Reflections on Kajiado: Jen, Stephen and Kizzy McWhirter
This was the fourth visit to Kenya for Stephen and I, and Kizzy’s second time to be there. We feel very much when we go now that we are going to visit family and friends and the sights and sounds of life in Kajiado diocese are familiar in some sense. One of the highlights, therefore, was to experience Kenya again for the first time through the excitement and wonder of others on the team. Leading the team there and accompanying others as they took their first walk through Kajiado town, or saw Kilimanjaro from the deck at Oltiasika was special. As we were leaving Oltiasika after a week to go back to Kajiado and were saying our goodbyes to the people who work at the retreat centre there one of the team said, ‘I know now why you come back here.’ That made it all worthwhile. That someone else in our diocese now sees how special that place is for us.
One of the things that affected us both was the great benefit a trip like this offers in the opportunity to see our own life’s context and situation with fresh eyes upon our return home. We returned home from Kajiado to the full blown Christmas hype that seems to take over society at that time of year. It was a stark contrast to the Maasai culture and society we had left the previous day. It also offered the opportunity to see the blessings we have and are in the Church of Ireland. Tiny as we are in TKA we were able to appreciate again while in Kajiado the great work we as a diocese have achieved over the last number of years. This work has, at the most fundamental level, secured the basics of life for a whole community. I think we previously underestimated the impact it will have on the life of the community there. We say we are providing clean water, and shrug it off because of our experience of the abundance of water here in the West of Ireland. But the magnitude of the heartfelt thanks of the whole community – church, local government and the number of people who attended the dedication service at Oltiasika for the water tanks – shows the depth of gratitude there. As parents we now value more than ever the ability to provide clean drinking water for our children and knowing that the mamas in Oltiasika can do the same thing through the efforts of our diocese is a humbling thing.
It was a privilege to be part of Bishop Gaddiel’s celebration and to be treated as honoured guests. As we exchanged gifts at the end of the celebration it came to mind that very often we feel that we have been blessed more by being there than we have been a blessing to others. The exchange of gifts, however, reflected the feeling of partnership and how we are a support to each other in our different dioceses.
The experience of church while there is very different and yet very familiar. Different words but the same pattern of worship. Different music yet the same praise of God. In this it is easy to feel part of the worldwide Anglican Communion there, a feeling which is easily lost in our small corner of Ireland. And that Anglicanism unites us and makes us family.
Kizzy was very excited to go back to Kenya. Before we left we asked her what she was looking forward to and she replied, ‘to see the animals – elephants and giraffes and zebras, but no pandas!’ When asked if there was anything else she was looking forward to she said, ‘to see Ronnie and Maggie’ (who are her godparents). When asked once home what she enjoyed the most the animals were there in her replies, but also, ‘playing with Blessing (Bishop Gaddiel’s youngest daughter). Blessing is my best friend.’ She received her first wee doll’s house as a present from her grandparents for Christmas and it came with two wee dolls, one white and one black. When asked what their names were she said they were called Kizzy and Blessing. Kizzy was wonderful to watch there because she experienced everything without the preconceived ideas we can have, for her it was all just entirely normal. Everywhere she went she found children to play with, and their differences weren’t even registered by her. She would gravitate towards kids everywhere we went, and during church would wander off with them to play. She speaks no Swahili and they spoke no English but it didn’t matter one bit. The games and laughter of children really are universal. While there she was called by her Maasai name, Naserian, by quite a few people and she just accepted it without saying ‘that’s not my name.’ If you ask her now what her name is, she will reply, ‘Kizzy,’ and if there asked what her other name is she will say, ‘Naserian.’
This picture says it all!