Day 350: The Shoes We Wear

by claire a. williams,

Of the 170 children who live full time at Tumaini Children's Center, only one child is Sick. Sick, of course, is the stealth euphemism for HIV positive used widely around here. At seven years old, and the height of my thigh, this particular girl is the youngest and the smallest. However, she is deeply wise.

We know this because the first time we saw her, in her oversized hooded sweatshirt that comes to her knees in the overheated Central Kenyan 80 degree weather, Lara made the astute comment that she looked just like Yoda from Star Wars. Which is true. So now we call her that, and she looks at us and laughs, even though she does not know who Yoda is or what Star Wars is. And although the Swahili vocabulary lesson I had today would lead one to believe that a sick person is only a sick person (as it is one word in Swahili, and not the combination of a noun and an adjective like in English), Yoda is more than just Sick. Like Wise, as I said. And Upbeat.

But because we humans are surprised when people act like more than the one main characteristic we attribute to them, Lara and I were surprised to learn that Yoda was Upset today. It was as we walked to lunch with a Peace Corps official who was here on a site visit to determine if Tumaini Children's Center should be a new site for one of the Peace Corps' fifty Kenyan volunteers that we saw her with her face scrunched up and sad. Many older girls surrounded her, and everyone was talking quickly and importantly in Kikuyu.

Over the course of the afternoon, an afternoon filled with making a tin can telephone (you must stretch the string VERY tightly) and affirming exactly 170 times that, yes, today was a running day (even though there are large signs up), we learned what was going on.

In sum, Yoda's father is a Bad Man and he had come to Tumaini today to see Yoda. Indeed, we learned later that he was apparently the emaciated person sitting outside our apartment all afternoon calling us Stephanie. Although the "us" he was referring to as "Stephanie" was/were actually Lara and Claire, in a way we are Stephanie to him, since Stephanie is the other female Mzungu (white person) at Tumaini.

Because one person can have many different roles, on top of being a Bad Man, Yoda's father he is also a Sick Man, and he is also the only living parent of Yoda. And, because even a Sick, Bad Man loves people, he loves Yoda and wanted to see her. And so he did, but maybe not in the way he wanted to see Yoda, because there were many of us around, and the Matrons were looking on, and maybe he felt that Yoda was not being purely Yoda like.

Long after all this had happened, we went running (minus Yoda, of course, who doesn't run in favor of having hot milk in the afternoons). And like every run here, I served an entirely different role, and appeared to indeed be an entirely different runner, depending on the minute in the particular run. Today, for instance, I spent the first thirty minutes holding the hands of tiny girls. For the second thirty minutes, I acted as doctor to the true medical emergency of a fall (the girl who got hit by the bike the other day was falling today), and then a hand splinter as the result of said fall. For the third thirty minutes, I sang inappropriate Carrie Underwood (I ain't in Checotah anymore) at the top of my lungs and hit the backs of the slowest 19 year old girls to get them to move faster up the hills. Finally, for the last thirty minutes I sprinted to catch one of our speedsters and then did this horrendous loop with just her during which I thought I needed to seriously evaluate the whole running thing because I actually really, really hated it.

And although every day I usually have some thought like, "Is this me?" in regards to the fact that I am a marathon running "coach" of sorts here and never could have possibly dreamed such a thing, today I had a different thought. Instead, I started thinking a lot about how it is probably one of the luckiest things in the world to be today an entirely different person than I was last year.

Even though none of this life business is a full circle, sometimes parts of it are. Like today, when, at the end of my run, I realized that the speed demon who had made me hate running today, and who is training for the whole 42 kilometers with me and Lara, was actually running in the very shoes I trained for and ran my first marathon in one year ago this month in Madrid. I just didn't recognize them anymore, because she had cleaned them up so well since I had put them in the shoe donation bag in February.

But more than just not being able to recognize your own self (or your own shoes) a whole year later, is the real blessing in this idea: that if you are lucky you can see in your life the chance to be a whole new, different person each and every day. It sounds big, because it is, and it also sounds easy, because usually big and hard things sound easy. Like many people, I surely want to do this more. Because I believe that if we can find a way to do this, to wake each morning wearing new shoes – or the shoes of another – and constantly give ourselves new paths to tread on, we may actually get somewhere.


joy said...

Thank you - what a beautiful post. I'm a regular reader of your blog, and just wanted to let you know how touched I am by this entry.

alphawoman said...

Wonderful entry. I read every one of your entries and have watched the two of you grow over the year.

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