Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I met my sponsored child for the first time today.

-July 7, Tuesday
Eldoret, Kenya-

At 9:00, we are going to board two or three matatus and head for the city of Kisumu, which is approximately three hours away. If you have never ridden on Kenyan roads, then you cannot understand how that even twenty minutes in a vehicle is excruciating. The roads are absolutely terrible. There are massive pot holes, frequent foot-high speed bumps, and unbelievably bumpy streets. By the time five minutes have passed, you will find yourself in the lap of your neighbor at least twice.

Despite all of this, I am excited to go to Kisumu because the girl that I sponsor, Lavin, lives there. I am thrilled to meet my sponsored child and give her the gifts I brought from America.

Yesterday some of our team built new toilets out of barrels and toilet seats for the school. This may sound poor and lame, but in reality, the toilets are so much better than what they were- filthy holes in the ground. The word for... well, poop... in Swahili is cha and the word for toilet is choo, which rhymes with toe.

None of these people seem to know any form of the word 'bathroom'- restroom, toilet, lavatory, water closet, powder room- in the English language. In fact, one man asked Barbie if she needed to use a s*** hole, for lack of a better word.

Cheryl talked to the members of the school about how they needed to put their cha in the choo, and not on the floor. She and Audie also taught them how to use bleach. Trying to explain that bleach was poisonous to drink, she explained, "It will kill the children," and then they were all terrified of the stuff.

We put a plaque on Connor Deal's keyboard in memory of his life. It is nice to know that there are literally hundreds of people who are thanking God for Connor Deal every day because they now have a musical instrument for their church. They are extremely grateful.

-Kisumu, Kenya-

As a final farewell, we sang songs with the elders of the Eldoret church and finished with a serene chorus of, "He has done so much for me that I cannot tell it all, I cannot tell it all, I cannot tell it all. He has done so much for me."

I said goodbye to Wilson and Consolata and all of my new friends. Madina gave me the sweetest letter of encouragement. It says,

"Dear Emily Welch,
I take this opportunity to congratulate you for the good work that you have done in our country. May God bless you for being kind and care. Thank you for taking care and supporting those children that are not able. Just remember that you will reap what you sow. Continue with that heart of kindness and God will bless you. You are welcomed again in our country, and you can keep in touch through my email.
Yours friendly,
Madina Matembai"

The sadness I felt from leaving this people brought tears to my eyes. I feel a connection with these church members, and I will not feel complete until I help them in someway, somehow.

We prepared to board our matatus for the final time. The drivers always pick the two people who they want to sit in the passenger seat with them so that they can show them the sights. Today our driver picked Barbie and I, and we started off for the four hour drive from Eldoret to Kisumu.

It was very beautiful. There were poinsettia trees, papaya trees, sugar cane, tea plants, coffee plants, acacia trees, and every color and variety of plant and flower that you could possibly imagine. The landscape of Africa is so diverse, so distinctive, so striking. I don't think that any place is like it in the world. You cannot even begin to imagine the beauty, the surreal images that wash through your mind every time you open your eyes, unless you can see it for yourself.

We saw the tea farmers picking the tea and throwing it into great baskets that rested on their backs. It made me think of the plantations back in early America.

There were tall, tall termite hills. When it rains, the termites come out in swarms of thousands. This happened at our hotel in Eldoret. It rained and the termites swarmed. After they died, they literally were lying in scattered piles all over the ground.

We arrived in Kisumu and met Jared, James, and Thomas before heading inside of the Nakumatt mall and eating lunch at a fairly nice restaurant. I ordered chips, a ham and cheese sandwich, a coke, and a vanilla milk shake. It was lovely.

We went shopping for a while and I bought a few gifts for my family. It is very easy to bargain with the vendors. They would say that something cost one amount, and then say, "But for you, my customer, you get a special discount... for you only. What price would you like?" We would barter back and forth, and then I would pretend to be ready to leave until I got the price that I wanted.

We had to drive through the worst slums I have ever seen to get to the school. Houses and businesses made of tarp, piles of trash blanketing the streets, practically nonexistent roads, children playing in ankle-deep mud and feces... it was a terrible, terrible place. My heart reaches out to these people.

I could hear the children shrieking with excitement before I even saw the school. They were so eager to see us. As we climbed out of the matatus, the five hundred children began to sing, Rejoice in the Lord Always. Barbie cried with joy, because she taught them that song several years ago.

I told my name to one child, and by the time I stood up to introduce myself to the school, at least eighty kids shouted out, "Emily!" before I even said my name. They were so excited to meet us all.

We took a long and rather boring tour of the AIDS clinic and VCT. It is so small and so poor, but they are so proud of it, and for good reason. They are helping save a few more people from the terrible HIV/AIDS pandemic. I was told that the tiny clinic services over a million people in the Nyalenda slums area.

We went outside to visit with the children, and they lined up to wash their hands. Because of the cholera outbreak in the slums, everyone is working hard to stay clean and healthy.

After they washed, they received a plateful of beans and maize for dinner. A girl of thirteen walked up to me and said, "I want to make a friendship with you." Her name is Dorine, and she is the sweetest little girl. After we had a short conversation, I told Dorine that I sponsor a girl named Lavin, and that I wanted to meet her. "Yes, yes, Lavin is in class three," Dorine replied, and then suddenly children everywhere were calling out, "Lavin! Lavin! Where is Lavin?"

Lavin emerged from the crowd, smiling shyly, and her face lit up with recognition when she saw me. "Do you know who I am?" I asked her.

"Yes, Emily," she whispered.

I pulled the green bracelet that says, "I Choose You," off of my wrist and tied it around Lavin's. "I brought this to you from America," I explained. "You are one year younger than my sister. I consider you as my sister."

Lavin did not speak much. Her shyness seemed to nearly overwhelm her, but she smiled brightly, and all of the children crowded around to admire her new bracelet. As Lavin left the school to return to her shack in the slums, I saw her staring and touching the bracelet with an expression of awe on her face.

We had dinner- ugali, rice, and chicken- and then found two new matatus to take us back to the LeSavannah hotel. Each matatu has a name. Our two matatus are named Harmony and Trippin'. When asking each other which matatu to take, we would ask, "Are you trippin'?"

Back at the hotel, we packed school supplies for Vacation Bible School, watched parts of Michael Jackson's funeral, and headed up to our rooms. There are no room numbers. Instead, each room is named after an animal. My room is the Scorpion Room.

I asked the children if they could have anything for their school, what would they want, and they all shouted out, "Computers!" Then one boy asked the difference between a computer and a laptop. I explained that a computer is shaped like a television, and a laptop folds up like a book.

Tomorrow is going to be very eventful and exciting. I am going to help Barbie take pictures for Christian Relief Fund. I am looking forward to meeting the children already.

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