Thursday, March 9, 2017

what it was about

But when the words mean even more than the writer knew they meant, then the writer has been listening. And sometimes when we listen, we are led into places we do not expect, into adventures we do not always understand. 
Mary did not always understand.  But one does not have to understand to be obedient. Instead of understanding -- that intellectual understanding, which we are so fond of -- there is a feeling of rightness, of knowing, knowing things which we are not yet able to understand. 
A young woman said to me, during the question-and-answer period after a lecture, "I read A Wrinkle in Time when I was eight or nine. I didn't understand it, but I knew what it was about." 
As long as we know what it's about, then we can have the courage to go wherever we are asked to go, even if we fear that the road may take us through danger and pain.

-Madeleine L'Engle, Walking on Water

Sunday, March 5, 2017

like a new dance that stirs old feet

Nairobi requires a new set of skills. I have been training at killing the mosquitoes buzzing around my cramped room before I go to bed each night, which requires quick reflexes as well as an ability to spot them, and patience. I am also learning how to tuck my mosquito net and position myself just right under it so that any remaining buzzing pests will not be able to bite my skin. Any failure shows itself in the morning, red dots pocking skin left exposed or (I didn't know this was a liability) touching the net. 

I am learning how to walk. Most roads are wide enough for only two cars. The edges are torn and cracked, like the smoldered edge of a paper set to fire. Pedestrians walk on these craggly edges, but then side step onto the dusty paths when cars hoot their horns and speed past. From what I can tell, there is no right or wrong side, wherever there is room is where you might walk. My feet and shoes are covered in a thin film of brown dust, which I wash off only for it to be replaces by another on my next walk.

I walk to the bus stage and learn to ask the names of the places where I go, learn to crouch down so I can see out the window and discern where I am by the landmarks that are becoming more and more familiar, learn to signal when I need to get off, sense the rhythm of when the conductor (is that what you call him?) will reach over and tap my shoulder to ask for 20, 30, 50 bob (shillings) for the ride.

I walk to the duka and learn to ask for fruit that will be ripe one or two or three days out. I walk past people calling out mzungu on streets where I am still unfamiliar (always in the informal settlements) and learn to look friendly but keep walking. I learn to push past men who try to touch my skin. I learn to give my passport to the policeman asking why I am here, to smile and tell him I'm enjoying my stay in his country.

I am learning that rains come when I am sleeping, that the sun is hot but the shade always offers its relief, that rocks are preferred to mud, mud to the dust that gets stirred up and settles on everything around it. I learn to put more minutes on my phone, to cross a highway of traffic, to bite mango from its skin and let the juice cover my hands as a child would.

When I woke this morning, the sun was shining, bright and glad. I agreed with it. Though learning can be wearisome, I think of all that I didn't know and now I do, like a new dance that stirs old feet, like a candle re-lit on the table of a couple long married.