Sunday, December 07, 2008

"What Do You Love Most in the World?" A Question from Kajire Village, Kenya

"What do you love the most in the world?"

Kizaka Mwacharo whispers this question to me as we sit in a lantern lit room in the village of Kajire, Kenya. He is 19. His eyes are wide. He does not smile, but poses the question with what seems all the courage and hope and desire and curiosity that a young man can muster. It's almost like I can taste these things in the oxygen he's exhaled speaking the words.

"What do you love most in the world?"

We are five in the room. Kizaka, his 20 and 19 year old cousins Nathanial and Paul, his 17 year old brother Lucas. We are gathered in this living area of their sister Ruth's home, awaiting a meal she prepares in a separate cooking space. The room is simple. A concrete/ stucco structure with wood beam rafters and a sheet of corrugated tin for the roof. Something like barbed tumble weeds line the open spaces between the walls and rough stick rafters and the roof -- "to keep the bats out." From the ceiling, hang strips of colored fabrics, muslins, cottons, like the remnants from a quilting party, I think. A confetti of cloth that makes me think this room is always ready for a celebration of sorts. Also dangling from these beams are sporadic items of American and Kenyan culture: A plastic Coke bottle, Vanilla Wafer boxes, a local empty juice can. Together, these items remind me of Mardi Gras, and make me smile whenever I look up.

The walls of this room are covered in original drawings and writing. Psalms from the Bible are written in English and Kiswahili and hung opposite colorings of local flora and fauna. It is to me, a holy, holy place. A sanctuary in this 10 x 10 foot room.

"What do you love most in the world?"

My chest squeezes hearing the question repeated. Kizaka breathes in deeply and these four young men, Kenyan boys that I am holding space with, await my answer.

I think, "God." Yes. "I love God the most in the world." Saying such a thing doesn't seem so silly when you are almost in a pitch black room, lit only by a kerosene lamp. I have been hanging out with Paul, the eldest cousin, back from college in Mombasa, for the better part of my arrival three hours ago. (Sitting under a tree raining yellow flowers), we covered Obama, the Kenyan elections and political difficulties of this past year, and my work in the states as a teacher and person desiring change. I know of his trek to college, as one of 3 males that left the village to pursue a higher education. I trust and feel trusted here. My heart is open. I don't feel silly speaking of such intimate things.

"What do you love most in the world?"

"Yes, I think I love God the most, and then the ideas of peace, justice, love, building relationships across race, class, borders, lines....I love good stories, too." They smile. We wait. I wonder. I ask, "And you all, what do you love most in the world?"

I am back in my classroom. I am at North High. I am with the spoken word poets from "Teens Rock the Mic"; I am in the midst of my Writing as Performance class in North Minneapolis; I am hanging out with the Teen Group at the Church of St. Philip's. Rodney Dixon, Jamie Wynne, Tish Jones and Shaina Wilburn, Denez Smith, Jasmine McConnell and Ms. Omorogbe; Joy Chaney, Sharifa Charles and Berato Wilson are all here. Chestine Hutchinson, Gawalo Kpissay and Aaronthomas Green are here. I may be in Kajire, Kenya, physically-- but the spirits of my students from the United States are present and pouring forth in the palpable energy that is this room of Taita brothers and cousins.

"What do you love most in the world?"

One by one, then, each boy answers. "God," "Football," "Girls," "Love." " Peace." These are prevailing answers. Each posed with such earnest, such sincerity, my heart would like to break. It has broken wide open.

How can a person ever go back to being the same again, after such moments of connecting, of questions, of exposure, of cracked-open-honesty and intrigue?

"What do you love most in the world?"

I want to say, "You."


Sr. Suzanne said...

dear melissa,
i love you for being you and being in kenya and thinking of your north high classroom and being able to connect it all not with chance, or life experience, or the decor but with god......YOU rock, sister.
have a good one.

Maddi said...

nothing - you are so right, nothing will ever be the same when we just hold spaces with each other, the space is always changed.
Such a beautiful image, such a beautiful space.

love you,