Kenya is so different from the Sandbox. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a democracy (the effect of freedom) or because alcohol is allowed here or because the slums are closer to the city or what, but it seems like a much scarier place to me. I have walked to the local market here a few times (with Mr. Rikshaw or a friend) and on the way we pass men sleeping next to the path in the middle of the day, burning garbage piles, and twice I’ve been followed by a drunk man for a short ways. In the Sandbox, it doesn’t seem like it’s any richer, but the markets are clean, relatively, and I never ever feel threatened. And even though we are a far cry from the Sandbox people, I don’t remember feeling quite so pegged as a rich white person there. I felt a little more on equal terms with people, for some reason. And in the last three weeks since we’ve been here, the house next door to us was robbed by 5 men with a gun at 8:30 p.m. when the family was home (we heard the glass break) and a friend of ours was mugged and left unconscious just a short distance from his home (he’s now recovering with apparently no permanent damage). (I should clarify about the break-in – the thieves broke through their back door, which, like ours, has an additional metal door that can be locked. They had not yet closed their metal door for the night, thinking it was still early. Obviously, since then we’ve been careful to lock up everything as soon as it’s dark – the whole house is basically enclosed in metal bars.)
We’ve been confronted by poverty a lot here. It’s so hard to know what to do sometimes. Some people say that there’s a sense of dependency that’s been created by foreigners a lot here. The needs are just so huge, it’s hard to know how to respond. Also, I’ve learned enough to know that generally, money needs to come with some sort of accountability. I want to just believe and trust everyone. But I would be pretty naive. I remember in the Sandbox once just a short time after I gave a little money to some kids, I saw them sniffing glue on the side of the street. It’s not that I want to hoard money for myself. But I think more and more that finding genuinely effective ways to help is crucial. Simple things, sometimes, like buying things from small market vendors rather than from a more impersonal grocery store (there are a few small ones in Khartoum, although not for fresh fruits and vegetables) – even though bargaining for everything at the market is really draining for me. Or like having househelp – to be honest I really struggle with having someone going through my house, doing my dirty work. But it’s giving someone a real job. And that’s huge. Jobs – that’s huge. There are just never enough. Something I’ve always taken so much for granted.
At the same time, it’s funny, but I’ve struggled with materialism a lot more than I have in a long time, too. I wish I could have a different reaction – to just realize how little we actually need. But I’ve felt the opposite. Like I just long so much to have a nice house – a house with good natural light and a nice outdoor space and everything, and comfortable furniture that fits my own style. Our current apartment feels really dark and oppressive to me. And in some ways, I think our tendency has been to be as frugal as possible, not wanting to fill the stereotype of the rich missionary who comes in with a totally different standard of living, but rather than making life more simple, and therefore more peaceful, it can just be stressful. But it’s really hard to sort out, how much do we really need? I can recognize, our goal cannot just be to survive, to get by, as if I’m some sort of hero, because that will just lead to burn out. We have felt so worn out this spring. I want to genuinely thrive, to live in a way that allows us to love the Sandbox and enjoy living there. What sorts of things do we just adjust to, and learn to live with in a way that doesn’t add major stress? And what sorts of things make the difference between surviving and thriving? Like air conditioners, for example – we can survive without one (I know because we basically did for most of May, and the one we have doesn’t really effect more than the one room it’s in) but living in such extreme heat day after day is extremely draining. We couldn’t survive that way AND do the work we came to do. And having our own car – we first thought we would go for a while without our own car. And it certainly has been good for us to learn the bus system and all that. But we can recognize that for the people who we are, the freedom we would gain from having our own vehicle would be huge. But maybe there’s also a lot of THINGS (material things) that actually wouldn’t make much of a real difference in the end, and it has to do with other things. (Like exercise – how do we get exercise, when it’s so hot, when running/walking for exercise is virtually unheard of, etc.? Yet it’s really important…)
– Mama Nomuula