(circa mid-November 2016)
The days go by at Restart, adding mileage to a routine of blue morning skies, walks down goat-lined roads, lunches with Mary and late dinners at the apartments. I am starting to know some of the Restart children better; the toddle of little Fern*, Orchid’s* scampering giggle, the slow bloom of a smile across Acacia’s* face. I feel the thoughts in my head slowly trickle down the hourglass from “self” to “others.” Fern, Orchid, Acacia, and a hundred more make up this garden that dances for hours, plays volleyball games, studies for school. This garden of life, made of the small fights forgiven at the end of the day, of the thousands of quirks that mark shared humanity. A garden. A family.
Earlier on during my stay here, before Ellie and Sarah left, we had the privilege of witnessing the “harboring” process for two sisters, both below the age of seven. Restart’s incredible social worker, Ruth, discovered these two girls who had recently been left at another home for HIV positive children. As they weren’t positive themselves, it was deemed necessary that they go to another refuge.
We crowd into Kim the Taxi’s small car to visit the girls at Loving Hands, the children’s home we are taking them from. This home is more of what I’ve been exposed to in the past; a courtyard in an urban jungle, molded from rigid lines of grey cement, rooms cramped like seeds in a pod. The other volunteers seem a little shocked. I’m not sure about protocol with HIV positive individuals, embarrassed that I don’t know if it’s okay to touch the children, or the beds, or anything here. (It is – I’ve since educated myself on this subject. Unless you exchange bodily fluids, interacting with HIV positive people is not only safe, but the kind thing to do.)
We see the sisters. They are delicate, with fine, angled features. The younger seems numb; they have only just lost their mother a few days ago. The older seems angry. “You can tell by her eyes,” one of the workers here whispers to us. “There is bitterness there.”
We are brought into a small room, the office, along with the women who run Loving Hands and the girls. Ruth speaks in Swahili, interviewing the women and the girls alike. They turn their backs from us, answering in meek voices. Ruth occasionally translates. Their mother was just exiled to a mental ward for what they think is extreme depression. They didn’t have a father, but lived with an elderly man who beat the mother.
Over the next few days of relaying information to Mary, it is decided that we will take the girls to Restart. We pick them up with Ruth. After the hand-off of paperwork, it is time to go. The sisters stand in the cement labyrinth of Loving Hands as the other children come up to hug them, silently, one by one. The giant jumprope all the children play with is still as we step out of the home and into the streets of Gilgil, holding the hands of two little girls who look back sadly, lost in a world of unknown bridges.
We drive first to the police station, and then to the social security office in Gilgil. Paperwork done, signatures scrawled, and with a few pats on the head from the social security officer, the two sisters are under Restart’s protection.
Over the next few days, we watch them unfold from fearful, frail children to the newest members of a bustling, loving, and, at times, rambunctious family. Despite their warm welcome from the other children, they still run to us volunteers whenever we come to visit. Maybe to them we are the obelisks of a transition, standing in the distance as time recedes back and forth.
The truth is that I can’t write about the children here so that you will understand what each unique child is like. If you do not see firsthand the way each child is formed, or guess at what their eyes have seen, or riddle through what memories they guard, you cannot grasp the light of their full existence. You cannot directly feel the essence of elsewhere that dances around these children, how it warms cold and lonely wanderers like myself.
* All names are changed for children’s security.