One particular moment in time, where the sun meets the equator,
I had a chance meeting with a tall, Turkana gentleman…
who left an indelible mark on my soul…
While living in Kenya, as an Associate Member of the MSOLA (Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa), one of the most precious moments of my life was visiting the Turkana people who had migrated down from the country north of Kenya. I had traveled northeast to visit my friend, Sister Maryann Calabrese, who had journeyed to Kenya with me. We found ourselves in two different locations–Sister Maryann worked as a social worker in Kisii, in the northeastern section of Kenya, and I found myself teaching in Kiriko, in a village nestled in the Aberdare Mountain range, 6,300 feet above sea level and 100 miles south of the equatorial line.
The day I visited with Maryann, she was to travel to the outskirts of Kisii, to the town garbage site. There, amid all the trash of the nearby city, the Turkana people had built their homes out of the debris and garbage of the city. They fashioned little huts in the form of igloos that they lived in with their wife and children. Needless to say, it was heartbreaking to see the filth that they had to live in, with no fresh drinking water, and living only with what others discarded. However, there were only smiles on the faces of these people as Maryann went to greet them. The Turkana people were very welcoming and Maryann had a very gentle and open heart towards them. There was mutual acceptance.
As she went about conversing with the village women, I found myself surrounded by at least fifty children between the ages of 2 to 12. Unable to speak the language, I approached the children and tried my few words of KiSwahili with them. They were all smiles and then just because they were children, I became childlike and began singing Old MacDonald’s Farm and other silly little Yankee songs, that popped into my head, to amuse them. Soon the children joined their hands to mine and we formed a huge circle. We sang and danced together, unaware of language or cultural barriers. I, as well, was unaware of their footprints traced on my white shirt as I lifted them high into the air–they were filled with so much joy and laughter and made me feel so alive and wonderful! The children had the most beautiful and constant smiles I have ever seen!
Just as we were leaving, a very tall, Turkana man approached me; he had a bolt and a washer screwed into his chin to jewel himself. Towering over my vertically challenged height and not knowing what to expect, he asked me, “Where are you from?”
I responded, “Down country.”
He asked again, “No, where are you from –which country over the great waters?”
He then said to me, “Thank you for coming all the way from America to love our children!”
His words touched my soul – they taught me that I held the capacity to love. That when I totally forgot myself, I did the most good and brought happiness to someone else! His words are always with me, when I need to feel some happiness…I remember one day I did some good…I remember how kind he was to thank me…and it reminded me to express to others in my life the gratitude I feel for them…no matter how small or insignificant it may seem to them. That one sentence has brought joy to me over and over. It is a moment in time I will never forget.
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