I have walked with the grief of Hannah, I have been despised like Leah, betrayed by the likes of Jacob. Felt abandonment. Seen horrors. At times the grief was so heavy, it was as though I would die. Many turn their faces from my words as though ashamed. Some try to hush me. Yet I tell the stories because they are the stories of so many others. Telling is a reach for redemption—an assuage for the grief and the sorrow and celebration of the small joys.
I walk the path other ladies also walk. I hear their silent whispers. I touch of their grief. I share with them in their sorrow. The suffering and the struggle of those who walk the panyas, the narrow paths. Those paths leading here and there in Africa where one needs to make a way where there is no way. They lead near streams of muddy water, where fire ants march with determination. They lead through the fields of maize and jungle and places where casava grows as one struggles to unearth the tubbers with a large awkward hoe, raised above the head, aiming below the grown with thoughts of filling his belly with satisfaction. The panyas lead along the highways of Africa. They careen along the black tarmac, where large trucks rollies and SUVs speed past taking your breath away, 5 inches from your fingertips. Like African women, they gingerly navigate from the tarmac to the panya, side path, where mud sucks onto the sandals in the wet season and all manner of insects bite at your ankles in the dry season. It is a ginger journey of finesse and danger and courage as one is forced to choose between the asphalt that saves the sandals from the overwhelming shuck of red mud. But the muddy insect riddled panya saves one from being knocked by the vehicles that often leave those it encounters in pools of blood on the hot black road.
The modern and the ancient ways mix along the panyas. The shoes of those that walk are at times made of leather forged and tanned from the cattle of the Massi in Kenya. They are decorated with beads from local ladies as they sit outside at home, nursing their babies and beading or weaving. The panyas see the feet of the madman, the brother of my husband. He wears only his bare feet. The panyas see the shoes of school children clutching hands as they hurry to school in their decaying black, Chinese made shoes, shined to perfection. The stockings paired with the shoes match the school uniform colors: red, maroon, yellow, white, cheap imports from China, full of holes in the toes, concealed by the shoes. The pregnant ladies feet fitted with the cheapest slipper. She carries her child in utero and often others additionally, tied onto the back with a fabric. Sometimes her feet also carry the weight of a basket of food and other goods, balanced on the top of the head. Rarely do the panyas see the feet of shiny men with sagging bellies, wearing Italian leather shoes shined to perfection. Those feet sit astride the bodas and ride in the SUVs that sometimes crush those walking the panyas of life.
My lot is to walk the panyas or wear the shiny shoes.