I left my house that day at 3 pm (hour nine). I was on a mission to find a house I had never visited before. It was the house of a lady from our town church and the location for that week’s Ladies Bible Study meeting. During the announcements the previous Sunday we were told where the meeting would take place and to be sure to arrive on time at 2 pm (hour eight). Many of you, including my mom, are probably thinking, Shannon you are late! How rude! You probably missed the entire meeting! If you thought those things you would mostly be wrong. TIA = This is Africa!
Africans like proverbs and two of my favorites are:
“Westerners have watches, but Africans have the time” and
“Haraka Haraka haina baraka” which means Hurry, Hurry, it has no blessing.
In general with long term missions we say “It’s a marathon, not a sprint”. That works well here where time is something very different and I have come to enjoy it, but it can also still frustrate me. When planning to meet someone, I often need to stop and think, am I meeting another Westerner who will respect the time we agreed to meet (and often be early) or an African who has a different sense of time. As I write this at 6pm I am still waiting for the person I was meeting at 1 pm to show up at my house. Knowing that he usually has trouble getting away during the day (even though he is the one who suggests we meet at that time), I now do not usually expect him before 6pm and sometimes not until the next day. Today, I made 1 pm lunch plans with Westerners and left my house, with only a slight worry that the African would show up for our meeting while I was out.
Many missionary friends recommended I read the book “Foreign to Familiar”, by Sarah A. Lanier, before arriving on the field. At one training we were even told we should reread it every 6 months when we are on the field. I just finished rereading this book for the 4th time, so I am behind a few readings, but every time I read it I find that something new jumps out at me that helps me understand a bit more about life in a country that is not my passport country. Things that are not right or wrong, just different.
That day, as I drove along the bumpy, dusty, Turkana road I thought through my plan again. I would go to another house I knew I could find easily, where another church member lived. If she had already left for the meeting, I hoped to find a child somewhere around there that could then direct me to the house I needed to find, or at least get me closer, where I could find another child who might know the correct house. Are you following all that? What could go wrong? Well that’s a story for another blog, but this time I was more confident and had been doing well finding my way around town to visit many people upon my return from furlough.
I reached a point where I needed to decide if I would continue on the main road or try the short cut. The main road is under construction and it might be hard to find the way at the point I needed to cross it, because the work area changed day to day. However, I had not traveled this short cut the entire way since my return and often fences are quickly constructed that block our route, which I guess somehow was someone’s property not really a road.
As I slowed down to make my decision, there beside me was a friend who I had not seen since my return to Turkana. He was on his piki (motorbike) and had stopped to talk to someone he knew who was walking. Here is something else you need to understand about Kenya and possibly all Africa: people walk a lot, all the time, everywhere. Yes, even in our town where the pikis and taxis are increasing every day, the majority of people walk. People are everywhere walking. I have learned to notice the walks of so many friends and church members that I often stop to pick them if I am traveling the direction they are walking and at least take them a bit closer, if not all the way, to their destination.
My friend noticed me stopping and he was as happy to see me as I was to see him. He was a worker on our farm and water team and now has a government job. He was one of the first Turkana I met when I came here on my vision trip in 2013. It was so great to have this spontaneous meeting, but we were rather in the middle of the road and needed to move up a bit if we were to visit more. Since he was headed to his house and he saw I was headed that general direction, he invited me to come to visit and greet his wife and children.
Besides time, relationships are one of the big differences between many cultures that the book “Foreign to Familiar” talks about. Americans tend to be task oriented, while most Africans tend to be relationship oriented. A typical American would say, Shannon you are already late for the Bible study, you do not have time to visit. Make a plan for later in the week. However, for me it was a “no-brainer” that I would detour to visit this friend and his family, then eventually continue on to the meeting. So off we went and I was happy to realize that I remembered the way to his house and would have been able to find it on my own.
When we arrived I greeted his children and some others who were outside playing. Then I asked how his wife was doing and he said “Great she had the baby yesterday”. WHAT!?! I didn’t even know they were expecting again, and here I was barging in to visit when she just had a baby! And I had no gift! But for this culture it was about me being there more than any gift. It was about their hospitality. It was about greeting him, his wife and his children after I “had been lost for so long” (ie been away in America for 9 months). His very sweet wife graciously brought the baby out for me to see and we visited briefly before she and the baby went back to rest and I visited with their boys who were very happy to have a baby sister and to have a mzungu (white person) at their house, all in a 24 hour period. I was so thankful to have had that visit with them all and I promised to return later for a proper visit.
At that point I shared with my friend where I was originally heading that day. He offered to show me the way to the house where the meeting was taking place. So off we went, with me following his piki. When we arrived some of the ladies came out of the house to see who was there. They cheered and laughed and then got the story of how I had managed to get there with the guidance of my friend on his piki. They also shared that they sent one of their children to the other house to look for me, so that I would be sure to make it to the meeting.
At this point it was around 4 pm. The meeting had started, but there were still others who showed up after me, so I was not the last to arrive. I was not considered rude and they kept commenting how great it was that I now knew how to get to another ladies house. At the next weeks church announcements they probably reminded us all again to arrive on time at 2 pm, but we all know that means that’s about when the others will begin to prepare to leave to walk to the meeting place and some will arrive at 3 or 3:15 or 4 pm and the fellowship we have together will be just as sweet no matter when we all arrive.
I am not perfect. I am still an American. I am still an introvert. I do not always embrace the slower, less time oriented, relational parts of this culture. But the days I do embrace all of those things are some of my best days here and that day was one of my favorites. Meeting baby Felice for the first time, greeting her dad, mom, and brothers again after my “being lost” in America, and being greeted with cheers and smiles by the women at the Ladies Bible Study. These visits, and so many others here, as well as the many wonderful visits I had with friends and family while I was in America, are what helps me get through the tough times. Knowing you all are loving me, praying for me and supporting me in so many large and small ways is essential to keeping me here working with God in this place. I am so thankful for you all and have so much more to share about what God has been doing in the ministry and my life since I have returned to Turkana.
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
|Baby Felice, her mom and brothers.|
|More friends I missed terribly while in the US.|
|I even got to briefly visit "Zebra" the brother dog of my guard dog Max! They both have those cure curled tails!|