A story for you.
Wooden Woman will tell it.
Was she three? Certainly no more than four years old,
the gangly little Kenyan girl balanced a baby on her back,
the younger leaned in tight. Dusty legs and faces,
each had an empty blue water bottle in hand.
They negotiated the dry and rutted road
in the unhurried and straight-backed way
of Kenyan women.
We, a van full of Americans,
and rampant energy notwithstanding,
were playfully joining arms and photographing each other
in celebration of fact that there was still water in the pond.
The pond had been excavated
to last longer through the dry season.
Cows appeared and frolicked toward the muddy water
where they then waded in.
The girls had come to fill their water bottles.
The fresh water from a well
was more than a mile away–too far for them.
And what do you do with that?
You open the van and give the older girl a new bottle
filled with fresh clean water. She, of course, opens it
and tries to give her sister the first drink.
It is hard because she is small
and the baby gets water spilled down her legs
but nothing to drink.
Kathy takes the bottle, explaining she will help
and then give it back.
How do I describe the way the baby
held that first sip in her mouth?
She looked to be tasting water for the first time.
Carefully swallowed, she sips again and holds it,
one big drip gently falling from her sweet lips.
We hand the older sister a bottle all her own.
And those two sisters are indelibly with you
as you load back into the van and as they
meander down toward the cows and muddy water.
They are with you on the airplane
and as you try to tell people what Kenya is like.
They are there with you every time
you open a bottle of water.
You cannot help but try and hold
the first sip the way that baby did.
And here months later you wonder
if waterborne illness has taken one of them yet.
You promise yourself
that was the single best thing
you ever did for another human being.