How a Samburu Mom’s Unexpected Questions Changed Me
Written by Heather Nelson, One Village Transformed Communications Coordinator.
I stepped off the plane and immediately felt the crisp air telling all my senses I was back home. After a week in the dry, scorching climate of Kenya, breathing in the Seattle air reminded me of drinking a tall glass of water after feeling uncomfortably parched the last seven days.
Still, there were two things I thirsted for more than the familiar scenery and drinkable air: seeing (and squeezing!) my two sweet boys I’d left behind while I flew across the world for my first trip to the field with World Concern.
I have the privilege of working as the One Village Transformed Communications Coordinator with World Concern, a vocation that lets me deep dive into the incredible transformational development happening in more than 30 villages in Asia, Africa, and Haiti.
The thing is, my job mostly takes place at a desk. I read technical reports emailed from the field, and I write from the comfort of my office chair. I share exciting updates with One Village Transformed supporters so they can see and feel the impact their gifts are having. It’s blessed work that I care about deeply. But until a few weeks ago, I mostly did this job from my head.
Now that’s changed.
Thanks to a young girl named Lenasotu, I now do this job with my whole heart.
When I first saw Lenasotu, she was walking in her village of Lolkuniani with a full 20-liter jerry can hanging from her head, and I could see a tiny newborn hat popping out from a wrap she wore on her chest. She looked tired after the 12-mile walk to collect water, sweating in the afternoon’s blazing heat. Her youthful face and shy eyes reminded me she was just a girl.
Lenasotu sat down with me in her home, a small hut typical of Samburu women like her, and she told me about her life. Married at 12 years old. Lonely living away from her family. Embracing motherhood with her two-month-old baby boy. Admittedly wholly unprepared and unsure how to do it all. She was only 15 years old after all.
She told me about her fears (“My husband used to beat me.”)
She told me about her struggles (“The walk for water is difficult—long, hot, and time-consuming.”)
She told me about her regrets (“I wish I could have gone to school!”)
She told me about her son (“I had no rest and no one to teach me how to care for him.”)
There was a lull in the conversation, and the translator asked Lenasotu if she had any questions for me. This was my last interview of the week, and every time the translator asked this, I got the same response: “No, no questions.” But this time, Lenasotu surprised me.
“How did you feel on your wedding day?” she asked.
I was taken aback. My wedding day was so different than hers. Happy. Expectant. Full of Love. I didn’t want to lie, but the question made me uncomfortable. What do I say? I gulped and told her the truth.
“I was happy,” I said. “I love my husband very much.” Next question, please.
“How far do you walk for water?”
I had to take a deep breath. She’d just walked hours for water, and my truthful answer couldn’t compare.
“I have water in my home,” I admitted. Lenasotu smiled a little. This seemed funny to her.
“Do you think educated people are better than uneducated people?”
My chest was getting tight at this point. Her questions, to her, were simply curiosity. To me, they were opening a deep chasm in my heart.
“No,” I tell her. “But education brings more opportunities.” It was the best I could come up with.
While we talked, Lenasotu nursed her son, but it was becoming evident he wasn’t getting any milk. She admitted she hadn’t eaten or drank anything that day.
Lenasotu and her baby sat in front of me, starving.
But she had one more question.
“Did you get to rest when your babies were born?” I closed my eyes and held back tears.
When my boys were born, I was surrounded by my husband and the most incredible group of family and friends. I had water and snacks brought to me on the hour. I binged on Netflix during long nursing sessions (I had plenty!). I lay in bed and slept while the baby slept. It was blissful and intoxicating in the best possible way.
I couldn’t tell Lenasotu this.
“Yes,” I whispered. “I had many days to rest.”
And that, my friends, is when I claimed a simple truth. Life is not fair. That certainty was staring me in the face.
We are two mothers, living in different worlds.
I hugged Lenasotu, thanked her for spending time with me, then went back to the car to cry by myself. I closed my eyes, felt all my emotions roll through me, and realized my work life would never be the same.
My work is no longer about me. It’s about Lenasotu. It’s about her baby. It’s about the people in the most remote villages around the world who are hoping someone will come alongside them, see their suffering—and help. It’s not about me.
I get it now, I told myself. My heart had finally caught up with my head.
You better believe when I saw my boys for the first time after returning from Kenya, I grabbed them, held them tight, and prayed for Lenasotu.
Then I got back to work.