The crocodiles look scary.
We planted acacia saplings in the moist ground. They looked like baby weeds, but soon they will tower over the water, providing a home for the neighborhood hippos.
We made friends with a giraffe.
The elephants came. And the elephants kept coming, right up to the safari lodge. For hours, we watched elephants. Trunks up and trunks down they promised us good luck and peace. They trumpeted their conversations and we watched. Cross-legged on the stone wall, we watched.
They made me want to run away with them, to see their home, learn their stories, become attuned to their rumbling vibrations.
The roads here are dusty and unpainted. Cars dart around like marbles rolling in a box. Everyone races to go first but no one is in a hurry. We start where there are no other cars, not even close enough to see the Nairobi suburbs. It is just our bus and the dirt road choked with red dust. The earthen tracks are lined with the yellow-brown grass of the savannah. Trees are bowed low before the sweeping wind. Leaves are thin. Grey rocks and red rocks dot the scene.
People begin to appear. They walk in twos and fours- evidently odd numbers are disfavored. They carry things on their heads and with their arms. I wonder where they could possibly be going. We seem to be miles away from anything. Other people, men mostly, sit like the rocks. They are frozen to their stumps, rocks, and haunches. They provide visual interest.
Shanty-towns of a sort crop up. Homes, schools, and churches of plywood and corrugated tin. Some things are painted brightly, others wear the gray-brown of despair. As we approach the city, the shantytowns grow into villages and then a microscopic metropolis. An entire world is made of cardboard, plywood, tin, and cinder blocks. The signs are in English.
This is Nairobi. Not the scrubbed-clean parts, but Nairobi nonetheless. Although the streets we see are lined with piles of burning trash, the skyscrapers are still in sight. People swarm the streetsides and we watch dozens of men selling their wares- fruit, shoes, clothes. No one seems to be buying. I watch in rapt attention, as if this is a show that they’ve prepared for me. I realize this is selfish.
Cows, pigs, and goats traipse around the city without any concern for the passing vehicles. Who is responsible for these animals, I wonder?
We watch a car wreck. And I start to regard the bumps and holes in the road with added caution. I am jet lagged and so tired. My eyes feel like I’ve been having a staring contest with a blazing fire. Feeling guilty, I nod off to sleep despite the jiggling, smelly, smoky chaos of life in Nairobi.
Ruiru Integrated Child Development Center is not beautiful. They tend to place importance on de-worming kids, providing one meal a day, and teaching them life-giving English.
The poverty looks like something Sally Struthers might record a commercial in. Sally, with her squeaky voice and moist eyes would introduce you to a child with an old fashioned name and a sweater in tatters. Maybe the child is named Agnes. Her rubber shoes will be shredded- held in place by the curled toes of determination.
Children meet us at the van door with shy smiles. Smiles morph into hysterical laughter as I blow the throng a kiss. The younger kids approach us slowly, fingers in their mouths and dancing eyes. The older kids trail their fingers along the barbed wire barrier and keep watchful eyes on their younger siblings. I realize these are not the children with whom we will work. These don’t go to the ICDC. They are either too old or too poor, I assume. We walk away from them, eager to pour kisses on their cheeks and to squeeze them tightly. Are we the first white people they’ve seen? They respond to our goodbyes in murmured Swahili.
We enter a small classroom that would fit maybe 10-12 preschoolers in the States. There are 28 in this class and they sit on their wood-hewn benches in utter attention. Who are we? And what are we going to do? Mostly they are clad in orange checked dresses with wide white collars or orange checked shirts with burgandy shorts and tobogans. I assume this color combination is affordable, or perhaps someone is just a Hokies fan.
Their rapt attention breaks only with their eyes, which chase us around the room. One girl stands out. She is a young four and wearing a light blue dress with some sort of matted grey fur jacket. She cranes around her neighbor for a better view of us. We do crafts.
Sometime during the craft, I develop a migraine. My vision becomes distorted and I feel sick. I’m focusing hard on staying upright and I can barely see through the milky blur in my vision. I fleetingly remember reading about Cambodian refugees whose brains shut off their ability to see because what they’ve seen has been so deeply disturbing. They had a psychological blindness.
But I am no refugee.
My brain wants me to see each bit of this- each child with bright eyes, each touch of a trustful hand, each smile reacting to their craft. My brain must see every piece of this and see radiant hope overlaid with brilliant pain. My vision clears.
What, you thought this poor blog had been orphaned? You thought no one wanted it or cared what happened? You thought the little blogger who occasionally posted had forgotten about this thing, this project?
Well, you were maybe a tiny bit right. But not entirely.
You have to know that I care a lot. That I itch to write and create and build.
You should also know that I have seriously bad time management skills and I also am nearly crippled by the inability to see a project to its completion.
But I want to be back. So we’ll see how it goes. We’ll take it slow and get to know one another again.
(Also, the last 356 days have included some really amazing stories and pictures. So come back.)
I’ve really missed you. I’m not sure if I let you walk away or if you abandoned me. Either way, I want you back. I’m itching to make beautiful things. You are what makes me feel the most me.
Creativity, you make me holier. I don’t like life when you aren’t around.
I’m going to look for you in the next few days. Look for me?