Visiting and receiving guests is what you do here. It is how you show respect, give blessing, share life, and catch up. No quick emails, no blog reading, no meetings, no planned coffee dates, no long phone calls (especially in the land where everyone owns a cell phone but no one ever has credit on their phones). Nope, it is just visiting. Mostly unannounced or unplanned old school visiting. To be honest this is hard for us anal-plan-lovin' Western types and on more than one occasion (ok, like at least a 100) we have been seen trying to hide when a "hoodi" bellows from our gate. Never works though since everyone knows our business and they just get louder until we come:) We are learning to roll with it though and dare I say even really enjoy it most days.
For us it is hard to really understand just how much it means when you visit and receive guests and not on your time table but on theirs. When I asked my English students the question "How do you know someone loves you?" they ALL unequivocally answered "they come to visit me." For us this has meant that we try to set aside more time for visiting or we get to busy and just do not do it. Saturday was a packed day of visiting. Anni was invited to go with some of our team members to a sand bank so it was just J, Evy, and me. We braced ourselves for what could be a long, sweaty, and unpredictable day but it turned out to be one of the best days I've had in a while.
Started rough although as we got lost trying to find our first friend's house. Luckily we found a duka with a colorful sign: "Safi Butchery" (safi=clean) and even though it was anything but it served as a landmark for a relative of our friend to come get our Wazungu butts and direct us to the house. How people can remember these narrow and winding paths is so beyond me? After arriving we met the newest addition to their family. He was a week old and had just been given his name: Abdul. He was precious and tiny and so sweet.
I could only hold him for a couple minutes before Miss Evy was jealous and insisted (by loud protests) that she sit on my lap, hug my neck, and that I ditch the baby. After hanging out a while, being stared at by lots of interested watoto that showed up, and hearing all the latest news from their family Jason prayed for the baby and their family. Thanking God for the gift of a healthy baby and asking God to be with their family, protect them, guide them. We said goodbyes and made our winding way back to our car.
Since we were really close by we called our other friend (who had just gotten married) who somehow found us in the maze of winding streets (I use that term lightly) and then escorted us to his house.
His wife was inside cooking and since the last time we were there she had decorated and added a woman's touch to the home. I loved it! We brought some "house warming" gifts (a bucket for water, a wooden spoon, and some rice) and explained that is our culture when you have your first home it is a big deal and friends and family come over and bring gifts. They brought out a mat for us and we sat around visiting, catching up, and sharing for about 3 hours. It was constant kazi to keep Miss Evy Imani from destroying everything or reaching for the hot coals or other not so kid-friendly stuff everywhere but we made it work.
Jason also got to see his finished hat (but he could not take it home yet as it has to be washed a special way). He even got lessons about how to wear it the appropriate way. We had a great time exchanging stories; he told us about what life was like on the island a long time ago, we told some of the story of Joseph, and we heard the latest on his business and foundation he is starting to help kids. After a quick trip to get another friend and to buy some sodas from the duka we all sat to eat the spread of food; beans with coconut, rice, fried fish, mchuzi (curry), and papaya. It was fabulous! Since Evy was BEYOND tired and crabby at this point we knew we had to take our leave soon. But the men folk first went out to greet some neighbors while me and our friend's wife washed dishes. I felt good that she let me help after I insisted "wanawake siyo wageni" (women are not guests). The men returned, we waited for some rain to let up, and headed out the long and now muddy walk back to where our car was parked.
We arrived home and Evy took a marathon nap while I cleaned up a bit and we rested. Our Kiswahili teacher from a long while back had called and said he was coming to visit with his wife but they were over an hour late which we did not mind at all since we got some uninterrupted Skype time with J's folks. J then quickly headed out to pick up Annikah who was back from her boat adventures and as they pulled in our guests showed up. Our teacher had just gotten back from a 6 month guest teaching gig at Howard University in D.C. We had SOOO many questions for him! Jason told him he would have loved to be in his brain when he arrived in the U.S.: his first time outside of East Africa. We talked about his time there and heard his stories. We had so many questions. He said everything was so clean and organized but that people have no time for visiting, for people, or to talk. They are just too busy with work all the time and he felt lonely. He was shocked at how much diversity there is in America, people from everywhere and lots of black people (I added especially at Howard!) He could not believe the duka kubwa (big store) or mall and described it as the place unaweza kununua kila kitu duniani (you can buy everything in the world). He said the food was not so great: a point which we argued strongly against:) He said when he got back he was skinny because his wife was not there to cook and he did not know how to cook there. I sympathized telling the stories of when we first arrived here and people laughed because I could not scrape a coconut or sort beans. I feel ya! We laughed and laughed and listened and compared stories. We all understood what is like to feel so out of place, so far from home, and so vulnerable. It is just amazing to have someone who understands what our "home" is like. My favorite story was that he almost slept outside his hotel room one night because they gave him the "key" but he could not figure out that the card was actually a key or how to open the door. Poor guy (he did eventually get help and figure it out)! We all had a great laugh about that! His wife had just finished a course in management and is now teaching in town. Anni was amazingly charming and colored them both pictures and sang songs and answered all their questions in Kiswahili which clenched her place as cutest Mzungu kid ever in their hearts. We talked until way to late and it was almost 2 hours past the kids bedtimes so we wrapped up some fish and bread for their zawadi and said our goodbyes and made plans to go to their house soon to see her certificates, his pictures from the U.S. (cannot wait for that), and visit their 3 boys. We got the over tired kids to bed and Jason ran out to get some street food as we were way too exhausted to think about cooking. One of the shule kids hoodi'ed and told me his dad was having some stomach pains and asked if we had any medicine. I quickly grabbed some meds and headed next door.
It was so dark and I could barely see let alone recognize people but I quickly found his father and offered up what I brought. They insisted I sit down and relax a bit and cleared a space on the mat they were all sitting on. We sat by kerosene lamp light and talked. Pretty soon a couple other neighbors came over and joined us and space on the mat was becoming scare especially with 2 of the watoto from shule passed out sleeping. They asked me tons of questions about America as they knew our teacher had been over and had traveled to the US. They wanted to know about our hospitals, schools, and about funerals. Everyone was shocked that we sometimes wait a week to bury someone. I tried to explain we have people whose job it is to take bodies and prepare them for burial and the use "fridges as big as a small house." That was the best I think of to describe it since their house in 2 rooms and it would be about that size. A few other neighbors came over and asked more and more questions about where we come from. They were shocked that there are homeless people even Wazungus that live in America. The women laughed hysterically when I told tales of machines that wash and dry clothes and wash dishes! Then one woman asked me if we had machines to sweep the floor. I said no but then remembered we do: a vacuum! I made the sound of a vacuum and showed them how they work. The kids were dying laughing at the tales of the land of a the crazy Wazungus! I think; thanks to me, they probably have the craziest image of America ever: the land of machines and huge fridges for dead people! Many people have no concept of what it is like but it was so much fun to answer their questions and then ask them why they think it is so varied from life here. A lot of people just think life must be so easy in America and I tried my best to tell them it is different. For sure education and healthcare (on the whole are better) but other aspects of life are harder. Staying connected to familyfor one. We agreed raising kids is hard everywhere and that every culture has it's own sins. I tried to explain the pace of life where we are from is just different. That everyone is still busy just not with the same things; not cooking, washing clothes, digging for clams, or fishing all day to provide. That we work hard just in a different way. We agreed that if we Wazungus had to do the manual labor many Africans do "tutakufa mara moja" (we would die at once) and that if Waswahili had to deal with our winters "watakufa kweli" (they would die for sure). We talked about a lot on our mat in the dark: politics, AIDS, stealing, the shame people feel here, raising children, the culture of celebrations, education and what motivates people. I shared the gratitude I feel for being able to have attended school and chosen what I wanted for my life and that deciding to follow Jesus was the most life changing thing I have ever done. Jason called and was back with the food so I tried to wrap up our conversation but it occurred to me I wished I could sit there all night and be with them.
We laughed a lot and I watched the faces of my friends and neighbors. The watoto full of questions, the flashes of teeth as the adults laughed, and the common yet so different worlds colliding. All by light of a small kerosene lamp. One of the kids from shule climbed in my lap and played with my earrings as we talked. I told them that I was thankful to God that He brought our family here. That we have learned things we could never have learned had we stayed at "home." I told them the people here have taught us the importance of listening and being with people and not always worrying so much about what has to 'get done.' I told them I have learned to just sit. I said 'I thank you all for this gift.' I told them where ever God tells our family to go or do next I will always take this with me and for that I am profoundly grateful to the Waswahili people. And my friend grabbed my arm and said and 'we thank you for coming here too.' In that moment I was touched, grateful, vulnerable, and I had peace. Peace that I have been seeking. Just enough for today.
it was a day of visiting well spent.