Ok, it is time to start putting down all the crazy stuff that is in my head about the trip to Africa. Keep in mind that as you read this, this was very much a work trip for me. It was mostly flying or driving places, meeting 800 -- 2,000 children, watching a presentation and then flying/driving to the next place. I didn't do much "tourist" stuff, but I did enough to spend all my money. :-) I saw enough just out of the window of the car to help me understand that this place is somewhere I need to go again, and again. Blogger won't let me add pictures tonight so I will post them as soon as I can. For now, here is the narrative.
I managed to get my plane ticket messed up right before we left. The only flight left was one 12 hours earlier...so I was scrambling. In my perfect world I was going to have Lauren packed to go to Grandma Jane's before I left and Jacob's day care diaper bag filled w/ lunches and clothes packed in ziplock's (matching is a big thing for me...while he will still let me ). Leaving 12 hours earlier put a stop to that notion. Although, who am I kidding? Those things wouldn't have happened anyway.
I landed in London w/ no trouble (after being upgraded to business and a quick stop in NYC to switch planes). The rest of the group didn't get in until 1:00 PM (and I landed at 6:00 AM) so I wandered the airport for a bit. I checked my bags, bought all the sandwiches I was dying for (Cheese Ploughman, Cheese w/ Red Onion Chutney, Chicken Tikka Masala, Coronation Chicken) and ate about two bites from each of them. Heaven. (Don't worry, I saved the rest for later). I wandered in the shops and read my book. It was nice to have a little quiet time since preparing for the trip was so crazy and I had no doubts about how nuts it would be once we hit the ground. At about 1:30 I started watching for my group. These were women I had talked to on the phone before and worked with closely for many months, but we hadn't actually met before. I didn't know what I was looking for. After about two hours...I was ready to call it a day. I knew that the group wanted to go into London for the day and take a look around and we were going to be pushing it, time wise. I was holding a sign that I had hand written...it said STAY ALIVE in really big letters (that is the name of the program we work for). I wish you could have seen the faces of the people who walked past me. They had just gotten off a long international flight, waited for two hours in the customs line and in the lobby of the airport are 100 people all holding small cards with names on them........ Jones, Garp, STAY ALIVE....... one person walked past me and said "that is good advice"........ ba dum bum! Why am I telling you about my layover in London? Because not two seconds before my group came walking out of the customs line I was hit by someone pushing a huge luggage cart. I was all ready to be angry about it when I realized someone was taking pictures......lots of them. I had been hit by David Arquette and his wife Courtney Cox. They had their little girl with them too. AND it was all caught by the paparazzi. Seriously. I was very gracious about it (celebrity gossip maven that I am, getting hit by famous people was an HONOR.......and I had great hair and was hoping to have one of those photos show up in People magazine......no luck). It stinks that they also had to get off a long flight w/ a 2 year old and have people take their picture right away. They apologized profusely and were very nice. They look a little bit smaller then on TV and their baby is very cute. They were headed to Italy for his sisters wedding. They didn't TELL me that or anything, I read it in People magazine on the way home (the same people that DIDN"T have my picture in it...it was a busy celebrity news week). Anyway, I found my people and we saw London for exactly two hours (look, there is Westminster Abbey, look, there is Big Ben, quick eat some fish and chips.....).
We got on our last 8 hour flight (and second red eye) and headed for the dark continent. It was an icky flight. I accidentally took too much Ambien and so I was totally out of it. It is all a haze. I only remember that my seat mates needed to get up about 12 thousand times. I also remember flying directly over Darfur. It was dark so we didn't see anything, but it was strange knowing that below us 4 million people were struggling to make it through the night. It gave me the shivers. We landed in Nairobi and met our host for the trip Justus Suchi (referred to as Suchi from here on out). He hustled us to our hotel and let us get some sleep. I was only mildly concerned about the gated compound w/ guards carrying semi automatic weapons. As long as they were on our side...but honestly, if someone was going to try to get into the hotel to kidnap one of us (it happens more then you think) would these guys fight for us or would they take off?
I think it would have been safer if WE had the weapons. :-)
We slept for a few hours and then went to an oprhanage. This was a place that housed older kids. They were very excited about us coming. They had prepared a big program for us...dancing, traditional singing, poems and recitations (this is a big deal here...20 kids reciting the same poem in PERFECT unison w/ hand motions and wonderfully emotive voices. They have competitions and everything). They even made me come up and dance with them.......it was not pretty. I am not a good dancer in the best of times, but up against African 12 year olds, my shimmy isn't exactly attractive. Attractive it may not be, but apparently it is wonderfully entertaining. When I started doing the John Travolta style finger pointing disco move they even clapped for me. I aim to please. If it makes them happy to laugh at the plump white lady, so be it.
This was our first orphanage. We didn't realize how nice it was until later in the week. The kids were all taken in, no matter what. This is not always the case. Some places won't take HIV positive kids. Some places fill up and can't take any more. This one was run (and sponsored) by the Anglican church and would take as many kids as walked in the door. The building we were meeting in was an outdoor shed. There was one room for girls and one for boys. The day before we got there a 4 year old boy and 5 year old girl (HIV positive) were brought to the center. It broke my heart to see them. They both looked kind of shell shocked. One boy got up to tell us his story. He said his mother died several years earlier when he was 8. His father remarried and his new wife had other children. She didn't like the boy and didn't want to feed him. She thought he was lazy and asked him to do harder work then the other kids. She often beat him or wouldn't let him come inside if his father was away. He said he decided to run away to Nairobi as soon as he was 10. He knew his mother had a brother there and he decided that this uncle would help him. He finally got his chance. He met a man that said he would take him to Nairobi. He didn't take him there. Instead he took him to his own home and made him work (this is what adoption means to Africans). After awhile he was able to run away again and he got to Nairobi. When he went to the uncle's home, he had moved. The boy lived on the streets for awhile and finally someone told him to come to this orphanage. He did and had been there for several months. He told us how grateful he was that he has a safe place to sleep, an education and food. Here we were looking at this seemingly run down building with too many kids and this was the best thing that had ever happened to this boy. It is all about perspective. I am glad he made it there. If he stays, he will get an education and have a chance at a life. Not many get that opportunity.
After the orphanage (where I gave out tons of gum and pens) we went to the Kenyan version of Disneyland. I can't remember the real name of it so we will just call it Kenyaland. It has mock villages from the different tribes, traditional dancing and a few booths that sell "souvenirs" or, lots of carved, wooden stuff. The place was empty. There was us and a black family from Chicago there and that was it. There were only about 30 people in the auditorium for the dancing. There WAS a snack bar. It was a crock pot on a table w/ chicken legs and feet cooking in it. :-) We took some pictures of the mock villages. Little did I know that we would see those very same villages EVERYWHERE. Outside of one or two major cities, most people really do live in huts w/ grass roofs. That is if they are lucky. Many people just live in shacks made of flattened metal barrels or wooden shacks. Almost none of the places we saw had electricity or plumbing. Even Suchi, our program director in Kenya, grew up in a hut. He didn't have electricity or plumbing until he moved to the city. It is also common in rural Africa to practice polygamy or wife sharing (hence the problems w/ AIDS). Suchi said his father tried to take a second wife, but his mother wasn't happy about it. She told him that if he brought her home, she would "chop her up with a machete". Ouch. He kept the second wife in a different city and finally had to abandon her b/c wife #1 was not happy. The father got tired of going back and forth. Traditionally, there is a husbands hut, a first wife's hut, a second wife's hut and an unmarried son's hut. Dealing with two different villages was too much work. There is a saying in Africa that the children of the second wife are the favored children b/c you marry the first wife for duty and the second for love. I guess in his case, you UN marry the second wife out of fear. Suchi also lost two siblings to malaria. One was a baby and one was 5. Wow.
I bought some cool statues at the Kenya Disneyland. This is where I first saw the art of bargaining. More on that later. The statues were originally offered to me at 20,000 Kenyan shillings (about 175 US dollars). Eventually, I got them for 4,000 shillings (about 30 dollars). They are awesome. It was especially awesome trying to get them home.... more on that later too. We went back to the hotel and fell into bed.... I had no trouble falling asleep that night. Two red eyes and 35 hours of travel (not to mention Kenyaland) was enough for me.