Friday, 12 April 2013

Meeting Aloyse

I awoke quite anxious this morning - today I was going to finally meet my sponsored child. When I innocently filled out my direct debit form all those years ago filled only with a sense of "doing something worthwhile," little did I realise that it would eventually lead me to Senegal and meeting my child personally. And here I was, checking that I had all that I needed: new school bag, football kit donated by Angus's school, pens, pencils, rubber, some World Vision bits and pieces, pressie for Mum? Check, all there.

Off we went in the van, firstly to a local primary school to collect a boy
The welcome group shelling peanuts.
sponsored by another lady in our group. She left with him and went to his family's compound where she was greeted by the entire family and extended family and a few friends thrown in as well. The rest of us stayed at the school and looked around the village. After a while the children came out of class for playtime. Out came the football, out came the child in all of us. I don't know if the school has ever had such a crazy game of football: four middle-aged (should I really call myself that? Help!) white women with about 60 small children, no clearly defined teams, a swing set goal at one end
Hunt the missing child. What can you do? Not much but stand around and feel a bit awkward.
and two canes at the other. I am not entirely sure what the rules were. It appeared that you decided what goal you wanted to score in and tried to get the ball there somehow. Anybody getting the ball in any goal was cheered enthusiastically and the main risk appeared to be kicking too much dust at other players. Children were falling over, being tripped over, kicked, all good naturedly and no body seemed to get hurt, maybe as only half of them were wearing shoes, and those that were only had flip flops.

With mouths full of dust and loud waves goodbye, we left and drove to Aloyse's compound. We had already driven a long way off the main road and now we went even further into the scrub. The road my this stage was just a dust track. It would be impassable in the rainy season. There were dusty areas being ploughed in preparation for the rains, numerous Baobab trees, wandering cattle, goats and donkeys.

Best clothes but not sure what to say or do. Neither of us do. Smiling is good though!
Finally we turned down an even smaller track and came across and rickety fence: Aloyse's compound wall. It was clear that his compound were quite poor. We walked between some huts and came across the centre of the compound: a tree under which sat some women and small children shelling nuts. They were poorly dressed and clearly had to make choices on the priorities of water usage. They were expecting us but nuts still had to be shelled. The WV staff went to Aloyse's hut but at first they couldn't find him. We waited for a bit and then he walked over: he had gone to the well to wash and change into his best clothes. Judging by the way the rest of his family were dressed I would suggest that they had bought or borrowed his clothes especially. He had clearly made an effort to look his best.
The welcome group grew bigger.
The official photo with his family
He loved his football kit. Ben, he got yours!
Foundations of the new house.
Needless to say, he was very nervous and shy. He didn't know what the rules and expectations were of this visit and neither did the adults. He had no agenda. Other compounds had planned what to do - this group were unsure. I just went blank. I hadn't planned what to do if the expectation lay on me. We stood there, greeted one another, he couldn't look me in the face. I was flummoxed. Writing letters a couple of times a year doesn't build enough of a rapport to meet in person. Some adults brought chairs over and more women from the community came over. I was introduced to his parents, brothers and little sister who had been standing back watching. One of the ladies poured the peanuts out of her bowl and into another, turning the empty bowl over and making the inevitable drum. The singing and dancing began. I tried to talk with Aloyse asking him about school, friends, his family, but it was all a bit too much for him. We exchanged presents and his face lit up with a beautiful smile at the sight of the football kit. He loved his pencils and the new bag. His Mum was cheered by the other ladies as she unwrapped a shawl I had bought in Gambia. I was presented with a lovely piece of fabric to wear as a skirt. One of the elder ladies in the village thought that she ought to show me how to wear it, miming how to put it on. Okay, I thought, lets break the ice a bit. I stood up, handed her the fabric, raised my arms and presented myself to her. She rose to the challenge wrapping the fabric around me and tucking it in much to the delight of the other ladies. The drumming began and she danced for me so, naturally, I had to join in. To my surprise, Aloyse did too! A huge beam of joy across his face and we danced with each other. Wonderful.

Into his house past the cement pot.
He then told me that his Dad was building a new house. Could he show me? Of course. We went through the village and I saw where he lived. His hut was of rough mud bricks with a thatched roof. The space between the two was filled with old clothes and fabric. We went through the fabric door into their entire house, a room smaller that my son's bedroom. In there was a double bed with a mattress made of, what? Straw? Dried grass? I am not sure but it was hard and lumpy. The mat on the floor next to the bed was where Aloyse slept with his brothers and sister and probably the two small goats that were in there too. There was one chest of drawers. That's it. I don't know where they cooked. No bathroom. No toys.

Their new house being built after a long time saving and some good harvests, is about the size of our lounge.

This is about the sum total of Aloyse's current house
With the village elder.

We left after the village elder greeted us thanking me for helping Aloyse and praying for my family. I was honoured and humbled to be spoken to with so much respect, to be elevated to a status of benefactor. How do you deal with that change in role? How do you deal with the material differences? How do you go back to "normal life" knowing that normality is so relative? I am going back to a house which has spare rooms and a garden with so much space we can play at growing crops and still have space for the children to play. We have so much and he has crops his family depend and rely on and 4 goats meaning that his family are better off than some. And yet in many ways his community is so much richer than many families in Britain. The children have so many adults who care for them, love them, spend time with them, keep them company, involve them. They aren't sat in front of a t.v. for hours and ignored; they aren't treated as an inconvenience or bought off with material possessions disguising the lack of attention and priority. They may own little, but I bet they don't spend evenings or even days feeling alone, bored, unwanted. Richness comes in more ways than money can buy.

"Do  not store up riches for yourself where moth and rust destroy and theives break in and steal. Instead store up riches in heaven... for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

If you ever see my heart moving let me know.


Lydia said...

This is so beautiful. I'd love to catch up with you and your family, and hear more about what you're up to. Much love.

Lydia said...

This is so beautiful. I'd love to catch up with you and your family, and hear more about what you're up to. Much love.