Goodbye! Fine.

The time has come for me to leave Kenya. It’s ahead of my scheduled April departure, since I’m now needed back in the States for my sister’s upcoming wedding. Because of the suddenness, I haven’t had time yet to really appreciate what leaving means, and as I’ve begun saying goodbyes to those students who will be at school tomorrow when I leave, I’m awash with emotion. During the six months out of the last year (however non-consecutively) that I’ve spent living with the kids here, my average attitude towards them was probably some mixture of exasperation and bewilderment. The endless knocks on the door, the sly maneuvering to wheedle any variety of things from us, the interminable and insufferable church services… I suppose that complaining about such things internally has masked the more gradual and quieter growth of what, I notice with surprise, can only be called love! I never thought I’d struggle to fight back tears when saying goodnight to an 8-year-old, or that a poorly-spelled note slipped under the door, insisting that “sualy we will miss you very much,” could drop me into a similar tailspin.

I guess the last few weeks here have been too busy for me to notice such things–a recording project I started with some of the songwriters here has blossomed into something greater than expected, and accordingly ate up most of my waking moments–but that topic deserves its own post (I’ll supply it when I’m back in Terra Ignomino). Then there were the two final events of our House Competitions (you know, the ones between Nile, Euphrates, and Tigris), which had to be bumped up to accommodate my early absence–this weekend’s grand finale was an awesome headache of uncoordinated mayhem! Finally, as we’re nearing Marathon Day (less than a week away), we’ve been hitting the dirt and loading up on running mileage. Yesterday morning’s long run was 26km, with about 2300 feet of elevation gain. On Friday, as many of the race-ready kids as we can fit into a van will be heading to Moshi, Tanzania for the Kilimanjaro marathon. Since I’ll be back in California on that day, I’ll be running the Napa Valley race instead–which will be an easy, downhill, cakewalk of a marathon in comparison.

I did have a strange moment on Saturday, when we took all of Tumaini to the nearby Ruring’u stadium. It has the distinction of being the place where many of the Kenyan refugees in this region are camping out. It also has a track (which is why we wanted to be there). Thirdly, it is close to Huruma, Tumaini’s sister orphanage. When we went to Huruma for lunch in the middle of our track and field competitions, and as I watched some of the younger Tumaini kids greet with wide-eyed astonishment a swing-set and a slide for the first time, I was struck by the dream-like sensation that these were my kids encountering something new. And when little Faith and Gladys tentatively started playing (in that wordless though infinitely nuanced fashion children have) with some of the Hurumans, I felt my breath catch as I waited to see if they would get along and play nice. Perhaps most unsettling to my young, all-too-bachelor self was the sense of responsibility I experienced in it all. If Faith had fallen off the slide, or if Gladys had sucker-punched a Huruman (which she might very well have done), I know I would have been involved in an instant. Does this mean I will be a good parent? No. But maybe it means I won’t be a horrible one!

In one way or another, it’s thoughts like these that come into my head now that I’m about to leave. I’m already missing the dusty red of the walk to town, the brilliant gleam of the high-angle equatorial sun on the plants in the shamba in the mornings, and the exhilaration of cresting a tortuous hill on a long run and being greeted by the overpowering sight of Mt Kenya’s majestic cone and its three glacier-covered peaks. But the withdrawal pains will come most strongly with memories of faces–from Rhoda’s crazed hilarity to Mary’s doe-eyed wonderment to Grace’s far-seeing thoughtfulness to Stacy’s always-ready half-smile… and yes, even Edwin’s post-Christmas-cow-killing grin! The only question is, how long can I stay away?

Right now, there’s no answer to that question, and life has a way of leading us down all kinds of different paths. But I know that, sooner or later, I’ll end up here in Nyeri again. I hope it won’t be too long–but even if it is, I know that the relationships I’ve gained–brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins–will still be here. But for the time being, this is my last entry from Kenya. I hope you’ve enjoyed my third of the blog as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it–and I hope Michael and Emilee keep the stories coming until they leave in a few weeks. I know that I for one will be looking eagerly for them as soon as I conclude my long two days of travel!

As they say in Swahili, Karibu Tena!

By Jonathan Lipps

Jonathan worked as a programmer in tech startups for several decades, but is also passionate about all kinds of creative pursuits and academic discussion. Jonathan has master’s degrees in philosophy and linguistics, from Stanford and Oxford respectively, and is working on another in theology. An American-Canadian, he lives in Vancouver, BC and has way too many hobbies.

1 reply on “Goodbye! Fine.”

JT, I cry with you, friend.

Reading your story about Faith and Gladys and wondering if she’d sucker punch someone else…I KNOW that feeling, and I can’t imagine having to leave that feeling behind somewhere…

Anyway, I’m proud of who you are.

Sarah C.

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