June 30, 2017
It has been a long and busy week since I last wrote. The big events have surrounded David Mungai, the first from Mji Wa Neema to graduate university. He is officially a public health officer. Now he just needs a job. Much goes into all this, including his buying his very first suit, new shoes, tie, shirt—the works and he looked very spiffy.
The graduation from Jomo Kenyatta University in Thika (outside Nairobi) was Tuesday. Alison and I had planned to attend until Fr. Kiriti strongly advised against it—too many people, too much traffic. Plan B was a nice lunch for 12 or 13 in a hotel in Thika.
David chose a very nice setting, but neglected to tell them a big group would be coming. We arrived about 12:30 and were graciously received. Unfortunately, I think they had to harvest the rice and slaughter the chickens, as we were served about 4 pm! The setting was a large grassy area surrounded by trees and flowering bushes. We were seated in a large gazebo, in which we sat and sat and sat, waiting for the honored guest and the rest. David and his entourage, including Cyrus (oldest of the Mji kids) arrived about 2:30, amid much to-do. And the guests kept coming, I kept updating the cateress as it went from 13 to 14 to 16 until at last I think there were 21 and I was wondering whether I’d brought enough cash to cover them all. His aunt and cousin were there, as well as school friends and some of the Mji kids who had come with us, namely Margaret and Tabitha. Hilary drove us, so that was a full car.
When the food finally arrived, my next fear was it wouldn’t be enough. I’ve seen how Kenyans eat—huge portions, but the staff served (instead of self-serve) and while every crumb was eaten, every person had a good plateful. Everyone was full of congratulations and love for David. I think he felt well and truly feted, but that’s not the end.
Today (Friday) was his Thanksgiving mass, held here in the dining hall at Mji. In true Kenyan fashion the 10 am mass began at 11:45, when Fr. Jeff finally sauntered in, without aa word of apology for having arrived in extreme African time.
He’s a very nice guy, full of fun, laughing all the time, except for during mass and even then he’s not above cracking jokes. The mass itself was in Kiswahili, but he was kind enough to preach in English. Alas, David’s grandmother understands no English. She’s on the left, Aunt on the right.
The message was of the importance of service. It’s the message I’ve been listening for here and I was so happy to hear him say it. I just wish the whole church could have heard.
Four members of the Mji Wa Neema founding committee attended and spoke, as well as members of the church council and a number of others—each a great length, most in Kiswahili, which is appropriate, but hard for us mzungus. (Actually I should use the proper plural which is wzungu-no s. I think the plural is generally formed by changing the first letter).
Again David was honored and praised at length until I could tell he was getting uncomfortable. He’s a very humble guy, unused to prolonged spotlights.
Lunch was announced. And we all queued in the courtyard to be served 2 kinds of rice, a wonderful beef stew, chipattis and fruit. Poor Margaret and Tabitha, who should have been at the mass to celebrate their older brother, had been cooking with Laban, the rectory cook all morning long. It didn’t feel right that they couldn’t be with him.
Lunch over, we all went back into the dining hall for more speeches. Fr. Kiriti arrived, having celebrated a mass for a family nearby. Of course everyone was very happy to see him and he was in true Kiriti form, at once serious and deep in his comments and then being his funny self. The people here do love him.
Unwarned, I wasn’t ready with memorized remarks when I was called to be the last speaker. As I rose to go forward, my good friend Joyce, hissed from behind, “Margo, speak good English!” (She once told me my English was very bad!) I spoke slowly, enunciating carefully, but having sat through all those long and usually repetitive speeches, I made my remarks short. As a moved to sit down, Fr. Kiriti said, “Is that all?” Clearly I was remiss. “Americans speak very briefly.” You all know that’s not really the case, but I was sure no one really cared what I said, it had been a long occasion. He did remind me I had not introduced Alison, who also spoke briefly about how much we love being here with the Mji kids.
Antony (to right of cake), one of the Mji founders had sponsored a very fancy cake, with mortarboard on top. People trooped outside to sing and dance, bringing David and the cake into the room, where they continued to dance and sing as the circled the table. It’s wonderful how the make everything a singing, dancing celebration. Several of us were called forward to help cut and distribute it. Knowing the tradition of feeding the guest of honor, I took a piece and gave him a taste. Then he fed me and we were off to feed the crowd. It was a pretty good cake, more dense than we like in the US, but with a good flavor. And finally, after a benediction by Fr. Kiriti, people began to disburse. I wanted to write of the events before I forgot too much.
But after only a short time I was called from my computer to greet Anastasia (Ann)and Mwangi, a great couple I’ve known for some time. She is an engineer who several years ago participated in a 6-week program for African women scientists in San Francisco. She came to visit me while there. They are so fun, funny and warm. They don’t live in Naivasha now, so I was afraid that like last year, I wouldn’t see them.
Here is Mungai in his new suit.