I had one of the most amazing days today, and not because of what I did, not because of how devastating the conditions were or any huge event that took place. It was because of one person, one conversation, on encounter that hugely affected my day. And to be completely honest as I look back on my week there have been a number of amazing conversations with people that I will not soon take for granted that have been the highlight of me week.
Today’s conversation however, is the one I want to share with you most. We had a team of 4 show up on Tuesday this week and it has been a busy week since they landed, but since the size of the team and the staff that would be travelling together is quite large, our little 5 seater car was no longer sufficient! We hired a man named John, who Brenda knows quite well, and he drives a van and so this gave us enough room to take the number people we wanted to travel with!
Today I sat in the front seat to give John directions to the slum and we started visiting about how long he has been driving, and he shared some of his story with me. He told me he graduated in 1984 and went to college to learn tourism. After that he got his first job in 1989 and has been driving a van, giving tours, going on safari, doing nature talks and working in all kinds of tourism ever since! And he loves it! He said that he sometimes has to deal with grouchy, unpleasant people. But more often than not he just gets happy-go-lucky people to drive around and share his country with! I’m quite convinced that John’s favorite words are “Hakuna Matata” and for any of you Lion King lovers out there you will have heard this before! And for those of you who haven’t, it literally means what “no worries”!
Later this afternoon I was sitting in the van waiting on the team with John and I was admiring one of the bracelets I had purchased at the market that afternoon. The beads were beautifully colors and I’ve been lucky enough to develop some friendships with the ladies there, they know me and we have formed a relationship where I’m not haggled like a typical white tourist, we have agreed on reasonable prices and they treat me fairly so I often go back to visit their stands knowing that I have a few trustworthy ladies to go to! John asked me if I had a passion for the beadwork and I told him that it wasn’t so much a passion for the beads themselves, but the ladies who make them, knowing that they respect me and treat me fairly and that I can help support their family. I explained that it makes it much easier for me to support someone and their family when I’m not treated differently because I have white skin and it’s expected of me to give them more money. That fair is fair and I respect that much more! We then talked a little about me, since I knew about how he got to where he is, he asked me about how I got to where I am and what exactly I’ve been going here. I told him the part that I love most is the culture and the relationships I get to develop with the locals here more than anything because I don’t want to be the Canadian that comes in and expects all the comforts of home, and special treatment while I’m in their country, sends some money their way and then leaves! I want to be safe, I want to help, but I want to be equal. John told me how it is much the same for him. He explained that he lives in an area of the city that is highly populated, not very wealthy but not like the areas we had been in this week at the slums. He told me that for 3 years he has been parking his van outside, using common sense and locking the doors and keeping the keys in the house and has never once had a problem. He continued to say that it was because he’s also not afraid to go out of his home, walk down the street, and share some nyamachoma (cooked cow), drink chai with them and be just like they are. He also shared that although we don’t see him once he drops us where we need to go in the slum, but he will always park the van, lock the doors and then go and sit beside one of the local men with a street shop, and before they get the chance to haggle him or force him to buy things, he shares Chai Tea and some Chapati’s together, he pays the man for cooking and preparing the food for him, the same way anyone else in the slum would, and they accept him as equal and treat him as any other person in that community. He said “it’s about the experience, and although I live nicer than they do, I’m no better and deserve no more or less I simply want to experience what they experience and be with them while I’m there and they respect that.” Him and I laughed and smiled together and agreed that it’s really about the experience and the culture; being together regardless of the color of skin and I truly appreciated every word he spoke. There was so much knowledge and wisdom he was able to share in a simple 20 or 30-minute conversation.
He told me that if I ever wanted to visit him and his wife on a weekend, to come stay in their type of home, to walk down the street with him and share Chai and Nyamachoma with the locals they would be happy to have me, and for me to be a part of an experience like that. I truly hope that in the next number of weeks here I’m able to take John up on his offer.
I’m not here to save the world, to be the Canadian that comes in and throws money at people and then leaves. I’m here to know these people, to know who they are and their struggles, to be in relationship with them to be able to cry in their sadness and to celebrate in their victories, together. To help where I can in a way that is lasting and meaningful, and hopefully to see provision, protection and health where there once was none.