The strange thing about moving to a new place is as the first few months slip by, the unfamiliar invariably starts morphing into the familiar, without you necessarily being aware of the transformation.
Last night, RBS, my hubbie, and I were driving up Valley Road, a key thoroughfare in central Nairobi, and he did what seemed like a potentially dodgy turn. Before the words had even left my mouth for him to watch out as corrupt Kenyan cops are always on the prowl around those parts (this being the exact spot where I was hauled over on my very first day of driving on the crazy streets of Nairobi), guess what, a corrupt cop pulled us over.
Without losing our cool, we entered into the now-sadly-familiar game of negotiation, flattery and sheer absurdity with Mr Corrupt Cop. We used all the tools in our haggling armoury – RBS was a ‘man of God’ (being a rabbi), he was not a regular ‘muzungu’ (Swahili for ‘white person’) who comes to Kenya to make money as he was here to minister to his flock, it was his birthday (it really was), and so on. We came away from the negotiation quite pleased with ourselves – this time, we were only down 1,000 shillings (around 10 US dollars) in bribery costs.
And off we sailed to visit our friends as if nothing untoward had occurred.
It’s the same thing back at the vicarage. I’m slowly getting used to being wife of a rabbi with all that this entails. I certainly never could have imagined myself in such a role, but in spite of myself, my sociable ways are proving quite helpful in settling into this unfamiliar life. Nearly every Shabbat we end up with random and often fascinating guests who share with us their adventures and snapshots into the lives that they lead in all corners of the world.
And then there are the real characters who pass just briefly through the synagogue – and our lives – but who leave a lasting impression – like Mr Shofar So Great, who came into the synagogue one day and blew not just one, but TWO shofars simultaneously, harmonising one with the other, creating the most beautiful melodies you simply could never imagine a shofar could sound.
The Nairobi Jewish community is pretty quirky to begin with (guess that’s how such a quirky rabbi and spouse ended up here in the first place). It’s been around for over 100 years with some founding families (hailing from Europe) still here some four generations later. Now it’s a hodge-podge of Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Orthodox, traditional, Conservative, Reform, old, young, English-speaking, Swahili-speaking, Hebrew-speaking characters, who all, in spite of themselves, continue to coexist in one unified community structure.
And here I am, in the midst of all this community life, somehow finding myself in a quasi-public position that I didn’t choose for myself. And in spite of it all, the unfamiliar is becoming familiar.