Today I got the opportunity to visit a few orphanages ran by Lavern, a 50 year old lady from Texas. There are 3 locations within a 10-kilometer radius. This was my first look at real poverty in Africa. Spencer and I drove for a couple of hours down dirt roads getting to the first location. We knew we were close after circling the same few huts for a third time, and we asked for directions. We got lost again, and asked again, each person pointing us a different way. The phone reception was not very strong but we finally got through to Lavern who sent someone to find us.
Upon arrival, I was promptly greeted by several children eager to show me around. We walked around as Lavern explained to us that the children come from neighboring areas to learn and get fed. Most of them have been left with a relative because their parents have passed from various illnesses. My heart broke as I looked at these children pining for my attention. We jump roped, played tag, and sat on the steps all staring and smiling at each other until Lavern announced it was time to visit the next location. I could already tell that leaving this place was going to be tough. How do I not get attached to everyone I meet?
We drove a little ways and pulled up to a much larger facility. There were women outside cooking and children running around. We went inside where I was shown how the orphanages raise money in order to sustain themselves. The children make paper beads for necklaces, they make fans and candle holders out of bottles. Everything they make is from recycled material, so they don’t need to buy supplies.
Lunch was just about finished cooking, and Lavern told me about the local foods. They eat pap, a thick porridge type dish with every meal and either beans, greens, or rarely meat. Everyone started digging in with their hands, so I followed suit (I actually really like eating with my hands). I tried fish, beans, and pap. The flavors are very different, but also very good although it is not something I would choose to eat every day. One of the women turned on the radio and I got my first real African music vibe. I move to all music, but this moved my soul. The kids were singing doing the dishes, and women sat around and fanned themselves. What a beautiful picture to capture in my mind of the life here.
Leaving the kids that day broke a piece of my heart. Where do I find the balance between being grateful for what I have and wanting to leave it all behind? How can I go on living the same after seeing the things I have seen? I don’t think it is possible, but I don’t think I am supposed to. I am supposed to leave changed.