Sheila Sullivan and Normand Péladeau in Nairobi, Kenya
Now that we
have been here four months it is about time that we connected with a little more detail! Thank you for your greeting cards and email messages. After our arrival in Nairobi, Normand, who was a little more familiar with our street, found a contractor who supplied without cost, concrete blocks and boards and very soon a bookcase took shape ensuring your cards are displayed and other items are in their right spot!!!
We left Happy Valley very quickly, so quickly that we did not get to say au revoir as we had planned. Thankfully, we listened to the forecast and just barely kept ahead of one of winter’s most un-welcomed storms. In fact, we encountered many storms along the way and found transport trucks off the road in parts of Quebec. Thanks to Normand’s driving ability – certainly not mine, we manoeuvred around them and only relaxed once we arrived in Ottawa! I told him I was on the prayer team and that was sufficient responsibility for this trip! The Ottawa experience was busy with the clerical work we had not completed in Labrador, meetings, necessary shopping and emergency dental work for Sheila. For one week it was twice a day visits and our thanks go to the Oblates for suggesting a dentist around the corner of Stewart Street where we stayed, and thanks for their hospitality, Brother Wayne Jarvo’s cooking and a few games of Skippo after the Kenyan preparations ceased for the day!! Mind you, Normand was well into sleep mode when I crept upstairs. We also owe much gratitude to OMI Lacombe office staff for ensuring particular details were in order and Nicole [OMI Lacombe Executive Assistant], your umbrella gathers no dust for this rainy season keeps it well washed!
A day after our arrival in Nairobi, Normand and I, with our Canadian Oblate traveling companions, Douglas Jeffrey and Jim Fiori, from the Leadership Team, and eight other Oblates from three houses in the Meru area, journeyed by bus for eight hours to Mombassa, the seaport city. While Normand and I from time to time, succumbed to the “forty winks syndrome” it was not possible to ignore the ravages of drought reflected in the landscape, dwellings, cattle size, and the constant flow of women and children walking to and from water outlets. We were told that in many cases this daily routine required a walk of many kilometres. Seeing cows dead on the roadside also drove home the reality.
The next ten days were filled with Retreat and gatherings, ensuring that the key elements of the vision of the newly founded OMI Lacombe Province were illuminated and understood. During the whole process, re-bonding, bonding and the necessary doses of R and R got us in shape for the return to our respective mission and ministry areas. The heat and humidity took its toll on me but for Normand it was paradise. The daily diet of fish and sometimes for two meals provided a comforting and delectable compensation! Since we were with the Italian Consolata’s, pasta was a given!! No surprises there! We stayed at their retreat house on the ocean and were also treated to families of monkeys doing only what these creatures of God can do, exotic blooming plants and trees, different species of birds eating whatever low tide provided, and local people in very dilapidated boats gathering their food for the day. Women and children also combed the beach in search of the next meal. Normand and I made three barge trips, all of five minutes, from Mombassa Island into the city. There were throngs and throngs of people, vehicles, rickshaws and to our great surprise cell phones were everywhere. We did question the boat’s capacity! A visit to Fort Jesus topped up our Portuguese, Muslim and British colonial history and provided a context with which to view some of the political, economic, social and religious problems of today.
Following this experience, it was back to Nairobi where Normand and I spent two days in meetings and then to Meru situated at the base of Mount Kenya 17,058 feet in height. You will do the conversion! The Formation House where we both lived for some weeks is a few streets away from the equator, and in the northern hemisphere. This is where Normand immediately set to work ensuring that electrical and plumbing problems were solved. On our way “up” to this higher altitude, two perfectly formed rainbows with all the colours imaginable – we think!! Unfolded and diverted our attention from the hazardous road conditions to more mystical pursuits! Once we were directly in front of Mount Kenya, the infamous cloud that can sit atop for days moved off and provided the clearest view! What does one say when both experiences were truly profound. We knew there and then that all “would be well.” The mundane is never far away! We soon realized that being awakened and greeted at dawn by roosters, security dogs, donkeys, goats, and…and… and as well, the Muslim call to prayer would become the order of each day and our signal to abandon the pillows, move into monastic mode and join the community for meditation, morning prayer (chanted) and Liturgy. We just love this morning routine now that we don’t have to go out to the “rat race” of the work world. God is good! A more contemplative way of moving into the day suits us fine! And we savour it as well, for soon Normand begins the work of readying our new home in Karen on the outskirts of Nairobi and I keep an open mind as to where my future involvement will take me. Presently, I am tutoring English/Philosophy and planning for my next protracted stay in Meru.
Normand came to Nairobi when a rental property was acquired and with Formator, Mariusz Wilk OMI, made a homey environment for the pre-novice philosophy students. I remained in Meru and enjoyed my time being part of the orientation process for the four new candidates and one young man in his second year. Each day we focused on transition themes, meditation/contemplation experiences and came back to earth for a diet of English Language experiences!
A big surprise for us was discovering in certain areas and under such drought conditions wonderful displays of plant life, trees in full bloom and as tall as high risers. I have always enjoyed learning the names of plants and trees and I surprised myself at recalling names not in my repertoire since Zimbabwean days. At the same time, we grieved for the millions who for years only knew drought, the disease, hunger, death, and uncertainty accompanying it.
Here in Nairobi, we are constantly reminded of the precious gift of water. The city supplies us from Sunday to Wednesday noon. The rains began in this area about a month ago and now we seem to be at peak season for they are an everyday occurrence, and at this time of writing the whole country is being the recipient. They come in torrents and often are accompanied by heavy thunder and lightening. We usually have sufficient time to dry laundry, however, yesterday was the first day it would have been tempting the gods to place it outside! Unfortunately, there are villages in the south where flooding and landslides have destroyed homes and sent the people moving quickly with all their belongings on their backs. Attached to the Canadian Foreign Affairs travel report for Nairobi is a monthly record of temperatures, and other very detailed pieces of weather lore. Included under ‘precipitation’ is, days with freezing rain, ZERO!! Electricity takes its own rhythm, so it seems and we are often without power for hours. We hope this will be remedied if the heavy rains continue for a time. I have been enjoying the pleasant, ever so pleasant temperatures so…so much. For three to four hours a day it registers between 20-30ºC. The afternoons gradually cool down and a blanket is needed at night. Now that summer is on the wane, the evenings and nights are cooling more quickly and temperatures often range from 7-10ºC. Mariusz, Normand and the four Kenyan men here actually complain of the cold!! I am told that it is now colder than usual for this time of year. When Normand says he is freezing, and meaning it, I laugh and laugh - not six months away from Labrador!!! How the people in the slum areas sleep under these wet and cold conditions is beyond us. We live on the edge of one and we often walk through, spend time with the people and we dearly enjoy their Sunday Liturgy – the singing is glorious! Causing disquiet is the significant number of street children in Nairobi. Many are homeless because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It is tradition for families to look after their extended families when tragedy strikes as they all regard each other, emotionally, as brothers and sisters. AIDS is changing this way of living. There are orphanages all over the country and there will never be enough. Very young children – ten or eleven year olds – are raising their younger brothers and sisters, for their parents have died and their relatives are in similar circumstances. We have been reading the most up to date information on this HIV/AIDS pandemic. Last week we visited the African Jesuit AIDS Network situated in our slum area. Michael Czerny, SJ, very familiar to many Canadians, coordinates this ministry for his Congregation in Africa. Presently they are striving to strengthen initiatives already underway, helping potential projects get off the ground and linking them all together in a network with its own voice. From our reading we learn that HIV/AIDS is the greatest threat to Africa since the slave trade. Normand is presently reading a book in French by a Togo author, who is paralleling the situation with the Book of Job. He will meet with a Jesuit Scholastic, who continues to become more fluent in French, wishes to discuss the book and ensure nuances are clarified.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, already committed to a justice, peace and integrity of creation thrust and an accredited NGO at the UN Department of Public Information, decided at their last General Chapter to give a particular focus to the whole continent of Africa since it continues to be so marginalized. Their discernment realized a “new way” to do justice and peace, and instead of relying on their own limited resources to maintain an African focus on the world stage, they sought the involvement of five other Religious Congregations. These six groups, each with their own identity/charism, yet working from a shared and focused wisdom anchored in their core values, will with one voice communicate and advance the people’s agenda, while networking and lobbying at the United Nations level on such issues as water, debt, trade, poverty, AIDS, healing along ethnic divides and much more. The largest UN office outside of New York is here in Nairobi making it logical for the Oblates to choose to animate from here. A welcomed dimension of the mandate of this ‘yet to be named’ animator will be the conscientization of candidates to these justice themes in both Oblate Formation houses. With this model of collaborative and liberating leadership we all look forward to the information, formation and transformation possibilities arising from this particular ministry.
As Normand and I continue to experience the gifts of culture and diversity, in Kenya, we continue to plan for the weeks when our local Oblates will be in Canada focusing at deeper levels on their Emerging Vision of Refounded Oblate Life. We encourage them to continue to be receptive to receiving “lay people” grasped by their charism and desiring a more ‘formal’ relationship within the congregation. May the God of newness, of new dreams and bright visions, renew, refresh, revitalize, and give a whole new meaning to their way of life.
Spring blessings in abundance! (Submitted by Sheila Sullivan and Normand Péladeau).