Thursday was a mostly easier day. We stayed at our beautiful Airbnb overlooking the Indian Ocean until early afternoon, when we went to the Malindi airport for our flight back to Nairobi. For a good part of the morning, we sat on the open-air, covered terrace and shared reflections about the women’s circle of the previous day in Mombasa.
It was clear, as it had been after the circle in Nairobi, that there is a gap that these circles filled – a space for women to meet and share as women. This wasn’t something most of the women had experienced before, and it was deeply appreciated. One young woman noted that meeting without men gave her the freedom to share and to cry.
Even women who felt that they were “liberated” noted that this space was much more profound than they had anticipated and that it was a space they needed. One expressed that “no matter what we think, as women there’s at least a bit of chaining [the constraints of the cultural/religious context] on our feet.” Another shared that she was so busy, always chasing herself and not having the time to heal and reflect. It also emerged that some young women felt disconnected from older women. Some felt that they had no mentors. Others felt they had mentors, but no peers.
Something powerful has taken place. The question we sit with is – where do we go from here?
Once back in Nairobi, we stopped by our Airbnb to pick up our luggage and move to Angi’s house for the rest of our trip. The owner of the apartment in Nairobi was demanding we pay for the nights we were in Malindi after her agent had told us that no one would be staying in the apartment while we were gone and that we should just keep the key. Our Kenyan colleagues were unanimous in believing this was an attempt to scam us and Angi graciously welcomed us into her home; so we had the unexpected benefit of time with Angi, Maina, their delightful daughters, Isa and Wanja, their herd of Labradors and pugs, and Eddy the tortoise.
We discovered quickly that guests bearing chocolate are always welcome, especially by two chocolate-loving girls. And I discovered, when Maina drove me to an ATM about 15 minutes from the house only to discover that I’d left my ATM card at home and we had to repeat the trip, that Maina is wonderful company, of infinite patience and graciously forgiving, to the extent that he rewarded me for my forgetfulness by sharing a beer with me. And then by sharing another.
This experience underscored a lesson I learned again and again and again over my 17 years with the United Religions Initiative – people all over the world offer the gift of hospitality with such ease and grace. This experience helps me, in the midst of my busy American life, remember to slow down and do the same; and to cherish the off-task moments where you have the opportunity to deepen your connection with your colleagues on a human level that has little, if anything, to do with work but which can enrich your relationships in ways that bring deeper joy and effectiveness to the work.