Sunday, October 31, 2010

A collection of stories from the past week or so...

Last Saturday some of the kids invited me to go out to the the shamba (the farm) with them to see the work they were doing in a small grove of banana trees just a couple minutes walk outside the City of Hope compound. The older boys had gotten a number of new banana trees and carried them out to the field, many of the other children were digging large holes to plant the new trees in, some were separating the clusters of banana trees to spread them out, while still others were filling buckets and wheelbarrows full of maize stalks and carrying them to fertilize the new plantings. I helped to carry a banana tree (they're relatively small and light), dig a hole, and then bring a new jembe (hoe) for a girl named Elizabeth, since the handle of hers was badly cracked. As I carried the jembe out to Elizabeth, I got some raised eyebrows and laughter, especially from the older boys. One of them asked me, "Greta, are you going to work?" I said yes, but that the jembe was for Elizabeth, not for me. He then asked me if I liked to work, to which I replied, "Yes". I think the perception is that Americans always need other people to do the work for them, and they don't have any idea how to work the land or other such labor. 

 Once I got the jembe to Elizabeth, she thanked me and smiled her huge smile with the most adorable dimples I think I've ever seen. I have to say, I felt like a real African, traipsing barefoot through the muddy green field in my conga (wrapped skirt), with a jembe over my shoulder, encouraging the kids as I passed them with the little Swahili that I know. "Kazi mzuri!" - Good work! While I didn't necessarily accomplish much, I at least aided their efforts a little, and by the end of the day, they had finished planting the entire grove of banana trees. I think the kids were really motivated to work together on this endeavor, because it means that by next year, they'll have enough bananas to feed every kid in the children's home as many as they want. And they love bananas! :)

Last Sunday evening Alaina, Amy, and I took some of the older kids on a walk with us up to a small mountain that's not far down the road from the City of Hope. Out of the 5 kids - Musa, Consolata, Esther, Peter, and Sophia - 4 are from this area, so a couple of them knew people from the village that we passed along the way. The view from the top of the mountain is absolutely incredible, overlooking a valley full of green patchwork farms, banana trees, and clusters of round, thatched huts, and larger mountains in the distance. However, admiring the view didn't last very long when the kids spotted some fruit-bearing trees - they raced over and shimmied up the trunk of one of the trees, then perched themselves on the branches, popping the small fruits into their mouths like monkeys. Speaking of which, we also saw a couple monkeys in some trees further down the mountain, the kids spotted them and pointed them out to us. It was great just walking and talking with the kids, joking with them and learning a little more about their lives, where they've come from and where they want to go.

One morning last week several of the younger classes at the City of Hope school didn't have teachers for various reasons, so some of the kids from Class 5 (the equivalent of 6th grade) stepped in to help the younger children with their work, maintain order, and translate for the Americans who had been called on as substitute teachers. Seeing some of  the kids from Class 5 (the oldest class here at the school) forgo their own work to assist the younger students and take on the responsibility of someone much older than them was incredible to watch. Even though I've only known these kids for about a month, I've worked with some of the kids from Class 5 (especially the ones who live here at the children's home) quite a bit, so watching them go above and beyond what's expected made me so proud. Also, to think of the adults they're going to become is just amazing, because even now at 13, 14, and 15 years old they're showing such talent, maturity, and responsibility that I can't wait to see the amazing things they do with the rest of their lives. 

Since coming here and getting to know the people in this community, I have often been in a position where I can pitch in and help them in some small way, even if it is small, but other times I've seen people hurting or struggling, and had no way to help them at all. Many of the people that I interact with on a daily basis have experienced great loss and/or been through incredibly traumatic circumstances, and as I learn more of their stories, I am more and more impressed with what strong, giving, loving people they are in spite of everything. Whether it's teaching classes, reading a book to the children, cutting vegetables, consoling a child's tears, sharpening pencils, or sharing treats with the women who work in the kitchen, I am trying to do what little I can to put a smile on the faces of these beautiful people. They have certainly put a smile on my face, and taught me so much in the process.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Life is beautiful

 I've been here for 3 1/2 weeks now and every day holds new adventures, hilarious stories, and the chance to get to know all of the incredible children here a little better. One of the children that I really love spending time with is my adopted cousin Tenzi; she's about 7 years old, has the most beautiful smile, and she can bust a move like no one's business. Yesterday after I'd finished my work, I was playing with little Tenzi and we started singing "Hakuna Matata" and dancing like Timon from the Lion King (the kids here have all seen The Lion King because every couple weekends we hook up a projector to a small generator and have a movie night). So Tenzi and I are strutting around, dancing and singing like cartoon animals, when suddenly I hear laughter behind me. I turn around, and the entirity of Class 3 and their teachers have just come in from working in the field, they're all carrying their tools, cheering my name, and laughing at me.

  Shortly thereafter, a huge rainstorm blew in, so some of the girls grabbed me and took me into a classroom on the school side of the building to wait out the storm. Several more kids came in, and soon it turned into a dance party, with the kids trying to teach me songs and traditional Kuria tribal dances over the roar of the rain on the tin roof. I'm convinced that the youngest kids here are the best dancers, they have incredible rhythm, and once they get going it's hilarious! Also, I've never seen boys who can shake their hips the way these boys can. :)

 Two weeks ago a few people helped me turn one of the guest rooms in the children's home into a classroom for my art lessons, and I'm now teaching 15 art classes a week in 30-45 minute blocks in the morning, and starting this week I'll also be teaching a couple science lessons with another girl named Amy (who rooms with me and my sister Alaina), that are very hands-on and interactive. Today I did bubble paintings with 2 of the older classes and they really enjoyed it, in fact they didn't want to leave the class when it was time for them to go!

 I think I'm about 3/4 of the way to knowing the names of all 88 children here at the orphanage, plus I'm attempting to learn the names of the 50 or so day scholars that come to the City of Hope school from the village. Every interaction I have with these kids, each time I learn something new about them, I am just so amazed at how talented, hilarious, adorable, determined, and smart each one of them is. The children here are just so incredible, and I feel so priviledged to get the chance to get to know each one of them. I'm so impressed that even after all they've seen in their young lives, and after having lost people very dear to them, they still love so freely. I've only known these children a few short weeks, and already they have impacted my life greatly... I only hope that I can do the same.