I am back from my safari to another island. I have not really had time to process everything since life started right back up full swing upon my return. But for now I can say it was simultaneously one of the most difficult and one of the most awesome experiences of my life. For sure it was an adventure. I took amazing pictures and I will say it again the people and children here are just beautiful, amazing, and so kind. We were in shamba sana (countryside/village) and Evy and I never saw any other Wazungus our entire time there. I will try to sum up some of the time away lest I forget these experiences although I promise no cohesive storytelling since I am wicked tired:). But I just have a sense of the richness of what I am experiencing and want to breath deep, not blink, and let it all settle in. And for sure shower and rest. A lot.
To start our adventure my friend and her two daughters slept over at our house the night before our boat because in her words "or I will be late." I had to laugh as at least she knows herself!! We got up, crammed everything this Mzungu could fit into a suitcase for myself and Evy, and we all piled into our car so Jason could drop us at the port. The boat was over an hour late arriving but we passed the time talking and the two girls took turns holding Evy and entertaining her. The boat ride was not terrible mostly because I had some pharmaceutical assistance and we got to sit in first class even though we did not pay for it. Cool story: the regular seats were packed full and we would not have been able to sit together so we went up on deck to see if there were any outside seats; nada. So on our way back down with everything in tow my friend suggested we sit in first class. One of the crew members came and tried to kick us out but a local man talked to him and told him "you let her stay, she has a child and she respects our culture." Very cool. He also carried my bag for me the entire time expecting nothing in return. On the boat ride lots of folks were interested in why we were heading to the island and we had lots of good conversations and Evy was passed around and even took a nap for about an hour on another woman's lap giving me a chance to rest as well.
We arrived at the port and immediately boarded a bus that was headed to our next destination. Now I really had no idea where we were going, how far it was, etc and was just trying to "go with the flow." Our luggage was quickly thrown on top of the bus (I just prayed it made it on the right one) and after filling the bus beyond capacity we were off. The bus made about a zillion stops along the way and after about 2 hours we were driving up a hill when we heard some nasty sound. The kind of sound that usually means something is busted, broken, smoking, or otherwise out of commission. The bus died and rolled a few feet back down the hill. The conductors jumped out and began pushing it off to the side of the road. After a couple minutes smoke started to fill the bus and we were all told to exit. What I could understand is that it overheated and they needed water. A few men ran off in search of "maji" while we all hung out along the road. I was so ready to get there already but we had no choice but to wait. We do a lot of waiting here.
After pouring some water and waiting for the smoke to clear we all boarded the bus again and after the conductors giving the bus a running push start from behind we were off again. After a bit we arrived in a town that was the end of the bus line. I was relived until I realized we then had to board a dala dala to get to the village. Some guys my friend knew were shopping at the local market and helped us carry our luggage through the bumpy road until we got to what can only be described as the most crammed full dala dala I have ever seen. And that is saying something. When my friend suggested I get on I stepped up and seriously looked around dumbfounded as to where to sit. After some butt shuffling I managed to get one cheek on some precious bench real estate and my stuff was farmed out to various people around the dala dala. Poor Evy had had it at this point and the only way to keep her quiet was to nurse her but that was really a feat of massive skill and maneuvering. While I was sitting one butt cheek on the seat, nursing Evy, trying to hold on to the top of the dala dala over bumps someone handed me a live chicken in a bag. I just had a moment. Really, is this my life? It was hilarious (once it was over) and thankfully that trip only lasted about 30-45 minutes. As we approached the village I heard yelling and this crazy loud high pitched noise the women here make. To say we were welcomed would be an extreme understatement. Upon sight of the dala dala a group of women (including my friend and her son that had left a few weeks back) came running out and helped us carry everything and get off. After lots of greetings we were ushered into the house we were staying and into a front room where everyone immediately started stripping our clothes off us. This was definitely a learning experience! In a way it comforts me that they too get wicked hot and cannot wait to strip down. They hung our clothes for us and we basically sat around in our skivies for about 20 minutes until someone else brought us hot chai. After resting a bit we washed up and changed clothes and set out to greet everyone in the village. Everyone was very welcoming and very excited we had come and they were eager to show us their homes and village. And eveybody wanted to hold Evy...can't blame them there!
The house we stayed at had no furniture in it at all (since it is a vacant house right now) and had a pit toilet. We had to get all our water using buckets from a well at the mosque but after the first day I was actually pretty capable of getting my own water and we used this for cooking, bathing with buckets and soap, and washing dishes, etc.
Since there was nothing in our house we borrowed everything we needed. And every meal we would share food with other people there.
Again, I learned just how communal life is here as people just come around and get the phone charger, the chai kettle, the bucket for washing, etc. Everything you have is for use by everyone. I discovered this one day when another woman was wearing my scarf (she then washed it and returned it to my bag but took it without asking).
Visiting everyone in the village was overwhelming but so interesting as well. The first day all the women were sitting around together preparing for the wedding the next day. They were slicing onions, sifting 50 kilos of rice, and applying henna. The women prepped all the food but the men cooked it the next morning for the actual wedding day.
the man folk getting their cooking on..
Kids were running everywhere at all times and they were always interested to see the Mzungu. I seriously felt like an animal at the zoo most of the time there. They would just sit and stare at me and two nights people came over to our house just to watch me and see what the odd Mzungu was going to do. Hated to disappoint them as I am pretty boring although no one seemed to mind.
Most of my time in the village was spent visiting, helping cooking, washing, making kids laugh at my Mzungu antics, preparing for the wedding, attending wedding festivities, and just sitting and hanging out. Evy was a complete rockstar which was such an answer to prayer. I thought I had attended a lot of weddings but this was EPIC. Seriously, no other word for it. Everyday there were different events and we went to all of them.
We were awoken at 5am on Friday to go attend the actual "ceremony" but ended up just waiting outside the house with about 50 other people until we heard celebratory cheering. Later that day was the big "dance party" although they will not call it that since technically they are not allowed to dance but it is at least "rhythmic swaying" in my opinion. My friend's had had a special "sare" made for me or uniform of the wedding. It is not really like bridesmaids since I did not even know the bride but more like a special fabric for certain days of the wedding that many of the women wear. There were 3 days of sare but I only got one for the Friday celebration. My friend and her sisters had a little too much fun getting me ready for the celebration by putting on black eyeliner and lipstick and since there were no mirrors I took this self take to see how I looked. They had so much fun dressing me up and besides the glaringly white skin I actually fit in the crowd pretty well.
dancing....errr...I mean swaying
check out the pilau pot they rented to cook for everyone in the village
As in many weddings each day the bride sat in a room all day looking sad. I guess this is tradition but some people also said she is afraid to get married. She was completely blinged out though everyday with new outfits.
dancing with a Bibi of the village
Being a part of the celebrations was really fun but to be honest lots of things were tough. The nights were really rough. That first night my friends borrowed a thin foam pad from another house for us to sleep on. It was about a double size and four of us slept there. The hardest part of the time there was that there just was never any time for me to be alone, to think, to breath. Add to that being "on display" all the time and ick. And even for an extrovert that all got draining after a few days. On the second night there was a night party as well where everyone danced to some huge rented blaring loud speakers until the generator (there was no power) they had borrowed ran out of gas at about 2am. The next night I was not so lucky as the power returned for about 10 hours and they blared music until 4am. It was so loud the floor and the walls vibrated in our house. That was honestly one of the worst experiences for me of the whole time there. There just is no respect for quiet or sleep in this culture. Poor Evy kept waking up to the bass pumping music and I would try to calm her and nurse her and convince her to sleep but between 12 and 4am we were both awake and at one point I joined her in crying. At 4am they finally stopped the music and my friends came in and everyone crashed to sleep until 45 minutes later when the mosque call woke us all up. They functioned on about 1 hour of sleep that day. I have no idea how they can do that as I was hurting. Bad. It was also that morning that I was really nauseous, had a terrible headache (gee, I wonder why?), and had some predictable stomach issues that are not so fun in previously mentioned pit toliet ('nuff said). I was feeling pretty rotten and was also worried since Evy got some bug bites that night despite the bug spray and net. After some initial panic, I started to feel better around mid day and had some great chances to visit. I just had to push past feeling bad, being dirty, and feeling frustrated. Honesty once I let go of a lot of that stuff I really had a great time.
at least I was not the only one who did not care for the loud music
I really enjoyed visiting more and getting to know some people. When we would all sit together it was a challenge as my Kiswahili is still a work in progress and with everyone talking at once as it is hard to understand. We had lots of girl talk time and I really felt we grew so much closer (and Jason said upon hearing my story that I even broke "the fart barrier" as one of my friends farted in front of me). They were impressed I even knew the words for said bodily function and we all had a good laugh. Even though my brain hurt after lots of Kiswahili it was a great opportunity to learn what Swahili life in the village is really like, how they live day to day, and how they celebrate. I was able to understand and communicate better when I talked with people one on one and on the third day had some great visits in people's homes. I was able to ask lots of questions about their lives, work, families and they asked a lot about me as well. The last day we were there I had a great conversations with a family in their home and shared some of the awesome things God has done in my life. They brought a couple to me and asked if I would pray for them to have a baby since they had been married for over a year and not had a baby yet (not a big deal in my culture but a very big deal here). I also had very interesting conversations about marriage with some women. One who was worried that my husband would beat me since Evy got a few bug bites. Sad but she was concerned for me. It was very awesome to have chances to encourage and love people and share life.
kids dancing it up at the last party of the week
On the last day we attended yet another celebration and then headed to a bigger town about 30 minutes away to stay with a family until my plane left the next day. As we were leaving the village lots of people came out to see us off and I got lots of requests to come back and stay longer next time. After a bumpy car ride at night we arrived in the town. Staying at that house was really fun although we still all stayed up until after 2am watching a video of the wedding festivities we had just been at. Since all 11 of us slept in the same room no one could go to bed until everyone did. Although I was very grateful that night because Evy and I slept much better.
possibly the best bed head ever!!
In the morning we got up early, had some chai, and then they took me on a walking tour of the town and the hospital where the Mama of the house worked. After that we all piled into a car to head to the airport.
They all accompanied me all the way to the check-in desk and then got special permission to help me through security and make sure I was fine before leaving (I had to head back for work and because I could not go more days with no sleep- call me a wuss...but I am sooo not that hardcore!) and they were staying a few more days. After a short flight I was home and reunited with Anni and J. I was so thankful to see them and so thankful for the family and marriage God has blessed me with and a new sense of how important those things are. Spending so much concentrated time "going local" away from my (already abnormal) normal life gave me some new insights into the lives of my friends here, taught me more about some of the awesome aspects of the culture I continue to learn from every time I am with people as well as some of the darker aspects of the culture that drive me to have compassion, love, and pray. Not everyone has what I have in terms of family support, mutual respect, and freedom and I am keenly aware that I am blessed. Both to be a daughter of the King and to be able to experience and learn so many new things from dear friends here. It was a great trip!