Thursday, January 17, 2008

Cry, the beloved country

The words above are the title of a powerful, poetic book Alan Paton wrote about South Africa. I’ve thought of that title many times in recent days as I’ve read the news from Kenya.

I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Kenya from 1965 to 1967. In that time I considered this Texas-sized state my beloved country, second only to America in my allegiance.

Its stunning diversity, from the powdery white sands of Mombasa and Malindi beaches, to majestic Mount Kenya, to the breathtaking escarpments of the Great Rift Valley, to the luxuriant highlands, on westward to the glistening, vast Lake Victoria, known to Kenyans as “Nyaza.”

To the graceful, proud people with their passion to learn and eagerness to share.

To the plains and the wilds, home to beasts — wildebeest, zebra, elephant, giraffe, lions, impala, hyena. To the shimmering, singing birds in the thorn trees and jacaranda.

To the distant drums in the equatorial, alpine night.

I taught in a secondary school in western Kenya. Kisumu, in chaos today, was the regional capital. My students came from three tribes, but most were Luo, an ebony black Nilotic people, the nation’s second largest. Their language, their customs and their features and coal-black skin made them starkly different from the Kenyan majority of Bantu-speaking tribes. Still, the young country under the leadership of Jomo Kenyatta forged “Umoja, “ oneness, unity.

Kenyans took the nation’s exclamatory motto, Harambee! to heart. It meant “pull together,” and they did. For those three years, I pulled along side them. Harambee!

The recent tumultuous election has swept all that aside. Tribal politics has unleashed suspicion, division and prejudice. The horror of it makes me wonder whether Kenya ever was a country. Was it merely, as skeptics said, a colonial concoction, its borders drawn, as they were, in Europe?

Was it a pseudo-nation built of slogans and cobbled tribal coalitions?

Or can it be again the beloved country I knew? Can it bind its wounds, wipe away its tears, heal and be whole?

I have mentioned before that Quakers have an image for silent, healing prayer. We hold those in need in the Light.

In silence, across time and space, I hold beloved Kenya in the Light.

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