There are many heavy things going down here right now, spent a couple of hours praying at the bedside of a missionary kid in the ICU yesterday. Every missionary parent's worst nightmare. But I'm way on the periphery of that story, and too tired to do justice to the pain of it. And so I'm going to write about something completely frivolous. Because life is like that, actually. A crisis can seem all-consuming, but the rest of the world continues on while someone's mother holds a pale and unresponsive hand. We were called this weekend by our Faith-Based Furniture representative. I suppose our mustard seed of faith just wasn't enough, because he wanted us to come back and choose a different fabric, seeing as the one we had selected was "finished". In Africa this word "finished" accounts for a lot of what you might THINK you had the power to choose. I was not happy about this since the couch was the primary item of color around which we had planned EVERYTHING else (curtains in particular, and the neutral "almond sand" walls. When we were in the shop originally, we had looked through several very professional appearing books of fabric samples, and chosen a woven/textured/burnt maroon. It was very nice, intended as the focal point of the room, of the house really, and not of a dirt-showing hue either. I was caught up in the wonder of this possibility: me, who had not been called upon to make a decorating decision since I got to select the paint and wallpaper for my room when I was 13, designing a living space.
When we went back to the shop this weekend, however, instead of the spiff books he showed us four little scraps of fabric he had brought from the market. Bright eye-popping orange, dark brown, gold, and a khaki/tweed. It slowly dawned on me that the fat books of samples were probably donated/stolen/whatever from some American showroom and bore absolutely NO RELATIONSHIP to the actual availability of such fabrics on this continent. They were a comfort to the customer, the illusion of choosing maintained, while the carpenter knows that he'll just take anything in the same universe of fabrics he can find. So since I had chosen a woven texture, he brought me four samples that were indeed a woven sort of fabric but other than that had little in common with the original. We just couldn't see the bright orange being compatible with anything, the brown was dull, the gold clashed with the curtains, so sadly we had to give up on our little hope of beauty and settle for the tweed.
I remembered the nights we used to go to the Mountains of the Moon when it was a run-down crumbling post-colonial hotel and the only restaurant in many hours any direction. They would bring out the menu, and we would deliberate over our choices, wanting to make the most of our one eating-out opportunity for the month or the quarter . . .then the waiter would come back, and not matter what you ordered, he would say, "Ah, sorry sorry, but the ______ it is finished". Finally in frustration you would just jettison the menu and say "So what DO you have?" And even then, when he would say "roasted chicken" what he meant was, there is a live chicken somewhere on the hotel property that could be found, chased, killed, plucked, and cooked in merely two or three hours.
So, the illusion of choice, given to us picky bajungu, we who like to think we can control, we can steer away from tacky furniture and clashing colors and tasteless food, we can select that which is beautiful and delicious. And we can select it, we just can't have it.