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“Jambo habari za asubuhi,” shouted a large African man. He laughed as I gazed in confusion. “Welcome to Africa! Today’s your day to be a hero!” I crawled in the van. The twenty-hour plane ride and twelve-hour time difference removed all substance from me.
My itinerary said, “Assisting Masai family,” a family whose village lay five miles beyond the end of the road. I grabbed the bags of rice, beans, Spam, and the large water jug, wondering who would ever eat this. Halfway
my lips were cracked, my cheeks were burnt and my body tempted me to drink the family’s water. When my sandals snapped, the translator said, “Now you’re a true African: no shoes!”
“This is it,” said my translator after an hour. What? I wondered feeling delusional after the five mile walk. The red dirt path continued, past a garage-sized hut. This hut was home to six people. I knocked on the door, and entered – and saw Mama for the first time. I handed her the bags of food; tears rolled down her cheek.
“Don’t cry,” I said as I wrapped myself around her.
“God has fulfilled my dreams. He’s sent help,” the translator interpreted Mama’s words.
Mama had three children. Her husband and first child died from AIDS; Mama, too, was battling AIDS. But she also suffered from a fractured vertebra that had left her in a permanent and painful stoop. Her second child was born handicapped, and died institutionalized at the government’s discretion. Her third child was born healthy, a beautiful girl who produced five sons before killing herself and leaving Mama to foster her five children at age 92.
Mama told me she only needed items for her children. At our base in Nairobi, I told the nurse I needed five boys’ school uniforms, food, women’s shoes and a blanket. The nurse handed me the shoes: “These are the last pair.”
She handed me a grey blanket. “No, I need a red one,” I said. Everyone laughed, knowing that Mama was completely blind.
When I returned to the village, Mama’s “children” were waiting for me.
“We had breakfast for the first time!”
“ Did you invent the butter stuff?”
“Thank you!” chimed in the children.
I took a picture with the youngsters, who looked in awe as they saw their picture for the first time. Mama shivered on her stool. As the translator approached Mama with her new shoes, I prayed they would fit. It was a Cinderella moment. Her tender and bruised feet glided into the slipper. She smiled as her feet shook.
She continued shivering as I swung the blanket around her. Mama asked in Swahili, “What color is it?”
“Red,” said the translator.
Mama squeezed my arm as she stood up, hunched over, but she danced like an eagle as she sang, “Aaa-men, Aaa-men!”
Her children told me red was the last color she had ever seen.