Tameisha Henry should probably kill me for not making this post sooner. She *should*, but I hope she won’t. It’s been months since our conversation about her experiences in Emali, Kenya where her sojourn has currently situated her, via the doorway of the Peace Corps. I could blame busy-ness and preoccupation with travel and significant life events for the delay, and while valid reasons, I’ve had to confess that there’s another reason. Smaller reason. Bigger reason. It’s a selfish reason. Over the past few months, I’ve ruminated on the themes of our summer conversation, and they’ve been recapitulated in various forms – in conference presentations, in books, in class lectures, discussions with peers… And the source of my understanding of all these, and the perspective of my interpretation, can largely be drawn back to that summer conversation. Yet not to the conversation itself, but to the new place it created when Tameisha and I *met*. A place I’ve been holding as sacred. In any case, as I drank my Milo over an Austin Clarke novel this morning before church, I knew it was time to tear the veil in two and write this. Discarding all previous drafts, and with no promises of its quality, here goes.
‘From Africa with love‘ – Tameisha’s blog… But she speaks to Africa with love, and of Africa with love, even in the midst of the inner conflicts that characterize her time there, as they characterized even her motivation to go…reminding me that love is not born of perfection, but growth towards the ideal is produced in the gritty, difficult workings out of love.
Tameisha tells the story of the women sopping up water from the floors with rags – a strange choice of technology, as there are mops available. But the choice is not out of ignorance. Rather, they explain that they have no desire to spare themselves back pain by using a mop instead of working tirelessly on all fours with their rags, as the pain is the evidence of work well done. Juxtapose that with Tameisha’s life in the United States, throwing money at frivolities like mani-and-pedi’s. I polarize intentionally… What is it like when we are faced with realities which disturb the wavelength of our customary view of life? When the mundanes are shown to be luxuries? It can be turmoil.
Tameisha calls it an “emotional rollercoaster”. She confesses guilt, and I readily identify. She further confesses that guilt had a part in her choice to work with the Peace Corps. I quote our conversation:
“Peace Corps is the best of both worlds – you get to shape the work you are interested in, help in watever arena you want, while still getting to experience new cultures. But I’m not the type to just skim the surface of something…if I’m going to do it, I have to put my all into it. I wanted to fully immerse. I wanted to walk away saying I LIVED in another country not just I worked there, not just I traveled there. And I had a lot of guilt coming [to the US] from Barbados. I felt like I needed a humbling experience – I needed something to not come so easily for me, like everything else had.”
We elaborate on the guilt – me being selfish again – and it’s here that the $20 pedicure comes out. And I talk about guilt over things like all the yoghurt in the fridge in my apartment being mine, after growing up sharing every single thing and fighting – though lovingly (hehe) – over luxuries like yoghurt.
I talked to Steve Kariithi the other day, a Kenyan, co-director of the Dignitas Project in Mathare, a slum of Nairobi, roughly 130km north-west of Emali. When he first met Tiffany Cheng, also co-director of DP, an American, Tifanny was struck by his declaration that despite the abject poverty in Mathare, in his work, he was “searching for treasure”. In many ways, I guess you could say Tameisha too is searching. I don’t think she would deny it – she does not only expect growth, but seems to have actively sought it out. And she – I, you, we – will find.