As the trip neared its end, it became harder and harder to find consistent internet connection, so I was unable to post much. Sad to say, I am currently at the Nairobi airport on my “safari” back to Austin. I said my goodbyes to the others at our favorite restaurant in Kisumu, Laughing Buddha, known for its Bailey’s milkshakes and pizza!
Although I am heading home to start school on Tuesday, the others have an extra week before the semester begins and are staying four more days. As we have been working extra hard on getting all of the orphans’ background info and pictures for the website, they will probably be able to finish up the editing and finishing touches. They are also doing a more advanced after school HIV/AIDS club and, of course, enjoying time with the kids.
Great news…Theresa and Stephen now have a computer! Thanks to Alex’s sister who agreed to donate it, we are leaving behind her macbook that Alex brought on the trip. We were definitely worried about how they could begin to implement the work we had done without a working computer or e-mail, so this is a huge relief. When we told them the news, they were ecstatic and full of thanks.
On that note, we have been teaching Theresa and Stephen, as well as the teachers and older kids, computer lessons consistently so they will know how to use it when we leave. Alex will be setting up gmail accounts for all of the older students within the next few days, and an exchange program has been coordinated with a high school class from his old school in New York. This will be a great “cultural” exchange for the kids and they will enjoy getting to correspond with students their age in America. This will also increase awareness and support for WEMA while getting high school students involved. Killing two birds with one stone!
Esther and I finished up our HIV/AIDS drama performances on Friday afternoon. After several practices and critiquing sessions throughout the week, the students were eager to show us their work. We all congregated in the “hall” as the grade 8 students (some even in makeshift costumes!) performed their dramas in front of their peers while we filmed. It was quite a production, and they got really into it. We awarded the first place team with huge bags of candy, and they were going crazy!
I got the chance to lecture in chemistry to a secondary (high school level) class. Some topics that can be really confusing for students learning them the first time are not explained well in their small, cheap textbooks. It was even hard for me to understand what I was teaching them so I can’t imagine how it is for them! They liked the few tricks, though, that I taught them about electron configuration and energy shells.
We took a day trip with Liz (Stephen and Theresa’s daughter) to Bungoma and also to Uganda this weekend! It was last-minute but well planned, and we had an amazing time. It was the perfect way to end my trip. We braved the public transportation to get there (about 5 hours total of driving) and stayed in a hostel right on the mouth of the Nile. We took a boat trip out into the Nile and also saw the falls. Apparently, we were in the right place at the right time because this was the hang out spot of many professional kayakers from all over. We enjoyed hanging out with them and hearing all of their crazy stories!
One huge thing I realized on this trip is how transient life is. In the weekly bible studies organized by the older pupils at WEMA, two students came up front to say that multiple family members died over the holiday in car accidents, leaving them as the only survivors. I can’t imagine having a tragic event like that happen when they already have such fragile pasts.
Also, my mother notified me that an old friend back in Clear Lake, someone who I cheered with for many years, died in a car accident. I always admired Heather for her fun personality and she was like a big sister to me. It was hard to not be there for the funeral, and also eery to think that when I was in such a dangerous place (with many road accidents every night), the same things were happening in the “safe” bubble of Clear Lake. I mourn the loss of such a great girl and her family is in my thoughts and prayers.
On the way home from Uganda, we took the only option, public transportation “mutatus,” that are jam-packed with 16 people per van. We thought we found what seemed like a good ride and a good bargain because a man was doing basically anything to get us into his van in a hurry. All five of us piled in and got comfortable. The mutatu was not yet full, but we were accompanied by two other Westerners, and then about 3 men from the middle-east. We didn’t see any issue at first, but soon the dots started to connect. Meredith was sitting in the same row as them, and was trying to start up casual conversation. Their body language was strange, and they each had small briefcases on their laps. They wouldn’t refer to where they were going, and then started talking in another language. Fifteen minutes into the ride, Meredith said they were making hand gestures to note an intersection and explosions, or something of the sort. She motioned to us immediately that we had to get out. None of us really knew what was going on, but one thing is for sure, you don’t just get out of a mutatu in Africa before you pay because that means they are losing customers and money. Meredith told the driver, forcefully, that we had to leave. He was non compliant and wanted to know why. We kept on saying that she was “sick” and needed to wait a little while at a rest stop. We ended up having to pay them $40 US dollars to let us out and leave. If this tells you anything, our 4-hr ride to Kisumu was supposed to be only about $4 per person. We were making quite a scene, but Meredith told us the story once we were walking off to find another taxi. She said she got a really bad feeling and was sure that they were plotting something, especially since they tried so hard to get all of the ‘westerners” to join them in their same mutatu. Who knows if anything would have happened, but it is better safe than sorry. I trusted Meredith’s opinion, especially since she followed the news stories of the bombings in Uganda this past summer. We were all a little shook-up, but we ended up finding a taxi soon after to take us the rest of the way. I’m learning that it is so important to always be on guard, no matter where you are.
Although I feel sad to leave the others, I am excited and rejuvenated for school to start. We are still in the works of figuring out how to set-up an international money tranfer for paypal and donations; it involves a bunch of legal implications and tricky rules. The others will most likely set up an account at Harvard and form an organization there; I will then form a UT branch by the same name. We will use the organizations to fundraise and promote future trips to WEMA in the future. Hopefully we can expand our involvement to many universities in the future. As I left, Theresa begged me to come back this summer, but I told her I didn’t know when the next time would be. I do think, however, it will be a lifelong project, and I am dedicated to helping them from across the pond. It will be exciting to see their progress when I am able to visit again.
Theresa also mentioned their plan of action. She showed me the brochures that birthed the WEMA idea, one that lists the MDG’s and the Stand Up Take Action campaign. She went through all of the Millenium Development Goals with me and told me which ones they have started to tackle versus which ones they still need work on. One that they haven’t quite tackled yet is health and medical care and the eradication of diseases that are plaguing them. She told me that she would love my help, in the future, to set up a medical clinic at WEMA for the orphans and surrounding neighbors. I look forward to helping out in that way as I continue with my pre-med concentration.
I hope everyone has enjoyed reading my blog to find out more about WEMA orphanage and Highway Academy. This has been such a great, refreshing experience, and I will surely miss everyone back in Bukembe.
I will keep everyone posted as opportunities become available to donate online. If you are interested in donating right now, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.