“Pole’, pole’ child … haraka, haraka, akuna baraka.” Slow down child. There is no blessing for those who hurry.
The voices of the elders in Matondoni, Kenya ring out to me 25 years later. Slow down child. How often I have forgotten that lesson over the years. But today their voices are loud and clear in my head. Slow down.
I was 22 years old and I had just completed my final semester of college with a three-month program through the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). I’d climbed Mt. Kenya, hiked through the Masai Mara Game Reserve and sailed on a dhow. I had learned to speak enough Swahili to barter successfully in the markets and travel on my own. I thought I had acclimated to the slow, relaxed pace of Kenyan life but then I arrived at the village that 25 years later continues to change and teach me.
I spent my final weeks in Kenya living among the people of Matdondoni. While our NOLS group had been sailing the coast on the dhows a fire had ripped through the village of Matdondoni. After the course was over I stayed to help with the rebuilding projects.
It was an amazing experience to become immersed in a culture and a community far different than I had ever known. The people worked in community to rebuild their village. They began by rebuilding their place of worship, then the school, then the homes of the elders and next the homes of the families with the most children. I learned what they valued and witnessed the value of working together as a community.
Each day had a slow, peaceful yet focused rhythm. We rose early and worked hard through the morning and early afternoon. But as the sun beat down and the temperature rose, we rested. Or we played soccer. In the evening we gathered to share a meal and listen to the stories of the elders. I did not understand the language of the stories, but I immediately felt the power of story. I watched in awe as one elder after the other held the attention of an entire village from the oldest to the smallest. I sat spellbound soaking in those stories and marveling at the power words had to connect generations of people. But the true miracle of those stories would happen during the day as I watched small gatherings of children during the afternoon siesta retell the stories of their elders. I learned to slow down and listen.
As my weeks there passed I heard less often the call of the elders to slow down. But now 25 years later I hear their voices loud and clear in my head. “Pole’ pole’ child, haraka, haraka akuna baraka.” Slow down child, there is no blessing for those who hurry.
So for today, I will slow down. I will listen to the stories all around me. I will take the time to share my family stories with my sons. They are my village. They will know where and who they come from. I will know them.
Matdondoni may be thousands of miles away, but there is community everywhere. We just need to slow down and listen for it.
Martha Reed Johnson is a member of the Story Spinners Guild, which meets in Laurinburg,