#14  Observations from a Different World

July 23, 2017

I just looked it up, 9586 miles San Francisco to Nairobi and it is truly a different world in so many ways—and just the same in as many ways. 

This is Sunday and I had set my alarm for 7 am so I’d have plenty of time to shower, wash my hair and get to mass, just in case it actually began at 8:30, which it occasionally does.  I don’t like to be late, because I love to sit in the pew labeled In loving memory of James P. McAuliffe

Often we have a chat as I sit there.  But this morning just as I was about to hop (?) out of bed, the power went off.  Hot water here, comes from the showerhead, not hot water heating tank.  No power, no hot water.  RATS!!!  Oh well, I’ll loll in bed for a bit longer.  7:45, the power returns and I calculate whether I’ll have enough time.  Fast shower and shampoo, toss on my clothes, walk down the path to the slate walkway along the side of the church to the parking lot where the young members of the congregation sell copies of the day’s readings for 10 cents.  I always get one because I have a hard time understanding the readings here.  I even have time to join the others waiting for the 7 am mass to be over, after which there is a stream of those going in, dodging those coming out, in a totally disorderly manner.  This is a big church. 

Actually it is huge, with maybe 50-60 rows, each with possibly over 50 spaces.  Its’ not that full, but there are a lot of people each mass.  While waiting I meet Francis, Catherine’s friend and am grateful for his steady hand going up the broad steps.  Since my fall, I am none too steady going up and down stairs and regularly resort to grabbing a hand, hopefully belonging to someone I know.  Inside I look to see whether Jim’s pew is occupied.  Whew!  It’s not.  Many years ago I asked that it be 5 pews back and in the center so I can see and hear.  Fr. Kiriti immediately saw to that and even though Fr. Kiriti is long gone from here, Jim’s pew remains 5 pews back, center aisle. 

For some reason this morning I notice various hair styles.  Almost no women in front of me (all choir members) have gone in for those fabulous braid styles.  Maybe they are no longer in.  About half the men shave their heads, the others have possibly a millimeter of hair—all of which makes that of the man directly in front of me more noticeable.  It’s a modified afro, graying.  He wears a graying beard as well, Lenin style, and John Lennon glasses.  Only later do I realize the reason I thought him Ethiopian is that he looks a lot like pictures I remember of Haile Salasse, long-time Ethiopian leader and leader of their independence drive.  For those of you too young to remember, he spoke to the UN, asking for help so forcefully he was dubbed The Lion of Judah. 

Mass begins and down the aisle come the dancing children in 2 lines, boys in one, girls in the other.  The lead dancers are the best ones, with the quality diminishing noticeably down the line.  The lead boy is especially limber, literally throwing his body forward.  Then come the altar attendants, not altar boys—some are girls—the two seminarians and finally the priest, someone I’ve not met.  The service is very formal, event scripted, and I miss the more informal mass of the Thomas Merton Center in Palo Alto.  It’s also long, almost 2 hours.

I can follow the readings with the paper I bought, and fortunately the priest’s accent isn’t too strong, but even at that I miss words, so some of the message.  Always 4 pre-selected members of the congregation come forward to pray for the church, the country, the children and ??? (I‘ve never picked up what the 4th one is for).  Despite the use of a microphone, I could barely tell someone was speaking, let along, follow along.  I do understand prayers are not being sent to me, so maybe is doesn’t matter whether I’ve understood.

Another difference is the collection.  No baskets passed here.  There are metal boxes, maybe 2 1/2 feet tall by a foot wide and 10 inches deep, generally 4 or 6 of them, each bearing a very large padlock.  Members of the congregation rise, row by row, filing forward to put their folded bills or coins through the slot.  It’s totally obvious if someone doesn’t go forward, so there is some degree of pressure to have at least a ksh 10 coin (which makes a loud “clink” until enough bills pad the bottom to muffle the sound).  It’s 10 cents.  Anyone making a “clink” is immediately revealed.  Better to add a ksh 50 bill.

All through the mass the choir sings the most wonderful harmonies.  I don’t know whether they won yesterday’s competition, but they often do win.  Jim’s pew in directly behind the last row of bases.  Although I don’t know the words to many songs, I hum along just the same. 

The people are dancing in place, with clapping and waving the forearms to certain songs.  Even the clapping is different.  Americans clap by bringing the hands together in the front.  Kenyans clap by swinging the whole bent arm forward and together, then marking the off-beat by bringing the elbows sharply back.  The dancing is a swaying motion, shifting weight from one foot to another, even lifting the feet.  It’s all very energetic, particularly with so many people.

Lay people help to distribute the communion, but first they have entered the sacristy to don long white robes over their clothes and hang very large gold crosses on gold chains around the neck.  People shuffle forward for that too.  At the end the chairman of the church council invites people to come forward with their sadaka, which is their tithing.  The priest receives their envelopes (brown for men, white for women) then sprinkles all with holy water in blessing.  Finally come the announcements.  Again, I have a hard time understanding, but it doesn’t matter, as none involve me.

Mass over, I make my way across the church to a side entrance where the steps have a railing and off I am for my breakfast.  I’m stopped by the older sister of Lucy, one of our first scholarship recipients.  She’s now a nurse and doing very well.

The picture was taken several years ago, from the entrance as people left.  At that time “ushers” didn’t let the newcomers surge forward like they did today.

It’s 10:30 and I’m hungry now.  I quickly prepare my bran flakes, make my malaria tea and chow down, trying to work the Sudoku, which is particularly hard today.  Actually not as hard as yester-day’s, which defeated me.  No sooner do I finish than Mungai comes in to say he wants to take his new goodies home.  Accompanying him are the other 2 Davids, Wekesa and Kamau. 

Finally about 2 pm I get to rest and promptly fall asleep.

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