Friday, July 20, 2012

Ebenezer Children's Home, Ahero, Kenya

Even the word Ebenezer has a significance for me.

A Christmas Carol is one of my all time favorite books. My mom got hooked on Dickens a few years ago, and in talking with her about how much she was enjoying him, I started reading his books again.

Honestly, "again" may not be the right word. I read a few of those books I was supposed to read in high school. A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, David Copperfield. It's not news that Dickens is talented, and I especially love how he weaves social issues into his stories.

As much as I enjoyed the other books, A Christmas Carol is my favorite. In fact, I still harbor the fantasy that my family will sit around a fire during the holidays and take turns reading it aloud. That has yet to happen, but I will not give up the dream.

There are so many things to love in A Christmas Carol, but to me the scene stealer is Ebenezer Scrooge and his life-changing transformation.

When I heard from our Kenyan research partner that in her spare (!) time, she and her husband are house parents at a local orphanage, I immediately asked to visit. The research team consisted of four professors and one amazing student, Maria, who also wanted to visit the home. So on our day off Maria and I took the ride out to Ebenezer. We both decided it was our favorite part of the whole trip. It was that incredible. 

I must confess: I'm a bit of a cryer. I have no problem with breaking into tears during a commercial, or every Oprah show I've ever watched, or at the end of Cars the Movie (1, not the sequel) even though I've seen it four thousand times. 

I'm totally okay with being a public cryer... but I know it can be a little disconcerting to others.  I was really worried before the visit, because I didn't want to fall apart at what I thought might be a sad situation and then in any way make the kids feel bad or awkward or unhappy. So I kept repeating this mantra in my head, "don't cry- enjoy the moment, and cry later if you need to." Over and over that day I said this in my head. 

The truth is, I shouldn't have worried, because the kids I met were so charming, fun, and sweet-- and again FULL of joy, that they put me at ease. 

When I heard stories about how they were a combination of AIDS orphans, or former street boys, or kids' whose mom's had died and their dad's second wives had forced them onto the street. I didn't cry. 

Even when I met a baby who'd been left on a roadside at only a few weeks. Isn't she gorgeous? Even when I heard her story, I didn't cry. 

She was in a wonderful place after all, and her caregiver clearly adored her (she was also the only baby at the site).

Of the 300 children and young adults at Ebenezer, there was one baby, about seven preschoolers, and the rest were school-aged kids.

When I met a toddler who was sick from his AIDS medication, I didn't cry.

Maria and I went to hang out with the older girls-- high school age, and we spent about 45 minutes with them talking and laughing. They were a lot of fun (and so fascinated with Maria, who is much closer to their age than I am).

They're having kale and ugali (a kind of millet or sorghum cake-- in fact, it most reminded me of when you let your grits get hard. YAY grits!). When I heard that they eat chicken once a year on the day they all celebrate their birthday together, I didn't cry.

We were having such a good time, and Maria and I started showing them our photos on our phone and ipad. They watched videos of my kids, looked at Maria's boyfriend and my husband, etc. (Making lots of hilarious comments about everything). When they asked if we had photos of our moms on our devices, and could they see them, I have to be honest, I almost cried. But I held it in.

Then we went to visit the younger girls- elementary and middle-school aged. They sang for us.

And that's when I cried, but it wasn't because I was sad.


  1. Every part of your journey is beautiful, K. Do you know why they named it Ebenezer? After the founder? Just cosmic coincidence?

    I don't know what to say that I won't say at every post--- how beautiful, transforming, world-opening, heart breaking it all is. Just know that I only cry when I'm overwhelmed--- most times, my reaction is 'jump to action, any action.'

    I want to dance. I want to write letters. I want to send bolts of fabric and whole chickens and everything else I can. But mostly, these posts make me want to be a better person, by making me aware.

    That's exactly what the body of Dickens's work is aimed at, right? Awareness, and then inspiration to do better somehow. Talk about talent, lady. It's something you have.

  2. Just reading your post I'm crying. How heart-achingly beautiful.

  3. I'm loving your trip recap!! Can't wait to hear more about this incredible journey!

  4. Lovely, lovely ideas beautifully expressed Glenna, as usual. You rock. Thank you for these words.

    Thanks Nina- it was amazing.

    Aww, Holly, thank you. I cried again writing it. :0)

    Thanks Lo- I appreciate it.

  5. Okay, I have a lump in my throat the size of Rhode Island just reading this. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. What an amazing experience! :)

  6. No, thank YOU Jaime for reading and enjoying it.

  7. Gee thanks. Now my keyboard is wet from all the crying. Seriously, though, those kids. That baby! What a doll! And that song really makes me want to get up and dance with them. Am I a weirdo if I watched the video again and brought out my drum and started playing along?

  8. No, not in my book, Jess. I have listened to it A LOT, and even though it's in another language I catch myself "singing" it.

  9. Oh man, now I'm crying. (I blame pregnancy hormones). What an amazing experience. I'm loving reading these recaps!

  10. I cried when I read this. Amazing. I can't even...this trip just seems so incredible.

  11. What a life-changing trip this has been for you, Kat! Maybe it'll all find its way into one of your novels??

    That baby made me cry. Left by the side of the road... Glad there's a happy ending there -- adored by her caregiver. That's all anyone can hope for.

  12. Meredith- :0) Thank you.

    Christa, I feel really lucky to have gone. It was incredible.

    Definitely, Joanne-- there was a lot of personal and writing inspiration along the way.

  13. Hi Kat,
    I remember the visit to Ebenezer in 2009, one of my favorites from that trip. I have videos of the children singing for us. Back then we traveled with Clarice. It's great that you visited them, these trips tend to concentrate on the research and sometimes other "subjects" aren't included as they no longer fit the agenda.

    We (DGC) could plan some "fabric" raising event, to collect scraps that can be sent to the polytechnic high school. We should brainstorm about this...

    BTW, Mzungu is "aimless wanderer". The term was first used by natives of East Africa to describe European explorers in the 18th century. I remember when we were in the bus and kids chased us screaming mzungu. I brought my mom a t-shirt with that word!

  14. Oh my gosh, Katharine. I am a huge cynic and hate public crying (in myself and in others; I always feel uncomfortable because I don't know what to do to make someone feel better), but this made me want to send them chickens.

  15. Glad you remembered your Ebenezer visit so fondly, Natacha-- I would like to do some fabric (and other) "raising" events. I am working on it, and we should definitely talk. Yes, Mzungu began literally as "aimless wanderer' but is now colloquially understood to mean 'white person'. So much so that my Lonely Planet guidebook lists "white person" as the only definition.

    Yay Sophia-- nice to hear from you! I miss you now that you're not blogging. :0) I hear you about the chickens!

  16. This is such a touching story! These kids sound so wonderful. :)

  17. Wow! What an amazing opportunity. (I think I would have cried the whole time.) I'm so glad you were able to go!

    1. Thanks Connie-- I feel really lucky to have gone, and it was tough not to cry a lot!

  18. I still cry when Artex dies in The Neverending husband laughs every time.

    Very moving. To see such spirit in sometimes dire situations. Oh, boy, does it make your eyes water.

  19. Moving and beautifully written post. I want to keep reading about your trip!
    Keep us posted on how we can contribute to this community from afar (please!).


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