Yesterday, we traveled from Nairobi to Suswa–a little town about two hours west of where we were staying. As we were driving, we passed a variety of locales–aflluent neighborhoods, slums, industry, commercial … there’s a diversity, alright, as one one expect.
The surprising thing for me isn’t even how far the pendulum swings–it’s in how close together the rich are to the poor. It didn’t seem like morn than maybe half a mile from the sprawling landscape of tin shacks barely being supported and crammed in like so many little cans of humanity to the half-to one acre plots of land where upon sit mansions. For me, that was rather jarring.
Once we got to our hotel and got settled in, we headed out to visit a family. They don’t live far from our hotel, but the travel … the first 1/3 of the drive is on paved road, while the other 2/3 is over really bumpy dirt roads, filled with ruts, deep puddles, and rocks. On more than a few occasion, I could feel my lower back and neck wrench, sometimes on the same bump.
We arrived at the family’s home. Acres and acres of sprawling land. I don’t know what they do with the land, but it isn’t farmed, from what I could see, so I don’t know how they support themselves. And maybe the reality is that they *don’t* support themselves, and that’s why we’re here. Heidi is already talking about a business box for them, so it makes sense that they may have fallen in hard times, even by their meager standards in comparison to our typical American way of life.
Silence is awkward. There are no two ways about it. Meeting a foreign family who speaks so little to no English at all can cause a lot of odd tension. I don’t mean hostile tension, obviously, but … well, okay. For example, I just wanted to run up to these ladies and give them a big hug and show them that we already love them. Can’t do that. Cultural faux pas. So we stood there, smiling, but at the same time, goofily trying to communicate with them on ANY level. Thankfully, we had Moses and David with us to translate, but even that seemed awkward and strange. At one point, I watched Moses ask Jennifer to ask them what their names are. It was comedic, but in a sad, I-wish-everyone-could-have-a-universal-translator way. To Jenn’s credit, she did not give up until she had it right.
At some point, we broke out bubbles to play with the kids. That was the ice-breaker we needed to get the ball rolling. Those kids LOVED them. I have a bunch of absolutely adorable pictures of these kids playing with them, trying to pop them … and the looks are pure joy.
Eunice (I believe) offered all of us some form of tea. I’m not a tea drinker, soI was a little hesitant to accept some, but having lived in a culture where knowing that this kind of sharing is potentially back-breaking for the family, I gratefully accepted their mug of charity and bridge-building. It was *delicious*. And piping hot! Many “ashe oleng”s (“thank you”!) were offered. Probably too many … but since it’s one of the only phrases I know and I was so desperate to communicate with her, I might have gone a tad overboard.
I remember few names out of the dozen or so people that were there, but one little boy stood out. Clinton is 9 years old, if I remember right. He and I had a pretty good bonding moment. I’ll get to that in a bit.
One question I have is how much technology this family has seen. I ask that because Clinton either has a secret camera stashed away somewhere that he’s been practicing with, or he’s just a natural photographer. I don’t know which.
in the course of trying to open up to this family, we tried a lot of different things. What I found that worked best for me was showing the kids the pictures I took of them. They REALLY enjoyed that. A LOT. They recognized Sami from the pictures. One little boy saw her picture as we were scrolling through what we had taken, looked over at her, and stuck his tongue out at her with a big, happy smile. I don’t know what the significance of sticking the tongue out is; it could be how their culture points. In the Philippines, people point using puckered lips. In Portugal, people indicate direction with an upward nod of the head. In the US, people point similarly, but with a downward nod. Sticking out a tongue to point wouldn’t surprise me in the least.
In showing Clinton the picture, he wanted to scroll through them on his own. I very hesitantly handed him the camera, and he looked at every picture. Every. Single. One. There were over 400 at that point, and he looked enthralled with all of them … even the boring ones from the airport.
I asked earlier about how much technology they have seen. Here’s why: Clinton discovered rather quickly how to get into the live view on the camera. He moved it around and could see that the picture on the LCD was where the camera was pointing. Then he started trying to push random buttons–like he wanted to take a picture. I hovered over him, put his little right index finger on the shutter button, and gently pressed down. After that, he was hooked. He took over 120 pictures (in burst mode, so … take that into consideration when applying a jaw drop factor). Lots of waists, sides of structures, keep bumpers … but some of them are downright awesome. We may just have started the newest Ansel Adams down the path of photography. Maybe …
I need to remember to get in touch with Pastor Ben to get names of these people so that I can remember them. I’ll always remember Clinton That’s an easy one. But the ladies and guys of the family … no idea. I do remember Abigail and Janet. Janet speaks some English. She’s 21, and her daughter–Abigail–is about 14 months.
Emotions. Boy … I can tell you this: I was not prepared. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for having met them, played with them, gotten to know them for just the briefest of moments … but the reality is that I may never see them again, and that hurt. The smiles on their faces when we played with the bubbles, the sheer joy of the suckers and candy, Clinton and the camera … I cannot get enough of this.
It’s 6:03 Monday morning. I have no internet connection at all. I don’t know when I’ll get to post this, but I hope it’s soon.