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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

A time for coming together

Thursday, August 2, 2012

In 2004, on my first trip to Kenya, I and half of my teammates stayed at the townhouse of the Rev. Paul and Grace Mbithi in Nairobi.

It was quite a change from my previous mission trip; a year and a half earlier, I'd been staying in a dirt-floor shed in Nicaragua, with no running water, showering by dumping bowls of cold rainwater over my head as I stood naked in a little backyard stall that was open on one side, for any livestock that wanted to look.

I should have warned you not to read this column while eating, as I'm sure that image spoiled your appetite.

By comparison, Paul and Grace's place seemed like the Holiday Inn. Yes, there were reminders that we were in the developing world, such as the electric "widowmaker" showerhead in the bathroom and the shards of broken glass embedded like concertina wire in the top of the walls that separated Paul's driveway from his neighbors. But, still, there was indoor plumbing, and color television. The living room, while small, wasn't much different from a lot of living rooms I've been in here in the States.

When we got home in the evenings, after a day of ministry and cottage industry training, we sometimes turned on the 2004 Athens Olympics, which happened to take place during our stay in Nairobi.

Not surprisingly, the prime time coverage in Kenya focused on distance running events, in which the Kenyans have a tradition of excellence.

We, the American visitors, were happy to join teenage Benjamin Mbithi and his parents in rooting for the Kenyans, particularly when there weren't any Americans challenging.

The Kenyan sportscasters talked much less than their U.S. counterparts. They weren't shown on camera, and I remember wondering whether they were actually in Athens or whether they were in a TV studio in Nairobi, providing Kenya-specific commentary on top of a generic video feed.

NBC takes flack from some quarters for going too far in focusing just on American athletes and stories, and not giving its audience enough credit for being interested in the stories of other countries' athletes. Some of that criticism may be deserved, although I suspect NBC is just playing to what it knows most of the audience wants to see.

I admit that I keep up with the medal count during the Olympics, to see how the U.S. is doing against those other guys. I can even do it from an app on my smartphone. With any sport, it's fun to have someone for whom to root.

But if you only see the Olympics as an occasion for flag-waving, you're missing quite a lot. I applaud the organizers of the London games for the breathtaking, and very British, opening ceremonies. And, as I've watched this week, I'm trying to see the games as Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympic movement, imagined them -- not as a way of separating one country from another, but as a way of celebrating things that we all have in common. (And, no, I don't mean Olympic sponsor Coca-Cola, although it's certainly international.)

In times of terror and war, we could all use a little reminder of our common humanity.

--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government. He is also the author of the self-published novel "Soapstone." His personal web site is lakeneuron.com.

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John I. Carney
Loose Talk / Charge Complete
John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette.