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Jackson (right) with his two brothers and Abdalla (second from left)

The COVID-19 pandemic is now beginning to heat up in Kenya. Our first confirmed diagnosis was on March 13. After that, we went from seven confirmed cases for a stretch of eight days to 50 by March 30.

A week ago here in Mombasa, all the major markets closed; they are the source that supplies all the street vendors who in return sell to the locals. We are expecting food to become scarce and money to be extremely tight. People here live hand to mouth, so many will be suffering and violence and crime are likely to escalate.

The Kenyan government has imposed a nightly curfew, has closed schools and churches and has urged people here to shelter in place.

When the worldwide coronavirus pandemic became real, Maryknoll Lay Missioners let us know that anyone who wanted to return to the U.S., should do so then or be prepared to have to stay for some unseen future. Some missioners chose to leave, as recommended by local doctors, but I felt too nervous to fly during this time and safer to stay here than to be in the U.S.

But for me the biggest deciding factor to remain was this: If I have learned anything since becoming a missioner, it is to live life to the fullest in thankfulness and without judgment, and to trust in God’s plan and God’s will for me.

Deciding to become a missioner for me was not a “rational” decision. But as I slowly learned to trust God over my own wit, I felt safe with the decision I had made. It has caused hardships and separation from my family, but trusting that God is in full control has allowed me a peace that I did not have a couple of years ago.

Despite some initial anxiety, I now feel that same peace about staying in mission here.

I have been hunkered down now for two weeks—with the exception of visiting a fellow missioner who has been battling a severe foot infection and to visit three orphan boys who are living near me. Before my visit, I only knew 21-year-old Jackson, who is in the metalwork class at the Marianist Technical Institute, the vocational school where I work.

I greatly enjoyed meeting his brothers, Peter, who is 17, and Zachia, who is 23. These boys are filled with joy and polite as can be.

I brought with me three plastic chairs and a couple sacks of flour. When I asked them what they eat, they said ugali (a thick maize-flour porridge), sukuma wiki (made from a collard greens) and sometimes cabbage. When I asked about meat, Jackson said, “Yes, in 2018.”

Jackson making his first chapati

Jackson does most of their cooking, but he said he would like to learn how to make chapati, the flatbread that is popular in East Africa.

The brothers work at a nearby Sisters house doing yard work, hauling stones, cement work and whatever needs to be done for 50 bob per day, 50 cents. Before, I left, I invited them to come to my place for lunch.

The three arrived at about 9 a.m., and after they washed and sanitized their hands, Abdalla, my guardian son and catering student, graciously accepted to teach Jackson how to make chapati, French green beans and chicken stew.

The other two boys and I played Scrabble while lunch was being prepared. It was difficult for either boy to come up with or spell any words—I found the words for both of them in a way that they still felt as they were achieving them on their own. The crazy part of it is that I ended up in last place, haha!

I put the place settings on the table using a knife, fork, spoon, plate and glass and three pots of food along the center of the table. Jackson accepted the offer to give thanks, and he prayed softly but deeply as they all buried their faces into their hands.

After they completed filling their plates, they hesitated to observe how the utensils were to be used for eating. But before I knew it, the utensils were down and their left hands held folded chapati for sopping up the soup of the stew, and their right hands had pieces of chicken.

They very much enjoyed themselves. It was the first time they had ever seen green beans. When we were finished, Jackson scraped all the plates and cleared them to the kitchen, where Abdalla did all the wash up. He then returned all the chairs where they belonged.

Now this was a perfect day to spend in quarantine. For me there are no better moments than these—still in mission but COVID-19-ministering from home.

 

Mike Garr Mike Garr
Mike Garr is a catering instructor at Marianist Technical Institute in Mombasa, Kenya.