February 12, 2016

You Are Home

Although not intentional, I feel that perhaps my posts from Daraja have been a bit too focused on doom and gloom. It seems that perhaps inadvertently, I have been perpetuating the very stereotype of Africa I work so hard to reverse. While it maybe true that certain aspects of what we have seen and experienced in our short visit here leaves the heart heavy and torn a part, there are just as many times, that like a trampoline, the heart soars to unimaginable heights. So tonight, I want to try and capture a few more of the upward bounces.

It was late afternoon and the sun was low in the sky, painting the lush campus a vibrant shade of orange, the coveted time of day that photographers call the soft light, and the girls were having sports time and playing volleyball with our kids. I was on the sidelines taking a few photos, when I started talking to two form two girls named Faith and Faith. Faith Squared I called them. We had not met last year, and usually the form two girls are bit more shy, and so they rarely make first contact. But not Faith Squared, they were curious and wanting to chat, so we talked about their first year at Daraja. One of the girls was from the near the Uganda boarder and she told me how lush and green her home town is. We also talked about running. One of the Faith’s is going to run an 8KM race tomorrow. We discussed distances and times and she mentioned that last year she ran a half marathon. I told her that was a goal of mine, and she assured me that through training and dedication that I too could achieve this seemingly unachievable feat.

I told them that I love coming to Daraja, because it feels like coming home, and Faith said, “It does not “feel” like you are coming home. You are coming home.”

At dinner I spoke to Mary, a form three girl, I had got to know last year. We discussed Kenyan Hip-Hop and she had lots of questions about tattoos. She asked me if I remembered the long talk we had had last year on a hike we took together, and I said of course I did. I complimented her on how much she has grown and how much more sociable she was this year. She smiled shyly, but she was beaming. A simple compliment can go such a long way for all of us. It has been such a pleasure to continue to build relationships with these girls.

Coming back to Daraja after a night in Samburu made me realise what a sanctuary the campus really is, for all of us. All of our crew felt like they were coming home after only a few short days here. Claire and I discussed how being on the road made us feel a bit vulnerable and how upon returning to campus we let out a sigh of relief. The safety and the love of this place is palpable. I imagined what it must be like for the girls, who every break, venture back out into the seemingly endless sea of vulnerability that is their own nation. Then I revelled in the feeling of belonging and comfort they must feel when they return. I thought about how amazing it is that they have such a place and how proud I am of the work we do to make sure that this place exists for them. Even if it is for only ninety girls in this remote corner of the world, this place and places like it are vital.

So while the initial reaction to Kenya might be brunt harshness and discomfort, and while the lives of these girls, and so many others like them, might seem to us, the outsiders, as brutal and difficult, at the end of the day, they are simply living their lives and face struggles like the rest of us. But we cannot only focus on what they have overcome. Not one of us is defined by only our pasts, and it is unfair to look at these girls in that light. 

Like Faith said, this school and this country are now one of my homes. And like most homes, I know there are people whom I love and who love me here. Much of this love is still young and budding, but like all love it is genuine and built on trust.

I hope the posts I have been writing are not scaring people away from Kenya, but revealing what a wonderfully challenging and beautiful place it is. On the drive home, I was thinking about the scary black man we see in movies, and how they contrast to the kind and gentle men I have met here like Stephen, Outerrie and Chris the head of security. I wish that we made movies about men like these and men like John and Charles who spend their lives working at a school like Daraja. Most importantly, I wish there were movies made about the strong women of Kenya. And I don’t mean documentaries, showcasing their rough experiences, but films that show Kenyans and Africans in the true and honest light that I see them in every time I come here.

I hope this post sheds some light on the doom and gloom I have been sharing all week. I am sadden to know we are leaving soon and that it will be another year before I can return, but I am enthusiastic and overjoyed that I can bring Kaia and Skyelar here soon. I cannot wait to see their eyes as they take everything in.

Dear Daraja Girls,

Thank you once again for opening your home to me and the guests I have brought. I don’t think I can put into words how much you inspire me. I wish there was a way that you could see the beauty that I see when I watch you working so hard for what so many in people in the world take for granted. I wish you could feel the pride I feel when I watch you interact with my students. I hope that when you look in the mirror you see the same girl that I see. One who is poised and articulate. Brave and considerate. Passionate and curious. Kind and loving and open to a world where you know you belong. I wish you knew how many people want you to succeed, because in your struggle and your empowerment lies the hope of so many women around the world, not just Kenya. I hope you understand that you are not alone in your struggle and through your education comes the freedom of not just women, but all people in the world. That as you reach down and pull yourself up to where you belong, you also bring up the hopes and dreams of all people who believe in a better world.

Please do not ever forget that you are not alone working till late in the evening and early each morning. Thousands, maybe millions of girls, are cheering for you. Young and old. Rich and poor. The future of the world depends on free, powerful, independent woman. You are here to teach us all how to be more humane and loving men. Your struggle is not a new or easy one, but I for one have full confidence that you are up to the challenge.

I do not come to Daraja every year to “help” you, although I hope that we can finds ways that we can, I come here every year to recharge my batteries and become inspired by you. You give me hope in a better world. So thank you for that. I love you all and I look forward to seeing you grow into the future leaders of Kenya and the global movement toward peace, justice and equality for all.

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