Saturday, 26 February 2011

The kids are alright

Kenya, near Mithini, 70km from Nairobi

Kenyan 4th XI.  Spot the odd one out.

There are nine children who currently live at the orphanage, seven of whom are orphans from the local area, and two of whom (Alice and Stephen) are the children of the night guard, Albert, a board and lodgings deal that’s part of his employment contract.  There are three sibling pairings (Peter and Francis, Jecinta and Bonifus, Esther and Joseph) and Josphat (nicknamed ‘nmm nmm nmm’ by Helen on account of the noise he makes when eating mangoes).    They range in ages from three to fourteen, and all attend a local school called St. Teresa’s.

You may be expecting me now to cut to the ‘serious VT’, with a backing track by Adele or Coldplay, telling you their tragic stories, and urging you to pick up the phone NOW.  Well, their stories are tragic, but that was their past, and their future looks brighter, and what strikes me most is not that they are orphans, but that they are just normal kids. They’re sweet and they giggle, they love singing, sometimes they fight, they always make a mess, and they break stuff. They smile much more than they frown. That’s a cause for celebration, and a ringing endorsement for Watoto Wa Baraka in my book.  And though I realise this isn’t the done thing, I do have a favourite – 4 year old Bonifus, who does indeed have a bonny face.  A stocky little fella who reminds me of my nephew Ben, he has the following charming characteristics:

  • He’s an eating machine. Bonifus really does fill the Dickensian orphan stereotype of ‘please sir, can I have some more’?  He’d make a terrible dinner party guest as for Bonifus dinnertime is not about socialising, about discussing house prices, and about pretending to have an opinion on wine beyond ‘nice body, good on the nose, will get me pissed enough to throw my keys in the bowl’.  Dinnertime for Bonifus is about eating.  If he’s too tired to lift his spoon, he just gets his sister to do it for him, silently masticating.  Then he falls asleep at the dinner table whilst the other kids are singing their post-dinner songs. I envy him.
  • His monkey impression is ‘hee-haw, hee-haw, hee-haw’ suggesting to me that he has been part of a social experiment that tests what would happen if every time you showed a child a monkey you told them it was a donkey.
  • He has just one word of English – ‘catch’, and follows me around with a tennis ball repeating it until we play.  Next on the curriculum are ‘howzat’ and the song ‘he swings to the left, he swings to the right, Mitchell Johnson’s bowling is shite’ 

Bonifus - on the far left. Anticipating food.

And so as the heading suggests, these kids really are alright.  That wasn’t always the case, but it is now. And we’re just here to lend a hand wherever we can to ensure that their future is more important than their past.  I realise that sounds sanctimonious so I’ll counterbalance it with the sharpest quip I’ve ever heard from a hawker, in the nearest large town, Thika.  Helen was walking along holding hands with one of the orphans, nine year old Jecinta, when the hawker shouted out ‘hey, Angelina Jolie, how’s California’?  Watch out Jon Stewart.


Special feature! Inappropriate t-shirt of the week. 
I couldn’t help but have a little ironic chuckle to myself when I saw one of the clothing donations proudly sported by the staff and the children – a job lot of black t-shirts bearing the logo ‘Slim Pledge’.  Seems to be some type of American based weight loss initiative, with curiously Masonic undertones.  In a continent infamous for distressing images of famine and malnourishment I’m pretty certain the dictates of the ‘Slim Pledge’ initiative would be laughed all the way up the Nile. A humourous (albeit darkly) rather than insensitive donation I think.


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