Today as I walked across the expansive acreage of campus, from the back corner where I live to the middle of campus where the Department of Theatre Arts and Film Technology is housed, I passed a field of women, all bent at the waist, working. They were dressed in colorful ground length skirts gathered at the waist, and they wore blouses or polo shirts. When I first noticed them every single one was bent in half, like birds, pulling at the ground. I could not tell exactly what they were picking by hand, but then one would stand, then another, before bending and picking, picking, picking again. It was a huge, wild lawn area under trees. Were they pulling out an invasive plant? Weeding?
They are the cleaners, the sweepers, the grounds crew of Kenyatta University, and I see them everywhere I go. They are a small army. This campus is cared for by steady female hands. They sweep with a distinctive style, one arm behind their backs, their working arm loose, their stick-made brooms, a bunch of stiff sticks or softer straw tied with twine depending on the task, making natural scraping sounds at they rake and sweep and clean every road on campus. There is beauty in their ease, comfort in their steady rhythms, completing daily jobs that depend on physical effort.
And then, walking toward me down the road, I see a woman with a stack of heavy curtains on her head, arms at her sides. This is not an image from my daily life at the University of Cincinnati. It was Consolata.
We do not share a common language, but I greet her with ‘Habari za asubuhi?’ and she grins and answers ‘Nzuri sana.’ ‘How are you this morning?’ ‘Very well.’ I open my backpack, gesture to my camera, and ask in English if I can take her picture. She nods yes.
Look at those eyes. Look at that serene power. She is open and present. She is a wonder.
She can carry a 63 pound suitcase on her head, and I can’t.