I have a friend named Saphia. Saphia is blind, and has been for a long time. I met Saphia WAY back at the beginning when I started living in Gasmalla. She is old (for rural Africa), in her 60’s, and is the aunt of my Mabaan Dad, James... which technically makes her my great aunt.
I have had many humorous interactions with Saphia over the 2+ years that I have known her... one of my favourites being a day I came to visit her before I left for my usual two weeks in Nairobi. She’d asked if I brought her coffee and sugar, which of course I hadn’t, and we were laughing at that while I was trying to explain to her that I would be gone for 2 weeks, and then would be coming back. “Where are you going? To your country?” “No, no, just to Nairobi, I’ll be back soon” “oh Good!!”, she said while her hands moved over my shoulders as if looking for something... Soon she found what she was looking for, as she tucked a finger under my shirt collar, pulled back, and then released what her unseeing eyes had sought. Ouch. Saphia had found my bra strap, and exclaimed “Katta!! I want one of THOSE!! When you come back from Nairobi bring me one of those!!” :) How can you not love someone like Saphia?
The other day I was over across the river for a wedding; I’d walked over with a number of our Gasmalla church ladies. The wedding was for a young man, a relative of James and Ama’s, who is a soldier and well known in the community. There must have been over 400 people gathered for this celebration. We, being ‘church people’, were tucked off to the side – rather separate from the actual celebration, which includes copious amounts of locally brewed wine, and much dancing of the women – most of whom have greatly enjoyed the wine! This wedding also had a number of soldiers in attendance, and as usual, there were groups gathered and scattered under various trees throughout the whole village; segmented by age, station, gender, etc... We must of have been the ‘church group’ (felt a little like my high school days). I’m still trying to decipher how ‘we’ feel about such social events, and if we are separate by choice, or by accident, or by conviction... the jury is still out. At any rate, another topic for another day!
Anyway! We were sitting and enjoying tea and a little girl appeared and sat with us for a while. But, she kept starting at me – not being entirely sure why, I just smiled back and tried to ignore her. Eventually, she found her voice and said, “S-a-p-h-i-a...” She said it so slowly that I thought she was trying to tell me her name, so I said, “oh! Your name if Saphia?” “No, Saphia greets you!” By now, a few of the ladies had realized this little girl was trying to communicate with me and, leaving their conversation, turned to hear what she was saying... “Ah Saphia! Your friend, Katta!” I guess Saphia was AT the wedding, and somehow heard that I was there (news travels fast through 400 people when an unexpected khawaja shows up at a wedding!) and she’d sent this little mite to greet me on her behalf... so sweet!
So Rahilla, one of my Gasmalla ladies said she’d take me over to greet Saphia myself – so off we went! We worked our way through crowds of dancers, drinkers, and children and finally found Saphia sitting under a tree. “Saphia!! It’s me Katta! How are you?” “AHHHHH!! Katta!!!” What followed was a rather loud and exciting set of interactions between us with multiple hugs thrown in. No sooner did we have our greeting out of the way than Saphia looped my arm around her neck and declared, for the 50+ people watching our scene, “We’re going dancing!!” So, off we trotted – Saphia singing out a tune I didn’t know, with us shuffling our feet to the same rhythm, and slowly but surely working our way down the path, to the delight and entertainment of many wedding guests... there goes a khawaja dancing with a blind lady!! Something memorable indeed.
When we worked our way back to the bed she’d been sitting on, we collapsed, giggling – both, I’m sure, for quite different reasons :) Then, turning her body towards me, her eyes drifting off somewhere over my right shoulder, she says to me with a big smile on her face, “Ah Katta! ‘Ya ningu bongiti!” (literally: Katta, my eyes are exhausted for you!)
*I need to insert, at this point in the story, an explanation of this Mabaan phrase. When a Mabaan wants to say that you are missed, or will be missed, or were missed, the way they express it is this; ‘my eyes are exhausted or ‘out of breath’ for you!’ The meaning being, that their eyes were so busy searching the horizon for your return that they are winded from the work of looking for you! Thus, you are missed! Is that not just the most wonderful way to say that!?*
So, as Saphia says to me, ‘Katta my eyes have been exhausted for you!,’ the irony of that phrase against her physical situation hit me like a ton of bricks. My thought was, Saphia, your eyes are exhausted for more than just ME... it’s been YEARS since you’ve seen anything! Of course the phase of saying you’ve missed someone would be the same, whether you can physically see or not, but it struck me full force that this blind women would say how tired her eyes had been, implying that they also were no longer tired b/c now she’d ‘seen’ me...
I recovered from my attempt to adjust my brain to this linguistic reality, and was able to reply that my eyes also have been exhausted for her, but felt a twinge of ... was it guilt?... that my eyes are healthy and seeing.
I’ve been mulling over all this for the past few days, and then just this morning I starting thinking about the spiritual analogies found here, with my dear friend Saphia...
No matter who we are in this world – no matter what our color, gender, status, or belief – we are all in search of something... in fact, when you get right down to it, we’re all in search of the same something. Because we were created in the Image of the One who created us, I believe we are all longing for our reunion with Him... because our soul knows, that only then, will we be fully Whole, fully ‘realized’, even by ourselves... because apart from Him, something is always missing...
Whether or not we’d like to admit it, our eyes are totally winded because of this Something we are looking for... Sure we can distract ourselves for a while, but usually, when we’re alone, looking out over the ocean, or a field, or a landscape full of mountains, we recognize that cry within our hearts... that familiar one we try to ignore because we’re not quite sure what to do with it... that ‘looking’ for Something more... SomeOne...
Even as a Christian, as someone trying to fashion my life and person after Jesus, this ‘looking’ is in me too... but I know it to be a ‘looking’ for more of HIM. Though I know the Truth, and am assured that I will one sweet day be with HIM, here on this earth, that knowledge alone is not entirely satisfying, because still my eyes – both physical and spiritual, long to SEE His face, to be 100% in His Presence.
For Saphia, even in her blindness, she can ‘see’ – her longing to ‘see’ me was satisfied by just being with me... it was satisfied, but not complete, for she didn’t truly see me.
This IS the message of the Gospel is it not? – that God came down to us, to step into that gap that lays between Him and us, because of our sin, for the purpose of re-uniting us to Himself. Because of our human limitations and the ongoing reality of our sin – though it’s been dealt with – we are unable to fully be present with Him here on this earth, and so, even as Believers, our hearts long to be present with Him completely... Being finally complete ourselves; understanding fully His love for us, His forgiveness of us, understanding HIM, and being utterly swept up in amazement of Who our God is... THIS is the Gospel; that this reunion has been made possible, by the One who made us...
One day, Saphia will fully see. One day I will fully see.
Until that day... ‘Ya ningu bonge Yaccuti.