A few days ago, I took an evening walk with a friend who had visited. We follow the train track, breathing in fresh air from the surrounding forest. This is refreshing especially after spending time in quarantine. After about twenty minutes, the train track makes a diversion and leads us to a wide road and before we know it, we are entering Africa’s largest urban slum, Kibera. Although I live a few kilometres from Kibera, I had never stepped foot there. Now here I was, in an area bustling with life like I had never seen since COVID-19 struck.
We follow the road which is now teeming with people. It seems like we have stepped into another world, one away from Corona. Women on the road side cook delicacies, men gather in groups talking while some sit idly, children play and laugh along the curbs, and passerby stop by the road side for a chat. I am even shocked to hear someone sing from an iron-sheet corrugated makeshift Church. If it wasn’t for the few people adorning masks, one would think Coronavirus resides in Venus.
An ariel view of Kibera Source: UGC
As we rush back trying to beat the 7pm curfew, my friend expresses her bewilderment as to why people are not taking the requisite precautions. Like a spokesperson from WHO, she seems concerned. Why are people not maintaining social distance? I actually just saw people shake hands. And why are these men sitting in crowd? Why can’t they just stay home? I hadn’t considered all these as I was immersed in awe at the ‘normalcy’ of their lives even amidst the corona.
I retort and say, people here constantly face many dangers, threats and diseases, corona is just one of them- it not the ‘main’ like for us. In my place, writer Monika Hellwig would have cited on of her ten advantages of being poor: The fears of the poor are more realistic and less exaggerated, because they already know that one can survive great suffering and want.
In Luke, Jesus who seemed to have a ‘preferential deference’ for the poor says, ‘But woe to you if you are rich, for you have already received your comfort.’ Author Phillip Yancey, tries to explain why: Dependence, humility, simplicity, cooperation and a sense of abandon are qualities greatly prized in the spiritual life, but extremely elusive for people who live in comfort. Poor people find themselves in a posture that befits the grace of God.
Most people are bent on self-preservation, especially during this time of COVID-19. However, the poor seem to have resigned to their fate, whatever it may be. Although I believe that we should take precautions, we can control how we respond. Like the poor, once we surrender all to God and forsake self-preservation, it is only then can God fully preserve us. As we get back home, a sense of peace settles in me as I realize that I just saw the heart of God in an unlikely place, a peace that transcends all human understanding.