In to Africa
"On the feet of the Ngong Hills I had a farm...", the first line from Karen Blixen's Out Of Africa. I am here in Karen, Kenya, named after her, here at the foot of those hills. Her farm is gone, it is now estates for rich people and squatters' villages for the poor. One can see in the photo squatter's huts and paths to get them amidst the trees.
Here are the local thorns. Beautiful and terrible. Most of the people here come from other parts of Kenya, looking for work in nearby Nairobi, the city of opportunity. Perhaps it is for some, but certainly not for as many as come. For the people out here,unemployment is the rule, 70% unemployed or underemployed, "casual" work (daily) when you can find it. Every day men stand at our gate, hoping for a job or a handout, or a lead on some slim possibility. The friars help some, supporting a number of orphans, but not as many as come. They couldn't. The stream is seemingly endless. I suppose it is better to wait here by the gate with a semblance of hope than sit by the road waiting for gold to rain from the sky.
Watching after the livestock is a male thing. Here, three boys follow after the family herd, foraging on the hillside above the Athi River. Traditionally, life was easy in Kenya. You have some livestock, a bit of land for a garden, and a house for shelter. Everyone worked a bit, no one had to work too much, and you all had enough. No one had money, cars, "things", they had time. These days, Kenya is caught between two worlds, traditional ways and the "Western Lifestyle."
The Dominicans here, live in the Western style (as do all of the religious groups) with electricity, TV, telephone, running water and a big solid house. They do grow their own vegetables though. The people coming to our gate would like to live in this way. Perhaps they think it is better, perhaps they came for medical reasons, or perhaps there is drought or war in their region. For many reasons they think the Western Way is better and they come seeking education that allows access.
The traditional way was informal education, learning life skills through working with elders. Here, a grandmother and granddaughter till the garden. Together they plant the corn and await the rains to make them grow, at the same time passing on wisdom to the next generation. The "Western Way" is instead to have this child in school. The old way is the barter system, the new economy is cash. The old way is subsistence farming on your own land, the new way is leaving home daily to find employment with someone else, leaving your own village and moving to where the jobs are. For all of these reasons people must choose one or the other. Few can live in between.
Karen Blixen tried to bridge the gap, to find the best the of both cultures and forge a better future in some limited way. That is the dream still here in Kenya, but a dream that seems futher every day. Most people blame the government, the corruption and the lack of a vision of what Kenya should be. For whatever reason, it seems to be floundering, searching and not finding, hoping still without much on which to hang that hope.
Except for the people. The people have pride and hope and endless patience. You can see it in their eyes, in their friendly greetings. "Jambo" is always answered with a bright smile and "Muzuri Sana!" (Hi, How are you? Great!)Times are hard, but these people have struggled before and come back. People have a long memory and know that things will be better for their children and their children's children. Here storms never last forever, the rain brings life and is always followed by sunshine.
Scott Steinkerchner OP and Martin Ndegwa OP