Monday, January 19, 2009

Karibu Sana (A warm welcome)

Since arriving in Kenya, I believe that the word “Karibu” (kah-ree'-boo) is the word that I have heard the most. I have felt most welcomed wherever I go – handshakes (the common way of greeting here in Kenya), smiles, and warm welcomes have abounded. I have been told that in Africa, a visitor is seen as a blessing, but living it here has been another experience entirely. I feel so blessed to be a guest wherever I go, but sometimes it borders on feeling uncomfortable. I came here to serve and to work, and over and over again I end up coming away blessed by the warm welcome that people have given me!

At church on my first Sunday, I and the other first time guests were treated to tea out back after the service by a welcoming committee.

At my home stay, my host mother, Esther, didn’t let me help with anything. Instead, I was given tea in the morning and afternoon, served dinner, taken to the places I needed to go, and was granted such warm hospitality the whole time I was there.

While working in Mitumba, the teachers would do anything for me. I tried to help – find my own chair, help with grading, help with lunch, but over and over I was told to just sit and relax, and they would bring me what I needed. I mentioned one time to the pastor’s wife that I was feeling like I was creating extra work for everybody while I was supposed to be there to help, but she assured me that just by being there, it showed them that somebody cared, and that they were happy to serve. But I’m supposed to be the one there to serve, to help, to bless...

I have felt overwhelmed with the kindness and the generous hospitality of Kenyans wherever I go. One experience in particular, however, will remain with me forever. It was such a touching gesture, and gave me a new picture of Christ-like humility, service, and grace...

It was Saturday morning and I had just arrived at Mitumba for the Bible club. It had been raining in Nairobi for two days, and my runners were in my other suitcase at the AIM office, so all I had were my sandals. My sandals and feet were caked in mud, and my calved were splashed with mud as well. I arrived at the door but didn’t want to go in with such dirty feet and make a huge mess on the floor. The children had removed their shoes, but I didn’t really want to go barefoot. As I stood there wondering what to do, a girl from the standard seven class, Rose, came up beside me.

“Your feet are dirty,” she told me. “Please, come with me.”

She led me down the alleyway to an open classroom. “Wait here.”

There I stood in the empty room, rain thundering down on the tin roof, thinking she was maybe going to bring me some water to wash my feet off. Indeed, she arrived with a bucket of water and motioned for me to take off my shoes. I did, and before I could pick them up to rinse them off, she had them in her hands, bent over the bucket, and began to scrub off the mud. I just stood there awkwardly as she worked. “Can I help you?”

“No, no, just wait.” She smiled at me. And so I did, unsure of what to say until she had finished.

“Asante sana, Rose. Thank you very much!” I bent down to put my shoes back on my muddy feet, but she again motioned to me to stop.

“Just wait.”

Again she disappeared out the door with the bucket, only to appear a few minutes later with a fresh bucket and fresh water. Without a word, she gestured to me to put my foot in the bucket. I hesitated, all kinds of thoughts flying through my head – discomfort at a young black girl serving me, a white westerner, feeling guilty that she was making such a fuss over me, looking at her own muddy feet and thinking I should be helping her… but then I just sensed that I should allow her to do this for me, so I dipped my foot in the bucket.

Rose bent over and splashed water over my foot – scrubbed it down with her hands, all over my foot, between my toes, and then rubbed off the muddy water that had splashed up onto my leg – first the right, then the left.

As she worked, I couldn’t help but think of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet… this person who should be served bending down to serve, and I wondered if, standing there, I caught a little bit of what the disciples must have felt as Jesus performed the same act of love and service Rose was now doing for me. I was so incredibly humbled by this gesture and touched by the grace she showed me – how was I deserving of that kindness?

It was a beautiful glimpse of Jesus in the heart of this little girl living out her faith there in a Nairobi slum.


Jean said...

wow hillary. this is so moving!! it is such a humbling experience having your feet washed isn't it? such a small, but huge gesture that has such a profound impact.

Rachelle said...

What a beautiful story! Isn't God good?!

~*~Dancing Queen~*~ said...

Wow what a beautiful post Hillary! I can see through that story that GOd is definitly moving in your life and is blessing you immensely.

God Bless!

nachtwache said...

That is a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it and for sharing your adventure in Africa.