I’ve tried to start this blog post so many times. I’ve opened a new message in my phone to start brainstorming on the plane, I’ve written in the margins of my journal, I’ve started drafts of posts on my laptops. But I have nothing.
I have nothing and no way to explain what has happened to me over the last two weeks. Where can I even begin? How do I explain the magic?
How can I explain how it felt to live in a village? I can try: it stripped me down, made me vulnerable, covered me in bright orange dirt, and planted itself in my heart, its roots seeping through my body and forbidding me to rid of what I felt and what I came to know.
How can I explain the sunrises? Proof that we were still on Earth, new colors of the day seeping through the clouds and teasing the ground, hanging heavy around the mountain that the Maasai tribe called home. We woke up with the sun, gathered around a table, and ate food that no child, no man in that village had probably ever indulged in before and eventually started our walk to the school.
How can I explain the school? 400 kids, 10 teachers, and there was no disciplinary issue. There were no warnings, time outs, second chances, “because I said so”s. Just a request and a fulfillment, teacher and student.
The students. How do I explain them? How can I put into words their never-failing, never-fading absolute 100% JOY? How? How do I explain my wonder in watching them play, laugh, sing, dance, with no fault in their step and no tears in their eyes? How do I explain the fascination with these students, the students who had absolutely nothing, nothing at all, but guided me through their homes – touched my bright white skin, pulled my hair against their bare heads – showing me that they loved where they lived, they loved their home, they loved where they came from, they actually truly had EVERYTHING.
How can I explain the fascination? There was pure fascination between them and us, our worlds colliding and not slowing down and moving with force through the village. We didn’t know their language, they didn’t know ours, so we sometimes sat in silence across from each other, studying each other, their small hands running over bracelets, fingernail polish, chapped lips, our white teeth. My hands holding theirs, my eyes searching theirs, my ears listening as they talked in Swahili, spelling our names as best they could in the sand.
How can I explain the pictures? Haha! The pictures! They loved to see themselves and study their reflections, eyes wide and smile bright as they flipped through photos and videos on my camera, pointing to each other and dissolving into giggles when their own face appeared on the screen.
How do I explain the babies? You knew this one was coming. Small, silent, and terrified of us. I would be too. Who knows what the villagers hear of our country, of our lives, of our politics. Who knows what they’ve been shared. What image do they have of us? The ridiculousness that is having only one wife? The terror that is police brutality, a black man shot in front of his four year old daughter or a small child killed in a park only for holding a toy gun?
And Sylvette. How do I explain Sylvette? My heart hurts even as I begin to type the story. She fell asleep on me after dinner one night. At first, she was terrified, not touching me but just sitting straight as a board, refusing to give in. A couple minutes later her face fell and her eyes closed, and she couldn’t keep her posture anymore. I pulled her back to my chest, tucking her little hands into her pretty blue cape, and let her sleep. When it was time for her to go to bed, her mama came up to me, offered a broken “Thank you” and carried her home. The next morning, I saw her again and I saw her smile for the first time. Her hands flew out of her cape and I picked her up, carrying her to all of my teammates, introducing her in Swahili, holding her on my hip in every team picture. The buses were loading up and with each duffle that was loaded on top, my time was getting cut short. I kept pushing the leaving out of my head because otherwise I could feel the tears and the heartache coming up.
We all said our goodbyes but I still had her in my arms. I put her down to get my backpack, but her hand tugged on my pants, asking to come back up. I kneeled down in front of the bus and squeezed her tight, remembering how her hands felt, smelling her clothes, closing my eyes to take her in. She didn’t understand. She walked with me. I got down on my knees again and put her hands by her side and away from mine. She had to stay, I said. Her eyes searched mine. I pointed to the bus and pointed to myself. Her eyes stopped searching and she backed away. I told her that I had to go and I was sorry, but I don’t know if she understood.
Her heart was confused and my heart was broken. My heart was empty.
How the hell do I explain that?
For an upcoming travel post, I’m answering all of your questions about living in the village and hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro. Click HERE to ask! Nothing is off limits.