Her Extraordinary Education
What lies ahead.
And what she's left behind.
It's a warm, sticky night in summer. Ntaiya is in a bleak mood.
She can't stop thinking about home, not when she's alone in her room, siblings smiling at her from the photos taped to the walls. The boys, Benard and Daniel, young men now, frozen as skinny youngsters in this shot. Seenoi, the one Ntaiya raised when her mother was off nursing their sick father, the one who called her "Mama," wearing a skirt so big it covers her 3-year-old legs. She would be 6 by now.
And her mother, so youthful in this picture she could be Ntaiya's sister. You'd never know from this photo what hard times they've shared, working in other people's fields for 50 shillings a day, barely 70 cents, before Ntaiya nudged her mother to start their own farm and they slowly began to draw a steady income. Ntaiya worries that her mother has no one to talk to these days.
And now, after a long day at two jobs, some very bad news: Her sister Naserian is getting married. Twenty-year-old Naserian, the third child. For so many years, their mother sacrificed so much to educate her girls, to push them on to a better life than her own, and now Naserian, barely a year out of high school, is throwing it all away.
"If I were there," Ntaiya says grimly, "I could stop this marriage."
But she is not there. She doesn't even know when the wedding is to happen -- or if it's happened already. She received the news the way she receives all news from home -- in a letter, this one from her brother Daniel, that took three weeks to arrive. She longs for more information. Yet there are no phone lines in Enoosaen. She tries to dial the number of a village neighbor's cell phone, which she did once before several months ago for a brief, static-filled call to her mother. She can never get an answer.
Ntaiya is not there by her own choosing. Four years ago, she sat in her family's living room with two letters of admission, one from Randolph-Macon, the other from a teachers' academy in Kiambu, seven hours from home. If she had gone to Kiambu, she wouldn't have received a university education. But she would have earned her teaching credentials, and she would have finished a couple of years ago. She would be working and making money by now. And she would be home.
Instead, she picked Randolph-Macon. She had wept for days; still, it was always the choice of her heart -- the U.S. college, and all the big things it could bring her way.
And so she had made the deal. If she had to leave so many responsibilities behind, then she could not go just for herself.
Times like these, she thinks ahead. About all the things she has to do when she gets back to Enoosaen. The things her community needs. The things she promised.
Like a boarding school for girls.
And a maternity clinic.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
Kakenya Ntaiya, left, gets a boost from friends. Amid pressures of achieving in school and understanding a new culture, a friend's shoulder comes in handy.
(Photos Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
About This Series|
These articles are based on interviews with and observations of Kakenya Ntaiya (pronounced kah-KEHN-yah n-ta-YAH) that began in spring 2001, the year after she arrived in Lynchburg, Va., to attend Randolph-Macon Woman's College. In August, staff writer Amy Argetsinger and staff photographer Jahi Chikwendiu spent a week with Ntaiya's family, neighbors and teachers in Enoosaen (pronounced eh-noh-sah-YEHN), Kenya. Swahili and Maa translators assisted with some interviews there. Other sources were Ntaiya's classmates, professors and college officials in Virginia.