The second day I was back in Kenya, I was driving into town and came across a group of local girls who were walking to town. Now Im normally not one to take the dangerous option of picking up hitchhikers especially teenage girls, but considering that they had an hour long walk ahead of them and it would take 15 minutes by car, I decided to live a little and take a risk.
It turns out the girls were students at St. Francis Secondary school in Dol Dol. The same school Joyce and Lekerimba attend. I asked them if they knew the girls and if they could tell them hello for me. They responded that they did, and they would say hello.
The next day at 8 am I was walking by the gate and I saw a girl staring at me smiling. I had no idea who she was, so I smiled politely and walked by. Ten minutes later I walked by again, going back to my house. The smiling face was still there, so I smiled again and continued to walk by. I heard a muffled voice proclaim “Matt!” and turned around and walked closer. It was Joyce looking much older and more radiant than I had ever seen, with the biggest smile on her face. I approached her ready for one of her limp-wristed greeting and was met with a bear hug.
“I have missed you so much,” she said. “I have just been praying that you would return here safely, and here you are!”
It was Joyce…but not at all the Joyce I remembered. That Joyce wouldn’t talk, wouldn’t smile and definitely wouldn’t hug me. This Joyce wouldn’t STOP smiling. Later I was to find out, she wouldn’t stop talking either.
“One of my friends from school came to visit me and told me that I was greeted by a certain Mzungu and I knew it must be you!”
I asked her to make a list of things that we needed to get before school started next week and hand it to me. She sat there for a long while. After ten minutes had passed I asked to see her list. Her smile showed her embarrassment, as she walked to me and put the list in my hand.
The list said: “Money for shopping”
I tried to stop myself from laughing out loud, but I am pretty sure I failed. “I know you need money for shopping,” I said, “I need to know WHAT you will be shopping for.”
She shyly looked away and whispered “you know, there are some things that girls need.”
The cultural differences on this subject are great, so I tried to convey to her that she could treat me as though I was family. I understand though that even between male and female family members some of these feminine issues remain taboo. Because of these reasons I was very pleased when she finally handed me a list that included “under garments” and “feminine napkins”.
We agreed to meet the next day to go shopping and I bid her farewell. Five minutes later I walked by again and there was Joyce standing at the gate blushing. I walked closer to her and when I finally got to whisper distance she said to me, “My grandmother has invited you to come to our house, will you come?”
“How far away is your house?” I asked her.
“Just over this hill”
45 minutes later I am hiking through completely uninhabited hillside with Joyce by my side shooting out questions for me. “How was your trip to the United States?” She asked, “How are your nephews?” “Please tell me about your Aunt and the rest of your family.” “Do you think one day I will be able to visit the United States?” “Why are you not married?”
“-good question,” I began, and was about to explain that in order to get married you need to find a partner who is willing to be with you.
“If it were not for you, I would be married,” Joyce said, in a matter of fact matter
“What do you mean?” I asked, not understanding.
“Last year when I met you,” she started, “I was in a very bad place, I was very sad, and everyone said that if I was unable to go to school that I must marry a certain old man.” Arranged marriages are very common amongst the Maasai, and if a family is unable to take care of a girl the marriages often happen at a young age, oftentimes even younger than Joyce, who is 17. I was not aware that Joyce was to be married off. “My grandmother does not like the man, so she said that I could just stay at home, even though there would not be enough food.”
Just then we reached a clearing and saw her family in the clearing. “Ah, here we are, they will be so happy to see you!”
(Joyce's family in the clearing)
I came into the clearing and greeted Joyce's family. It was her Grandmother and her Uncle's wife and children, and another elderly woman who she said was related to her in some way or another. The older people did seemed pleased to meet me, but the babies were visibly afraid of me. It is likely they had never seen a mzungu before.
(Joyce's family, baby clearly not happy to see me)