“Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage…” Richard Wilbur
A thirty minute drive away from Nakuru town, a group of teen age youths, have met for Christian camp. Grabbing the opportunity, our team decides to have them taken through HWEC. (https://www.lerucher.org/Content/Reconciliation/Resources.html). As we drive towards the venue, I take in the view outside my window. Nakuru (http://www.nakuru.go.ke/about/) is a town which likes to think it’s a cut above the rest. It is geographically located at the center of civilized Kenya, along the busiest highway and between two cities; Nairobi and Kisumu. Signposts leading in to the town are bedecked with catchy pink flamingos boisterously hoisted atop longish legs, which are a unique feature of Lake Nakuru located a few meters away from the town.
A gust of dry dusty wind gushes through the maze of both ancient and modern houses forming a line a few meters on the left and the right of the highway. The wind jets in to my window then surges on to my bare face as I fight to lock the faulty window pane, leaving me temporarily blinded and combating molecules of dust which have flooded my inner eye. Billows of dust drift our way the entire journey leaving us engulfed in a never-ending orange haze. The old road leads us to a pothole here and there. Each time we hit one, we are thrown off balance for a while. At some points, the road is barely discernible through the wooden kiosks that have colonized it with impunity despite the monstrous yellow Xs smeared on them by Kenya National Highway Authority (KeNHA) to signify the illegality of any building too close to the road. Nakuru is naturally dusty yet feisty: hundreds of business women seat or stand behind piles of bananas, tomatoes, potatoes and kales, relentlessly looking out for a potential customer; watu wa mjengo in faded overalls, a size too big, wear fatigued expressions veiled behind thin films of dust and soil as they swiftly take loud instructions from their superiors; hordes of dilapidated 14 seater matatus whoosh by with dare devil touts swaying perilously from their entrances and yelling out for potential travelers. It is truly a determined town this one.
Soon, we leave the dusty town and arrive in the small market of Solai in the outskirts of Nakuru. The place has the fresh, earthly smell and unadulterated air reminiscent of countryside life. Over grown bushes, the wind whistling through trees bringing with it faded laughter of children playing in a field yonder, the earth green from here to the horizon, a herd of cattle grazing at a field across a river flowing with water as clear as a mirror- all this arouse in me a nostalgia so strong, reminding me of my childhood in the dry fields of Makueni.
The host church building is a renovated former calf pen. It is a hasty blend of nineteenth century concrete wall-built by a British colonial master-and modern day iron sheet roofing. Four windows are punctured un-uniformly on to the wall. Their closures are made from rough timber haphazardly nailed together and hinged on to the makeshift windows, which double up as both inlets of sunlight and ventilators to the somewhat stuffy former calf pen. This same old calf pen previously used to nurture delicate calves, now renovated to spiritually transform the ‘youthlings’ of Solai.
The group of youths total to almost a hundred. They are ecstatic and full of energy in singing, in prayer and in life. The kind of energy which explodes when people are inching towards the light years of life; the years when a teenager transits in to early adulthood but with no responsibilities to ground them yet. The happy-go-lucky, experimental, spontaneous, unanchored years. They regroup in to their cliques during breaks to hang out and catch up on those stories unique to them. Stories formed, told and interpreted through the eyes and the perspective of a teenager. Stories of the miserable breakup, the wretched bully at school, the mean friend, the authoritarian teacher, the tough subject, embarrassing ‘crush’ confessions and preposterous dating tips. Stories which help them help each other get through teenage life, during which, ones physical, cognitive and biological transformations only help to puzzle an already difficult life a little bit more. It is a baffling period of life this one.
I stand in a corner and observe one of the boy cliques. Each boy yearning to be heard next and to tell of their ninja, failure-proof tips on girl chasing. One of the boys, the one who seems to have outgrown his greyish trouser and stripped T-shirt, whose voice has finally broken completely and who, from my inference is part of the gang’s executive leadership, pauses amidst the gaudy storytelling and, for a moment, absentmindedly contemplates his intertwined fingers. A sudden sadness flashes across his face. It comes and goes too fast for the untrained and inexperienced eye and instincts of his age mates. The boy seemed to have been carried away in that instant of an intrusive and disturbing thought and he looked deeply desolate for a moment. Teenage hood is when a child begins to make sense of the world, connect dots and form convictions and principles.
My first guess of the boy’s strange meddling thought at this unwelcome time when he is basking in the admiration of his age mates, would be, that this was just another moment in his daily life when he looks back and tries to make sense of the heavy load his heart has to drag along each day. There in his heart, the stories of his boy clique cease to exist but the real stuff of his life resurface. There-in hides the real stories. In that little teenage heart still boils residues of blows from an enraged mother and a drunk father. There-in that heart still drifts words used like knives; to pierce, to injure and to maim. There-in lies blurry memories of soul-less eyes of a mother and a father as they brought down with all their might, blows of a rod. There-in lives recollections of his ear bursting wails as he desperately pleaded for mercy from a sadistic parent screaming “Today is the day I kill you.” Memories of afternoons after school spent digging farms as the blisters in his tiny hands burst into bloody wounds-getting overworked with no time for completing his homework. Memories of his mother who was unlike his sister’s mother-because she treated them differently and favored his sister, dotting on her with gifts and kind words and lighter work. Sad memories which resurface in the most unwanted places and make him shrink in to a tiny, invisible, distant child. It is a brave life this one.
And such are the hearts gathered in this tiny old calf pen today. This is confirmed during the HWEC lesson ‘Knowing God as a Loving Father’. The facilitator gave appropriate examples and testimonies which resonated well with the participants, their concentration grew more intense with every point the speaker put across. Nothing could have prepared us for the solemn moment which followed; several teenage lips began tremoring from sudden verbal incapacity, heart wrenching sobbing and fear full looks-telltale signs of inner wounds received from parents. When it was practical time, time to receive father’s and mother’s love, several of them, crying uncontrollably streamed to the front to get a much needed hug from a mother and father figure. It was quite hard to visualize what circumstances they had been forced to endure in the hands of their own parents, the very hands that are meant to nurture and care for them.
It occurred to me that blood is already spilling from the cradle, that the palms meant to cherish and to hold the young and delicate souls of this nation are calloused and have already sank bitter claws in those little souls. Parents who bring home discord rather than harmony, violence rather than peace, restlessness rather than rest. Parents who are experts in creating a home poisoned with tension, insults and painful childhoods for the babies they pushed out in to the world. Parents who ignore their children in order to sit and watch the news and read the newspaper and so know the world more than they know their children. Children dying on the inside and spilling in to smithereens without any ones notice.
Gradually, and sadly, some of these parents might shrink to a reasonable proportion of history-two ordinary humans in a human family of billions-but the impact they leave will continue to glare like a fresh wound. The pain and the anger from these wounds borne at home will someday be spewed on social media or in the streets or in school or even in another future family. ‘Wounded people wound other people.’ The wounds will rot and emit foul pus which will seep from those hearts and spill on to other lives.
Nevertheless, understanding that gave these teen age lives a dimension. Their pasts are painful, yes, but full of value: beautiful, complex and redeemable especially due to the fact that this day they were here at the feet of Jesus, ready to be healed and to be transformed. When people suffer physical wounds, they see a doctor who treats it, but where do broken hearts go? It is an inexplicable joy to know that Christ came to “Heal the broken hearted and bind up their wounds” (Psalms 147:3), and that “He is close to those who are brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalms 34:18).
Patience Mutie (https://www.facebook.com/patience.mutie) for Way of Peace.