Monday, June 15, 2015

Yesterday’s gray and overcast turns to bright and blue this morning. The songbirds are rejoicing, and the little quad-rotor dragonflies are making an early morning of it.

As I head up to the Big House, I see Ferdinand working on the porch. There’s been a water issue.

The city water here is unreliable; it’ll run for a while and then shut off for a while, and the times are relatively unpredictable. We have a tank system to balance out the outages; there are 4 1500-liter tanks behind the Big House, as well as a high one they use as a water tower to provide some higher pressure in the gravity-fed system. When the city water’s on, it fills the tanks, and typically they have enough capacity to get us through the outages.

Well, the water was off recently for long enough to exhaust the tanks, and apparently some of the children turned on the taps in the Big House, saw that they were dry, and left them open. So when the water came on overnight, all the taps started flowing, and the floor of the Big House is flooded. That’s not really a major problem; the floors are all tile, and the natural flow of the water takes it out the front door and down the dirt path. Ferdinand is squeegeeing out any little pools, but they would tend to dry out on their own in a bit anyway. The real problem is the waste of water; city water is metered at 500 shillings (about 25 cents) per cubic meter, and there was a lot of waste last night. Looks like Ferdinand will need to have one of his many—perpetual—talks with the children. This isn’t rocket surgery, kids; turn off the tap if you find it dry, same as if the water is on.

So there’s that. Then I drop into the guest house and confirm that 6 of the team members have colds. We have cough drops, and I brought some allergy medication, but I’m not sure I have enough for an epidemic.

They’re feeling pretty low, and they have to tutor 3 sessions today. I tell them I’m available to cover for any of them, but they decide to tough it out. I make a couple of rounds, 1 at the beginning of the first session, 1 halfway through, and they seem to be OK.

So they could use some help, and I have some free time. Chores.

There are always things to be done at the guest house:

1. Dishes. Though we eat our 2 main meals elsewhere, there are always little things to clean up—the morning coffee, maybe a dish or two from breakfast, a pan if somebody had eggs.

2. Water. Because of the city water situation (and BTW, I’m grateful; last year we had no running water at all, and that was for our entire 5-week stay), we make a practice of tanking up a backup supply when the water’s available. There’s a 30-gallon drum in one of the larger toilet stalls. We keep that full for flushing the toilets when the city’s dry; so we fill it by carrying 5-gallon buckets from the nearest shower stall whenever it could use topping off. We also keep a 5-gallon bucket in each of the 3 shower stalls for bucket showers when the tap’s dry.

3. Trash. We separate our trash 3 ways:

a. Burnables. When that bucket’s full, we take it to the incinerator. And incinerate it.

b. Non-burnables (mostly plastic wrappers and metal cans). We store that up for the next trip into town, when we drop it into a dumpster by the side of the road.

c. Garbage. That’s in a sealable 2-gallon plastic bucket; when it’s full, we take it to the pigs.

So. Always something to do. The less of that the team kids need to worry about for the next few days, the better.

Chai is chapati and tea. The children know I’m a big fan of chapati, so they make a big deal of it, running up to me and shouting, “Dr. Dan! Chapati!” We sit on the low wall of the kibanda and enjoy it.

The 10:30 session goes as well as the first. The crew is holding up despite the fact that they feel lousy, and the children seem to be taking pity on their low energy levels.

After the session there’s a half hour before the noon Bible lesson from Ferdinand or Abeli (today it’s Abeli), so I sit on the kibanda floor and interact with the children who are hanging around. I read “Green Eggs and Ham” to one of the kindergartners, but he seems bored by that—despite my best efforts at expressive reading—and goes off to make a bird out of a pencil stub and a scrap of plastic trash bag. One of the Standard 3 boys comes along—he’s on medication that seems to make him fairly passive—and I read to him for a while about a bunny who wants to be a different animal. Most of the other animals are ones he’s never heard of—beaver, moose, possum—and I wonder why somebody doesn’t write a book for African kids about the amazing animals their continent features. Then again, I suppose somebody has, but I don’t have a copy here.

As I read, his expression is blank, with his mouth hanging ever so slowly open, and little life in his eyes. I decide to see if some kind of physical activity might draw him out a little better, so we stand up and walk toward the play equipment, his hand in mine. His hand roams up to my watch, and he says the first words he’s said to me all day: “What time is it?” I show him my (digital) watch, and he reads the numbers: 11:49. Bible time in 10 minutes. We walk over to the tree swing, and I ask if he likes to swing. A broad smile tells me the answer. He hops onto the little plastic disk, and I give him a push. His smile increases, and he leans back to give himself the full sensation of swinging. Is he a kinesthetic learner, or does he just like to swing? I’ll file that away for a future experiment.

A few feet from the swing is a small jungle gym, perhaps 4 feet tall at 10 feet in diameter. I ask if he likes to climb it. “Yes,” he says. Off go the sandals, and soon he’s hanging upside down, his feet locking him in place. He’s a natural.

Abeli blows the air horn that calls the children to their Bible lesson, and my friend scampers off.

There’s so much need here, and so much to learn before you can address it in any substantial way. All of these children are different, and many have been through traumatic experiences that leave them scarred, perhaps educationally disabled in some way. They have a safe place here at Tumaini, plenty to eat and drink—their food is probably more nutritious than the typical American diet—and attention from people who genuinely love them. The private school they’re going to is a lot better than the public one they were in before; some of the teachers there supplement their meager salaries by farming, and the staff here found that sometimes the children would spend the class day working in the fields. Hence the private school, which required a significant fund-raising effort. But even the private school is less than ideal for these children, with their varied and challenging educational needs. I’ve looked over the standardized tests on which their educational options are based, and they’re clearly not written by native speakers of English; some of the questions I can’t make any sense of, and others are just wrong. There are answer choices that are ambiguous, and in some cases what I would call the best answer of a bad bunch is marked wrong. How frustrating to the children, even the ones without disabilities!

And this story is told all over Africa. The children muddle through, because they’re flexible beings, children, but the human resources—the image of God, the potential to create and produce and imagine and describe and narrate and benefit—that are being squandered here are just incalculable. And the frustrating thing is that countless workers, both African and expat, are doing the best they can. But people are complicated, and simple solutions are typically not solutions at all. What’s really needed is strong families and robust educational systems, all grounded in the gospel’s regenerative power. But systems often militate against the gospel, and cultures often militate against strong families, and human nature—laziness or corruption—often militates against robust educational systems. And so we try to pick up the pieces and assemble something that works.

So pray. And come help.

We have lunch with Beth and Rachelle, as usual. It’s potato soup, and it’s really good. The whole team likes it. Michaela, Amber, and I do the dishes, and then it’s time for the afternoon tutoring session, which goes well by all accounts.

Beth and Rachelle typically come up and sit around the kibanda in the late afternoon, watching the children play and interacting with them in beneficial ways. It’s a relaxed time; some of the team hangs out with them, some relax in the girls’ house—today the sick ones can use the break.

Supper is whitefish in that really good red source they make here, with ugali and greens. Suppertime is nice and relaxing here; you sit in the kibanda and watch the sun go down over the lake as the children play around you. At 7:15 we head to the houses for house devotions. Kyla is wanting to talk to the girls about modesty, so Charity and I switch teams to get me out of there, and I’m with Gershon and Jessica with the little ones. The night house mama sits in with us. I notice that she’s tougher on the kids than we are. We sing several songs in Swahili and English, and Jessica teaches them a memory verse. One of them prays in Swahili, and despite her age, she seems to do a really good job; she stands up and speaks out, and I hear a lot of the standard prayer words, and the mama doesn’t object to anything she says.

Because of the sickness, we shorten the rest of the schedule. A truncated team devotional session, with just a prayer time, and then the crew heads off to bed as they feel the need. Early night, extra rest. Best thing for us.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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