I realized last week I have been quite accustomed to this place. Things that would have seemed unbearable, strange, or different have some how creeped into my understanding of how the world works (at least in this corner of it).
I got to thinking about this transformation after a visit to a village the other day. We bounced along the ...let's call it a road.... while I dodged kids with no shoes darting across our path and steered clear of the rogue chickens, goats, and cows wandering about. We also stopped along the way to give four other women a "lifti" (lift- did I mention I love Kiswahili!?) as they were going the same way we were and even if they weren't I think just interested in what the Mzungu driving the clown car full of locals was up to and thus welcomed the detour. They were invited in by the 12 women and children in our already stuffed car. Evy started fussing for me and some women comforted her and gave her sweets (the instance fix for any crying children here). After stopping at the first house; catching up, greeting everyone in the neighborhood, and helping sort and pound rice for the bread to be baked later I asked to pray for the little girl and we said our goodbyes until inshallah (God wills) we see each other again. We all piled in minus the extra ladies who had joined us but now made their way to their original destinations and headed out again. Another ten minutes along narrow "roads" (yeah, we will just go with road) and we saw at least a hundred women dressed in brightly colored glittery clothes and we did what any respectable Zanzibari would do: We slammed the car to a stop, spilled out, and chased the wedding procession to get a glimpse of everyone while loudly yelling and hollering! It was hilarious and Evy and Anni were loving every minute of the dancing and attention.
After 20 minutes of ogling we laoded in and continued on until some guys from the wedding party in the dala dala in front of us jumped out and pounded on the window for us to stop. They quickly informed us we had a flat tire. Like no air kabisa. Which I could not really feel because the "roads" are that bad. About 8 guys from the wedding party quickly jumped out, asked their friends to subiri kidogo (wait a bit- one of the most often used phrases here) and got to work fixing the tire, running in and out of dukas, calling folks to help, and searching through our car for tools. Some neighbors came out to see what was going on brought my friends and I old car tires to sit on while we waited. Anni, Evy, and the 6 other kids with us played in the dirt, threw rocks at a fence, and chased the chickens.
When the men got the spare on enough to get us home I made the executive decision that we would ditch the car and walk the rest of the way to the second home since the roads were not getting any better. When we returned we would just drive the car home and worry about the tire in the morning. My friend said it was no problem to walk as it was not very far. Well, I should know by now that "not very far" for locals and "not very far" for Wazungu does not translate well. It was over a mile walk. Carrying Evy and baskets of food and it was hot. The crazy part was although I was exhausted and tired I never once thought we should just go back. Over the last three years I have been more accustomed to these days where nothing goes as planned but yet He is there. I am learning more and more that to seek only comfort means missing out of vast richness that comes from being stretched. A lot of life experiences are in your attitude towards them. Anni and her friends sang songs as we walked and chased each other and greeted everyone. Her friends took turns carrying her on their backs becuase the trek was hardcore through the village and they are used to the wussy Wazungu kids. I kept adjusting Evy from my hip, to my back, to handing her off to some kids with us and then a guy at a duka my friend knew said he would carry her the rest of the way for us. And this was not weird at all to me. I am consistently amazed at how helpful people are to one another. How they see everyone here as part of their community. They are so relational and they have all the time in the world. People are always more important then time. He carried Evy who shrieked in glee and moo'ed at the cows and chickens roaming everywhere.
We arrived at the home of a new mother. We went because we were asked to come to see the baby and tell her we were sorry for her traumatic birth. We arrived to lots of greetings and a mat being pulled out for us to sit down and talk. She really had a terrible birth experience which from everything I understood involved passing out, being cut open twice and losing so much blood she had to stay in the hospital for a week. She is 17 and her husband is almost 60. I know, and although this is not as common here as it was a generation ago it still happens. But I have a choice in those moments; I can see everything through my lens of Western superiority or I can chose to love and listen. Of course I believe there is a better way but my judgement brings no restoration or healing; only the glory of Jesus does that. I just have no comprehension of what her life is like but I have learned that still admist the differences I can go and bless and pray and share and be blessed. And that is important. The baby boy Abdalla was beautiful; a precious little miracle and I prayed over him with the family's permission. Then we sat together a long while and ate peanuts and talked about life. The kids were running around outside and after a bit Anni was thirsty from the long walk and asked for some water. When she realized the bottle we always bring was empty and she could not drink the water from the plastic bucket in their home that had been drawn from the well that morning she started crying. I felt terrible and decided we would make our way to a store and get her some water. They would hear none of it and sent a family member out to buy her bottled water and would not take money to buy it. Anni was very grateful and after some more chatting, watoto mud sliding down the hill outside, and cleaning them out of peanuts we said our goodbyes. They wrapped up some food for us to take home since we could not stay for dinner as it was getting dark and I was only half kidding when I mentioned that this Mzungu might not be able to find our car in the dark. I am always reminded here that hospitality does not require fancy linens and well planned side dishes it just requires thoughtfulness, kindness, and a willingness to share what you have. We survived the long walk back to the car as the sun was setting to find our car ready to make it home and some guys guarding it to make sure nothing happened while we were visiting. We made one stop off for some well deserved cookies for all watoto on board and then we made our way home.
This was just a day in our lives but as a reflect on days like today I am amazed that God has taken this spoiled Mzungu from Chicago and placed me here in this place so different from my known yet now so close to my heart. This place where although I am always "different" and will never truly understand what my friend's lives are like I am welcomed and loved and included in them. I have been blessed so much more than I have brought blessing to this place. I never imagined this growing accustomed would change me so much but I am exceeding grateful for the richness of my experiences here on this little island a world away. Yes, nimeshazoea.