Walking past a primary school in a mountain town of northeast Kenya, I saw dozens of children rushing to the wire fence. What were they looking at? Mzungus! White people. We garner more excited interest than Queen Elizabeth when we saw her only … Continue reading
I can walk down the street entirely disinteresting and anonymous, in Canada. In Kenya, I ken be the highlight of some kid’s day. I was eager for a walk, so we travelled past the girls’ school, my girls begging me, please don’t go shake hands. Because I can see that our kids’ saturation point of being laughed at has been reached, I followed my children away from the crowd.
I can be satisfied with my three bedroom, two car garage home, two vehicles, full pantry and annual vacation, with enough left over for the occasional non-fat latte or night out. In Kenya, I ken give thanks for my daily bread (chai and a loaf of white), roaring fire with cache of hard-earned firewood, and my family’s health today.
I can be thankful for a tax funded safety net of social services, employment insurance and privately funded food banks. Or I ken see my little children beg, if you would be of assistance, to give me some money.
I ken drink sugary, whole milk chai every morning, sip soda every afternoon, and nibble on lollipops, but still be undernourished and underweight. Or, I can consume high fat fast food, nibble on cheese and crackers, potatoe chips, and frappucinnos, and have no reason for being undernourished yet overweight.
I ken get no reliable internet service. I can get reliable service, just not Telus-friendly service.
The sky’s the limit in what I can access at my local library. I ken get dusty, broken bound classics at the Kapsowar library. (Why there are books about cross country skiing and low-fat cooking on these shelves, I will never understand).
I can get occasional quality products from a dollar store…you would think so too if you ken get less-than dollar store quality combs, plastic sieves, caps and machetes at the Kapsowar market as your only option.
I can’t forget what I look like in the mirror, how stylish I might be dressed, or whether I’m Shape’s ideal size. I ken be thankful that my six skirts still sit on my waist and that I’m not thinking about coordinating, just glad that my tummy’s full and there’s food in the refrigerator for tomorrow.
I can get a 9-5 job with a half hour lunch break. Or I ken show up at 10:30 and take a two hour lunch break…okay, I’m not actually complaining, because I’m paying so little for outstanding help that it seems unreasonably unfair. Still, just saying, I can’t keep no job in Canada with those hours.
I can expect that I’ll have a visit within fifteen minutes of an agreed appointment. Or I ken expect to wait for hours. Jim, in his conscientious approach, insisted on being at a three o’clock appointment one day–I told him we should not waste time. It’s what I do, he insisted. Okey dokey, I acquiesed. Sure enough, the old African adage came true: North Americans have the watch, but Africans have the time!
I can turn up the furnace. Or, I ken gather the firewood and light the fire.
I can throw the laundry in the front load washer. Or, I ken throw the mound in to the bathtub and rub a dub scrub.
I can watch netflix. Or, I ken catch up on the classics: Dicken’s David Copperfield, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and Austen’s Emma.
I ken be simply content with less, thankful for my daily bread, and my little family. Or I can think I should be more, have more, live more, strive more.
I hope I ken bring home Kenya’s contentment, and can live it out in Canada.
I am tired. Each evening the symphony of insects eases me into slumber, and each morning the tropical vegetation awakens my senses. As soon as I walk through the station compound, though, I feel I have entered an altered universe. I don’t know how … Continue reading
Wednesday afternoon I went to Guatemala. I lived on a dollar a day.
Imagine yourself doing that here.
What could you afford? An apple and a twenty five cent gumball? That’s your meal for the day.
Where will you sleep? In a cougar’s den if you’re lucky. On a park bench? I don’t think you’ll be doing that with all that snow and freezing temperatures. On someone’s couch? Can’t be done indefinitely.
How will you travel? Why does it matter? You can’t afford to do anything.
A dollar a day in these parts is inconceivable. Varying information suggests that almost half the world, 3 Billion people, live on less than $2.50 a day. Eighty percent live on less than $10 a day. Another source suggests that 60% of the world lives on less than a dollar a day. A statistic from the film says that 1.1 billion people live under a dollar a day. The precise statistic doesn’t matter. That’s a lot of people; and that’s not a lot of income.
Chris Temple and Zach Ingrasci and their two filmmaking friends headed to Guatemala to live for two months on a dollar a day. They tried to align themselves to the life of that kind of poverty.
Perhaps it is because I’ve been third world that I can imagine myself actually being on the other side of the screen. But what these guys, these four university aged guys did would have been very challenging, even if they knew they’d spend only two months doing it and knew they’d return home to regain that lost twenty pounds eating whatever they chose.
What is it like when you live in a Central American country? Seven out of ten people that you meet will live like you do. No cougar’s dens and park benches here. Find yourself a covered shelter (it rains a lot) and hope for a job. You might be the only fellow in the community with a paying job. So on a $1.25 a day, you are able to support your family of seven. Did I mention you are just 23? That you were one of the wealthiest in the neighbourhood? That twice a year you could prepare a feast of refried beans and rice? You’ll make your own tortillas, grind your own beans, be thankful for a pound of lard to fatten your baby’s bellies.
If travelling third world is not possible, I recommend watching this Indieflix flick.
People don’t need enormous cars, they need respect. They don’t need closets full of clothes, they need to feel attractive and they need excitement and variety and beauty. People don’t need electronic equipment, they need something worthwhile to do with their lives. People need identity, community, challenge, acknowledgement, love, and joy. To try to fill these needs with material things is to set up an unquenchable appetite for false solutions to real and never-satisfied problems. The resulting psychological emptiness is one of the major forces behind the desire for material growth.
A quote from Africa, A Land of Hope that makes me think. Easy to not focus on material things (except groceries) here in rural Kenya when there is not a lot of television advertising or trips to the mall. When Edna said, thank you for the skirts, she added, I don’t think about what styles I like, I only think of buying food. As Rispah shared chai with us in her newspaper walled, 150 sq ft home this afternoon, she told us that she was thankful for her large home. Our ideas of material blessing are ginormous compared to the folks here. But the human heart remains the same continents over. I do not point fingers–my quest for material things has lessened considerably the last few years, but I am not prepared to sell everything to move to Africa. Our quest for more isn’t about the more that we desire, it’s about how it makes us feel–the neverending quest for making us feel good, to the exception of pursuing the most important things: sharing our things and our lives with each other, requiring respect from others and giving it too, and a certainty that we are valuable individuals created by God for unique purposes. I raise my Fanta soda to these things, in hopes that I remember them back home!
I’ve discovered Carl Sandburg on a day where I contemplate the many things I’ve learned here in Africa.
What shall he tell that son?
Life is hard; be steel; be a rock.
And this might stand him for the storms
and serve him for humdrum and monotony and guide him amid sudden betrayals
and tighten him for slack moments.
Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy.
And this too might serve him.
Brutes have been gentled where lashes have failed.
The growth of a frail flower in a path up has sometimes shattered and split a rock.
A tough will counts. So does desire.
So does a rich soft wanting.
Without rich wanting nothing arrives.
Tell him too much money has killed men and
left them dead years before burial:
the quest of treasure beyond a few easy needs
has twisted good enough men
sometimes into dry thwarted worms.
Tell him time as a stuff can be wasted.
Tell him to be a fool every so often
yet learning something out of every folly
hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies
thus arriving at intimate understanding of a world numbering many fools.
Tell him to be alone often and get at himself
and above all tell himself no lies about himself
whatever the white lies and protective fronts he may use amongst other people.
Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong
and the final decisions are made in silent rooms.
Tell him to be different from other people
if it comes natural and easy being different.
Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives.
Let him seek deep for where he is a born natural.
Then he may understand Shakespeare and the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov,
Michael Faraday and free imaginations
bringing changes into a world resenting change.
He will be lonely enough to have time for the work he knows as his own”.
The heavens are open and the rains are pouring. Thanks to Mosa for split firewood and my newly acquired skill in firestarting. I’m kinda proud. Forty five minutes and two boxes of matches and I accomplished nothing a few days ago. Watching the professionals closely helps. Agnes and Edna, starting their fire every evening of their cooking lives, have a lot of talent. Today, I’ve started two fires, morning and evening.
Hard to believe that in only a few days we will be packing our suitcases and driving back to El Doret. Seems like so very long since we’ve been here, like it is so front and present that it couldn’t have an end. Dare I say with true vulnerability, the foreign nature of our surroundings does compel me to desire the familiar. I’d like to think that I have the fortitude to hang my hat for awhile, and maybe one day that will be the case, but I’m awful eager to visit Superstore.
I didn’t even know what to say when someone remarked today that she doesn’t buy all that water purification stuff. Just drink it straight from the tap. Huh, cross-eyed. Are you joking? Can you spell–e coli, cholera, giardia, cryptosperidium–okay, I’m not sure I can spell the last one. Since I’m pretty sure though that I had one of them last weekend, I’m not so cocky about my immune system.
There are some things that you just don’t get to experience when you’re in Canada. Madelyn sat five and a half hours to get her hair done. This one daughter does have the patience to sit that long, but her hairstyle is not all that common.
A summertime do, requiring no cleansing or styling. Pretty cute.
I’m going to buy a few mangos, I told Jim on our walk to the market. Don’t we have enough for the weekend? Jim asked. Ha, you’re funny, starting to blend into the culture. Most folks I know shop for the month, thanks to Costco. At home I go weekly, because we only have a fridge freezer–why fill a large freezer when we’re not staying in the same location often.
When I’ve wanted to give a larger grocery gift here, like a typical week’s grocery purchase, I have realized that it isn’t wanted. Where to put it? Most don’t have freezers and certainly no fridges. People’s pantries are likely not as stocked as ours would be. Folks here plan for what they need today. So my concept of sharing en masse isn’t nearly as clever as I’d hoped.
Despite the food for today mentality, everyone shares abundantly here. The takeaway message I get from coming to Kenya is to share, as excessively as I am able. Share my time, share my money, and share my food. It’s easy to anonymously share money. Not so easy to anonymously share food, but still simple enough to do. Definitely less easy to share my time.
Yes, the romantic notions of Africa are now officially tanked for me. But the awareness that the sharing of my time in a place that is considered developing certainly makes a lot of sense. We wouldn’t have to come. No one is compelling us. Certainly more people wonder why we would do it. Why give up your comforts when there is also need in Canada? Yup, true. But not anywhere near the kind of need here. No, I don’t believe it’s our sole responsibility to share our time, money and food–it’s everyone’s, those with much, and those with less.
Edna and I spent a couple hours sharing recipes back and forth. I got her light and crusty bread loaf recipe. I gave her ideas for sugar coated peanuts, and recently taught her to make cabbage rolls (which I’ve never made before, but incorporates common Kenyan ingredients). I sure wish you could stay longer, then you could teach me to cook, she says. That’s ironic, and hilariously funny to me, as she’s taught me how to make tortillas, use dried beans and lentils, and white chicken chilli.
We all have different things to share. If I never come back to Kenya, I’m going home with a new intention of sharing. To quote Jack Johnson, it’s always more fun to share with everyone!
The poster on the hospital chapel wall, the poem from Mother Teresa, was recently recreated by Martina McBride. This song, or the prayer by Mother Teresa, seems so fitting in a world of continuously squashed hope here in Kenya. And such an encouraging reminder to keep going, to keep believing in God’s goodness despite…despite whatever, the hundred and one whatevers. I think the lyrics speak to every person, at some time or another. There’s a reason it’s on my iPod.
You can spend your whole life building something from nothing
One storm can blow it all away, build it anyway
You can chase a dream that seems so out of reach
And you know it might not ever come your way
Dream it anyway
This world’s gone crazy and it’s hard to believe that tomorrow will be better than today
Believe it anyway
You can love someone with all your heart, for all the right reasons
And in a moment they can choose to walk away, love them anyway.
You can pour whole life singing
A song that you believe in
Then tomorrow they’ll forget they ever sang, sing it anyway
God is great, but sometime life ain’t good
And when I pray, it doesn’t always turn out like it should
But I do it anyway.
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.