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A Trip to Nairobi, Kenya Reflecting A Year Later

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By Lea Michelle Cash –

The year 2010 has ended, and the old adage “live with no regrets” keeps playing prominently in my head, because for the new year, I plan to practicing it. As I scan over mentally my activities and events in 2010, I felt something missing. I have been asked on several occasions by the publisher of BVN to write about my trip to the Motherland. I visited Africa in December 2009, and in 2010, I was always going to write about it. So this week, I started and then I realized, my heart was never ready to put into words what I experienced at one of the most breathtakingly beautiful continent in the world, struggling with the epidemic of AIDS, poverty and hunger. But, I would regret if I never wrote about this amazing experience, so here I am, this final week of 2010, beginning the process of living with no regrets.

It was raining, last year in the first week of December 2009, when I nervously boarded an airplane at LAX. First, I traveled to New York, to board a British Airways flight to London, then on to Nairobi, Kenya. My son dropped me off and his finally words were, “Mom, I’m proud of you.” Actually, I was proud of myself because I have always said that I would never leave the US until all my kids were grown. My kids have been grown for some time now, and to make good on my promise, as a Jehovah’s Witness (JW) for thirty- two years, I submitted my application for the first time to be a delegate at one of the thirtythree 2009 Jehovah’s Witnesses “Key On The Watch” International Conventions, held in 16 selected countries around the globe.

Although thousands of JW Conventions are held each year all over the world, to which over seven million are attending, every four years there are International Conventions to which delegates from all walks of life, nationalities, races and languages travel to attend at their own expense as a united gathering of love for God and Bible instruction. It is a marvelous and joyful occasion focused on Bible education, peaceful without any political agenda. Many people ask how this is possible when thousands of peace treaties have been made and broken around the globe, and human efforts at global unity, no matter how sincere have proven futile? Especially when religion has often played a role in dividing rather than uniting humankind as brothers. Jehovah’s Witnesses are determined to prove themselves to be Christ’s disciples by having love among ourselves (John 13:35), and that love is demonstrated in a remarkable way at times of racial unrest and political turmoil in 230 lands as personal studies of the Bible and God’s promises to mankind are offered in 500 languages.

It took two days by air, to reach Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. I was traveling with 80 other delegates from all corners of the United States. A small sampling of the thousands of delegates selected to attend the Nairobi, Kenya convention from 32 countries whom were arriving in Kenya all week. There were 2,000 selected from the US, with 300 coming from Southern California. Famous comedian Chris Rock, who made his first visited to the continent in 2007 said, “The flight to Africa felt like the Middle Passage to me. When we landed, I had lost my religion, my culture, my name. Africa is almost as far away as the moon.”

When I arrived in Nairobi, I could not believe that I had actually been on a flight that long, and accomplished a dream come true. I had arrived in the Motherland—Africa. I was so excited and frankly overwhelmed. Our spiritual African brothers and sisters were there to greet us.

There were feeling that came over me that are difficult to describe, but as I looked into the faces of the Kenyans, a humble, yet proud people, that Christ like love allowed us of differing backgrounds to genuinely hold each other and cry. Our tears were happy and joyful.

Kenya is located in Eastern Africa and borders Somalia to the northeast, Ethiopia to the north, Sudan to the northwest, Uganda to the west, Tanzania to the south, and the Indian Ocean to the east. The country straddles the equator, covering a total of 224,961 square miles (582,600 square kilometers; roughly twice the size of the state of Nevada).

The country has wide white-sand beaches on the coast. There are more than forty ethnic groups in the country. The largest of these is the Kikuyu, representing 22 percent of the population.

Fourteen percent is Luhya, 13 percent is Luo, 12 percent is Kalenjin, 11 percent Kamba, 6 percent Kisii, and 6 percent Meru. Others, including the Somalis and the Turkana in the north and the Kalenjin in the Great Rift Valley, comprise approximately 15 percent of the population. These ethnic categories are further broken down into subgroups. One percent of the population is non-African, mostly of Indian and European descent.

I visited Nairobi for seven days and viewed the land that gained its independence from Great Britain in 1963. I stayed at the beautiful Windsor Golf Hotel & Country Club, which was out in the country, past acres of cattle and sheep, crops of coffee and tea, literally a field of dreams. In Kenya, they drive opposite from Americans, so it was difficult getting used to that even though I was never behind the wheel. Four days were dedicated to the JW International Convention and three days were dedicated to sightseeing and exploring the Kenyan world.

The convention was held at the Nairobi Kasarani Stadium. There were 38,000 JW’s including the delegates from all over the world, with those from Africa and its countries (Egypt, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Tanzania, Rwanda, The Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Liberia, Uganda and South Africa) daily, peaking to nearly 40,000 on Sunday. The language in Nairobi is mainly English, Swahili, and French. So one side of the convention was in Swahili, and the duplicate side was in English.

The JW’s at the Kenya Bethel Branch in Nairobi receive English text publications from the New York Brooklyn Branch office, which is translated into African languages. At this Branch over 200,000 Watchtower and Awake magazines, along with books, booklets, brochures, and tracts are sorted and prepared for delivery throughout Kenya, and two other African countries: Tanzania and Uganda. The Kenya Branch office oversees the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Burundi, Rwanda, and Sudan as well.

On the closing day of the convention, there were tears and more tears, a rainbow of tears because it was difficult to say goodbye to this united international brotherhood. The Kenyans lined up for endless miles to wave and say farewell. By nature, I am an explorer, which is why many times, I often find myself in the wrong place at the right time, a blessing to any reporter. When I found myself exploring, Nairobi, I was drawn to the cardboard and tin shacks, with no electricity or running water. On one street, it was a long open market street and there were hundreds and hundreds of people walking on the street. Then my escort, turned down one street over, and there were literally hundreds of people from another race & culture, with white skin and European features, mostly wearing burqas. They were Arabs, from Nairobi’s Muslim populations. It was truly amazing how on both streets there were so many of them. As a tourist, if you happen to not go down one street, you would never know that one street over was completely another world. That absolutely flooded me and I soaked it all in with amazement.

Thousands of people living on the other side of the earth, near the equator wearing their distinctive and colorful style of dress.

Twenty times more people then you see on a beautiful summer’s day in crowded, downtown LA’s garment district. Although, Nairobi is a modern city, with beautiful hotels, shopping and dining places, it is diverse with an international population. The Kenyans have a very fast-paced lifestyle in the urban city.

However, only miles away is the countryside, the plantations of coffee and tea, the shantytowns of make shift houses, the slums and ghettos of unbelievable poverty and crime, and thousands of people—everywhere.

Tourists do not take much interest in them. I wanted to see it all. On the public transportation downtown, on all the buses were pictures of rapper Snoop Dog, and R & B sensation Chris Brown.

I did the tourist things and visited the museums, parks, and world famous Giraffe Center. I soaked that all in as well, as I shifted my emotions from tourist to humanitarian, because I literally came back with no money or clothing. I gave everything away. Unfortunately, I did not go on the Safari (into the bush). I was not getting on a two-engine plane or riding in a jeep on dusty terrain, and have an elephant or lion chase me. I enjoyed the stories and pictures of those delegates who did go when they came back.

At the end of my amazing journey to Africa, I arrived safely back home forever changed. My sons picked me up at LAX. Again, it was raining. The boys hit me with a million questions and I answered none. They joked with each other, how they were doing to me what I have done to them on countless occasions. I toppled over in the back seat, exhausted and soon I was asleep, thanking God for my trip, my safety, and for my two beautiful sons that love me. And, when I got home, I signed up for the organization Women to Women International, to support an African woman in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I was matched with a woman named Ombeni M’Kamirogosa with three children. Due to my support she has graduated from her one-year educational program that allows her to regain control over her life, earn a living and begin to heal from the emotional and physical wounds that war as inflicted on her and her family.

The program is only for a year, and this month, I have been matched with another woman, a single parent caring for two children. Her name is Josephine Bipemarco Rashidi. I look forward to hear of her progress in school and training for the year 2011.

I love being a Jehovah’s Witness, and I love reaching out to people of different cultures.

My memory of Nairobi, Kenya, a country in Africa I had heard of repeatedly my whole life from my mother, because it was her dream to go there, I will never forget. I saw Kenya for her, really, but at the end of the day, I admit, I saw Kenya for me. I had taken 450 pictures to prove it. Here is to living with no regrets.

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+5 # Guest 2010-12-31 07:03
That was a beautiful story and very well told. It is so reminiscent of the stories of delegates to international conventions anywhere in the world. No invented false claims by fake possters on the net will even make a dent in the wonderful experiences you had, compounded by the many others who joined you. Thank you for sharing your joy with us.
+7 # Guest 2010-12-31 01:09
Praise Jehovah!
+3 # Guest 2010-12-30 22:44
Ver como algunos ensucian una historia hermosa con cuestiones que no vienen al caso, da testimonio de la iniquidad de corazon que tienen y que les ha llevado a ser expulsados del pueblo de Jehova.
Un fuerte abrazo a todos mis hermanos desde España
-18 # Guest 2010-12-30 20:47
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-26 # Guest 2010-12-30 13:37
As a 15 year Zealous Person for Jehovah (and elder) here is my story.

+16 # Guest 2010-12-30 13:35
That was beautiful. This international brotherhood we have is far better than all the nationalistic, flag waving propaganda , drummed into us since childhood.


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