“Was it an accident that I saw that. Or is it just that the world unwraps itself to you, again and again, as soon as you are ready to see it anew?” -Wicked
Beautiful smiles, cultural insight, big meals, friends and family streaming through the doors. Three countries. Three cultures. Seven family homes in one day and a raging headache in between. And pressing on, and headache disappearing as I introduced new friends to one another.
Water bottles are placed on the table for us immediately upon entering the home. The interpreter and I settle onto the couch, sliding into one another on the cushions. Husband and wife sit down next to us. Wife getting up to take care of the baby, to make chai, to prep for lunch.
Husband is tired, intelligent, and giving me more than enough information to scribble down as notes.
We stay for an hour, then we are off to another Somali home.
This home we sit down, and the father turns the AC window unit behind me on, blasting cold air into their hot apartment. This family has a lot to say, and the kids run around. One little boy hands me a half of a little red toy car. The mother sits opposite me, and the father sits next to me on the window seat.
“You must stay to eat. We’ve been waiting all morning for you. We are hungry!”
“Sorry, we’ve already eaten. And we have another meeting to get to…” the interpreter attempts to explain.
“It’s our culture! Even if you just eat a few bites, it’s enough.”
The mother goes around, washing each of our hands in a big basin, and paper towels.
Then she brings us into the dining room, and uncovers steaming pots of french fries, rice, beef, beans, and ugali. I grab rice, fries, beans and sit down. The mother asks me which drink I would like, and she pours me a cola to the top of a big glass.
I sit down to eat with a fork, a little less confident than I was when I was here in January when I was using ugali to scoop up chicken with my hands.
But I eat. And our meeting turns from an interview, into a casual dinner. Friends begin pouring in through the doors, and it’s a big party. All the kids come out and eat in the living room, while we eat in the dining room.
Lots of talking in Swahili, and I try to broaden my Swahili vocabulary. Asante sana (thank you so much), and jambo (hello!) are usually winners.
The women joke about me needing an African blouse and skirt. “Would you wear it?”
“I would try it out!” I say. And they laugh. Because they know I wouldn’t be too happy in a skirt, regardless of what country it’s from.
Entanglement. It’s finally happening. For the past six months I felt like a drifter, getting to introduce people to one another, and kind of just chasing people around and not sure what anyone wanted from me.
But now, especially after having an interpreter for two days, I have begun to realize what I am to them, and what they are to me.
We are people to one another.
On to the next Congolese family’s home. I am humbled.
I am not perfect. And it’s hard to do any kind of work with people when you realize not everything you try to do works out.
Still, they smile big smiles. They tell me I can come back anytime, not just for work. But as a friend. And I say I will.
Quieter. Tough to break through to. Introverts, and ever thankful and hesitant. They invite me into their home, and make sure to take your shoes off outside the door.
They encourage you to sit on the couch, while they sit on the floor. It’s a sign of respect.
The first family, silent and cautious the whole time. They might not understand what I’m saying, but there is a Karen interpreter there, so they definitely do.
On my way out, they motion over to the plates of fruit sitting on the coffee table to the side. I wasn’t sure if it was an offering, or for their dinner, or for me.
It’s for me.
We are on our way out the door and the family points to the food.
The interpreter encourages me, eat, eat.
I say, I’ll grab some to go.
Putting watermelon and grapes on a napkin, it’s not enough.
Then, “Eat some here. Just a little bit. It’s their culture.”
I eat the watermelon, and they watch me and smile.
Then I wrap the rest of the fruit I had grabbed up, and head out the door.
I tell the interpreter, see you at the next place.
Next Burmese family, we are greeted with a smile. The young daughter is as outgoing as her mother is hesitant. I ask her questions, and see if she has any questions for me.
Then we’re on our way.
Karen meetings are much shorter than Congolese meetings.
I pull up to the address in the evening, and am greeted by the American family. We walk up to the family home together, and are greeted by a neighbor boy who is walking out. We head in, and see that the house is packed with two families of ten, as per usual at Congolese family homes. And we enter, and sit down. The father talks to us, and the children, mother and other family hover in the background.
I start the introductions, introducing myself and my role. We go around telling names, and trying out Swahili and French.
The mother brings in a tray of water and Fanta (very popular with Congolese families), two trays full of bananas, and a tray of apples.
“Let’s eat!” the husband announces, not taking no for an answer.
I grab a banana, and look around at everyone else eating.
We go outside to take a picture together after 45 minutes or so of getting to know one another. And as I am leaving, the girls tell me they are so thankful to meet their new friends. And parents from both families smile and wave, grabbing each other around the waist and smiling for more pictures.
I drive away, and realize that I am becoming more myself with every passing day. More myself as I open myself up to more people.