On this trip I often learned that I had to trust in the moment that the next piece would fall into place, I had to trust people I barely knew with my life and my health, I had to trust that I was being asked serve at times not knowing the final outcome.
I tended to sit near the front on of van each day since even on paved roads the ride could make you nauseous. Jennifer and I were chatting away when I look out the window and see a large black tractor truck barreling towards us in our lane. By this point, I am getting used to our driver, Patrick swerving around people and animals, at times places were the road was washed out. Several days into the daily drive over a giant mountain on a dirt road with no safety rail as gas trucks were passing us it didn't even phase me.
On that Tuesday all I remember is screaming and we are swerving into the shoulder and I hear and feel the sound of air swoosh past my open window just seconds after the truck passed still in our lane. Thankfully Patrick swerved without hitting animals, people walking sometimes even laying beside the road. He didn't hit women in their open air markets or throngs of kids in school uniforms walking along the road. Of all the places he had to run off the road, he did so without hurting anyone. Patrick was visibly shaken and remarked later that night that we came very, very close to a full on head on collision.
But we didn't, because August 8th was meant to be.
Rewind back to the planning meeting Jennifer and I are having with one of our trip leaders when I ask, "do the kids have a picture of themselves, do they know what they look like?" Too bad the Polaroid picture is about as obsolete as a rotary phone. Just as I say this, TJ pulls out the next generation of instant developing camera and our final activity comes together.
We used the scripture about how God has made everyone different and knows everything about us. We opted to make snowflakes to symbolize our differences. Why snowflakes? The kids have studies snow and can even see snow on far away mountains, but have never experienced it. Plus we needed something to hold a picture that we would take of each of them with the camera.
Want to see pure joy? Watch children first looking at pictures of themselves for the first time. Help a child unfold a snowflake piece by piece and watch their face in amazement. Both were surreal experience and I wanted to simply sit back absorbing every bit of goodness that was unfolding layer by layer.
But something else happened and pulled me away from the pictures and snowflakes. Siprin came and found me and lead me by the hand to her classroom. She wanted to show me her work and where she sat in her standard 5 classroom. In front of her notebook was a handwritten calendar by year and month of how many days she had attended school. Sadly there were months marked, "zero." My heart is breaking for this girl, who has so much potential but yet handicapped by circumstance.
She read for me some of her lessons, tells me about subjects and topics she likes. She told me how she tries to come to school as much as she can, but is needed at home to help with her deceased sister's three year old now in their care. She is one of 7 children and in her quiet way she told me wants to go to secondary school. I told her that Beatrice knows she is a good student and is working hard to be at school as much as she can.
About 30 minutes before we were to start a closing ceremony Beatrice came over with an older man and lady and introduced them as Siprin's parents. Siprin as well as other siblings and the 3 year old quickly came over and asked to take a family picture. Beatrice helped translate and we took a few moments to dote on Siprin as a good student who we all wanted to go on in her education. Beatrice explained what "sponsorship" meant and the expression of gratitude turned into a giant hug from her mom.
Her mother asked me about my family and I shared with her I had given Siprin when we met for the first time, a pictures of my family including my brother. When she asked about my parents, I answered they were deceased. I never let on that today was in fact the one year anniversary of my mom's death. In the days leading up to the trip I prayed that whatever was to come to get through that day would make itself known, even in the smallest measure.
And it did.
Her mother exclaimed, "you will also be our daughter for what you are giving from your heart for our family. We want to pray over you and thank you." Her mom held my hands in hers and I will never know exactly what she was praying in their native dialect of Swahili, but it didn't matter. It was everything I needed to hear on that day to know that even in death my mom was with me still. Siprin and her mom walked me over to the start of the closing celebration and the three year old climbed in my lap as the ceremony began.
There was drumming, dancing, shouting all to the accompaniment of a storm that we could see rolling in from the distance. For the next 15 or so minutes the clouds got darker, the wind picked up so much at times those giving good bye speeches including a representative from the school, the elders, Abraham, our beloved 410 Guide, had to almost scream to be heard over the coming storm.
Then as more dancing and drumming began to close the celebration we were presented with gifts. That would be when I totally lost it and began sobbing as Siprin and her mom come to me and take off the hat I had worn all week and replaced it with one they had made as well as a handmade basket as gifts for my family.
While I had heard that gifts were part of the celebration and that even if you knew that the Michuran people could make money instead for their family by selling them in the Kisumu markets, to accept all gifts with open arms. It was truly giving you a piece of themselves as remembrance of your brief time in their village.
The celebration is cut short as a quick prayer is offered because the storm has now reached the village and it is raining. Not just raining, but pouring rain like some type of prophecy. Siprin is holding my hand and now both she and I are soaking wet as we as we make the last trip down the path to the van.
I hug her goodbye and choke out that I will see her again.
On August 8th, 2011 I asked what the other side of living without my mom would look like going forward. I had no idea that the small piece of a the bigger picture lie thousands of miles away with a 12 year old Kenyan girl and her family, all now part of my extended family.
I think about that last day in Michura and cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am that I didn't bail on going on the trip when I realized the overlapping dates. I cannot begin to tell you how much over the past year, Sunday by Sunday, I've let go of grief and pain over my mom's death as well as found ways to celebrate her life.
What I would not do to tell her in person of the amazing 5 days spent half a world away with these joyous and pure in heart Kenyans. I know on some level she knows because she was part of that rainstorm as well as the blessings bestowed on my by Siprin's family.