Wanna go see the ponies run?’ asked D.Dave.
‘Sure,’ I replied.
So on a Sunday afternoon I found myself at Ngong racecourse watching the horse races and having a little flutter along with some of Nairobi’s elite. I was there along with D.Dave, veteran hollywood actor now living in Nairobi, his wonderful assistant-come-producer, Lorella and an actor contact of D.Dave’s who was visiting from Addis and is apparently pretty big in the Ethiopian film scene. We sat in the member’s VIP box, thanks to another of D.Dave’s friends, Judy. Judy is the daughter of his landlord and is white Kenyan, married to Quentin who is white Zimbabwean. Quentin was top jocky in Zim last year and was riding in 6 of the races last Sunday.
It was a lot of fun. Fun to see someone you know racing. Fun to pretend you’re a VIP. Fun to live a rather different life for an afternoon.
And I even came away on a winner, thanks to Russian Around. Turns out I have a pretty good eye for judging winning horses. My tactic of picking the jockey with the prettiest silks (pink!) isn’t so bad.
And so it is that I live this somewhat bizarre half-life. My working days are spent helping coordinate Tearfund’s response to the dire humanitarian need in South Sudan. My free time is spent in direct contrast: watching the ponies run, frolicking with giraffes or eating out at fancy restaurants.
People often asked me when returning from Kenya for holidays, how I coped with coming from such poverty back to the UK where there’s such abundance. But the truth is, I lived it in Nairobi every day. I’ve returned to living it in Nairobi every day. And I don’t have a problem with it.
Does spending money on expensive food mean I don’t care about those going hungry?
Does splashing cash on days out on safari make me selfish?
Does it make me shallow? Does it make me fickle?
Do I need to justify myself to you?
I’ve been reading Job (from that book called the bible, my little non-Christian friends who may not know what I’m on about. Pick it up and read it.) recently. And something that struck me from the beginning is how flipping rich he was. He owned something like 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 ox, 500 she asses (haha, that one comes from the King James Version and thought I’d stick it in here… I think it’s referring to lady donkeys, but still…she asses…hahaha) and a very great house. He was like, the richest man in the east. And he held great parties and he enjoyed his wealth.
But he was also blameless and upright and feared God and was chosen by God. And Job, when he lost everything, when satan stripped him of all his wealth, Job worshipped God, recognising that none of the wealth he had was for him or owned by him. Everything was God’s: ‘The Lord gave and the Lord took away; may the name of the Lord be praised.’ Job 1:21.
I’m very poor compared with how much wealth Job had. But I have so much compared to those I work with, those I pass on the streets on the way to the office. I don’t think I can reconcile the two lifestyles I live: working amongst such poverty, yet enjoying such affluence. It’s no good beginning to compare the two. You end up trapped in a world of guilt and heartache.
No, what’s important is to recognise the wealth we have. Recognise it’s an abundance. Be grateful for it. Enjoy it. But not depend on it. Not to trust in it. Not to put hopes and dreams in it. Recognise that we have – or have not – for a period but ultimately it will be stripped from us, either before or after death. It does not matter. What matters is that our reliance is on God alone, so that in the times of having little we will continue to worship. Because ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will return.’ Job1:21
So I continue to live my half-life. I continue to enjoy days at the races, to eat nice food and to live in a decent house. And I continue to be broken by the stories I hear everyday of people fleeing their homes with nothing, of children starving from malnutrition and people getting into great debt, selling all they have to escape horrific violence as numbers of displaced people in South Sudan increase daily and horrific stories of human rights atrocities are beginning to surface. I spend and I’m broke.
This isn’t a post to make me feel good about splashing cash unnecessarily: to justify a little bit of extravagance. Rather the opposite: to remind myself to enjoy what I have, to be generous with it, but most importantly, to remember to whom it all belongs.