Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Portrait #67: Giggly Betty

Apparently I came all the way to Africa to do medical exams! I've decided that spending hours in a doctors' office is a great way to experience a country. Sitting in a waiting room with the other patients, watching the children who are bored to death playing together, seeing the queue for the key to the bathroom, wading through forms and receipts and coming up with enough cash to pay for a ridiculously extensive battery of lab work. That's obviously not Kenya's fault (it's for two U.S.-based organisations), but Kenyan doctor's office staff have laughed with me over the length of the list of blood tests.

The secretary took me through to the laboratory at the back of the office to set up my bloodwork. There are two rooms: the lab in the back, and the little room where they take the blood. As we walked in, the secretary walked through to the back room, but a short smily woman in a blue labcoat stopped me and pointed me to the smaller room. There was a black hard-backed chair nestled between a desk and a wall, and she pointed for me to sit there.

I backed myself up into the small space and took a seat. When I looked up, the woman was now leaning against the door with a huge grin on her face. Her hair was chin-length, a very round cut - like that cut little boys used to get where their mums just threw a bowl over their heads and cut. Her hair was very carefully styled, though, with little curls at the bottom, and a speck of blond highlights. She smiled at me.

So I said, "How are you?"
She giggled. "I'm ok. How are you?"
"I'm good!"
"How long have you been in Kenya?"
"Oh, this is my first week. But I'm loving it!"
"Really?" Laugh. Then she said something to the intent of that I'm very welcome. I asked her her name and she said it's Petrolina, but I can call her Betty. She didn't ask my name.
She was being so smily and friendly that I asked her: "Are you from Nairobi?"
"No." And she waved her arm far far to the right, indicating where her family's home is from. She said it's not far, but she also said it's like five or six hours drive away.
So I asked her how often she goes back.
"No. Don't go home much."
"Don't you miss your family?"
"They live near."
"Oh, so do you live with them?"
"No, I live alone."
"How long have you lived here?"
"Ten years."
"Are you married?"
"No." Major giggles.
The giggles inspired me. "Why not?"
She chuckled a bit more and murmured something about family.
So I narrowed my eyes and said, still smiling, "Did you love someone?"
She doubled over laughing. Literally, her whole body was bent as she tittered and chortled. She glanced up at me and burst out laughing again.
FInally, I apologised and said she didn't have to say. She just nodded her head and giggled some more.

Right then, the secretary came back and took me away again. I ran into Betty again twenty minutes later in the checkout queue of the supermarket, downstairs in the same building. She got a huge grin and nodded enthusiastically when she saw me. Then she went back to her groceries and left. When I saw her the next day - and the next - she greeted me warmly, gestured for me to sit in the narrow seat, then disappeared.

No comments: