On Sunday, we didn’t visit anybody, but we did attend church, at the Maua Methodist church (MCK: Methodist Church in Kenya). It was very loud (the PA system was turned up to 11). It was also very well attended. The minister is a former banker. He preached a sermon about “drive”: as a Christian, what drives you? It was quite the exhortation, and at several points, he interrupted his sermon to check to see if we were listening. “Hello? Is there anybody here today?” I think we were all stunned by the PA system, which may have been turned up so loud so that it could be heard out in the street, over the traffic.
He called our little missioneer group up to the front of the church to introduce ourselves and say a little something about our trip. I suppose one must always have an elevator speech, ready to go at the drop of a hat.
After church (between the 2nd and 3rd services), we visited with the minister and several of the church’s leading members, including the church’s chairman. (I probably didn’t get that quite right; head layperson, at any rate.) We had tea and biscuits. It was very pleasant, and, I felt, an honor.
After we left the church, several of us had expressed an interest in walking around the town of Maua, just to see what we could see. Carolyne, the wife of the minister, just happens to work for ZOE, and she agreed to walk us around. It was “interesting”.
There is plastic trash everywhere. And there’s no running water, except that we saw a single water faucet with a sign declaring that it was put there by the local Methodist hospital (where ZOE in Kenya got its start). (The water was still not safe to drink, but at least it was there.) I think municipal services like trash removal and water are just not present. Most people burn their trash. (Interestingly enough, in another tiny town we visited on the day we went to Tharaka (different county), we saw an old lady sweeping up trash into little piles along the main street and setting fire to them. I was curious as to whether she was doing this out of some sense of civic pride or obsessive-compulsive disorder or as part of a community effort to clean up, so I asked Reegan. Answer: the county was paying her to do that. I thought that was actually pretty cool.)
I made the classic mistake of making eye contact with one of the local alcoholics, who then proceeded to follow us (me), very much in my personal space, bumping into me and telling me how hungry he was and how thirsty he was and how much he needed money, in Swahili and broken English, which I had no trouble understanding. He was very aggressive in his panhandling and quite distracting. Everybody teased me about my “new friend”, but I hope I was able to at least run interference for everybody else. Apart from the dirt streets, it felt a bit like New York City: lots of people going to and fro on business, lots of stores selling all kinds of things (including a couple of bookstores), lots of traffic weaving among the pedestrians, and people you’d be better off not saying “hi” to. That panhandler really brought home to me one possible future for our orphans, if we didn’t help out with seed grants, training and the right kind of encouragement. I kind of suspect the other citizens of Maua were a little embarrassed at this guy not exactly putting the best foot forward. (Either that, or amazed at my stupidity in attracting him, but, whatever.)
We also saw lots of children and others who were very happy to just greet us and have us greet them back. I got a lesson from Caroline in how to ask somebody their name and tell them mine. (“Jina langu ni John. Jina lako nani?”) We walked to the ZOE office, which is an annex to the county government offices in Maua (which, by the way, is not the headquarters of Meru county; the town of Meru is). The ZOE annex is two large-ish rooms, from which ZOE operates. ZOE also gets to park their vehicle (a pickup truck) there, which is safer than parking on the street, since there’s a gate and a watchman. I believe ZOE is the only NGO to be granted space in the government offices complex (rent-free). This honor, Reegan told us, is because the government recognizes the valuable service ZOE is providing.
After pictures and conversation, we walked back to our guest house, taking approximately the same route. At one point, the county governor zoomed past us with a military escort, and everybody started running to chase the convoy. This is because the governor sometimes gives money away at his speeches. Pretty decent way of getting people to show up.
At the last street corner before our guest house (which was tucked away on a side street), we met a very cute little girl, maybe 4 years old, and her brother, maybe 6-7 years old (unless my ability to estimate age is way off, always possible). She was cute as a button, and had the boldness of a child. She swung on Erika’s and my hands, like any small child will do. When I took a picture of her with my phone and showed it to her, she immediately started swiping with her fingers, to look at other pictures on my phone. I was really struck by that: a four-year-old girl in what seems to be the hinterlands* of Kenya is familiar enough with technology to know that you swipe left or right to see more pictures.
(*Maua is a relatively large town in this area, so maybe it’s not quite the hinterlands. When you drive 20-30 minutes out of town, things change.)