Saying Our Thank You Fors

October 15, 2007

Before Rocky left, she hid things around the house and left notes for the kids. She also left a jar filled with “thank you fors.”

At our dinner table, instead of grace, we say our “thank you fors.” We do this every night. Each of us simply takes turns saying what we are thankful for that day. Rocky left a jar filled with her thank you fors for us to read while she was in Africa. So, she’s been with us at the dinner table each night. I know this is her blog, but I couldn’t resist sharing this.

This one was picked out of the jar the other night:

Rocky’s Thank You Fors

We’re thankful she is too.

A Different Me

October 14, 2007

With a title like that I’m sure you think this post is going to be inspiring.

I’m sure you think it’s going to be about how I have changed in so many ways, my new outlook on life, about the true necessities of life and how my heart has opened more than I could have ever dreamed it would be opened. But the truth is, it’s not about that this time.

I just smell.

Really, I do. It’s been almost two days since I last bathed. The crazy thing is, it just feels normal now.

If you knew me, really, really knew me, you would have bet this would never happen. Ever.

I have been known to take three showers in one day. In the states, I always shower before I go to bed. Always. That’s not the story here.

Since arriving at St. Monica’s, I have not bathed before bed… not once. I could if I wanted to, it would be freezing shower water. There is no hot water here, remember.

So, after the morning chores, I get a bucket of hot water to bathe myself. I call this the bucket bath. I am so grateful for this bucket bath! I don’t think I could ever get used to cold showers. I am truly spoiled.

The girls shower at 5:30 in the cold morning with extremely cold water every school day. I am in awe. I am going to look into solar powered water heater so they can have hot water and not cost the orphanage upkeep.

So back to the different me. I stink and I just don’t care.

It’s funny how quickly my priorities changed. My clothes are dirty. I smell. And the girls still want to cuddle up and be loved.

They have the right priorities, don’t you think?

Letting It Go

October 13, 2007

I couldn’t hold it in any longer.

Luckily, Auntie Lizi, the head mother, gave me the freedom and space to just cry this evening. I expressed to her my sadness for leaving and just how much I loved them all. She agreed with me when I told her that I could not go face the girls right now, because they would know that I had been crying.

So, I had a good cry.

Then I wiped the tears off my face and headed to the dining room area. The dining room area is a multipurpose room. For example, they eat all of their meals there, they dance there and then last night they had mass there. It’s a true multipurpose room.

I guess one of the last volunteers bought them a very old television set. It gets three channels, usually the news or some time of soap opera that is dubbed in English. We watched two this evening, one from Telemundo and the other a Chinese soap opera of some sort. It is quite entertaining and the girls seem to love it.

I was able to get through my evening because my Winnie hopped on to my lap and we snuggled on the plastic lawn chairs for close to two hours. She fell asleep in my arms and all was right in my Kenyan world.

It’s amazing how tough she is on the outside, but when you get right down to it, all she wants is to be loved. I can do that for her. I feel blessed that she has allowed me into her heart and has trusted me with it.

I hope she understands that she has my heart too.

Somber In Africa

October 12, 2007

The girls have noticed that I am quiet this afternoon.

I keep reflecting on my time here at St. Monica’s, the children I have met and the friends that I have made. I am already mourning my departure. It’s a horrible feeling. And I’m on the verge of tears. But I am doing everything in my power not to cry.

I don’t want the girls to see me cry and to see how much I am hurting. It will only affect them now, sooner than it’s necessary. I need to put on a happy face and as if everything is just wonderful.

I hope I can pull it off. We have three hours before bed and I know my pain will only grow worse as the night moves on.

Wish me luck.

by Juli Salvante

While Rocky and Beatrice, who is the secretary for St. Monica’s, went to go pick up the rest of the girls uniforms, I sat with Father Augustine in his car and we had a very direct and honest conversation about the girls and their plight.

Father Augustine is an older man who has dedicated his life to helping these girls.

Father Augustine from St. Monica’s Children Home in KenyaHe was working in the slums of Kibera and had many requests from the Christian community to find homes for orphaned girls. He sold plots of land that his father had left him and purchased the building that is now St. Monica’s Children Home, and the house next to it which he rents to generate income.

The Father’s parish originally agreed to help, and did for a time, but then the help stopped and Father Augustine was on his own. He called on his friends when he had no food left to feed the children he had taken in. Luckily, his friends were able to come through. He raised the funds that were needed, the home continued and the Father was able to add more and more girls.

When he is approached about taking on more girls, he will visit them, or their relatives, and hear their stories. He requires a death certificate of the Mother and Father, if there is one listed. This is because the girls that are here now have a common bond. He doesn’t want to bring in a girl whose Mother is still alive, as it might cause issues with the girls whose Mothers are not.

The first five girls who came to the orphanage were living on the streets. A couple were living with their Grandmother, who had no home.

Many had been sexually abused by relatives. They were abused – by Uncles, Fathers and Grandfathers – to the extent that Father Augustine is still seeking medical care for one of the girls because she was damaged so badly. He is paying for it himself.

All of them needed special medical care, some more than others. He stated that a few of them will never be able to have children themselves.

Father Augustine is working on getting the girls the counseling and medical care they need to overcome the horrible scars they have been left with, both physically and emotionally. He is only one man. He has so many girls to care for. His heart is as large as and I have seen.

Kenyan Slum Trash PileThe way he spoke so frankly about the girls was startling and refreshing at the same time.

He knows the subjects are difficult and uncomfortable for a man to speak. Uncomfortable, like the time he spoke to Rocky and I about sanitary pads for the girls who have started their periods, or the conversation we had in the car. We were sitting in front of what I can only describe as a strip mall, rows of shacks that people have their businesses in, while watching a boy scavenge a horrendous trash pile. Father Augustine described, as matter of fact, the atrocities the girls had overcome with the help of his caring staff and the donations of kind souls.

The girls are happy and loved and have a family here at St. Monica’s. It is truly amazing what they have accomplished with these girls. But there is more work to be done.

The girls are getting older and many will go to high school. Here in Nairobi, that means boarding school. He is so proud of what the girls have accomplished withe their school work and believes that many can succeed in college as well, if given the opportunity.

Six girls will be ready to move up to high school soon.

The Father and his staff are doing all they can to make sure that they have the funds to send these girls. It can only be done after all other expenses are covered. The schooling is about $700 – $1000 per girl for the school year.

He will need lots of our support. Luckily, I know many of us are ready and willing!

A Mother’s Love

October 8, 2007

I believe that the power of touch is amazing.

Girls at St. Monica’s Orphanage in KenyaThese girls, my girls, long for it. The women here told us that no past volunteers have loved and accepted them like we have. I believe it is because we are Mothers.

A Mother’s love is powerful.
These girls crave it.

Juli and I can’t stand alone for too long before children surround us, just to be near us, to wrap their arms around us and hold our hands. This is the easy part of the job. I can do this all day long.

My friends, I hope some of you will join me on my next journey back to Kenya.
I hope you will love these girls just as much as I do.

Day 6 – My Heart

October 5, 2007

I have written many times that my heart was in Africa and I couldn’t explain it. It’s just something that I have felt for a long time. Well…

I have found it.

Click To Listen

My Winnie, the little girl from the last post. She must have had it all this time. I have never felt a connection with a child like this before.

The moment I saw her, I knew she was special. And now, knowing her for only four days, I have fallen in love with this child. The connection I can only describe as primal.

Tonight she clung to me. I was holding her and her legs were around my waste and her arms were wrapped around my neck and her face was buried into my neck as she gently rubbed the back of my head.

I know that sounds odd, but all of the children have been rubbing my head since we got here. My very short hair feels nothing like theirs and they keep telling me how soft it is. I tell them I feel like an animal at the petting zoo. I have become so accustomed to it and I don’t even realize they are doing it anymore. Now, back to my Winnie.

Rocky and WinnieI love her.

How could I love a child like this that I’ve just met? I cried sitting with her today as her head was in my lap, just thinking about having to leave. My heart breaks when I think of it.

At the end of the evening, it was time to say goodnight and she would not let me go. I held her tight, kissed her cheek and then kissed her hand and told her that was for her when she got upstairs to her room. I had to push her away gently to get her upstairs before she got into trouble.

I can’t imagine my last night here. The thought of it brings me to tears. And I even wrote that I am breaking down crying right now.

But I can’t. I need to breathe. I know I should be doing a video diary, but I know I wouldn’t get a sentence across without balling.

My heart is aching.

I feel like when I go, I’m going to be leaving my daughter behind… and it’s killing me.

And I will be thinking about this until I leave. I will be heading for Nairobi in the morning and it’s going to be hard to leave for the night, let alone the country, the continent, the hemisphere.

In my head and in my heart, I think about adopting her and her little sister, who I love also. But there are so many things to think about. The adoption process is so strict here – havign to live here for three months. The cost. But the biggest difference is the culture.

Her life here, no matter how poor the orphanage is, is happy. The children are raised Catholic; church on Sunday, praying three times a day and rejoicing God through song and dance. Even ther language, Swahili, the food, the customs, their entir life is here and in this house and I would take all of that away from them. I don’t know that I could to that.

And then the brain says, “work hard.” Work hard and make St. Monica’s the best it can be. Proper food, clean water, hot water, cement the dirt, a garden to feed them, tuition and books paid for, shoes medicine for all the girls here. Not just two. And visit Kenya as many times as I can.

Would that be enough? Would that be the best for them?

I don’t know. I just don’t know. And I’m physically tired and emotionally exhausted just thinking about it.

My brain hurts and my heart aches.

The Journey In Pictures

October 5, 2007

Mothers Fighting For Others On Flickr

Photos from our journey to Africa.

This is a letter from my Winnie. On the top it says, “Please Rocky, before reading this letter, read this letter when you are not with anybody. Now read it.

Dear Rocky,

How are you? I hope you are fine.

I wanted to tell you thank you for the work you have done for us. I am so grateful and I am so happy in my heart. Because in school, I was borrowing a pen and yesterday you gave us some pens and I am so happy. Even for the books, the toothpaste, toothbrush and even clothes.

Rocky and Winnie

May God bless you for the work that you and Juli have done for us. May God bless you so, so much even when you are going to go to your country. May God bless you, but I am going to feel very bad. I will feel so lonely with no Rocky. I will always cry because of you. I love you so much, with all my heart. Even now, I love you as God loves me – with his whole heart.

Please, when you are going to your country, before going, you will give me your email and your number phone. And when you are going to your home you say hi for your children and your husband and your many relatives.

From Winnie to Rocky, my Mother in God. Have a nice day at St. Monica’s. Good bye.

Lots of love to Rocky.

And that is from my Winnie.

Day 4 And Very Early Day 5

October 4, 2007

The mornings start very early here at St. Monica’s.

Doors are being pounded on at 5am and showers are taken. There is no hot water here. So even on a cold morning, like this morning, the 5 year olds start their morning with a cold shower. Yesterday, I took one too. And let me tell you, I miss sitting in my hot shower.

The girls then get dressed in their school uniforms. The word “tattered” doesn’t begin to describe the condition of the clothes. Socks with large holes at the heels. Dresses with rips down the sides and every single sweater that is worn here has large holes. The shoes they wear are so run down, that if I had them they would not be good enough to donate to the salvation army. They would be headed straight to the trash can.

Amazing Self-Respect

Rock with child.The most beautiful thing is that they take such good care of them all. They take special care in getting dressed to look the very best that they can. They take great pride and they have amazing self respect. One of our friends, Terri, our cousin John, and a women I had never met before who lives in Hawaii, had made large donations right before we left. The donations totaled $1500. That money will buy them all new uniforms, including shoes, socks, dresses and sweaters. We’ll be measuring them after we eat breakfast.

The breakfasts.

Well, yesterday was a handful of white rice and chai tea. This morning it is shortbread cookies, chai tea and bananas that Juli and I bought yesterday at the Nakumatt, which is like a Kenyan Walmart, only smaller.

I took a break from writing for a few moments just now to measure the girls for their new uniforms. Now I have a few minutes to rest before breakfast and the morning chores. After breakfast yesterday we were put to work. Dishes for about 25 people were washed. Floors swept and scrubbed. Even the outside cement surrounding the house. The dirt was swept and all the plants were watered by hand.

After the cleaning was done, we had to clean the rice for the night’s meal. We sifted through platters of rice picking out small sticks and bugs. This was tedious work and I didn’t like this one. I don’t like sitting still for too long, unless I’m at the computer and my mind is going 100 miles an hour… or just out cold asleep.

We took a break and had chai tea and shortbread cookies. Yes, the very same ones the girls had for breakfast. Then we started to clean and sift through corn, picking out the pieces for dinner. After all the work, we told the house moms that we were not going to clean tomorrow until Juli and I got new cleaning supplies. They all laughed.

My back is sore from bending down so much yesterday.

I can’t imagine how they feel. They scrub the cement outside every morning on their knees and dry it down with towels afterwards. These women work hard every single day to keep this house running smoothly and organized. I have learned a few things from them already.

MatatuSo we headed to the Nakumatt to purchase scrubbers, soap, brooms, a very large pot to cook over a fire – no stove here – and school supplies for the girls. Then jumped into a Matatu (that’s an entirely different post describing public transportation here. Photo by Boyznberry) with goods in hand and headed home. They were all so pleased to get their new equipment. I was too. Maybe today the work won’t be so tough.

We passed out clothes and underwear to the girls after they got home from school. They were all so happy to receive them all. Then games were played outside and then suddenly the electricity went out for the entire evening. We went to the dining area and prayer and songs were sung for at least an hour before dinner.

We ate seperately from the girls tonight because the Father of the orphanage had arrived and joined us for a bite to eat. We told him about our plans and he was excited about the uniforms. We then passed out tooth paste, tooth brushes, pens and school notebook paper to them after dinner. We prayed and sang for another hour before they went around the room formally introducing themselves to us and thanking us for the gifts.

Juli with two of the girls.We were then asked to speak. I was so happy Juli went first. She was so eloquent with her words, telling the girls how amazing and special they all are.

When it was my turn, I broke down in tears and I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t do it. So they broke out in song and danced around the table until I was able to speak.

I told them that I was so happy to be there and that they had made me feel so welcome. And that even though I had known them for only two days, I had fallen in love with them already. I told them that in America I had two daughters and now I feel like I have them as daughters here in Africa and I knew that I would be back next year to visit them.

I hope they understood.

The evening came to an end and we turned off our flashlight and fell asleep quickly. Day 4 is over. And it is now very early morning on Day 5. I will be back to tell how the rest of this day has gone.

Much love to all of you. Peace my friends.

[transcribed from a voice mail message]