I’m sitting on a little bed overlooking the Indian Ocean right now, I’m in Lamu. Everywhere I look there is water, water, and more water.
It’s my first holiday outside of Nairobi, and its quiet, and beautiful, and feels so nice. I thought I’d sleep much longer this first morning, but I was gently wakened by the sound of fisherman talking at the shore beneath me. Loud 5 am laughs and banter of men who have known one another for their lifetimes, who’s children will follow in the same pattern of familiar. In a town of 2000, I wonder what that is like.
But anyway…I just want to be awake.
I want to meet the day at 5 am, in it’s morning offerings. Awake. And I want to hear the sound of secrets, given softly, an offering to the water, a brush stroke of blue from one side, straight on through to the other. In places of temples and in miles of water: there is worship.
I want to give my secrets too. To drop to my knees. To open my hands skyward. To cry till my whole body shakes open the past few months that I can feel somewhere in my body, right now in my chest.
I just want to be awake and see.
And my lifetime that I’ve lived always in my eyes. Of all the ways I found to hide, this was never one, my eyes too honest.
And here in Kenya they bear the question daily, “where are you from?” The confusion of my medium brown skin, the almond shape of my eyes, the soft curves of my hips. And in the space that hovers in the air between a question and a confession, my eyes will soften, warm, and I will roll out the words Korean, German, French, Mom and Dad.
And aint that the truth. My mothers strength and my fathers kindness, did not just determine the shape of me, but too, the rhythm and the roots of me. And I’ve never been so aware of these gifts, because,
I’ve never been so awake.
‘Where are you from’? Can at times feel like an accusation if i’m standing in the slums or at the bus station. A tone that I misinterpret on purpose, on days that I’m ready to fight. Where are you from…and then ‘why are you here’, is the second part of the question that I decide they are trying to ask too. And I want to scream at the top of my lungs, the same question back. Not at them, but through them. A sorry attempt that my words could vibrate through the darkness of this question that I cannot reconcile: shake free, my own confusion and anger, let it drop to my feet, let it move deep into the earth, let it create an earthquake.
Yesterday I rode to my hotel on Lamu island, on a small little boat, captained by a young man with a big smile, and many missing teeth. The cool, easy way he steered the boat, the light grip on the wheel, the kindness in his gaze moving slowly…I immediately felt the same. Both of our bodies mimicking the slow move around us. I closed my eyes for a few deep deep breaths, tasting the salt against my lips, smiling.
In this state of awake here in Kenya, what I know more than ever is the kindness of others. Never ever have so many doors been offered before me, to come in, to see. To taste delicious offerings in the traditions of tea, and things old women teach young children. There is generosity here that I did not know existed, a generosity I declare to be awake and alive with.
I met up with one of our teachers last week in the Kibera slum where she lives, I needed her to take me to a place I could not have found on my own. I gave her a handful of lollipops when we met up, a small thank you for her time, and as we are walking through her neighborhood, I looked down at her hand, and it was empty. She had given them all away. I looked back at our path and saw little kids tearing away at the wrappers…
She had done it so quietly. I didn’t see one exchange. No words. Just the knowing that little kids always want the taste of sweet, and she had it to give. I smiled at her gratefully. “What?” she asked. “Oh nothing,” I replied, smiling.
And this is the beauty here in the slums, and god is it plenty.
And no. I cannot choose where to be awake, not anymore. I dont want to. And as I stare now at the magic that is this view, where I cannot see where the water begins or ends, where sips of hot coffee fall between sips of cold mango juice, where I am one person, but I am not alone.
I am awake.