Most Things Seem Normal, But Not This...

November is the month of Thanksgiving in the United States, a time to reflect on everything that we have to be grateful for.  I found the following article in my files the other day. Reading through it was a good reminder for me today. I hope it puts things in perspective for you as well...

After living in Nairobi for almost two years now, it occurred to me that much of what is "Kenyan" has now become commonplace to me. Matatus (Kenyan taxis) do not shock me anymore. I have found myself using phrases like "it is paining her" more readily than my American lingo.  Shopping at the market has ceased to be the big event it used to be and some of the hawkers recognize that I am a local and no longer a tourist.

One thing that has not settled well even after all this time, however, is the level of poverty that surrounds me. Tom and I have had an interesting time.  We came prepared for it to take three or four months for Tom to find a job.  It took one and a half years. It was not always easy, but we have learned such valuable lessons. We are content with so much less. We now fight on the same team when things get tight and not against each other. That in itself makes the past two years priceless.

I'm not trying to pat myself on the back or gain the sympathy of my readers. I would not trade the past two years for anything in the world.  They have been the best. I consider myself very fortunate. As hard as it has been to not have money at times, even at our lowest we have been more wealthy than most people living in Kenya.

Imagine not having electricity. No, I don't mean when there is a storm.  I mean never having electricity. Imagine cooking over a kerosene stove, not only when you are camping, but for every meal every day of your life. And imagine not having running water, but walking to carry water from a common well every day. Or worse, having to pay for it by the liter like a bottle of Coke.

Imagine eating ugali (corn meal) every night for dinner with sukuma wiki (greens) and finishing it off with a cup of tea.  Sukuma wiki is Kiswahili for "stretch the week." That is literally what it does for many people.  Families survive on greens and corn meal.

Or consider living in one room. Not just by yourself, but with your wife, four children and maybe a brother or sister - or both.

Then consider that room being made from mud bricks and having a tin roof. Or perhaps it might be made from whatever you could find in the garbage to piece together a little "home" for your family. And imagine your floors being made of concrete at best, packed down mud at worse. (Just think what your floor would be like during the rainy season.)

I have to be honest. I have complained many times both in my heart and out loud about how hard life has been lately. I wish I could say I never did. I want to say I never will again. I admire the strength and determination many of these people have. I want to be as tough as they are.

Imagine working 60 hours a week to bring home $75.00 or maybe only $35.00. One of my new friends walks 45 minutes to and from work every day. Her husband walks the same to his job. They cannot afford bus fare and still make ends meet. When I found out where she works and that she walks I was shocked. But she is happy to have the job and walks to work with a smile.

Like I said, many things have become commonplace. Periodic shortages of butter, milk, flour or sugar don't surprise me any more. Being charged more for items because of the color of my skin is just the way it is. But the poverty is beyond what I ever could have imagined had I not lived here. I have not gotten used to it.

I hope I never do.
Lori ZieglerComment