I was walking home yesterday when I passed a small herd of giggling school girls clad in the uniform of a school where I teach health class. ”Hamjambo,” I called to them, trying to be friendly. The herd stopped and closed in tighter, like zebras that have caught the scent of a skulking hyena. The volume of the giggling rose dramatically. One brave soul strode forth from the group and stood about two feet in front of me. “Doctor Megan,” she greeted formally, offering a little nod of her head. She then raised her hand, clenched tight in a fist, and extended it towards me.

”Gota,” she said gravely. Bump it.

I did.

Another regal nod and she returned to her group with long, purposeful strides.

Well, ok then.

Over the weekend, I went to a restaurant to have lunch. I walked through a little grove of trees, past where some villagers I know who work as security guards lurk when no calls are coming from dispatch. “MORGAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!” they called with the unbridled enthusiasm of rockband groupies. “SIT HERE!!! TAKE TEA!!!!” They scrambled to clear a place on their fallen log, but I told them I was headed to lunch and would stop by on my way back. When at the restaurant, I realized I had forgotten my wallet, and had to dash home. (”I left my money in my house, but I live just one kilometer from here, I will return fast fast,” I told the waitress. ”Haya,” she responded, her eyes never leaving the color tabloid an Italian tourist had left for her. Whatever.) As I passed back through the grove, I was once again treated to ecstatic cries of “MORGAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!”

“NOT YET!” I replied with a laugh. ”I am fetching a thing.”

On my way back to the restaurant? “MORGAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!”

As I finally left and headed home? “MORGAAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!”

I sat. I talked. I stayed for 20 minutes. I eventually wandered home.

A bunch of random dudes who in seven months of knowing me have never asked me for anything, never made an improper advance, never called me “mzungu,” but just seem completely pleased to have me share their log and talk about my job for a few minutes. Break the monotony of their day. And I’m just as happy to talk to them.

Integration is an odd thing, really. It’s easy to picture it as something like a fraternity initiation, wherein you sweat and toil and bleed but one day everyone goes “YOU ARE ONE OF US NOW.” Suffice to say it isn’t: it comes in drips and dobs, popping up at unexpected moments when a Kenyan friend texts you to complain that you haven’t had lunch together for several weeks or your neighbors stop by to ask how you’ve been (“You didn’t leave the house this weekend, you have had malaria?” No, I had a bad case of “watching all five seasons of How I Met Your Mother”-itis. But thanks for the porridge.) It’s hard to summarize these kinds of experiences on the monthly report we file at headquarters, but that doesn’t mean they do not stand out as a sign of our ability to make ourselves known in the community. And that, as much as anything, is how our work gets done.

Advertisements