As I was leaving St. Andrews high school on the rocky, steep road leading to the gate at the bottom of the hill, before I rounded the corner I noticed an African "mzee" - old man - hunched over with a huge bag over one shoulder hanging down his back.  He had no shoes on and his clothes were torn and dirty - if I had taken a photograph there would have been no color - just shades of grey and black. 

I thought...oh, boy...I just had my car cleaned (confession time).  But that thought was gone in a flash as I knew he would have to walk the almost 3 miles down a terribly dusty road made even worse by the herds of cattle, matatus or piki-piki's barrelling past him enveloping him in a cloud of fine, volcanic dust. 

I stopped, got out of the car and went to open the trunk so he could put his bag in and opened the passenger door - motioning him to get in.  His toothless smile told me everything.  His eyes were red from the dust and he looked like he was 100 years old - but was probably about my age.  Such a hard life.''

As I looked at the bag I realized it was charcoal.  My first reaction (confession time again) was anger.  Eburru, the mountain he had come from behind the school and next to Eagles Wings, is one of the very few indiginous, virgin forests left in Kenya.  They are all being cut down illegally - and burned into charcoal.  From an environmental perspective?  I was angry. Looking at this poor man, beaten down by life, I was still angry.  But my anger came from a different place. 

It was mixed with compassion.  HE HAS NO CHOICE!  Solar? HA!  An oven?  HA!  Propane stove?  HA!  He has probably never been to school, never had options, and is only worried about how to feed his family every day we wakes.  His life is the same every day - make charcoal, walk endless miles, sell it for practically nothing, use the shillings to buy food - none left for clothes or shoes - and do it all over again. 

It is the one time in my life that I was glad that there is no enforcement of the law (or very little) in Kenya!  Charcoal burning is illegal.

Why aren't there other options?  I don't know...but it is a moral dilemma for me. But not today.  I eased his day by giving him a simple ride to town, and I pray that he made enough money to feed his family.  I'm going to carry a pair of shoes in my car and if I see him again, I hope to God they fit!

margaret vaillancourt
05/17/2013 11:22am

This is a great piece, Deb. It should be used by a nonprofit group raising money to stop destruction of forests. Gives a more practical, compassionate view of reality.


Leave a Reply.

    Deb Snell

    I have lived in Kenya for 16 years and I still know very little!  Every day I experience things that change my presuppositions about how things should be and wonder why life isn't easier.  Living among people not from my American culture exposes me to these "teachable moments" - I learn something every day - the whys, the hows, the values, the lives of those living in mostly difficult situations.  I hope to give you a glimpse into the dilemma, the hope, the ever present questioning, the learning... in these occasional blog posts.


    July 2013
    January 2013
    December 2012
    November 2012
    October 2012
    July 2012