No. I say no all day long here. No, I can't buy you $.50 worth of airtime for your cellphone. No, I can't give you money just because. No, I can't buy the toys or men's shoes or whatever else it is you're selling today. No, I can't organize a scholarship for you to study in the United States. No, I cannot give money to every small child alone on the street, although I hear Jesus saying something about not seeing him in his most distressing disguise every time I say, "no."
N has just helped me to craft a particularly eloquent and very definite "no" to a gentleman (I use the term loosely) who emailed this evening (after meeting me for two minutes earlier today) to suggest that we should marry.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no. No in English, non in French, hapana in Kiswahili. I get so tired of saying no. Partly because it is in my nature to try to help people, to find a way to say yes, or at least a maybe. I don't like to let people down.
But mostly, the no's disturb me because it's so contrary to the theology by which I profess to live. Here I am, fists clenched tightly around my money, my safety, my preferences, my space. Saying no. And here is a God whose hands are always open, always saying yes.
Because my life is nothing but one long series of yeses these days. Not only am I getting to spend time with dear friends, and living in a place where all my needs are taken care of before I ask, it's costing me next-to-nothing to do so. My research is going ridiculously well. I've only been here for two business days and already I've got a meeting with the most important health official in the city. I met the provincial minister of education this afternoon, thanks to the incredibly helpful vice-bishop who has taken an interest in my project. I'm nowhere close to being finished, but interviews are coming easily and smoothly, and I'm having no trouble communicating.
And I'm having fun while doing all this work. Today was another day of reunions with acquaintances from last year, and meeting the two dozen expat students and young adults who are spending part or all of their summers at Heal Africa, trying to learn how to do medicine in the third world, or how to serve the poor, or how to be a professional development worker. In what is certainly one of the more random experiences I'm likely to have over the course of the next nine weeks (one week of the trip is already over), Lucy Liu showed up at Heal Africa today. Yes, that Lucy Liu. She is, apparently, a UNICEF ambassador of some sort, here to shed light on the problems facing children in this miserable corner of planet earth. It just goes to show that you never know whom you'll see in Goma. (For those of you who are wondering, she looks exactly the same in person. I have pictures, maybe this weekend.)
I laugh and laugh and laugh, at the police who want to marry, at the astonished faces of children when they meet a mzungu who knows Kiswahili. I marvel at the vice-bishop's explanation of his own dissertation (in theology, concerning the role of African culture in the wisdom of God expressed through Christ). I wonder at the fact that I'm freezing at night when I'm in the heart of Africa.
So many people have prayed for me, for this trip, this dissertation, these interviews, this advisor situation. I'm more thankful for those prayers than you can possibly know. And I just keep wondering, how can I keep saying "no" in the face of all this "yes"?