October 15, 2013

The Girl in the Yellow Dress

Saturday morning we'd arranged to go to a playground in a village a little way outside of Moshi.  Jill, the missionary that built the playground, picked us up around 9am and we were off.  As we got deeper into the village it began looking familiar to me, and I saw public signs that said 'Njoro' on them, so I asked Jill what the name of this place was.  Sure enough, it was the same slum we had visited just over a year ago.  Come to find out, this village is the poorest in the area, and is where most of the thugs/thieves come from.  The homes are literally stacked so close there's not room to walk between most of them.  They're mostly comprised of mud-bricks with tin roofs, though some of the businesses/shops in the 'central' area were concrete with tile entries.  Jill said that one could walk for two hours in this village, and still not be at the edge.
We pulled up to the playground, which was surrounded by chain-link fence, barbed wire and sealed off with a metal gate.
 The playground was only open on Saturday mornings because they don't have a guard or anyone on staff full time.  Unfortunately, the area kids didn't like that rule, and have cut holes in the fence on three of the four sides to break in.  They steal pieces of the timber used for the playground, pull apart the slide from the base, and destroy it more and more each week.
(contact me if you'd like to donate toward the restoration of the playground, a reinforced fence, and paying for a full-time guard to be on duty)
As soon as I walked in, all eyes were on me - and my camera.  A friend of mine that was also there said, "You know you're in the village when they run away from the mzungu (white person)".  True story.  In Moshi there are enough tourists and ex-pats that white people aren't extremely uncommon, but  tourists don't go to places like Njoro.
I snapped a picture of a little girl, sitting in a torn and weathered yellow dress.  They never smile for pictures.
I showed her her beautiful face on the LCD screen and she shyly smiled, then looked away.  So I meandered around a bit, capturing the atmosphere.
Robert (on staff at Hope) was here for the first time, and he was jumping right in with a game of tag.  Bill was manning the top of the slide, making sure no one got hurt as the masses scrambled to the top.
Mandee was being momma and holding the babies, her shirt acting as their diaper- as evidenced when she put one down and a wet spot was revealed on her hip.
Brian was getting ready for the lesson underneath the tarp.  He and his wife (Mandee) work with the youth at New Life boarding school.  A few weekends a month they come out to the village to do a skit, sing songs and do a Bible lesson for the kids.
His 'less-than-thrilled' face 
Owen was trying to figure everything out.  I have a feeling he'll blog about it soon - it was quite the day for him.  And I, of course, am not pictured because I was behind the camera. :)
The singing and lesson began shortly and it occurred to me just how many kids there were.
Over 200 kids.  Some of them walk for 45 minutes or more just to get here on a Saturday morning.
And even with over 200 of them raging from infant to 12 years old, they all sat quietly, raptured by the praise songs and Bible story.
I turned around from taking pictures for a moment and saw this:

Be still my heart.
That sweet little boy fell asleep on Bill eventually, and his older (and by older I mean, maybe 8yrs.) brother came and carried him home.
At that point I asked Jill if all these kids had families.  I mean, I only wanted to take five or six of them home with us, but I thought I'd better ask first.  She assured me that yes, they do all have families.  Some of them may live with grandparents or aunts/uncles but none are orphaned.  Is it bad that my heart fell a little bit?  Don't get me wrong, I was very glad to hear that these kids all had a home to go to, but a small part of me wanted to think that wasn't the case.  I wanted to believe that these kids' clothes were in the state they were in because they had no place to call home.  I wanted to believe some of the distended bellies were because they had no momma to take care of them.  I wanted to believe that the way these kids craved attention, love, affection, touch, was because they had been raised in an orphanage, not a home.
As I looked around pondering these thoughts I noticed kids outside the fence, also entranced in the lesson, though unable to get in.
I asked Jill about this and she told me they close the gate once the lesson starts, so the kids can focus.  Those kids waiting at the gate either weren't fast enough to get here from their house (remember, some walk for over 45 minutes) or they were in their tutoring sessions and didn't get out in time, or at Mosque.
There were even a few parents (mamas) peering through the fence, but as soon as I even glanced in their direction they turned away pretending to work.
Things started to wrap up and soon the kids were put into groups with the New Life students, who were using pictures they drew to explain the gospel, and taking down prayer requests and praying prayers of healing and salvation of those that wanted it.
Afterwards biscuits (kind of like cookies) are handed out to all the children.

This is a very special treat for them and many of them don't even open the package right away, as if they want to save it for the perfect moment.  (Each week it costs about 60,000 tsh(that's about $38) to bring cookies to the kids, if you'd like to donate cookies for a weekend, contact me!)
I felt a pull on my shirt and heard "Mzungu!" I turned around to see the girl in the yellow dress running away from me, perching herself on the stage with a few of her friends and smiling the biggest, brightest smile you ever did see. "Picha! Picha!" she said, and they all gave me their best pose.

God spoke to me a lot Saturday morning.  I entered that playground torn with whether or not to leave my camera in the bag, or to take it out.  I struggled within myself, even while taking pictures, with whether I should just put down my camera and pick up a baby.  But in the end, God showed me, in this moment, that I made the right choice.  The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words, but to these kids, it's so much more than that.  And I thank God that he had placed me in that exact moment, at that exact time, with my camera in hand, to see the transformation of the girl in the yellow dress.
I can't wait to go see her next week and hug her neck!