Summer 2022 newsletter
Megan Hamilton, Kenya
Our orientation to dialogue requires an openness to uncertainty.
Be open that your view of the world could be wrong.
—Jewish theologian Martin Buber (with thanks to my friend Laura)
I sit on my tiny windy, windy balcony almost two months into my time in Mombasa and contemplate.
I love my new neighborhood. Tudor is tucked onto the back of Mombasa Island, on bluffs above the river. It is diverse and packed with faith. It sounds of hymns, calls to prayer, and the putt-putt of tuk tuks, the three-wheeled, open-sided vehicles that remind me of Dr. Seuss. Little girls in tulle dresses go to Mass. Little girls in hijab go to school. This year all-night Easter Vigils overlapped with Eid, the close of Ramadan, and we had our version of an all-night Faith Rave. It was wild!
But now I’m sick, wondering if my new ministry is going to work. I’ve 29 years clean and sober through the grace of God and my 12-step program. Maryknoll Lay Missioners has matched me with Sister Emily who oversees three Community-Based Health Centers (CBHC) serving new mothers, and families with HIV in under-resourced communities. We’ll grow addiction recovery support services where there have been close to none. But with my bronchitis, limited language and the fact that most people in Mombasa have zero idea what AA is, I’m feeling overwhelmed.
But … Sister Emily isn’t! She smiles, is clear that this isn’t going to be hugely impossible. After I’ve visited the CBHCs in Chaani and Mikindani with her, we plan for me to go solo. I proudly make it to Chaani, a dusty, low-income community on the industrial side of Mombasa. The CBHC is set up in metal shipping containers, a small cement block building, and a steel-roofed pavilion, all painted a tidy, pale blue.
I meet Evans, a young CBHC counselor, stylish in his pressed floral shirt. He’d fired off a text to me right after my first visit, saying in effect “If you are going to help people get clean and sober, I’m ALL IN.” We talk for 90 minutes. Evans has rampant addiction and alcoholism in his family. He lives here, sees it on the streets.
“People don’t even know what addiction is” he says. “They think it’s a life-style choice.” He believes if we can give them hope, a way out, some will take it. He’ll translate. He’ll learn about AA. He can help with meetings. He’ll go into the community and be a voice for recovery.
I take a tuk tuk and get lost in Mikindani, ending up outside the gates of St. Francis School as school ends. Hundreds of students pour out in brown uniforms, their big brown eyes watching me, politely surprised that a mzungu (white person) is peering around corners on a Mikindani side street. I want to text John (name changed for confidentiality) that I got lost and went home. I’m hungry, tired. It’s hard to get un-lost when it feels like a performance for a zillion little, co-ed, mini-St. Francises with their brown jumpers and shorts. But the Holy Spirt has other ideas. I find the CBHC.
John is the director there. Young, smart, educated, he has management skills to burn and a counselor’s sensitivity. Four of his HIV-positive clients have addiction issues. We talk about how mad awesome it would be if some of them wanted to start an HIV Positive AA Meeting in the Mikindani room with all the plastic chairs. Whoa.
Two days later I meet Tosh for shwarma. Born in Nairobi, 27 years old, horrific drinking history, and now four years sober in AA. His new job brought him to Mombasa, he has a fiancée, and a burning desire to ramp up AA here — to start new meetings, do public information sessions letting the communities know about the program, continue his 12-Step work which has seen him help four men get their first-year chips.
I realize, yet again, this mission isn’t about me. I wasn’t called here to be the mzungu Queen o’ Recovery on the Swahili Coast. My calling is to follow Sister Emily’s lead, and work with these young men and other leaders (I haven’t even met Nurse Lucy yet, who wants to help at the Bombolulu CBHC!), supporting them as they share the hope of recovery, the Steps and Traditions of AA, with those who want it.
St. Francis’ idea of accompaniment — flagged by those brown jumpers — comes back to me. I’m blessed to stand with them, be present, be of service.
I’m happy and hopeful. I know it will pass. I will have what my mom, when she was down, called “a sinker.” But I also know that the hope will come back, as constant and strong as Mombasa’s monsoon winds.
Please consider making a special gift to Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ “Walk With Us” campaign, which raises money for the recruitment, training and ongoing support of all of us lay missioners. We can only “walk with” the people here because you are “walking with” us. Thanks to matching gifts, every $100 given to the campaign in effect becomes $150. To donate ONLINE, click the “Walk With Us” button below. Thank you so much for your generosity!