Friday July 2, 2010
I have spent the last 48 hours mentally preparing myself to go to Merkato for the umpteenth time and no amount of preparation can ready oneself for Merkato during a down pour. The mission: a cabinet or shelving unit and some comfortable floor pillows for the play room behind the third foster care home.
To back up for a moment, Kate, another summer volunteer, and I have spent the past week compiling all the donated toys, games, books and crafts not yet divided amongst the houses. After divining up the goods to the appropriate ages, we brought the surplus to a closet-room, out-housed behind the foster care of the oldest kids. The plan for the future (which is a common phrase here, whenever you see a half-built building) is to have a space available for one-on-one play, counseling and therapy.
While the space now looks great and the cabinet was a shockingly easy purchase, the rain and quest for big floor pillows coincided creating mayhem. No less than four gentlemen took it upon themselves to “help” us. Lack of success diverted our attention to a man selling alphabet posters, but the pillow guys were determined, still stuffing them in our faces trying to make a deal, all the while we are getting soaked.
Yemamu and I followed this expedition up with a second trip to Merkato today and the downpour did not cease. We went back to our string dealer for enough to make 1,000 braided bracelets for On Their Own. The vender wasn’t their when we got to his stall, and so the ink guy across the way called him. Five minutes he said. Nearly forty-five minutes later he comes strolling back in. My desperation to wait was only outweighed by my desired to avoid coming back a third day. And while you might think there are several other people who sell embroidery sting, shockingly he is the only one, although there is a surplus of knitting yarn. The first time the string was B15 a spool, the second B12, and today only 9 birr. That’s what a “relationship,” a long wait and a bulk purchase will get you!
I have also been spending a lot more time with the three oldest girls at Foster Care now that school is out for the summer. At ten and eleven, they are significantly older than the other children there and so they come and eat lunch with me, in our newly furnished room, and we do manicures or play games like jenga, uno and of course jump rope. I have been teaching them chants: “Strawberry-shortcake with cream on top…” My highly skilled jump roping days of elementary school are finally paying off.
Childhood and adolescents as we know it are completely by-passed here. Culturally children go from being babies to adults. As young as seven, they become responsible for their younger siblings and go to work as shoe-shiners or gum and cigarette sellers to help the family. Only the very lucky ones get to go to school, and even that is tentative on the family’s situation. I love playing with the girls at foster because in some ways, they get to be the adolescent that I was. They get to come home from school to a snack and play time and they are forever coming up with creative games and acting the older sisters to all the other children.
They are at that awful, awkward, tough middle school age that I look back on and still dread. Not the fondest memories. However, so much is learned at this time. It is the beginning of a lifetime of personal discovery, who you are and more importantly who you never want to be. It is a time of “emerging from innocents” and therefore crucially important to expose them to positive influences. Our language connection is strained and the differences of our personal histories make total connection difficult but there is something so simple and empowering about spending time with these girls. It makes a difference to them. Makes them feel special to not just be lumped with all the other children, whose thoughts, emotions, feelings, worries and excitements , while just as valid, are not the same. The reward is the smile on their face when you arrive, how excited they get when you want to take a picture with them or even simply that you asked how their week is going and then how genuinely interested you are in their answer.