Reflections on Kenya: Canon Doris Clements

Trip to Kenya
Where does one begin to describe 2 weeks in this country of opposites, surprises, colours and smiling faces? The journey to Dublin airport was full of anticipation and excitement, as I sat beside 3-year-old Kizzy in the back seat of the McWhirter car. Not quite the same as we queued in the airport at 4am!!!
As it was very late and dark when we got out of Nairobi airport I had no idea what the country was like. But from the next morning until we departed, there was so much to take in, to see, to understand. Our first day was spent visiting the Diocesan Offices, meeting staff and the Bishop. Then a trip to see the girls’ school at Oloosyian, the one we helped to fund. We met the final year students who were finishing their examinations. Their dormitory was very basic. Coláiste Moibhí, where I spent 4 years in the 1960’s, was a 5-star hotel in comparison, although I didn’t think so at the time!!! Yet those girls were so happy, chatting like any teenager, as they hoped for good results and perhaps a third – level education. I was very upset to see the shower/toilet blocks that we had funded. One had no ceiling, just the corrugated iron roof, bare concrete walls and floors, toilets with no doors or shower curtains. Outside, the kitchen area left much to be desired, with some logs and rocks, as seating for the students. Yet the Headmistress said that her priority was to build a house for more teachers. I realised that these girls probably had come from mud huts with no sanitation facilities, or water –so their surroundings now and the chance of a future was sheer luxury to them!
Our long journey to Oltisiaka, where we stayed 6 nights was more contrasts.
From the noise and bustle, goats and cows, filth and smells of the small towns and villages to the vast expanses of arid land, quietness, giraffes and zebras, gazelles and wildebeasts, and carcases! A land of contrasts! We visited the Church farm and retreat at Salama, en route. The cattle had been walked a long way from another farm in order to get some grass. They were just skin and bones. Some couldn’t stand! The guest house here was an oasis of peace and tranquillity, tea and coffee overlooking the swimming pool! Then it was on to the next town, Imali, where we stopped for Maggie to buy fruit and veg for us. I didn’t venture out of the jeep but sat in the middle of the crowds, the filth, the noise of shoppers and the smells.
Oltisiaka Church Retreat compound, where the water project is, was a welcome end to that long tiring day.
Ronnie and Maggie had prepared well for us. Ronnie continual filled us in on the history, the culture and traditions of the place, how they were trying to make it self-sufficient. The Maasai ‘live for today’, living in the present, not worrying about the future, hence sustainability is a huge problem in the Diocese of Kajiado. Maggie and her team of 5/6 women looked after all our needs.
I was fortunate in that I had a bedroom inside the main house, and shared 2 showers with the McWhirters and Bishop Patrick! The toilets were the’longdrop’ type about 20 metres from the house. Better than I had anticipated but the midday heat left much to be desired!!! I loved the decking area where we had our meetings, discussions, and retreat days. Like a thatched bandstand, we looked up at the Chihula Hills to one side and Mt Kilimanjaro to the other. A haven of peace and tranquillity, birdsong and the bleating of goats and sheep.
Once we had settled in here, we soon realised how welcoming everyone was. They were so pleased to have us there, always smiling. The blessing of the water project, although not completed, was a day filled with singing and dancing, joy and no doubt relief for the hundreds of villagers who came. That night Ronnie and some of the Maasai men, built a great fire and roasted some sides of goat! I enjoyed the camaderie around the fire and the crackling of the sticks but I decided it was leftover jam sandwiches for me and not the goat!
Church was nothing like I had experienced before! The only Anglican aspect was the readings and sermons that we provided. On our first Sunday, I went to the church at Ombilli – under a tree, in a vast area of nothing! Dean Alistair was preaching and I read the lesson for him, so we robed. Worship was already well under way, with dancing and singing, mostly women and children, colourfully dressed as men were off up the hills herding their cows, sheep and goats. The Reader introduced us to his 2 wives and a number of his children, one of whom translated for us. The sermon was enthusiastically received with lots of Amens, Hallelujahs and clapping, not what the Dean is used to, I’m sure, in Tuam Cathedral! The church building in Oltisiaka was very bare, with broken windows, but it was a huge step up from the ‘tree church’! Such a difference here, we spend so much energy, time and money on our buildings, making them comfortable and nice but the Maasai put their energy into joyful worship.
One day, I went for a walk outside the compound and found the Health Centre. The Health Care worker was very helpful and informative, well educated, but with very basic facilities. Then down some paths to the Primary school. There was plenty of space for a play area but the classrooms, like the church, were dirty, with bare walls, broken windows and I certainly could never see myself teaching there! Yet, this place provided a good basic education, allowing some of the boys to go further, and end up with excellent jobs. The Health Care worker was one and I met a teacher who was teaching in Mombasa but was now with his herds, on summer holidays!
We were all sorry to leave Olitsiaka but the 5 hour trip back to Kajiado, was through Amboseli Safari Park.

It was a shame that there were so many carcasses scattered around as the drought has been severe in that part of Africa. We had coffee in one Safari Lodge and lunch in another. Here the wealth of those visiting was obvious, again such a contrast to what we had left behind in Oltisiaka. Herds of elephants crossed the road in front of us, hippopotamae wallowed in muddy puddles beside the road, warthogs and gazelles everywhere – unbelievable! But no big cats!
Next day, it was down to work again as we joined in the Diocesan Clergy Conference which took place in the Cathedral, from 8.30am. Leadership in the Church was the theme for the day. Some of these clergy had been travelling from 5am that morning. Dedication? With an 8.30am start, the singing, led by a 4 young clergy, was well under way before Archbishop Jackson and Bishop Gaddiel appeared. The former was an excellent speaker, and had no problem talking for almost 2 hours.
We had been informed 5 days beforehand that we were responsible for the 2/3 hours after the break! Each of us used our experiences to speak about various kinds of leadership, good and bad! This was a day when I was so glad that we had only to walk across the compound to our rooms and not have a 5-hr drive across deep-rutted tracks, as did many of those present.
However, we had an unbelievable journey on our 2nd Sunday, to Bishop Gaddiel’s celebrations. Over 3000 drove or walked to be there, from all over the Diocese, for this huge celebration of the Bishop’s 6 years as a Bishop, celebrating achieving his degree in theology and starting building his retirement home!!! We were very late arriving -11am, because we had stopped to pull other vehicles out of the huge deep ruts and help them across the flooded river! We had had a few heavy rain showers that morning!! We robed immediately on arrival and set off to join the massive crowd, already in full swing, dancing and singing! To me, the only semblance to an Anglican service was when Rev Jen and Dean Alistair read the lessons and Bishop Patrick preached! The Archbishop spoke at length, as did Bishop Gaddiel and various Government officials. We were welcomed and each of us was presented with some lovely beadwork. After such a long trek to get there, these people don’t mind a 5 hr service! Everyone was fed at various ‘feeding stations’ and apparently 6o goats and 4 cows were slaughtered for the occasion! I stuck to mashed potato, pasta and chipatis!!! We set off at 6pm for the long journey back. Once again we had an hour and a half helping others out of the river, including the Archbishop, whose car was blocked by other stuck vehicles!
Two days later we departed for the airport. I was exhausted before the long flight. I had had a fantastic 2 weeks of experiences. I was very glad that I went on the trip despite being very ill after I came home and had 8 days in hospital! It was good to see how our money was spent, how it was helping the people there but also to realise how so little can make those people happy and satisfied. It made me look very differently on the mad shopping that goes on here in the pre-Christmas days!
Doris Clements