Dossi called yesterday, which always puts a smile on my face. I talked for a little while with his cousin Steve, who is 22. It seems "it is a must" that next time i come to Kenya I bring with me two Manchester United jerseys, one for me and one for him. Then we can watch the football match together like avid fans. I'll take a moment here to say I do not have the slightest interest in or idea what goes on with football but this announcement would be met with more gasps in Kenya than saying I do not go to church on a regular basis. And frankly, as with any family, it is give and take on each others interests. I merely enjoy the die hard nature of the football fanatics!
Steven is my age however we differ greatly. Whilst I am currently completing my final stage of education, he was forced to leave during form four (their equivalent of Gcse-A-level) due to the family no longer being able to afford school fees. As the eldest, most especially because he is male, Steven then had to go and find work to support his family.
Let me side track a minute and lay out the Mlamba family structure here for you. Lily (or Mami as I call her) is Dossi's Aunt- Steven, Eric, Eusabiah and Grace's Mother. When he was eight Dossi was brought from Tanzania to Kenya by his Mother (Lily's sister) on the grounds that the education was better and she could no longer support him, as the Father (in Mami's words) was a philandering con-artist. With Dossi's arrival they became a family with five children under the age of eighteen. Lily was- and continues to be very sickly. On this note, Father Mlamba up and left as supporting them became too much of a burden. Dossi then ran away from the family, which I shall discuss in more detail in another post, and ended up at the center. And so we met. At age 12, on my fifth visit to Kenya we went searching for the Mlamba's, only to find them a short Matatu ride away in Magongo, west of MSA.
So now you are more aware of the family set up, I can continue. It is a trying contraction that the majority of Kenyans will not reach beyond a primary standard of Education (class one to eight) and yet to get any job that pays at all sufficiently, though I am sure what is sufficient to them would shock you, a child must complete and pass Form four. But truthfully without a further College or University degree they will remain in work that allows them to live day to day.
Steven goes out looking for manual labor, "carrying bricks" would be a common example. Mami used to work, in fact she is a woman of amazing tenacity and will. I have sat for many hours listening to her stories. Whilst in England if a man ups and leaves a mother the Government will give financial aiid- especially when she has 5 children to support- in Kenya, she is in many ways scorned upon. Instead of giving up Lily carried several jobs herself. She had a spot in town selling needlework. By spot, I mean it in a very literal sense, you own a section of floor on the street and sell your goods to anyone walking by. Some mens trade, believe it or not, is selling curtail rails. They all stand together gossiping. I often wonder why some don't move even a street down to eliminate competition.
When needlework no longer sufficed for her families expanding size and school needs, Lily began working at the docks. Manual labor where the workers hauled huge bags of sand, rice and beans from the ships to the trucks. This may seem like hard work for the average man, but I have not yet told you of Lily's stature. She stands at around 4 foot 10 and weighs, I would approximate, 90 pounds. It gives a little perspective to what this woman would do to ensure her family are fed.
So now, about five years on, Mami's health has got the better of her. It is hard to know exactly her ailments as the doctors have told her "she has not enough blood". From what I can decode she has had a string of illnesses such as TB, none of which she fully recovers from as she has not the time to rest or correct food to build up her strength.
For me this is the biggest burden (one I must stress is place upon myself, not by the family). I am sending this amazing little boy to school. Not just any school, it is top five in Mombasa. He learns English and French. Has joined scouts. Goes swimming every week. These may seem small to an English education system, but it is of amazing standards that they provide this. Not only that but he boards at school and is fed and watered to a happy level everyday- a luxury in Kenya. Three straight meals. So how can I provide all this: fees, uniform, school trips, pe clothes, church clothes, weekend clothes! And yet people I consider family go without food on a daily basis and the schools they attend are of sub-par standard. Not to mention Steven not having finished school. Mami and the three youngest living in a 6x5ft room. These may seem like ramblings of a mother; the list of everything she has yet to attend to, and truthfully they are run through my head like a list I need to check off on a daily basis. In inadvertently adopting a son, I have adopted a Kenyan family. Do not take this as negative feelings, I love them as if they were blood and would have it no other way. But to be 22, putting myself through University and barely keeping my head afloat, these issues lay on my shoulders like 100tons of bricks. The guilt I carry - that I cannot supply for them what I can for Dossi - is tangible to me. I can feel it in my very core.
For the most part they understand wholly, are so gracious and, amazingly, thankful for what I am providing Dossi with. It makes me chuckle a little at their attitudes when so often in the West we are filled with jealousy and want of others things. And so this brings me back around to the phone call I received last night. At the end Dossi asked me to pay for another room for the family so they would not be so cramped. Whilst the expense is minimal in Western terms, I am stretched so thinly right now buying chewing gum seems an unnecessary outgoing. It broke my heart to say no, but at the same time I had to explain why. Tell him the value of money and the often misconstrued view of English wealth- "after all Dossi, I'm at school too remember?"
The guilt remains, and will continue to. But I live in hope. As I have plans, not on how to earn money for this family, but to help them fend for themselves. Its that old give them a fish, teach them to fish conundrum. But being the kind hearted people they are they wait patiently, surviving. Wishing me luck in my endeavors and supporting Dossi as he gets an education.
I try to remind myself through Dossi, the family is benefiting. Through Dossi, one member is breaking the cycle of poor or no schooling that comes clutched in the hand of poverty. Through Dossi a generation is changing its course. For if he receives an education that allows him to achieve highly in the job sector, and therefore financially, his children shall receive a good education. As will their children. And there through one young boy, a cycle is halted and a new chapter written. So when you ask yourself what little you can do, that little can be a lot. It is just like a diet: if you want instant results expect them to dissolve as quickly as they were achieved. But if you want to reach long term goals, be patient. As the effect will last a lifetime.