Meditation on Children in Kenya

by Michael Raimer-Goodman

I had seen street children before – on the streets of Ramallah in the West Bank, asking for a shekel, in Guatemala and Belize, begging for food, and in places as far and wide as Malawi in southeast Africa and the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean, washing car windows in exchange for an obligatory donation. While these kids, typically boys, have variously been described as urchins, nuisances, beggars, unfortunate children, and people bearing the image of God, I had never been so moved by children of the street as when I lived with them as neighbors for 7 weeks in Kenya.

Stanley Gitari, a friend, colleague and the director of the Community Health Department at the hospital where I was working that summer, asked me to help the hospital consider its response to the street children problem. The sight of 10 year old boys hunched over bottles of glue, obviously hungry, was difficult to see and demanded an all or nothing response. Either I had to forget they existed, or allow the fact that children endure hardships I will never know to flood my emotional centers and occupy my imagination. During this time I was listening to sermons given at my alma mater, Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, one of which was by Dr. Luther Smith. Dr. Smith again challenged me to take seriously the plight of children, and to earnestly pray for them rather than ignore them.

Another friend brought me to visit the street children and provided language translation. I learned the boys deeply wanted more education, and a different reality. I also learned they were hungry. I purchased 4 loaves of bread to share amongst the boys, but before I could open the bag they had ripped the bag open spilling the bread on the dirt road. I thought their eagerness to eat had wasted perfectly good bread and the shillings I spent to boot. Alas, they picked the bread up and, without stopping to brush the dirt off, consumed it like air. Afterward, the 50 or so boys, my friend and I went for a walk. Spontaneously they began chanting “Mazungu power! Power! Power! Mazungu power!” Mazungu, based off the Bantu root for “foreigner”, seemed to hold an uncomfortably mystic power in the mouths of the boys – “Mazungu! Bringer of bread!” I began chanting “Womeru power! Power! Power!” Or, “the power of the womeru people!” I meant it – God was and remains with those children, and it is up to us, the church, to see and respond. I wrote this meditation in response to that experience.

They should be playing soccer

They should be playing soccer
Not sniffing glue meant for shoes
Sold to street kids from the cobbler
10 shillings a bottle
Thrown out, sold out, short changed
They inhale, exhale their dreams
Scrapping for some scraps of food,
Bread strewn on the dirty ground
As the bags ripped open, snatched from my hands
Before I could even say “let’s pray”
Thank you, God, for this manna –
Bread in the wilderness of their childhood
Fallen between the bare feet of five, six, seven year olds
How old were they, anyway?
They couldn’t say. Their parents, gone.
Gone. Like their sense of time – years, months, hours
It didn’t matter. They only points of time that matter
The rainy season and the dry season
Sunrise and sunset
All other points are strung together
Like invisible pearls on the string of a glue-induced high
Mazungu power! Mazungu power! Mazungu power! They chanted
Chanted as they skipped down the street
Laughing, the mirth of children but not quite
Minds, seemed to vanish with their inhibitions
Mindless of the women with their tomatoes, bananas, potatoes
Displayed in the market, trammeled under little feet
Shew, shew child. No place for you here,
But tolerance, sometimes. Tolerance and pity. And shame
And despair
Shame on a world that would see you here,
And throw you on the street with no food to eat
Without school for your mind and future
Without future, without hope and thus despair
Ah, this despair, what to do with it? Who’s to say?
Turn from it? Act as though it isn’t there and thus
Proceed with hope
Could any lasting, true hope be built on a lie?
Maybe Pollyanna and rosy glasses, but hope?
Hope is the wings of truth, and truth the bird of hope.
Without hope, truth sinks to the abyss, smelling of potent
Shoe glue and unwashed clothes and bodies.
Without truth, hope flits and flutters, needs no food
And thus is never grounded. Alas is never sounded
In the souls and lives and future histories
Of those who need it most.
The point where desperation meets divine reality? Here!
Where the wall of human suffering, even smiling,
Hits and gravity threatens to undo hope-led leavening
Here, the point that took three nails to perfect love
And made a cross.
Here, where nihilistic gloom turned down the human struggle
From boiling to a cooler temperature, reducing
Feverish striving for a better world
Into an “ah, that’s too bad”
And return to comfort.
But, O Christ! We need a resurrection
Insist within us that it doesn’t have to be so.
Give fight and hope when it seems the battle lost.
Dream dreams and see visions, in our eyes,
Of what this world can be,
Not in abstract, but their world.
Their broken, cobbled, chemical-infused world
With sunrise, sunset, rain drop, no crop drought.
Turn, please Lord, their lives to celebration –
Not of mazungu power, for that’s a myth
But your power – the one that draws life from dust
Life from dusty feet.
I don’t know how, can’t see it now.
So fill me up too.
Not of gold nor cars nor empty praise from those
As frail and fickle as me.
Fill me, please Lord, with steadfastness to you-
For you are the only source of true hope.
And what good to live, without deep hope
That perches in the soul and on the land
And sings its sweet sweet song
To echo from every mountain top and glide
To every valley
But still, God, you know its true, instead of glue
These kids, should be playing soccer

 
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