Tuesday, July 31, 2012


It's been a while since I've written - the Handsome Man's parents have been here visiting and we've subsequently been much more busy doing all the wonderful, touristy things we live so near but don't do nearly enough. It's been incredibly wonderful to get out of Nairobi, to enjoy more of the beauty and space Kenya has to offer and to experience more of the warmth (both literal and figurative) exuding from various places we've been.

I've had so many questions and thoughts running through my mind lately, and haven't had a hope of putting them down succinctly - so here's my stab at it. I've been going through Nairobi rather numb lately, in some senses not taking my own advice from my previous entry: The Things I've Said.

It takes a certain degree of strength to continually face poverty, corruption, bitterness, hopelessness, and seemingly unbreakable cycles of all these. And I think, after living here for 9 months, and fighting to live with eyes fully open (because it is incredibly tempting, even if only for some self-preservation, to close my eyes and seek respite more often than I should) that the heroes of this world are not presidents, are not superior athletes, are not soldiers, are not famous actors/musicians/poets - nor are they mothers, fathers, pastors, doctors, firefighters - the heroes of this world are those of our species who can live consistently with open eyes, and not drown in the sadness.  I think they've found the ability to take in the beautiful and the ugly at the same time, and value them both equally...more on this thought at a later date.

Admittedly, though not proudly, I've allowed numbness to creep in...the women sitting on the side of the road hoping for work become one more segment of the congested roads and one more piece of the obstacle I face in driving anywhere (how many times have I been forced to think: "risk the pedestrian or the head on collision? Neither is not an option...") The man begging on the side of the road becomes an embodiment of a system which can't support its' own people in need - and I am angry, frustrated, and helpless. So I close my eyes. The children (and a surprising number of adults) constantly calling out "mzungu!" (white person/foreigner) when I pass by, turn into a reminder of the massive disparities within this society which make it somehow appropriate to identify a person publicly by their skin color; and what delights tourists instead turns into a shout that grates on me - reminding me I am not from here, and even though I grew up here, I am still a "mzungu". The incompetence of the repairmen coming to fix our apartment (evidenced by breaking a window they were supposed to repair, and not answering my calls nor returning to fix it) is no longer funny, but instead underlines the massive lack of training offered to those most in need of work - and again, instead of being heartbroken or compassionate, I am angry. The potholes in the road, the water shortages, the fear of police through most of the population - all serve as indicators of the deep corruption plaguing this nation. So I close my eyes.

And when I close them, suddenly my world is much smaller - suddenly it is just me. Suddenly my life starts to spiral. The good starts to look dingy, the bad starts to look worse, and the worst becomes almost unbearable. And I could suffocate, I could lose my humanity, I could lose my sense of smallness as I become so big in this dark world with my eyes shut tighter than tight - blocking out the pain of the rest of the world only to find the depth of my own becomes unbearable. A loss of perspective, a loss of reasonable impact, a loss of control, a loss of my ability to bring about change, to bring hope, to show compassion, to give love. I cannot love myself, I cannot bring hope to myself, I cannot show compassion to myself - egocentrism has never wrought beauty. Has never wrought a bettering of the bigger sphere.

So I open my eyes, peeling back the lids of my soul to see what I know will be painful - and it is. The man following me on the beach attempting to sell his crude carvings is no longer an inconvenience - I open my ears and listen - I hear his story about how his entire family was killed in the post election violence in 2008, how he moved away from his home, remarried, and now has a baby on the way. I hear the hope and the joy, and I can't help but hear the undercurrent of injustice, corruption, heartbreak, loss, anger, and loneliness.  The women standing on the street corner at night, smiling too openly at my headlights, are no longer obstacles to be considered in this rally race called Nairobi driving - I open my eyes and they become individual faces - representatives of what I am sure are many more small mouths to feed, representatives of a society where women are not valued but continue to use whatever means necessary to protect their children in whatever way they know how.  The trash in the street, the holes in the road, the newspapers shouting of food, water shortages, and war no longer only shout the realities of corruption but also, when I open my mind to the past I have seen, shout distinctly quieter than they used to - for they are fewer, and cleanliness, smooth roads, and comfortable living continue to hush them.

Closing my eyes makes my world disproportionately big, opening my eyes wide makes my world disproportionately small. I think, as I'm sure millions have thought before me, I must go through periods of sleep and periods of wakefulness - I must find that balance where I close my eyes and the world comes to a peaceful lull in my mind, so the pain doesn't overwhelm the senses into numbness. That balance where I open my eyes just before my world becomes inaccurately big - reminding myself I am not the only one to experience injustice, I am not the only one who has experienced pain, loss, or hopelessness. I must find that balance, delicately aware of my own abilities to impact and courageously looking the painful in the face - and having compassion on it.

I don't have this perfected. And there are many things I look at in my own life, feel immense anger towards, and frantically open my eyes to see the world, to gain perspective and to find peace; only to find more lives experiencing the same situation as mine. The harsh reality comes - there are many miseries for which company and empathy bring little relief. Miseries that when multiplied only bring about greater anger, disbelief, and hopelessness - because I am helpless and powerless to change them. But these, I think, are not the miseries to look at - in my own life or in the life of others. To be aware of? absolutely. To invest in? To try and change? To be defeated by? no.

I was struck by a thought during some reading a few days ago: what is my motivation? I started applying the question to various situations - when Kai pushes me past my patience limit and I still need to discipline him with grace and patience, when I disagree with someone, when I feel mistreated by someone, when I am irritated, when the things that were meant to be accomplished lie unfinished/unfolded/unwashed/unanswered around the house...I ask myself "what is my motivation?" When I see the pain around me and I must choose whether I see it with soul and mind open or shut: what is my motivation?

It's different almost every time. But a common thread runs through. And when I re-find that thread, for I must rediscover it every day, I can (at least for that moment) find that balance between a life lived with open eyes or shut.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Sarah! I enjoy so much reading your blog and wish so much that I could talk with you about all of it face to face. I love you friend!


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