Mama Patience Gets a Singer
Mama Patience, one of my closest friends, has inspired me for years. Though a grandmother like me, she is the age of my daughter. Crippled as a child by a terrible bone infection, widowed as a young woman, she stands just barely above my waist. She runs a sewing school for girls in her tiny mud hut. Over the years she has trained over 300 girls, launching them into the world with a meager way to support themselves. But she offers them more than training in how to use their treadle machines. She counsels, advises, rescues, and supports. A huge advocate of girls, she also works with a group of community activists (the Matope girl-child advocates) to identify girls who have dropped out of school, and to make home visits to try to get them back in school. At last count, her group had gotten 217 girls back in school, no small feat in a world where most parents want their daughters to be working in the shamba (garden) or fetching wood and water.
I knew Patience desperately needed more sewing machines for her school. She’d once had more, bought with a micro loan. But so many of her students couldn’t pay their fees, and the machines had been reclaimed. She’d been teaching 8-12 girls with 3 barely working machines. What she really dreamed of, was to have a Singer (famous in these parts), because it could zigzag, as she showed me with a gesture. She could do so much with a machine that could zigzag!
As part of our program to help girls become self-sufficient, some women had donated the money for sewing machines. But a ZigZagging Singer cost twice as much as a regular machine. Was it worth it? We could get her three regular machines, or one Singer and one regular. Which did she want? The light in her eyes told me the answer. The ZigZagging Singer would be life changing.
So Joseph, our faithful director who knows how to negotiate the madness of the markets in Mombasa, took off with Mbotte, our team assistant. They spent the day finding the best bargains and loading up the machines. The next morning, Mbotte took me to deliver the machines.
“Patience,” I said. “We have a surprise for you!” She peeked around me and saw the box, “Singer” written across it. Legendary. The same logo they’d had since 1851. Too good to be true! She beamed. We cried. Mbotte carefully unveiled the goods. I asked her how she would safeguard something so valuable. After all, a mud hut is not very secure. “I will sleep with it,” she said with a sheepish grin.
I picture her, curled around her machine, as the stars come out and march across the African sky. She is treadling softly in her sleep, knowing that sometimes dreams really do come true.