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Saturday, August 06, 2011

Aliens and Strangers

Nyayo house, 7:30 a.m. on a foggy cold Friday morning.  We have braved near-zero visibility along the ridge of the Rift to get into Nairobi early.  Traffic is surprisingly light, and we slip easily into a nearby parking area and pay our fees.  A dozen police in military-like camouflage fatigues mill about the entrance, each armed with a brutal-looking heavy stick in addition to their guns.  This is the city that riots, and they are ready.  Nyayo house was notorious for torture and abuse in past administrations.  Now it houses the immigration department.  We pass through the front gates of the grim city multi-story structure, and are told not to enter the spacious front doors.  Instead there is a sign that directs "aliens" around to the side. 

We're early, and though the offices open at 8, people drift in slowly.  We are accompanied by a brand-new early-20's administrative assistant from the hospital, with her curled hair, slim jeans, dainty glasses, and constant reference to her cell phone, she is quiet and polite and sweet, but this is a new scene for her too.  Thankfully the AIC has sent another experienced man who barely acknowledges us before his business-like approach to one barred window after another while we sit and wait.  As it turns out, we're really only there for the purpose of 4 signatures and 20 fingerprints, he does everything else for us, whisking our passports from one station to the next.  A whilte middle-aged lady chats in Italian to a small Kenyan boy who calls her mom; Africans sit and talk in Swahili and compare their papers. We're hopeful with the efficiency until we reach the final stage, the actual finger-printing.  The office, it turns out, is being cleaned.  Several women with rubber gloves, buckets, towels are bustling around the office, and we are told to wait on a bench outside the door.  For about 45 minutes, while they mop and wipe and chat and come in and out.  People come and go, a line accumulates, but no one seems perturbed.  There is an Indian family, a couple of non-Kenyan Africans, a European nun, and us, each with various Kenyan facilitators.  But always room for one more on the bench, until we are so pressed we can't move.  

And though we were the first in that group to arrive, we're the last called for the printing.  A bored young man takes us one by one, holding our fingers, rolling them also one by one, along a black wooden block covered by a film of ink.  Then he presses them into the correct boxes on a piece of paper.  We're offered a little cotton-wool to wipe our fingers very ineffectively.  And that's it.  It takes about one minute.  Or five hours, depending on how you look at it.

Now we have a temporary alien registration, so we won't be arrested and sent to jail if anyone looks at our passports and questions why we've been in the country seven months on tourist visas (three months, then out to Uganda, then three more, which just expired).  

After almost 18 years in Africa now, I don't usually feel so much like an alien. But it is very alienating to be labeled as such.  It takes away the illusion that we belong.  Hebrews calls us aliens and strangers, like Abraham, leaving our home land and looking for something.  For that substance of things hoped for.  For healed babies and changed hearts, for abundant water and an end to hunger.  For a home that we will not likely find, here.

Tomorrow we will wander a bit further.  Since January we've been working pretty hard, even our two-week-trip in April was to Bundibugyo, not exactly a vacation even though we're glad to have been able to visit.  Luke goes back soon, and so we put in a request for leave for 2 weeks again.  We will camp at a game park and then stay in a house we rented off the internet from the owners in Mombasa, the first 9 days being pure vacation.  Then from Aug 18-22 we will lead a retreat for all the WHM missionaries in Africa, arriving back in Nairobi a few hours before Luke flies out to his second year of University in the states.  Then back to work.

Pray for us aliens to rest in our real home, even as we travel.  Pray for all the details of the retreat to fall together as we gather aliens and strangers from four African countries, and try to create an opportunity for God to speak to them.  Pray for us as a family to be blessed by this time apart.

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