Entry #015: Thursday, May 30, 2013 (Arusha, Tanzania)

Things have kind of been settling into a rhythm here at the orphanage, which is a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I'm getting a good idea of what the daily life here is like, how things are run, and all that jazz. On the other hand, rhythm makes for boring blog entries. One person's "rhythm" is another person's "rut". That's not to say I'm in a rut. But then, there is a sense of familiarity to everyday. I get woken up by a knock on the door for breakfast, I do some stuff, I get lunch, I do some stuff, the kids come back, I help with homework and play with them, I have dinner, I read to them, I do some stuff, and I go to bed. Thrilling.

As a result, today's entry is going to be less of one of my usual narratives, and more of bunch of different anecdotes, observations, etc. Maybe, since these little things make up the "activity" of the day, I can set up something where the entries are shorter and more frequent while I'm here. No guarantees, but it's worth a shot. So, let's go point-by-point...

Future Planning
A good percentage of that "some stuff" has been future planning, because I have the time and the ability to do the research, and I'm getting close to actually knowing where I'll be at any point in the future (of this trip). So here's a sneak peek...
  • After climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, I'll be going down to work in a South African wildlife preserve for two full months. But that's not new, everyone who I've talked to about this trip knows that part.
  • After that, I take a train into Cape Town, where I'll be spending a little under two weeks (and ideally have at least one shark-diving experience).
  • Then I'm planning on going to Beijing, where I should be able to meet up with my father, who's taking a vacation there.
  • Then I'm going to take a train into Tibet, and then do an overland trip into Kathmandu.
  • Then I spend two and a half weeks trekking to the Everest Base Camp.
  • Then I fly to Singapore for a few days; maybe I'll meet up with a friend who recently moved there.
  • Then I take a train up to Bangkok, and spend a few days in  Thailand.
  • Then I do a three-week cycling tour through Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Perhaps I'll be joined by my mother for this trip.
  • Despite every Filipino person I know having a grandmother who still lives there, I'm thinking I'm going to skip the Philippines, simply due to time restrictions (at this point, it will be late November).
  • Instead, I'll be going straight down to Australia, where I'll spend a couple weeks.
  • Then I'll go to New Zealand, where I plan to spend a few weeks to the better part of a month (putting on my hipster glasses, I wanted to go to New Zealand before it was Middle Earth).
  • I then looked at plane prices from Auckland to South America, an the cheapest one - by many hundreds of dollars - was to Buenos Aires, so I decided I'd go there.
  • And that's where I'm at. I want to do some sort of trip up the Western South America coast out of Santiago (where some family are staying) and see Machu Picchu and all that. So, I'm looking into some overland tour stuff, and the timing of those is going to be pretty important overall. And I might also take a side tour into Patagonia, because hell, why not? So yeah, research isn't done yet, but this is the final quarter of my trip, so I think I'm still overall in a good position.
Training Regimen
One of the other "some stuff" items I've recently incorporated into my days is to make sure I'm getting physical activity to prepare for my trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro. Now, being someone who's gone on and off of big workout periods, I know how I am. I will go to the gym for weeks or months and work my way up to peak physical condition (well, "peak"), and then I'll stop, usually due to time commitments. Then I come back some time later, and start up right where I left off, ignoring the fact that my body has deteriorated in the interim. I push too hard, and then regret it for the next couple days.

I can see the exact same thing happening here. Because I'm able to stay in one place (I don't have to really leave the compound for anything), I haven't been walking around much, muss less with my backpack. Now, I can walk forever. In Redwood City, I'd sometimes go to a nearby spot called Wunderlich Park. Trees and trails for miles. I'd go there on every occasional Sunday to hike. If I didn't have much work to worry about, I could spend hours there. One day, in fact, I walked through these woods for twelve miles before realizing that the sun was on its way down. I had barely felt tired. So yeah, I can walk and walk and walk. (Running can wear me down pretty quickly, admittedly.) But then, hiking is different from hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro. The altitude is going to make everything much more difficult, and I know that I could easily end up wrecked at the end of the first day if I don't prepare.

And preparation doesn't even mean to make myself some sort of mountaineering machine. It just means to make it so that greater physical exertion doesn't come as a shock to my system. So, I'm overcompensating a bit. I went down to the kids library (more on that in a second) and got all the high school textbooks that nobody is going to read for the foreseeable future. I stuffed as many books as possible into my day pack (which I will be using on the climb), and then I began running down the road. I was wearing the backpack, by the way. With that extra weight, I ran as far as I felt comfortable to (I fought the urge to push myself beyond a safe limit), and then turned around and powerwalked back. All the while, passing by people. The children would shout "Mzungu!" ("white person") and waved. I smiled and waved back, even though use of that term is nowadays pretty discriminatory (though I suppose it's better than people calling me cracker or honky). The reactions of other people run the gamut from a friendly hello (and as much of a "how are you?" conversation as can be fit in while I'm moving quickly) to an icy stare that made me feel like I was in Kijuju or something (Resident Evil reference, don't worry if you don't get it). I'm not sure how far I go, but I'm assuming it's several miles, just taking into account the time it takes. Also, as a reminder, this is at 1.4km in elevation, so I'm already working in conditions I'm totally not used to, and I believe there are some physiological effects as well (the oddest one being some prominent dark, slightly reddish circles under my eyes, which I don't recall from earlier workouts).

The run/walking the main crux of the activity, so hopefully when I'm doing the hike proper, it won't feel so rough (outside of any other altitude issues). I'm also doing some things like push-ups, crunches, and even some chin-ups on the playgrounds monkey bars, which a couple of the little kids saw me doing, and now have become obsessed with. Whenever they're not asking me to push them on the swing, or just fighting, they want me to hold them and lift them up and down while they pretend to pull themselves up.

We'll see if this activity for these two weeks helps make the transition easier. I've already gone through my "Ugh, my leeeeeegssss" phase, so it's on the up-and-up...hopefully. And I really hope my body is ready for physical work by the middle of the month, because I will collapse before I quit on this trek. But I'd rather do neither.

The Swing
Jesus, I've created little monsters with that swing I fixed. Every time I see these kids (mainly the seven-and-under crowd) interacting by the swing, I keep asking myself, "Was I like that?" and then giving up a bit of repentance in case I was. Youthful innocence my foot. Give kids the chance, and they can be mean-spirited and greedy. There's a kid on the swing. They want me to push them. So I do for a bit, and then I stop them. Three more kids rush to get on it. I try to get them in a line (which is difficult with the younger kids who barely understand English), and failing that, just choose one of the kids to go on. I swing them for literally 30 seconds when the other kids start yelling "Stop! Stop! Stop!" I tell them they have to wait their turn, and that everyone will get a chance, and sharing is great, and all that good stuff, but they'll literally forget that twenty seconds after the next person goes on. "Stop! Stop! Stop!" I think I need to use a timer from now on. Then there's the kid who says, "Me next!" and then runs away for minutes, coming back well after that time has passed, and expecting me to immediately kick off whoever is on the swing at the time.

Occasionally, I'll just leave them to their own devices (or else I'd never leave the swing). When I do, I find them twisting the swing as they're going on it, or kicking somebody near the face as they go upward. How many times I've had to tell them to stop twisting the thing, I don't know. (I am super afraid it will re-break and I'll be at fault.) To keep kids from being in the path of getting hit by people swinging, I had to make up a story about my sister losing two teeth from an errant swing accident. When kids actually do get hurt and start crying, it usually helps to prove my point, though I would love to tell the kids to just use goddamn common sense.

Over-Affectionate, Over-Attached
As I had mentioned in one of my previous posts, one of the things I was worried about is the kids getting too attached to me - which is why I am very clear that I'm only staying for a short time - and my fear became reality with one of the kids. We'll call him Charles (I'm going to go with pseudonyms). By the third day, this kid was so attached and affectionate, that I became a bit concerned. Now, I will be fair. No matter how you want to slice it, these are orphans. Even though there are administrators in the orphanage who they call "mommy" and "baba", they don't have traditional parents, and are looking for affection wherever it may be. I get that. But there's different ways it can be expressed, and in Charles' case, they made me a little uncomfortable. The moment he would see me, he'd come up to me and grab my hand. Hand-holding is pretty normal, but when we started walked, he would move my hand so it was wrapping around his chest. Then, when we were sitting down, he began playing with my hair. Again, this was more common among all the kids, but then he would start rubbing his hand up and down my arm and take my hand to rub against his cheek. I seriously felt like it was, for lack of a better way of saying it, making me participant to unwilling molestation (and I pray to God that no sick individuals ever make it in and exploit such a situation). By the way, he's 11; too old, I would say, to be doing that kind of thing with near-strangers.

I didn't know how to address the situation, because I'm dealing with children, specifically children that are not related to me, and whose dynamics with authority figures I don't know. I don't want to be seen as an ogre, but neither was I comfortable with that kind of behavior continuing. I actually did tell him to stop once he started poking me in the armpit. Not sure why exactly that was my breaking point, but it really set me off. I didn't yell or anything, but I was quite firm that he couldn't do that. I was considering talking to the administrators in case it continued (more to get their advice than anything), but the behavior seemed to lessen with time. Partially this is because I kept a bit more distance from Charles. Not, like, giving him the cold shoulder, but being a bit less open about letting him touch me. ("Make sure you ask before touching people.") At this point, his behavior towards me is more par for the course with the rest of the children. So that's good.

Kids I Like
I don't know why parents say that it's difficult choosing a favorite child. For me, it's incredibly easy. Maybe it's because I'm not a parent, or even some actual form of guardian, but rather a long-term passerby. Or maybe it's because I'm a terrible person who chooses favorites. I would say there's a group of about six that I get along with most. But there's one in particular who I would say I have the strongest bond with, which is weird because she's also one of the more precocious and cheeky children. I previously referred to her as the hanger-on, but here I'll call her Sally. On the one hand, she can be quite tiresome. Her main "thing" is to tell me to do something, and then tell me to do the complete opposite of that. For example, if she's on the swing, she'll say "Push me." The second I begin to push, she yells "No, don't push me." So I'll stop, and then she'll tell me to push her again. Then, as I mentioned the last time, there is that whole "Why? Why? Why?" thing. After reading some advice on parenting sites (which is the scariest half-sentence I've written thus far on this blog), I decided to turn it around, "to appeal to the child's sense of curiosity." So I would ask, "Why do you think?" It didn't really work, but hey, at least it can stop the questioning. I also turned it around by prodding her with progressively digging why questions. I felt that medicine - being her own - was much more effective in showing her the error of her ways.

But as I was observing the kids, I noticed that she wasn't playing as much with the others. She seemed to be by herself. She had a twin brother (we'll call him Harry), but even they did not hang out as much as Sister-Sister would have you believe twins should. Honestly, I'd never know they were related if I hadn't overheard Josephat talking about it. But anyhoo, when one group of people came and passed a couple of beach balls, most of the children who were playing with them were doing so in groups. Sally, on the other hand, would just toss her beach ball up slightly, and catch it herself. I tried getting her to join the group, but she didn't seem too interested in that. In fact, she didn't care much to play with anyone but me. All in all, it became increasingly clear that she was a bit of an outsider compared to the rest of the group. If I were to guess, I would say it was at least in part because she seemed a bit more intelligent than most everyone else there, including the couple of kids that were older than her. She was the only person who would always refuse my help on homework, makes a point of reading, and speaks English probably the best of any child there. So I figured she was a bit on the lonely (or at the very least, the loner) side.

So I definitely think she enjoys my company, and her being a pest is her way of expressing it. What the challenge for me was when and how I was supposed to play along. For example, whenever I'm reading to the kids at night, she'll start reading (also aloud). When she's reading the same thing I am, it's a bit irksome, but when she does something like read a sentence ahead of me, making a minor cacophony of narration, it's just absurd. So I'll just stop reading. She'll continue for a half-sentence until she notices my silence. I tell her, "Go ahead, you're doing very well" (and to her credit, she does read, and read English, well). She tells me no, and that I have to continue. We do this little waltz a few times every session. Then, when 9pm rolls around, it's time for the kids to go to bed, so I tell them to go to their rooms. Sally tells me no, she's not going. Now, the first night, I stayed out with her for nearly ten minutes trying to get her to go to bed without physically pushing her into her room. Every time, she'd just tell me she'd stay up until ten and then sleep outside or do something like that, and that I should be going to bed. Even my threats to tell her baba (Josephat, who acts as a surrogate father) didn't seem to work. So, since then, my approach has been slightly different. If she tells me that she wasn't going to bed, and wanted to stay outside, I just say, "Okay, then, you'll be tired and cold tomorrow morning. Good night," and then I go up to my room. Once I go up, she'll almost immediately go in her room. Basically, she's just egging for attention, and the only thing keeping her out there is my interaction. Remove that, problem solved.

Then, there was the time that Sally lost her beach ball. This was partially my fault, I suppose, because I didn't realize that there was any sort of ownership over these balls - I thought they were communal. So, after she hands me one, I give it to one of the other kids, who then goes off and plays with it. It's then lost (we later found out it was on the roof of the chapel, along with two other beach balls). After this, Sally comes up to me and says, "I want my ball," and "where is my ball?" and the like. I tell her I don't know where her ball is, and that I was sorry if I was responsible, and that there were two choices: either she played with the other children and their ball, or I go get a new one to blow up. She told me no, and that she wanted her ball. After hearing her talk about this for over an hour, I said to her, "There's an expression we use in America - suck it up." She didn't stop whining, but she did slow down.

Then, there was a moment a couple days ago where she asked me, "What does bitch mean?" "You mean beach? It's a place on the coast with sand." "No, bitch, bitch!" I got out a dictionary, and, after checking that the "female dog" entry was the only one, showed it to her, and told her never to say the word (it's easy to convince these kids that anything comparing humans to animals is insulting, because it seems like they're all taught that humans aren't animals). She told me that it wouldn't be bad, because people wouldn't understand English. In retrospect, I should have told her that God understands all languages. (As a note, name-dropping God is an effective tool when dealing with very religious kids.) But instead, I just told her that the moment somebody understands, they'll have it in for her.

There's a bunch of other moments with this girl, and most of them involve her pestering me. But even so, there is a certain charm about her that makes me not absolutely loathe the things she does. Maybe it's because she does seem so intelligent. Or maybe it's because all of her pestering seems to be a way to get the attention she doesn't get (or perhaps want) from the other children. Or maybe it's because I've interacted with her enough that I'm beginning to know the proper way of countering all her tactics. So yeah, I'd say that in some weird way, she would be my favorite of the kids here. Meaning that I need to be extra careful not to get her too attached to me, as after the super-affectionate kid, she probably runs that risk most.

Kids I Dislike
On the opposite end of the spectrum, could I say there are kids I like less than others. As I am indeed a horrible person, there are in fact ones that I not only don't like, but flat-out dislike. There's one girl (we'll call her Rebecca, and she's mainly just very disruptive) and - to a far greater extent - one boy, who I'll call James. Now, again, I try to be fair, because these are children who are in a situation that I can never empathize with, I can't necessarily find fault with James, but man, he gets my hair up on end. His behavior consists of the following things: stealing things from the other children, pushing the other children down, taking a stick and hitting the resident goats with them, yelling whenever anything doesn't go his way, and generally being disruptive and not-terribly-kind to others. Every time I see him doing something like this, I try to tell him to stop, in the nicest way I can muster, when I really want to raise my voice.

This all came to a head while we were playing football/soccer. It was a ramshackle match, on an uneven surface with a couple of stones on either end for goals, but it was serviceable. It was myself and two other children against James and one other. Being the adult and the extra teammate in this situation, I played as delicately as possible to keep the game fair. But James' behavior here was still bothering me. In addition to your standard playground faux-pas' (saying a goal didn't count because of because), he was also shoving the others out of the way, including to steal the ball from them, and all my talk of sportsmanship made little difference. At one point, somebody kicked the ball, which hit his shin, and he sat down, complaining and yelling about it for two minutes before finally getting up. Finally, when the score was tied 5-to-5 and I was taking a goalie-ish role, he went down the field and pushed one of the other players down before running and shooting the goal. I rushed forward, but lost my footing in the uneven ground, so I tilted over to the side, missing both the ball and James.

The ball went in the goal, and James and the other kids were laughing. After all, I had not only missed the ball, I had stumbled in a very undignified manner. But I wasn't embarrassed; I was horrified. Because I realized that I wasn't rushing forward just to get the ball, I was rushing forward to tackle James. And not in a jocular manner - I was going to flatten him. Now, despite it being completely involuntary (or perhaps because of that), I didn't like the thought that I could have easily just hurt this kid. It was like I was a tempermental 12-year-old again, charging into people who upset me. I told him that their team got the tie-breaking goal, and I went to my room to decompress. I really hope that I don't have another experience like that, because...well, I shouldn't have to explain why. I still really dislike the kid, but nobody deserves that.

Organizing the Library
Last Saturday, I spent a good portion of the day organizing the orphanage's library. There are hundreds upon hundreds of books of all shapes and sizes, as I had mentioned previously, but they were scattered as haphazardly as you could possibly imagine across sixteen shelves. So, I went in and began organizing. The plan was to have a section for their schoolbooks, a section for supplementary educational books (dictionaries, textbooks beyond their grade level, etc), a section for their bibles and religious books, a section for books in Swahili, a section for large collected works books, a section for books that these kids couldn't/shouldn't be reading at their young age (either for being college-level, risque, or in a foreign language), a section for coloring/activity books, a section for single-session books, and a section for multi-session (chapter) books.

Now, I'll admit right here that I'm a huge hypocrite. Throughout my time here, I've been extolling the virtues of teamwork and helping and all that. And yet, I personally prefer doing everything solo. That's just my way; back when I was in school, and even in my job, I was at my best when I could put some music in my ears and get things done. So when the kids saw what I was doing and wanted to help, I smiled and accepted, groaning on the inside. I tried teaching them the nuances of all the different types of books, but it didn't really get through. One of the kids, for example, seemed to just be concerned with whether a book was a coloring book or not. And he didn't check by titles; no, he had to inspect every book fully, even the ones I had already looked at. And then, after inspecting, he would come up to me. "This is not color." "Okay, then, if it's not a coloring book, it goes in the first pile. If it's not, it goes in the second." However, despite my pile-based means of streamlining, he came to me with every single book to announce it's category and asked what he should do with it. Basically, once the kids came in, my productivity dropped to about 10%.

I probably should have gone into it with the intention of being a "spend-time-with-the-kids" activity, rather than a git-r-done activity. It's just difficult to fight my natural inclinations, and my natural inclination are opposed to entropy, and in favor of efficiency. But then, things still (eventually) got done, and the kids felt a sense of accomplishment in the whole thing, so there's always good to be had from it.

In my mind, I also figured I'd be able to arrange the books alphabetically. This...didn't work out. It was difficult enough getting the spacing figured out properly, and then there would be issues with whether to go by book or author (because really, it makes sense for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to be next to Huckleberry Finn, instead of two shelves apart). And as I was figuring all this out, I saw some of the kids pull out books I had justput away, read a couple pages, and then drop them willy-nilly. That's when it hit me - these books were not going to stay organized. There was no way that an alphabetical order would remain alphabetical. I had to swallow my pride and just leave the books in whatever order they were in. I did make an exception for the school books, as they could easily be organized by subject (Civics => English => Geography => Etc), so that's something. But overall I had to be satisfied with the fact that at least these books were in their proper sections. I'm curious to see where they all are at the end of my stay.

Saturday "Volunteer"
Josephat told me that a new volunteer was coming in on Saturday. I was quite excited at the prospect. Turns out, it wasn't someone new who would be living with us and doing things with me and the kids. It was just someone who came in to read the Bible with the kids for an hour every Saturday. She briefly said hello to me and left. So much for that!

Groups Coming In
There were two different groups who've come in during the last week, one on Sunday, and one on Wednesday. I like when this happens, for a a few reasons. First, it's new people for me to talk to. That by itself makes it personally exciting. And every time I end up talking to someone about my world trip, and see their faces drop when I go point by point, it reminds me of the magnitude of my own travels, which is good to keep things in perspective Second, the kids always love it. I mean, wouldn't you? There's a bunch of new people coming to your home, with the express purpose of making your day better. And there's a bunch of them, so instead of competing with everyone else for somebody's attention (as they do when it's just me), they can just share one of these guests with another child, if not have the guest all to themselves. Third, they almost always bring over gifts, which both excite the children (beneficial for them) and give them something to occupy their time (beneficial for me). I'm trying to figure out how many gifts these kids get in the course of a year. You'd expect it to be fairly low, because, y'know...orphans. But it may actually be the opposite; because people are more likely to donate gifts to an orphanage than to some random kids of normal parentage, the children here might have more gifts than a Tanzanian child living in a traditional home. Definitely less than any middle-class American kid, though.

On Sunday, we had a group come in from a textile company in Arusha. The company (which I think was a local branch of a British company) was staffed mainly by a conclave of Sri Lankan emigrants. Random, I know. But the manager told me that they were a very socially responsible company, and made donations to the Samaritan Village once or twice a year, which included money, food for a big meal, toys, clothing, and their time. He also mentioned that they had also previously worked with other orphanages in the area, and felt that Samaritan Village was the only one that they trusted, because the others wasted money and didn't do enough to help the children. That made me feel somewhat vindicated, because if I'm going to throw my lot in with some organization, the last thing I want is one with a sour reputation. I liked these Sri Lankan guys; and they were very hospitable to me as well, offering for me to visit their offices/factory and see how they work. If I have a good opportunity, I'll probably do just that. I also liked that one of the things they brought over was a full gallon of ice cream, which was a nice treat, though I will note that ice cream here (East Africa) tastes significantly different than anything you'll find in America. That's probably because it's just a couple natural ingredients. (This is the part where I'm supposed to say, "And it tastes so much better without all those nasty chemicals our American ice creams use." But, to call a spade a spade, the chemicals taste better. Sorry, organic community.)

The second group came in this past Wednesday. At first, I thought it was the same group of American college students as last week, coming back after all. But no, it was actually a completely different group of American college students. These ones were from Purdue, and had been teaching for three weeks in an elementary school in the border city of Tanga (which is pronounced "Tonga", which confused me all to hell). After that, they had taken a week-long safari, and then came to visit the orphanage on their day before making the long trip back to America. (Apparently, their administrator, who headed up the trip, came to Samaritan Village for a visit each time she was in Tanzania, which was once a year.) The students were all of different ages and majors, though the majority of them seemed to be focused on education, and in particular primary education. I told them flat-out that I respected their ability to follow this route, as I have learned first-hand - and I will state this for the record - I should never be hired to be a primary school educator. I will break my desk in half and then have an aneurysm.

These folks stayed for a few hours, playing with the children, and providing them with new balls, frisbees, dolls, shirts, and books (the latter of which I was immediately trying to figure out how to fit in my newly-arranged shelves). As a slight side note, I found one of the books (a songbook) amusing, as it contained a song called "Ten Little Airplanes", which was just a more politically correct bowdlerism of "Ten Little Indians". They also gave each of the kids a bag - a Purdue bag - containing stuffed animals, sidewalk chalk, pencils, and shampoo. I also got one of these bags, and it contained two different stuffed animals. One was a Beanie Baby stand-in of the world's limpest koala. The second was a Coca-Cola polar bear, but not one of the ones you normally think of; this one was quite obese, possibly from years of consumption of soda. Part of me wants to hold onto these guys, as my current travel companion, Factoria the Stuffed Monkey, could use her own company, but to be honest, I doubt I have the room, and would rather see the kids play with them. (This also brings up another point; I have yet to show Factoria to the kids, and seeing them play with the stuffed animals they received didn't help things.) I am definitely keeping the pencil, though. Writing utensils - always a must.

Sunday was a bit of an odd day, because earlier in the week, the kids were asking if I was going to go to church with them. Now, I have no issues going to church. Before high school, I probably never missed a Sunday. (Then we all just got lazy.) But I'm still a bit wary of their particular sect of Christianity, as every morning (and also in some evenings), it still sounds like there's domestic abuse emerging from there. And even though I know it's not the case, and they're just being loud in their prayer, that's 100% not my style. I never really got on board with new age Christianity (including new age Catholic) services, particularly youth services, where the presider's goal was to get everybody soooo hyped about Jesus that they just stand from their seats and sing and wave about. Too hokey, too artificial, too loud. I'm much for some quiet reflection, with some well placed hymns here and there. On Friday, when the kids brought me in to the chapel, I sat down and closed my eyes. The kids asked me what I was doing, and I said I was praying. "But you're not saying anything. God can't hear you!" I tried telling them that of course God could hear me, because he's in my heart, but that just went totally above their heads. Their brand of worship is firmly entrenched in their minds.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, so I wasn't too keen on attending one of their services. But I didn't want to tell the kids that, because then they'd be convinced I was going to Hell. (I'm already considered somewhat immoral due to my facial hair; this would just clinch it. Even Wonder Woman, a super hero who fights for truth, is considered an immoral person because her legs are showing.) So I just kept giving them the most noncommittal answers, and before I knew it, the day had passed, and nobody was condemning me. So that was nice. But close to sunset, I heard some music coming from the chapel, so I looked over the balcony and saw the children dancing outside. I go down to join them. The music was some light, rhythmic Swahili fare, though it wasn't the kind of music I really dance to (because when I dance, I dance). I was also was afraid that any big movements may result in a knocked-out child, so I stood amongst them and did the kind of dancing that you do when you're at a party and have no idea what to do. I went in a cycle of head bobbing, arm shaking, feet sliding, clapping, some robot movements, and whatever else I could think of at the time. It was absolutely out of sync with both the music and reality - the kind of thing that a teen movie would show to prove a character is a loser - but the kids ate it up. This gigantic mzungu is doing these dance moves we've never seen before. Maybe it's the hottest craze in his country! And so they were watching me intently, aping every single one of my moves like a giant game of Simon Says. The fact that they music kept changing every seven seconds made things more difficult, but the kids didn't seem to care. Finally, they said they were done, and asked if I'd be here a week later to dance again. I told them yes, though found it a bit odd that it seemed like there was only one time a week they could dance.

Also, I offhandedly mentioned the Macarena, and apparently the kids knew it, and started going through a few of the motions. I was at first flabbergasted that a 17-year-old song and dance could be known to children this young, but really, is it any different than my generation and the YMCA song?

The Watch
On Monday night, after I had finished the last in the oversimplified Bible stories book, Harry went into his room and came out with a watch (or rather, just the head, as the straps were long gone). He told me that it wasn't working, and that I had to fix it. I said I'd take a look at it. The first thing Harry does is start slamming it on the table to get the face cover off. I was beginning to have an idea of how the watch could have gotten to a non-functional state. I first tried just setting it to the correct time, which seemed to work...for less than a minute. When the second hand passed over the minute hand, it just stopped. At first, I thought it was just that the second hand was slightly bent, so I tried bending it up, ever so slightly. Harry then grabbed the watch and indelicately yanked at the hand, pressing down on the others. Somehow, this had also put as back at an incorrect time, so I went and tried to adjust it back to the right time, but found that the minute hand was getting stuck on these faux-diamonds that made up the four cardinal numbers. So, I plucked the offending diamonds out, and found that it still wasn't moving properly.

I examined it a little more closely, and found that the problem was actually not with the hands themselves, but with the central dial, which was no longer tightly capping the fulcrum points of the hands. As a result, the hands were all tilted downward, dragging across the face of the watch and knocking into each other. I realized then that this was a job I couldn't do. I tried to explain to Harry about the concepts of parallel lines to help tell him what was wrong with it, but no matter what I said, he kept coming back with, "So, you fix it." I had to tell him point-blank that without a professional, it would not be fixed to working order. And, God almighty, he started crying. Like, when he was done, there was a puddle on the table. I genuinely wasn't expecting this, and so I didn't know how to respond to it. I mean, I know kids can get attached to things, but yeesh. Part of me wanted to give him the same pearl of wisdom I gave his sister about her ball - "suck it up" - but he seemed to be much more emotionally devastated than simply being dramatic. So, I tried hugging him, and told him we'd get him something new.

So, I kind of locked myself into that course of action, and now I needed to get a watch, or else look like the world's greatest scumbag. On the upside, I was told that watches were plentiful and cheap in Arusha (a regular watch haven, it is). On the downside, this meant Arusha city proper, which meant that I would have to take a daladala and meander my way back, or go with the kids' transport first thing in the morning. And I tried the latter...but was literally thirty seconds too late, watching it drive out the gate. The more I thought about it, the less I wanted to make a big trip just for this watch, so that night, I gave the van driver 5,000TSh ($3 and some change), and told him to get the best watch he could for that price. In the meantime, I let Harry borrow my carabiner watch. That is, after I made sure he understood what the meaning of "borrow" was. (I was a little concerned, because some of the other kids said that a nice watch like mine would get stolen at school.) The next evening, the van driver came back with a cheap-looking but completely functional wristwatch, with the Barcelona Football logo randomly on it. I asked Harry to return my watch, and then gave him this new one, making sure that he understood it was a gift (not because I was trying to make myself look generous, but because I wanted to make sure he realized that he wasn't necessarily entitled to it, and should have gratitude for it and any other gift he received from folks).

The Bishop
On Monday, I was told we'd be getting a new guest, a legit one, who would actually be staying in the same apartment as me. I was quite excited, because I'd finally have someone to share the child attendance with. I asked who it was, crossing my fingers for a Ne Zealand girl, but to my anticipated disappointment, it turned out to be a bishop(!) from Zanzibar. He was coming to Arusha to go to school and get a degree in...something, and asked to stay at Samaritan Village for seven months. I had to check to make sure I heard that correctly, but yeah, he'd be there until December. "Wow, the kids are going to love him," I said. And when I told the kids that there would be a new visitor soon, they jumped in joy at the prospect, asking me how long he'd stay, and if he looked like me or like them (that is, white or black), and all sorts of stuff that I just answered "I don't know" to.

In truth, his stay here is actually akin to what I'm supposed to always tell the immigration officers about myself - he's just using it as a hotel. As of today - four days after arriving - the bishop (whose name I can't recall, and who I'd refer to call "the bishop" regardless) has been seen by a small handful of the children (maybe a third of them) for about ten seconds. The problem is, he wakes up after the children leave for school, and he has evening classes, so he typically leaves before the kids come back for school, and returns after they've gone to bed. All the while, I'm being asked if he's asleep in his room, and why he's at class so late, and when they're going to see him. At this point, I have resigned myself to saying, "Wait until Saturday. You'll probably spend time with him then." (And I did, in fact, emphasize the word quite a bit.)

The bishop himself is an interesting guy, with some quirks. First and foremost, he says "It's so cold" enough that I think it now qualifies as a catchphrase. It seems like the dude is constantly freezing. And I should note, the lows (the lows) in Arusha have since my arrival been 50-60 degrees. (Highs are 65-75.) I'm able to sleep with only a sheet and a blanket, and I could probably even do without the blanket. But then, I'm not from Zanzibar, where 75 degrees is the low at this time of year, and it's humid year-round. So I understand that he's used to hot weather. But when I described the SoCal climate, he also thought that was too cold, and I told him that pretty much everyone on Earth sans Zanzibar would disagree with him. He also eats pretty much every meal several hours after I do, which is a shame, because I don't think it's as good cold. Again, this makes sense in some regards - he gets back at 10pm, so of course it's going to be a late dinner. He always seems surprised when I tell him that I've "taken dinner" and that I don't want any of his meal. But then, just today, he was actually here when they delivered lunch. I knocked on his door and tell him that lunch is here. He answers affirmatively, and I sit and wait. After ten minutes, I eat and get on with my day. Two hours later, he comes out of his room and calls me. "You're going to take lunch with me?" he asks. I was bemused by his thought that I would hold off eating for two hours just on his account, but told him no.

That's not to say I don't spend time with him; even though I don't eat any of his food, I sit and talk with him. Between his anecdotes about asking the teacher in his class to close the windows because it's too cold, he talked about his experience with orphans (he and his wife adopted a child, and he has understandably harsh words to say about parents who abandon their babies), the problems with politics in Zanzibar (did you know the island has three presidents? Me neither), and how busy it is to be a bishop. He also asks for my opinion on each food item before he eats it, as he regarded every meal with a suspicious eye. I, of course, tell him that everything's delicious. The bishop seems most interested in me, though. Not me personally, not Andrew Schnorr, but just me as an American. He told me upfront that he wanted to talk to me to improve his English, which I'm always happy to oblige with. He also said something that struck me as somewhat...different. He said that he felt that Americans were "very wise". Now, if he meant "intelligent" or "knowledgeable", I could definitely see that, because our educational system, broken though it is, still teaches much more than the typical East African school. But "wise" - that is probably the first time I've ever heard that word used to describe Americans.  But you know what, as an American, I'll take it. I did have to explain to him, though, that America is so diverse that it's difficult to really describe a country-wide personality. For example, when he asked me how Muslims were treated, I had to preface my answer with he almighty "It depends..."

But the bishop seems to be a nice guy, and I'm hoping that he'll have more time to interact with the kids as time goes on. Also, I hope he eventually comes to realize that this place is not cold. I'm sorry, but it's not.

We have a British couple coming in this weekend (I believe, in fact, tomorrow), who will be staying until the 5th. Apparently, they're sponsors of some of the children here, and are coming over to see how everything is going, I guess. So, they're not really volunteers either. I don't have much to say about them right now (as, y'know, I've never met them), but they're staying in the apartment next to ours. And as I was helping to sweep out this apartment, I noticed it had a TV, a fridge, and a stove. In short, much better than ours. Granted, I don't watch TV, and all my meals are prepared for me, but still...still I may use that fridge to hold a drink or two? Eh, it's just a greener-grass scenario; I think I still have the best view.

My Hands
After all the travel I've done, and especially after playing outdoors with the kids, my hands, which I was once told were model-worthy, are now rougher, blistered, and callused. I hope you're happy, Dad!

...Aaaaand that's really all for now. Like I said, maybe I'll be able to post more frequently, with smaller chunks of anecdotes, while I'm here. For some reason, I didn't really enjoy writing this entry as much as previous entries, so if you feel the quality was lacking...my bad.

1 comment:

  1. Wonder what denomination the bishop hails from. Took me off guard when I read that he had a wife, then had to remember that Catholics are not the only ones with bishops. Hell, when I saw that you were sharing the facility with a bishop, I thought that was pretty damned cool. Eh, still is, at the end of the day, you had lunch with an African bishop.

    Which brings up an interesting question - what denomination does the orphanage camp belong to? Seems like they are pretty strict, which is par for the course with a lot of African christian churches. I know there are much stricter ones out there, so I guess all is relative. Chalk it up to my western mindset and my general apathy towards religion. Still, would be interesting to know.

    As for the kids - I'm glad you're taking Sally in stride. Sounds a bit of a spunky kid indeed. She certainly wouldn't be acting that way if she wasn't comfortable with you though. As far as James goes, jerky kid sounds like a jerky kid. And as for Charles, glad he got the message and was able to detach a bit.


    P.S. Was your dancing anything like the dancing of our former President? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxbT11QlCe8