The night before the interviews were to begin, Sol and I had been driven to the home of our Bissil host, Melody. I knew that Sol had stayed with Melody once before, but knew nothing else. We packed our things into the trunk of the sedan, and proceeded from the Pastor’s home, across the highway, and seemed to tack back and forth through the red dirt roads of Bissil, taking us deeper into the community, until suddenly, we were at Melody’s gate and in her yard.
There was a large covered front step, the lights were on and Melody waited with tea. Inside her son Beckham was asleep on the couch, and Melody with her 18-month daughter in her arms, dancing the way mothers do with babies. A Masai woman appeared in the kitchen that worked for Melody, and we were also introduced to Sinkai, a 13-year-old Masai girl.
In the morning once Sol and I were up, Melody informed us that Sinkai had been rescued 3 weeks ago, and that her father, a Masai man wrapped in a purple robe sitting in the front room, had come to see his daughter for the first time since she had run away from home. Melody was calmly speaking with him as to why it is better for his daughter to stay with her, go to school and get her education. It is difficult for me to gauge as to why this man wants his daughter back, is it because he misses her, because of cultural pressure, or because a daughter is considered chattel, and he could stand to gain 10 cows for her hand in marriage to someone.
So we begin the day of the interviews within our own home here in Bissil, swathed in the story much like the Masai are draped in their beautiful colors.
Prior to meeting the first girl at the Bissil Church, we were driven to view an agricultural center built by a Korean American named David Gio Cheol Yun, who at the age of 87 left the development in the hands of the pastor, as he was ill and needed to return to home. Although the drive was bumpy, Sol and I both fell asleep in the back of the car, and were suddenly awoken by our driver saying “picture”. I immediately looked out the window, when I fell asleep it had been storming and raining, now it was suddenly sunny, and there were huge animals outside my window. There must have been 20 of them, but in my half awake state I couldn’t register what I was seeing. Sol shouted “they’re Camels!” We jumped out of the car as if in a dream, and for the next 5 minutes we ran with the camels, and spoke to a beautiful, young Masai couple that were moving them from one pasture to another along the highway. They seemed very happy together, very much in love in a relaxed way. Immediately I wondered how their marriage had been arranged, if this beautiful woman had been “cut”.
Our first interview was with 16-year old Esther who had been rescued 2 months prior. She is waiting to be receiving funding to go to school. Her story is one of betrayal, parents lying to her about what will happen, which we to find is very common. Her story was the first we heard in detail. I couldn’t stop thinking as she told us of how she ran away, trying to escape her plight, the significance of a single dove that kept trying to escape through the glass windows in the front of the church. Try as it might, it kept attempting to escape through the top of the windows that were glassed in, and if only it would try through the lower open windows it could succeed. Time and again during the interviews we heard the girls tell us how they would try to run away, only to be found, brought home and beaten.
At the end of the interview Esther stood in the doorway of the church, I photographed her. She was simply beautiful, dressed in traditional Masai shuka with beaded jewelry. Once you speak with these girls, it is so hard to imagine what they have endured, the inner strength that they possess, and still the ability to be sweet and loving.