romantic notions of Africa

I was cheerleading Jim as he played football, and was chatting with Laura when she commented that her sons’ would have a cold dinner. With the dark clouds rolling in, it dawned on me that I hadn’t yet started dinner at six o’clock. The rain was pelting as I got inside.

The wet winds turned torrential and whipped the trees back and forth. The water poured down like one of those all-sides swooshing carwashes. Half a minute later, Jim was at the doorstep drenched and asking for a towel. I wasn’t forthcoming as I was zooming around the kitchen searching for a match to light the burner, fill the pot with water and light the oven. Cracking thunder and white lightening fiercly shot overhead and, boom, BLACK…no electricity.

I prepared dinner by candlelight, and served Nile River perch at bedtime. Wow, mom, we’ve never had dinner this late.

When I first left to the football field, someone called from behind, MamaHannah (my African name, being the mother of eldest daughter Hannah). Shadrach, the station manager, had fixed the plumbing and we would have water for dinner preparations. A high five for him! When you instinctively turn on the tap and discover NO water, this is a strange day. But when you are just curious and turn on the tap and celebrate that there IS water, it is stranger yet, because you’re celebrating water, and you don’t celebrate water as a North American, you take it for granted. When I was a kid, I remember being told to finish my food, because the kids in Ethiopia were hungry. Never, though, was I told to finish my water, because the kids were also thirsty.

Speaking of the kids, the Kenyan kids are really, really cute. My only meaningful exposure to African kids was the World Vision television infomercials, or tv shows like Different Strokes, or those boys we met on the passenger train from Edmonton to Vancouver’s Expo 86.

The first day hanging out with these big brown eyed kids was a bit surreal, because I felt like I was a screen away from them. My experience was precisely what was portrayed on the Sunday morning infomercial. No make up. No stage left. Okay, not a lot of teary eyed, kwashikor-bulging tummy kids in this part of Africa. But the poverty is apparent. After just one week, I am familiar with the regularly visiting children, because they’re still wearing the very same outfit.

Our kids are terribly concerned for them, not because of their clothes or shoelessness though, rather, their safety. We’ve seen them sucking shards of glass, carrying around a machete to peel a piece of fruit, trying to catch poisonous ladybug-looking insects, and climbing trees that are really, really tall (this may be one that I’m uncomfortable with, but they might be perfectly safe).

Hannah was amazed  that one girl watches iCarly. The girl was amazed that Hannah doesn’t have a tv here. Meshach speaks English. He finds it amusing that I try to speak Swahili. Djena lango MamaHannah (my name is mamaHannah). Or Djena laku? (what’s your name?) There is a four year old Sylvine who likes me to smile at her and sits on my lap (or at least I think she’s four…she looks like she’s four, but often I find the kids are much older than they look).

A fourteen year old girl visited for the first time yesterday. She was laughing herself silly hearing me cockadoodledoo when explaining the picture of a chicken, and asking hiyo nini? (what’s that?) Coo coo…of course, what else would they name it?

Just yesterday, the kids asked to play with our kids. Every other afternoon this past week, the kids came for the ball, the one English word most of them speak. We never did figure out how to deflate a soccer ball; we just threw two of them into Jim’s suitcase, next to the pseudo-family pharmacy. The soccer ball also subs in for a basketball. I saw one child with the top of a pail and a stick with a wire so he could roll the pail top up and down the hill. I wish I would have packed more than a half suitcase of paper dolls, stickers, and toys. Our Kamloops home is stocked with evidence of our shares in Toys R Us.

I’m not sure where I picked it up, like a virus stalking North American Christians, that the notion of doing work in Africa is romantic. I didn’t come here a week ago thinking that it was romantic, but deep, deep down, it sure sounded like a nice idea. You know, Out of Africa, The African Queen, stories of David Livingstone…kind of romantic. Well, it is aesthetically stunning, so remarkably more visually engaging than a screen could portray. But I’m not even hauling water or firewood half my day, just missing out on nighttime reading and a tap water supply, and I’m already aware of how very unromantic it is. Jim encouraged me that it’s not just about being rain for the parched, but also about all the things we need to learn in life. And, darn it, that is so very unromantic.


3 thoughts on “romantic notions of Africa

  1. Oh, I am so loving the opportunity to read your journey as you are experiencing it. I appreciate all the interesting details your sharing with us – from the water stories, the insects and the DEET (sometimes you must just forget the lovely idea of ‘organic’ repellent and instead spray away…),the interesting ‘kitchen’ of the house you visited (wow -we are spoiled) and the photos – ahh – that really brings to live your visit (I REALLY enjoy the photo above with the pink jacket). Alright – I’m excited to read more….

    • So glad that you’re along for the trip! Organic is so inconsequential here, when scarcity seems so very present. Scarcity even rears its head for us, because things aren’t readily available, and the very basic familiar comforts, like water and electricity, aren’t always available either.
      I had a conversation with a very organic friend a few years ago that went something like this: she suggested we should be healthy and spend more money on organic products, which at that time, I was spending fifty percent more on my grocery purchases buying mostly organic. I said, yes, it is probably better for us, but when we consider that most of the world can’t afford food at all, it seems like a luxury. Now I know what I said is true, with names and faces. They are no longer 2D for me…no different in our desires for life, just as smart, innovative, and capable; they simply were born into a part of the world more affected by environmental disadvantage and political disorganization. I don’t know how to rectify all this with all of our excesses, because we enjoy many, but I am aware now that I only think I’m entitled to it, and probably shouldn’t think I am as much as I do.
      How are your kiddos?

  2. oh – but we have been blessed with active minds that are not ignorant nor naive about issues such as ‘organic vs non organic’ – yes – we have been born into privilege and excess and entitlement and wealth – what to do? I talk with the kids lots about what we have vs. others, we talk about advertising and the ‘world’ mentality regarding ‘stuff’ and how its oh so easy to be caught up in it -those moments when you find yourself being sucked into the vortex of ‘stuff’ and you try to pull back (even just a wee bit)……it is soo good you are all there and you will be able to touch many lives back here with your stories and experience and enlighten some to live with less or be more aware, ect…
    on another note:) – kiddies are doing great – not really doing official book work now that days are lovely – gardening, bbq’s, teething, potty training…
    its shall soon be bedtime for one, so I shall bid adieu.

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