From "Creed," by Dom Helder Cámara

I want to believe that the whole world

Is my home, the field I sow,

And that all reap what all have sown.

I will not believe that I can combat oppression out there

If I tolerate injustice here.

I want to believe that what is right

Is the same here and there

And that I will not be free

While even one human being is excluded.

Monday, September 30, 2013

We both live Amani

My home

His home
David is leaving the LA Catholic Worker community in a few weeks, to return to his native Nairobi. He is solitary, chiseled, with monster-from-the-deep Rasta dreadlocks and a countenance that calms even the most manic meth addicts on Skid Row. He grew up attending the best schools in Kenya, but every day observed Kibera slum, the largest slum in Africa, where anywhere from 200,000 to 1 million people live in cardboard-and-tin shanties. Stubbornly dragging their forgotten boxes of existence from rural to urban destitution, they are mostly desperate Western Kenyans who abandoned their vanishing farmsteads in search of a city ‘life.' Logic would say that very little has changed or will change for them, ever.
David has lived in the US for 10 years. Though he began studies at a small Mennonite university, deciding that collegiality didn’t mesh with his life vision, he left to join the Catholic Worker movement, whose members recognize that higher education is an oppressive system because it is unavailable to the poorest, and particularly in the US, is fueled by oil and war investment. Five years later, he is finally headed home for good, to begin a Catholic Worker house which will serve the Masai tribe and Kibera slum people in Nairobi. The house will be called Amani House. Amani means ‘peace’ in Swahili.
When he speaks, a rarity, I am initially struck that he is everything I am not. I love to speak and to be heard. I grew up in the concrete safe zone of Irvine, California, one of the 10 Best US Cities for Raising a Family in 2012 (depending, I'd rebut, on the demographic and motivating social forces behind your family). We moved to central Indiana, to a quiet corn-farming community and former hotbed of the KKK. Now my family is in Oregon, where urban farming and water abound. My parents’ small-town cottage has a Jacuzzi and redwoods in the backyard. I look at the moon through their silent snowy branches from the spa while I sip wine. Then I pinch myself.
I did graduate from a $50,000-a-year private university, not because I believed the experience would be integral to my human development (it has certainly been), but because the throng I found myself in floated that direction. I have an English degree, and I don't look forward to the moment when I realize that corporate, or even social-services, America doesn’t need me right now. Or ever. The machine keeps turning whether I plug in or run away screaming its evils.
I’ve never been to Nairobi. But my stomach spins when I compare pictures of it to my parents’ neighborhood (does the same happen to you?), which I now shakily call home.
We are certainly mind-splittingly, heart-wrenchingly different, David and I. But once our differences settle, I am struck by our similarities.
We are both at the Catholic Worker. We are both Enneagram 4s, which signifies a search for the unattainable and an underlying unique-superiority complex in our personalities. We have both lived near urban slums—mine, El Recreo, in Managua, which I had the privilege of walking through for two years as a Jesuit Volunteer. We are both broken-hearted and angry, by the complacency that leads to the exasperation of the poverty cycle, by the ways that money and power corrupt beautiful people. People we need and love as much as the poor.
And, most importantly, we are both driven to “do something about it.” Though his defined future rapidly approaches and mine totally lacks direction, both our “somethings” scare us. They are somethings without the certainty of security, comfort, partners or family, numbing our minds with television or nights-out on the town. All that our mutual-somethings promise is a commitment to live first-and-foremost in honor of those whom the world forgets in its rush to progress.
He shared the following at a regional Catholic Worker retreat, where he farewelled the movement that led him to Amani House. “All I know is that I feel compelled to act on the privileges and awareness of injustice I’ve been given.”
All I can do is pray for him. And for those he’ll serve, those who will remind him why he’s alive, to grow Amani where there is none.
And I also pray for myself and for you—that we’re just as brave in being true to whom we’ve become, to what we’ve been given.

One of David's first projects in Nairobi will be to construct a borehole, a steel-lined well intended to tap into precious groundwater reserves where water is scarce. They cost upwards of $12,000. He has raised half of the money he needs. If you are interested in supporting David, please send a check to 632 N Brittania, Los Angeles, CA 90033. Make it payable to LA Catholic Worker, and earmark it "Kenya House."