If I could explain to you what the colour blue looked like if you were blind, when the calm shade was not in your visual repetoire, how would I do it?
If you’ve never been to the developing world, and you’ve always wondered what it would be like, it would be a challenge to explain.
I’m not sure that I can do it. But I’ll try.
Do you remember the first time you gave your child their very first present? They unwrapped it, wondering what was inside, and their eyes buzzed. That was the look I saw in the eyes of two nine year old girls as I handed them a pink t-shirt, ones that I had purchased for three dollars at Superstore.
Children are sent to school for 7, without breakfast. If their school provides it, they will have chai tea and a piece of bread for breakfast. In the evening, they may have ugali (maize porridge) with broth. Crayons and colouring books gifts are eaten up (my kids bore with them). The kids here are identifiable to me by their repeatedly worn clothing, and their clothes are worn. Not stained, not oversized or undersized, but torn, worn through, and very dirty.
I brought the picnic blanket out in a common area. I was helping Madelyn with her craft: sewing a dress. I’d brought out the paper dolls and removable animal stickers. The kids gathered around us, sitting where they felt comfortable, and leafed through everything, including my swahili-english dictionary.
The sun was too hot, so I had us move closer to the shade, where I noticed another bunched blanket laying on the ground. I noticed the blanket on my way out of our fence; I nearly stepped on it. Inside this blanket, was a baby, a beautiful baby. Eyes the colour of chocolate. I could have eaten him up. This little one was a sibling of one of the nine year old girls. She almost always had the little one strapped on her back.
The downtown center, the main street, is one long rugged road the colour of rust. Wild chickens roam, pecking at what they can find whether it be garbage or another animal’s feces. Garbage is all over the sides of the roads.
The stores are shacks or shanties. Some are organized inside, some not.
People are everywhere.
Vehicles, especially motorcycles, control the road. Pedestrian is probably not a swahili word, because there is no thought to them. There are no sidewalks–you don’t want to get hit? Get off the road.
Women travel from the river with water in containers on their back…and the same with firewood. This is their form of plumbing and heat.
Clothing comes from places like North America. Have you ever wondered where the excesses of Value Village goes? Bundled in packages sent overseas to people here. In the middle of the market are a dozen vendors laying out their wares, piles of second hand clothes, to be sold.
Water hasn’t just come and gone for me and my family. Presently we have hot and cold water running from the taps, but I hear it is remarkably inconsistent these days. Electricity too. We didn’t have it all day, but I didn’t need it; there was sunlight.
A little girl came to our door and asked us for a glass of water during the plumbing-less days. Hannah told her that we had almost no water, that she should go back home. She said it didn’t matter if it was clean, she was thirsty.
And with all these vignettes, I am told, this is Disneyland compared to the life of those in the valley below.
We read of Mathare Valley, at the center of Nairobi, an urban slum the size of a mall parking lot with 500,000 people, and a sewer running through. Six to eight people sharing a double bed in a six by eight room, the size of my present dining room. I’ve been told of the Nairobi garbage dump where they leave unwanted babies to die.
You have likely heard all these stories before.
If blue isn’t becoming more recognizable, I invite you to come. Come see what everyone says but you might not entirely believe: you are wealthy, rich, indescribably blessed.
Come, until your heart can describe it with shades of blue you didn’t understand existed.