Dear African Woman,
I first saw you as I stepped off the plane onto a dirt runway. You were outside the airport walking along the road in your dress with intricate designs and colors. Your baby was strapped to your back with a swath of cloth, and your younger child skipped along by your side. Your feet were bare and you headed towards the market in the sweltering heat. I wondered how far you had walked and how far you still had to go.
I saw you again the next day on the way to the camp, this time with tree branches upon your head. Your skirt swished with each step of your feet. Your head was held high and the stack perfectly balanced. Your baby was sleeping upon your back. Dust blew into my window, as the car I was riding in passed you. I wondered how heavy was your load. I wondered how you got it up there. I thought you were amazing.
Our next encounter was also along the bumpy dirt road. The sweat on your face shone in the sun, and you offered a smile as we passed, even as your feet continued their determined steps towards the borehole. There was a bucket of laundry on your head, and two children under your feet, carrying jerry cans. They waved to us like we were celebrities. When we waved back, smiles inched up their faces until they were as bright as the sun. I wondered how you would carry two full jerry cans and your laundry back. I watched you bend in half to scrub the clothes of your family. I saw the soap and wondered how long it takes to rinse it out one bucket at a time. I also wondered if your back hurts when you try to sleep at night. I thought you were steadfast and unwavering.
My window passed by you yet again, as you were stirring a pot over a fire with a large stick. The fire and the sun seemed to be competing for who could create the most heat. As you cooked for your family, your patterned dress protected your legs from the intensity of the flames. Your head was wrapped in a colorful scarf. You left the fire briefly to collect more wood. Bending down until you had arms full, I wondered how long it takes to cook food over a fire and how much wood you need to cook this way every day. You added wood to the flames to increase the heat. Your dress was two shades of the same color due to the sweat running down your back. I thought you were beautiful.
You came to the teacher conference, too… sitting along the back wall, so that you could listen between nursing your baby and chasing your little toddlers. You asked thoughtful questions. You took notes. You went in and out with your children, but still participated and stayed all day every day. Then you walked home. I wondered how long it takes you to walk to work every day. I wondered how you survive doing this job without pay or resources. I thought you were intelligent, and brave.
I saw you speaking at the teacher conference in your red dress. You stood tall and spoke with grace about important topics. You cared about others and helped them learn new things. Well educated, professional, kind, and passionate, you shared from your heart. When you laughed the whole room laughed with you. It was a musical sound; the sound of hope being imparted. I wondered if you knew how much you are needed. I wondered if you knew how much hope you carried to hopeless places. I thought you were important and powerful.
Upon your head I saw crops, laundry, water, tree branches, and various other things. Your shoulders were strong, and your posture was perfect. Your arms carried heavy loads, and your legs carried you long distances. I wondered how you keep going to survive day after day. I wondered if the heat bothers you as much as it does me. I thought you were strong and resilient.
I come from a long line of strong women. I was brought up to be respectful and responsible. I was encouraged to stand up for myself and to be bold, but also gentle. I knew compassion and caring for others was a gift. Determination, perseverance, and diligence were core values of the women in my family. There is an independent streak a mile long that runs in my veins. I know what strong women look like. I have met many I admire over my lifetime, but none as much as you. My African sister, you are the strongest woman I know.
An American Woman