Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Her smell. Her touch. The warmth of her body. I remember it all. I remember the last time I saw her; the last time I was able to smell her, touch her, feel her. We never did have it easy; I only ate every couple of days, and I had been given a blue cup that I carried around with me begging everyone I saw for water. She gave me everything she could, everything she had. Even when we were hungry and cold and thirsty, she’d still be humming me to sleep, telling me everything was going to be okay. I don’t think I ever saw her without a smile on her face. Until the day they came.
I cried for her, but I couldn’t stop them.
“Mama! Mama are you okay?! What’s going on Mama? Where are those men taking you?”
But before she could answer, she was gone. They took her away.
I was alone after that. Four years old with no Mama. My brothers would be killed in the streets a few years later, and I would have to watch them die.
My family never did anything wrong. We never bothered anybody. We never hurt anybody. But we had to pay a price as though we had. My mama was taken away from me by drug dealers and cons. My brothers were killed by them. And I was alone.
It wasn’t a good life there. I went days without food and water. Mama always told me to be grateful for everything I had, but it was really hard when I realized that I had nothing.
I knew I had to get out of there. I knew Mama would want me to be elsewhere; somewhere where I would be happy and healthy and safe and free.
It took a lot of courage to leave. Although I didn’t have much to carry with me, I had a lot to leave behind: the memories of my childhood, Mamma, Dayo and Mosi, the boys and girls I used to play with around the huts.
I didn’t have a beautiful home. I didn’t have a lot to eat or drink. I didn’t have a television, or a warm bed to sleep in, or even the comfort of safety. The thing that hurt the most, though, was that I no longer had a family to wake up to every morning. I didn’t have brothers to play or fight with. I didn’t have Mamma to hum me to sleep.
The people who are still back there, in Ethiopia, they don’t have those things, either. I’m sure they have it just as bad as I did when I was a child. But to them, it’s home. It’s where they were born, and it’s where they will probably die.
Not everybody gets out like I did, and not everybody wants to.
I still see it sometimes, in my dreams and in my thoughts. I wonder how Ethiopia is doing, and I wonder how the people are.
I might go back someday. I might not. But I will never forget what I left behind:
Mamma, my brothers, my friends. Ethiopia.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

It was a beautiful afternoon in Southern Kenya; the Maasai tribe was thriving, and I was helping my mother cook dinner for our family. I was eight years old, just the perfect age to learn mamangu’s (my mother’s) recipes, and tend to the children while the adults were busy. I tried to help take care of the kin all around the village, so that the mothers of the Maasai could talk amongst themselves and enjoy their time together without being bothered. I considered myself a great help around the village, and the adults would often thank me with small gifts like an extra slice of bread or extra time in the bath. I enjoyed helping out and feeling as though I was an important part of the Maasai tribe. So when the day came that my mother asked me to fetch water from the brook all by myself to help her cook a meal, I felt proud and honored, and I graciously accepted.
From the tribe’s grounds, the brook is quite a ways away. To get there, I have to cross through all of the huts of the Maasai village, all the way to the other side. Then I must follow the small path, past the big beautiful acacia tree, until I see a fork in the paths; I follow the farthest path on the right to its very end where I must walk through tall grass and weeds until I can finally feel the muddy soil beneath my feet. That’s when I know I’m almost there. All the while, I have a giant bucket over my head that I have to carry the whole way. It is about seven miles in all, and takes me close to three hours to get there. It takes me longer to get back, though, because I am already tired, and the bucket is harder to carry during the second trip because it is mostly full.
It is not uncommon to see young boys and girls helping their mothers gather water at the stream, so that the mother does not have to make several trips. We also share a stream with the cattle of Southern Kenya, so it is usual to see more than one animal at the brook while you are there. It is also important to understand that the brook is the central part of Kenyan life; every member of the nearby tribes comes here to retrieve water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and washing. So, more often than not, beggars and people without family come to the brook, hoping that someone, anyone, will give them something to eat or wear or even a place to stay. These people are what make the brook a very dangerous place for children to come alone.
Although I was a bit nervous to be travelling on my own for the first time, I gained comfort from the thought that my mother and the other women of the Maasai were awaiting my return. If I did not come back in a few hours, I know that the children would look for me. Mamangu would look for me. Everyone would look for me. Because the Maasai tribe is like a family; we look out for one another, protect each other. I was sure I would be safe.
At the stream, I had a difficult time collecting water. Every time I would lean down to gather water, more water would fall out of the bucket than into it. Frustrated, I wondered to myself how my mother collected so much water for so many years, all by herself. I thought about how I had to perfect the art of gathering water, so that I could cook food for my children. And maybe someday I would ask my daughter to fetch water for me.
Because I had been daydreaming, I didn’t notice the man who was trying to get my attention. When I finally snapped back into reality, I jumped at his voice.
He was a friendly middle-aged man, who could not have been from the Maasai tribe because I didn’t recognize him. He had the darkest complexion I had ever seen, and his teeth were yellow and his clothes were dirty. Everyone’s teeth were yellow. Everyone’s clothes were dirty.
He smiled a big smile at me when I turned around. Laughing, he asked me if I needed any help fetching water. He said he could tell it was my first time, and that he could help me if I wanted.
Although I didn’t know the man, I was pleased by his offer. He was right, I had never done this before… at least on my own. And as he helped me fill up the bucket with water and take most of the sand and dirt out, he asked me my name and about my day.
“Naomi,” I said, smiling. “My name is Naomi.”
I told him that I was a member of the Maasai tribe and that my mother had asked me to fetch water for dinner tonight. He told me that I had better hurry up and get back before it got dark.
“Those woods are a dangerous place for a small girl like you,” he told me.
When we were finished filtering the water, I thanked him, put the bucket on top of my head, and began walking. I almost dropped the entire bucket of water when I tripped over a dense pile of wet sand. But I caught myself.
I heard him laughing from a distance, so I turned around and smiled nervously. I was embarrassed that he had seen me trip. Before I could make it to the section of tall grass and weeds, he asked me if I needed some company on the walk back.
“I’m headin’ that way, anyhow,” he told me with a smile.
As we walked, the sun began to set. It was getting chilly but I was all right. I was glad I had someone to talk to on the walk; the woods were so dark and cold, I would’ve been afraid to walk by myself. He offered to carry the bucket so I wouldn’t have to struggle with it. He told me I would get home faster that way, and he wanted to make sure I made it home safely.


I wiped the tears from my cheeks as I emerged from the darkness of the woods. My knees were bleeding. My body was aching. Time was going by so slowly. The bucket I had been carrying felt heavier than it ever had before; the water looked so clean, but I felt so dirty.
When I returned to the village, my mother was waiting; she had asked me to be careful, and I told her I was. She asked if I made it there and back okay. I said yes.
I no longer felt like myself. I no longer felt like an eight-year-old girl. I felt like a grown woman, in the worst sort of way.
There are no answers. There’s no reason why. I’m just another girl in Kenya. Just another story, another crime, another form of suffering left to be ignored.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Don't Cry for Me Africa

Don’t cry for me Africa
Because I will never let you out of my mind
I hear your voices people of Africa
I hear your cries people of Africa
I see pain in your eyes people of Africa
It is hard to describe what you people of Africa are going through
Poverty strikes you all people of Africa
Don’t cry for me Africa
Because I will keep you in my prayers people of Africa
Power to the people of Africa
People of Africa lift your spirit higher
Lord is the light and truth people of Africa
The Lord sends you a message from his heart to you people of Africa
He said because I love you
I will answer your prayers
I hear your prayers
Don’t cry for me Africa
Because you have a friend that is the Lord
People of Africa continue doing the Lords work
Make a wish people of Africa
The people of Africa are looking at the Lord face to face
Lord here is no paradise
We dream a little dream said the people of Africa to the Lord
The People of Africa Pray that the Lord will give each other strength every day
Don’t cry for me Africa
Save the people of Africa
Strengthened the people of Africa each day
Because I’ll be there in your dreams people of Africa
The people of Africa tells The Lord how much they love him
Don’t cry for me Africa
Lord comes when you are ready people of Africa
Feelings you have for your Lord People of Africa
And I know you will never let it die
Nothing but flowers the people of Africa will plant in the sea shore for the Lord
Don’t cry for me Africa
The people of Africa needs hope to heal there land
The Lord rose up on you people of Africa
Don’t cry for me Africa
My heart will go on
Once I close this door of the ship I will sail across the Atlantic Sea

-Aldo Kraas

Africa's Pain Is My Pain

Africa dear Africa
Your children are lonely and depressed
Africa dear Africa
Your children are at war with each other
Africa dear Africa
Your children are killing each other
Africa dear Africa
Your children are starving
Africa dear Africa
Your essence is pure but you are suffering
Africa dear Africa
Your pain is my pain
So i sit here crying.
-Ayanle Isak