(Throwing caution to the wind, I am going to narrate my day – as if we were good friends sitting in the college dorm.)
My stomach was doing something funny, so I decided to make an extended visit to the latrine. Gotta love those extended visits to the latrine. While there, I saw a spider eating a fly. Interesting, eh?
So, then it was back to the tent. I listened to some worship music and had casual conversation with the LORD as I got ready for the day.
When I finally emerged from my tent – and how fun is that to say? I live in a TENT! It’s so fun when I read about the angels of the LORD camping around the tent of the righteous or Abraham going to a land he knew not and setting up his tent… all this tent talk in the Bible makes me extra happy these days!) – Anyway, when I finally emerged from my tent, I walked around the compound giving morning greetings to the kids and the mamas.
I saw that our driver, Peter, had come early. He was sitting in the corner of the courtyard with a group of the staff. All of them wore somber faces, and I knew why.
You see, Peter’s 21 year old son went missing on August 8th. His son was driving his motorcycle taxi on the night of his disappearance, taking a passenger to mile 9 on the Maridi road. On Wednesday, Peter found out what happened. His son must have gotten some more passengers to ferry back and forth along the road, because he eventually found himself at mile 37 on the Maridi road. There, as he approached a bridge along the road, he was jumped by some bandits. They beat him to death, threw his body into the river, and took the motorcycle.
I hadn’t seen Peter since we heard the news that his son was dead. Breathing a prayer for guidance, comfort, and peace, I walked over. He had come to ask if he could borrow two tarps to provide some shade for the funeral guests that would be coming to his house. He also asked to take the land rover to fetch some firewood. I guess they all thought it was my responsibility to sign off on the use of the tarps and land rover, since Michele is away in Uganda for a few days. Seriously? Just because I’m white? Whatever.
As I went off to get the tarps, my mind was asking God a hundred questions. Spinning in confusion, I guess you could say. I mean, what do I do? What do I say? How do I react? How does God show up in this situation? There isn’t even a body for God to resurrect!
Returning with the tarps, I had no more answers than I had before I left. Maybe just being with mourners in that uncomfortable place of grief and confusion is the best way to love them. Not knowing what else to do, besides the strong urge to run away, I chose to sit down with them and listen. Listen to Peter retell the story. Listen to the sound of his voice- frustration mingled with disbelief, tinged with anger, resigned to injustice, and blanketed in sadness.
As he finished the story, he smiled. It was the same smile I’ve seen countless times. The smile that inevitably comes when Africans have just recounted a tragic event in their life. The smile looked just like his voice sounded.
After Peter and the men left, I went to sit again. This time, I sat with Betty and her young son, Zion, as we ate our mandazi (friend bread) and drank our morning caocao (coffee). It was another time – two already in one early morning – when I felt like running. I don’t know what to talk to Betty about these days. Her husband, Patrick, is a very ill man. He has a brain tumor, and the doctors have done all they can do. In light of the morning’s events, the cloud of death was already hovering nearby, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it. In these situations, Zion always seems to be a timely distraction. We talked about Zion and his first birthday tomorrow. “If Zion’s father is feeling well tomorrow, we will celebrate,” she said.
Esther Aba, one of the toddlers, came up and leaned on my lap. It never ceases to amaze me how filthy these little children can get in the span of a few hours. Surely she hadn’t been up and about for more than three hours, but already she was a mess! I reminded myself that it was just dirt, and that she was a precious little soul with infinite value. So, I gave her a hug and scratched her back as she leaned there, trying to keep her focus on eating the fried bread in her hand- instead of wiping it on my pants.
I retreated to Michele’s room for a few hours of work on the computer. Yes! The internet was working. It’s been working the past few days, even though the company said that the internet would be down for up to 2 weeks! Well, anyway, I’m thankful. Thank you, God! 🙂
Lunch was posho (cornmeal prepared to the almost the consistency of mashed potatoes) and fish. Betty told me that the fish is imported from Uganda (not suprising- almost everything is imported here- which is why the cost of living is so high). So, as I picked through the bones in the full bodied fish on my plate, I imagined the little guy swimming in the depths of Lake Victoria. Probably he came too close to the shore one day and got snagged in a net. That’s prophetic.
Lunch conversation revolved around languages. The older boys love to pepper me with questions. “How many languages do you know?” “What was your first language?” “What language do you speak at home?” “How many tribal languages are there in America?”
After giving my boring answers to their questions, they began telling me about the languages they speak. Arcangelo speaks 10 languages. Kizito speaks classical Arabic, but thinks that the Arabic here in Yei is very simple. Arcangelo tells Kizito that he will forget all of his classical Arabic before he returns to his home village in the Nuba mountains. Kizito insists he won’t forget. Suddenly, Kizito is talking about the war again and naming the family members he lost.
I hate war.
Back to the work on the computer for a bit. I emerged again at 3:45, when I got the sudden urge to sweep the floor. Michele’s room gathers a lot of dust, so when I swung open her door to sweep the dirt outside, I had a significant pile.
“Good afternoon!” I heard and responded in kind, not registering who actually spoke the words. Suddenly I realized and did a double take.
“MAMA EUDITA!” I exclaimed, as we grabbed each other in a big hug. “I’m so glad you’re back!”
“Oh, my daughter! I have missed you!” she responded. And, I’m just realizing now that I’ve had so many sad conversations today- because we ended up talking about the death of her uncle. She was returning from a three-day trip to the village, where she had attended his funeral.
“He was a captain in the army,” she told me reverently. “Yellow fever. And he drank a lot. Too much really, that’s what killed him.”
As I finished sweeping out the room, Opani came to offer me a cup of afternoon caocao. “Shukran! Thank you, Opani!” I sat outside with Lily, the cook. I drank my coffee, and she worked on her cross stitch. My adopted Sudanese brother, Malik, sweetly helped baby Zion test his feet in the courtyard. Zion’s chubby hands gripped Malik’s fingers tightly as he took cautious steps forward. Every time I look at Zion these days, I wonder if Patrick will live to see him grow, or if Zion will have to become the fulfillment of his father’s short life. Jesus…
In the States, we have so many euphemisms for death. “She’s gone.” “He passed away.” “We lost her.” We dance around the subject. It makes us uncomfortable, and we don’t like to talk about it. We even close caskets in many funerals. We wait until the family has left the gravesite to cover the loved one in earth. Death is not so disguised here. It’s too prevalent. Life is fragile, like Zion’s uncertain walk on teetering feet. We must hold on to the hands extended to us. Like Peter said this morning, “God, help us.”
Rain came down then, as I was sipping my coffee. So, I moved inside, finished the drink, and managed to catch the very end of the rainstorm to wash my hair.
After drying up and braiding the hair to get it out of the way, I sat with the girls for a while and tried to teach Beida how to get a clear sound out of my native American flute. One of my dear friends from the mission school in Pemba gave me the flute, and the kids here are entranced by it every time I bring it out. Rainstorms are a great time for the flute. It calms the littler ones that tremble at the thunder.
Anyway, the internet is still working. Amazing. The kids are eating their dinner of posho and ganjaro (beans). I guess I’ll post this now and go get some dinner for myself. Hopefully the beans will be happy-stomach-beans tonight! 🙂
Tomorrow, Michele returns from Uganda.
Thanks for letting me debrief the day.