Thursday, October 20, 2011

One Night

Waiting for dessert, the small group of us sat in the living room and talked.  The conversation started and stopped, not unpleasantly, just people getting to know one another.  A question here, an observation there.  We asked how they had liked the tacos.  They smiled, revealing gratitude but not completely answering our question.  Our refugee friends are friendly, shy, warm, intriguing.

The conversation moved to dessert--desserts we were going to have that night.  They hadn't heard of brownies.  Only one of them had tried ice cream.  We promised that they'd only have to eat what they liked.

And then I asked about them.  What desserts did they have in their country?  What sorts of sweet things did they like to eat?
A blank stare, and then a grimace.  Slowly, an answer, as if being very gentle with me.

"Kristin, we have economic problems in Nepal.  No dessert."

That sound? That was me and my sense of reality being brought down to size.

I go on, ask the obvious question.  "So what did  you have to eat?  The UN, what rations did they give you?"

The answer: rice, flour, some sugar.  The vegetables they had to grow in their garden.  The mushrooms they hunted in the forest outside the camp.  The meat was bought in tiny shops inside the camp, where they lived in makeshift homes of bamboo, mud, and tarps with their extended families.  There was a rainy season.  There was some snow.  There was no heat.

For 20 years that's how it was.  How it still is there in that camp.  In 2011.

There were many delightful things that night.  Teaching them how to use a high chair.  Watching the adorable little girl playing with a "hammer" toy and giggling each time she made contact.  Learning Nepali words.  Showing off my yoga poses to demonstrate where I learned the word "Namaste".

But we all had to wonder after they left: what do they think of us?  Of us with our overflowing tacos, gigantic bowls of food, plentiful desserts.  Our multitudes of questions, our interest in them, our warm, comfortable homes, solemn prayers.  In no way was our meal extravagant or the night one of luxury.  It was the same thing we do every week.  Do we count ourselves blessed?  Truly?  Do we?

But one question has haunted me since they left that night.  Really, it has haunted me since I met them and heard of their plight.  Honestly, it has haunted me for 10 years--the time when the Nairobi slums became a part of my story.

Not "what do they think of us" but "what do we think of us?"

And, when I'm feeling brave....

"What does He think of us?"

I don't think these are questions I can dodge forever.  I have done a decent job for a long time.  But it's as if the universe--aka God--is conspiring against me.  I don't have answers to these questions.  Not yet, anyway, and certainly not in any tangible form.  But they are things that make me uncomfortable and make me question...things.  Big things.  How-do-I-live-my-life sort of things.

1 comment:

Becky & Bryan Marvel said...

Hey Kristin - this is a great post. Glad you are processing all of this in the way that you are. We are learning a lot from the initiative you have taken with this. Thanks.