I could tell it was a Big Day for the girls when they insisted on changing out of their school uniforms and into their church clothes. They came out of the house and said, ‘We are ready Mr. Michael.” We walked up the dusty street to a shack where the second hand shoe seller had hung his wares. Probably sent from an American charity—second-hand shoes, and the girls were acting as if we were going to the opening night of something at The Met.
A small crowd gathered. The shoe seller put plastic bags over the girl’s feet so they wouldn’t spoil the shoes with bare feet. Hard getting second hand shoes to fit—but we got a pair of sneakers for each of the 3 girls and ‘dress shoes” for Lucia. She picked these—the kind of old-fashioned black oxfords with square heals you see from the late 1800s—something Anne of Green Gables would have worn to church. Lucia kept eyeing them like she was looking at a diamond ring. I instructed the shoe seller to come the next week with smaller sizes for the other 2 girls. The three pairs of sneakers, frayed at the edges, and Lucia’s new black shoes, one size too big, cost me all of $14. These were the first shoes other than flip-flops they had ever worn.
They insisted on walking home with the shoes in bags—they felt more like they had gone ‘shopping’ I think. Then they changed into school clothes and I took them in the canoe across the river to the travelling market. Second hand t-shirts and football jerseys with American logos about places and perversions the girls new nothing about. Each girl picked out a couple of tops. They didn’t know their sizes—just held the tops up and guessed.
That night the accordion player came and played in the parlour. I could see Maserai moving, a little smile on her face. “Why you not dance?” I asked. So she did. Then Lucia and Mamie. I joined them and we danced around the parlour. Every stereotype about African rhythm is true—especially in Africa. I have less rhythm in my body than they do in a single strand of their plaited hair. But they didn’t seem to mind—they giggled and we had a great time.
I believe it was the first time they danced together. I think the next time will be when they are initiated. Another story.