An open letter to the women of Migwani, Kenya,
To all the women that so graciously let me walk in to their their town, their work, their homes, their lives, with a camera and a mighty sweaty forehead…
This film is for you.
I used to dream about days like these when I was a kid. Days when I would get the opportunity to help people from places like Migwani tell their stories on platforms where they might not otherwise find themselves.
People who are living a life, fighting fights, and passing through battles that I will never fully know or have to experience.
A life where one’s language has never been heard on a big screen before. Where one has to fight to find food… even on a good day. Where one battles to make it through the heat… to find water in places that many would not dare to drink from.
— Yes, this film is for you. —
I listened over the weeks and months the stories you have told me. I witnessed tears in your eyes, and you witnessed tears in mine.
You called me your African son… but when you said it… and then you said it again… and again… I heard it. I felt it.
I won’t ever forget the moment you invited me into the shack where your daughter was cutting hair, to offer me that wonderful soup you had prepared. I don’t know what was in it. And you laughed when I said I liked it… you told me that, or cornmeal, is what you eat every day. And you were proud of that.
I felt proud of you as you stood, beaming, over your grandchildren.
You were content - even though you have to wake up a 4 am every morning to go fetch water 3 miles away.
You told me how much this borehole was going to change your livelihood. And I stood there as tears came to my eyes.
My time with you and John, the grandson you adopted, transformed my thinking about rural Kenya altogether.
For starters, your family was the first farmers I have had the opportunity to shake hands with in Kenya. And that is something special, considering my farm town roots.
But you and John and your family don’t just do the hard work of farming.
When we took John for his medical check-up, my heart sank. Hearing how difficult food has been to cultivate because of the drought, how a couple mangoes a day have made up your diet for the past few months really put things into perspective for me.
John may have been the skinniest child I have ever hugged… and yet he may also be one of the children with the biggest smiles I have ever seen.
And your love for him has made that so. You are a warrior. And you remind me again, yes, true happiness doesn’t come from having money, and neither does true strength.
Before I left your humble home you grabbed my hand, and then told me you were so ashamed you didn’t have something more to give the “kind, white American boy,” who came to help your community. You looked away… almost embarrassed, that at your 100+ years of age, you couldn’t prepare a meal for me.
But I hope that you knew that I left your home that day with more than you could have possibly imagined.
You gave me perspective.
You gave me your heart.
You gave me a blessing.
(And don’t forget about the delicious mango you had your great granddaughter fetch me as I left your home ;-)
There are not a lot of souls who have lived as long as you in this world… and even fewer in your own community. Standing in your home, hearing you still dream about one day riding an airplane, joke about becoming a super star in Hollywood because of this film, and even try to set me up with one of your great grandchildren…
It brought me back to the lessons my own grandmother taught me in her final days… that you get to choose joy, choose happiness, and choose your perspective in this world.
Whether you can’t even afford tomorrow’s mangoes… or you are buying Lamborghini’s in Beverly hills… in the end…
YES. Some people face a great deal more adversity in their life.
YES. Some people will know very little adversity throughout their days.
But your adversity does not define you. And neither does your wealth. Who you are, and the way you react to those circumstances does.
Ngonza, you are a beacon of light, in a world that could use a lot more of your perspective, your hope. It was an honor to sit and hear the stories of such an inspiring soul. It is those stories, that courage, and that strength that I take with me from your home. Arguably more valuable than anything else you could have given me.
So, this one’s for the girls… for Ngonza, for Mutei, for Eunice, Naomi, Irene, Jane, Janet, Muvana, Loise, Nah, Annah, Nzambi, Muthili, Makaa, Muli, Mwende, Nzyuko, Kanlinga, Kasiva, Kalunda, Mutei, and so many more.
For the brave women who would not be defined by their situations. Who would not let society tell them how they should react. Who stood up, and rightly so were the change they wished to see in their community. Their world.
We can learn a lot from them. We can grow from their stories.
This film is for them, yet may it’s message be for us.