by Emily Koon
A photo op with Habitat’s two newest celebrities, “millionth person” N’dah and Ayah Kouassi
The Habitat Cheer
Gimme an H!
What’s that spell?
Thank you Habitat!
I suppose until now I didn’t spend much time thinking about how big a number one million is. I know a few simple measurements of its size: A cup of sand contains about one million grains. Light from a distant star can take one million years to reach Earth.
And now, one million people are sheltered in Habitat homes.
Habitat’s millionth person is actually two people, eight-year-old twins Ayah and N’dah Kouassi of Knoxville, Tennessee. They are the children of Koffi Kouassi and Tonya Harper, the new owners of Habitat’s 200,000th house built worldwide.
Ayah and N’dah could be seen just off the build site all week—keeping volunteers company in the food tent, making friends with staff and helping keep up the energy level with harmless mischief. Along with her sisters and cousins, Ayah performed cheers, teaching them to whomever would stop and watch. A staff favorite was one usually used to motivate football players, but somehow it belongs on a Habitat build site.
”H-u-s (h-u-s) t-l-e (t-l-e), let’s hustle!”
The children did not know how much their energy meant to the people working on site. They thought they were just entertaining, but they were giving us an important reminder. As Habitat’s joint millionth person, Ayah and N’dah kept everyone’s mind on why this build is such a big moment for Habitat as well as for this family.
Though they are twins, Ayah and N’dah could not be more different. Ayah is gregarious. She is always in the middle of the crowd, often stirring the laughter. She makes friends within minutes and holds court at meals.While her sister Koffi helped with the landscaping on the final day of work, Ayah entertained staff and volunteers.
N’dah is quiet, more deliberate with his words. He warms to newcomers more slowly than his sister does, but once he has made friends, he will share with you his plans for the future.
”My room’s going to be all Spiderman,” he says quietly as he shows me the room his parents have chosen for him. “I’m going to be Spiderman when I grow up. Or a fireman.”
I tell him he could do both, and he considers the idea carefully.
He is easily the most gentle in the family. When Ayah tells me that October 12 is her birthday, N’dah meekly chooses not to add that it is his birthday as well. He suffers from sickle cell anemia, so he is a little smaller than his sister and is unable to participate in as many activities. But the spark of mischief in his eyes is just as strong as in Ayah’s.
These twins are too young to understand how their lives are about to be changed. They just know they’re getting a new house. They’re getting new rooms, a new refrigerator and a doorbell that is fun to ring. They won’t have to climb up three flights of stairs to get inside anymore, and their sisters from the Ivory Coast will be able to come live with them.
At the house dedication and key ceremony, much was made of the number one million: one million people sheltered, the goal to shelter yet another million. The kids will need several more years before the magnitude of this number, especially as it applies to them, sinks in. On move-in day they are more concerned with decorating their rooms—N’dah, with the already declared Spiderman theme; Ayah, Strawberry Shortcake.
They are also interested in a granddaddy longlegs spider that has scaled a porch column to watch the move. They are both terrified of it, but they have different suggestions for how I should deal with it.
”Kill it!” Ayah says. “Squash it!”
I tell her it’s a harmless spider. It’s part of the yard—their yard.
”Squash it anyway!” she says.
N’dah is against this. He wants it gone, but he can’t bear the thought of harming it—he is, after all, the future Spiderman. In the end, because I’d rather not touch it myself, the very brave Ed Umbach of Knoxville HFH scoops it up and drops it into the flower bed.
Ayah asks me whether there are more spiders in the yard. I realize that she doesn’t know because this is the first time she’s had a yard. I look around the yard. Volunteers are dispersing; the build week is officially over. Ten-year-old Koffi kneels in the grass hammering pieces of scrap wood together to make “a clubhouse.” When I turn back to the twins, they have already forgotten about the spider. Their mother has called them inside. This house is a home already.
—Emily Koon is a writer/editor for Habitat for Humanity International