John, Allegra, Barbara and I, along with Teacher Grace who does the translating, have walked up the mountain to see a little boy named Isaac and his sister, Evelyn. By the time Isaac was 8 and his sister was 10, both parents were dead. The kids are now 14 and 16, and have taken care of each other over the years. Isaac greets us, beaming, very happy that we have come. He runs off through the brush to get his sister who is at church, a few hills away.
Apparently we are quite a spectacle: . . .
It was an hour's walk straight up from Barbara's guesthouse, and school is another 40 minute walk past there. Every Saturday, Isaac makes the trek to the Children of Peace program. Along with 200 other orphans and vulnerable children, he gets a hot meal, a small classroom experience and some positive individual attention from the teachers and volunteer staff. We have come on a home visit to see how he can best be helped.
They invite us into their home.
We come to a tiny mud hut, walls crumbling in places, with corrugated metal roof. There are six pieces of clothing hanging on a line, and not much more inside. A blanket covers the dirt floor of Isaac's bedroom, a mere 4 feet by 6 feet, and a mosquito net hangs from the ceiling. Isaac has piled his few belongings on top of the mosquito net. He has brightened his room by sticking two crayon drawings on the mud wall. Evelyn's room is even smaller, and she has no net. There is not one stick of furniture in the home.
These kids are so resilient! They have been taking care of each other, somehow managing to go to school, carry water a long way up to their hut, clean their own clothes and feed themselves for six years. Barbara and her friends have been helping them with clothes and guidance. 14-year-old Isaac is smaller than my 10-year-old Allegra - smaller because of lack of nutrition.
Some extended family members have taken advantage of these two kids and are keeping a cow inside the front room. The kids have to deal with the cow plop, the smell and the flies. When we arrive, the cow is outside and the kids have cleaned the floor.
Outside, Barbara calls on the family members, admonishing them for using the children's home as a cow shed. She tells them that she will have someone come to fix the crumbling wall, but expects the extended family to contribute some labour. She wants to get the kids two chairs and a table, but doesn't want these to disappear into relatives' homes.
We invite Isaac and Evelyn to come by the guesthouse later in the afternoon. Evelyn smiles shyly and heads back to church. Isaac grins, telling us he is very excited to see us later.
As we walk down the dusty road, Teacher Grace tells us what it was like when she was growing up.
"I carried loads of coffee beans through the hills and into Kenya under the cover of darkness. We had to hide often because Idi Amin's troops were looking for us. I was seventeen, scared and strong." She points out various hiding spots as we traipse along. "We had to make it back before dawn. Sometimes they would catch us and take everything, but it was worth taking the beans to Kenya, because otherwise we couldn't sell them, and I had few options for how to make any money and get any food."
Again, I am struck by her resilience. I don't ask what happened to her parents. I know she was orphaned and Idi Amin's time was atrocious.
"When the troops were coming," she continues, "someone would drive his motorcycle through the main road, yelling, and everyone would run from their shops and homes into the hills to hide."
Hours later, back at the house, clouds are rolling in and the afternoon is almost behind us. The sky darkens. Where are the kids? "They are on African time," Barbara explains, not ruffled in the least.
All of a sudden, my friend Samali walks through our gate and up to the porch. I had invited her for yesterday afternoon. I had prepared tea and brownies, and waited, and she never came. Here she is today! I am very happy to see her and have to put aside my Canadian notions of time, invitations, etc. and let go of any hurt feelings, which are useless. I bring out the brownies and tea the way she likes it, which is half milk and tons of sugar.
Evelyn and Isaac arrive at the guesthouse and are happy to eat - we want to serve them treats, but Barbara says that they would appreciate a big meal first, so we cook up some pasta with tomatoes and beans. Allegra and I get out my coloured pencils and the good paper I have recently purchased. The five of us draw and colour for an hour, while Sabia abrades then dresses Evelyn's wound. Allegra has an idea. She excitedly gives Isaac her blue jean shorts and also a pair of soccer shorts, then runs back inside to get Evelyn a pretty t-shirt. Barbara finds more clothes and a big suitcase left behind by another volunteer. That way, Evelyn has a place to keep her clothes at home. The suitcase gets packed up, including the drawings for the kids to put on their bare walls. We send them off with brownies as well - the first they have ever had. They happily drag the suitcase behind them as they set off for home.
Samali and I sit by ourselves in the dark. When the kids left, the light went with them. I can smell the coming rain. We sit in silence. I let her talk when she wants to. Tomorrow she and I will go to the nearest town to a clinic to have a specialist from Britain examine a large lump Samali has found. She whispers her grief and fear.
Samali starts for home, which is a forty minute walk down, along and way up another hill. There are four children waiting at her home for her, none of them hers but all she is raising. She has no choice but to go into the dark alone.
Resilience is not the right word, not at the moment, but I can't find the one that fits.
The skies open up and torrents pound down.