The day I crossed from green to brown, from chirping birds to revving motorbikes, she wore a pink headband and a faux fur collared coat. She was already waiting on the couch, in between the nursing mama and the wife of our host, one of the 6 women he had summoned to the corrugated metal 10×10 room he called home.
I left my shoes on the pile outside which left me distracted when the rains came and I tried to remember if the roof extended beyond the door. The rooster would leave them alone, but for one shameful moment I wondered if my newly purchased, mud-caked sneakers would still be there when I left.
In the darkened room, lit by one small window, 17 of us gathered, including the nursing baby and two toddlers fighting to hold the cell phone between their mini plastic chairs. We had come to learn about their project, hear a few of their dreams, and see this place through a lens of hope. The distance from lush gardens to trash-strewn dirt roads, from walled compounds to informal dwellings of half a million people had taken a few minutes. We had crossed one road.
Hope would loom mythical were I in her shoes. Perhaps it is the same for her.
Our host began. He talked about his work as a community organizer. His hopes for young men and the micro-businesses the group had started. They showed us a few handmade pieces and explained how they learn from YouTube. Slowly, the women chimed in. J shared about the stigma of losing her sight. M told us her hope to educate a generation of girls about their bodies, periods, and early marriage. We talked about menstrual hygiene strategies. And then Y, the one with the vibrant pink headband, told us about her school.
The government has abandoned the slums. There are no services. No plumbing, no trash collection, and not enough schools. The ones which exist all require fees, an impossibility for families living on a dollar a day. And so, Y has started her own. She gathers 30 kids each day for grade 3 and makes do, tries to feed them a hot lunch and follow the government issued curriculum. She radiates, beams with pride and purpose.
For a moment, we seem to forget half of the room is male and we are cultures apart. We are women and we speak the same language. I praise their strength and commitment to create a different future for younger girls. I ask who their role models are and one by one the women tell me of their mothers. Single moms who sacrificed for them to go to school. Third wives of polygamous husbands who were abandoned. And one whom we will meet shortly, from behind her vegetable cart.
They are young and brave, full of plans for a better future. And wise. Y tells me she is in a violent marriage and she has learned when to speak, learned her place as a wife. Alone, outside, she elaborates and says the inner strength I speak of keeps her alive and out of a hospital room. We exchange contact info and she hurries back to her school, having left the kids for far too long already.
Later, I cyberstalk her, looking at every photo I can find. One with her students, her son, her graduation. Image after image, a remarkable young woman beams with pride and purpose. I am smitten with her.
We board a plane that night and I feel unfinished. I yearn to return to see Y’s school, to see what she has created and hear more of her plans. Inside, my gut tears as I wonder what it would take to finance the school. She hadn’t asked for anything. No one had.
I won’t pretend to know or understand what complicated emotions Y manages. How she crosses the road from green to brown and works with pride and purpose. I imagine I would be suffocated by bitterness or solely focused on lack. Hope would loom mythical were I in her shoes. Perhaps it is the same for her. I have no idea. I am merely left holding the memory of a young woman in a pink headband who inspired me.
- Teaching Me Hope - March 10, 2020
- Female Fingerprints Are All Over Global Cities: Will we See them? - March 12, 2019
- When Sacrifice Yields Life: Leaning into One Another - January 9, 2018