The most painful thing about this adventure so far has been that I have to move on just as I’ve built the trust and have started to call that place my home. This usually means that I have endless amounts of new beginnings. The underside to that is that I have to start all over again from scratch. Share the same stories, crack the same jokes, watch them gasp at how long my hair is and how much Kiswahili I’ve picked up in such a short while. It’s all good. I smile but sometimes they seem put on. Dealing with adults can be exasperating.

This is when I just grab my camera and run to the school. I have 200 children bound to give me wings. The camera is a great icebreaker. Every person who volunteers will find this out. Children, no matter which continent they are from, make something as regular as photos seem magical and soon you’re carrying that sparkle in your eye too. The magic tinted glasses that children see through – it’s contagious.

Many of these children are first generation students. These dorms hold unbelievable stories many of which have made me unabashedly bawl my eyes out. Since sharing 200 stories will make you bawl your eyes out too (though for totally different reasons which may or may not have to do with the length of said post if I was to write it!), I will share 2 which really, really captured my imagination.

One is of a Maasai girl called Nyanja. When you look at her, you know right away that she is Maasai. She’s got all the features of the Nomadic Clan – the big eyes, the largish head, the skin tone. She sticks out and is easily recognisable and for that she will always be picked to showcase. Even the children introduced her to me before they introduced themselves “My name is Nyanja” (This is a really funny thing, none of the younger kids can say her or his. They say ‘my name is’ while introducing anyone. You can imagine my immense confusion in the beginning!) “She is Maasai”. I refused to react like everyone else – with gasps and prods and photos. I have spent enough time with the Maasai to know how targeted they feel and how pressurised they are to play the roles people have imagined for them. I smiled and asked each one of them what tribe they came from – Chagga, Nyaturu etc (everyone belongs to a tribe and have a separate language used to communicate with clansmen) and soon it was forgotten. But I made a mental note to ask around for her story.

Her mother is 17 but a very brave woman. In the Maasai tribe, when the girl is born, an eligible male walks in the house and declared her as his chosen wife. The first man to do this gets the bride and some men are as old as 40 or more. So the girl has no choice. The mother of Nyanja refused to allow this to happen to her daughter and sent her daughter to this school instead. The tribe raged and ostracised her and her daughter but she says that she is finally happy. I can’t wait to meet and give her a hug. I can’t imagine her life will be easy. Disowned by her own tribe and by the regular tribes because of the way she looks. I hope she accomplishes things like no other Maasai before her but I hope that in all the things life will throw her way, she will be her own woman.

The other girl that I am really, really fond off is Krishna. At first I thought she was a li’l boy because of the name and well, she was wearing pants. I learnt that in Africa women always wear skirts or gowns and that’s how I distinguished male and female back in Mkiwa. The problem is that they all cut their hair so short; it really is hard to tell the difference. She is an Indian on account of her father (Gujarati) but her mother is African. The father fell in love with her and married her. For this he got kicked out of his family and fortune. Gujarati’s mostly only marry within their tribes and to marry an African is an unthinkable offence. The wife was also shown the door because he was an Indian (Indian’s have not made a very good impression here – known as rich exploiters and racists – which I’m sure is true) and also because he didn’t pay the dowry for her hand in marriage.

Krishna, like Nyanja, is visibly different because she’s a lovely shade of brown and has the most beautiful, most heartbreaking smile. I have many times stopped short of rushing to her and grabbing her in a never let you go hug. I imagine how lonely it can get being so different from the rest of the 200. The one time she looked at me and had a tear in her eye, my heart fell to the floor. It’s never been the same since.

I don’t know how these children do it. They have no choice but to stay here but every day they are smiling and laughing and inventing toys and games and conquering the world. I feel every inch of the rich spoilt city girl that I am but they’ve changed me in a way I didn’t think possible. They all leave for Christmas on the 4th. I’m going to miss them so much but I will be moving on to another new beginning too. Next week I’m in Rombo – a home for rescued children (2 months – 3 years old) where I will play Mommy for a while (OH MAN!)

Cheers to the rollercoaster that is life!

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