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25 December 2006

Only a Madman (woman) Never Thinks of Those Less Fortunate

Christmas means many things to many people; Hannukkah, Kwanza (which begins tomorrow) or Ramadan (in the 9th month) are the same: yet it is my conviction that during these celebrations, whether you think mostly divine or banal thoughts, about family or the celestial host, there is something wrong with your head if you do not pause for a moment and consider the condition of people you sincerely believe are less fortunate than yourself.

I have seen Christmas collections of food and money (the passing of a hat) among groups of people who I was convinced were the very ones in need of the charity of others. It did amaze me at one point in my life. Piety or the expression of pious sentiments (which are not the same things) do not strike me as the highest form of either charitable conduct nor as the most effective forms of building solidarity. But even that last sentence is so chock-a-block full of abstraction that I consider it mostly hot air. Yet I cannot fathom how people can imagine they are celebrating a festive day of any significance around the globe without making time to think about people who are less fortunate.

Perhaps all pious phrase-making comes down to parsing these expressions. But whoever thinks of others must, in every perspective I can imagine, be able to look upon the condition of some fraction of humanity and think 'there but for the grace of God go I'. (Capitalize the words that make sense to you: 'Grace', 'god', 'i'. Even Friedrich Nietzsche seems to me, scanning over the Teutonic intelligentsia and tradition, to be saying the same thing.

In this spirit (if not explicitly calling for prayer) I offer a cut 'n' paste from a volunteer Western Euro-American who blogged a diary entry from the East African nation Kenya, where she took a walking tour of Kenya's notorious slum, Kibera:


I brought over about 70 pounds of supplies from some of the money you all collected and am distributing it to a few different places. The sad thing is you have to be careful because the people that run it take it from them and bring it to their own children. You see absolutely nothing that was left from the other volunteers because it just goes missing. I have lots of friends here now that are here for 6 months to a year and know the right places to give it. That is also where i will be giving some cash too. There is a program that helps out with Kibera, just down the street from us, that is in the most desperate need. Ahh...Kibera....a story unto itself!!

We went for a proper tour of Kibera on Wednesday. Now when I say tour, it is not a fun and pleasant Disney type tour, it is just that we were able to go to places that you would normally be hurt or worse if you ever went alone. It's the size of Central Park and has a million people living in it. Sewers-none, garbage disposal-none, homes bigger than 13x13-none! We were taken by a man named Peter who was a Kibera consultant for The Constant Gardener. He met us early in the morning at a clinic and first took us to his home. We all assumed he (Peter) lived outside of the slum but he walked us into a dark small, room the size of about 13x13 that his wife, two teenaged sons and 2 small daughters. It was neat and tidy, and he is very proud of his home. He shows us a copy of National Geographic from 2005 in which he is featured. The title of the article "You think you know Africa? You don't know..." We left his home to travel along the tracks and enter the main part. He is so well respected in his community because of the volunteer work that he does that nobody messes with him or anyone with him. The only time you are in danger is if there are riots and then you must get out.

We travelled to Mama Tunza's another orphanage we are working at. It has been recently upgraded and now has cement floors and a blue painted tin door. It is a small space in the midst of rubbish and rotted out cars. Yet the children are sweet and so welcoming! I brought a world map which they instantly grabbed and Wallace, one of the biggest, wanted to show us where we were all from. He is so smart and says he learns where all the volunteers live so that one day when he can come visit he will know how to get there. I fell in love with him. He is so smart. He is so eager to soak up any information you will feed him. I will be bringing some stuff to all of them. Especially Wallace! We took pictures, they took pictures and we were back on our way. Down the track...if you see the movie, you will see how it looks.

It is amazing though how pictures cannot capture the reality, the sounds, and smell. The children will run from everywhere when they see mzungus and they all shout 'HOW ARE YOU?' We say 'mazuri sana (i'm very fine)' and they laugh!!!! They are lovely. They run to shake your hand no matter what they were doing. They want nothing, they just want to touch you. I will be taking another tour with Peter so I can video tape as you have to hear them calling out! We kept walking through the garbage, and literally human waste and go to a Nubian family's home for babies. I believe this group of people are originally Ethiopian and have a slightly different version of Ki-Swahili. They were lovely. We had delicious chai massala and I held the babies. It was quite bizarre as among all of the poverty this house had a tv in which we were watching the WB show 'One Tree Hill' while drinking tea...bizarre! We left them, said our goodbye's and moved uphill so we could overlook the entire area.

It is overwhelming, the site that you see! We walk back through the streets again fighting the waste and murky water only to come across a rotting dog and someone that looks as if they had just recently died laying right in the 'street' with children playing all around him. I felt sick, but knew there was nothing I could do. I wanted to cry. Cartoon, our other guide (the sweetest kid) just grabbed my hand and pulled me by. I don't know how anyone could live like this, but I know it is not my place to judge. I just so desparately wish I could fix the situation for people like Peter and Cartoon who want so much more. Cartoon-his nickname btw is a muscian and volunteers at Mama Tunza's. He is 21 and goes to play guitar for the children. In the pics, he is the one in the red Arsenal shirt. He was excited for you all to see the pictures when i told him I was sending them home. I would like to see if I could help him some way. So we finish off our tour with lunch at a local restaurant for 50 ksh which is about $1. That includes rice pilau with a bit of beef and a cold coke in the bottle. I cannot believe the places I am eating at. Nora, I take back all my laughter about your plates in me!! I hope you can all see the movie sometime to give you a sense of what I am seeing. I do love it, it is crazy, but i love it.

Well, I am off to prepare for my children's Christmas morning. I am giving out sweets, and some toys and stickers and books. I am buying plums and bananas so they can eat them right away and will bring bread as well. Some of my friends here are joining me so it will be more fun for them!! We are having a big football and caps match during the day....then we are off to Mama Tunza's for the afternoon. The night will be reserved for a nice expensive dinner out and lots and lots of Tuskers (beer)--it's for the children--we have to collect the bottle caps.

I hope you all have an amazing Christmas and Happy New Year's!! We're off to Maasai land tomorrow, so I will let you know how it is!
Love me!

1 comment:

Blogaulaire said...

This post was chosen as a 'good pick' by Lone Tree, who recommended Cheap Priceless Editions to subscribers of their blog- and news-feed reader services.

In another post, Blogaulaire extended thanks to Lone Tree.