish we hadn’t finished, she just found us eating the last pieces, I’m so sorry”). I stood there stunned. This woman was genuinely apologizing for not having something to offer a little child that is not even her child. I got tears in my eyes. I thanked her and told her ‘Ai, hata usijali, asante, tena pole amewasumbua.” (No, don’t worry, thank you, sorry that she bothered you). And she said, “Hakajatusumbua hata,” (She didn’t bother us at all), still looking so apologetic.

I thought this was such a rare person. She and her daughter were pretty simply dressed and didn’t look particularly rich, if you can judge by looks, but she had a heart of gold, that she could see my child not as a stranger but as another child just like her own. I held Lulu’s hand tight (so that she wouldn’t run off to some other group :-)) as we walked back to her father and brother and I knew that whatever else we were going to experience at the park, I had already had my God moment. This lady, essentially, looked at my daughter with the eyes of God.
It’s moments like these that restore our faith in humanity.

Later as we sat eating, some street kids came by and they were quite dirty. They stood hovering around, sitting sort of away from us but too close for comfort, and it didn’t help that they kept darting their eyes towards us. So I gave them some chips and then they said they wanted chicken also, and soda, yoh, this must be what Obama calls The Audacity of Hope, and we gave them. I’d like to claim that this was my Mother Teresa moment but honestly I did it more out of fear of what they may do if we didn’t share our food. I started talking to one and asked him his name and why he hadn’t gone to church yet it was Sunday. He told me his name was Ken and that he hadn’t gone to Church because he didn’t have sadaka (offertory), but that if I gave him Sadaka he would go to church. Really, hahaha, very funny. I told him I’d give him next time. Poriot and I just smiled because we knew if we gave him as much as even ten shillings he would use it to buy ‘Glue’ which they sniff and get high on. Lukundo was super quiet through this whole exchange- I think it was also his first time to see street children. This was going to be a day of many Firsts.

Later when we were going home Lukundo asked us how come the boys had wanted his food. We told him it was because they don’t have their own food, that’s why we shared. Thankfully they have been taught in school that sharing is good- he is constantly saying that line to us all in case we forget “It’s good to share” so you cannot eat anything not even chewing gum basically without sharing. That night I was tucking him into bed, when we finished praying and I was getting up to go turn off the lights, he asked me, “Mum, kwani hao watoto hawana maji kwao?” (Mum, do those children not have water at their home?) I asked him why, he said “Sababu walikuwa wachafu sana” (Because they were very dirty). I got tears again. How would I explain to him that these kids didn’t technically have a ‘kwao’ (their home) ? That they have chosen or found themselves, for whatever reason, to have the streets as their Kwao? I told him that “ Yes, hawana maji kwao, Baba”. (Yes, they have no water) “Lakini maji yao itarudi tu, si ndio?”(But their water will return, right?) “ Ehh, itarudi”. (Yes, it will come back), he nodded and put his head on his pillow and slept.

Essentially, this young boy Lukundo had looked at the street children with God’s eyes. He knows that children should be clean so it bothered him that they were not and he wanted to understand what the issue was. He didn’t see them as street kids but as children just like he and his sister are. What great lessons children teach us! In any case, I pray that the street kids can go back to their homes or a home, where hopefully there is water so that they can bathe, and maybe one day also be able to eat chicken and chips without asking for it from strange families visiting Uhuru Park. I also pray that we will all always have sugarcane to give anybody who comes running to us, in parks and elsewhere. Indeed, may we always look at others with the eyes of God.

Carrying Nothing

Carrying Nothing
Friday 29th July 2016

The other day I wrote about carrying your own weather. Today I write about carrying nothing. Here’s why. A few months ago I had a conversation with a colleague at work and she gave me some candid feedback on my interpersonal skills. She told me that if I over-analyze everything that people say or do, I will not only weaken my own heart but also end up making others walk on egg shells around me in a bid to not hurt me. While that doesn’t sound too bad because who likes to get hurt after all, it IS actually bad because who wants to be surrounded by people talking to you like you are an egg? I like eggs though, fried, sunny side up, how about you? Okay, that was a side note.

I had never seen it that way, by the way. That you could make people walk on egg shells. I think I always thought, people should do better. People should be more caring, more careful with words, more considerate, less careless, less callous etc. But people are not like that, and people don’t always say or do stuff with the intention to hurt, in fact they don’t think that far or that hard, and they don’t think about it afterwards either, so I end up mulling over this or that and beating myself up over it meanwhile the person moved on a long time ago. To use a commonly used phrase nowadays, it’s never that deep.

A few days after that interaction with my colleague, I had the opportunity to witness the true meaning of ‘carrying nothing’. Our car’s window had been broken on a Sunday- how that happened is a long story- but it wasn’t me, thankfully- and basically we needed to get it fixed. Both Poriot and I happened to be off from work on that Monday so to spend time together we agreed (in marriage this often means one person convinced/coerced the other into agreeing :-)) that we’d take the car to the garage together. Our usual garage guy gave Poriot the number for another guy who specifically does windows. Because we didn’t know where his garage was, we called him when we were on our way there. First of all I had wanted us to call him BEFORE we left the house to make sure he was there but Poriot said he had talked to him earlier and told him that he would bring the car, so we didn’t need to call again. Okay, sawa, I said.

On our way there I now called him on Poriot’s phone so he could give us directions. He picked and I explained that I was the wife of the guy who called yesterday about the broken window. ‘So now we are on the way, would you please direct us?’ He told me the name of the street and a post office where once we got there we were to call him. After hanging up, I told Poriot that this guy sounded very detached and disinterested, and almost like he was not enthusiastic about us. Poriot, amused as always, reminded me that we were not going to marry this guy or ask him to be godfather to any of our children so it’s okay so long as he could fix the window- that was our business with him. True, I said. Lesson number one. Focus on the issues at hand.

When we got to the said post office at the Industrial Area, we called him again. We described our car and he came across the road then called us on phone and waved, said he could see us, we saw him too, he told us to follow him. His garage was just down the street. I had thought that he would come over to the car, shake our hands, introduce himself and so on, but clearly that was not the way it’s done. All this time Poriot was unfazed, while me I was thinking ‘Haki this guy… (Surely this guy), could he be a little more social?’

Anyway we got to the garage and I was getting ready to now introduce ourselves properly, shake hands, share the story of how the window broke, how the Kenyan economy is doing etc. etc. Hehe. Nope, our glass guy acknowledged us with a friendly nod and came over to Poriot’s side which was the side with the broken window and was like, “Ah, ni hii? It’s this one? Sawa (Okay).” He then called one of his other guys who came out of the building eating a cob of boiled maize. This other guy eating the maize in fact looked so nicely dressed I wasn’t sure if he was just a visiting customer being told to come look at our window or if he actually worked there too. Turned out he was our guy, he was the one who was going to fix our window. With a slight nod and maize cob in hand, he checked the window, and then got his tool-bag which had been shelved on top of a mabati (iron) structure and got down to work. He removed the whole door and took different parts of it apart it seemed, very meticulously and easily. I had never realized how intricate the mechanics of car windows are and how many parts assemble to make that easy movement of window up and window down a smooth movement.

I was truly just watching all this in amazement. How men work is so different! I mean when I go to the hair salon we start with niceties, ‘How have you been, how are the kids, would you like some tea’ etc. etc. Here, it seemed people just got down to business. Poriot and I sat in the shade and chatted. At one point a huge lorry came that needed space to reverse into the compound. One of the other mechanics came to get our keys so that he could move our car out of the way. I asked Poriot why he trusted the guy with our keys and he said well, that was the business they were in – cars. I mean, Wow, me I would have had to give him like a written consent first, call my mum, ask my brothers what they thought, WhatsApp’d my chama (girls/women group)… to check if it was okay for him to move the car. Not that bad but you know what I mean; I would have taken longer to trust. So he moved the car, with my heart in the mouth all the while, what if he hits something. Good news, he didn’t hit anything. The lorry came in, and our car was moved again back to its original place, unscratched.

Then our maize cob guy disappeared for a while. No one told us where he had gone. Poriot was still not fazed. Since this was technically his turf I wanted to play by his rues. So I didn’t go to the garage owner (trust me, I wanted to) to ask him where our maize guy had gone because I already looked out of place, the only female there with my flowery top and black tights and didn’t want to make it worse by asking un-manly questions 🙂

After about twenty minutes our maize guy came back- the maize was finished by this time by the way. He had gone to buy the right window pane. So Poriot was right again, there had been no cause for worry. He came and fixed it within a few minutes, and quite perfectly too! Then the owner of the garage came over and asked the maize one, ‘How much,’ and he told him how much in exactly one sentence. So the owner guy, the one we weren’t going to marry, relayed the same amount to us. Poriot paid, got back his change and then this guy said, “Sawa, asante sana” ‘Thanks very much’. We too said, ‘Thank you very much’. I had wanted to say a bigger thank you to our maize guy, but he had already gone inside perhaps to get more maize…

So about an hour after we had arrived there our window was fixed perfectly and we were on our way. No hard feelings, no emotions bared. I share this story because in that one hour or maybe two hours beginning from the trip from home, to leaving that garage, there were so many opportunities to worry and question and judge and be frazzled but doing it the ‘men way’, there was no sweat. I am not saying we should all be like men but it’s more about not worrying too much and carrying unnecessary baggage.

As we celebrate five years of being married this weekend, this is truly one of the things I thank Poriot for. The skill of not worrying too much and instead focusing on the issue at hand, on what needs to get done, not the possible , often unwarranted, emotions surrounding what needs to get done. I am not fully Poriotized yet (and don’t think I should be because that would be boring, he would be stuck with a wife who doesn’t worry about every little thing and what’s the fun in that? 🙂 ) , but I can say I am not where I used to be. Take away lesson for you who is reading this, well, that it’s never too deep, unless, of course, you are going to marry the person or ask them to be godparent of your kid. Also, another lesson is that you can eat maize and check a broken car window all at the same time.