Shamba: Always, Never Coming Home

by Lucy Duncan

There’s a Godly Play©* version of the story of Adam and Eve in which the moment of crisis is one of recognizing separateness.  Before eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the story goes, humans understood that we were one with God, with one another, and with creation. The crisis gave us eyes to see nakedness when we didn’t before, to become disconnected when we were as one. 

Key to the story is Adam and Eve’s choice not to eat from the Tree of Forever.  My feeling is that this means the human state of yearning for connection, but seeing separateness, is resolvable – that we can find our way to living again as if we are one.

I got a taste of this possibility at the World Gathering of Friends at Kabarak University in Kenya this spring.  Participants met each day for 90 minutes in Home Groups consisting of 12 to 16 Quakers from different parts of the world and from all the branches of Friends. In these groups there was deep sharing and appreciation for one another, delight in knowing one another ‘in that which is eternal,’ joy in telling stories and offering reflections.

One member of my group voiced that the experience felt to him like a Kenyan shamba.  A shamba is a garden or farm which is felt by many Kenyans to be their true home, the place they long for, and the home they return to when they die. Many of us in the group agreed – in that space together we had found, for a brief time, a spiritual home. For me it had a mysterious quality – how was it that I needed to come to Kenya to find these brothers and sisters? 

Despite our longing to get back to the garden, humans have changed our habits of living and the landscape of the earth, our home, in ways that make it seemingly impossible to recover the garden.  We’ve been changed, too, by the ways we’ve separated from one another, from mass incarceration of people of color to genocide of communities, harsh exploitation of workers, and other manifestations of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “triplets of militarism, consumerism and racism.” Flamingos at Lake Bogoria

So, how do we go home? How do we shift from the ways we disconnect from the earth and one another to being connected, whole again? How do we seek out God’s calling for us in these times?

At the World Conference, we went on an excursion in the middle of the week to Lake Bogoria, an oasis with flamingos and springs so hot you can boil eggs in them. When we reached the park, the rangers wanted to sort us into buses by country and ethnicity, partly because there was a different fee for Kenyans, Africans, and people from outside of Africa.  Immediately there was an outcry!  No one wanted to be separated from one another.  We didn’t want to move, but more than that, we wanted to be intermingled, not separated. That was the sense that threaded through the conference, that sense of being of one body, and that we were remembering, recognizing our brothers and sisters.

And that, to me, is a powerful lesson of the World Gathering, that by coming together across what many would see as enormous geographic and cultural differences, we begin to find our way home. We understand the joy of getting to be alive together at this time, even in the midst of great calamities and things coming apart.  We get to be here on earth together, mysteriously working to be faithful and striving to express the love of God as one.

I saw a powerful example of this work when AFSC staff took me to visit the Friends Women’s Association clinic in Burundi, which AFSC supports in capacity-building and through funding.  The doctors and nurses there serve women with AIDS in Kamenge, a community strongly affected by the Hutu and Tutsi conflict and killings of 1972 and 1993. The clinic also offers counseling and trauma healing.

Dr. Alexia, the director of the clinic, told me the story of a woman who was in her home when Hutus came and killed her children.  Because it wasn’t safe to leave her house, she stayed inside with her murdered children for a week. Dr. Alexia said if she had remained alone, without support for healing, she would still be preparing for revenge.  But through the clinic, this mother had engaged in group counseling and had stopped feeling so alone. By listening to the stories of other women, she knew that the problem wasn’t just her problem. The women continue to meet once a week and provide long term support for one another.

Dr. Alexia also showed me the facility, which has a dispensary, several examination rooms, a conference room, and a motorcycle for house calls. She took me to the back garden and showed me the cornfield they hope one day can become a hospital.  And then she showed me a fence that had recently been excavated for repairs.  When they dug into the ground, they found bones from the killings.  The clinic is literally built on the bones of the conflict.

On our way to leave Kamenge, we drove past the market, which had been demolished during the conflict. Boards from the destroyed buildings were stacked together and were slowly being used to rebuild the market.  In a real way, we can never go home again, we can’t undo what was done, can’t forget what we’ve done and what we’ve experienced. At the same time, the people I talked to who had participated in thMarket at Kamenge, Burundie conflict and killings in Burundi – those who had experienced the horrors of that violence and were healed – were more committed to establishing a lasting peace than people who hadn’t known such horror.

This market seemed a fitting image for coming home. We can uncover, fashion a new home, built on the foundations of what we've lost, constructed from the remnants of what we were, built out of the planks of our mistakes and sorrow. We can build a place of healing on the bones of those lost in old conflicts. It isn’t easy; it takes healing and commitment and community.  But out of a full reckoning with the pain of separation and violence, we can build peace with brothers and sisters who once were our enemies.

We can also come halfway around the world to gather with Friends we thought were very different from us and feel as though we have returned to our true home, our garden, our shamba.


*Godly Play ® is a Montessori based technique for teaching Bible stories to children