Learning to overcome fear in Nairobi, Kenya

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Editor’s note: Clark resident Mary Walker volunteers at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre in Narok, Kenya. The center was built in 2002 to provide a safehouse for Maasai girls who have escaped or been rescued from female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage. Walker’s updates from Kenya appear periodically in the Steamboat Today.

I returned to the Rescue Centre last week in order to be here when four girls from Tasaru completed secondary school. This is my first opportunity to be with girls from the start as they begin the process of transitioning out of the center once they have completed high school. They need everything, including a mobile phone so that they have a means of communication; national ID cards; clothes; shoes and personal belongings; and then, of course, assistance with the lengthy process of trying to enter some type of post-secondary or vocational program so they can gain job skills. Most of these girls have never been inside a bank or a post office. Some don’t know their birth dates.

On Sunday, I took two of the girls to Nairobi. An older girl who transitioned out of the rescue center two years ago has a large ovarian mass requiring an ultrasound before surgery. So, needing to take her to Nairobi for that, I took these two along also. The other two girls out of secondary are not at the center (one has tuberculosis and had to be sent to an uncle’s house, and the other is not in from school yet).

After getting the ultrasound taken care of in a manner far quicker — and exponentially less expensive — than it would have been in the U.S., we had the full day to spend in Nairobi before heading back to Narok. The emotional atmosphere for these girls was, I think, quite similar to anyone’s discomfort with using the wrong fork at a dinner party. To say that these girls were totally out of their element would be an understatement. On our way driving to Nairobi, my friend/frequent driver Mr. Mbugua explained to the girls the rules of being in Nairobi — no throwing of trash on the ground, do not lean on city flower boxes in the city center, take care crossing streets and do not do so while talking on a cell phone. I couldn’t help but laugh, but I was also touched by his obvious (and long-standing) concern about the wellbeing of girls from Tasaru.

We went to the national museum, which is a wonderful place. With a background in anthropology, I particularly tend toward the amazing human skeletal remains from Kenya dating back millions of years. But the girls were much more interested in the snake farm that I agreed to only as an exercise in demonstrating that it is possible to do something you fear a lot. So now I know about this horrible snake in Kenya that literally jumps from tree to tree or to the ground. How’s that for your worst nightmare? And the biggest blob of pythons you can imagine. One of the girls, Caro, asked me if I would dream about it. She also mentioned that they have the jumping snake in her home area a lot. I’ll probably be going with her to her home in the next several weeks. I think I’ll stay around the manyatta (home) and not do too much roaming of the forest.

We went to a large supermarket/mall that had an elevator. I basically insisted that because I went to the snake farm, they had to ride “the lift.” It’s all about fear. Of course, they had never been in one before, and I’m not sure they ever will again.

Then I gave each of them the equivalent of about $25 to go to an open market where they could buy cheap clothes. Picture if you will an African flea market for a million people. I waited in the car with Mr. Mbugua so that they would not pay the “mzungu” (white person) prices. After three hours, they came back each laden with bags and bags of clothes, shoes, umbrellas, etc. These are the first truly personal belongings for these girls because at the center, all girls share all clothes and shoes. Meanwhile, I did take a minute to go to the food part of the market and bought enough avocados, mangos and sweet potatoes for all of the girls at the center — for the equivalent of $15. That was the mzungu price, of course, but I tried to barter a bit by saying the foods were for girls at a rescue center. That saved me a buck or two.

On the way home, we stopped in Maai Maahiu for meat — the love of every Maasai. There were fresh meat carcasses in every window. Nyama Choma (meat grilled over a fire) is my personal favorite, basically a dry barbecue, with a warm Coca-Cola. And a big chunk of uncooked meat to take back to the center for everybody tomorrow that is sitting out in my room as I write this. I think that the dog that comes around the center when all the girls are here can sense it’s in here, because he keeps eyeing my door.

But, for me, probably the best part of the whole incredible day was that it was raining in Narok when we got home. One of the water storage tanks that collects rainwater from the roof gutters was overflowing.

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