A Bittersweet Reunion

It’s taken a couple of days for me to muster the energy to post about my return to Bethel Outreach School in Kibera (aka, Mama Mary’s) a couple of days ago. As I’m sure you can tell from the title, it wasn’t at all the kind of homecoming that I had planned or hoped for. A lot of that is my fault – I’ve spent the past two and half years dreaming of the day I could get back to Kibera and reunite with the children who were so instrumental in redirecting my life. I was hoping for hugs from larger versions of those babies and a big, wet kiss on the cheek from Emmanuel. Instead, I got a lot of confused, blank stares from the kids and the suspecting, evil eye from all of the new teachers. There were a few familiar faces, Charles and Dennis (Edwin’s little brothers) among them, but for the most part I found the school completely changed.

Emmanuel, or E-man as he was sometimes called, acting goofy like usual.

Most of the changes were positive ones – the kids are all uniformed and looking extremely healthy thanks to a constant feeding program put in place by Leigh, a donor from Canada, and a new clean water system that Mary has put into place. Many of the kids speak some English now and are even able to read simple words. I understand that their test scores from last year were at the top of the charts for the Kibera area and that the school has become very well respected in the area. In short, it didn’t take me very long to see that Bethel is no longer in need of volunteers and it was painfully clear to me that Mary simply saw me as her own private piggy bank coming to spend funds on her already supported school. This behavior isn’t out of character for Mary, but I was willing to put up with her in order to spend time with Lavine, Nick, Essie, Emmanuel and the others. Without them there and with the school in excellent (relatively speaking) working condition, I saw no reason to spend six weeks there when I could be at a project in real need of assistance.

With Lavine, the shy one who eventually came to life.

I spent all day Wednesday fighting back tears, having no idea as to where the original kids at Bethel have gone. I pray that they are all safe and in a better place than Kibera. Most likely they left the area during the political violence in December 2007 and have returned home to the rural area with their families. Though the chances now of ever reconnecting with them are slim to none, I know that I will remember them for always – how could you ever forget such a face?

And with Nick, Kibera’s heartthrob.

I’ve met with Irene and will be starting on Monday at a new project in Kibera. It was important for me to stay within Kibera since that is where my friends and I have looked forward to volunteering and, as Irene reminded me, there is no shortage of projects there. So, dear readers, I’ve been reminded of the Cardinal Rule in Africa: Don’t make plans or have overly high expectations because you will always be brought back down to reality.

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