Saturday, September 15, 2007

At least there are some names that I DO know

I think hearing Ato G.'s story of dying girls left me feeling a bit of survivor guilt.

There's something about the nature of the type of travel I do in developing countries that makes me feel a little voyeuristic. I wander from village to village, get access to their homes, their schools, and their farms, they let me take pictures of their lives, I take a few notes for some stories and for my journal, but then I return home to my comfortable North American life, and they are left with the pain that I cannot share.

A lot of times - like the case of the young girls in the Afar region - I don't even get a chance to ask many of their names. It all happens so quickly and many of them don't speak English, so I leave feeling like I haven't really learned who they are. I am an observer. A watcher. I take back their stories, and I try to honour them the best way I know how, but I can never really be part of their pain.

While I was sitting with that thought yesterday, a little gift fell in my lap - just the kind of moment I needed to remind myself that I am doing the best I can, and that sometimes real connections do happen.

Daniel has recently arrived from Kenya. He's working in our office as an international intern this year. He'll be traveling across Canada, connecting with youth in schools and churches and sharing his story of growing up with hunger. You only need to look at his grin to know that it is not hard to fall in love with Daniel. He's got a bright light shining in him and I'm lucky to be close enough to be touched by it.
Daniel sat in my office yesterday, and I showed him my pictures of Kenya. In earlier conversation, I'd found out that he'd grown up in one of the regions I'd traveled in a few years ago. As I flipped through the pictures, his eyes lit up when he spotted familiar landmarks and even some faces that he recognized.

Then we got to this picture, and he burst out laughing.
"THAT'S MY SISTER!" he nearly shouted. Sure enough - this is his younger sister Agnes.

I remember Agnes. We were sitting at the table under the acacia tree on the farm where we'd tented the night before. It was the afternoon, between outings, and I'd found a shady spot to rest. I remember how she approached me and, in a bold yet quiet way, sat down close enough to brush her shoulder up against mine. It was clear that she wanted to be my friend.

The older women were busy cooking food for us on the open fire pit, but Agnes and one or two other young women clearly had other ideas in mind. They wanted to befriend these Canadian visitors. She sat down and we talked. For nearly an hour. She told me about her life. She was a school teacher, teaching in a village some distance from her family. She boarded with another family in the village. She talked about her family, and I'm sure she even told me about Daniel, though I had no inkling at the time that I'd meet him some day.

I am so glad that I remember Agnes, and that I can learn of her life two and a half years later. I cannot name the other girls in my last post, but somehow, remembering Agnes makes me feel a little less sad.

And I am even more glad that I get to spend the upcoming year getting to know Daniel.


andrea said...

Thanks, Heather. That was the perfect post to wake to on a Sunday morning. I love coincidences/synchronicities like that.

Karmyn R said...

What heartwarming story! This is just another instance that shows how small our world really is!

Anonymous said...

That is TOO cool.

Pamela said...

isn't that six degrees of separation.. but in this instance ONLY TWO!

Makes you aware of how you should always leave GRACE... because you never know when you'll need it in return

Liz said...

What a truly amazing coincidence!

Judy said...

Heather, you have the COOLEST life!

Gina said...

They are both so full of spirit and so beautiful.

What a lovely story!

Lucia said...

Oh, I know this so well. Just today we had a discussion about newsletter photo captions and how we really should be using names more.

I've been reading Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. (If you haven't read it, I'd recommend it.) I've been thinking about women in Somalia, and how even though I have much more exposure to people around the world than some others (and feel very privileged), I still will never ever know what it's like to live there.

Hope said...

Everytime I see these photos i wonder about their lives, their stories, it is so nice to fill in those blanks.