Ross ran upstairs to our apartment, calling me to bring the baby down to street level to meet some people who wanted to see her. I quickly wrapped her in a blanket, threw on some long pants to be more African-decent, and descended our main stairway with baby in arms. As I pushed open the great, metal door of our house, a great cry went up from about the crowd assembled around our front door. “Hongera! Mama mtoto!” they cried. Many people clapped.
I was quite surprised and somewhat taken aback, as Ross’ summoning words had me assuming I was coming down to greet three or four people. Instead, about seventy people: mostly women, most sitting, most old, some standing, some carrying babies on their backs, some in wheelchairs, some blind, many handicapped were crowded around my front door. When I shook their hands and greeted them in Kiswahili, many showed off smiles with missing teeth, and I noticed that many faces were wrinkled with age and scored with the traditional black patterned lines of Makonde tradition. The whimsically patterned and brightly colored “kangas” (cloth wraps) worn here in East Africa that were wrapped around waists and draped over heads were especially joyful looking to me at that moment. All the dazzling colors and smiles dropped upon me so suddenly made me feel like I was in a whirlwind of confetti.
This motley, celebratory crew assembled outside my front door was “the poor”, as they are sometimes called around here. They straggle into Mtwara town especially on Fridays to beg a few shillings off of town passerby and pick up freebies given out by many business owners and families on the Muslim holy day, Friday. Ross and I often give out plastic bags with a little corn flour in them to these poor people who pass by our house on Fridays as a gesture of goodwill to the community.
Among the group that day was a blind woman, eyes sealed closed, who cried out with one of her hands in the air and one on her guiding stick, “Let me see the child, let me see the child!” I hesitated–how could she “see” the baby? Then I put my child’s soft, pink foot in her outstretched hand. “Ah, a beautiful child.” The blind woman said. A great smile wrapped around her face. I regard her pronouncement one of the dearest complements yet paid to my little daughter. Mother Theresa believed that one could see the face of Christ in the poor; she got this idea from Christ’s own pronouncement “what so ever you do for the least of these, you do for me.” If this is true, then Addie’s visit from the poor may have been her most divine encounter yet. –HJK