Day 374: America is only an hour's walk away! But still sooo far...

by lara, lara@trippingonwords.com

Last year, Claire and I had a scary experience in Mongolia. We were in a darkened train car as we crossed the border from Outer Mongolia [a province of China] to Real Mongolia [a country—not the official title] and it sounded as if the infamous Mongol Hordes were beating down the windows and doors. We have video of this fateful night, in which it is pitch black, our nightshot makes Claire’s eyes look green, and we discuss in whispers what the heck could be going on. The horror story ended with the entrance of some scary looking Mongolian men, who ended up being very unscary, and who delighted us with their response to the question we asked in every country: “what sound do you think a dog makes?” This ended up being much like the Chinese thought it was: “wao wao.” Claire and I passed on the American “woof woof.” They laughed. We had a fine time.

Sometimes our apartment feels a bit like this train experience. I wake at all hours of the night/morning to strange sounds coming from outside my apartment walls. If there is one thing I have learned here, it is that 170 orphans are loud. Occasionally, this noise takes a familiar form: songs about “Bwana” on Sunday morning, Jane knocking at the door, or shouts at my window of “Rora” or “Crayol” which are meant to call Claire and me.

These knocks and calls have been coming with increased urgency the last day or so. We lost Jonathan to that horrible thing called “home,” and the kids miss him desperately. There are still plaintive cries outside our window for “jonathoni,” but mostly the children express their loss by attacking Claire and me whenever we leave the apartment and demanding to know if we are going to America. I had thought that this crisis mode would calm down when Claire got back from dropping Jonathan at the Nairobi airport, but it has not. Today, Claire and I went to town for our weekly grocery shopping, and we had to explain to many of the children numerous times that we were not, in fact, going to America right then.

It was horrifically sad, as these kids are orphans, and they have lived through many volunteers, so people are basically always leaving them. And there was no reminder like this morning of the fact that soon enough, we will leave them too.

However, I have come to terms with a lot of the sadness through an increased understanding of these kids’ sense of geography. Yesterday, as I screened questions about Claire and Jonathan’s whereabouts, and attempted to communicate that Claire would be back in a matter of hours while Jonathan continued on to America, Edwin turned to me and asked if Jonathan was a pilot.

This was reasonable. I explained that no, Jonathan was not a pilot. Then that no, Claire was not either. Edwin looked confused. I told him Claire went to Nairobi, and would be home soon. He wondered aloud where her plane would land. The kids around him asked if we could wave to Jonathan in his plane as he flew overhead.

We frequently get insights into the fact that these kids are unbelievably smart, fun, funny etc. but we also occasionally get hints of the fact that their orphans, and their world view so far has been very very small. A little more probing revealed that Edwin had believed that Claire would be flying to America and home before supper, but when explanations ruled that out in his mind, he pointed out that she would still need to come home from Nairobi (a 2.5 hour car ride). This little intellectual coup of his set him musing again as to whether “his” [claire’s] plane could land on the primary school’s dilapidated soccer field.

I did my best, but I fear poor Edwin is in for quite a shock come Geography class in a few years. Understanding now that these kids consider flying the only way to get anywhere, apparently even to Nairobi, I see why so many of them have talked about being pilots when they grow up. But then again, Edwin also called any pen he sees a pilot—apparently after a brand name—so who knows.

But Edwin is only one of many, and Geography is a required class in school. I felt hopeful. Though when we did finally (and to the relief of many) complete the ten-minute taxi ride return from Nyeri town today, we set about life as usual, and informed Hannah that the volunteers from last year had passed on a big hug to her in a “computer letter from America” and that they missed her very much.

“Oh!” She exclaimed brightly…”You were seeing Brian and Katie in town today?”

And so it began again.

3 comments:

Jonathan said...

i miss the kenya so much!

NotTheMama said...

Hahaha... Some orphans from Ukraine who are coming to Alabama this summer and spending several weeks at a family's house, apparently thinks the wife's name is Alabama. They are so funny!
I have a passion for orphans, and I wandered onto your blog a few weeks ago. I don't know how many times I've started reading "one more post," and went to bed 3-5 hours later! You girls crack me up!

SavvySunshine said...

Finally coming through on that promise of money to y'all. Hope it helps.

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