There are some people in life who you never forget even though they are in and out of your life in minutes.
Sharon was about thirteen when I knew her. She was a student at the Mercy Centre, a charity school in the Kawangware slum of Nairobi. I had been in teaching a class on typing (with a few keyboards and no computers), and I worked with her and 7 of the other oldest students at the school. We used to drive in and out up to our nice house in a rich neighborhood, and they’d all go sleep in houses made of sheet metal every night. That day when I left, she kissed me on the cheek. I remember wondering why they were all so kind to me when I really didn’t feel like I was doing much for them.
A week or so after I taught that class, I arrived home from school to my mother’s news that “your friend Sharon was badly burnt”.
It turns out that Sharon had been walking with a burning kerosene lamp in her tiny shack. Someone had bumped into her and the burning kerosene had spilt all over her right leg. She was covered in third degree burns and they rushed her to Kenyatta hospital.
A few days later she was sent home because her mother and stepfather couldn’t pay for the hospital. She was far from healed at this point. I resolved to go and see her and see if there was anything I could do. I got her a book and a few chocolates.
When I got to Kawangware, I got out of the car and met with the principal of the school, who said he’d walk me over to where Sharon lived. We walked over a few ditches that had makeshift bridges of a plank of wood, and through a tiny alley, and before I knew it we were at a tiny room with a cloth front door, and Sharon was laying on the bed inside.
Sharon told me that she was glad to be out of Kenyatta Hospital early. I asked her why, didn’t they take good care of her there? She said she was in the same room as children who were dying – some of AIDS, some had malaria, or any number of other illnesses – all there in the same room. She hadn’t liked being around them because it was too heartbreaking. She felt safer at home.
Then her stepfather came in stinking of alcohol.
“Sharon” he said, “you need to change your plasters.” He handed her a bowl of warm water to help take the plasters off her leg. She dutifully started removing the plasters, and it was at this point I was made aware of the fact that the plasters the hospital had given her were adhesive. They were pulling the skin off her burnt leg – every plaster was coming off with layers of her skin on it. She diligently continued pulling her own skin off, and tears were streaming down her face. And her stepfather said, “hurry up, you don’t want to keep the white woman waiting”. I looked on in horror.
At this point I turned to the school principal, who was still sitting there with us, and said, “surely you can get non-adhesive plasters around here somewhere?” He said yes, and I told Sharon I’d be right back. I warned her not to put on a new plaster until I came back. We went about 5 meters away to a pharmacy stand and I bought a ton of non-adhesive plasters and brought them back. She still had a long way to go pulling her own skin off (this still breaks my heart) but I had to go, so I turned to her and I had a conversation I will never, ever forget.
“Sharon,” I said, “let me know what I can do for you. What do you need right now?” as I did so I thought of what I would have said when I was 13 – material things no doubt, books, more chocolate, a new CD to listen to…
Sharon instead replied, “my mother needs money. Because of me, and my hospital bill, now they can’t afford to pay the rent. We’re going to get kicked out of this house and it will be all my fault.”
The irony of this guilt-ridden confession in relation to the fact that her stepfather was stinking of alcohol, which is far from free, was not lost on me. Nor was the fact that he had made damn sure that she should ask me for money. Still, her selflessness blew me away.
I turned back and said, “I can’t make any promises at this point but we are going to try to help you. I just want you to know that none of this is your fault. You didn’t do this on purpose. Just take care of yourself for now and try to be happy.”
At this point, she looked up at me with tears in her eyes, and said, “I am happy.”
I was floored. I kissed her forehead and said, “I love you”.
Sharon moved into the school dormitory shortly after this in order to get away from her stepfather, whom the principal agreed with me was probably dangerous. This was in 2007. In 2008, Kenya erupted in chaos and Sharon’s mother took her up country to escape the violence in Kawangware. She never returned to Kawangware and I haven’t heard from her since – all I can do is pray that wherever she is, she is safe and healthy. But I know she’ll find a way to be happy no matter what conditions she finds herself in, because she is so full of love.
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR E-ZINE OR WEB SITE?
Please do! Just be sure to include this complete blurb with it:
Sadie Fulton is a 23-year-old with a massive vision for the world and a million different avenues she pursues to help get it there. She grew up traveling and has developed into a full-time activist, full-time lover of humanity, part-time musician, and she is now training to be a life coach. Above all, she wants to reach people and bring on a new era of love. If you want to share with her, get her perspective on something you are going through, or anything else at all, send her an email at sadie.fulton *at* gmail.com.