It seems as if, in most cases, I have a remarkably easy time getting straight into the hearts of youngsters. I would assume this has something to do with the fact that I’m a big kid myself :). The problem is, they seem to have an even easier path into mine. During this past year, I had the amazing bond with the kids in the Kolkata slum, the extremely loving and endearing connection w/ the neighbor kids in Nepal, a handful of delightful days w/ other children along the way, but this last experience, 24 hrs a day for 17 days living at an orphanage with 28 kids, this was a trip. A chaotic, entertaining, tender, bittersweet, magical trip.
|A great way "in". Photobooth. Works every time :)|
Parents, aunties, babysitters, anyone that has spend a good bit of time with a child, will relate to knowing how easy your heart can melt with all the sweet little moments that happen. (Also the crazy moments!). One little cutie named Godbless (yes that’s his real name) was attached to me a good bit of every day. He takes my hand and says, “Becky, lez go” over and over. We do magic tricks, we karate chop, we make friction heat w/ our hands like Mr. Miyagi. I sing him “Godbless the USA” and ask him to sneeze so I can say, “God Bless you Godblessy” :). He loves butterfly kisses and to have me read the captions to him when watching the awful Korean soap opera. My first day he was sharpening a pencil w/ a 7” knife. Holy geezuz. He’s extremely clever, super strong, and quite thoughtful for a 7 yr. old. Then there is Nasra. I thought she was a boy the first two days (she wore neutral clothes and has a shaven head- most girls/women do)..oops!! Soon to discover she was the CUTEST little thing ever. At 7, she was so small, the 2 year old was the just inches shorter (granted the toddler is HUGE!). She loved to touch my face and we had this funny inside joke going where she’d ask for my camera about 10 times a day. I’d tell her to just hold it but not to take pictures (the batteries had to get recharged everyday. Within minutes she would be taking them, and then give me the, ‘I’m so cute I know I can get away with it grin’. Ahhh I will miss her :).
|Godbless. The kids call him "King Kong" because of his cute lil' nose :)|
|Nasra, "Becky, give me your camera please." Okkaayy fine|
The hardest thing I found w/ so many orphans is it’s a nonstop attention, approval and affection seeking environment. It’s heartbreaking actually. There are always shy ones who you have to work to give more attention, and the rowdy ones intercepting you and snatching up your time, especially the young ones. And at +/-28 kids (it varied) It just wasn’t possible to connect w/ all of them. I see why parents say they could use more time, hands, eyes and energy :). Even one is def a full time job (I still want twins;).
The logistics of how we lived was also difficult to stomach. There are six kids from age 16-20, the rest are all from 7-13 yrs old (and one 2 yr old), yet they are totally self sufficient. It’s quite a well tuned machine actually. I’m a fam of giving kids responsibilities, but I battled feelings of WTF (where is there childhood?) and the fact that, well, an education, shelter, 3 meals a day and each other to love is much better than the street. There is generally 1 or 2 adults there, but often not a one. More than once the 7 yr olds were all left to care after the toddler. They seem happy, albeit pining for acceptance. When I ask them if they like it there they each say yes. Every morning they clean not only the house but the surrounding yard. The sweep the dirt, pick up the leaves, mop the floors. Organize all the shoes. The boys climb the trees and cut branches each day for the goats. With around 30 people (a few come and go), every day is a cooking and dish washing festival. Beans and Ugali (super traditional, a thick cornmeal dish), we have that for both lunch and dinner. Also made each evening, is mandazi, a bread dough, that is fried in a vat of oil and saved for morning breakfast along w/ tea (no milk/no sugar). Everything is made over the open fire outside. The dishes are done throughout the whole of the afternoon and evening, in buckets outside. 30+ people x 2.5 meals (we don’t use a plate in the morning) equals a lot of dishes. A few times we had rice but that’s more expensive so it is considered a treat. Once a week there were cooked veggies and a dish called macande, beans and maize. Yum, that was my fav :). It’s not the most balanced of diets, but it does the job for sure.
|Vumi making dinner|
|Vumi and Mwajuma serving up lunch, beans and ugali ;)|
Then there’s the clothes. It’s hand washed of course, everyone does their own. I love doing mine because I always have little helpers. You’d think if you ‘let’ a 7 yr old help you, you might need to redo their part. Heck no, they do it more thoroughly than I was doing for sure!
Almost all of them sleep two to a bunk, and there are even 3 little boys that all share one twin. Even the 16/18/20 year olds. No one complains. No one has to be told what to do. Everyone helps one another. I’m actually quite impressed, considering the attitude of most kids I know that age.
If you’ve every thrown away a shirt, and old bag, a pair of shoes because they had a tear, a stain, or you thought it was out of fashion and no one would want it, please, please, please, think again. Every single one of them has something from the USA (and not just here, all over, everywhere you go, adults and kids alike). No one cares what their shirt says, nothing matches, and nothing is wasted. I spent a good 3-4 hours one day stitching up holes just in their school uniforms. Had it been their casual clothes too, I’d still be stitching. I felt tears welling at a little shop that was selling dirty, torn, old stuffed animals. Seriously... please, donate everything. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.
And the shoes. Let's talk about the shoes for a moment. First off, having a shoe on or not really makes no difference. Or if the shoes are matching for that matter. We don’t wear the shoes inside, so with 50 some shoes outside the door, finding a matching pair isn’t always a priority :) Neither is have a gender approved color. I love this. Since when does a dude in women’s purple crocs mean he’s not a dude? The thing about the shoes that kills me most... three of them wear cleats to school. Cleats as in soccer cleats, with spikes. They are black (required at school) and they fit, so, cleats it is. My last day I started writing down some of their birthday dates. Somewhere a rumor started that I was going to send them each birthday presents and a few of them said they would want new shoes. Ohhh, so sad. I’m terrible at presents (please no one expect a souvenir from me, sorry!), so having 28 new ones to remember was just beyond realistic. My last day I printed pictures of each of them, wrote personal notes to each on the back, and attached each to 10,000 Shillings. That’s less than $7 dollars each, but enough for each of them to buy their own shoes if that’s what they chose. They were ecstatic. Pamela (one founder) told me they’d never had so much money. THAT was the best $170 I ever spent.
|Shania, Tamia and Jamila. Tamia's wearing cleats and Jamila's are falling apart :(|
Then there’s bath time. A dark room with no lock, an old shower head during water hours, a bucket when it’s not. It’s freezing= I shower only when I need to ;). The younger boys just bathe outside, everyday around 6, and I’m astounded that they don’t have to get pushed or prodded... especially when it’s dumping a bucket of coooold water on themselves! We’ve got a couple streakers!! Gasper and Odemar are perfectly (and appropriately) comfortable with running around in the nude... and especially Gasper loves to come dance around me while I giggle and cover my eyes to him ;) haha.
Everyday the water goes off for 5-6 hours (buckets are filled every morning for use during those hours), but a few nights the electricity did too. One such night I had all the 7 to 11 year olds w/ me and we went to tell ‘ghost stories’ with the flashlight held to our faces. This was hilarious. I made up some terrible one... then we started taking turns. Odemar’s was my favorite: 2 cows and a goat go walking in the night and they eat. hhahahah. Sooooo stinking cute!!! Then a grand idea came to me: to arm wrestle. Fast forward over an hour, every single person has come, competed, and now it’s down to the grand finale: Godfrey, the 18 yr old boy, and Collins, the founder of the place. They are lit up by flashlight and everyone is around cheering. They tied. It was awesome.
Our days are filled with fun. There’s the reading and writing and math and ever-present english practice. But there’s also dance competitions (with judging scorecards in degrees of hotness- omg bumping and grinding here starts young), hide and seek, soccer (I lasted about 20 mins, they play for 150- ouch!) We play cards (well, I hold the cards and they play for me). We race, make zombie impressions, jump on beds, make funny faces, play dead, get hysterical over Mac photobooth. We went to church (gospel soul is the way to go for sure) and I attended a 7th grade class party. I take them to play on the swings or to get lollipops and sodas. I spot them doing back flips (scary, but I’m not one to slow a daring soul;). Some nights we’re out by the ‘kitchen’ fire, which so reminds me of camping, sitting around and joking and being silly. Some nights we watch these horrrrrrible television shoes (on the tv that short circuits at least once each viewing), and all 30 of us (kids and the few adults) are squished into the one little bedroom where the TV is. All over the bunk beds, sprawled on the chairs, and the floor covered. Everybody leaning on everybody, most often on me :). If I take a nap I have partners. If I need anything I have a fetcher. If I go anywhere I have an escort (or 10). Everyday I have a new drawing or tattoo somewhere on my body. Peresi gave me cornrows (which became more like fuzzrows after a few days;) and I think they suited me quite nicely :). One night a bunch of us were playing something like “steal me/save me” across the bunk beds. Two of the 7 year olds started yelling “save me mommy”... omg it was heart wrenching. Every baby should have a mommy :(. I’ve always been an affectionate/ touchy person, but nowhere has it ever been so well received and subsequently sought after. Pretty much I was holding hands with, had an arm around, carrying, holding or being laid on by at least one, usually more, of them. I’d say the most common phrase I heard was, “Becky, and me”, meaning, if I did something for one kid, I needed to be prepared to do it/show it/give it to all. Piggy back rides, swings, eskimo kisses. Even the most silly things. Like drinking my filtered water. Everyone had to have filtered water then. And trying on my goggles (“watch me Becky” as they take turns dunking their heads in a water bucket;). My nail polish. My lipstick. One night everyone wanted some on, as it started a kiss mark frenzy. Odemar cries to me that Ally stole the lipstick before he got some. I had to remind Ally to share. Odemar is a boy. It was hard to keep a straight face :)
|Movie night. ET was on!|
|Fists make funny face art :)|
|Leg art. Who needs paper when my leg is available? ;)|
|Love these kids :)|
|My nap partners after I woke and snuck out ;) Mwidini and Haruna|
|Godbless' super smart hide and seek spot. The laundry bin!|
|Math time. I love this pic because the question was 14-5... and Godbless is using his toes to figure it out ;)|
|The five 7 year olds: Shania, Nasra, Odemar, Godbless and Gasper :)|
|Kissy face. How many different pecks will fit? :)|
There was never a moment my watch, phone and camera weren’t being used. I (they) filled TWO 16gb memory sticks while I was there with mostly photos of rooms, books, and self portraits so close up they are just nostrils ;). From the older kids there were hundreds of different poses in my sunglasses or with peace signs or sexy faces. And a zillions videos: singing, dancing, rapping, jumping, dirt. haha. Can’t wait to go thru all of those.
|I have 11 million of these shots ;)|
|Every once in a while they'd get something I actually like! This one sums up my stay there :)|
They kept me in good shape there. My first day I wanted to go running, so the 16 yr old boy, Ezeboy, went along, and each day the # got bigger, with requests to go often. Only Ezeboy has tennis shoes, the rest run in sandals. We do laps around these trails in an open field that is their “airport” near the house. I usually run 3 miles, and a surprising # keep up! How many 7 year olds do you know that can run 3 miles in sandals on their first try ever? My favorite running day was the last one, just me and 6 of the really young ones. After a few laps, some 6 more gawking neighbor kids join in. It’s adorable actually. “Beckyyyy, help me!!” Screw good running form, it’s more fun holding hands on both sides, and seeing ear to ear grins when I shout ‘Good job!” :). When we get back it’s exercises time. We do dips, squats, lunges, jumps, all sorts of goodies. They love fancy feet and planks are a big hit. Have you ever seen little kid pushups? Hilarious :)
Tatu (one 12 year old girl) and I love to sing together. Our favorite is Rihanna, ‘You gotta make me feel, like I’m the only girl in the world’. It started a fever over the weeks, where everyone was in on it. One night we actually made a music video of everyone in the whole place singing it...priceless. Stay tuned for that if I ever figure out how to load my movies :).
|Tatu!!! Our singing career started right here, doing the dishes :)|
Most wonderfully is they all love to learn. Not once did I ask someone if they wanted to study and get anything but a yes. A number of them (who go to private school) have pretty great english, but most are lacking, and a few very behind. I’ve got a major soft spot for one little girl named Mwajuma. She’s 12 and incredibly shy. She can read decently, but has no idea what ANY of the words mean. So I showed her. We walked around and pointed or I acted out. I love when she says, “oohhhh yesss!”. She really started opening up and it was sooooo cute. She wanted to read allll the time. She wanted me to give her homework. She wanted to hug and hold my hand and sit next to me at the meals. I would help her w/ all her chores, and ask all sorts of simple questions, like “what is that?” ‘my foot’ and “what are you doing?” ‘I am washing my cup’ she replies with such excitement!!! Soon after she was asking me what words were and running to Tatu (one of the better english speakers) for translation when we are stuck. Pamela told me she’d never connected w/ a volunteer before because she’s shy and couldn’t communicate. Towards the end I was hardly without her and the other kids were calling her my daughter. I wasn’t sure if that was appropriate but seeing the smile she gave every time it happened, I just went w/ it. One day we were reading before bed and I could see she was hoping to stay. I made a motion we could slumber and the next day everyone was chatting about it. I think she was proud :). A bunch of the kids made me cards when I left. She made me 5 :).
|Making Mandazi w/ Mwajuma!|
Another young man named Rogart has my full attention. He’s 13, super sweet, and realllllly good at math. Math was my favorite subject way back, and I was the one pestering him to do more w/ me so I could relearn :). I’m proud to report I can find the square root of 1764 without just blindly guessing and checking! He has major potential to do something w/ his future. He’s a bit fragile, and although I don’t understand what is being said, at times I think they pick on him even though he is quite tall. We was at school really late one day, and upon his return I told him I‘d missed him, squeezed his face and gave him a forehead kiss. He looked in my eyes and said the most sincere thank you :). Ohhhh it was just too....sweet/sad/happy/honest.
I was there 11 days, then did my Mt. Kili climb, had a wonderfully warm welcome back, then had 6 more days to soak up as much as I could, and dole out as much knowledge and friendship as I could. On my last day I went to town for about 4 hours to sort, download and print pictures for all of them. When I got back, it was a mad hugging and “Becky, Becky” frenzy. We ate cake (which was a nice looking cake, but when I asked the store clerk to write on it, the lady pulls out a marker and in wretched handwriting, misspells and writes over the edge. Hhaha, I decided to ask for the pen and just wrote all over it to make amends ;) I passed out the cards and their ‘birthday gifts’. Then I started giving out all the things I didn’t need to take home. Lots of things. It became a rollicking mosh pit. “Becky, can I have this?” Yes. “Thanks, what is it?” hhaha. I love kiddies :)
In the end, I think it was quite advantageous that this was my first live-in orphanage/last experience before heading home. In fact, I don’t think it’s wise for me to go to any others for such time periods... until I make a fortune that is. You can’t get to know underprivileged children, see the innocence and untouched spirit in their eyes and not feel the need to do something. Fast forward 6-7 years and I wouldn’t be coming home alone. There’s a craving for attention, approval, love. It’s exhausting w/ so many of them, all competing for your time, but it’s incredibly fulfilling to know you have the ability to change the course of someone’s entire life. I took Mwajuma and Rogarti off to the side just before I left and told them I’m going to sponsor them to go to the private school from now one. Their reactions were just priceless, I can find the $ somewhere. Expect a fundraiser;). That’s a huge advantage these kids have... they all know education is their key. Thank goodness many others already have sponsored or I’d be in way over my head. I made them promise they would send me letters so I can see how their english is coming. They did. They made me pinky swear I’ll come back again. I did :).
|Rogart and Mwajuma! Amazing kids|
I went to a christian service at an Assemblies of God church on Sunday, my last morning at the orphanage. The entire thing was in Swahili and I didn’t understand one word (except once the pastor yelled, “he is coming for you” haha).
It was perfect. I sat there feeling the immense energy and love coursing through the room, it was thick like molasses in the air. All the while I didn’t have to worry about agreeing or not agreeing with the pastor. Whew.. It was a wonderful 3+ hours actually. Gospel & soul & a grand feeling...and completely incomprehensible chatter. A perfect combo for some heart to heart w/ my God :).
I was thinking of it as an analogy to going back to the states. Why was I wasting energy feeling nervous? Fearful of my reaction to the excesses? Are there not problems everywhere? Dwelling on them only exacerbates them. Insteadddddddd... my goal is to be like the church congregation!! I want to let my happiness consume me. Radiate off me, so much so that people don’t know what’s going on, but they can feel something so palpable around them they have to stop and look around. I’m dumping all my fears and skepticism and concentrating on what I know to be true. Life is wonderful. Love is all around. Happiness is a choice. Everything is what you make of it... and I feel like making brownies and cosmopolitans :). I’m totally and utterly excited to come back to the states!!! One of my besties, Jill-do-ram-ulus, is gettting married. Marrieddddd! To a truly great guy no less. Woohooo!!!! What a great transition back, to be part of their love shin-dig :) I am soooo requesting the electric slide at the reception :)
I can’t wait to have a hot shower. Better yet, I can’t wait to take a bubble bath!!! I can’t wait to stay up all night and drink wine and get all nostalgic w/ Jill!!! I can’t wait to talk about men and walk around in skimpy pj’s and go to a bathroom with toilet paper and a towel to dry my hands on in it!!! And a sheet on a bed! I can’t wait to make her seating chart cards and show her the sssswwweeeeeettt outfits I got for her bach party! I can’t wait to have a pumpkin coffee and a pumpkin muffin and a pumpkin anything!!!!! YYAYAAAAA budddyyyy, I’m in the US of A!!!!
|I've got plenty to go around.. call me if you need one :)|
ps... if you would like to help me with the cost of the sponsorship, here's a link to my charity page with the logistical info.... and that would be AWESOME!! xoxoxo