2023 Summary: Part 3

When I left off in part 2, I said I spent July circumnavigating the globe. Also, I mentioned that I had started studying Swahili.



My group of Quakers (Baltimore Yearly Meeting) is associated with both Friends General Conference (more liberal, no pastors) and Friends United Meeting (often more conservative, usually pastors). Every 3 years, FUM has their triennial. Ok, that’s obvious in the name. Anyway, the largest group of FUM Quakers is in Kenya, and it was their turn to host. I arrived a day early and met up with one of the other Baltimore folks for a visit to the Giraffe Centre.


Quaker event

FUM’s current head of North American operations, Karla Jay, is from Guatemala; we’ve known each other for years (online), and she already knew I could speak Spanish. So, as soon as I arrived at the university campus, she whisked me off with “come meet the Latinas!” Yulieed came from Ciudad Victoria in Mexico, and Kirenia is the pastor of Havana Friends Church in Cuba. Kirenia doesn’t speak English, so finding other Spanish-speakers for her to hang out with was a high priority for Karla. I split my time between the young adults group (I’m just barely young enough to still qualify), hanging out with Kirenia, and hanging out with a young Samburu pastor named Rosina Lapariyo.


(Me and Rosina)

I heard a lot of feminist talk from young Kenyan women. I heard about bad ex-husbands, and I heard about refusal to marry as long as the expectations for a marriage remain what they are. I also heard some prayers that sounded like disapproval of single women.

Of course, all of us from the US were instructed to not make a big thing about our disagreements over LGBTQ acceptance in our respective countries. Of course, there are LGBTQ people in African countries, too. And of course, we found each other. When one of the speakers didn’t show up, the head of Uganda Yearly Meeting was asked to take his place. He brought a slide deck with photos of the violence against LGBTQ people in Uganda and a call to action to recognize the humanity of those victims of violence and do what the church is supposed to do: feed people who are hungry, house people who are homeless, and heal people who are sick. Amen.

There was one night when we were all supposed to wear African clothing, and there were some shirts and wrap skirts available for sale. A local pastor, Pamela Nafula, connected me with a local tailor to commission a dress. We rode the matatu into town, met up with the tailor at a fabric store, and had my measurements taken. I ended up with a lovely dress just like so many of the Kenyan ladies there were wearing. I was told I looked sharp.


(Me, Pastor Pamela Nafula, and Marian Baker)

The last day of Triennial, I asked Kirenia for more information about LGBTQ acceptance in Cuba. She sent me the statement that Havana Friends Church had written in 2018 in support of changes to Cuba’s Family Law. Later that day, I met some students from the university. One of them was agape to learn that in my Quaker meeting, we’ve been fine with same gender marriages since the 90s. He grabbed one of his friends, and asked “can I tell him what you told me?” They wanted to know how we justify having same gender marriages. Thinking of an old 17th century quote the Havana Friends included in their statement, I told them that we believe God marries the couple, not us. We’re just witnesses to what God has done in their lives. When we see a couple who love each other so strongly and work together so well, when it’s so clear that God has put these two people together, who are we to deny the work of God? They looked a little mind-blown.


After Triennial, I stayed in Kenya a few days to go on a safari with a group of other Quakers, mostly from the US. Part of that trip included a visit to a Maasai village. One of the young men there proposed to a young woman from Indianapolis. By the time we loaded back into the van to leave for Nairobi, he was up to offering 20 cows for her hand in marriage. (“I’ll send them to your mother!”) At some point, someone asked the tour guide something, to which the answer was “the lions fear the Maasai warriors.” Well, their tradition was (before ecological pressures forced them to change) that you have to kill a lion in order to prove readiness for marriage. So, yeah, lions aren’t the apex predators in Maasai Mara.


(Baltimore Yearly Meeting Quakers on safari: Me, Chester from my meeting, Michael from Bethesda Meeting, and Sheila from Sandy Spring Meeting)


(Me and Ellerie, from Lake Erie Yearly Meeting; we posed in front of the GNU painting because of the GNU Project (it’s a computer nerd thing). It turned out that Ellerie uses the GNOME desktop, so we took this photo to send to Federico, one of the friends I was hanging out with in part 2)

And no, I had not learned an actually-useful amount of Swahili before arrival. I could understand some of the lyrics in the hymns and be polite.

India & Malaysia

Now, my goal for the second half of July was to visit my brother in New Zealand and go to the Women’s World Cup with him. It turned out I could save $400 on flights by spending about 36 hours in Bengaluru and dawn to dusk in Kuala Lumpur. So, I did. Why not, right? In Bengaluru, I checked out some botanical gardens and ate a lot of tasty food. In Kuala Lumpur, I took a tour that picked up from the airport and dropped me back off at it. Some of it definitely seemed designed for shopping. I did find the cave paintings in the Batu Caves interesting.


New Zealand

Upon arriving in New Zealand, I discovered that my TikTok friend nerdy priest Rachel from Ohio was also in Auckland at the same time. Go figure. So, we met up at Wēta Workshop for that tour, then went to see a Māori cultural display, and finally went to the opening game of the Women’s World Cup. She hadn’t planned on any soccer games, and I hadn’t planned on that one, but we were able to get last-minute second-hand tickets.


Of course, I also went to Hobbiton. My spouse would have loved to go to Hobbiton and Wēta Workshop but couldn’t get off from work during July. Boo. I guess we’ll have to go back someday.


If you guessed that I ended up speaking Spanish in New Zealand too, you guessed right. There was a pair of Brazilians on the Hobbiton tour, and they didn’t speak English, but they could understand Spanish, and I could muddle through some Portunhol. So I ended up translating summaries of what the tour guide was saying.

In Wellington, I finally met Brenda, who is another one of those people I’ve known online for 15 years. Brenda used the ticket my spouse was supposed to use for the US vs Netherlands game.


(Brenda, me, and my brother Ross)