There is an open field across the street from our house (pictured). Our boys and all the neighborhood kids love playing in it. There is a wooden swing set, a tire swing, a sand pit, a bench and a small soccer pitch with net-less goals. Before it was renovated about three years ago, this field used to be a graveyard for cars and kiosks as well as yard and house waste. (Some residents still want to use it as a place to dump trash.)
About a week ago, we received a letter on Friday afternoon that there was going to be a cleanup of the field on the following day. I was excited to hear about this because it had not been organized by us, as we had been the main ones caring for the field. That was the end of my excitement. The same letter asked us to pay a small fee for the pick-up, while also asking for us to do the actual picking and to bring trash bags, brooms, rakes, etc. I was confused by the need for a fee until I saw the painters painting the play set bright red and yellow – not colors I would have chosen.
There was also a urgent request for a microphone, juice dispenser and PA system. To be honest, this irked me. “Why can’t we just pick up the field without the fanfare? How about not throwing trash on the ground in the first place? There is a large trashcan right in the field for this. This is going to turn into a loud, all day affair.” These questions and thoughts rumbled around my brain. I diligently paid the fee and waited for the dreaded festivities to begin.
The afternoon came and the clean up was a great success. There was a PA and microphone, but it was used to give instructions to the kids and to play games. It also cranked out Christian worship songs the whole time. (Try that in America!) There were no lengthy speeches and no juice dispenser. Most of the work was done by the kids, and the adults that were there were able to catch up with their neighbors. Our boys had a great time.
As I watched this from our window, it hit me how wrong I had been. By doing it this way, the neighborhood was taking ownership of the field. Red and yellow are common colors seen on playgrounds here in Nairobi; an event isn’t considered important if there isn’t a microphone; if people don’t contribute anything to a cause, it is not their own. I realized that people in our neighborhood who are wiser than me had found a way to gently remind the neighborhood that the field was important for the children and it needed to be cared for.
Even after almost six years I still love that God is refining me to see His world through the eyes of other cultures.