#6 We Visit Joseph at His Boarding School

June 24, 2017

Up until now, I’ve not felt good about Joseph’s being in a boarding school, but I have seen the school, Joseph and his very kind teacher. I think maybe this is good for him.

But let me begin with the realization last night that I hadn’t bought enough chicken for the 6 people going for Family Visiting Day, plus Joseph himself. So early this morning Alison and I set off for the Naivas. As we stopped by the rectory kitchen to see why my newspaper had not been delivered yet, Fr. Ngaruiya heard my voice and sent Laban, his cook, to call me back. “Come sit and have a cup of tea.” “We need to hurry to get chicken to cook for Joseph’s visiting day.” He still wanted to talk, but as soon as we could, we rushed to the car. As we drove out the gate, I saw a man reading the newspaper. “I’ll bet he’s reading my paper!” To gateman, “Has my newspaper come?” He walks over and takes the paper from the man. Aha, now I know what happens. They read it at the gate and deliver to me when they damned well please. I don’t think they’ll do it again!!!

At the Naivas, the parking attendant is nowhere in sight. To the armed soldier in front, “Will you please tell the attendant that I will pay when I come out, since he’s not here?” He agrees. Inside I learn there are no fresh chickens, only frozen. ARGH!!! Then I look out the door to show Alison the Skye Blue Butchery, intending she could go across to get one there—only to see it is no long there. RATS!!! I grab a pkg of frozen legs, along with 5 more whole chickens for tomorrow night’s dinner and move on. This is a good lesson in shopping here. In my Trader Joe’s they spend the night restocking the shelves. Here, no. Every aisle is clogged with cartons of new supplies, as well as other early-birds. It takes us almost an hour to find everything we need and by 9:15 we are back home, hungry and with many heavy bags to carry in. Fortunately the kids are helpful and soon Margaret has the chicken boiling in my kitchen, while Alison and I are hungrily eating our bran flakes.

Margaret is only 20, but she is such a worker. She reminds me of Julia who had come here at age 19 to become mom to 35 raggedly kids. By 11:30 she had prepared or supervised the preparation of the chickens, many chapatti’s, rice, chopped fruit, and cabbage. We tried to think of all the utensils we would need, plates, cups, spoons (they’re not good with forks here), serviettes (aka napkins), water etc. Though it was a bit like herding chickens (a bit easier than cats!) we finally had the boot packed with food, 3 in the backseat and set off. Hilary met us at the gate and off we went.

The school was near, just down the road leading to the prison, then left on the dustiest road I think I’ve ever seen. At times, we were totally unable to see, but fortunately it wasn’t far before we turned into a very nice compound, full of trees, hawkers at the gate, families streaming in and students so happy to see them (especially Mom with her plentiful and delicious food).

There were so many people I despaired of finding Joseph, but then suddenly there he was,running to the car, the happiest little boy ever. He hadn’t known we were coming, so it was even more special. He stuck his head in for a hug and saw big brother, Lucas, plus 2 of his favorite “siblings,” Margaret and Mungai, as well as Alison and Hillary (and me). We found a place to park and unloaded all the goodies. We brought everything we’d been told he wanted, including the yogurt and Black Forest cake from the Naivas. His eyes were round with anticipation. Not realizing that that Margaret had managed to cook both chickens, I had explained about FHB (Family Hold Back), wanting Joseph to have his fill and to feel special.

He got the first plate, heaped with a big leg and large amounts of the rest. Margaret and Mungai served the rest of us while I poured the passion fruit juice. I watched him chow down like he hadn’t eaten for a week. He’s not a big kid, for 13, but he ATE. He finished his first plate and dug into a second equally large serving. Then wanted a 3rd, but I took the Black Forest cake out of the box and the chicken was forgotten. He was a happy camper. I gave him a BIG slice, and after the others had their servings, quite a good-sized piece remained. By then I was teasing him about having a hollow leg (a new idea to all, so good for a hearty laugh) and Joseph grinned happily, tummy beginning to pooch markedly. A second piece of cake and I began to hope he wouldn’t be sick. Finally, we were all sated so we gathered up the remains, except the box with the rest of the cake, which he carried for further snacking.

I wanted to meet his teacher, whom he said he really liked, off we head to the classrooms, where we encounter a queue of kids and parents, all lined up on a bench. Joseph and I claim the end spots and as each family goes in, we all scoot along, the rest of our group having decided to take a walk around the grounds. At last it is our turn. Entering, we meet a kindly Mrs. Maina. I explain what this mzungu is doing there. She tells me Joseph was doing well, but I know he has had many problems, particularly with reading, so I want to question her further. “Joseph, can you wait outside while I talk to Mrs. Maina?” Then I tell her his story, none of which she had been told. His mother had died (he said 3 years ago, but I think it was 4 or 5), he was brought by Lucas to Mji Wa Neema, hungry, cold, frightened, in tattered clothing.   Julia took them in without a backward glance. It was hard for both at first. Lucas was very angry at his mother for dying, although she hadn’t been much of a mother. She’d refused to be tested for HIV, thus didn’t take ARV’s (Anti-Retro-Viral) and she died, leaving 2 destitute orphans. Joseph seemed to be in a fog, just happy to have a full tummy, warm clothes and a bed (which he regularly wet for several years). What he wasn’t happy about was school, often yelling out, sometimes hitting, unable to do the work. Sometimes he would take his lunch container, leave the home and go to town, showing up again when school was out.

But slowly by slowly, Julia’s love and firm hand began to work their magic. When she was in the US in February, she told me Joseph was improving, settling down. I wondered. Then, in April, she told the children she was getting married and would be leaving shortly for the US, where her intended lived in New Jersey. Even now I get tears in my eyes, imagining that scene, kids incredulous, “What? You’re doing what?” Then as the reality sinks in, all wondering what has happened to their lives? Each has suffered the trauma of losing a mom, most have also lost their grandparents, so have no family left at all, others have relatives who don’t really want to take them in. Of course they were going back to high school or where ever. All except Joseph, who was not in class 6 (as I had thought), having failed class 5.

It was at that time that the second bomb dropped. Fr. Ngaruiya had decided to close Mji Wa Neema! They were to gather their belongs and go home. But for many, where was home? As you may imagine, I’ve had a hard time processing that decision. He’s not a bad person—he’s very nice, but I don’t think he really understood this new trauma for them. His concern was money to support the home. With only Joseph here, how could he justify paying a matron? Joseph couldn’t stay here alone, but even with Margaret, Tabitha and Mungai who were allowed to stay, awaiting fall and university (for M and T) graduation and finding a job for Mungai. No, Joseph definitely needed a firmer hand than they could offer.

As I’ve been here, living with them, welcoming back some of the high school kids on mid-term break, I don’t know that I’ve thought of a better solution. I’m not sure even Solomon could have found a good one. It’s just that it was all so abrupt, such a shock, first losing their beloved mom, Julia, and then losing the only real home they’ve had for years.

Now I see they are adjusting, at least those whom I’ve seen. I haven’t been able to contact Simon, Evans came and went, the ones in University are not on break yet, so I haven’t seen them, but somehow, with the resiliency of youth, they are managing as best they can. Time will reveal more. But today I saw a happy Joseph, doing well, not misbehaving, learning. There is no doubt in my mind that there are long term effects of the multiple losses, but for now, my mind is at rest.

When it is time to go, I remember the vanilla yogurt. By that time all that remains of the cake is a few crumbs, soon to be totally eaten. “Joseph, I forgot your yogurt, but surely you’re too full for that,” showing him the container. With eyes lighted up again, he shakes his head, “No” and holds out his hand. I can’t believe it, but he got all the goodies he wanted and he’s not giving anything up. God! I hope he doesn’t have a tummy ache tonight!

I give him a big hug, and realizing he is crying. So hard to be left by the only family he has. I hug him again, Hillary tells him to be a man, and I tell Hillary it’s OK to cry. Men cry! He admits he too has cried. Of course!

Off we go, with Joseph smiling bravely through his tears, down the dusty road and home, where the car is quickly unloaded and I fall on my bed, exhausted.

(back) Margaret, Mungai, Lucas, Alison, Hillary. (front) Margo and the boy of the day.


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