Africa Journal #5, Mission Accomplished

Tayria and Esther, January 6, 2012

Unexpectedly, my connection to internet has gone dark for the last days. Expect the unexpected in Africa, surely I am learning this. This is Monday night. The last days have been a world of experience which I intend to write about going forward, but for now I want to report on the events of last Friday.

Finally I got to go to Drugfighters, the orphanage and school that Esther attends. I could feel the swelling emotion and anticipation as we traveled to it. Entering, I encountered a dramatically altered site from the one that I had worked at in June of 2010. It was then a stench filled little dirt plot lined on one side by edifices made of wood frames with tin siding that were the classrooms. Piles of mud and and rock constituted the playground. Today there are structures, still of wood and tin, but solid, with tile floors and several more classrooms, clean dormitory rooms for the residents, a library room and a staff room. Given where we were, in Kibera, the place is a palace, and a miracle. I noticed the children looking healthier, less fog and film in their eyes, more clearness, calmness; their hair and skin showing signs of nutrients they had not been receiving before. All of this is due to the efforts of their lioness founder, Agnes Musau and her assistant Martha Muiriri, and also to the efforts of Carter Via and Cross Cultural Thresholds who raised the funds and have brought volunteers over the course of this time to build the facility.

I was very moved as we were given the tour after arriving. Peeping into the classrooms, my eyes scanned each little sea of faces looking for Esther, not finding her. My heart began to sink a little and for the first time it hit me that maybe I had come all of this way and might not see her. I hadn’t allowed myself to think it before.

They called an all-school assembly to greet us the visitors who had come with Carter, who they obviously and for good reason adore. We were seated in a row of chairs at the front, with all of the children gathered in the courtyard to sing and perform for us. Martha arrived just then, and as I hugged and greeted her I asked about Esther. She said she would go ask her teacher. So, as we sat there just before the assembly began a tiny little girl was brought through the crowd and up to the front to stand in front of my chair. She was flooded with emotion and barely knew what to do with her face or body. I cried and said, “Esther, I came to see you!”

The program was just then beginning so they made a seat for her right next to me. We sat, my arm around her, both of us smiling broadly, and crying on and off, all through the performances by the children and greeting speeches by faculty and Carter. Then came the time to introduce us, the visitors. Martha said to the assembly, “There is someone here who is a special friend to Esther. Esther, can you introduce her?” She got up in front of the whole school, so tiny and shy, and said almost inaudibly, “She is Tayria.” Martha asked her to please say it louder! After about three repetitions she finally spoke with enough volume. As I addressed the children briefly Esther held her arm up to her eyes to wipe the tears and melted back into the crowd to take her place among her classmates.

Sometime later I was able to sit in a private room with Esther while Martha translated. We were all full of emotion, and Esther and I were moist-eyed throughout. Though she speaks mainly Swahili, Esther does know some English. These words came clearly to me from her in English – “I love you, and in my whole life I will never forget you.” This little girl has a hard time looking straight in the eyes because she is so shy, but she overcame it and looked directly into my eyes as she spoke, and often throughout our little meeting.

I asked her about her Mother, (who is HIV positive and had been deathly ill last time I was there) and her family. I asked about her friendships, her health, how she has been feeling. I told Esther about how I came to be with her, that I had wanted to come and many people had contributed to help make it possible. That made her cry, and she said softly, this also in English, “Please tell them I love them and thank you.” I am not making this up. This little girl said these words to me. I could barely believe her presence of mind and clearness, and the perfection of her response. It still seems like a miracle.

We only spoke for a half an hour or more, and then had long hugs good-bye. The scarf that I had been wearing which both of us used to wipe our eyes, I wrapped around her neck. This time I did not promise to come back, and I don’t believe she expected it. We both seemed to understand something so complete about this moment.

I don’t know if I can say “mission accomplished” with as much clarity as this about anything else I have ever done in my life. It is the rarest of feelings for me. This trip, this mission, this love and the return seem like possibly the most important thing I have ever done, after giving birth to my daughters. I do not even remotely understand why. There was something so real, so genuinely, simply real about it.

My heart seizes with strong emotion when I think about the people who responded so generously with contributions to help me achieve this mission. I had sent letters to each of them with self-addressed envelopes inside and a feather, offering for them to write down their wishes or prayers which I would then bring to Mother Africa, to burn their private thoughts in a fire here and spread the ashes of it on the soil; the feathers then to be released into the winds so that they can act as prayer flags as they are carried about.

Our whole group joined me in the fire ceremony that night. They looked on as each of the letters I brought went into the fire, and then they added writings of their own. After this all of the feathers were released.

There is much more to tell, even about this day, and about the astonishingly remarkable days since, but I will stop for now. My heart is full. Thank you, to all who have supported me in this journey and to the sweet, kind universe for making it happen so deliciously.

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