I leave our round hut with bandaids, neosporin, a Swahili phrase book, and a bottle of water tucked into my pink backpack. My plan is to visit mamas, practice my broken Swahili and clean children’s wounds. But, as it is for most days in Kenya, schedules are thrown out and the important rises to the top.
The Equator sun blazes down, and I follow the trail up to the red dirt road. I decide to cross over the village road and pass the school. As my long skirt flaps against my legs, the children run to greet me before scurrying back to their soccer game. Yellow shirts. Green shorts. Enormous smiles. Most without shoes. Wounds cover legs from climbing through barbed wire fences. I wave at the teachers.
I turn a corner and crest a small hill, and there I see her. Janet. Green dress. Bright smile. Thirteen-years-old. A round basin sits in front of her, and her hands rigorously wash the simple clothes of her family. Somebody gathered water for her today from the muddy river. She sees me coming, tosses the clothes in the basin and crawls as fast as her arms can pull her crippled legs. I crouch down, and we embrace. Since a language barrier stands between us, we use the universal language of laughter. I follow her back to the basin and sit down.
I take an article of clothing, some Omo, and scrub next to Janet. Her legs create the shape of an M. They don’t straighten. They don’t bend. They don’t move. Her knees and inner ankles are raw and tough from the hard dirt.
No one carries her to school, thus she never enrolls. No one carries her to church, thus she never attends. Her mom’s sick with a goiter. Her dad’s absent most days. Her small square plot of land is all she knows of this green and blue earth.
Yet, she NEVER stops smiling. Seriously. She NEVER stops smiling.
I grab my Swahili phrase book and ask her a few questions. How are you today? Where’s your mom and dad? Do you think the rain will come?
We continue scrubbing clothes, smiling as our legs hit, and I feel deeply. Joy in this moment. Sadness she’s not in school. Anger at injustice and poverty. Frustrated at my own discontentment.
I hang the clothes on the line. Drip. Drip. The precious commodity of water lands on my naked toes, and I take in the sacrament of this moment with Janet as if each drop is a priceless treasure stored deep in the recesses of my heart.
The tropical downpour gravely threatens in the distance, and I head home. My mind jumbles, my heart’s a blubbery mess, and my soul moves. Wetness dampens my cheeks from the broken dam behind my eyes. I walk faster as if it will help my thoughts slow. I find the pages of my journal and write these words from my fragile heart:
“Something has to be done.”
The next year proved to be an unbelievable rollercoaster filled with intense pain, miracles upon miracles and, of course, the gritty, unwavering definition of joy.
Janet. Her name means “God is merciful.” To show me His mercy and goodness, God sent Janet. A disabled, uneducated girl (in the eyes of the world) who taught me pure joy is a matter of the heart. The teacher became the student, and for a few years I sat under her tutelage of grace, love and relentless joy. She forever changed me.
And I can’t wait to tell you about the rollercoasters! It’s quite a ride!