I spent a most enjoyable 36 hours in Nairobi at the St. Patrick’s regional house. Fr. John Marren welcomed me at the airport with Patrick and our driver Joseph both elevated to hero status in my books for different reasons: Joseph for his skill at negotiating the Nairobi traffic and John Marren for being the most enjoyable travel companion with a great sense of humour and cracking banter!
We arrived at the mission house late on Tuesday night. I attended my first mass in Africa read by Fr. Niall on Wednesday morning. It was lovely to see the beautiful little oratory full.
Wednesday was spent recovering from the flight but also preparing for the next leg of our trip the following day which would take us from Nairobi to Lodwar. I did find time to have a nice long coffee break with Fr. Niall and Im pretty sure we put the world to right! My friend Jo is a teacher in the International School in Nairobi so it was lovely to see her and enjoy some good wine before my time in Nairobi was over.
What struck me about Nairobi was the great divide between rich and poor. One million people live in a slum just about a mile from the mission house called Kibera. It is normal to see small children begging amongst the gridlocked traffic and young girls on street corners. While we had dinner at a very nice restaurant the next table was occupied by two men and a young girl who was clearly a prostitute. The only way out of that life for these children is education.
Hujambo from Nairobi. I arrived here safely late on Tuesday night and since then have found myself in the most hospitable and enjoyable of company.
First a little about my flight because its something I really want to record for my own memory. The world we live in is really a magnificent place. We left London crossing Europe, we flew over the Alps, across the Mediterranean and then the Sahara. I have crossed the Atlantic by air more times than I can remember and I will admit to never having contemplated the sheer expanse of it. That sense of enormity, the sheer nothingness, the incomprehensible scale of it all….the Sahara really is immense, breathtaking in fact. It was dark by the time we flew over Sudan. I am in awe of this little planet we call home. The contrast between the plentiful life in some parts and then the barrenness of other parts.
Now…I know some of my friends and family know how obsessive I can be about packing. I firmly believe that almost any trip is possible on hand luggage if the proper planning is undertaken in advance! In fact, my goal for 2013 was to do Christmas at home in Ireland on hand luggage…of course that was before I planned this trip! Now obviously, there’s no way of spending two months in Africa without checking in luggage but I’m travelling light! One holdall and one backpack checked in; less than 30 kilos! I find this hugely satisfying and here’s a picture!!
Arriving in Nairobi was an experience! The circumstances surrounding the fire and the magnitude of the disaster is a great source of conversation and debate. There are rumours that the fire may have been started to destroy evidence of money laundering or the illegal issuance of citizenships. There is talk that there was no working fire engine available to attend the fire and when one eventually arrived two hours after the small fire was reported, the fire was out of hand and there was little water with which to quench it.
The satirists in Nairobi have had a turn with the debacle too – the cartoonist Gado contributed this to the Daily Nation!
The terminal is now a series of marquees and lots of covered seats like one would see at a wedding reception. The process of getting a visa for entry was uneventful but lengthy. It was about 2 hours from the time we touched down to when I walked out of the terminal to meet my hosts. I now have a three month visa for Kenya!
I found this in my purse when packing yesterday. I don’t know where it came from but I expect I found it once upon a time in my grandmothers things. I don’t know the context or which paper it appeared in. By the time my dad was 21 he had already served one tour of duty in Katanga Province in the Congo, had been involved in the Siege of Jadotville and spend a number of months as a hostage held by Katanga rebels. I think when this note was written, he would have been preparing for his second tour in the Congo.
I am thinking of him now and how different our journeys into Africa are. Aside from the purpose, I am aboard a very comfortable BA flight on what will be a journey of just over 8 hours. When Dad first went to the Congo, the journey was 13 hours with 120 or so other men in a military personnel carrier. I will have lunch served soon, he was given a plastic bag with a sandwich and some fruit for sustinence. He was wearing a bulls wool uniform, I have clothes suitable for the terrain which employ the latest technologies to keep me cool when I need to be cool and warm when I need to be warm. To combat malaria Dad took one quinine tablet each week. I have two months supply of very expensive and effective Malerone which taken daily will prevent my getting the dreaded disease.
As my dad loves to remind me “I don’t know how easy I have it!!”
A short post before I leave Abbeyfeale to return to London to complete my preparations for my big trip. While I type this note, Limerick are being beaten by Clare in the All-Ireland Hurling Semi-Final. I spent the afternoon watching the minors match with my Nana Riordan and her family; unfortunately Limerick were unlucky to lose to Galway. It doesn’t seem to be Limericks day.
Just a few days at home and I am overwhelmed by the support and encouragement I’ve been blessed with. I was nervous about telling my parents; I worried that my fathers experience in the Congo would colour their reaction to my adventure. I’m so pleased that my parents are fully supportive and far from thinking I’m mad; they are really happy I’m undertaking this endeavour. The same can be said for my siblings and I’m really glad to have their backing.
My Nana as always sent me away with two cakes of her home made bread, encouraging words and the most heartfelt embrace. I can’t wait to return and tell her all about my adventure. She too made a very generous contribution and asked me to look to the older members of the community I will live with and be very mindful of their needs.
I visited with Fr. Tim’s sister this morning. I wondered how I would feel if it were my brother in the African wilderness and I only saw him once every two years. She is very proud of him but I’m sure misses him. Her son, his nephew plays football for Kerry and I understand is a promising player. I’m sure Fr. Tim would love to be at every match. For my part I’m going to take a DVD of the next match to Narus so that Fr. Tim can be proud from a distance!
I’m away to the airport shortly and even though I’m often away from home for more than two months, this time seems a little different. I will have had what promises to be a life changing experience and will have a new niece or nephew on my return. It’s an important few months for all of the Quinn family!
Well hello and welcome!
I’m not entirely sure where to start but I suppose I should start somewhere and as Maria suggests in the Sound of Music, the very beginning is a good place to start so let’s try that!
For a long time I have realised that I need to step outside my comfort zone. I live a comfortable life surrounded by family and friends, I realise that I’m one of the lucky ones. I had an idyllic childhood, an excellent education and life (despite plenty of challenges) has been relatively easy for me. I feel the need to acknowledge this and to give something back.
Realising and acknowledging that was the tricky bit, articulating it almost impossible but once the decision was made, everything else happened VERY quickly!
Why South Sudan?
In later posts I will explain all about the Kiltegan Fathers backgrounds and achievements but for now, I’ll explain how this particular situation came about!
Growing up, I remembered a missionary priest who would visit when he was at home with his family in a neighbouring parish. He would take the altar or visit our school and tell us about the work that he and his fellow missionaries did right across Africa. This priest was Fr. Tim Galvin and he was a Kiltegan Father.
I also remember my Grandmother supporting the missions. I can almost hear her now telling us about the marvellous work that those wonderful Irish men were doing in Africa, educating the less fortunate, spreading Gods word and doing their part to secure the future of our church by encouraging vocations. I remember delivering her copy of the Africa magazine which was published by the Kiltegan Fathers.
I reached out to Fr. Tim who is now in Narus in South Sudan. Of course, he doesn’t know me yet but knows my mother well and he has so kindly agreed to let me spend the next two months with him and his mission on the border of Kenya and South Sudan.
And so, that’s why I’m going to South Sudan….because I remembered a priest and I managed to find his email address…it’s serendipity. And in a strange way, I feel a little bit connected to my now long gone grandmother – I wonder what she would say if she knew I was to become one of those missionaries that she read about and supported even if it is just for two months.
I meet my escort – the infinitely kind Fr. Marrin in Nairobi on September 3rd. That gives me just two weeks to get my act together!!