despite accusation, i am literate

A Kenyan man walks up to me in the Kongasis Supermarket and says, Do you speak Markwet? I respond, no. He says, Then who’s illiterate, you or me? It depends, I say, do you read and write Markwet? I read and write, he says. Then we’re both literate, just different languages. The grocery sales lady high fives me for my quick wit. I get that I’m white and probably represent the hundreds of years of colonialization by European countries for him, but I have no interest in his land. You only speak English, no Swahili? he directs to the kids. Parlez vous francais, I ask. Not that I could go any further in this language with my six years of conjugating french verbs, but he is stuck.

We were on a grocery run, looking for gum for Jim, which we could only find in packs of four for five shillings. We’re running out of bags of carrots, so we’re resorting to a change of pace: sukiwiki (spinach-ish), cabbage for hummus, tacos and coleslaw, and I’m going to actually finish an avocado in Kenya, at only ten shillings a piece (12 cents). We found oranges…here they might call them greens, as they are green, and taste like limes. We eat loads of mangos and teeny bananas too.

I’m really buying all this food for the cook. Madelyn was bugged that she couldn’t make anything today. I’ll say that I had an awful lot more time to do multiplication flash cards, because I now have a daily housekeeper and a two day a week cook. I’m feeling a bit Scarlett O’Hara-ish. Next thing you know, we’ll be hiring a nanny.

While I have fewer house related tasks, my daughters are beginning their medical residencies. Rachel watched a lumbar puncture on a six month old for her first day, and tolerated three hours of rounds. Madelyn especially enjoyed pediatrics yesterday, declaring she wants to be a pediatrician when she grows up. On a scale of one to ten, how much do you like dad’s work? I ask. A nine: one less than ten, because I don’t like the paperwork. Ha, a girl after her daddy’s heart. Hannah had to sit down after the first half hour and wasn’t sure she was going back.

All of us visit pediatrics with a few sticker books and sweets for the kids who are discharged, but can’t afford to go home (waiting for money to pay the hospital). Though we can’t always communicate with patients or their mothers directly, we can always bring kindness and a willingness to play, or just smile.

I was warned by the station manager, Shadrach, that I should consider how trusting I am with the children. He tells stories of a child attempting to break into the metal encased windows to a bedroom one Sunday afternoon, or that windows should be locked when we leave the house, because things are stolen or even tiny kids like Zach are pushed through the windows to open doors and steal the dried goods in the kitchen. But what if they’re hungry? I muse. Maybe it’s okay that they help themselves. He looks at me quizzically/blankly. No, they are not hungry. They are fine. I ask Agnes about the stealing later, and she laughs when I suggest that maybe the kids are just hungry. Then they should ask. I am literate, just occasionally naieve.


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