Saturday, 26 February 2011

The handover

Kenya, near Mithini, 70km from Nairobi

It’s not often I hand over a large wad of cash to someone I’ve just met. It’s even rarer that I have just moments before retrieved said wad of cash from its concealed storage on my inner thigh whilst locked in a toilet cubicle, tip-toeing in my flip flops around turds that have missed their intended target, retching.  I mean, I could count on the toes of one shit-smeared foot the number of times this has happened and still take the other little piggies out for a fun day of roast beef and browsing through markets (they were going to the market for what? And you sing that to children? Shame on you).  

But that’s what I did today – I paid Geoffrey (Director of Watota Wa Baraka for those who weren’t paying attention in the previous posting) the 1,450 USD fee for our seven week stint, at a rest stop on the way to the orphanage. 90 dollars a week each for food and lodgings, and the rest on transport, for those of you following with a spreadsheet.  Bearing in mind we hadn’t even arrived at the orphanage yet I think my face betrayed some concern as I surreptitiously slipped the clammy, gently fragranced notes across the table.  But I’d already decided I liked Geoffrey, that I admired him, that his sense of integrity was second only to his care for those who needed care the most.  And it was his response upon receiving the cash that cemented these intuitions.  ‘Thank you’, he said, ’you know, don’t you, that this money is not what it costs us to feed and shelter you, the actual cost is far less’.  ‘Yes’, I said, ‘I'd figured that’. ‘But I want you to know’ he continued ‘that this money will help children who really do need help, children you will be meeting shortly. You’ll see for yourself how this money is spent’.  

Now, I like to think I have a well-honed bullshit detection sensor, that I can tell when someone is stringing me a line, it’s a tool of my trade in some ways. And today my sensor was gently resting in green.  In fact, I’d packed it away, because with that response I knew Geoffrey was giving it to me straight, and my respect for him grew massively.  I knew our money would be used for more than just food and board, he knew I knew, and he addressed it directly with no apology, no quibble.  To paraphrase Dick Cheney – there were now no unknowns, or known unknowns, or unknown unknowns (if you need to translate please put on your best simpleton voice and repeat 'duuuuuuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrrrrrr').  Geoffrey was himself, he explained, a beneficiary of child sponsorship – a doctor had assisted him in completing his education when his own family could not afford it.

Geoffrey, and his charming wife Esther, were driving us out of Nairobi to the orphanage, 70kms north east, into rural Kenya.  As we pulled off the tarmacked road he broke off from answering my inane questions (are there any snakes? No. Are they all orphans? Yes, it’s an orphanage) to comment that there really is very little infrastructure once you get into the countryside, as the dirt road with enormous pot-holes attested to, as we slowly bumped our way to our new home.  Geoffrey pointed out the British owned Del Monte fruit farm, to which I unthinkingly blurted out ‘the man from Del Monte, he say yes’, before having to give a squirming explanation of the mildly racist advertising campaign of the 1990s. The scenery grew more beautiful, with green mountains and valleys on either side, and small stalls at the side of the road selling mangoes and bananas farmed at a largely subsistence level by the residents of the smallholdings we could see from the car window.  Small children, in their school uniforms, stared confused at the two white faces peering out of the car, before smiling and returning our waves (the confusion, to be fair, may have been why three people were transporting on the back seat a gorilla in sunglasses and sporting a tubigrip bandage).

And then, 30 bone shaking kilometres later, we were there. 200 metres off the dirt track down a winding road, behind a barbed wire fence, is the compound where eleven children live with the matron, Zeporah, the night guard, Albert, the manager of the other orphanage, Zach (who splits his time between the two), four cows, two goats, two chickens, and a gazillion bloody flies.  And now with us also. Handover complete.

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