Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Sanyu and Leaving Africa
It seems that a bit of time has gone by since I last posted here; its only been about two weeks, but I have found that when you are traveling a lifetime of experience can pack its way into such a small space of time. Em and I spent all of our last week in Africa at Sanyu Babies Orphanage in the middle of Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Our time there was really amazing, and I found that I derived much more joy from hanging out with infants than I thought I would. Each kid had a unique personality that never ceased to amaze me. Some were quiet, most were loud. Some liked to play with their friends, most liked to hit their friends. Emily and I ran the morning preschool class with about 20 toddlers, and it didn’t take long for a few of them to establish a sort of “fight club” that involved them taking any toy they could and hitting their friends in the head. Keep in mind that these kids couldn’t walk. As hilarious as it was to watch these kids turn lettered blocks into weapons, inevitably I had a responsibility to keep the peace, and that is what I tried to do. Feeding time was the second craziest time of the day, we had all 40 kids lined up in small wooden chairs and had the enormous responsibility of hand feeding most of them some kind of mashed sweet potato. What little they didn’t either throw at me or drop down their shirts they seemed to enjoy immensely. The most difficult event of the day was bath time. Oh my goodness it was insanity. The kids all stripped down and one by one, stood in a line and were each taken by a large, serious looking African nurse and scrubbed mercilessly in a small tub of water. After this scrubbing they would emerge smiling and usually laughing and run towards me as I waited with a towel in hand. Drying a wriggling African child was such a task that before I could finish one, two more would come and tackle me from either side, drying themselves on my shirt. Before I knew it there were dozens of naked children running wildly around and screaming. I would chase them around the concrete floored room trying to grab them, and would eventually give up. Of course after this insanity we would have to change diapers (yes, I changed my first diaper there, and many more after it,) dress them and put them in their cribs. Wow. The whole process took about an hour and a half and by the time we were done we were exhausted and full of stories about the rambunctious children. It was really an amazing time, and saying goodbye to those kids was far more difficult than I had anticipated.
On the way out of the airport in Uganda I experienced one last touch of African “realities,” if you want to call it that. I had a 7-hour wait at Entebbe airport in Uganda before my flight on Ethiopian Airlines left. When I finally was able to check my bags the airport employee informed me that my bags were about 10kg over the allowed weight. He shook his head and said that it was “a large fee” to send my bags, but then said, in almost a whisper “I want to help you.” “Ok” I thought, but how could he do that when my bags were clearly over weight? There was an awkward silence for a few seconds while we each stared blankly at each other, until he said again, this time slower and even quieter, “I want to help you.” Aaaaaah. I began to think African and understood what he was implying. “So” I said, unsure as to how to proceed, “you want….money?” He nodded. “Like, this much money?” I said cautiously pulling a 5,000 shilling note out of my pocket. Without saying a word he quickly swiped it from my hand and shoved it into his pocket. So, to make a long story short he demanded 5,000 more but said that his manager was watching so he would find me later and collect it from me then. I still had three hours to wait at the time so I proceeded to hide myself from him as best as I could. Finally it was time to board and I thought I had successfully thwarted the money making plans of this corrupt airport employee. As I was about to step onto the plane to my dismay I saw the man emerge from inside the plane and walk straight towards me. I was surrounded by people at the time and curious as to what he was going to do. He waked up to me and asked me for my ticket, shooting me a demanding glance. Slowly I pulled the ticket from my pocket along with a 1,000 shilling note and handed them to him. He took the money quickly and said in a whisper “This is all?” I knew I had the upper hand because there was no way he could ask for more money in the position he was in so I didn’t say a word, I just shrugged.
So that is how I left Africa, with a parting reminder that there is a lot that needs to change. Any kind of sustainable change will have to take place first in the minds and hearts of people who are willing to change the culture of corruption and dare to believe in honesty and truth. It’s really a bold thing, if you think about it.