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.