Two years ago, shortly before running away from home, Margaret’s older sister gave her a necklace; a piece of carved cow bone that looks somewhat like a white bullet. It hangs from a slight piece of black leather. It’s the type of traditional necklace that the Maasai people hawk to tourists on safari. While talking, Margaret nervously puts two fingers on the necklace and slowly slides the piece of jewelry from side to side.
The necklace is out of place as it rests on the white collar of her red and white checkered dress. Out of place, like Margaret. Margaret is staying at Undugu’s Kitengela children’s center, yet she doesn’t talk with the ease of the other children who know they are in a safe place. She’s not at ease with her surroundings, probably never has been. Her answers to questions don’t always make sense. After talking to her, the interpreter openly doubted the truth of some of the answers. There were holes in her story about where she’s been and where she wants to go.
Whether accurate or not, Margaret’s story is that she left home after being beaten at school for not wearing the proper uniform. Out of school, her mother made her collect gravel to help the poor family make ends meet. It wasn’t a happy life, so at age 11, she ran away.
Margaret wants to live with the sister who gave her the necklace. Her sister got married just before Margaret ran away and is living with her husband. Margaret couldn’t tell us where they were living or what they were doing. We later talked to the social workers that have been helping her. They have failed to find the sister that Margaret talks about so admiringly. Even other family members can’t tell them where she is. There are doubts that the sister is actually married and living the blissful type of life that would afford her the ability to care for a younger sister. She could be living on the streets the same way Margaret did for two years.
The social workers also filled in a few other holes about Margaret’s story. Margaret never told us that she was actually taken home one week before I met her, after spending five months in Undugu’s Kitengela Center. Undugu had counseled with her and her family and thought that the time was right for her to move home. It wasn’t. After two days at home with her parents, Margaret ran away again. Undugu heard she was on the streets and rescued her a second time. The social workers don’t know what to do next. Do they continue to search for the elusive sister or try to work with the family again? Nobody knows what is best. But, everybody knows what Margaret wants. Even as she said goodbye, she continued to trace the piece of cow bone hanging from her neck with her index finger. Somewhere, there is a sister that is connected to that necklace and Margaret wants to find her.
Posted By Jonathan Homer
Posted Aug 11th, 2007