|A rest stop on the highway|
(has nothing to do with my post, just loved the pic)
I had to give myself a firm pep talk as I walked to my new cafe. You see, last week felt interminable; in fact, I experienced it as the longest week of my stint here in Kenya. Between the heat, the dismal conditions in the hospital, and the repetitive meals of ugali, spinach, and cabbage, I longed for home. I pined for my children, my friends, and the unwavering love and affection of my bed partners—Forrest and Nala—my two large fluffy friends. I craved conversations with my adult children about nothing and everything, and wine with my lifelong girlfriends who just "get me." Every cell of my body cried out for toilet paper in bathrooms, paper towels in paper towel dispensers, mattress pads on beds, ice in glasses because drinks are supposed to be cold, and the dependability of warm water when I turn on the shower. I longed for a succulent wine or a frosty mug of beer, bagel sandwiches and Mexican food. I wanted to get dressed up and go on a date...with a kind and interesting man. My week was filled with constant reminders of all things homey. I love home.
Following my incredibly delicious cup of coffee and chocolate croissant, I decided to take the long way back to the compound while I finished my pep talk, congratulating myself for making it through these past 7 weeks without manifesting a totally historic meltdown. Only 3 more weeks! Unfortunately, like many a weary traveler, I have reached that tipping point of no return— counting the hours instead of the days.
As I rounded the corner of the cafe, I discovered a hair salon that I had never seen before. Musing in the joy I felt in this discovery, my pep talk abruptly came to an end. I giddily walked in the front door and stood mesmerized, relishing in the smell of exotic shampoos and nail polish, and the sight of lavender and sea foam green bottles of conditioners, hair gels and tonics...oh how familiar and how lovely!
My dreamy state was rapidly broken. In a matter of seconds, I found myself the object of a forward trajectory loaded with boundless and inescapable energy, "Oh, welcome! Please, how can I help you?" The owner was literally skipping towards me, clapping his hands to his exuberant sing-songy welcome. Bowled over and uncomfortably embarrassed by his histrionics, I responded with an unsure, "Um, yes. I think so?" Taking note of my hesitant committal, he shoved a menu of services in front of my face. As I perused the menu, I sensed the bubbling of my vainglorious self awaken from her long winter's (or summer in Kenya) nap. Not to be outdone by the owner's enthusiasm, my vanity valiantly and without hesitation took control, rattling off in a sensually-self indulgent voice, "Well, yes! I would like a manicure and a pedicure...and oh, an eyebrow weaving...and, hmm, why not a wash and blow dry while we are at it." I was fully committed. Oh, the things we do when we are feeling homesick!
My docket of services was done by a beautiful, very large boned Kenyan woman with considerably massive hands. She required only one hand to wash my hair, occasionally palming my skull like a basketball as her fingers dug deeply in to my temples. This formidable woman embodied moxie, channeling her enthusiastic blend of Swahili and English chit-chat through her fingers, unawares that I was beginning to wince in pain.
As our exchange of language fell in to an accessible rhythm, I discovered a brilliant woman with an inner being matching that of her powerful hands. She fit the narrative I hear and observe daily: the backbone of this country are women. With odds stacked against them, from the legalization of polygamy, to the inbred misogynistic culture and lack of legal recourse for amoral and abusive treatment, it is a wonder these women have not crumbled under the heavy weight of oppressive and often dire circumstances. They are forced to remain silent out of fear. Just a couple of weeks ago, a female human rights advocate was suspiciously murdered.
Everywhere I go, I am unremittingly stared down by the consequences of an androcentric culture that treats women as objects, measured by her transactional worth to a man. Walk through the wards of the public hospital, where the cultural damage to women and children is painfully visible. A man can walk out on his wife and children at any time, for any reason, abandoning her physically, financially, and emotionally—without any legal recourse for support. Many women are admitted to the hospital as a direct consequence of this draconian paradigm—bodies burned and beaten by a husband, discarded for another wife. The units are teeming with mothers and their children whose husbands walked away the day they entered the hospital, abandoning her with a large hospital bill, no home, and no source of income. It is appalling. Yet, I have never met women anywhere with as much might and fortitude as Kenyan women.
Lately, I have been asking myself, "What can I do to help bring about change? Struggling with questions like this always brings me back to the Parable of the Babies in the River (please google the parable if you do not know it). Issues of injustice and violations to the human person can overwhelm, resulting in paralysis. Often I resort to honorable, yet not effective solutions, like prayer. I am discovering the difference between performing charitable activities, and doing the difficult work of social justice. One of the most challenging places to start the heavy work of social justice is in our own homes. Unless we are willing to be honest about our own biases and judgmental attitudes towards others, we will never be able to roll up our sleeves and use the privilege of our station in life to do the hard work of changing oppressive and false narratives.
I just finished a book by Dr Brene Brown, called Braving the Wilderness. The focus of Brown's book is true belonging—that primal desire that all humans crave and need. We long to be part of something bigger than ourselves— to be real and authentic. She writes, "True belonging only happens when we bring our true and authentic self and perfection in to the world. Our level of true belonging can never be greater than our level of self acceptance...once we belong thoroughly to ourselves and believe thoroughly in ourselves, that is when true belonging occurs." Beautiful, huh?
But this is her challenge: Being ourselves often requires the courage to stand totally alone in the wilderness–standing for what we believe in.
I will end this long and meandering post with this:
We are connected by love and human spirit, no matter how much we disagree, we are part of the same spiritual story." (Dr. Brene Brown)