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Nearing the End

May 13, 2010

I read the last of my the 12 letters that my sister sent me to Kenya with today. There was one for each week, duly noted on the envelope, and although she wrote them months before I’d read some of them, they each had an a note of what would be happening that week (for instance -Easter week’s letter had a Happy Easter note in it!) This week’s was just as it should be – all about goodbyes and coming home. My awesome sister even included a $5 bill and a note that said to buy something for myself! So, in true girl fashion, I went shoe shopping. (My favorite pair of Kenyan shoes have finally bitten the dust after 3 months of rock and mud roads so I wanted to replace them). As I was walking around town on my shoe mission, I couldn’t help but think about all those things that I wanted to spend hours writing about on my blog, and never managed to find the time for, so as a last hurrah, I’m going to touch on a couple of things that I’ve missed noting before.

There are subtle differences about living in Kenya that I’ve only really picked up on over time. For instance, it’s much more acceptable to stand close to people here – even strangers, and not uncommon to brush past 10 or 15 people on the way to work in the morning – no excuses provided. It’s also not uncommon for mothers to ask you to hold their babies – the communal rearing of children is quite ordinary. And while we’re on the subject of children – most kids here (Garry excepted) whine and cry a whole lot less than they do in the states. Probably because they have more legitimate things to cry about, they don’t cry nearly as often about the silly things like not getting a piece of candy at the supermarket.

I’ve also learned a lot more patience living in East Africa than I ever thought possible. Everything moves slower here – people walking on the street, businesses, the internet, waiting for the doctor, waiting for things to happen. I realized last night as I was helping Betty with her math homework how much more frustration I can take – and how much more I can put up with ‘wasting’ time than I could three months ago. Down time here is like an open invitation to think – to observe – to experience that which we in America often don’t have the time, patience or awareness to notice.  While it can sometimes be aggravating to not have anything productive happen in a day – that’s just how life is sometimes (and in Kenya, most of the time). I guess I can see how this “pole pole” has allowed me to tackle those previously hair-tearing-out experiences with a sense of calm.

One of the things that’s struck me about Kenya is the presence of handicaps in ordinary society. Let me try to explain this – in the US it’s not uncommon to see someone on crutches or in a wheelchair, but usually they are only temporarily incapacitated, elderly, or a rare congenital defect. Here, I can’t go a day without seeing someone missing limbs or with some abnormality. There’s the bicycle repair man who works on the street that I pass everyday who doesn’t have legs below the knees and the guy who runs the cyber with one arm that’s too small and doesn’t work properly. There was a baby I saw on a matatu who literally had a forehead twice the size of the rest of his face. I guess what’s really different is that these people, problems or not, still work – everyday. They aren’t sitting at home on their couches watching “The Price Is Right” every morning and living off welfare. You don’t have an arm in Kenya – you’re still able to work… and if you decide not to work, then you decide, in essence, to die.

These are a strong people – in almost any contest they make Westerners look like pansies. Women walk everywhere,  with their babies strapped to their backs, carrying bags in their arms and giant platters of bananas and fruit on their heads. You have a problem – pick up the pieces, keep moving, keep living, survive. In a place where there is so much death – there is even more surviving going on. I think that’s what a lot of Westerners miss when they think about Africa – they miss the strength of the people, the will to survive, their incredible resourcefulness, their undeniable passion for life. Those TV ads with pictures of starving black children certainly do pull at the heart-strings of the average Westerner, but they completely miss the spirit of a people who despite disease, destruction, war, violence, and poverty have survived for thousands of years. These aren’t people who need charity. These are people who deserve respect.

If I retain nothing else, Kenya has taught me that when you face the prospect of death everyday, you begin to appreciate what life truly means.

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 13, 2010 5:27 pm

    Eye opening, truly.

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