More Complex than a Video Game
Watching a new team of interns find their way with each other is also very interesting. Everyone brings their own personalities, expectations, strengths, and weaknesses to bare, in a mix that simply HAS to learn to mesh. It is a complex brew, to say the least. Add to that the conditions and the instant demands of an ever-increasing program, and you have something to behold. More moving parts than a video game. They have worked hard, tolerated our demanding schedule, and managed to laugh a whole lot. They are bursting with musical talent and everywhere we travel they accompany us with their wide-ranging musical repertoire. Considering they didn’t know each other when this all began (except a couple of pairs) it has been very impressive.
I don’t know where to begin in sharing the highlight experiences so far. They are countless. Perhaps I will name just three, and try to keep them brief.
a) The Budget Jumbo Heart
We had wanted to bring some large anatomy models so the nurses that came with us could teach with them. I knew that such a visual aid would delight and fascinate these learning-hungry kids. A donation from my son-in-law made it possible. The “Budget Jumbo Heart” was ordered from China. And sure enough, the 13”x 8” heart, with pieces to dissemble and explore, held them speechless. Nurses Maranda and Lauren weren’t sure what it would be like to teach a class of over 100 students, all seniors. Intimidating, to say the least. But there they were, the 100 students, crammed into the room, every single eye up front, spellbound. In a world lacking TV or books, to see the complexity of the organism that was beating within each of them blew their minds. The two stethoscopes we brought (wish we had more!) were passed around the room. “A miracle,” they would exclaim. To be able to hear your own heart beating away! To contemplate the mystery of it carrying on its quiet work, day after day through a lifetime! Heard and seen for the first time, all because of the $120 Budget Jumbo Heart. Thank you Shawn!
b) Hope of The Child
Last year, at an official function, I met Charles. He and his wife Mary run an AIDS orphanage in our area. A tiny place, but the only one in the whole district, a district with one of the highest percentages of HIV in all of Africa. Called Hope of The Child, the orphanage runs at maximum capacity housing 28 children. The waiting list goes on for miles, but Charles and Mary refuse to be overcrowded (definitely a relative term). They want each child in their place to feel loved and cherished. After the trauma of losing both parents to AIDS, their lives have already been hard enough. The trauma of loss has been heightened for the children by the cultural taboo that never allows anyone to tell them why their parents are dying. All they know is that they have watched suffering and agony beyond belief, usually strung over many years. When their second parent has died most of them are separated from their siblings and are farmed out to already desperately poor relatives. Most are received as yet one more burden, unless they are lucky enough to be rescued, and reunited, by Charles and Mary.
Charles had begged us to come see Hope of the Child (Kuluhiro Ra Mwana). I had resisted. It wasn’t just time constraints that had me keeping my distance. It was fear of where it would take my heart, and my head. We see children facing life with such stoic determination here, under circumstances unimaginable in our world of plenty. And I’ve met plenty of AIDS orphans. But to see them all together? See where they live? Can life offer any greater suffering that being an AIDS orphan in rural Africa? I think I’ll steer clear. But there was no resisting. I knew sooner or later we would have to make our visit. It happened yesterday. Our interns had already interviewed students in the sponsorship program all morning. They were tired and hot and wanted to go home, but I convinced them we must stop for just a brief visit (there is no such thing as brief here). We sat in a little room where it felt like it must be over 100 degrees, watching a shaft of light pour through holes between mud wall and tin roof. The shaft of light hit Charles’ face, as he told us the story of these children. (I will blog about this later. Just too much to tell!) We saw how the children lived. We heard that because Mary and Charles were able to help them so much with their studies, many of them were at the top of their classes. The little ones sang for us. We were told of the urgent need for chairs, something so simple. And of course books. Everywhere there is the deep hunger for books.
Children once bereft, left without parents or a future, finding a sense of family. A Kenyan couple dedicating their lives to helping the most helpless and hopeless. Children born of sorrow singing “Happy, Happy, Happy.” To dare to look, is to see. What now? That is the question.
c) . . . us Mzungus (white people) Were Wilting Quickly
Every time we come there is an opening ceremony held for us. It is a cultural experience to behold. This year Joseph, our director, decided to hold the ceremony at a remote school called Magale. Magale was an offshoot of our main primary school, Bahakwenu. It sprung into life when class sizes at Bahakwenu exceeded 100/class. The principal had asked for the honor of hosting a ceremony for years. This year it happened. Many fewer villages could participate because of the location, but the tradeoff was worth it. The teachers, students, parents, and school committee of Magale primary school experienced the biggest day of their lives. The grounds were all cleaned and prepared. One of the women had walked miles carrying two crates of sodas on her head to offer us a treat. A young man, Rai, an albino, was given the honor of being the translator. It was a scorching hot day and we Mzungus (white people) were wilting quickly. But I’ll never forget when the school committee chairman stood to speak. He represented the 12 parents on the committee. The most humble people you could ever imagine, struggling on the raw edge of survival, working tirelessly in behalf of education. They wanted, for their children, an opportunity few of them had ever had.
The chairman stood to speak. His threadbare clothes spoke of their age, as did his face. Looking heavenward, he poured out his appreciation for the educational support that had come to his area: the new classrooms, the latrine, the promise of scholarships. He pled for Kenya Keys to stick with Magale. Meanwhile Rai was leaping and jumping, with the most enthusiastic translation you could ever imagine, the white anomaly of him flashing against the blue sky.
A moment in time. An outpouring of love from a desperately poor, yet beautifully rich community. While here, we live. We live most acutely. We learn. We wonder. We grow. We cry. We laugh.
So it is. So glad to be here.