Dare I say we have Internet….after 10 days it looks like we are back. I am afraid that as I type that it will die yet again but for now I am itching to catch up. I wish I could say I used every spare minute the last 10 days of no Internet to read, pray, workout, or something chill and/or worthwhile but the truth is it was annoying. The first 3 days without it were fine and I did actually use the time in valuable ways and even enjoyed some time away from the rush of life, the need to check email, and the constant stream of info. But truth be told the past week it just irritated me. Mostly because I do not spend that much time online (as is evident by my hasty and rampant disregard for the proper usage of the English language) but the time I do really helps me feel connected. Because we are busy and life is pretty chaotic and the quiet moments I get to myself to catch up mean a lot to me. To write and read what others are up to. This little blog makes me feel connected in what can often feel like a noisy but lonely space. Does that make sense? more ramblings……but I am thankful at least for now we are up and running (until the next crisis). No Internet also seems rather ridiculous and laughable on the scale of hardships I see all the time too so I am working on that “do all things without complaining” thing.
So much has happened this past week. I cannot possibly begin to write about everything but I start here…. It has been an overwhelming week. We knew of 3 people that died this week and 2 that are now in the hospital. Last Friday night a neighbor and Mama of 4 of the watoto from shule came over and after greeting each other she came in and sat down and told me Fatma (the woman we visited last week at the hospital) had died a few hours ago. I was over at her house that morning and she reported that Fatma was doing a bit better and they were going to try a surgery but since that conversation she had a seizure (from what I could understand) or maybe even a heart attack as she was shaking uncontrollably. In the few hours between when I last spoke with my friend and when she came over Fatma’s desperately tired and sick body gave in. I was so sad for her loss and we made plans to attend the funeral. We sat and continued to talk while 2 of her children zoomed down our hall on Anni’s scooter (my kids were already asleep). We shared for the next two hours and discussed death, funerals, customs, culture, religion, faith, politics, her children, some neighborhood happenings, our vocational training center, my shule here, women, and food (somehow this always seems to come up:)).
She told me some of her opinions on the upcoming election. She shared more of her past with me that I did not know. That she was only allowed to attend school until about the equivalent of the second grade because she was needed in her home to take care of other children and to cook and clean. She married very young and became the second wife of her husband who is a fisherman. She is my age with 5 children and she had her first child at home on another small island when she was 17. She told me that even though she did not attend school she is very smart and she thanks God for this. I agreed. She was proud that she could read an advertisement in Kiswahili I had given her for our vocational school. She told me more about how she makes money for their family by cooking a local soup and selling it roadside. For about 4 hours of work a day she makes 2,000 TSH or about $1.50. She said that was “siyo mbaya” (not bad). I just felt my heart ache. I spend that much on a coffee or a soda. God is working on my world view and slowly chipping away at my stubborn self centerdness living among the people here. I will never fully understand but even in listening I am being nudged and changed.
I asked her what her dreams were for her children. She said that she will sacrifice so her kids can go to school (right now that means enough money for 2 of them to attend) but all of them come to shule here and she said if they miss a day they get a whooping from their father. While I felt bad missing a day results in a beat down it struck me that they are grasping at every chance they have to better their lives. The thing that most struck me is that she said the thing that she wants most for them is to “chagua” (to choose). As I sat listening I thought how many choices I have and have had in my life. In my culture even children are given choices “what do you want to be when you grow up?” How often do we make choices that others are never even offered? I think we often take these choices for granted. I know I did and do. And to be sure these choices come with their own stresses but as I sat and listened I was profoundly grateful for the blessing of being stressed about what to do next, what path to take, where my life will go. Because I have the opportunity to choose. My friend had very few choices in her life. She could not decide who she married, if she went to school, or even how she spends her days since immediate need dictates most of her time. I cannot imagine this but I can listen and try to be a friend even though we have traveled different roads in life.
During our conversation I needed my dictionary a few times and she spoke in a whisper on some sensitive subjects which made understanding a bit of a challenge. People here are definitely not free to say what they think all the time. They are afraid of the repercussions; from family, from neighbors, from the social structures, from the government. But one of the things I love is that the culture here is much more up front, say what you feel even on things that would be “rude” back home. Like when we arrived back from the states Jason and I both heard “you both got fat” numerous times (I always quickly mentioned I JUST had a baby:) to justify my pudgy self). As we were talking she interrupted me to say my curtains were in bad need of a washing. I promised her I would remedy the situation this week. That seemed to help and we continued talking while her kids discovered and destroyed some of Anni’s toys down the hall.
That night I got a glimpse of more of what life is like for people here. We do really feel like a part of our community; for better or worse, we get hoodi’s before 7am, we cannot “get away” from the constant noise at our place, we share in the problems of our friends and try to help when we can, we are able to also share in celebrations, weddings, visiting, helping when someone is sick, and funerals. But life is messy and it does not fit in with my time schedule or with my culture framework of “me” time. We are a part of life around us but times like this I realize just how removed my life still is and will always be from those around me. I have options. Since coming here I live in a new reality. I can no longer pretend people that live like this do not exist. Or exist only in emotional video clips showed at charity fundraisers.
I know their names, their faces, their children.
There is poverty everywhere but here it just seems more raw and more real to everyone. And it is stifling. And the truth is that many of my friends are really doing ok. They have enough food, their children are safe, they make do and are ingenious at making use of everything around them, and they are able to work. I know there exists much deeper and darker poverty that I have not seen. At home it was too easy for me to ignore it or to choose certain days of service to show compassion. And then feel really good about myself. But the truth is as long as I am loving out of my strength or to feel better about myself it is not what He calls me to. I am learning this and it is painful to really be vulnerable. Two other people died this week too. One was a grandfather of one of the shule kids and the other was a relative of Jason’s good friend. He drowned in the ocean after water flooded his small boat.
I just feel raw right now. Here we live in the midst of real needs and daily have to discern how and when we can help. This is really hard especially given that we do not want to ever create dependence on us or cripple people’s abilities to provide for themselves and each other. It is also difficult to find any balance for us in a culture that does not have a need for personal space. We are different. We need that time and that space. It is easy some days for me to dwell on the hardships or sufferings of people here (or on the small in comparison but still difficult things for our family). I can get more disillusioned and choose to be overcome by all the difficulties others face in this vast world of suffering. But instead I want to know that life is real and we are meant to share in the sufferings of others. I still have no clue how to really do this. Just a sense that I must.
Finally my friend and I heard some loud banging and hoodi’s from the gate. It was 5 of the kids from next door that were sent over to tell my friend that she was wanted at home to cook dinner for her husband. We made plans for me to go to wape pole yangu (literally give them my sorry) the next day and she headed back to her house. She called at 6am the next morning as they were starting the washing of the body to tell me the plans for the day. Funerals here always happen the next day as they family takes care of the body and with the heat they need to prepare and bury their loved one right away. Later that day I went to tell Fatma’s mother I was sorry for her loss and just sit with the women for part of the 3 days of mourning. We also walked about 30 minutes down a weaving dirt path stopping at 4 different family members homes to greet everyone. And then finally we arrived to meet a small baby that my friend said I should pray for. The little girl’s mother was sitting on a mat on the floor sorting rice when we arrived and her baby was in her arms. The little girl was 2 years old but smaller than Evy. She had some difficulty during her birth and has never eaten on her own or sat up and she has no use of her neck. In my limited medical knowledge it seems like she has cerebral palsy although no diagnosis has even been given to them. The mother has 8 children in total and asked me if I wanted to take this baby home with me, a question that must have come out of sheer exhaustion and a lack of options. I just have no idea what that life is like. I held the baby girl while everyone was busy around the house and then they went to pray. I offered to stay and hold her and explained I could just pray to Jesus in the house. I snuggled the little girl and listened to her labored breathing and choking sounds. And I prayed. By the time everyone finally returned it was well past dark and I was afraid I would never find my way out of the crazy path we had taken to get there so we started home with promised to come back and stay in touch.
Listening and being with people is the beginning…..but I am constantly asking Him what should my response be? How I live in a way that pours out love and concern for others? Do I have the courage to do it? Can I set aside my selfishness to love those Jesus tells me to love? Even if that means suffering for me too? Can I be a Light?
Jesus became one of us. He spoke often of the dangers of affluence. He cut right to the heart of people. He was a victim of injustice. He became poor. He was born in a feeding trough. His family only brought 2 pigeons or doves as an offering (the lowest amount allowed by the law). He became oppressed. He chose it all. He suffers not just for us but with us. We who have messed up and who deserve condemnation instead receive Grace. He plunged himself in the midst of our situations and that is the beauty of what He has done for us. I read somewhere that John Scott said “In a world of injustice I could never believe in a God without the cross because of the suffering in the world. I could never believe in a God that would be immune to it.” At least I scribbled that in my journal a while back and it resonates with me today.
That is the beauty of my God. He is not immune. He is deeply involved. He suffers with my friends here. He knows them. He came to bring Hope and Life. He came to get us out of ourselves…. and He is for sure working on me.