The Typewriter

December 29, 2012
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The sky was covered in stars, a blank canvas splattered with ink. I woke up to a young woman, Sonia, tapping my shoulder.
“Maya,” she said quietly, so she wouldn’t wake the children, “We’re leaving to find food and water. Thankfully, there was a short rain last night, but I’m sure we will be gone for a while.”
“Sure,” I said, moving over to the box my typewriter was in and grabbing some paper paper from my small, dust-caked suitcase.
The sun has not yet risen, but the women still leave, in search of food and water. The women bring food back to me, and breakfast includes tea, coffee and chapattis. The day gets hot quickly, and the sun burns my skin, but the African women are used to this.

The black typewriter keys scalded my fingertips, and my writing became choppy and short, along with my patience. The sun beat down on me, my sunburned arms and neck flaking. The women watched me, laughing to themselves as I put on another layer of suntan lotion. They were milking the thin cows and picking crops from the dried-out garden.
Umoja is hot and dry during the summer. But unity keeps this village of women together. In fact, that is literally what they are. What they mean. In Swahili, Umoja means unity, one of the most important things a village must have. They have to leave early in the morning, before the
sun has even risen to find food and water. The few cattle and crops these women have are dying or dead due to inconsistent rainfall.
Some women cook during the day, and some make beaded necklaces, earring and bracelets which they sell for money. I help Sonia teach the children. She helps with their math and daily life skills while I help them become literate and teach them about Western culture.
As I show the children how to read and write and learn, I’m in awe of how much gratitude they seem to have. Here is a conversation I had with one seven-year-old, Isabis:
“Isabis, do you want to see the typewriter?” Isabis had been sitting alone, writing something on her paper during a class in which I’d shown the kids my typewriter and pictures of my computer.
She nodded quickly and came over to see. “What were you doing?” I asked.
She told me how she had been going over the sentences I had been helping them spell earlier in the class. I laughed. “Well good job.”
And then she grinned bigger than anyone I’d ever seen in the world. “Thank you,” she said. “We’ve never had a teacher like you.”

I closed up the typewriter and locked the brown box it was in. I pulled the string the key was on around my neck and laid down on my cot. After pulling the mosquito netting over my bed, I closed my
eyes, hoping for sleep.
The typewriter was given to me three years before I came to Africa from my grandfather after he died. My dad told me that it was in his will for me to have the typewriter so I could ‘pursue my dreams.’Only a little while later I planned my trip to Africa and I decided that since I wouldn’t have electricity in Umoja, I could bring it along then.
Another day passed and suddenly it was my last of three-hundred and eight in Umoja. In less than forty-eight hours I would board a plane and fly home to my small apartment in New York, where I hoped to publish a book about my time in Umoja.
We sit around a fire, eating the chicken and fruit I bought from a city more than four hours away. We sing songs and the women help me finish a beaded bracelet that I never could have done on my own. The children crowd around me, telling me stories and giving me little presents, like necklaces and dolls they made. It’s something different from anything I’ve ever been to. Unlike six years ago, when my parents were crying as I went off to college, these people are not sad. They celebrate for my future, and for new beginnings.

I opened the typewriter for the last time. Closing my eyes, I could see the skies filled with stars, the small buildings of mud in the village, the smiling faces shining in the fire light. The filing box in my head labeled UMOJA was so full that it seemed to be overflowing; I could never stop thinking about them.
I sit in my small apartment in Manhattan, finishing this book. It is a month since I left
Africa, and I just received a small package in the mail. Sonia has written a small note, telling me what is in the package. After reading it, I open up a box to find a colorful beaded necklace and an envelope in which there is a short letter from Isabis.
Dear Maya,

Thank you for teeching me how to read. Your tipewriter was very nice and I hope that your book gose well. We will by a copy for the village. Though without you I may not be able to read it! We miss you alredy and wish you wood come back. The neckless is for your key so it wont have to be on a string. We had so much fun with you.
Thank you


So here is the close of my book. I hope that this will inspire you like Umoja inspired me.

And then I closed my box and locked it for the last time.

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