Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Reflections on solidarity

I realize that my blog posts are getting fewer and farther between. Partly because I am pretty used to life here so sometimes it doesn’t seem like there’s much to say. The other thing is that there either isn’t time or their isn’t enough battery on my computer to write. That’s actually been a big challenge – keeping my computer batteries charged. Actually, I’m not even supposed to be using them. They’ve been recalled because a few have overheated, but since I obviously can’t take the batteries out and just plug the computer in, I just prayed that God would keep my computer from catching on fire as I keep using them! For a while, I was going to Kisumu about every week and was using my computer at the internet café. That helped because the batteries could charge the same time I was using the internet. But lately I’ve been going once every week and a half or two, and the batteries don’t last that long when we’re working. Anyway, I know that charging the batteries is just something I have to do to continue with my research, so it’s important, but it’s hard to justify spending a whole day just to charge batteries. Electricity would really make a big difference here and not just for me and my computer. For students to study at night with light, charging mobile phones (there’s no such thing as a landline here), keeping food in a refrigerator, blood testing and vaccine storage at the clinics. So many things. But in the meantime, we just make do.

It’s been interesting to see my different vantage point this time in the village. As a student doing my internship in 2002, I was very focused on solidarity with people. I saw that there was really no need at all for running water, electricity, paved roads, etc. But it’s one thing as a student for 6 months. Now as I’m here, I think a lot more about what I would need to be able to live and work here for long term in my own household without burning out. It would not be just like everybody else. I would really want electricity, a refrigerator and a stove with an oven. I don’t need running water, just a good source for clean water. But electricity, a fridge with freezer and a stove would really help.

I remember my professor at Wheaton being so encouraged the first time he saw missionaries, in Cambodia I think, who were really living alongside the poor, because he just didn’t see that regularly. I remember being surprised that there weren’t more people living like that, and was so astounded to see the way that many of the missionaries and development workers lived. I was so gung-ho about giving up my own life for the sake of others and really living in solidarity with people. But now that seems so much harder. I don’t know if I’ve been jaded or if I’m just more realistic, but that doesn’t really seem like my goal anymore. I would never want to be so different from people, but I also know myself better now. It is definitely different to be in your own household and actually living somewhere than to be a transient student living with a local family for a short time. Now I feel like I have to be me. I am much more established in my identity than I was 4 years ago, as well as in my routines and ways of living. I don’t think it’s necessary to be just like people to live together and share together. I recognize now that when I was here before I tried to fit myself into the Kenyan box and express myself only in ways that fit here and were culturally acceptable. In general, I was so afraid of offending people. Now, I feel so much freer to be myself. And “myself” is already a product of many cultures and many cultural exchanges. I see that instead of trying to fit myself into someone else’s box, I should just be me and be open to dialogue and exchange. There are many things that I have to learn from other people and there are many things that their people have to learn from me. If we all try to be like the others, we will never learn and grow together. I guess I feel the same way about living. It’s more important to be in solidarity with people in the way you interact, they way you love each other, they way you help each other, they way you live together, they way you laugh and mourn together than it is to live just like them and try to be just like them. I can never be a Kenyan, and so if I cook a little differently, raise my children a little differently, things like that, it doesn’t mean that I cannot still be in solidarity with people. Still, though, I don’t know if these are new insights that come from more experiences and maturity or if I’m just trying to justify what I want. It’s hard to know sometimes, but I think this comes from further experience and maturity and the willingness to be open to other people’s experiences and not be judgmental. I see myself here now and I see what I need. I need some space to be home and comfortable. I need some space to be American. I need my routines. A lot of what I miss this time around about home isn’t necessarily things as much as it is routines, especially within my family. I miss things like Saturday morning pancakes. I feel like this time around, in some ways I am more deeply involved in the community than I was before and in other ways I am less deeply involved. They are just different ways. I wonder if this makes sense to any of you. It would be great to truly be poor with people who are poor, just like Jesus became poor, but I don’t know if I would have the strength and perseverance for it. I don’t know that people here need one more person who is poor trying to survive and therefore not working very effectively. Still, it’s something to keep thinking and praying about and not just blindly accept that my thinking these days is different.

I meant to write about being sick this week, but these reflections are good too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Sarah,

I enjoyed reading your post as we seem to have arrived at many of the same conclusions after our time spent in Africa. The first time I was in Senegal I spent the whole year trying very hard to fit in with the communities I was working with, living like them and acting like them. On subsequent trips to Africa I come to realize that while there is great value in having those experiences, I think that I can be of better service to the communities I work with if I don't try to fully integrate with them. We are priviledges to have access to resources and knowledge that others do not have, so rather than deny it try to use it to work with the communities to accomplish some good.
I think also that being honest with yourself about what you need while in the field (electricity or running water) will keep you from burning out.
I'm so impressed with what you are doing!