Back in Nairobi

At the end of November 2008, 7 000 young adults from many countries in Africa and beyond came together in Nairobi for an “African stage” of the pilgrimage of trust on earth. Two of the Taizé brothers who helped prepare for that meeting are back in the Kenyan capital: their first visit since December. One of them writes:

Assante, hongera, tunaendela

As dawn approaches, the hum of traffic from the motorway gradually swells, intensified by the clamour of beeping horns as buses call their passengers. Then a chorus of birds awakens and announces the beginning of a new day.

For a week there has been no water and no one knows when it will return. We’re living like cosmonauts in outer space: every drop has to be conserved, used several times, recycled if possible. Science fiction? In fact this is the daily reality of many people, even in a modern city like Nairobi. Certain districts are served by water tanker lorries; elsewhere people go to the communal tap where every bucketful costs.

Acts of charity are particularly precious

In Kenya the general feeling is one of concern. The drought continues: certain regions have experienced three consecutive seasons of failed harvests. In tourism and the flower industry, as well as the communication sector and brewing industry, the effects of the international financial crisis are starting to be felt. It is, however, local political developments that are causing the greatest concern. While party leaders invest their time and energy in political manoeuvring, the fundamental reforms (constitution, land etc.) to which they committed themselves in the pact of 2008 have still not been carried out. The coalition government is becoming increasingly unstable and ministers are resigning. “We are the third most corrupt country in the world!” admit some of the young people. They may joke but it is clear that this weighs heavily on their morale. Every day fresh scandals hit the front pages of the newspapers: stories of greed, power-seeking and abuse of power. Corruption can eat into the moral fibre of society. Yet it tallies neither with Kenya’s tradition nor the culture of sharing and of helping one another that can still be found within many families. Against the backdrop of relentless pursuit of material success, acts of charity are particularly precious. One has to work hard to recognise the traces: a cautious nod of the head or a smile from those we pass in the street; in the stairway of a big block of flats a cleaning lady sings; a passage from Genesis prompts a spontaneous discussion with a fellow passenger in the matatu (bus). But there are also those whose whole lives proclaim an unselfish love: women who devote themselves to looking after the elderly within the poorest communities, to educating children, caring for the sick; there are those that have chosen to uproot themselves in order to serve their communities, those that pray… These people declare that beyond all competitiveness and scheming, communion is possible. Here in Nairobi there are many of them.

The meeting in 2008

Much gratitude is expressed for the meeting that took place last November. “You have made us stronger”, one student observes. A leader in the community explains, “The young people amazed me. They really were up to the job and were able to handle a greater number of participants than expected, persuade families to welcome young people arriving for the meeting, cope with late-comers and coordinate the program... “ Another church leader admits, “I could hardly believe my eyes when I arrived at the meeting. It is important to expose the young people to ecumenism because here we only ever talk about it when there is a national crisis. “ One of the most touching things is to be received and welcomed by groups who hold regular prayer meetings like at St Bénédict or Kariobangi.

Holy Week and Easter

Good Friday in Korogocho. The cross has been laid out in the choir of the church since the morning. Christians from each of the four zones lead an hour of prayer with psalms, readings, silence and intercession. At midday the pilgrimage starts in the market place. Two hundred people have already gathered there and the small crowd triples in size as we pass round the stations positioned in various corners of Korogocho. A cloud of incense rises from the fifteen-litre portable stove and, with the dust, will accompany us for the next two hours. Drifting on the breeze, the stench emanating from the open sewage trenches mingles with the scent of dried banana leaves, the lingering smell of fried food blended with the smoke from charcoal fires, and the nauseous odour which wafts from the enormous dumping site surrounding Korogocho. Our group sets off, holding up the flow of passers-by. We follow the large cross which, weighing at least 100 kilos, is carried by more than a dozen people, and the loudspeaker to amplify the songs. In the busy little side streets, the challenge is to keep up without trampling too much on your neighbour’s feet. Bleating of sheep, music blaring out from bars, the call of the muezzin, loud grinding of corn mills, street vendors... In the crowded streets, people stop what they’re doing to watch, half-amused, half-surprised, the singing procession pass by. At each station we gather around the cross, a representative of the little local community welcomes us and another gives a brief meditation on the reading, drawing out its relevance for the challenges that we currently face. A rehabilitation centre for drug-dependent street children, a school, playground, community centre, the ruins of houses burnt down during the post-election violence, the bridge over the rubbish dump, beggars, drunkards, rag pickers.... our pilgrimage takes us through some of the sites of greatest suffering but also to places of hope and resurrection. Taking it in turns to carry the heavy cross, we become a living parable: following together the Christ who places himself in our hands and at the same time welcomes us. Mary, Simon of Cyrene, Veronica… the women did not stop the passion. They were with Jesus. What seemed a downward spiral of unbearable violence revealed itself to be the path towards Easter. We can never heal all the wounds of the Korogocho people but, welcomed by the community in prayer and carried by its faith, it is possible to remain and to help to bear the burden. Provided that we stay with the others, a path opens up towards the incomprehensible...

Holy Saturday. Easter vigil in Don Bosco Town with 300 street children that are educated by the Salesiens. The vigil follows the traditional liturgy with the blessing of the new fire, long readings... Overcome with weariness, some fall asleep on the benches. About thirty children are baptised by immersion. This richly symbolic act is both relevant and fitting.

Easter Sunday. Eucharist in the little neighbouring slum of Kwinda. Here it was a woman from the community that donated the parcel of land on which the church and the few huts used for meetings are built. We exchange Easter greetings – in person and by text message.

I’ve come to say three words

During the Diocesan Youth Day on Palm Sunday, Father Peter invited me to address a few words to everyone:
“I’ve come to say three words : Assanté, hongera, tunaendela: Thank you for your hospitality and your participation. Well done, not only for your hard work which has been so fruitful, but also for your trust. By the gift of yourselves, you have become a visible expression of Christ, unique source of peace and communion. Let’s continue: we pray that in the near future there will be further opportunities for the young adults of Africa and other continents to come together. But the pilgrimage of trust can be lived out daily as we follow Christ and sow seeds of trust.”

It gives me pleasure to address these same words to you, who didn’t hesitate and rose to the challenge of the Nairobi meeting: thank you, well done and let’s keep going…

Last updated: 28 April 2009