I remember my second grade classroom, It was in a Catholic school called St. Charles, I wore thick white knit stockings and a plaid jumper that was itchy. My little feet would click, clack, click, clack down the hallway in my brown mary jane shoes. As it was then, as it was now, I was usually in a hurry, too squirmy to sit down, too many things to see in the world then to sit in one place with one vantage point.
But then there was Miss Kirchoff.
With a poofy blond halo of hair that rested on top of her head, long sophisticated dresses that my Mom would try on but never buy from the department store, and a big big smile that had me convinced that Miss Kirchoff had more teeth than anyone I knew…I could sit down for this lady, and I did.
I fell in love with words that year when I was 7 years old. I loved the sound of them passing over my tongue and then my lips. I loved the effect of them in a room full of people. I loved the effect of them in a room full of one. I loved the silliness and loudness they would take in the church basement with 30 other silly girls just like me, working on our girl scout badges. I loved that that year I could tell Miss Kirchoff how much I loved her for teaching me, and I loved the flood of words that I held back in awe when she smiled warmly, with allll those teeth, and said she loved me too.
I lost interest when Miss Kirchoff would stand before us and present us with numbers for math. I greatly disliked that 2 plus 2 always equaled 4. It seemed too final and too stubborn. But I sat on the edge of my seat when lessons in words would go on the board, devouring new words, beginning to understand that a comma meant things could keep on going, that a period meant that things had come to an end. Sometimes, they would give us markers, the crappy catholic school budget markers that you had to press down really hard to get the color out. But I didn’t care. Words AND color? I was in heaven.
I found that words were my refuge, scrawled into journals I’d hide under my bed (and still do). I found them in my favorite parts of songs that I would rewind and play again and again on my little purple boom box. I found them like putty in my mouth falling in love for the first time, and I found them like armor, falling out of love. I found them through different fields of work, as my connecting force. With a cup of coffee, and some time: me and you? We could do anything.
It’s humbling here to say the least. Though many people speak English, and speak it fluently, the language in Kenya is Swahili. It leaves me at times feeling like I’m watching a tennis match, my gaze moving from side to side to side trying to keep pace. My old strategy of words here doesn’t work very well. I close my eyes often, taking in whatever sounds are around me in that moment. Swahili is a beautiful and vibrant language, and when I can let go of needing to understand everything, I love the way it feels in my body, it has a smooth rhythm, it’s got a drum-beat soul.
I’ve come to love ‘talking’ with the AYP deaf teachers and the students in their classes. To move in unison with others without one single word is just beautiful.
What I have discovered here in Kenya is while I love words more than ever, I must be mindful of how I use them. I must slow them as though they are coated in honey, and not always because people cant understand me, but because this is the preferred way of speaking to one another. I’ve learned to slow down. Um…well to be fair…learning. I’m learning. It’s a process.
Many of my favorite moments here have been in just being with. Sitting next to Mama Irene in church sharing the language of belief, doing yoga in a room full of 100 people sharing the language of breath, planting myself down on the grass to watch 6-straight hours of football/soccer, sharing the language of peanuts and sodas and ‘CMON REF!!’ (same in any english and swahili : )
Some days I want to walk outside and not have any noise of the city. I crave my small 1-bedroom house, sitting for hours with my dog, the quiet of my morning cup of coffee, the street names that I know by heart, teaching my yoga classes, driving my car, the dinner tables that I can show up to without any notice…I miss all that.
But here’s what I know. When I was 7, I fell deeply in love with words, and in deep admiration for a woman with blue eyeshadow who taught me these things. And at 31, I’ve fallen deeply in love with a culture of people, and in deep admiration for my teachers here, everyone I have met, who refuse to let words carry more weight than meaning. Who have opened to me, generously, with sweeps of their hands and endless cups of tea passageways into their homes and their lives.
I feel deeply connected here. And yes, words have helped create those bridges, but in the noise of the city, in the corners and angles of the slums, in the dancing, in the singing, in the praying, in the trying, in the belly-laughing…there is love.
And it’s deeper, and sweeter, and bigger than I ever knew.
I will come back with a commitment to share with you as much as I possibly can. But my plan? My plan is to show you.