When I was 16, I made the trip that would save my life. I ended up by the beaches of the blue warm Indian ocean for the 1st time in my life. Not from death. I was always far from dying. And as close to dying as I am today. This trip saved me from desperation. The desperation that comes from not seeing far enough. The desperation that comes from not seeing the options you have. The desperation that comes from limitations set by circumstances, family, society, religion. Desperation that comes from the limitations we set for ourselves because of ignorance and fear.
Watamu was a small village then, 16-17 years ago. My childhood friend Sessa, my deepest friendship of all time, was to start working at a restaurant in Watamu. Sessa had never been to the coast either. Her cousin who had worked at the coast for some years had promised her there was work. Sessa was 16 too, a few months older than I, but just barely; I was born in September, a hot dry month in Kenya. Sessa is born in may, in the middle of the long rains. When we were small, my friend and I, people used to joke that we were so close because we completed each other. She was serious, quiet, strong, brave. Sometimes a little gloomy. This is because it rained, flooded and shook with thunderstorm the first 3 months of her life; her mother used to tell us. “Sessa’s first smile was for the lightening. Who smiles at the lightening? except to challenge it?”
By July, the rains have become incessant drizzles and it is cold. Sessa stayed indoors, short visits outdoors when the sun shined, as it always does in Kenya. Come rain or thunder, the sun will show its beautiful face some time during the day. But it remains wet and muddy and adults don’t want to be out in that weather with babies. By mid August, drier and sunnier, Sessa is used to the rain and the indoors. And she is no sunny girl. Her warmth is the heart. In the soul. I am the sunny one. Taken out the first week I was home and outdoors until December when the short rains arrived.
I joined a boarding school 144km from Nairobi in February 2001. I was 14 years and 5 months old. Sessa’s single mother was unable to send her to high school so Sessa was to stay at home and learn some kind of trade or marry. Education is a luxury in many parts of the world, costing the extra that some families just don’t have. Sessa was to drift around for 1½ years dodging marriage proposals. We both felt desperate and scared for different reasons.
The first letter I received came from Sessa. She had found the lyrics of “You are my sunshine“, For the first time since we were 3 years old, we would not see each other every day. For 3 months.
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are grey
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away
The other night dear, as I lay sleepin’
I dreamed, I held you in my arms
When I awoke dear, I was mistaken
So I hung my head and I cry
I will come for the visiting day on Saturday, 17th March. I am saving every cent I get for that! when you have become a lawyer as you always dreamed, you can pay me back for my kindness. [we had 1 visiting day per term. A term was 3 months long but this term was shorter for me since I reported to school on the 12th of February.]
Lots of love from Sessa Sessa. I used to call her Sessa Sessa
She sent only the two verses. The nuns at St. Mary’s girls high school [catholic high school for girls] thought it was a boy and almost didn’t hand the letter over to me.