In the stillness of morning I sit in my living room. The lights are out and my husband is sound asleep in our bedroom. The sky outside is just beginning to be edged with light. It’s one of my favorite times to write and I sit in the company of the stories of my Ugandan students. I’m editing and revising, marrying their written pieces with the notes I took from our one on one interviews.
One particular story grips me today. It’s the story of a girl who was never expected to be born, the story of a girl with a heart that beats for the orphaned girls all over the world. This is Beatrice’s story.
Uganda is called the Pearl of Africa and as I sit with Beatrice’s words spread out on the carpet around me, I can’t help but feel the weight and truth of that name. Natural pearls are born when an irritant like a piece of sand or a broken bit of shell works its way into an oyster, or more rarely a clam or mussel. As a defense mechanism the mollusk secretes layer after layer of a crystalline fluid called nacre that coats the irritant and turns what was once a broken bit of shell or an insignificant piece of sand into a lustrous pearl.
Beatrice is smart, kind and has a quick wit that had me smiling at something new each day I spent with her. Did I mention she’s a poet? Beatrice is a girl cut of my own heart.
I met Beatrice when I was sitting behind a hut on campus. I was flicking through yearbook photos on my camera when she and two friends sat down near me.
“Hi. What are you girls up to? No class right now?”
“We want to have a discussion.” Beatrice said.
“Oh, let me move out of your way so you can have some privacy.” I began to collect my things, wanting to respect their space.
“No, we want to have a discussion with you.” Beatrice laughed.
“Oh, okay.” I blushed, feeling silly that I didn’t understand the first time around. “What should we discuss?”
“California.” Beatrice said decisively.
Our conversation began with California, delved into this crazy book project that brought me to Uganda and then sunk down deep when brave Beatrice began to share her story.
Beatrice was born to a mother with special needs, a woman who cannot think or speak on her own. It’s not known how Beatrice’s mother came to be pregnant or who Beatrice’s father is. Even her mother cannot give voice to how it came to pass that she grew this child inside her. I shudder imagining how the pregnancy began and yet, my arms prickle with goosebumps that such an amazing life began with such an unlikely start.
Beatrice and her mother were raised by her grandmother and her Uncle Angelo, a man who loved to read, a man who tells Beatrice with assurance that she is a blessing to this world. In writing about her Uncle Angelo, Beatrice says he is everything to her because he instilled in her a love of learning and gave her all the things that other children with parents had.
Every little girl should be so fortunate to have an Uncle Angelo who coats their most broken places with layers of blessings.
Beatrice aspires to be a lawyer. And an accountant. And a politician. In fact she’s got her sights set on being a member of Ugandan Parliament. She wants to push corruption out of Uganda and help her country shine brightly.
Her other goal is to care for and educate orphaned girls because according to Beatrice, “When you educate a girl, you educate the whole nation.” I’d wager to say that the reaches of educating this particular girl stretch far beyond the borders of Uganda.
As my trip was drawing to a close, Beatrice asked if I’d help get her story out to encourage other girls. When she tells her story in our upcoming book, I have a feeling it will strike a chord in the hearts of girls all over the world.
I leave you with a snippet of Beatrice’s encouragement for young girls. “Take care and know that your life is important. The world is because of you. It is up to us to make the world shine.”
As I lay out Beatrice’s story, as I look at her photo, my heart is full for this girl who blesses the world with her very being. She’s right, it’s up to us to make the world shine.
Across the ocean, ten hours ahead of me, where night is beginning to draw the curtains on the day, there’s a girl who already is the bright shining pearl of Africa.