Whenever there is a celebration, wedding, or funeral, photographers show up and take pictures to sell of those attending the event. They quickly print them and display them on masking tape. Attendees can buy one for 50/- (50 US cents) each. This picture is from the Peace Summit organized by Friends Church Peace Teams that Gladys and I attended last weekend. Notice the blue line at the bottom which gives the event title, place, and date so that the picture is a memento for those who have attended. By the time I took this picture over half of the pictures had already been purchased. At a big wedding or funeral there are lines and lines of masking tape covered with pictures to be bought.

In November at the end of the school year, Juliet Ambwere retired from decades of teaching at a school near her house where she was assistant principal. The school gave her a goodbye, thank you celebration which Gladys and I attended. As is customary in these kinds of celebrations, there were speeches by various people, singing/dancing by the students, and presents. A cake was cut but there were so many people including students and their parents that each person got only a small ½ inch cube. Rather than getting a gold watch, she was presented with a nice, healthy cow. We then went a short distance to her house where, after a few more speeches by family members, we were served the usual meal. On the following Sunday, Juliet’s husband, Aggery, came up to me after the church service, shook my hand and said, “Thank you for coming to my wife’s celebration.”

About a month ago I was at a funeral. A close member of the deceased came up to me and said, “Thank you for coming.” Shortly thereafter another member of the family said the same thing.

Getry Agizah, Coordinator of Friends Church Peace Teams, speaking to the delegates from eleven Kenyan Quaker yearly meetings on steps needed to be started now to respond to  the potentially violent 2022 election. Each yearly meeting will promote peace committees at the village, monthly, quarterly, and yearly meeting levels. Friends Church Peace Teams will then be the national body to coordinate activities and trainings.

Just last weekend Gladys and I attended a weekend “Peace Summit” conference organized by the Friends Church Peace Teams entitled “Reawakening the Peace Web of the Quaker Church (Kenya).” One of the other participants said to me, “Thank you for coming.” This statement therefore becomes one of appreciation.

An alternative statement that I have sometimes heard is “I’m happy to see you here.”

Why is this significant? This is because in a society that honors community a person’s presence at events is important. Just showing up is significant and needs to be recognized. The reason that five hundred or a thousand people can show up for an event is because people feel that their attendance is necessary for their community commitment.

This is quite clear at funerals. One of the main activities during the funeral is for many people to be introduced. Most just say their name and perhaps how they are related and a word of condolences. People are brought forward in lots. For example all the grandchildren present are asked to come forward and usually the oldest one will present a short message on behalf of the grandchildren while the rest just give their names and how they are related. The groups include the neighbors, the in-laws, the siblings and their spouses, former co-workers, the people from the church, children of the deceased, and of course the spouse if still alive. The local chief or sub-chief may give a talk on the current priorities of the government. Unfortunately, in my opinion, politicians frequently attend and give the equivalent of campaign speeches.

In 1999 when the civil war in Burundi was still at its height, I visited Musama Friends Church which is about five kilometers (3 miles) off the main road going up-country from Bujumbura. Although the crisis in Burundi had been going on then for six years, our delegation was the first time any foreigners had visited the church. All we did was talk to the people from the church, looked at their old church and the beginnings of the new church they wanted to build, and the clinic that they had which had no more than curtains for walls. I didn’t do anything but shake hands and listen to what they had to say. The people were so appreciative of our visit because the fact that someone had visited them during their trials and tribulations gave them hope. They were no longer forgotten. Since members of Musama Friends Church are “friends” on my facebook page, perhaps they can comment. I learned that the first rule of peacemaking is “Just show up.”

“Thank you for coming.” This is an excellent comment to make to those who attend whatever event it is. It should be said more often. On the flip side people need to realize that showing up is an important aspect of community building.

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David Zarembka

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