Monday, August 24

A Year (or Two) in Kenya: A nice surprise

Something unexpected but rather nice happened late Saturday afternoon. The senior director, Naomi, expected it, but she had neglected to mention anything before leaving to spend the day in Nairobi with Demetra and to teach her how to deal with public transportation and get to the airport and what not in the capital.

I had just begun revising a 186-page draft of the manual which describes in detail most every possible aspect of the Foundation when one of the guards came down to tell me that there were visitors at the gate. I was expecting a hopeful looking to apply for a job. Instead I found some 200 children in paper crowns sitting on the slope that leads down from our barbed wire fence singing a hymn led by a man whose black sport jacket hardly had time to settle against his body before he spun again. Our children sat facing them, about eight meters away, more than a little cowed by the crowd. I could have dealt with a job seeker. I would have politely accepted their CV or suggested they apply online. I had no idea how to deal with this and stood far to the side with my thumbs in my pockets. Were they looking for converts? I hoped not. The Foundation's policy is a free exercise of all faiths without compulsion in any direction. I didn't like my odds of escorting all the children and their teachers out if they started asking our children if they were saved.

By that point, one of our older children introduced me to the woman directing the whole affair. She finally explained that it was the final day of their vacation Bible school, (ironically appropriate as it was the first day of Ramadhan) and they had been collecting change in small, plastic Bottles of Love. Now they had combined it all into one massive Bottle of Love and wanted to present it to us. The woman made a small speech, the exuberant man read a Bible verse, the kids sang another song, and there were pictures as a small girl passed the bottle to me with our children standing tight behind me. Then I made a small speech of thanks. Mostly it was me saying thank you, but the kids seemed impressed that I knew enough Kiswahili to even say asante sana. As the teachers herded the children out, they mobbed me to shake my hand. I felt like a candidate for president. There were too many of them and not enough time to give each hand a proper shake. All I could do was thrust my arm out and give about three hands a single squeeze at the same time. They loved it when one passed me his baby blue crown, and I tossed it atop my mess of hair.

Like, I said it was nice. The money wasn't much. A bit over 1000 shillings, a bit under 15 dollars. It'll pay for maybe half our monthly water bill. Still, to be recognized within the community as a deserving organization and receive donations from people who have bills of their own to pay and not much money of their own to pay with, it feels good. A reminder that other people think we're doing a good thing, I guess.

The greatest irony of the whole thing? Just before reminding all the children why they were there and what they had accomplished, she asked me if I had heard of some city in Mexico. It wasn't Mexico City, Tijuana or Cuernavaca, so I hadn't. I missed the explanation, but it sounded like they were maybe the first choice for receiving the Bottle of Love and something went wrong and our center was the second choice. I feel really bad for Mexico now. These kids live in a slum in a country with a government so corrupt that every candidate for major office makes stamping it out a key part of their platform, are facing the fifth year of a regional drought and lived through a month of near civil war almost two year ago, and they felt sorry enough for the Mexicans to want to donate their money to them.

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