(the beginning of November 2016)
It’s Wednesday, and I have asked Mary for a ride into Nairobi. My acupuncture appointment is today, and I don’t want to miss it. I’m still conflicted in being at Gilgil; I feel bare without the warmth of my previous internship, caught in the headlights while trying to be something I’m not. Going into Nairobi to revisit the steps of a newly-old lifestyle seems like heaven.
Early in the morning, I walk down the lonely, rocky road towards Mary’s house when there is an uncomfortable situation with a group of men. I wonder if I’m being shouted at and followed because of my dress – I thought it was okay, but maybe not. I usually take pride in diffusing situations like these, but this seems different. These men are angry. I feel panic boil in my veins, and try not to make eye contact. I don’t have a phone.
As my flight instinct climaxes, a boda boda sweeps down the road like cavalry.
“Are you a journalist?” the man asks, the motorcycle puttering to a stop.
“Yes.” I lie, my voice shaking. I have only outrageously lied to strangers twice before, and this is one of those times. I don’t know why I malign the truth. The man doesn’t even believe me. I don’t realize there are people who are willing to help me even if I’m not accomplished or impressive.
I get to Mary’s house safely. The guards greet me in Swahili, smiling. I don’t want to smile back. I feel like a nail has been wedged into a nerve, tingling and jolting through my body. Going to Nairobi doesn’t seem worth it anymore.
I step into the car, and Mary makes a comment about how tastefully and appropriately I’m dressed. “Perfect for Gilgil,” she says.
I’m like Dorothy waking up in her own bed after the tornado, except without the happiness of loved ones or home or Toto. It really is true. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing.
The rest of the day is tense. The flat, sunny land turns mountainous. Dry, pale dirt turns crimson red, deep ruby against the bizarre green of the grass. The earth looks like it’s bleeding. It’s cold and wet as we approach the towering buildings of Nairobi.
Mary says goodbye as I walk into Sarit Center, an older shopping mall in Nairobi. Suddenly I’m suspicious of everyone I see. I feel like everyone is watching me in all the wrong ways. I forget that I usually walk around Nairobi showing much more skin. The first thing I do is buy a phone, the cheapest Nokia possible.
After fixing my camera, I chat with the lovely old man behind the counter at the photography store. It calms me enough to sit down at Java House, have a cup of coffee, and let my guard down a little. I accept the situation this morning as an isolated incident. I find out that my acupuncture appointment must be rescheduled to next week, which is okay. Given the upset this morning, I would have probably had a meltdown upon seeing a familiar face, ending my stay in Gilgil prematurely.
I start thinking about Restart. All the girls there, except a few toddlers, have been raped. I don’t really know how to fathom this in light of the minuscule taste of terror I felt. I know nothing. I cannot imagine the magnitude of fear, or hurt, or anger that these girls still face to this day. Something is unsettled between my ribcage, some sort of quiet, retching, fear-tinged fury. I’m not so much angry about what happened this morning as I am at the world in general, at the stories some people, particularly women, must live through.
I am angry at these girls’ desperate mothers, many of whom forced their daughters to fulfill another generation of sexual abuse. I’m angry at the men, the fathers or strangers or gangs who hurt these girls. I’m angry at the colonials, so many years back, who prodded the world into such an off-kilter free-fall, and I’m angry at the corruption that continues in today’s government.
It doesn’t matter who you are as a person, how brave you are, or smart, or how much love you have to offer. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing or how you’re walking or where. But, for some reason, it matters if your gender is perceived as vulnerable, as lesser than.
I want to go home. I want to go home. I want to-
For girls like those at Restart, ruby slippers can’t even rewrite the past.