My great privilege occurred to me as we raced along the bumpy roads of the Maasai Mara. The tans, browns, and yellows of the passing landscape waved our direction and the unspoiled breeze blasted our faces as we stood and braced for the ride of a lifetime. There are many in the world whose primary dream is an African safari, and in a moment it occurred to me that I have now been twice. What a humbling thought.
The hunt for rare sightings was exhilarating, and the sensation of racing through the Kenyan wonderland defies description, but the animals themselves are the superstars. Of course I snapped pictures. The lioness and her cubs. The curious giraffe. The lumbering elephant. The lazy leopard. The stalking cheetah. The ridiculous ostrich. The enormous hippopotamus. But every so often I remembered to put the camera away and simply be present in the wild with the magnificent creatures. It was in those moments that I discovered an unforced smile and a childlike sense of joy and wonder.
The sun set on the Mara at the end of our first game drive, and our driver stopped so we could behold the glory. From our vantage point the flaming ball of fire descended through an iconic acacia tree as we furiously snapped pictures as if we could ever forget. Yes, the animals are the stars of the safari, but the sunset stole the show.
Nature. That’s the word we use to describe the indescribable reality of that which is beyond human production. We create platforms to simply to stand as humble spectators and observe the magnificent world that we did nothing to create. Such primal beauty is difficult to see and even more difficult to comprehend immersed in what we call civilization. But I was privileged to catch a glimpse as the sun set on the Mara.
I woke up in the East African village of Kamulu under a mosquito net listening to a rooster that apparently got something stuck in his throat while learning to yodel; in other words, not in Malibu. Appropriately, a man named Moses led our team’s exodus from the Nairobi airport the night before, but when the morning light replaced the darkness, I was surprised by my surroundings despite multiple reports from previous church trips, including my own family. It was simultaneously more primitive and wonderful than I had anticipated.
Why did I travel to Kenya? It isn’t wrong to say that my wife insisted but probably more accurate to say that I needed to see for myself what had stolen her heart. Well, mission accomplished.
Because so many friends have been to Made in the Streets (“MITS”) before me, it would be silly to recount the same observations, like the yummy-ness of chapati, the joy-filled singing of liberated street children, the endless skies on the Maasai Mara, and the beautiful kids jumping streams of raw sewage in the Mathare Valley slums. Instead, I’ll just share a few personally unforgettable moments:
- Meeting Vincent, an impressive seventeen-year-old young man, covered with mud, living in the mud, high as a kite to stave off hunger and cold and yet still able to carry on an intelligent, respectful conversation. I liked him immediately yet left him in such terrible circumstances with a fist bump and will never see him again in person. But he will never leave my mind.
- A sunrise run through Kamulu on a crisp morning with Paul (pictured above), a MITS graduate who has become a part of our family since my wife practically adopted him, and for a moment, matching him stride for stride while imagining what it is like to “run like a Kenyan”—and then watching him effortlessly leave me in the dust down the home stretch.
- Traveling with Jackton and Millie to meet four MITS graduates now working in Nairobi: (i) listening to reggae music and enjoying a vanilla milkshake at the American-themed Java House with George; (ii) eating scrumptious mandazi prepared by Chef Brian in his apartment; and (iii) sharing in an impromptu Bible study with the two Marys. Four glowing successes.
- Standing with my wife in the darkness outside our safari tent and looking up at the African sky to discover more stars than I had ever imagined one sky could hold.
- Sitting under the ceiling fans at church in Kamulu and listening to rescued street kids sing Amazing Grace, particularly the verse that proclaims: Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come / ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
If I’m honest, I think I went to Kenya to check it off my list. Instead, it did a number on my heart, too. Kenya believe it?
Posted in Original Essays, Uncategorized
Tagged amazing grace, heart, java house, kamulu, kenya, love, maasai mara, made in the streets, mathare valley, mits, nairobi, running, safari