“I am number three.”
I ran into Purity on the dirt path outside of her dorm. I wasn’t sure what she was referring to, so I made a best guess. “You are ranked number three in your class?”
“Yes!” Purity exclaimed with a proud smile.
Purity is a Form 1 (freshman) in a class of 30. She started at Daraja in March 2014. She and all the Daraja students just completed their second term.
Purity and I have gotten to know each other over the two weeks that she and the girls are taking end-of-term exams. I adore her confidence. If she feels stressed, I can’t see it. Every time I ask her how a test went, she smiles and says a variation of “Very good, I think I did well.”
I understood the source of Purity’s confidence as she showed me her report card. She had variations of A’s across the board. Having spent the afternoon helping assemble report cards, I happen to know these high marks are rare. The one grade that jumped out as low was in math. “Purity, you remember what I studied in university, right?”
“Yes, math! I know, I need to improve my math score.”
I had just attended the rehearsal for tomorrow’s Daraja graduation. As valedictorian and salutatorian, Gitwa and Shamsia, two of the girls I had coached in business plan presentations, would speak.
“Purity, in four years, I’d like you to speak on that stage in front of your class.” Having seen Purity’s raw talent speaking at Spiritual Time (see blog post Patiently Persistent), I can only imagine how she will further advance in four years.
“That is my goal. I want to finish first in my class. I want to speak at graduation.” Purity shared that valedictorian Gitwa is her role model, and how many teachers compare her to a young Gitwa.
“Purity, if you are on that stage, I will be here to see you.”
The words fell right out of my mouth. It was a rare case for me speaking first, thinking second. I made her a big promise. But I meant it. “Seriously, unless something unforeseen happens, like I become ill, I will be here.”
I don’t make big promises lightly. I wanted her to know I meant it.
When in high school, I remember telling my dad that I wanted to be valedictorian. I remember expecting to hear his excitement over my lofty goal, and sharing fatherly advice on how to achieve it. Instead, he told me it would be a difficult goal to achieve, and to not be disappointed if it didn’t happen.
The conversation always bothered me. I revisited it with him as an adult years later. I appreciated that his response was fully out of love. His fatherly instinct was to protect me–he didn’t want to see me get hurt.
That’s when I understood the difference between my father and I. His instinct was to protect, play it safe, don’t get hurt. My instinct is to dream a big goal, put a plan in place, and tell a bunch of people so they keep me on track. There have certainly been disappointments in following this instinct. But the more disappointments I have, the less they sting and the wiser I become.
I wanted Purity to know that she had someone in her corner.
Purity has lived with her grandmother for years. She describes her mother as not very responsible, but very strong. She is the oldest of nine children, and continually worries about her younger siblings, who are exposed to alcohol and drugs where they grew up. She loves to sing. She finds strength in her spiritual faith. And she wants to eventually go to law school, wanting to become a judge so she can correct injustices in government and business in Kenya.
“Do you have any children?” Purity asked.
Purity and I were looking at some of my iPad photos. “No, Bob and I do not have any children.”
“Great, then I can be your daughter!” she exclaimed.
I looked up at her. I would want my daughter to be like Purity– strong, confident, humble, kind, hard-working, grateful, optimistic, a believer in a higher power and that people are inherently good.
“Yes, you can be my daughter. And Bob can be your father. And you’ll have a second grandmother. And a dog.”
Purity and I spent our last afternoon at Daraja telling stories and taking photos. She would be leaving the following morning to spend holiday break at her grandmother’s home. I would be leaving for Nairobi.
The next morning, I held her hand as we walked to the van that would transport her and 16 of her classmates to the bus station in Nanyuki.
“Say hello to your grandmother for me,” I requested.
“I will tell her all about you. Please give my love to my father, and my other grandmother. And my sister.”
I was confused. Who was she referring to as her sister?
“The little dog!”
Ah, yes, Sydney. A similarly strong and confident being, Sydney the French Bulldog would make a great sister.