I spent another afternoon in the company of my friend, the mighty spirit, Chapter One Peter Ajang Dau. We made time for one more visit before his return to the Dadaab Refugee Camp. I am not sure when or if I will see him again, but I parted saying ‘See you next time’, and meaning it. Again, he regaled me with tales from the bible and stories of Sudan, life lessons passed back and forth across the table like an easy balloon being tossed back and forth. He makes me slow down.
I took him to TMR, the Thika Road Mall, which was like visiting Mars for Peter Ajang. It is a place I now feel comfortable in Kenya, and it is a place so foreign to his daily existence that I failed to comprehend the magnitude of the choice to take him there. It is a place for mzungu to spend money.
We had lunch at a restaurant, only my second meal not cooked by myself in six weeks. We both had fish and chips. He noticed at the end of the meal that I left a tip, not a common Kenyan occurrence, and he told me that the elders in his tribe always save food so that at the end of the meal they can give some to the little ones. He said that’s what I did. I gave a little at the end of the meal to the girl who had served us. He can define and use the word altruistic. He had tartar sauce for the first time. He is a wonder.
We shopped for clothes for his two boys, Ajak and Deng, and I know he had never done that before. He wanted me to lead, and wanted me to choose, until he saw a shirt and proclaimed it perfect for Ajak. The joy of watching the clothes being wrapped as presents was as enjoyable as I imagine the unwrapping will be.
And this is what stopped me, what made me marvel again at the wonder of this world. This man, Peter Ajang, who speaks five languages, Arabic being the fifth, who can quote the bible like he wrote it, had never been on an escalator. I have been getting on escalators since I was a child, and I was with a man who had never seen an escalator. He was on it with me before I think he knew what it was, and he was brave and excited, surprised and a little scared. Together we fearlessly rode to level three and back down again. It was monumental. It was like being a time traveler. It made me try to comprehend the wonder of this world, and I honored his strength and courage, for the escalator was a challenge, and I held him each time we stepped on, his disorientation real, and felt his elation at being propelled off of the moving stairs at the top of each level. I watched him find his feet again every time we stepped off.
How will he describe this experience to his boys when he returns to the camp? It will sound like a story from Mars, and may not seem possible or true. He rode moving stairs that appeared and disappeared.
To be able to share such complex simplicity is a reason for me to be in Africa. This is not a story about escalators, but another story of Peter Ajang, my mwalimu, my teacher, and I too feel I cannot adequately explain to you what may not seem possible or true.