The sky was a crisp, clear blue — the way it only is after several days of rain, when everything is fresh and new. The air smelled of earth. And the echo of a song hummed by one of our girls drifted along in the breeze.
It was my favorite kind of lazy Sunday afternoon. Some of our girls slept on the floor of their rooms — opting for the concrete’s cool touch over their soft mattresses. Others hung out in our ENO hammocks. Some practiced traditional dance by the classrooms while some sat in the shade watching. And then there were some who wanted to sit with me on our verandah and talk.
“Auntie Sarah, we’re bored. Tell us a story.”
“Ugh. I always tell the story. I’m bored too. You tell me a story.”
Without hesitation, one of our most dramatic girls cleared her throat and began…
Once, there was a very important tribal king. He was a good and honest man with great amounts of land in his kingdom. All of the people respected him and he cared for all of his people. Because he cared for them so much, he tried to visit them as much as possible — even the ones that lived at the far ends of the kingdom.
The king had a beautiful young daughter. She was kind and gentle and everyone in the kingdom loved her. But she was also a very curious little princess, and she loved to look for adventure. One day, her father was preparing to visit his subjects on a faraway island in Lake Victoria. The little princess asked if she could come, as she had many times before. The king agreed.
Men prepared an eryato for the king and the princess, along with 14 other eryatos to carry the king's men and gifts for the islanders. The boat ride took one day to complete. So the king’s men also built a tent on the eryato to shade the princess from the heat of the sun. To thank them for their kindness, she sang to the men and told them stories as they raced towards the island.
As they neared their destination, the little princess looked past the small island and saw more islands on the horizon of Lake Victoria. “Father,” she asked. “Can we visit those islands?”
“No, my dear,” he answered. “Those islands belong to a different kingdom. There, you are not so loved. Harm might come to you. It is too dangerous for a sweet princess.”
His daughter acquiesced, but she could not stop thinking about the islands that lay beyond the edge of their kingdom. What did the people look like? What tongue did they speak? What did they eat?
After she and the king returned home, she continued to think of these things for many months. Then, one day as she was sitting by the edge of the lake thinking again, Crane approached her.
“Dearest princess, what is troubling your mind?”
“My father told me the islands beyond our kingdom are dangerous. But I cannot help but wonder what the people there look like? What tongue do they speak? What do they eat?”
“I see,” Crane replied. And then he was silent for a moment, also deep in thought.
“My dearest princess, what would you say if I carried you to those islands and kept you safe, so you could see for yourself? It just so happens I have a brother who lives on one of the islands and I think it is time I visit.”
Overjoyed at this idea, the princess agreed and the two secretly prepared for the long journey, which they agreed should happen after the moon set three more times.
Finally, the day came. Just as the sun touched the tips of Crane’s wings, the two friends lifted off the ground and headed towards Lake Victoria. As they neared the water, Crane cautioned the princess.
“Be sure to hold tight. If you find yourself tired, wrap your arms around my neck as you rest. For there will be no place to stop while we are over the water, and if you fall you will surely drown.” The princess did as she was told.
It was many hours later before they reached the edge of the kingdom, then the islands beyond. As they drew near, the princess was surprised by what she saw — the islands were not green, like those in her father’s kingdom. They were not covered with banana or mango trees. They did not have passionfruit vines, or forests for the animals to play in. They were only dirt and rock with dry, yellow grass.
Crane quickly descended so that no one would see their arrival. He set the princess on her feet and showed her a large rock to hide under.
“From here, you can watch the people of this land,” he explained. “But they cannot see you under the rock, so you shall remain safe while I visit my brother.” And with that, he left.
For many hours, the princess remained under the rock. After some time, the native islanders passed very close to the rock. At first, the princess was afraid they would see her. But as Crane promised, she remained safe.
“These people look very different,” the princess said to herself. “Their skin is darker than my people and their necks are longer. Perhaps they are taller than my people, too.” She listened closely to their strange tongue, unable to understand the words coming out of their mouths.
When the sun was directly overhead, the islanders stopped their toil of the land and gathered in small groups for the midday meal. The princess observed the meal, unsure of what they ate but wanting to try some, as she was hungry and it smelled delicious.
By mid-afternoon, Crane returned.
“My princess, how was your day?”
“Oh, Crane! It was so very interesting.”
“Did you see what the people here look like?”
“Yes. They are different, but also beautiful.”
“Did you hear the tongue they speak?”
“Yes, but I could not understand the words.”
“Did you see what they eat?”
“I did not know the name, but it made me very hungry to smell it.”
Satisfied by her observations, Crane smiled at the little princess. “It seems you have learned a great deal today and our trip was a success. Now, let us return home and fill your empty belly.”
The two friends started the journey back. This time, it seemed to take longer and the princess was more tired. She started to fall twice, but the faithful bird adjusted his course and shifted her into the center of his back once more.
When they neared her kingdom, the princess woke up and saw beautiful, green land welcoming her home. She cried with joy at the sight and thought she had never seen anything more beautiful. While she was glad Crane had taken her to see the other islands, she realized she had a new appreciation of her home and the people who welcomed her return.
Landing, she ran to her father’s arms and was swallowed by his kingly hug. Then, he turned to face Crane.
“Thank you for keeping our princess safe,” he said. “Today I want to bestow upon you a gift, so that all of the animals in the kingdom know that you are a friend of the king and princess. Please, take this crown of gold.”
With that, a crown of gold feathers appeared at the top of Crane’s head. He wept in gratitude and thanked the king for his generosity. But that was not all — Crane’s children were also given crowns of gold, and his children’s children and so on, so that all of the animals from that time forward would know of the great thing he did in keeping the princess safe.
After she finished the story, she sat down as I clapped. We spent 30 minutes more talking about nothing of importance. Then the girls dispersed and showered and readied for dinner.
A few days later, all of the students returned to their village after completing the first term at school. I hope that as they returned, they saw the familiar banana trees and dirt paths and gardens with new eyes, just as the princess saw her home in the story.
None of us knew that the lazy Sunday afternoon spent telling stories was the last we would have altogether — all 24 girls, Gabriel and I. Today, only some of us return to school. Many changes took place while our girls were in the village, some changes that were more difficult to understand than others. But we ask that you join us in prayer for a smooth transition into second term.
Sometimes it’s hard to fully trust God’s plan. But as we watch this story unfold, we know it’s masterfully written by the hand who wrote it all.