Hello to everyone, all is well in Kenya!
Yesterday I spent about five hours in a baby orphanage in the middle of Nairobi and it was an extraordinary experience.
I woke up feeling very refreshed and eager to volunteer. Guy had called the day before to re-confirm that it was alright that anyone drop in any time to help out around the orphanage. The drive was long because of traffic, and I found myself more anxious as we zipped around the streets of the city.
The armed guard at the gate (a normal site for any well-organized business in Nairobi) let us in without so much as a glance. It made me wonder how easy it is for just anyone to be welcomed, or if I really looked THAT much like a volunteer; maybe the fact that I was sitting on the edge of my seat or my ear to ear grin gave it away.
I walked into the office and was given a very minimal amount of instructions: "Purse in cupboard. Wash your hands, get an apron, then play with the babies." Sounded simple enough, except I didn't know where anything was so I wandered around a bit and helped myself to looking into cupboards and through doors and around back alleys before doing everything on my short list and finding the playground by listening for quick bouts of laughter and baby noises.
I was the only Mzungu (literally "pig-skin-colored" person) there, and not one of the other volunteers talked to me, but I was okay with that because I wasn't there for them anyway! :) I played with babies for about three hours and fed them fresh fruit for snack. There was about 20 other volunteers there, and some you could tell had been there for a while, so I took most of my cues from watching them. The "purple women" were the ones who were actually employed by the orphanage and their bright purple dresses let everyone else know who was boss.
The babies are so beautiful. Aside from the deep coughs and runny noses, they are so happy and know very well how to manipulate a volunteer like me into carrying them around everywhere and giving them lots of additional love. They look at you in a very curious, but clever way that I haven't seen in babies so young. Most of the ones in my group were around 10-24 months old. Some of them were very sick, some of them were almost catatonic and needed a lot of extra care. There was one baby named Dillon that no one seemed to want to give attention to and it was because "he's too selective and fussy." He has cerebral palsy and is fussy because he can't move around too easily or communicate as well as the others his age. I spent a good deal of my time with him and found he was the happiest little guy of the whole bunch!
Lunch and nap-time was very organized, but reminded me of an assembly line.
1. Baby in chair, feed him/her.
2. Take away baby and replace with another hungry baby.
3. Repeat steps one and two until all babies fed.
4. Change baby after meal.
5. Take away baby and replace with another stinky baby.
6. Repeat steps four and five until all babies changed.
7. Rock baby to sleep.
8. Take away baby and replace with another tired baby.
9. Repeat steps seven and eight until all babies asleep and in their beds.
I was exhausted after this process, but felt good that I seemed to be better at feeding them without food going everywhere, changing, and putting them to sleep than any of the other volunteers (even the veteran ones!) It was probably because they'd been doing this for weeks and were happy to let the new girl do the dirty work, but I had a great time. They are all so precious and lovey-dovey, just what I needed now that I've been away from home for a few weeks.
I walked down the hallway following the other volunteers, but realized they were all leaving for the day so I went inside to inquire about any other work I could do while the babies napped. The girl at the reception just pointed toward a door leading to the back and I ended up sitting outside waiting for a purple lady to tell me what to do. It was their lunch hour, and I asked to sit next to a familiar looking lady who had been upstairs helping me change diapers. Her name was Winnie, and I talked with her for about an hour about her family, her job at the orphanage, and why I came to be in Nairobi. She thought it was funny that I wasn't married, and that I didn't even have a boyfriend. She asked, "is it because your father has a bigger machete than they do?!" After picking myself up from the ground from laughing so hard, I said, "Yeah, sure" because I couldn't think of any reason that would have sufficed. :)
After lunch hour, a different lady at the reception desk told me I should leave because other volunteers were coming to take care of the babies after naptime, so I thanked her for letting me know there was nothing else I could do, and called Guy for a ride home. I sat in the sun to wait and wondered why I hadn't done something like this before. It made me sad to think I couldn't do more, but happy that there seemed to be plenty of people in Kenya willing to help out at organizations like these, even if it was just for a day or a few weeks.
An experience like that always weighs heavy on my heart and I was in a somber mood for the rest of the day. I'm going to try and go back everyday that we don't have formal plans so I can learn the baby's names and get to know their process a bit better before I leave here. I want them to run up to me and smile like they did to the other "regulars." I am thankful for the opportunity to do something like this and am reminded of how just a few hours of service is so important to a person's soul. I hope that it might inspire people to do simple things to help and uplift others in some way. I'm not saving the world by any means or standard, but I might be making someone else's day a little bit brighter (and why shouldn't it be for a baby like Dillon?!).
I hope all is well at home. I miss you all very much! Keep sending me emails! :)