Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Boy with the Green Sweater
By Jen Huizen

A tug at my side,
I look down, a smile.

Tiny fingers reach out to grasp
the collar of a faded green sweater.

It is clearly a cast off
from another family member,

who wore it until the wool began to
beg for retirement, to be allowed
to separate once and for all.

Yet somehow it remains intact
keeping a tiny child warm,

while I stand beside him
in summer clothes and sandals.

He motions for me
to take his picture,

I bend down to his height
to show him the result.

Big eyes look at the screen,
tiny fingers once again grasp

at the collar of the sweater,
he looks at me with confusion.

Look at your nice green sweater!
I say

Green sweater?
he replies

I point to his chest
and then to the picture,

a look of utter delight.

Green sweater!
he exclaims.

I suddenly realize I am far
behind the group,

regretfully, I get up
we shake hands

and I begin to walk away.

I wonder if he found delight
in the word green

or the very idea
of seeing something

that belongs to him,
marvelled at by another.

I will never know
but it makes no difference.

We have shared
a simplistically happy moment.

Looking at the picture later,
I feel embarrassed to discover

I never even learned his name.

I wonder what
he will remember of me

the boy

with the faded
green sweater.

***Author's Note:
I wrote this during one of the visits we made to the schools sponsored in part by CIDA and twinned with a PEI school (Carolyn's work). While Melaine Boyd and crew were getting a talk about the new high efficient (and most importantly) low smoke cookers, (coal cooking or open fire cooking was contributing to a lot of lung disease), my eyes were beginning to water so I stepped outside. The schoolyard was desolate, save one very small little boy, sitting alone in the middle of the playground. He sat, legs crossed, in the pure dust, picking at the edges of this tattered green sweater. He was quick to get up and came over to me while I was trying to take a photo of one of the classrooms, tugging at my shirt. He pointed to the camera and did a posed smile a few times before I clued in he wanted his picture taken. He didn't understand to look at the camera (in the first shot) and I perfectly was able to capture how I had first seen him from a distance, enthralled with the sweater. I showed him the picture but he didn't recognize it and kept pointing to the camera and smiling again. I put my finger on the playback screen of the camera, then put it on his chest. "Your green sweater" I said, over and over, until he finally had a shot of enlightenment and his eyes became huge. He was thrilled and now understood entirely how to have his photo taken, running a few feet away from me and posing as you see in the image following the poem. All of the sudden I turned to see where my group had gone, to find them out of the cookhouse and no where to be seen. Far off I could see them posing themselves for a photo at the gates of the school and realized I needed to catch up. We shook hands goodbye but forever I will be left to wonder about the boy with the green sweater. Where did it come from? Was it from someone he admired and that was why he loved it, or was it a gift, making it so special. Or was it simply, as many things here in rural Kenya appear to be, a source of joy simply in being a possession. Everywhere you see shoes and cheap clothing but the actual amount people owns seems to be very limited and shoes often are not even worn on many of the farms we visit. However on the road you'll find countless broken sandals and torn up shirts, abandoned, probably used by many individuals before being left on the side of the road to finally retire. I am told here everything is initially cheap, imported from China and the likes, but shows it price in quality, often breaking within a few months of purchase. This gives me some form of an explanation as to why half way through surveying an old woman farmer I will look down and realize she's wearing something like a "Minnie Mouse, born wild" shirt, depicting Mrs. Mouse clad in leather, riding a Harley and wearing a dog collar, or other (to me) extremely strange clothing. More than once I have been stuck in the position, trying not to stare, or laugh. Priscilla our translator, has become wise to when I am trying not to laugh and her standing behind the woman imitating the shirt or herself, breaking out in laughter, makes in none to easy to finish the questions in any reasonable time frame. I asked the girls (Syvlia and Pauline, our U of Nairobi counterparts) about whether people even knew what they meant. They responded, probably not and even if they did, clothing is clothing. Clothing is clothing, what a strange concept for us as North Americans. Even children in community housing will toss out a shirt if it's not a name brand and often when my mother worked as a guidance counsellor in some of the rougher neighbourhoods in and around Halifax, I would find her students wearing more expensive clothing than my own (be it ripped off from a truck or whatnot, regardless the sentiment is the same). While this poem is but a brief moment of my time here in Kenya, it is one I am not liable to forget. Thank you to the boy with the green sweater, I will probably not look at the clothing on the side of the road here in the same way again. I walked away from him that day a bit confused over what in specific he was most interested in during our transaction, but since have come to find that is of no consequence, for our moment together represents one in the time continuum of my experiences here in Kenya, which continue to build on my understanding of the people here.

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