Christopher rings the doorbell promptly at 11:50am to take us to his church. He is dressed in a steel grey suit and polished black leather shoes, leaving me feeling rather under dressed in my khaki trousers and dark blue collared shirt. At least I had a shave today, so that’s got to be worth something.
We walk down the dusty street that is now dotted with patches of mud from last night’s rain and jump in the mataka (mini bus) that Christopher calls to a halt. We take our seats in the middle row as the matata bumps down the dirt road, dodging people, podi podis (bicycle taxies), pikki pikkis (motorbike taxies), tuk tuks and all manner of livestock. Matatas are a two-man operation: driver and herald. The driver drives and the herald (as I shall call him), leans out of the open door calling in passengers and taking payment. I local Kenyan sits next to Dad and pulls at the hairs on his arm laughing in fascination for Kenyan men are hairless.
Arriving in the Lamdo Lamdo slums, I am struck by the strong presence of religion. There are many churches, and the sound of sermons and song fills the air. We walk into the middle of the slums where we come to Christopher’s church: the Royal Priesthood Family Church. It’s an old tin shack with a dust-covered concrete floor. Timber poles act as a frame under which brightly coloured fabric sways in the gentle breeze.
We are warmly welcomed to the church by the usher and the congregation. A woman is speaking Swahili at a microphone as a musician plays the keyboard in the background. Christopher leads us to some seats in the second row. Before long, the service starts with messages read in Swahili and the local language. There is an offering at which everyone places money in a basket near the front, even the most poor of the congregation.
And then the singing begins. For the next half hour, a choir led by a tall young man lead the congregation in evangelical song. I am moved to join the singing for, much as I don’t like to talk about it, I am a spiritual man with strong faith. I don’t know the words but I clap and move my body with the faithful, singing those words I understand or can make out. I can feel God’s presence in the dusty little church and know that he is there to watch over his flock, no matter how challenging their lives are. For here, in the slums, people really do just live on hope.
Pastor Andrew (I remember his name for it is the same as mine) is a charismatic speaker. He presents his sermon in English as Christopher translates into Swahili. This is my first time at an evangelical Protestant service and I follow the sermon with interest, turning to the relevant biblical passages so that I can follow them. The sermon is about giving, a challenging sermon to give in the slums but one that is presented well. And all-the-while, I know that God is in the house because his presence is constant. It’s in the smiles of the children as they look at us mzungus, the usher as he ensures all the sick have the pastor’s hands laid upon them in the healing ceremony, in the gentleman who sits in front of me helping me find the relevant passages in the bible I’ve been loaned, in the gentleman behind me who tells me that it’s okay to take a photo and that it’s okay to walk to the rear of the church to capture the whole scene, it’s in the hope I can feel in the air and the genuine welcome we are given.
Church takes a few hours and it starts to drizzle gently as we leave the slums. Christopher organises some pikki pikkis to take us back to Nakuru city. He makes sure that Dad gets one that has an umbrella over the top to keep him dry. I’ve never been on a motorbike for any distance without a helmet. But I don’t find it frightening, in fact, it’s quite fun (even though I’m sure riding a pikki pikki invalidates my travel insurance).
We spend the afternoon in a western café where we can access the internet to share stories of our experiences so far. The internet drops out part way through my efforts so we wander off to explore Nakuru’s busy street markets where you can buy anything: shoes, watches, second hand clothes that come from Western charities, old text books and fruit.
“Hapana,” I say as the street vendor tries to get me to buy some trinkets. “Oh, you speak Swahili,” he responds. “Only a little bit.” I’m not really lying. I know “hapana” (no) and “jambo” (hello) and “asante” (thank you) and “biribi” (cold) and “mzungu” (white person). Tomorrow I will ask the children at the school, “unatiwa nani?” (what is your name?). If they want to know, I’ll tell them “Jina langu ni Andrew” (my name is Andrew). Back to the street vendor, he decides that what I really need is a Swahili-English phrase book. He holds out just the thing but I tell him I have a friend in Nakuru who is teaching me; it’s the best way I can think of to politely be rid of the hawker.