Since most of you have not visited Imara, let me provide an introduction. We are staying at a guest house a kilometer or two south of Nanyuki. As we into town, I am reminded of the farming communities of my childhood. The main highway is lined with shops and cafes. Instead of the pickups from my childhood, there are land cruisers and great many boda bodas (motorcycles). The traffic is constant with a great cloud of dust when a truck lumbers along the highway slowed by speed bumps and massive potholes. If it is early morning, we can see to east the top of Mt. Kenya. Most of the day, the mountain is covered with clouds.
The road leading to Imara is a couple of kilometers north of Nanyuki. We turn on a dirt road (most roads are dirt roads or mud roads when it rains) and go about 100 yards to an intersection where there is what I call a convenience store – a small shack (4 by 6 feet) where someone is selling a few fruits and vegetables. We turn right on a road with the kind of potholes that would keep us Minnesotans from even driving on the road. The first gate on the left is Imara. Security is essential in a country with such extreme poverty. There are several lines of defense: a front gate that is chained and locked, another fifty feet and a solid gate connected to a perimeter lined with tall thorn bushes that are nearly impenetrable, then a fence topped with barbed wire and motion detectors that shine lights on anyone who overcomes the other lines of security. At night, a guard roams the compound. Inside the house, a panic button would sound an alarm – and a cell phone to call for help if it ever came to that.
Once inside the compound, you would see a place of refuge, a place a tranquility from the harsher, busy world outside. You would hear the sounds of chickens and the laughter or cries of young children. Immediately, you would be greeted by Oscar, a female german shepherd, who would smother you with kindness. And if you get close enough, the two “guard” geese would also announce your arrival. The path to the house is lined with beautiful blooming bougainvillea. To your left is the chicken coup with hens for eggs and another coup with hens that once large enough will be eaten. Also to your left is a storage shed that was recently added. To your right is the Imara house and beyond the house is a garden that provides some vegetables. There are two water tanks – one that collects the rainwater from the roof and the other that collects water that comes from town – when it comes (nothing in this country is for certain).
The house is built on a cement foundation. The walls are brick and a metal roof. There is not an inch of the house that is unused. It is amazing that the household can manage 9 girls, 7 babies, and four staff who all live together. I catch myself thinking up words to the old Brady Bunch television theme song: “here’s a story of an American named Carol who came to Kenya… (still working on the middle part) and together they became the Imara House!” It is extremely cramped for space, but somehow it works. Most of my life, I’ve lived with women without the benefit of another male presence (even our dogs have been female), so I pray daily for my friend, Pastor Reuben, who lives with 12 women and 7 babies! Bless you, Reuben!
The day begins early and is structured to accomplish meal preparation, baby care, schooling, and chores. A teacher arrives from town and together with teacher Jayne who lives in the house (Reuben and Jayne are the Kenyan house parents) mornings and afternoons are consumed by school. One of the great joys for a visitor is to assist with baby care (most are now toddlers). Even better, diaper changing is the responsibility of the moms.
A cook arrives to provide the noon meal and begin preparation for the evening meal. There is an L-shaped common space that provides a small area for the children’s table and a larger area for two tables for school and meals. At the evening meal, the children are served first, then the moms, staff, and visitors are seated. Food is served family style by Carol, a prayer is offered and as we eat each person has an opportunity to describe highs and lows from the day and answer the question of the day.
We are at the equator (in fact, our host told us the equator probably runs through the guest house where we are staying) which means 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness 365 days a year. Daytime temp has been in the mid 70s and nights in the 50s. Each morning, I awake and say to Amanda, “Another morning in paradise.” It feels that way. Though the challenges in this country are great. There is much uncertainty about the present, much less the future. There is political unrest. The gap between rich and poor is enormous. The treatment of girls is far behind what we would consider fair and just. The stories that we have heard about traditional ways are difficult to comprehend – but it is changing, ever so slowly thanks to programs such as Imara.
Each day, I give thanks for those of you who have opened your hearts and offer your prayers and resources to make this ministry possible. This morning, what comes to mind is the promise of John 1: In him was life and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and darkness has not overcome it.
Thank you for allowing the light to shine through Imara. I see it in the faces of 9 young women who have been given hope and 7 young children who have a chance to begin life in the presence of the Light.