So yesterday was my first birthday as Mrs. Charles Ombam. And it was amazing.
It started with me turning off my alarm, rolling over for an extra hour, and hearing my husband say... Happy Birthday, Mrembo... as he walked in the door with a big present and promises of a day full of surprises.
My sister and brother-in-law came over for a quick visit, so while I am not used to entertaining in my pajamas, I had a wonderful time chatting with my sister in law. After they left, Charles and I had tea and relaxed. He gave me a beautiful card that made me tear up and two presents.
At some point around 11am, Charles asked if I wanted to cook lunch. I really love cooking with him, we wander around the kitchen and I ask him a million questions - and I marvel at his fluency with a kitchen knife. I force him to tell me the Swahili word for everything (for the four-hundred-thousandth time) and we create this beautiful meal together. I adore the whole process.
I have watched him create ugali (also called sembe), the East African staple that I describe as "maize mashed potatoes", at least a dozen times. I know that my learning to create this dish is important. The reverence surrounding sembe is formidable. Ask my husband or his friends to describe sembe and they will start an hour long conversation that is full of laughter and love. To me, it's as if this one dish is evocative of their entire family life back in Kenya. They describe the trials of eating bad sembe, the love and care that one must have in kneading it in your hand, and the dangers of eating too fast, too much, or foolishly trying to run after eating it.
So yesterday I made it.
I had heard that the first batch would be no good. We would have to throw it out. And Charles had teased that we would make a very small amount - so he would not lament the loss of the precious maize flour used to make it.
But I did a decent job. It was edible.
A small hill of ugali... not mine. I'll upload that later.
Video footage was taken. The intensity and anxiety were palpable. I will try to post it later.
We relaxed into a sembe coma. Like a regular food coma, but deeper.
At some point, I started to hover about. It was nearing 3pm. Time for Charles to go to work. Agitation was apparent. But he had arranged for coverage. And he had the whole evening. I relaxed again - allowing the coma to return.
Around 6pm, I asked if we had any plans. "Let's just relax" was the consensus. But a few minutes later, Charles was all like "Well, maybe we could go try out your GPS" - (one of my presents.) I spruced myself up, put on my new sweater from my mom and we headed out the door.
Me: "What should I put in the GPS?"
Me: "Oh, what street?"
Still clueless, we got to Philly, parked and started to walk up Broad. Charles tried to throw me off the scent by talking about other things. No need - I had NO idea.
Finally, we walked up to the Kimmel Center and he nodded to the valet.
Charles: "I'm a patron."
Charles: "Tonight at least."
Then it was like my memory opened up, connected all the dots, and did a silent squeal of joy!
Me: (as we are walking into the Kimmel Center) "The Soweto Gospel Choir is playing tonight! I told you about that weeks ago! We're going! We're here!"
We got our tickets, settled into our seats and chatted until the show started. As the performers came out, tears streamed down my face. Seriously, how did I get so lucky to find this wonderful man that knows me so well. And at the same time, he is such a great performer, he could be up on that stage too. It was overwhelming.***
There is video of this too. Soon, my pretty, you'll get it soon.
We met some of the performers from the choir afterwards. They were so sweet and gracious. We drove home singing Christmas songs and talking about how fun it all was.
Charles went off to his overnight job. I stole his big huge t-shirt and wrapped up in it... floating off to sleep feeling safe and warm and content with my life.
I know everyday won't be like this. I know every birthday will not be like this. But I just hope that we always have this innocence about ourselves - that love and joy. All that fun. And I hope I am always this grateful for his energy and input in my life.
***PS: I forgot to mention that the Soweto Gospel Choir is the CD that was purchased at Barnes and Noble the day we met. It was one of the first things we talked about. And also, the performance was amazing.