Friday, July 3, 2009

The Unsponsored Children

-July 3, Friday
In Air to Eldoret-

We are in a tiny plane- no more than fifteen or twenty rows in all. We had to walk a ways down the runway outside before we climbed a set of stairs directly onto the plane. I was walking with Bekah, and we were on our way to the plane when another plane blasted over us, nearly blowing us both over. The wind and the sound were incredible. Our skirts whipped about our legs, and we grabbed at our flying hair, shrieking through the noise. It was startling at the moment, but we had a good laugh afterwards.

Last night, Sandi and I went to bed fairly quickly and crashed into dreamland. I woke up at 3:00 in the morning and could not go back to sleep. The alarm rang at 4:15, and I got up to take the first shower. The water had two options- ice cold or scalding hot, and I chose the latter. I am lucky. Some of our team had no hot water at all.

Around 5:15, I went down to get some breakfast. It was pretty good, all considering. There was an interesting version of corn flakes and milk, which I had along with some sugar. There were delicious bananas, sweet potatoes, potatoes, toast, and some salted pork. It was all filling and I was satisfied.

We went to the airport and endured a long line to check our many piles of luggage. We finally boarded the plane- the tiny, tiny plane- and took off. The Kenyan landscape is mind-boggling. Now I understand why we could see very few lights in the blackness as we descended into Nairobi last night. Most of the city consists of little shacks, either jumbled together in a chaotic mess, or scattered apart from each other, looking vaguely like spilled Legos. The shacks are all very colorful. The African landscape is much different than ours, consisting of random mountains, craters, lakes, grassy plains, and villages. It is beautiful.

The captain just announced that we are already descending. This was quite a short flight, no longer than thirty minutes.

I am excited for the busy day ahead of us.

-Eldoret, Kenya-

I don't know how much I can write tonight, since it is late and I have to get up early tomorrow, but if I have to stop, then I will finish the recording of my day tomorrow.

We got off the plane and we met with Francis and his sweet wife, Consolata. We gathered our luggage and boarded the matatus to go to the Jumbo Valley Hotel. Half of us were left behind until the drivers could make a second trip to the airport. When we finally arrived, everyone was waiting outside with shouts of, "Karibu! Welcome!" All of the leaders and elders from the CRF Eldoret Projects had come to welcome us to Eldoret.

We put our things in our rooms, and some of us went to have tea time, while others of our team went into town to go to the bank and exchange their money. I stayed to have tea, because I had already exchanged my currency at the airport.

The men all introduced themselves to us, often stopping with emotion as they thanked us for our service in coming to Kenya. They were so excited to have us here. They would stand up and sing worship songs to us. It was an interesting sight to see all of the tall African men, dressed in nice suits, dancing and clapping and singing joyfully. It was beautiful.

We all introduced ourselves to the men and Consolata, and they introduced themselves in return, speaking in deep voices with thick accents. They told us stories of the children, the churches, and their lives. They had a little ceremony to show their appreciation, where they would rub their hands together and then clap in unison- one, two, three... one, two, three... one, two, three...

The men had everyone speak again when the others returned from the bank, and so we went through each and every introduction for yet another round. One mzee named Paul said, "If you forget everything you learn in Kenya, you must remember this: be yourself. God has a special mission for you. Your mission is not mine... or Milton Jones'... or anyone else's. Your mission is your own."

These people are so joyful, so happy, and they smile all the time. They sing proudly, "He has done so much for me that I can not tell it all..."

The men talked about how there is hakuna matata, or "no problems" in Kenya. It brings me back to hardly hours before when Consolata was explaining to me how that Kenya is going through a terrible drought, which means that even harder times are to come for the many farmers in this region. "We are crying," Consolata said in her soft voice. "Africa is crying out for rain. We are crying out to God, and He will provide for us."

The meeting lasted from 10:00 in the morning until nearly 2:40 in the afternoon. It was a phenomenal and uplifting experience. After we finished the long meeting with the African men, we went to the Milton Jones Eagle Academy to see the children. They were all standing on the front porch of the tiny school, waiting eagerly for us.

When I stepped out of the matatu, I was immediately swept up into a swarm of five hovering old women. They kissed me and hugged me and kissed me again, murmuring, "Karibu. Welcome," before running off to find their next new friend.

The children sang us a song, and then we went down the line to greet every one of them, because they each wanted to shake our hands and ask, "How are you?" in sweet voices. The children's uniforms were purple and navy blue. I have never seen cuter children in my entire life.

There were even more children meandering in the muddy schoolyard. These, however, were shoeless and wore dusty, mismatched clothing. They looked at us with wide eyes, staring at our digital cameras with wonder.

A new game began. We would take pictures of the laughing children and let them take a peek at themselves in the tiny screens, crowing with delight at their images. I wonder if they have ever had pictures taken of them.

These children were the unschooled.

These were the ones who were not sponsored, who could not afford shoes, much less the books and uniforms required of the small primary school. With longing eyes, these children watched the students file into the schoolhouse for the greeting ceremony.

We sat down on hard, wooden benches, astonished by the darkness of the classroom. There was no electricity, and only a few windows, so little light came into the small room. The children sang happily to us in both Swahili and English, with dramatic gestures and facial expressions.

Francis told us that throughout the entire day, whenever a car had driven by the front gate, the children rushed to the gate in eager expectation, hoping that their American friends had come early. They were such happy little children.

Francis spoke eagerly about the beginning of his school and about the church of Christ that it becomes on Sunday mornings. He proudly told us the story of when a witch doctor who hated the church cursed them by beheading some chickens and placing them rear-forward in front of the church building. This curse made the local people too frightened to come to church. Francis and his elders went inside the church and prayed long and hard to God for three days. At the end of the third day, the witch doctor was found dead in his home.

The teachers and cooks of the school were proudly introduced, and then each of my team introduced ourselves as well. Milton Jones spoke to the awe-struck children. They all treated him with great reverence. After all, he was the Milton Jones, the man their school was named after.

At the end of the ceremony, I had to use the restroom. It was raining gently, and when I arrived at the dilapidated hut that said, Ladies, I knew that I was about to experience something truly foreign to my lifestyle back at home. There were large holes in the rusty tin roof, and rain spattered through the ceiling onto my head. There were three filthy stalls, and feces covered the floor. I am not sure why the children would just as soon take a dump on the floor than in the hole. There were two footprints to stand on, and the stench was nearly overwhelming. The stall door was hanging by one hinge, but at least that stall had a door.

I left the restroom feeling a great sadness wash over me. Audie saw my expression. "The children use this every day," he said quietly. I simply nodded my head and looked around me at the laughing children, who had left the schoolhouse and were now playing on the porch and in the rain. They were so carefree, so happy, despite being orphans in terrible conditions. They praise God for their nothing, which is still better than what some people have.

Francis showed us one little boy who could hardly walk and would not look anyone in the eye. "He was badly beaten by his guardian," he explained softly, "and is now maimed and brain damaged. He escaped to a neighbor, who brought him here. He does not have a sponsor, but we are letting him stay until his mind heals."

His body needs to heal too, I thought sadly.

Believe me when I say that the little boy had a sponsor by the end of the day.

An older boy named Moses spoke to me for awhile. He said that he was twenty years old and still in secondary school, which is the Kenyan term for high school. He explained how that a few years ago, his mother became extremely ill with AIDS, and he quit school so that he could find work to pay for her hospital bills. All he could scrounge up, however, was barely enough to pay for a few pain killers for her. Moses was forced to live out on the streets and soon became addicted to sniffing glue, an addiction of many of the street kids in Kenya. He was lost until the KipKaren Church of Christ at the Milton Jones Eagle Academy found him and helped him piece his life back together. Now, at the age of twenty, he is finally able to return to school.

Our team left the orphanage reluctantly, laughing as the children chased after our matatu, banging on the windows and waving goodbye with huge smiles stretched across their faces.

Francis was in charge of getting us back to our hotel, but we arrived at a place that nobody recognized. We were at some sort of a park, with animals and mud huts and a few rusty amusement park rides that I would never dare to try out. We all had a glorious time looking at the animals and chasing after a brilliant, turquoise-colored bird.

Chase, Olivia, and I broke out from the group and explored the life-sized mud huts of the various tribes of Kenya. They were small and rural and very poverty-stricken, and I figured that this must be a museum of types that displayed the homes in which the Kenyans had lived a long time ago. "No, Kenyans still live in these houses," one of the church elders explained to me seriously. "These are like our homes now." In fact, the home in which this man lives is a mud hut exactly like one of the mud huts we saw.

We finally headed back to our hotel and ate a delicious supper of rice, ugali, chicken, and greens. It was lovely. We finally were able to head up to our rooms and get ready for bed. The shower in my bathroom consists of a single faucet in the middle of the ceiling where only a meager, ice-cold drizzle ever escapes the rusty nozzle. I took the quickest shower I could possibly manage, practiced guitar with Christian, and am now about to hit the hay.

It is past midnight and I must go to bed, but I cannot wait to experience new things tomorrow.

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