Week Four: Love Your Neighbor As Yourself
August 2, 2011 § 4 Comments
I am learning to hone my craft. While I had hoped we could meet as students of compassion in a small and achievable act of sacrifice, people don’t give to heart swelling generalities. People give to specific, visceral stories of real people enduring unreal circumstances. It seems we must feel pain, as if our own, to alleviate it. And feel the tremendous joy of another to sacrifice for more of it.
So we’re switching gears.
I’ll continue to trace the wisdom of our Fourteen Weeks to a more Meaningful and Compassionate Life, but I’ll do it purely in relation to the living story in focus. This means, against the advice of Ms. Karen Armstrong, we are going to break order of the steps. So I advise with only more fervent passion that you buy and read her book as way of translating these stories into a more regimented personal practice.
The money raised so far from the extraordinary and wildly generous FEW is going to enter our world through this first story, and by the end of it, I hope the MANY are inspired to follow in suit. But I’m no longer pulling teeth for this. It’s up to you to be the actor or the spectator.
I’m happy for this turn. And I hope you are too. The story ahead is so entirely incredible, you will not believe it be true. But I can promise you, with great inspiration, that it is as real as your living heart.
“Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”
We’ll call her Kadogo; the woman at the center of this story. In Kiswahili kadogo means ‘little,’ but as you’ll come to find, our Kadogo embodies a kind strength and resolve that exceeds size all together.
She was born in 1973 in the Great Rift Valley, as the oldest of seven children. In her tribe, children are given a name corresponding with their birth order, alternating between relatives of the mother and father. Her five sisters and one brother all had legacy names linking to mother and the man Kadogo was told was her father. But her name didn’t match up to either. As she grew older and came to realize the system of her tribe, it became apparent that she had been named after a man she knew nothing of; a father her mother had never spoken of.
“I had so many questions in my heart but I didn’t ask. I was too afraid, too ashamed. My mother was very tough, and I knew she would be angry if I questioned her. So I just locked the questions in my chest. My whole life I did this,” Kadogo explained from the bench in the kitchen. “Sometimes I felt sorry for myself. I made up dreams of what he might have been like, my dad. But mostly I just tried to keep moving.”
She loved school; it was a space of relief and joy. But her family could rarely afford a full term, so she would go for as long as the percentage of payment given allowed her to attend. Often she would be asked to leave just weeks before the exam, thus having to continuously repeat the same portions of the same primary classes. Reader, can you guess how much a school term cost at this time? Fifteen shillings. Fifteen cents. She persisted until she was the only sixteen year old in sixth grade.
It was at this young age that Kadogo met her first boyfriend; we’ll call him Kamweru. And it was at this moment that everything changed. Kadogo’s mother learned of Kamweru, and kicked her out of the house. Despite attempts from village elders, this is how things stayed. And without a home, without even partial school fees, school came to an end as well. So at seventeen, Kadogo married Kamweru. They had four kids and at first things seemed to be okay. Then Kamweru started drinking.
He’d be gone sometimes for four days at a time, coming home a drunk and abusive mess. Kadogo did what she had taught herself to do; she took the blows and stored the pain in her chest. While her husband spent the days cleaning bars in exchange for the left over beer bottoms, she would leave her children at home and sell farmer’s produce in return for vegetables for the family.
“My profit was usually just food. When I did make a little money, I would hide it,” Kadogo said, cupping her hands like a nest for her cup. Steam spindled as she blew, staring into a sea of it. “It’s hard for me to tell you why I never left; it’s mostly because I had no where else to go. I was so young, and on either side it seemed like someone was just waiting to abuse me. I believed that if I got a full time job and made an income, I could do something.”
That’s what she did. She got a job with a flower company called Red Shank. It was a three mile walk in the early morning, and her job was to pollinate the flowers. This meant that from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. she would meticulously brush pollen into a can from the tiny stigma of each flower, and she would do it with a toothbrush. Then she would carry the pollen to a pile of seeds, where she would carefully slice open each seed with a straight edge razor blade and gently insert a dot of pollen into the seed. She did this all day, walking three miles back home to her children, for 90 shillings a day. One dollar.
Yet she exclaims, “I was proud of that job! I was proud to be providing for my children!” Her chest rose with this sentence.
The experience gained from Red Shank and growing difficulty to survive on the lean wages led her to a new job with a company called P.P. Flora; a flower farm much closer to home. She was led by a rumor that P.P. Flora paid salary according production, opposed to a flat rate. The rumor was true, but now she had to deal with roses. Mind you, roses aren’t as loving to work with as they are to receive.
“It was tough because of the thorns and all the heavy lifting that went into making their beds. We had to carry huge bags of sand back and forth sometimes all day. But we did it as hard as we could push ourselves to do, because we made money according to how many beds we made. At first it took me three days to make enough beds just to get the ninety shillings I was making in one day at Red Shank, but I got better and stronger. Even the men were amazed by how hard I could work. I thank God for this lesson.” Kadogo is smiling a very beautiful smile; the kind you have to tuck towards the neck of your shirt. “It was here I met two very important people to me; two women who were in the same trouble as me, and the three of us became friends. We met because none of us could afford to eat lunch, so we would spend the afternoon sitting in the greenhouse talking while the others ate. I am so thankful for them whenever I think of them. At the end of the day, the manager would often tell one of us that to keep our job, for no pay, we had to stay late and grade flowers. So we had to do it. But to make it better, we agreed to stick together. We’d all stay late. This way it would be shorter and we would have each other. I thank God for this lesson too.”
“When I would get home late, my husband would be asleep. He would usually have peed himself in our bed, or sometimes worse. I would check the kids, and then I would usually be so tired and sore I would just climb into the same bed to sleep. If I had enough strength though, I would sleep in a chair so that he couldn’t harm me. Life was so hard. I can barely tell you.”
“We would go many days without food, drinking only hot water until I was paid. Because of stress and no food, I was fainting usually two, even three times per day. Sometimes I went without food for so long, I was sure I would die. But worse was seeing my children hungry. Can you imagine your kids asking you when they will eat next, crying, and you didn’t have an answer? … I would make a small fire, boil a pot of water, and put grass inside so the smell would fill the house, then I would tell them that we were just waiting for the shopkeeper to bring ugali flower (cornmeal). I would tell them again and again, until they grew tired and fell to sleep. Then one by one, I’d lift them to their beds.”
Kadogo’s brother-in-law came to visit, and she was at such a low point she opened the pain her chest and told him everything. And he vowed to help. Her brother-in-law will be called Nguvu. Nguvu told Kagodo that he was going to see what he could arrange for her in the village he came from, a place called Njabini. After quite some time, he called. He told Kadogo that he’d sent bus fare and urged her to come to Njabini once she received it. He said he’d take her to a children’s home where she could try to talk her way into an interview; a place called Flying Kites.
Long story short, I am sitting with Kadogo now, and she is as much a sister to me as anyone could be. It’s a strange beauty the way these things happen; the way two people living impossibly different lives, who almost certainly should never meet, suddenly can’t imagine a day without one another. I am amazed by her daily; her strength and her crystalized inner-beauty. Our children benefit beyond measure from her loving guidance, and have learned much about themselves (as I have) by the way she bares the weight of her suffering and responsibility with nobility.
This may seem crazy, reader, but can you believe the climax has yet to come?! Prepare for the most beautiful of twist of any story I have ever heard!
On our dusty road, there is a neighbor. He is a generous old man named Thomas. For as long as I have lived here, he brings us vegetables from his garden and honey from his beehives, and he grandfathers our kids like they are his own. He built a tiny shop at the corner of his lot and sells a few household items for extra income. When we run out of tea leaves, cooking fat, or sugar, we’ll buy from ‘guka,’ grandpa.
Kadogo went to Thomas’ shop to buy sugar one sunny day and they struck up small talk like many times before. Kadogo told him that she aspires to buy land and move her children to Njabini so they can be with her, and they began to discuss the who’s and what’s of land in the area.
“That led to him asking me where I was from and I told him the name of my village. He asked me my full name and I told him. Then he grew very silent. For ten minutes he was silent and would not speak, so I took the sugar and left.”
“A few days later he came over to the house and asked for me. He was holding a locket. He opened it carefully. On one side there was a picture of him as a young man and on the other the picture of a young woman. He said ‘is this your mother?’ It was. I said ‘yes,’ and this is the day I met my father.”
“I feel so many emotions. I love him and I think he loves me. But he has his own family now and so do I, so we are learning to know each other. My children don’t know of him yet. When I move them here, I will introduce them to their grandfather, but until them I need to learn to know him for myself.”
This takes us to the present day, reader. In the two years since Kadogo graced our mission, she has fulfilled the demands of a job that demand the strength and compassion she embodies. In her climbing within the organization, she has become a central figure of our house, and her hard work has been met by a salary that allows her to aptly provide for her family. But her children still live far from Njabini, because the investment required to move them is checked the needs of all who now rely on her income. The distance between them makes it so she is only able to spend one week a month with her three girls and one son. So while she has come lengths that few of us can imagine, she is closer than ever to a new chapter in life; one we can help her to reach.
It is misty in Njabini, like being suspended in a Christmas ornament. Kadogo is making another round of tea for the two of us and I want more badly than anything to buy her a quarter acre of land so she can move her children here and introduce them to their grandfather. I want her to cry out of happiness, in the face of all the other reasons she’s cried. But I can’t do it alone. In fact, I have almost nothing now. So I need help. As a combined act of compassion, this is my call. Will you help me?
It is going to cost around $2200, but thanks to the active lovers of our Fourteen Weeks campaign we already have $1,450.
This means if a few give a little or an even fewer give a bit more, we’ll have enough to see the dreams of a family actualized by the end of this week. Let the beauty of this thought take root. We could forever change the lives of these deserving people in one day if we chose to. How blessed are we for this luxury; this responsibility?
Contribute to this beautiful turn in whatever way you are able and inspired to see actualized. If we exceed the amount required, grandpa Thomas needs teeth ($250), and there really is no ceiling to the way we can change a life.
Just click this: I WISH FOR A BETTER WORLD.
The lesson for Week Four of our Fourteen Weeks to a More Meaningful and Compassionate Life is to “Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.” That is all I will say about that. They could be family. In fact, they are. We all are. It’s time we started acting like it.
There are many stories like Kadogo’s in our world, some far worse, some more easily mended. They are living all around you, right now, right here. People needing your love! What matters is that we slow down enough to care; that you look into them, find your place, and love them like a mother loves.
Kadogo has bravely loved, but at some point, she needed somebody; she needed small and simple acts of compassion. That made all the difference.
“Flying Kites has saved my happiness and my family, and on top of this the lives of so many children. I have traveled from hell on Earth to heaven on Earth. I will serve this cause and these children for the rest of my life. That is my exchange.”
~ Kadogo ~