Sunday, October 31, 2010

what we've been up to

Hello! I’m sorry we haven’t been writing as much as we should but we’ve been doing so much here that by the end of the day we are exhausted. I’ve loved staying in Chuilambo because every day we do something new and meet new people and learn new things. For this blog I’m going to try and cover a lot of time and give some snap shots of what we’ve been up to.

One day we went on home visits with our friend Timothy. We went to three different houses. In one of the houses we saw an old woman. When we visited this same woman in August, she had been to sickly to leave her bed. Now she is able to walk and go outside. She said that the community has been taking such good care of her. I really admire how strong this community is. When someone is sick it becomes everyone’s responsibility. In another one of the homes we met an old man who has lost both of his wives and is raising two children by himself. He is HIV positive and told us about how his kids both help him so much with everything. I loved listening to him talk about how much he loves his children and how close he is with them.

>My birthday was on Tuesday! I am now seventeen. We went into town and I went crazy in the grocery store buying biscuits, chocolate, soda, and ice cream. We also went to the movie theater to celebrate! I loved getting cards from my family as well as Callie, Winnie, and Joseph’s family. I hadn’t been looking forward to my birthday since I’m so far away from my friends and family, but it turned out to be a really great day and it made me appreciate the friends and family that I’ve made here.

On Wednesday we went to a primary school called Nametsa. It is on a mountain which Joseph calls a “speed bump” so that it’s easier for him to convince people to go there. It is literally impossible to get to this school without doing some serious climbing. It was tiring but also fun. We were accompanied by Winnie, Joseph, and the new Deputy Director of Umoja, Linda. When we got to the school we rested, introduced ourselves to the students, and then Callie, Joseph, and I (adventurous trio that we are) decided to climb even farther up the mountain. We clambered over boulders as fast as we could while panting and sweating as one of the Naetsa teachers led the way effortlessly leaping from rock to rock. When we reached the top Joseph had to sit and breathe for about 20 minutes. He said he was watering the plants with his sweat. I cannot imagine making that climb every day to get to and from school without shoes.

We did art with students from Bar Anding’o Primary and Huma Girls Secondary schools. There are so many really talented students. They made some beautiful pictures of what they think shows Kenyan culture. The Huma students are so skilled at drawing that when we showed the pictures to the Deputy Headmistress she said, “Eh! We need to get an art program for these girls!”

>Sometimes kids just show up at Margaret’s house looking to do art. One evening we were having an unexpected drawing session when the power went out. The kids kept working until the daylight was completely gone, but even then they didn’t want to stop drawing. We brought the flashlights onto the porch and Callie and I held them overhead while the kids finished their drawings. It was a good moment.

Today was an especially fun day because it’s Halloween! We decided that Kenyans have been Halloween-deprived for too long and we took it upon ourselves to introduce them to the scary, sugary, really fun day. Margaret thought we were a little bit crazy as she listened to us describing trick-or-treating, costumes, goblins, black cats, jack-o-lanterns, and vampires. We invited all of the children who are sponsored by the Hope Women’s Group to come and have a little Halloween party with us. We made all of them masks that they decorated and tied around their heads with yarn. Callie and Winnie and I went into separate rooms in Margaret’s house and we instructed the kids to knock on the doors and say “Trick-or-treat!” At the first door we gave them silly bands (the rubber bands that are shaped like animals). At the next door they received large stickers with pictures of cute puppies on them, and at the third door they got a piece of candy. They probably thought it was really weird and didn’t really understand why we were doing this, but they got little presents so they’re happy. I thought it was pretty cute.

Of course the kids weren’t the only ones who got to celebrate. Callie, Winnie, Steve (Winnie’s brother), Laura (Winnie’s cousin), Timothy (a member of the local volunteer group), Jacob (Winnie’s uncle), and I dressed up too I put on Winnie's dress, earrings, necklace, shoes, and backpack, as well as a name tag that said “Hi my name is Winnie." Winnie donned glasses, Callie’s orange flower earrings that she always wears, and a Callie outfit. Callie modeled a classic Annie outfit (tie-dye v-neck tucked into a skirt). We even took out her weave yesterday so that her hair would be curly like mine. Steve and Laura switched outfits. Timothy dressed up in one of Margaret’s church dresses and Jacob was a cat. I’d say the day was a success.

We only have five days left here, and I’ve been thinking about what I’ll take from this portion of our trip. Living here is hard work. We do laundry until our backs ache, our hands are pruney, and our knuckles are bruised. We shell peanuts until our thumbs are red and splintered. We walk for miles to visit schools. We carry coal on our backs on the thirty-minute walk from town. We’ve dug trenches for water pipes and we’ve killed weeds with hoes on Margaret’s farm.

Though the work has been hard, it’s also very gratifying and it’s helped me see things a little bit differently. At home I usually only pay attention to negative things: stains on my clothes, problems with our water, or my food getting cold. Here I’ve started to delight in the absence of stains and dirt on my clothes. Just arriving at a school feels like an accomplishment. I smile at the sight of steam rising from the food. It’s a treat to have a whole bowl of peanuts that are ready to be eaten and I savor every drop of water that I drink. When I get so excited about these simple pleasures that I’ve always taken for granted, every normal day starts to seem extraordinary.

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