My Time With Sharyn

I was laying back on the wooden bench in the inner courtyard of the Kenyan Natural Museum, basking in the sun of the warm February day. A cool breeze blew through the trees above me, creating a natural white noise behind the chirping of the birds. I could hear a traditional Kenyan band playing somewhere nearby, undoubtedly for the mzungu tourists arriving each day. After being in country for six months my time was almost up and I was due to fly back to Canada in just a few days. After the hustle and bustle, the controlled mayhem that seemed to be the theme of the previous months, this moment in time was one of peaceful bliss. Despite being right near the heart of the busy city of Nairobi, this particular spot seemed be located in a vacuum of noise.

Sharyn called me and begged for forgiveness. As she explained, she was caught in the middle of the infamous midday Nairobi traffic and that she would be late. I assured her that this was no problem, not just because I wanted to savour the serenity for as long as possible, but also because my only plan for the day was to spent it with Sharyn at the museum. When she gets here she gets here, I thought.
I was lucky to have her as a companion for the day’s event. While I was happy to have a few days to myself with no work or schools to visit, I am not one to spend too much time alone. When I offered to Sharyn, who also happened to be in the city at the same time, to join me at the museum she enthusiastically agreed. That was Sharyn, as I had come to know her. She was never one to say ‘No’ to an offer unless there was a good reason to refuse.
My phone rang beside me and I knew that she had arrived and was looking for me. Initially, however, she was hard to find. It is often quite easy to spot a mzungu in a crowd, even in Nairobi, but on this occasion she was nowhere to be found. I searched the front entrance, the reception hall, even back to where I had been laying in the courtyard, to no avail. This old mzungu seemed to have vanished right into the woodwork. It was then that the thought occurred to me, and I had a feeling that I should follow the rhythm.

And there she was. I walked down the pathway and arrived at the museum amphitheatre to find this vivacious woman standing beside the musicians who beating away at their traditional Kenyan Instruments. Her love for music and her fearless attitude had allowed her to walk right up to the musicians, despite her being the only person in audience at that moment. As always, she was dressed in a most aesthetically appealing combination of jewellery and clothing, with a style undoubtedly of her own arrangement. She noticed me standing at the top of the open air theatre, staring at her below, and she waved for me to join her. Always a lover of the spontaneous and impromptu, I could see that we would be spending some time with these musicians, to soak in the sounds. To this I was more than happy to comply. I made my way down the eight levels of seating and we greeted each other fondly, like old friends reuniting after years being part.

For the next hour we sat side by side, tapping in unison as the music swept over us. As I write this I am re-listening to the recordings I had made of that performance, and from those recordings I remind myself why it is that I got along so well with Mrs. Sharyn. She was the kind of person that had a deep passion for ‘the other’. The Other quite simply is that which is not of this, of the usual or of the unfamiliar. Sharyn and I both shared a deep desire to saturate ourselves in what is novel, and the day’s performance was exactly that. I am currently listening to over an hour of recording: performance, followed by explanation from the musicians, followed by questions by the two of us, finally followed by another song. Rinse and repeat. I know that Sharyn and I both could have sat there for the rest of the afternoon, but of course the musicians had their limits and they had to go.

Before we left, and what should not have surprised me, she insisted on purchasing the man’s drum. Keep in mind that this was not one that was put aside for such a sale, but the very one that the musician had been performing on for all that time. After purchasing one copy of each of their albums and a small flute, we headed off to finally begin our tour of the museum. For most people, the idea of walking around a busy museum ground with a gigantic cigar shaped traditional Kenyan drum would be absurd, but Sharyn did this with an aura of confidence unparalleled. She made you feel embarrassed NOT to be carrying a drum around. Unfortunately, however, the security at the museum didn’t quite see it this way and made us check our newly obtained instruments at the coat check.

For the next number of hours we explored every inch of that museum. We stood in the shadow of a gigantic taxidermy giraffe and elephant, joking about our feelings of inadequacy. We had the time of our lives playing with all of the informative games located around the main natural history section. While undoubtedly the games are intended for the 5 years old and under demographic, that didn’t stop us from giggling with glee as we stuck our hand in the “Guess that mystery item” game. Somewhere in the big ‘I Was Here’ museum guestbook you will find the name Sharyn Poole scribbled in with a red crayon. Our conversation was continuous as we found endless inspiration in a building like this. We discussed Africa being the cradle of Humanity as we passed the section on evolution. We debated what exactly the implications of the title ‘Shree’ means for an Indian Guru. I can remember us both laughing together as we mocked some of the questionable exhibits, and standing in awe of the section of witchcraft artifacts on display. We discussed the myriad of potential meanings found in the section of abstract student art and both fought to contain our yawns as we meandered through the less than enthralling ornithology section. We covered every square inch of that place and left no stone unturned. A productive day to say the least.

After such efforts we found ourselves sitting at a table in the shade, sipping a cool soda and resting our weary muscles. (Side note: I don’t know what it says about her or me, but there is something not right about the 25 year old appearing to be more exhausted than the other three score plus a few).

But I digress. As was often the case with Sharyn, the conversation soon turned to CES and related business. It is no doubt to anyone that Sharyn cared deeply for CES and the work being done, that her heart and soul were deeply woven into the program. During the weeks that she had been with me in Kakamega she spent countless time and energy working with the Divine Providence Orphanage. It was as though she was only able to find her own peace when she was amongst those young children of such disadvantaged background. She did not limit herself to just the orphanage, however, as she was very much involved with all of the events and activities taking place during her visit. One day she might be trekking out to one of our more remote schools to pay a visit, arriving back in Kakamega just in time to be present at the CES Peace Run organizing meeting. Her energy was rivalled only by her spirit.

It was at the CES Peace Run final ceremony that her “badditude” really came to light. As I was running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off, trying to organize the afternoon’s program, I can remember attempting to play the ‘pay reverence to your elders’ card on her by telling her to stay in her seat.

“You look tired. Just relax here,” I said.

“Forget that, where can I help?” she shot back, digging in.

Accepting the inevitability of it all, I suggested that she might go and organize the 100+ CES School students scattered in the park. Off she went with a mission in hand, and 30 minutes later I found the unified group waiting for me, Sharyn in front.

By this point our samosas had arrived and we were both stirring our coffee. I could see that the sun was beginning to set behind the Museum building, reminding me just how long we had been sitting at the museum café. Our conversation had turned to the future and we began discussing potential paths forward for CES. As I had just finished a number of months in Kenya and she had traveled there on numerous occasions, we were both excited to share our experiences and how we thought that they should push CES forward. We were able to agree on many items, disagreed on others, and dreaming what could be possible for CES in the coming years.

And that is what should be done to ensure that the spirit of Sharyn carries on. I can almost see the look that she would give me or anyone else should we even attempt to pause the CES program for a moment due to her passing. She saw things as bigger than her, knowing full well that she was just one cog in a mechanism of greatness. This is what she embraced on a daily basis and showed it through her actions.

As for anyone reading this, I suggest that you get back to work. It’s what Sharyn would have demanded.

Sharyn and meSharyn and !

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