…and participated in a surgery where the electricity went off four times. The surgeon looked up from the dark sterile field and said “this is the way we do things in Africa… when something does not work, we search for something else.” And so we found a flashlight and the operation continued because being innovative goes a long way, and when you don’t have everything you need you find out you don’t need it as much as you once thought you did.
Today I heard laughter, the splashing of water, and the yelping of another swimmer flying from the rope swing. I sat in the dala dala with the conductor hanging out the window and listened to him bang on the metal door wherever a potential passenger waited for a ride. We jolted over the dirt roads till our stomachs started to turn and our mouths became dry from the dust flying through the open windows. Teasing head on collisions we weaved through traffic, and there was more than one moment when I thought it was going to be the end.
Today I set my camera down and watched the shops and houses go by out the window, smilling at the bright red Airtel signs at every convenient store. Small cement buildings, some of which are no bigger than my bedroom at home, house whole families. I looked at the brightly coloured clothing hanging on the clotheslines and the washbasins, stools and dishes sitting outside. I saw the people smile and wave and watched a child pull around the only toy he had – a plastic bottle on wheels.
Today I smelled the familiar smell of rice and beans coming from the kitchen. I savored the sweet, milky chai tea that I once hated and though about how I have come to look forward to chips mai yai, eating off chicken bones, and the routine boiled egg every morning. The kids ate their rice and beans with their hands so I gave back my spoon and joined them.
Today I set my camera down to play kuku kuku simba, Dr. Pretzel, and checkers with bottle caps. I fished in water holes for soccer balls, was chased by boys with large bugs, and line danced in the dining room. I sat down on the bench and laughed when two of the youngest sat beside me and copied the way I crossed my legs and folded my arms. When it was late they moved close and rested their heads on my lap till their eyes started to close in a deep sleep.
Today I washed dishes with a dear friend. As we stood outside by the chickens waiting for water to fill the buckets I talked about my family and she told me about hers. I listened to the heartbreaking tale of how she ran from her abusive father with her mother and sister when she was just four. They stayed with their grandfather, but his friends beat her mother again and again. She was always hungry. They were never safe. She told me how her grandfather had held a knife up to her mother’s throat. She shuddered, but I was the one who cried. As I listened to her explain how God is helping her to forgive I reflected on my blessed life in Canada and wrestled with the many ‘why’ questions flooding my thoughts.
Every time I hear stories of abuse and abandonment, see families collecting water from a stream surrounded by garbage, or hold the hands of children who just want to be loved, my heart aches a little more for both the evident need here and the better-hidden need at home.
Today I set my camera down, because the best things in life aren’t documented, they are experienced. Pictures simply cannot do justice to what I saw, heard, and did in the moment – and how it changed me.