Bounce and jostle over potholes and dusty ruts to the middle of nowhere. Second-guess a few times if you’ve lost your way. Double check with someone on the side of the road.
Spot the turn-off at last and park your car. Hop out and glance to the right; and, shocked to discover it here in the middle of sprawling African plains, realize it’s not a mirage – a hanging bridge truly suspends over a chasm of dizzying heights (only 5 people allowed to cross at once).
When you step off the swaying, bouncing slats of wood, safe and laughing in disbelief, note the Dr. Seuss trees and vibrant mosaic under your feet.
Do a double-take as a vibrantly-dressed Masai man casually passes you by, ferrying a water jug across the bridge.
Warning (as if you haven’t realized): You’ve stumbled into an altogether, other world.
Here, buried in the Kenyan savanna, you’ve arrived at an enchanted “nowhere.” To borrow the ideology of Brennan Manning from his book Ruthless Trust, it’s a place capable of transporting you into the “now here” like few other places in the world. It’s impossible to be anywhere else but “here” as you take each step, one wonder crashing into another. Everywhere you look, something bizarre lures you on, like pieces of a puzzle, like visual clues to a larger riddle.
Almost magically, this day yawns into our schedule. Friends and meetings fall neatly into days on either side. I co-led a big amazing team that returned home a few days prior, leaving me behind with my two sons, our beautiful friend Jenny, and my mother-in-law. We plan to meet with Pamba Toto artisans and friends. But this day seems to shed meetings like the feather of a duck resists the rain. It’s almost like I feel God smiling, dumping a bucket of goodness over our heads.
And so, with no other appointments for the day, we sneak off to Kitengela.
“It’s like nowhere else you’ve ever been,” I tell my family. Of course, I can’t see for myself, but I’m pretty sure my eyes sparkle in anticipation more than fractured glass in afternoon sunlight.
In a last nod of over-the-top blessing, Gabriel, our driver and an elder from Mathare Worship Centre, accepts our invitation to join us. And somehow, the water-jug-carrying Masai man, named Simon, slips into our camaraderie. Of course. And of course his presence with us has somehow been foreseen and memorialized in a sculpture along the side of the road as we make our way from that bridge towards Kitengela.
Of course a house sprouts mosaic bird-heads. Of course a bull grazes next to his portrait. Of course brilliantly-colored globes hang from trees and sprawling glass sculptures hover near ceilings. Of course Kenyan men wrangle dripping hot glass. Of course peacocks wander the property…
And, of course, as you close out the day, a camel whose legs you mistook for trees bursts out of a clump of actual trees.
Anything can happen in the middle of nowhere.
In Kenya, in a place where I’ve experienced “un-mendable cracks,” including the day just before, as the mud of a slum still clings to the bottom of my shoes, Kitengela intrudes. In the middle of “nowhere,” I find myself thrust into “now here.” It’s impossible to worry about the moment before or the one to come when each moment drips with invitation. On this day, I am fully present.
I want the day to last forever.
Of course, most roads to “nowhere” drag on and on, drab and monotonous. But, if you are paying close attention, you never know when the weird and wonderful might suddenly explode into the most unexpected places. The first sign might be the very existence of that long dusty road. If you keep going, you might just stumble upon a chasm and a bridge where you least expect it…
I guess I’m still shattered, in the best sense of the word, by that day at Kitengela. So much goodness, so much delight… in the middle of nowhere.
Amidst the glittering shards of memories from that day, I find a treasure map. I tuck it in my pocket so I can find my way back, wherever I am in the world.
The directions to “now here,” I discover, really aren’t that complicated:
- don’t give up too soon, no matter how long and jostling the road might be;
- travel with those I love;
- welcome the laughter of new friends along the way;
- and don’t forget the crazy power of imagination.