Karma or blessing - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Summer 2023 newsletter


Francis Wayne, Kenya

The crowd on the Mombasa Island Ferry, getting ready to disembark.

My destination every Friday is the Shimo La Tewa Prison north of Mombasa. It is a two-and-a-half-hour public transportation ride each way — a long and noisy and often dangerous ride.

Halfway, I have to cross the Mombasa channel ferry, early in the morning, and then again, coming back, late in the afternoon. I walk with some 2,000, maybe 3,000 Kenyans who are crossing on the same ferry. It is the most crowded situation I have ever experienced — people bumping into each other on all sides, slowly moving toward the front of the ferry barge.

A Mombasa Island-bound ferry from Likoni, Kenya (Photo by Tumo Maokisa, via Wikimedia Commons)

It is difficult to see where my feet are being placed. I just move with the crowd slowly. There is a time to relax as the whistle blows and the tail gate lifts allowing the barge to leave one shore headed to the other side of the channel.  
On the other side, before disembarking, the crowd moves tighter towards the exit anticipating the chain barrier to drop, which starts the massive exit from the barge. People are anxious to continue their already fast-paced lives, attending to their daily business on the Mombasa Island side.

When the long working day is over, the return trip crossing is the same.

It is always my intention to return to my home in Ukunda south of Mombasa before nightfall. It is not safe for a mzungu (white person) to travel by foot alone after dark in the areas where I live and work. White people are assumed to always carry money, often large amounts, and are therefore targeted by bandits. I have heard these bandits described as “hungry people.”

That Friday evening, I had arrived at the ferry late, and by the time I squeezed into the minivan at the top of the hill on the other side of the channel to go back to Ukunda, it was dark.

I felt safe to be in the vehicle, but I wasn’t so sure how I would get home safely after I reached Ukunda. Maybe there would be a shiny moon illuminating the road making the passage safer. Maybe I would leave my bicycle at the school and walk to the nearest motor cycle stand and get a ride home. I had done that once before, and while I was walking the hundred meters to the stand, some people had approached me and I had not seen them until they were just 10 feet away. That had startled me! I had no safe plan.

In the minivan I sat beside a woman who spoke English. I didn’t have to strain too much to have a short conversation with her, even as the conductor was shouting out destination arrivals, babies were crying, music was blaring and other conversations were invading my other ear. But I could hear this woman speak.

Fatima (with the accent on the “ti”) became concerned about my getting home safely and was already on her phone contacting a friend who drove a tuk tuk, a three-wheel motorized carriage for public transportation. She arranged for her and me to be picked up at the minivan stand in Ukunda, first carrying me home safely and then herself.

The road to my apartment was dark, muddy and, as always, rocky. It had rained that day and the road was filled with mud puddles, some huge. I could not have made it safely home riding my bicycle. I was surprised to see so many people out on this dirt road so late at night. I think there were more people out at night than in the daytime. Maybe some were “hungry people”?

Fatima said to me “God has blessed you with safety today!”

I talk to my friend Wayne often about my prison ministry; he knows prison ministry. He says I am getting some good karma for sure.

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Francis Wayne
Francis Wayne teaches auto mechanics and math at Marianist Technical Institute, a vocational school in Ukunda, Kenya. This is his second term as a Maryknoll lay missioner. He previously served from 1993 until 1996, also in Kenya.