Once in a while in a trip like this, you'll find yourself in a few noteworthy situations. Some scary, some fascinating, some exhilarating, and some that defy explanation. On a random Saturday afternoon, I found myself sitting having tea with the Archbishop of Kenya in his living room. Let me try to explain...
Let's begin earlier in the week - as anyone who has been to Mombasa in May can attest (Burritt), it's frickin hot. It's on the coast of the warm Indian Ocean, and is pretty unforgiving to those of us accustomed to more northerly latitudes. After frustratingly discovering the train to Nairobi only runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (and my trusty Timex reminding me today was a Wednesday), I found myself on a west-bound bus at 1:00 pm. As luck (or more likely divine intervention) would have it, the seat to my right ended up being occupied by a pretty cool guy reading a book on finding God's purpose for your life. He was in his early 40's, and was sporting a thin brown leather jacket, a white button-up shirt and a denim ball cap. I happened to be reading the Cliff notes for Milton's "Paradise Lost" (don't ask). Anyway, we soon struck up a conversation, and a couple questions later I found out he was a pastor in a large apostolic church in Nairobi. Intrigued by the prospect of picking the brain of an African pastor about religion in Kenya, we spent the majority of the ride talking about church history, current problems plaguing the country, America's role in the AIDS crisis, and a variety of other topics.
Around 7:30, the sun dropped below the western horizon, making our already treacherous bus ride even more so. Outside of adding the complication of not being able to see the other crazy drivers (and pedestrians for that matter), this also unfortunately meant we'd be pulling into the bus station in downtown Nairobi at around 9:00 pm. If you've read any of my earlier entries, this is pretty much the worst possible situation you can find yourself in. When I mentioned this, even the pastor, a native African and resident of Nairobi, was concerned. Selfishly, I asked him if he could help me find a taxi, to which he smiled and said he wouldn't let me leave without doing so.
As we pulled through the dimly illuminated throng of cars, trucks, motorcycles, matatus, bicycles, trash bins, and billboards around the bus station, I couldn't help but worry. I'm not sure I've ever been in a more anxiety-filled situation. Everyone on the street stared at the bus as it went by. Internally, as we passed a group of about 15 young guys staring hungrily at our windows, I gave myself a 52% chance of being robbed, beaten or worse. There were people everywhere, and I felt they were all staring at me. I was violating every piece of advice given by guidebooks, fellow travelers, and even the management of the hostel. This picture kept flashing in my mind...
When we finally pulled to a stop, and stepped out into the open, I was all but hugging my new friend. I secured my bag from underneath the bus, and followed him as he talked to a couple people. We followed a grey-haired man another 25 feet, through the loud, busy chaos of the station toward an aging red sedan. We stopped in front, and after a 30-second exchange in Swahili, my pastor friend from the bus introduced me to Joseph, a friend, taxi driver and fellow pastor. A pastor taxi driver? At this moment in time, that sounded like one of the best combinations I could imagine. I thanked my friend from the bus profusely, and wished him well. The Lord works in some interesting, and even very practical, timely ways.
As I shut the door of the cab I was surprised to see a lanky, smiling young man of about 13 in the back seat, who Pastor Joseph introduced as his son. "My security guard," he said with a smile. Pastor Joseph is a moderately heavy-set man in his early 60's with bright white hair and a kind, aged face. He wore a black leather jacket and a plaid button-up shirt. We agreed on a fee of 40Ksh for a ride to the Backpackers, which was surprisingly reasonable at this moment (had he pressed me for more he would have got it).
We had a strained conversation on the way to the hostel, mainly because Pastor Joseph's English isn't so great. Passable, but not enough to make you feel overly comfortable in a life-death situation. Whenever I'd ask a question (even those I snuck into test my theory), 90% of the time the answer would be "Oh yes."
Anyway, we found our way to the hostel with no trouble. Before leaving, Pastor Joseph gave me his cell phone number, and said if I needed to go anywhere during my stay over the next couple of days to give him a call. I didn't figure on leaving the hostel too often, but the thought of having a known, trusted quantity in at least one aspect of my Nairobi adventure was a comforting thought. Plus, if I'm going to spend money on a taxi, it might as well be with a man of the cloth, right?
I called Pastor Joseph two days later for a ride to a local shopping mall. On the return trip, I asked if he'd be available the next day for a quick sight-seeing tour of Nairobi - thinking it wouldn't be overly difficult to encompass the city's minimal highlights in a matter of about 30 minutes. He agreed, and said he would think of some good places. I conveyed my wishes to see the main buildings downtown, and had an idea of where I wanted to go in case he came up empty.
At 1:00 on Saturday, Pastor Joseph and I pulled out of the Nairobi Backpackers. I had in mind we would head downtown where I could take a couple pictures of the park, the trade center building and a couple other mildly amusing sights I had read about in the guide book. Again, the reply was "Oh yes". He then told me he wanted to take me to see his boss. What? When I asked for some clarification, he said we'd drive by the President's house, and then by the Archbishop's house which is right across the street. Oh, ok. As it turns out, both residences are less than a kilometer or so away from the backpackers, in a fairly (as you would imagine) affluent neighborhood. As we took a left up a tree-shaded street, he pointed to the right and said - this is the Archbishop's house. We will see if he's in. What? What do you mean by that? I found out soon enough, as he pulled up to the gate and started conversing with the guard. 30 seconds later, it opened up for us, and we rolled in to the gravel driveway. I was curious as to how this happened - how does one just drive into someone's guarded gate? Pastor Joseph said all pastors of the Anglican Church have an open invitation to see the Archbishop at any time if he's at home. Hmm. Pretty nice of the guy.
The house was amazing - not enormous by any means, but impressive nonetheless. It consisted of three stories of red brick, ornamented with white framed windows, and some subtle stone embellishments. A small wing lumbered out to the west side of the house which appeared to be a small chapel, complete with small stained glass windows. The lawn was large, green and well manicured, spotted with seasonal flowers and small bushes. Tall, leafy trees lined the tall brick wall surrounding the entire residence, allowing only small shafts of sunlight through to the grass. It was quite a sight, especially compared to many of the areas I'd seen of Nairobi to date.
As we pulled to a stop, I realized a few things. First, this was the house of the Archbishop of Kenya - not just for this Archbishop, but for all the Archbishops past, present and future. I don't know a ton about the Anglican Church, but essentially, he is the religious leader of the Christians for the country - one who arguably has more power and responsibility in the eyes of the people than the President himself. Second, we were actually going to go in with the intent to see him. Third, I was dressed like a jackass. I had on this ridiculous Holland t-shirt I picked up in Argentina, green cargo shorts, and my hiking shoes. When I got in the car 15 minutes ago, I really hadn't expected to open the door until I was back at the hostel, except maybe to get a better angle on the commerce building. Awesome.
When Pastor Joseph knocked on the door, we were greeted by a young guy whom I assumed to be a housekeeper. After entering the dark stained-wood floor of the entry way, we were asked us to take off our shoes, and were escorted to a living room. It was a large room with cream-colored walls, off-white plush carpeting, and three large silvery-white couches lining the walls. The fourth wall was fronted by a large mahogany armoire with brass knobs. In the middle stood a small coffee table with moveable islands tucked underneath it for tea service. Some sunlight from the outside was playing on the curtains, which were the only fixtures which didn't seem to fit. The cloth had a pattern, and almost looked to be converted bed sheets - little cartoon pigs, much like Porky the Pig from Looney Tunes stared at us as we sat down.
I was nervous, but mainly because of my attire. Again, I know very little about the Anglican Church. Was this guy going to come down in robes? In his pajamas? I felt like an intruder - and Pastor Joseph wasn't really selling me on our presence being acceptable. He was definitely more nervous than I.
A few minutes later, a kind-faced man in a grey suit, white button up shirt and no tie walked through the door. He had a very kind face and a big smile. Pastor Joseph jumped to his feet and issued a greeting in Swahili, the only word of which I recognized was "baba", meaning "father". He then introduced me as his friend from America. The Archbishop turned to me and greeted me warmly with a firm handshake. We then sat down on our white sofas.
This was a really strange situation for me. I had absolutely no idea why we were here. I didn't know how happy the Archbishop was for us to even be here, though he seemed ok with it - I couldn't help but feel like we were intruding. I ‘m certain the man has more things to do than entertain a local pastor and his cab fare. I was still self-conscious about my attire - feeling more and more like a retard as we settled in.
However, the Archbishop was a great guy. He asked me several questions about myself, and what I was doing in Kenya, and he and Pastor Joseph talked briefly about goings on in his church. I began to feel more comfortable after a few minutes, and the housekeeper helped this by bringing in a welcome distraction in the form of tea and toast. As the two were talking, I tried the tea - it was hotter than the core of the sun itself. I can't believe I didn't either fire off a swear word right then, or drop it on the floor.
In a few minutes of conversation, I could tell the Archbishop was a well-traveled and well-educated man. He talked about his last trip to America (he makes at least one every year for an annual conference in Minnesota), where he had speaking engagements in Ohio, South Carolina, and three or four other states.
I started asking a few questions about his travels, and what he thought about America. I then started asking him about the church. He was refreshingly honest. He talked about the divisions inside the church, and how they are tearing it apart. About how they spend so much time taking care of internal problems, they don't spend enough time focusing on what matters - the people of Kenya. We talked about the AIDS crisis, and how it is something all churches are focusing on. I asked him about corruption and problems with the government - to which he gave honest and thoughtful answers.
After a few minutes, I realized the archbishop and I had been talking to one another for about 20 minutes. I had almost completely forgotten about Pastor Joseph. Not on purpose - he just kind of faded into the background as the Archbishop and I were volleying back and forth, one question and one answer right after another.
After an hour, we began to take our leave. He gave us a quick tour of the house, including the adjoining chapel, which used to be the place of worship for the president of Kenya, who lived right across the street. We'd taken up enough of his time, and I was still shocked at his graciousness. He then surprised me further by asking me if I had an email address - I said of course, and talked to him briefly about my trip and my website. He found some paper for me to write down all my information - which in turn, he wrote down his. It's not everyday the Archbishop of Kenya gives you his personal cell phone number.
As we pulled out of his driveway, I though about what just happened. When Pastor Joseph took me on a brief tour of the huge Anglican Church and showed me the pictures of all five Archbishops in the history of the church, and seeing the man I just had tea with in his full dress, I thought about it again. You never know where you're going to end up. Sometimes you end up in a dark bus station in downtown Nairobi. Some days a sight-seeing drive turns into a trip to see the leader of the Anglican Church in Kenya. You never know.