Eyes to See
by Claire Díaz-Ortiz
We come to Kenya to climb a mountain.
A friend of Lara meets us in Nairobi for the climb and brings with her a recommendation from a family friend of an inexpensive guesthouse we can stay at near the base of the mountain. We gladly accept. The fact that an orphanage owns the guesthouse is immaterial; it is just a place to sleep.
The morning we set out to make the journey to the guesthouse near the mountain, we take tea in the picturesque suburban garden while waiting for the ride the orphanage has kindly arranged. There is a series of loud honks at the gate, and we are surprised when a truckload of Kenyan teens pulls into the drive in a yellow van, telling us to get in back.
We do, and we try to make sense of it all and where we are going. I know almost nothing about what Imani Children’s Home is and why it owns a guesthouse, and I am baffled as to why there are so many people in the van.
“Are they orphans?” I whisper to Lara as we reach the outskirts of Nairobi, jostling together on the bench seats in the cramped compartment. And then, “Why are they all here?” In the typical over-the-top hospitality that we would come to learn Imani is known for, a dozen teens had been sent on an eight-hour round trip to bring us to our night’s lodging at the guesthouse on their property.
By the time we near the guesthouse outside of Nyeri, I am famished. Our lunch of biscuits (sweet cookies, as we know them in the United States; “bees-quits” as the Imani kids pronounce them) at a roadside gas station—although ideal for the nausea-inducing roads—did little to curb my appetite, and when the teens say we’ve been invited to a late lunch with the church elders who run the orphanage and guesthouse, we readily agree. We tumble out of the van and pass lush green gardens as we enter a small building that stands in a loose cluster near a large three-story orphanage, a church, and an imposing dining hall. Lunch has been laid out on a long table.
It is in the middle of the lunch that something changes. Maybe it is the little girl I glimpse weeding the orphanage gardens with a smile as wide as Oklahoma, or the bright yellow sun on the grassy lawns, or the milk tea and food in my belly. Or maybe it is the sign I didn’t know I was looking for.
I ask to use the restroom and am taken to a simple, spotless room where an old mirror hangs over the sink. As I look in that mirror, I have a moment I have never had before or since, where I can feel something changing, and I ask God to let me see.
“If you have put this place in my road to change me,” I say, looking at my scratched reﬂection, “please open my eyes so I can see.”
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