The past few days, a lady by the name of Mama Erik has been staying at the house with us. Our house girl Sarah, whom I have written about in the past, has been gone for the past week or so because Bibi, Baba Glorious’ mother, has been extremely sick and needs extra help at her home in Machame village. Mama Erik stepped in to help keep the house neat and take care of Charity. She usually works at Zoe Babies (the branch for babies at New Life) where she is known as Mama Mkubwa, which means Big Mama. Though the term has a negative connotation in English, it is highly affection in Swahili, implying that she is a mother to everyone. I cannot think of a more fitting name for this woman.
Last night, one of Mama Josephine’s patients requested to spend the night at the house, so we gave her my room. This meant Princely would set up a mattress on the floor in the living room, Mama Mkubwa would sleep in Princely’s bed, and I would take the couch next to Mama Mkubwa. Yesterday was a long day (Mondays always are because the travel to and from Boma atop a full day of teaching at Joy can be tiring) so I was exhausted by bedtime. I would have loved my own bed, but I was so sleepy I could have happily passed out atop a rock. I dragged my way into the room and plopped onto the couch as Mama was still bustling about cleaning. When she entered the room she turned on the lights and began softly chiding me for taking the couch. “You won’t be comfortable!” She said in Swahili. I convinced her that I was happy to take the couch and gave her a hug as thanks for her concern. She turned off the light and slipped a pillow under my head before tucking my blanket a bit tighter around my body.
Then, she began assembling her things in the dark. She sang to herself deeply, deeply in slow Swahili. The sounds she made were almost guttural, but they were peaceful and evoked a distant memory of sifting sand with my fingers at the ocean floor. The sheets snapped in her nimble grasp, creating a drum line to her otherwise a cappella song as she prepared her bed. It was to this that I fell asleep: her deep voice, silent feet, nimble hands, my dark cocoon…I don’t think I have ever felt so safe nor slept so soundly.