04.23.2017 24 °C
We woke up yesterday a little fuzzy, Josh more than me as he chugged a full glass of my red wine before we left the bar. One of the brothers bought it for me but I couldn't finish it so he did. Huge mistake!
We had breakfast and then we headed out to find a matatu to take us to Anne's neighbourhood. Matatus are privately run buses just like our Safari bus but with 11 seats, very crammed, and then often overfill them to make money. The driver drives, obviously, but there's also a conductor who gets out while the van is still moving and basically corrals people to fill the matatu. Most of the time it seemed like he was convincing people to get a ride. He uses this tiny broken paddle with the route's number on it and waves it around and yells at the pedestrians, all the while coming back to the matatu to tap on glass with a coin to communicate with driver not to leave yet.
We get into the front seats and we are within a foot and a half of a decent sized TV screen and speakers that are blasting late 90's rap. Like BLASTING. Matatus do their best to lure customers to their van so they decorate them and paint them and sticker them to appeal to people. We heard Ja Rule, old Luda, Xhibit.. all with the music videos which I haven't seen probably since 2001.
The conductor gets out at the next stop and runs beside the matatu, looking for customers. He ends up filling it up full and then half sits on the seat, half hanging out the side with the door open until we get going a little faster. Our ride cost us 50 bob, we didn't even have to negotiate, usually you do especially as mzungus. A taxi for the same route would have been 400-500.
We meet up with Anne and hit the Nakumatt grocery store where we bought groceries and essentials for the orphanage. Then we loaded up a taxi we hired for the day to take us out to the place the kids rent now, about 40 minutes from town. We rode on a superhighway, 4 lanes each direction and 100 km/h speed limit, but this highway has crosswalks and speed bumps, all without traffic lights. So you have to slow way down to go over these bumps and pedestrians do their best to run across at those slow spots. Anne says they put them in because otherwise you would still have people running across the highway all the time. The speed bumps cause quite the traffic jams at most hours of the day. There's also guys in high vis vests selling water and bagged apples through your window at those slow spots. None of this would occur in Canada.
We reached the gate of the orphanage and two of the kids opened it up. They looked through the window and one said, "Josh number one is here!" Josh volunteered and took care of these kids in 2008 for 2 months, and then in 2009 for 3.5 months. They are turning 11 this year. We never told Jane, the owner/operator of the centre, that we were coming. Anne never told anyone as you can't make promises to these kids because they will hold you to it forever. So nobody knew. And yet this boy, Eric, and another boy, Teddy, recognized Josh within half a second of seeing him. I was floored.
He's called Josh number one because a few years later another Josh came to volunteer so he was then called Josh number two. Jane explained to us how Josh number two tried to get rid of his title (because he never met Josh number one) but he was also second to Josh haha. He couldn't shake it, but apparently he tried. Jane also explained that many volunteers come and go, but few leave the impression that my Josh did, and the kids will remember him for their whole lives since he raised them when they were so young. I was so proud to hear all of her stories, it was an emotional day.
As soon as we exited the car the kids were ALL OVER Josh. It was like I didn't exist! A few of the younger girls came to me to hold my hand, and one girl eventually showed me around, her name is Gloria and she's maybe 9. Other than that for the first half of our visit it was all Josh, he was the main attraction and these kids were so excited to see him. They loved his tattoos, they LOVED his muscles, and all they wanted to do was be picked up and held, at 10 years old. Josh got his workout in that's for sure.
When I brought out my camera maybe half an hour into being there, the kids were SO curious. I had to show them just once how to use it, and they were gently taking turns taking photos, asking the most brilliant questions, and showing each other how to use it so well. One boy, Ian, impressed me all day. I would tell him something once and he had it down. I brought out my iPhone to show them pictures of our Safari and Max and Canada, and Ian was a pro with it. He also wanted to play Yahtzee on my phone, I explained the game roughly, and within minutes he was explaining it to the other kids and playing it. I couldn't believe it.
Something else that startled me was when we were going through every single photo in my phone (haha) we came across one of my mom. Without hesitation and within the second of seeing that photo Ian says, "that's your mom," very matter-of-fact. I said "HOW did you know that!!" I was honestly shocked and had a pit in my stomach. He said, "well you look just like her!" I'd known these kids for an hour at that point. Unbelievable how much they absorb and pick up on. Another example, I typed my iPhone lock password in once quickly, and Ian knew it for the rest of the day he never had to ask, and I never actually told him what it was but he had witnessed it and so he knew it.
Josh and I chatted with Jane for maybe 20 minutes, and the rest of the day was spent with the kids. Josh played harder than I've seen him ever play, and I sat on the sidelines with different kids and talked to them and took photos, with their help. Any photo of me was taken by the kids, and some of the others too. They were naturals even with the DSLR! They asked me if if was a very expensive camera, and I said yes, and they said, "was it $10?" I said it was a little more than $10 and their eyes got wide haha.
Some of the boys I didn't really get to know because they did not stop playing or hanging off of Josh. They were the original ones he helped take care of, Eric and Teddy, the ones at the gate. Ian and Tony hung out with me the most, and asked so many questions about Josh and where he lives and lots of questions about his dog Max.
Josh played and played with the soccer ball we bought for them until around 7 when it was almost completely dark. When we decided we should probably get going I couldn't help but fight back the tears. I'd know these kids for half a day and I won't forget them. Josh spent so much time with them day after day and it obviously had an impact. The kids told me not to cry, that they'll see us soon, and always asked when we were going to come back for another visit. It was hard to tell them we don't know when we're coming back. They told Josh how much they loved him, and Tony told me he loved me and that I was his friend.
I was a mess in the car. I thought about the day and couldn't help but cry almost the whole way back to our hotel. I thought about how much we have and how little they have and it was hard to think about the future. I know we're spending a certain amount on this trip, and part of me wanted to cancel it all just to give them something that would impact them. Like pillows, they don't have pillows. I thought about giving up drinking and coffee because these things are so unnecessary and we spend so much money on them when these kids don't have anything. While we were there they had an afternoon snack of tea and a plain piece of white bread each. What 10-14 year old kid in North America would happily take and eat a plain, dry piece of white bread from the bag and have it as their snack? Day in and day out, the same food? The same routine, no parents.
That being said Jane is doing phenomenal things with her centre. The kids go to school full time, one of them is graduating next year. The kids go on outings and sleepovers, and next week the older kids go camping for 5 days. The kids are not skinny by African standards, they are fed and happy and they each have a bed and lots of clothes. When one falls, 5 others come to their side and brush them off and make sure they're ok. They are resilient and I knew that within just a few hours. They are also so, so smart. I haven't been around Canadian kids to know the difference, but these kids really value their education. They know Swahili and another dialect of Swahili, English, and more French than I'll ever know. And they bust it out with the proper accent as well, it's super impressive. Half of them want to be doctors, some pilots, and some want to work with computers. I hope they all reach their dreams.
Josh and I had a simple and inexpensive dinner, I did not have a Tusker, and we went to bed feeling so happy to have seen the kids but pretty somber as well.
We had a rough sleep as there was someone outside of our hotel yelling and screaming for probably half an hour, in Swahili, something about Mama and I heard the Swahili words for no and one and come, which didn't help a lot. Terrible sounding screams. The staff kept knocking quietly on someone's door next to us and talking with a women. I felt safe with Josh reassuring me but I was still freaked out. Then anytime someone slammed a door I would jump in bed. Ugh.
Today at breakfast we heard the true story - it was the room next to us with the creepy old Norwegian. I guess he brought home two women and one got really jealous and left the room to go down to the lobby and just started screaming. Our hotel is all open air so at night we thought she was outside but she was definitely in the hotel. So Wilson, one of our favourite staff, called the cops to drag her outside, then she still kept screaming outside on the street. The word "mama" also means women, so now we know she was shouting woman come out here to her other friend. Everyone was bonding about the stories over breakfast!
Today we'll wander around the city and then meet up again with Anne since we were supposed to BBQ last night but we were all either tired, crying, or dirty and sweaty last night.