She looked after me when I could not look after myself. She was capable to understand the struggles that I was facing without me saying a word. She was never afraid to lend a hand to anyone in need. She was never afraid to stand up for what is right. She put others’ needs before herself. She taught me to treat others the way I would like to be treated. She gave and showed me unconditional love. My grandmother was a definition of a hero.
She was truly someone to admire. Despite her age, the pain she constantly experienced, tiredness—she woke up at four in the morning everyday to make me my special breakfast. As a young child, I remember nothing but always being sick. Always visiting hospitals and always taking medicines. My bad nutrition was part of it. She knew that more than anyone. She carried me on her back—whether it be night or morning—and took me to the hospital. This is the kind of grandmother she was to me.
What makes her stand out from other grandmothers? What makes her a hero? Her kindness and strength goes farther than just me and my family. My grandmother stayed in the same neighborhood for more than 20 years. Everyone knew her as “someone not to mess with.” One day a thief broke into our house. Everyone was asleep except for her. With a long wooden stick in her right hand, she was brave enough to face the thief herself, saying, “Umekuja kwa nyumba mbaya!” meaning, “You broke into the wrong house!” She called her neighbors and they helped her catch the thief who had broken not only in her house, but others, too.
She instilled in me strong beliefs that anything is possible with God and that prayer is the key. This is something that I grew up constantly hearing and seeing my grandmother pray every single day alone in her room. I never understood why she was praying that much. But now I do. She told me, “When you love God as much as I do, you want to talk to him anytime of day. You want to thank him for giving you life and protecting your loved ones.” She prayed everyday, even when she was sick.
All my life I wanted to make her proud. My ultimate goal was to one day build a house for her where —for once in her life—she would rest and let me take care of her the way she took care of me. In 2013, the day I left Tanzania, I vividly remember the last words she said to me: “Sharon, do not let anyone tell you that God does not exist. Do not lose yourself, and remember, prayer is the key.” These words stayed in my head as a motivation for the hard times I went through. Especially being here in Thailand without my hero. These words and the hope of seeing her again are what kept me going. The memory of her scent, her embrace, her arms around me and her kisses are what helped me sleep at night.
Five years passed without me seeing her. I rarely talked to her on the phone. Life got in the way and I started to feel more and more distant from her. I started to forget her! Days would pass before I would think of her. Then one day, I heard the news that she was sick and was in the hospital. At first I could not believe it. She was a strong woman who rarely got sick to the point of being hospitalized. In my head I said, “She is strong. She will bounce back as always.” Now I regret ever thinking these thoughts.
Then, in June of 2018, I received the worst news of my life. My grandmother was sick and she passed away despite getting surgery. My body collapsed to the floor. I felt like my heart was constantly being stabbed with a million tiny pins. I felt the type of pain I had never ever felt before in my life. Everything was spinning. The world took the one person who kept me going. The one person who loves others more than anyone. The one person who was never afraid to give. The one person who knew me more than I knew myself. I was angry, sad, confused, hurt. I felt like the world was unfair. But most of all, I felt guilty. I did not want to see the light of day. Do I deserve to live after all that I did? The thoughts that I had for the one person who carried me on her weak back for miles?
To this day, it is hard to wake up and find myself feeling alone. Reminding myself that there is no one waiting for me in Tanzania. No one. However, as time passed by, I knew that she would not want me to live life like this. To be angry and depressed by the world. The one person that was gone physically still remained in my heart to remind me that everything happens for a reason. Someone who is no longer here brought me back from the dark hole that I was in. She made me want to live again… This essay is a representation of how far I have come and how far I will go, with her in my heart. I love you “bibi.”
Sharon K. won first place in the 14-17 year-old age group. Sharon is a 16-year-old Tanzanian young writer living in Bangkok, Thailand. Romance and mystery novels are part of her everyday life. She loves writing for the mere reason of how you can express so much, with so little words. She also writes persuasive and response-to-global-issues essays. She loves to dance but still has a long way to go. Playing volleyball is her way of exercising and painting is her way of de-stressing. Her annoying 12-year-old brother is still her number one fan.
To view all of the essay winners, please visit (and like!) the Bangkok Refugee Young Writer Contest’s Facebook Page.
Editor’s note: Bibi translates to ‘grandmother’ in Swahili.