(circa the beginning of November 2016)
A little over a year ago, I went on a school trip to rural Kenya. It was a beautiful, though very misguided, time in my life. I was in starvation, and in denial. Yet it was a period of great change. I dove under the layers of perception and discovered some of the closest friends I’ve ever had. While living off the dwindling pile of coals my body and mind had become, I was validated by two names. One of them is “la tzigane,” or “gypsy” in French, a fond inside joke created by my French teacher. She thought I looked like a gyspy with my dark hair and anklets and red, Indian-looking sarong.
I sit in the back of an old truck now, wrapped in the same white and crimson fabric. I’m not starving anymore, and I haven’t been for a long time. We’re on our way to a Pembroke parent’s house to sell some artisan crafts. Partnered with Restart is a coalition of women who make jewelry and leather goods to boost the overarching charity. We’re helping them at a booth today.
We drive through the rocky, dusty streets of Gilgil. The wind is in my hair, whipping the tasseled ends of my sarong so that it snags. The other volunteers and I are wedged between a table, several buckets of handmade goods, and various jewelry stands. We racket away from town and into an expanse of acacia groves, crisscrossed by hedges, dotted with colonial houses and sweeping driveways.
I am a little nervous today. I haven’t yet decided what I am doing at Restart, or why I am here. I’m trying to make a good impression, to summon up all the old courage of my alter ego, la tzigane. Instead, I must have reached too far back to my socially awkward sixteen year-old self. I assume that the other volunteers opinions of me are tinged by my lack of coherent words and self-esteem. The only thing I believe I can do is lay back into the wind, shoulders back, chin high, listening and observing.
Ellie is from the United Kingdom, as is Sarah. Nicole’s parents are Bulgarian, though she grew up in Sydney. They seem to have been here long enough to know each other’s gentle patterns and quirks of every day life. Though they are warm and welcoming, I definitely impose a newcomer mentality upon myself.
We unload the truck and the day goes by, a few purchases made here and there. I take longer shifts at the table, smiling, talking to strangers. I’m so much better at charming people than I am at melting into their lives. A candle, drawing in moths but never dying.
We go home, exhausted. The ride back is somehow less exhilarating as the promise of the day, the promise of la tzigane, is setting above the bluish mountains. Crowded into contradicting angles in the back of a truck, the busy after-work hours of Gilgil prove interesting. People trail home along the streets, the sky slowly morphing above us. A man riding on the back of a motorbike tries to lunge a flapping chicken in my face; he misses, and gets Sarah instead, laughing wildly as his motorbike zips ahead.
After a much-needed meal, I plunge into bed feeling like bits of my identity, past, present, and future, are all tied up in a tangle. I roll out of the flaming red sarong, another fabrication for another day. I think back to the empowerment I used to feel, the way I held myself so proudly. I wonder if I will ever be like that again.
For some reason, I’m struck down by tears. I miss being thin. I miss my old self. I miss being confident.
I loved you, la tzigane.