Friday, October 31, 2008

I always have to steal my kisses from you

Since leaving Cradle of Love, we have said goodbye to Christy and Stephanie who have gone to spend the rest of their time in South Africa. We miss them, but know they are continuing to impact the kingdom through their love for the children of Africa!

Hallie and I meanwhile have left Arusha as well and are currently in Kigali, Rwanda. Let me just say every time I think an experience cannot be topped (cradle of love) God just goes and outdoes Himself. :) Luckily, one of our YL committee families happened to go to Rwanda in June and told me that I had to meet the director of this organization called New Hope. The idea is to put orphans in a home with a family like setting as opposed to an orphanage. The idea is absolutely brilliant and is similar to what i had in mind for my own organization: Takes a Whole Village. To get to see how this idea is played out on a daily basis has blessed me immensely and has provided a great model for my own initial vision!

The older children preparing to sing us a song...

Hallie and I got the awesome opportunity to actually live in one of the houses. There were ten kids ranging in age from 1-8 years old. It was a little awkward at first as none of the adults spoke any english - NONE! Our only communication was through hand signals and facial got pretty humorous at times. The older children were kind of intimidating and to be honest, Hallie and I were a little nervous.

We woke up on our first morning to find most of the kids gone. The mamas were busy doing laundry, cleaning, and running around while several of the smaller children tottled around
outside or simply lay in their cribs. We did not know what was going on or what we were suppose to do and we finally realized the older kids must be at school. After playing with the babies for a little while we decided to hop on motorcycle taxis (sorry mama) and go to town to get some groceries. When we got back, thankfully the older kids were home and we could finally speak to some people in english and start trying to get to know them a little better.

The next day we met the Director, who is from Rwanda but speaks fluent English and was incredibly helpful in explaining how the organization works. She has hired a primary school teacher to teach all of the children of New Hope and their classroom was just up the street from where we were staying. She encouraged us to go to school and help out in the classroom. This is where we really started bonding with the children. We played heads-up seven up, hang man on the chalkboard, read with them, did arts and crafts and just loved on them. W
e would walk them home from school and then eat dinner with them...walls starting coming down and next thing you know I'm attached to a whole new set of children. Oh great......I can already tell im going to have to experience another bout of separation anxiety.

But I do have to say that there is something about these children that surprised me. I was absolutely obsessed with the older boys in the house..Typically, im more drawn to girls...I have never been very good with boys, not really knowing what to do with them. I am about as girlie as it gets and I have always found little boys to be too rambuctious for me. But there was something about these four that i just loved! Isaac and Sande are 8 years old and Lionel and Innocent are 6 years old. And they just stole my heart...especially Isaac. As the oldest, he was the most responsible and you could tell was the house leader. He was the one that would
 always come get us for lunch or dinner and he was the mama's little translator for us. I could spend hours outside with them just kicking the soccer ball until it was time for dinner. I began to notice what a difference there is between little boys and girls. One of the little girls who I loved, named Peace, always wanted affirmation and affection. She was constantly looking for open approval, but the boys were so different. I would look over and see Sande or Isaac holding one of the babies or loving on the younger ones and I would just want to go smother them with smooches because it was so cute, but I know they didnt want attention in that way. But I would catch them answering a question right at school and when they would look over at me and smile as to say "did you see that?" I knew they did want affirmation but just in different way. I just loved how they were such boys! :) When Isaac would come in to to say goodnight it was all that much sweeter because its not as expected.

Peace and My Isaac

One of my favorite memories (maybe of my whole life) was at the end of a school day when the teacher asked Sande to pray. I watched every single child in that room (4-8 year olds) either bow their head, put their face in their hands, or simply lift their heads to the sky while Sande prayed for literally 4 or 5 minutes. It was so long that Hallie and I kept hitting each other and wondering what this precious child was praying. I was humbled at the fact that an eight year old was this thankful and this was BEAUTIFUL!!!!! It was such a wonderful reminder that I too must enter the kingdom this way - like a child.

Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them for the kingdom 
of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth anyone who does not recieve the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. - Luke 18:16-17

On our last night we threw them an ice cream party with cookies and the whole room started cheering with excitement. I think maybe the mamas and aunties were more excited than anyone. :) We attended one last day of school with them and after walking home chanting a cheer we made up for them we had to start packing up. When Isaac came to tell us our taxi was here...i thought "Already?!" I wasn't ready to say goodbye. But we put our packs on and for those who did not understand when we said we had to leave, understood now. They all followed us to the car and while we were hugging each of them indivdually I looked around a
nd did not see My Isaac. So I went back inside the gate and saw him on the other side. I grabbed him and just told him what a good boy he is and how much i would miss him. But he uncharacteristically pulled away from me and then I realized he didnt want me to see him cry. Which of course only brought tears to my own eyes but I just walked back outside the gate because i didnt want to lose it in front of him in fear it would only make the situation harder. Gosh, I can't keep doing this goodbye thing. It's horrible!

As our car pulled away Hallie and I watched outside the back window only to see Innocent who is the "toughest" of all (He would always duck our goodnight kisses and squirm when we tried to hug him) fall to a squat with his face in his arms and he too was crying. This was in a lot of ways harder than leaving COL because the children are older and they understood. Plus I 
dont think they get as many volunteers. This experience was extremely influential for 
me and God revealed himself to me in so many ways here in Rwanda. I give him all of the thanks and all of the praise! Stay tuned.........

Sande (the future pastor), Doreen, and Fabiola

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The night before life goes on....

I can't believe our time at Cradle of Love is over. It seems like yesterday when we were the new volunteers just trying to learn all the names of the babies and nannies and now we are leaving family. I tried to savor every moment of our last night with them. The last time we would give them their nightly bath, the last bedtime story, the last time we would watch them run around in their matching pajamas doing the hokey pokey. And the last time I would lay my sweet Neema down in her crib. My heart literally aches when I think of how much I am missing them already...

Some of my Favorite Memories:

Stepping out of our apartment and coming down the stairs with the children in the backyard chanting our names.

Taking one or two of them with us down to the street shop and letting them be adored by all the people that passed them on the street.

Going out at night and passing the window to the kitchen where the nannies would sit around the table after the kids are in bed and they would "Ohhh and Ahhhhh" because they were so used to seeing us in scrubs.

Picking berries and fruit off the trees and hearing all the little voices "And me..." "And me..." because the two fist fulls were just never enough.

Our gaurd forever trying to teach us kiswahili by making us tell him where we were going every time we left the gate.

Singing the blessing before every meal and how the babies would clap their little hands and shout "yayyyy."

I could not have been more blessed by my experience these past three months. Despite the fact that there is a little hole in my heart as I move on, I am so grateful that I am getting to live a life that is so rich that it can evoke emotions as deep as this one has for me. I will never forget these little people or the incredibly strong women who care for them on a daily basis.

To all of you who have contributed to my being here, I am eternally grateful. I can't wait to see what God has in store for my next few months! He is ALIVE and humbles me daily! Thanks for walking with me through this amazing journey...

Joshua at bath time...loving it!

You have no idea how hard it was to get this picture. I must have taken 20 and this one the only one I got where where they were all in the frame. They thought it was so funny to keep running around. Such hoodlums....Love them!!
From Left: Big Maria, Rachel, Salimu, Joshua, and Neema

The day these sweet nannies presented me with a traditional African Kitenge (cloth)

Nanny Neema who took especially good care of us. I will miss her so much.

Baby Hope and Baby Lawrence in their bunk cribs. Look at those little eyes!! :)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Too Many....

Today was an amazing day. Let me preface it with a little background information...

Meredith has become a friend of ours because she was planning to adopt a baby girl from Cradle of Love. However, Helena was one of the ones who we took to the clinic to be tested for HIV. (Please see post "Dream Maker"). Well, we got the tests back and all FOUR babies tested positive for the virus. It was a heart-breaking day at COL and Meredith was of course devastated. A couple of weeks later, we took them all back for a follow-up visit, and a different doctor told us that we may have been misinformed about the kind of test they were given. Turns out that three of the babies viral loads (Bahati, Clinton, and Helena) were so low that it led the doctor to believe that it was simply infected anti-bodies received from their mothers, and there is still a chance they could be virus free! 

So we immediately contact Meredith to tell her that there is a glimmer of hope that she could still take Helena home. Only Meredith who thinks Helena is no longer an option, informs us that her social worker has discovered that there is another pregnant woman with AIDS who has agreed to relinquish her baby to Meredith. In addition to that, the social worker also introduced her to two orphaned children 3 and 6 who are living with their 90 year grandmother in a mud hut that may fall down if there is one more storm. 

Ok this brings us up to date with where we are today. Meredith, Hallie, and I took Ema (6), Opportuna (3), and Helena (4 months) to all get tested for AIDS. It is extremely difficult to bring home to America an AIDS baby, so Meredith just wanted to know what she was up against. Helena's mother was infected, delivered vaginally, and breastfed which gives her a 40% chance of contracting the disease. We do not know as much about Ema and Opportuna but they are cousins. Ema's mother died when he was only 7 days old and they never knew who the father was. His grandmother is the only relative he has left. Opportuna's mother and father are both still living but the father is in his seventies and unemployed and the mother left her with her grandmother never to be seen again.

We pick up the social worker and the three of us drive out on horribly bumpy roads until we reach the sticks and mud "house" where the family lives. The grandmother sits in a chair peeling greens surrounded by neighbors and the two precious children. Ema is eager to come with us, but Opportuna is a little more cautious. We explain that we are going to get them both tested at the clinic and then we will bring them home. 

We all pile in Meredith's tiny Rav 4  with each of us a baby on our lap. When it was our turn to see the doctor, I felt terrible as I held Opportuna while they pricked her finger and squeezed the blood onto a test kit. She was crying probably wondering why these white strangers have come and taken her away from all she knows to hurt her. We bought them lollie pops as we waited for their results. About 10 minutes later they come and inform us that baby Helena is still testing positive, but she is still so young that there is hope she will end up being healthy. And as for Ema and Opportuna, they are both NEGATIVE. We were so excited.

I have to tell you a little bit about each of these children. Ema is a very special little boy, I was with him for only a couple of hours today but I can just tell there is something different about him. You know he is bright and he is longing to be loved. He smiles and snuggles and would have gone home with any of us. You can tell he is ready for more. For six years he has lived in a tiny mud hut never having any parents...can you imagine it? He has this special spirit that just makes you want to be near him. I wondered how I could already love someone so much that I had literally just met.....

Opportuna is younger and a lot more unsure of her surroundings with us. She would not smile, she simply observed cautiously. But she is beautiful and with a little love and attention I know she would blossom into a bubbly little girl. She has grown up not being held, never rocked, hardly touched, you can understand why she seems so distant and emotionless. 

Because of Tanzanian law, Meredith can only take two. She feels committed to the new born and if Helena turns out negative she will most likely take her as well. But she wants to help Ema and Opportuna because their situation is desperate. She is looking into orphanages for them...but that is not enough!! They need a mama and a daddy. Or atleast one. Tears stream down my face as I write this because sadly this is the situation of so many children here. The social worker knows many many more children in USA River (where we live) living with elderly grandparents who are just too old to properly care for them and will most likely pass away before they even hit their teens. I think about all the children in just this village who live this way, and then I think of how many there are in all of Tanzania. It's too overwhelming to even think about the numbers on the whole continent. And in a way these children are worse off than even those in orphanages because as their grandparents pass away they will just disappear into who knows what...street life, prostitution, deeper poverty, etc. 

My life is better today because of meeting these two children because it reaffirms why God has called me here. To be a voice for these children, to be a light for them, for them to be a light to me. Between the three of us, we are going to in some way help Ema and Opportuna, but for all the others I hope and pray for a more promising future....

Ema, Opportuna, Helena all with the 90 year old grandmother

At the clinic, after we discovered they were negative! 

Ema and I in the waiting room...He would sit with me and hold my hand. At one point I put my arm around him and he scooted closer to me. I just wanted to scoop him up and keep him forever. He is so dear!! 

The mud hut where Ema and Opportuna are currently living with their grandmother. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

When it rains, it pours

We spent an interesting day with the Tanzanian immigration department as we have just been informed, now that we have 10 days left of volunteering at Cradle of Love, it is mandatory for us to apply for $120 work visas. So we went into town and had to go have passport pictures taken, filled out applications, and took a letter from our director. When we got there, turns out we need five pictures...not four like they had originally told us. We also need a resume, our college diploma, organization constitution and a bunch of other useless paperwork just to give us the run around. It took forever, we missed lunch and when we got back to the baby home, our director comes to the gate and warns us "brace yourself the whole apartment flooded"

We go upstairs and our sweet new roommate, Emma, and our gardener, David, are mopping water outside the door...all of our bags are on the porch. Unfortunately, Emma's computer was ruined but the other three computers along with cameras and journals all survived, thank you Jesus. Here in Africa, the water often shuts off and we can go hours without it. Apparently, Emma had tried to turn the water on and there was none and she just forgot to turn the knob back off, so when the water came back no one was in the apartment and it flooded about 1 inch deep.

A lot of our bags and clothes got wet, but all
 in all things could have been so much worse. When we got home from our porch we looked out on to the backyard where all the babies and nannies were sitting outside watching us go through our wet stuff...they all shouted "Pole Sana" (I'm so sorry) It was a great reminder to be thankful for what survived and not be upset about the things that didn't because what we have is so plentiful. So even though we sit in our apartment with clothes hanging everywhere and bags, books, and papers below fans trying to dry everything out...I will look to him and say Your grace is sufficient for me.

David who worked tirelessly to clean up the water and salvage our belongings...Asante Sana Bwana!!!