He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young (Isaiah 40:11)
Easter Sunday – Sundays are so special in Kisumu. Everyone is putting on their Sunday best and rushing off to whichever church service they usually attend. We were heading out to Kibos for Fresh Manna church. As we arrived we could hear the service was well under way and it took about 30 minutes to greet everyone. Eventually Moses appeared dressed all in white. As we would be celebrating communion during the service, he asked us to prepare the bread and 'wine' and then painstakingly he showed me how to prepare the bread. ‘What should I do with the crusts?’ I asked. He looked at me enquiringly and handed me a plastic bag. ‘We'll eat them for breakfast,’ he said. Will I ever be able to throw a crust away again without thinking of him?
I've not really written anything about Moses or the two Johns or Paul James.
Moses is in charge of the house which takes care of around 17 boys. These are boys straight from the streets and who are brought into the Isaiah Trust programme. Under Moses’ guidance, they will be taught discipline, attend school and do lots of studying as well as regular chores.. Many of the boys in the programme had been existing in horrendous circumstances prior to being brought to Moses. Smoking 'bang' and glue sniffing are the main addictions that they arrive with. Once they have experienced some 'rehab', they move to Mambaleo which Paul James runs in a similar fashion. These are the older boys and Paul James prepares them for further studies and reintegration into society- hopefully helping them achieve some kind of self sufficiency.
The two Johns take the role of social workers. If a boy approaches the Trust for help, one of the two Johns will check out if the boy has a real need and if he does, brings them into the programme. Once admitted, both Johns keep a close eye on the boys’ overall welfare and schooling.
Each of these guys is a saint! We visited the house of one of the Johns in the Manatta slum district only the other day. I had expected that as these guys were employed that they would be living in some kind of house....but no, they live in similar conditions to the kids they are caring for, except that they get paid a regular salary. John has a wonderful smile on his face all of the time, so much so that you wonder if he is genuine. During the first school meetings he looked so laid back that he was sliding off his chair! It only took me two days to understand quite how big his heart really is. He and his wife Pheobe share a three room house which is actually a slum dwelling - no water, no sanitation, no legal electricity. Between them they have 4 children, the youngest 8 months old. On a day to day basis, John meets needy, vulnerable or abused children. Iin addition to his own family, John is unofficially 'fostering' another two boys and a young girl. John earns the equivalent of 80 euros a month.
Moses is a man who has a great deal of presence. The word charisma might have been invented just for him. He is a handsome man with a deep belly laugh and an infectious charm. As soon as he knew I lived in France, he insisted on me adding to his vocabulary on a daily basis, so we greet each other with ‘Bonjour’ and ‘comment ca va’ and the like. As well as being house father to the Kibos boys, he is the biological father to 4 adorable girls. He is also the Pastor at the Kibos Fresh Manna church, preaches from the heart, sings and plays guitar and has an insatiable thirst for knowledge.
Paul James is a slightly built man with a hesitancy and a shyness about him, until he gets up to preach. He works alongside the extrovert Moses, translating between English and Kiswahili in church. He always wants to practice speaking French. ‘How do you say I love you,’ he asks me.
As we walked to see to his goats, Paul James took me to one side to ask permission to call me Mama instead of by my name. He explained he felt uncomfortable calling me Julie and to call me Mama was giving me the respect he thought I deserved.What can I say to him....apart from ‘je t'aime’ of course!
Each of these guys is so special in their own right. I know now why I feel so safe having them around me in the middle of the slums.
And so we came to Church with the music reverberating in my ears. At one point, I got up out of my seat and moved to the back so I had more room around me to sing, dance and clap. I smiled at myself. I'm 'morphing' into Nicky I thought! Nicky and Kitty, my daughter will know what I mean. The music was fantastic and us girls even sang.
(Nicky is the co-founder of the Isaiah Trust and would have been on the trip but she became seriously ill only a few weeks before departure – she’s recovering fine now).
The Easter service was awesome - it lasted 4 hours!!! I will never complain about the 90 minute services at the International Baptist Church in St Paul again!! Ha ha!!
Easter Monday - The 'team' were getting together to play 5 aside football with the boys today. Fortunately, I had planned to go to visit Covenant House's orphanage.
Rather than go in the van, they suggested we take a boda boda. Oh I thought that's great -I've fancied a ride in one of the golf-cart like taxis. Unfortunately, my translation of boda boda was not too accurate and it was the bike taxi rather than the golf cart taxi. So I had no choice but to get my leg over the parcel shelf on the back and cling on for dear life on the 15 minute ride down hill. On numerous occasions my water bottle was jolted off my shoulder as we negotiated pot holes and trenches as well as other vehicles. It was almost as exhilarating as the time I hang-glided off a mountain in the French Alps. I had the same sense of wobbliness in my legs when I put them back on firm ground.
The orphanage was comprised of a group of buildings and dormitories which held the 'usual' groupings of either orphans or abandoned or mistreated kids. They gathered round as I sat on the floor with them and showed them how to draw around their hands. The older ones numbered their fingers then wrote their names on them, cut them out and pegged them to string around the room. Their reward for picking up the discarded paper from the floor was a chupa chup!
We were back home by 5 and the rest of the ‘team’ rolled in around 7:00 pm, each burnt to a crisp, having spent the day in full sun without any shelter. Unfortunately there was no water left for showers! A consolation was that Joshua once again, cooked us a wonderful evening meal.
PS. Just found out that 76 boys turned up to play football today!!
Tuesday 6th April - Off to the provincial hospital this morning with 8 year old Michael to try and get his eye problem diagnosed. Michael is one of 9 siblings but 4 of them died. His mother ekes out an existence on the dumps. I had a four hour wait at the hospital with Michael but we managed to get the staff to sort out his problem, which he says he’s had for five years! Result!
I was then collected by John and taken to visit Ruth (14) in the slum district where she lives. We couldn't get the jeep down the narrow lanes so there was no option but to bike it.
Had a BLAST of a day! I would have been a bit worried on my bike but John took excellent care of me - I even had two of the other guys as outriders (all ex street kids). I felt like I was in a James Bond film! We even stopped in a cafe for quick soda.
Off to a fellowship meeting on the dumps now - hopefully Michael will be the proud owner of some new glasses!
Wednesday 7th April - had a great day yesterday. It ended with a fellowship meeting on the dumps. Michael was there, standing at least 6 inches taller in his new glasses (picture above) - do you know he's been in pain for 5 years, bless him. I'm aware that my time is getting closer to an end here and it was my opportunity to stand up in front of the boys (and all my girls were there too - Violet, Immaculate and Ruth) to say goodbye to those I would not be seeing over the next few days. I explained how happy I was to be going home to my husband and family as I had missed them then my voice just broke as I tried to explain just how much I would miss my African family. Then I came out of the shack to help prepare the bread and juice. There must have been 50 kids milling around still taking part in the service and by now we were in pitch darkness. Just on the threshhold was a ragged little boy. You know how children put their head on their knees when they are tired? I bent down to him and asked if he was tired - he barely had the strength to lift his head. I brought him into the 'kitchen' and gave him 3 slices of bread which he ate so slowly. Then, with all the activity around the place and boys milling around, I lost him. I wanted to give him some more.
When we reached the jeep, I saw him again. I went over to see him and took Florence with me (she's one of the orphans that now receives a small salary to work for the trust). She bent down to talk to him and and translated for me. He was the eldest of 5, both parents apparently dead. They lived with their grandmother who tried to look after them but they had been without food many days. John was called over. ‘This is a genuine boy’, John said. ‘He is telling the truth. I bought him those shoes a couple of weeks ago when he was barefoot’.
The little boy just leaned into me and my heart broke. So that's why I'm awake at 5 am. Florence and John have promised to find him over the next two days so hopefully he can be brought into the Trust’s programme.