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Friday, February 22, 2008

Need builds community

Yesterday, in the market, strolling along with a friend from the hospital, asking for help.  Need builds friendship.  Self-sufficiency, though an American ideal, does not lead to real relationship.  Most days I forget this, feeling I am here to meet others’ needs, to have answers to illness, to bring resources against ravages of poverty.  But yesterday I found community in the unlikely exercise of shopping.  I’m not a shopper.  I wear whatever my sister hands-me-down, or departing missionaries as they clean out their wardrobes for packing.  I’ve never had a nice African outfit made, somehow in 14 years managing to avoid the (for me) discomfort of choosing cloth and hiring a tailor.  But with Ndyezika’s wedding approaching, I could put it off no longer, and so I took the plunge..  There is a nurse at the hospital whom I have known for many years.  My respect for her grew when she was one of the only people willing to come and visit Melen after Jonah died.  Though we’ve worked together I never asked her for anything . . . But yesterday I told her that I noticed how nice she always looks, and wondered if she would assist me in commissioning a dress.  So I moved from doctor/in-charge to fashion-deficient unsure outsider, and let her guide me through the process.  It was actually sort of fun.  We took off our shoes and sat on a mat among heaps of material scraps, in the shade of a shop near the market where two middle-aged women sit side-by-side pumping their treadle Singer sewing machines.  Though the machines look like something you’d see in an antique store or museum in America, these ladies manage to turn out lovely tailored dresses from the bright African cotton prints.  It took about an hour of negotiations, discussing sleeve style and length, and what hem-line would be appropriate for my figure.  I was measured in every dimension, the numbers jotted on a scrap of material in what appeared to me to be a random order, and all rather similar, so who will remember whether this one is my shoulder to elbow length or my waist?  Oh well.  We’ll find out on Tuesday what comes out.  I found it refreshing to be just another woman in the market, watching people walk by, with a toddler who did not fear hidden injections crawling behind me, leaning up against my back in the typical no-personal-space manner.  Later I walked over to my neighbor’s to ask her to cook lunch for the visitors on Monday, and later still to another neighbors’ who had called me in to talk about the unruly behaviour of their 12-year-old daughter, and whether I could have a talk with her..  It was one of those rare afternoons of feeling that in spite of all the national/racial/educational barriers that exist between me and my surroundings, I can occasionally experience true community.  And a reminder that the beginning of those interactions is need, MY need, which allows people to relate to me.  Even Jesus asked the woman at the well in Samaria for a cup of water.  I need to remember that.


Anonymous said...

you'll have to be sure to post a picture of the lovely garment(you modeling, of course) when it is completed!
Debbie Ferguson

claire said...

fashion-deficient unsure outsider!

You sure do have the best descriptions Jennifer!
I'm thankful for your experience with true community with these women and that you are taking the plunge and making something nice for yourself!
Can't wait to see it.

We are praying for you and the family and Ndyezika's upcoming marriage.
We love you very much!