I decided to head off to the McMillan Memorial Library to begin my research on race relations in Kenya and found that most of the relevant books were written during the colonial period. Books on race frequently came in the form of outdated how-to manuals on handling servants and poorly written travelogues by Europeans about the quaint customs of “primitive people.” Few books mentioned interracial offspring and those that did, predictably did so in a negative manner. One book published in 1916 professed that “contact between the races at an increasing number of points would lead not only to miscegenation, which between persons widely differing in origin produces a weak progeny, but also to the degeneration in the white community.” After several frustrating hours of reading repeated references to Africans as “backward savages” and “animals,” I felt an overwhelming need to leave the oppressive library for a breath of fresh air. I began thinking about the traits attributed to animals: the exotic, dangerous “other” to be observed from afar. Were the Kenyan photo models at the tourist hot spots seen, even now, as part of this animalistic stereotype? I figured the best way to calm down was to go outside and join the Kenyans sitting on the front steps of the library, enjoying their lunch. The melodic sounds coming from the mosque next door helped soothe my irritation and I took in the sights around me.
Within the first 15 minutes, five safari vans of sun-kissed tourists came down the avenue in front of the library. Each spacious van was equipped with an open-hatch sunroof that allowed the occupants to stand up while peering at the “exhibits.” I had not realized that the safari began in the city of Nairobi. The first van caught my eye because a man inside was capturing every magical moment with his video camcorder. People inside the vans were snapping photographs of market stalls, legless beggars, the mosque, and any other item of interest which could be described as uniquely Kenyan. I watched the video camera lens as it swept across those of us sitting on the library steps. Was I the observer or the observed? Was I a spectator of the “exhibit”? Or part of the “exhibit”?
Let us say that these tourists were not “dwelling deep.”
In 1763 during the French and Indian War John Woolman visited the Delaware, or Lenni Lenape, Indians. How did he view his visit?
Love was the first motion, and then a concern arose to spend some time with the Indians, that I might feel and understand their life and the spirit they live in, if haply I might receive some instruction from them, or they be in any degree helped forward by my following the leadings of Truth amongst them.
Because of his more long-term involvement with slavery, Woolman’s journey to visit the Indians is frequently overlooked, but it was a most important peacemaking activity. Remember that fighting between the Indians and whites was ongoing. Many influential Quakers advised Woolman not to go—including a late night meeting the day before he was to set out. The journey took three weeks, was two hundred miles each way during rainy weather over trails, and was solely to be present with those afflicted by the war.
In 1998 I was the Baltimore Yearly Meeting representative to the Friends Peace Teams and we were discussing the latest crisis in the Balkans. I said something like, “Why are we always taking about the Balkans. Some of the worst wars in the world are happening in Africa and moreover they involve