Friday, October 26, 2012

I had a farm in Africa...

OK, not really, but I do love that line from Out of Africa. "I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills..."

Actually, my favorite quote from the movie is, "If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?"

Beautiful, isn't it? And not entirely what this post is about.

It's midnight here in Chiang Mai, and I quickly rinsed out my water bottle to fill it up and keep it by my bed for the night, 'cause it's hot out here, and I have been mindful of drinking several Camelbakfulls of water every day, especially now that I exercise regularly. (That's worthy of an entire blog post.)

We cannot drink the tap water in Chiang Mai. Instead, one gets water delivered to your home, either in 20 liter jugs, or by the crate. I get two crates every other Monday. I simply leave the empty crates by my open gate, and at 7:45 sharp, a truck pulls up. One man swoops up the crates of empty 1-liter bottles while another carries two full crates to my front porch, where I leave the money: a full 54 Baht ($1.80) for 40 liters of drinking water.

I don't bother bringing the crates into my house, as I don't like clutter. So the crates remain outside, and I bring in just a few bottles at a time.

But on this balmy Thai evening, I had to step out to get some water, and it hit me: The smell of the village cows in Kenya...

See, I live in a part of town that's a bit more rural. Though it's still Thai suburbia, there are several empty lots around where neighbors keep cows and chickens. There are also several creeks where snakes and frogs coexist (though not necessarily peacefully), but at least I don't smell them. I can smell the cows though, and at midnight, at the end of a gorgeous day that topped at mid 90s (34C), the smell hangs thick in the air.

It made me think of the village and its smells.

And it made me smile.

'Cause some of the smells I'LL never forget might not be those of the cows or the dusty roads, of the first rains or of corn roasting on open fires. My favorite smell of my time in the village happens to be the smell of clean children.

In 2005, with Samwel and Kipkurui.
I literally can smell the Tiptop
when I look at photos like these...
After taking cold showers, the children would slather on a gobful of Tiptop (Vaseline/petroleum jelly) onto their faces, their short hair, their arms and legs. They'd literally shine from head to toe! And when I'd go read bedtime stories to them and answer their endless questions, I'd get hugs from big and small, tuck in the littlest ones before tucking their mosquito nets under their mattresses, and I'd walk back to my house smelling like Tiptop, which I didn't mind at all.

Even now, when I look at photos of the children in the village, I can smell Tiptop.

And though I don't wonder for a moment if the children have invented a game with my name in it, I do know that they remember me, just like I remember them. They're forever part of me, as I am of them, even while I live on the other side of the globe.

For that, I am thankful.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Feeling Normal

Tonight, I felt oh so normal! It was the first night I went out socially in the 3 months since I've lived in Chiang Mai, not counting the women's prayer group I joined 2 weeks ago, and not counting the dinners I have had with coworkers (which have been delightful, I should add.)

I describe myself as an "outgoing introvert," so I don't have a problem connecting with people. However, in Chiang Mai, it's been challenging breaking into the community. I have found that surprising.

But a few weeks ago, at church, a Kiwi lady came up to me and asked if I were South African. I looked South African to her, which I find rather funny. I'm not sure how we look... She had wanted to hear if I would be willing to connect with another South African who had recently been in an accident here.

I never got to meet the South African person, but the Kiwi and I got together for coffee, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was sad to learn that she and her family were going back to NZ at the end of this year, but appreciated her reaching out to me regardless. She's the one who connected me with the women's prayer group, too, and who invited me to her birthday bash this evening, where I met many other foreigners.

I always, always value having local friends. But I also know the importance of having some friends who understand the joys & challenges of cross-cultural living. And so, I enjoyed meeting other foreigners tonight, and to meet the husbands of the ladies from our prayer group.

But a few encounters from the evening had me wondering if I'll ever really fit in with the foreign community here. Maybe I don't want to. I just want some friends with whom I can laugh, share some meals, and process learning.

Little by little, oh-so-slowly, that is starting to happen through the mix of community from work, church, and through friends of friends. And little by little, I'm starting to feel a bit more normal.

And for that, I'm thankful.