Thursday, April 8, 2010

Personal Experience: Dori

Though I had a very detailed packing list, I knew I had no way to REALLY prepare myself for the experience. This was made abundantly clear the first time I stepped down from the mutatu (van) and onto the actual slum soil. The first thing to hit was the smell. It was so heavy of rot and sewage and wood charcoal smoke; it is what they use to cook, so it is everywhere. It finds a way of getting in your eyes and making them burn and water. Next was the actual ground upon which I was walking. When I think of a street littered with garbage, I recall my own streets, which are swept clean by the city several times a month. I picture the fresh trash of fast food containers tossed carelessly from cars and cigarette butts haplessly thrown to the ground. In the slums, it is a million times worse as it includes ALL of their trash as there is no city trash collector, as well as human and animal "waste", and it is accumulated over years and years and years and stomped down daily by the thousands of [shoeless] people who call this place home. This trash is so thick and trampled that I honestly couldn't tell where the trash ended and the dirt began. And there was plenty of dirt- no paving, no gravel, and thrashed and cracked by decades of rain creating rivers through their homes. In many places the "roads" were so uneven and cratered that we couldn't drive down them and would have to find alternate routes. Down either side of the roads were shallow ditches that supposedly acted as gutters. From personal experience I will advise you to be very, very careful crossing over these; I misjudged the leap and fell in one on my last wasn't pretty.

After the initial adjustment to the smells, the street, and the smoke I took in the buildings and the people - oh so many people. The majority of the vendor buildings are, essentially, discarded and found corrugated tin - much of it with holes and rust and plenty of very sharp edges - held up with rotting sticks and rebar. The buildings that people live in, often entire families in a single room, are stones and cement, the same construction as the schools and orphanage we worked on. Many of these buildings are incomplete - with rebar sticking out or up five feet or more and walls half built, as though someone just simply stopped halfway and walked away. There is no running water or electricity in the slums we visited. Using the "facilities" meant standing in a dark stone closet and squatting over a hole.

As for the people - the streets were just full of them. Shoulder to shoulder everywhere I looked. Cooking, cleaning, doing the wash, buying, selling. It was so alive! And everywhere I looked I was smiled and waved at and children swarmed to me offering their hands to hold and crawling into my arms. There were times in which I would be cradling one kid in my arms and holding the hands of six more, with still more wrapping their arms around my legs and holding onto my pockets. I was hugged and welcomed and loved and accepted. And they did all of this with holes in their shoes (if they were lucky enough to even have shoes) and tears in their clothes (which were worn by countless people before them), and hunger ravaging their little bodies. What a contrast from the city streets of Los Angeles! Here you must be a "crazy person" if you smile or wave at a stranger, and I just can't imagine if I picked up a stranger's child in the market!

On one such walk through the slums, after just having used the "facilities" and fallen in a ditch, the weight of it all hit me. These were conditions I could "tolerate" because I was only there for a few weeks, but I got to leave. This was their home; that hole in the floor was the only restroom they know and that pile of blankets on the stone floor - if they were fortunate enough to HAVE a stone floor - was where they laid their heads at night. At the end of it all I came back to my very own apartment, and washed my clothes in a machine, and took a hot shower, slept on my feather mattress covered in crisp, fresh sheets, and, yes, flushed a toilet or two. When I am hungry I can go to a store where I can buy anything I happen to be craving - and I HAVE the luxury to have a craving, and to fulfill it. When I am sick I can go to a doctor and get the treatment and medications I need to make me well again. And if I can't afford to do any of this? I am lucky - oh my goodness SO very lucky - to have a government who will provide assistance for all of these things.

The weight of just how much I have taken for granted, that I have been blessed enough to be ABLE to take this for granted, really hit home. In Nairobi, there isn't even free education. Maybe the thing I have taken for granted most of all. So much, in fact, that I would be careless enough to have "ditched" nearly 50 days of my senior year of high school! I had been offered a free education on a silver platter and had thrown it to the ground! The schools we help to build are created by people living in the slums themselves who want to create an opportunity for the children to leave the slums and have a better life. How humbling is that, I ask you.

During my time working on the orphanage I had quite a lot of conversations with Emily, the young woman pictured above who, with her family, has dedicated her life and opened her home to 50 children orphaned by genocide and disease. She said to me once "the children, they are so hungry, but no one can give them food because they have none themselves." She is one of those who has nothing, and still she gives all she has to these children. I grew close also to Isaac, who, with his wife, worked long hours for many years to save just $5 a month with one goal in mind - to be able to build a school to elevate the children around him to a higher level. Isaac has been a driver for World of Difference for about a decade, and every year has seen the organization assist so many other schools, yet has never asked for anything for his own school. As this year's project had already been completed, a fact we didn't know until arrival, it opened the door for us to give Isaac additions he so needed. On my last day with Isaac and Emily they thanked me. Thanked ME! I am the thankful one, indeed. I can't express enough my gratitude and awe at being able to witness such dedication and hard work and selflessness. And I am thankful most for having been shown what a true hero is. Endless thanks to Isaac and Emily and all of the other amazing Kenyans I met who dedicate their lives to the service of others.


Anonymous said...

I have read your blog on your trip quite a few times and it always chokes me up! I love your lesson on Swahili though and am practicing it on the animals - although they look very confused. Keep writing - you paint a very vivid picture!

jDanger said...

Not very often is it when I read something where I feel like I can feel what the writer is feeling, taste what they are eating and am literally experiencing what is being written about, but I can when you write. What a talent. Keep up the good writing skills there sister!! Its gonna take you far!!