Noo and Alemseged’s family make me happy
Noo and Alemseged’s family makes me happy. I think God and their youngest one have a strong connection because whenever I see her running across the yard and tell God that it’d be nice to have her come by for a visit, she inevitably shows up a little later that day. This happens to occur on all the days when I’m having a hard time and want to get myself out of the funk… which is about once a week, if I’m fortunate.
Once she came over in the early part of the morning – when the day had already begun inauspiciously. After we were settled on my bed, sitting cross-legged with my stuffed ducky that cheeps when you press the button embedded in its plush tummy, she asked me, “What are those things coming down your face?” She asked so innocently, which took me by surprise because I thought a 3-year-old would know the word for tears. I think she actually did, and so I now think she might’ve been speaking indirectly to be sensitive to me. I responded simply, “I’m just so happy you’ve come to visit,Lydia. You really cheer me up.”
Every time I get to see them, I go home so much happier. Part of it is that they just have a really healthy dynamic in their family of 5. Jonathan’s 9, Abigail’s 7, and Lydia’s 3. Lydiaalso goes by Lillo (“Lee’-loh”) or Yoyo and the way her names roll off one’s tongue is akin to the way they all interact. They enjoy each other in an easy-going manner, laugh a lot, and yet gentle discipline is a regular part of every dinner I share with them. Noo told me once about a time when Lydiawas screaming, crying directly into Noo’s face about something, and so she said to her very calmly, “Lillo, I don’t want you screaming in my face. You go walk over there and do that.” And Lillo closed her mouth, walked to the other side of the room, and promptly began again. Having come from a family where discipline wasn’t necessary all that frequently – when it was necessary, it was usually kind of a harrowing experience. Here discipline seems a normal part of the evening– but a non-loaded non-shameful portion, because its terms are clear and well-established, and one knows what the consequences will be. Being sent to one’s room, away from the rest of one’s family, is a lonely enough prospect to cultivate a desire to be obedient. Everyone’s just having more fun in the living room.
Part of the joy of being with them is that it’s so obvious that Noo and Alemseged, almost 10 years after getting married, are still very much in love. The way they speak of each other and look at each other, they’ve matured past the puppy-love stage of things for sure. But three kids and moving to a new country and financial challenge hasn’t dampened a thing. There’s a secure depth of relationship and love that buoys those around – the three little ones, me, and the many neighbors who will drop by on a given evening.
Jonathan and Abigail easily converse with me and tell me their funny anecdotes and school happenings. Today was about embarrassing food stories – they tell me about Jonathan spilling tea on himself and Noo spilling coffee on top of Jonathan’s head by accident. I tell them about the time I found my missing orthodontic elastic in my boyfriend’s soup while eating out at a restaurant, early on in our relationship. The parents appreciate the relational horror of the moment – the kids, being fascinated by the plastic retainers I have to pop out to eat, are intrigued by the elastics. Last time we talked about Noo’s painful healing from the emergency C-section she had to give birth toLydia, and the time Jonathan fell off the top bunk in their old house.
I know I inevitably idealize just about anything in my life that’s good, but I long for this kind of a family someday. Being around families with clear disciplinary guidelines makes me look forward to establishing those for my future naughty ones, because now I’ve got more of a sense of how to do that. The simplicity of our meals combined with the generosity of their invitations makes me feel more full than the meals I eat with my housemates, as nice as they are. Somehow I always feel like I haven’t had enough to eat when I’m at home with them. Even when I eat a full 2nd helping, I don’t feel satisfied.
So I’m really grateful for these 5, and having been brought into their circle. They remind me of the person I used to be at home in theUS, the person I think I still am even though I’m still finding it hard to be myself here sometimes. Since Noo was raised inEthiopia, and only returned to her homeland when she decided to do nursing school inIndia– and now they’re here inKenyafor 2 years – we have a lot in common. Not from here, not really from our ethnic homeland, here for just a short while and eager to return to the foreign country that is home for us. Passionate about our work and honest about hardships we’ve faced, I want to call Noo my first real friend here. That feels somewhat disloyal to the other really kind people who have reached out to me here and the many folk who I would also call my real friends…but there’s just a different quality of friendship with Noo that I am really, really grateful for. It’s the kind of relationship that makes me look forward to being here – or willing to be here – for longer than a short time. I’m deeply grateful to God for answering prayers for real friendship. I even think it’s a reciprocal sort of thing –a shared feeling on both sides, even though I’m almost 10 years younger than Noo and not nearly as wise or patient or kind as she is. But maybe that’s another reason why God’s had it in store for me to meet her. For the sake of future little ones and the many others who I’ll meet down the road, wherever I end up…who will also be seeking shelter and friendship. And simple home-cooked meals and laughter in a living room. And sitting on a couch, next to little ones, and across from a couple with love to share. In a warm, bright, happy circle.