Sunday, August 22, 2010

Day 30: Maggie

It took me awhile to get used to the number of people coming in and out of my old house. For starters, in my first year I was frequently exhausted by the time I got home - both physically from walking my feet off and navigating Nairobi rush hour and emotionally from new situations and cultural realities on a daily basis. Because of Rotary I was also constantly meeting rooms full of people and I've long had the sense walking around town or entering parties that there are plenty of people I'm passing that I've met before, if only I could place the face.

My last house was home to an organization with roughly 12 staff members but on top of those common faces at school breaks we'd have a variety of students that my housemate Megan supported show up for visits, work (for school fees or pocket money) or to stay and study. Maggie was one of these students who I met a couple times last year but didn't get to know until this year when she came to stay for a few weeks. I've written about the ordeal she went through trying to get her birth certificate and ID card in order to meet the new regulation that no child can be enrolled in school without them. She was sitting next to me watching a movie when our neighbor was murdered, and we got to spend a lot of time together during that time which was personally stressful for her and unsettling for our household as a whole.

Maggie has become a friend and a bit of a teacher to me. She has told me of her experience during the post election violence, about growing up in a combination of Mathare slum and the HCI children's home. Of being sidelined by pneumonia during her upper class years in high school, and then again this year as she prepared for the coming exams that will determine her academic fate. Her performance will dictate whether she gets a treasured spot in the public University system with fees paid - but less than 10% do.

Sometimes when we're together I find myself studying the contours of her face to see if I can find marks of the life she's lived. She is a teenager and a woman, a child and a teacher, a friend and a dependent.

Maggie came over for a sleepover on Friday night and yesterday when we parted I realized it was my first goodbye. She goes back to school tonight and will be there through her exams in October. I will see her when I return in the Spring (and she'll be a graduate!) but I won't see her before I leave.

Late last night as I tossed and turned I got a text from Maggie on a borrowed phone saying goodbye and thanking me for my friendship. Like so many things I have learned here this relationship has deepened my persective of friendship, my understanding of how to give someone love that needs it, and how to receive love when I need it. I'm so thankful for this beautiful young woman and the time we spent building a friendship this year.

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