Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Visiting Furaha

On Thursday morning, I (Mer) headed to Marafa, a small village about one hour north west of Watamu. I was heading to meet Furaha, the 10-year-old boy whom Kiki and Zac (my sister and brother-in-law) are sponsoring on my behalf through the organization, World Visions. The sponsorship was a birthday gift from them, and one of the best I’ve ever received. Jessie stayed at the hotel on this day and successfully read Tony Morrison’s, A Mercy cover to cover (which was our last book swap with each other…so once we were out of books, Jessie “borrowed” one from the hotel and accidentally still has it with her to finish it).

Emmanuel, the director of the Murafa division of World Visions, picked me up at the hotel after insisting that we use their 4-wheel drive vehicle rather than have Justus take me in our little rented Toyota. I was glad he insisted because once we got past Malindi and turned off on the dirt roads to Furaha’s homestead, I realized our rental car probably would have not made the 45 min bumpy ride on the dirt roads.

We went first to the World Visions office, which was a very modest building with a main greeting area, which served as the conference room, and five small offices surrounding it. There were eight employees at this division headquarter office. They all came out and we sat and chatted about the organization and they each told me their role; the one woman in the office was in charge of pairing sponsors with kids, and she showed me her office that was stacked floor to ceiling with the 4,000 files of sponsor children. (Just in this division…I can’t remember the exact number of sponsors the organization has throughout Kenya, but it’s quite astounding). The employees in the office work with community groups in each area, and the community groups actually work with the children in social activities, conduct medical exams, and keep up their school records and other things that the organization reports back to the sponsors abroad.

I asked Emmanuel about the breakdown of donations and how much actually goes to the child. He said that only about 10% goes directly to the child – that is for school fees/uniforms and medical costs. About 25% goes to the staff for salaries (which are not huge…all the World Vision employees lived in small hand built homes right around the office). The remainder portion of the donations goes to community development. World Vision has built a permanent structure for the primary school and is in the process of saving for desks for every student. Emmanuel was proud to show me the plans for future growth in the community. It was refreshing that the organization seemed so transparent. After seeing the office and talking with people, I am confident that Kiki and Zac’s monthly sponsorship is money very well spent. Meeting Furaha and his parents also really confirmed this.

After filling out the appropriate paperwork (and wrapping a skirt, provided by the woman working in the office, around my shorts) we hopped back in the truck and headed just about 10 minutes to Furaha’s homestead. I have to say, I was a bit nervous. I was excited to meet the family and see a homestead not propped up for tourists and to see real life in a rural village, but I just felt sort of weird…like I was looking to be thanked by the family or something. I don’t know…I guess I just wasn’t sure what we were going to talk about. Sure, I had a lot of questions I thought would be interesting to ask Furaha and his parents, but I sure didn’t want to go to their home just to spew interview questions at them.

When we pulled up, the entire homestead (extended family living together on land with maybe 6 or 7 mud huts situated together) came walking up, with proud little Furaha and his father leading them. There were maybe 20-25 kids and about 12-15 adults who were there at the time, but quite a few other young men were out herding, I was told. Anyway, Furaha was dressed in his nice button down shirt and slacks, clearly standing out from any of the other kids. He was painfully shy, especially at first, but shook my hand to greet me and whispered “welcome” is Kiswahili.

The family escorted me over to the three chairs that another World Vision worker had set up and we all sat down for a chat. The hoards of children were scurrying behind me, laughing, which had me cracking up. One little girl kept running up close to me and then freaking out a bit when she’d get too close for her comfort and run away. I nearly broke into a fit of laughter with this little one but luckily I recovered. Furaha is studying English in school (he is in grade 2), but knows only a few vocabulary words. His parents do not speak English either, so Emmanuel did a good job translating. The matriarch of the family opened with a prayer and Furaha’s mother and father welcomed me formally and thanked me for the contributions to their family. I thanked them for having me to their home and explained that it was actually my sister and brother-in-law who were sponsoring Furaha and promised to pass their thanks along. They couldn’t get over that and expressed multiple times how they would love to meet Kiki and Zac too.

Anyway, we sat and had some chit chat conversation for only a few minutes—it was quite awkward…I felt like a foreigner for real. All these people were just sort of looking at me and I at them, so I asked Furaha to show me where he slept. He walked me over to the thatched roof mud house in which he and his five siblings slept and was excited to grab his school workbooks to show me. I wondered why the sunlight suddenly stopped coming through the doorway, which was maybe only 4 or so feet high, and I turned around to see about 20 pairs of kids eyes peaking in. Their parents laughed at their interest in me and I was glad I wasn’t the only one to find it a bit comical. Furaha remained shy but flipped through his schoolbooks and read single words to me.

Emmanuel translated the words chocolate and sweets and Furaha, of course, lit up. I passed out starbursts to all the kids, who really liked them, and passed the rest of the treats off to Furaha and told him the rest was his to share. I passed out a few little things I had brought from home and they appreciated them while I was wishing I had brought more (although his dad couldn’t have loved his Obama shirt more and proudly wore it from the moment he opened it). At this point, a group of about 8 kids came up and performed three songs for me…adorable. Furaha wouldn’t get up there with them, but he was keeping the beat on my leg. It was a wonderful little performance (see video when linked up).

After about 40 min., we were ready to go. I gave the family some maize and beans and other dry food we had picked up on our way to thank them for hosting me. They had prepared a meal for me, but Emmanuel politely refused on my behalf saying our time was short and that we had to go (he later told me in the car that of course it’s somewhat rude to deny food someone has prepared for you, but that they generally don’t like visitors eating in homes because all food is prepared with non-treated water and at times the livestock has made tourists sick).

As I stood up to shake hands with Furaha’s parents, his mother got up, went over by the larger mud house, and came back carrying a live chicken upside down and handed me its bound feet. I mean, I grew up in Iowa and spent a lot of time at my aunt and uncle’s turkey farm, but I had no idea how to grab this squawking thing from her! She asked me to accept the gift for their appreciation of the sponsorship and for coming to their village. After refusing food, of course I had to take this gift…I just didn’t quite know how! I found this gift incredibly generous and felt bad taking food from the family, but Emmanuel whispered into my ear that I must take it from her…quickly, so not to be rude. I grabbed the chicken and turned him face up for a photo-op. It was pretty hilarious.

Everyone walked us back to the car, and we said our goodbye’s. Furaha and I exchanged a hug and I promised him I’d work on my Kiswahili and he his English so that we might be able to communicate better in writing in the future. It was truly a wonderful visit and I felt incredibly lucky to have met the family. Sure, it was a bit uncomfortable, especially at first, being this white person going into an African village bearing gifts…it sort of felt like a really bad made for TV movie or something, but I think meeting Furaha and his family was well worth any awkward feelings I may have felt about it. I was glad to see the contributions of this organization at work and, of course, was so thankful for the generous and thoughtful gift from Kiki and Zac.

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