Every night after dinner we take tea. One cup, two cups, four cups, seven cups. “Assist me with more tea,” my host mother says. It is not customary to ask someone to do something for you. If you need something, you command it, if the commanded individual can’t satisfy the need, then they just don’t do it. There’s no wasted filler words like “please if you wouldn’t mind and it’s not too much of a hassle would you be able to…” Likewise, an affirmative answer to a yes or no question usually consists of eyebrows quickly jerked upward in a brief widening of the eyes or a low decibel “mmm”. A happy customer at a Kenyan restaurant is not one who expounds their satisfaction with the meal and expresses thanks upon every filling of the glasses and removing of empty platters. Rather the customer is just contentedly silent. However, and very much on the contrary, descriptions of organizational methods, governmental systems, or structures of order require verbose explication, abundant examples, a pen and paper, a full stomach, and well working eyebrows and/or grunts. Because of this the half hour left for tea time often become a full hour, or even three. When discussing the need for governmental order to be strictly observed, the structure of the school day is sometimes loosened.
Evening tea is more of a relaxed tea time though. The English version of the news comes on at 9pm after the Swahili version at 7pm. By 9pm my host sisters are usually sleeping or headed that way, my father has gone to bed as he arises at 4am every morning, and my mother and I sit and watch the news or chat for a bit about new and old developments. My mother likes to inquire of the food I had eaten at school that day, the well-being of the other interns and their host families, or discuss the work she had accomplished at the shop repairing or selling cell phones, what bible literature she had downloaded to read on her tablet, the well-being of her own friends, or her budget for her many work investments. When my two months was up, my mother sent me home to the US with enough tea leaves to last a whole year at least – at which point she expects that I will return for a visit, or a betrothal.
Some unidentifiable element about travel is inherently good. Just getting on a plane and arriving in another place alive is worthy of blogs and Instagram posts and getting together with friends upon your return just to share what happened while you were gone. Is it the hours you cheat and get to relive as you travel across time zones in the plane? Is it the contradictory solitude of being the only of your “type” in the midst of a congregation of eager onlookers? Is it because you learn without even trying to? The fact that I’ve been to Kenya continues to thrill me just thinking about it. The kind of thrill where if you don’t record it you will forget it because its saturation is too great to be saved in the limited storage space of the mind. The kind that leaves you craving more.
But for now the day is over. I will continue to learn from it as new experiences draw me back to some feature I didn’t even recognize I had recognized while there. These are the best sort of discoveries – the ones you’ve known without knowing you knew them.