Who Decides

The small boy appraises me carefully. He is standing on the side of a desolate road. From a short distance, he appears almost ghostlike, as the wind swirls fine dust around his little body. He moves in closer, and I crouch down so that we are eye level with one another. Up close, he is not at all ghostly. In fact, I am immediately struck by his sparkling round ebony eyes, framed by a face sprinkled with a fine white dust. When he smiles, his straight young teeth seem almost blue in contrast. I tell him my name. He quietly whispers his. On his small feet, he wears mismatched worn sandals. His red shirt is torn. He has skinned his little knees. I am absolutely stunned by how beautiful he is. This child lives in a small village in which there is little vegetation to provide shelter from the heat of the day. His town, once the site of a mine, has been largely forgotten. The mine has been used up, and the company has moved on to a new location, taking many of the men with it. Left behind are the women, children and grandparents. Resources here are scarce. The villagers lack clean drinking water. That is why we have come. With my limited Swahili, I can barely communicate with him. But we smile and make signs with our hands. “Who decides?” I think to myself. “Who decides how we will emerge into this world? Who decides that this boy is to be born in a place so barren and difficult? Who decides under what sky each of us emerges? Who decides this precious one’s fate?” I have no answers, and it troubles me. Yet, at a very deep level, that is why I am here. A man walks up and sees us together. He smiles at me and says, “It is OK to pick him up. Here, we hold our children.” Grateful for this permission, I lift the little guy and carry him with me to where the others are gathering for our meeting.

Mererani Village