As my time winds down to the final couple days here in Mugumu and at the Safe House, I find I have several topical blog posts I’d like to write, but little current motivation to do so. So instead I feel inclined to simply share some stories and thoughts of the past several weeks before my volunteer time comes to a close.
My teaching at the Safe House has stayed consistent. English class got a little more creative as I taught the girls various camp songs and then tried some English conversation practice by showing them how to make those little paper “fortune teller” things that middle school kids are fascinated by. They thought they were incredible and just maybe the simple questions written inside will encourage them to practice their English. Computer class has been lots of typing skills practice and Google Translate, but I thankfully helped get the computer count up to 12 or 13 on a good day, so now girls are usually only two to a computer. I like to believe I’ve given the girls some tools for continued learning, but once I leave there is no current replacement for English or Computer Skills, so how much structured teaching they’ll get on those topics is unknown.
The girls have started making a batch of reusable cloth menstrual pads. They are of simple construction: an absorbent cloth rectangle with a removable soft cloth cover. Nothing fancy but a great alternative to the disposable pads that cost money and are burned for disposal. I provided the money for the materials and the girls got straight to work cutting and sewing up over 200 pads. And I followed their hands on work by a class session on how to properly use, dispose of, and care for them. It was an interesting session of menstruation education and once again I was thrilled to answer all their great questions.
Safe House People
Rhobi, the Safe House Director, was gone when I arrived but thankfully was able to return two weeks ago from seeking medical help for her son with heart problems. Finally meeting her and having her at the Safe House has been invigorating. She has an infectious attitude and work ethic that vitalizes all those around her. I have really enjoyed hearing her experience with the Safe House and helping in anyway I can. She has been so excited to run ideas by me and encouraging me to provide input on how things could run better. Though my passion is in health education, I seem to consistently find myself helping in organizational tasks like compiling income and expenditures from the past three years into a spreadsheet. The office work of an NGO is often tedious and chaotic, but I am always glad to offer what experience and woman-hours I have available to get things a little more organized. I look forward to staying in touch with Rhobi and seeing what the future holds for her and the Safe House.
I enjoy spending time with the girls at the Safe House before dinner each evening often watching them play games, cook, or work on their sewing projects. Language is a big barrier though, so I have learned about some of their individual stories by asking Neema, the Social Worker with great English. The resiliency of these girls of all ages is astounding. You would be hard pressed to guess the kind of social and physical trauma many of these young vibrant smiling and playful girls carry with them.
Most notably, in the time that I have been here, I have seen the development of the case of 18 month old Ghati and her mom (know as Mama Ghati). A young mother of maybe 17, Mama Ghat has run from her abusive husband at least six times and seeks refuge with her mother and father in another village. But traditional assumptions of ownership and honor drive her father to reject her and insist that she return to her husband despite her mother’s desire to house and help her. Finally, Mama Ghati and her baby found her way sick and malnourished to the police and the Safe House. The Safe House has nursed them both back to health over the past months, and Ghati is thrilled to have so many little friends to run and play with. She even has started to speak some. But they still hold onto the fear that her husband will come steel Ghati for the potential future bride price.
This past week Neema went with a tearful Mama Ghati and the police to her mother and father’s village to see if they could convince them to allow her to safely stay with them. But again the father refused so she is still staying with us here. Later they went to arrest the husband for abuse, and when they finally found him he of course denied any history of beating her despite Mama Ghati’s scars he refused to explain. I do not understand the nuances of the situation but it is clear that the Safe House in partnership with the Gender Desk at the police station are working hard to give Mama Ghati and her daughter a chance to be free from violence and pursue vocational learning and opportunities. I certainly wont forget Mama Ghati’s quiet but intensely interested presence in my classes, and Ghati’s joyful smile as she patters around between laps.
Nyumba Salama is the Swahili name for the Safe House and the name of the resident puppy whom I’ve given lots of belly rubbing love to. Sadly I found out that last weekend he ran off and returned with a fatal wound to the head. Everyone knew I’d be sad because as a white person I’m the only one who thinks of the pup as a friendly pet instead of just another animal. He is missed.
Last Saturday I piled into the Safe House Land Cruiser with 11 of the Safe House staff and girls to attend the wedding of a previous Safe House girl. The bumpy hour drive out into the village was entertaining enough, and the celebration itself was full of food, music, and joyful shouting. I still am not really sure when the actual “ceremony” took place but overall it seemed like a very happy time. The Safe House brought the gift of a sewing machine and a gas stove, very generous, for the young couple. Everyone was thrilled to take photos of me with it all, so there’s about 200 strangers out there with tons of photos of me on their phones.
Immigration shenanigans happened again. I don’t really want to get into too many details because it just gets me riled up and pissed off. But basically I spent three unnecessary hours of unfounded harassment at the Immigration Office before they finally claimed “all is good,” while fining – aka bribing – the Safe House $100 behind my back. I was so furious at their blatant greed I cried. And paid Rhobi back the $100. Thankfully I haven’t had any other problems.
The inevitable question “When will you come back here?” has gradually come up more and more as my final weeks went by. I always answer with a joyful “I don’t know maybe someday!” Which is pretty honest, because I really have no idea if I will ever come back here. Part of me thinks I might because they do such amazing work that falls into my interest of health education and women’s rights. But part of me is really ready for school and seeing what else is out there. It’s a big world and there is a lot to see. However, I do certainly plan on staying in touch with Rhobi and hope to support them in anyway I can in the future. So, will I come back here someday? I don’t know, maybe.
I am enjoying the slow daily pace of life and the simple routine here, but my mind is frequently wandering to and longing for what’s next. I still have a lot of travel ahead as I meet back up with Laura and Tarik to head back to Arusha for a day, then Zanzibar for a week, and off to visit friends in Cambodia before finally making it home the end of June. Then catching up on time in my beloved Colorado before moving out to Boston in August. I am content in the present but greatly looking forward to what all is in store.
I have really appreciated everyone’s enthusiastic support and interest in my adventures, and I plan on continuing to update this blog as I travel and process. I appreciate your thoughts, contributions, questions, and prayers.
More specifically I’d like to reach out to all of you for prayers for Tricia and Noah Keye, missionaries and friends in Arusha. Their family (kids: Davis, Lilly, Graceson & Tricia’s parents: Patt and Joni) have been wonderful friends opening their home and hearts to me. They are now having to fly back to America because of a terrible unexpected medical emergency with their 18 month old son Graceson. Keep them in your hearts and help them out if you can via this website: http://noahkaye.com/a-brave-journey