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Grandmaís Harambee Sweater

by Lois June Wickstrom


On the seventh day of Kwanzaa, Lisha woke up and ran into Grandmotherís room.

"What did you make me for Kwanzaa?" she asked.

Grandma rubbed her eyes, peeked at Lisha and then pulled the covers over her head.

"Grandma, itís morning. Time to get up and give me my present!" said Lisha.

"Harambee," said Grandma, peeking out from the covers again.

"Whatís a harambee?" asked Lisha. During Kwanzaa, Grandmother used Swahili words to teach important lessons.

Grandma sat up and patted the bed beside her. Lisha pushed herself up onto the bed and snuggled against Grandma. "Whatís a harambee?" She asked again.

"Harambee means we all pull together," said Grandma. "It means that when I make a gift for you, itís not just for you Ė itís for the whole community. When you receive it, you have to use it to make the world a better place."

"How can I do that?" asked Lisha.

"You have to figure it out for yourself," said Grandma.

"Iíll try," said Lisha.

"Then you may have my Harambee present," said Grandma. "Itís in the box under my bed."

Lisha slid down off the bed, lifted the covers, and poked her head underneath. The box was bigger than she had expected. Grandma would never make her enough cookies to fill a box that big. And it was too small for a swingset. She pulled the box out from under the bed.

"Go ahead. Open it!" said Grandma. "I just finished it last night."

Lisha lifted the lid. It was a red, black and green sweater. She picked it up. It was huge! And it looked as if it had three head holes, but no arm holes. It was a big bright baggy Harambee sweater!

"Grandma, this is silly! Itís way too big for me!" Lisha started to put it back in the box.

Grandma looked sad. "Donít you like it? I used a pattern for a Mexican Poncho. But I put black where their flag has white, so it would be our flag Ė red, black and green. And I made three head holes, so you could reach your arms out. Now try it on."

It was too big and too bright, and it had too many head holes. Lisha wanted to please Grandma. She knew Grandma had worked many hours on this sweater. So she pulled it on and pushed her head through the middle hole. She felt silly. She stood in the middle of Grandmaís room and tried to smile. Her feet barely poked out the bottom of that big, bright, bulky Harambee sweater.

"Now go to the park and play," said Grandma. "Iím sure that sweater will keep you warm." The park was at the end of her block. So, Lisha went outside, wearing her big, bright, bulky Harambee sweater.

She walked past Winnaís house, but Winna wasnít home. She walked past Aziziís house, but Azizi wasnít home. And she walked past Koseyís house, hoping he wasnít home. She was almost past his house when he jumped out from behind a bush and shouted "Habari Gani?" which means, "Whatís the news?" Before she could answer, "Imani," which means faith, he said, "I have a new light saber, and Iím going to slice you to ribbons." Lisha tried to

run, but her legs just tangled in her big, bright, bulky Harambee sweater.

"You canít run and you canít hide!" teased Kosey. He followed her just inches behind, tapping her with his light saber, all the way to the park.

There was her best friend Winna, flying a blue kite decorated with a drawing of red and yellow muhindi, corn.. "See this pretty kite?" called Winna. "My uncle made it for me Ė for Kwanzaa. Since Kwanzaa presents are for everybody, you can fly it too." She held out the string for Lisha.

Kosey poked at the kite with his light saber, but it was too high in the air. Lisha reached an arm out through one of the head holes her big, bright, bulky Harambee sweater, and grabbed the string. The kite started to sag. "Run!" shouted Winna. Lisha tried to run, but she toppled to the grass in her big, bright, bulky Harambee sweater.

Winna helped her up, and then took the string and ran across the park to bring the kite aloft. Lisha watched the kite rise in the sky, the ears of corn bobbing as the kite moved farther and farther away. Kosey chased after Winna, waving his light saber in front of him, but everybody knew Kosey could never run as fast as Winna.

Something tickled the back of her neck. Lisha turned. There was Azizi holding his new puppet, which wore the robes of a West African chieftain. "See," said Azizi. "You move the wooden cross-piece like this, and the puppet moves. My brother made it for me for Kwanzaa." May I try it?" asked Lisha. Azizi looked doubtful, but then he said, "Kwanzaa gifts are for sharing," and he held it out to her. When Lisha tried to make the puppetís leg move, itís foot caught a loop of her big, bright, bulky Harambee sweater.

"Hold still," said Azizi. He tugged at the puppetís foot and the string snapped. Azizi looked sad. "My brother will be furious," he said. "Donít worry," said Lisha. "My grandma can fix it." Azizi hugged his puppet to his chest and started running to Lishaís house.

Lisha looked up to see Winnaís kite. She looked higher and higher. Finally she saw it, almost in the clouds. Just then a cold breeze came up, and the kite rose higher still. Lisha pulled her arms inside her big, bright, bulky Harambee sweater. Grandma was right. This sweater did keep her warm. But what about Winna? Winna wasnít wearing a sweater. And Grandma had made this sweater big. Surely there was room for both of them inside. Lisha saw Winna halfway across the park. She started walking toward her.

Winna saw Lisha and started running toward her. Kosey was still following with his light saber.

"You must be cold. Come get in my sweater with me," said Lisha. Winna ducked inside the big, bright, bulky Harambee sweater. Soon, her head poked out one of the extra head holes. "This is fun," she said. Then Kosey caught up with them. He looked cold. His arms were covered with goosebumps. And he wasnít waving his light saber at them any more.

"Could I get in your sweater, too?" asked Kosey.

"Heís always mean to us," said Winna. "Freezing might teach him a lesson."

"Grandma said I have to use this sweater to make the world a better place," said Lisha.

"The world might be a better place without Kosey," said Winna.

Lisha paused and thought. Would Kosey go away and never bother them again if she didnít let him into the sweater? Then she heard Grandmaís voice: We all pull together. Grandma would want her to let Kosey in. But he had to understand what it meant.

"Habari Gani?" asked Lisha, meaning "Whatís the news?"

"My new light saber," said Kosey, proudly. "Iíll cut you to ribbons." He swished the light saber at the girls.

"See, I told you!" said Winna.

"Forget it!" said Lisha. She and Winna started walking home.

"Imani," said Kosey, shivering, running after them. "It means faith."

"Heís just pretending," said Winna.

"Itís a start," said Lisha.

She held up one side of the big, bright, bulky Harambee sweater so Kosey could get in. Then the three of them walked back to Lishaís house where Grandmother served them hot chocolate from the kikombe, the cup of togetherness.