I was wearing a dress that was tooshort by Kenyan standards, but our walk was unexpected and it’s just too hotsometimes to dress conservatively when you aren't planning to leave the house. They called out to us andasked me in Swahili if I knew how to farm. It was a joke, obviously. Theylaughed, assuming I didn’t understand what they said; and because I don’t lovebeing the object of jokes unless I can join in the laughter, I took off my redleather ballet flats, waded through the freshly plowed field and picked upthe hoe. They held my baby as I swung with all my might and dug up fresh groundwhile we all laughed together at my skills (or lack thereof).
Caleb was wearing one of the shirtshe “came with.” I am not sure of it’s original color, but by now it holdsstains of every hue and the neck is stretched out so that one of his shoulderslays bare. I had meant to get rid of that shirt, but it somehow remained in hiswardrobe of bright, fresh blues and greens and reds. He greeted them with akindness that made time stand still for a moment as I looked on with pride.They were dirty. Their two children sat under the shade of a tree nearby. Thelittlest cried when I approached, as if I was dressed in a frightening costumeinstead of just the white skin I was born with.
I talked with the ladies who wereworking to feed their children while Caleb sat down in the pile of dirt rightbetween Kevin and Mateo, our new friends. I eventually sat down with him, afterthe laughs from all of the “mzungus are lazy jokes” had ceased. I had missedthis. I watched him gently run his fingers over Kevin’s head, covered in whitespots from a fungal infection that is pretty rampant among kids here in Kenya. Partof me wanted to pull his hand away because bringing an easily-spread fungusinto our house didn’t sound like a great idea. Not today. Instead I let hishand remain and felt an undeniable confirmation from the Holy Spirit that thisis good.
I suddenly found myself in someways wishing that Caleb’s pants had holes in them just like Kevin’s and hisface had a stream of thick, gunky snot like Mateo’s. I wished for a moment thathe smelled like soil and mold and old urine instead of Johnson’s Lavender babylotion and
my perfume this fancy stuff called Febreeze. I wanted to take off his shoes andremove the socks (that I had just previously replaced when he spilled porridgeon his others) so that he would be more of the same as these other two boys. Idon’t know that that is what the Lord would want, but I do know that He doesn’twant us covered in gold while our neighbors roll around in the mud. There ismiddle ground, there has to be.
One thing I pray for (without theexact words, oftentimes) is that my children will always run their fingers overfungus-covered heads, even when they know the risk. I pray that we pick up andcuddle babies who are soaked and soiled and stinking from no diaper with thesame ease we pick up the babies who are dressed neatly in a matching BabyGapensemble. I pray that we kiss our HIV+ brothers and sisters as long and hardand mushily as we kiss any of the others. I pray that we can forever squeezethrough the small entry and into the darkly lit, scrap-metal houses that areteeming with bugs to visit friends in the slums. I pray that when those mamasand their kids come over for chai later today after their long day of work, wetreat them as if they are queens and princes, because they are. And I pray thatit slowly becomes less forced or painstakingly intentional and more natural,like breathing.
Yes, the freshly cleaned floorswill have red footprints when they enter and more when they leave and yes, someof their soil, sweat, susu (sorry, had to keep with the s’s…susu = peepee inSwahili) scent might linger on our couch for a couple of days and yes,sometimes we might even pick up some pretty nasty illnesses, but I need that.Caleb needs that. I think I will be prouder of my kids getting ringworm from ourfriends in the slums than I will be of my kids making honor roll.
“So then you are no longer strangersand aliens, but you are fellow citizenswith the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation ofthe apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whomthe whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in theLord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by theSpirit.” ~Ephesians 2:19-22