- …the act of being hospitable. The friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers. The quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests.
This weekend I went to visit my sweet friend Loise. Loise is 109 years old. This week she will bury her 19th child or grandchild. When I walked up to her chair, sitting outside beneath a tree, she was sipping on her tea. She looked up at me with eyes that have seen more grief, more history book stories, more mistreatment and abuse, more changes in culture than I will ever know. With tear filled eyes she looked at me and smiled brightly as she extended her hand to greet me. We hugged and shared hello’s
and made our way to another tree where benches were.
As we sat, her daughter walked over to the jikoni (her kitchen). Loise, Leah and I sat and talked. With a slow and unbelieving shake of her head, she moaned, “why? It’s just not right. I am an old woman, it should be me.” I found myself gasp with an emotion that swelled up from out of nowhere.
She told us how her daughter in law had come to visit just a month earlier. She had a tumor on her brain. She was a good daughter and “I love her so much and she loves me”. Then the tears resumed. This old old African woman, so sweetly holding my hand. It was a familiar feel. I used to hold my Nanny’s hand and her cool, soft and oh so loose skin reminded me of the loving grandma I miss so much.
Our contrasting hands caught her eye. She looked up at me and smiled, “this mzungu, you are my friend, my good friend.” She mentioned how her husband died long ago and God has given her a friend to hold her hand in this grief. My heart sank further.
As Leah would translate I would just look into Loise’s eyes. I began to ask her questions. When did she get married? Where was her home? What was it like? She went on to tell me how she came home from the river one day and there were many cows, more than a hundred. She knew instantly that her life was about to change. Those cows were the dowry, the bride price for her. She was given to this man she had never met, a bangle put on her ankle and she was taken away to a new home. She… was married.
She was not permitted to visit her parent’s home until after she had given birth. Someone would keep watch to ensure young brides did not flee. Once her new family felt confident she was settled, she was given more freedom.
She remembers when the British would come to the area; everyone would hide in fear of being captured. Sometimes I could tell her reminiscing was stirring some very deep emotion. As she would give in to it – we would come back to her grief.
I’ve been to several funerals these past two weeks. The grief is intense. Wailing, sobbing, a young girl collapsed into convulsions at the funeral in the village. I’ve wondered if the lack of emotion I see during everyday life, at least sad ones, and how very uncomfortable my friends here become if I show any anxiousness, sadness, or concern… if THIS has anything to do with the dramatic show of grief I see with funerals. Almost as though it’s acceptable then, but only then. So, all that ‘held in’ emotion pours out. I don’t know this but I’ve wondered.
As Loise continued to talk, sharing such book worthy history, I saw it over and over. Stories from decades ago taking her deep into thought and as if the flood gate of expression would threaten to crack… all was diverted to grief for her daughter.
Then, suddenly… “Jesus is coming soon”, she looked at me and said. “Yes, yes He is!” I replied in KiSwahili.
Just then Mariam came to welcome us to a sitting area outside the jikoni. “She hasn’t eaten”, she said, nodding to her grandma. Loise resisted but when I took her arm and she looked up at me, she complied. We walked over and Mariam helped her get into her seat. She spoke something in KiKisii and Mariam brought a chair right beside her. “She wants you to sit next to her”. I smiled and as Loise moved the chair so they were touching, I sat down beside this precious woman.
Now, I don’t eat much of the traditional foods. Actually, none of it. I am super cautious because of the preparation and the water and… well… I don’t much care for goat. But this meal began to be set before us. Goat, Ugali, Greens. Loise shook her head. I said, “You must eat with me”. And with that I filled her plate. I tried to make the 2 pieces of goat and the ugali stretch out over my plate but she wasn’t satisfied. She put more on my plate. As I encouraged her to eat she kept a close eye on my plate. She wanted to make sure her guest was fed well.
I always considered myself hospitable. I love to entertain. I’ve come to learn that I have LOTS to learn. I’m hospitable… on the outside AND… on a scheduled basis. If… I’ve invited you on a particular day at a specific time… I will roll out the red carpet. However, if you just show up unexpected… it just might throw me for a bit of a loop. Not in Africa. You just show up and they will have a meal before you in 30 minutes. Everything stops, work will cease, all will come to sit and visit and with the friendliest reception and the warmest of treatment… guests are made to feel like royalty and truly… hospitality is defined outside a mud hut with a wooden shack kitchen in a village in East Africa.
Lord, ease the grief of my sweet old friend. May she know Your love and comfort this difficult week.