Xavier Magazine

Midlife Lessons

To read Ed Colina’s blog click here.

To see photos from his trip click here.

When he closes his eyes, Ed Colina is transported back to the village of Nyumbani. It is dusk, his favorite time of day, and in the dimming light of the dusty, Kenyan summer, he stands by his hut and scans the other houses for the cook fires glowing behind each one. There must be 20 or more. Most everyone makes a stew of rice and beans, but he sniffs the air for the familiar smell of chapati, a traditional flat bread, pan-frying over the hot coals.

As he strolls between the houses, the children call him to share their meal, and when he accepts, they bring out the special guest’s chair for him and a big plate of stew and chapati. It would be rude to refuse food when you’re an invited guest, so Colina, who just a few months prior lived in an upscale condominium on a Northern Kentucky golf course, gladly accepts. The truth is, he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

At 53, Colina is living the fruits of his midlife crisis. A successful educator and principal of a Catholic school in Burlington, Ky., Colina still felt something was missing. He wanted to do more with his gifts as a teacher, and he wanted to simplify his life. After a period of discernment, Colina quit his job last year and went to Africa.

An Internet search turned up Nyumbani, a non-profit mission in Kenya that has an orphanage in Nairobi for infected children whose parents died of HIV/AIDS and a self-sustaining eco-village with 250 orphans and about 30 grandparents. It was just what he was looking for. So he sold his condo and gave away the pool table, his clothes and electronics. He turned in his leased car on the way to the airport and took off for Nairobi, arriving on Sept. 8, 2007.

Colina, a 1976 theology graduate, kept an online blog of his journey, detailing the Nairobi slums, the orphanage and the village that wormed its way into his heart. It’s not only the places that draw him, it’s the people, he says. Like the sick child who died just days after they met, the ageless grandmothers who shared meals and memories, and the motherless schoolchildren who scrubbed the classroom floors every morning.

But he also raised money from his old school to buy solar panels that power the computers by day and a clinic by night. He organized thousands of library books and made curtains for the shelves, pumping the foot pedal on a sewing machine. He taught computer and other classes. In time he became as much a part of the village as it became a part of him.

He returned home in early March but already misses the people—Benard and Charles Darwin, his friend George, the Kenyan who calls him “my best friend Ed”—so much that he’s planning on going back. “When I left Kenya and those kids, I didn’t know if I’d see them again or even if they’d be OK,” he says. “Right now it’s 6:00 o’clock there and they’re cooking supper, and at 7:00, they’ll go back to school. I’m ready to go back now.”

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