Last week Fred had to travel to Nairobi for a few days. It was a quick trip and we didn’t want to pay $50 for a Kenyan entrance visa for me, so I stayed home…alone…or not really. Fred was a little nervous about leaving me home alone, so we invited our bishop’s two granddaughters to come stay with me. Eva is 13 and Felista is about 9, and they love washing dishes. Win!
Fred left on Sunday afternoon and the girls arrived shortly thereafter. We had a good time, cooking special food and watching Toy Story 3 three times in three days. Really, they were excellent house guests, and the only inconvenience of having them around was getting up at 5:45am to wake them up for school. One evening when we didn’t have power, they used the dominoes to create a little home with designated dominoes representing people. Eva told Felista a story using the dominoes, which seemed to be about the girls living with Fred and me permanently. They love Fred, who lived in their home for several months, and, according to the many drawings they gave me signifying such, they love me too, probably because I made them hot chocolate and rice pudding.
Fred arrived home on Wednesday morning, and we expected the girls to go home after they returned from school…except they didn’t. In fact, they brought their brother, Johnson, over to spend the afternoon. As the afternoon passed to evening and they still made no signs of leaving, I scrambled to figure out what to feed them, since I had planned a meal for two. That night, for the first time, Felista wet the bed, and shamefacedly confessed to Fred the next morning. They packed their things and went home after school. A few hours later, they were back, with their brother. The next day was a big graduation ceremony at the nursing school (which is part of the diocese), and so many relatives and guests had come that the kids’ beds were occupied by visitors, so they came back to us.
I could understand the predicament, and they would surely be better off sleeping in our spare beds than on the floor at their house. Another morning up at 5:45am to wake them for school, then Fred and I spent most of the day at the graduation ceremony, which is a lot of speeches and choirs and really, really slow processionals. We had decided to treat ourselves to a nice (for Shirati) dinner out that night, and I was looking forward to an actual date and some quiet time alone with my husband. Alas, the kids showed up again right before we left for dinner, expecting to be fed and housed yet again. We told them to go home for dinner, then return for sleep, and we went out. (By the way, I should mention that their home is about 100 yards away from ours.) We got home rather late, and found the kids all in bed, but Felista wasn’t sleeping because Eva was sick and Johnson had refused to take Felista home for dinner so she hadn’t eaten. We scraped some food together for her, but eating and drinking right before bed was not her friend…again…and there was another nighttime accident which she didn’t admit to this time.
On Saturday Fred had to travel to a nearby town for about eight hours, and he assured me that the kids would head home as soon as they woke up. They didn’t. We fed them breakfast, then Fred left, and the kids spent the entire day just hanging around. It was raining and no power, so I read a book and they took naps and otherwise amused themselves. Their uncle, a university student, even braved the rain to come over to see what was going on, and ended up napping on our couch as well! Eventually the rain stopped and the power came back on, so Johnson popped in a movie and they settled in for the duration.
Now, by this time, you may be wondering why I didn’t just send them home. The main reason is that it is just not done in Africa. Hospitality is so important that you never send a guest away, even if that guest is eating you out of house and home. A good guest will finish their visit and leave at the appropriate time…these kids didn’t have a sense of that appropriate time.
Their uncle returned for them (“praise God!” thought I), and as they went the uncle was sure to say “They’ll be back in a little while. Their grandfather just wants to see them for a bit.” “Oh no, no, no, no…that’s not necessary,” protested I. “Oh no, it’s okay. They like it here,” returned the uncle. “No, really, they should just stay home. I need to…do…some…stuff,” I lamely finished. The uncle just returned a confused, slightly offended look (maybe he’d been planning to come back and finish the movie with the kids) and left. I breathed a sigh of relief, put in my own movie to watch, and waited for Fred...who returned with bad news. He had to go back to Nairobi.
Yesterday, Sunday, he left for Nairobi again. He asked if I wanted the kids, to which I replied an adamant “NO”, then tried to backpedal to legitimate reasons of establishing independence, getting ready for Innocent to come, etc, then I finally just confessed that I was tired of them! He laughed and agreed, and explained to the bishop that he was traveling again, but that I would be fine without any house guests. At least that’s what he said he told the bishop. I don’t know what got lost in translation or where, but about three hours after Fred left, I went to the door to find all three kids with their backpacks on, ready to stay another week! In desperation, I forgot all polite Swahili and just bluntly told them that I was staying alone and they should go home. Looking confused and slightly offended, they turned and went home.
The argument could be made that I should have the kids around as much as possible to prepare for impending motherhood, but I would argue that there is a huge difference between having one’s own baby who grows into childhood with the boundaries and systems (and language) of his or her mother and having three visitors who are difficult to dislodge once established. Plus, can’t I have these last few months to indulge the selfish whims, like sleeping in past 5:45am and watching whatever movie I want to, that will soon be a distant memory? That's what I've been telling myself, anyway.