Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dust & Butterflies

Nairobi has been covered with both dust & butterflies over the past month. Both somehow slipped unnoticed into the rhythm of daily life - the dust coating everything, even my bananas, and the butterflies flitting in and out of buildings, traffic, and trees in their little white dance.

Neither were here when we arrived in November. When we arrived, Nairobi was sopping wet from weeks of solid rain, and the rain continued for weeks after we arrived. The dust was nowhere to be seen; the butterflies hid away in some pre-caterpillar state.

Now, they both abound. I didn't notice them at first - the dust or the butterflies. The dust slowly settled around the house, on the car, inside the car, on my shoes. The butterflies filled the air, and still do - even now, when I looked up and out into the parking lot, I saw one glide by. Nairobi is literally covered in millions of little while butterflies. They are beautiful.

Our lives have a similar theme, which you've probably picked up on if you've read the past dozen blog entries. When we arrived in Nairobi, we were relatively dust-free and didn't have a need to see the butterflies around. Now, having taken a few steps back I am able to more clearly see both the dust that has settled over our daily going-ons, and the butterflies which brighten each day.

Over the past several weeks we have continued to have interactions & circumstances that have been incredibly difficult. Though details won't be mentioned, due to the public nature of this blog, I can say the wind has been taken from our sails.

It's been a good time of rallying - of remembering why we moved our family in the first place, and upon deeper inspection, realizing we have met all the goals we hoped to achieve when we chose to move our family across the globe: I can be at home with the kids full time, we still live near family (especially when my parents come back on Friday!), our children are being exposed to the realities that daily face the majority of the world's population (poverty, importance of family, massive income inequalities, belief in a better future, the effects of treatable diseases not being treated, kindness to strangers, corruption, and laughter alongside difficulties), and we are putting our time and efforts towards causes we overall believe in. We are very thankful that 4 months into our move, we can see all the areas where we have met our original goals.

These are our butterflies. We may be covered with the dust of Nairobi, and will continue to be, but at least we have our butterflies.

Several people have asked me what I like about Kenya, and while it does take me some consideration to answer at times when the dust lies thickly, I have compiled a short, and not comprehensive, list:
* the natural beauty everywhere - even in the middle of the city, the vegetation is exquisite.
* the proximity of 'wildnerness' - within a 90 minute drive, we can be far, far away from any substantial cities and instead be immersed in the beauty of an absolutely stunning country. Whether we want desert, tropical beach, extinct volcanoes, lakes, your picturesque African savanna, tropical rainforest, or highlands - we can find it all.
* the kindness given to strangers - people are quick to help, to smile when greeted, to show love to our babies
* having help with the kids & household tasks is incredibly affordable, and I am forever grateful to & humbled by the kind service we are given by Scola, Augustine, and others who have lent us their services. If not for them, I may not have made it.
* the fantastic food - Kenyan food is amazing, and Nairobi hosts some of the most diverse & exquisite international cuisine in the world - in my opinion. Additionally, restaurant ambiance in Nairobi is unbeatable making
* produce is cheap, and delicious - I can drop off my produce grocery list at my favorite produce store & pick up my completed order 30 min later, at no extra cost. Amazing.
* the dozen quirky things that happen every day which remind me I do not live in a Western country
* the emotional support and empathy extended to me by so many of the other expat women I have met through church & social circles, reminding me I am not alone, and the obstacles facing me have already been overcome by those before me.

There is dust every day - we have to dust, both literally and figuratively, every day. But if I should choose to glance up from my dusting, I am certain to catch a butterfly or two out my window.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Wearying Joys

Sorry it's been such a while since I posted. The days have adopted a rhythm, and within a rhythm there is often very little that stands out. Subsequently, I haven't felt much of an inclination to write about one idea or another and have remained 'blogly' silently.

The kids, my little bits of tangible sunshine, are fabulous. Mika smiles with her entire body every time she sees me - and since I know it's not a reaction she will always give me, I am soaking up every single body-jolting smile sent my way. She is also incredibly strong, which I know all moms say about their kids, but she's seriously strong. She is minutes away from being able to pop up on hands & knees and I would not be a bit surprised if she was crawling by 6 or 7 months, and walking by 10...she clings to my clothes, neck, or face with surprising grip and if I let go, will hang to me like a monkey - seriously strong. And beautiful - she's just a looker with these gigantic blue eyes & perfect ballerina posture. I may have a dancer on my hands.

Kai is ever adventurous, ever busy, ever concerned for others, ever exceptionally observant & thoughtful and ever talkative. He has grown quickly and now the toddler has to poke through the little boy, rather than the little boy occasionally peeking through the toddler.

He has started saying the most endearing things including, but not limited to:
* 'Mama, you is handsome'
* As he is falling asleep: 'mama o-tay, papa o-tay, me-ta [mika] o-tay, tai o-tay, people all o-tay'
* 'Me-ta, I lub you'
* Showing my friend 'daniel' (see Tidbits of Funny) his wall car de-cals I put up in his room: 'mama made it for tai. it's so nice'
* After he accidentally makes a mess: 'oh, so-wee, mama. tai is so-wee. i clean it.' As he runs his chubby little legs as fast as he can to get a rag and clean up his own mess.
* and after every single challenge he overcomes, whether it be climbing that wall that's just a little taller than the last one, pulling up his own underpants, getting a snack from the fridge, or leaping off of some relatively high location without sustaining any injuries, he always shouts (yes, shouts) - with his hands held high above his head and his tiny fists clenched: 'Yeah!!! Tai did it!"
- side note: toddler arm to torso ratio - way, way off. I put my hands above my head, my elbows are above my head. Kai puts his arm above his head, his elbows are by his neck...anyway...

My children are the biggest source of tangible joy in my life each day and I could not imagine better children (ok, better children would sleep...).

Before you all throw up at how 'mushy mommy' I'm getting, here is my 'musing' for the week: while my children are unparallelably (it's not a word, but it should be) wonderful, they are also, as any mother knows, a source for frustration, tears, and exhaustion. My children are my biggest producers of what I have decided to call 'wearying joys'.

Several days ago, Kai needed to walk to his room for his nap and refused to do it with anyone else, including Chris - I felt myself sigh with resignation as I stopped whatever menial household task I was tackling and took Kai's chubby hand in my own to walk him to his room. I realized I was weary of putting my children to bed - weary of being the only one with the perfect backrub motion to help them go to sleep, of being the only one with kisses magic enough to make any wound disappear, of being the only one capable of removing Kai from his carseat, of being the only arms that know how to hold Mika 'just so' in order for her to fall instantly & blissfully to sleep. I was weary of these countless instances which individually bring me joy but who, when all piled on top of eachother, amount to a joy whose weight exhausts me. Not because I'm overwhelmed by joy, just because I'm overwhelmed.

I started inspecting my life for other areas of 'wearying Joys' and I found them in surprising places - writing emails to friends, meeting new people, reviewing my budget, cooking, being asked for help from those in desperate need, doing household tasks...what I found, when I began looking for wearying Joys in my life is not that I am unaware of the weariness - I am fully aware how tired I can get, how much a part of me sometimes wishes my children didn't manifest their need for me in such routine and disruptive ways, and how much of an effort it is to keep up relationships with people when they are far away. I am aware of my weariness.

What I forget is that the cause of the weariness is a Joy. The Joy of having two little lives so dependent on me the sight of me coming brings literal laughter, and the sight of leaving solicits genuine tears. The Joy of having so many friends who love me. The Joy of being surrounded by so many amazing people in this crazy city, and never wondering if there are people I would enjoy nearby. The Joy of having enough money to need a budget - which means my money doesn't all automatically go to food and shelter. The Joy of cooking - which means I have food, someone to cook for, and somewhere to do it. The Joy of being asked for help - which means someone sees me as a place for potential refuge, assistance, or comfort. The Joy of doing household tasks - I have a house.

There is nothing wrong by being wearied by these Joys - but I shouldn't forget they are Joys. And I shouldn't resign myself to weariness. If I can remember "this is a Joy", I think perhaps my weariness will be replaced with contentment. The challenge isn't in seeing the obvious Joys, it's in seeing the non-obvious ones - the things that at a first glance seem to be an inconvenience, insult, or offense. Two incredibly poor women at church today called me over and blatantly asked me for money only because I had stopped earlier to kiss their adorable babies - a situation that initially appears to inconveniently highlight the immense need around me, and causes in me a desire to not extend kindness to others because they might ask me for money. But, at further thought, this all too common interaction is actually a wearying Joy. It's a Joy because it means these women thought I looked kind enough to risk putting themselves in an incredibly vulnerable position, because it means I do have the physical means to give to those who don't have as much as I do, and because it means I am privileged enough to live in a place where I have to know how to respond to this situation because it happens on a daily basis.

The exercise I gave myself of looking for wearing Joys has had a profound effect - I am so much more patient with my children, so much happier to serve those around me, so much more excited to engage with those I come across - because I choose to actively acknowledge the potential for each interaction to be a Joy.

I hope you find some wearying Joys in your life today - and that you have a renewed sense of the Joy, and a decreased weariness.

Til next time

xo - sarah

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Tidbits of Funny

I've been keeping a running list in my head, of things that have happened, conversations I've had, or things the kids have done that have made me laugh - some as they happened, some only when I recalled the situation, and others when the moment ended & I laughed out of pure relief. Hopefully these brighten your day, and remind you there is something to laugh at in every day.

1. We appear to have a foundation issue in our apartment building. The evidence? The floors are not entirely level, doors that used to open all the way now get stuck on the floor, and as the temperature changes in the morning and evenings, we can hear the wooden parque tiles popping up out of the cement. So, one day, when Fred the fundi (handyman) was here fixing a smattering of items, I asked him about the foundation. I asked if he thought the foundation was bad. He said...well, let me retract that...he breathed in deeply and slightly raised his eyebrows...which means 'yes'. I asked if he thought it was a problem. He said...well, he blinked. I took this to mean 'no.' I asked if the building was going to fall on my head - he laughed. Literally. Out loud. In my face. (Perhaps deserved). Then said, with a completely serious face, "no, no, no. It will fall this way." Indicating the parking lot. That was the end of that conversation. No immediate plans to move, and I still haven't made any decisions on what to do with this 'information.'

2. As Fred was leaving after his day of work. I noticed he hadn't fixed the broken drawers in Mika's closet and asked about the drawers.  He raised his eyebrows. I said "are they still broken?" to which he, once again, took a breath and quickly raised & lowered his eye brows. I said "you aren't going to fix them?" Same breath (which for some unknown reason had begun to grate on my nerves & somehow belittle me). I said "so am I just supposed to fix them myself?" Breath in. I have a new project. Mika's drawers are still unfixed.

3. Most structures in Kenya are made out of concrete, including the apartments. Hanging pictures, clocks, or anything was a bit of an obstacle as our land lord really didn't want us to put too many holes in the concrete. After attempting several different versions of double sided tape, mounting tape, and 3Z mounting tape, and only having 4 broken frames to show for it, I decided to try a different route. As our landlord had agreed to let us put a few holes into the concrete, I went to the local hardware store and asked how I should hang things in concrete. The response "with nails." I asked if they had a box of nails I could purchase. The response: "no, they come like this" (gesturing to the bin of individual nails for 5c each). So I requested two nails. I then asked the best way to put the nails into the concrete walls (just covering my bases so I didn't do something asinine). He looked at me blankly and said 'you hit it'. Feeling embarrassed by my exposed lack of knowledge, I purchased my nails and left. Success, though. My pictures are hung.

4. Kai, as I have mentioned is potty training. Our primary obstacle is his inability to pull down or up his own pants. So, I often leave him naked. While we do have a strict, 'no pants, no going outside in the parking lot' rule, he sometimes evades my attention and slips outside in his little man wonder suit. Recently, I met one of the women who live in the apartment complex. After a minute (which I'm not even sure why it took her that long since I'm the only white woman in the entire complex) she said "oh, I know who you are. I've met your husband and your son. The naked one." The naked one. Thank you, attractive, professionally-dressed, intelligent Kenyan businesswoman. Yes, my son, the naked one. Thank goodness it wasn't my husband.

5. My friend, Joelle, often comes over to visit (she's an old highschool classmate who has also recently moved back to Kenya and lives nearby). The guard at our gate enjoys being very suspicious of everyone who comes to visit, even if they've come before. So, Joelle decided she'd take a minute and really introduce herself to Peter so he would let her in when she comes without having to call me first. When Joelle told Peter her name, he looked confused and said "Jo-el"? (the American pronunciation of Joelle is similar to the Kenyan pronunciation of Joel). Joelle explained that in America Joelle is a girl's name. The next time Peter saw Joelle, several days later, he leaned nonchalantly against our balcony railing and said, slowly & very deliberately, "So, Daniel, how are you today?" Joelle, my very female friend, is now Daniel. We've decided to just let it be.

So, there are just a few stories about Kenya, Kenyans, & the things that happen without much flare but should probably receive attention. It really is a fantastic country, made up of so many wonderful people. I'm sure if I had applied my attention to life in Los Angeles in the same way I'm applying my attention here, I would have just as many stories to tell.

My husband is home, and since he just put in a 55hr work week, I'm gonna wrap this up. Hopefully it brought you a few laughs - I'm sure there will be more to come.

Happy weekend.

xo - sarah

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