Just next door to the MS-TCDC there is an orphanage called Cradle of Love (http://www.cradleoflove.com/). The children there have been orphaned by parents who are dying or have died of HIV/AIDS. Some of the children are themselves infected. Several of the students of the EWH program have made a habit of going to visit the children after our afternoon classes. Today I decided to join them.
The visiting policy at CoL is pretty relaxed – come in any time during normal hours and the kids take care of the rest. I hadn’t been inside the gate 5 seconds before a little kid ran up and hugged my legs. I leaned down to say hello. He pulled on my beard, informed me that his name was Ben, and then called over his buddies Simon and Cory to share his new friend. These boys were all 3 years old, (or so they told me). Ben and Cory both speak English very well. I couldn’t tell if they speak Kiswahili, as they always responded to my questions with quizzical looks and kept on talking in English. Simon speaks only Kiswahili, but wasn’t too interested in my attempts to speak in his tongue. All three were quite intent that we needed to get out of the sun and off to someplace more interesting.
The Cradle of Love orphanage is situated in a large, lush, well-kept and fenced-in compound. The boys took turns holding my hand and riding my shoulders and led me to a house that they wanted to show me. The door was locked. I told them that it was okay. Simon decided that that was a good place to relieve himself. Ben followed suit. Cory was riding my shoulders, so I decided to let him down and to suspend shoulder rides for the rest of the afternoon in case of further urinary spontaneity.
The boys took me to several other places that they liked: an empty swimming pool (with a fence around it), generators, a workshop. One of the boys decided that I should have a lemon, and after a bit of arguing over the best way to get there, we found our way to a tall lemon tree in the middle of a well-manicured lawn. The boys each found ripe lemons that had fallen to the ground and proceeded to tear into them, laughing and making faces at the sourness.
Then everything went to hell. I noticed a tickling on my leg, then a sharp pain. I pulled up my pant leg to see what I had been most afraid of since leaving the paved path: siafu. Siafu are horrible, horrible army ants. They are not poisonous, but they have been known to kill children due to their unrelenting attacks and sheer numbers. The bite on my leg had drawn blood. I turned to grab the boys and run, but it was too late. Ben screamed. I picked him up and pulled off his shoes, but he kept screaming. We ran to a safer place and I put him down, but now his screams had turned blood-curdling. He was gripping his crotch while tears streamed down his face. There were no staff people anywhere in sight. If it had been my little brother, of course I would have helped him get rid of the painful invader. But what would it look like if the orphanage staff had come running to the sound of a screaming child to see a mzungu taking his pants off? I led Ben and the other boys back toward the gate where the orphanage staff as well as the other children and EWH students were. A staff member came and took Ben and helped him out of his clothes. I explained to her as well as I could (she didn’t speak English) what had happened. She seemed to believe me. She just gave me that look that all the orphanage staff gave us: slightly worried, slightly annoyed.
Ben and Cory didn’t talk to me or smile at me the rest of the afternoon. They hung out with me a bit more, but soon found other, less painful people to talk to. Simon didn’t care. He hadn’t been bitten at all, so he still thought I was alright. He was the only one of us who hadn’t been wearing shoes.
We soon took all the kids inside for their dinner. The three-year-olds fed themselves, but all the toddlers were seated in a line in front of a long bench. The EWH students each grabbed a bowl of hot porridge and sat down in front of a kid to feed them. Hoping to redeem myself, I grabbed a bowl and sat down in front of a little girl. She took one look at me and started screaming. A staff member scooted her away from me and put another little girl in her place. The previously happy child soon took up the same tune. I got the look again.
I sat down on the floor across the room and watched as the rest of the clean shaven, short-haired, non-pierced students fed the happy children who hadn’t been attacked by ants. I wondered what I was even doing there. Then Simon came up, wiped his dirty hands on my face, laughed, and leaned on my back. His little friend Joshua, a toddler with a face that makes you believe he’s thinking very deep thoughts, walked over, poked my nose, and sat down on my lap.
Maybe I’ll have another go at this tomorrow. I’ll just stay off the grass.