Friday, July 20, 2012
A Child walks behind me
too shy to say hello.
I slow my pace
I focus on her face
I smile and say "ney-et-ea"
but still she stalks behind me
quickening her stride with mine
staying at a distance
content to follow for now.
I let her go on
and don't pressure her with words
in the hot midday sun
we two animals
track one another
in different ways.
A child walks behind me
us both eyes forward
will stay at a distance
*Author's Note:For those of you avid followers of the blog, you'll know that since the start, I have marvelled at children's response to me upon arriving here in Kenya in early May. Honestly, I have never found myself writing so much about children. Their response is either shock (and subsequent run), wonder (but a bit of fear), terror, complete excitement or laughter. This was my experience in the first few visits to farms with children but then slowly, as my visits to the farms began to become frequent, I would catch these rare moments of what seem to me, a mixture of all these initial reactions. They would pose with me for a picture, maybe allow a hug, but for the most part, I would end up with photos were I'm looking at them and smiling and they are looking at me (for sure) but with a variety of reactions. Some were still frightened, some would finally smile, a lot would reach out to touch me but that was enough contact for them. I will admit that some of these feelings were reciprocal on my own part. Even at the end of the project (these last few weeks rather) I was still a bit hesitant to approach some of these children and ask their parents if a photo would be ok.
My confidence grew in this respect when Morgan and I attended the Bombas in Nairobi. A little girl in a beautiful headscarf sat directly across from me and many times throughout the various dance performances I would let my eyes drift to her and find her returning my gaze. Of course we'd both look away, I felt badly for staring and she probably was a bit fearful of me. Finally, during the intermission I got up the courage to go over and shake her hand. No smile, I was concerned, what do I do know? Luckily a man was sitting beside her (most likely a teacher, or as it turned out, guardian) and he began the conversation. He explained to me that she'd be admiring my hair from across the auditorium, I responded that I had actually been admiring her absolutely gorgeous headscarf. He told her this, finally, a smile, be it partial and discrete, more of a smile to herself really than directed towards me. He also explained to me that she was a Somali refugee, parentless, who had arrived in Kenya only six months previously and that she was suffering from tuberculosis. She was experiencing some difficulties acclimatizing to Kenya culturally, religiously and due to her sickness and trauma filled experience in Somalia. This moment of admiration for her, he told me, would be one she cherished. I asked if we could have a photo together. He looked like he was a bit anxious of how this would go. He paused and bit his lip a bit, uh oh, I had overstepped. He turned to her, leaned in and kind of whispered something to her. She turned to me, a true smile, right at me. She leaned forward in her chair and put her arms out to hug me. I smiled. I hadn't overstepped. The man asked if he could take the picture, I took his chair and the result was the photo seen at the top of the page. My favourite of the trip for sure. A moment which truly represented both the anxiety on my part and her's, the thing I had been fearful of from the start. Never had I wanted to feel like anyone was having their picture taken only for it to become a thing mzungus gawked at, or looked at and said "Oh look at these poor little children". For me, these photos were meant to capture something that I had experienced as well as the children in the photos, a first meeting, a second of understanding on both our parts, or a true leap of faith.
As a result of my experience with this beautiful girl, I managed the courage to finally ask some of my favourite farmer's for a photo with their children. I also managed to get a shot with our translator's (and friend, Priscilla) children when we visited their home for lunch. As I looked for photos to accompany this poem, suddenly all I could find was photos of children and I. Everywhere on my computer and Morgan's there was exactly the kind of photos this poem mean to express, so here they stand. Sometimes, we forget or overlook the courage it takes for both parties to embark on these type of encounters, which I hope to haves illustrated through this poem. Please enjoy the photos and take a moment to think about how foreign these seemingly normal photos can be.
Thanks as always,
Pictures from top:
*"Somali girl and I" at the Bombas, Nairobi.
* Farm 26, "The truly terrified" - this girl never got used to our presence regardless of the frequency, this last week I finally decided to give it a shot, Morgan took two photos and this was the result.
* " A group shot" - while visiting a local historical site outside of Nairobi (a place we later realized is primarily meant for Kenyans not outside tourists, although we enjoyed it greatly and were welcomed with great enthusiasm) we were tracked down through shouts of delight by a group of local high school girls. They desperately wanted a picture with these "pretty white girls" to put on Facebook, sure it would be "totally awesome" and get many "likes". We all shared a laugh over it, and how many shots we all took to get the perfect one. The picture above was with the girl who wanted to be the only black girl in the photo (her words not mine) so that her friends would be like "Oh sh**, look at this brownness between two whities" :) She also took a few shots to make sure her gansta lean was correct (hence me trying not to laugh).
* Farm 22 "A reach" this girl was not all together frightened of me, I'd say she fell more under the category of wonder mixed with a bit of fear. She was keen to touch me but not much beyond.
* "Priscilla's boys"
* "Utter excitement", we were often greeted by the school children outside of Farm 34, who always found some excuse to get out of class to come shake our hands. "How are you?" they'd shot with an instant response on their part of "I'm fine". This falls under the category of utter excitement for sure. They never got less excited over seeing us, even over the months of visits, and often followed us down to the farm, to marvel at what the heck we were doing. This resulted in many hilarious moments between us, culminating in a soap battle between myself and about ten 11-12 year old girls. They wanted to touch my skin, so I got them back by chasing them down and covering them with soap while scrubbing down before I left the farm. Later, Priscilla told me they found this funny, but one girl had been very upset that maybe the whiteness I had given her would be permanent (from the soap). Ha.
*"Michelle" the next few shots are of the cutest little girl imaginable, Michelle, at Farm 36. During our farm photo in nearly every picture she's staring at me, so finally I decided a closer encounter was fitting.