The world oftentimes feels like a giant place…until a conversation shows you it is so much smaller than you realized. That was my experience during my visit to Kenya in March. There were so many vibrant personalities and visually stunning people and places; everyday was a new adventure for me. Conversations with travel mates and leaders opened my eyes to so many things, but it was the conversation I had with a special group of young girls that made me see how ineffective distance and miles could be in keeping kindred spirits apart.
Most who know me know how much I enjoy exchanging ideas with people like and unlike myself. I’ve chosen to be a lifelong learner, especially when learning occurs with a cultural slant. I found myself constantly thinking about and comparing my life and circumstances with the girls in the village that I met. Our worlds were so different, right? From some angles, very much so.
For starters, there is nothing in my life that could ever compare to the possibility of having to endure FGM. It’s barbaric, unethical, cruel and, in my opinion, evil. Yet, many of my Kenyan sisters have survived it or fought for their lives to escape it. Many of them have never felt racial rejection or socio-cultural compartmentalization because of the color of their skin. Instead, most of them looked at my hair and complexion in awe. I’m not fully sure why, but I found it interesting.
Through talking and getting to know them (and them getting to know me), I realized very quickly that, at the core of who we all were individually, we shared more similarities than differences. This is especially true when I considered the struggles we all would have to overcome as women, even though we have already overcome many of society’s obstructive norms at this point in our lives.
In my case, I know that at this point in my journey, I have survived the social stigma of who I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to have. Had I succumbed to the stereotypical life that most think of when they hear “single mother,” I would be broke, careless with my body, desperate for government assistance and so many other hateful things that I dare not post on my blog. Yet, I’m thriving as a woman of color with two kids and no husband. I own my own business. Several, actually. I don’t live with my hand out; in fact, my trip to meet the sweet Kenyan girls with whom I chatted was born out of giving to others! Imagine that! Still, none of that will matter when it comes to the hurdles my Kenyan girls and I will forever have to jump, simply because we’re women.
It’s in that gender sameness that I connected with those girls. Our circumstances differed, but we all would have more mountains to climb and labels to override and overrule. They seemed shocked that an American woman — a businesswoman who owned her own home, car and property in the “land of opportunity” — still has to fight to earn the same pay that men who do the same job make. And, It hurt to have to tell them that, though they had endured or escaped something horrific, and though they were being given an amazing education now, they would have more that would come against them, simply because they were females.
Had that been all of our conversation, we all would have left our time together in bleak despair. But I was asked by one of the girls what they should do. I did my best to empower them with the one thing they proved to me they could do: continue to push forward, and never stop fighting. I explained in as simple a context as I could that the game of life is mental, that any rules that say they only have one option in life is wrong. FGM is a precursor to these girl’s mindsets that marriage is their only option. Now they know it’s not. I let them know that, like rejecting FGM, it was okay to reject and disregard things society accepts but didn’t feel right to them. I couldn’t leave Kenya without letting these sweet girls know that an amazing life was in front of them, but they were going to have to choose it and fight for it.
That afternoon-long conversation is forever etched in my spirit. I so miss my Kenyan sweethearts. I laughed with them, cried with them. I hugged them and stared into their beautiful brown eyes. I did all I could with the time I had to impart strength, courage and wisdom to their souls, and they did the same for me. It made me realize that there is such a thing as oneness in womanhood; it spans the globe and will reach all corners of the earth if we all continue to fight for ourselves. Because when we fight for ourselves, we make the path straighter, brighter and easier for the women coming after us.