Living through anguish

This is the third edition of an ongoing series. Look for the fourth edition in next Monday’s Daily.

Kathryn Nelson

The strength of the African people can only be shown through their tenacity to continue moving through the most arduous of situations with the hope that respite will someday come.

People often ask about hope in Africa, and sadly there isn’t much. The overwhelming poverty and death that surround every corner of the continent only perpetuates the deepening despair.

But I have to believe that there are those who are gaining ground, even if it’s the most minute of steps.

Sometimes it’s the little stories that grant the most optimism.

These are the histories of two members of my Kenyan family, who, through their pain, connected me to the rest of the world. Because through our pain we realize that we are all alone, together.

Pastor Daniel Makecho

Daniel and I were truly such kindred souls from the beginning.

We spent almost every moment with each other making house visits, going to the market, traveling across the country in his broken sedan to visit friends and family.

There were many nights when we stayed up to the early hours of the morning speaking of life and jaded pasts. Talking about the futures we want to have but haven’t quite grasped yet.

A brother to 14 other siblings, Daniel was essentially left to fend for himself from the beginning.

His father died early in life, at least according to Western standards, causing money to dwindle quickly and responsibility to mount.

In his tender teens, Daniel began uprooting tree stumps in order to make enough money to go to school. After months of hard labor, he collected the money needed to attend school. Upon returning to his village, Daniel was beaten by one of his brothers and all his money was taken.

He was once again desperate and alone.

Daniel made an appeal to a high school official asking him to attend classes in exchange for working after hours.

Daniel didn’t just do well in school, he excelled.

He emerged as one of the top five students in the country during a nationwide placement test.

Education, he said, was the only way to break out of the constraining poverty.

So with his test scores, he was sent to England to finish his pastoral studies.

Out of the group of African students who went to England, Daniel was the only one to return home.

He said he knew that other people saw him as hope, a dependence he could never shake.

Daniel returned to Bungoma, Kenya and built his own church in the neighboring village of Chebukwa.

The church is now a bustling hub among extreme desolation and desperation. In a community that has no running water or electricity, The House of Power has become their lifeline of hope.

Daniel also sponsors orphaned children, raising money for school fees, food and medicine so they may have a future.

He often spends nights outside in the cool air of darkness, sitting on the dirt ground with street children, pickpocketers and glue sniffers.

During the day, I would walk through the city with Daniel and people would yell “Asante sana!” (Thank you!).

It’s ironic how a man who was once alienated from the world has now become the leader in the same community that once shunned him.

He is now working to build an orphanage in Chebukwa, soon to be a parent to the 300 orphaned children there.

Daniel has become the father to the lost and abandoned because he once understood what it meant to be alone.

Anne

She had far too many scars for a 25-year-old. One gash crossed her forearm, “My brother said ear piercings are for whores,” Anne told me.

He cut her with a sharp blade to show her a lesson.

This was before her numerous rapes by her husband.

Anne was our live-in housekeeper and cook, but she became one of my closet friends in Kenya.

The first night I stayed in the Makecho home Anne knocked on my door and whispered to come in.

Her English was broken, but admirable considering she never attended school.

She approached me and wrapped her arms around my shoulders. Anne said she believed God had brought me her as a companion.

As much as I didn’t believe in God, I knew it was true.

In the afternoon, Anne and I would gather in the kitchen to wash dishes, cut vegetables for lunch or collect eggs from the hen. It was embarrassing at first for her to have a Westerner help her with her duties, but it became a daily practice.

As the days passed she began to spill her life’s secrets to me: The beatings, abuse and starvation she once endured. How she left her husband but now had little to nothing to her name.

She worked from 5 a.m. to midnight washing, cutting and working her knuckles to bone.

It was all for her children, she said. That was all God gave her. The children and me.

Then, one day, she left. My closet friend, ally, sister had disappeared in the night.

I believe she went to her children because, for her it was better to be poor but together than alone and rich.

Life changes quickly in Kenya. One day someone is there, the next they are gone.

I suppose this is the way they see life – a process of coming and going with little interaction in between.

Still, I miss my father and sister. I wish I could hear their laughs and share a meal with them. Hear their chatter in the morning and their songs at night.

I have only recently grasped this feeling of community. I sometimes feel alone here in Minneapolis but then I realize that I have brothers, sisters, parents in Kenya, waiting for me to come home.

We have all suffered deeply. Life is often unkind. But this pain binds us together as people who only want to see a better life ahead.

It’s only when we step out of our own pain and see each other that we can begin to feel alive again.

Kathryn Nelson welcomes comments at [email protected]