Tuesday, July 28, 2009

When There Is Charcoal, Life Is Good

Don't Leave The Bananas Out. I feel like that could be a great ironic slogan for something involving crazy fun. Unfortunately right now it's just a good rule of thumb for keeping the mice and fruit flies at bay. Ewww. I kept wondering why there was this rotting garbage smell in my kitchen. I took out the trash. I took out the recycling. No food bits left in the sink.

You know, it's a bit cliche to say that Kenya taught me all sorts of lessons that I'm still using today. But like any decent cliche, it's true. There was one night when I was visiting my friends Julia and Emily and their family in Kapkoi village. It was a bit cold out, maybe a little rainy, and we had just eaten what seemed to me a pretty unsatisfying dinner of ugali - unsalted maize flour eaten as a paste - and milk. To the Nandis, though, this was a perfect meal, and Julia, Emily and I sat together in the dark hut making idle conversation. We were huddled around a ceramic stove full of warm coals, and the pungent gray smoke was making my eyes sting and laying the foundation for lung cancer. All the parts of me facing the stove were feeling charred, and all the parts of me not facing the stove were feeling a bit chilly. Julia sighed contentedly.

"When there is charcoal, Justina, life is good," she said.

Strangely profound. My Kenyan friends always had a way of interspersing some great wisdom into their redundant small talk about what kind of crops we grow in America and helpful clarifications that, yes, two years later, "Jambo," is still how people say hello in Swahili.

Paradox: There's something about living closer to survival mode that gives you more clarity on what's meaningful in life, but at the same time, always being in survival mode made many people incredibly obtuse about things that seem so obvious to me, like considering the consequences of an action before doing it, or thinking about the future at all.

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