Tim and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary on the 20th. It’s been the busiest week of the month, probably the busiest of the whole year. The Barnabas seminar was in progress with over 30 people housed in this compound. The morning of our anniversary we woke up to a septic system badly clogged due to the heavy use. I had made a special waffle breakfast, but Tim was slogging around in the gray water that was flooding the drive way, instead of drinking coffee and enjoying a good breakfast. It didn’t feel very anniversary-ish.
Judson hung up red balloons, because children love celebrations even more then the parents. And Tim gulped down one waffle before rushing off to the seminar.
No, life isn’t perfect. But the imperfectness of it is what makes it interesting. And just the fact that we have each other is a celebration, no matter if things go as planned and the waffles get proper attention.
I wrote the story below a few months ago and post it here in remembrance of the nine dusty anniversaries we had in the village, and of the many memories we created. It’s been 15 years and I couldn’t be more grateful for the love of my life and the adventure of living life together.
When you live in a remote village hours away from any large town, it’s a challenge to create meaningful celebrations. Thus it was for us for nine anniversaries in a row in the month of November, which happens to be the hottest, driest, dustiest month of the whole year in our village in East Africa. The sun shone relentlessly with a fierceness that is hard to describe, the winds blew as if fighting to conquer the dry season and bring in the rain, the wind whipping the dust into whirlwinds and blowing trash and skiffs of dust into the house. Don’t ask me how a fastidiously clean German girl ever ended up in a place like that. Ask my adventurous husband.
Our 5th anniversary happened to be one that I wasn’t morning sick and the rains had come early that year. Farmers were plowing with their oxen, the women were hoeing up the garden spaces around their huts and the river was flowing. The grass was four inches tall already and the whole village seemed to be having a moment of silence over the miracle of rain. Tiny corn shoots were popping out of mounds of black earth and fresh courage seemed to seep into my bones. The earth was alive once again.
True to his adventurous nature, my hubby had been dreaming up plans for an outing, somewhere peaceful and beautiful where just the two of us could be together and enjoy a whole day of quiet. Our compound was snuggled in closely with many neighbors and we also had a house full of youth volunteers which rarely gave us any time alone. When he told me he found the perfect spot, I, true to my nature felt apprehensive. I didn’t think there was any spot for miles around that someone wouldn’t wonder what we’re up to. After all I couldn’t even go on a walk without people wondering where I’m going and scratching their heads over the strange phenomenon of a lady walking down the path and saying she’s not going anywhere.
But we packed some food, books, and a small tent into a plastic tote with a tight fitting lid, partly to hide its contents and partly to keep it dry should it rain during the tight. Even though we strategically left at mid morning when more people were at their farms, we decided against going out our main courtyard gate and down the usual paths to the river in order to avoid anyone asking the all familiar “Waya Kwi” (where are you going?) Yes, we are going nowhere, in order to sit beside the river for a whole day. No, we are not going to be doing anything. Just sitting there. Yes, we will sleep there…because well, sleeping on the hard ground is what we do when we want to have fun. And celebrate anniversaries. (I don’t blame the people for thinking we’re strange)
We wanted to avoid that inevitable conversation at all costs. So we slipped silently out the back gate, down the orchard path, and around the neighbor’s corn fields and mud holes. So far so good. Till we came to more fields with farmers and plowing oxen dotting the fields. Trying to appear inconspicuous and innocent we skirted around the field as quickly as we could, trying to hide the tote between us which, of course, was impossible.
What are the white people doing walking thru our fields carrying a strange looking box? Probably putting a curse on our crops…or maybe digging for gold. Their stares followed us all the way to the river path.
We finally reached the river and no one was in sight, as we had chosen a more deserted path. Splashing across, we felt rather gleeful that we had actually accomplished this. And Tim was even more gleeful when he showed me his prize. A beautiful little cove tucked between two bends in the river, covered with lush green grass, which we were still enamored by after so many months of dry season. Trees, freshly dressed in new leaves, cast a lovely shade over the whole area. We smiled. We had found our place.
The afternoon ticked by, with us absorbed in the quiet. We talked and communicated about tough things. We rested on the grass and ate the food we brought along. The grass whispered it’s own little language in the warm breeze. The trees tossed their new leaves as if showing off the glory of them. And all was quiet. There was no one around, no one, and that in itself was a gift.
Suddenly I tensed. I tried to melt into the grass as I saw a person walking up the river bed. “Tim, I whispered, there’s someone walking past.” I looked again and my eyes widened. “It’s the chief!” We lowered ourselves into the grass. Of anyone in the whole village, we did not want the chief to find us. How would we explain ourselves? To our relief he never lifted his eyes to look in our direction. Clothed in his usual chiefly garb of a long robe and a cap on his head, he quietly walked past and around the bend. The grass went back to whispering their secrets, this time about the strangeness of the chief walking down the river bed this far out of the village and at this time of day.
And we went back to our talking. Deep heart wrenching stuff tried to find it’s way out of my heart, things that had been building up for many months during the rigors of life in this village. Darkness settled down. A lone dog barked in the distance and the sound of the corn mills grinding everyone’s evening ugali corn was the only indication that we were close to civilization of any sort. There were no more signs of anyone walking down the river bed and we drifted off to sleep. An hour later we popped awake to strong rolling thunder and the sound of a great rain. One of those rains all too common in early rainy season that dump inches of rain in a very short time. In no time at all drops of water were making their way into our tent and as the tent was only a one- man pup tent, we had nowhere to go to stay dry. We wryly grinned in the dark and decided our best option was to pack up and make our way back to the house. We’d have no trouble with meeting people on the path and wondering what our strange box was about if we did it at night. And the rain protected us even more.
Sloshing thru the river bed, which was now a treacherously uneven sand bed, full of water holes and rocks, we somehow made it up the river bank. We only had one very dim flashlight and we were soon wet to the skin and muddy. The paths between the house gardens were narrow and muddy, but quietly, quickly we ran. We crashed onto our porch out of the rain. And then we laughed.
We snuggled into our dry warm bed, which after all was much more comfortable then camping, listening to the whisper of rain on the grass roof and the clatter of the palm fronds as they celebrated the rain. We had successfully celebrated the 5th anniversary of our love and nothing was left but the soggy books in the totes, remnants of food, and fun memories.
Or so we thought.
The next morning one of the men from the chief’s compound called at our door. The chief was asking Tim to report to the ‘Ikulu’, the primitive chief’s palace. We looked at each other, wondering if perhaps it had anything to do with our outing to the river. We found out soon enough.
As Tim reported to me later, the chief greeted him cordially then launched into his story. He had gotten a report from someone who had seen two white people heading towards the river carrying a strange box. He decided to go check it out right away and had gone down to the river, walking along the river bed, looking for any signs of white people. “And as I was walking I suddenly saw two white people back in the trees a-ways. I don’t know what they were doing, but I thought you should know and give an explanation if you have anything to say.”
Tim assured him that it wasn’t anyone on to any trouble, but that in our country and in our culture we celebrate the day we got married and we think in order to celebrate well we have to leave our house and go somewhere else to be alone. The chief nodded his head, trying to understand this very strange way of celebrating marriage. But he accepted Tim’s explanation and promised that this would be confidential and we don’t have to worry that other people would hear about it. Which we thanked him for and secretly marveled that he respected us enough to communicate about it rather then spread rumors.
And that was the end of our anniversary. And never again did we plan a river outing.
*I should explain a bit about the social climate of this village. The chief and the people welcomed us but there was also a lot of suspicion. They had never seen white people choose to live in such a remote area and so far from a town. The only other white people they had seen in the area were doing gold mining or doing research. Most everyone had reservations and suspicions on the reasons we were living in their village and we were often told rather sarcastically that we were, after all, living there simply to mine gold. When we spent months learning their tribal language, we were often asked if we’re taking it back to America to print books to sell. It simply didn’t sink in that we were there for their good, and not for our own profit. So whenever we did anything out of the ordinary, the villager’s suspicions were confirmed. We were digging gold and doing strange things in the bush. Thus our precaution and thus the reason we never went camping again. As after all, we did usually try to fit into their culture as best we could. Except for 5thanniversaries.