What feel like several lifetimes ago, I lived alone. Well not exactly alone. I had the two puppies. We had moved from a house on snob nob in Chicali village to a hostel at the bottom of the hill. We moved to a one room bungalow and then back to Snob nob in our own 3 bedroom dream. Sure it’s infested with bats, spiders, ants, rats, termites…. and on and on…. but it’s ours and the dogs can’t trash a house with nothing in it! A small yard and an indoor toilet was a lot to me! After the hostel and the bungalow with no water or electricity, this house was a palace!
The dogs and I, mostly I, made curtains bought a kitchen table and mostly hid in the back room as if we were still in the bungalow. I would shut every door because frankly it was more empty space than I had ever had and it frightened me. It felt like my heart. Big and empty. I had given almost everything I owned away and I felt as if I had gained nothing. I had not quite started to blog online and my life was filled with nothing but people wanting to take from me. My life was void of anything but prayer and time with God. My money gone. My house empty. No one to talk to, but the dogs (who just argue every point). Then one day a knock came.
I had expected it to be any number of issues that would require my financial support and likely break my heart. I was amazed to find an elderly woman with house plants for sale!
She didn’t speak much English but she was warm, I bought the whole bucket just so she wouldn’t have to carry it on her head any farther.
I planted flowers for days. All around the house and in pots inside the house. And my house seemed more like a home. And my heart brightened by this FIRST little surprise visit. Though she came several more times….
When I found this house, I had looked at 2 available spaces to rent. Both equally priced in the same neighbourhood. One was a “self contained” which basically means studio without a kitchen, little more than the bungalow. The other was a large 3 bedroom. The studio was brand new with a Beautiful view of the bay and two horrible ferocious dogs next door that were known for biting people and killing other puppies. The three bedroom was WAY more house than we needed but it offered lots of privacy and enough space for my 2 almost dogs to wrestle and play.
I remember thinking to myself, no one can have a house with 2 empty rooms in Africa…
Then Gift came (see “the story of Gift”). I was in shock thinking about bringing a troubled teenager into my house. The brief, energy filled, visit with Gifts whole family had me concerned about the people I was dealing with and how Gift would fit into my world. But… I had just planted a whole bunch of flowers and even though I could not offer her a couch to sit on, there was a bed and she had her own room.
About a month after Gift moved in a heard a knock at the door…
I knew it must be someone in need. Gift answered the door and came to tell me that her grand mother was here for a visit. When I came to greet her I could only smile. There was the woman with flowers on her head coming to sell me more. She even had a basket of flowers. We had not recognised each other. She smiled and gave me a big hug. Then she pushed her way past me into the house. Apparently curious about where Gift had been living. She went through EVERY room, including mine. Looking at the shelves and inspecting everything. Asking questions in a language I didn’t know and nodding as if she understood the answers. This IS NOT Tonga tradition. You never see someone’s bedroom. It’s extremely personal and frankly after living here for a while I was a bit alarmed. But I reminded myself that she let her granddaughter leave with a total stranger based on the fact that I was there. She must have had some regrets and was trying to make up for it. I allowed her to look through everything and then after lunch gave her transport to her home which I now realized was about 5 miles away. She had walked several times to sell me a bucket of flowers in order to support what I now understood was a large and unruly family. Surprise visit number TWO had warmed my heart even more. This visit, showing me just how much this woman had been working and trying to support a girl I now consider my daughter, known as Gift.
I had sat thinking about this visit for a week or so before I finally told Gift one evening, “come let’s go visit your grandmother.”
I showed up without warning. This is the story of the THREE surprise visits after all…
I told her very bluntly that I wanted to see her room. She stiffened at first, looked at me hardly and then melted into a warm smile. She walked me through every room I her house. I was able to see how she fit about 15 people into a 2 bedroom home. Many sleeping in the outdoor kitchen and storage space. Every bit of clothing was not in shelves but suitcases on small racks. Which I knew was common. There was nothing on the walls, nothing to suggest the family was invested emotionally in this property. Only large collections of construction material in the centre of the room. She explained how they planned on building another house just like this one. They had been saving up and buying bits of material here and there. Which is also common. There is no home loans or capital, so you invest in iron sheets and lumber. When they have enough they will start building… I was thinking about the 2000.00mk ($1.50) I gave her, each 5 mile trip for the flowers. I know iron sheet for roofing is about 8 to10,000mk per sheet. She must have been saving for years in hopes to build this house. And my heart grew even warmer and softer.
I’m going to visit Agogo today. I’m going to tell her I’m going to America for a couple months and ask if Gift can stay at my house with the dogs and Fatuma while I’m gone. I don’t think there will be an issue. Especially if I request more surprise visits from Agogo.