Best Seat in the House

Larry Wu is CRF Director of Field Operations.  He has been visiting CRF programs in Uganda and Kenya for the past few weeks.

In every home Larry visited, he noticed a very special custom.  We’re excited to share his story with you and we hope it motivates you to honor one another!
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Kenyans believe visitors are a blessing to their home. Their greeting to any and all is “karibu!” meaning, “welcome!” A visitor from a far away place is doubly honored because they understand the difficulty in making a long trip, and yet you have decided to visit their home. A surprise visit is treated the same as if it were well planned and expected. They still greet you warmly, invite you in, give you the best seat in the house, and attempt to feed you or, at the very least, provide you a drink.

This trip to Uganda and Kenya gave me so many opportunities to experience this custom. I was welcomed warmly into small mud huts, large palatial homes, simple apartment styled flats, from slums to gated communities. In every case I was made to feel at home. But in many of the homes of our orphans, there was nothing to offer me in the way of refreshments. It’s not that they don’t want to; they can’t offer me what they think I am expecting, something like a soda, bottle of water, chai. And it is impossible to tell them that it is okay. I’m there to meet them, chat with them, and see how our children live. I really don’t expect anything more.

I visited the homes of many of our program children. The conditions they live in with their single parents or guardian families (usually a grandparent) are lacking in basic services that you or I take for granted. Running water, electricity, and sewers are usually not available. They live simply in a hut made from mud, blocks, or sticks. There is usually 1 bed for all the children to sleep in. As soon as we come close, they run out, clasp our hands in welcome and give out hugs of gratitude. They quickly pull all the chairs that they have and put them in the shade for us to sit. They borrow from neighbors if they don’t have enough, and if that is still not enough they will fashion seats out of whatever is available. But the visitors and guests get the good chairs. It is a custom that makes me uncomfortable, but I go along with the program to let them know that I feel honored and welcomed.

I noticed that the extremely poor do not look me in the eyes until a “moment” happens. I think they feel uneasy because they can’t offer me anything to eat or drink.  I have to manufacture that “moment” so we can enjoy a real connection. Here is how I try to connect with them. They usually have fruit trees around, so I will make a comment about really wanting a…banana, guava, coconut, mango, just fill in the blank with whatever happens to be growing. They get excited, send people scrambling, and in a quick minute, I usually have something delicious in front of me. It makes them feel that they have fully welcomed me, and from that moment on, they look me in the eye and smile as we converse about life.

I wish we had that kind of welcoming attitude at my home. We tend to worry about how clean the house is, or even fret that visitors were not expected. I believe Kenyans know that they might be entertaining angels when they welcome strangers into their homes. I want to start seeing my visitors as angels sent from God, too.

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