Methare Valley and Eastleigh have poverty in common, but there are many differences. Eastleigh is both more and less developed than Methare Valley. Eastleigh is not a slum, but s run down suburb where poverty has come in and run amuck. There are multi-story buildings in varying stages of either development or dilapidation in Eastleigh as opposed to the random, make-shift housing units cobbled together in Mathare Valley.
Another difference is that Eastleigh has a much more overt Muslim presence than Methare Valley. There are Muslim places of worship, more Muslim dress, and much more signage in Arabic.
children gather. It is usually identifiable by a small lean-to or unique land formation. To them it is home. When we came up upon our first base, I did not even know it was a base. It just looked like children sitting together, high on glue. Larry Conway guided our base-walking group through some basics of base-walking. As we approached the children, Larry and Moses took lead and helped our group engage with the group of children. Moses translated between English and Swahili.
We all introduced ourselves and they themselves. I was surprised they were so eager to listen. What I found out later was that street children are either feared as dangerous by locals or are invisible to locals. In short, no one bothers to talk with them. So, when Mzungus (white people) bother to stop, they are at least curious and sometimes eager as it might mean help.
This was a base that had been visited by Larry and Moses and others before, so there was some pre-existing familiarity. Larry, in both English and Swahili, ,asked who would like to say a prayer to start our conversation. It was an unexpected move so far as I was concerned. Then what come next was even more unexpected. One of the boys at the base base pointed directly at me and said, “you.” Then everyone looked at me. I looked around at everyone looking at me with the expectant looks on their faces. What else could I do? I began to pray. Moses interpreted.
We spent about 20 minutes at the base sharing scripture and stories and the boys at the base listened much more than I could have ever imagined. Perhaps they were really engaged. Perhaps they were so high on glue that they didn’t have the will to do anything else. Perhaps they thought they were going to get food. It is really hard to tell.
Then it was time to close it out and visit another base. Larry asked the boys which one of them would close us off in prayer. Again, it was unexpected. Then one of the boys stepped up and volunteered to pray. Dirty, covered in flies, glue bottles shoved in his left from pocket, he stood to pray.
His prayer maneuvered past all of my defenses and put me to tears. He prayer for us, for our safety, for protection for others, for all kinds of selfless things. His prayer was coherent, compassionate, and unselfish. How could a glue addicted street kid put together such a prayer.
It occurred to me that he is living in two worlds. He depends on glue and he depends on God. He is in squalor and abject poverty and has a wealth spiritual access. He is broken and he is whole.
But my tears. What was it about his prayer that squeezed my heart? Later I figured it out. I felt deep within me that as different as our life circumstances are, there is no difference between us. He has a glue bottle shoved in his pocket that I can clearly see, but what “glue bottle” do I have shoved into my pocket? What do I rely on when I should have faith?
I entered the base walk to engage with people so different from me and left with the disconcerting and generous understanding that our differences are overwhelmed by our similarities.
These glue addicted children on the streets of Eastleigh are in process, just like I am. They are loved by God no less and no more than I am loved by God. We have our own types of poverty and our own types of wealth. We engage and share in each other’s poverty and share in each other’s wealth. And we hope and we pray and we never give up.