Okay, that is the end of the lesson. Now all the boys will go with Delroy to talk with him, and the girls will stay here in the class with Natalie.
The pastor’s wife collected her Bible and Choose to Wait guide and closed the thin wood door behind her. Through the window-shaped cutouts in the wall, I watched her walk up the cement pathway towards the principal’s office. Then I turned my attention to the twenty 7th and 8th grade girls sitting expectantly in front of me.
My name is Natalie, and I live in America; in Chicago. I told them. They nodded, a couple smiling shyly. I told them that I go to college, and said a couple of words about my family. Then I fell silent; their teacher had said they could ask any questions they had, and I wanted to give them a chance.
A girl in the back row, tucked snuggly into a bench with three other girls, raised her hand.
Yes? I pointed to her and leaned forward a bit, anticipating her thick Kenyan accent.
How old are you? She asked, her dark eyes sparkling and a smile playing across her lips. I answered her, and the class murmured as they looked me up and down; so this is what a 20-year-old white girl looks like.
There was a short pause, then another question, another girl. We discussed my hobbies, their favorite sport (running, obviously), which animals we all like, and what we all want to be when we grow up. By the time a slight girl in the front raised her long hand and asked if I liked the color of Africans, we were all grinning; we were having fun.
Your color? Yes, it’s wonderful! I exclaimed, and the class chuckled. And I love your hair! I added, running my finger across the braid of one of the girls closest to me. My admiration of their textured hair was met with general skepticism, and I nodded my head emphatically, No really, I do! It’s so different from mine. I explained, and then, on impulse, I reached up and took out my hair clip. My twisted, frizzy hair fell on my shoulders and I shook my head, sending my hair whipping around my face.
The class erupted in shouts of laugher and loud applause. I laughed along with the girls as I twisted my rather tangled hair and clipped it securely in place once again.
Our informal, two-sided interview continued for several more minutes, now in a much more animated manner. We were comfortable with each other, and were having fun spending time together.
Then, too quickly, the pastor’s wife appeared in the pane-less window, nodding that it was time to go. No, five more minutes! The uniformed young ladies protested, and we waited expectantly to see what her response would be. No, girls, you will be late for your next class! She contested, which announcement was met with general murmurs of dissatisfaction from the class; we were truly quite enjoying ourselves.
How about one more question? I asked the woman, and the girls nodded eagerly; please, just one more? Smiling, their teacher nodded her head. One more question, she agreed, making her way once more up the open-air hallway.
Before their teacher had appeared in the window, two or three dark hands had been waving in the air, eagerly and excitedly waiting for their turn to speak. Now, with one question left, I turned back to the class and saw just one hand, raised by a young girl who had asked some of the most insightful questions during our time.
Yes? I said, nodding my head in her direction. The girl hesitated just a second, glancing mischievously at her classmates. And then, grinning shyly, Will you allow us to touch your hair? Laughing, I nodded, and out came the hair clip once again.
Chaos ensued. Twenty girls enveloped me, rubbing my head, twirling my hair around their fingers, tugging lightly on my bangs. They pulled gently on my earrings, put their fingers through my ring-shaped necklace, and patted me kindly on the back.
The pastor’s wife returned quite soon, announcing that it was now most definitely time for their next class. She assuaged their mumbling protests with the suggestion of a song. Let’s sing God Made Me Beautiful, she said, and don’t forget to move your body! She reminded. Because what would a Kenyan praise song be without a little moving?
And so we sang, and we moved, and then we prayed, holding hands together in a lopsided circle. And as I hugged each of them goodbye, the words of the song came back to me, because regardless of our color, or the texture of our hair, God made us all very beautiful indeed.