Thursday, May 15, 2014

surviving without romance

My best friend Heather lived in Kenya for seven months after she graduated from high school, so I was especially excited to tell her my news. She wondered where I'll be staying and if I would be close to the village where she lived. Then she told me about a book that she had picked off of the shelf in her childhood bedroom the last time she visited home. Our friend Lara had given it to Heather before she left for her trip because it was full of stories of women living in Kenya and a few other East African countries.

I'd been looking for stories and fiction by and about people living in Kenya in making a syllabus to prepare for my trip this summer, so I got off the phone and ordered the book. 

It's called Surviving Without Romance - a slightly misleading, overly dramatic title that, in my opinion, doesn't quite get at what the book is about. But I'm guessing the author was purposeful in wanting the title to be dramatic, in order to draw people in. She explains the title in the prologue:

It is hard for us to understand women who survive, and do so quite happily, without romance. We tend to feel pity or superiority. Our culture tells us, quite insistently, that to be whole a woman needs a lover - and one who will truly understand her, at that.

That explanation makes sense to me. But the women in these stories are doing more than "surviving," they are living. And stating that they are doing so without romance seems to neglect all that they are living with - community, and joy gained through struggles and, for most of them, the love of God.

Here are are a few things this book reinforced for me:

Faith looks a lot of different ways. For one women, it meant leaving her husband, to whom she was a second wife, because she felt that her faith wouldn't allow her to practice or condone polygamy. This meant accepting a life without a husband or children (and so also without a regular form of income, value in the eyes of the community, and family to take care of you in old age). For another woman, faithfulness meant staying with her husband despite feeling betrayed, hurt and neglected when he took on additional wives and abandoned her and her children.

Stories are important. This goes back to the Nouwen quote I shared earlier this month. Each of these women shared stories that were truly theirs, and so very different from mine. And yet they shared things that I could relate to. Their stories each revealed something that is universally experienced. Even though I haven't yet traveled to Kenya or met any of these women face to face, I felt connected to them because of those commonalities.

Africa is diverse and dynamic. These is a struggle to maintain traditional tribal values while adopting the influence of Western culture. Understanding this struggle was timely, given the news about the girls kidnapped in Nigeria.

There's more I could write, but it's getting late and I want to get this post up tonight. On that note, thanks for reading along as I publish some pretty unpolished writing here this month. I don't know if you can tell just from reading, but it's helping me. And I've enjoyed opening up my life a little more readily.


  1. i've been enjoying your posts, Betsy- keep them coming!

  2. Agree! Maybe because we don't live close by anymore, but with the frequent posts this months you just feel more present. It's cool!