Now that same day two young men were on their way back to
their home village of Bahati, 18 kilometers outside of Nakuru, Kenya. John and
Charles got on the bus at the Racecourse Road section of Nairobi and found two
seats together on the right hand side. They began talking about all the problems
they had encountered in Nairobi since arriving there six months before. Like so
many Kenyan youth from the rural areas they had left their village of Bahati
after finishing Form Four and tried to find jobs in Nairobi. At first they were
unsuccessful, but then John got a job washing dishes in a small restaurant near
the fire station. Charles was a good handy man and got occasional work as a day
laborer in an outdoor garage (“Jua Kali”) in the Eastlands section of town. It
was not much, but it was a start.
They joined a group of young men connected to one of the
main opposition parties called "Movement for a New Kenya." Their charismatic
leader regularly spoke out against the bribery and corruption in the government.
John and Charles often participated in protest rallies. The political rallies
were exciting and the youth volunteered a lot of their free time. The two young
men enjoyed the ferment of the big city, but they didn’t have enough money to go
to nightspots and bars regularly. Also they realized that things were getting
more dangerous in Kenya.
Then everything started to go wrong. Several times
violence took place after the political rallies. One day there was a big riot in
downtown Nairobi and three people were killed. The "movement’s" leader was
arrested and put in detention. The government declared him an "Enemy of the
State." The two young men were dejected. Their hopes for a "New Kenya" were
To make matters worse, John’s picture appeared in the
coverage of the riot in one of the daily newspapers. When his boss heard about
it, John was immediately fired. Then their small flat was broken into and they
lost most of their belongings. After Charles had malaria three times, the garage
did not want him back.
The two unemployed school leavers became very
disillusioned about life in the big city of Nairobi. Everything was so
expensive. Several of the girls they met always wanted to go to the "in" places
in Nairobi with the latest pop music. John and Charles started bumming around.
When their money finally ran out they decided to take a bus back to their home
On the bus a man in his mid-thirties sat in the next seat
reading a book. Near Naivaisha the bus had a flat tire and everyone had to get
out. While waiting by the road John and Charles struck up a conversation with
the man and began telling him all their troubles. They explained how they put
their hopes in one of the main opposition parties but now their leader was in
detention. The "movement" was in disarray. The youth admitted that they had
given up the traditions of their Kikuyu Ethnic Group and wanted the fast Western
lifestyle of Nairobi. But everything was so expensive. They had failed in their
first time in Nairobi and now were really depressed and discouraged.
The stranger said that he was a lawyer and asked them some
challenging questions about how committed John and Charles are to bring about
social change in Kenya. Are they ready to make real sacrifices to promote
justice and peace? Why had they given up their African customs to follow the
latest foreign music and clothes styles? The lawyer said that he wasn’t taken in
by some of the fast-talking politicians and their many promises. But he was
committed to work for change from the grassroots up and to be a "voice of the
John and Charles said they had been Catholics but then
tried one of the newer Pentecostal groups in Nairobi. The man asked them what
real values they have to guide their lives. Are they really interested in
serving others or only in satisfying themselves? Soon they were back on the bus
and the two youths continued to talk about how hard life is in Kenya for young
people. When they reached Nakuru the man started to look for another bus that
would take him to Eldoret. But the two youths had liked their conversation so
much that they urged him to have lunch with them.
During the meal the lawyer said that he had studied
African traditions very carefully. African customs, sayings and stories contain
a lot of wisdom for today’s world. He spoke very convincingly. The man mentioned
several important African stories and novels that the two youths had studied in
Form Four. He gave the example of sharing a meal together. He said fast food
restaurants in Nairobi destroy the value of eating together in a relaxed
family-style way and enjoying good conversation. The man explained how a meal is
perhaps the most basic and ancient symbol of friendship, love and unity. Food
and drink taken in common are obvious signs that life is shared. The youths
laughed when he said that only a witch eats alone.
The stranger used the African proverb "relationship is in
the eating together" to explain how a pleasant meal can build community and
trust. He talked about the human and spiritual values in sharing together. He
even explained the meal symbolism in a religious context. John and Charles
followed his words very intently. Then they shared their own views.
Suddenly the man called over the waiter, paid the bill and with a quick wave was
out the door and gone. The two youths sat amazed. This lawyer had such wisdom
and experience. How much they liked hearing him explain African and religious
values. Now he was gone. Then they remembered that he was a famous and outspoken
civil rights lawyer who had been living in England because of the political
tensions in Kenya. He always was on the side of the poor and victimized. Also
they recalled that he had written several books about the importance of African
values and traditions.
This stranger had really challenged the two African youths
to rethink their lives and their values. John and Charles decided to return to
their home village with new hope and purpose. They agreed to make a fresh start
in their lives. Later on they would return to Nairobi and help bring about real
changes in Kenyan society.