Sitting with the silence.

Sitting with the silence.

We moved house.

I needed to simplify.

I needed to not drive a 30km round trip to school any more.

I needed to not feel overwhelmed by the schedule.

I needed to not feel like I needed to drink Gin every evening.

So we moved house.

It was actually quite easy. I mean, keep in mind this was one of 6 house moves within the past 8 years, only this time we didn’t switch countries or continents, so in relative terms ‘easy–peasy.’

We now live 3 minutes from school. I feel absolutely relieved.

We have down sized and down graded considerably, but it is simple and it is good.

One of the big changes has been that we inherited a housekeeper with the house, and he and his family, live within our compound.

This is normal here. Most people have a housekeeper living on their compound.

This is not something Bails and I have ever been comfortable with before.

The truth is, it was too uncomfortable to have workers living ‘on site’, because frankly the workers houses here, are not built with the workers comfort in mind. It is quite clear that the workers are there to serve the main household. The staff living quarters are small, cramped, often in disrepair and frankly inadequate.

We didn’t want to sit with the daily knowledge that whilst we live like relative ‘king’s’ our housekeeper and family, live on our property in a way that we could not.

Simply, we didn’t want to look it in the eye.

Because the truth is, this is how people here live. It’s not fair, but it is reality.

At least on our compound they have electricity. At least here they have hot water. At least here they have a bathroom with a shower and a proper toilet as appose to a bucket and a hole in the ground.

When we took this house, the housekeeper, Umali, along with his wife and three daughters were already living here, and it would have been pretty lame to evict them from their home, just because Bails and I couldn’t face the void between our two worlds…

And this is a much better option for them than any of the other options out there.

So here we find ourselves, two very different families from two very different worlds, living within one set of walls.

Its not altogether emotionally comfortable, but it is right.

Yesterday Umali came into the kitchen beaming. I thought something wonderful had occurred, because his face was literally alight as he said

“ I am very very happy”

I was slightly taken aback by such an outward show of emotion, as Malawians are usually quite guarded and rarely show sentiment or feeling. But he was actually almost…bouncing…

“Oh good” I said “What happened?”

“I am just veeeeeery very happy” he said, continuing his bouncy beamy thing,

“Yes so I see, but why? What has happened?”

“I am happy ”

“I am so happy that you are so happy, Umali, But why?”

“Madam, my family is safe. I have a very nice job and a home, and my family is cared for by your family. I can provide for my family and they are safe.”

I had to leave the room. I went to my bedroom and sat on the bed. I didn’t know what to say.

I honestly didn’t quite know quite how to hold such simple gratitude and joy.

I mean, what….?

No resentment?

No envy?

No undercurrents of bitterness?

No, ‘why do her children have all of this, whilst mine have…’

Don’t get me wrong. Malawi is full of undercurrents. It is sometimes hard to recognize truth here. So much is unsaid. This is a culture soiled by its colonial history and the abuse of power in years gone by.

One generally never knows if people are happy or not, hence my confusion over Umali’s gust of unhindered joy…

But it was lovely.

And I feel blessed to be considered a blessing.

It’s confusing sometimes. I grapple with many conflicting feelings about our life here in Africa.

Its hard not to feel like we are exasperating the problems.

I have found myself hardening my heart and puffing up my ego to justify the choices I make on a daily basis.

Like when my kids have said,

“Mummy why didn’t you give money to that beggar? What if he was really hungry?”

I have said things like

“Because I’m not sure if he is really hungry,”


“There are lots of organizations looking after people like that.”

Or, I might have even said

“I feel like he is trying to manipulate me”

Crikey. That’s awful. When I see it written on the page like that; that’s awful.

Is that the best I can do?

Is the best I have to give my kids, a lesson in “Its not my problem?”

Or, even worse, a lesson in “I don’t know how to handle this, so I’m actually just going to get defensive and puff up my ego, to numb my feelings of confusion and helplessness?”

Jeeze Em. Come on. You can do better than that.

What is wrong with sitting in that space, filled with uneasy questions, holding the silence, and saying,

“Don’t know. I simply don’t know”

Because, I don’t.

I can hide behind my judgements and my ‘rights and wrongs’, put all my uncomfortable questions into nice neat boxes with nice tidy answers pinned to the top…

Or I can try to sit in the vulnerability of each given moment, hold the silence around my questions and fully engage from a place of not knowing the answers…

Why do we seek to justify ourselves with answers?

Today, I stopped at some traffic lights and watched a beggar approach in my rear view mirror. And when he arrived at my window I took off my sunglasses and looked him straight in the eye. Then I said “Sorry my friend, not today” and he smiled at me.

I smiled back.

I am trying really hard to stay vulnerable in each present moment.

I am trying not to pretend like I’m okay with the inequalities I see every day, but I’m trying to not need answers or justifications for it either.

I am trying to sit with the silence of not knowing.

And maybe then, I will find the kind of grace and gratitude that I experience in my new friend, Umali.



About Emily M. Bailey

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