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  • I imagine the sound of goats and the press of hot equatorial wind, every time I wear her earrings.

    They are her earrings. Someone in her community made them; maybe she made them herself. For months - maybe years - she bore them across the dry landscape where Maasai land meets the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

    When the wind chimed together the pounded metal triangles, she heard their ting ting over her bleating goats.

    All the bead jewelry in the Nairobi markets is multicolored. Green and red and blue. Yellow too. There are a lot of non-traditional shapes, tailored for the tourists. But the nomadic people living on the border with Tanzania make only white jewelry for their ears, ankles, wrists.

    I'd only been in East Africa for a few months, but I knew that I wanted something "authentic", something "real". So when I saw her, I pulled over on the side of the road and called to her.

    I barely spoke Swahili. She barely spoke Swahili. A teenage boy herding with her acted as interpreter.

    It was a pretty short conversation... "I'd like to buy her earrings." "Did you go to the market?" "Yes. I'd like to buy HER earrings." "How much do you want to pay?" "Five hundred shillings?" "One thousand, five hundred." "OK, seven hundred." "OK."

    And she reached up to where the cartilage in her upper ears had stretched and opened over the years. She unhooked the wire from itself. She put them in her palm. She held them out to me. I handed the equivalent of eight dollars to the boy.

    They rounded up the goats, and walked off into the scrubby bush.

    Today, I can't believe that I was so audacious. I'm not proud of it. I cringe.

    But her earrings are one of the few things I've carried with me since Kenya. They are dear to me in a way that I don't quite understand.

    I imagine the sound of goats and the press of hot equatorial wind, every time I wear her earrings. And I wear them often. They are a memory of Africa, of naïveté. Of how she is someone I will never know.
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