January 1, 2011
Today is New Year’s Day and everyone here greets everyone with “Happy New Year” and shakes your hand. On the one hand it’s reassuring to hear things familiar with one’s own experiences and on the other its evidence of how far western traditions are permeating the culture here. The bank in town is decorated with “Season’s Greetings” and bells, Santa Claus figures and fake holly. On the way to the fireworks last night, we rode in two vans, one with the girls and the other the boys. The girls were singing “Jingle Bells” although I know not one of them could tell you what “dashing through the snow” means! Anyway, the mood was happy and the children were thrilled to see the fireworks. Interesting though that the best treat was the sparklers that they get to wave around in the air – they were always my favourite as well!
This morning the children all got bathed and dressed up for church – the girls in pretty cotton dresses donated from western families, likely put into Goodwill boxes that eventually make their way to the second hand clothing stalls across Africa. The boys wear crisp shirts and dress pants and school shoes. Before church we had a “photo fest” and got lots of good pictures, which the kids always love to pose for. The pastor comes to Nyota and they hold service in the hall where we eat – they have been in there singing and praying for over two hours. Doug, my parents, Tess (a young woman I am putting through high school) and me opted to go for a walk instead, down the dirt road past the home, through the local farms in the beautiful Kenyan sunshine.
This afternoon we have some cooking to do – we bought 7 kg of ground beef yesterday at Gilani’s butchery and we are preparing a favourite dish – spaghetti with ‘Bolognese’ sauce. Lots of local veggies to use as well – plum tomatoes, carrots, onions and garlic. The children love it as meat is such a special treat. Cooking for 50 people in a wood fire pot is a slight challenge, and the pasta may be a little overcooked but no one minds! We have been totally vegetarian since we arrived, although I have to say the food has been delicious…lots of basmati rice cooked with onions and green pepper and tomatoes, avocadoes, coleslaw and lentils. Pretty healthy fare actually, although at night Doug and I sneak back to our room for a piece of dark chocolate (old habits die hard!).
I was chatting with Samwell, the head cook this morning. He is a gentle, wonderful young man who doubles as a tutor in the evening. He told me he is engaged to be married – he is 25 and his fiancée is 20 – and he is gradually paying the dowry to her parents to be able to wed. It is still a very widely held custom here, and includes various gifts of cows, goats (if you live in the country), clothes and money. He was shocked to hear that in Canada dowries aren’t paid and that in some cases women make more money than their male partners!
Monday I am going to start working on the updated biographies of the children and pass out more of the toys and books we brought. I am trying to integrate these things slowly, but I have a feeling that the laptop computers will be most in demand. Just like kids anywhere, computers have their own special magnetism. However tonight is going to be a night to put some puzzles together, which all the older kids really love.
Happy New Year to everyone – I feel so positive about what we are doing together for these children, they are thriving with the good food, care and education. We have some future leaders in the making!
Last night we had spaghetti made by Doug, my Dad, Samson and me. We bought 7 kg of ground beef and cut up tomatoes, green peppers, onions and lots of garlic. You can buy pasta in the stores here – ours was made in Saudi Arabia believe it or not! We served the children a large bowl each; it was almost more than I could finish. Then most of them lined up for second helpings…did that make us feel good! They love meat and rarely get to eat it so it was a special treat. After dinner they formed a line outside and had a procession of singing and marching around the home. Then we had singing and ‘prayer time’ inside the hall until bedtime.
Today is the hottest day so far but not too hot for the boys not to hold an impromptu football match outside. We laid out a blanket and brought out all the Lego that Judy Placko so very kindly gathered up and donated to Nyota. The kids have been building things for hours. It’s such a great toy as it gets them to use their minds and their creativity and they are very good at it. I am reading “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” to Doreen, Stephen, Joseph and Boel. Its actually pretty funny and almost cross-cultural in its humour. It makes the kids here laugh to hear of his adventures. This morning we also had Tae Kwan Do class – we have hired an instructor and he taught the kids for an hour. It was great exercise and even my Dad and I participated. It also teaches the kids confidence and of course flexibility. The instructor was pretty terrific. We also passed out the plastic sandals to some of the children that we bought in Nakuru on Friday…25 pairs in all and we are still short four pairs. We could have given them the moon they were so proud of their new shoes. Interesting that the boys didn’t want black sandals, they wanted lime green and fluorescent orange and yellow! Colors are a big attraction. What’s really appealing about these kids is that they aren’t self conscious about what they wear – a boy can just as easily wear a pink sweatshirt as a girl. They are just happy for clean warm clothes.
Tomorrow we are planning on heading to town to pick up more supplies for the kitchen as well as some new sheets for the beds. I am also going to pick up some paint samples for the new home. We may even slip into the North American style “Café Java” for a café latte and free Wi-Fi service!
We came into town today to buy some supplies for the home – sheets, bowls, utensils, and some shoes for the other children. Nakuru is bustling with shoppers as tomorrow school starts and everyone is buying school shoes and uniforms and supplies for their children. You can’t imagine the line-ups at the shops! This morning Doreen and I read a few chapters of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – its worth it just to hear her laugh. Doreen is 12 years old and a beautiful, slim tall girl. Her mother was from Somalia and her father a Kenyan. She told me yesterday that her father died when she was one month old and her mother died when she was about three. She lived in Nairobi and was sent to live in a Children’s Centre where small orphans live until they are about four. She said they had very little food at the centre. When she turned four she was sent to live at a Rescue Centre with other orphans – which is kind of temporary care until they can be placed with one of their relatives or with a permanent orphanage. At the rescue centre she had to work hard and could only go to an overcrowded public school. The food was also very bad – thin gruel for breakfast, and cabbage and ugali for the other meals. She was brought to Nyota last year and she said she loves it here! She has good food and can go to a good school. I asked her Doreen you don’t have any family at all? And in her quiet voice she said no. Doreen is a young girl with a constant smile on her face, always looking to help and a wonderful reader. She wants to be a lawyer or judge when she grows up. Its a miracle that a young person who has gone through so much can be so optimistic and happy about her life. Doreen shares this in common with most of our children – indomitable spirits that cannot be quelled by poverty and terrible challenges. Kids worth everything we can give them!