As I stumbled jet-lagged and travel-dazed out of the airport and into the warm night air of Nairobi, I scanned the huge crowd and immediately saw little, white-haired Lois jumping up and down and waving excitedly.
It was my first time in Kenya—and first time in Africa—but within the first 24 hours of my three-month stay Lois had already made me feel like part of the family. I didn’t live with her and Mark, but I might as well have because I began and ended my days at their house—drinking early morning cups of coffee, working on projects, making dinner in the impossibly small kitchen, analyzing movies, talking about anything and everything.
Lois’ wisdom, humble interest in each person, sense of humor and appreciation for simple pleasures like a spontaneous coffee date, fresh flowers from the market or conversations over a late-afternoon glass of wine made me notice and celebrate the good of Kenya. It wasn’t just the struggling developing country I’d expected; it was a place where I tasted complexity, brokenness and sweetness in new ways.
Lois is exactly the kind of person who wouldn’t want to be made much of on her birthday, but there are so many reasons to celebrate her life and the tremendous impact she’s had on so many others.
If you know her (and most of you do), you’ve already experienced her boundless energy and grace. She’s equally at home whether she’s sitting in a friend’s one-room shanty in a poor neighborhood or with PhD colleagues in a university classroom. She’s an adventurer at heart and happiest when she’s inhaling the fresh air of Masai Mara. She adores her grandsons and can always be persuaded to play Legos or talk shop with the aspiring entomologist of the little crew. She’s incredibly gifted and brilliant in her own right but constantly amazed by others’ gifts and ideas. She has loved her husband for almost 45 years and still lights up when he walks in the door.
She’s forgetful she’s “not a twenty-something anymore,” but speaking as one, I’m pretty certain she has more energy than most of us do! Just since we’ve met she summited Mount Kilimanjaro (at age 60, nonetheless), began a doctoral program at Africa International University, survived cancer, hosted countless events and tour groups and traveled (not to mention her stint as a “Fiesta Pilgrim” on El Camino de Santiago). Her to do list will never be finished because there is always another errand to run, person to care for, story to tell or new dream to dream.
To know her is to love her, to be loved and to love the world a little more after seeing it through her eyes.
It’s been just over four years since my first arrival in Kenya and I’ve made two trips back since then. Nairobi feels like home and when I’m there I settle right back into the dusty, vibrant chaos.
And Lois is right there in the midst of it all, beautifully ageless and seeing possibility everywhere.