"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

Building Futures, Inc.

Building Futures, Inc.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Saturday 19.02.2011

It's Sunday morning, so that means I have to play "catch-up." I was so tired yesterday that I was falling asleep while the pictures were transferring from the camera to the computer. I gave up after the 3rd chip was transferred. Now I'm sitting with Tamye and Harriett in the courtyard at Mbaka Oromo while the rest of the group climbs the hill behind the school.

Saturday morning was beautiful. Cool breezes blew through the guest house, and the sky was brilliant blue. You could hear different species of birds chirping, cows mooing, and the occasional goat's "baaaaah." After breakfast, everyone waited for our van to arrive. It was supposed to be larger than the one used Friday, and it was supposed to be here at 8am. This guy is 0-2. The same van arrived at 9:30. Hakuna matata (no worries - yes, Walt Disney's Lion King was correct).
The roads are intermittently smooth then treacherous. It certainly made the ride interesting. I'm used to walking this path, but I didn't mind sitting, and thinking about the last time I was here with Jim. My thoughts were interupted as I instinctively yelled to the driver, "simama!" (stop). A well drassed man in a suit wearing a small hat atop his head was walking with a can. I knew imediately that it was Lawrence - the chairman of the school board. I jumped out and gave him a warm hello. "Pole sana" he said (pronounced ("I am sorry for your loss"). "I am coming," he said in english, and I hpped back in the van and continued on.

We made the journey to the school quickly, and passed a funeral procession on the way. As it turned out, it was Jim's. Memorial/funerals are very special here in Kenya. The Israel Church of Kenya sponsors the school, and they asked to do the ceremony today. It's a Christian religion, who's members sit on the school board and many have children that attend Mbaka Oromo. The procession included men and women, both young and old, dressed in brilliant white flowing robes and matching headwear. They carried several flags that reached high into the sky above their heads. The flags flapped in as they jogged, red, white and green colors waving the entire time. The sung songs to their friend that passed, and were accompanied by three large drums. Thier voices echoed through the valley as we drove by.
We arrived at the school and were greeted by the headmaster of the secondary school... and lots and lots of children. The courtyard had resin chairs placed in 3 different sections... one for the church representatives and school officials, one for special guests, and one for the general congregation. I was suprized (but very happy) to see several tarps set up to keep the sun of of those that were seated. We walked past the chairs to greet the teachers in the administration block.
William Kabis and John O'Gongo were there with big smiles and strong handshakes. It was a steady stream of teachers all very happy to finally meet my entire family. I introduced them to our friends, but once everyone was greeted my excitement picked up. Now it was time to meet the children that brought Jim here in the first place.

It didn't take long before a child became enamored to each visitor. 30 minutes later, there two young sisters... Susan holding Andrea's hand, and Emma holding Karen's... they never left thier sides. Benson took Jack under his wing. Benson is a young boy at the school. He's easily recognizable because he's got a deformed right hand. Benson, however, is extremely resiliant. If this were a prison, Benson's the guy you'd go to for cigarettes and magazines. Before the ceremony started, Benson called to jack and patted the chair next to him, "Jack, come sit with me," he said.

We sat in the first row of the "special guest" section; Susan sat in Andrea's lap, Emma on Karen's. A third girl sat perched on Katie's legs, too. Kevin was to my left; Rich, Tamye and Casey were at the end of the row on the other side of Andrea. I was looking for our friend Samuel. He's usually easy to find. He was a very good friend to Jim, and therefore, me, too. He was the first person I met when I came to this country 5 years ago. He is as strong as an ox, and stands about 6'4". He's called me "my height" ever since that first day. I found it troubling that I couldn't find him in the crowd. I knew that they wanted me to speak, and although I also knew that we were surrounded by friends, I still wanted to see him. I was so happy that Andrea and the kids were here.

The procession arrived, still singing and carrying flags. The person leading the singing was Samuel! They marched around the courtyard in a large circle, and then came from the rear of the seating area. Samuel led them to the front, and he remained standing with 8 or 9 other church members until they finished singing. Once done, he placed his drum on the ground, placed his arms on top of each other, stood straight up and turned to look at me. Expressionless he slowly walked toward me, and I quickly came from behind the table I was sitting at. As he got closer, his arms flew outstretched, and he fell into me sobbing. I've never seen Samuel hug anyone other than Jim and I. We stood their in complete silence for quite some time.. tears streaming down our faces. The crowd was very patient, and waited for our embrace to end. He went back to sit with the other members from the procession, and I returned to my family. The ceremony began with a walk to the clinic that was just completed, then to the secondary school, and back to the primary school. I got a hug from Samuel at each stop.

As I've said before, these ceremonies are important. And long. They can go on 24 hours a day for days. Today, however, only lasted for about 5 hours. Kenyans are not familiar with brevity. Actually, the women are... it's the men that can go on for days. They have to welcome the visitors, the friends, their family, special guests, friends that have traveled from far away, their second cousins, the person that assisted with their birth (yes, that is an exageration, but only a slight one)... then, and only then, can they begin their speech. After the Church leaders, a song from a choir, William, several songs from the school choir, and the school board, it was my turn. I wanted to keep it simple and upbeat. Much like our van driver, I was 0-2. I told them that I came with "thanks" from Jim's family back home. I thanked them further for loving their son, brother, father, grandfather. Jim shared his heart and soul between two continents, and he was loved deeply on both. I told them that Jim would want us all to continue on, caring for our friends and neighbors. He left his mark on everyone in attendance. I thanked them for loving my friend, and I returned to my seat.
The built a small "remeberance" for Jim next to the primary school. It was a shorter ceremony within the larger one. Andrea and I were fortunate to lay a wreath of flowers on the site, along with a couple other friends. Then I planted a tree behind the monument. As time passes, children will seek shade under it's leaves, and rest within it's branches. Jim's tree will provide comfort for many... for a very long time.

At the conclusion, there was more singing, led by Samuel. We then stopped for lunch. I think it was 3:30. Thankfully, it's not uncommon to see heads bobbing during this type of event. It's not easy to sit in a resin chair under an equatorial sun for hours. Truth be told, some of the visitors heads were bobbing, but I will never tell you who it was.
After lunch of kuku (chicken) chipati, ugali, and rice, it started to rain. We were hoping that the crowds would disperse before we spread Jim's ashes. It was now 5:30, and most of the children were inside classrooms. I grabbed some of Jim's closest friends and we walked back to the memorial. Fina, Harriett, Noel, Sam, Samuel, John O'Gongo joined us. William Kabis came, too. I said that the praises that were sung to him earlier would have mad him uncomfortable, and this was intentially meant to be a smaller group with much fewer words. I spoke softly as I sprinkle him about the area, and finished by thanking everyone again. As I turned to look for Andrea, I saw her and Samuel standing in a long hug. Both of them crying. It wasn't until a few mintues later that I realized that William was talking to those assembled. When he started to talk about himself I walked up and interupted him and told him no more words were necessary, and asked for silence for the remainder of the day. I got it.

We said goodbye to our old friends, as well as our new ones, and proceeded back to the van in high spirits.

As we rode back, the children chased after the van waving their hands. Andrea was hanging out of a window giving high fives to anyone who'd accept it... many did! Tamye joined in on the other side of the vehicle, and it became a contest. Everyone was laughing as we drove home. It was a fitting end to the day.
I'm sorry, but I've been trying to add pictures all day, and it just isn't working. I don't think words do some of these experiences justice... pictures are often easier to read. I'll keep trying, but for now, I have to get some shut eye. I haven't blogged about Sunday, so I'm a day behind! Ugh!



Di Russell-Horn said...

Adam, your words were beautiful and did the day justice, I could picture it in my mind's eye and it sounded like a beautiful tribute to Jim. Thanks for taking us along on your journey, I, for one am thoroughly enjoying it. Hugs to Andrea and the kids. xoxo Di

chris fien said...

Adam, Andrea, Kevin, Karen and Fr. Ed
I am laughing so hard as I read your posts- it is making a very gloomy day in Rochester much brighter! Kevin, glad you have clean underwear and socks and Fr. Ed, I know you are a green thumb but didn't think you would ever fight with a rose bush!!
So happy to hear all is going well and can't wait to see you and hear more stories when you return!
What a wonderful tribute to Jim and all his hard work!
Stay safe, stay healthy and make lots of memories!
Peace and Love

Unknown said...

Sounds like a perfectly fitting ceremony...again my dad would have been proud. RIP poppa, may you find peace & comfort being so near to a place so close to your heart.

nancy said...

Adam, Thank you so much for sharing the memorial service with us.... you made it easy to see in my mind's eye. I'll make sure my mom reads your blog tonight...it sounds like jim is in a lovely place.... in Africa.... and in our hearts. Nancy

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing, Adam. Sounds like Jim finally found a place to rest!