5th September 2014
To need, receive, accept and appreciate Help
Last night I cooked supper. This is significant for me because after being out of it- and I use this phrase loosely- for so long, it means a lot to be able to actually stand in the kitchen and whip up a meal which others can enjoy. You see for the past let’s say four months; I have been sort of what we would call a convalescent or an invalid. Don’t worry this is not a post about pregnancy, babies, love and whatnot. Although, well, it sort of is. But it is mainly about needing, receiving, accepting and appreciating help. This post is about what it’s like to need people and to have them realize that and respond positively. How you can be down-physically or otherwise- and others lift you up and do so without begrudging you.
As we all know, people experience the beautiful and miraculous journey of pregnancy differently. (Yup, there it comes, the story of babies. But stay with me). Yes, so different people go through the expecting process differently. In my case I get dizzy spells. It was so when I was expecting Lukundo, but it was worse with the second pregnancy. In my third trimester I literally could not stand in one place for more than say seven minutes without feeling like passing out which would be followed by, wait for it, passing out! At first I was like, Shibs, you can’t be serious, you need to stop being dramatic and toughen up. How many women have carried babies without fainting all the time?! But after it happened several times including in a supermarket, in church, in the kitchen, while walking, while talking to people and so on, I realized it was kind of serious and it was a problem. So I got checked. We looked at possible causes- hemoglobin level, blood pressure, blood sugar, a possible heart problem even, and so on. All that notwithstanding, ultimately, I needed to be sitting almost throughout and when I got dizzy I needed to lie down and the blood would ‘return to the head’- literally- and I would feel better.
Dizziness was not the only problem, though. I also just generally felt really sick almost all the time in the third trimester. If you were not living with me in the same house or compound it was not apparent as I would have bursts of energy which is when I would get stuff done- including writing those long posts that I write. Not to take away from the joy and honor of carrying a little one, because honestly through all of this, I never lost sight of how blessed I was to have problems caused by a life growing- not a life dying. But physically, I felt ill, nauseous and drained almost all day long for many consecutive days though admittedly, some days were better than others. It was challenging because I am generally an active person and I hate to be seen as lazy. Coupled with the normal rigors of pregnancy, Lukundo would at times keep me up at night refusing to sleep, just wanting to hang out, at times till 2am. So I would wake up the next morning (or rather, later that morning) feeling sicker, with a headache and general grogginess because of insufficient sleep.
Anyway the point of all this was that I was not at my peak and it was a little annoying. I was not able to stand in the kitchen and chop onions, veggies or do dishes for example. If any meal needed me to stand for more than five minutes preparing (which is basically all meals), someone else had to do it and then I’d come in and just do the cooking part. It was annoying for me because as a woman (or person in general) you want to run your home and be active and be seen to be active! But there I was, literally vegging and bumming. Mornings were especially tough as that’s when I felt the sickest. But thankfully I was living with people who understood this and were super helpful. It got to a point where I could not bathe Lukundo- an activity I used to take pride in- because first of all the whole bending that is involved in bathing a baby was just becoming logistically hectic. Plus Lukundo was getting more and more playful and energetic at age one, therefore demanding more and more energy and strength to contain- and I just could not hack it. If you needed one reason why they say you should space your babies, here’s one! It’s so you can bathe them till they are at least two or three years old without the hindrance of a protruding belly in which their sibling is growing…
Well, it got to a point where in the last weeks of expecting, I was so tired at times I would feel like crying if I just thought of going to take a bath because that one now you can’t really ask someone else to do for you. And let me not mention making the bed. I actually cried (by myself, and blame the hormones) one time because it was just so hard to make the bed! I was like Why hasn’t anyone in their innovative brilliance come up with a bed making machine?! When Poriot was around he was of course super helpful , but when he was away I couldn’t leave the bed unmade the whole week waiting for him to come help me do it on Friday! Though I must say, some weeks I did consider this option…
Okay so finally baby arrived. Happiness, happiness, happiness. Post pregnancy you’d think I would now be all set to go. I wasn’t. I had my baby through a Caesarian Section so I was even more of an ‘invalid’ because now I was recovering from birth through an operation. I know people have different experiences with CS but I can share with you that it hurts after and takes a while to heal. Yes, you are on strong pain medication but it still hurts. For me it was super painful when I came home. I don’t know why, I mean the operation was done well and the scar was neat and professionally done, but it hurt like crazy. It especially hurt on one side, on the left, and I was convinced they sewed me badly on that side or tightened the knot badly. Or that the wound was about to open up, the stitches were about to give way. Or maybe it’s because it was a scar on top of a scar since Lukundo had also been born through CS just a year ago. Let’s not go into that again. That whole spacing business…
The point is, I needed a lot of help still. In most African, and I believe other cultures, when a person- usually a woman (:-) )- delivers a baby, she is supported and taken care of for some weeks -even months in some cultures- so that she can recover and gain strength to take care of the baby and herself and to eventually be able to return to her duties at the home and elsewhere whatever they may be. It has been no different in my case- and thank God for these cultural practices that actually make sense. So post-delivery, I was helped to carry the baby, to bathe her, to change her diaper. If I needed something from the bedroom, from the kitchen, from just over there on the other side of the sitting room, I had to request someone to bring it for me. It hurt to bend, it hurt to laugh, it hurt to sneeze, it hurt to walk. And there was Lukundo who needed to play and be followed around but fortunately there were enough people in the house to keep him company so he did not miss me in this convalescence period- I think. I had to be served and I kept feeling like Gosh how long can people keep up with this before they start resenting me? At one point in the first few days post hospital I would even be brought for water to wash my hands where I was seated after eating let’s say ugali. I had to say, Yes you can put Blueband and jam (on my bread), or Just one spoon please (sugar in my tea) or Yes you can add some more stew for me. It was an interesting time by all accounts.
Through all this, I learned a lot. I learned what it’s like to be weak – in the various senses of the word- and to need, really need, help. I learned what it’s like to sort of be at the mercy of people, and to just hope that they understand and that they don’t hate you for needing help, for asking to have the salt brought to you, or water carried to the bathroom for you, or your child fed, changed and bathed for you… Fortunately for me, I was surrounded, through all this time, by people who were willing to help- or at least they led me to believe so! Mummy, husband, siblings, cousins, househelp, aunties, friends…Maybe they would all meet secretly when I wasn’t there and discuss how needy this Shibs girl has become! And Arrrrggghhh! Seriously we are tired of her… No matter, none such conversation ever got to my ears so I’m going to stick with my presumptuous positive perception. I mean, listen, if I think otherwise I will feel really bad and then that’ll make two of us, them and me, both feeling bad about the situation. No need for all that, is there?
Additionally, I learned what it’s like to keep saying Please and Thank You. I have said Thank you so many times these past 10 months in fact I am done saying Thank You for life! Kidding. But seriously. I went to bed every single day feeling extremely grateful for everyone who had been so kind to me even when they had other stuff to do and should really have gotten tired or angry at the fact that they, on top of everything else demanding their attention, had to help me.
Overall- and that’s the point of this whole narration- I learned that at times in life you need others and that you must be willing to accept that. I can only imagine what it’s like for people who have life-long conditions that force them to constantly require help of whatever kind either in seeing, walking, carrying things, feeding etc. I see my granddad who just turned 90 this week and he has a heart condition and I feel for him. I look at what he goes through because his heart is not right so he feels like it’s beating too fast, or he feels nauseous and I empathize. Besides the heart issue, he also has high blood pressure, at times no appetite, at times his legs hurt and get swollen, at times he gets fevers so he feels very cold, at times he feels that he just cannot get out of bed. I identify with him but I only was ‘not myself’ for a few months! He has had this for some years now. I imagine people who have to go through illness or discomfort for not months but years. I see them with new eyes and I salute them because it is not easy at all to live with discomfort and that feeling of not being yourself, not being able to participate fully in the day to day activities of life; of your own life.
I learned, also, that it is possible for people to just give of themselves without inhibitions. People can care for you and take care of you and do it with love and kindness. Such people are rare but they exist. I have seen them with my eyes; I have experienced them with my heart. They are my family, relatives and friends. If I needed a reaffirmation of the goodness of mankind, I got it now more than ever. People are merciful and patient and they have the ability to completely put themselves aside and put the needs of someone else first. You would not know this about people until you had the chance to see it in action, and I have.
As Lulu turns one month old today, I am grateful not only for her and her health, but for all that has happened the past months and what it has taught me. The CS wound is not completely healed so I know it’s not yet time to carry 20 liter jerry cans and skip rope to prove how well I’m doing. But I am able to serve my own tea and even serve others. I am able to carry Lulu up the stairs without feeling like I’ll fall backwards. I am able to climb to the other side of the bed to tuck the mosquito net nicely without feeling like I’ll die. I am able to wake up and not sit on the sofa just ‘listening’ to how sick my body feels. I am able to bring clothes in when it starts drizzling without feeling like I’ll pass out at the clothes line. I am able to cook supper… And I am able to do all this because there were people to nurse me back to normalcy (yes pregnancy and birth are normal but they take a toll on you that can make you feel like Normal is a far away city in a country that is even further away).
Without saying too much more, I end by thanking all those who have been kind when I was not at my best. I mean physically but also otherwise. You know yourselves. I hope you know yourselves. Allow me to thank you without mentioning you by names. Allow me to thank you without mentioning everything that you’ve done. Through your patience, kindness and generosity, you have taught me the true meaning of Ubuntu, of Utu, of the essence of being human. You have taught me that the human spirit is profound. One day when you are in need of help, I hope I will be there to show you just how grateful I am. And I pray I do it with as much grace and tenderness as you have done for me.
It is easy to assume, or perhaps hope, that we’ll always be okay; able to do whatever we want to, whenever we want to, however we want to. But the truth is, for all of us, there will be times when we will be weak. Physically or emotionally or psychologically or spiritually or financially…There are times when you will be down in one (or more- because life can beat you like that sometimes) of these aspects. When these times come, you will be at the mercy of others. But it’s not a bad thing. When you are weak, you learn what it means to need, to receive, to accept and to appreciate help. It makes you humble. It really makes you humble. And, because life is a cycle, there will also be times when you will be the one to give help. When those times come, that is, for you to be on the giving end, don’t do it begrudgingly. The person in need already feels down, out and guilty enough for needing help, so don’t make it worse. Give them assistance freely, generously and kindly. Do it without forcing them to lose their dignity. All the Thank You’s they will give you will turn into blessings, I promise. Yes, the gospel according to Shibs.