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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Two days till I move into my first home ever!

Maureen recently moved in with my Kenyan family. She is the house-helper…and quite the language helper for me too! She is from up-country in a more rural village and came here looking for work to help save money for school loans someday. Her dream is to become a Swahili teacher for Muzungu’s like me, which works out perfectly for the two of us. I get to come home from my class and practice what I had just learned and she gets to practice correcting and encouraging me! When the two of us are not conversing, however, she has a list of responsibilities to complete each day. Maureen wakes up at 5:15am to start preparing breakfast so that Baba can have it before he leaves for work. Every morning she boils milk for our chai, walks to the store to buy bread, makes porridge for mama, and sets the table for the rest of us. Never have I woken up and there hasn’t been bread and chai on the table waiting for my hungry mouth. At this time of the morning (7:30am) she is already busy doing chores. She has to “mop” all he floor with a bucket and a rag which ends up just as dirty as before she mopped due to all the dust in the desert air. She also washes all of our laundry by hand. There are 9 of us in the house right now…and you can imagine how laundry piles up if it is not done on a daily basis. Maureen has an efficient system. She sets a bucket under the faucet and has to wait about 25 minutes as the dripping water fills up. She then soaks the clothes, scrubs with a bar of soap, rinses (somehow, still haven’t seen this step), then rings and rings and rings and rings the clothes… finishing up with placing them on the clothes line. I’m always so impressed with how clean she can get the dusty clothes I’ve been wearing for 2 months. Once I tried to wash my own…it wasn’t the same at ALL. After she is done with the clothes she then heads back to the kitchen and washes the dishes used from breakfast and puts away all the uneaten food. At this point, I’ve already left for language but I assume she finishes mopping all the floors before she starts to heat up lunch. I’ve never been around for lunch but I arrive home shortly after when she is washing the dishes from lunch. Around 2:00, Maureen begins the preparation for dinner. Our meals consist of (I have no idea to spell these so just imagine phonetically what they sound like) sukumo-wiki which is like chopped spinach with tons of salt and boiled, ugali which is corn meal boiled with water into a thick paste, and stew which has a thick chop of meat boiled with various chopped vegetables, salt, and oil. We don’t eat until 9:30 at night, but the meal requires the attentive eye and stirring of Maureen.

Tired just listening to all this girl has to do in her day? Get this….she is only 19 years old! I couldn’t believe it when she told me that. Her day seems exhausting! Once I found out how young she was and how far away she is from her family I stared making more of a point to talk with her throughout the day. Last week , while she was attending to the dinner, I went in the kitchen with her to teach her how to make tortillas! We had a fun time talking about our families in Swahili. Of course laughter filled the kitchen as we mixed the dough, rolled it, and placed them on a hot skillet. I told her how much I loved these tortillas…and they truly are amazing when made from scratch! She too enjoyed snacking on them as we continued. One mistake I did make, however, was making the tortillas in the first place. Ever since I initially made tortillas, ‘momma’ has wanted more ever since. I’ve made over 130 tortillas in just two weeks! Wowza. Good thing I found a rolling pin…the first time I made them it took me over 2.5 hours cause I had to try to flatten each tortilla with the palm of my hand.

This morning I woke up a little late, trying to catch up on some sleep that I had missed over the past couple of nights. I was the only one at the breakfast table and filled my cup up with chai. I was about to grab for the bread when I heard a ‘psst’ from the kitchen. I strained my neck and looked around the corner to see Maureen washing the dishes with a huge smile on her face. She was whispering “njoo” (‘come here’). I went into the kitchen and Maureen handed me a plate. The plate was covered with another plate to keep whatever was inside warm. I lifted the top plate and found two round flat pieces of warm dough. “Tortillas” she said with a smile. I smiled back and said thank you, thank you, thank you! It was so cute that she made me two tortillas on her own for me for breakfast. Most likely that meant that she woke up even earlier than normal to make these for me. When I got back to the table, I opened the plate again and got a closer look. These tortillas were dowsed in oil. I’m pretty sure had she not been watching me I could have wrung out each tortilla and filled a cup with oil. Another ‘gulp’ moment for me. I knew I had to eat these considering that she had made them for me and that she had stopped washing dishes to watch me eat them. “Mmmm, Maureen!” I said with a smile. “Nzuri sana…Anante!” (Very good…thank you!). My taste buds and stomach weren’t quite saying the same thing to me. Each bite seemed to squirt out more oil in my mouth. I finally took to swallowing huge portions until the ‘tortillas’ were gone and then chasing it all down with my cup of hot chai. Unfortunately all our filtered water ran out last night so I couldn’t even try to compensate for all that oil.
Despite all the oil, however, how sweet this action was. Out of Maureen’s busy day she wanted to show me that she had learned something from me. She put to practice what I had taught her just as I continually practice her language. One of AIM’s goals is to make me into a “Lifelong Learner.” This time spent in a Kenyan home has broken me most of my standers of living. I’ve been challenged with bathing with a milk can and a basin, washing my clothes by hand, making food from scratch, trying food I’ve never would have wished to try…but its all been great for me. I don’t say “broken” as a bad thing. I think the Lord knew how closely I held my comforts in Northern Virginia and too knew how hard it would be to break me of them. I’ve been humbled this month indeed. There have been times, like today with the ‘oil-tilla’ or the other day with the flies and larva that I would like to refuse what is placed before me and stick up my nose to say that it wasn’t what I eat, and no thank you. But that’s not what it is about to be a “lifelong learner.” Maureen’s actions today displayed what a “lifelong learner” is. She may not have nailed the tortilla recipe down, but she tried. I know that I didn’t learn everything about this culture in this one month but its been a continual learning experience…and I’ll continue to learn if I trust and try.

I can’t believe that I have only these two more days left with the Kenyan family. I think back on a month ago, talking with my parents on the phone and saying, “I’ll give it one week…JUST one week. I can’t do more than that because its just too hard for me to do it alone.” And yet, here I am…one month later and LOVING all that I was challenged with and learned. The confidence I’ve gained from each step of the way is priceless. I also laugh thinking of how slowly I unpacked my things. The first week I still was living out of my suitcase thinking that at any moment I would call the coordinating missionary to tell them that I need to move out cause its too ‘different.’ That second week I moved my clothes to a shelf but left everything in the trunk…just in case. Now, however, you would think I’ve been living here forever. I have one shelf dedicated to all my books, one to my clothes, the bottom shelf holds my flip flops, my scarves are hanging up, and my toiletries are in the bathroom. Its going to be a process to pack up in a few days. Hmm could this be foreshadowing of my time in Kenya? ;) So scared to make this my “home” for now…but if I just let the process of change and settling happen, I wonder how God will provide and humble me next? I wonder what different “shelves” he has in store for me to place my gifts and talents to start to build roots here? I wonder how hard it will be to collect and pack up once my time here is through? One thing is for sure…I’ll be learning along the way…learning for a lifetime.


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